Tag Archives: Impacts

Climate change is drying out parched world

Researchers say most of the water vanishing from the Aral Sea and the Great Salt Lake is now in the oceans of this increasingly parched world.

LONDON, 5 December, 2018 – Climate change has begun to dry out the heart of almost every continent. This parched world’s landlocked basins – they make up a fifth of the Earth’s surface – have lost at least 100 billion tonnes of water every year since the century began. And US researchers now know where that water has gone.

Groundwater, lake and inland sea evaporation from inland Australia, the US West, the Chilean deserts, Saharan Africa, the Middle East and central Asia is now in the oceans, to account for 4mm, or at least 8%, of global sea level rise so far.

In effect, many of the world’s arid zones are becoming progressively more arid, according to a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“Human activities such as groundwater depletion are significantly accelerating this drying”

Researchers used 14 years of observation by a set of orbiting satellites – known as GRACE, for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – to observe the steady desiccation of regions that geographers know as endorheic basins. These are inland regions into which mountain streams, subterranean flows and sluggish rivers drain: among them the Caspian and the Aral Seas in Eurasia, and the Great Salt Lake in the US.

They are very different from the world’s great exorheic basins, better known as the Nile, the Amazon, the Mississippi and the Yangtze, all of which flow into the sea.

People in exorheic basins know their water supply will always be replenished. People farming or grazing cattle in the endorheic basins can now see their most vital resource slowly vanishing.

Evidence mounts

“Over the past few decades, we have seen increasing evidence of perturbations to the endorheic water balance,” said Jida Wang, a geographer at Kansas State University, who led the study.

“This includes, for example, the desiccating Aral Sea, the depleting Arabian aquifer and the retreating Eurasian glaciers. This evidence motivated us to ask: Is the total water storage across the global endorheic system, about one-fifth of the continental surface, undergoing a net decline?”

The GRACE satellites have already answered a series of huge questions about the world’s traffic in ice and water: they have “weighed” the loss of ice in the Antarctic, and put a total to the impact of devastating floods in Australia in 2011.

Speed of disappearance

And the remote sensing instruments now deliver a measure of the rate at which endorheic water is disappearing. Not only does it account for nearly one tenth of sea level rise so far, it adds up to nearly half the loss of water from retreating mountain glaciers in the densely occupied countries – that is, excluding Greenland and Antarctica – and it matches the entire extraction of groundwater, everywhere in the world, for irrigation and to nourish towns and cities in the drier regions.

The parching of the inland basins is uneven – some report more rainfall – but around 75% have been steadily getting drier. “The water losses from the world’s endorheic basins are yet another example of how climate change is further drying the already dry arid and semi-arid regions of the globe,” said Jay Famiglietti, one of the co-authors, who directs the Global Institute of Water Security, at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.

“Meanwhile, human activities such as groundwater depletion are significantly accelerating this drying.” – Climate News Network

Researchers say most of the water vanishing from the Aral Sea and the Great Salt Lake is now in the oceans of this increasingly parched world.

LONDON, 5 December, 2018 – Climate change has begun to dry out the heart of almost every continent. This parched world’s landlocked basins – they make up a fifth of the Earth’s surface – have lost at least 100 billion tonnes of water every year since the century began. And US researchers now know where that water has gone.

Groundwater, lake and inland sea evaporation from inland Australia, the US West, the Chilean deserts, Saharan Africa, the Middle East and central Asia is now in the oceans, to account for 4mm, or at least 8%, of global sea level rise so far.

In effect, many of the world’s arid zones are becoming progressively more arid, according to a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“Human activities such as groundwater depletion are significantly accelerating this drying”

Researchers used 14 years of observation by a set of orbiting satellites – known as GRACE, for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – to observe the steady desiccation of regions that geographers know as endorheic basins. These are inland regions into which mountain streams, subterranean flows and sluggish rivers drain: among them the Caspian and the Aral Seas in Eurasia, and the Great Salt Lake in the US.

They are very different from the world’s great exorheic basins, better known as the Nile, the Amazon, the Mississippi and the Yangtze, all of which flow into the sea.

People in exorheic basins know their water supply will always be replenished. People farming or grazing cattle in the endorheic basins can now see their most vital resource slowly vanishing.

Evidence mounts

“Over the past few decades, we have seen increasing evidence of perturbations to the endorheic water balance,” said Jida Wang, a geographer at Kansas State University, who led the study.

“This includes, for example, the desiccating Aral Sea, the depleting Arabian aquifer and the retreating Eurasian glaciers. This evidence motivated us to ask: Is the total water storage across the global endorheic system, about one-fifth of the continental surface, undergoing a net decline?”

The GRACE satellites have already answered a series of huge questions about the world’s traffic in ice and water: they have “weighed” the loss of ice in the Antarctic, and put a total to the impact of devastating floods in Australia in 2011.

Speed of disappearance

And the remote sensing instruments now deliver a measure of the rate at which endorheic water is disappearing. Not only does it account for nearly one tenth of sea level rise so far, it adds up to nearly half the loss of water from retreating mountain glaciers in the densely occupied countries – that is, excluding Greenland and Antarctica – and it matches the entire extraction of groundwater, everywhere in the world, for irrigation and to nourish towns and cities in the drier regions.

The parching of the inland basins is uneven – some report more rainfall – but around 75% have been steadily getting drier. “The water losses from the world’s endorheic basins are yet another example of how climate change is further drying the already dry arid and semi-arid regions of the globe,” said Jay Famiglietti, one of the co-authors, who directs the Global Institute of Water Security, at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.

“Meanwhile, human activities such as groundwater depletion are significantly accelerating this drying.” – Climate News Network

Climate impacts will seldom strike singly

Climate impacts aren’t just potentially catastrophic: they could be simultaneous multiple disasters. US scientists have compiled a catalogue of calamity and a map of mayhem.

LONDON, 20 November, 2019 − By 2100, climate impacts will be felt by everyone and most people will experience at least three simultaneous hazards, inexorably made more hazardous by the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

And they could be the lucky ones: some people could be menaced by six different kinds of warming-related hazard simultaneously.

Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii at Manoa and 22 colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they read systematically through 3,280 peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change, and compiled a matrix of 467 ways in which 10 major climate hazards – floods, droughts, heat waves, fires and so on – and six aspects of human dependency (health, food, water, etc.) could affect humanity.

They did, they say, identify some positive or neutral effects, but the overwhelming majority of climate impacts would create problems for human communities and their economies.

Medical prospects

Dr Mora has established a reputation for thinking on the scale of global catalogue. Recently, the geographer and his fellow researchers looked at medical records and heat extremes and listed 27 different ways in which heat waves could kill.

In recent years he has been involved in studies that have tried to measure the challenge to the global harvest because of carbon dioxide accretion in the atmosphere as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion; the first years in which particular locations around the world could feel the impact of irreversible climate change; and then the proportion of humans at risk from heat extremes by the end of the century.

The latest study concludes that even if greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced, most of the world would still be confronted by one hazard at a time: the worldwide average temperature rise of 1°C has already started to change climates and heighten climatic extremes.

And if humans go on burning fossil fuels in what has become notorious as the business-as-usual scenario, then almost everybody could face three hazards at the same time. In some coastal regions some people could be hit by six.

“The evidence of climate change impacting humanity is abundant, loud and clear … How many wake-up calls will it take to wake up?”

Higher atmospheric temperatures accelerate the evaporation of soil water. Normally dry places will be at risk of drought, heatwave and wildfire. Normally rainy places will face catastrophic downpour, and flood. Warmer ocean waters will evaporate at greater rates, so windspeed and rainfall from hurricanes will also increase. Sea level rise driven by water temperatures, and by glacial melting, will raise the risk of coastal flooding and storm surges.

Some of these impacts have already affected human health, bringing death, disease and mental illness. They have affected the supply of food on land and at sea; they have damaged electrical supplies, transportation, water and sewage infrastructure; they have damaged property and reduced labour productivity; they have triggered migration and sparked violence, and Dr Mora and his colleagues have now compiled a database of more than 3,000 documented examples.

“Greenhouse gas emissions pose a broad threat to humanity by simultaneously intensifying many hazards that have proved harmful in the past,” said Dr Mora.

