Tag Archives: Global threats

Lentils can feed the world – and save wildlife too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia-sized area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia-sized area

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic’s impacts are damaging climate research

Climate research is suffering permanent damage from some of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impacts, a UN report says.

LONDON, 9 September, 2020 − Whatever else the coronavirus onslaught is doing to humankind, some of the pandemic’s impacts are clear. It is making it harder for researchers to establish just what effect climate change is having on the planet.

A group of United Nations and other agencies is today launching a report, United in Science 2020, (webcast at 1600 hours New York time) which it calls “a high-level compilation of the latest climate science information”. It is being launched by the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, with a virtual link to his counterpart at the World Meteorological Organisation,  Petteri Taalas, in Geneva.

Much of what the report says will already be familiar, but its detailed finding that the pandemic is causing long-term damage to climate change monitoring is sobering.

Science advances by combining knowledge of the past with experience of the present and then combining them to forecast the probable future. That is how climate scientists have been able very recently to state that their earlier worst case scenario isn’t just an awful warning, but describes what is happening right now.

Several contenders have vied to be identified as the one who wrote: “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Which of them − if any − really did write that may not matter much. But it certainly matters for today’s researchers to know where the biosphere came from and where it is now if they are to have any idea where we shall all be in a few years.

Recalled to port

So it’s alarming that United in Science 2020, in its section on earth system observations, says: “The Covid-19 pandemic has produced significant impacts on the global observing systems, which in turn have affected the quality of forecasts and other weather, climate and ocean-related services.

“The reduction of aircraft-based observations by an average of 75% to 80% in March and April degraded the forecast skills of weather models. Since June, there has been only a slight recovery. Observations at manually-operated weather stations, especially in Africa and South America, have also been badly disrupted.”

In March this year, it says, nearly all oceanographic research vessels were recalled to home ports. Commercial ships have been unable to contribute vital ocean and weather observations, and ocean buoys and other systems could not be maintained.

Four “valuable” full-depth ocean surveys of variables such as carbon, temperature, salinity, and water alkalinity, completed only once every decade, have been cancelled. Surface carbon measurements from ships, which cast light on the evolution of greenhouse gases, also effectively stopped.

The impacts on climate change monitoring are long-term. They are likely to prevent or restrict measurement of glaciers and the thickness of permafrost, usually conducted at the end of the thawing period.

In an ominous warning the report notes that the overall disruption of observations will introduce gaps in the historical time series of Essential Climate Variables, vital for understanding what is happening to the planetary climate.

“The reduction of aircraft-based observations by an average of 75% to 80% in March and April degraded the forecast skills of weather models”

The report’s authors are also concerned about climate and water, where they expect the pandemic’s impacts to intensify existing problems. By 2050, they say, the number of people at risk of floods will increase from 1.2 billion now to 1.6 bn.

In the early to mid-2010s, 1.9 bn people, or 27% of the global population, lived in potential severely water-scarce areas. In 2050, this number will increase to between 2.7 and 3.2 bn people.

It is estimated that central Europe and the Caucasus have already reached peak water, and that the Tibetan Plateau region will do so between 2030 and 2050.

Runoff from snow cover, permafrost and glaciers in this region provides up to 45% of the total river flow, so a decrease would affect water availability for 1.7 bn people.

United in Science 2020 also says the world is a very long way from living up to its promises, with the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change nowhere near being met.

The UN’s Emissions Gap Report 2019 compares “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The annual series of Gap Reports use gigatonnes (Gt) as units of measurement: one gigatonne is a billion metric tons.

Record emissions

Another frequent formula is GtCO2e, an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”. That’s a simplified way to put emissions of various GHGs on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect.

The 2019 Report says GHG emissions reached a record high of 55.3 GtCO2e in 2018. It continues: “There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years; every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required.

“By 2030, emissions would need to be 25% and 55% lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2 ̊C and 1.5°C respectively” [the two Paris Agreement targets].

The Gap in 2030 is estimated at 12-15 gigatonnes if the world is to limit global warming to below 2 °C. For the 1.5 °C goal, it is estimated at 29-32 Gt, roughly equivalent to the combined emissions of the world’s six largest emitters.

That’s an awful lot of GHGs which, as things stand, are going to be adding their heat to a torrid world a decade from now. − Climate News Network

Climate research is suffering permanent damage from some of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impacts, a UN report says.

LONDON, 9 September, 2020 − Whatever else the coronavirus onslaught is doing to humankind, some of the pandemic’s impacts are clear. It is making it harder for researchers to establish just what effect climate change is having on the planet.

A group of United Nations and other agencies is today launching a report, United in Science 2020, (webcast at 1600 hours New York time) which it calls “a high-level compilation of the latest climate science information”. It is being launched by the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, with a virtual link to his counterpart at the World Meteorological Organisation,  Petteri Taalas, in Geneva.

Much of what the report says will already be familiar, but its detailed finding that the pandemic is causing long-term damage to climate change monitoring is sobering.

Science advances by combining knowledge of the past with experience of the present and then combining them to forecast the probable future. That is how climate scientists have been able very recently to state that their earlier worst case scenario isn’t just an awful warning, but describes what is happening right now.

Several contenders have vied to be identified as the one who wrote: “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Which of them − if any − really did write that may not matter much. But it certainly matters for today’s researchers to know where the biosphere came from and where it is now if they are to have any idea where we shall all be in a few years.

Recalled to port

So it’s alarming that United in Science 2020, in its section on earth system observations, says: “The Covid-19 pandemic has produced significant impacts on the global observing systems, which in turn have affected the quality of forecasts and other weather, climate and ocean-related services.

“The reduction of aircraft-based observations by an average of 75% to 80% in March and April degraded the forecast skills of weather models. Since June, there has been only a slight recovery. Observations at manually-operated weather stations, especially in Africa and South America, have also been badly disrupted.”

In March this year, it says, nearly all oceanographic research vessels were recalled to home ports. Commercial ships have been unable to contribute vital ocean and weather observations, and ocean buoys and other systems could not be maintained.

Four “valuable” full-depth ocean surveys of variables such as carbon, temperature, salinity, and water alkalinity, completed only once every decade, have been cancelled. Surface carbon measurements from ships, which cast light on the evolution of greenhouse gases, also effectively stopped.

The impacts on climate change monitoring are long-term. They are likely to prevent or restrict measurement of glaciers and the thickness of permafrost, usually conducted at the end of the thawing period.

In an ominous warning the report notes that the overall disruption of observations will introduce gaps in the historical time series of Essential Climate Variables, vital for understanding what is happening to the planetary climate.

“The reduction of aircraft-based observations by an average of 75% to 80% in March and April degraded the forecast skills of weather models”

The report’s authors are also concerned about climate and water, where they expect the pandemic’s impacts to intensify existing problems. By 2050, they say, the number of people at risk of floods will increase from 1.2 billion now to 1.6 bn.

