Tag Archives: Human health


Europe warns of Brazilian trade boycott over fires

Appalled by more forest loss and worse wildfires, eight European countries warn of a possible Brazilian trade boycott.

SÃO PAULO, 21 September, 2020 − There was international concern over the forest fires which swept the Amazon last year. This year’s devastation looks set to be still more severe. And it won’t go without vigorous protest, and possible action: a Brazilian trade boycott.

Six EU countries and the UK have sent an open letter to the Brazilian government protesting at Brazil’s environmental policy and threatening a boycott.

Fires in two of Brazil’s most important biomes (areas of the Earth  that can be classified according to the plants and animals that live in them), the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands area, have reached record numbers of fires.

The seven countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom), are signatories to the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, set up in 2015 to ensure sustainable commodity supply chains. Their focus is on deforestation and sustainable palm oil.

Worse than 2019

Their letter (which is supported by a non-member of the Partnership, Belgium) was prompted by evidence that this year’s fires in the Amazon are going to be even worse than those last year, which led to worldwide protests against the Brazilian government. In the first two weeks of September 2020 more fires have been recorded than during the entire month of September last year.

In addition, not only is the Amazon burning: the Pantanal is also seeing a record number of fires. An area the size of Belgium (almost 3 million hectares) has already been burnt. The Pantanal is a wildlife sanctuary, and untold millions of animals, birds and reptiles have been burned to death or have died from smoke inhalation, in what is probably one of the worst-ever extinctions of wildlife.

The fires in the Pantanal have been facilitated by an unprecedented drought, leaving rivers and streams dry, but police are investigating evidence that they were started deliberately by farmers seeking more grassland for their cattle. The Pantanal is also home to millions of cattle.

The letter’s signatories express alarm at the growth in deforestation which has led to the fires, pointing out that in the past Brazil successfully expanded agricultural production while reducing forest clearing.

Supermarkets intervene

“There is growing concern among consumers, companies, investors and European civil society about the present rates of deforestation”, they say.

Recently two of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains, Edeka and Lidl, asked the German government to put pressure on Brazil to reduce deforestation.

For Marcio Astrini, of the Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory, the letter will influence the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which still has to be ratified by most European parliaments.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology, which favours environmental crime in detriment to productive forces and the comparative advantages which Brazil enjoyed”, he said.

Global protest

President Bolsonaro and his ministers, who against all the evidence continue to deny the severity of the fires in the Amazon, downplayed the importance of the letter, dismissing it as a “trade strategy” of the Europeans.

But it is not only the Europeans who are worried about what’s happening in the Amazon. A few days ago 230 agribusiness companies and NGOs joined forces to present the government with a list of proposals for ending deforestation (in Brazilian Portuguese)

The group, which includes WWF Brazil, the World Resources Institute, Imazon and Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), as well as some of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, like Bayer, Danone, Unilever, Natura, JBS, Marfrig and Amaggi, says that a rapid decrease in deforestation is fundamental, not only for environmental but for economic reasons too.

It wants a return to regular monitoring and application of fines for illegal clearing, which the Bolsonaro government has effectively sabotaged by cutting funds for environmental agencies.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology”

It says access to official funds should be conditional upon socio-environmental criteria, and attempts by private landowners to declare themselves owners of areas located within protected public lands should be stopped.

In other words, what it is demanding is not rocket science, but the enforcement of existing laws, instead of the illegality which the Bolsonaro government has indirectly encouraged.

Neither the Amazon nor the Pantanal, both humid areas, catches fire spontaneously. Huge areas illegally cleared last year are being set on fire to prepare the land for farming. Trees were felled en masse by big chains stretched between tractors that topple everything in their path.

This year the felled vegetation is being burned to clear the land for cattle or soy. Between January 2019 and April 2020 an area of over 4,500 sq kms of Amazon forest was cleared.

Catastrophe foretold

The fires spread easily because of tinder-dry conditions, and because the environment ministry failed to release funds for firefighting until the dry season was well under way.

There were warnings. In June IPAM declared that the deforestation of the last year and a half in the Amazon could herald a catastrophe in the region. “If 100% is burnt, an unprecedented health calamity will add to the effects of Covid-19”, it said.

The fires have covered towns and cities in the Amazon with huge clouds of sooty smoke, leading to thousands of people, including babies and small children, being hospitalised for breathing problems, as reported in a study published by Human Rights Watch, IPAM and IPES (the Health Policies Study Institute), on 26 August.

The fires’ impact is not confined to the Amazon region: black clouds of sooty particles are spreading south and are expected to reach São Paulo, Brazil’s major metropolis, within a few days. Pressure for a Brazilian trade boycott is liable to intensify. − Climate News Network

Appalled by more forest loss and worse wildfires, eight European countries warn of a possible Brazilian trade boycott.

SÃO PAULO, 21 September, 2020 − There was international concern over the forest fires which swept the Amazon last year. This year’s devastation looks set to be still more severe. And it won’t go without vigorous protest, and possible action: a Brazilian trade boycott.

Six EU countries and the UK have sent an open letter to the Brazilian government protesting at Brazil’s environmental policy and threatening a boycott.

Fires in two of Brazil’s most important biomes (areas of the Earth  that can be classified according to the plants and animals that live in them), the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands area, have reached record numbers of fires.

The seven countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom), are signatories to the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, set up in 2015 to ensure sustainable commodity supply chains. Their focus is on deforestation and sustainable palm oil.

Worse than 2019

Their letter (which is supported by a non-member of the Partnership, Belgium) was prompted by evidence that this year’s fires in the Amazon are going to be even worse than those last year, which led to worldwide protests against the Brazilian government. In the first two weeks of September 2020 more fires have been recorded than during the entire month of September last year.

In addition, not only is the Amazon burning: the Pantanal is also seeing a record number of fires. An area the size of Belgium (almost 3 million hectares) has already been burnt. The Pantanal is a wildlife sanctuary, and untold millions of animals, birds and reptiles have been burned to death or have died from smoke inhalation, in what is probably one of the worst-ever extinctions of wildlife.

The fires in the Pantanal have been facilitated by an unprecedented drought, leaving rivers and streams dry, but police are investigating evidence that they were started deliberately by farmers seeking more grassland for their cattle. The Pantanal is also home to millions of cattle.

The letter’s signatories express alarm at the growth in deforestation which has led to the fires, pointing out that in the past Brazil successfully expanded agricultural production while reducing forest clearing.

Supermarkets intervene

“There is growing concern among consumers, companies, investors and European civil society about the present rates of deforestation”, they say.

Recently two of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains, Edeka and Lidl, asked the German government to put pressure on Brazil to reduce deforestation.

For Marcio Astrini, of the Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory, the letter will influence the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which still has to be ratified by most European parliaments.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology, which favours environmental crime in detriment to productive forces and the comparative advantages which Brazil enjoyed”, he said.

Global protest

President Bolsonaro and his ministers, who against all the evidence continue to deny the severity of the fires in the Amazon, downplayed the importance of the letter, dismissing it as a “trade strategy” of the Europeans.

But it is not only the Europeans who are worried about what’s happening in the Amazon. A few days ago 230 agribusiness companies and NGOs joined forces to present the government with a list of proposals for ending deforestation (in Brazilian Portuguese)

The group, which includes WWF Brazil, the World Resources Institute, Imazon and Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), as well as some of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, like Bayer, Danone, Unilever, Natura, JBS, Marfrig and Amaggi, says that a rapid decrease in deforestation is fundamental, not only for environmental but for economic reasons too.