“Further, we predict that by 2100 the number of hazards occurring concurrently will increase, making it even more difficult for people to cope.”

List of impacts

The latest study simply looks at all the recent climate impacts recorded and assessed and categorises them in a range of ways.

These include the 33% loss of grain to drought and fire in Russia in 2010; the loss of three-fourths of all livestock during drought in Kenya in 2000; drinking water shortages for 33 million people in China in 2001; the rise in waterborne infectious diseases after the 2010 Indus floods overwhelmed sewage treatment plants in Pakistan; the cumulative damage by flood and storm to millions of homes in China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the US and France; and – because of melting ice – the forced relocation of Inuit villages in Alaska.

Heatwaves caused blackouts for 670 million people in India in 2012, and 35 million in Saudi Arabia in 2010. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992 hammered the US east coast, a total of 12 insurance companies went bust.

The next step, having assembled the possible kinds of impact, was to model the way they would be amplified and intensified under various scenarios for global warming. Wealth and economic power offer no great protection. New York can expect at worst by 2100 to face at least four hazards; Sydney and Los Angeles three; Mexico City four, and the Atlantic coast of Brazil five.

Present danger

“The collision of cumulative climate hazards is not something on the horizon, it is already here,” Dr Mora said. “Co-occurring and colliding climate hazards are already making headlines worldwide.

“Last year, for instance, Florida recorded extreme drought, record high temperatures, over 100 wildfires, and the strongest-ever recorded hurricane in its Panhandle: the category 4 Hurricane Michael.

“Likewise, California is currently experiencing ferocious wild fires and one of the longest droughts, plus extreme heatwaves this past summer.”

“The evidence of climate change impacting humanity is abundant, loud and clear”, said his co-author and colleague Daniele Spirandelli. “Clearly, the outstanding question is − how many wake-up calls will it take to wake up?” − Climate News Network

Climate impacts aren’t just potentially catastrophic: they could be simultaneous multiple disasters. US scientists have compiled a catalogue of calamity and a map of mayhem.

LONDON, 20 November, 2019 − By 2100, climate impacts will be felt by everyone and most people will experience at least three simultaneous hazards, inexorably made more hazardous by the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

And they could be the lucky ones: some people could be menaced by six different kinds of warming-related hazard simultaneously.

Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii at Manoa and 22 colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they read systematically through 3,280 peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change, and compiled a matrix of 467 ways in which 10 major climate hazards – floods, droughts, heat waves, fires and so on – and six aspects of human dependency (health, food, water, etc.) could affect humanity.

They did, they say, identify some positive or neutral effects, but the overwhelming majority of climate impacts would create problems for human communities and their economies.

Medical prospects

Dr Mora has established a reputation for thinking on the scale of global catalogue. Recently, the geographer and his fellow researchers looked at medical records and heat extremes and listed 27 different ways in which heat waves could kill.

In recent years he has been involved in studies that have tried to measure the challenge to the global harvest because of carbon dioxide accretion in the atmosphere as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion; the first years in which particular locations around the world could feel the impact of irreversible climate change; and then the proportion of humans at risk from heat extremes by the end of the century.

The latest study concludes that even if greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced, most of the world would still be confronted by one hazard at a time: the worldwide average temperature rise of 1°C has already started to change climates and heighten climatic extremes.

And if humans go on burning fossil fuels in what has become notorious as the business-as-usual scenario, then almost everybody could face three hazards at the same time. In some coastal regions some people could be hit by six.

“The evidence of climate change impacting humanity is abundant, loud and clear … How many wake-up calls will it take to wake up?”

Higher atmospheric temperatures accelerate the evaporation of soil water. Normally dry places will be at risk of drought, heatwave and wildfire. Normally rainy places will face catastrophic downpour, and flood. Warmer ocean waters will evaporate at greater rates, so windspeed and rainfall from hurricanes will also increase. Sea level rise driven by water temperatures, and by glacial melting, will raise the risk of coastal flooding and storm surges.

Some of these impacts have already affected human health, bringing death, disease and mental illness. They have affected the supply of food on land and at sea; they have damaged electrical supplies, transportation, water and sewage infrastructure; they have damaged property and reduced labour productivity; they have triggered migration and sparked violence, and Dr Mora and his colleagues have now compiled a database of more than 3,000 documented examples.

“Greenhouse gas emissions pose a broad threat to humanity by simultaneously intensifying many hazards that have proved harmful in the past,” said Dr Mora.

“Further, we predict that by 2100 the number of hazards occurring concurrently will increase, making it even more difficult for people to cope.”

List of impacts

The latest study simply looks at all the recent climate impacts recorded and assessed and categorises them in a range of ways.

These include the 33% loss of grain to drought and fire in Russia in 2010; the loss of three-fourths of all livestock during drought in Kenya in 2000; drinking water shortages for 33 million people in China in 2001; the rise in waterborne infectious diseases after the 2010 Indus floods overwhelmed sewage treatment plants in Pakistan; the cumulative damage by flood and storm to millions of homes in China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the US and France; and – because of melting ice – the forced relocation of Inuit villages in Alaska.

Heatwaves caused blackouts for 670 million people in India in 2012, and 35 million in Saudi Arabia in 2010. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992 hammered the US east coast, a total of 12 insurance companies went bust.

The next step, having assembled the possible kinds of impact, was to model the way they would be amplified and intensified under various scenarios for global warming. Wealth and economic power offer no great protection. New York can expect at worst by 2100 to face at least four hazards; Sydney and Los Angeles three; Mexico City four, and the Atlantic coast of Brazil five.

Present danger

“The collision of cumulative climate hazards is not something on the horizon, it is already here,” Dr Mora said. “Co-occurring and colliding climate hazards are already making headlines worldwide.

“Last year, for instance, Florida recorded extreme drought, record high temperatures, over 100 wildfires, and the strongest-ever recorded hurricane in its Panhandle: the category 4 Hurricane Michael.

“Likewise, California is currently experiencing ferocious wild fires and one of the longest droughts, plus extreme heatwaves this past summer.”

“The evidence of climate change impacting humanity is abundant, loud and clear”, said his co-author and colleague Daniele Spirandelli. “Clearly, the outstanding question is − how many wake-up calls will it take to wake up?” − Climate News Network

Fire and drought threaten China and Europe

Even if nations do limit global warming, fire and drought will remain threats, ravaging more harvests in China and setting more of Europe ablaze.

LONDON, 9 October, 2018 – The most limited rise in global temperatures, never mind higher ones, is going to exact a price through fire and drought. Even assuming the world keeps to its Paris promise to contain average planetary temperature increases to “well below 2°C” by 2100, drought conditions in China will intensify ten or 20-fold, according to new research.

And even if this warming, driven by ever increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas, is held to the implicit ambition of no more than 1.5°C above the average for most of human history, the area charred by wildfires each summer in Europe could increase by 40%, according to a separate study.

If the temperatures continue to rise to as much as 3°C by the century’s end, the area covered by charred foliage and smoking tree trunks could rise by 100%.

The temperature targets are important because 195 nations agreed in 2015 at a UN conference in Paris to limit greenhouse gas emissions and hold planetary average temperatures to if possible 1.5°C and certainly no more than 2°C.

3°C in prospect

In the last century or so, increasing ratios of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere have lifted average temperatures by about 1°C already, and although almost all nations have announced plans to switch to solar and wind power for future energy sources, and to restore the forests that absorb carbon, the world still seems on course for a rise to 3°C by the end of the century.

Politicians and climate sceptics argue that action to contain global warming will be expensive. But over and over again, climate science research continues to demonstrate that inaction could be even more expensive.

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Scientists from China, Poland and Germany report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they used computer simulations and a range of climate change forecasts to model what could happen to rainfall and vegetation in China over the next 80 years, and then tried to calculate the effect on China’s developing economy.

Between 1949 and 2017, drought affected crops over an area of more than 2 million square kilometres – this is one sixth of the country’s arable land. And between 1984 and 2017, direct economic losses reached more than $7bn a year, at 2015 prices.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area”

If the temperature stabilises at a 1.5°C increase, losses compared to the period 1986-2005 will increase tenfold. Compared to the immediate past of 2006-2015, the study estimates that losses will still rise threefold. And should the temperature go beyond 1.5°C to 2°C, average drought loss could double again.

