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Mar 18, 2018, 01:04 PM
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 on: Mar 15, 2018, 04:57 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
03/08/2018 03:34 PM
Plastic-Choked Seas
Marcella Hansch Wants to Save the Ocean

By Anna-Sophie Schneider

Up to 13 million tons of plastic wind up in the ocean each year. German architect Marcella Hansch has developed a platform designed to remove that waste from our seas. But it wasn't something she planned.

Marcella Hansch is afraid of fish, but she loves diving nonetheless. When fish swim toward her, she begins breathing more rapidly, which causes her oxygen tank to empty a bit more quickly. But during a 2013 dive in Cape Verde, the island nation in the Atlantic Ocean, it wasn't a fish that alarmed her, it was a plastic bag. And it led to Hansch's idea for her university thesis project -- a concept that could ultimately solve one of our planet's biggest environmental problems.

At the time, Hansch was studying architecture in Aachen, though she says she wasn't a particularly accomplished student. But her underwater encounter left a lasting impression. Each year, tons and tons of plastic waste winds up in the ocean, the 31-year-old says. "If this continues, there will be more plastic in the ocean by 2050 than fish," she says. For her project, she set out to conceive a platform that would filter plastic waste from the water. "I wanted to do something that would be really fun for me," she says.

Thesis projects are generally not ever implemented. But Hansch's project may have a future. Currently, an entire team is participating in an effort to bring it to life. Hansch says it would have been a shame for her idea to just disappear into a filing cabinet after graduation.

Plastic garbage in our oceans is one of the most challenging environmental problems of our time. Oceanic researchers estimate that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic waste wind up in the world's oceans and seas each year. And plastic doesn't biodegrade easily, if at all. The lifetime of a simple plastic bag may only be a few weeks, but it is estimated that a plastic bottle survives for as long as 450 to 500 years in the ocean. Such pollution has a negative impact on the ecosystems of our seas and oceans -- and on animals and humans.

Through exposure to salt water and sunlight, plastic waste is broken up into tiny particles. These so-called "microbeads" are frequently ingested by fish, thus introducing them into the food chain and, ultimately, to humans. Studies suggest that up to one-third of all fish are affected. And it is exactly this trend that Hansch wants to do her part to stop.

The Challenge of Recycling

She becomes quite animated when explaining how her project slowly started to take shape and how it became increasingly scientific -- even though she says she is "more of an artistic person" and never really had much of a scientific bent. For this project, though, Hansch dared to go far beyond the boundaries of her own field of study. She attended lectures on engineering, calculated ocean currents and learned about different types of algae. The result was a system that functions as a closed loop and produces no waste at all.

Microbeads, also known as microplastic, is lighter than water so it tends to be found at or near the surface, though ocean currents can drag the bits of plastic as deep as 30 meters (100 feet) beneath the surface. Hansch's calculations indicated that a bulbous shape and a system of underwater channels would calm the ocean currents, allowing the plastic particles to rise and be skimmed off by the platform.

Hansch speaks quickly and gesticulates constantly with her hands as she explains her idea. She has presented her concept countless times in recent years -- at her university, at conferences and in front of scientists. "The molecular structure of the plastic pieces that are filtered out of the water have been destroyed by salt water and cannot be reasonably recycled," she says. But Hansch still wanted to find a way to use the waste.

Her original plan called for the plastic waste to be run through a plasma gasification process to convert it to hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The hydrogen could then be used as an energy source for the fuel cells that power the platform. Meanwhile, the carbon dioxide could be used as a nutrient for the algae cultures grown on the platform. The algae biomass would then serve as the raw material for environmentally friendly, algae bioplastics.

While she kept the idea of a closed loop, not all of Hansch's approaches proved to be realistic. The idea of plasma gasification has since been abandoned. "It wouldn't have worked," she says. Her team of researchers is currently investigating other possible solutions. "But even those should create hydrogen and carbon dioxide," Hansch says, adding that the search for a practicable solution is ongoing.

A Groundswell of Support

"Does that make sense?" Hansch asks after she finishes her explanation. It does -- a conclusion that was shared by all the friends and fellow students she told about her project during the six months she initially spent working on it. They also convinced her to continue pursuing the idea after she finished her studies.

After graduating, Hansch began her career as an architect. During her lunch break one day, she visited the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management at RWTH Aachen University, where she presented her project. "I thought they would surely laugh at me," she says. "This isn't my area of expertise." But nobody laughed. Instead, there was widespread interest in Hansch's proposal.

It was followed by invitations and the institute called on other students to do related thesis papers that could help Hansch advance the project. More and more people became involved.

For a long time, though, no real progress was made. At one point, Hansch even came close to throwing in the towel, but then she agreed to give one last presentation. It could have been the last speech she ever gave on the subject, but during the delivery, she had an epiphany and realized just how important it had become to her. "It became clear to me that I couldn't just leave it behind," she says.

A short time later, Hansch and her fellow campaigners started a non-profit organization called Pacific Garbage Screening. The roughly 35 members of the NGO, including engineers, environmental scientists and biologists, are working towards the day when the platform can finally be deployed. They perform research on a voluntary basis and cover most of the costs out of their own pockets.

