Rescuing the Great Barrier Reef: how much can be saved, and how can we do it?

As global heating makes coral bleaching a regular event, scientists are urgently seeking ways to help the world’s biggest reef survive

Zoe Richards diving off Lizard Island
 Zoe Richards has seen great changes in the corals off Lizard Island since she started monitoring them in 2011. Photograph: Mike Emslie

When coral scientist Dr Zoe Richards left the Great Barrier Reef’s Lizard Island in late January, she was feeling optimistic.

Richards is a taxonomist. Since 2011 she has recorded and monitored 245 coral species at 14 locations around the island’s research station, about 270km north of Cairns.

In 2017 she saw “mass destruction of the reef”. Back-to-back mass bleaching in 2016 and 2017, and cyclones in 2014 and 2015, had wreaked havoc.

But in January, she saw thousands of new colonies of fast-growing Acropora corals that had “claimed the space” left by dead and degraded corals. In a three-year window without spiralling heat or churning cyclones, some corals were in an adolescent bloom – not mature enough to spawn, but getting close.

“It was an incredible recovery,” says Richards, of Curtin University. “But I knew if it was hit again, it would be trouble – and that’s exactly what happened.”

In 2020, mass bleaching returned to Lizard Island – perhaps not as badly as in previous years – but enough, says Richards, to turn the clock back on the recovery she had seen.

Zoe Richards@ZoeR_Coral

Day 1 of coral biodiversity re-surveys @ Lizard I, GBR. After 2 cyclones & 2 bleaching events in a decade, it’s great to see a range of healthy young Acropora colonies fighting back!
A. echinata (blue), A. speciosa (pink) & A. spathulata (orange)

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See Zoe Richards’s other Tweets

This summer has delivered a third mass bleaching for the reef in just five years. The back-to-back bleaching of 2016 and 2017 was mostly confined to the northern and central sections.

When bleaching is mild, corals can and do recover, although it can make them more susceptible to disease. But severe bleaching can kill corals. Estimates are that the 2016 bleaching killed about 29% of the reef’s shallow water corals and the 2017 event took another 19%.

Some scientists are now concerned global heating may have reached a point where tropical reefs bleach almost every year.

What this means for the reef in the coming decades is an area of live research and debate among scientists.

Can we fix it?

Scientists Guardian Australia spoke to say the reef’s fortunes hang on the answers to two questions.

The first is whether governments around the world will make deeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions than they have already agreed and, if so, how close they will get to keeping global heating to 1.5C.

A second is whether efforts to first identify and then deploy a swathe of potential measures that could reduce the impact of rising temperatures will be successful.

What seems clear is that without some human intervention, the magic of the world’s greatest coral reef system will be lost.

Prof Peter Mumby, professor of coral reef ecology at the University of Queensland, is the chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef Foundation – the once-small not-for-profit that was awarded a controversial $443m government grant in 2018.

He said the 2020 bleaching “is giving us greater pause, given it seems we can see quite frequent coral bleaching events earlier than people had previously expected”.

Mumby says bleaching events have been “patchy”, and the fact that some areas have escaped “means there’s an opportunity for management”.

What keeps the reef functioning as a single ecosystem is the way each reef connects to another through the way corals reproduce. They all either spawn, or produce larvae, that can float in the water column and settle on nearby reefs.

Mumby and colleagues have identified about 100 reefs along the GBR that are well spread, well connected to other reefs by ocean currents, and tend to experience cooler temperatures.

He says making sure those reefs stay as healthy as possible – in particular by managing outbreaks of the coral-eating crown of thorns starfish – could be crucial in keeping the wider reef viable.

The reef’s unrivalled size and diversity – almost 4,000 reefs, cays and islands stretching for more than 2,000 kilometres – gives it extra resilience, he says.

Climate change is still the reef’s biggest threat and society will need to focus on tackling it, “but there needs to be a way to adapt to how we manage reefs so that they can roll with the punches – we have to do both those things”.

The Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) has produced an as-yet unpublished study, sent to the federal government, that reviews more than 160 different interventions that have been suggested for the reef, identifying about 40 that could be worth further study.

Heat-stressed corals off Lizard Island in February 2020
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 Heat-stressed corals off Lizard Island in February 2020. Photograph: Dr Lyle Vail, Director of the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station

Dr Lina Bay, a principal research scientists at AIMS, says one promising area of study is what’s known as “assisted gene flow”, where the spawn of corals with better tolerance for heat could be captured and then dispersed.

“Not all corals are created equal,” she says. “Some have a higher stress tolerance than others. Over many years we’ve shown that the variation in bleaching tolerance is hereditable – it gets passed from parents to offspring.”

She says these differences can exist even among the same species, meaning those corals can be selectively grown in a lab setting to promote more heat tolerance.

AIMS scientist Dr Neal Cantin has just finished a three-year experiment with one fast-growing coral species called Pocillopora acuta, which behaves like a weed by filling in the gaps when less hardy corals die off.

Starting with 90 parent specimens taken from three different parts of the Great Barrier Reef, Cantin and colleagues grew 7,500 offspring and then subjected them to rising levels of CO2 and temperatures of up to 2C warming.

Even at high temperatures, some of these corals survived, and they were able to tolerate higher levels of heat as the experiment went on.

Having a street-fighting weedy coral like this is important, says Cantin. Dead areas of coral reefs tend to get covered in algae, but Cantin says a weedy coral that can compete with the algae can then make room for slower-growing corals to also grow.

“The whole goal of a lot of these interventions is to work with species that can be successful on their own. We won’t be able to work with 600 species of corals, but we could probably work with 20 that fill the functional roles of a healthy reef community.

“You can’t deny bleaching events are becoming more frequent and more severe and they’re impacting across a bigger area than before. We can just document that demise, or we can learn from it and have some corals for future generations.”

An unbleached specimen of Acropora clathrata on the Great Barrier Reef
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 An unbleached specimen of Acropora clathrata on the Great Barrier Reef. Photograph: Zoe Richards

“It’s these silent extinctions that go on,” she says.

“The entire reef is operating like one big meta population with sub-populations that are connected to each other. If you successively take out nodes in that population, sooner or later you will end up with parts that don’t connect. It will be fragmented into subsets that will continue to erode in terms of diversity. It’s degradation of the [coral] community at a very large scale.”

‘At 3C, you basically have nothing’

Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, of the University of Queensland, has done pioneering work on the study of coral bleaching going back to the mid-1980s.

He remembers Lizard Island as a “picture perfect” place to do research on corals in the late 80s, when his research there found rising temperatures caused corals to lose their “symbionts” – the algae that lives in the coral and gives them much of their nutrients and colour.

The Great Barrier Reef’s first major mass bleaching event happened in 1998. There was another in 2002, and again in 2016, 2017 and 2020.

Hoegh-Guldberg says: “We knew there was a temperature effect, and we knew that temperatures were going up. At the end of the 90s, I could put those two things together.”

The year after the reef’s first mass bleaching, Hoegh-Guldberg took climate models to forecast that if greenhouse gas emissions kept growing then, by 2020, “the average bleaching event is likely to be similar or greater than the 1998 event”.

