Tag Archives: Food

Marine climate impacts are intensifying

Fish catches are falling in the Gulf of Maine, Baltic cod are getting smaller. Sharks suffer acid waters’ effects as marine climate impacts grow.

LONDON, 20 December, 2019 – Marine climate impacts are starting to make their mark on marine life at almost every level, according to a range of entirely unrelated scientific studies published in the last month.

Baltic codfish – a valuable commercial catch – have steadily become smaller, scrawnier and less valuable because of the loss of oxygen in ocean waters as a consequence of an increasingly warmer world.

Changes in climate over the last two decades have cost the fishermen of New England their jobs: their numbers have fallen by 16% since 1996 as the total catch has fallen, along with fishermen’s incomes.

The change may be linked to a natural ocean climate cycle, but nobody can be sure the decline will not continue as waters warm in response to ever higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, driven by ever greater use of fossil fuels to power modern economic growth.

That steady rise in carbon dioxide means that marine waters are also becoming steadily more acidic, and this could be bad news for the sharks. Laboratory experiments suggest they can respond to short-term changes in water chemistry, but in the long term increasingly acidic waters can begin to dissolve not just the characteristic skin scales of the shark family, but the teeth as well.

And if environmental change goes on hitting tropical corals and the anemones that co-exist with them, then one of the world’s most iconic and culturally popular species could also disappear: the clownfish sub-family Amphiprioninae may not survive the continued bleaching of the coral reefs. Amphiprion ocellaris swam into the world’s hearts as the much sought-after cartoon character in the 2003 film Finding Nemo.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year”

Scientists based in the US and Sweden report in the journal Biology Letters that the average weight of specimens of Gadus morhua or the cod fish 40 cms long had dropped from 900 to 600 grams in the last 30 years.

They examined the otoliths or ear stones of 134 individuals trawled in the last months of the Baltic winter to read the evidence from trace elements such as magnesium and manganese and identify the cause: the continued fall in sea water oxygen levels as a consequence of global warming and pollution.

“The cod themselves are telling us through their internal logbooks that they’re affected by hypoxia [reduced oxygen availability], which we know is driven by climate change and nutrient loading,” said Karin Limburg, an ecologist at the State University of New York, who led the study. “Our findings suggest fish are in a worse condition because of hypoxia.”

In the Gulf of Maine, off the US Atlantic coast, catches of fish and shellfish have been falling, and with them the number of people employed in the fishery. Kimberly Oremus of the University of Delaware reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that successive warm winters have hit the catch, and incomes.

Pattern found

She matched decades of climate data, landing figures and sales data to identify a pattern of decline linked principally to a hot-and-cold pattern of change known as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

“New England waters are among the fastest-warming in the world,” she said. “Warmer than average sea surface temperatures have been shown to impact the productivity of lobsters, sea scallops, groundfish and other fisheries important to the region, especially when they are most vulnerable, from spawning through their first year of life.”

The region has 34,000 commercial fishermen, a significant proportion of the 166,000 or so throughout the whole of the US. The oscillation is a shift in ocean temperatures over decades, and catches could improve in decades to come – but marine waters worldwide are warming.

“This is an important signal to incorporate into the fisheries management process,” she said. “We need to figure out what climate is doing to fisheries in order to cope with it.”

Acid hazard

One important part of the marine ecosystem might not in the long run be able to cope: short episodes of hypercapnia, or a dramatic rise in dissolved carbon dioxide, are a feature linked to seasonal oceanic upwellings, and can last for days in some waters before normal ocean chemistry is restored.

In the journal Scientific Reports, European and South Africa researchers offer evidence that though cartilaginous fishes – the huge and varied family to which sharks belong – have evolved to cope with such spells, ever more acidic oceans offer a new hazard.

They caught a number of puffadder shysharks, known to scientists as Haploblepharus edwardsii and a species small enough for laboratory tanks, from shallow waters off South Africa and exposed them to acidic conditions predicted by the year 2300.

The increasingly acid environment was, literally, corrosive. Their specimens lost a quarter of their skin denticles – the shark equivalent of scales. Sharks’ teeth are made of the same biological fabric as the skin, and the implication is that such losses could, in their words “compromise hydrodynamics and skin protection.” In other words, some of the ocean’s most feared predators might have trouble both swimming and feeding.

Poor adapters

Australian and US scientists have more bad news for Nemo, the film star from the clownfish family. Rather than experiment in a laboratory tank, they monitored the numbers and the DNA of real life specimens for decades in Kimbe Bay off Papua-New Guinea. As waters warmed and began to bleach the coral reefs, the anemones that live in the reefs were put at risk.

They report in Ecology Letters that the tiny clownfish that live in the anemone tentacles proved bad at adapting to environmental change. The implication is that, as the coral reefs are lost, many species could be homeless and helpless.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year,” said Serge Planes of the French National Centre of Scientific Research, and one of the authors.

“To expect a clownfish to genetically adapt at a pace that would allow it to persist is unreasonable.” And Simon Thorrold of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US added: “It seems Nemo won’t be able to save himself.” – Climate News Network

Fish catches are falling in the Gulf of Maine, Baltic cod are getting smaller. Sharks suffer acid waters’ effects as marine climate impacts grow.

LONDON, 20 December, 2019 – Marine climate impacts are starting to make their mark on marine life at almost every level, according to a range of entirely unrelated scientific studies published in the last month.

Baltic codfish – a valuable commercial catch – have steadily become smaller, scrawnier and less valuable because of the loss of oxygen in ocean waters as a consequence of an increasingly warmer world.

Changes in climate over the last two decades have cost the fishermen of New England their jobs: their numbers have fallen by 16% since 1996 as the total catch has fallen, along with fishermen’s incomes.

The change may be linked to a natural ocean climate cycle, but nobody can be sure the decline will not continue as waters warm in response to ever higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, driven by ever greater use of fossil fuels to power modern economic growth.

That steady rise in carbon dioxide means that marine waters are also becoming steadily more acidic, and this could be bad news for the sharks. Laboratory experiments suggest they can respond to short-term changes in water chemistry, but in the long term increasingly acidic waters can begin to dissolve not just the characteristic skin scales of the shark family, but the teeth as well.

And if environmental change goes on hitting tropical corals and the anemones that co-exist with them, then one of the world’s most iconic and culturally popular species could also disappear: the clownfish sub-family Amphiprioninae may not survive the continued bleaching of the coral reefs. Amphiprion ocellaris swam into the world’s hearts as the much sought-after cartoon character in the 2003 film Finding Nemo.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year”

Scientists based in the US and Sweden report in the journal Biology Letters that the average weight of specimens of Gadus morhua or the cod fish 40 cms long had dropped from 900 to 600 grams in the last 30 years.

They examined the otoliths or ear stones of 134 individuals trawled in the last months of the Baltic winter to read the evidence from trace elements such as magnesium and manganese and identify the cause: the continued fall in sea water oxygen levels as a consequence of global warming and pollution.

“The cod themselves are telling us through their internal logbooks that they’re affected by hypoxia [reduced oxygen availability], which we know is driven by climate change and nutrient loading,” said Karin Limburg, an ecologist at the State University of New York, who led the study. “Our findings suggest fish are in a worse condition because of hypoxia.”

In the Gulf of Maine, off the US Atlantic coast, catches of fish and shellfish have been falling, and with them the number of people employed in the fishery. Kimberly Oremus of the University of Delaware reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that successive warm winters have hit the catch, and incomes.

Pattern found

She matched decades of climate data, landing figures and sales data to identify a pattern of decline linked principally to a hot-and-cold pattern of change known as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

“New England waters are among the fastest-warming in the world,” she said. “Warmer than average sea surface temperatures have been shown to impact the productivity of lobsters, sea scallops, groundfish and other fisheries important to the region, especially when they are most vulnerable, from spawning through their first year of life.”

The region has 34,000 commercial fishermen, a significant proportion of the 166,000 or so throughout the whole of the US. The oscillation is a shift in ocean temperatures over decades, and catches could improve in decades to come – but marine waters worldwide are warming.

“This is an important signal to incorporate into the fisheries management process,” she said. “We need to figure out what climate is doing to fisheries in order to cope with it.”

Acid hazard

One important part of the marine ecosystem might not in the long run be able to cope: short episodes of hypercapnia, or a dramatic rise in dissolved carbon dioxide, are a feature linked to seasonal oceanic upwellings, and can last for days in some waters before normal ocean chemistry is restored.

In the journal Scientific Reports, European and South Africa researchers offer evidence that though cartilaginous fishes – the huge and varied family to which sharks belong – have evolved to cope with such spells, ever more acidic oceans offer a new hazard.

They caught a number of puffadder shysharks, known to scientists as Haploblepharus edwardsii and a species small enough for laboratory tanks, from shallow waters off South Africa and exposed them to acidic conditions predicted by the year 2300.

