That's the warning from a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday, which analyzed how the world's reefs would fare under a low, medium and high emissions scenario.
"Our work highlights a grim picture for the future of coral reefs," study lead author and Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington marine biologist Christopher Cornwall told ABC News.
Scientists have long known that the climate crisis threatens coral reefs in two major ways. First, the increase of carbon dioxide in the ocean leads to a process called ocean acidification, which makes it harder for corals to form calcium carbonate skeletons, a process known as calcification. Secondly, warming ocean temperatures increase the risk of coral bleaching, when corals expel the algae that give them food and color. The warming can also interfere with the calcification process.
But there's more. A certain type of algae known as calcifying red algae, or coralline algae, acts as adhesive binding reefs together and can even form its own reefs, Cornwall explained in a Victoria University of Wellington press release.
"While corals are highly susceptible to ocean warming, coralline algae are more vulnerable to ocean acidification. Coral reef growth is also dictated by the removal of this calcium carbonate through either bioerosion — living organisms eating the reef — or the dissolution of sediments that help fill in the cracks between larger pieces of calcium carbonate," Cornwall explained. "Both processes are likely to accelerate under ocean acidification and warming. However, no one study had put these processes together quantitatively previously."
Monday's study sought to fill in this research gap by looking at calcification, bioerosion and sediment erosion rates for 233 areas on 183 reefs worldwide. Forty-nine percent of the reefs studied were in the Atlantic Ocean, 39 percent in the Indian Ocean and 11 percent in the Pacific Ocean. The researchers then used models to determine what would happen to the reefs in 2050 and 2100 based on low, medium or worst-case emissions scenarios.
The news is grim. By 2100, the rate of carbonate production on the reefs will decline by 76 percent under a low emissions scenario, 149 percent under a medium emissions scenario and 156 percent under a high emissions scenario, the study found.
While 63 percent of reefs would continue to grow under a low-emissions scenario by 2100, 94 percent of them would begin to decline as soon as 2050 in the worst-case scenario. Under both the medium and high emissions scenario, reef growth would not be able to keep pace with sea level rise by the end of the century.
This would be a devastating blow for the marine biodiversity and human livelihoods that reefs support, ABC News pointed out. Furthermore, the decline of reefs would deprive coastal areas from an important protection against rising sea levels and surges from more extreme storms.
"The only hope for coral reef ecosystems to remain as close as possible to what they are now is to quickly and drastically reduce our CO2 emissions," Cornwall told ABC News. "If not, they will be dramatically altered and cease their ecological benefits as hotspots of biodiversity, sources of food and tourism, and their provision of shoreline protection."
The research also looked at which reefs would be most vulnerable, and found that Atlantic Ocean reefs, which are already more damaged, would be worse off compared to Pacific Ocean reefs. The researchers also predicted that coral bleaching would be the lead cause of these declines.
"We are already observing global shifts in coral assemblages and severely reduced coral cover due to mass bleaching events. It is very unlikely corals will suddenly gain the heat tolerance required to resist these events as they become more frequent and intense," Cornwall said in the press release.
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What is fracking?
Fracking is a process of blasting water, chemicals and frac sand deep into the earth to break up sedimentary rock and access natural gas and crude oil deposits. The fracking industry, which has sought to promote the practice as safe and controlled, has preferred the term "hydraulic fracturing."
Fracking emerged as an unconventional, "relatively new" and extremely popular technique only about 20 years ago in the U.S., after advances in technology gave it an unprecedented ability to identify and extract massive amounts of resources efficiently.
Fracking is one of the most important environmental issues today, and it's a prime example of how a new technology that offers immediate economic and political benefits can outpace (often less obvious) environmental and health concerns.
Why is fracking so controversial?
Modern fracking emerged so quickly, faster than its impacts were understood. Just as importantly, once scientists, health experts and the public started to object with evidence of harm it was causing, business and government succeeded in perpetuating a message of uncertainty, that more research was necessary, further enabling the "full speed ahead" fracking juggernaut.
How does fracking impact the environment?
Fracking's supporters have pushed an environmental angle, insisting that natural gas can be a "bridge fuel," a cheaper, cleaner option than coal before we have a large-scale transition to renewable energy. This claim has some merit, as natural gas does emit much less carbon dioxide than coal or oil. However, it is still a fossil fuel, adding harmful emissions while the climate crisis worsens. Moreover, fracking wells leak methane, a greenhouse gas more than 25 times more potent than CO2.
In order to break up rock formations one to two miles deep, a fracking operation requires millions of gallons amount of water. After it's used, the resulting wastewater, which contains chemicals is pumped back into injection wells, sent to treatment plants, or can be dangerously dumped or spilled.
In 2016 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report skewed friendly to industry in its language: Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States. The EPA acknowledged that drinking water contamination was possible, but ultimately came to this conclusion: "Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA's ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources locally and nationally."
According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, disposal of wastewater has caused an increase in earthquakes in the central U.S. Seismologists have reported that fracking's initial blasting process can trigger earthquakes.
In addition to methane, fracking releases many toxic contaminants into the air. EPA has acknowledged the public health threat, but a lack of urgent political pressure has sidelined the agency into advising on ways to control and reduce, rather than eliminate, the danger.
Fracking fluids contain unknown chemicals and known carcinogens such as benzene. Fracking companies haven't been required to disclose their proprietary formulas, however. This is yet another example of how uncertainty serves as an enabling force. The EPA has identified more than 1,000 different chemicals used in fracking fluid.
How does fracking affect the economy?
The fracking boom made the U.S. the world's largest producer of oil and gas, reducing its energy imports from 26% to less than 4%. It has lowered oil and gas prices and created thousands of industry jobs. While fracking companies profited greatly at first, as prices dropped their margins collapsed. Many are now going bankrupt.
How is fracking regulated?
Congress has enabled the oil and gas industry to be exempt from such regulations as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Fracking surged during the Obama administration, which moved to protect water from fracking on federal lands in 2015. Subsequently, the Trump administration sought to roll back protections and expand fracking on federal lands.
Key Examples of Fracking in the United States
Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale is the source for about 40% of shale gas production in the U.S.
While the Marcellus Shale also runs through New York, the state has banned fracking.
Texas produces more crude oil than any other state.
The Bakken Shale in North Dakota has been one of the main sites for the fracking boom and subsequent bust, leaving behind extensive environmental damage.
A recent report found that all 50 states could provide 100% (or even greater) in-state renewable energy.
Outside the U.S., only Canada, China and Argentina have commercial fracking operations. A UN report in 2018 said that other countries were "highly unlikely" to produce at such a large scale as the U.S., due to political and cultural factors, and existing infrastructure.
The Future of Fracking
While renewables were considered a solution for "peak oil" only a decade ago, fracking changed the terms of the debate, with a new focus from environmentalists to "keep it in the ground" starting in 2015.
The Biden administration now stands at a pivotal moment in the climate crisis. Biden's stance on fracking is not yet entirely clear, but he has rejoined the Paris agreement and appears to take climate seriously. At the same time, he is sympathetic to workers in fossil fuel industries, was vice president during the fracking boom years under Obama, and may be more inclined to seek a gradual transition than one fast enough to help solve the crisis.
