Tag Archives: climate change

Individual actions can reduce up to 25% of global carbon emissions. Here’s how

Governments and companies have a key role to play in preventing the worst effects of climate change — but we can also pitch in. Individuals can make a big difference, claims a new study, by implementing a simple six-step plan. If everyone would follow this plan, it would account for a quarter of the emissions reduction needed to keep global warming down to 1.5ºC

Image credit: The campaigners.

Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comprised of the world’s leading climate scientists, said in a new report that the climate crisis is causing “dangerous and widespread” adverse impacts in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people. The situation is much worse than predicted in previous reports, and while we still have a chance to avoid the worst results, the window is closing quickly.

“This pioneering analysis ends once and for all the debate about whether citizens can have a role in protecting our earth. We don’t have time to wait for one group to act, we need all action from all actors now,” Tom Bailey, co-founder of the campaign, said in a statement. “The JUMP is a grassroot movement that comes together to make practical changes.”

The good news is there is still plenty we can do.

Climate change and individual action

The research was carried out by academics at Leeds University and analyzed by the C40 network of world cities and the global engineering company Arup. It was published alongside the launch of a new climate movement to persuade and support well-off people to make “The Jump” and sign to the six pledges to reduce their emissions.

The study looked at the impact of consumption on greenhouse gas emissions. It showed that in order to avoid ecological breakdown, a 2/3 reduction in the greenhouse gas impact of consumption in rich countries is required within 10 years. This shift can be achieved through changes across key sectors such as buildings, energy, food, transport, appliances, trade, and textiles.

Citizens have primary influence over 25-27% of the changes needed by 2030 by making key lifestyle changes. In other words, we can’t control most of the changes that need to be done — but we can control some of them.Not everyone is equally responsible. Higher-income groups must take faster and bigger action.

“This analysis shows the collective impact that individuals, and individual choices and action, can contribute to combating climate change,” Rachel Huxley, director of knowledge at C40 cities, said in a statement. “This is really important in showing that citizen action really does add up, and alongside government and private sector action, individuals can make a major contribution.”

The six actions

So, here are the six lifestyle changes everyone should take to address climate change:

  • Eat green: Combing reducing household food waste to zero and a shift to a mostly plant based diet, would deliver 12% of the total savings needed by North American and European countries.
  • Dress retro: By reducing the number new items of clothing to a target of three, maximum eight, delivering 6% of the total savings needed.
  • Holiday local: As close as is possible, reduce personal flights to one short-haul flight every three years, and one long-haul every eight years.
  • Travel fresh: For those who can, reducing vehicle ownership and if possible moving away from personal vehicle ownership, would deliver 2% of the total savings needed by 2030.
  • End clutter: By optimising the lifetime of both electronics and appliances, keeping them for at least seven years, would deliver the 3% of the total savings needed
  • Change the system: To influence the remaining 73% of emissions citizens could take action that encourages and supports industry and government to make the urgently needed, high impact changes to change the system. For instance, swapping to a green energy supplier, changing to a green pension, retrofitting our homes, or taking political action.

A new climate change report just came out. Here’s what it says

Despite some efforts to reduce its risks, the climate crisis is already causing “dangerous and widespread” adverse impacts in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people, according to a new landmark report on the climate crisis.

The situation is much worse than predicted in previous reports and if we want to avoid catastrophic damage, we need much more convincing action.

Image credit: IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comprised of the world’s leading climate scientists, published a new report that updates the global knowledge of man-made global warming. Specifically, it goes deep into the growing impacts of the climate crisis and future risks if global emissions don’t drop further.

The report comes after an earlier publication by the IPCC last year when scientists concluded that major “unprecedented” changes were being seen – many of which were likely “irreversible.” Now, this second part focuses on how the changes to the climate are affecting people’s lives – including floods, heatwaves, and melting glaciers.

“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC, said in a statement. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”

All in all, the report reads like a gloomy prophecy.

We’re already in trouble

With just 1.1ºC of global warming that we’re seeing now, climate change is already causing widespread disruption in every region of the planet, the IPCC said. Extreme heat, record floods, and crushing droughts threaten food security and livelihoods for millions of people. Since 2008, over 20 million people were forced to leave their homes due to floods and storms.

Half of the global population currently faces water insecurity at least one month per year, a phenomenon driven by the climate crisis. Wildfires are affecting much larger areas than ever before in many parts of the world, while higher temperatures are enabling the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and Lyme disease.

“The science is now conclusive – and governments have endorsed this – we are in the era of unavoidable climate disasters causing loss and damage. Every fraction of a degree of warming will cause compounding and cascading climate impacts,” Harjeet Singh, Senior Adviser at Climate Action Network International, said in a statement.

People living in cities face higher risks of heat stress, lack of water, food shortages, and other impacts caused by climate change, according to the report. The fastest increase in vulnerability happened in informal settlements. This is especially problematic in sub-Saharan Africa, where about 60% of the urban population lives in these vulnerable areas.  

Rural communities also face growing climate risks, especially indigenous people and those whose livelihoods depend on sectors exposed to the climate crisis. As climate change impacts worsen, many won’t have much choice but to move to urban centers. The IPCC projects that droughts across the Amazon basin will lead to rural migrations to cities.

Even if greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced today, greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere and current emission trends will have many big impacts unavoidable through 2040. In the next decade alone, climate change will drive between 32 million and 132 million more people into extreme poverty, according to the report.

“These reports are important as they can drive public policies of countries. But science is not being heard or respected. Governments only care about whether they are gaining power or money,” Gregorio Mirabal, head of COICA, an indigenous community umbrella organization, told ZME Science. “We are seeing the impacts of the climate crisis every day.”

Challenges on nature

The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts on nature are larger than previously expected, the IPCC said. Changes are happening faster and are more disruptive and widespread than what scientists expected. This adds to the other stressors faced by ecosystems, such as deforestation, pollution, and overfishing.

Climate change is currently destroying species and entire ecosystems. Animals such as the golden toad (Incilius periglenes) are going extinct due to the warming world, while others such as corals and seabirds are experiencing mass die-offs. Many species are also moving to higher latitudes and elevations to adapt to the higher temperatures.

Global warming of 2ºC by 2100 would mean an extinction risk for up to 18% of all species on land. If the world warms up to 4ºC, every second plant or animal species will be threatened. This is especially concerning for species living in high mountains or in polar regions, where the impacts of the climate crisis are unfolding much faster. But make no mistake: no place on Earth is spared.

Farmers, fishers, and other people who directly rely on nature’s services are experiencing severe effects. Even in a world with low greenhouse gas emissions (where global warming would reach 1.6ºC), 8% of today’s farmland will be climatically unsuitable by 2100. Under these conditions, fishermen in Africa could lose up to 41% of their yield.

“Drought and searing heat, ecosystem destruction, stronger storms and massive floods, species extinction – this is not a list of scenes in an apocalyptic film. Instead, it is the content of an authoritative scientific report detailing the climate impacts that are already wreaking havoc on our planet and its people,” Stephen Cornelius, WWF Global Lead for IPCC, said in a statement.

Future generations

Image credit: Flickr / Joe Brusky.

Today’s young people and future generations will witness stronger negative effects of climate change, the report goes on. Children aged ten or younger in 2020 will experience a nearly four-fold increase in extreme events under 1.5°C of global warming by 2100 and a five-fold increase under 3°C warming.

The percentage of the population exposed to deadly heat stress is projected to increase from today’s 30% to 48-76% by the end of the century, depending on future warming levels and location. Outdoor workers in some parts of Africa, South America, and sub-Saharan Africa will be subject to a growing number of workdays with climatically stressful conditions.

Climate change will also further impact water quality and availability for hygiene, food production, and ecosystems due to floods and droughts. The IPCC estimates that between 800 million to three billion people will experience chronic water scarcity due to droughts at 2°C warming – which would grow to four billion over a 4ºC global warming.

Children growing up in South America will face an increasing number of days with water scarcity and restricted water access, especially those living in cities and in rural areas depending on water from glaciers. As the Andean glaciers and snowcaps continue to melt, the amount of available water decreases as the glaciers shrink or disappear entirely.

The warmer it gets, the more difficult it will become to grow or produce, transport, distribute, buy, and store food – a trend that is projected to hit poor populations the hardest. Depending on future policies and climate and adaptation actions taken, the number of people suffering from hunger in 2050 will range from 8 million to up to 80 million people.

