Blog Archive

Monday, September 21, 2015

SEVERAL MUST READS: rjs's environmental news, week of September 14, 2015

Air Pollution Kills More Than 3 Million People Each Year, And That Number Is Rising -- Air pollution is deadly, a new study has confirmed.  The study, published this week in Nature, found that outdoor air pollution kills 3.3 million people around the world every year. And that number is set to rise in the next 35 years — if worldwide emissions continue unabated, the number of deaths caused by air pollution each year could double to 6.6 million by 2050.  “This projection should sound alarm bells for public-health agencies around the world,” The study found that China and India — the world’s first- and third-highest greenhouse gas emitters — have the highest rates of death from air pollution. In China, a country that’s suffered from off-the-charts air pollution that’s closed schools and forced some residents to stay indoors, air pollution kills nearly 1.4 million people each year. India — which is home to Delhi, a city which has the most toxic air of any city in the world — sees about 645,000 deaths due to air pollution every year. In the United States, according to the study, air pollution kills about 54,900 people annually.

Heartland Virus Found In 13 States - It's called the Heartland virus disease. Since it was first detected in 2009, there have been only nine reported cases in the Midwest, including two deaths.  So scientists thought the Heartland virus was limited to a small region.That assumption was wrong. A team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now found signs that Heartland virus is circulating in deer, raccoons, coyotes and moose in 13 states — from Texas to North Carolina and Florida to Maine."It was not only in these states, but it was fairly common," says biologist Nick Komar, who led the study. "It's very possible there have been many other cases that have been overlooked."  The Heartland virus causes symptoms similar to other diseases, including high fever, nausea, joint pain and severe bruising.  "Unless doctors are doing laboratory tests specifically for this infection, they'll miss it," Komar says. "This study is a way to get the word out, so the medical establishment knows there may be more infections out there. And people should be watching for it." Scientists thought the lone star tick was the primary way Heartland spreads. But that tick isn't found up in northern New England. So there's likely a second type of tick that can also carry Heartland.

Microbiologists Find Another 30,000 Year Old Giant Virus in Siberian Permafrost - It might have happened anyway. After all, global warming is melting Arctic permafrost just fine without help from microbiologists, and within that permafrost are potentially all sorts of bad and very strange things waiting to be revived—like giant viruses. Especially giant viruses. For their part, scientists haven't had a very hard time finding those giant viruses. From a single sample of Siberian permafrost, they've managed to come up with two so far. The first of those, Pithovirus sibericum, was discovered/isolated last year, while the most recent find, Mollivirus sibericum, is described in a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Both are examples of rare giant viruses, e.g., those easily visible using optical microscopes. So, are these giant viruses going to wipe out human civilization? Well, the work was done in a top secret CDC lab, according to an AFP report. The microbiologists behind the find, a group drawn mostly from institutions in France and Russia, assure that before "waking" the virus up they will need to verify that it is harmless to humans. This will be accomplished by using the virus to infect single-celled amoeba, which will serve as its host.

Michigan resident tests positive for plague  -- A Michigan resident is recovering from the state's first ever confirmed case of bubonic plague, state health officials said on Monday. The adult resident of Marquette County in the state's Upper Peninsula recently returned from a Colorado area with reported plague activity and there is no cause for concern about human-to-human contact, the state health department said. It was the 14th human plague case reported nationally in 2015, more than four times the average of three cases annually of the rare and potentially life-threatening flea-borne illness, state health officials said. An elderly Utah resident died from plague in August and two people have succumbed to the disease this year in Colorado. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the plague was introduced to the United States in 1900 by rat–infested steamships that had sailed from affected areas, mostly in Asia. Early symptoms of plague include high fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin.

America’s Largest Fast Food Chains Earn Failing Grade for Antibiotic Use --A new report and scorecard released today by several consumer, health and environmental groups grades America’s 25 largest fast food and fast casual chains on their meat and poultry antibiotics policies, with all but five of them earning “F”s for allowing routine antibiotic use by their meat suppliers.  Today’s reportChain Reaction: How Top Restaurants Rate on Reducing Use of Antibiotics in Their Meat Supply, comes amid mounting pressure on restaurant chains, with a letter sent today from 109 organizations to the CEOs of the top 25 restaurant chains urging companies to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics in their meat supply. “From bacon cheeseburgers to chicken nuggets, most meat served by America’s chain restaurants comes from animals raised in industrial-scale facilities, where they are routinely fed antibiotics to prevent disease that is easily spread in crowded, unsanitary, stressful conditions,” said Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth. “It’s time for the U.S. restaurant industry to take leadership and address the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance by working with their meat and poultry suppliers to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics and improve overall conditions in U.S. meat production.” “Overusing antibiotics in meat production helps to create drug-resistant superbugs—our nation’s largest chain restaurants can be part of the problem or part of the solution,” said David Wallinga, MD, senior health officer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Restaurants billing themselves as a ‘healthier’ option, like Subway, have a particular responsibility to live up to that image by reducing antibiotics. Consumer demand for meat raised without routine antibiotics is transforming the marketplace; the companies continuing with business-as-usual will be left behind.”

Genetic Engineering Is (Probably) Protected By the First Amendment -- The dawn of cheap genome editing techniques such as CRISPR understandably have people across the political spectrum worried about what a future of designer babies, more pathogenic viruses, deextincted species, clones, and glow-in-the-dark sushi might look like. But does putting limits on genetic engineering violate scientists' constitutional rights? The First Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to encompass not just the freedom of speech, but also the freedom of expression and expressive conduct, which likely includes acts of science, according to Alta Charo, a bioethicist and law professor at University of Wisconsin Law School.  "We understand that religious conduct can be protected," Charo said last week at a DARPA conference in St. Louis. "When I fertilize an egg in a laboratory, am I conveying a message about the lack of need of a deity? In other words, am I expressing something that is in a fundamental way political?" Many scientists would likely argue that, yes, science is political, perhaps even religious speech. When geneticist Craig Venter created synthetic life using manmade DNA bases back in 2010, it was heralded (and denounced) as an act of a scientist "playing God." Some called it proof that intelligent design is real.  Venter himself called it an "important step both scientifically and philosophically" and said it "changed [his] views of definitions of life and how life works." Writing in the New Yorker last week, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss wrote that "all scientists should be militant atheists."  "The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking," he wrote. "Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may offend."

Monsanto Stunned - California Confirms 'Roundup' Will Be Labeled "Cancer Causing" -- California just dealt Monsanto a blow as the state’s Environmental Protection Agency will now list glyphosate - the toxic main ingredient in the U.S.’ best-selling weedkiller, Roundup - as known to cause cancer. Under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 — usually referred to as Proposition 65, its original name — chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm are required to be listed and published by the state. Chemicals also end up on the list if found to be carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) — a branch of the World Health Organization.  In March, the IARC released a report that found glyphosate to be a “probable carcinogen.” Besides the “convincing evidence” the herbicide can cause cancer in lab animals, the report also found: “Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the U.S.A., Canada, and Sweden reported increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustments to other pesticides.” California’s decision to place glyphosate on the toxic chemicals list is the first of its kind. As Dr. Nathan Donley of the Center for Biological Diversity said in an email to Ecowatch,“As far as I’m aware, this is the first regulatory agency within the U.S. to determine that glyphosate is a carcinogen. So this is a very big deal.”  Monsanto was seemingly baffled by the decision to place cancer-causing glyphosate on the state’s list of nearly 800 toxic chemicals. Spokesperson for the massive company, Charla Lord, told Agri-Pulse that  "Glyphosate is an effective and valuable tool for farmers and other users, including many in the state of California. During the upcoming comment period, we will provide detailed scientific information to OEHHA about the safety of glyphosate and work to ensure that any potential listing will not affect glyphosate use or sales in California.”

