Tag Archives: Forests

Climate heat melts Arctic snows and dries forests

Fires now blaze under Arctic snows, where once even the wettest rainforests burned. Climate change delivers unlikely outcomes.

LONDON, 12 October, 2020 − The northern polar region isn’t just warming: it’s also smoking, as the rising heat thaws the Arctic snows. Researchers have identified a new class of fire hazard.

High above the Arctic Circle, fires that flared a year ago continued to smoulder under the snow through the winter to flare up again − two months earlier than usual, and on a scale not seen before.

And if the notion of fire and ice seems a surprise, prepare for the idea of a blazing rainforest. In a second and separate study, researchers exploring the climate lessons from the deep past 90 million years ago have found that, if the atmosphere is rich enough in oxygen, then even the wettest foliage can ignite and burn, to consume perhaps up to 40% of the world’s forest.

Scientists from the US report in Nature Geoscience that they have identified an unexpected threat from “zombie fires” which, despite heavy snowmelt, they say “can smoulder in carbon-rich peat below the surface for months or years, often only detectable through smoke released at the surface, and can even occur through cold winter months.”

“The climate change we are causing now, it’s not something where if we don’t fix it, only our grandkids will have to deal with it. The impacts are really long-lasting”

They warn that in the fast-changing climate of the highest northern latitudes, the evidence from last year and this suggest that extreme temperatures and drier conditions mean there is a lot more surface fuel in the Arctic to catch fire and melt the Arctic snows.

Dwarf shrubs, sedges, mosses and grasses are invading the tundra, to join the surface peat, and even the bogs, fens and marches of the tundra are now burning. In all, 50% of the detected fires above 65°North − many in the Russian Arctic − happened on permafrost: that is, on ever-icy soils.

“It’s not just the amount of burned area that is alarming,” said Merritt Turetsky of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and one of the authors. “There are other trends we noticed in the satellite data that tell us how the Arctic fire regime is changing and what this spells for our climate future.”

Wildfires are on the increase now, in a world in which climate change has delivered hotter and drier conditions for many regions. Unexpectedly, according to a second study in Nature Geoscience, fossilized evidence in rocks in Utah has delivered evidence of massive and sustained forest fires, in the form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons preserved in black shales laid down in the Cretaceous.

Huge absorption rate

Researchers pieced together a story of dramatic climate change 94 million years ago, when carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere, and land and sea plants began to absorb it from the atmosphere on a massive scale. Microbial respiration stepped up too, and parts of the ocean became increasingly low in oxygen.

During 100,000 years of this, so much carbon had been buried in the ground or the oceans that – with the release of molecular oxygen, the O2 in CO2 − atmospheric oxygen levels began to increase. And with that, the scientists say, so did the probability of forest fires, even in wet forest ecosystems. Altogether, perhaps 30% to 40% of the planet’s forests were consumed by fire over 100 millennia.

“One of the consequences of having more oxygen in the atmosphere is that it’s easier to burn fires. It’s the same reason you blow on embers to stoke a fire,” said Garrett Boudinot, then at the University of Boulder Colorado and now with the Colorado Wildlife Council, who led the research.

“This finding highlights the prolonged impacts of climate change. The climate change we are causing now, it’s not something where if we don’t fix it, only our grandkids will have to deal with it. The history of climate change in Earth history tells us that the impacts are really long-lasting.” − Climate News Network

Fires now blaze under Arctic snows, where once even the wettest rainforests burned. Climate change delivers unlikely outcomes.

LONDON, 12 October, 2020 − The northern polar region isn’t just warming: it’s also smoking, as the rising heat thaws the Arctic snows. Researchers have identified a new class of fire hazard.

High above the Arctic Circle, fires that flared a year ago continued to smoulder under the snow through the winter to flare up again − two months earlier than usual, and on a scale not seen before.

And if the notion of fire and ice seems a surprise, prepare for the idea of a blazing rainforest. In a second and separate study, researchers exploring the climate lessons from the deep past 90 million years ago have found that, if the atmosphere is rich enough in oxygen, then even the wettest foliage can ignite and burn, to consume perhaps up to 40% of the world’s forest.

Scientists from the US report in Nature Geoscience that they have identified an unexpected threat from “zombie fires” which, despite heavy snowmelt, they say “can smoulder in carbon-rich peat below the surface for months or years, often only detectable through smoke released at the surface, and can even occur through cold winter months.”

“The climate change we are causing now, it’s not something where if we don’t fix it, only our grandkids will have to deal with it. The impacts are really long-lasting”

They warn that in the fast-changing climate of the highest northern latitudes, the evidence from last year and this suggest that extreme temperatures and drier conditions mean there is a lot more surface fuel in the Arctic to catch fire and melt the Arctic snows.

Dwarf shrubs, sedges, mosses and grasses are invading the tundra, to join the surface peat, and even the bogs, fens and marches of the tundra are now burning. In all, 50% of the detected fires above 65°North − many in the Russian Arctic − happened on permafrost: that is, on ever-icy soils.

“It’s not just the amount of burned area that is alarming,” said Merritt Turetsky of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and one of the authors. “There are other trends we noticed in the satellite data that tell us how the Arctic fire regime is changing and what this spells for our climate future.”

Wildfires are on the increase now, in a world in which climate change has delivered hotter and drier conditions for many regions. Unexpectedly, according to a second study in Nature Geoscience, fossilized evidence in rocks in Utah has delivered evidence of massive and sustained forest fires, in the form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons preserved in black shales laid down in the Cretaceous.

Huge absorption rate

Researchers pieced together a story of dramatic climate change 94 million years ago, when carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere, and land and sea plants began to absorb it from the atmosphere on a massive scale. Microbial respiration stepped up too, and parts of the ocean became increasingly low in oxygen.

During 100,000 years of this, so much carbon had been buried in the ground or the oceans that – with the release of molecular oxygen, the O2 in CO2 − atmospheric oxygen levels began to increase. And with that, the scientists say, so did the probability of forest fires, even in wet forest ecosystems. Altogether, perhaps 30% to 40% of the planet’s forests were consumed by fire over 100 millennia.

“One of the consequences of having more oxygen in the atmosphere is that it’s easier to burn fires. It’s the same reason you blow on embers to stoke a fire,” said Garrett Boudinot, then at the University of Boulder Colorado and now with the Colorado Wildlife Council, who led the research.

“This finding highlights the prolonged impacts of climate change. The climate change we are causing now, it’s not something where if we don’t fix it, only our grandkids will have to deal with it. The history of climate change in Earth history tells us that the impacts are really long-lasting.” − Climate News Network

Fire and drought could trigger Amazon collapse

Amazon collapse could soon mean the end of one of Earth’s richest habitats, leaving the rainforest destroyed by humans.

LONDON, 30 September, 2020 – Within one human lifetime, Amazon collapse could have turned the rainforest into open savannah.

The combined devastation of human-induced global warming, rapidly increasing degradation or destruction of the forest, natural climate cycles and catastrophic wildfires could be enough to bring the world’s biggest, richest and most vital forest to a tipping point: towards a new kind of habitat.

“The risk that our generation will preside over the irreversible collapse of Amazonian and Andean biodiversity is huge, literally existential,” warns Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology, in the latest Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Professor Bush bases his argument on the evidence of history: painstaking study of fossil pollen and charcoal in the sediments of Andean lakes confirms that the profligate biodiversity of the Amazon has been disturbed many times in the past, as global climate has varied with the retreat and advance of the glaciers.

It has, however, never reached a tipping point towards collapse, if only because it has never before had to face the hazard of fire on the present scale.

There is another factor: ever-greater human intrusion into, degradation of, or conversion of forest into plantation or ranch land heightens the hazard of a dramatic shift from moist tropical canopy to open and wooded grasslands.

And then, the argument goes, there are the ever-higher temperatures driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions from human investment in fossil fuel energy, and ever more extensive destruction of the natural habitats that in the past have absorbed atmospheric carbon. And with higher temperatures, there arrives the risk of ever more catastrophic drought.

