Category - Environment

Earth’s sixth mass extinction has begun, new study confirms

The Conversation, By James Dyke, June 19

We are currently witnessing the start of a mass extinction event the likes of which have not been seen on Earth for at least 65 million years. This is the alarming finding of a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

The research was designed to determine how human actions over the past 500 years have affected the extinction rates of vertebrates: mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians. It found a clear signal of elevated species loss which has markedly accelerated over the past couple of hundred years, such that life on Earth is embarking on its sixth greatest extinction event in its 3.5 billion year history.

This latest research was conducted by an international team lead by Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Measuring extinction rates is notoriously hard. Recently I reported on some of the fiendishly clever ways such rates have been estimated. These studies are producing profoundly worrying results.

UK and US main barriers to addressing climate change, survey finds

The Independent, By Andrew Griffin, June 7

They’re the two biggest emitters of greenhouses gases in the world — but the US and China have very different ideas about tackling the problem of climate change.

In a new survey taken months before officials meet for perhaps the most significant climate change talks ever held, YouGov found that people the US and UK lag far behind countries including China in wanting those talks to produce a meaningful commitment to address climate change.

In December, international representatives will meet in Paris to discuss an international agreement that some think could be humanity’s last chance to limit the terrible effects climate change could have on the world and its population. But much of the US and the UK don’t want their governments to do anything at all.

In the US, 17 per cent of people “do not agree to any international agreement that addresses climate change”. That number is 7 per cent in the UK.

In China and Indonesia, on the other hand, it is only 1 per cent. In China, 60 per cent of people want their representatives to “play a leadership role in setting ambitious targets to address climate change as quickly as possible” — in the UK, that number is 41 per cent.

Pipeline protest draws marchers to St. Paul

Minneapolis Star Tribune, By Liz Sawyer, June 7

Thousands of protesters marched through downtown St. Paul to the State Capitol on Saturday, calling for the cancellation of the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline that would travel near some of the state’s pristine waters.

Though an independent tally was unavailable for the Tar Sands Resistance Rally, organizers estimated that 5,000 anti-pipeline and climate change activists took part in the colorful and peaceful march, marked by dozens of national speakers and live music and dance. Police reported no arrests.

Activists such as 350.org founder Bill McKibben, Sierra Club President Aaron Mair, and Ojibwe “water walker” Sharon Day — some of whom led the long-running battle against the controversial giant Keystone pipeline — say they hope to turn Minnesota’s pipeline into the next national organizing symbol against tar sands and climate change.

“The fossil fuel industry has been winning for 200 years, but their winning streak is over,” McKibben said Saturday, calling Minnesota “ground zero” in the climate fight.

Bill C-51: Canada’s new McCarthy era where advocating for action against climate change is terrorism

ThinkPol.ca, By John Bennett, Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada, May 31

First, I’d like to acknowledge the terrible incidents that took place last fall here in Ottawa and in Quebec and share our deepest sympathies for the families. We are very much aware of the threats and support all appropriate measures to protect Canadians. However, we are concerned about Bill C-51 because it casts too broad a net and will very likely undermine the freedoms it is supposed to protect.

The Sierra Club Canada was founded back in 1892, making us probably the oldest conservation organization in North America. We’ve been active in Canada for over 50 years, and we have a number of chapters and groups across the country. We are a volunteer-led, democratic organization. Our members elect the board of directors in annual elections, and our volunteers work along with staff to preserve and protect our natural environment.

Although we employ a wide range of tactics to draw attention to important issues, it’s a clear policy of Sierra Club Canada Foundation to only engage in legal activities. To my knowledge, no one has broken the law in the name of the club in the last hundred years.
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Drenching rains force scores of rescues in Oklahoma City

Reuters, May 24

More than 70 people were rescued on Saturday after severe storms soaked Oklahoma during a month of record rainfall, authorities said.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department said in a statement it had rescued more than 70 people after the drenching storms triggered flash floods in the city.

The storms also spurred several small tornadoes throughout the day, causing limited damage, officials said.

