Association of the Greens
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Association of the Greens
Association of the Greens
We create our heritage
Association of the Greens
Amazon, Google, Ikea and BMW are among some of the world’s biggest companies failing to meet their own proclaimed climate targets and align with international agreements to slash greenhouse gas emissions, a new report claims, CNN reports.
The Germany-based NewClimate Institute assessed the climate strategies of 25 major companies and found that while they all “pledge some form of zero emission, net zero or carbon-neutrality target,” just three of them are committed to reducing their “full value chain emissions” by more than 90% by their respective targets dates.
The “Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor” report, published on Monday by NewClimate Institute and Carbon Market Watch, looked into how companies tracked and reported their greenhouse gas emissions, whether they set actual emissions reduction targets (as opposed to just using terms like “net zero”), what measures they were already taking and whether any plans to offset emissions had been publicized.
To achieve net zero, a company would need to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible and offset any that remained, whether through activities like planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) or using technology to “capture” harmful gases before they enter the atmosphere. Such technology is not fully developed yet.
The companies assessed in the report produce about 5% of the world’s greenhouse gases based on their self-reported emissions footprint.
But just 13 of the 25 provided concrete details about their plans to reduce emissions to achieve net zero, on average, committing to reduce their emissions from 2019 by only 40%.
And as a whole, the 25 companies committed to reducing less than 20% of their entire emissions footprint – or 2.7 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide – by their respective target years.
Based on the “transparency and integrity” of their climate pledges, the analysis categorized companies into five bands – from “very low integrity” all the way up to “high integrity,” which no company achieved.
Household names including BMW, Nestlé and Unilever – which owns brands like Dove and Magnum ice cream – were among 11 companies classified in the lowest “very low integrity” band, while Ikea, Google, Amazon, Walmart and Volkswagen were among those with “low integrity.”
Apple, Sony and Vodafone all rated in the middle, “moderate integrity,” category.
Some of the companies mentioned have hit back at the report’s findings, describing them as inaccurate or reliant on incomplete information.
Several said they were compliant with other well-established standards to put them in line with the Paris agreement, which aims to slash greenhouse gases to contain temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably to 1.5 degrees.
A large number of companies around the world have announced net-zero pledges in recent years, with many ahead of the COP26 climate talks in November last year. The increase in pledges makes it increasingly difficult to “distinguish between real climate leadership and unsubstantiated greenwashing,” the report said.
“As pressure on companies to act on climate change rises, their ambitious-sounding headline claims all too often lack real substance. Even companies that are doing relatively well exaggerate their actions,” said the NewClimate Institute’s Thomas Day, lead author of the study, in a press release.
“We set out to uncover as many replicable good practices as possible, but we were frankly surprised and disappointed at the overall integrity of the companies’ claims.”
The report found that two-thirds of the companies would rely on offsetting to achieve their pledges, and more were likely to do so. Offsetting emissions is increasingly being met with skepticism, as previous schemes have collapsed and recent forest fires, such as those in the western US last summer, exposed the dangers of relying too heavily on trees to store carbon dioxide.
The study’s authors suggest that companies should be looking at ways to stop emissions getting into the atmosphere in the first place, rather than focusing on offsetting.
Net-zero goals will only be reached if they are substantiated by specific short-term emission reduction targets, the report said.
“Setting vague targets will get us nowhere without real action and can be worse than doing nothing if it misleads the public,” said Gilles Dufrasne from Carbon Market Watch in a statement. “Companies must face the reality of a changing planet. What seemed acceptable a decade ago is no longer enough.”
Only one company’s net-zero pledge – Danish shipping giant Maersk – was evaluated as having “reasonable integrity.”
Maersk is aiming to reach net zero by 2040, and is one of three companies committed to reducing emissions across its value chain by at least 90%, the report notes. It adds that Maersk has invested in developing and scaling up alternative fuels.
The company said in August last year that it would spend $1.4 billion on eight large ships that will have the capacity to travel on green methanol as well as traditional fuel.
The report also highlighted some positive initiatives among companies that scored poorly overall.
Google, for example, is developing tools that will enable it to procure high-quality renewable energy in real-time, a tool that the report says is being picked up by other companies, the report’s authors said in a statement.
“We hope that companies will react constructively to our findings, to replicate the good practices that have been identified, and address any open issues,” Silke Mooldijk, a policy analyst from the NewClimate Institute.
“A first step would be to commit to ambitious deep reduction targets alongside their net-zero pledge. Second, we expect companies to adopt demonstrated emission reduction measures to target emissions across their value chain and invest in the development of innovative zero-carbon technologies where needed.”
What the companies say
A spokesperson for Amazon said that company was “committed to finding innovative solutions to reduce emissions” and pointed to its Climate Pledge, in which it aims to reach net-zero-emissions by 2040.
“We set these ambitious targets because we know that climate change is a serious problem, and action is needed now more than ever. As part of our goal to reach net-zero carbon by 2040, Amazon is on a path to powering our operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 – five years ahead of our original target of 2030,” the spokesperson told.
Unilever, BMW, Nestlé, Volkswagen and Walmart all said that they were working to align with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a widely used standard established by the UN and other groups, including WWF and the World Resources Institute.
In response to the report, BMW told that it planned to be carbon neutral by 2050, and said that the company had set out “clear goals” for the interim year 2030. It said the report was implying the SBTi standards were insufficient.
Nestlé’s Global Head of Climate Delivery, Benjamin Ware, said the company’s greenhouse gas emissions had already peaked and were now declining. The work that went into the company’s net-zero roadmap was “rigorous and extensive,” he said.
“We have engaged with the NewClimate Institute to explain the data and methodology behind our strategy. We welcome scrutiny of our actions and commitments on climate change. However, the NewClimate Institute’s Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor report lacks understanding of our approach and contains significant inaccuracies,” Ware told.
An IKEA told the company plans to align with the SBTi’s net-zero standard this year “to secure that our climate goals across the value chain … are in line with the science of 1.5°C.”
Unilever said that transparency and integrity were “of the utmost importance” to the company.
“While we share different perspectives on some elements of this report, we welcome external analysis of our progress and have begun a productive dialogue with the NewClimate Institute to see how we can meaningfully evolve our approach,” a Unilever spokesperson told.
The Volkswagen Group said that the SBTi had confirmed the company’s climate targets were “in line with the conditions for limiting global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius.” It said that the report had erroneously claimed the company was not making certain emissions data publicly available.
Walmart also told that the report did not “accurately characterize Walmart’s climate goals and actions, and the authors did not provide an opportunity to provide corrections.
“Google, Apple and Vodafone did not immediately reply to CNN’s request for comment. Sony declined to comment.
The highest glacier on the world’s tallest mountain is losing decades worth of ice every year because of human-induced climate change, a new study shows, CNN reports.
The findings serve as a warning that rapid glacier melt at some of the Earth’s highest points could bring worsening climate impacts, including more frequent avalanches and a drying-up of water sources that around 1.6 billion people in mountain ranges depend on for drinking, irrigation and hydropower.
Ice that took around 2,000 years to form on the South Col Glacier has melted in around 25 years, which means it has thinned out around 80 times faster than it formed.
While glacier melt is widely studied, little scientific attention has been paid to glaciers at the highest points of the planet, the researchers argue in thestudy, published in Nature Portfolio Journal Climate and Atmospheric Science.
