Is the world being destroyed?

Reply Mon 26 Jun, 2023 03:14 am
Grasshoppers threaten to devour Alberta crops following extreme heat
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Reply Sat 1 Jul, 2023 03:44 am
(follow the link to see the charts and graphics)

‘Off the charts’: Earth’s vital signs are going haywire

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In my 3 decade-long career being a weather forecaster, and now Chief Meteorologist and Climate Specialist, I have never observed so many of Earth’s vital signs blinking red. Meteorologists and climate scientists all around the world are in awe by the simultaneous literal “off the charts” records being broken.

Yes, it’s climate change.

The steady trend of rising temperatures over the last few decades has placed Earth’s baseline climate so high that achieving these extremes – which used to be rare if not unheard of – is now expected when conditions are ripe. And right now they are, with El Niño’s added heat and several other concurrent, varying natural climate patterns.

So, to be more specific, it’s climate change – with other natural patterns piled on top.

With El Niño now in place, we are getting a glimpse of just how far we can force the climate system, with never before observed heights achieved. Many more are on the way for 2023-2024 as El Niño gets stronger and more heat is released from the oceans into the Atmosphere.

From ocean temperatures, to sea ice, to land ice to emissions from wildfire smoke, the charts below speak for themselves. Let’s start with ocean temperatures.

Due to a combination of factors, the North Atlantic Ocean is way beyond record hot right now. The kind of heat that would only be found once in 10s or 100s of thousands of years in a climate before human-caused warming took hold. Take a look at the North Atlantic sea surface temperature departure from normal in 2023 compared to previous years.

The Atlantic has warmed ~2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, due to warming from emissions of greenhouse gases due to the burning of fossil fuels and also, more recently, the decrease in air pollution, allowing more sunlight through.

In the shorter term, on top of that, we have a weaker Atlantic high meaning weaker tropical low-level winds (Trade winds), and thus, less dust stirred up off Africa. Less dust over the Tropical Atlantic skies means more sun gets through and it warms the surface.

In the below comparison, from Dr. Michael Lowry, you can see the absence of dust compared to normal. Use the slider bar to view the eastern Tropical Atlantic. (Also notice the excess smoke in the North Atlantic from the Canadian fires. We will return to that).

There is also an extreme heatwave off the coast of Europe contributing to the heat as well. And it is not confined to the Atlantic. In the Pacific, El Niño is warming the Tropical waters while heat lingers from a warm blob over the North Central Pacific ocean.

When you add it all up, Global Ocean temperatures are way beyond record hot, making the heat basically statistically impossible before human-caused warming existed. Below you can see the black line indicating this year’s sea surface temperature departure from normal (about 4 standard deviations above normal) which is far above records.

Another chart that has really stood out for it’s off the charts look is Antarctic sea ice. Right now sea ice should be growing fast near the South Pole. Instead growth is labored and departures from normal are the highest ever observed, at a very surprising time of year given that it’s winter there.

To view this another way, take a look below at the map of Antarctica. The red shows areas that are behind on sea ice growth; nearly everywhere!

While climate change is likely playing a role in the downward trend these last few years, it can likely not explain the rapid dip in sea ice growth in the past few months. The atmospheric and ocean currents are very variable near Antarctica, and it will likely take much research to quantify the reasons.

Over the longer term, there are worrying signs at the bottom of the world, with a few new papers showing a large decline in the vital overturning circulation.

That dip in southern ice has also caused Global sea ice to be at record departures from normal levels.

Now let’s move on to the Canadian wildfires. It’s early in fire season, but already Canada has experienced its worst wildfire season on record in terms of burning area, fire size, and intensity. As the climate warms, areas dry, and fires spread more vigorously. This year, there has been a persistent heat dome for months across parts of Canada which has led to less rain and warmer weather.
A measure of fire size and intensity from 2000 to 2023. Magenta is 2023.

That has led to a record-setting amount of greenhouse emissions from Canadian wildfires. So many emissions it is almost equal to that of Canada’s normal greenhouse emissions in a whole year and it’s still early in the fire season.

We can see a worrying sign from the fire emissions data that as we warm the Earth, growing emissions from fires will counteract the deliberate emissions reductions from governments which are aimed at reducing climate change. It’s an irony.

Lastly, let’s discuss Greenland. Recently the below image was posted by Dr. Jason Box, an expert on Greenland. It’s how surface snow/ice melt spiked off this chart over the past few days.

Although this may appear to be a record spike, this graph shows values in the gray which are within the 10th and 90th percentile. Meaning it does not show values above 90%. This spike was caused by very warm temperatures, some of which can be attributed to downsloping winds.

A further inspection reveals that we have seen much larger spikes in a few years prior, especially in 2021, the year of record for Greenland. This graphic below was made by Professor Eliot Jacobson.

But for Greenland, it is still early in the season. Next week a massive heat dome will form over the Island and melt rates will be very high. With the added heat in the system from El Niño, it is worth watching to see if 2023 can overtake 2012 for the title.

So far I’ve written all this without mentioning the ongoing heatwave in the US. While it was over Mexico and Texas it became one of the longest-lived early-season heatwaves on record, and by some measures, it is the worst heatwave on record especially in Mexico and southwest Texas.

Numerous all-time records were broken, with stations in Texas recording over a week in a row of record-breaking heat. That heat has moved east into the US Deep South and Florida. The heat dome will finally fade over the next few days.

The bottom line is, with Earth’s overheated climate and an intensifying El Niño, we can expect to see the Earth’s climate system astonish us over and over again into next year.

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Reply Thu 6 Jul, 2023 03:30 am
Researchers: We've Underestimated The Risk of Simultaneous Crop Failures Worldwide


The risks of harvest failures in multiple global breadbaskets have been underestimated, according to a study Tuesday that researchers said should be a "wake up call" about the threat climate change poses to our food systems.

Food production is both a key source of planet-warming emissions and highly exposed to the effects of climate change, with climate and crop models used to figure out just what the impacts could be as the world warms.

In the new research published in Nature Communications, researchers in the United States and Germany looked at the likelihood that several major food producing regions could simultaneously suffer low yields.

These events can lead to price spikes, food insecurity and even civil unrest, said lead author Kai Kornhuber, a researcher at Columbia University and the German Council on Foreign Relations.

By "increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases, we are entering this uncharted water where we are struggling to really have an accurate idea of what type of extremes we're going to face," he told AFP.

"We show that these types of concurring events are really largely underestimated."

The study looked at observational and climate model data between 1960 and 2014, and then at projections for 2045 to 2099.

Researchers first looked at the impact of the jet stream – the air currents that drive weather patterns in many of the world's most important crop producing regions.

They found that a "strong meandering" of the jet stream, flowing in big wave shapes, has particularly significant impacts on key agricultural regions in North America, Eastern Europe and East Asia, with a reduction in harvests of up to seven percent.

The researchers also found that this had been linked to simultaneous crop failures in the past.

One example was in 2010, when the fluctuations of the jet stream were linked to both extreme heat in parts of Russia and devastating floods in Pakistan, which both hurt crops, Kornhuber said.

Risk assessment

The study also looked at how well computer models assess these risks and found that while they are good at showing the atmospheric movement of the jet stream, they underestimate the magnitude of the extremes this produces on the ground.

Kornhuber said the study should be a "a wake up call in terms of our uncertainties" of the impacts of climate change on the food sector, with more frequent and intense weather extremes and increasingly complicated combinations of extremes.

"We need to be prepared for these types of complex climate risks in the future and the models at the moment seem to not capture this," he said.

On Monday, United Nations' human rights chief Volker Turk warned of a "truly terrifying" dystopian future of hunger and suffering as climate change-driven extremes hit crops, livestock and crucial ecosystems.

He told a UN debate on the right to food that more than 828 million people faced hunger in 2021 and climate change could increase that by 80 million by mid-century, and slammed world leaders for short term thinking.

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Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2023 04:07 am
EVs Are Sending Toxic Tire Particles Into the Water, Soil, and Air

Electric cars fix one pollution problem—and worsen another.

Electric vehicles, you might have heard, are miraculous. Just a sliver of new cars sold in the United States are EVs, but these machines have united a mishmash of people eager to move America away from gasoline. Environmental groups are all-in, and the federal government is offering hefty incentives to spur sales. Automakers now offer twice as many EV models as before the pandemic, and are pumping out endless commercials to promote them. “We believe in an all-electric future,” General Motors CEO Mary Barra said in an interview a few weeks ago. Even car enthusiasts are getting on board: YouTube offers endless videos of people racing their EVs.

Such enthusiasm is warranted. The urgency of climate change requires electrifying the 278 million personal vehicles plying American roadways as quickly as we can. After all, EVs are far more climate-friendly than equivalent gas-powered models because they eliminate the tailpipe emissions that warm the planet and pollute the air. Better yet, EVs are simply fun to drive: Most models are quicker and quieter than your average gas car.

But that is not the full story. EVs also produce emissions beyond what spews from their tailpipe. Like all cars, their tires are constantly rubbing against pavement, releasing particulates that float through the air and leach into waterways, damaging human health and wildlife. New EV models tend to be heavier and quicker—generating more particulates and deepening the danger. In other words, EVs have a tire-pollution problem, and one that is poised to get worse as America begins to adopt electric cars en masse. None of this is inevitable. EVs don’t need to be so massive and lightning-fast—these are choices that the auto industry has made. All of us will pay the price.

This pollution is the inevitable result of the tire wear that every car owner experiences over time. Composed of hundreds of ingredients that can include natural and artificial rubber, petroleum, nylon, and steel, tires constantly spit out tiny bits of material, much of it invisible to the naked eye. The rate at which your tires break down will depend on many factors, but the cumulative quantity of tire pollution, ranging from visible pieces of rubber to nanoparticles, is staggering: as much as 6 million metric tons annually worldwide, according to a report from Imperial College London. “We are generating an enormous amount of rubber wear that ends up in the atmosphere as very small particles or on the road surfaces as large particles that get washed away,” Marc Masen, a mechanical engineer at Imperial College and a co-author of that report, told me. Rougher surfaces tend to produce larger tire chunks that settle on the ground, while smoother roadways, such as freshly paved highways, generate minuscule ones that can float in the air for hundreds of feet.

Much about tire pollution is still unknown. Compared with tailpipe emissions, tire particles are more difficult to measure in a laboratory and to isolate in the real world, where various kinds of car pollution mix together, Masen said. Only in recent years has the toll started to come into view. As a form of microplastics, tire pollution hits wildlife hard: Compounds that settle on the ground gradually leach toxic chemicals into the soil and water. One study concluded that tires could be responsible for as much as 28 percent of the microplastics in global oceans; another found them to be among the largest sources of such pollutants in the San Francisco Bay. Microplastics can be consumed by tiny aquatic organisms, wreaking havoc as they travel up food chains. A University of Washington study in 2020 traced a collapse in Northwestern-coho-salmon populations to 6PPD, a chemical added to tires to slow their wearing down.

The smallest tire particles, measured in mere nanometers, can enter our lungs and spread to our organs. Various tire components have been linked to chronic conditions including respiratory problems, kidney damage, neurological damage, and birth defects—a particular concern in neighborhoods adjacent to highways, whose residents skew low-income and minority. Tire particles could also affect us through our food because their chemicals can work their way into the algae and grass consumed by fish and cows. In the U.S., tire emissions aren’t regulated at all; though more stringent rules have made cars cleaner, research reported in The Guardian last year found that in newer cars, pollution from tires is much greater than tailpipe emissions.

Electrification is poised to make these problems significantly worse. EVs use “regenerative braking,” which captures energy as they slow down; all braking causes tire friction, but EVs are designed to automatically do so more often in order to gain small amounts of power. Another factor is torque, or engine power. With instant torque, EVs are able to accelerate significantly faster than gas cars. The Kia EV6 SUV, for instance, goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, comparable to a gas-powered Aston Martin DBS 770 Ultimate. “With an average Tesla you can win a drag race with a Porsche,” Masen said. “That’s not good for the tires.”

