Tag Archives: Soils

Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change

Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. A new book makes it sound almost easy. Well, it’s not impossible.

LONDON, 19 August, 2020 – The world is nowhere near tackling the climate crisis, says a new book by an Oxford scholar, Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. But at least we know how to.

Year on year, the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rising. The ability of oceans, forests and soils to absorb and recycle CO2 is fast diminishing. Like an out-of-control coal train, climate change is thundering towards us.

International agreements and protocols – countless meetings and mega amounts of jaw-jaw – have manifestly failed to address the challenge ahead.

Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at Oxford University in the UK and the author of several books on climate change, throws up his hands in frustration.

“Thirty years on from the UN’s drive to address climate change, we are still going backwards at an alarming rate”, he says.

The wrong policies have been followed, governments have misled people and we, the public, have failed to come to terms with what’s happening.

“In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”

The Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C compared to the level in 1990 is unattainable, says Helm.

“Stop pretending and recognise the brutal facts about what has been going on for the last 30 years and why it has been such an abject failure. It is realism, not spin and fake optimism about progress and costs, that we need.”

For the most part, Helm talks of events in the industrialised world, in particular in Europe. He argues that countries such as the UK and Germany delude themselves by thinking they are tackling climate change simply by cutting the production of greenhouse gases within their own borders.

Much of Europe, he argues, is post-industrial: it imports vast amounts of goods – steel from China, textiles from Bangladesh, avocados from Peru. All these products have heavy carbon footprints.

It is the consumption of all these goods that is doing the damage. Only when countries – and we, their citizens – stop buying and accumulating such products will progress be made.

Dangerous delusion

“It is not enough to clean up our own backyard. This does not stop us contributing to global warming.

“It is fantasy, propagated by politicians, the [UK] Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and some activists, that if we could only get to net zero for our own territorial emissions – for our carbon production – that would mean that we would have crossed the Rubicon and no longer be causing any further global warming. It is an extremely dangerous delusion.”

The solution, says Helm, is going to be painful, at least in the short to medium term. There have to be substantial carbon taxes, on both domestic produce and imports.

A whole range of goods will become more expensive. Standards of living will fall, we will be worse off. We have to adapt to a whole new way of life.

The top-down approach to tackling the climate crisis, through what Helm describes as the UN cartel and other bodies, has just not worked. It is we, the consumers, who must act.

“You and I, the ultimate polluters, will have to pay the price of our carbon-intensive lifestyles”, says Professor Helm.

Tiny renewable share

Public finances have to be transformed: massive spending on zero carbon infrastructure is a priority. Agriculture – an environmental disaster area – has to be changed completely.

Helm has an edgy, no-nonsense style of writing. “In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”, he says.

He rails against people fooling themselves. Those who think China is leading the way towards a green future are seriously mistaken. Activists who prophesy the end of coal and other fossil fuels are deluded.

With exploding demand, the past 30 years have been a golden age for the fossil fuel industry, and for all the hype, renewables still contribute only a minuscule amount of the total world energy mix.

Yet if we, the consumers, act, there will certainly be pain but the reward will be worthwhile. “There are many aspects to our individual lives which would be better in 2050 than they are now”, Dieter Helm says. “A greener world is a healthier one.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

  • Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change   By Dieter Helm   William Collins: to be published on 3 September 2020   £20.00

Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. A new book makes it sound almost easy. Well, it’s not impossible.

LONDON, 19 August, 2020 – The world is nowhere near tackling the climate crisis, says a new book by an Oxford scholar, Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. But at least we know how to.

Year on year, the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rising. The ability of oceans, forests and soils to absorb and recycle CO2 is fast diminishing. Like an out-of-control coal train, climate change is thundering towards us.

International agreements and protocols – countless meetings and mega amounts of jaw-jaw – have manifestly failed to address the challenge ahead.

Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at Oxford University in the UK and the author of several books on climate change, throws up his hands in frustration.

“Thirty years on from the UN’s drive to address climate change, we are still going backwards at an alarming rate”, he says.

The wrong policies have been followed, governments have misled people and we, the public, have failed to come to terms with what’s happening.

“In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”

The Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C compared to the level in 1990 is unattainable, says Helm.

“Stop pretending and recognise the brutal facts about what has been going on for the last 30 years and why it has been such an abject failure. It is realism, not spin and fake optimism about progress and costs, that we need.”

For the most part, Helm talks of events in the industrialised world, in particular in Europe. He argues that countries such as the UK and Germany delude themselves by thinking they are tackling climate change simply by cutting the production of greenhouse gases within their own borders.

Much of Europe, he argues, is post-industrial: it imports vast amounts of goods – steel from China, textiles from Bangladesh, avocados from Peru. All these products have heavy carbon footprints.