It wants a return to regular monitoring and application of fines for illegal clearing, which the Bolsonaro government has effectively sabotaged by cutting funds for environmental agencies.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology”

It says access to official funds should be conditional upon socio-environmental criteria, and attempts by private landowners to declare themselves owners of areas located within protected public lands should be stopped.

In other words, what it is demanding is not rocket science, but the enforcement of existing laws, instead of the illegality which the Bolsonaro government has indirectly encouraged.

Neither the Amazon nor the Pantanal, both humid areas, catches fire spontaneously. Huge areas illegally cleared last year are being set on fire to prepare the land for farming. Trees were felled en masse by big chains stretched between tractors that topple everything in their path.

This year the felled vegetation is being burned to clear the land for cattle or soy. Between January 2019 and April 2020 an area of over 4,500 sq kms of Amazon forest was cleared.

Catastrophe foretold

The fires spread easily because of tinder-dry conditions, and because the environment ministry failed to release funds for firefighting until the dry season was well under way.

There were warnings. In June IPAM declared that the deforestation of the last year and a half in the Amazon could herald a catastrophe in the region. “If 100% is burnt, an unprecedented health calamity will add to the effects of Covid-19”, it said.

The fires have covered towns and cities in the Amazon with huge clouds of sooty smoke, leading to thousands of people, including babies and small children, being hospitalised for breathing problems, as reported in a study published by Human Rights Watch, IPAM and IPES (the Health Policies Study Institute), on 26 August.

The fires’ impact is not confined to the Amazon region: black clouds of sooty particles are spreading south and are expected to reach São Paulo, Brazil’s major metropolis, within a few days. Pressure for a Brazilian trade boycott is liable to intensify. − Climate News Network

Lethal price of climate inertia far exceeds action

Climate change will impose a lethal price if we do not all pay the far smaller cost of confronting it.

LONDON, 10 September, 2020 – In the hotter world of climate change, it won’t just be the glaciers that melt: national and regional economies, big business, government and even the multinationals will all pay a lethal price.

If the planet becomes 4°C warmer by 2100, then many regions could see a 10% fall in economic output. They’d be the lucky ones. In the tropics, the economic losses could be double that.

There are of course ways to limit losses and save lives. US researchers believe that if a quarter of all motorists in the US switched to electric vehicles, the nation could save $17bn a year in the costs of climate change and air pollution. If three fourths of drivers switched to cars fuelled by renewable electricity, savings could tip $70bn.

Both studies are specimens of the kind of economic reasoning – always arguable and often intensely-argued – that necessarily must make “what-if” calculations about the notional costs to society of carbon dioxide emissions and the notional value of human lives blighted by heat-related illnesses and air pollution a lifetime from now.

But both are just the latest in a long line of calculations that demonstrate, repeatedly, that the costs to the next generation of doing nothing about climate change far outweigh the costs now of shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture”

The latest exploration of the price of doing nothing is published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

German scientists report that they looked, in detail, at the possible consequences of a 4°C warning, not on national economies but on 1500 states, provinces, departments and other political subdivisions within 77 nations around the globe.

Their finding – that more intense global heating could cost all of them 10% of their output and those in the warmer regions more than 20% – is, they say, conservative.

That is because their calculations do not take into account the potential catastrophic damage from extreme weather events and sea level rise – both of which could be substantial.

“Climate damages hit our businesses and our jobs, not just polar bears and coral reefs,” said Leonie Wenz, of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Tangible value

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture. They affect our harvests and they mean extra stress, and thus costs for our infrastructure.”

But, according to a study in the journal GeoHealth, even the purchase of a new car could soften the impact: providing the car is electric and the power for its batteries is delivered by wind or solar energy.

If electric vehicles replaced 25% of all cars on US roads, the country could save $17bn a year in the notional costs of climate change and health damage – asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and premature death – from choking exhausts. Triple that, and the savings would reach $70bn.

“The social cost of carbon and value of statistical life are much studied and much debated metrics,” said Daniel Horton, of Northwestern University in Illinois, one of the authors.

“But they are used regularly to make policy decisions. It helps to put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Climate change will impose a lethal price if we do not all pay the far smaller cost of confronting it.

LONDON, 10 September, 2020 – In the hotter world of climate change, it won’t just be the glaciers that melt: national and regional economies, big business, government and even the multinationals will all pay a lethal price.

If the planet becomes 4°C warmer by 2100, then many regions could see a 10% fall in economic output. They’d be the lucky ones. In the tropics, the economic losses could be double that.

There are of course ways to limit losses and save lives. US researchers believe that if a quarter of all motorists in the US switched to electric vehicles, the nation could save $17bn a year in the costs of climate change and air pollution. If three fourths of drivers switched to cars fuelled by renewable electricity, savings could tip $70bn.

Both studies are specimens of the kind of economic reasoning – always arguable and often intensely-argued – that necessarily must make “what-if” calculations about the notional costs to society of carbon dioxide emissions and the notional value of human lives blighted by heat-related illnesses and air pollution a lifetime from now.

But both are just the latest in a long line of calculations that demonstrate, repeatedly, that the costs to the next generation of doing nothing about climate change far outweigh the costs now of shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture”

The latest exploration of the price of doing nothing is published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

German scientists report that they looked, in detail, at the possible consequences of a 4°C warning, not on national economies but on 1500 states, provinces, departments and other political subdivisions within 77 nations around the globe.

Their finding – that more intense global heating could cost all of them 10% of their output and those in the warmer regions more than 20% – is, they say, conservative.

That is because their calculations do not take into account the potential catastrophic damage from extreme weather events and sea level rise – both of which could be substantial.

“Climate damages hit our businesses and our jobs, not just polar bears and coral reefs,” said Leonie Wenz, of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Tangible value

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture. They affect our harvests and they mean extra stress, and thus costs for our infrastructure.”

But, according to a study in the journal GeoHealth, even the purchase of a new car could soften the impact: providing the car is electric and the power for its batteries is delivered by wind or solar energy.

If electric vehicles replaced 25% of all cars on US roads, the country could save $17bn a year in the notional costs of climate change and health damage – asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and premature death – from choking exhausts. Triple that, and the savings would reach $70bn.

“The social cost of carbon and value of statistical life are much studied and much debated metrics,” said Daniel Horton, of Northwestern University in Illinois, one of the authors.

“But they are used regularly to make policy decisions. It helps to put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Pandemic’s impacts are damaging climate research

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recalled to port

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Record emissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recalled to port

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Record emissions

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

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

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

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

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

Cool your home, save money, chill the atmosphere

Feeling too hot? Then turn the thermostat down and cool your home − a good start to cooling the planet.

LONDON, 8 September, 2020 − Rescuing battered economies in the wake of the coronavirus onslaught often demands building anew, but it doesn’t have to mean altogether different ways of life, transformed industries and modern buildings: just cool your home for a start, because new ways to heat our houses could save money, improve health − and help the planet by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Housing, at least in temperate northern countries, could provide much better living conditions while doing much less environmental damage. A new approach in the Netherlands, known in Dutch as Energiesprong, is one answer.

It can cut the fossil fuel used for heating (or cooling) a house, offering occupants affordable, comfortable lives and helping to solve an urgent problem. And it can do it all in days, a fraction of the time energy retrofits usually need.

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

Energiesprong involves some basic rethinking, about how much comfort we need. In 1970 the Danish scientist Povl Ole Fanger published his research on how warm people like to feel. His work still influences the designed-in temperature of modern buildings and their energy use.

“A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic consumption”

So, despite all of us having different metabolisms and body shapes and sizes, we usually work seated in a space heated or cooled to 21-22℃. Engineers and architects also factor in assumptions about what the supposedly typical occupant will be wearing: a man’s business suit  (trousers, a jacket and a long-sleeved shirt).

Fanger’s equation therefore locks in assumptions that apply only to a male, suited minority, ignoring more than half of humanity: women, people who don’t wear suits, those with different metabolisms. It also locks in a level of the carbon emissions which stoke the climate emergency.

A 2012 study commissioned by the UK government looked at potential energy savings from small behaviour changes. It concluded that lowering central heating temperatures worked best.

A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic electricity consumption in 2019 of 48 TWh.

Day-to-day energy use currently accounts for about 28% of global emissions annually. A massive increase in the rate of existing building energy efficiency is needed to meet the emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement. But building renovations currently affect only 0.5-1% of the existing UK building stock each year.

Slow progress

Governments are variously funding schemes to insulate inefficient old buildings and to remove polluting systems such as gas boilers in favour of renewables. All these efforts are chasing the target of “net zero” carbon emissions and beyond to “negative” emissions, resulting in an overall reduction.

For most older houses especially, this can prove costly, disruptive and time-consuming; without government assistance or incentives, few people are willing or able to undertake the challenge. Even in countries claiming to be climate leaders, like the UK, progress has been slow.

Energiesprong offers integrated refurbishment, regulatory change and financing. Its retrofits leave net zero energy buildings, generating all the energy they need for heating, hot water and electrical appliances by using new technologies such as prefabricated facades, insulated rooftops with solar panels, smart heating, and ventilation and cooling installations. A complete home makeover can be finished in less than 10 days, and some have been done in as little as a single day.

It’s an approach that could become much more widespread, and experts say it needs to be. It has to be set against the predicted doubling in global building space by 2060, when two thirds of the expected global population of 10 billion people will live in cities.

That will need the equivalent of an entire New York City to be added to the global built environment every month for the next 40 years. The energy used simply to construct buildings before they are used constitutes an additional 11% of global emissions today.

Killer homes

The budget for an Energiesprong renovation or new build is reckoned as future energy cost savings plus the cost of planned maintenance and repairs over the next 30 years. To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,  the built environment’s energy intensity − how much energy a building uses − will have to improve by 30% by 2030.

Globally, the energy intensity of the building sector is improving by about 1.5% annually, but this is more than offset by the number of new buildings. Global floor area is growing by about 2.3% annually, and carbon emissions related to buildings are expected to double by 2050 on present trends.

Making houses less energy-hungry also improves social justice. Most of the UK’s housing – and particularly rental properties and those in poorer areas – are leaky and cold, and often damp. Many people simply can’t afford to heat them, which can put a decision to cool your home in a different perspective.

A 2018 briefing paper by researchers from two UK groups, E3G and National Energy Action, said the UK had the sixth highest long-term rate of excess winter mortality out of 30 European countries, with 9,700 deaths attributable that winter to the avoidable circumstances of living in a cold home. Another estimate puts the 2018 figure at 17,000.

As well as the Netherlands, there are Energiesprong initiatives in the UK, France, Germany and Italy. In the US, groups inspired by Energiesprong are working on local solutions in New York state and California. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

Feeling too hot? Then turn the thermostat down and cool your home − a good start to cooling the planet.

LONDON, 8 September, 2020 − Rescuing battered economies in the wake of the coronavirus onslaught often demands building anew, but it doesn’t have to mean altogether different ways of life, transformed industries and modern buildings: just cool your home for a start, because new ways to heat our houses could save money, improve health − and help the planet by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Housing, at least in temperate northern countries, could provide much better living conditions while doing much less environmental damage. A new approach in the Netherlands, known in Dutch as Energiesprong, is one answer.

It can cut the fossil fuel used for heating (or cooling) a house, offering occupants affordable, comfortable lives and helping to solve an urgent problem. And it can do it all in days, a fraction of the time energy retrofits usually need.

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

Energiesprong involves some basic rethinking, about how much comfort we need. In 1970 the Danish scientist Povl Ole Fanger published his research on how warm people like to feel. His work still influences the designed-in temperature of modern buildings and their energy use.

“A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic consumption”

So, despite all of us having different metabolisms and body shapes and sizes, we usually work seated in a space heated or cooled to 21-22℃. Engineers and architects also factor in assumptions about what the supposedly typical occupant will be wearing: a man’s business suit  (trousers, a jacket and a long-sleeved shirt).

Fanger’s equation therefore locks in assumptions that apply only to a male, suited minority, ignoring more than half of humanity: women, people who don’t wear suits, those with different metabolisms. It also locks in a level of the carbon emissions which stoke the climate emergency.

A 2012 study commissioned by the UK government looked at potential energy savings from small behaviour changes. It concluded that lowering central heating temperatures worked best.

A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic electricity consumption in 2019 of 48 TWh.

Day-to-day energy use currently accounts for about 28% of global emissions annually. A massive increase in the rate of existing building energy efficiency is needed to meet the emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement. But building renovations currently affect only 0.5-1% of the existing UK building stock each year.

Slow progress

Governments are variously funding schemes to insulate inefficient old buildings and to remove polluting systems such as gas boilers in favour of renewables. All these efforts are chasing the target of “net zero” carbon emissions and beyond to “negative” emissions, resulting in an overall reduction.

For most older houses especially, this can prove costly, disruptive and time-consuming; without government assistance or incentives, few people are willing or able to undertake the challenge. Even in countries claiming to be climate leaders, like the UK, progress has been slow.

Energiesprong offers integrated refurbishment, regulatory change and financing. Its retrofits leave net zero energy buildings, generating all the energy they need for heating, hot water and electrical appliances by using new technologies such as prefabricated facades, insulated rooftops with solar panels, smart heating, and ventilation and cooling installations. A complete home makeover can be finished in less than 10 days, and some have been done in as little as a single day.

It’s an approach that could become much more widespread, and experts say it needs to be. It has to be set against the predicted doubling in global building space by 2060, when two thirds of the expected global population of 10 billion people will live in cities.

That will need the equivalent of an entire New York City to be added to the global built environment every month for the next 40 years. The energy used simply to construct buildings before they are used constitutes an additional 11% of global emissions today.

Killer homes

The budget for an Energiesprong renovation or new build is reckoned as future energy cost savings plus the cost of planned maintenance and repairs over the next 30 years. To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,  the built environment’s energy intensity − how much energy a building uses − will have to improve by 30% by 2030.

Globally, the energy intensity of the building sector is improving by about 1.5% annually, but this is more than offset by the number of new buildings. Global floor area is growing by about 2.3% annually, and carbon emissions related to buildings are expected to double by 2050 on present trends.

Making houses less energy-hungry also improves social justice. Most of the UK’s housing – and particularly rental properties and those in poorer areas – are leaky and cold, and often damp. Many people simply can’t afford to heat them, which can put a decision to cool your home in a different perspective.

A 2018 briefing paper by researchers from two UK groups, E3G and National Energy Action, said the UK had the sixth highest long-term rate of excess winter mortality out of 30 European countries, with 9,700 deaths attributable that winter to the avoidable circumstances of living in a cold home. Another estimate puts the 2018 figure at 17,000.

