Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

by Quirin Schiermeier

Efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and the impacts of global warming will fall significantly short without drastic changes in global land use, agriculture and human diets, leading researchers warn in a high-level report commissioned by the United Nations.

The special report on climate change and land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes plant-based diets as a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change ― and includes a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption.

On 8 August, the IPCC released a summary of the report, which is designed to inform upcoming climate negotiations amid the worsening global climate crisis. More than 100 experts, around half of whom hail from developing countries, worked to compile the report in recent months.

“We don’t want to tell people what to eat,” says Hans-Otto Pörtner, an ecologist who co-chairs the IPCC’s working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. “But it would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.”

Deforestation concerns
Researchers also note the relevance of the report to tropical rainforests, with concerns mounting about accelerating rates of deforestation. The Amazon rainforest is a huge carbon sink that acts to cool global temperature, but rates of deforestation are rising, in part because of the policies and actions of the government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Unless stopped, deforestation could turn much of the remaining Amazon forests into a degraded type of desert, and could release more than 50 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere in 30 to 50 years, says Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of São Paolo in Brazil. “That’s very worrying,” he says.

“Unfortunately, some countries don’t seem to understand the dire need of stopping deforestation in the tropics,” says Pörtner. “We cannot force any government to interfere. But we hope that our report will sufficiently influence public opinion to that effect.”

Paris goals
Although the burning of fossil fuels for energy and transport garners the most attention, activities relating to land management, including agriculture and forestry, produce almost one-quarter of heat-trapping gases resulting from human activities. The race to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels ― the goal of the international Paris climate agreement made in 2015 ― might be a lost cause unless land is used in a more sustainable and climate-friendly way, the latest IPCC report says.

The report highlights the need to preserve and restore forests, which soak up carbon from the air, and peatlands, which release carbon if dug up. Cattle raised on pastures created by clearing woodland are particularly emission-intensive. This practice often comes with large-scale deforestation, as seen in Brazil and Colombia. Cows also produce large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as they digest their food.

The report states with high confidence that balanced diets featuring plant-based and sustainably produced animal-sourced food “present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health”.

By 2050, dietary changes could free up several million square kilometres of land, and reduce global CO2 emissions by up to eight billion tonnes per year, relative to business as usual, the scientists estimate (see ‘What if people ate less meat?’).

“It’s really exciting that the IPCC is getting such a strong message across,” says Ruth Richardson in Toronto, Canada, the executive director at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, a strategic coalition of philanthropic foundations. “We need a radical transformation, not incremental shifts, towards a global land-use and food system that serves our climate needs.”

Careful management
The report cautions that land must remain productive to feed a growing world population. Warming enhances plant growth in some regions, but in others ― including northern Eurasia, parts of North America, Central Asia and tropical Africa ― increasing water stress seems to reduce vegetation. So the use of biofuel crops and the creation of new forests ― seen as measures with the potential to mitigate global warming ― must be carefully managed to avoid the risk of food shortages and biodiversity loss, the report says.

Farmers and communities around the world must also grapple with more intense rainfall, floods and droughts resulting from climate change, warns the IPCC. Land degradation and expanding deserts threaten to affect food security, increase poverty and drive migration.

About one-quarter of Earth’s ice-free land area seems to be suffering from human-induced soil degradation already ― and climate change is expected to make thing worse, particularly in low-lying coastal areas, river deltas, drylands and permafrost areas. Sea-level rise is also adding to coastal erosion in some regions, the report says.

Industrialized farming practices are responsible for much of the observed soil erosion, and for soil pollution, says André Laperrière, the executive director of Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition in Wallingford, UK, an initiative that aims to make relevant scientific information accessible worldwide.

The report might provide a much-needed, authoritative call to action, he says. “The biggest hurdle we face is to try and teach about half a billion farmers globally to re-work their agricultural model to be carbon sensitive.”

Nobre also hopes that the IPCC’s voice will give greater prominence to land-use issues in upcoming climate talks. “I think that the policy implications of the report will be positive in terms of pushing all tropical countries to aim at reducing deforestation rates,” he says.

Regular assessments
Since 1990, the IPCC has regularly assessed the scientific literature, producing comprehensive reports every six years or so, and special reports ― such as today’s ― on specific aspects of climate change, at irregular intervals.

