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Global heating – abrupt changes could bring interconnected tipping points

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is not a surprising or original solution. But it is our best chance to stop the warning signs flashing red.

The tipping points at the heart of the climate crisis,   Michael Marshall, Sun 20 Sep 2020   

Many parts of the Earth’s climate system have been destabilised by warming, from ice sheets and ocean currents to the Amazon rainforest – and scientists believe that if one collapses others could follow.

The warning signs are flashing red. The California wildfires were surely made worse by the impacts of global heating. A study published in July warned that the Arctic is undergoing “an abrupt climate change event” that will probably lead to dramatic changes. As if to underline the point, on 14 September it was reported that a huge ice shelf in northeast Greenland had torn itself apart, worn away by warm waters lapping in from beneath.

That same day, a study of satellite data revealed growing cracks and crevasses in the ice shelves protecting two of Antarctica’s largest glaciers – indicating that those shelves could also break apart, leaving the glaciers exposed and liable to melt, contributing to sea-level rise. The ice losses are already following our worst-case scenarios.

These developments show that the harmful impacts of global heating are mounting, and should be a prompt to urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But the case for emissions cuts is actually even stronger. That is because scientists are increasingly concerned that the global climate might lurch from its current state into something wholly new – which humans have no experience dealing with. Many parts of the Earth system are unstable. Once one falls, it could trigger a cascade like falling domino

Tipping points

We have known for years that many parts of the climate have so-called tipping points. That means a gentle push, like a slow and steady warming, can cause them to change in a big way that is wholly disproportionate to the trigger. If we hit one of these tipping points, we may not have any practical way to stop the unfolding consequences.

The Greenland ice sheet is one example of a tipping point. It contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by seven metres, if it were all to melt. And it is prone to runaway melting.

This is because the top surface of the ice sheet is gradually getting lower as more of the ice melts, says Ricarda Winkelmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. The result is familiar to anyone who has walked in mountains. “If we climb down the mountain, the temperature around us warms up,” she says. As the ice sheet gets lower, the temperatures at the surface get higher, leading to even more melting. “That’s one of these self-reinforcing or accelerating feedbacks.”

We don’t know exactly how much warming would cause Greenland to pass its tipping point and begin melting unstoppably. One study estimated that it would take just 1.6C of warming – and we have already warmed the planet 1.1C since the late 19th century.

The collapse would take centuries, which is some comfort, but such collapses are difficult to turn off. Perhaps we could swiftly cool the planet to below the 1.6C threshold, but that would not suffice, as Greenland would be melting uncontrollably. Instead, says Winkelmann, we would have to cool things down much more – it’s not clear by how much. Tipping points that behave like this are sometimes described as “irreversible”, which is confusing; in reality they can be reversed, but it takes a much bigger push than the one that set them off in the first place.

In 2008, researchers led by Timothy Lenton, now at the University of Exeter, catalogued the climate’s main “tipping elements”. As well as the Greenland ice sheet, the Antarctic ice sheet is also prone to unstoppable collapse – as is the Amazon rainforest, which could die back and be replaced with grasslands.

A particularly important tipping element is the vast ocean current known as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which carries warm equatorial water north to the Arctic, and cool Arctic water south to the equator. The AMOC has collapsed in the past and many scientists fear it is close to collapsing again – an event that was depicted (in ridiculously exaggerated and accelerated form) in the 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow. If the AMOC collapses, it will transform weather patterns around the globe – leading to cooler climates in Europe, or at least less warming, and changing where and when monsoon rains fall in the tropics. For the UK, this could mean the end of most arable farming, according to a paper Lenton and others published in January.

Tumbling dominoes

In 2009, a second study took the idea further. What if the tipping elements are interconnected? That would mean that setting off one might set off another – or even unleash a cascade of dramatic changes, spreading around the globe and reshaping the world we live in.

