Tag Archives: USA

Covid-19’s viral lessons for climate heating

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19’s viral lessons offer a warning of what may lie ahead.

LONDON, 2 April, 2020 − There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. − Climate News Network

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19’s viral lessons offer a warning of what may lie ahead.

LONDON, 2 April, 2020 − There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. − Climate News Network

A second US Dust Bowl would hit world food stocks

When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.

LONDON, 27 March, 2020 – The next time the fertile soils of North America turn to dust, the consequences will hit food stocks worldwide.

Within four years of a climate crisis of the kind that fired John Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, the US would have consumed almost all its grain reserves.

And the ripple effects would be felt in all those countries to which America normally exports grain. That is because America feeds much of the world: in a good year, the US exports wheat with an energy value of more than 90 trillion kilocalories. The collapse of farmland into wasteland on the scale that inspired John Steinbeck could reduce this over a four-year period to around 50 trillion kcal.

Worldwide, global wheat reserves would fall by 31% in the first year, and four years on somewhere between 36 and 52 countries would have consumed three-fourths of their own reserves. Food prices would rise around the planet.

“In today’s system of global food trade, disruptions are not bound by borders. Shocks to production are expected to affect trade partners who depend on imports for their domestic food supply,” said Alison Heslin, a climate scientist at Columbia University in the US.

“Accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages, but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages”

“Our results remind us that mitigating climate risks requires accounting not only for the direct effects of climate change, like local extreme weather events, but also the climate impacts which travel through our interconnected system of global trade.”

By some time in the mid-century, most of the US will be between 1.5°C to 2°C warmer. Researchers have already warned that the border between the arid western states and the more fertile mid-western plains has shifted to the east.

There have been repeated warnings that as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever greater use of fossil fuels, the US will become increasingly vulnerable to climate extremes, including megadroughts. Drought is already becoming the “new normal” for Californians, and the fertility of the Great Plains is in any case vulnerable to human changes to a natural landscape.

A succession of droughts of the kind that turned the farmland of Kansas and Oklahoma into a devastated landscape, and turned thousands of Americans into climate refugees, would not necessarily now mean the onset of regional famine.

Dr Heslin and her colleagues report in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems that they contemplated the likelihood of a four-year drought of the kind that created the notorious 1930s Dust Bowl, and then examined the possible impact on world trade systems.

Yields and nutrition affected

Just one such climate event could hit hard those nations that rely on food imports, but even the other great grain-producing countries – among them China, India, Iran, Canada, Russia, Morocco, Australia and Egypt – would see their reserves fall.

The climate crisis is in any case a threat to the world’s supper tables. There has been repeated evidence that food output will inevitably be at risk in a warming world. With higher temperatures, yields will be reduced and with higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that warm the planet, nutrition levels of many staples are expected to fall.

The researchers factored in none of these things. They supposed that a climate catastrophe that paralleled the Dust Bowl era would occur only in the US, and found that, despite strain, the world’s markets could probably cope.

But other studies have repeatedly found that the potential for climate catastrophe and massive crop failure to strike in more than one region at any one time are increasing, with ominous consequences for world food security.

“In the context of food security, we show that accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages,” said Dr Heslin, “but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages.” – Climate News Network

When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.

LONDON, 27 March, 2020 – The next time the fertile soils of North America turn to dust, the consequences will hit food stocks worldwide.

Within four years of a climate crisis of the kind that fired John Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, the US would have consumed almost all its grain reserves.

And the ripple effects would be felt in all those countries to which America normally exports grain. That is because America feeds much of the world: in a good year, the US exports wheat with an energy value of more than 90 trillion kilocalories. The collapse of farmland into wasteland on the scale that inspired John Steinbeck could reduce this over a four-year period to around 50 trillion kcal.

Worldwide, global wheat reserves would fall by 31% in the first year, and four years on somewhere between 36 and 52 countries would have consumed three-fourths of their own reserves. Food prices would rise around the planet.

“In today’s system of global food trade, disruptions are not bound by borders. Shocks to production are expected to affect trade partners who depend on imports for their domestic food supply,” said Alison Heslin, a climate scientist at Columbia University in the US.

“Accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages, but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages”

“Our results remind us that mitigating climate risks requires accounting not only for the direct effects of climate change, like local extreme weather events, but also the climate impacts which travel through our interconnected system of global trade.”

By some time in the mid-century, most of the US will be between 1.5°C to 2°C warmer. Researchers have already warned that the border between the arid western states and the more fertile mid-western plains has shifted to the east.

There have been repeated warnings that as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever greater use of fossil fuels, the US will become increasingly vulnerable to climate extremes, including megadroughts. Drought is already becoming the “new normal” for Californians, and the fertility of the Great Plains is in any case vulnerable to human changes to a natural landscape.

A succession of droughts of the kind that turned the farmland of Kansas and Oklahoma into a devastated landscape, and turned thousands of Americans into climate refugees, would not necessarily now mean the onset of regional famine.

Dr Heslin and her colleagues report in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems that they contemplated the likelihood of a four-year drought of the kind that created the notorious 1930s Dust Bowl, and then examined the possible impact on world trade systems.

Yields and nutrition affected

Just one such climate event could hit hard those nations that rely on food imports, but even the other great grain-producing countries – among them China, India, Iran, Canada, Russia, Morocco, Australia and Egypt – would see their reserves fall.

The climate crisis is in any case a threat to the world’s supper tables. There has been repeated evidence that food output will inevitably be at risk in a warming world. With higher temperatures, yields will be reduced and with higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that warm the planet, nutrition levels of many staples are expected to fall.

The researchers factored in none of these things. They supposed that a climate catastrophe that paralleled the Dust Bowl era would occur only in the US, and found that, despite strain, the world’s markets could probably cope.

But other studies have repeatedly found that the potential for climate catastrophe and massive crop failure to strike in more than one region at any one time are increasing, with ominous consequences for world food security.

“In the context of food security, we show that accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages,” said Dr Heslin, “but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages.” – Climate News Network

US state plans fossil fuel tax to fund schooling

The US state of Maryland is proposing a fossil fuel tax to pay for pre-school education and to promote electric cars.

LONDON, 27 February, 2020 − Maryland, an eastern US state badly hit by climate change, wants to introduce a fossil fuel tax on polluting industries and gas-guzzling cars in order to fund improvements to its education system worth $350 million (£271m) a year.

The Climate Crisis and Education Bill is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 session. With a strong Democrat majority in both upper and lower houses of the state’s legislature, it could soon become law – even though the ideas behind it are extremely radical by US standards.

The bill would establish a Climate Crisis Council to develop an energy policy that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 – and trusts in achieving net negative emissions after that, using 2006 as a baseline.

There has been widespread concern in Maryland about falling education standards compared with other states, and an inquiry, the Kirwan Commission, has called for $350m a year to be invested in improvements.

These include extra funding for teacher salaries, additional counselling and career preparation, stronger health programmes, and money for pre-school activities.

“We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does”

The bill would introduce a gradually escalating fossil fuel fee, starting at $15 a ton for non-transport sources and $10 a ton for vehicles.

There would also be a graduated registration fee on new cars and light trucks that are gas guzzlers, revenues from which would be used to provide rebates to electric vehicle (EV) purchasers and to pay for the installation of statewide EV charging points.

Maryland has suffered more than most of the US from climate change and is severely threatened by sea level rise on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Some small towns are already losing the battle against the sea.

The frequency of street flooding in the state capital, Annapolis, and larger cities like Baltimore has increased about ten-fold since the early 1960s.

Salt feeds concerns

Salinisation of farmland on the Eastern Shore is also a concern, as the salt water has begun intruding into the water table. Across the state the frequency of extreme weather events continues to increase, including events like flash flooding, heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat and droughts.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the leading General Assembly supporter of the bill, said the state’s taxpayers had already been paying for damage caused by the climate crisis: “In the 2019 session, we passed an emergency appropriation in the General Assembly for one million dollars to mitigate flooding in Annapolis.

