February, 2019

Much of my news comes from The Daily Climate, whose wonderful subscription service clues me in to what's going on each day. Another great source of stories (and commentaries) comes from my friend Jim Poyser, at Apocadocs. They stopped collecting news at the election of U.S. Unindicted Co-conspirator Forty-Five, which was a frickin' party pooper of a day, I'll tell ya.

Here's the 10-day weather forecast for Mattawa, Ontario, where we have a farm, away from the noise of that blowhard, the liar-in-chief. I try to spend as much time as I can on the farm.

February, 2019


  • Coastal Flooding Is Erasing Billions in Property Value as Sea Level Rises. That's Bad News for Cities. High-tide flooding is eating away at the coastal property tax base just when communities need it most to adapt to climate change and repair the damage.
    • In 2016, Freddie Mac, the federally-backed mortgage company, warned that sea level rise would eventually destroy billions of dollars worth of property. Homes represent many Americans' largest asset, it noted, and the inevitable decline in coastal property value could ripple throughout local economies. Homeowners might decide to stop paying off their mortgages if their home values drop below the balance they owe the bank.


  • Iceberg twice the size of New York City is set to break away from Antarctica: Once a rapidly spreading rift intersects with another fissure, an iceberg of at least 660sq miles is set to be loosened, Nasa says
    • The long-term future of Antarctic ice shelves will have a major influence on sea level rise around the world. A report released by US and UK scientists last year stated that ice in Antarctica is melting at a record-breaking rate, posing a major threat to coastal cities. The study found that melting of the ice sheet has accelerated threefold in the last five years. Unless drastic action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming, scientists estimate that Antarctica’s melting ice should add more than 25cm to total global sea level rise by 2070.


  • Trump’s new nominee for U.N. ambassador will be a laughingstock: Kelly Knight Craft was chosen to be U.S. ambassador to Canada, and now to the United Nations, because she and her third husband, the billionaire coal baron Joe Craft, are mega MAGA-donors. According to The Post, they gave “about $1.5 million to GOP candidates in 2016, including $270,800 to Trump’s campaign committee or his joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee.” Perhaps just as important from this president’s perspective, they are also “repeat, high-paying customers at Trump’s hotel in Washington.” Craft’s other recommendation is that, as a Kentucky native, she is a supporter of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and is said to be friends with McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
    • Trump wants to be surrounded by lickspittles and nonentities whose chief qualification is that they will cater to his insatiable ego. Is there any doubt that Kelly Knight Craft would happily join in the North Korean-level praise that Trump expects of his Cabinet? Only she won’t get the chance, since the U.N. ambassador is being downgraded from Cabinet rank. That is entirely fitting, because under Trump, America is being downgraded in the eyes of the world.