EVs can also be very heavy, which further worsens tire wear. The addition of a massive battery can dramatically increase a car’s weight: A Ford F-150 Lightning, for instance, weighs about 35 percent more than a gas-powered F-150. The Hummer EV is even more gigantic; its battery alone weighs roughly as much as some Toyota Corolla models.

EV owners have already started noticing that their tires are wearing down quickly. A recent survey conducted by J.D. Power and Associates found that rapid treadwear is the biggest complaint that EV owners have about their tires. “They’re expecting 40,000 miles out of their tires, and they’re getting 13,000,” Ashley Edgar, J.D. Power’s senior director of automotive-supplier benchmarking and alternative mobility, told me.

With both tire-emissions analysis and EV adoption still in their infancy, it’s hard to say how much worse the pollution problems could grow. Masen hopes that the urgency of the issue will push researchers and the industry to look for potential fixes, but developing solutions will take time, and heavy, quick EVs make the problem tougher. “The tire people look at the tires, the car people look at the cars, and the road people look at the roads, but it needs to come together,” he said.

Some tire companies have launched new EV-specific products that are designed for added durability. Earlier this year, Bridgestone unveiled the Turanza EV, a new model that the company claims “is engineered to elevate your EV experience with excellent tread life.” Such specialized EV tires don’t come cheap: Bridgestone’s website lists them for $315.99 with a 50,000 mile warranty, compared with $295.99 and 80,000 miles for the non-EV version. Better tires can help, but only to an extent. The bigger issue is that many U.S. automakers have built part of their business strategy around selling hefty SUVs and trucks with juicy profit margins, and they will continue doing so. Sedans are becoming an endangered species on U.S. car lots, where about four out of five new cars are either an SUV or a truck. As EV sales have grown, the cars are only getting bigger; GM recently killed off the modest-size Chevy Bolt—its most popular electric model—and is retooling its factory to instead build electric pickup trucks.

Carmakers could, if they chose, offer Americans the kinds of small EVs that are available in other countries, but no such move seems forthcoming. They could also temper their EVs’ acceleration, thereby reducing tire erosion. Instead, they are opting to sell electric SUVs that resemble race cars. Zero-to-60 speeds have been a mainstay of car marketing for decades, and the stunning pickup of EVs might, theoretically, attract new buyers. But it quickens tire erosion while serving no practical purpose. “If you can get from zero to 60 in seven seconds, you’re fine,” Jennifer Stockburger, the director of operations at the Consumer Reports auto-test center, told me. “Anything beyond that is a fun factor.”

The threat of growing tire pollution is hardly the only societal danger that the auto industry is foisting on the American public through its large and fast EVs. Tires that wear out quicker present other safety hazards: “Braking, hydroplaning, and winter traction could get worse, Stockburger said, “and then you’ve got this heavy vehicle spinning out.” Such cars could endanger pedestrians, bikers, and other drivers, deepening a roadway-safety crisis that is unique to the U.S. And the huge batteries they require consume scarce minerals that could otherwise power smaller, more efficient models.

These problems could be avoided if the federal government took a stand against unnecessary EV speed and size. National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy has warned about these dangers, but Congress and the Department of Transportation have avoided the issue. The threat of worsening tire pollution is yet another danger of putting so much power over the future of our planet in the hands of car companies. Even as they reduce one kind of pollution, they might make another kind worse.

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Region Philbis
Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2023 01:04 pm

Long-lost Greenland ice core suggests potential for disastrous sea level rise
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Region Philbis
Reply Sun 23 Jul, 2023 08:22 am

‘Biblical proportions’: 3 months’ worth of rainfall floods Nova Scotia
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sun 23 Jul, 2023 11:36 pm
Indigenous people and experts say Moscow’s military push and increased shipping and mining will destroy Arctic environment.

‘Nobody cares’: Russia’s arms buildup in Barents Sea creating toxic legacy
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Reply Tue 25 Jul, 2023 04:24 am
The Microplastic Crisis Is Getting Exponentially Worse

Plastic production is skyrocketing, pushing microplastic pollution to dangerous new levels. Now research shows even the Arctic is increasingly contaminated.

Not even the Arctic Ocean is immune to the incessant growth of microplastic pollution. In a new study that analyzed sediment core samples, researchers quantified how many of the particles have been deposited since the early 1930s. As scientists have shown elsewhere, the team found that microplastic contamination in the Arctic has been growing exponentially and in lockstep with the growth of plastic production—which is now up to a trillion pounds a year, with the global amount of plastic waste projected to triple by 2060.

These researchers analyzed the seawater and sediment in the western part of the Arctic Ocean, which makes up 13 percent of its total area. But in just that region, they calculated that 210,000 metric tons of microplastic, or 463 million pounds, have accumulated in the water, sea ice, and sediment layers that have built up since the 1930s. In their study, published last week in the journal Science Advances, they cataloged 19 synthetic polymer types in three forms: fragments, fibers, and sheets. That reflects a dizzying array of microplastic sources, including fragments from broken bottles and bags and microfibers from synthetic clothing.

Overall, the team found that microplastic levels have been doubling in Arctic Ocean sediments every 23 years. That mirrors a previous study of ocean sediments off the coast of Southern California, which found concentrations to be doubling every 15 years. Other researchers have found an exponential rise in contamination in urban lake sediments.

The problem is likely to keep getting worse, lead author Seung-Kyu Kim, a marine scientist at Incheon National University, told WIRED by email. “The input of microplastics into the Arctic has increased exponentially over the past decades, with an annual increase rate of 3 percent,” Kim writes. “The mass production of plastic at an 8.4 percent annual increase—coupled with inefficient waste management systems—is projected to further increase loads of plastic entering the ocean for the next several decades, and thus plastic entering the Arctic will increase proportionally.”

The atmosphere, too, is increasingly infested with microplastics. By one calculation, the equivalent of hundreds of millions of disintegrated plastic bottles could be falling on the United States alone. A study of a peatland area in the Pyrenees found that in the 1960s, less than five atmospheric microplastics were being deposited per square meter of land each day. It’s now more like 180.

