Tag Archives: emissions

Northern Europe’s warm water flow may falter

Global heating can stop the flow of Europe’s warm water from the tropics. Happening often during the Ice Ages, it could soon recur.

LONDON, 1 April, 2020 – Oceanographers have confirmed once again that global heating could slow or shut down the flow of currents such as the Gulf Stream, ending northern Europe’s warm water supply with an unexpected and prolonged cold snap.

This time the confidence is based neither on ocean measurements made now, nor complex computer simulations of the future. There is fresh evidence from the sea floor that such an ocean shutdown happened many times in the last half a million years of Ice Ages.

The Gulf Stream is part of a much larger flow of water called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, an ocean recycling system that both nourishes marine life and moderates the climate in two hemispheres.

For the last 10,000 years of human history, tropical water has flowed north from the Caribbean and equatorial regions and washed the shores of Europe as far north as Norway, bringing equatorial heat to soften the impact of European winters.

A former UK chief scientist once calculated that the Gulf Stream delivered the warmth of 27,000 power stations and kept Britain about 5°C warmer than its citizens had any right to expect, given the latitude at which they lived.

“These findings suggest that our climate system, which depends greatly on deep ocean circulation, is critically poised near a tipping point for abrupt disruptions”

But as that stretch of the Gulf Stream known to oceanographers as the North Atlantic drift current reaches the Greenland Sea it becomes increasingly colder and saltier and thus more dense, and sinks to the ocean floor, loaded with dissolved atmospheric carbon dioxide and oxygen, to become a southward flow called the North Atlantic Deepwater formation.

And it also mingles with fresh water melting each summer from the Greenland ice sheet. But as the rate of Arctic melting accelerates, more fresh water will plunge into the same sea, with an increasing probability that it will disrupt the ocean cycle, turn off the flow of warm tropical water, and plunge Europe into a prolonged cold spell.

In its most dramatic form, this hypothesis was the basis for a 2004 Hollywood disaster movie called The Day After Tomorrow. Climate scientists are fairly sure that such an event would not mean the sudden advance of glacial ice over much of Europe and North America. But they have repeatedly identified evidence that the flow of the northward current is beginning to weaken.

And the journal Science now carries additional evidence that the ocean circulation was repeatedly interrupted for periods of a century or more during the warm spells or interglacials that have happened during the last 450,000 years.

Shells’ signatures

The signature of ocean change is there in the tiny sea shells from marine creatures called foraminifera that rain down onto the ocean floor to form annual layers of silent testimony to past climates.

When the mix of carbon isotope ratios preserved in them is high, that is a sign that the Atlantic circulation was once vigorous. When it is low, then this overturning circulation is feeble, or has stopped altogether.

The signal from the deep ocean is that when they happen, these disruptions seem to happen very swiftly, and to linger for 100 years or more. And, the scientists say, these interruptions in the flow of the ocean – and with it, the transport of heat from the tropics – happen more easily than previously appreciated, and they occurred in past climate conditions similar to those the world may soon face.

“These findings suggest that our climate system, which depends greatly on deep ocean circulation, is critically poised near a tipping point for abrupt disruptions,” said Yair Rosenthal of Rutgers University in the US, one of the authors.

“Although the disruptions in circulation and possible coolings may be relatively short-lived – lasting maybe a century or more – the consequences might be large.” – Climate News Network

Global heating can stop the flow of Europe’s warm water from the tropics. Happening often during the Ice Ages, it could soon recur.

LONDON, 1 April, 2020 – Oceanographers have confirmed once again that global heating could slow or shut down the flow of currents such as the Gulf Stream, ending northern Europe’s warm water supply with an unexpected and prolonged cold snap.

This time the confidence is based neither on ocean measurements made now, nor complex computer simulations of the future. There is fresh evidence from the sea floor that such an ocean shutdown happened many times in the last half a million years of Ice Ages.

The Gulf Stream is part of a much larger flow of water called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, an ocean recycling system that both nourishes marine life and moderates the climate in two hemispheres.

For the last 10,000 years of human history, tropical water has flowed north from the Caribbean and equatorial regions and washed the shores of Europe as far north as Norway, bringing equatorial heat to soften the impact of European winters.

A former UK chief scientist once calculated that the Gulf Stream delivered the warmth of 27,000 power stations and kept Britain about 5°C warmer than its citizens had any right to expect, given the latitude at which they lived.

“These findings suggest that our climate system, which depends greatly on deep ocean circulation, is critically poised near a tipping point for abrupt disruptions”

But as that stretch of the Gulf Stream known to oceanographers as the North Atlantic drift current reaches the Greenland Sea it becomes increasingly colder and saltier and thus more dense, and sinks to the ocean floor, loaded with dissolved atmospheric carbon dioxide and oxygen, to become a southward flow called the North Atlantic Deepwater formation.

And it also mingles with fresh water melting each summer from the Greenland ice sheet. But as the rate of Arctic melting accelerates, more fresh water will plunge into the same sea, with an increasing probability that it will disrupt the ocean cycle, turn off the flow of warm tropical water, and plunge Europe into a prolonged cold spell.

In its most dramatic form, this hypothesis was the basis for a 2004 Hollywood disaster movie called The Day After Tomorrow. Climate scientists are fairly sure that such an event would not mean the sudden advance of glacial ice over much of Europe and North America. But they have repeatedly identified evidence that the flow of the northward current is beginning to weaken.

And the journal Science now carries additional evidence that the ocean circulation was repeatedly interrupted for periods of a century or more during the warm spells or interglacials that have happened during the last 450,000 years.

Shells’ signatures

The signature of ocean change is there in the tiny sea shells from marine creatures called foraminifera that rain down onto the ocean floor to form annual layers of silent testimony to past climates.

When the mix of carbon isotope ratios preserved in them is high, that is a sign that the Atlantic circulation was once vigorous. When it is low, then this overturning circulation is feeble, or has stopped altogether.

The signal from the deep ocean is that when they happen, these disruptions seem to happen very swiftly, and to linger for 100 years or more. And, the scientists say, these interruptions in the flow of the ocean – and with it, the transport of heat from the tropics – happen more easily than previously appreciated, and they occurred in past climate conditions similar to those the world may soon face.

“These findings suggest that our climate system, which depends greatly on deep ocean circulation, is critically poised near a tipping point for abrupt disruptions,” said Yair Rosenthal of Rutgers University in the US, one of the authors.

“Although the disruptions in circulation and possible coolings may be relatively short-lived – lasting maybe a century or more – the consequences might be large.” – Climate News Network

Blue energy revolution comes of age

With green energy from wind and solar out-competing fossil fuels, governments now hope for another boost − blue energy from the oceans.

LONDON, 31 March, 2020 − The amount of energy generated by tides and waves in the last decade has increased 10-fold. Now governments around the world are planning to scale up these ventures to tap into the oceans’ vast store of blue energy.

Although in 2019 the total amount of energy produced by “blue power” would have been enough to provide electricity to only one city the size of Paris, even that was a vast increase on the tiny experiments being carried out 10 years earlier.

Now countries across the world with access to the sea are beginning to exploit all sorts of new technologies and intending to scale them up to bolster their attempts to go carbon-neutral.

Blue energy takes many forms. One of the most difficult technically is harnessing the energy of waves with devices that produce electricity. After several false starts many successful prototypes are now being trialled for commercial use. Other experiments exploit the tidal range – using the power of rapidly rising and falling tidal streams to push water through turbines.

The most commercially successful strategies so far use underwater turbines, similar to wind turbines, to exploit the tidal currents in coastal regions.

More ambitious but along the same lines are attempts to capture the energy from the immense ocean currents that move vast quantities of water round the planet.

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy”

Also included in blue energy is ocean thermal energy conversion, which exploits the temperature differences between solar energy stored as heat in the upper ocean layers and colder seawater, generally at a depth below 1000 metres.

A variation on this is to use salinity gradients, the difference between the salt content of the sea and fresh water entering from a large river system. Some of these schemes are being used to produce fresh drinking water for dry regions rather than electricity.

The potential from all these energy sources is so great that an organisation called Ocean Energy Systems (OES), an offshoot of the International Energy Agency, is pooling all the research in a bid to achieve large-scale deployment.

There are now 24 countries in the OES, including China, India, the US, most European nations with a coastline, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Most of them have already deployed some blue energy schemes and are hoping to scale them up to full commercial use in the next decade.

As with wind and solar when they were being widely developed ten years ago, energy from the oceans is currently more expensive than fossil fuels. But as the technologies are refined the costs are coming down.

Profiting already

Already China has encouraged tidal stream energy by offering a feed-in tariff three times the price of fossil fuels, similar to the rate used in many countries to launch solar and wind power. One Chinese company is already finding this incentive enough to feed power into the grid and make a profit.

Among the leading countries developing these technologies are Canada and the United Kingdom, the two countries with the highest tides in the world. Canada has a number of tidal energy schemes on its Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia, with several competing companies testing different prototypes.

