Category Archives: Climate Change

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Protecting Our NHS Means Protecting Our Environment

Every winter we witness the same stories of the National Health Service stretched beyond capacity and severe weather causing unprecedented damage and disruption. These two crises are not disconnected and if we are to help the NHS survive then we must recognise the link between our healthcare system and our environment.

We have seen the NHS struggle during the winter period in recent years – this December, more than 300,000 patients waited longer than four hours for treatment. Our health service is straining due to increasing pressures fuelled by underinvestment, an aging population, growing levels of obesity and adverse weather because of a changing climate.

Severe weather events are becoming standard. Since 2010, the UK has experienced its hottest June in 40 years and coldest December since Met Office records began in 1910. With global temperatures potentially rising by three degrees in the next 30 years, these events will become far more common: the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment report projects that the number of heat-related deaths in the UK could more than double by the 2050s.

One of the most significant risks posed by climate change in the UK is the increasing unpredictability of the weather. While it may lead to some milder winters, it will also increase the chance of extreme weather events such as the 2013/2014 floods which caused more than £1.3bn in damage. Strengthening our resilience to severe weather not only poses benefits for the environment and economy, but for health as well.

Weather and health are connected – there are an additional 23,000 deaths in England over the winter months compared with other times of the year. Cold weather not only leads to increased injuries from ice and snow, but increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, influenza, COPD and other illnesses. Vulnerable groups such as very young and older people are particularly at risk from sudden and severe cold weather.

The UK has one of the highest excess winter death rates in Europe – only surpassed by Ireland, Spain and Portugal. As severe weather becomes increasingly common so will increased demand for the NHS. We must start looking at new ways of helping our health service manage these increased pressures if it is to survive the consequences of climate change.

Some NHS services are already adapting to the new normal: in Berkshire, Intelligent Health are working with Royal Berkshire Hospital to develop their Health Forecasting service. This tool analyses meteorological information as well as historic and current health trends to predict surges in demand as a result of poor weather.

However, we must not only create solutions to the consequences of climate change, but do more to prevent it and protect our environment. The UK has already reduced its carbon emission levels to 42% below 1990 with targets set to reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050. Additionally, the government’s newly launched environmental strategy includes plans to tackle emissions from combustion plants and generators which could reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 22% in the next 15 years.

But, most importantly, we must start seeing environment and health as intrinsically linked. Daily contact with nature is linked to reduced levels of chronic stress, improved concentration and reductions in obesity. By protecting and preserving our environment, we can leave a legacy of improved health and fitness for the next generation.

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Brexit And Energy In The UK

When Theresa May took the call from the DUP’s Arlene Foster that, albeit temporarily, put the brakes on the agreement of a Brexit divorce bill (which called into question the future border between Ireland and Northern Ireland), it once again demonstrated the complexity and uncertainty of the Brexit process.

The uncertainty was somewhat inevitable. After all, the process is unprecedented. But, as we’ve seen in the last 18 months, there are significant questions to be answered as to what the UK’s future relationship with Europe looks like. And that includes what the implications are for the British energy market and our ability to keep the lights on at home and at work.

At the moment, the UK is part of the EU’s internal energy market, which means we have access to and the ability to import electricity from the continent in order to meet particularly high levels of consumer demand, or alternatively to meet demand should we have outages within the UK grid.

As with much of Brexit, it is yet to be determined what our relationship with the EU’s energy market will be in the years after Brexit. It could be that we retain similar access to what we currently have. But, equally, it’s entirely possible we could be out of the internal energy market – particularly should we definitively leave the single market and customs union.

That’s a lot of ‘ifs.’ But it should prompt the thought of how we will meet energy needs in the future in anticipation of importing energy becoming more complicated or more expensive.

What this means in practice is that the UK needs to be more self-sufficient in its electricity generation, and more efficient in its energy usage.

These were recurring themes in government energy policy throughout 2017 – albeit driven by the imperative of fostering clean growth rather than addressing Brexit issues specifically. This clean growth impetus – seen across the Industrial Strategy, Clean Growth Strategy and referenced in the Budget – is very welcome. It lays the framework for improved energy efficiency and the cutting of carbon emissions, which in turn can only help in tackling climate change and chronic levels of pollution, particularly in high population areas such as London (which issued public health warnings for pollution in 2017).

And it has the unintended consequences of building additional resiliency into the UK electricity grid ahead of any changes we might see during or post-Brexit.

Ministers have placed significant stock in ‘demand response’ and battery technologies during the past 12 months. This has included the commitment to more than £500million of investment in smart systems and technologies designed to meet disruptions to electricity provision and particularly high consumer demand. Ministers also launched the ‘Faraday Challenge’ in 2017, the purpose of which is to support the development of new battery technologies – which will drive down their costs even further (a 2017 Green Alliance report concluded that battery costs have fallen by 65 percent over the last five years).

These resources will be invaluable in the medium to long-term, as they will add to the UK’s existing electricity storage capacity. That means we have capacity in place to address outages without immediately importing electricity. And it means the UK has the opportunity to build on the record levels of renewable electricity generation in 2017 by storing what isn’t immediately needed. That helps at times of peak demand, but also further reduces our dependence on fossil-fuel generated electricity that is responsible for carbon emissions.

The development of ‘demand response’ and battery technology will also be seen at local levels. Individual consumers and local communities are already looking at how they can take themselves ‘off grid,’ relying instead on their own renewable electricity generation and supportive storage capacity. That helps reduce overall demands on the grid, but in the long-term will also reduce those consumers’ utility costs.

It may be months or even years before we fully understand how Brexit will affect the UK electricity market. But we can hope that steps taken by the Government will help in the response to those changes. And in the meantime, will reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change.

Ian Larive is Investment Director at Low Carbon, a privately-owned renewable investment company.

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Green Shoots Of Recovery: Why The Conservatives Are Embracing The Environment

Last week, the Prime Minister launched the long-awaited 25 Year Environment Plan, which emphasises the crucial importance – and fundamentally conservative principles – of sustainability and resource stewardship.

It included several policies which ought to enhance our nation’s natural environment, whilst also arresting some of the most flagrant instances of its degradation. The £5million of funding for a new Northern Forest, for instance, will help to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere, mitigate flooding, and provide a welcome reprieve for wildlife and biodiversity. The extension to nearly all shops of the highly successful plastic five pence plastic bag charge – which has led to nine billion fewer plastic bags being in use – should result in a land less blighted by litter, benefiting humans and animals alike.

Many of the policies contained in the Plan have been advocated for by Bright Blue, including: the phasing out of coal-fired power stations; establishing an international alliance to phase out coal across the world; and redirecting rural payments after Britain leaves the Common Agricultural Policy towards the commissioning of ecosystem services.

Much of the media attention around the Plan has focused on plastic pollution. But it also underscored the importance of mitigating and adapting to climate change. The role in which healthy natural environmental features such as peatland, soils, and woodland can play in carbon sequestration was a prominent theme – and rightly so, given their immense, yet oft underacknowledged, potential in the fight against a warming world.

Admittedly, the Plan did hit more at the long-term ambition of the Government for the environment, rather than proposing detailed policies. Nevertheless, it still referenced the Government’s intention to publish a Clean Air Strategy for consultation, introduce a forthcoming Agriculture Bill, Fisheries Bill, and Fisheries White Paper, as well as enshrining existing environmental law within the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

When the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP became Environment Secretary, he made a number of speeches clearly signalling that he is “in listening mode”. Indeed, his consultations on policies such as bottle deposit return schemes, extending the ivory ban, and strengthening protections against invasive species are testimony to this.

Whilst the Conservative Party won the most seats in the 2017 General Election, it lost heavily amongst younger voters. Theresa May’s speech, the publication of the 25 Year Environment Plan, and indeed much of the Conservative Party’s efforts to go big on green issues should help in addressing this. And for good reason, with evidence from polling which Bright Blue commissioned last year showing that the environment and climate change are the two issues which 18 to 28 year olds want politicians to discuss more.

Conservation is at the heart of the conservative philosophy. Some of the most committed environmentalists within Parliament sit as Conservatives. For too long, they have not been vocal enough about that fact – yet the tide now seems to be turning.

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This chatbot wants to cut through the noise on climate science

Noise and misinformation, especially on climate, has long been a problem on social media.

To counter this, Australian not-for-profit the Climate Council has created a Facebook Messenger chatbot to inform people about climate science.

