Tag Archives: USA

Markets reel as oil major opts to downgrade itself

It’s all change as one oil major writes down its assets, seeing a possible 30-year slump ahead in global demand.

LONDON, 16 June, 2020 – This week, BP, one of the so-called super oil majors, said it was writing down or reducing the value of its assets by between US$13 billion (£10.35bn) and US$17.5bn (£14bn). BP’s shares fell by 5.4% after the news was announced, making it one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 share index.

For several years climate scientists and others have been saying that fossil fuels must be left untapped in order to tackle the dangers posed by climate change: such resources, described as “stranded assets”, should not be included in the fossil fuel companies’ balance sheets.

In an announcement sending shock waves through the oil industry and rattling global stock markets, BP said that it was not only downgrading its own value but, as part of a review of the company’s activities, it was also rethinking future exploration plans, hinting at leaving some of its worldwide fossil fuel investments in the ground.

BP says the main reason for its action is the Covid pandemic – energy demand is slack and oil prices will likely remain at their present relatively low level for years to come. But the company also acknowledges its revaluation is a reflection of moves towards a low carbon future.

“It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less ”

“BP now sees the prospect of the pandemic having an enduring impact on the global economy, with the potential for weaker demand for energy for a sustained period”, said a company statement.

“The aftermath of the pandemic will accelerate the pace of transition to a lower carbon economy.”

All this will be heartening news to those trying to prevent the world from veering toward climate catastrophe.

The oil majors have known the impact of their activities on the climate for decades but, in the pursuit of profits, chose to ignore reality. Multi-million dollar public relations campaigns have “greenwashed” their operations – and deliberately misinformed the public.

In the past BP has emphasised its green credentials, making a commitment to tackling climate change and, at one stage, labelling itself as a “beyond petroleum” company.

Net zero aim

But then came the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, when an explosion on a BP-leased rig killed 11 workers: thousands of tonnes of oil leaked into the sea in what was one of the worst environmental disasters in US history.

In recent times, under Bernard Looney, its new chief executive, BP has laid out plans to become what’s termed a net zero company by 2050 or sooner.

Looney says he wants BP to be a more diversified, resilient and low carbon company in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. This means reducing its focus on oil and gas and enlarging BP’s role in renewable projects.

Because of falling energy demand BP recently announced plans to reduce its global workforce by about 15% – a loss of 10,000 jobs.

Greenpeace, the environmental lobbying group, said BP’s revaluation would make a “huge dent” in its corporate balance sheet. “It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less … BP must protect its workforce and offer training to help people move into sustainable jobs in decommissioning and offshore wind”, it said. – Climate News Network

It’s all change as one oil major writes down its assets, seeing a possible 30-year slump ahead in global demand.

LONDON, 16 June, 2020 – This week, BP, one of the so-called super oil majors, said it was writing down or reducing the value of its assets by between US$13 billion (£10.35bn) and US$17.5bn (£14bn). BP’s shares fell by 5.4% after the news was announced, making it one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 share index.

For several years climate scientists and others have been saying that fossil fuels must be left untapped in order to tackle the dangers posed by climate change: such resources, described as “stranded assets”, should not be included in the fossil fuel companies’ balance sheets.

In an announcement sending shock waves through the oil industry and rattling global stock markets, BP said that it was not only downgrading its own value but, as part of a review of the company’s activities, it was also rethinking future exploration plans, hinting at leaving some of its worldwide fossil fuel investments in the ground.

BP says the main reason for its action is the Covid pandemic – energy demand is slack and oil prices will likely remain at their present relatively low level for years to come. But the company also acknowledges its revaluation is a reflection of moves towards a low carbon future.

“It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less ”

“BP now sees the prospect of the pandemic having an enduring impact on the global economy, with the potential for weaker demand for energy for a sustained period”, said a company statement.

“The aftermath of the pandemic will accelerate the pace of transition to a lower carbon economy.”

All this will be heartening news to those trying to prevent the world from veering toward climate catastrophe.

The oil majors have known the impact of their activities on the climate for decades but, in the pursuit of profits, chose to ignore reality. Multi-million dollar public relations campaigns have “greenwashed” their operations – and deliberately misinformed the public.

In the past BP has emphasised its green credentials, making a commitment to tackling climate change and, at one stage, labelling itself as a “beyond petroleum” company.

Net zero aim

But then came the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, when an explosion on a BP-leased rig killed 11 workers: thousands of tonnes of oil leaked into the sea in what was one of the worst environmental disasters in US history.

In recent times, under Bernard Looney, its new chief executive, BP has laid out plans to become what’s termed a net zero company by 2050 or sooner.

Looney says he wants BP to be a more diversified, resilient and low carbon company in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. This means reducing its focus on oil and gas and enlarging BP’s role in renewable projects.

Because of falling energy demand BP recently announced plans to reduce its global workforce by about 15% – a loss of 10,000 jobs.

Greenpeace, the environmental lobbying group, said BP’s revaluation would make a “huge dent” in its corporate balance sheet. “It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less … BP must protect its workforce and offer training to help people move into sustainable jobs in decommissioning and offshore wind”, it said. – Climate News Network

Fewer blizzards for North America as snow lessens

A warming world means milder winters and softer springs. It will also mean fewer blizzards, with milder impacts.

LONDON, 12 June, 2020 – It could soon be safe to think with nostalgia of the snows of yesteryear. Snowstorms in the future in the US could happen less often, with less intensity. And they would be of a smaller size.

This is on the assumption that humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to release ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to fuel global heating.

Although winters – especially in the central US and on the Eastern Seaboard – will continue to bring snowfall, ice storms and cold snaps, by the end of the century there will be, on average, 28% fewer snowstorms. And with this drop will come a fall of a third in the precipitation of snow or frozen sleet, and the area covered by snowfall will have been reduced by 38%.

A White Christmas will also begin to seem like a happy memory, as winters begin later and spring happens ever earlier.

“If we do little to mitigate climate change, the winter season will lose much of its punch in the future,” said Walker Ashley, of Northern Illinois University.

“Annual reductions in snowfall and snow cover could amplify potential warming”

“The snow season will start later and end earlier. Generally, what we consider an abnormally mild winter now, in terms of the number and intensity of snowstorms, will be the harshest of winters late this century.

“There will be fewer snowstorms, with less overall precipitation that falls as snow, and almost a complete removal of snow events in the southern tier of the United States.”

Severe winters are part of the natural pattern of life in much of North America, and for nearly two centuries meteorologists have observed a pattern of very severe blizzards indeed: sudden calamitous snowfalls that have claimed hundreds of lives and caused billions in damage.

And although temperatures have on average risen, researchers have also repeatedly pointed out that with a rise in average warming comes a greater frequency and intensity of “extreme events”. In a continental winter, any extreme event is usually likely to be harsh. Even if there is less snow over a shorter cold season, blizzards will still happen.

Global impacts

Professor Ashley and colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they tracked snowstorms for 12 winters earlier in this century: they then used supercomputer simulations to see what would happen to their sample of actual events in a climate that had warmed by around 5°C, the predicted rise if greenhouse emissions go on unchecked.