“That’s just one city in the entire state − one million dollars. Why should the taxpayers pay for that when fossil fuel companies make $400 million a day in profits?”

Emphasising the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Benjamin F. Kramer, said: “We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does.

“And the legislation is a win, win, win. It’s a win for our health, it’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for education.”

Support detected

Both men are conscious that despite the concern of Democrats about the climate crisis, and the fact that the party has a large overall majority, their bill is radical and may meet some resistance. However, recent polling suggests that the public supports action on the crisis.

The bill is also up against legislators who favour other ways of paying for the education reforms, including taxes on gambling, alcohol and digital commerce.

In order to allay fears about new taxes on fossil fuels the provisions of the bill insist that the carbon taxes protect low- and moderate-income households, as well as “energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses”, and help fossil fuel workers who may lose their jobs to find new ones in the clean economy.

There are also clauses that specifically prevent the fossil fuel companies from passing the cost of carbon taxes on to Maryland consumers. − Climate News Network

The US state of Maryland is proposing a fossil fuel tax to pay for pre-school education and to promote electric cars.

LONDON, 27 February, 2020 − Maryland, an eastern US state badly hit by climate change, wants to introduce a fossil fuel tax on polluting industries and gas-guzzling cars in order to fund improvements to its education system worth $350 million (£271m) a year.

The Climate Crisis and Education Bill is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 session. With a strong Democrat majority in both upper and lower houses of the state’s legislature, it could soon become law – even though the ideas behind it are extremely radical by US standards.

The bill would establish a Climate Crisis Council to develop an energy policy that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 – and trusts in achieving net negative emissions after that, using 2006 as a baseline.

There has been widespread concern in Maryland about falling education standards compared with other states, and an inquiry, the Kirwan Commission, has called for $350m a year to be invested in improvements.

These include extra funding for teacher salaries, additional counselling and career preparation, stronger health programmes, and money for pre-school activities.

“We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does”

The bill would introduce a gradually escalating fossil fuel fee, starting at $15 a ton for non-transport sources and $10 a ton for vehicles.

There would also be a graduated registration fee on new cars and light trucks that are gas guzzlers, revenues from which would be used to provide rebates to electric vehicle (EV) purchasers and to pay for the installation of statewide EV charging points.

Maryland has suffered more than most of the US from climate change and is severely threatened by sea level rise on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Some small towns are already losing the battle against the sea.

The frequency of street flooding in the state capital, Annapolis, and larger cities like Baltimore has increased about ten-fold since the early 1960s.

Salt feeds concerns

Salinisation of farmland on the Eastern Shore is also a concern, as the salt water has begun intruding into the water table. Across the state the frequency of extreme weather events continues to increase, including events like flash flooding, heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat and droughts.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the leading General Assembly supporter of the bill, said the state’s taxpayers had already been paying for damage caused by the climate crisis: “In the 2019 session, we passed an emergency appropriation in the General Assembly for one million dollars to mitigate flooding in Annapolis.

“That’s just one city in the entire state − one million dollars. Why should the taxpayers pay for that when fossil fuel companies make $400 million a day in profits?”

Emphasising the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Benjamin F. Kramer, said: “We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does.

“And the legislation is a win, win, win. It’s a win for our health, it’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for education.”

Support detected

Both men are conscious that despite the concern of Democrats about the climate crisis, and the fact that the party has a large overall majority, their bill is radical and may meet some resistance. However, recent polling suggests that the public supports action on the crisis.

The bill is also up against legislators who favour other ways of paying for the education reforms, including taxes on gambling, alcohol and digital commerce.

In order to allay fears about new taxes on fossil fuels the provisions of the bill insist that the carbon taxes protect low- and moderate-income households, as well as “energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses”, and help fossil fuel workers who may lose their jobs to find new ones in the clean economy.

There are also clauses that specifically prevent the fossil fuel companies from passing the cost of carbon taxes on to Maryland consumers. − Climate News Network

Rising tides will leave no choice for US millions

Time and tide wait for no-one. As sea levels rise, the rising tides will become more impatient. Millions of Americans will have to migrate.

LONDON, 26 February, 2020 – The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.

The inland counties around Los Angeles, and close to New Orleans in Louisiana, will suddenly get a little more crowded. And from Boston in the north-east to the tip of Florida, Americans will be on the move.

That is because an estimated 13 million US citizens could some time in this century become climate refugees, driven from their seaside homes by sea level rise of possibly 1.8 metres, according to new research.

And they will have to move home in a poorer economic climate: worldwide. If governments and city authorities do not take the right steps, sea level rise could erode 4% of the global annual economy, says a separate study. That is, coast-dwellers could witness not just their towns and even cities washed away: they could see their prosperity go under as well.

Californian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used machine learning techniques – in effect, artificial intelligence systems – to calculate what is most likely to happen as US citizens desert Delaware Bay, slip away from the cities of North and South Carolina, and flee Florida in the face of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and increasingly catastrophic windstorms.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States … everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not”

In the year 2000, a third of all the planet’s urban land was in a zone vulnerable to flood. By 2040, this could rise to 40%. In 2010, in the US, more than 120m citizens – that is nearly 40% of the entire population – lived in coastal counties. By 2020, this proportion could already be higher.

And by 2100, at least 13.1m people could be living on land likely to be inundated if sea levels rise by 1.8 metres. Except that they won’t: they will have already seen the future and moved away from it, to some settlement well away from the rising tides.

Those who might otherwise have purchased their abandoned seaside houses will be looking for somewhere safer and adding to the pressure on the housing market.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States,” said Bistra Dilkina of the University of Southern California at Irvine, a computer scientist who worked with engineers to model the human response to the future.

She and her colleagues started from patterns of movement that began with Hurricane Katrina, in 2004, and Hurricane Rita a year later, both in Louisiana. They then let the algorithms take over the challenge of guessing what American families and businesses are most likely to do as the tides begin to flood the high streets.

Action promised

“We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not,” she said.

The California team’s worst-case forecasts are based on a premise that the world takes no real action to combat sea level rise, which is driven by global warming powered in turn by fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere on an ever-increasing scale.

But in Paris in 2015, more than 190 nations did agree to act: to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. So far, very few have committed to sufficient action, and the President of the US has pronounced climate change a “hoax” and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Researchers in Austria report in the journal Environmental Research Communications that they decided to consider the potential economic cost worldwide of sea level rise alone. Scientists have been trying for years to guess the cost of flood damage to come: the latest study is of the impact of sea level rise and coastal flooding upon national economies worldwide.

The scientists considered two scenarios, including one in which the world kept the promises made in Paris, and one in which it did not, and made no attempt to adapt to or mitigate climate change.

Significant impact

By 2050 losses in each scenario would be significant and much the same. But by 2100, the do-nothing option promised to hit the gross domestic product – an economist’s favourite measure of economic well-being – by 4%.

Europe and Japan would be significantly hit; China , India and Canada hardest of all. If the world’s richest nations actually worked to limit climate change and adapt to the challenges ahead, the impact on the economy could be limited to 1%.

“The findings of this paper demonstrate that we need to think long term while acting swiftly,” said Thomas Schinko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who led the study.

“Macroeconomic impacts up to and beyond 2050 as a result of coastal flooding due to sea level rise – not taking into account any other climate-related impacts such as drought – are severe and increasing.

“We, as a global society, need to further co-ordinate mitigation, adaptation and climate-resilient development and consider where we build cities and situate important infrastructure.” – Climate News Network

Time and tide wait for no-one. As sea levels rise, the rising tides will become more impatient. Millions of Americans will have to migrate.

