Tag Archives: earth

Warm ocean ‘blob’ facilitated vast toxic algae bloom

A new study finds that unusually warm Pacific Ocean temperatures helped cause a massive bloom of toxic algae that closed lucrative fisheries from California to British Columbia and disrupted marine life from seabirds to sea lions.

Scientists linked the large patch of warm ocean water, nicknamed the “blob,” to the vast ribbon of toxic algae that flourished in 2015 and produced record-breaking levels of a neurotoxin that is harmful to people, fish and marine life.

The outbreak of the toxin domoic acid, the largest ever recorded on the West Coast, closed razor clam seasons in Washington and Oregon and delayed lucrative Dungeness crab fisheries along the coast. High levels were also detected in many stranded marine mammals.

“We’re not surprised now having looked at the data, but our study is the first to demonstrate that linkage,” said Ryan McCabe, lead author and a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. “It’s the first question that everyone was asking.”

McCabe and his co-authors explain how the toxic algae bloom thrived in their study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Seasonal algae blooms are common each year along the West Coast, but most are not toxic. The scientists found that the algae bloom was dominated by a single species called “Pseudo-nitzschia australis” that is highly toxic.

The algae survived and took advantage of warm, nutrient-poor conditions set up by the patch of water that was warmer at the surface than normal.

Coastal upwelling last spring — a seasonal event that brings nutrient-rich, cooler waters up from the deep ocean — provided nutrients for the algae to bloom into a large population fairly quickly at sea. Finally, a series of late spring storms delivered the bloom to the coast.

“While temperature isn’t everything, it’s serving as a decent proxy,” said McCabe. “We think there’s a linkage between toxic events along our coast and climate variability indices.”

The blob was a one-time event that was not due to global warming, “but we are looking at this event as a potential window into the future as what conditions could look like,” McCabe said.

Kathi Lefebvre, a co-author and marine biologist at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, said the bloom resulted in the highest levels of domoic acid contamination in the food web ever recorded for many species.

Domoic acid accumulates in anchovies, sardines and other small fish as well as shellfish that eat the algae.

Marine mammals and fish-eating birds in turn can get sick from eating the contaminated fish. In people, it can trigger amnesic shellfish poisoning, which can cause permanent loss of short-term memory in severe cases.

Sea lions in California commonly experienced seizures, a common sign of domoic acid poisoning, during harmful algae blooms along that state’s coast. But 2015 was the first year that such harmful effects were documented as far north as Washington state, scientists said.

“This is an eye-opener for what the future may hold as ocean conditions continue to warm globally,” Lefebvre said.

Global agreement to tackle climate change takes effect Nov. 4

A new global agreement to tackle climate change will take effect on Nov. 4 after the accord crossed an important threshold for support late on Wednesday.

European nations, Canada, Bolivia and Nepal boosted official backing for the 2015 Paris Agreement to countries representing more than 55 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions, as needed for implementation.

By Thursday, 74 countries or parties to the U.N. climate change convention had formally joined the Paris Agreement, adding up to nearly 60 percent of global emissions, a U.N. website showed.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Wednesday “a historic day in the fight to protect our planet for future generations”.

“If we follow through on the commitments that this Paris agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet,” he said.

Work will start at U.N. climate talks in Morocco next month to hammer out the rules for putting the accord into practice.

Here is a selection of comments on the agreement’s entry into force from top officials and climate change experts:

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State:

“Today it is crystal clear that we have finally woken up. We have learned from the false starts of the past, and we are now – finally – on the path to protecting the future for our children, our grandchildren and generations to come.”

Ban Ki-moon, U.N. Secretary-General:

“Now we must move from words to deeds and put Paris into action. We need all hands on deck – every part of society must be mobilized to reduce emissions and help communities adapt to inevitable climate impacts.”

