Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
Life survives miles below the Earth’s surface
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 5 2013 (IPS)
Every living thing from bacteria to President Barack Obama is made of carbon from exploding stars.
Billions of years ago, motes of carbon and other stardust formed the Earth. Carbon is the basis of all life but most vanished deep inside the planet, researchers now believe. And surprisingly, life thrives inside the rocky layers kilometres below our feet.
“Microbes survive by eating rock at those depths,” said Robert Hazen, executive director of the , a decade-long, global collaboration investigating the inner workings of the planet.
“Life is very different under those tremendous pressures and temperatures,” Hazen told IPS.
The variety of bacterial life at extreme high-pressure depths worldwide constitutes a subterranean “Galapagos”, he said. There may be as much as half of all life in the ground deep below us, according to one estimate, although Hazen thinks that might be too high.
“Drill a hole one or two kilometres deep just about anywhere and you will find a sparse but hardy microbial community,” said Isabelle Daniel of l’Université Claude Bernard in Lyon, France.
“These deep microbes, which live in the tiniest cracks and fissures in rocks, survive on the chemical energy of minerals,” said Daniel, who is one hundreds of scientists involved in the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO).
DNA analysis reveals a diversity of microorganisms, mainly single-celled. However, deep below the ocean floor live fungi-like organisms with complex cell structures. Researchers estimate that these are extraordinarily long-living organisms, conceivably living for millions of years.
“There are also a huge numbers of viruses, their DNA carefully inserted into living cells,” said Hazen.
“Rio+20 should have been about life, about the future of our children”
By Stephen Leahy
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS)
“Very disappointing.” That was the term business and non-governmental organisations used to describe the formal intergovernmental negotiations at the Rio+20 Earth Summit as of Tuesday.
With overwhelming scientific evidence showing that the Earth’s ability to support human life is at serious risk, the Rio+20 summit is being held to help chart a safe course that will steer away from disaster and bring a better future people around the globe.
After two years, negotiators from more than 190 nations agreed Tuesday to a 49-page draft of the document “The Future We Want”, intended to be the roadmap for this transformation. This document will be presented to heads of states in Rio de Janeiro to revise and finalise by the summit’s conclusion on Friday.
Yet the draft document leaves out a 30-billion-dollar fund proposed by a group of developing countries known as the G77 to finance the transition to a green economy. Nor does it define tangible Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be substituted for the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015.
“This (the revised text) is extremely disappointing….There is no vision, no money and really no commitments here,” said Lasse Gustavsson, head of the Rio+20 delegation from WWF International, which works to stop environmental degradation worldwide.
“Rio+20 should have been about life, about the future of our children, of our grandchildren. It should have been about forest, rivers, lakes, oceans that we are all depending on for our food, water and energy security,” Gustavsson told TerraViva.
“This document is a great disappointment. There’s no ambition and little reference to the planetary boundaries we face,” said Kiara Worth, representing the U.N.’s Major Group on Children and Youth at Rio+20.
“The voices of civil society and future generations is going unheard. We ought to call this Rio minus 20 because we are going backwards,” Worth told TerraViva. Read the rest of this entry »
Earth’s Ability to Support Us At Risk – An Indictment of Governments We Elected
By Stephen Leahy
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS)
The science is crystal clear: humans are threatening Earth’s ability to support mankind, and a new world economy is urgently needed to prevent irreversible decline, said scientists and other experts at an event on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
Yet the Global Environment Outlook report, or GEO 5, which was launched on June 6 and assessed 90 of the most important environmental objectives, found that significant progress had been made only in four in the 20 years since the first landmark summit in Rio in 1992.
Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said the results of GEO 5 were “depressing, even to me”.
“This ought to have us shaking in our boots,” Steiner told TerraViva at the Fair Ideas conference that concluded Sunday. ”It is an indictment of our behaviour over the past 20 years and of the governments we elected. We need an honest conversation about why we are not turning things around.”
Instead, “what’s happening right now in the RioCentro (Rio+20 official site) is that science is being picked out of the text of the final agreement,” Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, told the conference.
Rockström said he had received updates from the negotiations that the United States and some of the world’s least developed countries were attacking the science showing humanity is pushing up against “planetary boundaries”.
Climate is only one of those “planetary boundaries”. Another is the ongoing decline of biodiversity, where so many plants and animals are going extinct that the Earth’s living systems, upon which humanity depends, are unravelling. Fresh water is another planetary boundary. Water is a limited resource, yet water use has increased six-fold in the past century.
“The science is absolutely clear: we are up against the edges of the planet’s ability to support us and approaching irreversible tipping points,” Rockström said. Read the rest of this entry »
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 11 2013 (IPS)
Experts on the health of our planet are terrified of the future. They can clearly see the coming collapse of global civilisation from an array of interconnected environmental problems.
“We’re all scared,” said Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University.
“But we must tell the truth about what’s happening and challenge people to do something to prevent it,” Ehrlich told IPS.
