August 2022

1. Rapid growth in methane emissions in recent years

Chin-Hsien Cheng 1,2 & Simon A. T. Redfern, “Impact of interannual and multidecadal trends on methane-climate feedbacks and sensitivity,” Nature Communications, go.nature.com/3bN120N

See also, Kate Ravilious, “Methane much more sensitive to global heating than previously thought – study,” The Guardian bit.ly/3AvGcgI

 “Methane is four times more sensitive to global warming than previously thought, a new study shows. The result helps to explain the rapid growth in methane in recent years and suggests that, if left unchecked, methane related warming will escalate in the decades to come.

The growth of this greenhouse gas – which over a 20 year timespan is more than 80 times as potent than carbon dioxide – had been slowing since the turn of the millennium but since 2007 has undergone a rapid rise, with measurements from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recording it passing 1,900 parts a billion last year, nearly triple pre-industrial levels….”

“Methane is four times more sensitive to global warming than previously thought, a new study shows. The result helps to explain the rapid growth in methane in recent years and suggests that, if left unchecked, methane related warming will escalate in the decades to come.

The growth of this greenhouse gas – which over a 20 year timespan is more than 80 times as potent than carbon dioxide – had been slowing since the turn of the millennium but since 2007 has undergone a rapid rise, with measurements from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recording it passing 1,900 parts a billion last year, nearly triple pre-industrial levels.”

 2.  Need for stronger grid and faster planning to decarbonize power sector

Wind Energy Ireland and Baringa, Bridging the Gap: Towards a zero-carbon power grid (July 2022).  bit.ly/3ahrBee

Kevin O’Sullivan, “Stronger grid and faster planning ‘critical to decarbonising power sector’,” The Irish Times (5 July 2022).  bit.ly/3ONGwfn

“The Irish electricity sector can only meet ambitious Government carbon emissions targets by 2030 provided there is “a complete transformation of the planning system and grid policies”, according to a Wind Energy Ireland report.

Produced with energy consultants Baringa and TNEI, it is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the electricity system’s potential carbon budget, which is pivotal to achieving Ireland’s overall emissions targets.

Some progress has been made, it concludes, but existing strategies, plans and targets “are simply inadequate and need to be stepped up”.

It identifies the need to accelerate short-term delivery of onshore wind and solar, enhance grid infrastructure beyond that planned by Eirgrid and replace fossil-fuel backup in power generation.”

3.  Oral contraceptives for grey squirrels to save red squirrels

Sarah Beatham and Giovanna, “Developing methods for delivering an oral contraceptive bait to grey squirrels,” Animal & Plant Health Agency (July 2022).  bit.ly/3P0A7NY

See also, Helena Horton, “Oral contraceptives could help reduce grey squirrel numbers, research finds,” The Guardian (11 July 2022).  bit.ly/3OZl47b

“Oral contraceptives for squirrels are working, research has found, and the government hopes they can be used to keep populations down in the UK.

Grey squirrels are an invasive species in the UK, introduced from North America in the 1870s. They pose a problem for wildlife including endangered red squirrels, which they outcompete. They also carry a disease called squirrelpox that does not affect them but can kill reds…..

Grey squirrels are also a menace to trees, stripping their bark and weakening them. They are a particular problem for broadleaf varieties including oak, which are ecologically important because they support so many other species. It is estimated that the UK is home to around 3 million of the invasive rodents.

Scientists have been trying to find ways to keep the grey population down, and now positive results have been released by the UK Squirrel Accord after a trial of oral contraceptives, which could be used to stop the mammals breeding.”

4.  Microplastics in livestock feed, milk, meat and blood

Dr. I. van der Veen, Dr. L.M. van Mourik, M.J.M. van Velzen, Q.R. Groenewoud, and Dr. H.A. Leslie, “ Plastic Particles in Livestock Feed, Milk, Meat and Blood: A Pilot Study,” Environment & Health (29 April 2022).  bit.ly/3AKw7wD

See also, Damian Carrington, “Microplastics detected in meat, milk and blood of farm animals,” The Guardian (8 July 2022).  bit.ly/3nU4IRb

Microplastic contamination has been reported in beef and pork for the first time, as well as in the blood of cows and pigs on farms.

Scientists at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VUA) in the Netherlands found the particles in three-quarters of meat and milk products tested and every blood sample in their pilot study.

They were also found in every sample of animal pellet feed tested, indicating a potentially important route of contamination. The food products were packaged in plastic, which is another possible route.

