DATE: May 23, 2020
SNIP: If you’re looking for a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic, your reduced carbon footprint unfortunately isn’t it, climate scientists warn.
Even with this week’s climate change study in the journal Nature citing a 17 per cent drop in daily CO2 emissions compared to this time last year, experts caution against the temptation to inflate the significance of a few weeks or months of reduced human activity, at least when it comes to climate change.
“Think about it this way,” says renowned Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. “We’ve been putting a brick on a pile every month since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
“Last month we put a 20 per cent smaller-sized brick on that pile that has thousands of bricks already on it. That one slightly smaller brick is not going to make a big difference.”
Looking at annual projections for 2020, the metaphorical brick Hayhoe uses to represent CO2 emissions is expected to be four to seven per cent smaller this year than in 2019. Even at a seven per cent reduction, emissions for 2020 will be roughly the same as 2011, says Corinne Le Quéré, one of the authors of this week’s Nature study.
After a world’s worth of cancelled vacations, eliminated work commutes, shuttered business and virtually extinguished social lives, how is that possible?
While the pandemic has led to a temporary drop in emissions related to things like personal transportation, other carbon-intensive practices continue, from supplying homes with electricity, to manufacturing and transporting goods.
DATE: May 22, 2020
SNIP: Given the present-day rate of global sea-level rise, remaining marshes in the Mississippi Delta are likely to drown, according to a new Tulane University study.
A key finding of the study, published in Science Advances, is that coastal marshes experience tipping points, where a small increase in the rate of sea-level rise leads to widespread submergence.
The loss of 2,000 square miles (5,000 km2) of wetlands in coastal Louisiana over the past century is well documented, but it has been more challenging to predict the fate of the remaining 6,000 square miles (15,000 km2) of marshland.
“Previous investigations have suggested that marshes can keep up with rates of sea-level rise as high as half an inch per year (10 mm/yr), but those studies were based on observations over very short time windows, typically a few decades or less,” said Torbjörn Törnqvist, lead author and Vokes Geology Professor in the Tulane Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
The researchers found that in the Mississippi Delta most marshes drown in a few centuries once the rate of sea-level rise exceeds about one-tenth of an inch per year (3 mm/yr). When the rate exceeds a quarter of an inch per year (7.5 mm/yr), drowning occurs in about half a century.
“The scary thing is that the present-day rate of global sea-level rise, due to climate change, has already exceeded the initial tipping point for marsh drowning,” Törnqvist said. “And as things stand right now, the rate of sea-level rise will continue to accelerate and put us on track for marshes to disappear even faster in the future.”
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: May 22, 2020
SNIP: The abundance of microplastic pollution in the oceans is likely to have been vastly underestimated, according to research that suggests there are at least double the number of particles as previously thought.
Scientists trawled waters off the coasts of the UK and US and found many more particles using nets with a fine mesh size than when using coarser ones usually used to filter microplastics. The addition of these smaller particles to global estimates of surface microplastics increases the range from between 5tn and 50tn particles to 12tn-125tn particles, the scientists say.
Plastic pollution is known to harm the fertility, growth and survival of marine life. Smaller particles are especially concerning because they are the same size as the food eaten by zooplankton, which underpin the marine food chain and play an important role in regulating the global climate. The new data suggests there may be more microplastic particles than zooplankton in some waters.
“The estimate of marine microplastic concentration could currently be vastly underestimated,” said Prof Pennie Lindeque, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK, who led the research.
She said there may well be even smaller particles than those caught by the fine mesh nets, meaning the numbers “could be even larger again”.
Another new study shows how microplastics have entered the food chain in rivers, with birds found to be consuming hundreds of particles a day via the aquatic insects on which they feed.
Microplastic pollution has contaminated the whole planet, from Arctic snow and mountain soils to many rivers and the deepest oceans. It is also being consumed and inhaled by people, and the health impacts are as yet unknown.
DATE: May 18, 2020
SNIP: As Indonesia ramps up its mining sector to feed the world’s hunger for zero-emission vehicles, it is faced with a problem: what to do with all the waste.
The country is the world’s biggest producer of nickel, one of the key elements in the rechargeable batteries that power electric vehicles and energy storage systems.
Now, companies building the nation’s first factories to produce the elements that power electric vehicles are seeking permission to dump billions of tons of potentially toxic waste into the waters of the Coral Triangle, home to the highest diversity of corals and reef fishes anywhere on the planet.
In January, two companies presented plans to use the method, known as deep-sea tailings disposal, or DSTD, to Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry for Maritime and Investment Affairs, according to presentation documents seen by Mongabay.
Neither company appears to have received permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which must approve the practice, though factories pitching to dump waste in the ocean are already under construction.
Nickel mining, increasingly pushed to meet rising demand for batteries, has long been a core industry for Indonesia. Smelting for battery nickel produces large amounts of acidic waste full of heavy metals, and how to deal with the waste is one of the most important decisions in a smelting project.
Companies often choose DSTD as a cost-efficient or safer option to manage tailings, the byproducts left over from extracting metals from ore. It’s an alternative to constructing a dam to store the tailings or spending money to treat the waste so it can be returned to the ground.
In two years, the country plans to add 30 new nickel smelters, a handful of them specifically designated to produce battery nickel.
Indonesia already has a copper and gold mine that practices deep-sea tailings disposal, or DSTD, with devastating impacts on the local ecosystem, activists say.
Indonesia and neighboring Papua New Guinea are home to four of the 16 mines around the world that practice DSTD, but account for 91% of the estimated 227 million tons of tailings dumped into the ocean.
SOURCE: New York Times
DATE: May 14, 2020
SNIP: Climate change has increased the risk of a huge landslide in an Alaskan fjord that could cause a catastrophic tsunami, scientists said Thursday.
Warming temperatures have caused the retreat of a glacier that helps support a steep, mile-long slope along one flank of a fjord in Prince William Sound, about 60 miles east of Anchorage. With only a third of the slope now supported by ice, the scientists said, a landslide could be triggered by an earthquake, prolonged heavy rain or even a heat wave that could cause extensive melting of surface snow.
While the slope has been moving for decades, the researchers estimated that a sudden, huge collapse was possible within a year and likely within two decades. “It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes,” said Anna Liljedahl, an Alaska-based hydrologist with the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, who was part of the team.
Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, after being briefed on the findings, issued a statement Thursday afternoon warning that “an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists.”
Computer modeling showed that a collapse of the entire slope — roughly estimated to be 500 million cubic meters of rock and dirt, or several hundred times the volume of the Hoover Dam — could cause a tsunami that would start out at several hundred feet high.
About 20 minutes later, when it reached Whittier, a town at the head of another narrow fjord 30 miles away, the wall of water could still be 30 feet high and cause extensive destruction.
The fjord, Barry Arm, and other nearby waters are frequently visited by tourist and fishing boats, and the surrounding land is a popular area with hunters. In good weather, potentially hundreds of people could be in the area. Although it has a year-round population of only several hundred, Whittier is typically a disembarkation point for thousands of cruise ship passengers headed inland to Anchorage and points north.
“As a hazard, it’s really worrisome,” said another researcher, Hig Higman, who studies geological hazards and runs an organization called Ground Truth based in Seldovia, Alaska.
Dr. Higman was aware of several areas in Alaska that had landslide risk. But it was his sister, Valisa Higman, an artist, who alerted him to the potential hazard at Barry Arm. Aware of her brother’s work, she was on a tourist boat in the arm when she saw the slope, which looked to her as if it had fractures, suggesting that it was slowly sliding. She took some photographs and sent them to her brother.
Dr. Higman studied satellite imagery and determined that the slope had indeed been sliding over time. Additional analysis showed that the rate of movement at times had been high: Between 2009 and 2015, the landslide moved downhill about 600 feet, leaving a large scar.
The violent shaking of an earthquake can cause a slope to collapse, and Alaska is among the most earthquake-prone areas of the planet. Whittier, in fact, was heavily damaged by a tsunami during the 1964 Alaska earthquake, the second most powerful ever recorded.
But gravity can cause a slope to fail as well, especially if it becomes saturated by water during times of heavy rainfall or if a heat wave melts surface snow. In those cases, water can act as a lubricant, making it more likely that land will be pulled downhill by gravity.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: May 12, 2020
SNIP: Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of mismanaged waste could be blowing ashore on the ocean breeze every year, according to scientists who have discovered microplastics in sea spray.