The increasingly acid environment was, literally, corrosive. Their specimens lost a quarter of their skin denticles – the shark equivalent of scales. Sharks’ teeth are made of the same biological fabric as the skin, and the implication is that such losses could, in their words “compromise hydrodynamics and skin protection.” In other words, some of the ocean’s most feared predators might have trouble both swimming and feeding.

Poor adapters

Australian and US scientists have more bad news for Nemo, the film star from the clownfish family. Rather than experiment in a laboratory tank, they monitored the numbers and the DNA of real life specimens for decades in Kimbe Bay off Papua-New Guinea. As waters warmed and began to bleach the coral reefs, the anemones that live in the reefs were put at risk.

They report in Ecology Letters that the tiny clownfish that live in the anemone tentacles proved bad at adapting to environmental change. The implication is that, as the coral reefs are lost, many species could be homeless and helpless.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year,” said Serge Planes of the French National Centre of Scientific Research, and one of the authors.

“To expect a clownfish to genetically adapt at a pace that would allow it to persist is unreasonable.” And Simon Thorrold of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US added: “It seems Nemo won’t be able to save himself.” – Climate News Network

Jet stream changes may hit global breadbaskets

Food shortages and civil disturbances may result from changes in the jet stream winds which circle the Earth, scientists say.

LONDON, 10 December, 2019 − Patterns in the winds of the jet stream that circles the Earth can bring simultaneous heatwaves to breadbasket regions which provide up to a quarter of global crops, scientists have found.

Extreme weather on this scale can significantly harm food production, making prices soar and fuelling social unrest. Western North America, western Europe, western Russia, Ukraine and the Caspian Sea region are especially susceptible.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change the researchers, from Germany, Australia and the US, explain how specific wave patterns in the jet stream strongly increase the chance of heatwaves occurring at the same time in different parts of the globe.

The jet stream is a fast-moving river of air that continuously circles the northern hemisphere from west to east. It generally confines itself to a relatively narrow band, but can meander north or south, due to a feature scientists call Rossby waves.

Among other effects, these atmospheric wobbles may pull frigid air masses from the polar regions, or hot ones from the subtropics, into the populous mid-latitudes.

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”

The wobbles strongly influence daily weather. When they grow particularly large they can bring prolonged heatwaves, droughts or floods in summer, or in colder seasons abnormal cold spells.

The waves have hit in 1983, 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2018, when many temperature records fell across the US, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia. As well as killing crops, the waves have killed thousands of people, especially in Europe and Russia, where air conditioning is far less common than in North America.

The research shows that there has been a significant increase in the probability of multiple global breadbasket failures, particularly for wheat, maize, and soybeans. For soybeans the implications of crop failure in all major breadbaskets associated with climate risk would be at least 12.55 million tons of crop losses, far more than the 7.2 million tons lost in 1988–1989, one of the largest soybean production shocks.

Kai Kornhuber, a doctoral candidate from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute, US, and colleagues found that it is these simultaneous heatwaves that can significantly reduce crop production and create the risk of multiple harvest failures and other far-reaching consequences.

Twentyfold increase

“We found an under-explored vulnerability in the food system: when these global-scale wind patterns are in place, we see a twenty-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heatwaves in major crop-producing regions ”, said Kornhuber. “During these events there actually is a global structure in the otherwise quite chaotic circulation.”

The atmospheric patterns the team researched mean that heat and drought become locked into one place simultaneously, where they then affect crops’ production yields.

“What makes this particularly relevant: the bell can ring in multiple regions at once, and the impacts of those specific interconnections were not quantified previously,” Kornhuber said.

“Normally low harvests in one region are expected to be balanced out by good harvests elsewhere. But these waves can cause reduced harvests in several important breadbaskets simultaneously, creating risks for global food production”, said co-author Dr Dim Coumou from the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU Amsterdam and PIK.

Remote effects

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”, added Dr Jonathan Donges, another co-author at PIK. “This can impact food availability not only in the regions directly affected. Even remoter regions may see scarcities and price spikes as a result.”

“During years in which two or more summer weeks featured the amplified wave pattern, cereal crop production was reduced by more than 10% in individual regions, and by 4% when averaged across all crop regions affected by the pattern”, said Elisabeth Vogel, from Melbourne University.

Ted Shepherd, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, UK, who was not involved in the study, said: “We have strong observational evidence of this wave pattern. What is open for discussion is how it might respond to climate change.”

Professor Shepherd said many consensus scientific statements, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had proved to be under-estimates of how fast and far the effects of global warming might move. − Climate News Network

Food shortages and civil disturbances may result from changes in the jet stream winds which circle the Earth, scientists say.

LONDON, 10 December, 2019 − Patterns in the winds of the jet stream that circles the Earth can bring simultaneous heatwaves to breadbasket regions which provide up to a quarter of global crops, scientists have found.

Extreme weather on this scale can significantly harm food production, making prices soar and fuelling social unrest. Western North America, western Europe, western Russia, Ukraine and the Caspian Sea region are especially susceptible.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change the researchers, from Germany, Australia and the US, explain how specific wave patterns in the jet stream strongly increase the chance of heatwaves occurring at the same time in different parts of the globe.

The jet stream is a fast-moving river of air that continuously circles the northern hemisphere from west to east. It generally confines itself to a relatively narrow band, but can meander north or south, due to a feature scientists call Rossby waves.

Among other effects, these atmospheric wobbles may pull frigid air masses from the polar regions, or hot ones from the subtropics, into the populous mid-latitudes.

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”

The wobbles strongly influence daily weather. When they grow particularly large they can bring prolonged heatwaves, droughts or floods in summer, or in colder seasons abnormal cold spells.

The waves have hit in 1983, 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2018, when many temperature records fell across the US, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia. As well as killing crops, the waves have killed thousands of people, especially in Europe and Russia, where air conditioning is far less common than in North America.

The research shows that there has been a significant increase in the probability of multiple global breadbasket failures, particularly for wheat, maize, and soybeans. For soybeans the implications of crop failure in all major breadbaskets associated with climate risk would be at least 12.55 million tons of crop losses, far more than the 7.2 million tons lost in 1988–1989, one of the largest soybean production shocks.

Kai Kornhuber, a doctoral candidate from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute, US, and colleagues found that it is these simultaneous heatwaves that can significantly reduce crop production and create the risk of multiple harvest failures and other far-reaching consequences.

Twentyfold increase

“We found an under-explored vulnerability in the food system: when these global-scale wind patterns are in place, we see a twenty-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heatwaves in major crop-producing regions ”, said Kornhuber. “During these events there actually is a global structure in the otherwise quite chaotic circulation.”

The atmospheric patterns the team researched mean that heat and drought become locked into one place simultaneously, where they then affect crops’ production yields.

“What makes this particularly relevant: the bell can ring in multiple regions at once, and the impacts of those specific interconnections were not quantified previously,” Kornhuber said.

“Normally low harvests in one region are expected to be balanced out by good harvests elsewhere. But these waves can cause reduced harvests in several important breadbaskets simultaneously, creating risks for global food production”, said co-author Dr Dim Coumou from the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU Amsterdam and PIK.

Remote effects

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”, added Dr Jonathan Donges, another co-author at PIK. “This can impact food availability not only in the regions directly affected. Even remoter regions may see scarcities and price spikes as a result.”

“During years in which two or more summer weeks featured the amplified wave pattern, cereal crop production was reduced by more than 10% in individual regions, and by 4% when averaged across all crop regions affected by the pattern”, said Elisabeth Vogel, from Melbourne University.

Ted Shepherd, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, UK, who was not involved in the study, said: “We have strong observational evidence of this wave pattern. What is open for discussion is how it might respond to climate change.”

Professor Shepherd said many consensus scientific statements, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had proved to be under-estimates of how fast and far the effects of global warming might move. − Climate News Network

60-year drought ended ancient Assyrian empire

It took only a 60-year drought to lay low one of the first superpowers. It crumbled when harvests withered over two millennia ago.

LONDON, 25 November, 2019 − One of the great ancient empires, the neo-Assyrian world of what is now northern Iraq, flourished in years of plentiful rain, but buckled and collapsed when beset by a 60-year drought.

The biblical city of Nineveh fell in 612 BC, weakened by climate change, never to be occupied again. Chroniclers blamed political instability, the might of Babylon, and the invasions of Medes and Persians.

But climate scientists who have reconstructed the evidence of annual weather records have set the record straight: like the rings of a tree or the sediments in a lake, the isotope records in stalagmites in the floor of the Kuna Ba cave tell a story of a mega-drought that underlay the collapse of one of ancient history’s earliest superpowers.