Scotland, which has enormous potential because of its many islands and tidal currents, has the largest tidal array of underwater turbines in the world. The turbine output has exceeded expectations, and the MeyGen company is planning to vastly increase the number of installations.

But this is only one of more than 20 projects in the UK, some still in the research and development stage, but many already being scaled up for deployment at special testing grounds in Scotland’s Orkney islands and the West of England.

OES chairman Henry Jeffrey, from the University of Edinburgh, said the group’s new annual report communicates the sizeable global effort to identify commercialisation pathways for ocean energy technologies.

Both Canada and the US can now see big potential, and political leaders across Europe have identified ocean energy as an essential component in meeting decarbonisation targets, fostering economic growth and creating future employment opportunities.

Lower costs essential

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector as leading global powers attempt to rebalance energy usage and limit global warming. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy,” he said.

However, Jeffrey warned that while the sector continued to take huge strides forward, there were several challenges ahead “centred around affordability, reliability, installability, operability, funding availability, capacity building and standardisation.

“In particular, significant cost reductions are required for ocean energy technologies to compete with other low-carbon technologies.”

Currently the cost of wind power, taking into account construction costs over the turbines’ lifetime, is being quoted as around €0.8-10 (one eighth to one tenth of a Euro, about £0.07-9 or US$0.9-11) per kilowatt hour, but this is still going down.

The European target is to get tidal stream energy down to €0.10 by 2030 and wave power down to €0.15, which would also make them competitive with fossil fuels if gas and coal were obliged to pay for capturing and storing the carbon dioxide they produce. − Climate News Network

With green energy from wind and solar out-competing fossil fuels, governments now hope for another boost − blue energy from the oceans.

LONDON, 31 March, 2020 − The amount of energy generated by tides and waves in the last decade has increased 10-fold. Now governments around the world are planning to scale up these ventures to tap into the oceans’ vast store of blue energy.

Although in 2019 the total amount of energy produced by “blue power” would have been enough to provide electricity to only one city the size of Paris, even that was a vast increase on the tiny experiments being carried out 10 years earlier.

Now countries across the world with access to the sea are beginning to exploit all sorts of new technologies and intending to scale them up to bolster their attempts to go carbon-neutral.

Blue energy takes many forms. One of the most difficult technically is harnessing the energy of waves with devices that produce electricity. After several false starts many successful prototypes are now being trialled for commercial use. Other experiments exploit the tidal range – using the power of rapidly rising and falling tidal streams to push water through turbines.

The most commercially successful strategies so far use underwater turbines, similar to wind turbines, to exploit the tidal currents in coastal regions.

More ambitious but along the same lines are attempts to capture the energy from the immense ocean currents that move vast quantities of water round the planet.

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy”

Also included in blue energy is ocean thermal energy conversion, which exploits the temperature differences between solar energy stored as heat in the upper ocean layers and colder seawater, generally at a depth below 1000 metres.

A variation on this is to use salinity gradients, the difference between the salt content of the sea and fresh water entering from a large river system. Some of these schemes are being used to produce fresh drinking water for dry regions rather than electricity.

The potential from all these energy sources is so great that an organisation called Ocean Energy Systems (OES), an offshoot of the International Energy Agency, is pooling all the research in a bid to achieve large-scale deployment.

There are now 24 countries in the OES, including China, India, the US, most European nations with a coastline, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Most of them have already deployed some blue energy schemes and are hoping to scale them up to full commercial use in the next decade.

As with wind and solar when they were being widely developed ten years ago, energy from the oceans is currently more expensive than fossil fuels. But as the technologies are refined the costs are coming down.

Profiting already

Already China has encouraged tidal stream energy by offering a feed-in tariff three times the price of fossil fuels, similar to the rate used in many countries to launch solar and wind power. One Chinese company is already finding this incentive enough to feed power into the grid and make a profit.

Among the leading countries developing these technologies are Canada and the United Kingdom, the two countries with the highest tides in the world. Canada has a number of tidal energy schemes on its Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia, with several competing companies testing different prototypes.

Scotland, which has enormous potential because of its many islands and tidal currents, has the largest tidal array of underwater turbines in the world. The turbine output has exceeded expectations, and the MeyGen company is planning to vastly increase the number of installations.

But this is only one of more than 20 projects in the UK, some still in the research and development stage, but many already being scaled up for deployment at special testing grounds in Scotland’s Orkney islands and the West of England.

OES chairman Henry Jeffrey, from the University of Edinburgh, said the group’s new annual report communicates the sizeable global effort to identify commercialisation pathways for ocean energy technologies.

Both Canada and the US can now see big potential, and political leaders across Europe have identified ocean energy as an essential component in meeting decarbonisation targets, fostering economic growth and creating future employment opportunities.

Lower costs essential

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector as leading global powers attempt to rebalance energy usage and limit global warming. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy,” he said.

However, Jeffrey warned that while the sector continued to take huge strides forward, there were several challenges ahead “centred around affordability, reliability, installability, operability, funding availability, capacity building and standardisation.

“In particular, significant cost reductions are required for ocean energy technologies to compete with other low-carbon technologies.”

Currently the cost of wind power, taking into account construction costs over the turbines’ lifetime, is being quoted as around €0.8-10 (one eighth to one tenth of a Euro, about £0.07-9 or US$0.9-11) per kilowatt hour, but this is still going down.

The European target is to get tidal stream energy down to €0.10 by 2030 and wave power down to €0.15, which would also make them competitive with fossil fuels if gas and coal were obliged to pay for capturing and storing the carbon dioxide they produce. − Climate News Network

Coal exit will benefit health, wealth and nature

Human economies still depend on hydrocarbon fuels. But there are ways to achieve a coal exit, cut emissions and protect health.

LONDON, 30 March, 2020 − A fast coal exit and a switch away from all fossil fuels will offer multiple global benefits. In almost all circumstances, electric cars will be more climate-friendly than petrol-driven machines, even when that electricity is generated by coal combustion.

And nations that so far rely on coal will save substantially on health costs and environmental damage if they close the pits and convert to renewable energy.

The making and use of concrete – a big source of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere – remains an obdurate source of global warming. But even so there are ways to cut the climate and health damage costs of cement and mortar by more than 40%.

Each of these three studies is a reminder that there is for the moment no way to stop all carbon emissions in human economies. But each also confirms that a switch away from fossil fuels continues to make economic sense.

Clear reduction

Almost one fourth of all the fossil fuel combustion emissions that threaten a climate crisis come from passenger road transport and household heating. It takes energy to manufacture an electric car, or a heat pump, and it takes energy to generate the electricity to make them function.

Dutch and British researchers report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they considered the challenge in 59 regions of the globe and found that in 53 of their studies the switch to electric meant a clear reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

By 2050, half of all cars on the road could be electric. This would cut global emissions by up to 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This is about what Russia puts into the atmosphere now.

The switch from homes heated by gas, coal or oil to electric pumps could save 800 million tonnes. This is about the same as Germany’s current greenhouse gas emissions.

Mythical increase

Lifetime emissions from electric cars in Sweden and France − which already get most of their electricity from renewables or nuclear power − would be up to 70% lower than from petrol-driven cars, and 30% lower in the UK.

“The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil-fuel alternatives,” said Florian Knobloch, of Radboud University in the Netherlands and Cambridge in the UK.

“In other words, the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions is a myth. We’ve seen a lot of discussion of this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths.”

The 53 regions in the study represent 95% of world transport and heating demand. The scientists took into account energy use from the production chain at the beginning of a car’s or a heating system’s life, and the waste processing at the end, to find that the only exceptions were in places like Poland, which is still heavily dependent on coal.

“We decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far”

In 2015, the world’s nations agreed at an historic Paris meeting to attempt to limit average planetary warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. Right now, by 2100 global temperatures could rise by a catastrophic 3°C.

A new study in Nature Climate Change confirms that to get to the 2°C target it doesn’t just make climate sense to shut the mines and close down the coal-burning power stations: it would save money as well, just in terms of reducing the health hazards associated with pollution and the damage to ecosystems and the loss of wildlife.

“We’re well into the 21st century now and still rely heavily on burning coal, making it one of the biggest threats to our climate, our health and our environment.

“That’s why we decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far,” said Sebastian Rauner of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

Concrete burden

And his colleague Gunnar Luderer added: “Benefits from reduced health and ecosystem impacts clearly overcompensate the direct economic costs of a coal exit – they amount to a net saving of about 1.5% of global economic output by 2050. That is, $370 (£300) for every human on Earth in 2050.”

Around 8% of all greenhouse gases come from the concrete industry: it too is a source of air pollution and environmental destruction. Cement has to be baked from stone, and aggregate has to be gathered, hauled and brought to building sites, and the two have to be mixed.

US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they quantified the costs in terms of climate, death and illness from the industry and arrived at damages of about $335bn a year.

