Tag Archives: Global threats

Under-nutrition will grow in warmer world

Tomorrow’s world will not just be hungrier: it will increasingly face under-nutrition. More carbon dioxide means harvests with lower protein, iron and zinc.

LONDON, 1 August, 2019 − Climate change driven by ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do more than just limit harvests. It will increase under-nutrition, making the planet’s staple foods less nourishing.

Put simply, the higher the use of fossil fuels, the greater the growth in the numbers of anaemic mothers, malnourished babies and stunted children, and the higher the count of overall deaths from malnutrition.

More than 2 million children of five years or less die each year from conditions associated with protein deficiency. Zinc deficiency is linked to 100,000 deaths a year, and iron levels to 200,000 deaths a year among young children.

And things will get worse. Over the next three decades, according to a new study in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, the combination of shocks from a hotter, stormier, more extreme world and ever-higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will combine to make plant proteins, zinc and iron less available.

By 2050, levels of protein available per head could fall by 19.5% and of iron and zinc by 14.4% and 14.6% respectively. That is a fall of – for all three vital elements of survival – almost one fifth.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide”

Researchers warn that even though agricultural techniques have improved, even though markets are better at distributing food surpluses, and even though the extra carbon dioxide will act to add fertility to crops if atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise, dietary protein, iron and zinc will all fall by significant percentages in the harvests of 2050.

This will hold true for many of the world’s most important staples, among them wheat, rice, maize, barley, potatoes, soybeans and vegetables.

And many nations that already experience higher levels of malnutrition – in South Asia, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the former Soviet Union − will continue to be disproportionately affected.

“We’ve made a lot of progress reducing under-nutrition around the world recently but global population growth over the next 30 years will require increasing production of foods that provide sufficient nutrients,” said Timothy Sulser of the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the researchers.

Plant-based diet

“These findings suggest that climate change could slow progress on improvements in global nutrition by simply making key nutrients less available than they would be without it.”

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals: it has at least twice comprehensively addressed aspects of climate change. At the start of this year it found that with a plant-based diet, it would be in theory possible to feed, and properly nourish, the 10 billion population expected later this century.

Late last year it also warned that, just in this century alone, extremes of temperature had threatened the health and economic growth of an additional 157 million people.

The latest study is a confirmation of earlier findings: other scientists have already warned that protein levels and micronutrient properties will be diminished in a greenhouse world.

Separate research has found that both the rice and wheat harvests of tomorrow could have less food value.

Famine threat

A third study has found that global fruit and vegetable production is already not enough to sustain a healthy population. And researchers have repeatedly warned that ever more-intense and frequent natural shocks that accompany global heating – floods, heat waves, drought, windstorm and so on – threaten food harvests worldwide and could even precipitate the kind of global famines last seen in the 19th century.

The researchers limited their horizon to 2050: they warn that, on present trends, problems with food nutrition levels are only likely to get worse in the decades beyond.

They also point out that the availability of nutrients is only part of the problem: the poorest also need access to clean water, sanitation and education to take advantage of any improved diet.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide,” Professor Sulser said. − Climate News Network

Tomorrow’s world will not just be hungrier: it will increasingly face under-nutrition. More carbon dioxide means harvests with lower protein, iron and zinc.

LONDON, 1 August, 2019 − Climate change driven by ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do more than just limit harvests. It will increase under-nutrition, making the planet’s staple foods less nourishing.

Put simply, the higher the use of fossil fuels, the greater the growth in the numbers of anaemic mothers, malnourished babies and stunted children, and the higher the count of overall deaths from malnutrition.

More than 2 million children of five years or less die each year from conditions associated with protein deficiency. Zinc deficiency is linked to 100,000 deaths a year, and iron levels to 200,000 deaths a year among young children.

And things will get worse. Over the next three decades, according to a new study in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, the combination of shocks from a hotter, stormier, more extreme world and ever-higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will combine to make plant proteins, zinc and iron less available.

By 2050, levels of protein available per head could fall by 19.5% and of iron and zinc by 14.4% and 14.6% respectively. That is a fall of – for all three vital elements of survival – almost one fifth.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide”

Researchers warn that even though agricultural techniques have improved, even though markets are better at distributing food surpluses, and even though the extra carbon dioxide will act to add fertility to crops if atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise, dietary protein, iron and zinc will all fall by significant percentages in the harvests of 2050.

This will hold true for many of the world’s most important staples, among them wheat, rice, maize, barley, potatoes, soybeans and vegetables.

And many nations that already experience higher levels of malnutrition – in South Asia, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the former Soviet Union − will continue to be disproportionately affected.

“We’ve made a lot of progress reducing under-nutrition around the world recently but global population growth over the next 30 years will require increasing production of foods that provide sufficient nutrients,” said Timothy Sulser of the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the researchers.

Plant-based diet

“These findings suggest that climate change could slow progress on improvements in global nutrition by simply making key nutrients less available than they would be without it.”

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals: it has at least twice comprehensively addressed aspects of climate change. At the start of this year it found that with a plant-based diet, it would be in theory possible to feed, and properly nourish, the 10 billion population expected later this century.

Late last year it also warned that, just in this century alone, extremes of temperature had threatened the health and economic growth of an additional 157 million people.

The latest study is a confirmation of earlier findings: other scientists have already warned that protein levels and micronutrient properties will be diminished in a greenhouse world.

Separate research has found that both the rice and wheat harvests of tomorrow could have less food value.

Famine threat

A third study has found that global fruit and vegetable production is already not enough to sustain a healthy population. And researchers have repeatedly warned that ever more-intense and frequent natural shocks that accompany global heating – floods, heat waves, drought, windstorm and so on – threaten food harvests worldwide and could even precipitate the kind of global famines last seen in the 19th century.

The researchers limited their horizon to 2050: they warn that, on present trends, problems with food nutrition levels are only likely to get worse in the decades beyond.

They also point out that the availability of nutrients is only part of the problem: the poorest also need access to clean water, sanitation and education to take advantage of any improved diet.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide,” Professor Sulser said. − Climate News Network

Acid oceans may trigger mass extinction

A stable carbon cycle means life goes on. Too much carbon could wipe out many species. And acid oceans could hold the key.

LONDON, 23 July, 2019 − Catastrophically widespread die-offs of many creatures could be inevitable if human activities continue to lead to more acid oceans, a new study suggests.

Mass extinction may not be an enduring mystery. Instead, it may be an intrinsic property of the carbon cycle. Once levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in the oceans reach a certain threshold, life undergoes dramatic and catastrophic change.

If a US mathematician is right – and his argument is based on statistical reasoning and the evidence in the marine sediments – then once the seas become too acidic for marine organisms to form carbonate shells, a cascade of extinction begins.

And, he warns, the “unusually strong but geologically brief duration” of manmade carbon dioxide increase in the oceans can be matched with slow but devastating extinctions in the past.

In short, human combustion of fossil fuels, combined with the destruction of the forests, could be building up to extinctions on a scale so colossal that they will be visible in the fossil record hundreds of millions of years from now.

After a certain point, the carbon cycle will take over and decide life’s direction. It happened many times long before the emergence of the human species, and it could happen again, according to a new study in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s a positive feedback. More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. Is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”

“Once we are over the threshold, how we got there may not matter,” said Daniel Rothman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Once you get over it, you’re dealing with how the Earth works, and it goes on its own ride.”

Professor Rothman developed his hypothesis in 2017, in the journal Science Advances, after he analysed 31 changes in the makeup of carbonate sediments laid down over the last 542 million years, and connected five great extinctions not just with carbon dioxide levels but with the rate at which these increased.

