Tag Archives: Global threats

Extreme heat is growing threat to harvests

A warmer world means more chance of extreme heat in more than one continent at the same time, and a rising threat to global food security.

LONDON, 17 April, 2019 − Ever-higher average global temperatures mean more intense extreme heat over ever-wider regions.

When the planet becomes on average 1.5°C warmer than it was for most of human history, then for two out of every three years, one-fourth of the northern hemisphere will experience the kind of blistering heat waves recorded in 2018.

And should planetary average temperatures creep up by 2°C – the maximum proposed by 195 nations at the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 – then the probability rises to 100%. That is, extreme heat over a large area of the hemisphere will be guaranteed every summer.

Heat extremes are all too often accompanied by devastating thunderstorms or extended drought and massive outbreaks of wildfire, with potentially disastrous consequences for harvests in the blighted regions.

“Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland”

In 2018, people died of heatstroke, roads and even rails started to melt, forests went up in flames, and power generation systems sometimes failed, not just in one region but in a number in the temperate zones and the Arctic at the same time.

Between May and July, 22% of agricultural land and crowded cities of the northern half of the globe were hit simultaneously by extended periods of extreme heat. In all, 17 countries were affected, from Canada and the US across the Atlantic and Pacific to Russia, Japan and South Korea. In Europe, temperatures in the rivers Rhine and Elbe reached such heights that fish suffocated; there were wildfires in Sweden, Latvia and Greece and record temperatures in Germany.

“Without climate change that can be explained by human activity, we wouldn’t have such a large area being simultaneously affected by heat as we did in 2018,” said Martha Vogel, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, who presented her findings at a press conference held by the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

Serious impacts

The reasoning and methodology have yet to be published, but the authors say their paper is in review for the journal Earth’s Future. “If in future more and more key agricultural regions and densely populated areas are affected by simultaneous heatwaves, this would have severe consequences.”

Other research teams have already warned that global warming could bring a repeat of the simultaneous drought and heat outbreaks across the world that triggered calamitous famines in Asia and Africa between 1875 and 1878.

They have repeatedly warned of potentially catastrophic levels of heat that could arrive with increasing frequency to claim greater numbers of lives especially when accompanied by extreme levels of humidity.

The Swiss scientists focussed on data from agricultural regions and busy urban areas above latitude 30° for the years 1958 to 2018 to find occasions of heat extremes in more than one region and then used computer modelling to simulate probabilities as average planetary temperatures continued to grow.

Poor are hardest-hit

The choice of agricultural areas was purposeful: in such scenarios where more than one region suffers harvest failures, food prices begin to soar. In the 2010 heatwave, Russia ended all its wheat exports and prices in Pakistan rose by 16%, with harsh consequences for the poorest. Governments, agriculture ministries and international aid agencies need to be prepared.

“Such incidents cannot be resolved by individual countries acting on their own. Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland,” said Sonia Seneviratne, an ETH climate scientist who has also shared in the study.

“We are already clearly feeling the effects just from the one degree that global average temperature has risen since the pre-industrial era.” − Climate News Network

A warmer world means more chance of extreme heat in more than one continent at the same time, and a rising threat to global food security.

LONDON, 17 April, 2019 − Ever-higher average global temperatures mean more intense extreme heat over ever-wider regions.

When the planet becomes on average 1.5°C warmer than it was for most of human history, then for two out of every three years, one-fourth of the northern hemisphere will experience the kind of blistering heat waves recorded in 2018.

And should planetary average temperatures creep up by 2°C – the maximum proposed by 195 nations at the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 – then the probability rises to 100%. That is, extreme heat over a large area of the hemisphere will be guaranteed every summer.

Heat extremes are all too often accompanied by devastating thunderstorms or extended drought and massive outbreaks of wildfire, with potentially disastrous consequences for harvests in the blighted regions.

“Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland”

In 2018, people died of heatstroke, roads and even rails started to melt, forests went up in flames, and power generation systems sometimes failed, not just in one region but in a number in the temperate zones and the Arctic at the same time.

Between May and July, 22% of agricultural land and crowded cities of the northern half of the globe were hit simultaneously by extended periods of extreme heat. In all, 17 countries were affected, from Canada and the US across the Atlantic and Pacific to Russia, Japan and South Korea. In Europe, temperatures in the rivers Rhine and Elbe reached such heights that fish suffocated; there were wildfires in Sweden, Latvia and Greece and record temperatures in Germany.

“Without climate change that can be explained by human activity, we wouldn’t have such a large area being simultaneously affected by heat as we did in 2018,” said Martha Vogel, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, who presented her findings at a press conference held by the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

Serious impacts

The reasoning and methodology have yet to be published, but the authors say their paper is in review for the journal Earth’s Future. “If in future more and more key agricultural regions and densely populated areas are affected by simultaneous heatwaves, this would have severe consequences.”

Other research teams have already warned that global warming could bring a repeat of the simultaneous drought and heat outbreaks across the world that triggered calamitous famines in Asia and Africa between 1875 and 1878.

They have repeatedly warned of potentially catastrophic levels of heat that could arrive with increasing frequency to claim greater numbers of lives especially when accompanied by extreme levels of humidity.

The Swiss scientists focussed on data from agricultural regions and busy urban areas above latitude 30° for the years 1958 to 2018 to find occasions of heat extremes in more than one region and then used computer modelling to simulate probabilities as average planetary temperatures continued to grow.

Poor are hardest-hit

The choice of agricultural areas was purposeful: in such scenarios where more than one region suffers harvest failures, food prices begin to soar. In the 2010 heatwave, Russia ended all its wheat exports and prices in Pakistan rose by 16%, with harsh consequences for the poorest. Governments, agriculture ministries and international aid agencies need to be prepared.

“Such incidents cannot be resolved by individual countries acting on their own. Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland,” said Sonia Seneviratne, an ETH climate scientist who has also shared in the study.

“We are already clearly feeling the effects just from the one degree that global average temperature has risen since the pre-industrial era.” − Climate News Network

Glaciers’ global melt may leave Alps bare

High mountain ice is vital to millions. As the world warms, the glaciers’ global melt could see the frozen peaks vanish.

LONDON, 12 April, 2019 – Many of the planet’s most scenic – and most valued – high-altitude landscapes are likely to look quite different within the next 80 years: the glaciers’ global melt will have left just bare rock.

By the century’s end, Europe’s famous Alps – the chain of snow- and ice-covered peaks that have become a playground of the wealthy and a source of income and pleasure for generations – will have lost more than nine-tenths of all its glacier ice.

And in the last 50 years, the world’s glaciers – in Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the sub-Arctic mountains – have lost more than nine trillion tonnes of ice as global temperatures creep ever upwards in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

And as meltwater has trickled down the mountains, the seas have risen by 27mm, thanks entirely to glacial retreat.

“Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century”

In two separate studies, Swiss scientists have tried to audit a profit and loss account for the world’s frozen high-altitude rivers, and found a steady downhill trend.

Glacial ice is a source of security and even wealth: in the poorest regions the annual summer melt of winter snow and ice banked at altitude can guarantee both energy as hydropower and water for crops in the valleys and floodplains.

In wealthy regions, the white peaks and slopes become sources of income as tourist attractions and centres for winter sport – as well as reliable sources of power and water.

Swiss focus

In the journal The Cryosphere, a team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, almost always known simply as ETH Zurich, looked into the future of the nation’s own landscape, and beyond.

They made computer models of the annual flow of ice and its melting patterns and took 2017 as the reference year: a year when the Alpine glaciers bore 100 cubic kilometres of ice. And then they started simulating the future.

If humankind kept the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, to drastically reduce fossil fuel use, lower emissions of carbon dioxide, restore the forests and keep global warming to no more than 2°C above historic levels, then the stores of high ice would be reduced by more than a third over the next eight decades. If humankind went on expanding its use of fossil fuels at the present rates, then half of all the ice would be lost by 2050 and 95% by 2100.

Time lag

But there will be losses in all scenarios: warming so far has seen to that. Ice reflects radiation and keeps itself cold, so change lags behind atmospheric temperature.

“The future evolution of glaciers will strongly depend on how the climate will evolve,” said Harry Zekollari, once of ETH and now at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who led the research. “In the case of a more limited warming, a far more substantial part of the glaciers could be saved.”

The Alpine glaciers were made world-famous first by Romantic painters and poets of the 19th century, among them JMW Turner and Lord Byron. But their contribution to rising sea levels is, in a global context, negligible.

When Swiss researchers and their Russian, Canadian and European partners looked at the big picture, they found that the mass loss of ice from the mountains of AlaskaCanada, parts of Asia and the Andes matched the increasing flow of water from the melting Greenland ice cap, and exceeded the flow of melting water from the Antarctic continent.

Europe’s modest melt

They report in Nature that glaciers separate from the Greenland and Antarctic sheets covered 706,000 square kilometres of the planet, with a total volume of 170,000 cubic kilometres, or 40 centimetres of potential sea level rise.

And in the five decades from 1961 to 2016, according to careful study of satellite imagery and historic observations, the seas have already risen by 27mm as a consequence of increasing rates of glacial retreat. This is already between 25% and 30% of observed sea level rise so far.

Europe did not figure much in the reckoning. “Globally, we lose three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps – every single year,” said Michael Zemp, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich.

He and his colleagues warn: “Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century, while heavily glacierised regions will continue to contribute to sea level rise beyond 2100.” – Climate News Network

High mountain ice is vital to millions. As the world warms, the glaciers’ global melt could see the frozen peaks vanish.

LONDON, 12 April, 2019 – Many of the planet’s most scenic – and most valued – high-altitude landscapes are likely to look quite different within the next 80 years: the glaciers’ global melt will have left just bare rock.

By the century’s end, Europe’s famous Alps – the chain of snow- and ice-covered peaks that have become a playground of the wealthy and a source of income and pleasure for generations – will have lost more than nine-tenths of all its glacier ice.

And in the last 50 years, the world’s glaciers – in Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the sub-Arctic mountains – have lost more than nine trillion tonnes of ice as global temperatures creep ever upwards in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

And as meltwater has trickled down the mountains, the seas have risen by 27mm, thanks entirely to glacial retreat.

“Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century”

In two separate studies, Swiss scientists have tried to audit a profit and loss account for the world’s frozen high-altitude rivers, and found a steady downhill trend.

Glacial ice is a source of security and even wealth: in the poorest regions the annual summer melt of winter snow and ice banked at altitude can guarantee both energy as hydropower and water for crops in the valleys and floodplains.

In wealthy regions, the white peaks and slopes become sources of income as tourist attractions and centres for winter sport – as well as reliable sources of power and water.

Swiss focus

In the journal The Cryosphere, a team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, almost always known simply as ETH Zurich, looked into the future of the nation’s own landscape, and beyond.

They made computer models of the annual flow of ice and its melting patterns and took 2017 as the reference year: a year when the Alpine glaciers bore 100 cubic kilometres of ice. And then they started simulating the future.

If humankind kept the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, to drastically reduce fossil fuel use, lower emissions of carbon dioxide, restore the forests and keep global warming to no more than 2°C above historic levels, then the stores of high ice would be reduced by more than a third over the next eight decades. If humankind went on expanding its use of fossil fuels at the present rates, then half of all the ice would be lost by 2050 and 95% by 2100.

Time lag

But there will be losses in all scenarios: warming so far has seen to that. Ice reflects radiation and keeps itself cold, so change lags behind atmospheric temperature.

“The future evolution of glaciers will strongly depend on how the climate will evolve,” said Harry Zekollari, once of ETH and now at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who led the research. “In the case of a more limited warming, a far more substantial part of the glaciers could be saved.”

The Alpine glaciers were made world-famous first by Romantic painters and poets of the 19th century, among them JMW Turner and Lord Byron. But their contribution to rising sea levels is, in a global context, negligible.

When Swiss researchers and their Russian, Canadian and European partners looked at the big picture, they found that the mass loss of ice from the mountains of AlaskaCanada, parts of Asia and the Andes matched the increasing flow of water from the melting Greenland ice cap, and exceeded the flow of melting water from the Antarctic continent.

Europe’s modest melt

They report in Nature that glaciers separate from the Greenland and Antarctic sheets covered 706,000 square kilometres of the planet, with a total volume of 170,000 cubic kilometres, or 40 centimetres of potential sea level rise.

And in the five decades from 1961 to 2016, according to careful study of satellite imagery and historic observations, the seas have already risen by 27mm as a consequence of increasing rates of glacial retreat. This is already between 25% and 30% of observed sea level rise so far.

Europe did not figure much in the reckoning. “Globally, we lose three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps – every single year,” said Michael Zemp, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich.

He and his colleagues warn: “Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century, while heavily glacierised regions will continue to contribute to sea level rise beyond 2100.” – Climate News Network

Hunger is growing as the world warms faster

Climate change is speeding up, and among its malign impacts is a setback for efforts to feed the world: hunger is growing again.

LONDON, 29 March, 2019 − The global threat of hunger is growing again after years of progress in reducing it, the United Nations says, because of the effects of climate change.

It says this is just one aspect of a wider acceleration in the pace of the changes wrought by the world’s unremitting consumption of fossil fuels and the consequential rise in global temperatures..

The evidence that hunger and malnutrition are once again on the rise is published in a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on the state of the global climate in 2018.

The report, drawing on material from scientists, UN agencies and countries’ own meteorological services, says the physical signs and the impacts of climate change are speeding up as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger after a prolonged decline . . . ”

Highlighting record sea level rise and exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years, the report warns that this warming trend has lasted since the start of this century and is expected to continue.

Carbon dioxide levels, which were at 357.0 parts per million when the first statement in the series was published in 1994, keep rising − to 405.5 ppm in 2017. Greenhouse gas concentrations for 2018 and 2019 are expected to show a further increase.

The start of 2019 has seen warm record daily winter temperatures in Europe, unusual cold in North America and searing heatwaves in Australia. Arctic and Antarctic ice extent is yet again well below average.

In a statement the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, writes that the data released in the report “give cause for great concern. The past four years were the warmest on record, with the global average surface temperature in 2018 approximately 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline … There is no longer any time for delay.”

Four warming years

The WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, says: “Key findings of this statement include the striking consecutive record warming recorded from 2015 through 2018, the continuous upward trend in the atmospheric concentrations of the major greenhouse gases, the increasing rate of sea level rise and the loss of sea ice in both northern and southern polar regions.”

One particular concern highlighted is food security. In the words of the report, “exposure of the agriculture sector to climate extremes is threatening to reverse gains made in ending malnutrition.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger  after a prolonged decline, according to data compiled by UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme.

“In 2017, the number of undernourished people was estimated to have increased to 821 million, partly due to severe droughts associated with the strong El Niño of 2015–2016.”

Climate refugees

The FAO says the absolute number of undernourished people − those facing chronic food deprivation − reached  nearly 821 m in 2017, from around 804 m in 2016.

The WMO report also singles out the plight of those forced by climate change to leave their homes and become refugees, either within their own countries or abroad. Out of 17.7 m people classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs) tracked by the International Organization for Migration, it says, by September 2018 over 2 m people had been displaced by disasters linked to weather and climate events.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s Protection and Return Monitoring Network, about 883,000 new internal displacements were recorded between January and December 2018, of which 32% were associated with flooding and 29% with drought.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees were affected by what the UN calls “secondary displacement”, caused by extreme events, heavy rain, flooding and landslides.

More acid seas

The WMO also expresses concern about a range of impacts of climate change on the global environment, including reduced levels of oxygen in the oceans. Since the middle of the last century there has been an estimated 1-2% decrease in the amount of oxygen in the world’s oceans, according to UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC).

In the past decade the oceans have absorbed around 30% of CO2 emissions of human origin. Absorbed CO2 reacts with seawater and changes the pH of the ocean. This process, known as ocean acidification, can affect the ability of marine organisms such as molluscs and reef-building corals, to build and maintain shells and skeletal material.

Observations in the open ocean over the last 30 years have shown a clear trend of decreasing pH. In line with previous reports and projections, ocean acidification is ongoing and the global pH levels continue to decrease, according to UNESCO-IOC. One recent report suggested possible alarming future impacts.

The State of the Climate report will be one of WMO’s contributions to the UN’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September. − Climate News Network

Climate change is speeding up, and among its malign impacts is a setback for efforts to feed the world: hunger is growing again.

LONDON, 29 March, 2019 − The global threat of hunger is growing again after years of progress in reducing it, the United Nations says, because of the effects of climate change.

It says this is just one aspect of a wider acceleration in the pace of the changes wrought by the world’s unremitting consumption of fossil fuels and the consequential rise in global temperatures..

The evidence that hunger and malnutrition are once again on the rise is published in a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on the state of the global climate in 2018.

The report, drawing on material from scientists, UN agencies and countries’ own meteorological services, says the physical signs and the impacts of climate change are speeding up as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger after a prolonged decline . . . ”

Highlighting record sea level rise and exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years, the report warns that this warming trend has lasted since the start of this century and is expected to continue.