Studies such as these simply match what has happened in the past with what could happen in the future – always provided that things continue as they seem to be proceeding now. The studies can deliver only very broad-brush outlines of the shapes of things to come.

Higher average temperatures will mean ever more pronounced extremes of drought and rainfall, and a study earlier this year warned that, in China alone, catastrophic flooding as a consequence of climate change could cost the country $380bn over the next 20 years.

Europe, too, the same study argued, would suffer significant losses as a consequence of climate change. Another such study in 2017 estimated that climate change – and the attendant hazards of flood, drought, wildfire and heatwaves – could threaten 350 million Europeans every year.

Consistent pattern

Forest and scrub fires char on average about 4,500 square kilometres of Mediterranean Europe every year: in 2017, there were damaging blazes in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, with human casualties and extensive ecological and economic losses.

Now new research led by Spanish scientists and reported in the journal Nature Communications uses computer simulations and available data to take a look at the fires next time, as the temperatures rise.

The authors warn that even though there are large uncertainties in such projections, there is also a consistent pattern: the higher the temperatures, the more sustained the droughts, and the larger the areas that will be incinerated.

They do offer a palliative solution, though. “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area,” they say. – Climate News Network

Even if nations do limit global warming, fire and drought will remain threats, ravaging more harvests in China and setting more of Europe ablaze.

LONDON, 9 October, 2018 – The most limited rise in global temperatures, never mind higher ones, is going to exact a price through fire and drought. Even assuming the world keeps to its Paris promise to contain average planetary temperature increases to “well below 2°C” by 2100, drought conditions in China will intensify ten or 20-fold, according to new research.

And even if this warming, driven by ever increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas, is held to the implicit ambition of no more than 1.5°C above the average for most of human history, the area charred by wildfires each summer in Europe could increase by 40%, according to a separate study.

If the temperatures continue to rise to as much as 3°C by the century’s end, the area covered by charred foliage and smoking tree trunks could rise by 100%.

The temperature targets are important because 195 nations agreed in 2015 at a UN conference in Paris to limit greenhouse gas emissions and hold planetary average temperatures to if possible 1.5°C and certainly no more than 2°C.

3°C in prospect

In the last century or so, increasing ratios of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere have lifted average temperatures by about 1°C already, and although almost all nations have announced plans to switch to solar and wind power for future energy sources, and to restore the forests that absorb carbon, the world still seems on course for a rise to 3°C by the end of the century.

Politicians and climate sceptics argue that action to contain global warming will be expensive. But over and over again, climate science research continues to demonstrate that inaction could be even more expensive.

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Scientists from China, Poland and Germany report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they used computer simulations and a range of climate change forecasts to model what could happen to rainfall and vegetation in China over the next 80 years, and then tried to calculate the effect on China’s developing economy.

Between 1949 and 2017, drought affected crops over an area of more than 2 million square kilometres – this is one sixth of the country’s arable land. And between 1984 and 2017, direct economic losses reached more than $7bn a year, at 2015 prices.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area”

If the temperature stabilises at a 1.5°C increase, losses compared to the period 1986-2005 will increase tenfold. Compared to the immediate past of 2006-2015, the study estimates that losses will still rise threefold. And should the temperature go beyond 1.5°C to 2°C, average drought loss could double again.

Studies such as these simply match what has happened in the past with what could happen in the future – always provided that things continue as they seem to be proceeding now. The studies can deliver only very broad-brush outlines of the shapes of things to come.

Higher average temperatures will mean ever more pronounced extremes of drought and rainfall, and a study earlier this year warned that, in China alone, catastrophic flooding as a consequence of climate change could cost the country $380bn over the next 20 years.

Europe, too, the same study argued, would suffer significant losses as a consequence of climate change. Another such study in 2017 estimated that climate change – and the attendant hazards of flood, drought, wildfire and heatwaves – could threaten 350 million Europeans every year.

Consistent pattern

Forest and scrub fires char on average about 4,500 square kilometres of Mediterranean Europe every year: in 2017, there were damaging blazes in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, with human casualties and extensive ecological and economic losses.

Now new research led by Spanish scientists and reported in the journal Nature Communications uses computer simulations and available data to take a look at the fires next time, as the temperatures rise.

The authors warn that even though there are large uncertainties in such projections, there is also a consistent pattern: the higher the temperatures, the more sustained the droughts, and the larger the areas that will be incinerated.

They do offer a palliative solution, though. “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area,” they say. – Climate News Network

Warmer climate means US faces big losses

Greenhouse gas emissions impose a social cost – in ecosystem damage, in climate extremes, in human health and wealth. The US faces big losses.

LONDON, 3 October, 2018 – Of the nations that stand to be most seriously affected by climate change, perhaps surprisingly, near the top of the list, the US faces big losses.

American and European scientists have taken a fresh look at what they call the social cost of carbon (SCC): that is, the damage that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion will do to world economies. And whichever way they make the country-by-country comparisons, one nation is among the world leaders in self-harm – the USA.

It is not alone: India, a rapidly-growing economy, and Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s wealthiest, join the US in the top three. China, which is now the world’s highest carbon dioxide emitter, is in the top five.

Calculations about the future economic costs of something that has yet to happen in a fast-changing world are of the kind that induce migraine, and always incorporate a wide range of possible outcomes.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that by 2020, the global costs of an additional tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could range from $12 to $62. But a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that these costs could be much higher, at approximately $180 to $800 per tonne.

“It’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies”

And the price to be paid by the US alone could be $50 per tonne. Since the US – which under President Trump has announced its intention to withdraw from a 2015 global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions – now emits almost five billion tonnes of CO2 a year, this could be costing the US economy about $250bn.

“We all know carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels affects people and ecosystems around the world, today and in the future; however, these impacts are not included in market prices, creating an environmental externality whereby consumers of fossil fuel energy do not pay for and are unaware of the true costs of their consumption,” said Katharine Ricke of the University of San Diego, who led the study.

President Trump once dismissed global warming and climate change driven by profligate fossil fuel use as a “hoax” devised by the Chinese. But US climate research – often from US government agencies such as NASA and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration – has consistently warned of the potentially devastating future costs to the US.

Coastal flooding could create a new class of climate refugee within the US. Hurricanes will gain in ferocity and potential devastation. Forest fires are already on the increase.

The famously arid drylands of the US west have begun to march eastwards, and the extremes of heat and drought linked to a rise in global average warming are almost certain to cause harvest losses, all as a consequence of fossil fuel emissions. Clean energy policies, conversely, could cut air pollution and save American lives.

Assumptions reversed

The San Diego research reverses some long-standing assumptions, one of which is that while strong, rich economies benefit from fossil fuel use, the developing nations pay the highest price in the social costs of carbon, or SCCs.

The new calculations suggest much more uneven outcomes: the European Union, for instance, is likely to be less harmed by increased emissions, even though it is one of the world leaders in the attempt to combat climate change.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the argument that the primary beneficiaries of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would be other countries is a total myth,” said Dr Ricke.

“We consistently find, through hundreds of uncertainty scenarios, that the US always has one of the highest country-level SCCs. It makes a lot of sense because the larger your economy is, the more you have to lose.

“Still, it’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies.” – Climate News Network

Greenhouse gas emissions impose a social cost – in ecosystem damage, in climate extremes, in human health and wealth. The US faces big losses.

LONDON, 3 October, 2018 – Of the nations that stand to be most seriously affected by climate change, perhaps surprisingly, near the top of the list, the US faces big losses.

American and European scientists have taken a fresh look at what they call the social cost of carbon (SCC): that is, the damage that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion will do to world economies. And whichever way they make the country-by-country comparisons, one nation is among the world leaders in self-harm – the USA.

It is not alone: India, a rapidly-growing economy, and Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s wealthiest, join the US in the top three. China, which is now the world’s highest carbon dioxide emitter, is in the top five.

Calculations about the future economic costs of something that has yet to happen in a fast-changing world are of the kind that induce migraine, and always incorporate a wide range of possible outcomes.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that by 2020, the global costs of an additional tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could range from $12 to $62. But a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that these costs could be much higher, at approximately $180 to $800 per tonne.