Stalagmites or speleothems are built up by the steady drip of water through rock and onto the floor of a cave. The scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they used carbon and oxygen isotopes in the layers of stone to reconstruct the climate throughout a 3800-year sequence of rainfall patterns.

The measures of uranium and thorium trapped in the same speleothems provided precise dates for the entire sequence, and these could then be checked against surviving records from an empire that at its height, under King Sennacherib, extended into parts of what are now Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.

“These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them”

“We now know that the Assyrian droughts started decades earlier than we had previously thought, and also that the period prior to the onset of drought was one of the wettest in the entire roughly 3800-year sequence.

“It changes some of the other hypotheses we have made”, said Adam Schneider, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who first proposed a climate link to imperial collapse in 2014.

“For example: King Sennacherib, who ruled from 705 to 681 BC, was well-known for building massive canals and other structures. In our earlier work on the question of drought in ancient Assyria, I and my colleague Dr. Selim Adali had initially viewed him as a short-sighted ruler who had pursued short-term political goals at the expense of long-term drought resilience, and set in motion a catastrophic chain of events as a result.

“But with this new data, we now think that Sennacherib probably was already experiencing drought when he was king, and in fact he may well have been trying to do something about the environmental calamity during that time.”

And a co-author, Harvey Weiss of Yale University, said : “Now we have a historical and environmental dynamic between north and south and between rain-fed agriculture and irrigation-fed agriculture through which we can understand the historical process of how the Babylonians were able to defeat the Assyrians.”

New theory

“This fits into a historical pattern that is not only structured through time and place, but a space and time that is filled with environmental change,” said Professor Weiss. “These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them.”

The climate change theory of history is relatively new, but has already been used to provide new explanations for the collapse of the Bronze Age empire in the Mediterranean 3,000 years ago, the downfall of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, the rise of Genghis Khan’s nomadic hordes  and the fall of the Mayan civilisation in the Americas.

There have been arguments that contemporary conflict can be matched to climate stress in many parts of the modern world.

“The French Revolution is one example. In the two years prior to the French Revolution poor weather led to a series of bad harvests, which alongside other factors helped cause the price of bread to skyrocket, especially in Paris,” said Professor Schneider.

“The question is not ‘Did climate have an impact?’ It’s ‘How, why and how important was climate alongside the other factors?’” − Climate News Network

It took only a 60-year drought to lay low one of the first superpowers. It crumbled when harvests withered over two millennia ago.

LONDON, 25 November, 2019 − One of the great ancient empires, the neo-Assyrian world of what is now northern Iraq, flourished in years of plentiful rain, but buckled and collapsed when beset by a 60-year drought.

The biblical city of Nineveh fell in 612 BC, weakened by climate change, never to be occupied again. Chroniclers blamed political instability, the might of Babylon, and the invasions of Medes and Persians.

But climate scientists who have reconstructed the evidence of annual weather records have set the record straight: like the rings of a tree or the sediments in a lake, the isotope records in stalagmites in the floor of the Kuna Ba cave tell a story of a mega-drought that underlay the collapse of one of ancient history’s earliest superpowers.

Stalagmites or speleothems are built up by the steady drip of water through rock and onto the floor of a cave. The scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they used carbon and oxygen isotopes in the layers of stone to reconstruct the climate throughout a 3800-year sequence of rainfall patterns.

The measures of uranium and thorium trapped in the same speleothems provided precise dates for the entire sequence, and these could then be checked against surviving records from an empire that at its height, under King Sennacherib, extended into parts of what are now Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.

“These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them”

“We now know that the Assyrian droughts started decades earlier than we had previously thought, and also that the period prior to the onset of drought was one of the wettest in the entire roughly 3800-year sequence.

“It changes some of the other hypotheses we have made”, said Adam Schneider, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who first proposed a climate link to imperial collapse in 2014.

“For example: King Sennacherib, who ruled from 705 to 681 BC, was well-known for building massive canals and other structures. In our earlier work on the question of drought in ancient Assyria, I and my colleague Dr. Selim Adali had initially viewed him as a short-sighted ruler who had pursued short-term political goals at the expense of long-term drought resilience, and set in motion a catastrophic chain of events as a result.

“But with this new data, we now think that Sennacherib probably was already experiencing drought when he was king, and in fact he may well have been trying to do something about the environmental calamity during that time.”

And a co-author, Harvey Weiss of Yale University, said : “Now we have a historical and environmental dynamic between north and south and between rain-fed agriculture and irrigation-fed agriculture through which we can understand the historical process of how the Babylonians were able to defeat the Assyrians.”

New theory

“This fits into a historical pattern that is not only structured through time and place, but a space and time that is filled with environmental change,” said Professor Weiss. “These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them.”

The climate change theory of history is relatively new, but has already been used to provide new explanations for the collapse of the Bronze Age empire in the Mediterranean 3,000 years ago, the downfall of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, the rise of Genghis Khan’s nomadic hordes  and the fall of the Mayan civilisation in the Americas.

There have been arguments that contemporary conflict can be matched to climate stress in many parts of the modern world.

“The French Revolution is one example. In the two years prior to the French Revolution poor weather led to a series of bad harvests, which alongside other factors helped cause the price of bread to skyrocket, especially in Paris,” said Professor Schneider.

“The question is not ‘Did climate have an impact?’ It’s ‘How, why and how important was climate alongside the other factors?’” − Climate News Network

‘Untold suffering’ lies ahead in hotter world

Global heating could bring “untold suffering” for humans. It could also mean less fresh water and less rice, though tasting more of arsenic.

LONDON, 11 November, 2019 – In an unprecedented step, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 nations have united to warn the world that, without deep and lasting change, the climate emergency promises  humankind unavoidable “untold suffering”.

And as if to underline that message, a US research group has predicted that – on the basis of experiments so far – global heating could reduce rice yields by 40% by the end of the century, and at the same time intensify levels of arsenic in the cereal that provides the staple food for almost half the planet.

And in the same few days a second US group has forecast that changes to the world’s vegetation in an atmosphere increasingly rich in carbon dioxide could mean that – even though rainfall might increase – there could be less fresh water on tap for many of the peoples of Europe, Asia and North America.

Warnings of climate hazard that could threaten political stability and precipitate mass starvation are not new: individuals, research groups, academies and intergovernmental agencies have been making the same point, and with increasing urgency, for more than two decades.

New analysis

The only argument has been about in what form, how badly, and just when the emergency will take its greatest toll.

But the 11,000 signatories to the statement in the journal BioScience report that their conclusions are based on the new analysis of 40 years of data covering energy use, surface temperature, population growth, land clearance, deforestation, polar ice melt, fertility rates, gross domestic product and carbon emissions.

The scientists list six steps that the world’s nations could take to avert the coming catastrophe: abandon fossil fuel use, reduce atmospheric pollution, restore natural ecosystems, shift from animal-based to plant diets, contain economic growth and the pursuit of affluence, and stabilise the human population.

Their warning appeared on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate congress, in Geneva in 1979.

Surprising rice impact

“Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis,” said William Ripple of Oregon State University, one of the leaders of the coalition. “Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

Both the warning of catastrophic climate change and the steps to avoid it are familiar. But researchers at Stanford University in the US say they really did not expect the impact of world temperature rise on the rice crop – the staple for two billion people now, and perhaps 5 bn by 2100 – to be so severe.

Other groups have already warned that changes in seasonal temperature and rainfall could reduce both the yields of wheat, fruit and vegetables, and the nutritional values of rice and other staples.

The Stanford group report in the journal Nature Communications that they looked more closely at what climate change could do to rice crops. Most soils contain some arsenic. Rice is grown in flooded paddy fields that tend to loosen the poison from the soil particles. But higher temperatures combined with more intense rainfall show that, in experiments, rice plants absorb more arsenic, which in turn inhibits nutrient absorption and reduces plant development. Not only did the grains contain twice the level of arsenic, the yield fell by two-fifths.

“We have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis. Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected”

“By the time we get to 2100, we’re estimated to have approximately 10bn people, so that would mean we have 5 billion people dependent on rice, and 2bn who would not have access to the calories they would normally need,” said Scott Fendorf, an earth system scientist at Stanford.

“I didn’t expect the magnitude of impact on rice yield we observed. What I missed was how much the soil biogeochemistry would respond to increased temperature, how that would amplify plant-available arsenic and then – coupled with temperature stress – how that would really impact the plant.”

And while the rice croplands expect heavier rains, great tracts of the northern hemisphere could see vegetation changes that could have paradoxical consequences. In a wetter, warmer world plants could grow more vigorously. The stomata on the leaves through which plants breathe are more likely to close in a world of higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, meaning less water loss through foliage.

And while this should mean more run-off and a moister tropical world, a team at Dartmouth College in the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that in the mid-latitudes plant response to climate change could actually make the land drier instead of wetter.

