Climate Change: COP21 Paris December 2015. One month to go.

COP21 (21st Conference of Parties) is the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, it is taking place in Paris (France) from November 30 to December 11. The objective of this conference is to reach a universal, legally binding agreement on climate among all 195 nations.

This is the 21st conference the first one took place in Berlin in 1995, the next one COP22 will be in Morrocco next year.

Everyone should care about the outcome of the COP21 Paris because we are and will all be affected by the consequences of climate change, whether is it drought, flooding, heatwaves, we all live on the same planet.

What is this 2 degrees business and how is it linked to climate change?

The planet has had many different cycles of heat and cold and it is still here.
These patterns of warming and cooling cycles are not what is worrying in itself. Earth is strong and capable of regenerating itself. What is worrying and why we should do something fast is the speed at which the warming of the planet is happening right now and the fact that this acceleration has been linked to man made emission of green house gases.
If we stopped emitting so much green house gases, planet Earth will be able to look after itself.

According to scientists the world is 1 degree celsuis warmer now than it was pre-industrialisation. They have recommended a 2 degree target limit now to avoid further catastrophe. If we work hard and together, we can stay below 2 degrees and protect ourselves agains sea level rise, costal flooding, and prevent heatwaves.

This Ben and Jerry's video is fantastic.

There are ways to reduce emissions

Energy efficiency, we need to improve our use of energy to heat and light our homes, making appliances less energy greedy and using sustainable energy such as solar or wind, makes energy cheaper, which means more affordable energy all around as well as reduction of green house gases emissions.

We need to take actions to bring down green house gases emission, clean transportation, clean cooking stoves in developing countries can put a stop to air pollution and save millions of lives mainly in poorer countries but also in the UK, Europe and the US.

Lydia Agbobidi

Few Definitions Relevant to Climate Change

This is a list of terms used when referring to climate change,  these are most of the terms (but not all) you need to understand the conversations and the articles you are going to be have or read in the next few months in the runner up to COP21, the climate change summit taking place in Paris in December.

Carbon capture and storage (or sequestration) – Known by the acronym CCS it consists of a number of different technologies and processes for trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) and storing it. Where it is stored varies depending on the technology provider. Some pump the gas into existing oil wells to increase production. Some pump it into underground saltwater aquifers. Some into sandstone formations. In all cases the idea is the CO2 gets permanently trapped or sequestered.

Carbon capture use and storage – Known by the acronym CCUS, it describes initiatives by industry to turn captured CO2 into useful commercial products. For example, captured CO2 is being added to concrete to make it lighter and more durable. The benefit, the CO2 is permanently sequestered. The XPrize initiative recently launched a $20 million prize to individuals and businesses that come up with ways of capturing and converting CO2 for commercial use.

Carbon sink – Usually the term refers to natural environments that absorb CO2. Plants are the main carbon sink on our planet. Ocean water acts as a carbon sink with  and in absorbing CO2 becomes more acidic. Marine plant life, phytoplankton and algae play a significant role in absorbing the gas. The soil is a carbon sink. When you combine all of these natural sources they absorb almost 50% of the emissions produced by humans today.

Climate change – This term refers to the record of change that has occurred in climate patterns both in the past and present. The geologic record shows many periods in Earth history where the global climate was different from today. The evidence that shows us  climate change can be found in sedimentary rocks, polar and alpine glaciers, tree rings and soil. Through physical evidence we can determine changes in temperature, precipitation, and seasonal distribution. See human climate change below for additional information. The determination on whether what is being observed is or is not climate change is solely based on duration. If observed data shows changes lasting multiple decades or longer then it falls under climate change.

Climate change adaptation –  We hear this  term more and more. It refers to how we are adjusting to climate change as a global society. For example, as ocean sea level rises, coastal cities are implementing infrastructure changes. These include restoring wetlands, expanding floodplains, building seawalls, berms and levees. To combat rising temperatures businesses, institutions, government and home owners are improving internal climate control within structures. People are altering the clothes they wear to reflect a changing climate. We are switching from fossil-fuel burning technologies to ones that minimize our carbon footprint. Electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars represent climate change adaptation and mitigation, which takes us to our next definition.

Climate change mitigation – This one is the simplest to understand. Mitigation involves reducing fossil fuel consumption. It involves ending deforestation and planting trees to replace the ones we have lost. It involves using technologies that minimize our carbon footprint such as virtual offices and telecommuting. It includes CCS (see definition above). It could include geoengineering (see definition below).

Climate variability – Many of those aspiring to the leadership of the Republican Party in the United States talk about natural climate variability in dismissing human-related climate change. They argue that climate is always changing and variability will always occur. Climate varies over seasons and years. Climate varies because of geography. For example the eastern part of North America experienced prolonged cold in the last two winters while western parts of North America experienced abnormal heat and drought. Globally mean temperatures set records. The politicians used the freeze in the east to “prove” that human-induced climate change was a canard.

COP21 Paris – The COP refers to Conference of the Parties who are members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (see description below). The Paris meeting is designated the 21st in the series, hence COP21.

Copenhagen Accord – In December 2009 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change members met in Denmark at COP15 in a meeting focused on setting a long-term goal to ensure that global warming did not exceed 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) degrees. Participants committed to announcing 2020 emission targets for all greenhouse gases. Actions and oversight were left to the individual participants themselves rather than a global group. Developed nations agreed to provide funding to those nations in the Developing World vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. A mechanism to promote adaptation and mitigation technology was put in place. The agreement reinstated the goals and aspirations first established at Kyoto under its protocol.

Disaster risk reduction – Climate change, defined by changing precipitation patterns, significantly higher and lower temperatures and higher incidents of extreme weather, has been observed across the planet for the last five decades. Most notable has been the change in nighttime temperatures impacting energy use, agriculture and weather. The impact on human society can be measured in many billions of U.S. dollars annually. Through extrapolation and trend analysis consequences can be measured. It is expected that:
  • warmer conditions will impact human populations, particularly the elderly, young and chronically ill.
  • warmer oceans will alter fish populations putting food sources at risk.
  • rising sea levels combined with extreme weather events will lead to storm surges and the destruction of coastal communities.
  • some areas receiving higher than normal precipitation may be subject to landslides or floods with loss of life and infrastructure.
  • changes in climate will impact agricultural production and cause tropical diseases to spread into more temperate climates.
  • sea level rise will overwhelm low elevations island nations and coastlines.

Action taken to reduce these risks and their adverse impacts equals disaster risk reduction. In 2005, the Hyogo Framework for Action was established by 168 countries to promote global risk reduction strategies to deal with future climate change. The Framework called for the identification and monitoring of those deemed most vulnerable to establish an early warning system while reducing underlying risk factors to them. It also set as a goal standards for disaster preparedness.

Extreme weather events – Although not necessarily a symptom of climate change, extreme weather events are the canary in the coal mine. When one area of the planet experiences levels of heat never encountered before this could be variability or climate change. But when you see many parts of the planet suffering from extended heat waves in which thousands of lives are at risk, particularly in Developing World nations where climate controlled environments are few and far between, then one must sit up and take notice. This summer when my wife and I took a river cruise on the Danube in central Europe, an extended drought caused water levels to drop significantly leaving us high and dry on what is Europe’s second longest river. Daytime temperatures reached the mid-30s Celsius (over 90 Fahrenheit). In North America with climate control built into most buildings and homes a heat wave like the one we experienced is manageable. But in Central Europe air conditioning is a rarity and the sweltering conditions were of an extreme nature to say the least

Geoengineering – Often described as climate intervention, geoengineering is human manipulation of Earth’s systems. The best example is rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere leading to the phenomenon we call global warming. In this case the geoengineering is unintentional but consequential. So if we can through human acts cause warming why can’t we undo through the application of engineered solutions.The most discussed include CCS and CCUS (described above) and solar radiation management or SRM (see below). We have had proposals to use a fleet of jet aircraft to dump fine sulfur particles into the upper atmosphere to block sunlight and cool the planet surface. Another proposal would pump seawater into the air from a hundred funnels located on ships moored in the Arctic to increase cloud cover and therefore minimize land and sea ice, and permafrost melt.

Global warming – The term most associated with the reason for the upcoming Paris conference, it refers to average global temperatures on the rise and attributes this to a greenhouse effect produced by rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases – These are gases that absorb infrared light converting it to heat. CO2 is the gas most associated with human-induced climate change, but methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, water vapour, sulfur dioxide and sulfur hexaflouride all contribute to global warming.

Human climate change – Human fingerprints are all over the planet when studying climate change. Indicators include the volume of CO2 entering the atmosphere from human activity. This amounts to approximately 30 billion tons per year today. Our fingerprint can be found in temperature data showing nights are getting significantly warmer as the added CO2 absorbs solar radiation converting it to heat. We have been measuring CO2 increases in the air, approximately a 60% rise from the beginning of the 20th century to today. We can measure decreases in oxygen in our air. We have satellites that measure that heat loss to space from our planet is in decline. We measure rising ocean temperatures as the warmer atmosphere interacts with surface water.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – Established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations, this body reviews, assesses and reports on the latest scientific information of importance to understand climate change. Its reports are based on published peer-reviewed scientific and technical literature with a goal to inform national governments and the public on climate-related issues. The first report was issued in 1990 and subsequently reports have appeared each year updating the science. The IPCC  consists of working groups to review the enormous quantity of research it receives. Two co-chairs head the working groups, one from a Developed nation and the other from a Developing World nation. The reports are peer reviewed involving thousands from science, industry and non-government sources.

Kyoto Protocol – In 1992 the nation members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Kyoto, Japan and drafted an international legally binding agreement that set emission reduction targets for all participants. Canada is the only Developed nation to opt out of its commitments made at Kyoto. It did this in 2011 to save the government from having to pay $14 billion in penalties for not achieving its targeted greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement expired in 2012.

Ocean acidification – The world ocean is a carbon sink and the CO2 it uptakes is altering its chemistry. The measure of acidity is defined by the pH scale. 7.0 is neutral. 8.0 is alkaline. 6.0 is acid. For the past 300 million years the ocean pH has been 8.2. In the past 150 years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the level has dropped to 8.1. As the ocean absorbs more CO2 pH is expected to drop further to as low as 7.7 by 2100. For ocean life attempting to adapt to such a drastic pH level change the implications are dire. A more acidic ocean will impact all shelled creatures including corals, bivalves, snails, zooplankton and crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, shrip, krill, etc.).

Sea level rise – In the last week alone a number of articles have come out citing sea level rise as being a significant threat to coastal cities such as New Orleans and Miami. A rise of close to a meter (just under 40 inches) which NASA believes is unavoidable will be devastating to low elevation urban coastal centres. With the world community targeting global warming to not exceed 2 degrees Celsius it is anticipated that ocean levels will rise much higher than a meter and that hundreds of millions will be climate refugees. For example, if the oceans rise four to five meters almost every coastal urban centre in the United States will find itself under water.

Solar radiation management – Known by the acronym SRM, this form of geoengineering addresses reflecting sunlight back into space to reduce global warming. Only a small amount of inbound solar energy need be reflected to create significant cooling state those who seek to launch pilot projects to prove the efficacy of this type of geoengineering. Sulfate particles in the stratosphere, the spraying of seawater into the upper troposphere and similar schemes have been suggested. Unintended consequences could lead to increased ocean acidification, changes to precipitation patterns, and increased frequency of extreme weather events.

Sustainable Development – This term is in common use these days. It refers to economic development in the present that doesn’t compromise the future. Sustainable development balances social, economic and environmental objectives. Sustainable development is complicated because what is needed locally in the present often has negative consequences for the future or conflicts with other societies in the present. Cut down a tree in present day Africa to provide fuel for your family for heating and cooking and the consequences of the act can be measured in the future with changes to soil moisture levels, water tables, erosion and sequestered carbon.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – Founded in 1994 it has 195 countries as members. Its focus is to prevent human interference with Earth’s climate by stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions and to do this within a time frame “sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change. to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”
If missing terms that need to be defined please let me know in your comments.


A two tonne lifestyle for the win

I read this article and found it so interesting I had to repost it. We need to reduce our greenhouse gases emissions and fast. That's an amazing initiative and an example we should all follow.
For the past eight years, I have been trying to live a two tonne lifestyle. That’s two tonnes of greenhouse gases from the things I own or buy – basically everything that I spend money on. I did this because I wanted to do something positive to fight climate change, and I felt that the place to start was with the things I can at least control. So I looked at the things I spent my money on.
During this time, I discovered something strange: a two tonne lifestyle has made my quality of life much, much better. I have saved a load of cash. I eat less meat, and have a lot more exercise built into my daily life. I still have a car, a nice warm house in winter, foreign holidays, and all the stuff I could ever need (a bit more than I need, actually, but I’m working on that). The reduced costs have helped me free up my time, so I can work less to ‘pay the bills’ and do more of the things I love.
But if there are personal benefits, what does a two tonne lifestyle do for climate change, or global warming, or whatever you want to call it? Let me try to explain why I think two tonnes is important, and break the numbers down a bit….


So the human race currently puts about 50 gigatonnes  of greenhouse gases a year into the atmosphere (1). (That’s 50,000,000,000 tonnes. Whoa! That’s a lot of zeros.) There are 7.3 billion people alive right now on the planet  (7,300,000,000) (2). So that’s about 7 tonnes of greenhouse gas per person on average – with about 70% of that coming from gas, oil, or coal in one way or another.
At this rate, in the next six years we will probably go past the point of being able to save many low lying countries and cities. We will also lose many more species of animal, a significant amount of agricultural land, and most of our coral reefs. (3) That is a pretty depressing scenario, and there are plenty more impacts, but I don’t want to dwell on all that. So, moving swiftly on to…

The results

Critically, a two tonne lifestyle buys us time – til around 2030 – to limit the impacts of a warming planet. It buys us time to massively increase clean energy sources and energy efficiency, as well as improve farming practices and a host of other things that we know we can do. All of this gives us a really good chance of avoiding the worst impacts, that we all know are coming to get us in a ‘business as usual’ world. So the hope is here. What is more, as I mentioned at the start of this post, there are immediate benefits. A two tonne lifestyle is not only achievable, it is also desirable, as it has the potential to increase our wealth, free up more time for fun, and make us healthier.

The catch

I’m sure you’ve already spotted it. As an individual, you will probably benefit personally from living a two tonne lifestyle (if you aren’t already). But if it is going to prevent climate change from getting any worse, everyone needs to be doing it. That’s tricky, alright. But things are moving quickly on that front. More governments, businesses and people realise that we need to do something, and do it quick.
It’s also worth pointing out that there are maybe two billion people on the planet who are already living a two tonne lifestyle. Most of these people lack the privilege of finance and technology that I have, because they live in developing countries. They will be the first to bear the brunt of the changes to our weather systems, even though they are least responsible for it. If, like me, you have the benefit of technology, education, healthcare, and finances to tackle this problem head on, then lets use all our resources to solve this problem, clean up our act, and keep the human race moving forward. If you’re already doing it, let’s keep it going. Let’s step it up some more, all of us. For the win.

(1) SPM3,
(3) based on IPCC  predictions published in 2014, but currently made unavailable online.

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Amber Rudd Defends Cuts To UK Feed-in Tariff

September 7th, 2015 by  
Amber Rudd, the UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, has defended her government’s decision to cut solar’s access to the country’s popular feed-in tariff scheme.
Announced last week, the UK Government revealed the result of its consultation into various renewable energy incentives — including the wildly successful feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme. According to the results of the consultation, the UK Government is looking at possible cuts of up to 87% on domestic solar, and 72% on commercial rooftop solar. Specifically, the cuts to the FiT will affect solar PV, wind, and hydropower projects, and will attempt to cap the government’s spending on the FiT scheme to £75 million to £100 million from 2016 to 2018/19.
342303320_Amber_Rudd_MPWriting today on BusinessGreen, Amber Rudd, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, defended the decision, citing the “spectacular” fall in solar costs and the “successful” response to the FiT scheme.
“Part of this overspend is because industry has been so successful at responding to the incentives government put in place,” Ms. Rudd wrote. “Our initial ambition was to support 750,000 installations under the FiT by 2020. Take-up has been so great that we expect to achieve this ambition by the end of this year. But this has meant the overall cost of the scheme has also exceeded expectations.”
Furthermore, “the technologies being supported” by the FiT scheme “have seen dramatic reductions in cost” — “In solar, this fall has been spectacular.”
Amber Rudd has repeatedly couched her response to cutting renewable energy incentives and support mechanisms in terms of keeping “bills as low as possible for hardworking families and businesses across the country.” Ms. Rudd made the same comments back in July when the Department of Energy announced the consultation on possibly ending the Renewables Obligation support for solar farms: “My priorities are clear. We need to keep bills as low as possible for hardworking families and businesses while reducing our emissions in the most cost-effective way.”

A Short-Sighted Policy

However, Ms. Rudd’s desire to keep “bills as low as possible” seems to be somewhat short-sighted. Assuredly, cutting back on financial incentives for the renewable energy will have an immediate impact on taxpayers who will no longer need to support the growth of the renewable energy industry. Nevertheless, failing to grow a country’s renewable energy industry will only yield ever-increasing electricity bills as the need to pay for the dying fossil fuel industry will only continue to grow.
rooftop-solar-hawaii-shell-vacations-hospitality-flickr-320x240These attempts to defend cutting renewable energy subsidies are all the more damning once you take into account a survey done by the International Monetary Fund, which was published in August, showing that the UK government is providing billions of pounds in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, while at the same time decrying the need to cut renewable energy subsidies to keep taxpayers bills lower.
“The IMF is right to turn the spotlight on the billions of pounds in subsidies which the UK’s fossil fuel sector continues to enjoy at the expense of all of us,” said RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Maf Smith, in August. “Although there’s been a great deal of scrutiny about the cost of renewable energy, the price that all British taxpayers are still being forced to pay to the oil, coal and gas industries, decades after they became well-established, is eye-watering.
“It’s time for the UK to wake up to the benefits of renewable energy, Moving away from subsidising coal, oil and gas and backing technologies like onshore and offshore wind will help keep bills down and protect consumers.
“But a first step is Government being honest about the true cost of all forms of energy and the value renewables bring.”

Stop Punishing Success

“Once again the Energy Secretary is trying to justify Government’s actions by claiming the budget is blown,” said RenewableUK’s Director of Policy Dr Gordon Edge. “We’d question the basis of her assertion – we’ve repeatedly asked to see DECC’s workings for these figures because we don’t agree with them, but so far without result.
However, even if the DECC’s figures are accurate, punishing success seems an unhealthy way to promote business and innovation.
“Even if we were to agree with DECC’s calculations, any ‘overspend’ is either due to factors that are a net benefit to consumers, such as lower wholesale prices, or can be traced to DECC’s own management of the budget,” continued Dr. Edge. “As the Energy Secretary acknowledges, we’ve made great progress in the deployment of renewables – we shouldn’t be punished for being a successful industry or for the mistakes that Government itself has made.”
Further comment from the UK renewable energy industry is expected in the coming days.  

This Startup Wants To Fix The Way The World Eats, One Genetically Engineered Cow At A Time BY NATASHA GEILING

On the surface, James West and Warren Gill might not seem like the most natural pair to team up in an effort to overhaul the way the world eats.
West, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, has spent most of his career working with human diseases — particularly lung diseases — and genetic engineering.
Gill, a professor as well, is less interested in human health. Born on a Tennessee cattle farm, Gill has worked as a rancher and cattle specialist for over three decades, managing his family farm since 2000 and serving as department chair of the Middle Tennessee State University agriculture department for the past eight years.
In 2012, out of the blue, Gill received a phone call from West, asking for a meeting. West came into Gill’s office at MTSU and explained the research he was doing with genetic engineering, like editing genes to give animals the same diseases as humans and using bio-markers to find both beneficial and deleterious genes. Gill was intrigued, and the two set out working together to create a gene test for copper deficiency — something that has long plagued cattle herds throughout Tennessee.
The next year, Gill attended a conference in Orlando, where he heard other farmers and cattle ranchers talk about the impact of climate change on livestock. It had been nearly two years since the summer of 2011 — a particularly hot summer where heat waves claimed the lives of thousands of cattle across the Midwest. Ranchers and farmers were beginning to think about raising cattle in warmer climates, and wondering what could be done to strengthen their herds against rising temperatures.

When Gill got back to Tennessee from the conference, he asked West a question.
They had been trying to increase heat tolerance through traditional breeding methods, by breeding animals with lighter coats, or by crossing heat-tolerant breeds with especially productive breeds like Angus, but weren’t having much luck.
“Can you make me a white Angus?”
West thought about it for a minute. A cautious person, he didn’t want to promise Gill something he couldn’t deliver.
But after a few days of researching, West came back with an answer.
“I think we can do it,” he told Gill, and Climate Adaptive Genetics — the project to genetically engineer a heat-tolerant, high-performance Angus — was born.

How Do You Double Meat Production Without Doubling Resources?

Black angus is one of the most popular, productive breeds of beef cattle, but it's also not very heat tolerant.
Black angus is one of the most popular, productive breeds of beef cattle, but it’s also not very heat tolerant.
Forty years ago, beef ruled the American diet, with each person eating an average of 91 poundsof beef a year in 1976. Over the last four decades, however, despite the influx of low-carb and Paleo diet fads, beef consumption in the United States has steadily declined. In 2012, the average American consumed just 52 pounds of beef a year, down 43-percent from the 1976 high.
But while beef consumption in the United States has fallen, global beef consumption is on the rise. People that live in developing countries tend to eat much less meat and animal products than those in developing countries, but as the global economy continues to grow — spurred by advances in technology, trade liberalization, and population growth among other factors — meat consumption in developing countries continues to rise.
To environmentalists, an increasing demand for meat is a huge problem, because meat production has a huge environmental footprint. Ruminants, like cows, digest food by first fermenting it in a specialized stomach, a process that helps extract nutrients from tough plants but also releases methane as a byproduct. Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, some25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period. Globally, the livestock sector is responsible for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle produce 65 percent of the livestock sector’s emissions.

But livestock production is also economically beneficial, especially for poor communities. According to the FAO, livestock production creates livelihoods for
 987 million poor people living in rural areas — roughly 36 percent of the world’s poor. In 2014, Slate’s Laura Anderson took a look at what might happen if everyone suddenly stopped eating meat. There would be instant good news: the decline in antibiotic-resistant infections, a surge in the availability of new land, a sharp drop in livestock-related greenhouse gases. But there would also be negative impacts: a decline ineconomic security for farmers who don’t have an alternative to livestock, and a drop in food security.It’s not just cow gas that is responsible for those emissions — there’s the fossil fuel burned throughout in the supply chain, the methane released from cow waste stored in temporary pits or lagoons, the carbon lost when vast forests are felled to make way for livestock grazing. There’s the soil degradation that comes from grazing — since 1945, the United Nations Environment Program estimates that 20 percent of the world’s grazing lands have become degraded. And, in an increasingly water-scarce world, there’s the strain livestock production places on water resources, using eight percent of the world’s freshwater.
That leaves food security and livestock specialists with a conundrum: for environmental reasons, we can’t keep producing cattle the way we’ve been doing it, and while we can work to reduce the consumption of animals, we can’t cease cattle production completely. To meet increasing demands of population growth, agricultural production is actually going to need to grow by 60 percent by 2050, while enduring higher temperatures, competing for less land, and facing demands that the industry consume fewer natural resources.
The livestock industry is a driving factor in climate change — but can it adapt to a changing climate?

Finding — And Preserving — The Right Gene

Irene Hoffman, who leads the Animal Genetic Resources Branch of the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization, thinks it can. The key, she says, is using genetic resources to make livestock more efficient — not just more productive, but better at maintaining productivity in extreme environments.
“Most of the breeds that are really the high-output breeds that we see today, they come from temperate areas,” Hoffman told ThinkProgress. “If you breed an animal, like we have done, to have a high performance, this brings with it some physiological changes. A body can only do so much with dealing with stress and high performance. That means, naturally, if you dedicate a lot of your body energy into the production of one product, other body functions reduce.”
The breeds that dominate the U.S. cattle markets — Angus and Herefords — belong to a subspecies of cattle known as Bos taurus. They’re productive breeds, effective at converting feed to muscle mass and exhibit vigorous growth from birth onwards. But that productivity comes at a price, as they’re not well-adapted to living in hot, humid conditions.
In tropical areas, cattle belonging to the subspecies Bos indicus are more widely used. Popular Bos indicus breeds like the Brahman or Nelore are useful for ranchers in hotter parts of the world because they are more heat-tolerant than their Bos taurus counterparts, but they take longer to reach puberty and yield less meat, milk, and offspring than a Bos taurus.
Brahman, a breed of Bos indicus cattle, is heat resistant but not very productive.
Brahman, a breed of Bos indicus cattle, is heat resistant but not very productive.
But outside of the big names — the Angus and Brahmans of the commercial livestock world — are some 800 recognized breeds of cattle. Most of these are local breeds that are often better suited to the environment, whether through heightened heat tolerance or increased disease resistance.
But local breeds are disappearing, as the livestock industry has long been dominated by systematic breeding that places preference on a few traits at the expense of many. According to the FAO, up to 30 percent of global livestock breeds have populations below 1,000 and are at risk of extinction — and some local breeds could go extinct without anyone knowing if they possess genetics that might be especially good for climate adaptation.
“We can only do genetic improvement on traits we measure,” Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal genomics and biotechnology cooperative extension specialist with UC Davis’ Department of Animal Science told ThinkProgress. “We keep great track of traits that are important economically, like weaning weight and marbling. Where we don’t have good databases is, for example, resilience. How do you measure that? How do you rank that?”
A few places around the world are trying to tackle that issue head on, by creating genetic databases and genebanks in order to categorize and preserve the traits of rapidly disappearing livestock breeds. In 1987, the FAO launched its Domestic Animal Diversity Information System, meant to compile information about specific breed traits around the world. As of 2013, the database contained information about 12,345 breed populations from 182 countries around the world. But that information tends to skew in favor of breeds from developed countries — in developing countries, research about livestock traits tends to be less advanced, making it more difficult to correctly categorize traits, or know what traits might be useful in different environmental scenarios.
“For developing countries, we are very much at the descriptive state. We only know that these animals perform under extremely harsh environments with very high temperatures and not enough feed and not much water and they still produce something,” Hoffman said. “That’s a very indirect way of measuring performance.”
And categorizing traits is just one step — after a useful trait is identified, it still needs to be preserved. That’s where places like the National Animal Germplasm Program come in. Started in 1999, the NAGP is like a seed bank for livestock; throughout the halls of its repository in Fort Collins, Colorado, are hundreds of thousands of samples from about 25,000 animals around the world — frozen semen, embryos, ovaries, and tissue that could be used to reconstitute livestock populations or simply lend a useful gene to an intrepid breeder.

But Gill worries that, with the disappearance of local and heritage breeds, finding the right traits to create a robust cow might become more and more difficult.
West and Gill didn’t have to go to the frozen halls of Fort Collins or search the FAO’s database to find the genetic traits they needed for their white Angus — they just had to cross the Tennessee border and head to an Alabama farm, where a breeder had a few of the white-haired Silver Galloway cattle they needed.
“What if somebody had done away with the Silver Galloway? We’d have been stuck,” he said. “Thank goodness for the people that were wise enough to keep these around. Who knows what’s going to be important in 50 to 100 years.”

Creating A Climate-Adapted Cow

For a long time, Bos taurus’s poor performance under heat stress wasn’t a pressing issue for the livestock industry. Large commercial operations have been able to mitigate heat stress issues through things like fans, sprinklers, and building shade structures. In places like South Dakota that might see periods of extreme heat for only a brief period of time, measures like these can often be enough to keep cattle safe from heat stress, Joe Cassady, head of animal science at South Dakota State University, told ThinkProgress.
In places like Texas or Louisiana, however, where heat and humidity happen more frequently, external measures might not be enough — and, if climate change brings increasingly long stretches of heat to the American Midwest, external management might not be enough there, either. In 2011, one of the hottest summers on record sent temperatures rocketing across the Central and Eastern United States, causing the death of thousands of cattle. To make matters worse, during periods of extreme heat, people tend to use more power. This places excessive strain on the grid that can lead to power outages, shutting off things like sprinklers and fans.
Heat tolerance in cattle is an incredibly complicated matter. Scientists and ranchers have an idea of traits that can contribute to heat tolerance — metabolic rates, ability to shed their coats, hair color — but there is no silver bullet. “Physiologically, there are no completely isolated reactions to heat,” researcher W. Bianca wrote in 1961, “because of the relationships existing between the various body processes.” Several independent studies, however, have managed to link heat tolerance — at least in part — to the the color of a cow’s hair. A 2011 study in Australia, for example, found that cattle with tan and white-colored coats had significantly lower body temperatures, even while in full sunlight without shade, than black and red-haired counterparts.

So when Warren Gill asked James West to make him a white Angus, he wasn’t just interested in aesthetic properties — the two believe that through
 gene editing, they can create an Angus with a white, slick coat and a protective black hide that would allow ranchers in tropical areas to raise productive Angus cattle in warmer climates.Part of what makes an Angus so heat intolerant is its black hide and black hair, which trap heat like a dark shirt on a hot summer day. “The laws of physics do not cease to exist in cattle,” Cassady said. “Black absorbs sunlight to a greater degree than other cattle, so black hided black haired cattle are going to be more susceptible to heat stress.”
“That ought to increase the point at which Angus begin to feel heat stress from 75 degrees [Farenheit] to 90 degrees,” West told ThinkProgress. “It makes the cattle more comfortable, it reduces the need for water, and it reduces the need to clear land.”
And, perhaps best of all in West’s estimation, gene editing could create a heat-tolerant cow much more quickly than traditional breeding. To create a white-haired, black-hided Angus, West and Gill simply take skin cells from a champion Angus and alter its DNA, adding the genetic traits of a slick coat from an African cattle and white coat from a Scottish Silver Galloway cattle. To edit the DNA, they use a technique known as “transcription activator-like effector nuclease” — TALEN, for short — which damages existing DNA and uses the DNA that has the intended change — in this case, the white hair of the Silver Galloway — to repair the damage. The skin cell is then turned into an embryo, through cloning, and implanted into a female cow and carried to term.
“What we’re doing here is not something you couldn’t do with breeding, but it would be a 40 or 50 year breeding project,” West said. In contrast, gene editing could create a slick, white-haired champion Angus in a single generation.
Gill thinks about it in slightly different terms, recalling his grandfather, who was a master horse breeder.
“He was always looking for those traits that made the horse better for pulling, or running, or a gentle ride. Essentially we’re not doing anything different. We’re trying to find those traits that help the animals, improve the quality of animals life, and make things a little easier for animals and humans,” he said. “We can just do it a little quicker than my grandfather could do it.”

So How Close Are We To Certified (White) Angus Beef?

If today’s estimates are right, in 50 to 100 years, the world will be both hotter and more crowded — and ranchers will be pushed to producing more livestock with fewer natural resources.
That’s a challenge that West thinks the livestock industry can — and should — tackle.
“We’ve got to be able to produce the protein that people want without tearing up the planet to do it,” West said. “The only way to make that work, without destroying the rest of the wild spaces on the planet, is to be able to produce twice as many animals on the same land, and the only way you can do that is by improving the animals themselves.”
But Gill and West still have a number of hurdles to jump through before they see their dream of a white Angus become a reality. First, there’s actually implanting the embryos, which will happen simultaneously in labs in the United States and Brazil.
If that goes according to plan, and 270 days later two white Angus calves are born, the cattle will face another unprecedented obstacle: obtaining approval from the FDA, which has never approved a genetically engineered animal. The FDA released its regulatory guidelines for genetically engineered animals in 2009, before gene editing showed real commercial potential — as such, it’s unclear if the FDA’s existing guidelines even cover gene editing.
Gene editing, while more precise than other genetic engineering techniques like gene guns, still isn’t one-hundred percent foolproof. Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with the Consumers Union — the policy arm of Consumer Reports — worries that gene editing can lead to off-target consequences, where sequences of DNA identical to the sequence that the scientist wants to replace are also unintentionally deleted during the editing process. Hansen told ThinkProgress that it’s impossible to know what consequences would occur when unintentionally deletion and replacement happens during gene editing, because it’s so specific to the particular DNA sequence being edited.

“Transgenesis works best if few, very well known genes are involved. Changing the color of a breed … is relatively easy and has been done by conventional breeding, as most colors follow simple Mendelian genetics,” Hoffman said. “However, climate change adaptation in general involves many traits and genes that influence morphology, physiology and behavior of the animal; they are more difficult to select for.”
Another hurdle — perhaps the most important — will be proving that a white-haired, slick-coated Angus really does have better heat tolerance than a black Angus would. West and Gill are confident, but other animal scientists worry that the solution might be too simple.
Van Eenennaam is also skeptical that white hair is the only thing necessary to make cow more tolerant to heat.
“Conceptually, I’m not sure that having black fur isn’t the only thing that makes [an Angus] less heat tolerant,” she said.
Gill and West acknowledge that there are undoubtedly a complex mix of factors that make one cow more heat tolerant than another, but say that it’s important to start making changes somewhere.
“At this point, we are focusing on hair color, skin color, and hair length, knowing perfectly well that there are many factors involved in climate adaptability,” Gill said. “We will take those into consideration as time goes on, but you gotta crawl before you run.”
But even if West and Gill can successfully implant the edited embryos, obtain FDA approval, and prove that the white Angus truly is more heat tolerant, they’d likely face an uphill battle for consumer acceptance, at least in the United States. To qualify as certified Angus beef — one of the most recognized brands of beef in the country — a cow either has to trace its DNA back to Angus parentage, or be at least 51 percent black — raising some question as to whether or not West and Gill’s white Angus could technically qualify as a certified Angus. Even if it does qualify, the public might be wary of an animal created through gene editing, even when those genes come from the same species (West initially wanted to use a gene for white hair from a Leghorn chicken, but thought better of it).
West and Gill hope that gene editing will be more readily accepted than genetically modified products because gene editing is so similar to traditional breeding, just on a faster timeline. Gill also sees a market in places like Brazil or India, which haven’t been able to use productive breeds like Angus due to their lack of heat tolerance.
“We have hot climates already and billions of people in those hot climates that would like to have these quality animals,” Gill said. “Climate change may have spurred some of our thinking, but that probably is not as important as feeding the world.”

