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Climate change underlies Europe’s rapid warming

Climate change underlies Europe’s rapid warming

Moscow cools off during the 2010 heat wave in Russia. Image: By visergey, via Wikimedia Commons

From the edge of the Arctic to almost the Tropic of Cancer, Europe’s rapid warming is evidenced by hotter summers − and winters.

LONDON, 5 September, 2019 − Europe’s rapid warming means the world’s hottest property could now be on the continent. It has seen the strongest intensification of heat waves anywhere in the world in the last 70 years. The hottest of hot summers are now 2.3°C hotter than they used to be.

And winter extremes of cold are dwindling. The number of extremely cold days has fallen twofold or even threefold, and the coldest days are now 3°C milder than they used to be, according to readings from 94% of the continent’s weather stations.

This, say Swiss scientists, adds up to “a climate change signal that cannot be explained by internal variability.”

That is, thanks to a steady increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, Europe is warming even faster than global climate models predict.

“In at least one region of the globe, global heating is already happening, and at a rate faster than predicted”

“Even at this regional scale over Europe we can see that these trends are much larger than what we would expect from natural variability,” said Ruth Lorenz, a researcher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, also known as ETH Zurich. “That’s really a signal from climate change.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they looked at observations and measurements from around 1,000 weather stations between 1950 and 2018 and then analysed the top 1% of the highest extremes of heat and humidity, and the top 1% of coldest days during the same timespan.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate crisis needs radical food changes

Climate crisis needs radical food changes

The entire food system needs to change, researchers say. 

From farm to fork, agriculture fuels global heating. Can the world eat well, but stay a little cooler? That will need radical food changes.

LONDON, 3 July, 2019 – To feed 9 billion people by 2050, and keep planet Earth from overheating, will mean massive and radical food changes – and not just in the way food is grown.

To contain global temperatures to no more than 2°C above the average for most of human history will require humanity to change its diet, contain its appetite and reform the entire system of food production and distribution.

This is the verdict of the latest study of the challenge set in Paris in 2015, when 195 nations promised to limit global warming – driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and by the conversion of forest, grassland and wetlands into commercial use – to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

Researchers report in the journal Sustainability that they looked at 160 studies and analyses of global agriculture and food systems and most closely at the world’s smallholders and markets that sustain as many as 2.5 billion people, mostly in the developing world.

Farming’s massive impact

Small farmers account for about a third of global agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, but these include also many of the people most vulnerable to the coming climate crisis, which is likely to put harvests at hazard on a global scale.

Agriculture, together with forestry and changes in land use, accounts for a quarter of all the carbon dioxide, methane and oxides of nitrogen that fuel global warming.

Just on its own, the action of growing grain, fruit and vegetables or feeding grazing animals accounts for no more than 12% of global warming, but a third of all the food that leaves the farm gate is wasted before it arrives on the supper table.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Pursuit of profit won’t solve climate crisis

Pursuit of profit won’t solve climate crisis

Effective democracy needs “a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”

Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 June, 2019 − Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.

You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.

Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.

And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”

This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy

Enough for everyone.

The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.

Fast Arctic melt could cost $70 trillion

Fast Arctic melt could cost $70 trillion

The rapid pace of the Arctic thaw may exact a very high price. Image: By Roxanne Desgagnés on Unsplash

Polar change, notably the fast Arctic melt, could impose huge costs on world economies. New evidence shows how rapidly the frozen north is changing.

LONDON, 26 April, 2019 – The northern reaches of the planet are undergoing very rapid change: the fast Arctic melt means the region is warming at twice the speed of the planetary average.

The loss of sea ice and land snow could tip the planet into a new and unprecedented cycle of climatic change and add yet another $70 trillion (£54 tn) to the estimated economic cost of global warming.

In yet another sombre statement of the challenge presented by climate change, driven by ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from the fossil fuels that power the global economy, British, European and US researchers took a look at two manifestations of warming.

One is the growing levels of ancient carbon now being released into the atmosphere as the Arctic permafrost begins to melt. The other is the reduced reflection of solar radiation back into space as what had once been an expanse of snow and ice melts, to expose ever greater areas of light-absorbing blue sea, dark rock and scrubby tundra.

Abrupt surprises

The concern is with what the scientists like to call “non-linear transitions”. The fear is not that global warming will simply get more pronounced as more snow and ice disappears. The fear is that at some point the melting will reach a threshold that could tip the planet into a new climate regime that would be irreversible, and for which there has been no parallel in human history.

And if so, the costs in terms of climate disruption, heat waves, rising sea levels, harvest failures, more violent storms and more devastating floods and so on could start to soar.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Glaciers’ global melt may leave Alps bare

Glaciers’ global melt may leave Alps bare

Across much of the world, the ice is trickling off the peaks. Image: By Raul Taciu on Unsplash

High mountain ice is vital to millions. As the world warms, the glaciers’ global melt could see the frozen peaks vanish.

LONDON, 12 April, 2019 – Many of the planet’s most scenic – and most valued – high-altitude landscapes are likely to look quite different within the next 80 years: the glaciers’ global melt will have left just bare rock.

By the century’s end, Europe’s famous Alps – the chain of snow- and ice-covered peaks that have become a playground of the wealthy and a source of income and pleasure for generations – will have lost more than nine-tenths of all its glacier ice.

And in the last 50 years, the world’s glaciers – in Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the sub-Arctic mountains – have lost more than nine trillion tonnes of ice as global temperatures creep ever upwards in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

And as meltwater has trickled down the mountains, the seas have risen by 27mm, thanks entirely to glacial retreat.

“Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century”

In two separate studies, Swiss scientists have tried to audit a profit and loss account for the world’s frozen high-altitude rivers, and found a steady downhill trend.

Glacial ice is a source of security and even wealth: in the poorest regions the annual summer melt of winter snow and ice banked at altitude can guarantee both energy as hydropower and water for crops in the valleys and floodplains.

In wealthy regions, the white peaks and slopes become sources of income as tourist attractions and centres for winter sport – as well as reliable sources of power and water.

Swiss focus

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Half a degree may make heat impact far worse

Half a degree may make heat impact far worse

The US south-west may have more drought and forest fires with 0.5°C more heat. Image: By RD Gray on Unsplash

Half a degree of warming doesn’t sound like much. But there is fresh evidence that it could make a huge difference to rainfall and drought.

LONDON, 4 April, 2019 − Japanese scientists have found new evidence that a global average temperature rise as small as half a degree could have a drastic effect.

They conclude that the world cannot afford to delay action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 – the “ideal target” enshrined in the promise by 195 nations to limit warming to well below 2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

The evidence is this: a shift of even 0.5°C could make a dramatic difference to the risks of devastating droughts and calamitous floods.

If governments keep to the letter of the Paris Agreement of 2015 but not the spirit, and let warming rise to the maximum of 2°, then there will be more intense rainfall across North America, Europe and Asia, and more intense droughts around the Mediterranean.

And although the average intensity of each flood or drought would increase measurably, the intensity of the most extreme event could be even more intense: 10 times greater. That is: the worst imaginable floods 80 years from now would be ten times worse than the worst today.

“Such drastic changes between flood and drought conditions pose a major challenge . . . risks could be substantially reduced by achieving a 1.5°C target”

At the heart of research like this is a new way of looking at future climate projections devised – by researchers all over the world – on a range of possible outcomes for a planet that has recognised climate change, vowed to respond, but failed to take sufficiently energetic steps.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Europe’s food imports devour rainforests

Europe’s food imports devour rainforests

Europe’s food imports swallow large amounts of tropical deforestation. Image: By Sander Dalhuisen on Unsplash

Human appetites drive global rainforest destruction. Now science has measured how Europe’s food imports leave scorched tropical soils and greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 5 April, 2019 − European scientists have worked out how European consumers can reduce tropical forest loss and cut down greenhouse emissions in other countries.

One: stop buying beef, especially from Brazil. And two: be sparing with the oil from tropical palms and soybean plantations.

