Tag Archives: USA

Geo-engineering: It’s probably not a good idea

BOOK REVIEW

Skyseed: geo-engineering the planet might be humankind’s last desperate throw, says a tale by a geophysical hazard expert.

LONDON, 30 October, 2020 − There were always three objections to the technofix answer to climate change: that geo-engineeering wouldn’t work, that it would deliver unintended consequences that would be unpredictably distributed, and a third, rarely mentioned: that it might work all too well.

In Bill McGuire’s unexpected eco-thriller Skyseed: Hacking the Earth might be the last thing we ever do it works desperately well. Unexpected is a carefully chosen word: it’s no surprise that scientists can be good writers − I’ve argued elsewhere that they can be better writers than most writers − but the leap from factual analysis to lurid fable is a challenge.

Skyseed has what good thrillers always need, as well as geo-engineering: a world to save, characters with a bit of go in them, some plausible villains, fast-paced action, sustained tension, a big moment of reckoning and (let us be honest) as little preaching as possible.

The story is a simple one of global eco-collapse. Volcanoes are involved, and extreme weather, and ice, but not the outcome that McGuire (a volcanologist who for many years headed research into natural hazards) has spent a working lifetime warning about.

In this book, instead of taking the obvious route and abandoning fossil fuels as an energy source, a bullying, dishonest and unthinking American president, dependent on what is now called “dark money”, with help from a fawning British prime minister sorely in need of a trade deal, decides to contain global heating in a different way.

“The precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible”

The duo authorise a dangerous experiment in geo-engineering, under the cover of some so-called rain-making experiments during high-altitude military flights. That’s mistake one.

Mistake two is that they do it secretly. And they seem to think that a small army of global climate scientists − people whose career is based on sampling the stratospheric atmosphere and matching its chemistry with global temperature levels − won’t notice. And that if they do, these academic busybodies can be rubbed out without anyone else asking awkward questions.

Of course, things go wrong: horribly wrong, and it doesn’t take long for a trio of all-too human scientists, working separately and together, to tumble to the truth. As soon as they start to do so, sinister forces try to contain the secret. Our heroes survive, thanks to fortune, subterfuge and some help with the weather, and come back with the truth: don’t mess with geo-engineering.

In the course of this entertainment, the informed reader could play the game of spot-the-science: quite a lot, actually, but trailed racily and with just enough explanation to keep the story at stampede speed − advanced nano-engineering, upper atmosphere chemistry, volcanic discharges, the interplay of climate change on geological hazard, the advance of an ice front, and so on. You could both enjoy the story and learn a little more about how the planet works.

Not escapist

McGuire poses no great threat to the reputations of Len Deighton, Leslie Charteris and Ian Fleming, but who cares? Their heroes always survived, to begin a new adventure in each successive volume.

In Skyseed, whoever makes it to the last page doesn’t expect to survive for much longer, and − non-spoiler alert − McGuire cheerfully breaks that bit of bad news to the reader in the prologue. You know this one is going to end badly, before it even begins.

A declaration of interest: I know McGuire, professionally, and have done for many years. Another declaration: I can think of less readable books, by vastly better-known popular authors. And a third: the precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible.

That civilisation is threatened, and all too plausibly, by the inexorable increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, unhappily is not. You could call this book a thriller. You could not call it escapist. − Climate News Network

Skyseed: The Book Guild, £8.99. By Bill McGuire

BOOK REVIEW

Skyseed: geo-engineering the planet might be humankind’s last desperate throw, says a tale by a geophysical hazard expert.

LONDON, 30 October, 2020 − There were always three objections to the technofix answer to climate change: that geo-engineeering wouldn’t work, that it would deliver unintended consequences that would be unpredictably distributed, and a third, rarely mentioned: that it might work all too well.

In Bill McGuire’s unexpected eco-thriller Skyseed: Hacking the Earth might be the last thing we ever do it works desperately well. Unexpected is a carefully chosen word: it’s no surprise that scientists can be good writers − I’ve argued elsewhere that they can be better writers than most writers − but the leap from factual analysis to lurid fable is a challenge.

Skyseed has what good thrillers always need, as well as geo-engineering: a world to save, characters with a bit of go in them, some plausible villains, fast-paced action, sustained tension, a big moment of reckoning and (let us be honest) as little preaching as possible.

The story is a simple one of global eco-collapse. Volcanoes are involved, and extreme weather, and ice, but not the outcome that McGuire (a volcanologist who for many years headed research into natural hazards) has spent a working lifetime warning about.

In this book, instead of taking the obvious route and abandoning fossil fuels as an energy source, a bullying, dishonest and unthinking American president, dependent on what is now called “dark money”, with help from a fawning British prime minister sorely in need of a trade deal, decides to contain global heating in a different way.

“The precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible”

The duo authorise a dangerous experiment in geo-engineering, under the cover of some so-called rain-making experiments during high-altitude military flights. That’s mistake one.

Mistake two is that they do it secretly. And they seem to think that a small army of global climate scientists − people whose career is based on sampling the stratospheric atmosphere and matching its chemistry with global temperature levels − won’t notice. And that if they do, these academic busybodies can be rubbed out without anyone else asking awkward questions.

Of course, things go wrong: horribly wrong, and it doesn’t take long for a trio of all-too human scientists, working separately and together, to tumble to the truth. As soon as they start to do so, sinister forces try to contain the secret. Our heroes survive, thanks to fortune, subterfuge and some help with the weather, and come back with the truth: don’t mess with geo-engineering.

In the course of this entertainment, the informed reader could play the game of spot-the-science: quite a lot, actually, but trailed racily and with just enough explanation to keep the story at stampede speed − advanced nano-engineering, upper atmosphere chemistry, volcanic discharges, the interplay of climate change on geological hazard, the advance of an ice front, and so on. You could both enjoy the story and learn a little more about how the planet works.

Not escapist

McGuire poses no great threat to the reputations of Len Deighton, Leslie Charteris and Ian Fleming, but who cares? Their heroes always survived, to begin a new adventure in each successive volume.

In Skyseed, whoever makes it to the last page doesn’t expect to survive for much longer, and − non-spoiler alert − McGuire cheerfully breaks that bit of bad news to the reader in the prologue. You know this one is going to end badly, before it even begins.

A declaration of interest: I know McGuire, professionally, and have done for many years. Another declaration: I can think of less readable books, by vastly better-known popular authors. And a third: the precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible.

That civilisation is threatened, and all too plausibly, by the inexorable increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, unhappily is not. You could call this book a thriller. You could not call it escapist. − Climate News Network

Skyseed: The Book Guild, £8.99. By Bill McGuire

Western US and Southeast Asia face rising dust risk

It obscures the skies and darkens the snows. Wind-borne dust risk is increasingly ominous in a warming world.

LONDON, 26 October, 2020 − Half a planet apart, one low-lying and the other on the roof of the world, two huge regions confront an increasing dust risk − a menace to jobs, to food and to lives.

The Great Plains of North America are getting dustier every year because more soil is now being exposed to erosion. And high in the Himalayas on the continent of Asia, the peaks too are becoming dustier, in ways that threaten to increase the melting of high-altitude snows.

Both findings are in essence bad news. In the western US, higher levels of wind erosion as a consequence of changing farm practices combined with ever-greater probabilities of drought mean ever-higher probabilities of a return of the Dust Bowl that devastated the US Midwest 90 years ago.

And 700 million people in Southeast Asia, China and India depend on the slow melting of the Himalayan glaciers to irrigate their crops in the hot dry season: earlier melting threatens not just livelihoods but lives.

Taken for farming

In the 1930s, the Great Plains region was hit by drought that extended from Canada to Mexico. By then, vast tracts of prairie had been converted from wild grassland to ploughed field.