They looked at ways of cleaner combustion in kiln fuel, the more efficient use of mineral additions that might replace cement, and the applications of clean energy: all of them available now.

Neglect of health

Methods to capture and store carbon emissions from the process are not yet ready: these could reduce climate damage costs by 50% to 65%.

If manufacturers used a fuel that burned more efficiently, they could reduce health damages by 14%. A mix of already available methods could, together, reduce climate and health damage by 44%.

“There is a high emissions burden associated with the production of concrete because there is so much demand for it,” said Sabbie Miller of the University of California Davis, who led the study.

“We clearly care a great deal about greenhouse gas emissions. But we haven’t paid as much attention to health burdens, which are also driven in large part by this demand.” − Climate News Network

Human economies still depend on hydrocarbon fuels. But there are ways to achieve a coal exit, cut emissions and protect health.

LONDON, 30 March, 2020 − A fast coal exit and a switch away from all fossil fuels will offer multiple global benefits. In almost all circumstances, electric cars will be more climate-friendly than petrol-driven machines, even when that electricity is generated by coal combustion.

And nations that so far rely on coal will save substantially on health costs and environmental damage if they close the pits and convert to renewable energy.

The making and use of concrete – a big source of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere – remains an obdurate source of global warming. But even so there are ways to cut the climate and health damage costs of cement and mortar by more than 40%.

Each of these three studies is a reminder that there is for the moment no way to stop all carbon emissions in human economies. But each also confirms that a switch away from fossil fuels continues to make economic sense.

Clear reduction

Almost one fourth of all the fossil fuel combustion emissions that threaten a climate crisis come from passenger road transport and household heating. It takes energy to manufacture an electric car, or a heat pump, and it takes energy to generate the electricity to make them function.

Dutch and British researchers report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they considered the challenge in 59 regions of the globe and found that in 53 of their studies the switch to electric meant a clear reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

By 2050, half of all cars on the road could be electric. This would cut global emissions by up to 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This is about what Russia puts into the atmosphere now.

The switch from homes heated by gas, coal or oil to electric pumps could save 800 million tonnes. This is about the same as Germany’s current greenhouse gas emissions.

Mythical increase

Lifetime emissions from electric cars in Sweden and France − which already get most of their electricity from renewables or nuclear power − would be up to 70% lower than from petrol-driven cars, and 30% lower in the UK.

“The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil-fuel alternatives,” said Florian Knobloch, of Radboud University in the Netherlands and Cambridge in the UK.

“In other words, the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions is a myth. We’ve seen a lot of discussion of this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths.”

The 53 regions in the study represent 95% of world transport and heating demand. The scientists took into account energy use from the production chain at the beginning of a car’s or a heating system’s life, and the waste processing at the end, to find that the only exceptions were in places like Poland, which is still heavily dependent on coal.

“We decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far”

In 2015, the world’s nations agreed at an historic Paris meeting to attempt to limit average planetary warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. Right now, by 2100 global temperatures could rise by a catastrophic 3°C.

A new study in Nature Climate Change confirms that to get to the 2°C target it doesn’t just make climate sense to shut the mines and close down the coal-burning power stations: it would save money as well, just in terms of reducing the health hazards associated with pollution and the damage to ecosystems and the loss of wildlife.

“We’re well into the 21st century now and still rely heavily on burning coal, making it one of the biggest threats to our climate, our health and our environment.

“That’s why we decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far,” said Sebastian Rauner of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

Concrete burden

And his colleague Gunnar Luderer added: “Benefits from reduced health and ecosystem impacts clearly overcompensate the direct economic costs of a coal exit – they amount to a net saving of about 1.5% of global economic output by 2050. That is, $370 (£300) for every human on Earth in 2050.”

Around 8% of all greenhouse gases come from the concrete industry: it too is a source of air pollution and environmental destruction. Cement has to be baked from stone, and aggregate has to be gathered, hauled and brought to building sites, and the two have to be mixed.

US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they quantified the costs in terms of climate, death and illness from the industry and arrived at damages of about $335bn a year.

They looked at ways of cleaner combustion in kiln fuel, the more efficient use of mineral additions that might replace cement, and the applications of clean energy: all of them available now.

Neglect of health

Methods to capture and store carbon emissions from the process are not yet ready: these could reduce climate damage costs by 50% to 65%.

If manufacturers used a fuel that burned more efficiently, they could reduce health damages by 14%. A mix of already available methods could, together, reduce climate and health damage by 44%.

“There is a high emissions burden associated with the production of concrete because there is so much demand for it,” said Sabbie Miller of the University of California Davis, who led the study.

“We clearly care a great deal about greenhouse gas emissions. But we haven’t paid as much attention to health burdens, which are also driven in large part by this demand.” − Climate News Network

A second US Dust Bowl would hit world food stocks

When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.

LONDON, 27 March, 2020 – The next time the fertile soils of North America turn to dust, the consequences will hit food stocks worldwide.

Within four years of a climate crisis of the kind that fired John Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, the US would have consumed almost all its grain reserves.

And the ripple effects would be felt in all those countries to which America normally exports grain. That is because America feeds much of the world: in a good year, the US exports wheat with an energy value of more than 90 trillion kilocalories. The collapse of farmland into wasteland on the scale that inspired John Steinbeck could reduce this over a four-year period to around 50 trillion kcal.

Worldwide, global wheat reserves would fall by 31% in the first year, and four years on somewhere between 36 and 52 countries would have consumed three-fourths of their own reserves. Food prices would rise around the planet.

“In today’s system of global food trade, disruptions are not bound by borders. Shocks to production are expected to affect trade partners who depend on imports for their domestic food supply,” said Alison Heslin, a climate scientist at Columbia University in the US.

“Accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages, but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages”

“Our results remind us that mitigating climate risks requires accounting not only for the direct effects of climate change, like local extreme weather events, but also the climate impacts which travel through our interconnected system of global trade.”

By some time in the mid-century, most of the US will be between 1.5°C to 2°C warmer. Researchers have already warned that the border between the arid western states and the more fertile mid-western plains has shifted to the east.

There have been repeated warnings that as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever greater use of fossil fuels, the US will become increasingly vulnerable to climate extremes, including megadroughts. Drought is already becoming the “new normal” for Californians, and the fertility of the Great Plains is in any case vulnerable to human changes to a natural landscape.

A succession of droughts of the kind that turned the farmland of Kansas and Oklahoma into a devastated landscape, and turned thousands of Americans into climate refugees, would not necessarily now mean the onset of regional famine.

Dr Heslin and her colleagues report in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems that they contemplated the likelihood of a four-year drought of the kind that created the notorious 1930s Dust Bowl, and then examined the possible impact on world trade systems.

Yields and nutrition affected

Just one such climate event could hit hard those nations that rely on food imports, but even the other great grain-producing countries – among them China, India, Iran, Canada, Russia, Morocco, Australia and Egypt – would see their reserves fall.

The climate crisis is in any case a threat to the world’s supper tables. There has been repeated evidence that food output will inevitably be at risk in a warming world. With higher temperatures, yields will be reduced and with higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that warm the planet, nutrition levels of many staples are expected to fall.

The researchers factored in none of these things. They supposed that a climate catastrophe that paralleled the Dust Bowl era would occur only in the US, and found that, despite strain, the world’s markets could probably cope.

But other studies have repeatedly found that the potential for climate catastrophe and massive crop failure to strike in more than one region at any one time are increasing, with ominous consequences for world food security.

“In the context of food security, we show that accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages,” said Dr Heslin, “but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages.” – Climate News Network

When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.

LONDON, 27 March, 2020 – The next time the fertile soils of North America turn to dust, the consequences will hit food stocks worldwide.

Within four years of a climate crisis of the kind that fired John Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, the US would have consumed almost all its grain reserves.

And the ripple effects would be felt in all those countries to which America normally exports grain. That is because America feeds much of the world: in a good year, the US exports wheat with an energy value of more than 90 trillion kilocalories. The collapse of farmland into wasteland on the scale that inspired John Steinbeck could reduce this over a four-year period to around 50 trillion kcal.

Worldwide, global wheat reserves would fall by 31% in the first year, and four years on somewhere between 36 and 52 countries would have consumed three-fourths of their own reserves. Food prices would rise around the planet.

“In today’s system of global food trade, disruptions are not bound by borders. Shocks to production are expected to affect trade partners who depend on imports for their domestic food supply,” said Alison Heslin, a climate scientist at Columbia University in the US.

“Accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages, but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages”

“Our results remind us that mitigating climate risks requires accounting not only for the direct effects of climate change, like local extreme weather events, but also the climate impacts which travel through our interconnected system of global trade.”

By some time in the mid-century, most of the US will be between 1.5°C to 2°C warmer. Researchers have already warned that the border between the arid western states and the more fertile mid-western plains has shifted to the east.

There have been repeated warnings that as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever greater use of fossil fuels, the US will become increasingly vulnerable to climate extremes, including megadroughts. Drought is already becoming the “new normal” for Californians, and the fertility of the Great Plains is in any case vulnerable to human changes to a natural landscape.

