March 5, 2013, by Alex Kirby
This is a summary of the stories we have published in the week ending Saturday 2 March (all are archived). Apologies that it’s late this week.
24 February – Eradicating poverty by making modern energy supplies available to everyone is not only compatible with measures to slow climate change, a new study says. It is a necessary condition for it. But the authors say the scheme to provide sustainable energy worldwide will not by itself be enough to keep the global average temperature rise below the widely accepted international target level of 2°C. While it can help measures to tackle climate change, it cannot achieve that by itself. The scheme, the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All), if it proves successful, could make a significant contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, according to the analysis from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and ETH Zurich.
24 February – Some like it hot but most like it not: higher temperatures and rising humidity could seriously affect the capacity to work in a future world, according to scientists at Princeton University, US. John Dunne and colleagues from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at data from recent decades and projections of future temperature rise. They report in Nature Climate Change that they estimate that environmental heat stress has reduced labour capacity to 90% in the peak months in the last few decades. By 2050, they estimate, this capacity could be reduced to 80% as workers gasp and perspire in the heat.
25 February – Overheating in buildings caused by improved insulation and lack of proper ventilation is causing increased illness and deaths for the occupants of both old and new properties. New regulations in European countries designed to combat climate change by preventing heat loss from buildings has caused many homes to become dangerously hot, not just in summer months but all year round. Researchers fear that as attempts are made to design more homes that are zero-rated for carbon, more and more of them will become health risks to those who live in them, particularly the elderly and young children.
25 February – The cause of much of the recent extreme weather across the world is climate change triggered by human activities, scientists say. The Earth has experienced a range of severe regional weather extremes in recent years, including the heat waves of 2011 in the US and 2010 in Russia, a year that also brought the unprecedented Pakistan floods. Behind these distinct events, though, there is a common physical cause, according to a team at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany.
27 February – Wind power may in some conditions manage to produce less energy than its supporters believe it can, two US researchers suggest. In the latest contribution to the debate over wind’s potential, they say they have found evidence that some of the largest wind farms may cause effects which substantially reduce their generating capacity. The research, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, suggests that the generating capacity of large-scale wind farms has been overestimated.
28 February – A London-based think tank says the spread of democracy following the Arab Spring could be reversed because politicians are failing to help the countries involved to build resilience to economic shocks. The group, E3G, says in a report, Underpinning the MENA Democratic Transition: Delivering Climate, Energy and Resource Security, that the G8 governments are not helping the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region to address the threat of food and energy price shocks. The report says climate models show that warming will happen much faster in this region than the global average. A reduction in rainfall is also likely by mid-century.
1 March – Climate change deniers must be faced down and not allowed to get away with talking rubbish, says John Gummer, former UK Secretary of State for the Environment. Now ennobled and known formally as Lord Deben, Gummer chairs the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), a position which gives him real influence in the continuing debate. In a vehement attack on what he described as “the small cabal of deniers”, Gummer said this group was always arguing that climate change is not yet certain and that doing anything is expensive and inconvenient – so it is best not to act.
2 March – Wind turbines are at constant but unpredictable risk of being snapped in pieces like matchsticks by medium-sized waves, a researcher has found. “The problem is, we still do not know exactly when the turbines may break”, says Professor John Grue from the Department of Mathematics at the University of Oslo, Norway. In 1989 Grue, a leading wave researcher, discovered a phenomenon called ringing, which is a type of vibration that occurs when choppy waves strike marine installations. So far scientists have studied ringing only in small and large waves, but it now appears to be more common in medium-sized waves.
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.