A team of scientists and climbers, including six from the University of Maine, visited the glacier in 2019 and collected samples from a 10-meter-long (around 32 feet) ice core. They also installed the world’s two highest automatic weather stations to collect data and answer a question: Are the Earth’s most out-of-reach glaciers impacted by human-linked climate change?
“The answer is a resounding yes, and very significantly since the late 1990s,” said Paul Mayewski, the expedition leader and the director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.
The researchers said that the findings not only confirmed that human-sourced climate change reached the highest points on Earth, but that is it was also disrupting the critical balance that snow-covered surfaces provide.
“It’s a complete change from what has been experienced in that area, throughout probably all of the period of occupation by humans in the mountains,” Mayewski told CNN. “And it’s happened very fast.”
The research showed that once the glacier’s ice became exposed, it lost around 55 meters (180 feet) of ice in a quarter-century. The researchers note that the glacier has transformed from consisting of snowpack into predominantly ice, and that change could have started as early as the 1950s. But the ice loss has been most intense since the late 1990s.
This transformation to ice means the glacier can no longer reflect radiation from the sun, making its melt more rapid.
Model simulations show that because of the extreme exposure to solar radiation, melting or vaporization in this region can speed up by a factor of more than 20, once snow cover transforms to ice. A drop in relative humidity levels and stronger winds are also factors.
In addition to all the impacts on those who depend on water from glaciers, the current rate of melt would also make expeditions on Mount Everest more challenging, as snow and ice cover thin further over coming decades.
“Polar bears have been the iconic symbol for warming of the Arctic and the loss of sea ice,” Mayewski said. “We’re hoping that what’s happened high up on Everest will be another iconic call and demonstration.
“The 2019 expedition set three Guinness World Records: The highest altitude ice core taken at 8,020 meters, the highest altitude microplastic found on land, which were likely from clothing or tents, found at 8,440 meters; and the highest altitude weather station on land, installed at “Balcony,” a ridge sitting 8,430 meters above sea level.
The station is the first installed in what is known as the “death zone” for its dangerous hiking conditions – it’s the zone above 8,000 meters where there’s not enough enough oxygen to sustain life beyond short periods of time.
The gas emitted from household stoves and ovens is not only dangerous to public health but also has a much more significant impact on the climate crisis than previously thought, new research shows.
The study, from scientists at Stanford University, found the emissions from gas stoves in US homes have the same climate-warming impact as that of half a million gasoline-powered cars – far more than scientists have previously estimated.
“This new study confirms what environmental advocates have been saying for over a decade now, that there is no [such thing as] clean gas – not for our homes, not for our communities and not for the climate,” Lee Ziesche, community engagement coordinator for Sane Energy, a non-profit climate justice group that was not involved in the research, told CNN. “From the drilling well to the stoves in our kitchens, fracked gas is harming our health and warming the planet.”
Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent planet-warmer. It is around 80 times more powerful in the short term than carbon dioxide, scientists say.
The study also found that in homes without range hoods, or with poor ventilation, the concentration of harmful nitrogen oxides – a byproduct of burning natural gas – can reach or surpass a healthy limit within minutes, especially in homes with small kitchens.
Gas stoves and ovens leak significant amounts of planet-warming methane whether they are on or off. The study estimates stoves release 0.8% to 1.3% of their natural gas into the atmosphere as unburned methane.
That may not sound like much, but lead study author Eric Lebel told CNN it’s a “really big number” when added to the amount of methane that is released during the production and transmission of the gas itself.
“If someone says they don’t use their stove, and so they’re not actually emitting any methane, well, that’s actually not true because most of the stoves that we measured had at least a slow bleed of methane while they were off,” said Lebel, who conducted the research as a graduate student at Stanford University and is now a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy.
For nitrogen oxides, or NOx, which pose an especially harmful risk to children and the elderly, Lebel said they found the emissions are directly proportional to how much gas is burned.
“So if you turn another burner on, use a bigger burner, or turn it higher, all these things will create more NOx,” Lebel said. The concentration of those gases is “dependent on how big your kitchen is, what your ventilation is in your kitchen, all those things matter.”
The study comes as a growing number of US cities, including certain places in California, New York and Massachusetts, are shifting away from including natural gas hookups in new homes. Green energy advocates argue that switching from gas to electric appliances will ease the transition to renewable energy. Electric appliances, according to this study, avoid the harmful byproducts of burning natural gas.
According to the latest data from the US Energy Information Administration, there were more than 40 million gas stoves in US households in 2015, though the proportion of gas stoves in some regions is higher than others.
The study also suggests that the federal government is underestimating the amount of methane emissions leaking from homes, which the researchers found was 15% higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate for all residential emissions in 2019.
“This new study is a really great example of how widespread the sources of greenhouse gas pollution are,” Charles Koven, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who is not involved with the study, told CNN.
“Getting to net-zero isn’t a matter of replacing just the cars or just the power plants that burn fossil fuels with alternatives that don’t,” he added. “We need to look at everything that uses fossil fuels, even the sources as seemingly small as leaky gas pipes that power the stoves in our kitchens, and realize that all of these tiny sources can add up to big climate impacts.”
Methane emissions were a focus in a major UN climate report in August, in which Koven was a lead author. Scientists found the concentration of methane in the atmosphere is higher now than any time in at least 800,000 years – and that reducing methane is the easiest knob to turn to change the path of global temperature in the next 10 years.
Natural gas has been hailed as a “bridge fuel” that would transition the US to renewable energy because it is more efficient than coal and emits less carbon dioxide when burned. But that plan, some experts say, underestimates the impact of it leaking, unburned, into the atmosphere and causing significant warming.
Lebel said that he hopes policymakers can use their research in their effort to decarbonize homes and make appliances healthier.
“It’s neither just a climate issue, not a health issue, but it’s both together,” he said. “When people are deciding whether or not to put out a gas ban, they should consider the climate and health impacts and what the benefits of electrification would be. And it seems pretty clear what the science is showing.”
The world needs more electricity. That will mean severe climate damage unless something changes soon, CNN reports.
A report published Friday by the International Energy Agency found that global demand for electricity surged 6% in 2021, fueled by a colder winter and the dramatic economic rebound from the pandemic. That drove both prices and carbon emissions to new records.
The growth in demand was particularly intense in China, where it jumped by about 10%.
IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said the report containeda stark warning for the future.
Electricity has a crucial role to play in the fight against climate change as countries ditch fossil fuels and more battery-poweredcars hit the road. But so far, renewable sources of electricity — as opposed to power stations that burn coal or natural gas — haven’t kept up.
Electricity generated by renewables grew by 6% globally last year, while coal-fired generation leaped 9% due to high demand and skyrocketing natural gas prices, which made it look like a more attractive option.
Carbon dioxide emissions from power generation rose 7% as a result, reaching an all-time high after declining the previous two years.
“Not only does this highlight how far off track we currently are from a pathway to net zero emissions by 2050, but it also underscores the massive changes needed for the electricity sector to fulfill its critical role in decarbonizing the broader energy system,” Birol said in a statement.
In the United States, coal-fired electricity generation spiked by 19% in 2021. The increase is likely to be temporary, though, with output from coal expected to decline by about 6% a year between 2022 and 2024, according to the IEA.