A succession of droughts of the kind that turned the farmland of Kansas and Oklahoma into a devastated landscape, and turned thousands of Americans into climate refugees, would not necessarily now mean the onset of regional famine.

Dr Heslin and her colleagues report in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems that they contemplated the likelihood of a four-year drought of the kind that created the notorious 1930s Dust Bowl, and then examined the possible impact on world trade systems.

Yields and nutrition affected

Just one such climate event could hit hard those nations that rely on food imports, but even the other great grain-producing countries – among them China, India, Iran, Canada, Russia, Morocco, Australia and Egypt – would see their reserves fall.

The climate crisis is in any case a threat to the world’s supper tables. There has been repeated evidence that food output will inevitably be at risk in a warming world. With higher temperatures, yields will be reduced and with higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that warm the planet, nutrition levels of many staples are expected to fall.

The researchers factored in none of these things. They supposed that a climate catastrophe that paralleled the Dust Bowl era would occur only in the US, and found that, despite strain, the world’s markets could probably cope.

But other studies have repeatedly found that the potential for climate catastrophe and massive crop failure to strike in more than one region at any one time are increasing, with ominous consequences for world food security.

“In the context of food security, we show that accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages,” said Dr Heslin, “but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages.” – Climate News Network

Efficient energy cuts UK electricity’s carbon output

The United Kingdom leads the way in cutting carbon output from electricity production, to the surprise of its political leaders.

LONDON, 24 March, 2020 – Carbon output from the power sector has been falling faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world – despite the British government’s belief that electricity consumption would rise.

Part of the explanation is the closing of coal-fired power stations and their replacement by renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels.

But the main savings have been in energy efficiency from the wholesale introduction of LED lighting to improved industrial processes.

This remarkable transformation has been repeated across many advanced countries in Europe and beyond. Even with many economies growing, communities have managed to reduce electricity use.

Emissions exported

Environmentalists and some academics would argue that part of the reason for the reduction is that Europe has exported some of its dirty energy-intensive industries, like steel-making, to China – so that China’s emissions have gone up while Europe’s have gone down.

This is partly true, but the UK’s Department of Environment says that even taking into account imported goods the UK’s overall carbon footprint has shrunk, not simply the energy sector’s contribution. The total of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, peaked in 2007 and had dropped 21% by 2017.

Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, is highly critical of the way this energy revolution is being reported, saying the emphasis on the adoption of solar and wind technologies is misleading:

“The biggest decarbonising driver of the lot has not been the switching of supply sources (from coal to renewables). It has happened entirely as a result of investments in more energy-efficient technology.”

Constant drop

Writing on the Energyzine website, Warren says that from the beginning of this century energy consumption in the UK has been “falling. And falling. And falling. It is now over 20% lower than it was in 2000.

“In the case of the main heating fuel, natural gas, the impact has been even more pronounced. Sales have dropped by approaching one-third, largely due to better insulation and more efficient boilers and heating systems.”

He says this is totally contrary to British government predictions. As recently as 2010 the incoming Conservative government was officially planning on the doubling or even tripling of electricity consumption by 2050. But by 2010 sales were already falling, and they have continued to do so.

The 2005 White Paper, which set out the government’s proposals for future legislation, reckoned that by 2020 electricity consumption would have risen by 15%. In fact it has fallen by 16%; an error of more than 30% in forecasting.

“That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives”

The same White Paper was used to justify the building of a series of nuclear power stations to satisfy the new demand – a policy that remains in place even though it is clear there is no need for the stations.

One station is under construction in the UK, but plans for up to five more are currently in limbo awaiting a government decision on whether to underwrite their cost with an electricity tax on consumers.

Despite figures showing that electricity consumption is continuing to fall, the government is still predicting that the demand for electricity will increase from 2025, particularly because of the switch to electric cars.

But Warren points out that many experts in the field, including the people who run the UK’s National Grid, doubt that this will happen.

Critical but neglected

Given how critical energy efficiency is in reducing demand when adopted across housing and industry, Warren says it is remarkable how little political attention is devoted to it. Very little is published about how and where critical savings are being made, and how much unfulfilled potential for improving efficiency there still is.

While some other western European nations have finally understood the importance of energy efficiency, sometimes called “the first fuel”, Warren says, many of the former Communist countries, even if they have now joined the European Union, still see building large new power stations as the way forward.

He told the Climate News Network: “The broad picture is that, over the past decade, most western European countries are seeing energy consumption stabilise, in many cases fall (even as GDP grows).

“But sadly too many of the old Comecon countries still can’t get their collective minds around demand-side management as a concept. That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives.” – Climate News Network

The United Kingdom leads the way in cutting carbon output from electricity production, to the surprise of its political leaders.

LONDON, 24 March, 2020 – Carbon output from the power sector has been falling faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world – despite the British government’s belief that electricity consumption would rise.

Part of the explanation is the closing of coal-fired power stations and their replacement by renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels.

But the main savings have been in energy efficiency from the wholesale introduction of LED lighting to improved industrial processes.

This remarkable transformation has been repeated across many advanced countries in Europe and beyond. Even with many economies growing, communities have managed to reduce electricity use.

Emissions exported

Environmentalists and some academics would argue that part of the reason for the reduction is that Europe has exported some of its dirty energy-intensive industries, like steel-making, to China – so that China’s emissions have gone up while Europe’s have gone down.

This is partly true, but the UK’s Department of Environment says that even taking into account imported goods the UK’s overall carbon footprint has shrunk, not simply the energy sector’s contribution. The total of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, peaked in 2007 and had dropped 21% by 2017.

Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, is highly critical of the way this energy revolution is being reported, saying the emphasis on the adoption of solar and wind technologies is misleading:

“The biggest decarbonising driver of the lot has not been the switching of supply sources (from coal to renewables). It has happened entirely as a result of investments in more energy-efficient technology.”

Constant drop

Writing on the Energyzine website, Warren says that from the beginning of this century energy consumption in the UK has been “falling. And falling. And falling. It is now over 20% lower than it was in 2000.

“In the case of the main heating fuel, natural gas, the impact has been even more pronounced. Sales have dropped by approaching one-third, largely due to better insulation and more efficient boilers and heating systems.”

He says this is totally contrary to British government predictions. As recently as 2010 the incoming Conservative government was officially planning on the doubling or even tripling of electricity consumption by 2050. But by 2010 sales were already falling, and they have continued to do so.

The 2005 White Paper, which set out the government’s proposals for future legislation, reckoned that by 2020 electricity consumption would have risen by 15%. In fact it has fallen by 16%; an error of more than 30% in forecasting.

“That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives”

The same White Paper was used to justify the building of a series of nuclear power stations to satisfy the new demand – a policy that remains in place even though it is clear there is no need for the stations.

One station is under construction in the UK, but plans for up to five more are currently in limbo awaiting a government decision on whether to underwrite their cost with an electricity tax on consumers.

Despite figures showing that electricity consumption is continuing to fall, the government is still predicting that the demand for electricity will increase from 2025, particularly because of the switch to electric cars.

But Warren points out that many experts in the field, including the people who run the UK’s National Grid, doubt that this will happen.

Critical but neglected

Given how critical energy efficiency is in reducing demand when adopted across housing and industry, Warren says it is remarkable how little political attention is devoted to it. Very little is published about how and where critical savings are being made, and how much unfulfilled potential for improving efficiency there still is.

While some other western European nations have finally understood the importance of energy efficiency, sometimes called “the first fuel”, Warren says, many of the former Communist countries, even if they have now joined the European Union, still see building large new power stations as the way forward.

He told the Climate News Network: “The broad picture is that, over the past decade, most western European countries are seeing energy consumption stabilise, in many cases fall (even as GDP grows).

“But sadly too many of the old Comecon countries still can’t get their collective minds around demand-side management as a concept. That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives.” – Climate News Network

Extreme summer heat puts millions at risk

heat

Summer on much of the planet could get too hot for comfort by the end of the century, with more than a billion people seriously affected by extreme heat.

LONDON, 20 March, 2020 – As many as 1.2 billion people could be at risk of serious medical stress by the year 2100 simply on the basis of the extreme summer temperatures forecast if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to new research.

The finding is, in essence, a confirmation of earlier studies: researchers looked closely at the threat to health and, indeed, to life in a globally-heating world have already made a calculation that “more than a billion” could be at risk not just from soaring summer temperatures over longer periods, but also from heightened humidity.

Urgent question

One study found that heat extremes can kill in up to 27 different ways. And lethal heat waves in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010 and Australia in 2012/2013 have confirmed this in the most unwelcome way possible.

But a study published in Environmental Research Letters journal takes a simple statistical approach to this increasingly urgent question and settles on a notional temperature that factors in not just how high the mercury rises but also how much water vapour might be in the air.