For instance, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet is releasing huge volumes of cold, fresh water into the north Atlantic. This weakens the AMOC – so it is distinctly possible that if Greenland passes its tipping point, the resulting melt will push the AMOC past its own threshold.

“It’s the same exact principles that we know happen at smaller scales,” says Katharine Suding of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has studied similar shifts in ecosystems. The key point is that processes exist that can amplify a small initial change. This can be true on the scale of a single meadow or the whole planet.

However, the tipping point cascade is very difficult to simulate. In many cases the feedbacks go both ways – and sometimes one tipping point can make it less likely that another will be triggered, not more. For example, the AMOC brings warm water from equator up into the north Atlantic, contributing to the melting of Greenland. So if the AMOC were to collapse, that northward flow of warm water would cease – and Greenland’s ice would be less likely to start collapsing. Depending whether Greenland or the AMOC hit its tipping point first, the resulting cascade would be very different.

What’s more, dozens of such linkages are now known, and some of them span huge distances. “Melting the ice sheet on one pole raises sea level,” says Lenton, and the rise is greatest at the opposite pole. “Say you’re melting Greenland and you raise the sea level under the ice shelves of Antarctica,” he says. That would send ever more warm water lapping around Antarctica. “You’re going to weaken those ice shelves.”

“Even if the distance is quite far, a larger domino might still be able to cause the next one to tip over,” says Winkelmann.

In 2018, Juan Rocha of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden and his colleagues mapped out all the known links between tipping points. However, Rocha says the strengths of the interconnections are still largely unknown. This, combined with the sheer number of them, and the interactions between the climate and the biosphere, means predicting the Earth’s overall response to our greenhouse gas emissions is very tricky.

Into the hothouse

The most worrying possibility is that setting off one tipping point could unleash several of the others, pushing Earth’s climate into a new state that it has not experienced for millions of years.

Since before humans existed, Earth has had an “icehouse” climate, meaning there is permanent ice at both poles. But millions of years ago, the climate was in a “hothouse” state: there was no permanent polar ice, and the planet was many degrees warmer.

If it has happened before, could it happen again? In 2018, researchers including Lenton and Winkelmann explored the question in a much-discussed study. “The Earth System may be approaching a planetary threshold that could lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions – Hothouse Earth,” they wrote. The danger threshold might be only decades away at current rates of warming.

Lenton says the jury is still out on whether this global threshold exists, let alone how close it is, but that it is not something that should be dismissed out of hand.

“For me, the strongest evidence base at the moment is for the idea that we could be committing to a ‘wethouse’, rather than a hothouse,” says Lenton. “We could see a cascade of ice sheet collapses.” This would lead to “a world that has no substantive ice in the northern hemisphere and a lot less over Antarctica, and the sea level is 10 to 20 metres higher”. Such a rise would be enough to swamp many coastal megacities, unless they were protected. The destruction of both the polar ice sheets would be mediated by the weakening or collapse of the AMOC, which would also weaken the Indian monsoon and disrupt the west African one.

Winkelmann’s team studied a similar scenario in a study published online in April, which has not yet been peer-reviewed. They simulated the interactions between the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets, the AMOC, the Amazon rainforest and another major weather system called the El Niño southern oscillation. They found that the two ice sheets were the most likely to trigger cascades, and the AMOC then transmitted their effects around the globe.

What to do?

Everyone who studies tipping point cascades agrees on two key points. The first is that it is crucial not to become disheartened by the magnitude of the risks; it is still possible to avoid knocking over the dominoes. Second, we should not wait for precise knowledge of exactly where the tipping points lie – which has proved difficult to determine, and might not come until it’s too late.

Rocha compares it to smoking. “Smoking causes cancer,” he says, “but it’s very difficult for a doctor to nail down how many cigarettes you need to smoke to get cancer.” Some people are more susceptible than others, based on a range of factors from genetics to the level of air pollution where they live. But this does not mean it is a good idea to play chicken with your lungs by continuing to smoke. “Don’t smoke long-term, because you might be committing to something you don’t want to,” says Rocha. The same logic applies to the climate dominoes. “If it happens, it’s going to be really costly and hard to recover, therefore we should not disturb those thresholds.”

