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Krill: The Disappearing Backbone of Marine Ecosystems

Krill: The Disappearing Backbone of Marine Ecosystems


Are we that close to krill-ing off biodiversity as we know it? Apparently so, because keystone species are feeling the pressure with every passing day.


When humans think of the “great deep,” outlandish, alien sea creatures come to mind: National Geographic images of anglerfish, vivid apparitions straight out of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, timeless sea shanties depicting the fearsome giant squid. Not often is it that some of the most vital organisms in marine ecosystems, keystone species, are at the forefront of our attention. One such linchpin, krill, is a miniscule, hardly visible, invertebrate that often passes for a shrimp look-alike. These finger-sized crustaceans tend to go unnoticed in modern society, their tangerine hue not bright enough to attract the interest of humans. Despite not being one of the more appetizing types of seafood for mankind, krill are a crucial main dish for animals of the Antarctic. For decades, krill has been harvested by humans without a care for the vital role they hold within the Southern Ocean food webs. Now a new threat has been recognized, as climate change threatens the existence of Antarctic sea ice which krill rely upon for nesting grounds. The key to their gargantuan presence on Earth, krill risk losing more than ever before.

Krill dominate the Antarctic Ocean from the shadows with their massive numbers, grouped together in swarms so dense they can be spotted by satellites in space. With eighty-five currently identified species, researchers estimate that the combined biomass of krill — which are individually no larger than a paper clip — worldwide could range from anywhere between 125 million and 600 million tons. Such swarms can drift through the waters at lengths of four miles, boasting densities of over 10,000 krill per square meter. Naturally, as with any resource present at such a scale on Earth, you’d be inclined to think that the statistical stability of krill would be able to overcome any threats to its population size; how could humans even attempt to jeopardize an organism of such a scope? Unfortunately, even the most abundant organism on the planet hardly stands a chance of escaping the all-encompassing nature of climate change. Direct and indirect anthropogenic influences — reflected in commercial fishing practices and the accelerated melting of sea ice — have developed into two, potent sources of stress for krill populations, signifying the greater doom that awaits these crustaceans.

What exactly makes these pinky-sized invertebrates so irreplaceable within the vast oceans of this planet? To answer this question, we must step back into one of the most fundamental topics of ecology: ecological efficiency. Within a food chain, trophic levels quantify the different stages of energy movement between categories of lifeforms, separated into producers and consumers; notably, only 10% of energy is passed from one level to the next. Sub-categories place primary producers (organisms with photosynthetic capabilities) at the bottom-most level, while top predators take the spots of tertiary or quaternary consumers.

In a typical marine food web, phytoplankton replace terrestrial plants as primary producers, and are considered the most energy efficient. As one of the few species capable of directly feeding upon phytoplankton, krill — categorized under zooplankton — take the spot of primary consumer within the food chain. What makes krill so potent as a food source for all predators alike is (1) sheer numbers, making it available to every Antarctic predator, and (2) its tendency to swarm in densely packed groups, which makes feeding much less work for large predators. Krill is a superfood, allowing even normally tertiary consumers to adopt an energy efficient food source into their diet and essentially gain more for less.

A food web depicting the role of Antarctic krill in Southern Ocean ecosystems. (Image Courtesy of Cool Antarctica)

The most populous species of krill, Euphausia superba, serves as a primary source of food for not one, but seventeen different marine animals, such as baleen whales, seals, penguins, fishes, birds, squid, and cephalopods. If they manage to evade the predation tactics of nearly every Antarctic organism larger than them, krill can persist in the Southern waters for an impressive lifespan of up to ten years. To prevent the rapid depletion of a common food source, the species’ predators have likewise taken steps to ensure that their feeding patterns do not overlap. Baleen whales, for example, stop by plankton blooms in polar waters over the summer before continuing their migration towards warm, tropical regions of the ocean.

With so many organisms dependent on krill for sustenance, what does krill, in turn, depend on? That would be phytoplankton–microscopic, buoyant algae which photosynthesize using chlorophyll at the ocean’s surface. During winter months, live phytoplankton form layers within and underneath Antarctic sea ice, which doubles as both a shelter and constant food source for larval and juvenile krill. Fast forward six months, and the bright polar summers create the perfect set of conditions for phytoplankton blooms: a combination of nutrient-rich waters brought up from the deep via Antarctic upwellings, 24-hour sunlight, and ideal ocean temperature. When the surface sea ice melts, both phytoplankton and krill are free to multiply endlessly. The result? An explosion of krill clouds overtaking the sub-Arctic and Antarctic Oceans, and the perfect rest stop for migrating consumers.

Krill feeding on phytoplankton located on sea ice, grazing the underside of the ice cap to collect the phytoplankton as they go. (Image Courtesy of Ice Stories)

As much as they provide shelter, the presence of sea ice is a figurative Achilles heel for our star organism. In addition to the multitude of predators waiting to eat them, that is. Temperature especially stands out as a weakness in that a fraction of a degree Celsius can make a significant difference for these tiny creatures. In fact, krill provide a concrete example of what exactly the implications of “rising ocean temperatures” — a term loved by media coverage — are. The ideal conditions for phytoplankton survival require ice cover to protect them from the harsh, stormy oceans of the South, as well as cold water, which is richer in nutrients. If the surface of the ocean were to be warm instead of cold, upwelling — the phenomenon in which nutrient-rich water rises from the deep to the surface via ocean currents — would not occur and nutrients would be locked below the surface. The following summer, phytoplankton blooms would be smaller in size, and krill would emerge from the melting ice to a noticeable lack of food and a significant difference of 1-2°C. Though researchers have found it difficult to track increases and decreases in Antarctic krill population due to the sheer scale of the endeavor, studies have theorized that krill populations may have dropped 80% since the 1970s.

Krill are not the sole bearers of this insufferable fate that threatens the collapse of entire ecosystems. Sea otters — regulators of the sea urchin population in coastal marine habitats — have been deemed “climate change warriors”, tasked with keeping kelp and seagrass ecosystems in check and promoting carbon sequestration. Starfish, when removed from their ecosystem, directly resulted in the widespread takeover of the unrestrained mussel population. Alarmingly so, recent research has established a direct connection between the warming of the oceans and sea star wasting syndrome, a term for cases of sea stars dying of hypoxia due to aerobic bacteria buildup at high temperatures.

