Tag Archives: Pollution

UK urged to remove carbon from gas

As coal in Europe yields to solar and wind power, UK politicians argue it should remove carbon from gas..

LONDON, 20 February, 2019 − To remove carbon from gas, which is used in vast quantities across Europe for heating and cooking, is one of the great technical difficulties that must be overcome to save the planet from dangerous overheating.

Gas distributed across thousands of miles of pipes has been put forward by oil companies as a necessary interim fuel while governments move away from coal as a power source, replacing it with renewables. But a new report says gas use must also be curtailed, and quickly.

Now come claims that work must start immediately to cut carbon emissions from the gas network if targets are to be met to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to acceptable levels.

Bright Blue describes itself as “an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism.” It has published a report, Pressure in the Pipeline, which suggests a number of ways that gas use could be reduced and replaced with alternatives that do not involve pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Although it is endorsed by leading members of the ruling  Conservative party, including the minister of state for energy and clean growth, Claire Perry, the report is clear that the government the party supports needs to reform existing legislation and do far more to encourage decarbonising gas if this energy revolution is to happen.

One of the key parts of the report is about the drive to replace natural gas with hydrogen. Currently the UK’s gas supplies are pumped from below the North Sea or piped from as far away as Russia. If the country can manage the transition, it could provide a blueprint for the rest of Europe, which is heavily reliant on Siberian gas and the goodwill of Russia for most of its heating.

“The government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity”

Antoinette Sandbach MP, a member of the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said: “This report is a significant contribution to the task of planning Britain’s energy future. Decarbonising our extensive gas network is an important priority. Over 80% of UK homes depend on gas for heating and cooking.”

Although presently hydrogen is mostly produced for commercial use by extracting it from natural gas, which is carbon-intensive, it is equally easy to extract hydrogen from freshwater or seawater using electrolysis − a process that involves passing an electric current through water to obtain hydrogen and oxygen. When the hydrogen is burned it produces only water as waste, and no carbon dioxide.

Currently gas is used to produce hydrogen because it is far cheaper than electricity, but this may change. The UK, with its growth of offshore wind power, is now frequently producing surpluses of electricity at non-peak times, and this “free” power could be used to produce hydrogen to pump into the gas network.

Several trials are already taking place in the UK with existing gas distribution networks to supply homes with a mixture of up to 20% of hydrogen and natural gas, and others are developing networks that can burn 100% hydrogen, the report says.

However, current legislation bans more than 0.1% of hydrogen in the gas network, so the report points out that if either or both of these trials prove successful the government will have to change legislation to allow the schemes to be rolled out to consumers.

No technical bar

The authors cannot see a technical barrier to allowing more hydrogen into the network, since before natural gas was tapped the UK used gas for cooking and heating after deriving it from coal that was more than 50% hydrogen.

Given the right regulations and market incentives, around 60% of the heat supplied to domestic, commercial and industry consumers could come from hydrogen in the gas network by 2050.

To help achieve this the government is urged to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes, where it has had a number of programmes in the past, now abandoned.

The report says that energy efficiency could reduce gas use by a quarter by 2035 in domestic buildings, the largest current user of gas, but that to achieve that the government would need to provide active support.

Apart from the discussion about hydrogen the report details existing progress with gas produced from waste food that is already injected into the network. Much more of this gas, and low carbon gas from other sources, could also be used as a fossil fuel substitute, but again the government needs to change legislation to enable it to work.

New remit needed

The report also says that the independent gas regulator that is supposed to protect consumers, Ofgem, needs to have its remit changed so that it can force companies to include hydrogen and other alternatives to natural gas in supplies to homes.

Wilf Lytton, senior researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, said: “Existing gas regulations that were designed decades ago, and a lack of investment and incentives, are hampering deeper decarbonisation.

“Now, with time running out, the government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity. It is an urgent priority to ensure that Ofgem’s next price control framework from April 2021 includes stronger incentives and greater investment to support deeper decarbonisation.”

Claire Perry, endorsing the report, said: “Hydrogen and biomethane can help deliver serious climate action through our existing infrastructure, keeping consumers on board and maintaining the flexibility and resilience provided by the gas system.

“The UK has grown its economy whilst cutting carbon faster than any other country in the G7; but if we are going to build on this success, we need to get serious in tackling heat.” − Climate News Network

As coal in Europe yields to solar and wind power, UK politicians argue it should remove carbon from gas..

LONDON, 20 February, 2019 − To remove carbon from gas, which is used in vast quantities across Europe for heating and cooking, is one of the great technical difficulties that must be overcome to save the planet from dangerous overheating.

Gas distributed across thousands of miles of pipes has been put forward by oil companies as a necessary interim fuel while governments move away from coal as a power source, replacing it with renewables. But a new report says gas use must also be curtailed, and quickly.

Now come claims that work must start immediately to cut carbon emissions from the gas network if targets are to be met to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to acceptable levels.

Bright Blue describes itself as “an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism.” It has published a report, Pressure in the Pipeline, which suggests a number of ways that gas use could be reduced and replaced with alternatives that do not involve pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Although it is endorsed by leading members of the ruling  Conservative party, including the minister of state for energy and clean growth, Claire Perry, the report is clear that the government the party supports needs to reform existing legislation and do far more to encourage decarbonising gas if this energy revolution is to happen.

One of the key parts of the report is about the drive to replace natural gas with hydrogen. Currently the UK’s gas supplies are pumped from below the North Sea or piped from as far away as Russia. If the country can manage the transition, it could provide a blueprint for the rest of Europe, which is heavily reliant on Siberian gas and the goodwill of Russia for most of its heating.

“The government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity”

Antoinette Sandbach MP, a member of the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said: “This report is a significant contribution to the task of planning Britain’s energy future. Decarbonising our extensive gas network is an important priority. Over 80% of UK homes depend on gas for heating and cooking.”

Although presently hydrogen is mostly produced for commercial use by extracting it from natural gas, which is carbon-intensive, it is equally easy to extract hydrogen from freshwater or seawater using electrolysis − a process that involves passing an electric current through water to obtain hydrogen and oxygen. When the hydrogen is burned it produces only water as waste, and no carbon dioxide.

Currently gas is used to produce hydrogen because it is far cheaper than electricity, but this may change. The UK, with its growth of offshore wind power, is now frequently producing surpluses of electricity at non-peak times, and this “free” power could be used to produce hydrogen to pump into the gas network.

Several trials are already taking place in the UK with existing gas distribution networks to supply homes with a mixture of up to 20% of hydrogen and natural gas, and others are developing networks that can burn 100% hydrogen, the report says.

However, current legislation bans more than 0.1% of hydrogen in the gas network, so the report points out that if either or both of these trials prove successful the government will have to change legislation to allow the schemes to be rolled out to consumers.