Multiple climate hazards will occur simultaneously more often in the future. They may reinforce each other and result in increased impacts and risks to nature and people that are more difficult to manage. For example, reductions in crop yields due to heat and drought, made worse by reduced productivity because of heat stress, will increase food prices and reduce incomes.

“This report presents a harrowing catalog of the immense suffering that climate change means for billions of people, now and for the decades to come. It’s the most hard-hitting compilation of climate science the world has ever seen. You can’t read it without feeling sick to your stomach,” Teresa Anderson, Climate Justice Lead at ActionAid International, said in a statement.

The importance of adaptation

National and local governments, as well as corporations and civil society, acknowledge the growing need for adaptation, the IPPC said, with already 170 countries and cities that have included adaptation as part of their policies and planning. Nevertheless, efforts are still largely incremental, reactive, and small scale, with most focusing on current impacts or near-term risks

There’s a big gap between the necessary adaptation levels and what’s actually being done. The IPCC estimates that $127 billion and $295 billion will be needed per year by developing countries by 2030 and by 2050 respectively. At the moment, adaptation accounts for just 4% to 8% of climate finance, which means there’s still a long way to go to improve.

The good news is that existing adaptation policies can reduce climate risks – if funded properly and implemented faster. The report analyzes several the feasibility, effectiveness, and potential of several adaptation measures. These include social programs that improve equity, ecosystem-based adaptation, and new technologies and infrastructure.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpK7eeYRhjQ&ab_channel=IntergovernmentalPanelonClimateChange%28IPCC%29

Climatic risks to people can also be lowered by strengthening nature, meaning that we invest in protecting nature and rebuilding ecosystems to benefit both people and biodiversity. Flood risk along rivers, for instance, can be reduced by restoring wetlands and other natural habitats in flood plains, by restoring natural courses of rivers, and by using trees to create shade.

“Different interests, values, and world views can be reconciled. By bringing together scientific and technological know-how as well as Indigenous and local knowledge, solutions will be more effective. Failure to achieve climate-resilient and sustainable development will result in a suboptimal future for people and nature, IPCC co-chair Debra Roberts said in a statement.

The bottom line

The next few years will be crucial in terms of reaching a sustainable future for all. Changing course will need an immediate, ambitious, and organized response to cut emissions, build resilience, and conserve ecosystems. Governments, civil society, and the private sector have to step up. As the IPCC report makes clear, we have a window of opportunity, but that window is quickly closing down.

Climate change is making spring come earlier and earlier in the Northern Hemisphere

The declining number of rainy days in the Northern Hemisphere is making spring arrive earlier and earlier for plants in this half of the globe, new research reports.

Image credits Vinzenz Lorenz.

We have known that warmer average temperatures, a product of climate change, have been causing plants to sprout leaves earlier every year. A new study comes to add details to this picture, reporting that changes in precipitation patterns are also impacting this process.

According to the findings, the decrease in the number of rainy days every year has the second-greatest effect on plants, having quickened the emergence of leaves over the last few decades.

Springing early

“Scientists have looked mainly at how temperature affects when leaves first appear and, if they considered precipitation at all, it was just the total amount,” said Desheng Liu, co-author of the study and professor of geography at The Ohio State University. “But it isn’t the total amount of precipitation that matters the most — it is how often it rains.”

For the study, the team calculated that the decline in the frequency of rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere will cause spring (as defined by plants producing fresh leaves) to arrive sooner. The findings are based on datasets from the United States, Europe, and China, taken in points north of 30 degrees latitude (the northern third of the world). This data included the date each year when observers first note the presence of leaves on wild plants. The team also used satellite images from 1982 to 2018, which recorded when vegetation started to green.

Onset of leafing was then compared to data reporting on the frequency of rainy days each month at the investigated sites.

Overall, the team explains, the (steady) decline in rainy days over the years was associated with earlier onset of leafing in most areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The only exception were grasslands in predominantly semi-arid regions, where a decrease in precipitation (fewer rainy days) slightly delayed spring.

The results were used to create a model that estimates how much sooner spring would arrive in different areas of the Northern Hemisphere through to 2100. Current estimates place this figure at 10 days earlier than the calendaristic onset of spring by 2100. The team calculates that it will arrive one to two days earlier, on average, every decade through to 2100.

As to the link between rainfall and leafing, the team offers two main reasons. The first is that fewer rainy days means fewer overcast days in late winter and early summer. Due to this, plants receive more sunlight during this time, which stimulates the emergence and growth of leaves.

Secondly, more sunlight also means higher average air and soil temperatures during the day. At night, without clouds to reflect heat back down, temperatures will drop more rapidly.

“This contrasting effect earlier in the year makes the plants think it is spring and start leaf onset earlier and earlier,” said study co-author Jian Wang, a doctoral student in geography at Ohio State.

“We need to plan for a future where spring arrives earlier than we expected. Our model gives us information to prepare”.

The paper “Decreasing rainfall frequency contributes to earlier leaf onset in northern ecosystems” has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Compound droughts risk destabilizing the global food supply if we keep burning fossil fuels

Climate change could severely impact our food and water security in the future by increasing the probability of droughts co-occurring in food-producing areas around the world, a new study says.

Image via Pixabay.

Research led by scientists at the Washington State University (WSU) warns that the future may hold less bountiful tables, and fewer meals, for us all. According to the findings, the probability of droughts co-occurring will increase by 40% by the mid 21st century, and by 60% by the end of the century, relative to the late 20th century (before the year 2000). All in all, this amounts to an almost-ninefold increase in the exposure of agricultural lands and human populations to severe, co-occurring droughts relative to today.

While modern technology and distribution systems insulate us from the effects of drought to a much larger extent than any time previously in history, co-occurring (or ‘compound’) droughts, if they affect key food-producing areas, can severely impact the global food and water availability. If such an event were to come to pass, millions of people would encounter some difficulty in accessing food in the same quantities and varieties as before.

Table troubles

“There could be around 120 million people across the globe simultaneously exposed to severe compound droughts each year by the end of the century,” said lead author Jitendra Singh, a former postdoctoral researcher at the WSU School of the Environment now at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. “Many of the regions our analysis shows will be most affected are already vulnerable and so the potential for droughts to become disasters is high.”

This increased risk of compound droughts is mainly the result of climate change, which itself is the product of greenhouse gas emissions associated with decades of reliance on fossil fuels. The other element factoring in is a projected 22% increase in the frequency of El Niño and La Niña events — the two opposite phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) — caused by warmer average temperatures.

Roughly 75% of compound droughts in the future will occur during these irregular but recurring periods of variation in the world’s oceans, the team explains. The shifting phases of the ENSO have historically played a part in some of the greatest periods of environmental upheaval globally, as they influence precipitation patterns across a huge stretch of the planet. Compound droughts occurring across Asia, Brazil, and Africa during 1876-1878 were generated by these shifts. They led to massive crop failures and famines which killed in excess of 50 million people.

“While technology and other circumstances today are a lot different than they were in the late 19th century, crop failures in multiple breadbasket regions still have the potential to affect global food availability,” said study coauthor Deepti Singh, an assistant professor in the WSU School of the Environment. “This could in turn increase volatility in global food prices, affecting food access and exacerbating food insecurity, particularly in regions that are already vulnerable to environmental shocks such as droughts.”

The team focused their analysis on the ten areas of the world that receive most of their rainfall between June and September, have monthly summer precipitation showing great variability, and fall under the influence of ENSO variations — factors that leave them exposed to co-occurring droughts. Several of these are important agricultural areas on a global level, they add, and they also include countries that are already experiencing food and water insecurity.

Of the investigated areas, North and South America were among the most likely to experience compound droughts in the future. Certain regions of Asia are also at risk, however, large stretches of agricultural land here are projected to become wetter instead of drier, heavily mitigating the risk of crop failure and subsequent famine.

Still, that leaves us in quite a dire situation. The United States today is a major exporter of grains, including maize, for multiple countries around the world. In the event of a severe drought, reduced production here would impact food security around the world, with increases in the price of grains and a significant decrease in food security — grains are staple foods and lack of such foods heavily impacts the most vulnerable groups throughout communities.

“The potential for a food security crisis increases even if these droughts aren’t affecting major food producing regions but rather many regions that are already vulnerable to food insecurity,” said coauthor Weston Anderson, an assistant research scientist at the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland.

“Simultaneous droughts in food insecure regions could in turn amplify stresses on international agencies responsible for disaster relief by requiring the provision of humanitarian aid to a greater number of people simultaneously.”

Still, for what it’s worth, these estimates are assuming that the world maintains a high rate of fossil fuel usage. If carbon emissions continue to fall, the risk and intensity of co-occurring droughts would be greatly mitigated, the team explains. Knowing that nearly 75% of compound droughts occur alongside ENSO events also gives us the chance to predict where such droughts may occur and prepare for them in advance.

“This means that co-occurring droughts during ENSO events will likely affect the same geographical regions they do today albeit with greater severity,” said Deepti Singh. “Being able to predict where these droughts will occur and their potential impacts can help society develop plans and efforts to minimize economic losses and reduce human suffering from such climate-driven disasters.”

The paper “Enhanced risk of concurrent regional droughts with increased ENSO variability and warming” has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

World’s glaciers hold less ice than previously thought

Scientists have measured the thickness and movement of over 250,000 mountain glaciers using a set of new techniques. The study revised previous estimates of glacial ice volume, finding that there’s 20% less ice available in the world’s glaciers.

Darker colors overlayed on Peru’s Cordillera Blanca range, signify faster glacial speed. Image credit: The researchers.

Almost two billion people rely on glaciers and snowpack as their main source of drinking water, according to previous estimates. But as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns shift because of climate change, these glaciers are thinning and retreating. When snowpacks shrink, so does the amount of water stored in these water towers.

This raises concerns for communities that rely on seasonal melt from glaciers to feed local rivers, from which they obtain water for drinking, power generation, and agriculture. If glaciers have less ice, as the study showed, water will run out in many parts of the world sooner than expected, bringing a set of problems for communities.

“These communities need to know how long their glaciers will continue to provide water and what to expect as the glaciers disappear so they can prepare.” Mathieu Morlighem, one of the authors of the study, wrote in a blog post. “In most places, we found significantly lower total ice volumes than previous estimates indicated.”

Researching glaciers

Using satellite imagery, the researchers created the world’s first atlas to measure the thickness and movement of glaciers. Glacier ice acts like thick syrup when it’s thick enough, Morlighem explained. This allows to measure how to face the ice is moving using satellite images and map its speed, ranging from a few feet to about one mile per year.

The researchers used over one million hours of computing time to analyze almost 812,000 pairs of high-resolution satellite photos. They covered 98% of the areas of the planet that were covered in glaciers from 2017 and 2018. That includes glaciers that haven’t been mapped before in areas of South America, Europe, and New Zealand. 

The study found more ice in some regions and less in others, with the overall result being that there’s less ice worldwide than previously thought. In the tropical Andes mountains of South America, ranging from Venezuela to Chile, there’s 23% less ice than previously estimated, which means those living downstream will have less time to adjust to climate change.

On the contrary, the Himalayan mountains in Asia were found to have one-third more ice than previous estimates. This gives communities that rely on those glaciers more time to cope with climate change but doesn’t change the fact that glaciers are melting because of temperature rise. Almost everywhere else the ice is thinner, the study showed.

“Policymakers should look at these new estimates to revise their plans. We do not provide new predictions of the future in this study, but we do provide a better description of what the glaciers and their water supplies look like today,” Morlihem wrote. “We have made a lot of progress in reducing the overall uncertainty.

The study was published in the journal Nature. 

Climate change is making Europeans vote for Green parties — in some places more than others

Experience of extreme climate events in Europe (especially warmer temperatures) makes people more concerned about the environment. This is making people more likely to take political action — most notably, voting for Green parties, a new study suggests. For the researchers, this could help better understand the drivers of public support for climate action in the region and elsewhere.

Image credit: Flickr / Ivan Radic.

In the past years, Europe has seen its warmest years on record, leading to an increase in climate-related risks. In the summer of 2021, for example, the number of wildfires doubled that of the annual average in the past decade, with several western European countries like Germany experiencing their most devastating floods in decades. 

The EU has committed to cut at least 55% of its greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels) by 2030. This requires big changes in production and consumption involving all sectors, and in order to achieve this transition, public support is crucial. While in 2002 just 5% of Europeans said the environment should be a priority, this proportion tripled in 2019, especially in Nordic countries. 

This was reflected in the last European Parliamentary elections in 2019 when there was a big rise in vote share of the Green parties. Between 2004 and 2019, the percentage of seats held by Green parties in the Parliament increased by 74% from 5.7% to 9.9%. In several European countries, environmental parties have become a significant force. Observing this trend, a group of European researchers wanted to further explore it, identifying its main drivers.

Roman Hoffmann, Jonas Peisker, Raya Muttarak, and colleagues investigated the effect of more frequent and intense experiences with climate extremes on environmental concerns. Basically, they analyzed to what extent changes in concerns translate into actual political support for Green parties. They used EU surveys and Parliament election data to test their theory. 

“With the issue of climate change becoming more concrete and salient, people’s willingness to engage in and to support climate action increases, including at the political level in the form of voting for pro-environmental parties. These changes can contribute to shifts in the political landscape at a larger scale,” the researchers wrote. 

The researchers found that exposure to temperature variations, heat waves and drought events can increase environmental concerns as well as the vote share of Green parties. For example, if every month in a year had an additional unusually warm day, green concerns and voting would increase by 0.8%, respectively, according to their findings.

However, there were major regional variations. Extreme weather had a stronger effect on environmental concerns and voting in regions with a temperate and colder climate compared to Mediterranean regions with a warm, arid climate. This could be because the Mediterranean climate is already hot and dry, hence temperature increase may have a reduced effect. 

The researchers also found that the effects of experiencing climate extremes on environmental concerns and voting are less pronounced in regions with lower income levels. In other words, when the economy is bad, people will not prioritize environmental issues over other problems, Hoffmann and Muttarak told ZME Science. 

“Obviously, exposure to climate change impacts is not the ideal way to promote public concern and action. Climate communication and education can help fill the experience gap. Studies have shown that carefully designed messages can reduce the psychological distance and promote mitigation behaviours,” the researchers wrote. “Beyond personal experiences, peer groups and (social) media play an important role”

Asked about trends in other parts of the world, not covered by the study, the researchers said that the US case might be different because of their long history of political divide. The political system is also an important difference, with the US being essentially a two-party country, while in Europe, there is generally a political pluralism with more parties involved.

Other parts of the world might have a similar trend to the EU in climate change concerns, but may not have any Green parties to focus their votes on.

The study was published in the journal Nature. 

World’s largest companies are greatly exaggerating their climate progress

It’s not only up to governments to tackle the climate crisis, companies also have their fair share of responsibility, especially the big ones — especially as many of them are directly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. The problem is many of these companies are failing to live up to their climate pledges. Researchers found that they will cut their greenhouse gas emissions by only 40% instead of the 100% cuts claimed.

Image credit: Wikipedia Commons.

The New Climate Institute, an independent European organization focused on climate change action, published a report that looks into the efforts of 25 high-profile organizations, from Amazon to Ikea, that have pledged to cut their emissions to net-zero. They found that, on average, the plans have little substance and coherence. 

Researchers were especially concerned for the short-term, as they found companies would only reduce their emissions by about 23% on average by 2030. While significant, this is not nearly enough — climate scientists have highlighted the need to cut emissions by at least 50% in the next decade so to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and big companies are not on the right path. 

“As pressure on companies to act on climate change rises, their ambitious-sounding headline claims all too often lack real substance, which can mislead both consumers and the regulators that are core to guiding their strategic direction. Even companies that are doing relatively well exaggerate their ambitions,” Thomas Day, lead author, said in a statement.

Climate pledges

The report scored companies on a set of criteria, including their targets, how much carbon offsetting they plan to use (paying for projects that reduce emissions to compensate for greenhouse gases emitted elsewhere), progress on their own emissions reduction, and the level of transparency in setting their targets and reporting on them.

To their surprise, none of the 25 companies reviewed achieved a high standard according to the criteria. Amazon, Ikea and Google showed a “low integrity,” while 11 had a “very low integrity,” including Nestlé, Accenture, Carrefour, Unilever and JBS. The best one ranked, with “reasonable integrity,” was the container shipping line and vessel operator Maersk. 

