The fast-melting Arctic is already messing with the ocean’s circulation, scientists say


Between the Labrador and Irminger Seas: the southern tip of Greenland, photographed during a GEOMAR survey in 2016.

Scientists studying a remote and icy stretch of the North Atlantic have found new evidence that fresh water, likely melted from Greenland or Arctic sea ice, may already be altering a key process that helps drives the global circulation of the oceans.

In chilly waters on either side of Greenland, the ocean circulation “overturns,” as surface waters traveling northward become colder and more dense and eventually sink, traveling back southward toward Antarctica at extreme depths. This key sinking process is called convection. But too much fresh water at the surface could interfere with it, because with less salt, the water loses density and does not sink as easily.

In the new research, Marilena Oltmanns and two colleagues at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, found that following particularly warm summers in the remote Irminger Sea, convection tended to be more impaired in winter. In some cases, a layer of meltwater stayed atop the ocean into the next year, rather than vanishing into its depths as part of the overturning circulation, which has sometimes been likened to an ocean “conveyor belt.”

“Until now, models have predicted something for the future … but it was something that seemed very distant,” said Oltmanns, the lead scientist behind the research, which was published this week in Nature Climate Change.

“But now we saw with these observations that there is actually freshwater and that it is already affecting convection, and it delays convection quite a lot in some years,” she continued.

One caution is that this is an observational study, not a prediction for the future — and Oltmanns said “nobody really knows” how much freshwater is enough to significantly slow or shut down the circulation, which is technically called the “Atlantic meridional overturning circulation,” or AMOC. Still, it suggests that key processes that have raised long-standing concern are already happening.

To collect the data, Oltmanns and her team ventured by ship out into the Irminger Sea to the southeast of Greenland. There, they read data from ocean moorings that take measurements of the character of the waters in key regions of ocean convection. The researchers now have a 13-year record to draw upon from this area.

In winter, cold air chills the northward-flowing surface water in this region enough to cause it to become denser and sink. But meltwater interferes with and delays this process because, lacking salinity, it is less dense and less prone to sink.

In the high meltwater years, the ocean is also just warmer overall, the study found. That also delays the onset of convection, because it is harder for the ocean surface layer to lose enough heat to sink, Oltmanns said.

Either way, these processes create a situation in which meltwater may not sink entirely below the surface — instead, it can linger. This then creates the possibility that, lasting through the winter, it could join with even more meltwater the following summer.

The study found that in one year, 2010, 40 percent of fresh meltwater managed to linger in the Irminger Sea over winter and into the next year.

“It means that if there is less time for convection, there is less time to remove the freshwater from the upper layer,” Oltmanns said. “And in spring, the new freshwater comes. And it is possible that there is a threshold, that if there is a lot of freshwater that stays at the surface, and mixes with the new freshwater from the new summer, it suddenly doubles, or increases a lot, and the next winter, it’s a lot more difficult to break through.”

Again, it’s important to underscore that there are no predictions in this study about when these processes would reach such a threshold or cause a major switch to a new regime. Climate change simulations have generally found that while global warming should indeed weaken the Atlantic overturning circulation, that should play out gradually — but scientists acknowledge that these simulations are not necessarily complete.

That’s why data gathering, as in the current study, also matters a great deal.

“As we explore the crucial impact of freshwater discharge from Greenland and other venues on the ocean circulation, this paper represents an important piece in the puzzle,” said Marco Tedesco, a Greenland expert at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, who was not involved in the study.

The research highlights the growing attention being paid to the crucial ocean circulation in question, which is responsible for bringing warm ocean water northward and, therefore, warming higher latitudes and Europe, in particular. It has long been considered a potential weak spot in the climate system because of the possibility that a change here could trigger dramatic changes in a short time.

Scientists have reported the circulation is in a weakened state and has been since 2008. The reduction in strength has been by about 15 percent, David Smeed, a scientist who studies the strength of the circulation at Britain’s National Oceanography Center in Southampton, told The Washington Post this year.

But what’s behind changes this region is less clear, with some scientists saying that we’re already seeing the role of climate change, others saying that what’s going on in the North Atlantic is mainly the reflection of a cyclical phenomenon affecting the oceans and atmosphere — and many suggesting it’s a combination.

“These decadal variations are likely superimposed on a longer declining trend related to increasing greenhouse gases,” said Tom Delworth, an expert on the North Atlantic with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in an email to The Post this year. “However, in terms of explaining AMOC behavior over the coming decades, the relative role of increasing greenhouse gases may well increase relative to natural variability.”

That sounds pretty gradual — but the new study is saying the change doesn’t necessarily have to be.

“There might be a threshold that is crossed, and it’s harder to get back to where we were before,” Oltmanns said. “It’s possible.”


China’s Own Rust Belt Faces Economic Decline

Why you should care

Because America’s Midwest isn’t the only struggling Rust Belt.

Echo Zhang has long given up on moving back to her hometown in northeast China to be closer to her aging parents. There simply aren’t any jobs.

“In Beijing I see new technologies changing the city continuously,” the 39-year-old engineer says. “But when I go back to Jilin, it’s like stepping back in time — it’s developed so slowly.”

Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang, the three provinces of northeast China, were once the pride of the country’s planned industrial economy. But they have been among the worst hit by the scaling back of traditional heavy industries such as coal and steel and by the long-term decline in its state-owned enterprises. The northeast’s contribution to the gross domestic product almost halved to 7 percent in 2016, from 13 percent in 1980.

[The battle over the future of the northeast] is a proxy debate for the choices facing China, between market-orientated reforms or state-driven industrial policy.

Andrew Batson, China research director, Gavekal Dragonomics

As China’s economic growth slows, economists warn that bad loans and loss-making “zombie” companies are concentrated in trouble spots such as the northeast. One of its three provinces, Liaoning, last year suffered the first official recession in China since 2009, shrinking by 2.5 percent.

“The northeast’s decline is a major risk to the Communist Party’s goal to deliver a moderately prosperous society,” says Kathryn Rand, a former political officer at the British Embassy in Beijing. “This is a particular concern given the northeast’s geopolitical importance bordering North Korea and Russia, where economic and social stability is seen as essential to maintaining the status quo.”

Beijing has sought to revitalize the region by subsidizing the state-owned agricultural, steel and petroleum enterprises that dominate the northeastern economy, but this strategy has come under fire from some of the country’s most prominent economists.

“A strategy that expands the output of enterprises that are not viable is a strategy that goes against comparative advantage,” Justin Yifu Lin, a former World Bank chief economist, wrote last year.

He proposed a switch in state support to sectors in which the region enjoys advantages over the rest of the country, such as labor-intensive light industry, which would benefit from the region’s relatively cheap wages, and tourism. Hu Shuli, founder of business magazine Caixin, responded that the region should “shed its big-government mindset” and allow private business to flourish.

Andrew Batson, China research director at the Gavekal Dragonomics consultancy, says the battle over the future of the northeast “is a proxy debate for the choices facing China, between market-orientated reforms or state-driven industrial policy.” Government pledges to allow the private market to flourish are at odds with continued state subsidies for government enterprises, and locals are increasingly vocal about the failure of local officials to enact market-driven policies.

While three-quarters of Chinese graduates chose to work in their home regions last year, according to the Beijing-based consultancy Mycos, the figure was less than half in the northeast. About 1.8 million are estimated to have left the northeast in the past decade.

“I have no hope for a ‘northeastern revival,’” says Hao Xuesong, a property developer, back in Jilin city for a school reunion. His pessimism is shared by former classmates, who say the northeast’s sluggishness is the result of its officials being too “left” — bureaucratic, rigid and wedded to the old ideal of the planned economy. The bureaucracy is also riddled with corruption, according to a former Liaoning civil servant who now works for a multinational company in Shanghai. She says she left “because I couldn’t find a suitable job” in the civil service.

“I think the problem is not that getting a promotion is difficult; the problem is it’s not transparent,” she says. “I don’t have the social connections to secure a job in state-owned banks or even local commercial banks. Private companies in Liaoning are less well paid.”

The northeast has also struggled to attract investors. It was the only region in China in which private fixed-asset investment fell from 2016–2017. Ma Jiantang of the Chinese Academy of Governance told a recent government conference that many entrepreneurs believed “investment should not cross the Shanhai Pass,” a section of the Great Wall of China that divides the northeast from the rest of the country.

Zhang Lihua, director of tech company Changchun Boli, also acknowledges that the northeast is at a competitive disadvantage. “There’s a good foundation for growth here, if we can make reforms. But the southern provinces compete aggressively for talent and companies, and the northeast is some way behind.”

Lu Xiaomeng, assistant professor at the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance at Jiao Tong University, who grew up in the northeastern city of Harbin, is confident private investment will slowly rise. But this can happen only if the power of the state-owned enterprises is curbed. “The problem of SOEs’ influence is a nationwide issue,” she adds. “It’s just that SOEs dominate the northeastern economy. My hope is the private sector can thrive.”

5 Photos That Show Just How Much The EPA Website Has Censored Climate Change

Last year, on January 19th, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began removing key references to climate change from its website. Now, over a year later, the information is still conspicuously missing.

Thankfully, the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) has carefully documented the overhaul and removal of all government documents, webpages and websites regarding climate change – not to mention significant language changes to the information that still exists.

While several other agencies, like the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of State, have also removed or significantly reduced climate web content, under administrator and climate denier Scott Pruitt, the EPA has removed the most.

The most drastic changes at the EPA came one day before the People’s Climate March, when the agency made substantial alterations to its climate change website.

Now, when you try to access the EPA climate change web page, it merely reads “This page is being updated.” Plus, the climate change tab is now entirely removed from the EPA homepage.

Before 1Screenshots and red underlines in the sections are by TIME.

According to a statement from the agency, these changes are being made to the website to better “reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt.”

After the overhaul, the agency provided archived screenshots of the older pages in order to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. However, some pages which were entirely removed, like the “Student’s Global Guide to Climate Change”, were not included in EPA archives.

Screen Shot 2018 03 05 at 1.31.35 pm

“The EPA’s notice that an overhaul was in progress did represent some degree of transparency, yet it failed to note which domains and pages were being removed or altered,” reads the EDGI report.

“Moreover, it was posted the same day that the overhaul began, preventing stakeholders from being able to download and archive valuable pages and information.”

One of the many websites removed last year was the “Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments” website, which contained 380 pages of information.

About three months after this website was removed, a new website titled “Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments” was launched. On the new page, over 200 pages of information were omitted, including references to and descriptions of climate and change change.

Screen Shot 2018 03 05 at 1.33.23 pm

While many of the links contained within the climate change subdomain still exist, they are notoriously difficult to find, buried within pages and pages of government material. Meanwhile, other pages have simply been deleted.

For instance, if you search the term “climate change” on, it produce around 5,000 results. In the past, a similar search would have produced closer to 12,000 results.

Apart from burying and deleting information, the agency has also drastically changed the information available. For instance, a map that detail the regional affects of climate change has now been replaced with a far less-detailed version.

Of the 56 states and territories on the new EPA map, only 19 bother to mention climate change, and out of 19 links, only 8 are functional.


Still, many American states and cities are not letting the federal government get away with such censorship.

