SOURCE: Washington Post
DATE: July 29, 2020
SNIP: Record high temperatures have been plaguing the Middle East, the mercury soaring to extreme levels during a blistering and unforgiving heat wave. Baghdad surged to its highest temperature ever recorded Tuesday.
Tuesday’s preliminary high of 125.2 degrees (51.8 Celsius) in Iraq’s capital city shatters its previous record of 123.8 degrees set on July 30, 2015, for any day of the year.
On Wednesday, Baghdad followed up with a temperature of 124 degrees, its second-highest temperature on record. On Monday, it had reached 123 degrees.
The crippling heat forced many residents indoors, and street sellers had to seek whatever shade they could find. With the state electricity grid failing, many households were relying on generators to power fridges, fans or air-conditioning units, the machines adding a guttural hum to the city’s already-noisy streets.
Two protesters were shot dead by security forces Monday during demonstrations over a lack of electricity and basic services amid the heat wave.
In nearby Lebanon, where a nationwide electricity crisis has left much of the country with less than three hours of state-provided power per day, the cost of a generator had doubled, leaving many households to go without.
[O]n Wednesday, Damascus, Syria’s capital city, tied its hottest temperature on record, hitting 114.8 degrees (46 Celsius).
More near-record temperatures in the 120s are likely Thursday in and around Baghdad before a slight moderation Friday. Highs to round out the week into the weekend should fall back into the upper 110s.
DATE: July 28, 2020
SNIP: A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists concludes that more than 800 hazardous Superfund sites near the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are at risk of flooding in the next 20 years, even with low rates of sea level rise.
More than 1,000 of the sites, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, will be at risk for flooding by 2100 if carbon emissions continue on their current trajectory, triggering high rates of sea level rise, according to the study, which faults the Trump administration for ignoring climate change.
Superfund sites, the toxic legacy of industry’s environmental indifference, are the worst of the worst hazardous waste sites that expose millions of people—many in neighborhoods of color and of lower economic status—to hundreds of deadly chemicals. Flooding can increase the chances that these toxins will contaminate nearby land and water, putting communities at risk of adverse health effects.
The study, “A Toxic Relationship: Extreme Coastal Flooding and Superfund Sites,” was written by Jacob Carter, a research scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists who began the analysis while working at the EPA. He was forced out of the agency in 2017 when the Trump administration signaled it would no longer prioritize climate change-focused research.
Carter started his review in response to a 2015 directive by President Barack Obama aimed at understanding how climate change was exacerbating flooding risks. The Trump Administration revoked the directive in 2017. Carter said that’s when he was essentially shown the door.
The UCS study identified flooding at a Superfund site on the San Jacinto River near Houston as a case in point for the vulnerability of Superfund sites to storms intensified by climate change. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey ripped open the containment caps put over the toxic waste that had been dumped alongside the river by a paper mill in the 1960s. The toxins leaked into the river that runs through residential sections of the city.
Using modeling, Carter projected sea level rise scenarios out to 2100, based on an expected range of sea level rise of approximately 1 to 6.5 feet. The high sea-level rise scenario puts in jeopardy more than 1,000 Superfund sites within 10 miles of either the East or Gulf Coasts. Florida, New Jersey and New York are especially vulnerable because of the large number of sites situated along their coastlines, according to the study.
No matter the expense or the politics, these sites have to be examined for flooding vulnerabilities, said Bill Muno, a former EPA director of superfund for the Great Lakes Region.
Yet Muno said he doubts that will happen, because of the enormous cost associated with reinforcing the sites and the current atmosphere of climate denial fostered by the Trump Administration.
The report also calculates the devastating human toll associated with flooded Superfund sites.
Flooding can increase the chances that dangerous chemicals can be released and contaminate nearby land and water, putting communities at risk of adverse health effects. Especially hard hit could be more than 17 million people of color and low-income who live within five miles of a Superfund site facing flooding risk, according to the report.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: July 27, 2020
SNIP: Populations of migratory river fish around the world have plunged by a “catastrophic” 76% since 1970, an analysis has found.