The effects of the presence and lack of presence of starfish in its ecosystem.(Image Courtesy of Institute for Research for Development, Montpelier)

Looking back on history, it’s always been our old, persistent habits that produce the greatest consequences, and it’s past time we pull the plug on this one — once and for all. Krill serve as a dark example for the extent of influence humans have on this planet. One of the most extensive species in the world, research now shows that krill may one day face the same endangerment as many other species. It’s up to us to ensure that climate change is mitigated before it can topple entire ecosystems and sweep biodiversity from the face of this planet.

In some ways, these global phenomena feel so far from us, a disconnect heightened by sheer distance and the differences between nature and civilization. That doesn’t mean, however, that we get to pretend they are not happening. Spreading awareness is always a safe and easy first step, making sure these issues are felt within the bubbles we place ourselves in before breaking out of them entirely. Climate change communication is difficult, unfamiliar, but so incredibly necessary if anything is to be accomplished. Otherwise, humanity’s insatiable greed and sheer disregard for the Earth’s required natural balance causes us to willfully blind ourselves to the impacts of the climate on the world around us — impacts inherently caused by us. It is essential that we open our eyes and face our actions, before their consequences grow to a size much too large to control.

Source:

Karthy Sajeev at The Climate Change Review



UMD Researchers Unlock the Potential of Trees for Managing Environmental Impacts in Cities

UMD Researchers Unlock the Potential of Trees for Managing Environmental Impacts in Cities


Individually grown urban trees capture, store, and release more stormwater back to the atmosphere at a rate of 3x compared to trees grown in clusters or patches


As the global climate change conversation intensifies and nations look to minimize environmental impacts in their own backyards, nature-based solutions are garnering new levels of interest. Trees are widely recognized for their role in sequestering carbon, and capturing and storing rainfall in their canopy to manage stormwater runoff, but to date there has been minimal research and clarity around how urban forests in particular can be used as practical stormwater management tools. Members of the academic community speculate that urban trees can help mitigate stormwater flows, but the actual amount of stormwater that trees remove through functions like transpiration, infiltration, and storage is not well established. To address this gap, University of Maryland researchers have conducted an empirical field study and concluded that single urban trees, such as street trees, function differently than trees grown in clusters featuring significantly greater transpiration rates. This result offers a new understanding of how to manage the landscape in urban settings to reduce the harmful effects of stormwater runoff. 

The findings are published in Scientific Reports, with authorship from Mitch Pavao-Zuckerman and Sarah Ponte in UMD’s Department of Environmental Science and Technology in partnership with the Center for Watershed Protection and the United States Forest Service.

“This work is important because urban trees are increasingly being considered as a stormwater management practice, but we don’t have much information about how trees function in different parts of the landscape,” explains Deb Caraco, senior watershed engineer with the Center for Watershed Protection. “Quantifying the impacts of urban trees affect different parts of the water balance, such as the evapotranspiration component discussed in Mitch and Sarah’s paper, gives us a better understanding of the benefits of urban trees, and knowing where and how to plant and preserve them to achieve the greatest benefit.”

To better understand how the relationships between transpiration and environmental influences change within different tree management contexts, Pavao Zuckerman’s team evaluated three distinct urban settings — single trees over turfgrass and a cluster of trees over turfgrass in Montgomery County, and a closed canopy forest with a leaf litter layer in Baltimore, Md. They built and used sap flux sensors – which give a clearer picture of how trees access groundwater – installed in 18 mature red maple trees to continually monitor transpiration rates during the growing season. They also measured soil water content, air temperature, relative humidity, and precipitation at each site. Single trees had a much greater transpiration rate, and were more responsive to climate influences than closed canopy or cluster trees. This data presents important implications for the future.

Aerial view of Johannesburg, South Africa – the largest man-made urban forest in the world

“This work explores how trees function in different urban contexts, say street trees vs. a forest patch, where their environments are very different than non-urban trees,” explains Pavao-Zuckerman. “Cities can be hotter and drier for example. Our data can help make tree crediting policies better reflect the actual benefits of trees in urban landscapes because they interact with water and their environment differently in cities than they do outside cities. Our next step is to take this data set on how each tree functions and scale it up to see how an entire stand or patch of trees mitigates stormwater flows.”

Some may envision a tree having the same characteristics regardless of where it is growing but due to Pavao-Zuckerman’s work, we now see that the same tree species will function differently in different urban settings, and can help mitigate stormwater in cities which affects flooding and water quality which are becoming increasingly important public-facing issues. 

“This work emphasizes the importance of thinking about cities as not a homogenous thing that we’re trying to manage, but that environmental outcomes and benefits are going to vary within a city,” says Pavao-Zuckerman. “A tree along a street isn’t the same as a tree in a patch or woodlot. Considering this variability is important in our future research – we are now modeling how these different settings may mitigate runoff from different sized rain storms for example.”   

Project Field Site – Image Credit: Tuana Phillips

Pavao-Zuckerman emphasizes that these findings can serve as helpful guidelines for those managing urban stormwater runoff. And that the current method of relying on data gathered from non-urban locations should be put to rest.

“Practitioners are now able to better integrate urban trees into their stormwater green infrastructure network. These findings suggest that approaches to use urban trees and forests to mitigate urban stormwater runoff should rely on data that is derived from urban settings, rather than non-urban locations.” 

The Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Pooled Monitoring Initiative that provided funding for this project supports research for key restoration questions such as this study to guide future restoration efforts.

“The importance of trees to clean water, clean air, and provide shade resonates now more than ever as we look for ways to reduce urban heat islands, clean stormwater before it enters streams, and provide habitat for our wildlife,” said Jana Davis, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust. 

This paper, titled “Transpiration rates of red maple (Acer rubrum L.) differ between management contexts in urban forests of Maryland, USA” is published in Scientific Reports.



Electric cars aren’t enough to hit climate targets: we need to develop better public transport too

Electric cars aren’t enough to hit climate targets: we need to develop better public transport too


Transport is responsible for 24% of energy-related carbon emissions worldwide. Half of those emissions are from carrying goods and services, and the other half are from carrying people from A to B – also known as “passenger transport”.


Passenger transport has a huge impact on our surroundings, and it’s one of the biggest factors in determining where we live and work. It can be bumper-to-bumper LA traffic, bike-filled Danish cities, Japanese bullet trains, buzzing Vietnamese mopeds, taxi ranks lined with India’s famous three-wheeled rickshaws, or bustling London subways.