He may be for the moment a lone voice in linking four of the five major extinctions with critical levels of oceanic acidification as a consequence of a carbon dioxide threshold. But climate scientists and palaeontologists have been looking at possible links between carbon and extinction for decades.

They have also repeatedly warned that humans are about to precipitate a sixth mass extinction, chiefly on the basis that we are destroying natural habitat and erasing the conditions in which millions of species – many of them still not identified – were once able to flourish.

The carbon factor

But climate change driven by ever-increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels – powered in turn by ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels – has also been a factor.

Whatever the risk to species or ecosystems, biologists and conservationists have warned that climate change driven by global heating can only make things worse.

And the more carefully researchers have looked at evidence of earlier catastrophic extinctions, the more bygone climate change has revealed itself. What caused the most dramatic and unequivocal of these – the “great dying” at the close of the Permian – is still hotly debated, but atmospheric conditions in one form or another have been repeatedly invoked and researchers have repeatedly drawn lessons for today.

But arguments so far have settled on whether such extinctions are a consequence of slow but inexorable episodes of volcanic discharge or some other geological shift.

Forget the trigger

Professor Rothman’s point is that the trigger itself may not be the important thing: what decides the fate of life on Earth is the level of carbon in the oceans and the rate at which it increases.

Once levels of acidification in the upper ocean reach a certain critical threshold, life is in for major disruption. If marine creatures cannot form shells, they are at risk. But even more dangerously, shells sink to the ocean floor, effectively removing carbon from circulation.

If there are fewer calcifying organisms, then less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and oceans become even more acidic. A vicious cycle has begun.

“It’s a positive feedback,” Professor Rothman said. “More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. The question, from a mathematical point of view is, is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”

Balance restored

In his mathematical model, once carbon levels reached a critical threshold, a cascade of positive feedbacks amplified the effect. Severe ocean acidification set in.

The effect was not permanent. After tens of thousands of years, the carbon cycle did slip back to equilibrium and life could evolve and adapt again.

Carbon is now entering the oceans at an unprecedented rate, over what – in geological terms – is a very brief timespan. If human-triggered greenhouse gas emissions cross a critical threshold, the consequences could be as severe as any of the previous mass extinctions.

“It’s difficult to know how things will end up, given what is happening today,” he said. “But we are probably close to a critical threshold. Any spike would reach its maximum after about 10,000 years. Hopefully, that would give us time to find a solution.” − Climate News Network

A stable carbon cycle means life goes on. Too much carbon could wipe out many species. And acid oceans could hold the key.

LONDON, 23 July, 2019 − Catastrophically widespread die-offs of many creatures could be inevitable if human activities continue to lead to more acid oceans, a new study suggests.

Mass extinction may not be an enduring mystery. Instead, it may be an intrinsic property of the carbon cycle. Once levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in the oceans reach a certain threshold, life undergoes dramatic and catastrophic change.

If a US mathematician is right – and his argument is based on statistical reasoning and the evidence in the marine sediments – then once the seas become too acidic for marine organisms to form carbonate shells, a cascade of extinction begins.

And, he warns, the “unusually strong but geologically brief duration” of manmade carbon dioxide increase in the oceans can be matched with slow but devastating extinctions in the past.

In short, human combustion of fossil fuels, combined with the destruction of the forests, could be building up to extinctions on a scale so colossal that they will be visible in the fossil record hundreds of millions of years from now.

After a certain point, the carbon cycle will take over and decide life’s direction. It happened many times long before the emergence of the human species, and it could happen again, according to a new study in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s a positive feedback. More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. Is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”

“Once we are over the threshold, how we got there may not matter,” said Daniel Rothman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Once you get over it, you’re dealing with how the Earth works, and it goes on its own ride.”

Professor Rothman developed his hypothesis in 2017, in the journal Science Advances, after he analysed 31 changes in the makeup of carbonate sediments laid down over the last 542 million years, and connected five great extinctions not just with carbon dioxide levels but with the rate at which these increased.

He may be for the moment a lone voice in linking four of the five major extinctions with critical levels of oceanic acidification as a consequence of a carbon dioxide threshold. But climate scientists and palaeontologists have been looking at possible links between carbon and extinction for decades.

They have also repeatedly warned that humans are about to precipitate a sixth mass extinction, chiefly on the basis that we are destroying natural habitat and erasing the conditions in which millions of species – many of them still not identified – were once able to flourish.

The carbon factor

But climate change driven by ever-increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels – powered in turn by ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels – has also been a factor.

Whatever the risk to species or ecosystems, biologists and conservationists have warned that climate change driven by global heating can only make things worse.

And the more carefully researchers have looked at evidence of earlier catastrophic extinctions, the more bygone climate change has revealed itself. What caused the most dramatic and unequivocal of these – the “great dying” at the close of the Permian – is still hotly debated, but atmospheric conditions in one form or another have been repeatedly invoked and researchers have repeatedly drawn lessons for today.

But arguments so far have settled on whether such extinctions are a consequence of slow but inexorable episodes of volcanic discharge or some other geological shift.

Forget the trigger

Professor Rothman’s point is that the trigger itself may not be the important thing: what decides the fate of life on Earth is the level of carbon in the oceans and the rate at which it increases.

Once levels of acidification in the upper ocean reach a certain critical threshold, life is in for major disruption. If marine creatures cannot form shells, they are at risk. But even more dangerously, shells sink to the ocean floor, effectively removing carbon from circulation.

If there are fewer calcifying organisms, then less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and oceans become even more acidic. A vicious cycle has begun.

“It’s a positive feedback,” Professor Rothman said. “More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. The question, from a mathematical point of view is, is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”

Balance restored

In his mathematical model, once carbon levels reached a critical threshold, a cascade of positive feedbacks amplified the effect. Severe ocean acidification set in.

The effect was not permanent. After tens of thousands of years, the carbon cycle did slip back to equilibrium and life could evolve and adapt again.

Carbon is now entering the oceans at an unprecedented rate, over what – in geological terms – is a very brief timespan. If human-triggered greenhouse gas emissions cross a critical threshold, the consequences could be as severe as any of the previous mass extinctions.

“It’s difficult to know how things will end up, given what is happening today,” he said. “But we are probably close to a critical threshold. Any spike would reach its maximum after about 10,000 years. Hopefully, that would give us time to find a solution.” − Climate News Network

Keep climate teaching real and honest

Many schools now routinely include climate teaching. A British teacher says her profession should tell the full story as directly as it can.

LONDON, 4 July, 2019 − There’s no escaping climate teaching. Gone are the days when the core curriculum at most schools used to consist of reading, writing and ’rithmetic, and not an awful lot more. It’s increasingly rare today to find any that don’t include the facts of life in this warming world.

But, as global youth concern over the deepening crisis manifests itself in the protests of Fridays for Future, which has earned the backing of leading climate scientists, how do teachers fulfil our obligation to encourage pupils to treat the climate as responsibly as it deserves?

What are we teaching, and how are we teaching it? What are we trying to achieve?

The past twenty years in primary and tertiary education have taught me that the answer is, and always has been, quite simple; we must keep the content real and we must teach honestly.

That means doing away with tokenistic “eco weeks” or days, and embedding climate change teaching in the day-to-day reality of core subjects.

‘Cute little projects’

There’s no doubt that special days and events are fun to do and a welcome break from teaching to the test that is becoming ever more prevalent. But they become meaningless if the message and seriousness of taking action on climate change is forgotten, or if old habits prevail.

When I saw my son learning about “rainforests” in the way I had thirty years previously, our profession’s responsibility struck home to me.

It’s not OK to treat these topics − “oceans”, “rainforests”, “habitats” or whatever − as cute little projects that end in a good assembly or great classroom display, or to have litter-picking days and then ignore our children as they emerge from the cinema leaving a trail of popcorn boxes and cups for others to clear up.

That’s not teaching that’s real and honest. But there are many resources to help us make it so.

Perhaps one of the greatest sources of support comes from organisations such as Survival, World Wide Fund for Nature, Sustainability and Environmental EducationGreenpeace, Oxfam, and the magazine New Scientist.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”

There’s an argument that if our actions support people, then they will protect their environment. Survival is a great example of this. It supports indigenous people living in many threatened areas. As teachers in a small international school in Malawi, we wondered how to ensure our teaching about rainforests was indeed real and honest. We used Survival’s bank of videos and joined their campaign to support the Awá tribe of Brazil. We told the children their letters mattered and that we would send them. We did.

Half a year later, when we received an email from Survival thanking all of its supporters and sharing the good news that the forest home of the Awá was safe from loggers, we were thrilled.

The children realised they had the collective power to act and support fellow human beings on another continent. The intention to educate responsibly, the implementation through research, discussion and formal letter-writing, all made an incredible impact.

A second wonderful resource comes from every teacher’s favourite – the book. It is stories that make us human and give us that safe place to explore, question and reason.

Take Dr.Seuss’ The Lorax, in which he reminds us: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This was written in 1971, so it lends itself to examining why we are now reaching crisis point in 2019, even though warnings about how our behaviour is affecting our planet were resounding decades ago.

Music matters

The Morningside Centre for Teaching Social Responsibility  has a list of further fictional texts to explore climate change in the classroom. I’d also recommend Lynne Cherry’s The Great Kapok Tree, which could allow the use of drama and music to explore the impact of individuals on the planet.

As the arts become more and more sidelined, it’s important to remember just how they help to deliver messages about tackling issues. The rising movement of protest choirs is a great place to start looking at how language and music can combine to make a point peacefully, non-violently but powerfully.

Finally, don’t forget the numbers. Those we bring into the classroom should be real and meaningful too. Striking infographics can help to tell the story for you, supporting the teaching of mathematics in greater depth, or providing a vivid portrayal of how concerned about climate change different countries are.

Our children’s and young people’s worries about climate change are justified. As their teachers, we’re privileged to empower them further. Keeping our teaching real and honest matters: there’ll be no point in passing exams if there’s no planet where they can live out their dreams.

The world’s young people have already worked this one out. Let’s take our role seriously and help them to help everyone make the changes that we so urgently need. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anne Kagoya, a primary school teacher with 22 years’ experience, has worked in state sector schools in Scotland, England and the Falkland Islands (also known as the Malvinas), and at an international primary school and teacher training college in Malawi

Email: fabulouslyrelevant@gmail.com

Many schools now routinely include climate teaching. A British teacher says her profession should tell the full story as directly as it can.

LONDON, 4 July, 2019 − There’s no escaping climate teaching. Gone are the days when the core curriculum at most schools used to consist of reading, writing and ’rithmetic, and not an awful lot more. It’s increasingly rare today to find any that don’t include the facts of life in this warming world.

But, as global youth concern over the deepening crisis manifests itself in the protests of Fridays for Future, which has earned the backing of leading climate scientists, how do teachers fulfil our obligation to encourage pupils to treat the climate as responsibly as it deserves?

What are we teaching, and how are we teaching it? What are we trying to achieve?

The past twenty years in primary and tertiary education have taught me that the answer is, and always has been, quite simple; we must keep the content real and we must teach honestly.

That means doing away with tokenistic “eco weeks” or days, and embedding climate change teaching in the day-to-day reality of core subjects.

‘Cute little projects’

There’s no doubt that special days and events are fun to do and a welcome break from teaching to the test that is becoming ever more prevalent. But they become meaningless if the message and seriousness of taking action on climate change is forgotten, or if old habits prevail.

When I saw my son learning about “rainforests” in the way I had thirty years previously, our profession’s responsibility struck home to me.

It’s not OK to treat these topics − “oceans”, “rainforests”, “habitats” or whatever − as cute little projects that end in a good assembly or great classroom display, or to have litter-picking days and then ignore our children as they emerge from the cinema leaving a trail of popcorn boxes and cups for others to clear up.

That’s not teaching that’s real and honest. But there are many resources to help us make it so.

Perhaps one of the greatest sources of support comes from organisations such as Survival, World Wide Fund for Nature, Sustainability and Environmental EducationGreenpeace, Oxfam, and the magazine New Scientist.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”

There’s an argument that if our actions support people, then they will protect their environment. Survival is a great example of this. It supports indigenous people living in many threatened areas. As teachers in a small international school in Malawi, we wondered how to ensure our teaching about rainforests was indeed real and honest. We used Survival’s bank of videos and joined their campaign to support the Awá tribe of Brazil. We told the children their letters mattered and that we would send them. We did.

Half a year later, when we received an email from Survival thanking all of its supporters and sharing the good news that the forest home of the Awá was safe from loggers, we were thrilled.

The children realised they had the collective power to act and support fellow human beings on another continent. The intention to educate responsibly, the implementation through research, discussion and formal letter-writing, all made an incredible impact.

A second wonderful resource comes from every teacher’s favourite – the book. It is stories that make us human and give us that safe place to explore, question and reason.

Take Dr.Seuss’ The Lorax, in which he reminds us: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This was written in 1971, so it lends itself to examining why we are now reaching crisis point in 2019, even though warnings about how our behaviour is affecting our planet were resounding decades ago.

Music matters

The Morningside Centre for Teaching Social Responsibility  has a list of further fictional texts to explore climate change in the classroom. I’d also recommend Lynne Cherry’s The Great Kapok Tree, which could allow the use of drama and music to explore the impact of individuals on the planet.

As the arts become more and more sidelined, it’s important to remember just how they help to deliver messages about tackling issues. The rising movement of protest choirs is a great place to start looking at how language and music can combine to make a point peacefully, non-violently but powerfully.

Finally, don’t forget the numbers. Those we bring into the classroom should be real and meaningful too. Striking infographics can help to tell the story for you, supporting the teaching of mathematics in greater depth, or providing a vivid portrayal of how concerned about climate change different countries are.

Our children’s and young people’s worries about climate change are justified. As their teachers, we’re privileged to empower them further. Keeping our teaching real and honest matters: there’ll be no point in passing exams if there’s no planet where they can live out their dreams.

The world’s young people have already worked this one out. Let’s take our role seriously and help them to help everyone make the changes that we so urgently need. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anne Kagoya, a primary school teacher with 22 years’ experience, has worked in state sector schools in Scotland, England and the Falkland Islands (also known as the Malvinas), and at an international primary school and teacher training college in Malawi

Email: fabulouslyrelevant@gmail.com

Microbes hold the balance in climate crisis

You need powerful microscopes to see microbes. Few microbiologists claim to know much about most of them. But they are vital in the climate crisis.

LONDON, 28 June, 2019 − Thirty scientists from nine nations have issued a challenge to the rest of climate science: don’t forget the microbes.

They argue that research is ignoring the silent, unseen majority that makes up the microbial world. Lifeforms that add up to a huge proportion of living matter on the planet are being largely left out of climate calculations.

Microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years, manipulating sunlight and turning carbon dioxide into carbon-based living tissue, and the mass of all the microbes on the planet probably contains 70 billion tonnes of carbon alone.

