US President Donald J. Trump meets with small business leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Photo: EPA

By Tom Batchelor
30 January 2017

(The Independent) – A former climate change adviser to Donald Trump has said the US President will pull America out of the landmark Paris agreement and an executive order on the issue could come within “days”.

Myron Ebell, who took charge of Mr Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team, said the President was determined to undo policies pushed by Barack Obama to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the US would "clearly change its course on climate policy" under the new administration and claimed Mr Trump was "pretty clear that the problem or the crisis has been overblown and overstated".

“I expect Donald Trump to be very assiduous in keeping his promises, despite all of the flack he is going to get from his opponents,” he told a briefing in London.

“He could do it by executive order tomorrow, or he could wait and do it as part of a larger package. There are multiple ways and I have no idea of the timing.” [more]

Trump 'will definitely pull out of Paris climate change deal'

Displaced children and adults in Syria are seen in a vehicle after fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa to Ain Issa, the main staging point for displaced families, some 50 kilometres north of Raqqa city. Photo: Delil Soulaiman / UNICEF

28 January 2017 (United Nations) – The United Nations agencies dealing with global refugee and migration issues today expressed the hope that the United States will continue its strong leadership role and long tradition of protecting those who are fleeing conflict and persecution.

“The needs of refugees and migrants worldwide have never been greater, and the US resettlement programme is one of the most important in the world,” says a joint statement from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The agencies note that the longstanding US policy of welcoming refugees has created a 'win-win' situation: it has saved the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world who have in turn enriched and strengthened their new societies.

“The contribution of refugees and migrants to their new homes worldwide has been overwhelmingly positive,” they add.

The statement from the agencies follows incoming President Donald Trump's signing Friday of an Executive Order that, among things, reportedly suspends the US refugee programme for 120 days and, according to the media, bars entry of refugees from Syria, until further notice.

“Resettlement places provided by every country are vital. The UN refugee agency [and] the International Organization for Migration hope that the US will continue its strong leadership role and long tradition of protecting those who are fleeing conflict and persecution,” the agencies state, adding that they remain committed to working with the US Administration towards the goal we share to ensure safe and secure resettlement and immigration programmes.

UNHCR and the IOM go on to express the strong belief that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race.

“We will continue to engage actively and constructively with the US Government, as we have done for decades, to protect those who need it most, and to offer our support on asylum and migration matters,” the statement concludes.

UN agencies express hope US will continue long tradition of protecting those fleeing conflict, persecution

Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) changes in the Australian-Antarctic Basin by decades. Changes in conservative temperature (ΔΘ) (A) and Absolute Salinity (ΔSa) (B) for the AABW in the Australian-Antarctic Basin (60°S to 45°S). Reddish shadings are used for the differences between 2007 and 2016, and blue curves are used for differences between 1994 and 2007. Vertical black lines mark zero change. (C) Changes in Absolute Salinity between 2007 and 2016 and between 1994 and 2007 averaged (density space) over the Australian-Antarctic Basin. Dashed curves are 95% CIs on the means. Graphic: Menezes, et al., 2017 / Science Advances

25 January 2017 (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) – In the cold depths along the sea floor, Antarctic Bottom Waters are part of a global circulatory system, supplying oxygen-, carbon- and nutrient-rich waters to the world’s oceans. Over the last decade, scientists have been monitoring changes in these waters. But a new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) suggests these changes are themselves shifting in unexpected ways, with potentially significant consequences for the ocean and climate.

In a paper published January 25 in Science Advances, a team led by WHOI oceanographers Viviane Menezes and Alison Macdonald report that Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) has freshened at a surprising rate between 2007 and 2016—a shift that could alter ocean circulation and ultimately contribute to rising sea levels.

“If you change the circulation, you change everything in the ocean,” said Menezes, a WHOI postdoctoral investigator and the study’s lead author. Ocean circulation drives the movement of warm and cold waters around the world, so it is essential to storing and regulating heat and plays a key role in Earth’s temperature and climate.  “But we don’t have the whole story yet. We have some new pieces, but we don’t have the entire puzzle.”

The puzzle itself isn’t new: past studies suggest that AABW has been undergoing significant changes for decades. Since the 1990s, an international program of repeat surveys has periodically sampled certain ocean basins around the world to track the circulation and conditions at these spots over time. Along one string of sites, or “stations,” that stretches from Antarctica to the southern Indian Ocean, researchers have tracked the conditions of AABW—a layer of profoundly cold water less than 0°C (it stays liquid because of its salt content, or salinity) that moves through the abyssal ocean, mixing with warmer waters as it circulates around the globe in the Southern Ocean and northward into all three of the major ocean basins.

The AABW forms along the Antarctic ice shelves, where strong winds cool open areas of water, called polynyas, until some of the water freezes. The salt in the water doesn’t freeze, however, so the unfrozen seawater around the ice becomes saltier. The salt makes the water denser, causing it to sink to the ocean bottom.

“These waters are thought to be the underpinning of the large-scale global ocean circulation,” said Macdonald, a WHOI senior research specialist and the study’s co-author. “Antarctic Bottom Water gets its characteristics from the atmosphere—for example, dissolved carbon and oxygen—and sends them deep into the ocean. Then, as the water moves around the globe, it mixes with the water around it and they start to share each other’s properties. It’s like taking a deep breath and letting it go really slowly, over decades or even centuries.”

As a result, the frigid flow plays a critical role in regulating circulation, temperature, and availability of oxygen and nutrients throughout the world’s oceans, and serves as both a barometer for climate change and a factor that can contribute to that change.

A past study using the repeat survey data found that AABW had warmed and freshened (grown less saline) between 1994 and 2007. When Macdonald and Menezes revisited the line of stations, they measured how AABW has changed in the years since.

During the austral summer of 2016, they joined the crew of the research ship R/V Revelle and cruised north from Antarctica to Australia, braving frequent storms to collect samples every 30 nautical miles. In a shipboard lab, they analyzed the samples using data from conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) sensors, which measure the water’s salinity, temperature and other properties, with support from study co-author Courtney Schatzman of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who processed the raw data.

The team found that the previously detected warming trend has continued, though at a somewhat slower pace. The biggest surprise, however, was its lack of saltiness: AABW in this region has grown fresher four times faster in the past decade than it did between 1994 and 2007.

“I thought, ‘Oh wow!’ when I saw the change in salinity,” said Menezes. “You collect the data and sometimes you spend 2 to 3 years to find something, but this time we knew what we had within hours, and we knew it was very unexpected.”

Such a shift, were it global, could significantly disrupt ocean circulation and sea levels.

“The fresher and warmer the water is, the less dense it will be, and the more it will expand and take up more space – and that leads to rising sea levels,” Macdonald said. “If these waters no longer sink, it could have far reaching affects for global ocean circulation patterns.”

Questions remain around the cause of the shift. Menezes and Macdonald hypothesize that the freshening could be due to a recent landscape-changing event.  In 2010, an iceberg about the size of Rhode Island collided with Antarctica’s Mertz Glacier Tongue, carving out a more-than-1,000-square-mile piece and reshaping the icescape of the George V/Adelie Land Coast, where the AABW observed in this study is thought to form. The subsequent melting dramatically freshened the waters there, which may have in turn freshened the AABW as well. Future studies could use chemical analysis to trace the waters back to the site of the collision and calving and confirm the hypothesis.

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Antarctic Bottom Waters Freshening at Unexpected Rate

ABSTRACT: Southern Ocean abyssal waters, in contact with the atmosphere at their formation sites around Antarctica, not only bring signals of a changing climate with them as they move around the globe but also contribute to that change through heat uptake and sea level rise. A repeat hydrographic line in the Indian sector of the Southern Ocean, occupied three times in the last two decades (1994, 2007, and, most recently, 2016), reveals that Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) continues to become fresher (0.004 ± 0.001 kg/g decade−1), warmer (0.06° ± 0.01°C decade−1), and less dense (0.011 ± 0.002 kg/m3 decade−1). The most recent observations in the Australian-Antarctic Basin show a particularly striking acceleration in AABW freshening between 2007 and 2016 (0.008 ± 0.001 kg/g decade−1) compared to the 0.002 ± 0.001 kg/g decade−1 seen between 1994 and 2007. Freshening is, in part, responsible for an overall shift of the mean temperature-salinity curve toward lower densities. The marked freshening may be linked to an abrupt iceberg-glacier collision and calving event that occurred in 2010 on the George V/Adélie Land Coast, the main source region of bottom waters for the Australian-Antarctic Basin. Because AABW is a key component of the global overturning circulation, the persistent decrease in bottom water density and the associated increase in steric height that result from continued warming and freshening have important consequences beyond the Southern Indian Ocean.

Accelerated freshening of Antarctic Bottom Water over the last decade in the Southern Indian Ocean

Seasonal time series of daily precipitation extreme for convective (red), nonconvective (black), mixed (blue), and all events (green dashed line) averaged from all available stations.(A) Winter, (B) spring, (C) summer, and (D) fall. Solid straight lines are statistically significant, and dashed lines represent no statistically significant trends. Graphic: Ye, et al., 2017 / Science Advances

By Andrea Thompson
26 January 2017

(Climate Central) – Across a vast swath of Europe and Asia, rain is increasingly falling in the short, localized bursts associated with thunderstorms, seemingly at the expense of events where a steady rain falls over many hours, a new study finds.

The study, detailed Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, directly links this trend to the warming and moistening of the atmosphere caused by rising greenhouse gas levels.

The results fit with rainfall trends already observed in the U.S., as well as model predictions that massive rains associated with thunderstorms could become both more frequent and more intense in the U.S. as the world continues to heat up.

The shift toward more extreme rains could have implications for water management and flooding because the ground is less able to absorb rainwater when it falls all at once.

“These changes should have pretty big impacts on this region,” Andreas Prein, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said.

That a warming atmosphere will lead to more extreme rainfall events is one of the basic predictions of climate science, and is linked to the fact that warming leads to more evaporation, which leads to more water vapor in the atmosphere. That means that when rains occur, there’s more water vapor available to dump as rain.

Extreme downpours have already been increasing in the U.S., most notably in the Northeast, where they have increased by 71 percent since mid-century, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment. [more]

Rain from Thunderstorms is Rising Due to Climate Change

ABSTRACT: Convective precipitation—localized, short-lived, intense, and sometimes violent—is at the root of challenges associated with observation, simulation, and prediction of precipitation. The understanding of long-term changes in convective precipitation characteristics and their role in precipitation extremes and intensity over extratropical regions are imperative to future water resource management; however, they have been studied very little. We show that annual convective precipitation total has been increasing astonishingly fast, at a rate of 18.4%/°C, of which 16% is attributable to an increase in convective precipitation occurrence, and 2.4% is attributable to increased daily intensity based on the 35 years of two (combined) historical data sets of 3-hourly synoptic observations and daily precipitation. We also reveal that annual daily precipitation extreme has been increasing at a rate of about 7.4%/°C in convective events only. Concurrently, the overall increase in mean daily precipitation intensity is mostly due to increased convective precipitation, possibly at the expanse of nonconvective precipitation. As a result, transitional seasons are becoming more summer-like as convective becomes the dominant precipitation type that has accompanied higher daily extremes and intensity since the late 1980s. The data also demonstrate that increasing convective precipitation and daily extremes appear to be directly linearly associated with higher atmospheric water vapor accompanying a warming climate over northern Eurasia.

Rapid decadal convective precipitation increase over Eurasia during the last three decades of the 20th century

Saiga ecology expert Steffen Zuther examines a dying female Saiga antelope after the 2015 die-off in Kazakhstan. Photo: Sergei Khomenko / FAO

Rome/Paris, 27 January 2017 (United Nations) – The international pledge to eradicate a devastating livestock disease affecting mostly sheep and goats has taken on new urgency in the wake of a mass die-off of a rare Mongolian antelope.

Some 900 Saiga antelopes (Saiga tatarica mongolica) - almost 10 percent of the sub-species' population - have been found dead in Mongolia's western Khovd province. Samples taken from carcasses indicated the animals were positive for Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), a highly fatal viral disease with plague-like impact on domestic sheep and goat herds, killing up to 90 percent of infected animals.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) are leading a multinational effort to eradicate PPR, which can have devastating food-security and economic impacts, by 2030.

Eighty percent of the world's estimated 2.1 billion small ruminants live in affected regions and constitute an important asset for a third of poor rural households. PPR, first identified in Côte d'Ivoire in the 1940s, is now threatening over 75 countries.

While wildlife have long been considered potentially vulnerable, relatively few actual cases of PPR infection have been documented in free ranging wild goat-like species and never in free-ranging antelope.

The dead are highly suggestive of a spillover event from domestic animals with whom they share common grazing areas, especially in winter when foraging ranges are fewer. Efforts are ongoing to investigate the situation on the ground, geared in particular to investigating possible other causes, such as the bacterial infection (Pasteurella multocida) that is now suspected to have been the cause of death of hundreds of thousands of saiga in Kazakhstan in 2015.

Saiga in Mongolia are not truly migratory but are certainly nomadic with an extensive range of about 130 000 square kilometers with seasonal movements in autumn for breeding and early spring for calving. The species, was once widely spread across the Eurasian steppes, is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

PPR outbreak occurrence in Mongolia

Mongolia reported its first-ever outbreak of PPR in September 2016, when sheep and goat deaths were linked to an extension of PPR cases occurring in China.

The domestic small ruminant population in Mongolia is currently 45 million and plays an essential economic and social role in a country where more than one third of the population derives its livelihoods directly from livestock. Mongolia exports live animals, meat, milk and is the world's top producer of high-quality cashmere wool.

At that time, FAO and OIE immediately mobilized their Crisis Management Center for Animal Health (CMC-AH) to Ulaanbaatar to help local veterinary services assess the epidemiological situation and propose immediate and medium-term actions aimed at controlling the spread of the disease. More than 11 million domestic small ruminants - crucial for food security and nutrition - were vaccinated in the effort.

The saiga deaths, which highlight the extreme vulnerability of animals that have not been exposed to PPR as well as the challenge of protecting wildlife, are an "unprecedented and worrisome development," said OIE Director-General Monique Eloit.

"The OIE will continue to work closely with FAO to assist the Government of Mongolia in dealing with the PPR outbreaks and protect both livestock and wildlife, starting with a new CMC-AH mission in a few days," she said. "To avoid a quick and catastrophic spread of the disease, a close cooperation between the veterinary services and those responsible for wildlife management will be particularly essential."

Recommended actions

"More field investigations will have to be carried out to know the extent of the recent outbreak. If PPR is confirmed to be the main cause, the saiga death toll is likely to reach into the thousands in the next three months," said Bouna Diop, Secretary of the joint FAO-OIE PPR Eradication Programme.

"For this reason, preparations to face even more extensive disease spread should be made and we must try to separate contact between domestic ruminants and these prized and endangered wildlife," he added.

Heightened surveillance and vaccination of domestic animals should be considered as the main tool currently available to safeguard this endangered species.

"In parallel, critical communication efforts must be made to let Mongolian herders know the risks of the PPR virus spilling over from saiga to livestock," added Richard Kock Professor of Emerging Diseases from the Royal Veterinary College, London.

"We have learned that these events require a particularly high level of international cooperation and the inclusion of the FAO and OIE world reference laboratories network to ensure full understanding of the epidemiology."

PPR Global Eradication Programme

To eradicate the disease worldwide by 2030, FAO and OIE launched in 2016 the PPR Global and Eradication Programme (PPR-GEP), building on a broad international consensus.

A first phase covers the period 2017-2021, with a $996 million cost estimate.

"The recent Mongolian events show that in the framework of the PPR-GEP a regional strategy to contain and eradicate PPR needs to be implemented," underlined Ren Wang, FAO's Assistant Director General in charge of FAO's Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department.

"Resources need to be made available to prevent further spread of the virus in Mongolia as well as in Kazakhstan, Russia or China, where outbreaks were first reported in recent years," Wang added.

Alarm as lethal plague detected among rare Mongolian antelope

Forest fires consume parts of the community of Vichuquen in Chile's Maule Region, 27 January 2017. Photo: Martin Bernetti / AFP / Getty Images

By Jorge Poblete
27 January 2017

(Los Angeles Times) – Chile’s worst ever wildfires threatened the city of Concepcion and the nation’s wine industry Friday, a day after flames destroyed a town about 200 miles south of the nation’s capital.

President Michelle Bachelet’s office said the fires had killed 11 people, forced the evacuation of more than 5,000 and burned nearly 900,000 acres, mainly forests.

Most of the evacuees come from the town of Santa Olga, southwest of Santiago, which was destroyed Thursday.

“We are facing a serious situation and can only succeed if we work together,” Bachelet told reporters Friday morning after coordinating relief efforts at a meeting at the La Moneda presidential palace. Earlier in the week, Bachelet said the fires were the worst in the country’s history.

The government said Friday that as many as 65 separate fires continued to burn out of control. 

Felipe Neira, president of Itata Valley winemakers association, said in a telephone interview that the industry, which is mostly concentrated in central Chile, so far had had lost about 100 acres of vineyards to the fires but that 1,250 acres were in jeopardy.

“Our wine heritage is burning up,” Neira said.


Worst wildfires in Chile's history have killed 11 people, threaten wine and timber industries


By Pascale Bonnefoy and Sewell Chan
25 January 2017

SANTIAGO, Chile (The New York Times) – A series of wildfires has devastated homes, farmland and livestock in a large area of southern and central Chile over the past week.

A prolonged drought and high temperatures have worsened the blazes, which have so far destroyed more than 700,000 acres of forestland and killed 10 people, mainly firefighters and police officers. The government has declared a state of catastrophe in four regions, deployed 1,200 troops to support the efforts of firefighters and appealed for help from other countries.

Chile has “practically exhausted its capacity to fight the blaze,” President Michelle Bachelet said, adding that her country was living through “the greatest forest disaster in our history.”

As of Friday morning, about 130 active fires remain, 51 of which have been contained, according to the National Emergency Bureau of Chile. They cover an area of about 920 square miles.

More than 2,700 people have lost their homes, and thousands have been evacuated from the affected areas. [more]

‘The Greatest Forest Disaster in Our History’: Wildfires Tear Through Chile

Screenshot from the web site of the National Council for Science and the Environment’s 17th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment, 24 January 2017. Graphic: NCSE

By Sharon Lerner
26 January 2017

(The Intercept) – While Donald Trump was reviving both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, muzzling federal employees, freezing EPA contracts, and first telling the EPA to remove mentions of climate change from its website — and then reversing course — many of the scientists who work on climate change in federal agencies were meeting just a few miles from the White House to present and discuss their work.

The mood was understandably gloomy at the National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one knows what’s going to happen,” one EPA staffer who works on climate issues told me on Tuesday, as she ate her lunch. She had spent much of her time in recent weeks trying to preserve and document the methane-related projects she’s been working on for years. But the prevailing sense was that, Trump’s claims about being an environmentalist notwithstanding, the president is moving forward with his plan to eviscerate environmental protections, particularly those related to climate change, and the EPA itself.

“It’s strange,” the woman said. “People keep walking up to me and giving me hugs.” Like several others I spoke to for this story, she declined to tell me her name out of fear that she might suffer retaliation, including being fired. She was not being paranoid. Already, agency higher ups had warned the EPA staff against talking to the press, or even updating blogs or issuing news releases. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press,” said one EPA missive that was shared broadly and ended up in the press. And while the staffer was at the meeting, the EPA’s new brass issued another memo to staff requiring all regional offices to submit a list of external meetings and presentations, noting which might be controversial and why.

The directives have left scientists fearing reprisal for merely mentioning the global crisis that has been at the center of their professional lives for years. It’s the topic “whose name cannot be uttered,” as one Forest Service employee put it to me. A nearby USDA employee offered a series of euphemisms — “extreme weather events, very unusual patterns,” he riffed — before turning serious. “I’m actually scared to talk to you,” he said, turning his hanging name tag inward and backing away from me. The look in his eyes and the tight smiles I received from several federal employees after introducing myself as a reporter reminded me of interviewing scientists in China. My presence inspired fear. [more]

Government Scientists at U.S. Climate Conference Terrified to Speak with the Press

A scientist wears a gag and has #ScienceNotSilence written on her palm, to protest Trump antiscience policies. Photo: EcoWatch

27 January 2017 (Climate Nexus) – In various interviews on Thursday, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition chief Myron Ebell confirmed the Trump team would probably seek significant cuts to the agency's workforce and budget, but would not provide details of specific policy recommendations he made to the president.

Ebell, who told the AP that the federal government has "been staffed with scientists who believe the global-warming alarmist agenda," floated the idea of downsizing EPA from 15,000 to 5,000 employees as an "aspirational goal" but acknowledged that getting cuts that significant past Congress would be a challenge for the administration.

On the Hill, Sen Tom Harper, D-DE, blasted EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt for giving answers "shockingly devoid of substance" to senators' written follow-up questions, as Oklahoman environmental lawyers lobbied lawmakers Wednesday to highlight Pruitt's cozy relationship with industry during his time as Oklahoma attorney general. [more]

Ebell: Purge Necessary at EPA to Rid 'Scientists Who Believe the Global Warming Alarmist Agenda'

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-R.I.) diagram of contributions from the energy sector to Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R-Okla.) presented during the latter’s confirmation hearing. Photo: C-SPAN

By Niv Sultan
24 January 2017

(Center or Responsive Politics) – Scott Pruitt’s confirmation hearing last week involved some pointed visual props. Making the case that Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who is President Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is cozy with the energy sector, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) held up a chart full of boxes and arrows.

All the organizations listed on the top half of the chart had contributed to Pruitt’s electoral efforts. At one point, Whitehouse asked Pruitt if the donors had also given to Pruitt’s Oklahoma Strong Leadership PAC. Pruitt’s response: “I’m not sure about that, senator.”

Luckily for Pruitt, we at OpenSecrets Blog can help him out. In the 2016 election cycle, among the organizations on the chart that have PACs, none used them to contribute to Pruitt’s Oklahoma Strong. Individually, J. Larry Nichols, a co-founder and the chairman emeritus of Devon Energy, gave the leadership PAC $5,000 in 2015. 

Other PACs filled in where the groups on Whitehouse’s poster fell short, providing Oklahoma Strong with $40,000 in 2015-2016 — 40 percent of which came from organizations with connections to the energy sector. Alliance Coal kicked in $5,000, for example, and $1,000 came from Cozen O’Connor, a law firm that has an energy, environmental and public utilities practice. [more]

Energy sector and EPA nominee: Oklahoma Strong

Protesters gather in front of the offices of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) as part of a nationwide rally organized to protest the nominations of climate change deniers in the cabinet of President Donald Trump on 9 January 2017. Photo: Justin Lane / European Pressphoto Agency

By Joel Achenbach
26 January 2017

(The Washington Post) – Leaders of several of the nation's top science organizations say they've been shunned by the Trump administration and are alarmed by signs that the administration will muzzle government researchers and reject the scientific evidence that informs such critical issues as vaccine safety and climate change.

Their comments in interviews with The Washington Post come as scientists around the country are considering a grass-roots revolt against President Trump that could include a march on Washington. The sudden eruption of activism among people typically more comfortable in a laboratory or manipulating equations was incited in part by reports that the Trump administration is restricting the ability of government employees, including scientists, to communicate with the public.

“The signals are not encouraging, and they’re alarming, and they’re causing a lot of fear in the scientific community,” said Christine McEntee, chief executive and executive director of the American Geophysical Union.

“I’ve never seen the scientific community so concerned,” said Rush Holt, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.This goes way beyond funding. When fake news is accepted as just one of the alternate approaches, then there are serious problems to be addressed.”

Matthew Scott, president of the Washington-based Carnegie Institution for Science, said he was dismayed that, during the transition, Trump's team did not embrace input from the leaders of the scientific community.

“There doesn’t seem to be anyone responding to inquiries from these leaders of extremely important organizations of scientists,” Scott said. “What’s happening is that scientists are being excluded, as far as we can tell, in advising the government and participating in the government even though there are many scientists who view it as an imperative to serve their country.” [more]

The nation’s top scientists can’t get through to Trump — and they’re alarmed

Likelihood of being killed by a refugee in the U.S. compared with other events, such as lightning strikes and being killed by a vending machine. Graphic: Financial Times

By Lauren Leatherby
27 January 2017

New York (Financial Times) – […] Mr Trump cited terrorism risks as his reason for limiting the number of refugees the US takes. However, since the US refugee programme began in 1975, more than 3.2m refugees have entered the United States and only three have carried out a deadly terrorist attack. Those three were Cubans who committed their crimes in the 1970s. A 2016 Cato Institute report found that the chance of an American being murdered in a refugee-perpetrated terrorist attack was 1 in 3.64 billion in any given year. […]

Trump clampdown: four charts on the US refugee programme

Screenshot of the home page, showing George Orwell's novel, 1984, as the Number One best selling book, on 27 January 2017. Graphic: Amazon

By Bryan Menegus
26 January 2017

(Gizmodo) – George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984, occupied the number one spot on Amazon’s best-selling books list yesterday, where it remains today. A cautionary tale about a brutal, amoral dictator has evidently felt relevant to people lately. But as of today, Amazon—the world’s largest bookseller—is unable to keep up with demand.

Currently 1984 is printed by Signet Classics, and both the hardcover and softcover versions are listed as “temporarily out of stock.” As CNN reported yesterday, Penguin (the parent company of the New American Library, Signet’s parent company) is racing to print more copies of Orwell’s novel. Under the Trump administration, quotes like, “The object of torture is torture” and, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever” must be resonating with people. Go figure. [more]

Amazon Sells Out of 1984 as America Decides to Read a Goddamn Book for Once

Smoke billows from stacks as a Chinese woman wears as mask while walking in a neighborhood next to a coal-fired power plant on 26 November 2015 in Shanxi, China. Photo: Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

By Brady Dennis
26 January 2017

(The Washington Post) – It turns out there will be a conference in Atlanta next month about climate change and its effects on public health. It just won’t have the federal government behind it.

The reason? Former vice president Al Gore.

“He called me and we talked about it and we said, ‘There’s still a void and still a need.’ We said, ‘Let’s make this thing happen,’ ” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “It was a no-brainer.”

News of a revived conference comes days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly canceled its long-planned Climate and Health Summit in the lead-up to the change in White House administrations. Benjamin called the move a “strategic retreat” given the climate skepticism of the incoming administration. […]

The CDC’s move last week exasperated some environmental and public health advocates, who see the issue as an increasingly urgent one and argue that the agency should have gone forward with the summit unless told otherwise by the Trump administration.

“The meeting was important and should have been held,” one scheduled attendee told The Post. “Politics is politics, but protecting the health of our citizens is one of our government’s most important obligations.” [more]

CDC’s canceled climate change conference is back on — thanks to Al Gore

Banner image for the @RogueNASA Twitter feed, created in defiance of Trump's antiscience policies and gag orders on scientists. Graphic: RogueNASA

By Steve Gorman; Editing by Lisa Shumaker
26 January 2017

Los Angeles, California (Reuters) – Employees from more than a dozen U.S. government agencies have established a network of unofficial "rogue" Twitter feeds in defiance of what they see as attempts by President Donald Trump to muzzle federal climate change research and other science.

Seizing on Trump's favorite mode of discourse, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and other bureaus have privately launched Twitter accounts - borrowing names and logos of their agencies - to protest restrictions they view as censorship and provide unfettered platforms for information the new administration has curtailed.

"Can't wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS," one anonymous National Park Service employee posted on the newly opened Twitter account @AltNatParkService. "You can take our official twitter, but you'll never take our free time!"

The @RogueNASA account displayed an introductory disclaimer describing it as "The unofficial 'Resistance' team of NASA. Not an official NASA account." It beckoned readers to follow its feed "for science and climate news and facts. REAL NEWS, REAL FACTS."

The swift proliferation of such tweets by government rank-and-file followed internal directives several agencies involved in environmental issues have received since Trump's inauguration requiring them to curb their dissemination of information to the public. […]

The restrictions have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change skeptic, is out to squelch federally backed research showing that emissions from fossil fuel combustion and other human activities are contributing to global warming. [more]

U.S. government scientists go 'rogue' in defiance of Trump

It is two and a half minutes to midnight. Comments by US President Donald Trump and a 'darkening global security landscape' have made the world less safe, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned Thursday, moving its symbolic 'Doomsday Clock' 30 seconds closer to midnight. 25 January 2017. Graphic: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

25 January 2017 (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) –Editor's note: Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin's Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains. A printable PDF of this statement, complete with the executive director's statement and Science and Security Board biographies, is available here.

From: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board

To: Leaders and citizens of the world

Re: It is 30 seconds closer to midnight

Over the course of 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come effectively to grips with humanity's most pressing existential threats, nuclear weapons and climate change.

The United States and Russia—which together possess more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons—remained at odds in a variety of theaters, from Syria to Ukraine to the borders of NATO; both countries continued wide-ranging modernizations of their nuclear forces, and serious arms control negotiations were nowhere to be seen. North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth underground nuclear tests and gave every indication it would continue to develop nuclear weapons delivery capabilities. Threats of nuclear warfare hung in the background as Pakistan and India faced each other warily across the Line of Control in Kashmir after militants attacked two Indian army bases.

The climate change outlook was somewhat less dismal—but only somewhat. In the wake of the landmark Paris climate accord, the nations of the world have taken some actions to combat climate change, and global carbon dioxide emissions were essentially flat in 2016, compared to the previous year. Still, they have not yet started to decrease; the world continues to warm. Keeping future temperatures at less-than-catastrophic levels requires reductions in greenhouse gas emissions far beyond those agreed to in Paris—yet little appetite for additional cuts was in evidence at the November climate conference in Marrakech.

This already-threatening world situation was the backdrop for a rise in strident nationalism worldwide in 2016, including in a US presidential campaign during which the eventual victor, Donald Trump, made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and expressed disbelief in the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board takes a broad and international view of existential threats to humanity, focusing on long-term trends. Because of that perspective, the statements of a single person—particularly one not yet in office—have not historically influenced the board's decision on the setting of the Doomsday Clock.

But wavering public confidence in the democratic institutions required to deal with major world threats do affect the board’s decisions. And this year, events surrounding the US presidential campaign—including cyber offensives and deception campaigns apparently directed by the Russian government and aimed at disrupting the US election—have brought American democracy and Russian intentions into question and thereby made the world more dangerous than was the case a year ago.

For these reasons, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has decided to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes and 30 seconds to midnight.

The board's decision to move the clock less than a full minute—something it has never before done—reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days. Many of his cabinet nominations are not yet confirmed by the Senate or installed in government, and he has had little time to take official action.

Just the same, words matter, and President Trump has had plenty to say over the last year. Both his statements and his actions as president-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding the US nuclear arsenal. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts. And his nominees to head the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have disputed the basics of climate science.

In short, even though he has just now taken office, the president’s intemperate statements, lack of openness to expert advice, and questionable cabinet nominations have already made a bad international security situation worse.

Last year, and the year before, we warned that world leaders were failing to act with the speed and on the scale required to protect citizens from the extreme danger posed by climate change and nuclear war. During the past year, the need for leadership only intensified—yet inaction and brinksmanship have continued, endangering every person, everywhere on Earth.

Who will lead humanity away from global disaster?

A dangerous nuclear situation on multiple fronts. Predictability and continuity are often prized when it comes to nuclear weapons policy, because the results of miscommunication or miscalculation could be so catastrophic. Last year, however, the nuclear weapons continuity most in evidence was negative: North Korea’s continuing nuclear weapons development, the steady march of arsenal modernization programs in the nuclear weapon states, simmering tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and stagnation in arms control.

North Korea conducted two more nuclear weapons tests, the second, in September, yielding about twice the explosive power of the first, in January. Pyongyang also relentlessly tested missiles, achieving a rate of about two launches per month in 2016. In his 2017 New Year’s statement, Kim Jong-un declared he would soon test a missile with an intercontinental range. The UN Security Council passed new sanctions against North Korea in November 2016 in an effort to further limit the country’s access to cash, but there is no guarantee those sanctions will succeed where others have failed.  

Meanwhile, Russia is building new silo-based missiles, the new Borei class of nuclear ballistic missile submarines, and new rail-mobile missiles as it revamps other intercontinental ballistic missiles. The United States forges ahead with plans to modernize each part of its triad (bombers, land-based missiles, and missile-carrying submarines), adding new capabilities, such as cruise missiles with increased ranges. As it improves the survivability of its own nuclear forces, China is helping Pakistan build submarine platforms. And Pakistan and India continue to expand the number of weapons in and the sophistication of their nuclear arsenals.

Elsewhere, nuclear volatility has been (and remains) the order of the day. While the US president-elect engaged in casual talk about nuclear weapons, suggesting South Korea and Japan acquire their own nuclear weapons to compete with North Korea, other countries voted in the United Nations to move forward toward a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, passing Resolution L41. In 2017, those states will convene to consider a nuclear weapons ban, presumably without the 38 countries—including the United States and a number of its allies—that voted against the ban. A ban would be merely symbolic without the participation or input of countries that have nuclear weapons. But this approach—which circumvents traditional, often glacial efforts like the Conference on Disarmament—reflects long-held frustration with the slow pace of progress toward nuclear disarmament. The world saw the 20th anniversary of the first signature on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty pass in 2016; the treaty still awaits its entry into force.

The Iran nuclear deal has been successful in accomplishing its goals during its first year, but its future is in doubt under the Trump administration. No firm plans have been made to extend the nuclear security summit process. Disputes over Ukraine, Syria, ballistic missile defenses in Europe, and election interference have the United States and Russia at loggerheads, with little if any prospect that nuclear arms reduction negotiations will resume.

Progress in reducing the overall threat of nuclear war has stalled—and in many ways, gone into reverse. This state of affairs poses a clear and urgent threat to civilization, and citizens around the world should demand that their leaders quickly address and lessen the danger.

The clear need for climate action. Global efforts to limit climate change have produced mixed results over the last year. The Paris Agreement went into effect in 2016, and countries are taking some actions to bring down emissions of greenhouse gases. There are encouraging signs that global annual emissions were flat this past year, though there is no assurance this heralds a break point. If the global economy has weaned itself from exponentially growing emissions rates, that would indeed be a major accomplishment.

But because carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for centuries, net emissions must eventually be put on a trajectory to reach zero if global warming is to be stemmed. The longer it takes to shift toward that trajectory, the greater the warming—and consequences—that current and future generations will face. The true success of the Paris Agreement should be measured against a strict criterion: Do the next steps in its implementation bring about the reductions of carbon dioxide emissions necessary to keep world temperatures from reaching levels that: threaten catastrophic sea level rise; change rainfall patterns and therefore threaten agriculture; increase storm severity; reduce biodiversity; and alter ocean chemistry (among the many negative impacts that unchecked global warming will cause)?

The continued warming of the world measured in 2016 underscores one clear fact: Nothing is fundamentally amiss with the scientific understanding of climate physics. The burning of fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere; carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, inhibiting the radiation of heat into space. The relationship between increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and increased terrestrial temperature has been researched for decades, and national science academies around the world agree: Human activity is the primary cause of climate change, and unless carbon dioxide emissions are dramatically reduced, global warming will threaten the future of humanity.

In 2016, however, the international community did not take the steps needed to begin the path toward a net zero-carbon-emissions world. The Marrakech Climate Change Conference, for instance, produced little progress beyond the emissions goals pledged under the Paris Accord.   

The political situation in the United States is of particular concern. The Trump transition team has put forward candidates for cabinet-level positions (especially the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department) who foreshadow the possibility that the new administration will be openly hostile to progress toward even the most modest efforts to avert catastrophic climate disruption.

Climate change should not be a partisan political issue. The well-established physics of Earth’s carbon cycle is neither liberal nor conservative in character. The planet will continue to warm to dangerous levels so long as carbon dioxide continues to be pumped into the atmosphere—regardless of who is chosen to lead the United States or any other country.

International leaders need to refocus their attention on achieving the additional carbon emission reductions that are needed to capitalize on the promise of the Paris Accord. In the United States, as a very first step, the Trump administration needs to make a clear, unequivocal statement that it accepts climate change, caused by human activity, as a scientific reality. No problem can be solved, unless its existence is recognized.

Nuclear power: An option worth careful consideration. During the last half of the 20th century, the most profound existential threat facing the world was the prospect of global nuclear holocaust, sparked by decisions made under the pressure of the very short time required for intercontinental ballistic missiles to reach their targets. In the 21st century, another existential threat looms: global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions from more than 100 years of fossil fuel use.

Ironically, the nuclear forces used in weapons of mass destruction can also be harnessed as a carbon-free source of energy. Splitting the atom provides a million-fold increase in energy over the simple chemical reactions that convert fossil fuels to carbon dioxide and energy. The scale of the energy potential of nuclear fission—and its capacity to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming—make nuclear power a tempting part of the solution to the climate change problem. Some 440 nuclear power plants already generate 11 percent of the world’s electricity.

In addition to its promise, however, nuclear power has safety, cost, waste, and proliferation challenges. One can argue that the number of deaths and adverse health effects caused by nuclear power has been minimal, even when major accidents have occurred. But a single accident can change governmental policy and public attitudes toward nuclear power. That single accident can also affect multiple countries and produce effects that stretch over decades—as the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters have shown.

Although new nuclear power plants are being built, mainly in Asia, the scale of the effort does not match the need for clean energy. Today’s 400-plus nuclear power plants are, on average, 30 years old. They displace some 0.5 to 0.7 gigatons of carbon each year, as compared to the 10 gigatons discharged annually from the use of fossil fuels.

To achieve just 6 percent of needed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power would have to increase in capacity at least threefold during the next 50 years. This would mean adding 2,000 megawatts of capacity per month, the equivalent of a new 1 gigawatt-electric nuclear power plant every several weeks. Such growth in the use of nuclear power would also require concomitant commitments to nuclear safety, security, and waste management that are politically, technically, and intergenerationally responsible.

In the short and medium terms, governments will need to discourage the premature closure of existing reactors that are—as determined on a case-by-case basis—safe and economically viable. In the longer term, entrepreneurs will have to design and test new types of reactors that can be built quickly, and they will then have to prove to regulators that those new reactors are at least as safe as the commercial nuclear plants now operating.

It is likely that leaders in different parts of the world will make different decisions on whether their countries will or will not include nuclear power in their efforts to combat climate change. Where nuclear power is used, at a very minimum, leaders must ensure that truly independent regulatory systems and safe geological disposal repositories are created.

Potential threats from emerging technologies. In December, US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had intervened in the 2016 US presidential campaign to help Donald Trump in ways that highlight the vulnerability of critical information systems in cyberspace. Information monocultures, fake news, and the hacking and release of politically sensitive emails may have had an illegitimate impact on the US presidential election, threatening the fabric of democracy, which relies on an informed electorate to decide the direction of public policy—including policy relating to existential threats such as nuclear weapons and climate change. If not controlled, these types of electoral attacks could be launched against democracies around the world, undermining belief in representative government and thereby endangering humanity as a whole.

Such attacks on the democratic process, however, represent just one threat associated with the modern world's increased reliance on the internet and information technology. Sophisticated hacking—whether by private groups or governmental entities—has the potential to create grave and large impacts, threatening financial activities and national electrical power grids and plants (including nuclear power plants) and the personal freedoms that are based on the privacy at the core of democracy.

Beyond cybersecurity, the increasing potential of autonomous machine systems—which could, for example, allow the development of efficient, self-driving cars—also opens up a new set of risks that require thoughtful management. Without good governance, including appropriate regulation, these threats could emerge in coming decades as existential—that is, dangerous to the whole of humanity or to modern civilization as we know it. Lethal autonomous weapons systems that make “kill” decisions without human input or supervision, for example, would be particularly worrisome. Advances in synthetic biology, including the Crispr gene-editing tool, also have great positive potential—and a dark side that includes the possible creation of bioweapons and other dangerous manipulations of genetic material.

Technological innovation is occurring at a speed that challenges society’s ability to keep pace. While limited at the current time, potentially existential threats posed by a host of emerging technologies need to be monitored, and to the extent possible anticipated, as the 21st century unfolds.

