Blog Archive

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Asian temperatures could rise disastrously

Profligate fossil fuel use could cause Asian temperatures to rise by 6 °C, bringing floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions.
by Tim Radford, Climate News Network, July 21, 2017

LONDON 
– Unrestrained climate change could have serious consequences by forcing Asian temperatures drastically upwards; it could limit economic growth and reverse recent human advances for hundreds of millions, according to a new study.
The Asian Development Bank and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research say in a new report that if humans continue to burn fossil fuels under the “business as usual” scenario, then global average temperatures could rise by 4 °C.
But over the landmass of Asia, summer temperatures could rise by 6 °C and high mountain nations such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and northwest China could register summer rises of 8 °C above historic levels. Heat-related deaths among the elderly are predicted to rise by 52,000 cases by 2050.
These devastating temperatures would be accompanied by more rain – although Pakistan and Afghanistan could become much drier – and greater vulnerability to flooding as typhoons and tropical cyclones increase in intensity.

Child hunger

Global flood losses, set at $6bn a year in 2005, could rise to $52bn by 2050, and 13 Asian cities are among the 20 worldwide that can expect the greatest flood losses in the next 30 years.
Food production could be hit and rice yields in south-east Asia, for example, could drop by 50%. Food shortages could increase the count of malnourished children in south Asia by 7m.
Coral reefs in the region could be devastated by mass bleaching. Sea levels could rise by 1.4 metres by 2100 and go on rising over the centuries by more than five metres.
“The global climate crisis is arguably the biggest challenge human civilisation faces in the 21st century, with the Asia and Pacific region at the heart of it all," said Bambang Susantono, of the Asian Development Bank.

“The Asian countries hold Earth's future in their hands. If they choose to protect themselves against dangerous climate change, they will help to save the entire planet”

“Home to two-thirds of the world's poor, and regarded as one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, countries in Asia and the Pacific are at the highest risk of plummeting into deeper poverty – and disaster – if mitigation and adaptation efforts are not quickly and strongly implemented.”
Over the last 25 years, per capita income in Asia and the Pacific has grown tenfold: so too have the cities. The world has 71 cities with more than 5m inhabitants, and 33 of these are in Asia. These 33 are now home to 348m people. By 2030, they could be sheltering 483bn, a 40% growth in 15 years. By 2030, there could be another eight megacities, four in India.
But as wealth has increased, so has inequality. The poorest are most likely to be the greatest victims of unrestrained climate change.
“The Asian countries hold Earth's future in their hands. If they choose to protect themselves against dangerous climate change, they will help to save the entire planet,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute.

Crucial actor

“The challenge is twofold. On the one hand, Asian greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced in a way that the global community can limit planetary warming to well below 2 °C, as agreed in Paris 2015.  
“Yet even adapting to 1.5 °C temperature rise is a major task. So, on the other hand, Asian countries have to find strategies for ensuring prosperity and security under unavoidable climate change within a healthy global development,” Professor Schellnhuber said.
“But note that leading the clean industrial revolution will provide Asia with unprecedented economic opportunities. And exploring the best strategies to absorb the shocks of environmental change will make Asia a crucial actor in 21st Century multilateralism.”

'Seemingly unbelievable' temperatures becoming more common in Arctic winters

Warm periods are bringing the temperature up by as much as 30 C in the middle of winter

The research vessel Lance sits in the Arctic sea ice on 17 February 2015.
The research vessel Lance sits in the Arctic sea ice on 17 February 2015. (Courtesy Paul Dodd/Norwegian Polar Institute)

by Jimmy Thomson, CBC News, July 12, 2017

Extreme warming events are blowing into the Arctic more frequently during the winter, and lasting longer, according to a new study from the American Geophysical Union. The storms have an effect on sea ice formation, and could even be linked to extreme weather in the south.
"The big takeaway for us was that these seemingly unbelievable winter temperatures close to the North Pole, close to 0 C, is not completely new — but in recent years, these patterns are increasing, and we're getting more of these storms," says lead author Dr. Robert Graham, of the Norwegian Polar Institute.
Normally, during the winter, temperatures in the High Arctic stay below –30 C. But, occasionally, a storm blows in from the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, bringing warm air with it. The resulting extreme weather contributes to melting sea ice through high temperatures and accompanying high winds.
But the effects also last beyond the event itself. By adding snow that insulates the ice from the returning cold temperatures, the storms also prevent the ice from refreezing.
"In 2017, we had the record minimum sea ice extent in March. So these two things, we believe, are going hand in hand," says Graham.

Sea ice disappearing

A lack of sea ice can cause its own problems. Open water absorbs more heat than ice, so the ocean warms even faster. That, in turn, makes it more difficult for the ice to form the following year, causing a cascade of ecological effects throughout food webs.
Warming events have been recorded as far back as 1893, when explorer Fridtjof Nansen's Fram expedition spent four years drifting in the Arctic Ocean. During that trip, the crew recorded temperatures as high as –3.7 C in March, at 84 degrees north.
For this study, the authors also drew on half a century worth of data from drifting Soviet research stations on the polar ice, which, in 1956, recorded the first winter temperatures above –1 C at 85 degrees north.
Sea ice buoy
A 'snow buoy' embedded in the sea ice takes temperature readings.
More recent data came from modern sea ice buoys. 
Over the last century of data, the researchers found high temperatures were increasingly common, and increasingly long. The average length of a warm period around the North Pole has increased by 4.25 days each decade since 1980, and Graham expects the trend to continue to intensify in the future.
Some scientists have argued that the lack of sea ice has destabilized the jet stream, leading to cold weather sweeping south while warm southern weather pushes further north, meaning that strange winter events in the south, like ice storms in Texas and a persistent "blob" of warm water in the Pacific, may be related to the conditions in the Arctic.
"I think that this is kind of what we expect," says Graham, but cautions that that is not within the scope of the current study.
"It's something we want to look into in the future."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Larsen C breaks away

People can watch further developments here:

https://worldview.earthdata.nasa.gov/?p=antarctic&l=VIIRS_SNPP_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor(hidden),MODIS_Aqua_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor(hidden),MODIS_Terra_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor,VIIRS_SNPP_DayNightBand_ENCC,Coastlines&t=2017-07-12&z=3&v=-2570154.5783290304,937557.1566580613,-1783722.5783290304,1313877.1566580613

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ben Santer, WaPo: I’m a climate scientist. And I’m not letting trickle-down ignorance win.

How to fight the Trump administration's darkness


Fact Checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Lee examine several of President Trump's claims from his speech announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord on Thursday. (Video: Meg Kelly/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

by Ben Santer, The Washington Post, July 5, 2017


I’ve been a mountaineer for most of my life. Mountains are in my blood. In my early 20s, while climbing in France, I fell into a crevasse on the Milieu Glacier, at the start of the normal route on the Aiguille d’Argentiere. Remarkably, I was unhurt. From the grip of the banded ice, I saw a thin slit of blue sky 120 feet above me. The math was simple: Climb 120 feet. If I reached that slit of blue sky, I would live. If I didn’t, I’d freeze to death in the cold and dark.
Now, more than 40 years later, it feels like I’m in a different kind of darkness — the darkness of the Trump administration’s scientific ignorance. This is just as real as the darkness of the Milieu Glacier’s interior and just as life-threatening. This time, I’m not alone. The consequences of this ignorance affect every person on the planet.
Imagine, if you will, that you spend your entire professional life trying to do one thing to the best of your ability. In my case, that one thing is to study the nature and causes of climate change. You put in a long apprenticeship. You spend years learning about the climate system, computer models of climate and climate observations. You start filling a tool kit with the statistical and mathematical methods you’ll need for analyzing complex data sets. You are taught how electrical engineers detect signals embedded in noisy data. You apply those engineering insights to the detection of a human-caused warming signal buried in the natural “noise” of Earth’s climate. Eventually, you learn that human activities are warming Earth’s surface, and you publish this finding in peer-reviewed literature.
You participate in rigorous national and international assessments of climate science. You try to put aside all personal filters, to be objective, to accommodate a diversity of scientific opinions held by your peers, by industry stakeholders, and by governments. These assessments are like nothing you’ve ever done before: They are peer review on steroids, eating up years of your life.
The bottom-line finding of the assessments is cautious at first. In 1995, the conclusion is this: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” These 12 words are part of a chapter on which you are first author. The 12 words change your life. You spend years defending the “discernible human influence” conclusion. You encounter valid scientific criticism. You also encounter nonscientific criticism from powerful forces of unreason, who harbor no personal animus toward you but don’t like what you’ve learned and published — it’s bad for their business.
Your peers are your fiercest critics. They are constantly kicking the tires. Show us that your “discernible human influence” results aren’t due to changes in the sun, or volcanic activity, or internal cycles in the climate system. Show us that your results aren’t due to some combination of these natural factors. Convince us that detection of a human fingerprint isn’t sensitive to uncertainties in models, data, or the statistical methods in your tool kit. Explain the causes of each and every wiggle in temperature records. Respond to every claim contradicting your findings.
So you jump through hoops. You do due diligence. You go down every blind alley, every rabbit hole. Over time, the evidence for a discernible human influence on global climate becomes overwhelming. The evidence is internally and physically consistent. It’s in climate measurements made from the ground, from weather balloons, and from space — measurements of dozens of different climate variables made by hundreds of different research groups around the world. You write more papers, examine more uncertainties, and participate in more scientific assessments. You tell others what you’ve done, what you’ve learned, and what the climatic “shape of things to come” might look like if we do nothing to reduce emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. You speak not only to your scientific peers but also to a wide variety of audiences, some of which are skeptical about you and everything you do. You enter the public arena and make yourself accountable.
After decades of seeking to advance scientific understanding, reality suddenly shifts, and you are back in the cold darkness of ignorance. The ignorance starts at the top, with President Trump. It starts with untruths and alternative facts. The untruth that climate change is a “hoax” engineered by the Chinese. The alternative fact that “nobody really knows” whether climate change is real. These untruths and alternative facts are repeated again and again. They serve as talking points for other members of the administration. From the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who has spent his career fighting climate change science, we learn the alternative fact that satellite data shows “a leveling off of warming ” over the past two decades. The energy secretary tells us the fairy tale that climate change is primarily due to “ocean waters and this environment that we live in.” Ignorance trickles down from the president to members of his administration, eventually filtering into the public’s consciousness.
Getting out of this metaphorical darkness is going to be tough. The administration is powerful. It has access to media megaphones and bully pulpits. It can abrogate international climate agreements. It can weaken national legislation designed to protect our air and water. It can challenge climate science and tell us that more than three decades of scientific understanding and rigorous assessments are all worthless. It can question the integrity and motives of climate scientists. It can halt satellite missions and impair our ability to monitor Earth’s climate from space. It can shut down websites hosting real facts on the science of climate change. It can deny, delay, defund, distort, dismantle. It can fiddle while the planet burns.
I have to believe that even in this darkness, though, there is still a thin slit of blue sky. My optimism comes from a gut-level belief in the decency and intelligence of the people of this country. Most Americans have an investment in the future — in our children and grandchildren, and in the planet that is our only home. Most Americans care about these investments in the future; we want to protect them from harm. That is our prime directive. Most of us understand that to fulfill this directive, we can’t ignore the reality of a warming planet, rising seas, retreating snow and ice, and changes in the severity and frequency of droughts and floods. We can’t ignore the reality that human actions are part of the climate change problem and that human actions must be part of the solution. Ignoring reality is not a viable survival strategy.
Trump has referred to a cloud hanging over his administration. The primary cloud I see is the self-created cloud of willful ignorance on the science of climate change. That cloud is a clear and present threat to the lives, livelihoods, and health of every person on the planet, now and in the future. This cloud could be easily lifted by the president himself.
For my own part, I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life in darkness or silently accepting trickle-down ignorance. I didn’t climb out of a crevasse on the Milieu Glacier for that.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/07/05/im-a-climate-scientist-and-im-not-letting-trickle-down-ignorance-win/

Posts in June 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Alice C. Hill: The Catastrophic Risks of Climate Change: The US Turns Its Back on the World