“From a human perspective, the forest has just become much easier to clear”

A river of moist air flows from east to west across Amazonia to the Andes. What falls as rain is absorbed by the vegetation or evaporated by the sun and transpired through the treetops to provide yet more water vapour to fall again, and again. Effectively, the western Amazon rainforest and the Andean forests are almost entirely dependent on recycled moisture.

This recycling falls away as the canopy goes: evapo-transpiration from the savannah is less than two-thirds of that from the forest. Cropland returns only a tenth of its moisture to the skies. So that makes the forest inland from the Atlantic increasingly vulnerable to change.

The region has recovered from climate turbulence many times before. But the regional temperature has warmed by 1°C to 1.5C in the past century, and researchers have repeatedly warned that a combination of severe deforestation and a warming of 3°C or more could turn the forest into savannah.

In the last 15 years, Amazonia has experienced three “droughts of the century”, in 2005, 2010 and 2015-16. The effects of these, Professor Bush warns, “may be protracted, and possibly irreversible.”

His warning may sound apocalyptic. In fact, he is only saying out loud what has been implicit in research and reporting from the region for years.

Drought and fire present a kind of double jeopardy to any forest. Drought and fire could, researchers have repeatedly warned, turn the Amazon from an absorber of carbon to a source of greenhouse gases, to make global heating even worse.

Drought has already damaged large tracts of forest and although legislation in theory protects the wilderness the recent damage has been on a scale big enough to alarm faraway nations.

Tipping point possible

High temperatures change ecosystems: some plants simply cannot cope. The region is one of the richest and most important on the planet. Loss of the Amazon would represent a climate tipping point, and researchers have been warning for years that such possible slides toward irreversible change are imminent.

In a drought, more trees die. Standing deadwood becomes treefall, and so much tinder waiting to catch fire. As the canopy opens up, local temperatures soar by as much as 10°C, and in a deforested region humidity drops by 30%.

For humans looking for roads to clear, minerals to mine, ground to plant or cattle to run, opportunity beckons. “From a human perspective, the forest has just become much easier to clear,” says Professor Bush.

So the effects of the droughts accumulate, and encourage the invasion of yet more humans with chainsaws and fire. The western Amazon is already a potential tipping point: in 2016, Bolivia’s second largest lake – an important commercial fishery – dried up between January and November.

Given the rates of deforestation and the temperatures to come, the Amazon tipping point – the loss of a massive rainforest – could occur by mid-century. The slide to a new kind of ecosystem would be irreversible.

“The immense biodiversity of the rainforest is at risk from fire,” said Professor Bush. “Warming alone could induce the tipping point by mid-century, but if the present policies that turn a blind eye to forest destruction aren’t stopped, we could reach the tipping point much sooner.”

He warned: “Beyond the loss of wildlife, the cascading effects of losing Amazonian rainforest would alter rainfall across the hemisphere. This is not a remote problem, but one of global importance and critical significance to food security that should concern us all.” – Climate News Network

Amazon collapse could soon mean the end of one of Earth’s richest habitats, leaving the rainforest destroyed by humans.

LONDON, 30 September, 2020 – Within one human lifetime, Amazon collapse could have turned the rainforest into open savannah.

The combined devastation of human-induced global warming, rapidly increasing degradation or destruction of the forest, natural climate cycles and catastrophic wildfires could be enough to bring the world’s biggest, richest and most vital forest to a tipping point: towards a new kind of habitat.

“The risk that our generation will preside over the irreversible collapse of Amazonian and Andean biodiversity is huge, literally existential,” warns Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology, in the latest Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Professor Bush bases his argument on the evidence of history: painstaking study of fossil pollen and charcoal in the sediments of Andean lakes confirms that the profligate biodiversity of the Amazon has been disturbed many times in the past, as global climate has varied with the retreat and advance of the glaciers.

It has, however, never reached a tipping point towards collapse, if only because it has never before had to face the hazard of fire on the present scale.

There is another factor: ever-greater human intrusion into, degradation of, or conversion of forest into plantation or ranch land heightens the hazard of a dramatic shift from moist tropical canopy to open and wooded grasslands.

And then, the argument goes, there are the ever-higher temperatures driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions from human investment in fossil fuel energy, and ever more extensive destruction of the natural habitats that in the past have absorbed atmospheric carbon. And with higher temperatures, there arrives the risk of ever more catastrophic drought.

“From a human perspective, the forest has just become much easier to clear”

A river of moist air flows from east to west across Amazonia to the Andes. What falls as rain is absorbed by the vegetation or evaporated by the sun and transpired through the treetops to provide yet more water vapour to fall again, and again. Effectively, the western Amazon rainforest and the Andean forests are almost entirely dependent on recycled moisture.

This recycling falls away as the canopy goes: evapo-transpiration from the savannah is less than two-thirds of that from the forest. Cropland returns only a tenth of its moisture to the skies. So that makes the forest inland from the Atlantic increasingly vulnerable to change.

The region has recovered from climate turbulence many times before. But the regional temperature has warmed by 1°C to 1.5C in the past century, and researchers have repeatedly warned that a combination of severe deforestation and a warming of 3°C or more could turn the forest into savannah.

In the last 15 years, Amazonia has experienced three “droughts of the century”, in 2005, 2010 and 2015-16. The effects of these, Professor Bush warns, “may be protracted, and possibly irreversible.”

His warning may sound apocalyptic. In fact, he is only saying out loud what has been implicit in research and reporting from the region for years.

Drought and fire present a kind of double jeopardy to any forest. Drought and fire could, researchers have repeatedly warned, turn the Amazon from an absorber of carbon to a source of greenhouse gases, to make global heating even worse.

Drought has already damaged large tracts of forest and although legislation in theory protects the wilderness the recent damage has been on a scale big enough to alarm faraway nations.

Tipping point possible

High temperatures change ecosystems: some plants simply cannot cope. The region is one of the richest and most important on the planet. Loss of the Amazon would represent a climate tipping point, and researchers have been warning for years that such possible slides toward irreversible change are imminent.

In a drought, more trees die. Standing deadwood becomes treefall, and so much tinder waiting to catch fire. As the canopy opens up, local temperatures soar by as much as 10°C, and in a deforested region humidity drops by 30%.

For humans looking for roads to clear, minerals to mine, ground to plant or cattle to run, opportunity beckons. “From a human perspective, the forest has just become much easier to clear,” says Professor Bush.

So the effects of the droughts accumulate, and encourage the invasion of yet more humans with chainsaws and fire. The western Amazon is already a potential tipping point: in 2016, Bolivia’s second largest lake – an important commercial fishery – dried up between January and November.

Given the rates of deforestation and the temperatures to come, the Amazon tipping point – the loss of a massive rainforest – could occur by mid-century. The slide to a new kind of ecosystem would be irreversible.

“The immense biodiversity of the rainforest is at risk from fire,” said Professor Bush. “Warming alone could induce the tipping point by mid-century, but if the present policies that turn a blind eye to forest destruction aren’t stopped, we could reach the tipping point much sooner.”

He warned: “Beyond the loss of wildlife, the cascading effects of losing Amazonian rainforest would alter rainfall across the hemisphere. This is not a remote problem, but one of global importance and critical significance to food security that should concern us all.” – Climate News Network

Lentils can feed the world – and save wildlife too

Wildlife could flourish if humans opted for a better diet. Think of humble, healthy lentils as the green choice.

LONDON, 24 September, 2020 – US scientists have worked out how to feed nine billion people and save wildlife from extinction, both at the same time – thanks to healthy lentils.

The answer is starkly simple: if humans got their protein from lentils, beans and nuts rather than beef, pork and chicken, they could return colossal tracts of grazing land back to the wilderness.

Nearly 40% of the planet’s land surface is now committed to agriculture. And almost 83% of this proportion is used to graze animals, or grow food for animals.

If it was returned to natural habitat, then humankind might be able to prevent the extinction of perhaps a million species now under imminent threat.

The same transition would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help contain climate change, and perhaps even reduce the risks of new pandemics.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics. There is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife”

And best of all, the burden of action could sensibly fall on the better-off nations rather than the poorest.

“The greatest potential for forest regrowth, and the climate benefits it entails, exists in high and upper-middle income countries, places where scaling back on land-hungry meat and dairy would have relatively minor impacts on food security,” said Matthew Hayek of New York University.

He and colleagues report in the journal Nature Sustainability that vegetation regrowth on once-grazed land could gulp down between nine and 16 years of human carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, and buy time for a worldwide switch to renewable energy.

“We can think of shifting our eating habits towards land-friendly diets as a supplement to shifting energy rather than a substitute,” he argued.  “Restoring native forests could buy some much-needed time for countries to transition their energy grids to renewable, fossil-free infrastructure.”

The warning is only the latest in a long line of studies which conclude that if humans ate less meat, the world would be a safer, healthier and better place.

Russia-sized area

The switch is unlikely to happen soon, or completely – in some places, animals are the principal food source – or very effectively. It isn’t clear that in a rapidly warming world, forests would recolonise all farmed land, or that those forests would efficiently absorb the hoped-for atmospheric carbon.

But Dr Hayek and his colleagues mapped only an area over which seeds could disperse naturally, and deliver dense and diverse forest. They identified an area that added up to seven million square kilometres, in places moist enough to thrive naturally. This is an area the size of Russia.

The simple act of abandoning selected ranchland or pasture could work wonders for water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. And it would work for human health as well.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics,” said his co-author Helen Harwatt of Harvard Law School.

“Our research shows that there is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife. Restoring native ecosystems not only helps the climate; when coupled with reduced livestock populations, restoration reduced disease transmission from wildlife to pigs, chickens and cows, and ultimately to humans.” – Climate News Network

Wildlife could flourish if humans opted for a better diet. Think of humble, healthy lentils as the green choice.

LONDON, 24 September, 2020 – US scientists have worked out how to feed nine billion people and save wildlife from extinction, both at the same time – thanks to healthy lentils.

The answer is starkly simple: if humans got their protein from lentils, beans and nuts rather than beef, pork and chicken, they could return colossal tracts of grazing land back to the wilderness.

Nearly 40% of the planet’s land surface is now committed to agriculture. And almost 83% of this proportion is used to graze animals, or grow food for animals.

If it was returned to natural habitat, then humankind might be able to prevent the extinction of perhaps a million species now under imminent threat.

The same transition would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help contain climate change, and perhaps even reduce the risks of new pandemics.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics. There is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife”

And best of all, the burden of action could sensibly fall on the better-off nations rather than the poorest.

“The greatest potential for forest regrowth, and the climate benefits it entails, exists in high and upper-middle income countries, places where scaling back on land-hungry meat and dairy would have relatively minor impacts on food security,” said Matthew Hayek of New York University.

He and colleagues report in the journal Nature Sustainability that vegetation regrowth on once-grazed land could gulp down between nine and 16 years of human carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, and buy time for a worldwide switch to renewable energy.

“We can think of shifting our eating habits towards land-friendly diets as a supplement to shifting energy rather than a substitute,” he argued.  “Restoring native forests could buy some much-needed time for countries to transition their energy grids to renewable, fossil-free infrastructure.”

The warning is only the latest in a long line of studies which conclude that if humans ate less meat, the world would be a safer, healthier and better place.

Russia-sized area

The switch is unlikely to happen soon, or completely – in some places, animals are the principal food source – or very effectively. It isn’t clear that in a rapidly warming world, forests would recolonise all farmed land, or that those forests would efficiently absorb the hoped-for atmospheric carbon.

But Dr Hayek and his colleagues mapped only an area over which seeds could disperse naturally, and deliver dense and diverse forest. They identified an area that added up to seven million square kilometres, in places moist enough to thrive naturally. This is an area the size of Russia.

The simple act of abandoning selected ranchland or pasture could work wonders for water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. And it would work for human health as well.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics,” said his co-author Helen Harwatt of Harvard Law School.

“Our research shows that there is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife. Restoring native ecosystems not only helps the climate; when coupled with reduced livestock populations, restoration reduced disease transmission from wildlife to pigs, chickens and cows, and ultimately to humans.” – Climate News Network

Seas and forests are muddying the carbon budget

As climates change, forests may not absorb more carbon as expected. But a new carbon budget could appeal to the oceans.

LONDON, 18 September 2020 – Two new studies could throw long-term climate forecasts into confusion. The planetary carbon budget – the all-important traffic of life’s first element between rocks, water, atmosphere and living things – that underpins planetary temperatures and maintains a stable climate needs a rethink.

A warming climate makes trees grow faster. The awkward finding is that  faster-growing trees die younger. Therefore they must surrender their carbon back to the atmosphere quicker.

So tomorrow’s forests may not be quite such reliable long-term banks of carbon pumped into the atmosphere as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use by human economies.

The more reassuring news is that the ocean – that’s almost three fourths of the planet’s surface – may absorb and store a lot more atmospheric carbon than previous estimates suggest.

All calculations about the future rate of global heating, and the potential consequences of climate change, rest upon the carbon budget.

Forest doubts

This is the intricate accounting of the mass of carbon in continuous circulation from air to plant to animal and then to shell, skeleton and sediment, and the expected flow of carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels stored hundreds of millions of years ago, and exhumed in the last two centuries.

To make sense of the factors at work, climate scientists have to make calculations about all the carbon stored in the permafrost, in the soils, in the forests, dissolved in the oceans, free in the atmosphere and being released from power station chimneys, vehicle exhausts and ploughed or scorched land.

But for decades, one component of the equation has been automatically accepted: more forests must mean more carbon absorbed, and better protected natural forests would store the most carbon, the most efficiently.

Now a new report in the journal Nature Communications introduces some doubt into this cornerstone of the carbon budget. In an already warming world, much more of the carbon stored in tomorrow’s forests might find its way back into the atmosphere.

Researchers looked at 200,000 tree ring records from 82 tree species from sites around the planet. They found what they describe as trade-offs that are near universal: faster-growing trees have shorter lives.

“There is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality”

This was true in cool climates and warm ones, and in all species. So the hope that natural vegetation will respond to warmer temperatures by absorbing even more carbon becomes insecure, especially if it means that the more vigorous growth means simply swifter death and decay.

“Our modeling suggests that there is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality,” said Roel Brienen of the University of Leeds in the UK, who led the research. “They estimate that global increases in tree death don’t kick in until after sites show accelerated growth.”

All such research is provisional: the findings gain currency only when supported by other teams using different approaches. So it has yet to be confirmed.

But recent studies have suggested that climate change has already begun to complicate calculations. Just in recent months, research teams have found that forest trees are growing shorter and dying younger; that higher temperatures may affect plant germination; and that forests already hit by drought may start surrendering carbon more swiftly than they absorb it. Planting more trees is not an alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, the carbon budget may still make sense: the oceans may be responding to ever-higher concentrations of carbon dioxide by absorbing more from the atmosphere, which also makes the oceans more acidic, which is not necessarily helpful.

Oceans’ effect

All such calculations are based on sea surface temperatures. Gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen dissolve well in colder water, not so well in warm lagoons and tropical tides.

But a British group reports in the same journal that calculations so far may have been under-estimates. This is because, on balance, researchers have tended to ignore the small difference between the temperatures at the surface, and a few metres down, where the measurements of dissolved greenhouse gas were actually made.

A team from the University of Exeter worked from a global database to make new estimates of the oceans’ appetite for carbon between 1992 and 2018.

“We used satellite data to correct for these temperature differences, and when we do that, it makes a big difference – we get a substantially larger flux going into the ocean,” said Andrew Watson, who led the study.

“The difference in ocean uptake we calculate amounts to 10% of global fossil fuel emissions.” – Climate News Network

As climates change, forests may not absorb more carbon as expected. But a new carbon budget could appeal to the oceans.

LONDON, 18 September 2020 – Two new studies could throw long-term climate forecasts into confusion. The planetary carbon budget – the all-important traffic of life’s first element between rocks, water, atmosphere and living things – that underpins planetary temperatures and maintains a stable climate needs a rethink.

A warming climate makes trees grow faster. The awkward finding is that  faster-growing trees die younger. Therefore they must surrender their carbon back to the atmosphere quicker.

So tomorrow’s forests may not be quite such reliable long-term banks of carbon pumped into the atmosphere as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use by human economies.

The more reassuring news is that the ocean – that’s almost three fourths of the planet’s surface – may absorb and store a lot more atmospheric carbon than previous estimates suggest.

All calculations about the future rate of global heating, and the potential consequences of climate change, rest upon the carbon budget.

Forest doubts

This is the intricate accounting of the mass of carbon in continuous circulation from air to plant to animal and then to shell, skeleton and sediment, and the expected flow of carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels stored hundreds of millions of years ago, and exhumed in the last two centuries.

To make sense of the factors at work, climate scientists have to make calculations about all the carbon stored in the permafrost, in the soils, in the forests, dissolved in the oceans, free in the atmosphere and being released from power station chimneys, vehicle exhausts and ploughed or scorched land.

But for decades, one component of the equation has been automatically accepted: more forests must mean more carbon absorbed, and better protected natural forests would store the most carbon, the most efficiently.

Now a new report in the journal Nature Communications introduces some doubt into this cornerstone of the carbon budget. In an already warming world, much more of the carbon stored in tomorrow’s forests might find its way back into the atmosphere.

Researchers looked at 200,000 tree ring records from 82 tree species from sites around the planet. They found what they describe as trade-offs that are near universal: faster-growing trees have shorter lives.

“There is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality”

This was true in cool climates and warm ones, and in all species. So the hope that natural vegetation will respond to warmer temperatures by absorbing even more carbon becomes insecure, especially if it means that the more vigorous growth means simply swifter death and decay.

“Our modeling suggests that there is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality,” said Roel Brienen of the University of Leeds in the UK, who led the research. “They estimate that global increases in tree death don’t kick in until after sites show accelerated growth.”

All such research is provisional: the findings gain currency only when supported by other teams using different approaches. So it has yet to be confirmed.

But recent studies have suggested that climate change has already begun to complicate calculations. Just in recent months, research teams have found that forest trees are growing shorter and dying younger; that higher temperatures may affect plant germination; and that forests already hit by drought may start surrendering carbon more swiftly than they absorb it. Planting more trees is not an alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, the carbon budget may still make sense: the oceans may be responding to ever-higher concentrations of carbon dioxide by absorbing more from the atmosphere, which also makes the oceans more acidic, which is not necessarily helpful.

Oceans’ effect

All such calculations are based on sea surface temperatures. Gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen dissolve well in colder water, not so well in warm lagoons and tropical tides.

But a British group reports in the same journal that calculations so far may have been under-estimates. This is because, on balance, researchers have tended to ignore the small difference between the temperatures at the surface, and a few metres down, where the measurements of dissolved greenhouse gas were actually made.

A team from the University of Exeter worked from a global database to make new estimates of the oceans’ appetite for carbon between 1992 and 2018.

“We used satellite data to correct for these temperature differences, and when we do that, it makes a big difference – we get a substantially larger flux going into the ocean,” said Andrew Watson, who led the study.

“The difference in ocean uptake we calculate amounts to 10% of global fossil fuel emissions.” – Climate News Network

Abnormal heat spreads floods and wildfires globally

From the Arctic Circle to tropical Africa, abnormal heat is bringing mayhem and destruction and costing lives.

LONDON, 17 September, 2020 – Across the planet, abnormal heat is exacting a lethal toll. The west coast of the US is up in flames. Over recent months unprecedented high temperatures have been melting permafrost in Siberia, within the Arctic Circle. Fires have spread; many thousands of acres of taiga have been laid waste.

Across many parts of Africa unseasonable torrential rains are causing loss of life and crops.

Climate scientists are careful about attributing any one severe weather event to climate change until all data is gathered and a proper analysis is made.

But looking at various weather patterns around the world, fundamental changes in climate are happening – most related to big increases in temperature.

Along the western seaboard of the US people are having to cope not only with a prolonged drought but with temperatures which are way above normal.

As the ground and brush at the base of trees dries out, the ideal conditions for wildfires are set.

Over recent days more than 40,000 people in the state of Oregon have been told to evacuate their homes: dozens of people are believed to be missing in the mayhem caused by the fires.

“The debate is over.This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening”

Kate Brown, Oregon’s governor, says that over three days recently more than 1,400 square miles of land was destroyed by fire – nearly double the amount burned over a typical year in the state.

“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire”, said Brown.

“While our state reels from this horrific fire storm of hot weather, high winds and drought conditions, this will not be a one-time event.

“Unfortunately it is the bellwether of the future. We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change.”

Last month a group of Oregon’s leading industrialists launched a court action against Governor Brown, saying she overstepped her authority by introducing measures aimed at cutting carbon emissions in the state.

Further south in California, wildfires continue to burn. The skies of San Francisco and other cities have turned red in recent days. Smoke from the fires is causing severe air quality problems.

Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, launched an angry attack on President Trump and others who are sceptical about climate change, while visiting an area of the state destroyed by fire.

Africa inundated

“The debate is over” said Newsom. “This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening.”

Studies say that since the early 1970s California has registered a more than fivefold increase in the annual incidence of forest fires.

A similar growing trend in abnormal heat and wildfires is being recorded in many parts of Siberia: soaring temperatures have been a big factor. In one Siberian town temperatures reached 38°C in mid-June – 18°C above the usual daytime temperature for the time of year.

Less reported on but a cause of death and hardship to some of the world’s poorest countries are floods that have been destroying homes and crops across large areas of the African continent.

In Somalia, still trying to establish itself as a functioning fully independent state in the face of terrorist attacks, nearly a million people have been affected by severe flooding in recent months.

Sudan and Ethiopia have also been subject to widespread flooding.

According to data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), torrential rains and floods are affecting both east and west Africa. In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, thousands of homes have been destroyed and crops ruined. – Climate News Network

From the Arctic Circle to tropical Africa, abnormal heat is bringing mayhem and destruction and costing lives.

LONDON, 17 September, 2020 – Across the planet, abnormal heat is exacting a lethal toll. The west coast of the US is up in flames. Over recent months unprecedented high temperatures have been melting permafrost in Siberia, within the Arctic Circle. Fires have spread; many thousands of acres of taiga have been laid waste.

Across many parts of Africa unseasonable torrential rains are causing loss of life and crops.

Climate scientists are careful about attributing any one severe weather event to climate change until all data is gathered and a proper analysis is made.

But looking at various weather patterns around the world, fundamental changes in climate are happening – most related to big increases in temperature.

Along the western seaboard of the US people are having to cope not only with a prolonged drought but with temperatures which are way above normal.

As the ground and brush at the base of trees dries out, the ideal conditions for wildfires are set.

Over recent days more than 40,000 people in the state of Oregon have been told to evacuate their homes: dozens of people are believed to be missing in the mayhem caused by the fires.

“The debate is over.This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening”

Kate Brown, Oregon’s governor, says that over three days recently more than 1,400 square miles of land was destroyed by fire – nearly double the amount burned over a typical year in the state.

“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire”, said Brown.

“While our state reels from this horrific fire storm of hot weather, high winds and drought conditions, this will not be a one-time event.

“Unfortunately it is the bellwether of the future. We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change.”

Last month a group of Oregon’s leading industrialists launched a court action against Governor Brown, saying she overstepped her authority by introducing measures aimed at cutting carbon emissions in the state.

Further south in California, wildfires continue to burn. The skies of San Francisco and other cities have turned red in recent days. Smoke from the fires is causing severe air quality problems.

Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, launched an angry attack on President Trump and others who are sceptical about climate change, while visiting an area of the state destroyed by fire.

Africa inundated

“The debate is over” said Newsom. “This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening.”

Studies say that since the early 1970s California has registered a more than fivefold increase in the annual incidence of forest fires.

A similar growing trend in abnormal heat and wildfires is being recorded in many parts of Siberia: soaring temperatures have been a big factor. In one Siberian town temperatures reached 38°C in mid-June – 18°C above the usual daytime temperature for the time of year.

Less reported on but a cause of death and hardship to some of the world’s poorest countries are floods that have been destroying homes and crops across large areas of the African continent.

In Somalia, still trying to establish itself as a functioning fully independent state in the face of terrorist attacks, nearly a million people have been affected by severe flooding in recent months.

Sudan and Ethiopia have also been subject to widespread flooding.

According to data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), torrential rains and floods are affecting both east and west Africa. In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, thousands of homes have been destroyed and crops ruined. – Climate News Network

Plant world feels effect of growing climate heat

From Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, the plant world is beginning to change. Blame it on global heating.

LONDON, 28 August, 2020 – From one end of the Americas to the other, climate heating is subjecting the plant world to radical change, with cold-resistant species increasingly yielding place to those that welcome the rising warmth.

That badge of Canadian identity, the sugar maple, may one day turn sour. As global temperatures, driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels, continue to soar, Acer saccharum could simply lose its habitat and no longer sweeten the forests from Novia Scotia to the Appalachians.

And the southern live oak, so associated with Florida that a city there preserves its name, may find life too hot for comfort: in the south of the state, Quercus virginiana could one day be replaced by trees from the Caribbean or even further south, such as the already present Cuban mahogany Swietenia mahogani or the Gumbo limbo Bursera simaruba.

And in what was once the reliably wintry city of New York, that marvel of old Mississippi the southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, has begun to multiply and bloom ever earlier each year.

These species shifts are just part of a larger trend in the Americas, from Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, according to new research in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that are critical to our ways of life”

Researchers analysed 60 million records of 17,000 plant species in almost 200 New World eco-regions, from 1970 to 2011, to identify a pattern of change in response to heat: a phenomenon called thermophilisation.

“Almost anywhere you go, the types of species that you encounter now are different than what you would have found in the same spot 40 years ago, and we believe that this pattern is the direct result of rising temperatures and climate change,” said Ken Feeley, a biologist at the University of Miami, who led the research.

The study – two continents, and a range of temperature regimes from near-Arctic to equatorial and onwards, almost to the edge of the Southern Ocean – confirms the big picture, but dozens of earlier studies had already built up a mosaic of observations that told much the same story.

As temperatures rise, and precipitation patterns shift, plants respond. The forests of the northern hemisphere everywhere are vulnerable to heat and drought, and even species considered resistant to drought could be about to succumb.

In the lowland tropics, researchers have warned that conditions could become so intemperate that some species may fail to germinate and renew their tenure in the forest. Researchers have observed tropical species moving uphill to find more equable temperature regimes, while others have warned that those upland species that are comfortable at height may soon find it so hot there could be nowhere left to go.

Worldwide effects

The northern tundra is already beginning to host new plant life, but rising temperatures and shifting climate regimes could also damage forests and fuel even more global warming.

The latest study shows once again that, in any ecosystem, those species that are more likely to cope with colder temperatures are being replaced by others that just like it hot.

“Some of these changes can be so dramatic that we are shifting entire habitat types from forests to grasslands or vice versa – by looking at all types of plants over long periods of time and over huge areas, we were able to observe those changes,” said Professor Feeley.

“All animals – including humans – depend on the plants around them. If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that we are used to seeing in our communities and that are critical to our ways of life.

“When people think of climate change, they need to realise that it’s not just about losing ice in Antarctica, or rising sea levels – climate change affects almost every natural system in every part of the planet.” – Climate News Network

From Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, the plant world is beginning to change. Blame it on global heating.

LONDON, 28 August, 2020 – From one end of the Americas to the other, climate heating is subjecting the plant world to radical change, with cold-resistant species increasingly yielding place to those that welcome the rising warmth.

That badge of Canadian identity, the sugar maple, may one day turn sour. As global temperatures, driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels, continue to soar, Acer saccharum could simply lose its habitat and no longer sweeten the forests from Novia Scotia to the Appalachians.

And the southern live oak, so associated with Florida that a city there preserves its name, may find life too hot for comfort: in the south of the state, Quercus virginiana could one day be replaced by trees from the Caribbean or even further south, such as the already present Cuban mahogany Swietenia mahogani or the Gumbo limbo Bursera simaruba.

And in what was once the reliably wintry city of New York, that marvel of old Mississippi the southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, has begun to multiply and bloom ever earlier each year.

These species shifts are just part of a larger trend in the Americas, from Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, according to new research in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that are critical to our ways of life”

Researchers analysed 60 million records of 17,000 plant species in almost 200 New World eco-regions, from 1970 to 2011, to identify a pattern of change in response to heat: a phenomenon called thermophilisation.

“Almost anywhere you go, the types of species that you encounter now are different than what you would have found in the same spot 40 years ago, and we believe that this pattern is the direct result of rising temperatures and climate change,” said Ken Feeley, a biologist at the University of Miami, who led the research.

The study – two continents, and a range of temperature regimes from near-Arctic to equatorial and onwards, almost to the edge of the Southern Ocean – confirms the big picture, but dozens of earlier studies had already built up a mosaic of observations that told much the same story.

As temperatures rise, and precipitation patterns shift, plants respond. The forests of the northern hemisphere everywhere are vulnerable to heat and drought, and even species considered resistant to drought could be about to succumb.

In the lowland tropics, researchers have warned that conditions could become so intemperate that some species may fail to germinate and renew their tenure in the forest. Researchers have observed tropical species moving uphill to find more equable temperature regimes, while others have warned that those upland species that are comfortable at height may soon find it so hot there could be nowhere left to go.

Worldwide effects

The northern tundra is already beginning to host new plant life, but rising temperatures and shifting climate regimes could also damage forests and fuel even more global warming.

The latest study shows once again that, in any ecosystem, those species that are more likely to cope with colder temperatures are being replaced by others that just like it hot.

“Some of these changes can be so dramatic that we are shifting entire habitat types from forests to grasslands or vice versa – by looking at all types of plants over long periods of time and over huge areas, we were able to observe those changes,” said Professor Feeley.

“All animals – including humans – depend on the plants around them. If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that we are used to seeing in our communities and that are critical to our ways of life.

“When people think of climate change, they need to realise that it’s not just about losing ice in Antarctica, or rising sea levels – climate change affects almost every natural system in every part of the planet.” – Climate News Network

Restoring forests can reduce greenhouse gases

In a way, money does grow on trees. So it could pay to help nature restore forests and reduce greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 – There is one straightforward way to reduce greenhouse gases: by taking better care of the world’s natural forests.

European and US scientists think they may have settled a complex argument about how to restore a natural forest so that it absorbs more carbon. Don’t just leave nature to regenerate in the way she knows best. Get into the woodland and manage, and plant.

It will cost more money, but it will sequester more carbon: potentially enough to make economic good sense.

Researchers from 13 universities and research institutions report in the journal Science that they carefully mapped and then studied a stretch of tropical forest in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo: a forest that had been heavily logged more than 30 years ago, and converted to plantation, and then finally protected from further damage. The mapping techniques recorded where, and how much, above-ground carbon was concentrated, across thousands of hectares.

Faster recovery

The researchers report that those reaches of forest left to regenerate without human help recovered by as much as 2.9 tonnes of above-ground carbon per hectare each year. But those areas of forest that were helped a little, by what the scientists call “active restoration”, did even better.

Humans entered the regenerating forests and cut back the lianas – the climbing plants that flourish in degraded forests and compete with saplings – to help seedlings flourish. They also weeded where appropriate and enriched the mix of new plants with native seedlings.

Where this happened, the forest recovered 50% faster and carbon storage above-ground per hectare was measured at between 2.9 tonnes per hectare and 4.4 tonnes.

The lesson to be drawn is that where a natural forest may be thought fully restored after 60 years, active restoration could make it happen in 40 years.

“Restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again”

The research demonstrates two things. The first is that forests can and will restore themselves: opportunistic plants will colonise open space and provide cover for those species best adapted to long-term survival in that climate and habitat. Nature will decide what conservationists call “the climax vegetation” of any natural forest. The second is that nature can indeed benefit from selective human help.

“This active restoration encourages naturally diverse forest, and is therefore much more beneficial for biodiversity than monocultures or plantation forests,” said Christopher Philipson, of the Swiss Federal Technology Institute known as ETH Zurich.

“In this way restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again.”

There will be arguments about the finding. One is that what might be a good solution in south-east Asia might not be the best answer for the Congo or parts of the Amazon: as humans degrade the forest, they may also affect the local climate in ways that favour some native species rather than others. That is, it might never be possible to restore a forest to what it had been before the forester’s axe arrived.

Restoration’s pricetag

There is a second argument: restoration work costs money. How much economic sense it makes depends on what value scientists, politicians and economists put on the carbon that is sequestered as a consequence, and what price humanity pays for that same carbon in the form of additional greenhouse gas that will raise global temperatures, alter rainfall patterns and trigger potentially catastrophic climate change.

What worth do forests have to local populations, and what is the value set on the world’s wildernesses as global natural capital?

“Not long ago we treated degraded tropical forests as lost causes,” said a co-author, Greg Asner of Arizona State University.

“Our new findings, combined with those of other researchers around the world, strongly suggest that restoring tropical forests is a viable and highly scalable solution to regaining lost carbon stocks on land.” – Climate News Network

In a way, money does grow on trees. So it could pay to help nature restore forests and reduce greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 – There is one straightforward way to reduce greenhouse gases: by taking better care of the world’s natural forests.

European and US scientists think they may have settled a complex argument about how to restore a natural forest so that it absorbs more carbon. Don’t just leave nature to regenerate in the way she knows best. Get into the woodland and manage, and plant.

It will cost more money, but it will sequester more carbon: potentially enough to make economic good sense.

Researchers from 13 universities and research institutions report in the journal Science that they carefully mapped and then studied a stretch of tropical forest in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo: a forest that had been heavily logged more than 30 years ago, and converted to plantation, and then finally protected from further damage. The mapping techniques recorded where, and how much, above-ground carbon was concentrated, across thousands of hectares.

Faster recovery

The researchers report that those reaches of forest left to regenerate without human help recovered by as much as 2.9 tonnes of above-ground carbon per hectare each year. But those areas of forest that were helped a little, by what the scientists call “active restoration”, did even better.

Humans entered the regenerating forests and cut back the lianas – the climbing plants that flourish in degraded forests and compete with saplings – to help seedlings flourish. They also weeded where appropriate and enriched the mix of new plants with native seedlings.

Where this happened, the forest recovered 50% faster and carbon storage above-ground per hectare was measured at between 2.9 tonnes per hectare and 4.4 tonnes.

The lesson to be drawn is that where a natural forest may be thought fully restored after 60 years, active restoration could make it happen in 40 years.

“Restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again”

The research demonstrates two things. The first is that forests can and will restore themselves: opportunistic plants will colonise open space and provide cover for those species best adapted to long-term survival in that climate and habitat. Nature will decide what conservationists call “the climax vegetation” of any natural forest. The second is that nature can indeed benefit from selective human help.

“This active restoration encourages naturally diverse forest, and is therefore much more beneficial for biodiversity than monocultures or plantation forests,” said Christopher Philipson, of the Swiss Federal Technology Institute known as ETH Zurich.

“In this way restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again.”

There will be arguments about the finding. One is that what might be a good solution in south-east Asia might not be the best answer for the Congo or parts of the Amazon: as humans degrade the forest, they may also affect the local climate in ways that favour some native species rather than others. That is, it might never be possible to restore a forest to what it had been before the forester’s axe arrived.

Restoration’s pricetag

There is a second argument: restoration work costs money. How much economic sense it makes depends on what value scientists, politicians and economists put on the carbon that is sequestered as a consequence, and what price humanity pays for that same carbon in the form of additional greenhouse gas that will raise global temperatures, alter rainfall patterns and trigger potentially catastrophic climate change.

What worth do forests have to local populations, and what is the value set on the world’s wildernesses as global natural capital?

“Not long ago we treated degraded tropical forests as lost causes,” said a co-author, Greg Asner of Arizona State University.

“Our new findings, combined with those of other researchers around the world, strongly suggest that restoring tropical forests is a viable and highly scalable solution to regaining lost carbon stocks on land.” – Climate News Network

Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change

Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. A new book makes it sound almost easy. Well, it’s not impossible.

LONDON, 19 August, 2020 – The world is nowhere near tackling the climate crisis, says a new book by an Oxford scholar, Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. But at least we know how to.

Year on year, the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rising. The ability of oceans, forests and soils to absorb and recycle CO2 is fast diminishing. Like an out-of-control coal train, climate change is thundering towards us.

International agreements and protocols – countless meetings and mega amounts of jaw-jaw – have manifestly failed to address the challenge ahead.

Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at Oxford University in the UK and the author of several books on climate change, throws up his hands in frustration.

“Thirty years on from the UN’s drive to address climate change, we are still going backwards at an alarming rate”, he says.

The wrong policies have been followed, governments have misled people and we, the public, have failed to come to terms with what’s happening.

“In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”

The Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C compared to the level in 1990 is unattainable, says Helm.

“Stop pretending and recognise the brutal facts about what has been going on for the last 30 years and why it has been such an abject failure. It is realism, not spin and fake optimism about progress and costs, that we need.”

For the most part, Helm talks of events in the industrialised world, in particular in Europe. He argues that countries such as the UK and Germany delude themselves by thinking they are tackling climate change simply by cutting the production of greenhouse gases within their own borders.

Much of Europe, he argues, is post-industrial: it imports vast amounts of goods – steel from China, textiles from Bangladesh, avocados from Peru. All these products have heavy carbon footprints.

It is the consumption of all these goods that is doing the damage. Only when countries – and we, their citizens – stop buying and accumulating such products will progress be made.

Dangerous delusion

“It is not enough to clean up our own backyard. This does not stop us contributing to global warming.

“It is fantasy, propagated by politicians, the [UK] Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and some activists, that if we could only get to net zero for our own territorial emissions – for our carbon production – that would mean that we would have crossed the Rubicon and no longer be causing any further global warming. It is an extremely dangerous delusion.”

The solution, says Helm, is going to be painful, at least in the short to medium term. There have to be substantial carbon taxes, on both domestic produce and imports.

A whole range of goods will become more expensive. Standards of living will fall, we will be worse off. We have to adapt to a whole new way of life.

The top-down approach to tackling the climate crisis, through what Helm describes as the UN cartel and other bodies, has just not worked. It is we, the consumers, who must act.

“You and I, the ultimate polluters, will have to pay the price of our carbon-intensive lifestyles”, says Professor Helm.

Tiny renewable share

Public finances have to be transformed: massive spending on zero carbon infrastructure is a priority. Agriculture – an environmental disaster area – has to be changed completely.

Helm has an edgy, no-nonsense style of writing. “In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”, he says.

He rails against people fooling themselves. Those who think China is leading the way towards a green future are seriously mistaken. Activists who prophesy the end of coal and other fossil fuels are deluded.

With exploding demand, the past 30 years have been a golden age for the fossil fuel industry, and for all the hype, renewables still contribute only a minuscule amount of the total world energy mix.

Yet if we, the consumers, act, there will certainly be pain but the reward will be worthwhile. “There are many aspects to our individual lives which would be better in 2050 than they are now”, Dieter Helm says. “A greener world is a healthier one.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

  • Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change   By Dieter Helm   William Collins: to be published on 3 September 2020   £20.00

Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. A new book makes it sound almost easy. Well, it’s not impossible.

LONDON, 19 August, 2020 – The world is nowhere near tackling the climate crisis, says a new book by an Oxford scholar, Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. But at least we know how to.

Year on year, the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rising. The ability of oceans, forests and soils to absorb and recycle CO2 is fast diminishing. Like an out-of-control coal train, climate change is thundering towards us.

International agreements and protocols – countless meetings and mega amounts of jaw-jaw – have manifestly failed to address the challenge ahead.

Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at Oxford University in the UK and the author of several books on climate change, throws up his hands in frustration.

“Thirty years on from the UN’s drive to address climate change, we are still going backwards at an alarming rate”, he says.

The wrong policies have been followed, governments have misled people and we, the public, have failed to come to terms with what’s happening.

“In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”

The Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C compared to the level in 1990 is unattainable, says Helm.

“Stop pretending and recognise the brutal facts about what has been going on for the last 30 years and why it has been such an abject failure. It is realism, not spin and fake optimism about progress and costs, that we need.”

For the most part, Helm talks of events in the industrialised world, in particular in Europe. He argues that countries such as the UK and Germany delude themselves by thinking they are tackling climate change simply by cutting the production of greenhouse gases within their own borders.

Much of Europe, he argues, is post-industrial: it imports vast amounts of goods – steel from China, textiles from Bangladesh, avocados from Peru. All these products have heavy carbon footprints.

It is the consumption of all these goods that is doing the damage. Only when countries – and we, their citizens – stop buying and accumulating such products will progress be made.

Dangerous delusion

“It is not enough to clean up our own backyard. This does not stop us contributing to global warming.

“It is fantasy, propagated by politicians, the [UK] Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and some activists, that if we could only get to net zero for our own territorial emissions – for our carbon production – that would mean that we would have crossed the Rubicon and no longer be causing any further global warming. It is an extremely dangerous delusion.”

The solution, says Helm, is going to be painful, at least in the short to medium term. There have to be substantial carbon taxes, on both domestic produce and imports.

A whole range of goods will become more expensive. Standards of living will fall, we will be worse off. We have to adapt to a whole new way of life.

The top-down approach to tackling the climate crisis, through what Helm describes as the UN cartel and other bodies, has just not worked. It is we, the consumers, who must act.

“You and I, the ultimate polluters, will have to pay the price of our carbon-intensive lifestyles”, says Professor Helm.

Tiny renewable share

Public finances have to be transformed: massive spending on zero carbon infrastructure is a priority. Agriculture – an environmental disaster area – has to be changed completely.

Helm has an edgy, no-nonsense style of writing. “In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”, he says.

He rails against people fooling themselves. Those who think China is leading the way towards a green future are seriously mistaken. Activists who prophesy the end of coal and other fossil fuels are deluded.

With exploding demand, the past 30 years have been a golden age for the fossil fuel industry, and for all the hype, renewables still contribute only a minuscule amount of the total world energy mix.

Yet if we, the consumers, act, there will certainly be pain but the reward will be worthwhile. “There are many aspects to our individual lives which would be better in 2050 than they are now”, Dieter Helm says. “A greener world is a healthier one.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

  • Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change   By Dieter Helm   William Collins: to be published on 3 September 2020   £20.00

Save wildlife, save forests, and avoid pandemics

Covid-19 emerged from the wilderness. That alone is reason to protect the forests, control trade in wildlife – and avoid pandemics.

LONDON, 5 August, 2020 – If the world wants to avoid pandemics like Covid-19 in future, it has a lot to learn. This coronavirus outbreak is likely to cost the world somewhere between $8 trillion and $15 trillion.

It might have been 500 times cheaper, say US scientists, simply to have done what conservationists have sought for years: control trade in wildlife and stop destroying tropical forests.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus – also known as Covid-19 – is a new human infection that has been traced back to bats apparently traded as food in China. It has so far infected 15 million people around the planet and caused nearly 700,000 deaths.

But it is just one of a series of viruses that have emerged from creatures in the wilderness, to cause a series of local or global epidemics: among them HIV, Ebola, MERS, SARS and H1N1.

Researchers calculate that, for the last century, at least two new viruses each year have spilled from their natural hosts into the human population.

“Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes”

And this has happened, they argue in the journal Science, most often directly after people have handled live primates, bats and other mammals, or butchered them for meat, or indirectly after such viruses have infected farm animals such as chickens or pigs.

These infections are now so familiar they have acquired their own medical classification: they are zoonotic viruses.

And human exploitation of the world’s last remaining wildernesses – the tropical forests – and pursuit of exotic creatures for trophies, medicines or food can be linked to the emergence of most of them.

“All this traces back to our indifference about what has been happening at the edge of the tropical forests,” said Les Kaufman, an ecologist at Boston University.

He and 17 other experts argue that at a cost of somewhere between $22 billion and $30 billion a year, the transmission of unknown and unexpected diseases could be significantly reduced: chiefly by controlling logging and conversion of rainforest into ranch land, and limiting the trade in wild meat and exotic animals.

Clear argument

The sums are large. But the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic so far is likely to prove at least 500 times more costly.

Professor Kaufman and his colleagues did the calculations. They added up the annual costs of monitoring the world’s wildlife trade; of active programmes to prevent what they call “spillovers” from wild creatures; of efforts to detect and control outbreaks; the cost of reducing infection to human populations and farmed livestock; the cost of reducing deforestation each year by half, and the cost of ending the trade in wild meat in China. Their highest estimate was $31.2bn a year, their lowest $22bn.

They offset this with the benefits simply in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions linked to forest destruction, and then matched the total against the global loss of gross domestic product, the cost of the estimated 590,000 dead from the virus at the end of July, and so on, to arrive at a minimum cost of $8.1 trillion, and a maximum of $15.8tn.

The researchers see this balance of costs as a clear argument for international and concerted action from governments around the world to reduce an enduring hazard.

“The pandemic gives an incentive to do something addressing concerns that are immediate and threatening to individuals, and that’s what moves people,” Professor Kaufman said. “Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes.” – Climate News Network

Covid-19 emerged from the wilderness. That alone is reason to protect the forests, control trade in wildlife – and avoid pandemics.

LONDON, 5 August, 2020 – If the world wants to avoid pandemics like Covid-19 in future, it has a lot to learn. This coronavirus outbreak is likely to cost the world somewhere between $8 trillion and $15 trillion.

It might have been 500 times cheaper, say US scientists, simply to have done what conservationists have sought for years: control trade in wildlife and stop destroying tropical forests.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus – also known as Covid-19 – is a new human infection that has been traced back to bats apparently traded as food in China. It has so far infected 15 million people around the planet and caused nearly 700,000 deaths.

But it is just one of a series of viruses that have emerged from creatures in the wilderness, to cause a series of local or global epidemics: among them HIV, Ebola, MERS, SARS and H1N1.

Researchers calculate that, for the last century, at least two new viruses each year have spilled from their natural hosts into the human population.

“Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes”

And this has happened, they argue in the journal Science, most often directly after people have handled live primates, bats and other mammals, or butchered them for meat, or indirectly after such viruses have infected farm animals such as chickens or pigs.

These infections are now so familiar they have acquired their own medical classification: they are zoonotic viruses.

And human exploitation of the world’s last remaining wildernesses – the tropical forests – and pursuit of exotic creatures for trophies, medicines or food can be linked to the emergence of most of them.

“All this traces back to our indifference about what has been happening at the edge of the tropical forests,” said Les Kaufman, an ecologist at Boston University.

He and 17 other experts argue that at a cost of somewhere between $22 billion and $30 billion a year, the transmission of unknown and unexpected diseases could be significantly reduced: chiefly by controlling logging and conversion of rainforest into ranch land, and limiting the trade in wild meat and exotic animals.

Clear argument

The sums are large. But the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic so far is likely to prove at least 500 times more costly.

Professor Kaufman and his colleagues did the calculations. They added up the annual costs of monitoring the world’s wildlife trade; of active programmes to prevent what they call “spillovers” from wild creatures; of efforts to detect and control outbreaks; the cost of reducing infection to human populations and farmed livestock; the cost of reducing deforestation each year by half, and the cost of ending the trade in wild meat in China. Their highest estimate was $31.2bn a year, their lowest $22bn.

They offset this with the benefits simply in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions linked to forest destruction, and then matched the total against the global loss of gross domestic product, the cost of the estimated 590,000 dead from the virus at the end of July, and so on, to arrive at a minimum cost of $8.1 trillion, and a maximum of $15.8tn.

The researchers see this balance of costs as a clear argument for international and concerted action from governments around the world to reduce an enduring hazard.

“The pandemic gives an incentive to do something addressing concerns that are immediate and threatening to individuals, and that’s what moves people,” Professor Kaufman said. “Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes.” – Climate News Network

Rising heat affects Europe’s floods and droughts

Patterns of Europe’s floods and droughts are starting to change: each could be more extreme, and far likelier with rising heat.

LONDON, 27 July, 2020 − Climate change has begun to affect the pattern of Europe’s floods. The past three decades have seen “exceptional” flooding, say Austrian scientists who have worked their way through documentary records for the last 500 years.

At the same time, heat and drought affecting the continent are on the increase. The summer of 2018 broke all records for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and by 2019 many trees in Europe’s forests were partly or entirely dead. And by 2085 rainfall could decline by a fifth, Swiss ecologists report, to alter the make-up of the forests dramatically.

Both findings are consistent with the big picture of climate change worldwide: wet seasons will become ever wetter; dry seasons too will become more extreme, according to US researchers in a third separate study.

All attempts to establish climate records involve careful interrogation of the past. Günter Blöschl of Vienna’s University of Technology and colleagues report in Nature that they sifted evidence from mountain lake beds, floodplains and 500 years of contemporary documents to identify decades more than usually rich in floods.

The floods of 1990 to 2016 in Western and Central Europe have been among the worst in history. To make sure of such a claim, the researchers identified periods of calamitous inundation across the whole region in the late 16th century and again in the 17th; and in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

“We should be preparing for the future by improving the technology to efficiently use water for crops”

If these episodes had anything in common, bygone floods happened when air temperatures were lower: fewer of them, too, happened in the summer.

“This finding seems to contradict the observation that, in some areas such as in the northwest of Europe, the recent warmer climate is aligned with larger floods,” Professor Blöschl said. “Our study shows for the first time that the underlying mechanisms have changed.

“While in the past floods have occurred more frequently under colder conditions, the opposite is the case now. The hydrological conditions of the present are very different from those in the past.”

Now, 55% of Central European floods happen in the summer, compared with 41% in previous centuries. It’s a message for planners, city chiefs and governments across the region: flood management is going to have to adapt.

So, too, is forest and woodland management, say scientists in Switzerland and Germany, who have been measuring changes in the canopies of their forests.

Growing vulnerability

For most of Europe, the single most extreme heatwave has been that of 2003: that is, until 2018. The sustained heat and aridity made temperatures in the growing season of 2018 on average 1.2°C higher than 2003, and 3.3°C higher than the average from 1961-1990.

Woodland foliage showed signs of drought stress. Leaves wilted, aged and dropped much earlier, and by 2019 many trees were dead, or partly dead. Those that survived were more vulnerable to beetle or fungal pests. Losses included beech, long considered the most drought-resistant.

Ten out of the 12 hottest growing seasons in the last 120 years have all happened this century. Climate forecasts already predict more of the same, with precipitation falling by a fifth by 2085. Foresters will have to think again about woodland design.

“Spruce was most heavily affected. But it was a surprise for us that beech, silver fir and pine were also damaged to this extent,” said Ansgar Kahmen of the University of Basel in Switzerland.

“We still need to study which tree species are good in which combinations, including from a forestry perspective. That will take time.”

Keeping Paris promise

And worldwide, farmers, foresters and water managers can also expect more of the same. As temperatures rise worldwide, dry seasons will tend to become drier, and wet seasons wetter.

US researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they divided the world into nine land regions, and looked at annual rain or snowfall and how this fluctuated through the seasons in each of the nine from 1971 to 2000. They then looked at future temperature predictions for the rest of the century to see what happened to water availability.

The best outcome for relatively stable water supplies would be if nations could act to limit the planet’s average global temperature rise to no more than 2°C by 2100, in line with a promise made by 195 governments in Paris in 2015.

At higher temperatures the predicted scatter of flood and drought became more extreme. Once again, the message is: start planning. “We need to take precautions to optimally use how much water we have,” said Ashok Mishra of Clemson University in South Carolina.

“As the climate changes and population increases, we should be preparing for the future by improving the technology to efficiently use water for crops.” − Climate News Network

Patterns of Europe’s floods and droughts are starting to change: each could be more extreme, and far likelier with rising heat.

LONDON, 27 July, 2020 − Climate change has begun to affect the pattern of Europe’s floods. The past three decades have seen “exceptional” flooding, say Austrian scientists who have worked their way through documentary records for the last 500 years.

At the same time, heat and drought affecting the continent are on the increase. The summer of 2018 broke all records for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and by 2019 many trees in Europe’s forests were partly or entirely dead. And by 2085 rainfall could decline by a fifth, Swiss ecologists report, to alter the make-up of the forests dramatically.

Both findings are consistent with the big picture of climate change worldwide: wet seasons will become ever wetter; dry seasons too will become more extreme, according to US researchers in a third separate study.

All attempts to establish climate records involve careful interrogation of the past. Günter Blöschl of Vienna’s University of Technology and colleagues report in Nature that they sifted evidence from mountain lake beds, floodplains and 500 years of contemporary documents to identify decades more than usually rich in floods.

The floods of 1990 to 2016 in Western and Central Europe have been among the worst in history. To make sure of such a claim, the researchers identified periods of calamitous inundation across the whole region in the late 16th century and again in the 17th; and in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

“We should be preparing for the future by improving the technology to efficiently use water for crops”

If these episodes had anything in common, bygone floods happened when air temperatures were lower: fewer of them, too, happened in the summer.

“This finding seems to contradict the observation that, in some areas such as in the northwest of Europe, the recent warmer climate is aligned with larger floods,” Professor Blöschl said. “Our study shows for the first time that the underlying mechanisms have changed.

“While in the past floods have occurred more frequently under colder conditions, the opposite is the case now. The hydrological conditions of the present are very different from those in the past.”

Now, 55% of Central European floods happen in the summer, compared with 41% in previous centuries. It’s a message for planners, city chiefs and governments across the region: flood management is going to have to adapt.

So, too, is forest and woodland management, say scientists in Switzerland and Germany, who have been measuring changes in the canopies of their forests.

Growing vulnerability

For most of Europe, the single most extreme heatwave has been that of 2003: that is, until 2018. The sustained heat and aridity made temperatures in the growing season of 2018 on average 1.2°C higher than 2003, and 3.3°C higher than the average from 1961-1990.

Woodland foliage showed signs of drought stress. Leaves wilted, aged and dropped much earlier, and by 2019 many trees were dead, or partly dead. Those that survived were more vulnerable to beetle or fungal pests. Losses included beech, long considered the most drought-resistant.

Ten out of the 12 hottest growing seasons in the last 120 years have all happened this century. Climate forecasts already predict more of the same, with precipitation falling by a fifth by 2085. Foresters will have to think again about woodland design.

“Spruce was most heavily affected. But it was a surprise for us that beech, silver fir and pine were also damaged to this extent,” said Ansgar Kahmen of the University of Basel in Switzerland.

“We still need to study which tree species are good in which combinations, including from a forestry perspective. That will take time.”

Keeping Paris promise

And worldwide, farmers, foresters and water managers can also expect more of the same. As temperatures rise worldwide, dry seasons will tend to become drier, and wet seasons wetter.

US researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they divided the world into nine land regions, and looked at annual rain or snowfall and how this fluctuated through the seasons in each of the nine from 1971 to 2000. They then looked at future temperature predictions for the rest of the century to see what happened to water availability.

The best outcome for relatively stable water supplies would be if nations could act to limit the planet’s average global temperature rise to no more than 2°C by 2100, in line with a promise made by 195 governments in Paris in 2015.

At higher temperatures the predicted scatter of flood and drought became more extreme. Once again, the message is: start planning. “We need to take precautions to optimally use how much water we have,” said Ashok Mishra of Clemson University in South Carolina.

“As the climate changes and population increases, we should be preparing for the future by improving the technology to efficiently use water for crops.” − Climate News Network