Tag Archives: Global threats

Smoke from wildfires kills thousands annually

Smoke from wildfires, linked to climate, grows daily more of a threat. Now science can see the direct human health cost.

LONDON, 14 September, 2021− Smoke from wildfires in burning forest vegetation now claims at least 33,500 lives a year worldwide. And that’s based on data from just 749 cities in 43 countries during the years 2000 to 2016.

The true cost to humankind of wildfire pollution from tiny particles of incinerated vegetation in cardiovascular and respiratory deaths will inevitably be much larger.

And a separate study finds that the fires now blazing every year in the Brazilian Amazon send more than 48,000 Brazilians to hospital. In the same timespan − the first 15 years of this century − an estimated 755,091 Brazilians have been admitted to hospitals with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions triggered by wildfire pollution.

Both findings are based on the use of subtle statistical techniques to tease out from public records the direct causes of hospitalisation and death. In the first study, researchers report in the journal Lancet Planetary Health that they combed through records of more than 66 million deaths from all causes in a selection of cities from 43 nations and regions, and then applied sophisticated mathematics to calculate which cases would have been triggered by the inhalation of what health scientists called “fine particulate matter” − fine enough to enter the lungs, cross the walls of the lung tissue and enter the blood circulation.

Wildfire smoke is deadlier than most forms of atmospheric pollution: it’s made up of smaller particles of a different chemical composition forged in higher temperatures. It can also travel further, up to 1,000 kms (625 miles), and still be potentially sickening.

Urban penalty

And, in a world in which planetary temperatures are soaring, droughts are becoming more intense and more frequent, and human destruction of the forests more devastating, the potential dangers are increasing.

California in 2020 recorded more than 46,000 outbreaks of wildfire. In the 2019-2020 burning season, Australia lost more than 100,000 sq kms of bush, forest and parkland to wildfire.

Brazil’s Amazon forest, disfigured by an accelerating number of fire outbreaks in the last two years, has lost more than 33,000 sq kms of canopy to fire every year since 2003.

A second study in the same journal identifies the cost across the decades to the nation with the largest and most important tropical forest on the planet: Brazil.

The fires may burn in distant regions now being converted to cattle ranches, soy plantations or mining operations, but the price is paid in crowded cities.

“In a world in which planetary temperatures are soaring and human destruction of the forests more devastating, the potential dangers are increasing”

Toxic smoke from these wildfires in the Amazon region can rise to enormous heights and travel colossal distances to trigger asthma, heart attack, stroke, respiratory conditions, hospitalisation and death, in young children and the elderly in particular.

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most prestige-laden medical journals: it has also paid close attention to the health costs linked in any way to climate change driven by profligate greenhouse gas emissions, as the use of fossil fuels continues to expand.

It and its sister publications have examined the global hazard to new-born children in a fast-warming world; the massive global death toll of ever-increasing extremes of heat and cold; the health costs in terms of hunger and malnutrition that will follow as harvests wither, and as energy, protein and mineral levels in staple foods begin to change with ever-higher temperatures; and even to the direct consequences to the workforce and the economy as extreme temperatures begin to rise to unprecedented levels.

So the latest finding is in part a warning to governments, municipalities, nations and above all health professionals to be prepared for greater levels of hospitalisation and death.

Although one study is a worldwide look, the second a closer look at the costs to just one nation, the problem is truly worldwide: Japan, according to data from 47 cities, loses 7,000 people a year to wildfire pollution; Mexico (10 cities) more than 3,000; and the US records more than 3,200 deaths in 210 cities each year. − Climate News Network

Smoke from wildfires, linked to climate, grows daily more of a threat. Now science can see the direct human health cost.

LONDON, 14 September, 2021− Smoke from wildfires in burning forest vegetation now claims at least 33,500 lives a year worldwide. And that’s based on data from just 749 cities in 43 countries during the years 2000 to 2016.

The true cost to humankind of wildfire pollution from tiny particles of incinerated vegetation in cardiovascular and respiratory deaths will inevitably be much larger.

And a separate study finds that the fires now blazing every year in the Brazilian Amazon send more than 48,000 Brazilians to hospital. In the same timespan − the first 15 years of this century − an estimated 755,091 Brazilians have been admitted to hospitals with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions triggered by wildfire pollution.

Both findings are based on the use of subtle statistical techniques to tease out from public records the direct causes of hospitalisation and death. In the first study, researchers report in the journal Lancet Planetary Health that they combed through records of more than 66 million deaths from all causes in a selection of cities from 43 nations and regions, and then applied sophisticated mathematics to calculate which cases would have been triggered by the inhalation of what health scientists called “fine particulate matter” − fine enough to enter the lungs, cross the walls of the lung tissue and enter the blood circulation.

Wildfire smoke is deadlier than most forms of atmospheric pollution: it’s made up of smaller particles of a different chemical composition forged in higher temperatures. It can also travel further, up to 1,000 kms (625 miles), and still be potentially sickening.

Urban penalty

And, in a world in which planetary temperatures are soaring, droughts are becoming more intense and more frequent, and human destruction of the forests more devastating, the potential dangers are increasing.

California in 2020 recorded more than 46,000 outbreaks of wildfire. In the 2019-2020 burning season, Australia lost more than 100,000 sq kms of bush, forest and parkland to wildfire.

Brazil’s Amazon forest, disfigured by an accelerating number of fire outbreaks in the last two years, has lost more than 33,000 sq kms of canopy to fire every year since 2003.

A second study in the same journal identifies the cost across the decades to the nation with the largest and most important tropical forest on the planet: Brazil.

The fires may burn in distant regions now being converted to cattle ranches, soy plantations or mining operations, but the price is paid in crowded cities.

“In a world in which planetary temperatures are soaring and human destruction of the forests more devastating, the potential dangers are increasing”

Toxic smoke from these wildfires in the Amazon region can rise to enormous heights and travel colossal distances to trigger asthma, heart attack, stroke, respiratory conditions, hospitalisation and death, in young children and the elderly in particular.

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most prestige-laden medical journals: it has also paid close attention to the health costs linked in any way to climate change driven by profligate greenhouse gas emissions, as the use of fossil fuels continues to expand.

It and its sister publications have examined the global hazard to new-born children in a fast-warming world; the massive global death toll of ever-increasing extremes of heat and cold; the health costs in terms of hunger and malnutrition that will follow as harvests wither, and as energy, protein and mineral levels in staple foods begin to change with ever-higher temperatures; and even to the direct consequences to the workforce and the economy as extreme temperatures begin to rise to unprecedented levels.

So the latest finding is in part a warning to governments, municipalities, nations and above all health professionals to be prepared for greater levels of hospitalisation and death.

Although one study is a worldwide look, the second a closer look at the costs to just one nation, the problem is truly worldwide: Japan, according to data from 47 cities, loses 7,000 people a year to wildfire pollution; Mexico (10 cities) more than 3,000; and the US records more than 3,200 deaths in 210 cities each year. − Climate News Network

Global health journals warn on climate and nature

The world’s major health journals say the climate and nature crisis is an emergency demanding we transform our societies.

LONDON, 6 September, 2021 − Two months from now the annual United Nations climate conference will have begun, this year in the Scottish city of Glasgow. Campaign groups are already limbering up for the talks, COP-26, publishing the action they think is vital. Few are likely to be more compelling − and stark − than the declaration by more than 220 leading medical, nursing and public health journals: the climate and nature crisis is the biggest threat to the future health of the world.

The authors do not mince their words. “The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse”, they write in an unprecedented joint editorial.

“Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with Covid-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.”

The crisis is an emergency which requires world leaders to transform societies and limit climate change, the editorial says. Their continued failure to do enough to keep the global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5°C above historic levels, and to restore nature, is the greatest threat to global public health.

In the United Kingdom the editorial is being published in one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals, The Lancet, and in the British Medical Journal. Other publishers include the East African Medical Journal, the Chinese Science Bulletin, the New England Journal of Medicine, titles in Brazil, India and Australia, and elsewhere. Never have so many journals combined to publish the same editorial.

“Temperature increases are likely to be well in excess of 2°C, a catastrophic outcome for health and environmental stability”

Heat-related mortality, the health impacts of destructive weather, and widespread damage to ecosystems essential to human health are just a few of the impacts that a changing climate is causing to happen more often, the authors say. These impacts disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, ethnic minorities, poorer communities and those with underlying health conditions.

The editorial scorns recent targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect nature: “These promises are not enough. Targets are easy to set and hard to achieve.” Significantly, it prescribes some hard-headed realism in attempts to limit temperature rise, describing plans to cut emissions to net zero by mid-century through removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere − a still unproven technology − as “implausible”.