Concerned by the lost climate information, for instance, Chicago has copied old EPA web pages over to the city’s own website.

A banner on the site states that “while this information may not be readily available on the EPA’s website, in Chicago we know climate change is real. We are joining cities around the country to make sure citizens have access to information on climate change.”

Alongside Chicago, 14 states and territories have formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, which represents a pledge to uphold the Paris accord and reduce emissions, and 382 cities have joined the Climate Mayors, promising similar sustainable practices.

“Censoring scientific data doesn’t make its threats any less real, it hides the problem from the American people so the Trump administration can wage a dangerous assault on public health safeguards that protect all Americans,” Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator under President Obama told TIME.

“It is beyond comprehension that they would ever purposely limit and remove access to information that communities need to save lives and property.”

Are Tomorrow’s Fuel Cells Made of Paper? This Engineer Thinks So

Because his fuel cells are cheaper, easier and cleaner than conventional batteries.

Where others might look at substances like urine, blood and sweat and cringe, Juan Pablo Esquivel sees untapped sources of energy. Not for powering large engines but rather to produce small amounts of electricity that could play a vital role in the burgeoning telemedicine market. Today Esquivel, a 35-year-old electronics engineer, is developing miniature paper-based fuel cells at the National Centre of Microelectronics (CNM) at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (AUB), with an eye toward using them to power disposable diagnostic devices.

As we stroll the corridors of CNM, Esquivel explains the difference between typical lithium or alkaline batteries and what he’s developing: Unlike what you might use in a flashlight or computer keyboard, fuel cells require a supply of energy from an electrochemical reaction to produce electricity. This type of power source has been tested to generate energy for cars and mobile phones, but Esquivel, who started his career at the Monterrey Institute of Technology in his native Mexico, is among the first to do this work on a micro scale.

A lithium battery, a fuelium battery and a power pad photo pablo esparza

A lithium battery, a Fuelium battery and a power pad.

Not only does his approach open up the range of possible uses for these tiny fuel cells, but it also sidesteps the environmental impact from regular batteries. “We develop small, nontoxic, inexpensive fuel cells and batteries that don’t need to be recycled and could be thrown away with no ecological impact,” he explains with a Mexican accent laced with Iberian Spanish expressions.

Born in Guadalajara, Esquivel moved to Barcelona in 2005, having fallen in love with the city while doing a college backpack tour through Europe. When it was time to apply to Ph.D. programs, he was intrigued by the work being done at CNM, among the most advanced labs of its kind in Southern Europe. It proved to be the right fit: In 2013, he was named by MIT to the list of the 10 most innovative Mexican researchers under 35.

“Esquivel is like Cristiano Ronaldo, and, like Ronaldo, he’s playing for an excellent team. That’s why he gets results,” jokes Antonio Martínez, a professor at the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

They stopped focusing on hydrogen, methanol and ethanol as the only energy sources for fuel cells and started looking at bodily fluids.

The Mexican researcher confesses that he’s long been obsessed with “making things cheaper, simpler and easier.” Once his team had developed the paper-based batteries, they wanted to find a universal, everyday use for them. So Esquivel and Neus Sabaté, his thesis adviser and “scientific soul mate,” shelved their academic journals and turned instead to considering what people and the market needed.

They focused on portable, disposable diagnostic tests, such as for pregnancy, glucose and infectious diseases, that use small amounts of energy. Those devices, they noticed, rely on lithium button batteries to supply the energy necessary to analyze the samples and to display the results. But, in contrast to watches or remote controls, single-use diagnosis tests get discarded after having used less than 1 percent of their batteries’ charge — an “ecological aberration,” in Esquivel’s words.

Juan pablo esquivel holding a paper based battery photo pablo esparza (1)

Juan Pablo Esquivel holding a paper-based battery, an eco-friendly power source for single-use applications.

That was the moment that Esquivel and his colleagues connected the dots: “What if we used the samples [of saliva or blood] to feed a small fuel cell that would generate the electricity needed for the analysis and to display the results?” They stopped focusing on hydrogen, methanol and ethanol as the only energy sources for fuel cells and started looking at bodily fluids as materials capable of triggering an electrochemical reaction — and generating electricity.

Digging further, they reached two important conclusions: First, they could build their power sources using paper as the base material to transport the fluids by capillary action; and second, these power sources could be integrated, thanks to printed electronics technology, with other electronic components such as sensors and display screens to produce self-powered devices.

In 2015, with patent in hand, Esquivel, Sabaté and Sergi Gassó — who joined as a business partner — founded Fuelium, with seed money from their personal savings, funding from the Repsol Foundation startup accelerator program and grants from the Spanish government and the European Commission. The company aims to translate the outcome from their lab work for the portable diagnostic tests market, a sector Esquivel values at $1.8 billion. While he sees a clear path to market for Fuelium, he acknowledges that breaking in will be a heavy lift: Getting out of the lab is “a big challenge for a quite disruptive technology like ours,” he says. Two years since launch, Fuelium has grown to a staff of five and signed its first contract.

Emmanuel Delamarche, manager of precision diagnostics at IBM Research in Zurich, agrees that portable devices have become a “very hot area,” both in scientific and economic terms, with a trending away from remote, centralized labs and toward portable diagnostic tools that deliver faster results. “Eighty percent of the world’s population needs this kind of technology because they don’t live next to a clinical lab,” Delamarche explains.

Sabaté, who has worked with Esquivel for 12 years, is impressed by her partner’s creative mind and willingness to experiment. “He never says no to an idea,” she says, “no matter how crazy it is.”

Crazy or not, Esquivel is already working on a new idea: developing what he calls the “power pad,” which he hopes will lead to the first fully biodegradable paper-based battery. It’s an ambitious play for a “tiny, sustainable and clean” source of energy, he admits — but it’s a project, he adds with a smile, that lets him “have fun on the way.”

