Month: January 2017

5 ways to improve air quality in cities #auspol 

Five ways to improve air quality in cities.
Around 3 million deaths worldwide were linked to outdoor air pollution in 2016, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The European Environment Agency (EEA) says air pollution is the single largest environmental health hazard in Europe, causing around 467,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2013.
The largest contributor to air pollution in European urban areas is traffic. 

Vehicular particulate matter poses a health risk to about 85 percent of people living in European cities, according to the EEA.
Automobiles, in particular diesel cars, are the primary source for particulate pollution. Tire particles, stirred up from the streets, also enter our lungs as we breathe.
Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emitted from cars harms our respiratory systems, and may cause asthma. Diesel cars emit NOx – on average, even new models release six times as much NOx as gasoline engines.
What can be done to stem this problem?
1. Stricter testing and controls

 Opel Zafira emissions being tested in controlled setting (Holzmann/DUH)

Currently, passenger car emissions are only tested in a controlled environment
New diesel trucks emit only half as much NOx as passenger cars. This is due to stricter tests and controls: Since 2013, emission of pollutants from freight trucks and buses is monitored on Europe’s roads, using portable measuring equipment. Passenger cars, on the other hand, are not tested on the road. True-to-life testing conditions and randomized monitoring of cars on the streets, as well as sanctions for those who fail to meet the limits, could help reduce NOx emission from diesel passenger cars.
2. Vehicle bans in city centers

 Car-free day at Champs-Élysées in Paris (Reuters/J. Naegelen)

Some cities, like Paris, have been experimenting with car-free days for areas like Champs-Élysées
Despite limits on air pollution in the European Union, many cities have been exceeding these limits for years. Citizens and environmental organizations have taken cities to court, and the European Commission is also taking some EU member states to task for failing to improve air quality. Some cities are seeking their own solutions: Paris, Madrid and Athens are ready to completely ban diesel cars from city streets by 2025. Other cities implement temporary diesel car bans if smog levels are too high. In Germany, politicians are debating requiring a “blue badge” for cars that meet certain emission restrictions before they can enter cities.
3. Promoting e-mobility

 Elektroauto-Boom in Norwegen (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Harms)

A main challenge for e-mobility is charging infrastructure – Norway is ahead of the pack on that
The electric vehicle revolution is still a way off in most countries. Norway is one exception; one out of five cars sold there is now battery-driven. With its policies favoring e-mobility, the Norwegian government hopes that by 2025, cars with gasoline and diesel engines will not be sold anymore.
4. More space for bicycles and public transport

 Bildergalerie Nachhaltige Städte Frankreich Nantes (imago/McPHOTO)

Trams, like this one in Nantes, France, are clean and quiet
Alternative mobility patterns can also stem threats posed by air pollution and climate change. Many communities are investing more in public transport and bike lanes. Especially in big cities, e-bikes are good alternatives to private cars.
5. Greening the city

 Dresden – City Tree (DW/C. Röder)

A start-up from Dresden is promoting moss walls to clean urban air
Plants also help improving a city’s air quality. They convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, filter particulates out of the air and help to cool down cities subject to the “urban heat island” effect. Parks, green belts and green roofs are very important for a city’s climate. In towns like Dresden, special walls that serve as beds planted with moss have been set up in order to clean the air. One of these walls is supposed to filter as many particulates out of the air as 200 trees.

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Australia need stricter rules to curb air pollution. #auspol 

Australia needs stricter rules to curb air pollution, but there’s a lot we could all do now.
Have you ever left your car running as you wait for a passenger to return from a quick errand?

 It’s called idling, and while it may feel easier than switching it off and on again, it wastes money and fuel, and dumps pollutants into the air. 

Vehicle emissions are a very significant contributor to air pollution, which causes health problems.
Few of us would leave the tap running or the fridge door open, and many are diligent about turning off lights. But when it comes to air pollution, many people are wasteful and unaware.
We need major public health campaigns to change people’s beliefs about what they can do to reduce air pollution, similar to the campaigns and enforcement that made our public spaces smoke-free and our schools and beaches sun smart. Australia also needs stronger policy aimed at curbing air pollution.
The Australian government’s fuel efficiency standards and noxious vehicle emission standards review, under way now, offers a chance to do that – but what’s been proposed so far doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.
A lack of awareness and weak standards
Air pollution is associated with cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, dementia, cancer, pregnancy complications and adverse birth outcomes.
Many governments around the world now ask citizens to stay home when particulate matter – meaning the mix of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air – from vehicles, fossil-fuel and wood burning are at hazardous levels.

And bans on diesel vehicles in some places are part of a broader push to cut the amount of harmful particulate matter, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide in the air.

Many governments advise citizens to stay home when air pollution reaches hazardous levels. EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG

Australia, by contrast, lags behind the rest of the world on policies to reduce air pollution. Take, for example, our rules on sulfur in fuels – a particularly damaging component of vehicle emissions.
Australia has one of the world’s most lenient sulfur standards for petrol, allowing 150 parts per million. That’s 15 times the limit allowed in the European Union, Japan and the US. It’s three times what’s allowed in Brazil and China (China will allow just 10 parts per million from 2018).
Australia’s air quality standards, which are also being reviewed under the National Clean Air Agreement, feature good targets – even better than the World Health Organisation recommendations for PM2.5. However, without stricter measures to reduce vehicle emissions, these air quality targets will not be achieved.
The Australian government’s review of fuel efficiency and vehicle emission standards is looking at particulate matter, ozone, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide (known collectively as NOx), and carbon. But what has been proposed so far worryingly includes a do-nothing scenario.