“The result was massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl. These dust storms removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur,” said Andrew Lambert of the University of Utah.

He and colleagues from Colorado report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they measured atmospheric dust levels by studying evidence from both space and from the ground, and collected data from 1988 to 2018.

They found that atmospheric dust over the Great Plains was increasing at 5% a year. That would mean a doubling in just two decades.

“The massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur”

They also found that levels of dust matched the planting and harvest months of soybean in the north, and corn in the southern states. How the land was farmed could be connected directly to the haze in the air.

Dust plays a powerful role in planetary management: researchers established years ago that the rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest was nourished and supplemented almost annually by deposits of fertile dust blown across the Atlantic from the African Sahara. And dust falling into the ocean on the journey also helped nourish marine life far below the surface of the Atlantic.

Now it seems that wind-blown dust from two continents also settles on the biggest and highest tracts of the Himalayas, to darken the snow, change its reflectivity and absorb the sun’s warmth.

Scientists from the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report in Nature Climate Change that they used detailed satellite imagery of the Himalayas to measure aerosols, elevation and snow surfaces to identify dust and other pollutants.

Constant release

They found that, at up to 4500 metres altitude, black carbon or soot played an important role in influencing the melt timetable of the high snows. Above that altitude, dust was the most important factor: dust from the Thar desert in India, from Saudi Arabia and even from the African Sahara.

Although this was part of a natural cycle, humankind may be accelerating the traffic and adding to the dust risk: ever-higher planetary temperatures have begun to affect atmospheric circulation. And as humans turn natural ecosystems into farmland, they release even more dust.

“The snow in the western Himalayas is receding rapidly. We need to understand why this is happening and we need to understand the implications,” said Chandan Sarangi, then at Pacific Northwest but now at the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai, and one of the authors.

“We’ve shown that dust can be a big contributor to the accelerated snowmelt. Hundreds of millions of people in the region rely on snow for their drinking water − we need to consider factors like dust seriously to understand what’s happening.” − Climate News Network

It obscures the skies and darkens the snows. Wind-borne dust risk is increasingly ominous in a warming world.

LONDON, 26 October, 2020 − Half a planet apart, one low-lying and the other on the roof of the world, two huge regions confront an increasing dust risk − a menace to jobs, to food and to lives.

The Great Plains of North America are getting dustier every year because more soil is now being exposed to erosion. And high in the Himalayas on the continent of Asia, the peaks too are becoming dustier, in ways that threaten to increase the melting of high-altitude snows.

Both findings are in essence bad news. In the western US, higher levels of wind erosion as a consequence of changing farm practices combined with ever-greater probabilities of drought mean ever-higher probabilities of a return of the Dust Bowl that devastated the US Midwest 90 years ago.

And 700 million people in Southeast Asia, China and India depend on the slow melting of the Himalayan glaciers to irrigate their crops in the hot dry season: earlier melting threatens not just livelihoods but lives.

Taken for farming

In the 1930s, the Great Plains region was hit by drought that extended from Canada to Mexico. By then, vast tracts of prairie had been converted from wild grassland to ploughed field.

“The result was massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl. These dust storms removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur,” said Andrew Lambert of the University of Utah.

He and colleagues from Colorado report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they measured atmospheric dust levels by studying evidence from both space and from the ground, and collected data from 1988 to 2018.

They found that atmospheric dust over the Great Plains was increasing at 5% a year. That would mean a doubling in just two decades.

“The massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur”

They also found that levels of dust matched the planting and harvest months of soybean in the north, and corn in the southern states. How the land was farmed could be connected directly to the haze in the air.

Dust plays a powerful role in planetary management: researchers established years ago that the rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest was nourished and supplemented almost annually by deposits of fertile dust blown across the Atlantic from the African Sahara. And dust falling into the ocean on the journey also helped nourish marine life far below the surface of the Atlantic.

Now it seems that wind-blown dust from two continents also settles on the biggest and highest tracts of the Himalayas, to darken the snow, change its reflectivity and absorb the sun’s warmth.

Scientists from the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report in Nature Climate Change that they used detailed satellite imagery of the Himalayas to measure aerosols, elevation and snow surfaces to identify dust and other pollutants.

Constant release

They found that, at up to 4500 metres altitude, black carbon or soot played an important role in influencing the melt timetable of the high snows. Above that altitude, dust was the most important factor: dust from the Thar desert in India, from Saudi Arabia and even from the African Sahara.

Although this was part of a natural cycle, humankind may be accelerating the traffic and adding to the dust risk: ever-higher planetary temperatures have begun to affect atmospheric circulation. And as humans turn natural ecosystems into farmland, they release even more dust.

“The snow in the western Himalayas is receding rapidly. We need to understand why this is happening and we need to understand the implications,” said Chandan Sarangi, then at Pacific Northwest but now at the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai, and one of the authors.

“We’ve shown that dust can be a big contributor to the accelerated snowmelt. Hundreds of millions of people in the region rely on snow for their drinking water − we need to consider factors like dust seriously to understand what’s happening.” − Climate News Network

Fossil fuels are rapidly losing favour with investors

From leading the market 20 years ago the big fossil fuels companies are plunging in value, as investors turn to renewables.

LONDON, 15 October, 2020 – Everyone has heard of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s biggest companies exploiting fossil fuels and a common target for those battling global warming and catastrophic climate change. But does the name NextEra Energy ring any bells?

In terms of stock market value, the Florida-based company – which describes itself as the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy – has surpassed the size of ExxonMobil.

In recent days NextEra’s value on the US stock market was above $144bn (£110bn) – up more than 60% over two years.

Back in the early 2000s, ExxonMobil – a global conglomerate with more than 70,000 employees – was valued at more than $500bn (£383bn). Earlier this month the valuation was under $138bn (£106bn).

Biggest return sought

The contrasting fortunes of the two companies are an indication of just how much the energy market is changing – and hard-nosed financiers,  altering their buying priorities, clearly prefer to move away from fossil fuels.

“People believe that renewable energy is a growth story and that oil and gas is a declining story”, a leading energy analyst told the Bloomberg news service.

Investors, particularly in the US, are queuing up to put their money into renewables. “Today hundreds of billions of dollars of capital are flowing into clean energy”, Bruce Usher, a professor at Columbia Business School in New York, told the CBS news network. “That bucket for investors is not about policy”, said Usher. “It’s about where you can get the biggest return.”

Several factors are driving investments in renewables. Lower economic growth rates in many countries and more efficient energy systems have sapped demand for oil.

“The US majors, for them to get into the renewables business, I think you need some kind of tectonic shift in their thinking. I can’t imagine it”

In 2008, before the world financial crash, the global oil price was $150 per barrel. Nowadays oil is selling for about $40 per barrel. The big oil producers have failed to reach agreement on limiting output. The US shale industry has added to the oil glut.

The Covid pandemic has dented economic growth further. Oil demand in sectors such as the airline and wider travel industry has slumped dramatically in recent months.

At one stage earlier this year the price of US oil turned negative – meaning producers were paying buyers to take their oil – mainly due to shortages of storage capacity.

Despite the drop in oil prices, renewables have been outperforming fossil fuels on price, mainly due to economies of scale and more efficient manufacturing processes.

Time warp

Consumers, in the US and elsewhere, are increasingly spurning fossil fuels and opting for clean alternatives – particularly wind and solar – for their energy.

The world energy outlook is changing but the oil majors, such as ExxonMobil, seem to be stuck in a time warp, insistent that the oil boom days will return.

James Robo, CEO of NextEra Energy, told a recent investor conference that though some oil companies were making investments in renewables, many of their projects had major flaws.

