Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EPA to lift Obama-era controls on methane, a potent greenhouse gas
- Satellites record history of Antarctic melting
- Warming world will be 'devastating' for frozen peatlands
- Cod could disappear from British menus due to global warming
- How the UK's climate science deniers turned their attention to Covid-19
- Talking the talk was the easy bit for BP
- Climate crisis will force rethink of our immigration policies as millions may be forced to flee
- Sea-ice-free Arctic during the Last Interglacial supports fast future loss
- Large stocks of peatland carbon and nitrogen are vulnerable to permafrost thaw
- Net benefits to US soy and maize yields from intensifying hourly rainfall
The New York Times reports that President Donald Trump’s administration is expected in the next few days to lift controls on the release of methane set by former president Barack Obama. Methane is potent greenhouse gas released through agriculture and industry, including from leaks and flares in oil and gas wells, the New York Times says. An anonymous source tells the New York Times that the new rule, issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency, will be announced by Friday. The newspaper adds: “The rollback of the methane rule is the latest move in the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to weaken environmental standards, which has continued unabated during the coronavirus pandemic…In April, the EPA weakened rules on the release of toxic chemicals from coal-fired power plants, loosened curbs on climate-warming tailpipe pollution and opted not to strengthen a regulation on industrial soot emissions that have been linked to respiratory diseases, including Covid-19.” According to the New York Times, officials at the EPA say the “new, weaker methane rule is needed to free the oil and gas industry from what they call crippling regulations at a moment when companies are suffering from plummeting prices and falling demand driven by a sharp global economic slowdown”. The story is also covered by the Wall Street Journal, the Hill and Forbes.
BBC News reports on a study that uses 25 years of satellite data to create a detailed picture of Antarctica’s past melting. The research shows that Antarctica’s ice shelves have lost close to 4,000bn tonnes since 1994 – an amount of meltwater that could all but fill the Grand Canyon in the US. BBC News says: “But the innovation here is not so much the fact that the shelves are losing mass – we already knew that; relatively warm ocean water is eating their undersides. Rather, it’s the finessed statements that can now be made about exactly where and when the wastage has been occurring, and where also the meltwater has been going…Some of this cold, fresh water has been entering the deep sea around Antarctica where it is undoubtedly influencing ocean circulation. And this could have implications for the climate far beyond the polar south.” The Independent also covers the research, which is published in Nature Geoscience. It adds: “Ice-shelf loss does not directly impact sea level rise as they are already floating in the water. However ice shelves form gigantic buttresses to slow the slide of ice sheets into the ocean and therefore, as they shrink, their ability to hold back ice sheets begins to falter.”
Elsewhere, the Times reports that new modelling of the Arctic shows the region “could have no sea ice in summer by 2035, according to scientists who studied a warm period more than 100,000 years ago”.
BBC News reports on a study finding the world’s northern peatlands could turn to a large source of greenhouse gas emissions as warming drives the thawing of permafrost. At present, large amounts of carbon are stored in boggy and frozen land stretching across the world’s most northern regions, BBC News says: “But much of the permanently frozen land will thaw this century, say experts. This will release warming gases at a rate that could be 30-50% greater than previous estimates.” The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the outlet adds.
Several publications report on a study finding that climate change could cause Atlantic cod stocks to decrease in the Celtic Sea, English Channel and southern North Sea through the 21st century. The Independent reports that while cod stocks could decrease, stocks of fish that prefer warmer temperatures, including red mullet, Dover sole, John Dory and lemon sole, could increase. According to the Independent, lead author Dr Katherine Maltby, a marine climate change scientist at the UK’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, said: “Our results show that climate change will continue to affect fish stocks within this sea region into the future, presenting both potential risks but some opportunities that fishers will likely have to adapt to.” The findings are published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, the Daily Telegraph adds. The study is also covered by Press Association, the Daily Mirror and MailOnline.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports on the increase in “tropical nights” in the UK, with 16 recorded this summer compared to just eight between 1961 and 1995. It continues: “These hot nights, when the mercury does not drop below 20C, were once so uncommon in Britain that they were not logged, but now a large proportion of our summer nights are spent tossing and turning, and this year looks likely to set a record. Climate change means that tropical nights are likely to continue to increase year on year, and become a regular part of our summers, meteorologists have warned.”