“I think a precautionary principle probably is the best step forward for us, especially when we’re dealing with a system that we know has a lot of feedbacks and interconnections,” agrees Suding.

“These are huge risks we’re playing with, in their potential impacts,” says Lenton. “This is yet another compulsion to get ourselves weaned off fossil fuels as fast as possible and on to clean energy, and sort out some other sources of greenhouse gases like diets and land use,” says Lenton. He emphasises that the tipping points for the two great ice sheets may well lie between 1C and 2C of warming.

“We actually do need the Paris climate accord,” says Winkelmann. The 2016 agreement committed most countries to limit warming to 1.5 to 2C, although the US president, Donald Trump, has since chosen to pull the US out of it. Winkelmann argues that 1.5C is the right target, because it takes into account the existence of the tipping points and gives the best chance of avoiding them. “For some of these tipping elements,” she says, “we’re already in that danger zone.”

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is not a surprising or original solution. But it is our best chance to stop the warning signs flashing red.






September 21, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change | Leave a comment

Womankind arise! — Beyond Nuclear International

Still no equal protection under radiation law

Womankind arise! — Beyond Nuclear International

Nuclear exposure standards discriminate on the basis of sex

By Linda Pentz Gunter, 20 Sept 20,

As we mourn the passing of Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we look back at her landmark victories against discrimination “on the basis of sex” and wonder how nuclear regulations might have stood up to her legal scrutiny. As things currently stand, the nuclear power industry gets away with “allowable” radiation exposure levels that discriminate against women……….

And despite RBG’s immense contribution to our greater wellbeing, as women, we still face discrimination in so many walks of life. That could be about to get worse.

That discrimination remains most infuriatingly true when it comes to the nuclear power industry which is not, it turns out, an equal opportunity poisoner, as we have shown in our earlier articles about Native American and African American communities.

Women and children, and especially pregnant women, are more vulnerable — meaning they suffer more harm from a given dose of radiation than the harm a man suffers from that same dose.

One should quickly add here that scientists still agree that there is no completely safe dose of radiation. In fact, when a dose is described as safe, it doesn’t mean harmless. It means something called “As low as reasonably achievable”, which means as safe as we are prepared to protect for — or, really, as safe as the nuclear industry is willing to pay for.


So not really safe then, and when they say “safe”, the question women must ask is: safe for whom?

In the US, that means safe for someone called Standard Man or sometimes Reference Man. That is on whom the “allowable” radiation exposure standards are based.

Who is Standard Man? ….

Discrimination strikes again here, on the basis of race and age, because the amount of radiation exposure that is considered “safe” for an individual in the US is based on what would be safe for a healthy, robust, 20-30-something white male…….. more

September 21, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Women | Leave a comment

David Attenborough now wants us to face up to the state of the planet

Don’t look away now: are viewers finally ready for the truth about nature?
For decades David Attenborough delighted millions with tales of life on Earth. But now the broadcaster wants us to face up to the state of the planet,   
PatrickGreenfield @pgreenfielduk

Fri 18 Sep 2020 Sir David Attenborough’s soothing, matter-of-fact narrations have brought the natural world to our living rooms for nearly seven decades and counting. From Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the jungles of central Africa, the 94-year-old broadcaster has dazzled and delighted millions with tales of life on Earth – mostly pristine and untouched, according to the images on our screens. But this autumn Attenborough has returned with a different message: nature is collapsing around us.

“We are facing a crisis. One that has consequences for us all. It threatens our ability to feed ourselves, to control our climate. It even puts us at greater risk of pandemic diseases such as Covid-19,” he warned in Extinction: The Facts on BBC One primetime, receiving five-star reviews.