In theory, this should be news to nobody. Forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and slow global warming. But forests that have been felled for cattle-grazing or burned and cleared for oil plantations are net emitters of carbon into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming and precipitate yet more dangerous climate change.

But in two related publications, researchers have looked beyond the theory to identify the responsibility of one geopolitical grouping for precise volumes of greenhouse gas emissions in faraway places.

First they report, in the journal Global Environmental Change, that they looked at the loss of tropical rainforests, and then at the ways in which the felled or scorched forests have been used, for food production.

“If you give tropical countries support . . . to protect the rainforest, as well as giving farmers alternatives to deforestation to increase production, it can have a big impact”

And then, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, they took the measure of carbon dioxide emissions that might be linked to food production from the destroyed rainforest, and then worked out from world trade data where that food went.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

CO2 levels pass 3-million-year record

CO2 levels pass 3-million-year record

Fossil fuel burning is pushing CO2 levels ever higher. Image: By Tony Webster, via Wikimedia Commons

The modern world is about to pass a temperature peak dating back for millions of years – because CO2 levels have already passed an ancient record..

LONDON, 8 April, 2019 – German scientists have confirmed, once again, that carbon dioxide is reaching concentrations unprecedented on any human time scale, with CO2 levels in the atmosphere already higher than they have been for at least three million years.

And their computer simulations – backed up by analysis of ocean sediments that tell a tale of changing temperatures and greenhouse gas levels – show that before the century’s close the world will become warmer than at any time in the last three million years.

The last time planetary temperatures reached a level higher than the target set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015was during a bygone geological period, the Pliocene.

“It seems we are now pushing our home planet beyond any climatic conditions experienced during the entire current geological period, the Quaternary,” said Matteo Willeit of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Our results imply a strong sensitivity of the Earth system to relatively small changes in atmospheric CO2. As fascinating as this is, it is also worrying”

“A period that started almost three million years ago and saw human civilisation beginning only 11,000 years ago. So the modern change we see is big, really big, even by the standards of Earth history.”

He and colleagues report in the journal Science Advances  that they made a numerical model of all the astronomical and geological data available for the last few million years and fed in algorithms to represent the physics and chemistry of planet Earth.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

1,700+ Species Now at Risk From Human Action, Researchers Report

1,700+ Species Now at Risk From Human Action, Researchers Report

There is only one Earth, but human growth is ensuring that it carries steadily more passengers. And that leaves less and less room for humanity’s companions on board the planet.

The Nile lechwe is an antelope that lives in the swamps of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Its Linnaean name is Kobus megaceros and it stands a meter high (approximately 3.3 feet) at the shoulders so you couldn’t miss it. Except that you could.

That is because it is one of at least 1,700 species identified by biologists to be at risk from human action: quite simply, as humans take an ever-greater share of animal living space, the animals’ chances of survival dwindle rapidly.

So the Nile lechwe joins the Lombok cross frog of Indonesia (Oreophryne monticola) and the curve-billed reedhaunter (Limnornis curvirostris) that lives in the marshes of north-east Argentina to be at risk of extinction by 2070, simply because humankind will intrude on at least half of their geographic ranges.

Biologists, conservationists and climate scientists have been warning for decades that the dangerous combination of human population growth and climate change driven by human-induced global warming puts whole ecosystems at risk, and will hasten the extinction of many species that are already shrinking in numbers.

These include many that underwrite the provision of food, medicine, fabric for the world’s cities and air and water purification systems on which human civilization is founded.

Most such warnings have been based on projections of economic growth, urban demand and climate change. U.S. researchers approached the challenge in a different way.

They report in Nature Climate Change that they collected data on the geographic distributions of 19,400 species and combined this with four different projections of future changes in land use — a euphemism for scorched or felled forest, drained swamp, ploughed grassland and so on — in the next 50 years.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Food supply falls as fish flee warmer seas

Food supply falls as fish flee warmer seas

Both jobs and food are at risk as fish evade rising warmth. Image: By Lalo on Unsplash

On the fishing grounds, they already know about global warming. As fish flee warmer seas there are winners – but many more losers.

LONDON, 4 March 2019 – Global warming has already begun to affect fishing worldwide as fish flee warmer seas, a new study says.

In the last 80 years, there has been an estimated drop of more than 4% in sustainable catches for many kinds of fish and shellfish. That is the average. In some regions – the East China Sea, for instance, and Europe’s North Sea–  the estimated decline was between 15% and 35%.

In the course of the last century, global average temperatures have crept up by about 1°C above the average for most of human history, as a reaction to the unconstrained burning of fossil fuels. If the world continues to burn ever-greater volumes of coal, oil and natural gas, it could be 3°C warmer or more by the end of the century.

Last year was only the fourth warmest for air surface temperatures, but the warmest since records began for the world’s oceans.

“Fisheries around the world have already responded to global warming. These aren’t hypothetical changes some time in the future”

US researchers report in the journal Science that they looked at the impact of ocean warming in 235 populations of 124 species of fish, crustaceans and molluscs in 38 ecological regions between the years 1930 and 2010.

They then matched the world data on fish catches with ocean temperature maps to estimate what warming has done to the sustainable catch – that is, the biggest haul fishing crews can make without reducing breeding stocks for the seasons to follow.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

World may hit 56m year carbon level by 2159

World may hit 56m year carbon level by 2159

Next stop the Pole? Crocodiles were once common in Arctic waters. Image: By Balaji Malliswamy on Unsplash

Long ago the polar ice vanished and tropical animals swam the Arctic. Greenhouse gases could reach that 56m year carbon level again in 140 years.

LONDON, 26 February, 2019 – Humankind could be about to open the throttle on greenhouse gas emissions and revert to a 56m year carbon level – to a world with a global temperature marked by ice-free poles and crocodiles in the waters of the Arctic.

And it could happen by the year 2159 – just five human generations or 140 years from now.

By then, if humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels to underwrite ever-accelerating destruction of forests, wetlands and savannahs, they will have pumped into the atmosphere about as much carbon as accumulated during a geological period called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a dramatic global warming event that reached its peak 56 million years ago.

The long-ago warming event occurred naturally, and the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere happened over a timespan of between 3,000 and 20,000 years.

The present sprint from a cool to an uncomfortably warm state will have happened in fewer than 300 years, because greenhouse gases from coal, oil and natural gas fumes are building up in the atmosphere nine or 10 times faster than in the PETM, according to a new study in the American Geophysical Union journal Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology.

“You and I won’t be here in 2159, but that’s only about four generations away,” said Philip Gingerich, of the University of Michigan and author of the new study. “When you start to think about your children and your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren, you’re about there.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Early rain as Arctic warms means more methane

Early rain as Arctic warms means more methane

Methane bubbles trapped in ice in a Canadian lake. Image: By John Bakator on Unsplash

As spring advances, so does the rain to warm the permafrost. It means more methane can get into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming.

LONDON, 18 February, 2019 − As the global temperature steadily rises, it ensures that levels of one of the most potent greenhouse gases are increasing in a way new to science: the planet will have to reckon with more methane than expected.

Researchers who monitored one bog for three years in the Alaskan permafrost have identified yet another instance of what engineers call positive feedback. They found that global warming meant earlier springs and with that, earlier spring rains.

And as a consequence, the influx of warm water on what had previously been frozen ground triggered a biological frenzy that sent methane emissions soaring.

One stretch of wetland in a forest of black spruce in the Alaskan interior stepped up its emissions of natural gas (another name for methane) by 30%. Methane is a greenhouse gas at least 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’”

As a consequence, climate scientists may have to return yet again to the vexed question of the carbon budget, in their calculations of how fast the world will warm as humans burn more fossil fuels, to set up ever more rapid global warming and climate change, which will in turn accelerate the thawing of the permafrost.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Melting polar ice sheets will alter weather

Melting polar ice sheets will alter weather

Melting ice off the coast of Greenland. Image: By Frank Busch on Unsplash

Sea level rise and melting polar ice sheets may not cause a climate catastrophe, but they will certainly change weather patterns unpredictably.

LONDON, 15 February, 2019 – The global weather is about to get worse. The melting polar ice sheets will mean rainfall and windstorms could become more violent, and hot spells and ice storms could become more extreme.

This is because the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting, to affect what were once stable ocean currents and airflow patterns around the globe.

Planetary surface temperatures could rise by 3°C or even 4°C by the end of the century. Global sea levels will rise in ways that would “enhance global temperature variability”, but this might not be as high as earlier studies have predicted. That is because the ice cliffs of Antarctica might not be so much at risk of disastrous collapse that would set the glaciers accelerating to the sea.

The latest revision of evidence from the melting ice sheets in two hemispheres – and there is plenty of evidence that melting is happening at ever greater rates – is based on two studies of what could happen to the world’s greatest reservoirs of frozen freshwater if nations pursue current policies, fossil fuel combustion continues to increase, and global average temperatures creep up to unprecedented levels.

“Even if we do include ice-cliff instability … the most likely contribution to sea level rise would be less than half a metre by 2100”

“Under current global government policies, we are heading towards 3 or 4 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, causing a significant amount of melt water from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to enter Earth’s oceans.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

World is halfway through its hottest decade

World is halfway through its hottest decade

Chile’s wall-to-wall solar panels will help as 1.5°C approaches. Image: By Antonio Garcia on Unsplash

Things are warming up: already the world is halfway through its hottest decade on record, if predictions prove correct.

LONDON, 13 February, 2019 – Here is a climate forecast that climate scientists, meteorologists, politicians, voters and even climate sceptics can check: the next five years will be warm, and will probably help to complete the hottest decade ever.

They will on a global average be at least 1°C higher than the average temperature of the planet 200 years ago, before the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels.

That is because the planet is already midway through what may well prove to be its warmest 10 years since records began on a planetary scale in 1850. There is even a possibility that within the next five years, the global temperature rise could tip 1.5°C above the long-term average for human history.

This is the ambitious limit to global warming that the world set itself at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, for the year 2100.

And the forecasters can make such predictions with some confidence because tomorrow’s temperature chart is already inscribed in the air we breathe: the pattern of warming over the last century is consistent with the steady rise in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and these are still increasing because fossil fuel use is still going up.

“Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C”

Adam Scaife, who heads long-range prediction research at the UK Met Office, said: “2015 was the first year that global annual average surface temperatures reached 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels and the following three years have all remained close to this level.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Food shocks increase as world warms

Food shocks increase as world warms

Overfishing is one of the most serious threats to marine food supplies. Image: By Fabien Bazanegueon Unsplash

Heat extremes harm harvests. So do floods, drought and high winds. Climate change spurs food shocks that threaten the supper table.

LONDON, 1 February, 2019 − More than ever, the world’s ways of keeping hunger at bay are taking a pounding as food shocks become more frequent. Potatoes are being baked in heat waves. Corn is being parched by drought. Fruit is being bitten by frost.

And a long-term study suggests that for the world’s farmers and graziers, fishing crews and fish farmers, things will get worse as the world warms. Australian and US scientists report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they examined the incidence of what they call “food shocks” across 134 nations over a period of 53 years.

They found that some regions and some kinds of farming have suffered worse than others; that food production is vulnerable to volatile climate and weather changes; and that the dangers are increasing with time.

The researchers looked at cases of dramatic crop failure, harvest loss and fishing fleet failures between 1961 and 2013, as recorded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and other sources, and then mapped shock frequency and co-occurrence.

In their database of 741 available time-series of food production, they found 226 cases of food shock: dramatic interruption of supply.

Hunger increases

Agriculture and livestock emerged as slightly more vulnerable to shock than fisheries and aquaculture. South Asia suffered most from crop damage or loss; the Caribbean for livestock, and Eastern Europe for fisheries; some of these regions were hard hit in more than one sector.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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