The heat is on: Amazon tree loss could bring 1.45 degree C local rise

The heat is on: Amazon tree loss could bring 1.45 degree C local rise

SOURCE: MongaBay

DATE: May 14, 2019

SNIP: It is well known that the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation both lead to the emission of carbon dioxide, raising temperatures worldwide. Less well understood is how removing tree cover is contributing to increased temperatures at a local level – until now.

In a new study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, scientists from Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro State University and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), have found that the temperature increase in the immediate vicinity of a deforested area could be as much as 1.45 degrees Celsius (2.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050 in tropical areas such as Brazil’s Amazon basin or in the Cerrado, the nation’s savanna biome.

“Everyone is familiar with how hot it is in cities compared to a forest environment, and this is because the energy is absorbed and then generates infrared radiation that heats up the environment. The same happens if you deforest,” explained study co-author Barry Sinervo of the UCSC Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in a Mongabay interview.

The paper explores how the albedo effect (whereby lighter-colored surfaces reflect heat, while darker ones absorb it), and the loss of evapotranspiration (whereby water goes back into the atmosphere from land, trees and plants) can both lead to warming on a local scale within deforested tropical areas. By contrast, loss of vegetative cover in sub-Arctic boreal forests has little impact on local temperatures.

“We show that the heating in those [tropical] deforested habitats can have an effect at a very local scale,” Sinervo said. “And that means, even if you have an intact forest, it is getting hotter because of the deforestation that’s occurring around it.”

Under BAU [Business As Usual], it is estimated that 606,000 square kilometers (234,000 square miles) of forest could be lost by 2050, leading to local temperature increases of up to 1.45 degrees Celsius (2.6 degrees Fahrenheit), with an average increase of 0.11 degrees Celsius (0.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

The dirty business of clean power in B.C.

The dirty business of clean power in B.C.

SOURCE: Vancouver Sun

DATE: May 14, 2019

SNIP: Journalist Sarah Cox takes on the dirty business of clean power in Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand against Big Hydro.

NP: Clean energy = Bad? Please explain.

SC: Large hydro dams are a hugely expensive and destructive way to generate renewable energy. They are neither “green” nor environmentally friendly.

Some of Canada’s leading scholars studied the Site C dam project and found that it will have more significant adverse environmental effects than any project ever examined in the history of the federal Environmental Assessment Act. Among other impacts, the Site C dam will destroy habitat for more than 100 species already vulnerable to extinction, including bird, plant, butterfly, bee and mammal species.

The Site C dam and its reservoir will also eliminate some of Canada’s richest farmland, ancient wetlands called tufa seeps, old-growth boreal forests and a living laboratory for scientists to study how species adapt to climate change. The Peace River Valley, which would be inundated by the dam, is a flyway for migratory birds and is part of the boreal bird nursery. It hosts three-quarters of all B.C.’s bird species. As many as 30,000 songbirds and woodpeckers nest in the dam’s future flood zone, which stretches the equivalent distance of driving from Toronto to Niagara Falls when you include Peace River tributaries that would also be flooded.

Just how “clean” big hydro dams really are is called into question by many scientists. One study by U.S. scientists shows that reservoirs produce considerably more carbon emissions than anticipated. About 80 per cent of these emissions are in the form of methane, a greenhouse gas 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The claim by the B.C. and federal governments that the Site C dam’s ecological impacts are justified on the grounds that the project will deliver electricity with lower carbon emissions than other sources has also been debunked by University of B.C. scientists and other scholars.

NP: What would you say are the chances of an 11th-hour cancellation of the project based on violation of treaty rights?

SC: It’s difficult to judge. Two Treaty 8 First Nations have filed civil claims alleging the Site C dam and two previous dams on the Peace River unjustifiably infringe on their treaty rights. They lost an application for an injunction to stop work on Site C but the judge ruled that their case must be heard by 2023, prior to reservoir filling slated for 2024 — a timeline that may not be met given a patterns of schedule delays on other projects.

An 11th-hour ruling would no doubt be very bittersweet for the two nations — West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nation — because by that time their traditional territory would be hardly recognizable. Already, BC Hydro contractors are clearcutting 13 areas in the Site C project zone that the nations have identified as critical to maintaining cultural practices guaranteed to them in the treaty signed in 1899. Three of those areas fall within a corridor for a transmission line that cuts through a rare old-growth white spruce and trembling aspen forest. The corridor slices through two wetlands — Sucker Lake and Trappers Lake — where First Nations have hunted moose and trapped for millennia. The stretch of the Peace River Valley that would be flooded by Site C is one of the last remaining places available in the area for First Nations to engage in traditional practices, such as teaching children their languages on the land that helped shape them.

[Read the whole interview. It’s all good except for the very last bit about other renewables and shale gas.]

Rocky Mountain among 96% of national parks suffering because of pollution, climate change

Rocky Mountain among 96% of national parks suffering because of pollution, climate change

SOURCE: The Gazette

DATE: May 13, 2019

SNIP: People and nature at nearly every national park in the U.S. are being harmed by air pollution, predominately from fossil fuels and vehicles, analysis by the National Parks Conservation Association found.

Of the 417 national parks assessed:

* 85% have air that is unhealthy to breathe at times
* 88% have seen damage to sensitive species and habitat by air pollution
* 89% suffer from haze pollution
* At 80%, climate change is a significant concern

Among the 96% of national parks that were found to be “suffering significantly” from the effects of climate change, unhealthy air and environmental degradation are Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes national parks, Florissant Fossil Beds and Dinosaur national monuments and Bent’s Old Fort

The NPCA, the nonpartisan organization founded in 1919 that lobbies on behalf of the National Park Service, published the study last week. It based its findings on air pollution data collected by the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and academics.

Highlighted in the 32-page analysis are the visible changes at Rocky Mountain National Park. Grasses are replacing vast swaths of wildflowers as excess nitrogen deposited by acid rain acidifies and harms the soil; ozone is stifling tree and crop growth; and, in turn, habitat for the park’s biodiverse animal kingdom is diminished, the study found.

Other researchers have documented the direct impacts of air pollution on park visitation. A study published in July showed that travelers avoided or cut their trips short in national parks because of pollution levels that are comparable to what’s found in major cities.

Oil and gas operations are scattered across the land surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park, with wells to the northwest in Jackson and Routt counties and about 50 miles to the east in Weld County. Wells are also in counties south of the Great Sand Dunes, south and east of Dinosaur National Monument and near Mesa Verde National Park, a map from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission shows.

The federal government has repeatedly listed thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management property near the Sand Dunes and Dinosaur for sale for oil and gas production since President Donald Trump took office.

It’s Official: Atmospheric CO2 Just Exceeded 415 ppm For The First Time in Human History

It’s Official: Atmospheric CO2 Just Exceeded 415 ppm For The First Time in Human History

SOURCE: Science Alert

DATE: May 13, 2019

SNIP: Yet another alarming milestone of humanity’s damaging effect on the environment has now officially been reached – crossing a barrier into a hot, polluted future like the planet hasn’t witnessed in millions of years.

This weekend, sensors in Hawaii recorded Earth’s atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) passing 415 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since before the ancient dawn of humanity.

On Saturday, CO2 concentration recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii by researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography hit 415.26 ppm – the latest in a dire series of climatic thresholds being breached by a human society that refuses to relinquish the conveniences afforded by fossil fuels.

Obviously, crossing 400 ppm was a huge symbolic moment, numerically at least, but the symbolism doesn’t end there.

If carbon pollution keeps getting thicker in our atmosphere, more and more heat will become trapped on Earth, which will make the future of global warming look like something out of the planet’s distant, steamy past hundreds of millions of years ago.

The last time Earth scaled such dangerous heights (and heats), there were trees in the South Pole.

The Methane Detectives: On the Trail of a Global Warming Mystery

The Methane Detectives: On the Trail of a Global Warming Mystery

SOURCE: Undark

DATE: May 13, 2019

SNIP: Every week, dozens of metal flasks arrive at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, each one loaded with air from a distant corner of the world. Research chemist Ed Dlugokencky and his colleagues in the Global Monitoring Division catalog the canisters, and then use a series of high-precision tools — a gas chromatograph, a flame ionization detector, sophisticated software — to measure how much carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane each flask contains.

The air in the flasks shows that the concentration of methane in the atmosphere had been steadily rising since 1983, before levelling off around 2000. “And then, boom, look at how it changes here,” Dlugokencky says, pointing at a graph on his computer screen. “This is really an abrupt change in the global methane budget, starting around 2007.”

The amount of methane in the atmosphere has been increasing ever since. And nobody really knows why. What’s more, no one saw it coming. Methane levels have been climbing more steeply than climate experts anticipated, to a degree “so unexpected that it was not considered in pathway models preparatory to the Paris Agreement,” as Dlugokencky and several co-authors noted in a recently published paper.

As the years plod on and the methane piles up, solving this mystery has taken on increasing urgency. Over a 20-year-time frame, methane traps 86 times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. It is responsible for about a quarter of total atmospheric warming to date. And while the steady increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are deeply worrying, they are at least conforming to scientists’ expectations. Methane is not. Methane — arguably humanity’s earliest signature on the climate — is the wild card.

Thanks to the careful measurements of NOAA scientists and others, we know that there are about 1,850 molecules of methane in the atmosphere for every billion molecules of air — typically shorthanded as parts per billion, or ppb — in today’s atmosphere. That’s compared to about 700 parts per billion in the pre-industrial era.

Getting answers is not simply an academic exercise; it’s crucial to knowing just what humanity might be facing as the planet continues to warm. “We need to have process representation to understand these mechanisms,” says Eric Kort, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Michigan, “so we can say, for example, with certain changes to temperature and the hydrological cycle, we’d expect methane emissions to increase by X amount.” Without that understanding, Kort suggests, we’re unable to answer some important questions about what looms ahead. “Is atmospheric methane increasing as a consequence of climate change, not of our direct emissions? Are some thresholds being passed?”

The first theory to gain traction pinned the blame on fossil fuels, based on some suspicious timing: The use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — a method of harvesting buried hydrocarbons that involves blasting deep layers of rock with a cocktail of water, sand, and chemicals — surged in the U.S. oil and gas industry right around the time atmospheric methane levels shot up. Other scientists, however, are convinced that growing herds of livestock, which produce methane-rich belches and manure — are to blame. Some researchers pore over satellite data for evidence that methane production from natural sources, such as wetlands and wildfires, is changing.

And still others argue that the culprit isn’t a surging source at all, but the steady, or perhaps very sudden disappearance of a traditional methane “sink.” After an average residence time of about a decade, methane is oxidized into carbon dioxide and water vapor through chemical reactions with hydroxyl radical (OH). This atmospheric removal process may be weakening, though, possibly because OH levels are declining due to reactions with other anthropogenic pollutants.

EPA Worked with Mining Industry to Abandon Rule Protecting Taxpayers from Toxic Cleanup Costs

EPA Worked with Mining Industry to Abandon Rule Protecting Taxpayers from Toxic Cleanup Costs

SOURCE: Earth Justice

DATE: May 13, 2019

SNIP: The mining industry played a key role in persuading the Environmental Protection Agency to reject a proposed rule that would have protected the public from toxic mining disasters, an Earthjustice review of thousands of agency records and emails has revealed.

Under federal Superfund law, the EPA must establish rules requiring industries with a track record of hazardous pollution to demonstrate their ability to cover the cost of toxic cleanups. In early January, 2017, EPA issued a proposed insurance requirement that would have made operators of the riskiest hard-rock mines responsible for their own cleanup costs. Known as the hard-rock mining financial assurances rule, this regulation sought to provide incentives for safer mining practices and to minimize the potential for new toxic mining disasters.

Yet in January of 2018, the Trump administration suddenly abandoned this proposed rule, which was on track to be finalized and would have soon taken effect. This abrupt reversal marked a return to business as usual, with taxpayers footing the bill for hazardous spill cleanups from dangerous mine sites.

Throughout the western United States, abandoned copper, gold and other hard-rock mines have sat polluted for decades after valuable minerals were extracted, leaching acid mine drainage and posing extreme health risks by releasing cancer-causing chemicals into waterways. In some cases, the hazardous abandoned mines even created cyanide plumes in groundwater, poisoning nearby residential drinking water supplies. When mine operators lack the funds to remediate these hazards, as if often the case, the cost burden shifts onto taxpayers — often to the tune of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars for a single abandoned mine site.

On behalf of Idaho Conservation League, Earthworks, Amigos Bravos, Sierra Club, Great Basin Resource Watch, and Communities for a Better Environment, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in May of 2018 challenging this handout to industry. The D.C. Circuit heard oral argument in March of 2019, and a ruling from the court could come any day.

In early 2019, Earthjustice also filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking EPA records on internal decision-making surrounding the hard-rock mining rule.

The trove of documents returned in response belies a pattern of pressure from the mining industry and Trump appointees leading to EPA’s decision to halt the rule.

Records show Trump appointees to the EPA determining that the rule should be halted, and EPA regulators exchanging frequent, amiable messages with mining industry representatives who stood to benefit financially if the rulemaking effort was abandoned.

[Read the whole article for notable findings from the FOIA request.]