Clips and graphs showing the spiralling extinction rate were shared widely on social media. Some even pledged to change their diets and live their lives in a different way. “We have to listen to him. And act,” said broadcaster Matthew Stadlen.

Wildlife storytellers have long wrestled with how to tell this uncomfortable tale while keeping audiences engaged. Less than two years ago, Attenborough himself said that repeated warnings on the subject could be a “turn-off” for viewers. The thought of a million species at risk of extinction due to human activity was deemed too much
for many to bear. But last Sunday night, viewers did not reach for the off button. Continue reading

September 21, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, environment | Leave a comment

53 million tons of plastic could end up in rivers, lakes and oceans every year by 2030

September 21, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, oceans | Leave a comment

Julian Assange case: Witnesses recall Collateral Murder attack: “Look at those dead bastards,” shooters said

September 21, 2020 Posted by | legal, secrets,lies and civil liberties, UK | Leave a comment

Global heating is disrupting the ground in Siberia

September 21, 2020 Posted by | ARCTIC, climate change, Russia | Leave a comment

Just like Australia, disinformation is thriving during the US fire crisis- Muroch media and Facebook

With its stranglehold on daily newspapers and online news, News Corp in Australia has created the most rightwing media culture in the English speaking world, and they aren’t really accountable to anyone.

Facebook is also the place where we see the two disinformation crises overlap.

Just like Australia, disinformation is thriving during the US fire crisis

Jason Wilson  20 Sept 20 In both countries, fake news about arson proliferated while the role of climate change was obscured.

isinformation successfully obscured the real causes of Australia’s catastrophic bushfire season. Now the same thing is happening around me, as I report on a disastrous wildfire season in the American west.

In both countries, the response to a pandemic is also being complicated by disinformation, as conspiracy theorists refuse isolation, refuse masks, and ready themselves to refuse vaccines.

A lot of the fundamental problems are the same, but there are differences in detail.

In the western United States in recent days, backroads vigilantism has seen civilians set up armed road blocks, and journalists held at the point of loaded assault rifles.

Australia does not have the complication of American gun culture, which is itself one marker of the clash of ideologies and identities in a deeply divided nation, and also raises the stakes on every other social conflict.

That may be, but it’s easy to forget that one of the major stumbling blocks to stricter gun laws in the United States is a bill of rights.

We can argue whether the right to bear arms is a sensible thing to constitutionally enshrine, but Australia has no such constitutionally defined individual rights, beyond those that the high court has seen fit to torture from the document.

The absence of such rights also contains the real world effects of conspiracy theories – the people recently arrested for incitement in Victoria over the promotion of Covid conspiracy theories and anti-lockdown protests would likely enjoy first amendment protections in the US. Whether or not people ought to have the liberty to promote ideas which are, frankly, insane, and a threat to public order, is beyond the scope of this article.

In other ways, Australia is worse off. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking that Fox News, or other skewed or tabloid media, is representative of US media as a whole. Continue reading

September 21, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, media, USA | Leave a comment

Inadequate testing of Hinkley mud being dumped off Cardiff

Nation Cymru 19th Sept 2020, Natural Resources Wales has been accused of failing to insist on adequate
testing of the sediment from the construction of Somerset’s Hinkley C
nuclear power station. EDF Energy has applied to dispose of the sediment in
the sea two miles from the South Wales coast.
They applied for permission to dump the mud in February and began their sampling programme in August
without an agreed sample plan between them and NRW. But the Welsh
Government’s environmental watchdog has now backed those proposals.
GeigerBay, the non-partisan coalition of scientists, experts, individuals
and organisations opposing the dump had informed NRW that EDF’s sampling
plan does not meet international requirements set by OSPAR (Oslo-Paris
Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East
Atlantic), that there are too few samples in the cores collected by EDF and
the testing does not use procedures to detect the nuclear fuel
microparticles uranium and plutonium.
The campaigners also believe the
sampling is insufficient to meet the prerequisites of the Environment
(Wales) Act, 2016 and the Well-being of Future Generations Act, 2015. The
Environment (Wales) Act stipulates that wide consultation is always
required in light of uncertainties.

