Tag Archives: Global threats

Millions of species face extinction emergency

An extinction emergency unparalleled in the history of life on Earth could soon overtake millions of species – thanks to us.

LONDON, 8 June, 2020 – More than 500 terrestrial vertebrate species – birds, amphibians, mammals, reptiles – are on the brink of a worldwide extinction emergency. These are animal species with surviving populations of fewer than 1,000 individuals. They are to be found in tropical and subtropical regions and, significantly, they are concentrated in regions heavily affected by human activities.

Extinction is a natural part of the evolutionary process. But the number of simultaneously threatened species, and the link to direct human pressure, adds support for the argument that humanity is now witnessing the sixth, and possibly greatest, mass extinction in the history of life.

The same research has identified 388 vertebrate species with fewer than 5000 individuals in the surviving populations. Of these, more than four-fifths cling to survival in the same threatened regions, and may therefore also be heading for the brink of extinction.

Three distinguished scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they analysed the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species to identify 29,400 terrestrial vertebrates, 1.7% of which had fewer than 1,000 remaining individuals anywhere in the world.

There are many cases of local extinction: for a mix of reasons, birds or butterflies might disappear from places where they once were many, but continue to flourish in other zones. But too many local extinctions soon amount to global obliteration: the researchers identified 237,000 populations of vertebrates that had vanished since 1900.

Massive impact ahead

They see an ecological catastrophe in the making, and they urge governments and international agencies to act.

“What we do to deal with the current extinction crisis in the next two decades will define the fate of millions of species,” said study lead author Gerardo Ceballos, a senior researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Ecology.

“We are facing our final opportunity to ensure that the many services nature provides us do not get irretrievably sabotaged.”

And his co-author Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University in California said: “When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system.

“The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to climate disruption, to which it is linked.”

“It’s up to us to decide what kind of a world we want to leave to coming generations – a sustainable one, or a desolate one in which the civilisation we have built disintegrates rather than builds on past successes”

Nearly a fourth of all species on the planet could face extinction. In the course of the 11,000 years since the invention of agriculture human numbers have multiplied from about one million to 7.7 billion, and are rising fast. In the last 450 million years there have been at least five major extinctions, each destroying 70% to 90% of all life on Earth.

Although creatures alive on Earth today account for only 2% of all the creatures that have ever lived, the absolute number of species is greater now than ever before. “It is into such a biologically diverse world that we humans evolved, and such a world that we are destroying,” the authors write.

Extinction may be the greatest environmental problem, because it is irreversible. It is now happening at rates perhaps a thousand times faster than the “background rate” over the last tens of millions of years.

When a species disappears, it takes with it a unique set of biological riches, and – perhaps more dangerously – it creates a loss for other species that may in some way depend upon it. Extinction breeds extinction, the authors argue.

And as plants and animals vanish into oblivion, the biosphere’s capacity to recycle atmosphere, water and nutrients, to pollinate and fertilise, and to dispose of the dead and the waste, is diminished.

‘Ecological zombies’

Ecosystems that support and enrich all life also support and enrich humanity. At one stage 60 million bison maintained the prairie ecosystems of North America and in the course of doing so supported the then Native American population.

By 1884 only 325 individuals were left. The prairies are now largely farmland, and the 4000 surviving wild bison can be considered, the authors say, as “ecological zombies.”

Among other steps, they want to see a halt to the trade in wildlife – thought to be linked to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. All three have considerable reputations within science and they have all been making much the same argument for many years.

They calculate that in the last century 543 species of land vertebrate were extinguished. The same number could go in the next two decades. Human action created the problem: only human action can repair the damage.

“It’s up to us to decide what kind of a world we want to leave to coming generations – a sustainable one, or a desolate one in which the civilisation we have built disintegrates rather than builds on past successes,” said Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, the third of the signatories. – Climate News Network

An extinction emergency unparalleled in the history of life on Earth could soon overtake millions of species – thanks to us.

LONDON, 8 June, 2020 – More than 500 terrestrial vertebrate species – birds, amphibians, mammals, reptiles – are on the brink of a worldwide extinction emergency. These are animal species with surviving populations of fewer than 1,000 individuals. They are to be found in tropical and subtropical regions and, significantly, they are concentrated in regions heavily affected by human activities.

Extinction is a natural part of the evolutionary process. But the number of simultaneously threatened species, and the link to direct human pressure, adds support for the argument that humanity is now witnessing the sixth, and possibly greatest, mass extinction in the history of life.

The same research has identified 388 vertebrate species with fewer than 5000 individuals in the surviving populations. Of these, more than four-fifths cling to survival in the same threatened regions, and may therefore also be heading for the brink of extinction.

Three distinguished scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they analysed the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species to identify 29,400 terrestrial vertebrates, 1.7% of which had fewer than 1,000 remaining individuals anywhere in the world.

There are many cases of local extinction: for a mix of reasons, birds or butterflies might disappear from places where they once were many, but continue to flourish in other zones. But too many local extinctions soon amount to global obliteration: the researchers identified 237,000 populations of vertebrates that had vanished since 1900.

Massive impact ahead

They see an ecological catastrophe in the making, and they urge governments and international agencies to act.

“What we do to deal with the current extinction crisis in the next two decades will define the fate of millions of species,” said study lead author Gerardo Ceballos, a senior researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Ecology.

“We are facing our final opportunity to ensure that the many services nature provides us do not get irretrievably sabotaged.”

And his co-author Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University in California said: “When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system.

“The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to climate disruption, to which it is linked.”

“It’s up to us to decide what kind of a world we want to leave to coming generations – a sustainable one, or a desolate one in which the civilisation we have built disintegrates rather than builds on past successes”

Nearly a fourth of all species on the planet could face extinction. In the course of the 11,000 years since the invention of agriculture human numbers have multiplied from about one million to 7.7 billion, and are rising fast. In the last 450 million years there have been at least five major extinctions, each destroying 70% to 90% of all life on Earth.

Although creatures alive on Earth today account for only 2% of all the creatures that have ever lived, the absolute number of species is greater now than ever before. “It is into such a biologically diverse world that we humans evolved, and such a world that we are destroying,” the authors write.

Extinction may be the greatest environmental problem, because it is irreversible. It is now happening at rates perhaps a thousand times faster than the “background rate” over the last tens of millions of years.

When a species disappears, it takes with it a unique set of biological riches, and – perhaps more dangerously – it creates a loss for other species that may in some way depend upon it. Extinction breeds extinction, the authors argue.

And as plants and animals vanish into oblivion, the biosphere’s capacity to recycle atmosphere, water and nutrients, to pollinate and fertilise, and to dispose of the dead and the waste, is diminished.

‘Ecological zombies’

Ecosystems that support and enrich all life also support and enrich humanity. At one stage 60 million bison maintained the prairie ecosystems of North America and in the course of doing so supported the then Native American population.