They ended with a tally of 2,200 snowstorms across central and eastern North America over a map with a grid space of about 4kms, over a period of 24 years – a sequence that embraces the past and the future.

The simulations told a clear story. There would be less snow, across smaller snowstorm tracks, and dramatically fewer falls in the months of October, November and April.

Chicago, Boston and New York will continue to see snowstorms, but the probability of vast snowdrifts and silent streets continues to decrease. Winter travel will become safer and easier, but agriculture and other industries that depend on freshwater delivered by melting snow will feel the cost. So could the rest of the world.

“There are also climate feedbacks to consider,” said Professor Ashley. “Snow cover reflects solar radiation and helps cool the environment. So annual reductions in snowfall and snow cover could amplify potential warming.” – Climate News Network

A warming world means milder winters and softer springs. It will also mean fewer blizzards, with milder impacts.

LONDON, 12 June, 2020 – It could soon be safe to think with nostalgia of the snows of yesteryear. Snowstorms in the future in the US could happen less often, with less intensity. And they would be of a smaller size.

This is on the assumption that humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to release ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to fuel global heating.

Although winters – especially in the central US and on the Eastern Seaboard – will continue to bring snowfall, ice storms and cold snaps, by the end of the century there will be, on average, 28% fewer snowstorms. And with this drop will come a fall of a third in the precipitation of snow or frozen sleet, and the area covered by snowfall will have been reduced by 38%.

A White Christmas will also begin to seem like a happy memory, as winters begin later and spring happens ever earlier.

“If we do little to mitigate climate change, the winter season will lose much of its punch in the future,” said Walker Ashley, of Northern Illinois University.

“Annual reductions in snowfall and snow cover could amplify potential warming”

“The snow season will start later and end earlier. Generally, what we consider an abnormally mild winter now, in terms of the number and intensity of snowstorms, will be the harshest of winters late this century.

“There will be fewer snowstorms, with less overall precipitation that falls as snow, and almost a complete removal of snow events in the southern tier of the United States.”

Severe winters are part of the natural pattern of life in much of North America, and for nearly two centuries meteorologists have observed a pattern of very severe blizzards indeed: sudden calamitous snowfalls that have claimed hundreds of lives and caused billions in damage.

And although temperatures have on average risen, researchers have also repeatedly pointed out that with a rise in average warming comes a greater frequency and intensity of “extreme events”. In a continental winter, any extreme event is usually likely to be harsh. Even if there is less snow over a shorter cold season, blizzards will still happen.

Global impacts

Professor Ashley and colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they tracked snowstorms for 12 winters earlier in this century: they then used supercomputer simulations to see what would happen to their sample of actual events in a climate that had warmed by around 5°C, the predicted rise if greenhouse emissions go on unchecked.

They ended with a tally of 2,200 snowstorms across central and eastern North America over a map with a grid space of about 4kms, over a period of 24 years – a sequence that embraces the past and the future.

The simulations told a clear story. There would be less snow, across smaller snowstorm tracks, and dramatically fewer falls in the months of October, November and April.

Chicago, Boston and New York will continue to see snowstorms, but the probability of vast snowdrifts and silent streets continues to decrease. Winter travel will become safer and easier, but agriculture and other industries that depend on freshwater delivered by melting snow will feel the cost. So could the rest of the world.

“There are also climate feedbacks to consider,” said Professor Ashley. “Snow cover reflects solar radiation and helps cool the environment. So annual reductions in snowfall and snow cover could amplify potential warming.” – Climate News Network

Increasingly arid future faces the American West

Climate change will take its toll of the US. The evidence repeatedly points to an ever more arid future for the American West.

LONDON, May 26, 2020 – The great American West is becoming inexorably more parched, with an inescapably arid future ahead. The winter snows will be lighter, and the spring melt much earlier. The river flows will slow, in some cases to a trickle, trees will die, and catastrophic wildfires will become more frequent. Agricultural harvests will be affected, and droughts will become more protracted.

The trend is clear and – without dramatic action by global governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming – is likely to be costly for one of the world’s richest nations.

“The impact of warming on the West’s river flows, soils and forests is now unequivocal,” say Jonathan Overpeck, of the University of Michigan, and Bradley Udall of Colorado State University, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There is a clear longer-term trend toward greater aridification, a trend that only climate action can stop.”

They make a point other researchers have repeatedly made over the last decade: that droughts will become longer and deeper in the US West, that climate change can only harm the US economy, and that the areas of increasing aridity are slowly shifting eastward: once rich soils could soon no longer sustain the crops of American farmers.

“The sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse”

The comments were triggered by a recent study in the same journal by a US Geological Survey team. Scientists used tree ring records and data for the first decade of this century to measure change in flow in the Upper Missouri River basin.

They concluded that recent regional warming, driven by increasing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, aligned with “increasing drought severities that rival or exceed any estimated over the last 12 centuries.”

The US West, and the Southwest, is used to drought, sometimes sustained. In the past the snows have returned, the rivers have swollen again. But Dr Overpeck and Dr Udall think this is now a wrong assumption.

“We now know with high confidence that continued emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere guarantee continued warming, and that this continued warming makes more widespread, prolonged and severe droughts almost a sure bet. Greater aridity is redefining the West in many ways, and the costs to human and natural systems will only increase as we let the warming continue.”

The rivers of the US Southwest are the only large, sure water supply for 40 million Americans. But since the late 20th century the flows of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande have fallen, and this is in large part due to ever higher temperatures, driven by ever greater consumption of fossil fuels. Higher temperatures mean that the atmosphere can absorb ever greater levels of water vapour, to dry out the soils.

Faltering action

This extra vapour would normally fall as rain or snow – and it certainly has in some parts of the US – but all the evidence suggests that droughts in the Southwest will increase both in frequency and intensity.

All nations have been slow to act decisively on climate change: President Trump has notoriously denounced climate change as a “hoax” and promised to withdraw the US from the only global agreement that promises concerted action.

“Perhaps most troubling is the growing co-occurrence of hot and dry summer conditions, and the likely expansion, absent climate change action, of these hot dry extremes all the way to the East Coast of North America, north deep into Canada, and south into Mexico,” the two scientists write.

Extreme dry spells, flash floods and droughts will become part of the new normal.

“Unfortunately, climate change and this aridification are likely to be irreversible on human time scales, so the sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse.” – Climate News Network

Climate change will take its toll of the US. The evidence repeatedly points to an ever more arid future for the American West.

LONDON, May 26, 2020 – The great American West is becoming inexorably more parched, with an inescapably arid future ahead. The winter snows will be lighter, and the spring melt much earlier. The river flows will slow, in some cases to a trickle, trees will die, and catastrophic wildfires will become more frequent. Agricultural harvests will be affected, and droughts will become more protracted.

The trend is clear and – without dramatic action by global governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming – is likely to be costly for one of the world’s richest nations.

