Tag: Global Warming

Amazon Rainforest on Green Trajectory after Receiving Unlikely Support from Factory Investors

by Ritvik Dutta

The Amazon Rainforest is home to about 10 million different species and comprises 2.124 million square miles of dense rainforest. Making up approximately 30% of South America’s landmass, the Amazon is a diverse ecosystem that produces roughly 20% of the world’s oxygen and has earned the esteemed nickname, “The Lungs of the Earth.” Unfortunately, however, all of the aforementioned statistics are slated to decrease due to the ever-increasing commercial damage to the essential rainforest. Due to the lack of effort made by the Brazilian government to regulate the deforestation that was taking place, the rainforest has started to receive activism from unlikely sources.

Recently, many Brazilian companies have been met with major backlash from their investors who claim that the companies are not taking any further action to reduce the ongoing devastating destruction of the Amazon Rainforest. This ravaging eradication of the world’s largest rainforest has been recently brought to mass attention due to the large surge of wildfires that started in January of 2019 and are still currently ongoing. In a study conducted by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) in 2019, it was determined that between July 2018 and July 2019, 3800 square miles of rainforest were removed, the highest amount of rainforest destroyed in a span of 12 months since 2008. This statistic is directly influenced by the incumbency of Brazilian President Jair Boslonaro, who was elected into office in October 2018. During his regime, he has continually rejected foreign aid meant to reduce the rate of deforestation. Even today, he continues to avoid the diplomatic pressure exerted by foreign powers, which stem from late 2019.

Back in September 2019, a board of 230 investors came together to urge the Brazilian government and companies to take action on the forest fires. Of those 230, Storebrand, AP7, KLP, DNB Asset Management, Robeco, Nordea Asset Management, and LGIM were recently interviewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. In these interviews, the heads of the companies came to an agreement that they would push divestment of Brazilian companies if they do not start to make progress. More specifically, LGIM is pushing Brazilian meatpacking companies like JBS for “robust climate targets and land-use policies, with inaction potentially leading to voting sanctions and targeted divestments,” said Yasmine Svan, senior sustainability analyst at LGIM, in an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

In the end, the investors’ efforts seem to be working. Some Brazillian companies like JBS have already released statements in which they promise to eliminate any current processes that threaten the further deforestation of the Amazon from their supply chain. However, the efforts of these investors are heavily constrained under the might of the Brazilian government, which looks to hold on to the Amazon Rainforest as a reservoir for natural resources.

NASA Finishes Testing with Sentinel-6 Satellite That Can Help Learn More about Preventing Global Warming

by Anshul Dash

NASA has recently finished testing the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, which is set to launch in November. The satellite’s purpose is to find out more about global warming’s effects on the oceans, coastlines, and weather by collecting accurate data on sea level. Rigorous testing was done to ensure that the satellite can perform well in the harsh conditions of space.

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite was built as a part of the Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service) mission. The mission is an effort by the US and Europe to launch two identical satellites five years apart. The satellite will join an already existing set of satellites called the Copernicus Constellation of Satellites. This set of satellites represents the European Union’s Observation Program. Once the satellites reach orbit, they will start collecting sea level data for almost all of the world’s oceans, at 90%. The data collected will be added to a 30-year-old database created by the US and the European Union. In addition to collecting sea level data, the satellite will measure the temperature and humidity of Earth’s atmosphere, which in turn provides useful information for hurricane predictions and weather forecasts in general. Scientists’ strong belief in the connection between the ocean and the atmosphere is the main reason behind collecting this data. Heat causes sea levels to rise since seawater expands in higher temperatures.

The first test that the engineers performed was the vibration test. They replicated the shaking movement of the satellite to simulate its condition when attached to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during its blast into orbit. The satellite was then placed in a big vacuum chamber and exposed to extreme temperatures that it could encounter in space, from 65 to minus 180 degrees Celsius (149 to minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit). The second test was the acoustics test, which was conducted to make the satellite could withstand loud noises that might occur during the launch. The engineers tested this by placing the satellite in a chamber with enormous speakers. They then blasted the speakers with four 1 minute intervals of sound, with the loudest interval going to 140 decibels. The final test performed was the electromagnetic compatibility test. This test ensured that the electronics and sensors on the satellite wouldn’t interfere with each other while collecting data. This test was done differently than planned due to social distancing rules being enforced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the tests were being conducted in Germany, the engineers in California worked during the night, from midnight to 10 AM. They communicated with their colleagues from Germany with phone calls, video conferences, chat rooms, and text messages. However, the test was still a success despite the inconveniences.