This new Arctic paper “helps to show that any increase in production is matched in the environment,” says Steve Allen, a microplastics researcher at the Ocean Frontiers Institute who did the peatland study. “And as more research into human exposure comes to light, I believe the increase will also be shown in human bodies.”

Microplastics are readily moving between different environments. A previous study found 14,000 microplastics per liter of Arctic snow, the stuff having blown in from European cities. Microplastics are also arriving in the Arctic by sea: When you wash your clothes, hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of synthetic fibers break off and flush into a wastewater treatment facility, then eventually to the ocean. Currents then transport microplastics up into the Arctic, where they swirl around and eventually settle in the sediment. Allen and other scientists reported in May that a single recycling facility might emit 3 million pounds of microplastics a year—and those were numbers for a brand-new plant that filtered its runoff water.

Interestingly, this new study found higher levels of microplastics around the retreat line of summer sea ice. This may be due to a biological highway of sorts. The algae Melosira arctica grows on the underside of Arctic sea ice, providing food for organisms like zooplankton. When that ice melts, the algae sinks to the seafloor, taking all those synthetic particles with it. “These clumps sink much more rapidly to the seafloor than other particles, within a day,” says marine biologist Melanie Bergmann of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, who recently reported finding 31,000 microplastics per cubic meter of this algae in the Arctic Ocean. “This could also explain why this [sediment] study, similar to our results from earlier studies, found the highest microplastic burden in the area with high melting rates.”

Bergmann has also found that Arctic sea ice itself is loaded with 4.5 million microplastics per cubic meter. When it melts, the particles are liberated to swirl around in the water column, perhaps sinking to the seafloor. Once the sea ice freezes again, it “scavenges” microplastics from the water by collecting them into the new ice.

The cycling of microplastics through the Arctic Ocean may ultimately affect the food chain: The zooplankton that feed on Melosira arctica algae are eating the particles, and when the microplastics sink to the seafloor, bottom-dwelling creatures eat them too. Filling up on plastics, instead of actual nutrition, is a problem scientists call “food dilution.” “This could affect especially invertebrates like sea cucumbers, brittlestars, and worms that plough through and ingest these contaminated sediments all the time,” says Bergmann.

This burden on ecosystems is why environmentalists and scientists are calling for the United Nations plastics treaty, which is currently in negotiations, to include a dramatic cap on production. In March, researchers provided hints that a cap could produce quick results: They found that although ocean microplastic levels have skyrocketed over the past 20 years, they actually fluctuated between 1990 and 2005—perhaps due to the effectiveness of a 1988 international agreement that limited plastic pollution from ships.

Kim writes that the new paper is another data point in favor of production limits: “This strongly supports the urgent need of globally concerted vigorous action to substantially reduce the plastic ocean input, and thus to protect the Arctic environment.”

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Reply Thu 27 Jul, 2023 02:42 am
Forests Are Losing Their Ability to Hold Carbon
Dead trees killed by a forest fire a year earlier in the Manti-La Sal National Forest in the La Sal Mountains near Moab, Utah.
Wildfires are making forests less able to absorb carbon, a new Agriculture Department report says.

U.S. forests could worsen global warming instead of easing it because they are being destroyed by natural disasters and are losing their ability to absorb planet-warming gases as they get older, a new Agriculture Department report says.

The report predicts that the ability of forests to absorb carbon will start plummeting after 2025 and that forests could emit up to 100 million metric tons of carbon a year as their emissions from decaying trees exceed their carbon absorption. Forests could become a “substantial carbon source” by 2070, the USDA report says.

U.S. forests currently absorb 11 percent of U.S carbon emissions, or 150 million metric tons of carbon a year, equivalent to the combined emissions from 40 coal power plants, the report says.

The prediction suggests that the loss of forests as a natural carbon absorber will require the U.S. to cut emissions more rapidly to reach net zero, said Lynn Riley, a senior manager of climate science at the American Forest Foundation, a nonprofit conservation advocate not involved in the USDA report.

“Ten percent of our domestic emissions. That is a really significant portion,” Riley said. “As we work to decarbonize … forests are one of the greatest tools at our disposal. If we were to lose that, it means the U.S. will contribute that much more” in emissions.

The USDA report published Monday assesses and predicts the extent of renewable resources provided by the nation’s forests and undeveloped landscapes, including farmlands, wetlands and grasslands. The decennial report is mandated by Congress, which in 1990 added a requirement to study climate impacts on forests and rangelands.

The loss of carbon absorption is driven in part by natural disasters such as wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes, which are increasing in frequency and strength as global temperatures rise. The disasters destroy forestland, disrupting their ecosystem and decreasing their ability to absorb carbon, Riley said.

Development in forested areas, which the report projects will continue to increase, is having the same effect as people increasingly move to the so-called wildland urban interface.

Aging forests also contribute. Older, mature trees absorb less carbon than younger trees of the same species, and the U.S. forests are rapidly aging, the report found.

“Naturally, the forest is going to reach a saturation point where it plateaus in how quickly it is sequestering carbon from the atmosphere,” Riley said, explaining why older forests often absorb less carbon.

More aggressive forest management can help by cutting down a small portion of aging forests to make ways for younger trees that absorb more carbon, Riley said. A thorough study of each forest should be done before removing older trees, Riley said, comparing forest management to prescribing the proper drugs to a patient.

Monday’s report considered a range of factors such as the speed of global warming, population growth and energy transition in making dozens of projections on forest size, land use change, wildfire risk, and the ability of forests to absorb and store carbon.

0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 7 Aug, 2023 11:35 pm
The sea ice at the South Pole is currently growing much more slowly than usual. And scientists expect further extremes in the region - with global consequences.

Antarctic extreme events
There is increasing evidence that fossil-fuel burning, and consequential global heating of 1.1°C to date, has led to the increased occurrence and severity of extreme environmental events. It is well documented how such events have impacted society outside Antarctica through enhanced levels of rainfall and flooding, heatwaves and wildfires, drought and water/food shortages and episodes of intense cooling. Here, we briefly examine evidence for extreme events in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean across a variety of environments and timescales. We show how vulnerable natural Antarctic systems are to extreme events and highlight how governance and environmental protection of the continent must take them into account. Given future additional heating of at least 0.4°C is now unavoidable (to contain heating to the “Paris Agreement 1.5°C” scenario), and may indeed be higher unless drastic action is successfully taken on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by mid-Century, we explain it is virtually certain that future Antarctic extreme events will be more pronounced than those observed to date.

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0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Fri 11 Aug, 2023 12:30 am
Scientists stunned by unprecedented heat-stress event in the Americas say they can only hope it ‘motivates and unites people’.

‘Huge’ coral bleaching unfolding across Central America prompts fears of global tragedy
Corals across several countries are bleaching and dying en masse from unprecedented levels of heat stress, prompting fears that an unfolding tragedy in Central America, North America and the Caribbean could become a global event.

US government scientists have confirmed reefs in Panama, Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico and six countries in the Caribbean, including the Bahamas and Cuba, are suffering significant bleaching, alongside corals in Florida that began turning white almost a month ago.

I don’t think any of these places have seen heat stress like this before,” said Dr Derek Manzello, coordinator of Coral Reef Watch at the US National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration.

“This will only get worse until there is a global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This is essentially a big field experiment. The big fear is there will be catastrophic mortality.”

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0 Replies
Reply Thu 14 Sep, 2023 04:56 am
Earth ‘well outside safe operating space for humanity’, scientists find

First complete ‘scientific health check’ shows most global systems beyond stable range in which modern civilisation emerged

Earth’s life support systems have been so damaged that the planet is “well outside the safe operating space for humanity”, scientists have warned.

Their assessment found that six out of nine “planetary boundaries” had been broken because of human-caused pollution and destruction of the natural world. The planetary boundaries are the limits of key global systems – such as climate, water and wildlife diversity – beyond which their ability to maintain a healthy planet is in danger of failing.

The broken boundaries mean the systems have been driven far from the safe and stable state that existed from the end of the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, to the start of the industrial revolution. The whole of modern civilisation arose in this time period, called the Holocene.

The assessment was the first of all nine planetary boundaries and represented the “first scientific health check for the entire planet”, the researchers said. Six boundaries have been passed and two are judged to be close to being broken: air pollution and ocean acidification. The one boundary that is not threatened is atmospheric ozone, after action to phase out destructive chemicals in recent decades led to the ozone hole shrinking.

The scientists said the “most worrying” finding was that all four of the biological boundaries, which cover the living world, were at, or close to, the highest risk level. The living world is particularly vital to the Earth as it provides resilience by compensating for some physical changes, for example, trees absorbing carbon dioxide pollution.

The planetary boundaries are not irreversible tipping points beyond which sudden and serious deterioration occurs, the scientists said. Instead, they are points after which the risks of fundamental changes in the Earth’s physical, biological and chemical life support systems rise significantly. The planetary boundaries were first devised in 2009 and updated in 2015, when only seven could be assessed.

Prof Johan Rockström, the then director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre who led the team that developed the boundaries framework, said: “Science and the world at large are really concerned over all the extreme climate events hitting societies across the planet. But what worries us, even more, is the rising signs of dwindling planetary resilience.”

Rockström, who is now joint director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said this failing resilience could make restricting global heating to the 1.5C climate goal impossible and could bring the world closer to real tipping points. Scientists said in September that the world was on the brink of multiple disastrous tipping points.

Prof Katherine Richardson, from the University of Copenhagen who led the analysis, said: “We know for certain that humanity can thrive under the conditions that have been here for 10,000 years – we don’t know that we can thrive under major, dramatic alterations [and] humans impacts on the Earth system as a whole are increasing as we speak.”

She said the Earth could be thought of as a patient with very high blood pressure: “That does not indicate a certain heart attack, but it does greatly raise the risk.”

The assessment, which was published in the journal Science Advances and was based on 2,000 studies, indicated that several planetary boundaries were passed long ago. The boundary for biosphere integrity, which includes the healthy functioning of ecosystems, was broken in the late 19th century, the researchers said, as destruction of the natural world decimated wildlife. The same destruction, particularly the razing of forests, means the boundary for land use was broken last century.

Climate models have suggested the safe boundary for climate change was surpassed in the late 1980s. For freshwater, a new metric involving both water in lakes and rivers and in soil, showed this boundary was crossed in the early 20th century.

Another boundary is the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus in the environment. These are vital for life but excessive use of fertilisers mean many waters are heavily polluted by these nutrients, which can lead to algal blooms and ocean dead zones. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization data, three times the safe level of nitrogen is added to fields every year.

The boundary for synthetic pollution, such as pesticides, plastics and nuclear waste, was shown to have been passed by a 2022 study. The Richardson-led analysis assessed air pollution for the first time, which affects plant growth and monsoon rains. It found air pollution has passed the planetary boundary in some regions such as south Asia and China, but not yet globally. Ocean acidification is also assessed as getting worse and being close to exceeding the safe boundary.

The scientists said: “This update finds that six of the nine boundaries are transgressed, suggesting that Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity.”

Rockstrom said: “If you want to have security, prosperity and equity for humanity on Earth, you have to come back into the safe space and we’re not seeing that progress currently in the world.”

Phasing out fossil fuel burning and ending destructive farming are the key actions required.

The planetary boundaries are set using specific metrics, such as the level of CO2 in the atmosphere for climate change. The Earth’s systems are resilient to some level of change, so most of the boundaries have been set at a level higher than that which persisted over the last 10,000 years. For example, CO2 was at 280 parts per million until the industrial revolution but the planetary boundary is set at 350ppm.

Prof Simon Lewis, at University College London and not part of the study team, said: “This is a strikingly gloomy update on an already alarming picture. The planet is entering a new and much less stable state – it couldn’t be a more stark warning of the need for deep structural changes to how we treat the environment.”

“The planetary boundaries concept is a heroic attempt to simplify the world, but it is probably too simplified to be of use in practically managing Earth,” he continued. “For example, the damage and suffering from limiting global heating to 1.6C using pro-development policies and major investments in adapting to climate change would be vastly less than the damage and suffering from limiting warming to 1.5C but doing this using policies that help the wealthy and disregard the poor. But the concept does work as a science-led parable of our times.”