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The contents of our mattresses are often an afterthought. That's a mistake, as research shows that the quality of your sleeping surface can significantly impact your health.
As consumers gain awareness about the health effects of sleeping on potentially toxic compounds, mattress companies are responding with new beds made from better materials. Today, you can choose from a broad range of mattresses made from all-natural components, including organic wool, cotton, and latex. Here's a summary of the best non-toxic, eco-friendly mattresses available today and how to decide between them.
Why You Should Choose an Organic Mattress
Traditionally, mattresses contain trace amounts of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that act as flame retardants and coatings on plastic components. While the popular view is that these VOCs are found in too low of concentrations to be concerning, a 2019 study published in Environmental Science and Technology indicates that body heat may transform them into toxic vapors that you breathe in through the night.
That's a reason for concern, as according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the potential health effects of VOC exposure include headaches and eye, nose, and throat irritation. In extreme cases, they may trigger cancer cell development or organ damage.
8 Top-Rated Organic and Natural Mattress BrandsEach product featured below has been selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the included links, we may earn a commission.
- Best Overall – Avocado Green Mattress
- Best Cooling – GhostBed Natural Mattress
- Best Hypoallergenic – Plushbeds Botanical Bliss
- Best for Lower Back Support – Saatva Zenhaven Latex Mattress
- Best for Couples – My Green Mattress Natural Escape
- Best 100% Certified Organic - Happsy Mattress
- Best Fair Trade Certified – Birch Natural Mattresses
- Most Affordable – Eco Terra Latex Hybrid
- Best Give Back Program – Awara Organic Luxury Hybrid Mattress
How We Chose These Products
When comparing the best natural mattress options, we looked at several specific factors to determine which ones stand out. Here are some of the distinguishing features.
The best non-toxic mattress brands today exclusively use certified organic textiles like cotton and wool.
Is it certified GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)? As the leading natural certifications for textiles and latex materials, GOLS and GOTS-certified products meet stringent requirements for responsible social and environmental practices.
The best nontoxic mattresses are compressed into boxes for shipping and then expand to full size once you unpack them. Environmentally speaking, smaller packages mean less fuel wasted on transportation. Others are sent in pieces or in full form and require a delivery team for installation.
Give Back Programs
The best eco-friendly mattress brands also support nonprofit programs that benefit the environment. We like brands where a percentage of your purchase may go towards a worthwhile cause.
Many of the best organic mattresses are handcrafted in the United States, which shrinks their environmental footprint by keeping production and transportation within a smaller area.
Standard practice in the mattress industry is to offer sleep trial testing periods. These range from three months to a year or longer.
Direct to Consumer
Direct-to-consumer mattress companies are increasing in popularity. They tend to be less wasteful than traditional retailers because the brand isn't putting resources towards maintaining showrooms.
9 Best Natural and Organic Mattresses of 2021
Best Overall - Avocado Green Mattress
- Materials – 100% GOTS certified cotton and wool, 100% natural latex, steel support coils
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Mattress arrives compressed in a box
- Certifications – GREENGUARD Gold, Rainforest Alliance, eco-INSTITUT®, and Formaldehyde-Free certified, OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified wool, GOTS and GOLS certified materials
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
This mattress-in-a-box brand doesn't compromise its eco-friendly principles for low cost or convenience. The Avocado Green mattress boasts a gentle latex support system for balanced firmness that's ideal for larger people and those who sleep on their back or side.
Why buy: Avocado is a leading brand for affordable mattresses made from natural materials. The Green mattress makes this list for its affordable price point and five-zone support system with up to 1,400 pocketed steel support coils. Equally impressive, Avocado maintains control over its whole supply chain and employs strict social and environmental standards for every product.
Best Cooling - GhostBed Natural Mattress
- Materials – Natural wool, GOLS certified Dunlop & Talalay latex, USDA organic and GOTS certified cotton
- Manufacturing – Manufactured in the USA
- Delivery – Mattress arrives vacuum sealed in a box
- Certifications – USDA organic, Control Union certified, OEKO-TEX® certified, GOLS and GOTS certified materials
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 101 night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
The GhostBed Natural mattress offers five layers of natural comfort materials. Each mattress is made from natural wool, genuine Dunlop and Talalay latex, and organic cotton for solid support and air-flow cooling. This is an eco-friendly mattress made for comfort, cooling, and support.
Why buy: The GhostBed Natural mattress is a great option if you tend to get hot when you sleep, as it includes both a naturally cooling latex core and cooling airflow coil technology to help you sleep better. We also love that it is made in the United States with organic and natural materials like sustainably-sourced latex and USDA organic cotton.
Best Hypoallergenic - Plushbeds Botanical Bliss
- Materials – GOLS certified latex, GOTS certified cotton and wool
- Manufacturing – Handcrafted in California
- Delivery – Delivered in two boxes, the customer must assemble
- Certifications – GOLS certified latex, GOTS certified cotton and wool, GreenGuard Gold Certified, OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 Certified, eco-INSTITUT® certified, Control Union Certified, Forest Stewardship Council Certified
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
Plushbeds mattresses are handcrafted in the US from certified organic materials. Orthopedic specialists recommend them for their buoyant support and pressure point relief, along with an organic latex core you can customize.
Why buy: With Plushbeds' Botanical Bliss mattress, you get a non-toxic, hypoallergenic sleeping surface that keeps you cool through the night. This bed is dust mite resistant to eliminate most home's primary allergy problems and includes an organic cotton cover for comfort.
Best Luxury - Saatva Zenhaven Latex Mattress
- Materials – Certified organic cotton, all-natural Talalay latex, 100% organic New Zealand wool
- Manufacturing – Made in USA within 19 independent factories
- Delivery – Purchase comes with free white glove delivery and setup, including old mattress removal
- Certifications – OEKO-TEX® Standard 100, eco-INSTITUT®, Rainforest Alliance, and Cradle to Cradle certified
- Sleep Trial/ Warranty – 180-day sleep trial, 20-year warranty
The Saatva Zenhaven mattress is naturally hypoallergenic and made using environmentally responsible practices. The manufacturing process is entirely water-based and produces minimal byproducts. Even the certified organic cotton cover is protected by a proprietary nontoxic botanical antimicrobial treatment. Rather than using traditional flame retardants, the mattress contains a protective layer of organic New Zealand wool.
Why buy: As Saatva's premium mattress, the Zenhaven is made for low back support and a cooling, comfortable night's sleep. This 100% Talalay latex mattress contains durable materials for supported rest and boasts a flippable design for two firmness levels. This is the best option for a luxurious yet eco-friendly mattress.
Best for Couples - My Green Mattress Natural Escape
- Materials – GOTS certified cotton, GOLS certified Dunlop latex
- Manufacturing – Handcrafted in a certified organic factory in Illinois
- Delivery – White glove delivery service available for $199 for setup and old mattress removal.
- Certifications – GreenGuard Gold Certified, GOTS Certified cotton, GOLS certified Dunlop latex
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 120-night sleep trial, 20-year warranty
The Natural Escape mattress boasts a responsive zoned pocketed coil spring system covered with GOLS certified Dunlop latex for breathability. With an adaptive support system that conforms to the contours of your spine, the company recommends it for couples with opposite body types or who prefer different sleeping positions from each other. The mattress itself is button tufted to pull the layers together without the use of any potentially toxic adhesives or VOCs.
