Tag Archives: emissions

Livestock’s harmful climate impact is growing fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Republican support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Republican support

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme heat and cold kill five million every year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mediterranean at risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mediterranean at risk

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

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

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

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

More carbon dioxide will dry world’s rainforests

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arctic’s coldest sea ice is vulnerable to melting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Refuge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Refuge

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

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

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

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

Melting tropical glaciers sound an early warning

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

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

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

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

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

Millennial climate records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millennial climate records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ireland presses UN to agree a global fracking ban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapid action possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pressure on COP-26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapid action possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pressure on COP-26

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

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

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

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

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

Climate heat is changing Earth’s water cycle

Humans have begun to alter Earth’s water cycle, and not in a good way: expect later monsoon rains and thirstier farmlands.

LONDON, 29 June, 2021 − Prepare for a hotter, drier world, even in monsoon country. As global temperatures rise, in response to greenhouse gas emissions, the northern hemisphere rainy seasons are likely to arrive ever later as Earth’s water cycle reacts.

And even though more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more fertility and more moisture in the atmosphere, in the last 30 years the world’s green canopy has become more and more water-stressed, according to an entirely separate study.

US scientists report in Nature Climate Change that humankind has, in effect, begun to alter the planetary hydrological cycle. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and falling emissions of aerosols from car exhausts and factory chimneys have together combined to affect the tropical rainy season.

The Asian monsoons are arriving four days later, along with the rains over the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa. By the century’s end the monsoons could sweep over India five days, and over the Sahel eight days, later.

“For monsoon regions, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations”

A warmer world should be a wetter one: standing water evaporates more swiftly, and with every degree Celsius temperatures rise, the capacity of the air to hold moisture also rises significantly. But, paradoxically, this extra atmospheric moisture is also the problem: ever more energy is needed to warm up the atmosphere as spring becomes summer.

The problem is compounded by cleaner air; industrial pollution had the effect of reflecting sunlight and damping down the global warming trend. As nations enforce clean air legislation − and create conditions for healthier lives − more sunlight gets through, to escalate both warming and rainfall delays. Later rains will mean later crop harvests, more extreme heat waves, and more intense wildfires.

“For monsoon regions, like India, with an agrarian economy, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations, unless farmers recognise and adapt to the long-term changes amidst highly variable monsoon onset dates,” said Ruby Leung, of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the authors.

And in a second study, in the journal Nature Communications, another US research team warns that vegetation in the northern hemisphere has been becoming increasingly (as they put it) “water-limited” over the last 30 years.

Inflexible limits

In what they say is a first-of-its-kind large-scale study, scientists analysed satellite and weather data from 604,800 locations each year over the three decades from 1982 to 2015. They identified a kind of vegetable go-slow overall: those areas where water supplies for plant growth were constrained had expanded, while those places where there was plenty of water tended to shrink.

In recent decades, plants have responded to extra atmospheric carbon dioxide by growing more vigorously to “green” the planet a little more measurably and slow the rate of climate change. This, however, looks as though it cannot last, because ultimately growth is limited by water availability.

“Without water, living things struggle to survive. Changes in vegetation response to water availability can result in significant shifts of climate-carbon interaction,” said Lixin Wang, of the University of Indiana, one of the authors.

“The results emphasise the need for actions that could slow down CO2 emissions. Without that, water constraints impacting plant growth − and the weakening of vegetation’s ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere − are unlikely to slow.” − Climate News Network

Humans have begun to alter Earth’s water cycle, and not in a good way: expect later monsoon rains and thirstier farmlands.

LONDON, 29 June, 2021 − Prepare for a hotter, drier world, even in monsoon country. As global temperatures rise, in response to greenhouse gas emissions, the northern hemisphere rainy seasons are likely to arrive ever later as Earth’s water cycle reacts.

And even though more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more fertility and more moisture in the atmosphere, in the last 30 years the world’s green canopy has become more and more water-stressed, according to an entirely separate study.

US scientists report in Nature Climate Change that humankind has, in effect, begun to alter the planetary hydrological cycle. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and falling emissions of aerosols from car exhausts and factory chimneys have together combined to affect the tropical rainy season.