This is known to meteorologists as a “wet bulb” temperature. And the consensus is that, for fit, healthy, acclimatised people, a wet bulb temperature of 33°C is about the limit of tolerance – putting the very young, the very old, and the already ill at risk.

“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense”

Humans can survive much higher thermometer readings in dry climates, but are designed to shed surplus body heat through perspiration – something that becomes increasingly difficult as atmospheric humidity begins to rise. Then the risks of heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke begin to multiply.

So researchers in the US looked at how heat and humidity will increase in a warming planet, for the existing population, and played with 40 climate simulations to build up a picture of probabilities as humans burned more fossil fuels, stoked levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and turned up the planetary thermostat.

They calculated that, by 2100, the numbers at risk of sweltering, gasping and sickening heat extremes will have multiplied.

The planet is already around 1.2°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. If the temperature notches up to 1.5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then every year an estimated 500 million could be exposed to unsafe extremes.

If the temperature rises by 2°C – the upper limit the world set itself in an historic Paris climate meeting in 2015 – the numbers at risk would reach 800 million.

And if the planetary average annual temperature rise was by 3°C – and right now the planet is on course to exceed even that figure – then an estimated 1.2 billion would at least once a year be at risk of extended spells of dangerous heat and humidity.

Research leader Dawei Li, once of Rutgers University and now postdoctoral associate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, says: “Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense.

“In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have done in the 19th century.” Climate News Network

Summer on much of the planet could get too hot for comfort by the end of the century, with more than a billion people seriously affected by extreme heat.

LONDON, 20 March, 2020 – As many as 1.2 billion people could be at risk of serious medical stress by the year 2100 simply on the basis of the extreme summer temperatures forecast if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to new research.

The finding is, in essence, a confirmation of earlier studies: researchers looked closely at the threat to health and, indeed, to life in a globally-heating world have already made a calculation that “more than a billion” could be at risk not just from soaring summer temperatures over longer periods, but also from heightened humidity.

Urgent question

One study found that heat extremes can kill in up to 27 different ways. And lethal heat waves in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010 and Australia in 2012/2013 have confirmed this in the most unwelcome way possible.

But a study published in Environmental Research Letters journal takes a simple statistical approach to this increasingly urgent question and settles on a notional temperature that factors in not just how high the mercury rises but also how much water vapour might be in the air.

This is known to meteorologists as a “wet bulb” temperature. And the consensus is that, for fit, healthy, acclimatised people, a wet bulb temperature of 33°C is about the limit of tolerance – putting the very young, the very old, and the already ill at risk.

“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense”

Humans can survive much higher thermometer readings in dry climates, but are designed to shed surplus body heat through perspiration – something that becomes increasingly difficult as atmospheric humidity begins to rise. Then the risks of heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke begin to multiply.

So researchers in the US looked at how heat and humidity will increase in a warming planet, for the existing population, and played with 40 climate simulations to build up a picture of probabilities as humans burned more fossil fuels, stoked levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and turned up the planetary thermostat.

They calculated that, by 2100, the numbers at risk of sweltering, gasping and sickening heat extremes will have multiplied.

The planet is already around 1.2°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. If the temperature notches up to 1.5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then every year an estimated 500 million could be exposed to unsafe extremes.

If the temperature rises by 2°C – the upper limit the world set itself in an historic Paris climate meeting in 2015 – the numbers at risk would reach 800 million.

And if the planetary average annual temperature rise was by 3°C – and right now the planet is on course to exceed even that figure – then an estimated 1.2 billion would at least once a year be at risk of extended spells of dangerous heat and humidity.

Research leader Dawei Li, once of Rutgers University and now postdoctoral associate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, says: “Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense.

“In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have done in the 19th century.” Climate News Network

Tropical forests may be heating Earth by 2035

Climate change so far has meant more vigorous forest growth as greenhouse gases rise. The tropical forests may soon change that.

LONDON, 6 March, 2020 – Within about fifteen years, the great tropical forests of Amazonia and Africa could stop absorbing atmospheric carbon, and slowly start to release more carbon than growing trees can fix.

A team of scientists from 100 research institutions has looked at the evidence from pristine tracts of tropical forest to find that – overall – the foliage soaked up the most carbon, most efficiently, more than two decades ago.

Since then, the measured efficiency of the forests as a “sink” in which carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere has been dwindling. By the last decade, the ability of a tropical forest to absorb carbon had dropped by a third.

All plant growth is a balancing act based on sunshine and atmospheric carbon and rainfall. Plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, and surrender it as they die.

In a dense, undisturbed wilderness, fallen leaves and even fallen trees are slightly less likely to decompose completely: the atmospheric carbon in leaf and wood form has a better chance of being preserved in flooded forests as peat, or being buried before it can completely decompose.

The forest becomes a bank vault, repository or sink of the extra carbon that humans are now spilling into the atmosphere from car exhausts, factory chimneys and power station furnaces.

Theory and practice

And in theory, as more and more carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere, plants respond to the more generous fertilisation by growing more vigorously, and absorbing more carbon.

But as more carbon gets into the atmosphere, the temperature rises and weather patterns begin to become more extreme. Summers get hotter, rainfall more capricious. Then trees become vulnerable to drought, forest fire and invasive diseases, and die more often, and decompose more completely.

Wannes Hubau, once of the University of Leeds in the UK and now at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium, and more than 100 colleagues from around the world, report in the journal Nature that they assembled 30 years of measurement from more than 300,000 trees in 244 undisturbed plots of forest in 11 countries in Africa, and from 321 plots of forest in Amazonia, and did the sums.

In the 1990s, intact tropical forests removed around 46 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By the 2010s, the uptake had fallen to around 25 billion tonnes. This means that 21 billion tons of greenhouse gas that might otherwise have been turned into timber and root had been added to the atmosphere.

This is pretty much what the UK, France, Germany and Canada together spilled into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion over a 10-year period.

“We’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun. This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models”

“Extra carbon boosts tree growth, but every year this effect is being increasingly countered by the negative impacts of higher temperatures and droughts which slow growth and can kill trees,” said Dr Hubau.

“Our modeling shows a long-term decline in the African sink and that the Amazon sink will continue to rapidly weaken, which we predict will become a carbon source in the mid-2030s.”

Tropical forests are an integral factor in the planetary carbon budget – a crude accounting system that climate scientists rely upon to model the choice of futures that face humankind as the world heats up.

Around half of Earth’s carbon is stored in terrestrial vegetation and the tropical forests account for about a third of the planet’s primary productivity. So how forests respond to a warmer world is vital.

Because the Amazon region is being hit by higher temperatures, and more frequent and prolonged droughts than forests in tropical Africa, Amazonia is weakening at a faster rate.

But decline has also begun in Africa. In the 1990s, the undisturbed tropical forests alone inhaled 17% of human-made carbon dioxide emissions. In the decade just ended, this proportion fell to 6%.

Catastrophic prospect

In roughly the same period, the area of intact forest fell by 19%, and global carbon dioxide emissions rose by 46%. Even so, the tropical forests store 250 billion tonnes of carbon in their trees alone: 90 years of fossil fuel emissions at the present rate. So their sustained loss would be catastrophic.

“Intact tropical forests remain a vital carbon sink but this research reveals that unless policies are put in place to stabilise the Earth’s climate, it is only a matter of time until they are no longer able to sequester carbon,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and one of the authors.

“One big concern for the future of humanity is when carbon-cycle feedbacks really kick in, with nature switching from slowing climate change to accelerating it.

“After years of work deep in the Congo and Amazon rainforests, we’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun.

“This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models. There is no time to lose in tackling climate change.” – Climate News Network

Climate change so far has meant more vigorous forest growth as greenhouse gases rise. The tropical forests may soon change that.

LONDON, 6 March, 2020 – Within about fifteen years, the great tropical forests of Amazonia and Africa could stop absorbing atmospheric carbon, and slowly start to release more carbon than growing trees can fix.

A team of scientists from 100 research institutions has looked at the evidence from pristine tracts of tropical forest to find that – overall – the foliage soaked up the most carbon, most efficiently, more than two decades ago.

Since then, the measured efficiency of the forests as a “sink” in which carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere has been dwindling. By the last decade, the ability of a tropical forest to absorb carbon had dropped by a third.

All plant growth is a balancing act based on sunshine and atmospheric carbon and rainfall. Plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, and surrender it as they die.

In a dense, undisturbed wilderness, fallen leaves and even fallen trees are slightly less likely to decompose completely: the atmospheric carbon in leaf and wood form has a better chance of being preserved in flooded forests as peat, or being buried before it can completely decompose.

The forest becomes a bank vault, repository or sink of the extra carbon that humans are now spilling into the atmosphere from car exhausts, factory chimneys and power station furnaces.

Theory and practice

And in theory, as more and more carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere, plants respond to the more generous fertilisation by growing more vigorously, and absorbing more carbon.

