June 2016

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.


June, 2016


  • Fish School Us on Wind Power: Record-efficiency turbine farms are being inspired by sealife.
  • The world has the right climate goals — but the wrong ambition levels to achieve them: Stopping warming somewhere between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius, according to a recent analysis, would still pose a severe threat to coral reefs and the stability of West Antarctica but might avoid most other grave tipping points in the climate system, such as the collapse of East Antarctic glaciers or wintertime Arctic sea ice.
    • Now, in a study in Nature, a large team of researchers reaffirm this troubling conclusion in a sweeping manner, by not only reexamining the individual country pledges — also known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs — but also conducting a meta-analysis of all the past analyses that have already determined that the Paris pledges fall short. And they, too, find after taking stock of all of this research that the current pledges are likely to leave temperatures at 2.6 to 3.1 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels by the year 2100, assuming that the pledges themselves are adopted and only their unconditional parts are realized.
  • Night-time light pollution is bringing spring forward by a week: Trees start to produce leaves up to 7.5 days early if bathed in light from street lamps and the knock-on effects mean less food for birds
    • Biologists from Exeter University found that the buds of trees such as the oak, sycamore, ash and beech were bursting up to 7.5 days earlier in the year in areas with a lot of artificial light. The effect causes problems for insects such as the winter moth, which lays its eggs so the caterpillars will hatch at the same time as the trees produce their first tender young leaves. Hatching a week too late means the caterpillars have to eat tough leaves packed with tannin – a natural defence against pests – that are less nutritious. And that means there are fewer caterpillars for songbirds to eat.
    • The trees are tricked into thinking the days are getting long enough to produce leaves by the red part of the spectrum.
    • The study was carried out using information collected by ‘citizen scientists’ from across the UK, after the Woodland Trust asked them to note down when they first saw sycamore, oak, ash and beech trees in leaf as part of the charity’s Nature’s Calendar initiative. The researchers then compared this with satellite images of artificial lighting.
  • Murders, violence on rise as parched central India battles for water: Indian police report that the fighting is getting more frequent and bloody. In many parts of the country, neighbors, friends and family are turning on each other, desperate to protect what little water they have left, police records suggest.
  • The Potential of Carbon Farming: by Eric Toensmeier
  • What Would a Global Warming Increase of 1.5 Degrees Be Like?: The Paris climate conference set the ambitious goal of finding ways to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than the previous threshold of 2 degrees. But what would be the difference between a 1.5 and 2 degree world? And how realistic is such a target?
  • Quebec boreal forest could be climate change refuge: study: Research suggests a Spain-sized area of forest in the centre of the province will be one of the rare places where nature will ease the effects of global warming and preserve existing ecosystems.
  • Conservative Funders of Climate Denial Are Quietly Spending Millions To Generate More Partisan Journalism:
  • Biggest US coal company funded dozens of groups questioning climate change: Analysis of Peabody Energy court documents show company backed trade groups, lobbyists and thinktanks dubbed ‘heart and soul of climate denial’
    • Related: Peabody Energy bankruptcy filings reveal a company hostile to land, workers, truth: Among Peabody’s beneficiaries, the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has insisted – wrongly – that carbon emissions are not a threat but "the elixir of life" while the American Legislative Exchange Council is trying to overturn Environmental Protection Agency rules cutting emissions from power plants. Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity campaigns against carbon pricing. The Oklahoma chapter was on the list. Contrarian scientists such as Richard Lindzen and Willie Soon also feature on the bankruptcy list. So does the Washington lobbyist and industry strategist Richard Berman, whose firm has launched a welter of front groups attacking the EPA rules.
  • Coal Isn't Dying Because There's a War on It
  • Illinois coal’s last stand: Even as people bemoan its environmental and health effects, the prospect of its demise sparks fear and nostalgia.
  • This gas leak was so massive that NASA saw it from space:


