Friday, August 28, 2015

Humus depletion induced by climate change?

The yields of many important crops in Europe have been stagnating since the 1990s. As a result, the input of organic matter into the soil — the crucial source for humus formation — is decreasing.

Scientists from the Technical University Munich (TUM) suspect that the humus stocks of arable soils are declining due to the influence of climate change. Humus, however, is a key factor for soil functionality, which is why this development poses a threat to agricultural production — and, moreover, in a worldwide context.

In their study, which has been published in Science of the Total Environment (2015), scientists from the Technical University Munich (TUM) evaluated the crop yield statistics for EU countries compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) since the 1960s. The yields for the three most important cereal crops, wheat, barley, and corn, have been stagnating in Central and Northern Europe for 20 years. “The stagnation in yields has only been statistically verifiable for a few years,” explains Dr. Martin Wiesmeier from the TUM Chair of Soil Science in Freising-Weihenstephan and first author of the study. This finding coincides with those of other studies, which confirm that crop yields, particularly in the case of cereals, are falling throughout the world.

“Due to the strong link between crop yields and the input of organic substances into the soil, the stagnation in yields must also have an impact on the humus stocks in the soil,” says TUM scientist Wiesmeier, “particularly in the context of the steady rise in temperatures.” Given that rising temperatures cause higher levels of humus decomposition while, at the same time, the supply of organic substances is stagnating, a depletion of humus must be expected in the long term.

Climate change and changes in EU agricultural policy as possible causes?

The cause of the yield stagnation has not yet been explained but is probably due to a variety of factors: “Following the introduction of new priorities with the joint EU agricultural policy of the 1990s, among other things, less fertilizer was used and leguminous plants were often omitted from crop rotation cycles,” explains Wiesmeier’s co-author Dr. Rico Hübner from the Chair for Strategic Landscape Planning and Management, also in Weihenstephan. “Few authors have discussed this as a reason for the stagnation in crop yields,” he notes.

However, the changes in climatic conditions arising from climate change could represent a far more important factor here: i.e. temperatures that increasingly exceed the optimum level for plant growth, like those experienced this summer, shifts in the vegetation periods, and more frequent droughts. “This inevitably leads to stagnation in crop biomass production and reduced inputs of organic matter into the soil,” says Wiesmeier.

Moreover, livestock numbers in Europe have also declined significantly since the 1980s. “The spreading of organic fertilizer, another important source of organic matter, is also falling as a result,” adds Wiesmeier.

Early signs of a reduction in humus stocks due to the stagnating harvest yields can already be observed. Initial indications of humus depletion in arable soil have been observed in almost all EU countries in recent years.

Interdisciplinary research group

While many previous studies predicted a future increase in humus levels as a result of climate change, based on their current findings, the TUM scientists are critical of this assumption: If the input of organic matter stagnates, soil will lose some of its humus in the long term. “If this trend continues, it could have negative impacts on soil fertility and water storage capacity,” concludes TUM scientist Wiesmeier. “This, in turn, could ultimately result in poorer harvests — a vicious circle,” he adds.

To counteract the problem, agriculture needs to make far greater use of positive measures for the promotion of humus formation. “These include the diversification of crop rotation, the application of green manure and winter greening to reduce soil erosion, optimized soil cultivation, organic farming, agroforestry, and leaving crop residues on fields,” explains Hübner. The study authors also consider that interdisciplinary research on the causes of yield stagnation and humus depletion is essential, “as a single discipline alone cannot solve this problem.”

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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Technical University of Munich (TUM).



Methane Leaks in Natural-Gas Supply Chain Far Exceed Estimates, Study Says

A little-noted portion of the chain of pipelines and equipment that brings natural gas from the field into power plants and homes is responsible for a surprising amount of methane emissions, according to a study published on Tuesday.

Natural-gas gathering facilities, which collect from multiple wells, lose about 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year, about eight times as much as estimates used by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the study, which appeared in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The newly discovered leaks, if counted in the E.P.A. inventory, would increase its entire systemwide estimate by about 25 percent, said the Environmental Defense Fund, which sponsored the research as part of methane emissions studies it organized.

“The gathering and processing sector, a piece of the supply chain that most people don’t even know exists, may be the biggest single fraction of emissions coming from natural gas,” said Mark Brownstein, who leads the Environmental Defense Fund’s work on methane emissions.

Methane is the main component of natural gas and has a more potent short-term effect on climate change than carbon dioxide. The effect that the newfound emissions would have on climate change over 20 years, the Environmental Defense Fund said, would be similar to that of 37 coal-fired power plants.

The new study, led by researchers at Colorado State University, involves measurements of 114 natural-gas gathering facilities and 16 processing plants in 13 states.