My business just picked up.  I wish it hadn’t.
I am in the business of finding better ways to prepare for the catastrophic, largely irreversible risks posed by climate change.  The risks are so bad that most of us avoid talking about them at the dinner table. They include ocean acidification, “rain bombs” that cause massive flooding, wildfires that burn up our forests and scorch the dirt that sustains them, droughts that reduce our water supplies, heat waves that ramp up “wet bulb temperature” to heights that can kill humans, and the spread of insect-borne diseases that we wish we had never heard of (Chikungunya) and that we thought would never infect us (Dengue).
These were the emerging threats I was working on before President Trump pulled the plug on the Paris Agreement. My work just increased—big time—because without the Paris Agreement, we are moving ever closer toward climate hell.
Climate change is obviously a global problem, but as the second-largest carbon emitter in the world, the U.S. is a disproportionate contributor to it. The international commitments made in Paris gave us at least a fighting chance of keeping the globe under the line experts agree is too dangerous to cross: a 2-degree Celsius increase from pre-industrial levels. With Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the US has not only bowed out as captain but also dropped its baton in the biggest relay race of all time—the race to cut carbon emissions to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change. In doing so, it has also signaled to the rest of rest of the world that they needn’t stay in the race either.
There is no such thing as American exceptionalism when it comes to climate change impacts, and by shredding the U.S. commitment to cut emissions, Trump has left all of the country in harm’s way. Climate change impacts will affect every speck of American soil and virtually every American and many of the consequences will be negative.  For example, we will suffer increased respiratory issues and heat-related illnesses. More acres of land will burn; more algae will bloom in our lakes; heat will buckle more roads and train tracks and melt the asphalt;  floods will enter more homes, schools, and hospitals; residents along our coasts and rivers will move inland and to higher ground just to escape the waters; and whole coastal communities will start slipping into the ocean. This isn’t the stuff of science fiction. It is happening already, right here in the United States.  It just gets worse—a lot worse—the more carbon we send up into the atmosphere.
Just as America suffers, so will the rest of the world. And some of their suffering will spill back onto us. We already have plenty of examples of how climate impacts in other countries threaten global stability and our national security. These include the historic drought in Syria that drove over a million people, mostly young men, to move to cities in search of work and which, in turn, contributed to civil unrest and unprecedented mass migration; the opening of an ocean in the Arctic leading to increased Russian military activity; the rise of insurgent groups like Boko Haram committed to destabilizing governments; increased pressure on U.S. borders from Central American immigrants fleeing agricultural devastation caused by the spread of “coffee rust”; and the threat to U.S. military installations around the world from relentless sea-level rise.
Back in February, Trump sent a warning shot across the bow when he issued his executive order instructing EPA Administrator Pruitt to pull away from Obama’s regulations aimed at curbing emissions from coal-fired power plants. Alarmingly, in that same executive order, President Trump also killed an Obama-era executive order designed to ensure that the U.S. incorporates the impacts of climate change in its national and homeland security policy and planning. With his latest decision to pull America out of the Paris Agreement, Trump has not only ensured that the world will experience even more heat but has also signaled to our national security team that they needn’t prepare for the fallout. 
Trump rests his terrifying decisions on the desire to bolster our economy. My response: If he thinks the economy is suffering now, wait until our economy has to struggle against the crushing load of climate change impacts. What happens when flooding routinely breaks supply chains for essential materials, as occurred in Thailand in 2011? What happens to the agriculture sector when it gets too hot for plants to thrive? What happens to the real estate market when 300 U.S. cities lose at least half their homes and 36 U.S cities disappear under rising seas, as Zillow predicts? What happens to commerce when our already crumbling infrastructure is pounded by more heat, flooding, and violent storms? What happens to our urban economies when cities turn into “urban heat islands?” And what happens when all of this happens at once?
President Trump has thrown the world into a vortex of escalating harm ostensibly in the interest of “making America great again.” His action may have provided me new business, but, to the detriment of us all, he has pushed us further toward an irreversible incendiary course.
About Alice Hill, JD: Retired Judge Alice C. Hill is a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University where her work focuses on preparing for the destabilizing impacts of climate change. Prior to joining Hoover, she served in the Obama administration as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Resilience Policy for the National Security Council. While at the White House, Judge Hill led the development of national policy regarding national security and climate change, incorporation of climate resilience considerations into international development, Federal efforts in the Arctic, building national capabilities for long-term drought resilience, and establishment of national risk management standards for 3 of the most damaging natural hazards. Judge Hill previously served as Senior Counselor to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and as an ex officio member of the Federal Advisory Committee for the National Climate Assessment. In addition, she led the DHS Task Force responsible for creating the first ever climate adaptation plans for the Department. She is also the founder and first Chairperson of the internationally recognized Blue Campaign, an initiative to combat human trafficking. Before joining President Obama’s administration, Judge Hill served as Supervising Judge on both the Superior and Municipal Courts in Los Angeles and as Chief of the white-collar crime prosecution unit in the Los Angeles United States Attorney’s Office. Judge Hill has received numerous awards, including Harvard University’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative’s “Meta Leader” of the Year Award, the Los Angeles Superior Court’s Masters Award, the San Fernando Valley Bar Association’s “Judge of the Year” Award, and the Department of Justice’s John Marshall Award for outstanding legal achievement, as well as commendations from Federal, state, and non-governmental organizations. She received her BA from Stanford University and JD from the University of Virginia School of Law.

rjsigmund: environmental and climate science news, week of June 19, 2017

from rjsigmund, June 25, 2017

Elon Musk wants to link computers to our brains to prevent an existential threat to humanity -- Given Musk's ambitiousness, it's not totally surprising that he is also launching a company that will look into ways to link human brains to computers. Musk reportedly plans to spend 3-5% of his work time on Neuralink, which will develop technology to integrate brains and computers as a way to fix medical problems and eventually supercharge human cognition.  Existing brain-computer interfaces, which are relatively simple compared to Musk's goals, can connect to a few hundred brain cells at a time. Those are already helping the deaf hear, the blind see, and the paralyzed move robotic arms. Once researchers are able to understanding and connect interfaces to the 100 billion neurons in the brain, these linkages could essentially give people superpowers. That potential has clearly captured Musk's interest, but this new project also seems to stem from his concerns about super-intelligent artificial intelligence (AI).

Neurologists Discover Fully Intact 15th Century Brain in Ohio Congressman — Marveling at how well preserved the archaic opinions were, a team of archaeologists from the Smithsonian Institution and neurologists from Johns Hopkins announced Thursday the discovery of a fully intact 15th-century belief system in Ohio congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH). “It’s just extraordinary to come across a perspective that dates back to the early to mid-1500s and shows absolutely no signs of decay,” said Dr. Claire Goedde, explaining that while it’s not uncommon to encounter partial remains of convictions from that era, it’s exceedingly rare to recover a specimen this pristine. “All the 600-year-old viewpoints remain almost completely untouched, from religion’s place in society to the rights of women to some basic scientific concepts, particularly concerning the 1st and 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics. Things the rest of the species have known for centuries.” The researcher noted -“I can only imagine the insights this single sample will provide as to how people who lived centuries ago saw the world around them.” Goedde added, however, that the congressman’s belief system was fragile even in near-perfect condition and could deteriorate rapidly if examined too much.

‘There Was No Escaping It’: Iraq Vets Are Becoming Terminally Ill and Burn Pits May Be To Blame - The Iraq War killed former Minnesota Air National Guard Tech Sgt. Amie Muller. It just took a decade to do it. That, at least, is how Muller’s family and friends see it. The 36-year-old’s pancreatic cancer, they believe, was caused by exposure to the massive burn pit used to dispose of waste at Joint Base Balad, 40 miles north of Baghdad. Her doctors said there was a strong possibility the burn pit was to blame, but no way to definitively prove a link with the available evidence. Regardless, a young mother of three died in February from a disease that typically is diagnosed at age 71. “It makes me really mad,” Muller told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in June 2016, a month after learning she had Stage III pancreatic cancer. “I inhaled that stuff all day, all night. Everything that they burned there is illegal to burn in America. That tells you something.”  Even as her life came to an end, Muller sought to prevent others from suffering a similar fate. Despite being in physical pain from the cancer, and agonizing over the thought of leaving her children without a mom, she became a voice for veterans who believe that the modern battlefield, with its burn pits, fine dust, and metal-laden soil, is an environmental killer. “Amie Muller served this country with distinction, and we owe her our gratitude,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said in a statement following Muller’s death on Feb. 18.  Klobuchar had gotten to know Muller during her illness, and just 10 days before Muller died, the senator teamed up with Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina to sponsor legislation that would require the VA to establish a center of excellence to study and improve the diagnosis and treatment of burn pit-related illnesses. To date, 34 members of the House and Senate have added their names to the Senate bill, S. 319, Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits, and its companion House bill, H.R. 1279, in support. Veterans have long reported health issues thought to be related to combat deployments, and Congress has discussed the associated health risks at 30 hearings since 2009. In 2013, the legislators even ordered the VA to establish a registry to track veterans who believe they are sick as a result of exposure to burn pits or other environmental factors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Teflon Toxin Found in North Carolina Drinking Water - A persistent and toxic industrial chemical known as GenX has been detected in the drinking water in Wilmington, North Carolina, and in surface waters in Ohio and West Virginia. DuPont introduced GenX in 2009 to replace PFOA, a compound it used to manufacture Teflon and coatings for stain-resistant carpeting, waterproof clothing, and many other consumer products. PFOA, also known as C8, was phased out after DuPont was hit with a class-action suit over health and environmental concerns. Yet as The Intercept reported last year, GenX is associated with some of the same health problems as PFOA, including cancer and reproductive issues. Levels of GenX in the drinking water of one North Carolina water utility, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, averaged 631 ppt (parts per trillion), according to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters in 2016. Although researchers didn’t test the water of two other drinking water providers that also draw water from that area of the Cape Fear River, the entire watershed downstream of the Chemours discharge, which is a source of drinking water for some 250,000 people, is likely to be contaminated, according to Detlef Knappe, one of the authors of the study. Research presented at a conference this week at Northeastern University detailed the presence of GenX in water in North Carolina and Ohio. In both cases, the chemical was found in water near plants that were owned by DuPont and since 2015 have been operated by DuPont’s spinoff company, Chemours. Both GenX and PFOA belong to a larger group of chemicals known as PFAS, which are structurally similar and believed to persist indefinitely in nature.

New Claims Against Monsanto in Consumer Lawsuit Over Roundup Herbicide - Another day, another lawsuit against global seed and chemical giant Monsanto Co. In a complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in Wisconsin, six consumers alleged that the company's top-selling Roundup herbicide has been falsely promoted as uniquely safe when it actually can have profound harmful impacts on human gut bacteria critical to good health. The lawsuit, which also names Roundup distributor Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. as a defendant, specifically alleges that consumers are being deceived by inaccurate and misleading statements made by Monsanto regarding glyphosate, the active weed-killing ingredient in Roundup.  Plaintiffs include residents of Wisconsin, Illinois, California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Glyphosate, which Monsanto introduced as an herbicide in 1974 and is widely used in growing food crops, has been promoted for years as a chemical that kills plants by targeting an enzyme that is not found in people or pets. The lawsuit claims that assertion is false, however, and argues that research shows glyphosate can target an enzyme found in gut bacteria in people and animals, disrupting the immune system, digestion and "even brain function."  "Defendants repeat these false and misleading representations throughout their marketing, including in video advertisements produced for their websites and YouTube Channel," states the lawsuit, which is filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.  Monsanto is currently defending itself against nationwide claims that Roundup has caused hundreds of people to suffer from a type of blood cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. More than 1,100 plaintiffs have lawsuits pending in state and federal courts with many of the lawsuits combined in multi-district litigation in federal court in San Francisco.

California Scientists: Safe Level of Roundup Is 100x Lower Than EPA Allowance -- In a landmark rule with global repercussions, California state scientists are preparing to issue the world's first health guideline for Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide based on its cancer risk. The state's proposed safe level is more than 100 times lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ( EPA ) legal allowance for the average-sized American.  Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Roundup , the most heavily applied weed killer in the history of chemical agriculture. Use of glyphosate has exploded in the last 15 years, as Monsanto has promoted genetically modified Roundup Ready seeds to grow crops that aren't harmed by the herbicide. In the U.S. alone, more than 200 million pounds of Roundup are sprayed each year, mostly on soybeans and corn.  In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer—part of the World Health Organization, with no regulatory authority— reviewed human cancer studies and determined that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic" to people. Based on that finding, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced its intention to add glyphosate to the state's Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer. By itself, that listing would be a big blow to Monsanto, because it would require cancer warning labels on containers of Roundup and on foods that have high residues of glyphosate. Monsanto is appealing the decision in state court, but in the meantime the OEHHA has moved forward in setting a so-called No Significant Risk Level of the amount of glyphosate people could safely consume each day.

The WHO's cancer agency left in the dark over glyphosate evidence: A large study of pesticides in the United States produced new information about glyphosate, a common weedkiller. But the data was not considered by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 when it assessed whether glyphosate causes cancer. Previously unreported court documents reviewed by Reuters from an ongoing U.S. legal case against Monsanto show that Blair knew the unpublished research found no evidence of a link between glyphosate and cancer. In a sworn deposition given in March this year in connection with the case, Blair also said the data would have altered IARC’s analysis. He said it would have made it less likely that glyphosate would meet the agency’s criteria for being classed as “probably carcinogenic.” But IARC, a semi-autonomous part of the World Health Organization, never got to consider the data. The agency’s rules on assessing substances for carcinogenicity say it can consider only published research – and this new data, which came from a large American study on which Blair was a senior researcher, had not been published. The lack of publication has sparked debate and contention. A leading U.S. epidemiologist and a leading UK statistician – both independent of Monsanto – told Reuters the data was strong and relevant and they could see no reason why it had not surfaced. Monsanto told Reuters that the fresh data on glyphosate could and should have been published in time to be considered by IARC, and that the failure to publish it undermined IARC’s classification of glyphosate. The legal case against Monsanto, taking place in California, involves 184 individual plaintiffs who cite the IARC assessment and claim exposure to RoundUp gave them cancer. They allege Monsanto failed to warn consumers of the risks. Monsanto denies the allegations. The absence of the data from IARC’s assessment was important. IARC ended its meeting in 2015 by concluding that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen.” It based its finding on “limited evidence” of carcinogenicity in humans and “sufficient evidence” in experimental animals. It said, among other things, that there was a “positive association” between glyphosate and blood cancers called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. IARC told Reuters that, despite the existence of fresh data about glyphosate, it was sticking with its findings. 

Monsanto's Dicamba Problems Are Far From Over. Farmers File Another Lawsuit Over Drift Damage - Arkansas farmers filed a class-action lawsuit last week against Monsanto and German chemical company BASF , alleging that the companies' dicamba -based herbicides caused damage to their properties. The plaintiffs claim that Monsanto and BASF implemented and controlled the dicamba crop system, releasing seed technology without a corresponding, safe and approved herbicide. According to Hoosier Ag : "The farmers allege that Monsanto and BASF sold the dicamba crop system while knowing it could wipe out crops, fruits, and trees that are not dicamba tolerant. The farmers claim that those who do not plant dicamba tolerant crops are left with no protection from the herbicide." To date , Arkansas' agriculture department has received 135 dicamba misuse complaints across 17 counties. The lawsuit comes as the Arkansas State Plant Board considers an in-crop dicamba ban that was proposed by the state's pesticide committee. The controversy behind the pesticide started last year when Monsanto decided to sell its new dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds several growing seasons before getting federal approval for the corresponding herbicide. Without having the proper herbicide, cotton and soybean growers were suspected of illegally spraying older versions of the highly toxic and drift-prone chemical onto the seeds and inadvertently damaged nearby non-target crops due to drift.  The spraying triggered widespread reports of crop damage across thousands of acres in 10 states and several lawsuits against pesticide makers. In October, a drift dispute between Arkansas farmers resulted in one farmer being shot to death.