“It’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies”

And the price to be paid by the US alone could be $50 per tonne. Since the US – which under President Trump has announced its intention to withdraw from a 2015 global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions – now emits almost five billion tonnes of CO2 a year, this could be costing the US economy about $250bn.

“We all know carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels affects people and ecosystems around the world, today and in the future; however, these impacts are not included in market prices, creating an environmental externality whereby consumers of fossil fuel energy do not pay for and are unaware of the true costs of their consumption,” said Katharine Ricke of the University of San Diego, who led the study.

President Trump once dismissed global warming and climate change driven by profligate fossil fuel use as a “hoax” devised by the Chinese. But US climate research – often from US government agencies such as NASA and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration – has consistently warned of the potentially devastating future costs to the US.

Coastal flooding could create a new class of climate refugee within the US. Hurricanes will gain in ferocity and potential devastation. Forest fires are already on the increase.

The famously arid drylands of the US west have begun to march eastwards, and the extremes of heat and drought linked to a rise in global average warming are almost certain to cause harvest losses, all as a consequence of fossil fuel emissions. Clean energy policies, conversely, could cut air pollution and save American lives.

Assumptions reversed

The San Diego research reverses some long-standing assumptions, one of which is that while strong, rich economies benefit from fossil fuel use, the developing nations pay the highest price in the social costs of carbon, or SCCs.

The new calculations suggest much more uneven outcomes: the European Union, for instance, is likely to be less harmed by increased emissions, even though it is one of the world leaders in the attempt to combat climate change.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the argument that the primary beneficiaries of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would be other countries is a total myth,” said Dr Ricke.

“We consistently find, through hundreds of uncertainty scenarios, that the US always has one of the highest country-level SCCs. It makes a lot of sense because the larger your economy is, the more you have to lose.

“Still, it’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies.” – Climate News Network

Protecting public health shows way on climate

Tackling climate change is urgent. Can we act in time? Yes, one argument runs. What we are doing in protecting public health shows how.

LONDON, 1 October, 2018 – The world’s growing urgency in protecting public health is an encouraging example of what we can do to slow planetary warming, a new group says.

Most climate scientists – and many politicians – agree that the time left for effective action to tackle climate change is frighteningly short. A report due out on 8 October from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to say that only radical and systemic change now will avert disaster.

One of the report’s co-authors has said already that it will be “extraordinarily challenging” for the world to reach the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and that governments are “nowhere near on track” to do so.

He urges “a real sea change” leading to “a massive, immediate transformation” of global production and use of energy, transport and agriculture.

The 1.5°C limit, agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, is approaching fast: world temperatures have already risen by about 1°C over their historic level.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible … We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change”

But one group of researchers argues that we are not bound to breach it: there may still be time to save the day. In a report they say efforts to alter people’s behaviour so that they address climate change seriously must learn from the great public health campaigns of the past: on smoking, drink-driving and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Their report (sub-titled “Evidence-based hope”) reviews lessons from campaigns not only for public health but for disaster awareness and equality as well. It is the first publication of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems.

It suggests that rapid change may now be more possible than ever. The authors say recent cultural shifts in diet and single-use plastics, sexism and attitudes to gender and identity are examples of accelerating change in society and culture, aided by the speed of new communication technologies and social media in spreading ideas.

The report finds that while measures focused on modifying behaviour have been sidelined in the mix of policies considered for tackling climate change, the past shows that people can change even the most ingrained and addictive behaviours.

Wider changes

Campaigns have succeeded especially when accompanied by transformations in finance, infrastructure and culture and to be effective, the report says, behavioural change campaigns must be linked to wider structural changes.

“The complexity of climate change means that to address it, we’ll need changes in areas ranging from food, to transport, manufacturing, water use, urban planning and finance. To be legitimate and effective, these need to be fair and democratic,” says Andrew Simms, the report’s lead author.

He and his colleagues say such changes are not simple to achieve. For example, cutting smoking in the UK needed legislation on age limits and workplace smoking, public awareness campaigns, taxation and information campaigns, and advertising. They say long-term support and helpful  pricing mechanisms will also be essential, even though these can never be enough on their own.

Pollution linked to climate change is already causing unprecedented concern, the report points out. In September the European Union Court of Auditors found that air pollution is responsible for an estimated 400,000 premature deaths a year across the EU. Climate, the report says, needs to be seen in the context of dementia, asthma and deaths from extreme weather.

Tipping point

“Climate now and into the future is set to be among our greatest public health challenges,” says Simms. And that is what encourages him to think that global society may be approaching a tipping point where radical change is possible.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible in how people behave, in smoking, driving, antibiotics, and sexual health. We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change.

“Past radical changes in behaviour are about inclusive cultural movements, not just government campaigns. In moving urgently to address climate change, we should ensure that the onus for change falls on those most responsible for it, and the benefits are shared by all.

“The climate is changing faster than we are”, says Simms. But we can change too. “First, we can’t imagine a situation being different. Then things change and we can’t imagine going back to how they were before.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance will be launched later in 2018. It is being 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.

Tackling climate change is urgent. Can we act in time? Yes, one argument runs. What we are doing in protecting public health shows how.

LONDON, 1 October, 2018 – The world’s growing urgency in protecting public health is an encouraging example of what we can do to slow planetary warming, a new group says.

Most climate scientists – and many politicians – agree that the time left for effective action to tackle climate change is frighteningly short. A report due out on 8 October from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to say that only radical and systemic change now will avert disaster.

One of the report’s co-authors has said already that it will be “extraordinarily challenging” for the world to reach the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and that governments are “nowhere near on track” to do so.

He urges “a real sea change” leading to “a massive, immediate transformation” of global production and use of energy, transport and agriculture.

The 1.5°C limit, agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, is approaching fast: world temperatures have already risen by about 1°C over their historic level.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible … We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change”

But one group of researchers argues that we are not bound to breach it: there may still be time to save the day. In a report they say efforts to alter people’s behaviour so that they address climate change seriously must learn from the great public health campaigns of the past: on smoking, drink-driving and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Their report (sub-titled “Evidence-based hope”) reviews lessons from campaigns not only for public health but for disaster awareness and equality as well. It is the first publication of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems.

It suggests that rapid change may now be more possible than ever. The authors say recent cultural shifts in diet and single-use plastics, sexism and attitudes to gender and identity are examples of accelerating change in society and culture, aided by the speed of new communication technologies and social media in spreading ideas.

The report finds that while measures focused on modifying behaviour have been sidelined in the mix of policies considered for tackling climate change, the past shows that people can change even the most ingrained and addictive behaviours.

Wider changes

Campaigns have succeeded especially when accompanied by transformations in finance, infrastructure and culture and to be effective, the report says, behavioural change campaigns must be linked to wider structural changes.

“The complexity of climate change means that to address it, we’ll need changes in areas ranging from food, to transport, manufacturing, water use, urban planning and finance. To be legitimate and effective, these need to be fair and democratic,” says Andrew Simms, the report’s lead author.

He and his colleagues say such changes are not simple to achieve. For example, cutting smoking in the UK needed legislation on age limits and workplace smoking, public awareness campaigns, taxation and information campaigns, and advertising. They say long-term support and helpful  pricing mechanisms will also be essential, even though these can never be enough on their own.

Pollution linked to climate change is already causing unprecedented concern, the report points out. In September the European Union Court of Auditors found that air pollution is responsible for an estimated 400,000 premature deaths a year across the EU. Climate, the report says, needs to be seen in the context of dementia, asthma and deaths from extreme weather.

Tipping point

“Climate now and into the future is set to be among our greatest public health challenges,” says Simms. And that is what encourages him to think that global society may be approaching a tipping point where radical change is possible.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible in how people behave, in smoking, driving, antibiotics, and sexual health. We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change.

“Past radical changes in behaviour are about inclusive cultural movements, not just government campaigns. In moving urgently to address climate change, we should ensure that the onus for change falls on those most responsible for it, and the benefits are shared by all.