LONDON, 26 February, 2020 – The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.

The inland counties around Los Angeles, and close to New Orleans in Louisiana, will suddenly get a little more crowded. And from Boston in the north-east to the tip of Florida, Americans will be on the move.

That is because an estimated 13 million US citizens could some time in this century become climate refugees, driven from their seaside homes by sea level rise of possibly 1.8 metres, according to new research.

And they will have to move home in a poorer economic climate: worldwide. If governments and city authorities do not take the right steps, sea level rise could erode 4% of the global annual economy, says a separate study. That is, coast-dwellers could witness not just their towns and even cities washed away: they could see their prosperity go under as well.

Californian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used machine learning techniques – in effect, artificial intelligence systems – to calculate what is most likely to happen as US citizens desert Delaware Bay, slip away from the cities of North and South Carolina, and flee Florida in the face of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and increasingly catastrophic windstorms.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States … everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not”

In the year 2000, a third of all the planet’s urban land was in a zone vulnerable to flood. By 2040, this could rise to 40%. In 2010, in the US, more than 120m citizens – that is nearly 40% of the entire population – lived in coastal counties. By 2020, this proportion could already be higher.

And by 2100, at least 13.1m people could be living on land likely to be inundated if sea levels rise by 1.8 metres. Except that they won’t: they will have already seen the future and moved away from it, to some settlement well away from the rising tides.

Those who might otherwise have purchased their abandoned seaside houses will be looking for somewhere safer and adding to the pressure on the housing market.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States,” said Bistra Dilkina of the University of Southern California at Irvine, a computer scientist who worked with engineers to model the human response to the future.

She and her colleagues started from patterns of movement that began with Hurricane Katrina, in 2004, and Hurricane Rita a year later, both in Louisiana. They then let the algorithms take over the challenge of guessing what American families and businesses are most likely to do as the tides begin to flood the high streets.

Action promised

“We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not,” she said.

The California team’s worst-case forecasts are based on a premise that the world takes no real action to combat sea level rise, which is driven by global warming powered in turn by fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere on an ever-increasing scale.

But in Paris in 2015, more than 190 nations did agree to act: to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. So far, very few have committed to sufficient action, and the President of the US has pronounced climate change a “hoax” and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Researchers in Austria report in the journal Environmental Research Communications that they decided to consider the potential economic cost worldwide of sea level rise alone. Scientists have been trying for years to guess the cost of flood damage to come: the latest study is of the impact of sea level rise and coastal flooding upon national economies worldwide.

The scientists considered two scenarios, including one in which the world kept the promises made in Paris, and one in which it did not, and made no attempt to adapt to or mitigate climate change.

Significant impact

By 2050 losses in each scenario would be significant and much the same. But by 2100, the do-nothing option promised to hit the gross domestic product – an economist’s favourite measure of economic well-being – by 4%.

Europe and Japan would be significantly hit; China , India and Canada hardest of all. If the world’s richest nations actually worked to limit climate change and adapt to the challenges ahead, the impact on the economy could be limited to 1%.

“The findings of this paper demonstrate that we need to think long term while acting swiftly,” said Thomas Schinko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who led the study.

“Macroeconomic impacts up to and beyond 2050 as a result of coastal flooding due to sea level rise – not taking into account any other climate-related impacts such as drought – are severe and increasing.

“We, as a global society, need to further co-ordinate mitigation, adaptation and climate-resilient development and consider where we build cities and situate important infrastructure.” – Climate News Network

Cities turn to freewheeling public transport

Cities worldwide are making their public transport free to use. As passenger numbers rise, car use falls. What’s not to like?

LONDON, 12 February, 2020 − In the United States, once the home of car culture, cities are increasingly experimenting with free public transport. But the idea is not an American preserve: it’s catching on fast across the globe.

In the French capital, Paris, the mayor is removing 72% of city car parking spaces. Birmingham in the UK is encouraging drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead, or to walk or cycle. More public transport use means less toxic urban air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions − and happier citizens better equipped to escape one key aspect of poverty.

Transport is one of the big polluters. Cities in particular want more efficient, cleaner ways of moving people. The good news is that recent innovations suggest an effective answer: if public transport is free, more people are likely to use it, instantly cutting car use and pollution.

That kind of behaviour change can happen surprisingly fast. Around 100 cities worldwide currently run fare-free transit, most of them in Europe. Even in the US, home of the motor car, cities are showing increasing interest.

Sharing costs

Kansas City in Missouri and Olympia in Washington state have both said their buses will become fare-free this year. Worcester, Massachusetts’ second-largest city, has expressed strong support for waiving bus fares – a move that would cost $2-3 million a year in fares foregone.

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”.

It says: “A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all.”

Fare-free transit can also help to cut poverty. The benefits of maintaining a transit system that drives the economy and helps residents at all income levels to get to their jobs, while keeping commuters off the roads, are so great that some urban leaders say the costs should be shared fairly by taxpayers.

Pollution cut

Birmingham and Paris both aim to increase the space for cyclists and walkers by taking it away from car owners, traditionally privileged by planners. Does cutting road space, far from increasing congestion, actually cut pollution instead? The RTA thinks it can.

The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is basing her re-election campaign on ensuring that “you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home.” She wants to see the return of the more self-sufficient neighbourhood, and aims to make all roads safe for cyclists by 2024.

Birmingham will introduce incentives for businesses to remove parking spaces through the introduction of an annual workplace parking levy, and the city will build 12,800 new homes on former car parks. Freight deliveries will be restricted to out-of-hours times, and there will be a blanket 20 mile an hour (32 kph) speed limit on the city’s local roads.

Free mass transit offers a practical, fast option for change − and a relatively cheap one. It can boost the local economy. The deputy mayor of Ghent, in Belgium, Filip Watteeuw, has said that since the provision of free city transit there “has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups, and the number of empty shops has been arrested”.

“A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all”

Ghent’s plan cost just €4m (£3.4m) to implement. By contrast it costs an estimated £20m-£30m to build just one mile of motorway. The city also has significantly cleaner air – nitrogen oxide levels have dropped by 20% since 2017.

Unlike many major infrastructure projects, making public transport free is easy to implement in stages if, for example, planners are unsure how it will affect particular communities. In Salt Lake City public transport was declared free for one day a week as an experiment – Fare Free Friday.

Health and city design are not the only reasons behind moves toward free mass transit. Poverty in inner city areas, with long commutes on older buses, is the norm for many at the bottom of society.

Free transport can make an immediate and disproportionate difference to the money in people’s pockets at a time when many developed societies are seeing the income equality gap grow.

Not car owners

Experiments in the US cities of Denver and Austin were initially viewed as unsuccessful, because there was little evidence that they removed cars from the road; that was because new passengers tended to be poor people who did not own cars, according to a 2012 review by the National Academies Press.

But they were successful in a different sense; they increased passenger use right away, with rises of between 20 and 60% in the first few months.

Car sales are tumbling as people look for alternatives, and as rural populations – who are most dependent on cars – continue to fall. Figures for January to September 2019 showed car sales lower in all major car markets in the world except for Brazil and Japan.

Integrated transport brings impressive reductions in pollution, congestion and accidents and sometimes more. in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, a combination of rethinking public space and public transport has contributed to a reduction in crime.

Finding public transport

The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests that Americans can save more than $9,738 annually by using public transport instead of driving. However, access, a problem for many, is the key to reducing emissions – 45% of Americans have no access to public transport.

Many UK cities, towns and villages are also very poorly served by public services. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, recently built a new and very expensive tram system, with fares higher than on the city’s bus network. Passengers numbers faltered, dashing hopes that the trams could pay their way.

But Edinburgh is renowned for its summer arts festival, which brings visitors flocking in. There is now talk of fare-free trams, at least from the airport to the city centre, which could help to increase overall festival visitor numbers and boost the city’s economy.