There’s some good news: Rapid expansion of renewable energy capacity should be enough to cover the vast majority of the growth in global electricity demand through 2024.
Still, emissions will remain high. The IEA found that emissions from the power sector will “remain around the same level from 2021 to 2024,” even though they need to decline “sharply” for the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Growing up in Finland, Iida Ruishalme had a deep affinity for nature — particularly the forest, where she loved to go trekking with her dogs. Now, she’s worried that her daughters won’t experience such idyllic days as the climate crisis accelerates. So last month, she boarded a night train from Switzerland to join protests in the German capital Berlin.
Ruishalme agrees the world needs more wind farms and solar panels. But what she and her fellow demonstrators really want is a commitment to something else: nuclear energy, CNN reports.
“We have to give this technology a chance,” the Mothers for Nuclear member said, joining dozens of others who stood with signs outside the city’s famous Brandenburg Gate.
Nuclear power is one of the most reliable low-carbon sources of energy available, but memories of accidents at Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island still loom large, fueling skepticism and fear and deterring investors from fundingnew projects.
Nuclear plants are also notoriously expensive to build. Construction tends to run over budget and time, and wind and solar energy has typically come out cheaper. How to safely store the radioactive waste it produces is another headache.
Germany began winding down its nuclear industry following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, when an earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown of three reactors in one of the worst nuclear incidents of all time. All six reactors still operating in Germany should be shut by the end of next year.
Yet the scale of the climate crisis is encouraging other governments and investors to give the nuclear industry another look.
Whether the world invests heavily into nuclear will depend on what people have the stomach for. Ruishalme, for one, hopes they’ll put their anxieties aside.
“Our gut feelings don’t produce ready-made solutions,” she said, adding that she too once considered it “too risky,” but changed her mind after researching the pros and cons.
Europe’s big decision
Nuclear energy currently accounts for about 10% of the world’s electricity production. In some countries, the share is even larger. The United States and the United Kingdom generate roughly 20% of their electricity from nuclear energy. In France, it’s 70%, according to the World Nuclear Association.
The world is now at a nuclear crossroads: It could scale up nuclear as a sturdy energy source to keep emissions down, or throw all its money behind renewables, which are quicker to build and more profitable — but sometimes patchy.
Advocates emphasize that nuclear power flows even when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.
“We need renewables to be complemented by a reliable, 24/7 energy source,” said James Hansen, a climate scientist at Columbia University who also took part in the Berlin demonstration.
The UK government agrees. It supports the construction of the country’s first nuclear power station in more than two decades in southwestern England. US President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package, meanwhile, includes $6 billion in grants to keep older plants running. And President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that France would begin building new plants for the first time in nearly 20 years.
That puts France and Germany at odds with each other ahead of a crucial decision by the European Union on whether to classify nuclear as “green” or “transitional” on a controversial list of sustainable energy sources set to be unveiled Wednesday. The outcome could unleash a wave of fresh funding, or leave nuclear on the outside.
EU climate chief Frans Timmermans recently indicated that both nuclear and natural gas — which is made up mostly of the greenhouse gas methane — could qualify for green financing.
“I think we need to find a way of recognizing that these two energy sources play a role in the energy transition,” he said at an event hosted by Politico. “That does not make them green, but it does acknowledge the fact that nuclear being zero emissions are very important to reduce emissions, and that natural gas will be very important in transiting away from coal into renewable energy.”
While nuclear power produces zero emissions when generated, the uranium required to make it needs to be mined, and that process emits greenhouse gases. Nonetheless, an analysis by the European Commission concluded that emissions from nuclear are around the same as wind energy and less than solar when the full cycle of production is taken into account.
Hansen, a longtime advocate for nuclear power, said it’s crucial in global efforts to decarbonize, and that Germany shouldn’t use its political clout to stand in the way of fresh investment.
“The consequence of treating it as not sustainable is we’re not going to have a pathway to limit climate change to the level that young people are now demanding,” he said. “It’s really important that Germany not be able to impose this policy on the rest of Europe and on the world.”
But German politicians and experts argue that high costs and the time it takes to build new plants — no fewer than five years, and often much longer — mean money would be better spent elsewhere.
The latest UN-backed climate science shows the world should nearly halve emissions over this decade to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a vital cap to avoid worsening climate impacts. The world must also shoot for net-zero by mid-century. That means emissions must be reduced as much as possible, and the rest captured or offset.
Current pledges, including those made at the recent COP26 climate summit in Scotland, only get the world around one-quarter of the way there, according to Climate Action Tracker.
The International Energy Agency says that nuclear power generation should more than double between 2020 and 2050 in the pursuit of net-zero. Its share in the electricity mix will drop, but that’s because demand for power will soar as the world electrifies as many machines as possible, including cars and other vehicles.
Yet Ben Wealer, who researches nuclear power economics at the Technical University of Berlin, argues that the world can’t waitfor new nuclear plants, especially since the next eight years are so crucial to decarbonizing.
“Looking at the time frames, it cannot be a huge help in combating climate change,” he said. “It blocks the cash we need for renewables.
“Even if the world did have more time, delays are a problem. The Hinkley Point C plant in the United Kingdom, for example, is now to be completed in mid-2026, six months later than planned, and its costs are rising. The latest price tag was as much as £23 billion ($30 billion), about £5 billion ($6.6 billion) more than when the project was launched in 2016.
German officials also argue that the lack of a global plan for storing toxic waste should disqualify nuclear as a “sustainable” energy source.
Christoph Hamann, an official at Germany’s federal office for nuclear waste management, emphasized that government efforts to construct sites below ground where waste can be stored indefinitely remain a work-in-progress.
“We’re talking about a very toxic, high radioactive waste, which is producing problems for the next tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years. And we’re directing this problem, when using nuclear power, to future generations,” Hamann said.
Wave of funding
It’s not just Europe that’s mulling more nuclear. The most energetic push is in China, where there are 18 reactors under construction as the world’s biggest emitter tries to pivot away from coal. That’s more than 30% of the reactors being built globally, according to the World Nuclear Association.
And the debate is becoming more complex as new nuclear technologies are developed and show signs they could generate better financial returns.
The US government has backed TerraPower, the startup chaired by Bill Gates. The company, which wants to stand up a next-generation nuclear project at a former coal hub in Wyoming, utilizes molten salt to transfer heat from the reactor and use it to generate electricity, which it claims will simplify construction and allow it to adjust output to meet changing demand.
Meanwhile, Britain is supporting a push by engineering firmRolls-Royce to build smaller nuclear reactors, which have lower upfront costs. That pitch could help draw in private investors.
“It’s very, very difficult for any country to achieve net-zero ambitions without nuclear,” said Tom Samson, the CEO of the new Rolls-Royce venture.
The parts of a Rolls-Royce reactor are designed so almost all of it can be built and assembled in a factory. That limits the amount of time that’s required to piece its components together on an expensive construction site. Initially, production is estimated at £2.2 billion ($2.9 billion) per unit.
“If you look back in history, you can find lots of examples of big nuclear projects that have struggled,” Samson said. “We’ve designed ours to be different.”
About £210 million ($278 million) in funding from the UK government will allow the company to begin applying for regulatory approvals. It hopes to set up three factories in Britain and start churning out about two units per year, which would power 2 million homes. The first unitis expected to go into service in the United Kingdom in 2031.