CIA shuts down program using spy satellites to track climate change

Engadget, by Jon Fingas, May 23

For most of the past two decades, a handful of climate change scientists have had the CIA’s MEDEA (Measurement of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis) program as an ace in the hole: they could draw on classified info from spy satellites and subs to study global warming in extreme detail. However, they’ll now have to make do with alternatives. The agency has shut down MEDEA, saying that its projects to study the security implications of climate change “have been completed.” While the CIA says it’ll still “engage external experts” on the subject, it won’t be providing consistent access to its extremely accurate and rare data.

Whether or not the closure is a major problem depends on who you ask. There are doubts that the CIA is really a good leader in climate research, and it’s safe to say that the organization typically has its hands full with the espionage business. However, there are also concerns that officials are cutting off access to accurate info at the very moment when things are getting complicated — researchers need more data, not less. That may not be as much of an issue in the long run as non-classified satellites provide increasingly valuable findings, but the loss is still bound to hurt for at least a while.

Yet another Antarctic ice mass is becoming destabilized, scientists report

Washington Post, By Chris Mooney, May 22

The troubling news continues this week for the Antarctic peninsula region, which juts out from the icy continent.

Last week, scientists documented threats to the Larsen C and the remainder of the Larsen B ice shelf (most of which collapsed in 2002). The remnant of Larsen B, NASA researchers said, may not last past 2020. And as for Larsen C, the Scotland-sized ice shelf could also be at potentially “imminent risk” due to a rift across its mass that is growing in size (though it appears more stable than the remainder of Larsen B).

And the staccato of May melt news isn’t over, it seems. Thursday in Science, researchers from the University of Bristol in Britain, along with researchers from Germany, France and the Netherlands, reported on the retreat of a suite of glaciers farther south from Larsen B and C along the Bellingshausen Sea, in a region known as the Southern Antarctic Peninsula. (For a helpful map of the region, see here.)

Using satellite based and gravity measurements, the research team found that “a major portion of the region has, since 2009, destabilized” and accounts for “a major fraction of Antarctica’s contribution to rising sea level.”

[…]

What’s particularly notable about the new study is the apparent rapid onset of the change. The researchers say the region is now losing on the order of 56 gigatons of ice per year — a gigaton is a billion metric tons — and that there appears to have been “a remarkable rate of acceleration in dynamic mass loss since about 2009 that must have been near-simultaneous across multiple basins and glaciers.”

Techie News: ESA’s CryoSat detects sudden ice loss in otherwise stable Southern Antarctic Peninsula

BP oil spill caused biggest dolphin die-off in Gulf history – study

RT, May 21

The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused an unprecedented number of fatal diseases in roughly 1,300 dolphins over the course of five years, according to a new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Up to now, the link between oil spill exposure and dolphin deaths has been inconclusive, but this study changes that. The results are from a forensic investigation that was part of NOAA’s long-term ecological analysis of the Deepwater incident that began in 2013. The spill itself leaked 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over five months in 2010.

“No feasible alternatives remain that can reasonably explain the timing, location and nature of this increase in death,” co-author Stephanie Venn-Watson of the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego said in a Wednesday press conference.

Climate change: Americans crowding into future heatwave zones, study says

Houston-Dallas-San Antonio and Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh areas most affected by ‘double whammy’ of population shift and temperature rises, scientists argue

AP, May 18

The combination of global warming and a shifting US population will by mid-century deliver a “double whammy” that greatly increases the number of Americans exposed to extremely hot days, a new study says.

People are migrating into areas where the heat is likely to increase more, said the authors of a study published on Monday by the journal Nature Climate Change. The study highlighted the Houston-Dallas-San Antonio and Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh corridors as the places where the effect looks to be greatest.

“It’s not just the climate that is changing in the future,” said study co-author Linda Mearns, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “It is many things: how many people and where people are that affects their exposure to climate changes.”

In a unique study looking at the interplay of projected changes in climate and population, scientists tried to characterize the number of people who will feel temperatures of 95F (35C) or higher and how often they will feel it. They used a figure called person days for the extreme heat to reflect both the length of time heat waves continued and how many people felt it by multiplying people affected by how many days they felt the heat.

Between 1970 and 2000 the US averaged about 2.3bn person days of extreme heat each year. But between 2040 and 2070 that number will be 10bn-14bn person days a year, according to the study.

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