Solomon Islands disappearing beneath rising sea at ‘unprecedented’ rate

Solomon Islands disappearing beneath rising sea at ‘unprecedented’ rate

SOURCE: 60 Minutes Digital and 9News

DATE: May 12, 2019

SNIP: With crystal clear blue waters and white sandy beaches, the Solomon Islands are one of the most stunning and remote parts of the Pacific Ocean.

But despite the archipelago’s isolation, it’s no stranger to the unforgiving impacts of climate change: the island paradise is drowning.

In the past 20 years, sea levels in the Solomon Islands have risen over 15 centimetres. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s led to many islands losing critical land mass. Others have disappeared completely.

Sceptics say the vanishing islands occur as a result of natural erosion, but Bartlett reports that’s not the case. The remnants of 300-year-old trees which once stood tall, but are now all but drowning, prove the point.

Renowned marine ecologist Dr Simon Albert agrees. He’s been studying the effects of climate change and sea level rises in the Solomon Islands for years and has seen the devastating impact of climate change on the small nation.

“It’s just mind-blowing really,” he says.

“These are permanent islands that have been on these reef platforms for at least the last few hundred years.”

“The rates of change we’ve seen over the last 20 years are unprecedented in that history.”

Koala Bears Are Now “Functionally Extinct”

Koala Bears Are Now “Functionally Extinct”

SOURCE: Return to Now and The Conversation

DATE: May 9, 2019

SNIP: Today the Australian Koala Foundation announced they believe “there are no more than 80,000 koalas in Australia”, making the species “functionally extinct”. That’s down from 330,000 just three years ago.

While this number is dramatically lower than the most recent academic estimates, there’s no doubt koala numbers in many places are in steep decline.

It’s hard to say exactly how many koalas are still remaining in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, but they are highly vulnerable to threats including deforestation, disease and the effects of climate change.

Once a koala population falls below a critical point it can no longer produce the next generation, leading to extinction.

Humans have interfered with most of the world’s greatest rivers

Humans have interfered with most of the world’s greatest rivers

SOURCE: New Scientist and Nature

DATE: May 8, 2019

SNIP: Nearly two thirds of the world’s longest rivers have had their flow tampered by humans in the form of dams, reservoirs and other forms of water engineering. A boom in hydropower is partly to blame, suggesting we may have been chasing renewable energy at a cost to biodiversity.

The most detailed global assessment yet of long free-flowing rivers finds they have become increasingly rare, confined to remote regions in the Arctic, Amazon and the Congo basin.

An international team spent a decade analysing over 300,000 rivers in global datasets of waterways, including manually checking the location of 25,000 dams against satellite images.

Of the 246 rivers that are 1000 kilometres or longer, just 90 are still free-flowing. Eight of the longest free-flowing rivers are in the Amazon basin.

The big driver has been tapping long rivers for electricity generation, a strategy China and other Asian countries have pursued. Hydropower booms are expected in both the Amazon and Balkans.

“Dam construction is the major reason why river connectivity has been declining worldwide, with often negative consequences on river health,” says Günther Grill of McGill University, who led the work.

Humans have interrupted and diverted the flow of rivers by constructing an estimated 2.8 million dams, as well as building irrigation and water-diversion schemes.

We should care about free-flowing rivers because of the services they provide to humans and wildlife, by allowing the exchange of nutrients, sediment and species, says Grill.

Rare Tibetan Antelopes Are Killed to Make Expensive Luxury Scarves

Rare Tibetan Antelopes Are Killed to Make Expensive Luxury Scarves

SOURCE: Focusing on Wildlife

DATE: May 8, 2019

SNIP: The market for an expensive, luxurious scarf is wiping out the population of the rare Tibetan antelope. The shahtoosh shawl or scarf is made from the down hair of these beautiful antelopes.

However, it takes the death of four antelopes to make just one scarf. They are not domesticated and can’t be shorn, so the only way to make the shahtoosh is to kill the animal and strip the wool from their carcass.

The shahtoosh used to be a valued dowry item in India, and now it’s a luxury item for people in the West who pay up to $20,000 for a single scarf despite the fact that shahtoosh wool is a banned item because the Tibetan antelope is a protected endangered species under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Even with this ban, Swiss customs officers say they’ve seized the equivalent of more than 800 Tibetan antelopes from passengers.

Unfortunately, when an animal is rare and endangered, that is when people wish to have it as a trophy even more as is the case with the endangered national animal of Pakistan, the Astore Markhor.