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Reading Recommendations

October 2018

Mitigation scenarios must cater to new users

Joeri Rogelj et al.

Climate change mitigation scenarios are finding a wider set of users, including companies and financial institutions. Increased collaboration between scenario producers and these new communities will be mutually beneficial, educating companies and investors on climate risks while grounding climate science in real-world needs.


Nature Climate Change

Clariant bets big on cellulosic ethanol

by Alex Scott

Chemical maker breaks ground in Romania on $120 million waste-straw-to-ethanol plant. The outlook for cellulosic ethanol processes—which run on cellulose from corn stalks, straw, and other biomass rather than the usual corn sugar—has also shifted during the project’s lifetime. The U.S. experienced the revolution of shale gas from fracking, driving down the price of fuel sufficiently to force several cellulosic ethanol plants to shut down.



Country-level social cost of carbon

Katharine Ricke, Laurent Drouet, Ken Caldeira & Massimo Tavoni

The social cost of carbon (SCC) is a commonly employed metric of the expected economic damages from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Although useful in an optimal policy context. Here we estimate country-level contributions to the SCC using recent climate model projections, empirical climate-driven economic damage estimations and socio-economic projections. Central specifications show high global SCC values (median, US$417 per tonne of CO2 (tCO2); 66% confidence intervals, US$177–805 per tCO2) and a country-level SCC that is unequally distributed.


Nature Climate Change

For the first time, scientists prove human activity is the top cause of warming Antarctic waters

By Kelsey Litwin

The data collected for 13 years would allow to a team of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California to identify human activity as the number one cause of rising water temperatures in the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean. They found that changes seen in Southern Ocean temperature are directly tied to ozone depletion and human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to regular temperature variations or responses to natural climate changes.


The Observer

The costs of climate inaction


A new analysis breaks down the likely social cost of carbon emissions by country and should make unhappy reading for politicians.



How do natural hazards cascade to cause disasters?

Amir AghaKouchak et al.

Track connections between hurricanes, wildfires, climate change and other risks, urge Amir AghaKouchak and colleagues. This has been an exceptional year so far for natural disasters. Typhoons in Asia and Hurricane Florence hitting the US east coast have caused extensive damage, flooding and mudslides. In the past two months, Scandinavia, Spain and Portugal, the United Kingdom, North America and South Africa experienced fierce forest blazes.



Reconsidering bioenergy given the urgency of climate protection

John M. DeCicco and William H. Schlesinger

The use of bioenergy has grown rapidly in recent years, driven by policies partly premised on the belief that bioenergy can contribute to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions mitigation. However, the experience with bioenergy production and the pressure it places on land, water, biodiversity, and other natural resources has raised questions about its merits. To maximize the role of the biosphere in mitigation, we must focus on and start with measurably raising rates of net carbon uptake on land—rather than seeking to use biomass for energy.



Should plastics be a source of energy?

by Alexander H. Tullo

The plastics crisis has some asking if we should burn more plastic waste and at least get energy out of it



Path-dependent reductions in CO2 emission budgets caused by permafrost carbon release

T. Gasser et al.

Emission budgets are defined as the cumulative amount of anthropogenic CO2 emission compatible with a global temperature-change target. The simplicity of the concept has made it attractive to policy-makers, yet it relies on a linear approximation of the global carbon–climate system’s response to anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Here we investigate how emission budgets are impacted by the inclusion of CO2 and CH4 emissions caused by permafrost thaw, a non-linear and tipping process of the Earth system.


Nature Geoscience

Harsh climate: The struggle to track global sea level rise

Lucas Jackson, Elizabeth Culliford

The challenges of data collection also require a host of creative solutions that scientists are refining through trial and error. A NASA team that is now three years into a five-year, $30 million project called Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) has used radar to map changes in the sheet’s ice loss over time by returning each year to fly the same precise path; dropped probes from planes to measure water temperature and salinity at various depths; and mounted sonar instruments to ships to map the topography of the ocean floor.



Don’t deploy negative emissions technologies without ethical analysis

Dominic Lenzi and colleagues.

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release a special report on keeping global temperature rise within 1.5 °C of pre-industrial levels. Governments requested the report at the 2015 Paris climate conference. Policymakers want to know what further steps would be needed to stay well within the 2 °C threshold, above which the risks of climate change become more dangerous.



An extinction without warning

Jennifer Chu

Study finds end-Permian extinction, which wiped out most of Earth’s species, was instantaneous in geological time.


MIT News

Cities’ Emissions Are Decreasing Even as Their Economies and Populations Grow

Yale 360 Digest

Twenty-seven cities across the globe, home to 54 million people, have already reached their peak greenhouse gas levels and are now seeing emissions fall an average 2 percent per year, according to C40 Cities, a coalition of local governments working to fulfill the Paris climate agreement. This downward trend is happening even as the cities’ economies grow an average of 3 percent per year, and their populations 1.4 percent per year.


Yale 360

New global study reveals the ‘staggering’ loss of forests caused by industrial agriculture

By Erik Stokstad

A new analysis of global forest loss—the first to examine not only where forests are disappearing, but also why—reveals just how much industrial agriculture is contributing to the loss. The answer: some 5 million hectares—the area of Costa Rica—every year. And despite years of pledges by companies to help reduce deforestation, the amount of forest cleared to plant oil palm and other booming crops remained steady between 2001 and 2015.



Cities lead the way on curbing carbon emissions

Matt McGrath

Twenty-seven cities, including Warsaw, Barcelona and Sydney, saw CO2 peak in 2012 and then go into decline.


BBC News

Ammonia, a poorly understood smog ingredient, could be key to limiting deadly pollution

By Jason Plautz

Last year, in an effort to help develop that plan, researchers from six universities and several state and federal agencies launched an unprecedented effort to better understand the precise chemical makeup and sources of the pollution. During two inversions that lasted a total of 17 days, they gathered data from aircraft, balloons, and ground stations. The broad strokes of what they found came as little surprise. The haze was mostly composed of tiny particles, less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), which can lodge in the lungs and contribute to premature death. Some of the particles were dust, smoke, or soot, but about three-quarters were made up of ammonium nitrate.



Raging wildfires send scientists scrambling to study health effects

Sara Reardon

Blazes have created natural experiments in Montana and California towns and a monkey-breeding colony.



Air pollution is ‘biggest environmental health risk’ in Europe

Arthur Neslen

Air pollution is now “the biggest environmental risk” to public health in Europe but governments are failing to adequately deal with the crisis, the EU Court of Auditors has found.


The Guardian

Paris Conundrum: How to Know How Much Carbon Is Being Emitted?


As climate negotiators consider rules for verifying commitments under the Paris Agreement, they will have to confront a difficult truth: There currently is no reliably accurate way to measure total global emissions or how much CO2 is coming from individual nations. 


Yale 360

Elevated atmospheric CO2 may leave parts of the world more vulnerable to malnutrition

by Cici Zhang

Rising CO2 levels could sap nutrients in crops important for human health. Computer models suggest elevated CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere could adversely affect global health by reducing nutrient levels in crops, Harvard University researchers report



Are We Approaching Peak Stuff?

By Fred Pearce

Almost imperceptibly, we are stepping off the consumption treadmill. The industrialization of China has driven a quarter-billion people from dirt-poor rural villages into modern megacities, whose breakneck construction and galloping consumption by a burgeoning middle class are transforming the planet as a whole. Trends here—and in other fast-growing nations such as India—have economists debating when, or even whether, the flow of materials around the planet will peak and start to decline, as it must for there to be any hope of humanity reaching a sustainable equilibrium with the environment.


Anthropocene Magazine

Algae Blooms and Climate Change

By Climate Central

Algae occur naturally in most bodies of freshwater and saltwater. It’s normally fairly harmless, but the right combination of warm water, high nutrient levels, and adequate sunlight combined can cause a harmful algae bloom. These blooms can damage aquatic ecosystems by blocking sunlight and depleting oxygen that other organisms need to survive. Some algae, like red algae and blue-green algae, can produce toxins that damage the human nervous system and the liver (and they also stink — literally).


Climate Central

A radical approach to soot formation

Murray Thomson, Tirthankar Mitra

Humans have used the high-temperature synthesis of carbon particles as a source of pigments since prehistoric times, and today, “carbon blacks” are used in tires, inks, coatings, plastics, and electrical applications. For most substances, solid particles become gases when heated, but solid soot forms from gaseous molecules at high temperature through a mechanism that is still not understood. The high-temperature synthesis of carbon particles occurs under oxygen-starved conditions where simple hydrocarbons can grow into larger molecules, especially polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), in the gas phase. These large molecules cluster into carbon nanoparticles, a process often referred to as soot inception.



Enormous wildfires spark scramble to improve fire models

Jeff Tollefson

Blazes in North America are becoming larger and more powerful. Researchers have been at a loss to explain a flurry of unusual fire behaviour in California in recent years: wildfires that burn hot throughout the night instead of settling down, as many used to; blazes that race down hillsides faster than before; and fires that torch suburban neighbourhoods once considered safe from such events.



Fighting climate change could boost the global economy by $26 trillion


Concerted efforts to stop climate change by 2030 would also create 65 million new jobs and–this part is important–stop 700,000 premature deaths.


Fast Company

Global estimates of mortality associated with long-term exposure to outdoor fine particulate matter

Richard Burnett et al.

Exposure to outdoor concentrations of fine particulate matter is considered a leading global health concern. To build risk models examining exposure and risk information restricted to cohort studies of outdoor air pollution, now covering much of the global concentration range. Our estimates are severalfold larger than previous calculations, suggesting that outdoor particulate air pollution is an even more important population health risk factor than previously thought.



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