Thursday, November 24, 2016

Planet Ocean and the origins of life

Rich or poor ... The pollution in New Delhi is deadly to all

A woman sits on a park bench amid heavy dust and smog in Delhi, India.

NEW DELHI — In the dense smog that engulfed India’s capital early this month, a baby named Vaishnavi gasped through the night.

Inside the concrete room that her father and mother rent for $20 a month, they took turns staying up, laying a hand on her rib cage, feeling it move up and down. Her coughing fits became so violent that she vomited, milk mixed with ropes of sputum. Three times they thought she would not survive until morning.
Twenty miles away, inside an elegant, high-ceilinged house in an elite neighborhood, a 4-year-old boy named Mehtab was also struggling to fill his lungs with air.
His mother, heavily pregnant, sat beside him, administering corticosteroids through a nebulizer mask once an hour. But once an hour wasn’t enough. Mehtab’s father fought waves of panic as they waited for the sun to rise. The boy looked, to him, like a fish suffocating in the air..

For seven days at the beginning of this month, a thick cloud settled over this metropolis of 20 million people. Held in place by a weather system known as an anticyclone, the pollution was pulled inward and down, trapping the people of this city in concentrations of hazardous micro-particles never before recorded here.

The rich, who are buffered from so many of Delhi’s dangers, bunkered themselves inside, filtering out particles in their own air through expensive, high-tech purifiers. But the nature of air pollution is that it is pervasive. Researchers in China have found that exposure rates for the rich and the poor are virtually indistinguishable.
As average daytime levels of PM 2.5, the most dangerous particles, passed 700 micrograms per cubic meter, 28 times the concentration the World Health Organization considers safe, the authorities in Delhi took the unprecedented step of shutting schools for three days. Protesters marched in surgical masks, carrying posters likening the city to a gas chamber.

Eventually, the wind picked up, bringing the city’s pollution level down to its usual, atrocious winter level. But the air quality in north India will remain dangerous for months, as poor people fight the dropping temperature by burning things — leaves, plastic, anything — to stay warm.

There is a clear body of evidence that death rates, emergency room visits, heart attacks and strokes all rise when particulate concentrations are high. Recent data from the W.H.O.’s Global Burden of Disease project indicates that the number of premature deaths related to air pollution in India has caught up with the number in China, and is now surpassing it.
The worst-hit will be the very old, who are susceptible to heart disease and stroke, and the very young, whose lungs are so taxed by polluted air that they cannot develop normally. Children are more vulnerable because they are smaller, with shallower breaths and higher heart rates; they breathe more air.
In the very different homes of Vaishnavi and Mehtab, four parents are waiting to see what the rest of this winter will do to their children.
Vaishnavi’s father, Ravi, who, like many in India, does not use a last name, remembers that October day because he woke up and smelled something burning. The rubber casing of an electrical wire is burning, that was his first thought. He splashed his eyes with water to stop the stinging.

People stand in a park amid heavy dust and smog in Delhi, India.

On the ride into central Delhi, where he sells trinkets on a street corner, he passed columns of smoke: grey-blue wisps from piles of trash, and black pillars from fields where farmers were burning the straw left over from their rice harvests.
Scientists had been tracking the progress of a mass of smoke via NASA satellite images, as it rose off farmers’ fields in the nearby states of Punjab and Haryana and floated across the plains toward the city, a two-day drift. In Delhi, it merged with emissions from cars, coal-fired power plants, open-air burning of trash, and dust from construction.
This year, the crop-burning emissions happened to arrive on the eve of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, when smoke from millions of celebratory fireworks typically send concentrations of the harmful PM 2.5 particles skyrocketing. Ravi has worked on the same corner since he was a child, and his mother worked there before him. He had never seen a smog so thick that it obscured the Shangri-La Hotel. He knew something was not right: He felt dizzy, as if he had been sniffing glue.
 Madhurbain Singh Anand, the father of 4-year-old Mehtab, peered into the garden behind their house as the cloud of pollution settled on the city; the garden wall, maybe 20 feet away, was no longer visible. When someone opened a door, a haze filled the room.
The worst season here in Delhi has just begun. It will continue for three months, growing worse when the city’s vast homeless population begins setting nighttime fires for warmth, and when dropping temperatures push the emissions toward the ground.
The emergency protective measures introduced during the week after Diwali, including a moratorium on construction and the shuttering of the 43-year-old Badarpur coal-fired power plant, have been quietly reversed.
Though the country plans to impose new standards on coal plants next year, they will only apply to newly built plants, said Mr. Krishna, of the Public Health Foundation.
“You stop being angry and start being cynical at some point,” he said. “Year after year, there are action plans issued with no follow-up. And every year, this kind of thing happens.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wildlife cannot adapt fast enough to survive climate change