The Asian monsoons are arriving four days later, along with the rains over the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa. By the century’s end the monsoons could sweep over India five days, and over the Sahel eight days, later.

“For monsoon regions, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations”

A warmer world should be a wetter one: standing water evaporates more swiftly, and with every degree Celsius temperatures rise, the capacity of the air to hold moisture also rises significantly. But, paradoxically, this extra atmospheric moisture is also the problem: ever more energy is needed to warm up the atmosphere as spring becomes summer.

The problem is compounded by cleaner air; industrial pollution had the effect of reflecting sunlight and damping down the global warming trend. As nations enforce clean air legislation − and create conditions for healthier lives − more sunlight gets through, to escalate both warming and rainfall delays. Later rains will mean later crop harvests, more extreme heat waves, and more intense wildfires.

“For monsoon regions, like India, with an agrarian economy, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations, unless farmers recognise and adapt to the long-term changes amidst highly variable monsoon onset dates,” said Ruby Leung, of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the authors.

And in a second study, in the journal Nature Communications, another US research team warns that vegetation in the northern hemisphere has been becoming increasingly (as they put it) “water-limited” over the last 30 years.

Inflexible limits

In what they say is a first-of-its-kind large-scale study, scientists analysed satellite and weather data from 604,800 locations each year over the three decades from 1982 to 2015. They identified a kind of vegetable go-slow overall: those areas where water supplies for plant growth were constrained had expanded, while those places where there was plenty of water tended to shrink.

In recent decades, plants have responded to extra atmospheric carbon dioxide by growing more vigorously to “green” the planet a little more measurably and slow the rate of climate change. This, however, looks as though it cannot last, because ultimately growth is limited by water availability.

“Without water, living things struggle to survive. Changes in vegetation response to water availability can result in significant shifts of climate-carbon interaction,” said Lixin Wang, of the University of Indiana, one of the authors.

“The results emphasise the need for actions that could slow down CO2 emissions. Without that, water constraints impacting plant growth − and the weakening of vegetation’s ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere − are unlikely to slow.” − Climate News Network

Shape-shifting birds in US skies surprise science

The seasons are changing: American avian migrants are now increasingly shape-shifting birds. Their corpses tell an odd story.

LONDON, 25 June, 2021 − America’s migratory birds are setting off for the breeding grounds ever earlier. That’s not the only change. As global temperatures creep ever higher, the birds’ bodies are getting smaller − but their wings are getting longer. And, a little unexpectedly, the changes producing these shape-shifting birds may not be connected, according to new research.

“We know that bird morphology has a major effect on the efficiency and speed of flight, so we became curious whether the environmental pressure to advance spring migration would lead to natural selection for longer wings,” said Marketa Zimova, of the University of Michigan.

“We found that birds are changing in size and shape independently of changes in their migration timing, which was surprising.”

The study, in the Journal of Animal Ecology, is however a lesson for non-scientists and natural historians in the extraordinary value of museum collections, and a bleak reminder that humankind is casually but relentlessly reducing the numbers and variety of the living things that keep planetary ecosystems − and humans − in good health.

Migrants’ problems

The researchers arrived at their conclusion simply by examining the bodies of birds that had flown into the windows of tall buildings and died on the spot. The scale of this is alarming: between 1978 and 2016 the Field Museum in Chicago assembled 70,716 carcasses of migratory birds, all preserved and recorded with the date of death. Chicago, the researchers write, “is one of the most dangerous cities in the United States for building collisions driven by artificial light at night.”

Within this vast haul of accident victims they counted 11 families, 30 genera and 52 species. All but two of the species − a rail and a woodpecker − were passerines, perching songbirds. To make sure their specimens reliably told a tale of migration timing, the scientists selected only those species of which they had 100 or more individuals and, of those, there had to be at least 10 from each decade in the last 40 years.

Global heating has begun to impose change on the natural world: vulnerable species are at risk, and the sheer numbers of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals have fallen dramatically as human numbers and human economies have grown.

Climate change creates special problems for migratory birds because food supplies may not be in step with earlier seasonal shifts, and there has been repeated evidence of change either in bird numbers or bird behaviour as thermometer levels rise. And this is as true for North American birds as for those on any other continent.