“The impact of warming on the West’s river flows, soils and forests is now unequivocal,” say Jonathan Overpeck, of the University of Michigan, and Bradley Udall of Colorado State University, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There is a clear longer-term trend toward greater aridification, a trend that only climate action can stop.”

They make a point other researchers have repeatedly made over the last decade: that droughts will become longer and deeper in the US West, that climate change can only harm the US economy, and that the areas of increasing aridity are slowly shifting eastward: once rich soils could soon no longer sustain the crops of American farmers.

“The sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse”

The comments were triggered by a recent study in the same journal by a US Geological Survey team. Scientists used tree ring records and data for the first decade of this century to measure change in flow in the Upper Missouri River basin.

They concluded that recent regional warming, driven by increasing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, aligned with “increasing drought severities that rival or exceed any estimated over the last 12 centuries.”

The US West, and the Southwest, is used to drought, sometimes sustained. In the past the snows have returned, the rivers have swollen again. But Dr Overpeck and Dr Udall think this is now a wrong assumption.

“We now know with high confidence that continued emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere guarantee continued warming, and that this continued warming makes more widespread, prolonged and severe droughts almost a sure bet. Greater aridity is redefining the West in many ways, and the costs to human and natural systems will only increase as we let the warming continue.”

The rivers of the US Southwest are the only large, sure water supply for 40 million Americans. But since the late 20th century the flows of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande have fallen, and this is in large part due to ever higher temperatures, driven by ever greater consumption of fossil fuels. Higher temperatures mean that the atmosphere can absorb ever greater levels of water vapour, to dry out the soils.

Faltering action

This extra vapour would normally fall as rain or snow – and it certainly has in some parts of the US – but all the evidence suggests that droughts in the Southwest will increase both in frequency and intensity.

All nations have been slow to act decisively on climate change: President Trump has notoriously denounced climate change as a “hoax” and promised to withdraw the US from the only global agreement that promises concerted action.

“Perhaps most troubling is the growing co-occurrence of hot and dry summer conditions, and the likely expansion, absent climate change action, of these hot dry extremes all the way to the East Coast of North America, north deep into Canada, and south into Mexico,” the two scientists write.

Extreme dry spells, flash floods and droughts will become part of the new normal.

“Unfortunately, climate change and this aridification are likely to be irreversible on human time scales, so the sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide emissions fall – but by accident

The good news is that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen in line with global agreement. But we have chance to thank for that.

LONDON, 25 May, 2020 – Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will not reach record levels. The main greenhouse gas was released into the atmosphere to fuel global warming during April at a rate 17% lower than during the same month in 2019. That means a drop of 17 million tonnes of the gas every day.

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by climate scientists, environmental campaigners and governments interested in reducing the hazard of climate catastrophe. None of the fall in emissions was because of determined policies to reduce the rate of emissions and therefore the speed of climate change.

Emission levels have fallen to a level last observed in 2006. This is explained entirely by a series of simultaneous multinational lockdowns and economic slowdown as a consequence of an unexpected, and unprecedented, pandemic of a novel coronavirus that at the time of writing had worldwide claimed more than 330,000 lives.

The sudden slowdown in car journeys as businesses closed, workers were laid off and schoolchildren stayed at home accounted for almost half the decrease, according to a team of international scientists reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Foreign travel fell, airports stayed silent, to account for a 10% fall. For the extent of a northern hemisphere spring, people had a chance to experience a world in which atmospheric pollution of every kind was reduced, fossil fuel consumption dropped, and people walked or cycled or simply stayed at home.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour”

It is, however, unlikely to be a rehearsal for the sustained social and economic change required to contain climate change: the slowdown is almost certainly temporary. But it does provide breathing space and an opportunity to change direction.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-Covid-19 will influence global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.”

The year began with high confidence that the world’s nations – almost all of which had in Paris in 2015 vowed to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – would go on burning ever more fossil fuel and clearing ever more forest, to take greenhouse gas emissions to ever higher levels.

The researchers analysed government policies for the 69 countries that account for 97% of carbon dioxide emissions. At the height of confinement, territories responsible for 89% of global emissions experienced some level of restriction.

Meagre drop

Armed with economic data that measured the slowdown, the researchers were able to make estimates of the CO2 emissions that never happened: by the end of April, these amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, with the largest drops being in China, the US and Europe.

On present form, however, the annual total is likely to be down by only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. The larger figure is roughly the annual drop required year on year to keep the promises made in Paris.

“The drop in emissions is substantial, but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” said Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in California, another of the authors.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.” – Climate News Network

The good news is that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen in line with global agreement. But we have chance to thank for that.

LONDON, 25 May, 2020 – Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will not reach record levels. The main greenhouse gas was released into the atmosphere to fuel global warming during April at a rate 17% lower than during the same month in 2019. That means a drop of 17 million tonnes of the gas every day.

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by climate scientists, environmental campaigners and governments interested in reducing the hazard of climate catastrophe. None of the fall in emissions was because of determined policies to reduce the rate of emissions and therefore the speed of climate change.

Emission levels have fallen to a level last observed in 2006. This is explained entirely by a series of simultaneous multinational lockdowns and economic slowdown as a consequence of an unexpected, and unprecedented, pandemic of a novel coronavirus that at the time of writing had worldwide claimed more than 330,000 lives.

The sudden slowdown in car journeys as businesses closed, workers were laid off and schoolchildren stayed at home accounted for almost half the decrease, according to a team of international scientists reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Foreign travel fell, airports stayed silent, to account for a 10% fall. For the extent of a northern hemisphere spring, people had a chance to experience a world in which atmospheric pollution of every kind was reduced, fossil fuel consumption dropped, and people walked or cycled or simply stayed at home.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour”

It is, however, unlikely to be a rehearsal for the sustained social and economic change required to contain climate change: the slowdown is almost certainly temporary. But it does provide breathing space and an opportunity to change direction.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-Covid-19 will influence global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.”

The year began with high confidence that the world’s nations – almost all of which had in Paris in 2015 vowed to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – would go on burning ever more fossil fuel and clearing ever more forest, to take greenhouse gas emissions to ever higher levels.

The researchers analysed government policies for the 69 countries that account for 97% of carbon dioxide emissions. At the height of confinement, territories responsible for 89% of global emissions experienced some level of restriction.

Meagre drop

Armed with economic data that measured the slowdown, the researchers were able to make estimates of the CO2 emissions that never happened: by the end of April, these amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, with the largest drops being in China, the US and Europe.

On present form, however, the annual total is likely to be down by only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. The larger figure is roughly the annual drop required year on year to keep the promises made in Paris.

“The drop in emissions is substantial, but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” said Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in California, another of the authors.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.” – Climate News Network

Fossil fuels: Heading down, but not yet out

Renewable energy is making rapid inroads into the market, but fossil fuels still wield enormous global influence.

LONDON, 20 May, 2020 – At a casual glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that fossil fuels are here to stay for a long time yet, although not everything on the horizon is rosy.

The world, admittedly, is awash with surplus oil. The use of coal is in sharp decline. The price of gas – in recent years the fuel of choice for an increasing number of power plants around the globe – is falling.