  • Evidence for man-made global warming hits 'gold standard': scientists: They said confidence that human activities were raising the heat at the Earth’s surface had reached a “five-sigma” level, a statistical gauge meaning there is only a one-in-a-million chance that the signal would appear if there was no warming.
  • The Ocean Is Running Out of Breath, Scientists Warn: Widespread and sometimes drastic marine oxygen declines are stressing sensitive species—a trend that will continue with climate change
    • Escaping predators, digestion and other animal activities—including those of humans—require oxygen. But that essential ingredient is no longer so easy for marine life to obtain, several new studies reveal. In the past decade ocean oxygen levels have taken a dive—an alarming trend that is linked to climate change, says Andreas Oschlies, an oceanographer at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany, whose team tracks ocean oxygen levels worldwide. “We were surprised by the intensity of the changes we saw, how rapidly oxygen is going down in the ocean and how large the effects on marine ecosystems are,” he says.
    • As oxygen-rich regions become scarcer, current fish habitats will also shrink and force economically important species—such as tuna, which globally generate an estimated $42 billion annually—into new ranges. In the northeastern tropical Atlantic researchers have found habitat for tuna as well as billfish fisheries shrank by 15 percent from 1960 to 2010 (pdf) due to oxygen loss.
    • To address the overall deoxygenation problem, Oschlies helped organize an international conference on the subject in Kiel last September. Attendees drafted an impromptu declaration called the Kiel Declaration on Ocean Deoxygenation to raise awareness among international governments, the United Nations and the public as well as to call for immediate action. They want governments and international groups to make more serious strides to slow climate change and cut back on the coastal runoff pollution that exacerbates oxygen decline. The researchers modeled the new declaration after the Monaco Declaration (pdf), which Oschlies thinks successfully helped raise international awareness around ocean acidification in 2008.
    • http://science.sciencemag.org/content/320/5876/655
  • 100% Renewable Energy Needs Lots of Storage. This Polar Vortex Test Showed How Much.: Energy analysts used power demand data from the Midwest’s January deep freeze and wind and solar conditions to find the gaps in an all-renewable power grid.
  • Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth: After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. But its benefits mask enormous dangers to the planet, to human health – and to culture itself
    • After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on Earth. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with up to 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.
    • All the plastic produced over the past 60 years amounts to 8bn tonnes. The concrete industry pumps out more than that every two years. But though the problem is bigger than plastic, it is generally seen as less severe. Concrete is not derived from fossil fuels. It is not being found in the stomachs of whales and seagulls. Doctors aren’t discovering traces of it in our blood. Nor do we see it tangled in oak trees or contributing to subterranean fatbergs. We know where we are with concrete. Or to be more precise, we know where it is going: nowhere. Which is exactly why we have come to rely on it.
    • It also magnifies the extreme weather it shelters us from. Taking in all stages of production, concrete is said to be responsible for 4-8% of the world’s CO2. Among materials, only coal, oil and gas are a greater source of greenhouse gases. Half of concrete’s CO2 emissions are created during the manufacture of clinker, the most-energy intensive part of the cement-making process.
    • The Pantheon and Colosseum in Rome are testament to the durability of concrete, which is a composite of sand, aggregate (usually gravel or stones) and water mixed with a lime-based, kiln-baked binder. The modern industrialised form of the binder – Portland cement – was patented as a form of “artificial stone” in 1824 by Joseph Aspdin in Leeds. This was later combined with steel rods or mesh to create reinforced concrete, the basis for art deco skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building.
  • Australian mammal becomes first to go extinct due to climate change: A small brown rat which lived on a tiny island off northern Australia is the world's first mammal known to have become extinct due to "human-induced climate change," the government says.
    • "If temperatures continue to rise, nearly 8% of all species worldwide could become extinct, a 2015 study by the University of Connecticut found. Australia, New Zealand and South America are considered to be at highest risk." — ael: a complete mis-characterization of the study mentioned.


