Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK plans £250m boost for cycle lanes and fast-track e-scooter trials
- Britain goes one month without coal-fired electricity generation in 'milestone' achievement
- Humidity and heat extremes are on the verge of exceeding limits of human survivability, study finds
- GOP coronavirus message: Economic crisis is a Green New Deal preview
- Michael Moore's new film turns heroes into villains and villains into heroes
- The emergence of heat and humidity too severe for human tolerance
- Rising trends in heatwave metrics across Southern California
Several UK publications cover the announcement over the weekend by the UK government that, as part of its pandemic recovery package, it plans to fund a £250m investment in UK cycle lanes to encourage commuters to ride to work instead of using public transport. The Guardian says “campaigners have called for a fundamental redesign of the transport system to help prevent a bounce-back in air pollution levels once the lockdown ends”, adding: “Studies have shown that air pollution may play a role in higher Covid-19 mortality rates, with hearts and lungs weakened by dirty air.” The i newspaper reports that “plans for pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements and cycle-only streets have been set out by ministers in a move to persuade the public to change their travel habits as the coronavirus lockdown is eased”. In a separate report, the i newspaper says that “the government is to invest £2bn in green travel solutions including e-
Meanwhile, the Times reports that Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England who is the UN special envoy for climate action and finance, says that polluting industries such as airlines should be asked to commit to climate change plans in return for financial support from governments. BBC News also carries the story noting that Carney says that “we can’t self-isolate from climate change”.
The i newspaper reports that “Britain has gone one month without coal-fired electricity generation for the first time since the Industrial Revolution”. The “milestone” moment was confirmed by the National Grid on Sunday morning. The newspaper adds: “The operator [said] that it had been 30 days, seven hours and 36 minutes – more than 727 hours in total – and counting since the nation had used coal.” Sky News says: “For the first time since 1882, Great Britain has gone more than 28 days without using coal, and the lockdown is contributing to keeping power consumption low…The record previously stood at 18 days and was set last year.” However, the Financial Times reports that “oversupply of power has meant engineers are working hard to keep system stable”. It adds: “Overall, electricity demand in Britain has plunged by up to a fifth since the UK government followed other countries by imposing a lockdown at the end of March…National Grid has…agreed a deal with French utility EDF to reduce output from its Sizewell B nuclear plant in Suffolk to help manage lower demand. It has also held discussions with smaller generators during the lockdown about switching off if required. National Grid has also warned it may for the first time have to issue a national plea to power stations to cut supply if problems of low demand persist. An insufficient response to that entreaty would result in an emergency order to switch off.”
Many outlets around the world cover a new study published in Science Advances which the Washington Post says is the first “to find that wet-bulb temperatures of 35C – which render ineffective the human heat response of sweating to shed heat through evaporation, leading to hyperthermia – are already occurring for short periods of time at a few weather stations”. New Scientist says the paper shows that “global warming has already made parts of the world hotter than the human body can withstand, decades earlier than climate models expected this to happen”. It adds: “A US-UK team analysed weather station data across the world, and found that the frequency of wet bulb temperatures [TW] exceeding temperatures between 27C TW and 35C TW had all doubled since 1979. Though 35C TW is thought of as a key threshold, harm and even death is possible at lower temperatures, so the team included these in their analysis. Most of the frequency increases were in the Persian gulf, India, Pakistan and south-west North America.” The Guardian, MailOnline and Scientific American are among the other publications covering the study.
In other science news, the Independent reports on a new study in Nature which shows that “sea levels could rise by more than one metre by the year 2100 and 5m by 2300 if global emissions targets are not achieved”. It adds: “In the low emissions scenario, in which global warming is limited to 2C above pre-industrial levels, experts estimate a rise of 0.5m by 2100 and 0.5m to 2m by 2300. In a high emissions scenario where global warming rises by 4.5C, the estimates surged between 0.6m and 1.3m by 2100 and 1.7m to 5.6m by 2300.” The Guardian says that the study shows “sea level rise is faster than previously believed”. The Hindu also covers the study. Meanwhile, MailOnline covers a study showing that “climate change could trigger an ancient El Niño-like pattern in the Indian Ocean that would create extreme weather such as floods, storms and droughts across the globe”.
There continues to be a diverse range of features and comment pieces looking at how the pandemic might affect attitudes to climate change. The New York Times carries a feature on how the Republicans [“GOP”] in the US are using the crisis to “test a political response” by “saying Democratic climate policies would bring similar pain” as the pandemic. The feature continues: “Strategists for both parties say the palpable signs of what decarbonisation would mean to the world have created an interesting challenge for Mr Biden and the Democrats. They could talk up the dramatic views and crystalline air as previews of policies to restrict the burning of fossil fuels. But with exploding unemployment, epic lines at food banks and rising poverty, Republicans would have their own ready response: Look at the price…’The Republicans’ line of attack is going to be that the Democrats are trying to create a massive Green New Deal that’s going to create a lot of spending at a time when we just can’t afford that,’ said Ron Bonjean, a veteran Republican operative.” In another feature, the New York Times notes that “climate-change sceptics have employed techniques perfected in the fight over global warming to raise doubts about the deadliness of the virus”. And in a third feature in the New York Times, the writer notes: “Nature’s revival has come at enormous cost, with Europe’s economy projected to decline 7.4% this year. So for many, like the suddenly unemployed, concerns about climate — which seemed urgent just a few months ago — can seem less so now. Those competing camps are now locked in debate over how and what to rebuild — between those who want to get the economy moving again, no matter how, and those who argue that the crisis is a chance to accelerate the transition to a cleaner economy.”