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary, U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):

“Entry into force bodes well for the urgent, accelerated implementation of climate action that is now needed to realize a better, more secure world and to support also the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Mohamed Adow, senior climate advisor, Christian Aid:

“The speed at which the Paris Agreement has come into force has been remarkable. But we now need to see tangible actions to follow just as quickly. As Hurricane Matthew leaves destruction across the Caribbean, we’re reminded that our climate continues to undergo rapid change and we are continuing to pollute it.”

Wolfgang Jamann, CEO and secretary general, CARE International:

To see the benefits of the Paris Agreement, “we need to keep the momentum, and quickly step up actions to cut emissions by shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Governments need to rapidly improve the climate resilience of their most vulnerable and marginalized populations especially women and girls. Otherwise the agreement will be an empty shell, and the consequences will continue to be devastating for millions around the world.”

Heather Coleman, climate change manager, Oxfam America:

“While countries have all pledged to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, the collective commitments made are still not enough to prevent dangerous climate change. Countries need to implement and scale up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a clean, resilient economy.

Oxfam estimates that the communities most vulnerable to feeling the effects of climate change are only receiving a fraction of the money that rich countries pledged to adaptation.”

Jennifer Morgan, executive director, Greenpeace International:

“Now that a truly global binding climate agreement is in place, governments should have the confidence to not only meet but also beat their national targets and provide support to the poorest countries.”

Andrew Steer, president and CEO, World Resources Institute:

“With the agreement in full force, countries can shift their focus from commitment to action.

We must create more livable, low-carbon cities and expand the supply of land and forests for carbon storage. We must slash food loss and waste, a major source of emissions and a travesty for people who lack enough food. And, we must continue to work at all levels – global, national, cities and communities – to build the political will for this transformation.”

May Boeve, executive director, 350.org:

“The entry (into force) of the Paris climate agreement represents a turning point in the fight against climate change: the era of fossil fuels is finally coming to an end. Now the real work begins. The only way to meet the 1.5 or 2°C target (for global temperature rise) is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The fossil fuel industry’s current ‘drill and burn’ business plan is completely incompatible with this agreement.”

Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer, IKEA Group:

“The Paris agreement represents a turning point for business. The certainty of ever-stronger policies to reduce emissions creates clarity and unlocks opportunities for developing products, services and operations for a low-carbon economy. We are only at the beginning, but the pace at which countries have been ratifying the agreement shows that the policy leadership is there to achieve real change. Now we need to work together for a rapid transition to a future built on clean, renewable energy.”

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

UN: 2016 on track to be hottest year on record

The first six months of this year have continued to shatter global heat records, putting 2016 on track to be the Earth’s hottest year on record, the World Meteorological Organization said this week.

The United Nations-linked body said in a report that June 2016 was the 14th consecutive month of record heat around the planet and the 378th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th Century average.

The organization said that global warming causing carbon dioxide concentrations, so far this year, have surpassed the symbolic milestone of 400 parts per million in the atmosphere.

“Another month, another record. And another. And another. Decades-long trends of climate change are reaching new climaxes, fuelled by the strong 2015/2016 El Nino,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

“This underlines more starkly than ever the need to approve and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

The report found that heat has resulted in very early onset of seasonal melting of major ice sheets with Arctic Sea ice now covering about 40 percent less area during the summer melt season than it did in the 1970s.

The heat conditions played havoc with weather conditions with many regions including the United States experiencing drier than normal conditions, while China, central Europe and much of Australia experienced wetter than usual weather.

The increased heat also resulted in widespread bleaching of coral reefs around world, threatening marine ecosystems, the report said.

According to NASA figures cited in the report, the first half of 2016 was on average 2.4 degrees (1.3 C) warmer than in the late 19th Century, prior to industrialization.

On Wednesday, Segolene Royal, who headed the global climate negotiations, said she wants nations to ratify the Paris climate agreement by the time parties to the global climate talks meet again in Morocco in early November.

The agreement will enter into force once 55 countries have ratified it, so far only 19 have done so.

Study: US oil field source of global uptick in ethane

An oil and natural gas field in the western United States is largely responsible for a global uptick of the air pollutant ethane, according to a new study.