Carrots can often work better than sticks. Perhaps fare-free public transport schemes should offer something along the lines of frequent-flyer rewards? − 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.

Cities worldwide are making their public transport free to use. As passenger numbers rise, car use falls. What’s not to like?

LONDON, 12 February, 2020 − In the United States, once the home of car culture, cities are increasingly experimenting with free public transport. But the idea is not an American preserve: it’s catching on fast across the globe.

In the French capital, Paris, the mayor is removing 72% of city car parking spaces. Birmingham in the UK is encouraging drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead, or to walk or cycle. More public transport use means less toxic urban air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions − and happier citizens better equipped to escape one key aspect of poverty.

Transport is one of the big polluters. Cities in particular want more efficient, cleaner ways of moving people. The good news is that recent innovations suggest an effective answer: if public transport is free, more people are likely to use it, instantly cutting car use and pollution.

That kind of behaviour change can happen surprisingly fast. Around 100 cities worldwide currently run fare-free transit, most of them in Europe. Even in the US, home of the motor car, cities are showing increasing interest.

Sharing costs

Kansas City in Missouri and Olympia in Washington state have both said their buses will become fare-free this year. Worcester, Massachusetts’ second-largest city, has expressed strong support for waiving bus fares – a move that would cost $2-3 million a year in fares foregone.

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”.

It says: “A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all.”

Fare-free transit can also help to cut poverty. The benefits of maintaining a transit system that drives the economy and helps residents at all income levels to get to their jobs, while keeping commuters off the roads, are so great that some urban leaders say the costs should be shared fairly by taxpayers.

Pollution cut

Birmingham and Paris both aim to increase the space for cyclists and walkers by taking it away from car owners, traditionally privileged by planners. Does cutting road space, far from increasing congestion, actually cut pollution instead? The RTA thinks it can.

The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is basing her re-election campaign on ensuring that “you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home.” She wants to see the return of the more self-sufficient neighbourhood, and aims to make all roads safe for cyclists by 2024.

Birmingham will introduce incentives for businesses to remove parking spaces through the introduction of an annual workplace parking levy, and the city will build 12,800 new homes on former car parks. Freight deliveries will be restricted to out-of-hours times, and there will be a blanket 20 mile an hour (32 kph) speed limit on the city’s local roads.

Free mass transit offers a practical, fast option for change − and a relatively cheap one. It can boost the local economy. The deputy mayor of Ghent, in Belgium, Filip Watteeuw, has said that since the provision of free city transit there “has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups, and the number of empty shops has been arrested”.

“A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all”

Ghent’s plan cost just €4m (£3.4m) to implement. By contrast it costs an estimated £20m-£30m to build just one mile of motorway. The city also has significantly cleaner air – nitrogen oxide levels have dropped by 20% since 2017.

Unlike many major infrastructure projects, making public transport free is easy to implement in stages if, for example, planners are unsure how it will affect particular communities. In Salt Lake City public transport was declared free for one day a week as an experiment – Fare Free Friday.

Health and city design are not the only reasons behind moves toward free mass transit. Poverty in inner city areas, with long commutes on older buses, is the norm for many at the bottom of society.

Free transport can make an immediate and disproportionate difference to the money in people’s pockets at a time when many developed societies are seeing the income equality gap grow.

Not car owners

Experiments in the US cities of Denver and Austin were initially viewed as unsuccessful, because there was little evidence that they removed cars from the road; that was because new passengers tended to be poor people who did not own cars, according to a 2012 review by the National Academies Press.

But they were successful in a different sense; they increased passenger use right away, with rises of between 20 and 60% in the first few months.

Car sales are tumbling as people look for alternatives, and as rural populations – who are most dependent on cars – continue to fall. Figures for January to September 2019 showed car sales lower in all major car markets in the world except for Brazil and Japan.

Integrated transport brings impressive reductions in pollution, congestion and accidents and sometimes more. in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, a combination of rethinking public space and public transport has contributed to a reduction in crime.

Finding public transport

The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests that Americans can save more than $9,738 annually by using public transport instead of driving. However, access, a problem for many, is the key to reducing emissions – 45% of Americans have no access to public transport.

Many UK cities, towns and villages are also very poorly served by public services. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, recently built a new and very expensive tram system, with fares higher than on the city’s bus network. Passengers numbers faltered, dashing hopes that the trams could pay their way.

But Edinburgh is renowned for its summer arts festival, which brings visitors flocking in. There is now talk of fare-free trams, at least from the airport to the city centre, which could help to increase overall festival visitor numbers and boost the city’s economy.

Carrots can often work better than sticks. Perhaps fare-free public transport schemes should offer something along the lines of frequent-flyer rewards? − 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.

Climate crisis offers a green business boom

The tide is turning against the fossil fuel industry as countries and companies recognise the green business boom of alternative energy.

LONDON, 27 January, 2020 − While the news about the climate crisis worsens and some national leaders, notably President Trump in the US, continue to champion the fossil fuel industry, there are still reasons to be cheerful, notably the developing green business boom of abandoning fossil fuels.

Fighting climate change has become the world’s single biggest business opportunity. Investment in wind power, solar, green hydrogen, energy storage, biogas, electric cars, tidal and wave power is at an all-time high.

Some countries, for example Portugal, have both business and government working together. They can see that that phasing out coal and replacing it with green hydrogen produced with electricity from sunlight is the road to national prosperity.

But even in countries like the US, where the government champions the polluters, businesses seeking profits are investing in wind and solar simply because they are cheaper than coal.

Just one extraordinary statistic: Texas, the US state most associated with oil, already has 26.9 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind power – the equivalent of 26 large coal-fired power stations. That shows how the energy map of the US is changing.

“Portugal is in a position to be the largest producer of green hydrogen – which will allow the country to become the biggest producer of green energy in Europe”

The speed of transition worldwide heralds a new industrial revolution. Three industries growing fast and with enormous potential to make a difference to climate change are green hydrogen, offshore wind, and electric cars.

There is a belief that green hydrogen could become a substitute for oil, both for transport and for heating. A study by energy company Wood Mackenzie estimates that $365 million has already been invested in green hydrogen, but that over $3.6 billion is in the pipeline.

For example, the Portuguese minister of environment and energy transition, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, has revealed plans to develop 1 GW of solar power capacity to be used for hydrogen production.

He was quoted as saying: “Portugal is in a position to be the largest producer of green hydrogen – which will allow the country to become the biggest producer of green energy in Europe. Hydrogen produced will be supplied to local energy-intensive industries, or could be exported using the deep-sea port of Sines.”

Cheaper off-shore wind

The key to the idea is that solar power is now so cheap that using it to create green hydrogen makes the hydrogen competitive with fossil fuels, as well as emission-free.

Apart from the continued success of on-shore wind energy, now recognised worldwide as the cheapest way to generate electricity, there is enormous interest in off-shore wind, where the improved technology and sheer size of the turbines has brought production costs tumbling.

The depth of the sea is also no longer a problem because floating offshore wind farms have now been successfully deployed in the North Sea and elsewhere in Europe. Electricity production from off-shore wind, with the wind blowing more constantly and at higher speeds, has exceeded predictions.

China is among the big developers, but again it is the US which springs a surprise, because analysts claim that investment in off-shore wind there will exceed that for oil and gas within five years.

Capacity in the US could reach 20 GW (the equivalent of 20 coal-fired power stations) by 2030, with an annual investment of $15 billion by 2025, according to Rystad Energy, a firm of independent analysts.

Coal stumbles

While the renewable sector is booming, the biggest polluter − the coal industry − is flagging. The US Federal Energy Information Administration expects renewables (wind, solar, hydro, geo-thermal and a small quantity of biomass) to reach 21.6 % of US electricity production by 2021, ahead of coal at 20.8% and nuclear at 19.7%. Gas remains in front at 37%.