More evidence that global warming is intensifying extreme weather by John Abraham

An Indian farmer inspects her agricultural field which is badly affected by the heat wave and scanty rainfall in India.
 An Indian farmer inspects her agricultural field which is badly affected by the heat wave and scanty rainfall in India. Photograph: STR/EPA

A new study finds that global warming is causing weather whiplash.

Just this week, a new article appeared in the journal Nature that provides more evidence of a connection between extreme weather and global warming. This falls on the heels of last week’s article which made a similar connection. So, what is new with the second paper? A lot.

Extreme weather can be exacerbated by global warming either because the currents of atmosphere and oceans change, or it can be exacerbated through thermodynamics (the interaction of heat, energy, moisture, etc.). Last week’s study dealt with just the thermodynamics. This week’s study presents a method to deal with both.

The authors, Daniel Horton, Noah Diffenbaugh and colleagues used a new technique to tease apart the complex influences of warming on changes to atmospheric circulation. Dr. Horton told me,

Our study focuses on the need to understand the underlying physical causes of extreme weather events, and to systematically test whether the probability of those underlying conditions has changed in recent decades. Events that are so extreme that they fall outside of our historical experience often result from a suite of complex interacting factors. To better understand these factors we’ve developed a method that allows us to partition the climate influences.

In particular, the authors focused on pressure levels up into the atmosphere (heights of approximately 5 km) from 1979 onwards. Those patterns gave information about atmospheric circulation. The authors grouped the patterns, using seven geographical regions (Europe, Western Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Asia, Western North America, Central North America, and Eastern North America) and four different periods of the year (winter, spring, summer and fall).

They separated changes in circulation from changes in thermodynamic effects. What they found is that most regions have seen increases in summertime warm temperatures in the past three decades. Furthermore, they found that in some regions, a large part of this trend is due to the increases in anticyclonic circulation and atmospheric blocking. The blocking that has been associated with extreme swings of weather (bringing very warm weather to the Western USA and simultaneous cold weather to the east for instance). 

The authors show that as the Earth warms, we expect fewer cold temperature events generally. But, in some cases the circulation changes has led to extreme cold outbreaks in some regions. What has happened is that the arctic front, which typically confines cold weather to the Arctic region, has undulated sufficiently to allow cold-air breakouts to the south. Think of the polar vortex from last year. 

These findings support the commonly-heard term that has emerged in the past few years of “weather whiplash - wild swings from one extreme to another. Importantly, the authors show that the trends are “statistically significant” and are unlikely just random occurrences.

That said, the authors clarify,

The majority of the observed changes in extreme temperature occurrence have resulted from changes in the heat content of the climate system. However, we also find that the risk of extreme temperatures over some regions has been altered by changes in the motion of the atmosphere via changes in the frequency and duration of regional circulation patterns. 

It’s important to note that the authors do not explicitly attribute the trends to human causes or natural causes. The authors state clearly that we need a deeper understanding of the causes of the trends they’ve found. In particular, a future step will be to separate human-causes from natural variability in the climate on the decadal scale. At the same time, they write,

our quantitative partitioning, in conjunction with targeted climate model simulations offers the potential to fingerprint dynamic and thermodynamic influences in isolation, which in turn may facilitate attribution of the observed trends and projection of future trends.

And that is really what we want to know. How much of this is from humans? How much is natural? And how will things change into the future?


Greenhouse PR named Green PR Company of the Year By Charlotte Malone

green path by Susan Maxwell via Freeimages

Awards that celebrate businesses and NGOs taking action to tackle environmental risks and take the opportunities sustainability presents, have named Greenhouse PR as Green PR Company of the Year 2015.

The PR firm collected the BusinessGreen Leaders Award in front of 500 executives, entrepreneurs, campaigners, and politicians from across the green economy during an award ceremony in London.
Anna Guyer, founder of Greenhouse PR, commented, “We love the work we do and put everything into it, so it fantastic to be recognised for the results we achieve.
“We have a focus and mission to work with businesses, entrepreneurs and NGO’s to create change and build a more sustainable future. What was so inspiring about the Awards was seeing not only green innovators and pioneering entrepreneurs, but also major businesses like IKEA making tangible commitments to taking actions on sustainability.”
The judges were unanimous in choosing Greenhouse as the Green PR Company of the Year being recognised for delivering “global multi-platform campaigns” that show communications can deliver real change
Other individuals and organisations recognised in the awards include Andrew Wordsworth of Sustainable Venture Development Partners, which works with investors, entrepreneurs and partners to create and develop sustainable companies, and Good Energy, a 100% renewable energy firm.
The National Trust’s Plas Newydd marine source heat pump was also named Renewable Energy Project of the Year. The marine-source heat pump, the largest in the UK, was completed in May last year and is part of the organisation’s wider plan to halve its use of fossil fuels by 2020.
Photo: Susan Maxwell via Freeimages