In the early to mid-2010s, 1.9 bn people, or 27% of the global population, lived in potential severely water-scarce areas. In 2050, this number will increase to between 2.7 and 3.2 bn people.

It is estimated that central Europe and the Caucasus have already reached peak water, and that the Tibetan Plateau region will do so between 2030 and 2050.

Runoff from snow cover, permafrost and glaciers in this region provides up to 45% of the total river flow, so a decrease would affect water availability for 1.7 bn people.

United in Science 2020 also says the world is a very long way from living up to its promises, with the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change nowhere near being met.

The UN’s Emissions Gap Report 2019 compares “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The annual series of Gap Reports use gigatonnes (Gt) as units of measurement: one gigatonne is a billion metric tons.

Record emissions

Another frequent formula is GtCO2e, an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”. That’s a simplified way to put emissions of various GHGs on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect.

The 2019 Report says GHG emissions reached a record high of 55.3 GtCO2e in 2018. It continues: “There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years; every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required.

“By 2030, emissions would need to be 25% and 55% lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2 ̊C and 1.5°C respectively” [the two Paris Agreement targets].

The Gap in 2030 is estimated at 12-15 gigatonnes if the world is to limit global warming to below 2 °C. For the 1.5 °C goal, it is estimated at 29-32 Gt, roughly equivalent to the combined emissions of the world’s six largest emitters.

That’s an awful lot of GHGs which, as things stand, are going to be adding their heat to a torrid world a decade from now. − Climate News Network

‘Ban adverts for cars that damage the climate’

Tobacco advertisements are often banned these days. So why not ban adverts for gas-guzzling cars that damage the planet?

LONDON, 1 September, 2020 – Many countries now ban adverts for tobacco products and some now limit sales of junk food, to protect public health. All of them have reduced advertising, or ended it outright.

So, campaigners argue, why not do the same with adverts which promote high-carbon products and lifestyles, damaging people’s health and heating the planet?

There’s growing pressure for bans like that in the United Kingdom, with a focus on ending the promotion of highly-polluting cars, gas-guzzling 4x4s, also known as SUVs, an argument developed by a campaign called Badvertising.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based group which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

As part of its work to publicise how projects and communities can withstand the effects of climate heating, the Alliance too is supporting Badvertising, which it is convinced can succeed.

40-year resistance

The RTA argues that advertising bans have worked before, provided they have had three factors in their favour: strong evidence from trusted sources; clear campaigning; and a threat to public health, which policymakers take seriously.

Even so, it says, powerful moneyed interests will oppose changes that threaten their income. Advertising is one key way of driving consumption, encouraging us to “shop till we drop”. In 2020 world expenditure on advertising is expected to reach US$691.7 billion (£520bn), up by 7.0% from 2019, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

That’s more than China’s infrastructure investment programme after the 2008 financial crisis, and over four times more than the $153bn provided to developing countries in 2018 by the 30 members of the OECD’s development assistance committee.

With tobacco, once its huge public health impact became clear – 100 million people died in the last century from its use, and the figure for this century is expected to be ten times greater – campaigners had to work tirelessly for another 40 years until its promotion was banned.

The tobacco industry meanwhile resisted fiercely, arguing, for example, that adverts didn’t increase smoking but merely encouraged people to switch brands, despite evidence to the contrary.

“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power”

For climate and health campaigners today there are valuable lessons to be learned from the fight against tobacco, the RTA says. Both tobacco smoke and car exhausts contain similar toxins that directly threaten human health.

Underlying health conditions mean that poorer households are worse hit than richer ones by the effects of tobacco and air pollution from vehicles, and so are more vulnerable too to health crises like Covid-19.

Junk food is another target for campaigners against advertising, particularly where child obesity is an issue. In London a ban on unhealthy food advertising was introduced in 2018, to widespread public approval. The UK government is now set to implement stricter rules on how junk food is advertised and sold across the country.

This year the Mexican state of Oaxaca banned the sale of sugary drinks and high-calorie snack foods to children. Mexicans drink 163 litres of soft drinks a year per head – the world’s highest level – and they start young. About 73% of Mexicans are considered overweight, and related diseases such as diabetes are rife.

A survey by El Poder del Consumidor (in Spanish) – a Mexican consumer advocacy group and drinks industry critic – found 70% of schoolchildren in a poor region of Guerrero state reported having soft drinks for breakfast. “When you go to these communities, what you find is junk food. There’s no access to clean drinking water,” said Alejandro Calvillo, the group’s director.

Doubt-spreading

In 2006 a US district judge ruled that tobacco companies had “devised and executed a scheme to defraud consumers … about the hazards of cigarettes, hazards that their own internal company documents proved they had known about since the 1950s.” After four decades of delay, obfuscation and the spreading of doubt by the industry, the tobacco companies were found guilty.

In the UK the first calls to restrict advertising came in 1962 from the Royal College of Physicians. The general advertising of tobacco products was banned in stages from 2003. But concern at the damage that advertising can cause continues.

Communities in the UK city of Bristol recently acted against the bright LCD billboards which have proliferated there, causing light pollution and using huge amounts of energy to adverise a range of goods and services. A Bristol initiative to help residents object to planning applications for new digital advertising screens has now led to a wider network, Adfree Cities.

Advertising is part of the broader public relations industry. The RTA quotes an American citizen, often called the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, who worked for the US Committee on Public Information, a body for official propaganda during the first world war.

Bernays once wrote: “Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power. We are governed, our minds moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of.”

Doctors’ crucial intervention

One turning point in the battle against tobacco industry propaganda in the UK, the RTA says, was the involvement of the doctors’ trades union, the British Medical Association (BMA). This brought the people the public trusted most – their family doctors – into direct confrontation with the tobacco industry.

But the medical profession was to play another crucial part in protecting public health on a far wider front in 2017, when an article in the Lancet, the leading British medical journal, featured a major study, this time with evidence supporting the climatologists’ findings that climate change is a growing health hazard.

In response, Simon Dalby of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada asks why we don’t use advertising restrictions for climate change in the same way that we have with other public health hazards like smoking.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world are already suffering because of climate change, he points out. Infectious diseases are spreading faster as the climate heats, hunger and malnutrition are worsening, allergy seasons are getting longer, and sometimes it’s simply too hot for farmers to tend their crops.

Professor Dalby’s suggestion? Not only should we restrict adverts for gas-guzzlers. We should treat climate change itself, not as an environmental problem, but as a health emergency. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Tobacco advertisements are often banned these days. So why not ban adverts for gas-guzzling cars that damage the planet?

LONDON, 1 September, 2020 – Many countries now ban adverts for tobacco products and some now limit sales of junk food, to protect public health. All of them have reduced advertising, or ended it outright.

So, campaigners argue, why not do the same with adverts which promote high-carbon products and lifestyles, damaging people’s health and heating the planet?

There’s growing pressure for bans like that in the United Kingdom, with a focus on ending the promotion of highly-polluting cars, gas-guzzling 4x4s, also known as SUVs, an argument developed by a campaign called Badvertising.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based group which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

As part of its work to publicise how projects and communities can withstand the effects of climate heating, the Alliance too is supporting Badvertising, which it is convinced can succeed.

40-year resistance

The RTA argues that advertising bans have worked before, provided they have had three factors in their favour: strong evidence from trusted sources; clear campaigning; and a threat to public health, which policymakers take seriously.

Even so, it says, powerful moneyed interests will oppose changes that threaten their income. Advertising is one key way of driving consumption, encouraging us to “shop till we drop”. In 2020 world expenditure on advertising is expected to reach US$691.7 billion (£520bn), up by 7.0% from 2019, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

That’s more than China’s infrastructure investment programme after the 2008 financial crisis, and over four times more than the $153bn provided to developing countries in 2018 by the 30 members of the OECD’s development assistance committee.

With tobacco, once its huge public health impact became clear – 100 million people died in the last century from its use, and the figure for this century is expected to be ten times greater – campaigners had to work tirelessly for another 40 years until its promotion was banned.

The tobacco industry meanwhile resisted fiercely, arguing, for example, that adverts didn’t increase smoking but merely encouraged people to switch brands, despite evidence to the contrary.

“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power”

For climate and health campaigners today there are valuable lessons to be learned from the fight against tobacco, the RTA says. Both tobacco smoke and car exhausts contain similar toxins that directly threaten human health.

Underlying health conditions mean that poorer households are worse hit than richer ones by the effects of tobacco and air pollution from vehicles, and so are more vulnerable too to health crises like Covid-19.

Junk food is another target for campaigners against advertising, particularly where child obesity is an issue. In London a ban on unhealthy food advertising was introduced in 2018, to widespread public approval. The UK government is now set to implement stricter rules on how junk food is advertised and sold across the country.

This year the Mexican state of Oaxaca banned the sale of sugary drinks and high-calorie snack foods to children. Mexicans drink 163 litres of soft drinks a year per head – the world’s highest level – and they start young. About 73% of Mexicans are considered overweight, and related diseases such as diabetes are rife.

A survey by El Poder del Consumidor (in Spanish) – a Mexican consumer advocacy group and drinks industry critic – found 70% of schoolchildren in a poor region of Guerrero state reported having soft drinks for breakfast. “When you go to these communities, what you find is junk food. There’s no access to clean drinking water,” said Alejandro Calvillo, the group’s director.

Doubt-spreading

In 2006 a US district judge ruled that tobacco companies had “devised and executed a scheme to defraud consumers … about the hazards of cigarettes, hazards that their own internal company documents proved they had known about since the 1950s.” After four decades of delay, obfuscation and the spreading of doubt by the industry, the tobacco companies were found guilty.

In the UK the first calls to restrict advertising came in 1962 from the Royal College of Physicians. The general advertising of tobacco products was banned in stages from 2003. But concern at the damage that advertising can cause continues.

Communities in the UK city of Bristol recently acted against the bright LCD billboards which have proliferated there, causing light pollution and using huge amounts of energy to adverise a range of goods and services. A Bristol initiative to help residents object to planning applications for new digital advertising screens has now led to a wider network, Adfree Cities.

Advertising is part of the broader public relations industry. The RTA quotes an American citizen, often called the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, who worked for the US Committee on Public Information, a body for official propaganda during the first world war.

Bernays once wrote: “Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power. We are governed, our minds moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of.”

Doctors’ crucial intervention

One turning point in the battle against tobacco industry propaganda in the UK, the RTA says, was the involvement of the doctors’ trades union, the British Medical Association (BMA). This brought the people the public trusted most – their family doctors – into direct confrontation with the tobacco industry.

But the medical profession was to play another crucial part in protecting public health on a far wider front in 2017, when an article in the Lancet, the leading British medical journal, featured a major study, this time with evidence supporting the climatologists’ findings that climate change is a growing health hazard.

In response, Simon Dalby of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada asks why we don’t use advertising restrictions for climate change in the same way that we have with other public health hazards like smoking.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world are already suffering because of climate change, he points out. Infectious diseases are spreading faster as the climate heats, hunger and malnutrition are worsening, allergy seasons are getting longer, and sometimes it’s simply too hot for farmers to tend their crops.

Professor Dalby’s suggestion? Not only should we restrict adverts for gas-guzzlers. We should treat climate change itself, not as an environmental problem, but as a health emergency. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Greenland is losing more ice than it gains annually

The ice lost to the sea annually off Greenland is now more than the snow falling on the island. This is a tipping point.

LONDON, 18 August, 2020 – The loss of ice from Greenland may have reached the point of no return. The island’s glaciers have dwindled and retreated so much that annual snowfall can no longer replace the lost ice.

New studies confirm that between 1980 and the year 2000, the island – the biggest single store of ice in the northern hemisphere – lost on average 450 billion tonnes of ice each year from its glaciers. This is about what falls as snow and stays on the island’s surface each year.

And then 20 years ago the rate of melt – already speeding up – accelerated again. The glaciers are now spilling more than 500 billion tonnes of ice into the seas. But snowfall has not increased.

And US scientists warn, in the normally guarded language of science, of a “switch to a new dynamic state of sustained mass loss that would persist even under a decline in surface melt.”

“Glacier retreat has knocked the dynamics of the whole ice sheet into a constant state of loss”

The scientists base their new conclusions on a careful re-examination of 40 years of satellite observations to check the rates of snowfall and ice loss. “What we’ve found is that the ice that’s discharging into the ocean is far surpassing the snow that’s accumulating on the surface of the ice sheet,” said Michalea King of Ohio State University, who led the research. .

The news, in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment, is alarming but hardly surprising. In December researchers warned that – even to begin to arrest the melting of a store of ice big enough to raise global sea levels by up to seven metres the world would have to take immediate and drastic steps to halt global heating.

Researchers have found that surface melting is at a rate that has begun to make the glaciers more unstable. They have confirmed that the rate of melt is accelerating so swiftly that the bedrock beneath the weight of ice has begun to rise, while a range of other climate change triggers has begun to darken the ice cover in ways that can only increase the absorption of heat and step up the rate of melt.

The latest evidence is that the world has passed a tipping point of sorts: once such things happen, there is no way back.

Glaciers gather speed

All icecaps melt in summer, and all icecaps are drained by glaciers, rivers of ice that make slow progress to the sea. In a stable climate, annual precipitation and annual glacier calving remain more or less in balance, and the icecap functions as its own refrigerant. The whiteness of the ice reflects sunlight back into space and insulates itself against significant loss.