Doing nothing comes with significant cost.
The OECD estimates that there are approximately 740 preventable deaths per year in Australia due to ozone and PM2.5 (the very fine particulate matter from vehicle emissions which, when inhaled, goes deep into the lungs and can pass into the bloodstream), but that does not include NOx – so these are very conservative estimates.
To put this in context, there are 1,280 deaths on our roads each year and another 740 deaths due to vehicle emissions. This is a significant cost for choosing a transport system reliant on fossil fuel.
If the strictest standard being considered by Australia under the review – the Euro 6 standard – is mandated for both light and heavy vehicles, a net benefit of A$675 million will be realised by 2040. This figure is very small compared to the current annual cost of vehicle pollution to Australia of A$4 billion.
But the standard Australia considers the strictest option is actually business as usual now in the US and Europe. 

Surprisingly, the impact statement doesn’t even discuss banning or phasing out diesel vehicles in cities – a policy that experts now consider global best practice.

What could be done?
The decisions being made this year on Australia’s fuel efficiency and vehicle emission policies can improve the health of our urban air. 

This is a great chance to simultaneously improve fuel efficiency, demand higher-quality fuels and implement emission testing for vehicles to improve the air in our cities.
In the short term, we can all try to use cars less often and not idle our cars when in use. Raising awareness helps; a recent study showed millions of dollars could be saved in fuel costs by exposing drivers of fleets to anti-idling initiatives.
Purchasing a vehicle with automatic idle-stop technology will help cut vehicle emissions.

 This technology, popular in high-end European car models, automatically switches off the vehicle when it is still and allows the driver to restart the car when their foot presses the accelerator.
To achieve a population-level benefit from such technology, however, would require policymakers to include it in the Australian Design Rules, the national standards for vehicle safety, anti-theft measures and emissions. That process can take many years.
A more sustainable approach to air pollution would be to upgrade Australian refineries to supply low-sulfur fuel. Although costly, the alternative – the escalating health burden associated with vehicle emissions – is a cost too high for society to pay.
We cannot afford to continually invest in a transport system operated solely on fossil fuels. 

Supporting public transport that operates with “clean” fuels (such as our trams and trains, which run on electricity) will go some way to reducing air pollution in our cities.

 It is worth noting, though, that while our electricity is mostly fossil-fuelled, this only shifts the air pollution to someone else’s backyard.

Importantly, we need to raise public awareness of the quality of our air and ensure the government considers the long-term ramifications of short-sighted policies.
We must all do our part to improve air quality in Australia – and that means not idling your car, which is an offence that can attract fines as high as $5,000 and/or jail time in some parts of the world.
We can survive weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without air. 

Let’s start treating our air as the valuable commodity it is.

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Air Pollution Kills More Than 5 Million People Every Year #auspol 

More than 5.5 million people die annually due to both outdoor and household air pollution, making it one of the leading global risk factors for disease, according to new research.

The research, presented at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting Friday, suggests that the number of deaths tied to air pollution will continue to rise in the coming decades barring tougher efforts to slow emissions that harm human health.

China and India, home to the world’s two fastest growing economies, will likely bear the brunt of those effects. More than half of the deaths caused by air pollution around the world occur in those two countries, according to the research. Brazil, Pakistan and Japan also rank among other countries that have experienced increases in pollution deaths in recent decades.

A number of sources including power plants, heavy industry and vehicles contribute to outdoor air pollution around the globe. Sources of household air pollution include the use of coal, wood and charcoal to cook and heat homes in less developed countries.

The researchers’ findings will hardly come as a surprise to those who study air pollution. Previous research has shown that outdoor air pollution causes more than 3 million deaths annually and suggested that the figure could double by 2050. Another study suggested that air pollution causes 1.6 million premature deaths annually in China alone.

Policymakers across the globe have responded to air pollution with a slew of new regulations, many of which focus on curbing pollution from coal. China halted approval of new coal mines for three years at the end of 2015 and has issued stringent requirements along the lines of those in the U.S. for new coal fired power plants. Cities in China have also developed warning systems to get cars off the streets and halt industrial pollution during periods of intense smog. But even these policies may still be met by increases in mortality as aging populations are increasingly susceptible to the problems associated with pollution.

“China might move in the right direction in terms of air pollution, but it’s going to have continue revisiting [policies] just like the U.S. and Europe,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of Health Effects Institute, which sponsored the research.

And, while premature deaths attributable to pollution in the U.S. and Europe have declined in recent decades, cities in the West have still taken steps to reduce pollution. Air pollution kills more than 200,000 in Europe and nearly 80,000 in the U.S. each year, according to the research.

The benefits of addressing air pollution extend beyond the people who experience the health effects of poor air directly. Many of the same pollutants that clog human lungs also contribute to climate change.

“One of the unique things about air pollution is that you can’t run, you can’t hide from it,” said study researcher Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia, in a video accompanying the presentation. “But we know that if you improve air quality, everybody benefits from it.”

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Atmospheric Methane rising. #auspol 

Global concentrations of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and cause of climate change, are now growing faster in the atmosphere than at any other time in the past two decades.
That is the message of a team of international scientists in an editorial to be published 12 December in the journal Environmental Research Letters. 

The group reports that methane concentrations in the air began to surge around 2007 and grew precipitously in 2014 and 2015. 

In that two-year period, concentrations shot up by 10 or more parts per billion annually. It’s a stark contrast from the early 2000s when methane concentrations crept up by just 0.5 parts per billion on average each year. The reason for the spike is unclear but may come from emissions from agricultural sources and mainly around the tropics – potentially from farm sites like rice paddies and cattle pastures.
Scientists involved in the editorial will discuss these trends at a session during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco on Tuesday, 13 December.
The findings could give new global attention to methane – which is much less prevalent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide but is a more potent greenhouse gas, trapping 28 times more heat. And while research shows that the growth of carbon dioxide emissions has flattened out in recent years, methane emissions seem to be soaring.
“The leveling off we’ve seen in the last three years for carbon dioxide emissions is strikingly different from the recent rapid increase in methane,” says Robert Jackson, a co-author of the paper and a Professor in Earth System Science at Stanford University. The results for methane “are worrisome but provide an immediate opportunity for mitigation that complements efforts for carbon dioxide.”
The authors of the new editorial previously helped to produce the 2016 Global Methane Budget. This report provided a comprehensive look at how methane had flowed in and out of the atmosphere from 2000 to 2012 because of human activities and other sources. It found, for example, that human emissions of the gas seemed to have increased after 2007, although it’s not clear by how much. The methane budget is published every two to three years by the Global Carbon Project, a research project of Future Earth.

Methane, Jackson says, is a difficult gas to track. In part, that’s because it can come from many different sources. Those include natural sources like marshes and other wetlands. But the bulk, or about 60 percent, of methane added to the atmosphere every year comes from human activities. 

They include farming sources like cattle operations – cows expel large quantities of methane from their specialised digestive tracks – and rice paddies – the flooded soils make good homes for microbes that produce the gas. A smaller portion of the human budget, about a third, comes from fossil fuel exploration, where methane can leak from oil and gas wells during drilling.

“Unlike carbon dioxide, where we have well described power plants, almost everything in the global methane budget is diffuse,” Jackson says. “From cows to wetlands to rice paddies, the methane cycle is harder.”
But a range of information – such as from large-scale inventories of methane emissions, measurements of methane in the air and computer models – suggests that this cycle has shifted a lot in the last two decades. Jackson and his colleagues, for instance, report that the growth of methane in the atmosphere was mostly stagnant in 2000 to 2006. But that changed after 2007.
“Why this change happened is still not well understood,” says Marielle Saunois, lead author of the new paper and an assistant professor of Université de Versailles Saint Quentin and researcher at Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement in France. “For the last two years especially, the growth rate has been faster than for the years before. It’s really intriguing.”
Saunois adds that this runaway pace could threaten international efforts to limit warming from climate change to 2 degrees Celsius. The research provides a strong argument that “we should do more about methane emissions,” Saunois says. “If we want to stay below 2 degrees temperature increase, we should not follow this track and need to make a rapid turn-around.”
Pinpointing where those methane emissions are coming from, however, isn’t easy. Many environmental advocates in North America have raised concerns that expanded drilling for natural gas in recent years could lead to a surge in methane emissions. But Saunois says that based on available data, the more likely source, at least for now, is agriculture. She and her colleagues aren’t sure what may be driving this increase. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, livestock operations around the world expanded from producing 1,300 million head of cattle in 1994 to nearly 1,500 million in 2014 – with a similar increase in rice cultivation in many Asian countries.
Saunois and Jackson argue, however, that the story isn’t all bad news. A number of researchers have experimented with different ways of reducing methane emissions from farms. Feeding cows a diet supplemented with linseed oil, for example, seems to reduce the amount of methane they belch out. “When it comes to methane, there has been a lot of focus on the fossil fuel industry, but we need to look just as hard if not harder at agriculture,” Jackson says. “The situation certainly isn’t hopeless. It’s a real opportunity.”
Source: | 12 December 2016

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The Earth is over heating! #auspol 

Last year, the Earth sweltered under the hottest temperatures in modern times for the third year in a row, US scientists said Wednesday, raising new concerns about the quickening pace of climate change.

Temperatures spiked to new national highs in parts of India, Kuwait and Iran, while sea ice melted faster than ever in the fragile Arctic, said the report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Taking a global average of the land and sea surface temperatures for the entire year, NOAA found the data for “2016 was the highest since record keeping began in 1880,” said the announcement.
The global average temperature last year was 1.69 Fahrenheit (0.94 Celsius) above the 20th century average, and 0.07 degrees F (0.04 C) warmer than in 2015, the last record-setting year, according to NOAA.
This was “not a huge margin to set a new record but it is larger than the typical margin,” Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA global climate monitoring, said on a conference call with reporters.
A separate analysis by the US space agency NASA also found that 2016 was the hottest on record.
The World Meteorological Organization in Geneva confirmed the US findings, and noted that atmospheric concentrations of both carbon dioxide and methane reached new highs.

Upward trend
The main reason for the rise is the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas, which send carbon dioxide, methane and other pollutants known as greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and warm the planet.
The mounting toll of industrialization on the Earth’s natural balance is increasingly apparent in the record books of recent decades.
“Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016),” said NOAA.

Another factor has been the Pacific Ocean warming trend of El Nino, which experts say exacerbates the planet’s already rising warmth.
El Nino comes and goes. The latest episode became particularly strong in 2015, and subsided about halfway through 2016.
But El Nino was responsible for just a small fraction of last year’s warmth, according to Peter Stott, acting director of Britain’s Met Office Hadley Center.
“The main contributor to warming over the last 150 years is human influence on climate from increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” he said.
This year is likely be cooler, but probably not by much, said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.
“Because the long-term trends are so clear, it is still going to be a top-five year in our analysis. I’m pretty confident about that.” he told reporters.
– Scenes from a warming world –
Last year, all of North America was the warmest since records began in 1910, breaking that region’s last record set in 1998.
Europe and Asia each saw their third hottest years on record, while Australia marked its fourth warmest year since records began more than a century ago.
Unusual spikes in temperature were seen in Phalodi, India, which reached 124 F (51 C) on May 19 — marking India’s hottest temperature ever.
Dehloran, Iran hit 127 F (53 C) on July 22, a new national record.
Meanwhile, Mitribah, Kuwait hit an all-time high of 129 F (54 C) on July 21, which may be the highest temperature ever recorded in all of Asia, NOAA said.
Planet-wide, the heat led to more melting at the poles. In the Arctic, average annual sea ice extent was approximately 3.92 million square miles (10.2 million square kilometers), the smallest annual average in the record, NOAA said.
Antarctic annual sea ice extent was the second smallest on record.

Unusually hot years wreak havoc on the planet by increasing rainfall in some parts of the world while leading to drought in others, damaging crops.
Fish and birds must migrate farther than ever to find suitable temperatures and habitats.
Diseases can spread faster in the warming waters, sickening marine life and killing corals.
Glaciers and polar ice caps melt, accelerating sea level rise that will eventually swallow many of the globe’s coastal communities, home to some one billion people.
Experts say the only solution is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, in favor of Earth-friendly renewable energy such as wind and solar.
“Climate change is one of the great challenges of the twenty first century and shows no signs of slowing down,” said Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London.
“The decarbonization of the global economy is the ultimate goal to prevent the worst effects of climate change.”
Source: Manila Bulletin | 19 January 2017

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Scientists Are Terrified in Trumps America #auspol 

Government Scientists at U.S. Climate Conference Terrified to Speak with the Press

By Sharon Lerner

While Donald Trump was reviving both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, muzzling federal employees, freezing EPA contracts, and first telling the EPA to remove mentions of climate change from its website — and then reversing course — many of the scientists who work on climate change in federal agencies were meeting just a few miles from the White House to present and discuss their work.
The mood was understandably gloomy at the National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment.

 “I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one knows what’s going to happen,” one EPA staffer who works on climate issues told me on Tuesday, as she ate her lunch.

 She had spent much of her time in recent weeks trying to preserve and document the methane-related projects she’s been working on for years. But the prevailing sense was that, Trump’s claims about being an environmentalist notwithstanding, the president is moving forward with his plan to eviscerate environmental protections, particularly those related to climate change, and the EPA itself.
“It’s strange,” the woman said. “People keep walking up to me and giving me hugs.”

 Like several others I spoke to for this story, she declined to tell me her name out of fear that she might suffer retaliation, including being fired. She was not being paranoid. 

Already, agency higher ups had warned the EPA staff against talking to the press, or even updating blogs or issuing news releases. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press,” said one EPA missive that was shared broadly and ended up in the press. 

And while the staffer was at the meeting, the EPA’s new brass issued another memo to staff requiring all regional offices to submit a list of external meetings and presentations, noting which might be controversial and why.
The directives have left scientists fearing reprisal for merely mentioning the global crisis that has been at the center of their professional lives for years.

 It’s the topic “whose name cannot be uttered,” as one Forest Service employee put it to me. 

A nearby USDA employee offered a series of euphemisms — “extreme weather events, very unusual patterns,” he riffed — before turning serious. “I’m actually scared to talk to you,” he said, turning his hanging name tag inward and backing away from me.

 The look in his eyes and the tight smiles I received from several federal employees after introducing myself as a reporter reminded me of interviewing scientists in China.

 My presence inspired fear.
Afraid or not, many federal researchers continued doing their jobs despite the impending doom, presenting research on everything from disease-causing mosquitos to heat waves, decreasing water availability, and toxic algal blooms — all issues that have become dramatically more important as the earth has warmed.
With the dark political backdrop, the hub of productive energy at the conference, which was co-sponsored by the EPA, NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Forest Service, brought to mind a cartoon character whose feet continue to frantically pedal in the air even after he’s gone off the cliff.
Among the meeting’s attendees, who included researchers from academia, the private sector, and government, there was no discussion of whether climate change is real, no tangled Kremlin-speak suggesting that “the ability to measure and pursue the degree and the extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue,” as Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to head the EPA, put it in his confirmation hearing last week.
Instead the scientists were focused on the measurable and indisputable changes they’ve observed — how habitat changes have resulted in epidemics of plague in prairie dogs that can spread the disease to humans, for instance, or the way that algal blooms on lakes have impacted the fishing industry. Indeed, the breadth of the climate science at the conference spoke to the absurdity that even someone as powerful as the president of the United States could undo it. The Senate held its first hearing on climate change more than 30 years ago, and in the intervening years, as understanding of our warming planet has grown, the government has not only collected precise measurements of vanishing arctic ice, rising sea levels, increasing global temperatures, river flooding, drought, and heavy rain, it has used that data to understand the short- and long-term consequences of the phenomenon.
As a report I picked up at one of the tables, “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States,” makes clear, these many objective phenomena have health consequences “now and in the future.” Among those listed were heat-related illness and death, drowning and injuries from flooding, lung and respiratory diseases due to worsening air quality, intestinal illnesses and blood stream infections from water-related infections, water-borne infections, and Lyme disease.
That report was a collaboration of 11 federal agencies, including the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Energy, State, and the Interior, many of which have been working on ways to avert and address further disastrous impacts. Scientists have come up with specific plans for disposing of our waste in a hotter world, for instance, and have identified people most vulnerable to climate change (such as kids and the elderly). They have calculated and prepared for increased amounts of storm water and developed an integrated heat health information system that includes air quality forecasts and resources for heat waves.

