Category - Environment

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.

Fossil fuel subsidies to hit $5.3 trillion in 2015, says IMF study

Governments could cut 20% of carbon emissions at a stroke if they stopped subsidising oil, gas and coal

RTCC, By Ed King, May 19

Subsidies for fossil fuels that cause climate change have soared since 2013, a new study from the International Monetary Fund has revealed.

Oil, gas and coal costs will be subsidised to the tune of US$5.3 trillion a year in 2015. The last time the IMF ran the data it calculated they were worth $1.9 trillion.

Economists say the latest figures are more accurate as they represent the “true” cost of energy, which includes the environmental, health and climate impacts of burning fossil fuels.

“Over half of the increase is explained by more refined country-level evidence on the damaging effects of energy consumption on air quality and health,” IMF officials Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar wrote in [sic] a blog [sic].

The figure is larger than the health spending of all the world’s governments combined, a reckoning the pair called “shocking”.

Coal is the biggest recipient of polluting subsidies, the IMF found, given its combined impact on air quality and high carbon emissions.

“The most dramatic difference, compared with the pre-tax figures, is for coal which is the biggest source of post-tax subsidies, amounting to 3.0% of global GDP in 2011 and rising to 3.9% in 2015,” says the study.

Canada reneges on emissions targets as tar sands production takes its toll

A new pledge to cut greenhouse gases by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 is less ambitious than previous goal and lags far behind US and EU targets.

The Guardian, By Suzanne Goldenberg, May 15

Canada has retreated on past promises to fight climate change, setting out lower targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions than any other industralised country so far ahead of a critical conference in Paris.

The announcement was a setback to efforts to reach a deal in the French capital that would limit warming to 2C (3.6F), the threshold for dangerous climate change.

Under the announcement, Canada committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The Globe and Mail: Ottawa commits to 30-per-cent cut in emissions, but not for oil sands


The Guardian (multimedia): The New Coal Frontier

Around 27bn tonnes of coal are thought to be locked under the ground of the Galilee Basin in the outback of Queensland. A huge proposed complex of coal mines is planned here, including the world’s largest thermal coal project.

So are railway lines and a massive expansion of the Abbot Point port on the Great Barrier Reef.

What will this mean for the Aboriginal community, the Great Barrier Reef and the world’s climate?

[…]

Now the rapacious outsiders are back. Massive mining operations are looking to plunder a gigantic new coal frontier in the Galilee Basin. There are 247,000 sq km (95,400 sq miles) of coal: a land mass the size of Britain.

This is a story about the indigenous people – and the loss of Aboriginal lands. It is about Queensland’s fragile environment and the damage a massive new port and thousands of coal container journeys exporting coal would cause to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the most precious ecosystems on earth.

And it is about the world’s climate – if the complex is fully developed, greenhouse gas emissions from the burned coal would top 700m tonnes a year, bringing irreversible climate change ever closer.

Were the Galilee Basin a country, it would be the seventh largest contributor of carbon dioxide in the world, just behind Germany.

Vox: The awful truth about climate change no one wants to admit
The Ecologist: Thawing Arctic carbon threatens ‘runaway’ global warming
Siberian Times: New warning about climate change linked to peat bogs
Huffington Post: [Larsen B] Antarctic Ice Shelf Is A Few Years From Disintegration: NASA
Live Science: Antarctica’s Ice Attacked from Above and Below

Washington Governor Declares Drought Emergency

New York Times, By Kirk Johnson, May 15

Seattle, WA — Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency for Washington on Friday, with mountain snowpack at 16 percent of average and water levels in rivers and streams drying to a trickle not seen since the 1950s. He said that residents should also be prepared for an early and active fire season that could reach higher elevations in the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, where many spots are already completely clear of snow.

“We’re seeing things happen at this time of year we just have never seen before,” Mr. Inslee said in a news conference.

But he said that unlike other drought-stricken parts of the West, especially California, the problem here in the nation’s northwest corner falls primarily on agriculture and wildlife. The large metropolitan water systems serving Seattle and other cities on the state’s western edge, where most people live, are largely in good shape, with rainwater-based reservoirs and no immediate plans for water-use restrictions.