Carbon dioxide levels, which were at 357.0 parts per million when the first statement in the series was published in 1994, keep rising − to 405.5 ppm in 2017. Greenhouse gas concentrations for 2018 and 2019 are expected to show a further increase.

The start of 2019 has seen warm record daily winter temperatures in Europe, unusual cold in North America and searing heatwaves in Australia. Arctic and Antarctic ice extent is yet again well below average.

In a statement the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, writes that the data released in the report “give cause for great concern. The past four years were the warmest on record, with the global average surface temperature in 2018 approximately 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline … There is no longer any time for delay.”

Four warming years

The WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, says: “Key findings of this statement include the striking consecutive record warming recorded from 2015 through 2018, the continuous upward trend in the atmospheric concentrations of the major greenhouse gases, the increasing rate of sea level rise and the loss of sea ice in both northern and southern polar regions.”

One particular concern highlighted is food security. In the words of the report, “exposure of the agriculture sector to climate extremes is threatening to reverse gains made in ending malnutrition.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger  after a prolonged decline, according to data compiled by UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme.

“In 2017, the number of undernourished people was estimated to have increased to 821 million, partly due to severe droughts associated with the strong El Niño of 2015–2016.”

Climate refugees

The FAO says the absolute number of undernourished people − those facing chronic food deprivation − reached  nearly 821 m in 2017, from around 804 m in 2016.

The WMO report also singles out the plight of those forced by climate change to leave their homes and become refugees, either within their own countries or abroad. Out of 17.7 m people classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs) tracked by the International Organization for Migration, it says, by September 2018 over 2 m people had been displaced by disasters linked to weather and climate events.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s Protection and Return Monitoring Network, about 883,000 new internal displacements were recorded between January and December 2018, of which 32% were associated with flooding and 29% with drought.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees were affected by what the UN calls “secondary displacement”, caused by extreme events, heavy rain, flooding and landslides.

More acid seas

The WMO also expresses concern about a range of impacts of climate change on the global environment, including reduced levels of oxygen in the oceans. Since the middle of the last century there has been an estimated 1-2% decrease in the amount of oxygen in the world’s oceans, according to UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC).

In the past decade the oceans have absorbed around 30% of CO2 emissions of human origin. Absorbed CO2 reacts with seawater and changes the pH of the ocean. This process, known as ocean acidification, can affect the ability of marine organisms such as molluscs and reef-building corals, to build and maintain shells and skeletal material.

Observations in the open ocean over the last 30 years have shown a clear trend of decreasing pH. In line with previous reports and projections, ocean acidification is ongoing and the global pH levels continue to decrease, according to UNESCO-IOC. One recent report suggested possible alarming future impacts.

The State of the Climate report will be one of WMO’s contributions to the UN’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September. − Climate News Network

Uncertain futures warn world to act as one

Different computer simulations deliver variant and uncertain futures. One research team has studied millions. And in most cases the outlook remains ominous.

LONDON, 15 March, 2019 − US scientists have peered ahead in more than five million ways, and they do not like the uncertain futures they see there. Unless the world collectively and in concert takes drastic steps to slow or halt global warming, generations to come face an intolerable prospect.

And even if humans do switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, economise on resources and restore the world’s forests and grasslands, there is still no guarantee that disaster will not happen.

That is because the outcome depends not just on the steps humans take now, but on one of the great, unresolved scientific questions: just how sensitive is climate to shifts in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

If sensitivity is low, and humankind acts effectively and immediately, the future could be tolerable. But in a total of 5,200,000 computer-generated scenarios involving population growth, economic development, the role of carbon in the economy and the levels of climate sensitivity, this happens only relatively infrequently.

“If large abatement efforts are undertaken, warming is generally limited and damages are low. However, aggressive abatement action does not guarantee a ‘tolerable’ future,” the scientists write, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Good luck needed

“Our simple analysis shows that, to achieve a tolerable future, we must also have the good fortune of living in a world with low climate sensitivity. Failure to rapidly increase abatement all but guarantees failure over a very wide range of climate sensitivities.

“We show that our generation has an important responsibility to ensure that coming generations have a tolerable future.”

And they conclude: “It is still, however, a gamble that depends on how sensitive the climate turns out to be and how soon the promises of negative emissions materialise, but we show immediate rapid growth in abatement remains our safest course of action.”

At the heart of all such studies is the question: how much time does human society have before climate change becomes dangerous and inevitable?

The scientists defined “tolerable” as a future in which global warming stopped, by 2100, at 2°C or less above historic levels, a future 195 nations have already agreed to work for in Paris in 2015.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action”

To achieve this tolerable future, the scientists reasoned that the cost of abatement should be no more than 3% of the gross world product, and the damage wrought by climate change no more than 2%. Then they considered 24 levels of uncertainty in what they call the “human-Earth system” and generated their vast number of possible outcomes.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have already soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have soared with them, to around 1°C above the average for most of human history.

Climate scientists have already identified the costs of “intolerable” climate change. They warn that as the thermometer rises, so does the threat of devastating famine. Extremes of heat become increasingly lethal. Floods could become more devastating and sea levels rise  dangerously. Drought, rising temperatures and food shortages are likely to create the conditions for  dangerous conflict.

But in 2019 greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels  are likely to be higher than ever. The world is already midway through the hottest decade since records began. And the planet could tip the 1.5°C global average temperature rise – the target proposed in Paris – in the next decade.

No reassurance

The consequences of accelerated global warming could be calamitous, but there is still argument about the rate of change, the role of the natural cycles in atmosphere and ocean that influence climate, the scale of hazard to human civilisation and the nature of the steps vital to contain warming.

So the US researchers decided to look at the whole range of possible future outcomes. Their answers are not reassuring.

The message is that either global economies react now – at considerable cost and for no immediate reward – or that future generations must pay what could be a wretched price for present inaction.

“Despite massive uncertainties in a multitude of sectors, human actions are still the driving factor in determining the long-term climate,” said Jonathan Lamontagne, a civil engineer at Tufts University in Massachusetts, who led the study.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action.” − Climate News Network

Different computer simulations deliver variant and uncertain futures. One research team has studied millions. And in most cases the outlook remains ominous.

LONDON, 15 March, 2019 − US scientists have peered ahead in more than five million ways, and they do not like the uncertain futures they see there. Unless the world collectively and in concert takes drastic steps to slow or halt global warming, generations to come face an intolerable prospect.

And even if humans do switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, economise on resources and restore the world’s forests and grasslands, there is still no guarantee that disaster will not happen.

That is because the outcome depends not just on the steps humans take now, but on one of the great, unresolved scientific questions: just how sensitive is climate to shifts in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

If sensitivity is low, and humankind acts effectively and immediately, the future could be tolerable. But in a total of 5,200,000 computer-generated scenarios involving population growth, economic development, the role of carbon in the economy and the levels of climate sensitivity, this happens only relatively infrequently.

“If large abatement efforts are undertaken, warming is generally limited and damages are low. However, aggressive abatement action does not guarantee a ‘tolerable’ future,” the scientists write, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Good luck needed

“Our simple analysis shows that, to achieve a tolerable future, we must also have the good fortune of living in a world with low climate sensitivity. Failure to rapidly increase abatement all but guarantees failure over a very wide range of climate sensitivities.

“We show that our generation has an important responsibility to ensure that coming generations have a tolerable future.”

And they conclude: “It is still, however, a gamble that depends on how sensitive the climate turns out to be and how soon the promises of negative emissions materialise, but we show immediate rapid growth in abatement remains our safest course of action.”

At the heart of all such studies is the question: how much time does human society have before climate change becomes dangerous and inevitable?

The scientists defined “tolerable” as a future in which global warming stopped, by 2100, at 2°C or less above historic levels, a future 195 nations have already agreed to work for in Paris in 2015.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action”

To achieve this tolerable future, the scientists reasoned that the cost of abatement should be no more than 3% of the gross world product, and the damage wrought by climate change no more than 2%. Then they considered 24 levels of uncertainty in what they call the “human-Earth system” and generated their vast number of possible outcomes.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have already soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have soared with them, to around 1°C above the average for most of human history.

Climate scientists have already identified the costs of “intolerable” climate change. They warn that as the thermometer rises, so does the threat of devastating famine. Extremes of heat become increasingly lethal. Floods could become more devastating and sea levels rise  dangerously. Drought, rising temperatures and food shortages are likely to create the conditions for  dangerous conflict.

But in 2019 greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels  are likely to be higher than ever. The world is already midway through the hottest decade since records began. And the planet could tip the 1.5°C global average temperature rise – the target proposed in Paris – in the next decade.

No reassurance

The consequences of accelerated global warming could be calamitous, but there is still argument about the rate of change, the role of the natural cycles in atmosphere and ocean that influence climate, the scale of hazard to human civilisation and the nature of the steps vital to contain warming.

So the US researchers decided to look at the whole range of possible future outcomes. Their answers are not reassuring.

The message is that either global economies react now – at considerable cost and for no immediate reward – or that future generations must pay what could be a wretched price for present inaction.

“Despite massive uncertainties in a multitude of sectors, human actions are still the driving factor in determining the long-term climate,” said Jonathan Lamontagne, a civil engineer at Tufts University in Massachusetts, who led the study.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action.” − Climate News Network

Human growth robs other species of space

As human growth adds to our numbers and demands, other species’ survival chances shrink. Scientists can now name 1,700 creatures at ever greater risk.

LONDON, 11 March, 2019 − There is only one Earth, but human growth is ensuring that it carries steadily more passengers. And that leaves less and less room for humanity’s companions on board the planet.

The Nile lechwe is an antelope that lives in the swamps of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Its Linnaean name is Kobus megaceros and it stands a metre high at the shoulders so you couldn’t miss it. Except that you could.

That is because it is one of at least 1,700 species identified by biologists to be at risk from human action: quite simply, as humans take an ever-greater share of animal living space, the animals’ chances of survival dwindle rapidly.

So the Nile lechwe joins the Lombok cross frog of Indonesia (Oreophryne monticola) and the curve-billed reedhaunter (Limnornis curvirostris) that lives in the marshes of north-east Argentina to be at risk of extinction by 2070, simply because humankind will intrude on at least half of their geographic ranges.

“It is often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans …”

Biologists, conservationists and climate scientists have been warning for decades that the dangerous combination of human population growth and climate change driven by human-induced global warming puts whole ecosystems at risk, and will hasten the extinction of many species that are already shrinking in numbers.

These include many that underwrite the provision of food,  medicine, fabric for the world’s cities and air and water purification systems on which human civilisation is founded.

Most such warnings have been based on projections of economic growth, urban demand and climate change. US researchers approached the challenge in a different way.

They report in Nature Climate Change that they collected data on the geographic distributions of 19,400 species and combined this with four different projections of future changes in land use – a euphemism for scorched or felled forest, drained swamp, ploughed grassland and so on − in the next 50 years.

Shared responsibility

And they identified 1,700 species that, even with moderate changes in land use, will lose roughly a third to a half of their present habitat by 2070. This total includes 886 species of amphibian, 436 kinds of bird and 376 mammals. And this loss of living space accentuates the hazard to their lives and futures.

Many animal citizens of Central and East Africa, Mesoamerica, South America and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk. And, the authors warn, even though such losses would happen in national territories and involve species with limited range, the responsibility for their loss would be global.

“Losses in species populations can irreversibly hamper the functioning of ecosystems and human quality of life,” said Walter Jetz, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Yale University in Connecticut, one of the authors.

“While biodiversity erosion in far-away parts of the planet may not seem to affect us directly, its consequences for human livelihood can reverberate globally. It is also often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans – thus making us all co-responsible.” − Climate News Network

As human growth adds to our numbers and demands, other species’ survival chances shrink. Scientists can now name 1,700 creatures at ever greater risk.

LONDON, 11 March, 2019 − There is only one Earth, but human growth is ensuring that it carries steadily more passengers. And that leaves less and less room for humanity’s companions on board the planet.

The Nile lechwe is an antelope that lives in the swamps of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Its Linnaean name is Kobus megaceros and it stands a metre high at the shoulders so you couldn’t miss it. Except that you could.

That is because it is one of at least 1,700 species identified by biologists to be at risk from human action: quite simply, as humans take an ever-greater share of animal living space, the animals’ chances of survival dwindle rapidly.

So the Nile lechwe joins the Lombok cross frog of Indonesia (Oreophryne monticola) and the curve-billed reedhaunter (Limnornis curvirostris) that lives in the marshes of north-east Argentina to be at risk of extinction by 2070, simply because humankind will intrude on at least half of their geographic ranges.

“It is often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans …”

Biologists, conservationists and climate scientists have been warning for decades that the dangerous combination of human population growth and climate change driven by human-induced global warming puts whole ecosystems at risk, and will hasten the extinction of many species that are already shrinking in numbers.

These include many that underwrite the provision of food,  medicine, fabric for the world’s cities and air and water purification systems on which human civilisation is founded.

Most such warnings have been based on projections of economic growth, urban demand and climate change. US researchers approached the challenge in a different way.

They report in Nature Climate Change that they collected data on the geographic distributions of 19,400 species and combined this with four different projections of future changes in land use – a euphemism for scorched or felled forest, drained swamp, ploughed grassland and so on − in the next 50 years.

Shared responsibility

And they identified 1,700 species that, even with moderate changes in land use, will lose roughly a third to a half of their present habitat by 2070. This total includes 886 species of amphibian, 436 kinds of bird and 376 mammals. And this loss of living space accentuates the hazard to their lives and futures.

Many animal citizens of Central and East Africa, Mesoamerica, South America and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk. And, the authors warn, even though such losses would happen in national territories and involve species with limited range, the responsibility for their loss would be global.

“Losses in species populations can irreversibly hamper the functioning of ecosystems and human quality of life,” said Walter Jetz, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Yale University in Connecticut, one of the authors.

“While biodiversity erosion in far-away parts of the planet may not seem to affect us directly, its consequences for human livelihood can reverberate globally. It is also often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans – thus making us all co-responsible.” − Climate News Network

Food security at risk as web of life unravels

Biodiversity, the web of life, is on the decline. That includes the natural ecosystems that directly and indirectly manage the catering for humanity’s supper table.

LONDON, 1 March, 2019 – The biggest agricultural authority in the world has warned that the web of life is coming apart as the loss of biodiversity increases.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says the wholesale destruction and degradation of natural ecosystems puts human food security at risk, and adds a warning that the same loss could also seriously affect human health and livelihoods.

Although conservationists and biologists have been warning for decades of the increasing threat of mass extinction of species, the FAO study focuses on what its authors call “associated biodiversity for food and agriculture” – that is the networks or ecosystems of living things that underwrite all human food, livestock feed, fuel and fibre, as well as many human medicines.

These ecosystems include all plants, animals and microorganisms – insects, bats, birds, fungi, bacteria, earthworms, mangroves, corals, seagrasses and so on – that create soil fertility, pollinate plants, purify air and water, feed and protect fish, and fight crop and livestock pests and diseases.

Fish in jeopardy

And entirely independently, a team of French scientists has modelled marine biological systems on which humanity’s annual 80 million metric ton haul of fish depends, and warned that climate change could be about to trigger what they call “unprecedented biological shifts” in the world’s oceans.

In a new, 576-page report the FAO concerns itself not just with the remorseless loss everywhere of the natural wilderness and the biological variety fine-tuned by three billion years of evolution, but also with the wild ancestors of crop plants and the myriad breeds, strains and variants selected and bred by generations of farmers and pastoralists during the past 10,000 years of settled agriculture.

There are more than 250,000 flowering plants. Around 6,000 are cultivated for food, but most of the global diet is based on fewer than 200 species, and 66% of all crop production is delivered by just nine crop plants.

All of them are dependent directly and indirectly on associated biodiversity. “Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of FAO.

Wild food problems

The FAO authors base their study on data from 91 of the 178 countries represented in the organisation. They find that 40 animal species comprise the world’s livestock, but the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs come from just a few species. The global count of breeds of livestock is put at 7,745. Of this huge variety, 26% are at risk of extinction.

Wild foods too – fruits, bulbs, tubers, grains, nuts, kernels, saps and gums, honey and insects and snails – matter hugely to many people in developing countries, but many of these report that 24% of the 4,000 species that provide wild food are in decline.

An estimated 87.5% of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. Crops pollinated at least partially by animals – bees, but also other insects, birds and bats – account for 35% of all global food but for more than 90% of available vitamin C and more than 70% of available vitamin A.

But the researchers also focus on other services provided by natural ecosystems. Coral reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests provide nursery space and food sources for fish, but they also protect coastal communities against floods and storms.

“The increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk”

Wetlands, forests and grassland regulate water flow. Grazing animals reduce the risk of grassland and woodland fire, but overgrazing is a major driver of soil erosion and soil compactions.

The report is a sharp reminder of human dependence on evolution’s generosity, but the warnings about biodiversity loss are hardly new. Researchers have repeatedly warned that the global warming driven by human exploitation of fossil fuels will accelerate the loss of wild things and that once-familiar species are vanishing from many habitats.

Others have already identified the danger of losing the wild ancestors of many crops that could in turn be harmed by climate change, and German scientists warned in 2017 of catastrophic falls in insect populations.

The impact of ever higher carbon dioxide ratios is predicted to harm the kelp forests that provide shelter for many commercial fish species., and warming itself can only impoverish ocean habitats.

Kind of war game

And support for this comes in the journal Nature Climate Change from a team of French researchers with colleagues from other European nations, the US and Japan.

Because monitoring of ocean biological systems is constrained in scale and fragmented in approach, the researchers turned to computer simulation: they designed a large number of pseudo-species of marine creatures, from zooplankton to fish, in 14 eco-regions, all with a range of responses to natural temperature variations, and then conducted a kind of war game of climate change in which local ocean temperature regimes change as the planet warms.

And they warn the world to expect what they call “abrupt community shifts” that could end in long-term change in the global catch, as well as in fish farms and even the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle.

They also point to a recent rise in the number of “climate surprises” that could be attributed to natural ocean warming events such as El Niño, as well as temperature shifts in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the warming of the Arctic Ocean. – Climate News Network

Biodiversity, the web of life, is on the decline. That includes the natural ecosystems that directly and indirectly manage the catering for humanity’s supper table.

LONDON, 1 March, 2019 – The biggest agricultural authority in the world has warned that the web of life is coming apart as the loss of biodiversity increases.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says the wholesale destruction and degradation of natural ecosystems puts human food security at risk, and adds a warning that the same loss could also seriously affect human health and livelihoods.

Although conservationists and biologists have been warning for decades of the increasing threat of mass extinction of species, the FAO study focuses on what its authors call “associated biodiversity for food and agriculture” – that is the networks or ecosystems of living things that underwrite all human food, livestock feed, fuel and fibre, as well as many human medicines.

These ecosystems include all plants, animals and microorganisms – insects, bats, birds, fungi, bacteria, earthworms, mangroves, corals, seagrasses and so on – that create soil fertility, pollinate plants, purify air and water, feed and protect fish, and fight crop and livestock pests and diseases.

Fish in jeopardy

And entirely independently, a team of French scientists has modelled marine biological systems on which humanity’s annual 80 million metric ton haul of fish depends, and warned that climate change could be about to trigger what they call “unprecedented biological shifts” in the world’s oceans.

In a new, 576-page report the FAO concerns itself not just with the remorseless loss everywhere of the natural wilderness and the biological variety fine-tuned by three billion years of evolution, but also with the wild ancestors of crop plants and the myriad breeds, strains and variants selected and bred by generations of farmers and pastoralists during the past 10,000 years of settled agriculture.

There are more than 250,000 flowering plants. Around 6,000 are cultivated for food, but most of the global diet is based on fewer than 200 species, and 66% of all crop production is delivered by just nine crop plants.

All of them are dependent directly and indirectly on associated biodiversity. “Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of FAO.

Wild food problems

The FAO authors base their study on data from 91 of the 178 countries represented in the organisation. They find that 40 animal species comprise the world’s livestock, but the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs come from just a few species. The global count of breeds of livestock is put at 7,745. Of this huge variety, 26% are at risk of extinction.

Wild foods too – fruits, bulbs, tubers, grains, nuts, kernels, saps and gums, honey and insects and snails – matter hugely to many people in developing countries, but many of these report that 24% of the 4,000 species that provide wild food are in decline.

An estimated 87.5% of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. Crops pollinated at least partially by animals – bees, but also other insects, birds and bats – account for 35% of all global food but for more than 90% of available vitamin C and more than 70% of available vitamin A.

But the researchers also focus on other services provided by natural ecosystems. Coral reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests provide nursery space and food sources for fish, but they also protect coastal communities against floods and storms.

“The increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk”

Wetlands, forests and grassland regulate water flow. Grazing animals reduce the risk of grassland and woodland fire, but overgrazing is a major driver of soil erosion and soil compactions.

The report is a sharp reminder of human dependence on evolution’s generosity, but the warnings about biodiversity loss are hardly new. Researchers have repeatedly warned that the global warming driven by human exploitation of fossil fuels will accelerate the loss of wild things and that once-familiar species are vanishing from many habitats.

Others have already identified the danger of losing the wild ancestors of many crops that could in turn be harmed by climate change, and German scientists warned in 2017 of catastrophic falls in insect populations.

The impact of ever higher carbon dioxide ratios is predicted to harm the kelp forests that provide shelter for many commercial fish species., and warming itself can only impoverish ocean habitats.

Kind of war game

And support for this comes in the journal Nature Climate Change from a team of French researchers with colleagues from other European nations, the US and Japan.

Because monitoring of ocean biological systems is constrained in scale and fragmented in approach, the researchers turned to computer simulation: they designed a large number of pseudo-species of marine creatures, from zooplankton to fish, in 14 eco-regions, all with a range of responses to natural temperature variations, and then conducted a kind of war game of climate change in which local ocean temperature regimes change as the planet warms.

And they warn the world to expect what they call “abrupt community shifts” that could end in long-term change in the global catch, as well as in fish farms and even the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle.

They also point to a recent rise in the number of “climate surprises” that could be attributed to natural ocean warming events such as El Niño, as well as temperature shifts in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the warming of the Arctic Ocean. – Climate News Network

Carbon rise could cause cloud tipping point

The planet’s temperature could zoom in an ever more greenhouse world, as researchers identify a dangerous possible cloud tipping point.

LONDON, 27 February, 2019 − Climate scientists have confirmed a high-level hazard, a cloud tipping point, that could send global warming into a dramatic upwards spiral.

If carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere become high enough, the clouds that shade and cool some of the tropical and subtropical oceans could become unstable and disperse. More radiation would slam into the ocean and the coasts, and surface temperatures could soar as high as 8°C above the levels for most of human history.

And this dramatic spike would be independent of any warming directly linked to the steady rise in carbon dioxide concentrations themselves, the scientists warn.

In Paris in 2015, a total of 195 nations vowed to take steps to contain global warming to “well below” a maximum of 2°C above the average before the start of the Industrial Revolution, powered by the exploitation of fossil fuels.

In the last 200 years, levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have increased from 288 parts per million to around 410 ppm and the average global temperature has already increased by about 1°C.

“Our results show that there are dangerous climate change thresholds that we have been unaware of”

Researchers have repeatedly warned that the Paris promises have yet to be turned into coherent and consistent action, and that if the world goes on burning coal, oil and natural gas on a “business as usual” scenario, catastrophic consequences could follow.

Now US researchers warn in the journal Nature Geoscience that they know a bit more about the climate mechanisms by which global warming could accelerate.

If carbon dioxide ratios climb to 1,200 ppm – and without drastic action this could happen in the next century – then the Earth could reach a tipping point, and the marine stratus clouds that shade one-fifth of the low-latitude oceans and reflect between 30% and 60% of shortwave radiation back into space could break up and scatter.

The sunlight they normally block would slam into the deep blue sea, to warm the planet even faster.

Avoidance possible

“I think and hope that technological changes will slow carbon emissions so that we do not actually reach such high CO2 concentrations,” said Tapio Schneider, an environmental scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the research centre managed for the US space agency NASA by the California Institute of Technology.

“But our results show that there are dangerous climate change thresholds that we have been unaware of.”

The role of clouds in the intricate interplay of sunlight, forests, oceans, rocks and atmosphere that controls the planet’s climate has been the subject of argument. Do clouds really slow warming? And if so, by how much, and under what conditions?

There may not be a simple answer, although researchers are fairly confident that the thinning of clouds over the California coasts may have made calamitous wildfires in the state more probable.

So to resolve what Professor Schneider calls “a blind spot” in climate modelling, he and his colleagues worked on a small-scale computer simulation of one representative section of the atmosphere above the subtropical ocean, and then used supercomputers to model the clouds and their turbulent movement over a mathematical representation of the sea. And then they started to tune up the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

Carbon threshold

They found that, once CO2 levels reached 1,200 ppm, the decks of stratocumulus cloud vanished, and did not reappear until CO2 levels dropped to well below this dangerous threshold.

If – and this has yet to happen – other researchers use different approaches to confirm the result, then the US scientists will have established a better understanding of one component of natural climate control.

The research may also illuminate a puzzle of climate history: 50 million or more years ago, during a geological epoch called the Eocene, the Arctic ice cap melted. Climate models have shown that, for this to happen, atmospheric carbon ratios would need to rise to 4,000 ppm.