But as more carbon gets into the atmosphere, the temperature rises and weather patterns begin to become more extreme. Summers get hotter, rainfall more capricious. Then trees become vulnerable to drought, forest fire and invasive diseases, and die more often, and decompose more completely.

Wannes Hubau, once of the University of Leeds in the UK and now at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium, and more than 100 colleagues from around the world, report in the journal Nature that they assembled 30 years of measurement from more than 300,000 trees in 244 undisturbed plots of forest in 11 countries in Africa, and from 321 plots of forest in Amazonia, and did the sums.

In the 1990s, intact tropical forests removed around 46 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By the 2010s, the uptake had fallen to around 25 billion tonnes. This means that 21 billion tons of greenhouse gas that might otherwise have been turned into timber and root had been added to the atmosphere.

This is pretty much what the UK, France, Germany and Canada together spilled into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion over a 10-year period.

“We’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun. This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models”

“Extra carbon boosts tree growth, but every year this effect is being increasingly countered by the negative impacts of higher temperatures and droughts which slow growth and can kill trees,” said Dr Hubau.

“Our modeling shows a long-term decline in the African sink and that the Amazon sink will continue to rapidly weaken, which we predict will become a carbon source in the mid-2030s.”

Tropical forests are an integral factor in the planetary carbon budget – a crude accounting system that climate scientists rely upon to model the choice of futures that face humankind as the world heats up.

Around half of Earth’s carbon is stored in terrestrial vegetation and the tropical forests account for about a third of the planet’s primary productivity. So how forests respond to a warmer world is vital.

Because the Amazon region is being hit by higher temperatures, and more frequent and prolonged droughts than forests in tropical Africa, Amazonia is weakening at a faster rate.

But decline has also begun in Africa. In the 1990s, the undisturbed tropical forests alone inhaled 17% of human-made carbon dioxide emissions. In the decade just ended, this proportion fell to 6%.

Catastrophic prospect

In roughly the same period, the area of intact forest fell by 19%, and global carbon dioxide emissions rose by 46%. Even so, the tropical forests store 250 billion tonnes of carbon in their trees alone: 90 years of fossil fuel emissions at the present rate. So their sustained loss would be catastrophic.

“Intact tropical forests remain a vital carbon sink but this research reveals that unless policies are put in place to stabilise the Earth’s climate, it is only a matter of time until they are no longer able to sequester carbon,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and one of the authors.

“One big concern for the future of humanity is when carbon-cycle feedbacks really kick in, with nature switching from slowing climate change to accelerating it.

“After years of work deep in the Congo and Amazon rainforests, we’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun.

“This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models. There is no time to lose in tackling climate change.” – Climate News Network

US state plans fossil fuel tax to fund schooling

The US state of Maryland is proposing a fossil fuel tax to pay for pre-school education and to promote electric cars.

LONDON, 27 February, 2020 − Maryland, an eastern US state badly hit by climate change, wants to introduce a fossil fuel tax on polluting industries and gas-guzzling cars in order to fund improvements to its education system worth $350 million (£271m) a year.

The Climate Crisis and Education Bill is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 session. With a strong Democrat majority in both upper and lower houses of the state’s legislature, it could soon become law – even though the ideas behind it are extremely radical by US standards.

The bill would establish a Climate Crisis Council to develop an energy policy that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 – and trusts in achieving net negative emissions after that, using 2006 as a baseline.

There has been widespread concern in Maryland about falling education standards compared with other states, and an inquiry, the Kirwan Commission, has called for $350m a year to be invested in improvements.

These include extra funding for teacher salaries, additional counselling and career preparation, stronger health programmes, and money for pre-school activities.

“We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does”

The bill would introduce a gradually escalating fossil fuel fee, starting at $15 a ton for non-transport sources and $10 a ton for vehicles.

There would also be a graduated registration fee on new cars and light trucks that are gas guzzlers, revenues from which would be used to provide rebates to electric vehicle (EV) purchasers and to pay for the installation of statewide EV charging points.

Maryland has suffered more than most of the US from climate change and is severely threatened by sea level rise on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Some small towns are already losing the battle against the sea.

The frequency of street flooding in the state capital, Annapolis, and larger cities like Baltimore has increased about ten-fold since the early 1960s.

Salt feeds concerns

Salinisation of farmland on the Eastern Shore is also a concern, as the salt water has begun intruding into the water table. Across the state the frequency of extreme weather events continues to increase, including events like flash flooding, heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat and droughts.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the leading General Assembly supporter of the bill, said the state’s taxpayers had already been paying for damage caused by the climate crisis: “In the 2019 session, we passed an emergency appropriation in the General Assembly for one million dollars to mitigate flooding in Annapolis.

“That’s just one city in the entire state − one million dollars. Why should the taxpayers pay for that when fossil fuel companies make $400 million a day in profits?”

Emphasising the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Benjamin F. Kramer, said: “We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does.

“And the legislation is a win, win, win. It’s a win for our health, it’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for education.”

Support detected

Both men are conscious that despite the concern of Democrats about the climate crisis, and the fact that the party has a large overall majority, their bill is radical and may meet some resistance. However, recent polling suggests that the public supports action on the crisis.

The bill is also up against legislators who favour other ways of paying for the education reforms, including taxes on gambling, alcohol and digital commerce.

In order to allay fears about new taxes on fossil fuels the provisions of the bill insist that the carbon taxes protect low- and moderate-income households, as well as “energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses”, and help fossil fuel workers who may lose their jobs to find new ones in the clean economy.

There are also clauses that specifically prevent the fossil fuel companies from passing the cost of carbon taxes on to Maryland consumers. − Climate News Network

The US state of Maryland is proposing a fossil fuel tax to pay for pre-school education and to promote electric cars.

LONDON, 27 February, 2020 − Maryland, an eastern US state badly hit by climate change, wants to introduce a fossil fuel tax on polluting industries and gas-guzzling cars in order to fund improvements to its education system worth $350 million (£271m) a year.

The Climate Crisis and Education Bill is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 session. With a strong Democrat majority in both upper and lower houses of the state’s legislature, it could soon become law – even though the ideas behind it are extremely radical by US standards.

The bill would establish a Climate Crisis Council to develop an energy policy that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 – and trusts in achieving net negative emissions after that, using 2006 as a baseline.

There has been widespread concern in Maryland about falling education standards compared with other states, and an inquiry, the Kirwan Commission, has called for $350m a year to be invested in improvements.

These include extra funding for teacher salaries, additional counselling and career preparation, stronger health programmes, and money for pre-school activities.

“We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does”

The bill would introduce a gradually escalating fossil fuel fee, starting at $15 a ton for non-transport sources and $10 a ton for vehicles.

There would also be a graduated registration fee on new cars and light trucks that are gas guzzlers, revenues from which would be used to provide rebates to electric vehicle (EV) purchasers and to pay for the installation of statewide EV charging points.

Maryland has suffered more than most of the US from climate change and is severely threatened by sea level rise on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Some small towns are already losing the battle against the sea.

The frequency of street flooding in the state capital, Annapolis, and larger cities like Baltimore has increased about ten-fold since the early 1960s.

Salt feeds concerns

Salinisation of farmland on the Eastern Shore is also a concern, as the salt water has begun intruding into the water table. Across the state the frequency of extreme weather events continues to increase, including events like flash flooding, heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat and droughts.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the leading General Assembly supporter of the bill, said the state’s taxpayers had already been paying for damage caused by the climate crisis: “In the 2019 session, we passed an emergency appropriation in the General Assembly for one million dollars to mitigate flooding in Annapolis.

“That’s just one city in the entire state − one million dollars. Why should the taxpayers pay for that when fossil fuel companies make $400 million a day in profits?”

Emphasising the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Benjamin F. Kramer, said: “We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does.

“And the legislation is a win, win, win. It’s a win for our health, it’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for education.”

Support detected

Both men are conscious that despite the concern of Democrats about the climate crisis, and the fact that the party has a large overall majority, their bill is radical and may meet some resistance. However, recent polling suggests that the public supports action on the crisis.

The bill is also up against legislators who favour other ways of paying for the education reforms, including taxes on gambling, alcohol and digital commerce.

In order to allay fears about new taxes on fossil fuels the provisions of the bill insist that the carbon taxes protect low- and moderate-income households, as well as “energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses”, and help fossil fuel workers who may lose their jobs to find new ones in the clean economy.

There are also clauses that specifically prevent the fossil fuel companies from passing the cost of carbon taxes on to Maryland consumers. − Climate News Network

Rising tides will leave no choice for US millions

Time and tide wait for no-one. As sea levels rise, the rising tides will become more impatient. Millions of Americans will have to migrate.

LONDON, 26 February, 2020 – The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.

The inland counties around Los Angeles, and close to New Orleans in Louisiana, will suddenly get a little more crowded. And from Boston in the north-east to the tip of Florida, Americans will be on the move.

That is because an estimated 13 million US citizens could some time in this century become climate refugees, driven from their seaside homes by sea level rise of possibly 1.8 metres, according to new research.

And they will have to move home in a poorer economic climate: worldwide. If governments and city authorities do not take the right steps, sea level rise could erode 4% of the global annual economy, says a separate study. That is, coast-dwellers could witness not just their towns and even cities washed away: they could see their prosperity go under as well.

Californian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used machine learning techniques – in effect, artificial intelligence systems – to calculate what is most likely to happen as US citizens desert Delaware Bay, slip away from the cities of North and South Carolina, and flee Florida in the face of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and increasingly catastrophic windstorms.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States … everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not”

In the year 2000, a third of all the planet’s urban land was in a zone vulnerable to flood. By 2040, this could rise to 40%. In 2010, in the US, more than 120m citizens – that is nearly 40% of the entire population – lived in coastal counties. By 2020, this proportion could already be higher.

And by 2100, at least 13.1m people could be living on land likely to be inundated if sea levels rise by 1.8 metres. Except that they won’t: they will have already seen the future and moved away from it, to some settlement well away from the rising tides.

Those who might otherwise have purchased their abandoned seaside houses will be looking for somewhere safer and adding to the pressure on the housing market.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States,” said Bistra Dilkina of the University of Southern California at Irvine, a computer scientist who worked with engineers to model the human response to the future.

She and her colleagues started from patterns of movement that began with Hurricane Katrina, in 2004, and Hurricane Rita a year later, both in Louisiana. They then let the algorithms take over the challenge of guessing what American families and businesses are most likely to do as the tides begin to flood the high streets.

Action promised

“We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not,” she said.

The California team’s worst-case forecasts are based on a premise that the world takes no real action to combat sea level rise, which is driven by global warming powered in turn by fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere on an ever-increasing scale.

But in Paris in 2015, more than 190 nations did agree to act: to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. So far, very few have committed to sufficient action, and the President of the US has pronounced climate change a “hoax” and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Researchers in Austria report in the journal Environmental Research Communications that they decided to consider the potential economic cost worldwide of sea level rise alone. Scientists have been trying for years to guess the cost of flood damage to come: the latest study is of the impact of sea level rise and coastal flooding upon national economies worldwide.

The scientists considered two scenarios, including one in which the world kept the promises made in Paris, and one in which it did not, and made no attempt to adapt to or mitigate climate change.

Significant impact

By 2050 losses in each scenario would be significant and much the same. But by 2100, the do-nothing option promised to hit the gross domestic product – an economist’s favourite measure of economic well-being – by 4%.

Europe and Japan would be significantly hit; China , India and Canada hardest of all. If the world’s richest nations actually worked to limit climate change and adapt to the challenges ahead, the impact on the economy could be limited to 1%.

“The findings of this paper demonstrate that we need to think long term while acting swiftly,” said Thomas Schinko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who led the study.

“Macroeconomic impacts up to and beyond 2050 as a result of coastal flooding due to sea level rise – not taking into account any other climate-related impacts such as drought – are severe and increasing.

“We, as a global society, need to further co-ordinate mitigation, adaptation and climate-resilient development and consider where we build cities and situate important infrastructure.” – Climate News Network

Time and tide wait for no-one. As sea levels rise, the rising tides will become more impatient. Millions of Americans will have to migrate.

LONDON, 26 February, 2020 – The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.

The inland counties around Los Angeles, and close to New Orleans in Louisiana, will suddenly get a little more crowded. And from Boston in the north-east to the tip of Florida, Americans will be on the move.

That is because an estimated 13 million US citizens could some time in this century become climate refugees, driven from their seaside homes by sea level rise of possibly 1.8 metres, according to new research.

And they will have to move home in a poorer economic climate: worldwide. If governments and city authorities do not take the right steps, sea level rise could erode 4% of the global annual economy, says a separate study. That is, coast-dwellers could witness not just their towns and even cities washed away: they could see their prosperity go under as well.

Californian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used machine learning techniques – in effect, artificial intelligence systems – to calculate what is most likely to happen as US citizens desert Delaware Bay, slip away from the cities of North and South Carolina, and flee Florida in the face of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and increasingly catastrophic windstorms.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States … everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not”

In the year 2000, a third of all the planet’s urban land was in a zone vulnerable to flood. By 2040, this could rise to 40%. In 2010, in the US, more than 120m citizens – that is nearly 40% of the entire population – lived in coastal counties. By 2020, this proportion could already be higher.

And by 2100, at least 13.1m people could be living on land likely to be inundated if sea levels rise by 1.8 metres. Except that they won’t: they will have already seen the future and moved away from it, to some settlement well away from the rising tides.

Those who might otherwise have purchased their abandoned seaside houses will be looking for somewhere safer and adding to the pressure on the housing market.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States,” said Bistra Dilkina of the University of Southern California at Irvine, a computer scientist who worked with engineers to model the human response to the future.

She and her colleagues started from patterns of movement that began with Hurricane Katrina, in 2004, and Hurricane Rita a year later, both in Louisiana. They then let the algorithms take over the challenge of guessing what American families and businesses are most likely to do as the tides begin to flood the high streets.

Action promised

“We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not,” she said.

The California team’s worst-case forecasts are based on a premise that the world takes no real action to combat sea level rise, which is driven by global warming powered in turn by fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere on an ever-increasing scale.

But in Paris in 2015, more than 190 nations did agree to act: to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. So far, very few have committed to sufficient action, and the President of the US has pronounced climate change a “hoax” and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Researchers in Austria report in the journal Environmental Research Communications that they decided to consider the potential economic cost worldwide of sea level rise alone. Scientists have been trying for years to guess the cost of flood damage to come: the latest study is of the impact of sea level rise and coastal flooding upon national economies worldwide.

The scientists considered two scenarios, including one in which the world kept the promises made in Paris, and one in which it did not, and made no attempt to adapt to or mitigate climate change.

Significant impact

By 2050 losses in each scenario would be significant and much the same. But by 2100, the do-nothing option promised to hit the gross domestic product – an economist’s favourite measure of economic well-being – by 4%.

Europe and Japan would be significantly hit; China , India and Canada hardest of all. If the world’s richest nations actually worked to limit climate change and adapt to the challenges ahead, the impact on the economy could be limited to 1%.

“The findings of this paper demonstrate that we need to think long term while acting swiftly,” said Thomas Schinko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who led the study.

“Macroeconomic impacts up to and beyond 2050 as a result of coastal flooding due to sea level rise – not taking into account any other climate-related impacts such as drought – are severe and increasing.

“We, as a global society, need to further co-ordinate mitigation, adaptation and climate-resilient development and consider where we build cities and situate important infrastructure.” – Climate News Network

A third of plants and animals risk mass extinction

As planetary temperatures rise, the chances of species survival lessen. Mass extinction is coming. The challenge is to measure the loss.

LONDON, 25 February, 2020 – Within 50 years, a third of all plant and animal species could be caught up in a mass extinction, as a consequence of climate change driven by ever-rising temperatures. What is new about this warning is the method, the precision, the timetable and the identification of a cause.

And – entirely felicitously – support for the prediction is backed by a series of separate studies of individual species survival in a world rapidly warming because of human commitment to fossil fuels.

Tiny marsupial insect-hunters in Australia could, on the evidence of direct experiment, fail to adapt to ever-higher thermometer readings, and quietly disappear.

As frogs and other amphibians in Central America are wiped out by invasive fungal pathogens – perhaps assisted by climate change – a set of snake species that prey upon them have also become increasingly at risk.

And directly because the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, the polar bears of Baffin Bay in Canada are thinner than they were 30 years ago, and have fewer cubs. That’s because Ursus maritimus hunts its seal prey on the sea ice. And as the winter ice forms later and melts earlier each decade, the bears have begun to go hungry.

Biologists, ecologists and conservationists have been warning for four decades that planet Earth could be on the edge of a sixth Great Extinction, as a simple consequence of the growth of human numbers and human economies, and the parallel destruction of natural habitat.

They have also repeatedly warned that climate change driven by human-triggered planetary heating would inevitably accelerate the losses.

Repeated surveys

But researchers from the University of Arizona have now confirmed the climate connection by using another approach: they decided to look directly at the numbers. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they selected data from 538 species and 581 places around the globe: they chose these numbers and sites because they could be sure that specific animal and plant species had been repeatedly surveyed over intervals of at least a decade.

They also factored in the changes in local climate conditions at each site, and isolated 19 different variables in the climate machine to work out what it could be about global heating that would directly pose the most significant threats. They also considered the options open to their chosen species: could these, for instance, migrate easily, or tolerate longer periods of extreme heat?

And then they did the calculations. They found that 50% of the chosen species went extinct locally if temperatures rose by more than 0.5°C, and 95% if the mercury reached an additional 2.9°C.

In the last century, the planet has warmed by 1°C above the average for most of human history and prehistory. Right now, thanks to ever-increasing fossil fuel use and continued forest destruction, the planet could be more than 3°C warmer by 2100.