A special report released last year concluded that global greenhouse-gas emissions, which hit an all-time high of more than 37 billion tonnes in 2018, must decline sharply in the very near future to limit global warming to within 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels ― and that this will require drastic action without further delay. The IPCC’s next special report, about the ocean and ice sheets in a changing climate, is due next month.

Governments from around the world will consider the IPCC’s latest findings at a UN climate summit next month in New York. The next round of climate talks of parties to the Paris agreement will then take place in December in Santiago.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said last week that it is “absolutely essential” to implement that landmark agreement ― and “to do so with an enhanced ambition”.

“We need to mainstream climate-change risks across all decisions,” he said. “That is why I am telling leaders don’t come to the summit with beautiful speeches.”

Nature 572, 291-292 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-02409-7

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02409-7?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=8838a84803-briefing-dy-20190819&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-8838a84803-44039353

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Frank Keutsch, Zhen Dai and David Keith (left to right) in Keutsch’s laboratory at Harvard University.

Zhen Dai holds up a small glass tube coated with a white powder: calcium carbonate, a ubiquitous compound used in everything from paper and cement to toothpaste and cake mixes. Plop a tablet of it into water, and the result is a fizzy antacid that calms the stomach. The question for Dai, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and her colleagues is whether this innocuous substance could also help humanity to relieve the ultimate case of indigestion: global warming caused by greenhouse-gas pollution.

The idea is simple: spray a bunch of particles into the stratosphere, and they will cool the planet by reflecting some of the Sun’s rays back into space. Scientists have already witnessed the principle in action. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it injected an estimated 20 million tonnes of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere — the atmospheric layer that stretches from about 10 to 50 kilometres above Earth’s surface. The eruption created a haze of sulfate particles that cooled the planet by around 0.5 °C. For about 18 months, Earth’s average temperature returned to what it was before the arrival of the steam engine.

The idea that humans might turn down Earth’s thermostat by similar, artificial means is several decades old. It fits into a broader class of planet-cooling schemes known as geoengineering that have long generated intense debate and, in some cases, fear.

Researchers have largely restricted their work on such tactics to computer models. Among the concerns is that dimming the Sun could backfire, or at least strongly disadvantage some areas of the world by, for example, robbing crops of sunlight and shifting rain patterns.

But as emissions continue to rise and climate projections remain dire, conversations about geoengineering research are starting to gain more traction among scientists, policymakers and some environmentalists. That’s because many researchers have come to the alarming conclusion that the only way to prevent the severe impacts of global warming will be either to suck massive amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere or to cool the planet artificially. Or, perhaps more likely, both.

If all goes as planned, the Harvard team will be the first in the world to move solar geoengineering out of the lab and into the stratosphere, with a project called the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx). The first phase — a US$3-million test involving two flights of a steerable balloon 20 kilometres above the southwest United States — could launch as early as the first half of 2019. Once in place, the experiment would release small plumes of calcium carbonate, each of around 100 grams, roughly equivalent to the amount found in an average bottle of off-the-shelf antacid. The balloon would then turn around to observe how the particles disperse.

The test itself is extremely modest. Dai, whose doctoral work over the past four years has involved building a tabletop device to simulate and measure chemical reactions in the stratosphere in advance of the experiment, does not stress about concerns over such research. “I’m studying a chemical substance,” she says. “It’s not like it’s a nuclear bomb.”

Nevertheless, the experiment will be the first to fly under the banner of solar geoengineering. And so it is under intense scrutiny, including from some environmental groups, who say such efforts are a dangerous distraction from addressing the only permanent solution to climate change: reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The scientific outcome of SCoPEx doesn’t really matter, says Jim Thomas, co-executive director of the ETC Group, an environmental advocacy organization in Val-David, near Montreal, Canada, that opposes geoengineering: “This is as much an experiment in changing social norms and crossing a line as it is a science experiment.”

Aware of this attention, the team is moving slowly and is working to set up clear oversight for the experiment, in the form of an external advisory committee to review the project. Some say that such a framework, which could pave the way for future experiments, is even more important than the results of this one test. “SCoPEx is the first out of the gate, and it is triggering an important conversation about what independent guidance, advice and oversight should look like,” says Peter Frumhoff, chief climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a member of an independent panel that has been charged with selecting the head of the advisory committee. “Getting it done right is far more important than getting it done quickly.”

