Australian news, and some related international items

The Climate Crisis Will Be Just as Shockingly Abrupt as the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Climate Crisis Will Be Just as Shockingly Abrupt     The coronavirus isn’t a reason to put climate policy on hold. It’s a warning of the calamities ahead., By MELODY SCHREIBER, March 27, 2020  

As governments around the globe debate how to respond both to the coronavirus itself and the economic chaos it has unleashed, a theme that’s come up over and over is how to prioritize what makes it into spending packages. In the United States, right-left fault lines have emerged over the question of bailing out emissions-heavy industries versus a greener stimulus. On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a large-scale rollback of environmental regulations as a response to the pandemic—allowing many emitters to police themselves when it comes to pollution.
While some argue that the oxygen in the climate debate should be taken up by the pandemic instead, the two issues aren’t mutually exclusive, experts say. In a warming climate, more diseases are likely to emerge and spread, making climate change action an important part of addressing future health crises. Moreover, the perception that climate change isn’t as urgent as other crises may rely on misunderstandings about how climate-related changes will happen.
The rate isn’t constant: Instead, there’s reason to believe everything from Arctic melt to Amazon deforestation might experience what’s known as “tipping points,” where small changes in nature shift into rapid and irreversible damage.
Greenland and Antarctica are melting six times faster than they were in the 1990s, according to a new study in the journal Nature. Between 1992 and 2017, Greenland and Antarctica lost 6.4 trillion tons of ice. This falls under the worst-case scenario projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the effects are already being felt in many parts of the world. The IPCC predicts that by the end of the century, 400 million people around the globe could be at risk of coastal flooding every year from sea-level rise alone.
Ice sheets “may already be in an irreversible retreat,” going past their tipping point, Timothy M. Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, told me. “The more we warm things up, the faster the ice melts and the sea rises.” Even if we take aggressive action to curb emissions and halt rapid change, he said, some of these effects are already locked in. And once ice begins to melt, it’s hard to re-form it without another Ice Age. Lenton recently sounded the alarm in Nature on how close we’re getting to altering the planet permanently—and how the timeline on saving lives on climate change may be tighter than many people realize.
Other tipping points include rain forest loss in places like the Amazon, monsoon shifts in Africa and Asia, changes to ocean circulation patterns, and coral reef die-offs. For example, the Amazon is, for now, a major source of carbon sequestration—it pulls carbon from the air and stores it in the soil. Burning or cutting down trees to convert the land into agricultural fields, which comes with its own emissions, can turn it from a carbon sink to a carbon emitter. What may seem like a manageable rate of deforestation could suddenly trigger a mass die-off within the rain forest’s ecosystem. The atmosphere above the rain forest has already become drier in the past 20 years, NASA has found, “increasing the demand for water and leaving ecosystems vulnerable to fires and drought.” With all of these changes, much of the Amazon could look more like a savannah in a few decades, another recent study concluded. Many ecosystems around the globe could be vulnerable to this kind of phenomenon, passing an invisible inflection point that suddenly and irreversibly accelerates the rate of change, as a system is thrown off balance.
However, Lenton and others point out that positive tipping points exist as well—for instance, when society organizes into action in order to avert crises.
Rapid decarbonization, as Ilona M. Otto, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and other researchers recently wrote in a research article for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will mean “activating contagious and fast-spreading processes of social and technological change within the next few years.” Coincidentally, the coronavirus response, she told me, shows that this kind of rapid government action is possible. “All the things that we were writing in the article, it’s actually happening right now,” Otto said. “If there is a real crisis situation, people do expect government to be strong and somehow take quick decisions, and also change the law or introduce new laws.”
Unfortunately, with the associated economic fallout of the pandemic, some governments seem to be enacting the exact opposite of the “social tipping interventions” Otto’s group identified—for example, “removing fossil fuel subsidies.” The Trump administration, instead of removing the long-standing support system for the unprofitable fracking industry, has moved to prop it up further. But the pandemic, Otto argues, still represents proof of concept for swift government action, if people are able to accurately perceive the crisis in front of them.
As with the pandemic, responses to climate change have often emphasized individual action—traveling less, eating more sustainably, switching to more efficient energy sources. But both crises require the kind of large-scale structural interventions produced by national and international policies, like designing more sustainable infrastructure and transportation and alternate work arrangements, as well as creating emergency responses and strengthening social safety nets for the most vulnerable. That’s not to mention government’s regulatory role. “We need stronger regulations,” Otto said.
 With national governments and the European Union rolling out subsidy programs for industries hit hard by the virus, Otto proposes attaching sustainable strings to this aid. For instance, the aviation industry is strongly dependent on fossil fuels, she said. “Why not ask them for plans [on] how to decrease the emissions within, like, 50 percent within the next 10 years and maybe become carbon neutral by 2050 or so? I think this could be used as an incentive to encourage companies to make plans [for] how they want to achieve carbon neutrality.” Otto argues against re-creating the systems countries had before the pandemic. “If we don’t build a more resilient system right now, we will, in a way, lose this opportunity,” she said. In addition, investments in green initiatives, like renewable energy, could boost nthe economy.

