Tag Archives: USA

Flash floods increase as mercury climbs

Heavy rain must fall somewhere. The danger lies in where it falls and on what kind of terrain. As cities grow, the risk of flash floods rises.

LONDON, 9 November, 2018 – Scientists once again have confirmed that humankind’s actions have triggered ever-greater extremes of rainfall – and an ever-greater rise in disastrous flash floods.

The study comes close on the heels of a warning by UN scientists of a dramatic increase in economic losses from climate-related disasters. Between 1998 and 2017, natural disasters cost the world’s nations direct losses of $2.9 trillion, and although earthquake and tsunami accounted for most deaths, floods, storms and other climate-related catastrophes accounted for 77% of the economic damage.

Scientists and engineers from China and the US report in the journal Nature Communications that flash floods now cause more deaths as well as more property and agricultural losses than any other severe weather-related hazards. These losses have been increasing for the last 50 years and over the last decade worldwide have topped $30bn a year.

And, they find, extremes in run–off from increasing extremes of rainfall are driven by what humans have done, and continue to do, to their planet: in the race for economic growth, people have burned ever more coal, oil and gas to dump ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

Heat hazard rises

They have driven up global average temperatures by around 1°C in the last century, and without drastic action this average could reach 3°C by the century’s end.

As average temperatures rise, so does the hazard of extremes of heat. With every rise of 1°C the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb moisture rises by about 7%: higher temperatures are linked to ever-harder falls of rain. And rain that falls must go somewhere.

Moisture once naturally absorbed by forests, extensive wetlands or rich natural grasslands now increasingly lands on tarmacadam, brick, cement, tile or glass, to race down city streets, threaten ever more lives and sweep away costly homes, offices and bridges.

“Those who are suffering the most from climate change are those who are contributing least to greenhouse gas emissions”

Altogether one billion people are now settled in floodplains: the lives at risk are on the increase. And, the researchers warn, the losses will go on rising.

Most researchers have been unwilling to link specific floods directly to global warming. That cautious attitude shifted in the last few years as separate teams of climate scientists made connections between global warming and disastrous flooding and destructive storms in Europe, in India and in the US.

Australia – more often linked with extended drought and wildfire hazards than floods – has identified ever greater dangers from extreme rainfall.

The Nature study was based on decades of rainfall, run-off and temperature data collected on a daily basis and forms part of a widening search for ways to adapt to a danger that, inevitably, looks set to increase, particularly in the US.

Growth in extremes

“We were trying to find the physical mechanisms behind why precipitation and run-off extremes are increasing all over the globe,” said Jiabo Yin, a Wuhan University student working at the Earth Institute in the University of Columbia, who led the research.

“We know that precipitation and run-off extremes will increase significantly in the future, and we need to modify our infrastructures accordingly. Our study establishes a framework for investigating the runoff response.”

Altogether, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s latest survey, the world experienced more than 7,000 major disasters in the last two decades: floods and storms accounted for 43% and 28.2% of them and were the most frequent kinds of disaster.

Together, such disasters claimed 1.3 million lives – almost 750,000 of these to a total of 563 earthquakes and tsunamis. An estimated 4.4 billion people were hurt, or lost their homes, or were displaced or placed in need of emergency help.

Biggest losers

The greatest economic losers were the US, with almost $945 billion, and China with $492bn. Storms, floods and earthquakes put three European nations in the top ten, with France, Germany and Italy losing around $50bn each in those two decades.

Once again, the UN study highlights the gap between rich and poor. “Those who are suffering the most from climate change are those who are contributing least to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Deberati Guha-Sapir, head of the UN’s Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.

“Clearly there is great room for improvement in data collection on economic losses, but we know from our analysis … that people in low income countries are six times more likely to lose all their worldly possessions or suffer injury in a disaster than people in high income countries.” – Climate News Network

Heavy rain must fall somewhere. The danger lies in where it falls and on what kind of terrain. As cities grow, the risk of flash floods rises.

LONDON, 9 November, 2018 – Scientists once again have confirmed that humankind’s actions have triggered ever-greater extremes of rainfall – and an ever-greater rise in disastrous flash floods.

The study comes close on the heels of a warning by UN scientists of a dramatic increase in economic losses from climate-related disasters. Between 1998 and 2017, natural disasters cost the world’s nations direct losses of $2.9 trillion, and although earthquake and tsunami accounted for most deaths, floods, storms and other climate-related catastrophes accounted for 77% of the economic damage.

Scientists and engineers from China and the US report in the journal Nature Communications that flash floods now cause more deaths as well as more property and agricultural losses than any other severe weather-related hazards. These losses have been increasing for the last 50 years and over the last decade worldwide have topped $30bn a year.

And, they find, extremes in run–off from increasing extremes of rainfall are driven by what humans have done, and continue to do, to their planet: in the race for economic growth, people have burned ever more coal, oil and gas to dump ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

Heat hazard rises

They have driven up global average temperatures by around 1°C in the last century, and without drastic action this average could reach 3°C by the century’s end.

As average temperatures rise, so does the hazard of extremes of heat. With every rise of 1°C the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb moisture rises by about 7%: higher temperatures are linked to ever-harder falls of rain. And rain that falls must go somewhere.

Moisture once naturally absorbed by forests, extensive wetlands or rich natural grasslands now increasingly lands on tarmacadam, brick, cement, tile or glass, to race down city streets, threaten ever more lives and sweep away costly homes, offices and bridges.

“Those who are suffering the most from climate change are those who are contributing least to greenhouse gas emissions”

Altogether one billion people are now settled in floodplains: the lives at risk are on the increase. And, the researchers warn, the losses will go on rising.

Most researchers have been unwilling to link specific floods directly to global warming. That cautious attitude shifted in the last few years as separate teams of climate scientists made connections between global warming and disastrous flooding and destructive storms in Europe, in India and in the US.

Australia – more often linked with extended drought and wildfire hazards than floods – has identified ever greater dangers from extreme rainfall.

The Nature study was based on decades of rainfall, run-off and temperature data collected on a daily basis and forms part of a widening search for ways to adapt to a danger that, inevitably, looks set to increase, particularly in the US.

Growth in extremes

“We were trying to find the physical mechanisms behind why precipitation and run-off extremes are increasing all over the globe,” said Jiabo Yin, a Wuhan University student working at the Earth Institute in the University of Columbia, who led the research.

“We know that precipitation and run-off extremes will increase significantly in the future, and we need to modify our infrastructures accordingly. Our study establishes a framework for investigating the runoff response.”

Altogether, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s latest survey, the world experienced more than 7,000 major disasters in the last two decades: floods and storms accounted for 43% and 28.2% of them and were the most frequent kinds of disaster.

Together, such disasters claimed 1.3 million lives – almost 750,000 of these to a total of 563 earthquakes and tsunamis. An estimated 4.4 billion people were hurt, or lost their homes, or were displaced or placed in need of emergency help.

Biggest losers

The greatest economic losers were the US, with almost $945 billion, and China with $492bn. Storms, floods and earthquakes put three European nations in the top ten, with France, Germany and Italy losing around $50bn each in those two decades.

Once again, the UN study highlights the gap between rich and poor. “Those who are suffering the most from climate change are those who are contributing least to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Deberati Guha-Sapir, head of the UN’s Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.

“Clearly there is great room for improvement in data collection on economic losses, but we know from our analysis … that people in low income countries are six times more likely to lose all their worldly possessions or suffer injury in a disaster than people in high income countries.” – Climate News Network

Weakened hurricanes may be wind farm bonus

When high winds meet tall sails in the right place, something’s got to give. Offshore wind farms may lead to weakened hurricanes.

LONDON, 23 October, 2018 − US scientists have identified yet another wonder of that icon of renewable energy, the offshore wind farm: they may result in weakened hurricanes. Turbines in the right place could not just take the heat out of a hurricane, they could reduce the risk of catastrophic flooding as well.

The prediction is based entirely on computer simulation: the US so far has just one 30MW commercial wind farm in operation with just five turbines, off the coast of Rhode Island.

But the reasoning begins from the basic laws of physics, and the answer delivers yet another argument for investment in renewable sources of energy, if only because the ferocity and destructive power of US hurricanes is set to increase with ever-greater emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, and consequent ever-greater global warming.

Cristina Archer, a scientist at the University of Delaware, has already studied the ideal placing of wind turbines to extract maximum energy from the world’s winds, and more recently confirmed, with other researchers, that any hurricane that blew over a big enough marine wind farm would shed energy and hit the land with less destructive power.