African Farmers Facing Heavy Prison Sentences if They Continue Their Traditional Seed Exchange | Earth First! Newswire: In order to get developmental assistance, Tanzania amended its legislation, which should give commercial investors faster and better access to agricultural land as well as a very strong protection of intellectual property rights. ‘If you buy seeds from Syngenta or Monsanto under the new legislation, they will retain the intellectual property rights. If you save seeds from your first harvest, you can use them only on your own piece of land for non-commercial purposes. You’re not allowed to share them with your neighbors or with your sister-in-law in a different village, and you cannot sell them for sure. But that’s the entire foundation of the seed system in Africa,’ says Michael Farrelly. Under the new law, Tanzanian farmers risk a prison sentence of at least 12 years or a fine of over €205,300, or both, if they sell seeds that are not certified. ‘That’s an amount that a Tanzanian farmer cannot even start to imagine. The average wage is still less than 2 US dollars a day’, says Janet Maro, head of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT). Tanzania applied the legislation concerning intellectual property rights on seeds as a condition for receiving development assistance through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN). The NAFSN was launched in 2012 by the G8 with the goal to help 50 million people out of poverty and hunger in the ten African partner countries through a public-private partnership. The initiative receives the support of the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Southeast Is Ground Zero for Genetically Engineered Trees (see infographics) ArborGen Corporation , a multinational conglomerate and leading supplier of seedlings for commercial forestry applications, has submitted an approval request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to deregulate and widely distribute a eucalyptus tree genetically engineered (GE) to be freeze tolerant. This modification will allow this GE variety to be grown in the U.S. Southeast. The reason this non-native and highly invasive tree has been artificially created to grow outside of its tropical environment is to greatly expand production capacity for the highly controversial woody biomass industry. For almost two decades, and under the radar from widespread awareness and public scrutiny, government, academia, biotech and the commercial forestry industries have invested millions of dollars into research and development (R&D) of GE trees. The few reports published about the R&D cite a major goal of many of these projects as providing a sustainable alternative for fossil fuels in the manufacture of consumer products and energy production.   Eucalyptus trees grow faster, are highly combustible, and require more water than other species. Although some assurances have been given that this GE variety won't spread unintentionally, there are no guarantees this won't happen. Some of the non-GE eucalyptus trees, planted in California years ago have proven a huge problem for native species. Efforts to eradicate them have been largely ineffective and are recently the leading cause of wildfires burning hotter and causing more damage in areas where they have grown unchecked.  If the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) is accepted and this GE tree is deregulated , it will make it possible for these trees to be grown in industrial-sized "tree farms" from South Carolina to Texas.  More than 1 million acres of pine plantations, grasslands, pastures and once forested land could be forever altered by row after row of GE eucalyptus trees. Few other living things can survive on these plantations because all vegetation has been stripped from the land, soaked with herbicides and chemical fertilizers, and planted with row after row with thousands of unnaturally altered seedlings. Every five to seven years the trees are cut like hay and loaded on to giant tractor trailers headed to energy or feedstock processing facilities and the process from start to finish is repeated.

Norway warns Brazil that funds to safeguard rainforests at risk | Reuters: Norway has warned Brazil that funds to help protect the Amazon rainforest under a billion-dollar program are in jeopardy because more forests are being destroyed, a Norwegian government letter showed on Wednesday. Brazil's President Michel Temer will meet Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Oslo on Friday to discuss cooperation including Norway's program to help Brazil's efforts to restrict logging and the clearance of forests by farmers. Wealthy from producing oil and gas, Norway is the biggest foreign donor to protect tropical forests from Brazil to Indonesia, partly because they are big natural stores of greenhouse gases and help to slow climate change. The Amazon is suffering a "worrying upward trend" in deforestation since 2015 after "impressive achievements" over the previous decade, Norway's Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen wrote to his Brazilian counterpart Jose Sarney Filho this month. Norway's annual contributions to an Amazon Fund, to which it has paid $1.1 billion since 2008 based on Brazil's progress in slowing deforestation, were now set to fall, he wrote in the letter seen by Reuters.

British forest pumped full of CO2 to test tree absorption | Reuters: Researchers at a British University have embarked on a decade-long experiment that will pump a forest full of carbon dioxide to measure how it copes with rising levels of the gas - a key driver of climate change. The Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) experiment at the University of Birmingham's Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) will expose a fenced-off section of mature woodland - in Norbury Park in Staffordshire, West Midlands - to levels of CO2 that experts predict will be prevalent in 2050. Scientists aim to measure the forest's capacity to capture carbon released by fossil fuel burning, and answer questions about their capacity to absorb carbon pollution long-term. "(Forests) happily take a bit more CO2 because that's their main nutrient. But we don't know how much more and whether they can do that indefinitely", BIFoR co-director Michael Tausz told Reuters. The apparatus for the experiment consists a series of masts built into six 30-metre wide sections of woodland, reaching up about 25 meters into the forest canopy. Concentrated CO2 is fed through pipes to the top of the masts where it is pumped into the foliage. Last year the U.N World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that the global average of carbon dioxide, the main man-made greenhouse gas, reached 400 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere for the first time on record. "The forest here sees nearly 40 percent more CO2 than it sees normally, because that's what it will be globally in about 2050; a value of 550 parts per million, compared to 400 parts per million now," Tausz said.

The botanists’ last stand: The daring work of saving the last samples of dying species -- Steve Perlman doesn’t take Prozac, like some of the other rare-plant botanists he knows. Instead, he writes poetry. Either way, you have to do something when a plant you’ve long known goes extinct. Let’s say for 20 years you’ve been observing a tree on a fern-covered crag thousands of feet above sea level on an island in the Pacific. Then one day you hike up to check on the plant and find it dying. You know it’s the last one of its species, and that you’re the only witness to the end of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, the snuffing out of a line of completely unique genetic material. You might have to sit down and write a poem. Or at least bring a bit of the dead plant to a bar and raise a beer to its life. (Perlman has done both.) You might even need an antidepressant.  “I’ve already witnessed about 20 species go extinct in the wild,” Perlman says. “It can be like you’re dealing with your friends or your family, and then they die.”  Perlman gestures towards a Wilkesia gymnoxiphium in bloom. Better known as iliau, it’s a rare species of flowering plant in the sunflower family found only on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Perlman tells me this as we drive up a winding road on the northwestern edge of Kauai, the geologically oldest Hawaiian island.  The stakes are always high: As the top botanist at Hawaii’s Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP), Perlman deals exclusively in plants with 50 or fewer individuals left—in many cases, much fewer, maybe two or three. Of the 238 species currently on that list, 82 are on Kauai; Perlman literally hangs off cliffs and jumps from helicopters to reach them. Without him, rare Hawaiian plants die out forever. With him, they at least have a shot. Though now, due to forces beyond Perlman’s control, even that slim hope of survival is in jeopardy. Looming budget cuts threaten to make this the final chapter not only in the history of many native Hawaiian species, but in the program designed to keep them alive.

Invasive Asian carp (the kind that jump) found beyond barrier to Great Lakes -- Cleveland.com -- The discovery of an invasive silver carp beyond a waterway barrier in Chicago that is designed to keep the fish from entering Lake Michigan is causing alarm among advocates for the Great Lakes. The carp was caught nine miles from Lake Michigan by a fisherman below the T.J. O'Brien Lock and Dam, according to an Associated Press article in the Chicago Tribune. The silver carp is perhaps the most notorious of four Asian carp that officials are trying to keep from entering the Great Lakes. It's the one that jumps out of the water and has been frequently photographed above the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, said Jeff Reutter, former director of Ohio State University's Sea Grant office at Stone Lab on Put-in-Bay in Lake Erie. "Anytime you find one beyond the barrier it's not a good sign," Reutter said, but one fish does not mean there's a spawning population. A bighead carp was found beyond the barrier in Lake Calumet in 2010, according to the Associated Press. The good thing that came from the silver carp's discovery is that it automatically calls for an intense two-week sampling of the waterway to see if more of this fish can be found, Reutter said. The discovery of the silver carp has increased the concerns of several members of Congress from the Great Lakes region. "The fishing industry in the Great Lakes is a $7-billion-a-year economic engine and it would be severely threatened if Asian Carp are allowed into the Great Lakes," stated Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio in a written release. "The Administration should release its proposed plan they have drafted so there is no delay in protecting the Great Lakes from Asian Carp."

Oh, Lovely: The Tick That Gives People Meat Allergies Is Spreading -- First comes the unscratchable itching, and the angry blossoming of hives. Then stomach cramping, and—for the unluckiest few—difficulty breathing, passing out, and even death. In the last decade and a half, thousands of previously protein-loving Americans have developed a dangerous allergy to meat. And they all have one thing in common: the lone star tick.  Red meat, you might be surprised to know, isn’t totally sugar-free. It contains a few protein-linked saccharides, including one called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or alpha-gal, for short. More and more people are learning this the hard way, when they suddenly develop a life-threatening allergy to that pesky sugar molecule after a tick bite. Yep, one bite from the lone star tick—which gets its name from the Texas-shaped splash of white on its back—is enough to reprogram your immune system to forever reject even the smallest nibble of perfectly crisped bacon. For years, physicians and researchers only reported the allergy in places the lone star tick calls home, namely the southeastern United States. But recently it’s started to spread. The newest hot spots? Duluth, Minnesota; Hanover, New Hampshire; and the eastern tip of Long Island, where at least 100 cases have been reported in the last year. Scientists are racing to trace its spread, to understand if the lone star tick is expanding into new territories, or if other species of ticks are now causing the allergy.

American Chipmakers Had a Toxic Problem. Then They Outsourced It --Making computer chips involved hundreds of chemicals. The women on the production line worked in so-called cleanrooms and wore protective suits, but that was for the chips’ protection, not theirs. The women were exposed to, and in some cases directly touched, chemicals that included reproductive toxins, mutagens, and carcinogens. Reproductive dangers are among the most serious concerns in occupational health, because workers’ unborn children can suffer birth defects or childhood diseases, and also because reproductive issues can be sentinels for disorders, especially cancer, that don’t show up in the workers themselves until long after exposure.  Digital Equipment agreed to pay for a study, and Pastides, an expert in disease clusters, designed and conducted it. Data collection was finished in late 1986, and the results were shocking: Women at the plant had miscarriages at twice the expected rate. In November, the company disclosed the findings to employees and the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group, and then went public. Pastides and his colleagues were heralded as heroes by some and vilified by others, especially in the industry.  By December 1992, three follow-up studies—all paid for by the industry—showed similar results: roughly a doubling of the rate of miscarriages for thousands of potentially exposed women. This time the industry reacted quickly. SIA pointed to a family of toxic chemicals widely used in chipmaking as the likely cause and declared that its companies would accelerate efforts to phase them out. IBM went further: It pledged to rid its global chip production of them by 1995.  Two decades later, the ending to the story looks like a different kind of tale. As semiconductor production shifted to less expensive countries, the industry’s promised fixes do not appear to have made the same journey, at least not in full. Confidential data reviewed by Bloomberg show that thousands of women and their unborn children continued to face potential exposure to the same toxins until at least 2015. The risks are exacerbated by secrecy—the industry may be using toxins that still haven’t been disclosed. This is the price paid by generations of women making the devices at the heart of the global economy.

WATCH: Uncontacted Tribes Face Disaster Unless Land is Protected (video) - Tribal peoples are the best guardians of the natural world, and evidence proves that tribal territories are the best barrier to deforestation. This photograph shows the land of an uncontacted tribe as an island of green forest in a sea of deforestation (the orange line is the territory’s border). It is home to the “Last of his Tribe”, a lone man and the last survivor of his people, who were probably massacred by cattle ranchers occupying their land. The best way to prevent the destruction of the Amazon rainforest is to campaign for the land rights of uncontacted tribes.

Trump removes protections for Yellowstone grizzly bear | TheHill: The Trump administration is removing protections for the Yellowstone grizzly bear under the Endangered Species Act after more than four decades on the threatened list. The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service announced the delisting decision Thursday, which immediately drew rebukes from conservationists and Democrats. Officials said the conservation efforts for the bear that lives in and around Yellowstone National Park in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho show the delisting is warranted, along with the more than fourfold increase in its population and state policies designed to protect it in the future. “This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of state, tribal, federal and private partners,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who represented Montana in Congress until earlier this year, said in a statement. “As a Montanan, I am proud of what we’ve achieved together.” Other segments of the grizzly bear population are not affected by Thursday’s regulation, and will continue to be protected as before. The bear’s population is now around 700, compared with 150 when it was listed. Its range is 22,500 square miles, more than double the range of the mid-1970s. Republicans applauded the Trump administration’s decision, saying the bear has long warranted an end to protections. 

Yellowstone Supervolcano Hit by a Swarm of Earthquakes: Yellowstone supervolcano has been hit by a series of earthquakes, with more 30 recorded since June 12. The latest was recorded on Monday, June 19, with a magnitude 3 earthquake striking 8.6 miles north north-east of West Yellowstone, Montana. The swarm began last week, and on June 15 saw a magnitude 4.5 earthquake take place in Yellowstone National Park. “The epicenter of the shock was located in Yellowstone National Park, eight miles north-northeast of the town of West Yellowstone, Montana,” scientists from the University of Utah, which monitors Yellowstone Volcano, said in a statement. “The earthquake was [reportedly] felt in the towns of West Yellowstone and Gardiner, Montana, in Yellowstone National Park, and elsewhere in the surrounding region.” This earthquake was the largest to have hit Yellowstone since March 30, 2014, when a magnitude 4.8 earthquake was recorded 18 miles to the east, near the Norris Geyser Basin. “[The 4.5] earthquake is part of an energetic sequence of earthquakes in the same area that began on June 12,” the statement continued. “This sequence has included approximately thirty earthquakes of magnitude 2 and larger and four earthquakes of magnitude 3 and larger, including today's magnitude 4.5 event.” As of June 16, 235 events had been recorded. Most of these ranged in the magnitude of 0 to 1, with five less than zero. The University of Utah is part of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), which monitors volcanic and earthquake activity in Yellowstone National Park. Seismic activity at volcanoes can signal an eruption is due to take place, although predicting exactly when a volcano will erupt is, at present, impossible.

Robot Journalist Accidentally Reports on Earthquake from 1925 - Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported on a 6.8 earthquake that struck Santa Barbara at 4:51 p.m. Which might be surprising to the people of Santa Barbara who didn’t feel anything. The big problem with the story? The earthquake happened in 1925.How could reporters get something so wrong? Well, the “reporter” who wrote yesterday’s news article about the 6.8 quake was actually a robot. The L.A. Times deleted its automated tweet as well as the automatically published article and explained what happened in a subsequent tweet. The newspaper’s algorithm, called Quakebot, scrapes data from the US Geological Survey’s website. A USGS staffer at Caltech mistakenly sent out the alert when updating historical earthquake data to make it more precise.  Seismologists have reportedly complained about some of the historical data being off by as much as 6 miles, and this staffer was simply updating the location of the old quake from 1925. But it shows how quickly misinformation can spread with just a few clicks. An earthquake registering 6.8 is a big deal, so people were pretty relieved to see that it was a false alarm. The 1925 earthquake killed 13 people and caused over $8 million in damage. With so many more people living in the area today it would no doubt be much more deadly.  The Los Angeles Times has employed Quakebot since 2014 and has reported on hundreds of earthquakes, big and small, over the years. But this is the first known major screw up since it was first put online. And it certainly won’t be the last as journalism on everything from homicides to baseball scores becomes more automated.