The fall was even greater in Europe at 93%, and for some groups of fish, with sturgeon and eel populations both down by more than 90%.
Species such as salmon, trout and giant catfish are vital not just to the rivers and lakes in which they breed or feed but to entire ecosystems. By swimming upstream, they transport nutrients from the oceans and provide food for many land animals, including bears, wolves and birds of prey.
The migratory fish are also critical for the food security and livelihoods of millions of people around the world, while recreational fishing is worth billions of dollars a year. The causes of the decline are the hundreds of thousands of dams around the world, overfishing, the climate crisis and water pollution.
The scientists said the situation may be even bleaker than it seemed, as many declines began before 1970. Populations of sturgeon in the Great Lakes of North America, for example, have dropped by 95% from historic levels. Furthermore, suitable data has not been gathered on species in some of the world’s most biodiverse rivers such as the Mekong, Congo, Amazon and Yangtze, where researchers fear there will be hundreds of fish extinctions in the coming decades.
The average fall in populations was 84% in Latin America, while there has been a 59% decrease in Asia-Oceania, although there is limited data there and not enough from Africa to determine any reliable trend. In North America, the fall was less dramatic, at 28%. This is probably because large declines occurred before 1970, but also as a result of a growing number of dams being removed.
“For migratory fish, there’s nothing worse than a dam,” said Zeb Hogan, at the University of Nevada and an author of the new report. He said the good news was that fish could return quickly: “Almost without exception, where dams have been removed, you see populations bounce back, often much more quickly than anyone anticipated.”
The decline in migratory fish populations is higher than that for land and ocean animals, whose populations have fallen by an average of 60% in the last 50 years. “Freshwaters are disproportionately at risk to human pressures, since they are affected by everything happening in the surrounding catchment,” said Jackson.
Previous research by Hogan found many giant river fish are on the verge of extinction, with populations from catfish to stingrays down by 97% since 1970. Other studies have shown only a third of world’s great rivers remain free-flowing, while in Britain, for example, 97% of the river network has been interrupted by human-built structures.
DATE: July 25, 2020
SNIP: A disturbing new climate change study predicts global temperature increases of up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit as atmospheric carbon concentrations double:
[I]t now appears extremely unlikely that the climate sensitivity could be low enough to avoid substantial climate change (well in excess of 2°C warming) under a high‐emissions future scenario. We remain unable to rule out that the sensitivity could be above 4.5°C per doubling of carbon dioxide levels, although this is not likely.
Humanity, it’s clear, is close to missing the chance to avoid the worst ravages of fossil fuel pollution.
That level of warming would spell disaster for our oceans and coastal communities. Coral reefs would die; marine biodiversity would plummet. Flooding and extreme storms would pummel coastal residents. And ocean acidification and hypoxia would change the basic building blocks of marine life in dangerous, unpredictable ways.
This study is just the latest alarm going off to demand climate action now. We can’t wait any longer to stop drilling and mining for fossil fuels in our public lands and waters. Such public-lands extraction causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution.
The new four-year study, published in the journal Review of Geophysics by an international team of 25 top experts, indicates average global temperatures are now very likely to increase 4.1 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s at the high end of the range consistently predicted by major climate studies going back to 1979.
The study indicates a 95 percent certainty that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations – which we’re on target to hit in the next 50 years or so – would exceed the 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees celsius) worst-case goal that most nations agreed to in the Paris climate accord.
Beyond that threshold, climate scientists predict sea-level rise that will flood many coastal cities, intolerable heat waves and other extreme weather conditions and permanent damage to many ecosystems.
SOURCE: New York Times
DATE: July 24, 2020
SNIP: From the air it looks like just another tract of Alaska’s endless, roadless tundra, pockmarked with lakes and ponds, with a scattering of some of the state’s craggy mountains.
But this swath of land, home to foraging bears and spawning salmon about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, has been a battleground for years.