“The climate is changing faster than we are”, says Simms. But we can change too. “First, we can’t imagine a situation being different. Then things change and we can’t imagine going back to how they were before.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance will be launched later in 2018. It is being 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.

Rethink urged for Lovelock’s Gaia Theory

Time for new thinking? Researchers want an upgrade of the Gaia Theory of life on Earth, in an epoch when humans have power, but not understanding.

LONDON, 2 October, 2018 – Two scientists have proposed a revised version of the Gaia Theory of life on Earth in the light of a new epoch: the Anthropocene.

They want to reapply a sometimes controversial argument – originally introduced as the Gaia hypothesis – to the way humans manage the planet’s climate and resources: this time deliberately and with full awareness of the consequences of human action.

The Gaia Theory, as it is now known, proposes that the sum of life on Earth, over the last three billion years or so, could be thought of as a super-organism that has unconsciously moderated the temperature of the planet and the chemistry of its atmosphere for the greater good: that is, for the long-term survival of living things.

The idea was introduced by the British scientist James Lovelock in 1972, and given the name Gaia, after the ancient Greek goddess of Mother Earth. The choice of name was a metaphor: researchers have also labelled the reasoning as biogeophysiology, and they teach it as Earth System Science.

In the Gaia Theory, microbes, plants, fungi and animals on the planet collectively manage and recycle air and water, and traffic in rock and soil chemistry, in ways that sustain life’s collective.

“If in politics the blind lead the blind, then hope rests on finding the best way to activate the white cane to fumble in the dark”

Now Tim Lenton, director of the global systems institute at the University of Exeter in the UK, and Bruno Latour, the Parisian philosopher and anthropologist, think it is time for an upgrade: they propose Gaia 2.0, in which one aware, sentient and vulnerable lifeform becomes part of the planet’s self-regulatory system.

They argue, in the journal Science, that Gaia 2.0 could become an effective framework for fostering a sustainable planet.

“If we are to create a better world for the growing human population this century we need to regulate our impacts on our life support system, and deliberately create a more circular economy that relies – like the biosphere – on the recycling of materials powered by sustainable energy,” Professor Lenton said.

The two scientists make the case that, with the onset of the Anthropocene – an era in which humankind increasingly shapes the landscape and the atmosphere – and the hectic exploitation of the planet’s resources, it is time for humans deliberately to follow the unwitting example set by all the other creatures in the biosphere and adjust the conditions for survival.

Waste dumping

“Humans currently extract fossil energy, rock phosphate and other raw materials from the Earth’s crust far faster than they would normally come to the surface, and then dump the waste products on the land, in the atmosphere, and in the ocean. Compared to Gaia, this is a very poorly coupled and unsustainable set of inventions.”

And, they argue, it can be done. “The input of solar energy has the capacity to far outstrip current fossil energy consumption, and renewables are currently becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuel energy for electricity generation,” they write. Fossil fuel use has already increased atmospheric carbon dioxide to levels last seen 3 or even 5 million years ago.

“A central goal for this century is surely to achieve a flourishing future for all life on this planet, including a projected 9 to 11 billion people. Human flourishing is not possible without a biodiverse, life-sustaining system.”

The catch is that humans still do not have the data, the understanding or the will to change course. But the challenge for science would be to deliver the knowhow to make a success of Gaia 2.0. Human technology could add another more “self-aware” layer to the management of the planet, they say.

“If in politics the blind lead the blind, then hope rests on finding the best way to activate the white cane to fumble in the dark.” – Climate News Network

Time for new thinking? Researchers want an upgrade of the Gaia Theory of life on Earth, in an epoch when humans have power, but not understanding.

LONDON, 2 October, 2018 – Two scientists have proposed a revised version of the Gaia Theory of life on Earth in the light of a new epoch: the Anthropocene.

They want to reapply a sometimes controversial argument – originally introduced as the Gaia hypothesis – to the way humans manage the planet’s climate and resources: this time deliberately and with full awareness of the consequences of human action.

The Gaia Theory, as it is now known, proposes that the sum of life on Earth, over the last three billion years or so, could be thought of as a super-organism that has unconsciously moderated the temperature of the planet and the chemistry of its atmosphere for the greater good: that is, for the long-term survival of living things.

The idea was introduced by the British scientist James Lovelock in 1972, and given the name Gaia, after the ancient Greek goddess of Mother Earth. The choice of name was a metaphor: researchers have also labelled the reasoning as biogeophysiology, and they teach it as Earth System Science.

In the Gaia Theory, microbes, plants, fungi and animals on the planet collectively manage and recycle air and water, and traffic in rock and soil chemistry, in ways that sustain life’s collective.

“If in politics the blind lead the blind, then hope rests on finding the best way to activate the white cane to fumble in the dark”

Now Tim Lenton, director of the global systems institute at the University of Exeter in the UK, and Bruno Latour, the Parisian philosopher and anthropologist, think it is time for an upgrade: they propose Gaia 2.0, in which one aware, sentient and vulnerable lifeform becomes part of the planet’s self-regulatory system.

They argue, in the journal Science, that Gaia 2.0 could become an effective framework for fostering a sustainable planet.

“If we are to create a better world for the growing human population this century we need to regulate our impacts on our life support system, and deliberately create a more circular economy that relies – like the biosphere – on the recycling of materials powered by sustainable energy,” Professor Lenton said.

The two scientists make the case that, with the onset of the Anthropocene – an era in which humankind increasingly shapes the landscape and the atmosphere – and the hectic exploitation of the planet’s resources, it is time for humans deliberately to follow the unwitting example set by all the other creatures in the biosphere and adjust the conditions for survival.

Waste dumping

“Humans currently extract fossil energy, rock phosphate and other raw materials from the Earth’s crust far faster than they would normally come to the surface, and then dump the waste products on the land, in the atmosphere, and in the ocean. Compared to Gaia, this is a very poorly coupled and unsustainable set of inventions.”

And, they argue, it can be done. “The input of solar energy has the capacity to far outstrip current fossil energy consumption, and renewables are currently becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuel energy for electricity generation,” they write. Fossil fuel use has already increased atmospheric carbon dioxide to levels last seen 3 or even 5 million years ago.

“A central goal for this century is surely to achieve a flourishing future for all life on this planet, including a projected 9 to 11 billion people. Human flourishing is not possible without a biodiverse, life-sustaining system.”

The catch is that humans still do not have the data, the understanding or the will to change course. But the challenge for science would be to deliver the knowhow to make a success of Gaia 2.0. Human technology could add another more “self-aware” layer to the management of the planet, they say.

“If in politics the blind lead the blind, then hope rests on finding the best way to activate the white cane to fumble in the dark.” – Climate News Network

Landslides are growing risk to poorest

Waterlogged hillsides are dangerous. For those who live on them, or further downhill, they can be deadly. The global risk from landslides is rising.

LONDON, 3 September, 2018 – Lethal landslides are on the increase. Between 2004 and 2016, sudden cascades of rock, rubble and mud have claimed at least 50,000 lives. And fatal slips down unstable hillside slopes have steadily increased this century, according to new research.

British geographers report in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences that they had amassed a database of 4,800 fatal landslides since 2004 and found that at least 700 of them had what they call a direct human fingerprint: they happened because people built on unstable soils, they mined, legally and illegally, they cut into hillsides, and they allowed pipes to leak.

In addition, heavy rainfall, earthquakes, explosions, dam collapses and freezing and thawing also set the earth moving at ever greater speeds, with deadly consequences.

The researchers also report that they found that other catalogues of natural disaster consistently under-estimated the toll exacted by landslides.

“It was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides … were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016”

One study found that the International Disaster Database, maintained by the international disaster community, under-estimated the number of fatal landslides by between 1400% and 2000%, often because the death tolls from such events were lumped in with other forms of disaster that might precipitate landslip: among them volcanic eruption, earthquake and flooding.

“We were aware that humans are placing increasing pressure on their local environment, but it was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides triggered by construction, illegal hill-cutting and illegal mining were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016,” said Melanie Froude, of the University of Sheffield, who led the study.

All the countries in the premier league for fatal landslides were in Asia: one in five of these happened in India, but Pakistan, Myanmar and the Philippines also suffered increasing losses.