The study, by researchers at the University of Strathclyde and the Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées at the University of Toulouse, found tiny plastic fragments in sea spray, suggesting they are being ejected by the sea in bubbles. The findings, published in the journal Plos One, cast doubt on the assumption that once in the ocean, plastic stays put, as well as on the widespread belief in the restorative power of sea breeze.
Around 359m tons of plastic was manufactured globally in 2018, and some studies suggest as much as 10% of it ends up in the sea each year.
Steve Allen, a PhD candidate at Strathclyde who co-led the study, said: “Sea breeze has traditionally been considered ‘clean air’ but this study shows surprising amounts of microplastic particles being carried by it. It appears that some plastic particles could be leaving the sea and entering the atmosphere along with sea salt, bacteria, viruses and algae.”
The “bubble burst ejection” of particles in sea fog or spray, described by Allen as “like soda in a glass when it hits your nose”, is a well-known phenomenon. But the new study is the first time microplastics have been shown to be ejected from the ocean.
“We keep putting millions of tonnes of plastic into the ocean every year,” said Allen. “This research shows that it is not going to stay there forever. The ocean is giving it back to us.”
Plastic debris, such as plastic bags and bottles, breaks down into smaller microplastic in the sea, often invisible to the eye. The microplastics in the sea spray were between five micrometres and up to 140 micrometres long. The researchers estimated that up to 136,000 tons of microplastic could be blown on shore by sea spray every year.
The researchers captured water droplets from sea spray at Mimizan beach in Aquitaine, on the south-west Atlantic coast of France in the Bay of Biscay, using a “cloud catcher” and filters, set up on top of a sand dune. They analysed the water droplets for microplastics, sampling various wind directions and speeds, including a storm and sea fog. The sea fog generated by the surf produced the highest counts, of 19 plastic particles per cubic metre of air.
SOURCE: World Resources Institute
DATE: May 12, 2020
SNIP: Regenerative agriculture has become the darling of many policymakers, food companies and farmers. Advocates claim a triple win: climate change mitigation, increased profit for farmers and greater resilience to a changing climate. Our view is that the practices grouped as regenerative agriculture can improve soil health and yield some valuable environmental benefits, but are unlikely to achieve large-scale emissions reductions.
There is broad agreement that most regenerative agriculture practices are good for soil health and have other environmental benefits. No-till reduces soil erosion and encourages water to infiltrate soils (although it can require greater use of herbicides). Cover crops do the same, and can also reduce water pollution. Diverse crop rotations can lower pesticide use. And good grazing practices — such as moving cattle around frequently, adding legumes or fertilizers, and avoiding overgrazing — can increase vegetation and protect water sources.
The thinking behind regenerative practices as a climate mitigation strategy is to remove carbon dioxide out of the air by storing it as organic carbon in soils. While practices like adding manure can increase soil carbon, the feasibility of scaling such practices over large areas to substantially increase soil carbon and mitigate climate change is much less clear. Our own report analyzing mitigation options in the food and land sector concluded that the practical potential was at best modest due to several challenges, including:
Uncertain benefits: There’s limited scientific understanding of what keeps soil carbon sequestered, and, as a result, uncertainty about whether regenerative practices actually sequester additional carbon. For example, there is an active scientific debate about whether no-till, the primary practice relied upon by proponents of regenerative agriculture to generate climate benefits, actually increases soil carbon when properly measured.
Faulty carbon accounting: Carbon must be added to soils to increase soil carbon, and this carbon must ultimately come from plants that absorb carbon from the air. But if the direct sources of carbon would have otherwise been stored or used elsewhere, it simply moves carbon from one place to another, achieving no additional reduction in emissions. Calculations of carbon benefits from soil carbon sequestration on a specific farm often omit off-farm effects that produce emissions elsewhere, as illustrated in the graphic. For example, manure is filled with the carbon and nutrients absorbed originally by plants and eaten by animals. For that reason, adding manure to a field increases soil carbon where it is applied. But because there is a limited supply of manure in the world, using it in one place almost always means taking it from elsewhere, so no additional carbon is added to the world’s soils overall.
The need for large quantities of nitrogen: Another limitation on storing soil carbon is the need for nitrogen, which usually comes in the form of fertilizer. For carbon to remain in soils for more than a short time, scientists generally agree that it must be converted into microbial organic matter. This requires around one ton of nitrogen for every 12 tons of carbon sequestered (in addition to the nitrogen used and removed by the growth). Applying more nitrogen to agricultural lands to increase soil carbon would be problematic, whether added through fertilizer or nitrogen-fixing legumes. Only some of the added nitrogen would likely be captured and turned into soil carbon; much would escape into waterways, where it would fuel algal growth and water pollution.
[Read the whole article for the full picture.]
SOURCE: Scientific American
DATE: May 11, 2020
SNIP: Roughly one-third of the U.S. population—or 118 million Americans—could feel one or more extreme weather events annually by 2050 if population and greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, new research from the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows.
That more than doubles the 47 million Americans who currently experience extreme heat and cold, prolonged droughts, and intensifying floods. And it reflects the greater frequency of climate disasters nationwide, the researchers said.
The findings, published in Earth’s Future, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, are based on supercomputer simulations of county-level data from NOAA’s Climate Extremes Index, or CEI.
It also provides one of the most granular analyses to date of projected climate change impacts on the United States, the researchers said.
With no population increase, the analysis estimates that 94 million Americans would face one or more extreme climate events annually by midcentury. That’s 20% fewer Americans than under the population growth scenario but still double the 47 million people currently experiencing climate extremes.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: May 11, 2020
SNIP: The Trump administration is diligently weakening US environment protections even amid a global pandemic, continuing its rollback as the November election approaches.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, US federal agencies have eased fuel-efficiency standards for new cars; frozen rules for soot air pollution; proposed to drop review requirements for liquefied natural gas terminals; continued to lease public property to oil and gas companies; sought to speed up permitting for offshore fish farms; and advanced a proposal on mercury pollution from power plants that could make it easier for the government to conclude regulations are too costly to justify their benefits.
The government has also relaxed reporting rules for polluters during the pandemic.
The Trump administration is playing both offense and defense, rescinding and rewriting some rules and crafting others that would be time-consuming for a Democratic president to reverse.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has written what critics say will be a weak proposal for climate pollution from airplanes, a placeholder that will hinder stricter regulation.
Trump officials have been attempting to create a coronavirus relief program for oil and gas corporations, a new move in his campaign to back the industry and stymie global climate action. The president has sown distrust of climate science and vowed to exit the Paris climate agreement, which the US can do after the election.
Historians say Trump’s presidency has forced a pendulum swing back from the environmental awakening of the 1960s and 70s, when there was bipartisan support for conservation.
“What Trump’s done is create a blitzkrieg against the environment … trying to dismantle not just Obama’s environmental achievements but turn back the clock to a pre-Richard Nixon day,” said Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University who is writing a book on the subject.
“It’s just death by a thousand cuts. It’s not one issue, it’s just across the board.”
If a Democrat takes the White House, it will take years to reverse some changes. Moving faster would require Democrats holding both chambers of Congress. Even then, industry would fight hard.
SOURCE: South China Morning Post
DATE: May 9, 2020
SNIP: It has not got much attention with the world focused on coronavirus, but deforestation has surged in the Amazon rainforest this year, raising fears of a repeat of last year’s record-breaking devastation – or worse.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit a new high in the first four months of the year, according to data released Friday by Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE), which uses satellite images to track the destruction.
A total of 1,202 square kilometres of forest – an area more than 20 times the size of Manhattan – was wiped out in the Brazilian Amazon from January to April, it found.
That was a 55 per cent increase from the same period last year, and the highest figure for the first four months of the year since monthly records began in August 2015.
The numbers raise new questions about how well Brazil is protecting its share of the world’s biggest rainforest under President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right climate change sceptic who advocates opening protected lands to mining and farming.
“Unfortunately, it looks like what we can expect for this year are more record-breaking fires and deforestation,” Greenpeace campaigner Romulo Batista said in a statement.
Last year, in Bolsonaro’s first year in office, deforestation soared 85 per cent in the Brazilian Amazon, to 10,123 square kilometres of forest.
The trend so far in 2020 is all the more worrying given that the usual high season for deforestation only starts in late May.