From the air it looks like just another tract of Alaska’s endless, roadless tundra, pockmarked with lakes and ponds, with a scattering of some of the state’s craggy mountains.
But this swath of land, home to foraging bears and spawning salmon about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, has been a battleground for years.
[O]pposition [to the Pebble Mine] has long been widespread, both in the region and statewide, with concerns about environmental damage and the potential for harming another critical resource: salmon. The fish is the main traditional subsistence food for many of the Native Alaskans in the region and the basis of both a thriving sport-fishing industry and, in nearby Bristol Bay, one of the largest commercial wild salmon fisheries in the world.
The mine will be located in two watersheds that feed fish-spawning rivers. Opponents say tailings left from the mining operation pose risks if heavy metals or other contaminants from them leach into groundwater or if dams holding back the tailings fail in an earthquake.
The deposit was discovered in the late 1980s, and planning for a mine began in earnest about 15 years ago. It drew opposition from leaders in both parties from the start, as battle lines between mining and fishing were established. But the project was aided by the pro-mining stance of the governor at the time, Sarah Palin.
Under President Barack Obama, the project was blocked in 2014 by the Environmental Protection Agency, largely over concerns about the risks to salmon.
But the Pebble Mine gained new momentum under President Trump’s more industry-friendly policies. While at first continuing its criticism of the project, the Environmental Protection Agency eventually reversed the Obama-era decision blocking it.
On Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a final environmental impact statement, or E.I.S., for the project. Under normal operations, the Corps wrote, the project would not result in “long-term changes in the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay.”
In addition to the open-pit mine, the plan would include large dammed ponds for the tailings, some of them toxic, that result from mining and concentrating the metals, 80 miles of road and pipeline to carry the concentrate to a new port on Cook Inlet, and a 165-mile natural gas pipeline for a generating plant to power the operation.
In an interview this week, Mr. Collier described the release of the final impact statement as “the most significant day in the 15-odd-year history of the Pebble project.”
Alaska is the most seismically active state in the nation, and critics said the Corps of Engineers had not taken sufficient account of the risk of earthquakes or volcanic activity, and that its analysis of the dam designs was inadequate. Some of the dams would be hundreds of feet high.
Tailing dam failures can unleash a sudden flood of contaminated slurry with disastrous effects. A 2019 failure at an iron mine in Brazil, for example, killed more than 250 people. Given the Pebble Mine’s remote location, the risk to people might be low, but the heavy metals and other contaminants could make nearby rivers toxic to fish.
In a month or perhaps longer, the Corps will make a final decision on whether to allow the project to proceed. Approval is expected.
The project will require more permits, mostly from the state, which could take three years to obtain. And should President Trump lose re-election, a Democratic administration could move to block the project once again.
SOURCE: New York Times
DATE: July 23, 2020
SNIP: For most of human history, people have lived within a surprisingly narrow range of temperatures, in the places where the climate supported abundant food production. But as the planet warms, that band is suddenly shifting north. According to a pathbreaking recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the planet could see a greater temperature increase in the next 50 years than it did in the last 6,000 years combined. By 2070, the kind of extremely hot zones, like in the Sahara, that now cover less than 1 percent of the earth’s land surface could cover nearly a fifth of the land, potentially placing one of every three people alive outside the climate niche where humans have thrived for thousands of years. Many will dig in, suffering through heat, hunger and political chaos, but others will be forced to move on. A 2017 study in Science Advances found that by 2100, temperatures could rise to the point that just going outside for a few hours in some places, including parts of India and Eastern China, “will result in death even for the fittest of humans.”
People are already beginning to flee. In Southeast Asia, where increasingly unpredictable monsoon rainfall and drought have made farming more difficult, the World Bank points to more than eight million people who have moved toward the Middle East, Europe and North America. In the African Sahel, millions of rural people have been streaming toward the coasts and the cities amid drought and widespread crop failures. Should the flight away from hot climates reach the scale that current research suggests is likely, it will amount to a vast remapping of the world’s populations.
The best outcome requires not only good will and the careful management of turbulent political forces; without preparation and planning, the sweeping scale of change could prove wildly destabilizing. The United Nations and others warn that in the worst case, the governments of the nations most affected by climate change could topple as whole regions devolve into war.
The stark policy choices are already becoming apparent. As refugees stream out of the Middle East and North Africa into Europe and from Central America into the United States, an anti-immigrant backlash has propelled nationalist governments into power around the world. The alternative, driven by a better understanding of how and when people will move, is governments that are actively preparing, both materially and politically, for the greater changes to come.
In recent months, the coronavirus pandemic has offered a test run on whether humanity has the capacity to avert a predictable — and predicted — catastrophe. Some countries have fared better. But the United States has failed. The climate crisis will test the developed world again, on a larger scale, with higher stakes. The only way to mitigate the most destabilizing aspects of mass migration is to prepare for it, and preparation demands a sharper imagining of where people are likely to go, and when.
As they have looked more closely, migration researchers have found climate’s subtle fingerprints almost everywhere. Drought helped push many Syrians into cities before the war, worsening tensions and leading to rising discontent; crop losses led to unemployment that stoked Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Libya; Brexit, even, was arguably a ripple effect of the influx of migrants brought to Europe by the wars that followed. And all those effects were bound up with the movement of just two million people. As the mechanisms of climate migration have come into sharper focus — food scarcity, water scarcity and heat — the latent potential for large-scale movement comes to seem astronomically larger.
If it is not drought and crop failures that force large numbers of people to flee, it will be the rising seas. We are now learning that climate scientists have been underestimating the future displacement from rising tides by a factor of three, with the likely toll being some 150 million globally.
Through all the research, rough predictions have emerged about the scale of total global climate migration — they range from 50 million to 300 million people displaced — but the global data is limited, and uncertainty remained about how to apply patterns of behavior to specific people in specific places. Now, though, new research on both fronts has created an opportunity to improve the models tremendously. A few years ago, climate geographers from Columbia University and the City University of New York began working with the World Bank to build a next-generation tool to establish plausible migration scenarios for the future.
The bank’s work targeted climate hot spots in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, focusing not on the emergency displacement of people from natural disasters but on their premeditated responses to what researchers call “slow-onset” shifts in the environment. They determined that as climate change progressed in just these three regions alone, as many as 143 million people would be displaced within their own borders, moving mostly from rural areas to nearby towns and cities.
For all the ways in which human migration is hard to predict, one trend is clear: Around the world, as people run short of food and abandon farms, they gravitate toward cities, which quickly grow overcrowded. It’s in these cities, where waves of new people stretch infrastructure, resources and services to their limits, that migration researchers warn that the most severe strains on society will unfold. Food has to be imported — stretching reliance on already-struggling farms and increasing its cost. People will congregate in slums, with little water or electricity, where they are more vulnerable to flooding or other disasters. The slums fuel extremism and chaos.
The window for action is closing. The world can now expect that with every degree of temperature increase, roughly a billion people will be pushed outside the zone in which humans have lived for thousands of years.
DATE: July 23, 2020
SNIP: Just below the Arctic tundra, in the vast plains that blanket much of northern Russia, a once-unthinkable business is taking hold: soybean farming.
It’s the result of years of rising global temperatures, which are thawing the permafrost and turning the land into fertile soil, and now Agronomist Gennady Bochkovsky is helping to take the crop to the next frontier, testing whether the beans can handle the upper areas of the Moscow region. So far, he says, the results are promising.
Soybeans in Russia embody a trend that’s sweeping the globe: warming weather is pushing crops further toward the poles than they’ve ever grown before. In the U.S., North Dakota has transformed into a major corn grower, and the U.K. has seen a rapid expansion in wine grapes.
While Russian soybean farmers are seeing some benefits from warming weather, climate change has been wreaking havoc on global food production. Drought has hampered crop output this year in parts of Uruguay, New Zealand, Europe and Vietnam. Even Russia and the rest of the Black Sea region has seen the ill-effects of changing weather patterns in recent years, with drier conditions threatening the region’s wheat crop. The United Nations has said that climate change is one of the factors that’s exacerbated food insecurity.