  • Neglected threat: Kingston’s toxic ash spill shows the other dark side of coal: Workers who cleaned up a huge spill from a coal ash pond in Tennessee in 2008 are still suffering—and dying. The U.S. has 1,400 ash dumps.
    • On December 22, ten years to the day after a dike ruptured at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant near Kingston, Tennessee, pouring more than a billion gallons of toxic coal ash into the Emory River, TVA took out a full-page ad in the local paper to congratulate itself and its contractors on a cleanup job well done. That same day, about 150 of the workers who actually cleaned up the spill gathered at the site, which is now a park with hiking trails, boat ramp, and ball fields. Standing in blue jeans and work boots near a homemade wooden cross, they commemorated a different aspect of the cleanup: their 36 coworkers who’ve died from brain cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, and other diseases.
    • The 5.4 million cubic yards of sludge that broke through a 57-foot earthen dike at Kingston was the largest industrial spill in the nation's history—nearly ten times the size of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill two years later in the Gulf of Mexico. The wave of wet ash smothered some 300 acres around the plant and dozens of houses in the small community of Swan Pond, before turning several miles of the Emory, Clinch, and Tennessee Rivers, as well as parts of the Watts Bar Reservoir into a lumpy gray chowder.
    • Some coal ash particles are so fine—less than 2.5 microns in diameter, a 30th the width of a human hair—that they can be sucked deep into the lungs and become a health hazard even without toxic hitchhikers. PM 2.5, as such particles are called, are also in smog, smoke, and auto exhaust, and they’re a known cause of numerous respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and a significant cause of global mortality. "TVA has given my husband a death sentence," says Janie Clark, whose husband Ansol Clark built the cross for the memorial this past December. "They gave him an incurable blood disease and destroyed his heart. Coal ash is a dirty dark secret that has gone on in this state and this country way too long. It needs to be brought to light."
    • Utilities have long maintained that coal ash is as safe as sand (which is mostly silicon dioxide, and far coarser than ash) and that its trace concentrations of toxins are not much higher than background levels in the soil.
    • "After Jacobs took over [the cleanup] at three months, they started telling us everything was safe," says Clark, who is now 67. "And we worked in a blue haze for months. When we started piling it up and the dust started blowing, they said it was pollen. Take an allergy pill and you'll be fine in a week. They'd tell us you can eat a pound of it every day and it won't hurt you."
    • Several of Clark's coworkers had similar experiences. Frankie Norris of Albany, Kentucky, was 47 when he began driving bulldozers, track-hoes, and fuel trucks at the site. After six months he began having trouble using the bathroom. His blood pressure spiked, and he got burning sores on his skin. After four years he was laid off for his illnesses. In 2016 his colon ruptured, sending him into the ICU for 19 days, where he almost died. "Was it dusty? Lord yes," says Norris. "Every time those air brakes went off it'd blow dust in your face. I was in dust constantly for 10 to 12 hours a day. I went up with some other guys and we asked for dust masks. They told us there wouldn't be no dust masks. Safety guy told us we'd get fired for even asking for one." Norris says he thought about quitting, but he had a wife and three kids to support. It was the depths of the recession, and the cleanup jobs paid more than $20 an hour. There were men standing in line for them. "I needed the work," Norris said. "I wanted to get my kids through school. But I didn't expect TVA to kill us."
    • TVA, which is a federal agency, is not currently involved in the workers’ lawsuit against Jacobs Engineering, although it may be on the hook for its contractor's legal fees, according to its own 2018 annual report. During the trial, several epidemiologists testified to the health impacts of the constituents of coal ash. According to Barry Levy of Tufts University, a leading expert in environmental health, just six of the toxins in Kingston's coal ash-—fine particulates, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, vanadium and naturally occurring radioactive materials—could cause many of the worker's illnesses. "These hazardous substances are well established as causing a wide variety of adverse health effects in humans," Levy wrote in his report, "including cancer, respiratory disorders, neurologic disorders and various other diseases."
    • Court documents show TVA and Jacobs asking EPA to lower worker-safety standards; hidden video taken by the workers show company representatives tampering with personal air monitors and testing equipment. All that evidence suggests there was a concerted effort by TVA and Jacobs to downplay the dangers of coal ash, says Jamie Satterfield, an investigative reporter for the Knoxville News-Sentinel who has covered the story extensively over the years. The motive, she says, was to reassure the public that coal ash wasn’t a threat. "It was a PR thing," says Satterfield. "The public was mad as hell. There were lots of public meetings, with parents asking, 'Are my kids in danger?' TVA sent a clear command to Jacobs: First, no coal ash on any trucks or equipment leaving the site; so they built a million-dollar car wash. Second, no one in respirators or Tyvek suits. The manager for Jacobs told people not even to wear dust masks.
    • TVA has refused to release any video footage of the worksite, although local environmental activists captured video of at least one major dust storm at the cleanup in 2009. TVA's own independent inspector general, Richard Moore, slammed the agency for avoiding transparency and accountability as part of its legal strategy after the spill. Moreover, in a 111-page report on the cause of the spill released in 2009, Moore blasted the agency for "irresponsible coal ash practices" that led to numerous seeps and breeches in its ash ponds dating back to 1980.
    • TVA isn't the only utility with an ash problem. In February 2014, a storm drain at a 50-year-old ash pond owned by Duke Energy collapsed near Eden, North Carolina, disgorging 39,000 tons of ash and 27,000 gallons of polluted water into the Dan River. Only a fraction of the ash was recovered, and contaminants were detected 70 miles downstream. Last year Hurricane Florence flooded two other Duke ash ponds in eastern North Carolina, resulting in smaller releases. Such disasters are thankfully rare, but researchers say the greater issue is the sheer ubiquity of coal ash around the nation. Though its share of the fuel mix is declining, coal still generates nearly 30 percent of the electricity in the United States, creating more than 100 million tons of ash each year—the largest industrial solid waste stream in the country. There are more than 1,000 active coal ash landfills and ponds in the United States, and hundreds of retired ash dumps. Most are unlined holes in the ground.
    • The industry-generated data were released last March: They revealed groundwater contamination at 95 percent of the tested sites. The utilities are required to retest, then clean up the contamination and even close the site if it continues. The Trump Administration is now attempting to roll back those regulations as too burdensome, allowing states to end groundwater monitoring and other requirements. "It's not just one toxin," says Avner Vengosh, a geochemist at Duke University who studied both the Kingston and Dan River spills. "It's a cocktail of arsenic, copper, lead, selenium, thallium, antimony, and other metals at higher levels than in their natural state. People think coal ash is not going to be a problem because utilities are switching to natural gas and it's cleaner. But the legacy of coal ash production and disposal is going to be with us for ages. These contaminants don't biodegrade."