Poorest in the shadows

Such findings are no surprise. First, there are more people on the planet, looking for new places to live and new ways of making a living, and the poorest are always more likely to be forced to the margins, to live on or in the shadow of dangerous, unstable slopes.

Second, the world is warming: for every extra degree Celsius the moisture-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by about 7%, so more rain is likely to fall with ever greater intensity to saturate more soil and dislodge more rock. The researchers found that 79% of all landslides could be linked to rainfall.

And, with greater warming, there is a greater hazard of devastating superstorms, along with hurricanes and tropical cyclones that deliver the conditions for catastrophic floods not just in Asia but in Europe and the US.

Paradoxically, extremes of heat and drought can also create dangerous slopes: dangerous wild fires can remove the tree cover that stops hillsides from slipping, and drive people from their homes to places that could later be just as hazardous.

Applying knowledge

Research like this is never just academic: the point of such studies is to draw attention to natural disasters that need never have happened, and identify the communities most at risk.

And these, the scientists say, are more frequently in poor countries, with the poorest of all disproportionately at risk. The point the scientists make is that there is nothing inevitable about a “natural” disaster. Human error, heedlessness and ignorance all contribute to loss, suffering and death.

“With appropriate regulation to guide engineering design, education and enforcement by regulation by specialist inspectors, landslides triggered by construction, mining and hill-cutting are entirely preventable,” Dr Froude said. – Climate News Network

Waterlogged hillsides are dangerous. For those who live on them, or further downhill, they can be deadly. The global risk from landslides is rising.

LONDON, 3 September, 2018 – Lethal landslides are on the increase. Between 2004 and 2016, sudden cascades of rock, rubble and mud have claimed at least 50,000 lives. And fatal slips down unstable hillside slopes have steadily increased this century, according to new research.

British geographers report in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences that they had amassed a database of 4,800 fatal landslides since 2004 and found that at least 700 of them had what they call a direct human fingerprint: they happened because people built on unstable soils, they mined, legally and illegally, they cut into hillsides, and they allowed pipes to leak.

In addition, heavy rainfall, earthquakes, explosions, dam collapses and freezing and thawing also set the earth moving at ever greater speeds, with deadly consequences.

The researchers also report that they found that other catalogues of natural disaster consistently under-estimated the toll exacted by landslides.

“It was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides … were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016”

One study found that the International Disaster Database, maintained by the international disaster community, under-estimated the number of fatal landslides by between 1400% and 2000%, often because the death tolls from such events were lumped in with other forms of disaster that might precipitate landslip: among them volcanic eruption, earthquake and flooding.

“We were aware that humans are placing increasing pressure on their local environment, but it was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides triggered by construction, illegal hill-cutting and illegal mining were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016,” said Melanie Froude, of the University of Sheffield, who led the study.

All the countries in the premier league for fatal landslides were in Asia: one in five of these happened in India, but Pakistan, Myanmar and the Philippines also suffered increasing losses.

Poorest in the shadows

Such findings are no surprise. First, there are more people on the planet, looking for new places to live and new ways of making a living, and the poorest are always more likely to be forced to the margins, to live on or in the shadow of dangerous, unstable slopes.

Second, the world is warming: for every extra degree Celsius the moisture-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by about 7%, so more rain is likely to fall with ever greater intensity to saturate more soil and dislodge more rock. The researchers found that 79% of all landslides could be linked to rainfall.

And, with greater warming, there is a greater hazard of devastating superstorms, along with hurricanes and tropical cyclones that deliver the conditions for catastrophic floods not just in Asia but in Europe and the US.

Paradoxically, extremes of heat and drought can also create dangerous slopes: dangerous wild fires can remove the tree cover that stops hillsides from slipping, and drive people from their homes to places that could later be just as hazardous.

Applying knowledge

Research like this is never just academic: the point of such studies is to draw attention to natural disasters that need never have happened, and identify the communities most at risk.

And these, the scientists say, are more frequently in poor countries, with the poorest of all disproportionately at risk. The point the scientists make is that there is nothing inevitable about a “natural” disaster. Human error, heedlessness and ignorance all contribute to loss, suffering and death.

“With appropriate regulation to guide engineering design, education and enforcement by regulation by specialist inspectors, landslides triggered by construction, mining and hill-cutting are entirely preventable,” Dr Froude said. – Climate News Network

Birds’ hunger for insects may be too great

Birds’ hunger for insects may have to shrink. A new calculation estimates the sheer weight of the insects they eat could be too big.

LONDON, 17 July, 2018 – Birds’ hunger for insects may be unsustainable. The dwindling insect numbers available in parts of the world may not be enough for avian appetites, threatening the survival of some bird species, including ones which are essential for controlling pests.

Scientists have just calculated one small but important portion of the global energy budget. They have established an estimate for the annual consumption of insects by the birds of the world.

It’s simple. There are around 10,700 different species of bird and the mass of birds flying, wading, swimming or waddling about the planet at any one time is an estimated 4 million tonnes. Of these, the insect-eating birds probably gross the scales at 3 million tonnes. And those hungry birds – in the forests, the tundra, the grasslands, the wetlands and the towns – devour an estimated 400 to 500 million tonnes of insects every year.

This means that the world’s birds together consume as much energy – think of insect protein, oils and chitin as so many calories, or joules – as a global megacity such as New York.

With that one calculation, the researchers have filled in the big picture. They have placed a value on the role of birds as pest controllers; they have calculated the bird-insect portion of the global food chain; and they have illuminated a section of the continuous traffic of energy through the biosphere: traffic that begins with sunlight, chlorophyll and plant growth, and ends with the death and decay of the top predators.

“For the first time the predation impact of the insectivorous birds has been quantified on a global scale”

And, once conservationists, biologists and ecologists have some overall command of the mosaic of avian and insect life, they can begin to make more accurate estimates of the hazards species face, partly through human alteration of the planet’s natural ecosystems, and partly through global warming as a consequence of the profligate human combustion of fossil fuels.

“Birds are an endangered class of animals because they are heavily threatened by factors such as afforestation, intensification of agriculture, spread of systemic pesticides, predation by domestic cats, collisions with man-made structures, light pollution and climate change,” said Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland.

“If these global threats cannot soon be resolved, we must fear that the vital ecosystem services that birds provide – such as the suppression of insect pests – will be lost.”

Dr Nyffeler and his colleagues report in the journal The Science of Nature that they calculated the energy budget in joules for the globe’s bird population, and then based their calculations on what could be known from more than 100 studies of the feeding habits of sample birds in a range of different habitats, from the tundra to the tropics.

Conservation scientists – and climate scientists too – are always trying both to resolve the fine detail and to keep an eye on the big picture. Earlier this year, researchers took another look at how – purely in terms of carbon from the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide – the share of biomass is distributed across the spectrum of living things; how much carbon is locked away in forests and flowering plants; how much in the form of animal life; and then how much of that animal life takes the form of wild mammals, molluscs or humans and their livestock, and so on.

Poor outlook

Other studies have tried to zoom in on insect life – and the planet’s social insects alone could weigh in at 700 million tonnes – and then estimate how insects are coping with change.

And the answer is: not well. One study found that insect species face a calamitous habitat loss, another that even ubiquitous insects could be put at risk by climate change, and a third that the sheer mass of flying insects could be in severe decline, at least in one European country.

Many of the world’s birds, too, could be about to fly into oblivion, as climates shift and food sources dwindle.

So the latest study sets a value on birds as protectors of forests and croplands from insect pests. Woodpeckers suppress bark beetles, songbirds feed their nestlings on caterpillars, grassland birds help control the grasshopper populations, and so on.

“For the first time,” the authors say, “the predation impact of the insectivorous birds has been quantified on a global scale.” – Climate News Network

Birds’ hunger for insects may have to shrink. A new calculation estimates the sheer weight of the insects they eat could be too big.

LONDON, 17 July, 2018 – Birds’ hunger for insects may be unsustainable. The dwindling insect numbers available in parts of the world may not be enough for avian appetites, threatening the survival of some bird species, including ones which are essential for controlling pests.

Scientists have just calculated one small but important portion of the global energy budget. They have established an estimate for the annual consumption of insects by the birds of the world.