Introducing electric vehicles (EVs) on a massive scale has often been framed as the solution to reducing passenger transport emissions – witness the UK’s plans for all new homes and upgraded buildings to have EV charging points from 2022.

However, recent research from the US has shown that the electrification of cars alone will not be enough for the transport sector to reach ambitious global climate action targets aiming to prevent more than 2 °C of global warming.

In addition, a population that continues to depend on cars poses significant problems for growing cities. With urbanisation on the rise and space at a premium, we must reduce car ownership in cities if we are to keep them as affordable and accessible as possible. Huge amounts of land which could otherwise be used to house people or be dedicated to nature are still reserved for roads and car parks.

Although EVs certainly help address increasing transport emissions, simply focusing on replacing conventional cars with EVs is a missed opportunity for countries to develop alternative means of transport beyond car dependency.

A person drives a rickshaw
Many Indian cities are famous for using three-wheeled rickshaws as a popular transport method. Adam Cohn/FlickrCC BY-NC-SA

Climate action funds – including the Adaptation Fund, a UN-backed international fund helping developing countries to adapt to climate change – are projected to reach £74 billion of funding by 2023. Much of this money is channelled towards sustainable infrastructure projects, which could help developing countries to build efficient and sustainable mass-transit systems.

The UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change advocates for an approach to passenger transport planning called “Avoid, Shift, Improve”, which is adapted from a framework first developed in Germany in the early 1990s:

Avoid

“Avoid” refers to reducing the need for transport in the first place. This involves planning new urban areas and redeveloping old ones to be as well organised as possible, so people will not have to travel far for their working, shopping, education and recreational needs. While years of investment into roads have made it very difficult for some cities to move away from car use, the future is still unwritten for many of our growing cities.

Xinzhuang Flyover in Nanjing, China
Many cities have been designed with widespread car ownership in mind, but newer cities don’t have to follow this pattern. Damian188/Wikimedia

This approach also involves connecting homes and rural towns to the internet so that people can easily and cheaply work from home, leaving road space free for people – like doctors or teachers – who cannot.

Shift

“Shift” means switching necessary travel to more sustainable, active and higher-occupancy modes of transport. Instead of single-occupancy cars, for example, we can use buses, trains, bikes, scooters, skateboards or walking paths. Across the world, we can see exciting examples of how countries have managed to make this shift away from carbon-intensive car dependency.

The TransMilenio bus system, operating in the cities of Bogotá and Soacha in Colombia, is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Transporting between one and two million people daily, its broad range of stops, dedicated bus lanes, and affordable ticketing stations create an easily accessible service.

Increasing the uptake of active modes of travel is another way to encourage this shift. E-bikes are among the fastest growing types of transport in China. The motor-assisted travel encourages cycling longer journeys in hilly areas, warmer areas and among people who are less fit. Studies from Sweden and Norway show that cyclists who switch from conventional bikes to e-bikes increase their number of journeys and the distances they travel on average for each journey.

A red and yellow bus on a road
The TransMilenio bus service has been widely recognised as a shining example of sustainable mass transit. Felipe Restrepo Acosta/Wikimedia

Recently, residents of Berlin voted to expand car restrictions in the German city to cover 88 sq km of the city – a proposal which would create the world’s largest car-free urban zone. Actions like these can address the safety concerns of pedestrians and cyclists, who fear navigating alongside fast-moving, heavy vehicles, by providing segregated active travel routes. Importantly, researchers have noted that without measures to restrict car use, other measures to encourage the uptake of public transport, walking and cycling have little impact.

Once unnecessary travel has been cut from things like poor urban planning and employer policies requiring workers’ presence in offices, and once safe public transport systems or active travel options have been provided, we can focus on making the vehicles we currently have more sustainable.

Improve

Although fuel efficiency has slightly reduced the fuel consumption per kilometre of car transport, passenger transport demand continues to grow – meaning that overall, increased emissions from passenger transport outstrip efficiency reductions. As a result, the “improve” part of the UN’s framework involves switching bus, rail and car transport from fossil fuels to electric.

The key to reducing passenger transport emissions is enabling access to and use of electric cars only where there are no other reasonable travel options. If we do this, we have a chance to end car dependency while still helping as many people as possible to travel.

Source:

Vera O’Riordan at The Conversation



EU wants to ban imports linked to deforestation — beef, coffee, and chocolate are included

EU wants to ban imports linked to deforestation — beef, coffee, and chocolate are included


Companies will soon have to prove that the products they sell to the European Union haven’t been contributing to deforestation, according to draft legislation introduced by the European Commission.


The EU is one of the main importers of global deforestation, only exceeded by China, according to a report on trade by WWF, and this move could send a strong signal worldwide for producers to be more environmentally conscious. 

Wanted: only deforestation-free products

The regulation will focus on six commodities: wood, soy, cattle, palm oil, coffee, and cocoa, as well as derived products such as chocolate, leather, and oil cakes. Imports of commodities in the EU have been linked to the loss of 3.5 million hectares of forests between 2005 and 2017 and to the release of 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

“Our deforestation regulation answers citizens’ calls to minimize the European contribution to deforestation and promote sustainable consumption,” EU Commission VP Frans Timmermans said in a statement. “It ensures that we only import these products if we can ascertain that they are deforestation-free and produced legally.”

When approved, the new law will create due diligence mandatory rules applicable to commodity exporters to the EU market. They will have to implement a strict traceability control, collecting coordinates of the land where the commodities were produced. This will ensure that only deforestation-free products enter the EU market.

The EU Commission will operate a benchmarking system to classify countries with a low, standard, or high risk of producing commodities or products that aren’t deforestation-free. The requirements for companies and government authorities will depend on the level of risk of the country, from simplified to enhanced due diligence. 

With the new system, the EU hopes to prevent deforestation and forest degradation. The EU Commission estimates the bloc will reduce at least 31.9 million metric tons of carbon emissions every year due to the EU consumption of the targeted commodities. This would also mean savings of up to $3.6 billion per year, the commission estimates.

“If we expect more ambitious climate and environmental policies from partners, we should stop exporting pollution and supporting deforestation ourselves,” the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said in a statement. “It’s the most ambitious legislative attempt to tackle this worldwide.”

Will it pass?

The draft will now have to be approved by the EU Parliament and by each EU member country, something that might take a while. It follows recommendations included in a Parliament report last year but it has a more limited scope, not addressing human rights abuses and not creating civil liability for companies that export goods to the EU.