  • U.S. Intelligence Officials Warn Climate Change Is a Worldwide Threat: Their annual assessment says climate hazards such as extreme weather, droughts, floods, wildfires and sea level rise threaten infrastructure, health and security.
    • Released Tuesday, the Worldwide Threat Assessment prepared by the Director of National Intelligence added to a swelling chorus of scientific and national security voices in pointing out the ways climate change fuels widespread insecurity and erodes America's ability to respond to it. "Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security," said the report, which represents the consensus view among top intelligence officials. "Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution."
  • Climate Change Is Key Part of Understanding Migration, GAO Tells Trump Administration: U.S. diplomats used to receive guidance about climate change and migration. The Government Accountability Office is recommending the State Department bring it back.
    • As the movement of refugees strains countries worldwide and becomes fuel for political clashes in the United States, the Trump administration has eliminated guidelines that the government once gave to American diplomats about how to plan for the impact of climate change on migration and global security. In a report released Thursday, the Government Accountability Office recommended the State Department restore the guidelines so U.S. diplomats are prepared for major population shifts that could destabilize a country or region. "Without clear guidance, State may miss opportunities to identify and address issues related to climate change as a potential driver of migration," the report said.
    • The State Department offered a contradictory response to the GAO's recommendation. It said it would "update" the guidelines, but did not go into detail as to how. At the same time, the State Department wrote that it will consider recommending that climate change be further scrubbed from its priorities, which would mean asking Trump to rescind yet another executive order. The report's co-author, David Gootnick, said that such a response was unusual. "After the GAO put the spotlight on the fact that they've dropped two executive orders, their response is to say, 'Okay, we might drop the third,'" Gootnick said. "To drop this executive order would be a potentially controversial thing to do."
  • Trump announces nomination of Kelly Knight Craft to be ambassador to United Nations: President Trump announced Friday evening that he will nominate Kelly Knight Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada and a major Republican donor, to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
    • Craft is set to succeed Nikki Haley, pending Senate confirmation, and is Trump’s second pick to replace Haley, who left the U.N. post at the end of last year. The president’s first candidate, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew from consideration last week.
    • Craft, 56, was a business executive and philanthropist before serving as ambassador to Canada. Her husband, Joe Craft, is president and chief executive of coal producer Alliance Resource Partners. The couple are major Republican donors, having given about $1.5 million to GOP candidates in 2016, including $270,800 to Trump’s campaign committee or his joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee.
    • Craft made headlines shortly after assuming her post in Canada when she told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News that she believes “both sides” of the climate change debate. “I believe there are sciences on both sides that are accurate,” Craft told the Canadian broadcaster. “Both sides have their own results from their studies, and I appreciate and respect both sides of the science.”
    • related: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/2/25/1837557/-Trump-s-pick-for-U-N-ambassador-is-coal-billionaire-that-believes-both-sides-of-climate-change
  • The Kalashnikov assault rifle changed the world. Now there’s a Kalashnikov kamikaze drone.
    • [ael: we're screwed.]
  • Renewable Energy Needs Lots of Storage. This Polar Vortex Test Showed How Much: Energy analysts used power demand data from the Midwest’s January deep freeze and wind and solar conditions to find the gaps in an all-renewable power grid.
    • Schauer's analysis shows storage would need to go from about 11 gigawatts today to 277.9 gigawatts in the grid regions that include New England, New York, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and parts of the South. That's roughly double Wood Mackenzie's current forecast for energy storage nationwide in 2040.


  • 'Moment of reckoning': US cities burn recyclables after China bans imports: Residents of cities like Chester, outside Philadelphia, fear a rise in pollution from incinerators after China’s recycling ban
    • It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse. The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.
    • “People want to do the right thing by recycling but they have no idea where it goes and who it impacts,” said Zulene Mayfield, who was born and raised in Chester and now spearheads a community group against the incinerator, called Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living. “People in Chester feel hopeless – all they want is for their kids to get out, escape. Why should we be expendable? Why should this place have to be burdened by people’s trash and shit?”
    • [ael: darn that China! Why won't they take our trash and shit?]
    • Some experts worry that burning plastic recycling will create a new fog of dioxins that will worsen an already alarming health situation in Chester. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher, according to state health statistics.
    • Just a tiny fraction of the trash burned at the plant is from Chester – the rest is funneled in via truck and train from as far as New York City and North Carolina. The burning of trash releases a host of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and particulate matter, which are tiny fragments of debris that, once inhaled, cause an array of health problems.
    • “In terms of greenhouse gases, it’s better sending recyclables to an energy recovery facility because of the methane that comes from a landfill,” said Paul Gilman, Covanta’s chief sustainability officer. “Fingers crossed Philadelphia can get their recycling program going again because these facilities aren’t designed for recyclables, they are designed for solid waste.”
    • Covanta and its critics agree that the whole recycling system in the US will need to be overhauled to avoid further environmental damage. Just 9% of plastic is recycled in the US, with campaigns to push up recycling rates obscuring broader concerns about the environmental impact of mass consumption, whether derived from recycled materials or not. “The unfortunate thing in the United States is that when people recycle they think it’s taken care of, when it was largely taken care of by China,” said Gilman. “When that stopped, it became clear we just aren’t able to deal with it.”
  • Very much related [ael]:
  • Teachers to join climate protests to demand curriculum reform: On Friday demonstrators will protest against ‘negligent’ climate change education
    • Tim Jones, a secondary school teacher from Lewisham, said students in the state system could easily go through 11 years of compulsory education and hear climate change mentioned in fewer than 10 lessons out of approximately 10,000. Given the scale of the crisis, he believes this is “negligent”. “Climate and ecological breakdown will define the life of every child and student alive today. They and we are facing an unimaginable catastrophe. But when I tell my students, it’s hard for them to take me seriously when it plays almost no part in the content of their education,” he said.
    • Climate protesters disrupt London fashion week by blocking roads: Extinction Rebellion calls for British Fashion Council to declare climate emergency