The team led by researchers at the University of Michigan found that fossil fuel production at the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana is emitting roughly 2 percent of the ethane detected in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Along with its chemical cousin methane, ethane is a hydrocarbon that is a significant component of natural gas. Once in the atmosphere, ethane reacts with sunlight to form ozone, which can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory problems, especially in children and the elderly. Ethane pollution can also harm agricultural crops. Ozone also ranks as the third-largest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide and methane.

“We didn’t expect one region to have such a global influence,” said Eric Kort, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of climatic science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The study was launched after a mountaintop sensor in the European Alps began registering surprising spikes in ethane concentrations in the atmosphere starting in 2010, following decades of declines. The increase, which has continued over the last five years, was noted at the same time new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques were fueling a boom of oil and gas production from previously inaccessible shale rock formations in the United States.

Searching for the source of the ethane, an aircraft from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2014 sampled air from directly overhead and downwind of drilling rigs in the Bakken region. Those measurements showed ethane emissions far higher than what was being reported to the government by oil and gas companies.

The findings solve an atmospheric mystery — where that extra ethane was coming from, said Colm Sweeney, a study co-author from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The researchers said other U.S. oil and gas fields, especially the Eagle Ford in Texas, are also likely contributing to the global rise in ethane concentrations. Ethane gets into the air through leaks from drilling rigs, gas storage facilities and pipelines, as well as from intentional venting and gas burnoffs from extraction operations.

“We need to take these regions into account because it could really be impacting air quality in a way that might matter across North America,” Kort said.

Helping drive the high emission levels from the Bakken has been the oil field’s meteoric growth. Efforts to install and maintain equipment to capture ethane and other volatile gases before they can escape have lagged behind drilling, said North Dakota Environmental Health Chief Dave Glatt.

Glatt’s agency has stepped up enforcement efforts in response. Last year, the state purchased a specialized camera that can detect so-called fugitive gas emissions as they escape from uncontained oil storage tanks, leaky pipelines, processing facilities and other sources.

“You’re able to see what the naked eye can’t and it reveals emissions sources you didn’t know where there,” Glatt said. “It’s a game changer. A lot of the companies thought they were in good shape, and they looked through the camera and saw they weren’t.”

Regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency were reviewing the study’s results. Spokeswoman Laura Allen said Friday that new clean air rules recently announced by the Obama administration to curb climate-warming methane leaks from oil and gas drilling operations should also help address the harmful ethane emissions.

There are other ways ethane gets into the atmosphere — including wildfires and natural seepage from underground gas reserves. But fossil fuel extraction is the dominant source, accounting for roughly 60 to 70 percent of global emissions, according to a 2013 study from researchers at the University of California.

To veg out is in: Activists organize Milwaukee Veg Expo

The moment for Pete Woodward of Milwaukee came when he read the bumper sticker, “Eat plants for the planet.” Something clicked, said the 29-year-old mechanic, and he began the cycle to following a vegetarian diet.

For Molly Risser of Madison, the commitment came after an afternoon in a dog park.

The 34-year-old office assistant recalled, “A friend was trying to get me to go vegetarian and she said, ‘Just imagine those people are chickens instead of dogs.’ I did. I know it sounds absurd, but your mind bends when you picture people playing in the park with a bunch of chickens.”

Both relatively new converts to the vegetarian lifestyle, Woodward and Risser are looking forward to a new event on Milwaukee’s calendar — the Veg Expo, which takes place at Hart Park in Wauwatosa 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May 7.

An announcement for the event invited people to “come veg with us!” and by that the organizers mean come learn from experts about the varied benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle for animals, people and the planet.

Behind the expo

A primary organization behind the expo is Citizens United for Animals or CUFA, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting, defending and respecting “the inherent rights of all nonhuman animals to live lives free from suffering, abuse and exploitation.”

Members of the organizing committee also represent other groups, including the Madison-based Alliance for Animals and the Environment.

Those who attend the expo can expect to learn about animal cruelty, including abuses in the factory farming of animals. Attendees also will learn about animal rescue campaigns and efforts to re-home dogs and cats and other animals in southeastern Wisconsin.