The fossil fuel industry – the main driver behind the growing climate crisis – is undoubtedly going through one of its worst times in decades.

The Covid 19 pandemic has resulted in a severe downturn in the global economy and a sharp drop in demand for energy.

But the fossil fuel industry’s problems, many of them of its own making, were evident well before Covid swept the globe.

At the centre of the sector’s difficulties is over-production, particularly of oil.

Shale tips the scales

In 2010 world crude oil production was running at about 86 million barrels per day (MBPD). This year production is forecast to top 100 MBPD.

Though oil consumption has grown as the global economy has expanded over recent years, production has exceeded demand as utilities and industries, particularly in Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, have become ever more efficient in the way they produce energy.

The big change in the oil market over the past decade has been the rise in US production, brought about by the boom in the shale oil and gas industry.

In 2010 the US was producing just over 5 MBPD. Earlier this year, production was running at more than 13 MBPD. Once a net importer of crude, the US is now the world’s biggest producer – ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The days when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could more or less determine the global oil price by tweaking production levels have long gone: neither the US nor Russia is an OPEC member.

The big producers have argued amongst themselves and have not been able to agree on output levels. Oil prices have fluctuated wildly: in recent weeks they reached an historic low.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”

In the US many shale oil operators who borrowed heavily to fund their operations are threatened with going bust as the price of oil falls well below production costs.

In Saudi Arabia and Russia the dramatic fall in oil revenues is threatening economic crisis – and potential political trouble as well.

Adding further to the problems of the oil and other fossil fuel producers – but at the same time contributing to the well being of the planet – has been the rise of the renewable energy industry.

In 2010 the share of renewables in the global energy mix was 8.6%. Data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicate that renewables now account for more than 30% of the world’s power supply.

Massive solar and wind operations are being built around the world. Solar heating systems have been installed in millions of homes.

Concerns over a warming world and new regulations governing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases have in part driven the rise of renewables; dramatic falls in the price of technologies such as wind and solar have also had a big impact.

Holding on to power

The cost of producing electricity from solar power has dropped by about 80% over the past decade. The cost of wind power and other renewables has also dropped.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”, says IRENA.

The fossil fuel sector is still able to wield immense financial and political clout and those prophesying its demise are likely to be disappointed, in the short term at least.

In the US it looks as though coal, oil and gas companies will qualify for multi-billion dollar payments under revised federal government Covid-19 bailout measures.

The Saudis and the Russians will do everything in their power to protect their fossil fuel industries on which their economies – and power structures – depend.

But big changes are under way. Maybe, just maybe, fossil fuels are in terminal decline. – Climate News Network

Renewable energy is making rapid inroads into the market, but fossil fuels still wield enormous global influence.

LONDON, 20 May, 2020 – At a casual glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that fossil fuels are here to stay for a long time yet, although not everything on the horizon is rosy.

The world, admittedly, is awash with surplus oil. The use of coal is in sharp decline. The price of gas – in recent years the fuel of choice for an increasing number of power plants around the globe – is falling.

The fossil fuel industry – the main driver behind the growing climate crisis – is undoubtedly going through one of its worst times in decades.

The Covid 19 pandemic has resulted in a severe downturn in the global economy and a sharp drop in demand for energy.

But the fossil fuel industry’s problems, many of them of its own making, were evident well before Covid swept the globe.

At the centre of the sector’s difficulties is over-production, particularly of oil.

Shale tips the scales

In 2010 world crude oil production was running at about 86 million barrels per day (MBPD). This year production is forecast to top 100 MBPD.

Though oil consumption has grown as the global economy has expanded over recent years, production has exceeded demand as utilities and industries, particularly in Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, have become ever more efficient in the way they produce energy.

The big change in the oil market over the past decade has been the rise in US production, brought about by the boom in the shale oil and gas industry.

In 2010 the US was producing just over 5 MBPD. Earlier this year, production was running at more than 13 MBPD. Once a net importer of crude, the US is now the world’s biggest producer – ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The days when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could more or less determine the global oil price by tweaking production levels have long gone: neither the US nor Russia is an OPEC member.

The big producers have argued amongst themselves and have not been able to agree on output levels. Oil prices have fluctuated wildly: in recent weeks they reached an historic low.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”

In the US many shale oil operators who borrowed heavily to fund their operations are threatened with going bust as the price of oil falls well below production costs.

In Saudi Arabia and Russia the dramatic fall in oil revenues is threatening economic crisis – and potential political trouble as well.

Adding further to the problems of the oil and other fossil fuel producers – but at the same time contributing to the well being of the planet – has been the rise of the renewable energy industry.

In 2010 the share of renewables in the global energy mix was 8.6%. Data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicate that renewables now account for more than 30% of the world’s power supply.

Massive solar and wind operations are being built around the world. Solar heating systems have been installed in millions of homes.

Concerns over a warming world and new regulations governing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases have in part driven the rise of renewables; dramatic falls in the price of technologies such as wind and solar have also had a big impact.

Holding on to power

The cost of producing electricity from solar power has dropped by about 80% over the past decade. The cost of wind power and other renewables has also dropped.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”, says IRENA.

The fossil fuel sector is still able to wield immense financial and political clout and those prophesying its demise are likely to be disappointed, in the short term at least.

In the US it looks as though coal, oil and gas companies will qualify for multi-billion dollar payments under revised federal government Covid-19 bailout measures.

The Saudis and the Russians will do everything in their power to protect their fossil fuel industries on which their economies – and power structures – depend.

But big changes are under way. Maybe, just maybe, fossil fuels are in terminal decline. – Climate News Network

Nuclear tests affected the weather 60 years ago

Cold War nuclear tests did change the weather in the 1960s. The Earth did not catch fire, but a hard rain did begin to fall.

LONDON, 19 May, 2020 – Sixty years on, British scientists have confirmed a once-popular belief: that atmospheric nuclear tests of early weapons under development affected the daily weather. A new study of  weather records from 1962 to 1964 reveals the signature of experimental atomic and thermonuclear explosions during the early days of the Cold War.

The scientists measured atmospheric electric charge and cloud data to find that on those days when radioactively-generated electric charge was higher, clouds were thicker and there was up to a quarter more rain than on those days when charge was low.

The climate impact of nuclear detonations may not have been as devastating as many older lay people appeared to think at the time, and some good came of the tests: researchers who studied radiation distribution as it spread around the planet from weapons test sites built up a body of data that delivered a new way to follow atmospheric circulation patterns.

“We have now re-used this data to examine the effect on rainfall,” said Giles Harrison of the University of Reading in the UK. “The politically charged atmosphere of the Cold War led to a nuclear arms race and worldwide anxiety. Decades later, that global cloud has yielded a silver lining, in giving us a unique way to study how electric charge affects rain.”