Throughout the editorial there echoes an insistence on the need for equity, for confronting the crisis without reliance on the failed nostrums of the past. “Equity must be at the centre of the global response … Wealthier countries will have to cut emissions more quickly, making reductions by 2030 beyond those currently proposed and reaching net-zero emissions before 2050. Similar targets and emergency action are needed for biodiversity loss and the wider destruction of the natural world.”

Governments must transform societies and economies, it says, by for example supporting the redesign of transport systems, cities, food production and distribution systems and financial investments markets, as well as health systems.

No to austerity

This would create high-quality jobs, reduce air pollution and increase physical activity, and improve housing and diet. Better air quality alone would lead to health benefits that easily offset the global costs of emissions cuts.

These measures, the editorial says, will also improve the social and economic factors which determine health; the poor state of these may have made populations more vulnerable to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But these changes “cannot be achieved through a return to damaging austerity policies or the continuation of the large inequalities of wealth and power within and between countries.” Rich countries should provide more generous funding for poorer ones − and it should take the form not of loans, but of grants,

The world is heading for a double disaster, the authors conclude: “Temperature increases are likely to be well in excess of 2°C, a catastrophic outcome for health and environmental stability.” And that’s far from all: “The destruction of nature does not have parity of esteem with the climate element of the crisis, and every single global target to restore biodiversity loss by 2020 was missed. This is an overall environmental crisis.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The editorial was co-ordinated by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, a coalition of leading UK health bodies.

The world’s major health journals say the climate and nature crisis is an emergency demanding we transform our societies.

LONDON, 6 September, 2021 − Two months from now the annual United Nations climate conference will have begun, this year in the Scottish city of Glasgow. Campaign groups are already limbering up for the talks, COP-26, publishing the action they think is vital. Few are likely to be more compelling − and stark − than the declaration by more than 220 leading medical, nursing and public health journals: the climate and nature crisis is the biggest threat to the future health of the world.

The authors do not mince their words. “The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse”, they write in an unprecedented joint editorial.

“Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with Covid-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.”

The crisis is an emergency which requires world leaders to transform societies and limit climate change, the editorial says. Their continued failure to do enough to keep the global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5°C above historic levels, and to restore nature, is the greatest threat to global public health.

In the United Kingdom the editorial is being published in one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals, The Lancet, and in the British Medical Journal. Other publishers include the East African Medical Journal, the Chinese Science Bulletin, the New England Journal of Medicine, titles in Brazil, India and Australia, and elsewhere. Never have so many journals combined to publish the same editorial.

“Temperature increases are likely to be well in excess of 2°C, a catastrophic outcome for health and environmental stability”

Heat-related mortality, the health impacts of destructive weather, and widespread damage to ecosystems essential to human health are just a few of the impacts that a changing climate is causing to happen more often, the authors say. These impacts disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, ethnic minorities, poorer communities and those with underlying health conditions.

The editorial scorns recent targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect nature: “These promises are not enough. Targets are easy to set and hard to achieve.” Significantly, it prescribes some hard-headed realism in attempts to limit temperature rise, describing plans to cut emissions to net zero by mid-century through removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere − a still unproven technology − as “implausible”.

Throughout the editorial there echoes an insistence on the need for equity, for confronting the crisis without reliance on the failed nostrums of the past. “Equity must be at the centre of the global response … Wealthier countries will have to cut emissions more quickly, making reductions by 2030 beyond those currently proposed and reaching net-zero emissions before 2050. Similar targets and emergency action are needed for biodiversity loss and the wider destruction of the natural world.”

Governments must transform societies and economies, it says, by for example supporting the redesign of transport systems, cities, food production and distribution systems and financial investments markets, as well as health systems.

No to austerity

This would create high-quality jobs, reduce air pollution and increase physical activity, and improve housing and diet. Better air quality alone would lead to health benefits that easily offset the global costs of emissions cuts.

These measures, the editorial says, will also improve the social and economic factors which determine health; the poor state of these may have made populations more vulnerable to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But these changes “cannot be achieved through a return to damaging austerity policies or the continuation of the large inequalities of wealth and power within and between countries.” Rich countries should provide more generous funding for poorer ones − and it should take the form not of loans, but of grants,

The world is heading for a double disaster, the authors conclude: “Temperature increases are likely to be well in excess of 2°C, a catastrophic outcome for health and environmental stability.” And that’s far from all: “The destruction of nature does not have parity of esteem with the climate element of the crisis, and every single global target to restore biodiversity loss by 2020 was missed. This is an overall environmental crisis.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The editorial was co-ordinated by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, a coalition of leading UK health bodies.

More people face greater risk from extreme heat

In a hotter world, periods of extreme heat are on the increase. And that presents a massive threat to life and health.

LONDON, 27 August, 2021 − In 2019, extreme heat claimed almost a thousand lives a day worldwide. And that number will grow. If the world cannot limit planetary temperature increase by just 1.5°C by 2100 − a target agreed by 195 countries − then deaths in heat waves will become substantial.

That’s the verdict of a careful study in one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals, The Lancet, which warns that almost half the world’s population and more than one billion workers are already exposed to episodes of extreme heat: more than a third of those workers already have what the scientists called “negative health effects.”

Helpfully, the researchers list these effects. They include “an increased risk of hyperthermia and cardiovascular failure or collapse, and increased risk of acute kidney disease.”

The researchers also looked at almost 65 million records of causes of death in nine nations to identify at least 17 conditions linked to heat-related death: ischaemic heart disease, stroke, cardiomyopathy and myocarditis, hypertensive heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, lower respiratory infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Homicide, suicide, drowning and unintentional injury also increased with temperature. Yes, in 2019, more people died from extreme cold − an estimated 1.3 million − and 356,000 from extreme heat. But since 1990, cold-related deaths have increased by 31%. Deaths attributable to extreme heat have gone up by 74%.

“Urgent investment in research and measures to combat the risks of extreme heat is critical if society is not only to survive but thrive”

So besides taking global and concerted action to limit global heating to the 1.5°C target set in Paris in 2015, nations will need to start thinking of sustainable ways to keep populations cool in dangerous temperatures.

“Extremely hot days or heat waves that were experienced approximately every 20 years are now being seen more frequently and could even occur every year by the end of the century if current greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated,” said Kristie Ebi, of the University of Washington in the US, who led the study. “These rising temperatures combined with a larger and older population mean that even more people will be at risk for heat-related health effects.”

Extreme heat is on the way. One recent study in Nature Climate Change calculated that, as humans go on putting more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the number of week-long record-breaking extremes of heat will become between two and seven times more probable by 2050. By 2080, the probability increases by between three and 21 times.

The Lancet study says that steps to limit global heating and to mitigate the impact of heat extremes could save lives: at the same time global numbers are growing, so ever more people are likely to be at risk, especially in crowded cities.

In 1950, the number of urban dwellers was around 751 million. By 2018, this had grown to 4.2 billion. By 2030, six out of every 10 humans will be living in cities and the number of megacities − metropolitan areas with more than 10 million people − will have grown, from 31 in 2016 to 43.

Olympics ruled out

And air conditioning is unlikely to help. Between 1990 and 2016, the volume of carbon dioxide emitted by air conditioning units actually doubled, to make global heating even more intense. In 2019, space cooling systems added up to one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere: this is 3% of the entire sum of global emissions that year.

Although more frequent, more prolonged and more intense extremes of heat are likely to hit hardest at the poorest, and at outdoor workers in many countries, such extremes will damage national economies and will diminish life for everybody.

By 2085, the researchers warn, very few of the world’s great cities will be able to host the summer Olympic Games because of the risk to athletes. One study in West Australia calculated that by 2070 the number of days on which it might not be safe to undertake even mild physical activity could increase by a factor of eight, or even 50-fold.

“As a result of human activity, it is inevitable that much of the planet’s population will be at greater risk of exposure to extreme heat than they are today,” said Ollie Jay of the University of Sydney in Australia, another of the authors.

“Amid stark projections about the increasing effects of climate change, urgent investment in research and measures to combat the risks of extreme heat is critical if society is not only to survive, but thrive, in a hotter, future world.” − Climate News Network

In a hotter world, periods of extreme heat are on the increase. And that presents a massive threat to life and health.

LONDON, 27 August, 2021 − In 2019, extreme heat claimed almost a thousand lives a day worldwide. And that number will grow. If the world cannot limit planetary temperature increase by just 1.5°C by 2100 − a target agreed by 195 countries − then deaths in heat waves will become substantial.

That’s the verdict of a careful study in one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals, The Lancet, which warns that almost half the world’s population and more than one billion workers are already exposed to episodes of extreme heat: more than a third of those workers already have what the scientists called “negative health effects.”

Helpfully, the researchers list these effects. They include “an increased risk of hyperthermia and cardiovascular failure or collapse, and increased risk of acute kidney disease.”

The researchers also looked at almost 65 million records of causes of death in nine nations to identify at least 17 conditions linked to heat-related death: ischaemic heart disease, stroke, cardiomyopathy and myocarditis, hypertensive heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, lower respiratory infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Homicide, suicide, drowning and unintentional injury also increased with temperature. Yes, in 2019, more people died from extreme cold − an estimated 1.3 million − and 356,000 from extreme heat. But since 1990, cold-related deaths have increased by 31%. Deaths attributable to extreme heat have gone up by 74%.

“Urgent investment in research and measures to combat the risks of extreme heat is critical if society is not only to survive but thrive”

So besides taking global and concerted action to limit global heating to the 1.5°C target set in Paris in 2015, nations will need to start thinking of sustainable ways to keep populations cool in dangerous temperatures.

“Extremely hot days or heat waves that were experienced approximately every 20 years are now being seen more frequently and could even occur every year by the end of the century if current greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated,” said Kristie Ebi, of the University of Washington in the US, who led the study. “These rising temperatures combined with a larger and older population mean that even more people will be at risk for heat-related health effects.”

Extreme heat is on the way. One recent study in Nature Climate Change calculated that, as humans go on putting more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the number of week-long record-breaking extremes of heat will become between two and seven times more probable by 2050. By 2080, the probability increases by between three and 21 times.

The Lancet study says that steps to limit global heating and to mitigate the impact of heat extremes could save lives: at the same time global numbers are growing, so ever more people are likely to be at risk, especially in crowded cities.

In 1950, the number of urban dwellers was around 751 million. By 2018, this had grown to 4.2 billion. By 2030, six out of every 10 humans will be living in cities and the number of megacities − metropolitan areas with more than 10 million people − will have grown, from 31 in 2016 to 43.

Olympics ruled out

And air conditioning is unlikely to help. Between 1990 and 2016, the volume of carbon dioxide emitted by air conditioning units actually doubled, to make global heating even more intense. In 2019, space cooling systems added up to one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere: this is 3% of the entire sum of global emissions that year.

Although more frequent, more prolonged and more intense extremes of heat are likely to hit hardest at the poorest, and at outdoor workers in many countries, such extremes will damage national economies and will diminish life for everybody.

By 2085, the researchers warn, very few of the world’s great cities will be able to host the summer Olympic Games because of the risk to athletes. One study in West Australia calculated that by 2070 the number of days on which it might not be safe to undertake even mild physical activity could increase by a factor of eight, or even 50-fold.

“As a result of human activity, it is inevitable that much of the planet’s population will be at greater risk of exposure to extreme heat than they are today,” said Ollie Jay of the University of Sydney in Australia, another of the authors.

“Amid stark projections about the increasing effects of climate change, urgent investment in research and measures to combat the risks of extreme heat is critical if society is not only to survive, but thrive, in a hotter, future world.” − Climate News Network

Why the race for the Earth needs sport’s help

In the green race for all life on the planet, the Earth needs sport’s help. It has plenty to give, not least sheer spirit.

ATHENS, 20 August, 2021 – Greece, home of the Olympic flame, is ablaze. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, chose to release its latest, chilling report just hours after the Olympic flame was quenched at the Tokyo Games. Where to turn to escape Code Red? The Earth needs sport’s help.

Just now it feels as though Nike, ancient Greece’s goddess of victory, had ordered the Fates to announce that humanity is in injury time. A lead IPCC report reviewer, Durwood Zaelke, had a stark message: “Climate change is like a marathon,” he declared. “We need to stay in the race.”

If that seemed like a coincidence, another was close on its heels. The former Olympic marathon runner Mara Yamauchi is the daughter of the late Norman Myers, the Oxford academic who in 2001 received the Tokyo-based Blue Planet Prize for leadership in warning about new environmental problems.

Mara Yamauchi has written the foreword to Rings of Fire, a report from the British Association for Sustainability in Sport about the impact of climate change. She writes: “My own event … is especially vulnerable to what climate change might bring. I sincerely hope that future generations of athletes will be able to compete safely in an Olympic marathon. But more and more, heat acclimatisation will become essential …”

Not surprisingly, she focused on the increasing threats to sport. But what if she’d gone another mile and echoed Pheidippides, renowned as the first marathon runner? Ordered to run from the battlefield to distant Athens with news of a Greek victory against the odds, Pheidippides burst into the Acropolis proclaiming: “Nike! Nike! Nenikekiam!” (“Victory! Victory! Rejoice, we conquer!”).

“Successful movements are built on passion, they aren’t built on guilt”

In 2011 there was an equally important message for the Ninth World Conference on Sport and the Environment in Doha. “Sport has the power to enlist global public support”, said Achim Steiner, who now heads the UN Development Programme.

I used to recall his words as we stood together, two fellow football-watching fathers, on an Oxford touchline during our sons’ early sporting forays. My son has just turned 18. It’s his generation who are now into injury time. How can he and his football-crazy mates be inspired to score green?

They’ll have another big chance very soon to help the world to unlock the power of sport and to inspire one of the greatest comebacks of all time. In November 2022 (later in the year than usual, because of the heat), Doha will unleash the World Cup. What might an updated Achim Steiner speech find to say there?

Football matters hugely, as one of its best-known figures, Bill Shankly, is said once to have memorably insisted: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death … I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” And Shankly’s vision endures today.

But (believe it or not) there’s more to sport than football. In her 2010 Christmas message the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth, said: “… It is as important as ever to build communities and create harmony, and one of the most powerful ways of doing this is through sport … I have seen for myself how important sport is in bringing people together from all backgrounds, from all walks of life and from all age-groups.”

Only the start

Achim Steiner was right first time, obviously. Sport engages humanity – massively. A cool three billion or so followers for the Olympics and the World Cup each, and a supporting worldwide army of hundreds of thousands of amateur sports clubs are already panting down the necks of the scientists as the growing reality of the climate crisis sinks in.

But read the briefest digest of the IPCC report and you’ll see how far we are from the real numbers the Earth needs to enlist: from royals to street kids, celebrities to the unknowns, stadia crowds to the lonely village spectator.

Sport does other big numbers too. The scoreboard is all-powerful: everybody knows what’s going on. (Imagine sport handling the poorly-understood 1.5°C headliner and other arcane emission reduction formulae.)

On the flipside, the clock is the other all -powerful regulator, forever signalling the unforgiving minutes’ elapse. In sport, you make it count before the whistle blows – or not at all.

Hearts and minds

Sport knows how to use numbers to kindle interest. Match reports aren’t all. There are endless statistics, player performances, league tables, historical records and more – all with an unbelievable take-up by very knowledgeable players and fans.

Perhaps most importantly, there is sports psyche. Being an individual with a unique role and opportunity within a team; performing at key moments, but also knowing when to pass the ball, or similar; coming back from losing; committed to crossing the white line again next week, regardless of what happened today. Training, effort, injury, respect, cheering, pride, legacy, defeat, victory: the list goes on.

Above all, sport is about hearts and minds. Every player, every fan, every official wants to – because they’ve bought in emotionally. Why does this matter for the environment?

Because, as Arnold Schwarzenegger once said: “Successful movements are built on passion, they aren’t built on guilt.” Sport’s USP really is unique. Unleash it, and we’ll all have a sporting chance to be chanting “Nike!” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Ian Curtis played cricket for the University of Oxford (where he won a Blue) and for Surrey. He returned to Oxford to work for the Environmental Change Institute.

In the green race for all life on the planet, the Earth needs sport’s help. It has plenty to give, not least sheer spirit.

ATHENS, 20 August, 2021 – Greece, home of the Olympic flame, is ablaze. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, chose to release its latest, chilling report just hours after the Olympic flame was quenched at the Tokyo Games. Where to turn to escape Code Red? The Earth needs sport’s help.

Just now it feels as though Nike, ancient Greece’s goddess of victory, had ordered the Fates to announce that humanity is in injury time. A lead IPCC report reviewer, Durwood Zaelke, had a stark message: “Climate change is like a marathon,” he declared. “We need to stay in the race.”

If that seemed like a coincidence, another was close on its heels. The former Olympic marathon runner Mara Yamauchi is the daughter of the late Norman Myers, the Oxford academic who in 2001 received the Tokyo-based Blue Planet Prize for leadership in warning about new environmental problems.

Mara Yamauchi has written the foreword to Rings of Fire, a report from the British Association for Sustainability in Sport about the impact of climate change. She writes: “My own event … is especially vulnerable to what climate change might bring. I sincerely hope that future generations of athletes will be able to compete safely in an Olympic marathon. But more and more, heat acclimatisation will become essential …”

Not surprisingly, she focused on the increasing threats to sport. But what if she’d gone another mile and echoed Pheidippides, renowned as the first marathon runner? Ordered to run from the battlefield to distant Athens with news of a Greek victory against the odds, Pheidippides burst into the Acropolis proclaiming: “Nike! Nike! Nenikekiam!” (“Victory! Victory! Rejoice, we conquer!”).

“Successful movements are built on passion, they aren’t built on guilt”

In 2011 there was an equally important message for the Ninth World Conference on Sport and the Environment in Doha. “Sport has the power to enlist global public support”, said Achim Steiner, who now heads the UN Development Programme.

I used to recall his words as we stood together, two fellow football-watching fathers, on an Oxford touchline during our sons’ early sporting forays. My son has just turned 18. It’s his generation who are now into injury time. How can he and his football-crazy mates be inspired to score green?

They’ll have another big chance very soon to help the world to unlock the power of sport and to inspire one of the greatest comebacks of all time. In November 2022 (later in the year than usual, because of the heat), Doha will unleash the World Cup. What might an updated Achim Steiner speech find to say there?

Football matters hugely, as one of its best-known figures, Bill Shankly, is said once to have memorably insisted: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death … I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” And Shankly’s vision endures today.

But (believe it or not) there’s more to sport than football. In her 2010 Christmas message the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth, said: “… It is as important as ever to build communities and create harmony, and one of the most powerful ways of doing this is through sport … I have seen for myself how important sport is in bringing people together from all backgrounds, from all walks of life and from all age-groups.”

Only the start

Achim Steiner was right first time, obviously. Sport engages humanity – massively. A cool three billion or so followers for the Olympics and the World Cup each, and a supporting worldwide army of hundreds of thousands of amateur sports clubs are already panting down the necks of the scientists as the growing reality of the climate crisis sinks in.

But read the briefest digest of the IPCC report and you’ll see how far we are from the real numbers the Earth needs to enlist: from royals to street kids, celebrities to the unknowns, stadia crowds to the lonely village spectator.

Sport does other big numbers too. The scoreboard is all-powerful: everybody knows what’s going on. (Imagine sport handling the poorly-understood 1.5°C headliner and other arcane emission reduction formulae.)

On the flipside, the clock is the other all -powerful regulator, forever signalling the unforgiving minutes’ elapse. In sport, you make it count before the whistle blows – or not at all.

Hearts and minds

Sport knows how to use numbers to kindle interest. Match reports aren’t all. There are endless statistics, player performances, league tables, historical records and more – all with an unbelievable take-up by very knowledgeable players and fans.

Perhaps most importantly, there is sports psyche. Being an individual with a unique role and opportunity within a team; performing at key moments, but also knowing when to pass the ball, or similar; coming back from losing; committed to crossing the white line again next week, regardless of what happened today. Training, effort, injury, respect, cheering, pride, legacy, defeat, victory: the list goes on.

Above all, sport is about hearts and minds. Every player, every fan, every official wants to – because they’ve bought in emotionally. Why does this matter for the environment?

Because, as Arnold Schwarzenegger once said: “Successful movements are built on passion, they aren’t built on guilt.” Sport’s USP really is unique. Unleash it, and we’ll all have a sporting chance to be chanting “Nike!” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Ian Curtis played cricket for the University of Oxford (where he won a Blue) and for Surrey. He returned to Oxford to work for the Environmental Change Institute.

Oblivion awaits insects on which food crops rely

As the bees start to buzz off, everybody could go hungry. If oblivion awaits insects, the rest of us won’t last long.

LONDON, 19 August, 2021 − The world’s pollinators are in decline − and scientists now have a surer idea of why. The bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles, flies, bats and hummingbirds (yes, animals and birds too) that shift pollen from one flower to another and help three-fourths of the world’s food crops to fruit and reproduce are on the way out. Oblivion awaits insects and other pollinators because of the things humans have done, and go on doing.

And it will be humans that could pay the biggest price as the decline goes on. “What happens to pollinators could have huge knock-on effects for humanity,” said Lynn Dicks, of the University of Cambridge in the UK.

“These small creatures play central roles in the world’s ecosystems, including many that humans and other animals rely on for nutrition. If they go, we may be in serious trouble.”

Lost habitat

Dr Dicks and 20 of her colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution that they assembled all the evidence of pollinator decline so far and then tried to weigh the range of factors at work in the loss of the little flying things on which the rest of the living world depends.

The loss is real enough: one recent study recorded a 75% decline of flying insects in 30 years in one location. Another warned that by the century’s end, half of all insects could have gone.

The loss of insects cannot be separated from the plants on which they depend: many of these too are at increasing risk of extinction.

The biggest factor in this chronicle of loss is habitat destruction: that is, the clearance by farmers, developers and foresters of the natural wildernesses in which the pollinators evolved.

The second problem is posed by the way humans manage the land that has replaced those natural ecosystems: monoculture farming, intense grazing and fertiliser use leave many insects with nowhere to go and nothing to eat.

“Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

Widespread pesticide use actively eliminates many species, some of them yet to be identified. Climate change, with a shift in the conditions in which the insects evolved, and increasingly hostile temperatures, is only for the moment the fourth most powerful factor.

The challenge is compounded by a growing demand for food: in the last 50 years there has been a threefold increase in crops that depend on pollinators: the value of such crops could be as high as US$577 billion (£420bn) a year.

But across two-thirds of the planet, this buzz of insect activity could be at risk: crop yield could become increasingly unreliable. “Crops dependent on pollinators fluctuate more in yield than, for example, cereals,” Dr Dicks said.

“Increasingly unusual climatic phenomena, such as extreme rainfall and temperature, are already affecting crops. Pollinator loss adds further instability − it’s the last thing people need.”

Impact on trade

The continent with most to lose is South America, with cashew, soybean, coffee and cocoa providing both food and the basis of international trade. China and India too are heavily dependent on fruit and vegetable harvests that depend on pollination. And there are less substantial benefits delivered by insects that could be about to fly away for ever.

“Pollinators have been sources of inspiration for art, music, literature and technology since the dawn of human history. All the major world religions have sacred passages about bees,” Dr Dicks said.

“Pollinators are often the most immediate representatives of the natural world in our daily lives. These are the creatures that captivate us early in life. We notice and feel their loss. Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

“We are in the midst of a species extinction crisis, but for many people that is intangible. Perhaps pollinators are the bellwether of mass extinction.” − Climate News Network

As the bees start to buzz off, everybody could go hungry. If oblivion awaits insects, the rest of us won’t last long.

LONDON, 19 August, 2021 − The world’s pollinators are in decline − and scientists now have a surer idea of why. The bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles, flies, bats and hummingbirds (yes, animals and birds too) that shift pollen from one flower to another and help three-fourths of the world’s food crops to fruit and reproduce are on the way out. Oblivion awaits insects and other pollinators because of the things humans have done, and go on doing.

And it will be humans that could pay the biggest price as the decline goes on. “What happens to pollinators could have huge knock-on effects for humanity,” said Lynn Dicks, of the University of Cambridge in the UK.

“These small creatures play central roles in the world’s ecosystems, including many that humans and other animals rely on for nutrition. If they go, we may be in serious trouble.”

Lost habitat

Dr Dicks and 20 of her colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution that they assembled all the evidence of pollinator decline so far and then tried to weigh the range of factors at work in the loss of the little flying things on which the rest of the living world depends.

The loss is real enough: one recent study recorded a 75% decline of flying insects in 30 years in one location. Another warned that by the century’s end, half of all insects could have gone.

The loss of insects cannot be separated from the plants on which they depend: many of these too are at increasing risk of extinction.

The biggest factor in this chronicle of loss is habitat destruction: that is, the clearance by farmers, developers and foresters of the natural wildernesses in which the pollinators evolved.

The second problem is posed by the way humans manage the land that has replaced those natural ecosystems: monoculture farming, intense grazing and fertiliser use leave many insects with nowhere to go and nothing to eat.

“Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

Widespread pesticide use actively eliminates many species, some of them yet to be identified. Climate change, with a shift in the conditions in which the insects evolved, and increasingly hostile temperatures, is only for the moment the fourth most powerful factor.

The challenge is compounded by a growing demand for food: in the last 50 years there has been a threefold increase in crops that depend on pollinators: the value of such crops could be as high as US$577 billion (£420bn) a year.

But across two-thirds of the planet, this buzz of insect activity could be at risk: crop yield could become increasingly unreliable. “Crops dependent on pollinators fluctuate more in yield than, for example, cereals,” Dr Dicks said.

“Increasingly unusual climatic phenomena, such as extreme rainfall and temperature, are already affecting crops. Pollinator loss adds further instability − it’s the last thing people need.”

Impact on trade

The continent with most to lose is South America, with cashew, soybean, coffee and cocoa providing both food and the basis of international trade. China and India too are heavily dependent on fruit and vegetable harvests that depend on pollination. And there are less substantial benefits delivered by insects that could be about to fly away for ever.

“Pollinators have been sources of inspiration for art, music, literature and technology since the dawn of human history. All the major world religions have sacred passages about bees,” Dr Dicks said.

“Pollinators are often the most immediate representatives of the natural world in our daily lives. These are the creatures that captivate us early in life. We notice and feel their loss. Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

“We are in the midst of a species extinction crisis, but for many people that is intangible. Perhaps pollinators are the bellwether of mass extinction.” − Climate News Network

Hotter water leaves smaller and less mobile fish

The catch with warming oceans is that there’ll be less of a catch. Smaller and less mobile fish will leave less to eat.

LONDON, 18 August, 2021 − Climate change could be about to get the world’s tastiest fish into hot water. The double jeopardy of global heating and overfishing could already be resulting in smaller and less mobile fish, turning sardines and herring, anchovies and pilchards into ever-smaller servings.

It has happened before: a new study of the evolution of fish species over the past 150 million years has found clear evidence of the ups and downs of time: as the ocean temperatures rise, fish tend to get smaller and travel less.

“Warming waters are a double whammy for fish, as they not only cause them to evolve to a smaller size, but also reduce their ability to move to more suitable environments,” said Chris Venditti, of the University of Reading, UK.

“Our research supports the theory that fish will get smaller as oceans warm under climate change, but reveals the worrying news that they will also not be able to evolve to cope as efficiently as first thought.

“This has serious implications for all fish and our food security”

“With sea temperatures rising faster than ever, fish will very quickly get left behind in evolutionary terms and struggle to survive.”

Professor Venditti and colleagues in Chile and Peru report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they applied subtle statistical techniques to evidence of fish evolution amassed in an international database called The Fish Tree of Life to learn about the link between temperature and size in one seafaring order, the Clupeiforms.

This group embraces both Atlantic and Pacific herring, the Japanese and South American pilchard, the anchovy and so on. But what is true for one order is likely to be true for almost all fish: warmer oceans mean more stress.

And stress is on the way. Over the last 150 million years, fish have had to adjust to changing temperatures, but only at rates of around 0.8°C per thousand years. Since 1981, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the seas have been warming at 0.18°C per decade.

Evolution at risk

So the finding supports what biologists already know: that animals confronted with higher temperatures tend to evolve to smaller sizes.

It’s not as if fish were not already feeling the heat. As waters warm, their capacity for dissolved oxygen dwindles. Spawning becomes more problematic. Migration becomes more urgent, but for smaller creatures with lower energy reserves also more difficult.

In the world’s traditional fishing grounds, overall catch sizes are shrinking: so too are the sizes of individual fish. And, the latest research suggests, warming waters could limit the capacity to evolve to new species that can adapt to changing conditions.

“This has serious implications for all fish and our food security,” Professor Venditti said, “as many of the species we eat could become increasingly scarce or even non-existent in decades to come.” − Climate News Network

The catch with warming oceans is that there’ll be less of a catch. Smaller and less mobile fish will leave less to eat.

LONDON, 18 August, 2021 − Climate change could be about to get the world’s tastiest fish into hot water. The double jeopardy of global heating and overfishing could already be resulting in smaller and less mobile fish, turning sardines and herring, anchovies and pilchards into ever-smaller servings.

It has happened before: a new study of the evolution of fish species over the past 150 million years has found clear evidence of the ups and downs of time: as the ocean temperatures rise, fish tend to get smaller and travel less.

“Warming waters are a double whammy for fish, as they not only cause them to evolve to a smaller size, but also reduce their ability to move to more suitable environments,” said Chris Venditti, of the University of Reading, UK.

“Our research supports the theory that fish will get smaller as oceans warm under climate change, but reveals the worrying news that they will also not be able to evolve to cope as efficiently as first thought.

“This has serious implications for all fish and our food security”

“With sea temperatures rising faster than ever, fish will very quickly get left behind in evolutionary terms and struggle to survive.”

Professor Venditti and colleagues in Chile and Peru report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they applied subtle statistical techniques to evidence of fish evolution amassed in an international database called The Fish Tree of Life to learn about the link between temperature and size in one seafaring order, the Clupeiforms.

This group embraces both Atlantic and Pacific herring, the Japanese and South American pilchard, the anchovy and so on. But what is true for one order is likely to be true for almost all fish: warmer oceans mean more stress.

And stress is on the way. Over the last 150 million years, fish have had to adjust to changing temperatures, but only at rates of around 0.8°C per thousand years. Since 1981, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the seas have been warming at 0.18°C per decade.

Evolution at risk

So the finding supports what biologists already know: that animals confronted with higher temperatures tend to evolve to smaller sizes.

It’s not as if fish were not already feeling the heat. As waters warm, their capacity for dissolved oxygen dwindles. Spawning becomes more problematic. Migration becomes more urgent, but for smaller creatures with lower energy reserves also more difficult.

In the world’s traditional fishing grounds, overall catch sizes are shrinking: so too are the sizes of individual fish. And, the latest research suggests, warming waters could limit the capacity to evolve to new species that can adapt to changing conditions.

“This has serious implications for all fish and our food security,” Professor Venditti said, “as many of the species we eat could become increasingly scarce or even non-existent in decades to come.” − Climate News Network

Ancient sea level rises may have been fairly minimal

Maybe ancient sea level rises were not so dramatic. But they’d still have been pretty frightening.

LONDON, 12 August, 2021 − Earth scientists have measured the rising tides of a warmer world more than 100 millennia ago and found a glimmer of good news: ancient sea level rises during a warm spell in the last Ice Age were quite possibly only about 1.2 metres higher than they are today.

Since, between 128,000 and 117,000 years ago, the world was perhaps as much as 2°C warmer than it would become for most of human history, this really is encouraging. Right now, climate scientists project a rise of somewhere between 60cm and 1.5m later this century, as global temperature levels rise 2°C or more above those normal before the Industrial Revolution.

But until now, geological orthodoxy has proposed that during the last “interglacial” or sudden warming, sea levels rose by six metres or possibly even nine metres. This could only happen if the Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets had collapsed.

And although these are indeed already losing ice at an accelerating rate, it doesn’t seem possible for such a colossal quantity of ice to melt in only a handful of decades.

Missing factor

So there was a mismatch between the predictions of the world’s scientists and the apparent evidence from the past.

Now a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a solution: calculations about past sea level heights may have been perhaps too gloomy because they did not fully factor in sea level’s other great uncertainty — the movement of the continents lapped by the sea.

This bedevils all predictions about sea level rise. Seas rise and fall with global temperatures, but so do landmasses. Right now, although sea level is creeping up at a rate measured in millimetres per year, the land under a number of great coastal cities is sinking dramatically, as humans build  ever more massive cities and abstract ever more groundwater. So predictions warn that millions could be at risk of coastal flooding.

But there is another, deeper reason for the uncertainty: as rising temperatures remove the massive burden of ice from glaciated land, and wind and rain erode mountains, so the subterranean rocks in the Earth’s mantle, far below the crust, respond by inching upwards. Even the seemingly solid rocks are elastic, subsiding under pressure and rising when the mass is removed.

“Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood”

All this means that, unless researchers can make an accurate estimate of land movement as well, sea level estimates are riven with uncertainties.

So a team from Columbia University in the US has looked at evidence of sea level rise and fall preserved in fossilised reefs and dunes in just one 1200km chain of islands − the Bahamas in the Atlantic − to come up with a new set of projections.

In the next 100 years, sea levels will rise by about 1.2 metres. This could be too modest: sea levels could just possibly rise by perhaps 5.3 metres, but this doesn’t seem likely. And a nine-metre rise is highly improbable.

“To get to nine metres of sea level rise, you’d have to melt large parts of Greenland and Antarctica,” said Blake Dyer, of the university’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Tricky calculation

“This suggests that didn’t happen. So maybe we should feel not so bad about the future. On the other hand, our lower estimate is bad, and our upper one is really bad.”

At the heart of the puzzle is a phenomenon known to geophysicists as isostasy: vast tracts of continental landmass have been heaving up and down, imperceptibly, over periods of tens of thousands of years, in response to ice and erosion.

So calculating sea level rise and fall when the thing on which sea level measurements are recorded − the land − is itself always shifting becomes tricky. That has always been why climate projections of sea levels contain a range of forecasts, rather than a hard number.

The argument is that changes recorded along the north-south lie of the Bahamas would provide a new and more sophisticated way of reconstructing sea heights in the relatively recent past.

Melting not guaranteed

The study doesn’t settle the question: estimates of past sea level change on a dramatic scale come from many parts of the planet, and glaciologists still have to reconstruct the rate at which the northern ice, for instance, may have retreated while the southern ice cap continued to advance during the last interglacial: that too would have limited sea level rise.

“This is still a question. Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood,” said Maureen Raymo, director of the Earth Observatory and a co-author.

Human carbon emissions are now heating the globe far more rapidly and evenly than during the last interglacial, so there is no guarantee of any melting at different rates in two hemispheres

“That makes it more difficult to apply the results to today. The easy thing to say would be, ‘Oh we showed that sea levels were not so bad, and that’s terrific.’  The harder answer, the more honest answer, is that maybe things were different then, and we’re not in the clear.” − Climate News Network

Maybe ancient sea level rises were not so dramatic. But they’d still have been pretty frightening.

LONDON, 12 August, 2021 − Earth scientists have measured the rising tides of a warmer world more than 100 millennia ago and found a glimmer of good news: ancient sea level rises during a warm spell in the last Ice Age were quite possibly only about 1.2 metres higher than they are today.

Since, between 128,000 and 117,000 years ago, the world was perhaps as much as 2°C warmer than it would become for most of human history, this really is encouraging. Right now, climate scientists project a rise of somewhere between 60cm and 1.5m later this century, as global temperature levels rise 2°C or more above those normal before the Industrial Revolution.

But until now, geological orthodoxy has proposed that during the last “interglacial” or sudden warming, sea levels rose by six metres or possibly even nine metres. This could only happen if the Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets had collapsed.

And although these are indeed already losing ice at an accelerating rate, it doesn’t seem possible for such a colossal quantity of ice to melt in only a handful of decades.

Missing factor

So there was a mismatch between the predictions of the world’s scientists and the apparent evidence from the past.

Now a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a solution: calculations about past sea level heights may have been perhaps too gloomy because they did not fully factor in sea level’s other great uncertainty — the movement of the continents lapped by the sea.

This bedevils all predictions about sea level rise. Seas rise and fall with global temperatures, but so do landmasses. Right now, although sea level is creeping up at a rate measured in millimetres per year, the land under a number of great coastal cities is sinking dramatically, as humans build  ever more massive cities and abstract ever more groundwater. So predictions warn that millions could be at risk of coastal flooding.

But there is another, deeper reason for the uncertainty: as rising temperatures remove the massive burden of ice from glaciated land, and wind and rain erode mountains, so the subterranean rocks in the Earth’s mantle, far below the crust, respond by inching upwards. Even the seemingly solid rocks are elastic, subsiding under pressure and rising when the mass is removed.

“Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood”

All this means that, unless researchers can make an accurate estimate of land movement as well, sea level estimates are riven with uncertainties.

So a team from Columbia University in the US has looked at evidence of sea level rise and fall preserved in fossilised reefs and dunes in just one 1200km chain of islands − the Bahamas in the Atlantic − to come up with a new set of projections.

In the next 100 years, sea levels will rise by about 1.2 metres. This could be too modest: sea levels could just possibly rise by perhaps 5.3 metres, but this doesn’t seem likely. And a nine-metre rise is highly improbable.

“To get to nine metres of sea level rise, you’d have to melt large parts of Greenland and Antarctica,” said Blake Dyer, of the university’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Tricky calculation

“This suggests that didn’t happen. So maybe we should feel not so bad about the future. On the other hand, our lower estimate is bad, and our upper one is really bad.”

At the heart of the puzzle is a phenomenon known to geophysicists as isostasy: vast tracts of continental landmass have been heaving up and down, imperceptibly, over periods of tens of thousands of years, in response to ice and erosion.

So calculating sea level rise and fall when the thing on which sea level measurements are recorded − the land − is itself always shifting becomes tricky. That has always been why climate projections of sea levels contain a range of forecasts, rather than a hard number.

The argument is that changes recorded along the north-south lie of the Bahamas would provide a new and more sophisticated way of reconstructing sea heights in the relatively recent past.

Melting not guaranteed

The study doesn’t settle the question: estimates of past sea level change on a dramatic scale come from many parts of the planet, and glaciologists still have to reconstruct the rate at which the northern ice, for instance, may have retreated while the southern ice cap continued to advance during the last interglacial: that too would have limited sea level rise.

“This is still a question. Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood,” said Maureen Raymo, director of the Earth Observatory and a co-author.

Human carbon emissions are now heating the globe far more rapidly and evenly than during the last interglacial, so there is no guarantee of any melting at different rates in two hemispheres

“That makes it more difficult to apply the results to today. The easy thing to say would be, ‘Oh we showed that sea levels were not so bad, and that’s terrific.’  The harder answer, the more honest answer, is that maybe things were different then, and we’re not in the clear.” − Climate News Network

Real cost of net zero carbon could be mass hunger

Governments and companies are happy to make net zero carbon pledges. Their real cost could be ruinous for the poor.

LONDON, 10 August, 2021 − Plans for removing carbon from the atmosphere, if they proved workable, could exact a lethal price from those least able to afford it: starvation for the world’s poorest people. Anti-poverty campaigners say implementing some net zero carbon schemes could devastate the prospects for global agriculture.

A report by Oxfam International, the global campaign to end poverty, says one of the favoured schemes, planting trees, is totally unrealistic, as it would require 1.6 billion hectares of new forests, an area five times the size of India, and greater than all the existing farmland on the planet.

To prevent irreversible damage to the climate and limit temperature rise to the internationally agreed target of 1.5°C above historic levels, governments need to be on track by 2030 to cut carbon emissions by 45% from their 2010 levels, according to the UNFCCC, the United Nations climate change convention.

It says countries’ current plans to cut emissions are inadequate to limit warning to the more lenient 2°C target agreed at its meeting in Paris in 2015, let alone to the 1.5°C that scientists say is necessary. Oxfam says the current plans will achieve only a 1% reduction in emissions, a long way from the 45% that is needed.

Risky gamble

The current lack of governmental action on climate is undermining the efforts of Oxfam and many others to tackle inequality and poverty around the world, while the climate crisis is worsening the humanitarian crisis, hunger and migration.

Nafkote Dabi, Oxfam International’s climate change lead, said: “‘Net zero’ should be based on ‘real zero’ targets that require drastic and genuine cuts in emissions, phasing out fossil fuels and investing in clean energy and supply chains. Instead, too many ‘net zero’ commitments provide a fig leaf for climate inaction. They are a dangerous gamble with our planet’s future.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way. Under current plans, there is simply not enough land in the world to realise them all. They could instead spark even more hunger, land grabs and human rights abuses.”

Separately Patricia Espinosa, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, also expressed concern at what she said was governments’ failure to be realistic on net zero carbon.

Every government is supposed to have submitted its “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) by 31July, stating the emissions it plans to make to contribute to the target of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Only 110 of the 197 governments that signed up in Paris to provide one had done so by the deadline.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way”

“Recent extreme heat waves, droughts and floods across the globe are a dire warning that much more needs to be done, and much more quickly, to change our current pathway. This can only be achieved through more ambitious NDCs”, Patricia Espinosa said.

The Oxfam report says the world’s three largest carbon emitters − China, the US and the EU − have pledged to reach net zero by mid-century, but that their plans are vague and unverifiable.

Some plans − Colombia’s, for example − require reforesting on a grand scale. Its forests are still disappearing alarmingly fast, but it pledges to reforest one billion hectares of land by 2030, although there is no sign of that happening.

One-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies now have net zero goals that depend on land-based carbon sinks. Four of the world’s largest oil companies − BP, Eni, Shell and TotalEnergies − would have to forest an area of land twice the size of the UK to achieve net zero by 2050.

Trusting technology

But unlikely pledges on forests are not the only weaknesses of government and corporation planning to make net zero carbon a possibility. For example the UK, host to November’s COP-26 climate talks, relies heavily on unproven technologies that will magically be developed and built in time to reach net zero by 2050.

These include a new generation of nuclear power stations that are still at the early development stage. The UK is also relying on large-scale carbon capture and storage – a long-promised technology, many of whose bids to succeed have been abandoned as too expensive and impractical. The government hopes as well to replace fossil fuel gas with green hydrogen produced from surplus renewable energy and nuclear power – a hugely ambitious idea.

Meanwhile job-producing and much-needed plans to insulate homes and improve building standards, promised both last year and this, have been postponed again.

Although this is the quickest and easiest way of reducing the UK’s largest source of emissions, the contribution from buildings, the government has met opposition from house builders, many of whom are large donors to the ruling Conservative party’s funds. − Climate News Network

Governments and companies are happy to make net zero carbon pledges. Their real cost could be ruinous for the poor.

LONDON, 10 August, 2021 − Plans for removing carbon from the atmosphere, if they proved workable, could exact a lethal price from those least able to afford it: starvation for the world’s poorest people. Anti-poverty campaigners say implementing some net zero carbon schemes could devastate the prospects for global agriculture.

A report by Oxfam International, the global campaign to end poverty, says one of the favoured schemes, planting trees, is totally unrealistic, as it would require 1.6 billion hectares of new forests, an area five times the size of India, and greater than all the existing farmland on the planet.

To prevent irreversible damage to the climate and limit temperature rise to the internationally agreed target of 1.5°C above historic levels, governments need to be on track by 2030 to cut carbon emissions by 45% from their 2010 levels, according to the UNFCCC, the United Nations climate change convention.

It says countries’ current plans to cut emissions are inadequate to limit warning to the more lenient 2°C target agreed at its meeting in Paris in 2015, let alone to the 1.5°C that scientists say is necessary. Oxfam says the current plans will achieve only a 1% reduction in emissions, a long way from the 45% that is needed.

Risky gamble

The current lack of governmental action on climate is undermining the efforts of Oxfam and many others to tackle inequality and poverty around the world, while the climate crisis is worsening the humanitarian crisis, hunger and migration.

Nafkote Dabi, Oxfam International’s climate change lead, said: “‘Net zero’ should be based on ‘real zero’ targets that require drastic and genuine cuts in emissions, phasing out fossil fuels and investing in clean energy and supply chains. Instead, too many ‘net zero’ commitments provide a fig leaf for climate inaction. They are a dangerous gamble with our planet’s future.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way. Under current plans, there is simply not enough land in the world to realise them all. They could instead spark even more hunger, land grabs and human rights abuses.”

Separately Patricia Espinosa, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, also expressed concern at what she said was governments’ failure to be realistic on net zero carbon.

Every government is supposed to have submitted its “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) by 31July, stating the emissions it plans to make to contribute to the target of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Only 110 of the 197 governments that signed up in Paris to provide one had done so by the deadline.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way”

“Recent extreme heat waves, droughts and floods across the globe are a dire warning that much more needs to be done, and much more quickly, to change our current pathway. This can only be achieved through more ambitious NDCs”, Patricia Espinosa said.

The Oxfam report says the world’s three largest carbon emitters − China, the US and the EU − have pledged to reach net zero by mid-century, but that their plans are vague and unverifiable.

Some plans − Colombia’s, for example − require reforesting on a grand scale. Its forests are still disappearing alarmingly fast, but it pledges to reforest one billion hectares of land by 2030, although there is no sign of that happening.

One-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies now have net zero goals that depend on land-based carbon sinks. Four of the world’s largest oil companies − BP, Eni, Shell and TotalEnergies − would have to forest an area of land twice the size of the UK to achieve net zero by 2050.

Trusting technology

But unlikely pledges on forests are not the only weaknesses of government and corporation planning to make net zero carbon a possibility. For example the UK, host to November’s COP-26 climate talks, relies heavily on unproven technologies that will magically be developed and built in time to reach net zero by 2050.

These include a new generation of nuclear power stations that are still at the early development stage. The UK is also relying on large-scale carbon capture and storage – a long-promised technology, many of whose bids to succeed have been abandoned as too expensive and impractical. The government hopes as well to replace fossil fuel gas with green hydrogen produced from surplus renewable energy and nuclear power – a hugely ambitious idea.

Meanwhile job-producing and much-needed plans to insulate homes and improve building standards, promised both last year and this, have been postponed again.

Although this is the quickest and easiest way of reducing the UK’s largest source of emissions, the contribution from buildings, the government has met opposition from house builders, many of whom are large donors to the ruling Conservative party’s funds. − Climate News Network

Gulf Stream puzzles science − but don’t panic yet

Could an ocean circulation system − the Gulf Stream, say − sort of  shut down? And what would that do to the world’s climate?

LONDON, 9 August, 2021 − Once again, new research has warned that one of the great engines of global climate, known variously as the Atlantic conveyor belt, a current that spans the entire ocean from the surface to its lowest depths, or (not very accurately) the Gulf Stream, could be about to falter.

That is, thanks to global heating, it could be about to switch from a relatively stable state to a “critical transition” towards a much feebler regime.

If it does so, that’s bad news for Europe, because part of what oceanographers call the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is the Gulf Stream, a surface flow that brings tropical warmth to what would otherwise be chilly north-western European nations.

And it could be very bad news for billions in tropical Africa, Asia and South America, because it could trigger changes in the tropical monsoon system.

Repeated warnings

Climate scientists have been measuring indicators of possible change in the ocean circulation system for at least two decades: any shift in ocean behaviour could signal a tipping point, a serious shift in climate for the terrestrial world.

The current brings warm, dense salty water north to the Arctic, where it meets less dense meltwater from Greenland and the Arctic glaciers and dives to the ocean floor, to flow south all the way to Antarctica before it surfaces again.

Researchers have warned on an almost yearly basis that as greenhouse gas emissions grow, and global temperatures creep up, the ocean currents could become less stable: Europe’s relatively mellow climate could cool; it could do so some time this century; and when it did, it would disrupt global weather patterns.

The latest study, in the journal Nature Climate Change, is partly based on long-term climate data and reconstructions of past climates, themselves based on ice cores, fossil evidence and ocean deposits.

“If AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system”

These suggest that AMOC can exist in a stable state, or a weak one: more to the point, as it weakens, it could suddenly shift or tip into a new circulation mode. And what could be one of the agents of sudden change might be the increasing flow of cold fresh water from the warming Arctic.

This is consistent with many of the observations of the last decade. What isn’t certain is whether a sudden change is imminent. Is the seeming weakening of the flow part of a long-term natural pattern, or does it herald a dramatic loss of stability? What is the Gulf Stream really up to?

“The difference is crucial, because the loss of dynamical stability would imply that AMOC has approached its critical threshold, beyond which a substantial and in practice likely irreversible transition to the weak mode could occur,” said Niklas Boers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, the author of the research.

“I wouldn’t have expected that the excessive amounts of fresh water added in the course of the last century would already produce such a response in the overturning circulation.”

Winners and losers

Dr Boers calls for more and more detailed research, and for better climate models that would allow climate scientists to make a more precise judgment of the consequences of what could be a shutdown of ocean circulation. The case is not closed, and Professor Tim Palmer of the University of Oxford, UK, points out that the study is based on indirect evidence.

Direct observations of the deep ocean current do not, he says, suggest that the Atlantic conveyor belt could be close to collapse or shutdown. But he too has argued for a concerted international effort to build better computer simulations of the planetary climate system. This could help to show what is happening to the Gulf Stream.

“The Gulf Stream is forced by atmospheric winds and these will continue to blow. If the AMOC does shut down, the Gulf Stream will flow a little further south than where it flows now. This will lead to cooler temperatures over the North Atlantic and hence over Northern Europe. This may help offset the effects of climate change in these regions (and potentially help stabilise Greenland ice loss − which would be a good thing),” Professor Palmer said.

“On the other hand, if AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system and the moisture flow into the Amazon.” − Climate News Network

Could an ocean circulation system − the Gulf Stream, say − sort of  shut down? And what would that do to the world’s climate?

LONDON, 9 August, 2021 − Once again, new research has warned that one of the great engines of global climate, known variously as the Atlantic conveyor belt, a current that spans the entire ocean from the surface to its lowest depths, or (not very accurately) the Gulf Stream, could be about to falter.

That is, thanks to global heating, it could be about to switch from a relatively stable state to a “critical transition” towards a much feebler regime.

If it does so, that’s bad news for Europe, because part of what oceanographers call the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is the Gulf Stream, a surface flow that brings tropical warmth to what would otherwise be chilly north-western European nations.

And it could be very bad news for billions in tropical Africa, Asia and South America, because it could trigger changes in the tropical monsoon system.

Repeated warnings

Climate scientists have been measuring indicators of possible change in the ocean circulation system for at least two decades: any shift in ocean behaviour could signal a tipping point, a serious shift in climate for the terrestrial world.

The current brings warm, dense salty water north to the Arctic, where it meets less dense meltwater from Greenland and the Arctic glaciers and dives to the ocean floor, to flow south all the way to Antarctica before it surfaces again.

Researchers have warned on an almost yearly basis that as greenhouse gas emissions grow, and global temperatures creep up, the ocean currents could become less stable: Europe’s relatively mellow climate could cool; it could do so some time this century; and when it did, it would disrupt global weather patterns.