Researchers Find More Than 100,000 of Borneo’s Orangutans Have Been Wiped Out

There’s no excuse.

Bornean orangutans, the largest tree-dwellers on the planet, are vanishing. The population of these great apes was halved between 1999 and 2015, per an estimate published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

A survey of orangutan nests, coupled with a statistical analysis of habitat changes, indicates that more than 100,000 animals were lost in the last 16 years.

It is a dramatic drop for the animals who, because their genomes and unique physical characteristics so resemble ours, are among the closest living relatives to humans.

Orangutans’ exact numbers are uncertain. They are intelligent and shy and prefer thick forests.

You could walk by an orangutan hiding in the canopy and never know the 4-foot-tall (1.2 metre tall) animal was there, said Maria Voigt, an expert in sustainability and ape habitat at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

Counting the shaggy orange creatures by sight would be a very difficult task.

Instead, surveyors tally orangutan nests. Orangutans, before they sleep, bend long branches into structures that look like leafy baskets. The nests are so large that researchers can use helicopters to spot them.

Since 1999, surveyors have covered a total of 500 square miles in Borneo looking for their nests.

One nest does not equal one ape. Some orangutans, especially infants and mothers, may crowd together into the same nest. Researchers must also account for abandoned nests, too. But extrapolating population counts from the nests is possible.

When the study began, surveyors found 22 nests per every kilometer traveled. By 2015, they found 10 nests in the same distance.

Voigt and her co-authors, an international team of ecologists, biodiversity experts, conservationists and others, created a mathematical model to track the ape population.

They bundled the decreasing number of nests together with human population density, deforestation and rates at which orangutans are hunted and killed.

By the researchers’ best estimate, there were 148,500 more orangutans in 1999 than in 2015. Some experts were shocked to see such a precipitous decline. Others doubted that there were so many orangutans in 1999.

Voigt summarised their responses: “That can’t be, that’s too much, we don’t think there are so many left.”

But the findings are on par with other declines in great ape populations, she said. Grauer’s gorilla populations have dropped by 80 percent in 20 years. The western chimpanzee population dropped by 80 percent in 25 years.

The researchers estimate there are 17,000 to 100,000 Bornean orangutans left, Voigt said. Looking to 2050, a business-as-usual model suggested a less dramatic decline – a loss of 45,300 animals from habitat destruction.

Demand for wood, palm oil and other natural resources harvested in Borneo has fractured the island’s forests. Plantations replaced orangutan habitats in some areas.

But those plantations can become “steppingstones,” Voigt said, that enable the apes to travel between fragmented forests.

The new research suggests that in places where valuable trees are selectively logged but the rest of the forest remains intact, orangutans will return. “If the fruit trees are left intact, then the disturbance is minimal,” Voigt said.

What had been widely underestimated, Voigt said, was the number of orangutans hunted for meat or otherwise killed by humans. Voigt said she suspected conservationists might have been reluctant to point to humans for the population decline.

“People have hunted orangutans since they coexisted,” Voigt said. But there is nuance amid the conflict – even the word “conflict,” she said, suggests the involvement of two equal partners, which is not the case when one party has a gun.

Bornean hunters target orangutans only as a last resort, she said, and prefer pigs and deer. Others might kill orangutans out of surprise, if “an orangutan and human meet and the human gets scared,” she said.

Interviews with people who live near orangutans suggest orangutan deaths per village are low. Perhaps a village will report that one orangutan was killed in the past few years, Voigt said.

But multiplied over many villages in forest area, and the deaths add up: As little as one orangutan killed out of 100 each year can cause the species to decline. Orangutans are slow to reproduce, having at most a newborn every six years.

But there is hope for this species, Voigt said. Humans can be taught to live in peace with orangutans. “We have relatively stable populations in national parks. We see that they can coexist with humans,” she said.

“If we stop the killing they could even bound back.”

Leaked U.N. draft report sees ‘very high risk’ the planet will warm beyond key limit

A glacier calves icebergs into a fjord off an ice sheet in southeastern Greenland on Aug. 3.
A draft United Nations climate science report contains dire news about the warming of the planet, suggesting it will likely cross the key marker of 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, of temperature rise in the 2040s, and that this will be exceedingly difficult to avoid.

Temperatures could subsequently cool down if carbon dioxide is somehow removed from the air later in the century, the document notes. But that prospect is questionable at the massive scales that would be required, it observes.

The 31-page draft, a summary of a much-anticipated report on the 1.5 degrees Celsius target expected to be finalized in October, was published by the website ClimateHome on Tuesday. The website said the document had been “publicly available on the U.S. federal register over the past month.” Last month, several news outlets, including Reuters, quoted from the draft but did not publish it in full.

The 1.5 C target is crucial to small island nations worried about rising seas, and other nations particularly vulnerable to warming, and was explicitly included in the Paris climate agreement as the more ambitious of two climate goals, the other being 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The draft document states that there is a “very high risk” of the planet warming more than 1.5 degrees above the temperature seen in the mid-to-late-19th century. Maintaining the planet’s temperature entirely below that level throughout the present century, without even briefly exceeding it, is likely to be “already out of reach,” it finds.

Jonathan Lynn, spokesman for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is producing the study, cautioned that the draft is a work in progress.

“The text is highly likely to change between this draft and the final approved summary for policymakers,” he said.

Duke University climate expert Drew Shindell, who is listed as one of the drafting authors of the document, also noted that the draft summary was a very early version of the full report.

“It’s much rougher and much more preliminary than even the underlying document,” he said.