Between 1945 and 1980 US, Soviet, British and French governments exploded 510 megatons of nuclear weaponry underground, under water and in the lower and upper atmosphere. Of this, 428 megatons – the equivalent of 29,000 bombs of the size dropped onto Hiroshima in Japan at the end of the Second World War – was in the open air, and the greatest concentration of tests was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Weather grumbles

Scientists began to collect strontium-90 isotopes and other radioactive fission products in the rain that fell after such tests. By 1960, people in Europe and the US could be heard grumbling about the supposed impact on the weather of tests carried out 10,000 kilometres away.

British cinemagoers were treated to an improbable vision of climate catastrophe triggered by nuclear tests in the 1961 film The Day the Earth Caught Fire. The US government commissioned the Rand Corporation to deliver an inconclusive report in 1966 on the effect upon weather, but by then an international treaty had banned tests in the atmosphere, in the water and in space.

Very slowly, public concern about radioactive fallout and its consequences for the weather began to fade.

Scientists continued to contemplate the climate effects of nuclear confrontation in other ways: in 1983 US researchers proposed a possible nuclear winter, triggered by radioactive mushroom clouds from burning cities that would reach the stratosphere and dim the sun’s light for a decade.

But long before then, peace and prosperity had created another climatic danger: the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels had begun to raise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to trigger global warming, and climate scientists began to adopt nuclear yardsticks to measure the effect.

“The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons”

One calculation is that by flying in jet planes or driving cars or generating electric power, humankind is now adding the equivalent in heat energy of five Hiroshima explosions every second to the world’s atmosphere, thus inexorably altering the global climate.

That has not stopped other scientists from worrying about the chilling effects upon climate and human civilisation of even a limited nuclear  exchange. But the supposed impact of bursts of nuclear radiation upon the weather has been more or less forgotten.

Now Professor Harrison and colleagues have returned to the puzzle in the journal Physical Review Letters, to find that the answer could be disentangled from weather records collected in Kew, near London, and 1000 kms away in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands north-east of Scotland, a site selected because it would be least affected by soot, sulphur particles and other kinds of industrial pollution.

Nuclear radiation ionises the matter in its path to create electrically-charged atoms and molecules. Electric charge changes the way water droplets in clouds collide and combine – think of dramatic thunderstorms, lightning and torrential rain – and this affects the size of the droplets and the volume of rain: that is, the rain doesn’t fall at all until the droplets get big enough.

Usually, the sun does most of the work, but in comparing the weather records from two stations, the researchers were for the first time able to factor in the contribution from Cold War test explosions in the Nevada desert, or the Siberian Arctic, or the faraway south Pacific, on Scottish rainfall between 1962 and 1964.

Difference disappeared

They found 150 days in which atmospheric electricity was high or low, while cloudy in Lerwick: they also found a difference in precipitation which, they say, disappeared once the build-up of nuclear radioactive fallout had vanished.

Their statistical analyses suggest no serious or lasting change, but the connection was there: where radioactivity was high, rainfall increased from 2.1mm per day to 2.6mm – a 24% increase in daily rain. Clouds, too, were thicker.

The study remains as one more piece of the climate jigsaw, as a test of measuring technique, and one more reminder of the lessons still to be learned from the Cold War.

It confirms a deepening understanding of the intricate machinery that delivers the first drops of rain, and ideally scientists won’t get many chances to test their understanding in the same way again.

The authors conclude, in the clipped tones favoured by research publications: “The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons.” – Climate News Network

Cold War nuclear tests did change the weather in the 1960s. The Earth did not catch fire, but a hard rain did begin to fall.

LONDON, 19 May, 2020 – Sixty years on, British scientists have confirmed a once-popular belief: that atmospheric nuclear tests of early weapons under development affected the daily weather. A new study of  weather records from 1962 to 1964 reveals the signature of experimental atomic and thermonuclear explosions during the early days of the Cold War.

The scientists measured atmospheric electric charge and cloud data to find that on those days when radioactively-generated electric charge was higher, clouds were thicker and there was up to a quarter more rain than on those days when charge was low.

The climate impact of nuclear detonations may not have been as devastating as many older lay people appeared to think at the time, and some good came of the tests: researchers who studied radiation distribution as it spread around the planet from weapons test sites built up a body of data that delivered a new way to follow atmospheric circulation patterns.

“We have now re-used this data to examine the effect on rainfall,” said Giles Harrison of the University of Reading in the UK. “The politically charged atmosphere of the Cold War led to a nuclear arms race and worldwide anxiety. Decades later, that global cloud has yielded a silver lining, in giving us a unique way to study how electric charge affects rain.”

Between 1945 and 1980 US, Soviet, British and French governments exploded 510 megatons of nuclear weaponry underground, under water and in the lower and upper atmosphere. Of this, 428 megatons – the equivalent of 29,000 bombs of the size dropped onto Hiroshima in Japan at the end of the Second World War – was in the open air, and the greatest concentration of tests was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Weather grumbles

Scientists began to collect strontium-90 isotopes and other radioactive fission products in the rain that fell after such tests. By 1960, people in Europe and the US could be heard grumbling about the supposed impact on the weather of tests carried out 10,000 kilometres away.

British cinemagoers were treated to an improbable vision of climate catastrophe triggered by nuclear tests in the 1961 film The Day the Earth Caught Fire. The US government commissioned the Rand Corporation to deliver an inconclusive report in 1966 on the effect upon weather, but by then an international treaty had banned tests in the atmosphere, in the water and in space.

Very slowly, public concern about radioactive fallout and its consequences for the weather began to fade.

Scientists continued to contemplate the climate effects of nuclear confrontation in other ways: in 1983 US researchers proposed a possible nuclear winter, triggered by radioactive mushroom clouds from burning cities that would reach the stratosphere and dim the sun’s light for a decade.

But long before then, peace and prosperity had created another climatic danger: the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels had begun to raise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to trigger global warming, and climate scientists began to adopt nuclear yardsticks to measure the effect.

“The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons”

One calculation is that by flying in jet planes or driving cars or generating electric power, humankind is now adding the equivalent in heat energy of five Hiroshima explosions every second to the world’s atmosphere, thus inexorably altering the global climate.

That has not stopped other scientists from worrying about the chilling effects upon climate and human civilisation of even a limited nuclear  exchange. But the supposed impact of bursts of nuclear radiation upon the weather has been more or less forgotten.

Now Professor Harrison and colleagues have returned to the puzzle in the journal Physical Review Letters, to find that the answer could be disentangled from weather records collected in Kew, near London, and 1000 kms away in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands north-east of Scotland, a site selected because it would be least affected by soot, sulphur particles and other kinds of industrial pollution.

Nuclear radiation ionises the matter in its path to create electrically-charged atoms and molecules. Electric charge changes the way water droplets in clouds collide and combine – think of dramatic thunderstorms, lightning and torrential rain – and this affects the size of the droplets and the volume of rain: that is, the rain doesn’t fall at all until the droplets get big enough.

Usually, the sun does most of the work, but in comparing the weather records from two stations, the researchers were for the first time able to factor in the contribution from Cold War test explosions in the Nevada desert, or the Siberian Arctic, or the faraway south Pacific, on Scottish rainfall between 1962 and 1964.