It’s simple. There are around 10,700 different species of bird and the mass of birds flying, wading, swimming or waddling about the planet at any one time is an estimated 4 million tonnes. Of these, the insect-eating birds probably gross the scales at 3 million tonnes. And those hungry birds – in the forests, the tundra, the grasslands, the wetlands and the towns – devour an estimated 400 to 500 million tonnes of insects every year.

This means that the world’s birds together consume as much energy – think of insect protein, oils and chitin as so many calories, or joules – as a global megacity such as New York.

With that one calculation, the researchers have filled in the big picture. They have placed a value on the role of birds as pest controllers; they have calculated the bird-insect portion of the global food chain; and they have illuminated a section of the continuous traffic of energy through the biosphere: traffic that begins with sunlight, chlorophyll and plant growth, and ends with the death and decay of the top predators.

“For the first time the predation impact of the insectivorous birds has been quantified on a global scale”

And, once conservationists, biologists and ecologists have some overall command of the mosaic of avian and insect life, they can begin to make more accurate estimates of the hazards species face, partly through human alteration of the planet’s natural ecosystems, and partly through global warming as a consequence of the profligate human combustion of fossil fuels.

“Birds are an endangered class of animals because they are heavily threatened by factors such as afforestation, intensification of agriculture, spread of systemic pesticides, predation by domestic cats, collisions with man-made structures, light pollution and climate change,” said Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland.

“If these global threats cannot soon be resolved, we must fear that the vital ecosystem services that birds provide – such as the suppression of insect pests – will be lost.”

Dr Nyffeler and his colleagues report in the journal The Science of Nature that they calculated the energy budget in joules for the globe’s bird population, and then based their calculations on what could be known from more than 100 studies of the feeding habits of sample birds in a range of different habitats, from the tundra to the tropics.

Conservation scientists – and climate scientists too – are always trying both to resolve the fine detail and to keep an eye on the big picture. Earlier this year, researchers took another look at how – purely in terms of carbon from the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide – the share of biomass is distributed across the spectrum of living things; how much carbon is locked away in forests and flowering plants; how much in the form of animal life; and then how much of that animal life takes the form of wild mammals, molluscs or humans and their livestock, and so on.

Poor outlook

Other studies have tried to zoom in on insect life – and the planet’s social insects alone could weigh in at 700 million tonnes – and then estimate how insects are coping with change.

And the answer is: not well. One study found that insect species face a calamitous habitat loss, another that even ubiquitous insects could be put at risk by climate change, and a third that the sheer mass of flying insects could be in severe decline, at least in one European country.

Many of the world’s birds, too, could be about to fly into oblivion, as climates shift and food sources dwindle.

So the latest study sets a value on birds as protectors of forests and croplands from insect pests. Woodpeckers suppress bark beetles, songbirds feed their nestlings on caterpillars, grassland birds help control the grasshopper populations, and so on.

“For the first time,” the authors say, “the predation impact of the insectivorous birds has been quantified on a global scale.” – Climate News Network

Past warming shows 2°C brink may be close

Once again, past warming warns of the power of climate change. The surprise is that it doesn’t take much warming to raise sea levels six metres.

LONDON, 10 July, 2018 – Even if the world’s nations keep their promise to contain global warming to within 2°C, past warming shows that the Earth will still change visibly – and perhaps sooner than science currently expects.

Sea levels could rise by six metres.  Large tracts of the polar ice caps could collapse. The Sahara could become green. The edges of what are now tropical forests could turn into savannah, to be seared and maintained by regular outbreaks of fire. The northern forests could move 200 km nearer the north pole and, ahead of them, the tundra.

That is what will happen, if the past is a sure guide to the present. A 2°C rise in temperature is the maximum agreed by 195 nations when they met in Paris in 2015, a promise that can be maintained only by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, chiefly by switching rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable sources such as solar and wind power.

Three times in the last 3.5 million years, the planetary thermometer has risen, to up to 2°C higher than those temperatures humans enjoyed for most of the last 2,000 years. And three times the global climate has changed in response.

What is less certain is the rate of change: a six metre rise in sea levels fuelled by the thermal expansion of the oceans and the loss of the world’s glaciers, and the retreat of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps, could take thousands of years. But once such changes began it would be very difficult to halt or reverse them.

“The carbon budget to avoid 2°C warming may be far smaller than estimated, leaving very little margin of error”

All geology is based on an axiom that the present is the key to the past: landscape around us tells a story of the conditions under which the rocks were formed. It follows that the past should also foretell the possibilities of the future, and researchers from 17 nations report in the journal Nature Geoscience that they looked again at three recent intervals when the world was warmer.

One of these began at the close of the Ice Age, 9000 to 5000 years ago; one between the last two ice ages 129,000 to 116,000 years ago; and one from a warm period known as the mid-Pliocene 3.3 to 3 million years ago. The first two were responses to very subtle but predictable shifts in the planet’s orbit.

But the oldest of these warmings was driven by an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to between 350 and 450 parts per million. These are levels that match those of today, as a consequence of 200 years of fossil fuel exploitation.

The research raises questions about the completeness of the climate models now used by scientists to predict future change.

Slow to act

As ice retreats and vegetation cover changes, so does the traffic in carbon between living things and the rocks, ocean and atmosphere. And the catch – for climate modellers – is that although the world’s nations promised to act, action so far has been slow. Fossil fuel is still “business as usual”. And this inevitably will play into the calculations in unpredictable ways.

“While climate model predictions seem to be trustworthy when considering relatively small changes over the next decades, it is worrisome that these models likely underestimate climate change under higher emission scenarios, such as a ‘business as usual’ scenario, and especially over longer time scales,” said one of the scientists, Katrin Meissner, of the University of New South Wales, in Australia.

And Hubertus Fischer, of the University of Bern, in Switzerland, who led the study, said: “Observations of past warming periods suggest that a number of amplifying mechanisms, which are poorly represented in climate models, increase long-term warming beyond climate model projections.

“This suggests the carbon budget to avoid 2°C warming may be far smaller than estimated, leaving very little margin of error to meet the Paris targets.” – Climate News Network

Once again, past warming warns of the power of climate change. The surprise is that it doesn’t take much warming to raise sea levels six metres.

LONDON, 10 July, 2018 – Even if the world’s nations keep their promise to contain global warming to within 2°C, past warming shows that the Earth will still change visibly – and perhaps sooner than science currently expects.

Sea levels could rise by six metres.  Large tracts of the polar ice caps could collapse. The Sahara could become green. The edges of what are now tropical forests could turn into savannah, to be seared and maintained by regular outbreaks of fire. The northern forests could move 200 km nearer the north pole and, ahead of them, the tundra.

That is what will happen, if the past is a sure guide to the present. A 2°C rise in temperature is the maximum agreed by 195 nations when they met in Paris in 2015, a promise that can be maintained only by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, chiefly by switching rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable sources such as solar and wind power.

Three times in the last 3.5 million years, the planetary thermometer has risen, to up to 2°C higher than those temperatures humans enjoyed for most of the last 2,000 years. And three times the global climate has changed in response.

What is less certain is the rate of change: a six metre rise in sea levels fuelled by the thermal expansion of the oceans and the loss of the world’s glaciers, and the retreat of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps, could take thousands of years. But once such changes began it would be very difficult to halt or reverse them.

“The carbon budget to avoid 2°C warming may be far smaller than estimated, leaving very little margin of error”

All geology is based on an axiom that the present is the key to the past: landscape around us tells a story of the conditions under which the rocks were formed. It follows that the past should also foretell the possibilities of the future, and researchers from 17 nations report in the journal Nature Geoscience that they looked again at three recent intervals when the world was warmer.

One of these began at the close of the Ice Age, 9000 to 5000 years ago; one between the last two ice ages 129,000 to 116,000 years ago; and one from a warm period known as the mid-Pliocene 3.3 to 3 million years ago. The first two were responses to very subtle but predictable shifts in the planet’s orbit.

But the oldest of these warmings was driven by an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to between 350 and 450 parts per million. These are levels that match those of today, as a consequence of 200 years of fossil fuel exploitation.

The research raises questions about the completeness of the climate models now used by scientists to predict future change.