This data visualization shows the record low Arctic sea ice extent on Aug. 26, 2012. With less ice to reflect sunlight, larger areas of open water absorb more of the sun’s heat. This heat slowly escapes into the atmosphere, causing atmospheric heating during the Arctic autumn. Image: Scientific Visualization Studio, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

For those who spend their professional lives focusing on this complex web of interconnected phenomena causing and resulting from climate change, denial and the censoring of the term puts them at war with observable reality. Whether they can utter the word “climate” or not, the fire season will still be 78 days longer than it was in the 1970s, as a Forest Service employee pointed out to me. (A 2015 report from the agency confirmed his point.) And last year will still have been the hottest year on record, following the one before that, and the one before that — knowledge we have thanks to research from NASA and the federal National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration.
The question that hovered over what is likely the last EPA-sponsored conference on the environment and health, at least for a while, was what would happen to all this research as Trump moves forward. In a luncheon keynote speech on Wednesday, Newt Gingrich seemed to acknowledge that the new president would likely cut at least some government funding for environmental research. Gingrich, whose fee for speaking at events in Washington, D.C. recently increased to $25,000 based on his “insight into Trump,” urged scientists to “defend what you do.” In his seemingly off-the-cuff remarks, Gingrich suggested that environmental scientists not dwell on the imminent decrease in government funding for their work but instead be cheered by the “enormous opportunity” to get private sector funding. The statement elicited a snort of derision from someone at a table near mine.
The extent to which Trump will decimate government efforts to protect people and the planet from climate change and other environmental problems remains to be seen. In the meantime, work continued. At the conference on Wednesday, a young woman gave out publications including a booklet called “Science Matters” from the EPA’s display table. While a nearby giant screen flashed colorful aerial images from NASA satellites of shrinking sea ice in the arctic and global air pollution, she said, “we’re just doing our jobs until we hear otherwise.”
Top photo: Polar Field Services science technician Hannah James hikes to collect a snow sample at Summit Station, a remote outpost in Greenland, July 15, 2015. Summit Station is one of several Greenland sites where researchers gather data that will improve climate models and help predict climate change affecting future generations.

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Extreme Climate events cost Europe £400 billion #auspol 

Cost of climate change grows steadily in Europe

Extreme climate events cost Europe €400 billion between 1980 and 2013, a report by the European Environment Agency has found. And the cost is rising. EurActiv’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports

“Climate change poses increasingly severe risks for ecosystems, human health and the economy in Europe,” the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) four-yearly report, published on Wednesday (25 January), stated.

Extreme climate events, such as flooding and heatwaves, are among the most obvious effects of climate change. According to the EEA, the combined cost of these episodes to 33 European countries reached €393 billion between 1980 and 2013.
The single most costly natural catastrophe was the flooding that hit Europe in 2002 (€20bn), followed by the summer heatwave of 2003 (€16bn) and Storm Lothar in the winter of 1999 (€14bn).
Most damage in Germany, Italy and France

The three worst-affected countries in absolute terms were Germany (€79bn), Italy (€60bn) and France (€53bn). In terms of GDP, extreme climate events caused the most damage in the Czech Republic over the 33-year period (0.24%), followed by Croatia (0.2%) and Hungary (0.18%). France’s losses between 1980 and 2013 were worth 0.9% of GDP.
But the bill is growing steadily.

 From €7.6 billion per year in the 1980s, it rose to €13.7 billion per year in the 2000s. This increase could be down to a combination of rising populations and increased development in at-risk areas, as well as the increasing intensity of climatic events.

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The New BATTLE PLAN for the Planet’s Climate Crisis #auspol 

The New Battle Plan for the Planet’s Climate Crisis

Calling the Trump energy and environment squad “climate deniers” is like pointing out that your local crew of meth heads has bad teeth.

 It’s true, and it also confuses symptom with disease.
Let’s be clear. 

2016 was the warmest year ever measured, smashing records set in 2015 and 2014. 

Global warming is no longer a worry for the future – we’re in the midst of the greatest crisis humans have yet faced.

 So despite the acknowledgment among some Trump nominees during confirmation hearings that “climate is changing” and “man has had an influence,” when Scott Pruitt, designated to head the EPA, said last year “scientists continue to disagree” about climate change, he was telling a big and consequential lie: Science clearly understands that burning coal and gas and oil is rapidly warming the planet. 

When Energy Secretary pick Rick Perry insisted that climate change is a “contrived, phony mess,” and speculated that the Earth has begun to cool, he was nuts – there are tens of thousands of scientists across the globe who have spent decades narrowing the error bars of their predictions, even as thawing glaciers and rapidly acidifying oceans make it clear they’re correct.

 When Interior designee Ryan Zinke blamed “rising ocean temperatures” for climate change, he wasn’t even being coherent: Why would the oceans suddenly be getting hotter all by themselves? 

Walruses peeing?
But it’s not as if Dr. Pruitt called up Dr. Zinke one day to say, “My reading of the paleoclimatic record makes me think that previous interglacial temperature increases led, not lagged, carbon growth.” And then they didn’t page Dr. Perry on the set of Dancing With the Stars to share their conclusions.
No, something else came before climate denial, and that something is: Fossil Fuel Infatuation. 

These guys know nothing about science, but they love coal and oil and gas – they come from big carbon states like Oklahoma and Texas, and their careers have been lubed and greased with oil money.

 Rex Tillerson, slated to be our secretary of state, has literally never worked for any other cause – he got his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas in 1975 and immediately went to work for Exxon as a “production engineer.” When he goes to work for the U.S. government, it will be the second employer he’s ever had.
These men are the fossil-fuel industry – there’s no boundary.

 Pruitt once wrote a letter to the EPA he now will head, lambasting it (entirely incorrectly, as the facts would later show) for overestimating the air pollution that gas drilling was producing in Oklahoma.

 Actually, he sent the letter, but he didn’t write it – that was the work of Devon Energy, a local leader in fracking. 

The company gave him $5,000 for his attorney-general campaign in 2014, part of the $114,000 he collected from energy interests alone. Nothing has dented his crush, including the fact that Oklahoma, until very recently a seismically uninteresting corner of the continent, has become America’s earthquake capital, as fracking wastewater is injected into geological faults. 

Their clinical infatuation runs as deep as the drill bit on the Deepwater Horizon: Cutting oil production is “not acceptable for humanity,” Tillerson has told Exxon shareholders.

 “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., points to a chart as he questions Environmental Protection Agency Administrator-designate, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, during Pruitt’s confirmation hearing before the committee
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse questions EPA Administrator-designate Scott Pruitt during Pruitt’s January 18th confirmation hearing. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The moral case for fossil fuels has its roots in the idea that coal, and then oil and gas, transformed civilization.

 Which is true: When we learned, early in the 18th century, to burn coal, it gave each of us in the Western world the equivalent of an entourage of slaves. A barrel of oil, by some calculations, is equal to 23,000 hours of muscle-powered work. 

Suddenly we could move ourselves great distances, and most of us could abandon the farm.

 One could argue whether these were changes for the better; some of our sense of rootlessness and disconnection comes with this freedom. 

But it was transformational – that part of the argument is undeniable.

For Trump’s crew, however, the past is forever prologue. 

If fossil fuel was good in the 18th century, it must be good in the 21st. 

They can’t imagine, for example, that the rest of the world might develop without coal and gas and oil. 

“There are still hundreds of millions, billions of people living in abject poverty around the world,” Tillerson told the Council on Foreign Relations in 2012.

 “They’d love to burn fossil fuels because their quality of life would rise immeasurably, and their quality of health and the health of their children and their future would rise immeasurably.”
This happy picture depends on ignoring the side effects of fossil-fuel burning.

 The biggest study to date shows that 100 million people in developing countries will die from fossil-fuel combustion between now and 2030 – some from the effects of global warming, but more from breathing smoke. 

Beijing closed its schools in mid-December because the smog was too bad to go outside; in New Delhi, an estimated half of the city’s 4.4 million children now have irreversible lung damage. 

That’s why China and India are trying desperately to move away from fossil fuels: China’s coal consumption has begun to slide, and India has announced a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. 

Oklahoma may still be enamored with fossil fuels, but the rest of the planet is moving on.
And lucky for them, they have an alternative, which is the other thing the Denier-in-Chief and his Cabinet want desperately to ignore: renewable energy, primarily sun and wind. 
All of a sudden clean power is not just available, it’s cheap. 

A spate of headlines in mid-December declared that solar was now in fact the cheapest energy on Earth. The headlines were based on new research by Bloomberg, which showed that for new power from Chile to India to South Africa, “renewables are robustly entering the era of undercutting” fossil-fuel prices.
All of which is to say: If you’re a utility in the developing world, you’re probably building a big solar farm. And if you’re in a hut somewhere that’s never been reached by fossil fuel, you’re almost certainly better off buying a cheap solar panel than you are waiting for the central government to build the wires and poles to your house. The “moral argument” for fossil fuels has collapsed.

View of Xinyi photo-voltaic power station on August 21, 2016 in Songxi, China.

The Xinyi photo-voltaic power station in Songxi, China Feature China/Barcroft Images/Getty

But renewables denial has not collapsed.

It’s now at least as ugly and insidious as its twin sister, Climate Denial.

 The same men who insist that the physicists are wrong about global warming also insist that sun and wind can’t supply our energy needs anytime soon. 

This argument comes in many forms, all of them being outpaced by technology. 

There’s the classic “the sun goes down at night” argument, which ignores the fact that battery storage has begun to fall as steeply in price as solar panels themselves. 

There’s “we need liquid fuels to drive our cars,” which ignores the advent of, say, Tesla. And there’s the idea that renewable technologies are some kind of faddish toys. 

Exxon won’t invest heavily in renewable energy, Tillerson told his shareholders in 2015, because “we choose not to lose money on purpose.”

 In fact, fossil fuel has been among the worst-performing sectors of the stock market for several years; investors are now piling more money into renewables, because that’s clearly where growth will come.

In the long run, Renewables Denial will give way to economics.

 You can tell it’s a scam because they’re using the same language and arguments they used a decade ago, even as the price of a solar panel has dropped 80 percent. 

But that’s where Climate Denial becomes such a dangerous companion. 

The rapidly deteriorating climate means that there is no “long run,” only the urgent need to change much faster than economics will push the transition by itself. 

We have to retire fossil-fueled power plants before their economic lifetime is over – that’s what Obama’s Clean Power Plan does. And we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground to spur the speedier transition to renewables – that’s why blocking the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines were such crucial accomplishments. 

They served notice to investors that there was a lot less easy money left to be made in fossil fuel. (Trump moved to revive both pipelines this week.)
And that is why the Koch brothers and the American Petroleum Institute and other arms of the fossil-fuel industry have played the political game so fiercely. 

They know all about the long run – hell, as good investigative reporting over the past 18 months has demonstrated, Exxon knew about climate change before almost anyone else. 

But the company also knows there are trillions to be made if it can postpone that action for a few more decades, even at the cost of wrecking the planet. 

Every year Exxon issues a new energy forecast, and every year it shows fossil fuels still providing most of the planet’s power by midcentury, never mind the skyrocketing temperature or the plummeting cost of solar. 

Now, Exxon’s accounting will be the nation’s – replacing the mathematics laid out in the Paris Agreement a year ago. Trump may not be able to kill it outright, but he can certainly make sure that we don’t keep our pledges, tempting the rest of the world to backslide.

Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson addresses a keynote speech during the World Gas Conference in Paris on June 2, 2015. 

Then ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson at the 2015 World Gas Conference. Tillerson is slated to be Trump’s secretary of state. ERic Piermont/Getty

Which means that the opposition will need to be savvy and dynamic, focused constantly on keeping the momentum of the energy transition growing, not slowing. Everything depends on pace – only if we can keep renewable power galloping ahead do we have a chance of catching up with climate change. 