For comparison, theHinkley power station is expected to provide electricity for 6 million homes.
Samson also emphasizes that smaller reactors produce little waste. The spent fuel from a small modular reactor operating for 60 years would fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, he said.
Fission or fusion?
According to data from PitchBook, nuclear energy startups raised $676 million in venture capital funding globally in the first nine months of 2021. That’s more than the total amount raised over the past five years combined.
That figure includes funding for startups that explore nuclear fusion, which has been attracting more attention. The nuclear power generators currently operating use fission technology, which involves splitting the nucleus of an atom. Fusion is the process of combining two nuclei to create energy — often referred to as the energy of the sun or the stars.
Scientists are still working out how to successfully manage a fusion reaction and turn it into a commercially viable project. But investors are increasingly excited about its potential since it doesn’t produce lingering radioactive waste and comes with no risk of a Fukushima-style meltdown, nor does it rely on uranium.
Helion, a US-based fusion startup, announced last month that it had raised $500 million in a round led by Sam Altman, the former president of Y Combinator.
As the world weighs which way to turn on nuclear, it could be years until it’s clear which was the right road to take. A look at Germany and France in 10 or 20 years from now may provide the answer.
Ultimately, arguments around emissions, reliability and economics may be cast aside. The real future of nuclear could come down to public opinion.
“If there is a nuclear accident, a new major one, that could kill the entire industry,” said Henning Gloystein, director of energy, climate and resources at Eurasia Group.
Usually, Jay Lacia wakes at midnight on Christmas Day to start the festivities – but this year, all he wished for was enough food to eat. “We always celebrated Christmas, but for now, it’s too hard,” the 27-year-old father of one said, as he sat among rubble in the typhoon-hit city of Surigao, at the northeastern tip of Mindanao in the Philippines, CNN reports.
Broken wood, scraps of metal, and plastic waste line the shore, where an exhausted stray dog sleeps. The stench of waste and dead fish engulf the air.
More than a week after Super Typhoon Rai – known locally as Odette – slammed into the Philippines, Lacia has given up trying to salvage whatever is left of his home. Not a single house stands anymore in his village on nearby Dinagat Island.
“Everything was gone, including my house,” Lacia said. “The roof, and any wood that we built with, was gone.”
Nobody expected the wrath Rai would unleash when it struck the archipelago on December 16. It was the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, killing nearly 400 people, while displacing hundreds of thousands more.
The Philippines experiences several typhoons a year, but the climate crisis has caused storms to become more unpredictable and extreme – while leaving the nation’s poorest most vulnerable.
Families like Lacia’s lost everything. And now, they face the nearly impossible task of rebuilding their homes without enough food to eat or water to drink.
“We thought we were safe because we tied up our house. We thought that was enough to keep it from collapsing,” he said. “We put a weight on our roof to keep it from being blown away. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.”
Homeless at Christmas
Nearly 4 million people across more than 400 cities were affected by Typhoon Rai, according to the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
More than half a million remained displaced during Christmas – one of the most important holidays in the Catholic-majority nation.
“Families have nothing,” Jerome Balinton, humanitarian manager for Save the Children said. “Bright lights and Christmas music is replaced with dirty, humid evacuation centers. Their only wish this Christmas is to survive.”
Jovelyn Paloma Sayson, 35, from Surigao City evacuated to her community’s parish church before Rai struck. Her fragile hut made from wood, plastic and metal, did not withstand the storm’s powerful gusts of wind.
“The roofs of every house were flying everywhere,” the mother of seven said as she sat amid the ruins of her home. “Our house was the first one to collapse. First, the roof flew off. Then the foundation crumbled. After my house was destroyed, my mother’s house collapsed.”
All of the family’s food was destroyed by floods. Their stock of rice — a staple for the Southeast Asian country — was floating in muddy water next to broken pieces of wood. Sayson’s children’s clothes are ruined from the rain, and her furniture reduced to fragments.
Sayson’s kitchen appliances were stolen in the aftermath. She cannot afford to rebuild from scratch, she said.
“We need money to rebuild our house,” she said. “We are not dreaming of having a mansion. All we want is to have our own house to live in so that our children are safe.”
Despite the trauma, her family still gathered to celebrate the holiday.
“We had nothing to eat,” Sayson said. “Someone gave us sliced bread and canned goods. Even though we are poor, we have a party every Christmas.”
Prolonged displacement and suffering
More than 1,000 temporary shelters have been set up to house those whose homes have crumbled, according to the NDRRMC.
For many of the displaced families, the trauma and suffering are unbearable.
Alvin Dumduma, Philippines project manager for aid group Humanity and Inclusion, said it’s “exhausting” for families to try and rebuild their homes “while starving and thirsty.”
Cramped inside unsanitary evacuation centers with no running water, he is concerned about the potential spread of diseases, including Covid-19.
“The conditions in the evacuation centers are far from ideal. It’s unhygienic. Thousands are sleeping under one roof with no clean water,” he added. “Children aren’t going to school. There is no electricity either. They will be stuck like this for a long time.”
Dumduma said the disaster has also devastated these families’ livelihoods.
“Many are from fishing or farming communities whose boats and land have been destroyed,” he said. “They will struggle a lot to build back their business.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said the government will raise money for the rehabilitation and recovery of typhoon-ravaged areas. The United Nations has also promised more than $100 million in aid.
But Dumduma said much more needs to change at the government level to avoid such devastation from future storms.
“Chaos unfolded because the government was not prepared. They must strengthen their disaster and response program,” he said. “We need more training, more preparation and early action.”
CNN has reached out to the NDRRMC for comment but did not hear back before publication.
Effects of the climate crisis
Located along the typhoon belt in the western Pacific Ocean, the Philippines regularly experiences big storms — but the climate crisis has caused these events to become more extreme and unpredictable.
As the climate crisis worsens, cyclones are becoming more intense and destructive. Rai evolved rapidly from the equivalent of a Category 1 to a Category 5 storm in just 24 hours, packing winds of up to 260 kilometers (160 miles) per hour.
And the country was not prepared for a disaster of this scale.
Kairos Dela Cruz, deputy head of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, said developing countries are reaching their limit of being able to handle natural disasters on their own and those that live in low-lying, coastal areas will soon lose their homes to rising sea levels.
A study published in November by researchers at the Shenzhen Institute of Meteorological Innovation and the Chinese University of Hong Kong found typhoons in Asia could have double their destructive power by the end of the century. They already last between two and nine hours longer and travel an average of 100 kilometers (62 miles) further inland than they did four decades ago.
The climate crisis also exposes systemic problems in the Philippines, Dela Cruz said.
“We need more resources to help us and (we should) play a stronger role internationally to push for more climate finance,” he said.
According to Dela Cruz, a storm of Rai’s scale in December is unusual for the Philippines, which usually experiences typhoons from June to September.
For Alita Sapid, 64, the effects of the climate crisis are clearly visible.
“We have had typhoons before, but this was extremely strong,” she said of Rai. Sapid stayed at home in Surigaowith her husband, daughter, and four grandchildren when the typhoon hit, but as the water seeped in, they decided it was time to evacuate.
“I told my husband to get out of here because we might die here,” she said. “My grandchildren had to crawl on the roads because the wind was so strong.”