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Tim Swartz, a volunteer with the Alliance for Animals and the Environment and member of the expo organizing committee, became involved in promoting veg culture about a year ago after reading The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, a book by Wayne Pacelle, the president of The Humane Society of the United States.

“It was my first exposure to just the problem of factory farming, to how animals are treated on factory farms,” Swartz said. “I was appalled.”

Swartz knew he wanted to make personal changes in his life: “That caused me to decide that I didn’t want to support what was going on any more and to pursue a vegan diet. … It took me a little time to fully get there.”

He also knew he wanted to get involved in a greater cause. “I wanted to make an effort to educate other people,” he said. “And when I learned about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, well, that compelled me even more.”

Consider these environmental benefits of a plant-based diet versus the impact of animal agriculture:

  • A plant-based diet free of meat, dairy and eggs can save more carbon emissions than driving a Toyota Prius — about 50 percent more, according to ChooseVeg.com and Mercy for Animals.
  • Raising animals for food uses about 30 percent of the Earth’s land mass.
  • About 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States is used to feed farmed animals.
  • About 80 percent of the land deforested in the Amazon is used to pasture cattle.
  • To produce a pound of animal protein compared with a pound of soy protein, it takes 12 times as much land, 13 times as much fossil fuel and 15 times as much water.

The expo, first and foremost, is an educational forum.

The lineup of speakers includes:

  • Robert Grillo of Free From Harm. He’s at work on a book about how pop culture uses a variety of fictions to influence our food choices.
  • Carol D’Anca of Food Not Meds. She’s a nutritionist and author of “Food not Meds.”
  • Dr. Kevin Fullin, chief of staff of the United Hospital System in Kenosha. He’s given more than 100 talks on plant-based nutrition and is chef who specializes in plant-based cooking.
  • Anne Temple of Moms Across America. She’s led the March Against Monsanto in Milwaukee and also lobbied Congress for food-labeling legislation.
  • Dr. Terry Mason of the Cook County Department of Public Health in Illinois. He was featured in the film Forks over Knives and has delivered many presentations on health and nutrition.

At the expo

Swartz hopes those who attend will listen to the experts, browse a marketplace, meet advocates and activists and sample vegan dishes served by restaurant vendors.

“Lots of education is going to be going on,” he said. “That’s our main goal. For one thing, people should know there are delicious vegan foods that are out there and you don’t have to sacrifice enjoyment and taste. We’re really focusing on the food.”

“It’s just going to be great to network with the people who are there,” said Rachel Golusinski of Milwaukee, an expo organizer and CUFA member who switched to a vegan diet about six years ago — just before Thanksgiving. “There are great opportunities.”

Woodward said he plans to attend the expo with a consumer’s eye. “I am vegetarian. I don’t need convincing. I’m cool with that and a lot healthier. What I want to know about is the best vegetarian restaurants and food.”

Risser said she wants to connect with activists. Notice of participation by PETA and Mercy for Animals caught her attention.

“I really, really respect what they do,” said Risser. “But I’ve never meant anyone with the groups. So I’m like really looking forward to talking with people and finding out how I can help.”

Risser said she’s eager to get more involved in a veg community.

“This is a true story. My mom had an easier time when I came out as gay than when I told her I was vegetarian. And then vegan,” Risser said. “So I hope to meet some people, making make some friends. Maybe I’ll even bring my mom — or not.”

Organizers hope to see 1,000 people attend the expo.

“It’s not meant to be a fundraiser,” said Swartz. “It’s a free event. We’re really just investing and educating the city about environmental, ethical and health issues.”

Golusinski said organizers also are looking to the 2017 expo.

“We already have so many things planned for next year,” she said of event, observing that most weekends there’s a veg fest taking place somewhere in the United States.

Golusinski attended five such events since becoming a vegan, a conversion that came after viewing a video about the factory farming of animals.

“I just said, ‘I’m not going to pay people to do this anymore,” Golusinski remembered.

