Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Environment

EPA regulation changes will weaken controls on mercury and other toxic pollutants

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration on Thursday weakened regulations on the release of mercury and other toxic metals from oil and coal-fired power plants, another step toward rolling back health protections in the middle of a pandemic. The new Environmental Protection Agency rule does not eliminate restrictions on the release of mercury, a heavy metal linked to brain damage. Instead, it creates a new method of calculating

As coronavirus pandemic rages, Trump disregards advice to tighten clean air rules

The New York Times reports: Disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates, the Trump administration declined on Tuesday to tighten a regulation on industrial soot emissions that came up for review ahead of the coronavirus pandemic. Andrew R. Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency will not impose stricter controls on the tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, a

The largest Arctic ozone hole ever measured is hovering over the North Pole

Science News reports: A curious confluence of atmospheric events has produced the largest ozone hole ever measured over the Arctic. A powerful polar vortex has trapped especially frigid air in the atmosphere above the North Pole, allowing high-altitude clouds to form in the stratosphere, where the ozone layer also sits. Within those clouds, chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons already high in the atmosphere — gases used as refrigerants — react with ultraviolet

How viruses are a hidden driving force controlling the planet

A re-post of an article that appeared in January at Inside Science: Viruses control their hosts like puppets — and in the process, they may play important roles in Earth’s climate. The hosts in this case aren’t people or animals: They are bacteria. A growing body of research is revealing how viruses manipulate what bacteria eat and how they guide the chemical reactions that sustain life. When those changes happen

Coronavirus pandemic leading to huge drop in air pollution

The Guardian reports: The coronavirus pandemic is shutting down industrial activity and temporarily slashing air pollution levels around the world, satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows. One expert said the sudden shift represented the “largest scale experiment ever” in terms of the reduction of industrial emissions. Readings from ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that over the past six weeks, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over cities and industrial clusters

As Americans face virus threat to respiratory health, EPA eases restrictions on air pollution

The Guardian reports: The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has suspended its enforcement of environmental laws during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, signaling to companies they will not face any sanction for polluting the air or water of Americans. In an extraordinary move that has stunned former EPA officials, the Trump administration said it will not expect compliance with the routine monitoring and reporting of pollution and won’t pursue penalties for

Giraffes are in far greater danger than people might think

Ed Yong writes: Until recently, giraffes have suffered from surprising scientific neglect. Few researchers have studied them in the wild, so even basic aspects of their lives remain mysterious. Perhaps that’s because giraffes live in what researchers suspect are protean societies lacking the cohesiveness of elephant herds or lion prides. Whatever the reason, one of the world’s most conspicuous creatures has somehow been overlooked. The same goes for its impending

Deforestation plays a key role in triggering epidemics

On Feb. 18, 2020, in Seoul, South Korea, people wearing face masks pass an electric screen warning about COVID-19. AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon By Suresh V Kuchipudi, Pennsylvania State University The coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, is a frightening reminder of the imminent global threat posed by emerging infectious diseases. Although epidemics have arisen during all of human history, they now seem to be on the rise. In just the past

Ecosystems the size of Amazon ‘can collapse within decades’

The Guardian reports: Even large ecosystems the size of the Amazon rainforest can collapse in a few decades, according to a study that shows bigger biomes break up relatively faster than small ones. The research reveals that once a tipping point has been passed, breakdowns do not occur gradually like an unravelling thread, but rapidly like a stack of Jenga bricks after a keystone piece has been dislodged. The authors

Judge voids nearly 1 million acres of oil and gas leases, saying Trump policy undercut public input

The Washington Post reports: A federal judge in Idaho has voided nearly 1 million acres of oil and gas leases on federal lands in the West, saying that a Trump administration policy that limited public input on those leases was “arbitrary and capricious.” The ruling Thursday by U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush represented a win for environmentalists, who challenged the leasing policy as part of a broader effort

Indigenous people may be the Amazon’s last hope

Collecting firewood on the Waiapi indigenous reserve in Amapa state, Brazil, Oct. 13, 2017. A new bill could open Brazil’s Native lands to development. APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images By Robert T. Walker, University of Florida; Aline A. Carrara, University of Florida; Cynthia S. Simmons, University of Florida, and Maira I Irigaray, University of Florida Brazil’s divisive President Jair Bolsonaro has taken another step in his bold plans to develop

Is the Amazon rainforest going to turn into dry scrubland?

Nature reports: Seen from a monitoring tower above the treetops near Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon, the rainforest canopy stretches to the horizon as an endless sea of green. It looks like a rich and healthy ecosystem, but appearances are deceiving. This rainforest — which holds 16,000 separate tree species — is slowly drying out. Over the past century, the average temperature in the forest has risen by 1–1.5 °C.

The demise of bees will lead to ours too unless we change the way we grow food

Alison Benjamin writes: The oldest love affair in history is between the bee and the flower. It began more than 100m years ago, when nature devised a more efficient way than winds for plants to procreate. About 80% of plant species now use animals or insects to carry pollen grains from the male part of the plant to the female part. The plants developed flowers. Their perfumed scent, colourful displays

More evidence of ‘insect apocalypse’

The Guardian reports: Two scientific studies of the number of insects splattered by cars have revealed a huge decline in abundance at European sites in two decades. The research adds to growing evidence of what some scientists have called an “insect apocalypse”, which is threatening a collapse in the natural world that sustains humans and all life on Earth. A third study shows plummeting numbers of aquatic insects in streams.

Global financial giants stop funding production from destructive oil sands

The New York Times reports: Some of the world’s largest financial institutions have stopped putting their money behind oil production in the Canadian province of Alberta, home to one of the world’s most extensive, and also dirtiest, oil reserves. In December, the insurance giant The Hartford said it would stop insuring or investing in oil production in the province, just weeks after Sweden’s central bank said it would stop holding

Iceberg twice the size of Washington cleaves off Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica, in a sign of rapid warming

The Washington Post reports: An iceberg about twice the size of the District of Columbia broke off Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica sometime between Saturday and Sunday, satellite data shows, confirming yet another in a series of increasingly frequent calving events in this rapidly warming region. The Pine Island Glacier is one of the fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica, and along with the Thwaites Glacier nearby, it’s a subject of