They are biodiversity’s bottom line. They are the arbiters of the planet’s resources. They were the first living things on the planet, and will almost certainly be the last survivors.

They are the only living things at vast depths and colossal pressures. Far below the planetary surface, many survive at temperatures beyond boiling point, in lakes composed of alkali, and some can even digest radioactive material.

“The impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future”

They affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, they colonise the intestines of ruminant species to release enormous volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane, they bury carbon at depth and they decompose vegetation to release new atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They support all life, and powerfully affect life’s health. They affect climate change, and in turn they are affected by climate change.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms that you don’t see on conservation websites”, said Ricardo Cavicchioli, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change. However they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and policy developments.”

Professor Cavicchioli and colleagues from Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada issue what they call their “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

Globally important

It is not as if climate researchers are unaware of the microbial connection: there is evidence of the powerful role microscopic life plays in ocean warming and on land.

But the consensus statement says it “documents the central role and global importance of micro-organisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.”

The scientists want to see more research, closer attention to the microbial underpinning of climate change, and more education. They point out that 90% of the mass of living things in the ocean is microbial. Marine phytoplankton take light energy from the sun, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the basis of the ocean’s life support system. A warming world could mean a diminished ocean food web.

On land, microbes are powerful agencies in both agriculture and disease. “Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen – so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences,” said Professor Cavicchioli.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) − that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.” − Climate News Network

You need powerful microscopes to see microbes. Few microbiologists claim to know much about most of them. But they are vital in the climate crisis.

LONDON, 28 June, 2019 − Thirty scientists from nine nations have issued a challenge to the rest of climate science: don’t forget the microbes.

They argue that research is ignoring the silent, unseen majority that makes up the microbial world. Lifeforms that add up to a huge proportion of living matter on the planet are being largely left out of climate calculations.

Microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years, manipulating sunlight and turning carbon dioxide into carbon-based living tissue, and the mass of all the microbes on the planet probably contains 70 billion tonnes of carbon alone.

They are biodiversity’s bottom line. They are the arbiters of the planet’s resources. They were the first living things on the planet, and will almost certainly be the last survivors.

They are the only living things at vast depths and colossal pressures. Far below the planetary surface, many survive at temperatures beyond boiling point, in lakes composed of alkali, and some can even digest radioactive material.

“The impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future”

They affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, they colonise the intestines of ruminant species to release enormous volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane, they bury carbon at depth and they decompose vegetation to release new atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They support all life, and powerfully affect life’s health. They affect climate change, and in turn they are affected by climate change.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms that you don’t see on conservation websites”, said Ricardo Cavicchioli, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change. However they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and policy developments.”

Professor Cavicchioli and colleagues from Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada issue what they call their “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

Globally important

It is not as if climate researchers are unaware of the microbial connection: there is evidence of the powerful role microscopic life plays in ocean warming and on land.

But the consensus statement says it “documents the central role and global importance of micro-organisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.”

The scientists want to see more research, closer attention to the microbial underpinning of climate change, and more education. They point out that 90% of the mass of living things in the ocean is microbial. Marine phytoplankton take light energy from the sun, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the basis of the ocean’s life support system. A warming world could mean a diminished ocean food web.

On land, microbes are powerful agencies in both agriculture and disease. “Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen – so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences,” said Professor Cavicchioli.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) − that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.” − Climate News Network

Pursuit of profit won’t solve climate crisis

Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 June, 2019 − Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.

You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.

Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.

And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”

This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy

Enough for everyone.

The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.

Solar panels that covered just 0.1% of the total land surface (think of a small country just 366 kilometres square) could meet all of today’s human energy needs. But human demand for energy is growing at 2.4% a year. If this goes on, then in 300 years, human demand would need solar panels over every square metre of land surface.

The message from every page of this book is that we need to think, and think again. We could of course think about using the energy we have more efficiently, but history suggests there might be a catch.

The catch is now called the Jevons Paradox, after William Stanley Jevons who in 1863 (he was thinking at the time about the exploitation of coal) pointed out that energy efficiency tends to lead to increases in demand, because that’s how humans respond to plenty: they want even more of it.

“Fit for purpose democracy entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”

So we don’t just have to think again, we have to rethink the whole basis of human behaviour. This means switching to vegetarian or vegan diets, abandoning plastic packaging, and cutting down on air travel (powered by biofuels, if we must, but the biofuel business is lunacy – he uses the word “bonkers” – in energy terms).

But these are small things. The big and not necessarily entirely popular message of the book is that we must change politically. Free market capitalism or neoliberalism or any pursuit entirely and only for profit cannot deliver answers to the coming climate crisis.

Professor Berners-Lee takes a lesson from simple physics: wealth is, or ought to be, shared the way kinetic energy is shared around the planet.

When molecules of a gas collide, they redistribute energy, just as when people catch a bus or buy a sandwich, they redistribute wealth. The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution law says that you rarely get one atom or molecule with more than 10 times the average energy, and almost never with more than 20 times the average energy.

And if human wealth was distributed according to the same law the total wealth would not change, and some people would still be richer than others, but the median wealth – the income of the person right in the middle – would be a massive 79% of the mean or average. That’s better than the share of wealth in the fair nation of Iceland. So it would be a manifestly fairer world.

Fairer resource-sharing

If the world shared its wealth (and wealth is a proxy for energy resources) more fairly, then it might be a great deal easier to be sure of democratic assent and international co-operation for radical shifts in the way we manage our food, water, transport and our precarious natural wealth in the form of biodiversity: all the wild birds, mammals, fish amphibians, reptiles, plants, fungi and microbes on which humankind ultimately depends.

The above is just a small sample of a rich, thought-provoking and easy-to-enjoy text. Berners-Lee doesn’t have all the answers, and admits as much, but he does know how to frame a lot of questions in illuminating ways.

He has packed his book with explanatory notes, supporting evidence and definitions, one of them being the case for democracy in the world of the Anthropocene.

“Fit for purpose democracy”, he warns, “entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good.” A book like this could help us get there. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (Cambridge University Press £9.99)

Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 June, 2019 − Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.

You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.

Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.

And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”

This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy

Enough for everyone.

The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.

Solar panels that covered just 0.1% of the total land surface (think of a small country just 366 kilometres square) could meet all of today’s human energy needs. But human demand for energy is growing at 2.4% a year. If this goes on, then in 300 years, human demand would need solar panels over every square metre of land surface.

The message from every page of this book is that we need to think, and think again. We could of course think about using the energy we have more efficiently, but history suggests there might be a catch.

The catch is now called the Jevons Paradox, after William Stanley Jevons who in 1863 (he was thinking at the time about the exploitation of coal) pointed out that energy efficiency tends to lead to increases in demand, because that’s how humans respond to plenty: they want even more of it.

“Fit for purpose democracy entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”

So we don’t just have to think again, we have to rethink the whole basis of human behaviour. This means switching to vegetarian or vegan diets, abandoning plastic packaging, and cutting down on air travel (powered by biofuels, if we must, but the biofuel business is lunacy – he uses the word “bonkers” – in energy terms).

But these are small things. The big and not necessarily entirely popular message of the book is that we must change politically. Free market capitalism or neoliberalism or any pursuit entirely and only for profit cannot deliver answers to the coming climate crisis.

Professor Berners-Lee takes a lesson from simple physics: wealth is, or ought to be, shared the way kinetic energy is shared around the planet.

When molecules of a gas collide, they redistribute energy, just as when people catch a bus or buy a sandwich, they redistribute wealth. The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution law says that you rarely get one atom or molecule with more than 10 times the average energy, and almost never with more than 20 times the average energy.