Carrefour, for example, committed to be carbon neutral by 2040 but the claim only covers less than 2% of its emissions and to less than 20% of their stores worldwide. Google has shown leadership in some aspects, but their statement of being carbon neutral since 2007 is a misrepresentation and actually excludes over half of its emissions, the researchers explained.

The companies analyzed account for 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which means that while they have a big share of responsibility they also have a big potential to lead in the efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Today they are failing to do so, the researchers said, asking government to step in and regulate corporate claims on climate action.

Replying to the criticism from the report, Nestlé said in a statement that the report “lacks understanding” of the companies’ climate approach and has “significant inaccuracies.” Meanwhile, Amazon reaffirmed its target to be net-zero carbon by 2040 and said to be on track to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025. However, companies failed to specifically address the concerns raised by the researchers.

The full report can be accessed here. 

Air conditioner use under climate change will overload the USA’s electric grids

The United States could run its electric grid into the ground using air conditioners if climate change continues at its current pace — and there’s no indication that it’s going to stop.

A study of household-level electricity demand from the American Geophysical Union warns that an increase in the use of air conditioners (AC) in the USA is likely to cause massive issues in the future. This increase in use will be driven by climate change. Higher peak temperatures in the summer and longer, more frequent heat waves will increase usage enough to overwhelm national electricity grids as they are now.

Unless the grids are modernized to become more effective or receive increased capacity, the USA stands to expect rolling blackouts.

Chilling prospects

“We tried to isolate just the impact of climate change,” said Renee Obringer, an environmental engineer at Penn State University and lead author of the new study. “If nothing changes, if we, as a society, refuse to adapt, if we don’t match the efficiency demands, what would that mean?”

The researchers projected how summertime energy usage will evolve in the future, under two scenarios: these assume global temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), or 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Based on these temperatures, they estimate that electricity demand in the USA would increase by 8% and 13% overall, respectively.

Based on our current emissions, we’re well on the way to exceed the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming scenario by the early 2030s, according to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2021 report. In fact, without significant effort, we’ll likely exceed the 2.0-degree Celsius threshold, as well, by the end of the century.

This study is the first to analyze the impact of higher temperatures on electricity demand and peak load for specific cities or states. It is also the first to project residential air conditioning demand at a wide scale. Environmental data used in the projections included air temperature and heat, humidity and discomfort indices, alongside air conditioning use figures, collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in 2005-2019 from statistically representative households across the contiguous United States.

That being said, the findings are not perfect; the study only took into account the influence of climate on air conditioning use. Additional factors such as population increases, changes in income, consumer behavior, or other factors that can affect air conditioning demand, were not taken into account.

It is possible, says the team, for technological improvements (such as better insulation or improved AC efficiency) to come along and make it possible to cover the increased demand for AC without extra energy drain. The team calculated that an increase in efficiency of 1% and 8% would be required for this. This figure varies with existing state standards and how much demand is expected to increase there; Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma would need the most increases.

Heat waves will pose an especially difficult time for our grids, and also present the highest risk of death for the public. Worse still, energy generation tends to fall below its peak during heat waves, further compounding the problem. In this scenario, it’s very likely that energy utility companies will be forced to stage rolling blackouts to avoid grid failure during heat waves.

The south and southwest regions of the country will see the greatest increases in energy demand. For the state of Arizona, for example, if all households increase AC use by 6% — which the team estimates will be needed to offset 1.5 degrees of extra warming — the whole state will see an increased monthly demand of 54.5 million kilowatt-hours.

The new study predicted the largest increases in kilowatt-hours of electricity demand in the already hot south and southwest. Under the 2.0-degree Celsius scenario, some cities in the area, such as Indiana and Ohio, could see triple their current energy demand over the summer months.

The paper “Implications of Increasing Household Air Conditioning Use Across the United States Under a Warming Climate” has been published in the journal Earth’s Future.

Climate change is after our coffee (and other key food crops too)

The world is warming up fast, and areas that are currently being used to grow important food crops such as coffee beans, cashews, and avocados will no longer be suitable in a few years. According to new research, we’d be wise to come up with urgent adaptation measures to cope with the impact climate change will have on food security. 

A coffee farm in Peru. Image credit: Flickr / Orientalizing.

A global warming of 1.2°C up to 3°C is expected by the end of the century, depending on how much real action we take to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Such changes in temperatures will affect the climate suitability of crop regions around the world, causing big shifts and forcing countries to rethink agricultural practices.

The food we eat depends on a variety of soil and climate conditions to grow, and any changes to these, from temperature to rainfall, can mean bad news for crops. Adapting to climate change is not straightforward. When temperatures rise and become unsuitable for a crop, it’s not like you can simply take that crop and move it somewhere colder, because this colder area may not have the same soil or humidity conditions. Many previous studies have explored how agriculture would be affected by climate change, and the findings anticipate trouble for many staplec crops, including maize, wheat, soy and corn. 

Now, a group of researchers led by environmental systems scientist Roman Grüter focused on three popular foods, coffee, cashers and avocados, and how will they change in the next 30 years. The researchers found a dynamic of winners and losers, with large areas that won’t be suitable for crops anymore and some that will benefit but overall, the effects will be negative.

“This study presents the first global evaluation of coffee arabica, cashew and avocado suitability combining both climate and soil factors”, the researchers wrote in the journal PLOS ONE. “High annual temperatures, low minimum temperatures, long dry seasons and low or high precipitation were the most relevant climate criteria.”

A changing climate

The researchers combined information about the climate conditions the crops prefer with maps of climate data and soil and land types. Then, they predicted where conditions would decline or improve based on climate models. The maps they produced are so precise that they can zoom in to one square kilometer in resolution.

Of the three crops studied, coffee was found to be the most affected by climate change. By 2050, in all realistic climate scenarios, the number of regions most suited to grow Arabica, the main coffee variety, will decrease by at least 50%. This is mainly due to a higher annual temperature in coffee-producing countries such as Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia.

Avocados had varied results. The region’s best suited areas for avocados (in countries such as Indonesia) would decline between 14% to 41% around the world but the regions moderately suited for growing the fruit increased by 12% to 20%. For cashew, land suitable for crops is expected to increase 17% thanks to warm winters in high and low latitudes. 

The researchers highlighted that while changes in rainfall patterns and the rise in temperature might make some areas more suitable for crops, this could also mean more forests converted to farmland. Avocado, for example, has already led to a spike in deforestation in Indonesia and Mexico in order to meet a growing demand of the fruit. 

The crops in the study represent an important source of income for farmers around the world, especially smallholders. Many could see their farms and livelihoods affected by climate change. That’s why policy makers and farmers should start working on how they are going to adapt to this new reality, which could get worse on the years to come. 

“Adaptation measures can include site-specific management options, plant breeding efforts for varieties that are better adapted to higher temperatures or drought and in the case of coffee, replacement of arabica with robusta coffee in certain regions. New production locations at higher altitudes and latitudes might create new market opportunities,” the researchers wrote.

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE. 

Pristine coral reef found in Tahiti is as yet unaffected by bleaching

UNESCO scuba divers have discovered a new coral reef in the depths of Tahiti’s coastline.

Image credits UNESCO / Alexis Rosenfeld / 1 Ocean.

Most of the news regarding coral reefs we’ve heard recently revolves around bleachings — deadly events that take place when waters get too hot for corals to survive. Amid this backdrop, we get a rare piece of good news: divers from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report discovering a new, massive reef off the coast of Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, South Pacific.

The reef is composed of rose-shaped corals, untouched by humans so far, and in surprisingly good health given the global plight of coral reefs.

New reefs

The reef, which remains unnamed so far, measures around 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) in length and between 98 to 213 feet (30 to 65 meters) across. It formed at a depth of between 100 and 180 feet (31 to 55 meters), unusually deep for a coral reef in the tropics; they are usually found in shallow water, less than 82 feet (25 meters) from the surface.

Researchers believe that this depth helped insulate the reef from the brunt of climate-change-induced effects.

An encrusting plate coral species, Pachyseris speciosa, is the main dweller of the reef. It forms rose-like groupings that can reach up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) wide. The reef was discovered by seafloor explorers of the Ocean 1 project in November 2021.