September 21, 2020 Posted by | UK, wastes | Leave a comment

Duke Energy’s shell game — Beyond Nuclear International

Despite “net zero” carbon claims, company will stick with nuclear and fossil fuels

Duke Energy’s shell game — Beyond Nuclear International

September 21, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Iran a most transparent country for IAEA inspections

Tehran’s Nuclear Program Most Transparent Among IAEA Members, , 18 Sept 20,  Iran’s permanent representative to Vienna-based international organizations said the Islamic Republic has the most transparent nuclear program among member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as proven through numerous inspections of the country’s nuclear sites by the UN agency.

“The fact that 22% of all global inspections done by the IAEA have been carried out in Iran proves that Iran enjoys the most transparent peaceful nuclear program among the member states of the agency,” Kazem Gharibabadi said in an address to the IAEA Board of Governors on Thursday, IRNA reported.

The envoy reminded that the high level of cooperation between Tehran and the agency had not come by easily to be “easily weakened as a result of a few parties’ myopic political interests”.

He was referring to the United States and the Israeli regime’s immense pressure on the agency to try and find fault with Tehran’s nuclear work.

Under pressure from Israel, the US’ most prominent regional ally, Washington quit a historic 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran and world powers two years ago. The US then returned sanctions that the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, had lifted, not even bothering to exempt food items and medicines from the illegal bans.

Still under Israeli pressure, the agency cited “concerns” earlier this year about two Iran-based sites. Iran first refused access to the sites, arguing that the alleged information provided to the IAEA had been cooked up by Israel’s spy agencies.

Tehran, however, later allowed access to the sites on a purely voluntary basis and only to honor its cooperation with the IAEA.

“In order for the agency’s integrity to be preserved, its members should seriously avoid exerting any pressure on it,” Gharibabadi said.

JCPOA’s “handful of enemies” came up with “baseless and unfounded” allegations about the Iranian sites after falling short of all pretexts to destroy the international agreement, he said, urging the agency and its board to avoid falling for their plots.

September 21, 2020 Posted by | Iran, politics international, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Biden would push for less US reliance on nukes for defense

Biden would push for less US reliance on nukes for defense, Robert Burns, The Associated Press  20 Sep 20, WASHINGTON — Democrat Joe Biden leaves little doubt that if elected he would try to scale back President Donald Trump’s buildup in nuclear weapons spending. And although the former vice president has not fully detailed his nuclear priorities, he says he would make the U.S. less reliant on the world’s deadliest weapons……..

September 21, 2020 Posted by | election USA 2020 | Leave a comment

US seeks to pressure Russia into nuclear weapons treaty concessions before election

September 21, 2020 Posted by | politics international, USA | Leave a comment

Utah lawmakers seek details on planned nuclear plant in Idaho

Utah lawmakers seek details on planned nuclear plant in Idaho, Next generation technology on board in 2029? Deseret, 

By Amy Joi O’Donoghue@Amyjoi16  Sep 19, 2020,  SALT LAKE CITY — As the next station approaches for cities and special service districts to potentially disembark from additional financial investment in next-generation nuclear technology, Utah lawmakers are seeking more details on NuScale Power’s Small Modular Reactor plant……..
The Public Utilities, Energy and Transportation committee on Wednesday heard an update on the Carbon Free Power Project that is being pursued by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems — a political subdivision of the state of Utah representing 47 cities or special service districts that provide energy.

Cities and districts invested in the plant have until Oct. 31 — one of several so-called off-ramps — to bow out of the project.

During the committee hearing, Sen. Ron Winterton, R-Roosevelt, shared his concerns over the cities’ financial commitments.

“I want to feel warm and fuzzy” he said, but questioned the technology and potential risks…….

