Environment

Black Snow Is Falling from the Skies in Siberia

A pall of eerie black snow has covered several towns in the Siberian region of Kuzbass, which is home to 2.6 million people and one of the world’s largest coal fields.

According to the Guardian and the Siberian Times, the snow is tainted with toxic black coal dust that was released into the air from open coal pits and improperly maintained factories in the region. One coal plant official told the local media that a shield meant to prevent coal powder from escaping out of the factory had malfunctioned — however, toxic black snowfall seems to be a regular phenomena in the area and it isn’t necessarily tied to a single source.

Kuzbass (short for Kuznetsk Basin) is one of the largest coalfields in the world, spanning more than 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers). A 2015 report from Ecodefense found that the citizens of Kuzbass have an average life expectancy 3 to 4 years shorter than the Russian national average and have nearly twice the risk of contracting tuberculosis and childhood mental disorders.

Black snows like this one are a frequent winter feature in the region, the report found, and mitigation attempts have been… lacking. For instance, in December 2018, regional authorities were accused of trying to hide the toxic black stuff by literally painting over it with white pigment.

Global Warming

Retreating Ice Exposes Arctic Landscape Unseen for 120,000 Years

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The retreat of Arctic glaciers on Baffin Island is exposing landscapes that haven’t seen the sun for nearly 120,000 years.

These rocky vistas have very likely been covered in ice since the Eemian, a period in which average temperatures were up to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) warmer than present, and sea levels up to 30 feet (9 meters) higher.

The island is ringed with dramatic fjords, but its interior is dominated by high-elevation, relatively flat, tundra plains. These tundra plains are covered with thin ice caps. Because the landscape is so flat, the ice caps don’t flow and slide like typical glaciers. Instead, they simply sit on the underlying rock and soil, preserving everything beneath them like the glass of a museum case.

What’s preserved includes tiny Arctic plants and mosses that were last alive when the ice enveloped the land. As the ice melts, it exposes this ancient, delicate vegetation. Wind and water destroy the long-lost plants within months, but if researchers can get to them first, they can use radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the vegetation. The samples were at least as old as the oldest age that radiocarbon dating can detect: 40,000 years. That’s a direct indication that the plants had been under ice for at least that long.

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Over 70,000 march for the climate in Brussels

At least 70,000 people marched on January 27 in Brussels, braving the cold and rain to urge politicians to uphold their promises on countering climate change.

Chanting and holding placards with slogans such as, “Stop denying the Earth’s dying” and “What I stand for is what I stand on,” demonstrators walked through the streets of the Belgian capital towards the European Parliament building to send a message about climate change to European lawmakers.

Protests Across France Call for Action on Climate Change

Thousands gathered in Paris and across France on Sunday to denounce political inaction on battling climate change.

More than 100 demonstrations were planned across France for a weekend of action on the environment. Organisers called on people to come together to discuss practical ideas on how to advance an agenda that would halt or at least slow global warming.

Hundreds of people battled heavy rain and winds in Paris to attend a protest at Place de la République that included representatives from NGOs, scientists and activists as well as the general public.

Throughout the afternoon moderators will run workshops exploring how to make the planet greener and how lawsuits can be an effective tool against climate change. More than 2 million people signed a petition in December to sue the French government for not doing enough to combat climate change, France’s most successful petition ever.

Germany Sets Goal to End Coal Use by 2038

In a pioneering move, a German government-appointed panel has recommended that Germany stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2038 at the latest, as part of efforts to curb climate change.

Germany gets more than a third of its electricity from burning coal, generating large amounts of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Global Warming

The World Needs to Stop Using Coal. Why Is It So Hard?

Coal, the fuel that powered the industrial age, has led the planet to the brink of catastrophic climate change.

Scientists have repeatedly warned of its looming dangers, most recently on Friday, when a major scientific report issued by 13 United States government agencies warned that the damage from climate change could knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end if significant steps aren’t taken to rein in warming.

An October report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on global warming found that avoiding the worst devastation would require a radical transformation of the world economy in just a few years.

Central to that transformation: Getting out of coal, and fast.

And yet, three years after the Paris agreement, when world leaders promised action, coal shows no sign of disappearing. While coal use looks certain to eventually wane worldwide, according to the latest assessment by the International Energy Agency, it is not on track to happen anywhere fast enough to avert the worst effects of climate change. Last year, in fact, global production and consumption increased after two years of decline.

Cheap, plentiful and the most polluting of fossil fuels, coal remains the single largest source of energy to generate electricity worldwide. This, even as renewables like solar and wind power are rapidly becoming more affordable. Soon, coal could make no financial sense for its backers.

So, why is coal so hard to quit?

Because coal is a powerful incumbent. It’s there by the millions of tons under the ground. Powerful companies, backed by powerful governments, often in the form of subsidies, are in a rush to grow their markets before it is too late. Banks still profit from it. Big national electricity grids were designed for it. Coal plants can be a surefire way for politicians to deliver cheap electricity — and retain their own power. In some countries, it has been a glistening source of graft.