“Birds are changing in size and shape independently of changes in their migration timing, which was surprising”

So the mere existence of a huge and growing reservoir of accidentally-killed specimens gave the researchers a chance to examine the links between physical change, higher temperatures and earlier springs in more detail.

On the evidence preserved in the Field Museum the earliest spring migrants are arriving five days earlier than 40 years ago, with the earliest fall migrants heading south 10 days earlier than once they did.

In a warming world, creatures tend to become smaller − because with a bigger surface-to-volume ratio it’s easier to keep cool − but the shift to longer wings is less easy to explain. It’s just possible that with earlier springs, birds flying north don’t need to stop so often.

“And there might be other adjustments that allow birds to migrate faster that we haven’t thought about − maybe some physiological adaptation that might allow faster flight without causing the birds to overheat and lose too much water,” Dr Zimova said. − Climate News Network

The seasons are changing: American avian migrants are now increasingly shape-shifting birds. Their corpses tell an odd story.

LONDON, 25 June, 2021 − America’s migratory birds are setting off for the breeding grounds ever earlier. That’s not the only change. As global temperatures creep ever higher, the birds’ bodies are getting smaller − but their wings are getting longer. And, a little unexpectedly, the changes producing these shape-shifting birds may not be connected, according to new research.

“We know that bird morphology has a major effect on the efficiency and speed of flight, so we became curious whether the environmental pressure to advance spring migration would lead to natural selection for longer wings,” said Marketa Zimova, of the University of Michigan.

“We found that birds are changing in size and shape independently of changes in their migration timing, which was surprising.”

The study, in the Journal of Animal Ecology, is however a lesson for non-scientists and natural historians in the extraordinary value of museum collections, and a bleak reminder that humankind is casually but relentlessly reducing the numbers and variety of the living things that keep planetary ecosystems − and humans − in good health.

Migrants’ problems

The researchers arrived at their conclusion simply by examining the bodies of birds that had flown into the windows of tall buildings and died on the spot. The scale of this is alarming: between 1978 and 2016 the Field Museum in Chicago assembled 70,716 carcasses of migratory birds, all preserved and recorded with the date of death. Chicago, the researchers write, “is one of the most dangerous cities in the United States for building collisions driven by artificial light at night.”

Within this vast haul of accident victims they counted 11 families, 30 genera and 52 species. All but two of the species − a rail and a woodpecker − were passerines, perching songbirds. To make sure their specimens reliably told a tale of migration timing, the scientists selected only those species of which they had 100 or more individuals and, of those, there had to be at least 10 from each decade in the last 40 years.

Global heating has begun to impose change on the natural world: vulnerable species are at risk, and the sheer numbers of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals have fallen dramatically as human numbers and human economies have grown.

Climate change creates special problems for migratory birds because food supplies may not be in step with earlier seasonal shifts, and there has been repeated evidence of change either in bird numbers or bird behaviour as thermometer levels rise. And this is as true for North American birds as for those on any other continent.

“Birds are changing in size and shape independently of changes in their migration timing, which was surprising”

So the mere existence of a huge and growing reservoir of accidentally-killed specimens gave the researchers a chance to examine the links between physical change, higher temperatures and earlier springs in more detail.

On the evidence preserved in the Field Museum the earliest spring migrants are arriving five days earlier than 40 years ago, with the earliest fall migrants heading south 10 days earlier than once they did.

In a warming world, creatures tend to become smaller − because with a bigger surface-to-volume ratio it’s easier to keep cool − but the shift to longer wings is less easy to explain. It’s just possible that with earlier springs, birds flying north don’t need to stop so often.

“And there might be other adjustments that allow birds to migrate faster that we haven’t thought about − maybe some physiological adaptation that might allow faster flight without causing the birds to overheat and lose too much water,” Dr Zimova said. − Climate News Network

‘People need facts on climate’ from Boris Johnson

The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, is urged by advisers to step up and tell people the facts on climate.

LONDON, 24 June, 2021 − In an uncompromising message directed at the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, an independent advisory group has told him he must rapidly “level with people” over the facts on climate.

The advisers say Johnson needs to do this within a matter of months, before the UK hosts the UN climate conference, COP-26, in Glasgow in November, because the road it faces will be “tricky”.

The advice comes from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent statutory body set up to advise the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on emissions targets, and to report to Parliament on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Last week the CCC’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said the level of risk posed by climate change had risen in the last five years, and the extent of planning to adapt to it was “really shocking”.

Onus on Johnson

He told the Climate News Network in an interview that the UK had set sound, science-based targets for reaching its goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the middle of the century, but it needed to do far more on delivering them.

“We need the government to level with people, because some of the decisions ahead will be tricky,” Dr Stark said. “We need Boris Johnson to step up before November.

“Delivering what the UK has promised could be the basis of a better relationship between us and the US, Europe, and possibly even China. Johnson needs to recognise that, to see the political opportunities delivery  offers. The responsibility for what happens in Glasgow rests with him.”

The CCC is resolute in seeing opportunities as well as potential problems ahead if the UK delivers on the climate promises it’s made. It’s warned Britons, for instance, that a drastic change of diet is necessary to help to reduce carbon emissions a cut in meat consumption of 20%.

“Time is running out for realistic climate commitments”

But that will prove “neither difficult nor scary” for Dr Stark. “Diets are changing already”, he says. “We’re moving to healthier eating habits. Younger people are eating less meat than their elders, and there’s an argument for the health benefits that offers.

“Farmers who can’t raise so many animals for meat will have new sources of money, using their land for soil restoration and for absorbing carbon, treating it as a crop.”

That’s a hopeful prospect, but it may prove little more than a glimmer against the background of the progress the world has to make to tackle the climate crisis, and how little time it has to do it. Transparency about the facts on climate will be essential.

Six years ago, at the 2015 UN climate conference, 195 nations affirmed the Paris Agreement, accepting a commitment to prevent global temperatures rising more than 2°C beyond their historic level, and to try to keep the rise to a more modest 1.5°C.

UK leadership in question

Progress to make the Agreement work is slow – so slow that the CCC is among those predicting that by the end of this century the temperature rise may have reached 3.5-4°C, or more. Referring specifically to the UK, it has a stark verdict: “Time is running out for realistic climate commitments.”

Its chairman, Lord Deben, says the UK cannot afford to “continue to be slow and timid.” If November’s climate conference in Glasgow is judged to have failed because the UK, its host, has not delivered on its undertakings, he says, “the whole concept of the UK being a global leader will be undermined.

“If all we do is promise, other people won’t take us seriously. Every decision we take has to be seen through the lens of our net zero target for mid-century.

“Not all parts of the government realise the urgency we need to avoid disruption to people’s lives. This government earns nine out of ten for determination and policy. But on delivery, I don’t think it reaches four out of ten.” − Climate News Network

The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, is urged by advisers to step up and tell people the facts on climate.

LONDON, 24 June, 2021 − In an uncompromising message directed at the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, an independent advisory group has told him he must rapidly “level with people” over the facts on climate.

The advisers say Johnson needs to do this within a matter of months, before the UK hosts the UN climate conference, COP-26, in Glasgow in November, because the road it faces will be “tricky”.

The advice comes from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent statutory body set up to advise the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on emissions targets, and to report to Parliament on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Last week the CCC’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said the level of risk posed by climate change had risen in the last five years, and the extent of planning to adapt to it was “really shocking”.

Onus on Johnson

He told the Climate News Network in an interview that the UK had set sound, science-based targets for reaching its goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the middle of the century, but it needed to do far more on delivering them.

“We need the government to level with people, because some of the decisions ahead will be tricky,” Dr Stark said. “We need Boris Johnson to step up before November.

“Delivering what the UK has promised could be the basis of a better relationship between us and the US, Europe, and possibly even China. Johnson needs to recognise that, to see the political opportunities delivery  offers. The responsibility for what happens in Glasgow rests with him.”

The CCC is resolute in seeing opportunities as well as potential problems ahead if the UK delivers on the climate promises it’s made. It’s warned Britons, for instance, that a drastic change of diet is necessary to help to reduce carbon emissions a cut in meat consumption of 20%.

“Time is running out for realistic climate commitments”

But that will prove “neither difficult nor scary” for Dr Stark. “Diets are changing already”, he says. “We’re moving to healthier eating habits. Younger people are eating less meat than their elders, and there’s an argument for the health benefits that offers.

“Farmers who can’t raise so many animals for meat will have new sources of money, using their land for soil restoration and for absorbing carbon, treating it as a crop.”

That’s a hopeful prospect, but it may prove little more than a glimmer against the background of the progress the world has to make to tackle the climate crisis, and how little time it has to do it. Transparency about the facts on climate will be essential.

Six years ago, at the 2015 UN climate conference, 195 nations affirmed the Paris Agreement, accepting a commitment to prevent global temperatures rising more than 2°C beyond their historic level, and to try to keep the rise to a more modest 1.5°C.

UK leadership in question

Progress to make the Agreement work is slow – so slow that the CCC is among those predicting that by the end of this century the temperature rise may have reached 3.5-4°C, or more. Referring specifically to the UK, it has a stark verdict: “Time is running out for realistic climate commitments.”

Its chairman, Lord Deben, says the UK cannot afford to “continue to be slow and timid.” If November’s climate conference in Glasgow is judged to have failed because the UK, its host, has not delivered on its undertakings, he says, “the whole concept of the UK being a global leader will be undermined.

“If all we do is promise, other people won’t take us seriously. Every decision we take has to be seen through the lens of our net zero target for mid-century.

“Not all parts of the government realise the urgency we need to avoid disruption to people’s lives. This government earns nine out of ten for determination and policy. But on delivery, I don’t think it reaches four out of ten.” − Climate News Network

Let nature restore itself on its own for best results

Don’t meddle: let nature restore itself on its own. Old forest will spread over nearby farmland. It’s cheap, and often best.

LONDON, 22 June, 2021 − British scientists have just confirmed something that might have seemed obvious: to regenerate the natural world, the best way is often to let nature restore itself on its own.

That is: left to its own devices, and with help only from wild birds and mammals, bare agricultural land turned into dense native woodland in little more than half a human lifetime.

Nobody needed to plant trees and shield them with plastic tubing; nobody had to patrol the protected zone or fence it against rabbits and deer, or attempt to choose the ideal species for the terrain. It all happened anyway, with the help of the wind, the wild things and a species of crow called a jay.

The research offers lessons for governments that have committed to restoring natural forest as part of the arsenal against global heating and climate change: it need not cost much.

Fast work

“Biodiversity-rich woodland that is resilient to drought and reduces disease risk can be created without any input from us,” said Richard Broughton, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“Our study provides essential evidence that passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales.”

He and his colleagues tell the story in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One. They simply monitored the progress of two farmland fields over two periods of 24 and 59 years respectively: one had been abandoned in 1996, the other in 1961. Significantly, both fields − of 2.1 hectares and 3.9 hectares, and labelled New Wilderness and Old Wilderness − were close by a patch of ancient woodland.

This was the Monks Wood national nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, a tract of wildwood in eastern England that has been studied in fine detail for many decades and documented since 1279 AD.

“Passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales”

Of the two abandoned neighbouring fields, one had been grazing land, the other laid down to barley. Brambles and thornbushes colonised the neglected fields, to provide cover for seeds, nuts and acorns spread by wild mammals and birds.

After 23 years, 86% of the grassland had turned into shrub and sapling that had reached an average height of 2.9 metres, with a density of 132 trees per hectare: 57% of these were the oak Quercus robur. The Old Wilderness, after 53 years, had 100% cover averaging 13.1 metres in height, with a density of 390 trees per hectare, 52% of them oak.

Climate scientists have been urging the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems for four decades. Conservation scientists, alarmed at the potential rapid rise in rates of species extinction along with the damage to natural habitats, have been urging the same thing for even longer.

Both have made a case for restoring the wilderness: the debate has been about the best ways to make this happen. More trees should mean more carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. But more climate change might make such restoration, through for instance deliberate plantation, increasingly problematic.

Reheating the Arctic

So the next question is: could Nature restore itself? Rewilding is still at the experimental stage: a process backed by in some cases deliberate re-introductions, for instance of beavers and other wild species in Europe. There is even an argument that in the fastest-warming zone of the planet, the Arctic, the reintroduction of large herbivores could help slow climate change and contain global heating driven by ever-higher ratios of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The clear message of the latest study is that − at least if natural forest rich in wild birds and mammals is close by − then nature can be left to do what nature does best. There were no costs of planting, there was no risk of disease introduction from nursery-grown saplings, and no need for plastic tubes to protect the tender young tree trunks from predators.

Blackthorn and hawthorn helped screen the young trees from hares, rabbits and deer. Seeds were dispersed by helpful wild agents, among them squirrels and wood mice and a bird commonly regarded as a pest, the jay, Garrulus glandarius.

“The huge benefits that jays provide in natural colonisation by dispersing tree seeds, especially acorns, help create more woodland habitat for all wildlife and far outweigh any impact of predation,” Dr Broughton said. − Climate News Network

Don’t meddle: let nature restore itself on its own. Old forest will spread over nearby farmland. It’s cheap, and often best.

LONDON, 22 June, 2021 − British scientists have just confirmed something that might have seemed obvious: to regenerate the natural world, the best way is often to let nature restore itself on its own.

That is: left to its own devices, and with help only from wild birds and mammals, bare agricultural land turned into dense native woodland in little more than half a human lifetime.

Nobody needed to plant trees and shield them with plastic tubing; nobody had to patrol the protected zone or fence it against rabbits and deer, or attempt to choose the ideal species for the terrain. It all happened anyway, with the help of the wind, the wild things and a species of crow called a jay.

The research offers lessons for governments that have committed to restoring natural forest as part of the arsenal against global heating and climate change: it need not cost much.

Fast work

“Biodiversity-rich woodland that is resilient to drought and reduces disease risk can be created without any input from us,” said Richard Broughton, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“Our study provides essential evidence that passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales.”

He and his colleagues tell the story in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One. They simply monitored the progress of two farmland fields over two periods of 24 and 59 years respectively: one had been abandoned in 1996, the other in 1961. Significantly, both fields − of 2.1 hectares and 3.9 hectares, and labelled New Wilderness and Old Wilderness − were close by a patch of ancient woodland.

This was the Monks Wood national nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, a tract of wildwood in eastern England that has been studied in fine detail for many decades and documented since 1279 AD.

“Passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales”

Of the two abandoned neighbouring fields, one had been grazing land, the other laid down to barley. Brambles and thornbushes colonised the neglected fields, to provide cover for seeds, nuts and acorns spread by wild mammals and birds.

After 23 years, 86% of the grassland had turned into shrub and sapling that had reached an average height of 2.9 metres, with a density of 132 trees per hectare: 57% of these were the oak Quercus robur. The Old Wilderness, after 53 years, had 100% cover averaging 13.1 metres in height, with a density of 390 trees per hectare, 52% of them oak.

Climate scientists have been urging the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems for four decades. Conservation scientists, alarmed at the potential rapid rise in rates of species extinction along with the damage to natural habitats, have been urging the same thing for even longer.

Both have made a case for restoring the wilderness: the debate has been about the best ways to make this happen. More trees should mean more carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. But more climate change might make such restoration, through for instance deliberate plantation, increasingly problematic.

Reheating the Arctic

So the next question is: could Nature restore itself? Rewilding is still at the experimental stage: a process backed by in some cases deliberate re-introductions, for instance of beavers and other wild species in Europe. There is even an argument that in the fastest-warming zone of the planet, the Arctic, the reintroduction of large herbivores could help slow climate change and contain global heating driven by ever-higher ratios of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The clear message of the latest study is that − at least if natural forest rich in wild birds and mammals is close by − then nature can be left to do what nature does best. There were no costs of planting, there was no risk of disease introduction from nursery-grown saplings, and no need for plastic tubes to protect the tender young tree trunks from predators.

Blackthorn and hawthorn helped screen the young trees from hares, rabbits and deer. Seeds were dispersed by helpful wild agents, among them squirrels and wood mice and a bird commonly regarded as a pest, the jay, Garrulus glandarius.

“The huge benefits that jays provide in natural colonisation by dispersing tree seeds, especially acorns, help create more woodland habitat for all wildlife and far outweigh any impact of predation,” Dr Broughton said. − Climate News Network