Although worrying, the conclusion will not be surprising to those who have followed a growing body of research on just what it would take to stop warming short of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The planet has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius or more.

In some places, the report notes, the temperature increase has already exceeded 1.5 degrees Celsius. In general, warming is more intense over land than over the oceans and is particularly intense in the Arctic.

The document finds that a warming of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would pose substantially larger risks in many respects than 1.5 degrees C — but it also finds that severe risks will be present at 1.5 degrees, too.

A serious risk is already emerging to highly sensitive marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, the document states, and 1.5 C may already be too much for them. Reefs “are at risk that at 1.5 C and at 2 C they will no longer be dominated by corals,” the draft report notes.

The chance that Greenland or the West Antarctic ice sheet will tip toward irreversible retreat is present at both 1.5 C and 2 C, the study finds — but at 2 C, the likelihood of commitment to major sea level rise grows larger.

What’s most striking is the radical nature and rapidity of the changes that would be required to somehow preserve a world below 1.5 degrees.

The document finds that the world has 12 to 16 years’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions left, from the start of 2016, if it wants a better-than-even chance of holding warming below 1.5 degrees.

Two of those years have already elapsed, as of this writing. A third will have nearly elapsed by the time the draft report is finalized and released in October. (In December in Poland, it will feed into a broader United Nations deliberation about the adequacy of countries’ current promises to cut emissions.)

And once this “carbon budget” for 1.5 degrees Celsius is used up, emissions would have to plunge to zero to preserve the 1.5 degree goal — something that would almost certainly never happen, as it would sharply impair the world economy.

Since such rapid and severe cuts aren’t likely, the report notes that it’s virtually unavoidable that the planet will “overshoot” 1.5 degrees Celsius. To cool Earth afterward and avoid staying at dangerously high temperatures for long, it would then be necessary to remove carbon dioxide from the air at a massive scale — but that, too, is highly problematic.

Carbon removal scenarios generally involve reforesting large amounts of land, or growing trees or other plants on that land and using it for energy, and storing the resulting carbon dioxide emissions underground. But “increased biomass production and use has the potential to increase pressure on land and water resources, food production, biodiversity, and to affect air quality,” the draft notes. “Therefore, the scale and speed of implementation assumed in some 1.5 C pathways may be challenging.”

“Avoiding a 1.5 C warming would be very, very difficult without a significant overshoot,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, noting that he was commenting solely on the state of the science itself, rather than the leaked document. “Such a warming would cause increased bleaching and perhaps destruction of living coral reefs at some locations, although at other places, reefs would probably survive a warming closer to 2 C.”

“Some of the high level messages I think come as no surprise, in that we are not on track anywhere near toward 1.5 C, and getting there would require enormous changes,” added Shindell, noting that he was not speaking as an author of the draft report or on behalf of the IPCC, but simply as a scientist with expertise in the matter. “That basic conclusion, I think it’s okay to say that it’s not a surprise to anybody. Any climate scientist would have told you that even without the report.”

The document’s leak has become a standard affair for major United Nations climate science reports, because they are seen by so many reviewers.

In 2013, a leaked draft of part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report helped lend credence to the questionable idea that global warming had slowed or “paused,” based on a brief passage suggesting that the rate of warming had declined somewhat between 1998 and 2012. The final draft addressed the issue with more nuance, largely undermining the notion of any significant slowdown.

The authors have until May 15 to include any new published material in the report. Still, it’s unlikely to change the fundamental conclusion that there is too little time to avert 1.5 C degrees of warming — barring some massive technological intervention.

“There is … no documented precedent for the geographical and economic scale of the energy, land, urban and industrial transitions implicit in pathways consistent with a 1.5 C warmer world,” the draft report notes.

The 11 cities most likely to run out of drinking water – like Cape Town

Dripping tap

Cape Town is in the unenviable situation of being the first major city in the modern era to face the threat of running out of drinking water.

However, the plight of the drought-hit South African city is just one extreme example of a problem that experts have long been warning about – water scarcity.

Despite covering about 70% of the Earth’s surface, water, especially drinking water, is not as plentiful as one might think. Only 3% of it is fresh.

Over one billion people lack access to water and another 2.7 billion find it scarce for at least one month of the year. A 2014 survey of the world’s 500 largest cities estimates that one in four are in a situation of “water stress”

According to UN-endorsed projections, global demand for fresh water will exceed supply by 40% in 2030, thanks to a combination of climate change, human action and population growth.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that Cape Town is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are the other 11 cities most likely to run out of water.

1. São Paulo

Brazil’s financial capital and one of the 10 most populated cities in the world went through a similar ordeal to Cape Town in 2015, when the main reservoir fell below 4% capacity.

At the height of the crisis, the city of over 21.7 million inhabitants had less than 20 days of water supply and police had to escort water trucks to stop looting.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption At the height of the drought, Sao Paulo’s reservoirs became a desolate landscape

It is thought a drought that affected south-eastern Brazil between 2014 and 2017 was to blame, but a UN mission to São Paulo was critical of the state authorities “lack of proper planning and investments”.

The water crisis was deemed “finished” in 2016, but in January 2017 the main reserves were 15% below expected for the period – putting the city’s future water supply once again in doubt.

2. Bangalore

Local officials in the southern Indian city have been bamboozled by the growth of new property developments following Bangalore’s rise as a technological hub and are struggling to manage the city’s water and sewage systems.

To make matters worse, the city’s antiquated plumbing needs an urgent upheaval; a report by the national government found that the city loses over half of its drinking water to waste.

Like China, India struggles with water pollution and Bangalore is no different: an in-depth inventory of the city’s lakes found that 85% had water that could only be used for irrigation and industrial cooling.

Not a single lake had suitable water for drinking or bathing.

Will Cape Town be the first city to run out of water?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Pollution in Bangalore’s lakes is rife

3. Beijing

The World Bank classifies water scarcity as when people in a determined location receive less than 1,000 cubic metres of fresh water per person a year.

In 2014, each of the more than 20 million inhabitants of Beijing had only 145 cubic metres.

China is home to almost 20% of the world’s population but has only 7% of the world’s fresh water.

A Columbia University study estimates that the country’s reserves declined 13% between 2000 and 2009.

And there’s also a pollution problem. Official figures from 2015 showed that 40% of Beijing’s surface water was polluted to the point of not being useful even for agriculture or industrial use.

The Chinese authorities have tried to address the problem by creating massive water diversion projects. They have also introduced educational programmes, as well as price hikes for heavy business users.

4. Cairo

Once crucial to the establishment of one of the world’s greatest civilisations, the River Nile is struggling in modern times.

It is the source of 97% of Egypt’s water but also the destination of increasing amounts of untreated agricultural, and residential waste.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Nile provides 97% of Egypt’s water supply

World Health Organization figures show that Egypt ranks high among lower middle-income countries in terms of the number of deaths related to water pollution.

The UN estimates critical shortages in the country by 2025.

5. Jakarta

Like many coastal cities, the Indonesian capital faces the threat of rising sea levels.

But in Jakarta the problem has been made worse by direct human action. Because less than half of the city’s 10 million residents have access to piped water, illegal digging of wells is rife. This practice is draining the underground aquifers, almost literally deflating them.

As a consequence, about 40% of Jakarta now lies below sea level, according to World Bank estimates.

To make things worse, aquifers are not being replenished despite heavy rain because the prevalence of concrete and asphalt means that open fields cannot absorb rainfall.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Illegal well-drilling is making the Indonesian capital more vulnerable to flooding

6. Moscow

One-quarter of the world’s fresh water reserves are in Russia, but the country is plagued by pollution problems caused by the industrial legacy of the Soviet era.

That is specifically worrying for Moscow, where the water supply is 70% dependent on surface water.

Official regulatory bodies admit that 35% to 60% of total drinking water reserves in Russia do not meet sanitary standards

7. Istanbul

According to official Turkish government figures, the country is technically in a situation of a water stress, since the per capita supply fell below 1,700 cubic metres in 2016.

Local experts have warned that the situation could worsen to water scarcity by 2030.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A 10-month long drought dried up this lake near Istanbul

In recent years, heavily populated areas like Istanbul (14 million inhabitants) have begun to experience shortages in the drier months.

The city’s reservoir levels declined to less than 30 percent of capacity at the beginning of 2014.

8. Mexico City

Water shortages are nothing new for many of the 21 million inhabitants of the Mexican capital.

One in five get just a few hours from their taps a week and another 20% have running water for just part of the day.

The city imports as much as 40% of its water from distant sources but has no large-scale operation for recycling wastewater. Water losses because of problems in the pipe network are also estimated at 40%.

9. London

Of all the cities in the world, London is not the first that springs to mind when one thinks of water shortages.

The reality is very different. With an average annual rainfall of about 600mm (less than the Paris average and only about half that of New York), London draws 80% of its water from rivers (the Thames and Lea).

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption London has a water waste rate of 25%

According to the Greater London Authority, the city is pushing close to capacity and is likely to have supply problems by 2025 and “serious shortages” by 2040.

It looks likely that hosepipe bans could become more common in the future

10. Tokyo

The Japanese capital enjoys precipitation levels similar to that of Seattle on the US west coast, which has a reputation for rain. Rainfall, however, is concentrated during just four months of the year.

That water needs to be collected, as a drier-than-expected rainy season could lead to a drought. At least 750 private and public buildings in Tokyo have rainwater collection and utilisation systems.

Home to more than 30 million people, Tokyo has a water system that depends 70% on surface water (rivers, lakes, and melted snow).

Recent investment in the pipeline infrastructure aims also to reduce waste by leakage to only 3% in the near future.

11. Miami

The US state of Florida is among the five US states most hit by rain every year. However, there is a crisis brewing in its most famous city, Miami.

An early 20th Century project to drain nearby swamps had an unforeseen result; water from the Atlantic Ocean contaminated the Biscayne Aquifer, the city’s main source of fresh water.

Miami's sea font

Although the problem was detected in the 1930s, seawater still leaks in, especially because the American city has experienced faster rates of sea level rise, with water breaching underground defence barriers installed in recent decades.

Neighbouring cities are already struggling. Hallandale Beach, which is just a few miles north of Miami, had to close six of its eight wells due to saltwater intrusion.

25 Years of Data Shows We Missed Something Important About Sea Level Rise

Satellite data measured across a 25-year period shows that not only are the seas rising, they’re rising faster and faster – an acceleration that is on track to double the jump in sea levels by 2100 compared with a fixed increase year-on-year.

The acceleration is driven mainly by more and more of the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melting away, according to the scientists, who are warning that more data needs to be gathered to prepare for the effects of sea level rise.

Right now the oceans rise by around 3 millimetres each year, but that number is going up by 0.08 mm every 12 months, the data shows. By the time the next century rolls around, we could be up to a rise of 10 mm every year.

In total we would be looking at a rise of 65 centimetres (25 inches) by 2100, compared with around 30 cm if the annual rises steadied at the current speed.

“This is almost certainly a conservative estimate,” says one of the team, Steve Nerem from the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Our extrapolation assumes that sea level continues to change in the future as it has over the last 25 years. Given the large changes we are seeing in the ice sheets today, that’s not likely.”

The study looked at altimeter readings from various satellites stretching back to 1992, adding in data from climate change models to factor out the variability of events like El Niño and volcanic eruptions, and reach a baseline figure.

