Climate Adaptation Is Essential, Scientists Warn
By Tim Radford
The probable changes as the world heats are so great that climate adaptation to cope with the inevitable is now essential, scientists are warning.
Forest damage, drought and floods, for example, will all worsen, and tidal ranges are already changing. More than half of all the natural vegetation of California is at risk as temperatures rise.
Even were the U.S. and other nations to honor the promises made in the Paris agreement of 2015, one fourth of California's natural wilderness would be under stress from global warming, a new study shows.
And on top of temperature rise, California is increasingly at risk from severe drought, says a different study. U.S. government scientists believe they have established a link between the retreat of Arctic sea ice and a decline in rainfall in the Golden State.
Drought and Flood
And while California becomes ever more parched, its forests at ever-greater risk of insect attack and wildfire, 43 other U.S. states face a dramatic increase in flood hazard, with a tenfold rise in the numbers of people at risk from the worst river floods.
And—although President Trump has dismissed climate change as a hoax and announced a withdrawal from the Paris agreement to limit the use of fossil fuels—the tide gauges of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays on the East Coast of the U.S. tell a different story. They confirm that climate change has already begun to affect high and low water tides.
U.S. researchers report in the journal Ecosphere that they looked at the consequences for California if global greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate, to go on fueling global warming.
They mapped 30 different vegetation types—California's canopy includes a huge variety of mountain conifer, forest coastal woodland, upland sagebrush scrub, grassland and so on—and considered nine climate and precipitation variables, and then looked at computer models of future global warming, which predict, at worst, a global average rise of 4.5 C by 2100.
"At current rates of emissions, about 45-56 C of all the natural vegetation in the state is at risk, or from 61,190 to 75,866 square miles," said James Thorne of the University of California Davis, who led the study.
"If we reduce the rate to Paris Accord targets, those numbers are lowered to between 21 and 28% of the lands at climatic risk." The research measures only the impact of climate change: not of the accompanying hazards.
During the 2012-2016 Californian drought—the worst on record—more than 127 million trees died of insect infestation, and wildfire devastated huge tracts of forest and scrub.
And according to researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, more drought could be on the way. They report in Nature Communications that the steady attrition of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean triggers a change in atmospheric convection over the tropical Pacific, which creates the right conditions for an atmospheric ridge over the North Pacific, which means California gets a lot sunnier, and therefore drier.
"On average, considering a 20-year mean, we find a 10-15 percent decrease in California's rainfall. However some individual years could become much drier, and others wetter," said Ivana Cvijanovic, who led the research. "The recent California drought appears to be a good illustration of what sea ice-driven precipitation decline should look like."
Elsewhere in the U.S., drought may not be the big problem. German researchers report in the journal Science Advances that they calculated the necessary increase in flood protection over the next 25 years worldwide, as the planet warms.
They looked not just at individual countries but at cities too, to calculate the numbers at hazard of rising rivers, including Europe.
In Germany, the numbers at risk from the worst 10 percent of all floods will rise sevenfold. In North America, the increase will be tenfold. In the U.S. 43 states could see more damage from the worst floods.
Risk Is Greatest in Asia
The overall numbers at risk are greatest in Asia—70 million people now, and 156 million by 2040. The scientists make the case that governments need to think about adaptation. The surprise was that even the most developed nations would be affected.
"The findings should be a warning to decision-makers," said Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and one of the authors. "If they choose to ignore the issue, sadly enough disaster will come."
"The time has come where mitigating future climate change must be accompanied by adapting to the climate change we have already caused. Doing nothing will be dangerous."
And the impact of climate change so far is now backed up by evidence in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Once again, the research is driven by a concern to identify future sources of flooding or erosion.
Oceanographers built a computer model based on a century of measurements of the tides at 15 locations in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays on the U.S. Eastern Coast. Overall, by 2100, sea levels could rise by as much as a meter.
They found evidence that sea level rise so far has already begun to change the ranges of low and high tides—in some cases by up to 20 percent—which in turn are governed by the contours of the two great river estuaries.
"In the Delaware Bay, as you go upstream toward Philadelphia, the shore lines are converging in a kind of funnel shape, and so we see that amplifies sea level rise's effects on the tides," said Andrew Ross, a meteorologist then at Penn State University, but now at Princeton. "That amplification gets magnified the farther you go upstream."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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