Tropical species are thought to be particularly vulnerable
Tropical species are particularly vulnerable

Many species will not be able to adapt fast enough to survive climate change, say scientists.
A study of more than 250 plants and animals suggests their ability to adapt to changes in rainfall and temperature will be vastly outpaced by future climate change.
Amphibians, reptiles and plants are particularly vulnerable, according to US researchers.
And tropical species are at higher risk than those in temperate zones.
Some animals might be able to move geographically to cope with rising temperatures, but others live in isolated areas where they cannot move, such as in nature reserves or on mountains or islands.
Ecologists analyzed how quickly species had changed their climatic niches (the conditions where they can survive) over time, and how these rates compared with that of global warming.
They analyzed 266 populations of plants and animals, including insects, amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles.
Rates of change in climatic niches by species were much slower than rates of projected climate change, by more than 200,000 times (on average), they said.
"Overall, our results show that rates of climatic niche change among populations of plants and animals are dramatically slower than projected rates of future climate change," said Tereza Jezkova and John Wiens, of the University of Arizona.

Double jeopardy

Mammals and birds might be better placed to survive than amphibians and reptiles, because they had the ability to regulate their own body temperatures, said Dr Wiens.
And, while some species might be able to move to higher latitudes or elevations to survive, "for a lot of organisms, that is not an option".
"It's a double jeopardy of climate change and habitat destruction".
It takes generations upon generations for  living species to evolve and adapt to new circumstances and environments. Most species of wildlife, including many mammals,
no longer have the time to evolve before being  driven to extinction.

According to the UN Environment Program, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. This is nearly 1,000 times the “natural” or “background” rate and, say many biologists, is greater than anything the world has experienced since the vanishing of the dinosaurs nearly 65m years ago.
Pass the word along my friends. Encourage people to look these facts up themselves.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mystery of 1952 ‘Great Smog’ which killed 12,000 Londoners has been solved*

In December 1952, the ‘Great Smog’ descended on London – a thick, polluted fog which made it difficult to see, and breathe.
Up to 100,000 people became ill after the ‘Great Smog’ – and some estimates put the death toll at 12,000 people.
The event prompted the 1956 Clean Air Act – but until now no one had fully understood why the fog poisoned so many..
Now researchers looking into China’s current air pollution issues may have worked it out – and Londoners may have been breathing in sulphuric acid created by burning coal.

Experiments in Xi’an and Beijing showed that sulphate can form due to interactions caused by nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide – building up tiny droplets of sulphuric acid which can be inhaled.
Lead author Renyi Zhang from Texas A&M University says, ‘People have known that sulphate was a big contributor to the fog, and sulfuric acid particles were formed from sulphur dioxide released by coal-burning for residential use and power plants, and other means.
‘Our results showed that this process was facilitated by nitrogen dioxide, another co-product of coal burning, and occurred initially on natural fog. Another key aspect in the conversion of sulphur dioxide to sulphate is that it produces acidic particles, which subsequently inhibits this process.
‘Natural fog contained larger particles of several tens of micrometres in size, and the acid formed was sufficiently diluted. Evaporation of those fog particles then left smaller acidic haze particles that covered the city.’
Constant inhalation of this chemical cocktail of  Sulphuric acid is corrosive and can cause severe irritation or corrosive damage. Severe lung damage, such as chemical pneumonia, fibrosis, bronchiectasis, congestion and inflammation, has been reported following inhalation of sulphuric acid mists. It can also cause life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).
The  cure for  all this is to stop burning coal as Britain did.

The presidents of the world's two most polluting nations  (China and the US) agreed: something should be done about climate change. An agreement was announced November 12/2011 between the U.S. and China. Although neither country has plans to stop burning coal or oil in the near future, both countries now have commitments to reduce the greenhouse gases that result. We hope.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pulling out of the Paris Agreement and America's Clean Power Plan ...and promoting coal burning .... Thanks Trump

“THE Trump Administration is firmly committed to conserving our wonderful natural resources and beautiful natural habitats,” claims a new website which sets out the policy priorities of Donald Trump, America’s president-elect. Greens are not convinced. Mr Trump promised on the campaign trail to rip up the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. He wants to kill America’s Clean Power Plan, which would regulate emissions from power plants. And he would promote coal-burning once more. Can America’s next president keep his campaign promises?
The Paris Agreement came into effect on November 4th, less than a year after more than 190 countries adopted it in December 2015. Barack Obama committed America to the plan using his executive authority, which gives Mr Trump the power to abandon it without seeking congressional approval. The process to withdraw, as mandated by international law, would take at least four years. But the way the agreement is structured means that while each country is obliged to curb warming, they maintain authority over how to do so. Mr Trump could therefore wilfully ignore America’s obligations to cut emissions—although it is more than halfway to meeting its own target of cutting emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 it is widely expected to miss the mark.

Alternatively, he could withdraw America from the framework UN convention under which the Paris Agreement appeared. This would only take a year. But America joined the convention more than two decades ago, under George H.W. Bush. Pulling out would be an astounding change and set a poor example for other countries. Even if Mr Trump struggles to free America from its Paris committments, further progress on cutting emissions as required by the deal will become very difficult. Whomever Mr Trump nominates to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court's bench, it is likely the new justice will vote to scrap the Clean Power Plan, which is already on hold pending legal action.
Mr Trump’s love of coal, however, may be tempered by market forces. A glut of fossil fuels means that production of the black stuff in America has declined by almost a quarter since the highs of 2008. The cost of solar and wind power, and of the storage needed to smooth out their variations, is dropping. It will continue to do so. Moreover, despite wanting to end “the war on coal” Mr Trump also needs to care for America’s air and water quality. The bulk of the population supports such protection. Nor will America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) be rendered instantly toothless by a Trump administration. Acts passed decades ago to protect air and water are enforced by the agency. While its new staff will contain those who deny global warming, its mandate will remain the same. Under previous presidents with little regard for the climate, the EPA was sued more frequently by green groups for doing too little to protect the environment. That could happen again. Yet lawsuits of any kind pose a huge problem given the pace of global warming: 2016 is, so far, the hottest year ever recorded. Yet the greatest crisis from climate change will emerge only long after President Trump has left office.
We need to find a way to make him bend to the will of the people and to scientific proof. He needs to tour the artic to watch drowning and starving bears and follow that up with a tour of central Africa, where there has been a drought for 20+ years and little or no food. He has never gone hungry in his life. I don't think the word starvation is in his vocabulary. He seems to have his own agenda and doesn't care about much else.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Arctic could become ice-free for first time in more than 100,000 years, claims leading scientist

 I’m convinced it will be less than 3.4 million square kilometres [the current record low].

“I think there’s a reasonable chance it could get down to a million this year and if it doesn’t do it this year, it will do it next year.
“Ice free means the central part of the Arctic and the North Pole is ice free.”

Most of the remaining ice within the Arctic Circle would be trapped among the myriad of islands along Canada’s north coast.
Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University predicts we could see ‘an area of less than one million square kilometres for September of this year’

The Arctic is on track to be free of sea ice this year or next for the first time in more than 100,000 years, a leading scientist has claimed.

Provisional satellite data produced by the US National Snow & Ice Data Centre shows there were just over 11.1 million square kilometres of sea ice on 1 June this year, compared to the average for the last 30 years of nearly 12.7 million square kilometres.

This difference – more than 1.5 million square kilometres – is about the same size as about six United Kingdoms.

Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, told The Independent that the latest figures largely bore out a controversial prediction he made four years ago.

“My prediction remains that the Arctic ice may well disappear, that is, have an area of less than one million square kilometres for September of this year,” he said.

“Even if the ice doesn’t completely disappear, it is very likely that this will be a record low year
The last time the Arctic was clear of ice is believed to be about 100,000 to 120,000 years ago.

The rapid warming of the polar region has been linked with extreme weather events such as “bomb cyclones”, flooding in the UK and out-of-season tornadoes in the United States.

And the sea ice off the north coast of Russia, which normally insulates the water below to keep it cool, is no longer present for much of the year, allowing the sea to get significantly warmer than before.
Scientists have monitored greenhouse gas methane – once frozen on the sea bed – bubbling up to the surface at an alarming rate.

According to one study published in the journal Nature by Professor Wadhams and others, this could produce an average rise in global temperature of 0.6 degrees Celsius in just five years.

“That would be a very, very serious upward jerk to global warming,” Professor Wadhams said, saying the prospect was “frightening”.

Less sea ice also means the surface of the Earth is darker, so it absorbs more of the sun’s energy.

Arctic warming: Rapidly increasing temperatures are 'possibly catastrophic' for planet, climate scientist warns
“When the sea ice retreats, it changes the whole situation. People are right to be concerned about the sea ice retreat and disappearance mainly because of all these other feedbacks,” Professor Wadhams added.

Sea ice is usually at its lowest in September and starts to build again when the winter sets in.

Dr Peter Gleick, a leading climatologist, said he had “no idea” if Professor Wadhams’ prediction was correct.