As it is now, it only targets recent deforestation due to its 2020 cut-off date. But this could change as lawmakers discuss the details at the EU Parliament, with some suggesting an earlier starting at 2014 – which is the earliest satellite images are available. The regulation also gives commodity exporters a 12-month transition.

Strong opposition is expected from forested countries that rely on export to the EU. This is the case of Brazil, for example, which exports beef to several bloc member countries. Deforestation rates have been on the rise in the country amid lax policies by President Bolsonaro. Recent data showed higher deforestation in October this year and many see beef imports from places like Brazil as an important contributor to deforestation.

Source:

Fermin Koop at ZME Science



Road to hell for marine life: Shell’s Wild Coast seismic assessment plans meet mounting public protest

Road to hell for marine life: Shell’s Wild Coast seismic assessment plans meet mounting public protest


‘Hell no, Shell must go’ — activists protest against the arrival of the Amazon Warrior in Cape Town on Sunday. This is the ship’s last stop before it carries out a seismic assessment in search of oil and gas off the Wild Coast, starting on 1 December.


Waving banners, beating drums and chanting, an array of protesters — including members of Extinction Rebellion Cape Town, Oceans Not Oil and the Green Connection — awaited the arrival of the Amazon Warrior, a 130-metre seismic blasting vessel hired by oil giant Shell, at Cape Town Harbour on Sunday morning. From the outset, their message was clear: “Shell can go to hell”.

“Hell no, Shell must go!” the protesters chanted. Placards with defaced Shell logos on them bobbed above the crowd.

Shell has appointed Shearwater GeoServices to conduct the survey, which will last from four to five months, and cover more than 6,000km² of ocean surface. The survey area is located more than 20km from the coast, with its closest point in water depths ranging between 700m and 3km, Daily Maverick reported.

Activists protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan along the Wild Coast at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021. Shell’s announcement that it will conduct a seismic survey to probe for oil and gas along the Wild Coast has drawn outrage from the public (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

During this time, the seismic airgun blasts will increase the cacophony of sounds in the ocean, adding to those made by whales, dolphins and other marine life. Scientists and environmentalists alike have raised serious concerns about the “disastrous effects” of seismic assessments on the marine environment.  

shell protest
People protest at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 against Shell’s offshore exploration plan to probe for oil and gas along the Wild Coast. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Climate activist organisation Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cape Town has said that there is increasing evidence that seismic blasting harms marine life. “Environmentalists are extremely concerned that seismic blasting of this scale will hurt our whales during breeding seasons, possibly separating mothers from their calves. But also fishing communities are sounding the alarm since the shockwaves will also scare off and harm their catch for unknown periods,” said XR Cape Town press coordinator, Michael Wolf.

In a statement on Saturday, XR Cape Town demanded that President Cyril Ramaphosa urgently intervene and withdraw the exploration licence from Shell and its partners, and send the Amazon Warrior home. 

People protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan off the Wild Coast and the arrival of the Amazon Warrior at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Shell’s announcement has spurred widespread public outrage and ignited a petition campaign to stop the survey. 

The Oceans Not Oil coalition started a petition calling on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy to withdraw approval of Shell’s application to probe for oil and gas off the Eastern Cape shoreline. By Sunday morning, the petition had received more than 147,500 signatories. 

About 100-150 protesters and activists were at the Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront when Daily Maverick arrived at around 5.30am on Sunday. From there, the demonstrators marched through the Silo District, eventually arriving at the edge of a pier near Shimmy Beach Club. 

Protesters demonstrate at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 against Shell’s offshore exploration for oil and gas along the Wild Coast. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

For about three hours the protesters waited to “unwelcome” the Amazon Warrior to Cape Town. The ship eventually arrived in the bay at about 8.15am, but remained outside the harbour.

“The reason why we’re here today is because we’re telling Shell to go to hell. We do not approve of their want to do seismic activity across the Wild Coast because it will not only affect marine life but will affect individuals and marginalised communities,” protester and youth coordinator at the African Climate Alliance, Gabriel Klaasen, told Our Burning Planet.

Klaasen said Shell’s plans for the Wild Coast will not only affect marine life, but will have social and economic impacts on communities in the area. 

“This needs to come to an end if we want to make sure our marine life is secure for future generations to benefit from. The ocean is one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world and if we don’t protect it, we are screwing humans over,” he said. 

Strategic lead for the Green Connection, Liz McDaid addresses protesters at Sunday’s action against Shell’s plan to carry out a three-dimensional seismic survey in search of oil and gas deposits from Morgan Bay to Port St Johns off the Wild Coast, starting on 1 December. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Addressing protesters on Sunday, strategic lead for the Green Connection organisation Liz McDaid said that while there are currently groups of environmental lawyers trying to find ways to stop the project, public pressure on Shell is the way forward.  

“It’s us on the ground who have the best chance of public pressure building to stop them and to shut them down,” said McDaid.

McDaid said Sunday’s action was the first in a series of rolling actions planned before 1 December. There have been protests along the Wild Coast and pickets outside Shell petrol stations across the country, she said. 

A silent march from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay harbour to raise public awareness also took place at midday on Sunday. 

People gather at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 to protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan along the Wild Coast. Demonstrators gathered to ‘unwelcome’ the ship commissioned to conduct the survey, which docked in Cape Town on Sunday. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

“What we are also planning to do — if we can raise the money — is hire a research vessel to shadow and monitor” the Amazon Warrior’s activity on the Wild Coast, said McDaid. 

“What we also think will put public pressure on Shell is to call on all the holidaymakers who are driving around to boycott Shell,” she said. 

“We were at the Paradise Motors Shell garage yesterday and it was very inspiring to see people look at the posters, drive in and then drive out without getting petrol,” she said.

“As long as we can resist and they know we are resisting, it makes their lives harder.”

Source:

Victoria O’Regan at Daily Maverick



Climate protesters block London bridges after activists jailed

Climate protesters block London bridges after activists jailed


Traffic on Lambeth and Vauxhall bridges stopped in rally against jailing of Insulate Britain members


Police have arrested 30 climate activists after a major bridge in central London was blocked by a sit-down protest.

The arrests on Lambeth Bridge came after Public Order Act conditions were imposed on the protest, which had been held in support of nine Insulate Britain campaigners who were jailed this week.

The bridge had been shut to traffic for a number of hours on Saturday by the sit-in, which initially involved up to 250 people who had marched from the Royal Courts of Justice.