The roof of Sapid’s home is completely destroyed. With nowhere to go and no money for now, the family has no choice but to sleep in their exposed home – whatever is left of it.
“Aside from thinking about what we were going to prioritize in the repair, we are also thinking about how we can get our food,” she said.
“We have not received any help yet. We are just waiting for someone to help us.”
A long road to recovery
Lacia, from Dinagat Island, will relocate with his wife and child to Surigao. It is safer there, he said.
“My neighbors are no longer (in Dinagat). Most of them have left because there is nothing left in our neighborhood,” he said.
All he has left to his name are some matchsticks, a box of rice, dried fish, and canned goods.
“In my family, we really need help so we can rise again and return to our livelihood,” Lacia said.
“Odette really was a Super Typhoon,” he said. “We lost our home, damaged by the force of the wind brought by the storm. We did everything, but it still was not enough.”
The first thing it resembles – this private, manmade island, straddling the Adriatic Sea and the Venetian lagoon – is a Bond villain’s lair. The second – as you dock at the private pontoon, walk past the Brutalist concrete façade, and into a “control room” where staff watch monitors tracking the waters around the island 24/7 – is something out of “Squid Game”, CNN reports.
In fact, as sinister as it sounds, this 144,000 square meter (35.6 acres) island which keeps a silent tab on Venice around the clock isn’t a malign force – it’s there to protect one of the world’s most fragile cities.
The nameless island – situated between the peninsula of Cavallino-Treporti (which curls out from the Italian mainland, putting a protective arm around the Venetian lagoon) and the Lido island, a giant sandbar that blocks off most of the historical center of Venice from the Adriatic Sea – is the beating heart of the MOSE: the system of flood barriers that have, after 1,200 years, allowed the floating city to stand up to rising sea levels.
It has taken its time. The MOSE – Italian for Moses, and short for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, or Experimental Electromechanical Model – has been in the works since 1984. But it took nearly four decades to build, being beset by delays and corruption to such an extent – a former mayor went on trial for embezzling money from the project – that many Venetians believed it would never work.
Their fears were proved groundless on October 3, 2020, however, when, as regularly happens in winter, Venice was hit by an exceptionally high tide.
A tide that was 135 centimeters (53 inches) above normal levels hit Venice. Usually, that would have put around half the city underwater, but this time, the city remained dry. It was the first time the MOSE had been raised in adverse weather conditions. It was, as one Venetian told at the time, “historic… like the first step of Armstrong on the moon.”
Fourteen months later, the MOSE has been raised 33 times: 13 in 2020, and 20 so far in 2021. (The flooding period typically runs from October to March.) The naysayers appear to have been proven wrong – not once has it failed to protect the city when raised.
The yellowfins poking ever so slightly out of the sea tend to look fragile against the raging Adriatic, in footage taken when they’re raised – normally during storms whipped up by rough sirocco winds, which blast the city from the south.
But get up close, and you realize appearances can be deceptive. Each of these enormous barriers is 20-30 meters (66-98 feet) long, and 20 meters wide. They are embedded in the seabed in concrete chests, 40 meters wide, 60 meters long, and 10 meters high.
Oh, and there are 78 of them, spread in four lines, at the three entry points to the Venetian lagoon.
As a piece of infrastructure, the MOSE is a behemoth.
And yet, when the barriers are not in use, you don’t see a thing. Unlike flood barriers in northern Europe – and at a much greater expense – the MOSE was designed to be invisible when the barriers are not needed.
A Bond-style island in no man’s land
The hub of the project is the specially constructed island floating in the middle of the northernmost entry point to the lagoon.
Overlooking the bucolic island of Sant’Erasmo, with the snow-tufted Dolomites on the horizon, it’s a “no man’s land between the sea and lagoon” where the lagoon and Adriatic waters converge, according to engineer and site director Alessandro Soru.
The “bocca di Treporti,” or Treporti inlet (“bocca” is Italian for mouth) is an almost mile-wide channel between Punta Sabbioni (the tip of Cavallino-Treporti) and the northernmost point of the Lido island.
There are two more entry points to the lagoon: at Malamocco, on the southern tip of the Lido, and another one at Chioggia, a fishing town at the southernmost point of the lagoon.
Treporti is by far the widest channel, though, and the level of the seabed varies from between 20 to 40 feet here. So, rather than create a massive barrier of varying height, the island has been created to divide the inlet into two. It also provides a space for the headquarters of the MOSE, which might otherwise disturb tourists in the campsites and beaches of Punta Sabbioni.
‘Proper James Bond’
Inside, a wall of monitors in the control room streams live CCTV footage of boats passing through the three channels. It also feeds in information on weather and tide levels and monitors the barriers when they are raised.
One screen monitors the level of the lagoon and the sea levels: blue for the former, red for the latter.
On normal days, both blue and red lines rise and fall together like a heartbeat monitor – spiking at high tide, then hitting a trough at low.
On a recent date, however – December 8, 2021 – the lines spectacularly diverged.
The red line, denoting the Adriatic tide level, spiked high at 130 centimeters (51 inches) above the average, while the blue lagoon line followed it for a while, then plunged, then leveled out far below the red line, before eventually descending together.
On that date, at 8.58 p.m., the MOSE was raised as the tide hit 80 centimeters. That quick plunge? Physics – more specifically, the fluid dynamics of Bernoulli’s principle, meaning the lagoon level took a quick dip to 50 centimeters, before stabilizing at 80 centimeters for the next 12 hours. The MOSE was lowered at 8.44 a.m. the following day, when the two lines converged again.
In good weather, there are a couple of people here on day shift, as well as a team of four in the tunnel, 62 feet below, where half-mile tunnels in the concrete cases below the fins connect the island to the Lido and Punta Sabbioni, and the underwater humidity can be felt in your bones.
Warrens of pipes carrying the air to fill the barriers run underfoot in the tunnel, while chambers leading off from the side house the valves connecting the fins to the concrete bunkers. Each can be sealed off from the main corridor with the flick of a button, and it can operate even if, in a disaster, water gets in. Soru points to a porthole in the corner of the room: “That’s so you can get in via a sub, if it’s flooded – proper James Bond,” he says.
But when tides are high, this is the 24/7 hub of the whole operation, with a 100-strong team operating in the control room, in the underwater tunnels, and in the lagoon, as boats zip around to bring workers to the island – since there’s no public transport. There’s even accommodation so workers can sleep here between shifts.
How the MOSE works
After decades of initial controversy, the building of the MOSE began in 2009, with the last “fin” installed in June 2019, on the Lido side of the Treporti island.
The Venice lagoon is notoriously shallow – the average depth is just 1 meter (3.3 feet). But the inlets from the Adriatic are much deeper – Malamocco, the entrance to the industrial port is 14 meters (46 feet) deep, for example. Although they didn’t alter the depth of the inlets, engineers excavated the seabed along all three to make room for the concrete “cases,” which fit flush along the seabed.
The 14,000-ton cases were cast in concrete on the mainland, then floated into position and sunk beneath the water, while the debris removed from the seabed was used to build the island at Treporti – the “works citadel,” as Soru calls it.
Inside the concrete chests sit the metal floodgates, treated every three months with an anti-corrosive – non-toxic, because of the lagoon ecosystem. Each of the 78 barriers is a uniform 20 meters (65 feet) wide, and varies from 20-30 meters in length, depending on the depth of the water.