“I don’t worry about the oil majors at all”, said Robo. “The US majors, for them to get into the renewables business, I think you need some kind of tectonic shift in their thinking. I can’t imagine it.” – Climate News Network

From leading the market 20 years ago the big fossil fuels companies are plunging in value, as investors turn to renewables.

LONDON, 15 October, 2020 – Everyone has heard of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s biggest companies exploiting fossil fuels and a common target for those battling global warming and catastrophic climate change. But does the name NextEra Energy ring any bells?

In terms of stock market value, the Florida-based company – which describes itself as the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy – has surpassed the size of ExxonMobil.

In recent days NextEra’s value on the US stock market was above $144bn (£110bn) – up more than 60% over two years.

Back in the early 2000s, ExxonMobil – a global conglomerate with more than 70,000 employees – was valued at more than $500bn (£383bn). Earlier this month the valuation was under $138bn (£106bn).

Biggest return sought

The contrasting fortunes of the two companies are an indication of just how much the energy market is changing – and hard-nosed financiers,  altering their buying priorities, clearly prefer to move away from fossil fuels.

“People believe that renewable energy is a growth story and that oil and gas is a declining story”, a leading energy analyst told the Bloomberg news service.

Investors, particularly in the US, are queuing up to put their money into renewables. “Today hundreds of billions of dollars of capital are flowing into clean energy”, Bruce Usher, a professor at Columbia Business School in New York, told the CBS news network. “That bucket for investors is not about policy”, said Usher. “It’s about where you can get the biggest return.”

Several factors are driving investments in renewables. Lower economic growth rates in many countries and more efficient energy systems have sapped demand for oil.

“The US majors, for them to get into the renewables business, I think you need some kind of tectonic shift in their thinking. I can’t imagine it”

In 2008, before the world financial crash, the global oil price was $150 per barrel. Nowadays oil is selling for about $40 per barrel. The big oil producers have failed to reach agreement on limiting output. The US shale industry has added to the oil glut.

The Covid pandemic has dented economic growth further. Oil demand in sectors such as the airline and wider travel industry has slumped dramatically in recent months.

At one stage earlier this year the price of US oil turned negative – meaning producers were paying buyers to take their oil – mainly due to shortages of storage capacity.

Despite the drop in oil prices, renewables have been outperforming fossil fuels on price, mainly due to economies of scale and more efficient manufacturing processes.

Time warp

Consumers, in the US and elsewhere, are increasingly spurning fossil fuels and opting for clean alternatives – particularly wind and solar – for their energy.

The world energy outlook is changing but the oil majors, such as ExxonMobil, seem to be stuck in a time warp, insistent that the oil boom days will return.

James Robo, CEO of NextEra Energy, told a recent investor conference that though some oil companies were making investments in renewables, many of their projects had major flaws.

“I don’t worry about the oil majors at all”, said Robo. “The US majors, for them to get into the renewables business, I think you need some kind of tectonic shift in their thinking. I can’t imagine it.” – Climate News Network

Drought and heat together menace American West

Climate change really is a burning issue. Simultaneous drought and heat are increasingly likely for more of the American West.

LONDON, 13 October, 2020 − The American West is about to get hotter. It is also about to get drier. To make things worse, extremes of heat and of drought will happen more often at the same time.

And to compound the damage, such simultaneous assaults are likely to extend over larger areas and become more intense and more frequent, thanks to climate change driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and other human decisions.

This is not a prediction based on computer simulations of the future. It is already happening, and the story can be traced − according to the journal Science Advances − in the narrative of hot spells and dry weather over the entire contiguous United States for the last 122 years.

Not only have combined hot and dry episodes increased in frequency, they have also grown in size in geographic terms. Where once they happened in confined localities, they now extend over whole regions, such as the entire West Coast, and parts too of the Northeast and the Southeast.

Another Dust Bowl?

“Dry-hot events can cause large fires. Add wind and a source of ignition, and this results in ‘megafires’ like the 2020 fires across the west coast of the United States. Drought and record-breaking heatwaves, coupled with a storm that brought strong winds and 12,000 lightning events in a span of 72 hours, caused more than 500 wildfires,” said Mohammad Reza Alizadeh, of McGill University in Canada, who led the research.

Heat extremes can be damaging or even devastating. So can drought. When the two coincide, their compound impact can be tragic. The study also suggested that in some way such double jeopardy events could be self-propagating: they could spread downwind, seriously bad news for the American West and other areas at risk.

Long before any fears of the climate emergency, the US Midwest was scarred by drought, and in the 1930s Oklahoma and Kansas in particular became a “Dust Bowl” and inspired the classic novel The Grapes of Wrath by the American writer John Steinbeck.

“We observed that concurrent dry and hot events of similar intensity are becoming more frequent,” said Mojtaba Sadegh, an engineer at Boise State University in Idaho, and the senior author.

“Our results point to an urgent need to take action to enhance resilience to compound hot and dry events”

“The difference is that, in the 1930s, lack of precipitation led to the local atmosphere becoming hotter, whereas in recent decades increased temperatures are driving aridity. The triggering mechanism for compound dry-hot events is changing from lack of precipitation to excess heat.”

The warning of worse to come coincides with news that California’s fires have become so bad that they warrant a new classification: the “gigafire”, with so much smoke emitted from the combined fires of California and Oregon that fumes have been detected in New York, in northern Europe, and far into the Pacific.

Researchers have repeatedly warned of the double hazard of heat and drought and the combined impact on the US, as a consequence of climate change driven by greenhouse gas emissions from power station chimneys and automobile exhausts, as well as destruction of the natural wilderness.

“This research raises an alarm about increasing frequency and intensity of compound hot and dry events,” said Dr Sadegh. “Three such events between 2011-2013 in the US caused $60bn (£46bn) in damages. Our results point to an urgent need to take action to enhance resilience to compound hot and dry events.” − Climate News Network

Climate change really is a burning issue. Simultaneous drought and heat are increasingly likely for more of the American West.

LONDON, 13 October, 2020 − The American West is about to get hotter. It is also about to get drier. To make things worse, extremes of heat and of drought will happen more often at the same time.

And to compound the damage, such simultaneous assaults are likely to extend over larger areas and become more intense and more frequent, thanks to climate change driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and other human decisions.

This is not a prediction based on computer simulations of the future. It is already happening, and the story can be traced − according to the journal Science Advances − in the narrative of hot spells and dry weather over the entire contiguous United States for the last 122 years.

Not only have combined hot and dry episodes increased in frequency, they have also grown in size in geographic terms. Where once they happened in confined localities, they now extend over whole regions, such as the entire West Coast, and parts too of the Northeast and the Southeast.

Another Dust Bowl?

“Dry-hot events can cause large fires. Add wind and a source of ignition, and this results in ‘megafires’ like the 2020 fires across the west coast of the United States. Drought and record-breaking heatwaves, coupled with a storm that brought strong winds and 12,000 lightning events in a span of 72 hours, caused more than 500 wildfires,” said Mohammad Reza Alizadeh, of McGill University in Canada, who led the research.

Heat extremes can be damaging or even devastating. So can drought. When the two coincide, their compound impact can be tragic. The study also suggested that in some way such double jeopardy events could be self-propagating: they could spread downwind, seriously bad news for the American West and other areas at risk.

Long before any fears of the climate emergency, the US Midwest was scarred by drought, and in the 1930s Oklahoma and Kansas in particular became a “Dust Bowl” and inspired the classic novel The Grapes of Wrath by the American writer John Steinbeck.

“We observed that concurrent dry and hot events of similar intensity are becoming more frequent,” said Mojtaba Sadegh, an engineer at Boise State University in Idaho, and the senior author.

“Our results point to an urgent need to take action to enhance resilience to compound hot and dry events”

“The difference is that, in the 1930s, lack of precipitation led to the local atmosphere becoming hotter, whereas in recent decades increased temperatures are driving aridity. The triggering mechanism for compound dry-hot events is changing from lack of precipitation to excess heat.”