Further corrections were made using tide-gauge data collected on the coasts, to tweak and verify the readings provided by the satellites. The end result is a prediction model that matches up very well with forecasts put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set up by the UN.

According to Nerem and his colleagues, about half of the 7cm (2.76 inch) rise in global mean sea level we’ve seen since 1992 has been down to thermal expansion – the way water takes up more space as it gets warmer.

The other half is down to melting ice sheets, and this is what’s driving the acceleration. Last year another huge chunk of ice began to break off Antarctica, and scientists are worried that it’s now too late for these glaciers to recover.

This new study is by no means the first to suggest the waters are rising at a faster and faster rate. Last year, research published in Nature Climate Change found that the rise-per-year had gone up by 50 percent between 1993 and 2014.

Again, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet was put forward as the primary cause of this acceleration. Perhaps the only positive we can take from all this is that we’re getting a better idea of what we’re up against, and might be able to do something about it.

Now the researchers want to apply the same techniques to a longer period of time, as well as adding in extra measurements from local records, which should help communities prepare for the worst.

“This estimate is useful for understanding how the Earth is responding to warming, and thus better informs us of how it might change in the future,” write the researchers in their published paper.

Four Lessons Psychology Teaches Us about Inspiring Climate Action

There’s the old line that the first step to solving a problem is understanding it. But when it comes to climate change, what happens when understanding alone isn’t enough?

We know it’s important to educate the public so people understand why climate change is happening, what regions are most at risk, and how impacts like sea-level rise, extreme weather, and ocean acidification continue to harm our health and economy.

But education is the easy part. It’s getting people to take action that can be a challenge – and that’s because changing people’s attitudes and behaviors is a daunting task.

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution, say, to eat healthier – and you find yourself saying “yes” to that second piece of chocolate cake on January 15? You may know eating too many sugary treats isn’t good for your health (attitude), but you may find it difficult to stick to eating healthier (behavior).

Social scientists of all kinds have studied the question of how to change human behavior in many different contexts from public health to public policy to environmental psychology and more. In the climate context, environmental psychologists have begun exploring this larger question by trying to understand why, for example, more Americans aren’t taking action with their votes and voices. Especially when the majority agree that humans are causing climate change.

There’s no simple answer here. The reality is that changing the behavior of one person is hard enough – let alone millions of citizens around the world. But psychology can give us some insight into better ways to motivate people to change their behavior and stand up for the planet we share.

That’s why we’ve compiled four lessons from the field that any activist can take and use to help inspire their friends, colleagues, family members, and more to act.

1. Connect the climate crisis to what’s happening in real communities to reduce psychological distance.

Climate change is a unique issue because although millions of people in the US and around the world feel the drastic effects of it in their daily lives, many people don’t (yet).

Why does this matter? Because of a construct known as psychological distance. Psychological distance refers to things that are not in our immediate reality or felt in the present moment. For example, you might think about your first year of marriage if you’re still single (temporal distance), what neighborhood or city you might buy a home in one day (spatial distance), how your best friend or family member perceives you (social distance), or how your career would be different if you had studied a different major in college (hypothetical distance).

Why is psychological distance relevant to the climate crisis? Studies have found that people who believe the effects of climate change are unlikely to happen to them or are more likely to affect other people and regions of the world are less likely to be concerned about solving it. In other words, if climate change feels psychologically distant, you worry less about it in your daily life and feel less urgency to take action.

To bridge this gap, research suggests that we should discuss how climate change affects communities and families on the local level. That means calling attention to real-life examples of how the climate crisis is affecting real people, especially in regions experiencing extreme weather. From wildfires destroying homes in the western US to hurricanes damaging homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast and southern US to droughts affecting farms in dozens of countries, it’s clear that extreme weather is devastating the livelihoods of many communities around the world.


2. Make climate action a group experience to promote social norms.

Humans are pack animals. In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow created his Hierarchy of Needs, which proposed that humans have certain needs that begin with the most basic needs (food, sleep, safety) and end with ego-centered needs (self-esteem, creativity).

The hierarchy also proposed that once humans have their physical and safety needs satisfied, the next need in the hierarchy is belongingness. Put simply, humans are social beings that respond to group norms, and for our ancestors, group acceptance meant access to shared resources and feeling protected from predators.

Today, humans are just as keenly aware of social dynamics and psychology tells us that we fear feeling socially rejected. That’s why the more we can make climate action the norm in our social and family circles, the more likely others will join in.

3. Talk about what we’re gaining, not what we’re losing, to avoid loss aversion.

The psychological concept of loss aversion is nothing new, but behavioral scientists have started thinking about it more as it relates to the climate movement. One study examined how framing climate change impacts can affect attitudes and perceptions. In the experiment, researchers presented different climate change impacts to participants (sourced from the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report), who then answered questions about what they saw.

The results showed that framing climate change impacts in a way that highlights possible gains rather than losses increased positive attitudes toward mitigation responses. Participants also perceived climate change impacts as more severe when they were framed as gains.

So when talking about climate change with your friends and family, explain how action is an opportunity. For example, America’s Clean Power Plan, which is now under threat by the Trump Administration, could lead to public health and climate benefits worth an estimated $34 billion to $54 billion annually in 2030. Those are some serious gains! If you agree, we invite you to add your name to support the Clean Power Plan and stand up for clean energy.

4. Give your friends real ways to take action to prevent “environmental melancholia.”

We know that the climate crisis isn’t just an environmental issue. Not only do the people who experience extreme weather, warmer temperatures, drought, rising sea levels, and other devastating impacts feel psychological effects, but many people are affected simply by hearing about the crisis or seeing unsettling images in the news.