By 1884 only 325 individuals were left. The prairies are now largely farmland, and the 4000 surviving wild bison can be considered, the authors say, as “ecological zombies.”

Among other steps, they want to see a halt to the trade in wildlife – thought to be linked to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. All three have considerable reputations within science and they have all been making much the same argument for many years.

They calculate that in the last century 543 species of land vertebrate were extinguished. The same number could go in the next two decades. Human action created the problem: only human action can repair the damage.

“It’s up to us to decide what kind of a world we want to leave to coming generations – a sustainable one, or a desolate one in which the civilisation we have built disintegrates rather than builds on past successes,” said Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, the third of the signatories. – Climate News Network

3 bn people may face Saharan heat levels by 2070

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network

Human action will decide how much sea levels rise

Sea levels will go on rising, because of human action. By how much, though, depends on what humans do next.

LONDON, 21 May 2020 – It’s a racing certainty that sea levels everywhere will go on climbing. Unless the world’s nations act to contain global warming, by 2100 the tides around the world will be one metre higher. And by 2300, they could be five metres higher.

Humans will not be able to blame natural causes: if beaches wash away and coastal towns flood, it will be because of deliberate human inaction.

And even if the 195 nations that met in Paris in 2015 and vowed to limit global warming to “well below” a maximum of 2°C by 2100 actually keep their promise, sea levels around the world will almost certainly rise by at least half a metre, as ever warmer oceans expand, and mountain glaciers and polar icecaps continue to melt.

The predicted levels are not new – individual research teams and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have said as much many times – but they represent a second and closer look, by 106 experts, at the forecasts for the future.

The charge of human complicity in sea level rise, too, is not new, but science has a way of continuously re-examining its own conclusions to see if they could be wrong. And the message is: they are not wrong.

“This provides a great deal of hope for the future, as well as strong motivation to act now”

Researchers from Hong Kong, Ireland, the UK, the US and Germany joined scientists from Singapore to consider, once again, what could happen to the world’s oceans under two scenarios: one in which global warming – already at least 1°C higher now than for most of human history – rose by no more than 2°C altogether, and one in which humankind went on burning fossil fuels and destroying tropical rainforests at ever greater rates.

The conclusion? They report in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science that at the 2°C limit, seas will rise by 0.5 metres by 2100 and two metres by 2300.

If temperatures by 2100 reach 4.5°C, then by the century’s end the tides could reach anywhere between 0.6 and 1.3 metres above present levels. Two centuries on, the high tide mark could be anywhere between 1.7 and 5.6 metres above the present.

And these are the judgments of 106 scientists, each of whom has published at least six peer-reviewed scientific studies of future sea level rise in the last six years.

“We know that the planet will see additional sea level rise in the future. But there are stark differences in the amount of sea level rise experts project for low emissions compared to high emissions,” said one of the scientists, Andra Garner of Rowan University in the US.

Lessons from prehistory

“This provides a great deal of hope for the future, as well as strong motivation to act now to avoid the more severe impacts of rising sea levels.”

Quite separately, researchers in the US report in the journal Science Advances that they too, took a closer look at puzzles posed by past sea level change. Long before humans ever started burning coal, oil and natural gas, the ice caps retreated, and the seas rose.

The scientists reconstructed the history of sea levels and glaciation since the end of the Cretaceous era 60 million or so years ago, and matched them to estimated carbon dioxide levels long before the emergence of any human ancestry.

They concluded that all the changes in the past had natural explanations, but not the changes happening now.

Kenneth Miller of Rutgers University who led the study said: “Although carbon dioxide levels had an important influence on ice-free periods, minor variations in the Earth’s orbit were the dominant factor in terms of ice volume and sea level changes – until modern times.” – Climate News Network

Sea levels will go on rising, because of human action. By how much, though, depends on what humans do next.

LONDON, 21 May 2020 – It’s a racing certainty that sea levels everywhere will go on climbing. Unless the world’s nations act to contain global warming, by 2100 the tides around the world will be one metre higher. And by 2300, they could be five metres higher.

Humans will not be able to blame natural causes: if beaches wash away and coastal towns flood, it will be because of deliberate human inaction.

And even if the 195 nations that met in Paris in 2015 and vowed to limit global warming to “well below” a maximum of 2°C by 2100 actually keep their promise, sea levels around the world will almost certainly rise by at least half a metre, as ever warmer oceans expand, and mountain glaciers and polar icecaps continue to melt.

The predicted levels are not new – individual research teams and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have said as much many times – but they represent a second and closer look, by 106 experts, at the forecasts for the future.

The charge of human complicity in sea level rise, too, is not new, but science has a way of continuously re-examining its own conclusions to see if they could be wrong. And the message is: they are not wrong.

“This provides a great deal of hope for the future, as well as strong motivation to act now”

Researchers from Hong Kong, Ireland, the UK, the US and Germany joined scientists from Singapore to consider, once again, what could happen to the world’s oceans under two scenarios: one in which global warming – already at least 1°C higher now than for most of human history – rose by no more than 2°C altogether, and one in which humankind went on burning fossil fuels and destroying tropical rainforests at ever greater rates.

The conclusion? They report in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science that at the 2°C limit, seas will rise by 0.5 metres by 2100 and two metres by 2300.

If temperatures by 2100 reach 4.5°C, then by the century’s end the tides could reach anywhere between 0.6 and 1.3 metres above present levels. Two centuries on, the high tide mark could be anywhere between 1.7 and 5.6 metres above the present.

And these are the judgments of 106 scientists, each of whom has published at least six peer-reviewed scientific studies of future sea level rise in the last six years.

“We know that the planet will see additional sea level rise in the future. But there are stark differences in the amount of sea level rise experts project for low emissions compared to high emissions,” said one of the scientists, Andra Garner of Rowan University in the US.

Lessons from prehistory

“This provides a great deal of hope for the future, as well as strong motivation to act now to avoid the more severe impacts of rising sea levels.”

Quite separately, researchers in the US report in the journal Science Advances that they too, took a closer look at puzzles posed by past sea level change. Long before humans ever started burning coal, oil and natural gas, the ice caps retreated, and the seas rose.

The scientists reconstructed the history of sea levels and glaciation since the end of the Cretaceous era 60 million or so years ago, and matched them to estimated carbon dioxide levels long before the emergence of any human ancestry.

They concluded that all the changes in the past had natural explanations, but not the changes happening now.

Kenneth Miller of Rutgers University who led the study said: “Although carbon dioxide levels had an important influence on ice-free periods, minor variations in the Earth’s orbit were the dominant factor in terms of ice volume and sea level changes – until modern times.” – Climate News Network

Nuclear tests affected the weather 60 years ago

Cold War nuclear tests did change the weather in the 1960s. The Earth did not catch fire, but a hard rain did begin to fall.