But as the air and oceans warm in response to ever higher levels of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere as nations continue to burn ever more coal, oil and gas, the rates of melt became more dramatic and the glaciers began to flow ever faster: one of them was clocked at 45 metres a day.

The message of the latest research is that, even if somehow humans could immediately halt climate change, the ice likely to be lost as the glaciers reach the sea would still be greater than the accumulation of ice on the surface each winter.

“Glacier retreat has knocked the dynamics of the whole ice sheet into a constant state of loss,” said Ian Howat, a co-author at Ohio State University. “Even if the climate were to stay the same or get a little colder, the ice sheet would still be losing mass.” – Climate News Network

The ice lost to the sea annually off Greenland is now more than the snow falling on the island. This is a tipping point.

LONDON, 18 August, 2020 – The loss of ice from Greenland may have reached the point of no return. The island’s glaciers have dwindled and retreated so much that annual snowfall can no longer replace the lost ice.

New studies confirm that between 1980 and the year 2000, the island – the biggest single store of ice in the northern hemisphere – lost on average 450 billion tonnes of ice each year from its glaciers. This is about what falls as snow and stays on the island’s surface each year.

And then 20 years ago the rate of melt – already speeding up – accelerated again. The glaciers are now spilling more than 500 billion tonnes of ice into the seas. But snowfall has not increased.

And US scientists warn, in the normally guarded language of science, of a “switch to a new dynamic state of sustained mass loss that would persist even under a decline in surface melt.”

“Glacier retreat has knocked the dynamics of the whole ice sheet into a constant state of loss”

The scientists base their new conclusions on a careful re-examination of 40 years of satellite observations to check the rates of snowfall and ice loss. “What we’ve found is that the ice that’s discharging into the ocean is far surpassing the snow that’s accumulating on the surface of the ice sheet,” said Michalea King of Ohio State University, who led the research. .

The news, in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment, is alarming but hardly surprising. In December researchers warned that – even to begin to arrest the melting of a store of ice big enough to raise global sea levels by up to seven metres the world would have to take immediate and drastic steps to halt global heating.

Researchers have found that surface melting is at a rate that has begun to make the glaciers more unstable. They have confirmed that the rate of melt is accelerating so swiftly that the bedrock beneath the weight of ice has begun to rise, while a range of other climate change triggers has begun to darken the ice cover in ways that can only increase the absorption of heat and step up the rate of melt.

The latest evidence is that the world has passed a tipping point of sorts: once such things happen, there is no way back.

Glaciers gather speed

All icecaps melt in summer, and all icecaps are drained by glaciers, rivers of ice that make slow progress to the sea. In a stable climate, annual precipitation and annual glacier calving remain more or less in balance, and the icecap functions as its own refrigerant. The whiteness of the ice reflects sunlight back into space and insulates itself against significant loss.

But as the air and oceans warm in response to ever higher levels of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere as nations continue to burn ever more coal, oil and gas, the rates of melt became more dramatic and the glaciers began to flow ever faster: one of them was clocked at 45 metres a day.

The message of the latest research is that, even if somehow humans could immediately halt climate change, the ice likely to be lost as the glaciers reach the sea would still be greater than the accumulation of ice on the surface each winter.

“Glacier retreat has knocked the dynamics of the whole ice sheet into a constant state of loss,” said Ian Howat, a co-author at Ohio State University. “Even if the climate were to stay the same or get a little colder, the ice sheet would still be losing mass.” – Climate News Network

UK: Paris climate treaty has no domestic effect

The 2015 Paris climate treaty is the only global step to tame the crisis. Now London says it does not apply within the UK.

LONDON, 14 August, 2020 − The United Kingdom was one of the 195 countries which signed up to the 2015 Paris climate treaty, the global attempt to limit the climate crisis. More than that, it was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic backers of the Paris Agreement, the treaty’s formal title.

So you may be surprised to learn that the British government has just told a climate campaign group, Plan B, that the Paris Agreement does not apply to the domestic law of the UK, and is therefore irrelevant to government policy on how to rebuild the country’s economy after the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcement comes in an email (dated 7 August, but released only five days later) from the Treasury Solicitor, the head of the government’s legal department.

It is a reply to a letter sent by Plan B on 7 July to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, about official plans to meet the climate emergency, and specifically how the UK should restore the economy after the ravages of Covid.

Claim ‘too late’

In it Plan B undertook to start legal action against the government unless it provided a clear explanation of how its Covid recovery programme would support the UK’s target of a net zero carbon economy, and also agreed that all government programmes would be compatible with its policy commitments to the Paris Agreement temperature rise limit of 1.5 ̊C.

The group’s director, Tim Crosland, wrote: “Treating the climate emergency as a ‘competing priority’ to Covid recovery is a catastrophic error, which must be quickly corrected to avoid tragic consequences.”

The government has now replied to Plan B’s threatened legal action by defending its decision to ignore the Paris Agreement in its decision to  continue to support the present carbon-based economy, claiming there is no legal obligation on it to take the Agreement into account.

Its email says that Plan B’s claim for judicial review has been made too late, and “any claim filed now would be significantly out-of-time and should be refused permission to apply for judicial review on that basis alone.”

“If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?”

On the UK’s 2015 undertaking to work to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Treasury Solicitor writes: “The Paris Agreement is an unincorporated international treaty which, in the context of the English dualist legal system [one which treats international and domestic systems of law as separate and independent], has no direct effect in domestic law.”

Plan B undertook an earlier legal battle over expansion proposals for London’s Heathrow airport, where the government argued that the Paris Agreement was irrelevant. In February the Court of Appeal disagreed with that assessment, and the government’s plans were ruled unlawful.

On 4 March, Boris Johnson told Parliament that the government would ensure that it did abide by that judgment and take account of the Paris convention. Tim Crosland says: “It seems that does not apply to billions of pounds of public money being provided to companies such as RyanAir, Easyjet, Rolls-Royce and Nissan.

“Instead of addressing the evidence that its bailouts for polluters will lock us into a disastrous trajectory towards 4˚C warming, risking billions of human lives, the government is hiding behind legal arguments to claim that it isn’t legally required to take that into account.

Inbuilt discrimination

‘That is not just reckless. It is a fundamental breach of the social contract. It is the basic responsibility of the government to safeguard its people.

“Nor does the government show any concern for the discriminatory impact of its catastrophic trajectory, which will hit hardest the younger generation, racially marginalised communities, and the Global South. Its primary concern is appeasing its corporate sponsors

“This has to be stopped. We will now begin work on filing our claim with the court.”