Many gathering facilities use puffs of natural gas in valves that open and close to regulate gas or liquid flow, releasing a bit of methane into the air with every cycle. Anthony J. Marchese, a professor of mechanical engineering at Colorado State and the lead author of the new study, said that this practice surprised him. “I was: ‘Really? That’s what they do?’ ” he said.

Companies can substitute other relatively inexpensive technologies for the methane-leaking systems, he said, but “they’re so used to using gas pneumatic, and they think it’s so reliable, they are reluctant to change.”

The recognition of gathering facilities as a major source of methane leaks is an opportunity to look harder and fix them, and to upgrade to equipment that does not emit natural gas, Mr. Brownstein said. “None of this is rocket science,” he said. “Most of it is auto mechanics.”

The Obama administration, while promoting a boom in natural gas, has pushed for businesses to reduce leaks. The E.P.A. proposed new standards on methane emissions on Tuesday. Those rules, however, would apply only to new and modified equipment. “That clearly doesn’t begin to address the majority of the problem — the stuff that is already in the field and operating,” Mr. Brownstein said.

The agency has not closely tracked emissions from gathering facilities before. A statement by the agency in response to questions about the study said that the “E.P.A. looks forward to reviewing the upcoming E.D.F. study on methane emissions from natural gas systems.”

Citing the administration’s methane strategy and noting that “substantial new amounts of information” were becoming available, the statement said that the “E.P.A. will continue to refine its emission estimates to reflect the most robust and up-to-date information available.”

Professor Marchese said that the amount of gas that escapes from gathering facilities each year could heat 3.2 million homes. Wasting a potentially valuable resource, not to mention harming the environment, he said, mystified him. “Why would you ever vent it when you can use it to generate electricity?” he added.

A spokesman for one of the gas industry companies that participated in the study said that the research would be helpful. “This ultimately helps us perform better,” said John Christiansen, a spokesman for Anadarko Petroleum. The research would help the company “get that methane back in the sales line,” he added, “which is ultimately in our best interest — and everybody’s best interest.” More


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Let us fix this planet before we go out and ruin another


Hawaii Flips Switch on World’s Largest Ocean Harvesting Clean Energy Plant

Hawaii is definitely ahead of the curve when it comes to renewable energy.

In June, the Aloha state became the first state to mandate that all of its electricity come from renewable sources no later than 2045. Along with other islands, its charging ahead with wind, solar and smart grid systems. But now, the state is home to the first fully closed-cycle Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plant in the U.S.

OTEC is “a process that can produce electricity by using the temperature difference between deep cold ocean water and warm tropical surface waters,” Makai Ocean Engineering, the company that built the plant, explains on its website. “OTEC plants pump large quantities of deep cold seawater and surface seawater to run a power cycle and produce electricity.” Makai touts OTEC as a constant, clean energy source that is “capable of providing massive levels of energy.”

Watch this short video for an explanation of how it works.

Makai staff explain in the video that the potential for OTEC is immense because the source of the energy is just sunlight.

“About 70 percent of the sunlight coming to Earth lands on the ocean. Most of that is captured in the surface layers of the ocean water in the form of heat,” says Duke Hartman, vice president of business development at Makai. “That’s beautiful because we can extract that energy 24/7 and use that power any time we want it, totally eliminating the need for an energy storage system.”

The 105-kilowatt demonstration plant on the Big Island, which cost about $5 million to build, only generates enough electricity to power 120 homes. But to date, it’s the largest such plant in the world. And it’s promising enough for the U.S. Navy to be investing in it. The Navy has a target for 50 percent of its shore-based energy to come from alternative sources in five years.

While the industry is still very much in its infancy, Makai believes it won’t be long until it takes off.

“The plant is dispatchable, meaning the power can be ramped up and down quickly to accommodate fluctuating demand and intermittent power surges from solar and wind farms,” Hartman told Bloomberg.

The company estimates that all of Hawaii’s electricity needs could be met by about 12 commercial-scale OTEC plants. They already have plans to construct a 1-megawatt facility in Japan, and Hartman says Brazil, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and West African nations all have potential.

“Anywhere tropical with deep water is ideal, especially if they import their fuel,” says Hartman.

The biggest challenge remains financing, explains Hartman. “We need a visionary investor to get us past the expensive pilot project into the large-scale commercial projects,” he said.

According to the company’s website, an offshore commercial-scale OTEC plant could prevent burning roughly 1.3 million barrels of oil each year, produce electricity at roughly $0.20 per kilowatt-hour and prevent more than half a million tons of carbon emissions per year.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Kiribati president says Australia's loyalty to coalmines 'selfish and unjust'

The president of Kiribati has criticised Australia’s commitment to new coalmines on economic grounds as a “very selfish perspective” that illustrates the “fundamentally unjust” dynamics of climate change.

Anote Tong, whose small Pacific island nation is threatened by rising sea levels, has written to other national leaders calling for a worldwide moratorium on new mines ahead of UN climate talks in Paris in December.