As 2020 approached, the models showed reefs across the northern, central and southern regions would see between eight and 10 bleaching events per decade.

“I wished I’d been wrong” he says. “I think I said at the time that I’d have egg on my face if I was wrong. But there’s no egg on my face.”

Corals at Lizard Island
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 Corals at Lizard Island had been showing signs of recovery before this year’s bleaching. Photograph: Dr Lyle Vail, Director of the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station

Hoegh-Guldberg says manually replanting corals is uneconomic at scale but there’s merit in helping the dispersal of coral larvae, pointing to a technique being developed by a scientist at Southern Cross University that captures millions of larvae in floating pools.

But he says the main game is keeping global heating down.

“Let’s say we get to 1.5C and then we can stabilise – that’s really the last call for reefs. Corals will come back and there will be winners and losers, but you’ll have a functional reef that supports fisheries and tourism.”

The problem is that right now, government pledges under the Paris agreement are enough to raise temperatures by 3C – not 1.5C.

“At 2C all the reef-building corals have plummeted and instead you are looking at the dominance of other organisms like algae. At 3C you basically have nothing.

“I’m fearful that in the next 10 years we will see the loss of coral across the planet at phenomenal rates,” he says. “That’s what keeps me up at night.”

While we fixate on coronavirus, Earth is hurtling towards a catastrophe worse than the dinosaur extinction

in the history of our planet, increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have caused extreme global warming, prompting the majority of species on Earth to die out.

In the past, these events were triggered by a huge volcanic eruption or asteroid impact. Now, Earth is heading for another mass extinction – and human activity is to blame.

I am an Earth and Paleo-climate scientist and have researched the relationships between asteroid impacts, volcanism, climate changes and mass extinctions of species.


Read more: Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change


My research suggests the current growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions is faster than those which triggered two previous mass extinctions, including the event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

The world’s gaze may be focused on COVID-19 right now. But the risks to nature from human-made global warming – and the imperative to act – remain clear.

The current rate of CO2 emissions is a major event in the recorded history of Earth. EPA

Past mass extinctions

Many species can adapt to slow, or even moderate, environmental changes. But Earth’s history shows that extreme shifts in the climate can cause many species to become extinct.

For example, about 66 million years ago an asteroid hit Earth. The subsequent smashed rocks and widespread fires released massive amounts of carbon dioxide over about 10,000 years. Global temperatures soared, sea levels rose and oceans became acidic. About 80% of species, including the dinosaurs, were wiped out.

And about 55 million years ago, global temperatures spiked again, over 100,000 years or so. The cause of this event, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, is not entirely clear. One theory, known as the “methane burp” hypothesis, posits that a massive volcanic eruption triggered the sudden release of methane from ocean sediments, making oceans more acidic and killing off many species.

So is life on Earth now headed for the same fate?

Comparing greenhouse gas levels

Before industrial times began at the end of the 18th century, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere sat at around 300 parts per million. This means that for every one million molecules of gas in the atmosphere, 300 were carbon dioxide.

In February this year, atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 414.1 parts per million. Total greenhouse gas level – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide combined – reached almost 500 parts per million of carbon dioxide-equivalent

Author provided/The ConversationCC BY-ND

Carbon dioxide is now pouring into the atmosphere at a rate of two to three parts per million each year.

Using carbon records stored in fossils and organic matter, I have determined that current carbon emissions constitute an extreme event in the recorded history of Earth.

My research has demonstrated that annual carbon dioxide emissions are now faster than after both the asteroid impact that eradicated the dinosaurs (about 0.18 parts per million CO2 per year), and the thermal maximum 55 million years ago (about 0.11 parts per million CO2 per year).

An asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Shutterstock

The next mass extinction has begun

Current atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are not yet at the levels seen 55 million and 65 million years ago. But the massive influx of carbon dioxide means the climate is changing faster than many plant and animal species can adapt.

A major United Nations report released last year warned around one million animal and plant species were threatened with extinction. Climate change was listed as one of five key drivers.

The report said the distributions of 47% of land-based flightless mammals, and almost 25% of threatened birds, may already have been negatively affected by climate change.


Read more: Curious Kids: What effect did the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs have on plants and trees?


Many researchers fear the climate system is approaching a tipping point – a threshold beyond which rapid and irreversible changes will occur. This will create a cascade of devastating effects.

There are already signs tipping points have been reached. For example, rising Arctic temperatures have led to major ice melt, and weakened the Arctic jet stream – a powerful band of westerly winds.

A diagram showing the weakening Arctic jet stream, and subsequent movements of warm and cold air. NASA

This allows north-moving warm air to cross the polar boundary, and cold fronts emanating from the poles to intrude south into Siberia, Europe and Canada.

A shift in climate zones is also causing the tropics to expand and migrate toward the poles, at a rate of about 56 to 111 kilometres per decade. The tracks of tropical and extra-tropical cyclones are likewise shifting toward the poles. Australia is highly vulnerable to this shift.

Uncharted future climate territory

Research released in 2016 showed just what a massive impact humans are having on the planet. It said while the Earth might naturally have entered the next ice age in about 20,000 years’ time, the heating produced by carbon dioxide would result in a period of super-tropical conditions, delaying the next ice age to about 50,000 years from now.

During this period, chaotic high-energy stormy conditions would prevail over much of the Earth. My research suggests humans are likely to survive best in sub-polar regions and sheltered mountain valleys, where cooler conditions would allow flora and fauna to persist.

Earth’s next mass extinction is avoidable – if carbon dioxide emissions are dramatically curbed and we develop and deploy technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But on the current trajectory, human activity threatens to make large parts of the Earth uninhabitable – a planetary tragedy of our own making.


Read more: Anatomy of a heatwave: how Antarctica recorded a 20.75°C day last month

The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it

By Jonathan Franzen

September 8, 2019

Illustration by Leonardo Santamaria

“There is infinite hope,” Kafka tells us, “only not for us.” This is a fittingly mystical epigram from a writer whose characters strive for ostensibly reachable goals and, tragically or amusingly, never manage to get any closer to them. But it seems to me, in our rapidly darkening world, that the converse of Kafka’s quip is equally true: There is no hope, except for us.

I’m talking, of course, about climate change. The struggle to rein in global carbon emissions and keep the planet from melting down has the feel of Kafka’s fiction. The goal has been clear for thirty years, and despite earnest efforts we’ve made essentially no progress toward reaching it. Today, the scientific evidence verges on irrefutable. If you’re younger than sixty, you have a good chance of witnessing the radical destabilization of life on earth—massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions made uninhabitable by extreme heat or permanent drought. If you’re under thirty, you’re all but guaranteed to witness it.

If you care about the planet, and about the people and animals who live on it, there are two ways to think about this. You can keep on hoping that catastrophe is preventable, and feel ever more frustrated or enraged by the world’s inaction. Or you can accept that disaster is coming, and begin to rethink what it means to have hope.