No technical bar

The authors cannot see a technical barrier to allowing more hydrogen into the network, since before natural gas was tapped the UK used gas for cooking and heating after deriving it from coal that was more than 50% hydrogen.

Given the right regulations and market incentives, around 60% of the heat supplied to domestic, commercial and industry consumers could come from hydrogen in the gas network by 2050.

To help achieve this the government is urged to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes, where it has had a number of programmes in the past, now abandoned.

The report says that energy efficiency could reduce gas use by a quarter by 2035 in domestic buildings, the largest current user of gas, but that to achieve that the government would need to provide active support.

Apart from the discussion about hydrogen the report details existing progress with gas produced from waste food that is already injected into the network. Much more of this gas, and low carbon gas from other sources, could also be used as a fossil fuel substitute, but again the government needs to change legislation to enable it to work.

New remit needed

The report also says that the independent gas regulator that is supposed to protect consumers, Ofgem, needs to have its remit changed so that it can force companies to include hydrogen and other alternatives to natural gas in supplies to homes.

Wilf Lytton, senior researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, said: “Existing gas regulations that were designed decades ago, and a lack of investment and incentives, are hampering deeper decarbonisation.

“Now, with time running out, the government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity. It is an urgent priority to ensure that Ofgem’s next price control framework from April 2021 includes stronger incentives and greater investment to support deeper decarbonisation.”

Claire Perry, endorsing the report, said: “Hydrogen and biomethane can help deliver serious climate action through our existing infrastructure, keeping consumers on board and maintaining the flexibility and resilience provided by the gas system.

“The UK has grown its economy whilst cutting carbon faster than any other country in the G7; but if we are going to build on this success, we need to get serious in tackling heat.” − Climate News Network

Energy from greenhouse gases is possible

Laboratories can make energy from greenhouse gases, power smartphones with their own radiation, and cut shipping costs naturally. And each could become reality.

LONDON, 8 February, 2019 – Researchers have found ways to realise a modern version of the medieval alchemists’ dream  not turning base metals into gold, but conjuring energy from greenhouse gases, exploiting abundant pollutants to help to power the world.

Korean scientists have developed a sophisticated fuel cell that consumes carbon dioxide and produces electricity and hydrogen – potentially another fuel – at the same time.

Researchers based in the US and Spain have devised a nanoscale fabric that converts electromagnetic waves into electrical current.

The dream is that a smartphone coated with the fabric could, without benefit of a battery, charge itself from the ambient wi-fi radiation that it exploits for texts, calls and data.

German scientists have taken a leaf from nature’s book and applied it – so far in theory – to bulk cargo shipping. Salvinia molesta, a floating fern native to Brazil, isolates itself from water with a thin sheath of air. If the large carriers could adopt the Salvinia trick and incorporate a similar layer of air in the anti-fouling coating on the hull, this would reduce drag sufficiently to save 20% of fuel costs.

To the Urals

And in yet another demonstration of the ingenuity and innovative ambition on show in the world’s laboratories, another German team has looked at the large-scale climate economics of artificial photosynthesis – a system of semiconductors and oxides – that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deliver stable chemical compounds.

To take 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year would demand a forest that covered all Europe as far as the Urals. But to do the same job, a commercial forest of “artificial leaves” would require a land area about the size of the German federal state of Brandenburg.

All these ideas are ready for further development. None is so far anywhere near the commercial market.

But all are evidence that chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists have taken up the great climate challenge: how to power modern society without fuelling even faster global warming and climate change that could, ultimately, bring global economic growth to a devastating halt.

And, as many researchers see it, that means not just by-passing the fossil fuels that drive climate change, but actively exploiting the ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, or soon to emerge from power station chimneys

“The best thing now would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper”

Scientists at UNIST, Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology, report in the journal iScience that in collaboration with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US they have already developed a hybrid sodium-carbon dioxide system of electrolytes that converts dissolved carbon dioxide to sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen, with a flow of electric current.

Efficiency is high – with 50% of the carbon dioxide exploited – and could be higher. And their test apparatus so far has run in stable fashion for 1000 hours. The system uses a new approach to materials to exploit something in the air everywhere.

And that too is exactly what researchers in the US have done: they report in the journal Nature that they have fashioned a flexible sheet of ultra-thin material that serves as what they call a “rectenna”: a radio-frequency antenna that harvests radiation, including wi-fi signals, as alternating current waveforms, and feeds them to a nanoscale semiconductor that converts it to direct current.

So far, the rectenna devices have produced 40 microwatts of power: enough to fire up a light-emitting diode, or power a silicon chip.

“We have come up with a new way to power the electronics systems of the future – by harvesting wi-fi energy in a way that’s easily integrated in large areas – to bring intelligence to every object around us,” said Tomás Palacios, an electrical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

Magic carpet

The waterweed Salvinia molesta exploits bubbles to keep itself afloat but out of the water: it literally rides in the water on a little magic carpet of air. The hydrophobic plant is regarded as an invasive pest, but the way it harnesses air to keep itself afloat and on top of things provides a lesson not just for evolutionary biologists but for engineers.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have been looking at the problem of the global shipping fleet: cargo freighters burn 250 million tonnes of fuel a year and emit a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, much of it because of the sheer drag of moving a hull through the waves. So anything that reduces drag saves fuel (which accounts for half of all transport costs).

The German scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society that their experiments with hull coatings based on the lessons of Salvinia could in the medium term cut fuel costs by up to 20% and on a global scale reduce emissions by 130 million tonnes a year. If the same coating discouraged barnacles as well, the saving could reach 300 million tonnes – 1% of global CO2 output.

To keep global warming to the promised level of no more than 1.5°C, an ambition signed up to by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, global fossil fuel emissions will have to reach zero by 2050.

Right now, nations are adding 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. So there is pressure to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

Huge economy

German scientists report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they did the sums and calculated that to take 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using the machinery supplied by 3 billion years of evolution would require new forest plantations that stretched over 10 million kilometres. This is about the size of continental Europe.

But supposing artificial leaf systems developed in laboratories could be further developed on a massive scale? These leaves would draw down carbon dioxide and deliver it for permanent storage or for chemical conversion to plastic or building material.

If so, then efficient synthetic photosynthesis installations could do the same job from an area of only 30,000 square kilometres.

“These kinds of modules could be placed in non-agricultural regions – in deserts, for example. In contrast to plants, they require hardly any water to operate,” said Matthias May of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, one of the authors. It would of course come at a formidable cost – about €650 bn
or US$740 bn a year.

“The best thing now,” Dr May said, “would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper.” – Climate News Network

Laboratories can make energy from greenhouse gases, power smartphones with their own radiation, and cut shipping costs naturally. And each could become reality.