Water consumption rises

“Approximately 60% of the global water flux from the land to the atmosphere goes through plants, called transpiration. Plants are like the atmosphere’s straw, dominating how water flows from the land to the atmosphere. So vegetation is a massive determinant of what water is left on land for people,” said Justin Mankin, a geographer at Dartmouth.

“The question we’re asking here is, how do the combined effects of carbon dioxide and warming change the size of that straw?”

The calculations are complex. First, as temperatures soar, so will evaporation: more humidity means more rain – in some places. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels soar, driven by fossil fuel combustion, plants need less water to photosynthesise, so the land gets more water. As the planet warms, growing seasons become extended and warmer, so plants grow for a longer period and consume more water, and will grow more vigorously because of the fertility effect of higher carbon dioxide concentrations.

The calculations suggest that forests, grasslands and other ecosystems will consume more water for longer periods, thus drying the soil and reducing ground water, and the run-off to the rivers, in parts of Europe, Asia and the US.

Avoiding the worst

And that in turn would mean lower levels of water available for human consumption, agriculture, hydropower and industry.

Both studies are indicators of possible hazard, to be confirmed or challenged by other scientific groups. But both exemplify the complexity of the challenge presented by temperature rises of at least the 2°C set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 as the limit by the century’s end; or the 3°C that seems increasingly likely as those same nations fail to take the drastic action prescribed.

The world has already warmed by almost 1°C above the long-term average for most of human history. So both papers shore up the reasoning of the 11,000 signatories to the latest warning of planetary disaster. But that same warning contains some steps humankind could take to avert the worst.

“While things are bad, all is not hopeless,” said Thomas Newsome, of the University of Sydney, Australia, and one of the signatories. “We can take steps to address the climate emergency.” – Climate News Network

Global heating could bring “untold suffering” for humans. It could also mean less fresh water and less rice, though tasting more of arsenic.

LONDON, 11 November, 2019 – In an unprecedented step, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 nations have united to warn the world that, without deep and lasting change, the climate emergency promises  humankind unavoidable “untold suffering”.

And as if to underline that message, a US research group has predicted that – on the basis of experiments so far – global heating could reduce rice yields by 40% by the end of the century, and at the same time intensify levels of arsenic in the cereal that provides the staple food for almost half the planet.

And in the same few days a second US group has forecast that changes to the world’s vegetation in an atmosphere increasingly rich in carbon dioxide could mean that – even though rainfall might increase – there could be less fresh water on tap for many of the peoples of Europe, Asia and North America.

Warnings of climate hazard that could threaten political stability and precipitate mass starvation are not new: individuals, research groups, academies and intergovernmental agencies have been making the same point, and with increasing urgency, for more than two decades.

New analysis

The only argument has been about in what form, how badly, and just when the emergency will take its greatest toll.

But the 11,000 signatories to the statement in the journal BioScience report that their conclusions are based on the new analysis of 40 years of data covering energy use, surface temperature, population growth, land clearance, deforestation, polar ice melt, fertility rates, gross domestic product and carbon emissions.

The scientists list six steps that the world’s nations could take to avert the coming catastrophe: abandon fossil fuel use, reduce atmospheric pollution, restore natural ecosystems, shift from animal-based to plant diets, contain economic growth and the pursuit of affluence, and stabilise the human population.

Their warning appeared on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate congress, in Geneva in 1979.

Surprising rice impact

“Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis,” said William Ripple of Oregon State University, one of the leaders of the coalition. “Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

Both the warning of catastrophic climate change and the steps to avoid it are familiar. But researchers at Stanford University in the US say they really did not expect the impact of world temperature rise on the rice crop – the staple for two billion people now, and perhaps 5 bn by 2100 – to be so severe.

Other groups have already warned that changes in seasonal temperature and rainfall could reduce both the yields of wheat, fruit and vegetables, and the nutritional values of rice and other staples.

The Stanford group report in the journal Nature Communications that they looked more closely at what climate change could do to rice crops. Most soils contain some arsenic. Rice is grown in flooded paddy fields that tend to loosen the poison from the soil particles. But higher temperatures combined with more intense rainfall show that, in experiments, rice plants absorb more arsenic, which in turn inhibits nutrient absorption and reduces plant development. Not only did the grains contain twice the level of arsenic, the yield fell by two-fifths.

“We have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis. Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected”

“By the time we get to 2100, we’re estimated to have approximately 10bn people, so that would mean we have 5 billion people dependent on rice, and 2bn who would not have access to the calories they would normally need,” said Scott Fendorf, an earth system scientist at Stanford.

“I didn’t expect the magnitude of impact on rice yield we observed. What I missed was how much the soil biogeochemistry would respond to increased temperature, how that would amplify plant-available arsenic and then – coupled with temperature stress – how that would really impact the plant.”

And while the rice croplands expect heavier rains, great tracts of the northern hemisphere could see vegetation changes that could have paradoxical consequences. In a wetter, warmer world plants could grow more vigorously. The stomata on the leaves through which plants breathe are more likely to close in a world of higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, meaning less water loss through foliage.

And while this should mean more run-off and a moister tropical world, a team at Dartmouth College in the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that in the mid-latitudes plant response to climate change could actually make the land drier instead of wetter.

Water consumption rises

“Approximately 60% of the global water flux from the land to the atmosphere goes through plants, called transpiration. Plants are like the atmosphere’s straw, dominating how water flows from the land to the atmosphere. So vegetation is a massive determinant of what water is left on land for people,” said Justin Mankin, a geographer at Dartmouth.

“The question we’re asking here is, how do the combined effects of carbon dioxide and warming change the size of that straw?”

The calculations are complex. First, as temperatures soar, so will evaporation: more humidity means more rain – in some places. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels soar, driven by fossil fuel combustion, plants need less water to photosynthesise, so the land gets more water. As the planet warms, growing seasons become extended and warmer, so plants grow for a longer period and consume more water, and will grow more vigorously because of the fertility effect of higher carbon dioxide concentrations.

The calculations suggest that forests, grasslands and other ecosystems will consume more water for longer periods, thus drying the soil and reducing ground water, and the run-off to the rivers, in parts of Europe, Asia and the US.

Avoiding the worst

And that in turn would mean lower levels of water available for human consumption, agriculture, hydropower and industry.

Both studies are indicators of possible hazard, to be confirmed or challenged by other scientific groups. But both exemplify the complexity of the challenge presented by temperature rises of at least the 2°C set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 as the limit by the century’s end; or the 3°C that seems increasingly likely as those same nations fail to take the drastic action prescribed.

The world has already warmed by almost 1°C above the long-term average for most of human history. So both papers shore up the reasoning of the 11,000 signatories to the latest warning of planetary disaster. But that same warning contains some steps humankind could take to avert the worst.

“While things are bad, all is not hopeless,” said Thomas Newsome, of the University of Sydney, Australia, and one of the signatories. “We can take steps to address the climate emergency.” – Climate News Network

Drought may hit half world’s wheat at once

Wheat yields could be hit by severe drought across half the world at once, driving up prices and making problems for global markets.

LONDON, 2 October, 2019 − The planet’s daily bread could be at risk as the global thermometer creeps up and climates begin to change. New research has warned that almost two thirds of the world’s wheat-growing areas could face “severe, prolonged, and near-simultaneous droughts” by the century’s end.

Right now, 15% of the world’s wheat producing regions are at risk of severe water scarcity at the same time. Even if the 195 nations that agreed in Paris to stop global average temperatures from rising beyond 1.5°C by 2100 keep that promise, the chance of simultaneous water stress across continents would still double between 2030 and 2070.

But if nations fail to mitigate the climate change and extremes of heat and rainfall that would inevitably follow runaway global heating, then the chances of devastating failure of wheat harvests in both Europe and North America, or both Europe and Australia, or Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, begin to soar.

Wheat provides one-fifth of all the calories for humankind. It is the world’s largest rain-fed crop and the global wheat trade matches the traffic in rice and in maize combined. Ten regions account for 54% of the planet’s wheat fields, and 57% of the world’s wheat.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate”

Scientists from Europe, the US and China report in the journal Science Advances that they worked with computer simulations to model the future global weather for water scarcity with changes in temperature for the next eight decades.

Wheat is a successful crop partly because its water needs are relatively low, but it can’t flourish without reliable rainfall before and during growth. And the new simulations confirm earlier fears: that extremes of heat and devastating drought could happen in more than one continent at the same time.

When this happened in the 19th century, global famine followed. Forecasts already warn that with each 1°C rise in temperature, global wheat yield will fall by between 4% and 6.5%. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat can slash yields and limit the vital nutrients in cereal harvests. Other teams have found that climate change may already be making this happen.

Worse could follow as one heat wave is pursued promptly by another. And all this could happen in a world in which, as population grows, demand for wheat could increase by at least 43%.