As well as the Netherlands, there are Energiesprong initiatives in the UK, France, Germany and Italy. In the US, groups inspired by Energiesprong are working on local solutions in New York state and California. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

UK’s plutonium stockpile is an embarrassing risk

Plutonium used to be called the world’s most valuable substance. It’s now recognised as a highly dangerous liability.

LONDON, 3 September, 2020 – After 70 years of producing plutonium in reprocessing works the United Kingdom, now with 140 tonnes of it, the largest stockpile in the world, finds it has no use for the metal – and needs to spend £4.5 billion (US$6bn) just to keep it safe.

Having already spent at least that much since the 1950s employing thousands of workers at the Sellafield plant in north-west England to refine the plutonium, the British government has now been told this was a useless endeavour, producing fissile material which, as a security risk, is a burden for future generations.

To cope with the problem the government has now authorised the building of new plants to refine, repackage and store the plutonium for another 140 years, in the hope that some time in the future someone will find a use for it.

Plutonium was once described as the most valuable substance in the world – because with seven kilograms a nation could make a devastating nuclear bomb and become a superpower.

Non-stop production

The UK began making plutonium in the 1950s so that it could keep up with the US and Russia in obtaining such a bomb, and since then it has not stopped, although it has earmarked its current stockpile for peaceful purposes.

The plan, once there was enough military plutonium to use for bombs, was to make plutonium-based fuels for electricity production, but the technology has proved too expensive to be viable.

So the plutonium is now a liability, costing more than £300 million a ton to make safe and store. It will be permanently guarded by a special armed police force for the next 140 years to prevent terrorists getting access to it – the additional cost of this 24-hour surveillance being kept secret because it is “a matter of national security.”

Some of the plutonium has been stored for so long that it already needs what is called “emergency repackaging” to keep it safe. Some of it decays into a more radioactive substance, americium-241, which remains a danger for another 300 years.

Sudden revelation

To avoid immediate danger to workers this plutonium will have to be re-packaged again to meet the standard required for it to enter a new store, so far unbuilt.

Rachel Western, a Friends of the Earth researcher, who obtained a Ph.D studying decision-making in nuclear waste management, said: “It is shocking that after half a century of production of plutonium at Sellafield they have discovered how dangerous it is, so that we are suddenly faced with emergency action.”

One of the extraordinary aspects of this history is that successive governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been warned repeatedly by scientists, engineers and environment groups that the plutonium is a liability, not an asset. Despite that, in the 1990s (having already built up a vast stock of plutonium) ministers authorised the new reprocessing works to begin operations.

After a life of 20 years this reprocessing plant, known as Thorp (the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant), shut down in 2018, and another that has been working since the 1950s is due to close in 2021 – in the meantime still turning out more plutonium that has no end use.

“Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations”

This reporter, who worked for The Guardian newspaper, was assigned to follow Britain’s plutonium story from the 1980s. After a long planning inquiry into the Thorp plant, which was to cost £1.8 billion, a debate broke out on whether the UK needed any more plutonium

The original plan for Thorp was to make money for the UK by reprocessing spent nuclear fuels at Sellafield from around the world to recover plutonium and uranium to re-use in reactors. Everyone outside the industry said that this would be uneconomic, and so it proved. But the government went ahead anyway.

The idea was to make a new fuel called MOX, mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium, to burn in reactors that would provide energy but effectively render the plutonium useless for making weapons.

In order to justify opening the second reprocessing works the government authorised the building of an additional MOX plant, but it never worked properly and was abandoned as a catastrophic financial failure. Despite this, Sellafield continued to separate plutonium.

Looking for alternative

Papers passed to the Climate News Network show what an expensive legacy this plutonium production line has proved to be.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the government body charged with dealing with the UK’s nuclear wastes, said in its 2019 document Progress on Plutonium: “Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations to manage.”

It outlined a series of possibilities for using the plutonium, including the already failed alternative of making MOX fuel. In that and future documents these alternatives were discussed and found to be too expensive, unproven or simply impractical, because there were no reactors available to burn the plutonium.

As a result, repacking the dangerously unstable plutonium and then storing it for future generations to deal with is the chosen option until an alternative can be found. The most likely, according to the NDA document, seems to be mixing it with concrete or ceramics and burying it in a deep depository.

Cost increase

Costs are not discussed in that document. However, following a request by the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, an all-party body of members of parliament, the costs of dealing with the plutonium were disclosed by the NDA.

The evidence says in part: “The costs of the programme to manage the indefinite storage of UK-held plutonium are expected to increase between £0.5-£1 billion from the current estimate of £3.5 billion.”

These costs include the current “contingency repack capability” which is code for emergency treatment for old plutonium stores; the building of a new state of the art retreatment plant; and the construction of a giant new store to take all the plutonium. This it is hoped will be ready by 2027, with extensions to be added in 2033 and 2040.

Other documents, also seen by the Climate News Network, explain that one of the problems that Sellafield faces is that plutonium breaks down.

Completely unusable

Radioactive substances decay into what are called daughter products, also highly dangerous, that have different properties and in this case dilute the purity of the plutonium. This is why nuclear warheads constantly have to be remade with pure plutonium.

At Sellafield some of this refined plutonium has been left in store for so long that it is regarded as unusable in any form and will have to be disposed of. Other plutonium could be purified for use, if a use could be found.

The documents made clear that the plutonium in these old stores was too dangerous to leave until the new facilities could be built. The NDA’s 2020 annual report said: ”In the last 12 months Sellafield has started to recover some of the most degraded plutonium storage packages, therefore beginning to mitigate one of the more significant challenges associated with storing these materials.”

Sellafield has more than 1,000 empty buildings and nearly 10,000 employees looking after the nuclear waste created since the 1950s. – Climate News Network

Plutonium used to be called the world’s most valuable substance. It’s now recognised as a highly dangerous liability.

LONDON, 3 September, 2020 – After 70 years of producing plutonium in reprocessing works the United Kingdom, now with 140 tonnes of it, the largest stockpile in the world, finds it has no use for the metal – and needs to spend £4.5 billion (US$6bn) just to keep it safe.

Having already spent at least that much since the 1950s employing thousands of workers at the Sellafield plant in north-west England to refine the plutonium, the British government has now been told this was a useless endeavour, producing fissile material which, as a security risk, is a burden for future generations.

To cope with the problem the government has now authorised the building of new plants to refine, repackage and store the plutonium for another 140 years, in the hope that some time in the future someone will find a use for it.

Plutonium was once described as the most valuable substance in the world – because with seven kilograms a nation could make a devastating nuclear bomb and become a superpower.

Non-stop production

The UK began making plutonium in the 1950s so that it could keep up with the US and Russia in obtaining such a bomb, and since then it has not stopped, although it has earmarked its current stockpile for peaceful purposes.

The plan, once there was enough military plutonium to use for bombs, was to make plutonium-based fuels for electricity production, but the technology has proved too expensive to be viable.

So the plutonium is now a liability, costing more than £300 million a ton to make safe and store. It will be permanently guarded by a special armed police force for the next 140 years to prevent terrorists getting access to it – the additional cost of this 24-hour surveillance being kept secret because it is “a matter of national security.”

Some of the plutonium has been stored for so long that it already needs what is called “emergency repackaging” to keep it safe. Some of it decays into a more radioactive substance, americium-241, which remains a danger for another 300 years.

Sudden revelation

To avoid immediate danger to workers this plutonium will have to be re-packaged again to meet the standard required for it to enter a new store, so far unbuilt.