They can resist waves of up to 3 meters above normal tide levels – significantly more even than the record 194 centimeters (76 inches) tide that devastated the city in 1966.
How they work is down to a surprisingly simple hydraulics method. Lying dormant on the seabed, the hollow barriers are filled with water to weigh them down.
To raise them, air is pumped into the fins, as the water drains out. They float upwards until they emerge above the water – at which point they form a barrier with the Adriatic surging against them one side, the lagoon relatively calm – and low – on the other.
When the tide subsides, water is pumped back into the fins and air expelled, causing them to sink down again and settle in their cases. It takes just 32 minutes to raise them, and about half that to lower them – that’s down from 91 minutes last year, according to Elisabetta Spitz, the “extraordinary commissioner” responsible for the project, who reports to the Italian government.
The process sounds simple, but has been honed to a precise degree. Between each barrier is an almost 3-inch gap, to release some of the intense pressure on the fins as they withstand the Adriatic. For the same reason, they’re raised four or five at a time, instead of all at once. They can work independently, too – so engineers can choose to raise just some of the barriers, to slow down the flow of water into the lagoon, or lower them temporarily at Malamocco to let an industrial ship go through to Venice’s port – Italy’s second busiest, and the fifth in the Mediterranean.
That also means, says Soru, that if, as people fear, one barrier ever fails to raise, it won’t stop the MOSE working as a whole. Not that that’s happened in the year that it’s been protecting the city.
Finger on the button
Deciding to raise the barriers is a complicated process. Two establishments study the weather predictions: the Centro Maree di Venezia, which monitors tide levels for the city, and the Sala Operativa Consorzio Venezia Nuova, which is responsible for the MOSE. Both use different modeling and compare their forecasts.
Spitz calls the process a “series of warnings, from 48 hours before the tide until three hours before.”
It’s not just the MOSE operatives who receive it. “It informs everyone who operates in the lagoon to get going, because everyone has to do something – from the guy driving the trash-collecting boat who needs to change course, to ships needing to go in and out,” she explains.
Fifteen minutes before that three-hour warning, Spitz and a government representative get an email, “summarizing everything that’s happened in the preceding hours and asking for confirmation to proceed.
“For example, if there’s a ship running late because it’s been caught in bad weather, we can decide to leave a part of the barrier open to let it in.
“We intervene only if there are exceptional events that mean we need to deviate from the procedure. If not the procedure goes ahead without intervention.”
It’s not just sea level and wind speed that they need to take into account — rainfall raises the water level around the city, as do swollen rivers disgorging into the lagoon. “Even if a tide of 95cm is predicted, we don’t know if the barriers will go up,” says Soru.
Last year, on December 8, Venice was hit by a 138cm flood, causing extensive damage to the city, just weeks after the MOSE had shown it never need to happen again. The reason? Only 125cm had been predicted, but wind, rain and river water rocketed the sea level up.
“I take responsibility for it,” says Spitz. “It was one of the first raisings, we had a procedure that was a bit more complicated and as acqua alta [flooding] wasn’t predicted, we took the decision to not mobilize it.
“But it was one of the first tries, and we understood the process needed to be made more automatic, so we updated the procedure. It was our fault. But today it wouldn’t happen.”
“It was disastrous, but we learn from experience – now we raise the barriers a few centimeters earlier,” says Soru.
When the MOSE is fully operational in 2023, the barriers will be raised when the water level hits 110cm (43in) above the regular level. That won’t help the lowest areas of the city, such as St. Mark’s Square which floods at around 90cm; but it will protect around 86% of Venice, including most residential areas.
In fact, says Soru, the barriers will be raised when it looks like the tide will hit 100cm, to account for wind and rain raising the water levels.
For now, though, with the barriers in a final stage of tests, they’re raised when the tide is predicted to hit 130cm.
Of course, projects of this size are rarely without their detractors. One of the main criticisms leveled at the MOSE is that the barriers interfere with the lagoon ecosystem, turning it into a pond rather than a living lagoon.
But, says Spitz, when the barriers were up for 48 hours last year, that was as a trial, to test their resistance. In the future, even in periods when the barriers are up daily, it will only be for a few hours at a time. They have also installed locks at Chioggia and Malamocco to enable some fishing vessels and industrial ships to pass while the barriers are up.
“When it goes up, it’s three, four hours maximum,” she says. “And then it’s not a given that you have to raise all the barriers. There are many possibilities and much flexibility. We’re trialing all of them to target choices better to the needs that will gradually show up. Every time we do a raise, we prepare dozens of tests to get the answers we need, understand the function and make it better.”
And while St. Mark’s Square floods at a level well below that at which the MOSE kicks in, another project – though delayed – is due to construct a glass barrier around the famous Byzantine basilica. Protection for the businesses in the square, however – like historic café Quadri – is a long way off. Its manager, Roberto Pepe, previously told that the MOSE’s cut-off point of 110 centimeters “changes nothing and leaves a sour taste” for those whose livelihoods rely on the piazza.
Spitz insists that she didn’t choose the cut-off points – a committee of local and national governance did. Access to the port was also taken into consideration.
“We need to save Venice, Chioggia, the islands – Murano, Burano, and lots of small islands are even worse off in front of high tides,” she says.
“But above all we need to find a point of mediation between economic needs – of those who operate in the lagoon – and the need to protect. That’s the big question we’ll need to take forward down the line.”
Another criticism of MOSE? The exorbitant overheads. The MOSE cost around $8 billion to build, and accounts from its first year suggest that it costs $328,000 to raise it every time – nearly double the original estimates.
The fins must be treated with anti-corrosive every three months, and their containers must be dredged twice per season, after a buildup of sand inside them meant that six fins could not be lowered during 2020 trials. The containers will need a thorough clean every five years.
Coping with climate change
The big question, of course, is how the MOSE can hold up to climate change.
After the flood of December 2020, Claudio Vernier, president of the Associazione Piazza San Marco, which represents business owners in St. Mark’s Square, told that when the MOSE was initially planned, it was estimated that it would hit 110 centimeters only a couple of times a year.
“Now with the worsening climate crisis, the water level is always higher, and we see that kind of tide level 20 times a year – what will happen in 30 years?”, he asked.
Spitz and Soru, however, insist that the barriers will last longer than that.
“A study on corrosion we did a few months ago said that it can last for 100 years, but must be maintained every three months,” says Soru.
“If in 100 years the barriers aren’t enough, and we can’t hold off 3-meter tides, I can tell you the problem won’t be Venice,” adds Spitz.
“The lagoon is closed now. The protection is more than sufficient, the barriers are what they are. But you would need to think about protecting other areas – the problem would be much more in the Po delta [which covers much of northern Italy].
“If climate change is dramatic, there will be serious problems elsewhere. You’d need to look elsewhere, not at Venice.”
In the meantime, plans have been mooted to partially power the MOSE through solar panels. Installing them at Malamocco could provide 20% of power – but Spitz hopes to make the project carbon neutral within three years, to stand it in good stead for the future.
Spitz arrived in 2019, well after the corruption trials of the MOSE. “I know there were scandals, I’ve read about them, and it’s right that they’re stigmatized and the people who did it were punished,” she says.
“But despite everything that happened with the MOSE, I say, long live the MOSE. Because it protects Venice.”