Joining forces
In many ways, the stratosphere is an ideal place to try to make the atmosphere more reflective. Small particles injected there can spread around the globe and stay aloft for two years or more. If placed strategically and regularly in both hemispheres, they could create a relatively uniform blanket that would shield the entire planet (see ‘Global intervention’). The process does not have to be wildly expensive; in a report last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that a fleet of high-flying aircraft could deposit enough sulfur to offset roughly 1.5 °C of warming for around $1 billion to $10 billion per year1.

Most of the solar geoengineering research so far has focused on sulfur dioxide, the same substance released by Mount Pinatubo. But sulfur might not be the best candidate. In addition to cooling the planet, the aerosols generated in that eruption sped up the rate at which chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer, which shields the planet from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. Sulfate aerosols are also warmed by the Sun, enough to potentially affect the movement of moisture and even alter the jet stream. “There are all of these downstream effects that we don’t fully understand,” says Frank Keutsch, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard and SCoPEx’s principal investigator.

The SCoPEx team’s initial stratospheric experiments will focus on calcium carbonate, which is expected to absorb less heat than sulfates and to have less impact on ozone. But textbook answers — and even Dai’s tabletop device — can’t capture the full picture. “We actually don’t know what it would do, because it doesn’t exist in the stratosphere,” Keutsch says. “That sets up a red flag.”

SCoPEx aims to gather real-world data to sort this out. The experiment began as a partnership between atmospheric chemist James Anderson of Harvard and experimental physicist David Keith, who moved to the university in 2011. Keith has been investigating a variety of geoengineering options off and on for more than 25 years. In 2009, while at the University of Calgary in Canada, he founded the company Carbon Engineering, in Squamish, which is working to commercialize technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. After joining Harvard, Keith used research funding he had received from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, to begin planning the experiment.

Keutsch, who got involved later, is not a climate scientist and is at best a reluctant geoengineer. But he worries about where humanity is heading, and what that means for his children’s future. When he saw Keith talk about the SCoPEx idea at a conference after starting at Harvard in 2015, he says his initial reaction was that the idea was “totally insane”. Then he decided it was time to engage. “I asked myself, an atmospheric chemist, what can I do?” He joined forces with Keith and Anderson, and has since taken the lead on the experimental work.

An eye on the sky
Already, SCoPEx has moved farther along than earlier solar geoengineering efforts. The UK Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering experiment, which sought to spray water 1 kilometre into the atmosphere, was cancelled in 2012 in part because scientists had applied for patents on an apparatus that could ultimately affect every human on the planet. (Keith says there will be no patents on any technologies involved in the SCoPEx project.) And US researchers with the Marine Cloud Brightening Project, which aims to spray saltwater droplets into the lower atmosphere to increase the reflectivity of ocean clouds, have been trying to raise money for the project for nearly a decade.

Although SCoPEx could be the first solar geoengineering experiment to fly, Keith says other projects that have not branded themselves as such have already provided useful data. In 2011, for example, the Eastern Pacific Emitted Aerosol Cloud Experiment pumped smoke into the lower atmosphere to mimic pollution from ships, which can cause clouds to brighten by capturing more water vapour. The test was used to study the effect on marine clouds, but the results had a direct bearing on geoengineering science: the brighter clouds produced a cooling effect 50 times greater than the warming effect of the carbon emissions from the researchers’ ship2.

Keith says that the Harvard team has yet to encounter public protests or any direct opposition — aside from the occasional conspiracy theorist. The challenge facing researchers, he says, stems more from a fear among science-funding agencies that investing in geoengineering will lead to protests by environmentalists.

To help advance the field, Keith set a goal in 2016 of raising $20 million to support a formal research programme that would cover not just the experimental work, but also research into modelling, governance and ethics. He has raised around $12 million so far, mostly from philanthropic sources such as Gates; the pot provides funding to dozens of people, largely on a part-time basis.

Keith and Keutsch also want an external advisory committee to review SCoPEx before it flies. The committee, which is still to be selected, will report to the dean of engineering and the vice-provost for research at Harvard. “We see this as part of a process to build broader support for research on this topic,” Keith says.

Keutsch is looking forward to having the guidance of an external group, and hopes that it can provide clarity on how tests such as his should proceed. “This is a much more politically challenging experiment than I had anticipated,” he says. “I was a little naive.”