Rachel Western, a Friends of the Earth researcher, who obtained a Ph.D studying decision-making in nuclear waste management, said: “It is shocking that after half a century of production of plutonium at Sellafield they have discovered how dangerous it is, so that we are suddenly faced with emergency action.”

One of the extraordinary aspects of this history is that successive governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been warned repeatedly by scientists, engineers and environment groups that the plutonium is a liability, not an asset. Despite that, in the 1990s (having already built up a vast stock of plutonium) ministers authorised the new reprocessing works to begin operations.

After a life of 20 years this reprocessing plant, known as Thorp (the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant), shut down in 2018, and another that has been working since the 1950s is due to close in 2021 – in the meantime still turning out more plutonium that has no end use.

“Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations”

This reporter, who worked for The Guardian newspaper, was assigned to follow Britain’s plutonium story from the 1980s. After a long planning inquiry into the Thorp plant, which was to cost £1.8 billion, a debate broke out on whether the UK needed any more plutonium

The original plan for Thorp was to make money for the UK by reprocessing spent nuclear fuels at Sellafield from around the world to recover plutonium and uranium to re-use in reactors. Everyone outside the industry said that this would be uneconomic, and so it proved. But the government went ahead anyway.

The idea was to make a new fuel called MOX, mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium, to burn in reactors that would provide energy but effectively render the plutonium useless for making weapons.

In order to justify opening the second reprocessing works the government authorised the building of an additional MOX plant, but it never worked properly and was abandoned as a catastrophic financial failure. Despite this, Sellafield continued to separate plutonium.

Looking for alternative

Papers passed to the Climate News Network show what an expensive legacy this plutonium production line has proved to be.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the government body charged with dealing with the UK’s nuclear wastes, said in its 2019 document Progress on Plutonium: “Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations to manage.”

It outlined a series of possibilities for using the plutonium, including the already failed alternative of making MOX fuel. In that and future documents these alternatives were discussed and found to be too expensive, unproven or simply impractical, because there were no reactors available to burn the plutonium.

As a result, repacking the dangerously unstable plutonium and then storing it for future generations to deal with is the chosen option until an alternative can be found. The most likely, according to the NDA document, seems to be mixing it with concrete or ceramics and burying it in a deep depository.

Cost increase

Costs are not discussed in that document. However, following a request by the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, an all-party body of members of parliament, the costs of dealing with the plutonium were disclosed by the NDA.

The evidence says in part: “The costs of the programme to manage the indefinite storage of UK-held plutonium are expected to increase between £0.5-£1 billion from the current estimate of £3.5 billion.”

These costs include the current “contingency repack capability” which is code for emergency treatment for old plutonium stores; the building of a new state of the art retreatment plant; and the construction of a giant new store to take all the plutonium. This it is hoped will be ready by 2027, with extensions to be added in 2033 and 2040.

Other documents, also seen by the Climate News Network, explain that one of the problems that Sellafield faces is that plutonium breaks down.

Completely unusable

Radioactive substances decay into what are called daughter products, also highly dangerous, that have different properties and in this case dilute the purity of the plutonium. This is why nuclear warheads constantly have to be remade with pure plutonium.

At Sellafield some of this refined plutonium has been left in store for so long that it is regarded as unusable in any form and will have to be disposed of. Other plutonium could be purified for use, if a use could be found.

The documents made clear that the plutonium in these old stores was too dangerous to leave until the new facilities could be built. The NDA’s 2020 annual report said: ”In the last 12 months Sellafield has started to recover some of the most degraded plutonium storage packages, therefore beginning to mitigate one of the more significant challenges associated with storing these materials.”

Sellafield has more than 1,000 empty buildings and nearly 10,000 employees looking after the nuclear waste created since the 1950s. – Climate News Network

‘Ban adverts for cars that damage the climate’

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

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

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

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

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

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

40-year resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doubt-spreading

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

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

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

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

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

Doctors’ crucial intervention

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

40-year resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doubt-spreading

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

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

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

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

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

Doctors’ crucial intervention

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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Plant world feels effect of growing climate heat

From Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, the plant world is beginning to change. Blame it on global heating.

LONDON, 28 August, 2020 – From one end of the Americas to the other, climate heating is subjecting the plant world to radical change, with cold-resistant species increasingly yielding place to those that welcome the rising warmth.

That badge of Canadian identity, the sugar maple, may one day turn sour. As global temperatures, driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels, continue to soar, Acer saccharum could simply lose its habitat and no longer sweeten the forests from Novia Scotia to the Appalachians.

And the southern live oak, so associated with Florida that a city there preserves its name, may find life too hot for comfort: in the south of the state, Quercus virginiana could one day be replaced by trees from the Caribbean or even further south, such as the already present Cuban mahogany Swietenia mahogani or the Gumbo limbo Bursera simaruba.

And in what was once the reliably wintry city of New York, that marvel of old Mississippi the southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, has begun to multiply and bloom ever earlier each year.

These species shifts are just part of a larger trend in the Americas, from Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, according to new research in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that are critical to our ways of life”

Researchers analysed 60 million records of 17,000 plant species in almost 200 New World eco-regions, from 1970 to 2011, to identify a pattern of change in response to heat: a phenomenon called thermophilisation.

“Almost anywhere you go, the types of species that you encounter now are different than what you would have found in the same spot 40 years ago, and we believe that this pattern is the direct result of rising temperatures and climate change,” said Ken Feeley, a biologist at the University of Miami, who led the research.

The study – two continents, and a range of temperature regimes from near-Arctic to equatorial and onwards, almost to the edge of the Southern Ocean – confirms the big picture, but dozens of earlier studies had already built up a mosaic of observations that told much the same story.

As temperatures rise, and precipitation patterns shift, plants respond. The forests of the northern hemisphere everywhere are vulnerable to heat and drought, and even species considered resistant to drought could be about to succumb.

In the lowland tropics, researchers have warned that conditions could become so intemperate that some species may fail to germinate and renew their tenure in the forest. Researchers have observed tropical species moving uphill to find more equable temperature regimes, while others have warned that those upland species that are comfortable at height may soon find it so hot there could be nowhere left to go.

Worldwide effects

The northern tundra is already beginning to host new plant life, but rising temperatures and shifting climate regimes could also damage forests and fuel even more global warming.

The latest study shows once again that, in any ecosystem, those species that are more likely to cope with colder temperatures are being replaced by others that just like it hot.

“Some of these changes can be so dramatic that we are shifting entire habitat types from forests to grasslands or vice versa – by looking at all types of plants over long periods of time and over huge areas, we were able to observe those changes,” said Professor Feeley.

“All animals – including humans – depend on the plants around them. If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that we are used to seeing in our communities and that are critical to our ways of life.

“When people think of climate change, they need to realise that it’s not just about losing ice in Antarctica, or rising sea levels – climate change affects almost every natural system in every part of the planet.” – Climate News Network

From Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, the plant world is beginning to change. Blame it on global heating.

LONDON, 28 August, 2020 – From one end of the Americas to the other, climate heating is subjecting the plant world to radical change, with cold-resistant species increasingly yielding place to those that welcome the rising warmth.

That badge of Canadian identity, the sugar maple, may one day turn sour. As global temperatures, driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels, continue to soar, Acer saccharum could simply lose its habitat and no longer sweeten the forests from Novia Scotia to the Appalachians.

And the southern live oak, so associated with Florida that a city there preserves its name, may find life too hot for comfort: in the south of the state, Quercus virginiana could one day be replaced by trees from the Caribbean or even further south, such as the already present Cuban mahogany Swietenia mahogani or the Gumbo limbo Bursera simaruba.

And in what was once the reliably wintry city of New York, that marvel of old Mississippi the southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, has begun to multiply and bloom ever earlier each year.

These species shifts are just part of a larger trend in the Americas, from Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, according to new research in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that are critical to our ways of life”

Researchers analysed 60 million records of 17,000 plant species in almost 200 New World eco-regions, from 1970 to 2011, to identify a pattern of change in response to heat: a phenomenon called thermophilisation.

“Almost anywhere you go, the types of species that you encounter now are different than what you would have found in the same spot 40 years ago, and we believe that this pattern is the direct result of rising temperatures and climate change,” said Ken Feeley, a biologist at the University of Miami, who led the research.

The study – two continents, and a range of temperature regimes from near-Arctic to equatorial and onwards, almost to the edge of the Southern Ocean – confirms the big picture, but dozens of earlier studies had already built up a mosaic of observations that told much the same story.

As temperatures rise, and precipitation patterns shift, plants respond. The forests of the northern hemisphere everywhere are vulnerable to heat and drought, and even species considered resistant to drought could be about to succumb.

In the lowland tropics, researchers have warned that conditions could become so intemperate that some species may fail to germinate and renew their tenure in the forest. Researchers have observed tropical species moving uphill to find more equable temperature regimes, while others have warned that those upland species that are comfortable at height may soon find it so hot there could be nowhere left to go.

Worldwide effects

The northern tundra is already beginning to host new plant life, but rising temperatures and shifting climate regimes could also damage forests and fuel even more global warming.

The latest study shows once again that, in any ecosystem, those species that are more likely to cope with colder temperatures are being replaced by others that just like it hot.

“Some of these changes can be so dramatic that we are shifting entire habitat types from forests to grasslands or vice versa – by looking at all types of plants over long periods of time and over huge areas, we were able to observe those changes,” said Professor Feeley.

“All animals – including humans – depend on the plants around them. If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that we are used to seeing in our communities and that are critical to our ways of life.

“When people think of climate change, they need to realise that it’s not just about losing ice in Antarctica, or rising sea levels – climate change affects almost every natural system in every part of the planet.” – Climate News Network

Batteries boost Californian hopes of cooler future

Californian hopes of cooler future rise as the world’s biggest battery storage system comes on stream.

LONDON, 25 August, 2020 – Recent reports of record-breaking heat in the Golden State may be only part of the story: Californian hopes of cooler future days are strengthening with the entry into service of new technology that should promise a less torrid future for millions of people.

The ability to store large amounts of renewable energy – generated mainly by solar and wind power – is seen as a key component in the battle to combat catastrophic climate change.

The Gateway Energy Storage project, near San Diego in southern California, is capable of storing and redistributing up to 230MW of power from solar installations in the area.

“By charging during solar production on off-peak hours and delivering energy to the grid during times of peak demand for power, our battery storage projects improve electric reliability, reduce costs and help our state meet its climate objectives”, said John King of LS Power, the New York-based power development company operating the project.

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real”

California – the most populous state in the US and one of the wealthiest – has been hit by a series of power blackouts in recent weeks as an extreme heatwave has led to increased air conditioner use and expanding energy demand.

In the Central Valley area of the state, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, daytime temperatures have soared to more than 40°C.

In mid-August the temperature in Death Valley, a desert area in southern California, reached 54°C – which could be the highest temperature reliably recorded anywhere in the world.

Further north, residents of Sacramento, the state capital, baked as temperatures reached over 40°C on consecutive days – more than 7°C above normal for the time of year.

Though it’s too early to say whether the heatwave is due to increased levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, is in little doubt about what is driving the heat extremes.

World’s worst air

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier”, Newsom said in a video message to delegates participating in a virtual convention of the Democratic Party. “Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California”, said Newsom.

The extreme heat has led to increased storm activity in many areas of the state and a series of lightning strikes which, in turn, have caused an outbreak of wildfires.

Several people have been killed as the fires have raged out of control over hundreds of thousands of acres. Air quality in some regions has declined to levels not seen before.

At one stage this month the area around San Francisco – one of the globe’s wealthiest cities and home to many of the biggest IT companies – was described as having the worst air quality in the world.

Batteries in demand

A shortage of equipment and firefighters has added to problems. In the past California has used prisoners to help fight fires – a policy condemned by various groups.

Many of the prisoners who might have been used for this purpose are no longer available: they’ve either been placed in quarantine or released in an attempt to control the spread of the Covid virus through California’s overcrowded prison system.

Developing more battery storage to service fast-growing solar and wind industries is seen as vital for the state’s energy needs.

California is facing restrictions on importing power from other states in the western US due to heatwaves in those regions and rising power demand. It has also been shutting down fossil fuel-burning power plants.

Governor Newsom said this month that state utilities must find solutions to the power problem: blackouts, he said, were “unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.” – Climate News Network

Californian hopes of cooler future rise as the world’s biggest battery storage system comes on stream.

LONDON, 25 August, 2020 – Recent reports of record-breaking heat in the Golden State may be only part of the story: Californian hopes of cooler future days are strengthening with the entry into service of new technology that should promise a less torrid future for millions of people.

The ability to store large amounts of renewable energy – generated mainly by solar and wind power – is seen as a key component in the battle to combat catastrophic climate change.

The Gateway Energy Storage project, near San Diego in southern California, is capable of storing and redistributing up to 230MW of power from solar installations in the area.

“By charging during solar production on off-peak hours and delivering energy to the grid during times of peak demand for power, our battery storage projects improve electric reliability, reduce costs and help our state meet its climate objectives”, said John King of LS Power, the New York-based power development company operating the project.

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real”

California – the most populous state in the US and one of the wealthiest – has been hit by a series of power blackouts in recent weeks as an extreme heatwave has led to increased air conditioner use and expanding energy demand.

In the Central Valley area of the state, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, daytime temperatures have soared to more than 40°C.

In mid-August the temperature in Death Valley, a desert area in southern California, reached 54°C – which could be the highest temperature reliably recorded anywhere in the world.

Further north, residents of Sacramento, the state capital, baked as temperatures reached over 40°C on consecutive days – more than 7°C above normal for the time of year.

Though it’s too early to say whether the heatwave is due to increased levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, is in little doubt about what is driving the heat extremes.

World’s worst air

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier”, Newsom said in a video message to delegates participating in a virtual convention of the Democratic Party. “Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California”, said Newsom.

The extreme heat has led to increased storm activity in many areas of the state and a series of lightning strikes which, in turn, have caused an outbreak of wildfires.

Several people have been killed as the fires have raged out of control over hundreds of thousands of acres. Air quality in some regions has declined to levels not seen before.

At one stage this month the area around San Francisco – one of the globe’s wealthiest cities and home to many of the biggest IT companies – was described as having the worst air quality in the world.

Batteries in demand

A shortage of equipment and firefighters has added to problems. In the past California has used prisoners to help fight fires – a policy condemned by various groups.

Many of the prisoners who might have been used for this purpose are no longer available: they’ve either been placed in quarantine or released in an attempt to control the spread of the Covid virus through California’s overcrowded prison system.

Developing more battery storage to service fast-growing solar and wind industries is seen as vital for the state’s energy needs.

California is facing restrictions on importing power from other states in the western US due to heatwaves in those regions and rising power demand. It has also been shutting down fossil fuel-burning power plants.

Governor Newsom said this month that state utilities must find solutions to the power problem: blackouts, he said, were “unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.” – Climate News Network

Oceans’ plastic tide may be far larger than thought

Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 − The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.

“Plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there. We don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard”

Scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that at 12 places along a 10,000 km north-south voyage in the Atlantic late in 2015, the waters were sampled for evidence of just three forms of plastic litter: polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.

These samples were taken at depths of 10 metres below the surface, between 10 and 30 metres below what oceanographers call the mixed layer, and then 100 metres even deeper.

They then looked for fragments of the three plastics right down to the scale of 25 millionths of a metre, and began counting. They found up to 7,000 particles of all three types in a cubic metre of seawater.

Then they did the sums: people have been throwing plastic bags, packets, bottles, cups, nets and packaging away since 1950, and it has been getting into the Atlantic since 1950, with the estimated mass so far ranging from 17 million to 47 million tonnes.

The Atlantic has an average depth of 3000 metres. The discovery that the mass of plastic just in the upper 200 metres of one ocean lies somewhere between 12 and 21 million tonnes suggests that the flow of plastic into the seas everywhere may have been seriously under-estimated.

Missing measurement

“Previously, we couldn’t balance the mass of floating plastic we observed with the mass we thought had entered the ocean since 1950,” said Katsiaryna Pabortsava of the UK National Oceanography Centre, at Southampton, who led the study.

“This is because earlier studies hadn’t been measuring the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface. Our research is the first to have done this across the entire Atlantic, from the UK to the Falklands.”

Large plastic fragments disfigure the landscape and represent a direct threat to animals that mistake them for food.

Nobody yet knows how dangerous microplastic fibres might be, but if they are consumed by little animals they soon get concentrated in bigger predators, including the greatest predators of all: humans.

Scientists told the American Chemical Society – at a virtual meeting – that they had developed the techniques needed to identify microplastic fibres in 47 samples from donated lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys: that is, such fragments did more than simply pass through a gastrointestinal tract. They became part of human flesh.

Seabird vulnerability

“There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there,” said Charles Rolsky of Arizona State University. “And at this point we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard.”

Although plastic seems to be durable and indestructible, there may be evidence that it can react with biology. The journal Frontiers in Environmental Science reports that fragments of plastic, collected from beaches and incubated in natural oils from the stomachs of a seabird known as the northern fulmar – hunted for food in the Faroe Islands – eventually released chemicals.

These were agents that had been added in the process of making that plastic: among them flame retardants, stabilisers and plasticisers. Once again, there is no certainty that such releases would harm the birds, but some of these chemicals have been identified in other tests as hormone disruptors.

“I’ve been working on northern fulmars for almost 10 years,” said Susanne Kühn of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands.

“As these seabirds ingest plastics regularly, and 93% of the fulmars from the North Sea have some plastic in their stomachs, it is important to understand the potential harm this could cause.” − Climate News Network

Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 − The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.

“Plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there. We don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard”

Scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that at 12 places along a 10,000 km north-south voyage in the Atlantic late in 2015, the waters were sampled for evidence of just three forms of plastic litter: polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.

These samples were taken at depths of 10 metres below the surface, between 10 and 30 metres below what oceanographers call the mixed layer, and then 100 metres even deeper.

They then looked for fragments of the three plastics right down to the scale of 25 millionths of a metre, and began counting. They found up to 7,000 particles of all three types in a cubic metre of seawater.

Then they did the sums: people have been throwing plastic bags, packets, bottles, cups, nets and packaging away since 1950, and it has been getting into the Atlantic since 1950, with the estimated mass so far ranging from 17 million to 47 million tonnes.

The Atlantic has an average depth of 3000 metres. The discovery that the mass of plastic just in the upper 200 metres of one ocean lies somewhere between 12 and 21 million tonnes suggests that the flow of plastic into the seas everywhere may have been seriously under-estimated.

Missing measurement

“Previously, we couldn’t balance the mass of floating plastic we observed with the mass we thought had entered the ocean since 1950,” said Katsiaryna Pabortsava of the UK National Oceanography Centre, at Southampton, who led the study.

“This is because earlier studies hadn’t been measuring the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface. Our research is the first to have done this across the entire Atlantic, from the UK to the Falklands.”

Large plastic fragments disfigure the landscape and represent a direct threat to animals that mistake them for food.

Nobody yet knows how dangerous microplastic fibres might be, but if they are consumed by little animals they soon get concentrated in bigger predators, including the greatest predators of all: humans.

Scientists told the American Chemical Society – at a virtual meeting – that they had developed the techniques needed to identify microplastic fibres in 47 samples from donated lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys: that is, such fragments did more than simply pass through a gastrointestinal tract. They became part of human flesh.

Seabird vulnerability

“There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there,” said Charles Rolsky of Arizona State University. “And at this point we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard.”

Although plastic seems to be durable and indestructible, there may be evidence that it can react with biology. The journal Frontiers in Environmental Science reports that fragments of plastic, collected from beaches and incubated in natural oils from the stomachs of a seabird known as the northern fulmar – hunted for food in the Faroe Islands – eventually released chemicals.

These were agents that had been added in the process of making that plastic: among them flame retardants, stabilisers and plasticisers. Once again, there is no certainty that such releases would harm the birds, but some of these chemicals have been identified in other tests as hormone disruptors.

“I’ve been working on northern fulmars for almost 10 years,” said Susanne Kühn of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands.

“As these seabirds ingest plastics regularly, and 93% of the fulmars from the North Sea have some plastic in their stomachs, it is important to understand the potential harm this could cause.” − Climate News Network

Calling time on UK’s ageing nuclear power plants

Local authorities demand the closure of all the UK’s ageing nuclear power plants to protect both safety and the economy.

LONDON, 13 August, 2020 – Four of the UK’s ageing nuclear power reactors, currently closed for repairs, should not be allowed to restart, in order to protect public health, says a consortium of 40 local authorities in Britain and Ireland.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), the local government voice on nuclear issues in the United Kingdom, then wants all the rest of the country’s 14 ageing advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) shut down as soon as possible, with the power they produce replaced by renewables and a programme of energy efficiency.

The four reactors they want closed immediately are two at Hunterston in Scotland and two at Hinkley Point B in Somerset in the West of England. Of the other five power stations (each with two reacttors) which the NFLA wants shut down as soon as possible, one is at Torness, also in Scotland.

Three more are in the North of England – one at Hartlepool in County Durham and two at Heysham in Lancashire and one at Dungeness in south-east England.

Faster wind-down

To protect the jobs of those involved, the NFLA calls in its report on the future of the AGRs for a “Just Transition”: retraining for skilled workers, but also an accelerated decommissioning of the plants to use the nuclear skills of the existing workforce.

The report details the dangers that the reactors, some more than 40 years old, pose to the public. Graphite blocks, which are vital for closing down the reactor in an emergency, are disintegrating because of constant radiation, and other plants are so corroded that pipework is judged dangerous.

If the two Hunterston reactors were restarted and the graphite blocks failed, a worst-case accident would mean both Edinburgh and Glasgow would have to be evacuated, the report says.

The reactors are owned by the French nuclear giant EDF, which hopes to keep them going until the power they produce can be replaced by a pair of new reactors the company is building with Chinese support at Hinkley Point C. This plant was due to be completed by 2025, but cost overruns and already acknowledged delays make that unlikely.

“The NFLA urges the UK Government to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions”

EDF has already spent £200 million to try to repair the off-line AGR reactors – some now 44 years old – but has so far failed to persuade the UK Government’s safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), that it is safe to do so.