Slow to act

As ice retreats and vegetation cover changes, so does the traffic in carbon between living things and the rocks, ocean and atmosphere. And the catch – for climate modellers – is that although the world’s nations promised to act, action so far has been slow. Fossil fuel is still “business as usual”. And this inevitably will play into the calculations in unpredictable ways.

“While climate model predictions seem to be trustworthy when considering relatively small changes over the next decades, it is worrisome that these models likely underestimate climate change under higher emission scenarios, such as a ‘business as usual’ scenario, and especially over longer time scales,” said one of the scientists, Katrin Meissner, of the University of New South Wales, in Australia.

And Hubertus Fischer, of the University of Bern, in Switzerland, who led the study, said: “Observations of past warming periods suggest that a number of amplifying mechanisms, which are poorly represented in climate models, increase long-term warming beyond climate model projections.

“This suggests the carbon budget to avoid 2°C warming may be far smaller than estimated, leaving very little margin of error to meet the Paris targets.” – Climate News Network

Running water sheds light on carbon budget

A surprising stretch of terrestrial rock and soil is actually covered by running water. New measurements could mean new accuracies for climate science.

LONDON, 6 July, 2018 – Researchers have a new map of waterworld, the running water that is a key part of the carbon budget. The rivers and streams that feed life and drain landscapes across the planet cover an area almost half as great again as previous estimates – and wash over an area of rocks and soil that adds up to 773.000 square kilometres, an area slightly bigger than the land surface of Turkey.

This finding has consequences for those climate scientists who are trying to make accurate calculations of the planet’s carbon budget: the trafficking between life, rocks, ocean and atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

That is because rivers and streams are active players in the climate machine. They release roughly 20% of the carbon dioxide levels emitted by humans when they burn fossil fuels or turn limestone rock into cement.

And although such research counts as basic – just another, hopefully more accurate, picture of the planetary surface and its moving parts – it fits into an increasingly complex picture of the world and its relationship with freshwater.

“It’s really important that we clearly understand where the carbon that we are emitting goes, and that requires us to accurately quantify the global carbon cycle”

A second, entirely separate study has found that dry riverbeds – those wadis and gulches that carry intermittent flash floods across arid landscapes – could add up to as much as half of the global river network.

But it also found that the dry and parched plant litter in the riverbeds decomposes rapidly when the rains arrive, to add carbon dioxide emissions that reach as much as 10% of the daily discharge from those permanently watery watercourses.

And a third study has found that carbon dioxide is not the only concern: as the planet warms as a consequence of relentless human use of fossil fuels to raise greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, the world’s ponds, lakes and marshes could release significantly more methane. For every 1°C temperature increase, the releases of this potent greenhouse gas could rise by between 6% and 20%.

Such studies are intended to provide a more reliable basis for the calculations of other scientists. Hydrologists from the US report in the journal Science that they used decades of satellite data, ground measurements, flow studies and some complex mathematics to make estimates not just of rivers’ lengths, but their widths, to arrive at their grand total of 773,000 sq km.

Helping mitigation

“As we try to mitigate the effects of climate change, it’s really important that we clearly understand where the carbon that we are emitting goes, and that requires us to accurately quantify the global carbon cycle,” said Tamlin Pavelsky, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Our new calculation helps scientists better assess how much carbon dioxide is moving from rivers and streams into the atmosphere each year.”

A team from Australia and 22 other nations asked a slightly different question: what about those rivers that don’t flow most of the time? The researchers report in the journal Nature Geoscience that they looked at 212 dry riverbeds across a range of climate zones to sample the pool of dried organic material at risk of decomposition once it gets wet.

“Taking rivers and streams that only flow at certain times into account would improve estimates of the consequences of global climate change on carbon cycling – given that the extent of these rivers and streams will increase, and periods of drying will become more prolonged in many regions,” said Nathan Waltham of James Cook University.

Watching methane bubble

And another international team – this time led by researchers from the Netherlands – report in the journal Nature Communications that they collected data on methane bubbles from fishing ponds nearby, from post-glacial lakes in Sweden and forest ponds in Canada, and then simulated lake behaviour in a series of laboratory mini-lakes in which they could control the temperature, and then watch the methane bubble.

Their hunch was right. Higher temperatures meant more methane, and at predictable levels.

“Never before have such unequivocal strong relationships between temperature and emissions of methane bubbles been shown on such a wide, continent-spanning scale,” said Sarian Kosten, of Radboud University.

“Every tonne of greenhouse gas we emit leads to additional emissions from natural sources such as methane bubbles. Luckily, the opposite is also true: if we emit less greenhouse gas and the temperature drops, we gain a bonus in the form of less methane production.” – Climate News Network

A surprising stretch of terrestrial rock and soil is actually covered by running water. New measurements could mean new accuracies for climate science.

LONDON, 6 July, 2018 – Researchers have a new map of waterworld, the running water that is a key part of the carbon budget. The rivers and streams that feed life and drain landscapes across the planet cover an area almost half as great again as previous estimates – and wash over an area of rocks and soil that adds up to 773.000 square kilometres, an area slightly bigger than the land surface of Turkey.

This finding has consequences for those climate scientists who are trying to make accurate calculations of the planet’s carbon budget: the trafficking between life, rocks, ocean and atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

That is because rivers and streams are active players in the climate machine. They release roughly 20% of the carbon dioxide levels emitted by humans when they burn fossil fuels or turn limestone rock into cement.

And although such research counts as basic – just another, hopefully more accurate, picture of the planetary surface and its moving parts – it fits into an increasingly complex picture of the world and its relationship with freshwater.

“It’s really important that we clearly understand where the carbon that we are emitting goes, and that requires us to accurately quantify the global carbon cycle”

A second, entirely separate study has found that dry riverbeds – those wadis and gulches that carry intermittent flash floods across arid landscapes – could add up to as much as half of the global river network.

But it also found that the dry and parched plant litter in the riverbeds decomposes rapidly when the rains arrive, to add carbon dioxide emissions that reach as much as 10% of the daily discharge from those permanently watery watercourses.

And a third study has found that carbon dioxide is not the only concern: as the planet warms as a consequence of relentless human use of fossil fuels to raise greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, the world’s ponds, lakes and marshes could release significantly more methane. For every 1°C temperature increase, the releases of this potent greenhouse gas could rise by between 6% and 20%.

Such studies are intended to provide a more reliable basis for the calculations of other scientists. Hydrologists from the US report in the journal Science that they used decades of satellite data, ground measurements, flow studies and some complex mathematics to make estimates not just of rivers’ lengths, but their widths, to arrive at their grand total of 773,000 sq km.

Helping mitigation

“As we try to mitigate the effects of climate change, it’s really important that we clearly understand where the carbon that we are emitting goes, and that requires us to accurately quantify the global carbon cycle,” said Tamlin Pavelsky, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Our new calculation helps scientists better assess how much carbon dioxide is moving from rivers and streams into the atmosphere each year.”

A team from Australia and 22 other nations asked a slightly different question: what about those rivers that don’t flow most of the time? The researchers report in the journal Nature Geoscience that they looked at 212 dry riverbeds across a range of climate zones to sample the pool of dried organic material at risk of decomposition once it gets wet.

“Taking rivers and streams that only flow at certain times into account would improve estimates of the consequences of global climate change on carbon cycling – given that the extent of these rivers and streams will increase, and periods of drying will become more prolonged in many regions,” said Nathan Waltham of James Cook University.

Watching methane bubble

And another international team – this time led by researchers from the Netherlands – report in the journal Nature Communications that they collected data on methane bubbles from fishing ponds nearby, from post-glacial lakes in Sweden and forest ponds in Canada, and then simulated lake behaviour in a series of laboratory mini-lakes in which they could control the temperature, and then watch the methane bubble.

Their hunch was right. Higher temperatures meant more methane, and at predictable levels.

“Never before have such unequivocal strong relationships between temperature and emissions of methane bubbles been shown on such a wide, continent-spanning scale,” said Sarian Kosten, of Radboud University.

“Every tonne of greenhouse gas we emit leads to additional emissions from natural sources such as methane bubbles. Luckily, the opposite is also true: if we emit less greenhouse gas and the temperature drops, we gain a bonus in the form of less methane production.” – Climate News Network