The warning of worse to come coincides with news that California’s fires have become so bad that they warrant a new classification: the “gigafire”, with so much smoke emitted from the combined fires of California and Oregon that fumes have been detected in New York, in northern Europe, and far into the Pacific.

Researchers have repeatedly warned of the double hazard of heat and drought and the combined impact on the US, as a consequence of climate change driven by greenhouse gas emissions from power station chimneys and automobile exhausts, as well as destruction of the natural wilderness.

“This research raises an alarm about increasing frequency and intensity of compound hot and dry events,” said Dr Sadegh. “Three such events between 2011-2013 in the US caused $60bn (£46bn) in damages. Our results point to an urgent need to take action to enhance resilience to compound hot and dry events.” − Climate News Network

Food, waste, power: Ingenuity helps the climate

Electricity from the gentlest winds, plastic from exhaust, old packing turned into lunch: human ingenuity helps the climate.

LONDON, 7 October, 2020 − Chinese scientists have found a way to harness wind power when there is no wind, just a gentle breeze: one way in which human ingenuity helps the climate crisis towards a resolution.

There are others. Californian researchers have tested a copper wire catalyst that can convert carbon dioxide into ethylene. In effect, fuel exhaust could fuel industry − and help contain global heating.

And a team in the US Midwest has begun a military project to develop a portable system that could turn waste plastic and paper into food for soldiers in the field. If it works, it could add new resonance to the term “iron rations” and deliver another answer to the challenge of plastic waste.

All three advances are so far on a very small scale. Two of them depend on nano-engineering, the making of materials at scales of a billionth of a metre, while the third calls on help from the microbial world. None of them is yet near commercial exploitation.

But all of them are yet further examples of the astonishing ingenuity and resource at work in the world’s laboratories and universities, in pursuit of ways to recover energy, reduce fossil fuel dependence, recycle detritus, and contain climate change.

“Our intention isn’t to replace existing wind power generation technology. Our goal is to solve the issues that traditional wind turbines can’t solve”

Wind power worldwide is now big business, but not on days when there is no wind. Researchers in Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Singapore write in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science that they have created a nanogenerator that can salvage energy from a breeze as mild as 1.6 metres a second. Worn on a sleeve, it could generate energy to power a cellphone while its wearer walks along a street

It works on a principle known as the tribo-electric effect. There is no turbine. Two plastic strips in a tube flutter and collide against each other in an airflow. When separated from contact, these two strips become electrically charged, and the energy can be captured and stored. The prototype can already power 100 LED lights and temperature sensors. It could be scaled up to 1000 watts.

“Our intention isn’t to replace existing wind power generation technology. Our goal is to solve the issues that traditional wind turbines can’t solve,” said Ya Yang, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Unlike wind turbines that use coils and magnets, where the costs are fixed, we can pick and choose low-cost materials for our device. Our device can be safely applied to nature reserves or cities, because it doesn’t have rotating structures.”

Quicker reaction

Ethylene is a chemical used to make plastics, solvents and cosmetics. Scientists report in the journal Nature Catalysis that they have exploited specially-shaped copper surfaces to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) to ethylene, C2H4. Other researchers are attempting to turn CO2 into methane, or even jet fuel. Methane, or natural gas, is used industrially to make ethylene.

The latest study aims to cut out the natural gas, and make ethylene directly: world demand stands so far at 158 million tonnes, for plastic packaging or polyethylene, and other products.

“The idea of using copper to catalyse this reaction has been around for a long time, but the key is to accelerate the rate so it is fast enough for industrial production,” said William Goddard, of the California Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

“This study shows a solid path towards that mark, with the potential to transform ethylene production into a greener industry, using CO2 that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere.”

The ambition to convert plastic and paper waste into food is so far just that, an ambition: the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has put up $2.7 million (£2.1m) towards a co-operative effort to solve a rubbish problem and deliver edible single-cell food rich in proteins and vitamins.

Appetite for plastic

Yeast is a nourishing single cell protein. So is the spread popular with Australians, called Vegemite. What the US researchers want is a system that soldiers could carry into the field, and concentrate waste into mouthfuls of high-protein nourishment. It is based on trials with biomass pyrolysis to turn paper into sugar, and the conversion of plastics into fatty compounds with heat and a little help from microbes.

“Plastics are in fact biodegradable but the process is very slow, as evidenced by the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment,” said Robert Brown of Iowa State University, principal investigator.

“We can dramatically increase oxo-degradation of plastics to fatty compounds by raising the temperature a few hundred degrees Fahrenheit. The cooled product is used to grow yeast or bacteria into single cell proteins suitable as food.”

The system would, the researchers say, “improve military logistics resiliency and extend military missions.” Beyond that, it could go a long way to helping with the challenge of growing plastic waste worldwide, and creating an extra source of food for an increasingly hungry world. − Climate News Network

Electricity from the gentlest winds, plastic from exhaust, old packing turned into lunch: human ingenuity helps the climate.

LONDON, 7 October, 2020 − Chinese scientists have found a way to harness wind power when there is no wind, just a gentle breeze: one way in which human ingenuity helps the climate crisis towards a resolution.

There are others. Californian researchers have tested a copper wire catalyst that can convert carbon dioxide into ethylene. In effect, fuel exhaust could fuel industry − and help contain global heating.

And a team in the US Midwest has begun a military project to develop a portable system that could turn waste plastic and paper into food for soldiers in the field. If it works, it could add new resonance to the term “iron rations” and deliver another answer to the challenge of plastic waste.

All three advances are so far on a very small scale. Two of them depend on nano-engineering, the making of materials at scales of a billionth of a metre, while the third calls on help from the microbial world. None of them is yet near commercial exploitation.

But all of them are yet further examples of the astonishing ingenuity and resource at work in the world’s laboratories and universities, in pursuit of ways to recover energy, reduce fossil fuel dependence, recycle detritus, and contain climate change.

“Our intention isn’t to replace existing wind power generation technology. Our goal is to solve the issues that traditional wind turbines can’t solve”

Wind power worldwide is now big business, but not on days when there is no wind. Researchers in Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Singapore write in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science that they have created a nanogenerator that can salvage energy from a breeze as mild as 1.6 metres a second. Worn on a sleeve, it could generate energy to power a cellphone while its wearer walks along a street

It works on a principle known as the tribo-electric effect. There is no turbine. Two plastic strips in a tube flutter and collide against each other in an airflow. When separated from contact, these two strips become electrically charged, and the energy can be captured and stored. The prototype can already power 100 LED lights and temperature sensors. It could be scaled up to 1000 watts.

“Our intention isn’t to replace existing wind power generation technology. Our goal is to solve the issues that traditional wind turbines can’t solve,” said Ya Yang, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Unlike wind turbines that use coils and magnets, where the costs are fixed, we can pick and choose low-cost materials for our device. Our device can be safely applied to nature reserves or cities, because it doesn’t have rotating structures.”

Quicker reaction

Ethylene is a chemical used to make plastics, solvents and cosmetics. Scientists report in the journal Nature Catalysis that they have exploited specially-shaped copper surfaces to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) to ethylene, C2H4. Other researchers are attempting to turn CO2 into methane, or even jet fuel. Methane, or natural gas, is used industrially to make ethylene.

The latest study aims to cut out the natural gas, and make ethylene directly: world demand stands so far at 158 million tonnes, for plastic packaging or polyethylene, and other products.

“The idea of using copper to catalyse this reaction has been around for a long time, but the key is to accelerate the rate so it is fast enough for industrial production,” said William Goddard, of the California Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

“This study shows a solid path towards that mark, with the potential to transform ethylene production into a greener industry, using CO2 that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere.”

The ambition to convert plastic and paper waste into food is so far just that, an ambition: the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has put up $2.7 million (£2.1m) towards a co-operative effort to solve a rubbish problem and deliver edible single-cell food rich in proteins and vitamins.

Appetite for plastic

Yeast is a nourishing single cell protein. So is the spread popular with Australians, called Vegemite. What the US researchers want is a system that soldiers could carry into the field, and concentrate waste into mouthfuls of high-protein nourishment. It is based on trials with biomass pyrolysis to turn paper into sugar, and the conversion of plastics into fatty compounds with heat and a little help from microbes.

“Plastics are in fact biodegradable but the process is very slow, as evidenced by the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment,” said Robert Brown of Iowa State University, principal investigator.

“We can dramatically increase oxo-degradation of plastics to fatty compounds by raising the temperature a few hundred degrees Fahrenheit. The cooled product is used to grow yeast or bacteria into single cell proteins suitable as food.”

The system would, the researchers say, “improve military logistics resiliency and extend military missions.” Beyond that, it could go a long way to helping with the challenge of growing plastic waste worldwide, and creating an extra source of food for an increasingly hungry world. − Climate News Network

Greenland’s ice loss likely to hit 12,000-year high

Greenland’s ice loss could be more this century than at any time in the history of civilization − and perhaps much more.

LONDON, 5 October, 2020 − By the end of this century Greenland’s ice loss will probably be higher than in any century during the last 12,000 years.

Even if humans take immediate drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this new record loss will happen. And if − as seems the case − nations go on burning ever more fossil fuels and destroying ever more natural forest, then this ice loss will be four times greater than at any period in human history, according to a new study.

US, Canadian and Danish scientists report in the journal Nature that they used geological evidence and detailed computer simulations to model the past and future loss of ice from the northern hemisphere’s biggest land-borne store − Greenland bears enough ice to raise global sea levels by six metres or more − and measure possible rates of change.

On their reckoning, shortly after the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000 years ago, Greenland’s ice loss was up to 6,000 billion tonnes in the course of 100 years. That, for the entire span from then till now, stayed the record.

They calculate that the rate of loss now, based on measurements in the first 18 years of this century, could still be slightly greater, even if the 195 nations that promised in Paris in 2015 to co-operate to keep global heating to a level “well below” 2°C above the annual average for most of human history, actually kept that promise.

“Our nation has produced more of the CO2 that resides in the atmosphere today than any other country. Americans need to go on an energy diet”

But if the world’s economies continue using fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, then the mass of ice shed from Greenland before the close of the century could be anywhere between 8,800 billion tonnes and 35,900 billion tonnes.

“Basically, we’ve altered our planet so much that the rates of ice sheet melt this century are on pace to be greater than anything we’ve seen under natural variability of the ice sheet over the past 12,000 years.

“We’ll blow that out of the water if we don’t make severe reductions to greenhouse gas emissions,” says Jason Briner, a geologist at the University of Buffalo in New York.

“If the world goes on a massive energy diet,” he adds, “our model predicts that the Greenland Ice Sheet’s rate of mass loss this century will be only slightly higher than anything experienced in the past 12,000 years.”

If on the other hand the world follows what has always been − for climate modellers − the worst case scenario, then, he warns, “the rate of mass loss could be about four times the highest values experienced under natural climate variability over the past 12,000 years.”

‘Eye-opening’ timeline

The latest study supports a flurry of alarming observations and conclusions about Greenland’s ice sheet just in the last few months. Other teams of researchers have found that ice loss from the island is possibly irreversible, that that loss is accelerating in an Arctic region that is warming as fast as or faster than all previous “worst case” predictions, and at a rate that suggests climate scientists may even have to redefine what used to be considered Arctic conditions.

The latest study is one of a series that take the long view of climate history: it is important to separate where possible the effect of natural cycles that would anyway deliver changing conditions, from human-driven or anthropogenic change that could tip the global climate into a new and potentially catastrophic state.

“We have long timelines of temperature change, past to present to future, that show the influence of greenhouse gases on Earth’s temperature. And now, for the first time, we have a long timeline of the impacts of that temperature − in the form of Greenland Ice Sheet melt − from past to present to future. And what it shows is eye-opening,” says Professor Briner.

“Our findings are yet another wake-up call, especially for countries like the US. Americans use more energy per person than any other nation in the world.

“Our nation has produced more of the CO2 that resides in the atmosphere today than any other country. Americans need to go on an energy diet.” − Climate News Network

Greenland’s ice loss could be more this century than at any time in the history of civilization − and perhaps much more.

LONDON, 5 October, 2020 − By the end of this century Greenland’s ice loss will probably be higher than in any century during the last 12,000 years.

Even if humans take immediate drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this new record loss will happen. And if − as seems the case − nations go on burning ever more fossil fuels and destroying ever more natural forest, then this ice loss will be four times greater than at any period in human history, according to a new study.

US, Canadian and Danish scientists report in the journal Nature that they used geological evidence and detailed computer simulations to model the past and future loss of ice from the northern hemisphere’s biggest land-borne store − Greenland bears enough ice to raise global sea levels by six metres or more − and measure possible rates of change.

On their reckoning, shortly after the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000 years ago, Greenland’s ice loss was up to 6,000 billion tonnes in the course of 100 years. That, for the entire span from then till now, stayed the record.

They calculate that the rate of loss now, based on measurements in the first 18 years of this century, could still be slightly greater, even if the 195 nations that promised in Paris in 2015 to co-operate to keep global heating to a level “well below” 2°C above the annual average for most of human history, actually kept that promise.

“Our nation has produced more of the CO2 that resides in the atmosphere today than any other country. Americans need to go on an energy diet”

But if the world’s economies continue using fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, then the mass of ice shed from Greenland before the close of the century could be anywhere between 8,800 billion tonnes and 35,900 billion tonnes.

“Basically, we’ve altered our planet so much that the rates of ice sheet melt this century are on pace to be greater than anything we’ve seen under natural variability of the ice sheet over the past 12,000 years.

“We’ll blow that out of the water if we don’t make severe reductions to greenhouse gas emissions,” says Jason Briner, a geologist at the University of Buffalo in New York.

“If the world goes on a massive energy diet,” he adds, “our model predicts that the Greenland Ice Sheet’s rate of mass loss this century will be only slightly higher than anything experienced in the past 12,000 years.”

If on the other hand the world follows what has always been − for climate modellers − the worst case scenario, then, he warns, “the rate of mass loss could be about four times the highest values experienced under natural climate variability over the past 12,000 years.”

‘Eye-opening’ timeline

The latest study supports a flurry of alarming observations and conclusions about Greenland’s ice sheet just in the last few months. Other teams of researchers have found that ice loss from the island is possibly irreversible, that that loss is accelerating in an Arctic region that is warming as fast as or faster than all previous “worst case” predictions, and at a rate that suggests climate scientists may even have to redefine what used to be considered Arctic conditions.

The latest study is one of a series that take the long view of climate history: it is important to separate where possible the effect of natural cycles that would anyway deliver changing conditions, from human-driven or anthropogenic change that could tip the global climate into a new and potentially catastrophic state.

“We have long timelines of temperature change, past to present to future, that show the influence of greenhouse gases on Earth’s temperature. And now, for the first time, we have a long timeline of the impacts of that temperature − in the form of Greenland Ice Sheet melt − from past to present to future. And what it shows is eye-opening,” says Professor Briner.

“Our findings are yet another wake-up call, especially for countries like the US. Americans use more energy per person than any other nation in the world.

“Our nation has produced more of the CO2 that resides in the atmosphere today than any other country. Americans need to go on an energy diet.” − Climate News Network

Abnormal heat spreads floods and wildfires globally

From the Arctic Circle to tropical Africa, abnormal heat is bringing mayhem and destruction and costing lives.