Global collapse of human civilisation seems likely, write Ehrlich and his partner Anne Ehrlich in the prestigious science journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society.
This collapse will take the form of a “…gradual breakdown because famines, epidemics and resource shortages cause a disintegration of central control within nations, in concert with disruptions of trade and conflicts over increasingly scarce necessities”, they write.
Already two billion people are hungry today. Food production is humanity’s biggest industry and is already being affected by climate and other environmental problems. “No civilisation can avoid collapse if it fails to feed its population,” the authors say.
Escalating climate disruption, ocean acidification, oceanic dead zones, depletion of groundwater and extinctions of plants and animals are the main drivers of the coming collapse, they write in their peer-reviewed article “Can a collapse of global civilisation be avoided?” published this week.
Dozens of earth systems experts were consulted in writing the 10-page paper that contains over 160 references.
“We talked to many of the world’s leading experts to reflect what is really happening,” said Ehrlich, who is an eminent biologist and winner of many scientific awards.
Our reality is that current overconsumption of natural resources and the resulting damage to life-sustaining services nature provides means we need another half of a planet to keeping going. And that’s if all seven billion remain at their current living standards, the Ehrlichs write.
If everyone lived like a U.S. citizen, another four or five planets would be needed. Read the rest of this entry »
That number was 52 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2012
Only when this number declines will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Dec 17 2012 (IPS)
The most important number in history is now the annual measure of carbon emissions. That number reveals humanity’s steady billion-tonne by billion-tonne march to the edge of the carbon cliff, beyond which scientists warn lies a fateful fall to catastrophic climate change.
With the global total of climate-disrupting emissions likely to come in at around 52 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) this year, we’re already at the edge, according to new research.
To have a good chance of staying below two degrees C of warming, global emissions should be between 41 and 47 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020, said Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Switzerland’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.
“Only when we see the annual global emissions total decline will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection,” Rogelj told IPS.
Making the shift to a future climate with less than two degrees C of warming is doable and not that expensive if total emissions peak in the next few years and fall into the 41-47 Gt “sweet spot” by 2020, Rogelj and colleagues show in their detailed analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The study is the first to comprehensively quantify the costs and risks of emissions surpassing critical thresholds by 2020. Read the rest of this entry »
Welcome to Bizarro World
[This is a 2011 repost about Keystone XL and expansion of fossil fuel production while world's nations are supposed to be reducing climate-wrecking emissions of carbon. -- Stephen]
Analysis by Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 10, 2011 (IPS)
Canada and the United States are now the centre of Bizarro World. This is where leaders promise to reduce carbon emissions but ensure a new, supersized oil pipeline called Keystone XL is built, guaranteeing further expansion of the Alberta tar sands that produce the world’s most carbon-laden oil.
“It’s imperative that we move quickly to alternate forms of energy – and that we leave the tar sands in the ground,” the U.S.’s leading climate scientists urged President Barack Obama in an open letter Aug. 3.
“As scientists… we can say categorically that it’s [the Keystone XL pipeline] not only not in the national interest, it’s also not in the planet’s best interest.”
The letter was signed by 20 world-renowned scientists, including NASA’s James Hansen, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution, Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and George Woodwell, founder of the Woods Hole Research Center Read the rest of this entry »
By Stephen Leahy
Uxbridge Cosmos, Feb 2013
There is quite a bit of misinformation about climate science and climate change (global warming). This is the most important issue of our time but it can be a complex subject. Here are some tips to help sort fact from fiction based on my experience of writing about science and climate change for the past 15 years.
Tip #1: Consider the source
It’s important to know where the information is coming from. Are they an expert or someone with an impressive looking website but no climate science training? No one goes to an engineer if they want their appendix removed.
If someone says a group of retired NASA scientists claim there is no evidence carbon dioxide causes global warming, I check to see if they are climate scientists — they’re not. Then I go to the official NASA website and in a big headline it says: “97% of climate sciences agree” climate change is happening. This is followed by a long list of well-regarded scientific societies from around the world who also agree.
A reader once sent me a link to a “science” article from Investor’s Business Daily that said increased activity of the sun was entirely responsible for the current warming according to the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, a well-known research centre in Germany. A quick check of the Max Planck Institute’s website revealed their actual conclusion: “Solar activity affects the climate but plays only a minor role in the current global warming.”
Tip#3 Brush up on some science
Our atmosphere traps and retains the suns heat which is called the greenhouse effect. Without this the Earth would be more like the moon: +100C in the day and -170C at night. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that helps keep the planet warm by retaining some of the sun’s heat. John Tyndall proved this 150 years ago in 1861. In the last 100 years our burning of oil, gas and coal has added 40% more CO2 to the atmosphere. That extra CO2 has warmed the planet 0.8C globally and 1.5C to 2.0C in Canada so far.
Tip # 4: Follow the money
Ask this question who has the most to gain or lose? Climate scientist’s largely rely on getting research money from governments. Scientists are smart people who are good with numbers so if they just wanted to make money they’d be working on Bay St or Wall St.
On the other hand the oil, coal and gas companies represent by far the richest industry in human history. In 2010 their revenues were estimated to be $5 trillion, far more than Canada’s $1.7 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) that year. (A trillion is one thousand billion. A trillion seconds is nearly 32,000 years).
The five biggest oil companies made a record $137 billion in profits in 2011. Surprisingly Canada’s largely foreign-owned oil and gas industry still receives $1.3 billion a year in public subsidies despite many promises to end this taxpayer handout.
Some fossil fuel companies have been caught sowing confusion and doubt about climate change just like the tobacco companies did regarding the link between smoking and lung cancer. Fossil fuel interests fund organizations that look official or science-based and they publish reports, write opinion pieces or do media interviews stating that global warming is a hoax and there is no real need to burn less oil, gas or coal. One of these organizations is Canada’s Friends of Science and its related site ClimateChange101 that received funding from Calgary oil company Talisman Energy to put out false and long-debunked critiques of climate science.
Here’s two of the best sources I use to help me sort fact from fiction:
For climate science go to “Skeptical Science”, a volunteer community with clearly written, rock solid science-based answers on climate.
For everything else go to “DeSmogBlog – Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science” . There is now a Canadian version “DeSmogCanada” that I will be contributing to.
No one really wants to think about climate change and what it means for our children’s future. It is too difficult, too painful to even consider. But avoiding or denying global warming and its dangers prevents us from taking action to minimize future impacts. Inaction and delay are truly terrifying. However taking action at the personal, family and community levels is liberating and empowering. We need to start a conversation about this.
Uxbridge’s Stephen Leahy is the 2012 co-winner of the Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for Climate Change reporting . He is the senior science and environment correspondent at IPS, Inter Press Service News Agency, based in Rome. His work is also published in National Geographic, The Guardian (UK), New Scientist, Al Jazeera, Earth Island Journal and others.
Or Just Print This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Win Every Climate Argument (thanks to Mother Jones)
Repost from 2011: More and more science reveals the not surprising connection between a warming planet and extreme weather. Won’t stop unless emissions of fossil fuels stop — Stephen
(Bonus: How we can kick the fossil fuel addiction)
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 16, 2011 (IPS)
Human-induced heating of the planet has already made rainfall more intense, leading to more severe floods, researchers announced Wednesday.
Two new studies document significant impacts with just a fraction of the heating yet to come from the burning of fossil fuels. Fortunately, another new report shows the world can end its addiction to climate-wrecking fossil-fuel energy by 2050.
“Warmer air contains more moisture and leads to more extreme precipitation,” said Francis Zwiers of the University of Victoria.
Extreme precipitation and flooding over the entire northern hemisphere increased by seven percent between 1951 and 1999 as a result of anthropogenic global warming. That represents a “substantial change”, Zwiers told IPS, and more than twice the increase projected by climate modeling.
Zwiers and Xuebin Zhang of Environment Canada used observations from over 6,000 weather stations to measure the impact of climate warming on the intensity of extreme precipitation for the first time. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
The planet is currently 0.8 degrees C hotter from the burning of fossil fuels. However, global temperatures had not yet started to increase in 1951, the first year of rainfall data Zwiers and Xuebin examined. By 1999, global temperatures had climbed by about 0.6 degrees C. The average temperature increase over that 50-year period is relatively small compared to the present but major impacts have been documented in terms of storm and flood damage even with this small increase in temperatures.
This suggests that the Earth’s climatic system may be more sensitive to small temperature increases than previously believed.
Ice-free summer in the Arctic is just a matter of time - mostly likely within the next 5 years. Here's a "six-pack" of my recent articles on how global warming is transforming the Arctic:
The rapidly warming Arctic region is destabilising Earth’s climate in ways science is just beginning to comprehend.
“The first law of humanity is not to kill your children.”
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 27 2013 (IPS)
Killer heat waves, floods and storms are increasingly caused by climate change, new research reveals.
Scientists in Germany say they have found how greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are helping to trap the jet stream, resulting in extraordinary weather such as the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States.
Human-driven climate change repeatedly disturbs the flow of atmospheric waves around the globe’s Northern hemisphere, said lead author Vladimir Petoukhov of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.
Giant atmospheric waves called Rossby waves are meanders in the strong, high-altitude winds known as jet streams and have a major influence on weather. These wave movements are caused by the difference in temperatures between the cold air from the Arctic and hot air from the tropics.
When the waves shift north, they suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the U.S., and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic, said Petoukhov.
“During several recent extreme weather events, these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” he said. “So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays.”
This unnatural pattern is due to human heating of the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels, according to the study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
However, this heating of the atmosphere is wildly uneven. The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the global temperature rise of 0.8C and that affects the Rossby waves and is slowing the jet stream.
“(Our research) complements previous research that already linked such phenomena to climate change,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study. Read the rest of this entry »