5.  How humans are overexploiting wild species and habitats

Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Sustainable Use Assessment – 50,000 Wild Species Meet Needs of Billions Worldwide bit.ly/3PkOvkp

See also, Phoebe Weston, “Humans need to value nature as well as profits to survive, UN report finds,” The Guardian (11 July 2022). bit.ly/3yA7Vup

“The relationship between humans and nature is under intense and increasing strain. The report released today by Ipbes, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (akin to the IPCC reports on climate change), provides compelling evidence that humans are overexploiting wild species and habitats. Harmful activities, including habitat destruction, poor farming practices and pollution, have altered ecosystems significantly, driving many species past the point of recovery. In Great Britain alone, of the 8,431 species assessed in the 2019 State of Nature report, 1,188 are threatened with extinction. Globally, there are an estimated one million at risk, with biodiversity declining at a faster rate than at any time in human history.”

6.  New threats to ocean ecosystems and vulnerable coastal communities

James E. Herbert-Read, Ann Thornton and William J. Sutherland, “A global horizon scan of issues impacting marine and coastal biodiversity conservation,” Nature Ecology &Evolution (7 July 2022).  go.nature.com/3nUszR2

See also, Rachel Rodriquez and Bob Berwyn, “New Study Identifies Rapidly Emerging Threats to Oceans: The push to extract materials and food from the oceans at industrial scale menaces vulnerable communities and biodiversity,” Inside Climate News (7 July 2022). bit.ly/3uGopQh

“A globe-spanning study published Thursday outlines new, potentially unexpected threats to ocean ecosystems and vulnerable coastal communities within the next five to 10 years that will come on top of the already harmful effects of overfishing, pollution and global warming.

The goal of what the research team calls a horizon scan is to try to prevent ecological catastrophes. Many of the emerging menaces are linked with global warming, including runoff from areas burned by wildfires, the potentially toxic effects of new biodegradable materials intended to replace plastics, lithium mining from ocean-bottom brine deposits and a rise in toxic metal contamination driven by ocean acidification.

The research, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, also warns that many fish will move away from the hottest equatorial ocean regions, leaving a dead zone that diminishes food security for millions of people in developing countries, who rely on fish for daily nutrition. Where fish do remain, global warming appears to reduce their nutritional content because in warmer oceans, plankton produce fewer fatty acids for the fish to consume.”

7.  Who is responsible for economic impacts of anthropogenic warming, and for how much – US leads the way

Christopher W. Callahan & Justin S. Mankin, “National attribution of historical climate damages,” Climatic Change Journal bit.ly/3yEpycs

See also, Oliver Milman, “Nearly $2tn of damage inflicted on other countries by US emissions,” The Guardian (12 July 2022).  bit.ly/3azpToM

“The US has inflicted more than $1.9tn in damage to other countries from the effects of its greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new analysis that has provided the first measurement of nations’ liability in stoking the climate crisis.

The huge volume of planet-heating gases pumped out by the US, the largest historical emitter, has caused such harm to other, mostly poor, countries through heatwaves, crop failures and other consequences that the US is responsible for $1.91tn in lost global income since 1990, the study found.

This puts the US ahead of China, currently the world’s leading emitter, Russian, India and Brazil as the next largest contributors to global economic damage through their emissions. Combined, these five leading culprits have caused a total of $6tn in losses worldwide, or about 11% of annual global GDP, since 1990 by fueling climate breakdown.”

8.  Virtual power plants

Dan Gearino, “Inside Clean Energy: This Virtual Power Plant Is Trying to Tackle a Housing Crisis and an Energy Crisis All at Once: A Bay Area project combines subsidized housing with solar and battery systems that work together to support the larger grid,” Inside Climate News (7 July 2022).  bit.ly/3cb5uqh

Study for a “virtual power plant,” which is when a company uses software to coordinate a series of energy systems—usually batteries—to export power to the grid at the same time. The result is a power plant that can participate in the state power market, selling its electricity at times of high demand and high prices.

There are dozens of virtual power plants in development across the country, with thousands of households and businesses involved. What’s different about the MCE [California] project is it has a housing component, with plans to renovate abandoned properties and then sell them at subsidized prices to first-time homebuyers with qualifying incomes.

Richmond, with a population of about 110,000, has suffered for decades from air pollution from a giant Chevron oil refinery. The city has low incomes for the region, but high housing prices due to a lack of supply and proximity to some of the most affluent parts of the country, like Berkeley, which is 10 miles away.