Jerry Amokwandoh worked with the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford. He said: “Unconditional bailouts that contribute to the biggest pandemic of them all prove that our lives do not matter, the lives of my family in Ghana do not matter and an inhabitable world doesn’t matter. If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?” − Climate News Network

The 2015 Paris climate treaty is the only global step to tame the crisis. Now London says it does not apply within the UK.

LONDON, 14 August, 2020 − The United Kingdom was one of the 195 countries which signed up to the 2015 Paris climate treaty, the global attempt to limit the climate crisis. More than that, it was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic backers of the Paris Agreement, the treaty’s formal title.

So you may be surprised to learn that the British government has just told a climate campaign group, Plan B, that the Paris Agreement does not apply to the domestic law of the UK, and is therefore irrelevant to government policy on how to rebuild the country’s economy after the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcement comes in an email (dated 7 August, but released only five days later) from the Treasury Solicitor, the head of the government’s legal department.

It is a reply to a letter sent by Plan B on 7 July to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, about official plans to meet the climate emergency, and specifically how the UK should restore the economy after the ravages of Covid.

Claim ‘too late’

In it Plan B undertook to start legal action against the government unless it provided a clear explanation of how its Covid recovery programme would support the UK’s target of a net zero carbon economy, and also agreed that all government programmes would be compatible with its policy commitments to the Paris Agreement temperature rise limit of 1.5 ̊C.

The group’s director, Tim Crosland, wrote: “Treating the climate emergency as a ‘competing priority’ to Covid recovery is a catastrophic error, which must be quickly corrected to avoid tragic consequences.”

The government has now replied to Plan B’s threatened legal action by defending its decision to ignore the Paris Agreement in its decision to  continue to support the present carbon-based economy, claiming there is no legal obligation on it to take the Agreement into account.

Its email says that Plan B’s claim for judicial review has been made too late, and “any claim filed now would be significantly out-of-time and should be refused permission to apply for judicial review on that basis alone.”

“If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?”

On the UK’s 2015 undertaking to work to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Treasury Solicitor writes: “The Paris Agreement is an unincorporated international treaty which, in the context of the English dualist legal system [one which treats international and domestic systems of law as separate and independent], has no direct effect in domestic law.”

Plan B undertook an earlier legal battle over expansion proposals for London’s Heathrow airport, where the government argued that the Paris Agreement was irrelevant. In February the Court of Appeal disagreed with that assessment, and the government’s plans were ruled unlawful.

On 4 March, Boris Johnson told Parliament that the government would ensure that it did abide by that judgment and take account of the Paris convention. Tim Crosland says: “It seems that does not apply to billions of pounds of public money being provided to companies such as RyanAir, Easyjet, Rolls-Royce and Nissan.

“Instead of addressing the evidence that its bailouts for polluters will lock us into a disastrous trajectory towards 4˚C warming, risking billions of human lives, the government is hiding behind legal arguments to claim that it isn’t legally required to take that into account.

Inbuilt discrimination

‘That is not just reckless. It is a fundamental breach of the social contract. It is the basic responsibility of the government to safeguard its people.

“Nor does the government show any concern for the discriminatory impact of its catastrophic trajectory, which will hit hardest the younger generation, racially marginalised communities, and the Global South. Its primary concern is appeasing its corporate sponsors

“This has to be stopped. We will now begin work on filing our claim with the court.”

Jerry Amokwandoh worked with the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford. He said: “Unconditional bailouts that contribute to the biggest pandemic of them all prove that our lives do not matter, the lives of my family in Ghana do not matter and an inhabitable world doesn’t matter. If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?” − Climate News Network

End of Arctic sea ice by 2035 possible, study finds

How soon will the northern polar ocean be ice-free? New research expects the end of Arctic sea ice by 2035.

LONDON, 11 August, 2020 − The temperature of the Arctic matters to the entire world: it helps to keep the global climate fairly cool. Scientists now say that by 2035 there could be an end to Arctic sea ice.

The northern polar ocean’s sea ice is a crucial element in the Earth system: because it is highly reflective, it sends solar radiation back out into space. Once it’s melted, there’s no longer any protection for the darker water and rock beneath, and nothing to prevent them absorbing the incoming heat.

High temperatures in the Arctic during the last interglacial – the warm period around 127,000 years ago – have puzzled scientists for decades.

Now the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre climate model has enabled an international research team to compare Arctic sea ice conditions during the last interglacial with the present day. Their findings are important for improving predictions of future sea ice change.

What is striking about the latest research is the date it suggests for a possible total melt − 2035. Many studies have thought a mid-century crisis likely, with another even carefully specifying 2044 as the year to watch. So a breathing space of only 15 years may surprise some experts.

“The prospect of loss of sea ice by 2035 should really be focussing all our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humanly feasible”

During spring and early summer shallow pools of water form on the surface of the Arctic sea ice. These “melt ponds” help to determine how much sunlight is absorbed by the ice and how much is reflected back into space. The new Hadley Centre model is the UK’s most advanced physical representation of the Earth’s climate and a critical tool for climate research, and it incorporates sea ice and melt ponds.

The researchers report their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. Using the model to look at Arctic sea ice during the last interglacial, they concluded that the impact of intense springtime sunshine created many melt ponds, which played a crucial role in sea ice melt. A simulation of the future using the same model indicates that the Arctic may become sea ice-free by 2035.

The joint lead author of the team is Dr Maria Vittoria Guarino, an earth system modeller at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge. She says: “High temperatures in the Arctic have puzzled scientists for decades. Unravelling this mystery was technically and scientifically challenging. For the first time, we can begin to see how the Arctic became sea ice-free during the last interglacial.

“The advances made in climate modelling mean that we can create a more accurate simulation of the Earth’s past climate which, in turn, gives us greater confidence in model predictions for the future.”

Dr Louise Sime, the group head of the palaeoclimate group and joint lead author at BAS, says: “We know the Arctic is undergoing significant changes as our planet warms. By understanding what happened during Earth’s last warm period we are in a better position to understand what will happen in the future.

Melt ponds crucial

“The prospect of loss of sea ice by 2035 should really be focussing all our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humanly feasible.”

Dr David Schroeder from the University of Reading, UK, who co-led the implementation of the melt pond scheme in the climate model, says: “This shows just how important sea ice processes like melt ponds are in the Arctic, and why it is crucial that they are incorporated into climate models.”

The extent of the areas sea ice covers varies between summer and winter. If more solar energy is absorbed at the surface, and temperatures rise further, a cycle of warming and melting occurs during summer months.

When the ice forms, the ocean water beneath becomes saltier and denser than the surrounding ocean. Saltier water sinks and moves along the ocean bottom towards the equator, while warm water from mid-depths to the surface travels from the equator towards the poles.