  • Canada Moves to Strengthen Environmental Reviews of Pipelines: Carr and McKenna unveiled interim measures in January affecting pipeline projects already under review, including TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East pipeline and Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain expansion. That step was criticized for adding yet another layer to an already lengthy process, with Conservative lawmaker Candice Bergen saying Trudeau’s Liberals “have created massive uncertainty when it comes to building pipelines.”
  • China's plan to cut meat consumption by 50% cheered by climate campaigners: New dietary guidelines could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1bn tonnes by 2030, and could lessen country’s problems with obesity and diabetes
  • Canada lent billions to oil, gas and mining companies. Then it made a profit: It's a case of the government's right hand not knowing what the left had was doing, she says. “It means the Canadian public is making money off of loans to oil, gas and mining companies, many of whom are doing awful things… and trashing the planet,” she tells National Observer. “It’s inappropriate that the Canadian government is making money off of those things.”
  • Greenland was hotter than New York City last week: The island experienced the highest temperatures ever recorded on June 9, when air temperature in Nuuk, the capital city, soared to 75 degrees F. While that may seem like no sweat, the average high for this time of year between 1961 and 1990 was just 44 degrees F, and even Greenland’s hottest month rarely broke 50. But that was then. That record-breaking day in June was hotter in Nuuk than it was in New York City, while a heat wave in April saw warmer weather in Greenland than in Boston.
    • All this hot air caused Greenland’s sea ice, which is the size of Texas, to begin thawing nearly six weeks before normal this year. The rapid melting of over 12 percent of the ice sheet was so unusual in April that Danish Meteorological Institute scientist Peter Langen said they “had to check that our models were still working properly.”
  • Five charts that explain who gets hit hardest by food price rises: Benin, Mozambique and Nepal are among countries most exposed to climate change, water scarcity and food price volatility
    • The countries that have the lowest ecological footprint tend to be the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including sea level rises and water scarcity. The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) measures a country’s exposure and capacity to adapt to climate change and gives each country a score. Benin, Mozambique and Nepal are all more than twice as vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as the UK or the US.
  • Antarctic CO2 Hit 400 PPM For First Time in 4 Million Years:
  • Coral Reefs Doing Better Than Expected in Many Areas: A new study found "bright spots" where corals are thriving, despite global bleaching events.
  • Could we set aside half the Earth for nature?: Renowned biologist E.O. Wilson wants to set aside half of the planet as protected areas for nature. But is this possible? And, if so, how would it work?
  • Catholic orders take their lead from the pope and divest from fossil fuels: Exclusive: Four Australian Catholic orders are jointly and publicly divesting from coal, oil and gas: ‘We believe the Gospel asks no less of us’


  • Climate Impacts From Farming Are Getting Worse: As signs emerge that the global energy sector is beginning to rein in what once had been unbridled levels of climate-changing pollution, new United Nations figures show pollution from farming is continuing to get worse. Greenhouse gases released from the growing of crops and livestock directly increased by a little more than 1 percent in 2014, compared with a year prior, the newly updated data shows.
  • It's the economy that needs to be integrated into the environment - not the other way around: BP’s call for a ‘meaningful carbon price’ is the latest example of wrongly trying to apply economic theories and tools to the environment
  • Giant Wildfire Is No Longer the Canadian Oil Industry's Biggest Problem:
    • Without a technological breakthrough like steam injection three decades ago, the flows that have transformed the country’s economy could slow to a trickle. In a world that has plenty of cheap crude, and increasingly demands cleaner energy, the oil sands look dirty, as well as expensive.
    • Canada’s spending on research and development has been declining since 2001, and is only about two-thirds of the OECD average. And since the oil price slumped in 2014, the whole economy has slowed sharply, after years of outperforming industrial peers. No other G7 country is so dependent on commodities and their fickle prices.


  • A Simple Idea Could Help Wildlife Survive Climate Change: Global warming is chasing plants and animals, forcing them to head uphill or north to find suitable habitat. Scientists have considered migration corridors — restored, healthy natural areas that connect current habitats with likely landing spots — as a way to help plants and animals stay a step ahead of climate change.
  • Carbon dioxide levels in atmosphere forecast to shatter milestone: Scientists warn that global warming target will be overshot within two decades, as annual concentrations of CO2 set to pass 400 parts per million in 2016
    • “We could be passing above 450ppm in roughly 20 years,” Betts said. “If we start to reduce our global emissions now, we could delay that moment but it is still looking like a challenge to stay below 450ppm. If we carry on as we are going, we could pass 450ppm even sooner than 20 years, according to the IPCC scenarios.”
  • Alaska is way, way hotter than normal right now: Alaska just can’t seem to shake the fever it has been running. This spring was easily the hottest the state has ever recorded and it contributed to a year-to-date temperature that is more than 10 degrees F (5.5 degrees C) above average, according to data released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • Revealed: first mammal species wiped out by human-induced climate change: Exclusive: scientists find no trace of the Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent that was the only mammal endemic to Great Barrier Reef
  • Record Greenland Melting Caused by Surprising Feedback Loop: As Arctic sea ice extent hits a record May low, a new study shows how melting changes Greenland's weather, with far-reaching consequences.
  • Climate change could force huge migrations for people and animals living near the equator: a new study, published Thursday in the the journal Scientific Reports, argues that, while the stakes at the poles are high, we may want to be paying a little more attention to what’s going on near the equator, as well. The research suggests that even a moderate amount of warming could force populations in the tropics to undergo huge migrations — longer journeys than they’d have to take if they lived anywhere else on the planet — to get to cooler ground.
  • Study: Going vegetarian can cut your food carbon footprint in half: Food production is responsible for about 25 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions heating up the planet. And scientists have long known that meat has a bigger climate footprint than fruits and vegetables do — partly because meat takes more energy to produce, but also because cows tend to burp up a lot of methane. (Cows, in turn, have a larger impact than pigs or chickens.) That's why, last year, a US nutritional panel advised Americans to consider eating less meat for environmental reasons. "A diet higher in plant-based foods … and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current US diet," the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee said.


  • Norway adopts world's first zero deforestation policy: What does that mean?: Norway announced a zero deforestation policy in its procurement of goods, two years after making a pledge with Germany and Britain to 'promote national commitments that encourage deforestation free supply chains.'
  • How Bernie Sanders made Hillary Clinton into a greener candidate: But if ever there were a losing campaign that achieved some major wins, it’s Sanders’. Not only did he force Clinton to talk more about economic inequality, he pushed her to promise stronger action to fight climate change and rein in fossil fuel companies. If Hillary Clinton becomes president and keeps some of her more recent promises to restrict oil drilling and fracking, Sanders will deserve a share of the credit.
  • As Coral Bleaching Goes Global, Scientists Fear Worst Is Yet to Come: Warm ocean temperatures are taking an unprecedented toll on reefs in all the world's tropical oceans, including in areas not affected by previous bleaching events.
  • These elephant seals just taught scientists why Antarctica is melting so fast: When it comes to the current research, the seals are outfitted with tiny sensors atop their heads, which do not interfere with their swimming behavior. “It’s really cool, and it usually lasts for about six months, and then when they molt, it falls off,” Zhang said. The sensors send data about depth, temperature and salinity of the waters the seals are swimming through.
  • World carbon emissions stopped growing in 2015, says BP: Move towards renewable energy and away from coal power helped stall emissions growth last year but slowdown may be temporary, says oil giant
  • Warming climate causing extensive greening in Canada, Alaska: study: Temperatures are warming faster in the Arctic than any other place on Earth. The region is experiencing longer growing seasons and soils are experiencing changes. Tundras are growing shrubbery, and those that are already there are getting thicker. While the repercussions aren’t immediately understood, there is mounting evidence that this could eventually affect the carbon cycle.