Reducing risk: Expert advice and citizen action. Technology continues to outpace humanity’s capacity to control it, even as many citizens lose faith in the institutions upon which they must rely to make scientific innovation work for rather than against them. Expert advice is crucial if governments are to effectively deal with complex global threats. The Science and Security Board is extremely concerned about the willingness of governments around the world—including the incoming US administration—to ignore or discount sound science and considered expertise during their decision-making processes.

Wise men and women have said that public policy is never made in the absence of politics. But in this unusual political year, we offer a corollary: Good policy takes account of politics but is never made in the absence of expertise. Facts are indeed stubborn things, and they must be taken into account if the future of humanity is to be preserved, long term.

Nuclear weapons and climate change are precisely the sort of complex existential threats that cannot be properly managed without access to and reliance on expert knowledge. In 2016, world leaders not only failed to deal adequately with those threats; they actually increased the risk of nuclear war and unchecked climate change through a variety of provocative statements and actions, including careless rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the wanton defiance of scientific truths. We call on these leaders—particularly in Russia and the United States—to refocus in the coming year on reducing existential risks and preserving humanity, in no small part by consulting with top-level experts and taking scientific research and observed reality into account.

Because we know from experience that governmental leaders respond to public pressure, we also call on citizens of the world to express themselves in all the ways available to them—including through use of the powerful new tools of social media—to demand that:

  • US and Russian leaders return to the negotiating table to seek further reductions in nuclear arms and to limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race.The world can be more secure with much, much smaller nuclear arsenals than now exist—if political leaders are truly interested in protecting their citizens from harm.
  • The United States and Russia reduce the alert levels of their nuclear weapons and use existing crisis stability mechanisms to avoid inadvertent escalation of conflict. Provocative military exercises increase the possibilities for accidental war and should cease.
  • Governments around the world sharply reduce their countries' greenhouse gas emissions and fulfill the Paris Accord promise of keeping warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, or less. This temperature target is consistent with consensus views on climate science and is eminently achievable and economically viable, provided that poorer countries are given the support they need to make the post-carbon transition.
  • The Trump administration acknowledge climate change as a science-backed reality and redouble US efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions and support carbon-free energy sources, including, when economically reasonable and safe over the long term, nuclear energy. It is well past time to move beyond arguments over the reality of climate change and on to solutions, including fiscal measures—such as carbon markets and carbon taxes or fees—that encourage efficiency and put a price on carbon emissions.
  • The United States, China, Russia, and other concerned nations engage with North Korea to reduce nuclear risks. Neighbors in Asia face the most urgent threat, but as North Korea improves its nuclear and missile arsenals, the threat will rapidly become global. As we said last year and repeat here: Now is not the time to tighten North Korea’s isolation but to engage seriously in dialogue.
  • Leaders of countries with commercial nuclear power programs deal responsibly with safety issues and with the commercial nuclear waste problem. Top experts disagree on whether an expansion of nuclear-powered electricity generation can become a major component of the effort to limit climate change. Regardless of the trajectory of the global nuclear industry, there will be a continuing need for safe and secure interim and permanent nuclear waste storage facilities and for ever-safer nuclear power plants.
  • The countries of the world collaborate on creating institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially malign or catastrophic misuses of new technologies. Scientific advance can provide society with great benefits. But as events surrounding the recent US presidential election show, the potential for misuse of potent new technologies is real. Governmental, scientific, and business leaders need to take appropriate steps to address possibly devastating consequences of these technologies.

For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s. In its two most recent annual announcements on the Clock, the Science and Security Board warned: "The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon." In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.

It is 30 seconds closer to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned on 26 January 2017, that comments by US President Donald Trump and a 'darkening global security landscape' have made the world less safe, moving its symbolic 'Doomsday Clock' to two and a half minutes to midnight. Photo: AFP


26 January 2017 (AFP) – Comments by US President Donald Trump and a "darkening global security landscape" have made the world less safe, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned Thursday, moving its symbolic "Doomsday Clock" 30 seconds closer to midnight.

The clock -- which serves as a metaphor for how close humanity is to destroying the planet -- was last changed in 2015, from five to three minutes to midnight.

It is now set at two and a half minutes to midnight.

The decision to move the clock or not is led by a group of scientists and intellectuals, including 15 Nobel laureates.

The minute-hand on the clock was moved amid concerns about "a rise in strident nationalism worldwide, President Donald Trump's comments on nuclear arms and climate issues, a darkening global security landscape that is colored by increasingly sophisticated technology, and a growing disregard for scientific expertise," the group said in a statement.

The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947. It has changed 19 times since then, ranging from two minutes to midnight in 1953 to 17 minutes before midnight in 1991.

"Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person," two scientists at the Bulletin, Lawrence Krauss and David Titley, said in an opinion piece published by The New York Times.

"But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter."

Symbolic 'Doomsday Clock' moves closer to midnight

Simulated yield responses to temperature under future climate change in rainfed counties. Columns are maize (a,d), soybean (b,e) and wheat (c,f). a–c show regression coefficients and d–f display temperature histograms for the historic (dashed grey) and future (solid red) periods; future climate is evaluated over 2071–2099 based on RCP8.5. Green tone lines in a–c are ensemble yield responses to temperature under rainfed conditions. Blue tone lines are ensemble yield responses under irrigation. Solid lines are derived with fixed present-day [CO2], while dotted lines include elevated [CO2] according to RCP8.5. Shaded areas are 95% confidence intervals. Graphic: Schauberger, et al., 2017 / Nature Communications

19 January 2017 (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) – Some of the most important crops risk substantial damage from rising temperatures. To better assess how climate change caused by human greenhouse gas emissions will likely impact wheat, maize and soybean, an international team of scientists now ran an unprecedentedly comprehensive set of computer simulations of US crop yields. The simulations were shown to reproduce the observed strong reduction in past crop yields induced by high temperatures, thereby confirming that they capture one main mechanism for future projections. Importantly, the scientists find that increased irrigation can help to reduce the negative effects of global warming on crops – but this is possible only in regions where sufficient water is available. Eventually limiting global warming is needed to keep crop losses in check.

“We know from observations that high temperatures can harm crops, but now we have a much better understanding of the processes,” says Bernhard Schauberger from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, lead author of the study. “The computer simulations that we do are based on robust knowledge from physics, chemistry, biology; on a lot of data and elaborate algorithms. But they of course cannot represent the entire complexity of the crop system, hence we call them models. In our study they have passed a critical test.” The scientists compare the model results to data from actual observations. This way, they can find out if they include the critical factors into their calculations, from temperature to CO2, from irrigation to fertilization.

Without efficient emission reductions, yield losses of 20 percent for wheat are possible by 2100

For every single day above 30°C, maize and soybean plants can lose about 5 percent of their harvest. The simulations have shown that the models capture how rather small heat increases beyond this threshold can result in abrupt and substantial yield losses. Such temperatures will be more frequent under unabated climate change and can severely harm agricultural productivity. Harvest losses from elevated temperatures of 20 percent for wheat, 40 percent for soybean and almost 50 percent for maize, relative to non-elevated temperatures, can be expected at the end of our century without efficient emission reductions. These losses do not even consider extremely high temperatures above 36°C, which are expected to lower yields further.

The effects go far beyond the US, one of the largest crop exporters: world market crop prices might increase, which is an issue for food security in poor countries.

Irrigation could be a means for adaptation - yet only in regions where there's sufficient water

“The losses got substantially reduced when we increased irrigation of fields in the simulation, so water stress resulting from temperature increase seems to be a bigger factor than the heat itself,” says co-author Joshua Elliott from the University of Chicago. When water supply from the soil to the plant decreases, the small openings in the leaves gradually close to prevent water loss. They thereby preclude the diffusion of CO2 into the cells, which is an essential building material for the plants. Additionally, crops respond to water stress by increasing root growth at the expense of above-ground biomass and, eventually, yields. “Irrigation therefore could be an important means of adaptation to dampen the most severe effects of warming,” says Elliott. “However, this is of course limited by the lack of water resources in some regions.”

Burning fossil fuels elevates the amount of CO2 in the air. This usually increases the water use efficiency of plants since they lose less water for each unit of CO2 taken up from the air. However, this cannot be confirmed as a safeguard of yields under high temperatures, the scientists argue. The additional CO2 fertilization in the simulations does not alleviate the drop in yields associated with high temperatures above about 30°C.

The comparison of different computer simulations of climate change impacts is at the heart of the ISIMIP project (Inter-Sectoral Impacts Modelling Intercomparison Project) comprising about 100 modelling groups worldwide. The simulations are generated in cooperation with AgMIP, the international Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project.

Article: Bernhard Schauberger, Sotirios Archontoulis, Almut Arneth, Juraj Balkovic, Philippe Ciais, Delphine Deryng, Joshua Elliott, Christian Folberth, Nikolay Khabarov, Christoph Müller, Thomas A. M. Pugh, Susanne Rolinski, Sibyll Schaphoff, Erwin Schmid, Xuhui Wang, Wolfram Schlenker, Katja Frieler (2017): Consistent negative response of US crops to high temperatures in observations and crop models. Nature Communications [DOI:10.1038/NCOMMS13931]

Link to the article:

Weblink to ISIMIP Inter-Sectoral Impacts Modelling Intercomparison Project:

Weblink to AgMIP Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project:


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Harvests in the US to suffer from climate change

ABSTRACT: High temperatures are detrimental to crop yields and could lead to global warming-driven reductions in agricultural productivity. To assess future threats, the majority of studies used process-based crop models, but their ability to represent effects of high temperature has been questioned. Here we show that an ensemble of nine crop models reproduces the observed average temperature responses of US maize, soybean and wheat yields. Each day >30 °C diminishes maize and soybean yields by up to 6% under rainfed conditions. Declines observed in irrigated areas, or simulated assuming full irrigation, are weak. This supports the hypothesis that water stress induced by high temperatures causes the decline. For wheat a negative response to high temperature is neither observed nor simulated under historical conditions, since critical temperatures are rarely exceeded during the growing season. In the future, yields are modelled to decline for all three crops at temperatures >30 °C. Elevated CO2 can only weakly reduce these yield losses, in contrast to irrigation.

Consistent negative response of US crops to high temperatures in observations and crop models

Now-deleted tweets from the Badlands National Park about climate science, in defiance of a Trump gag order on EPA and USDA scientists, 24 January 2017. Graphic: Badlands National Park / Nathan Rott

By Darryl Fears
24 January 2017

(The Washington Post) – Badlands National Park tugged on Superman’s cape Tuesday. It spit into the wind. It pulled the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and it messed around with President Trump.

In tweets about climate change that lit up Twitter, the park ignored Jim Croce’s advice in his 1972 hit song and thumbed its nose at the president.

With the Trump administration placing a gag order on the Environmental Protection Agency, shutting down its Twitter feed, forcing employees off their individual accounts and dismantling Web pages with climate-change information, Badlands went rogue.

“Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years,” it declared in one of at least four tweets.

Admirers went nuts. They created a hashtag, #Badasslands, in an ode to the defiance and dubbed the park Breaking Badlands after the TV show Breaking Bad. Within hours, the park gained a huge audience. [more]

For a few hours, Badlands National Park was bad to the bone in defiance of Trump

Students chant: 'Elections now!' during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday, 23 January 2017. Thousands of opponents of President Nicolas Maduro took part in the march. Photo: Fernando Llano / AP

By Sofia Barbarani
23 January 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (The Washington Post) – Political parties called for a nationwide protest Monday against Venezuela’s socialist-oriented government but attracted only several thousand people, in a sign of the difficulties the opposition is facing in building a strong protest movement even as the nation descends into crisis.

In September, massive crowds estimated at up to 1 million people turned out for a march to promote a vote to recall President Nicolás Maduro, but election officials later ruled out holding such a referendum in 2016. An opposition coalition is still pushing for a new presidential vote, as well as a date for regional elections that are due this year.

This oil-rich country has been in a severe economic crisis because of plummeting petroleum prices and government mismanagement, resulting in skyrocketing inflation and dire food and medicine shortages. […]

“I thought there would be more people,” said 54-year-old Freddy Cabrices, a member of Capriles’s party who was wearing a baseball cap in the Venezuelan colors. “People have stopped protesting because they’ve become fearful,” he added.

Down the road, another marcher, Eliana Munoz, 47, admitted to being frustrated by the limited progress that the opposition had made.

“We’ve not achieved anything, and people are demotivated,” she said. […]

Far from the loud music of the protest, in one of the capital’s nicer neighborhoods, Juan Guillermo Hensbergen, a ­70-year-old writer, sat in the morning sun.

“I’ve been to eight marches in three years and I’ve seen no results,” said Hensbergen, sipping a cup of coffee. “People are tired, there are fewer students, and they’re the ones who overthrow governments. People are also fearful.” [more]

Thousands march against Maduro government in Venezuela as crisis deepens

Growth projections for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2015-2018. Graphic: IMF

By Alvaro Algarra
24 January 2017

CARACAS (Voice of America) – Venezuelans, already experiencing severe shortages of food and other consumer goods amid the country's worst economic crisis, are likely to feel even more pain as the year unfolds, the International Monetary Fund grimly predicts.

The South American country is “on a path to hyperinflation,” with economic activity “projected to contract sharply … while inflation is expected to accelerate further,” Alejandro Werner, the IMF's Western Hemisphere director, wrote in the organization's latest outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Contributing factors include a large and growing deficit, “extensive economic distortions, and a severe restriction on the availability of imports of intermediate goods,” Werner wrote in the assessment posted Monday on an IMF website. [more]

Venezuela's Economic Woes Will Deepen, IMF Predicts


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