But the researchers also found that the climate factor most closely linked to the extinction of any population was simply the maximum annual count the hottest daily highs in summer.

This also implies that extinction could be two or even four times as frequent in the tropics as in the temperate zones: it is in the tropics – the reefs, the rainforests, the wetlands and savannahs – that the world’s species are concentrated.

Antechinis flavipes, or yellow-footed antechinus, is a native Australian: it is not exactly a mole, or a mouse, or a shrew. It is a little marsupial carnivore with an unhappy love life: males mate in a frenzy and then tend to die from stress-related immune system breakdown.

“If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half”

It is also sensitive to temperature. When the mercury drops, the creature can go into a torpor and once comatose can even sleep through a bushfire.

Norwegian scientists report in the journal Frontiers in Physiology that they exposed 19 captive juveniles to spells of cold (17°C) and hot (25°C) temperatures, measured their growth and metabolic rate, and observed changes in behaviour. They conclude that, while individuals of the species can cope with short periods of high temperature, they may not have any way of surviving extended heat extremes.

Which is a problem for antechinus, because all the predictions for Australia – and indeed most of the planet – is that as the century proceeds and ever more greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, the hottest spells will become hotter, more frequent and more extended.

North American researchers have been tracking the polar bears who hunt seals and mate in Baffin Bay, between north-eastern Canada and Greenland, for almost three decades. They report in the journal Ecological Applications that when sea ice retreats, the bears wait on Baffin Island and live on their accumulated fat.

In the 1990s, the average stay on land – and away from the bears’ preferred prey – was 60 days. In the last decade, this rose to 90 days. Sampled females proved to be thinner than they had been, and were more likely to have one cub rather than two, all because unseasonally high temperatures in the Arctic mean that the hunting season on the ice is becoming ever shorter.

In 2004, the population of amphibians in a national park in Panama started to perish on a huge scale, and an estimated 30 species of frog and other creatures all but vanished in the wake of a pathogen fungus outbreak.

US scientists report in the journal Science that they set out to look at their wildlife observational data before and after the outbreak to measure the effect on the region’s snake species that prey on amphibians.

Rarely observed snakes

Even though the scientists logged 594 surveys in the seven years before the outbreak and 513 in the six years that followed, they had to use mathematical techniques to come up with probabilities of local snake extinction, because snakes are hard to observe at any time. Of the 36 snake species recorded there, 12 have been observed only once, and five only twice.

The bad news is there is an 85% probability that there are now fewer snake species than there had been, simply because of the disappearance of amphibian prey.

The study also highlights another worry for conservationists and ecologists: extinction of species is happening at an accelerating rate, but biologists still cannot put a number to the total of species at risk. Most of them have never been described or named. Like some of the snakes of Panama, they will have gone before scientists even knew they were there.

The climate connection with the worldwide loss of amphibian species is still uncertain. The certainty is that climate change will make life too hot for many species that – because what was once wilderness has now been cleared for cities, quarries, farms and commercial plantations – can no longer shift to cooler terrain.

John Wiens of the University of Arizona, one of the authors behind the research that predicts massive extinctions by 2070, thinks there is something that can be done.

In 2015 in Paris more than 190 nations vowed to act to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C. “In a way, it’s a ‘choose your own adventure,’” he said.

“If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species on Earth by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half of all animal and plant species, based on our results.” – Climate News Network

As planetary temperatures rise, the chances of species survival lessen. Mass extinction is coming. The challenge is to measure the loss.

LONDON, 25 February, 2020 – Within 50 years, a third of all plant and animal species could be caught up in a mass extinction, as a consequence of climate change driven by ever-rising temperatures. What is new about this warning is the method, the precision, the timetable and the identification of a cause.

And – entirely felicitously – support for the prediction is backed by a series of separate studies of individual species survival in a world rapidly warming because of human commitment to fossil fuels.

Tiny marsupial insect-hunters in Australia could, on the evidence of direct experiment, fail to adapt to ever-higher thermometer readings, and quietly disappear.

As frogs and other amphibians in Central America are wiped out by invasive fungal pathogens – perhaps assisted by climate change – a set of snake species that prey upon them have also become increasingly at risk.

And directly because the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, the polar bears of Baffin Bay in Canada are thinner than they were 30 years ago, and have fewer cubs. That’s because Ursus maritimus hunts its seal prey on the sea ice. And as the winter ice forms later and melts earlier each decade, the bears have begun to go hungry.

Biologists, ecologists and conservationists have been warning for four decades that planet Earth could be on the edge of a sixth Great Extinction, as a simple consequence of the growth of human numbers and human economies, and the parallel destruction of natural habitat.

They have also repeatedly warned that climate change driven by human-triggered planetary heating would inevitably accelerate the losses.

Repeated surveys

But researchers from the University of Arizona have now confirmed the climate connection by using another approach: they decided to look directly at the numbers. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they selected data from 538 species and 581 places around the globe: they chose these numbers and sites because they could be sure that specific animal and plant species had been repeatedly surveyed over intervals of at least a decade.

They also factored in the changes in local climate conditions at each site, and isolated 19 different variables in the climate machine to work out what it could be about global heating that would directly pose the most significant threats. They also considered the options open to their chosen species: could these, for instance, migrate easily, or tolerate longer periods of extreme heat?

And then they did the calculations. They found that 50% of the chosen species went extinct locally if temperatures rose by more than 0.5°C, and 95% if the mercury reached an additional 2.9°C.

In the last century, the planet has warmed by 1°C above the average for most of human history and prehistory. Right now, thanks to ever-increasing fossil fuel use and continued forest destruction, the planet could be more than 3°C warmer by 2100.

But the researchers also found that the climate factor most closely linked to the extinction of any population was simply the maximum annual count the hottest daily highs in summer.

This also implies that extinction could be two or even four times as frequent in the tropics as in the temperate zones: it is in the tropics – the reefs, the rainforests, the wetlands and savannahs – that the world’s species are concentrated.

Antechinis flavipes, or yellow-footed antechinus, is a native Australian: it is not exactly a mole, or a mouse, or a shrew. It is a little marsupial carnivore with an unhappy love life: males mate in a frenzy and then tend to die from stress-related immune system breakdown.

“If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half”

It is also sensitive to temperature. When the mercury drops, the creature can go into a torpor and once comatose can even sleep through a bushfire.

Norwegian scientists report in the journal Frontiers in Physiology that they exposed 19 captive juveniles to spells of cold (17°C) and hot (25°C) temperatures, measured their growth and metabolic rate, and observed changes in behaviour. They conclude that, while individuals of the species can cope with short periods of high temperature, they may not have any way of surviving extended heat extremes.

Which is a problem for antechinus, because all the predictions for Australia – and indeed most of the planet – is that as the century proceeds and ever more greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, the hottest spells will become hotter, more frequent and more extended.

North American researchers have been tracking the polar bears who hunt seals and mate in Baffin Bay, between north-eastern Canada and Greenland, for almost three decades. They report in the journal Ecological Applications that when sea ice retreats, the bears wait on Baffin Island and live on their accumulated fat.

In the 1990s, the average stay on land – and away from the bears’ preferred prey – was 60 days. In the last decade, this rose to 90 days. Sampled females proved to be thinner than they had been, and were more likely to have one cub rather than two, all because unseasonally high temperatures in the Arctic mean that the hunting season on the ice is becoming ever shorter.

In 2004, the population of amphibians in a national park in Panama started to perish on a huge scale, and an estimated 30 species of frog and other creatures all but vanished in the wake of a pathogen fungus outbreak.

US scientists report in the journal Science that they set out to look at their wildlife observational data before and after the outbreak to measure the effect on the region’s snake species that prey on amphibians.

Rarely observed snakes

Even though the scientists logged 594 surveys in the seven years before the outbreak and 513 in the six years that followed, they had to use mathematical techniques to come up with probabilities of local snake extinction, because snakes are hard to observe at any time. Of the 36 snake species recorded there, 12 have been observed only once, and five only twice.

The bad news is there is an 85% probability that there are now fewer snake species than there had been, simply because of the disappearance of amphibian prey.

The study also highlights another worry for conservationists and ecologists: extinction of species is happening at an accelerating rate, but biologists still cannot put a number to the total of species at risk. Most of them have never been described or named. Like some of the snakes of Panama, they will have gone before scientists even knew they were there.

The climate connection with the worldwide loss of amphibian species is still uncertain. The certainty is that climate change will make life too hot for many species that – because what was once wilderness has now been cleared for cities, quarries, farms and commercial plantations – can no longer shift to cooler terrain.

John Wiens of the University of Arizona, one of the authors behind the research that predicts massive extinctions by 2070, thinks there is something that can be done.

In 2015 in Paris more than 190 nations vowed to act to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C. “In a way, it’s a ‘choose your own adventure,’” he said.

“If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species on Earth by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half of all animal and plant species, based on our results.” – Climate News Network