Glyphosate in Monsanto’s Roundup Is Linked to Cancer, But Big Ag Wants it in Your Food Anyway -- In Europe, the amount of pesticide residues that are allowed on food is determined by recommendations from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) at a Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR). Right now their big discussions are all about glyphosate. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and is the main ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, which is applied to more than 150 food and non-food crops. In addition to its agriculture uses, glyphosate is also commonly used on lawns, gardens and parks where pets and kids play.  Unfortunately, glyphosate is linked to cancer (Group 2A ‘probable’ human carcinogen) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the prestigious cancer assessment arm of the WHO. But, cancer-causing chemicals have friends in high places. Monsanto is the world’s leading producer of glyphosate, with annual sales of Roundup netting about two billion U.S. dollars. Unsurprisingly, the company quickly fired back with a statement on how the company is “outraged” at IARC’s “agenda-driven bias” in its “irresponsible” decision-making. [As a side, since IARC announced its decision, a group of U.S. citizens have filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto for falsifying safety claims and a group of Chinese citizens have filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government for hiding Monsanto’s toxicity studies from the public]. In Europe, if a chemical is linked to cancer, then absolutely none of the chemical is allowed to remain as residue on our food. Zero tolerance. That seems reasonable—like zero tolerance for cancer. So, JMPR has assembled a task force to reevaluate IARC’s assessment and advise whether or not JMPR’s assessment from 2011 should be revised.

University Scientists Caught Conspiring with Monsanto to Manipulate Public Opinion on GMOs -- What happens when a private company with a long history of producing some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet and now produces our food starts facing public pressure from a growing national grassroots movement to label their products to conform with basic principles of democracy and transparency? Well, if the company in question is Monsanto, then you take a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook and hatch a secret plan to enlist public university scientists to bury the potential harm of your genetically engineered crops by whitewashing negative studies and systematically demonizing your opponents in the media to mislead elected officials and the American public about the safety of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and their accompanying toxic pesticides. In the 1940s, tobacco companies ran ads with doctors proclaiming smoking cigarettes were perfectly safe.   Today, Monsanto and the biotech industry are copying the same tactics, this time hiding behind the façade of public university scientists and hiring major PR firms to promote GMOs and the toxic weedkiller glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in Roundup, which some scientists are offering to drink on Twitter and in front of classrooms of students to “prove” its safety and hide the fact that it is harmful to humans and the environment.

France + Russia Ban GMOs -- Russia and France have joined the growing list of European countries crusading against genetically modified (GMO) food and crops. According to RT, Russia is stamping out any GMOs in its entire food production.“As far as genetically-modified organisms are concerned, we have made decision not to use any GMO in food productions,” Russia’s Deputy PM Arkady Dvorkovich announced at an international conference on biotechnology in the city of Kirov. Dvorkovich added that there is a clear difference between the use of GMO-products for food versus scientific or medicinal purposes, RT reported.“This is not a simple issue, we must do very thorough work on division on these spheres and form a legal base on this foundation,” he said.Russia already has hardline policies against GMOs. In 2012, Russia banned imports of Monsanto’s corn after a French study linked the company’s GMO-product to tumors in lab rats (the study was later retracted). Last year, the country banned imports of GMO products, with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev saying the nation already has the resources to produce its own non-GMO fare. “If the Americans like to eat GMO products, let them eat it then. We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food,” said Medvedev.   Russia’s latest move comes after similar news pouring in from Western Europe in recent weeks. On Thursday, France followed in the footsteps of other European Union countries—ScotlandGermanyLatvia and Greece—and has chosen the “opt-out” clause of a EU rule passed in March that allows its 28-member bloc to abstain from growing GMO crops, even if they are already authorized to be grown within the union.

Bees Win Big in Court, EPA’s Approval of Toxic Pesticide Overturned -- The three-judge panel said the EPA green-lit sulfoxaflor even though initial studies showed the product was highly toxic to pollinators such as bees. The chemical compound belongs to a class of insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, that scientific studies have implicated in bee deaths. “Because the EPA’s decision to unconditionally register sulfoxaflor was based on flawed and limited data, we conclude that the unconditional approval was not supported by substantial evidence,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel wrote in its opinion.  In her opinion, Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote that the EPA had initially decided to conditionally approve the chemical but ordered more studies done to better understand the effects the systemic insecticide would have on bees. “A few months later, however, the EPA unconditionally registered the insecticides with certain mitigation measures and a lowering of the maximum application rate,” Schroeder wrote. “It did so without obtaining any further studies.” The product, sold in the U.S. as Transform or Closer, must be pulled from store shelves by Oct. 18.

America’s birds flying into climate danger zone -- Some of North America’s birds may no longer be at home on the range. More than half of 588 studied species could lose over 50% of their flying, breeding and feeding space before the end of the century − because of climate change.  The researchers who discovered the precarious future facing so many species say they were shocked to find that rising temperatures could have such widespread effects on the continent’s birds. The finding comes from one of the world’s most distinguished ornithological bodies, the US National Audubon Society. Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist, and colleagues report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used mathematical models and results from two long-established annual surveys in the breeding season and in winter to estimate future geographic range shifts. The research was based on huge amounts of data. The society’s Christmas Bird Count has been continuous since 1900, and provides a good estimate of numbers in those species that overwinter. And the North American Breeding Bird Survey, a systematic study conducted between mid-May and July in the US and Canada, involves tens of thousands of three-minute counts of every bird seen or heard at 50 stops along a 39-kilometre route.

Tree planting can harm ecosystems -- The world's grassy biomes are key contributors to biodiversity and ecosystem services, and are under immense pressure from conversion to agriculture and tree planting, report Joseph W. Veldman, of Iowa State University, and his colleagues in an article for the October issue of BioScience. The authors argue that forest- and tree-focused environmental policies and conservation initiatives have potentially dire ecological consequences for undervalued ecosystems, such as grasslands, savannas, and open-canopy woodlands.  To illustrate this forest bias and its consequences, Veldman and colleagues review the World Resources Institute and International Union for Conservation of Nature's Atlas of Forest Landscape Restoration Opportunities, created as a tool to achieve the Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by 2020. The BioScience authors' global analysis suggests that the Atlas erroneously mapped 9 million square kilometers as providing "opportunities" for forest restoration. These errors arose largely because "the Atlas producers considered any nonforest area where climate could permit forest development to be deforested." Problems such as this one, combined with the failure of United Nations environmental policymakers to recognize grassy biomes for protection, constitute a significant threat to biodiversity, Veldman and his coauthors write.  Furthermore, the authors highlight the importance of grassy biomes' carbon storage capabilities, stating that "where grassy biomes are protected, their largely below ground carbon stocks, which store as much carbon as forests do globally, are secure." In contrast, above ground forest carbon storage may be vulnerable to release by fire or logging.

Decades-Long "Megadrought" Looms For Entire US As Lake Powell Runs Dry, NASA Warns - With the number of people living in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains, and the volume of water they need, having increased rapidly over recent decades - and, with NASA scientists expecting these trends to continue for years to come - the current severe drought combined with the tapping of the Lake Powell's water at what many consider to be an unsustainable level, has reduced its levels to only about 42% of its capacity. Forecasting that there is an 80 percent chance of an extended drought in the area between 2050 and 2099 unless aggressive steps are taken to mitigate the impacts of climate change, the researchers said their results point to a challenging - and remarkably drier – future. As Reuters reports, scientists from NASA and Cornell and Columbia universities warned earlier this year that the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains regions are likely to be scorched by a decades-long "megadrought" during the second half of this century if climate change continues unabated. More than 500 feet (150 meters) deep in places and with narrow side canyons, the shoreline of the lake is longer than the entire West Coast of the United States. It extends upstream into Utah from Arizona's Glen Canyon Dam and provides water for Nevada, Arizona and California. ...The peak inflow to Lake Powell occurs in mid to late spring, as winter snow melts in the Rockies. But since 2012, snow and rainfall totals have been abnormally low as the region suffered persistent drought. As the following images show, all around the lake, strikingly pale bands of rock have been exposed by the receding waters...