The university in Aachen continues to provide support for the project. Thesis papers are regularly written that contribute to the project's research foundations. A postgraduate position has also been funded by UBA, the German government's environmental protection agency. In 2016, Hansch and her team won the German Federal Ecodesign Award for the project, a prize awarded by UBA and the Environment Ministry. During the award speech, UBA Vice President Thomas Holzmann praised the project as being "both visionary and solution-oriented."

'There's Enough Plastic in the Ocean for All'

There are several projects around the world pursuing goals similar to Hansch's. In the Netherlands, for example, Project Ocean Cleanup is hoping to begin fishing plastic out of the ocean later this year. Hansch says she doesn't view these other projects as competition. "There's enough plastic in the ocean for everyone," she says. Plus, the different teams talk and share ideas, allowing them to learn from each other. Still, her project is the only one that is focused specifically on microplastics, she says.

It's likely going to be awhile yet before Hansch's platform can be put to use. Some fundamental questions still need to be answered -- how large the platform needs to be and how much waste it can remove each year, for example. There are plans to build a prototype in the next few years and to place it at the mouth of a river. To ensure that the project can continue to advance, Hansch has also cut back her working hours at her main job. On any given week, she finds herself working up to 60 hours at her nonprofit.

"Of course, I can't go on doing this forever, but it's OK right now," she says. "It gives me a lot of energy." Although she says it's difficult to set a schedule for the project, she hopes that all the research underpinning it will be completed within the next five years.

This year, Hansch plans to actively recruit sponsors. "I'm an absolute idealist," she says. As such, companies in the packaging industry would only be considered as partners, she says, if they also changed their practices. "We don't accomplish anything if we pull everything out on the back end while trash is still being dumped into the water on the front end," she says.

Hansch says she is also taking pains personally to produce less waste. "I don't run around lecturing people, but I do use humor to try to point a few things out."

"When I'm around, at least," she says, "nobody dares to use a straw."

 on: Mar 15, 2018, 04:54 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Germany’s New Coalition Agreement Waffles on Paris Goals


Nearly six months after elections took place, three German parties finally signed an agreement to form a coalition government Monday, Reuters reported.

But while the agreement, between Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, and the Social Democratic Party, might relieve Germany's political uncertainty, it is less reassuring for the environment, according to some critics.

That is because the agreement leaves open the possibility that Germany might not meet the 2020 goal it set itself in the Paris agreement, NewClimate Institute founding partner Niklas Höhne explained in a post originally written in German for NewClimate Institute and posted in English on Climate Home News.

While the agreement formally commits to "national, European, and Paris Climate Agreement climate protection goals for 2020, 2030, and 2050 for all sectors," it also makes plans to phase out coal in such a way so as to "close the gap to the 2020 goal 'as much as possible,'" according to a Factsheet on the agreement prepared by Clean Energy Wire.

"[It] can be interpreted as an admission that this gap will not be closed in 2020, but later," Höhne wrote.

Höhne praised some aspects of the agreement. It would up the percentage of Germany's energy to be supplied by renewables from 50 percent to 65 percent by 2030, decide on a date for phasing out coal power in 2018, and pass a climate protection act in 2019 that would make it harder for future governments to undo environmental reforms.

But Höhne said the agreement did not do enough to meet Paris targets. Without the development of carbon capture technologies, 100 percent of Germany's electricity would need to come from renewable sources by 2030 or 2040 in order to meet its Paris goals.

Further, the agreement's proposals on industry emissions and building renovation are too vague to be effective, and, in the transportation sector, it includes no phase out of combustion engines such as India, France, Norway and the Netherlands have committed to, Höhne wrote.

Höhne isn't the only one who has criticized the new agreement's climate credentials.

Rainer Baake, Germany's former energy state secretary who oversaw Germany's "Energiewende," or transition to renewable energy, for the past four years, quit last week. In his resignation letter, he called the new agreement a "bitter disappointment" and said the new government was "missing out on the opportunity to thoroughly modernise Germany's economy," Clean Energy Wire reported.

Germany has long been a global leader in the fight against climate change. Angela Merkel has even been nicknamed the "climate chancellor" due to her role in pushing for international climate agreements, DW reported.

But that doesn't mean her domestic policies have always reflected her global aims.

"On the world stage, Merkel fights for international climate agreements, while at home she misses her own climate targets," Claudia Kemfert, energy and climate expert at the German Institute for Economic Research, told DW.

As of September, 2017 the country was not on track to reach its 2020 goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared with 1990 levels; in 2016, it had only lowered them by 28 percent.

While Germany has made impressive strides in renewable energy, its total emissions have not always fallen as a result, since it still gets a significant amount of energy from coal, DW explained.

Höhne said it was essential for the global push against climate change that the German government not walk back its 2020 commitment. "If a country like Germany, whose outstanding role in international climate diplomacy made the Paris Agreement possible, does not meet its long-established goal, who will?" he wrote.

 on: Mar 15, 2018, 04:52 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

New York Announces Nation-Leading $1.4B Investment in Renewables


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced $1.4 billion in funding for 26 large-scale renewable energy projects across the state, the single largest commitment to renewable energy by a state in U.S. history.

The awarded projects—including 22 utility-scale solar farms, three wind farms and one hydroelectric project—are expected to create more than 3,000 short- and long-term jobs, generate enough clean energy to power more than 430,000 homes and reduce carbon emissions by more than 1.6 million metric tons, the equivalent of taking nearly 340,000 cars off the road.

The announcement, issued Friday, also included a formal request for the state to be excluded from the federal offshore oil drilling plan, citing fears that a catastrophic spill would endanger coastal communities, the nation's third-largest ocean economy and thwart the state's new $1.4 billion commitment to renewables.

"Instead of protecting our waters from another oil spill, like the one that devastated the Gulf, this new federal plan only increases the chances of another disaster taking place," Cuomo said in a statement. "This is a total disregard for science, reality, and history, and their actions defy everything we know. We believe the future is a clean energy economy and New York is going to lead a counter-movement to what this administration is doing to the environment and illuminate the path forward."

Former Vice President Al Gore also praised the state's move.

"Governor Cuomo is demonstrating outstanding leadership in helping to solve the climate crisis and building a sustainable future," Gore said. "His vision and leadership stand in stark contrast to the Trump administration's malignant mission to make us even more dependent on the dirty and destructive fossil fuels. Now more than ever, it's up to all of us to step up and act on this urgent cause of our time. Governor Cuomo is showing how it can be done."

The governor's office said that several of the state's new renewable energy projects will break ground as early as April 2018 and all projects are expected to be operational by 2022.

The projects will also help advance the governor's Clean Energy Standard to obtain 50 percent of New York's electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030.

Find out about the 26 large-scale renewable energy projects here.

 on: Mar 15, 2018, 04:44 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Hotter, Drier, Hungrier: How Global Warming Punishes the World’s Poorest

MARCH 15, 2018
NY Times

KAKUMA, Kenya — These barren plains of sand and stone have always known lean times: times when the rivers run dry and the cows wither day by day, until their bones are scattered under the acacia trees. But the lean times have always been followed by normal times, when it rains enough to rebuild herds, repay debts, give milk to the children and eat meat a few times each week.

Times are changing, though. Northern Kenya — like its arid neighbors in the Horn of Africa, where Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson paid a visit last week, including a stop in Nairobi — has become measurably drier and hotter, and scientists are finding the fingerprints of global warming. According to recent research, the region dried faster in the 20th century than at any time over the last 2,000 years. Four severe droughts have walloped the area in the last two decades, a rapid succession that has pushed millions of the world’s poorest to the edge of survival.

Amid this new normal, a people long hounded by poverty and strife has found itself on the frontline of a new crisis: climate change. More than 650,000 children under age 5 across vast stretches of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are severely malnourished. The risk of famine stalks people in all three countries; at least 12 million people rely on food aid, according to the United Nations.

A grandmother named Mariao Tede is among them. Early one recent morning, on the banks of a dry stream, with the air tasting of soot and sand, Ms. Tede stood over a pile of dark embers, making charcoal. A reed of a woman who doesn’t keep track of her age, she said she once had 200 goats, enough to sell their offspring at the market and buy cornmeal for her family. Raising livestock is traditionally the main source of income in the region, because not much food will grow here.

Many of her goats died in the 2011 drought, then many more in the 2017 drought. How many were left? She held up five fingers. Not enough to sell. Not enough to eat. And now, in the dry season, not even enough to get milk. “Only when it rains I get a cup or two, for the kids,” she said.
Continue reading the main story

The most recent drought has prompted some herders to plunder the livestock of rival communities or sneak into nature reserves to graze their hungry droves. Water has become so scarce in this vast county — known as Turkana, in northwestern Kenya — that fetching it, which is women’s work, means walking an average of almost seven miles every day.

Ms. Tede now gathers wood to make charcoal, a process that is stripping the land of its few trees, so that when the rains come, if the rains come, the water will not seep into the earth. On the roadside stood what were once sacks of food aid, now stuffed with charcoal, waiting for customers.

Further along that same road, in a village blessed with a water pump, a herder named Mohammed Loshani offered up his ledger of loss. From 150 goats a little over a year ago, he had 30 left. During the 2017 drought, 10 died one month, a dozen the next.

“If we get rain I can build back my herd,” he said. “If not, even the few I have will die.” He knew no one who had rebuilt their herds to pre-2011 drought levels.

“If these droughts continue,” Mr. Loshoni said, “there’s nothing for us to do. We’ll have to think of other jobs.”

Poor Rains and You’re ‘Done’

When Gideon Galu, a Kenyan meteorologist with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or FewsNet, looks at 30 years of weather data, he doesn’t see doom for his country’s herders and farmers. He sees a need to radically, urgently adapt to the new normal: grow fodder for the lean times, build reservoirs to store water, switch to crops that do well in Kenya’s soil, and not just maize, the staple.

Rainfall is already erratic. Now, he says, it’s getting significantly drier and hotter. The forecast for the next rains aren’t good. “These people live on the edge,” he said. “Any tilt to the poor rains, and they’re done.”

His colleague at FewsNet, Chris Funk, a climatologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has linked recent drought to the long-term warming of the western Pacific Ocean as well as higher land temperatures in East Africa, both products of human-induced climate change. Global warming, he concluded, seems to produce more severe weather disruptions known as El Niños and La Niñas, leading to “protracted drought and food insecurity.”