  • Ontario will spend up to $8.3B to fight climate change, offer incentives: Climate change plan, to be announced Wednesday, would add $5 a month to home heating bills
  • Alaska’s huge climate mystery — and its global consequences: The fear is that with the higher latitudes of the planet warming extremely rapidly, that heat itself, and some of its consequences — such as raging wildfires in northern forests — could unleash a climate disaster. Perennially frozen northern soils, known as permafrost, contain enormous amounts of carbon because the slow and cold chemistry of the Arctic makes them the repository of thousands of years of frozen plant remains. Warming could cause this plant matter to break down, be decomposed by bacteria and emit ancient carbon to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and methane.
    • Now, though, a major and surprising new report from the U.S. Geological Survey would appear to undercut, significantly, this worry, at least for one key northern region: the U.S. state of Alaska. In the process, the document raises deep questions about what the true carbon consequences of Alaska’s ongoing warming will be — a mystery whose solution may also implicate still greater carbon stores across Arctic regions in Canada and Siberia.
  • Canada's energy superpower status threatened as world shifts off fossil fuel, federal think-tank warns: 'Significant disruptions' forecast in 10 to 15 years as cost of renewables, energy storage plummet
  • Investigating Climate Change the Hard Way at Earth's Icy "Third Pole": A glaciologist doesn’t let a heart transplant keep him from braving dizzying altitudes to gather crucial ice core samples from retreating tropical and subtropical glaciers
    • Lonnie Thompson, a glaciologist at The Ohio State University (O.S.U.) in Columbus, does not believe in the impossible. More than three decades ago he led an expedition that retrieved ice cores from the Quelccaya Ice Cap in Peru at 5,670 meters above sea level, which most glaciologists at the time considered too high for humans to conduct this kind of work. The exquisitely preserved layers of dust and air bubbles in the cores provided an unprecedented climate history of the tropics, and Thompson’s work has come to focus on the increasingly important climate change lessons to be learned from Earth’s so-called “third pole”—the ancient and massive buildup of glacial ice straddling the subtropics in Tibet.
  • Sorry, leaves — we figured out a way to do photosynthesis better than you: Trees, be warned: the process of photosynthesis — once the exclusive domain of nature — has just been not only co-opted but upgraded by Harvard scientists.
    • The team, led by professor of energy Daniel Nocera, has created a new-and-improved version of a system that converts solar energy into fuel at a rate 10 times more efficient than the fastest-growing plants. It is called the “Bionic Leaf 2.0.” The “leaf” uses solar energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, explains Nocera. Engineered microbes eat the hydrogen to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuel for transportation or conversion into more mainstream fuels.
  • Unabated Global Warming Threatens West's Snowpack, Water Supply: New study shows a snowline creeping higher in the Rockies, Sierra Nevada and Cascades and the resulting decrease in spring runoff endangers those below.
  • Arctic Sea Ice Breaks May Record . . . By A Lot


  • Sanders knocks Trump (and the media) over climate change:
  • Oilsands growth makes it nearly impossible for Canada to meet Paris Agreement targets: report: Petroleum industry disputes assumptions in report, which also says no new pipeline capacity is needed
    • Even with provincial climate plans in place, anticipated growth in Alberta's oilsands and British Columbia's natural gas sector will make it nearly impossible for Canada to reduce emissions to agreed-upon levels under the Paris Agreement, according to a new report. "Short of an economic collapse, it is difficult to see how Canada can realistically meet its Paris commitments in the 14 years remaining without rethinking its plans for oil and gas development," author David Hughes, an earth scientist, said in a release.
  • Warming Could Boost Carbon Storage in Alaska Forests: Climate change may dramatically increase carbon storage in Alaska’s temperate forests, possibly offsetting the climate impacts of melting permafrost and wildfires, new research from the U.S. Geological Survey shows.
  • Large-Growth Medalists at the Extremes of Sustainability: The Morningstar Sustainability Rating for Funds is designed as a tool for investors who are interested in sustainability, in addition to more-traditional investment criteria. The rating, which we rolled out in March, measures funds on a variety of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria, such as environmental and workplace policies, product safety, and corporate responsibility, and also dings companies involved in controversies, such as Volkswagen's (VOW) recent emissions scandal.
  • CBO warns of climate change's budget impact: The Congressional Budget Office is warning lawmakers about the fiscal risks of climate change, putting the studiously non-partisan agency at odds with Republican Party orthodoxy.
    • Most Republicans remain unconvinced that climate change is real, with the party’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, calling it “a total hoax” and “pseudoscience.” His previous rival for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has called climate change a “pseudo-scientific theory.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said the science is inconclusive. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) famously threw a snowball on the Senate floor in February 2015 to argue that climate change is not real. He also wrote a book, titled “The Greatest Hoax,” which called the widely accepted scientific facts around climate change a “conspiracy.” Republicans have repeatedly sought to block President Barack Obama’s domestic and global efforts to curb climate change.
  • Climate change could trigger toxic corn: what can be done?: Climate change and extreme weather events stress crops out – enough to make them toxic for human and animal consumption. But scientists see challenge as opportunity to find more efficient ways to grow food.



  • The Temperature Spiral Has an Update. It’s Not Pretty.: Alder used climate projections and stretched the spiral to its logical conclusion in 2100 when most climate model projections end. Using our current carbon emissions trends, it shows that things could get out of hand pretty quickly.
  • Scientists have found yet another part of Antarctica that may be in trouble: The forces affecting the ice in West Antarctica are an area of urgent focus for climate scientists who are all too aware of the ice sheet’s huge potential contributions to global sea-level rise. A great deal of this attention has centered on a specific region bordering the Amundsen Sea, south of the Antarctic Peninsula, where research has suggested that a set of rapidly retreating glaciers — including the famous Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers — may be increasingly vulnerable to collapse.
    • But research is increasingly suggesting that the region is not the only area deserving of concern. Just last month, a new study suggested that the Totten Glacier in East Antarctica, which has typically been considered much less of a threat than West Antarctica, is also thinning quickly and has retreated inland by close to two miles in some areas. Overall, the glacier has the potential to raise sea levels by about 13 feet should it collapse.
    • And now, a new study just published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters has identified a new area of concern. The new research focuses on the Bellingshausen Sea region, an area just above the Amundsen Sea on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Using four decades’ worth of satellite data, researchers have found that ice in this region has also experienced significant retreat, particularly since 1990, and could be a bigger threat than expected.
  • Over a third of coral is dead in parts of the Great Barrier Reef, scientists say: For months, coral reef experts have been loudly, and sometimes mournfully, announcing that much of the treasured Great Barrier Reef has been hit by “severe” coral bleaching, thanks to abnormally warm ocean waters.
    • Bleaching, though, isn’t the same as coral death. When symbiotic algae leave corals’ bodies and the animals then turn white or “bleach,” they can still bounce back if environmental conditions improve. The Great Barrier Reef has seen major bleaching in some of its sectors — particularly the more isolated northern reef — and the expectation has long been that this event would result in significant coral death, as well.
    • More, from vox.com: The Great Barrier Reef just sustained massive damage. Can it ever recover?
  • Scientists debate experimenting with climate hacking to prevent catastrophe: Funding for geoengineering computational experiments was mysteriously included in a Senate appropriations bill
    • If the idea of mimicking a continuous volcanic eruption makes you nervous, you’re not alone. A National Academies of Science (NAS) report warned that the potential side-effects of this type of climate hacking are not well understood or quantified. Moreover, it would not solve the problem of ocean acidification – sometimes referred to as “global warming’s evil twin” – a major threat to marine ecosystems that only 20% of the British public has ever heard of.
    • If Americans make the wrong choice and elect a man who’s dangerously uninformed and believes climate scientists are just messing with us, Trump’s “energy plan” might put the world on a path to catastrophe in which we’re forced to resort to geoengineering, or at least begin dangerous field experiments.
  • Nuclear Plants, Despite Safety Concerns, Gain Support as Clean Energy Sources: But as the Paris agreement on climate change has put pressure on the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some state and federal officials have deemed nuclear energy part of the solution. They are now scrambling to save existing plants that can no longer compete economically in a market flooded with cheap natural gas.

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