SEE ALSO: Facebook announces a big News Feed change — and just wants you to be happy

Launched on its Facebook page last week, it’s an effort to connect with younger people who are interested in issues like climate change, but aren’t the most engaged with the organisation — largely due to broader information overload.

“Young people are saturated on social media because they’re the most active on it, we know that they care and that they’ve got the thirst for information,” Nelli Huié, digital manager at the Climate Council, explained. Read more…

More about Facebook, Australia, Climate, Science, and Climate Change

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Sheets of ice found below Mars’ surface could be a boon for human exploration

If you look at a photo of Mars, you’ll mostly see red. 

The rust-colored world is known for its oxidized look, but if you dig down into the dirt, Mars gets a lot more interesting.

The red planet is actually hiding pockets of water-ice up to about 100 meters thick just below its red surface, according to a new study published in the journal Science this week. The research found eight different pockets of ice of varying size not far below the planet’s surface.

That ice could have implications for science, human exploration, and even long-term living on Mars. 

SEE ALSO: Another thing we thought was water on Mars actually isn’t water Read more…

More about Space, Climate, Science, Mars, and Climate Change

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New York City is suing big oil for global warming

When it comes to climate change, New York City is bringing the fight to court.

The Big Apple’s mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that the city is suing five oil companies for costs associated with damage inflicted on NYC by global warming-fueled storms.

SEE ALSO: Youth climate trial reaches federal appeals court, as judges signal it’s going to trial

The city will also divest the $189 billion NYC pension fund from all companies that own fossil fuel reserves. According to the mayor’s office, the plan makes New York the “largest municipality to make the divest pledge.” They estimate that the divestment will amount to $5 billion, and DeBlasio suggested that the city will reinvest in “the fuel of tomorrow.” Read more…

More about Global Warming, New York City, Climate Change, Bill De Blasio, and Hurricane Sandy

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Climate change turns one of the world’s largest green sea turtle populations mostly female

Climate change has been disastrous for coral on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. 

It’s also spelling trouble for the more than 200,000 green sea turtles which make the area home, one of the world’s largest populations. 

SEE ALSO: Weather and climate disasters cost the U.S. a record $306 billion in 2017

Researchers are seeing young populations in the Great Barrier Reef turn almost entirely female, according to a study published in Current Biology.  

Unlike humans and most other mammals whose development of sex is determined by chromosomes, the sex of reptiles (such as turtles) is determined by an egg’s incubation temperature.  Read more…

More about Australia, Climate, Science, Animals, and Climate Change

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An Australian suburb was the hottest place on Earth yesterday

The suburb of Penrith in Sydney, Australia isn’t a hot destination for tourists, but it was a searing place — temperature wise at least — on Sunday.

Penrith hit a 80-year high with temps of 47.3 degrees Celsius (117.14 degrees Fahrenheit) at 3:25 p.m., just shy of missing the area’s record high set in 1939.

SEE ALSO: Eastern U.S. shivers through ‘stupid cold’ temperatures after the ‘bomb cyclone’

It’s a far different situation to the “stupid-level cold” the U.S. is experiencing, thanks to the bomb cyclone wreaking havoc along the country’s eastern seaboard. 

#SydneyHeat: Sorry, in our earlier checks we missed a 47.8 degrees C temperature recorded at an old #Richmond station (now closed) in 1939. 47.3 today still beats the previous #Penrith record.

— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) January 7, 2018 Read more…

More about Australia, Climate, Weather, Sydney, and Climate Change

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Antarctica’s ice walls are no match for The Wall in ‘Game of Thrones’

Until a fire-spewing dragon breached The Wall in Game of Thrones, the 700-foot tall ice fortification kept murderous armies of resurrected dead from entering the Seven Kingdoms. 

Unfortunately, ice walls on Earth aren’t this robust.

Glaciologist Martin Truffer of the University of Alaska Fairbanks recently revealed this reality at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in New Orleans. Earth’s Antarctic ice walls are far more vulnerable to collapse, and as new, unsettling research suggests, scientists may have underestimated the momentous impact this could have on sea level rise this century.  Read more…

More about Science, Antarctica, Sea Level Rise, Game Of Thrones, and Climate Change

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