“If you have arrays of wind turbines in the areas where there are hurricanes, you will likely see a reduction in precipitation inland”

It is an axiom of physics that energy is always conserved: if a turbine’s sails generate electrical energy from wind, then some of the kinetic energy of the wind must be surrendered.

Professor Archer and her colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they took, among others, the case of Hurricane Harvey, which in 2017 deposited almost two thirds of a metre of rainwater on Houston, Texas, to cause devastating floods. They tested the behaviour of the simulated hurricane as it blew across a hypothetical barrier of from zero to 74,619 turbines.

When strong winds hit the turbines, they slow down. Wind scientists call this convergence. Winds slow, and are more likely to dump the water they hold, and then rise. Then the winds speed up again, a phenomenon known as divergence.

“Divergence is the opposite effect. It causes a downward motion, attracting air coming down, which is drier, and suppresses precipitation. I was wondering what would also happen when there is an offshore farm”, she said.

Multiple simulations

The researchers modelled a range of simulations with hypothetical wind farms staggered along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Hypothetical hurricanes caught up in a pattern of convergence would drop their rain before they hit the coast, and then begin divergence, which would mean that even less rain would be carried to landfall.

“By the time the air reaches the land, it’s been squeezed out of a lot of moisture,” Professor Archer said. “We got a 30% reduction of the precipitation with Harvey simulations. That means, potentially, if you have arrays of wind turbines in the areas where there are hurricanes, you will likely see a reduction in precipitation inland if the farm is there.”

This doesn’t mean that wind farms can always take the heat out of a hurricane: important factors include the hurricane’s precise track and the distance offshore of the turbines. There are no wind farms anywhere in the world with the tens of thousands of turbines modelled in the simulation: one of the world’s biggest, off Anholt Island, Denmark, has only 111 turbines.

“The more windfarms you have, the more impact they will have on a hurricane,” Professor Archer said. “By the time a hurricane actually makes a landfall, these arrays of turbines have been operating for days and days, extracting energy and moisture out of the storm. As a result, the storm will be weaker. Literally.” − Climate News Network

When high winds meet tall sails in the right place, something’s got to give. Offshore wind farms may lead to weakened hurricanes.

LONDON, 23 October, 2018 − US scientists have identified yet another wonder of that icon of renewable energy, the offshore wind farm: they may result in weakened hurricanes. Turbines in the right place could not just take the heat out of a hurricane, they could reduce the risk of catastrophic flooding as well.

The prediction is based entirely on computer simulation: the US so far has just one 30MW commercial wind farm in operation with just five turbines, off the coast of Rhode Island.

But the reasoning begins from the basic laws of physics, and the answer delivers yet another argument for investment in renewable sources of energy, if only because the ferocity and destructive power of US hurricanes is set to increase with ever-greater emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, and consequent ever-greater global warming.

Cristina Archer, a scientist at the University of Delaware, has already studied the ideal placing of wind turbines to extract maximum energy from the world’s winds, and more recently confirmed, with other researchers, that any hurricane that blew over a big enough marine wind farm would shed energy and hit the land with less destructive power.

“If you have arrays of wind turbines in the areas where there are hurricanes, you will likely see a reduction in precipitation inland”

It is an axiom of physics that energy is always conserved: if a turbine’s sails generate electrical energy from wind, then some of the kinetic energy of the wind must be surrendered.

Professor Archer and her colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they took, among others, the case of Hurricane Harvey, which in 2017 deposited almost two thirds of a metre of rainwater on Houston, Texas, to cause devastating floods. They tested the behaviour of the simulated hurricane as it blew across a hypothetical barrier of from zero to 74,619 turbines.

When strong winds hit the turbines, they slow down. Wind scientists call this convergence. Winds slow, and are more likely to dump the water they hold, and then rise. Then the winds speed up again, a phenomenon known as divergence.

“Divergence is the opposite effect. It causes a downward motion, attracting air coming down, which is drier, and suppresses precipitation. I was wondering what would also happen when there is an offshore farm”, she said.

Multiple simulations

The researchers modelled a range of simulations with hypothetical wind farms staggered along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Hypothetical hurricanes caught up in a pattern of convergence would drop their rain before they hit the coast, and then begin divergence, which would mean that even less rain would be carried to landfall.

“By the time the air reaches the land, it’s been squeezed out of a lot of moisture,” Professor Archer said. “We got a 30% reduction of the precipitation with Harvey simulations. That means, potentially, if you have arrays of wind turbines in the areas where there are hurricanes, you will likely see a reduction in precipitation inland if the farm is there.”

This doesn’t mean that wind farms can always take the heat out of a hurricane: important factors include the hurricane’s precise track and the distance offshore of the turbines. There are no wind farms anywhere in the world with the tens of thousands of turbines modelled in the simulation: one of the world’s biggest, off Anholt Island, Denmark, has only 111 turbines.

“The more windfarms you have, the more impact they will have on a hurricane,” Professor Archer said. “By the time a hurricane actually makes a landfall, these arrays of turbines have been operating for days and days, extracting energy and moisture out of the storm. As a result, the storm will be weaker. Literally.” − Climate News Network

UK nuclear industry has a sinking feeling

Officially the UK nuclear industry is going ahead with building a new generation of power stations. But it can’t find anyone to pay for them.

LONDON, 4 October, 2018 – The future of the UK nuclear industry looks increasingly bleak, despite the Conservative government’s continued insistence that it wants to build up to 10 new nuclear power stations.

One of the flagship schemes, the £15 billion ($19.5bn) Moorside development in Cumbria in north-west England, made 70 of its 100 staff redundant in September because the current owners, Toshiba, are unable to finance it and cannot find a buyer.

Tom Samson, the managing director of NuGen, the company set up to construct the power station, said he was fighting “tooth and nail” to save it but that there was “a real danger” the whole idea would be abandoned.

With renewable electricity becoming much cheaper than new nuclear power in the UK, the proposed stations have the added disadvantage that they are remote from population centres and would need expensive new grid connections.

There seem to be two main reasons for the government’s continued enthusiasm for nuclear power – the need to keep the nation’s nuclear weapons properly maintained, and political considerations about providing new jobs in remote areas where there are already nuclear installations that are being run down or decommissioned.

Need for jobs

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, said: “I have never thought that Moorside would go ahead. It was always about sustaining jobs at Sellafield where the nuclear reprocessing works are all being closed down. The place is the wrong end of the country from where the electricity is needed.”

Moorside was to be taken over by the Korean Electric Power Corp. (Kepco), “the preferred bidder”, and the company is still in talks with Toshiba, but has lost support from the South Korean government and is unlikely to proceed.

A similar affliction of lack of financial backers is affecting plans by another Japanese giant, Hitachi, to build an equally ambitious project at Wylfa on the isle of Anglesey in Wales. This is also a remote site with an existing but redundant nuclear station and, coincidentally, a marginal constituency where voters badly need new jobs.

Again, finding a company, or even a country, with deep enough pockets to help build this power station is proving difficult, even though the UK government has offered to underwrite part of the cost.

The only project that is going ahead so far is at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the west of England, where the French nuclear company EDF is set to build two of its new generation reactors.

Double problem

More than 3,000 people are already working on the site, but its future still remains in doubt. This is because of the difficulties both of building what appears to be a troublesome design, and of the French state-owned company’s own debts.

In France EDF has 58 ageing reactors in its fleet, most of which need upgrading to meet safety requirements, with others more than 40 years old due for closure. The costs of the upgrades plus the decommissioning will create an even bigger debt problem, making investment in new reactors virtually impossible.

This financial hurdle may yet halt construction of Hinkley Point’s twin reactors, effectively killing off nuclear new build in Britain. Officially, however, the Chinese are still hoping to build a reactor at Bradwell, east of London, and EDF two more reactors at Sizewell in Suffolk, further east on the coast of England.

Already there are doubts about these, and in any case they are years away from construction starting. Other proposed projects have disappeared from sight entirely.

At the heart of the problem is the immense amount of capital needed to finance the building of reactors, which typically double in cost during lengthy construction periods, with completion delays, in the case of the French design, stretching to ten years or more.

“The industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power”

Faced with the fact that even the largest companies with plenty of money are reluctant to invest in nuclear power, many countries have abandoned their nuclear power programmes. The exceptions are countries that have nuclear weapons, or perhaps aspire to have them in the future.

After 40 years of denials Western governments have openly admitted in the last two years that their ability to build and maintain their nuclear submarines and weapons depends on having a healthy civil reactor programme at the same time.

The military need highly skilled personnel to keep their submarines running and to constantly update their nuclear weapons, because the material they are made of is volatile and constantly needs renewing. Without a pool of “civilian” nuclear workers to draw on, the military programme would be in danger of crumbling.

Phil Johnstone, a research fellow at the University of Sussex, UK, who has researched the link between civil and nuclear power, said: “A factor in why the UK persists so intensely with an uneconomic and much-delayed new nuclear programme and rejects cheaper renewable alternatives, seems to be to maintain and cross-subsidise the already costly nuclear submarine industrial base.

“After a decade of the rhetorical separation of civil and military nuclear programmes by industry and governments, recent high-level statements in the USA, the UK, and France highlight that the industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power.”

Concern for democracy

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology at the Science Policy Research Unit at the same university, added: “Given the remarkable lack of almost any discussion that a key driver for civil nuclear is supporting the costs of the defence nuclear programme – either in official UK energy policy or formal scrutiny by official bodies – this raises significant concerns about the state of UK democracy more broadly.”

Despite these setbacks the nuclear industry is still pushing the idea that new stations are needed if the world, and particularly the UK, are to meet their climate targets. The New Nuclear Watch Institute (NNWI), a British think tank funded by the nuclear industry, has produced a report saying that only with new nuclear stations could the UK hope to meet its greenhouse gas targets.

Tim Yeo, chairman of NNWI, said: “We often hear that new nuclear build is expensive. It turns out that, in fact, if all hidden costs are factored in, abandoning nuclear comes at an even higher price.

“Abandoning nuclear power leads unavoidably to a very big increase in carbon emissions which will prevent Britain from meeting its legally binding climate change commitments.

“If the UK is to successfully meet the challenges faced by its power sector, the world’s only source of low-carbon baseload power generation – nuclear – must feature strongly in its ambitions.” – Climate News Network

Officially the UK nuclear industry is going ahead with building a new generation of power stations. But it can’t find anyone to pay for them.

LONDON, 4 October, 2018 – The future of the UK nuclear industry looks increasingly bleak, despite the Conservative government’s continued insistence that it wants to build up to 10 new nuclear power stations.

One of the flagship schemes, the £15 billion ($19.5bn) Moorside development in Cumbria in north-west England, made 70 of its 100 staff redundant in September because the current owners, Toshiba, are unable to finance it and cannot find a buyer.

Tom Samson, the managing director of NuGen, the company set up to construct the power station, said he was fighting “tooth and nail” to save it but that there was “a real danger” the whole idea would be abandoned.

With renewable electricity becoming much cheaper than new nuclear power in the UK, the proposed stations have the added disadvantage that they are remote from population centres and would need expensive new grid connections.

There seem to be two main reasons for the government’s continued enthusiasm for nuclear power – the need to keep the nation’s nuclear weapons properly maintained, and political considerations about providing new jobs in remote areas where there are already nuclear installations that are being run down or decommissioned.

Need for jobs

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, said: “I have never thought that Moorside would go ahead. It was always about sustaining jobs at Sellafield where the nuclear reprocessing works are all being closed down. The place is the wrong end of the country from where the electricity is needed.”

Moorside was to be taken over by the Korean Electric Power Corp. (Kepco), “the preferred bidder”, and the company is still in talks with Toshiba, but has lost support from the South Korean government and is unlikely to proceed.

A similar affliction of lack of financial backers is affecting plans by another Japanese giant, Hitachi, to build an equally ambitious project at Wylfa on the isle of Anglesey in Wales. This is also a remote site with an existing but redundant nuclear station and, coincidentally, a marginal constituency where voters badly need new jobs.

Again, finding a company, or even a country, with deep enough pockets to help build this power station is proving difficult, even though the UK government has offered to underwrite part of the cost.

The only project that is going ahead so far is at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the west of England, where the French nuclear company EDF is set to build two of its new generation reactors.

Double problem

More than 3,000 people are already working on the site, but its future still remains in doubt. This is because of the difficulties both of building what appears to be a troublesome design, and of the French state-owned company’s own debts.

In France EDF has 58 ageing reactors in its fleet, most of which need upgrading to meet safety requirements, with others more than 40 years old due for closure. The costs of the upgrades plus the decommissioning will create an even bigger debt problem, making investment in new reactors virtually impossible.

This financial hurdle may yet halt construction of Hinkley Point’s twin reactors, effectively killing off nuclear new build in Britain. Officially, however, the Chinese are still hoping to build a reactor at Bradwell, east of London, and EDF two more reactors at Sizewell in Suffolk, further east on the coast of England.

Already there are doubts about these, and in any case they are years away from construction starting. Other proposed projects have disappeared from sight entirely.

At the heart of the problem is the immense amount of capital needed to finance the building of reactors, which typically double in cost during lengthy construction periods, with completion delays, in the case of the French design, stretching to ten years or more.

“The industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power”

Faced with the fact that even the largest companies with plenty of money are reluctant to invest in nuclear power, many countries have abandoned their nuclear power programmes. The exceptions are countries that have nuclear weapons, or perhaps aspire to have them in the future.

After 40 years of denials Western governments have openly admitted in the last two years that their ability to build and maintain their nuclear submarines and weapons depends on having a healthy civil reactor programme at the same time.

The military need highly skilled personnel to keep their submarines running and to constantly update their nuclear weapons, because the material they are made of is volatile and constantly needs renewing. Without a pool of “civilian” nuclear workers to draw on, the military programme would be in danger of crumbling.

Phil Johnstone, a research fellow at the University of Sussex, UK, who has researched the link between civil and nuclear power, said: “A factor in why the UK persists so intensely with an uneconomic and much-delayed new nuclear programme and rejects cheaper renewable alternatives, seems to be to maintain and cross-subsidise the already costly nuclear submarine industrial base.

“After a decade of the rhetorical separation of civil and military nuclear programmes by industry and governments, recent high-level statements in the USA, the UK, and France highlight that the industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power.”

Concern for democracy

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology at the Science Policy Research Unit at the same university, added: “Given the remarkable lack of almost any discussion that a key driver for civil nuclear is supporting the costs of the defence nuclear programme – either in official UK energy policy or formal scrutiny by official bodies – this raises significant concerns about the state of UK democracy more broadly.”

Despite these setbacks the nuclear industry is still pushing the idea that new stations are needed if the world, and particularly the UK, are to meet their climate targets. The New Nuclear Watch Institute (NNWI), a British think tank funded by the nuclear industry, has produced a report saying that only with new nuclear stations could the UK hope to meet its greenhouse gas targets.

Tim Yeo, chairman of NNWI, said: “We often hear that new nuclear build is expensive. It turns out that, in fact, if all hidden costs are factored in, abandoning nuclear comes at an even higher price.

“Abandoning nuclear power leads unavoidably to a very big increase in carbon emissions which will prevent Britain from meeting its legally binding climate change commitments.

“If the UK is to successfully meet the challenges faced by its power sector, the world’s only source of low-carbon baseload power generation – nuclear – must feature strongly in its ambitions.” – Climate News Network

Warmer climate means US faces big losses

Greenhouse gas emissions impose a social cost – in ecosystem damage, in climate extremes, in human health and wealth. The US faces big losses.

LONDON, 3 October, 2018 – Of the nations that stand to be most seriously affected by climate change, perhaps surprisingly, near the top of the list, the US faces big losses.

American and European scientists have taken a fresh look at what they call the social cost of carbon (SCC): that is, the damage that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion will do to world economies. And whichever way they make the country-by-country comparisons, one nation is among the world leaders in self-harm – the USA.

It is not alone: India, a rapidly-growing economy, and Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s wealthiest, join the US in the top three. China, which is now the world’s highest carbon dioxide emitter, is in the top five.

Calculations about the future economic costs of something that has yet to happen in a fast-changing world are of the kind that induce migraine, and always incorporate a wide range of possible outcomes.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that by 2020, the global costs of an additional tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could range from $12 to $62. But a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that these costs could be much higher, at approximately $180 to $800 per tonne.

“It’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies”

And the price to be paid by the US alone could be $50 per tonne. Since the US – which under President Trump has announced its intention to withdraw from a 2015 global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions – now emits almost five billion tonnes of CO2 a year, this could be costing the US economy about $250bn.

“We all know carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels affects people and ecosystems around the world, today and in the future; however, these impacts are not included in market prices, creating an environmental externality whereby consumers of fossil fuel energy do not pay for and are unaware of the true costs of their consumption,” said Katharine Ricke of the University of San Diego, who led the study.

