Climate change: Apocalypse by 1000 cuts

Not since the Reagan era cold war with Russia has apocalyptic awareness been so forefront in the public’s mind. Disturbing incidents ranging from nuclear football Facebook selfies to alarming North Korean military activity now accrue weekly. Sometimes hourly. What can one do besides scroll through Twitter before bedtime and let the news populate our nightmares?

The distractions and details are addictive: political murders via improv and a spray bottle, daily revelations of Russian infiltration in US elections and government, and today the president is yelling at Sweden. Tomorrow it might be Ireland. Who knows. We watch the global breakup like helpless children realizing that mom and dad are really getting a divorce. Right now, the sitting US president is not even welcome in the British Parliament, but he regularly tweets flattering sentiments to Russia. But there is a larger story that needs telling--and action.

Lost in the noise was the recent breakage of a mile-long stretch of West Antarctica, due to warmer ocean water. It was part of one of the largest glaciers within the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which scientists predict will collapse in the next 100 years. NASA caught the images of the event earlier in the week, but the story broke just as Scott Pruitt was confirmed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency--making it seem as if the Earth did the planetary version of a spit take at the news. Timing aside, it was a big deal.

In the distraction of every new development, tweet, or outrage, it’s hard to get a bird’s eye view of what the hell is going on in the literal world. Read the rest

Temperature in Oklahoma reaches 99 degrees in mid-February

A heat-wave hit Oklahoma, sending temperatures into the high 90s. Norman, Oklahoma was 99 degrees F (37 C) on February 11.

From ThinkProgress:

Many people may welcome a temperate day in February, but warm weather in normally cold months disrupts ecosystems. Trees may bloom after an unseasonably balmy spell — and then suffer frost damage when cold weather returns. Flowers may blossom and shed their petals before bees arrive to pollinate them. These minor destabilizations have a ripple effect, impacting flora, fauna, and the industries built around them.

In Oklahoma, the spike in temperature is particularly ironic, given the state’s political climate. [Sen. James "Snowball" Inhofe (R-OK)] is Washington’s most vocal climate denier, having published a book alleging that climate change is a hoax while serving as the ranking Republican member of the Senate Environment Committee.

Image: Mesonet Read the rest

Trump's first 4 days: a ban on disclosing scientific facts and felony charges for journalists

It's only been a handful of days since Donald Trump took office, but we're already getting strong signals about the sort of administration he intends to run: workers at US government agencies have been banned from making any public disclosures of the research they conduct at public expense until new political minders can be installed to ensure that these facts don't contradict Trump's official narrative; and six journalists have been charged with felonies for covering the protests during the inauguration.

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Trump's five most "anti-science" moves

Scientific American summarized five of Donald Trump's "major moves many see as hostile toward science." They are:

• Trump’s pick for head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actively battled its mission

"To lead the EPA, Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has long opposed environmental regulations and has questioned the science behind climate change."

He chose former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for Energy Secretary

"It is a science-heavy department, and one that (climate change skeptic) Perry—who is not a scientist—had advocated dismantling during his 2012 presidential bid."

He chose an energy company executive for secretary of State

"Trump tapped former ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State."

• He met with a vaccine critic while planning a commission on autism

"(Robert Kennedy, Jr) has repeatedly promoted discredited arguments that link vaccines to autism."

His transition team sought information about Energy Department staff associated with climate change

"In December Trump’s team asked the DoE for the names of employees who have worked on issues related to climate change."

"Trump's 5 Most 'Anti-Science” Moves (Scientific American) Read the rest

Man has lived alone in Colorado ghost town for 40 years

In 1972 billy barr (he spells it lowercase) was a Rutgers University environmental science student and did some research in Gothic, Colorado, a ghost town built around a silver mine. The native New Jerseyan returned after graduation and has lived in the town as its sole full-time resident ever since. He has also taken meticulous snowfall and temperature measurements, which have proven valuable to climate scientists.

From Oddity Central:

“The trend I see is that we’re getting permanent snow pack later, and we get to bare ground sooner,” barr says. “We’ll have years where there was a lot of snow on the ground, and then we lose snow sooner than years that had a lot less snow just because it’s a lot warmer now.”

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Open letter about climate change from scientists to Trump

More than 800 American energy and Earth science researchers have signed a letter to Donald Trump outlining six steps they're urging him to take to address human-caused climate change to protect “America’s economy, national security, and public health and safety.” The letter is accompanied by a public change.org petition to "Tell Trump To #ActOnClimate." Here is that open letter:

To President-elect Trump

We, the undersigned, urge you to take immediate and sustained action against human-caused climate change. We write as concerned individuals, united in recognizing that the science is unequivocal and America must respond.

Climate change threatens America’s economy, national security, and public health and safety. Some communities are already experiencing its impacts, with low-income and minority groups disproportionately affected.

At this crucial juncture in human history, countries look to the United States to pick up the mantle of leadership: to take steps to strengthen, not weaken, this nation’s efforts to tackle this crisis. With the eyes of the world upon us, and amidst uncertainty and concern about how your administration will address this issue, we ask that you begin by taking the following steps upon taking office:

1. Make America a clean energy leader.The vast majority of Americans - whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent - support renewable energy research and deployment5. Embrace the enormous economic opportunities of transitioning to an energy-efficient, low-carbon society. Use part of your $1 trillion commitment to infrastructure development to expand democratized clean energy, boost U.S. competitiveness, and put America to work8. Since 2008, the cleantech industry has created one out of every 33 jobs in the United States.

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The Earth and I – is climate change moving too fast for a new book on climate change?

It is obviously unfair to dismiss the entire contents of a book for a single tin-eared statement, but the clunker that comes near the end of The Earth and I by Gaia-theory originator James Lovelock is a doozy. The inexplicable passage follows a dozen essays by journalists, a Nobel Prize winner, and several Ivy League professors, who make a pretty good case for both the insignificance of human beings in the universe and their unique ability to end life as we know it here on Planet Earth. In an attempt, then, to give his shell-shocked readers a sliver of hope by celebrating the success of the Montreal Protocol, which banned chlorofluorocarbons in 1989, Lovelock crows about how these ozone-destroying compounds were replaced by hydrofluorocarbons, which, he writes, “are far less harmful to the planetary environment.”

Somewhere between the time Lovelock wrote those words and the publication of his book, hydrofluorocarbons were added to the Montreal Protocol’s list of banned substances – eliminating “less harmful” hydrofluorocarbons is expected to keep our warming planet’s temperature from rising by a full half-degree Celsius.

The inability of even an authority like Lovelock to keep pace with current events points out how quickly both the science and politics of climate change are a changing. In this light, understanding the holistic view of the planet’s processes – from the weather above us to the meaning of the geological history below our feet – has never been more important. The Earth and I delivers on these topics and more, while Jack Hudson’s engaging illustrations lure us in and invite the eye to linger. Read the rest

Watch Before the Flood, an urgent call to arms about climate change

National Geographic released Before the Flood over the weekend, and it is a calm but clear-eyed overview of the scope of the environmental crisis facing our planet. It also looks at pragmatic steps we can take right now to slow the damage. Read the rest

Over 170 nations agree to cut global-warming chemical used in refrigerators and air conditioners

A global agreement to cut a heat-trapping chemical used in air conditioning units and refrigerators was announced today, with participation from over 170 nations.

“The deal could have a greater impact on global warming than the Paris pact of 2015,” reports the New York Times.

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Greenpeace NZ delivers a solar power petition -- with a song

The government of Hawke's Bay, New Zealand imposing an energy-company-backed tax on people who put solar panels on their homes. Greenpeace's petition in support of sustainable, renewable power was delivered with a catchy, angry song by Tiki Taane. Read the rest

Royal Society's remarkable 2016 nature photo finalists

Tane Sinclair-Taylor's image of a clownfish and a bleached anemone is one of the many remarkable biological photographs chosen as finalists and winners in Royal Society Publishing's 2016 contest. Read the rest

Earth's wilderness decimated

A new study shows that our planet has 10% less wilderness than in the 1990s.

Via the CS Monitor:

Ten percent of Earth's wilderness has disappeared since the 1990s, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology.

Over the last 20 years, we've lost a total area amounting to twice the size of Alaska, researchers report. But, experts say, there's still time to save the remaining wilderness areas – and they hope the recent findings will spur change.

At the moment, only about 23 percent of the world's land area is made up of wilderness, the study found. Most of this wilderness can be found in North Asia, North Africa, Australia, and North America (primarily the northern parts of Canada). South America has experienced the greatest loss, with a 30 percent decrease since the '90s, and Africa follows with 14 percent.

"The wilderness decline around the world is most in the tropical biomes​, the tropical rain forests​ have lost a lot of wilderness," study co-author Oscar Venter, of the University of Northern British Columbia, told CBS News. "A lot of the Amazon has been lost, the mangrove ecosystems, which are really important wilderness areas have been hit. They are a nursery ground for a lot of the world’s wildlife – young fish are reared in these mangrove ecosystems​, they are a base for a lot of the fisheries. Now, there is almost no wilderness left in the mangroves."

Other things from the '90s we have less of: golf visors and light up sneakers, so it isn't all bad. Read the rest

Bill Nye: What if all the ice melted on Earth?

It would not be cool. At all. (AsapSCIENCE)

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CO2 in Antarctica reaches 400 PPM for first time in 4 million years

Earth's most remote continent finally caught up with its more populated counterparts. “Carbon dioxide has been steadily rising since the start of the Industrial Revolution, setting a new high year after year,” writes Brian Kahn at Climate Central. “There’s a notable new entry to the record books. The last station on Earth without a 400 parts per million (ppm) reading has reached it.”

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A First: from space, NASA spots a single methane leak from Earth's atmosphere

“For the first time, an instrument onboard an orbiting spacecraft has measured the methane emissions from a single, specific leaking facility on Earth's surface,” NASA announced Tuesday.

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Most world maps wipe out much of Oceania

"The truncated continent," Oceania is bisected if not plainly obliterated by most world maps, straddling the edges and hidden under captions and legends. Lightly populated as Pacific islands are, when it comes to climate change, the omission is a cruel one.

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Animation of atmospheric carbon dioxide

Check out A Year In The Life of Earth's CO2, a visualization of greenhouse gases swirling in the atmosphere. A voice-over explains what you're seeing as the months roll by, such as summer carbon monoxide blooms in the southern hemisphere. Tip: change the projection by dragging the map. Read the rest

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