Scientists refer to this process as the ocean’s global “conveyor-belt”. Changes to the volume of sea ice can disrupt normal ocean circulation, with consequences for global climate. − Climate News Network

How soon will the northern polar ocean be ice-free? New research expects the end of Arctic sea ice by 2035.

LONDON, 11 August, 2020 − The temperature of the Arctic matters to the entire world: it helps to keep the global climate fairly cool. Scientists now say that by 2035 there could be an end to Arctic sea ice.

The northern polar ocean’s sea ice is a crucial element in the Earth system: because it is highly reflective, it sends solar radiation back out into space. Once it’s melted, there’s no longer any protection for the darker water and rock beneath, and nothing to prevent them absorbing the incoming heat.

High temperatures in the Arctic during the last interglacial – the warm period around 127,000 years ago – have puzzled scientists for decades.

Now the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre climate model has enabled an international research team to compare Arctic sea ice conditions during the last interglacial with the present day. Their findings are important for improving predictions of future sea ice change.

What is striking about the latest research is the date it suggests for a possible total melt − 2035. Many studies have thought a mid-century crisis likely, with another even carefully specifying 2044 as the year to watch. So a breathing space of only 15 years may surprise some experts.

“The prospect of loss of sea ice by 2035 should really be focussing all our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humanly feasible”

During spring and early summer shallow pools of water form on the surface of the Arctic sea ice. These “melt ponds” help to determine how much sunlight is absorbed by the ice and how much is reflected back into space. The new Hadley Centre model is the UK’s most advanced physical representation of the Earth’s climate and a critical tool for climate research, and it incorporates sea ice and melt ponds.

The researchers report their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. Using the model to look at Arctic sea ice during the last interglacial, they concluded that the impact of intense springtime sunshine created many melt ponds, which played a crucial role in sea ice melt. A simulation of the future using the same model indicates that the Arctic may become sea ice-free by 2035.

The joint lead author of the team is Dr Maria Vittoria Guarino, an earth system modeller at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge. She says: “High temperatures in the Arctic have puzzled scientists for decades. Unravelling this mystery was technically and scientifically challenging. For the first time, we can begin to see how the Arctic became sea ice-free during the last interglacial.

“The advances made in climate modelling mean that we can create a more accurate simulation of the Earth’s past climate which, in turn, gives us greater confidence in model predictions for the future.”

Dr Louise Sime, the group head of the palaeoclimate group and joint lead author at BAS, says: “We know the Arctic is undergoing significant changes as our planet warms. By understanding what happened during Earth’s last warm period we are in a better position to understand what will happen in the future.

Melt ponds crucial

“The prospect of loss of sea ice by 2035 should really be focussing all our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humanly feasible.”

Dr David Schroeder from the University of Reading, UK, who co-led the implementation of the melt pond scheme in the climate model, says: “This shows just how important sea ice processes like melt ponds are in the Arctic, and why it is crucial that they are incorporated into climate models.”

The extent of the areas sea ice covers varies between summer and winter. If more solar energy is absorbed at the surface, and temperatures rise further, a cycle of warming and melting occurs during summer months.

When the ice forms, the ocean water beneath becomes saltier and denser than the surrounding ocean. Saltier water sinks and moves along the ocean bottom towards the equator, while warm water from mid-depths to the surface travels from the equator towards the poles.

Scientists refer to this process as the ocean’s global “conveyor-belt”. Changes to the volume of sea ice can disrupt normal ocean circulation, with consequences for global climate. − Climate News Network

Climate science’s worst case is today’s reality

Climate science’s worst case scenario isn’t just an awful warning. It describes what is already happening right now.

LONDON, 10 August, 2020 – A trio of US researchers has grim news for people worried about climate science’s worst case outcome. Forget about the other options. The worst case is already happening.

Christopher Schwalm and colleagues at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they took a closer look at the evidence for climate change in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and climate models.

This is the kind of research that assesses the future under a number of possible scenarios. These scenarios are based on mathematical models and global assumptions about economic growth, carbon budgets and land use changes, and they are couched in language arcane enough to make even committed followers of climate science reach for the aspirin.

The most optimistic of these is one in which the world makes a determined, drastic and concerted effort to contain global heating to well below 2°C above the average for most of human history. At the other end of the scale is one notoriously called “business as usual”, in which the nations of the world carry on burning ever more fossil fuels, while sea levels rise ever higher, and the thermometer readings get ever higher. It has been intended from the start as an awful warning rather than as a guide to what is most likely to happen.

“RCP8.5 has continued utility … if RCP8.5 did not exist, we’d have to create it”

Since 195 nations met in Paris in 2015 and vowed to take action to keep global heating if possible to well below 2°C, and ideally no higher than 1.5°C, there has been an assumption that the “worst case”, or “business as usual” scenario – known in climate science shorthand as Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5, or RCP8.5 – was no more than that: the worst case.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, nations accepted commitments to plans to reduce emissions. Researchers have repeatedly warned that such plans as have been announced were not ambitious enough, and not being implemented fast enough.

The US has announced that it will abandon the Paris promise. Other nations have maintained their willingness to act, but have gone on opening coal mines and prospecting for more oil.

Even so, after Paris, it became clear there would surely be change. The world had been alerted, the worst could indeed be averted. The RCP8.5 scenario was, some said, of no great help. It has even been described as “extreme, alarmist and ‘misleading’.”

Implications for 2100

Sadly, it may not be. Dr Schwalm and his colleagues looked at cumulative greenhouse gas emissions since 2005. By 2020, the emissions matched the “business as usual” or RCP8.5 predictions very closely.

They then extended the trends to 2030, and to 2050, with the same outcome. That means that – by the end of the century – the planet could be 3.3°C to 5.4°C warmer than it was at the launch of the Industrial Revolution and the worldwide switch to fossil fuels. In which case, the worst-case scenario would remain on the table as a useful risk assessment tool.

“The implied probability of occurrence similar to RCP8.5 even at the end of the century is large enough to merit its continued use,” the scientists write.

“RCP8.5 has continued utility, both as an instrument to explore mean outcomes as well as risk. Indeed, if RCP8.5 did not exist, we’d have to create it.” – Climate News Network

Climate science’s worst case scenario isn’t just an awful warning. It describes what is already happening right now.

LONDON, 10 August, 2020 – A trio of US researchers has grim news for people worried about climate science’s worst case outcome. Forget about the other options. The worst case is already happening.

Christopher Schwalm and colleagues at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they took a closer look at the evidence for climate change in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and climate models.

This is the kind of research that assesses the future under a number of possible scenarios. These scenarios are based on mathematical models and global assumptions about economic growth, carbon budgets and land use changes, and they are couched in language arcane enough to make even committed followers of climate science reach for the aspirin.

