human activity and the destruction of the planet

Leave a comment

The cost of wildfires

A recent article in the Financial Times stimulated the following letter, published on 26th February 2018:

Wildfire and other climate costs are rising — fast

If anything, your recent coverage of California’s wildfires (“ The stark message from California raging fires”, editorial, and “ Insurers grapple with increasing wildfire risk”, report, November 19) understate the growing costs and the role of climate change. Fighting wildfires now burns through more than half the US Forest Service budget, up from just 15 per cent in 1990. The main reason is that the fires now consume twice the acreage they did in 1984, according to a study by the University of Idaho and Columbia University, which also found the main cause was higher temperatures and drier conditions due to climate change. These trends are increasing as the frequency of large fires on public lands has grown 500 per cent in the last 40 years and average forest temperatures have risen by 2.5 degrees. California is just one of many states facing higher land management and emergency response costs due to climate change. The human and economic costs of wildfires, hurricanes and other extreme events made more severe by climate change are rising faster than even President Donald Trump’s tweets can deny them. Congress spent $130bn, or one-quarter of the US non-defence discretionary budget, in emergency appropriations for 2017 events alone. Isn’t it about time American citizens and business leaders demanded that Washington address the underlying problem of climate change, to save both lives and money?

Paul Bledsoe

Strategic Advisor,

Progressive Policy Institute, Washington, DC, US



Leave a comment

Does climate change trigger earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes?

An article published in The Guardian two years ago by Bill McGuire discusses this and concludes that individual catastrophic events are unlikely to be triggered by climate change.  However, there does appear to be a cumulative effect, with extreme events being more powerful rather than more common.  In 2016, there was considerable difference of opinion between climatologists.  See:

McGuire states that,

“The atmosphere is far from isolated and interacts with other elements of the so-called “Earth system”, such as the oceans, ice caps and even the ground beneath our feet, in complex and often unexpected ways capable of making our world more dangerous. We are pretty familiar with the idea that the oceans swell as a consequence of the plunging atmospheric pressure at the heart of powerful storms, building surges driven onshore by high winds that can be massively destructive. Similarly, it does not stretch the imagination to appreciate that a warmer atmosphere promotes greater melting of the polar ice caps, thereby raising sea levels and increasing the risk of coastal flooding. But, more extraordinarily, the thin layer of gases that hosts the weather and fosters global warming really does interact with the solid Earth – the so-called geosphere — in such a way as to make climate change an even bigger threat.

This relationship is marvellously illustrated by a piece of research published in the journal Nature in 2009 by Chi-Ching Liu of the Institute of Earth Sciences at Taipei’s Academia Sinica. In the paper, Liu and his colleagues provided convincing evidence for a link between typhoons barrelling across Taiwan and the timing of small earthquakes beneath the island. Their take on the connection is that the reduced atmospheric pressure that characterises these powerful Pacific equivalents of hurricanes is sufficient to allow earthquake faults deep within the crust to move more easily and release accumulated strain. This may sound far fetched, but an earthquake fault that is primed and ready to go is like a coiled spring, and as geophysicist John McCloskey of the University of Ulster is fond of pointing out, all that is needed to set it off is – quite literally – “the pressure of a handshake”.

Perhaps even more astonishingly, Liu and his team proposed that storms might act as safety valves, repeatedly short-circuiting the buildup of dangerous levels of strain that otherwise could eventually instigate large, destructive earthquakes. This might explain, the researchers say, why the contact between the Eurasian and Philippine Sea tectonic plates, in the vicinity of Taiwan, has far less in the way of major quakes than further north where the plate boundary swings past Japan.

In a similar vein, it seems that the huge volume of rain dumped by tropical cyclones, leading to severe flooding, may also be linked to earthquakes. The University of Miami’s Shimon Wdowinski has noticed that in some parts of the tropics – Taiwan included – large earthquakes have a tendency to follow exceptionally wet hurricanes or typhoons, most notably the devastating quake that took up to 220,000 lives in Haiti in 2010. It is possible that floodwaters are lubricating fault planes, but Wdowinski has another explanation. He thinks that the erosion of landslides caused by the torrential rains acts to reduce the weight on any fault below, allowing it to move more easily.