Obama Administration Says Yes To Drilling In The Arctic

Climate Progress, by Emily Atkin, May 11

The Obama administration has given conditional approval to a controversial proposal by Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

On Monday, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved Shell’s exploration plan for the Chukchi Sea, which entails drilling up to six wells approximately 70 miles northwest of Wainwright, Alaska. The plan is for exploratory drilling, a sort of first step that companies take to determine whether a region is feasible for large-scale production.

In announcing the conditional approval, BOEM cited its recently-issued safety regulations for drilling in the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean, including the Chukchi Sea, where big oil companies have long been hoping to lay their claim. Those regulations require companies to have contingency plans for mishaps — companies must be able to “promptly deploy” emergency containment equipment to deal with a spill, and must build a second rig close to their initial operations so a relief well could be drilled in the event of a blowout, among other things.

“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement. “As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

Last great regions of pristine wilderness from Asia to Amazon under threat from massive road-building projects, scientist warns

The Independent, By Steve Connor, May 9

The last great regions of pristine wilderness – from Asia to the Amazon – are threatened by an unprecedented road-building programme financed by aggressive development banks with little interest in protecting the natural world, a leading environmental scientist has warned.

Massive infrastructure and road-building are at the heart of huge development projects around the world, justified as vital attempts at helping the poorest attain a higher standard of living.

Scientists claim that we are living in the most explosive era of road and infrastructure expansion in human history – from the plains of the Serengeti to the rainforests of Sumatra. By 2050, they estimate, there will be an additional 25 million kilometres (15.5 million miles) of new paved roads globally, enough to circle the Earth 600 times.

Approximately 90 per cent of these new roads will be built in the developing world, and many of these will result in the first deep cuts into areas of pristine tropical rainforests to service the building of new mines and hydroelectric dams in some of the remotest places on earth.

Koch-backed group sending ‘real scientists’ to school Pope Francis about ‘Biblical duty’ to pollute

Raw Story, By Travis Gettys, April 24

A Koch-backed think tank plans to send climate change deniers to Rome in hopes of convincing Pope Francis not to support United Nations action on the environment.

The libertarian Heartland Institute — perhaps best known for working alongside cigarette manufacturers to question the dangers of second-hand smoke — will host a workshop featuring two “real scientists” Tuesday in Rome ahead of a Vatican summit on the environment, although the group neglected to identify its scientists.

Pope Francis plans to issue an encyclical letter this summer that will address environmental issues, and very likely climate change — which could make the issue a moral and religious concern for Christians worldwide.

[…]

“The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust,” said Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute. “Humans are not causing a climate crisis on God’s Green Earth – in fact, they are fulfilling their Biblical duty to protect and use it for the benefit of humanity. Though Pope Francis’s heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate.”

Via Wonkette: Koch Brothers Explain Bible To Pope. Thanks, Koch Brothers!

Brazilians Spraying and Praying for Dengue Vaccine Breakthrough

Bloomberg, By Mac Margolis, April 24

A cup of cloves, a half-liter of alcohol and a dollop of body oil: You won’t find this homemade mosquito repellent in Brazilian drugstores, but the recipe went viral after a worried sanitarian posted a cell phone video on Facebook last week.

Amid one of their worst outbreaks of dengue fever — 460,000 people infected and 132 dead this year — Brazilians are understandably jumpy. That humming sound is aedes aegypti, a familiar pest storied for spreading yellow fever throughout tropical America and now enjoying a comeback as the vector for what has become a 21st-century pandemic.

Once a mostly Asian affliction, the dengue virus has gone global because of breakneck urbanization, bad management of water, haphazard public health care and travel on jets that can take passengers anywhere overnight. A 2013 study in Nature reckoned that dengue had infected 390 million people that year, with 94 million falling ill.

The outbreak is especially severe in the Americas, which have seen a 30-fold increase in the disease over the past 50 years. Counting hospitalization and sick leave, the disease costs the region at least $2.1 billion a year, says the Pan American Health Organization.

Brazil, alone, accounts for six of every 10 reported cases of illness from dengue worldwide.

After Record Drought, Dengue Fever Is Now Sweeping Across Sao Paulo

Oil spill in Gulf of Mexico is far worse than previously reported: investigation

AP, April 16

OVER THE GULF OF MEXICO — Down to just one full-time employee, Taylor Energy Company exists for only one reason: to fight an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico that has gone largely unnoticed, despite creating miles-long slicks for more than a decade.