Jessica Tierney, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arizona, took the longer view. By analyzing marine sediments, she and her colleagues came to the conclusion that the region is drying faster now than at any time in two millenniums and that the trend may be linked to human activity. That rapid drying in the Horn of Africa, she wrote, is “synchronous with recent global and regional warming.”

It falls to James Oduor, the head of Kenya’s National Drought Management Authority, to figure out what to do about the new reality. “In the future,” he said flatly, “we expect that to be normal — a drought every 5 years.”

Mr. Oduor keeps a postcard-size, color-coded map of his country to explain the scale of the challenge: dark orange for arid zones, light orange for semiarid zones, and white for the rest.

More than three-fourths of the land, he points out, is dark or light orange, which means they are water-stressed in the best of times and during droughts, dangerously so. “The bigger part of my country is affected by climate change and drought,” he said. “They’re frequent. They last long. They affect a big area.”

Ethiopia is even worse off. FewsNet, which is funded by the United States government, has warned of continuing “food security emergency” in the country’s southeast, where rains have failed for the last three years in a row and political conflict has displaced an estimated 200,000 people.

In Somalia, after decades of war and displacement, 2.7 million people face what the United Nations calls “severe food insecurity.” During the 2017 drought, international aid efforts averted a famine. In the previous drought, in 2011, nearly 260,000 Somalis died of hunger, half of them children, the United Nations reported.

‘Five Are Dead, Then 10’

I traveled across Turkana and neighboring Isiolo County in northern Kenya last month. Off the main highway, sandy paths led through sandy plains. A cluster of round twig-and-thatch huts emerged. Dust whipped through the air.

Pastoralists have walked these lands for centuries. The older ones among them remember the droughts of the past. Animals died. People died. But then the rains came, and after four or five years of normal rains, people living here could replenish their herds. Now, the droughts are so frequent that rebuilding herds is pretty much impossible.

“You wake up one morning and five are dead, then 10,” said David Letmaya, at a clinic in Isiolo County where his family had come to collect sacks of soy and cornmeal.

These days, shepherds like Mr. Letmaya range further and further, sometimes clashing with rivals from Turkana over pasture and water, other times risking a confrontation with an elephant or a lion from the national park next door.

Almost every night, park rangers can hear gunshots. Herders raid each others’ livestock to replenish their own.

At the Isiolo health center, everyone kept precise count of their losses. One woman said she lost all three of her cows last year and was left now with only three goats. A second said her husband was killed a few years ago in a fight with Turkana herders over pasture, and then, last year, the last of her cows died. A third said she lost 20 of her 30 goats in the last drought.

It was a blazing afternoon, with no respite in sight. One by one, hauling boxes of soy and cornmeal bearing a World Food Program stamp, the women walked back home across the dry plains and the dry riverbeds, resting sometimes under an acacia heavy with nests that weaver birds had made from the dry brush.

 on: Mar 15, 2018, 04:40 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
After a Volcano’s Ancient Supereruption, Humanity May Have Thrived

MARCH 15, 2018
NY Times

Supervolcanoes have the power to cough up enough ash to coat entire continents. They emit waves of hot gas, rocks and ash that flow down their slopes at speeds so great they strip away vegetation and kill anyone in their path. And they carve vast depressions in the planet, leaving permanent scars.

And yet, they might not be as apocalyptic as previously thought. About 74,000 years ago, a supervolcano at the site of present-day Lake Toba on the Indonesian island of Sumatra rocked our world. But while it was the largest volcanic eruption of the last two million years, a new study published Monday in Nature suggests that humans not only survived the event — they thrived.

The study counters previous hypotheses, which suggested that the behemoth was so disastrous it caused the human species to teeter on the brink of extinction.

It’s easy to see how that idea came about. The Toba supereruption expelled roughly 10,000 times more rock and ash than the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. So much ejecta would have darkened skies worldwide, causing scientists to speculate that it might have plunged the Earth into a volcanic winter whose chill could be felt far from Indonesia. Climate models suggest that temperatures may have plummeted by as much as 30 degrees Fahrenheit. And in such a cold world, plants may have ceased growing, glaciers may have advanced, sea-levels may have dropped and rainfall may have slowed.

Then in 1998, Stanley Ambrose, an anthropologist, linked the proposed disaster to genetic evidence that suggested a population bottleneck had occurred around the same time. He was certain that the Toba supereruption had caused the human population to decline to some 10,000 people — a close call for our ancestors.

“These were dramatic theories,” said Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History who was not involved in the study. “They were very popular — both in the scientific world, but also in the public imagination.”

The latest study, however, suggests that those theories are incorrect, Dr. Petraglia said. “We’re not seeing all the drama.”

More than 5,500 miles from the site of the Toba supereruption in Southeast Asia, Curtis Marean, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, and his colleagues discovered signs of its debris at two archaeological sites on South Africa’s southern coast. The appearance of microscopic glass shards once ejected by the Toba event amid layers of ancient bones, complex stone tools and evidence of human fires allowed the team to directly observe the volcano’s impact on the human population for the first time.

The results surprised Dr. Marean. Should Dr. Ambrose’s theory be correct, there would be fewer signs of human occupation in the layer of soil above the one with the signs of the Toba supereruption. Dr. Marean’s team saw the opposite: After the catastrophic event, there were more signs of human occupation. Not only did humans appear to adapt to the trauma caused by the event, they thrived, said Eugene Smith, an author of the study and a retired geologist.