LONDON, 17 September, 2020 – Across the planet, abnormal heat is exacting a lethal toll. The west coast of the US is up in flames. Over recent months unprecedented high temperatures have been melting permafrost in Siberia, within the Arctic Circle. Fires have spread; many thousands of acres of taiga have been laid waste.

Across many parts of Africa unseasonable torrential rains are causing loss of life and crops.

Climate scientists are careful about attributing any one severe weather event to climate change until all data is gathered and a proper analysis is made.

But looking at various weather patterns around the world, fundamental changes in climate are happening – most related to big increases in temperature.

Along the western seaboard of the US people are having to cope not only with a prolonged drought but with temperatures which are way above normal.

As the ground and brush at the base of trees dries out, the ideal conditions for wildfires are set.

Over recent days more than 40,000 people in the state of Oregon have been told to evacuate their homes: dozens of people are believed to be missing in the mayhem caused by the fires.

“The debate is over.This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening”

Kate Brown, Oregon’s governor, says that over three days recently more than 1,400 square miles of land was destroyed by fire – nearly double the amount burned over a typical year in the state.

“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire”, said Brown.

“While our state reels from this horrific fire storm of hot weather, high winds and drought conditions, this will not be a one-time event.

“Unfortunately it is the bellwether of the future. We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change.”

Last month a group of Oregon’s leading industrialists launched a court action against Governor Brown, saying she overstepped her authority by introducing measures aimed at cutting carbon emissions in the state.

Further south in California, wildfires continue to burn. The skies of San Francisco and other cities have turned red in recent days. Smoke from the fires is causing severe air quality problems.

Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, launched an angry attack on President Trump and others who are sceptical about climate change, while visiting an area of the state destroyed by fire.

Africa inundated

“The debate is over” said Newsom. “This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening.”

Studies say that since the early 1970s California has registered a more than fivefold increase in the annual incidence of forest fires.

A similar growing trend in abnormal heat and wildfires is being recorded in many parts of Siberia: soaring temperatures have been a big factor. In one Siberian town temperatures reached 38°C in mid-June – 18°C above the usual daytime temperature for the time of year.

Less reported on but a cause of death and hardship to some of the world’s poorest countries are floods that have been destroying homes and crops across large areas of the African continent.

In Somalia, still trying to establish itself as a functioning fully independent state in the face of terrorist attacks, nearly a million people have been affected by severe flooding in recent months.

Sudan and Ethiopia have also been subject to widespread flooding.

According to data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), torrential rains and floods are affecting both east and west Africa. In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, thousands of homes have been destroyed and crops ruined. – Climate News Network

From the Arctic Circle to tropical Africa, abnormal heat is bringing mayhem and destruction and costing lives.

LONDON, 17 September, 2020 – Across the planet, abnormal heat is exacting a lethal toll. The west coast of the US is up in flames. Over recent months unprecedented high temperatures have been melting permafrost in Siberia, within the Arctic Circle. Fires have spread; many thousands of acres of taiga have been laid waste.

Across many parts of Africa unseasonable torrential rains are causing loss of life and crops.

Climate scientists are careful about attributing any one severe weather event to climate change until all data is gathered and a proper analysis is made.

But looking at various weather patterns around the world, fundamental changes in climate are happening – most related to big increases in temperature.

Along the western seaboard of the US people are having to cope not only with a prolonged drought but with temperatures which are way above normal.

As the ground and brush at the base of trees dries out, the ideal conditions for wildfires are set.

Over recent days more than 40,000 people in the state of Oregon have been told to evacuate their homes: dozens of people are believed to be missing in the mayhem caused by the fires.

“The debate is over.This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening”

Kate Brown, Oregon’s governor, says that over three days recently more than 1,400 square miles of land was destroyed by fire – nearly double the amount burned over a typical year in the state.

“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire”, said Brown.

“While our state reels from this horrific fire storm of hot weather, high winds and drought conditions, this will not be a one-time event.

“Unfortunately it is the bellwether of the future. We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change.”

Last month a group of Oregon’s leading industrialists launched a court action against Governor Brown, saying she overstepped her authority by introducing measures aimed at cutting carbon emissions in the state.

Further south in California, wildfires continue to burn. The skies of San Francisco and other cities have turned red in recent days. Smoke from the fires is causing severe air quality problems.

Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, launched an angry attack on President Trump and others who are sceptical about climate change, while visiting an area of the state destroyed by fire.

Africa inundated

“The debate is over” said Newsom. “This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening.”

Studies say that since the early 1970s California has registered a more than fivefold increase in the annual incidence of forest fires.

A similar growing trend in abnormal heat and wildfires is being recorded in many parts of Siberia: soaring temperatures have been a big factor. In one Siberian town temperatures reached 38°C in mid-June – 18°C above the usual daytime temperature for the time of year.

Less reported on but a cause of death and hardship to some of the world’s poorest countries are floods that have been destroying homes and crops across large areas of the African continent.

In Somalia, still trying to establish itself as a functioning fully independent state in the face of terrorist attacks, nearly a million people have been affected by severe flooding in recent months.

Sudan and Ethiopia have also been subject to widespread flooding.

According to data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), torrential rains and floods are affecting both east and west Africa. In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, thousands of homes have been destroyed and crops ruined. – Climate News Network

Slightest heat increase magnifies hurricane risk

The poorer and more vulnerable you are, the greater your hurricane risk. Even a tiny heat rise can spell disaster.

LONDON, 11 September, 2020 – Any climate change at all will mean a hurricane risk for the storm-prone Caribbean, even if global average temperatures are contained to a rise of no more than 1.5°C by 2100. But a rise of 2°C could be disastrous: the hurricane hazard could grow fivefold.

The figures – each representing a rise above the long-term average for most of human history – are significant. In 2015 195 nations, including the US, signed up to the Paris Agreement – a promise to contain the rise in global heating to “well below 2°C” by the century’s end. The undeclared but widely-understood intention was a limit of 1.5°C.

In the last century, in response to a rise in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use, planetary average temperatures have already risen by 1°C, and the Atlantic states of the US and the islands of the Caribbean have been hit by a series of ever more devastating windstorms, as ocean temperatures warm and make hurricanes more probable.

And researchers warn that as global heating continues – with forecasts of a rise of more than 3°C by 2100 – more are on the way.

But the US is wealthy and resilient. British scientists report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they decided to take a look at the probability of windstorm and heavy rainfall assault on the Caribbean, where half of the 44 million people of the archipelago live within 1.5kms of the coast, and where devastation can be so intense it could take six years to recover.

“The findings are alarming and illustrate the urgent need to tackle global warming to reduce the likelihood of extreme rainfall events”

So they used computer simulations to generate thousands of synthetic hurricanes, under three climate scenarios: present day conditions; a world that kept global heating to no more than 1.5C; and one in which nations let rip and hit the 2°C limit.

They found that extreme rainfall events of the kind which typically happen once every hundred years at present do indeed become more numerous in a world that sticks to its implicit Paris promise. But in a 2°C warmer world, calamitous hurricanes became five times more frequent.

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, it delivered a quarter of a year’s average rainfall all at once, with appalling consequences. In a two-degree warmer world, such a storm could happen every 43 years. The storm that hit the Bahamas in 2019 could become 4.5 times more likely.

“The findings are alarming and illustrate the urgent need to tackle global warming to reduce the likelihood of extreme rainfall events and their catastrophic consequences, particularly for poorer countries which take many years to recover,” said Emily Vosper of the University of Bristol, who led the study.

“We expected extreme hurricanes to be more prevalent in the 2°C global warming scenario, but the scale of the projected increases was surprising, and should serve as a stark warning across the globe, underscoring the importance of keeping climate change under control.” – Climate News Network

The poorer and more vulnerable you are, the greater your hurricane risk. Even a tiny heat rise can spell disaster.

LONDON, 11 September, 2020 – Any climate change at all will mean a hurricane risk for the storm-prone Caribbean, even if global average temperatures are contained to a rise of no more than 1.5°C by 2100. But a rise of 2°C could be disastrous: the hurricane hazard could grow fivefold.

The figures – each representing a rise above the long-term average for most of human history – are significant. In 2015 195 nations, including the US, signed up to the Paris Agreement – a promise to contain the rise in global heating to “well below 2°C” by the century’s end. The undeclared but widely-understood intention was a limit of 1.5°C.

In the last century, in response to a rise in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use, planetary average temperatures have already risen by 1°C, and the Atlantic states of the US and the islands of the Caribbean have been hit by a series of ever more devastating windstorms, as ocean temperatures warm and make hurricanes more probable.

And researchers warn that as global heating continues – with forecasts of a rise of more than 3°C by 2100 – more are on the way.

But the US is wealthy and resilient. British scientists report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they decided to take a look at the probability of windstorm and heavy rainfall assault on the Caribbean, where half of the 44 million people of the archipelago live within 1.5kms of the coast, and where devastation can be so intense it could take six years to recover.

“The findings are alarming and illustrate the urgent need to tackle global warming to reduce the likelihood of extreme rainfall events”

So they used computer simulations to generate thousands of synthetic hurricanes, under three climate scenarios: present day conditions; a world that kept global heating to no more than 1.5C; and one in which nations let rip and hit the 2°C limit.

They found that extreme rainfall events of the kind which typically happen once every hundred years at present do indeed become more numerous in a world that sticks to its implicit Paris promise. But in a 2°C warmer world, calamitous hurricanes became five times more frequent.

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, it delivered a quarter of a year’s average rainfall all at once, with appalling consequences. In a two-degree warmer world, such a storm could happen every 43 years. The storm that hit the Bahamas in 2019 could become 4.5 times more likely.

“The findings are alarming and illustrate the urgent need to tackle global warming to reduce the likelihood of extreme rainfall events and their catastrophic consequences, particularly for poorer countries which take many years to recover,” said Emily Vosper of the University of Bristol, who led the study.

“We expected extreme hurricanes to be more prevalent in the 2°C global warming scenario, but the scale of the projected increases was surprising, and should serve as a stark warning across the globe, underscoring the importance of keeping climate change under control.” – Climate News Network

Lethal price of climate inertia far exceeds action

Climate change will impose a lethal price if we do not all pay the far smaller cost of confronting it.

LONDON, 10 September, 2020 – In the hotter world of climate change, it won’t just be the glaciers that melt: national and regional economies, big business, government and even the multinationals will all pay a lethal price.

If the planet becomes 4°C warmer by 2100, then many regions could see a 10% fall in economic output. They’d be the lucky ones. In the tropics, the economic losses could be double that.

There are of course ways to limit losses and save lives. US researchers believe that if a quarter of all motorists in the US switched to electric vehicles, the nation could save $17bn a year in the costs of climate change and air pollution. If three fourths of drivers switched to cars fuelled by renewable electricity, savings could tip $70bn.

Both studies are specimens of the kind of economic reasoning – always arguable and often intensely-argued – that necessarily must make “what-if” calculations about the notional costs to society of carbon dioxide emissions and the notional value of human lives blighted by heat-related illnesses and air pollution a lifetime from now.

But both are just the latest in a long line of calculations that demonstrate, repeatedly, that the costs to the next generation of doing nothing about climate change far outweigh the costs now of shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture”

The latest exploration of the price of doing nothing is published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

German scientists report that they looked, in detail, at the possible consequences of a 4°C warning, not on national economies but on 1500 states, provinces, departments and other political subdivisions within 77 nations around the globe.

Their finding – that more intense global heating could cost all of them 10% of their output and those in the warmer regions more than 20% – is, they say, conservative.

That is because their calculations do not take into account the potential catastrophic damage from extreme weather events and sea level rise – both of which could be substantial.

“Climate damages hit our businesses and our jobs, not just polar bears and coral reefs,” said Leonie Wenz, of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Tangible value

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture. They affect our harvests and they mean extra stress, and thus costs for our infrastructure.”

But, according to a study in the journal GeoHealth, even the purchase of a new car could soften the impact: providing the car is electric and the power for its batteries is delivered by wind or solar energy.

If electric vehicles replaced 25% of all cars on US roads, the country could save $17bn a year in the notional costs of climate change and health damage – asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and premature death – from choking exhausts. Triple that, and the savings would reach $70bn.

“The social cost of carbon and value of statistical life are much studied and much debated metrics,” said Daniel Horton, of Northwestern University in Illinois, one of the authors.

“But they are used regularly to make policy decisions. It helps to put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Climate change will impose a lethal price if we do not all pay the far smaller cost of confronting it.

LONDON, 10 September, 2020 – In the hotter world of climate change, it won’t just be the glaciers that melt: national and regional economies, big business, government and even the multinationals will all pay a lethal price.

If the planet becomes 4°C warmer by 2100, then many regions could see a 10% fall in economic output. They’d be the lucky ones. In the tropics, the economic losses could be double that.

There are of course ways to limit losses and save lives. US researchers believe that if a quarter of all motorists in the US switched to electric vehicles, the nation could save $17bn a year in the costs of climate change and air pollution. If three fourths of drivers switched to cars fuelled by renewable electricity, savings could tip $70bn.

Both studies are specimens of the kind of economic reasoning – always arguable and often intensely-argued – that necessarily must make “what-if” calculations about the notional costs to society of carbon dioxide emissions and the notional value of human lives blighted by heat-related illnesses and air pollution a lifetime from now.

But both are just the latest in a long line of calculations that demonstrate, repeatedly, that the costs to the next generation of doing nothing about climate change far outweigh the costs now of shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture”

The latest exploration of the price of doing nothing is published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

German scientists report that they looked, in detail, at the possible consequences of a 4°C warning, not on national economies but on 1500 states, provinces, departments and other political subdivisions within 77 nations around the globe.

Their finding – that more intense global heating could cost all of them 10% of their output and those in the warmer regions more than 20% – is, they say, conservative.

That is because their calculations do not take into account the potential catastrophic damage from extreme weather events and sea level rise – both of which could be substantial.

“Climate damages hit our businesses and our jobs, not just polar bears and coral reefs,” said Leonie Wenz, of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Tangible value

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture. They affect our harvests and they mean extra stress, and thus costs for our infrastructure.”

But, according to a study in the journal GeoHealth, even the purchase of a new car could soften the impact: providing the car is electric and the power for its batteries is delivered by wind or solar energy.

If electric vehicles replaced 25% of all cars on US roads, the country could save $17bn a year in the notional costs of climate change and health damage – asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and premature death – from choking exhausts. Triple that, and the savings would reach $70bn.

“The social cost of carbon and value of statistical life are much studied and much debated metrics,” said Daniel Horton, of Northwestern University in Illinois, one of the authors.

“But they are used regularly to make policy decisions. It helps to put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Rivers flood, seas rise – and land faces erosion

Polar melting cannot be separated from farmland soil erosion and estuarine flooding. All are part of climate change.

LONDON, 7 September, 2020 – Climate heating often ensures that calamities don’t come singly: so don’t forget what erosion can do.

In a warmer world the glaciers will melt ever faster to raise global sea levels ever higher. In a wetter world, more and more topsoil will be swept off the farmlands and downriver into the ever-rising seas.

And the pay-off of silt-laden rivers and rising sea levels could be catastrophic floods, as swollen rivers suddenly change course. Since many of the world’s greatest cities are built on river estuaries, lives and economies will be at risk.