In 2010 coal accounted for 46% of the market and renewables only 10%, and most of that was hydropower.

There is good news on the investment front too, at least for the climate. The latest figures show that for the second year running shares in the oil and gas sector of the stock market have fared worse than any other group.

Although the dividends the oil companies have paid out continue high to keep shareholders happy, the combination of the disinvestment movement and fears for the long-term future of the fossil fuel industry are keeping the stock price low.

There are dozens of smaller initiatives and investments too numerous to detail which amount to an avalanche of change. It is a lot, and a cheering start to the decade, but sadly still a long way from solving the climate crisis. − Climate News Network

The tide is turning against the fossil fuel industry as countries and companies recognise the green business boom of alternative energy.

LONDON, 27 January, 2020 − While the news about the climate crisis worsens and some national leaders, notably President Trump in the US, continue to champion the fossil fuel industry, there are still reasons to be cheerful, notably the developing green business boom of abandoning fossil fuels.

Fighting climate change has become the world’s single biggest business opportunity. Investment in wind power, solar, green hydrogen, energy storage, biogas, electric cars, tidal and wave power is at an all-time high.

Some countries, for example Portugal, have both business and government working together. They can see that that phasing out coal and replacing it with green hydrogen produced with electricity from sunlight is the road to national prosperity.

But even in countries like the US, where the government champions the polluters, businesses seeking profits are investing in wind and solar simply because they are cheaper than coal.

Just one extraordinary statistic: Texas, the US state most associated with oil, already has 26.9 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind power – the equivalent of 26 large coal-fired power stations. That shows how the energy map of the US is changing.

“Portugal is in a position to be the largest producer of green hydrogen – which will allow the country to become the biggest producer of green energy in Europe”

The speed of transition worldwide heralds a new industrial revolution. Three industries growing fast and with enormous potential to make a difference to climate change are green hydrogen, offshore wind, and electric cars.

There is a belief that green hydrogen could become a substitute for oil, both for transport and for heating. A study by energy company Wood Mackenzie estimates that $365 million has already been invested in green hydrogen, but that over $3.6 billion is in the pipeline.

For example, the Portuguese minister of environment and energy transition, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, has revealed plans to develop 1 GW of solar power capacity to be used for hydrogen production.

He was quoted as saying: “Portugal is in a position to be the largest producer of green hydrogen – which will allow the country to become the biggest producer of green energy in Europe. Hydrogen produced will be supplied to local energy-intensive industries, or could be exported using the deep-sea port of Sines.”

Cheaper off-shore wind

The key to the idea is that solar power is now so cheap that using it to create green hydrogen makes the hydrogen competitive with fossil fuels, as well as emission-free.

Apart from the continued success of on-shore wind energy, now recognised worldwide as the cheapest way to generate electricity, there is enormous interest in off-shore wind, where the improved technology and sheer size of the turbines has brought production costs tumbling.

The depth of the sea is also no longer a problem because floating offshore wind farms have now been successfully deployed in the North Sea and elsewhere in Europe. Electricity production from off-shore wind, with the wind blowing more constantly and at higher speeds, has exceeded predictions.

China is among the big developers, but again it is the US which springs a surprise, because analysts claim that investment in off-shore wind there will exceed that for oil and gas within five years.

Capacity in the US could reach 20 GW (the equivalent of 20 coal-fired power stations) by 2030, with an annual investment of $15 billion by 2025, according to Rystad Energy, a firm of independent analysts.

Coal stumbles

While the renewable sector is booming, the biggest polluter − the coal industry − is flagging. The US Federal Energy Information Administration expects renewables (wind, solar, hydro, geo-thermal and a small quantity of biomass) to reach 21.6 % of US electricity production by 2021, ahead of coal at 20.8% and nuclear at 19.7%. Gas remains in front at 37%.

In 2010 coal accounted for 46% of the market and renewables only 10%, and most of that was hydropower.

There is good news on the investment front too, at least for the climate. The latest figures show that for the second year running shares in the oil and gas sector of the stock market have fared worse than any other group.

Although the dividends the oil companies have paid out continue high to keep shareholders happy, the combination of the disinvestment movement and fears for the long-term future of the fossil fuel industry are keeping the stock price low.

There are dozens of smaller initiatives and investments too numerous to detail which amount to an avalanche of change. It is a lot, and a cheering start to the decade, but sadly still a long way from solving the climate crisis. − Climate News Network

Climate migrants still face ‘immense disaster’

There’s hope for many people seeking better lives as generosity offers them a real welcome. But for climate migrants serious doubts persist.

LONDON, 22 January, 2020 − If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” − 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.

There’s hope for many people seeking better lives as generosity offers them a real welcome. But for climate migrants serious doubts persist.

LONDON, 22 January, 2020 − If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

UK’s nuclear future hangs on electricity tax

The new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, must soon decide whether to save the UK’s nuclear future with an unpopular electricity tax.

LONDON, 21 January, 2020 − Pressure is mounting on the UK’s new Conservative government to rescue its nuclear programme through an electricity tax, to throw a lifeline to the ailing French nuclear giant EDF, which wants to build more huge reactors in southern England despite its fragile financial plight.

The UK government has been consulting on what amounts to a proposed nuclear tax, which would require every electricity consumer to pay a levy of up to £50 a year on their bills while the new plants are being built, saving the beleaguered French company from having to finance the project itself.

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, will need to weigh the disadvantages of abandoning plans to build the new reactors against the effect the new tax would have on the electoral backing of his new Conservative supporters. Many of those who voted for him in last month’s general election swept him to power by switching support from their traditional choice, the opposition Labour Party.

EDF is very keen to get an early open-ended financial commitment to fund its new station, Sizewell C on Britain’s east coast. That is planned to contain two 1,640 megawatt European Pressurised Water reactors. Critics say the longer the decision is delayed, the clearer it becomes that the reactors are too expensive and also unnecessary.

Losing support?

With renewables, particularly wind and solar, now cheap and popular, and nuclear stations always late and over budget, EDF is believed to be nervous that its own political support is ebbing away.

The electoral risks for Johnson are clear. The US version of the nuclear tax the British are proposing, called Early Cost Recovery, had American electricity customers paying up front for a nuclear station, the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina. But consumers were left with a $10 billion (£7.7bn) debt for cancelled nuclear plants, and another $13.5bn (£10.4bn) in cost over-runs, with no reactors coming online.

And the chances of Sizewell C being cancelled are high, even if its costs are guaranteed. If a paper, Financing the Hinkley Point C project, just published, is correct, EDF is already in deep financial trouble.

According to its author, Steve Thomas, emeritus professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich in London, it is impossible for EDF to finance the completion of its Hinkley Point C station in the West of England unless the UK government finds a way to pay the capital cost.

“The prime minister is reputed to have a fondness for elephants – especially if they’re white. EDF is pressing him hard to support another white elephant – a new nuclear power station at Sizewell”

The paper says the twin reactor power station under construction there is draining EDF’s finances so severely that it will not be able to pay the construction costs (approximately £11bn) it has yet to find.

Professor Thomas says EDF is facing financial collapse because of the priority it must give to expensive uprating of most of its 58 reactors in France in order to keep them running safely. As a result, if Hinkley Point is to be completed, it needs an open-ended financial commitment of both British and French public money.

His report says: “The sensible course is to abandon the plant now before more public money is wasted.”

Despite the fact that, as the report says, EDF is currently £37.4bn in debt without including many of its nuclear liabilities, it is still officially pressing ahead with plans not only to complete Hinkley Point C by 2025 but also to start Sizewell C construction in two years’ time.

This now seems dependent on Boris Johnson getting the British consumer to pay for it in advance.