Meanwhile, a feature in Politico says: “France and Germany look set to squander a prime opportunity to trigger a green revolution in Europe’s industrial heartlands. Berlin and Paris are under enormous pressure to save their airlines and carmakers from the coronavirus pandemic, but they are struggling to make their support for national champions contingent on green makeovers. Campaigners worry that many of those green strings aren’t very meaningful, or cover things companies were planning on doing anyway.” In Bloomberg, Laura Millan Lombrana and Hayley Warren walk through the various metrics showing how the pandemic has affected emissions. They conclude: “If an unprecedented event sweeps the planet and inadvertently reduces emissions by more than modern-day humans have ever managed to do intentionally, what does that mean for our climate goals? The strategies used to contain the virus can’t remain in place for long. Shutting down entire economies and sending millions of workers into unemployment are not sustainable solutions, especially when billions of citizens around the world aspire to the same living standards and comforts as those in developed nations. The efforts will need to be titanic, even bigger than the ones it took to bring the world to a temporary halt in the face of Covid-19.” In a 11-minute film for Channel 4 News – which is now on YouTube – Simon Roach interviews scientists to examine whether the pandemic will it actually make a difference in the long run to emissions.
In the Guardian, a range of scientists write a joint letter to say: “It is time to acknowledge our collective failure to respond to climate change, identify its consequences and accept the massive personal, local, national and global adaptation that awaits us all.” Also in the Observer, columnist Kenan Malik writes: “Challenging both the lack of development and environmental devastation requires not fatuous claims that ‘humans are the virus’ but confronting policies that limit innovation, impose inequality and put profits before people. It is the ‘bad’ of the social, not the ‘good’ of the natural, that we need to address.” In the Evening Standard, veteran environmentalist Tony Juniper, who now chairs Natural England, writes: “Do we step up and repair the natural world and our relationship with it, as part of wider post-Covid-19 recovery, or do we go for economic growth at any cost? Let’s hope that at least some of our economists have a basic understanding of ecology, because if they don’t, next time the consequences might be even worse.” In the Guardian, columnist Gaby Hinsliff writes: “If climate change campaigners are seen to be rejoicing too much in the accidental outcomes of a sad and terrifying time, they’ll lose sympathy. With thousands of airline workers losing their jobs, it will be a while before most people feel comfortable celebrating the decline of polluting industries.” Also in the Guardian, diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour writes about how “even under a Democrat presidency, relations between China and the US will be on a downward curve, making a climate change agreement more difficult”. The New Statesman carries a range of views by various economic thinkers on how the pandemic might affect policies, including climate policies. Finally, the Daily Telegraph carries a comment piece by one of its comment editors called Tom Welsh who claims that “socialists and greens are determined to use this crisis to impose a dystopian ‘new normal’”. The target of his ire? Cycling, it seems. He writes: “Perhaps the cycling ultras will succeed in their aim by making motoring such a dreadful experience that drivers have no choice but to abandon their vehicles. But that is not a ‘new normal’ I want to contemplate.”
There is continuing negative reaction to Michael Moore’s new film Planet of the Humans. Writing for Newsweek, climate scientist Prof Michael Mann writes: “We may never know the motives behind this ill-premised, intellectually dishonest stunt by Michael Moore & Jeff Gibbs. What we do know is that their misguided polemic furthers the agenda of fossil fuel interests and their tactic of denial, delay, distraction and deflection by feeding misleading and false narratives about renewable energy.” Writing on his blog, Ketan Joshi says: “The challenge [of climate change] is so complex, involving alliances between so many natural enemies that only cohesion, tolerance and kindness can sustain a response. The people who made this film dropped a grenade in the middle of a fragile coalition at the worst possible time, and they’re beaming with pride, oblivious to the carnage.” And Guardian columnist George Monbiot asks “how did Michael Moore become a hero to climate deniers and the far right?” He adds: “The filmmaker’s latest venture is an excruciating mishmash of environment falsehoods and plays into the hands of those he once opposed.”
The frequency of extreme humid heat across the world has doubled since 1979, according a new study analysing weather station data. And some subtropical coastal locations have reported “wet-bulb” temperatures of more than 35C, which is considered to be too hot and humid for humans to cope with. A wet-bulb temperature is the temperature read by a thermometer covered in water-soaked cloth over which air is passed, giving a measure of heat and humidity.
Heatwaves are starting earlier and ending later in the year in urban parts of southern California, including Los Angeles, a study finds. Heatwave nighttime temperatures combined with high humidity have been increasing at a rapid rate of around 1C per decade since the 1980’s in the state, the study finds, “elevating heat‐stress and mortality risk to vulnerable urban communities”. The authors say: “The increased nighttime humidity is associated with an anomalous moisture source off the coast of Baja California that has intensified over the past decade and is linked to ocean warming trends and changes in the California current system.
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