Continued checking

Scientists tend not to take the research of others for granted: they keep on checking. The latest simulation analysed 27 different climate models, each with three different scenarios.

The scientists looked at evidence from the near-past to find that between 1985 and 2007, the impact of drought on world wheat production was twice that between 1964 and 1984.

They included developing countries and low-income nations in eastern and southern Asia in their survey, because these are where half of the already hungry and under-nourished live, and where bread is an important part of people’s diet.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate, which would likely affect all market players, ranging from direct influences on subsistence farmers to price-mediated changes in international markets”, they write. − Climate News Network

Wheat yields could be hit by severe drought across half the world at once, driving up prices and making problems for global markets.

LONDON, 2 October, 2019 − The planet’s daily bread could be at risk as the global thermometer creeps up and climates begin to change. New research has warned that almost two thirds of the world’s wheat-growing areas could face “severe, prolonged, and near-simultaneous droughts” by the century’s end.

Right now, 15% of the world’s wheat producing regions are at risk of severe water scarcity at the same time. Even if the 195 nations that agreed in Paris to stop global average temperatures from rising beyond 1.5°C by 2100 keep that promise, the chance of simultaneous water stress across continents would still double between 2030 and 2070.

But if nations fail to mitigate the climate change and extremes of heat and rainfall that would inevitably follow runaway global heating, then the chances of devastating failure of wheat harvests in both Europe and North America, or both Europe and Australia, or Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, begin to soar.

Wheat provides one-fifth of all the calories for humankind. It is the world’s largest rain-fed crop and the global wheat trade matches the traffic in rice and in maize combined. Ten regions account for 54% of the planet’s wheat fields, and 57% of the world’s wheat.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate”

Scientists from Europe, the US and China report in the journal Science Advances that they worked with computer simulations to model the future global weather for water scarcity with changes in temperature for the next eight decades.

Wheat is a successful crop partly because its water needs are relatively low, but it can’t flourish without reliable rainfall before and during growth. And the new simulations confirm earlier fears: that extremes of heat and devastating drought could happen in more than one continent at the same time.

When this happened in the 19th century, global famine followed. Forecasts already warn that with each 1°C rise in temperature, global wheat yield will fall by between 4% and 6.5%. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat can slash yields and limit the vital nutrients in cereal harvests. Other teams have found that climate change may already be making this happen.

Worse could follow as one heat wave is pursued promptly by another. And all this could happen in a world in which, as population grows, demand for wheat could increase by at least 43%.

Continued checking

Scientists tend not to take the research of others for granted: they keep on checking. The latest simulation analysed 27 different climate models, each with three different scenarios.

The scientists looked at evidence from the near-past to find that between 1985 and 2007, the impact of drought on world wheat production was twice that between 1964 and 1984.

They included developing countries and low-income nations in eastern and southern Asia in their survey, because these are where half of the already hungry and under-nourished live, and where bread is an important part of people’s diet.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate, which would likely affect all market players, ranging from direct influences on subsistence farmers to price-mediated changes in international markets”, they write. − Climate News Network

Starvation may force nations to war

Unless nations act now to halt the spread of deserts, they may face wars over food shortages and starvation by mid-century, the UN says.

DELHI, 26 September, 2019 − A stark warning that the exposure of more and more people to water scarcity, hunger and outright starvation may lead to the “failure of fragile states and regional conflicts” has been given by the United Nations as it attempts to galvanise governments into halting the spread of deserts before more cropland is lost.

The climate summit in New York was presented with a plan to try to halt the annual loss of 12 million hectares (30mn acres) of productive land caused by the nations which are parties to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which recently ended a high-level meeting here.

The plan was the list of actions nations agreed at the meeting of more than 190 countries to attempt to reverse the spread of land degradation that the UN estimates will displace 135 million people by 2045. The battle to halt the spread of deserts is seen by the UN as an integral part of the international effort to halt climate change.

How successful the new plans will be remains to be seen, as although  the Convention, like the Climate Change Convention, has been in existence since the last century, the problems continue to get worse. However, all the countries involved now have national plans to halt land degradation and restore croplands and forests.

One of the key new promises made at the Delhi meeting, which ended on 13 September, was to grant land tenure to groups to give them an incentive to protect soils and the ability of the land to grow crops.

“Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss”

Delegates also agreed to improve the rights of women, promote land restoration and reduce land-related carbon emissions, both from poor soil management and the destruction of trees. New ways of financing these schemes from government and private sources were proposed.

The scale of the problem is enormous. Close to a quarter of global land is almost unusable, and by the middle of the century humans will need to produce twice as much grain as they do today to keep up with global population growth, the UNCCD says.

At the closing session Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said: “Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss; land restoration makes business sense if we have regulations and incentives to reward investment.”

In addition, he said, preparing for the increasing number of droughts and coping with them are critical in the face of climate change. He emphasised the need to involve young people and women and to secure land rights.

However, despite the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration, in which ministers and delegates expressed support for new initiatives or coalitions aiming to improve human health and well-being and the health of ecosystems, and to advance peace and security, there were dissenting voices at the conference.

Dilution and omissions

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a statement: “The New Delhi Declaration has diluted the role of international funding bodies in combating desertification. It has also sidestepped the contentious issue of tenure rights to land.”

The CSE said the statement had removed any mention of the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund  from the Declaration and there were no mentions of specific measures that could be used for adaptation nor, in fact, the word “adaptation” itself. Countries were left to develop their own plans.

Local politics also plays an important part in creating the problem. For example, across South Asia severe drought areas are used for water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane, or for very large monoculture plantations for palm oil or rubber.

Some speakers felt it was going to be an uphill struggle for poorer countries to get funding for restoring degraded land.

Early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dry land agriculture, mangrove protection and investments in making water resources more resilient were all vital. Adapting to land degradation and climate change was in everyone’s strong economic self-interest, Thiaw said. − Climate News Network

Unless nations act now to halt the spread of deserts, they may face wars over food shortages and starvation by mid-century, the UN says.

DELHI, 26 September, 2019 − A stark warning that the exposure of more and more people to water scarcity, hunger and outright starvation may lead to the “failure of fragile states and regional conflicts” has been given by the United Nations as it attempts to galvanise governments into halting the spread of deserts before more cropland is lost.

The climate summit in New York was presented with a plan to try to halt the annual loss of 12 million hectares (30mn acres) of productive land caused by the nations which are parties to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which recently ended a high-level meeting here.

The plan was the list of actions nations agreed at the meeting of more than 190 countries to attempt to reverse the spread of land degradation that the UN estimates will displace 135 million people by 2045. The battle to halt the spread of deserts is seen by the UN as an integral part of the international effort to halt climate change.

How successful the new plans will be remains to be seen, as although  the Convention, like the Climate Change Convention, has been in existence since the last century, the problems continue to get worse. However, all the countries involved now have national plans to halt land degradation and restore croplands and forests.

One of the key new promises made at the Delhi meeting, which ended on 13 September, was to grant land tenure to groups to give them an incentive to protect soils and the ability of the land to grow crops.

“Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss”

Delegates also agreed to improve the rights of women, promote land restoration and reduce land-related carbon emissions, both from poor soil management and the destruction of trees. New ways of financing these schemes from government and private sources were proposed.

The scale of the problem is enormous. Close to a quarter of global land is almost unusable, and by the middle of the century humans will need to produce twice as much grain as they do today to keep up with global population growth, the UNCCD says.

At the closing session Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said: “Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss; land restoration makes business sense if we have regulations and incentives to reward investment.”

In addition, he said, preparing for the increasing number of droughts and coping with them are critical in the face of climate change. He emphasised the need to involve young people and women and to secure land rights.

However, despite the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration, in which ministers and delegates expressed support for new initiatives or coalitions aiming to improve human health and well-being and the health of ecosystems, and to advance peace and security, there were dissenting voices at the conference.

Dilution and omissions

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a statement: “The New Delhi Declaration has diluted the role of international funding bodies in combating desertification. It has also sidestepped the contentious issue of tenure rights to land.”

The CSE said the statement had removed any mention of the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund  from the Declaration and there were no mentions of specific measures that could be used for adaptation nor, in fact, the word “adaptation” itself. Countries were left to develop their own plans.

Local politics also plays an important part in creating the problem. For example, across South Asia severe drought areas are used for water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane, or for very large monoculture plantations for palm oil or rubber.

Some speakers felt it was going to be an uphill struggle for poorer countries to get funding for restoring degraded land.

Early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dry land agriculture, mangrove protection and investments in making water resources more resilient were all vital. Adapting to land degradation and climate change was in everyone’s strong economic self-interest, Thiaw said. − Climate News Network

Less meat for rich can cut heat and hunger

Eating less meat can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But if everyone tries it, starvation will continue to climb.