And he added: “If it's wrong, this kind of projection leads to climate sceptics and deniers to criticize the entire community.”

However Dr Gleick said Professor Wadhams was right to sound a warning about the rising temperatures in the region, saying it was “extraordinarily disturbing even in a world of disturbing news about accelerating climate change”.

“An ice-free - and even an ice-reduced - Arctic is leading to global impacts on weather and ecosystems, and most importantly, that the changes in the Arctic presage dramatic fundamental changes in climate throughout the globe,” he said.

“We're on a runaway train, scientists are blowing the whistle, but politicians are still shovelling coal into the engine.”
Professor Jennifer Francis, of Rutgers University, says ‘We are definitely looking at a very unusual situation up in the Arctic’ (Wolfgang Kaehler/Getty)
Professor Jennifer Francis, of Rutgers University in the US, who has studied the effect of the Arctic on the weather in the rest of the northern hemisphere, was also sceptical about Professor Wadhams' prediction, saying it was “highly unlikely” to come true this year.

She said she thought this would not happen until sometime between 2030 and 2050.

But Professor Francis stressed: “We are definitely looking at a very unusual situation up in the Arctic.

“The ice is very low and there have been record-breaking low amounts of ice in January, February, March, April and now May, so this is very worrisome.

“I think we are going to see perhaps a new record [in September], that’s very possible.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sunday, November 6, 2016

After years of moving at a glacial pace, the Paris Agreement is racing to take effect before the US election ....Why? you ask ...Read on

The Eiffel tower is illuminated in green with the words  

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Efforts to build a new global deal to tackle climate change were for many years criticized for moving at glacial pace. But this week climate negotiators meeting in Morocco find themselves facing an entirely new problem: a deal that, astonishingly, has come into effect more than three years ahead of schedule.
The Paris Agreement on climate change, designed to start in 2020, entered into force on Friday after 96 countries and the European Union - together representing nearly 70 percent of the world’s climate-changing emissions - ratified it eagerly and with haste.
That has been a cause for celebration - and some puzzlement.
“We’re now in an interesting conundrum we never thought we’d find ourselves in: After pushing for decisive and speedy action, we got it, rather too speedily.” said Paula Caballero, global director of the climate program at the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

The immediate challenge for negotiators is that, by law, countries that have ratified the deal must start agreeing to the rules to implement it at the next U.N. climate conference. That meeting starts on Monday in Marrakesh. That has left officials a very short time to iron out a host of technical issues - and only about half the parties that crafted the Paris deal are eligible to participate in the early decision-making.

“Because we’ve jump-started the deal, we now have to find a way for negotiators to discuss the rules while still finding ways for other countries to come in and join,” said Liz Gallagher, a climate diplomacy expert at London-based E3G, a sustainable-development think tank.
But that is "a good problem to have”, she said. “It’s the first time we really feel the urgency in the negotiations is reflected.”
SOOO why the rush to ratify the Paris climate agreement?? Ask the guy in the image below.

Trump Effect
The rapid approval of the agreement - one of the fastest in the history of international deal-making – has happened in large part because a growing number of countries feel the urgency of taking swift action to deal with climate change and its worsening impacts, while big climate polluters such as China and the United States have jointly stepped up to push the deal. Climate deal members fear the US may back out.
Many nations have an anxious eye on this week’s U.S. elections, where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has promised to pull his country out of the climate agreement if elected. That threat, in recent months, has spurred a rush to ratify the agreement and ensure it takes force before the U.S. vote.

Under the rules of the Paris Agreement, once it has come into effect, “legally a country cannot withdraw before the next five years are over”, said Sven Harmeling, international climate change policy coordinator.
The quick ratification of the global climate deal, however, will likely require a bit of procedural fancy footwork at the Nov. 7-18 U.N. climate talks. Talks can then continue but no decisions will need to be made until all the countries in the climate deal ratify it.

Temperature Threat

Negotiators in Morocco will be trying to push ahead on a few key points, however, looking at immediate actions that could be taken to cut emissions. They also will dig into how the world will make a promised shift to using virtually no fossil fuels by the second half of the century and how to hold global temperature rise to an ambitious target of “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.
“It’s now starting to sink in,” Aarnio said. “It means really, really drastic mitigation in all sectors, much faster than anything we’ve seen before.
That effort has had a boost in recent weeks with the passage of an accord to begin limiting the use of hydrofluorocarbons – refrigerants that are major contributors to climate change – and a separate deal to cap increases in aviation emissions by 2020.

From drought-related food scarcity in Malawi and Madagascar, to worsening storms in Vietnam and the Philippines, “what we are seeing this year is more and more difficult for people to prepare for and cope with”, said Mr Harmeling.