If she’s right, the devastating flood of November 2019 – which killed two and caused $1 billion damage to local businesses which have yet to recover, might be a thing of the past. And La Serenissima can rest a little more, well, serene.
In an ancient and now extinct supervolcano sitting in northern Nevada lies a treasure that its seekers call “white gold”, CNN reports.
This metal isn’t to trade or to make jewelry out of – it’s lithium, and its value lies in its role in potentially slashing the world’s carbon emissions.
President Joe Biden’s plan to transform the US to clean, low-carbon economy energy depends on switching to electric vehicles, and that means replacing gas with batteries, which are made from critical minerals like lithium.
But in the US, doing so is not without controversy.
Lithium is a key ingredient for the big, rechargeable batteries that power electric vehicles and store energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines — keeping that energy in use even when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
Obtaining these minerals, which some call the new “white gold,” is part of the latest worldwide rush to produce clean energy. Earlier this year, the Biden administration released a strategic plan from several federal agencies detailing how it planned to improve the entire supply chain for critical minerals like lithium — from extracting it from US mines to putting it in batteries, to recycling and reusing these batteries.
“America has a clear opportunity to build back our domestic supply chain and manufacturing sectors, so we can capture the full benefits of an emerging $23 trillion global clean energy economy,” US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in June.
In the US, the major lithium prospect is a large deposit in Thacker Pass, Nevada, and another lithium deposit sits in North Carolina. The Thacker Pass lithium deposit is one of the world’s largest, sitting in an ancient, and now-extinct, supervolcano.
A proposal to start mining lithium by Lithium Nevada Corporation – a subsidiary of Lithium Americas Corp. – was approved by the US Bureau of Land Management in January.
“It’s the largest-known lithium deposit in North America, so given where we’re going globally and as a country, it’s a unique opportunity,” Jonathan Evans, president and CEO at Lithium Americas Corp.
Evans told that currently, the bulk of lithium chemicals used in the US are imported from other countries. Lithium-rich countries including Chile and Bolivia are heavy exporters. Evans said that with lithium deposits in the US and Canada, “it’s not lost on state governments and the federal that everyone wants to play in that and we have the resources to do it.”
Lithium and cobalt mining for electric cars has been controversial globally for years, in part because of its environmental destruction, the short lifespan of batteries and in some countries, because child labor has been used in the process.
And as a “white gold” rush comes to the US, not everyone is thrilled about the rush to mine it.
Not everyone is on board
Lithium Americas hopes to break ground on its mining project in early 2022. CNN traveled to Nevada and found the rush to procure critical minerals in the United States has pitted environmental advocates against each other.
Some climate advocates say the rush to mine lithium is critical for a larger transition away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Other local environmental groups and tribal nations oppose the project, concerned about disturbing sacred tribal burial grounds as well as potential environmental impacts. Three tribal groups tried to stop it through lawsuits — which were dismissed by a judge in September.
“A lot of us understand blowing up a mountain for coal mining is wrong; I think blowing up a mountain for lithium mining is just as wrong,” said Max Wilbert, an environmental organizer who is camping out at Thacker Pass to protest the mine’s development.
Wilbert cited several reasons he is against the lithium mine: environmental impacts to sage grouse and antelope, potential water pollution for surrounding communities and cultural issues for the local indigenous community, which considers the land on and around Thacker Pass sacred burial grounds.
Wilbert is currently camping out in frigid Nevada desert winter conditions in a tribal ceremonial camp, and he and other advocates say they’re willing to stand in front of mining machinery to try to stop the project from going forward.
“Our laws haven’t caught up to the reality of what’s happening to our planet, and so people might have to break the law in order to change what’s happening,” he said. “Electric cars won’t actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions that much; they will reduce emissions but not by a sizable amount.”
Driving gas-powered vehicles in the US comes at a cost to the climate. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation account for nearly 30% of total US emissions; more than any other sector, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Glenn Miller, a retired professor of environmental science at the University of Nevada Reno, disagreed – tellin the Thacker Pass project is a “relatively benign mine for its size.”
Miller said he thinks the clean energy benefits of mining lithium in Nevada outweigh environmental concerns – especially when it comes to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions worsening global climate change.
“Those who say it isn’t going to make any difference, they’re simply wrong,” Miller said. “Radical environmentalists are going to argue that the only way to solve the climate change problem is to drive a whole lot less and to not burn gasoline or coal. Well, that’s not going to happen – the demands of society are set so we’re going to have to have an active transportation industry.”
Miller told that lithium is the key ingredient that will power the transition to electric vehicles.
“There’s no other metal that can work as well as lithium,” Miller said. “We’re going to need a lot of batteries to run the cars that we’re going to have on the road. It’s going to be a very positive contribution to mitigating climate change.”
Evans told that his company is engaging community stakeholders, and local and state governments about the mine’s plans.
“It’s very important that this transition is done as sustainable as possible,” Evans said, stressing his company is committed to mitigating the environmental impacts of the mining as much as it can, by conserving water use and trying to lessen carbon emissions as it extracts the mineral.
“It’s not the cheapest, but it’s essential as we move to thisphase to ensure we do things as responsibly as possible.”
As the rapidly heating planet alters the landscape of the Arctic region up north, scientists have discovered disturbing and alarming signs at the southern end of the planet, particularly in one of the ice shelves safeguarding the Antarctic’s so-called “Doomsday glacier”, CNN reports.
Satellite images taken as recently as last month, which researchers presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union Monday, suggest the critical ice shelf keeping together the Thwaites glacier in western Antarctica — an important defense against global sea level rise — could shatter within the next three to five years.
Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier is known as the “Doomsday glacier,” due to the serious risk it poses during its melting process. It has dumped billions of tons of ice into the sea, and its demise could lead to irreversible changes throughout the planet.
The glacier, which equals the size of Florida or Great Britain, already accounts for about 4% of annual global sea level rise, loses roughly 50 billion tons of ice each year, and is becoming highly vulnerable to the climate crisis. The fall of the ice shelf could bring the impending collapse of Antarctica’s critical glacier.
If the Thwaites collapsed, the event could raise sea levels by several feet, researchers say, putting coastal communities as well as low-lying island nations further at risk.
But Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, and a leader of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, said it will still be decades before the world will see real acceleration and an additional uptick in sea level rise.
“What is attention-getting about Thwaites is that the change will proceed with fairly dramatic, measurable results within the next few decades,” Scambos told CNN.
For now, the glacier is being held back by a critical floating ice shelf.
“What’s most concerning about the recent results is that it’s pointing to a collapse of this ice shelf, this kind of safety band that holds the ice on the land,” Peter Davis, an oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey, told CNN. “If we lose this ice shelf, then the glacier will flow into the ocean more quickly, contributing towards sea level rise.”
Warming ocean waters play a key role in driving the rapid deterioration. A 2020 study by the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, which is currently leading ongoing research in the Antarctic, found the ocean floor is deeper than scientists previously thought, with deep passages allowing warm ocean water to melt the underside of the ice.
The observations show the critical ice shelf keeping the Thwaites together is loosening its grip on the underwater mountain, or the seamount, which acts as a reinforcement against the ice river from flowing into the warm ocean. Researchers also found the so-called “ice tongue” of the Thwaites Glacier is simply now a “loose cluster of icebergs,” which no longer influences the stable part of the eastern ice shelf.
Peter Washam, a research associate at Cornell University, who is also involved with the research, said the physical features of the grounding zone shows signs of chaos, such as warm water, rugged ice, and a steep, sloping bottom that allows the water to rapidly melt the ice sheet from below.
“In the coming years, we expect the Thwaites grounding line in the region to slowly retreat up the seabed slope that it currently rests on as the warm ocean eats away at its underside,” Washam told CNN. His team used an underwater vehicle called Icefin that makes it easier to study ice and water around and beneath ice shelves.
The bottom line, according to Davis, is Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is rapidly deteriorating. The warm ocean water is slowly erasing the ice underneath, causing water to flow faster, fracturing more of the ice, and bringing the looming threat of a collapse even closer.
“From the satellite data, we’re seeing these big fractures spreading across the ice shelf surface, essentially weakening the fabric of the ice; kind of a bit like a windscreen crack,” he said. “It’s slowly spreading across the ice shelf and eventually it’s going to fracture into lots of different pieces.”
Scambos said while the process is extremely slow-moving and real impacts won’t be felt until several decades later, it is nearly impossible to stop it.
“This is a geologic process, but happening at almost a human-lifetime scale,” he said. “As a disaster for people alive today, it is extremely slow-moving. The best path is to try to slow the forces that are pushing the ice in this direction.”
“We can’t really do anything to stop this from happening,” besides slowing it down, Davis said. “The way that we’ve gone with our carbon emissions so far has caused these changes to occur — and essentially, we’re taking the consequences of what we’ve been emitting over the last couple of decades, if not longer.”
The series of weekend tornadoes that ripped through the parts of the US this weekend adds to another stretch of deadly and potentially unprecedented weather disasters that plagued the planet this year. Meteorologists and climate scientists say the latest outbreak is historic, CNN reports.
And as these extreme weather events intensify, occur more often and exacerbate the country’s growing economic toll, science is running to keep up to answer emerging questions of whether climate change is intensifying every single disaster. With this weekend’s tornadoes, climate researchers say it’s too early to determine the link, but the uncertainty doesn’t mean it is unlikely.
In Kentucky, the series of tornadoes uprooted trees, tore down homes and infrastructure, and killed at least 74 people. Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news conference that the tornado event reached a “level of devastation unlike anything I have ever seen,” he said.
Global scientists made clear that weather events, no matter how severe, are occurring against the backdrop of human-caused climate change; nevertheless, it all comes down to discerning how a warming planet is altering weather patterns, including geographical location and frequency, as well as severity.
Scientists say the short-lived scale of tornadoes, coupled with an extremely inconsistent and unreliable historical record, makes connecting outbreaks to long-term, human-caused climate change extremely challenging.
Unlike large-scale and slow-trending weather events such as droughts, floods and hurricanes, scientific research about the link between climate change and tornadoes has not been as robust.
Victor Gensini, a professor at Northern Illinois University and one of the top tornado experts, said the weekend’s outbreak is one of the most remarkable tornado events in US history — and while climate change may have played a part in its violent behavior, it’s not yet clear what that role was.
Think of a pair of dice, he said. On one of the die, you altered the value of five to six, which means it now has two sixes — raising the chances of you rolling the pair of dice and getting the value 12. Although you can’t immediately attribute that value of 12 to the change you made, you just altered the probability of that event occurring.
Gensini said that’s similar to how the climate system now works — the more humans pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and change the system, the chances of extreme weather events occurring will amplify.
He points to different ingredients that primed the landscape for the outbreak to happen, such as late spring, early summer air mass and strong wind shear.
“When you start putting a lot of these events together, and you start looking at them in the aggregate sense, the statistics are pretty clear that not only has there sort of been a change — a shift, if you will — of where the greatest tornado frequency is happening,” Gensini told CNN. “But these events are becoming perhaps stronger, more frequent and also more variable.”
Research by Gensini found that over the past four decades, tornado frequency has increased in vast swaths of the Midwest and Southeast while decreasing in parts of the central and southern Great Plains, a region traditionally known as Tornado Alley.
Some studies also indicate climate change could be contributing to an eastward shift in tornado alley, for instance, resulting in more tornadoes occurring in the more heavily populated states east of the Mississippi River, such as this tornado outbreak.
“It’s also very common when you have La Niña in place to see this eastward shift in highest tornado frequency,” Gensini said. “But if you look at the past 40 years, the research I’ve done … has shown that places like Nashville, Tennessee, for example — or Mayfield, Kentucky, that we saw got hit — their frequency of tornadoes, their risk of having a tornado has increased over the last 40 years.”
Tornadoes take shape under particularly specific atmospheric conditions but are primarily fueled by warm, moist air from strong winds that shift direction with altitude.
Scientists have warned that the rise in greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is drastically changing the climate system, even causing the jet stream — fast-flowing air currents in the upper atmosphere that influence day-to-day weather that could trigger a tornado event — to behave oddly.
Jennifer Marlon, a climate scientist at the Yale School of Environment, told CNN it’s too early to say what caused the outbreak — whether natural variability or climate change — but there are “some really important signatures that suggest that this very well may be linked to climate change,” and that scientists are “observing changes in the outbreaks, not just the severity of individual outbreaks and tornadoes, but also quiet periods.”
For example, if any of the tornadoes are rated EF-5 (estimated winds of 260 mph or greater), it would end a streak of 3,126 days since the last EF-5, which is the longest stretch without since records began in 1950. The last EF-5 tornado was the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado on May 20, 2013.
It’s likely that it was simply natural forces at play, against the background of climate change.
The World Weather Attribution, a group of the world’s leading scientists that establishes the link between climate and weather, for instance, has recently unveiled findings that the warming climate neither intensified the flooding in Vietnam that killed 138 people this summer nor the Madagascar drought that led to the country’s food scarcity.
Still, a recent report by the World Meteorological Organization found that an extreme weather event or climate disaster has occurred every day, on average, somewhere in the world over the last 50 years, marking a five-fold increase over that period and exacting an economic toll that has climbed seven-fold since the 1970s.
As such climate disasters worsen and expand in scope, Marlon points to significant factors that increase disaster risks across society during these times including worsening weather disasters, increasing exposure due to growing populations, and more vulnerable infrastructure assets.
That’s already taking shape in Mayfield, Kentucky, where officials say the city’s main fire station and some of its police assets have become inoperable as a result of the devastating tornado system. Now, authorities are looking for alternative ways to address emergency calls.
“All these things are feeding into increase disaster risk, with many more consequences, including the fatalities, of course, but also enormous economic damages,” she said.
As the climate crisis accelerates, more people will be vulnerable to the most severe consequences of extreme weather events. Experts say cities shouldn’t put off adaptation plans any longer, and instead treat them as a larger emergency response system.
But Gensini said one thing is certain: regardless of climate change, these types of tornado disasters will continue to worsen as humans alter the landscape and build larger, more sprawling cities.
“We have more assets and more targets for the severe storms to hit,” he said. “So even if you take climate change out of the equation, which is very likely to make the problem worse, we still have this issue of human and societal vulnerability.”
The non-profit association created in 2016 by Ukrainian and Lithuanian representatives of the greens. The Association eagers to involve more Eastern European members interested in environmental protection and expand its influence throughout Eastern European region and wider if necessary.
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