  • Climate change: Death of the 'grandfather of climate science': Wallace Broecker, the US climate scientist who helped popularise the term "global warming" has died in New York at the age of 87.
    • In 1975, he published a paper in the journal Science that had a profound effect on thinking about the connection between carbon dioxide and temperatures around the world. It was titled Climatic Change: Are we on the brink of a pronounced global warming? The paper was said to be the first time the phrase was used in a research paper.
    • [ael: it also says, somewhat ominously, "We may be in for a climatic surprise."] Here was the paper's final paragraph: "The agricultural consequences of this ensuing warming are not obvious (neither are the implications to global sea level). A knowledge of the mean global temperature tells us little about the rainfall patterns in the chief grain-producing regions. There is little doubt, however, that this gradual warming will lead to changes in the pattern of global precipitation. Our efforts to understand and eventually to predict these changes must be redoubled."
    • From an email from John Schwartz: "Wallace Broecker popularized the term “global warming,” and in 1975 published a paper whose title asked, “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” I wrote the obituary for the man who was fond of saying, “The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.”" The last name is "(pronounced “broker”)".
    • Obituary at Columbia
  • Arctic Bogs Hold Another Global Warming Risk That Could Spiral Out of Control: As warming brings earlier spring rains in the Arctic, more permafrost thaws, releasing more methane in a difficult-to-stop feedback loop, research shows.


  • New NASA Study Solves Climate Mystery, Confirms Methane Spike Tied to Oil and Gas:
    • Methane is a major greenhouse gas, capable of trapping 86 times as much heat as the same amount of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it hits the Earth's atmosphere. So relatively tiny amounts of methane in the air can pack a massive climate-changing punch.
  • Canada delays insecticide ban as study finds 40% of insects on verge of extinction: Neonics — which kill bees — were banned in the European Union last year
  • ‘The most villainous act in the history of human civilisation.’ Michael E Mann speaks out: The renowned US climate scientist and Tyler Prize winner talks exclusively to Samantha Page for Cosmos.
    • In my recent book, The Madhouse Effect, we talk about what played out in the last presidential election. The assault on climate scientists, Climategate, was almost a training ground. It was the same actors and the same mission. Climategate was about trying to distract the public and the policymakers with a fake scandal going into the Copenhagen Summit [also known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference] in 2009, which was the first opportunity for meaningful progress on international climate policy in years.
    • A compelling case can be made that Russia's involvement and Saudi Arabia's potential involvement in the last [US] election was about a half-trillion-dollar oil deal between Russia and ExxonMobil that had been blocked because of the sanctions against Russia.
    • What's the first thing that happened under the now-infamous Paul Manafort? They changed the Republican platform to try to get rid of those sanctions. Then Trump appointed Rex Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, as Secretary of State. Is that a coincidence?
    • It was the same players and the same motive and the same disingenuity. In the case of Climategate, there have now been the better part of a dozen investigations in the US and the UK, and they have all come to the conclusion there was no impropriety on the part of the scientists whose emails had been stolen. The only wrongdoing was the criminal theft of the emails in the first place.
    • The science that we are doing is a threat to the world's most powerful and wealthiest special interests. The most powerful and wealthiest special interest that has ever existed: the fossil fuel industry.
    • They have used their immense resources to create fake scandals and to fund a global disinformation campaign aimed at vilifying the scientists, discrediting the science, and misleading the public and policymakers. Arguably, it is the most villainous act in the history of human civilisation, because it is about the short-term interests of a small number of plutocrats over the long-term welfare of this planet and the people who live on it.
    • So, once again, to be in a position to be fighting on the right side of a battle between good and evil — which frankly it is — is a privilege.



  • Climate Change, ISIS and Cyberattacks Are Seen as the World's Top Threats in a New Pew Poll: Climate change increasingly ranks as the world’s most pressing security threat, with terrorism and cyberattacks also topping the list, according to a new survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
    • In a poll of 26 countries, 13 considered the warming planet the number one concern. This was followed by the threat of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which eight countries, including Russia, France, Indonesia and Nigeria, rated as the top threat. Four nations, including Japan and the U.S., cited cyberattacks as the most urgent issue.
  • Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature': Exclusive: Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review
    • The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors. “If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.
    • “The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarming proportions” over the last two decades.
    • He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment: “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby; the 75% insect losses recorded in Germany were in protected areas.
    • Other scientists agree that it is becoming clear that insect losses are now a serious global problem. “The evidence all points in the same direction,” said Prof Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex in the UK. “It should be of huge concern to all of us, for insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects.”
    • Prof Paul Ehrlich, at Stanford Universityin the US, has seen insects vanish first-hand, through his work on checkerspot butterflies on Stanford’s Jasper Ridge reserve. He first studied them in 1960 but they had all gone by 2000, largely due to climate change. Ehrlich praised the review, saying: “It is extraordinary to have gone through all those studies and analysed them as well as they have.” He said the particularly large declines in aquatic insects were striking. “But they don’t mention that it is human overpopulation and overconsumption that is driving all the things [eradicating insects], including climate change,” he said.
  • Online archive of historic watercolours paints a stark image of the ravages of climate change: "With the world at risk from climate change, rising sea levels, and worse, the project will provide scientists and environmentalists with an accurate visual account of much of the natural world as it used to be," Hohler said in a statement.
  • What’s actually in the ‘Green New Deal’ from Democrats?: The Green New Deal is a manifesto calling for sweeping changes to American society. Key goals include cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero over 10 years and guaranteeing jobs for all.




  • John Dingell: My last words for America: John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.


  • Thank God for Canada!: Our boring neighbor is a moral leader of the free world.
    • After the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, tweeted concern about Saudi Arabia’s imprisoning of a women’s rights activist, the crown prince there seemed to go nuts. Saudi Arabia announced that it was expelling Canada’s ambassador, halting flights to Canada, ending purchases of Canadian wheat, recalling students from Canada and selling off Canadian assets. Did the United States or other Western countries stand up for an old friend and ally, Canada? Not a bit.
    • Yet Canada stuck to its principles. When a young Saudi woman, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, fled to Bangkok last month and warned that she would be murdered by her family if she was forced home, it was Canada that again braved Saudi fury by accepting her. Freeland was at the airport to welcome Alqunun as a “very brave new Canadian.” And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t mince words, saying, “We’ll stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world.”
    • During the worst of the Syrian refugee crisis, President Barack Obama admitted just 12,000 Syrians and provoked a furious backlash, including Trump’s Muslim ban. Canada accepted 40,000 Syrians, with Trudeau appearing at the airport to hand out winter coats to these new Canadians.
    • Whenever I say something nice about Canada, I get indignant emails from Canadian friends pointing out the country’s shortcomings (which are real). Fortunately, Canadians don’t seem capable of mean emails. Not even of mean tweets. One study found that Americans’ tweets are loaded with curses and words like “hate”: Canadians’ tweets are larded with “awesome,” “amazing” and “great.”
  • Green New Deal: Ocasio-Cortez unveils bold plan to fight climate change: Blueprint for a carbon-neutral economy has been embraced by prominent Democrats and evokes FDR’s famous legacy
    • The resolution says significant portions of the American population are suffering from declining life expectancy, exposure to pollution, and lacking access to healthy food, healthcare, housing, transportation and education. It spotlights wage stagnation, lacking socieconomic mobility, income inequality, a racial wealth divide, a gender pay gap and weakened bargaining power for workers.
    • Ocasio-Cortez elevated the Green New Deal when she joined activists at a protest outside the then minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s office last year. The activists are planning to protest Democratic debates in an effort to ensure the proposal, which was until now largely a liberal rallying cry for action on climate change, is a prominent issue for candidates in 2020. Before the text was released, several presidential candidates had already embraced the notion of a Green New Deal, including senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand. The former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro committed to the plan during his campaign announcement.
    • The Democratic congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who is the co-chair of the House progressive caucus and a sponsor of the legislation, said the resolution defined the scale and scope of what must be done to combat global warming. “We really need an urgent and comprehensive approach,” said Jayapal.
  • The Story Behind the Green New Deal’s Meteoric Rise: How twelve young activists forced a bold idea into the mainstream of the Democratic Party
    • On November 13, 2018, just days after Democrats reclaimed the House of Representatives, dozens of young activists filed silently into Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill. Some sat down along the walls of the office, unfurling banners and forming a circle. Others stood in the center and told their stories. A teenage woman from Northern California began, “There were fires at my school. There was ash falling from the sky for a week.” She and her companions in the Cannon Office Building that day carried manila envelopes containing pictures of the people and places in their lives that climate change would destroy—or already had. On one side of the envelopes were the words “Dear Democrats”; on the other, “What Is Your Plan?” After some time, they began to sing—the protest songs of another generation, like “Which Side Are You On?,” and new ones they’d written themselves, about waters rising up and people rising, too. Their voices echoed down the marble halls.
    • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets much of the credit for bringing the Green New Deal into the mainstream. She visited Pelosi’s office during the sit-in, and in the following weeks, her staff collaborated with Justice Democrats, the progressive electoral outfit started by veterans of the Bernie Sanders campaign, to draft a policy proposal for a GND. But the plan truly owes its swift rise to a grassroots climate organization called Sunrise Movement, launched a year and a half ago by twelve young organizers—refugees from more mainstream climate organizations like Sierra Club and 350.org, and veterans of fossil fuel divestment and anti-pipeline campaigns.
    • Sunrise began in late 2015, when Sara Blazevic and Varshini Prakash, who’d worked together in the fossil fuel divestment movement, gathered a small group of friends for meetings in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Blazevic and Prakash hoped to capture some of the dynamism of the Sanders campaign and direct it toward environmental problems. Existing climate organizations, the young organizers agreed, had been caught flatfooted by the populist uprising within the Democratic Party. Quickly they decided to start something new.
    • Even early skeptics, like Saul Alinsky, who founded modern community organizing, and his protégé Nick von Hoffman, came to recognize the promise of that synthesis. In 1961, von Hoffman hosted an impromptu event for a group of Freedom Riders in Chicago. To his surprise, the talk attracted a huge crowd. That night, he called Alinsky in a frenzy. “We should toss out everything we are doing organizationally,” he told his mentor, “and work on the premise that this is the moment of the whirlwind, that we are no longer organizing but guiding a social movement.”
    • Sunrise’s leaders know there’s no way to achieve their goals without fundamentally shifting the political ground beneath their feet. Their acute appreciation for the enormity of the task frees them to be unapologetic and ambitious in a way other groups cannot. “Young people are the most politically liberated force in our country right now,” Becca Rast, a Sunrise board member, told me. “We have less to lose than any other generation, and everything to gain. We can be radical. We can be visionary.”
  • A Green New Deal can give us the freedoms to allow humanity to flourish: Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought to redefine freedom in the face of war. The Green New Deal imagines goals for a colorful democracy
  • Today’s Earth looks a lot like it did 115,000 years ago. All we’re missing is massive sea level rise. New research suggests the planet is already paralleling the most recent major warm period in its past. Now the only question is how fast Antarctica could collapse.
    • Some 115,000 years ago, homo sapiens were still living in bands of hunter gatherers, largely confined to Africa. We still shared the globe with the Neanderthals, although it’s not clear we had met them yet. And though these various hominids didn’t know it, the Earth was coming to the end of a major warm period. It was one that’s quite close to our current climate, but with one major discrepancy — seas at the time were 20 to 30 feet higher.
    • During this ancient period, sometimes called the Eemian, the oceans were about as warm as they are today. And last month, intriguing new research emerged suggesting that Northern Hemisphere glaciers have already retreated just as far as they did in the Eemian, driven by dramatic warming in Arctic regions. The finding arose when a team of researchers working on Baffin Island, in northeastern Canada, sampled the remains of ancient plants that had emerged from beneath fast-retreating mountain glaciers. And they found that the plants were very old indeed, and had probably last grown in these spots some 115,000 years ago. That’s the last time the areas were actually not covered by ice, the scientists believe.
    • DeConto and Pollard say that such cliffs would continually fall into the sea. And when they added this computation, it not only recreated Eemian sea level rise, it greatly increased their projection of how much ice Antarctica could yield in this century — more than three feet. Since there are other drivers of sea level rise, like Greenland, this meant that we could see as much as six feet in total in this century, roughly double prior projections. And in the next century, the ice loss would get even worse.
    • There’s one important thing to consider — the Eemian occurred without humans emitting lots of greenhouse gases. Atmospheric carbon dioxide was far lower than it is today. The event was instead driven by changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun, leading to more sunlight falling on the northern hemisphere. The big difference, this time around, is that humans are heating things up far faster than what is believed to have happened in the geologic past. And that makes a key difference, said Ted Scambos, an Antarctic researcher who is leading the U.S. side of an international multimillion dollar mission to study Thwaites Glacier, and who is a senior researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado.


  • Climate Change Could Leave Thousands of Lakes Ice-Free: Global warming is melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, but for millions of people, ice is vanishing closer to home as lakes lose their winter cover.
    • “Ice cover acts as a temperature reset for a lake every winter,” said Catherine O’Reilly, an associate professor of geology at Illinois State University and a co-author of the study. Without winter ice, lakes begin warming earlier in the year. Warmer surface water increases the risk of toxic algal blooms and decreases oxygen levels in a lake, putting stress on fish and other organisms. Water temperature also affects which fish species can thrive. Certain fish — like walleye, salmon and trout — depend on cool, oxygen-rich waters and don’t fare as well in warm conditions.
  • Oumuamua: The first known interstellar object to visit our solar system, 1I/2017 U1 ‘Oumuamua, was discovered Oct. 19, 2017 by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations (NEOO) Program, which finds and tracks asteroids and comets in Earth’s neighborhood. While originally classified as a comet, observations revealed no signs of cometary activity after it slingshotted past the Sun on Sept. 9, 2017 at a blistering speed of 196,000 miles per hour (87.3 kilometers per second). It was briefly classified as an asteroid until new measurements found it was accelerating slightly, a sign it behaves more like a comet.


  • Svalbard could become 10°C warmer: A new grim climate report outlines how thawing permafrost combined with more heavy rainfall will trigger landslides and coastal erosion.
    • “It is rare that I use words like this, but what happens on Svalbard is extreme. The temperature rises faster here in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world, and climate change has already had major consequences for nature, animals and the community on the island group,” Hambro says in an article posted on the agency’s portal.
  • Scientists Single Out a Suspect in Starfish Carnage: Warming Oceans: In 2013, starfish — including the morning sun star, the richly hued ochre star and the sunflower star, whose limbs can span four feet across — started dying by the millions along the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Alaska.
    • They were succumbing to a wasting disease. It began with white lesions on their limbs, the dissolution of the surrounding flesh, a loss of limbs and finally death. Understanding, let alone solving, the problem would take research. One day, shortly after the epidemic began, Drew Harvell, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University who had been sounding the alarm about the disease, received a curious letter. “I received a $400 check in the mail from a group of schoolchildren from Arkansas,” Dr. Harvell said. “These kids were so upset about the idea of starfish disappearing from the oceans that they went out and they did this fund-raiser and raised 400 bucks for us to help in our research. I never asked them to do this. They just did it.”
    • Dr. Harvell matched it with her own money, and a donor kicked in quite a bit more. “That was what funded some of our early surveys,” she said. “These kids, who none of them had been to the Pacific Ocean, but they just needed to know those stars were there.” One of the ultimate results of the children’s donation, a paper that sheds some light on the decline of the starfish, also known as sea stars, was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. The main suspect: our warming oceans.
  • Cavity in Antarctica Glacier Is Two-Thirds the Size of Manhattan, Scientists Say: The Thwaites Glacier on Antarctica’s western coast has long been considered one of the most unstable on the continent. Now, scientists are worried about the discovery of an enormous underwater cavity that will probably speed up the glacier’s decay.
    • The cavity is about two-thirds the area of Manhattan and nearly 1,000 feet tall, according to a study released Wednesday by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The hulking chamber is large enough to have contained about 14 billion tons of ice — most of which the researchers say melted in three years.




  • Federal Government Steps In to Handle Colorado River Drought Crisis: Despite a last-minute frenzy of deal-making, the federal government announced that it will begin taking “protective actions” on the Colorado River, where a long-running drought has put the water supply for 40 million people at risk.
    • The seven states that use the river had been trying to broker their own solution, a collective water-sharing deal, with a Jan. 31 deadline to get it done. While most states had agreed, California and Arizona couldn’t finalize the agreement in time. “We are close,” said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “But only 'done' will protect this basin. It’s time to get the job done.”

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