LONDON, 17 September, 2019 − Eating less meat is not the way everyone should aim to tackle the climate crisis, a new study says. It is an essential step for many of us, the researchers argue, but in a world racked by malnutrition and hunger it can be only part of the answer to rising temperatures.

But many people in high-income countries will need to make more ambitious cuts in the amount of meat, eggs and dairy products they consume. The reason? People who are under-nourished will need to eat more of these foods to have a hope of healthy lives.

Agriculture and food production produce significant quantities of global carbon emissions, which must fall if we are to meet the UN climate goal of no more than 1.5°C of warming. That means meat consumption must fall.

But US scientists warn that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the twin challenges of diet and climate. They do not argue against reductions in overall meat consumption. They simply suggest that those who are already well-fed could make the biggest cuts.

Many scientists have concluded that vegetable-rich diets are the healthy option for the planet, although some doubt that the world can provide enough vegetables to feed a growing global population.  A lively debate is the probable outcome.

“In high-income countries, where people generally have enough to eat, the shift towards more plant-forward diets and away from carbon- and water-intensive consumption patterns has to happen faster”

Martin Bloem is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and co-author of a study it has produced, published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

For any diet-related climate change solution to be sustainable, he says, it must also address the problems of under-nutrition, obesity, poverty, and economic development. Different countries have different priorities and are at different stages of development, meaning they have different imperatives.

“In many low-and-middle-income countries, the imperative is to ensure people have adequate nutrition”, he writes. “Today, more than 820m people around the world don’t have enough to eat, a number that has risen in recent years (in part due to climate change, as well as conflict).

“Meanwhile, more than a third of all children under five in low-income countries such as India and Malawi are stunted. This means their physical and mental development are impaired because of poor nutrition, with consequences that stretch far into adulthood.”

The World Bank has shown that poor nutrition directly affects countries’ development prospects, not least as a result of the reduced capabilities of working populations, known as “human capital”.

Emissions will rise

Obviously poor countries also need to develop policies to tackle the climate emergency. But, Professor Bloem writes, “a top-down diktat that recommends a plant-based diet without taking into account the nutritional needs of vulnerable populations or the availability of certain foodstuffs is neither helpful nor appropriate.

“The fact is that in low-income countries, some people, especially young children, will need to eat more animal products, particularly dairy and eggs, to get adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals. Consequently the diet-related emissions and use of freshwater in these places will have to rise.

“This means that in high-income countries, where people generally have enough to eat (although are not necessarily healthy) the shift towards more plant-forward diets and away from carbon- and water-intensive consumption patterns has to happen faster.”

The authors of the CLF report say that, even in high-income countries, a “one-size-fits all” approach is not necessary. They modelled the climate and freshwater impact of the “typical” diet in 140 countries, and compared it to what they describe as a “healthy baseline” diet and nine “plant-forward” diets, including vegan, vegetarian, and a meat-free day.

They found that a diet where the animal protein comes mainly from low down the food chain, such as insects, small fish and molluscs, has as low an environmental impact as a vegan diet, but generally has more easily digestible micronutrients and proteins.

No silver bullet

And eating animal products only once a day (being a “two-thirds vegan”) is in most cases less carbon-intensive than following a traditional vegetarian diet involving dairy products.

The authors say a food’s country of origin can have enormous consequences for climate. For example, one pound of beef produced in Paraguay contributes nearly 17 times more greenhouse gases than one pound of beef produced in Denmark. Often, this disparity is a consequence of the deforestation of land for grazing.

Nutrition and climate change are the subject of two of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals, which address the full spectrum of development challenges the world faces. Success in attaining these goals by 2030, Professor Bloem says, will require reconciling trade-offs, clashes and compromises.

“There is, sadly, no silver bullet, but our research gives policymakers a tool to address health, economic, and environmental challenges … for example, by setting national dietary guidelines that support efforts to tackle malnutrition, while also charting a sustainable course in terms of emissions and freshwater use.

“There will always be trade-offs. Environmental impact alone cannot be a guide for what people eat; countries need to consider the totality of the nutritional needs, access, and cultural preferences of their residents.” − Climate News Network

Eating less meat can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But if everyone tries it, starvation will continue to climb.

LONDON, 17 September, 2019 − Eating less meat is not the way everyone should aim to tackle the climate crisis, a new study says. It is an essential step for many of us, the researchers argue, but in a world racked by malnutrition and hunger it can be only part of the answer to rising temperatures.

But many people in high-income countries will need to make more ambitious cuts in the amount of meat, eggs and dairy products they consume. The reason? People who are under-nourished will need to eat more of these foods to have a hope of healthy lives.

Agriculture and food production produce significant quantities of global carbon emissions, which must fall if we are to meet the UN climate goal of no more than 1.5°C of warming. That means meat consumption must fall.

But US scientists warn that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the twin challenges of diet and climate. They do not argue against reductions in overall meat consumption. They simply suggest that those who are already well-fed could make the biggest cuts.

Many scientists have concluded that vegetable-rich diets are the healthy option for the planet, although some doubt that the world can provide enough vegetables to feed a growing global population.  A lively debate is the probable outcome.

“In high-income countries, where people generally have enough to eat, the shift towards more plant-forward diets and away from carbon- and water-intensive consumption patterns has to happen faster”

Martin Bloem is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and co-author of a study it has produced, published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

For any diet-related climate change solution to be sustainable, he says, it must also address the problems of under-nutrition, obesity, poverty, and economic development. Different countries have different priorities and are at different stages of development, meaning they have different imperatives.

“In many low-and-middle-income countries, the imperative is to ensure people have adequate nutrition”, he writes. “Today, more than 820m people around the world don’t have enough to eat, a number that has risen in recent years (in part due to climate change, as well as conflict).

“Meanwhile, more than a third of all children under five in low-income countries such as India and Malawi are stunted. This means their physical and mental development are impaired because of poor nutrition, with consequences that stretch far into adulthood.”

The World Bank has shown that poor nutrition directly affects countries’ development prospects, not least as a result of the reduced capabilities of working populations, known as “human capital”.

Emissions will rise

Obviously poor countries also need to develop policies to tackle the climate emergency. But, Professor Bloem writes, “a top-down diktat that recommends a plant-based diet without taking into account the nutritional needs of vulnerable populations or the availability of certain foodstuffs is neither helpful nor appropriate.

“The fact is that in low-income countries, some people, especially young children, will need to eat more animal products, particularly dairy and eggs, to get adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals. Consequently the diet-related emissions and use of freshwater in these places will have to rise.

“This means that in high-income countries, where people generally have enough to eat (although are not necessarily healthy) the shift towards more plant-forward diets and away from carbon- and water-intensive consumption patterns has to happen faster.”

The authors of the CLF report say that, even in high-income countries, a “one-size-fits all” approach is not necessary. They modelled the climate and freshwater impact of the “typical” diet in 140 countries, and compared it to what they describe as a “healthy baseline” diet and nine “plant-forward” diets, including vegan, vegetarian, and a meat-free day.

They found that a diet where the animal protein comes mainly from low down the food chain, such as insects, small fish and molluscs, has as low an environmental impact as a vegan diet, but generally has more easily digestible micronutrients and proteins.

No silver bullet

And eating animal products only once a day (being a “two-thirds vegan”) is in most cases less carbon-intensive than following a traditional vegetarian diet involving dairy products.

The authors say a food’s country of origin can have enormous consequences for climate. For example, one pound of beef produced in Paraguay contributes nearly 17 times more greenhouse gases than one pound of beef produced in Denmark. Often, this disparity is a consequence of the deforestation of land for grazing.

Nutrition and climate change are the subject of two of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals, which address the full spectrum of development challenges the world faces. Success in attaining these goals by 2030, Professor Bloem says, will require reconciling trade-offs, clashes and compromises.

“There is, sadly, no silver bullet, but our research gives policymakers a tool to address health, economic, and environmental challenges … for example, by setting national dietary guidelines that support efforts to tackle malnutrition, while also charting a sustainable course in terms of emissions and freshwater use.

“There will always be trade-offs. Environmental impact alone cannot be a guide for what people eat; countries need to consider the totality of the nutritional needs, access, and cultural preferences of their residents.” − Climate News Network

University ends red meat meals and cuts carbon

A sustainable food policy which ends red meat meals has improved student diets and boosted a university catering service’s profits.

LONDON, 10 September, 2019 − Cambridge University in England, one of the richest and most famous universities in the world, has ended red meat meals in its outlets.

Beef and lamb are off the menu in its cafes and canteens, to educate staff and students about how to change their diets so as to help avoid dangerous climate change.

At the same time, the university says the decision will go a long way to reducing the carbon footprint of the University Catering Service (UCS) and cutting the amount of land needed to feed the students and administrators.