Dr. Renee Lertzman, a researcher who promotes climate change activism inside the workplace, explains that people often experience “environmental melancholia.” She explains that although we know the climate crisis is a threat, many people feel anxious and powerless about how they can make a difference, which can prevent them from doing something.

By understanding that people may feel powerless when thinking about the climate crisis, we should communicate and provide real ways to take action and support them throughout the process. If your friends or family members feel powerless or have anxiety about getting involved, one way to help is to share helpful content that gives them specific ways to take action. Our blog post, “Four Ways Anyone Can Take Climate Action,” is a great place to start.

How You Can Make a Difference

Humans are complicated and changing behavior is no easy task, but thinking about how to overcome empathy or powerlessness is the first step to getting others involved with the movement for solutions. If you’re ready to make a difference in your community, download our Make It a Reality Action Kit now to get started. Our climate action kit will give you a thorough look at the climate crisis and ways you can participate in the fight for a bright, sustainable future.

Poor More Likely to Suffer During South Africa’s Dire Drought

Cape Town, South Africa is in the throes of a years-long drought that could earn it a truly alarming distinction: the first major city in the developed world to run out of water.

South Africa as a whole is experiencing its worst drought in a century. The six dams that supply Cape Town’s water have dropped to just 15.2 percent capacity of usable water, according to the Los Angeles Times, down from 77 percent in September 2015. Enforcement of strict water restrictions – which cut permitted daily consumption from 23 gallons per day to just 13.2 gallons – begin February 1.

Shravya K. Reddy, principal at Pegasys Strategy and Development and Climate Reality’s former director of science and solutions, lives in Cape Town and says that while several factors – including relatively rapid population growth, poor planning, and people ignoring previous water restrictions – have all contributed to this crisis, officials’ failure to recognize the role that climate change plays in exacerbating drought has made the situation even more dire.

“Decision-makers well-versed with climate science would have taken it seriously and would have started treating this drought, even in 2015 or 2016, as if it would last longer than usual,” Reddy tells Climate Reality. “Instead, they seemed to never escalate the preparations for additional water supplies or accelerate water augmentation projects in the belief that taking drastic action would be overkill, since the rains would come. If they had taken more concerted action two years ago or early last year, then they would not need to be on such war footing right now.”

Climate change worsens drought because as temperatures rise, evaporation increases. When this evaporation happens over land, soils dry out. Many places are also experiencing both decreases in annual precipitation and longer periods without significant rain, resulting in reduced water levels in streams, rivers, lakes, and (importantly) reservoirs. When rains do come, much of the water runs off the hard ground and is carried back to the ocean before it can fully replenish dams, reservoirs, or the water table.

All of Cape Town’s citizens are feeling the impact of the drought, but the city’s lower-income residents are already bearing the brunt. Should the city, which has a population of more than 4 million people in its greater metropolitan area, run out of water on April 21, as many are predicting, their plight will become truly desperate.

“Socio-economic disparity is evident in both peoples’ access to critical information, as well as in the measures people are taking to prepare for ‘Day Zero,’ the day when the city has to shut off municipal water and taps literally run dry,” Reddy says. “In speaking with people who typically have to work the longest hours just to financially survive, it seems to me that they simply don’t have access to the same levels of information we do, and thus are less empowered to make informed decisions about how they will cope and manage.”

This disparity, she adds, can often be traced back to a lack of computer and internet access among many of South Africa’s lower-income communities.

Another imbalance has become clear: Wealthier citizens have the resources to prepare and safeguard themselves from the worst of the water crisis’ impacts.

“Those with more disposable income can stock up on more bottled water. We can also invest in more water-saving devices,” Reddy explains. “Many of Cape Town’s most under-resourced residents live in what we call townships or informal settlements – what the West would call shanty towns or even slums – and they’re lucky if they have a communal water source amongst eight to 10 families. They certainly cannot buy and hoard bottled water.

“People with means – transportation as well as leisure time – can drive farther out of the city to areas where clean, potable water comes out of natural springs and can collect water to take home. Those who don’t have the luxury of a car and time to drive around are less able to take advantage of such natural springs hours away.”

She notes that some retailers are even taking advantage of the situation, increasing the price of common water conservation tools like buckets, pitchers, and other water storage units because of higher market demand, making them even less accessible to the people who may need them the most.

And beyond the obvious necessity of clean drinking water, Reddy worries that “significant public health challenges will emerge as a result of people not being able to maintain individual and institutional hygiene.” The risk of water-borne diseases and other bacterial infections may also rise sharply, elevating the risk of serious public health issues.

“Money buys other adaptation means too. The wealthy have greater ability to buy more new clothes as a response to less clothes washing, ordering takeout food as a response to less cooking and dishwashing, buying ‘chemical toilets,’ tons of wet-wipes, hand sanitizer, and leaving the city for long stretches of time to escape elsewhere – either by renting places in other cities or staying with friends and family who can afford to accommodate long-term guests,” she continues.

“Based on what several people in my circles have been saying, it is clear that some people will have the ability to temporarily leave the city and move to their second homes out in the countryside, to parts of the province that are not as water stressed. Some may even temporarily move to Johannesburg or leave the country until some semblance of normalcy is restored. The majority of the city’s residents do not have that immense privilege.”

Reddy concludes on a note that has become all too familiar for many already experiencing the climate crisis firsthand: “Certainly in the case of climate change adaptation in any community, anywhere in the world – those with greater means at their disposal will fare better.”

With each new natural disaster, the truth becomes clearer: The most vulnerable among us are on the front lines of a crisis they had the least to do with creating – and if we don’t act now to support solutions and end climate change, we may reach a point of no return.