The report says it would be simpler and cheaper to replace the reactors’ output with renewable energy rather than to keep repairing them – by coincidence a point also made by the UK Government’s National Infrastructure Commission on the same day.

Apart from detailing the fears of independent engineers and campaigners about the gradual disintegration of the reactors because of constant bombardment by radiation, the NFLA also criticises the ONR for not taking a stronger line on safety.

The ONR has promised to “robustly challenge” EDF Energy, to ensure that it “remains safe”. But NFLA Scotland’s convenor, Councillor Feargal Dalton, is not satisfied. He says councils will press the ONR “to forensically scrutinise what look like significant weaknesses in the EDF safety case.”

Repeat postponements

This criticism is based partly on the EDF habit of setting dates for the restart of reactors, only to postpone them repeatedly. This has happened as many as eight times in the case of Hunterston since it first shut down for a routine inspection in 2018, and six times for Dungeness.

In both cases this has just happened again, Dungeness being delayed from September to December this year.

Professor Stephen Thomas of the the University of Greenwich in London commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the reactors. He said: “It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors, but continues to pour money into plants to get a couple more years of operation out of plants highly likely to be loss-makers.

Relying on blandness

“It is depressing that the ONR, which has a duty to keep the public informed on such important issues, chooses to hide behind bland statements such as that it will take as long as it takes, and that it will not comment on EDF’s decisions.”

Councillor David Blackburn, who chairs the NFLA’s steering committee, called for the closure of all EDF’s AGRs as soon as possible. He said: “The NFLA urges the UK Government in particular to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions.

“There is ample evidence these can be delivered quickly and in the quantity that is required for future energy policy. It is time to move from nuclear and focus on renewables.”

The problem for the Government and EDF is not that the lights will go out if the nuclear stations are closed.

Covid prompts slump

Three stations are closed down at the moment for repairs, and the newest to open, a pressurised water reactor (PWR) at Sizewell B on the east coast of England (not covered by the current report) is operating at 50% power because demand for electricity has slumped during the Covid pandemic. In fact EDF is being paid to keep it shut by consumers through their bills.

The problem is the economic mess that closing the reactors will create. EDF UK will be technically bankrupt if and when it closes its nuclear stations which will go from being assets on its balance sheet to liabilities.

The French state-owned company is already so heavily in debt and severely stretched in building new plants that it will be unable to help its British subsidiary. Asked to comment on this report, it did not answer the question.

The government of the day also has to face the difficulty of how much it will all cost. There is £9.4 billion in the ring-fenced government Nuclear Liabilities Fund to decommission the UK’s AGR stations and eventually the Sizewell station as well, but it will soon be clear this is nowhere near enough and the taxpayer will have to foot the bill. The estimate for the liabilities is currently around £20.4 billion. – Climate News Network

Local authorities demand the closure of all the UK’s ageing nuclear power plants to protect both safety and the economy.

LONDON, 13 August, 2020 – Four of the UK’s ageing nuclear power reactors, currently closed for repairs, should not be allowed to restart, in order to protect public health, says a consortium of 40 local authorities in Britain and Ireland.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), the local government voice on nuclear issues in the United Kingdom, then wants all the rest of the country’s 14 ageing advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) shut down as soon as possible, with the power they produce replaced by renewables and a programme of energy efficiency.

The four reactors they want closed immediately are two at Hunterston in Scotland and two at Hinkley Point B in Somerset in the West of England. Of the other five power stations (each with two reacttors) which the NFLA wants shut down as soon as possible, one is at Torness, also in Scotland.

Three more are in the North of England – one at Hartlepool in County Durham and two at Heysham in Lancashire and one at Dungeness in south-east England.

Faster wind-down

To protect the jobs of those involved, the NFLA calls in its report on the future of the AGRs for a “Just Transition”: retraining for skilled workers, but also an accelerated decommissioning of the plants to use the nuclear skills of the existing workforce.

The report details the dangers that the reactors, some more than 40 years old, pose to the public. Graphite blocks, which are vital for closing down the reactor in an emergency, are disintegrating because of constant radiation, and other plants are so corroded that pipework is judged dangerous.

If the two Hunterston reactors were restarted and the graphite blocks failed, a worst-case accident would mean both Edinburgh and Glasgow would have to be evacuated, the report says.

The reactors are owned by the French nuclear giant EDF, which hopes to keep them going until the power they produce can be replaced by a pair of new reactors the company is building with Chinese support at Hinkley Point C. This plant was due to be completed by 2025, but cost overruns and already acknowledged delays make that unlikely.

“The NFLA urges the UK Government to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions”

EDF has already spent £200 million to try to repair the off-line AGR reactors – some now 44 years old – but has so far failed to persuade the UK Government’s safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), that it is safe to do so.

The report says it would be simpler and cheaper to replace the reactors’ output with renewable energy rather than to keep repairing them – by coincidence a point also made by the UK Government’s National Infrastructure Commission on the same day.

Apart from detailing the fears of independent engineers and campaigners about the gradual disintegration of the reactors because of constant bombardment by radiation, the NFLA also criticises the ONR for not taking a stronger line on safety.

The ONR has promised to “robustly challenge” EDF Energy, to ensure that it “remains safe”. But NFLA Scotland’s convenor, Councillor Feargal Dalton, is not satisfied. He says councils will press the ONR “to forensically scrutinise what look like significant weaknesses in the EDF safety case.”

Repeat postponements

This criticism is based partly on the EDF habit of setting dates for the restart of reactors, only to postpone them repeatedly. This has happened as many as eight times in the case of Hunterston since it first shut down for a routine inspection in 2018, and six times for Dungeness.

In both cases this has just happened again, Dungeness being delayed from September to December this year.

Professor Stephen Thomas of the the University of Greenwich in London commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the reactors. He said: “It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors, but continues to pour money into plants to get a couple more years of operation out of plants highly likely to be loss-makers.

Relying on blandness

“It is depressing that the ONR, which has a duty to keep the public informed on such important issues, chooses to hide behind bland statements such as that it will take as long as it takes, and that it will not comment on EDF’s decisions.”

Councillor David Blackburn, who chairs the NFLA’s steering committee, called for the closure of all EDF’s AGRs as soon as possible. He said: “The NFLA urges the UK Government in particular to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions.

“There is ample evidence these can be delivered quickly and in the quantity that is required for future energy policy. It is time to move from nuclear and focus on renewables.”

The problem for the Government and EDF is not that the lights will go out if the nuclear stations are closed.

Covid prompts slump

Three stations are closed down at the moment for repairs, and the newest to open, a pressurised water reactor (PWR) at Sizewell B on the east coast of England (not covered by the current report) is operating at 50% power because demand for electricity has slumped during the Covid pandemic. In fact EDF is being paid to keep it shut by consumers through their bills.

The problem is the economic mess that closing the reactors will create. EDF UK will be technically bankrupt if and when it closes its nuclear stations which will go from being assets on its balance sheet to liabilities.

The French state-owned company is already so heavily in debt and severely stretched in building new plants that it will be unable to help its British subsidiary. Asked to comment on this report, it did not answer the question.

The government of the day also has to face the difficulty of how much it will all cost. There is £9.4 billion in the ring-fenced government Nuclear Liabilities Fund to decommission the UK’s AGR stations and eventually the Sizewell station as well, but it will soon be clear this is nowhere near enough and the taxpayer will have to foot the bill. The estimate for the liabilities is currently around £20.4 billion. – Climate News Network