California's Sierra Nevada snowpack is the lowest in 500 years: The snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains this year has fallen to its lowest level in at least the past 500 years, according to a study published Monday in Nature Climate Change, a peer-reviewed British journal. The finding underscores the severe drought afflicting the state, now in its fourth year, and raises the prospect of more water shortages that could impact agriculture and hydroelectric power production, and exacerbate wildfires. "Our study really points to the extreme character of the 2014-15 winter," said study lead author Valerie Trouet of the Univeristy of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. Where there is usually about five feet of snow, there was bare ground at the snow survey site in the Sierra on April 1. "This is not just unprecedented over 80 years — it's unprecedented over 500 years," she said. The Sierra Nevada snowpack plays a critical role in replenishing the state’s water reservoirs and provides 30% of the state's water supply, according to the study. Though actual snowpack measurements have been taken in California over the past few decades, climate scientists need to use other methods, known as proxies, to determine weather patterns for previous centuries.

California Epic Drought Leads to Lowest Snowpack in 500 Years -- The snowpack for the state of California—a critical source of drinking water for the state—hit its lowest level in the last 500 years, according to a study published yesterday in Nature. When the snowpack was measured in April—historically the high point for the season’s snowpack—it was just 6 percent of average for the past century.  Now, thanks to this latest study, we know that the snowpack hasn’t been this low in at least five centuries. The study used tree-ring data from centuries-old blue oaks to provide historical context for this year’s extremely low snowpack. The paper is the first of its kind in describing temperature and precipitation levels in the Sierra Nevada “that extends centuries before researchers started measuring snow levels each year,” says The New York Times.  “The 2015 snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is unprecedented,” Valerie Trouet, one of the authors of the study, told The Times. “We expected it to be bad, but we certainly didn’t expect it to be the worst in the past 500 years.” Last winter was the hottest on record for California, so the little precipitation the state received often fell as rain and not snow. This has grave implications for the state’s water supply because snowmelt provides one-third of the state’s drinking water and is also critical for fighting the state’s increasing wildfires. California is in the midst of a four-year drought that has produced devastating wildfires like the Valley Fire in Northern California, which is happening right now. This past spring, NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti warned that Californians only have one year of water left in the state’s reservoirs.

Global warming's one-two punch: extreme heat and drought -- As humans emit greenhouse gases into the environment, it causes the Earth to warm, we already know that. What is less certain is how it will cause changes to the weather we experience in our lives. In the past few years, research looking into the connection between a warming planet and more extreme weather has found more conclusive connections.I have covered extreme weather quite a bit recently, because the science is so compelling and new. But a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by doctoral student Omid Mazdiyasni and his advisor Amir Agha Kouchak takes a fresh look at this topic. Instead of just looking at heat waves or just looking at precipitation, they looked for concurrent events. Droughts can be caused by reduced precipitation. Hot weather speeds evaporation and damages the environment. But droughts and high temperatures can happen at the same time. These concurrent-event droughts are particularly harmful, they can set in fast and severely. The authors present results of various heat wave severity (85%, 90%, and 95% events) and for various durations (3 day, 5 day, and 7 day events). Focusing on 1960-2010, they found that the concurrence of all combinations of drought, heat wave intensity, and heat wave durations “have increased substantially in the south, southeast, and parts of the western USA.”   In other past of the country, these trends have decreased (I have written about changing precipitation in the USA here, and I have published on this topic here), in part because a warmer atmosphere contains more water vapor. What is also interesting is that the authors find a greater increase in the most extreme events. The new study clears up past research which has been mixed in this area. The authors more advanced statistical technique is better suited to finding trends and patterns in the climate record.

Thousands Of Acres Ablaze As California Governor Declares State Of Emergency -- New fires added to the evacuations and destruction in California over the weekend, as Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency in two northern counties.  The Valley Fire, just north of San Francisco, covered 62,000 acres and was only 5 percent contained as of Monday morning.  The Butte Fire, due east of the Bay Area, has burned 71,063 acres and is 30 percent contained, according to the state’s Cal Fire agency. Four firefighters were injured over the weekend, and hundreds of homes have been destroyed. There’s also one report of a death from the fire, but it hasn’t yet been confirmed.  2015 has been a record year for wildfires across the West, and California has been hit particularly hard. This year, Cal Fire has fought nearly 5,000 wildfires over 150,000 acres, the agency reported. But the worst might be yet to come. Officials noted that, historically, September and October are the worst months for wildfires in California.  The state’s drought is primarily responsible for increasing wildfire danger year-round. California is now in its fourth year of a historic dry spell — one that’s been linked to climate change. Dry underbrush and trees ignite more easily, and fires spread more quickly. Earlier this year, officials called a fire’s spread “unprecedented.”   “What we’re seeing now is that the rain is starting later and stopping much earlier. The fires are burning at explosive speed because the vegetation is so dry and that allows them to get much larger.”Over the weekend, 1,000 firefighters were battling the Butte Fire. This manpower comes at a tremendous cost to the state, which spent an estimated $4 billion fighting wildfires between 2003 and 2012.  And that’s not even counting the federal spending on fighting fires. The Forest Service spent about $1.2 billion on fire suppression in fiscal year 2014, CNBC reported.

Raging California Wildfires Force Evacuations; Governor Brown Declares State of Emergency --California remains a tinderbox due to drought conditions. Fires rage in multiple places and Governor Brown has declared a state of emergency with a new fire about to consume San Andreas, a town 60 miles East of Sacramento.  The Guardian reports Explosive Wildfire Threatens California Mountain Towns as Blaze IntensifiesA mountain town is standing by to evacuate on Saturday and residents across a huge swath of northern California have been warned of “explosive fire conditions” as a fierce wildfire across more than 100 square miles suddenly intensified. California governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for the counties experiencing the inferno, as it approaches the town of San Andreas, about 60 miles south-east of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada region. Some homes have been engulfed and thousands are threatened with imminent destruction in the path of flames that are spreading over steep landscape.  The gradients help the fires grow by sending heat up slopes and increasing ground temperatures ahead of the flames while making it extremely difficult for the emergency services to tackle the blaze.A blaze that covered one square mile on Thursday quickly burned more than 100 square miles and was only 5% contained by Friday evening. Meanwhile, in central California between the city of Fresno and the Kings Canyon National Park, firefighters are digging trenches to try to stop wildfires reaching a growth of ancient giant sequoia trees in the Sierra Nevada, where the towering specimens are often found to be 3,000 years old. The Guardian has many images.

Two untamed wildfires displace 23,000 people in northern California - Two explosive wildfires have displaced 23,000 people in northern California and threaten to wreak more devastation in rural communities, which have lost hundreds of homes. The so-called Valley fire in Lake County raged untamed on Monday after incinerating 61,000 acres, or 95 square miles, in just two days. Overcast weather grounded firefighting airplanes and helicopters, leaving ground crews to battle without air cover and prompting warnings of worse to come from a blaze that is just 5% contained. “Firefighters from across California are aggressively fighting the Valley fire that has continued to spread in hot, windy conditions,” said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). “The fire continues to grow as firefighters work to construct fire lines, while protecting lives and property.”The blaze has consumed 400 homes plus hundreds of other structures, and law enforcement is investigating a report of a civilian fatality, the agency said. Some 1,255 personnel were fighting the fire, it added. Since erupting on Saturday the fire’s speed and ferocity has astonished experts, who said it moved faster than any other in California’s recent history. Sheriff Brian Martin called it the worst tragedy ever seen in Lake County, 20 miles north of Napa winelands. People fled amid billowing smoke, smouldering telephone poles, downed power lines and fallen trees. Mark Ghilarducci, director of Office of Emergency Services, told a news conference it drove about 13,000 from their homes over the weekend.

California ‘Firestorm’ Scorched Area Twice the Size of Manhattan in 24 Hours  -- The Valley Fire, which ignited in Northern California on Saturday afternoon, scorched 50,000 acres—an area more than twice the size of Manhattan—within 24 hours, according to Napa Valley Patch. It has since grown to 67,000 acres and is only 15 percent containedWest Coast @TODAYshow viewers: #ValleyFire now 15% contained w/ 585 homes destroyed. We’ll have the latest at “It’s a true firestorm—extremely fast moving, generating its own weather conditions, and burning literally everything in its path,” Daniel Swain, a climate Earth system scientist at Stanford University, told Climate Central. “The Valley Fire is breaking all the rules in the midst of a fire season that had already rewritten the rulebook. What’s going on in Lake County is a direct manifestation of California’s record-breaking drought, and it’s pretty sobering.”  14 photos that show the devastation wrought by California’s Valley Fire

Property toll from Northern California wildfire grows to 585 homes - Property losses from a deadly Northern California wildfire, the most destructive this year in the western United States, climbed on Tuesday to at least 585 homes and hundreds of other structures that have gone up in flames. The latest tally, up from Monday's estimate of 400 homes razed, came as firefighters gained some ground against the blaze, which erupted on Saturday and raced through several communities in the hills north of Napa County's wine-producing region. Thousands of residents were forced to flee, many without warning as neighborhoods burned around them. One elderly shut-in was later discovered to have perished in her home, and authorities have not ruled out finding additional victims. Ana Malachowski, 33, was back in the devastated village of Middletown on Tuesday, picking through ruins of her brother's home as he tried to direct her by cell phone to spots in the rubble where jewelry and other items might be salvaged. "I'm just numb," she said, recounting how she and neighbors tried in vain to battle flames with garden hoses on Saturday before giving up to join in the evacuation. Her own house survived, she said, but added, "This whole town is a big family. You can't say, 'This family lost their home and this one didn't.'" Lake County sheriff's deputies began escorting some evacuees back to their properties to briefly tend to pets or livestock that were left behind. But authorities said conditions in fire-ravaged areas remained unsafe, with downed power lines and other hazards. Residents whose homes remained intact would not be able to reoccupy their houses for at least another couple of days.

Valley Fire: Evacuees cling to sense of community, shared grief after devastating blaze - Here at the Napa County Fairgrounds, nearly 1,000 people who fled for their lives from the Valley Fire now sleep on cots in tents. They line up to use portable toilets, wear other people's clothes, and on Tuesday, many took their first showers in days. . Even many who could stay at hotels or move in with relatives are choosing to remain.  "Anywhere else, you'd feel total despair," said Ann Prehn, 67, who lost her home in hard-hit Anderson Springs. "Here we are in the same boat, trying to figure what we can do if we stick together." Firefighters spent Tuesday digging a perimeter line around the 67,200-acre fire, which is now 30 percent contained. But the devastation left behind, from melted homes to dangling transformers and toppling trees, was still too perilous for most to return. On Tuesday, with a special escort from the Lake County Sheriff's Department, some residents were allowed for the first time to quickly check on animals they left behind, from cats to cattle. But others wouldn't go even if they could."What am I going to go back to, a hot pile of ashes?" asked Sharon Woita, 59, who lost her home in Middletown over the weekend. "I'm not ready to go back."  Instead, on the fairgrounds midway lined with Porta-Potties and insurance booths and in the exhibit halls converted to dormitories, they shared their anger, frustration and grief over a fire that destroyed nearly 600 homes and killed at least one of their neighbors, with others still unaccounted for.

Viral Video of Terrifying Escape Through California Flames -- If you live in California anywhere near flames, don't depend on an evacuation order to save you. The order may never come. The following video Heading toward Middletown on through Valley Fire shows the last three cars to escape the inferno..  The Guardian has a condensed video and comments from the family in its report Mother Talks about Son's Viral California Wildfire Video.  Julie Wolf was two cars behind her son when he filmed their infamous escape from an explosive wildfire in Anderson Springs, California. She is the only member of the three-car convoy to speak out about footage that has gone viral, after providing a window into the dramatic blaze ravaging the state.  The video, now viewed by over 1.6 million people on YouTube, shows the terrifying escape her family made through flame-consumed woods on 12 September. “Oh my God,” her son muttered as he navigated through the inferno. Wolf said she was “too busy being terrified” during the drive, but her son, who does not want to be named, shot the video.  Wolf said she didn’t know the fire was so close until her son pulled into her driveway to drop off a small, electric trailer. “When my son drove into the property, he had seen the smoke. He didn’t see fire, but he saw smoke,” she said. “And he said it’s right up the hill from you and I think you should start packing.”  A mandatory evacuation was issued by authorities at 4pm – several hours before they left. She said they never received the order to evacuate. Wolf was expecting a phone call from the fire department, who she said had a “system in place to call everybody for evacuation situations”.  At one point, her son hit something, cracking the windshield, tearing away the passenger side headlight, and crushing the quarter panel. But the van was “so big and heavy so it just powered through”.

Death toll in Northern California wildfires jumps to five | Reuters: Two more bodies were found in areas scorched by one of the two devastating wildfires raging in Northern California for the past week, raising the death toll to five from both blazes, even as fire officials on Thursday reported further progress in subduing the flames. The remains, though not yet positively identified, were believed to be of two men who had been reported missing in separate communities ravaged by the so-called Valley Fire just north of Napa County's wine-producing region, the Lake County Sheriff's Office said. Earlier in the week, authorities reported discovering the remains of an elderly, disabled woman who was unable to flee her house in the early frantic hours of the Valley Fire on Saturday and perished as flames consumed her home. Two more people who authorities said defied evacuation orders, lost their lives in the Butte Fire, still burning more than a week after it erupted more than 100 miles (160 km) to the east in California Gold Rush country of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Ranking as the most destructive wildfires in California this year, the two conflagrations together have blackened more than 145,000 acres (58,000 hectares) while laying waste to more than 800 homes and forcing the evacuation of some 20,000 people.

Climate changes drives El Nino, pointing to a hot summer ahead – (ABC Australia) MAN-MADE GLOBAL warming is set to produce exceptionally high average temperatures this year and next, boosted by natural weather phenomena such as El Nino, Britain's top climate and weather body said in a report on Monday. "It looks very likely that globally 2014, 2015 and 2016 will all be amongst the very warmest years ever recorded," Rowan Sutton of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science said. "This is not a fluke," he said. "We are seeing the effects of energy steadily accumulating in the Earth's oceans and atmosphere, caused by greenhouse gas emissions." The rate at which global temperatures are increasing is also on track to pick up in the coming years, ending a period of more than a decade in which the pace of warming worldwide had appeared to slow down, the report said. This "pause" has been seized upon by sceptics as evidence that climate change was driven more by natural cycles than human activity. Some scientists, however, argue that there was no significant slowdown, pointing instead to flawed calculations. The 20-page report from Britain's Met Office, entitled "Big changes underway in the climate system?", highlights current transitions in major weather patterns that affect rainfall and temperatures at a regional level. An El Nino weather pattern centred in the tropical Pacific Ocean is "well underway," the report says, and shaping up to be one of the most intense on record. Very strong El Ninos also occurred over the winters of 1997 and 1982.   Set to grow stronger in the coming months, the current El Nino — a result of shifting winds and ocean circulation — is likely to result is dry conditions in parts of Asia and Australia, as well as southern and sub-Saharan North Africa, the Met Office said. By contrast, the southwestern United States — including parched California, suffering from an historic drought — has a strong chance of seeing higher-than-average rainfall.