The New Orleans-based company has downplayed the leak’s environmental impact, likening it to scores of minor spills and natural seeps that the Gulf routinely absorbs.

But an Associated Press investigation has revealed evidence that the spill is far worse than what Taylor — or the government — has publicly reported. Presented with AP’s findings, the Coast Guard provided a new leak estimate that is about 20 times greater than one recently touted by the company.

Outside experts say the spill could be even worse — possibly one of the largest ever in the Gulf, albeit still dwarfed by BP’s massive 2010 gusher.

Scrap fossil fuel subsidies now and bring in carbon tax, says World Bank chief

Jim Yong Kim calls for five-point plan to deliver low-carbon growth, including removal of incentives to exploit oil, gas and coal

The Guardian, By Larry Elliott, April 13

Poor countries are feeling “the boot of climate change on their neck”, the president of the World Bank has said, as he called for a carbon tax and the immediate scrapping of subsidies for fossil fuels to hold back global warming.

Jim Yong Kim said awareness of the impact of extreme weather events that have been linked to rising temperatures was more marked in developing nations than in rich western countries, and backed for the adoption of a five-point plan to deliver low-carbon growth.

Speaking to the Guardian ahead of this week’s half-yearly meeting of the World Bank in Washington DC, Kim said he had been impressed by the energy of the divestment campaigns on university campuses in the US, aimed at persuading investors to remove their funds from fossil fuel companies.

The Age: Record sea-surface temperatures in Pacific point to record warmth in 2015 and 2016

Is the future of America a crummy service job stamping on a human face, forever?

Vox, By Dylan Matthews, April 10

Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton don’t agree on much, but they both strongly believe more Americans should be working in low-wage, unpleasant jobs.

Paul devoted a large chunk of his announcement speech Tuesday to celebrating the “dignity of work,” endorsing the notion that work is a force that gives us meaning, rather than a means by which to stay alive. “Self-esteem can’t be given; it must be earned,” he declared. “Work is not punishment; work is the reward.”

Clinton is less blunt, but her campaign is expected to place a heavy emphasis on policies to get women into the workforce and encourage two-earner families, such as child care subsidies or paid parental leave.

The implication is clear: there are people, particularly women, who aren’t working but should be, and the government should be doing all it can to push them to take jobs.

These ideas address real problems: the labor market is rife with gender inequities, and efforts to make the choice to work as viable for women as it is for men are admirable and necessary. So are programs to help people living in concentrated poverty with little or no connection to the formal labor market find employment. And the US still needs to create 4 million jobs to fully recover from the recession.

But while there are problems to be solved, there’s also a reality to be acknowledged. America is a very, very rich society. The richest the world has ever known. For many Americans — particularly Americans with children — working a low-wage, physical job with little job security and unpredictable hours is a deeply unpleasant way to spend your life. Maybe more work isn’t always the answer.


Econospeak: UBI Caritas (the best things in life are free)

The miraculous Max Sawicky resumes wrestling with Universal Basic Income at MaxSpeak. This time the incitement comes from Dylan Matthews at Vox, who argues that a secondary benefit of basic income would be that “it enables a transition to a world of less work and greater leisure.”

That would indeed be a good thing. But as the Sandwichman pointed out two weeks ago, advocates for basic income seemingly make exactly the opposite argument. Guy Standing, co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network, cited a recent experiment in India — and earlier experiments in North America and Europe — as evidence for the claim that a basic income guarantee “would not reduce labor supply… The simple fact is that people with basic security work harder and more productively, not less.”

[…]

In my view, that only addresses one side of “the need”. The other side is the need to reduce superfluous production and consumption. We have long since passed the point where capital “diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary.”

Currently, world-wide carbon emissions per year are roughly double what can be re-absorbed by oceans and plants. This is not to say that the re-absorption by oceans is harmless –it leads to acidification. But clearly more than half of the emissions are superfluous to sustainability. Lo and behold, carbon emission increase in virtual lockstep with hours of work. In the U.S., the correlation between the two has been about 95% over the last quarter century.

… but who decides what’s superfluous?


Max Speak, You Listen!: Work makes Fritos

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