Referring to Public Order Act conditions imposed on the protest, the Metropolitan police said: “Lambeth Bridge has now been reopened, 30 arrests were made for breach of S14 conditions.”

The force also said that Vauxhall Cross, where some of the demonstrators had moved, had reopened.

Earlier, climate protesters blocked the two London bridges as part of a demonstration against the jailing of nine Insulate Britain activists.

Members of the group were sentenced this week after breaching a court injunction in place to stop further road blockades that have caused serious disruption for motorists since September.

Campaigners stopped traffic on Lambeth Bridge, which crosses the Thames between Westminster and Lambeth, just after 2.10pm on Saturday. A sit-down protest forced police to divert traffic to other routes.

Supporters of the nine jailed Insulate Britain climate activists blocking Lambeth Bridge in central London
Supporters of the nine jailed Insulate Britain climate activists blocking Lambeth Bridge in central London on Saturday 20 November. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Earlier on Saturday evening, the Met imposed public order conditions on the protest and urged the remaining protesters to leave. Four of the protesters had glued themselves together.

The public order notice said the group have “no identified organiser” and “warm clothing, food, seats” and if they fail to leave, could face arrest.

An offshoot protest also blocked Vauxhall Bridge, the next bridge upriver.

Gabriella Ditton, 27, who was taking part in the demonstration at Lambeth Bridge said she believed she would end up in jail for taking part in the protests. She has been arrested six times with the campaign group, once for breaking the injunction.

“I have known for a couple of years that the only thing that is going to serve us is civil resistance. I have faith in people coming together.

“Solutions to this crisis exist, we just need the political will to do it.”

Gabriella Ditton.
Gabriella Ditton: ‘The only thing that is going to serve us is civil resistance.’ Photograph: Helen William/PA

Zoe Cohen, 51, who had travelled from Warrington in north-west England to take part, said: “I am angry, distraught and grieving for the huge amount of nature that we have already lost.”

She added that “ordinary people should not have to do this and risk prison”.

Any disruption is microscopic to the suffering of millions of people who are dying now across the world due to this crisis.”

Insulate Britain said it was not involved with setting up the event, which began after more than 200 supporters of the imprisoned activists gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in the afternoon.

One campaigner, Gully, told the crowd: “Make no mistake, these are political prisoners and they will not be the last.”

The group then walked from the courts to Westminster, chanting “power to the people”.

Insulate Britain began a wave of protests in September and blocked the M25, other roads in London, Birmingham and Manchester, and near the port of Dover in Kent.

The nine protesters were sentenced at the high court on Wednesday after admitting breaching an injunction by taking part in a blockade of the M25 during the morning rush hour on 8 October.

Source:

Harry Taylor at The Guardian



Satellites discover huge amounts of undeclared methane emissions

Satellites discover huge amounts of undeclared methane emissions


“These are large emissions, and we see quite a lot of them on the global scale, much more than we had expected.”


Huge amounts of uncounted emissions of highly warming greenhouse gas methane are being released by “super-emitters” all over the world, satellite observations reveal. 

Scientists have only recently worked out how to detect methane emissions from space, but what they have seen since has taken them by surprise. The greenhouse gas, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is leaking from gas pipelines, oil wells, fossil fuel processing plants and landfills all over the world. It is frequently released through negligence and improper operations; the emissions, in many cases, are not accounted for in mandatory greenhouse gas inventories. 

“We see quite a lot of those super-emitters,” Ilse Aben, senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) told Space.com. These are large emissions, and we see a lot of them on the global scale — much more than we had expected.”

Aben heads a team of experts working with data from an instrument called Tropomi (for TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) that flies on the European Sentinel 5P satellite, which is part of the Earth-observing constellation Copernicus.

Sentinel 5P launched in October 2017, and Tropomi started providing data a few months later. In the years since, scientists have slowly learned how to reliably interpret its measurements. 

“We measure methane concentrations in the total column from the top of the atmosphere down to the surface,” Aben said. “What we are looking for is the little bit of extra signal that suggests something is being released on the ground.”

Tropomi pinpoints emission sources with a rather crude resolution of 3.4 by 4.3 miles (5.5 by 7 kilometers), an area about the size of a smaller city. But the Tropomi team collaborates with Canadian company GHGSat, which currently flies three methane-detecting satellites, the first of which launched in 2016. GHGSat provides a much more detailed resolution of 66 feet (20 meters), which enables the company to do finer detective work. 

“With Tropomi, we look for these hotspots on a global scale,” said Aben. “We measure methane across the globe every day, and then we provide these locations to GHGSat and they can zoom in and pinpoint the exact facility that is leaking those emissions.”

Plumes of potent greenhouse gas methane leaking from a gas pipeline in Kazakhstan can be seen in this image captured by the European Sentinel 2 and Sentinel 5P satellites. (Image credit: Copernicus)

The oil industry’s dirty secrets

The collaboration has proved fruitful. In data gathered over the first two years of Tropomi’s operations, scientists discovered major leaks of methane in the oil and gas fields of Turkmenistan, most of which were completely preventable.

Oil and gas fields must build flare installations that prevent methane from leaking into the atmosphere, and Aben said that these leaks suggest those installations are not being used properly.

“These emissions actually relate to flare installations that are not being flared in the oil and gas industry,” said Aben. “Flaring is meant to get rid of the methane gases by burning them. It would obviously be better to capture the gas, but they are not even burning it. It’s just methane pouring out, and that is not normal operations.”

The Tropomi measurements revealed thousands of kilograms (in some cases even tens of thousands of kilograms) of methane leaking from 29 plants every hour. 

And the problem is not limited to Turkmenistan. A separate analysis of Sentinel 5P data released by French analytics company Kayrros in March this year found frequent methane leaks on three major pipelines supplying natural gas from Russia to Europe. Most of these events happened during maintenance work. Surprisingly, Kayrros detected 40% more leaks in the pandemic year 2020 compared to 2019, in spite of the overall reduction in gas imports from Russia to Europe, which was reported by the International Energy Agency. 

The U.S. is not blameless either. American scientists, using the Tropomi data, detected huge amounts of methane leaking from abandoned uncapped gas wells in Pennsylvania, and quantified massive leaks from several gas well blowouts that spouted methane for weeks. 