Tax on all

Tom Burke, co-founder and chairman of the green think tank E3G, told the Climate News Network: “The prime minister is reputed to have a fondness for elephants – especially if they’re white.

“EDF is pressing him hard to support another white elephant – a new nuclear power station at Sizewell. To pay for this, EDF wants him to levy a nuclear tax on every electricity consumer in the country.

“They will be forced to pay EDF long before Sizewell is actually supplying electricity, and even if they get their own electricity from green providers who reject nuclear electricity, which, despite industry claims to the contrary, is not zero carbon.

“This expensive distortion of the electricity market will be sold under the incomprehensible banner of being a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) financing package to disguise the fact that it is simply a tax on voters to pay for an uneconomic source of electricity.

Little faith

“We know it is uneconomic because no-one in the banks or investment houses is willing to invest in it without such a measure, which is similar to the one the Chinese Government uses to force Chinese consumers to pay for wasteful energy mega-projects like the Three Gorges Dam.”

So far the government has made no official comment on what it proposes to do, following a public consultation last autumn on the RAB. Few outsiders have much faith in the government ministry responsible, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is supposed to make the decision. It is anyway likely to be referred to the prime minister since it is so politically important.

To some the department’s continued enthusiasm for nuclear power when all the evidence is that it is uneconomic is incomprehensible. However, building eight new nuclear stations remains official policy.

The department has a record of being badly wrong in its forecasts. For example, its claim that new nuclear stations were needed was founded on a prediction in 2010 that the UK would be consuming 15% more electricity by 2020. In fact demand has gone down year on year, and the country is consuming 15% less.

So by the department’s own measure new nuclear power stations are not needed. However, that has so far had no effect on policy. − Climate News Network

The new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, must soon decide whether to save the UK’s nuclear future with an unpopular electricity tax.

LONDON, 21 January, 2020 − Pressure is mounting on the UK’s new Conservative government to rescue its nuclear programme through an electricity tax, to throw a lifeline to the ailing French nuclear giant EDF, which wants to build more huge reactors in southern England despite its fragile financial plight.

The UK government has been consulting on what amounts to a proposed nuclear tax, which would require every electricity consumer to pay a levy of up to £50 a year on their bills while the new plants are being built, saving the beleaguered French company from having to finance the project itself.

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, will need to weigh the disadvantages of abandoning plans to build the new reactors against the effect the new tax would have on the electoral backing of his new Conservative supporters. Many of those who voted for him in last month’s general election swept him to power by switching support from their traditional choice, the opposition Labour Party.

EDF is very keen to get an early open-ended financial commitment to fund its new station, Sizewell C on Britain’s east coast. That is planned to contain two 1,640 megawatt European Pressurised Water reactors. Critics say the longer the decision is delayed, the clearer it becomes that the reactors are too expensive and also unnecessary.

Losing support?

With renewables, particularly wind and solar, now cheap and popular, and nuclear stations always late and over budget, EDF is believed to be nervous that its own political support is ebbing away.

The electoral risks for Johnson are clear. The US version of the nuclear tax the British are proposing, called Early Cost Recovery, had American electricity customers paying up front for a nuclear station, the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina. But consumers were left with a $10 billion (£7.7bn) debt for cancelled nuclear plants, and another $13.5bn (£10.4bn) in cost over-runs, with no reactors coming online.

And the chances of Sizewell C being cancelled are high, even if its costs are guaranteed. If a paper, Financing the Hinkley Point C project, just published, is correct, EDF is already in deep financial trouble.

According to its author, Steve Thomas, emeritus professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich in London, it is impossible for EDF to finance the completion of its Hinkley Point C station in the West of England unless the UK government finds a way to pay the capital cost.

“The prime minister is reputed to have a fondness for elephants – especially if they’re white. EDF is pressing him hard to support another white elephant – a new nuclear power station at Sizewell”

The paper says the twin reactor power station under construction there is draining EDF’s finances so severely that it will not be able to pay the construction costs (approximately £11bn) it has yet to find.

Professor Thomas says EDF is facing financial collapse because of the priority it must give to expensive uprating of most of its 58 reactors in France in order to keep them running safely. As a result, if Hinkley Point is to be completed, it needs an open-ended financial commitment of both British and French public money.

His report says: “The sensible course is to abandon the plant now before more public money is wasted.”

Despite the fact that, as the report says, EDF is currently £37.4bn in debt without including many of its nuclear liabilities, it is still officially pressing ahead with plans not only to complete Hinkley Point C by 2025 but also to start Sizewell C construction in two years’ time.

This now seems dependent on Boris Johnson getting the British consumer to pay for it in advance.

Tax on all

Tom Burke, co-founder and chairman of the green think tank E3G, told the Climate News Network: “The prime minister is reputed to have a fondness for elephants – especially if they’re white.

“EDF is pressing him hard to support another white elephant – a new nuclear power station at Sizewell. To pay for this, EDF wants him to levy a nuclear tax on every electricity consumer in the country.

“They will be forced to pay EDF long before Sizewell is actually supplying electricity, and even if they get their own electricity from green providers who reject nuclear electricity, which, despite industry claims to the contrary, is not zero carbon.

“This expensive distortion of the electricity market will be sold under the incomprehensible banner of being a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) financing package to disguise the fact that it is simply a tax on voters to pay for an uneconomic source of electricity.

Little faith

“We know it is uneconomic because no-one in the banks or investment houses is willing to invest in it without such a measure, which is similar to the one the Chinese Government uses to force Chinese consumers to pay for wasteful energy mega-projects like the Three Gorges Dam.”

So far the government has made no official comment on what it proposes to do, following a public consultation last autumn on the RAB. Few outsiders have much faith in the government ministry responsible, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is supposed to make the decision. It is anyway likely to be referred to the prime minister since it is so politically important.

To some the department’s continued enthusiasm for nuclear power when all the evidence is that it is uneconomic is incomprehensible. However, building eight new nuclear stations remains official policy.

The department has a record of being badly wrong in its forecasts. For example, its claim that new nuclear stations were needed was founded on a prediction in 2010 that the UK would be consuming 15% more electricity by 2020. In fact demand has gone down year on year, and the country is consuming 15% less.

So by the department’s own measure new nuclear power stations are not needed. However, that has so far had no effect on policy. − Climate News Network

Russia moves to exploit Arctic riches

As the polar sea ice vanishes faster, Russia unveils plans to exploit Arctic riches: fossil fuel deposits, minerals and new shipping routes.

LONDON, 7 January, 2020 − The Russian government has published ambitious plans to exploit the Arctic riches off its northern coast, opening up the polar region to exploitation with a fleet of 40 ships, new roads and railways and four enlarged airports.

The plans, posted in Russian on the official government website on 30 December and signed off by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, have been translated and reported by the independent Barents Observer newspaper, based in Norway.

The scale of the plans will alarm other Arctic nations, particularly Canada, the United States, Norway and Finland, which all have coastlines on the increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean.

None of these has the powerful nuclear-propelled ships required to compete with Russia’s existing fleet, let alone the new ones it intends to build.

Although the Russian plans will not be completed until 2035, because the scale of shipbuilding alone is enormous, work has already begun and many of the preparations are going forward this year with a regional geological survey being conducted to pinpoint the riches to be exploited.

“In the 21st century, there will be a maritime ‘gold rush’ to the upper latitudes once conditions permit”

The Barents Observer reports that the plan builds on decrees issued by President Putin from May 2018, and a request to boost annual shipments on the Northern Sea Route across the top of Siberia to 80 million tons by 2024.

Although Rosatom, the giant state-controlled nuclear company, is leading the push to exploit the Arctic, and has already led the way with a floating nuclear power station to help provide power, there are a host of other leading Russian companies involved.

The fact that they are mostly involved in fossil fuel extraction and mineral mining will send a shiver down the spine of all those who believe that the Arctic should be left alone – and that exploiting its potential riches will ensure the destruction of much of the planet through climate change.

The Russians, on the other hand, see the Arctic as their own backyard and climate change as a way of gaining both economic and financial advantage, because Siberia will become much warmer.

Tax-free incentive

Enterprises involved include oil and gas companies Novatek, Gazprom Neft, Rosneft and the Independent Oil Company. In addition there are mineral and ore developers like Nornickel, VostokCoal, Baimskaya, KAZ Minerals, Vostok Engineering and Severnaya Zvezda.

The plans involve around 40 new vessels, several of them huge nuclear ice-breakers, designed to keep shipping lanes open in all circumstances. New railway lines, roads and bridges will be built in northern Siberia, with four airports upgraded to bring in supplies and people. Both companies and people will be encouraged by a special tax-free status for the region.

Exactly what is there to be exploited is not yet known. However, the Maritime Executive website has this to say: “What is generally understood is that there are vast resources to be harnessed. It is estimated that 30% of the world’s untapped hydrocarbons can be found in the Arctic, including a full 25% of proven hydrocarbon reserves.

“Much nickel, platinum, palladium, lead, diamonds, and other rare Earth metals are there as well. In the 21st century, there will be a maritime ‘gold rush’ to the upper latitudes once conditions permit.”

By coincidence the US Congressional Research Service put out an updated research paper on the Arctic on 20 December, discussing the tensions in the region.

American anxiety

Even before the latest Russian announcement there was concern in Washington that an Arctic takeover was planned. The document quotes US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo: “We’re concerned about Russia’s claim over the international waters of the Northern Sea Route, including its newly announced plans to connect it with China’s Maritime Silk Road.

“In the Northern Sea Route, Moscow already illegally demands other nations request permission to pass, requires Russian maritime pilots to be aboard foreign ships, and threatens to use military force to sink any that fail to comply with its demands.

“Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness. It need not be the case. And we stand ready to ensure that it does not become so.”

As the ice in the region melts, it is clear that the tensions will continue to grow. − Climate News Network

As the polar sea ice vanishes faster, Russia unveils plans to exploit Arctic riches: fossil fuel deposits, minerals and new shipping routes.

LONDON, 7 January, 2020 − The Russian government has published ambitious plans to exploit the Arctic riches off its northern coast, opening up the polar region to exploitation with a fleet of 40 ships, new roads and railways and four enlarged airports.

The plans, posted in Russian on the official government website on 30 December and signed off by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, have been translated and reported by the independent Barents Observer newspaper, based in Norway.

The scale of the plans will alarm other Arctic nations, particularly Canada, the United States, Norway and Finland, which all have coastlines on the increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean.

None of these has the powerful nuclear-propelled ships required to compete with Russia’s existing fleet, let alone the new ones it intends to build.

Although the Russian plans will not be completed until 2035, because the scale of shipbuilding alone is enormous, work has already begun and many of the preparations are going forward this year with a regional geological survey being conducted to pinpoint the riches to be exploited.

“In the 21st century, there will be a maritime ‘gold rush’ to the upper latitudes once conditions permit”

The Barents Observer reports that the plan builds on decrees issued by President Putin from May 2018, and a request to boost annual shipments on the Northern Sea Route across the top of Siberia to 80 million tons by 2024.

Although Rosatom, the giant state-controlled nuclear company, is leading the push to exploit the Arctic, and has already led the way with a floating nuclear power station to help provide power, there are a host of other leading Russian companies involved.

The fact that they are mostly involved in fossil fuel extraction and mineral mining will send a shiver down the spine of all those who believe that the Arctic should be left alone – and that exploiting its potential riches will ensure the destruction of much of the planet through climate change.

The Russians, on the other hand, see the Arctic as their own backyard and climate change as a way of gaining both economic and financial advantage, because Siberia will become much warmer.

Tax-free incentive

Enterprises involved include oil and gas companies Novatek, Gazprom Neft, Rosneft and the Independent Oil Company. In addition there are mineral and ore developers like Nornickel, VostokCoal, Baimskaya, KAZ Minerals, Vostok Engineering and Severnaya Zvezda.

The plans involve around 40 new vessels, several of them huge nuclear ice-breakers, designed to keep shipping lanes open in all circumstances. New railway lines, roads and bridges will be built in northern Siberia, with four airports upgraded to bring in supplies and people. Both companies and people will be encouraged by a special tax-free status for the region.

Exactly what is there to be exploited is not yet known. However, the Maritime Executive website has this to say: “What is generally understood is that there are vast resources to be harnessed. It is estimated that 30% of the world’s untapped hydrocarbons can be found in the Arctic, including a full 25% of proven hydrocarbon reserves.

“Much nickel, platinum, palladium, lead, diamonds, and other rare Earth metals are there as well. In the 21st century, there will be a maritime ‘gold rush’ to the upper latitudes once conditions permit.”

By coincidence the US Congressional Research Service put out an updated research paper on the Arctic on 20 December, discussing the tensions in the region.

American anxiety

Even before the latest Russian announcement there was concern in Washington that an Arctic takeover was planned. The document quotes US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo: “We’re concerned about Russia’s claim over the international waters of the Northern Sea Route, including its newly announced plans to connect it with China’s Maritime Silk Road.

“In the Northern Sea Route, Moscow already illegally demands other nations request permission to pass, requires Russian maritime pilots to be aboard foreign ships, and threatens to use military force to sink any that fail to comply with its demands.

“Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness. It need not be the case. And we stand ready to ensure that it does not become so.”

As the ice in the region melts, it is clear that the tensions will continue to grow. − Climate News Network

Marine climate impacts are intensifying

Fish catches are falling in the Gulf of Maine, Baltic cod are getting smaller. Sharks suffer acid waters’ effects as marine climate impacts grow.

LONDON, 20 December, 2019 – Marine climate impacts are starting to make their mark on marine life at almost every level, according to a range of entirely unrelated scientific studies published in the last month.

Baltic codfish – a valuable commercial catch – have steadily become smaller, scrawnier and less valuable because of the loss of oxygen in ocean waters as a consequence of an increasingly warmer world.

Changes in climate over the last two decades have cost the fishermen of New England their jobs: their numbers have fallen by 16% since 1996 as the total catch has fallen, along with fishermen’s incomes.

The change may be linked to a natural ocean climate cycle, but nobody can be sure the decline will not continue as waters warm in response to ever higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, driven by ever greater use of fossil fuels to power modern economic growth.

That steady rise in carbon dioxide means that marine waters are also becoming steadily more acidic, and this could be bad news for the sharks. Laboratory experiments suggest they can respond to short-term changes in water chemistry, but in the long term increasingly acidic waters can begin to dissolve not just the characteristic skin scales of the shark family, but the teeth as well.

And if environmental change goes on hitting tropical corals and the anemones that co-exist with them, then one of the world’s most iconic and culturally popular species could also disappear: the clownfish sub-family Amphiprioninae may not survive the continued bleaching of the coral reefs. Amphiprion ocellaris swam into the world’s hearts as the much sought-after cartoon character in the 2003 film Finding Nemo.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year”

Scientists based in the US and Sweden report in the journal Biology Letters that the average weight of specimens of Gadus morhua or the cod fish 40 cms long had dropped from 900 to 600 grams in the last 30 years.

They examined the otoliths or ear stones of 134 individuals trawled in the last months of the Baltic winter to read the evidence from trace elements such as magnesium and manganese and identify the cause: the continued fall in sea water oxygen levels as a consequence of global warming and pollution.

“The cod themselves are telling us through their internal logbooks that they’re affected by hypoxia [reduced oxygen availability], which we know is driven by climate change and nutrient loading,” said Karin Limburg, an ecologist at the State University of New York, who led the study. “Our findings suggest fish are in a worse condition because of hypoxia.”