And if human wealth was distributed according to the same law the total wealth would not change, and some people would still be richer than others, but the median wealth – the income of the person right in the middle – would be a massive 79% of the mean or average. That’s better than the share of wealth in the fair nation of Iceland. So it would be a manifestly fairer world.

Fairer resource-sharing

If the world shared its wealth (and wealth is a proxy for energy resources) more fairly, then it might be a great deal easier to be sure of democratic assent and international co-operation for radical shifts in the way we manage our food, water, transport and our precarious natural wealth in the form of biodiversity: all the wild birds, mammals, fish amphibians, reptiles, plants, fungi and microbes on which humankind ultimately depends.

The above is just a small sample of a rich, thought-provoking and easy-to-enjoy text. Berners-Lee doesn’t have all the answers, and admits as much, but he does know how to frame a lot of questions in illuminating ways.

He has packed his book with explanatory notes, supporting evidence and definitions, one of them being the case for democracy in the world of the Anthropocene.

“Fit for purpose democracy”, he warns, “entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good.” A book like this could help us get there. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (Cambridge University Press £9.99)

US military is huge greenhouse gas emitter

The US military is now the 47th greenhouse gas emitter. A machine powered to keep the world safer paradoxically increases the levels of climate danger.

LONDON, 21 June, 2019 – British scientists have identified one of the world’s great emitters of greenhouse gases, a silent agency which buys as much fuel as Portugal or Peru and emits more carbon dioxide than all of Romania: the US military.

Ironically, this agency is acutely aware that the climate emergency makes the world more dangerous,
increasing the risk of conflict around the planet. And simply because it is conscious of this risk, it is ever more likely to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels.

The US military machine, with a global supply chain and massive logistical apparatus designed to confront perceived threats in war zones around the world, if it were a nation state, would be 47th in the global league tables for greenhouse gas emissions from fuel usage alone.

And these figures are not included in the US aggregates for national greenhouse gas emissions because an exemption was granted under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (which in 2001 President Bush declined to sign). But they would be counted under the terms of the Paris Accord of 2015, from which President Trump has withdrawn, say researchers in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Basic contradiction

“The US military has long understood it is not immune from the potential consequences of climate change – recognising it as a threat-multiplier that can exacerbate other threats – nor has it ignored its own contribution to the problem,” said Patrick Bigger, of Lancaster University’s environment centre, and one of the authors.

“Yet its climate policy is fundamentally contradictory – confronting the effects of climate change while remaining the biggest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons around the world, a situation it is locked into for years to come because of its dependence on existing aircraft and warships for operations around the globe.”

The researchers started with information obtained under Freedom of Information laws and data from the US Defense Logistics Agency, and records from the World Bank, to build up a picture of energy use by what is in effect a state-within-a-state.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future”

The US military first launched its own global hydrocarbon supply system on the orders of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and since then demand per fighting soldier, airman or sailor has grown.

In the Second World War, each soldier consumed one gallon of fuel daily. By the Vietnam War, with increased use of helicopters and airpower, this had increased ninefold. By the time US military personnel arrived in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel consumption had reached 22 gallons per soldier per day.

Now the Defense Logistics Agency’s energy division handles 14 million gallons of fuel per day at a cost of $53 million a day, and can deliver to 2,023 military outposts, camps and stations in 38 countries. It also supplies fuel stores to 51 countries and 506 air bases or fields that US aircraft might use.

Between 2015 and 2017, US forces were active in 76 countries. Of these seven were on the receiving end of air or drone strikes and 15 had “boots on the ground”. There were 44 overseas military bases, and 56 countries were receiving training in counter-terrorism. In 2017, all this added up to fuel purchases of 269,230 barrels of oil a day and the release of 25,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere.

‘Military’s vast furnace’

“Each of these missions requires energy – often considerable amounts of it,” the scientists say. The impacts of climate change are likely to continue in ways that are more intense, prolonged and widespread, which would give cover to even more extensive US military operations. The only way to cool what they call the “military’s vast furnace” is to turn it off.

Climate change campaigners too need to contest US military interventionism. “This will not only have the immediate effect of reducing emissions in the here-and-now, but will also disincentivize the development of new hydrocarbon infrastructure that would be financed (in whatever unrecognized part) on the presumption of the US military as an always-willing buyer and consumer,” the scientists conclude.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future.” – Climate News Network

The US military is now the 47th greenhouse gas emitter. A machine powered to keep the world safer paradoxically increases the levels of climate danger.

LONDON, 21 June, 2019 – British scientists have identified one of the world’s great emitters of greenhouse gases, a silent agency which buys as much fuel as Portugal or Peru and emits more carbon dioxide than all of Romania: the US military.

Ironically, this agency is acutely aware that the climate emergency makes the world more dangerous,
increasing the risk of conflict around the planet. And simply because it is conscious of this risk, it is ever more likely to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels.

The US military machine, with a global supply chain and massive logistical apparatus designed to confront perceived threats in war zones around the world, if it were a nation state, would be 47th in the global league tables for greenhouse gas emissions from fuel usage alone.

And these figures are not included in the US aggregates for national greenhouse gas emissions because an exemption was granted under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (which in 2001 President Bush declined to sign). But they would be counted under the terms of the Paris Accord of 2015, from which President Trump has withdrawn, say researchers in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Basic contradiction

“The US military has long understood it is not immune from the potential consequences of climate change – recognising it as a threat-multiplier that can exacerbate other threats – nor has it ignored its own contribution to the problem,” said Patrick Bigger, of Lancaster University’s environment centre, and one of the authors.

“Yet its climate policy is fundamentally contradictory – confronting the effects of climate change while remaining the biggest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons around the world, a situation it is locked into for years to come because of its dependence on existing aircraft and warships for operations around the globe.”

The researchers started with information obtained under Freedom of Information laws and data from the US Defense Logistics Agency, and records from the World Bank, to build up a picture of energy use by what is in effect a state-within-a-state.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future”

The US military first launched its own global hydrocarbon supply system on the orders of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and since then demand per fighting soldier, airman or sailor has grown.

In the Second World War, each soldier consumed one gallon of fuel daily. By the Vietnam War, with increased use of helicopters and airpower, this had increased ninefold. By the time US military personnel arrived in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel consumption had reached 22 gallons per soldier per day.

Now the Defense Logistics Agency’s energy division handles 14 million gallons of fuel per day at a cost of $53 million a day, and can deliver to 2,023 military outposts, camps and stations in 38 countries. It also supplies fuel stores to 51 countries and 506 air bases or fields that US aircraft might use.

Between 2015 and 2017, US forces were active in 76 countries. Of these seven were on the receiving end of air or drone strikes and 15 had “boots on the ground”. There were 44 overseas military bases, and 56 countries were receiving training in counter-terrorism. In 2017, all this added up to fuel purchases of 269,230 barrels of oil a day and the release of 25,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere.

‘Military’s vast furnace’

“Each of these missions requires energy – often considerable amounts of it,” the scientists say. The impacts of climate change are likely to continue in ways that are more intense, prolonged and widespread, which would give cover to even more extensive US military operations. The only way to cool what they call the “military’s vast furnace” is to turn it off.

Climate change campaigners too need to contest US military interventionism. “This will not only have the immediate effect of reducing emissions in the here-and-now, but will also disincentivize the development of new hydrocarbon infrastructure that would be financed (in whatever unrecognized part) on the presumption of the US military as an always-willing buyer and consumer,” the scientists conclude.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future.” – Climate News Network

Climate crisis raises risk of conflict

A warmer world will be more dangerous. As the thermometer rises, so does the risk of conflict and bloodshed in more vulnerable regions.

LONDON, 14 June, 2019 − If the world warms by 4°C this century, the climate factor becomes more dangerous – five times more dangerous, according to new research, which predicts a 26% increase in the risk of conflict, just because of climate change.

Even if the world sticks to a promise made in Paris in 2015, when 195 nations vowed to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, the impact of climate on the risk of armed conflict will double. The risk will rise to 13%.

US researchers report in the journal Nature that they quizzed a pool of 11 experts on climate and conflict from a range of disciplines. There is no consensus on the mechanism that links a shift in average temperatures and ethnic bitterness, migration, violence and outright civil war within any single nation. But there is a simple conclusion: whatever the process, climate change raises the risk of conflict.

And the study comes just as the latest publication of the  Global Peace Index warns that 971 million people now live in areas with what is termed high or “very high climate change exposure”, and 400 million of these people already live in countries with “low levels of peacefulness.”

Making conflict likelier

The Global Peace Index issues the same warning: that climate change can indirectly increase the likelihood of violent conflict by affecting the resources available to citizens, to jobs and careers, and by undermining security and forcing migration.

And, the same study says, this comes at a colossal economic cost. In 2018, the impact of violence on the global economy totalled $14.1 trillion in purchasing power. This is more than 11% of the world’s economic activity and adds up to $1,853 per person.

Both studies reinforce earlier research. Social scientists, geographers and statisticians have repeatedly found links between climate change and conflict, between climate change and migration, and have warned of more to come, specifically in South Asia, and worldwide.

“Over this century, unprecedented climate change is going to have significant impacts … but it is extremely hard to anticipate whether the political changes related to climate change will have big effects on armed conflict in turn”

There is a debate about the role of drought in the bloodshed in Syria, but there is less argument about the proposition that climate change unsettles what may already be nations or communities vulnerable to conflict.

There have also been bleak warnings from prehistory: archaeologists think that climate change may have been behind the collapse of the Bronze Age Mediterranean culture and the fall of an ancient Assyrian society.

The point of the latest study was simply to find some consensus on the risks of conflict in a world in climate crisis. The theorists think that climate stresses over the last century have already influenced in some way between 3% and 20% of armed conflict risk.

They think the risks could increase dramatically, as normally productive agricultural regions face catastrophic crop failure, as extremes of temperature make crowded cities more dangerous, as people are driven off their land by sustained drought, and as climate impacts impoverish the already vulnerable, to increase global levels of injustice and inequality.

Planning protection

Armed with a sense of the scale of the future hazard, governments and international agencies could equip themselves with strategies that might help to increase global food security and provide other economic opportunities. Peacekeeping forces and aid agencies need to understand, too, that climate factors are, increasingly, part of the risk.

“Historically, levels of armed conflict over time have been heavily influenced by shocks to, and changes in, international relations among states and in their domestic political systems,” said James Fearon, a political scientist at Stanford University and one of the authors.

“It is quite likely that, over this century, unprecedented climate change is going to have significant impacts on both, but it is extremely hard to anticipate whether the political changes related to climate change will have big effects on armed conflict in turn. So I think putting non-trivial weight on significant climate effects on conflict is reasonable.” − Climate News Network

A warmer world will be more dangerous. As the thermometer rises, so does the risk of conflict and bloodshed in more vulnerable regions.

LONDON, 14 June, 2019 − If the world warms by 4°C this century, the climate factor becomes more dangerous – five times more dangerous, according to new research, which predicts a 26% increase in the risk of conflict, just because of climate change.

Even if the world sticks to a promise made in Paris in 2015, when 195 nations vowed to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, the impact of climate on the risk of armed conflict will double. The risk will rise to 13%.

US researchers report in the journal Nature that they quizzed a pool of 11 experts on climate and conflict from a range of disciplines. There is no consensus on the mechanism that links a shift in average temperatures and ethnic bitterness, migration, violence and outright civil war within any single nation. But there is a simple conclusion: whatever the process, climate change raises the risk of conflict.

And the study comes just as the latest publication of the  Global Peace Index warns that 971 million people now live in areas with what is termed high or “very high climate change exposure”, and 400 million of these people already live in countries with “low levels of peacefulness.”

Making conflict likelier

The Global Peace Index issues the same warning: that climate change can indirectly increase the likelihood of violent conflict by affecting the resources available to citizens, to jobs and careers, and by undermining security and forcing migration.

And, the same study says, this comes at a colossal economic cost. In 2018, the impact of violence on the global economy totalled $14.1 trillion in purchasing power. This is more than 11% of the world’s economic activity and adds up to $1,853 per person.

Both studies reinforce earlier research. Social scientists, geographers and statisticians have repeatedly found links between climate change and conflict, between climate change and migration, and have warned of more to come, specifically in South Asia, and worldwide.

“Over this century, unprecedented climate change is going to have significant impacts … but it is extremely hard to anticipate whether the political changes related to climate change will have big effects on armed conflict in turn”

There is a debate about the role of drought in the bloodshed in Syria, but there is less argument about the proposition that climate change unsettles what may already be nations or communities vulnerable to conflict.

There have also been bleak warnings from prehistory: archaeologists think that climate change may have been behind the collapse of the Bronze Age Mediterranean culture and the fall of an ancient Assyrian society.

The point of the latest study was simply to find some consensus on the risks of conflict in a world in climate crisis. The theorists think that climate stresses over the last century have already influenced in some way between 3% and 20% of armed conflict risk.

They think the risks could increase dramatically, as normally productive agricultural regions face catastrophic crop failure, as extremes of temperature make crowded cities more dangerous, as people are driven off their land by sustained drought, and as climate impacts impoverish the already vulnerable, to increase global levels of injustice and inequality.

Planning protection

Armed with a sense of the scale of the future hazard, governments and international agencies could equip themselves with strategies that might help to increase global food security and provide other economic opportunities. Peacekeeping forces and aid agencies need to understand, too, that climate factors are, increasingly, part of the risk.

“Historically, levels of armed conflict over time have been heavily influenced by shocks to, and changes in, international relations among states and in their domestic political systems,” said James Fearon, a political scientist at Stanford University and one of the authors.

“It is quite likely that, over this century, unprecedented climate change is going to have significant impacts on both, but it is extremely hard to anticipate whether the political changes related to climate change will have big effects on armed conflict in turn. So I think putting non-trivial weight on significant climate effects on conflict is reasonable.” − Climate News Network

Compound heat waves have double impact

And now, a new climate hazard: compound heat waves. US scientists on a double whammy: rising mercury, followed swiftly by more of the same.

LONDON, 3 June, 2019 – Be ready for climate hazard in a new form – the compound heat waves that hit you, leave you, and come back again.

As the world warms, say US scientists, the risk of economically devastating, physically debilitating and potentially lethal extremes of heat will multiply, and in unexpected ways.

Researchers picture a world in which the most vulnerable – those already ill or elderly, housed in substandard buildings in crowded cities – are laid low and gasping by several days of extreme heat. Even if the temperatures drop a little, the buildings in which they live will still “store” heat to intolerable levels.

And then, unexpectedly, the extremes of heat return. Hospitals could be overwhelmed. Electric grids might experience overload. Harvests could wither. And the weakest could dehydrate and die.

“Averaged over time, heat waves are the most deadly type of disaster in the United States, in addition to causing many emergency room visits, lost working hours and lower agricultural yields,” said Jane Baldwin of Princeton University in the US.