Yasjka Meijer, the mission scientist of Europe’s planned greenhouse gas monitoring mission CO2M, told Space.com that combined, all these leaks might account for much more than the emissions that natural gas companies report. These hidden emissions could, in fact, undermine the effectiveness of the shift away from the burning of coal toward the burning of gas for electricity generation, Meijer said. Many countries rely on gas as a temporary measure to decrease greenhouse gas emissions while developing fully renewable energy resources.

“A lot of oil and gas producers say that their average leakage is about 3 to 4%,” said Meijer. “It turns out to be much more. But burning gas in a power plant outperforms coal in terms of the carbon footprint only if the leakage is not more than about 8%. With the numbers now, we actually have doubts, because it might be perhaps 10 or 15% and then the global climate impact would be much larger.”

But it’s not just the fossil fuel industry that has its dirty emission secrets. Aben said the team was almost shocked at the extent of methane plumes leaking from landfills.

“Before we saw the first one, I had never thought we would be able to see landfill emissions from space,” said Aben. “That certainly gave us a ‘wow’ moment when we saw it for the first time. And now there’s a whole bunch of them that we have detected.”

The  Copernicus Carbon Dioxide Monitoring mission (CO2M) will be able to spot individual sources of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide. (Image credit: ESA)

Early stages 

Thorsten Fehr, head of the atmospheric section at the European Space Agency (ESA), which is developing the CO2M mission and operating Sentinel 5P for Copernicus, cautions that monitoring greenhouse gas emissions from space is still in its early stages. But the space industry is ready to take the technology another step further and effectively start policing emitters from space. Such a capability will be crucial to keep the world on track to meeting its emission reductions targets in order to keep global warming close to the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) limit set out in the Paris Agreement negotiated at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.

Currently, nations self-report their emissions based on the amount of fossil fuels the various sectors of their economy burn. However, countries often release these numbers on a five-year delay, and experts question their accuracy.

“The Paris Agreement asks for a transparency framework,” Fehr told Space.com. “To basically show what people are doing, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do now.”

There are currently a plethora of space missions being readied to tackle methane emissions. In addition to GHGSat, Sentinel 5P and CO2M, a U.S. company called MethaneSAT, a spin-off from the nonprofit organization Environmental Defense Fund, plans to launch a new methane-monitoring spacecraft in October 2022. Earth-observation company Planet, together with a range of research institutions including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, are developing an entirely new constellation of methane-monitoring satellites as part of a public-private partnership. 

This sneaky greenhouse gas is a focus of an international pledge that was introduced at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow on Nov. 3. Over 100 nations have signed the document, promising to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. According to a European Commission’s statement, this reduction alone could reduce the atmospheric warming projected by 2050 by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.28 degrees Celsius).

Scientists call methane emissions a “low-hanging fruit” and hope that the reductions should be relatively easy to achieve. 

“It’s in nobody’s interest to release this methane,” said Meijer. “It should be easier to regulate than carbon dioxide, because for carbon dioxide, you would have to tell people to stop burning the fossil fuels.”

The carbon dioxide challenge

To similarly monitor carbon dioxide emissions is much more complicated. But Fehr says ESA is ready for the challenge, and with the CO2M mission plans to provide the first of its kind tool capable of distinguishing individual anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide from space.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, launched in 2014, currently provides data on the regional distribution of carbon dioxide sources and natural sinks, reflecting global trends and seasonal changes. Its sister instrument, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, is attached to the International Space Station, taking measurements since 2019. But the resolution of these two instruments is nowhere near detailed enough to spot individual emitters.

“There’s a big difference between monitoring carbon dioxide and methane,” said Meijer. “The [natural] amount of methane in the air is much lower than the amount of carbon dioxide. Plus what is being emitted from sources is much higher than the background so it’s much easier to distinguish it from space. For carbon dioxide it’s the opposite. There’s already a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere naturally and the addition of individual sources is relatively small, you’re talking about a quarter of a percent.”

There are currently nearly 420 parts of carbon dioxide in a million parts of air, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the 1700s, before humankind started burning fossil fuels, the value was about 280, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The CO2M mission, expected to launch by 2026, hopes to measure the concentrations with an accuracy of 0.25%, which, according to Meijer, is still a technical challenge. 

Making the world to cooperate 

Aben hopes satellite observations will help keep the world on track to tackle climate change. The scale of the methane leaks surprised scientists, she said, but now that the previously hidden gas pipeline leaks and polluting landfills can finally be seen, fixing the problem is, at least, possible.

“I think that these satellite observations will certainly stir up and change the way we will be reporting emissions,” she said. “We are seeing things that I think are not visible at the moment in some of the reporting. Not all of the reporting is wrong, but this certainly adds a category of emissions that we might have missed.”

Meijer, however, cautions that it might still take a considerable effort to get the whole world on board. “This is the first time that you can actually put a finger on it,” he said. “But the problem is, how are you going to communicate with a country somewhere in Africa that there is too much methane leaking out of their facilities.”

At the recently concluded COP26 conference, nations strengthened their commitments to the goals of the Paris Agreement, agreeing to speed up the elimination of coal from the energy mix and increase their emission reduction efforts across the board. 

With the new pledges, the world might be on track to keeping the global temperature rise within 3.2 degrees F (1.8 degrees C). That value is still above the preferred limit of 27 degrees F (1.5 degrees C), but considerably better than the 4.8 degrees F (2.7 degrees C) trajectory predicted under previous plans. The battle is by far not yet won.

Source:

Tereza Pultarova at Space.com



Protesters break into Australian coal loading facility despite Police Commissioner’s jail warning

Protesters break into Australian coal loading facility despite Police Commissioner’s jail warning


NSW Police Commissioner has warned of 25 year jail sentences under the Crimes Act

Protesters have disrupted coal train movements for a ninth consecutive day

Police have arrested 19 people in the past ten days


Police have warned that coal activists disrupting train movements in the NSW Hunter Valley could face up to 25 years behind bars, with 19 arrests made since protests began early this month.

The group Blockade Australia returned to the Port of Newcastle this morning, halting operations for a ninth consecutive day, taking a stance against Australia’s climate policy.

NSW Police say two Victorian women, aged 24 and 28, have been charged with “intent to kill or injure person on railway, cause obstruction to railway locomotive or rolling stock and endanger safety of person on railway”, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years’ jail.

Police say a 40-year-old Newcastle man is likely to be charged with the same offence today.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce estimated the ongoing protests had disrupted $60 million in coal exports.

A Blockade Australia protester took to social media from inside the coal loading facility this morning where he said he pushed an emergency stop button before crossing his fingers.

“My plan is to go and hide somewhere in those big aisles, there’s four of those aisles and they run for two kilometres each so I’m just going to go and get lost down there,” he said.

“Hopefully what will happen is that the hundreds and hundreds of people that work here will come out and do a little search and … when they find me, they’ll call the policeman and the policeman will take me into custody and the law will take over from there.”

Adrian filmed himself from inside the facility, telling social media he will likely be taken into custody and “the law will take over from there”.(Supplied: Blockade Australia)

Nineteen people have been arrested from the same group since November 5.

Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said protests would not be tolerated.

“The ongoing protests are placing public safety at risk and endangering the lives of all those who use the rail network.”

“I have sought further legal advice today and am warning anyone who intends on behaving in the manner we’ve seen over the past week, that they could be charged with offences under Section 211 of the Crimes Act 1900, which carry a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.

“This is in addition to the various trespass and rail disruption offences numerous protesters have been charged with since Friday, November 5.”

PolAir and the Public Order and Riot Squad have joined local police in surveillance today under the new Strike Force Tuohy.

“[They] stand ready to target anyone engaging in this dangerous and criminal behaviour, and will not hesitate to take the appropriate action,” Mr Fuller said.

‘Draconian overreach of police’ 

Blockade Australia said the threat was an “overreach of police power” and committed to continue disrupting coal exports.

“Blockade Australia uses nonviolent blockading tactics to disrupt a system that is causing a climate and ecological crisis that threatens all life on Earth.

“Threatening protesters with 25-year prison sentences for blocking coal trains without causing physical harm to anyone is a draconian overreach of police power.

“Blockade Australia will continue to take sustained and disruptive action in response to Australia’s leading role in the climate and ecological crisis for as long as necessary.”

Source:

Amelia Bernasconi at ABC News



This Dam Simple Trick Is a Big Green Energy Win

This Dam Simple Trick Is a Big Green Energy Win


Only a small fraction of dams actually produce electricity. Transforming them into hydropower plants might stop new ones from being built.


IN NOVEMBER 2019 engineers switched on the 18th and final turbine at Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam: the final step in an odyssey of planning and construction that had started almost 50 years earlier. The vast hydroelectric complex—the fourth-largest in the world—completely upended the northern stretch of the Xingu River, one of the Amazon’s major tributaries. The waters held back by the main dam created a reservoir that flooded 260 square miles of lowlands and forests, and displaced more than 20,000 people.

Major hydroelectric dams can have catastrophic consequences—flooding homes and habitats and changing the flow, temperature, and chemistry of rivers for decades. Although few are quite as big as Belo Monte, there are a glut of new hydroelectric dams in the works all over the globe. In 2014 researchers estimated that there are at least 3,700 major hydroelectric dams in planning or under construction globally. Most of these new projects are located in low- and middle-income countries eager to fuel their growing economies with a crucial source of low-carbon power: In 2020, hydroelectric dams generated as much electricity as nuclear and wind power combined. But the race to tap the world’s rivers for renewable energy presents something of an environmental conundrum: Do the benefits outweigh the environmental chaos that dams can wreak?

Some researchers think there’s a smart way out of this dilemma. Rather than building more dams, why don’t we figure out a way to get more out of the ones that already exist? The majority of them aren’t generating electricity at all—they’re used for irrigation, water supply, flood control, or for fishing and boating. If we can figure out a way to put turbines into those dams so they also produce hydropower—a process known as retrofitting—we could unlock a huge renewable energy potential that isn’t being tapped.

In a retrofitted system, water falling through the dam would spin newly installed turbine blades connected to a generator—and that spinning would generate electricity that could be distributed to local homes or connected to a larger power grid. “How much more can we get out of revitalizing existing infrastructure, rather than expanding and building new infrastructure?” asks Ryan McManamay, an ecologist at Baylor University in Texas and coauthor of a paper exploring the untapped potential of non-powered dams. (McManamay’s own office in Waco is a short walk from one of these dams on the Brazos River. A wasted opportunity right on his doorstep, he points out.)

McManamay and his colleagues estimated that retrofitting dams and upgrading existing hydroelectric plants could boost their maximum output by an extra 78 gigawatts. That’s roughly the power generated by seven Belo Monte Dams, or more than double the average electricity demand in the whole of the United Kingdom. And in parts of the world where new dams are being planned and constructed, the change could be huge. Retrofitting and upgrading dams in the Amazon River basin could unlock 1.6 gigawatts of new electricity production. That’s roughly the amount of energy produced by a natural-gas-fired power station and enough to avoid the construction of 17 new smaller dams altogether. Upgrading and retrofitting dams in the Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia could generate so much power that all the new ones slated for construction in the region would be surplus above what’s required.

Some countries are already making use of this potential. Since 2000, 36 dams in the US have been retrofitted with turbines, adding more than 500 megawatts of renewable generation capacity. There is even more potential out there: A 2016 US Department of Energy report found that an additional 4.8 gigawatts of electricity could be generated by retrofitting non-powered dams over the next three decades. In places like the US and Western Europe, where the dam-building boom of the mid-20th century has long since faded, retrofitting may be the only option left for governments looking to eke out a little more hydropower. “If there are dams that are going to remain in place, let’s try and find solutions and work together to the most optimal solution,” says McManamay.

But before anyone starts upgrading all these dams, they might want to take another look at the numbers. It’s not easy to accurately predict how much electricity a retrofitted facility will actually produce, because it turns out not every dam is a good fit for conversion. Say someone wants to fit turbines in a dam that was built to hold back water so it can be used to irrigate farmers’ fields. During the growing season, a lot of that water would normally be directed toward crops, instead of flowing over the dam to generate electricity. Or perhaps it’s in an area where the water is only high enough to generate electricity for part of the year. Suddenly those retrofitted dams might not seem like such a smart idea.

One recent study on retrofitted dams in the US, also commissioned by the Department of Energy, found that projections of their power output veered toward the optimistic side: On average, those projections were 3.6 times greater than the actual output. The study found that the most successful retrofits tended to be concrete dams initially built to aid navigation. (Dams are often used to widen or deepen waterways to make it easier for boats to pass through.) “This is a complex issue. It’s not an easy fix,” says McManamay.

But in countries such as Brazil, big dams are still very much on the agenda. “If they’re going to develop and really raise the standard of living in the country as a whole, they need energy. That’s the long and short of it,” says Michael Goulding, a senior aquatic scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society. The country’s most recent 10-year energy plan outlines nine new large dams scheduled to be completed before 2029. Rather than hoping these dams won’t be built, it’s important to make sure that proper studies are carried out to make sure that they’re built in a way that minimizes environmental destruction, says Goulding: “Often the environmental impact frameworks aren’t very good. They’ll define an area of interest close to the dam and that area of interest doesn’t include all the downstream impacts and upstream impacts as well.”

The Belo Monte Dam is a good example of just how much of an effect large dams have on the surrounding environment. The dam complex redirected 80 percent of the Xingu’s flow away from a 62-mile stretch of the river known as Big Bend. This section of the Xingu also happens to be the only known wild habitat of the Zebra Pleco—an eye-catching striped catfish beloved by aquarists. “There is a huge risk that this species will go extinct,” says Thiago B. A. Couto, a postdoctoral researcher at Florida International University’s Tropical Rivers Lab. The impact of dams on fish species is well-documented elsewhere in the world. In Washington state, the Elwha Dam disconnected the upper and lower Elwha watersheds, reducing the habitat available to salmon by 90 percent. Some species local to the river disappeared altogether, while the populations of others—such as Chinook—fell to a fraction of their previous levels.

Eventually, however, even large dams may outlive their usefulness. In 2014, the last remnants of the Elwha Dam were removed forever. The Chinook salmon that for decades had remained locked behind two dams are now slowly making their way back upstream. A full recovery is expected to take decades. “Dams don’t last forever,” says Couto. “There are many that are abundant, but are not providing the minimum benefits that they are supposed to.”

Source:

Matt Reynolds at Wired



Cop26 reveals limits of Biden’s promise to ‘lead by example’ on climate crisis

Cop26 reveals limits of Biden’s promise to ‘lead by example’ on climate crisis


US declined to join promise to end coal mining and to compensate poor countries for climate damage. Critics ask, is that leadership?


The crucial UN climate talks in Scotland have produced landmark commitments to phase out coalmining, to call time on the internal combustion engines and to compensate poorer countries for damage caused by the climate crisis.

The United States, which has trumpeted its regained climate leadership at the summit, has not joined any these pledges as the talks draw to a close.

This disconnect has provided the world with a muddled sense of America’s willingness to confront the unfolding climate catastrophe, with the fate of historic legislation to lower planet-heating emissions still uncertain ahead of an expected vote in Congress next week.

Joe Biden arrived in Glasgow vowing the US will “lead by example” on climate change and avoid disastrous global heating beyond 1.5C, dispatching his entire cabinet to the Cop26 talks and making widely praised new promises to cut methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and to end deforestation.

Two dozen Democratic lawmakers wearing congressional lapel pins have swept the conference venue this week, all expressing confidence that the vast $1.75tn spending bill will pass back home.

“This is the most ambitious climate legislation of all time,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told the summit. “America is back and is ready to lead,” added Kathy Castor, chair of the House select committee on the climate crisis. “Once we pass this historic package, finally, it will help keep 1.5C alive.”

We have to actually deliver the action in order to get the respect intentionally. It’s that simple

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

But the US is bedeviled by its recent past and – many delegates of other countries fear – its potential future, following Donald Trump’s embrace of climate science denialism and American isolationism. “We have not recovered our moral authority,” admitted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive New York representative, when asked about the specter of the former president. “I believe we are making steps, but we have to actually deliver the action in order to get the respect internationally. It’s that simple.”

There is also mounting criticism that Biden’s actions have not matched his words and that the US president’s negotiators haven’t pushed hard enough for an ambitious deal in Glasgow to secure the deep emissions cuts needed to avoid disastrous warming that will spur ever-worsening floods, heatwaves and wildfires.

More than 40 countries announced at Cop26 a promise to end the mining of coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, although the US was conspicuously absent from the list. “It’s very disappointing because the science is quite clear that we have to turn sharply away from coal this decade if we are going to meet our climate goals,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We need very clear signals that orientate the US towards clean energy,” she added. “The climate crisis is too dire to just wait for coal to fall out. It’s just another signal of the sway the fossil fuel industry still has over US politics.”

Despite its attempts to expand the rollout of electric vehicles, the Biden administration has also declined to set an end date for the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars, unlike the UK, European Union, Canada, India and a slew of other countries at Cop26.

Its delegation in Glasgow is similarly wary of a push to provide “loss and damage” payments to countries vulnerable to climate impacts and has sought to shift criticism towards the inaction of China and Russiaalthough the US and China did unveil an unexpected plan to work together on cutting emissions, despite the enmity between the two countries.

This reticence, critics claim, undermines Biden’s credibility on climate. Others say the dysfunctional nature of Congress, where sweeping climate legislation to expand renewable energy and wind down fossil fuels is effectively in the hands of a senator who derives most of his income from investments in coal, is to blame.

“There is a handful of members of Congress who represent coal-intensive parts of the country who see [climate action] as a threat to their region,” Sean Casten, a Democratic representative, told the Guardian. “It’s kept the president from doing all that he’d like to do.”

Pete Buttigieg, the US transport secretary, told the Guardian that the Biden administration aims to give Americans better public transit options, as well as electric vehicle rebates and infrastructure, but that “each country is on its own path” to ending the age of fossil fuel-powered cars.

“What we are talking about is a race to the ambitious targets the president has set,” Buttigieg said, adding that the goal of half of all car sales being electric by 2030 will be in itself a “massive lift”.

Biden will face further scrutiny almost immediately after some sort of deal is struck in Glasgow, not only over the fate of the Build Back Better bill but also his issuance of permits for oil and gas drilling.

An auction of 80m acres of the Gulf of Mexico seabed, an area larger than the UK, will be offered to fossil fuel companies next week, while a new report has warned that the oil and gas that will be burned in the Permian Basin, a geological formation in the south-west US, by 2050 will release nearly 40bn tons of carbon dioxide, nearly a tenth of the remaining global “carbon budget” to stay under 1.5C.

“If the Biden administration wants to be serious about its promise to demonstrate US climate leadership, it must first clean up its own back yard,” said Steven Feit, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law.

“The Permian Basin is the single largest fracking basin globally, and the continued reckless pursuit of oil extraction from New Mexico to the Gulf coast is the ultimate display of hypocrisy.

Source:

Oliver Milman at The Guardian