“It was magical to witness giant, beautiful rose corals which stretch for as far as the eye can see,” Alexis Rosenfeld, an underwater photographer and founder of the Ocean project, which is jointly run by UNESCO, said in a statement. “It was like a work of art.”

The new reef lies close to the upper limit of the mesophotic zone. Corals in this zone receive less sunlight than those in shallower reefs and, to make up for this lack of light, corals like P. speciosa grow wide and flat to maximize their surface area and enable them to capture more light.

Reefs at this depth have historically been very hard to study, as unprotected divers cannot operate here for long due to a variety of reasons. At the same time, this zone is too shallow for the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), according to NOAA. Novel developments, however, such as the use of air-helium mixes to prevent hallucinations and decompression sickness, mean that divers were able to explore these regions for longer periods of time. Better underwater camera equipment also allows them to capture more data faster than ever before, the statement adds, making the mesophotic zone fully explorable for the first time in history.

With the help of such advancements, the team carried out around 200 total diving hours on the reef, allowing them to map it out in great detail and even observe the spawning of corals.

This discovery is particularly exciting as coral reefs are one of the most at-risk ecosystems on the planet. Climate change, chemical and plastic pollution, sediment run-off, overfishing, explosive fishing (using dynamite), and tourism are all affecting them. In total, 237 species of coral are listed as threatened with extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List to date.

Climate change is the main driver of extinction among coral reefs, as it raises sea-surface temperatures and increases the acidity levels of the oceans. This combination of factors causes coral bleaching, a process through which heat-stressed corals expel their symbiotic, photosynthetic algae, the same organisms that supply them with energy. This process, often repeated at short intervals due to warmer climates, is very usually fatal for coral colonies. Roughly 75% of the world’s reefs experienced some degree of bleaching between 2014 and 2017.

The newly-found reef seems unaffected by climate change so far.

“The discovery of this reef in such a pristine condition is good news and can inspire future conservation,” Laetitia Hedouin, a coral expert at the French National Center for Scientific Research, who was involved with the project, said in the statement. “We think that deeper reefs may be better protected from global warming”.

The findings could suggest that mesophotic reefs may have a vital role to play as backups for shallow-water reefs, which are struggling to survive due to bleaching events. They can also provide new homes for species that rely on those reefs, such as fish and crustaceans, when shallow-water reefs are destroyed.

Ethiopian ‘false bananas’ could be the new supercrop we’ve been waiting for against climate change

Bananas versus enset. Credit: RBG KEW.

Enset is a very close relative of the banana that’s grown and consumed in some parts of Ethiopia. Outside the Horn of Africa, especially in the West, virtually no one has heard of this crop, which locals have been using for centuries to make porridge and bread. Pay attention though: enset could become a new staple across the world. Scientists claim that enset is highly resilient to climate change and could help feed more than 100 million people, boosting food security in regions where conventional crops are threatened by rising temperatures and extreme weather.

The tree against hunger

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of heating, averaged over the next 20 years. As temperatures increase, crop yields for the world’s most essential crops, which provide over 66% of the calories people across the globe consume, are expected to decrease. Maize yields, for instance, could plummet by 24% as early as 2030 under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario.

Climate change disproportionately affects sub-Saharan African countries because their economies are highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture. It is therefore likely that the agriculture sector, which provides essential food for human consumption and feed for livestock, will undergo an important transformation in order to withstand the impacts of climate change and protect the livelihoods of farmers. Such transformation may involve introducing new crops that are currently not being rotated — and this is where enset may come in.

A farm in the southern Ethiopian highlands. Credit: Richard Buggs, RBG Kew.

Enset (Ensete ventricosum) is a perennial crop that fruits only once in its 10-year-long life cycle. It is known as the Ethiopian banana, Abyssinian banana, or false banana due to its morphological resemblance with the banana. The crop, which was domesticated some 8,000 years ago, is widely cultivated in the south and southwestern parts of Ethiopia, representing a traditional staple for about 20 million people. A multipurpose crop, enset is also utilized to feed animals, make clothes and mats from its fibers, and build dwellings.

However, unlike sweet bananas, which are widely farmed for their fruits, people in Ethiopia disregard the enset fruit and use its starchy stems and roots instead, from which they make porridge and bread.

There are a number of reasons why enset may boost food security. It grows over a relatively wide range of conditions, is somewhat drought-tolerant, and can be harvested at any time of the year, over several years. It provides an important dietary starch source, as well as fibers, medicines, animal fodder, roofing, and packaging. The crop also stabilizes soils and microclimates. These attractive qualities have earned it the nickname the ‘tree against hunger’.

Although enset is a hugely underrated food crop, not much research regarding its potential to feed a wider population has been conducted until recently. Dr. James Borrell, of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has run agricultural surveys and modeling work to investigate what the potential range of enset could look like over the next four decades, and the findings are very encouraging.

The researchers found that the crop could feed at least 100 million people in the coming decades, boosting food security not just in Ethiopia but other vulnerable African countries, such as Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the authors believe enset could supplement our diets and offset expected yield losses of rice, wheat, and maize due to climate change.

“We need to diversify the plants we use globally as a species because all our eggs are in a very small basket at the moment,” said Dr. Borrell.

Corals in the Mediterranean are becoming ‘functionally extinct’ due to climate change

Climate change is affecting corals everywhere — including in the Mediterranean, according to a new study.

Paramuricea clavata. Image via Wikimedia.

Coral populations in the Mediterranean are experiencing immense damage due to climate-change-induced heatwaves. Two emblematic species, the red gorgonian (Paramuricea clavata) and the red coral (Corallium rubrum), have lost 80 to 90% of their total biomass since 2003, according to new research.

The findings are very concerning. Coral populations are a linchpin of the marine ecosystems they belong to, providing food and shelter for a multitude of other species. The incredible decline seen in this paper is likely indicative of the broader coral communities in the Mediterranean. If so, wildlife in the sea could be in a much more dire situation than anyone believed.

A sea of troubles

“We observed an average biomass loss regarding the initial biomass of 80% in populations of red gorgonian, and up to a 93% regarding the studied population of red coral,” notes Daniel Gómez, a researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences of Barcelona (ICM-CSIC) and lead author of the study.

“These data are worrying for the conservation of these emblematic species, and it indicates that the effects of the climate crisis are speeding up with obvious consequences for the submarine landscapes, where the loss of coral equals the loss of trees in forests,” notes Joaquim Garrabou, also member of ICM-CSIC.

The authors explain that populations of the two studied coral species could be unable to recover under current conditions. Their plight comes down to rising temperatures, but especially to significant heatwaves that have impacted the region repeatedly, with the first one occurring in 2003.

Water temperatures are reaching levels that are completely unbearable for these corals and maintaining those temperatures for days, even weeks at a time, the authors explain. While corals all over the world are affected, this is the first study to quantify the effects of climate change and heatwaves on Mediterranean corals in particular. Here, as in other areas, climate change is causing mass mortality in the sea’s coastal ecosystems.

Both species are emblematic of the Mediterranean, underpinning the area’s complex ecosystems. They also have a large role to play in shaping the sea’s distinctive landscapes and look.

Researchers currently have information on the short-term response of corals to marine heatwaves. That being said, corals are long-lived creatures with very slow population dynamics — they are slow to grow and slow to spawn new generations) — so accurately understanding their response to climate change required decades of study. And that’s what the team did.

They used data from a long-term project by the MedRecover research group, which monitored different populations of coral in the protected marine area of Scandola (in Corsega, France) which saw mass mortality after the 2003 heatwave. Of particular interest were population density, size structure, and total biomass, which were used as proxies to estimate the overall health of these coral communities. Data was collected for fifteen years following the heatwave (up to 2018).

The data showed that all populations monitored in the study hadn’t recovered following the heatwave. In fact, they tended to collapse. Today, they are functionally extinct, the team explains.

“We believe one of the main reasons why we observed these collapse trajectories is the potential recurrent exposure to heatwaves [in 2009, 2016, 2017, 2018], incompatible with the slow populational dynamics of these species,” says Cristina Linares, professor at the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the Faculty of Biology and member of IRBio, co-author of the paper.

“During these heatwaves, the temperature conditions in the studied area reached extreme levels which are incompatible with the life of these corals, which probably caused new mortality events to the decimated populations and made the recovery impossible.”