SCoPEx faces technical challenges, too. It must spray particles of the right size: the team calculates that those with a diameter of about 0.5 micrometres should disperse and reflect sunlight well. The balloon must also be able to reverse its course in the thin air so that it can pass through its own wake. Assuming the team is able to find the calcium carbonate plume — and there is no guarantee that they can — SCoPEx needs instruments that can analyse the particles and, it is hoped, carry samples back to Earth.

“It’s going to be a hard experiment, and it may not work,” says David Fahey, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado. In the hope that it will, Fahey’s team has provided SCoPEx with a lightweight instrument that can reliably measure the size and number of particles that are released. The balloon will also be equipped with a laser device that can monitor the plume from afar. Other equipment that could collect information on the level of moisture and ozone in the stratosphere could fly on the balloon as well.

Up to the stratosphere
Keutsch and Keith are still working out some of the technical details. Plans with one balloon company fell through, so they are now working with a second. And an independent team of engineers in California is working on options for the sprayer. To simplify things, the SCoPEx group plans to fly the balloon during the spring or autumn, when stratospheric winds shift direction and — for a brief period — calm down, which will make it easier to track the plume.

For all of these reasons, Keutsch characterizes the first flight as an engineering test, mainly intended to demonstrate that everything works as it should. The team is ready to spray calcium carbonate particles, but could instead use salt water to test the sprayer if the advisory committee objects.

Keith still thinks that sulfate aerosols might ultimately be the best choice for solar geoengineering, if only because there has been more research about their impact. He says that the possibility of sulfates enhancing ozone depletion should become less of a concern in the future, as efforts to restore the ozone layer through pollutant reductions continue. Nevertheless, his main hope is to establish an experimental programme in which scientists can explore different aspects of solar geoengineering.

There are a lot of outstanding questions. Some researchers have suggested that solar geoengineering could alter precipitation patterns and even lead to more droughts in some regions. Others warn that one of the possible benefits of solar geoengineering — maintaining crop yields by protecting them from heat stress — might not come to pass. In a study published in August, researchers found that yields of maize (corn), soya, rice and wheat3 fell after two volcanic eruptions, Mount Pinatubo in 1991 and El Chichón in Mexico in 1982, dimmed the skies. Such reductions could be enough to cancel out any potential gains in the future.

Keith says the science so far suggests that the benefits could well outweigh the potential negative consequences, particularly compared with a world in which warming goes unchecked. The commonly cited drawback is that shielding the Sun doesn’t affect emissions, so greenhouse-gas levels would continue to rise and the ocean would grow even more acidic. But he suggests that solar geoengineering could reduce the amount of carbon that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere, including by minimizing the loss of permafrost, promoting forest growth and reducing the need to cool buildings. In an as-yet-unpublished analysis of precipitation and temperature extremes using a high-resolution climate model, Keith and others found that nearly all regions of the world would benefit from a moderate solar geoengineering programme. “Despite all of the concerns, we can’t find any areas that would be definitely worse off,” he says. “If solar geoengineering is as good as what is shown in these models, it would be crazy not to take it seriously.”

There is still widespread uncertainty about the state of the science and the assumptions in the models — including the idea that humanity could come together to establish, maintain and then eventually dismantle a well-designed geoengineering programme while tackling the underlying problem of emissions. Still, prominent organizations, including the UK Royal Society and the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, have called for more research. In October, the academies launched a project that will attempt to provide a blueprint for such a programme.

Some organizations are already trying to promote discussions among policymakers and government officials at the international level. The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative is holding workshops across the global south, for instance. And Janos Pasztor, who handled climate issues under former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, has been talking to high-level government officials around the world in his role as head of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, a non-profit organization based in New York. “Governments need to engage in this discussion and to understand these issues,” Pasztor says. “They need to understand the risks — not just the risks of doing it, but also the risks of not understanding and not knowing.”

One concern is that governments might one day panic over the consequences of global warming and rush forward with a haphazard solar-geoengineering programme, a distinct possibility given that the costs are cheap enough that many countries, and perhaps even a few individuals, could probably afford to go it alone. These and other questions arose earlier this month in Quito, Ecuador, at the annual summit of the Montreal Protocol, which governs chemicals that damage the stratospheric ozone layer. Several countries called for a scientific assessment of the potential effects that solar geoengineering could have on the ozone layer, and on the stratosphere more broadly.