It is the consumption of all these goods that is doing the damage. Only when countries – and we, their citizens – stop buying and accumulating such products will progress be made.

Dangerous delusion

“It is not enough to clean up our own backyard. This does not stop us contributing to global warming.

“It is fantasy, propagated by politicians, the [UK] Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and some activists, that if we could only get to net zero for our own territorial emissions – for our carbon production – that would mean that we would have crossed the Rubicon and no longer be causing any further global warming. It is an extremely dangerous delusion.”

The solution, says Helm, is going to be painful, at least in the short to medium term. There have to be substantial carbon taxes, on both domestic produce and imports.

A whole range of goods will become more expensive. Standards of living will fall, we will be worse off. We have to adapt to a whole new way of life.

The top-down approach to tackling the climate crisis, through what Helm describes as the UN cartel and other bodies, has just not worked. It is we, the consumers, who must act.

“You and I, the ultimate polluters, will have to pay the price of our carbon-intensive lifestyles”, says Professor Helm.

Tiny renewable share

Public finances have to be transformed: massive spending on zero carbon infrastructure is a priority. Agriculture – an environmental disaster area – has to be changed completely.

Helm has an edgy, no-nonsense style of writing. “In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”, he says.

He rails against people fooling themselves. Those who think China is leading the way towards a green future are seriously mistaken. Activists who prophesy the end of coal and other fossil fuels are deluded.

With exploding demand, the past 30 years have been a golden age for the fossil fuel industry, and for all the hype, renewables still contribute only a minuscule amount of the total world energy mix.

Yet if we, the consumers, act, there will certainly be pain but the reward will be worthwhile. “There are many aspects to our individual lives which would be better in 2050 than they are now”, Dieter Helm says. “A greener world is a healthier one.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

  • Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change   By Dieter Helm   William Collins: to be published on 3 September 2020   £20.00

Soils may absorb less CO2 than thought

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Researchers believe that natural processes are not as efficient in absorbing carbon dioxide and putting a brake on global warming as they had previously thought. LONDON, 2 May – Scientists from the US, China and Ireland may have settled one big question about climate change: don’t rely on the soil microbes to help damp down the temperatures. They report in Science that as carbon dioxide levels rise, and temperatures increase, so does the turnover of carbon in the soil. That means the hope that global warming must mean more energetic plant growth and therefore greater carbon uptake in the soil, in a cycle that engineers like to call negative feedback, looks a bit forlorn. Kees van Groenigen of Northern Arizona University and colleagues analysed results from 53 different studies of soil carbon measurements in forests, grasslands and farmers’ fields around the world to see how CO2 affects plant growth, soil activity and soil carbon. They found that extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere meant more input into the soil – nearly 20% more – but it also meant more turnover, up by more than 16%. So if more went in, more was released, because the teeming microscopic fauna that inhabit the soil, recycle nutrients and redistribute plant nourishment also became more active. “Our findings mean that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought,” said Dr van Groenigen. “By overlooking this effect of increased CO2 on soil microbes, models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have overestimated the potential of soil to store carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect.”

Forests’ role

The finding is – as all scientific findings tend to be – provisional, but it does help explain why so much research into the great soil carbon question has been inconclusive. The interplay of increasing carbon dioxide, plants and soil has been under question for years: yes, there is a fertilization effect, for instance, but it may not pay off in more food from food crops. And the Arizona analyses offer perspective on or even gain substance from other very recent findings. For instance, the fertility of the soil is a factor in the great forest conundrum: are forests sinks or sources of carbon in the atmosphere? An international team of researchers report in Nature Climate Change that after an analysis of data from 92 studies, they found that forests that flourish in soils that are fertile – rich in nutrients – seem to be able to lock away 30% of the carbon they take from the atmosphere by photosynthesis. But in less fertile places, the plants have to work harder to find nourishment. “In general, nutrient-poor forests spend a lot of energy – carbon – through mechanisms to acquire nutrients from the soil, whereas nutrient-rich forests can use that carbon to enhance biomass production,” said Marcos Fernandez-Martinez of Spain’s Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications. And in the same month, a study in the journal Ecology Letters found that feedback from tiny soil-dwelling creatures was the single biggest uncertainty in the great feedback question. “Soil microbes are responsible for one of the largest carbon dioxide emissions on the planet, about six times higher than fossil fuel burning,” said Oskar Franklin of the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