President Trump once dismissed global warming and climate change driven by profligate fossil fuel use as a “hoax” devised by the Chinese. But US climate research – often from US government agencies such as NASA and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration – has consistently warned of the potentially devastating future costs to the US.

Coastal flooding could create a new class of climate refugee within the US. Hurricanes will gain in ferocity and potential devastation. Forest fires are already on the increase.

The famously arid drylands of the US west have begun to march eastwards, and the extremes of heat and drought linked to a rise in global average warming are almost certain to cause harvest losses, all as a consequence of fossil fuel emissions. Clean energy policies, conversely, could cut air pollution and save American lives.

Assumptions reversed

The San Diego research reverses some long-standing assumptions, one of which is that while strong, rich economies benefit from fossil fuel use, the developing nations pay the highest price in the social costs of carbon, or SCCs.

The new calculations suggest much more uneven outcomes: the European Union, for instance, is likely to be less harmed by increased emissions, even though it is one of the world leaders in the attempt to combat climate change.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the argument that the primary beneficiaries of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would be other countries is a total myth,” said Dr Ricke.

“We consistently find, through hundreds of uncertainty scenarios, that the US always has one of the highest country-level SCCs. It makes a lot of sense because the larger your economy is, the more you have to lose.

“Still, it’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies.” – Climate News Network

Greenhouse gas emissions impose a social cost – in ecosystem damage, in climate extremes, in human health and wealth. The US faces big losses.

LONDON, 3 October, 2018 – Of the nations that stand to be most seriously affected by climate change, perhaps surprisingly, near the top of the list, the US faces big losses.

American and European scientists have taken a fresh look at what they call the social cost of carbon (SCC): that is, the damage that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion will do to world economies. And whichever way they make the country-by-country comparisons, one nation is among the world leaders in self-harm – the USA.

It is not alone: India, a rapidly-growing economy, and Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s wealthiest, join the US in the top three. China, which is now the world’s highest carbon dioxide emitter, is in the top five.

Calculations about the future economic costs of something that has yet to happen in a fast-changing world are of the kind that induce migraine, and always incorporate a wide range of possible outcomes.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that by 2020, the global costs of an additional tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could range from $12 to $62. But a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that these costs could be much higher, at approximately $180 to $800 per tonne.

“It’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies”

And the price to be paid by the US alone could be $50 per tonne. Since the US – which under President Trump has announced its intention to withdraw from a 2015 global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions – now emits almost five billion tonnes of CO2 a year, this could be costing the US economy about $250bn.

“We all know carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels affects people and ecosystems around the world, today and in the future; however, these impacts are not included in market prices, creating an environmental externality whereby consumers of fossil fuel energy do not pay for and are unaware of the true costs of their consumption,” said Katharine Ricke of the University of San Diego, who led the study.

President Trump once dismissed global warming and climate change driven by profligate fossil fuel use as a “hoax” devised by the Chinese. But US climate research – often from US government agencies such as NASA and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration – has consistently warned of the potentially devastating future costs to the US.

Coastal flooding could create a new class of climate refugee within the US. Hurricanes will gain in ferocity and potential devastation. Forest fires are already on the increase.

The famously arid drylands of the US west have begun to march eastwards, and the extremes of heat and drought linked to a rise in global average warming are almost certain to cause harvest losses, all as a consequence of fossil fuel emissions. Clean energy policies, conversely, could cut air pollution and save American lives.

Assumptions reversed

The San Diego research reverses some long-standing assumptions, one of which is that while strong, rich economies benefit from fossil fuel use, the developing nations pay the highest price in the social costs of carbon, or SCCs.

The new calculations suggest much more uneven outcomes: the European Union, for instance, is likely to be less harmed by increased emissions, even though it is one of the world leaders in the attempt to combat climate change.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the argument that the primary beneficiaries of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would be other countries is a total myth,” said Dr Ricke.

“We consistently find, through hundreds of uncertainty scenarios, that the US always has one of the highest country-level SCCs. It makes a lot of sense because the larger your economy is, the more you have to lose.

“Still, it’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies.” – Climate News Network

Warming climate leaves its varied marks

The warming climate is changing the globe: mountain species climb higher, valley floors sink and animal numbers fall, while their living space shrinks.

LONDON, 28 September, 2018 – The Earth’s warming climate is already reshaping the planet. A new study confirms that plants and animals unique to the mountains are climbing ever higher to survive.

A second research team has taken a closer look at the valley floors of Central California to find that one of them is now, thanks to drought conditions, sinking by up to half a metre a year.

In central and eastern Europe, German scientists have found that the Danube – on which people used to skate every winter – has frozen only a handful of times in the last 70 years.

And far to the south, French scientists report that one of the world’s largest colonies of king penguins has dwindled by 88% since 1982.

In all cases, researchers identify a possible environmental cause: and in all cases the changes could be linked to global warming. In three instances out of four, climate change has already been implicated by other studies.

“The scientists calculate that for every 1°C rise in temperature, species are moving an average of 100 metres uphill”

Years ago, Swiss scientists observed a steady uphill migration of alpine butterflies and birds; while US scientists have charted change in mountain flora in the Rockies and Danish scientists revisited an Andean mountain first explored by the great Alexander von Humboldt to find that the plants he recorded had climbed 500 metres in 210 years.

Now Canadian scientists report in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography that they set themselves the challenge of the global picture: they reviewed studies of elevation shifts in 975 species of plant, insect and animal.

In the French Pyrenees, the mountain burnet butterfly has shifted uphill by 430 metres and surrendered 79% of its range. In the Himalayas, where temperatures have risen by 2.2°C in 150 years, one meadow flower has migrated more than 600 metres and lost 28% of its preferred habitat. In Nevada’s Ruby Mountains, the northern pocket gopher has responded to a warming of 1.1°C in 80 years by climbing higher and surrendering 70% of its living room.

Altogether, the scientists calculate that for every 1°C rise in temperature, species are moving an average of 100 metres uphill.

In the mountains of California, the peaks are getting ever higher because the reduced mass of snowfall no longer depresses the rock.

Sinking feeling

Paradoxically, thanks to the combination of sustained drought and relentless abstraction of groundwater for agriculture, things are going downhill in the San Joaquin valley of California,, according to scientists from Cornell University who report in the journal Science Advances. The valley is home to 75% of California’s irrigated farmland. It supplies 8% of US agricultural output and it has a long record of slow subsidence.

The Cornell scientists report that between 1962 and 2011, the valley lost groundwater at the rate of 1.85 cubic kilometres a year. Between 2012 and 2016, during the state’s worst-ever drought, the same basin lost 40 cubic kilometres of groundwater, and the ground fell at 50 cms a year, except for a slowdown in subsidence during the heavy rains of 2017. The previous rate of subsidence has resumed.

The Danube Commission has kept records since 1836 of the behaviour of Europe’s second largest river as it flows from the Alps to the Black Sea. Researchers from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute write in the journal Scientific Reports that archivists reported ice cover almost every year, ice thick enough to bear skaters.

But between 1951 and 2016, the river froze only 10 times. Although more people live in Europe than ever before, and discharge more outflow into the Danube basin, the researchers identify global warming as a substantial cause: winter temperatures have risen and are now more than 1.0°C warmer than in the first half of the 20th century.

Problems for penguins

And rising temperatures might be at the heart of the crisis for king penguins on the Iles Crozet archipelago in Antarctica: French scientists report in the journal Antarctic Science that in 1982 the colony was home to 500,000 breeding pairs and two million specimens of Aptenodytes patagonicus.

Now the colony has shrunk, and vegetation cover has expanded. The loss might be linked to lack of food, or a major natural warming event such as El Nino, or to disease such as avian cholera.

But global warming and climate change have already been linked to alarms over the king penguin elsewhere, and to the possible fate of the emperor penguin.

The research is based on aerial imagery and satellite studies, and on-the-ground research is still needed to explain quite why a colony which once supported 500,000 breeding pairs should now number only 60,000 penguin couples.

“The cause of the massive decline of the colony remains a mystery, and needs to be resolved,” the French scientists say. – Climate News Network

The warming climate is changing the globe: mountain species climb higher, valley floors sink and animal numbers fall, while their living space shrinks.

LONDON, 28 September, 2018 – The Earth’s warming climate is already reshaping the planet. A new study confirms that plants and animals unique to the mountains are climbing ever higher to survive.

A second research team has taken a closer look at the valley floors of Central California to find that one of them is now, thanks to drought conditions, sinking by up to half a metre a year.

In central and eastern Europe, German scientists have found that the Danube – on which people used to skate every winter – has frozen only a handful of times in the last 70 years.