Under both the Obama and the Trump administrations, the NuScale project has received strong financial support, Squires said. The federal energy agency gave NuScale a competitive award of $226 million in 2013 to develop the technology. Two years later, the federal agency gave NuScale $16.7 million for licensing preparation. …….

Critics like the Utah Taxpayers Association, however, say the investment by Utah cities is too risky and they should not be acting as seed investors.

“We are not opposed to nuclear power, we are opposed to the financial risk,” said the association’s vice president, Rusty Cannon. ………..

September 21, 2020 Posted by | politics, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

UK government to subsidise Sizewell nuclear power station?

UK government could take stake in Sizewell nuclear power station, BBC,  Simon Jack, Business editor@BBCSimonJackon16 September 2020   

The collapse of a project to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa, Wales may accelerate government approval of a new station at Sizewell, government and industry sources say.

The government is disappointed after Japan’s Hitachi pulled out but insists it is committed to new nuclear as way to decarbonise the UK power supply.

It is looking at options to replace China’s CGN as an investor in Sizewell.

That could include the government taking a stake in the plant.

Of six sites originally identified over a decade ago for replacements for the UK’s ageing nuclear fleet, only one is under construction, three have been abandoned and two are waiting approval.

One major sticking point over Sizewell has been the involvement of Chinese state-owned company China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) in the UK’s new nuclear plans.

CGN already owns a 33% stake in Hinkley Point C in Somerset, currently under construction by French firm EDF, which owns the other two thirds.

The Chinese firm also took a 20% stake in the development phase of Sizewell on the understanding it would participate in the construction phase and then land the ultimate prize of building a reactor of its own design at Bradwell in Essex.

State aid rules

If CGN are excluded the government may choose to take a direct stake in Sizewell, according to people familiar with the matter.

There was a time when a Conservative government would have been very reluctant to take a direct stake in a commercial development. That time has passed.

Industry sources and within the government say Chinese involvement in designing and running its own design nuclear reactor on UK soil “looks dead”, given revived security concerns and deteriorating diplomatic relations after the government’s decision to phase out Chinese firm Huawei’s equipment from a new generation of telecommunication networks.

It’s no secret that Boris Johnson’s powerful adviser Dominic Cummings is a big fan of the idea of small nuclear reactors and EDF are telling him that big nuclear is an important stepping stone to small.

EDF has also been very vocal about the advantages of reproducing the design of Hinkley at Sizewell. Although a similar design of reactor ran into major cost and time overruns in France and Finland, EDF says they UK is poised to benefit from the lessons learned from those mistakes. It also points out that the UK will benefit from transferring high skilled jobs from one site to another.

There was a time, not so long ago, that government ministers talked enthusiastically about “a new nuclear age”. A fleet of brand new reactors producing reliable, low carbon (but expensive) electricity for decades to come.

Hinkley, Moorside, Wylfa, Oldbury, Bradwell and Sizewell were identified as the sites for the most significant national wave of new nuclear power construction anywhere in the world.

Of those six, only one is under construction, three have been abandoned, and two are still waiting for the green light.

The next couple of weeks could tell us which way the wind is really blowing on the government’s appetite for both nuclear energy and new levels of direct state investment. 

If a mobile network is considered too sensitive, it’s hard to argue that a nuclear power station is not.

The next couple of weeks could tell us which way the wind is really blowing on the government’s appetite for both nuclear energy and new levels of direct state investment.

September 21, 2020 Posted by | business and costs, politics, UK | Leave a comment

September 20 Energy News — geoharvey

Opinion: ¶ “Clearly, Biden Has Grasp On Threat Climate Change Poses” • There is near universal consensus among scientists that human activity is warming the planet. While Trump has dismissed man-made climate change as a “hoax,” Biden has put forward a $2 trillion plan to have the electricity sector free of carbon pollution by 2035. […]

September 20 Energy News — geoharvey

September 21, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment