Wednesday, April 29, 2020

11,000 air pollution-related deaths avoided in Europe as coal, oil consumption plummet

Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air
A PinP photo.
The measures to combat the coronavirus have led to an approximately 40% reduction in average level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution and 10% reduction in average level of particulate matter pollution over the past 30 days. This has resulted in 11,000 avoided deaths from air pollution. Story here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Meteorologists say 2020 on course to be hottest year since records began

The Guardian
A PinP photo.
Global lockdowns have lowered emissions but longer-term changes needed, say scientists. 
Story here.

WARNING: LANGUAGE IN THIS VIDEO MAY BE OFFENSIVE TO SOME. Bill Mahr reminds us how our contempt for nature and the way we produce food is biting us back.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tours Fort MacMurray, site of major spring flooding - fails to see his own handiwork amid the damage. (Opinion)

by Larry Powell
Kenney was out inspecting the town of Fort MacMurray and region (above) this morning, where major flooding has resulted in a mandatory evacuation order going out for the entire downtown area. Big trucks and low-lying buildings are reportedly submerged. 

This is the same Premier who "dissed" a reporter recently for daring to ask if this might be the time to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable, sustainable energy. Kenney was especially shocked that the journalist was a member of the Calgary press core, who are apparently all supposed to be cozy little members of the same club, parroting Kenny's anti-science lies about the consequences of continuing to exploit the tar sands. 
Fort Mac - 2016. A Creative Commons photo.

This is also the same Premier who is spending millions of tax dollars from his own citizens, including desperate, unemployed oil workers, to fund a "war room," spreading mis-information about the consequences of a changing climate (more floods, wildfires, rains and droughts) and slandering environmental groups in the process. 

Until this man joins the 21st century, realizes that fossil fuels are "oh-so-20th-century" and begins helping people to re-train for work in alternative, renewables energy projects, he'll get zero sympathy from me. Barely four years ago, catastrophic and historic wildfires decimated the same region, consuming many homes and businesses and raining havoc and misery down on hundreds of local citizens. 

Until we start to hold politicians like this accountable and call them out for the dangerous policies they advocate, these tragedies will only deepen.

In the age of Covid-19, these events are surely the last things we need right now!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Beyond Covid 19 - Defeating the virus is just the beginning!

by Larry Powell
The task of building a safer, healthier planet, surely, will only begin anew once we have defeated this beastly pandemic. So, are there lessons we can learn from Covid that we can actually use to blunt the assault of that other existential threat - manmade climate change?

Smoke obscures the sun in one of the increasing number of
wildfires in recent years - infernos which are starting earlier,
lasting longer and burning more intensely.
A Wikimedia photo.

The steps being implemented globally to counter the deadly virus, Covid 19, have surely been sweeping, drastic and unprecedented. 

And rightly so.

While we could argue over which crisis is more grave, one important reality seems clear. As with every other contagion to have attacked human civilization in past, Covid 19, too, will pass. 

Sadly, if we do not take steps which are similarly drastic to the ones now happening during the pandemic, that will not be the case with the climate crisis. This time, we must resolve to change in ways that are sustainable and ongoing.

Sadly, events unfolding before Covid clearly showed, we were simply not taking the bold and decisive steps to avoid climate disaster that we are now taking to combat the virus. Covid 19 reared its head just last year. The origins of the climate crisis emerged at least a-century-&-a-half ago at the dawn of the industrial revolution. And the signs of climate breakdown have been manifesting themselves with terrifying clarity for generations - longer, more severe and deadly storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and dying oceans. 

Only the proud, the wilfully blind or the ignorant will not have heard the warnings of our best experts by now - if we do not take reduce or eliminating our use of fossil fuels forthwith, parts of the planet will morph into "hothouses," where even the healthiest among us, will not survive.

Covid 19 has resulted in the drastic limiting of air travel, closure of polluting industrial plants, and banning of large gatherings on a scale that is historic and unprecedented. Ironically, these are all steps, if taken years ago, that would have likely helped blunt the climate crisis, too. 

Instead, we've been going ahead full-tilt with building more pipelines (including the one in BC that's trampling indigenous rights in the process), extracting more fossil fuels (including ones most damaging to the environment), and electing leaders who either deny the science, promote policies which lead to further, widespread destruction of the rain forests and oceans, or all of the above! Those efforts have surely been nothing short of misguided, vapid or wilfully harmful.

The very things climate scientists have been warning us against,  are now unfolding, as I write this. Flooding has devastated Fort MacMurray, Alberta, a scant four years after wildfires raged through, destroying thousands of homes and businesses. 

The tragedy of the Australian bushfires emerged in all its horror, for all to see, scant months ago.

Yet our news media remain shamefully reluctant to even ask whether any of this might be because of manmade climate change. So the residents (or their leaders) don't talk about it, either. To me, it's the elephant in the room...hard to ignore...but, they're doing it!

They simply don't (or won't), see the connection between unlimited air travel, unlimited and unfettered events like the World Cup and the Olympics, and increasing greenhouse gas concentrations that are leading us down a calamitous road. 

Eerily, some of the very steps being so desperately taken to beat down the virus - closing industrial plants and limiting air travel and large crowds - are among those which will help alleviate our climate crisis, too. Sadly, those measures will need to carry on after the virus has gone, simply because the ones taken, so far, are short-term and will not be enough to bring about the kind of transformation needed.

After all, the relentless burden of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has not "taken a pause," to wait for Covid to end.
All of the disastrous climate phenomena I've already mentioned, are continuing, unabated. (Sadly, even tho greenhouse gas levels are now dipping dramatically due to Covid-related lockdowns of industry and travel, it will not slow down the heating of the planet for some time. So, folks, our job has just begun. And we, like in the pandemic, are all in this together!

Please also read:

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Some Canadian hog producers are euthanizing their own pigs because Covid-19 has rendered them almost worthless. Is it happening in Manitoba, too?

by Larry Powell
These carcasses were spotted on a side road not far
from the Decker Hutterite Colony.

According to the farm newspaper, the Western Producer, some Canadian producers are killing their own hog stocks and disposing of them, without putting them on the market.  Many meat-plant workers have been infected with Covid-19 and several packing plants in Canada and the U.S. have closed, as a result. Packers are therefore not accepting as many hogs as before and supplies are backing up throughout the production chain.Piglets normally raised in Canada and sold to finishing operations in the 'States are said to be worthless.
Photos by PinP.
News reports suggest, only animals in eastern Canada are known to have been euthanized, so far. 

However, I spotted and photographed two large dumpsters filled with the carcasses of mature hogs two days ago (see above). They were near the Decker Hutterite Colony in southwestern Manitoba, site of a major hog producing operation. However, it isn't known if the animals were euthanized because of Covid-19, or died of other causes. My calls to the colony have gone unanswered. 
This sign is now posted at the entrance to the
Decker colony. Photos by PinP.
Janine Gibson of HogWatch Manitoba, tells PinP, it's most likely the animals died "from the unnatural confinement and its inappropriate density. Also pick-up for disposal may be behind, so the carcass numbers are higher. I do sadly believe, some may choose to euthanize rather than continue to lose money feeding hogs they cannot sell." 

HogWatch is a citizens' group which keeps a critical eye on the industry in the province.

The Chair of the Canadian Pork Council, Rick Bergmann told a news conference, producers are losing hundreds of millions of dollars because of the Covid crisis. Calling federal assistance to business, "totally inadequate," the industry is asking Ottawa for an immediate cash payment of $20 per hog. 

Please also read:

"In Hogs We Trust" Part 11  
a critique of Manitoba's runaway pork industry.

End park mining in Manitoba. (Video)

The Wilderness Committee

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Whether famous or obscure, Earth's wild creatures cannot hide from the hand of man.

Just months ago, billions of animals, including iconic kangaroos and cuddly koalas, perished in Australia's calamitous bushfires, found by scientists to have been worsened by manmade climate change. Now, researchers say, one of the Amazon's least-known species could be all but gone, too in scant decades. Its habitat is being relentlessly slashed and burned to make way for agriculture. 
by Larry Powell
The elusive short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis). 
This rare photo was captured on a camera-trap, 
 deep in the Amazon rainforest. Photo credit: 
Guido Ayala and Rob Wallace. 
Most of us know there are wild dogs living in remote places of the world. Australia's dingo probably leaps to mind first. 

But did you also know that a cousin of the dingo (above) has been roaming quietly through vast areas of Amazon rainforests, in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil for a long time?

Atelocynus microtis - the "short-eared" dog is the only canidor
mammal of the dog family, native to the Amazon. 

Arguably, it's been the least-studied of any wild dog on the planet - until now. 

Using the largest data base ever compiled on the species, scientists are now able to better understand the predicament it faces in its rapidly-changing home.

In the words of a research paper published this week in The Royal Society of Open Science, "Forest loss and fragmentation pose a serious threat to the species in a short time frame."

Within three generations, (six years is considered a generation to a short-ear), anywhere from 30% to 60% of its habitat will likely be lost or seriously degraded. That's because plans by local governments for large-scale agriculture, cattle-ranching and infrastructure expansion, remain in the works. 

In 2011, Brazil drastically relaxed laws protecting its forests. Private landowners no longer had to protect as much as they once did. Illegal loggers were granted amnesty. By 2013, after a decade of decline, deforestation rates began to climb. 

The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, fired a top scientist last year for revealing that that country's deforestation rates were increasing rapidly under his watch.

And, since last summer, losses of Amazonian rainforest due to wildfires have been described in a Science magazine article as staggering. In Bolivia alone, more than a million hectares have burned since then. Much of it was due to intentional burning to clear land for crops and livestock. 

It is against this grim backdrop that these new research findings have come to light.

While short-eared dogs are expected to do better in areas that are protected, as many as 40% of them live in the "Arc of Deforesation," a part of Brazil where tree cover is disappearing the fastest. 

Vast areas are expected to transition from forests to savannahs, or grassland eco-systems, not nearly as favourable for the carnivorous animals.

But habitat loss isn't the only threat. The dogs are catching diseases from domesticated dogs and becoming road kill after being run over on roadways. 

The researchers suggest, therefore, the short-eared dog be "bumped up" the list of endangered species to a status that better reflects the danger it faces.

Then there's this chilling footnote. One out of every four mammals in the Amazon, will be losing much of their habitat, too.

Until man somehow finds a deeper appreciation and respect for our fellow creatures, these tragedies will only deepen.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Torrential rains triggered the disastrous volcanic eruptions in Hawaii two years ago; Study.

Nature Research
Will a changing climate make such events more frequent? 
The answer? See footnote!
Lava flow from Kilauea south of Hawai'i Volcanoes Nat'l. Park.
Photo by Ekrem Canli.
A paper appearing in in Nature today, suggests, the 2018 eruption of the Kīlauea Volcano in Hawai’i may have been activated by extreme rainfall. The findings indicate that rainfall should be taken into account when assessing volcanic hazards.

Rainfall is known to trigger seismic events and can alter volcanic activity. However, observations of such effects are limited to the shallow subsurface of the volcano, and it is unknown whether rainfall can activate deep magma movement. The eruption of the Kīlauea Volcano in Hawai’i was complex and multi-stage, but its trigger has been unknown. From May to August 2018, rifts opened around Kīlauea and the summit exhibited explosive eruptions and caldera collapse. 
Jamie Farquharson and Falk Amelung examined the impact of rainfall on the 2018 eruption. Prior to the eruption, Hawai’i had several months of abnormally high precipitation. The authors show that rainfall had infiltrated the volcano’s subsurface, increasing the pore pressure to the highest level in nearly 50 years immediately before and during the eruption. They suggest that this weakened the volcano’s structure and allowed magma to intrude, resulting in the eruption. The authors conducted statistical analyses of historical eruptions of Kīlauea and found that from 1790 onwards, nearly 60% of eruptions occurred in the rainy season, despite it being shorter than the dry season. This suggests a correlation between rainfall and Kīlauea’s eruptions throughout history. 
The authors indicate that improving our understanding of the relationship between rainfall and volcanic eruptions might help us to forecast future rainfall-induced volcanic activity.

Planet in Peril reached out to one of the lead authors, Jamie Farquharson to expand on the findings.

PinP - Q: Does this mean that, because manmade climate change is already bringing more severe weather, including torrential rains, we can expect more volcanic eruptions than in past because of it?

Farquharson - A:Based on our study, it is impossible to answer your question definitively. Our study was solely focused on Kīlauea Volcano and the 2018 eruption in particular---a single, well-studied example---so caution should be taken not to over-generalise these results. A great deal of further research is required to determine whether this is a phenomenon that can be detected in other volcanic environments. 

"Nevertheless, if there are volcanoes that are particularly prone to external forces such as rainfall, then a potential result of our changing climate could be an uptick in their activity in the future. 