If the world gets serious about geoengineering, Fahey says that there are plenty of sophisticated experiments that researchers could do using satellites and high-flying aircraft. But for now, he says, SCoPEx will be valuable — if only because it pushes the conversation forward. “Not talking about geoengineering is the greatest mistake we can make right now.”

Nature 563, 613-615 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-07533-4

By Adam Vaughan

Pumping colossal amounts of ocean water onto the West Antarctic ice sheet could stop it collapsing and causing drastic sea level rise that would threaten cities including Tokyo and New York.

But the German and US researchers who have explored the idea admit the drastic intervention would require an “unprecedented effort for humankind in one of the harshest environments of the planet”. The fix would also be extremely expensive, incredibly hard to do and risk potentially devastating impacts for the region’s unique ecosystem.

Five years ago, studies suggested the West Antarctic ice sheet had already started an unstoppable collapse. While the process will take centuries, it would raise sea levels to a height that would have dire consequences for major coastal cities.

Bold ideas
The threat is so grave, it requires an exploration and discussion of bold ideas to stop the ice sheet’s collapse, says Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute in Germany. “I’m certain the impact is so big it justifies this sort of thinking. It doesn’t mean it justifies the measure,” he says.

Previous far-out ideas to stop the loss of the ice sheet have included building an island to stop the flow off the ice shelf. Levermann and colleagues instead modelled a more direct approach that would involve pumping ocean water onto the sheet, adding it either in liquid form or as snow. They found stabilising the collapse would require at least 7400 gigatonnes of the stuff over 10 years. “It’s a lot of ice. It’s huge,” says Levermann. He says while he is against global scale geoengineering proposals such as giant sunshades, the water pumping idea is different and more surgical.

Even if society agreed on such a scheme, it faces mind-boggling obstacles. Around 145GW of wind farm capacity would be needed for the pumping, 12 times that installed in Europe last year. Temperatures would be too low for existing turbines, so new materials would be needed. The infrastructure would also turn the region into an “industrial compound”, says Levermann. Costs would likely be hundreds of billions of dollars, he adds.

Not going to happen
“This publication gives an indication of quite how challenging it would be to attempt to halt ice sheet collapse through direct human intervention,” says Emily Shuckburgh at the University of Cambridge.

Clive Hamilton at Charles Sturt University in Australia says: “The conditions under which such a scheme could be implemented are beyond anything feasible. It’s not going to happen.”

The priority for limiting sea level rises remains cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Levermann emphasises. Shuckburgh says the paper underlines the best option of managing the risk from Antarctica is to rapidly reduce emissions.

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw4132

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2210043-a-drastic-plan-might-prevent-catastrophic-antarctic-ice-sheet-collapse/


A Soviet cow-fattening complex pictured in 1982.Credit: Nikolai Akimov/TASS

by Quirin Schiermeier

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to a huge drop in greenhouse-gas emissions because the resulting economic crisis meant many people stopped eating meat.

Meat from domestic livestock farming was a main food staple during communist rule in the region. In 1990, Soviet citizens each consumed an average 32 kilograms of beef a year — 27% more than Western Europeans and four times more than the global average at the time.

But meat demand and livestock production in the region fell drastically when the prices of everyday consumer products soared and the purchasing power of the rouble dwindled in the post-communist economic crisis. An estimated one-third of late-Soviet cropland has been abandoned since.

These changes in the food and agriculture system in the former Soviet nations resulted in a net reduction of 7.6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in carbon dioxide equivalent from 1992 to 2011, researchers find from an analysis of data on livestock consumption and international trade1 (see ‘Soviet shocks’). The drop is equivalent to one-quarter of CO2 emissions from Amazon deforestation over the same period. Russia currently emits about 2.5 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent) per year.

The figure considers emissions that result from domestic production of livestock and imported livestock, as well as carbon locked in soils and plants on abandoned Soviet cropland.

“There was a large drop in industrial production and emissions after the collapse of the Soviet Union, so it should be no surprise the same happened with food consumption and production,” says Glen Peters, a carbon-budget specialist at the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, who was not involved in the analysis. “The study highlights the potential for carbon uptake in the former Soviet Union but also the risks to that carbon being released if agricultural production returns.”