Tong, who called for a pact to end new coal projects “simply to find some very concrete action on climate change”, told Guardian Australia he knew it would “touch on sensitivities”.

“I know the closure of coal-fired power plants will not happen,” he said.

“But at least the moratorium on coalmines, it gives people that sense that something can be done … and it allows those involved in the industry time to adapt. I thought it would be more achievable.

“In climate negotiations to date we keep talking around the numbers, two degrees or more than two degrees celsius. [But] it’s about what we do. And coal is certainly something very concrete, very significant in terms of what it does.”

In recent weeks the Australian government and the mining lobby have portrayed environmental groups as saboteurs of valuable coal projects, using legal challenges to put jobs and economic growth at risk.

Tong, who said he was yet to receive a reply from the Australian government, wrote in his letter that “science, as confirmed by the [intergovernmental panel on climate change], dictates that for the world to avoid catastrophic climate change, we must leave the vast bulk of carbon reserves in the ground”.

Asked about the economic arguments raised in defence of the continued advance of Australia’s coal industry – including its self-proclaimed role in helping alleviate world poverty– Tong said: “My response is very simple: it’s a very selfish perspective.

“I understand and I’ve always said that for Australia, climate change is not the top of the agenda because they’ve got high ground,” he said. “We don’t.”

Other countries had refused to acknowledge the “fundamentally unjust” situation that climate change is “not contained within the countries that create it”.

“The question is: do we have the moral obligation to worry and care about those for whom this is a serious issue?” Tong said.

“My answer is yes. You have every responsibility and obligation to do something about it. If it was happening inside Australia, there is no doubt at all in my mind that it would be on top of what everyone was doing.”

Amid fears about Kiribati’s survival, the government has been forced to consider radical engineering schemes to mitigate a shrinking land mass, while buying farmland in Fiji as a “food security” measure.

Climate change had dominated his 12-year term as president (which will end next year), but recent unprecedented tidal flooding and cyclones represented a “new and frightening” development.

“It puts some panic in people,” Tong said. “It’s not something we’re talking about happening into the future – we can see the problem. What do we do when the next tide comes? And we have a spring tide coming at the end of this month.

“There are really no sceptics [in Kiribati] at the present moment in time.

“I must be honest to say that I’ve never really gone out of my way to publicise to our own people what is happening because I didn’t see the sense in making them fear what they really cannot do anything about.

“So my focus has been trying as much as possible to alert the international community to the fact planet Earth has a problem, and so do we.”

Tong said the ideal outcome of Paris would include “realistic solutions” to the impacts that Kiribati and others face. He is among those lobbying for an international aid package for Kiribati and other vulnerable nations to meet the costs of climate change.

“For us, zero emissions is not even good enough. The reality is what’s already in the atmosphere will … continue to raise the sea to levels that would ensure that we go down,” he said.

“The future is guaranteed to be very terrible in a very short space of time. We need a package.”

Suggestions that vulnerable countries be given loans instead of grants were not politically acceptable.

“People will not go for it. It is the responsibility of the international community to come up with a package,” he said.

He hoped that “what happens in terms of delivery, what happens in terms of the targets, will happen very soon – sooner rather than later”.

“It is a moral issue and it’s absolutely unjust for those to go ahead and do what they’re doing without regard for those whose survival will be in question,” he said. More


Unite for climate action


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Islamic Declaration Blasts Short-Sighted Capitalism, Demands Action on Climate

Just as scientists announced July was the hottest month in recorded history, and ahead of a major climate summit in Paris later this year, an international group of Islamic leaders on Tuesday released a public declaration calling on the religion's 1.6 billion followers to engage on the issue of global warming and take bold action to stem its worst impacts.

"What will future generations say of us, who leave them a degraded planet as our legacy? How will we face our Lord and Creator?" —Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change

Released during an international symposium taking place in Istanbul, the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change is signed by 60 Muslim scholars and leaders of the faith who acknowledge that—despite the short-term economic benefits of oil, coal, and gas—humanity's use of fossil fuels is the main cause of global warming which increasingly threatens "a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans."

The declaration states there is deep irony that humanity's "unwise and short-sighted use of these resources is now resulting in the destruction of the very conditions that have made our life on earth possible."

"Our attitude to these gifts has been short-sighted, and we have abused them," it continues. "What will future generations say of us, who leave them a degraded planet as our legacy? How will we face our Lord and Creator?"

The declaration by the Muslim leaders follows the widely lauded encyclical released by Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, earlier this summer in which he called for a drastic transformation of the world's economies and energy systems in order to stave off the worst impacts of an increasingly hotter planet. Additionally, hundreds of Jewish Rabbis also released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis and dozens of other denominations and churches have joined the global movement to divest their financial holdings from the fossil fuel industry.