Since the Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS mission is a US-European Union joint mission, many space agencies are taking part in this mission. NASA is contributing to this mission by equipping each of the Sentinel-6 satellites with three science instrumental payloads: the Global Navigation Satellite System – Radio Occultation, the Advanced Microwave Radiometer, and the Laser Reflector Array. In addition to providing these payloads, NASA is also providing launch services for these satellites, ground control services, science data processors for these instruments, and general support for the international Ocean Surface Topography Science Team.

Reiteration of EU Climate Law Causes Shift in Climate Change Mitigation Efforts

by Ritvik Dutta

The novel reiteration of the EU-wide climate law has caused a massive shift in the effort towards mitigating the rate of climate change by many countries in the European Union. Established in March of 2020, the law was created through the collaboration of all the countries belonging to the EU. Together, they all sought to set goals on the overall reduction of net greenhouse gas production by all EU nations to zero by 2050. This has led to many European countries scrambling to find solutions. Statistically in the European Union, transport ranks as the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and as of 2018, around 308 million cars circulate the coalition of countries. Of those countries, Norway, France, Germany, Netherlands, and Sweden are all in the top 10 in terms of PEV (plug-in electric vehicle) sales worldwide. On the other hand, however, Greece ranks as tenth in the total number of cars in the European Union with around 5.2 million cars, and yet, only a measly portion of Greece’s cars are good for the environment: one thousand cars are electric or hybrids. 

This matter presents itself as an alarming statistic and Greek officials have taken note. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently held an event last Friday in which he commented on Greece’s plans to move to a low-carbon mobility system in order to abide by the EU-wide climate law. The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that the Prime Minister explained at the event that Greece aims to focus the majority of its climate mitigation efforts in its capital city, Athens. Greece hopes to have at least 1 in every 3 cars in Athens to be a PEV by the year 2030. They plan on achieving this by subsidizing the purchases of new electric vehicles. Currently, they have about 100 million euros which Mitsotakis believes will “cover 25% of the cost for about 14,000 new electric cars.” Furthermore, the government is adding the exemption from any parking fines for the next two years for all the new PEVs that are purchased. Greece also plans to create subsidies for the purchase of electric taxis for the taxi services and set up multiple charging stations across the country. 

In the wake of the coronavirus, carbon emissions in Athens have been steadily declining due to the prompted closures. Per Vox Media, Athens has also expanded infrastructure for bikes by adding more bike lanes, an implementation that may or may not be permanent in due time. Although steady progress towards climate mitigation is being made within Greece, the final goal to completely neutralize net greenhouse gas output still seems like a daunting task. Whether or not the country is able to fulfill its promises is left to be seen. 

Can Carbon Farming Truly Curb the Impacts of Climate Change?

by Nakul

Carbon farming has been practiced as a method of addressing excessive greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere today. Many nations have passed acts of legislation that restrict and reduce the quantity of greenhouses gases released by corporations; one alluring method of decreasing these gas emissions is carbon farming, which intends to effectively absorb greenhouse gases from the air through the farming of primarily vegetation. Despite the seemingly straightforward procedure and benefits of carbon farming, the question remains: exactly how beneficial is carbon farming in mitigating the detrimental impacts of climate change?

What Exactly Is Carbon Farming?

Carbon farming is a green technique where farmers address air pollution by typically increasing plant farming and improving soil conditions to in turn increase carbon sequestration in these plants and soils. In exchange for their environmentally conscious efforts, farmers are often granted carbon credits – which place a monetary value on pollution to discourage it- that they can sell to companies for personal profit. For a company, acquiring carbon credits allows it to increase its greenhouse gas emissions: as financial expert Will Kenton explains, if a company buys one carbon credit, it has the right to “the emission of a mass equal to one ton of carbon dioxide”. So, if carbon farming theoretically reduces the amount of harmful gas in the air and likewise benefits the farmers who take part in it, why do people hesitate to implement it on a larger scale?

The Drawbacks of Carbon Farming

There are various limitations to carbon farming, but perhaps the two most important ones are the sustainability and overestimation of results. Regarding sustainability, the foundation of carbon farming relies on increased production of plants, which would ideally absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. New Zealand news site Scoop sums up the issue: “if we are going to pursue this plan of “offsetting” our emissions, then we will inevitably wipe out the entire sheep and beef industry and be left with a countryside that consists largely of dairy farms and pine-trees.” Regarding the overestimation of results, agricultural analysts Alex Smith and Dan Blaustein-Rejto reveal that most of the trapped gases escape “when the farmer decides to till [his land] again, which happens on an estimated 30% of…farms.” They also explain that “some carbon from soils may also be released as global temperatures, and thus soils, warm.”

Overall, carbon farming does appear to be beneficial for the environment. How its alarming limitations are addressed, however, remains to be seen.

Trump Administration Makes Move to completely Roll Back Methane Pollution Regulations

By Kaushal Kumar and Sudhit Rao

The EPA has recently made steps in its work to roll back its methane emissions limits. With the current timelines the rollbacks could be finalized as early as July. Right now the EPA has sent in the proposal to the Office of Management and Budget to be reviewed and possibly accepted. This particular piece of legislation has been worked on by the Trump Administration’s EPA since 2016.

These rollbacks would effectively eliminate  any federal regulation of methane and other greenhouse gas emissions from pipelines and other forms of energy related infrastructure. It would allow over 800 thousand older coal and oil plants to no longer regulate their pollution of methane into the atmosphere. This action would undo years of climate activism and policy making to help combat the climate crisis, and would also prevent any plant currently affected from ever having to regulate their pollution. Experts estimate that this move could result in the release of an additional 5 million tons of methane released into the atmosphere each year.

Image from the EDF

Methane is a greenhouse gas, and its effect on the planet in such large quantities is catastrophic. When substantial amounts of methane are in Earth’s atmosphere the methane particles absorb the heat from sunlight and contribute to global warming. In simpler terms, the addition of methane to the atmosphere is speeding up global warming. 

The EPA’s reasoning behind this change is rather weak and inadequate. Even though plants have been running for years with the current regulations, the agency claims that the previous methane regulations were superfluous of the VOC or Volatile Organic Compounds regulations. Also by law, before regulating the industry, the EPA must first do research on an industry and confirm a source of pollution. However, the EPA is assessing whether or not to ignore the law and remove the requirement of scientific evidence. Previously, in 2016, the EPA conducted studies on methane gas pollution and concluded that methane had a huge impact on climate change. The EPA is attempting to overlook scientific findings and in effect, ignore the fact that methane is a huge contributor in climate change.

This move is just another taken by the EPA that seems to not only contribute to our world’s climate crisis, but also one that puts the safety and security of the US public at risk. During the following two months, there will be a series of reviews with local governments, organizations and communities. It is up to them to take action and oppose the ruling for the better of the Earth and the public.

After Over 130 Years, King Coal Topped By Renewable Energy Resources In The US

by Nakul

Since the various Industrial Revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries, coal and other fossil fuels have dominated the global market due to their cheap prices, efficient production processes, and reliability. However, the gradual yet growing movement towards renewable energy sources has made a notable breakthrough this past year in the United States. 

Renewable energy sources, mainly solar energy, wind energy, and hydropower, have been growing in popularity and use over the past few decades. However, these sources have largely been out shadowed by the more established but harmful, non-renewable energy sources, namely coal. Nevertheless, in recent times, these renewable energy sources have made significant progress in the energy market – according to findings in the Monthly Energy Review published by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) this past Thursday, in 2019, consumption of renewable energy resources surpassed coal consumption for the first time since 1885. Additionally, note that the various renewable energy resources we know today were not popularized until relatively recently; as the EIA explained, “Historically, wood was the main source of U.S. energy until the mid-1800s and was the only commercial-scale renewable source of energy in the United States”. Therefore, the more modern, popularized renewable energy resources of today display exciting projections for the future, due to their variability and more efficient manners of production in comparison to wood.

One drawback of this remarkable achievement is due to the broad scale of renewable energy, creating a possibly unfair head-to-head comparison between coal and renewable energy – as financial expert Maxx Chatsko stated, “Energy consumption from renewable energy topped coal last year, but only when all energy sources are counted. In other words, the math only works when electricity production, transportation, and consumption from industrial, residential, and commercial markets are combined.” 
Ultimately, despite the potential fallacies in comparison of the two energy industries, a glance at trends in coal consumption and renewable energy consumption reveal clear conclusions: according to the report by the EIA and analysis by hydrogeologist Scott K. Johnson, coal consumption dropped 15% from 2018 to 2019, while renewable energy consumption, namely in wind and solar energy, ticked up 1% within the same timeframe, a seemingly small yet nevertheless important sign of growth. To sum it up, as president of the Environmental Working Group, Ken Cook, pointed out, “It’s basic economics. Renewable energy is cheaper, cleaner, and abundant. There is simply no way for coal to compete.”

Trump Administration Denies Limitations on Downwind Pollution in States Affected by COVID-19

By Kunaal and Arun

Despite their ongoing battle with COVID-19, New York and New Jersey, among other states, appeared in Washington D.C. to argue that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrongfully denied their petitions to place emission controls on several power plants. The regulations would aim to limit pollution affecting downwind states. While the states petitioned for stronger regulations on power plants, the EPA argued that they were in the right to deny the petition, stating that any findings that link greenhouse gas emissions to COVID-19 deaths don’t justify stronger regulation.

According to the EPA, The “Good Neighbor” Provision “requires EPA and states to address interstate transport of air pollution that affects downwind states’ ability to attain and maintain National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). New York’s petition aims to implement limits on 350 different power plants, which are industrial sources of nitrogen oxides. The EPA cites that “Tropospheric, or ground-level ozone… is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).” Tropospheric ozone is harmful to people and can worsen chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma.

COVID-19 is especially detrimental to certain groups, including those with chronic respiratory illness. A Harvard study in April “looked at more than 3,000 counties across the country, comparing levels of fine particulate air pollution with coronavirus death counts for each area.” With the findings “that an increase of only 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate” they concluded by emphasizing the “importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”

These states now are restricted in their response to the pandemic. State governors are expressing frustration with the EPA over denying reforms that are seemingly obvious. With the effort to “flatten the curve” in the United States, experts and governors alike agree that the EPA isn’t helping the cause.

The decision made by the EPA is in accordance with their other rulings regarding mercury emissions and clean water. Because COVID-19 is worse with respiratory illnesses, the EPA is under heavy criticism from their decisions, commonly citing insufficient evidence and non-justifiable cause as backing for their decisions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA has been under heavy fire, making decisions that have shocked the American public. With the future of the pandemic unknown, only time will tell what the repercussions of these decisions will be.

How Climate Change is Making Trees Younger and Shorter

By Saarang Kashyap

Rising forests, deforestation and climate-induced disasters are causing older trees to die at an alarming rate, making the planet’s forests younger and shorter. This trend is expected to continue, scientists say, with worrying consequences for the ability of forests to store carbon. Mitigating the climate emergency for the endangered wildlife that depends on rich, ancient forests is becoming harder and harder due to climate change that limits the survival of old trees.

The very makeup of Earth’s forests are being transformed, as seen in new research published in the journal Science. The study estimated that human downing of trees had cut total forest area by 12% since 1900. The proportion of old growth forest, more than 140 years old, fell from 89% to 66% in that time, with researchers estimating that the world lost roughly one-third of its old growth forest between 1900 and 2015. In North America and Europe, where more data was available, they found that tree mortality has doubled in the past 40 years.

Why are old growth forests important in the first place?

Old growth forests take in and store massive amounts of climate-warming carbon dioxide. The trees in these forests provide habitats for rare and critically endangered species and foster rich biodiversity,  making them crucial for the survival of a healthy ecosystem. 

Tom Pugh, a scientist at the University of Birmingham, UK, adds a big picture look on this development, stating that forests “have been getting smaller and younger over the last century, primarily because of the effects of human land use change, and disturbances like wildfires and insect outbreaks and droughts. These are things that are increasing in frequency and severity.” There were exceptions, Pugh said, such as forests in high latitudes: “But in a world that’s generally hotter, more of the world will be covered by forests that are generally shorter.”

The world has watched as massive wildfires tear across Siberia, the Amazon and Australia. Deforestation and illegal logging in Southeast Asia and Brazil continue at a blazing pace. Human-driven climate change makes it difficult for many forests to fully recover from the type of natural disturbances — wind events, flooding or fire — that would normally occur. It is important that we work on conservation efforts to lessen the effect of climate change and restore the ancient foundation that builds our forests.

NASA Satellites Reveal Extensive Ice Loss in Greenland and Antarctica

By Saarang Kashyap

NASA satellites have provided crucial data on what has been happening to Antarctica and Greenland’s ice over the past several years: billions of tons of ice have melted and are currently adding to rising sea levels that threaten coastal cities.

Boyle, at Independent, reports that the “findings were based on information from the space agency’s ICESat and ICESat-2 satellite laser altimeters – devices that use laser pulses to measure the elevation and thickness of ice sheets and help better understand global climate change. These devices demonstrated a small increase in ice thickening in East Antarctica, but a significant loss in ice around West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. Patterns of thinning over the ice shelves in West Antarctica show that Thwaites and Crosson ice shelves have thinned the most, an average of about 16 feet (5 meters) and 10 feet (3 meters) of ice per year, respectively.”

According to NASA, “the satellites also found that Greenland’s ice sheet lost an average of 200 gigatons of ice per year, and Antarctica’s ice sheet lost an average of 118 gigatons of ice per year. One gigaton of ice is enough to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools or cover New York’s Central Park in ice more than 1,000 feet (300 meters) thick, reaching higher than the Chrysler Building.”

The mission is also shedding light on what’s driving the melting. Antarctica’s ice, now sitting on land, makes a slow progression to the ocean. When it reaches the coast, it floats, creating ice shelves that skim around the coasts. These shelves act as barriers that slow the rate of ice loss, but as they melt in a warming ocean, that barrier is shrinking. “It’s like an apple tart and the ice shelves are like the wall of pastry around the edges of the tart,” says Fricker. “And if those walls are too thin or they’re not baked well enough, then the filling will ooze out.”

While ice that melts from ice shelves does not directly lead to rising sea levels, they provide stability to the glaciers and ice sheets beneath them. Thus, taking away these ice shelves leads to grounded ice flowing faster, which does contribute to increasing sea levels.

Trump Administration’s EPA Sued by States due to Waiving Pollution and other Water Regulations

By Ritvik Dutta

Shortly after announcing that COVID-19 is the direct cause of their loosening of strict law enforcement, the EPA received major backlash from many environmental agencies and organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, who petitioned to require all companies to document and disclose when they stop checking their own water and carbon emissions and usage publicly. So far, the EPA has failed to answer these calls to action. 

Instead, Trump’s EPA has continued to hold onto its belief that restrictions on largely fossil-fuel dependent industries are unnecessary. In his willingness to undo all of Obama’s reforms, President Trump has elected to keep all air pollution standards untouched even with multiple studies suggesting that the increase of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) actually increases the transmission rate of the SARS-CoV-2 strain. Given the current situation, many people like Sally Hardin were outraged. Hardin wrote, “At a time when the Trump administration should be doing everything in its power to save American lives, it is instead putting more and more of them at risk through reckless rollbacks of clean air protections.” This governmental obstinacy has been relatively under the radar, with Trump sneaking all of his changes throughout this quarantine period. 

However, some states have had enough of this governmental intransigence. New York and New Jersey have already sought out legal action to solve their issues related to downwind air pollution. These issues were first introduced when the EPA refused to mandate emission controls on the 350 power plants bordering New York and New Jersey, the states that were most heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When brought to court, EPA administrators tried to defend their organization, arguing that the multiple studies that corroborate that air pollution is linked to the spread of the coronavirus do not warrant tougher regulations. 

New Jersey has been seen to frequent legal battles with the EPA, with this case being the second in the month of May. The other case was brought up due to the EPA’s exemption of many bodies of water from the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule”, which was enacted by the Obama administration. New Jersey, along with California, New York, and fourteen other states and two major American cities, compiled a 29-page lawsuit suing the EPA due to their dependence on the affected bodies of water for resources. In response, an EPA spokesperson said the agency and Department of the Army “believe that the Navigable Waters Protection Rule will stand the test of time […] [and that] Congress, in the Clean Water Act, explicitly directed the Agencies to protect ‘navigable waters.’ The Navigable Waters Protection Rule regulates these waters and the core tributary systems that provide perennial or intermittent flow into them.” 

Whether or not the efforts of these states prove useful is yet to be seen.