It has been known for some time that rainfall also influences the pattern of earthquake activity in the Himalayas, where the 2015 Nepal earthquake took close to 9,000 lives, and where the threat of future devastating quakes is very high. During the summer monsoon season, prodigious quantities of rain soak into the lowlands of the Indo-Gangetic plain, immediately to the south of the mountain range, which then slowly drains away over the next few months. This annual rainwater loading and unloading of the crust is mirrored by the level of earthquake activity, which is significantly lower during the summer months than during the winter.

And it isn’t only earthquake faults that today’s storms and torrential rains are capable of shaking up. Volcanoes seem to be susceptible too. On the Caribbean island of Montserrat, heavy rains have been implicated in triggering eruptions of the active lava dome that dominates the Soufrière Hills volcano. Stranger still, Alaska’s Pavlof volcano appears to respond not to wind or rain, but to tiny seasonal changes in sea level. The volcano seems to prefer to erupt in the late autumn and winter, when weather patterns are such that water levels adjacent to this coastal volcano climb by a few tens of centimetres. This is enough to bend the crust beneath the volcano, allowing magma to be squeezed out, according to geophysicist Steve McNutt of the University of South Florida, “like toothpaste out of a tube”.


If today’s weather can bring forth earthquakes and magma from the Earth’s crust, it doesn’t take much to imagine how the solid Earth is likely to respond to the large-scale environmental adjustments that accompany rapid climate change. In fact, we don’t have to imagine at all. The last time our world experienced serious warming was at the end of the last ice age when, between about 20,000 and 10,000 years ago, temperatures rose by six degrees centigrade, melting the great continental ice sheets and pushing up sea levels by more than 120m.

These huge changes triggered geological mayhem. As the kilometres-thick Scandinavian ice sheet vanished, the faults beneath released the accumulated strain of tens of millennia, spawning massive magnitude eight earthquakes. Quakes of this scale are taken for granted today around the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire”, but they are completely out of place in Santa’s Lapland. Across the Norwegian Sea, in Iceland, the volcanoes long buried beneath a kilometre of ice were also rejuvenated as the suffocating ice load melted away, prompting a “volcano storm” about 12,000 years ago that saw the level of activity increase by up to 50 times.

Now, global average temperatures are shooting up again and are already more than one degree centigrade higher than during preindustrial times. It should come as no surprise that the solid Earth is starting to respond once more. In southern Alaska, which has in places lost a vertical kilometre of ice cover, the reduced load on the crust is already increasing the level of seismic activity. In high mountain ranges across the world from the Caucasus in the north to New Zealand’s southern Alps, longer and more intense heatwaves are melting the ice and thawing the permafrost that keeps mountain faces intact, leading to a rise in major landslides.”

McGuire goes on to discuss individual events, such as volcanic eruptions in Iceland, landslides in the Alps, melting of ice in Greenland and other mountainous areas, as well as the melting of the permafrost in Siberia.


Bill McGuire is professor emeritus in geophysical and climate hazards at UCL. His current book is Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate TriggersEarthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes.

The subject has also been discussed more recently by Josh Babbatiss in The Independent:

Leave a comment

15-year-old Girl Breaks Swedish Law for the Climate

View at

In August, Greta Thunberg skipped school to protest outside the Swedish Parliament about their inaction about climate change.


She was supposed to start school again after a long summer break. But instead of rejoining her classmates, she seated herself against the stone facade of the Swedish Parliament’s main building in central Stockholm.

The spot was well chosen, as many politicians, professionals and ordinary people pass by daily. Next to her, she placed a sign that read “School Strike for the Climate”. She also brought with her is a pile of leaflets, on which her demands had been clearly written.  She was later joined by other people, including a teacher.


In October, Greta came to London by electric car to join the launch of the Extinction Rebellion movement in Parliament Square, where she also gave a speech.  This is what she said:

“When I was about eight years old, I first heard about something called climate change, or global warming. Apparently, that was something humans had created by our way of living. I was told to turn off the lights to save energy and to recycle paper to save resources.

I remember thinking that it was very strange, that humans who are an animal species among others, could be capable of changing the earth’s climate. Because, if we were and if it was really happening, we wouldn’t be talking about anything else. As soon as you turned on the TV, everything would be about that. Headlines, radio, newspapers. You would never read or hear about anything else. As if there was a world war going on.

But. No one never talked about it.

If burning fossil fuels was so bad, that it threatened our very existence, how could we just continue like before? Why were there no restrictions? Why wasn’t it made illegal?

To me, that did not add up. It was too unreal.

I have Asperger’s syndrome, and to me, almost everything is black or white.

I think in many ways that we autistic are the normal ones and the rest of the people are pretty strange. They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet they just carry on like before. If the emissions have to stop then we must stop the emissions. To me, that is black or white. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilization or we don’t. We have to change.

Countries like Sweden and the UK need to start reducing emissions by at least 15% every year. And that is so that we can stay below a 2-degree warming target. Now the IPCC says that we have to aim for 1,5 degrees. So we can only imagine what that means. You would think every one of our leaders and the media would be talking about nothing else — but no one ever mentions it. Nor does anyone ever mention anything about the greenhouse gases already locked in the system, nor that air pollution is hiding a warming, so when we stop burning fossil fuels, we already have an extra 0,5 to 1,1 degrees celsius guaranteed.

Nor does hardly anyone ever mention that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, with about 200 species going extinct every single day.

Furthermore, does no one ever speak about the aspect of equity, or climate justice, clearly stated everywhere in the Paris agreement and the Kyoto protocol, which is absolutely necessary to make the Paris agreement work, on a global scale. That means that rich countries need to get down to zero emissions, within 6–12 years, so that people in poorer countries can heighten their standard of living by building some of the infrastructures that we have already built. Such as roads, hospitals, electricity, schools, and clean drinking water. Because how can we expect countries like India or Nigeria to care about the climate crisis if we, who already have everything, don’t care even a second about it or our actual commitments to the Paris agreement?

So, why are we not reducing our emissions? Why are they, in fact, still increasing? Are we knowingly causing a mass extinction? Are we evil?

No, of course not. People keep doing what they do because the vast majority doesn’t have a clue about the consequences of our everyday life. And they don’t know the rapid changes required.

Since, as I said before, no one talks about it. There are no headlines, no emergency meetings, no breaking news. No one is acting as if we were in a crisis. Even most green politicians and climate scientists go on flying around the world, eating meat and dairy.

If I live to be 100 I will be alive in the year 2103.

When you think about “the future” today, you don’t think beyond the year 2050. By then I will, in the best case, not even have lived half of my life. What happens next?

The year 2078 I will celebrate my 75th birthday.

What we do or don’t do, right now, will affect my entire life, and the lives of my children and grandchildren.

When school started in August this year I decided that this was enough. I sat myself down on the ground outside the Swedish parliament. I school strikes for the climate.

Some people say that I should be in school instead. Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can ”solve the climate crisis”. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.

And why should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more, when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts within the school system when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society?

A lot of people say that Sweden is just a small country and that it doesn’t matter what we do. But I think that if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school for a few weeks, imagine what we all could do together if we wanted to.

Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground.

So we can’t save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed.

Everything needs to change. And it has to start today.

So everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience, it is time to rebel.”

Greta Thunberg

The above text is written by Greta Thunberg. It was published on the Extinction Rebellion website with Greta Thunberg’s approval.

Greta Thunberg at the ‘Declaration of Rebellion’, Parliament Square, London, UK.

January 25th 2019

Greta’s action has started a worldwide movement, with children on every continent (apart from Antarctica) striking to draw attention to climate change.  This week, she has travelled by train to Davos, accompanied by Swiss children, who are striking in this resort and others.  She will be speaking at the international summit in Davos, having already addressed the UN climate change COP 24 conference in Katowice, Poland.  Further details of her actions and those of children around the world can be found at:

gretathunberg in davos

Greta Thunberg in Davos


View at

Leave a comment

Met Office Report: UK heatwaves are lasting twice as long as they did 50 years ago

The first study of climate extremes in the UK by the Met Office shows the longer-term trend behind this summer’s prolonged spell of high temperatures and the weakening of winter frosts.

In line with numerous other research papers on the rise in global temperatures, it also highlights how weather patterns are being pushed off a normal path as a result of human emissions of carbon  dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

A warm spell is a run of at least six days for which daily maximum temperatures are sufficiently above average for the time of year.



The full Met Office report can be found at:

but is copied from their website, with included links, below:

The UK Climate Projections provides the most up-to-date assessment of how the climate of the UK may change over the 21st century. Find information to help with your climate change risk assessments and adaptation plans.

The UK Climate Projections is a climate analysis tool that forms part of the Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme which is supported by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Last updated: 

This updated report, published in the International Journal of Climatology, showed that 2019 was only the 12th warmest year since 1884, yet it set 4 UK temperature records. They included an all-time high of 38.7°C in Cambridge on July 25th, a winter record of 21.2°C in Kew Gardens, London on February 26th, and a new December record of 18.7°C in Sutherland on December 28th.
The most recent decade, from 2010 to 2019, was 0.3°C warmer than the average for 1981-2010 and 0.9°C warmer than 1961-1990.
Last year was also a particularly wet year across parts of central and northern England, with flooding in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Cheshire, which received between a quarter and a third more rainfall than normal.

Leave a comment

Nitrogen Dioxide pollution around the world

With acknowledgements to Unearthed.

In the last few years, governments and corporations around the world have come under increasing pressure to act on a global air pollution crisis.

In Europe, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has been at the centre of the debate, following the dieselgate scandal and numerous legal battles faced by governments that have been shown to be in breach of legal limits.

As the World Health Organisation hosts its first global air pollution conference, new satellite data reveals the scale and spread of global NO2 on an unprecedented scale, from lignite power plants in Europe to wildfires in Africa.

Mapped against known pollution sources, it shows that NO2 pollution doesn’t come from diesel pollution alone; it is also emitted by coal, oil, gas and biomass plants as well as forest fires and crop burning.

The article shows a map of the world showing how much pollution surrounds the major urban areas of the world.  Unfortunately, it cannot be reproduced here but readers wanting to see it in detail should visit:

It is well worth a visit.

Leave a comment

Nothing in the Budget to combat climate change

The UK’s Chancellor issued a new Budget last Monday but, to the shock of many people, there was nothing in it in response to the recent UN-commissioned report showing that urgent action in required to avoid runaway climate change.


The Chancellor setting off from Downing Street on Monday

Now, a letter has been written to the Prime Minister by a group of MPs and leaders of environmental organisations to castigate her for this oversight.  They believe that the Budget is “an unforgivable betrayal of future generations” due to its “worrying lack” of a policy on climate change.  There has also been no Governmental response to the recent UN Report, which the Government appears to have ignored.

The group behind the letter include the Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas and six other MPs, together with the CEOs of Greenpeace, 10:10 Climate Action and Global Witness.  One of them is quoted as saying, “Not only did the chancellor fail to mention climate change in his speech, but the policies he put forward, from subsidy to polluters via the fuel duty freeze to a mass road building programme, will increase the UK’s climate impact.”

The only green initiative announced was £60 million towards planting trees – 500 times less than the sum going towards roads.  The letter in its entirety is shown below.

Dear Prime Minister,

On Monday, your Government presented its Budget and, in doing so, revealed a profoundly worrying lack of policy changes to combat the greatest threat of our time: climate change.  Not only did the Chancellor fail to mention climate change in his speech but the policies he put forward – from subsidy to polluters via the fuel duty freeze to a mass road building programme – will increase the UK’s climate impact.

With fracking now proceeding, and continued tax breaks handed out to fossil fuel firms, we believe it is now vital we call out failure from a generation of politicians who will not live to see the devastation that their policies will wreak on future generations.

The most recent IPCC report was very clear about what Governments need to urgently do – yet your Government has all but ignored its publication in this Budget. We should be very clear here about timescales. It’s almost too late already, so pushing policy-making into the long grass of Brexit at this stage represents an abject failure to govern in the interests of the people you are elected to serve.

We do not accept that individuals in the Government do not care about climate change, nor that it’s too late to change course.  We simply state here and now that the Budget must be a nadir for this Government’s tainted record – and that urgent action in the coming days must be announced.  Anything short of that would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations.

Caroline Lucas MP

Clive Lewis MP

Liz Saville-Roberts MP

Anna McMorrin MP

Tim Farron MP

Alex Sobel MP

Roger Godsiff MP

Gillian Caldwell, CEO, Global Witness

John Sauven, Director, Greenpeace

Hugh Tagholm, Director, Surfers Against Sewage

Guppi Bola, Director, Medact

Alice Bell, Director, 10:10 Climate Action

See also:‘unforgivable-betrayal’-on-climate-change-in-budget/ar-BBPeusn?ocid=spartandhp