“Surveys of low income housing in places such as Harlem have found that after a heat wave has ended, temperatures indoors can remain elevated”

“However, if you look at the deadliest heat waves in Europe and the United States, many have more unusual temporal structures with temperature jumping above and below extremely hot levels multiple times.”

Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that as the planet warms overall, the number of places where potentially deadly heat waves will hit will inevitably rise.

If humans go on burning fossil fuels at ever-increasing levels, then heat waves usually experienced once a century could return every few years, to become the “new normal.”

By 2100, most people on the planet could be at risk some of the time as heat extremes become more severe, and more frequent.

In some parts of the world, the combination of high humidity and high temperature really could kill after a few hours, and new research has started to assess the probability of potential famine, simply because devastating extremes of heat could endanger crop yields on two continents in the same year.

Gauging probabilities

Heat extremes can kill – the 2010 heat wave in Russia is estimated to have caused around 56,000 extra deaths – and US scientists recently counted 27 ways that sweltering heat can claim lives and devastate families.

The Princeton study, in the journal Earth’s Future, is a preliminary look simply at the probabilities of back-to-back heatwaves. Policymakers, city authorities and medical chiefs need to know what new hazards global heating can bring, and the study is, the scientists say, just a first step.

But it identifies the precise problems that come with severe temperatures, especially for the already vulnerable, even in the world’s richest cities, such as New York.

“Surveys of low income housing in places such as Harlem have found that after a heat wave has ended, temperatures indoors can remain elevated for a number of days,” Dr Baldwin said. A swift return of the big heat could multiply the stresses.

And her co-author Michael Oppenheimer said: “We want to know how the effects of compound heat waves will differ from – and amplify – the already severe consequences for human health, infrastructure stability and crop yield that we see from single event heat waves.” – Climate News Network

And now, a new climate hazard: compound heat waves. US scientists on a double whammy: rising mercury, followed swiftly by more of the same.

LONDON, 3 June, 2019 – Be ready for climate hazard in a new form – the compound heat waves that hit you, leave you, and come back again.

As the world warms, say US scientists, the risk of economically devastating, physically debilitating and potentially lethal extremes of heat will multiply, and in unexpected ways.

Researchers picture a world in which the most vulnerable – those already ill or elderly, housed in substandard buildings in crowded cities – are laid low and gasping by several days of extreme heat. Even if the temperatures drop a little, the buildings in which they live will still “store” heat to intolerable levels.

And then, unexpectedly, the extremes of heat return. Hospitals could be overwhelmed. Electric grids might experience overload. Harvests could wither. And the weakest could dehydrate and die.

“Averaged over time, heat waves are the most deadly type of disaster in the United States, in addition to causing many emergency room visits, lost working hours and lower agricultural yields,” said Jane Baldwin of Princeton University in the US.

“Surveys of low income housing in places such as Harlem have found that after a heat wave has ended, temperatures indoors can remain elevated”

“However, if you look at the deadliest heat waves in Europe and the United States, many have more unusual temporal structures with temperature jumping above and below extremely hot levels multiple times.”

Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that as the planet warms overall, the number of places where potentially deadly heat waves will hit will inevitably rise.

If humans go on burning fossil fuels at ever-increasing levels, then heat waves usually experienced once a century could return every few years, to become the “new normal.”

By 2100, most people on the planet could be at risk some of the time as heat extremes become more severe, and more frequent.

In some parts of the world, the combination of high humidity and high temperature really could kill after a few hours, and new research has started to assess the probability of potential famine, simply because devastating extremes of heat could endanger crop yields on two continents in the same year.

Gauging probabilities

Heat extremes can kill – the 2010 heat wave in Russia is estimated to have caused around 56,000 extra deaths – and US scientists recently counted 27 ways that sweltering heat can claim lives and devastate families.

The Princeton study, in the journal Earth’s Future, is a preliminary look simply at the probabilities of back-to-back heatwaves. Policymakers, city authorities and medical chiefs need to know what new hazards global heating can bring, and the study is, the scientists say, just a first step.

But it identifies the precise problems that come with severe temperatures, especially for the already vulnerable, even in the world’s richest cities, such as New York.

“Surveys of low income housing in places such as Harlem have found that after a heat wave has ended, temperatures indoors can remain elevated for a number of days,” Dr Baldwin said. A swift return of the big heat could multiply the stresses.

And her co-author Michael Oppenheimer said: “We want to know how the effects of compound heat waves will differ from – and amplify – the already severe consequences for human health, infrastructure stability and crop yield that we see from single event heat waves.” – Climate News Network

Unstable polar glaciers lose ice ever faster

As oceans warm, Antarctica’s ice sheets are at growing risk, with polar glaciers losing ice at rates to match the height of global monuments.

LONDON, 31 May, 2019 – Almost a quarter of all the glaciers in West Antarctica have been pronounced “unstable”. This means, in the simplest terms, that they are losing ice to the ocean faster than they can gain it from falling snow.

In the last 25 years most of the largest flows have accelerated the loss of ice fivefold.

And in places some glaciers, including those known as Pine Island and Thwaites, have “thinned” by 122 metres. That means that the thickness of the ice between the surface and the bedrock over which glaciers flow has fallen by almost the height of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, and far more than the Statue of Liberty in New York or the tower of Big Ben in London.

The conclusions are based on climate simulation matched against 800 million measurements of the Antarctic ice sheet recorded by the altimeters aboard four orbiting satellites put up by the European Space Agency between 1992 and 2017. The conclusion is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“A wave of thinning has spread rapidly across some of Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers, and their losses are driving up sea levels around the planet”

Antarctic research is challenging. The continent is enormous – nearly twice the size of Australia – and frozen: 99.4% of it is covered by ice, to huge depths. It is also defined as a desert.

Snowfalls are low, but over millions of years these have built up to a reservoir of about nine-tenths of the planet’s fresh water, in the form of snow and ice.

It is also the coldest place on Earth and – even more of a problem for climate scientists – no observations or measurements of anything in Antarctica date back much further than the beginning of the 19th century. Most of the on-the-ground science is possible only in the Antarctic summer.

The latest study confirms a succession of alarming finds. The West Antarctic ice sheet is not just losing ice, it is doing so at ever-faster speeds. Scientists have already suggested that the rate of loss for the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers could be irreversible. So much has already been lost that the bedrock, crushed by its burden of ice for aeons, is actually beginning to bounce up in response.

Huge ice losses

“In parts of Antarctica the ice sheet has thinned by extraordinary amounts, and we set out to show how much was due to changes in climate and how much was due to weather,” said Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, UK, who led the research.

Changes in snowfall tended, they found, to be reflected over changes in height over large areas for a few years. But the most pronounced changes have persisted for decades: it’s the climate that is changing things, not the weather.

“Knowing how much snow has fallen has really helped us to detect the underlying change in glacier ice within the satellite record. We can see clearly now that a wave of thinning has spread rapidly across some of Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers, and their losses are driving up sea levels around the planet”, Professor Shepherd says.

“Altogether, ice losses from East and West Antarctica have contributed 4.6mm to global sea level rise since 1992.” – Climate News Network

As oceans warm, Antarctica’s ice sheets are at growing risk, with polar glaciers losing ice at rates to match the height of global monuments.

LONDON, 31 May, 2019 – Almost a quarter of all the glaciers in West Antarctica have been pronounced “unstable”. This means, in the simplest terms, that they are losing ice to the ocean faster than they can gain it from falling snow.

In the last 25 years most of the largest flows have accelerated the loss of ice fivefold.

And in places some glaciers, including those known as Pine Island and Thwaites, have “thinned” by 122 metres. That means that the thickness of the ice between the surface and the bedrock over which glaciers flow has fallen by almost the height of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, and far more than the Statue of Liberty in New York or the tower of Big Ben in London.

The conclusions are based on climate simulation matched against 800 million measurements of the Antarctic ice sheet recorded by the altimeters aboard four orbiting satellites put up by the European Space Agency between 1992 and 2017. The conclusion is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“A wave of thinning has spread rapidly across some of Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers, and their losses are driving up sea levels around the planet”

Antarctic research is challenging. The continent is enormous – nearly twice the size of Australia – and frozen: 99.4% of it is covered by ice, to huge depths. It is also defined as a desert.

Snowfalls are low, but over millions of years these have built up to a reservoir of about nine-tenths of the planet’s fresh water, in the form of snow and ice.

It is also the coldest place on Earth and – even more of a problem for climate scientists – no observations or measurements of anything in Antarctica date back much further than the beginning of the 19th century. Most of the on-the-ground science is possible only in the Antarctic summer.

The latest study confirms a succession of alarming finds. The West Antarctic ice sheet is not just losing ice, it is doing so at ever-faster speeds. Scientists have already suggested that the rate of loss for the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers could be irreversible. So much has already been lost that the bedrock, crushed by its burden of ice for aeons, is actually beginning to bounce up in response.

Huge ice losses

“In parts of Antarctica the ice sheet has thinned by extraordinary amounts, and we set out to show how much was due to changes in climate and how much was due to weather,” said Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, UK, who led the research.

Changes in snowfall tended, they found, to be reflected over changes in height over large areas for a few years. But the most pronounced changes have persisted for decades: it’s the climate that is changing things, not the weather.

“Knowing how much snow has fallen has really helped us to detect the underlying change in glacier ice within the satellite record. We can see clearly now that a wave of thinning has spread rapidly across some of Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers, and their losses are driving up sea levels around the planet”, Professor Shepherd says.

“Altogether, ice losses from East and West Antarctica have contributed 4.6mm to global sea level rise since 1992.” – Climate News Network

Humans drive sixth mass extinction wave

For the sixth time since life on Earth began, scientists say, mass extinction is a threat. This time, though, is different. The cause is us.

LONDON, 7 May, 2019 − About one million of the world’s animal and plant species are now at risk of extinction − the largest number in human history ever to be facing the threat of oblivion, scientists say. Many species could be wiped out within decades. And their plight is caused by humans, and will inevitably affect us too.

The warning was delivered by a British scientist, Professor Sir Robert Watson, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), speaking in the French capital, Paris.

He told an IPBES meeting held to approve the summary of its new global assessment report on the state of life on Earth that the implications for human life were grave. The overwhelming evidence gathered in the assessment presented “an ominous picture. The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed, This loss is a direct result of human activity … ”

But Professor Watson, a previous chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), does not preach despair. Despite the “truly unsustainable rate” of species loss that would affect human wellbeing for this generation and for its descendants, despite the accelerating pace of extinction, he believes there is still hope.

“We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development. It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.” Transformative change, system-wide and including goals and values, could allow humankind to restore nature and to use it sustainably, he said.

In an unusually forthright challenge to individuals, businesses and governments which continue to question or ignore the findings of science in pursuit of their own interests, Professor Watson, a globally-renowned environment scientist, acknowledged that that sort of change “can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo”. Such opposition “can be overcome for the broader public good”, he added.

The assessment report’s findings make spine-chilling reading. It says the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibians and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insects, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened.

Global impact

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, one of the co-chairs of the global assessment, of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany . “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

The summary says there are five main causes of the crisis. In descending order they are: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of animals and plants; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.

It adds plenty of detail:

•Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by indigenous peoples and local communities

•More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production

•Raw timber demand has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and non-renewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980

Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577bn in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss, and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection

•Since 1980 plastic pollution has increased tenfold

•Since 1992 urban areas have more than doubled

•In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels.

.Numbers unknown

Scientists point out that unlike the five earlier great waves of extinction to have occurred on the planet, this one is human-driven. IPBES has explained simply and clearly that humankind and its activities are responsible for what is happening, and that we shall have to pay the price.

IPBES has also succeeded in diagnosing the extent of the crisis overwhelming the natural world with a new degree of precision, despite the fact that nobody can say with any certainty how many species the Earth contains.

The Paris meeting approved the 40-page summary of the full IPBES report, which will be published later this year. At the end of 2020 two conferences, on the natural world and climate change, will provide global leaders with an opportunity to make specific plans for action.

Extinction Rebellion (XR), the group whose protests in April brought traffic in parts of London to a halt for a week and which is active in several other countries as well, is known for its vociferous demands for steps to tackle climate change.

It is careful to spell out its insistence that climate change and the fate of the natural world are twin threats, of equal gravity and urgency. − Climate News Network

For the sixth time since life on Earth began, scientists say, mass extinction is a threat. This time, though, is different. The cause is us.

LONDON, 7 May, 2019 − About one million of the world’s animal and plant species are now at risk of extinction − the largest number in human history ever to be facing the threat of oblivion, scientists say. Many species could be wiped out within decades. And their plight is caused by humans, and will inevitably affect us too.

The warning was delivered by a British scientist, Professor Sir Robert Watson, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), speaking in the French capital, Paris.

He told an IPBES meeting held to approve the summary of its new global assessment report on the state of life on Earth that the implications for human life were grave. The overwhelming evidence gathered in the assessment presented “an ominous picture. The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed, This loss is a direct result of human activity … ”

But Professor Watson, a previous chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), does not preach despair. Despite the “truly unsustainable rate” of species loss that would affect human wellbeing for this generation and for its descendants, despite the accelerating pace of extinction, he believes there is still hope.

“We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development. It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.” Transformative change, system-wide and including goals and values, could allow humankind to restore nature and to use it sustainably, he said.

In an unusually forthright challenge to individuals, businesses and governments which continue to question or ignore the findings of science in pursuit of their own interests, Professor Watson, a globally-renowned environment scientist, acknowledged that that sort of change “can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo”. Such opposition “can be overcome for the broader public good”, he added.

The assessment report’s findings make spine-chilling reading. It says the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibians and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insects, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened.

Global impact

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, one of the co-chairs of the global assessment, of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany . “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

The summary says there are five main causes of the crisis. In descending order they are: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of animals and plants; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.

It adds plenty of detail:

•Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by indigenous peoples and local communities

•More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production

•Raw timber demand has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and non-renewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980

Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577bn in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss, and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection

•Since 1980 plastic pollution has increased tenfold

•Since 1992 urban areas have more than doubled

•In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels.

.Numbers unknown

Scientists point out that unlike the five earlier great waves of extinction to have occurred on the planet, this one is human-driven. IPBES has explained simply and clearly that humankind and its activities are responsible for what is happening, and that we shall have to pay the price.

IPBES has also succeeded in diagnosing the extent of the crisis overwhelming the natural world with a new degree of precision, despite the fact that nobody can say with any certainty how many species the Earth contains.

The Paris meeting approved the 40-page summary of the full IPBES report, which will be published later this year. At the end of 2020 two conferences, on the natural world and climate change, will provide global leaders with an opportunity to make specific plans for action.

Extinction Rebellion (XR), the group whose protests in April brought traffic in parts of London to a halt for a week and which is active in several other countries as well, is known for its vociferous demands for steps to tackle climate change.

It is careful to spell out its insistence that climate change and the fate of the natural world are twin threats, of equal gravity and urgency. − Climate News Network