So first things first: Mark April 29th on your calendar, because the climate movement will convene in D.C. to show that the election didn’t cancel physics. Politicians need to be reminded, even as they do the bidding of the industry, that the rest of us are watching. 

That march will mark 100 days of the Trump administration; his early surge can’t be avoided, but it can be slowed.

But many of the most consequential battles won’t be in D.C. at all. Instead, look for powerful action around the nation from:
The divestment movement. 

It’s already the largest anti-corporate campaign of its kind in history, and it will need to grow larger, depriving the industry of both capital and social license. 

When protesters took the Standing Rock fight to the lobbies of Wells Fargo and TD Bank branches, they served notice that it’s not just the politicians who need to pay attention – it’s also the money guys.
The Keep It in the Ground campaign. 

Every piece of fossil-fuel infrastructure will have to be contested.

 Since the Keystone fight launched this phase of the battle, campaigners have grown adept at using courts and local governments to block and slow pipelines and coal ports, frack wells and natural-gas terminals. Every month of delay adds new costs; every layer of uncertainty makes it harder for investors to justify. 

Frontline communities have been remarkable at running these fights – the nonviolent discipline of the Standing Rock Sioux has written a dramatic new chapter in the history of political resistance. The rest of us can follow their example.
State and local governments. 

They can lead this energy transition even if Washington won’t. California may emerge as the crucial focus – with the world’s sixth-largest economy, it’s big enough that it can innovate even as D.C. stagnates. New York is in a similar position – between them, the two giant states stand a chance of actually making America great, not with Trumpish nostalgia but with innovation. 

California Gov. Jerry Brown has even talked about putting up climate satellites to replace the ones that NASA may be shutting down. But even the best governors and mayors will need constant pushes from activists – for instance, the Oregon campaigners who last fall turned Portland into the first major U.S. city to ban new fossil-fuel infrastructure.
We won’t win many battles in the White House and on Capitol Hill – in fact, the early months of the new administration will come with many painful defeats as the fossil-fuel industry wish list is adopted.

 Expect federal land to be leased for drilling willy-nilly; expect frack wells to be freed from even minimal regulation. We need to fight every one of these changes, and with Bernie Sanders-level passion. 

That’s because, over time, both Climate and Renewables Denial will take their toll on Trump’s standing.

 People aren’t stupid – with Mother Nature and the electric bill constantly conspiring to spread reality, the backward-looking greed of this wrecking crew will eventually be seen for what it is.
The question, of course, is whether “eventually” will take too long for the planet. We can’t know the answer – only the certainty that the harder we work, the better the odds.

Press link for more:

Scientists embark on their own Trump resistance #standupforscience #auspol

Scientists embark on their own Trump resistance

By Samatha Page

The Trump administration has frozen EPA grants, barred USDA scientists from publishing research (a policy that was reversed), and taken down a slew of climate information on the White House website — all in its first week. The president himself has repeatedly questioned climate change and said he will defund clean energy research.
Scientists have withstood years of climate denial from politicians, but the threats posed by the Trump administration appear so severe that the scientific community has been galvanized into its own resistance movement.
Since late last year, scientists have been at the forefront of an ongoing effort to archive government climate data considered at risk from the new administration. A new effort to encourage scientists to run for elected office has emerged, and a march on Washington in the name of evidence-based science is in the works.
“It’s clear that the new administration’s attacks on the independence of government scientists have struck a nerve,” Michael Halperin, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ThinkProgress. “Scientists know that reliance on ‘alternative facts’ harms public health and the environment, and are mobilized and energized to ensure that government policy is based on real information.”
The work scientists do has a direct impact on human health. In fact, that group of society may be the best-positioned to know exactly how important research is. Stopping or ignoring science has serious repercussions.
“Scientists increasingly see the immediate connection between their research and policies that protect our environment and save lives, and are willing to speak up against attempts to undermine their work,” he said. “Since the election, they have signed statements, called Congress, organized events, and even prepared to run for office. Given the threats from the Trump administration on the scientific enterprise, it’s not surprising that they’re ready to take to the streets.”
They seem to have a lot of supporters, as well.
The Twitter account @ScienceMarchDC has exploded since it launched Monday. As of Wednesday afternoon, the account had 30,000 followers. More than 180,000 people have joined a Facebook event for the march, even though a date has not yet been set. Organizers say they are waiting until they have finalized more details to speak with the media.
“The march is non-partisan, but it is absolutely intended to have an impact on policy makers,” according to the group’s FAQ page. Anyone is welcome to march who supports empirical science.
“An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world,” the site says.
In fact, Congress — and now the White House — is dramatically less accepting of science than the American public at large. Most Americans, some 65 percent, according to a Gallup poll conducted last year, accept the scientific consensus that global warming is real and human caused.
On the other hand, most of the country is represented by someone in Congress who does not accept that fact.
Climate denial has been a point of contention between politicians and scientists for years. The chair of the House Science, Technology, and Space Committee, for instance, is an avowed climate denier. But it seems that politicians — led by President Trump — have gone too far. Scientific American’s editors wrote back in September that his policies were “authoritarian” and that his campaign “takes antiscience to previously unexplored terrain.” The reality since he took office has not deviated from that pattern.
And Americans don’t want an antiscience president, it seems.
“The overwhelming interest in a scientist march shows that facts still matter to people, and that efforts to erode the role of science in our democracy will be met with direct resistance,” Halperin said.
Resistance works. Earlier this month, the House attempted to roll back ethics rules; representatives’ offices were flooded with calls, and lawmakers called off the plan.
Then, Tuesday, it was reported that the Environmental Protection Agency — which is already under a gag order — has been directed to remove any climate information from its website. That action, too, prompted a massive outcry, and the administration has reportedly changed course, at least delaying the information blackout. A spokesman for the EPA transition said that they were only planning on “scrubbing it a little bit.”
Doug Ericksen, a Republican state senator in Washington, told The Hill, “We’re looking at scrubbing it up a bit, putting a little freshener on it, and getting it back up to the public.”
It’s worth reiterating here that this information is critically important. Climate change poses one of the greatest risks to human health in the history of mankind. Military advisers say it is a massive security risk. Doctors worry about the rise and spread of disease. Farmers are facing uncertain crop futures, and coastal cities are dealing with encroaching seawater.
These issues all need to be faced head on, by policymakers. So at the Women’s March last Saturday, when organizers called for more people to run for office, some scientists took that call to heart.
“A lot of scientists traditionally feel that science is above politics but we’re seeing that politics is not above getting involved in science,” Shaughnessy Naughton, founder of 314 Action, a recently formed group that supports scientists running for office, told The Atlantic,.
“We’re losing, and the only way to stop that is to get more people with scientific backgrounds at the table,” she said.

Press link for more: Think Progress

Climate Change has stalled Australian Wheat Yields. #auspol 

Changing climate has stalled Australian wheat yields: study
Australia’s wheat yields more than trebled during the first 90 years of the 20th century but have stalled since 1990. In research published today in Global Change Biology, we show that rising temperatures and reduced rainfall, in line with global climate change, are responsible for the shortfall.
This is a major concern for wheat farmers, the Australian economy and global food security as the climate continues to change. The wheat industry is typically worth more than A$5 billion per year – Australia’s most valuable crop. Globally, food production needs to increase by at least 60% by 2050, and Australia is one of the world’s biggest wheat exporters.
There is some good news, though. So far, despite poorer conditions for growing wheat, farmers have managed to improve farming practices and at least stabilise yields. The question is how long they can continue to do so.
Worsening weather
While wheat yields have been largely the same over the 26 years from 1990 to 2015, potential yields have declined by 27% since 1990, from 4.4 tonnes per hectare to 3.2 tonnes per hectare.
Potential yields are the limit on what a wheat field can produce. This is determined by weather, soil type, the genetic potential of the best adapted wheat varieties and sustainable best practice. Farmers’ actual yields are further restricted by economic considerations, attitude to risk, knowledge and other socio-economic factors.
While yield potential has declined overall, the trend has not been evenly distributed. While some areas have not suffered any decline, others have declined by up to 100kg per hectare each year.

The distribution of the annual change in wheat yield potential from 1990 to 2015. Each dot represents one of the 50 weather stations used in the study. David Gobbett, Zvi Hochman and Heidi Horan, Author provided

We found this decline in yield potential by investigating 50 high-quality weather stations located throughout Australia’s wheat-growing areas.
Analysis of the weather data revealed that, on average, the amount of rain falling on growing crops declined by 2.8mm per season, or 28% over 26 years, while maximum daily temperatures increased by an average of 1.05℃.
To calculate the impact of these climate trends on potential wheat yields we applied a crop simulation model, APSIM, which has been thoroughly validated against field experiments in Australia, to the 50 weather stations.
Climate variability or climate change?
There is strong evidence globally that increasing greenhouse gases are causing rises in temperature.
Recent studies have also attributed observed rainfall trends in our study region to anthropogenic climate change.
Statistically, the chance of observing the decline in yield potential over 50 weather stations and 26 years through random variability is less than one in 100 billion.
We can also separate the individual impacts of rainfall decline, temperature rise and more CO₂ in the atmosphere (all else being equal, rising atmospheric CO₂ means more plant growth).
First, we statistically removed the rising temperature trends from the daily temperature records and re-ran the simulations. This showed that lower rainfall accounted for 83% of the decline in yield potential, while temperature rise alone was responsible for 17% of the decline.
Next we re-ran our simulations with climate records, keeping CO₂ at 1990 levels. The CO₂ enrichment effect, whereby crop growth benefits from higher atmospheric CO₂ levels, prevented a further 4% decline relative to 1990 yields.
So the rising CO₂ levels provided a small benefit compared to the combined impact of rainfall and temperature trends.
Closing the yield gap
Why then have actual yields remained steady when yield potential has declined by 27%? Here it is important to understand the concept of yield gaps, the difference between potential yields and farmers’ actual yields.
An earlier study showed that between 1996 and 2010 Australia’s wheat growers achieved 49% of their yield potential – so there was a 51% “yield gap” between what the fields could potentially produce and what farmers actually harvested.
Averaged out over a number of seasons, Australia’s most productive farmers achieve about 80% of their yield potential. Globally, this is considered to be the ceiling for many crops.
Wheat farmers are closing the yield gap. From harvesting 38% of potential yields in 1990 this increased to 55% by 2015. This is why, despite the decrease in yield potential, actual yields have been stable.
Impressively, wheat growers have adopted advances in technology and adapted them to their needs. They have adopted improved varieties as well as improved practices, including reduced cultivation (or “tillage”) of their land, controlled traffic to reduce soil compaction, integrated weed management and seasonally targeted fertiliser use. This has enabled them to keep pace with an increasingly challenging climate.
What about the future?
Let’s assume that the climate trend observed over the past 26 years continues at the same rate during the next 26 years, and that farmers continue to close the yield gap so that all farmers reach 80% of yield potential.
If this happens, we calculate that the national wheat yield will fall from the recent average of 1.74 tonnes per hectare to 1.55 tonnes per hectare in 2041. Such a future would be challenging for wheat producers, especially in more marginal areas with higher rates of decline in yield potential.
While total wheat production and therefore exports under this scenario will decrease, Australia can continue to contribute to future global food security through its agricultural research and development.

Press link for more: The Conversation