By Neil Collier, Ora Dekornfeld, and Ben Laffin
30 November 2017

(The New York Times) – Hurricane Irma was ruthless to Barbuda. It damaged or destroyed pretty much all the buildings on the island. It left everyone vulnerable, their homes open to the sky. Walls collapsed. Windows shattered. And it opened a door for the government. The entire island was evacuated. No one was allowed to stay.

But a handful of people were permitted back for a few hours at a time.

Since the colonial era, Barbuda has had this special set-up. It's a kind of island-wide commune. There are only about 1,600 people who live on the island, and they hunt and fish and farm for a lot of their food. It's safe and quiet, a good place to raise your kids. And it's made possible because no one actually owns the land. The whole island is owned collectively, like a co-op and managed by an elected council.

As for outsiders, they can lease land. But first they have to win the approval of a majority of Barbudans. That's why there are almost no foreign companies on the island -- no cruise ships, very few tourists. The community feels close-knit. No one of Barbuda is particularly wealthy, but no one's homeless.

The tradeoff, though, has been a lack of opportunity. There's no higher education on the island, not many jobs. And that's where it gets complicated, because Barbuda relies on subsidies from Antigua, the other major island in the country.

Screenshot from The New York Times documentary, 'No Man’s Land: Barbuda After Irma', showing an aerial view of the widespread destruction of Barbuda after Hurricane Irma. Photo: The New York Times

Antigua's a bigger island with a much larger population. The national government's based there, and it's dominated by Antiguans. Economically, it couldn't be more different from Barbuda. The island welcomes outside money -- all-inclusive tourist resorts, discreet financial services, which has gotten the island in trouble in the past.

The country’s prime minister is Antiguan and a former banker. He pushed for private land ownership in Barbuda, even before the hurricane. And with Barbudans still reeling from the storm, he’s gone a step further and called them squatters. [more]

No Man’s Land: Barbuda After Irma

Maria Teresa Rosado (Left) and Luis Flores (Right) recently arrived from Puerto Rico. They sought assistance at the hurricane relief center in Miami International Airport on 29 November 2017. Photo: Carmen Sesin / NBC News

By Carmen Sesin
30 November 2017

MIAMI (NBC News) – The exodus of Puerto Ricans to Florida following Hurricane Maria has reached a whopping 200,000 in just over two months, obliterating initial conservative estimates that had put the number at 100,000.

Maria Teresa Rosado, 37, and her husband Luis Flores, 33, arrived in Miami over the weekend to start rebuilding their lives. Power has not yet arrived to their house in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, the couple was at the hurricane relief center at Miami International Airport, which was set up by the state to make it easier for those arriving to get settled.

The couple said that as of now, they are not planning to return to the island even if power is restored and the economic recession subsides.

Flores, a hospital worker, said he sometimes had to choose between paying the electrical bill or buying food.

“There is more opportunity here for us to grow as professionals,” Rosado, who was a retail manager said.

Hurricane Maria trounced Puerto Rico on 20 September 2017, and since then, families have been boarding planes to the mainland with no end in sight. Flights from the island are booked solid through the end of the year.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, over 204,000 people from Puerto Rico have landed at airports in Miami, Orlando, and Tampa since October 3rd.

A total of 7,756 Puerto Rican students have enrolled in Florida public schools during the same period. The largest enrollments are in Orange and Osceola Counties in Central Florida, which has the heaviest concentration of Puerto Ricans. Many universities in the state have also waived out-of-state tuition fees for Puerto Rican students. […]

The scale of migration is larger than any other in Puerto Ricans history. “Puerto Rico will be seen by historians as before and after Maria,” said Luis Martinez Fernandez, a History professor at the University of Central Florida, calling it “a watershed moment.”

Since the initial aftermath of the hurricane, Fernandez has predicted a total of 500,000 to 750,000 Puerto Ricans would leave the island in a four-year period.

“As it turns out, 500,000 is now the low-end estimate for a five year period. It appears that it will be closer to 750,000,” according to Fernandez. [more]

Over 200,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived in Florida since Hurricane Maria

By Eric Sørensen
15 November 2017

PULLMAN, Washington (WSU News) – The arc of prehistory bends towards economic inequality. In the largest study of its kind, researchers from Washington State University, the Santa Fe Institute, and 12 other institutions saw disparities in wealth mount with the rise of agriculture, specifically the domestication of plants and large animals, and increased social organization.

Their findings, published this week in the journal Nature, have profound implications for contemporary society, as inequality repeatedly leads to social disruption, even collapse, said Tim Kohler (Washington State University), lead author and an SFI External Professor. The United States, he noted, currently has one of the highest levels of inequality in the history of the world.

“Inequality has a lot of subtle and potentially pernicious effects on societies,” Kohler said.

The study gathered data from 63 archaeological sites or groups of sites. Comparing house sizes within each site, researchers assigned Gini coefficients, common measures of inequality developed more than a century ago by the Italian statistician and sociologist Corrado Gini. In theory, a country with complete wealth equality would have a Gini coefficient of 0, while a country with all the wealth concentrated in one household would get a 1.

The researchers found that hunter-gatherer societies typically had low wealth disparities, with a median Gini of .17. Their mobility would make it hard to accumulate wealth, let alone pass it on to subsequent generations. Horticulturalists — small-scale, low-intensity farmers — had a median Gini of .27. Larger scale agricultural societies had a media Gini of .35.

Mammals, metallurgy

To the researchers’ surprise, inequality kept rising in the Old World, while it hit a plateau in the New World, said Kohler. The researchers attribute this to the ability of Old World societies “to literally harness big domesticated mammals like cattle and eventually horses and water buffalo,” Kohler said.

Draft animals, which were not available in the New World, let richer farmers till more land and expand into new areas. This increased their wealth while ultimately creating a class of landless peasants.

“These processes increased inequality by operating on both ends of the wealth distribution, increasing the holdings of the rich while decreasing the holdings of the poor,” the researchers write.

The Old World also saw the arrival of bronze metallurgy and a mounted warrior elite that increased Ginis through large houses and territorial conquests.

The researchers’ models put the highest Ginis in the ancient Old World at .59, close to that of contemporary Greece’s .56 and Spain’s .58. It is well short of China’s .73 and the United States .80, a 2000 figure cited in the Nature paper. The 2017 Allianz Global Wealth Report [pdf], puts the U.S. Gini at .81, and Kohler has seen the U.S. Gini pegged at .85, “which is probably the highest wealth inequality for any developed country right now.”

This worries him for several reasons.

Societies with high inequality have low social mobility. Kohler pointed to a Science magazine paper from earlier this year that found rates of mobility have fallen from 90 percent for U.S. children born in 1940 to 50 percent for children born in the 1980s. The results, wrote the researchers, “imply that reviving the ‘American dream’ of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is shared more broadly across the income distribution.”

Other studies have found that unequal societies tend to have poorer health, while more equal societies have higher life expectancies, trust and a willingness to help others, said Kohler.

“People need to be aware that inequality can have deleterious effects on health outcomes, on mobility, on degree of trust, on social solidarity — all these things,” he said. “We’re not helping ourselves by being so unequal.”

Decreasing inequality

Decreasing inequality is extremely difficult and usually comes about through plague, revolution, mass warfare or state collapse, according to The Great Leveler, a new book by Stanford University’s Walter Scheidel. Kohler himself has documented four periods of mounting inequality among the ancient Pueblo people of the American Southwest, with each ending in violence and greater equality. The last one coincided with the complete depopulating of the Mesa Verde area.

“In each case, you see not just this decline in Gini scores, but we also see an increase in violence that accompanies that decline,” Kohler said. “We could be concerned in the United States, that if Ginis get too high, we could be inviting revolution, or we could be inviting state collapse. There’s only a few things that are going to decrease our Ginis dramatically.”

Kohler’s portion of the Nature study was funded by the National Science Foundation. It is in keeping with WSU’s Grand Challenges, a suite of research of research initiatives aimed at large societal issues. It is particularly relevant to the challenge of Opportunity and Equity.


Tim Kohler, archaeology and evolutionary anthropology, Washington State University Regents Professor, 509-335-2698,

Researchers chart rising wealth inequality across millennia

Screenshot of Tim Kohler, professor of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology at WSU, discussing economic inequality throughout history. Photo: WSU

ABSTRACT: How wealth is distributed among households provides insight into the fundamental characters of societies and the opportunities they afford for social mobility1,2. However, economic inequality has been hard to study in ancient societies for which we do not have written records3,4, which adds to the challenge of placing current wealth disparities into a long-term perspective. Although various archaeological proxies for wealth, such as burial goods5,6 or exotic or expensive-to-manufacture goods in household assemblages7, have been proposed, the first is not clearly connected with households, and the second is confounded by abandonment mode and other factors. As a result, numerous questions remain concerning the growth of wealth disparities, including their connection to the development of domesticated plants and animals and to increases in sociopolitical scale8. Here we show that wealth disparities generally increased with the domestication of plants and animals and with increased sociopolitical scale, using Gini coefficients computed over the single consistent proxy of house-size distributions. However, unexpected differences in the responses of societies to these factors in North America and Mesoamerica, and in Eurasia, became evident after the end of the Neolithic period. We argue that the generally higher wealth disparities identified in post-Neolithic Eurasia were initially due to the greater availability of large mammals that could be domesticated, because they allowed more profitable agricultural extensification9, and also eventually led to the development of a mounted warrior elite able to expand polities (political units that cohere via identity, ability to mobilize resources, or governance) to sizes that were not possible in North America and Mesoamerica before the arrival of Europeans10,11. We anticipate that this analysis will stimulate other work to enlarge this sample to include societies in South America, Africa, South Asia and Oceania that were under-sampled or not included in this study.

Greater post-Neolithic wealth disparities in Eurasia than in North America and Mesoamerica

Screenshot of a CNN interview with CEO of Whitefish Energy, Andy Techmanski, 20 November 2017. Photo: CNN

By Leyla Santiago, Khushbu Shah, and Rachel Clarke
20 November 2017

San Juan, Puerto Rico (CNN) – Whitefish Energy is stopping its work to restore Puerto Rico's broken electricity grid because the company says it is owed more than $83 million by the island's power authority.

Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski told CNN that repeated requests for agreed payments were not met and there was no choice but to suspend work.

He claimed credit for the restoration of transmission lines by his contractors, even after his company's controversial contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) was set to be voided.

"We stopped because of the financial situation, lack of payment with PREPA has gotten beyond its maximum threshold and what we can sustain as a business," he said.

A letter sent by Whitefish to PREPA and seen by CNN accuses PREPA of delaying payments. As of Sunday, Whitefish said $83,036,305.09 was outstanding, including more than $26 million that it said had been audited and approved by PREPA already. Without payment to Whitefish, contractors and subcontractors were also going unpaid, the letter said.

According to the company, its work in Puerto Rico has involved more than 500 contractors and subcontractors.

"It may have not been the best business decision coming to work for a bankrupt island," Techmanski told CNN. "We were assured PREPA was getting support from FEMA and there was money available to pay us for 100% of our work." [more]

Whitefish is halting Puerto Rico power repairs, claiming it's owed $83 million

Global polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle production in 2004, 2014, 2016, and projected to 2021. Data from Euromonitor. Graphic: The Guardian

By George Monbiot
22 November 2017

(The Guardian) – Everyone wants everything – how is that going to work? The promise of economic growth is that the poor can live like the rich and the rich can live like the oligarchs. But already we are bursting through the physical limits of the planet that sustains us. Climate breakdown, soil loss, the collapse of habitats and species, the sea of plastic, insectageddon: all are driven by rising consumption. The promise of private luxury for everyone cannot be met: neither the physical nor the ecological space exists.

But growth must go on: this is everywhere the political imperative. And we must adjust our tastes accordingly. In the name of autonomy and choice, marketing uses the latest findings in neuroscience to break down our defences. Those who seek to resist must, like the Simple Lifers in Brave New World, be silenced – in this case by the media.

With every generation, the baseline of normalised consumption shifts. Thirty years ago, it was ridiculous to buy bottled water, where tap water is clean and abundant. Today, worldwide, we use a million plastic bottles a minute.

Every Friday is a Black Friday, every Christmas a more garish festival of destruction. Among the snow saunas, portable watermelon coolers and smartphones for dogs with which we are urged to fill our lives, my #extremecivilisation prize now goes to the PancakeBot: a 3D batter printer that allows you to eat the Mona Lisa, the Taj Mahal, or your dog’s bottom every morning. In practice, it will clog up your kitchen for a week until you decide you don’t have room for it. For junk like this, we’re trashing the living planet, and our own prospects of survival. Everything must go.

The ancillary promise is that, through green consumerism, we can reconcile perpetual growth with planetary survival. But a series of research papers reveal there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care and people who don’t. One recent article, published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, says those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not.

Why? Because environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people. It is not attitudes that govern our impact on the planet but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions. Those who see themselves as green consumers, the research found, mainly focused on behaviours that had “relatively small benefits”.

I know people who recycle meticulously, save their plastic bags, carefully measure the water in their kettles, then take their holidays in the Caribbean, cancelling any environmental savings a hundredfold. I’ve come to believe that the recycling licences their long-haul flights. It persuades people they’ve gone green, enabling them to overlook their greater impacts.

None of this means that we should not try to reduce our footprint, but we should be aware of the limits of the exercise. Our behaviour within the system cannot change the outcomes of the system. It is the system itself that needs to change.

Research by Oxfam suggests that the world’s richest 1% (if your household has an income of £70,000 or more, this means you) produce about 175 times as much carbon as the poorest 10%. How, in a world in which everyone is supposed to aspire to high incomes, can we avoid turning the Earth, on which all prosperity depends, into a dust ball?

By decoupling, the economists tell us: detaching economic growth from our use of materials. So how well is this going? A paper in the journal Plos One finds that while, in some countries, relative decoupling has occurred, “no country has achieved absolute decoupling during the past 50 years”. [more]

Too right it's Black Friday: our relentless consumption is trashing the planet

National changes in night light emissions, 2012-2016. Graphic: Kyba, et al., 2017 / Science Advances

By George Dvorsky
22 November 2017

(Gizmodo) – To reduce energy consumption, many jurisdictions around the world are transitioning to outdoor LED lighting. But as new research shows, this solid-state solution hasn’t yielded the expected energy savings, and potentially worse, it’s resulted in more light pollution than ever before.

Using satellite-based sensors, an international team of scientists sought to understand if our planet’s surface is getting brighter or darker at night, and to determine if LEDs are saving energy at the global scale. With the introduction of solid-state lighting—such as LEDs, OLEDs, and PLEDs—it was thought (and hoped) that the transition to it from conventional lighting—like electrical filaments, gas, and plasma—would result in big energy savings. According to the latest research, however, the use of LEDs has resulted in a “rebound” effect whereby many jurisdictions have opted to use even more light owing to the associated energy savings.

Indeed, as the new results show, the amount of outdoor lighting around the world has increased during the past several years. “As a result, the world has experienced widespread ‘loss of the night,’ with half of Europe and a quarter of North America experiencing substantially modified light-dark cycles,” write the researchers in the new study, which was published today in Science Advances. […]

“I expected that wealthy countries would appear to be getting darker (even if that wasn’t truly the case). Instead, we observed wealthy countries staying constant, or in many cases increasing,” said Christopher Kyba, lead author of the study and a researcher at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, in an interview with Gizmodo. “That means that even though some cities are saving energy by switching to LEDs, other places are getting brighter by installing new or brighter lamps (that need new energy). So the data aren’t consistent with the hypothesis that on the global scale, LEDs are saving energy for outdoor lighting applications.” […]

Disturbingly, the results presented in the new study may actually be worse than the data suggests. As previously mentioned, DRB is not able to detect low-wavelength blue light, which humans can see. Our planet, therefore, is even brighter at nighttime than the data suggests.

“This study is important because it validates with data two things we have suspected: that the rate of growth of light pollution continues upward on a worldwide scale, and that the migration of outdoor lighting from older technologies to LED isn’t having the anticipated benefit in terms of global reductions in energy usage,” John Barentine, the resident physical scientist for the International Dark-Sky Association, told Gizmodo. “The latter point is especially important because a number of governments have been convinced to convert their outdoor lighting to LED on the basis of promised reductions in energy usage.” [more]

The Switch to Outdoor LED Lighting Has Completely Backfired

Geographic patterns in changes in artificial lighting. Changes are shown as an annual rate for both lit area (A) and radiance of stably lit areas (B). Annual rates are calculated based on changes over the four year period, that is, Embedded Image, where A2016 is the lit area observed in 2016. See fig. S28 for total radiance change instead of stable light radiance change. Graphic: Kyba, et al., 2017 / Science Advances

ABSTRACT: A central aim of the “lighting revolution” (the transition to solid-state lighting technology) is decreased energy consumption. This could be undermined by a rebound effect of increased use in response to lowered cost of light. We use the first-ever calibrated satellite radiometer designed for night lights to show that from 2012 to 2016, Earth’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by 2.2% per year, with a total radiance growth of 1.8% per year. Continuously lit areas brightened at a rate of 2.2% per year. Large differences in national growth rates were observed, with lighting remaining stable or decreasing in only a few countries. These data are not consistent with global scale energy reductions but rather indicate increased light pollution, with corresponding negative consequences for flora, fauna, and human well-being.

Artificially lit surface of Earth at night increasing in radiance and extent

Changes in nighttime light by number of countries, measured from 2012 to 2016. Graphic: USA Today

By Doyle Rice
22 November 2017

(USA Today) – For most of humanity’s history, the night has meant darkness. That’s no longer the case.

Researchers report the artificially lit nighttime surface of our planet is growing —  in both size and brightness — in most of the world’s countries.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, scientists said Earth's artificially lit outdoor areas grew by 2.2% per year from 2012 to 2016.

Overall, some 79 nations — mainly in South America, Asia and Africa — experienced a growth in nighttime brightness during those years. Only 16 witnessed a decrease in light, including war-wracked nations such as Yemen and Syria. 

In 39 countries — including the U.S. — it stayed about the same.

“Artificial light is an environmental pollutant that threatens nocturnal animals and affects plants and microorganisms,” the study said. Study co-author Franz Holker of the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Germany said nighttime light has "ecological and evolutionary implications for many organisms from bacteria to mammals, including us humans, and may reshape entire social ecological systems."

According to the International Dark-Sky Association, an organization that combats light pollution worldwide, "the increased and widespread use of artificial light at night is not only impairing our view of the universe, it is adversely affecting our environment, our safety, our energy consumption and our health."

Increases in nighttime light pollution were seen almost everywhere researchers looked, with some of the largest gains in regions that were previously unlit.

"I actually didn’t expect it to be so uniformly true that so many countries would be getting brighter," said study lead author Christopher Kyba of the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany.

“Light is growing most rapidly in places that didn’t have a lot of light to start with," Kyba said. “That means that the fastest rates of increase are occurring in places that so far hadn’t been very strongly affected by light pollution.” [more]

Farewell to night? Light pollution reducing darkness worldwide

Offshore processing centre for asylum seekers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Australian Government DIBP

21 November 2017 (United Nations) – Three weeks following the closure of the Manus Island regional processing centre, the situation on the ground is very serious and deteriorates by the day, a senior United Nations official on protection of refugees has said.

“Without distribution of food and clean water over the last three weeks [and] significant accumulation of waste and rubbish in the hot and humid weather, the health and sanitation is becoming a very significant issue,” Nai Jit Lam, Deputy Regional Representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), currently on Manus Island, told journalists in Geneva over the phone.

“The people that we have spoken to are extremely angry and they see this as an opportunity to tell the world and to show the world, years of anger about how they have been treated over the four years, after being forcibly transferred to Papua New Guinea,” he added.

According to the UN refugee agency, the conditions and the lack of medicines, increasing number of refugees and asylum seekers at the former facility are falling physically and mentally unwell. Alternative accommodation and services outside the facility are still under construction and it could be another two weeks before they are ready.

“We have observed [concerns] regarding security and the lack of interpreters on the Island, that brings about the issue of how they would communicate with local people or even the police as well,” added the UNHCR official, noting that local contractual disputes hinder staffing of caseworkers to look after the wellbeing of those there, and tensions with local community also remains.

Calling on Australian authorities for an active role resolve the situation, which Mr. Lam said that is a result of the forcible transfer of people, refugees and asylum seekers by Australia to Papua New Guinea and Nauru under its offshore policy.

“Australia must take responsibility for the protection, assistance, and solutions for the refugees here on Manus Island,” he stressed.

According to the UN refugee agency, Manus Island (located some 320 kilometres or 200 miles off the northern coast of Papua New Guinea) has been the focus of Australia’s off-shore processing policy. Of the approximately 3,000 refugees and asylum-seekers forcibly transferred by Australia to facilities in Nauru and Manus, some 1,200 remain in Nauru and 900 in Papua New Guinea.

Situation on Australian ‘offshore processing’ facility deteriorates by the day – UN refugee official

Neighbors of Quintín Vidal Rolón read Bible verses in his memory on 15 November 2017. Quintín Vidal Rolón, 89, survived Hurricane Maria but not its aftermath. Photo: CNN

By John D. Sutter, Leyla Santiago and Khushbu Shah
21 November 2017

San Juan, Puerto Rico (CNN) – Puerto Rico is asking for help with its efforts to tally deaths from Hurricane Maria.

Héctor M. Pesquera, secretary of Puerto Rico's Department of Public Safety, issued a statement Monday night imploring local funeral home directors to provide the government with more information about possible hurricane-related deaths.

"As I have expressed since the beginning of the emergency, any citizen or relative who has evidence or proof that a death is directly or indirectly related to Hurricane Maria, and still has not been accounted for, can send information for our consideration to investigate," said Pesquera, whose department oversees the count.

The statement follows an investigation into the death toll by CNN, which found dozens if not hundreds of deaths possibly related to the September 20 storm may be uncounted by the government. CNN surveyed 112 funeral homes across the US territory; and funeral home directors identified 499 deaths they claimed were related to Hurricane Maria.

    That's nine times the official death toll, which is 55.

    We were able to collect information from only about half the island's funeral homes.

    "Currently, no funeral home has provided the government with specific information of a death case believed to be related to the event that they believe should be added to those already counted," Pesquera's statement says. […]

    "Now we know why officials in PR Government are asking funeral homes for the info: true journalism," San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz wrote in a tweet on Monday night. The mayor has been a critic of the official death toll. [more]

    After CNN investigation, Puerto Rico asks funeral homes to help identify hurricane deaths

    Pharrell Williams. Photo: Mario Sorrenti / W Magazine

    By Marissa G. Muller
    15 November 2017

    (W Magazine) – Pharrell Williams just dropped a new song, but you'll have to wait until 2117 to hear it. That is, unless you were one of the 100 people he premiered it to—who were prohibited from recording it—in Shanghai at a listening party thrown by Louis XIII cognac, which teamed up with Pharrell on the project designed to raise awareness for climate change. Fittingly dubbed "100 years," the song is a statement about the disastrous effect humans have on the environment, including a rising sea level. If humans continue to contribute to the rising sea level, however, even in 100 years people may not get to hear the song as it's currently being stored in a clay vessel that will be destroyed should its storage unit ever flood.

    If Pharrell's elaborate attempt to curb climate change doesn't sway you to change your consumption habits and encourage everyone else around you to do so as well, perhaps his words will. “I want to be really clear that I am not a tree hugger," he told Vogue. "I think it’s important that every human being—from the most eco-aware person to someone that’s driving a diesel truck—always has a sense of terrestrial awareness. That’s what it boils down to.”

    For Pharrell, change also boils down to passing the baton from the current generation making policies to the next one. “They don’t need to hear it as much as the old folks," he said of climate change. "These kids don’t feel there’s a necessity to own a car—they’ll Uber or they’ll Lyft. They don’t feel like they have to have a big house on the hill—they will Airbnb. They were born into a shared space. The older generation was sold the American dream that was like, ‘Okay, you have to own a house, you have to have two cars, you need the picket fence.’ That was a marketing scheme. Kids now are like, ‘Those are your rules.’ They have a different appreciation of how to treat the world. They think about things in a very different way. It’s this: Don’t try to live up to a super high standard, but be aware. Be aware of how you can contribute. That’s how we’ll realistically get it done.” [more]

    Pharrell's Song That Won't Be Released for "100 Years" is a Statement About Climate Change

    An Indian man rides a bike amid heavy smog on a street of New Delhi on 10 November 2017. Photo: Dominique Faget / AFP / Getty Images

    By Santosh Harish
    20 November 2017

    (Forbes Asia) – For most of November, Delhi has been blanketed by dense smog. Doctors in the capital declared the crisis a public healthy emergency, while the chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, called it a “gas chamber.” Since the beginning of the month, average pollution levels in the city have exceeded 10 times the World Health Organization-recommended 24-hour levels. At its worst, pollution levels were nearly 40 times this number.

    But pollution is not just a Delhi problem. Indian cities are consistently ranked among Asia’s most polluted, according to WHO. Per the WHO's 2016 database, 10 of the world's most polluted cities, in terms of fine particulate matter, are in India.

    Particulate matter pollution is the single largest environmental health risk across the world. These particles led to 4.2 million premature deaths in 2015-2016-more deaths than from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS combined. A recent study from the Energy Policy Institute at University of Chicago (EPIC), on the impact of prolonged exposure to particulates, finds that an increase in particulate pollution (PM10) by 10 micrograms per cubic meter reduces lifespans by 0.6 years. For Delhi, that means average life expectancy could increase by about 6 years if particulate concentrations were brought down to national standards. Many other cities in North India would see similar benefits, including Agra (5 year gain), Bareilly (4.7 year gain) and Lucknow (4.5 year gain).

    Particulate pollution comes from many sources: vehicles, industrial plants, biomass burns and dust generated by construction or traffic on poorly asphalted roads. Reducing smog and improving air quality in Indian cities over the long term requires an approach that targets each source of pollution.

    What’s missing from the conversation

    While tackling pollution from vehicles and traffic have been widely discussed, a conspicuous absence in the current discussion has been industrial pollution reforms.

    Map of the cities in India and China with the worst air pollution. Data: WHO. Graphic: Nick DeSantis / Forbes

    Environmental regulations in India, especially for industrial pollution, are long overdue for an overhaul. State Pollution Control Boards are desperately understaffed. The environment acts have not kept pace with changing times. And, continued reliance on stringent command-and-control structures has proven to be ineffective because they are often unenforceable. Non-compliance is a criminal offense under the Air Act, and while Indian emissions standards are typically less stringent than in developed countries, dragging plants routinely to the courts and prison is fundamentally unfeasible. [more]

    Delhi's Deadly Air: How India Is Falling Short On Fighting Pollution

    Global Warming Index from Jan 1950 to May 2017 for HadCRUT4. The anthropogenic contribution in orange (with 5–95% confidence interval). The natural contribution (solar and volcanic) in blue. The red line shows the combined (total) externally-driven temperature change. The dark red line shows the evolution of the GWI when only past forcing and temperature data are used. It starts in 1944 - the time when a human-induced warming signal can first be detected - followed by a new data point for each month up until May 2017. The evolution of the red line indicates the degree of month-to-month variability of the index. The thin black line are the monthly (HadCRUT4) GMST data. For illustration, blue diamonds indicate when major climate summits took place in context of the monthly GMST at that time. Graphic: Haustein, et al., 2017 / Scientific Reports

    13 November 2017 (University of Oxford) – A new index of warming due to human influence on climate is released today in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. It exceeded 1°C above mid-19th-century levels in 2017 and is rising faster than ever before, leaving little time to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

    "Global temperatures may be pushed up temporarily by El Niño events or down by volcanic eruptions. We combine temperature observations with measurements of drivers of climate change to provide an up-to-date estimate of the contribution of human influence to global warming", explains Karsten Haustein, who led the study.

    The level of human-induced warming reached 1.02°C above the average for 1850-79 in November 2017 (with a 5-95% uncertainty range of 0.88-1.22°C) based on HadCRUT4 temperature dataset from the UK Met Office, or 1.08°C when estimated using a version of HadCRUT4 (Cowtan/Way) that interpolates over poorly-sampled regions like the Arctic.

    This figure is updated continuously on

    "This 'Global Warming Index' has been increasing continuously since the 19th century, with no pause in recent decades", Haustein continues. "It has risen at a rate of 0.16°C per decade over the past 20 years, and is expected to average 0.96°C above 1850-79 for the decade 2010-2019. Worryingly, it appears to be accelerating, despite the recent slow-down in carbon dioxide emissions, because of trends in other climate pollutants, notably methane."

    "A robust, continuously-updated index of human-induced warming - the only component of global temperatures we have any control over - is essential to monitor progress towards meeting temperature goals" notes David Frame, a study co-author. "We hope the 'Global Warming Index' will provide this essential information to the UNFCCC process."

    Using our index in conjunction with carbon budget estimates based on current emissions, the remaining time until we cross the (anthropogenic) warming target of 1.5°C or 2°C can be monitored continuously as well on

    The paper is freely available online at

    These results will be presented to delegates of the UNFCCC COP23 at a side-event "Measuring progress towards Paris Agreement goals: aligning science and policy". Venue: Bonn Zone Meeting Room 11, 15:00-16:30, Monday 13 November.

    New index of human influence on global temperature is rising faster than ever

    ABSTRACT: We propose a simple real-time index of global human-induced warming and assess its robustness to uncertainties in climate forcing and short-term climate fluctuations. This index provides improved scientific context for temperature stabilisation targets and has the potential to decrease the volatility of climate policy. We quantify uncertainties arising from temperature observations, climate radiative forcings, internal variability and the model response. Our index and the associated rate of human-induced warming is compatible with a range of other more sophisticated methods to estimate the human contribution to observed global temperature change.

    A real-time Global Warming Index

    James Hansen in Bonn: he and his fellow NASA researchers first raised the alarm about global warming in the 1980s. Photo: Friedemann Vogel / EPA

    By Jonathan Watts
    17 November 2017

    (The Guardian) – One of the fathers of climate science is calling for a wave of lawsuits against governments and fossil fuel companies that are delaying action on what he describes as the growing, mortal threat of global warming.

    Former NASA scientist James Hansen says the litigate-to-mitigate campaign is needed alongside political mobilisation because judges are less likely than politicians to be in the pocket of oil, coal and gas companies.

    “The judiciary is the branch of government in the US and other countries that is relatively free of bribery. And bribery is exactly what is going on,” he told the Guardian on the sidelines of the UN climate talks in Bonn.

    Without Hansen and his fellow NASA researchers who raised the alarm about the effect of carbon emissions on global temperatures in the 1980s, it is possible that none of the thousands of delegates from almost 200 countries would be here.

    But after three decades, he has been largely pushed to the fringes. Organisers have declined his request to speak directly to the delegates about what he sees as a threat that is still massively underestimated.

    Instead he spreads his message through press conferences and interviews, where he cuts a distinctive figure as an old testament-style prophet in an Indiana Jones hat.

    He does not mince his words. The international process of the Paris accord, he says, is “eyewash” because it fails to put a higher price on carbon. National legislation, he feels, is almost certainly doomed to fail because governments are too beholden to powerful lobbyists. Even supposedly pioneering states like California, which have a carbon cap-and-trade system, are making things worse, he said, because “half-arsed, half-baked plans only delay a solution.”

    For Hansen, the key is to make the 100 big “carbon majors” – corporations like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell that are, by one account, responsible for more than 70% of emissions – pay for the transition to cleaner energy and greater forests. Until governments make them do so by introducing carbon fees or taxes, he says, the best way to hold them to account and generate funds is to sue them for the damage they are doing to the climate, those affected and future generations. […]

    He feels a growing sense of urgency. Current government commitments are so inadequate that temperature rises are currently on course to exceed 3C by the end of the century. Hansen says that would mean existing problems – rising sea levels, displacement by flooding, droughts disrupting food production, wildfires consuming forests, worsening storms and hurricanes – would get three times worse.

    “Three degrees would be disastrous. You can imagine the planet becoming ungovernable because we would lose the coastal cities where most people live … You’ll see migrants from those parts of the world and also so much disruption to the centres of wealth. So we can’t go down that path.” [more]

    'We should be on the offensive' – James Hansen calls for wave of climate lawsuits

    By Faiz Siddiqui and Kelyn Soong
    19 November 2017

    (the Washington Post) – Demonstrators packed the Mall on Sunday for a Unity March in support of disaster relief for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

    Puerto Rican flags flapped in the wind as speakers made impassioned pleas for funding and support for Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The hurricane made landfall in September and devastated the U.S. territory of 3.4 million people.

    By afternoon, hundreds had amassed in front of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the Unity March for Puerto Rico. Many more had showed up in the morning to march from the U.S. Capitol, down Independence Avenue toward the Lincoln Memorial, as marchers observed attendance in the thousands.

    Evelyn Mejil, Sunday’s event organizer, said the demonstration was a powerful display of unity behind the efforts to rebuild Puerto Rico. She said the event came together amid a tense personal struggle; she didn’t hear from her family for two weeks.

    “It was a combination of frustration, anger, sadness, desperation, anxiety,” Mejil said.

    Mejil, 40, who lives in northern New Jersey, learned that her relatives lost their homes.

    “When you get that feeling of powerless and voiceless, I thought that something needed to be done.”

    Hundreds of demonstrators amass in front of the Lincoln Memorial for a Unity March in support of disaster relief for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, 19 November 2017. Photo: Kelyn Soong / Twitter

    She characterized the rally as a success.

    “I think everyone was able to unify and be one message, which is, ‘We’re here for Puerto Rico and we’re going to continue to make sure we put pressure on Congress so that we do the right thing for Puerto Rico.’” [more]

    Puerto Rico Unity March draws demonstrators in rally for disaster aid

    Trump announces U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, 2 June 2017. Photo: Reuters

    By Karen Savage
    17 November 2017

    (Climate Liability News) – Attorneys for the Trump administration will have to convince a judge that pre-trial discovery in a climate change lawsuit filed against the U.S. government would cause it irreparable harm.

    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals announced on Thursday that it will hear oral arguments on Dec. 11 regarding a writ of mandamus filed by the government in Juliana v United States. In that case, 21 young people are suing the Trump administration for failing to protect their future against climate change.

    Attorneys for the government filed the writ of mandamus after U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken denied their request to have the case dismissed.

    A writ of mandamus is a rarely used and even more rarely approved legal maneuver in which a superior court is asked to order a lower court or government agency to comply with the law. It is usually granted under extraordinary circumstances and is considered a legal last resort.

    Appeals are normally filed after the trial is held and evidence is presented, but a mandamus appeal could allow the federal government to avoid the discovery process and have the suit dismissed. The case has been paused since July pending a decision on this and other motions.

    “This Administration can respond to the limited discovery we seek, and put on its junk climate science at trial in a court of law,” said Julia Olson, co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “What it can’t do is shut the courthouse doors to real constitutional injuries brought by these young people.”

    In the suit, the young plaintiffs allege the federal government has failed to protect them, their families and future generations from the effects of climate change and say that the government must enact science-based plan to protect the planet. [more]

    Trump Administration Bid to Stop Kids Climate Case Gets December Court Date

    Logo of 'Protect Our Pensions', an astroturf lobbying group opposing efforts to push endowments, foundations and pension funds to divest their holdings in fossil-fuel companies. Graphic: Protect Our PensionsBy Benjamin Elgin and Zachary Mider
    16 November 2017

    (Bloomberg Businessweek) – James Short, a retired deputy fire chief, is the founder of an organization called Protect Our Pensions. At least that’s what it says on the group’s website.

    But ask Short about his role at Protect Our Pensions, formed last year to oppose efforts to push endowments, foundations, and pension funds to divest their holdings in fossil-fuel companies, and he has a different take.

    Standing in the doorway of a brick bungalow in southeast Washington, D.C., in August, a Cadillac with the license plate “Short 1” parked outside, he refused to answer questions before shutting the door. A follow-up call elicited this response: “That is not me. I do not know who is putting those blogs out.”

    Protect Our Pensions isn’t what it appears to be. While Short’s name and those of other coalition members show up on letters to state legislators and opinion pieces, much of the writing is actually done by public affairs firms operating in the shadows, according to documents and emails obtained by Bloomberg News. Instead of an active group of public servants and pensioners eager to discuss an important issue, most of the 41 people listed on the website didn’t respond to emails and phone calls. Some said they were proud to support the cause, but a few couldn’t remember signing up.

    “The disturbing thing about this is they pretend to be organic, like it’s just this one firefighter who started it,” said Jim Griffith, a city council member in Sunnyvale, California, who rejected a recent request to join the group. “But it’s not.”

    Grass-roots lobbying—the creation of groups of ordinary citizens to advocate for causes—has been around for decades. But when corporations hide their involvement or recruit members indifferent to the issue, tactics known as astroturfing, it can provide an appearance of public support that doesn’t actually exist.

    James Short, titular head of 'Protect Our Pensions', an astroturf lobbying group opposing efforts to push endowments, foundations and pension funds to divest their holdings in fossil-fuel companies. Photo: James Short / FacebookThe internet only makes such subterfuge easier. Anyone can set up a website and launch a social-media campaign while disguising who’s behind it. As Congress and federal investigators probe how such tactics helped spread disinformation during the last U.S. presidential election, Protect Our Pensions shows how similar strategies can be used to create an artificial veneer of public support for policies that stand to benefit corporations.

    “These campaigns generate a series of problems regarding how political leaders and members of the mass public interact,” said Edward Walker, a University of California at Los Angeles sociology professor who wrote a book about the grass-roots lobbying industry in 2014 [Grassroots for Hire: Public Affairs Consultants in American Democracy]. “When industry groups or wealthy donors masquerade this way, it allows policymakers to take actions that primarily support the well-heeled patrons funding the effort.”

    Protect Our Pensions sprang to life in March 2016 as institutional investors, including university endowments and pension plans, debated cutting ties with fossil-fuel companies because of the industry’s role in climate change and its decades-long efforts to cloud the public’s understanding of the issue. More than 800 institutions have agreed to at least a partial divestment, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund and Syracuse University. [more]

    Fossil Fuels’ Fishy New Friends

    Bonn, Germany, 13 November 2017 (IUCN) – The number of natural World Heritage sites threatened by climate change has grown from 35 to 62 in just three years, with climate change being the fastest growing threat they face, according to a report released today by IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, at the UN climate change conference in Bonn, Germany.

    The IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2 – an update of the 2014 IUCN World Heritage Outlook report – assesses, for the first time, changes in the conservation prospects of all 241 natural World Heritage sites. It examines the threats, protection and management of the sites, and the state of their World Heritage values – the unique features which have earned them their prestigious World Heritage status.

    According to the assessments, climate change impacts, such as coral bleaching and glacier loss, affect a quarter of all sites – compared to one in seven sites in 2014 – and place coral reefs and glaciers among the most threatened ecosystems. Other ecosystems, such as wetlands, low-lying deltas, permafrost and fire sensitive ecosystems are also affected. The report warns that the number of natural World Heritage sites affected by climate change is likely to grow further, as climate change remains the biggest potential threat to natural world heritage.

    “Protection of World Heritage sites is an international responsibility of the same governments that have signed up to the Paris Agreement,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “This IUCN report sends a clear message to the delegates gathered here in Bonn: climate change acts fast and is not sparing the finest treasures of our planet. The scale and the pace at which it is damaging our natural heritage underline the need for urgent and ambitious national commitments and actions to implement the Paris Agreement.”

    World Heritage-listed coral reefs, such as the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean – the world's second-largest coral atoll, the Belize Barrier Reef in the Atlantic – the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, and the Great Barrier Reef – the biggest reef on Earth, have been affected by devastating mass coral bleaching events over the last three years, due to rising sea temperatures. The Great Barrier Reef, for instance, has suffered widespread bleaching, with up to 85% of surveyed reefs impacted in 2016.

    Retreating glaciers, also resulting from rising temperatures, threaten sites such as Kilimanjaro National Park – which boasts Africa’s highest peak – and the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch – home to the largest Alpine glacier.

    “Natural World Heritage sites play a crucial role supporting local economies and livelihoods,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “Their destruction can thus have devastating consequences that go beyond their exceptional beauty and natural value. In Peru’s Huascarán National Park, for example, melting glaciers affect water supplies and contaminate water and soil due to the release of heavy metals previously trapped under ice. This adds to the urgency of our challenge to protect these places.”

    World Heritage sites with a changed conservation outlook between 2014 and 2017. Graphic: IUCN

    The broader findings of the report show further challenges to World Heritage. Other threats, such as invasive species, unsustainable tourism or infrastructure development, are also increasing. They affect ecological processes and threaten the survival of species within the sites. Invasive alien species are the most widespread of all threats. Their impacts are often aggravated by climate change, which facilitates their spread and establishment.

    Overall, the report finds that 29% of World Heritage sites face significant concerns and 7% - including the Everglades National Park in the U.S. and Lake Turkana in Kenya – have a critical outlook. Two-thirds of the sites are assessed as likely to be well conserved in the near future, the same overall proportion as in 2014.

    The report also reveals that the management of natural World Heritage sites has dropped in quality and effectiveness since 2014, notably due to insufficient funding. Fewer than half of the sites are currently being managed to good standards.

    However, the report also includes some success stories, which show tangible, positive impact of effective management. Côte d’Ivoire’s Comoé National Park, for example, has seen the recovery of its elephant and chimpanzee populations thanks to effective management and international support, following political stabilisation in the country. As a result, its conservation outlook has significantly improved over the last three years. It is one of 14 sites with an improved rating since the 2014 IUCN World Heritage Outlook report.

    The report is available online and its next edition is planned for 2020. All site assessments can be accessed at


    Number of natural World Heritage sites affected by climate change nearly doubles in three years – IUCN

    Participants make their way along Rajpath during the Delhi half marathon, 19 November 2017. Photo: Chandan Khanna / AFP / Getty Images

    19 November 2017 (Agence France-Presse) – Tens of thousands of runners Sunday choked through smog for the Delhi half marathon, ignoring dire health warnings from doctors who fought for the controversial race in the heavily polluted capital to be postponed.

    More than 30,000 people, some sporting pollution masks, braved a hazy morning to run through the Indian capital despite almost two weeks of hazardous smog that forced schools shut for several days.

    The US embassy website on Sunday showed levels of the smallest and most harmful airborne pollutants hovered near 200 - eight times the World Health Organization’s safe maximum - for the duration of the 13.1 mile (21 km) race.

    Some athletes complained of side effects from the polluted conditions which worsened as amateur runners - the bulk of Sunday’s competitors - huffed and puffed around Delhi’s smoggy streets later in the morning.

    “My eyes are burning, my throat is dry. I have a running nose,” said running enthusiast Rohit Mohan, a 30-year-old from the southern city of Bangalore who was among the minority donning a mask. “It’s been terrible since I landed here yesterday.”

    Others expressed frustration at being forced to take precautions unnecessary elsewhere, like wearing masks that filter pollutants but also restrict breathing.

