February 10, 2013, by Alex Kirby
This is a summary of the stories we have published in the week ending Saturday 9 February (all are archived).
Brazil’s stunted generation 4 February – The prediction by scientists that humans would respond to climate change by becoming hobbit-sized in order to survive has already become tragic fact. A near-starving population in the north-east of Brazil produced a generation of children who became pigmy-sized adults after being brought up on a diet of rats, snakes and cacti. Adults grew to only 1.35 metres (4ft 6ins). Scientists looking at the fossil record of the last time the world had warmed by 6°C, 55 million years ago concluded that, in a warmer world, plants became less nutritious and mammals, insects and even earthworms had to eat more to survive. In response they became smaller and reproduced earlier. The Climate News Network reported exclusively on the work of the Bighorn Basin Coring Project, involving scientists from the US, UK, Germany, and the Netherlands, on 7 January. UK’s nuclear plans come unstuck 5 February – The UK Government’s plan to build a new generation of 10 nuclear power stations suffered another severe blow yesterday (4 February) when the British utility Centrica pulled out of the programme, writing off a £200 million investment in the process. To prop up the industry the Government is faced with breaking two important electoral pledges, and may face legal challenges that it intends to breach European Union subsidy rules in guaranteeing a minimum price for nuclear power. With the French nuclear industry already in deep trouble over construction delays and cost overruns, the chances of building any new reactors in the UK are fading fast. This latest setback suggests the technology may face increasing problems elsewhere, prompted by concerns over cost and the legacy of Fukushima. The worm turns, the planet warms 6 February – Climate change begins at grass roots level – and a metre or two deeper. A team of scientists contemplating the role of earthworms in the release of greenhouse gases conclude in Nature Climate Change that the same little creatures that create fertility in the soil also make a net increase to soil greenhouse gas emissions. They offer precise figures for others to challenge: earthworms increase carbon dioxide emissions by 33%, and nitrous oxide (N2O – another greenhouse gas) by 42%. The research – if supported by other findings – could settle an old argument about the role of soil in the great carbon dioxide question: is the soil a sink that, overall, stores more carbon than it releases – or does it on balance release more than it stores? US farmers face fraught future 7 February – Climate change may force American farmers to alter where they grow crops and to spend millions of dollars more tackling weeds, pests and diseases, a report says. It urges them to consider this as a risk they may have to manage. The report, by the US Agriculture Department, says American farmers have managed to adapt to environmental changes for nearly 150 years. But the accelerating pace and intensity of global warming in the next few decades might soon overwhelm it. Nature adapts to shifting seasons 8 February – Appalachian spring – and springtime in the Rockies, and mountain greenery too – will tune up a little earlier: up to a month earlier, according to new studies from the United States. Scientists report in Geophysical Research Letters that careful analysis of observations of budburst – that promising moment near the end of winter when green shoots begin to appear on the first trees – show that spring could arrive dramatically earlier by the end of this century. Rising rainfall means a warmer world 9 February – Here is the long term outlook: as it gets warmer, it will get wetter. This will not happen everywhere. But overall, there will be more rain, and more extremes of rainfall. And if you think the cloudbursts are heavier than they used to be, you are probably right. Scientists from the University of Adelaide report in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate that they have confirmed a link between extreme rainfall and rising atmospheric temperatures: global warming – relatively slight as it has been for the past few decades – has begun to deliver a rainier world.
Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.