Three new studies in two journals deliver a sharp reminder that the consequences of global heating are not straightforward: the world responds to change in unpredictable ways.

First: the melting of the ice sheets and the mountain glaciers. Researchers warn in the journal Nature Climate Change that if the loss of ice from Antarctica, Greenland and the frozen rivers continues, then climate forecasters and government agencies will have to think again: sea levels could rise to at least 17cms higher than the worst predictions so far.

“Avulsions are the earthquakes of rivers. They are sudden and sometimes catastrophic. We are trying to understand where and when the next avulsions will occur”

That means an additional 16 million people at hazard from estuarine floods and storm surges.

In the last 30 years, the flow from the Antarctic ice cap has raised sea levels by 7.2mm, and from Greenland by 10.6mm. Every year, the world’s oceans are 4mm higher than they were the year before.

“Although we anticipated the ice sheets would lose increasing amounts of ice in response to the warming of the oceans and the atmosphere, the rate at which they are melting has accelerated faster than we could have imagined,” said Tom Slater of the University of Leeds, in the UK, who led the research.

“The melting is overtaking the climate models we use to guide us, and we are in danger of being unprepared for the risks posed by sea level rise.”

Dr Slater and his colleagues are the third team to warn in the last month that observations of climate already match the worst-case scenarios dreamed up by forecasters preparing for a range of possible climate outcomes.

Erosion risk rises

The latest reading of glacial melt rates suggests that the risk of storm surges for many of the world’s greatest cities will double by the close of the century. But coastal cities – and the farmers who already work 38% of the terrestrial surface to feed almost 8bn people – have another more immediate problem.

In a warmer world, more water evaporates. In a warmer atmosphere, the capacity of the air to hold moisture also increases, so along with more intense droughts, heavier rainfall is on the way for much of the world. And the heavier the rain, or the more prolonged the drought, the higher the risk of soil erosion.

In 2015 the world’s farmers and foresters watched 43 billion tonnes of topsoil wash away from hillsides or blow away from tilled land and into the sea. By 2070, this burden of silt swept away by water or blown by wind will have risen by between 30% and 66%: probably more than 28 bn tons of additional loss.

This could only impoverish the farmland, according to a study by Swiss scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It could also impoverish people, communities and countries. The worst hit could be in the less developed nations of the tropics and subtropics.

But the flow of ever-higher silt levels into ever-rising seas also raises a new hazard: hydrologists call it river avulsion. It’s a simple and natural process. As conditions change, so rivers will naturally change their flow to spill over new floodplains and extend coastal lands.

Survival in question

But river avulsions can also be helped along by rising sea levels. Since 10% of humanity is crowded into rich, fertile delta lands, and since some of the deadliest floods in human history – two in China in 1887 and 1931 claimed six million lives – have been caused by river avulsions, the question becomes a matter of life and death.

US scientists report, also in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that rising sea levels alone could make abrupt river avulsion more probable, especially as delta lands could be subsiding, because of groundwater and other extraction.

The dangers of avulsion are affected by the rate of sediment deposit in the river channels, and this is likely to rise with sea levels. This in turn raises the level of the river and eventually a breach of a levee or other flood defence will force the river to find a swifter, steeper path to the sea.

Cities such as New Orleans and the coastal communities of the Mississippi delta are already vulnerable. “Avulsions are the earthquakes of rivers,” said Michael Lamb, of California Institute of Technology, one of the authors.

“They are sudden and sometimes catastrophic natural events that occur with statistical regularity, shifting the direction of major rivers. We are trying to understand where and when the next avulsions will occur.” – Climate News Network

Polar melting cannot be separated from farmland soil erosion and estuarine flooding. All are part of climate change.

LONDON, 7 September, 2020 – Climate heating often ensures that calamities don’t come singly: so don’t forget what erosion can do.

In a warmer world the glaciers will melt ever faster to raise global sea levels ever higher. In a wetter world, more and more topsoil will be swept off the farmlands and downriver into the ever-rising seas.

And the pay-off of silt-laden rivers and rising sea levels could be catastrophic floods, as swollen rivers suddenly change course. Since many of the world’s greatest cities are built on river estuaries, lives and economies will be at risk.

Three new studies in two journals deliver a sharp reminder that the consequences of global heating are not straightforward: the world responds to change in unpredictable ways.

First: the melting of the ice sheets and the mountain glaciers. Researchers warn in the journal Nature Climate Change that if the loss of ice from Antarctica, Greenland and the frozen rivers continues, then climate forecasters and government agencies will have to think again: sea levels could rise to at least 17cms higher than the worst predictions so far.

“Avulsions are the earthquakes of rivers. They are sudden and sometimes catastrophic. We are trying to understand where and when the next avulsions will occur”

That means an additional 16 million people at hazard from estuarine floods and storm surges.

In the last 30 years, the flow from the Antarctic ice cap has raised sea levels by 7.2mm, and from Greenland by 10.6mm. Every year, the world’s oceans are 4mm higher than they were the year before.

“Although we anticipated the ice sheets would lose increasing amounts of ice in response to the warming of the oceans and the atmosphere, the rate at which they are melting has accelerated faster than we could have imagined,” said Tom Slater of the University of Leeds, in the UK, who led the research.

“The melting is overtaking the climate models we use to guide us, and we are in danger of being unprepared for the risks posed by sea level rise.”

Dr Slater and his colleagues are the third team to warn in the last month that observations of climate already match the worst-case scenarios dreamed up by forecasters preparing for a range of possible climate outcomes.

Erosion risk rises

The latest reading of glacial melt rates suggests that the risk of storm surges for many of the world’s greatest cities will double by the close of the century. But coastal cities – and the farmers who already work 38% of the terrestrial surface to feed almost 8bn people – have another more immediate problem.

In a warmer world, more water evaporates. In a warmer atmosphere, the capacity of the air to hold moisture also increases, so along with more intense droughts, heavier rainfall is on the way for much of the world. And the heavier the rain, or the more prolonged the drought, the higher the risk of soil erosion.

In 2015 the world’s farmers and foresters watched 43 billion tonnes of topsoil wash away from hillsides or blow away from tilled land and into the sea. By 2070, this burden of silt swept away by water or blown by wind will have risen by between 30% and 66%: probably more than 28 bn tons of additional loss.

This could only impoverish the farmland, according to a study by Swiss scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It could also impoverish people, communities and countries. The worst hit could be in the less developed nations of the tropics and subtropics.

But the flow of ever-higher silt levels into ever-rising seas also raises a new hazard: hydrologists call it river avulsion. It’s a simple and natural process. As conditions change, so rivers will naturally change their flow to spill over new floodplains and extend coastal lands.

Survival in question

But river avulsions can also be helped along by rising sea levels. Since 10% of humanity is crowded into rich, fertile delta lands, and since some of the deadliest floods in human history – two in China in 1887 and 1931 claimed six million lives – have been caused by river avulsions, the question becomes a matter of life and death.

US scientists report, also in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that rising sea levels alone could make abrupt river avulsion more probable, especially as delta lands could be subsiding, because of groundwater and other extraction.

The dangers of avulsion are affected by the rate of sediment deposit in the river channels, and this is likely to rise with sea levels. This in turn raises the level of the river and eventually a breach of a levee or other flood defence will force the river to find a swifter, steeper path to the sea.

Cities such as New Orleans and the coastal communities of the Mississippi delta are already vulnerable. “Avulsions are the earthquakes of rivers,” said Michael Lamb, of California Institute of Technology, one of the authors.

“They are sudden and sometimes catastrophic natural events that occur with statistical regularity, shifting the direction of major rivers. We are trying to understand where and when the next avulsions will occur.” – Climate News Network