Why buy: The Natural Escape mattress from My Green Mattress delivers stellar lumbar support and proper spinal alignment—all underneath a comfortable organic cotton cover. It also provides limited motion transfer thanks to an upgraded innerspring system, making it a great option for couples as you won't disturb your partner when you move.
Best 100% Certified Organic - Happsy Mattress
- Materials – Organic cotton filling, organic wool, certified latex
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Ships compressed in a single box
- Certifications – GOTS-certified cotton, Certified Made Safe, GOLS-certified latex, Forest Stewardship Council Certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, GreenGuard Gold Certified, Underwriters Laboratories verified formaldehyde-free, Green America Certified Business
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 120-night sleep trial, 20-year warranty
Happsy's mattresses combine comfort, the latest technology in certified organic mattress design, and premium earth-friendly materials for a bed you can feel good about from every angle. In fact, the included zipper lets you peek inside to see what you're really sleeping on. The mattress utilizes a breathable coil system designed to wick moisture away to keep you cooler at night than sleeping on heat-trapping synthetic foams.
Why buy: Happsy is a small mattress brand focused on making mattresses with a conscience — meaning that all materials are chosen for being easy on the environment. The company forgoes all glues and adhesives in favor of its own pocketed spring design that keeps the mattress supportive, but never "bouncy."
Best Fair Trade Certified - Birch Natural Mattresses
- Materials – Organic cotton, wool, birch wool, natural latex, steel coils
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Ships compressed in a box
- Certifications – GreenGuard Gold Certified, GOTS Certified, OEKO-TEX®Standard 100, Eco INSTITUT® Tested Product, Wool Integrity NZ, Fair Trade Certified Factory
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
Birch by Helix makes a range of natural bedding options constructed in ways that support the environment. Each mattress is made from premium materials that together work to relieve your body's pressure points, no matter how you prefer to sleep. The company claims this premium product has natural flexibility that allows it to retain its shape to provide enough softness for coziness while still offering full-body support.
Why buy: We love that all Birch mattress wool comes from New Zealand sheep farms that meet Wool Integrity NZ standards, which ensures the animals are treated ethically at every stage of production. Plus, the cotton within each mattress is Fair Trade certified, making this a responsible sleep option.
Most Affordable - Eco Terra Latex Hybrid
- Materials – 100% natural latex foam rubber, organic wool, organic cotton
- Manufacturing – Designed and handcrafted in Los Angeles, CA
- Delivery – Free standard delivery across the US, White Glove delivery available for an extra cost
- Certifications – OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified, GOTS Organic wool, GOTS organic certified cotton
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 90-day sleep trial, 15-year warranty
Eco Terra offers a budget-friendly latex hybrid mattress that includes natural materials, unobtrusive pocket support coils, and a 90-day sleep trial. Eco Terra's latex mattress is available in both a medium and medium-firm firmness level to support a wide range of sleepers. The bed is free of synthetic foams and VOCs, favoring a three-inch-thick layer of Talalay latex instead.
Why buy: Eco Terra offers a more budget-friendly option than other latex hybrid brands, making this mattress an excellent choice for comfortable sleep without compromising on natural materials. One thing to note is that this latex isn't GOLS-certified, though the other materials are GOTS certified.
Best Give Back Program - Awara Organic Luxury Hybrid Mattress
- Materials – Dunlap latex, organic New Zealand wool, organic cotton, steel coils
- Manufacturing – Made in China
- Delivery – Arrives compressed in a box
- Certifications – Rainforest Alliance certified latex, certified organic wool, certified organic cotton
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 365-night sleep trial, Forever Warranty (lifetime guarantee against sagging and manufacturing defects)
Awara features premium Sri Lanka latex and wrapped coil springs to provide contour and a touch of bounce for supportive sleep throughout the night. At the core of this mattress are nine-inch pocketed coils that are thicker than standard. This gives the bed a firmer, more responsive feel that minimizes the sense of sinking when you reach the outer edge, so it's suitable for back, side, and stomach sleepers alike.
Why buy: Awara's natural latex mattress stands out for being slightly firmer than some other options. The mattress itself is made from quality materials with GOLS, GOTS, and Rainforest Alliance certification. Awara also partners with Trees for the Future to support forest systems throughout Africa. Every purchase funds the planting of ten trees throughout Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, or Tanzania.
The best night's sleep takes place on a mattress that won't make you or the environment sick. Today, there are more options than ever for finding the best organic and nontoxic mattress for your family. Seek out brands that use certified organic materials and that guarantee each bed is free from VOCs to rest easy every night.
Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, food and farming, and environmental topics. When not working against a writing deadline, you can find Lydia outdoors where she attempts to bring order to her 33-acre hobby farm filled with fruit trees, heritage breed pigs, too many chickens to count, and an organic garden that somehow gets bigger every year.
By Richard Connor
A spokeswoman for the Extinction Rebellion group on Tuesday said one of its cofounders had been arrested by officers from London's Metropolitan Police.
The group, whose stated aim is to use nonviolent protest to force government action on climate change, has staged numerous high-profile protests in the UK, US and other developed nations including Germany.
Why Was She Arrested?
The group said Bradbrook had been arrested on charges relating to its action campaign against financial institutions known as "Money Rebellion."
"Extinction Rebellion cofounder Gail Bradbrook was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police at her home in Stroud at around 5:30 a.m. this morning for conspiracy to cause criminal damage and fraud in relation to Money Rebellion's debt disobedience," a spokeswoman for the group said.
BREAKING: Extinction Rebellion Co-founder Gail Bradbrook arrested at her home this morning Extinction Rebellion co… https://t.co/ixq6VHdQFy— Extinction Rebellion UK 🌍 (@Extinction Rebellion UK 🌍)1620724507.0
Activists from the Extinction Rebellion smashed window frontages of HSBC and Barclays in the British capital in March. The group also targeted the Lloyds of London insurance market as part of its action.
The spokeswoman added that the fraud allegation stems from a campaign to use personal credit card debt to make donations to groups allegedly damaged by banks. The borrower would then refuse to pay off the debt.
Who Is Gail Bradbrook?
The 49-year-old Bradbrook, who holds a doctorate in molecular biophysics, has said she believes only large-scale civil disobedience can bring about government action on climate change.
She started Extinction Rebellion in 2018 along with her former partner Simon Bramwell, and organic farmer and activist Roger Hallam.
The group says the UK and other countries are acting too slowly to stop climate change. It also accuses the Western financial system of fueling the abuse of the planet.
In April 2019, Extinction Rebellion rose to prominence when it occupied five prominent sites in central London over several days.
In November that year, Hallam caused outrage and issued an apology for "hurt and offense caused" after comments that appeared to downplay the Holocaust.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Methane pollution from oil and gas extraction operations on Navajo Nation lands harms the health of local residents and robs the tribe of critical income, writes Hannah Grover for the New Mexico Political Report.
An EDF report released late last month found the industry releases 1.5 million cubic feet of so-called "natural' gas," comprised mostly of methane, into the atmosphere in Navajo Nation each year. That methane gas pollution amounts to 5.2% of the gas extracted, a loss rate double the national average, and costs the tribe $1.2 million in lost royalties and taxes.
The harmful methane pollution can have a major impact on Navajo Nation residents. Carol Davis, the director of the environmental advocacy group Diné CARE, said just a visit left her with nausea, headaches and a panic attack. "It's just amazing," she added, "that people have lived there for so long in an area where they're exposed to that kind of pollution." According to EDF, about a third of those losses could be addressed through regular detection and maintenance.
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By Simon Evans
Furthermore, the IEA's "renewable energy market update" forecasts nearly 40% higher growth in 2021 than it expected a year ago, putting wind and solar on track to match global gas capacity by 2022.
The Paris-based agency says a "huge" 280 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity – primarily wind and solar – was installed globally last year, some 45% higher than the level in 2019, after the largest annual increase in more than 20 years.
This "exceptional" level of annual additions will become the "new normal" in 2021 and 2022, the IEA says, with the potential for further acceleration in the years that follow.
Overall, the IEA says that renewables accounted for 90% of new electricity generating capacity added globally last year and that they will meet the same share in each of the next two years.
In its latest update, the IEA says wind and solar growth forecasts have been "revised upwards by over 25% from last year."
This is based on comparing the new forecast for growth in 2021 (red line in the chart below) to the "main case" published in November 2020 (dashed mid blue). Looking at the figures for 2022, the IEA's new forecast is 30% higher than the main one it published last November.
Annual global growth of wind and solar capacity, 2000-2025. Actual growth is shown in black, while various IEA forecasts are shown in red and shades of blue. Source: Carbon Brief analysis of IEA forecasts. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
Wind and solar are now expected to surpass even the "accelerated case" outlined by the agency in November 2020 (dashed dark blue), in which they matched global gas capacity by 2022.
Moreover, the new forecast for 2021 is nearly 40% higher than the one published by the IEA just a year ago, in May 2020 (dashed light blue line).
At the time, the agency had expected renewable additions to be badly hit by the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, but impacts on the sector were largely confined to the first quarter of the year.
The IEA has repeatedly raised its expectations for wind and solar over the past decade, drawing fire from critics that say – in the words of a 2019 Reuters article – that it has "underplay[ed] the speed at which the world could switch renewable sources of energy."
Last year's flagship IEA World Energy Outlook made a major update to the agency's assumptions about the costs of financing the construction of wind and solar over the next two decades. This gave a significant boost to the agency's expectations for the growth of renewables.
But today's new report, which focuses on near-term growth in 2021 and 2022, contains even higher forecasts for wind and solar growth.
This is shown for solar in the chart below, with red triangles marking the solar growth figures in today's report, the red line showing historical data and the blue and black lines showing successive World Energy Outlooks for solar over the next 20 years, as published between 2009-2020.
Gigawatts of solar capacity added around the world each year (red line) and the IEA renewable market update 2021 (red triangles), as well as IEA World Energy Outlooks published between 2009-2020. Source: Carbon Brief analysis of IEA reports. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
Explaining its new forecasts, the IEA points to a number of changes over the past year, as well as areas where its earlier expectations have proved too pessimistic.
The biggest changes in this year's forecast are for China, the IEA notes, where more projects are going ahead without government subsidies than expected. The update says:
"The pipeline of solar PV and wind plant projects accepting provincial electricity prices without additional subsidies has increased since last year, resulting in a more optimistic forecast."
The IEA has, therefore, increased its forecast for growth in China by 45%, boosting total additions in 2021 and 2022 from around 150GW to around 230GW, as shown in the chart below.
Wind and solar growth during 2021 and 2022, according to the IEA's November 2020 forecast (green) and its May 2021 figures (blue). Forecast capacity growth is shown by the bars and the left axis. The percent revision between forecasts is shown by the dots and the right axis.Source: IEA Renewable Energy Market Update 2021
The new China forecast for 2021 and 2022 is lower than the growth seen in 2020, when developers rushed to secure subsidies before they expired, but the IEA now sees less of a slowdown than it had previously expected.
Elsewhere, the IEA has boosted its U.S. forecasts by more than 20% thanks to the expected extension of renewable energy tax credits.
It also points to better-than-expected solar auction volumes in India during 2020, but adds that the ongoing COVID-19 surge in the country creates "short-term uncertainty."
The IEA says there were "record-breaking" competitive auctions for renewable contracts last year, with India and China securing almost 55GW of new capacity at average prices of $60 per megawatt hour (MWh) for wind and $47/MWh for solar.
There was another record-breaking year for corporate renewable energy deals, the IEA adds, with companies signing "power purchase agreements" for nearly 25GW in 2020 – a 25% increase.
In a press release announcing the new figures, IEA chief executive Fatih Birol says:
"Wind and solar power are giving us more reasons to be optimistic about our climate goals as they break record after record. Last year the increase in renewable capacity accounted for 90% of the entire global power sector's expansion…A massive expansion of clean electricity is essential to giving the world a chance of achieving its net-zero goals."
The update says renewables will again meet 90% of the global power sector's capacity growth in 2021 and 2022.
Reposted with permission from Carbon Brief.
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By Malavika Vyawahare
"Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are," the French lawyer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in his 1826 opus, Physiologie du Goût. This is quite literally the case, scientists decoding the human body have found.
Now, an analysis of chemical signatures in human hair and nails shows that as more of our food is mass-produced, we are beginning to "look" increasingly similar. If not in the flesh, then in the bones.
"Reliance on international food distribution and industrial agriculture has changed the chemistry of the entire human race," said Michael Bird, first author of a recent paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Only communities that rely on subsistence agriculture have bucked the trend, the paper found.
This change is especially true for urbanized and wealthier communities. In nations where annual per capita income exceeds $10,000, supermarkets supply most of the food. Another hallmark of the modern diet is the reliance on wheat, maize, rice, and a handful of other starchy cereals.
A supermarket in North America. Image courtesy of Flickr
Archaeologists routinely draw conclusions about past diets from skeletal remains. Bird and his collaborators analyzed hair and nail samples from present-day populations and compared them with archaeological data on the diets of people living before 1910. It was around this time that synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, one of the pillars of industrial farming, came into widespread use.
The researchers looked specifically at the ratio of different isotopes of nitrogen and carbon found in corporal remains. Isotopes are versions of the same element that differ in mass. By studying these ratios, scientists can draw conclusions about the food that people eat.
In the case of nitrogen-based fertilizers, the proportion of nitrogen isotopes reflects their ratio in the atmosphere, not what would exist in naturally fertile soils. When nitrogen-fixing microbes extract nitrogen from the atmosphere, it yields a different ratio of the two isotopes than chemical fertilizer.
When plants take up nitrogen from the soil, they absorb two stable nitrogen isotopes in a fixed proportion. This ratio changes as the nutrients make their way up the food chain via the guts of other organisms. The lighter form of nitrogen is more likely to be used for bodily functions and excreted as waste, but the body retains heavier isotopes. Thus, more of the heavier nitrogen isotope survives the ascent from prey to predator.
For folks buying food at mega marts supplied by factory farms, nitrogen isotope values across populations are in general lower and lie within a narrower band. If you consume meat from cows on large industrial-scale farms or plants grown in monoculture fields with the help of fertilizers, the nutrients come to you through an artificially shortened route.