And far to the south, French scientists report that one of the world’s largest colonies of king penguins has dwindled by 88% since 1982.

In all cases, researchers identify a possible environmental cause: and in all cases the changes could be linked to global warming. In three instances out of four, climate change has already been implicated by other studies.

“The scientists calculate that for every 1°C rise in temperature, species are moving an average of 100 metres uphill”

Years ago, Swiss scientists observed a steady uphill migration of alpine butterflies and birds; while US scientists have charted change in mountain flora in the Rockies and Danish scientists revisited an Andean mountain first explored by the great Alexander von Humboldt to find that the plants he recorded had climbed 500 metres in 210 years.

Now Canadian scientists report in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography that they set themselves the challenge of the global picture: they reviewed studies of elevation shifts in 975 species of plant, insect and animal.

In the French Pyrenees, the mountain burnet butterfly has shifted uphill by 430 metres and surrendered 79% of its range. In the Himalayas, where temperatures have risen by 2.2°C in 150 years, one meadow flower has migrated more than 600 metres and lost 28% of its preferred habitat. In Nevada’s Ruby Mountains, the northern pocket gopher has responded to a warming of 1.1°C in 80 years by climbing higher and surrendering 70% of its living room.

Altogether, the scientists calculate that for every 1°C rise in temperature, species are moving an average of 100 metres uphill.

In the mountains of California, the peaks are getting ever higher because the reduced mass of snowfall no longer depresses the rock.

Sinking feeling

Paradoxically, thanks to the combination of sustained drought and relentless abstraction of groundwater for agriculture, things are going downhill in the San Joaquin valley of California,, according to scientists from Cornell University who report in the journal Science Advances. The valley is home to 75% of California’s irrigated farmland. It supplies 8% of US agricultural output and it has a long record of slow subsidence.

The Cornell scientists report that between 1962 and 2011, the valley lost groundwater at the rate of 1.85 cubic kilometres a year. Between 2012 and 2016, during the state’s worst-ever drought, the same basin lost 40 cubic kilometres of groundwater, and the ground fell at 50 cms a year, except for a slowdown in subsidence during the heavy rains of 2017. The previous rate of subsidence has resumed.

The Danube Commission has kept records since 1836 of the behaviour of Europe’s second largest river as it flows from the Alps to the Black Sea. Researchers from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute write in the journal Scientific Reports that archivists reported ice cover almost every year, ice thick enough to bear skaters.

But between 1951 and 2016, the river froze only 10 times. Although more people live in Europe than ever before, and discharge more outflow into the Danube basin, the researchers identify global warming as a substantial cause: winter temperatures have risen and are now more than 1.0°C warmer than in the first half of the 20th century.

Problems for penguins

And rising temperatures might be at the heart of the crisis for king penguins on the Iles Crozet archipelago in Antarctica: French scientists report in the journal Antarctic Science that in 1982 the colony was home to 500,000 breeding pairs and two million specimens of Aptenodytes patagonicus.

Now the colony has shrunk, and vegetation cover has expanded. The loss might be linked to lack of food, or a major natural warming event such as El Nino, or to disease such as avian cholera.

But global warming and climate change have already been linked to alarms over the king penguin elsewhere, and to the possible fate of the emperor penguin.

The research is based on aerial imagery and satellite studies, and on-the-ground research is still needed to explain quite why a colony which once supported 500,000 breeding pairs should now number only 60,000 penguin couples.

“The cause of the massive decline of the colony remains a mystery, and needs to be resolved,” the French scientists say. – Climate News Network

Hotter planet faces more killer heat

The Earth can expect more killer heat, from lethal heat waves and more intense temperatures claiming more lives. Wildfires, too, will become more polluting.

LONDON, 25 September, 2018 – Once again, researchers have confirmed that limiting global warming will save lives by reducing the impact of killer heat.

An international team has checked predictions for heat-related deaths against some of the global average temperatures likely later this century, to issue this warning: it will be a safer world if temperatures creep up by only 1.5°C over historic levels. Fewer people will die in the ever more intense heat extremes that will go with average global temperature rises.

And a second, separate study of the impact of forest, bush and wildfires on human health has warned that – in the US alone – deaths linked to smoke could more than double, to perhaps 40,000 a year.

The world has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century: the limit of “well below 2°C” set by 195 nations when they met in Paris in 2015 looks increasingly close.

Scientists from Britain, Europe, Australia, the US, Brazil, Chile and China report in the journal Climatic Change that they looked at records for temperature-related deaths from 451 places in 23 countries and then projected likely deaths as global average temperatures rose by 1.5°C, and then up to 3°C and 4°C.

“Large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths”

They found that at the higher forecasts, hazards rose steeply: in the worst instances, by almost 9%.

Alarm about the impact of heat waves on human health is not new: in the last few years researchers have warned that by 2100, around 75% of humanity will be at some risk of death by heat extremes. Another group has measured suicide statistics and seen a rise with temperature extremes.

A third group has focused on the double hazard of ever greater heat and humidity, and a fourth has identified at least 27 different ways in which heat waves can claim lives.

So the latest study is separate confirmation, this time by medical scientists who need to know what to expect as the thermometer rises.

Limiting fatalities

“Our projections suggest that large increases in temperature-related deaths could be limited in most regions if warming was kept below 2°C,”explains Ana Maria Vicedo-Cabrera, who led the study.

“Under extreme changes in climate, large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths. Efforts to limit the increase in global temperature to below 1.5°C could provide additional benefits in tropical or arid regions, including the most populous and often poorest countries.”

With ever higher temperatures there will be ever more prolonged droughts, and inevitably greater risk of wildfire, and particularly in the US.

Right now, wildfires in the US claim an estimated 15,000 lives a year, chiefly through smoke inhalation that can worsen chronic pulmonary conditions, or hasten death in people with heart conditions.

By 2100, scientists report in the American Geophysical Union journal Geohealth, the death count in the contiguous US could reach 40,000 a year.

Particulate menace

The study recognizes that wildfire hazard has a number of causes and that climate change is only part of the story. But in the first six months of 2018, the US government’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded 37,718 fires that burned almost 20,000 square kilometres.

In 2017, wildfire fighting cost the US Forest Service a record $2.4bn. And each fire hurled high levels of particulate matter – soot and other detritus – into the atmosphere, and into a nation’s eyes and lungs.

“We know from our own research and many, many other groups that smoke has negative impacts on human health,” said Jeff Pierce, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, and one of the authors.

“With the knowledge that fires have been increasing in parts of the US, we wanted to look at how bad this might get.” – Climate News Network

The Earth can expect more killer heat, from lethal heat waves and more intense temperatures claiming more lives. Wildfires, too, will become more polluting.

LONDON, 25 September, 2018 – Once again, researchers have confirmed that limiting global warming will save lives by reducing the impact of killer heat.

An international team has checked predictions for heat-related deaths against some of the global average temperatures likely later this century, to issue this warning: it will be a safer world if temperatures creep up by only 1.5°C over historic levels. Fewer people will die in the ever more intense heat extremes that will go with average global temperature rises.

And a second, separate study of the impact of forest, bush and wildfires on human health has warned that – in the US alone – deaths linked to smoke could more than double, to perhaps 40,000 a year.

The world has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century: the limit of “well below 2°C” set by 195 nations when they met in Paris in 2015 looks increasingly close.

Scientists from Britain, Europe, Australia, the US, Brazil, Chile and China report in the journal Climatic Change that they looked at records for temperature-related deaths from 451 places in 23 countries and then projected likely deaths as global average temperatures rose by 1.5°C, and then up to 3°C and 4°C.

“Large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths”

They found that at the higher forecasts, hazards rose steeply: in the worst instances, by almost 9%.

Alarm about the impact of heat waves on human health is not new: in the last few years researchers have warned that by 2100, around 75% of humanity will be at some risk of death by heat extremes. Another group has measured suicide statistics and seen a rise with temperature extremes.

A third group has focused on the double hazard of ever greater heat and humidity, and a fourth has identified at least 27 different ways in which heat waves can claim lives.

So the latest study is separate confirmation, this time by medical scientists who need to know what to expect as the thermometer rises.

Limiting fatalities

“Our projections suggest that large increases in temperature-related deaths could be limited in most regions if warming was kept below 2°C,”explains Ana Maria Vicedo-Cabrera, who led the study.

“Under extreme changes in climate, large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths. Efforts to limit the increase in global temperature to below 1.5°C could provide additional benefits in tropical or arid regions, including the most populous and often poorest countries.”

With ever higher temperatures there will be ever more prolonged droughts, and inevitably greater risk of wildfire, and particularly in the US.

Right now, wildfires in the US claim an estimated 15,000 lives a year, chiefly through smoke inhalation that can worsen chronic pulmonary conditions, or hasten death in people with heart conditions.

By 2100, scientists report in the American Geophysical Union journal Geohealth, the death count in the contiguous US could reach 40,000 a year.

Particulate menace

The study recognizes that wildfire hazard has a number of causes and that climate change is only part of the story. But in the first six months of 2018, the US government’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded 37,718 fires that burned almost 20,000 square kilometres.

In 2017, wildfire fighting cost the US Forest Service a record $2.4bn. And each fire hurled high levels of particulate matter – soot and other detritus – into the atmosphere, and into a nation’s eyes and lungs.

“We know from our own research and many, many other groups that smoke has negative impacts on human health,” said Jeff Pierce, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, and one of the authors.

“With the knowledge that fires have been increasing in parts of the US, we wanted to look at how bad this might get.” – Climate News Network

Hungrier insects will bite into world’s crops

Higher temperatures mean hungrier insects. And that will mean more crop losses. The question is: who loses most?

LONDON, 13 September, 2018 – Researchers have confirmed, once again, that a warmer world is likely to have hungrier insects. The new predators could increase their share of the harvest of wheat, rice and maize by up to 25%.

That is, for every 1°C rise in average temperature, aphids, beetles, borers, caterpillars and other crop pests could increase their consumption of grain by between one tenth and one quarter.

And with a 2°C rise above the average temperature for most of human history – the target set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 – additional global losses of grain to insect pests could reach 213 million tonnes a year.

For once, the steepest losses could be experienced in the temperate zones, home to the richest nations, rather than in the poorest communities. The reasoning is simple, and the scientists spell it out with a clarity not normally found in scientific prose.

“Our choice now is not whether or not we will allow warming to occur, but how much warming we are willing to tolerate.”

“First, an individual insect’s metabolic rate accelerates with temperature, and an insect’s rate of food consumption must rise accordingly,” they write.

“Second, the number of insects will change, because population growth rates also vary with temperature.” And for that reason, insect numbers in the tropics might decline, but pest numbers in the cooler regions will rise.

Curtis Deutsch of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues report in the journal Science that they set themselves the challenge of calculating potential crop losses to insect pests in a warmer world.

They took what is already known about 38 insect species from different latitudes, and the data for harvests over recent decades. About one third of all crops are lost to pests, diseases and weed competition: the point of the study was to isolate the impact of insect predation under a scenario of global warming.

Tropical impact lessened

Most crops are lost in the tropics, but the extra appetite in tropical pests could be offset by reduced numbers as the thermometer rises.

France, China and the US – the countries that produce most of the world’s maize – could experience the most dramatic crop losses from insect pests. France produces much of the world’s wheat, China much of its rice: both crops will be hit hard.

Altogether the scientists calculate that with a 2°C rise – and average global temperatures have already risen by about 1°C – by 2050 the median increase in losses of yield across all climates could be 46% for wheat, 19% for rice and 31% for maize: all of it to ever-hungrier caterpillars, beetles and borers.

These percentages translate to 59 million tonnes for wheat, 92 million tonnes for rice and 63 million tonnes for maize.

Food security jeopardised

Such research is a fresh iteration of an increasingly familiar theme: the threat to food security in a world of climate change driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels to raise greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere to unprecedented levels. Insect predation however is not the only factor.

Repeatedly over the last decade, researchers have warned that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide could affect the levels of protein, iron and zinc delivered by crop plants; that the greater extremes of heat that must accompany higher average temperatures could hit grain harvests and yields of fruit and vegetables.

Rice, wheat and maize between them provide a huge share of the world’s calorie intake. The three grains are staples for about 4 billion people, and the UN calculates that more than 800 million worldwide do not have enough to eat.

Most of these are in the developing world, and in the tropics. The twist in the latest research is that it predicts that the biggest losses will be in the well-off zones.

Guiding policy

Eleven European countries are expected to experience a 75% increase in insect-linked wheat losses: altogether, by 2050, insects could be consuming 16 million tonnes of wheat. The US could see a 40% increase in maize losses to pests, and farmers will lose 20 million tonnes in yield. Rice losses in China alone could reach 27 million tonnes.

Such studies are intended as a guide to help ministries of agriculture, crop research institutions and other national and civic governments to confront a future of climate change.

Crop scientists could start devising new farming strategies, and working on more resistant crop varieties. Nations could begin to deliver on promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I hope our results demonstrate the importance of collecting more data on how pests will impact crop losses in a warming world,” said Dr Deutsch, “because collectively, our choice now is not whether or not we will allow warming to occur, but how much warming we are willing to tolerate.” – Climate News Network

Higher temperatures mean hungrier insects. And that will mean more crop losses. The question is: who loses most?

LONDON, 13 September, 2018 – Researchers have confirmed, once again, that a warmer world is likely to have hungrier insects. The new predators could increase their share of the harvest of wheat, rice and maize by up to 25%.

That is, for every 1°C rise in average temperature, aphids, beetles, borers, caterpillars and other crop pests could increase their consumption of grain by between one tenth and one quarter.

And with a 2°C rise above the average temperature for most of human history – the target set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 – additional global losses of grain to insect pests could reach 213 million tonnes a year.

For once, the steepest losses could be experienced in the temperate zones, home to the richest nations, rather than in the poorest communities. The reasoning is simple, and the scientists spell it out with a clarity not normally found in scientific prose.

“Our choice now is not whether or not we will allow warming to occur, but how much warming we are willing to tolerate.”

“First, an individual insect’s metabolic rate accelerates with temperature, and an insect’s rate of food consumption must rise accordingly,” they write.

“Second, the number of insects will change, because population growth rates also vary with temperature.” And for that reason, insect numbers in the tropics might decline, but pest numbers in the cooler regions will rise.

Curtis Deutsch of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues report in the journal Science that they set themselves the challenge of calculating potential crop losses to insect pests in a warmer world.

They took what is already known about 38 insect species from different latitudes, and the data for harvests over recent decades. About one third of all crops are lost to pests, diseases and weed competition: the point of the study was to isolate the impact of insect predation under a scenario of global warming.

Tropical impact lessened

Most crops are lost in the tropics, but the extra appetite in tropical pests could be offset by reduced numbers as the thermometer rises.

France, China and the US – the countries that produce most of the world’s maize – could experience the most dramatic crop losses from insect pests. France produces much of the world’s wheat, China much of its rice: both crops will be hit hard.

Altogether the scientists calculate that with a 2°C rise – and average global temperatures have already risen by about 1°C – by 2050 the median increase in losses of yield across all climates could be 46% for wheat, 19% for rice and 31% for maize: all of it to ever-hungrier caterpillars, beetles and borers.

These percentages translate to 59 million tonnes for wheat, 92 million tonnes for rice and 63 million tonnes for maize.

Food security jeopardised

Such research is a fresh iteration of an increasingly familiar theme: the threat to food security in a world of climate change driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels to raise greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere to unprecedented levels. Insect predation however is not the only factor.

Repeatedly over the last decade, researchers have warned that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide could affect the levels of protein, iron and zinc delivered by crop plants; that the greater extremes of heat that must accompany higher average temperatures could hit grain harvests and yields of fruit and vegetables.

Rice, wheat and maize between them provide a huge share of the world’s calorie intake. The three grains are staples for about 4 billion people, and the UN calculates that more than 800 million worldwide do not have enough to eat.

Most of these are in the developing world, and in the tropics. The twist in the latest research is that it predicts that the biggest losses will be in the well-off zones.

Guiding policy

Eleven European countries are expected to experience a 75% increase in insect-linked wheat losses: altogether, by 2050, insects could be consuming 16 million tonnes of wheat. The US could see a 40% increase in maize losses to pests, and farmers will lose 20 million tonnes in yield. Rice losses in China alone could reach 27 million tonnes.

Such studies are intended as a guide to help ministries of agriculture, crop research institutions and other national and civic governments to confront a future of climate change.

Crop scientists could start devising new farming strategies, and working on more resistant crop varieties. Nations could begin to deliver on promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I hope our results demonstrate the importance of collecting more data on how pests will impact crop losses in a warming world,” said Dr Deutsch, “because collectively, our choice now is not whether or not we will allow warming to occur, but how much warming we are willing to tolerate.” – Climate News Network

Small modular reactors have little appeal

The last hope of the nuclear industry for competing with renewables is small modular reactors, but despite political support their future looks bleak.

LONDON, 27 July, 2018 – On both sides of the Atlantic billions of dollars are being poured into developing small modular reactors. But it seems increasingly unlikely that they will ever be commercially viable.

The idea is to build dozens of the reactors (SMRs) in factories in kit form, to be assembled on site, thereby reducing their costs, a bit like the mass production of cars. The problem is finding a market big enough to justify the building of a factory to build nuclear power station kits.

For the last 60 years the trend has been to build ever-larger nuclear reactors, hoping that they would pump out so much power that their output would be cheaper per unit than power from smaller stations. However, the cost of large stations has escalated so much that without massive government subsidies they will never be built, because they are not commercially viable.

To get costs down, small factory-built reactors seemed the answer. It is not new technology, and efforts to introduce it are nothing new either, with UK hopes high just a few years ago. Small reactors have been built for decades for nuclear submarine propulsion and for ships like icebreakers, but for civilian use they have to produce electricity more cheaply than their renewable competitors, wind and solar power.

“For entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy”

One of the problems for nuclear weapons states is that they need a workforce of highly skilled engineers and scientists, both to maintain their submarine fleets and constantly to update the nuclear warheads, which degrade over time. So maintaining a civil nuclear industry means there is always a large pool of people with the required training.

Although in the past the UK and US governments have both claimed there is no link between civil and military nuclear industries, it is clear that a skills shortage is now a problem.

It seems that both the industry and the two governments have believed SMRs would be able to solve the shortage and also provide electricity at competitive rates, benefitting from the mass production of components in controlled environments and assembling reactors much like flat-pack furniture.

This is now the official blueprint for success – even though there are no prototypes yet to prove the technology works reliably. But even before that happens, there are serious doubts about whether there is a market for these reactors.

Among the most advanced countries on SMR development are the US, the UK  and Canada. Russia has already built SMRs and deployed one of them as a floating power station in the Arctic. But whether this is an economic way of producing power for Russia is not known.

Finding investors

A number of companies in the UK and North America are developing SMRs, and prototypes are expected to be up and running as early as 2025. However, the next big step is getting investment in a factory to build them, which will mean getting enough advance orders to justify the cost.

A group of pro-nuclear US scientists, who believe that nuclear technology is vital to fight climate change, have concluded that there is not a large enough market to make SMRS work.

Their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that large reactors will be phased out on economic grounds, and that the market for SMRs is too small to be viable. On a market for the possible export of the hundreds of SMRs needed to reach viability, they say none large enough exists.

They conclude: “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”

Doubts listed

In the UK, where the government in June poured £200 million ($263.8) into SMR development, a parliamentary briefing paper issued in July lists a whole raft of reasons why the technology may not find a market.

The paper’s authors doubt that a mass-produced reactor could be suitable for every site chosen; there might, for instance, be local conditions requiring extra safety features.

They also doubt that there is enough of a market for SMRs in the UK to justify building a factory to produce them, because of public opposition to nuclear power and the reactors’ proximity to population centres. And although the industry and the government believe an export market exists, the report suggests this is optimistic, partly because so many countries have already rejected nuclear power.

The paper says those countries still keen on buying the technology often have no experience of the nuclear industry. It suggests too that there may be international alarm about nuclear proliferation in some markets. – Climate News Network

The last hope of the nuclear industry for competing with renewables is small modular reactors, but despite political support their future looks bleak.

LONDON, 27 July, 2018 – On both sides of the Atlantic billions of dollars are being poured into developing small modular reactors. But it seems increasingly unlikely that they will ever be commercially viable.

The idea is to build dozens of the reactors (SMRs) in factories in kit form, to be assembled on site, thereby reducing their costs, a bit like the mass production of cars. The problem is finding a market big enough to justify the building of a factory to build nuclear power station kits.

For the last 60 years the trend has been to build ever-larger nuclear reactors, hoping that they would pump out so much power that their output would be cheaper per unit than power from smaller stations. However, the cost of large stations has escalated so much that without massive government subsidies they will never be built, because they are not commercially viable.

To get costs down, small factory-built reactors seemed the answer. It is not new technology, and efforts to introduce it are nothing new either, with UK hopes high just a few years ago. Small reactors have been built for decades for nuclear submarine propulsion and for ships like icebreakers, but for civilian use they have to produce electricity more cheaply than their renewable competitors, wind and solar power.

“For entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy”

One of the problems for nuclear weapons states is that they need a workforce of highly skilled engineers and scientists, both to maintain their submarine fleets and constantly to update the nuclear warheads, which degrade over time. So maintaining a civil nuclear industry means there is always a large pool of people with the required training.

Although in the past the UK and US governments have both claimed there is no link between civil and military nuclear industries, it is clear that a skills shortage is now a problem.

It seems that both the industry and the two governments have believed SMRs would be able to solve the shortage and also provide electricity at competitive rates, benefitting from the mass production of components in controlled environments and assembling reactors much like flat-pack furniture.

This is now the official blueprint for success – even though there are no prototypes yet to prove the technology works reliably. But even before that happens, there are serious doubts about whether there is a market for these reactors.

Among the most advanced countries on SMR development are the US, the UK  and Canada. Russia has already built SMRs and deployed one of them as a floating power station in the Arctic. But whether this is an economic way of producing power for Russia is not known.

Finding investors

A number of companies in the UK and North America are developing SMRs, and prototypes are expected to be up and running as early as 2025. However, the next big step is getting investment in a factory to build them, which will mean getting enough advance orders to justify the cost.

A group of pro-nuclear US scientists, who believe that nuclear technology is vital to fight climate change, have concluded that there is not a large enough market to make SMRS work.

Their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that large reactors will be phased out on economic grounds, and that the market for SMRs is too small to be viable. On a market for the possible export of the hundreds of SMRs needed to reach viability, they say none large enough exists.

They conclude: “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”

Doubts listed

In the UK, where the government in June poured £200 million ($263.8) into SMR development, a parliamentary briefing paper issued in July lists a whole raft of reasons why the technology may not find a market.

The paper’s authors doubt that a mass-produced reactor could be suitable for every site chosen; there might, for instance, be local conditions requiring extra safety features.

They also doubt that there is enough of a market for SMRs in the UK to justify building a factory to produce them, because of public opposition to nuclear power and the reactors’ proximity to population centres. And although the industry and the government believe an export market exists, the report suggests this is optimistic, partly because so many countries have already rejected nuclear power.

The paper says those countries still keen on buying the technology often have no experience of the nuclear industry. It suggests too that there may be international alarm about nuclear proliferation in some markets. – Climate News Network

Washington’s political lobbying shackles science

Money talks, says a study of Washington’s political lobbying and its influence on climate change law. Most of the most vocal money comes from big energy.

LONDON, 24 July 2018 – Between 2000 and 2016 Washington’s political lobbying used money as lavishly as ever. The electricity utilities, fossil fuel companies and transportation companies spent around $2bn to “lobby” the US Congress and Senate on matters of climate legislation. Those sectors most likely to be affected by any changes in the law spent most on the issue.

In contrast, environmental organisations and the renewable energy sector each spent no more than a thirtieth of such sums.

And during the first 16 years of the new century, lobby spending in the US fluctuated: between 2000 and 2006, lobbyists for big energy spent only about $50m.

But as President Obama began office in the White House in 2009, and the US Congress started to contemplate legislation to contain or limit global warming driven by profligate fossil fuel use worldwide, lobbyist spending had peaked at $362m, according to new research in the journal Climatic Change.

“The process may limit the communication of accurate scientific information in the decision-making process”

Since then, President Trump has announced the US withdrawal from a global agreement to contain climate change signed by President Obama. The implication is that when it comes to influencing climate legislation, money talks more urgently and effectively than evidence.

Lobbying is not new. In democracies, all groups active in business, politics, the law and the economy seek to persuade lawmakers, and persuasion involves expense. But voters and ordinary citizens most affected by climate change and energy policy may be aware of neither the thrust and professionalism of the persuasion, nor the price paid for it.

“Lobbying is conducted away from the public eye,” says the sociologist Robert Brulle of Drexel University in Philadelphia, who worked through almost 2 million official quarterly reports required by law in the US of all professional lobbyists paid to lobby on behalf of a client who make more than one contact with government officials and spend more than 20% of their time on lobbying.

“There is no open debate or refutation of viewpoints offered by professional lobbyists meeting in private with government officials. Control over the nature and flow of information to government decision-makers can be significantly altered by the lobbying process and creates a situation of systematically distorted communication.

Small fraction

“The process may limit the communication of accurate scientific information in the decision-making process.”

In fact, professional lobbyists spent more than $50bn during the 16 relevant years of this century, and climate issues constituted only a fraction of that investment.

Professor Brulle found that the electrical utilities sector spent $554m – a quarter of all climate lobbying – over the 16 years. Fossil fuel investors spent $370m and the transport providers dug into their pockets for $252m during these years.

It is no secret that big fossil fuel companies have resisted the logic of climate science and countered attempts to contain global warming.

Five years ago, Professor Brulle set himself the challenge of identifying political manipulation of US climate change legislation: he looked at Inland Revenue Service data from 91 climate denial organisations and found that they had received $558m in “dark money” – that is, money from 140 foundations and trusts whose own sources of finance were not clear.

Forceful messaging

Three years ago a researcher at Yale University worked through 20 years of contrarian literature, US media coverage and presidential documents to confirm that organisations with powerful corporate benefactors – and these included at least one oil giant – were better at getting their message across.

The conclusion, once again: money talks. And, Professor Brulle warns, his latest study still doesn’t reveal quite how forcefully money talks.

His figures cover “only reported lobbying spending. It does not count activities related to lobbying, including grassroots mobilisation, media relations and public relations. It has been estimated that an equally large amount is spent on these activities.” – Climate News Network

Money talks, says a study of Washington’s political lobbying and its influence on climate change law. Most of the most vocal money comes from big energy.

LONDON, 24 July 2018 – Between 2000 and 2016 Washington’s political lobbying used money as lavishly as ever. The electricity utilities, fossil fuel companies and transportation companies spent around $2bn to “lobby” the US Congress and Senate on matters of climate legislation. Those sectors most likely to be affected by any changes in the law spent most on the issue.

In contrast, environmental organisations and the renewable energy sector each spent no more than a thirtieth of such sums.

And during the first 16 years of the new century, lobby spending in the US fluctuated: between 2000 and 2006, lobbyists for big energy spent only about $50m.

But as President Obama began office in the White House in 2009, and the US Congress started to contemplate legislation to contain or limit global warming driven by profligate fossil fuel use worldwide, lobbyist spending had peaked at $362m, according to new research in the journal Climatic Change.

“The process may limit the communication of accurate scientific information in the decision-making process”

Since then, President Trump has announced the US withdrawal from a global agreement to contain climate change signed by President Obama. The implication is that when it comes to influencing climate legislation, money talks more urgently and effectively than evidence.

Lobbying is not new. In democracies, all groups active in business, politics, the law and the economy seek to persuade lawmakers, and persuasion involves expense. But voters and ordinary citizens most affected by climate change and energy policy may be aware of neither the thrust and professionalism of the persuasion, nor the price paid for it.

“Lobbying is conducted away from the public eye,” says the sociologist Robert Brulle of Drexel University in Philadelphia, who worked through almost 2 million official quarterly reports required by law in the US of all professional lobbyists paid to lobby on behalf of a client who make more than one contact with government officials and spend more than 20% of their time on lobbying.

“There is no open debate or refutation of viewpoints offered by professional lobbyists meeting in private with government officials. Control over the nature and flow of information to government decision-makers can be significantly altered by the lobbying process and creates a situation of systematically distorted communication.

Small fraction

“The process may limit the communication of accurate scientific information in the decision-making process.”

In fact, professional lobbyists spent more than $50bn during the 16 relevant years of this century, and climate issues constituted only a fraction of that investment.

Professor Brulle found that the electrical utilities sector spent $554m – a quarter of all climate lobbying – over the 16 years. Fossil fuel investors spent $370m and the transport providers dug into their pockets for $252m during these years.

It is no secret that big fossil fuel companies have resisted the logic of climate science and countered attempts to contain global warming.

Five years ago, Professor Brulle set himself the challenge of identifying political manipulation of US climate change legislation: he looked at Inland Revenue Service data from 91 climate denial organisations and found that they had received $558m in “dark money” – that is, money from 140 foundations and trusts whose own sources of finance were not clear.

Forceful messaging

Three years ago a researcher at Yale University worked through 20 years of contrarian literature, US media coverage and presidential documents to confirm that organisations with powerful corporate benefactors – and these included at least one oil giant – were better at getting their message across.

The conclusion, once again: money talks. And, Professor Brulle warns, his latest study still doesn’t reveal quite how forcefully money talks.

His figures cover “only reported lobbying spending. It does not count activities related to lobbying, including grassroots mobilisation, media relations and public relations. It has been estimated that an equally large amount is spent on these activities.” – Climate News Network

Flooded internet is possible by 2035

Information now travels along the internet. But what happens when sea levels rise and leave a flooded internet, its vital cables and traffic hubs under water?

LONDON, 20 July, 2018 – US engineers have identified a problem nobody had ever expected to confront so soon: the approach of the flooded internet, caused by worldwide sea level rise. Within 15 years seawater could be lapping over buried fibre optic cables in New York, Seattle, Miami and other US coastal cities, according to a new study.

The consequences for global communications are unknown. But, as the glaciers melt, and the water in the oceans continues to expand as temperatures rise, the chances of urban flooding will increase.

And that means water where nobody expected it – over buried cables, data centres, traffic exchanges, termination points and other nerve centres of the physical internet, according to a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” said Paul Barford, the computer scientist who led the study and presented it to a meeting of network scientists. “That surprised us. The expectation was we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”

“Keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective”

In fact, such buried infrastructure is usually sheathed in water-resistant protection, but water-resistant is not the same as waterproof. And while submarine cables are fashioned to withstand extended seawater corrosion and pressure, urban services don’t have quite the same level of future-proofing.

But city managers already have the awful lessons of massive flooding in New York  from Superstorm Sandy, or of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, or of Houston from Hurricane Harvey.

The message from climate science for the last five years has been simple: expect more coastal flooding.

Risk easily increased

The US scientists looked only at the challenges for the US. They calculate that by 2033 an estimated 4,000 miles (6,400 kms) of buried fibre optic conduit will be under water. More than 1,100 traffic hubs – internet exchange points that handle massive quantities of information at colossal speeds – will be surrounded by water.

Many of the conduits at risk are already at or near sea level, and only a very slight further rise could bring extra risk, especially at those places where the submarine cables come ashore.

“The landing points are all going to be underwater in a short period of time,” Professor Barford believes. “The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure. But keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective.”

And, he told academics and industry scientists at an Applied Network Research Workshop: “This is a wake-up call. We need to be thinking about how to address this issue.” – Climate News Network

Information now travels along the internet. But what happens when sea levels rise and leave a flooded internet, its vital cables and traffic hubs under water?

LONDON, 20 July, 2018 – US engineers have identified a problem nobody had ever expected to confront so soon: the approach of the flooded internet, caused by worldwide sea level rise. Within 15 years seawater could be lapping over buried fibre optic cables in New York, Seattle, Miami and other US coastal cities, according to a new study.

The consequences for global communications are unknown. But, as the glaciers melt, and the water in the oceans continues to expand as temperatures rise, the chances of urban flooding will increase.

And that means water where nobody expected it – over buried cables, data centres, traffic exchanges, termination points and other nerve centres of the physical internet, according to a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” said Paul Barford, the computer scientist who led the study and presented it to a meeting of network scientists. “That surprised us. The expectation was we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”

“Keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective”

In fact, such buried infrastructure is usually sheathed in water-resistant protection, but water-resistant is not the same as waterproof. And while submarine cables are fashioned to withstand extended seawater corrosion and pressure, urban services don’t have quite the same level of future-proofing.

But city managers already have the awful lessons of massive flooding in New York  from Superstorm Sandy, or of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, or of Houston from Hurricane Harvey.

The message from climate science for the last five years has been simple: expect more coastal flooding.

Risk easily increased

The US scientists looked only at the challenges for the US. They calculate that by 2033 an estimated 4,000 miles (6,400 kms) of buried fibre optic conduit will be under water. More than 1,100 traffic hubs – internet exchange points that handle massive quantities of information at colossal speeds – will be surrounded by water.

Many of the conduits at risk are already at or near sea level, and only a very slight further rise could bring extra risk, especially at those places where the submarine cables come ashore.

“The landing points are all going to be underwater in a short period of time,” Professor Barford believes. “The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure. But keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective.”

And, he told academics and industry scientists at an Applied Network Research Workshop: “This is a wake-up call. We need to be thinking about how to address this issue.” – Climate News Network