Tag Archives: Pollution

Clean ships needed now to cut polluting emissions

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

“There must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target”

The shipping industry cannot wait for the arrival of new, low-carbon ships, says the study.

“Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, rather than rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions”, it says.

Shipping is the lifeline of world trade: tens of thousands of vessels crisscross the oceans each year, carrying between 80% and 90% of global goods traffic. At any one time about 90,000 vessels are at sea.

Most vessels – both trade and cruise ships − burn low-grade, polluting forms of fuel. These emit not only GHGs but large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates which are seriously damaging to health.

A 2018 report in the journal Nature Communications estimated that sulphur-rich shipping emissions account for up to a quarter of a million deaths and more than six million cases of childhood asthma around the world each year.

Sluggish action

The International Maritime Organization has set various climate change targets, including a reduction of at least 50% in GHG emissions by 2050, compared with levels in 2008.

There’s been little action so far. A report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, says shipping emissions – in both the transport and cruise ship sectors – have been largely unregulated and subject to very few financial penalties.

A review of the shipping sector by the analysis groups the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics says the industry is nowhere near reaching its targets and, on present projections, shipping emissions will continue rising.

“There is tremendous potential for the international shipping industry to decarbonise completely and reach zero emissions by 2050, yet there is very little sign of this sector moving anywhere near fast enough and certainly nowhere near a Paris Agreement pathway”, says Climate Analytics.

The University of Manchester/Tyndall Centre study highlights some of the ways ships can cut emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption, connecting to the local grid for electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures such as Flettner rotors to help propulsion.

Delay unaffordable

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis”, says James Mason, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre.

“We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

Shipping industry analysts say bringing about wholesale change in the sector is a formidable task. The industry is extremely diffuse, involving multiple countries, ship owners and transport companies, while overall governance is weak. − Climate News Network

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

“There must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target”

The shipping industry cannot wait for the arrival of new, low-carbon ships, says the study.

“Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, rather than rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions”, it says.

Shipping is the lifeline of world trade: tens of thousands of vessels crisscross the oceans each year, carrying between 80% and 90% of global goods traffic. At any one time about 90,000 vessels are at sea.

Most vessels – both trade and cruise ships − burn low-grade, polluting forms of fuel. These emit not only GHGs but large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates which are seriously damaging to health.

A 2018 report in the journal Nature Communications estimated that sulphur-rich shipping emissions account for up to a quarter of a million deaths and more than six million cases of childhood asthma around the world each year.

Sluggish action

The International Maritime Organization has set various climate change targets, including a reduction of at least 50% in GHG emissions by 2050, compared with levels in 2008.

There’s been little action so far. A report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, says shipping emissions – in both the transport and cruise ship sectors – have been largely unregulated and subject to very few financial penalties.

A review of the shipping sector by the analysis groups the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics says the industry is nowhere near reaching its targets and, on present projections, shipping emissions will continue rising.

“There is tremendous potential for the international shipping industry to decarbonise completely and reach zero emissions by 2050, yet there is very little sign of this sector moving anywhere near fast enough and certainly nowhere near a Paris Agreement pathway”, says Climate Analytics.

The University of Manchester/Tyndall Centre study highlights some of the ways ships can cut emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption, connecting to the local grid for electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures such as Flettner rotors to help propulsion.

Delay unaffordable

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis”, says James Mason, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre.

“We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

Shipping industry analysts say bringing about wholesale change in the sector is a formidable task. The industry is extremely diffuse, involving multiple countries, ship owners and transport companies, while overall governance is weak. − Climate News Network

Sport’s carbon footprint is global bad news

The result of sport’s carbon footprint is worldwide damage. And global heating is itself penalising players and fans alike.

LONDON, 22 June, 2020 − The amount of damage caused by global sport’s carbon footprint and the other forms of climate pollution sport produces matches the havoc resulting from the activities of entire countries, a new study by a British journalist says.

Emissions from global sport fuelling the climate emergency could, at the low end of estimates, equal those of a nation like Bolivia, but could reasonably also match those of nations like Spain or Poland, which consume much more fossil fuel.

But the climate crisis is in its turn exacting a heavy price from the sporting world. The study says that by 2050:

  • A quarter of English league football grounds will be at risk from flooding every season
  • One in three British Open golf courses will be damaged by rising sea levels
  • Globally, half of previous Winter Olympic cities will be unreliable as winter sports hosts.

The studyPlaying against the clock: Global sport, the climate emergency and the case for rapid change − was written by the British sports journalist David Goldblatt for the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). It warns that the climate emergency, already damaging, will have far more severe consequences for several individual sports.

“Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport over professional and global sport”

Climate change affects every aspect of human life, sport included. In 2019, the Rugby World Cup was disrupted by unprecedented Pacific typhoons; in early 2020, the Australian Tennis Open was disrupted by the smoke blowing in from the country’s devastating bush fires.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics had to move long-distance running events 600 miles north of Tokyo, as the city’s sweltering summer now makes them impossible to run there.

The impact on competitors can be severe. “Once you start hitting 33-35°C and you are playing sport, it’s all bad news”, the report says, “and there are going to be a lot more days like that in the global sporting calendar in the next few decades.” And that’s before allowing for the inevitable increase in humidity.

Few sports appear likely to remain immune: the study lists some of the ways in which football, cricket, tennis, athletics, motor racing and others will be hit, as well as possible threats to spectators and fans, many of whom will have travelled long distances to see the events.

Inertia prevails

The report suggests radical reforms for the rapid decarbonising of world sport, from committing every organisation to a carbon-zero plan by 2030, to ending sponsorship by fossil fuel interests. While it acknowledges the best and most innovative practice in sport’s environmental governance, it paints a stark picture of inaction.

In sporting parlance, the world is already deep into extra time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that we must deliver carbon reductions in the next decade if we are to mitigate the worst aspects of climate change. Dr Goldblatt believes global sport can offer visionary leadership on climate action.

One positive suggestion is this: “Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport (low carbon) over professional and global sport (high carbon).”

And he goes further: “Sport may be just big enough to register, in terms of carbon emissions, as a small nation state, or a single mega-city, but its own efforts are just a fraction of a percentage point of the world total”, he says.

“Yet few human practices offer such an extraordinarily large, global, and socially diverse constituency as those playing and following sport.

Hope for humanity

“Making a carbon-zero world the common sense priority of the sports world would make a huge contribution to making it the common sense priority of all politics.

“Sport, from the street to the stadium, generates hope … [and] a precious set of cultural treasures to hold in trust for the world. If global sport is ready to adopt and pursue really radical change in the field of climate action, it might be able to offer them, in all good faith, to humanity … and then you just never know.”

Andrew Simms, coordinator of the RTA, echoes that. He says: “Sport provides some of society’s most influential role models. If sport can change how it operates to act at the speed and scale necessary to halt the climate emergency, others will follow.

“If its players also speak out and say they believe clean air and a stable climate matter, millions more will see the possibilities for change. It will not only send a send a message of hope for the wider world, but it will help to guarantee a planet that is safe for sport.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

This report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance, which is kindly supported by the KR Foundation, and the report is backed by Play the Game. The climate is changing faster than we are and the Alliance is an international initiative asking how we can speed up responses. It is coordinated by a small group of people drawn from the New Weather Institute, the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, and the ESRC STEPS Centre at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) and the Institute of Development Studies, and with help from our friends, colleagues and supporters.

The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here. Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline. Thank you.

The result of sport’s carbon footprint is worldwide damage. And global heating is itself penalising players and fans alike.

LONDON, 22 June, 2020 − The amount of damage caused by global sport’s carbon footprint and the other forms of climate pollution sport produces matches the havoc resulting from the activities of entire countries, a new study by a British journalist says.

Emissions from global sport fuelling the climate emergency could, at the low end of estimates, equal those of a nation like Bolivia, but could reasonably also match those of nations like Spain or Poland, which consume much more fossil fuel.

But the climate crisis is in its turn exacting a heavy price from the sporting world. The study says that by 2050:

  • A quarter of English league football grounds will be at risk from flooding every season
  • One in three British Open golf courses will be damaged by rising sea levels
  • Globally, half of previous Winter Olympic cities will be unreliable as winter sports hosts.

The studyPlaying against the clock: Global sport, the climate emergency and the case for rapid change − was written by the British sports journalist David Goldblatt for the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). It warns that the climate emergency, already damaging, will have far more severe consequences for several individual sports.

“Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport over professional and global sport”

Climate change affects every aspect of human life, sport included. In 2019, the Rugby World Cup was disrupted by unprecedented Pacific typhoons; in early 2020, the Australian Tennis Open was disrupted by the smoke blowing in from the country’s devastating bush fires.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics had to move long-distance running events 600 miles north of Tokyo, as the city’s sweltering summer now makes them impossible to run there.

The impact on competitors can be severe. “Once you start hitting 33-35°C and you are playing sport, it’s all bad news”, the report says, “and there are going to be a lot more days like that in the global sporting calendar in the next few decades.” And that’s before allowing for the inevitable increase in humidity.

Few sports appear likely to remain immune: the study lists some of the ways in which football, cricket, tennis, athletics, motor racing and others will be hit, as well as possible threats to spectators and fans, many of whom will have travelled long distances to see the events.

Inertia prevails

The report suggests radical reforms for the rapid decarbonising of world sport, from committing every organisation to a carbon-zero plan by 2030, to ending sponsorship by fossil fuel interests. While it acknowledges the best and most innovative practice in sport’s environmental governance, it paints a stark picture of inaction.

In sporting parlance, the world is already deep into extra time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that we must deliver carbon reductions in the next decade if we are to mitigate the worst aspects of climate change. Dr Goldblatt believes global sport can offer visionary leadership on climate action.

One positive suggestion is this: “Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport (low carbon) over professional and global sport (high carbon).”

And he goes further: “Sport may be just big enough to register, in terms of carbon emissions, as a small nation state, or a single mega-city, but its own efforts are just a fraction of a percentage point of the world total”, he says.

“Yet few human practices offer such an extraordinarily large, global, and socially diverse constituency as those playing and following sport.

Hope for humanity

“Making a carbon-zero world the common sense priority of the sports world would make a huge contribution to making it the common sense priority of all politics.

“Sport, from the street to the stadium, generates hope … [and] a precious set of cultural treasures to hold in trust for the world. If global sport is ready to adopt and pursue really radical change in the field of climate action, it might be able to offer them, in all good faith, to humanity … and then you just never know.”

Andrew Simms, coordinator of the RTA, echoes that. He says: “Sport provides some of society’s most influential role models. If sport can change how it operates to act at the speed and scale necessary to halt the climate emergency, others will follow.

“If its players also speak out and say they believe clean air and a stable climate matter, millions more will see the possibilities for change. It will not only send a send a message of hope for the wider world, but it will help to guarantee a planet that is safe for sport.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

This report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance, which is kindly supported by the KR Foundation, and the report is backed by Play the Game. The climate is changing faster than we are and the Alliance is an international initiative asking how we can speed up responses. It is coordinated by a small group of people drawn from the New Weather Institute, the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, and the ESRC STEPS Centre at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) and the Institute of Development Studies, and with help from our friends, colleagues and supporters.

The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here. Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline. Thank you.

Siberia dries out as forests burn and climate heats

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

At last: a fair deal for our atomic love affair

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

The great coronavirus toilet tissue panic buy-up

In the UK and elsewhere, many people were preoccupied last March with toilet tissue. Could it help to slow climate change?

LONDON, 13 May, 2020 – What was on your mind two months ago: might it have been toilet tissue? For many Britons the answer is yes. It was when the United Kingdom began to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you welcome or condemn the action your government took in those uncertain days, in many countries the response was very similar: broad approval for the speed of the official reaction.

That sheer speed has even prompted some people to ask whether modern societies could act as fast to protect themselves, not only against another pandemic, but against a possible comparable global threat. Climate change, perhaps?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

The Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

Taken for granted

So we can. But the introduction of lockdown and similar measures brought an example (and not only in the UK) of very quick changes in daily habits which suggested they might not help exactly as the RTA hopes in the case of the climate crisis. There was an outbreak of panic buying of supposedly staple goods – including toilet tissue.

What the run on loo rolls did achieve, as the RTA points out in its delicately-worded treatment of it, was to remind many people in relatively wealthy countries not to take for granted some familiar aspects of daily life. It illuminated the rapid but unfinished global progress towards universal access to safe water and sanitation.

In fact supplies of toilet paper hadn’t altered. It was an artificial shortage created by the suddenly changed behaviour of people buying far more than they really needed: anything from 50 to 100 rolls of paper are used in US toilets annually, without pandemic pressures.

But sewage systems, clean water and efficient drainage are constant  development priorities across the world, and today they are centre stage in climate emergency planning.

“For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and not places of privacy or sanctuary”

The future will include more flooding, heatwaves and heavier summer rainfall, which will hit hardest places that are already low-lying or on reclaimed land, or on coasts.

Diseases that thrive in these conditions – diarrhoea, malaria, leptospirosis, for example – are expected to worsen. In Mumbai slum dwellers ironically say during the monsoon: “There’s water everywhere, except in the taps.”

The profit-led colonial system left behind in India a patchwork of supply and disposal, with the city’s vast slum areas mostly unserved, and subject to flooding which in 2005 killed over 900 people.

There have been improvements to sanitation globally since 2000, thanks to the UN’s Millennium Goals. The numbers of people using safe sanitation increased from 28% in 2000 to 45% in 2017. During that time 2.1 billion people gained access to at least basic services and the number practising open-air defecation halved, from 1.3 billion to 673 million – still a huge number.

Many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed. But Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which began in rural Bangladesh in 2000, has worked by focusing on helping people to change their behaviour.

Making the links

By raising awareness of the links between open defecation and disease, CLTS encourages local people to analyse their situation and then act. Typically, its facilitators help communities to carry out their own appraisal  of community sanitation.

This usually leads them to recognise the volume of human waste they generate and how open defecation means they are likely to be ingesting one another’s faeces. In turn, this can prompt them to act by building latrines without waiting for external support.

For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and certainly not places of privacy or sanctuary.

In 2015 2.3bn people still lacked even a basic sanitation service. An estimated 4 in 10 households globally still do not have soap and water on the premises, and half of all schools lack hand-washing facilities. For a sizeable minority – and in particular for women – the daily trip to relieve themselves can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

The production of toilet tissue for use in the global North raises serious environmental issues, including destruction of woodland, the wasteful use of water and energy, and chemicals for processing.

Bamboo alternative

This is still a message unheard by most people. The Australian company Who Gives A Crap supplies recycled or bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the global South. But it is a rarity. Analysis from the UK’s Ethical Consumer magazine found in 2019 that major brands were using less recycled paper than they had in 2011.

Climate change? How’s that mixed up in toilet tissue? Does a sudden bout of panic buying help anyone to cut their carbon footprint? It sounds far-fetched.

There’s a gulf between the strains of social lockdown caused by a pandemic and the daring required for an economic change of direction demanded by impending climate catastrophe. And somehow we recognised the pandemic threat, but still fail to recognise the climate mayhem about to overtake us.

But if making the connection adds urgency to the quest for better sanitation, that will bring better health, less poverty and a world whose population stays within slimmer bounds.

And emptying the supermarket shelves of loo rolls two months ago showed how determined if misguided action could achieve very fast results. That could work wonders for slowing greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

In the UK and elsewhere, many people were preoccupied last March with toilet tissue. Could it help to slow climate change?

LONDON, 13 May, 2020 – What was on your mind two months ago: might it have been toilet tissue? For many Britons the answer is yes. It was when the United Kingdom began to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you welcome or condemn the action your government took in those uncertain days, in many countries the response was very similar: broad approval for the speed of the official reaction.

That sheer speed has even prompted some people to ask whether modern societies could act as fast to protect themselves, not only against another pandemic, but against a possible comparable global threat. Climate change, perhaps?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

The Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

Taken for granted

So we can. But the introduction of lockdown and similar measures brought an example (and not only in the UK) of very quick changes in daily habits which suggested they might not help exactly as the RTA hopes in the case of the climate crisis. There was an outbreak of panic buying of supposedly staple goods – including toilet tissue.

What the run on loo rolls did achieve, as the RTA points out in its delicately-worded treatment of it, was to remind many people in relatively wealthy countries not to take for granted some familiar aspects of daily life. It illuminated the rapid but unfinished global progress towards universal access to safe water and sanitation.

In fact supplies of toilet paper hadn’t altered. It was an artificial shortage created by the suddenly changed behaviour of people buying far more than they really needed: anything from 50 to 100 rolls of paper are used in US toilets annually, without pandemic pressures.

But sewage systems, clean water and efficient drainage are constant  development priorities across the world, and today they are centre stage in climate emergency planning.

“For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and not places of privacy or sanctuary”

The future will include more flooding, heatwaves and heavier summer rainfall, which will hit hardest places that are already low-lying or on reclaimed land, or on coasts.

Diseases that thrive in these conditions – diarrhoea, malaria, leptospirosis, for example – are expected to worsen. In Mumbai slum dwellers ironically say during the monsoon: “There’s water everywhere, except in the taps.”

The profit-led colonial system left behind in India a patchwork of supply and disposal, with the city’s vast slum areas mostly unserved, and subject to flooding which in 2005 killed over 900 people.

There have been improvements to sanitation globally since 2000, thanks to the UN’s Millennium Goals. The numbers of people using safe sanitation increased from 28% in 2000 to 45% in 2017. During that time 2.1 billion people gained access to at least basic services and the number practising open-air defecation halved, from 1.3 billion to 673 million – still a huge number.

Many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed. But Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which began in rural Bangladesh in 2000, has worked by focusing on helping people to change their behaviour.

Making the links

By raising awareness of the links between open defecation and disease, CLTS encourages local people to analyse their situation and then act. Typically, its facilitators help communities to carry out their own appraisal  of community sanitation.

This usually leads them to recognise the volume of human waste they generate and how open defecation means they are likely to be ingesting one another’s faeces. In turn, this can prompt them to act by building latrines without waiting for external support.

For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and certainly not places of privacy or sanctuary.

In 2015 2.3bn people still lacked even a basic sanitation service. An estimated 4 in 10 households globally still do not have soap and water on the premises, and half of all schools lack hand-washing facilities. For a sizeable minority – and in particular for women – the daily trip to relieve themselves can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

The production of toilet tissue for use in the global North raises serious environmental issues, including destruction of woodland, the wasteful use of water and energy, and chemicals for processing.

Bamboo alternative

This is still a message unheard by most people. The Australian company Who Gives A Crap supplies recycled or bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the global South. But it is a rarity. Analysis from the UK’s Ethical Consumer magazine found in 2019 that major brands were using less recycled paper than they had in 2011.

Climate change? How’s that mixed up in toilet tissue? Does a sudden bout of panic buying help anyone to cut their carbon footprint? It sounds far-fetched.

There’s a gulf between the strains of social lockdown caused by a pandemic and the daring required for an economic change of direction demanded by impending climate catastrophe. And somehow we recognised the pandemic threat, but still fail to recognise the climate mayhem about to overtake us.

But if making the connection adds urgency to the quest for better sanitation, that will bring better health, less poverty and a world whose population stays within slimmer bounds.

And emptying the supermarket shelves of loo rolls two months ago showed how determined if misguided action could achieve very fast results. That could work wonders for slowing greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Plastic waste now litters Antarctic shore

From the deep Mediterranean marine mud to the desolate beaches of the Southern Ocean, plastic waste now gets everywhere.

LONDON, 12 May, 2020 – The throwaway society now has a global reach. British and German scientists have found astonishing concentrations of plastic waste in the form of tiny fibres on the sea floor. In just one square metre of marine ooze, they have counted as many as 1.9 million fragments less than a millimetre in length.

And two studies have identified sickening levels of plastic waste in the Southern Ocean that washes around Antarctica. One team reports ever greater counts of debris on the beaches of islands in South Georgia and South Orkney; the other on the increasing quantities ingested by the wandering albatross and the giant petrel, two iconic birds of the south polar seas.

An estimated 10 million tonnes of discarded food wrapping, drinking straws, disposable cups, bottles, carrier bags and fishing gear are tipped into the sea each year: plastic waste has now been found in all the world’s oceans, and even in the polar ice, an indestructible reminder of human impact on the natural world.

Tiny textile particles or microfibres of plastic have been found in every sampled litre of sea water, in the stomachs of seabirds and in the bellies of whales.

In fact the visible debris – the polystyrene cups and drinking straws and carrier bags floating on or near the surface – is thought to account for a tiny proportion of the total. Around 99% is thought to be in the deep oceans.

“Microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas”

And researchers now report in the journal Science that they have found an indicator as to the final fate of most of it. They collected sediment at depths of up to 900 metres from the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the Italian peninsula and began counting the particles of indestructible polymer material in the marine mud, carried there by deep ocean currents.

“Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ‘garbage patches’ of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found on the sea floor,” said Ian Kane of the University of Manchester, in the UK, one of the authors.

“We discovered that microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas.”

These same deep currents also carry oxygen-rich water and nutrients, which suggests that toxic microplastics are being carried into vital deep ecosystems. But the surface-borne debris has far-reaching consequences too.

Remedial efforts

British and Australian scientists who made surveys over three decades of beached plastic, metal, glass, paper and rubber at locations in the Southern Ocean report in the journal Environment International that between 1989 and March 2019, they recovered 10,112 items of waste weighing in total more than 100kg from Bird Island off South Georgia, and 1,304 items weighing in all 268 kg from the remote shores of Signy Island in the South Orkney archipelago.

Almost 90% of the total was plastic. The peak of the debris count was in the 1990s, which suggests that some attempts have been made to reduce the levels discarded from shipping and other sources.

And a second study in the same journal reports that in the same 30 years, levels of plastic pollution had been consumed in increasing quantities by two out of three species of albatross, and another sea bird.

Annual intake in Diomedea exulans, the wandering albatross, had increased 14-fold, and in the giant petrel Macronectes giganteus the intake had increased six-fold.

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that fishing and other vessels make a major contribution to plastic pollution,” said Richard Phillips of the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s clear that marine plastics are a threat to seabirds and other wildlife, and more needs to be done.” – Climate News Network

From the deep Mediterranean marine mud to the desolate beaches of the Southern Ocean, plastic waste now gets everywhere.

LONDON, 12 May, 2020 – The throwaway society now has a global reach. British and German scientists have found astonishing concentrations of plastic waste in the form of tiny fibres on the sea floor. In just one square metre of marine ooze, they have counted as many as 1.9 million fragments less than a millimetre in length.

And two studies have identified sickening levels of plastic waste in the Southern Ocean that washes around Antarctica. One team reports ever greater counts of debris on the beaches of islands in South Georgia and South Orkney; the other on the increasing quantities ingested by the wandering albatross and the giant petrel, two iconic birds of the south polar seas.

An estimated 10 million tonnes of discarded food wrapping, drinking straws, disposable cups, bottles, carrier bags and fishing gear are tipped into the sea each year: plastic waste has now been found in all the world’s oceans, and even in the polar ice, an indestructible reminder of human impact on the natural world.

Tiny textile particles or microfibres of plastic have been found in every sampled litre of sea water, in the stomachs of seabirds and in the bellies of whales.

In fact the visible debris – the polystyrene cups and drinking straws and carrier bags floating on or near the surface – is thought to account for a tiny proportion of the total. Around 99% is thought to be in the deep oceans.

“Microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas”

And researchers now report in the journal Science that they have found an indicator as to the final fate of most of it. They collected sediment at depths of up to 900 metres from the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the Italian peninsula and began counting the particles of indestructible polymer material in the marine mud, carried there by deep ocean currents.

“Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ‘garbage patches’ of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found on the sea floor,” said Ian Kane of the University of Manchester, in the UK, one of the authors.

“We discovered that microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas.”

These same deep currents also carry oxygen-rich water and nutrients, which suggests that toxic microplastics are being carried into vital deep ecosystems. But the surface-borne debris has far-reaching consequences too.

Remedial efforts

British and Australian scientists who made surveys over three decades of beached plastic, metal, glass, paper and rubber at locations in the Southern Ocean report in the journal Environment International that between 1989 and March 2019, they recovered 10,112 items of waste weighing in total more than 100kg from Bird Island off South Georgia, and 1,304 items weighing in all 268 kg from the remote shores of Signy Island in the South Orkney archipelago.

Almost 90% of the total was plastic. The peak of the debris count was in the 1990s, which suggests that some attempts have been made to reduce the levels discarded from shipping and other sources.

And a second study in the same journal reports that in the same 30 years, levels of plastic pollution had been consumed in increasing quantities by two out of three species of albatross, and another sea bird.

Annual intake in Diomedea exulans, the wandering albatross, had increased 14-fold, and in the giant petrel Macronectes giganteus the intake had increased six-fold.

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that fishing and other vessels make a major contribution to plastic pollution,” said Richard Phillips of the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s clear that marine plastics are a threat to seabirds and other wildlife, and more needs to be done.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide pollution dulls the brain

Carbon dioxide pollution slows our thinking. It could get bad enough to stop some of us thinking our way out of danger.

LONDON, 27 April, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then tomorrow’s children in badly-ventilated classrooms or workers in crowded offices could find their wits dulled: the predicted concentrations of carbon dioxide pollution by 2100 could reduce the ability to make decisions by 25%, and cut the capacity for complex strategic thinking by as much as half.

That is, global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t just be bad for the planet and its oceans: it would also make Homo sapiens measurably less sapient.

Although outdoor CO2 levels could more than triple – and at 930 parts per million (ppm), this would be far higher than humans have ever experienced – concentrations in enclosed spaces could rise much higher.

Research on seamen aboard submarines and in astronaut tests have confirmed that CO2 builds up in confined spaces, to limit the supply of oxygen to the brain. As this happens, people in such conditions have problems responding to any stimulus or even recognising a threat.

City atmospheres normally have higher carbon dioxide concentrations than in the countryside. And in poorly-ventilated city buildings, higher carbon dioxide levels could begin to limit human potential.

Direct effect

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces,” said Kris Karnauskas, of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the author of a new study in the journal Geohealth.

“It affects everybody – from little kids packed into classrooms to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments.”

Other researchers have repeatedly warned that any steps to reduce emissions would more than pay off in terms of advancing human health and wealth, and that conversely expanding fossil fuel emissions could only increase damaging atmospheric pollution, along with potentially life-threatening extremes of summer heat.

But these are indirect effects of carbon dioxide concentration: Dr Karnauskas and his colleagues were more interested in a direct effect.

They report that they looked simply at climate scenarios, including the notorious business-as-usual prediction in which humans go on destroying forests, burning coal and oil, and making cement to build ever-expanding cities.

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces. It affects everybody – from little kids to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments”

In this scenario, carbon dioxide concentrations – at around 280 ppm for most of human history, but already past the 400ppm mark – will rise to 930ppm by the end of the century.

If that happens, then indoor concentrations could quickly reach 1400ppm. And this could, on some research findings, begin to compromise what psychologists call high-level cognitive domains. So basic decision-making ability could falter by a quarter, and concentration on complex problems by 50%.

Quite literally, carbon dioxide build-up could reduce the capacity to think clearly. Such an outcome is far from certain, and the Geohealth researchers recognise this.

“This is a complex problem, and our study is at the beginning,” said Dr Karnauskas. “It’s not just a matter of predicting global outdoor CO2 levels. It’s going from global background emissions, to concentrations in the urban environment, to the indoor concentrations and finally the resulting human impact.

“We need even broader, interdisciplinary teams of researchers to explore this.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide pollution slows our thinking. It could get bad enough to stop some of us thinking our way out of danger.

LONDON, 27 April, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then tomorrow’s children in badly-ventilated classrooms or workers in crowded offices could find their wits dulled: the predicted concentrations of carbon dioxide pollution by 2100 could reduce the ability to make decisions by 25%, and cut the capacity for complex strategic thinking by as much as half.

That is, global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t just be bad for the planet and its oceans: it would also make Homo sapiens measurably less sapient.

Although outdoor CO2 levels could more than triple – and at 930 parts per million (ppm), this would be far higher than humans have ever experienced – concentrations in enclosed spaces could rise much higher.

Research on seamen aboard submarines and in astronaut tests have confirmed that CO2 builds up in confined spaces, to limit the supply of oxygen to the brain. As this happens, people in such conditions have problems responding to any stimulus or even recognising a threat.

City atmospheres normally have higher carbon dioxide concentrations than in the countryside. And in poorly-ventilated city buildings, higher carbon dioxide levels could begin to limit human potential.

Direct effect

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces,” said Kris Karnauskas, of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the author of a new study in the journal Geohealth.

“It affects everybody – from little kids packed into classrooms to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments.”

Other researchers have repeatedly warned that any steps to reduce emissions would more than pay off in terms of advancing human health and wealth, and that conversely expanding fossil fuel emissions could only increase damaging atmospheric pollution, along with potentially life-threatening extremes of summer heat.

But these are indirect effects of carbon dioxide concentration: Dr Karnauskas and his colleagues were more interested in a direct effect.

They report that they looked simply at climate scenarios, including the notorious business-as-usual prediction in which humans go on destroying forests, burning coal and oil, and making cement to build ever-expanding cities.

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces. It affects everybody – from little kids to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments”

In this scenario, carbon dioxide concentrations – at around 280 ppm for most of human history, but already past the 400ppm mark – will rise to 930ppm by the end of the century.

If that happens, then indoor concentrations could quickly reach 1400ppm. And this could, on some research findings, begin to compromise what psychologists call high-level cognitive domains. So basic decision-making ability could falter by a quarter, and concentration on complex problems by 50%.

Quite literally, carbon dioxide build-up could reduce the capacity to think clearly. Such an outcome is far from certain, and the Geohealth researchers recognise this.

“This is a complex problem, and our study is at the beginning,” said Dr Karnauskas. “It’s not just a matter of predicting global outdoor CO2 levels. It’s going from global background emissions, to concentrations in the urban environment, to the indoor concentrations and finally the resulting human impact.

“We need even broader, interdisciplinary teams of researchers to explore this.” – Climate News Network

It’s a galloping goodbye to Europe’s coal

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

Europe’s coal has powered it for centuries. But with gathering speed it is now turning its back on the fuel.

LONDON, 26 April, 2020 – The energy that has powered a continent for several hundred years, driving its industry, fighting its wars and keeping its people warm, is on the way out, fast: Europe’s coal is in rapid decline.

Coal is far and away the most polluting of fossil fuels and is a major factor in the build-up of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But, according to a recent report by two of Europe’s leading energy analyst groups, the use of coal for power generation among the 27 countries of the European Union fell by a record 24% last year.

The report, by the Germany-based Agora Energiewende group and Ember, an independent London climate think-tank focused on speeding up the global electricity transition, will make stark reading for Europe’s coal lobbyists.

Renewables are on the rise across most of Europe, while coal use is in sharp decline. In 2019 wind and solar power together accounted for 18% of the EU’s power generation, while coal produced 15%. That’s the first time renewables have trumped coal in Europe’s energy generation mix.

“Europe is leading the world on rapidly replacing coal generation with wind and solar and, as a result, power sector CO2 emissions have never fallen so quickly”, says Dave Jones, an electricity specialist at Ember.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too.”

Total phase-out soon

The report says that greenhouse gas emissions from the EU’s power sector have fallen by more than 30% since 2012, with a year-on-year drop of 12% in 2019.

A number of European countries have already said goodbye to coal. In 2016 Belgium closed its last coal-fired energy plant. In April this year both Austria and Sweden followed suit.

The report highlights the way in which many EU countries have sharply reduced coal use in recent years: most plan to totally eliminate it as an energy source in the near future.

Eight years ago more than 30% of the power generated in the UK came from coal-fired power plants. Last year only 2% of power was derived from coal. The UK plans to stop using it for energy generation in four years’ time.

Germany has traditionally been one of the EU’s biggest coal users. In 2013 coal fuelled 45% of the country’s power generation: last year that figure fell to 28%.

Germany says it will eliminate coal from its power mix by 2038, though government critics say this is not nearly fast enough to meet EU-wide emission reduction targets.

A number of factors are behind coal’s decline. Economics has played a big role.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too”

In the wake of the 2008 financial crash industrial activity slowed and Europe’s coal use dropped.

The power sector became more efficient: although in recent years – before the Covid-19 pandemic – industrial activity picked up, the EU’s total electricity consumption was 4% lower in 2019 than a decade earlier.

Falling installation and operating costs for solar and wind power plants have resulted in renewable energy becoming ever more competitive: the price of natural gas – a less polluting fossil fuel than coal – has also been declining, while reforms in the European carbon trading scheme resulting in higher charges being levied on polluters have driven up the cost of coal.

All is not clean air and clear blue skies in Europe, however. Coal is still a significant source of power in Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. And while Germany has reduced its reliance on coal, it still burns large amounts of lignite or brown coal, the dirtiest form of the fuel.

Pollution and climate change do not recognise borders. Many states surrounding the EU are still reliant on coal and have plans for expanding coal-fired power plants.

China is helping Serbia to expand its coal-fired power capacity. Kosovo, which has some of the biggest reserves of lignite in the world, is also building more coal-fired power plants.

The World Bank says Kosovo has some of the worst air pollution in Europe, with emissions from its lignite-fuelled power stations causing many premature deaths each year. – Climate News Network

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

Europe’s coal has powered it for centuries. But with gathering speed it is now turning its back on the fuel.

LONDON, 26 April, 2020 – The energy that has powered a continent for several hundred years, driving its industry, fighting its wars and keeping its people warm, is on the way out, fast: Europe’s coal is in rapid decline.

Coal is far and away the most polluting of fossil fuels and is a major factor in the build-up of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But, according to a recent report by two of Europe’s leading energy analyst groups, the use of coal for power generation among the 27 countries of the European Union fell by a record 24% last year.

The report, by the Germany-based Agora Energiewende group and Ember, an independent London climate think-tank focused on speeding up the global electricity transition, will make stark reading for Europe’s coal lobbyists.

Renewables are on the rise across most of Europe, while coal use is in sharp decline. In 2019 wind and solar power together accounted for 18% of the EU’s power generation, while coal produced 15%. That’s the first time renewables have trumped coal in Europe’s energy generation mix.

“Europe is leading the world on rapidly replacing coal generation with wind and solar and, as a result, power sector CO2 emissions have never fallen so quickly”, says Dave Jones, an electricity specialist at Ember.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too.”

Total phase-out soon

The report says that greenhouse gas emissions from the EU’s power sector have fallen by more than 30% since 2012, with a year-on-year drop of 12% in 2019.

A number of European countries have already said goodbye to coal. In 2016 Belgium closed its last coal-fired energy plant. In April this year both Austria and Sweden followed suit.

The report highlights the way in which many EU countries have sharply reduced coal use in recent years: most plan to totally eliminate it as an energy source in the near future.

Eight years ago more than 30% of the power generated in the UK came from coal-fired power plants. Last year only 2% of power was derived from coal. The UK plans to stop using it for energy generation in four years’ time.

Germany has traditionally been one of the EU’s biggest coal users. In 2013 coal fuelled 45% of the country’s power generation: last year that figure fell to 28%.

Germany says it will eliminate coal from its power mix by 2038, though government critics say this is not nearly fast enough to meet EU-wide emission reduction targets.

A number of factors are behind coal’s decline. Economics has played a big role.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too”

In the wake of the 2008 financial crash industrial activity slowed and Europe’s coal use dropped.

The power sector became more efficient: although in recent years – before the Covid-19 pandemic – industrial activity picked up, the EU’s total electricity consumption was 4% lower in 2019 than a decade earlier.

Falling installation and operating costs for solar and wind power plants have resulted in renewable energy becoming ever more competitive: the price of natural gas – a less polluting fossil fuel than coal – has also been declining, while reforms in the European carbon trading scheme resulting in higher charges being levied on polluters have driven up the cost of coal.

All is not clean air and clear blue skies in Europe, however. Coal is still a significant source of power in Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. And while Germany has reduced its reliance on coal, it still burns large amounts of lignite or brown coal, the dirtiest form of the fuel.

Pollution and climate change do not recognise borders. Many states surrounding the EU are still reliant on coal and have plans for expanding coal-fired power plants.

China is helping Serbia to expand its coal-fired power capacity. Kosovo, which has some of the biggest reserves of lignite in the world, is also building more coal-fired power plants.

The World Bank says Kosovo has some of the worst air pollution in Europe, with emissions from its lignite-fuelled power stations causing many premature deaths each year. – Climate News Network

Covid-19 severity ‘linked to higher air pollution’

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Scientists in the UK say they have found evidence suggesting air pollution levels in England are linked to Covid-19 severity.

LONDON, 21 April, 2020 − In research which could, if confirmed by further studies, have fundamental implications not only for health but also for the climate crisis, scientists at the University of Cambridge say they have found an association between living in parts of England with high levels of air pollution and Covid-19 severity.

Because of the urgent need to share information relating to the pandemic, the researchers say, they have decided to publish their report on medRxiv, the preprint server for health sciences, even though it has not yet been peer-reviewed. However, they say, this preliminary data is supported by that from other countries.

The initial symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, but do not always include breathing difficulties. But, the researchers point out, some patients do go on to develop very serious respiratory problems. Although most experience only mild illness, around a quarter of patients admitted to hospital need intensive care treatment because of viral pneumonia with respiratory complications.

Research suggests that this probably stems from an overactive immune response, they say − but it is not clear why some patients are at greater risk of severe disease.

Previous studies have suggested that people over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer, are at highest risk of severe disease or death.

Long-term exposure to air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and ground-level ozone from car exhaust fumes or burning fossil fuels is a known risk factor for these health conditions.

Higher infection risk

Such pollutants can also cause a persistent inflammatory response and increase the risk of infection by viruses that target the respiratory tract.

In this study the researchers, from the Medical Research Council toxicology unit at Cambridge, report an association between certain air pollutants and Covid-19 in several parts of England.

They analysed the data on total Covid-19 cases and deaths, against the levels of three major air pollutants, collected during 2018 and 2019, when no Covid-19 case had been reported.

Their study used publicly available data from seven regions in England, where a minimum of 2,000 coronavirus infections and 200 deaths have been reported from from February to 8 April 2020.

The largest number of Covid deaths in England has been recorded across London and the Midlands; previous studies have shown that the annual average of nitrogen dioxide concentrations are largest in these two regions, both of which have heavy levels of traffic and industrial concentrations.

When the team compared the annual average of daily nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels to the total number of Covid-19 cases in each region, they found a positive correlation – in other words, the higher the pollutant levels, the greater the number of cases and deaths.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond”

Both pollutants result from a chemical reaction between nitrogen and oxygen during the combustion of fossil fuels, and so they represent a significant source of air pollution in areas with high road traffic.

Marco Travaglio, a PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, said: “Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England.

“London, the Midlands and the northwest [of England] show the largest concentration of these air pollutants, with southern regions displaying the lowest levels in the country, and the number of Covid-19 deaths follows a similar trend.”

The team found a negative association between ambient ground levels of ozone and the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in each region – in other words, reduced ozone levels are associated with a greater number of cases and deaths.

Ozone is a secondary by-product of traffic-related air pollution and is generated through sunlight-driven reactions between motor-vehicle emissions and volatile organic compounds. The lowest levels of ozone were found in highly urbanised regions, such as London or the Midlands.

This is likely to be due to the highly reactive nature of ozone, which results in the gas being converted to other chemicals, a phenomenon previously reported for areas of heavy traffic.

Supporting data

Dr Miguel Martins, senior author of the study, said: “Our study adds to growing evidence from northern Italy and the USA that high levels of air pollution are linked to deadlier cases of Covid-19.

“This is something we saw during the previous SARS outbreak back in 2003, where long-term exposure to air pollutants had a detrimental effect on the prognosis of SARS patients in China.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.”

The researchers say their findings show only a correlation, and that further research is needed to confirm that air pollution makes Covid-19 worse.

So their research is suitably tentative and will rightly be treated with caution by other scientists. It does however pose a range of questions, which include:

•are the UK’s air pollution standards adequate?

•what can be done to protect children, the elderly and other specially vulnerable people?

•what further protection is available for everyone who lives in areas with toxic air?

•what are the implications for climate and energy policy?

•what are the geopolitical implications of the suggested Covid-19/air pollution association?

Few of these preliminary questions are likely to receive an immediate answer. − Climate News Network

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Scientists in the UK say they have found evidence suggesting air pollution levels in England are linked to Covid-19 severity.

LONDON, 21 April, 2020 − In research which could, if confirmed by further studies, have fundamental implications not only for health but also for the climate crisis, scientists at the University of Cambridge say they have found an association between living in parts of England with high levels of air pollution and Covid-19 severity.

Because of the urgent need to share information relating to the pandemic, the researchers say, they have decided to publish their report on medRxiv, the preprint server for health sciences, even though it has not yet been peer-reviewed. However, they say, this preliminary data is supported by that from other countries.

The initial symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, but do not always include breathing difficulties. But, the researchers point out, some patients do go on to develop very serious respiratory problems. Although most experience only mild illness, around a quarter of patients admitted to hospital need intensive care treatment because of viral pneumonia with respiratory complications.

Research suggests that this probably stems from an overactive immune response, they say − but it is not clear why some patients are at greater risk of severe disease.

Previous studies have suggested that people over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer, are at highest risk of severe disease or death.

Long-term exposure to air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and ground-level ozone from car exhaust fumes or burning fossil fuels is a known risk factor for these health conditions.

Higher infection risk

Such pollutants can also cause a persistent inflammatory response and increase the risk of infection by viruses that target the respiratory tract.

In this study the researchers, from the Medical Research Council toxicology unit at Cambridge, report an association between certain air pollutants and Covid-19 in several parts of England.

They analysed the data on total Covid-19 cases and deaths, against the levels of three major air pollutants, collected during 2018 and 2019, when no Covid-19 case had been reported.

Their study used publicly available data from seven regions in England, where a minimum of 2,000 coronavirus infections and 200 deaths have been reported from from February to 8 April 2020.

The largest number of Covid deaths in England has been recorded across London and the Midlands; previous studies have shown that the annual average of nitrogen dioxide concentrations are largest in these two regions, both of which have heavy levels of traffic and industrial concentrations.

When the team compared the annual average of daily nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels to the total number of Covid-19 cases in each region, they found a positive correlation – in other words, the higher the pollutant levels, the greater the number of cases and deaths.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond”

Both pollutants result from a chemical reaction between nitrogen and oxygen during the combustion of fossil fuels, and so they represent a significant source of air pollution in areas with high road traffic.

Marco Travaglio, a PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, said: “Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England.

“London, the Midlands and the northwest [of England] show the largest concentration of these air pollutants, with southern regions displaying the lowest levels in the country, and the number of Covid-19 deaths follows a similar trend.”

The team found a negative association between ambient ground levels of ozone and the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in each region – in other words, reduced ozone levels are associated with a greater number of cases and deaths.

Ozone is a secondary by-product of traffic-related air pollution and is generated through sunlight-driven reactions between motor-vehicle emissions and volatile organic compounds. The lowest levels of ozone were found in highly urbanised regions, such as London or the Midlands.

This is likely to be due to the highly reactive nature of ozone, which results in the gas being converted to other chemicals, a phenomenon previously reported for areas of heavy traffic.

Supporting data

Dr Miguel Martins, senior author of the study, said: “Our study adds to growing evidence from northern Italy and the USA that high levels of air pollution are linked to deadlier cases of Covid-19.

“This is something we saw during the previous SARS outbreak back in 2003, where long-term exposure to air pollutants had a detrimental effect on the prognosis of SARS patients in China.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.”

The researchers say their findings show only a correlation, and that further research is needed to confirm that air pollution makes Covid-19 worse.

So their research is suitably tentative and will rightly be treated with caution by other scientists. It does however pose a range of questions, which include:

•are the UK’s air pollution standards adequate?

•what can be done to protect children, the elderly and other specially vulnerable people?

•what further protection is available for everyone who lives in areas with toxic air?

•what are the implications for climate and energy policy?

•what are the geopolitical implications of the suggested Covid-19/air pollution association?

Few of these preliminary questions are likely to receive an immediate answer. − Climate News Network

US coal economics make little sense

US coal economics? They’re odd. The dirtiest fossil fuel generates ever less American electricity, yet energy policy is unchanged.

LONDON, 13 April, 2020 – If you want a simple and satisfying job, you’d probably better avoid one which involves working in US coal economics. They’ve become fairly mystifying.

It was one of the key images in the run-up to the US 2016 election – Donald Trump in a hard hat telling miners that the coal industry would make a comeback under his leadership.

“We’re gonna put the miners back to work”, said Trump. “We’re gonna get those mines open.”

In practice, the opposite has happened.

Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and the source of a large proportion of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Since Trump came to office in January 2017, US coal plants have been closing at a near-record pace.

Steep fall

Last year alone, coal-fired power plants in the US generating a total of more than 15,000 MWs of power – enough to feed the energy demand of 15 million American homes – were either closed or converted to burn other, less polluting power sources.

At the end of 2019 several of the US’s biggest coal plants – including the giant Navajo generating station in Arizona, the Bruce Mansfield plant in Pennsylvania and the Paradise facility in Kentucky – shut up shop.

In mid-March 2020, the last operating coal-fired power plant in New York state closed.

As a result, coal-fired electricity output in the US dropped 18% in 2019: according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal now generates 23% of the country’s electricity supply – its lowest level in the country’s total energy mix since the mid-1970s.

Coal’s US decline does not reflect any change of policy by the Trump administration. Since coming to office Trump – who at one time described climate change as a hoax – has sought to obstruct the battle against global warming.

His administration has rolled back several regulations aimed at improving the environment and cutting emissions. Internationally, Trump is in the process of withdrawing the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Renewables gain

Coal’s decline in the US is about economics: the rise of the fracking industry means that prices for home-produced gas have been falling. The price of renewables – mainly wind and solar – has also been dropping significantly in recent years.

According to EIA figures, gas now accounts for 38% of electricity generation while the figure for renewables, near zero only 20 years ago, is 17.5%.

But the significant reduction in the use of coal has not been matched by an equivalent fall in US GHG emissions, which dropped last year by only a little over 2%. That’s because overall energy demand in the US has been growing rapidly, in line with a spurt in economic activity.

The outlook for this year is very different. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the likelihood of a global recession, there are predictions that US greenhouse gas emissions will fall by 7.5% or more in 2020.

Worldwide, the economic downturn related to the pandemic is causing similar drops in GHG emissions.

China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal. Despite big investments in renewables, the country depends on coal for nearly 60% of its total energy consumption and is still building large numbers of coal-fired power plants.

“There are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again”

As economic activity has declined sharply in recent weeks, pollution levels over China and many other parts of the world have fallen dramatically.

Yet already there are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again.

India and other countries in South Asia also have plans for large-scale coal-fired power projects – at present on hold due to the fall-out from Covid-19.

Countries round the world have to break the coal habit if there is to be any hope of preventing runaway climate change and meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Analysis after analysis has pointed out that coal-burning is not only catastrophic for the future of the planet but also makes no economic sense.

The most recent report by the Carbon Tracker group, an independent financial think tank which monitors energy transitions, says that investments in renewables are now cheaper than coal investments in all major energy markets. – Climate News Network

US coal economics? They’re odd. The dirtiest fossil fuel generates ever less American electricity, yet energy policy is unchanged.

LONDON, 13 April, 2020 – If you want a simple and satisfying job, you’d probably better avoid one which involves working in US coal economics. They’ve become fairly mystifying.

It was one of the key images in the run-up to the US 2016 election – Donald Trump in a hard hat telling miners that the coal industry would make a comeback under his leadership.

“We’re gonna put the miners back to work”, said Trump. “We’re gonna get those mines open.”

In practice, the opposite has happened.

Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and the source of a large proportion of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Since Trump came to office in January 2017, US coal plants have been closing at a near-record pace.

Steep fall

Last year alone, coal-fired power plants in the US generating a total of more than 15,000 MWs of power – enough to feed the energy demand of 15 million American homes – were either closed or converted to burn other, less polluting power sources.

At the end of 2019 several of the US’s biggest coal plants – including the giant Navajo generating station in Arizona, the Bruce Mansfield plant in Pennsylvania and the Paradise facility in Kentucky – shut up shop.

In mid-March 2020, the last operating coal-fired power plant in New York state closed.

As a result, coal-fired electricity output in the US dropped 18% in 2019: according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal now generates 23% of the country’s electricity supply – its lowest level in the country’s total energy mix since the mid-1970s.

Coal’s US decline does not reflect any change of policy by the Trump administration. Since coming to office Trump – who at one time described climate change as a hoax – has sought to obstruct the battle against global warming.

His administration has rolled back several regulations aimed at improving the environment and cutting emissions. Internationally, Trump is in the process of withdrawing the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Renewables gain

Coal’s decline in the US is about economics: the rise of the fracking industry means that prices for home-produced gas have been falling. The price of renewables – mainly wind and solar – has also been dropping significantly in recent years.

According to EIA figures, gas now accounts for 38% of electricity generation while the figure for renewables, near zero only 20 years ago, is 17.5%.

But the significant reduction in the use of coal has not been matched by an equivalent fall in US GHG emissions, which dropped last year by only a little over 2%. That’s because overall energy demand in the US has been growing rapidly, in line with a spurt in economic activity.

The outlook for this year is very different. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the likelihood of a global recession, there are predictions that US greenhouse gas emissions will fall by 7.5% or more in 2020.

Worldwide, the economic downturn related to the pandemic is causing similar drops in GHG emissions.

China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal. Despite big investments in renewables, the country depends on coal for nearly 60% of its total energy consumption and is still building large numbers of coal-fired power plants.

“There are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again”

As economic activity has declined sharply in recent weeks, pollution levels over China and many other parts of the world have fallen dramatically.

Yet already there are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again.

India and other countries in South Asia also have plans for large-scale coal-fired power projects – at present on hold due to the fall-out from Covid-19.

Countries round the world have to break the coal habit if there is to be any hope of preventing runaway climate change and meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Analysis after analysis has pointed out that coal-burning is not only catastrophic for the future of the planet but also makes no economic sense.

The most recent report by the Carbon Tracker group, an independent financial think tank which monitors energy transitions, says that investments in renewables are now cheaper than coal investments in all major energy markets. – Climate News Network