She recalled a slight learning curve, especially when selecting a restaurant to dine out. Events such as Veg Expo take out the curve.


Milwaukee’s first Veg Expo takes place 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on May 7 in Hart Park, 7300 W. Chestnut St., Wauwatosa. There is no cost to attend the event, though some vendors will be selling food and beverages. For more, go to mkevegexpo.com.

Also of interest:

• World Day for Laboratory Animals, April 23. In Dane County, activists will gather at
1 p.m. at Hawthorne Library and carpool to a protest site.

• Mad City Vegan Fest, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. on June 18,
Alliant Energy Center Exhibition Hall. The festival features vendors offering vegan food, as well as information about the vegetarian lifestyle, animal welfare, animal rescue and more.


The Dane County Farmers’ Market, a Madison tradition since 1972 and the largest producer-only farmers market in the United States, opened its outdoor season April 16 and continues on Saturdays at the Capitol Square into early November.

The county’s Wednesday Market, located in the 200 block of MLK Jr. Boulevard between the Capitol and Monona Terrace, opened April 20.

Both markets take place rain or shine.

For more, go to dcfm.org.

— Lisa Neff

Kids take on feds, fossil fuel industry in climate case

Environmental leaders call the case the most important lawsuit on the planet — and it’s been filed by kids.

The plaintiffs, ages 8–19, expect the “trial of the century,” and they recently gained a U.S. magistrate’s clearance to go forward with their landmark climate change complaint against the federal government.

The case will “determine if we have a right to a livable future or if corporate power will continue to deny our rights for the sake of their own wealth,” said plaintiff Kelsey Juliana of Eugene, Oregon.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin recently rejected motions for dismissal from the federal government and fossil fuel industry, delivering a victory to the plaintiffs, who accuse the government of violating their constitutional rights by permitting, encouraging and enabling the exploitation, production and combustion of fossil fuels.

“Now these young plaintiffs have the right to prove that the government’s role in harming them has been knowing and deliberate for more than 50 years,” said Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust and a co-counsel in the case.

“The court upheld our claims that the federal government intensified the danger to our plaintiffs’ lives, liberty and property,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Philip Gregory.

Specifically, Gregory’s clients accuse the government of failing to curtail fossil fuel emissions and allowing increased carbon pollution through fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, transportation and exportation. According to the suit, these failures infringe on the young people’s right to life and liberty, as well as violate their substantive due process rights.

Coffin, in denying the requests for dismissal, wrote, “Plaintiffs give this debate justiciability by asserting harms that befall or will befall them personally and to a greater extent than older segments of society. It may be that eventually the alleged harms, assuming the correctness of plaintiffs’ analysis of the impacts of global climate change, will befall all of us.”

The magistrate heard oral arguments in March in Eugene, during a hearing attended by hundreds. So many turned out that the arguments had to be streamed to the overflow assembled in three additional courtrooms.

Continuing in court

The young people have a guardian in the case, who is a named plaintiff — climate scientist James Hansen.

Hansen said earlier this month, “Science clearly establishes that our planet’s increasing energy imbalance — caused in substantial part by our government’s support for the exploitation and combustion of fossil fuel — imposes increasingly severe risks on our common future.

“Now, from Eugene, Oregon, comes a prescient and insightful ruling from a federal district court. Judge Coffin in effect declares that the voice of children and future generations, supported by the relevant science, must be heard. We will now proceed to prove our claims.”

The youth plaintiffs include Victory Barrett, 16, who said, “People label our generation as dreamers but hope is not the only tool we have. I am a teenager. I want to do what I love and live a life full of opportunities. I want the generation that follows to have the same chance. I absolutely refuse to let our government’s harmful action, corporate greed and the pure denial of climate science get in the way of that.”

Seas rising faster than any time in past 2,800 years

Sea levels on Earth are rising several times faster than they have in the past 2,800 years and are accelerating because of man-made global warming, according to new studies.

An international team of scientists dug into two dozen locations across the globe to chart gently rising and falling seas over centuries and millennia. Until the 1880s and the world’s industrialization, the fastest seas rose was about 1 to 1.5 inches (3 to 4 centimeters) a century, plus or minus a bit. During that time global sea level really didn’t get much higher or lower than 3 inches above or below the 2,000-year average.

By 2100 that the world’s oceans will rise between 11 to 52 inches, depending on how much heat-trapping gas Earth’s industries and vehicles expel.

But in the 20th century the world’s seas rose 5.5 inches (14 centimeters). Since 1993 the rate has soared to a foot per century (30 centimeters). And two different studies published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said by 2100 that the world’s oceans will rise between 11 to 52 inches (28 to 131 centimeters), depending on how much heat-trapping gas Earth’s industries and vehicles expel.

“There’s no question that the 20th century is the fastest,” said Rutgers earth and planetary sciences professor Bob Kopp, lead author of the study that looked back at sea levels over the past three millennia. “It’s because of the temperature increase in the 20th century which has been driven by fossil fuel use.”

To figure out past sea levels and rates of rise and fall, scientists engaged in a “geological detective story,” said study co-author Ben Horton, a Rutgers marine scientist. They went around the world looking at salt marshes and other coastal locations and used different clues to figure out what the sea level was at different times. They used single cell organisms that are sensitive to salinity, mangroves, coral, sediments and other clues in cores, Horton said. On top of that they checked their figures by easy markers such as the rise of lead with the start of the industrial age and isotopes only seen in the atomic age.

When Kopp and colleagues charted the sea level rise over the centuries — they went back 3,000 years, but aren’t confident in the most distant 200 years — they saw Earth’s sea level was on a downward trend until the industrial age.

Sea level rise in the 20th century is mostly man-made, the study authors said. A separate, not-yet-published study by Kopp and others found since 1950, about two-thirds of the U.S. nuisance coastal floods in 27 locales have the fingerprints of man-made warming.

And if seas continue to rise, as projected, another 18 inches of sea level rise is going to cause lots of problems and expense, especially with surge during storms, said study co-author Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

“There is such a tight relationship between sea level and temperature,” Horton said. “I wish there wasn’t, then we wouldn’t be as worried.”

The link to temperature is basic science, the study’s authors said. Warm water expands. Cold water contracts. The scientists pointed to specific past eras when temperatures and sea rose and fell together.

The Kopp study and a separate one published by another team projected future sea level rise based on various techniques. They came to the same general estimates, despite using different methods, said Anders Levermann, a co-author of the second paper and a researcher at the Potsdam Institute.

If greenhouse gas pollution continues at the current pace, both studies project increases of about 22 to 52 inches (57 to 131 centimeters). If countries fulfill the treaty agreed upon last year in Paris and limit further warming to another 2 degrees Fahrenheit, sea level rise would be in the 11 to 22 inch range (28 to 56 centimeters).

Jonathan Overpeck at the University of Arizona, who wasn’t part of the studies, praised them, saying they show a clear cause and effect between warming and sea level rise.

On the Web

Journal: http://www.pnas.org

Searing heat waves detailed in study of future climate

Sweltering heat waves that typically strike once every 20 years could become yearly events across 60 percent of Earth’s land surface by 2075 if human-produced greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked.

If stringent emissions-reductions measures are put in place, however, these extreme heat events could be reduced significantly. Even so, 18 percent of global land areas would still be subjected yearly to these intense heat waves, defined as three exceptionally hot days in a row.

These are among the findings of a new study by Claudia Tebaldi of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Michael Wehner of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and published in the journal Climatic Change, quantifies the benefits society would reap, in terms of avoiding extreme heat events, if action is taken now to mitigate climate change.

“The study shows that aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will translate into sizable benefits, starting in the middle of the century, for both the number and intensity of extreme heat events,” Tebaldi said. “Even though heat waves are on the rise, we still have time to avoid a large portion of the impacts.”

More frequent, more severe

Tebaldi and Wehner used data generated by the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model to study 20-year extreme heat events—those intense enough to have just a 1-in-20 chance of occurring in any given year. The model was developed with support from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor.

The researchers looked at two things: how frequently today’s typical 20-year heat wave may occur in the future, as well as how much more intense future 20-year heat waves will be.

Besides finding that today’s 20-year heat waves could become annual occurrences across more than half of the world’s land areas by 2075, the study also concluded that heat waves with a 1-in-20 chance of occurring during a future year will be much more extreme than heat waves with the same probability of occurring today.

For example, if emissions remain unabated, a heat wave with a 1-in-20 chance of occurring in 2050 would be at least 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter for 60 percent of the world’s land areas. For 10 percent of land areas, a 20-year heat wave in 2050 would be at least 5 degrees C (9 degrees F) hotter.

A few degrees may not seem like much on a mild day, but during extreme heat events, they can mean the difference between life and death for vulnerable populations, Wehner said.

“It’s the extreme weather that impacts human health; this week could be 2 degrees Celsius hotter than last week, and that doesn’t matter,” he said. “Now, imagine the hottest day that you can remember and instead of 42 degrees C (107.6 degrees F) it’s now 45 degrees C (113 degrees F). That’s going to have a dangerous impact on the poor, the old and the very young, who are typically the ones dying in heat waves.”

By 2075, the situation is likely to become much more dire if greenhouse gas emissions—produced largely by the burning of fossil fuels—are not reduced. The percent of land areas subject to 20-year events that are at least 5 degrees C hotter swells from 10 to 54 percent.

However, if emissions are aggressively cut, the severity of these 20-year events could be significantly reduced over the majority of the world’s land areas, though portions of the Earth would still face dangerous heat extremes. For example, in 2075, almost a quarter—instead of more than a half—of land areas could experience 20-year heat waves that are at least 5 degrees C hotter than today’s. “But even with such dramatic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, future heat waves will be far more dangerous than they are now,” Wehner said.

The researchers also looked at single-day extreme heat events, as well as single-day and three-day blocks when the overnight low temperature remained exceptionally warm. Past research has shown that human health is especially endangered when temperatures do not cool off significantly at night. All of these events had similar increases in frequency and intensity.

A tool for cost-benefit analysis 

The fact that extreme heat events are expected to increase in the future as the climate changes—and the fact that emission reductions could ameliorate that increase—is not a surprise, Tebaldi said. But this study is important because it puts hard numbers to the problem.

“There is a cost attached to reducing emissions,” Tebaldi said. “Decision makers are interested in being able to quantify the expected benefits of reductions so they can do a cost-benefit analysis.”

Tebaldi and Wehner’s paper is part of a larger project based at NCAR called the Benefits of Reduced Anthropogenic Climate Change, or BRACE. For the project, researchers from across NCAR and partner organizations are working to quantify how emission reductions may affect health, agriculture, hurricanes, sea level rise, and drought.

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation. 

TransCanada sues United States over KXL rejection, wants $15 billion

TransCanada Corp. on Jan. 7 sued the United States seeking $15 billion in compensation after the Obama administration rejected its request for a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

“TransCanada was wrong to try to ram the dirty tar sands pipeline down our throats — and it’s wrong to try to force American taxpayers to pony up for its mistakes,” said Anthony Swift, director of the National Resources Defense Council’s Canada project. “This is about a foreign company trying to undercut safeguards that protect the American people. Its attempt to bully us deserves to be rejected.”

Jason Kowalski, policy director for 350.org, one of the environmental groups that led the effort against the pipeline, added, “This won’t actually help build the pipeline, too late for that. It’s just a greedy and desperate move by TransCanada to try and salvage some of the money they wasted on this ridiculous boondoggle.”

The company alleged Barack Obama exceeded his constitutional authority in denying the pipeline, claiming the president’s denial of the pipeline permit was a symbolic gesture to show his support for action against climate change.

TransCanada also is using a provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement to sue the United States. The provision — the investor-state dispute settlement — gives corporations the power to sue governments for decisions taken in the broader public interest.

Kowalski said the lawsuit “is a reminder that we shouldn’t be signing new trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership that allow corporations to sue governments that try and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

The extremes Leonardo DiCaprio went to for ‘The Revenant’

Alejandro G. Inarritu knew Leonardo DiCaprio would go to the ends of the earth to make the 19th century survival epic “The Revenant” exactly as the famously meticulous director wanted.

For Inarritu, DiCaprio was the best person to play Hugh Glass, a real life fur trapper who survived a bear mauling and then went to find his mates who left him for dead in the unforgiving wilderness. Over the course of the nearly yearlong production, the Oscar-nominated actor and environmentalist proved his commitment over and over. He ate raw bison. He stripped naked in sub-zero temperatures. He even jumped into an icy river. But, early on, Inarritu had one very specific worry: Could DiCaprio grow a beard?

“You cannot shoot this film with a fake beard. It would look terrible,” Inarritu said in a recent interview. “Not every man grows so much hair in his face. That was a bet.”

Thankfully for the director, DiCaprio sprouted a gnarly, unruly beard that becomes a symbol of where exactly his character is on his journey, and how deeply he’s devolved. Makeup added dirt on a daily basis, and a combination of glycerin and grit gave his hair that unwashed, bloody look – the look of someone who’d survived a bear attack.

It’s a minor thing, and perhaps the easiest test DiCaprio had to endure to make the sprawling epic, but it’s one of those details that illustrate the overall production’s commitment to authenticity.

“It’s a really primal story of man and the natural world,” said DiCaprio in a recent phone interview. “It’s almost biblical.”

In an era of computer generated imagery and other post-production fixes, this was an unconventional shoot from the outset. Inarritu traveled with his crew to Calgary, Alberta and then to Argentina when the Canadian snow melted earlier than expected. As if shooting on location isn’t hard enough, he and cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki also opted to shoot only in natural light, giving the production a mere 90 minutes a day to achieve complex, highly choreographed long takes. The duo had done this before in “Birdman,” but never in the unpredictable wilderness.

But DiCaprio knew very well what he was signing up for.

“When you’re out in the elements like this – and there are people who have much harder jobs than people making a movie – but you just appreciate the endurance of man and how we’re able to adapt to circumstances,” DiCaprio said. “You’re signing on to find elements that will ultimately transform the narrative and find the poetry. … It was all basically us really putting ourselves in this environment and seeing what happens.”

Partly by nature of the story and partly for the sake of his character, DiCaprio largely isolated himself from the rest of the cast, including his friend Tom Hardy.

He studied the life of Hugh Glass and the lives of fur trappers at the time. He learned and practiced the choreography for the shots, too. But when it came time for the cameras to roll, everything became very animalistic – a largely silent performance rooted in instinct and reaction.

“For me it was about really thinking these thoughts and really trying to feel this man’s pain,” DiCaprio said.

“Leo thinks like a filmmaker more than an actor,” Inarritu said. “He understands the whole. He was able to be not only a machine doing exactly what we agreed in a natural way but at the same time be absolutely present to react to any improvisation. That’s when I felt that this is one of the greatest actors.”

Little remains of DiCaprio’s full mountain man transformation externally. Production wrapped. He shed the beard. The bumps and bruises healed. But the grit of the shoot, the trials and tribulations, the tension of getting that perfect shot, it’s all left on the screen – particularly in the bear attack.

“I think it will go down in history as one of the most voyeuristic action sequences ever created,” DiCaprio said. “You feel the blood and the sweat. You almost smell the bear. It accomplishes what movies do at their best which is to really make you feel like the rest of the world has evaporated and you’re singularly in that moment.”

Inarritu wants to keep the specifics of how exactly he achieved such a harrowing sequence to himself. Revealing the process would destroy the magic of it all, he said.

“I wanted for people (to) feel the cold, smell the fear,” he said. “It was difficult but that’s what we were supposed to do. Nobody should care. Nobody should be bothered with having a good time or not. That’s not the purpose of doing a film.”

“Judging by the results I would not change a bit.”