"While it's certainly a fascinating prospect, a greater understanding of the potential coupling between rainfall and volcanism is necessary before we can make such broad claims with any confidence.”

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Defending climate in the age of Covid 19.

by Larry Powell
An Australian sun, shrouded in bushfire smoke.
A public domain photo.
As Kermit the frog famously said, “It isn’t easy being green.” And, in a world which is, by necessity, now consumed in the battle against a pandemic, it’s even harder. It’s almost as if that other “existential threat,” manmade climate change, has been forgotten, even tho it never really received the attention it deserved in the first place! 

It’s both encouraging and bewildering to watch just how this latest, terrible and unprecedented chapter in our history, is playing out; Encouraging because so many of us are actually heeding the advice of our best minds in epidemiology by hand-washing, physical-distancing and self-isolating. This is surely saving countless lives from the deadly maw of the “Covid beast.”

By contrast, our climatologists - who’ve been warning us for a generation that our planet is on a dangerous trajectory toward “hothouse Earth” if we don’t eliminate or drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels - have been treated quite differently. While our top doctors now dealing with Covid are rightly hailed as heroes, our climate scientists are ignored, defamed or even threatened with death.  

Meanwhile, calamitous events related to a changing climate are not going away as the virus plays out. Ice caps and glacier are still melting. Sea levels are still rising. Global temperatures, along with greenhouse gas levels continue to spiral upward. 
Australian bushfires.
Photo credit - World Weather Attribution.
Yet news media are all but ignoring such important events if they are not Covid-related. Did you know, for example, that hundreds have already died and thousands more are in hospital in Australia after inhaling smoke from the bushfires there last winter? (More than 30 people, thousands of livestock and billions of wild animals died in the actual fires.) 

A crack team of climatologists has determined those fires “down under” (which ruined an area the size of more than 40 Riding Mountain National Parks), were made much more likely due to manmade climate change.
Unharvested crop in a Manitoba field. Unusually bad weather
made 2019 an extremely poor year for both cattle & grain producers.
A PinP photo.
 On the Canadian prairies, it's shaping up to be yet another bleak growing season for farmers. According to the farm paper, "The Co-Operator," five million tonnes of canola, wheat and other crops remain in the fields following terrible weather last year. And this year's spring seeding is being delayed, too thanks to "significant" rain and snow across the region this month.

As we speak, Alberta is scrambling to deal with a new wildfire season - a job now made infinitely more complicated by Covid-19. How will fire crews even get in to areas of the province almost certainly to be plagued by monster fires similar to last year, with the travel and other restrictions now in place? 

And as long as we keep electing politicians like Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, things will only get worse. Instead of pledging hard-earned tax dollars to help the legion of laid off oil workers - his own citizens - get retrained in sustainable, renewable energy projects, Kenney has pledged billions to the TransMountain pipeline, to carry greatly-devalued and highly-polluting Alberta "tar" to tidewater.

Meanwhile, Covid 19, like pandemics before it, will pass.

However, without immediate and urgent action to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels - and a new-found respect for our climatologists - disastrous climate breakdown will not! 

Ironically, the tough love being applied to help us fight the pandemic, are the same kind of measures that could help us blunt the climate onslaught. It seems likely that travel restrictions - the cancellation of millions of flights by high-flying, climate-destroying jet planes - and the closure of polluting industrial plants, are already resulting in historic drops in harmful toxins and greenhouse gas levels. 

People staying in their homes has offered a reprieve for embattled species whose traditional habitats we have occupied and destroyed. While all of this won’t result in an immediate stabilization of the crisis, it will surely be a step in the right direction. But this will only work if we somehow maintain those very tough measures, to some degree, over time.

Will it be easy? Of course not. And anyone who tells you that we can save the planet from environmental degradation while still maintaining the level of economic activity we've all become accustomed to, is lying.

So the key to a better world will depend on the wisdom, not just of our leaders, but all of us, too. Not to mention our willingness to make the profound sacrifices and societal changes needed to make it all happen. 

Will we recognize that there are lessons to be learned, even from a pandemic? Or will we simply pick up where we left off once it's over and come “roaring back” in a rush to reclaim all the bells and whistles we seem to think we actually need? 

Tragically, I expect the latter will be the more likely scenario.

Please prove me wrong!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

What does conservation have to do with Covid-19?


Bush meat for sale in Togo.
Photo by 
As the news continues to be dominated by the Covid-19 crisis, CEO Jonathan Barnard reflects on the conversations about conservation that have arisen from the pandemic. Story here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Bushfires damaged Australian rainforest that is home to Earth's only living specimens of ancient species

Rainforest foliage in Nightcap National Park, NSW Wales, an international heritage
site hit hard by the bushfires. Photo by Naught101
Recent wildfires in Australia torched more than 48,000 square miles of land (for context, more than 40 Riding Mountain National Parks). The fires impacted ecologically sensitive regions, including an area called the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Site. This region contains a vast concentration of living plants with fossil records from tens of millions of years ago, according to Peter Wilf. Story here.


The hand of man shows through once again in another climate catastrophe.

Catastrophic changes Planet Earth is undergoing today likely mirror many of those which happened hundreds of millions of years ago. The big difference? Volcanoes - not humans - were likely the main drivers of the changes back then.

The amount of CO2 released into the end-Triassic atmosphere from volcanic eruptions was likely comparable to the projected total amount of anthropogenic (manmade) CO2 that will be emitted during the 21st century. The findings are published in Nature Communications. Such large volumes of volcanic CO2 likely contributed to end-Triassic global warming, sea level rise, and ocean acidification.

The end-Triassic extinction (approximately 201 million years ago) resulted in the demise of large proportions of all marine and terrestrial species. It is thought that this extinction was caused by dramatic climate change and rising sea levels which, are known to have occurred at that time. Volcanic CO2 released during the large volume Central Atlantic Magmatic Province eruptions has been considered as an important contributor to the process, but this is debated.
Manfredo Capriolo and colleagues found evidence of abundant CO2 in basaltic rocks from the end-Triassic Central Atlantic Magmatic Province, by analysing tiny gas exsolution bubbles preserved within the rocks. The authors used their analyses to estimate the total volume of volcanic CO2 released during these eruptions. They found that one eruption phase (100,000 km3 of lava over 500 years) is likely to have emitted a total volume of COequivalent to that projected from anthropogenic activities during the 21st century, in the 2⁰ C warming scenario.

The authors suggest that the end-Triassic climatic and environmental changes, driven by the large volume volcanic CO2 emissions, may have been similar to those predicted for the near future under anthropogenic warming.

Urgent changes needed to reduce environmental costs of ‘fast fashion’

Nature Reviews Earth & Environment.
Stefan Müller (climate stuff)
from Germany
Fundamental changes to the fashion business model, including an urgent transition away from ‘fast fashion’, are needed to improve the long-term sustainability of the fashion supply chain, argue Kirsi Niinimäki and colleagues in a Review published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment.

The fashion industry is the second largest industrial polluter after aviation, and accounts for up to 10% of global pollution. However, the industry continues to grow, despite rising awareness of the environmental impacts, in part owing to the rise of fast fashion, which relies on cheap manufacturing, frequent consumption, and short-lived garment use.
The authors identify the environmental impacts of the fashion supply chain, from production to consumption, focusing on water use, chemical pollution, CO2 emissions and textile waste. For example, the industry produces over 92 million tonnes of waste and consumes 1.5 trillion tonnes of water per year, with developing countries often bearing the burden for developed countries. These impacts highlight the need for substantial changes in the industry, including deceleration of manufacturing and introduction of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain, the authors say. 
“Slow fashion is the future”, Niinimäki and co-authors conclude, but “we need a new system-wide understanding of how to transition towards this model, requiring creativity and collaboration between designers and manufacturers, various stakeholders, and end consumers.” A joined-up approach is required with the textile industry investing in cleaner technologies, the fashion industry developing new sustainable business models, and policy-makers modifying legislation. Consumers also have a crucial role and must change their consumption habits and be ready to pay higher prices that account for the environmental impact of fashion.

COVID-19: only about 6% of actual infections have likely been detected worldwide

Actual number of infections may already have reached several tens of millions. Story here.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Bush-fire smoke linked to hundreds of deaths

Bushfire smoke shrouds the Blue Mountains,
as seen from Sydney Harbour Bridge,
Dec.,2019. Photo by Sardaka.
The first study to estimate health effects from Australia’s extreme fires suggests that several thousand extra people were admitted to hospital. Story here.

The Arctic may be sea-ice-free in summer by the 2030s

  Nature Communications                                                 Photo by Patrick Kelley   The Arctic could be sea-ice-free during th...