In the Gulf of Maine, off the US Atlantic coast, catches of fish and shellfish have been falling, and with them the number of people employed in the fishery. Kimberly Oremus of the University of Delaware reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that successive warm winters have hit the catch, and incomes.

Pattern found

She matched decades of climate data, landing figures and sales data to identify a pattern of decline linked principally to a hot-and-cold pattern of change known as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

“New England waters are among the fastest-warming in the world,” she said. “Warmer than average sea surface temperatures have been shown to impact the productivity of lobsters, sea scallops, groundfish and other fisheries important to the region, especially when they are most vulnerable, from spawning through their first year of life.”

The region has 34,000 commercial fishermen, a significant proportion of the 166,000 or so throughout the whole of the US. The oscillation is a shift in ocean temperatures over decades, and catches could improve in decades to come – but marine waters worldwide are warming.

“This is an important signal to incorporate into the fisheries management process,” she said. “We need to figure out what climate is doing to fisheries in order to cope with it.”

Acid hazard

One important part of the marine ecosystem might not in the long run be able to cope: short episodes of hypercapnia, or a dramatic rise in dissolved carbon dioxide, are a feature linked to seasonal oceanic upwellings, and can last for days in some waters before normal ocean chemistry is restored.

In the journal Scientific Reports, European and South Africa researchers offer evidence that though cartilaginous fishes – the huge and varied family to which sharks belong – have evolved to cope with such spells, ever more acidic oceans offer a new hazard.

They caught a number of puffadder shysharks, known to scientists as Haploblepharus edwardsii and a species small enough for laboratory tanks, from shallow waters off South Africa and exposed them to acidic conditions predicted by the year 2300.

The increasingly acid environment was, literally, corrosive. Their specimens lost a quarter of their skin denticles – the shark equivalent of scales. Sharks’ teeth are made of the same biological fabric as the skin, and the implication is that such losses could, in their words “compromise hydrodynamics and skin protection.” In other words, some of the ocean’s most feared predators might have trouble both swimming and feeding.

Poor adapters

Australian and US scientists have more bad news for Nemo, the film star from the clownfish family. Rather than experiment in a laboratory tank, they monitored the numbers and the DNA of real life specimens for decades in Kimbe Bay off Papua-New Guinea. As waters warmed and began to bleach the coral reefs, the anemones that live in the reefs were put at risk.

They report in Ecology Letters that the tiny clownfish that live in the anemone tentacles proved bad at adapting to environmental change. The implication is that, as the coral reefs are lost, many species could be homeless and helpless.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year,” said Serge Planes of the French National Centre of Scientific Research, and one of the authors.

“To expect a clownfish to genetically adapt at a pace that would allow it to persist is unreasonable.” And Simon Thorrold of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US added: “It seems Nemo won’t be able to save himself.” – Climate News Network

Fish catches are falling in the Gulf of Maine, Baltic cod are getting smaller. Sharks suffer acid waters’ effects as marine climate impacts grow.

LONDON, 20 December, 2019 – Marine climate impacts are starting to make their mark on marine life at almost every level, according to a range of entirely unrelated scientific studies published in the last month.

Baltic codfish – a valuable commercial catch – have steadily become smaller, scrawnier and less valuable because of the loss of oxygen in ocean waters as a consequence of an increasingly warmer world.

Changes in climate over the last two decades have cost the fishermen of New England their jobs: their numbers have fallen by 16% since 1996 as the total catch has fallen, along with fishermen’s incomes.

The change may be linked to a natural ocean climate cycle, but nobody can be sure the decline will not continue as waters warm in response to ever higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, driven by ever greater use of fossil fuels to power modern economic growth.

That steady rise in carbon dioxide means that marine waters are also becoming steadily more acidic, and this could be bad news for the sharks. Laboratory experiments suggest they can respond to short-term changes in water chemistry, but in the long term increasingly acidic waters can begin to dissolve not just the characteristic skin scales of the shark family, but the teeth as well.

And if environmental change goes on hitting tropical corals and the anemones that co-exist with them, then one of the world’s most iconic and culturally popular species could also disappear: the clownfish sub-family Amphiprioninae may not survive the continued bleaching of the coral reefs. Amphiprion ocellaris swam into the world’s hearts as the much sought-after cartoon character in the 2003 film Finding Nemo.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year”

Scientists based in the US and Sweden report in the journal Biology Letters that the average weight of specimens of Gadus morhua or the cod fish 40 cms long had dropped from 900 to 600 grams in the last 30 years.

They examined the otoliths or ear stones of 134 individuals trawled in the last months of the Baltic winter to read the evidence from trace elements such as magnesium and manganese and identify the cause: the continued fall in sea water oxygen levels as a consequence of global warming and pollution.

“The cod themselves are telling us through their internal logbooks that they’re affected by hypoxia [reduced oxygen availability], which we know is driven by climate change and nutrient loading,” said Karin Limburg, an ecologist at the State University of New York, who led the study. “Our findings suggest fish are in a worse condition because of hypoxia.”

In the Gulf of Maine, off the US Atlantic coast, catches of fish and shellfish have been falling, and with them the number of people employed in the fishery. Kimberly Oremus of the University of Delaware reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that successive warm winters have hit the catch, and incomes.

Pattern found

She matched decades of climate data, landing figures and sales data to identify a pattern of decline linked principally to a hot-and-cold pattern of change known as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

“New England waters are among the fastest-warming in the world,” she said. “Warmer than average sea surface temperatures have been shown to impact the productivity of lobsters, sea scallops, groundfish and other fisheries important to the region, especially when they are most vulnerable, from spawning through their first year of life.”

The region has 34,000 commercial fishermen, a significant proportion of the 166,000 or so throughout the whole of the US. The oscillation is a shift in ocean temperatures over decades, and catches could improve in decades to come – but marine waters worldwide are warming.

“This is an important signal to incorporate into the fisheries management process,” she said. “We need to figure out what climate is doing to fisheries in order to cope with it.”

Acid hazard

One important part of the marine ecosystem might not in the long run be able to cope: short episodes of hypercapnia, or a dramatic rise in dissolved carbon dioxide, are a feature linked to seasonal oceanic upwellings, and can last for days in some waters before normal ocean chemistry is restored.

In the journal Scientific Reports, European and South Africa researchers offer evidence that though cartilaginous fishes – the huge and varied family to which sharks belong – have evolved to cope with such spells, ever more acidic oceans offer a new hazard.

They caught a number of puffadder shysharks, known to scientists as Haploblepharus edwardsii and a species small enough for laboratory tanks, from shallow waters off South Africa and exposed them to acidic conditions predicted by the year 2300.

The increasingly acid environment was, literally, corrosive. Their specimens lost a quarter of their skin denticles – the shark equivalent of scales. Sharks’ teeth are made of the same biological fabric as the skin, and the implication is that such losses could, in their words “compromise hydrodynamics and skin protection.” In other words, some of the ocean’s most feared predators might have trouble both swimming and feeding.

Poor adapters

Australian and US scientists have more bad news for Nemo, the film star from the clownfish family. Rather than experiment in a laboratory tank, they monitored the numbers and the DNA of real life specimens for decades in Kimbe Bay off Papua-New Guinea. As waters warmed and began to bleach the coral reefs, the anemones that live in the reefs were put at risk.

They report in Ecology Letters that the tiny clownfish that live in the anemone tentacles proved bad at adapting to environmental change. The implication is that, as the coral reefs are lost, many species could be homeless and helpless.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year,” said Serge Planes of the French National Centre of Scientific Research, and one of the authors.

“To expect a clownfish to genetically adapt at a pace that would allow it to persist is unreasonable.” And Simon Thorrold of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US added: “It seems Nemo won’t be able to save himself.” – Climate News Network