In a report on its decision to cut out red meat, known also as ruminant meat, the university says it has also greatly improved the variety of meals in its restaurants, particularly of vegetarian and vegan alternatives.

This has lowered the amount of land the UCS needs to grow food by over a quarter and its carbon footprint by over a third, while at the same time increasing profits.

“For us it was about making the right choice easy for our customers”

The change of policy by catering managers has also meant that, over the last 12 months, the catering staff have lowered food waste from the university’s canteens and eliminated unsustainably harvested fish from their menus.

Andrew Balmford, Cambridge’s professor of conservation science, said: “It is hard to imagine any other interventions that could yield such dramatic benefits in so short a span of time.”

UCS, which provides food for 1,500 events a year and runs 14 cafes and canteens, has also introduced other environmental improvements; cutting plastic waste by using Vegware compostable packaging and disposables; providing discounts for customers to keep their cups for re-use; and recycling cooking oil.

The changes, introduced in October 2016, required considerable re-education of the university’s chefs and help from its experts in the Department of Environment and Energy to create a sustainable food policy.

Promoting well-being

Nick White, head of operations at UCS, said: “I knew that we should be doing more to actively promote the consumption of more sustainable food to reduce our damage to the environment and to help encourage positive lifestyle changes, which would lead to a positive impact on the health and well-being of our students and staff.

“For us it was about making the right choice easy for our customers. I felt a big responsibility to do something about it.”

Catering staff, many of whom had been trained principally to cook meat as the centrepiece of a meal, had to be inspired to change menus and think of new dishes. They were told for example that switching diets to non-ruminant meats results in emitting 85% less greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide and methane) and using 60% less water and 85% less farmland.

Chefs were provided with vegan cooking classes and went to Borough Market in London, a centre of international cuisine where in some specialist outlets vegetarian and vegan dishes from all over the world are cooked for tourists and the cosmopolitan community.

The result of the changes is that the catering service has the same number of customers as before but has increased profitability by 2%, despite increased food costs.

Long road to change

As well as changing diets, the UCS has stopped selling single use plastic bottles and has replaced them with glass bottles, cans or biodegradable plastic bottles, saving 30,000 plastic bottles from going to landfill annually.

“This report demonstrates how achievable, environmentally effective, and professionally rewarding these bold actions can be”, Professor Balmford said.

But the battle to change the feeding habits of the 21,000 students and almost equal number of academic staff and administrators in Cambridge has a long way to go.

Most of the Cambridge colleges which make up the university and are spread across the city have their own dining halls and restaurants and provide meals for students and staff independently of the catering service. They are the next to be targeted for change. − Climate News Network

A sustainable food policy which ends red meat meals has improved student diets and boosted a university catering service’s profits.

LONDON, 10 September, 2019 − Cambridge University in England, one of the richest and most famous universities in the world, has ended red meat meals in its outlets.

Beef and lamb are off the menu in its cafes and canteens, to educate staff and students about how to change their diets so as to help avoid dangerous climate change.

At the same time, the university says the decision will go a long way to reducing the carbon footprint of the University Catering Service (UCS) and cutting the amount of land needed to feed the students and administrators.

In a report on its decision to cut out red meat, known also as ruminant meat, the university says it has also greatly improved the variety of meals in its restaurants, particularly of vegetarian and vegan alternatives.

This has lowered the amount of land the UCS needs to grow food by over a quarter and its carbon footprint by over a third, while at the same time increasing profits.

“For us it was about making the right choice easy for our customers”

The change of policy by catering managers has also meant that, over the last 12 months, the catering staff have lowered food waste from the university’s canteens and eliminated unsustainably harvested fish from their menus.

Andrew Balmford, Cambridge’s professor of conservation science, said: “It is hard to imagine any other interventions that could yield such dramatic benefits in so short a span of time.”

UCS, which provides food for 1,500 events a year and runs 14 cafes and canteens, has also introduced other environmental improvements; cutting plastic waste by using Vegware compostable packaging and disposables; providing discounts for customers to keep their cups for re-use; and recycling cooking oil.

The changes, introduced in October 2016, required considerable re-education of the university’s chefs and help from its experts in the Department of Environment and Energy to create a sustainable food policy.

Promoting well-being

Nick White, head of operations at UCS, said: “I knew that we should be doing more to actively promote the consumption of more sustainable food to reduce our damage to the environment and to help encourage positive lifestyle changes, which would lead to a positive impact on the health and well-being of our students and staff.

“For us it was about making the right choice easy for our customers. I felt a big responsibility to do something about it.”

Catering staff, many of whom had been trained principally to cook meat as the centrepiece of a meal, had to be inspired to change menus and think of new dishes. They were told for example that switching diets to non-ruminant meats results in emitting 85% less greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide and methane) and using 60% less water and 85% less farmland.

Chefs were provided with vegan cooking classes and went to Borough Market in London, a centre of international cuisine where in some specialist outlets vegetarian and vegan dishes from all over the world are cooked for tourists and the cosmopolitan community.

The result of the changes is that the catering service has the same number of customers as before but has increased profitability by 2%, despite increased food costs.

Long road to change

As well as changing diets, the UCS has stopped selling single use plastic bottles and has replaced them with glass bottles, cans or biodegradable plastic bottles, saving 30,000 plastic bottles from going to landfill annually.

“This report demonstrates how achievable, environmentally effective, and professionally rewarding these bold actions can be”, Professor Balmford said.

But the battle to change the feeding habits of the 21,000 students and almost equal number of academic staff and administrators in Cambridge has a long way to go.

Most of the Cambridge colleges which make up the university and are spread across the city have their own dining halls and restaurants and provide meals for students and staff independently of the catering service. They are the next to be targeted for change. − Climate News Network

Egyptian theatre aids climate change fight

To help to alert people to the hotter future ahead, an Egyptian theatre troupe is taking the climate message to villages to enlist farmers.

LONDON, 4 September, 2019 − Ever been to an Egyptian theatre? Go to one if you get the chance. You might have an enlightening time.

How to get the message about a warming world and the challenges ahead across to people in a straightforward, simple way is a problem as old as climate change itself:

In a project funded by the World Food Programme, a group of local actors is touring villages in Egypt, putting on performances on the theme of climate change. The aim is to persuade farmers to pool their efforts in order to adapt to the changing weather patterns already evident in many areas.

Egypt is considered a country acutely vulnerable to changes in climate. The Nile Delta, densely populated and the centre of Egypt’s vast agricultural sector, is already threatened by sea level rise, its lands eaten away by salt intrusion from the Mediterranean.

Several settlements along Egypt’s north coast, including Alexandria, the country’s second most populated city, are regularly inundated by seawater.

“The plays seek to encourage villagers to form co-operatives in order to maximise the output of wheat and other crops and use less wasteful methods of irrigation”

Rising temperatures mean more water is being evaporated from the Nile, Egypt’s water lifeline. Extensive dam building upstream further threatens Nile water flows.

The theatre project, though, is playing to packed houses. The crowds are flocking in to see what is a mix of entertainment and information on ways that farming methods can be adapted to changes in climate. Light-hearted banter is part of the show.

Bloomberg news agency reports that the plays seek to encourage villagers to form co-operatives in order to maximise the output of wheat and other crops and use less wasteful methods of irrigation, so as to conserve precious water resources.

One recent play, according to Bloomberg, featured a farmer unwilling to co-operate with his neighbours to fight climate change and refusing to help pay for a new irrigation canal. In the end, though, the farmer realises the folly of his actions.

Almost 30% of jobs in Egypt are in agriculture, and farmers regularly have to battle the impact of increases in temperature and more sporadic rainfall patterns.

Sun power replaces diesel

A heatwave in 2010 resulted in serious losses for Egypt’s wheat crop, a staple in the diet of the country’s population of nearly 100 million people. Earlier this year temperatures reached near-record levels, particularly in the south of the country. Last year sudden rain deluges caused flooding in several cities.

Bloomberg reports that the theatre shows have had an impact; in many areas solar-powered irrigation pumps have replaced diesel pumps.

Forecasts of sudden changes in weather are broadcast from mosques and via mobile phones. As a result of more co-operation between farmers and increased efficiency in the use of water resources, wheat output has improved, especially in the south of the country.

Recent reports have indicated that the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) will have to endure ever-higher temperatures in the years ahead. Researchers say parts of the region can expect increased social unrest. Others have warned that extreme heat and humidity may make some areas uninhabitable, with outside activities having to be severely restricted.

Last month came a warning that the rising heat could threaten the lives of many thousands of Muslims performing the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Egypt’s neighbour Saudi Arabia. − Climate News Network

To help to alert people to the hotter future ahead, an Egyptian theatre troupe is taking the climate message to villages to enlist farmers.

LONDON, 4 September, 2019 − Ever been to an Egyptian theatre? Go to one if you get the chance. You might have an enlightening time.