In Russia, farmers have embraced the opportunity to grow profitable soybeans. The oilseed is processed into animal feed, and demand has been strong amid a boom for livestock production. In fact, the nation still relies on imports of about 1 million metric tons of soy, so there’s more scope for domestic harvests to keep rising.
Soybeans were planted on 1.1 million hectares in 2019 in central Russia, an 18-fold increase over the past decade and equal to about 7% of the total cropland in that part of the country. The government hasn’t yet released data for the latest acreage after plantings ended last month.
Yields have doubled over the past decade while output almost quadrupled, Russian government data show. That’s also been helped by better seeds coming to market.
Still, there are tricks to getting the soy to do well in new areas.
The plants shouldn’t be in the shadow from hills or trees so they get as much sun as possible, said Bochkovsky, the Moscow region agronomist. And it’s necessary to level out the fields, or the harvesters will pass over some beans, which can hang as low as 4 centimeters from the ground.
Zelentsov, of the research institute, is hopeful that the soy expansion can continue, and he’s ready to tackle even more unthinkable conditions. His institute has collaborated with Siberian researchers to develop a variety that can grow even if there’s permafrost 2 meters (6.6 feet) underneath the topsoil.
[Ed Note: What the article doesn’t say, of course, is that soybean farming and livestock production in this region is destroying the land and with it, wildlife habitat, just as industrial agriculture has destroyed American prairies and Amazon rainforest.]
SOURCE: The Counter
DATE: July 22, 2020
SNIP: Clopyralid, used on golf courses and large-scale hayfields, is ending up in compost—and ruining plants that grow in it.
In late April, [Iris Nason] moved her tomatoes into the outdoor beds, containing new soil from a local supplier. A week later, she knew something was wrong.
Her healthy starts were twisted and the leaves began curling and cupping into strange shapes. Nason is a long-time gardener but had never seen anything like this before. She posted photos in a local gardening group and discovered many others were experiencing similar things with their gardens.
They all had one thing in common: the company they’d gotten their soil amendment from—soil that had been contaminated with the herbicide clopyralid.
This herbicide, along with aminopyralid and picloram and a few other varieties, are all known as “persistent herbicides” because they take a long time to break down. All of them are commonly used on golf courses and hayfields where they’re deployed to kill problematic broadleaf weeds. Even though state rules (which vary) are supposed to prevent clopyralid-contaminated grass, wheat, or other clippings from ending up in compost, cases like the one in Portland are not uncommon. If an animal like a horse or cow eats feed that has been sprayed with clopyralid, the herbicide can pass through the digestive tract and come out in the manure still active, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. This contaminated animal manure can also make its way to local composting companies.
Clopyralid leaves grass or hay intact while killing pesky broadleaf weeds like thistles and dandelions, according to Rick Carr, farm director and compost specialist for the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that researches organic farming methods. This has led to its popularity on everything from rangelands and pastures to golf courses. But it’s now finding its way into compost facilities through clippings from sprayed lawns and clopyralid-laced manure.
“If you’re a compost facility it’s a serious concern.” Carr is aware of the issue and has stopped accepting any manure from horse farms as a precaution against -pyralid damage in the compost he creates. “The average person has no clue about this,” Carr says.
Clopyralid can negatively affect plants at concentrations as low as three parts per billion, according to the U.S. Composting Council (USCC). “It’s getting into our facilities without us knowing it,” says Frank Franciosi, executive director of the USCC. “Not everyone who has an issue realizes they have an issue,” says Franciosi, referring to gardeners with contaminated soil and composters alike.
The problem of compost contamination first came to light in 1999 when tomatoes growing at a compost facility in Washington state showed signs of clopyralid toxicity. Between 2000 and 2003, contaminated compost was also detected in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California. Dow Agrosciences, which produces clopyralid, discontinued registration for residential use (which meant homeowners couldn’t use it in their lawns or backyards) in 2002 to prevent compost contamination. USCC had gotten reports of roughly five incidents a year of persistent herbicide damage in the United States until this year when there were sixty-nine. And many people believe this is only a fraction of the overall problem.
“It’s only brought to my attention if somebody complained and came to us,” says Jon Traunfeld, an extension specialist in Maryland. “But the symptoms are alarming,” he says of tell-tale signs of -pyralid damage like leaf cupping and stunted growth. This year’s first case of clopyralid contamination came to his attention in June though it’s far from the first time he’s encountered it. “In Maryland, the Department of Agriculture does regulate compost,” Traunfeld says, but the main concern is the presence of toxic heavy metals like mercury and lead or coliform bacteria like E.coli. While those are both hazardous to human health, for many gardeners—especially ones who grow organic produce—finding out that herbicides have tainted their plants is comparably alarming. Few people want to eat produce from -pyralid afflicted plants even if the plant survives enough to produce fruit (which doesn’t always happen). Of food crops, nightshades like tomatoes and legumes are the most sensitive to even trace amounts of clopyralid. “I don’t know of any cases where the plants recover,” Traunfeld says.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: July 22, 2020
SNIP: Destructive and unsustainable fishing has caused a crash in shark numbers across many of the world’s coral reefs, upsetting the ecological balance of the critical marine ecosystems, a major study has found.
A network of remote underwater cameras across 58 countries found sharks were “functionally extinct” at almost one in five of the 371 reefs studied over four years.
The loss of sharks was putting further pressure on coral reefs around the world that were already under threat from global heating, scientists said.
Shark numbers were lowest on 69 reefs surveyed in the Dominican Republic, the French West Indies, Kenya, Vietnam, the Windward Dutch Antilles and Qatar, where just three sharks were seen during 800 hours of footage.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), a partner in the research published in Nature, said the study revealed a previously undocumented global decline in sharks on reefs.
Reefs close to human populations in countries with poor governance were the worst affected.
Sharks did best in places where the use of longlines and gillnets were controlled, catch limits on sharks were in place and marine sanctuaries had been created.
Sharks play a critical role on coral reefs, keeping the balance of species across the marine habitats in check, he said. Losing sharks was impacting the health of coral reefs that many millions of people relied on for food.
Some 34 out of 58 nations had shark numbers that were half what was expected, “suggesting that loss of reef sharks is pervasive among reefs globally”, the study said.
DATE: July 17, 2020
SNIP: The United Nations has warned there could be a disastrous oil spill four times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster near Alaska if action is not taken to deal with a deteriorating oil tanker stranded off the coast of war-torn Yemen.
The Safer tanker is carrying 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and has been stranded off Yemen’s Red Sea oil terminal of Ras Issa for more than five years.
On May 27, water began leaking into the engine room, threatening to destabilise it, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told a Security Council meeting.
While divers from the Safer Corporation were able to fix the leak, Mr Lowcock — who has mentioned the plight of the tanker during monthly council briefings on Yemen for more than a year — warned that “it is impossible to say how long it might hold.”
In a statement after the briefing, the 15-member Security Council “expressed deep alarm at the growing risk that the Safer oil tanker could rupture or explode, causing an environmental, economic, and humanitarian catastrophe for Yemen and its neighbours.”
“Time is running out for us to act in a coordinated manner to prevent a looming environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe,” Inger Andersen told the UN Security Council on Wednesday.
Seawater flooded the aging tanker’s engine room in late May and is threatening to destabilize the ship, according to the UN. Andersen said that “no effort should be spared” to conduct a “a technical assessment and initial light repairs” on the vessel.
But she added that in the longer term, the best option is for the oil to be offloaded from the ship, which would then be towed to a safe location for inspection and dismantling.
The international community will also have to come up with a response should an oil spill occur, she warned. The Exxon Valdez disaster damaged more than 1,300 miles of some of the most remote, wild shoreline in the United States, and the oil continues to pollute beaches and harm the ecosystem to this day.