    “It’s obviously much harder to breathe, so you’re not doing your best here, and you can’t take it off,” Abhay Sen, 30, told AFP. “Makes you think whether you want to do this again or not.” [more]

    'My eyes are burning': Delhi holds half marathon despite pollution warning

    Yaniel Alexis Perez outside his flooded home in Añasco, Puerto Rico. He has not had electricity since Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017. Photo: Milton Carrero Galarza / The Los Angeles Times

    By Milton Carrero Galarza And Kurtis Lee
    19 November 2017

    AÑASCO, Puerto Rico (Los Angeles Times) – The lights remain off in bustling cities and in small rural villages. Gas generators, the only alternative to the downed power lines that seem to be everywhere, continuously hum outside hospitals and bodegas. When night falls, it’s the glow of car lights, not streetlights, that helps break through the darkness.

    Two months after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, much of the U.S. territory still lacks electricity. Even in areas with power, such as the capital city of San Juan, residents must deal with daily blackouts.

    A lack of reliable electricity coupled with massive destruction to roads and bridges have led hundreds of thousands to flee Puerto Rico for the mainland U.S., and some economists predict decades of stagnation for an island that already was struggling financially.

    In recent days, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced that the island, through the work of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority, had restored power to 50% of the commonwealth.

    Rossello has said the island will reach 80% generation by the end of November and 95% by mid-December — goals that some here have called unrealistic. By contrast, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that 75% of the island will regain power by the end of January. […]

    On Saturday, Yaniel Alexis Perez walked down a narrow street in Añasco, a city of about 27,000 people with views that overlook the Caribbean Sea. He wore a special necklace — a black cellphone charger he carries with him everywhere so he can power up his phone when he finds electricity.

    Perez's house is without power, and still flooded after the unrelenting rains that have pounded the island. The floodwaters have made it dangerous for him to use a generator.

    For several weeks, Perez, 25, has powered up thanks to the generosity of friends with generators. He also spends evenings at the home of his neighbor, Ricardo Prosper.

    Prosper, 67, considers himself a creative type. He managed to wire the 12-volt lightbulbs in his home to a series of car batteries.

    "Even if there is no electricity, there's light here," Prosper said, showing his living room.

    Officials estimate several hundred people — mostly young adults — are leaving Puerto Rico each day for the mainland. […]

    Tony Villamil, an economist based in Miami who has worked extensively in Puerto Rico, said Saturday it was "going to take a decade at minimum for the island to recover and regain some sense of normalcy." [more]

    Two months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico struggles to regain electricity and thousands flee the island

    Left: Greenland topography color coded color-coded from 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) below sea level (dark blue) to 4,900 feet above (brown). Right: Regions below sea level connected to the ocean; darker colors are deeper. The thin white line shows the current extent of the ice sheet. Graphic: UCI

    By Carol Rasmussen
    1 November 2017

    (NASA) – New maps of Greenland's coastal seafloor and bedrock beneath its massive ice sheet show that two to four times as many coastal glaciers are at risk of accelerated melting as previously thought.

    Researchers at the University of California at Irvine (UCI), NASA and 30 other institutions havepublished the most comprehensive, accurate and high-resolution relief maps ever made of Greenland's bedrock and coastal seafloor. Among the many data sources incorporated into the new maps are data from NASA's Ocean Melting Greenland (OMG) campaign.

    Lead author Mathieu Morlighem of UCI had demonstrated in an earlier paper that data from OMG's survey of the shape and depth, or bathymetry, of the seafloor in Greenland's fjords improved scientists' understanding not only of the coastline, but of the inland bedrock beneath glaciers that flow into the ocean. That's because the bathymetry where a glacier meets the ocean limits the possibilities for the shape of bedrock farther upstream.

    Above image shows a stretch of Greenland's coastline as created by BedMachine before and after the inclusion of new OMG data. Credit: UCI

    The nearer to the shoreline, the more valuable the bathymetry data are for understanding on-shore topography, Morlighem said. "What made OMG unique compared to other campaigns is that they got right into the fjords, as close as possible to the glacier fronts. That's a big help for bedrock mapping." Additionally, the OMG campaign surveyed large sections of the Greenland coast for the first time ever. In fjords for which there are no data, it's difficult to estimate how deep the glaciers extend below sea level.

    The OMG data are only one of many datasets Morlighem and his team used in the ice sheet mapper, which is named BedMachine. Another comprehensive source is NASA's Operation IceBridge airborne surveys. IceBridge measures the ice sheet thickness directly along a plane's flight path. This creates a set of long, narrow strips of data rather than a complete map of the ice sheet. Besides NASA, nearly 40 other international collaborators also contributed various types of survey data on different parts of Greenland.

    No survey, not even OMG, covers every glacier on Greenland's long, convoluted coastline. To infer the bed topography in sparsely studied areas, BedMachine averages between existing data points using physical principles such as the conservation of mass.

    A stretch of Greenland's coastline as created by BedMachine, before and after the inclusion of new data from NASA's Ocean Melting Greenland campaign. Credit: UCI

    The new maps reveal that two to four times more oceanfront glaciers extend deeper than 600 feet (200 meters) below sea level than earlier maps showed. That's bad news, because the top 600 feet of water around Greenland comes from the Arctic and is relatively cold. The water below it comes from farther south and is 6 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) warmer than the water above. Deeper-seated glaciers are exposed to this warmer water, which melts them more rapidly.

    Morlighem's team used the maps to refine their estimate of Greenland's total volume of ice and its potential to add to global sea level rise, if the ice were to melt completely -- which is not expected to occur within the next few hundred years. The new estimate is higher by 2.76 inches (7 centimeters) for a total of 24.34 feet (7.42 meters).

    OMG Principal Investigator Josh Willis of JPL, who was not involved in producing the maps, said, "These results suggest that Greenland's ice is more threatened by changing climate than we had anticipated."

    On Oct. 23, the five-year OMG campaign completed its second annual set of airborne surveys to measure, for the first time, the amount that warm water around the island is contributing to the loss of the Greenland ice sheet. Besides the one-time bathymetry survey, OMG is collecting annual measurements of the changing height of the ice sheet and the ocean temperature and salinity in more than 200 fjord locations. Morlighem looks forward to improving BedMachine's maps with data from the airborne surveys.

    The maps and related research are in a paper titled "BedMachine v3: Complete bed topography and ocean bathymetry mapping of Greenland from multi-beam echo sounding combined with mass conservation" in Geophysical Research Letters.


    Alan Buis
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    Brian Bell
    University of California, Irvine

    New Greenland Maps Show More Glaciers at Risk

    ABSTRACT: Greenland's bed topography is a primary control on ice flow, grounding line migration, calving dynamics, and subglacial drainage. Moreover, fjord bathymetry regulates the penetration of warm Atlantic water (AW) that rapidly melts and undercuts Greenland's marine-terminating glaciers. Here we present a new compilation of Greenland bed topography that assimilates seafloor bathymetry and ice thickness data through a mass conservation approach. A new 150 m horizontal resolution bed topography/bathymetric map of Greenland is constructed with seamless transitions at the ice/ocean interface, yielding major improvements over previous data sets, particularly in the marine-terminating sectors of northwest and southeast Greenland. Our map reveals that the total sea level potential of the Greenland ice sheet is 7.42 ± 0.05 m, which is 7 cm greater than previous estimates. Furthermore, it explains recent calving front response of numerous outlet glaciers and reveals new pathways by which AW can access glaciers with marine-based basins, thereby highlighting sectors of Greenland that are most vulnerable to future oceanic forcing.

    BedMachine v3: Complete Bed Topography and Ocean Bathymetry Mapping of Greenland From Multibeam Echo Sounding Combined With Mass Conservation

    Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) arrives for a classified hearing at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in October 2017. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    By Dino Grandoni
    17 November 2017

    (The Washington Post) – Despite the drumbeat of opposition to President Trump's political nominees, Senate Democrats haven't been able to do much to stop Congress from confirming them.

    Fourteen Trump picks to executive branch jobs have withdrawn their names after being selected, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. Each of those nominees removed themselves from consideration before a Senate committee had the chance to vote.

    Thus far, no Trump nominee, however, has actually been defeated by the full Senate -- it only takes 50 votes, remember, to reject a nomination because Senate Democrats when they last held the majority changed the rules to require just a simple majority to approve executive branch and federal judicial nominations (minus the Supreme Court).

    Yet, that is.

    This week, North Carolina’s two Republican senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, said they would oppose Michael Dourson’s nomination as the top chemical safety official at the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The senators raised concerns about Dourson’s track record as a consultant for chemical companies when he was a professor at the University of Cincinnati, where he often produced research finding little or no human health risks for their products. Specifically, Burr pointed to contaminated water documented at a North Carolina military base and an unregulated compound known as Gen X, used to produce Teflon and other products, that was discovered in the Cape Fear River.

    “I will not be supporting the nomination of Michael Dourson. With his record and our state’s history of contamination at Camp Lejeune as well as the current Gen X water issues in Wilmington, I am not confident he is the best choice for our country,” Burr said in a statement. [more]

    This EPA nominee may be the first Trump appointee to be defeated by Congress

    Sulfur dioxide concentrations for China have decreased between 2005 and 2016; sulfur dioxide concentrations for India have increased between 2005 and 2016. Graphic: Jesse Allen / NASA Earth Observatory

    By Irene Ying; Editing by Karl Hille
    13 November 2017

    (NASA) – A new study by researchers at NASA and the University of Maryland indicates that India may be the world’s top sulfur dioxide emitter.

    Sulfur dioxide is an air pollutant that causes acid rain, haze and many health-related problems. It is produced predominantly when coal is burned to generate electricity.

    Although China and India remain the world’s largest consumers of coal, the new research found that China’s sulfur dioxide emissions fell by 75 percent since 2007, while India’s emissions increased by 50 percent. The results suggest that India is becoming, if it is not already, the world’s top sulfur dioxide emitter.

    Although China and India remain the world’s largest consumers of coal, the new research found that China’s sulfur dioxide emissions fell by 75 percent since 2007, while India’s emissions increased by 50 percent. The results suggest that India is becoming, if it is not already, the world’s top sulfur dioxide emitter.

    “The rapid decrease of sulfur dioxide emissions in China far exceeds expectations and projections,” said first author Can Li, an associate research scientist in the University of Maryland’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center and at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This suggests that China is implementing sulfur dioxide controls beyond what climate modelers have taken into account.”

    The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports on 9 November 2017.

    China and India are the world’s top consumers of coal, which typically contains up to 3 percent sulfur. Most of the two countries’ sulfur dioxide emissions come from coal-fired power plants and coal-burning factories. In particular, Beijing suffers from severe haze problems because of the many coal-burning factories and power plants located nearby and upwind.

    Starting in the early 2000s, China began implementing policies such as fining polluters, setting emission reduction goals and lowering emissions limits. According to the results of the current study, these efforts are paying off.

    “Sulfur dioxide levels in China declined dramatically even though coal usage increased by approximately 50 percent and electricity generation grew by over 100 percent,” explained Li. “This suggests that much of the reduction is coming from controlling emissions.”

    Despite China’s 75 percent drop in sulfur dioxide emissions, recent work by other scientists has shown that the country’s air quality remains poor and continues to cause significant health problems. This may be because sulfur dioxide contributes to only approximately 10 to 20 percent of the air particles that cause haze, according to Li.

    “If China wants to bring blue skies back to Beijing, the country needs to also control other air pollutants,” Li said.

    By contrast, India’s sulfur dioxide emissions increased by 50 percent over the past decade. The country opened its largest coal-fired power plant in 2012 and has yet to implement emission controls like China.

    “Right now, India’s increased sulfur dioxide emissions are not causing as many health or haze problems as they do in China because the largest emission sources are not in the most densely populated area of India,” Li said. “However, as demand for electricity grows in India, the impact may worsen.”

    To generate an accurate profile of emissions over India and China for the current study, the researchers combined emissions data generated by two different methods.

    First, the researchers collected estimated emission amounts from inventories of the number of factories, power plants, automobiles and other contributors to sulfur dioxide emissions. These inventories, while important data sources, are often incomplete, outdated or otherwise inaccurate in developing countries. They also cannot account for changing conditions or unforeseen policies.

    The researchers’ second data source was the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite, which detects a variety of atmospheric pollutants including sulfur dioxide. While OMI can collect up-to-date information and spot emission sources missing from the inventories, it can only detect relatively large emission sources. In addition, clouds or other atmospheric conditions can interfere with its measurements.

    To overcome these challenges, Li and his colleagues collaborated with researchers from Environment and Climate Change Canada to develop better algorithms to quantify emissions based on OMI data. In addition, University of Maryland Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Professors Russell Dickerson and Zhanqing Li, co-authors of the paper, used a weather aircraft to measure the concentrations of sulfur dioxide and other air pollutants over one of the most polluted regions in China. These measurements were used to confirm that the upwind coal power plants were efficiently scrubbing SO2 from their exhaust stacks.

    By combining the OMI and inventory data, the researchers generated a more accurate estimate than either data source alone. Previously published studies, which relied on inventory data and published policies, projected that China’s sulfur dioxide emissions would not fall to current levels until 2030 at the earliest.

    “Those studies did not reflect the true situation on the ground,” said Li, who is also a member of the U.S. OMI Science Team. “Our study highlights the importance of using satellite measurements to study air quality, especially in regions where conditions may change rapidly and unexpectedly.”

    Li hopes the current study’s results can be used to improve climate and atmospheric models by providing more accurate input data.

    This work was performed in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Michigan Technological University and NOAA. This study used data from OMI, which is a Dutch/Finnish contribution to the NASA Aura mission and managed by the Royal Meteorological Institute of the Netherlands and the Netherlands Space Agency.

    To read the paper, visit:

    China’s Sulfur Dioxide Emissions Drop, India’s Grow Over Last Decade

    ABATRACT: Severe haze is a major public health concern in China and India. Both countries rely heavily on coal for energy, and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emitted from coal-fired power plants and industry is a major pollutant contributing to their air quality problems. Timely, accurate information on SO2 sources is a required input to air quality models for pollution prediction and mitigation. However, such information has been difficult to obtain for these two countries, as fast-paced changes in economy and environmental regulations have often led to unforeseen emission changes. Here we use satellite observations to show that China and India are on opposite trajectories for sulfurous pollution. Since 2007, emissions in China have declined by 75% while those in India have increased by 50%. With these changes, India is now surpassing China as the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic SO2. This finding, not predicted by emission scenarios, suggests effective SO2 control in China and lack thereof in India. Despite this, haze remains severe in China, indicating the importance of reducing emissions of other pollutants. In India, ~33 million people now live in areas with substantial SO2pollution. Continued growth in emissions will adversely affect more people and further exacerbate morbidity and mortality.

    India Is Overtaking China as the World’s Largest Emitter of Anthropogenic Sulfur Dioxide


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