9.  Mitigating GHGs in Hard-To-Abate sectors

PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, MITIGATING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS IN HARD-TO-ABATE SECTORS, Utrecht University (July 2022).  bit.ly/3uOgJf7

“Industry, aviation, shipping and agriculture are typically regarded as hard-to-abate sectors, but reducing emissions in buildings has also proved to be difficult. Reasons for the difficulty in reducing emissions in these sectors include rapid activity growth, lack of low-cost commercially available mitigation technologies and implementation challenges. Deep and rapid emission reductions are possible in electricity generation, land transport and land use. In contrast, aviation, shipping, agriculture, industry and buildings are characterised by their relatively slow-paced emission reductions in 1.5 °C scenarios. We therefore regard these sectors as hard-to-abate in this report.

The aviation and shipping sectors, in the past, have shown strong growth in activity levels. Despite the drastic drop resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the activity levels of the aviation sector are expected to bounce back and continue to grow. The growing demand for materials and goods is expected to drive industrial demand, while the agricultural sector is expected to grow further due to population growth and increased consumption of animal products. The hard-to-abate sectors also face technical and structural challenges to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The lack of commercially available mitigation technologies plays a critical role in aviation, shipping, agriculture, and some industrial sectors. In industry, aviation and shipping, large upfront costs combined with slow capital turnover rates and market competitiveness can create major barriers to rapid change.  In the buildings and agriculture sectors, the diversity of users, often with limited access to capital, knowledge and training as well as site-specific conditions, hampers the adoption of innovative mitigation practices.”

10.  Worms feeding on cow manure and protecting water resources

Grace van Deelen, “Manure-Eating Worms Could Be the Dairy Industry’s Climate Solution: The worms devour pollutants in dairy wastewater and even prevent greenhouse gas emissions, making such a system a boon to water quality and a possible alternative to digesters,” Inside Climate News (15 July 2022).

“With 6,000 dairy cows, 5,000 beef cattle and thousands of tons of apples, potatoes and cherries produced annually, Royal Dairy in Royal City, Washington, uses hundreds of millions of gallons of water per year. All that water, once used, carries animal waste, pathogens and environmentally harmful chemicals, like nitrate, that can contaminate groundwater and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

To prevent that from happening, though, Royal Dairy cleans and reuses its water more than 10 times before the water leaves the farm. The dairy has also cut its nitrate pollution and lowered its greenhouse gas emissions, all thanks to a new kind of wastewater filtration system powered by worms.

Every day, half a million gallons of farm wastewater is pumped through a gigantic bed of earthworms. The worms, wiggling in wood chips and sawdust, feast on the liquid manure and wastewater, removing nutrients and harmful chemicals from the stream. The water then percolates through a layer of crushed rock, collects at the bottom of the worm bed, and travels out an exit pipe for Austin Allred, the farm’s owner, to use on the farm once more.”


EDITORS NOTE (August 2021)

Revision to Reports section

In August 2021, we revised the Reports section of the magazine.   In the past we used the Reports section to provide digests of generally long, complex and usually technical discussions of environmental issues or developments.  The authors of these reports were typically environmental agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs), or academics.  The intent was to make these reports more accessible to a wide, general audience so readers could get a sense of what the reports covered and what they concluded. Readers then could connect to the link for the reports and delve further into the details and findings.

Over the past dozen years publications of technical reports have included executive summaries, often written in simpler language than the reports themselves.  At the same time there has been a rapid growth in environmental studies across the globe and just finding relevant or interesting reports through the internet is a challenge.

So we have converted the Reports section to a list of ten of the most interesting, long form examples of writing on key environmental issues and developments.  We will include the information necessary to find the writing — authors, title and link to publication — and we will add a short subheading to provide more clues about what is covered in the writing, much like a subheading expands on the headline for a newspaper article.  We interpret the term “reports” liberally to include almost any format that provides us with data, information, and opinion on environmental matters.  For instance, in the first of these new reports, we included a website, The Geography of Future Water Challenges, derived from a written report by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency with the same name and found at bit.ly/3fgSK0n

On one level this list of reports will do for long-form writing what our News section does for newspaper articles.

With the explosion of information across the internet, just finding what’s out there can be difficult.  We hope this new version of the Reports is helpful.

As with the other material in the irish environment magazine, the focus is on environmental matters on the island of Ireland, and that necessarily requires coverage of developments in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.  We will also continue to include material from across the globe as developments everywhere can inform developments anywhere.


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