Climate emergency: world ‘may have crossed tipping points’

Climate emergency: world ‘may have crossed tipping points’

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: November 27, 2019 SNIP: The world may already have crossed a series of climate tipping points, according to a stark warning from scientists. This risk is “an existential threat to civilisation”, they say, meaning “we are in a state of planetary emergency”. Tipping points are reached when particular impacts of global heating become unstoppable, such as the runaway loss of ice sheets or forests. In the past, extreme heating of 5C was thought necessary to pass tipping points, but the latest evidence suggests this could happen between 1C and 2C. The planet has already heated by 1C and the temperature is certain to rise further, due to past emissions and because greenhouse gas levels are still rising. The scientists further warn that one tipping point, such as the release of methane from thawing permafrost, may fuel others, leading to a cascade. The researchers, writing in a commentary article in the journal Nature, acknowledge that the complex science of tipping points means great uncertainty remains. But they say the potential damage from the tipping points is so big and the time to act so short, that “to err on the side of danger is not a responsible option”. They call for urgent international action. Phil Williamson at the University of East Anglia, who did not contribute to the article, said: “The prognosis by Tim Lenton and colleagues is, unfortunately, fully plausible: that we might have already lost control of the Earth’s...
60% of Toxic Superfund Sites Threatened by Climate Change

60% of Toxic Superfund Sites Threatened by Climate Change

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: November 19, 2019 SNIP: Sixty percent of the nation’s heavily polluted Superfund sites—nearly 950 of them—are at risk from the impacts of climate change, including hurricane storm surges and flooding that could spread their toxic legacies into waterways, communities and farmland, a new federal report warns. The U.S. Government Accountability Office report, released Monday, describes the increased risk of toxic substances being washed out by flooding at sites across the country, as well as wildfire risks that could send health-harming pollutants airborne. It recommends that the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the federal Superfund program, start providing clear, agency-wide instructions on how its officials should incorporate climate change into Superfund site risk assessments and response decisions. That would be a change for the current administration. Currently, the EPA does not include climate change in its agency-wide goals and objectives, preventing the agency from addressing the added risks at contaminated sites across the country as the planet warms, the report concluded. Of the nearly 1,600 “national priority list” Superfund sites not on federal land that were examined in the report, more than half are at increased risk from flooding or storm surge. One example is a site in Bridgewater, New Jersey, with contaminated soil and groundwater from 27 unlined chemical waste lagoons stemming from more than 90 years of chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing. The site is in a 100-year flood zone and could be reached by the storm surge from powerful hurricanes. Heavy rains from Hurricane Irene flooded the site in 2011, though subsequent testing by EPA concluded no significant release of contaminants occurred. Another...
Nearly all America’s endangered species will struggle to adapt to climate crisis

Nearly all America’s endangered species will struggle to adapt to climate crisis

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: November 19, 2019 SNIP: The climate crisis is poised to deliver a severe blow to America’s most threatened animals, with a new study finding that almost every species considered endangered is vulnerable in some way to global heating. Of the 459 animal species listed as endangered by the US government, researchers found that all but one, or 99.8%, have characteristics that will make it difficult for them to adapt to rising temperatures. An array of threats faces these species. The California condor, once close to being completely wiped out, faces increased risk of contamination in hotter conditions. Key deer, found only in the Florida Keys, face losing habitat to the rising seas. Whole classes of animals including amphibians, mollusks and arthropods are sensitive to the greatest number of climate-related threats, such as changes in water quality, shifting seasons and harmful invasive species that move in as temperatures climb. Mammals, such as the north Atlantic right whale and Florida panther, also face increased hardships, albeit on fewer fronts than amphibians, mollusks and arthropods. Despite the overwhelming peril faced by America’s endangered species due to the climate crisis, the report, published in Nature Climate Change, found a patchy response from the US government. Federal agencies consider just 64% of endangered species to be threatened by the climate crisis, while just 18% of listed species have protection plans in place. In May, a landmark UN report warned that 1 million species around the world were at risk of extinction, with global heating one of the main pressure points on...
Climate change triggers a chain reaction that threatens the heart of the Pacific

Climate change triggers a chain reaction that threatens the heart of the Pacific

SOURCE: Omaha World-Herald DATE: November 16, 2019 SNIP: The salmon catch is collapsing off Japan’s northern coast, plummeting by about 70 percent in the past 15 years. The disappearance of the fish coincides with another striking development: the loss of a unique blanket of sea ice that dips far below the Arctic to reach this shore. The twin impacts – less ice, fewer salmon – are the products of rapid warming in the Sea of Okhotsk, wedged between Siberia and Japan. The area has warmed in some places by as much as 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times, making it one of the fastest-warming spots in the world, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the nonprofit organization Berkeley Earth. That increase far outstrips the global average and exceeds the limit policymakers set in Paris in 2015 when they aimed to keep Earth’s average temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The rising temperatures are starting to shut down the single most dynamic sea ice factory on Earth. The intensity of ice generation in the northwestern Sea of Okhotsk exceeds that of any single place in the Arctic Ocean or Antarctica, and the sea ice reaches a lower latitude than anywhere else on the planet. Its decline has a cascade of consequences well beyond Japan as climate dominoes begin to fall. When sea ice forms here, it expels huge amounts of salt into the frigid water below the surface, creating some of the densest ocean water on Earth. That water then sinks and travels east, carrying oxygen, iron and other key...
Climate crisis: 11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’

Climate crisis: 11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’

SOURCE: The Guardian and BioScience DATE: November 5, 2019 SNIP: The world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society, according to a stark warning from more than 11,000 scientists. “We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” it states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.” There is no time to lose, the scientists say: “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.” The statement is published in the journal BioScience on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate conference, which was held in Geneva in 1979. The statement was a collaboration of dozens of scientists and endorsed by further 11,000 from 153 nations. The scientists say the urgent changes needed include ending population growth, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, halting forest destruction and slashing meat eating. Other “profoundly troubling signs from human activities” selected by the scientists include booming air passenger numbers and world GDP growth. “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle,” they said. As a result of these human activities, there are “especially disturbing” trends of increasing land and ocean temperatures, rising sea levels and extreme weather events, the scientists said: “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have have largely failed to address this predicament. Especially worrisome are potential...