That doesn’t mean Toba’s volcanic winter never occurred. Dr. Marean speculates that an ensuing global chill may have driven these prehistoric humans to the point of extinction.

But not all experts agree with that interpretation.

Although Dr. Petraglia praised Dr. Marean’s work, he said it did not buttress the case for a global climate catastrophe following the Toba eruption. He pointed to a study published this year of a similar ash layer within Lake Malawi in East Africa. There, scientists found no signs that the lake’s temperature dropped significantly after the event — suggesting that there was no volcanic winter, and further challenging the idea of a human population decline resulting from the Toba eruption.

And he’s not alone.

“I personally lean toward the idea that Toba just didn’t have sufficient impact to have a significant impact on Homo sapiens in East Africa, period,” says Thomas Johnson, a retired paleoclimatologist at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, who was not involved in the study. “The large majority of the information that keeps coming out keeps putting nails in the Toba coffin.”

 on: Mar 15, 2018, 04:37 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Four Years After Declaring War on Pollution, China Is Winning

Research gives estimates on the longer lives that are now possible in the country. 

By Michael Greenstone
NY Times
March 15, 2018

On March 4, 2014, the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, told almost 3,000 delegates at the National People’s Congress and many more watching live on state television, “We will resolutely declare war against pollution as we declared war against poverty.”

The statement broke from the country’s longstanding policy of putting economic growth over environment, and many wondered whether China would really follow through.

Four years after that declaration, the data is in: China is winning, at record pace. In particular, cities have cut concentrations of fine particulates in the air by 32 percent on average, in just those four years.

The speed of the anti-pollution drive has raised important questions about its human costs.  But if China sustains these reductions, recent research by my colleagues and me indicates that residents will see significant improvements to their health, extending their life spans by months or years.

How did China get here? In the months before the premier’s speech, the country released a national air quality action plan that required all urban areas to reduce concentrations of fine particulate matter pollution by at least 10 percent, more in some cities. The Beijing area was required to reduce pollution by 25 percent, and the city set aside an astounding $120 billion for that purpose.

To reach these targets, China prohibited new coal-fired power plants in the country’s most polluted regions, including the Beijing area. Existing plants were told to reduce their emissions. If they didn’t, the coal was replaced with natural gas. Large cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, restricted the number of cars on the road. The country also reduced its iron- and steel-making capacity and shut down coal mines.

Some of the actions went from aggressive to extraordinary. For example, the ministry of environmental protection released a 143-page “battle plan” last summer that included removing the coal boilers many homes and businesses used for winter heating — even though replacements were not yet available everywhere. This left some homeowners, businesses and even students without heat this winter.

Over the past few months, news began to trickle in that the efforts were working. So I decided to dig deeper. Using data from almost 250 government monitors throughout the country, which closely matches monitors maintained by the United States Embassy in Beijing and consulates around the country, I found major improvements.

Although most regions outpaced their targets, the most populated cities had some of the greatest declines. Beijing’s readings on concentrations of fine particulates declined by 35 percent; Hebei Province’s capital city, Shijiazhuang, cut its concentration by 39 percent; and Baoding, called China’s most polluted city in 2015, reduced its concentration by 38 percent.

To investigate the effects on people’s lives in China, I used two of my studies (more here and here) to convert the fine particulate concentrations into their effect on life spans. This is the same method that underlies the Air Quality-Life Index that can be explored here. These studies are based on data from China, so they don’t require extrapolation from the United States or some other country with relatively low concentrations of pollution.

The results suggest that China’s fight against pollution has already laid the foundation for extraordinary gains in life expectancy. Applying this method to the available data from 204 prefectures, residents nationally could expect to live 2.4 years longer on average if the declines in air pollution persisted.

The roughly 20 million residents in Beijing would live an estimated 3.3 years longer, while those in Shijiazhuang would add 5.3 years, and those in Baoding 4.5 years. Notably, my research suggests that these improvements in life expectancy would be experienced by people of all ages, not just the young and old.

To put the astounding scale and speed of China’s recent progress in context, it’s useful to think back to the severe pollution levels in many American cities in the 1950s and 1960s, especially in the Rust Belt.

The U.S. Clean Air Act is widely regarded as having produced large reductions in air pollution. In the four years after its 1970 enactment, American air pollution declined by 20 percent on average. But it took about a dozen years and the 1981-1982 recession for the United States to achieve the 32 percent reduction China has achieved in just four years.

Of course, air pollution levels still exceed China’s own standards and far surpass World Health Organization recommendations for what is considered safe. Bringing all of China into compliance with its own standards would increase average life expectancies by an additional 1.7 years (as measured in the areas where data is available). Complying with the stricter World Health Organization standards instead would yield 4.1 years.

Whether Chinese citizens can expect to capture these additional improvements — and even sustain the existing gains — comes back to the balance between economic growth and environmental quality. China’s early reductions in air pollution have been achieved through an engineering-style fiat that dictates specific actions, rather than relying on markets to find the least expensive methods to reduce pollution.

It’s an approach that has come with some real costs — as the many people left without heat this winter could attest. Yet further improvements will also be much costlier than necessary if they too are pursued by fiat, particularly with many of the easier fixes having already been made.