The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the way we live, work, and interact in a matter of weeks. It has also shown that governments are able—and in many cases are expected—to take swift, significant action on crises. “Under these extraordinary circumstances, there can be quite decisive action from governance and policy that changes the way we’re all living day to day,” Lenton said. “It is possible to change large-scale patterns of human behavior, pretty quickly.”

The question is whether governments, and voters, can appreciate the true urgency of the task. In reality, the climate crisis cannot be solved incrementally, Lenton said, because it’s taken too long to spur action: Many warming-related changes are already underway. Global greenhouse gas emissions must be dramatically reduced and eventually eliminated. “If we’re going to avoid the worst of bad climate tipping points, then we’re going to need to find some positive tipping points in society and ourselves to transform the way we live—in a generation—to a more sustainable but also perhaps a more flourishing kind of future,” Lenton said.

Pandemics like this are expected to rise as the climate changes. The SARS-CoV-2 virus causing the disease known as Covid-19, scientists suspect, may have originated in a wild animal, like a bat, and transferred through an intermediate animal to people. Zoonotic spillovers like these, as well as illnesses carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and other animals, will likely increase on a hotter planet. It’s not just because more people are pressing into areas where wildlife lives; as their habitats change in new climate conditions, more animals are adapting to new environments and seeking relief in places where people live, thus increasing the chance of contact between people and animals.

“We are really messing up with the natural world, and with the climate system, and things like this can be expected to happen more often,” Otto said. “It’s one reason to think that climate change is actually a permanent threat and we have to think of fixing the whole system, not only the economy.”

The coronavirus is a real and urgent threat. But there’s also a pressing danger in failing to address climate change in policies and funding, both now and in the future. What’s happening to the planet, experts agree, isn’t going to stop just because we’re dealing with another crisis, and this is no time to ease up on the climate fight. In fact, because of the ways climate change contributes to poor health, it makes action even more urgent.

Melody Schreiber is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.  @m_scribe

March 31, 2020 Posted by | General News | Leave a comment

Our war against the environment is leading to pandemics

Coronavirus is a wake-up call: our war with the environment is leading to pandemics,  The Conversation, Fiona Armstrong Executive Director, Climate and Health Alliance, Occasional Lecturer, School of Public Health and Human Biosciences, La Trobe University, Anthony Capon, Director, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University, Ro McFarlane, Assistant Professor in Ecological Public Health, University of Canberra, March 31, 202  The COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the world is a crisis of our own making.

That’s the message from infectious disease and environmental health experts, and from those in planetary health – an emerging field connecting human health, civilisation and the natural systems on which they depend.

They might sound unrelated, but the COVID-19 crisis and the climate and biodiversity crises are deeply connected.

Each arises from our seeming unwillingness to respect the interdependence between ourselves, other animal species and the natural world more generally.

To put this into perspective, the vast majority (three out of every four) of new infectious diseases in people come from animals – from wildlife and from the livestock we keep in ever-larger numbers.

To understand and effectively respond to COVID-19, and other novel infectious diseases we’ll likely encounter in the future, policymakers need to acknowledge and respond with “planetary consciousness”. This means taking a holistic view of public health that includes the health of the natural environment.

Risking animal-borne diseases

Biodiversity (all biological diversity from genes, to species, to ecosystems) is declining faster than at any time in human history.

We clear forests and remove habitat, bringing wild animals closer to human settlements. And we hunt and sell wildlife, often endangered, increasing the risk of disease transmission from animals to humans.

The list of diseases that have jumped from animals to humans (“zoonotic diseases”) includes HIV, Ebola, Zika, Hendra, SARS, MERS and bird flu.

Like its precursor SARS, COVID-19 is thought to have originated in bats and subsequently transmitted to humans via another animal host, possibly at a wet market trading live animals.

Ebola virus emerged in central Africa when land use changes and altered climatic conditions forced bats and chimpanzees together around concentrated areas of food resources. And Hendra virus is associated with urbanisation of fruit bats following habitat loss. Such changes are occurring worldwide.

What’s more, human-caused climate change is making this worse. Along with habitat loss, shifting climate zones are causing wildlife to migrate to new places, where they interact with other species they haven’t previously encountered. This increases the risk of new diseases emerging.

COVID-19 is just the latest new infectious disease arising from our collision with nature…….

March 31, 2020 Posted by | General News | Leave a comment

As nuclear waste piles up, scientists try to beat the problems of corrosion in waste containers

As nuclear waste piles up, scientists seek the best long-term storage solutions.  Researchers study and model corrosion in the materials proposed for locking away the hazardous waste C and EN, by Mitch Jacoby, MARCH 30, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 12

Regardless of whether you are for or against nuclear power, and no matter what you think of nuclear weapons, the radioactive waste is already here, and we have to deal with it.”


More than a quarter million metric tons of highly radioactive waste sits in storage near nuclear power plants and weapons production facilities worldwide, with over 90,000 metric tons in the US alone. Emitting radiation that can pose serious risks to human health and the environment, the waste, much of it decades old, awaits permanent disposal in geological repositories, but none are operational. With nowhere to go for now, the hazardous materials and their containers continue to age. That unsustainable situation is driving corrosion experts to better understand how steel, glass, and other materials proposed for long-term nuclear waste storage containers might degrade. Read on to learn how these researchers’ findings might help protect people and the environment from waste leakages.

That’s Gerald S. Frankel’s matter-of-fact take on the thousands of metric tons of used solid fuel from nuclear power plants worldwide and the millions of liters of radioactive liquid waste from weapons production that sit in temporary storage containers in the US. While these waste materials, which can be harmful to human health and the environment, wait for a more permanent home, their containers age. In some cases, the aging containers have already begun leaking their toxic contents.

“It’s a societal problem that has been handed down to us from our parents’ generation,” says Frankel, who is a materials scientist at the Ohio State University. “And we are—more or less—handing it to our children.”……..

Vitrification of nuclear waste seems to be well established by now, but actually it still faces complex problems,” says Ashutosh Goel, a materials scientist at Rutgers University. The plan at Hanford, for example, calls for entombing nuclear waste in borosilicate glass and encasing the glass in stainless-steel canisters. Yet the exact formulation of the glass, or glasses, is still under investigation.

Open questions include the following: What glass compositions will lead to the highest uptake of nuclear waste? How suited are those glasses to vitrification? And how well will they resist corrosion after being interned for eons in a repository environment?
After 1,000 years or so, Goel says, the steel canister surrounding the glass will likely corrode, and groundwater may seep in and interact directly with the glass, degrading it. “The stability of the glass in the presence of groundwater represents the last line of defense against release of radionuclides” into our environment, he adds…….
stress corrosion cracking, which can occur in metals at stress points such as weld joints—like the ones used to seal the stainless-steel canisters of spent fuel……during manufacturing, stress develops at weld seams as they cool and contract. If corrosion sets in at those spots, then some materials can start to crack and fail. The iron-chrome-nickel-based stainless steel used in dry casks is a material prone to fail when corrosion kicks in…….. 

March 31, 2020 Posted by | General News | Leave a comment

Big swings to the Greens in Brisbane wards elections

Greens celebrate record swings in Brisbane wards, Brisbane Times by Lucy Stone March 30, 2020  While the final results for Brisbane City Council’s election are still days away, the Greens are already celebrating a powerful swing towards them in several LNP-held wards, as well as a strong boost in incumbent Jonathan Sri’s ward, The Gabba.As the Electoral Commission of Queensland continued the vote count on Monday, after a website glitch saw few early numbers uploaded on Saturday night, Cr Sri said he had seen a swing of about 17 per cent to the Greens in his ward……

Cr Sri said the shutdown of ordinary life due to the coronavirus pandemic meant the Greens could no longer doorknock, their most effective campaign strategy, and had to rely on telephoning prospective voters instead. ….

March 31, 2020 Posted by | politics, Queensland | Leave a comment

Introduction — Climate of Pandemic — robertscribbler

Climate change currently contributes to the global burden of disease and premature deaths (very high confidence). — IPCC One disease. Just a single nasty bug. COVID-19. An illness resulting from the virus SARS-CoV-2. That’s all it took to bring global civilization to a grinding, crashing, train-wreck like halt. Not a collapse. But more of […]

via Introduction — Climate of Pandemic — robertscribbler

March 31, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Renewable hydrogen to undercut gas on price, but not the answer for transport — RenewEconomy

Report says renewable hydrogen could beat out gas on power generation – but it’s not the answer for low-carbon automotive transport. The post Renewable hydrogen to undercut gas on price, but not the answer for transport appeared first on RenewEconomy.

via Renewable hydrogen to undercut gas on price, but not the answer for transport — RenewEconomy

March 31, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

March 30 Energy News — geoharvey

Opinion: ¶ “Is It the Death Knell For Dominion’s Pipeline?” • The fracking boom is over. Oil and gas prices have been hit by a perfect storm. There’s the coronavirus pandemic, a trade war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, fracking is enormously expensive, and wells don’t last long. All that has huge implications for the […]

via March 30 Energy News — geoharvey

March 31, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment