Himalayan hydro developers wilfully ignore climate risks

Himalayan hydro developers wilfully ignore climate risks

SOURCE: The Third Pole

DATE: March 4, 2019

SNIP: With growing warnings of the cascading impacts of climate change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, the region’s hydropower sector ought to take note.

Melting snow and retreating glaciers in a region, parts of which are warming up at three times the global average, will drastically change the seasonal flow of Asia’s major rivers. More intense floods and rainfalls and periods of prolonged drought are predicted and will wreak havoc for hydropower stations. In the longer term lack of water may mean dams are no longer viable.

The region has 500 GW of potential energy, and 550 projects underway are planned or are under construction in steep Himalayan valleys in China, India, Pakistan and Bhutan, according to ICIMOD’s new HIMAP report.

The potential impacts on fragile ecosystems, river flow, downstream flood plains are mentioned, but framed as necessary trade-offs. Large hydropower projects with well-defined benefit-sharing mechanisms are held up as the ideal energy solution.

Hydropower is considered as key to reducing poverty and promoting industrial growth in the mountain regions, as well as a way to mitigate and adapt to climate change. But the negative impacts on local communities are brushed over.

History shows large dams too often leave local communities suffering from environmental damage and lack of water and without even the benefits of power – which is largely produced for export to other regions or countries.

Large dams are not only vulnerable to disasters, they also contribute to them.

In areas of the Himalayas where dams are built, cracks emerge on houses, landslides increase, slopes become unstable and springs and water resources dry up nearby. This can happen years after construction.

Dam reservoirs may even trigger earthquakes. This is the most fiercely debated risk, since the 7.9-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in 2008, which killed around 70,000 people and left nearly 20,000 missing. Some scientists argue that the weight of water behind a dam can produce shearing stress strong enough to worsen, or trigger, an earthquake. The 510 foot high Zipingpu dam, the largest dam in Sichuan province of China, was implicated in the 2008 earthquake.

The U.S. Is Going to See Water Shortages Within the 21st Century

The U.S. Is Going to See Water Shortages Within the 21st Century

SOURCE: Fortune

DATE: March 4, 2019

SNIP: Government-backed research on watersheds in the U.S. provide a dire outlook for the future: population growth and climate change are likely to cause “serious water shortages” within the next 55 years, says the study.

As both demand and water evaporation increase, up to 96 of the 204 water basins that provide fresh water to Americans are projected to have monthly shortages by 2071, researchers reported in their study, published Thursday in Earth’s Future.

Irrigated agriculture is responsible for over 75% of annual consumption in most water basins, according to the researchers. If farmers were to reduce irrigation for their crops, particularly crops grown for animal feed or biofuel, the researchers’ computer models show some hope for fewer shortages.

Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal

Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: March 4, 2019

SNIP: The number of heatwaves affecting the planet’s oceans has increased sharply, scientists have revealed, killing swathes of sea-life like “wildfires that take out huge areas of forest”.

Global warming is gradually increasing the average temperature of the oceans, but the new research is the first systematic global analysis of ocean heatwaves, when temperatures reach extremes for five days or more.

The research found heatwaves are becoming more frequent, prolonged and severe, with the number of heatwave days tripling in the last couple of years studied. In the longer term, the number of heatwave days jumped by more than 50% in the 30 years to 2016, compared with the period of 1925 to 1954.

As heatwaves have increased, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs have been lost. These foundation species are critical to life in the ocean. They provide shelter and food to many others, but have been hit on coasts from California to Australia to Spain.

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Are Turning Up in Puget Sound Marine Life

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Are Turning Up in Puget Sound Marine Life

SOURCE: Hakai Magazine

DATE: March 4, 2019

SNIP: In Washington State’s Puget Sound, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are infecting the area’s harbor seals and harbor porpoises. A recent preliminary survey of 11 animals has produced worrying results: 80 percent of animals sampled carried bacteria that were resistant to an antibiotic, and more than 50 percent carried bacteria that were resistant to multiple antibiotics.

“These animals are sentinels,” says Stephanie Norman, a veterinary epidemiologist with Marine-Med who is working to understand the causes and the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the region’s marine mammals—a project supported by a wide range of local and state organizations.

Wild animals aren’t routinely taking antibiotics to treat infections, but widespread antibiotic resistance in ocean creatures could still have a major impact on the conservation of endangered species. That’s because, as in the case of an ailing young southern resident killer whale that was administered antibiotics in 2018, veterinarians and others trying to rescue sick animals sometimes use these medications.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in marine environments could be dangerous to humans, too. Marine bacteria can cause skin infections in people with even small scrapes or insect bites, or food poisoning in people who eat contaminated seafood, especially for seafood eaten raw, such as oysters.

Norman says that while most marine antibiotic resistance probably comes from land sources (like humans and livestock), the use of antibiotics in marine fish farms may also be cause for concern. (Although salmon farming is being phased out in Washington State, it is still allowed in neighboring British Columbia.)

Wallace Smith Broecker, the ‘grandfather’ of climate science, leaves a final warning for Earth

Wallace Smith Broecker, the ‘grandfather’ of climate science, leaves a final warning for Earth

SOURCE: NBC

DATE: March 3, 2019

SNIP: After struggling with heart disease for decades, the renowned climate scientist Wallace Smith Broecker had made it clear he was acutely aware of his own mortality. So when he sat down in front of a video camera to record a final message to his fellow scientists in mid-February, the 87-year-old researcher knew his days were few.

The man who popularized the term “global warming” and first described the critical role oceans play on climate had an urgent message for 40 of the world’s top climate scientists. Humanity is not moving quickly enough to slow the production of carbon dioxide that is warming the Earth, Broecker said Feb. 11, his livestreaming image projected onto a big screen at Arizona State University, where researchers had met to discuss untested solutions to global warming.

It was time for humankind and the world’s scientific community to begin to seriously study more extreme solutions to the climate crisis, Broecker said. That included creating a massive solar shield in the Earth’s atmosphere, a tactic known variously as “geoengineering,” “the sulfur solution,” “solar radiation management” and the “Pinatubo Strategy.”

A week after his dramatic appeal, Broecker died of congestive heart failure, inspiring praise for his work as the “grandfather” of modern climate science. His death, and his final message to scientists, re-energized the debate over the sort of re-engineering of the Earth’s climate systems that Broecker and other academics had broached as early as the 1970s.

Many scientists have been hesitant about pursuing such an extreme measure, citing scientific, ethical, legal and political dilemmas. Tampering with Earth’s atmosphere was not a preferred alternative, Broecker had acknowledged, but he insisted that his fellow academics needed to be ready, should last-ditch measures be needed to prevent a climate catastrophe.

Broecker told the symposium that he had worked with another prominent climatologist on mechanical units that might remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But 100 million of the devices would be needed to get the job done, he said, and there was no sign that the world’s leaders had the political will to get the job done.

A majority of the world’s climate scientists may oppose radical geoengineering, but most of those who heard Broecker’s words agreed that research on the sulfur solution should proceed.

“This was the last message from someone who shaped our field for half a century,” said Peter Schlosser, the lead organizer of the symposium and vice president of Arizona State’s Global Futures program. “I don’t think his effort and his determination was lost on anyone.”

That sense of moment was acknowledged even by those … who disagreed with Broecker’s position. Those scientists believe that sulfur injections into the atmosphere have too many potential pitfalls. They could alter weather and rainfall patterns so severely that agriculture would be disrupted on a mass scale. They could trigger unknown collateral weather calamities. And, perhaps the biggest concern of all: They could prompt humanity to continue with the dangerous burning of fossil fuels.

Ruined crops, salty soil: How rising seas are poisoning North Carolina’s farmland

Ruined crops, salty soil: How rising seas are poisoning North Carolina’s farmland

SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: March 1, 2019

SNIP: Of climate change’s many plagues — drought, insects, fires, floods — saltwater intrusion in particular sounds almost like a biblical curse. Rising seas, sinking earth and extreme weather are conspiring to cause salt from the ocean to contaminate aquifers and turn formerly fertile fields barren. A 2016 study in the journal Science predicted that 9 percent of the U.S. coastline is vulnerable to saltwater intrusion — a percentage likely to grow as the world continues to warm. Scientists are just beginning to assess the potential effect on agriculture and it’s not yet clear how much can be mitigated.

If farmers in coastal areas have any hope of protecting their land — and their livelihoods — the first step is to disentangle the complex web of causes that can send ocean water seeping into the ground beneath their feet.

Though it’s known that saltwater intrusion is linked to sea-level rise caused by climate change, scientists aren’t certain exactly how salt winds up in farmers’ fields. One hypothesis is that strong winds may blow salt water from the sound into the canals and ditches that crisscross the county, which then leak into the soil. Another possibility is that the salt was left behind by storm-surge events and simply takes a long time to wash away.

Or maybe the problem goes even deeper. Scientists are increasingly concerned that rising sea levels are shifting the “zone of transition” — the underground gradient where fresh groundwater meets salty seawater. This issue may be compounded by the slow sinking of North Carolina’s coastal plain since the end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago.

Dykes and pumps can be used to hold back floodwaters from an encroaching ocean. But little can be done to stop the slow mixing of fresh and salty water underground.

Climate Change Is Having a Major Impact on Global Health

Climate Change Is Having a Major Impact on Global Health

SOURCE: Scientific American

DATE: March 1, 2019

SNIP: Warming temperatures do not only threaten lives directly. They also cause billions of hours of lost labor, enhance conditions for the spread of infectious diseases and reduce crop yields, according to a recent report.

The report, published last December in the Lancet, represents the latest findings of the Lancet Countdown—a coalition of international research organizations collaborating with the World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization. The group tracks the health impacts of—and government responses to—climate change.

“It affects everyone around the world—every single person, every single population. No country is immune,” says Nick Watts, executive director of the Lancet Countdown and one of many co-authors of the report. “We’ve been seeing these impacts for some time now.”

The report found that millions of people worldwide are vulnerable to heat-related disease and death and that populations in Europe and the eastern Mediterranean are especially susceptible—most likely because they have more elderly people living in urban areas. Adults older than 65 are particularly at risk, as are those with chronic illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes. Places where humans tend to live are exposed to an average temperature change that is more than twice the global average—0.8 versus 0.3 degree Celsius (graphic). There were 157 million more “heat wave exposure events” (one heat wave experienced by one person) in 2017 than in 2000. Compared with 1986 to 2005, each person was exposed to, on average, 1.4 more days of heat wave per year from 2000 to 2017. That may not seem like a lot, but as Watts notes, “someone who is 75 and suffers from kidney disease can probably survive three to four days of heat wave but not five or six.”

Sweltering temperatures also affect productivity. A staggering 153 billion hours of labor—80 percent of them in agriculture—were lost to excessive heat in 2017, the new report found, with the most vulnerable areas being in India, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and South America.

Then there are indirect effects. For example, warmer temperatures have increased the geographical ranges of organisms that spread dengue fever, malaria and cholera.

Climate change also threatens food security. Our planet still produces more than enough food for the world, but 30 countries have seen crop yields decline as a result of extreme weather, the report found.

Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are quietly helping Big Oil destroy the climate

Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are quietly helping Big Oil destroy the climate

SOURCE: Think Progress

DATE: Feb 28, 2019

SNIP: ExxonMobil and Microsoft announced last week that they are partnering in the “largest-ever oil and gas” deal to use cloud computing, which the corporations say will boost production up to 50,000 barrels of oil per day by 2025.

Microsoft likes to tout how it’s running its operations on 100 percent renewable energy and embracing the Paris climate agreement. The company’s founder, Bill Gates, also portrays himself as a champion of climate action.

But the tech giant is working overtime to close deals with the world’s biggest oil companies to help them boost fossil fuel production using the latest information technology, such as cloud computing, which enables companies to capture, store, and analyze vast amount of data in real time.

Google launched a new oil, gas, and energy division in 2018 “to court the oil and gas industry,” the Wall Street Journal reported last summer. It’s headed by Darryl Willis, who worked at BP for nearly three decades, and has already made deals with oil giants like Anadarko Petroleum and France’s Total, and oilfield services companies like Schlumberger and Baker Hughes.

In September, Google announced a major deal with a Houston energy investment bank. The goal of this partnership is to “cut costs in the wake of the oil bust and remain competitive as electric vehicles and renewable power sources gain market share,” according to The Houston Chronicle.

Amazon Web Services, the largest provider of cloud computing in the world, has its own “Oil & Gas” division. Amazon promises it can help Big Oil “unleash innovation to optimize production and profitability.” It already does work with GE’s oil business and oil giants like Royal Dutch Shell and BP.

Those hoping the tech giants would help lead the world into a carbon-free future based on their climate-friendly press releases and renewable energy purchases, will need to look elsewhere for true climate action leadership.

Coastal Flooding Is Erasing Billions in Property Value as Sea Level Rises

Coastal Flooding Is Erasing Billions in Property Value as Sea Level Rises

SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: February 28, 2019

SNIP: Rising seas have already eroded coastal property values from Maine to Mississippi by billions of dollars over the past decade as buyers pay less for homes in neighborhoods where high-tide flooding is creeping in, a new report shows.

The loss in property values points to a compound problem for coastal communities: Just as accelerating sea level rise forces governments to build flood walls and repair infrastructure more often, it may also eat away at the property tax base that provides many cities’ primary revenue stream for funding that very work.

“This is a real negative feedback loop,” said Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If they don’t start to recognize these issues and reports like this and open their eyes to what is definitely happening, they’re going to find themselves in pretty dire straits.”

Climate change is accelerating sea level rise and has driven a rapid increase in the frequency of coastal flooding on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts in recent decades. Residents and local businesses are already feeling the costs.

As the problem has worsened, advocacy groups and some financial institutions have begun warning about the potential for cascading economic impacts from rising seas.

In 2016, Freddie Mac, the federally-backed mortgage company, warned that sea level rise would eventually destroy billions of dollars worth of property. Homes represent many Americans’ largest asset, it noted, and the inevitable decline in coastal property value could ripple throughout local economies. Homeowners might decide to stop paying off their mortgages if their home values drop below the balance they owe the bank.

While these economic losses might happen gradually, the Freddie Mac report said, “they are likely to be greater in total than those experienced in the housing crisis and Great Recession.”

Waste From Collapsed Dam Kills Aquatic Life in Brazil River

Waste From Collapsed Dam Kills Aquatic Life in Brazil River

SOURCE: New York Times and The Guardian

DATE: February 28, 2019

SNIP: A Brazilian environmentalist group says that toxic waste from a mine dam collapse wiped out life in more than half the Paraopeba River that flows past the city where the disaster occurred.

SOS Mata Atlantica said environmentalists traveled 305 of the river’s 510 kilometers (190 of 315 miles) and found that aquatic life was unsustainable.

The report said heavy metals, such as manganese, copper and chromium, were detected at levels higher than recommended, and it added that mud destroyed 112 hectares (277 acres) of native forests.

The dam holding back iron ore tailings at a mine owned by Vale SA burst Jan. 25 in the town of Brumadinho, killing at least 186 people.

In this region, 64% of fish species are found nowhere else on Earth.

Brazil has the most abundant water resources in the world, but they are tapped with often reckless abandon and inadequate regulation. Less than one in five of the country’s 24,092 dams come under the supervision of the 2010 dam safety law, 42 are unauthorised and 570 have no responsible operator, according to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper. With a mere 154 inspectors for such a vast country, only 3% of Brazil’s dams were inspected last year, it said.

The problems date back decades, but the risks look set to grow. The new administration of the president, Jair Bolsonaro, has neutered the environment ministry and pledged to ease the licensing system for new projects.