These, the Caltech team, suggests, would be “implausibly high” CO2 levels. The latest study suggests this might be an overestimate: a mere 1,200 ppm would be enough to set the planetary thermometer soaring. − Climate News Network

The planet’s temperature could zoom in an ever more greenhouse world, as researchers identify a dangerous possible cloud tipping point.

LONDON, 27 February, 2019 − Climate scientists have confirmed a high-level hazard, a cloud tipping point, that could send global warming into a dramatic upwards spiral.

If carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere become high enough, the clouds that shade and cool some of the tropical and subtropical oceans could become unstable and disperse. More radiation would slam into the ocean and the coasts, and surface temperatures could soar as high as 8°C above the levels for most of human history.

And this dramatic spike would be independent of any warming directly linked to the steady rise in carbon dioxide concentrations themselves, the scientists warn.

In Paris in 2015, a total of 195 nations vowed to take steps to contain global warming to “well below” a maximum of 2°C above the average before the start of the Industrial Revolution, powered by the exploitation of fossil fuels.

In the last 200 years, levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have increased from 288 parts per million to around 410 ppm and the average global temperature has already increased by about 1°C.

“Our results show that there are dangerous climate change thresholds that we have been unaware of”

Researchers have repeatedly warned that the Paris promises have yet to be turned into coherent and consistent action, and that if the world goes on burning coal, oil and natural gas on a “business as usual” scenario, catastrophic consequences could follow.

Now US researchers warn in the journal Nature Geoscience that they know a bit more about the climate mechanisms by which global warming could accelerate.

If carbon dioxide ratios climb to 1,200 ppm – and without drastic action this could happen in the next century – then the Earth could reach a tipping point, and the marine stratus clouds that shade one-fifth of the low-latitude oceans and reflect between 30% and 60% of shortwave radiation back into space could break up and scatter.

The sunlight they normally block would slam into the deep blue sea, to warm the planet even faster.

Avoidance possible

“I think and hope that technological changes will slow carbon emissions so that we do not actually reach such high CO2 concentrations,” said Tapio Schneider, an environmental scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the research centre managed for the US space agency NASA by the California Institute of Technology.

“But our results show that there are dangerous climate change thresholds that we have been unaware of.”

The role of clouds in the intricate interplay of sunlight, forests, oceans, rocks and atmosphere that controls the planet’s climate has been the subject of argument. Do clouds really slow warming? And if so, by how much, and under what conditions?

There may not be a simple answer, although researchers are fairly confident that the thinning of clouds over the California coasts may have made calamitous wildfires in the state more probable.

So to resolve what Professor Schneider calls “a blind spot” in climate modelling, he and his colleagues worked on a small-scale computer simulation of one representative section of the atmosphere above the subtropical ocean, and then used supercomputers to model the clouds and their turbulent movement over a mathematical representation of the sea. And then they started to tune up the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

Carbon threshold

They found that, once CO2 levels reached 1,200 ppm, the decks of stratocumulus cloud vanished, and did not reappear until CO2 levels dropped to well below this dangerous threshold.

If – and this has yet to happen – other researchers use different approaches to confirm the result, then the US scientists will have established a better understanding of one component of natural climate control.

The research may also illuminate a puzzle of climate history: 50 million or more years ago, during a geological epoch called the Eocene, the Arctic ice cap melted. Climate models have shown that, for this to happen, atmospheric carbon ratios would need to rise to 4,000 ppm.

These, the Caltech team, suggests, would be “implausibly high” CO2 levels. The latest study suggests this might be an overestimate: a mere 1,200 ppm would be enough to set the planetary thermometer soaring. − Climate News Network

Chernobyl’s legacy imperils many thousands

More than 30 years after it exploded, Chernobyl’s legacy still casts a baleful shadow over hundreds of thousands of lives.

LONDON, 25 February, 2019 − The risk of an accident with civil nuclear power may be small, but when an accident does happen the impact may be immense, as a new book on Chernobyl’s legacy makes clear.

The nuclear industry promotes its technology as a key way of battling climate change. A nuclear reactor can supply vast amounts of energy; compared with coal, oil or gas-fired power plants there are few or no emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

But nuclear energy does have considerable drawbacks. A nuclear power plant costs many billions of dollars to build – and is even more expensive to decommission at the end of its working life.

Nuclear power plants have been around for decades, yet the problem of how to deal with vast stockpiles of highly dangerous waste is still there – a poisonous legacy for future generations.

And then there is the safety factor.

At 1.23 on the morning of 26 April 1986, engineers at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in western Ukraine, close to the border with Belarus, were carrying out a routine turbine and reactor shut-down test.

“As far as the engineers were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode”

There was a sudden roar. “That roar was a completely unfamiliar kind, very low in tone, like a human moan”, said one of those present in the plant’s central control room.

Then there was a loud blast. Nobody knew what had happened; some thought there’d been an earthquake.

In his recently published study of events at Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy– now a professor of history at Harvard, but in 1986 a Ukraine resident – says no-one believed a nuclear reactor had fractured. Chernobyl used the latest Soviet technology. A nuclear accident was inconceivable.

The nuclear industry today, whether in Russia, China or the West, is similarly confident of its safety. “As far as they (the engineers) were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode.”

Yet explode it did. A build-up of steam destroyed the reactor’s casing; a concrete structure weighing 200 tonnes that mantled the reactor was blown through the roof.

Obsessed with secrecy

Vast clouds of radiation escaped into the atmosphere, blown by winds first northwest over Belarus and on over much of Scandinavia and to as far away as the hills of Wales. Later the winds changed and carried the radiation east, over Ukraine itself.

Plokhy’s book is not the first on Chernobyl, but it is billed as the most up-to-date and extensively researched.

He details how the nuclear industry, which grew out of and alongside nuclear arms programmes, has always been obsessed with secrecy – in what was the Soviet Union, and elsewhere.

In 1957 there’d been a serious nuclear accident at a Soviet nuclear plant at Ozersk in the Ural mountains. The American military learned of the incident but decided not to disclose it to the public in the West.

“Both sides had a stake in keeping it under wraps so as not to frighten their citizens and make them reject nuclear power as a source of cheap energy”, says Plokhy.

Reports suppressed

The Soviet authorities at first denied – both to the West and to their own citizens – the scale of the disaster at Chernobyl. The KGB – the Soviet intelligence service – cut phone lines so people could not communicate what had happened, and toned down or suppressed scientists’ reports.

Several KGB agents succumbed to radiation poisoning as they crawled in bushes round the Chernobyl plant, guarding visiting officials against assassination attempts.

While many top officials showed scant regard for their own citizens’ safety, there were also many acts of great bravery. Divers swam through radioactive waters at the plant in order to manipulate submerged valves, knowing they would die as a result.

Scientists, firemen and helicopter crews did their work despite absorbing often lethal levels of radiation. Young conscripts in the Soviet military – most unprotected and not knowing what danger they were in – did much of the clean-up work at the plant.

Engineers working at Chernobyl became scapegoats for the explosion. Some were imprisoned. Some committed suicide. Others died of radiation sickness.

Frightened into silence

Plokhy says a combination of factors was to blame There were short cuts in construction at the plant. There was pressure to increase energy quotas. Testing procedures had not been followed. There were serious design faults.

Scientists and engineers frightened of losing their jobs knew there were faults but were reluctant to contradict their superiors.

The Soviet Union crumbled. There was a rush in the West to fund safety measures at Soviet-era reactors.

“The directors of the nuclear power companies in the West were in panic: another accident in the East could damage the reputation of nuclear power in the West beyond repair and potentially put them out of business.”

While deaths as a direct result of the explosion at Chernobyl were few, hundreds of thousands of people in what was the old Soviet Union have developed or are in danger of developing cancers and other diseases as a result of the explosion. Many thousands of square kilometres of land have been contaminated.

Unsafe for 20,000 years

Chernobyl is shut down and a giant metal sarcophagus now covers the fractured reactor.

The land around the plant will not be safe for human habitation for at least another 20,000 years. The costs of the explosion run into hundreds of billions of dollars.

Plokhy says we’re still just as far from taming nuclear reactions as we were in 1986; he questions whether safety measures will be followed completely in countries like Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, at present involved in nuclear programmes.

“Are we sure that all these reactors are sound, that safety measures will be followed to the letter, and that the autocratic regimes running most of these countries will not sacrifice the safety of their people and the world as a whole to get extra energy and cash to build up their military, ensure rapid economic development, and try to head off public discontent?

“That is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union back in 1986.” − Climate News Network

Chernobyl – History of a Tragedy. By Serhii Plokhy. Penguin Books

More than 30 years after it exploded, Chernobyl’s legacy still casts a baleful shadow over hundreds of thousands of lives.

LONDON, 25 February, 2019 − The risk of an accident with civil nuclear power may be small, but when an accident does happen the impact may be immense, as a new book on Chernobyl’s legacy makes clear.

The nuclear industry promotes its technology as a key way of battling climate change. A nuclear reactor can supply vast amounts of energy; compared with coal, oil or gas-fired power plants there are few or no emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

But nuclear energy does have considerable drawbacks. A nuclear power plant costs many billions of dollars to build – and is even more expensive to decommission at the end of its working life.

Nuclear power plants have been around for decades, yet the problem of how to deal with vast stockpiles of highly dangerous waste is still there – a poisonous legacy for future generations.

And then there is the safety factor.

At 1.23 on the morning of 26 April 1986, engineers at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in western Ukraine, close to the border with Belarus, were carrying out a routine turbine and reactor shut-down test.

“As far as the engineers were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode”

There was a sudden roar. “That roar was a completely unfamiliar kind, very low in tone, like a human moan”, said one of those present in the plant’s central control room.

Then there was a loud blast. Nobody knew what had happened; some thought there’d been an earthquake.

In his recently published study of events at Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy– now a professor of history at Harvard, but in 1986 a Ukraine resident – says no-one believed a nuclear reactor had fractured. Chernobyl used the latest Soviet technology. A nuclear accident was inconceivable.

The nuclear industry today, whether in Russia, China or the West, is similarly confident of its safety. “As far as they (the engineers) were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode.”

Yet explode it did. A build-up of steam destroyed the reactor’s casing; a concrete structure weighing 200 tonnes that mantled the reactor was blown through the roof.

Obsessed with secrecy

Vast clouds of radiation escaped into the atmosphere, blown by winds first northwest over Belarus and on over much of Scandinavia and to as far away as the hills of Wales. Later the winds changed and carried the radiation east, over Ukraine itself.

Plokhy’s book is not the first on Chernobyl, but it is billed as the most up-to-date and extensively researched.

He details how the nuclear industry, which grew out of and alongside nuclear arms programmes, has always been obsessed with secrecy – in what was the Soviet Union, and elsewhere.

In 1957 there’d been a serious nuclear accident at a Soviet nuclear plant at Ozersk in the Ural mountains. The American military learned of the incident but decided not to disclose it to the public in the West.

“Both sides had a stake in keeping it under wraps so as not to frighten their citizens and make them reject nuclear power as a source of cheap energy”, says Plokhy.

Reports suppressed

The Soviet authorities at first denied – both to the West and to their own citizens – the scale of the disaster at Chernobyl. The KGB – the Soviet intelligence service – cut phone lines so people could not communicate what had happened, and toned down or suppressed scientists’ reports.

Several KGB agents succumbed to radiation poisoning as they crawled in bushes round the Chernobyl plant, guarding visiting officials against assassination attempts.

While many top officials showed scant regard for their own citizens’ safety, there were also many acts of great bravery. Divers swam through radioactive waters at the plant in order to manipulate submerged valves, knowing they would die as a result.

Scientists, firemen and helicopter crews did their work despite absorbing often lethal levels of radiation. Young conscripts in the Soviet military – most unprotected and not knowing what danger they were in – did much of the clean-up work at the plant.

Engineers working at Chernobyl became scapegoats for the explosion. Some were imprisoned. Some committed suicide. Others died of radiation sickness.

Frightened into silence

Plokhy says a combination of factors was to blame There were short cuts in construction at the plant. There was pressure to increase energy quotas. Testing procedures had not been followed. There were serious design faults.

Scientists and engineers frightened of losing their jobs knew there were faults but were reluctant to contradict their superiors.

The Soviet Union crumbled. There was a rush in the West to fund safety measures at Soviet-era reactors.

“The directors of the nuclear power companies in the West were in panic: another accident in the East could damage the reputation of nuclear power in the West beyond repair and potentially put them out of business.”

While deaths as a direct result of the explosion at Chernobyl were few, hundreds of thousands of people in what was the old Soviet Union have developed or are in danger of developing cancers and other diseases as a result of the explosion. Many thousands of square kilometres of land have been contaminated.

Unsafe for 20,000 years

Chernobyl is shut down and a giant metal sarcophagus now covers the fractured reactor.

The land around the plant will not be safe for human habitation for at least another 20,000 years. The costs of the explosion run into hundreds of billions of dollars.

Plokhy says we’re still just as far from taming nuclear reactions as we were in 1986; he questions whether safety measures will be followed completely in countries like Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, at present involved in nuclear programmes.

“Are we sure that all these reactors are sound, that safety measures will be followed to the letter, and that the autocratic regimes running most of these countries will not sacrifice the safety of their people and the world as a whole to get extra energy and cash to build up their military, ensure rapid economic development, and try to head off public discontent?

“That is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union back in 1986.” − Climate News Network

Chernobyl – History of a Tragedy. By Serhii Plokhy. Penguin Books

Climate change stokes mayhem in several ways

Three outcomes could follow if climate change stokes mayhem, conflict and violence. It might be helpful to think about the strains to come.

LONDON, 22 February, 2019 − Stand by for long hot summers marked by riot and racial tension. As climate change stokes mayhem, global warming is likely to see a direct rise in human irritability.

Climate change accompanied by natural disaster such as flood or drought could lead to harvest failure and food and water shortages for which people must compete.

And the same natural disasters could lead to a generation of babies, children and adolescents more likely, because of disadvantage and deprivation, to become more prone to violence in adulthood.

Researchers in the US have been thinking carefully about the links between climate change and conflict. This, they write in Current Climate Change Reports, has a long history, and a huge range of studies have addressed the hazard.

And they see more civic strife and conflict on the way. Some of it is likely to involve climate refugees, or ecological migrants: persons driven from their homes by climate change. The steady rise in global temperatures could also help incubate the conditions for global terrorism.

“Syria offers us a glimpse of what the future might look like as the climate continues to change rapidly”

“This is a global issue with very serious consequences. We need to plan for ways to reduce the negative consequences,” said Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University in the US.

“An inadequate food supply and economic disparity make it difficult to raise healthy and productive citizens, which is one way to reduce long-term violence. We also need to plan for and devote resources to aid eco-migrants in their relocation to new lands and countries.”

The Iowa scholars are not alone. Other research teams have linked rising urban temperatures and conflict; and even self-harm.

Some have identified direct links between protracted drought, conflict and the floods of climate refugees, and other groups have repeatedly warned that the numbers driven from their homes by drought, flood, fire, sea level rise and devastating hurricanes is likely to rise steeply within a generation.

Direct link

Professor Anderson and his co-author took a long cool look at the literature of heat and violence. They found direct connections between ambient temperature and hostility.

In one experiment, police officers in overheated conditions were found to be more likely to respond to suspected burglary by drawing a gun and opening fire. Another study compared temperature with levels of violence in 60 different countries and found that for every one degree Celsius rise in temperatures due to climate change, homicide rates could rise by 6%.

A match of crime reports over 59 years with weather data confirmed that violent crime rates rose in the hotter years in 53 out of 55 instances for which seasonal data were available.

They also found that food insecurity and poor nutrition before and after birth could be linked to violent and aggressive behaviour in later years. And they noted the dangers of clashes when migrants were driven across borders and displaced people were attacked by the locals.

Worst for poorest

“Syria offers us a glimpse of what the future might look like as the climate continues to change rapidly: weather becomes more severe, and countries begin falling into economic and civil distress,” they write.

And the already disadvantaged will experience what they call a disproportionate amount of the harmful effects of rapid climate change, which will “likely produce breeding grounds for new terrorist (or gang) activity, a global strain on available resources and the involvement of the developed countries in small-scale wars breaking out across the globe.”

But developed countries can help: this would require, above all, some sharp changes in response to the refugee crisis.

“The view that citizens of wealthy countries often have about refugees needs to change,” Professor Anderson said, “from seeing them as a threat to a view that emphasises humanitarian values and the benefits refugees bring when they are welcomed into the community.” − Climate News Network

Three outcomes could follow if climate change stokes mayhem, conflict and violence. It might be helpful to think about the strains to come.

LONDON, 22 February, 2019 − Stand by for long hot summers marked by riot and racial tension. As climate change stokes mayhem, global warming is likely to see a direct rise in human irritability.

Climate change accompanied by natural disaster such as flood or drought could lead to harvest failure and food and water shortages for which people must compete.

And the same natural disasters could lead to a generation of babies, children and adolescents more likely, because of disadvantage and deprivation, to become more prone to violence in adulthood.

Researchers in the US have been thinking carefully about the links between climate change and conflict. This, they write in Current Climate Change Reports, has a long history, and a huge range of studies have addressed the hazard.

And they see more civic strife and conflict on the way. Some of it is likely to involve climate refugees, or ecological migrants: persons driven from their homes by climate change. The steady rise in global temperatures could also help incubate the conditions for global terrorism.

“Syria offers us a glimpse of what the future might look like as the climate continues to change rapidly”

“This is a global issue with very serious consequences. We need to plan for ways to reduce the negative consequences,” said Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University in the US.

“An inadequate food supply and economic disparity make it difficult to raise healthy and productive citizens, which is one way to reduce long-term violence. We also need to plan for and devote resources to aid eco-migrants in their relocation to new lands and countries.”

The Iowa scholars are not alone. Other research teams have linked rising urban temperatures and conflict; and even self-harm.

Some have identified direct links between protracted drought, conflict and the floods of climate refugees, and other groups have repeatedly warned that the numbers driven from their homes by drought, flood, fire, sea level rise and devastating hurricanes is likely to rise steeply within a generation.

Direct link

Professor Anderson and his co-author took a long cool look at the literature of heat and violence. They found direct connections between ambient temperature and hostility.

In one experiment, police officers in overheated conditions were found to be more likely to respond to suspected burglary by drawing a gun and opening fire. Another study compared temperature with levels of violence in 60 different countries and found that for every one degree Celsius rise in temperatures due to climate change, homicide rates could rise by 6%.

A match of crime reports over 59 years with weather data confirmed that violent crime rates rose in the hotter years in 53 out of 55 instances for which seasonal data were available.

They also found that food insecurity and poor nutrition before and after birth could be linked to violent and aggressive behaviour in later years. And they noted the dangers of clashes when migrants were driven across borders and displaced people were attacked by the locals.

Worst for poorest

“Syria offers us a glimpse of what the future might look like as the climate continues to change rapidly: weather becomes more severe, and countries begin falling into economic and civil distress,” they write.

And the already disadvantaged will experience what they call a disproportionate amount of the harmful effects of rapid climate change, which will “likely produce breeding grounds for new terrorist (or gang) activity, a global strain on available resources and the involvement of the developed countries in small-scale wars breaking out across the globe.”

But developed countries can help: this would require, above all, some sharp changes in response to the refugee crisis.

“The view that citizens of wealthy countries often have about refugees needs to change,” Professor Anderson said, “from seeing them as a threat to a view that emphasises humanitarian values and the benefits refugees bring when they are welcomed into the community.” − Climate News Network

Biggest animals face extinction for food

Megafauna is a mouthful of a word. And that is the problem. The biggest animals are being hunted for their meat.

LONDON, 19 February, 2019 – The world’s biggest animals – the largest birds, the bigger mammals and even reptiles, sharks and amphibians – are in increasing danger of extinction. Climate change, habitat loss and pollution may all be part of the problem, but the biggest and most direct threat is a simple one.

They are being hunted to death. They are being killed for meat, for trophies such as horns and tusks, and for body parts used in Asian medicine.

The findings, reported in the journal Conservation Letters, are stark. Of 362 mammals, sharks and rays larger than 100 kilograms and birds and reptiles larger than 40kg, 200 species or more were in decline and more than 150 could become extinct. And when the researchers composed a catalogue of hazards to species survival, they found that hunting was for most large animals the biggest danger.

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at the Oregon State University school of forestry in the US.

Traditional medicine’s toll

“Through the consumption of various body parts, users of traditional Asian medicine also exert heavy tolls on the largest species. In the future, 70% will experience further population declines and 60% of the species could become extinct or very rare.”

Biologists already have databases of the body mass and habitats of most described species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has for decades kept and updated a catalogue of extinction risks.

Professor Ripple and colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, France and Mexico selected all the information they could about the bigger species, and those known to be threatened. They subdivided the potential threats into a range of categories – ranch and livestock farming, logging and wood harvesting, aquaculture, fishing and so on – for 362 species, and found to their surprise that hunting was the biggest danger for 98% of those species for which they could find threat data.

The lesson is: it’s bad to be big. “Megafauna species are more threatened and have a relatively higher percentage of decreasing populations than all vertebrates together,” they write. “Notably, the top-ranked threat within each megafauna class was direct harvesting by humans, although there were typically multiple co-occurring threats, mostly related to habitat degradation.”

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction”

Meat consumption, they found, was the most common motive for hunting mammals, birds and the cartilaginous fish; the reptiles were more likely to be pursued for their eggs.

The loss of species – and the decline in numbers of surviving individuals – is not news: researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change, driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use, raises the odds of extinction.

But the sheer growth in human numbers and national economies in the last century has devastated what was once the wilderness, and biologists now believe they may be witnessing the sixth great extinction.

The latest study fits into this pattern. What makes it different is the unequivocal identification of human beings as the super-predators, pursuing the biggest and most charismatic of the surviving large animals, sometimes simply as sporting trophies, more often for food or for parts that can be sold.

In retreat everywhere

Nine megafauna – the word for a large animal – have gone extinct in the wild in the past 250 years. But large species numbers everywhere are falling. Their numbers were always fewer, and often their meat more prized.

With first the spear and the arrow, and then the gun, humans mastered the art of killing from a safe distance. And bigger animals became the most obvious targets. In 500 years, 0.8% of all vertebrates have gone extinct. For large animals, the ratio of extinction is 2%.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Professor Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it as well as cultural and social obstacles.

“But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.” – Climate News Network

Megafauna is a mouthful of a word. And that is the problem. The biggest animals are being hunted for their meat.

LONDON, 19 February, 2019 – The world’s biggest animals – the largest birds, the bigger mammals and even reptiles, sharks and amphibians – are in increasing danger of extinction. Climate change, habitat loss and pollution may all be part of the problem, but the biggest and most direct threat is a simple one.

They are being hunted to death. They are being killed for meat, for trophies such as horns and tusks, and for body parts used in Asian medicine.

The findings, reported in the journal Conservation Letters, are stark. Of 362 mammals, sharks and rays larger than 100 kilograms and birds and reptiles larger than 40kg, 200 species or more were in decline and more than 150 could become extinct. And when the researchers composed a catalogue of hazards to species survival, they found that hunting was for most large animals the biggest danger.

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at the Oregon State University school of forestry in the US.

Traditional medicine’s toll

“Through the consumption of various body parts, users of traditional Asian medicine also exert heavy tolls on the largest species. In the future, 70% will experience further population declines and 60% of the species could become extinct or very rare.”

Biologists already have databases of the body mass and habitats of most described species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has for decades kept and updated a catalogue of extinction risks.

Professor Ripple and colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, France and Mexico selected all the information they could about the bigger species, and those known to be threatened. They subdivided the potential threats into a range of categories – ranch and livestock farming, logging and wood harvesting, aquaculture, fishing and so on – for 362 species, and found to their surprise that hunting was the biggest danger for 98% of those species for which they could find threat data.

The lesson is: it’s bad to be big. “Megafauna species are more threatened and have a relatively higher percentage of decreasing populations than all vertebrates together,” they write. “Notably, the top-ranked threat within each megafauna class was direct harvesting by humans, although there were typically multiple co-occurring threats, mostly related to habitat degradation.”

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction”

Meat consumption, they found, was the most common motive for hunting mammals, birds and the cartilaginous fish; the reptiles were more likely to be pursued for their eggs.

The loss of species – and the decline in numbers of surviving individuals – is not news: researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change, driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use, raises the odds of extinction.

But the sheer growth in human numbers and national economies in the last century has devastated what was once the wilderness, and biologists now believe they may be witnessing the sixth great extinction.

The latest study fits into this pattern. What makes it different is the unequivocal identification of human beings as the super-predators, pursuing the biggest and most charismatic of the surviving large animals, sometimes simply as sporting trophies, more often for food or for parts that can be sold.

In retreat everywhere

Nine megafauna – the word for a large animal – have gone extinct in the wild in the past 250 years. But large species numbers everywhere are falling. Their numbers were always fewer, and often their meat more prized.

With first the spear and the arrow, and then the gun, humans mastered the art of killing from a safe distance. And bigger animals became the most obvious targets. In 500 years, 0.8% of all vertebrates have gone extinct. For large animals, the ratio of extinction is 2%.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Professor Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it as well as cultural and social obstacles.

“But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.” – Climate News Network