Fazlun Khalid, founder of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences and a signatory to the declaration, said the unified statement "is the work of world renowned Islamic environmentalists" and that its goal is to trigger richer dialogue and further action. Khalid said he would be happy if other people adopt or improve upon the ideas contained within the document.

"Civil society is delighted by this powerful Climate Declaration coming from the Islamic community as it challenges all world leaders, and especially oil producing nations, to phase out their carbon emissions and supports the just transition to 100% renewable energy as a necessity to tackle climate change, reduce poverty and deliver sustainable development around the world." —Wael Hmaidan, Climate Action Network

As with the papal encyclical, the Muslim scholars take special note of how global capitalism—namely the "relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption"—has fostered an energy paradigm that now threatens the sustainability of living systems and human society.

With a focus on the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP21) talks in Paris, the declaration urges leaders to forge an "equitable and binding" agreement and called on all nations to:

  • Aim to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere;
  • Commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible, to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities;
  • Invest in decentralized renewable energy, which is the best way to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development;
  • Realize that to chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable. Growth must be pursued wisely and in moderation; placing a priority on increasing the resilience of all, and especially the most vulnerable, to the climate change impacts already underway and expected to continue for many years to come.
  • Set in motion a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality.
  • Prioritise adaptation efforts with appropriate support to the vulnerable countries with the least capacity to adapt. And to vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women and children.

When it comes to wealthier nations and the oil-rich states of the world, the declaration called on them to specifically:

  • Lead the way in phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of the century;
  • Provide generous financial and technical support to the less well-off to achieve a phase-out of greenhouse gases as early as possible;
  • Recognize the moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit from what is left of the earth’s non-renewable resources;
  • Stay within the ‘2 degree’ limit, or, preferably, within the ‘1.5 degree’ limit, bearing in mind that two-thirds of the earth’s proven fossil fuel reserves remain in the ground;
  • Re-focus their concerns from unethical profit from the environment, to that of preserving it and elevating the condition of the world’s poor.
  • Invest in the creation of a green economy.

Additionally, focusing on the corporate sector and business interests who profit most from exploitative activities and the current burning of fossil fuels, the declaration argues those institutions to:

  • Shoulder the consequences of their profit-making activities, and take a visibly more active role in reducing their carbon footprint and other forms of impact upon the natural environment;
  • In order to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities, commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible and shift investments into renewable energy;
  • Change from the current business model which is based on an unsustainable escalating economy, and to adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable;
  • Pay more heed to social and ecological responsibilities, particularly to the extent that they extract and utilize scarce resources;
  • Assist in the divestment from the fossil fuel driven economy and the scaling up of renewable energy and other ecological alternatives.

Such a rounded and full-throated declaration was met with applause by climate campaigners, anti-poverty advocates, and social justice voices from around the world.

"Muslim leaders single out wealthy nations and oil producing states to lead on a fossil fuel phase out and provide support to those less well off to curb emissions and adapt to a changing climate. They also call on big business to stop their relentless pursuit of growth, change their extractive models and provide greater benefits for people and the climate."
—Lies Craeynest, Oxfam International

"Today’s declaration is an unprecedented call by Muslim leaders to end the destruction of Earth’s resources," stated Lies Craeynest, the food and climate justice director for Oxfam International. "Muslim leaders single out wealthy nations and oil producing states to lead on a fossil fuel phase out and provide support to those less well off to curb emissions and adapt to a changing climate. They also call on big business to stop their relentless pursuit of growth, change their extractive models and provide greater benefits for people and the climate."

Referring to Pope Francis' earlier declaration, Craeynest acknowledged the vital importance of religious leaders taking such bold and powerful stances. "As leaders of the two largest global faiths express grave concern about our fragile climate, there is no justifiable way political leaders can put the interests of the fossil fuel industry above of the needs of people, particularly the poorest, and of our planet."

Wael Hmaidan, international director of the Climate Action Network, called the declaration a potential game changer and said, "Civil society is delighted by this powerful Climate Declaration coming from the Islamic community as it challenges all world leaders, and especially oil producing nations, to phase out their carbon emissions and supports the just transition to 100% renewable energy as a necessity to tackle climate change, reduce poverty and deliver sustainable development around the world."

Celebrating the growing call among faith communities and religious scholars for bold climate action, Hoda Baraka, the global communications director for the climate action group, said the Islamic declaration reveals the important ways in which international consensus is solidifying across cultures. "With the end of the fossil fuel era approaching," declared Baraka, "we have a moral responsibility to expedite the transition to clean energy protecting those most impacted from the climate crisis. The declaration’s call for divestment reinforces the moral impetus behind the fast-growing movement to divest from fossil fuels and helps expand its reach in faith communities around the world."

Speaking for the UN climate body, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres also welcomed the declaration.

"A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other," Figueres said. "Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change." More