Even at this late date, expressions of unrealistic hope continue to abound. Hardly a day seems to pass without my reading that it’s time to “roll up our sleeves” and “save the planet”; that the problem of climate change can be “solved” if we summon the collective will. Although this message was probably still true in 1988, when the science became fully clear, we’ve emitted as much atmospheric carbon in the past thirty years as we did in the previous two centuries of industrialization. The facts have changed, but somehow the message stays the same.

Psychologically, this denial makes sense. Despite the outrageous fact that I’ll soon be dead forever, I live in the present, not the future. Given a choice between an alarming abstraction (death) and the reassuring evidence of my senses (breakfast!), my mind prefers to focus on the latter. The planet, too, is still marvelously intact, still basically normal—seasons changing, another election year coming, new comedies on Netflix—and its impending collapse is even harder to wrap my mind around than death. Other kinds of apocalypse, whether religious or thermonuclear or asteroidal, at least have the binary neatness of dying: one moment the world is there, the next moment it’s gone forever. Climate apocalypse, by contrast, is messy. It will take the form of increasingly severe crises compounding chaotically until civilization begins to fray. Things will get very bad, but maybe not too soon, and maybe not for everyone. Maybe not for me.

Some of the denial, however, is more willful. The evil of the Republican Party’s position on climate science is well known, but denial is entrenched in progressive politics, too, or at least in its rhetoric. The Green New Deal, the blueprint for some of the most substantial proposals put forth on the issue, is still framed as our last chance to avert catastrophe and save the planet, by way of gargantuan renewable-energy projects. Many of the groups that support those proposals deploy the language of “stopping” climate change, or imply that there’s still time to prevent it. Unlike the political right, the left prides itself on listening to climate scientists, who do indeed allow that catastrophe is theoretically avertable. But not everyone seems to be listening carefully. The stress falls on the word theoretically.

Our atmosphere and oceans can absorb only so much heat before climate change, intensified by various feedback loops, spins completely out of control. The consensus among scientists and policy-makers is that we’ll pass this point of no return if the global mean temperature rises by more than two degrees Celsius (maybe a little more, but also maybe a little less). The I.P.C.C.—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—tells us that, to limit the rise to less than two degrees, we not only need to reverse the trend of the past three decades. We need to approach zero net emissions, globally, in the next three decades.

This is, to say the least, a tall order. It also assumes that you trust the I.P.C.C.’s calculations. New research, described last month in Scientific American, demonstrates that climate scientists, far from exaggerating the threat of climate change, have underestimated its pace and severity. To project the rise in the global mean temperature, scientists rely on complicated atmospheric modelling. They take a host of variables and run them through supercomputers to generate, say, ten thousand different simulations for the coming century, in order to make a “best” prediction of the rise in temperature. When a scientist predicts a rise of two degrees Celsius, she’s merely naming a number about which she’s very confident: the rise will be at least two degrees. The rise might, in fact, be far higher.

As a non-scientist, I do my own kind of modelling. I run various future scenarios through my brain, apply the constraints of human psychology and political reality, take note of the relentless rise in global energy consumption (thus far, the carbon savings provided by renewable energy have been more than offset by consumer demand), and count the scenarios in which collective action averts catastrophe. The scenarios, which I draw from the prescriptions of policy-makers and activists, share certain necessary conditions.

The first condition is that every one of the world’s major polluting countries institute draconian conservation measures, shut down much of its energy and transportation infrastructure, and completely retool its economy. According to a recent paper in Nature, the carbon emissions from existing global infrastructure, if operated through its normal lifetime, will exceed our entire emissions “allowance”—the further gigatons of carbon that can be released without crossing the threshold of catastrophe. (This estimate does not include the thousands of new energy and transportation projects already planned or under construction.) To stay within that allowance, a top-down intervention needs to happen not only in every country but throughout every country. Making New York City a green utopia will not avail if Texans keep pumping oil and driving pickup trucks.

Polar bears face swimming to land or ‘ecological trap’ as sea ice diminishes

Outdoor Alaska: Dimishing sea ice prompts polar bear behavior changes
Volume 90%
 

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Changing sea ice conditions are forcing polar bears to adapt. New research shows that a growing percentage of polar bears are coming to land and becoming dependent on human provisions for food, while those that stay on the dwindling sea ice to continue natural polar bear behavior may be floating on an ecological trap.

The USGS researchers used GPS collars with a camera, accelerometor and other scientific tools to track and analyze the bears’ behaviors.

Researchers with the USGS Alaska Science Center have noticed the behavioral changes in polar bears on the Southern Beaufort Sea over the last 15 years and more recently a team began studies to determine which behavior was better for the bears. The researchers used GPS collars with video cameras and an accelerometer to track the bears, calculate how much energy they used, and compare the energy requirements of coming to land during summer months versus staying on the sea ice.

“Going into it we thought it’s surely going to be more energetically expensive to come to shore, because often times bears are staying on the sea ice until the last possible minute before they come to shore,” Todd Atwood, a research wildlife biologists with USGS said. “In some cases bears are swimming 400, 500 kilometers to get to land. Swimming is a lot more energetically expensive than walking. So we expected them burn through a lot more energy to get to land, and that’s what we found.”

By pairing the GPS camera collar with a tri-axial accelerometer, the researchers were able to estimate how much energy bears used for different behaviors by calculating overall dynamic body acceleration.

10 Life Changes That Will Actually Make A Difference For The Environment

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-to-help-the-environment_l_5e1f9811c5b674e44b92119a?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9uZXdzLmdvb2dsZS5jb20v&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAKyX5gAKTbgXyEbHMP1of4pP12oAUHPaNzKXftq3jrFdo8s-5X7JQDcdOT4wFMIz9xJ8lMcBJRZbgXISK7fBxX6okW69KvgS7R7efo_KB0Tr0_SUHlNiVTB74xnWstE7R6yFUWNyPSAgrOR_kv_xbkwrEDSnrotFGYgvuI2obnTR

As wildfires dominate the news, experts suggest some of the best ways you can help the planet and combat climate change.

It’s easy to feel a sense of powerlessness when it comes to the environment.

The risk of wildfires all over the world is only growing, in part because of man-made climate change. We just lived through the hottest decade on record. Meanwhile, our leaders, at least in the U.S., have not enacted meaningful policy reform and many are dismissive of the threat of climate change.

While reforms need to be made at the federal, state and local government levels, our individual actions ― at least in the aggregate (tell your friends to do these things, too!) ― can make a difference. We asked environmentalists and climate change activists to share a few ways that each of us can reduce our carbon footprint and combat climate change.

Here are 10 useful suggestions:

1. Cut back on air travel — entirely if you can.

The idea of curbing your air travel, if not giving it up outright, was brought into the spotlight when Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg refused to fly to speaking engagements. She has traveled to events around Europe mainly by train and sailed from the U.S. to Portugal to attend the United Nations climate meeting in Madrid in December.

Critics of air travel usually point to the environmental damage done by international air travel, but domestic flights aren’t much better. As The New York Times reported recently, take one round-trip flight between New York and California, and you’ve contributed about 20% of the greenhouse gases that the typical car emits over the span of an entire year.

So when reducing air travel, don’t forget the domestic flights you likely take with more frequency ― a wedding here, an industry conference there.

“The antidote to air travel is to choose adventures closer to home, exploring your own state, arriving at destinations by train, bus or the family car,” said Erin Rhoads of The Rogue Ginger, one of Australia’s popular eco-lifestyle websites.

“The other benefits of this are learning the history about the country you are on in greater depth, supporting local towns off the beaten track, discovering hidden gems and creating new memories all while saving money,” she added.

For unavoidable flights, consider purchasing carbon offsets through airlines, online travel bookers and independent sellers like Terrapass. With your purchase, you fund environmental projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, thus, in theory, reducing your personal carbon footprint.

Traveling by train is a more environmentally sound way to travel.

Traveling by train is a more environmentally sound way to travel.

2. Avoid all single-use disposable plastic items.

Plastics help protect and preserve goods while reducing weight in transportation ― but the benefits pretty much end there. Plastics originate as fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases from creation to disposal, according to a May 2019 report, “Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” released by the Center for International Environment.

Recycling plastic alone won’t cut it; you have to stop buying it, too. Avoid single-use disposable plastic as much as you can, said Jay Sinha, the co-founder of the online store Life Without Plastic.

“Do a little personal plastic audit of your current plastic use and assess where you’re at,” he said. “Buy in bulk rather than purchasing packaged foods. Eliminate your takeout plastic waste by carrying your own non-plastic mug, water bottle, utensils, straw, food container, reusable bag. Try living a zero-waste lifestyle ― new zero-waste bulk stores are popping up all over to help you out.”

3. Eat local and go vegetarian or vegan.

There’s no way around it: A meat-heavy diet is not great for the environment. The production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than 10 times the fossil fuel input needed for a calorie of plant protein. Then, there’s the carbon footprint of the refrigeration required to extend the longevity of foods when they’re being shipped, the transportation of goods to and from airports, and the packaging, Rhoads said.

Minor tweaks to your diet can make a huge impact ― if more of us do it.

“Select vegetables and fruit grown locally in your country by visiting farmers markets, signing up to a CSA [community-supported agriculture] box or asking your local supermarket to stock local fruit and vegetables, preferably without the packaging,” she said. “Increasing your local protein staples from plants like beans and legumes grown in your state or country is the most sustainable diet choice, and your health and the planets will be better for it.”

Buy local as much as possible and keep your diet veggie-based.

Buy local as much as possible and keep your diet veggie-based.

4. Cancel your Amazon Prime subscription and cut back on online purchases overall.

This one might be a bit of a challenge for those of us who’ve gotten used to quick-and-easy Amazon buys. But that overnight or two-day delivery speediness comes at an enormous cost to the environment.

“If a FedEx Priority Overnight truck is dispatched to your suburban neighborhood just to bring you the socks you ordered ― even though you could have waited for [slower] ground delivery or bought them somewhere locally while buying other things ― that’s a significant greenhouse gas emissions tab you are creating unnecessarily,” Sinha said.

Gay Brown, a personal environmental health adviser and author of “Living With a Green Heart: How to Keep Your Body, Your Home, and the Planet Healthy in a Toxic World,” put it even more simply.

“Every time you order something, it has to be pulled by a human, boxed, wrapped, shipped, flown, or trucked, and delivered by more humans. Each of these people have to have used public or private transportation to get [to] their jobs and are using more transportation to get to you,” she said.

The domino effect from your selecting two-day delivery is huge, so if at all possible, buy those socks locally.

5. Ditch the car.

The decision to drive somewhere is a mindless thing for most of us: We hop in, maybe put our destination in Google Maps, and head from point A to point B. Over time, though, all those miles rack up. The average American drives 13,473 miles per year. If you aimed to plant trees to offset all your carbon emissions from driving, you would need around 37 trees a year, according to Carbonify.com.

It’s time to be more mindful of your driving. Avoid all unnecessary car trips and cluster errands for efficiency, Brown said.

“As a Californian for 35 years, I avoid going out to the store or running errands by car if there isn’t a few stops in that area,” she said. “My favorite mode of transportation is to walk. I like being out in the environment and
feeling the weather. A good rule of thumb is if your destination is one walkable mile or less from your dwelling, opt to walk instead of drive.”

Other non-driving options besides walking? Bike (though admittedly, that can be difficult in big cities with narrow bike lanes), take the train or hop on the bus.

Walking, rather than driving, to destinations near you can make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

Walking, rather than driving, to destinations near you can make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

6. Reconsider the number of kids you’d like to have.

In 2009, scientists suggested that having a child is one of the worst things you can do for the environment, especially among the world’s wealthiest people. Americans and other rich nations produce the most carbon emissions per capita, even as those in the world’s poorest nations suffer the most from severe climate change.

While the decision to have children is deeply personal, its impact on the planet is becoming a topic of public conversation again. Given the state of the environment, many believe it’s worth reevaluating ideas about family planning. If you were thinking of having, say, three or more children, could you be just as happy with two? It’s even more worthwhile to consider adoption.

“Population is the number one environmental crisis that no one is addressing,” Brown said. “I think two children is a great idea because you are not adding to the population too much. A friend of mine says that Harry and Meghan have decided to have two for this exact reason. I think that’s a great idea.”

7. Give composting a chance.

Kathryn Kellogg, author of “101 Ways to Go Zero Waste,” considers composting the most effective tool “in the save-the-world tool belt.”

That’s because Americans waste an unbelievable amount of food and most of it ends up in a landfill. In New York City, for instance, the average household will dispose of 650 pounds of organic waste in one year.

“You think food would break down since it’s dumped into a giant hole in the ground, but it doesn’t because landfills aren’t aerated for proper decomposition,” Kellogg said. “Instead, all of that oxygen-deprived organic matter releases methane, and methane is 30 times more powerful than CO2.”

Composting is a good way to combat wastefulness. And Kellogg said not to worry about critters or bad odors; she’s been composting for years and hasn’t had any visitors or awful stench.

“If you have a backyard, you have it pretty easy. You can have a tumbler bin, an enclosed bin that stands alone, a worm bin, or you can even do trench composting,” she said.

Trench composting is when you dig a hole at least a foot deep, put your food scraps in and bury them. (It’s also a safe way to compost pet waste.) Kellogg said you want to make sure your hole is deep enough so that animals passing by won’t be tempted to dig anything up.

What if you live in an apartment? Kellogg recommends using bokashi bins, electric composters and even worm bins.

“Also, if you have a small balcony, a tumbler compost bin would work just fine since you don’t have to have any sort of ground for that,” she said.

8. Don’t rush out to buy new clothes and shop secondhand whenever you can.

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, according to the World Bank. The water used to manufacture clothing has drained rivers and lakes around the world, destroying ecosystems. Look in your closet and drawers, and you’ll no doubt see your personal contribution to this particular problem.

Rectify your fast-fashion buying ways by wearing the clothes you do have instead of running out to purchase a new outfit for every occasion, said Lindsay Miles, a waste educator and author of “Less Stuff: Simple Zero-Waste Steps to a Joyful and Clutter-Free Life.”