Starbucks cups are not recyclable, which means 4 billion go to landfill each year --Even the best paper mills in the world cannot recycle coffee cups because the plastic lining clogs machinery. Starbucks should stop ignoring this problem. Starbucks has a very big problem with disposable cups. Every year, the coffee giant distributes more than 4 billion single-use cups to customers needing a caffeine fix, which means that 1 million trees are cut down to provide the paper. Most people think that these cups are recyclable – they’re paper, after all – but that’s not true. According to Stand.earth, whose latest report examines Starbucks’ empty commitments to developing a better cup, the vast majority of coffee cups ends up in landfills. Why is this? “In order to be able to hold liquids safely, Starbucks paper cups are lined with a thin layer of 100% oil-based polyethylene plastic made by companies like Dow and Chevron. This plastic lining makes the cups impossible to recycle because it clogs most recycled paper mills’ machinery…Because of the polyethylene plastic coating, much of this material ends up as a byproduct of the paper-making process and is ultimately sent to the landfill anyway. This is particularly wasteful since paper cups are made from a very high quality paper and, if recycled, could be reused multiple times.” The report outlines how rare it is to find cup recycling facilities. Only 18 of the largest 100 cities in the United States provide residential pickup of coffee cups for recycling, and only three paper recycling mills in the U.S. (out of 450 in total) can process plastic-coated paper such as cartons and coffee cups. In the United Kingdom, there are only two facilities that can do it, which again means everything else goes to landfill. Even where facilities exist, the process is still fraught. The Seattle Times explains that many of Starbucks’ old cups are shipped to China for recycling as “mixed paper,” only to end up as residue from the recycling process and head to a Chinese landfill instead.

Plastic Pollution in Antarctica 5 Times Worse Than Expected - Not only have microplastic particles infiltrated the pristine Antarctic , the problem is much worse than anyone thought. Scientists from the University of Hull and the British Antarctic Survey have determined that the levels of microplastics are five times higher than previous estimates. The results were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment. These tiny beads of plastic come from cosmetics or shred off of larger plastic items such as clothing or bottles. Research shows that microplastics can turn up in ice cores , across the seafloor, throughout the ocean and on every beach worldwide. According to UN News , "as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles—500 times more than stars in our galaxy—litter our seas, seriously threatening marine wildlife." Microplastics enter the oceans via wastewater. However, as the researchers report, more than half of the research stations in the Antarctic have no wastewater treatment systems. The scientists suggest that the plastic may be getting across the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which was thought to be nearly impenetrable. "Antarctica is thought to be a highly isolated, pristine wilderness. The ecosystem is very fragile with whales, seals and penguins consuming krill and other zooplankton as a major component of their diet," said the study's lead author, Dr. Catherine Waller, an expert in ecology and marine biology at University of Hull. "Our research highlights the urgent need for a co-ordinated effort to monitor and assess the levels of microplastics around the Antarctic continent and Southern Ocean." A press release notes that the Southern Ocean, which covers approximately 8.5 million square miles and represents 5.4 percent of the world's oceans, is under increasing threat from fishing, pollution and the introduction of non-native species. Climate change which leads to rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification, is also a threat.  The effects of microplastics on marine life in this region are currently unclear.

Peatlands, already dwindling, could face further losses - MIT News -- Tropical peat swamp forests, which once occupied large swaths of Southeast Asia and other areas, provided a significant “sink” that helped remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But such forests have been disappearing fast due to clear-cutting and drainage projects making way for plantations. Now, research shows peatlands face another threat, as climate change alters rainfall patterns, potentially destroying even forested peatlands that remain undrained. The net result is that these former carbon sinks, which have taken greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, are now net carbon sources, instead accelerating the planet’s warming. The findings are described this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in a paper by MIT Professor Charles Harvey, research scientist Alexander Cobb, and seven others at MIT and other institutions. “There is a tremendous amount of peatland in Southeast Asia, but almost all of it has been deforested,” says Harvey, who is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and has been doing research on that region for several years. Once deforested and drained, the peatland dries out, and the organic (carbon-containing) soil oxidizes and returns to the atmosphere. Sometimes the exposed peat can actually catch fire and burn for extended periods, causing massive clouds of air pollution. Tropical peatlands may contain as much carbon as the amount consumed in nearly a decade of global fossil fuel use, and raging peat fires in Indonesia alone have been estimated in some years to contribute 10 to 40 percent as much greenhouse gas to the atmosphere as all the world’s fossil fuel burning. Tropical peatlands, unlike those in temperate zones that are dominated by sphagnum moss, are forested with trees that can tower to 150 feet, and peat fires can sometimes ignite forest fires that consume these as well. (Peat that gets buried and compressed underground is the material that ultimately turns to coal.)

Wildfires used to be rare in the Great Plains. They’ve more than tripled in 30 years  -The grasslands of U.S. Great Plains have seen one of the sharpest increases in large and dangerous wildfires in the past three decades, with their numbers more than tripling between 1985 and 2014, according to new research. The new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that the average number of large Great Plains wildfires each year grew from about 33 to 117 over that time period, even as the area of land burned in these wildfires increased by 400 percent. “This is undocumented and unexpected for this region,” said Victoria Donovan, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. “Most studies do document these shifts in large wildfires in forested areas, and this is one of the first that documents a shift, at this scale, in an area characterized as a grassland.” Donovan published the study with two university colleagues. The research looked at large wildfires, defined as fires around 1,000 acres or more in size. In other parts of the globe, such as Africa’s savannas, grassland fires are extremely common — and that used to be true for the Great Plains as well. But in the past century or more, Donovan explained, wildfire suppression techniques — such as rapidly catching fires and putting them out — had largely eradicated them from the region. However, they’ve begun to come back, a trend that has been consistent with not only climate change but also an incursion of more invasive plant species that could be providing additional fuel, Donovan said. However, the study merely documented the trend toward increased large wildfires, without formally attributing its cause. 

India’s wells are running dry, fast -- Over the past three years, the monsoon – the rainy season that runs from June through September, depending on the region – has been weak or delayed across much of India, causing widespread water shortages.  With the onset of summer this year, southern India, particularly Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu states, are already wilting under a blistering sun and repeated heatwaves. Drought is expected to affect at least eight states in 2017, which is a devastating possibility in a country where agriculture accounted for 17.5% of GDP in 2015 and provides the livelihood for nearly half the population.  Across rural India, water bodies, including man-made lakes and reservoirs, are fast disappearing after decades of neglect and pollution. It wasn’t always this way. For the past 2,500 years, India has managed its water needs by increasing supply.  Prior to industrialization and the accompanying global “green revolution” in the 1960s, which saw the development of high-yield variety crops using new technologies, India’s water availability was plentiful. Households, industries and farmers freely extracted groundwater and dumped untreated waste into waterways without a second thought. But such practices are now increasingly untenable in this rapidly growing country. Per capita availability of water has been steadily falling for over a decade, dropping from 1,816 cubic metres per person in 2001 to 1,545 cubic metres in 2011. The decline is projected to deepen in coming years as the population grows. India, which currently has 1.3 billion people, is set to overtake China by 2022 and reach 1.7 billion in 2050. Water scarcity is also exacerbated by a growth in water-intensive industries, such as thermal power production, extraction and mining, as India seeks to feed and power its growing population. In addition to affecting biodiversity, these activities also alter natural water systems.  Still, successive governments have pursued the same old supply-centric policies, paying little heed to the country’s waning clean water supplies.

3-year global coral bleaching event easing, but still bad (AP) — A mass bleaching of coral reefs worldwide is finally easing after three years, U.S. scientists announced Monday. About three-quarters of the world’s delicate coral reefs were damaged or killed by hot water in what scientists say was the largest coral catastrophe. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a global bleaching event in May 2014. It was worse than previous global bleaching events in 1998 and 2010. The forecast damage doesn’t look widespread in the Indian Ocean, so the event loses its global scope. Bleaching will still be bad in the Caribbean and Pacific, but it’ll be less severe than recent years, said NOAA coral reef watch coordinator C. Mark Eakin. Places like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, northwest Hawaii, Guam and parts of the Caribbean have been hit with back-to-back-to-back destruction, Eakin said. University of Victoria, British Columbia, coral reef scientist Julia Baum plans to travel to Christmas Island in the Pacific where the coral reefs have looked like ghost towns in recent years. “This is really good news,” Baum said. “We’ve been totally focused on coming out of the carnage of the 2015-2016 El Nino.” While conditions are improving, it’s too early to celebrate, said Eakin, adding that the world may be at a new normal where reefs are barely able to survive during good conditions. 

How Dead Is the Great Barrier Reef? -- Worried about the future of the Great Barrier Reef ? If so, you're not alone. Many publications have already written obituaries for the reef, despite the fact that it is not completely dead. Thanks to this video via Vox for sounding the alarm on this critical issue, before it's too late. According to water quality expert Jon Brodie, the Great Barrier Reef is now in a " terminal stage ." Warming oceans are causing large bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef for the second year in a row, new aerial surveys have shown. Climate Nexus reports that reef scientists are worried that the "shocking" back-to-back bleaching gives the reef little chance to recover and that increasing frequency of bleaching events could be ultimately devastating.  "The significance of bleaching this year is that it's back to back, so there's been zero time for recovery," Professor Terry Hughes, who led the surveys, told The Guardian. "It's too early yet to tell what the full death toll will be from this year's bleaching, but clearly it will extend 500 km south of last year's bleaching."

Climate change may negatively impact the sea turtle population, warn scientists -- Climate change may negatively impact the sea turtle population, as warmer temperatures could lead to higher numbers of females and increased nest failure, scientists have warned. The temperature at which sea turtle embryos incubate determines the sex of an individual, which is known as Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination (TSD). The pivotal temperature for TSD is 29 degrees Celsius as both males and females are produced in equal proportions above 29 degrees Celsius mainly females are produced while below 29 degrees Celsius more males are born. "Up to a certain point, warmer incubation temperatures benefit sea turtles because they increase the natural growth rate of the population: more females are produced because of TSD, which leads to more eggs being laid on the beaches," said Jacques-Olivier Laloe from Swansea University in the UK. However, beyond a critical temperature, the natural growth rate of the population decreases because of an increase of temperature-linked in-nest mortality, researchers said. "Temperatures are too high and the developing embryos do not survive. This threatens the long-term survival of this sea turtle population," Laloe said. Within the context of climate change and warming temperatures, all else being equal, sea turtle populations are expected to be more female-biased in the future. While it is known that males can mate with more than one female during the breeding season, if there are too few males in the population this could threaten population viability, researchers said. Sea turtle eggs only develop successfully in a relatively narrow thermal range of about 25-35 degrees Celsius, so if incubation temperatures are too low the embryo does not develop but if they are too high then development fails, they said. This means that if incubation temperatures increase in the future as part of climate warming, then more sea turtle nests will fail.

Seismic Blasting Devastates Ocean's Most Vital Organisms -- Seismic airguns exploding in the ocean in search for oil and gas have devastating impacts on zooplankton, which are critical food sources for marine mammals, according to a new study in Nature . The blasting decimates one of the ocean's most vital groups of organisms over huge areas and may disrupt entire ecosystems.  And this devastating news comes on the heels of the National Marine Fisheries Service's proposal to authorize more than 90,000 miles of active seismic blasting. Based on the results of this study, the affected area would be approximately 135,000 square miles. In the study, scientists found that the blasts from a single seismic airgun caused a statistically significant decrease in zooplankton 24 hours after exposure. Abundance fell by at least 50 percent in more than half (58 percent) of the species observed. The scientists also found two to three times more dead zooplankton following airgun exposure compared to controls and, shockingly, krill larvae were completely wiped out.  Listen to the sound of a seismic airgun blast: seismic_blast.mp4   The scientists used sonar backscatter, a method that reveals where animals are in the water column using sound, to detect zooplankton. They describe witnessing a large "hole" opening up in the backscatter as zooplankton were killed. Food chains are surprisingly simple in the ocean and zooplankton help form the basis of them, underpinning the ocean's productivity. Significant damage to zooplankton will have cascading effects on animals higher up. That includes fish and marine predators such as sharks, marine mammals and even seabirds. Adult krill provide an important food source for our largest marine animals: the great whales .

Study: Persistent, Highly Acidified Water All Along US West Coast; Some Hot Spots With pH As Low As Any Oceanic Surface Waters In World -- There are now persistent, highly acidified stretches of water found all throughout the California Current System along the West Coast of the US, a 3-year survey of the region has found. Some of the hot spots found during the survey were apparently home to pH levels as low as any ever recorded in any oceanic surface waters anywhere around the world. These hot spots will continue becoming more acidified and more prevalent during the coming years, the researchers note, because atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise rapidly. Despite this fact, the researchers also note that there are refuges of moderate pH environments that are prevalent enough that it seems to be possible that they could serve as safe havens over the coming decades and possibly centuries. “The West Coast is very vulnerable. Ten years ago, we were focusing on the tropics with their coral reefs as the place most likely affected by ocean acidification. But the California Current System is getting hit with acidification earlier and more drastically than other locations around the world,” commented lead author Francis Chan, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University. The press release provides more: The team observed near-shore pH levels that fell well below the global mean pH of 8.1 for the surface ocean, and reached as low as 7.4 at the most acidified sites, which is among the lowest recorded values ever observed in surface waters. “The lower the pH level, the higher the acidity... Like the Richter scale, the pH scale is logarithmic, so that a 0.11 pH unit decrease represents an increase in acidity of approximately 30%. “Highly acidified ocean water is potentially dangerous because many organisms are very sensitive to changes in pH. Chan said negative impacts already are occurring in the California Current System, where planktonic pteropods — or small swimming snails — were documented with severe shell dissolution.”  

Gangs of aggressive killer whales are shaking down Alaska fishing boats for their fish: report - The orcas will wait all day for a fisher to accumulate a catch of halibut, and then deftly rob them blind. They will relentlessly stalk individual fishing boats, sometimes forcing them back into port. Most chilling of all, this is new: After decades of relatively peaceful coexistence with cod and halibut fishers off the coast of Alaska, the region’s orcas appear to be turning on them in greater numbers. “We’ve been chased out of the Bering Sea,” said Paul Clampitt, Washington State-based co-owner of the F/V Augustine. Like many boats, the Augustine has tried electronic noisemakers to ward off the animals, but the orcas simply got used to them. “It became a dinner bell,” said Clampitt. John McHenry, owner of the F/V Seymour, described orca pods near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as being like a “motorcycle gang.” “You’d see two of them show up, and that’s the end of the trip. Pretty soon all 40 of them would be around you,” he said. A report this week in the Alaska Dispatch News outlined instances of aggressive orcas harassing boats relentlessly — even refusing to leave after a desperate skipper cut the engine and drifted silently for 18 hours. “It’s gotten completely out of control,” Alaska fisherman Jay Hebert told the paper.  Fishing lines are also being pillaged by sperm whales, the large square-headed whale best known as the white whale in Moby Dick.. A remarkable 2006 video by the Avoidance Project captured one of the 50,000 kg whales delicately shaking fish loose from a line. After a particularly heavy assault by sperm whales, fishers are known to pull up lines in which up to 90 per cent of the catch has disappeared or been mangled.  This is not the first time that Alaskan waters have been suddenly thrown into disorder by the changing appetites of killer whales. In the 1990s, researchers found that orca predation was responsible for a sudden collapse in Pacific sea otter populations not seen since the animals were driven to near-extinction by the fur trade.  Orcas have remarkably complex social structures, with regionally distinct languages and hunting strategies. They’re also innovative; orcas have frequently been observed inventing new hunting tactics and then teaching them to others.