A related assessment published in May examined planetary boundaries combined with social justice issues and found that six of these eight “Earth system boundaries” had been passed.

The researchers said more data was needed to deepen the understanding of the current situation, as well as more research on how the passing of planetary boundaries interact with each other. They said the Earth’s systems had been pushed into disequilibrium and, as a result, “ultimate global environmental conditions” remained uncertain.

A separate initiative to define the end of the Holocene and the start of a new age dominated by human activities moved forward in July, when scientists chose a Canadian lake as the site to represent the beginning of the Anthropocene. This group settled on a date of 1950, significantly later than the dates indicated by most of the planetary boundaries.

0 Replies
Reply Thu 14 Sep, 2023 04:59 am
The World Has Already Ended

Jessica Wildfire wrote:
If you've ever seen the movie Soylent Green, you know it's not about cannibalism. It's about the banality of social collapse. It's not quick. It's a slow burn. Nobody shows any sense of urgency about anything. Everyone still watches talk shows, even if they have to pedal a bike to generate electricity for their television. Nobody under 50 remembers anything better.

Here's the plot twist:

It's not that corporations are using people as the main ingredient in everyone's favorite new food. It's this: When Charlton Heston finds out, nobody cares. You already know what's going to happen.

Nothing's going to change.

He could shout from the rooftops that the rich are feeding the poor to each other, and nobody would care. Nobody would protest. Nobody would sign a petition. Nobody would act surprised, even if they believed him. They only care about getting through the next day. They care about their next meal or their next water ration. That's when you realize the point of the film.

They've been eating each other the whole time.

They've been doing it for generations.

Soylent Green just makes it official.

The scenes that stay with you aren't the fights and riots. It's the everyday stuff. People go around making casual remarks about the heat. It's 90F degrees outside, even in the middle of the night. You're rich if you can afford a steak or a jar of jelly. You find dead moms in the street all the time. You don't act surprised. You drop their kid off at the nearest homeless shelter.

You say, "Got room for one more?"

No, they don't.

The movie came out in 1973, around the same time when scientists at major universities were compiling data and designing models that predicted our imminent doom. One study by MIT indicated that collapse would happen in the 2040s without major changes to our consumption habits and fossil fuels. They concluded that the 2100s would see a return to the early 1900s in terms of population and available resources.

A more recent study in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology confirmed everything in the original MIT report.

If anything, it's coming early.

A new piece in The Nation breaks the media taboo on all of this. Michael Klare says straight up, we're living through the first stages of collapse. He begins with a recap of Jared Diamond's epic book, Collapse.

We're living through the same abrupt climate shifts that ended previous civilizations. The elite are making all the same mistakes, refusing to adapt while leaving everyone to fend for themselves.

It's all happening now.

The head of the UN just told us that "climate breakdown has begun." As if on cue, three years of rain fell on Greece in 48 hours. It destroyed a quarter of their farmland. They have new lakes now.

The signs are everywhere.

There's antibiotic shortages. There's shortages of ADHD medication. There's cancer drug shortages. ERs are understaffed or closed all the time now. A new survey shows that 1 out of every 3 hospitals are rationing care. If anything, our health officials are making them more dangerous.

Check the president's Twitter feed.

There's no plan.

There's a feeling on the tip of everyone's tongue. I believe it's a sense that it's already too late to save this world.

They're right.

It is.

We talk a lot about saving the world or preventing the collapse of civilization, but we don't talk about what it really means. We don't talk about which world or which civilization we're trying to save.

It can't be this one.

This civilization is gone. This world is gone. It already ended for millions of people. Some of us just haven't felt it yet. It was never an easy one for most of us. It was never fair, but there was a level of predictability. There was a level of comfort and convenience. That's gone now. Things aren't going to get better. They're not going to get back to the way they were.

Trying makes it worse.

This world always had to end. It was never going to last more than a generation. It couldn't. All the facts made that very clear from the start. The rich and the corrupt simply chose to ignore that. They lied.

That's not the worst part.

It's not the collapse.

It's not the death of our hopes and dreams. It's the fact that we're not allowed to grieve it and move on. Imagine trying to grieve the loss of a friend or a parent when half of everyone you know won't even admit they're dead. Imagine you're stuck in a real-life version of Weekend at Bernie's.

That's what we're doing.

It's the norms that force us to engage in acts of cultural necrophilia. It's having to pretend for our bosses, our coworkers, our friends, and our relatives. It's watching everyone we know screw a corpse.

Recently, I was catching up with a friend who lives in a big city. She's one of those people who's been trying to act normal. Toward the end of our conversation, she finally broke down. She admitted things weren't the same. People act different. They look different. They sound different.

I think it's because we all know, even if we won't admit it.

The world isn't ending.

It has ended.

Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 14 Sep, 2023 06:00 am
Posted on the climate change thread, too.

A few small island states are fighting for better climate protection at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg. And for survival.

Two heads of state have already travelled to the court, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda is also there.
Representatives of more than 50 other countries, including large emitters of greenhouse gases including China, India and European Union members, have asked to participate via oral or written interventions.

And so, since the beginning of the week, a trial has been taking place in Hamburg that is supposed to clarify monumental questions of global justice in a court of law: Who is to blame for the pollution and rise of the oceans? And what obligations do the main perpetrators have towards the most vulnerable victims?

The trial is considered the first intergovernmental court case on the consequences of climate change, a significant step in international law and climate policy.

However, there is little sign of this in the foyer of the court, only very few media representatives have appeared, the case has hardly made headlines so far.

Request for an Advisory Opinion submitted by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (Request for Advisory Opinion submitted to the Tribunal)

Sea-level rise could sink small islands like Tuvalu. Can they use ocean law to save themselves?
0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Tue 19 Sep, 2023 05:58 am
Humanity is threatening the environment in which it lives.

In just five centuries, humans have triggered a wave of species extinction that would otherwise have taken 18,000 years to occur. Researchers show the extent of the current mass extinction - and consequences that have already occurred.

Not only species are dying out - but entire genera, the researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mutilation of the tree of life via mass extinction of animal genera

We are in the sixth mass extinction event. Unlike the previous five, this one is caused by the overgrowth of a single species, Homo sapiens. Although the episode is often viewed as an unusually fast (in evolutionary time) loss of species, it is much more threatening, because beyond that loss, it is causing rapid mutilation of the tree of life, where entire branches (collections of species, genera, families, and so on) and the functions they perform are being lost. It is changing the trajectory of evolution globally and destroying the conditions that make human life possible. It is an irreversible threat to the persistence of civilization and the livability of future environments for H. sapiens. Instant corrective actions are required.


Mass extinctions during the past 500 million y rapidly removed branches from the phylogenetic tree of life and required millions of years for evolution to generate functional replacements for the extinct (EX) organisms. Here we show, by examining 5,400 vertebrate genera (excluding fishes) comprising 34,600 species, that 73 genera became EX since 1500 AD. Beyond any doubt, the human-driven sixth mass extinction is more severe than previously assessed and is rapidly accelerating. The current generic extinction rates are 35 times higher than expected background rates prevailing in the last million years under the absence of human impacts. The genera lost in the last five centuries would have taken some 18,000 y to vanish in the absence of human beings. Current generic extinction rates will likely greatly accelerate in the next few decades due to drivers accompanying the growth and consumption of the human enterprise such as habitat destruction, illegal trade, and climate disruption. If all now-endangered genera were to vanish by 2,100, extinction rates would be 354 (average) or 511 (for mammals) times higher than background rates, meaning that genera lost in three centuries would have taken 106,000 and 153,000 y to become EX in the absence of humans. Such mutilation of the tree of life and the resulting loss of ecosystem services provided by biodiversity to humanity is a serious threat to the stability of civilization. Immediate political, economic, and social efforts of an unprecedented scale are essential if we are to prevent these extinctions and their societal impacts.
0 Replies
Reply Wed 20 Sep, 2023 04:16 am
Road Hazard: Evidence Mounts on Toxic Pollution from Tires

Researchers are only beginning to uncover the toxic cocktail of chemicals, microplastics, and heavy metals hidden in car and truck tires. But experts say these tire emissions are a significant source of air and water pollution and may be affecting humans as well as wildlife.

For two decades, researchers worked to solve a mystery in West Coast streams. Why, when it rained, were large numbers of spawning coho salmon dying? As part of an effort to find out, scientists placed fish in water that contained particles of new and old tires. The salmon died, and the researchers then began testing the hundreds of chemicals that had leached into the water.

A 2020 paper revealed the cause of mortality: a chemical called 6PPD that is added to tires to prevent their cracking and degradation. When 6PPD, which occurs in tire dust, is exposed to ground-level ozone, it’s transformed into multiple other chemicals, including 6PPD-quinone, or 6PPD-q. The compound is acutely toxic to four of 11 tested fish species, including coho salmon.

Mystery solved, but not the problem, for the chemical continues to be used by all major tire manufacturers and is found on roads and in waterways around the world. Though no one has studied the impact of 6PPD-q on human health, it’s also been detected in the urine of children, adults, and pregnant women in South China. The pathways and significance of that contamination are, so far, unknown.

Still, there are now calls for regulatory action. Last month, the legal nonprofit Earthjustice, on behalf of the fishing industry, filed a notice of intent to sue tire manufacturers for violating the Endangered Species Act by using 6PPD. And a coalition of Indian tribes recently called on the EPA to ban use of the chemical. “We have witnessed firsthand the devastation to the salmon species we have always relied upon to nourish our people,” the Puyallup Tribal Council said in a statement. “We have watched as the species have declined to the point of almost certain extinction if nothing is done to protect them.”

The painstaking parsing of 6PPD and 6PPD-q was just the beginning of a global campaign to understand the toxic cocktail of organic chemicals, tiny particles, and heavy metals hiding in tires and, to a lesser extent, brakes. While the acute toxicity of 6PPD-q and its source have strong scientific consensus, tire rubber contains more than 400 chemicals and compounds, many of them carcinogenic, and research is only beginning to show how widespread the problems from tire dust may be.

While the rubber rings beneath your car may seem benign — one advertising campaign used to feature babies cradled in tires — they are, experts say, a significant source of air, soil, and water pollution that may affect humans as well as fish, wildlife, and other organisms. That’s a problem because some 2 billion tires globally are sold each year — enough to reach the moon if stacked on their sides — with the market expected to reach 3.4 billion a year by 2030.

Tires are made from about 20 percent natural rubber and 24 percent synthetic rubber, which requires five gallons of petroleum per tire. Hundreds of other ingredients, including steel, fillers, and heavy metals — including copper, cadmium, lead, and zinc — make up the rest, many of them added to enhance performance, improve durability, and reduce the possibility of fires.

Both natural and synthetic rubber break down in the environment, but synthetic fragments last a lot longer. Seventy-eight percent of ocean microplastics are synthetic tire rubber, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trust. These fragments are ingested by marine animals — particles have been found in gills and stomachs — and can cause a range of effects, from neurotoxicity to growth retardation and behavioral abnormalities.

“We found extremely high levels of microplastics in our stormwater,” said Rebecca Sutton, an environmental scientist with the San Francisco Estuary Institute who studied runoff. “Our estimated annual discharge of microplastics into San Francisco Bay from stormwater was 7 trillion particles, and half of that was suspected tire particles.”

Tire wear particles, or TWP as they are sometimes known, are emitted continually as vehicles travel. They range in size from visible pieces of rubber or plastic to microparticles, and they comprise one of the products’ most significant environmental impacts, according to the British firm Emissions Analytics, which has spent three years studying tire emissions. The company found that a car’s four tires collectively emit 1 trillion ultrafine particles — of less than 100 nanometers — per kilometer driven. These particles, a growing number of experts say, pose a unique health risk: They are so small they can pass through lung tissue into the bloodstream and cross the blood-brain barrier or be breathed in and travel directly to the brain, causing a range of problems.

According to a recent report issued by researchers at Imperial College London, “There is emerging evidence that tyre wear particles and other particulate matter may contribute to a range of negative health impacts including heart, lung, developmental, reproductive, and cancer outcomes.”

The report says that tires generate 6 million tons of particles a year, globally, of which 200,000 tons end up in oceans. According to Emissions Analytics, cars in the U.S. emit, on average, 5 pounds of tire particles a year, while cars in Europe, where fewer miles are driven, shed 2.5 pounds per year. Moreover, tire emissions from electric vehicles are 20 percent higher than those from fossil-fuel vehicles. EVs weigh more and have greater torque, which wears out tires faster.

Unlike tailpipe exhaust, which has long been studied and regulated, emissions from tires and brakes — which emit significant amounts of metallic particles in addition to organic chemicals — are far harder to measure and control and have therefore escaped regulation. It’s only in the last several years, with the development of new technologies capable of measuring tire emissions and the alarming discovery of 6PPD-q, that the subject is receiving much needed scrutiny.

Recent studies show that the mass of PM 2.5 and PM 10 emissions — which are, along with ozone and ultrafine particles, the world’s primary air pollutants — from tires and brakes far exceeds the mass of emissions from tailpipes, at least in places that have significantly reduced those emissions.

The problem isn’t just rubber in its synthetic and natural form. Government and academic researchers are investigating the transformations produced by tires’ many other ingredients, which could — like 6PPD — form substances more toxic than their parent chemicals as they break down with exposure to sunlight and rain.

“You’ve got a chemical cocktail in these tires that no one really understands and is kept highly confidential by the tire manufacturers,” said Nick Molden, the CEO of Emissions Analytics. “We struggle to think of another consumer product that is so prevalent in the world, and used by virtually everyone, where there is so little known of what is in them.”

“We have known that tires contribute significantly to environmental pollution, but only recently have we begun to uncover the extent of that,” said Cassandra Johannessen, a researcher at Montreal’s Concordia University who is quantifying levels of tire chemicals in urban watersheds and studying how they transform in the environment. The discovery of 6PPD-q has surprised a lot of researchers, she said, because they have learned that “it’s one of the most toxic substances known, and it seems to be everywhere in the world.”

Regulators are playing catch up. In Europe, a standard to be implemented in 2025, known as Euro 7, will regulate not only tailpipe emissions but also emissions from tires and brakes. The California Environmental Protection Agency has passed a rule requiring tire makers to declare an alternative to 6PPD-q by 2024.

Tire companies are conducting their own studies of 6PPD, which they have long considered critical for tire safety, and seeking alternatives. In response to new regulations and the emerging research on tire emissions, 10 of the world’s large tire manufacturers have formed the Tire Industry Project to “develop a holistic approach to better understand and promote action on the mitigation” of tire pollution, according to a statement by the project. The group has committed to search for ways to redesign tires to reduce or eliminate emissions.

One critical area of research is how long tire waste, and its breakdown products, persist in the environment. “A five-micron piece of rubber shears off the tire and settles on the soil and sits there a while,” said Molden. “What, over time, is the release of those chemicals, how quickly do they make their way into the water, and are they diluted? At the system level, how big of a problem is this? It is the single biggest knowledge gap.”

Another area of research centers on the impacts of aromatic hydrocarbons — including benzene and naphthalene — off-gassed by synthetic rubber or emitted when discarded tires are burned in incinerators for energy recovery. Even at low concentrations, these compounds are toxic to humans. They also react with sunlight to form ozone, or ground-level smog, which causes respiratory harm. “We have shown that the amount of off-gassing volatile organic compounds is 100 times greater than that coming out of a modern tailpipe,” said Molden. “This is from the tire just sitting there.”

When tires reach their end of life, they’re either sent to landfills, incinerated, burned in an energy-intensive process called pyrolysis, or shredded and repurposed for use in artificial turf or in playgrounds or for other surfaces. But as concern about tire pollutants grows, so do concerns about these recycled products and the hydrocarbons they may off-gas. There is ongoing debate over whether crumb rubber, made from tire scraps, poses a health threat when used to fill gaps in artificial turf. Based on several peer-reviewed studies, the European Union is instituting stricter limits on the use of this material. Other studies, however, have shown no health impact.

Besides California’s requirement to study alternatives to 6PPD, there are a number of efforts worldwide to redesign tires to counter the problems they pose. More than a decade ago, tire makers hoped that dandelions, which produce a form of rubber, and soy oil could provide a steady and sustainable supply of rubber. But tires made from those alternatives didn’t live up to expectations: they still required additives. The Continental Tire Company, based in Hanover, Germany, markets a bicycle tire made of dandelion roots. Tested by Emission Analytics, it emitted 25 percent fewer carcinogenic aromatics than conventionally made bike tires, but the plant-powered tire still contained ingredients of concern.

Other companies are searching for ways to address the problem of tire emissions. The Tyre Collective, a clean-tech startup based in the U.K., has developed an electrostatic plate that affixes to each of a car’s tires: The plates remove up to 60 percent of particles emitted by both tires and brakes, storing them in a cartridge attached to the device. The particles can be reused in numerous other applications, including in new tires.

In San Francisco, scientists studying the pollutants in storm runoff found a potential solution: Rain gardens, installed in yards to capture stormwater, were also trapping 96 percent of street litter and 100 percent of black rubbery fragments. In Vancouver, B.C. researchers found that rain gardens could prevent more than 90 percent of 6PPD-q from running off roads and entering salmon-bearing streams.

Tire waste particles, says Molden, of Emissions Analytics, are finally getting the attention they deserve, thanks in part to California’s rule requiring a search for alternatives to 6PPD. The legislation “is groundbreaking,” he says, “because it puts the chemical composition [of tires] on the regulatory agenda.” For the first time, he adds, “Tire manufacturers are being exposed to the same regulatory scrutiny that car manufacturers have been for 50 years.”

0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Wed 20 Sep, 2023 04:54 am
A Guardian investigation finds that 98% of Europeans are breathing highly damaging polluted air linked to 400,000 deaths a year.

Revealed: almost everyone in Europe is breathing toxic air
0 Replies

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