How to get the message about a warming world and the challenges ahead across to people in a straightforward, simple way is a problem as old as climate change itself:

In a project funded by the World Food Programme, a group of local actors is touring villages in Egypt, putting on performances on the theme of climate change. The aim is to persuade farmers to pool their efforts in order to adapt to the changing weather patterns already evident in many areas.

Egypt is considered a country acutely vulnerable to changes in climate. The Nile Delta, densely populated and the centre of Egypt’s vast agricultural sector, is already threatened by sea level rise, its lands eaten away by salt intrusion from the Mediterranean.

Several settlements along Egypt’s north coast, including Alexandria, the country’s second most populated city, are regularly inundated by seawater.

“The plays seek to encourage villagers to form co-operatives in order to maximise the output of wheat and other crops and use less wasteful methods of irrigation”

Rising temperatures mean more water is being evaporated from the Nile, Egypt’s water lifeline. Extensive dam building upstream further threatens Nile water flows.

The theatre project, though, is playing to packed houses. The crowds are flocking in to see what is a mix of entertainment and information on ways that farming methods can be adapted to changes in climate. Light-hearted banter is part of the show.

Bloomberg news agency reports that the plays seek to encourage villagers to form co-operatives in order to maximise the output of wheat and other crops and use less wasteful methods of irrigation, so as to conserve precious water resources.

One recent play, according to Bloomberg, featured a farmer unwilling to co-operate with his neighbours to fight climate change and refusing to help pay for a new irrigation canal. In the end, though, the farmer realises the folly of his actions.

Almost 30% of jobs in Egypt are in agriculture, and farmers regularly have to battle the impact of increases in temperature and more sporadic rainfall patterns.

Sun power replaces diesel

A heatwave in 2010 resulted in serious losses for Egypt’s wheat crop, a staple in the diet of the country’s population of nearly 100 million people. Earlier this year temperatures reached near-record levels, particularly in the south of the country. Last year sudden rain deluges caused flooding in several cities.

Bloomberg reports that the theatre shows have had an impact; in many areas solar-powered irrigation pumps have replaced diesel pumps.

Forecasts of sudden changes in weather are broadcast from mosques and via mobile phones. As a result of more co-operation between farmers and increased efficiency in the use of water resources, wheat output has improved, especially in the south of the country.

Recent reports have indicated that the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) will have to endure ever-higher temperatures in the years ahead. Researchers say parts of the region can expect increased social unrest. Others have warned that extreme heat and humidity may make some areas uninhabitable, with outside activities having to be severely restricted.

Last month came a warning that the rising heat could threaten the lives of many thousands of Muslims performing the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Egypt’s neighbour Saudi Arabia. − Climate News Network

Poor and rich face economic loss as world warms

Yet another study predicts economic loss as the world gets hotter. And the richer nations will also feel the pain.

LONDON, 23 August, 2019 – By the close of the century, the United States could be more than 10% poorer, thanks to the economic loss that climate change will impose.

There is bad news too for Japan, India and New Zealand, which will also be 10% worse off in a world that could be 3°C hotter than any temperatures experienced since humans began to build cities, civilisations and complex economies.

And the news is even worse for Canada, a northern and Arctic nation that could reasonably have expected some things to improve as the thermometer rose: under a “business as usual” scenario in which nations go on burning fossil fuels at ever increasing rates, the Canadian economy could shrink by 13%.

A new study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts warns that overall the global economy will shrink by 7%, unless the world’s nations meet the target they set themselves at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, when they agreed an ambition to keep global warming to no more than 2°C above the levels maintained until the Industrial Revolution.

“The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible”

The factor that tends to govern how bad an economy may be hit is not the global average thermometer rise, but the level of deviation from the historical normal: farmers, business people and government planners tend to bank on more or less foreseeable conditions. But conditions in a hotter world are less predictable.

“Whether cold snaps or heat waves, droughts or floods or natural disasters, all deviations of climate conditions from their historical norms have adverse economic effects,” said Kamiar Mohaddes, a co-author based at the faculty of economics at the other Cambridge, in the UK.

“Without mitigation and adaptation policies, many countries are likely to experience sustained temperature increases relative to historical norms and suffer major income losses as a result. This holds for both rich and poor countries as well as hot and cold regions.

“Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. There are risks to its physical infrastructure, coastal and northern communities, human health and wellness, ecosystems and fisheries – all of which has had a cost.”

Familiar refrain

The planet has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century, with ever more intense and frequent extremes of heat, drought and rainfall. The news that climate change could impose massive costs is not a surprise.

Researchers have been warning for decades that although the switch away from fossil fuels – along with other steps – will be costly, doing nothing will be even more expensive and, for many regions, ruinous.

Studies have warned that both Europe and the United States will pay a heavy price for failing to meet the Paris targets, and the poor in America will pay an even heavier price.

In the latest study, researchers from California, Washington DC, the UK and Taiwan started with data from 174 nations going back to 1960 to find a match between variations from normal temperatures and income levels. They then made computer simulations of what could happen under two scenarios.

Paris makes sense

They made the assumption that nations would adapt to change, but that such adaptations would take 30 years to complete. They then looked at 10 sectors of the US economy in particular, and found that across 48 states, every sector in every state suffered economically from at least one aspect of climate change.

They also found that the Paris Agreement of 2015 – which President Trump proposes to abandon – offers the best business sense. Were nations to contain global warming to the ideal of 1.5°C, both the US and Canada could expect their wealth to dwindle by no more than 2%.

“The economics of climate change stretch far beyond the impact on growing crops. Heavy rainfall prevents mountain access for mining and affects commodity prices. Cold snaps raise heating bills and high street spending drops. Heat waves cause transport networks to shut down. All these things add up,” Dr Mohaddes said.

“The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible.” – Climate News Network

Yet another study predicts economic loss as the world gets hotter. And the richer nations will also feel the pain.

LONDON, 23 August, 2019 – By the close of the century, the United States could be more than 10% poorer, thanks to the economic loss that climate change will impose.

There is bad news too for Japan, India and New Zealand, which will also be 10% worse off in a world that could be 3°C hotter than any temperatures experienced since humans began to build cities, civilisations and complex economies.

And the news is even worse for Canada, a northern and Arctic nation that could reasonably have expected some things to improve as the thermometer rose: under a “business as usual” scenario in which nations go on burning fossil fuels at ever increasing rates, the Canadian economy could shrink by 13%.

A new study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts warns that overall the global economy will shrink by 7%, unless the world’s nations meet the target they set themselves at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, when they agreed an ambition to keep global warming to no more than 2°C above the levels maintained until the Industrial Revolution.

“The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible”

The factor that tends to govern how bad an economy may be hit is not the global average thermometer rise, but the level of deviation from the historical normal: farmers, business people and government planners tend to bank on more or less foreseeable conditions. But conditions in a hotter world are less predictable.

“Whether cold snaps or heat waves, droughts or floods or natural disasters, all deviations of climate conditions from their historical norms have adverse economic effects,” said Kamiar Mohaddes, a co-author based at the faculty of economics at the other Cambridge, in the UK.

“Without mitigation and adaptation policies, many countries are likely to experience sustained temperature increases relative to historical norms and suffer major income losses as a result. This holds for both rich and poor countries as well as hot and cold regions.

“Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. There are risks to its physical infrastructure, coastal and northern communities, human health and wellness, ecosystems and fisheries – all of which has had a cost.”

Familiar refrain

The planet has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century, with ever more intense and frequent extremes of heat, drought and rainfall. The news that climate change could impose massive costs is not a surprise.

Researchers have been warning for decades that although the switch away from fossil fuels – along with other steps – will be costly, doing nothing will be even more expensive and, for many regions, ruinous.

Studies have warned that both Europe and the United States will pay a heavy price for failing to meet the Paris targets, and the poor in America will pay an even heavier price.

In the latest study, researchers from California, Washington DC, the UK and Taiwan started with data from 174 nations going back to 1960 to find a match between variations from normal temperatures and income levels. They then made computer simulations of what could happen under two scenarios.

Paris makes sense

They made the assumption that nations would adapt to change, but that such adaptations would take 30 years to complete. They then looked at 10 sectors of the US economy in particular, and found that across 48 states, every sector in every state suffered economically from at least one aspect of climate change.

They also found that the Paris Agreement of 2015 – which President Trump proposes to abandon – offers the best business sense. Were nations to contain global warming to the ideal of 1.5°C, both the US and Canada could expect their wealth to dwindle by no more than 2%.

“The economics of climate change stretch far beyond the impact on growing crops. Heavy rainfall prevents mountain access for mining and affects commodity prices. Cold snaps raise heating bills and high street spending drops. Heat waves cause transport networks to shut down. All these things add up,” Dr Mohaddes said.

“The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible.” – Climate News Network