LONDON, 19 May, 2020 – Sixty years on, British scientists have confirmed a once-popular belief: that atmospheric nuclear tests of early weapons under development affected the daily weather. A new study of  weather records from 1962 to 1964 reveals the signature of experimental atomic and thermonuclear explosions during the early days of the Cold War.

The scientists measured atmospheric electric charge and cloud data to find that on those days when radioactively-generated electric charge was higher, clouds were thicker and there was up to a quarter more rain than on those days when charge was low.

The climate impact of nuclear detonations may not have been as devastating as many older lay people appeared to think at the time, and some good came of the tests: researchers who studied radiation distribution as it spread around the planet from weapons test sites built up a body of data that delivered a new way to follow atmospheric circulation patterns.

“We have now re-used this data to examine the effect on rainfall,” said Giles Harrison of the University of Reading in the UK. “The politically charged atmosphere of the Cold War led to a nuclear arms race and worldwide anxiety. Decades later, that global cloud has yielded a silver lining, in giving us a unique way to study how electric charge affects rain.”

Between 1945 and 1980 US, Soviet, British and French governments exploded 510 megatons of nuclear weaponry underground, under water and in the lower and upper atmosphere. Of this, 428 megatons – the equivalent of 29,000 bombs of the size dropped onto Hiroshima in Japan at the end of the Second World War – was in the open air, and the greatest concentration of tests was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Weather grumbles

Scientists began to collect strontium-90 isotopes and other radioactive fission products in the rain that fell after such tests. By 1960, people in Europe and the US could be heard grumbling about the supposed impact on the weather of tests carried out 10,000 kilometres away.

British cinemagoers were treated to an improbable vision of climate catastrophe triggered by nuclear tests in the 1961 film The Day the Earth Caught Fire. The US government commissioned the Rand Corporation to deliver an inconclusive report in 1966 on the effect upon weather, but by then an international treaty had banned tests in the atmosphere, in the water and in space.

Very slowly, public concern about radioactive fallout and its consequences for the weather began to fade.

Scientists continued to contemplate the climate effects of nuclear confrontation in other ways: in 1983 US researchers proposed a possible nuclear winter, triggered by radioactive mushroom clouds from burning cities that would reach the stratosphere and dim the sun’s light for a decade.

But long before then, peace and prosperity had created another climatic danger: the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels had begun to raise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to trigger global warming, and climate scientists began to adopt nuclear yardsticks to measure the effect.

“The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons”

One calculation is that by flying in jet planes or driving cars or generating electric power, humankind is now adding the equivalent in heat energy of five Hiroshima explosions every second to the world’s atmosphere, thus inexorably altering the global climate.

That has not stopped other scientists from worrying about the chilling effects upon climate and human civilisation of even a limited nuclear  exchange. But the supposed impact of bursts of nuclear radiation upon the weather has been more or less forgotten.

Now Professor Harrison and colleagues have returned to the puzzle in the journal Physical Review Letters, to find that the answer could be disentangled from weather records collected in Kew, near London, and 1000 kms away in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands north-east of Scotland, a site selected because it would be least affected by soot, sulphur particles and other kinds of industrial pollution.

Nuclear radiation ionises the matter in its path to create electrically-charged atoms and molecules. Electric charge changes the way water droplets in clouds collide and combine – think of dramatic thunderstorms, lightning and torrential rain – and this affects the size of the droplets and the volume of rain: that is, the rain doesn’t fall at all until the droplets get big enough.

Usually, the sun does most of the work, but in comparing the weather records from two stations, the researchers were for the first time able to factor in the contribution from Cold War test explosions in the Nevada desert, or the Siberian Arctic, or the faraway south Pacific, on Scottish rainfall between 1962 and 1964.

Difference disappeared

They found 150 days in which atmospheric electricity was high or low, while cloudy in Lerwick: they also found a difference in precipitation which, they say, disappeared once the build-up of nuclear radioactive fallout had vanished.

Their statistical analyses suggest no serious or lasting change, but the connection was there: where radioactivity was high, rainfall increased from 2.1mm per day to 2.6mm – a 24% increase in daily rain. Clouds, too, were thicker.

The study remains as one more piece of the climate jigsaw, as a test of measuring technique, and one more reminder of the lessons still to be learned from the Cold War.

It confirms a deepening understanding of the intricate machinery that delivers the first drops of rain, and ideally scientists won’t get many chances to test their understanding in the same way again.

The authors conclude, in the clipped tones favoured by research publications: “The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons.” – Climate News Network

Cold War nuclear tests did change the weather in the 1960s. The Earth did not catch fire, but a hard rain did begin to fall.

LONDON, 19 May, 2020 – Sixty years on, British scientists have confirmed a once-popular belief: that atmospheric nuclear tests of early weapons under development affected the daily weather. A new study of  weather records from 1962 to 1964 reveals the signature of experimental atomic and thermonuclear explosions during the early days of the Cold War.

The scientists measured atmospheric electric charge and cloud data to find that on those days when radioactively-generated electric charge was higher, clouds were thicker and there was up to a quarter more rain than on those days when charge was low.

The climate impact of nuclear detonations may not have been as devastating as many older lay people appeared to think at the time, and some good came of the tests: researchers who studied radiation distribution as it spread around the planet from weapons test sites built up a body of data that delivered a new way to follow atmospheric circulation patterns.

“We have now re-used this data to examine the effect on rainfall,” said Giles Harrison of the University of Reading in the UK. “The politically charged atmosphere of the Cold War led to a nuclear arms race and worldwide anxiety. Decades later, that global cloud has yielded a silver lining, in giving us a unique way to study how electric charge affects rain.”

Between 1945 and 1980 US, Soviet, British and French governments exploded 510 megatons of nuclear weaponry underground, under water and in the lower and upper atmosphere. Of this, 428 megatons – the equivalent of 29,000 bombs of the size dropped onto Hiroshima in Japan at the end of the Second World War – was in the open air, and the greatest concentration of tests was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Weather grumbles

Scientists began to collect strontium-90 isotopes and other radioactive fission products in the rain that fell after such tests. By 1960, people in Europe and the US could be heard grumbling about the supposed impact on the weather of tests carried out 10,000 kilometres away.

British cinemagoers were treated to an improbable vision of climate catastrophe triggered by nuclear tests in the 1961 film The Day the Earth Caught Fire. The US government commissioned the Rand Corporation to deliver an inconclusive report in 1966 on the effect upon weather, but by then an international treaty had banned tests in the atmosphere, in the water and in space.

Very slowly, public concern about radioactive fallout and its consequences for the weather began to fade.

Scientists continued to contemplate the climate effects of nuclear confrontation in other ways: in 1983 US researchers proposed a possible nuclear winter, triggered by radioactive mushroom clouds from burning cities that would reach the stratosphere and dim the sun’s light for a decade.

But long before then, peace and prosperity had created another climatic danger: the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels had begun to raise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to trigger global warming, and climate scientists began to adopt nuclear yardsticks to measure the effect.

“The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons”

One calculation is that by flying in jet planes or driving cars or generating electric power, humankind is now adding the equivalent in heat energy of five Hiroshima explosions every second to the world’s atmosphere, thus inexorably altering the global climate.

That has not stopped other scientists from worrying about the chilling effects upon climate and human civilisation of even a limited nuclear  exchange. But the supposed impact of bursts of nuclear radiation upon the weather has been more or less forgotten.

Now Professor Harrison and colleagues have returned to the puzzle in the journal Physical Review Letters, to find that the answer could be disentangled from weather records collected in Kew, near London, and 1000 kms away in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands north-east of Scotland, a site selected because it would be least affected by soot, sulphur particles and other kinds of industrial pollution.

Nuclear radiation ionises the matter in its path to create electrically-charged atoms and molecules. Electric charge changes the way water droplets in clouds collide and combine – think of dramatic thunderstorms, lightning and torrential rain – and this affects the size of the droplets and the volume of rain: that is, the rain doesn’t fall at all until the droplets get big enough.

Usually, the sun does most of the work, but in comparing the weather records from two stations, the researchers were for the first time able to factor in the contribution from Cold War test explosions in the Nevada desert, or the Siberian Arctic, or the faraway south Pacific, on Scottish rainfall between 1962 and 1964.

Difference disappeared

They found 150 days in which atmospheric electricity was high or low, while cloudy in Lerwick: they also found a difference in precipitation which, they say, disappeared once the build-up of nuclear radioactive fallout had vanished.

Their statistical analyses suggest no serious or lasting change, but the connection was there: where radioactivity was high, rainfall increased from 2.1mm per day to 2.6mm – a 24% increase in daily rain. Clouds, too, were thicker.

The study remains as one more piece of the climate jigsaw, as a test of measuring technique, and one more reminder of the lessons still to be learned from the Cold War.

It confirms a deepening understanding of the intricate machinery that delivers the first drops of rain, and ideally scientists won’t get many chances to test their understanding in the same way again.

The authors conclude, in the clipped tones favoured by research publications: “The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons.” – Climate News Network

At last: a fair deal for our atomic love affair

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

Plastic waste now litters Antarctic shore

From the deep Mediterranean marine mud to the desolate beaches of the Southern Ocean, plastic waste now gets everywhere.

LONDON, 12 May, 2020 – The throwaway society now has a global reach. British and German scientists have found astonishing concentrations of plastic waste in the form of tiny fibres on the sea floor. In just one square metre of marine ooze, they have counted as many as 1.9 million fragments less than a millimetre in length.

And two studies have identified sickening levels of plastic waste in the Southern Ocean that washes around Antarctica. One team reports ever greater counts of debris on the beaches of islands in South Georgia and South Orkney; the other on the increasing quantities ingested by the wandering albatross and the giant petrel, two iconic birds of the south polar seas.

An estimated 10 million tonnes of discarded food wrapping, drinking straws, disposable cups, bottles, carrier bags and fishing gear are tipped into the sea each year: plastic waste has now been found in all the world’s oceans, and even in the polar ice, an indestructible reminder of human impact on the natural world.

Tiny textile particles or microfibres of plastic have been found in every sampled litre of sea water, in the stomachs of seabirds and in the bellies of whales.

In fact the visible debris – the polystyrene cups and drinking straws and carrier bags floating on or near the surface – is thought to account for a tiny proportion of the total. Around 99% is thought to be in the deep oceans.

“Microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas”

And researchers now report in the journal Science that they have found an indicator as to the final fate of most of it. They collected sediment at depths of up to 900 metres from the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the Italian peninsula and began counting the particles of indestructible polymer material in the marine mud, carried there by deep ocean currents.

“Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ‘garbage patches’ of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found on the sea floor,” said Ian Kane of the University of Manchester, in the UK, one of the authors.

“We discovered that microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas.”

These same deep currents also carry oxygen-rich water and nutrients, which suggests that toxic microplastics are being carried into vital deep ecosystems. But the surface-borne debris has far-reaching consequences too.

Remedial efforts

British and Australian scientists who made surveys over three decades of beached plastic, metal, glass, paper and rubber at locations in the Southern Ocean report in the journal Environment International that between 1989 and March 2019, they recovered 10,112 items of waste weighing in total more than 100kg from Bird Island off South Georgia, and 1,304 items weighing in all 268 kg from the remote shores of Signy Island in the South Orkney archipelago.

Almost 90% of the total was plastic. The peak of the debris count was in the 1990s, which suggests that some attempts have been made to reduce the levels discarded from shipping and other sources.

And a second study in the same journal reports that in the same 30 years, levels of plastic pollution had been consumed in increasing quantities by two out of three species of albatross, and another sea bird.

Annual intake in Diomedea exulans, the wandering albatross, had increased 14-fold, and in the giant petrel Macronectes giganteus the intake had increased six-fold.

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that fishing and other vessels make a major contribution to plastic pollution,” said Richard Phillips of the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s clear that marine plastics are a threat to seabirds and other wildlife, and more needs to be done.” – Climate News Network

From the deep Mediterranean marine mud to the desolate beaches of the Southern Ocean, plastic waste now gets everywhere.

LONDON, 12 May, 2020 – The throwaway society now has a global reach. British and German scientists have found astonishing concentrations of plastic waste in the form of tiny fibres on the sea floor. In just one square metre of marine ooze, they have counted as many as 1.9 million fragments less than a millimetre in length.

And two studies have identified sickening levels of plastic waste in the Southern Ocean that washes around Antarctica. One team reports ever greater counts of debris on the beaches of islands in South Georgia and South Orkney; the other on the increasing quantities ingested by the wandering albatross and the giant petrel, two iconic birds of the south polar seas.

An estimated 10 million tonnes of discarded food wrapping, drinking straws, disposable cups, bottles, carrier bags and fishing gear are tipped into the sea each year: plastic waste has now been found in all the world’s oceans, and even in the polar ice, an indestructible reminder of human impact on the natural world.

Tiny textile particles or microfibres of plastic have been found in every sampled litre of sea water, in the stomachs of seabirds and in the bellies of whales.

In fact the visible debris – the polystyrene cups and drinking straws and carrier bags floating on or near the surface – is thought to account for a tiny proportion of the total. Around 99% is thought to be in the deep oceans.

“Microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas”

And researchers now report in the journal Science that they have found an indicator as to the final fate of most of it. They collected sediment at depths of up to 900 metres from the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the Italian peninsula and began counting the particles of indestructible polymer material in the marine mud, carried there by deep ocean currents.

“Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ‘garbage patches’ of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found on the sea floor,” said Ian Kane of the University of Manchester, in the UK, one of the authors.

“We discovered that microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas.”

These same deep currents also carry oxygen-rich water and nutrients, which suggests that toxic microplastics are being carried into vital deep ecosystems. But the surface-borne debris has far-reaching consequences too.