Today, animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions globally. Beef is the most emissions-intensive food because pastures are often created by clearing forests and savannahs.

Meat consumption — especially beef — and land-use changes in Russia and central Asia are a widely overlooked factor in calculations of greenhouse-gas emissions from land around the globe, says study author Florian Schierhorn at the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies in Halle, Germany.

Trends in international trade suggest that emissions associated with meat consumption are on the rise again: Russia has over the past decade become a top destination for beef exported mainly from South America.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-02024-6

References
1. Schierhorn, F. et al. Environ. Res. Lett. 14, 065009 (2019).

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02024-6?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=34225bcef1-briefing-dy-20190701&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-34225bcef1-44039353

by JACINTA BOWLER

Death Valley, the hottest and driest place in North America, isn’t exactly known for record rainfall or pop-up lakes stretching as far as the eye can see.

But after a massive storm lashed the desert with rain and brought chilly temperatures through Southern California, that’s exactly what happened, according to photographer Elliott McGucken.

He was trying to get to Badwater Basin, where he thought there could be flooding, when he saw the giant lake.

“It’s a surreal feeling seeing so much water in the world’s driest place,” McGucken told SF Gate. “There’s an irony even though I couldn’t get down to Badwater Basin. Overall, I think these shots are probably more unique.”

He posted photos of the 16-kilometre-long (10-mile-long) temporary lake, with the Panamint Range in the background, on Instagram.

You don’t actually need that much water for a lake to emerge in this incredibly arid place.

“Because water is not readily absorbed in the desert environment, even moderate rainfall can cause flooding in Death Valley,” weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce explained. “Flash flooding can happen even where it is not raining. Normally dry creeks or arroyos can become flooded due to rainfall upstream.”

Death Valley is located in Eastern California; during summertime, it can be one of the hottest places in the whole world.

Back in 1972, it clocked the highest natural ground surface temperature on Earth, with a blistering 93.9 degrees Celsius (201 degrees Fahrenheit). And for the last two years, it’s the place where we’ve marked the hottest month ever measured on the planet.

It is also the driest place in all of North America. On a regular year, Death Valley will only receive about two inches (60 mm) of rain.

But there are some pretty amazing sights to be enjoyed when the rains do show up.

According to weather.com, Death Valley’s rainfall on March 5th and 6th was 0.87 inches – nearly triple its whole March rainfall average.

“Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbour tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans,” the National Park Service explains.

“Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.”

https://www.sciencealert.com/death-valley-just-got-it-s-own-10-mile-long-lake

By Nina Avramova

An international team of scientists has developed a diet it says can improve health while ensuring sustainable food production to reduce further damage to the planet.

The “planetary health diet” is based on cutting red meat and sugar consumption in half and upping intake of fruits, vegetables and nuts.

And it can prevent up to 11.6 million premature deaths without harming the planet, says the report published Wednesday in the medical journal The Lancet.

The authors warn that a global change in diet and food production is needed as 3 billion people across the world are malnourished — which includes those who are under and overnourished — and food production is overstepping environmental targets, driving climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

The world’s population is set to reach 10 billion people by 2050; that growth, plus our current diet and food production habits, will “exacerbate risks to people and planet,” according to the authors.

“The stakes are very high,” Dr. Richard Horton, editor in chief at The Lancet, said of the report’s findings, noting that 1 billion people live in hunger and 2 billion people eat too much of the wrong foods.

Horton believes that “nutrition has still failed to get the kind of political attention that is given to diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria.”

“Using best available evidence” of controlled feeding studies, randomized trials and large cohort studies, the authors came up with a new recommendation, explained Dr. Walter Willett, lead author of the paper and a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan school of public health.

The report suggests five strategies to ensure people can change their diets and not harm the planet in doing so: incentivizing people to eat healthier, shifting global production toward varied crops, intensifying agriculture sustainably, stricter rules around the governing of oceans and lands, and reducing food waste.

The ‘planetary health diet’

To enable a healthy global population, the team of scientists created a global reference diet, that they call the “planetary health diet,” which is an ideal daily meal plan for people over the age of 2, that they believe will help reduce chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, as well as environmental degradation.

The diet breaks down the optimal daily intake of whole grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, dairy, protein, fats and sugars, representing a daily total calorie intake of 2500.

They recognize the difficulty of the task, which will need “substantial” dietary shifts on a global level, needing the consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by more than 50%. In turn, consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must increase more than two-fold, the report says.

The diet advises people consume 2,500 calories per day, which is slightly more than what people are eating today, said Willett. People should eat a “variety of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal-based foods, unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and few refined grains, highly processed foods and added sugars,” he said.

Regional differences are also important to note. For example, countries in North America eat almost 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, while countries in South Asia eat 1.5 times the required amount of starchy vegetables.

“Almost all of the regions in the world are exceeding quite substantially” the recommended levels of red meat, Willett said.

The health and environmental benefits of dietary changes like these are known, “but, until now, the challenge of attaining healthy diets from a sustainable food system has been hampered by a lack of science-based guidelines, said Howard Frumkin, Head of UK biomedical research charity The Wellcome Trust’s Our Planet Our Health program. The Wellcome Trust funded the research.

“It provides governments, producers and individuals with an evidence-based starting point to work together to transform our food systems and cultures,” he said.

If the new diet were adopted globally, 10.9 to 11.6 million premature deaths could be avoided every year — equating to 19% to 23.6% of adult deaths. A reduction in sodium and an increase in whole grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits contributed the most to the prevention of deaths, according to one of the report’s models.

Making it happen

Some scientists are skeptical of whether shifting the global population to this diet can be achieved.

The recommended diet “is quite a shock,” in terms of how feasible it is and how it should be implemented, said Alan Dangour, professor in food and nutrition for global health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. What “immediately makes implementation quite difficult” is the fact that cross-government departments need to work together, he said. Dangour was not involved in the report.

At the current level of food production, the reference diet is not achievable, said Modi Mwatsama, senior science lead (food systems, nutrition and health) at the Wellcome Trust. Some countries are not able to grow enough food because they could be, for example, lacking resilient crops, while in other countries, unhealthy foods are heavily promoted, she said.

Mwatsama added that unless there are structural changes, such as subsidies that move away from meat production, and environmental changes, such as limits on how much fertilizer can be used, “we won’t see people meeting this target.”

To enable populations to follow the reference diet, the report suggests five strategies, of which subsidies are one option. These fit under a recommendation to ensure good governance of land and ocean systems, for example by prohibiting land clearing and removing subsidies to world fisheries, as they lead to over-capacity of the global fishing fleet.

Second, the report further outlines strategies such as incentivizing farmers to shift food production away from large quantities of a few crops to diverse production of nutritious crops.

Healthy food must also be made more accessible, for example low-income groups should be helped with social protections to avoid continued poor nutrition, the authors suggest, and people encouraged to eat healthily through information campaigns.

A fourth strategy suggests that when agriculture is intensified it must take local conditions into account to ensure the best agricultural practices for a region, in turn producing the best crops.

Finally, the team suggests reducing food waste by improving harvest planning and market access in low and middle-income countries, while improving shopping habits of consumers in high-income countries.

Louise Manning, professor of agri-food and supply chain resilience at the Royal Agricultural University, said meeting the food waste reduction target is a “very difficult thing to achieve” because it would require government, communities and individual households to come together.

However, “it can be done,” said Manning, who was not involved in the report, noting the rollback in plastic usage in countries such as the UK.

The planet’s health

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement aimed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Meeting this goal is no longer only about de-carbonizing energy systems by reducing fossil fuels, it’s also about a food transition, said professor of environmental science at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, in Sweden, who co-led the study.

“This is urgent,” he said. Without global adaptation of the reference diet, the world “will not succeed with the Paris Climate Agreement.”

A sustainable food production system requires non-greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and nitrous oxide to be limited, but methane is produced during digestion of livestock while nitrous oxides are released from croplands and pastures. But the authors believe these emissions are unavoidable to provide healthy food for 10 billion people. They highlight that decarbonisation of the world’s energy system must progress faster than anticipated, to accommodate this.

Overall, ensuring a healthy population and planet requires combining all strategies, the report concludes — major dietary change, improved food production and technology changes, as well as reduced food waste.

“Designing and operationalising sustainable food systems that can deliver healthy diets for a growing and wealthier world population presents a formidable challenge. Nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution,” said Rockström, adding that “the solutions do exist.

“It is about behavioral change. It’s about technologies. It’s about policies. It’s about regulations. But we know how to do this.”