Difference disappeared

They found 150 days in which atmospheric electricity was high or low, while cloudy in Lerwick: they also found a difference in precipitation which, they say, disappeared once the build-up of nuclear radioactive fallout had vanished.

Their statistical analyses suggest no serious or lasting change, but the connection was there: where radioactivity was high, rainfall increased from 2.1mm per day to 2.6mm – a 24% increase in daily rain. Clouds, too, were thicker.

The study remains as one more piece of the climate jigsaw, as a test of measuring technique, and one more reminder of the lessons still to be learned from the Cold War.

It confirms a deepening understanding of the intricate machinery that delivers the first drops of rain, and ideally scientists won’t get many chances to test their understanding in the same way again.

The authors conclude, in the clipped tones favoured by research publications: “The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons.” – Climate News Network

US farm workers face worsening lethal heat

By 2100, US farmers can expect more lethal heat, the equivalent of two months when it’s unsafe to pick crops.

LONDON, 6 May, 2020 – Life is already bad enough for underpaid and overworked crop pickers in the US, but as lethal heat levels rise they will render outdoor labour in the harvest season increasingly impossible.

The men and women who gather melons and strawberries, nuts and grapes, onions and lettuce already find conditions too hot to handle on at least 21 days a year.

By 2050, US agricultural workers will meet unsafe daytime summer temperatures on 39 days each harvest season. And by 2100, this number could triple to 62 unsafe days, according to new research.

Unsafe means that the levels of high thermometer readings and high humidity outdoors could put field workers at risk of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat cramps, dehydration, potential kidney injury and even death.

There are roughly one million people in the US officially employed picking crops in states such as Oregon, California, Washington and Florida. The actual number however is estimated to be two million.

“You don’t have to go to the global south to find people who will get hurt with even modest amounts of global warming – you just have to look in your own backyard”

More than three-quarters of them are foreign-born, many from Mexico. Only about half of these have lawful authority to work in the US. Of these, 71% do not speak English well, and on average educational levels are low. Fewer than half have medical insurance, and one third of the families of agricultural workers live below the poverty line.

Their housing and sanitary conditions are often not good, they are often paid on the basis of crops picked, so that to survive they must neglect breaks and work for longer, and they are often deprived of shade, according to data compiled in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

High summer extremes are a hazard, and can cause death on a significant scale. Climate scientists have established that by the century’s end, more than a billion people worldwide will be placed in danger of summer extremes, and the risks are growing.

One enterprising group has even numbered 27 ways in which high temperatures and high humidity can kill. Economists have already counted the price paid in falling productivity in severe conditions in Australia, and – since fruit tends to ripen as the thermometer rises and must be picked at the right moment – the hazards faced by grape-pickers in the world’s vineyards.

When Michelle Tigchelaar began her study of the climate impacts, she was at the University of Washington. She is now at Stanford University in California.

Low estimate

She and colleagues simply followed the climate projections and the impact rising global average temperatures will have on the intensity, frequency and duration of heat waves, and found that with a 2°C rise, expected by 2050, the level of unsafe days leapt from 21 to 39. At 4°C – and there is a high risk on present trends – then unsafe conditions could by 2100 reach 62 days.

“I was surprised by the scale of the change – seeing a doubling of unsafe days by mid-century, then a tripling by 2100. And we think that’s a low estimate,” Dr Tigchelaar said.

“The people who are the most vulnerable are asked to take the highest risk so that we, as consumers, can eat a healthy nutritious diet.”

And her co-author David Battisti of the University of Washington said: “The climate science community has long been pointing to the global south, the developing countries, as places that will be disproportionately affected by climate change.

“This shows that you don’t have to go to the global south to find people who will get hurt with even modest amounts of global warming – you just have to look in your own backyard.” – Climate News Network

By 2100, US farmers can expect more lethal heat, the equivalent of two months when it’s unsafe to pick crops.

LONDON, 6 May, 2020 – Life is already bad enough for underpaid and overworked crop pickers in the US, but as lethal heat levels rise they will render outdoor labour in the harvest season increasingly impossible.

The men and women who gather melons and strawberries, nuts and grapes, onions and lettuce already find conditions too hot to handle on at least 21 days a year.

By 2050, US agricultural workers will meet unsafe daytime summer temperatures on 39 days each harvest season. And by 2100, this number could triple to 62 unsafe days, according to new research.

Unsafe means that the levels of high thermometer readings and high humidity outdoors could put field workers at risk of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat cramps, dehydration, potential kidney injury and even death.

There are roughly one million people in the US officially employed picking crops in states such as Oregon, California, Washington and Florida. The actual number however is estimated to be two million.

“You don’t have to go to the global south to find people who will get hurt with even modest amounts of global warming – you just have to look in your own backyard”

More than three-quarters of them are foreign-born, many from Mexico. Only about half of these have lawful authority to work in the US. Of these, 71% do not speak English well, and on average educational levels are low. Fewer than half have medical insurance, and one third of the families of agricultural workers live below the poverty line.

Their housing and sanitary conditions are often not good, they are often paid on the basis of crops picked, so that to survive they must neglect breaks and work for longer, and they are often deprived of shade, according to data compiled in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

High summer extremes are a hazard, and can cause death on a significant scale. Climate scientists have established that by the century’s end, more than a billion people worldwide will be placed in danger of summer extremes, and the risks are growing.

One enterprising group has even numbered 27 ways in which high temperatures and high humidity can kill. Economists have already counted the price paid in falling productivity in severe conditions in Australia, and – since fruit tends to ripen as the thermometer rises and must be picked at the right moment – the hazards faced by grape-pickers in the world’s vineyards.

When Michelle Tigchelaar began her study of the climate impacts, she was at the University of Washington. She is now at Stanford University in California.

Low estimate

She and colleagues simply followed the climate projections and the impact rising global average temperatures will have on the intensity, frequency and duration of heat waves, and found that with a 2°C rise, expected by 2050, the level of unsafe days leapt from 21 to 39. At 4°C – and there is a high risk on present trends – then unsafe conditions could by 2100 reach 62 days.

“I was surprised by the scale of the change – seeing a doubling of unsafe days by mid-century, then a tripling by 2100. And we think that’s a low estimate,” Dr Tigchelaar said.

“The people who are the most vulnerable are asked to take the highest risk so that we, as consumers, can eat a healthy nutritious diet.”

And her co-author David Battisti of the University of Washington said: “The climate science community has long been pointing to the global south, the developing countries, as places that will be disproportionately affected by climate change.

“This shows that you don’t have to go to the global south to find people who will get hurt with even modest amounts of global warming – you just have to look in your own backyard.” – Climate News Network

US coasts face far more frequent severe floods

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

 

For US coasts, high-water hazards have just become more hazardous: a lot more hazardous, say scientists.

LONDON, 24 April, 2020 − A new study of high-water levels on US coasts in 200 regions brings ominous news for those who live in vulnerable towns and cities.

By 2050, floods expected perhaps once every 50 years will happen almost every year in nearly three fourths of all the coasts under study.

And by 2100, the kind of extreme high tides that now happen once in a lifetime could wash over the streets and gardens of 93% of these communities, almost every day.

The message, from researchers led by the US Geological Survey, is that sea levels will go on rising steadily by millimetres every year, but the number of extreme flooding events could double every five years.

Researchers outline their argument in the journal Scientific Reports. They looked at the data routinely collected from 202 tide gauges distributed around the US coasts and then extended the tidal levels forward in time in line with predictions based on global sea level rise that will inevitably accompany ever-increasing global average temperatures, driven by greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use.

“The impact of this finding bears repeating: sea level rise will likely cause ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ coastal flooding events to occur nearly every day before 2100”

Other scientists have warned that the damage from coastal flooding, storm surges and marine invasion will rise to colossal levels by the century’s end, that routine high-tide floods will become increasingly common, and that up to 13 million US citizens now in coastal settlements could become climate refugees.

But researchers based in Chicago, Santa Cruz and Hawaii wanted more than that: they wanted to know what sea level rise will do, as the waters lap ever higher, from year to year.

“Sea level rise is slow, yet consequential and accelerating,” they point out. “Upper end sea level rise scenarios could displace hundreds of millions of people by the end of the 21st century. However, even small amounts of sea level rise can disproportionately increase coastal flood frequency.”

The researchers selected 202 sites, most of them in sheltered harbours or bays, for their tide data: that way their record reflected the highest tides and storm surges, but not the haphazard readings of waves.

They concentrated on what they called “extreme water-level events” of the kind that happened once every 50 years, because most US coastal engineering work is based on that kind of hazard frequency. And then they started doing the calculations.

Exponential hazard growth

For nine out of 10 locations, the difference between the kind of flood that happened every 50 years and the sort that occurred maybe once a year was about half a metre. For 73% of their chosen tide gauges, the difference between the daily highest tide and the once-every-50-years event was less than a metre. Most projections for sea level rise worldwide by the end of the century are higher than a metre.

Once the researchers had set their algorithms to work, they found that even in median sea-level rise scenarios, the hazards grew exponentially. They found that all tidal stations would by 2050 be recording what remain for the moment 50-year events, every year. When they set the timetable to 2100, 93% of their locations would be recording a once-in-50-years flood every day.

“The impact of this finding bears repeating: sea level rise will likely cause ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ coastal flooding events to occur nearly every day before 2100,” they warn.

This would have profound consequences for what they call extreme events. And even in ordinary circumstances, beaches are increasingly likely to be washed away, and cliffs eroded.

The researchers conclude: “Our society has yet to fully comprehend the imminence of the projected regime shifts in coastal hazards and the consequences thereof.” − Climate News Network

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

 

For US coasts, high-water hazards have just become more hazardous: a lot more hazardous, say scientists.

LONDON, 24 April, 2020 − A new study of high-water levels on US coasts in 200 regions brings ominous news for those who live in vulnerable towns and cities.

By 2050, floods expected perhaps once every 50 years will happen almost every year in nearly three fourths of all the coasts under study.

And by 2100, the kind of extreme high tides that now happen once in a lifetime could wash over the streets and gardens of 93% of these communities, almost every day.

The message, from researchers led by the US Geological Survey, is that sea levels will go on rising steadily by millimetres every year, but the number of extreme flooding events could double every five years.

Researchers outline their argument in the journal Scientific Reports. They looked at the data routinely collected from 202 tide gauges distributed around the US coasts and then extended the tidal levels forward in time in line with predictions based on global sea level rise that will inevitably accompany ever-increasing global average temperatures, driven by greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use.

“The impact of this finding bears repeating: sea level rise will likely cause ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ coastal flooding events to occur nearly every day before 2100”

Other scientists have warned that the damage from coastal flooding, storm surges and marine invasion will rise to colossal levels by the century’s end, that routine high-tide floods will become increasingly common, and that up to 13 million US citizens now in coastal settlements could become climate refugees.

But researchers based in Chicago, Santa Cruz and Hawaii wanted more than that: they wanted to know what sea level rise will do, as the waters lap ever higher, from year to year.

“Sea level rise is slow, yet consequential and accelerating,” they point out. “Upper end sea level rise scenarios could displace hundreds of millions of people by the end of the 21st century. However, even small amounts of sea level rise can disproportionately increase coastal flood frequency.”

The researchers selected 202 sites, most of them in sheltered harbours or bays, for their tide data: that way their record reflected the highest tides and storm surges, but not the haphazard readings of waves.

They concentrated on what they called “extreme water-level events” of the kind that happened once every 50 years, because most US coastal engineering work is based on that kind of hazard frequency. And then they started doing the calculations.

Exponential hazard growth

For nine out of 10 locations, the difference between the kind of flood that happened every 50 years and the sort that occurred maybe once a year was about half a metre. For 73% of their chosen tide gauges, the difference between the daily highest tide and the once-every-50-years event was less than a metre. Most projections for sea level rise worldwide by the end of the century are higher than a metre.

Once the researchers had set their algorithms to work, they found that even in median sea-level rise scenarios, the hazards grew exponentially. They found that all tidal stations would by 2050 be recording what remain for the moment 50-year events, every year. When they set the timetable to 2100, 93% of their locations would be recording a once-in-50-years flood every day.

“The impact of this finding bears repeating: sea level rise will likely cause ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ coastal flooding events to occur nearly every day before 2100,” they warn.

This would have profound consequences for what they call extreme events. And even in ordinary circumstances, beaches are increasingly likely to be washed away, and cliffs eroded.

The researchers conclude: “Our society has yet to fully comprehend the imminence of the projected regime shifts in coastal hazards and the consequences thereof.” − Climate News Network

UK plutonium stockpile is a costly headache

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

 

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use.

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has examined all the potential options suggested to put the 139 tonnes of plutonium to some useful peaceful purpose (in other words, to create energy), but concludes that none of them is viable.

It says: “The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource, and authority should again take a closer look at immobilisation options.”

Among the solutions that have been suggested is to mix the plutonium with ceramics to immobilise and stabilise it, so that it can be safely stored or disposed of, not used for weapons. The government has so far rejected that option. − Climate News Network

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

 

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use.

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has examined all the potential options suggested to put the 139 tonnes of plutonium to some useful peaceful purpose (in other words, to create energy), but concludes that none of them is viable.

It says: “The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource, and authority should again take a closer look at immobilisation options.”

Among the solutions that have been suggested is to mix the plutonium with ceramics to immobilise and stabilise it, so that it can be safely stored or disposed of, not used for weapons. The government has so far rejected that option. − Climate News Network

Tree rings and weather data warn of megadrought

Farmers in the US West know they have a drought, but may not yet realise these arid years could become a megadrought.

LONDON, 17 April, 2020 – Climate change could be pushing the US west and northern Mexico towards the most severe and most extended period of drought observed in a thousand years of US history, a full-blown megadrought.

Natural atmospheric forces have always triggered prolonged spells with little rain. But warming driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels could now be making a bad situation much worse.

The warning of what climate scientists call a megadrought – outlined in the journal Science – is based not on computer simulations but on direct testimony from more than a century of weather records and the much longer story told by 1200 consecutive years of evidence preserved in the annual growth rings of trees that provide a record of changing levels of soil moisture.

“Earlier studies were largely model projections of the future. We are no longer looking at projections, but at where we are now,” said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in the US.

“We now have enough observations of current drought and tree ring records of past drought to say we’re on the same trajectory as the worst prehistoric droughts.”

Repeating the past

Previous research has already linked catastrophic drought to turmoil among pre-Columbian civilisations in the American Southwest.

Studies by other groups have also warned that what happened in the past could happen again, as carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion enrich the atmosphere, raise temperatures and parch the soils of the US West.

Global heating has been repeatedly linked to the last devastating drought in California, and to the possible return of Dust Bowl conditions in the Midwestern grain belt.

The latest study delivers a long-term analysis of conditions across nine US states, from Oregon and Montana in the north down to California, New Mexico and part of northern Mexico.

With the evidence preserved in old tree trunks, the scientists identified dozens of droughts in the region from 800 AD. They found four megadroughts – periods in which the conditions became extreme – between 800 and 1600. Since then there have been no droughts that could be matched with these – so far.

And then the researchers matched the megadrought tree ring evidence with soil moisture records collected in the first 19 years of this century, and compared this with any 19-year period in the prehistoric droughts.

“We’ll need more and more good luck to break out of drought, and less and less bad luck to get into drought”

They found that the current prolonged dry spell is already more pronounced than the three earliest records of megadrought. The fourth megadrought – it ran from 1575 to 1603 – may still have been the worst of all, but the match with the present years is so close that nobody can be sure.

But the team behind the Science study is sure of one thing. This drought right now is affecting wider stretches of landscape more consistently than any of the earlier megadroughts, and this, they say, is a signature of global heating. All the ancient megadroughts lasted longer, and sometimes much longer, than 19 years, but all began in a way very similar to the present.

The snowpack in the western high mountains has fallen dramatically, the flow of the rivers has dwindled, lake levels have fallen, farmers have been  hit and the wildfires have become more prolonged and more intense.

Drought and even the chance of megadrought may be a fact of life in the US West. During occasional natural atmospheric cycles, the tropical Pacific cools and storm tracks shift further north, taking rainfall away from the US drylands.

But since 2000, average air temperatures in the western states have risen by more than 1.2°C above the normal over earlier centuries. So soils already starved of rain began to lose their stored moisture at an ever-increasing rate.

Worsened by heating

Without the additional global heating, this drought might have happened anyway, and perhaps even been the 11th worst ever recorded, rather than almost the worst ever in human experience.

“It doesn’t matter if this is exactly the worst drought ever,” said Benjamin Cook, a co-author, from Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “What matters is that it has been made much worse than it could have been because of climate change.”

The researchers also found that the 20th century was the wettest century in the entire 1200 year record, and this relatively plentiful supply of water must have helped enrich the US West and make California, for instance, become the Golden State, the most populous in the US.

“Because the background is getting warmer, the dice are increasingly loaded towards longer and more severe droughts,” Professor Williams said. “We may get lucky, and natural variability will bring more precipitation for a while.

“But going forward, we’ll need more and more good luck to break out of drought, and less and less bad luck to get into drought.” – Climate News Network

Farmers in the US West know they have a drought, but may not yet realise these arid years could become a megadrought.

LONDON, 17 April, 2020 – Climate change could be pushing the US west and northern Mexico towards the most severe and most extended period of drought observed in a thousand years of US history, a full-blown megadrought.

Natural atmospheric forces have always triggered prolonged spells with little rain. But warming driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels could now be making a bad situation much worse.

The warning of what climate scientists call a megadrought – outlined in the journal Science – is based not on computer simulations but on direct testimony from more than a century of weather records and the much longer story told by 1200 consecutive years of evidence preserved in the annual growth rings of trees that provide a record of changing levels of soil moisture.

“Earlier studies were largely model projections of the future. We are no longer looking at projections, but at where we are now,” said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in the US.

“We now have enough observations of current drought and tree ring records of past drought to say we’re on the same trajectory as the worst prehistoric droughts.”

Repeating the past

Previous research has already linked catastrophic drought to turmoil among pre-Columbian civilisations in the American Southwest.

Studies by other groups have also warned that what happened in the past could happen again, as carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion enrich the atmosphere, raise temperatures and parch the soils of the US West.

Global heating has been repeatedly linked to the last devastating drought in California, and to the possible return of Dust Bowl conditions in the Midwestern grain belt.

The latest study delivers a long-term analysis of conditions across nine US states, from Oregon and Montana in the north down to California, New Mexico and part of northern Mexico.

With the evidence preserved in old tree trunks, the scientists identified dozens of droughts in the region from 800 AD. They found four megadroughts – periods in which the conditions became extreme – between 800 and 1600. Since then there have been no droughts that could be matched with these – so far.

And then the researchers matched the megadrought tree ring evidence with soil moisture records collected in the first 19 years of this century, and compared this with any 19-year period in the prehistoric droughts.

“We’ll need more and more good luck to break out of drought, and less and less bad luck to get into drought”

They found that the current prolonged dry spell is already more pronounced than the three earliest records of megadrought. The fourth megadrought – it ran from 1575 to 1603 – may still have been the worst of all, but the match with the present years is so close that nobody can be sure.

But the team behind the Science study is sure of one thing. This drought right now is affecting wider stretches of landscape more consistently than any of the earlier megadroughts, and this, they say, is a signature of global heating. All the ancient megadroughts lasted longer, and sometimes much longer, than 19 years, but all began in a way very similar to the present.

The snowpack in the western high mountains has fallen dramatically, the flow of the rivers has dwindled, lake levels have fallen, farmers have been  hit and the wildfires have become more prolonged and more intense.

Drought and even the chance of megadrought may be a fact of life in the US West. During occasional natural atmospheric cycles, the tropical Pacific cools and storm tracks shift further north, taking rainfall away from the US drylands.

But since 2000, average air temperatures in the western states have risen by more than 1.2°C above the normal over earlier centuries. So soils already starved of rain began to lose their stored moisture at an ever-increasing rate.

Worsened by heating

Without the additional global heating, this drought might have happened anyway, and perhaps even been the 11th worst ever recorded, rather than almost the worst ever in human experience.

“It doesn’t matter if this is exactly the worst drought ever,” said Benjamin Cook, a co-author, from Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “What matters is that it has been made much worse than it could have been because of climate change.”

The researchers also found that the 20th century was the wettest century in the entire 1200 year record, and this relatively plentiful supply of water must have helped enrich the US West and make California, for instance, become the Golden State, the most populous in the US.

“Because the background is getting warmer, the dice are increasingly loaded towards longer and more severe droughts,” Professor Williams said. “We may get lucky, and natural variability will bring more precipitation for a while.

“But going forward, we’ll need more and more good luck to break out of drought, and less and less bad luck to get into drought.” – Climate News Network