Remedial efforts

British and Australian scientists who made surveys over three decades of beached plastic, metal, glass, paper and rubber at locations in the Southern Ocean report in the journal Environment International that between 1989 and March 2019, they recovered 10,112 items of waste weighing in total more than 100kg from Bird Island off South Georgia, and 1,304 items weighing in all 268 kg from the remote shores of Signy Island in the South Orkney archipelago.

Almost 90% of the total was plastic. The peak of the debris count was in the 1990s, which suggests that some attempts have been made to reduce the levels discarded from shipping and other sources.

And a second study in the same journal reports that in the same 30 years, levels of plastic pollution had been consumed in increasing quantities by two out of three species of albatross, and another sea bird.

Annual intake in Diomedea exulans, the wandering albatross, had increased 14-fold, and in the giant petrel Macronectes giganteus the intake had increased six-fold.

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that fishing and other vessels make a major contribution to plastic pollution,” said Richard Phillips of the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s clear that marine plastics are a threat to seabirds and other wildlife, and more needs to be done.” – Climate News Network

How to save economy and climate together

There’s growing agreement by economists and scientists: Covid-19 needs the world to rescue both economy and climate together.

LONDON, 7 May, 2020 − The warnings are stark. With the Covid-19 crisis wreaking global havoc and the overheating atmosphere threatening far worse in the long term, especially if governments rely on the same old carbon-intensive ways, both economy and climate will sink or swim together.

“There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate fire”, says a new report, Will Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on Climate Change? Published by the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, UK, it says now is the time for governments to restructure their economies and act decisively to tackle climate change.

“The climate emergency is like the Covid-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver”, says the study, written by a team of economic and climate change heavyweights including Joseph Stiglitz, Cameron Hepburn and Nicholas Stern.

Economic recovery packages emerging in the coming months will have a significant impact on whether globally agreed climate goals are met, says the report.

“The recovery packages can either kill two birds with one stone – setting the global economy on a pathway to net-zero emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be nearly impossible to escape.”

“In the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments”

The study’s authors talked to economists, finance officials and central banks around the world.

They say that putting policies aimed at tackling climate change at the centre of recovery plans makes economic as well as environmental sense.

“… Green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long term-term cost saving, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus”, says the report.

“Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar.

“As previous research has shown, in the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments.”

Fundamental change coming

Covid-19 is causing great suffering and considerable economic hardship around the world. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and waterways, a quieter environment and far less commuting to and from work, with people in the developed countries doing more work from home.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent survey that Covid-19 and other factors were bringing about a fundamental change in the global energy market, with the use of climate-changing fossil fuels falling sharply and prices of oil, coal and gas plummeting. The IEA also projected that global emissions of greenhouses gases would fall by 8% in 2020, more than any other year on record.

The Oxford report says that with the implementation of the right policies, these positive changes can be sustained: by tackling climate change, many economic and other problems will be solved.

Sceptics have often said that public resistance to changes in lifestyle will prevent governments from taking any substantial action on the climate issue. The study begs to differ: “The (Covid-19) crisis has also demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present.”

Economists and finance experts are calling for the UK to play a decisive role in ensuring that economies around the world do not return to the old, high-carbon ways but instead implement green recovery packages.

Climate conference

The UK is president and co-host of COP-26, the round of UN climate talks originally due to take place in November this year but now, due to Covid, postponed to early 2021.

The round is seen as a vital part of efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, now a finance adviser to the British prime minister for COP-26, says the UK has the opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in order to combat a warming world.

“The UK’s global leadership in financial services provides a unique opportunity to address climate change by transforming the financial system”, he says.

“To seize it, all financial decisions need to take into account the risks from climate change and the opportunities from the transition to a net zero economy.” − Climate News Network

There’s growing agreement by economists and scientists: Covid-19 needs the world to rescue both economy and climate together.

LONDON, 7 May, 2020 − The warnings are stark. With the Covid-19 crisis wreaking global havoc and the overheating atmosphere threatening far worse in the long term, especially if governments rely on the same old carbon-intensive ways, both economy and climate will sink or swim together.

“There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate fire”, says a new report, Will Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on Climate Change? Published by the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, UK, it says now is the time for governments to restructure their economies and act decisively to tackle climate change.

“The climate emergency is like the Covid-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver”, says the study, written by a team of economic and climate change heavyweights including Joseph Stiglitz, Cameron Hepburn and Nicholas Stern.

Economic recovery packages emerging in the coming months will have a significant impact on whether globally agreed climate goals are met, says the report.

“The recovery packages can either kill two birds with one stone – setting the global economy on a pathway to net-zero emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be nearly impossible to escape.”

“In the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments”

The study’s authors talked to economists, finance officials and central banks around the world.

They say that putting policies aimed at tackling climate change at the centre of recovery plans makes economic as well as environmental sense.

“… Green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long term-term cost saving, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus”, says the report.

“Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar.

“As previous research has shown, in the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments.”

Fundamental change coming

Covid-19 is causing great suffering and considerable economic hardship around the world. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and waterways, a quieter environment and far less commuting to and from work, with people in the developed countries doing more work from home.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent survey that Covid-19 and other factors were bringing about a fundamental change in the global energy market, with the use of climate-changing fossil fuels falling sharply and prices of oil, coal and gas plummeting. The IEA also projected that global emissions of greenhouses gases would fall by 8% in 2020, more than any other year on record.

The Oxford report says that with the implementation of the right policies, these positive changes can be sustained: by tackling climate change, many economic and other problems will be solved.

Sceptics have often said that public resistance to changes in lifestyle will prevent governments from taking any substantial action on the climate issue. The study begs to differ: “The (Covid-19) crisis has also demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present.”

Economists and finance experts are calling for the UK to play a decisive role in ensuring that economies around the world do not return to the old, high-carbon ways but instead implement green recovery packages.

Climate conference

The UK is president and co-host of COP-26, the round of UN climate talks originally due to take place in November this year but now, due to Covid, postponed to early 2021.

The round is seen as a vital part of efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, now a finance adviser to the British prime minister for COP-26, says the UK has the opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in order to combat a warming world.

“The UK’s global leadership in financial services provides a unique opportunity to address climate change by transforming the financial system”, he says.

“To seize it, all financial decisions need to take into account the risks from climate change and the opportunities from the transition to a net zero economy.” − Climate News Network

Sir John Houghton: UK climate science pioneer

A towering figure in tackling global heating, the UK climate science pioneer Sir John Houghton has died at 88.

LONDON, 5 May, 2020 − One of the many victims of the coronavirus pandemic has been the 88-year-old British climate change expert and meteorologist Sir John Houghton, who died on 15 April.

During the final quarter of the twentieth century he  was amongst the handful of key scientific figures who moved concern about the threat of climate change from being something dismissed as a cranky theory to its current political acceptance as one of the most important issues facing the world. Memorably, he was the scientist who persuaded the UK government to take climate change seriously.

Educated at Rhyl Grammar School, he won a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, where he held a fellowship between 1960 and 1983, the last seven of these as professor of atmospheric physics. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences, in 1972, was appointed a CBE in 1983, and was given a knighthood by the then prime minister, John Major, in 1991.

He chaired the scientific committee of the World Climate Research Programme between 1981 and 1983 and the Earth Observation Advisory Committee from 1982, moving on to chair the initial scientific assessment panel of the newly formed Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1988 to 2001 − still the foremost international science organisation concerned with climate change.

“Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority”

He was lead editor of the IPCC’s first three assessments of the science of global climate change; his books include Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, aimed at the non-scientific reader and now in its fifth edition.

In an unprecedented move, the IPCC has announced that the scientific section of its forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report, due in early 2022, is to be formally dedicated to Sir John’s memory.

He set up the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, published many outstanding papers on atmospherics, and became the most frequent scientific broadcaster and lecturer on climate change issues.

He had moved from academia to become the chief executive of the Met Office in Bracknell, near London, in 1983, where my stepfather, the late Michael Blackwell (holder of the Polar Medal), was a senior fellow-scientist. I recall being at my parents’ house just outside Bracknell that year, and first meeting John Houghton at a dinner party there.

Because I had recently launched the Association for the Conservation of Energy, he talked to me at length about his work on what was then called the Greenhouse Effect, and the impact that excessive consumption of fuels (they were practically all fossil-based then) was having upon average temperatures worldwide.

Stressing the benefits

In Sir John’s view, reducing unnecessary energy consumption was the most effective way to combat this threat. He urged me to campaign  stressing this beneficial aspect, rather more than the employment, health and economic arguments I had been pursuing,

He was influential in ensuring the House of Commons environment select committee, under the late (and also lamented) Sir Hugh Rossi MP, who died the day before him, on 14 April, became the first major UK institution to examine the potential of this policy solution for ameliorating the threat of climate change.

Later in that decade, in 1989, both privately and publicly he was key to persuading the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher (a former chemist) to make her seminal Royal Society speech on global warming, a speech that still provides the intellectual leitmotif for greening the Conservative Party.

Just after that speech Mrs Thatcher arranged for Sir John to organise a full day briefing for the entire Cabinet on the threat of climate change, an event recalled by Ken Clarke in his autobiography Kind of Blue as an occasion of distinctly confused ennui for almost all attendees (with the possible exceptions of two sympathetic senior Conservative MPs, Chris Patten and John Gummer): it was certainly very unfamiliar political territory then. Around that time he was appointed as scientific chair of the newly formed IPCC: the rest is history.

Providing moral support

Some 13 years after we first met I coincided with him in a broadcasting studio. To my surprise, he recalled well that first meeting, and congratulated me for being amongst those who really had listened in detail to what he had been saying.

I recall in 1999 (somewhat to my surprise) being invited myself to give a lecture at the Royal Society, always quintessentially his territory, and being very flattered to find he had popped into the back of the room when I started as he put it, to give me moral support.

A very devout Christian, his overt sincerity has triumphed over the cynicism, lies and self-interest that the purveyors of pollution always employ, to try to colour the climate change debate. Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority.

Everyone concerned to combat the threat of climate change will always owe an unpayable debt to John Theodore Houghton. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Warren was director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy between 1981 and 2014. He now chairs the British Energy Efficiency Federation.

A towering figure in tackling global heating, the UK climate science pioneer Sir John Houghton has died at 88.

LONDON, 5 May, 2020 − One of the many victims of the coronavirus pandemic has been the 88-year-old British climate change expert and meteorologist Sir John Houghton, who died on 15 April.

During the final quarter of the twentieth century he  was amongst the handful of key scientific figures who moved concern about the threat of climate change from being something dismissed as a cranky theory to its current political acceptance as one of the most important issues facing the world. Memorably, he was the scientist who persuaded the UK government to take climate change seriously.

Educated at Rhyl Grammar School, he won a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, where he held a fellowship between 1960 and 1983, the last seven of these as professor of atmospheric physics. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences, in 1972, was appointed a CBE in 1983, and was given a knighthood by the then prime minister, John Major, in 1991.

He chaired the scientific committee of the World Climate Research Programme between 1981 and 1983 and the Earth Observation Advisory Committee from 1982, moving on to chair the initial scientific assessment panel of the newly formed Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1988 to 2001 − still the foremost international science organisation concerned with climate change.

“Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority”

He was lead editor of the IPCC’s first three assessments of the science of global climate change; his books include Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, aimed at the non-scientific reader and now in its fifth edition.

In an unprecedented move, the IPCC has announced that the scientific section of its forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report, due in early 2022, is to be formally dedicated to Sir John’s memory.

He set up the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, published many outstanding papers on atmospherics, and became the most frequent scientific broadcaster and lecturer on climate change issues.

He had moved from academia to become the chief executive of the Met Office in Bracknell, near London, in 1983, where my stepfather, the late Michael Blackwell (holder of the Polar Medal), was a senior fellow-scientist. I recall being at my parents’ house just outside Bracknell that year, and first meeting John Houghton at a dinner party there.

Because I had recently launched the Association for the Conservation of Energy, he talked to me at length about his work on what was then called the Greenhouse Effect, and the impact that excessive consumption of fuels (they were practically all fossil-based then) was having upon average temperatures worldwide.

Stressing the benefits

In Sir John’s view, reducing unnecessary energy consumption was the most effective way to combat this threat. He urged me to campaign  stressing this beneficial aspect, rather more than the employment, health and economic arguments I had been pursuing,

He was influential in ensuring the House of Commons environment select committee, under the late (and also lamented) Sir Hugh Rossi MP, who died the day before him, on 14 April, became the first major UK institution to examine the potential of this policy solution for ameliorating the threat of climate change.

Later in that decade, in 1989, both privately and publicly he was key to persuading the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher (a former chemist) to make her seminal Royal Society speech on global warming, a speech that still provides the intellectual leitmotif for greening the Conservative Party.

Just after that speech Mrs Thatcher arranged for Sir John to organise a full day briefing for the entire Cabinet on the threat of climate change, an event recalled by Ken Clarke in his autobiography Kind of Blue as an occasion of distinctly confused ennui for almost all attendees (with the possible exceptions of two sympathetic senior Conservative MPs, Chris Patten and John Gummer): it was certainly very unfamiliar political territory then. Around that time he was appointed as scientific chair of the newly formed IPCC: the rest is history.

Providing moral support

Some 13 years after we first met I coincided with him in a broadcasting studio. To my surprise, he recalled well that first meeting, and congratulated me for being amongst those who really had listened in detail to what he had been saying.

I recall in 1999 (somewhat to my surprise) being invited myself to give a lecture at the Royal Society, always quintessentially his territory, and being very flattered to find he had popped into the back of the room when I started as he put it, to give me moral support.