In the decades after enactment of the Clean Air Act, American policymakers have used many tools to reduce pollution, with market-based regulations having proved the most cost-effective. Although China is experimenting with a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide, it has not yet turned to such policies to fight conventional pollution.

It would be quite a twist if so-called Communist China ultimately wins the war against pollution by embracing market-based regulations, while the United States continues to use them only intermittently.

 on: Mar 15, 2018, 04:35 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
The people of Cape Town are running out of water—and they’re not alone

Popular Science
15 Mar 2018 at 08:50 ET

The whole world is drying up.

Day Zero: that’s the ominous label officials in Cape Town have bestowed on the day that water will run out. A three year drought in the region drained reservoirs faster than expected. They were full at the start of 2014, but estimates from the end of January 2018 show that water levels are now at 26 percent of capacity. When the level drops to 13.5 percent, officials plan to shut off pipes and start controlling water distribution to residents. Cape Town’s residents will receive a daily ration of 25 liters of water—the average American, by contrast, uses fifteen times as much per day. A black market is sure to emerge, but the city’s poorest, who have long been bearing the brunt of this crisis, will probably not be able to afford the exorbitant prices.

When Day Zero will arrive is anyone’s guess. It’s been pushed back several times already, as water conservation efforts have proved successful, according to local news reports—it might not even hit until 2019 if usage remains low.

But while conservation efforts may stave off the inevitable, there’s one thing city planners and water management can't predict: when it will rain again. Until the drought is over, Cape Town will remain on the brink of an environmental and public health disaster. But the South African city is just one of many localities across the globe to face extreme water shortages in recent years—and one of many more to come. The World Resources Institute recently crunched data on water consumption and projected climate patterns, and predicts that by 2040, most regions in the world will be facing some level of water stress, and 33 countries could face “extremely high” stress.

Cape Town is one of the most dire cases we’re seeing today. But across the globe, water troubles are already straining the lives of millions of people.


Disappearing Andean glaciers, increasingly rare rainfalls in the wet season, and a protracted drought dried up most of capital city La Paz’s drinking water in 2017. Mining operations have also had a hand in depleting the scarce resource. The predictions of what could happen in Cape Town have already come true in this city of almost two and a half million. Military-guarded trucks deliver meager rations of water, while contamination and protests wreak havoc on the daily lives of citizens. Conservation, rationing, and limiting industrial usage can only go so far if the rains don’t come soon.


Blame watermelons for last year’s protests in drought-stricken Morocco. The North African nation’s agricultural exports—which mostly cater to out-of-season demands in the European market—make up a significant percentage of its GDP. Farmers had been overusing water resources during what may have been the country’s worst drought in 30 years to continue growing impractical, water-intensive crops, like watermelon. In October 2017, the government shut off water supplies in the rural town of Zagora in response to shortages. It’s a town where residents report that clean drinking water is hard to come by, even when the taps are running, and they quickly took to the streets in protest. While the town got an official apology from the Prime Minister, the government hasn’t done much to mitigate the problem or encourage conservation as the drought lingers on.

Three-quarters of the earth’s surface is covered in water, but most of it is undrinkable. In the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forests located in coastal Bangladesh, that paradox defines the daily struggles of villagers who have to search further and further for clean drinking water. As climate change intensifies, melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica causes sea water to rise. In the low-lying Sundarbans, that means salty sea water encroaches on groundwater and reservoirs, rendering it useless for human consumption. Mangrove trees can filter the salt as they take in water, but human kidneys have no such adaptation. You’ll die of dehydration if you drink too much salt water. The lack of freshwater drives climate refugees towards Dhaka, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. They may not get much relief in their new home—the city’s infrastructure can’t keep up with its ever-growing population, and millions of slum dwellers lack access to clean water.

To many people living in the U.S., clean drinking water seems so ubiquitous that one might not think twice about using two to five gallons a minute in the shower, or dumping hundreds of gallons onto a lush, green lawn in the summer. Conservation policies during droughts have helped, but oftentimes, water usage shoots up as soon as the drought conditions lessen, even though it would be wiser to save up the rainy day fund for the next severe drought cycle.

But the reality is that U.S. water access is far from equal. Climate change and extended droughts are slowly drying up the Colorado River, putting 30 million people in seven states in a precarious position. And in some low-income, rural communities across the nation, it doesn’t matter if climate change turns off the taps—there were never any to begin with. Unincorporated townships are often denied access to the water and sewer infrastructure of larger cities or towns. The community of Sandbranch, for example, sits right in the shadows of the Dallas’s skyscrapers. But residents haven’t had clean drinking water since gravel mining contamination in the 1950s. On Native American reservations, some 24,000 households don’t have running water, either.

But being connected to a municipal supply doesn’t always ensure clean drinking water. Residents of Flint, Michigan have been drinking bottled water since 2015, when elevated lead levels were detected in residential tap water—despite city officials' insistence that the water was safe. Just this week, a new round of testing found traces of lead in water. Poor infrastructure, like climate change, will continue to exacerbate America’s water woes.

 on: Mar 15, 2018, 04:33 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Weird winter weather has scientists looking to the North Pole

Popular Science
15 Mar 2018 at 08:42 ET   

Temperatures in the Arctic could help drive extreme weather in the United States.