Hot August Confirms That Long-Awaited Global Temperature Speed Up Is Here - NASA reports that this was the hottest start to any year on record by far. This was the hottest August by far in the dataset of the Japan Meteorological Agency, and close to tied with 2014 for hottest August in the NASA dataset. With the underlying long-term warming trend adding to the short-term warming from the strongest El Niño since the big one of 1997-1998, you can bet the house that this will be the hottest year on record by far. Different climate-tracking groups around the world use different data sets, so they can show different results for a given month. The Japan Meteorological Agency is a World Meteorological Organization Regional Climate Center of excellence. Here is the horserace chart — the running year-to-date average temperature — for the past two decades, from HotWhopper.

Earth's record streak of record heat keeps on sizzling: Earth's record-breaking heat is sounding an awful lot like a broken record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday that August, this past summer and the first eight months of 2015 all smashed global records for heat. That's the fifth straight record hot season in a row and the fourth consecutive record hot month. Meteorologists say 2015 is a near certainty to eclipse 2014 as the hottest year on record. This year, six of the eight months have been record breaking, with only April and January failing to set new records. Since 2000, Earth has broken monthly heat records 30 times and seasonal heat records 11 times. The last time a monthly cold record was broken was in 1916. Records go back to 1880. "For scientists, these are just a few more data points in an increasingly long list of broken records (that) is due to warming temperatures," Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said in an email. "As individuals, though, this is yet another reminder of the impact our unprecedented and inadvertent experiment — an experiment that began with the Industrial Revolution — is having on our planet today." Scientists blame a combination of human-caused climate change and natural El Nino, a warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide.

Here’s Why 2016 Could Be Even Warmer Than 2015 - Researchers at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) reported Thursday we’re now in an El Niño that is both “strong” and will last through the spring. The resulting burst of regional warming in the tropical Pacific on top of the strong long-term global warming trend means that, as Climate Progress has been reporting for months, 2015 will easily be the hottest year on record — blowing past the record just set in 2014.  What of 2016? “The majority of international climate outlook models suggest that the 2015-16 El Niño is likely to strengthen further before the end of the year,” the World Meteorological Organization reported earlier this month. “Models and expert opinion suggest that surface water temperatures in the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean [the key Niño 3.4 region] are likely to exceed 2° Celsius above average.” And that would make this El Niño the strongest event since the super El Niño of 1997-1998.  At the time, 1997 did briefly become the hottest year on record, but 1998 then blew that record away, as shown in this NASA global temp chart, updated to include the record temperatures from July: major reason this happens is that the 12-month running mean global temperature tends to lag the Niño 3.4 region temperature “by 4 months,” as a 2010 NASA study explained. If El Niño temperatures peak in December, then the record for the hottest 12-month period would probably not be set until spring 2016. At that point, whether or not 2016 will top 2015 depends on how fast the El Niño dissipates — and whether it quickly transitions to a La Niña, as often happens at the end of strong El Niños. Here is the current projection of how long the El Niño will last (which is roughly how long Niño 3.4 region stays above +0.5C):

Arctic Warming Produces Mosquito Swarms Large Enough to Kill Baby Caribou -- Some Alaskans joke that mosquitoes are “Alaska’s state bird,” but the pesky insects are becoming no joke. Warming Arctic temperatures have caused their numbers to swell immensely in the region in recent years. Lauren Culler has been studying insects in Greenland for the last several years.  “It was really when the pond thawed that triggered the hatch,” Culler told National Geographic. “That’s not unexpected. Lots of biology is triggered by these melting events.”  Caribou—mosquitoes’ main food source—and other arctic animals might be able to cope with these swarms if they weren’t already threatened by a changing climate.  Plants, which the caribou rely on for a food source, are emerging earlier and earlier because of warmer temperatures. But caribou are still calving based on the cycle of the sun. By the time caribou calves are born in May or June, there is not enough food to go around. “Mothers are becoming malnourished. Fewer calves are being born, and fewer are surviving their crucial first few months,” says Andersen. “And even when they do survive, they are still vulnerable, to overhunting, and to diseases carried north by deer that would never have survived the Arctic chill of yesteryear.” Now add to that the growing swarms of mosquitoes and you see why it’s a real problem. “Arctic mosquito swarms are the stuff of legend,” says Andersen. “Some of them contain hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of insects. That’s enough to harass a pregnant caribou until she stops worrying about food. And it’s enough to kill caribou calves outright.” They inundate entire herds and the caribou’s only defense is to flee, leading to decreased eating and further stress on the population. Research from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that “insect harassment interferes with caribou foraging, which also decreases survival.”

Marine population halved since 1970 - report - BBC News: Populations of marine mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have declined by 49% since 1970, a report says. The study says some species people rely on for food are faring even worse, noting a 74% drop in the populations of tuna and mackerel. In addition to human activity such as overfishing, the report also says climate change is having an impact. The document was prepared by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London. Image copyright PA Image caption Sea cucumbers - seen as luxury food throughout Asia - have seen a significant fall in numbers "Human activity has severely damaged the ocean by catching fish faster than they can reproduce while also destroying their nurseries," said Marco Lambertini, head of WWF International. The report says that sea cucumbers - seen as a luxury food throughout Asia - have seen a significant fall in numbers, with a 98% in the Galapagos and 94% drop in the Red Sea over the past few years. The study notes the decline of habitats - such as seagrass areas and mangrove cover - which are important for food and act as a nursery for many species. Climate change has also played a role in the overall decline of marine populations. The report says carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the oceans, making them more acidic, damaging a number of species.

World Running Out of Time to Save Oceans - The United Nations is posting a new environmental warning: the world is running out of time to prevent the gradual degradation of the world’s oceans and the widespread destruction of marine life. In its first comprehensive assessment on the state of the oceans, the United Nations says delays in implementing solutions to the problems already identified as threatening to degrade the world’s oceans will lead, unnecessarily, to incurring greater environmental, social and economic costs.   Comprising 55 chapters, the first World Ocean Assessment will be presented to the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole at a meeting scheduled to take place Sep. 8-11. The study found the sustainable use of the oceans cannot be achieved unless the management of all sectors of human activities affecting the oceans is coherent. “Human impacts on the sea are no longer minor in relation to the overall scale of the ocean. A coherent overall approach is needed,” the report stated. Steered by the 22-member Group of Experts, the scientists selected from the Pool of Experts, comprised of some 600 members worldwide, looked at the oceans, their flora and fauna and the ways in which humans are benefitting from, and impacting on the ocean.

Threat to oceans from climate change must be key to Paris talks, say scientists -- The dangers posed by global warming to the world’s oceans must be a key part of any future international climate change agreement, a group of marine research scientists are insisting, as up to now the role of the planet’s biggest ecosystem has been largely ignored at the long-running UN climate talks. The scientists are attached to the French research vessel Tara, which is completing a three-and-a-half year trip gathering information from across the globe for the world’s largest ever study of plankton. They plan to make their appeal at the crunch UN climate change conference in Paris this December. Among their discoveries have been many thousands of new species of plankton, by sampling seas at a depth of up to about 500 metres in oceans from the poles to the tropics, east to west, and using DNA analysis on the 35,000 samples. The next step will be to study the samples more closely using powerful microscopes. “Above 90% of what we found were new [to science] and we don’t yet know what they are. What we need to do in the future is to try to understand what they are,” explained Chris Bowler, one of the scientists leading the expedition. Plankton represents about 95% of the biomass in the oceans, and is vital in the marine food chain, but much of what makes up this soup of microscopic organisms is still a mystery. One of the surprises for the team was that the greatest diversity they found among the specimens was in the middle-sized creatures. Another of the key findings has been how great an effect the marine temperature has on the organisms under study. “Temperature shapes which species are present, which is very relevant in the context of climate change,” said Bowler.

