We’re No. 1: Global Warming Has Surpassed Global Cycle

Our salvation won’t lie in global warming greening the Arctic or fish instantly evolving but ourselves, dust of the earth: It's time for the Haaretz climate change briefs

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A file photograph taken on January 30, 2018 shows a view of the Pyrenees mountains from the Observatory of the Pic du Midi, one of France's tallest mountains, in Bagneres-de-Bigorre. - The Pyrenean glaciers and their unique ecosystem have entered into an inescapable agony under the effect of global warming, with the horizon of a dreaded disappearance within thirty years, according to glaciologists who document the decline
The sun over the Pyrenees, where the glaciers could disappear within 30 years, glaciologists sayCredit: PASCAL PAVANI / AFP
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

In the last 150 years, since the industrial revolution began, anthropogenic heating has increased the global mean temperature by more than 1 degree Celsius. That increase has wiped out the natural cooling trend that began 6,500 years ago, in which the long-term global average temperature slowly cooled by 0.1 degree Celsius per 1,000 years, says a new study in Nature Research’s Scientific Data.

Sounds like peanuts? Look at the effect these seemingly small changes have on weather around the world, most recently exemplified by the baking heat in much of the United States, meltdown in Siberia, and extreme rainfall in parts of India and China. Some say the warmth even encourages the locust swarms plaguing Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Possibly the last time the Earth experienced a sustained average global temperature 1 degree Celsius above the 19th century was 125,000 years ago, before the last Ice Age, the researchers say.

Global temperature graph over the last 1,000 yearsCredit: Klaus Bittermann / OTRS

Pope tweets support for anti-climate change cooperatives

The Trump administration may be in deep denial about the coronavirus and climate change, to name but two issues, but Pope Francis is not.

In late 2019 he published an evocative encyclical on ecology, saying among other things: Mother Earth “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. … We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth.”

On Saturday, the pope took advantage of the International Day of Cooperatives on July 7 to raise the issue again: “In some places, cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency. They can make a real difference in the fight against climate change, thanks to a strong sense of community and a deep love for the land,” he tweeted.

Arctic greening may just add CO2

One might think that as the Arctic warms, the ensuing plant life will mitigate the situation by absorbing carbon as they photosynthesize. Actually, the end result of taller, shrubbier plant growth may be even more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, warns new research involving the University of Stirling. They may sequester carbon but once soil microbes are factored in, the vegetation growth stimulates carbon recycling in the soil, releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere.

Previous studies suggested that a greener Arctic might increase carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere: but now, “Our research identified an acceleration in the rate of loss of carbon from soils, back into the atmosphere. This may more than offset carbon sequestration and would, unexpectedly, turn these ecosystems into a net source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere,” said Prof. Philip Wookey of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the Scottish university. So, “we may be underestimating future climate feedbacks from Arctic ecosystems.”

60 percent of fish what?

When will fish feel the heat as our oceans warm? Fish are at their most vulnerable when in their embryonic stage (in the egg) and when spawning. Now a new paper published in Science assesses that under the worst-case SSP 8.5 scenario, in which greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures continue to rise, by the year 2100 about 60 percent of the fish species examined won't be able to spawn in their usual places. In a milder scenario, SSP 1-1.9, that figure is still 10 percent.

Note again these are the vulnerable stage of our fishy friends: for adult fish alone, the percentage at risk is less than 5 percent in all modeled climate scenarios, the paper projects. If you don’t care about the fish, think about fish stocks. Note to reader: an erroneous report making the rounds said that by 2100, some 60 percent of all fish will be unable to spawn in the same place they do today, but it didn’t note that this applied to the extreme warming scenario.

Headline of the week: ‘“Zombie fires” in the Arctic’

Kudos to Bloomberg for drawing attention to the desperate plight of the Arctic with its recent headline, which reads in full: “‘Zombie Fires’ in the Arctic Pump Out Carbon at Record Pace.” As Siberia bakes in heat that has on occasion surpassed Israel’s, wildfires are raging, sending immense amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. How immense? In June alone, 59 megatons, says Gizmodo – and this year it isn’t just desiccated trees catching fire but the aridified carbon-rich tundra within the Arctic Circle. June featured a blaze just 30 miles (nearly 50 kilometers) from the Arctic Ocean, the northernmost wildfire ever spotted, the website says.

COVID-19 overwhelming recycling intentions, plants

Recycling has always been a problem – whether convincing people to clean their containers and discard them appropriately to the energy cost of recycling. Now EcoWatch reports that the spread of COVID-19 in America has disrupted the U.S. recycling industry: restaurants and businesses are bringing back nonbiodegradable disposables and shops are bringing back plastic bags. On the upside, more Americans are setting aside trash for recycling. On the downside, cities and states aren’t prioritizing recycling at this time, which may have a lasting negative impact. (In Israel, the authorities may have overcome the plague of doggie doo on city pavements, but the streets are now littered with disposable masks and gloves.)

Disposable mark on the beach, New YorkCredit: Wong Maye-E/AP

European plastic for ‘recycling’ dumped in Asian seas

Apropos recycling, a new study from NUI Galway and the University of Limerick reports that 46 percent of the plastic sorted out from the trash in the European Union, Britain, Switzerland and Norway is exported for recycling, and a large share of that reaches Southeast Asia – and a lot of it gets tossed into the sea. How much? According to the paper in Environment International, in 2017, the European plastic dumped at sea totaled from 32,000 to 180,000 tons (best scenario to worst), or 1 to 7 percent of all exported European polyethylene (a common plastic in Europe). Major plastic exporters include Britain, Slovenia and Italy.

Plastic recycling bins may be legion in the United Kingdom, but in August 2019 the Guardian reported on “what really happens to your rubbish.” It remains worth reading.

Just to end this on a hopeful note, we remind that in March, a bacteria that eats some plastics was reported to have evolved in a trash dump in Germany, further to a Japanese discovery of a different plastic-eating bacteria in 2016. So, plastic is still everywhere, but at least somebody can eat it. And in 2018, the Guardian reported how scientists monkeying with the plastic-eating enzyme of the German bacterium accidentally made it even better.

Women collect plastic bottles brought by a truck at a recycling plant in Bangkok, Thailand May 11, 2020Credit: Jorge Silva / Reuters

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