A very devout Christian, his overt sincerity has triumphed over the cynicism, lies and self-interest that the purveyors of pollution always employ, to try to colour the climate change debate. Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority.

Everyone concerned to combat the threat of climate change will always owe an unpayable debt to John Theodore Houghton. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Warren was director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy between 1981 and 2014. He now chairs the British Energy Efficiency Federation.

Global fossil fuel demand’s ‘staggering’ fall

The world’s energy markets are in upheaval, as experts report an historic fall in global fossil fuel demand.

LONDON, 1 May, 2020 − One of the pillars of industrial society is tottering: global fossil fuel demand is buckling, with only renewable energy expected to show any growth this year.

Oil prices are going through the floor. The market for coal and gas is shrinking fast. And global emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases are set to fall in 2020 by 8%, the largest annual decrease in emissions ever recorded.

The latest report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global energy watchdog, will make sobering reading for those involved in the fossil fuel industry – and hearten those fighting against a warming world.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought death, pain and suffering around the world and is causing widespread economic and financial hardship.

But it’s become clear that the Covid crisis has done something that years of climate change negotiations have failed to do – it has not only forced us to change the way we live our lives, but also dramatically altered the way we use the planet’s resources, in particular its energy supplies.

‘Unheard-of slump’

“This is a historic shock to the entire energy world”, says Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“Amid today’s unparalleled health and economic crises, the plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas.

“Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard-of slump in electricity use”, says Dr Birol.

The IEA report, its Global Energy Review 2020, looks at likely energy trends over the coming months and analyses data accumulated over the first Covid-influenced 100 days of this year.

Overall world energy demand in 2020 is set to fall by 6% − a drop seven times greater than the decline recorded in the wake of the 2008/2009 global financial crash.

“The plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas. Only renewables are holding up”

That fall is equivalent to losing the entire annual energy demand of India − or the combined yearly demand of the UK, France, Germany and Italy.

Oil demand, says the report, is expected to decline by 9% over the present year, its biggest annual drop in a quarter of a century. Demand for gas – which has consistently expanded over recent times − is expected to fall by 5%.

The economic disruption caused by the Covid pandemic is likely to hit the coal industry – already in decline − particularly hard. The IEA forecasts coal demand to drop this year by 8% compared with 2019, its biggest year-on-year decline since the end of WWII.

“It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts, but the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before”, says the report.

The study says renewable energy is the one segment of the sector that will see growth over the present year.

Decline already begun

The dominant role of fossil fuels in the energy market was already in decline before the Covid crisis. This trend is likely to continue as low operating costs and flexible access to electricity grids make renewables ever more competitive.

Moves in many countries towards cleaner energy and more climate change-related regulations will see an overall growth of 5% in renewable electricity generation in 2020.

The IEA is generally seen as a conservative body, careful not to offend powerful interests in the global energy industry.

It says the resilience of renewable energy in the midst of a global crisis could encourage fossil fuel companies to switch to generating more clean energy.

There is the possibility that countries will revert to the old ways, with fossil fuel use climbing again as economies recover.

‘Inescapable’ challenge ahead

The IEA urges governments to put clean energy at the centre of their economic recovery plans and prioritise clean energy technologies including batteries, hydrogen and carbon capture.

In an article last month Dr Birol talked of the impact the Covid crisis was having on people’s health and economic activity.

“Although they may be severe, the effects are likely to be temporary”, he wrote.

“Meanwhile the threat posed by climate change, which requires us to reduce global emissions significantly this decade, will remain.

“We should not allow today’s crisis to compromise our efforts to tackle the world’s inescapable challenge.” − Climate News Network

The world’s energy markets are in upheaval, as experts report an historic fall in global fossil fuel demand.

LONDON, 1 May, 2020 − One of the pillars of industrial society is tottering: global fossil fuel demand is buckling, with only renewable energy expected to show any growth this year.

Oil prices are going through the floor. The market for coal and gas is shrinking fast. And global emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases are set to fall in 2020 by 8%, the largest annual decrease in emissions ever recorded.

The latest report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global energy watchdog, will make sobering reading for those involved in the fossil fuel industry – and hearten those fighting against a warming world.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought death, pain and suffering around the world and is causing widespread economic and financial hardship.

But it’s become clear that the Covid crisis has done something that years of climate change negotiations have failed to do – it has not only forced us to change the way we live our lives, but also dramatically altered the way we use the planet’s resources, in particular its energy supplies.

‘Unheard-of slump’

“This is a historic shock to the entire energy world”, says Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“Amid today’s unparalleled health and economic crises, the plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas.

“Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard-of slump in electricity use”, says Dr Birol.

The IEA report, its Global Energy Review 2020, looks at likely energy trends over the coming months and analyses data accumulated over the first Covid-influenced 100 days of this year.

Overall world energy demand in 2020 is set to fall by 6% − a drop seven times greater than the decline recorded in the wake of the 2008/2009 global financial crash.

“The plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas. Only renewables are holding up”

That fall is equivalent to losing the entire annual energy demand of India − or the combined yearly demand of the UK, France, Germany and Italy.

Oil demand, says the report, is expected to decline by 9% over the present year, its biggest annual drop in a quarter of a century. Demand for gas – which has consistently expanded over recent times − is expected to fall by 5%.

The economic disruption caused by the Covid pandemic is likely to hit the coal industry – already in decline − particularly hard. The IEA forecasts coal demand to drop this year by 8% compared with 2019, its biggest year-on-year decline since the end of WWII.

“It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts, but the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before”, says the report.

The study says renewable energy is the one segment of the sector that will see growth over the present year.

Decline already begun

The dominant role of fossil fuels in the energy market was already in decline before the Covid crisis. This trend is likely to continue as low operating costs and flexible access to electricity grids make renewables ever more competitive.

Moves in many countries towards cleaner energy and more climate change-related regulations will see an overall growth of 5% in renewable electricity generation in 2020.

The IEA is generally seen as a conservative body, careful not to offend powerful interests in the global energy industry.

It says the resilience of renewable energy in the midst of a global crisis could encourage fossil fuel companies to switch to generating more clean energy.

There is the possibility that countries will revert to the old ways, with fossil fuel use climbing again as economies recover.

‘Inescapable’ challenge ahead

The IEA urges governments to put clean energy at the centre of their economic recovery plans and prioritise clean energy technologies including batteries, hydrogen and carbon capture.

In an article last month Dr Birol talked of the impact the Covid crisis was having on people’s health and economic activity.

“Although they may be severe, the effects are likely to be temporary”, he wrote.

“Meanwhile the threat posed by climate change, which requires us to reduce global emissions significantly this decade, will remain.

“We should not allow today’s crisis to compromise our efforts to tackle the world’s inescapable challenge.” − Climate News Network

Tropical deforestation releases deadly infections

Brazil’s burning forests are bad news for the global climate. Now scientists say the trees harbour deadly infections too.