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/16/health/new-diet-to-save-lives-and-planet-health-study-intl/index.html

912flo

After passing legislation 6 years ago that prohibited North Carolina policymakers from considering climate change data in planning for rising sea levels along their coast, Hurricane Florence now threatens to cause a devastating storm surge that could put thousands of lives in danger and cost North Carolina billions of dollars worth of damage.

The hurricane, which is expected to make landfall on Friday, is shaping up to be one of the worst storms to hit the East Coast. Residents of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and mainland coasts have already been ordered to evacuate. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in both North and South Carolina, and a Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator said that the Category 4 hurricane will likely cause “massive damage to our country.”

And the rise in sea levels, experts say, is making the storm surge worse.

Sea level rise is a direct consequence of global warming; the warming of the ocean has resulted in thermal expansion and melted ice sheets and glaciers that are causing the oceans to rise. Since 1950, the sea level has risen 6.5 inches ― a number that sounds small but has actually had major consequences across the country.

“Sea level rising, simply put, makes every coastal flood deeper and more destructive,” said Ben Strauss, CEO of Climate Central, a climate change research organization that has published dozens of studies about rising sea levels and the risks of ignoring the problem. “Ignoring it is incredibly dangerous.”

“It only takes a few extra inches of water depth to be the difference between a ruined floor and no damage, or a ruined electrical system and just a ruined floor,” Strauss said. “Floods tend to be a great deal more destructive and costly than homeowners anticipate.”

Sea level rise can also affect the severity of hurricanes, said William Sweet, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “If you compared storm surge heights from the same storm at the same location over several decades, the surge would be higher ― assuming no change in flood defenses ― because of sea level rise,” Sweet said.

But in North Carolina, lawmakers chose to ignore the threats. A panel of scientists on the state Coastal Resources Commission issued a dire warning in March 2010, estimating that the sea levels along the state’s coast would rise 39 inches over the next century. Conservative lawmakers and business interest groups feared the report would hurt lucrative real estate development on the state’s coast and sought to undermine it. A lobbying group committed to economic development on the coast accused the panel of “pulling data out of their hip pocket.”

Conservative state Rep. Pat McElraft, whose top campaign contributors were the North Carolina Association of Realtors and the North Carolina Home Builders’ Association, drafted a bill in response that rejected the panel’s predictions.

McElraft introduced the bill in April 2011, and it passed the legislature in the summer of 2012.

Part of the bill stipulated that state and local agencies must also refer to historical linear predictions of sea level rise rather than current research, and another alarming section required that research look only at 30-year predictions rather than at a century, as the CRC report had done. Supporters of the bill saw short-term benefits in more affordable insurance, and continued opportunities for real estate development and tourism along the attractive coast. Critics saw the long-term consequences of damaged homes and businesses and vast swaths of the state being swallowed by floods.

Environmental scientists, coastal researchers and a number of lawmakers called the measure a blatant denial of crucial climate science and criticized then-Gov. Bev Perdue (D) for not acting on the bill and therefore allowing it to become law.

“By putting our heads in the sand, literally, we are not helping property owners,” said then-state Sen. Deborah K. Ross. “We are hurting them. We are not giving them information they might need to protect their property. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s dangerous.”

‘It’s a really bad setup’

In North Carolina, the state’s topography and the rising sea levels have made for even more dangerous storms and floods, Strauss said. Unlike coastal communities that have deep, cliff-like dropoffs, North Carolina’s coast is flat, wide and shallow, “like a kiddie pool,” Strauss said. “When you think about storm surge, some places have higher potential than others. The same storm would produce different surges depending on the topography,” said Strauss.

The state also has a wide, shallow continental shelf compared with places like Miami, which “means there is massive potential for a storm surge,” he said.

“Especially a storm like this, that’s moving straight forward,” he said. “It’s a really bad setup.”

At the same time, climate change has “supercharged” recent storms, as HuffPost’s Chris D’Angelo reported on Friday, putting Florence on track to do as much, if not more, damage than last year’s Hurricane Harvey, which devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana.

“It is fair to say that the very same factors are likely at play here, namely very warm ocean temperatures and an anomalous jet stream pattern favoring stalled weather systems,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/north-carolina-sea-level-rise-hurricane-florence_us_5b985a87e4b0162f4731da0e?ncid=APPLENEWS00001