Last October, experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a fairly mild winter for the United States. Though they were careful to hedge their bets (“maps show only the most likely outcome,” NOAA warned, “but this is not the only possible outcome”), models suggested a weak La Niña would bring slightly colder than average temperatures to the northwest, with slightly warmer than average temperatures cropping up in the south and east.

But this winter, as anyone with a TV—or window—knows, appears to have turned out rather differently. The northeast has experienced three back-to-back-to-back storms. We rang in the New Year with a so-called “bomb cyclone” and, for one day only, it was colder in Florida than in Alaska. This weird weather wasn’t confined to the eastern seaboard, either. Seattle and other communities in the Pacific Northwest saw unusual snowfall in November, December, and February. Last month, Europe got colder than the north pole, allowing the residents of Rome to toss a few snowballs.

Meteorologists have offered solid analyses of each passing storm, but scientists are still trying to determine what larger forces are at work. In a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, MIT climatologist Judah Cohen has a controversial message for all of them: it’s the Arctic, stupid.

By evaluating two indices—the polar cap geopotential height anomaly index and the polar cap air temperature anomaly index—and comparing them to real-life weather as measured by the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index, Cohen’s team was able to show that severe winter weather in the United States is often tied to (relatively) high heat in the North Pole. “If the Arctic is cold, that favors less severe winter in the eastern U.S.,” he says. “When the Arctic is warm, it’s the opposite relationship. A warmer Arctic favors colder temperatures in the eastern U.S. and heavier snowfall.”

The idea that a warming planet can create more extreme winters may seem counterintuitive. (In the paper, Cohen and his co-authors themselves acknowledge this, calling the phenomenon “surprising.”) But “it’s not some random chaotic mess,” Cohen says. “There’s physical, mechanistic cause.” Specifically, the phenomenon known as Arctic amplification.

Average global temperatures, as you’ve probably heard, are rising fast. In 2016, the average surface temperature of Earth’s land and water hit 68.96 degrees, up 1.69 degrees from the global average seen in the 20th century. But in the Arctic, things are warming up even faster. When Arctic sea ice melts (as it inevitably does when the planet heats up), that bright, cool, sun-reflecting surface disappears with it. In its stead, one finds a dark, heat-absorbing ocean. Essentially, the Arctic has more to lose, so it’s losing its chill faster. That's why the Arctic clocked in around 14 degrees warmer than normal this winter.

Unlike Vegas, what happens in the Arctic most definitely does not stay in the Arctic. Cohen's latest research suggests that when pressure changes push cold air out of the pole, it increases the probability for extreme weather in the eastern United States. While correlation certainly doesn’t equal causation, Cohen nonetheless felt emboldened enough to write, “This finding suggests that Arctic variability has a stronger influence on severe winter weather events than does [El Niño-Southern Oscillation] variability.”

This statement, at first glance, is nothing to blink at. For most people, it’s satisfying just to know a little more about the weather and what could be driving it. But for Cohen, demonstrating this relationship between Arctic warming and North American weather feels paradigm-shifting. For years, he has been fighting what he perceives to be an over-reliance on the El Niño-Southern Oscillation model, also called ENSO. First observed in 1897, ENSO describes a phenomenon whereby variations in winds and sea surface temperatures over the Pacific Ocean affect the climate observed in the tropics and subtropics. When the sea temperature warms, its effects are called the El Niño phase; when ocean temperatures drop, we experience La Niña.

For the last century or so, ENSO has been a fairly accurate (and readily applied) explanation for much of the weather we see on this world. But, Cohen says, it can’t explain everything, no matter how bad some people want it to. “I’m always, if I can find a way, [trying] to stick it to ENSO,” he says. “When I came into the field, it was all ENSO all the time. In some ways, it still is. It’s the only thing people focus on. I do think ENSO is important, but it’s been overemphasized.”

Many of Cohen's fellow climatologists remain skeptical, however. Like most studies based on observation, Cohen's paper is far from air tight. It shows some relationship between Arctic variability and extreme weather in the northeast, but experts disagree over whether the relationship is strong enough to warrant consideration. What's more, because observational studies like this rarely provide insight into the "why" of a given weather event, some researchers argue the U.S. may actually influence the Arctic instead of the other way around. Still other experts argue that this debate is largely beside the point, given that despite the occasional polar blast, the northeast is still getting steadily warmer over time.

But one thing is certain: The Arctic is getting more attention than ever. “Twenty years ago, no one was looking at the Arctic to see how it might impact our weather,” Cohen says. “We used to go, ‘Oh, we don’t need to look at the Arctic, it’s so cold.’” But extreme weather events like the 2017-2018 winter have helped change that. “Just using ENSO, we can’t understand [this winter],” Cohen says. “Typically, [ENSO] is stuck in the same phase the entire winter. Meanwhile, the polar vortex is going through very dramatic changes.” As extreme weather continues apace, we're likely to see more storms—in both our climate and our climate research labs.

 on: Mar 15, 2018, 04:30 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Microplastics found in more than 90% of bottled water, study says

Researchers find levels of plastic fibres in popular bottled water brands could be twice as high as those found in tap water

Graham Readfearn
Thu 15 Mar 2018 01.46 GMT

A new analysis of some of the world’s most popular bottled water brands says more than 90% contain tiny pieces of plastic.

Analysis of 259 bottles from 19 locations in nine countries across 11 different brands found an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water being sold.

Concentrations were as high as 10,000 plastic pieces for every litre of water. Of the 259 bottles tested, only 17 were free of plastics, according to the study, which was published as the World Health Organisation announced it would launch a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water.

Scientists based at the State University of New York in Fredonia were commissioned by journalism project Orb Media to analyse the bottled water.

The scientists wrote they had “found roughly twice as many plastic particles within bottled water” compared with their previous study of tap water, reported by the Guardian.
We are living on a plastic planet. What does it mean for our health?

According to the new study, the most common type of plastic fragment found was polypropylene – the same type of plastic used to make bottle caps. The bottles analysed were bought in the US, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Lebanon, Kenya and Thailand.

Scientists used Nile red dye to fluoresce particles in the water – the dye tends to stick to the surface of plastics but not most natural materials.

The study has not been published in a journal and has not been through scientific peer review. Dr Andrew Mayes, a University of East Anglia scientist who developed the Nile red technique, told Orb Media he was “satisfied that it has been applied carefully and appropriately, in a way that I would have done it in my lab”.

The brands Orb Media said it had tested were: Aqua (Danone), Aquafina (PepsiCo), Bisleri (Bisleri International), Dasani (Coca-Cola), Epura (PepsiCo), Evian (Danone), Gerolsteiner (Gerolsteiner Brunnen), Minalba (Grupo Edson Queiroz), Nestlé Pure Life (Nestlé), San Pellegrino (Nestlé) and Wahaha (Hangzhou Wahaha Group).

A second unrelated analysis, also just released, was commissioned by campaign group Story of Stuff and examined 19 consumer bottled water brands in the US.It also found plastic microfibres were widespread.

The brand Boxed Water contained an average of 58.6 plastic fibres per litre. Ozarka and Ice Mountain, both owned by Nestlé, had concentrations at 15 and 11 pieces per litre, respectively. Fiji Water had 12 plastic fibres per litre.

Abigail Barrows, who carried out the research for Story of Stuff in her laboratory in Maine, said there were several possible routes for the plastics to be entering the bottles.

“Plastic microfibers are easily airborne. Clearly that’s occurring not just outside but inside factories. It could come in from fans or the clothing being worn,” she said.

Stiv Wilson, campaign coordinator at Story of Stuff, said finding plastic contamination in bottled water was problematic “because people are paying a premium for these products”.

Jacqueline Savitz, of campaign group Oceana, said: “We know plastics are building up in marine animals and this means we too are being exposed, some of us every day. Between the microplastics in water, the toxic chemicals in plastics and the end-of-life exposure to marine animals, it’s a triple whammy.”

Nestlé criticised the methodology of the Orb Media study, claiming in a statement to CBC that the technique using Nile red dye could “generate false positives”.

Coca-Cola told the BBC it had strict filtration methods, but acknowledged the ubiquity of plastics in the environment meant plastic fibres “may be found at minute levels even in highly treated products”.

A Gerolsteiner spokesperson said the company, too, could not rule out plastics getting into bottled water from airborne sources or from packing processes. The spokesperson said concentrations of plastics in water from their own analyses were lower than those allowed in pharmaceutical products.

Danone claimed the Orb Media study used a methodology that was “unclear”. The American Beverage Association said it “stood by the safety” of its bottled water, adding that the science around microplastics was only just emerging.

The Guardian contacted Nestlé and Boxed Water for comment on the Story of Stuff study, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

 on: Mar 15, 2018, 04:29 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Pair of Chinese giant pandas get snowy welcome in Finland

New Europe

HELSINKI— A pair of giant pandas has arrived in snowy Finland, China's gift to mark the small Nordic nation's 100 years of independence. Four-year-old male panda Hua Bao and three-year old female Jin Baobao were welcomed Thursday in a ceremony at Helsinki airport attended by the Chinese ambassador to Finland and Finnish officials.

"We think this is the best gift that Chinese people can give to Finland," said Chen Li, China's ambassador to Finland, referring to Finland's 100th anniversary on Dec. 6, 2017. The pandas have been renamed in Finnish as Pyry ("Snowfall") for the male and Lumi ("Snow") for the female.

Finnish panda keeper Anna Palmroth said the 4,000-mile (6,500-kilometer) flight from Chengdu, China went smoothly, with the pandas resting and munching their "packed lunch" of bamboo, carrots and apples.

The pandas immediately began their journey to the Ahtari Zoo nature reserve in central Finland — 330 kilometers (205 miles) north of Helsinki — amid cold wintry conditions similar to their natural environment in China's mountain areas.

The panda deal was finalized in April 2017, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Helsinki for talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. The Ahtari Zoo, which specializes in typical northern European animals such as bears, lynxes and wolverines, will have the giant pandas for 15 years and has built a special Panda House annex at an estimated cost of 8 million euros ($9.8 million) in hopes of luring more tourists.

Beijing has presented pandas as a sign of goodwill and closer political ties to some 17 nations worldwide. In Europe, Austria, Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Spain currently have giant pandas.

Xi noted in Helsinki last year that Finland — a country of 5.5 million — began political ties with China in 1950.

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