We’re Aiming At 200 Feet Or More Of Sea Level Rise: Here’s What That Looks Like -- The bad news: If we burn all of the planet’s fossil fuels, we’ll melt all of the world’s land ice. The good news: You’ll be long gone so … party on! Homo sapiens sapiens, the species with the ironic name, is not known for long-term thinking. So if the very real danger of Sandy-level storm surges coming every year or two in a half century — along with Dust-Bowlification of a third of the Earth’s habitable and arable landmass — isn’t enough to stop us from using the atmosphere as an open sewer for carbon pollution, then the prospect we are going to melt all of the Earth’s land ice and raise sea levels more than 200 feet over the next few millennia or so ain’t gonna do the trick.  Still, here’s what that would look like for the United States (via National Geographic):

MUST SEE: Kevin Anderson on the myths around 2C-related climate policies  - (video) With 14 of the 15 warmest years on record having occurred since the year 2000; with oceans both warming and acidifying; and with unequivocal scientific evidence that burning fossil fuels is the principal cause – what can we do to rapidly reduce emissions?  This lecture will revisit the mitigation agenda in light of the IPCC’s carbon budgets for 2 °C, arguing that whilst the science of climate change has progressed, we obstinately refuse to acknowledge the rate at which our emissions from energy need to be reduced. Speculative negative emissions technologies have become de rigueur in balancing the escapism of incremental mitigation with rapidly dwindling 2 °C carbon budgets. Similarly, the eloquent rhetoric of green growth continues to eclipse quantitative analysis demonstrating the need for radical social as well as technical change. Taking these issues head on, this seminar will develop a quantitative framing of mitigation, based on IPCC carbon budgets, before finishing with more qualitative examples of what a genuine 2 °C mitigation agenda may contain. Kevin Anderson is professor of energy and climate change in the School of Mechanical, Aeronautical and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester.   Kevin’s work makes clear that there is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global mean surface temperature at below 2 °C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary. Moreover, it demonstrates how avoiding even a 4 °C rise demands a radical reframing of both the climate change agenda and the economic characterisation of contemporary society.

Pope Francis warns of ‘grave consequences’ if climate change is ignored: The environment is facing serious threats such as climate change and global warming, Pope Francis has said – adding that finding solutions is a matter of justice since it's often the poor who are most affected. “We must not forget the grave social consequences of climate change. It is the poorest who suffer the worst consequences,” the Pope said Sept. 11. Therefore the issue of climate change “is a matter of justice; it is also a question of solidarity, which must never be separated from justice,” he said, adding that the dignity of each person, “as peoples, communities, men and women, is at risk.” Pope Francis directed his address to the 300 participants in a meeting organized by the Foundation for Sustainable Development titled: “Environmental justice and climate change.” The event was attended by key figures in religion, politics, economic activity and various sectors of scientific research, as well as several international organizations and individuals involved in the fight against poverty. Francis is also expected to address the topic of climate change and the environment during his Sept. 25 speech to a U.N. Special Summit on Sustainable Development in New York, which will gather hundreds of politicians and heads of state from around the world.

Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet: One of the most under-appreciated aspects of the climate change problem is the so-called “fat tail” of risk. In short, the likelihood of very large impacts is greater than we would expect under typical statistical assumptions. We are used to thinking about likelihoods and probabilities in terms of the familiar “normal” distribution—otherwise known as the “bell curve.” It looks like this: There are many phenomena that follow a normal distribution, from the heights of adult men in the U.S. to the day-to-day fluctuations in summer temperature in New York City. But the predicted warming due to increased greenhouse gas concentrations isn’t one of them. Global warming instead displays what we call a “heavy-tailed” or “fat-tailed” distribution. There is more area under the far right extreme of the curve than we would expect for a normal distribution, a greater likelihood of warming that is well in excess of the average amount of warming predicted by climate models. An important new book, Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet, by Environmental Defense Fund senior economist Gernot Wagner and Harvard economist Martin Weitzman, explores the deep implications this has for the debate over climate policy. Here’s the blurb I wrote for the book (a shortened version of which appears on the back cover): Think climate change is a low-priority problem? Something to put off while we deal with more immediate threats? Then Climate Shock will open your eyes. Leading economists Wagner and Weitzman explain, in simple, understandable terms, why we face an existential threat in human-caused climate change. The authors lay out the case for taking out a planetary insurance policy, without delay, in the form of market mechanisms aimed at keeping carbon emissions below dangerous levels.

Climate Expert James Hansen: “We’ve Got An Emergency”  -- The repercussions of climate disruption are still not being acknowledged fully, warned climatologist Dr. James Hansen, addressing an audience of Baby Boomer and Greatest Generation climate activists on September 9. “We’ve now got an emergency,” he told about 150 “elder activists” at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC, who were participating in Grandparents Climate Action Day. Hansen–formerly NASA’s head climate scientist, now Adjunct Professor at Columbia University–is probably best known for bringing definitive evidence of global warming to Congress in testimony in 1988. In July of this year, he released a report with sixteen co-authors studying glacier melt in Greenland and Antarctica. Unlike previous models, the new report takes into account some feedback loops which may be hastening the loss of ice sheet mass far faster than anticipated. Time is running out to transition to renewable energy, Hansen said, yet the most “relevant” people in power aren’t aware of the situation’s gravity. “Even people who go around saying, ‘We have a planet in peril,’ don’t get it. Until we’re aware of our future, we can’t deal with it.” Mass species extinction, extreme weather events, dry spells and fires are climate change impacts which are happening now. A warmer atmosphere and warmer oceans can lead to stronger storms, he explained. Superstorm Sandy, for example, remained a hurricane all the way up the Eastern seaboard to New York because Atlantic waters were abnormally warm. “Amplifying impacts” and feedback loops will accelerate the changes, according to Hansen. “It will happen faster than you think,” he said. If major coastal cities become “dysfunctional” because of sea level rise, as he believes is possible, the global economy could be in peril of collapse.

Big Oil Tanks California Measure To Cut Petroleum Use In Half  -- California lawmakers pulled a measure calling for a 50 percent reduction in oil consumption from climate legislation Wednesday night, following staunch opposition from the industry. SB 350, a bill from Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D) and Sen. Mark Leno (D), included a measure to cut petroleum use in half by 2030, along with provisions to improve the efficiency of buildings by 50 percent and increase the amount of energy the state draws from renewables to 50 percent. The bill passed the state Senate this summer and is currently up for debate in the Assembly, but the oil provision faced pushback from the industry.  The oil industry blanketed the state with television and radio ads decrying what it called the "California Gas Restriction Act." The opposition fed hesitance among lawmakers to approve the overall bill and prompted leaders to drop the oil provision so the other portions could pass before the end of the legislative session on Friday.  The removal of that provision is a big setback for progressive lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who championed the bill as part of the state's overall effort to address climate change. "Oil has won the skirmish. But they've lost the bigger battle," Brown said at a press conference, the Los Angeles Times reported, "because I am more determined than ever."

Poor nations want U.S. to pay reparations for extreme weather: Poorer nations suffering from extreme weather disasters, so much so that their citizens are seeking refuge in safer terrains outside their borders, want rich nations like the United States to pay for reparations and to relocate populations. Preparatory talks ahead of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change to be held in Paris in December has representatives from developing nations asking for more than an already agreed upon $100 billion per year for climate change mitigation measures. They want additional compensation for weather-related disasters as well as a "displacement coordination facility" for refugees. And they want all this to be legally binding as part of the larger anticipated Paris accord. The U.S. and wealthier nations in the European Union are balking. The rationale for the additional funds and refugee facility is based on donor country failures to follow through cohesively on aid pledges following weather-related disasters. For example, last March, Cyclone Pam devastated islands in the South Pacific but attention quickly turned to the massive earthquake in Nepal soon thereafter. That left small nations such as Vanuatu, which was devastated, to manage its own cleanup without much in the way of international assistance. Poorer nations blame extreme weather-related disasters on climate change stemming from emission-polluting countries that have more developed and wealthier economies. The U.N. Paris conference aims to reach an international, legally biding agreement on climate change that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thwart global temperature rise. A separate agreement is being eyed to address losses and damages from extreme weather events, thought to be a result of climate change.

California Gov. Jerry Brown Sends Ben Carson The Climate Evidence He Couldn't Find -- Retired neurosurgeon turned Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson received a flash drive on Thursday full of the evidence for climate change that he has apparently been looking for.  California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) mailed Carson a copy of the synthesis report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), along with a letter asking Carson to utilize his "considerable intelligence" to review the material. The IPCC is the scientific body created by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization to provide regular assessments of the state of climate science for policymakers.  Brown's letter came after Carson asked to see the science demonstrating climate change was caused by human activity during a visit to California earlier this week.  "I know there a lot of people who say 'overwhelming science,' but then when you ask them to show the overwhelming science, they never can show it," Carson told The San Francisco Chronicle. "There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused." "Gimme a break," Carson added.    Brown said the flash drive contained the "overwhelming science" Carson wanted.   "These aren't just words. The consequences are real," Brown wrote in his letter. "Climate change is much bigger than partisan politics."

GOP members split from party, ready to tackle climate change - A small coalition of congressional Republicans have broken away from the party’s normal rhetoric by signing a resolution Thursday that recognizes humanity’s role in climate change. The Hill reports that the resolution also endorses steps to combat global warming, though specific solutions were void of the agreement. The resolution frames climate change as an issue of environmental stewardship, which it says has a long history in the United States. Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) led the conservative pact that puts House lawmakers on record to generally agree with the overwhelming consensus of scientists that human activity, through greenhouse gases, is warming the globe. The call for “conservative environment stewardship” was endorsed by Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo of Florida, Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, Robert Dold of Illinois, Dave Reichert of Washington, Pat Meehan, Ryan Costello, and Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and Richard Hanna and Elise Stefanik of New York, according to the National Journal. “If left unaddressed, the consequences of a changing climate have the potential to adversely impact all Americans, hitting vulnerable populations hardest, harming productivity in key economic sectors such as construction, agriculture, and tourism, saddling future generations with costly economic and environmental burdens, and imposing additional costs on State and Federal budgets that will further add to the long-term fiscal challenges that we face as a Nation,” states the resolution.

Experts Have Just Found Gas Leaking Out Of 1,000 Spots In New York City -- Thanks to old and rusty pipelines, Manhattan leaks three to five times more natural gas than cities with newer infrastructure, according to a survey of three U.S. cities published on Wednesday.  In recent years, cities across America have increasingly switched their heating and energy sources from coal, the leading fossil fuel linked to global warming, to the cheaper and cleaner natural gas, or methane.   But environmental researchers have feared that this methane boom would cause urban gas lines to leak daunting amounts of natural gas. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas — about 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. The new survey found 1,050 methane leaks in Manhattan, or about four leaks per mile. Two cities selected for comparison — Cincinnati, Ohio, and Durham, North Carolina — had about 90% fewer leaks per mile, the study found. Over the last decade, Cincinnati and Durham have replaced most of their old gas mains with new ones. “Older iron pipes are corroded, they leak from the joints, they crack and they buckle,” Stanford University’s Robert Jackson, who led the street survey, told BuzzFeed News. “The good news is that some cities are already doing something and showing we can do something about these leaks.”

Leaking Methane Deadly For People & Planet - Methane is spewing from more than 1,000 natural gas leaks under Manhattan, giving it 10 times the number of leaks per mile in its aging natural gas pipelines as cities with more up-to-date infrastructure, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Methane is the second-largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide, making the reduction of methane emissions a high priority in fighting climate change. While methane emissions are significantly smaller than those of CO2, methane is much more potent as a greenhouse gas, trapping 86 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period and 34 times more over 100 years. In the study, researchers measured concentrations of methane on the streets of New York, which has a high concentration of decades-old cast iron and steel pipes beneath its streets. They compared the findings with measurements in Durham, N.C., and Cincinnati, which recently replaced their aging pipelines. Methane leaks are the subject of an $18 million project led by the Environmental Defense Fund that includes work by more than 100 researchers. That project, which is not affiliated with the current study, is being done in collaboration with the natural gas industry and utilities. The researchers in the Manhattan study concluded that pipes under Manhattan averaged 4.3 leaks for each mile of pipe. Durham had 0.2 leaks per mile and Cincinnati had 0.5. Replacing the pipes, some of which have been in use for more than 100 years, also improves air quality and reduces the risk of explosion. One such explosion killed eight people and destroyed an apartment building in East Harlem in 2014.

EPA accuses VW of cheating on emission rules -  Diesel cars from Volkswagen and Audi cheated on clean air rules by including software that made the cars' emissions look cleaner than they actually were, according to federal and California regulators. The regulators say that the software on the cars turns on emission controls only when it detects that the car was being tested. "The effectiveness of these vehicles' pollution emissions control devices is greatly reduced during all normal driving situations," said the Environmental Protection Agency's notice to the company. "This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory or testing station, but during normal operation, emit nitrogen oxides at up to 40 times the standard." There are nearly 500,000 of these diesel cars on U.S. roads. The models include the VW Jetta, the Beetle and the Golf from model years 2009 through 2015, the Passat from 2014-2015 as well as the Audi A3, model years 2009-2015. The Audi luxury brand is owned by Volkswagen Group.    Owners of the affected cars do not face health risks, according to the EPA, and can to continue to drive or sell them. But the EPA has ordered VW to recall the cars and fix the violation. No recall has yet been announced.

VW Is Said to Cheat on Diesel Emissions; U.S. Orders Big Recall - The Obama administration on Friday directed Volkswagen to recall nearly a half-million cars, saying the automaker illegally installed software in its diesel-power cars to evade standards for reducing smog.The Environmental Protection Agency accused the German automaker of using software to detect when the car is undergoing its periodic state emissions testing. Only during such tests are the cars’ full emissions control systems turned on. During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times as much pollution as allowed under the Clean Air Act, the E.P.A. said.“We expected better from Volkswagen,” said Cynthia Giles, the E.P.A.’s assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance. She called the automaker’s actions “a threat to public health.” Agency officials issued the car company a notice of violation and said it had admitted to the use of a so-called defeat device. The recall involves 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009-15.

China’s coal consumption higher than thought - China’s coal use this century has been significantly underestimated, according to analysis of new Chinese data by the US Energy Information Administration, adding to climate change negotiators’ problems ahead of December’s UN conference in Paris. Based on revised data released by Beijing this summer, the EIA has concluded that the world’s largest polluter and consumer of coal burnt up to 14 per cent more of the fossil fuel between 2000 and 2013 than previously reported. It said this meant China’s energy consumption and production were also much higher. The EIA’s analysis squares with the supercharged economic growth of the decade before 2013 and much slower growth now but throws into confusion the calculations on which climate change negotiators rely to determine the level of emissions produced by each nation. Talks this December in Paris will attempt to rein in those emissions, in the hopes of preventing dangerous global warming. The fact that China has made GDP figures a political target has resulted in a remarkably smooth growth path, which critics say obscures the real cycles in the Chinese economy. Higher energy consumption from 2000-2013 would tally with other indicators of an economy that grew more quickly than official figures over that period suggest, including high commodity prices, a boom in coal mining and the proliferation of private mines and smelters. Similarly, the motivation to hit targets may mask the extent of the current economic slowdown. A reported drop in China’s coal output in 2014 has cheered environmentalists, including Greenpeace, and raised hopes that the country’s emissions might peak and begin to decline before the official target of 2030. The EIA’s analysis also concluded that growth in coal use was slowing dramatically. “In 2014, energy-content-based coal consumption was essentially flat”, while coal production fell by 2.6 per cent, it said.

Exclusive – Chinese coal data cast doubt on historic stalling of world CO2 – When the International Energy Agency reported in March that global carbon emissions had stayed flat in 2014, even as the world economy grew, the news was hailed as a turning point in the struggle to curb climate change. But more recent data about Chinese coal consumption, seen by Reuters, raise doubts about whether that historic decoupling of economic growth and carbon emissions from energy use actually occurred. One of the keys to keeping carbon emissions flat in 2014 was significantly lower coal consumption in China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter: a 2.9 per cent drop, reported in preliminary Chinese data in February. It was the first fall in coal use by China this century. And it was good news for the U.N. climate conference meeting in Paris in December with the aim of stopping temperatures rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels: the limit beyond which scientists say the world will suffer ever-worsening floods, droughts, storms and rising seas. But in May, China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released a China Statistical Abstract, not available online but only on paper, showing that coal consumption edged up by 0.06 percent from 2013. Just that difference between two sets of NBS data would in turn lift global emissions growth in 2014 from a flat line to about 0.5 per cent, in line with an estimate by oil company BP in a report in June. That global growth rate is still low, but would undermine the arguments of many, from environmental groups to governments, who have cited the IEA data to support the idea that cuts in carbon use need not necessarily hamper economic growth.

Researchers just discovered a massive body of water under China's biggest desert - The Tarim basin in Xinjiang, China is a valley the size of Venezuela; bigger than California, New Mexico and Florida put together. On the surface it is home to Taklimakan, China’s biggest desert, but deep beneath lies a hidden ‘ocean’ that is thought to contain up to ten times more water than all the Great Lakes combined, storing more carbon than all the plants on the planet put together. While more water may sound like a good thing, researchers believe that if this carbon were to escape into the atmosphere, we would be in serious, serious trouble. “Never before have people dared to imagine so much water under the sand. Our definition of desert may have to change,” he told the South China Morning Post. “We were after carbon, not water,” Li explained. For ten years he has been studying the phenomenon of “missing carbon” in the atmosphere in the Tarim basin: the carbon seems to vanish into thin air and the scientists have spent years trying to figure out where it goes. “This is a terrifying amount of water, our estimate is a conservative figure — the actual amount could be larger”, said Professor Li Yan, who leads a research team at the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital. Li may have been searching for carbon, but it seems that the water holds the answer to the mystery. The alkaline soil on the surface of the desert helps to dissolve carbon which is carried underground by rainwater, meltwater from the surrounding mountains, and irrigation from farming. Cavernous chambers store the carbon-filled water in an immense underground ‘ocean’ from which it cannot escape, acting as a giant ‘carbon sink’. The combination of the alkaline sands on the surface and saline water deep beneath create the perfect conditions for carbon capture.

Iran Says It Finds "Unexpectedly High Uranium Reserve" -- While we await for the Russian secret service to leak photos of Iran's Revolutionary Guard in Syria, thereby stirring the pot on the latest and greatest proxy war in the middle east, one which would promptly disintegrate any last remaining shred of "victory" from Obama's alleged coup in restoring relations with an Iran which couldn't even wait for the signing of the "Nuclear" deal before turning its back on Obama and siding with Putin in Syria, we were particularly amused to learn that just yesterday Iran announced it has discovered an unexpectedly high reserve of uranium and will soon begin extracting the radioactive element at a new mine.  This stunning admission was made by the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said on Saturday, just 48 hours after the Iran Nuclear deal squeezed through the US Senate with the tiniest of margins. Far less stunning, if quite more humorous was Reuters' tongue-in-cheek remark that "the comments cast doubt on previous assessments from some Western analysts who said the country had a low supply and sooner or later would need to import uranium, the raw material needed for its nuclear program."Any indication Iran could become more self-sufficient will be closely watched by world powers, which reached a landmark deal with Tehran in July over its program. They had feared the nuclear activities were aimed at acquiring the capability to produce atomic weapons - something denied by Tehran.

Why the UK Government Is Building 11 New Nuclear Plants Despite Mounting Criticism -- Electricity from proposed new nuclear stations in the UK will be more expensive than from any other nuclear reactors in the world, yet the government is pressing ahead with its plan to build 11 new installations, despite mounting criticism. This contrasts sharply with Germany’s policy of phasing out nuclear power altogether—and experts in nuclear policy now see a possible explanation in the fact that Britain is a nuclear weapons state, while Germany has no wish to be one. The UK’s approach also differs from that of France, which is investing heavily in renewables to cut its reliance on the atom. All three countries say their policies are based on the need to reduce greenhouse gases.  Renewables have already created more jobs and wealth in Germany than nuclear power, while Britain is cutting back drastically on support for solar power and on-shore wind in favor of nuclear stations designed and built by companies from France, China, Japan and the U.S. The strange mismatch between Europe’s two largest economies, Germany and the UK, is puzzling experts, especially since the International Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency  say in the 2015 Projected Costs of Generating Electricity report that Britain’s plans will make its nuclear electricity the most expensive in the world.  Phil Johnstone and Andy Stirling, University of Sussex research experts in the nuclear policy area, have put forward the suggestion that the UK needs to continue to build and run civilian nuclear power stations to maintain enough nuclear expertise in the country to run its nuclear submarines independently, and so keep its status as a nuclear weapons state.

850 Tons of Treated Fukushima Water Dumped Into the Pacific -- Despite the objections of environmentalists and after overcoming local opposition from fishermen, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) pumped more than 850 tons of groundwater from below the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean on Monday. According to Asahi Shimbun: The discharge marks the first release under the utility’s “subdrain plan,” an additional measure conceived to help diminish the build-up of contaminated groundwater at the crippled facility. TEPCO began discharging water after a third-party panel confirmed that the radioactive content was below the standard set by the utility. The plan utilizes subdrains, which are essentially wells set up around the main buildings of the power plant to collect groundwater flowing into the complex. Once the groundwater has been pumped from those wells, it undergoes decontamination in a special facility for release into the ocean after being checked for radioactive content.  And Agence France-Presse addsFishermen had argued that the discharge even of the groundwater would heighten contamination concerns and hurt their already battered reputation. They had fought to stop the water being released into the sea, even after it is filtered, but eventually bowed to pressure from TEPCO, which is struggling to find space to store the tainted supplies. But it has yet to find a solution to deal with another highly radioactive 680,000 tons of water that was used to cool the reactors during the meltdown, which is still stored on site.

How Our Energy Problems Lead To A Debt Collapse Problem - Gail Tverberg - Usually, we don’t stop to think about how the whole economy works together. A major reason is that we have been lacking data to see long-term relationships. In this post, I show some longer-term time series relating to energy growth, GDP growth, and debt growth–going back to 1820 in some cases–that help us understand our situation better. When I look at these long-term time series, I come to the conclusion that what we are doing now is building debt to unsustainably high levels, thanks to today’s high cost of producing energy products. I doubt that this can be turned around. To do so would require immediate production of huge quantities of incredibly cheap energy products–that is oil at less than $20 per barrel in 2014$, and other energy products with comparably cheap cost structures. Our goal would need to be to get back to the energy cost levels that we had, prior to the run-up in costs in the 1970s. Growth in energy use would probably need to rise back to pre-1975 levels as well. Of course, such a low-price, high-growth scenario isn’t really sustainable in a finite world either. It would have adverse follow-on effects, too, including climate change. In this post, I explain my thinking that leads to this conclusion. Some back-up information is provided in the Appendix as well.

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