LONDON, 8 February, 2019 – Researchers have found ways to realise a modern version of the medieval alchemists’ dream  not turning base metals into gold, but conjuring energy from greenhouse gases, exploiting abundant pollutants to help to power the world.

Korean scientists have developed a sophisticated fuel cell that consumes carbon dioxide and produces electricity and hydrogen – potentially another fuel – at the same time.

Researchers based in the US and Spain have devised a nanoscale fabric that converts electromagnetic waves into electrical current.

The dream is that a smartphone coated with the fabric could, without benefit of a battery, charge itself from the ambient wi-fi radiation that it exploits for texts, calls and data.

German scientists have taken a leaf from nature’s book and applied it – so far in theory – to bulk cargo shipping. Salvinia molesta, a floating fern native to Brazil, isolates itself from water with a thin sheath of air. If the large carriers could adopt the Salvinia trick and incorporate a similar layer of air in the anti-fouling coating on the hull, this would reduce drag sufficiently to save 20% of fuel costs.

To the Urals

And in yet another demonstration of the ingenuity and innovative ambition on show in the world’s laboratories, another German team has looked at the large-scale climate economics of artificial photosynthesis – a system of semiconductors and oxides – that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deliver stable chemical compounds.

To take 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year would demand a forest that covered all Europe as far as the Urals. But to do the same job, a commercial forest of “artificial leaves” would require a land area about the size of the German federal state of Brandenburg.

All these ideas are ready for further development. None is so far anywhere near the commercial market.

But all are evidence that chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists have taken up the great climate challenge: how to power modern society without fuelling even faster global warming and climate change that could, ultimately, bring global economic growth to a devastating halt.

And, as many researchers see it, that means not just by-passing the fossil fuels that drive climate change, but actively exploiting the ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, or soon to emerge from power station chimneys

“The best thing now would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper”

Scientists at UNIST, Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology, report in the journal iScience that in collaboration with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US they have already developed a hybrid sodium-carbon dioxide system of electrolytes that converts dissolved carbon dioxide to sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen, with a flow of electric current.

Efficiency is high – with 50% of the carbon dioxide exploited – and could be higher. And their test apparatus so far has run in stable fashion for 1000 hours. The system uses a new approach to materials to exploit something in the air everywhere.

And that too is exactly what researchers in the US have done: they report in the journal Nature that they have fashioned a flexible sheet of ultra-thin material that serves as what they call a “rectenna”: a radio-frequency antenna that harvests radiation, including wi-fi signals, as alternating current waveforms, and feeds them to a nanoscale semiconductor that converts it to direct current.

So far, the rectenna devices have produced 40 microwatts of power: enough to fire up a light-emitting diode, or power a silicon chip.

“We have come up with a new way to power the electronics systems of the future – by harvesting wi-fi energy in a way that’s easily integrated in large areas – to bring intelligence to every object around us,” said Tomás Palacios, an electrical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

Magic carpet

The waterweed Salvinia molesta exploits bubbles to keep itself afloat but out of the water: it literally rides in the water on a little magic carpet of air. The hydrophobic plant is regarded as an invasive pest, but the way it harnesses air to keep itself afloat and on top of things provides a lesson not just for evolutionary biologists but for engineers.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have been looking at the problem of the global shipping fleet: cargo freighters burn 250 million tonnes of fuel a year and emit a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, much of it because of the sheer drag of moving a hull through the waves. So anything that reduces drag saves fuel (which accounts for half of all transport costs).

The German scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society that their experiments with hull coatings based on the lessons of Salvinia could in the medium term cut fuel costs by up to 20% and on a global scale reduce emissions by 130 million tonnes a year. If the same coating discouraged barnacles as well, the saving could reach 300 million tonnes – 1% of global CO2 output.

To keep global warming to the promised level of no more than 1.5°C, an ambition signed up to by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, global fossil fuel emissions will have to reach zero by 2050.

Right now, nations are adding 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. So there is pressure to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

Huge economy

German scientists report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they did the sums and calculated that to take 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using the machinery supplied by 3 billion years of evolution would require new forest plantations that stretched over 10 million kilometres. This is about the size of continental Europe.

But supposing artificial leaf systems developed in laboratories could be further developed on a massive scale? These leaves would draw down carbon dioxide and deliver it for permanent storage or for chemical conversion to plastic or building material.

If so, then efficient synthetic photosynthesis installations could do the same job from an area of only 30,000 square kilometres.

“These kinds of modules could be placed in non-agricultural regions – in deserts, for example. In contrast to plants, they require hardly any water to operate,” said Matthias May of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, one of the authors. It would of course come at a formidable cost – about €650 bn
or US$740 bn a year.

“The best thing now,” Dr May said, “would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper.” – Climate News Network

Whales’ appetite for plastics yawns wide

Polluting fragments and fibres get everywhere. Whales’ appetite for plastics shows how that includes the living tissue of some of the biggest sea creatures.

LONDON, 6 February, 2019 − There seem to be few limits to whales’ appetite for plastics. Scientists who checked the stomachs and intestines of 50 whales, dolphins and seals found stranded and dead on British coasts have identified plastic particles ingested by every one of them.

So far the researchers make no link between what now seems ubiquitous plastic pollution of the seas and the health of the animals – the numbers in each were tiny – but the find is yet another indicator of the steady degradation of the planet’s biggest natural habitat by just one terrestrial species with a lately-acquired addiction to fossil fuels.

A small fraction of the world’s oil, coal and natural gas output is turned into plastics or organic polymers with versatile and enduring properties, and four-fifths of the particles were identified as synthetic fibres from clothes, fishing nets and toothbrushes: the remainder may have come from food packaging and plastic containers.

“It’s shocking – but not surprising – that every animal had ingested microplastics,” said Sarah Nelms of the University of Exeter and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study.

“The number of particles in each animal was relatively low (average of 5.5 particles per animal) suggesting they eventually pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated. We don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.”

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at”

The find was not surprising because in the last few years researchers have repeatedly established that in the century since the first synthesis of artificial polymer materials, colossal quantities have ended up in the oceans in ever-tinier particles: they have been found in the high Arctic, in every litre of sampled seawater, in coral reefs and in polar bears.

The scientists write in the journal Scientific Reports that they found at least one microplastic particle in every animal they examined, in either stomach or intestine.

Altogether, in 10 species – the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the bottlenose, common, striped, white-beaked and Risso’s dolphins, the grey seal, the harbour seal, the harbour porpoise and the pygmy sperm whale − they found 273 particles, and 261 of these were smaller than 5mm. Most were fibres, ranging in size from 2cms to 0.1mm; 16% were fragments. At least 26 marine mammals are known to use British waters.

Colossal quantities of microplastics get into the sea from a variety of sources. Rain washes away fragments of tyres and paint; debris gets spilled during transportation; microbeads get washed out of fibres and cosmetics; large objects get abraded, crushed and fragmented.

Effects unknown

The smaller the size, the easier it is for the particles to be taken up by small crustaceans called copepods, shellfish, fish, seabirds and the bigger sea creatures and the marine mammals at the top of the food chain.

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at; from tiny zooplankton at the base of the marine food web to fish larvae, turtles and now dolphins, seals and whales,” said Pennie Lindeque, who heads the marine plastics research group at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

“We don’t yet know the effects of these particles on marine mammals. Their small size means they may easily be expelled, but while microplastics are unlikely to be the main threat to these species, we are still concerned by the impact of the bacteria, viruses and contaminants carried on the plastic.

“This study provides more evidence that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas.” − Climate News Network

Polluting fragments and fibres get everywhere. Whales’ appetite for plastics shows how that includes the living tissue of some of the biggest sea creatures.

LONDON, 6 February, 2019 − There seem to be few limits to whales’ appetite for plastics. Scientists who checked the stomachs and intestines of 50 whales, dolphins and seals found stranded and dead on British coasts have identified plastic particles ingested by every one of them.

So far the researchers make no link between what now seems ubiquitous plastic pollution of the seas and the health of the animals – the numbers in each were tiny – but the find is yet another indicator of the steady degradation of the planet’s biggest natural habitat by just one terrestrial species with a lately-acquired addiction to fossil fuels.

A small fraction of the world’s oil, coal and natural gas output is turned into plastics or organic polymers with versatile and enduring properties, and four-fifths of the particles were identified as synthetic fibres from clothes, fishing nets and toothbrushes: the remainder may have come from food packaging and plastic containers.

“It’s shocking – but not surprising – that every animal had ingested microplastics,” said Sarah Nelms of the University of Exeter and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study.

“The number of particles in each animal was relatively low (average of 5.5 particles per animal) suggesting they eventually pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated. We don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.”

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at”

The find was not surprising because in the last few years researchers have repeatedly established that in the century since the first synthesis of artificial polymer materials, colossal quantities have ended up in the oceans in ever-tinier particles: they have been found in the high Arctic, in every litre of sampled seawater, in coral reefs and in polar bears.

The scientists write in the journal Scientific Reports that they found at least one microplastic particle in every animal they examined, in either stomach or intestine.

Altogether, in 10 species – the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the bottlenose, common, striped, white-beaked and Risso’s dolphins, the grey seal, the harbour seal, the harbour porpoise and the pygmy sperm whale − they found 273 particles, and 261 of these were smaller than 5mm. Most were fibres, ranging in size from 2cms to 0.1mm; 16% were fragments. At least 26 marine mammals are known to use British waters.

Colossal quantities of microplastics get into the sea from a variety of sources. Rain washes away fragments of tyres and paint; debris gets spilled during transportation; microbeads get washed out of fibres and cosmetics; large objects get abraded, crushed and fragmented.

Effects unknown

The smaller the size, the easier it is for the particles to be taken up by small crustaceans called copepods, shellfish, fish, seabirds and the bigger sea creatures and the marine mammals at the top of the food chain.

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at; from tiny zooplankton at the base of the marine food web to fish larvae, turtles and now dolphins, seals and whales,” said Pennie Lindeque, who heads the marine plastics research group at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

“We don’t yet know the effects of these particles on marine mammals. Their small size means they may easily be expelled, but while microplastics are unlikely to be the main threat to these species, we are still concerned by the impact of the bacteria, viruses and contaminants carried on the plastic.

“This study provides more evidence that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas.” − Climate News Network

UN calls lethal Brazil dam burst a crime

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Salt-free drinkable water comes at a cost

Two thirds of the world worries about water for at least a month annually. One successful source of salt-free drinkable water leaves a bitter aftertaste.

LONDON, 15 January, 2019 – Around the arid world, some 16,000 desalination plants are now purifying seawater and brackish aquifers, producing 95 million cubic metres of fresh, salt-free drinkable water daily. This is almost half the daily flow over Niagara Falls.

But there is a potentially-polluting price to pay: for every litre of fresh water, the same desalination plants produce around 1.5 litres of toxic brine. That adds up to enough in the course of a year to cover the whole of the US state of Florida to a depth of more than 30 cms.

A new study urges nations to explore better solutions – and new ways to exploit the minerals in the wastewater and support efforts to advance the declared UN sustainable development goal of reliable, safe water on tap for everybody in the world.

A second study confirms that the sustainable development goal of clean water and sanitation for everybody by 2030 is likely to cost around $1 trillion a year – and up to 8% more if the advances are matched by efforts to contain climate change and limit global warming to the agreed UN target of well below 2°C above historic levels by 2100.

“Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300%”

Four out of ten of the world’s people face severe water scarcity. More than six out of ten experience at least one month a year in conditions of water scarcity. There are now desalination technologies at work in 177 countries: two thirds of them in nations with high incomes.

Researchers from the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), and from the Netherlands and Korea, report in the journal Science of the Total Environment that they found that 55% of all the hypersaline brine was produced by just four Middle Eastern nations. China, the USA and Spain produce most of the rest.

Small island nations depend on desalination technology for their survival, and eight countries could meet all their freshwater needs by evaporating sea water.

The waste tended to be directly discharged into the oceans, surface water or sewers, injected into deep wells or left to evaporate in ponds. Untreated, it was a threat to marine ecosystems. On land, it enhanced the increasing hazard of soil salination.

Exploitation possible

But such brines could be used effectively in aquaculture, or to nourish salt-tolerant crops. They were rich in sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, strontium, lithium, rubidium and even uranium: they could be exploited for industry and in agriculture. There aren’t the technologies yet to extract such elements economically, but the scientists make the case for trying.

“There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar,” said Manzoor Qadir, of UNU-INWEH, one of the authors.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains. Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinisation).”

Integrated policies

And researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria also believe in a twofold approach to the looming world water crisis: they report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they want to see the provision of water and sanitation – from any source – and action on climate in an integrated approach.

Both are among the 17 goals of sustainable development adopted by UN agencies and 93 nations. The IIASA researchers think, for example, that water pumping and treatment plants could also work with a nation’s electricity grids to make the most efficient use of both.

“The results of our analysis show that combining clean water and climate policies can increase implementation costs, but these increases are relatively small in comparison to the cost for implementing each policy on its own,” said Simon Parkinson, a researcher from IIASA and the University of Victoria, who led the study.

“Finding and improving synergies between decarbonisation and water efficiency is crucial for minimising joint policy implementation costs and uncertainties.” – Climate News Network

Two thirds of the world worries about water for at least a month annually. One successful source of salt-free drinkable water leaves a bitter aftertaste.

LONDON, 15 January, 2019 – Around the arid world, some 16,000 desalination plants are now purifying seawater and brackish aquifers, producing 95 million cubic metres of fresh, salt-free drinkable water daily. This is almost half the daily flow over Niagara Falls.

But there is a potentially-polluting price to pay: for every litre of fresh water, the same desalination plants produce around 1.5 litres of toxic brine. That adds up to enough in the course of a year to cover the whole of the US state of Florida to a depth of more than 30 cms.

A new study urges nations to explore better solutions – and new ways to exploit the minerals in the wastewater and support efforts to advance the declared UN sustainable development goal of reliable, safe water on tap for everybody in the world.

A second study confirms that the sustainable development goal of clean water and sanitation for everybody by 2030 is likely to cost around $1 trillion a year – and up to 8% more if the advances are matched by efforts to contain climate change and limit global warming to the agreed UN target of well below 2°C above historic levels by 2100.

“Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300%”

Four out of ten of the world’s people face severe water scarcity. More than six out of ten experience at least one month a year in conditions of water scarcity. There are now desalination technologies at work in 177 countries: two thirds of them in nations with high incomes.

Researchers from the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), and from the Netherlands and Korea, report in the journal Science of the Total Environment that they found that 55% of all the hypersaline brine was produced by just four Middle Eastern nations. China, the USA and Spain produce most of the rest.

Small island nations depend on desalination technology for their survival, and eight countries could meet all their freshwater needs by evaporating sea water.

The waste tended to be directly discharged into the oceans, surface water or sewers, injected into deep wells or left to evaporate in ponds. Untreated, it was a threat to marine ecosystems. On land, it enhanced the increasing hazard of soil salination.

Exploitation possible

But such brines could be used effectively in aquaculture, or to nourish salt-tolerant crops. They were rich in sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, strontium, lithium, rubidium and even uranium: they could be exploited for industry and in agriculture. There aren’t the technologies yet to extract such elements economically, but the scientists make the case for trying.

“There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar,” said Manzoor Qadir, of UNU-INWEH, one of the authors.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains. Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinisation).”

Integrated policies

And researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria also believe in a twofold approach to the looming world water crisis: they report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they want to see the provision of water and sanitation – from any source – and action on climate in an integrated approach.

Both are among the 17 goals of sustainable development adopted by UN agencies and 93 nations. The IIASA researchers think, for example, that water pumping and treatment plants could also work with a nation’s electricity grids to make the most efficient use of both.

“The results of our analysis show that combining clean water and climate policies can increase implementation costs, but these increases are relatively small in comparison to the cost for implementing each policy on its own,” said Simon Parkinson, a researcher from IIASA and the University of Victoria, who led the study.

“Finding and improving synergies between decarbonisation and water efficiency is crucial for minimising joint policy implementation costs and uncertainties.” – Climate News Network

VW says climate drives its electric spurt

Reputation and public confidence in your products are vital for global corporations, especially for one of the world’s biggest carmakers – hence VW’s electric spurt.

LONDON, 10 December, 2018 – As part of what it says is its commitment to tackling climate change, VW, the German auto giant, is embarking on an electric spurt, pressing ahead with plans aimed at producing more than a million electric cars a year by 2025.

In the vanguard of VW’s push into electric vehicles is the company’s plant at Zwickau, in the east of Germany, where an entire factory that once produced petrol and diesel car models is being converted to solely manufacturing electrically powered vehicles.

VW says that by the end of 2019 mass production of the ID, its new electric model, will begin at Zwickau; the aim is to eventually manufacture up to 330,000 electric models a year at the plant.

“With our electric cars we want to make a substantial contribution to climate protection”, says Thomas Ulbrich, head of the company’s electric car division.

“The global automotive industry is experiencing a process of fundamental structural change.

Affordable and popular

“Efficient, modern production facilities will be the key. In one year, this plant will become the starting point for our global electric offensive.”

Ulbrich says the aim is to take electric cars out of their niche and produce cars that will be affordable to millions – similar to the way the VW Beetle became popular around the globe.

VW says it’s investing about €1.2 billion in altering production facilities at Zwickau, where more than 7,500 people are employed. The company is also creating electric car plants elsewhere, including two in China – one near Shanghai and the other at Foshan in the south of the country.

Several other major car manufacturers have announced similar plans to ramp up electric vehicle production.

VW, by some measures the world’s biggest carmaker, has been struggling to repair its image after the company was forced in 2015 to admit it had sold nearly 600,000 cars in the US which had been fitted with special devices designed to circumvent emissions regulations and falsify exhaust gas tests.

“In one year, this plant will become the starting point for our global electric offensive”

The gases – nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide – not only contribute to global warming but create pollution as well and can lead to health problems.

VW admitted that its engineers had designed a software system for its cars sold in the US which switched emissions controls on when vehicles were being tested and off during normal driving.

A number of other car producers, including the Japanese/French conglomerate Mitsubishi, have admitted falsifying various data relating to vehicle performance.

In the latest twist in the VW scandal, US prosecutors have alleged that what they describe as an “appalling fraud” was authorised by those at the very top of the company, with a former CEO involved.

To date, it’s estimated VW has paid out approximately US$25 bn in damages in relation to the emissions case. Court actions are ongoing with investors in VW who claim to have lost money over the scandal also suing the company. – Climate News Network

Reputation and public confidence in your products are vital for global corporations, especially for one of the world’s biggest carmakers – hence VW’s electric spurt.

LONDON, 10 December, 2018 – As part of what it says is its commitment to tackling climate change, VW, the German auto giant, is embarking on an electric spurt, pressing ahead with plans aimed at producing more than a million electric cars a year by 2025.

In the vanguard of VW’s push into electric vehicles is the company’s plant at Zwickau, in the east of Germany, where an entire factory that once produced petrol and diesel car models is being converted to solely manufacturing electrically powered vehicles.

VW says that by the end of 2019 mass production of the ID, its new electric model, will begin at Zwickau; the aim is to eventually manufacture up to 330,000 electric models a year at the plant.

“With our electric cars we want to make a substantial contribution to climate protection”, says Thomas Ulbrich, head of the company’s electric car division.

“The global automotive industry is experiencing a process of fundamental structural change.

Affordable and popular

“Efficient, modern production facilities will be the key. In one year, this plant will become the starting point for our global electric offensive.”

Ulbrich says the aim is to take electric cars out of their niche and produce cars that will be affordable to millions – similar to the way the VW Beetle became popular around the globe.

VW says it’s investing about €1.2 billion in altering production facilities at Zwickau, where more than 7,500 people are employed. The company is also creating electric car plants elsewhere, including two in China – one near Shanghai and the other at Foshan in the south of the country.

Several other major car manufacturers have announced similar plans to ramp up electric vehicle production.

VW, by some measures the world’s biggest carmaker, has been struggling to repair its image after the company was forced in 2015 to admit it had sold nearly 600,000 cars in the US which had been fitted with special devices designed to circumvent emissions regulations and falsify exhaust gas tests.

“In one year, this plant will become the starting point for our global electric offensive”

The gases – nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide – not only contribute to global warming but create pollution as well and can lead to health problems.

VW admitted that its engineers had designed a software system for its cars sold in the US which switched emissions controls on when vehicles were being tested and off during normal driving.

A number of other car producers, including the Japanese/French conglomerate Mitsubishi, have admitted falsifying various data relating to vehicle performance.

In the latest twist in the VW scandal, US prosecutors have alleged that what they describe as an “appalling fraud” was authorised by those at the very top of the company, with a former CEO involved.

To date, it’s estimated VW has paid out approximately US$25 bn in damages in relation to the emissions case. Court actions are ongoing with investors in VW who claim to have lost money over the scandal also suing the company. – Climate News Network

Iraq’s climate stresses are set to worsen

After years of repression, invasion and conflict, Iraq’s climate stresses now threaten new miseries, including more intense heat and dwindling rainfall.

LONDON, 12 November, 2018 − Iraq’s climate stresses are worsening, raising the prospect of a hotter, drier future for a country which has already seen widespread devastation.

It’s been invaded and bombed, had a third of its territory taken over by terrorist groups, hundreds of thousands have been killed and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed.

Now Iraq and its 39 million people are facing the hazards of climate change; a prolonged drought and soaring temperatures earlier this year ruined crops. Swathes of land in what was, in ancient times, one of the richest agricultural regions on Earth are drying up and turning into desert.

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”

A recent report by the Expert Working Group on Climate-related Security Risks – made up of academics including members of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – paints a stark picture of what’s happening in Iraq.

“Climate change is currently manifesting itself in prolonged heat waves, erratic precipitation, higher than average temperatures and increased disaster intensity”, says the report.

Its authors say that over the past summer Iraq suffered from its worst water shortage crisis for 80 years. They say flows of water in many rivers have decreased by up to 40% over recent decades.

The outlook is grim; the study says that due to climate change, average rainfall across the country is likely to decrease by 9% by mid-century, though the intensity of storms is set to increase. Temperatures in Iraq, which regularly reach more than 40°C in the summer months, are set to rise further – by an average of 2°C by 2050.

Livelihoods at risk

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”, says the Working Group.

“The combination of its hydrological limitations, increasing temperatures and extreme weather events puts pressure on basic resources and undermines livelihood security for Iraq’s population.”

Oil revenues account for more than 80% of Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP), but a majority of the workforce is involved in agriculture and has been hit hard by the drought and worsening climate conditions.

One of the regions of the country that has suffered most from shifting weather patterns and drought is the marshlands of the south, near the city of Basra.

Unique community

The marshlands, where the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers which flow through Iraq meet and divide into dozens of channels, formerly covered an area of more than 20,000 square kilometres and were once home to up to half a million people – widely referred to as Marsh Arabs – with a unique way of life.

In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein, the country’s former ruler, dammed and drained the marshes after tribespeople in the area backed an uprising against his regime. After Saddam was toppled, locals tore down the dams and dykes and brought life back to the region.

Now, once again, the dense channels and waterways of southern Iraq are under threat.

Cross-border impacts

Reductions in rainfall and other climate-related events are only one part of what is a disaster unfolding in one of the most diverse and ecologically rich areas in the Middle East.

Misuse of upriver water resources by the Baghdad government and dams constructed across the Iraqi border, in Iran and Turkey, are severely reducing water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates.

As water levels have plummeted, salinity has increased dramatically, particularly in the south of the country, due to evaporation and saltwater intrusion from the Gulf. Often, because of salinity and pollution, there is little or no drinkable tap water in Basra, a city of more than 2 million.

During the drought last summer, thousands were hospitalised with water-borne diseases.

Corruption threat

Buffaloes, bird life and fish are dying. Reeds and other plant life are being destroyed.

Several people have been killed as protests have erupted over government ineptitude and the lack of basic infrastructure and jobs in what is Iraq’s most oil-rich province.

The Working Group’s report says generally poor governance is exacerbating an already precarious set of circumstances. Civil unrest and terrorism could further destabilise the country.

Widespread corruption is a serious problem. “This factor severely reduces the Iraqi government’s capacity to address security risks and stabilisation strategies, including those relating to climate change”, says the report. − Climate News Network

After years of repression, invasion and conflict, Iraq’s climate stresses now threaten new miseries, including more intense heat and dwindling rainfall.

LONDON, 12 November, 2018 − Iraq’s climate stresses are worsening, raising the prospect of a hotter, drier future for a country which has already seen widespread devastation.

It’s been invaded and bombed, had a third of its territory taken over by terrorist groups, hundreds of thousands have been killed and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed.

Now Iraq and its 39 million people are facing the hazards of climate change; a prolonged drought and soaring temperatures earlier this year ruined crops. Swathes of land in what was, in ancient times, one of the richest agricultural regions on Earth are drying up and turning into desert.

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”

A recent report by the Expert Working Group on Climate-related Security Risks – made up of academics including members of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – paints a stark picture of what’s happening in Iraq.

“Climate change is currently manifesting itself in prolonged heat waves, erratic precipitation, higher than average temperatures and increased disaster intensity”, says the report.

Its authors say that over the past summer Iraq suffered from its worst water shortage crisis for 80 years. They say flows of water in many rivers have decreased by up to 40% over recent decades.

The outlook is grim; the study says that due to climate change, average rainfall across the country is likely to decrease by 9% by mid-century, though the intensity of storms is set to increase. Temperatures in Iraq, which regularly reach more than 40°C in the summer months, are set to rise further – by an average of 2°C by 2050.

Livelihoods at risk

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”, says the Working Group.

“The combination of its hydrological limitations, increasing temperatures and extreme weather events puts pressure on basic resources and undermines livelihood security for Iraq’s population.”

Oil revenues account for more than 80% of Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP), but a majority of the workforce is involved in agriculture and has been hit hard by the drought and worsening climate conditions.

One of the regions of the country that has suffered most from shifting weather patterns and drought is the marshlands of the south, near the city of Basra.

Unique community

The marshlands, where the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers which flow through Iraq meet and divide into dozens of channels, formerly covered an area of more than 20,000 square kilometres and were once home to up to half a million people – widely referred to as Marsh Arabs – with a unique way of life.

In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein, the country’s former ruler, dammed and drained the marshes after tribespeople in the area backed an uprising against his regime. After Saddam was toppled, locals tore down the dams and dykes and brought life back to the region.

Now, once again, the dense channels and waterways of southern Iraq are under threat.

Cross-border impacts

Reductions in rainfall and other climate-related events are only one part of what is a disaster unfolding in one of the most diverse and ecologically rich areas in the Middle East.

Misuse of upriver water resources by the Baghdad government and dams constructed across the Iraqi border, in Iran and Turkey, are severely reducing water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates.

As water levels have plummeted, salinity has increased dramatically, particularly in the south of the country, due to evaporation and saltwater intrusion from the Gulf. Often, because of salinity and pollution, there is little or no drinkable tap water in Basra, a city of more than 2 million.

During the drought last summer, thousands were hospitalised with water-borne diseases.

Corruption threat

Buffaloes, bird life and fish are dying. Reeds and other plant life are being destroyed.

Several people have been killed as protests have erupted over government ineptitude and the lack of basic infrastructure and jobs in what is Iraq’s most oil-rich province.

The Working Group’s report says generally poor governance is exacerbating an already precarious set of circumstances. Civil unrest and terrorism could further destabilise the country.

Widespread corruption is a serious problem. “This factor severely reduces the Iraqi government’s capacity to address security risks and stabilisation strategies, including those relating to climate change”, says the report. − Climate News Network

China’s action on air quality is saving lives

air quality
air quality

Emissions control policies in China are rapidly proving effective in improving air quality and helping to increase life expectancy.

LONDON, 22 October, 2018 − Air quality in China has substantially improved over the last three years with a 20% reduction in small particulates, the most dangerous form of pollution that has been causing more than one million deaths a year.

The figures shows that Chinese government policies designed to improve air quality are working, and that life expectancy in the country will increase as a result.

The news is also good for climate change because the same policies mean less fossil fuel is being burned and fewer greenhouse gases released.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters by the University of Leeds in England, is based on air quality readings taken at 1,600 locations in China from 2015 to 2017.

Hourly assessments were made of concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), and fine particles measuring less than 2.5 thousandths of a millimetre (µm), known as PM2.5s.

Dangerous pollutant

Concentrations of PM 2.5s − the most dangerous pollutant − fell by 7.2% a year over the three-year period, and sulphur dioxide by 10.3%.

Low-level ozone, which is produced by sunlight acting on pollution, rose by 5% per year. This increase, which would have caused some extra irritation of the lungs, may have been the result of more sunlight reaching the ground.

Study co-author Professor Dominick Spracklen, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, says: “Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions have led to serious air quality issues across China.

“One of the most dangerous components of air pollution is fine particulate matter that measures less than the width of a human hair.

“These particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs, causing serious health complications. Exposure to these particles is estimated to cause more than 1 million deaths across China each year.

“In response, the Chinese government introduced policies to reduce emissions and set ambitious targets to limit the amount of particulates in the atmosphere. This is the first detailed assessment as to whether these policies are having an impact.”

“Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions
have led to serious air quality issues across China”

Ben Silver, study lead author and post-graduate researcher at Leeds, says: “Our work shows rapid and extensive changes in air pollution right across China. In particular, it is encouraging to see that levels of fine particulate matter have fallen rapidly in the last few years.

“While more research is needed to fully assess what is driving the trends we’ve uncovered here, particularly what is causing the widespread increase in ozone concentrations, we can see that China’s emissions control policies seem to be on the right track.”

Another study, published in Environment International, says that replacing fossil fuels with renewables in China and India will add years to people’s lives.

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences looked at the effect of air pollution on the life expectancy of 2.7 billion people who live in the two countries – more than a third of the world’s population.

Air pollution is one of the largest contributors to death in both countries. China is rated as the fourth most polluted country in the world, and India is ranked fifth.

The researchers found that eliminating harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants could annually save an estimated 15 million years of life in China and 11 million years of life in India.

Highest priority

Using local data from the worst-affected regions of the two countries, the researchers could calculate annual changes to life expectancy.

They were able to narrow down the areas of highest priority, recommending upgrades to the existing power generating technologies in Shandong, Henan and Sichuan provinces in China, and Uttar Pradesh state in India, due to their dominant contributions to the current health risks.

Chris Nielsen, executive director of the Harvard-China Project and a co-author of the paper, says: “This study shows how modelling advances and expanding monitoring networks are strengthening the scientific basis for setting environmental priorities to protect the health of ordinary Chinese and Indian citizens.

“It also drives home just how much middle-income countries could benefit by transitioning to non-fossil electricity sources as they grow.” − Climate News Network

Emissions control policies in China are rapidly proving effective in improving air quality and helping to increase life expectancy.

LONDON, 22 October, 2018 − Air quality in China has substantially improved over the last three years with a 20% reduction in small particulates, the most dangerous form of pollution that has been causing more than one million deaths a year.

The figures shows that Chinese government policies designed to improve air quality are working, and that life expectancy in the country will increase as a result.

The news is also good for climate change because the same policies mean less fossil fuel is being burned and fewer greenhouse gases released.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters by the University of Leeds in England, is based on air quality readings taken at 1,600 locations in China from 2015 to 2017.

Hourly assessments were made of concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), and fine particles measuring less than 2.5 thousandths of a millimetre (µm), known as PM2.5s.

Dangerous pollutant

Concentrations of PM 2.5s − the most dangerous pollutant − fell by 7.2% a year over the three-year period, and sulphur dioxide by 10.3%.

Low-level ozone, which is produced by sunlight acting on pollution, rose by 5% per year. This increase, which would have caused some extra irritation of the lungs, may have been the result of more sunlight reaching the ground.

Study co-author Professor Dominick Spracklen, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, says: “Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions have led to serious air quality issues across China.

“One of the most dangerous components of air pollution is fine particulate matter that measures less than the width of a human hair.

“These particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs, causing serious health complications. Exposure to these particles is estimated to cause more than 1 million deaths across China each year.

“In response, the Chinese government introduced policies to reduce emissions and set ambitious targets to limit the amount of particulates in the atmosphere. This is the first detailed assessment as to whether these policies are having an impact.”

“Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions
have led to serious air quality issues across China”

Ben Silver, study lead author and post-graduate researcher at Leeds, says: “Our work shows rapid and extensive changes in air pollution right across China. In particular, it is encouraging to see that levels of fine particulate matter have fallen rapidly in the last few years.

“While more research is needed to fully assess what is driving the trends we’ve uncovered here, particularly what is causing the widespread increase in ozone concentrations, we can see that China’s emissions control policies seem to be on the right track.”

Another study, published in Environment International, says that replacing fossil fuels with renewables in China and India will add years to people’s lives.

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences looked at the effect of air pollution on the life expectancy of 2.7 billion people who live in the two countries – more than a third of the world’s population.

Air pollution is one of the largest contributors to death in both countries. China is rated as the fourth most polluted country in the world, and India is ranked fifth.

The researchers found that eliminating harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants could annually save an estimated 15 million years of life in China and 11 million years of life in India.

Highest priority

Using local data from the worst-affected regions of the two countries, the researchers could calculate annual changes to life expectancy.

They were able to narrow down the areas of highest priority, recommending upgrades to the existing power generating technologies in Shandong, Henan and Sichuan provinces in China, and Uttar Pradesh state in India, due to their dominant contributions to the current health risks.

Chris Nielsen, executive director of the Harvard-China Project and a co-author of the paper, says: “This study shows how modelling advances and expanding monitoring networks are strengthening the scientific basis for setting environmental priorities to protect the health of ordinary Chinese and Indian citizens.

“It also drives home just how much middle-income countries could benefit by transitioning to non-fossil electricity sources as they grow.” − Climate News Network

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

Hotter planet faces more killer heat

The Earth can expect more killer heat, from lethal heat waves and more intense temperatures claiming more lives. Wildfires, too, will become more polluting.

LONDON, 25 September, 2018 – Once again, researchers have confirmed that limiting global warming will save lives by reducing the impact of killer heat.

An international team has checked predictions for heat-related deaths against some of the global average temperatures likely later this century, to issue this warning: it will be a safer world if temperatures creep up by only 1.5°C over historic levels. Fewer people will die in the ever more intense heat extremes that will go with average global temperature rises.

And a second, separate study of the impact of forest, bush and wildfires on human health has warned that – in the US alone – deaths linked to smoke could more than double, to perhaps 40,000 a year.

The world has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century: the limit of “well below 2°C” set by 195 nations when they met in Paris in 2015 looks increasingly close.

Scientists from Britain, Europe, Australia, the US, Brazil, Chile and China report in the journal Climatic Change that they looked at records for temperature-related deaths from 451 places in 23 countries and then projected likely deaths as global average temperatures rose by 1.5°C, and then up to 3°C and 4°C.

“Large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths”

They found that at the higher forecasts, hazards rose steeply: in the worst instances, by almost 9%.

Alarm about the impact of heat waves on human health is not new: in the last few years researchers have warned that by 2100, around 75% of humanity will be at some risk of death by heat extremes. Another group has measured suicide statistics and seen a rise with temperature extremes.

A third group has focused on the double hazard of ever greater heat and humidity, and a fourth has identified at least 27 different ways in which heat waves can claim lives.

So the latest study is separate confirmation, this time by medical scientists who need to know what to expect as the thermometer rises.

Limiting fatalities

“Our projections suggest that large increases in temperature-related deaths could be limited in most regions if warming was kept below 2°C,”explains Ana Maria Vicedo-Cabrera, who led the study.

“Under extreme changes in climate, large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths. Efforts to limit the increase in global temperature to below 1.5°C could provide additional benefits in tropical or arid regions, including the most populous and often poorest countries.”

With ever higher temperatures there will be ever more prolonged droughts, and inevitably greater risk of wildfire, and particularly in the US.

Right now, wildfires in the US claim an estimated 15,000 lives a year, chiefly through smoke inhalation that can worsen chronic pulmonary conditions, or hasten death in people with heart conditions.

By 2100, scientists report in the American Geophysical Union journal Geohealth, the death count in the contiguous US could reach 40,000 a year.

Particulate menace

The study recognizes that wildfire hazard has a number of causes and that climate change is only part of the story. But in the first six months of 2018, the US government’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded 37,718 fires that burned almost 20,000 square kilometres.

In 2017, wildfire fighting cost the US Forest Service a record $2.4bn. And each fire hurled high levels of particulate matter – soot and other detritus – into the atmosphere, and into a nation’s eyes and lungs.

“We know from our own research and many, many other groups that smoke has negative impacts on human health,” said Jeff Pierce, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, and one of the authors.

“With the knowledge that fires have been increasing in parts of the US, we wanted to look at how bad this might get.” – Climate News Network

The Earth can expect more killer heat, from lethal heat waves and more intense temperatures claiming more lives. Wildfires, too, will become more polluting.

LONDON, 25 September, 2018 – Once again, researchers have confirmed that limiting global warming will save lives by reducing the impact of killer heat.

An international team has checked predictions for heat-related deaths against some of the global average temperatures likely later this century, to issue this warning: it will be a safer world if temperatures creep up by only 1.5°C over historic levels. Fewer people will die in the ever more intense heat extremes that will go with average global temperature rises.

And a second, separate study of the impact of forest, bush and wildfires on human health has warned that – in the US alone – deaths linked to smoke could more than double, to perhaps 40,000 a year.

The world has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century: the limit of “well below 2°C” set by 195 nations when they met in Paris in 2015 looks increasingly close.

Scientists from Britain, Europe, Australia, the US, Brazil, Chile and China report in the journal Climatic Change that they looked at records for temperature-related deaths from 451 places in 23 countries and then projected likely deaths as global average temperatures rose by 1.5°C, and then up to 3°C and 4°C.

“Large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths”

They found that at the higher forecasts, hazards rose steeply: in the worst instances, by almost 9%.

Alarm about the impact of heat waves on human health is not new: in the last few years researchers have warned that by 2100, around 75% of humanity will be at some risk of death by heat extremes. Another group has measured suicide statistics and seen a rise with temperature extremes.

A third group has focused on the double hazard of ever greater heat and humidity, and a fourth has identified at least 27 different ways in which heat waves can claim lives.

So the latest study is separate confirmation, this time by medical scientists who need to know what to expect as the thermometer rises.

Limiting fatalities

“Our projections suggest that large increases in temperature-related deaths could be limited in most regions if warming was kept below 2°C,”explains Ana Maria Vicedo-Cabrera, who led the study.

“Under extreme changes in climate, large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths. Efforts to limit the increase in global temperature to below 1.5°C could provide additional benefits in tropical or arid regions, including the most populous and often poorest countries.”

With ever higher temperatures there will be ever more prolonged droughts, and inevitably greater risk of wildfire, and particularly in the US.

Right now, wildfires in the US claim an estimated 15,000 lives a year, chiefly through smoke inhalation that can worsen chronic pulmonary conditions, or hasten death in people with heart conditions.

By 2100, scientists report in the American Geophysical Union journal Geohealth, the death count in the contiguous US could reach 40,000 a year.

Particulate menace

The study recognizes that wildfire hazard has a number of causes and that climate change is only part of the story. But in the first six months of 2018, the US government’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded 37,718 fires that burned almost 20,000 square kilometres.

In 2017, wildfire fighting cost the US Forest Service a record $2.4bn. And each fire hurled high levels of particulate matter – soot and other detritus – into the atmosphere, and into a nation’s eyes and lungs.

“We know from our own research and many, many other groups that smoke has negative impacts on human health,” said Jeff Pierce, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, and one of the authors.

“With the knowledge that fires have been increasing in parts of the US, we wanted to look at how bad this might get.” – Climate News Network