The latest study, in the journal Nature Climate Change, is partly based on long-term climate data and reconstructions of past climates, themselves based on ice cores, fossil evidence and ocean deposits.

“If AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system”

These suggest that AMOC can exist in a stable state, or a weak one: more to the point, as it weakens, it could suddenly shift or tip into a new circulation mode. And what could be one of the agents of sudden change might be the increasing flow of cold fresh water from the warming Arctic.

This is consistent with many of the observations of the last decade. What isn’t certain is whether a sudden change is imminent. Is the seeming weakening of the flow part of a long-term natural pattern, or does it herald a dramatic loss of stability? What is the Gulf Stream really up to?

“The difference is crucial, because the loss of dynamical stability would imply that AMOC has approached its critical threshold, beyond which a substantial and in practice likely irreversible transition to the weak mode could occur,” said Niklas Boers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, the author of the research.

“I wouldn’t have expected that the excessive amounts of fresh water added in the course of the last century would already produce such a response in the overturning circulation.”

Winners and losers

Dr Boers calls for more and more detailed research, and for better climate models that would allow climate scientists to make a more precise judgment of the consequences of what could be a shutdown of ocean circulation. The case is not closed, and Professor Tim Palmer of the University of Oxford, UK, points out that the study is based on indirect evidence.

Direct observations of the deep ocean current do not, he says, suggest that the Atlantic conveyor belt could be close to collapse or shutdown. But he too has argued for a concerted international effort to build better computer simulations of the planetary climate system. This could help to show what is happening to the Gulf Stream.

“The Gulf Stream is forced by atmospheric winds and these will continue to blow. If the AMOC does shut down, the Gulf Stream will flow a little further south than where it flows now. This will lead to cooler temperatures over the North Atlantic and hence over Northern Europe. This may help offset the effects of climate change in these regions (and potentially help stabilise Greenland ice loss − which would be a good thing),” Professor Palmer said.

“On the other hand, if AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system and the moisture flow into the Amazon.” − Climate News Network

UK says a failure to act on the climate ‘is justified’

Three months before hosting the UN conference, COP-26, the UK says a failure to act on the climate treaty can be justified.

LONDON, 6 August, 2021 − In a remarkable challenge to the global consensus that the climate crisis is an urgent threat to the planet, the  United Kingdom has argued that a failure to act on the climate treaty agreed in 2015 can be justified.

Its stance is all the more bizarre as in less than three months the UK government is to host the crucial United Nations climate conference, COP-26, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, starting on 1 November.

The government’s case set out in its response to a legal action brought in May by three young Britons, Adetola Stephanie Onamade, Marina Tricks and Jerry Amokwandoh, who said their human rights were being breached by the government’s failure to act decisively on the climate crisis.

The action is also being brought by Plan B, the legal charity behind a failed attempt to block the expansion of Heathrow airport, and its director, Tim Crosland.

The government claims that it is doing enough to comply legally with the Paris Agreement, concluded six years ago in the French capital. Even if it is not, it argues, there are no grounds for the courts to intervene: it is for it alone to weigh the economic and environmental arguments.

In its reply to the claimants’ case, it says of its climate policies: “Any inadvertent and indirect discriminatory impacts would fall well within the UK’s margin of appreciation, and be objectively and reasonably justified, if they could be established by the claimants.

“I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage”

Tim Crosland said: “The Government’s real position is that the devastating, disproportionate and discriminatory impacts for the younger generation and for whole regions of the world − those who have contributed least to the crisis − can be ‘objectively and reasonably justified’.

“Presumably, that means it considers our young people ‘collateral damage’ in its pursuit of vast short-term profits for the few. But I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage.”

The government claims to be responding to the advice it has received from the Climate Change Committee, an independent body advising it on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The joint foreword to the Committee’s latest report, however, tells a different story. It says: “It is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen [from the government] in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities  . . . We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices.

“Our planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments.”

Bid for recognition

The Glasgow conference will be an acutely anxious occasion for the British prime minister Boris Johnson, who is committed to making good on the UK’s attempts to be recognised as a world leader on the climate crisis.

The meeting’s main aim is to put flesh on the bones of the Paris Agreement, reached with the backing of 195 of the world’s governments. That planned a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions progressively: Glasgow’s task is to make the real progress which Paris did little more than foreshadow.

If Johnson can leave Glasgow with substantial progress assured, he will be able to lay claim to success of a sort which has eluded his predecessors for 20 years or more. If he fails, he will struggle to be taken seriously again either at home or in most foreign capitals

The United Kingdom has a record that deserves at least qualified praise, notably for its commitment, announced in April, to cut carbon emissions by 78% before 2035. That date is 15 years earlier than the target date already in place, and if the government ensures that it is achieved it really will count for something. But that is a massive “if”.

Leadership material?

There are questions too over its commitment to ending the exploitation and use of fossil fuels fast enough and to improving adaptation to rising temperatures.

It is easy to criticise Johnson for the deficiencies in his climate policies, and for his patchy record in implementing many of them. He is not alone in his failure so far to act with the vision and energy the crisis demands.

But that’s what we reasonably expect from genuine leaders: an ability to be different, to step beyond business-as-usual to something so radically different that few of us can even imagine it.

If Johnson can show that sort of world-leading ability in Glasgow he will confound his critics, and make the world a little safer too. The “ifs” grow more demanding with every repetition. − Climate News Network

Three months before hosting the UN conference, COP-26, the UK says a failure to act on the climate treaty can be justified.

LONDON, 6 August, 2021 − In a remarkable challenge to the global consensus that the climate crisis is an urgent threat to the planet, the  United Kingdom has argued that a failure to act on the climate treaty agreed in 2015 can be justified.

Its stance is all the more bizarre as in less than three months the UK government is to host the crucial United Nations climate conference, COP-26, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, starting on 1 November.

The government’s case set out in its response to a legal action brought in May by three young Britons, Adetola Stephanie Onamade, Marina Tricks and Jerry Amokwandoh, who said their human rights were being breached by the government’s failure to act decisively on the climate crisis.

The action is also being brought by Plan B, the legal charity behind a failed attempt to block the expansion of Heathrow airport, and its director, Tim Crosland.

The government claims that it is doing enough to comply legally with the Paris Agreement, concluded six years ago in the French capital. Even if it is not, it argues, there are no grounds for the courts to intervene: it is for it alone to weigh the economic and environmental arguments.

In its reply to the claimants’ case, it says of its climate policies: “Any inadvertent and indirect discriminatory impacts would fall well within the UK’s margin of appreciation, and be objectively and reasonably justified, if they could be established by the claimants.

“I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage”

Tim Crosland said: “The Government’s real position is that the devastating, disproportionate and discriminatory impacts for the younger generation and for whole regions of the world − those who have contributed least to the crisis − can be ‘objectively and reasonably justified’.

“Presumably, that means it considers our young people ‘collateral damage’ in its pursuit of vast short-term profits for the few. But I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage.”

The government claims to be responding to the advice it has received from the Climate Change Committee, an independent body advising it on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The joint foreword to the Committee’s latest report, however, tells a different story. It says: “It is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen [from the government] in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities  . . . We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices.

“Our planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments.”

Bid for recognition

The Glasgow conference will be an acutely anxious occasion for the British prime minister Boris Johnson, who is committed to making good on the UK’s attempts to be recognised as a world leader on the climate crisis.

The meeting’s main aim is to put flesh on the bones of the Paris Agreement, reached with the backing of 195 of the world’s governments. That planned a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions progressively: Glasgow’s task is to make the real progress which Paris did little more than foreshadow.

If Johnson can leave Glasgow with substantial progress assured, he will be able to lay claim to success of a sort which has eluded his predecessors for 20 years or more. If he fails, he will struggle to be taken seriously again either at home or in most foreign capitals

The United Kingdom has a record that deserves at least qualified praise, notably for its commitment, announced in April, to cut carbon emissions by 78% before 2035. That date is 15 years earlier than the target date already in place, and if the government ensures that it is achieved it really will count for something. But that is a massive “if”.

Leadership material?

There are questions too over its commitment to ending the exploitation and use of fossil fuels fast enough and to improving adaptation to rising temperatures.

It is easy to criticise Johnson for the deficiencies in his climate policies, and for his patchy record in implementing many of them. He is not alone in his failure so far to act with the vision and energy the crisis demands.

But that’s what we reasonably expect from genuine leaders: an ability to be different, to step beyond business-as-usual to something so radically different that few of us can even imagine it.

If Johnson can show that sort of world-leading ability in Glasgow he will confound his critics, and make the world a little safer too. The “ifs” grow more demanding with every repetition. − Climate News Network