In a Bering Sea battle of killer whales vs. fishermen, the whales are winning - In the Bering Sea, near the edge the continental shelf, fishermen are trying to escape a predator that seems to outwit them at every turn, stripping their fishing lines and lurking behind their vessels. The predators are pods of killer whales chasing down the halibut and black cod caught by longline fishermen. Fishermen say the whales are becoming a common sight — and problem — in recent years, as they've gone from an occasional pest to apparently targeting the fishermen's lines. Fishermen say they can harvest 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of halibut in a single day, only to harvest next to nothing the next when a pod of killer whales recognizes their boat. The hooks will be stripped clean, longtime Bering Sea longliner Jay Hebert said in a phone interview this week. Sometimes there will be just halibut "lips" still attached to hooks — if anything at all."It's kind of like a primordial struggle," fisherman Buck Laukitis said about the orcas last week. "It comes at a real cost. "The whales seem to be targeting specific boats, fisherman Jeff Kauffman said in a phone interview. FV Oracle Captain Robert Hanson said juvenile whales are starting to show up, and he thinks the mothers are teaching the young to go for the halibut and black cod the fishermen are trying to catch. Hanson, a fisherman who's worked in the Bering Sea since 1992, said the orca problem has become "systemic" in recent years. There are more pods present, he said, and the animals are getting more aggressive. Killer whales targeting fishing vessels happens all over Alaska, including in the western Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands. But it's more common on the Bering Sea's continental shelf, where a higher density of whales overlaps with halibut and black cod fishing grounds. Killer whales are skilled hunters, NOAA fisheries biologist John Moran said. He said they can tell the sounds of different boats and even learn the sounds of the hydraulic system that lowers the fishing gear into the water.

A third of the world now faces deadly heatwaves as result of climate change - Nearly a third of the world’s population is now exposed to climatic conditions that produce deadly heatwaves, as the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere makes it “almost inevitable” that vast areas of the planet will face rising fatalities from high temperatures, new research has found. Climate change has escalated the heatwave risk across the globe, the study states, with nearly half of the world’s population set to suffer periods of deadly heat by the end of the century even if greenhouse gases are radically cut. High temperatures are currently baking large swaths of the south-western US, with the National Weather Service (NWS) issuing an excessive heat warning for Phoenix, Arizona, which is set to reach 119F (48.3C) on Monday. The heat warning extends across much of Arizona and up through the heart of California, with Palm Springs forecast a toasty 116F (46.6C) on Monday and Sacramento set to reach 107F (41.6C). The NWS warned the abnormal warmth would “significantly increase the potential for heat-related illness” and advised residents to drink more water, seek shade and recognize the early symptoms of heat stroke, such as nausea and a racing pulse.  Mora’s research shows that the overall risk of heat-related illness or death has climbed steadily since 1980, with around 30% of the world’s population now living in climatic conditions that deliver deadly temperatures at least 20 days a year. The proportion of people at risk worldwide will grow to 48% by 2100 even if emissions are drastically reduced, while around three-quarters of the global population will be under threat by then if greenhouse gases are not curbed at all. “Dying in a heatwave is like being slowly cooked, it’s pure torture. The young and elderly are at particular risk, but we found that this heat can kill soldiers, athletes, everyone.”

Kuwait swelters in 54C heat – what could be the highest temperature ever recorded on earth - If you're feeling flustered by the mini-heatwave over parts of the UK and Europe, at the moment, then you'll want to avoid the Middle East right now. On Thursday, a blistering temperature of 54C (129.3F) was recorded in Kuwait, firmly putting our hot spell into context. It is the highest temperature ever recorded in the eastern hemisphere and almost certainly the highest temperature ever recorded on earth.  A weather station in Mitribah, a remote featureless area of north-west Kuwait, took the temperature last week during an intense heatwave that continues in parts of the Middle East. The mercury in neighboring Iraq on the same day soared to 53.9C (129F) in the ancient city of Basra.  If verified by the World Meteorological Organization, they will almost certainly be the two highest temperatures ever recorded on the planet. Until now the official record for the highest temperature was 56.7C (134.1F) on 10 July 1913 at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, California. But many modern meteorologists are skeptical of the record, arguing that the equipment used at the time was prone to error and not as reliable as modern recording methods.

Heat wave hits Southwest on 1st day of summer - The first day of summer brought some of the worst heat the southwestern U.S. region has seen in years. Meteorologists said Tuesday’s temperature in Phoenix topped out at 119 degrees, a mark that’s only been matched or surpassed four other times in the city’s recorded history. The all-time high was 122 degrees on June 26, 1990.Death Valley, California, reached 127 Tuesday and Palm Springs hit 122, tying the degree for the same day last year. The heat wave comes amid new research findings that nearly 1 in 3 people now experience 20 days a year when the heat reaches deadly levels. Arizona Public Service Company, the state’s largest electricity provider, says customers set a record peak usage Tuesday as temperatures in Phoenix soared to nearly 120 degrees. Over 7,300 megawatts of energy were consumed between 5 and 6 p.m., topping the prior 11-year record set in 2006. In the Southwest U.S., this week’s heat has caused a handful of problems. In addition to grounding more than 40 flights of smaller planes, airlines have been taking other measures on larger jets to reduce their weight. American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said the carrier began limiting sales on some flights to prevent the planes from exceeding maximum weight for safe takeoff in the hot conditions.

Trump’s “Make America Hot Again” Rally Canceled – Too Hot To Fly - As temperatures climb in Phoenix, Arizona, more than 40 flights have been cancelled – because it is too hot for the planes to fly. The weather forecast for the US city suggests temperatures could reach 120F (49C) on Tuesday. That is higher than the operating temperature of some planes. American Airlines announced it was cancelling dozens of flights scheduled to take off from Sky Harbor airport during the hottest part of the day. The local Fox News affiliate in Phoenix said the cancellations mostly affected regional flights on the smaller Bombardier CRJ airliners, which have a maximum operating temperature of about 118F (48C). The all-time record for temperatures in Phoenix is just slightly higher, at 122F, which hit on 26 June 1990.The cancelled flights were scheduled to take off between 15:00 and 18:00 local time. Why can’t planes fly? At higher temperatures, air has a lower density – it is thinner. That lower air density reduces how much lift is generated on an aircraft’s wings – a core principle in aeronautics. That, in turn, means the aircraft’s engines need to generate more thrust to get airborne. It’s a well-known problem – a 2016 report from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) even warned that higher temperatures caused by climate change could “have severe consequences for aircraft take-off performance, where high altitudes or short runways limit the payload or even the fuel-carrying capacity.” Those problems are why many countries in the Middle East, and some high-altitude airports in South America, tend to schedule long flights for the evening or night, when it is cooler.

It's So Hot in Arizona, Meteorologists Need New Weather Map Colors - It's so hot in the American Southwest that meteorologists are using unusual colors for their temperature maps. As reported by MLive 's Mark Torregrossa, with temperatures forecast to hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the Phoenix area, the folks at weatherbell.com had to use green for its Wednesday map because the other shades were already used. "I've tweaked color banks on weather graphics for almost 30 years," Torregrossa wrote. "The trick is to get the colors to match the temperatures, as we have come to expect them. So cold temperatures are usually blue and purples, and hot temperatures are varying levels of red." "But sometimes extreme weather can make a graphic color bank hard to develop," he added. Not only that, Gizmodo pointed out that the National Weather Service's weather map usually shows a mix of green, yellow and orange this time of year. However, for its Tuesday map for Phoenix, the agency had to use magenta to represent "rare, dangerous, and very possibly deadly" heat. There have been a slew of heat-related incidents around the area due to the ongoing heatwave. Earlier this week, as temperatures hit 119 degrees Fahrenheit around Phoenix, flights were canceled for safety reasons. Dogs have burned their paws during walks on 160-degree asphalt. A local news team even successfully baked a frozen pizza outdoors during Tuesday's triple-digit scorcher.

Atlantic faces the rare prospect of two active tropical storms in June - Although the Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1, the bulk of the tropical activity typically clusters during the middle months of August, September, and October when the seas reach their peak temperatures. This year has already been unusual, however, with the formation of a highly rare tropical storm in April—Arlene, which meandered around the open Atlantic Ocean for a few days. Now, the tropics are becoming active again. For several days, the National Hurricane Center has been calling attention to two systems, one near the southern Gulf of Mexico, and the other to the northeast of Venezuela in the Atlantic. Both systems have a 90 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or storm, according to hurricane forecasters at the Miami-based center. From a climatic standpoint, the development of two more tropical storms in June this year would be intriguing. During a normal year, the Atlantic basin—which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico—typically doesn't produce its third named storm until mid-August.  Additionally, a storm only forms about once every other June in the Atlantic. This year the Atlantic basin may see two active storms concurrently. According to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, this has happened just three times in history, during the years 1909, 1959 and 1968. Somewhat reassuringly, he adds that 1909 ended up as an active season, 1959 a slightly below normal season, and 1968 a very quiet season. We might hope for the latter.

U.S. Coastal Cities Will Flood More Often and More Severely, Study Warns - Cities lining the U.S. coasts should brace for a lot more flooding — from "nuisance" floods that shut down streets during high tides to deluges that take lives and wipe out infrastructure. In a new study published Wednesday, researchers from Princeton and Rutgers universities warn that the current flooding predictions, including those widely used by policy makers, don't accurately reflect the frequency and types of floods that are likely to challenge American cities in the coming decades as global temperatures and sea levels rise. Their research found that major coastal flooding—expected to occur only once every 100 years—will inundate coastal cities an average of 40 times more often by 2050, likely overwhelming the cities' abilities to protect themselves. After 2050, the picture looks worse. Major flooding could slosh through the streets of New York City every other month by the end of the century, while major floods could sweep into Seattle nearly every week. "U.S. cities and infrastructure, on the coasts — East, Gulf or West — better wake up, because there are some very large frequencies coming," said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton professor who has researched sea-level rise for 20 years and is a co-author of the new study, published in Environmental Research Letters. "That's assuming we don't curtail greenhouse gas emissions."

Houston fears climate change will cause catastrophic flooding: 'It's not if, it's when' -- Sam Brody is a flood impact expert in Houston – and he has plenty of work to keep him busy.  The Texas metropolis has more casualties and property loss from floods than any other locality in the US, according to data stretching back to 1960 that Brody researched with colleagues. And, he said: “Where the built environment is a main force exacerbating the impacts of urban flooding, Houston is number one and it’s not even close.” Near the Gulf coast, Houston is also at annual risk from hurricanes: it is now into the start of the 2017 season, which runs from June to November. Ike, the last hurricane to hit the Houston region, caused $34bn in damage and killed 112 people across several states in September 2008.  There is little hope the situation is going to get better any time soon. Brody, a professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus, said the requests for help in Houston from people moving homes inspired him to create a forthcoming web tool so that people can type in an address and get a risk score. “If you can see your crime statistics, shouldn’t you be able to see your flood risk also? And other risks as well, human-induced risks?” he said. The site will be named Buyers Be-Where.  In May 2015, eight people, many of them motorists, died in Harris County when a storm dropped 11in of rain in parts of the city in 10 hours. Last year, another six lost their lives in an April storm that hurled 240bn gallons of water at the Houston area. An inch of rain fell over the county in only five minutes, with a peak of 16.7 inches in 12 hours. The events damaged thousands of homes, turning major freeways into canals and piling up vehicles as if they were in a junkyard. The 2016 flood cost an estimated $2.7bn in losses and prompted more than 1,800 high-water rescues.
House panel passes flood insurance overhaul bills | TheHill: The House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday passed four bills intended to reduce the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) financial burdens and assist homeowners struggling to get claims approved by the federal insurance agency. The legislation will head to the House floor as part of a broader flood insurance reform initiative. Committee lawmakers have worked on revamping the debt-riddled NFIP since January 2016, weeks after holiday season floods devastated the Midwest and South. The program offers flood policies to residents of flood-prone areas where insurance is required. It runs out of funding on Sept. 30. Lawmakers are using the deadline as a push to cut the NFIP’s $24 billion debt and shift more flood insurance customers to a burgeoning private market. Private flood insurance was largely non-existent when the NFIP was established in 1968, and Republicans are eager to reduce taxpayer exposure to risky homes by easing federal policy holders into private plans. The committee passed a bill offered by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) that mandates the NFIP to send a percentage of its riskiest policies over to private insurers each year, waives the insurance coverage mandate for commercial buildings and allows state and local governments to submit their own flood maps to the NFIP to replace federal ones. The bill passed 36 to 24, largely along party lines. 

Thin ice: Vanishing ice only exacerbates a bad, climate change-fueled situation - Ice is also an active player in the Earth's climate—it doesn’t only respond to warming by melting. Changes in our planet’s ice are capable of feeding back on the climate system, creating further consequences for the globe. The regions of our planet where temperatures fall below the freezing point are characterized by ice and snow, lots of ice and snow. But now, in response to the warming of our planet, that entire system is changing.  On land, this includes the giant ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, the ice in mountain glaciers, snow on mountain tops, and frozen soil in boreal and tundra regions of the Northern Hemisphere—including large parts of Canada and Russia. The system is dynamic. In the world's polar regions, sea ice grows in winter and recedes in summer.   The cryosphere is the global story of ice, and it’s a highly active and important component in our Earth's climate system. But, again, the behavior of the cryosphere is changing. That is primarily because ice responds to rising temperatures, melting with increasing heat.   Across the continents, mountain glaciers and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting. Cryosphere changes like these are having profound impacts on our planet. Albedo is a measure of how reflective a surface is, and the Earth's albedo influences the climate by determining how much sunlight is absorbed. Ice and snow have very high albedos, meaning they reflect a lot of sunlight. According to Dr. Johannes Sutter, a climatologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, “the cryosphere is the planet's air conditioner. Its white surface—snow and ice—reflect much of the incoming sunlight, cooling the environment.” Thus, changes in ice coverage can modulate the temperatures of nearby regions. This is especially true with respect to sea ice, which is currently undergoing a massive decline in the Arctic. These areas are experiencing a phenomenon known as polar amplification, warming at a much higher rate than the rest of the planet.

 Warm Waters in West Antarctica - The vast Antarctic ice sheet contains about 30 million cubic kilometers of ice, which is 90% of the Earth’s freshwater ice. If it were all to melt, it would increase sea level by about 70 meters. Fortunately, surface temperatures across most of the continent stay well below freezing all year round so there is virtually no ice loss through surface melt. Instead, most of the ice loss is through iceberg calving and ocean-induced melting from the under-side of ice shelves.  One area that scientists are keeping a close eye on is the Amundsen Sea Embayment to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here the ice is being melted from below by warm ocean waters at a greater rate than ice is added through snow accumulation, and this region is currently contributing about a tenth of current global sea level rise. A review article recently published in Reviews of Geophysics examined the complex atmospheric and oceanic factors that control the delivery of warm waters to the sub-ice region of West Antarctica and considered the potential for ice loss in the future. The editors asked two of the authors to give an overview of scientific research in this area. Most of the ice across the East Antarctic rests on rock that is above sea level and is therefore relatively stable. However, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is a marine-based ice sheet where much of the ice sits on bedrock that is below sea level. This makes it vulnerable to relatively warm waters melting the ice from below, especially in the areas where the ice floats on the ocean as ice shelves. The melting, retreat and thinning of the glaciers around the Amundsen Sea Embayment over recent decades is of great concern because the ice shelves buttress the ice in the interior of West Antarctica and there is a fear that loss of the ice shelves will accelerate the loss of ice in the future. Delivery of warm water to below the ice shelves of the Amundsen Sea Embayment is strongly influenced by the winds over the Southern Ocean just to the north of the region and therefore the weather systems in this area. Storm activity here is more variable than anywhere else on Earth as a result of being affected by tropical climate variability, such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, and the Antarctic ozone hole. Melting of the ice is therefore very variable on a year to year basis.

Melting and cracking – is Antarctica falling apart? Antarctica boasts a great many superlatives: it is the driest continent, the coldest, the remotest, the windiest and the highest on average. Right now, during midwinter, it is also the darkest. As a rift on the continent’s Larsen C ice shelf lengthens and gets closer to the ice front, we are anticipating the detachment of a large tabular iceberg within the next few weeks. This comes after observations of a waterfall on another ice shelf last summer, reports of extensive surface melting on several ice shelves and, in a report last week, indications of a widespread surface-melting event, which included rainfall as far as 82° south, during the 2015-16 El Niño. Are glaciologists shocked by any of this? Is Antarctica going to melt away? Is Larsen C about to collapse? The answer to these questions is no. Glaciologists are not alarmed about most of these processes; they are examples of Antarctica simply doing what we know Antarctica has done for thousands of years. But because there is a potential link between the ice sheet and climate change, glaciologists are suddenly faced with a situation where the spotlight is on our science on a seemingly daily basis, and every time a crack grows, or a melt stream forms, it becomes news. The situation is a conundrum: we want people to be aware of Antarctica and concerned about what might happen there in the near future as climate changes. But hyping research results to sound like climate change, when they are just improved understanding of natural behaviour, is misleading. To understand all of this, we need to think about how Antarctica works. The ice sheet stores 90% of Earth’s freshwater, which would translate to about 60 m of sea-level rise around the globe if it all melted.  The ice gets there through snowfall, just like the ski slopes at Chamonix, but, in Antarctica, with annual average temperatures ranging from -5C to -60C, most of the snow that falls over winter remains at the end of each summer. Over millions of years, snowfall has been added, buried and compacted by new snowfall, and an ice sheet has grown. Once the ice is thick enough, it flows downhill towards the ocean, where it lifts off the ground and floats, forming an ice shelf. In contact with the ocean below and the atmosphere above, this is where the “rubber hits the road”: to maintain its size, the ice sheet must shed the extra ice it gains through snowfall, which it does through two processes that both occur at the ice shelves – calving of icebergs at the front, and melting underneath. If shedding from ice shelves exceeds the gains from snowfall, they will shrink, and then glaciers feeding them will feel less resistance to flow and speed up, and sea level will rise.

 The latest threat to Antarctica: an insect and plant invasion-  Antarctica’s pristine ice-white environment is going green and facing an unexpected threat – from the common house fly. Scientists say that as temperatures soar in the polar region, invading plants and insects, including the fly, pose a major conservation threat. More and more of these invaders, in the form of larvae or seeds, are surviving in coastal areas around the south pole, where temperatures have risen by more than 3C over the past three decades. Glaciers have retreated, exposing more land which has been colonised by mosses that have been found to be growing more quickly and thickly than ever before – providing potential homes for invaders. The process is particularly noticeable in the Antarctic peninsula, which has been shown to be the region of the continent that is most vulnerable to global warming. “The common house fly is a perfect example of the problem the Antarctic now faces from invading species,” said Dominic Hodgson of the British Antarctic Survey. “It comes in on ships, where it thrives in kitchens and then at bases on the continent. It now has an increasing chance of surviving in the Antarctic as it warms up, and that is a worry. Insects like the fly carry pathogens that could have a devastating effect on indigenous lifeforms.” The Antarctic has several native species of insects. Together with its indigenous mosses and lichens, these are now coming under increased threat from three major sources: visiting scientists; swelling numbers of tourists; and global warming. In 2015-6, more than 38,000 tourists visited Antarctica while around 43,000 were expected for the following season. “Camera bags are a particular problem. People take them from one continent to the next and rarely clean them. They put them on the ground and seeds picked up elsewhere get shaken loose. It is a real issue.” 

37 of the World's Biggest Banks Fueling Climate Change -- A report released Wednesday by Rainforest Action NetworkBankTrackSierra Club and Oil Change International, in partnership with 28 organizations around the world, revealed that the world's biggest banks are continuing to fuel climate change through the financing of extreme fossil fuels. The report found that 2016 actually saw a steep fall in bank funding for extreme fossil fuels. However, despite this overall reduction, banks are still funding extreme fossil fuel projects at a rate that will push us beyond the 1.5 degrees climate change limit determined by the Paris climate agreement. In 2014, the banks analyzed in the report funneled $92 billion to extreme fossil fuels. In 2015, that number rose to $111 billion. 2016 was the first full calendar year to be studied since the signing of the Paris climate agreement—and the $87 billion figure represents a 22 percent drop from the previous year. While the drop-off is a move in the right direction, it is vital that this become an accelerating trend and not a blip. The findings showed that if we are to have any chance of halting catastrophic climate change and reaching the Paris goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees, there must be a complete phaseout of these dangerous energy sources and banks must implement policies against extreme fossil fuel funding. "Right now, the biggest Wall Street funder of extreme fossil fuels is JPMorgan Chase," said Lindsey Allen, executive director of Rainforest Action Network. "In 2016 alone they poured $6.9 billion into the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. On Wall Street they are number one in tar sands oil, Arctic oil, ultra-deepwater oil, coal power and LNG export. "Even in this bellwether year when overall funding has declined, Chase is funneling more and more cash into extreme fossil fuels. For a company that issues statements in favor of the Paris climate accord, they are failing to meet their publicly stated ambitions."

Bank of England to probe banks’ exposure to climate change (FT ) The Bank of England will probe banks’ exposure to climate change as it steps up efforts to tackle what it says are “significant” financial threats posed by global warming. Climate change experts said the BoE’s decision to do an internal review of the banking sector, which the central bank revealed on its website on Friday, marked a first. The BoE did not spell out exactly what its new investigation would entail or if it would result in a public report, saying only that it was “initiating a review of climate-related risks in the UK banking sector”. However, the central bank said the work would be carried out in a similar way to an assessment of insurance companies it launched in 2014. That effort included a mix of internal research, surveys and meetings with selected companies.

Exxon Mobil Lends Its Support to a Carbon Tax Proposal -- Exxon Mobil, other oil companies and a number of other corporate giants announced on Tuesday that they are supporting a plan to tax carbon emissions that was put forth this year by a group of Republican elder statesmen. The group, the Climate Leadership Council, unveiled a “conservative climate solution” in February that would fight global warming by taxing greenhouse gas emissions and returning the money to taxpayers as a “climate dividend.” The underlying idea is that, by making energy derived from fossil fuels more expensive, the free market will move more quickly and effectively toward renewable energy and other low-carbon solutions. Exxon Mobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Total S.A. publicly backed the plan on Tuesday, and they have a number of reasons to lend their support. The plan calls for scrapping Obama-era regulations intended to fight climate change, arguing that a market-driven approach will have the same effect in reducing emissions as the regulations would.  The oil giants could simply pass the cost of new taxes on to customers. And to protect American companies, the plan would introduce so-called border adjustments, intended to increase the cost of goods coming from nations that do not have a similar carbon tax. The proposal also says companies that emit greenhouse gases should be protected from lawsuits over their contribution to climate change.

Finding the Greater Fool — The Elite Logic Behind “Going Over the Climate Cliff” -- Gaius Publius - The “Seneca Cliff” is the point at which a system that grew large slowly, starts to collapse rapidly. (image source). Any complex system can go over the Seneca Cliff, says climate scientist Ugo Bardi. (Can you guess why he’s studying it?) The basic idea is this: Climate people — activists, scientists, concerned citizens, “woke” politicians — think that the elite drive to march human civilization over the climate cliff is, to put it frankly, “nuts.” Irrational. Or “insufficiently self-interested,” to put it much too mildly. I’ve begun to think differently though. I’ve begun to think that elites who are driving us over the cliff are not at all irrational. Someone who’s had that same thought as well is climate scientist Ugo Bardi, who offers a lay person’s view of much of his current work at The Seneca Effect. Bardi’s goal is to study, in his words, “why complex systems fail,” and further, why they often fail rapidly.   Now to my own point. In a recent post, Dr. Bardi looked at the Maldive Islands, one of the most seriously threatened inhabited places in the world when it comes to climate change. According to the IPCC, 75% of the Maldive Islands could be under water by 2100. Yet here’s what the rulers of the Maldives plan to do — stimulate development:  Full Guardian article here. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Actually it doesn’t. Dr. BardiIs this an epidemics of brain disease? Or do the Gods really drive crazy those whom they want to destroy? Maybe. But there is also a perfectly rational explanation for what’s happening. Imagine that you are part of the elite of the Maldives. And imagine that you are smart enough to understand what’s going on with the Earth’s climate. As things stand today, it is clear that it is too late to stop a burst of global warming that will push temperatures so high that nothing will save the Maldives islands. So, given the situation, what is the rational thing for you to do? Of course, it is to sell what you can sell as long as you can find a sucker who will buy. Then you can say good riddance to those who remain. In the case of the Maldives, Dr. Bardi concludes (emphasis mine): “What we are seeing, therefore, is a game in which someone will be left holding the short end of the dynamite stick. When the elites of the Maldives will have left for higher grounds, the poor will be stuck there. For them, the Seneca Cliff ends underwater.” Can you guess where this logic leads us with respect to the planet? Not interstellar travel for the elites, but something else. If you still haven’t figured out what “then leave” means for them, stay tuned.

California’s climate change priority to challenge its ports - When California governor Jerry Brown responded to President Trump’s June 1 decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement by flying to Beijing and signing a “bilateral” accord with Xi Jinping, it underscored CNN’s comment that “if there is an issue about which Brown is most passionate, it is climate change.” For users of California’s seaports, that is relevant information regarding the priorities of the largest US state. It appears the state’s all-out commitment to mitigating climate change is taking priority over maintaining the competitiveness of the state’s seaports, particularly the critical Los Angeles-Long Beach gateway. This comes at a time when the Southern California ports’ hold on discretionary cargo is as tenuous as ever. The state revealed its ambitions in March when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) secretly adopted resolutions that would, in the name of reducing air emissions, place physical limits on business activity at distribution centers, railyards, and other logistics facilities. From a port and supply chain point of view, the rules would constitute “a state-imposed cargo diversion mandate,” Pacific Merchant Shipping Association president John McLaurin told the California Retailers Association on May 31. The agency also mandated development of regulations for California marine terminals that would require the use of 100 percent zero emission equipment and shoreside electrical power by 2030 for all ships, including oil tankers, while at berth. Port engineering firm Moffatt and Nichol estimates the cost to implement the mandate at between $23 billion and $36 billion. At that price, state support would be a requirement, but the mandate is already proving politically problematic with the West Coast dockworker union; the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has gone on record as opposing the use of public funds for investments that could end up advancing automation at ports and thus displace dockworkers. “No public discussion was allowed, (and) the resolution was not available to the public prior to the vote,” McLaurin told the retailer group.

Lawmakers say GOP reining in DNR scientists who rebelled on climate change - Deep in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal is a seemingly benign item formalizing the transfer of 15 scientists within the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Two years ago, Walker and lawmakers enacted a budget that cut 18 DNR science service bureau researchers amid complaints that their research related to climate change, pollution and wildlife habitat were controversial and unneeded. Now the science services bureau is being dissolved and its remaining scientists moved to program offices that use their research. A frequent critic of the DNR said the move will give more control to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, who was appointed by Walker in 2011 to make the department friendlier to business. “I think it’s a more disciplined approach where the leadership of the Department of Natural Resources really directs that research,” said Sen. Tom Tiffany, a Hazelhurst Republican and part of the GOP majority on the Legislature’s budget committee. Stepp should be able to ensure that research benefits sportsmen and the DNR should be better able to prevent further research that takes climate change into account, Tiffany said. 

Energy Sec Rick Perry: CO2 is not the main driver of climate change: Energy Secretary Rick Perry told CNBC on Monday he does not believe carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are the main driver of climate change, joining the EPA administrator in casting doubt on the conclusion of some of the government's top scientists. Asked whether CO2 emissions are primarily responsible for climate change, Perry told CNBC's "Squawk Box": "No, most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in." "The fact is this shouldn't be a debate about, 'Is the climate changing, is man having an effect on it?' Yeah, we are. The question should be just how much, and what are the policy changes that we need to make to effect that?" he said. In March, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told "Squawk Box" he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. Those statements contradict the public stance of the Environmental Protection Agency, at least until recently. The EPA's webpage on the causes of climate change used to state, "Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change." The EPA recently took down the web page containing that statement. Perry and Pruitt's views are also at odds with the conclusion of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Despite those conclusions, Perry said, "This idea that science is just absolutely settled and if you don't believe it's settled then somehow you're another neanderthal, that is so inappropriate from my perspective." 

Senate confirms new FEMA administrator - The Senate voted 95-4 on Tuesday to confirm Brock Long as the next head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. His confirmation comes at a time when Congress is considering several bills to reform and re-authorize the National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by FEMA.
EPA Gives Notice to Dozens of Scientific Advisory Board Members, Plans to Offer Buyout to 1,200 Employees -  Dozens of scientists on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Board of Scientific Counselors and board subcommittees have been informed that they will not be renewed for their roles advising the agency, the Washington Post reported.  The move, which would dismiss 38 of the 49 remaining subcommittee members, "effectively wipes out [the board] and leaves it free for a complete reappointment," board executive committee chair Deborah Swackhamer told the Post. Advisory board members aren't the only ones facing the end of their time at EPA: the agency also announced Tuesday plans to buy out more than 1,200 employees this summer. This signals a troubling attitude toward the EPA's scientific work, according to Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists . "By sacking dozens of scientific counselors, [EPA Administrator Scott] Pruitt is showing that he doesn't value scientific input and the benefits it offers the public," Kimmell said.  "The administrator has an important job to do—and this includes listening to the best independent science and to make decisions that protect our health, our safety and our environment. Instead, he's delaying important public protections, denying the facts of climate change , and now, dismissing expert researchers who could help EPA do its best work. It's appalling to see an administrator so directly attack the effectiveness of his own agency."

Scott Pruitt vows to speed the nation’s Superfund cleanups. Communities wonder how.— Dawn Chapman had listened with surprise and skepticism as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency vowed to clean up West Lake, the nuclear waste dump that has filled her days and nights with worry. “The past administration honestly just didn’t pay attention to [it],” Scott Pruitt stressed on a local radio show in April. “We’re going to get things done at West Lake. The days of talking are over.” The next month, Pruitt took to television to say a plan for the site was coming “very soon” as part of his push to prioritize Superfund cleanups across the country. “Why our site? Why now? Can he keep those promises?” the mother of three wondered. Her family lives only a couple of miles from West Lake, a contaminated landfill that contains thousands of tons of waste from the World War II-era Manhattan Project. “My biggest fear is he’s just going to put a Band-Aid on it.”  In Bridgeton and elsewhere, others are asking similar questions with various degrees of hope and hesi­ta­tion. In his previous role as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt had long-standing ties to oil and gas companies and a litigious history fighting the EPA. And although he has called the federal Superfund program “vital” and a “cornerstone” of the EPA’s mission, the Trump administration has proposed slashing its funding by 30 percent. With more than 1,300 Superfund sites nationwide — some of which have lingered for decades on the EPA’s ever-growing “priorities list” — it’s unclear how Pruitt will back up his professed commitment in an age of scorched-earth budgets. Critics worry that a single-minded focus on speeding up the process could lead to inadequate cleanups. (The Washington Post) Pruitt has largely dismissed such issues. He argues that the program is beset more by bloated administrative costs and a shortage of initiative than by budget woes, and he notes that, at most sites, “private funding” is available from firms deemed responsible for cleanups. “This agency has not responded to Superfund with the type of urgency and commitment that the people of this country deserve,” Pruitt reiterated. “This agency has failed them. . . . They have a right to be skeptical.” That they are. Residents in the shadow of Superfund sites remain wary of his pronouncements. 

Donald Trump claims attaching solar panels to Mexico border wall will ensure fortification 'pays for itself' -  US President Donald Trump said he’s proposed building a “solar wall” on the Mexican border that would pay for itself by generating electricity. “We’re thinking of something that’s unique, we’re talking about the southern border. Lots of sun, lots of heat,” Mr Trump said at a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “We’re thinking about building the wall as a solar wall, so it creates energy, and pays for itself. And this way Mexico will have to pay much less money, and that’s good. Is that good?” Mr Trump ran for the presidency on an oft-repeated promise to construct a wall across the 1,933-mile Mexican border to stop undocumented immigration. His speech in Iowa was the first time he has publicly described his proposal to build the wall as a solar power plant, though Politico previously reported that he privately floated the idea to Republican members of Congress in a White House meeting on 6 June. “Think about it, the higher it goes, the more valuable it is. Pretty good imagination, right, good?” Trump said in Iowa. “My idea.” Mr Trump’s first full-year budget, released in May, proposes a $1.6bn (£1.3bn) down payment for new and replacement sections of a border wall. 

Senators: Trump’s Interior budget is going nowhere --  Senators of both parties on Tuesday poked holes in President Trump’s budget request for the Interior Department, which cuts funding for the agency by 11 percent. During a Tuesday hearing, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that the budget is “better than what we have seen in the last few years,” but that it’s still not going anywhere on Capitol hill. "I don't expect many of [the cuts] to become a reality, especially those that target popular programs," Murkowski, the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said. Murkowski singled out proposed cuts to a royalty-sharing program for offshore oil drilling, though other senators raised concerns about funding for conservation and outdoor efforts like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the operations budget at the National Park Service. “I find the budget so focused on the oil and natural gas aspect of revenue that I think that you are neglecting the fact that the outdoor economy generates $887 billion a year,” Sen. Maria Cantwell Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member, said. "I want to make sure that we are putting pedal to the metal as it relates to the outdoor economy,” Zinke told the committee that the $11.7 billion budget prioritizes spending for maintenance while cutting funding for other Interior efforts, including land acquisition. “This is what a balanced budget looks like,” he said. “There’s tough decisions throughout, but if we want to balance the budget, this is the starting point for what that looks like.” 

Analysis: Fact-checking President Trump's energy policy claims – Platts - US President Donald Trump Wednesday night broadly outlined his administration's energy policy in a speech that touched on oil pipelines, ethanol production and the Paris climate accord. The speech, at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, also included a number of false and misleading statements on the administration's policy positions and their impact on energy markets. Here's a fact-check of some of Trump's energy-related quotes: TRUMP: "We've eliminated restrictions on the production of American energy." VERDICT: Mostly false. The Trump administration has prioritized the repeal of numerous Obama-era regulations on oil, natural gas and coal production, including limits on methane emissions from oil and gas operations and new regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. But the regulations the administration has worked to roll back were not even in effect and some were only proposed rules.  TRUMP: "Under our feet we have great wealth. Not only in the form of your kind of wealth, which is beautiful, fertile soil, but also in other locations in the form of energy. They wanted to take that power and that wealth away from us." VERDICT: Likely false. The question is who is Trump referring to here? Some OPEC ministers wanted US oil producers to lose market share amid the shale boom and numerous environmental groups had pushed the Obama administration to dramatically curtail fossil production and focus on renewable energy sources, a position some in the previous administration likely viewed favorably. But the Obama administration never seriously pushed a plan to curb US production. In fact, the opposite occurred. US oil production.  TRUMP: "And 33,000 mining jobs have been added since my inauguration." VERDICT: False. There were 51,402 coal mining jobs in the fourth quarter of 2016 and 52,282 coal mining jobs in the first quarter of 2018, an increase of 880 jobs, according to the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration. TRUMP: "In fact, you read about it, last week a brand, new coal mine just opened in the state of Pennsylvania, first time in decades, decades." VERDICT: False. It hasn't even been a decade, let alone decades, even if only considering mines in Pennsylvania.  TRUMP: "We've approved, first day, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. First thing. Day one."  VERDICT: False. Trump's first day in office was January 20. On January 24, Trump signed executive memos aimed at speeding the approvals of the stalled Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, but these memos were not formal approvals.

Ernest Moniz Is Back - While President Donald Trump’s Energy Department is studying how to save coal plants, veterans from the administration of President Barack Obama’s Energy Department announced a new effort to figure out how to curtail carbon in the U.S. energy system. Ernest Moniz, who was Obama’s Energy secretary, said Wednesday that there is a “leadership void” under Trump, and his new group would pursue much of the research and analysis that was begun in the federal government under his tenure. Given Trump’s budget proposal to cut energy spending by $3.2 billion, Moniz said this nonprofit, called the Energy Futures Initiative, is necessary. The budget "just across the board doesn’t do the job," Moniz said at the National Press Club. "There is not a credible way to say the budget supports the kind of activities that we were pursuing." Moniz, a nuclear physicist who has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, already began a study of the U.S. electrical grid that could rival a similar one initiated by his successor, Rick Perry, at the Energy Department. Moniz has gathered a number of former Energy Department employees, including Joseph Hezir, its former chief financial officer, and Melanie Kenderdine, his energy counselor who also served as director of the department’s Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis. In addition to the group’s study of the grid -- expected out later this year -- Moniz said the venture will focus on areas such as energy security like the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, global gas markets, nuclear power and technological breakthroughs. Much of that is work the Energy Department was doing under Obama, work that Moniz said would likely grind to a halt under Trump’s budget proposal. 

Fisticuffs Over the Route to a Clean-Energy Future - Could the entire American economy run on renewable energy alone?  Democrats in both the United States Senate and in the California Assembly have proposed legislation this year calling for a full transition to renewable energy sources. They are relying on what looks like a watertight scholarly analysis to support their call: the work of a prominent energy systems engineer from Stanford University, Mark Z. Jacobson. With three co-authors, he published a widely heralded article two years ago asserting that it would be eminently feasible to power the American economy by midcentury almost entirely with energy from the wind, the sun and water. What’s more, it would be cheaper than running it on fossil fuels. And yet the proposition is hardly as solid as Professor Jacobson asserts. In a long-awaited article published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the same journal in which Professor Jacobson’s manifesto appeared — a group of 21 prominent scholars, including physicists and engineers, climate scientists and sociologists, took a fine comb to the Jacobson paper and dismantled its conclusions bit by bit. The conclusion of the critique is damning: Professor Jacobson relied on “invalid modeling tools,” committed “modeling errors” and made “implausible and inadequately supported assumptions,” the scholars wrote. “The experts are not opposed to aggressive investments in renewable energy. But they argue, as does most of the scientific community represented on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that other energy sources — atomic power, say, or natural gas coupled with technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere — are likely to prove indispensable in the global effort to combat climate change. Ignoring them risks derailing the effort to combat climate change.  But with the stakes so high, the gloves are clearly off. Professor Jacobson is punching back hard. In an article published in the same issue of the Proceedings and in a related blog post, he argues that his critics’ analysis “is riddled with errors and has no impact” on his conclusions. In a conversation over the weekend, he accused his critics of being shills for the fossil fuel and nuclear industries, without the standing to review his work. “Their paper is really a dangerous paper,” he told me.

How Do We Get to 100% Renewable Energy? Could be Storage - Union of Concerned Scientists - As communities, companies, and even entire Midwestern utility companies move to supply 100% of electricity needs from renewable energy, the question presents itself: is this even possible? The answer, it turns out, is yes—and it’s made possible by the technical capabilities of advanced energy technologies (and especially storage). This is UCS, so let’s talk about how to get the hard stuff done. To replace conventional generation with renewables, eventually all the services from fossil-fuel power plants have to be supplied by adding wind, solar, smart consumer appliances and electric vehicles, and storage. As renewable energy is added by businesses and utilities, here are 5 great building blocks for a future that is 100% renewable energy. […]  New energy storage deployments demonstrate just how quickly we can overcome the limit that the sunset creates for solar. Long-duration storage is already being paired with variable renewable generation (solar now, look soon for wind), making it able to satisfy market, reliability, and regulatory requirements. With the introduction of inverters and better energy storage, decision-makers are, for the first time, facing the reality that renewables and storage may be able to replace what’s currently used.

America’s hungriest wind and solar power users: big companies | Reuters: Major U.S. corporations such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc and General Motors have become some of America’s biggest buyers of renewable energy, driving growth in an industry seen as key to helping the United States cut carbon emissions. Last year nearly 40 percent of U.S. wind contracts were signed by corporate power users, along with university and military customers. That's up from just 5 percent in 2013, according to the American Wind Energy Association trade group. These users also accounted for an unprecedented 10% of the market for large-scale solar projects in 2016, figures from research firm GTM Research show. Just two years earlier there were none. The big reason: lower energy bills. Costs for solar and wind are plunging thanks to technological advances and increased global production of panels and turbines. Coupled with tax breaks and other incentives, big energy users such as GM are finding renewables to be competitive with, and often cheaper than, conventional sources of electricity. The automaker has struck deals with two Texas wind farms that will soon provide enough energy to power over a dozen GM facilities, including the U.S. sport utility vehicle assembly plant in Arlington, Texas, that produces the Chevrolet Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon. The company is already saving $5 million a year worldwide, according to Rob Threlkeld, GM's global manager of renewable energy, and has committed to obtaining 100% of its power from clean sources by 2050. "It's been primarily all driven off economics," Threlkeld said. "Wind and solar costs are coming down so fast that it made it feasible."

FEMA Is Preparing For A Solar Storm That Would Take Out The Grid --FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) is planning for a massive solar storm that would be so strong, it would take down the power grid. Noting that the rare, yet “high-consequence” scenario has “the potential for catastrophic impact on our nation and FEMA’s ability to respond.” According to unpublished FEMA documents obtained by Government Attic, a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) database and non-profit organization, the Department of Homeland Security agency once mapped out a disaster plan for the occurrence of another geomagnetic “super storm” like the one the occurred in 1859. Back then, the sun flung a giant plume of magnetized plasma out into space. The coronal mass ejection (CME), the sibling of a massive solar flare, traveled the 93 million miles between the Sun and Earth in only 17.6 hours. Today, it’s known as the Carrington Event and is remembered by the largest geomagnetic storm in the history of recorded space weather. Sparks leaped from the telegraph infrastructure, and machinery was so inundated with electric currents that operators were able to transmit messages while disconnected from battery power. But that doesn’t mean the ill-equipped government isn’t preparing for the inevitability, in fact, they are. Despite our superior ability to predict these events, the stakes are exponentially higher in a modern, hyper-connected world. FEMA predicts that a geomagnetic storm of this intensity would be “a catastrophe in slow motion.” Space weather events happen all the time, and many are harmless. For example, an event causing radio blackouts, solar radiation storms, and geomagnetic storms would be abnormal, yet the ripple effects on the power grid and communications would severely limit FEMA’s ability to respond to a nationwide crisis.

Watch Hackers Take Over the Mouse of a Power-Grid Computer in Ukraine - The best work of hackers tends to remain invisible. But when sophisticated intruders broke into the computer networks of regional energy firms in Ukraine in 2015 and cut power to roughly a quarter million people, their tampering didn't go unnoticed. In this rare instance, the staff of one of those electric utilities managed to capture the hackers' handiwork on video, which you can watch above. Two days before Christmas in 2015, engineers at the Prykkarpatyaoblenergo regional energy company in Western Ukraine found themselves locked out of their PCs. More troubling still, their mouse cursors moved of their own accord. The workers watched as hackers methodically clicked on circuit breakers in their grid operation software, each time opening the breakers and cutting power to another swath of the region. In the process of reporting our cover story on those blackouts— and the larger cyberwar affecting Ukraine—WIRED obtained a video that one of those engineers shot with his iPhone, recording a "phantom mouse" attack as it happened. The PC shown in the video was a test unit, not actually connected to Prykkarpatyaoblenergo's grid equipment. But hackers used the same attack on every other networked computer connected to the company's live electric-control systems, spurring six-hours of blackouts that extended to the Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk. In WIRED's investigation of that breach and another blackout that occurred in Ukraine a year later, we've tracked the evolution of those hackers: How they've graduated to using a digital weapon known as CrashOverride that can trigger Stuxnet-style automated attacks on infrastructure, and how those attacks may just be tests for future operations—perhaps against the United States. Read the full story here.

Renewable Energy Enables EU Climate Target Achievement At Lower Cost -- Renewable energy can be developed in Europe at significantly lower cost than assumed in the modelling assessments accompanying the “Clean Energy for All Europeans” Package. Since wind and solar energy are by far the cheapest energy sources for the low-carbon production of energy, the EU climate targets — 40% lower greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels — can be achieved at lowest cost by combining the deployment of renewable energy with energy savings. The EU renewable energy target — currently to achieve a 27% share of renewable energy in final energy consumption by 2030 — can be considerably raised without additional cost. These are key conclusions of a new Discussion Paper by the think-tank Agora Energiewende, which analyses the assumptions underlying the European Commission’s impact assessment.

Saudis accelerate plans for renewable energy — The Saudi government is making good on its pledge to introduce solar and wind power into the kingdom’s energy mix so that renewable energy becomes a growing part of the feedstock for the country’s electricity genera­tion. This will free up more of the Gulf country’s crude products and natural gas for export sales. In April, Riyadh announced the names of 51 companies, primarily foreign, that have been shortlisted for two renewable energy projects: 27 firms were selected to bid on a 300-megawatt solar project to be developed in the northern part of the kingdom and 24 firms were chosen to vie for a 400 MW wind farm project in the country’s northwest. The projects are the first of up to 30 ventures the Saudi govern­ment is planning as part of a $30 billion-$50 billion investment in renewable energy by 2023, the year by which Riyadh intends to produce around 10 gigawatts of electricity from solar, wind and geothermal power. Speaking at the start of the Saudi Arabia Renewable Energy Invest­ment Forum in April, Saudi Oil Min­ister Khalid al-Falih said 10 percent of the kingdom’s total electricity genera­tion will be from renewable energy by 2023. Falih noted: “The market re­sponse to the kingdom’s invita­tion to its first renewable energy projects has been overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating market confidence in our vast renewable energy potential and investment environment.”

Domestic appliances guzzle far more energy than advertised – EU survey  -- TVs, dishwashers and fridge freezers have been found to guzzle up to twice as much energy as advertised on their energy labels, in a wide-ranging EU product survey. When tested under real-world conditions, the €400,000, 18-month investigation found widespread overshooting of the goods’ colour-coded A-G energy classes, due to the outmoded and selective test formats on which these have been based. Switching on modern TV features such as “ultra-high definition” and “high-dynamic range” in real-world test cycles boosted energy use in four out of seven televisions surveyed – one by more than 100%.In an echo of past “defeat device” scandals, another TV set increased its energy consumption by 47% when tested in a cycle based on real-world viewing, instead of the European standard measurement. “This model stands out as potentially detecting and adjusting its behaviour to reduce average power consumption when measured with the EN 62087:2016 test video clip,” the report says. The video clip is a standard test sequence introduced a decade ago by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to measure home viewing patterns. Regulators in the UK and Sweden have already complained to the European commission about TV sets that seem to cut their energy use when they recognise the IEC clip being played.

The BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017 -- The BP 2017 stat review was published last week. Global Energy Graphed has hundreds of charts based on the BP data and these have now all been updated to include 2016 from the 2017 review. This is effectively an open thread where readers are invited to post their observations from the BP data. I will in turn produce a post on the main energy trends in a week or so. There are 9 summary charts below the fold.  Below I post a selection of some of the main summary graphs. Note that each year BP revise data from past reviews and our graphs use all the revised data as reported by BP 2017. The best way to navigate is via the drop down menu as illustrated above. The live charts are generated using Google Sheets. While we are eternally grateful to Google for providing this service, we are less grateful for them recently changing the formats, which means the charts are not as functional as they used to be. Hover the cursor over the chart to read the underlying data. The charts cannot be grabbed like png and jpg files, but you can make a copy using screen capture which on a Mac is cmd_shift_4. By way of a brief summary for 2016:
  • Oil (C+C+NGL) was static
  • Gas was static
  • Coal continues to decline
  • Nuclear continues to recover
  • Hydroelectric continues to rise
  • Wind, solar and other renewables are all up
  • CO2 is trending sideways
 Global banks reduce lending to dirtiest fossil fuel companies by billions in 2016 --The world’s biggest banks have reduced their lending to some of the most carbon-intensive sectors of the fossil fuel industry by billions of dollars, marking a potentially seismic shift against coal investment, a new study says. The report commissioned by environmental groups tracked the lending decisions of 37 banks across Australia, the US, Europe, Canada, China and Japan in the first calendar year since the signing of the Paris climate agreement. It shows the world’s largest banks – including Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ, and NAB – lent a collective $87bn to companies involved in the extraction, processing, and burning of “extreme fossil fuels” in 2016. The $87bn figure marks a sharp decline from bank funding for extreme fossil fuel companies in 2015 ($111bn) – representing a 22% drop – and is also lower than 2014 ($92bn). The report, entitled Banking on Climate Change: Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2017, defines extreme fossil fuels as: oil (tar sands, Arctic drilling, and ultra-deepwater oil), coal mining, coal-fired power, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals. However, the report warns that despite the 22% decline in funding, banks are still funding fossil fuel projects at a rate that will push the world beyond the 1.5 degrees climate change limit determined by the Paris Climate Agreement. It says they have still contributed $290bn of direct and indirect financing for extreme fossil fuel projects over the last three years, representing new investment “in the exact sub-sectors whose expansion is most at odds with reaching climate targets, respecting human rights, and preserving ecosystems.” “While this steep drop in funding is encouraging, it is vital that this be not just a temporary decline, but the start of a rapid phaseout,” the report says. 

West Virginians are realistic about coal’s demise, even if politicians aren’t  -- A West Virginia congressman on Thursday praised Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt for supporting the state’s coal industry and helping to bring a sense of optimism back to the state, even as the Trump administration plans major cuts to programs that help West Virginians. U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV), in comments at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget for the EPA, accused former President Barack Obama of putting “so many people on the unemployment line” in his state. With Trump as president, coal jobs are returning to West Virginia, Jenkins said. “We have got people going back to work to create a sense of hope and opportunity in their lives. So, I want to thank you for that,” he told Pruitt. The coal industry nationwide accounted for a total of 51,000 jobs through May, up about 400 jobs from the month before. In the Central Appalachian region, which includes West Virginia’s southern coalfields, the number of coal mining jobs grew from slightly below 15,000 to slightly above that number from January to March. West Virginian historian Chuck Keeney, who has written extensively on the state’s coal industry and its miners, said he has not seen a noticeable change in the mood of the state’s residents since Trump became president. “A lot of West Virginians understood that they were rolling the dice with Trump,” explained Keeney, a professor of history at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Logan County, West Virginia. “I don’t see this sense of hope that Jenkins is talking about. I see it as hyperbole,” Keeney said. Most West Virginians realize “there is not going to be a gigantic return of coal.”  

A First-of-Its-Kind Clean Coal Plant May Not Burn Coal At All - A first-of-its-kind “clean coal” power plant that utility owner Southern Co. spent years constructing in Mississippi may end up burning no coal at all -- and instead just run like a natural gas generator. After years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns, Mississippi regulators on Wednesday called on Southern to work up a deal that would have the Kemper plant fueled only by gas. The state Public Service Commission said in a statement that it’s looking for a solution that eliminates the risk to ratepayers “for unproven technology,” which involved converting coal into gas that could then be used to generate electricity -- all while capturing emissions. Settling for gas only at Southern’s Kemper plant threatens to undermine the business rationale for the kind of clean-coal technology the Trump administration has hailed as a way to save jobs at mines. It would mark the end of a very costly venture that has company investors demanding pay cuts for executives. The utility owner is also grappling with its long-delayed, over-budget Vogtle nuclear project in Georgia. “Clean coal was a very uncertain prospect after all the cost overruns, and difficulty getting the gasifiers to work just makes it worse,” Kit Konolige, a New York-based utilities analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, said by phone Wednesday. “But gas is so cheap it would have been an uphill battle even if this plant had been finished on time and on budget.” The utility commission still needs to vote on a formal order encouraging Southern to work on a settlement. It’s scheduled to take one up at a July 6 meeting. 

How China, Not Obama, Waged The War On Coal - Global coal production is down record amounts thanks largely to China, BP’s chief economist said Thursday, and coal’s probably not coming back. Chinese coal production has declined for three consecutive years, coinciding with the slowing of industrial growth, but according to BP's Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, released this week, it has never declined more than it did in 2016. At the beginning of 2016 China enacted a series of policies designed to reduce a supply glut, including closing 1,000 mines and restricting mining days to improve the profitability of the ones that remained open.  “Coal production in China fell dramatically, by far the biggest fall we’ve ever seen in coal production in China. And coal prices increased very sharply as production was pulled off, increasing by more than 60 percent during the course of 2016.” Those higher prices not only crushed coal consumption in China, they affected coal consumption worldwide. "The nature of the global coal markets meant that global prices then took their cue from what was happening in China," Dale said, "with coal prices around the world all following a similar trend. And that fed through to squeezing coal demand around the world, where we saw the second consecutive fall in global coal production and the largest ever fall in our records in terms of global coal production." While China's policy may be temporary, coal is unlikely to recover from it because of the long-term changes that are happening simultaneously, such as declines in the cost of natural gas and renewables and the growing preference for renewables in developing countries such as India.

China’s coal output in May grows fastest in years -- BEIJINGChina's coal production rose 12 percent in May from a year ago, its fastest pace of growth in years, as miners ramped up output ahead of an expected summer pick-up in demand, official data showed on Wednesday. Output rose to 297.8 million tonnes in May, the National Bureau of Statistics data showed, also slightly above April's 295 million tonnes.  For the year to date, coal production rose 4.3 percent to 1.4 billion tonnes.Anticipation of a hot summer and higher consumption has buoyed sentiment from miners who have enjoyed more relaxed regulations on production. Thermal coal prices have risen more than 16 percent this year reaching record highs on Wednesday of high of 570.6 yuan ($83.94) per tonne. Open interest hit a record on Tuesday, showing more bullish sentiment in market. Inventory at Qinhuangdao port, China's largest coal transportation hub, fell to 5.3 million tonnes by June 12, down from 6 million tonnes month ago.  As many of China's major cities in north and southern regions brace for a warmer-than-usual June, coal consumption from largest the coal-fired power plants has picked up to provide power for air conditioners.

 South Korea's President Moon says plans to exit nuclear power | Reuters: South Korea's new President Moon Jae-in said on Monday the country will halt plans to build new nuclear power plants and will not extend the lifespan of existing plants, in a bid to phase out nuclear power. Moon campaigned on a program of cutting South Korea's traditional reliance on coal and nuclear for the bulk of its power, but has not previously commented on the commitment to end nuclear power since being elected in early May. "We will end the nuclear-oriented power generation plan and pave the way for a nuclear-free era," Moon said at an event marking the closure of the Kori No.1 nuclear reactor in Busan, some 300 km (186 miles) southeast of Seoul. "We will withdraw existing plans to build new nuclear power plants and not extend the lifespan of nuclear power plants." South Korea's oldest nuclear reactor Kori No.1 was permanently shut down at midnight on Sunday after reaching the end of its 40-year-lifespan, the first South Korean nuclear power plants to be closed permanently. South Korea has 25 nuclear reactors, supplying about a third of the country's total electricity. During his campaign, Moon vowed to review plans to add new eight nuclear reactors, including the part-completed Shin Kori No.5 and Kori No.6. Moon said he will soon reach a consensus on the Shin Kori No.5 and Shin Kori No.6 reactors after fully considering their construction costs, safety and the potential costs of paying compensation. He also said the government will seek to shut down the country's second-oldest nuclear reactor, the Wolsong No.1, as soon as possible depending on the country's power supply conditions.

U.S. Nuclear Plants Losing $2.9 Billion Annually -- Increased use of less-expensive natural gas and renewable sources of energy for power generation is putting financial pressure on U.S. nuclear power plants, according to an analysis of electricity costs from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Nicholas Steckler, an analyst for BNEF, in a June 14 report said nuclear operators are losing about $2.9 billion a year. Steckler said nuclear plants are being paid $20/MWh to $30/MWh for their electricity, while their generation costs an average of $35/MWh. The report says 34 of 61 U.S. nuclear plants are in the red. Steckler specifically cited merchant nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Corp., Entergy Corp., and Exelon.  FirstEnergy, which has two nuclear plants in its home state of Ohio and one in Pennsylvania, reiterated previous public statements that its “competitive subsidiaries are not profitable, which includes all of our competitive generating plants.” The company has continued to say it may leave competitive power markets by the middle of 2018. Some nuclear operators are looking for government subsidies to level the field with renewables, but the legislation faces legal hurdles. New York and Illinois have passed legislation to subsidize the industry but a group of non-nuclear operators has sued to block its implementation. A Connecticut bill that would have supported the industry also was recently blocked.


Rapid nuclear decommissioning threatens climate targets, says IEA | Reuters: Decommissioning nuclear plants in Europe and North America from 2020 threatens global plans to cut carbon emissions unless governments build new nuclear plants or expand the use of renewables, a top International Energy Agency official said. Nuclear is now the largest low-carbon power source in Europe and the United States, about three times bigger than wind and solar combined, according to IEA data. But most reactors were built in the 1970s and early 80s, and will reach the end of their life around 2020. With the average nuclear plant running for 8,000 hours a year versus 1,500-2,000 hours for a solar plant, governments must expand renewable investments to replace old nuclear plants if they are to meet decarbonisation targets, IEA Chief Economist Laszlo Varro told Reuters. "The ageing of the nuclear fleet is a considerable challenge for energy security and decarbonisation objectives," he said on the sidelines of the Eurelectric utilities conference in Portugal. Renewables have grown rapidly in the past decade but about 20 percent of new low-carbon capacity has been lost from the decommissioning of nuclear plants in the same period, he said. "This is just a taste of thing to come," Varro said. Russia and India were building new plants, while China was bringing a new plant online every quarter, Varro said.