For DeSmog UK, investigative researcher Zak Derler examines why many of the UK’s most prominent climate sceptics also spread misinformation about Covid-19. Derler reports: “The coronavirus crisis once again saw the UK divided – between those putting their trust in public health experts and their recommendations, and those quick to question the science on which the government claimed to base its decisions for controlling the pandemic. For those who have watched the decades-long efforts to slow climate action, this was a familiar phenomenon. And the coronavirus pandemic seemed to give fresh ammunition to some familiar faces.” Derler spoke to Stephan Lewandowsky, a professor of cognitive science, who studies the persistence of misinformation in society at the University of Bristol, about why climate sceptics are showing an interest in misinformation surrounding Covid-19. Lewandowsky says: “I think Covid is just climate change on steroids in a particle accelerator. The same forces are happening: You have the inevitability of a virus which is the same as the inevitability of the physics. And opposing that you have politics which motivates some people to deny the inevitables and instead resort to bizarre claims.”
In the Times, energy editor Emily Gosden explores whether oil major BP can put words into action after its new chief executive Bernard Looney pledged to cut the carbon footprint of the company to net-zero by 2050. She says: “Understandably, many were sceptical about Looney’s apparent Damascene conversion after his decades working in the heart of BP’s oil and gas operations, most recently leading its exploration and production division.” She adds: “BP’s bold strategic shift was the right thing to do, but in a sense it was also the easy bit. Executing it successfully will be much harder.” Meanwhile, Upstream reports that BP is to resume deep-water exploration for oil in Brazil despite its pledge to go greener.
Madeleine Cuff, environment reporter at the i newspaper, writes on the topic of climate change and migration as the UK media turns its attention to small boats arriving at the shores of dover. Cuff says: “All the tough talk and hand wringing over the arrival of a few hundred migrants demonstrates how under-prepared the UK is to deal with the looming threat of climate change…Most people will move internally to towns and cities in their own countries before crossing continents. But according to one 2017 study, unless climate change can be slowed the number of people claiming asylum in the EU could triple to one million people a year by 2100.” Elsewhere, Daniel Cusick, a reporter at E&E News, writes that the US “needs to address its climate migration problem”.
New model simulations of the Arctic in the Earth’s distant past support “a fast retreat of future Arctic summer sea ice”. The study focuses on the Last Interglacial (LIG) – “a warmer period 130,000–116,000 years before present, [which] is a potential analogue for future climate change”. While previous climate models have struggled to capture the elevated temperatures of the period (4-5C higher than pre-industrial), “the latest version of the fully coupled UK Hadley Centre climate model (HadGEM3) simulates a more accurate Arctic LIG climate”, the researchers say. The model simulates a complete loss of Arctic sea ice in summer, which provides “a compelling solution to the long-standing puzzle of what drove LIG Arctic warmth”, the authors conclude.
Human-caused warming could push northern peatlands from a carbon sink to a carbon source, a new study suggests. The researchers compile more than 7,000 field observations to present a data-driven map of northern peatlands and their carbon and nitrogen stocks. Nearly half of these peatlands are “permafrost affected”, the researchers find, and modelling shows that “warming will likely shift [their] greenhouse gas balance”. The projected thaw “would cause peatland greenhouse gas emissions equal to ∼1% of anthropogenic radiative forcing in this century”, the study says.
New research explores the potential impacts of changing rainfall patterns on US maize and soy yields. The pattern is “complex”, the authors say: Yields are “severely damaged by the rarest hourly rainfall extremes (≥50 mm hr−1)”, but “they benefit from heavy rainfall up to 20 mm hr−1, roughly the heaviest downpour of the year on average”. Overall, the researchers project that “crop yields will benefit by ~1–3% on average due to projected future rainfall intensification”. However, this modest yield increase is “not nearly enough to offset the 10–30% yield losses associated with hotter temperatures”, an accompanying News & Views article warns.
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