These populations are at serious risk of actual extinction, especially since the number and intensity of marine heatwaves is set to increase in the future as the climate crisis deepens. However, the team adds that there are likely some areas in the Mediterranean where the impacts of climate change may be lower due to local factors. These should act as ‘climate refuges’ to help preserve the corals, they conclude.

The team “Population collapse of habitat-forming species in the Mediterranean: a long-term study of gorgonian populations affected by recurrent marine heatwaves” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Making diets more sustainable could be easier than we think

Replacing one serving of beef per day with a climate-friendly alternative would cut a diet’s carbon footprint by up to 48%, according to a new study. Researchers used real-world data to calculate the difference of swapping one high-impact food item for a more sustainable option, estimating emissions and water consumption of each. They found that this simple swap could make an important difference in our struggles against climate change. 

Image credit: Flickr / Sue Thomson.

Food systems are a big driver of the climate crisis, accounting for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, about 70% of the global freshwater consumption goes to agricultural production. Consumer demand is largely behind this trend, with big differences in emissions and water consumption between food types.

Previous studies showed that changing current diets could reduce emissions by up to 50%. Still, dietary change is difficult. Diets are complex and habits are hard to break, and people don’t like being told what they should or shouldn’t eat. But there are ways to convince people to shift towards more sustainable options. One strategy is taking simple steps that are easy to understand and implement — like for instance changing just one component of the diet instead of doing an altogether new diet.

With this in mind, researchers from Tulane University and the University of Michigan decided to study dietary shifts to improve sustainability with a simple strategy. The goal was to identify the foods with the biggest negative environmental impact, find substitutes that are culinary and calorically equivalent, and assess the differences if individuals change just one item of their diet. 

“We studied the potential impact of a simple substitution, one that does not reduce meat consumption, per se, but rather just beef consumption. Granted, there will be many consumers who would still resist such a dietary shift. But by keeping it simple, this approach will be easy for individuals who are motivated to change their diet,” the researchers wrote. 

Diets and the environment

Using data from a survey of what more than 16,000 US citizens eat in an average day, the researchers found that around 20% have at least one serving of beef in a day – the item with the highest environmental impact. If they swapped one serving of beef, for example for turkey, emissions would drop by 48% and water-use impact by 30%.

“People can make a significant difference in their carbon footprint with very simple changes—and the easiest one would be to substitute poultry for beef,” lead author Diego Rose. said in a statement. “The changes needed to address our climate problems are major. They are needed across all sectors and along all levels of human organization.”

Rose and the researchers also looked at how such change would alter the environmental impact of all food consumption in the US in a day. If just 20% of Americans who eat beef switched to something else just for one meal, this would cut the carbon footprint of all diets by 9.6% and reduce water-use impacts by 5.9%. Worldwide, around a third of our emissions are related to agriculture.

While replacing beef had the largest impact, the researchers also measured what would mean to change other food items. Swapping a serving of shrimp for cod would cut emissions by 24%, and replacing dairy milk for soy milk would bring down emissions by 8%. But not all the culprits are meat — the biggest reduction was for changing asparagus for peas, resulting in a 48% decrease. 

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 

One-third of Americans are “alarmed” about climate change, and over half are at least “concerned”

Americans are more concerned about global warming than ever, according to the latest results from the long-running Climate Change in the American Mind survey on public opinion.

Image credits Andrea Spallanzani.

Researchers at Yale University and George Mason University (GMU) report that, as part of the results from a twice-a-year US-wide survey, around 59% of people in the country are either “alarmed” or “concerned” regarding climate change. They also responded to feeling more engaged with and supportive of policies meant to reduce pollution and the warming of the climate.

A full one-third (33%) of Americans were “alarmed” by the issue, adds a news release from GMU.

Heating up

With the effects of climate change ramping up throughout the world, the public is increasingly concerned about how our way of life is impacting the health of the planet and our own wellbeing. The recent increase in freak weather, heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires are prime examples of how shifts in the climate can wreak havoc on our communities.

Public opinion is increasingly aware of these changes, and there is a general shift in interest against damaging practices and a growing demand for solutions. The recent results of this survey, and a comparison between them and results in past years perfectly illustrates this shift.

Climate change is fueled by emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Other man-made sources of such gases include methane, nitrous oxide, and even water vapor. Various industrial, commercial, and domestic practices generate these emissions. Apart from that, human activity further promotes climate change through the destruction of natural ecosystems — which work to keep the current balance through the recycling of various gases, — replacement of natural landscapes, overconsumption, and various types of pollution.

As things are going now, these problems remain poorly addressed. Climate change, then, is very likely going to persist in the near to mid-future, and its effects will become evermore dire as mean temperatures increase.

Truth be told, uncoupling our way of life from fossil fuels completely is a massive challenge from a practical point of view. These substances keep our societies running, in a very literal sense, on nearly every level. Although there have been incredible advancements in the field of renewable energy and a lot of progress in implementing them, it would still take a lot of work to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy completely — and quite substantial upfront costs.

That being said, it’s becoming ever clearer that we don’t really have a way around it. Public opinion seems to be swinging around to that view as well, judging from these findings. And, although completing such a transition is a huge task, policymakers and governments have been doing painfully little to get it started. The end of the pandemic has also brought about a re-increase in emissions, as our economies grind back into gear, showcasing how little progress has actually been made up to now.

China, the US, and the EU, as the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, have the most work to do. We can hope that, with public opinion breathing down their necks, the US government will start to make more meaningful strides in this regard. The EU has been making some laudable efforts, although they, too, have a ways to go. China, due to its political regime, is a wildcard as to how it will progress in regard to climate change; authoritarian regimes tend not to deal very well with global issues.

The United States’ largest (to date) step towards fighting climate change is the $555 billion “Build Back Better” bill, which aims to invest in renewable energy and clean transportation. At the time of writing this, it is still awaiting approval by Congress.

This “shockingly big jump” in public concern for climate change mirrors the increase in the proportion of Americans who believe climate change and freak weather are linked, says Anthony Leiserowitz, who directs the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. This program has been conducting the survey for the last 14 years. The realization that weather can and does harm people, and the fact that Americans are starting to feel its effects on themselves, are likely driving this increase in awareness. 

“You’re beginning to see the coalescing of a powerful citizens’ movement demanding that leaders act, both business leaders and government leaders,” he says.

The heat is on: 2021 was another scorching year

Earth had its six hottest year on record in 2021, continuing an alarming trend fueled by the climate crisis, according to several temperature measurements. Two US science agencies, NOAA and NASA, published their calculations for last year’s global temperature, which didn’t exceed the record heat seen in 2016 and 2020, but was still oine of the hottest years in recorded history.

Image credit: NOAA.

For NASA, 2021 tied with 2018 for sixth warmest, while NOAA put last year in sixth place by itself (based in small differences in how global average temperature is calculated). Researchers believe without a doubt that this is a direct consequence of climate change, and they believe that La Niña, a periodic climate event that naturally cools part of the central Pacific, took some pressure out of last year’s temperatures — otherwise it would have been even hotter.

There were record temperatures in several parts of the world last year, including swaths of South America, south Asia and northern Africa. The Arctic Sea ice kept declining and the oceans registered another record year for heat content. If it weren’t for the heat storage capacity of the oceans, the atmosphere would have warmed faster, scientists agree.

“Eight of the top 10 warmest years on our planet occurred in the last decade, an indisputable fact that underscores the need for bold action to safeguard the future of our country – and all of humanity,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “Science leaves no room for doubt. Climate change is the existential threat of our time.”

It’s hot weather all over

Global temperatures are recorded throughout the year through weather stations, ships, and ocean buoys. These measurements are then validated with satellite data. Scientists analyze the measurements using algorithms to deal with uncertainties in the data and quality control and calculate the difference for every year on global average surface temperature. 

While 2021 didn’t exceed the record heat seen in 2020 – hotter than 2016 by just a fraction – scientists emphasized that this is yet another demonstration of the long-term global warming that’s being caused by human activity, such as burning fossil fuels. The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is at levels not seen in the past four million years. Despite the many factors being involved in global climate, the influence of human activity is no longer deniable.

Image credit: NOAA.

“It doesn’t matter how you do the analysis, it shows you the Earth has warmed quite dramatically,” NOAA climate analysis chief Russell Vose said in a press conference. “Each of the past four decades has been warmer than the one preceding it. “It’s certainly warmer now than at any time in the past 2,000 years, and probably longer.”

Last year had a number of extraordinary signals of the climate crisis. July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded, with Death Valley in California reporting what was likely the hottest temperature ever measured during this month – 54.4ºC. Over 1.8 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population, live in countries that experienced the hottest year on record. 

The average global temperature, which has already raised 1ºC above pre-industrial levels, and will likely exceed 1.5ºC by the 2030s or the 2040s, NASA and NOAA agreed. This means that the target agreed by countries in the 2015 Paris Agreement will not be reached. But this doesn’t mean The more the temperature rises, the more we will be affected to extreme weather events. 

For Kristina Dahl, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, the new data is terrifying as “it’s no longer surprising or shocking”. In a statement, she called policymakers to “take decisive action” and implement policies that tackle greenhouse gas emissions. “Failure to act together with the global community will all but ensure more devastating impacts,” she added. 

At least 97% of experts agree that climate change is real and caused by humans. But only 3% of the 3% of climate change deniers are actually qualified in climate science

Credit: Pixabay.

Analyses of over 12,000 studies studying the effect of global warming suggest that 97% of the authors endorse the consensus that climate change is real and a result of human activity. But the remaining 3% of studies, whose methodologies and author affiliations are dubious, to say the least, have been greatly amplified by conservative think tanks and other groups with an interest in distorting an otherwise crystal clear scientific picture and polarizing society.

Studies that run counter to the established consensus of anthropogenic global warming serve as ammunition for conservative leaders with an agenda to subvert climate mitigation policies. To the uninformed public, a study being published in a scientific journal must mean that the arguments of the ‘other side’ are worth hearing or can weigh just as much as the consensus. Of course, not all studies are equal. Some are better than others, while some are downright awful and pseudoscientific.

And while appealing to authority is a logical fallacy, one can’t help but point out the findings of a new study published this week by researchers at the Georgia Gwinnett College, USA. Laura Young and Erin Fitz analyzed climate change contrarians from multi-signatory documents and discovered that out of the 3% of scientists who don’t agree on anthropogenic global warming, the overwhelming majority aren’t qualified to assess it.

“As politicians use contrarian arguments as a reason to justify inaction against climate change, it is important not only to understand who these contrarians are, but also to establish what links, if any, they have to organizations and industries that work tirelessly to prevent climate mitigation efforts. Exploring these connections may help explain why these individuals continue to argue against the climate science consensus,” the authors wrote.

Only 3% of the 3% of climate change deniers are actually qualified in climate science or at least some related field. The remaining 97% do not meet expert criteria and are also involved with organizations and industries affiliated with the climate change countermovement. To qualify as a climate expert, the signatory must have “a minimum of 20 climate-related, peer-reviewed publications as the base to establish expertise”.  What’s more, most contrarians are aged 65 or older, an age group that is more prone to entrenching world views.

The names of the individuals whose expertise was analyzed in the present study were drawn from the Bali Open Letter, Manhattan Declaration, Paris Climate Challenge, Lindzen Petition, and Climate Scientists’ Register. These documents serve as an official challenge to the global climate discussion and often target specific global policy initiatives. 

“Almost none of the individuals who signed the documents have a degree directly related to climate science. In fact, less than 1 percent of the individuals in the sample have a degree deemed relevant to climate science, with relevance defined as individuals having a degree in climatology or a similar field. A total of 77 percent of contrarians, however, have a scientific degree that could provide some knowledge related to climatology, for example, physics, geography, or engineering. Just under 23 percent of contrarians have a degree with no direct relation to science, for example, statistics, economics, international relations, and those related to the humanities,” the researchers reported in their study published in the British Journal of Political Science.

Since the 2013 study was released which first reported the “97% expert consensus figure” over anthropogenic climate change, expert consensus may have now climbed to 99%. But despite the near-unanimous consensus, climate change deniers are often given as much exposure in the media, if not more, than legitimate climate scientists.

It is thus important that we place more emphasis “on distinguishing between the consensus among 97 percent of scientists and the rhetoric spread by the 3 percent of contrarians,” the American researchers wrote.

The recently published Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report claims “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”, and warns that the Paris Agreement goals of 1.5℃ and 2℃ above pre-industrial levels will be exceeded during this century without dramatic emissions reductions.

Biden wants to investigate the link between tornadoes and climate change

The deadly outbreak of tornadoes that tore through parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Illinois, killed dozens and left wreckage over hundreds of miles has raised the need to better understand the connection between the climate crisis and tornadoes – which is not robust enough so far, climate experts agree.

Image credit: Flickr / Niccolo Ubalducci.

US President Joe Biden has asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to look at the role of global warming could have had in the recent tornadoes. “The specific impact on these specific storms, I can’t say at this point. But the fact is that we know everything is more intense when the climate is warming,” Biden said in a speech. 

At least 80 people were killed, with over 70 of them in Kentucky, after the series of tornadoes that affected several states last weekend, leaving scenes of devastation. So far, 38 tornadoes were reported, with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear describing them as the most destructive in history. “The reports are heartbreaking,” he told reporters.

It all started last Friday when a storm system arrived in the central part of the country after forming west, ushering in cold and dense air to the region. This interacted with a record-breaking warmth and created unstable atmospheric conditions. The interaction of cold and warm air masses can lead to dangerous storms like tornadoes, as seen now in the US.

Spring is typically when most tornadoes occur in the US, but that doesn’t mean that can’t happen at other times throughout the year. Tornadoes can happen at any time of the day, even at night, as seen now in the Southeast. In fact, nighttime tornadoes are quite common there, with a peak in activity first in spring and then in early winter. 

Tornadoes are classified on the intensity of damage by using the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale. Of the tornadoes so far reported, at least four were EF-3 and at least five EF-2. These are considered strong, with wind speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. Tornado ratings take several days to be qualified so more severe storms could be soon reported. 

Over 50,000 people in Kentucky were left without power, with the governor declaring a state of emergency. The area worst hit was the city of Mayfield, where the roof of a candle factory collapsed and caused mass casualties. In Illinois, at least two people died after the roof at an Amazon warehouse near St Louis collapsed on Friday night. 

Tornadoes and climate change

Unlike other extreme events such as droughts and floods, research about the link between tornadoes and climate change hasn’t been as robust yet. But scientists say this is also a matter of having inconsistent and unreliable historical records of tornadoes, as well as the short-lived nature of these extreme weather events. Still, for Victor Gensini, a leading tornado expert, there might be a link between the two.

“When you start putting a lot of these events together, and you start looking at them in the aggregate sense, the statistics are pretty clear that not only has there sort of been a change — a shift, if you will — of where the greatest tornado frequency is happening,” Gensini told CNN. “But these events are becoming perhaps stronger, more frequent and also more variable.”

A study from 2018 by Gensini and Harold Brooks found that the frequency of tornadoes increased in large parts of the Southeast and the Midwest over the past four decades and decreased in the central and southern Great Plains region, known as the tornado alley. Climate change could be contributing to a shift in where tornadoes occur.  

Urbanization + Climate Emergency = Massive Problems. Let’s talk solutions

Urbanization is the tendency for sizable numbers of people to move out of rural areas and congregate in cities. This phenomenon happens in large part because cities tend to offer people more amenities and economic advantages than rural areas do.

Urbanization, overall, brings many benefits – but it does also pose some problems that need solving. For starters, the climate crisis disproportionately affects urban areas, and the urban heat island effect can raise urban temperatures by several degrees. So what can we do?

Image credits: Umet Ale.

It isn’t exactly news that rapid urbanization increases climate risk for billions of people; back in 2017, researchers at the United Nations (UN) warned us that this would be a problem. As it turns out, they were correct — since that prediction was originally published, we’ve witnessed extreme impacts such as severely flooded cities and cities that are literally sinking under their own weight.

A growing mountain of scientific evidence is showing that immediate action is needed to resolve the problems posed by the dangerous combination of urbanization and climate emergency.

Recent research suggests that low-carbon cities have the potential to mitigate environmental threats. The researchers have proposed four solutions for achieving these low-carbon cities:

1. Minimize the Footprint of Each City

 The researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences utilized data from nineteen counties in Taiwan. They employed partial least squares (PLS) modeling methods as a means for identifying the most important factors that affected carbon emissions in the counties of interest. 

To build their model, the researchers used data describing the size and density of each city, the currently existing land mix, the amount of urban sprawl, the level of industrial usage in each city, and the balance between housing and employment. They concluded that there were multiple factors that needed to be minimized in order for cities to enjoy a corresponding reduction in carbon emissions:

  • City size
  • Urban sprawl
  • Industrial usage
  • Transportation

2. Maximize Green Urban Spaces, Land Mix and Urban Density

 The model also suggested several factors that should be maximized:

  • Green urban spaces
  • Land mix
  • City density 

These findings corroborate previous research. We already learned that trees can help to cool down cities — and that every tree in an urban environment counts. So here we have further confirmation of the importance of green coverage in urban areas.

3. Focus on Urban Transportation Systems

 The researchers suggested “transit-oriented development” as a possible solution for reducing carbon emissions.

Image credits: Fraser Cottrell.

What, exactly, is transit-oriented development? The US Department of Transportation (DOT) website gives us an overview: It’s a situation where a transit system connects a community of people to nearby amenities including entertainment venues, commercial spaces, office buildings and residences. The closer together these accommodations are, the greater the potential is for the reduction of carbon emissions. The ideal is “walkable” cities where people can walk to work, stores, and many of the services they need.

Experts at the DOT point out that transit-oriented development is most likely to happen when governments make policies that encourage it. Tools they can utilize for this purpose include land use planning and zoning laws.

4. Engage in Conscious Urban Planning

Image credits: Srecko Skrobic.

None of the above-mentioned solutions will happen unless leaders step up to actively take charge of managing the urbanization process. The researchers summarize their findings by reporting that “appropriate urban policies and planning, such as compact cities, green cities, or transit-oriented development, might lower carbon emissions and thus further serve as useful strategies for building low-carbon cities.”

As things currently are, much of the world’s urbanization is happening haphazardly. It is true that some cities are employing urban and regional planners in hopes of making responsible use of their region’s resources; however, urban planning isn’t a universal priority across the globe. We need to reevaluate our priorities with the goal of actively managing our urban growth rather than allowing it to happen carelessly.

Other experts have weighed in on the issues independent of this research to express opinions that corroborate the findings presented in the summary. In an article posted at Urban.com.au, Professors Gabriela Quintana Vigiola and Heather MacDonald of the University of Technology Sydney’s Master of Urban Planning program point out that urban and regional planners are one critical key to solving the double-whammy problems of “climate change and limited resources” that disproportionately affect urban areas.

Professor Boyd Cohen of the EADA Business School in Barcelona, Spain also concurs. According to Cohen, urban planning appears to be the single most important means available to us for reducing fossil fuel pollution and consumption. He also points out that technology and clean energy for transportation have important roles to play in solving the problems caused by climate change and urbanization.

While the proposed solutions are likely to be viable ones, it will take a collaborative effort between governments and the public to actually implement them.

The paper “Crucial factors of the built environment for mitigating carbon emissions” will be published in the February 2022 edition of the journal Science of the Total Environment.

No kids, no problem — Many young adults think it’s ‘morally wrong’ to have children

Overconsumption, overpopulation, and an uncertain future are the top concerns of those who argue that the climate crisis is affecting their reproductive future. Researchers from Arizona University found growing environmental concerns among young adults, which could have major repercussions in the future. 

Image credit: Flickr / Victoria Pickering.

Almost 38% of US citizens aged 18 to 29 believe that couples should consider climate change when deciding to have children, while 33% aged 20 to 45 cited climate as a reason to have fewer children. If this becomes a widespread belief, we’ll need to start figuring out what this means on an environmental, societal, and psychological level. 

Understanding the motivation

There have been previous studies analyzing people’s tendency of going childfree, but the concerns and motivations of individuals of people doing so in response to climate change haven’t been properly investigated. Though a multi-method study, a group of researchers wanted to address this and understand its possible repercussions. 

“For many people, the question of whether to have children or not is one of the biggest they will face in their lives,” Sabrina Helm, the study lead author, said in a statement. “If you are worried about what the future will look like because of climate change, obviously it will impact how you view this very important decision in your life.”

Each new child that is born into this world means consumption of resources such as water, food, and energy, while simultaneously causing further pollution to land, water, and air. In fact, a study calculated that having one fewer child would lead to 58.6 tons of CO2 emission reductions — and it’s pretty much the most eco-friendly thing you can do. But these ideas aren’t really regarded as mainstream in society.

Alongside a team of researchers, Helm first used content analysis to examine reader comments on online press articles, hoping to familiarize with the broad range of opinions surrounding pro-childfree climate change debates. They selected articles after a Google search using terms such as “no kids/children” and “birth strike.”

Much of the discussion in the comments was of readers debating what they perceived to be drivers of climate change. Of these, overpopulation (or the belief that there are too many people on the planet) was the most prevailing concern. Others noted overconsumption in developed countries and high birth rates in developing ones. 

The researchers then carried out a set of 24 semi-structured interviews with young adults (18 to 35 years old) in New Zealand and the US, hoping to get a better understanding of what they read on the online comments. Data was collected between October and December 2019, with 12 interviews carried out in each country.

All participants mentioned that they believe not having kids was the biggest positive choice one can make for the environment. While some were less certain and said they could change their mind in the future and end up having kids, others were more adamant about their decision. An uncertain future, overconsumption, and overpopulation were the most cited reasons.

Almost all participants were worried about how having children contributes to resource overuse with regard to current and future consumption levels in society. They felt responsible and uneasy about the emissions that would be emitted by their potential kids, expressing concerns about future shortages of natural resources. 

On a personal level, many participants felt misunderstood by their relatives and friends. They indicated their family members expressed a strong desire for them to have children, believing that they would change their minds as they aged. A few participants were also worried whether their partners would agree with their decision. 

For the researchers, the findings point at immediate implications for society. Further decreases in the birth rate in high-income countries would affect the social system and economy, for example with a labor market shortage. There could also be impact on health public policy, as young people are feeling an emotional strain in response to the climate crisis. 

“Many people now are severely affected in terms of mental health with regard to climate change concerns,” Helm said. “Then you add this very important decision about having kids, which very few take lightly, and this is an important topic from a public health perspective. It all ties into this bigger topic of how climate change affects people.”

The article was published in the journal Population and Environment. 

This 1985 video of Carl Sagan warning Congress about climate is just as sobering now

In 1985, when Carl Sagan went to Congress, global warming seemed like a distant problem. Granted, the likes of Exxon, Shell, and other fossil fuel companies were well aware that their actions were causing climate change, and they did their best to hide this fact from the public — but to most regular folks, climate change wasn’t a concern at the time.

Sagan, known for his work both as a scientist and as a science communicator, went to Congress to “underscore that this is a real phenomenon.” In his trademark simple and elegant style, he presented the causes of climate change, how we know it is happening, and what we can do about it.

“The power of human beings to affect and control and change the environment is growing as our technology grows and at present time, we clearly have reached the stage where we are capable (both intentionally and inadvertently) to make significant changes in the global climate and in the global ecosystem. We’ve probably been doing things like that, on a smaller scale, for a very long period of time,” Sagan said.

Unfortunately, more than 30 years ago, Sagan also seemed to predict the main reason why mankind would be so slow to act on climate change.

“Because the effects occupy more than a human generation, there is a tendency to say that they are not our problem — of course, then they are nobody’s problem.” Then, like now, many people wrongly believed climate change is something for future generations to act on.

But, as Sagan points out, “if you don’t worry about it now, it’s too late later on. [..]We are passing down extremely grave problems for our children, when the time to solve the problems is now.”

Unfortunately, despite technological progress, our society seems to have one foot stuck in the same mentality that Sagan spoke of in 1985. Because climate change acts on such a long timescale and because humans (and especially politicians) think in much shorter timescales, climate change remains insufficiently addressed.

Sagan’s speech is worth listening to now just as much as it was then. Since 1985, we’ve gathered even more irrefutable evidence that climate change is happening, we are causing it, and we will suffer if we don’t address it quickly. We can’t say we’ve not been warned. Whether or not we will act in time to avoid catastrophic, planetary damage is still unclear.