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Transforming waste into fuel with Australian innovations, from tyres to sugar cane and agave

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-16 08:26

The emerging biofuel industry is casting the net wide to find solutions to two environmental problems: reducing waste and increasing fuel production

In a world of dwindling resources, waste is one thing in no danger of running out. Each Australian generates more than 2,000kg of waste per year, and around half of that ends up in landfill. But at least some of that waste could be turned into a resource that is both in demand and in decline: fuel.

The global waste-to-fuel industry is considering options as varied as agave, plastics and disused tyres to solve two environmental problems – reducing waste and increasing fuel production.

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Antarctic 'pole of ignorance' finally addressed

BBC - Fri, 2016-12-16 08:01
European scientists have flown instruments back and forth across the South Pole to map its hidden depths.
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Roe 8 protestors take their case to the High Court

ABC Environment - Fri, 2016-12-16 07:34
Protesters in WA will head to the High Court today, in their latest attempt to stop construction of the Roe 8 highway extension in Perth.
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High drivers for change, low ambition: Australia’s energy reform train crash

RenewEconomy - Fri, 2016-12-16 07:29
Australia, once held up a paragon of energy market reform, has fallen well behind the pace, both in terms of current progress and future vision.
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Climate change played a role in Australia's hottest October and Tasmania's big dry in 2015

The Conversation - Fri, 2016-12-16 05:31
Wildfires in Tasmania in 2016 were in part the result of an extended dry period beginning in 2015. Rob Blakers, CC BY-SA

Climate change made some of Australia’s 2015 extreme weather events more likely, according to research published today in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

As part of an annual review of global weather extremes, these studies focused on October 2015, which was the hottest on record for that month across Australia. It was also the hottest by the biggest margin for any month.

October 2015 was also the driest for that month on record in Tasmania, which contributed to the state’s dry spring and summer, and its bad fire season.

El Niño events usually drive global temperatures higher, and 2015 had one of the strongest on record. So were these records due to El Niño, or climate change? The research shows that while El Niño had some influence on Australia’s weather, it was not the only culprit.

El Niño packed a punch – or did it?

In 2015, a strong El Niño developed, with record high temperatures in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean contributing to 2015 being the hottest year on record globally (although 2016 will smash it). The Indian Ocean was also very warm.

El Niño is often associated with warm and dry conditions across eastern Australia, particularly in spring and summer. The new studies found that for Australia as a whole, while El Niño did make the continent warmer, its direct contribution to record temperatures was small.

Only in the Murray Darling Basin did El Niño make it more likely that the October 2015 heat would be a record. El Niño also played a small but notable role in the dry October in Tasmania.

Temperatures were at a record high across the south of the country. Bureau of Meteorology The hottest October

Although record-high spring temperatures might not make you sweat as much as a summer heatwave, ecosystems and agriculture can be susceptible. October 2015 was 2.89℃ warmer than the previous hottest October in 2014, beating the margin set by September 2013, which was 2.75℃ warmer than the previous hottest September.

Even before October 2015 was over, Mitchell Black and David Karoly at the University of Melbourne reported that human-induced climate change played a strong role in the excessive October heat.

The first paper (chapter 23 in the annual review) explains this further. Using the citizen science Weather@home ANZ system, the researchers analysed thousands of simulations of the world’s climate of 2015, generated on home computers (you can donate your computer power here).

To find out whether climate change played a role, some of those simulations included the observed ocean temperatures of 2015, while some included ocean temperatures as if human-caused climate change had never occurred.

According to this method, climate change made breaking the October record four times more likely compared to a world without climate change.

The second paper (chapter 24 in the review) backed this up. This study used the Bureau of Meteorology’s seasonal forecast system to compare the real world to a world with less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The researchers came to exactly the same conclusion: rising carbon dioxide levels made a record October four times more likely.

This second study also found that the atmospheric conditions – the series of high and low pressure systems that shift heat from inland Australia towards the south – were more important in driving the extra heat than the extreme global ocean temperatures.

If these weather systems had occurred in a low-CO₂ world, it would still have been an extremely warm month. But for October 2015, climate change increased the temperature by an extra 1 degree.

Driest October for Tasmania

In October 2015, Tasmania received only 21mm of rainfall, just 17% of its normal amount. It was much drier than the previous driest October in 1965 (in the era with reliable record, when the state received 56mm). This was part of the driest spring on record, and a dry and warm run of months through spring and summer.

This run of warm and dry months had major impacts on agriculture and hydroelectricity, and helped to set up a catastrophic fire season.

Rainfall extremes can be complex, and it is generally much harder to figure out what caused them than temperature extremes. So the third Australian study (ch. 25 in the review) used two different methods to compare October 2015 to the previous record.

The results showed that El Niño did affect the October climate, but human-caused climate change also played a small but significant role. Climate change probably increased the chances of Tasmania having its driest October by 25-50%.

The record-dry October appears to be linked to higher atmospheric pressure in a band around the whole southern hemisphere, which is consistent with trends over recent time.

Rainfall across Tasmania was the lowest on record across nearly the whole state. Bureau of Meteorology Climate change is altering our extremes

More extreme events and more broken climate records are causing many people to ask whether climate variability or climate change is to blame. But of course it is never just one of these; it is always a combination of both.

For the extreme October of 2015, while short-term weather patterns and the El Niño contributed to the extremes, breaking these climate records would have been substantially less likely without human-induced climate change.

Climate change has already altered the extreme weather we experience in Australia and will continue to do so over the coming years.

David Karoly, Mitchell Black, EunPa Lim and Harry Hendon all contributed to the research on which this article is based.

The Conversation

Pandora Hope receives funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme, as part of the Earth Systems and Climate Change hub.

Andrew King receives funding from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

Guomin Wang receives funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme, as part of the Earth Systems and Climate Change hub.

Julie Arblaster previously received funding from the Australian Climate Change Science Programme

Michael Grose receives funding from Australian Government's National Environmental Science Programme, as part of the Earth System and Climate Change hub.

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Infographic: climate change and 2015's year of wild weather

The Conversation - Fri, 2016-12-16 05:31

The annual review of extreme weather and climate events published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society today highlights how climate change is influencing the events that affect us the most. This table summarises each event and whether climate change played a role.

Across the globe, extreme heat events are linked with climate change, although El Niño provided a boost in 2015 leading to more records being broken. The human influence on rainfall and drought is less strong but we can see it in many events that were studied.

Our influence on the climate extends beyond temperature and rainfall. In the UK, the chance of very sunny winters (which sounds like an oxymoron!) has increased due to climate change. The record low sea ice extents, which have continued into 2016, are strongly associated with human influences.

While the majority of studies have been done on the developed world, more analyses of developing countries are included this year than in the past. Through collaborations between local experts and teams in the United States and Europe, a greater emphasis on extreme events in the developing world was possible.

This is important because the impacts of extreme events are often more severe in these areas than in wealthier regions.

The effects of climate change on extremes spread far and wide as human activities have radically altered our climate. We can expect to see more extreme events with a clear fingerprint of human-caused climate change in the coming years and decades.

The Conversation

Andrew King receives funding from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

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Weak labelling may allow unethically fished seafood into Australia, Greenpeace says

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-16 05:23

Exclusive: Warning against sale of seafood from environmentally destructive fishing fleets operating with slave-like conditions

Greenpeace has warned that Australia’s weak labelling laws may be allowing the sale of seafood from environmentally destructive and unethical fishing fleets in south-east Asia.

The group has released the results of a 12-month investigation of Thailand’s ghost fishing fleet, a collection of refrigerated vessels, or reefers, notorious for causing damage to fragile ecosystems and subjecting vulnerable migrant labour to slave-like conditions.

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New map reveals shattering effect of roads on nature

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-16 05:00

Rampant road building has split the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, study shows

Rampant road building has shattered the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, a new study has revealed.

The researchers warn roadless areas are disappearing and that urgent action is needed to protect these last wildernesses, which help provide vital natural services to humanity such as clean water and air.

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Earth’s driest desert once had lakes

BBC - Fri, 2016-12-16 04:02
The Atacama Desert - the driest desert on Earth - may once have had lakes and wetlands, scientists report.
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Climate change denial in the Trump cabinet: where do his nominees stand?

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-16 03:55

Critics argue the president-elect’s picks represent ‘an unprecedented amount of influence from the fossil fuel industry’. Their statements don’t do much to dispel the notion

As Donald Trump assembles his cabinet, one consistent theme has emerged: many of his nominees have expressed doubt about the science of human-caused climate change.

“We’re seeing an unprecedented amount of influence from the fossil fuel industry in Trump’s cabinet,” Jeremy Symons, who works on climate politics for the Environmental Defense Fund. “What’s missing from this cabinet is the balance one would expect to bring the other side to the equation and it really leaves us wondering: who is looking out for us? Clearly the oil companies are well attended, but who’s looking out for us?”

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Former Nasa chief scientist warns Trump over access to data

BBC - Fri, 2016-12-16 03:55
Limiting access to federal research would do an "enormous disservice" to the US and the world according to former Nasa chief scientist.
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Pegasus rocket launches from underside of plane

BBC - Fri, 2016-12-16 02:05
Small satellites, meant to detect wind speed in stormy weather, blast off over Cape Canaveral on an air-launched rocket.
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EU's Galileo satellite system goes live after 17 years

BBC - Thu, 2016-12-15 23:39
Europe launches its long-delayed Galileo satellite system, aiming to be the world's most accurate.
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Recycling rates in England drop for first time

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-15 22:01

Waste companies call for tax on packaging to drive up rates as UK likely to miss EU recycling targets

Recycling rates in England have fallen for the first time ever, prompting calls for a tax on packaging and meaning EU targets are now almost certain to be missed.

The amount of rubbish sent to recycling plants by householders had been steadily increasing for more than a decade, but more recently flatlined for three years. Now new government figures published on Thursday show that the recycling rate in England has dropped from 44.8% in 2014 to 43.9% in 2015.

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Nicholas Stern: Donald Trump may not be as bad for the environment as feared

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-15 21:43

Environmentalists should be alert but not pessimistic over the impact of Trump’s presidency, says the leading climate economist

The impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on the environment may not be as catastrophic as some fear, says leading climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern.

The cross-bench peer said that while it was difficult to predict what Trump would do in office, those worried that Trump’s leadership spelled disaster for the planet should focus on the good things he has said on climate change rather than dwelling on the bad.

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Babies made from three people approved in UK

BBC - Thu, 2016-12-15 21:28
Babies made from two women and one man win approval from the UK's fertility regulator.
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Light pollution dampens urban robins' song

BBC - Thu, 2016-12-15 20:56
The song and behaviour of the UK's favourite bird is being affected by light and noise pollution, a study reveals.
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One Nation senator joins new world order of climate change denial | Graham Readfearn

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-15 18:25

Malcolm Roberts attends meeting with Trump EPA transition team head Myron Ebell and other longtime deniers

A key figure picked to prepare the US federal environment agency for life under a Donald Trump administration has met in Washington DC with some of the world’s most notorious and longest-serving climate science deniers, including One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts.

Myron Ebell, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), was picked by the now president-elect to lead the Environmental Protection Agency “transition team” back in September.

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'The time has never been more urgent': at the world's largest Earth science event

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-15 18:00

With Trump set to have a ‘chilling effect’ on environmental policy, 20,000 Earth and space scientists met in California to face up to a new responsibility

They argued about moon-plasma interactions, joked about polar bears, and waxed nostalgic for sturdy sea ice.

But few of the 20,000 Earth and climate scientists meeting in San Francisco this week had much to say about the president-elect, Donald Trump – though his incoming administration loomed over much of the conference.

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Meet the 16 year-old suing the US government over climate change

ABC Environment - Thu, 2016-12-15 17:35
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is one of a group of young people taking their government to court over inaction on climate change. But at the moment he's looking forward to a surf at Byron Bay.
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