“Using what we have and making stuff last might not be as sexy or Instagrammable as buying a shiny new stainless steel reusables kit or purchasing a wardrobe full of new ethical fashion, but that’s what is going to help the environment most,” Miles said.

If you’re really hankering to shop, consider going secondhand. Consignment stores and eBay aren’t the only options worth exploring if you’re sustainably minded. Online resale platforms like Depop, ThredUPThe RealReal and Relovv are worth a look, too. But since any online option requires shipping, a vintage store in your area should be your first go-to.

“This isn’t to say we never buy anything new ever again ― hello, brand new underwear ― we just need to dial it right back,” Miles said. “By doing this, not only are you reducing demand and stemming the flow of new stuff when you buy secondhand (because you’re reducing demand for new) but you’re helping keep existing items in use for longer, maximizing their potential and making the best use of the resources that were used.”

When you do need to shop, consider secondhand stores and online resale platforms. 

When you do need to shop, consider secondhand stores and online resale platforms. 

9. Hold more meetings online.

If you’re in a managerial position at work and your employees are far-flung (they have long local commutes or live in distant cities), suggest video conference calls over in-person meetings. Brown said she used to log 250,000 air miles a year for work travel but now does most everything ― especially one-on-one meetings ― via Google Hangouts, Skype or FaceTime.

“I do allow myself to fly for important dates like big events like conferences,” she said. “If I happen to be in a city where I’ve had virtual meetings and I’ve never met the people I’m doing business with, I will reach out to try to meet the person(s) for a coffee or something casual to develop a personal relationship. If I’m making a lot of new business relationships, I will do a quarterly trip to one area to do a ‘geographic’ swoop to ‘press the flesh.’”

10. Talk about this stuff regularly with your friends and family, and get involved politically.

If you tried any of the suggestions above and found it a lot easier than you’d expected, tell your friends and family about it. Personal stories are often the most effective in persuading others to give change a chance.

Of course, this isn’t all on you. Encourage your local elected officials to implement bigger, more substantial changes in your city or district, said Crystal Chissell, vice president of operations and engagement at Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that researches how global warming can be reversed.

“Gather a group to write to or visit your elected officials to let them know you care and expect them to work with experts to explore solutions,” she said. “We will be less overwhelmed by our awareness of the problem when we each recognize our power to collectively solve it, share the tasks and enjoy working together for our common good. We’ll need strong bonds with others to face the challenges ahead.”

What is climate change? A really simple guide

Media captionOur Planet Matters: Climate change explained

Scientists say global warming could have a catastrophic effect on the planet.

Human activities have increased carbon-dioxide emissions, driving up temperatures. Extreme weather and melting polar ice are among the possible effects.

What is climate change?

The Earth’s average temperature is about 15C but has been much higher and lower in the past.

There are natural fluctuations in the climate but scientists say temperatures are now rising faster than at many other times.

World is getting warmer

This is linked to the greenhouse effect, which describes how the Earth’s atmosphere traps some of the Sun’s energy.

Solar energy radiating back to space from the Earth’s surface is absorbed by greenhouse gases and re-emitted in all directions.

This heats both the lower atmosphere and the surface of the planet. Without this effect, the Earth would be about 30C colder and hostile to life.

Greenhouse effect

Scientists believe we are adding to the natural greenhouse effect, with gases released from industry and agriculture trapping more energy and increasing the temperature.

This is known as climate change or global warming.

What are greenhouse gases?

The greenhouse gas with the greatest impact on warming is water vapour. But it remains in the atmosphere for only a few days.

Carbon dioxide (CO2), however, persists for much longer. It would take hundreds of years for a return to pre-industrial levels and only so much can be soaked up by natural reservoirs such as the oceans.

Most man-made emissions of CO2 come from burning fossil fuels. When carbon-absorbing forests are cut down and left to rot, or burned, that stored carbon is released, contributing to global warming.

Since the industrial revolution began in about 1750, CO2 levels have risen more than 30%. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years.

Other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide are also released through human activities but they are less abundant than carbon dioxide.

What is the evidence for warming?

The world is about one degree Celsius warmer than before widespread industrialisation, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says.

The 20 warmest years on record all occurred in the past 22 years, with 2015-18 making up the top four.

Across the globe, the average sea level increased by 3.6mm per year between 2005 and 2015.

Most of this change was because water increases in volume as it heats up.

Sea level rise infographic

However, melting ice is now thought to be the main reason for rising sea levels. Most glaciers in temperate regions of the world are retreating.

And satellite records show a dramatic decline in Arctic sea-ice since 1979. The Greenland Ice Sheet has experienced record melting in recent years.

Satellite data also shows the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing mass. A recent study indicated East Antarctica may also have started to lose mass.

The effects of a changing climate can also be seen in vegetation and land animals. These include earlier flowering and fruiting times for plants and changes in the territories of animals.

How much will temperatures rise in future?

The change in the global surface temperature between 1850 and the end of the 21st Century is likely to exceed 1.5C, most simulations suggest.

The WMO says that if the current warming trend continues, temperatures could rise 3-5C by the end of this century.

Temperature rises of 2C had long been regarded as the gateway to dangerous warming. More recently, scientists and policymakers have argued that limiting temperature rises to 1.5C is safer.

Media captionClimate change: How 1.5C could change the world

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 2018 suggested that keeping to the 1.5C target would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

The UN is leading a political effort to stabilise greenhouse-gas emissions. China emits more CO2 than any other country. It is followed by the US and the European Union member states, although emissions per person are much greater there.

But even if we now cut greenhouse-gas emissions dramatically, scientists say the effects will continue. Large bodies of water and ice can take hundreds of years to respond to changes in temperature. And it takes CO2 decades to be removed from the atmosphere.

Top emitters chart

How will climate change affect us?

There is uncertainty about how great the impact of a changing climate will be.

It could cause freshwater shortages, dramatically alter our ability to produce food, and increase the number of deaths from floods, storms and heatwaves. This is because climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events – though linking any single event to global warming is complicated.

Media captionMatt McGrath explains why we should care about climate change

As the world warms, more water evaporates, leading to more moisture in the air. This means many areas will experience more intense rainfall – and in some places snowfall. But the risk of drought in inland areas during hot summers will increase. More flooding is expected from storms and rising sea levels. But there are likely to be very strong regional variations in these patterns.

Poorer countries, which are least equipped to deal with rapid change, could suffer the most.

Plant and animal extinctions are predicted as habitats change faster than species can adapt. And the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the health of millions could be threatened by increases in malaria, water-borne disease and malnutrition.

Media captionHow temperatures have risen since 1884

As more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, uptake of the gas by the oceans increases, causing the water to become more acidic. This could pose major problems for coral reefs.

Global warming will cause further changes that are likely to create further heating. This includes the release of large quantities of methane as permafrost – frozen soil found mainly at high latitudes – melts.

Responding to climate change will be one of the biggest challenges we face this century.

Our Planet Matters header

Sir David Attenborough warns of climate ‘crisis moment’

  • 16 January 2020
Media captionChina needs to tackle climate change – Attenborough

“The moment of crisis has come” in efforts to tackle climate change, Sir David Attenborough has warned.

According to the renowned naturalist and broadcaster, “we have been putting things off for year after year”.

“As I speak, south east Australia is on fire. Why? Because the temperatures of the Earth are increasing,” he said.

Sir David’s comments came in a BBC News interview to launch a year of special coverage on the subject of climate change.

Scientists say climate change is one of several factors behind the Australian fires; others include how forests are managed and natural patterns in the weather.

Sir David told me it was “palpable nonsense” for some politicians and commentators to suggest that the Australian fires were nothing to do with the world becoming warmer.

“We know perfectly well,” he said, that human activity is behind the heating of the planet.

What does Sir David mean by ‘the moment of crisis’?

He’s highlighting the fact that while climate scientists are becoming clearer about the need for a rapid response, the pace of international negotiations is grindingly slow.

The most recent talks – in Madrid last month – were branded a disappointment by the UN Secretary-General, the British government and others.

Decisions on key issues were put off and several countries including Australia and Brazil were accused of trying to dodge their commitments.

World is getting warmer

“We have to realise that this is not playing games,” Sir David said.

“This is not just having a nice little debate, arguments and then coming away with a compromise.

“This is an urgent problem that has to be solved and, what’s more, we know how to do it – that’s the paradoxical thing, that we’re refusing to take steps that we know have to be taken.”

What are those steps?

Back in 2018, the UN climate science panel spelled out how the world could have a reasonable chance of avoiding the most dangerous temperature rises in future.

It said that emissions of the gases heating the planet – from power stations and factories, vehicles and agriculture – should be almost halved by 2030.

Bushfire in AustraliaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAustralia has been badly hit by bushfires

Instead the opposite is happening.

The release of those gases is still increasing rather than falling and the key gas, carbon dioxide, is now in the atmosphere at a level far above anything experienced in human history.

As Sir David put it: “Every year that passes makes those steps more and more difficult to achieve.”

Why does this matter right now?

This year is seen as a vital opportunity to turn the tide on climate change.

The UK is hosting what’s billed as a crucial UN summit, known as COP26, in Glasgow in November.

Ahead of that gathering, governments worldwide are coming under pressure to toughen their targets for cutting emissions.

That’s because their current pledges do not go nearly far enough.

How much worse chart

Assuming they are delivered as promised (and there’s no guarantee of that), there could still be a rise in the global average temperature of more than 3C by the end of the century, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The latest assessment by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lays bare the dangers of that.

It suggests that a rise of anything above 1.5C would mean that coastal flooding, heatwaves and damage to coral reefs would become more severe.

And the latest figures show that the world has already warmed by just over 1C.

What happens next?

As things stand, further heating looks inevitable.

“We’re already living in a changed world,” according to Professor Ed Hawkins of the University of Reading, a scientist whose depictions of global warming have often gone viral on social media.

He uses bold coloured stripes to show how much each year’s temperature is above or below average – different shades of red for warmer and blue for colder.

Media captionOur Planet Matters: Climate change explained

The designs now adorn T-shirts, scarves and even a tram in Germany.

At the moment, Prof Hawkins uses dark red to denote the highest level of warming, but regions such as the Arctic Ocean have seen that maximum level year after year.

Such is the scale of change that he’s having to search for new colours.

“I’m thinking about adding dark purple or even black”, he told me, to convey future increases in temperature.

“People might think climate change is a distant prospect but we’re seeing so many examples around the world, like in Australia, of new records and new extremes.”

In 1980, the minimum sea ice extent was 7.7 million square kilometres. This year it was at 4.7 million square kilometres.2012 was the lowest year on record, when it was down to 3.6 million square kilometres - less than half what it was in 1980.

What else is on the environmental agenda this year?

The natural world, and whether we can stop harming it.

While most political attention will be on climate change, 2020 is also seen as potentially important for halting the damage human activity is having on ecosystems.

Sir David has a blunt explanation for why this matters: “We actually depend upon the natural world for every breath of air we take and every mouthful of food that we eat.”

World leaders are being invited to the Chinese city of Kunming for a major conference on how to safeguard Nature.

Northern white rhinoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe northern white rhino (seen here) is down to just two animals, making it “functionally” extinct

A landmark report last year warned that as many as one million species of animals, insects and plants are threatened with extinction in the coming decades.

A more recent study found that the growth of cities, the clearing of forests for farming and the soaring demand for fish had significantly altered nearly three-quarters of the land and more than two-thirds of the oceans.

One of the scientists involved, Prof Andy Purvis of the Natural History Museum in London, says that by undermining important habitats, “we’re hacking away at our safety net, we’re trashing environments we depend on”.

He points to the impact of everything from the use of palm oil in processed food and shampoo to the pressures created by fast fashion.

And while the need for conservation is understood in many developed countries, Prof Purvis says “we’ve exported the damage to countries too poor to handle the environmental cost of what they’re selling to us”.

The gathering in Kunming takes place in October, a month before the UN climate summit in Glasgow, confirming this year as crucial for our relations with the planet.

Follow Davidon Twitter.

Our Planet Matters header

These Are the Biggest Climate Questions for the New Decade

The 2010s brought major climate science advances, but researchers still want to pin down estimates of Arctic melt and sea level rise

These Are the Biggest Climate Questions for the New Decade
In this aerial view ice lies in a lake formed by meltwater from the Rhone glacier on August 19, 2019 near Obergoms, Switzerland. Credit: Sean Gallup Getty Images

The 2010s were almost certainly the hottest decade on record — and it showed. The world burned, melted and flooded. Heat waves smashed temperature records around the globe. Glaciers lost ice at accelerating rates. Sea levels continued to swell.

At the same time, scientists have diligently worked to untangle the chaos of a rapidly warming planet.

In the past decade, scientists substantially improved their ability to draw connections between climate change and extreme weather events. They made breakthroughs in their understanding of ice sheets. They raised critical questions about the implications of Arctic warming. They honed their predictions about future climate change.

ARCTIC MYSTERIES

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, with temperatures rising at least twice as fast as the global average. Many scientists believe that understanding the consequences of Arctic warming is essential for making accurate predictions about climate change around the world.

Some of these links are straightforward. Melting Arctic ice pouring into the ocean can raise global sea levels. Thawing permafrost can release large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, potentially accelerating the rate of global warming.

Others are more contentious.

In the last decade, a growing scientific debate has arisen about the influence of Arctic warming on global climate and weather patterns, particularly in the midlatitudes.

Some observational studies have pointed to a statistical connection between Arctic warming and weather events in places like the United States, Europe and parts of Asia — for instance, a link between shrinking sea ice and cold winters in Siberia, or Arctic heat waves and extreme winter weather in the United States.

The trouble is models have a hard time capturing the causes driving these connections.

“No one argues that the Arctic meltdown will affect weather patterns, the question is exactly how,” said Arctic climate expert Jennifer Francis, a researcher at Woods Hole Research Center. “So figuring out what’s not right in the models will be a major focus. Without realistic models, it’s hard to use them to separate Arctic influences from other possible factors.”

One ongoing project known as the Polar Amplification Model Intercomparison Project is conducting a series of coordinated model experiments, all using the same standard methods, to investigate the Arctic climate and its connections to the rest of the globe. Experts say these kinds of projects may help explain why modeling studies conducted by different groups with different methods don’t always get the same results.

Outside that debate, there are still big questions about the Arctic climate to resolve. Scientists know the Arctic is heating up at breakneck speed — but they’re still investigating all the reasons why.

Researchers believe a combination of feedback processes are probably at play. Sea ice and snow help reflect sunlight away from the Earth. As they melt away, they allow more heat to reach the surface, warming the local climate and causing even more melting to occur.

One key question for the coming decade, Zhang said in an email, is “what relative role each of the physical processes plays and how these processes work together” to drive the accelerating warming.

Unraveling these feedbacks will help scientists better predict how fast the Arctic will warm in the future, according to Francis — and how quickly they should expect its consequences to occur. They include vanishing sea ice, thawing permafrost and melting on the Greenland ice sheet.

OCEANS AND ICE

Sea-level rise is one of the most serious consequences of climate change, with the potential to displace millions of people in coastal areas around the world.

At the moment, the world’s oceans are rising at an average rate of about 3 millimeters each year. It appears to be speeding up over time. That may not sound like much, but scientists are already documenting an increase in coastal flooding in many places around the world.

Accurately predicting the pace of future sea-level rise is one of the biggest priorities in climate science. And one of the biggest uncertainties about future sea-level rise is the behavior of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, both of which are pouring billions of tons of ice into the ocean each year.

Recent satellite studies have found that ice loss in both places is speeding up. Antarctica is losing about three times as much ice as it was in the 1990s, while losses in Greenland may be as much as seven times higher than they were in previous decades.

Investigating the processes driving the accelerations — and then using that knowledge to fine-tune predictions of future sea-level rise — is a key priority for 2020 and beyond, according to Marco Tedesco, an ice sheet expert at Columbia University.

“How do we connect the physical processes that we do understand are creating this acceleration from Greenland and Antarctica, very likely over the next decade, to sea-level rise impacts?” he asked E&E News. “And how do we account for the potential shocks of the things that we cannot anticipate still?”

Some scientists worry that as ice loss continues to speed up in both Greenland and Antarctica, parts of the ice sheets could eventually destabilize and collapse entirely — leading to catastrophic sea-level rise.

In recent years, scientists have discovered that warm ocean currents are helping to melt some glaciers from the bottom up, both in Greenland and particularly in parts of West Antarctica. Better understanding the relationship between oceans and ice is a key priority for glacier experts, Tedesco said.

At the same time, monitoring the way water melts and moves along the top of the ice is also a major priority. In Greenland, climate-driven changes in the behavior of large air currents like the jet stream may be helping to drive more surface melting.

“The important thing is to understand how Greenland mass loss can be connected to the recent changes in the atmospheric circulation that we are witnessing,” Tedesco said.

EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS

The past decade saw leaps and bounds in a field of climate research known as “attribution science” — the connection between climate change and extreme weather events.

It was once thought to be impossible, but scientists are now able to estimate the influence of global warming on individual events, like heat waves or hurricanes. In the past few years alone, scientists have found that some events are now occurring that would have been impossible in a world with no human-caused climate change.

As attribution science has advanced, researchers have been able to tackle increasingly complex events, like hurricanes and wildfires, which were previously too complicated to evaluate with any confidence. They’ve gotten faster, too — researchers are now able to assess some extreme events nearly in real time.

Some organizations are working to develop sophisticated attribution services, similar to weather services, which would release analyses of extreme events as soon as they occur. The German national weather service; the United Kingdom’s Met Office; and the Copernicus program, part of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, have all begun exploring these kinds of projects.

At the same time, scientists are working to improve their predictions of future extreme events in a warming world.

So far, climate models predict that many extreme weather events will happen more frequently, or will become more severe, as the climate continues to change. Heat waves will be hotter, hurricanes will intensify, heavy rainfall events may happen more frequently in some places, and droughts may be longer in others.

Continuing to improve these kinds of predictions — and then communicating them in useful ways to communities that will be affected by them — is a major priority, according to Piers Forster, director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds.

There’s often great uncertainty when it comes to predicting extreme weather events, he noted — different climate models sometimes deliver vastly different results. But it can often be both expensive and time-consuming to run the models enough times, and at high enough resolutions, to investigate and narrow these uncertainties.

Tackling this issue is one of the key challenges for climate modeling in the coming years, Forster said, noting that “we need to get clever about how we use models to make projections and how we test them.”

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

Predicting how much the Earth will warm, given a certain level of greenhouse gas emissions, may seem like the simplest goal of climate modeling. But it’s harder than it sounds.

Climate models don’t always agree on the Earth’s exact sensitivity to greenhouse gas emissions — although they do tend to fall within a certain range. If global carbon dioxide concentrations were to double, for instance, models from the past decade have tended to predict that the Earth would warm from between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius.

Scientists around the world are working on a new suite of updated climate models, which will be used to inform future reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But there’s one issue that’s already raising eyebrows, according to Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley — so far, the newer models seem to be predicting a much higher climate sensitivity than the older models.

“The high end is much higher,” he told E&E News. “There’s a number of models above 4.8 degrees sensitivity and even up to 5.6.”

Only about 20 new models have submitted results; far more will come pouring in before the project is complete. And as Hausfather pointed out, other recent studies have suggested that the Earth’s climate sensitivity might actually be narrower than the old models suggested.

But it’s something to keep in mind at a time when accurate predictions about future warming are more pressing than ever.

“The fact that some of these models are high is interesting but doesn’t necessarily mean we should believe them over other lines of evidence,” Hausfather said. “It just reflects the fact that climate sensitivity is this huge remaining source of uncertainty in our climate projections.”

At the same time, climate modelers are also working to hone their projections in other ways. Models are able to capture increasingly complex processes the more they advance. But there are still a few key areas scientists are focused on improving.

Clouds, for instance, are believed to have a significant influence on the climate system. But they’re notoriously difficult to reproduce in climate models. Certain aspects of the carbon cycle are also underrepresented in models, Hausfather noted — for instance, the way that forests and oceans absorb or release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

And scientists are also working to develop more realistic climate scenarios for their modeling projects. In the past, many studies have focused on a “business as usual” climate scenario, which suggests high rates of future greenhouse gas emissions, the continued expansion of coal, and other assumptions about industry and socioeconomics that may no longer be realistic, according to Hausfather.

While global climate action is still significantly lagging when it comes to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the future may not be as dire as previous business-as-usual climate studies would suggest. Focusing new studies on more realistic scenarios may be more useful to policymakers and communities trying to plan for the future.

“In many ways the range of possible futures is narrowing,” Hausfather said. “As we get closer to 2100 and as the world takes more climate action, the worst-case 4 degrees-plus warming scenarios are a lot less likely.”

Blood-red skies loom over southeast Australia after deadly bushfires bring ‘one of worst days ever’

(CNN)Skies turned blood red above parts of southeast Australia on Sunday as residents sought refuge from deadly bushfires, and a senior firefighter described the previous 24 hours as “one of our worst days ever.”

Photographs of Pambula, in the state of New South Wales, showed an eerie, smoke-filled landscape, with deserted streets illuminated by an otherworldly, blazing red sky.
About 30 kilometers (19 miles) south, blood-red skies loomed over the town of Eden. There, hundreds of residents were seeking shelter on the beach on police advice, one Eden resident told CNN. Many houses have been destroyed in the area, and officials said they feared there would be fatalities.
A total of 146 fires are burning across the state, with 65 uncontained, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS). About 2,700 firefighters were tackling the blazes on Sunday.
“Conditions have eased today and firefighters have gained the upper hand on several dangerous fires. There are no total fire bans in place for Monday,” the NSWRFS posted on Twitter.
A blood-red sky looms over Eden, New South Wales, on January 5, 2020.

Earlier, NSWRFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told a news conference that Saturday was “one of our worst days ever on record.”
A “considerable number” of properties were lost across NSW on Saturday, Fitzsimmons said, adding that a 47-year-old man had died from cardiac arrest while fighting a fire threatening his friend’s home in Batlow. The man is the 24th person to die nationwide this fire season.
Separately, four firefighters in NSW were hospitalized due to smoke inhalation, heat exhaustion and hand burns. They have since been released.
Fitzsimmons said that conditions could worsen again in the coming days. “Today will be a relief — psychological relief but not what we need,” he said.
Fire-induced thunderstorms over New South Wales, seen from a flight on January 5, 2020.

Australia’s flag carrier Qantas canceled all flights to and from the country’s capital, Canberra, on Sunday due to smoke and hazardous weather conditions.
An airline passenger spotted huge clouds caused by the fires over NSW during a flight from Sydney to Melbourne on Sunday. They are pyrocumulonimbus clouds — fire-induced thunderstorms — which form when hot air rises from a ground based fire, according to CNN meteorologists. The air cools and condenses as it ascends, causing a cloud to form.
“This process is similar to the development of a thunderstorm,” said CNN Weather’s Derek Van Dam. “As such, a downdraft forms within the base of the pyrocumulonimbus cloud, allowing for embers to be picked up and carried to form new fires.”
In the neighboring state of Victoria, three fires have combined to form a single blaze bigger than the New York borough of Manhattan. The fires joined overnight Friday in the Omeo region, creating a 6,000-hectare (23 square mile) blaze, according to Gippsland’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
The country’s capital, Canberra, smashed its heat record of 80 years, reaching 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday afternoon, according to the country’s Bureau of Meteorology. In the western Sydney suburb of Penrith, the mercury climbed to 48.9 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) — setting a new record for the whole Sydney basin.
Victoria has declared a state of disaster, and NSW has declared a state of emergency — both granting extraordinary powers and additional government resources to battle the fires.
It marked the first time Victoria has activated these powers since the 2009 Black Saturday fires, the deadliest bushfire disaster on record in Australia with 173 people killed and 500 injured.
Speaking at a news conference Sunday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was another difficult night across the country — in particular in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
Morrison — who in December faced criticism for taking a vacation to Hawaii during the fires — said the government’s response was the most significant and comprehensive ever to a natural disaster.
An eerie, smoke-filled landscape in Pambula, New South Wales, on January 5, 2020.

“I believe that’s where we need to focus our attention, and we are seeking to communicate that directly to Australians to ensure they have comfort that the response is matching the need,” he said.
“Sure there’s been a lot of commentary, there’s been plenty of criticism. I’ve had the benefit of a lot of analysis on a lot of issues. But I can’t be distracted by that, and the public, I know, are not distracted by that.
“What they need us to focus on, all of us actually, all of us focusing on the needs there and getting the support where it needs to go. That’s very much where my focus is, and that’s where it will continue to be.”
In a news release on Sunday, the Australia Defence Force (ADF) said it was significantly increasing its support in fighting the massive fires and had called up 3,000 army reserve forces and others with specialist capabilities.
An Australian army soldier helps people evacuate onto a Black Hawk helicopter in Omeo, Victoria on January 5, 2020.

They will also provide aircraft, ships and its largest vessel, HMAS Adelaide, with helicopter landing capabilities.
One priority for the ADF will be to assist in evacuations of people in isolated communities. HMAS Adelaide, the Australian Navy’s largest ship, arrived off the coast of Eden on Sunday as evacuations took place there.
Some ADF bases will be opened to house those displaced by the fires. Troops will also help move material and supplies, support recovery centers, and aid in fire trail clearance.
New Zealand and Singapore have also offered military support, and the ADF is assessing where they can help, the news release said.
Members of the UK royal family sent their “thoughts and prayers” to Australians affected by the massive bushfires through social media accounts on Saturday. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip issued a message of condolence expressing thanks to emergency services. “I have been deeply saddened to hear of the continued bushfires and their devastating impact across many parts of Australia,” the Queen wrote in a statement published on Twitter.
On their Instagram account, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said they were “shocked and deeply saddened” by “the fires that are destroying homes, livelihoods and wildlife across much of Australia,” posting a photo of a kangaroo with a burning building in the background.
Meanwhile, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex urged support for those affected by the environmental crisis in an Instagram post linking to a number of Australian fundraisers, such as the Australian Red Cross, the Country Fire Authority and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

Greta Thunberg to interview David Attenborough as part of BBC takeover

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg attends a climate march in Turin, Italy, December 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg attends a climate march in Turin, Italy, December 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Greta Thunberg will interview environmentalist and broadcaster David Attenborough as part of a special BBC radio takeover, it has been announced.

The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist will speak with the Seven Worlds, One Planet documentarian on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, to air on Monday. They will discuss topics including the environment and the natural world, she said.

Nobel Prize nominee Thunberg had previously announced she would be a guest editor for the show, one of five people to guest edit the daily current affairs programme during the festive period.

David Attenborough smiles at a ceremony for the naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough at Camel Laird shipyard, Birkenhead, England, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (Asadour Guzelian/Pool Photo via AP)
David Attenborough smiles at a ceremony for the naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough at Camel Laird shipyard, Birkenhead, England, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (Asadour Guzelian/Pool Photo via AP)

Each programme will include an interview with the guest editor, with Thunberg speaking to Attenborough, 93, one of the UK’s most revered documentary makers.

The official BBC Radio 4 twitter announced the interview with a video of Thunberg.

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Artist Grayson Perry, rapper George The Poet, Charles Moore, a critic of the BBC, and Supreme Court president Lady Hale will also guest edit the high-profile news show.

Previous guest editors have included Prince Harry, Angelina Jolie, John Bercow, Sir Lenny Henry and Professor Stephen Hawking.

Earlier this month, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called Thunberg a “brat” after she expressed concern about the killings of indigenous Brazilians in the Amazon.

The environmental activist became a symbol for youth over the last 12 months, demanding radical change to confront climate change when she sparked global school strikes.