The most optimistic of these is one in which the world makes a determined, drastic and concerted effort to contain global heating to well below 2°C above the average for most of human history. At the other end of the scale is one notoriously called “business as usual”, in which the nations of the world carry on burning ever more fossil fuels, while sea levels rise ever higher, and the thermometer readings get ever higher. It has been intended from the start as an awful warning rather than as a guide to what is most likely to happen.

“RCP8.5 has continued utility … if RCP8.5 did not exist, we’d have to create it”

Since 195 nations met in Paris in 2015 and vowed to take action to keep global heating if possible to well below 2°C, and ideally no higher than 1.5°C, there has been an assumption that the “worst case”, or “business as usual” scenario – known in climate science shorthand as Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5, or RCP8.5 – was no more than that: the worst case.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, nations accepted commitments to plans to reduce emissions. Researchers have repeatedly warned that such plans as have been announced were not ambitious enough, and not being implemented fast enough.

The US has announced that it will abandon the Paris promise. Other nations have maintained their willingness to act, but have gone on opening coal mines and prospecting for more oil.

Even so, after Paris, it became clear there would surely be change. The world had been alerted, the worst could indeed be averted. The RCP8.5 scenario was, some said, of no great help. It has even been described as “extreme, alarmist and ‘misleading’.”

Implications for 2100

Sadly, it may not be. Dr Schwalm and his colleagues looked at cumulative greenhouse gas emissions since 2005. By 2020, the emissions matched the “business as usual” or RCP8.5 predictions very closely.

They then extended the trends to 2030, and to 2050, with the same outcome. That means that – by the end of the century – the planet could be 3.3°C to 5.4°C warmer than it was at the launch of the Industrial Revolution and the worldwide switch to fossil fuels. In which case, the worst-case scenario would remain on the table as a useful risk assessment tool.

“The implied probability of occurrence similar to RCP8.5 even at the end of the century is large enough to merit its continued use,” the scientists write.

“RCP8.5 has continued utility, both as an instrument to explore mean outcomes as well as risk. Indeed, if RCP8.5 did not exist, we’d have to create it.” – Climate News Network

Save wildlife, save forests, and avoid pandemics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clear argument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clear argument

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

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

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

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

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

Waste plastic cascade could triple in 20 years

In a throwaway world, some discards are forever. New research measures the crisis of the world’s waste plastic.

LONDON, 30 July, 2020 − Without immediate, sustained and concerted action worldwide, the flow of waste plastic into the world’s oceans could triple by 2040.

Right now, 11 million tonnes of throwaway bags, cups, bottles, cables, netting, and other products made of almost indestructible polymers get into the sea each year.

And in the next 20 years, this tide of detritus could almost triple to 29 million tonnes, according to new research in the journal Science. This works out at nearly 50kg of plastic on every metre of coastline worldwide.

And because plastic may fragment but never degrade or decompose, the message is that by 2040 the measure of plastic in the oceans would equal the mass of three million blue whales.

The choice of the whale as indicator is not arbitrary. Discarded plastic has become a global hazard to ecosystems worldwide.

“The plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; we can solve it in one generation”

It has been found in all oceans, in lakes, in rivers, in soils and sediments, in the atmosphere and in the tissues of 700 marine species including whales, and in 50 freshwater species. It fouls beaches, blocks drains, and provides a substrate and breeding surface for the carriers of disease.

It is also expensive. At a very conservative estimate the economic costs of plastic pollution on tourism, fishing and shipping reach US$13bn (£10bn) a year. And plastic particles have entered the human food chain, though nobody can yet be certain of the impact of this.

The researchers modelled the flow of plastic and its accumulation in the environment and tested the consequences under six scenarios. These include one in which the world simply goes on making single-use plastic products and carelessly discarding them, and one in which the world’s plastics systems undergo complete overhaul, including every aspect of production, collection, consumption and disposal.

So far, on the evidence of government promises, the flow is likely to be reduced by only 7% by 2040.

Offering an opportunity

The scientists also identified eight things that could together reduce the flow of plastics into the sea by 80% in the next 20 years. That would still see five million tonnes each year getting into the oceans.

And the researchers warn that, even if every nation invested in concerted and immediate action, by 2040 at least 710 million tonnes of the stuff will have worked its way into the world’s wetlands, soils, estuaries, beaches and seas.

The report presents a calamity in the making, but one that could also be seen as an opportunity.

“Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation,” said Martin Stuchtey, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, one of the authors.

“We have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80%. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so.” − Climate News Network

In a throwaway world, some discards are forever. New research measures the crisis of the world’s waste plastic.

LONDON, 30 July, 2020 − Without immediate, sustained and concerted action worldwide, the flow of waste plastic into the world’s oceans could triple by 2040.

Right now, 11 million tonnes of throwaway bags, cups, bottles, cables, netting, and other products made of almost indestructible polymers get into the sea each year.

And in the next 20 years, this tide of detritus could almost triple to 29 million tonnes, according to new research in the journal Science. This works out at nearly 50kg of plastic on every metre of coastline worldwide.

And because plastic may fragment but never degrade or decompose, the message is that by 2040 the measure of plastic in the oceans would equal the mass of three million blue whales.

The choice of the whale as indicator is not arbitrary. Discarded plastic has become a global hazard to ecosystems worldwide.

“The plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; we can solve it in one generation”

It has been found in all oceans, in lakes, in rivers, in soils and sediments, in the atmosphere and in the tissues of 700 marine species including whales, and in 50 freshwater species. It fouls beaches, blocks drains, and provides a substrate and breeding surface for the carriers of disease.

It is also expensive. At a very conservative estimate the economic costs of plastic pollution on tourism, fishing and shipping reach US$13bn (£10bn) a year. And plastic particles have entered the human food chain, though nobody can yet be certain of the impact of this.

The researchers modelled the flow of plastic and its accumulation in the environment and tested the consequences under six scenarios. These include one in which the world simply goes on making single-use plastic products and carelessly discarding them, and one in which the world’s plastics systems undergo complete overhaul, including every aspect of production, collection, consumption and disposal.

So far, on the evidence of government promises, the flow is likely to be reduced by only 7% by 2040.

Offering an opportunity

The scientists also identified eight things that could together reduce the flow of plastics into the sea by 80% in the next 20 years. That would still see five million tonnes each year getting into the oceans.

And the researchers warn that, even if every nation invested in concerted and immediate action, by 2040 at least 710 million tonnes of the stuff will have worked its way into the world’s wetlands, soils, estuaries, beaches and seas.

The report presents a calamity in the making, but one that could also be seen as an opportunity.

“Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation,” said Martin Stuchtey, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, one of the authors.

“We have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80%. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so.” − Climate News Network

Human climate change causes Arctic’s record heat

The coldest place in the Arctic has experienced record heat. Climate change has made this 600 times more probable.

LONDON, 23 July, 2020 – An international team of scientists has pinned the strange weather and record heat in the Siberian Arctic firmly on human-induced climate change.

On average, from January to June, temperatures in the region have been 5°C hotter because the world’s cities have continued to consume ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels.

The researchers report that, without human help, such freak conditions could happen only once every 80,000 years or so. But a steady increase in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere for the last century or more has increased the chances of record temperatures – one Arctic Circle settlement, Verkhoyansk, normally one of the coldest places on Earth, recorded 38°C on 20 June – by a factor of 600.

“The findings of this rapid research – that climate change increased the chances of prolonged heat in Siberia by at least 600 times – are truly staggering,” said Andrew Ciavarella, of the UK Met Office, who led the study.

“This research is further evidence of the extreme temperatures we can expect to see more frequently around the world in a warming global climate. Importantly, an increasing frequency of these extreme heat events can be moderated by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Confidence grows

That climate change has come to the Arctic is not news: what is significant about the research by British, French, Swiss, Dutch, German and Russian meteorologists is the readiness to put the blame fairly on climate change, even for a freak event.

It has always been a given in the science that the mix of air pressure and temperatures around the world delivers a random pattern of change marked by extremes, and for decades scientists backed away from blaming any single flood, windstorm or heat wave as evidence of climate change. That has, in the last few years, changed.

Research teams have successively warned that climate change driven by human action had contributed to California’s most recent disastrous drought; that both calamitous floods and catastrophic bushfires in Australia were made more probable and more intense by rising greenhouse gas emissions; and that the signature of climate change driven by fossil fuel combustion was now detectable in daily weather changes almost anywhere around the globe.

But the signature of climate change in the Siberian Arctic has been pronounced, and the latest attribution study is confirmation of a new confidence in the data.

“The findings of this rapid research – that climate change increased the chances of prolonged heat in Siberia by at least 600 times – are truly staggering”

In June, forest fires in Siberia consumed 1.15 million hectares and released about 56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide: this is more than the annual emissions from Switzerland or Norway.

The rising temperatures in the region have been grounds for extra alarm: permafrost in the Arctic Circle is a store of carbon that is increasingly being released as the ground thaws, to make Arctic warming even worse.

But the hazards of permafrost thaw are also direct: soils become more vulnerable to slip and slump, and there is already measurable damage to the infrastructure once supported by sediments and topsoils that used to be frozen solid all year round.

The region recorded one of the world’s worst oil spills in May, when an oil tank collapsed. The unseasonal and improbable heat has been coupled to an explosion of silk moths, bringing further caterpillar damage to conifer forests.

Even now such temperatures remain unlikely: the human component of climate change has simply reduced the frequency of such sustained temperatures to perhaps once every 135 years.

Little time left

But without rapid and drastic cuts worldwide in greenhouse gas emissions, towns like Verkhoyansk – which also shares the record for the coldest temperature in the northern hemisphere – could become a lot warmer, a lot more often before the century’s end.

“These results show that we are starting to experience extreme events which have almost no chance of happening without a human footprint on the climate system,” said Sonia Seneviratne, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich.

“We have little time left to stabilise global warming at levels at which climate change would lie within the bounds of the Paris Agreement.

“For a stabilisation at 1.5°C of global warming, which would still imply risks of such extreme heat events, we need to reduce our CO2 emissions by at least half until 2030.” – Climate News Network

The coldest place in the Arctic has experienced record heat. Climate change has made this 600 times more probable.

LONDON, 23 July, 2020 – An international team of scientists has pinned the strange weather and record heat in the Siberian Arctic firmly on human-induced climate change.

On average, from January to June, temperatures in the region have been 5°C hotter because the world’s cities have continued to consume ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels.

The researchers report that, without human help, such freak conditions could happen only once every 80,000 years or so. But a steady increase in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere for the last century or more has increased the chances of record temperatures – one Arctic Circle settlement, Verkhoyansk, normally one of the coldest places on Earth, recorded 38°C on 20 June – by a factor of 600.

“The findings of this rapid research – that climate change increased the chances of prolonged heat in Siberia by at least 600 times – are truly staggering,” said Andrew Ciavarella, of the UK Met Office, who led the study.

“This research is further evidence of the extreme temperatures we can expect to see more frequently around the world in a warming global climate. Importantly, an increasing frequency of these extreme heat events can be moderated by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Confidence grows

That climate change has come to the Arctic is not news: what is significant about the research by British, French, Swiss, Dutch, German and Russian meteorologists is the readiness to put the blame fairly on climate change, even for a freak event.

It has always been a given in the science that the mix of air pressure and temperatures around the world delivers a random pattern of change marked by extremes, and for decades scientists backed away from blaming any single flood, windstorm or heat wave as evidence of climate change. That has, in the last few years, changed.

Research teams have successively warned that climate change driven by human action had contributed to California’s most recent disastrous drought; that both calamitous floods and catastrophic bushfires in Australia were made more probable and more intense by rising greenhouse gas emissions; and that the signature of climate change driven by fossil fuel combustion was now detectable in daily weather changes almost anywhere around the globe.

But the signature of climate change in the Siberian Arctic has been pronounced, and the latest attribution study is confirmation of a new confidence in the data.

“The findings of this rapid research – that climate change increased the chances of prolonged heat in Siberia by at least 600 times – are truly staggering”

In June, forest fires in Siberia consumed 1.15 million hectares and released about 56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide: this is more than the annual emissions from Switzerland or Norway.

The rising temperatures in the region have been grounds for extra alarm: permafrost in the Arctic Circle is a store of carbon that is increasingly being released as the ground thaws, to make Arctic warming even worse.

But the hazards of permafrost thaw are also direct: soils become more vulnerable to slip and slump, and there is already measurable damage to the infrastructure once supported by sediments and topsoils that used to be frozen solid all year round.

The region recorded one of the world’s worst oil spills in May, when an oil tank collapsed. The unseasonal and improbable heat has been coupled to an explosion of silk moths, bringing further caterpillar damage to conifer forests.

Even now such temperatures remain unlikely: the human component of climate change has simply reduced the frequency of such sustained temperatures to perhaps once every 135 years.

Little time left

But without rapid and drastic cuts worldwide in greenhouse gas emissions, towns like Verkhoyansk – which also shares the record for the coldest temperature in the northern hemisphere – could become a lot warmer, a lot more often before the century’s end.

“These results show that we are starting to experience extreme events which have almost no chance of happening without a human footprint on the climate system,” said Sonia Seneviratne, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich.

“We have little time left to stabilise global warming at levels at which climate change would lie within the bounds of the Paris Agreement.

“For a stabilisation at 1.5°C of global warming, which would still imply risks of such extreme heat events, we need to reduce our CO2 emissions by at least half until 2030.” – Climate News Network