"We're sort of short-circuited many of the natural processes that go into making the food for people in prehistory, or people who still live a subsistence lifestyle," Bird said.
Carbon isotopes, in turn, shed light on what kinds of foods people consume: a diet rich in corn or one where rice is a staple will leave behind a different carbon isotope signal in human tissue. The range of values for carbon isotopes has also shrunk today, the analysis found, because we're eating similar kinds of food.
"We know that agricultural production and food consumption patterns were narrowed down globally over the last 100 years due to research and policy concentrating mostly on a few major crops — cereal grains, oilseeds, sugar — while neglecting many others," said Matin Qaim, an agricultural economist at the University of Goettingen, Germany, who was not involved in the study. "Of course, food collection from the wild — roots, leaves, berries — also declined in importance for most humans in modern times."
However, communities that rely on subsistence agriculture exhibit isotope ratios that are similar to pre-1910 human diets.
That's not necessarily a good or bad thing in terms of health. "The authors of this paper show that diets were more diverse on average before 'industrial agriculture' started, but this does not mean that people had a better nutritional status back then," Qaim said.
The problem with this mode of sustenance, divorced from natural complex food chains, is a loss of resilience. The simplification of the food chain and overreliance on one- or two-step food chains worry researchers like Bird. "It's a demonstration that being reliant to a very great degree on technology in the form of industrial agriculture is potentially a risk," he said.
A disruption, like a plant disease, locust invasion, or pandemic, can throw the entire system into disarray. Short of dismantling the industrial, agricultural complex, there is no way to revert to earlier production modes. Given the ballooning human population, such a campaign would also undermine the food security of millions of people. According to economic historians, the availability of chemical fertilizers is one major reason for the burgeoning human population in the first place.
"Agricultural production and food consumption patterns should be diversified, meaning that more different types of crops should be produced and consumed locally and globally. This would have nutritional, health, and environmental benefits," Qaim said. "We cannot roll back agricultural technology to what it was 100 years ago. We need technology, including new technologies to feed and nourish the world, but need more diversity and reduce the environmental footprint."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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On May 10, 1996, an unexpected storm engulfed the summit of Mt. Everest, killing eight climbers. At the time, it was the deadliest disaster in the mountain's history. Twenty-five years later, scientists and the mountaineering community are still taking steps toward safer expeditions. But with the climate crisis taking its own toll on the mountain, climbing the world's highest peak may become more dangerous than ever.
Disaster On High
In the spring of 1996, guided climbing teams from around the world gathered at base camp, preparing their attempts to summit Mt. Everest. Among them were Adventure Consultants, led by Rob Hall, and Mountain Madness, led by Scott Fischer, two of the most well-respected and experienced guides in Himalayan mountaineering.
After months of preparation and acclimatization, Hall and Fischer's teams were making their summit push the second week of May. After staying a couple of nights lower on the mountain, they departed their final camp, Camp IV, just after midnight on May 10 and headed toward the highest point on Earth.
As a safety precaution, teams summiting Everest set a turnaround time to make sure they have enough daylight and resources to get back down the mountain safely. For Hall and Fischer's teams, that time was 2 p.m. If clients hadn't summited by then, they'd have to turn around, thousands of dollars and months of preparation squandered — but at least they'd make it home.
A cloudy day in the Himalaya. Toomas Tartes / Unsplash
On May 10, however, multiple delays caused many of the climbers to miss this window, and for reasons nobody will ever be sure of — maybe client dedication, maybe high-altitude brain fog, maybe a combination of both, or maybe something different entirely — neither guide turned his clients around at the agreed-on time. Instead, climbers were struggling up the mountain through the afternoon, even as snow started to fall around 3 p.m. Fischer himself didn't summit until 3:45.
Although the forecast had shown clear weather, by 5 p.m., the top 3,000 feet of the mountain were engulfed in an unpredicted, unforgiving blizzard.
About 2,500 feet below the storm at Camp III was the Alpine Ascents team, which included guide Pete Athans, a long-time mountaineer who earned the nickname "Mr. Everest" after becoming the first Westerner to summit seven times. Athans had been climbing alongside both Hall and Fischer for years, as all were part of the close-knit Himalayan guiding community.
The Alpine Ascents team was planning to make its summit push two days after Mountain Madness and Adventure Consultants, but as they watched the high-altitude storm blow in above them, they soon realized they'd have to make it a rescue mission instead.
"Around 10:30 or 11 p.m., we were still hearing [via radio contact] that there were more than 18 people that had not made it down [to camp]," Athans said. Two of those stranded climbers were Hall and Fischer. "At that point, we realized likely something was wrong there."
Athans and co-guide Todd Burleson, while hoping for the best, made a plan for the worst. At 3 a.m. on May 11, they woke up and began climbing.
"Our plan was to keep going up the mountain until we found Rob and Scott," Athans said. But when they got to Camp IV, they realized how many other people needed attention after a night spent blasted by near-hurricane-force winds.
There were still people missing from camp, and by that point, they'd heard via radio that Fischer had collapsed and had likely perished at a spot called the Balcony, which lies at about 27,500 feet, and that Hall was still alive but in need of assistance to descend further than where he'd spent the night about 28,700 feet up the mountain.
A team of six Sherpa, or Himalayan support climbers, began ascending to attempt a rescue of the two stranded guides, but the still-fierce wind prevented them from being successful. Neither Rob Hall nor Scott Fischer made it down the mountain alive.
"It still brings up a wealth of sadness that I wasn't able to do more for Rob and Scott," said Athans, now 64 and living in Bainbridge Island, Washington. "Back in that day, I had always thought I'd continue working and climbing and being friends with those guys. They were a big part of our community; they were larger than life — great sense of humor, fun to be around, really congenial and convivial people, and good climbers.
"It's hard to lose people like that. You know if you spend much time in mountain-climbing circles, you lose important people to you along the way. It happens, unfortunately."
Hall and Fischer were two of eight climbers who died due to the storm that struck Mt. Everest on May 10, 1996.
Evolutions in Tourism
In the past quarter-century, there have been a number of other deadly seasons on Everest, and commercialization has played a major role in these losses.
"Base camp has a thousand people at the height of the climbing season," said Paul Mayewski, director and professor at the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. "The actual climbing window is during the last two weeks of May usually. In that climbing window, you'll look for ideally two to three days during which the weather is really good for people to make the ascent."
Climbers form a line to the top of Everest. GESMAN TAMANG / AFP via Getty Images
Unfortunately, not every year has enough good weather days to space out expeditions. This is the scenario that played out in the 2019 season, one of the deadliest on record. Poor weather allowed just a few opportunities to climb, which led to about 800 people trying to summit each day. Lines up at the summit looked like something you'd see at Disney World. That year, 11 people died trying to achieve their Everest dreams.
So, why not just restrict the number of climbers? While the Nepalese government has considered cutting the number of permits issued each year, "it's really tough when your economy is completely reliant," Athans said. "There are some small industries [in Nepal], but really their chief economic motor is tourism — everything from people going into the Kathmandu valley for a weekend to people going on months-long Everest expeditions."
That isn't to say that the government isn't concerned about these issues, especially considering their own people, the Sherpa climbers, have the most dangerous jobs on the mountain.
"It's not that they've been operating in bad faith," he said. "They're operating in good faith, they're just in a really difficult place."
One possibility that's often discussed is that the government could issue fewer permits but charge more for them. Today, climbing Everest can cost anywhere from $40,000 per person if going at it alone to more than $100,000 for a guided trip with your own personal Sherpa and extra oxygen.
According to Athans, in the early '90s, expedition permits jumped from $12,000 to around $50,000 per team, which the government hoped would be a significant deterrent. However, "in a couple of years, they were getting more applications than they ever had before," he said. And costs have held pretty consistent over the past 25 years — in 1996, Adventure Consultants charged $65,000 a head to join its expedition, and the company raised its prices by just $4,000 since.Although going on a guided expedition isn't a guarantee you'll summit, if climbers were to make a more significant financial commitment due to higher permit fees, guides may feel increased pressure to get their clients to the top of Everest, leading to a situation in which they become unfit to lead, as happened with Hall and Fischer.
On the other hand, increasing the cost of an expedition may weed out some of the inexperienced or out-of-shape travelers that can easily get themselves into trouble high on the mountain. Both Western teams that got caught in the 1996 storm included climbers of varying experience levels, which likely contributed to the severity of the catastrophe.
"It's unfortunate, because so many of the teams are commercial teams," Athans said. "There are going to be people who are novice climbers, and they're just not going to be as strong or as fast as more experienced, expert climbers."
Mountaineers push for the summit of Mt. Everest. STR / AFP via Getty Images
While there has been talk of implementing a sort of experience-based selection process — and much of that may fall on the guiding companies themselves — for now, the community is focusing on improving safety on the mountain for those that do attempt a climb.
One issue that's been worked on over the past 25 years is marking the trail with flags and setting more fixed ropes. Due to the storm, visibility became dangerously low, and nine of Fischer and Hall's climbers got lost on the way to camp, having to spend a night exposed to the elements. This resulted in the death of one client, Yasuko Namba, and severe frostbite that warranted extremity amputations for another, Beck Weathers.
"In general, the guiding community there, which has grown substantially since '96, is a bit more conservative and now fixes continuous lines from the high camp at 26,000 feet to the summit," Athans said. "Before then, only the steeper sections were actually equipped with fixed rope. This practice might well have helped those who were stranded out away from the camp in '96 and may have guided them in successfully."
Another major development over the past few years has been the professionalizing of the Sherpa workforce. Although his guiding days are behind him, as the director of the Khumbu Climbing Center, Athans has played a large role in shaping the future of the industry.
"We've been training the guides on everything from high-altitude biodiversity to ice climbing skills to medical skills to just better guiding overall," Athans says. "We definitely see some Nepalese operators, but there are as many or more foreign operators, and those businesses should really be managed by the Sherpa or certainly by the Nepalese."
After all, with their more efficient use of oxygen and unique metabolisms, those born in the Himalaya makes them naturals at climbing the region's peaks, even without supplemental O2. This is why they're contracted as support for international expeditions — carrying large loads in thin air is physiologically easier for them.
By learning the technical and physical skills exhibited by Western guides, the Sherpa can take more ownership of what is, effectively, their own mountain.
"It's right in their backyard. It's something they revere, and having a sustainable business practice there is part of their mythology, is part of their religion," Athans said. "The overall improvement and the innovating of how they guide and use more technology will just be game-changing in the coming years on Everest."
A Changing Mountain
Although expedition companies are working to make their trips safer, recent scientific analysis shows the mountain itself will pose more threats to climbers in the coming years.
In the spring of 2019, Mayewski led a scientific expedition supported by National Geographic and Rolex to take a closer look at the human impact on Everest and how the mountain has changed over time. His research team, which included Athans, spent months collecting hundreds of samples of ice, water, rock, snow, and more that's since been analyzed in top laboratories across the world.
What they've found is that Everest is warming faster than most places on Earth. One of the major issues this causes is ice and snowmelt.
"We were surprised to find out how much ice was lost at very high elevations," Mayewski said. "As you go higher up, your temperatures get lower. You would assume that the snow and ice would be preserved better, but it's not. It actually has a significant loss of ice. You are seeing exposed, old ice at 26,000 feet. That has big implications."
Not only does an absence of snow and ice high on the mountain mean it will become harder for climbers to access drinking water, but also, the snow is melting and flowing around existing ice sheets, which can cause them to shift and trigger avalanches.
Climbers set up tents at Everest base camp on Khumbu Glacier. Frank Bienewald / LightRocket via Getty Images
Runoff water poses a unique risk at base camp, too. Glacial melt has caused this area to sink more than 150 feet in the past 35 years, and small lakes have formed. According to Mayewski, these will eventually become larger and connect with the underground rivers that flow beneath the camp.
"It'll begin to look more and more like swiss cheese," Mayewski said. "There will be times that if people aren't careful, they'll slide into these rivers, and if you do come out, you come out in little bits. It'll become more dangerous."
Additionally, scientists found that the water from melting glaciers contained a multitude of toxic chemicals, like cadmium and lead, which can pose major threats to the health of those living downstream. And this wasn't the only pollution seen on Everest — microplastics were also found in snow samples taken less than 1,500 feet from the summit.
The amount of waste on the mountain has led to Everest being nicknamed the "world's highest garbage dump" in recent years. Thanks to the efforts of local NGOs and the Nepalese government, climbers have started carrying extra trash down from high altitudes. Expeditions also hire Sherpa to carry their trash down, which Athans says poses its own dilemma.
"If you can't make the mountain pristine, at least try to clean the mountain of everything that you brought," Athans said. "For every load of trash [climbers leave behind], that's one more Sherpa trip through the Khumbu Icefall, one of the more dangerous parts of the mountain. Morally, ethically, do you really want to risk someone's life for a load of trash?"
The Khumbu Icefall is where the Khumbu Glacier flows over the mountain (similar to a waterfall). The glacier moves 3 to 4 feet every day, creating massive crevasses and the potential for a collapse or avalanche. Between 1953 and 2016, about 25% of the recorded deaths on the Nepalese side of the mountain occurred in the Icefall, and according to Mayewski, this area will only become more treacherous as temperatures rise.
Interestingly, scientists also found climate change is making the air near the summit thicker, which would make it easier for climbers to breathe once they do make it past the Icefall.
"As you begin to make the ascent into the highest parts of Everest, with warming, there will actually be a little bit more oxygen," Mayewski said.
Climbers approach the top of the world. PHUNJO LAMA / AFP via Getty Images
To monitor things like air pressure, temperature, and wind speed on Everest, scientists installed five weather stations on various parts of the mountain during the 2019 expedition. These will operate for a number of years and will be used both to make climate-related predictions and to forecast weather to ensure climbers have the safest conditions during their ascents.
Mayewski and Athans agree that the data from these stations, if available a quarter-century ago, could have helped Hall and Fischer avoid their fateful storm.
"Understanding what's coming in these big storms and helping climbers to know exactly what the best window is will be a tremendous help," Mayewski said. "That's one of the primary reasons for putting the weather stations up there."
A follow-up to the 2019 scientific expedition was planned for the spring of this year but has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, instead of being in Nepal for the 25th anniversary of the disaster, Athans is planning to spend some reflection time on Mount Rainier, which he calls a "little slice of the Himalaya here in the lower 48 — one of the few places in the U.S. that you can go to that's a bit like Everest."
When the expedition is rescheduled either in the fall or next spring, Athans plans to return to base camp, continuing research and making technological advances. Hopefully, his work will prevent future climbers from finding themselves in a disastrous situation such as that struck those in his own community all those years ago.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
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By Brett Wilkins
Following the path of thousands of families who permanently fled the lowest-lying major city in the United States in the wake of storms like Hurricane Katrina, a group of activists from the youth-led Sunrise Movement on Monday began a 400-mile march from New Orleans to Houston to demand President Joe Biden include "good jobs for all" and a Civilian Climate Corps in his $2.26 trillion infrastructure plan.
Participants in the Sunrise Movement's "Generation on Fire" campaign set out from the New Orleans Superdome — the site of so much suffering and a symbol of state failure following Katrina in 2005 — and walked along the Mississippi River following a delay due to flash flood warnings.
The climate campaigners are marching "to make clear that young people are unsatisfied with Biden and Congress' incremental, watered down proposals," according to a statement from the group.
With Democrats in control of both Congress and the White House, "young people expect more from their political leaders," the statement added.
Dancing in New Orleans with @sunrisemvmt @smvmtgenonfire at beginning of their 400 mile trek for climate justice.… https://t.co/oUxcATcoaj— Elias Newman 🔥 (@Elias Newman 🔥)1620678211.0
The activists will stop in cities and towns along the march route to stage protests, rallies, and visioning sessions with community members. They will be joined by political leaders, environmental justice advocates, and other supporters.
"As a young person in the Gulf South, we're living in constant crisis: hurricanes, superstorms, jobs that break our bodies and could be taken away at any minute," said Chanté Davis, a high school senior and Sunrise Movement organizer.
"This is an emergency, but it isn't an accident," Davis continued. "We know there is money that can provide living wages, stop the climate crisis, and take us back from the edge of survival. There's always money to rebuild rich neighborhoods after storms, always money for petrochemical plants and oil wells, always money for border walls and jails."
"This march symbolizes my story as a climate refugee who fled New Orleans and moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina destroyed my city," Davis added. "This is me claiming agency over my future."
A statement from Sunriser Chante Davis https://t.co/mtH1bpGf7D— Generation on Fire 🔥 (@Generation on Fire 🔥)1620667118.0
The White House has touted Biden's American Jobs Plan as "an investment in America that will create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country's infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China."
However, since the plan was unveiled on March 31, Sunrise Movement and other climate campaigners have said it needs to go further.
Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash said at the time that the plan "lacks a commitment to the full scale of transformation that is needed of our economy."
"We cannot miss this moment," Prakash insisted. "Congress must strengthen this plan and Biden must pass it into law as quickly as possible. If Republicans don't cooperate, do it without them. If the filibuster obstructs progress, abolish it. Money needs to go out the door and flow into communities now."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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California governor Gavin Newsom expanded an emergency drought declaration from two to 41 of the state's 58 counties on Monday.
About 40 million people, around 30% of the state's population, now live under a drought emergency that Newsom said is likely to expand.
"The hots are getting a lot hotter in this state, the dries are getting a lot drier," Newsom said.
"We have a conveyance system, a water system, that was designed for a world that no longer exists."
For a deeper dive:
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In the deep waters off the coast of Japan, scientists have rediscovered a relationship that has not been observed in 270 million years.
The scientists, led by University of Warsaw geology professor Mikołaj Zapalski, recorded examples of non-skeletal corals growing on sea lilies, or crinoids. This phenomenon was common during the Paleozoic era — between 542 million years ago to 251 million years ago — only to vanish from the fossil record.
"The coral-crinoid associations, characteristic of Palaeozoic benthic communities, disappeared by the end of Permian, and this current work represents the first detailed examination of their rediscovery in modern seas," Zapalski and his team wrote in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology last month.
In the Palaeozoic ocean, it was very common for corals to grow out of sea lily stems, Science Alert explained. This enabled the corals to extend from the seafloor to the water column, where stronger currents made filter feeding is easier.
However, the latest fossil documenting this symbiotic relationship dates from around 273 million years ago. After that, the specific species of corals and sea lilies that had interacted in this way went extinct, and there was no evidence that other species carried on the relationship.
The new paper changes that. In 2015 and 2019, the Polish and Japanese research team collected specimens off the Japanese coast in Honshu and Shikoku, the study explained. The specimens were found in waters as deep as 146 meters (approximately 479 feet). They consisted of two species of corals growing from the stems of Japanese sea lilies (Metacrinus rotundus). The corals in question were a type of sea anemone known as Metridioidea and a very rare hexacoral from the genus Abyssoanthus, according to Science Alert.
Zapalski called his team's discovery a "living fossil" in a University of Warsaw press release. However, the contemporary specimens have one key difference from the Paleozoic ones: the corals do not appear to alter the sea lilies' skeletons, as microtomography scanning revealed.
This difference could actually explain the hundred-million year gap in the fossil record, Science Alert explained. Soft corals do not usually leave fossils, so if corals were growing on sea lilies without altering their structure, it would likely be lost to time.
This also means that the new find can help researchers better understand the relationship in Paleazoic times.
"Understanding of the ecology of past ecosystems is impossible without a deep knowledge of their modern analogues," the study authors wrote.
Now, they finally have their analog.
"These specimens represent the first detailed records and examinations of a recent syn vivo association of a crinoid (host) and a hexacoral (epibiont), and therefore analyses of these associations can shed new light on our understanding of these common Palaeozoic associations," the study authors wrote.
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By Debra Perrone and Scott Jasechko
As the drought outlook for the Western U.S. becomes increasingly bleak, attention is turning once again to groundwater – literally, water stored in the ground. It is Earth's most widespread and reliable source of fresh water, but it's not limitless.
Wells that people drill to access groundwater supply nearly half the water used for irrigated agriculture in the U.S. and provide over 100 million Americans with drinking water. Unfortunately, pervasive pumping is causing groundwater levels to decline in some areas, including much of California's San Joaquin Valley and Kansas' High Plains.
We are a water resources engineer with training in water law and a water scientist and large-data analyst. In a recent study, we mapped the locations and depths of wells in 40 countries around the world and found that millions of wells could run dry if groundwater levels decline by only a few meters. While solutions vary from place to place, we believe that what's most important for protecting wells from running dry is managing groundwater sustainably – especially in nations like the U.S. that use a lot of it.
The U.S. has one of the highest national groundwater use rates in the world. Jasechko and Perrone, 2021,
Groundwater Use Today
Humans have been digging wells for water for thousands of years. Examples include 7,400-year-old wells in the Czech Republic and Germany, 8,000-year-old wells in the eastern Mediterranean, and 10,000-year-old wells in Cyprus. Today wells supply 40% of water used for irrigation worldwide and provide billions of people with drinking water.
Groundwater flows through tiny spaces within sediments and their underlying bedrock. At some points, called discharge areas, groundwater rises to the surface, moving into lakes, rivers and streams. At other points, known as recharge areas, water percolates deep into the ground, either through precipitation or leakage from rivers, lakes and streams.
Groundwater declines can have many undesirable consequences. Land surfaces sink as underground clay layers are compacted. Seawater intrusion can contaminate groundwater reserves and make them too salty to use without energy-intensive treatment. River water can leak down to underground aquifers, leaving less water available at the surface.
Groundwater depletion can also cause wells to run dry when the top surface of the groundwater – known as the water table – drops so far that the well isn't deep enough to reach it, leaving the well literally high and dry. Yet until recently, little was known about how vulnerable global wells are to running dry because of declining groundwater levels.
There is no global database of wells, so over six years we compiled 134 unique well construction databases spanning 40 different countries. In total, we analyzed nearly 39 million well construction records, including each well's location, the reason it was constructed and its depth.
Our results show that wells are vital to human livelihoods – and recording well depths helped us see how vulnerable wells are to running dry.
Millions of Wells at Risk
Our analysis led to two main findings. First, up to 20% of wells around the world extend no more than 16 feet (5 meters) below the water table. That means these wells will run dry if groundwater levels decline by just a few feet.
Second, we found that newer wells are not being dug significantly deeper than older wells in some places where groundwater levels are declining. In some areas, such as eastern New Mexico, newer wells are not drilled deeper than older wells because the deeper rock layers are impermeable and contain saline water. New wells are at least as likely to run dry as older wells in these areas.
Wells are already going dry in some locations, including parts of the U.S. West. In previous studies we estimated that as many as 1 in 30 wells were running dry in the western U.S., and as many as 1 in 5 in some areas in the southern portion of California's Central Valley.
What to Do When the Well Gives Out
How can households adapt when their well runs dry? Here are five strategies, all of which have drawbacks.
– Dig a new, deeper well. This is an option only if fresh groundwater exists at deeper depths. In many aquifers deeper groundwater tends to be more saline than shallower groundwater, so deeper drilling is no more than a stopgap solution. And since new wells are expensive, this approach favors wealthier groundwater users and raises equity concerns.
– Sell the property. This is often considered if constructing a new well is unaffordable. Drilling a new household well in the U.S. Southwest can cost tens of thousands of dollars. But selling a property that lacks access to a reliable and convenient water supply can be challenging.
Chart: The Conversation, CC BY-ND. Source: Jasechko and Perrone 2020
– Divert or haul water from alternative sources, such as nearby rivers or lakes. This approach is feasible only if surface water resources are not already reserved for other users or too far away. Even if nearby surface waters are available, treating their quality to make them safe to drink can be harder than treating well water.
– Reduce water use to slow or stop groundwater level declines. This could mean switching to crops that are less water-intensive, or adopting irrigation systems that reduce water losses. Such approaches may reduce farmers' profits or require upfront investments in new technologies.
– Limit or abandon activities that require lots of water, such as irrigation. This strategy can be challenging if irrigated land provides higher crop yields than unirrigated land. Recent research suggests that some land in the central U.S. is not suitable for unirrigated "dryland" farming.
Households and communities can take proactive steps to protect wells from running dry. For example, one of us is working closely with Rebecca Nelson of Melbourne Law School in Australia to map groundwater withdrawal permitting – the process of seeking permission to withdraw groundwater – across the U.S. West.
State and local agencies can distribute groundwater permits in ways that help stabilize falling groundwater levels over the long run, or in ways that prioritize certain water users. Enacting and enforcing policies designed to limit groundwater depletion can help protect wells from running dry. While it can be difficult to limit use of a resource as essential as water, we believe that in most cases, simply drilling deeper is not a sustainable path forward.
Debra Perrone is an assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of California Santa Barbara.
Scott Jasechko is an assistant Professor of water resources at the University of California Santa Barbara.
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Nate Seltenrich
Synthetic dyes used as colorants in many common foods and drinks can negatively affect attention and activity in children, according to a comprehensive review of existing evidence published this month by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).
Funded by the California legislature in 2018, the new report involved a literature review, scientific symposium for experts, peer review process, and public comment period. Its conclusions about the behavioral effects of food dyes are grounded in the results of 27 clinical trials in children performed on four continents over the last 45 years, as well as animal studies and research into the mechanisms through which dyes exert their behavioral effects.
Food dyes in products such as breakfast cereals, juice and soft drinks, frozen dairy desserts, candies, and icings were linked to adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in children including inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and restlessness. Animal studies also revealed effects on activity, memory, and learning.
The report is the most rigorous assessment of the behavioral effects of food dyes ever conducted, said Lisa Lefferts, a senior scientist with the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. (Editor's note: Lefferts previously worked as an editor at EHN).
Lefferts has been tracking the issue for years and through the Center published her own report on the link between synthetic food dyes and behavioral problems in children in 2016. In it she called for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to either revoke approvals for all food dyes or institute a federal labeling rule.
The European Union enacted such a law in 2010 that requires most dyed foods to bear a label warning consumers that food colorings "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children." In response, many food manufacturers reformulated their products for the European market to avoid the dyes, and thus the label.
But many left the dyes in their products for the U.S. market, where awareness of the issue has remained low, said Lefferts. "In our experience, most consumers have no idea that something that is allowed in the food supply by the FDA could trigger adverse behaviors," she told EHN.
A California State Senate bill introduced in February and backed by the new report would require a similar warning label on foods sold in the state. But it was abruptly withdrawn from the Senate Health Committee on April 28, the day of its scheduled hearing, by sponsor Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont).
In a press release, Wieckowski said he pulled the bill "to take additional time to brief other senators and make sure they understand the science in the OEHHA report" given that it had been published only 12 days earlier. The bill, which Lefferts said she sees as a wedge for widespread reformulation of dyed foods in the U.S, is now slated to be heard in January 2022.
Widespread Food Dye Exposure
An example of food dyes. jessica / flickr
The FDA last formally reviewed the issue in 2011, when it concluded that a causal link between children's consumption of synthetic color additives and behavioral effects had not been established. At the time the agency also commissioned an exposure assessment of all seven color additives approved for use in food in the U.S.: FD&C Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3, Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6.
The results of this study, later presented in 2014, revealed that between 2007 and 2010, some dyes were consumed on an almost daily basis by up to 98 percent of 2-to-5-year-olds, 95 percent of teenage boys aged 13-18, and 94 percent of the entire U.S. population aged 2 and up.
"Exposure in children affects attention and behavior across the whole spectrum of the population, and it's a widely distributed exposure," Mark Miller, a public health medical officer with OEHHA and one of 13 authors of the report, told EHN. "Overall it means that the impact is subject to being fairly large."
Mechanistic studies reviewed by Miller and the report's other authors reveal that food dyes may impact behavior through a variety of pathways including neurotransmitters, hormones, and oxidative stress. More research is needed on how dyes are absorbed, distributed, and metabolized in the body, they note.
An FDA spokesperson said that the agency had received and was reviewing the report. "The FDA will continue to engage in the scientific and regulatory review of color additives to evaluate their potential impact on various populations, including children, and act when necessary to ensure that the products marketed to consumers are safe and properly labeled," the statement read.
"Parents who wish to limit synthetic color additives in their children's diet may check the food ingredient list on labels, where they are required to be listed."
Reposted with permission from Environmental Health News.