SÃO PAULO, 29 April, 2020 − As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind.

There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.

As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria.

“The connection between deforestation and infectious diseases is just one more impact of deforestation, added to impacts of losing both Amazonia’s biodiversity and the forest’s vital climate functions in avoiding global warming and in recycling water.”

He is one of the co-authors of a paper by a team led by Joel Henrique Ellwanger on the impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health, which has just been published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy.

Dr Fearnside adds: “Many ‘new’ human diseases originate from pathogens transferred from wild animals, as occurred with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Amazonia contains a vast number of animal species and their associated pathogens with the potential to be transferred to humans.”

No surprise

The warnings are not new. Ana Lúcia Tourinho, with a Ph.D in ecology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), interviewed by Deutsche Welle, said: “For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms – up till then in equilibrium – migrating to humans and causing victims.

“That is why news of the propagation of the new coronavirus detected in China, which has spread throughout the world, was not a surprise.

“When a vírus which is not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and enters our body it brings chaos”, she said.

Isolated and in equilibrium with their habitats, like dense forests, this sort of vírus would not be a threat to humans. The problem comes when this natural reservoir is destroyed and occupied (by other species).

Scientific studies published years before the present pandemic already showed the connection between the loss of forest, proliferation of bats in the degraded areas, and the coronavirus.

One example is the study by Dr Aneta Afelt, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, who concluded that the high rates of forest destruction in the last 40 years in Asia were an indication that the next serious infectious disease could come from there.

“For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms migrating to humans”

To reach this conclusion, she followed the trail of previous pandemics triggered by other coronaviruses like Sars in 2002 and 2003, and Mers in 2012.

“Because it’s one of the regions where population growth is most intense, where sanitary conditions remain bad and where the rate of deforestation is high, south-east Asia has all the conditions for becoming the place where infectious diseases emerge or re-emerge”, she wrote in 2018.

If destruction of the Amazon continues at the present accelerated pace, Dr Tourinho says, and it is turned into an area of savannah, “we cannot imagine what might come out of there in terms of diseases.”

The relationship between deforestation and the increase of diseases in the Amazon has been studied by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

A 2015 survey in 773 Amazon towns showed that for each 1% of forest destroyed, malaria cases increased by 23%. The incidence of leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of sand flies, which causes skin sores, disfigurement and can kill, also increased.

Since Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing climate denier, became president of Brazil in January 2019, the rate of deforestation, followed by forest fires, has exploded.

Officially-sanctioned illegality

This year the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon)’s deforestation alert system (SAD) reports that an area of 254 sq km in the Amazon region was deforested in March, a increase of 279% over the same month last year.

This is even more alarming because traditionally deforestation begins in June, at the end of the rainy season. This year it has begun three months earlier.

The illegal clearing of the forest, much of it in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, by land grabbers, for cattle, soy, and logging projects, and by miners panning for gold, has been openly encouraged by Bolsonaro and his so-called Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.

The Amazon Council set up by the president to coordinate action in the region does not include a single scientist, environmentalist or Amazon researcher, or even any experts from the government agencies for the environment and indigenous affairs, Ibama and Funai.

Instead, all its members are officers of the armed forces or the police. The likelihood that it will do anything serious to stop deforestation is zero.

Yet the destruction of the Amazon is a disaster not only for the world’s climate but also for its health, and Brazil is set to become one of the worst-affected countries. Climate News Network

Brazil’s burning forests are bad news for the global climate. Now scientists say the trees harbour deadly infections too.

SÃO PAULO, 29 April, 2020 − As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind.

There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.

As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria.

“The connection between deforestation and infectious diseases is just one more impact of deforestation, added to impacts of losing both Amazonia’s biodiversity and the forest’s vital climate functions in avoiding global warming and in recycling water.”

He is one of the co-authors of a paper by a team led by Joel Henrique Ellwanger on the impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health, which has just been published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy.

Dr Fearnside adds: “Many ‘new’ human diseases originate from pathogens transferred from wild animals, as occurred with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Amazonia contains a vast number of animal species and their associated pathogens with the potential to be transferred to humans.”

No surprise

The warnings are not new. Ana Lúcia Tourinho, with a Ph.D in ecology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), interviewed by Deutsche Welle, said: “For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms – up till then in equilibrium – migrating to humans and causing victims.

“That is why news of the propagation of the new coronavirus detected in China, which has spread throughout the world, was not a surprise.

“When a vírus which is not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and enters our body it brings chaos”, she said.

Isolated and in equilibrium with their habitats, like dense forests, this sort of vírus would not be a threat to humans. The problem comes when this natural reservoir is destroyed and occupied (by other species).

Scientific studies published years before the present pandemic already showed the connection between the loss of forest, proliferation of bats in the degraded areas, and the coronavirus.

One example is the study by Dr Aneta Afelt, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, who concluded that the high rates of forest destruction in the last 40 years in Asia were an indication that the next serious infectious disease could come from there.

“For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms migrating to humans”

To reach this conclusion, she followed the trail of previous pandemics triggered by other coronaviruses like Sars in 2002 and 2003, and Mers in 2012.

“Because it’s one of the regions where population growth is most intense, where sanitary conditions remain bad and where the rate of deforestation is high, south-east Asia has all the conditions for becoming the place where infectious diseases emerge or re-emerge”, she wrote in 2018.

If destruction of the Amazon continues at the present accelerated pace, Dr Tourinho says, and it is turned into an area of savannah, “we cannot imagine what might come out of there in terms of diseases.”

The relationship between deforestation and the increase of diseases in the Amazon has been studied by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

A 2015 survey in 773 Amazon towns showed that for each 1% of forest destroyed, malaria cases increased by 23%. The incidence of leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of sand flies, which causes skin sores, disfigurement and can kill, also increased.

Since Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing climate denier, became president of Brazil in January 2019, the rate of deforestation, followed by forest fires, has exploded.

Officially-sanctioned illegality

This year the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon)’s deforestation alert system (SAD) reports that an area of 254 sq km in the Amazon region was deforested in March, a increase of 279% over the same month last year.

This is even more alarming because traditionally deforestation begins in June, at the end of the rainy season. This year it has begun three months earlier.

The illegal clearing of the forest, much of it in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, by land grabbers, for cattle, soy, and logging projects, and by miners panning for gold, has been openly encouraged by Bolsonaro and his so-called Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.

The Amazon Council set up by the president to coordinate action in the region does not include a single scientist, environmentalist or Amazon researcher, or even any experts from the government agencies for the environment and indigenous affairs, Ibama and Funai.

Instead, all its members are officers of the armed forces or the police. The likelihood that it will do anything serious to stop deforestation is zero.

Yet the destruction of the Amazon is a disaster not only for the world’s climate but also for its health, and Brazil is set to become one of the worst-affected countries. Climate News Network