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Researchers Memorialize First Major Icelandic Glacier Lost To Climate Change

Scientists, academics and world leaders will soon gather in Iceland to memorialize the first major Icelandic glacier to disappear due to climate change.

Okjökull — “Ok glacier” in Icelandic — was deemed “dead” in 2014 because it had lost so much ice.

“It didn’t have enough mass of snow and ice in order to be able to crawl along the ground which is required of a glacier to be able to move under its own weight,” says Cymene Howe, an associate professor of anthropology at Rice University.

Now, scientists are installing a memorial plaque on the barren ground as a message to future generations. Howe will be in attendance, along with geologist Oddur Sigurðsson, who first declared the glacier dead.

The plaque, called “A letter to the future,” reads in both English and Icelandic: “Ok is the first Islandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

Howe says the plaque’s direct messaging was intentional. The team of researchers wanted to use the glacier’s passing as a call to climate action.

“By memorializing a fallen glacier, we want to emphasize what is being lost or what is dying,” she says. “And we also want to draw attention to the fact that climate change is also something that humans have accomplished, if you will, although it’s not something that we should be particularly proud of.”

 

The memorial plaque to recognize Okjökull. (Photo by Grétar Thorvaldsson/Málmsteypan Hella)

Interview Highlights

On whether there’s any ice left on Okjökull

“Well that’s a good question because actually this will be the first time that the glaciologist who declared Ok glacier — Okjökull — to no longer be a glacier will be going up on top of the mountain to see if there is any glacial remnant ice remaining. His name is Oddur Sigurðsson and he was the scientist who found that Ok was no longer able to move under its own weight.

“So it’s exciting because this will be the first time that he’s back to inspect what might remain of Ok glacier. They call it glacial remnant ice. And so part of our trek there — after we install the plaque and the memorial and have a small ceremony — is that we will head over to the top of the crater and then descend down the backside to see if we can find any ice remaining.”

On the memorial ceremony

“It’s interesting because we had lots of conversations to think through how we wanted to mark this passing of the glacier. And there is a couple of different options, right. We could have done a kind of headstone or a grave marker and that would have sent a certain message of loss and memorial. We also could have done a more scientific plaque like you might find in a national park with all the details about Ok. We decided to do a memorial very specifically because if we look around the world, we can see that memorials everywhere stand for either human accomplishments, like the deeds of historic figures, or the losses and deaths that we recognize as important, like on a battlefield memorial.”

On why researchers decided that the plaque should explicitly address future generations

“Well the future generations was also very intentional and there’s a kind of title on the memorial. It says ‘A letter to the future’ and the words were created by our Icelandic colleague Andri Snær Magnason. He’s an author and a poet. And so we wanted to work with an Icelander to craft the words so that they would be appropriate to the place.

“I think of the last line, ‘Only you know if we did it,’ as a kind of call to action to become involved and to try and reduce the amount of anthropogenic harm that we’re doing to the climate and to the atmosphere. Saying ‘Only you know if we did it,’ I think, is a very powerful way of phrasing it because the second person plural form — the ‘you’ form — is a very direct way of speaking to people. When reading the plaque, you can literally imagine this future person standing there reading over this memorial. And so by addressing this letter to the future, by invoking the you, we’re trying to very explicitly draw attention to that potential and that future.”

On why researchers added a reference to current CO2 levels, which is at 415 parts per million

“Well we felt that was really important to acknowledge. In spring of this year, we passed that threshold of 415 parts per million. So this is the first time that human beings have ever lived with that quantity of atmospheric carbon dioxide and content in the atmosphere. So last time we had that much CO2 in the atmosphere was during the Pliocene, which was about 3 million years ago before we had humans on the planet. And so it’s a very dramatic reckoning to think through the fact that we’re living in conditions that we humans have never actually lived in before. The other element of course is that as the future viewer of this plaque looks at that number, a year from now, 10 years from now, 100 years from now, that number will probably be higher. So that’s a reckoning as well.”

[Source: Here & Now]

Sparky McSparkface for Auckland?

Ports of Auckland has agreed to buy the world’s first full size electric tugboat in an effort to fight climate change.

Port’s chief executive Tony Gibson said urgent action was needed on climate change. The tug has the same capacity for work as the port’s diesel tugboats, and will cost less over its lifetime.

Over the last three years the company has battled to find a manufacturer who would be willing to take the challenge on. Dutch company Damen Shipyards will build the tug, and expects to deliver it in 2021.

The Ports of Auckland has a goal of being zero emissions by 2040, and hopes it inspires other ports.

The port would not reveal the cost, but Mr Gibson said it would be approximately double that of a diesel tug, which costs $8 million to $9m.

“Fortunately, the cost of operating an electric tug is less than a third of the cost of running a diesel tug. So while we pay more up front, over the life of the tug we’ll save around $12 million in operating costs, making our electric tug cheaper in the long term,” he said.

Mr Gibson said the port planned to replace all of its other tugs with electric ones.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said: “People who say we have to wait for the technology to emerge before we can set ourselves bold goals have got it round the wrong way.

“Many of the challenges we face with climate change will require solutions that aren’t yet on the market.

“Ports of Auckland and an increasing number of other businesses across New Zealand are showing that won’t stop them finding ways to meet our goals on greenhouse gas emission reductions.”

 

[Source: NZ Herald]

“Mind the gap!” Real-world emissions in New Zealand

Thanks to Dieselgate we’ve known since 2015 that vehicle emissions are higher in practice, and vehicle fuel efficiency is lower, than official tests show. Overseas studies have found that the gap is real and growing but how does that relate to New Zealand?

New research published by Emission Impossible Ltd and Mote Ltd for the New Zealand Transport Agency sheds new light on real-world emissions and fuel efficiency of New Zealand vehicles. The research developed a purpose-built portable emissions monitoring system (PEMS) in order to measure the real-world emissions of a representative cross-section of the New Zealand fleet (see Figure 1).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1. The PEMS equipment installed on one of the test vehicles.

Test vehicles were selected to represent the most common and influential sectors of the fleet, and included petrol and diesel, light and heavy-duty, New Zealand new and second-hand imported vehicles manufactured between 1996 and 2014.  These were driven over a real-world route in Auckland, comprising city, open road and motorway driving with a range of vehicle speeds and gradients.

Real-world versus official standards

As with elsewhere in the world, our PEMS testing found that real-world emissions of most pollutants were higher than those allowed by the regulated standards.

Key findings were:

  • real-world NOX emissions were generally higher than standards, with results approximately 4.6 times higher on average (ranging from two to nearly eight times the limit)
  • real-world PM2.5 emissions for light-duty vehicles were similar to the standards
  • real-world CO2 emissions were on average 17% higher than type-approved fuel consumption figures
  • real-world NOX emissions for the tested vehicles were comparable to those for vehicles tested in Europe and Australia (see Figure 2).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2. Our PEMS results compared with Australian PEMS results for fuel consumption.

Sadly there was little evidence that mandatory reductions in emissions standards have had any impact on actual emission levels in reality. The only exception was PM2.5, for which emissions have reduced dramatically in later model diesel vehicles, we think due to the increasing effectiveness of the particulate filters used.

Unfortunately there was also little evidence that fuel consumption has improved over time – CO2 levels typically remained stubbornly in the 200 g/km to 300 g/km range, irrespective of the type of vehicle or fuel used.

Still. Now we know. Right?

To read more:

Testing New Zealand vehicles to measure real world fuel use and exhaust emissions, NZ Transport Agency research report 658, available online at www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/research/reports/658

Our Zero Carbon Bill submission

Emission Impossible Ltd has lodged a submission to the Environment Select Committee on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill.

We strongly support the intent of this Bill to safeguard the liveability of the Earth for future generations.  However, we are concerned that in its current form it will not limit warming to 1.5°C by 2050.

We agree with the proposed changes to the current Climate Change Response Act 2002 as they relate to Sections 3, 3A, 4 and 4A.  However, we request changes to the new Parts 1A to 1C around the Climate Change Commission, emission reduction and adaptation.  We also highlight additional matters that need to be addressed in the Bill and its implementation.

A copy of our submission is available here.

Beyond GDP

The New Zealand Genuine Progress Indicator to Measure the Economic, Social and Environmental Dimensions of Well-being from 1970 to 2016

Gross Domestic Product or GDP is widely used to measure the performance of national economies, including New Zealand’s. Many consider it to be the pre-eminent indicator of economic performance. Although the GDP measures the amount of goods and services produced in the economy each year, it is a woeful measure of a country’s well-being. In the GDP, many activities like, for example, a near-shore oil spill might perversely contribute to GDP, when they are clearly not beneficial to society.

The Genuine Progress Indicator seeks to overcome these limitations in the GDP. Through a meticulous process of data collection and analysis and by following international best practice, Massey University and Market Economics Ltd tracked New Zealand’s economic performance since 1970, by using the Genuine Progress Indicator framework. The Genuine Progress Indicator measures 21 benefits and costs associated with economic activity in New Zealand, most of which are not tracked by the GDP. These 21 benefits and costs are first of all converted to monetary terms ($NZ) using standard economic valuation methods; and then ‘added up’ to obtain an overall Genuine Progress indicator for New Zealand for every year over the time period 1970 to 2016.

Overall Results:

The results of this analysis are that the Genuine Progress Indicator shows our societal progress is not as rosy as GDP indicates (refer to Chart A). Overall, on a per capita basis, since 1970 the GDP increased by 91%, whereas the Genuine Progress Indicator, which gives a more accurate measure of the nation’s well-being only increased by 53%.

 

Chart A National Progress: GDP versus Genuine Progress Indicator (Both Indicators are measured in per capita terms, and then converted to their ‘percentage change since 1970’. By definition, 1970 = 0% change for both indicators).

 

 

[Source: Massey University News]

WHO official: where is outrage over seven million air pollution-related deaths?

Maria Neira calls for urgent action on the second day of the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting

A senior WHO official said she cannot comprehend the lack of outrage over the seven million premature deaths every year that are caused by air pollution.

Speaking on Monday, the director of public health and environment at the World Health Organisation, said it was a mystery why more people were not demanding immediate action to tackle the world’s invisible killer.

The links between air pollution and illness are well documented and Maria Neira warned it was one of the biggest public health challenges the world faced.

“This is about asthma, lung cancer, stroke and heart disease,” she told The National at the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting. “People are breathing what is available — and what is available is not safe.”

Most of the deaths occur in Africa and Asia and Ms Neira said it was inexplicable that more people were not talking about the issue.

“I ask myself this question every day,” she said. “How can it be possible that we have seven million premature deaths a year and we don’t see people panicking or jumping on governments asking what are you doing to protect me.”

She said air pollution caused more deaths than HIV/Aids, malaria, TB and even malnutrition combined, and while interest was growing much more needed to be done to tackle the problem. Combating climate change was the primary way to end these unnecessary deaths.

“Two thirds of air pollution is caused by the combustion of fossil fuels so this is the same source of climate change,” she said.

Ms Neira’s comments came on the second and final day of the climate meeting which was largely dedicated to health. Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, added to the calls. “It originally was about the planet and animals. That is valid but undersold a powerful political narrative — people’s health,” he said.

“The medical bills from climate change are staggering, the humanitarian bills are staggering, and the number of deaths is unacceptable,” Dr Al Zeyoudi said.

“But I want to take a more positive and balanced outlook here: Not just that climate change kills, but that climate action saves lives. Not just that health impacts are expensive, but that climate action is worth investing in.”

Cities in the Middle East are hugely affected by air pollution because of rapid development and use of fossil fuels. Dust storms compound the problem. Reports by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi have suggested that air pollution is a major factor behind respiratory and cardiovascular diseases in the UAE. But the country has been ramping up efforts to improve air quality.

Authorities in 2018 established an air-quality monitoring station at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. The new station complements those used by the National Centre of Meteorology and follows the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi’s endorsement of the Plume smartphone app, which helps residents monitor air quality. Dr Al Zeyoudi has said that by 2021 the UAE wants to improve its air quality by 90 per cent on current levels.

Ms Neira, meanwhile, stressed that the way to tackle the issue was by switching to renewable energy and she lauded the UAE — one of the world’s largest fossil fuel producers — for its burgeoning commitment to solar power.

“The equation has to change,” she said. “The UAE has been extremely supportive and we have no reasons to think that they are not committed.”

[Source: ]

France loses landmark court case over air pollution

The French state has failed to do enough to limit air pollution around Paris, according to a landmark court ruling delivered after a woman and daughter with respiratory problems sued the nation.

In the first case of its kind, Farida, 52, and her 16-year-old daughter, whose full names were not released by the court, sued the French state over the impact of living near Paris’s traffic-choked ringroad in Saint-Ouen.

She had told an association fighting for clean air: “For years I had respiratory infections.” What began as nasal and throat infections got gradually worse. “I repeatedly had bronchitis. Doctors gave me antibiotics but it wasn’t helping,” she said.

“Three years ago I was sent to a lung specialist who said my problems were linked to air pollution. He advised me to move. My daughter had had bronchitis as a baby then asthma while growing up.” The woman and her daughter eventually moved to Orléans and the symptoms cleared up.

The case, before the administrative court in Montreuil outside Paris, was the first brought by individuals against the French state over health problems caused by air pollution. It was backed by several environmental groups.

The court said in its written verdict: “The state committed a fault by taking insufficient measures concerning the quality of air.” It said that between 2012 and 2016 the state failed to take measures needed to reduce concentrations of certain polluting gases exceeding the limits.

“For victims of pollution, this is a first,” said the women’s lawyer, Francois Lafforgue. “From now, the state will have to take effective measures in the fight against pollution.”

But the court rejected the women’s demand for €160,000 (£143,000) in damages, saying it could not find a direct link between their health problems and the state’s failings.

The court ruling said the state had failed to fulfil its air protection plan intended to counter pollution.

Nadir Saïfi, the vice-president of the organisation Ecology without Borders, told Le Monde: “This is a historic judgment for the 67,000 French people who die prematurely each year due to air pollution. Today victims of pollution, like victims of pesticide, should not be afraid to go to court to defend their health.”

[Source: The Guardian]

Proof! Ice cream makes everything better

Nissan has created an all-electric, zero-emission ice cream van concept for ‘clean air day’ in the UK.

Most ice cream vans, particularly old models, have diesel engines which are kept running to operate the refrigeration equipment. Nissan has taken the internal combustion engine (ICE) out of the ice cream van to present a solution for carbon footprint and create the Nissan e-NV200.

Partnering with Mackie’s of Scotland, an ice cream producer, Nissan’s project demonstrates how a ‘sky to scoop’ approach can remove carbon dependence.

“Ice cream is enjoyed the world over, but consumers are increasingly mindful of the environmental impact of how we produce such treats, and the ‘last mile’ of how they reach us,” Nissan Motor Ltd managing director Kalyana Sivagnanam says.

The van’s motor is driven by a 40kWh battery, but the on-board ice cream equipment, including a soft-serve machine, freezer drawer and drinks fridge are powered by the Nissan Energy Roam.

Roam is a portable power pack that uses lithium-ion cells recovered from early first-generation Nissan EVs and will go on sale later in 2019.

“At Mackie’s we’ve already shifted our dependence from fossil-fuels on to clean renewable power. We now export 4.5 times more energy to the national grid than we consume,” Mackie’s of Scotland marketing director Karin Hayhow says.

[Source: Transport Talk]

Free Public Transport Day in Auckland

Emission Impossible Ltd staff walking the talk

Auckland Transport hit 100 million passengers in one year and so to celebrate they made all trains, buses and some ferries free on Sunday 23 June 2019. Radio New Zealand reported the day was a success with initial counts showing patronage up 65% compared with a normal Sunday.

Jayne and Louise made the most of the opportunity to ride on two double decker buses and four trains to take the family to the pub. (Brother’s Brewery in Orakei highly recommended).

Australia proposes new ambient air quality standards

The (Australian) National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) has proposed new ambient air quality standards in the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality Measure (AAQ NEPM) for the following gases:

  • ozone (O3)
  • nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • sulphur dioxide (SO2).

The following table compares the new proposed standards with the 2005 World Health Organisation (WHO) global ambient air quality guidelines and New Zealand’s national environmental standards for air quality (all concentrations in µg/m3).

An impact statement, published by the NEPC, found there are health effects arising from exposure to O3, NO2 and SO2 in Australian cities at their current concentrations. The associated combined health costs due to mortality and hospitalisation over the period 2010–2014 were of the order of $562 million to $2,405 million, depending on the choice of concentration response functions (CRFs). However, when considering the full cost benefit anlaysis, the application of the different CRF groups did not change the overall outcome, which was a negative net present value (NPV) to society.

The statement further noted that with the predicted population growth in Australian cities and regional areas, the number of people that are exposed to air pollution will also increase, leading to an increased health burden.

Of interest, a modelled abatement package scenario was shown to not be cost-effective in achieving reductions in pollutant levels. The impact statement recommended consideration be given to alternative abatements that may achieve a larger impact across whole populations such as those associated with motor vehicles and transport options.

The impact statement is available here.

[Source: CASANZ]