Microbial methane

In theory, growing forests should soak up that carbon dioxide released by the soil microbes – but as the temperature warms, soil conditions may change – and the feedback effects become harder to predict. And soil microbes also produce a greenhouse gas that is, molecule for molecule, even more potent than CO2. Swiss and German scientists report in Nature Geoscience that warming temperatures and greater soil activity in the world’s wetlands could end up releasing not just more soil carbon but a lot more methane – 34 times more effective than CO2 as a greenhouse gas over a century, but 84 times more over 20 years – into the atmosphere. They took a close look at the electrochemical reactions that play off in soil bacteria: wetlands are rich in peat, and when wet the soil bacteria are starved of oxygen, and in no position to release methane. But global warming could change that equation. The European study clarifies some of the geochemistry of the world’s wetlands. “It also shows that reversible electrochemical processes have the potential to have a large effect on the environment,” said Andreas Kappler of the University of Tubingen, who is also secretary of the European Association of Geochemistry. “There are uncertainties as to the exact extent, but we estimate that between an extra 10% up to an extra 166% of methane could be released. It also shows that these are fragile ecosystems and that slight changes in their geochemical conditions could have dramatic consequences for the environment.” – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Researchers believe that natural processes are not as efficient in absorbing carbon dioxide and putting a brake on global warming as they had previously thought. LONDON, 2 May – Scientists from the US, China and Ireland may have settled one big question about climate change: don’t rely on the soil microbes to help damp down the temperatures. They report in Science that as carbon dioxide levels rise, and temperatures increase, so does the turnover of carbon in the soil. That means the hope that global warming must mean more energetic plant growth and therefore greater carbon uptake in the soil, in a cycle that engineers like to call negative feedback, looks a bit forlorn. Kees van Groenigen of Northern Arizona University and colleagues analysed results from 53 different studies of soil carbon measurements in forests, grasslands and farmers’ fields around the world to see how CO2 affects plant growth, soil activity and soil carbon. They found that extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere meant more input into the soil – nearly 20% more – but it also meant more turnover, up by more than 16%. So if more went in, more was released, because the teeming microscopic fauna that inhabit the soil, recycle nutrients and redistribute plant nourishment also became more active. “Our findings mean that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought,” said Dr van Groenigen. “By overlooking this effect of increased CO2 on soil microbes, models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have overestimated the potential of soil to store carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect.”

Forests’ role

The finding is – as all scientific findings tend to be – provisional, but it does help explain why so much research into the great soil carbon question has been inconclusive. The interplay of increasing carbon dioxide, plants and soil has been under question for years: yes, there is a fertilization effect, for instance, but it may not pay off in more food from food crops. And the Arizona analyses offer perspective on or even gain substance from other very recent findings. For instance, the fertility of the soil is a factor in the great forest conundrum: are forests sinks or sources of carbon in the atmosphere? An international team of researchers report in Nature Climate Change that after an analysis of data from 92 studies, they found that forests that flourish in soils that are fertile – rich in nutrients – seem to be able to lock away 30% of the carbon they take from the atmosphere by photosynthesis. But in less fertile places, the plants have to work harder to find nourishment. “In general, nutrient-poor forests spend a lot of energy – carbon – through mechanisms to acquire nutrients from the soil, whereas nutrient-rich forests can use that carbon to enhance biomass production,” said Marcos Fernandez-Martinez of Spain’s Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications. And in the same month, a study in the journal Ecology Letters found that feedback from tiny soil-dwelling creatures was the single biggest uncertainty in the great feedback question. “Soil microbes are responsible for one of the largest carbon dioxide emissions on the planet, about six times higher than fossil fuel burning,” said Oskar Franklin of the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

Microbial methane

In theory, growing forests should soak up that carbon dioxide released by the soil microbes – but as the temperature warms, soil conditions may change – and the feedback effects become harder to predict. And soil microbes also produce a greenhouse gas that is, molecule for molecule, even more potent than CO2. Swiss and German scientists report in Nature Geoscience that warming temperatures and greater soil activity in the world’s wetlands could end up releasing not just more soil carbon but a lot more methane – 34 times more effective than CO2 as a greenhouse gas over a century, but 84 times more over 20 years – into the atmosphere. They took a close look at the electrochemical reactions that play off in soil bacteria: wetlands are rich in peat, and when wet the soil bacteria are starved of oxygen, and in no position to release methane. But global warming could change that equation. The European study clarifies some of the geochemistry of the world’s wetlands. “It also shows that reversible electrochemical processes have the potential to have a large effect on the environment,” said Andreas Kappler of the University of Tubingen, who is also secretary of the European Association of Geochemistry. “There are uncertainties as to the exact extent, but we estimate that between an extra 10% up to an extra 166% of methane could be released. It also shows that these are fragile ecosystems and that slight changes in their geochemical conditions could have dramatic consequences for the environment.” – Climate News Network