Satellites are burning up in the upper atmosphere – and we still don’t know what impact this will have on the Earth’s climate

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Paul Fleet / shutterstock

Fionagh Thomson, Durham University

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has announced it will dispose of 100 Starlink satellites over the next six months, after it discovered a design flaw that may cause them to fail. Rather than risk posing a threat to other spacecraft, SpaceX will “de-orbit” these satellites to burn up in the atmosphere.

But atmospheric scientists are increasingly concerned that this sort of apparent fly-tipping by the space sector will cause further climate change down on Earth. One team recently, and unexpectedly, found potential ozone-depleting metals from spacecraft in the stratosphere, the atmospheric layer where the ozone layer is formed.

The relative “low earth orbit” where satellites monitoring Earth’s ecosystems are found is increasingly congested – Starlink alone has more than 5,000 spacecraft in orbit. Clearing debris is therefore a priority for the space sector. Newly launched spacecraft must also be removed from orbit within 25 years (the US recently implemented a stricter five-year rule) either by moving upwards to a so-called “graveyard orbit” or down into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Lower orbiting satellites are usually designed to use any remaining fuel and the pull of the Earth’s gravity to re-enter the atmosphere. In a controlled reentry, the spacecraft enters the atmosphere at a pre-set time to land in the most remote part of the Pacific Ocean at Point Nemo (aka the spacecraft cemetery). In an uncontrolled re-entry, spacecraft are left to follow a “natural demise” and burn up in the atmosphere.

Nasa and the European Space Agency promote this form of disposal as part of a design philosophy called “design for demise”. It is an environmental challenge to build, launch and operate a satellite robust enough to function in the hostility of space yet also able to break up and burn up easily on re-entry to avoid dangerous debris reaching the Earth’s surface. It’s still a work in progress.

Satellite operators must prove their design and re-entry plans have a low “human-hit” rate before they are awarded a license. But there is limited concern regarding the impact on Earth’s upper atmosphere during the re-entry stage. This is not an oversight.

Initially, neither the space sector nor the astrophysics community considered burning up satellites on re-entry to be a serious environmental threat – to the atmosphere, at least. After all, the number of spacecraft particles released is small when compared with 440 tonnes of meteoroids that enter the atmosphere daily, along with volcanic ash and human-made pollution from industrial processes on Earth.

Bad news for the ozone layer?

So are atmospheric climate scientists overreacting to the presence of spacecraft particles in the atmosphere? Their concerns draw on 40 years of research into the cause of the ozone holes above the south and north poles, that were first widely observed in the 1980s.

Today, they now know that ozone loss is caused by human-made industrial gases, which combine with natural and very high altitude polar stratospheric clouds or mother of pearl clouds. The surfaces of these ethereal clouds act as catalysts, turning benign chemicals into more active forms that can rapidly destroy ozone.

Colourful cloud in night sky
Mother of pearl cloud in the stratosphere above Norway.
Uwe Michael Neumann / shutterstock

Dan Cziczo is an atmospheric scientist at Purdue University in the US, and a co-author of the recent study that found ozone depleting substances in the stratosphere. He explains to me that the question is whether the new particles from spacecraft will help the formation of these clouds and lead to ozone loss at a time when the Earth’s atmosphere is just beginning to recover.

Of more concern to atmospheric scientists such as Cziczo is that only a few new particles could create more of these types of polar clouds – not only at the upper atmosphere, but also in the lower atmosphere, where cirrus clouds form. Cirrus clouds are the thin, wispy ice clouds you might spot high in the sky, above six kilometres. They tend to let heat from the sun pass through but then trap it on the way out, so in theory more cirrus clouds could add extra global warming on top of what we are already seeing from greenhouse gases. But this is uncertain and still being studied.

Cziczo also explains that from anecdotal evidence we know that the high-altitude clouds above the poles are changing – but we don’t know yet what is causing this change. Is it natural particles such as meteoroids or volcanic debris, or unnatural particles from spacecrafts? This is what we need to know.

Concerned, but not certain

So how do we answer this question? We have some research from atmospheric scientists, spacecraft builders and astrophysicists, but it’s not rigorous or focused enough to make informed decisions on which direction to take. Some astrophysicists claim that alumina (aluminium oxide) particles from spacecraft will cause chemical reactions in the atmosphere that will likely trigger ozone destruction.

Atmospheric scientists who study this topic in detail have not made this jump as there isn’t enough scientific evidence. We know particles from spacecraft are in the stratosphere. But what this means for the ozone layer or the climate is still unknown.

It is tempting to overstate research findings to garner more support. But this is the path to research hell – and deniers will use poor findings at a later date to discredit the research. We also don’t want to use populist opinions. But we’ve also learnt that if we wait until indisputable evidence is available, it may be too late, as with the loss of ozone. It’s a constant dilemma.The Conversation

Fionagh Thomson, Senior Research Fellow in Space Ethics and Sustainability, Durham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingSatellites are burning up in the upper atmosphere – and we still don’t know what impact this will have on the Earth’s climate

UK quits treaty that lets oil firms sue government

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North Sea oil rigs in Cromarty Firth, Scotland. Credit: joiseyshowaa (CC BY-SA 2.0)
North Sea oil rigs in Cromarty Firth, Scotland. Credit: joiseyshowaa (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The UK has withdrawn from an international treaty that lets fossil-fuel companies sue governments pursuing climate policies for billions in compensation for lost profits.

The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is meant to make it easier and cheaper to trade energy between countries.

But signatories have struggled to reform it – and late on Wednesday, the UK quit the treaty calling it “outdated”.

Green campaigners welcomed the news.

Energy Security and Net Zero Minister Graham Stuart said: “Remaining a member would not support our transition to cleaner, cheaper energy and could even penalise us for our world-leading efforts to deliver net zero.”

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Thousands take part in pro-Palestine protests across the world

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Protesters hold up flags and placards during a demonstration in support of Palestinian people in Gaza, in London [Alberto Pezzali/AP]

Protests took place in major world cities, including London, Madrid and Istanbul.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets around the world to protest against the war in Gaza as Israel pledges to go forward with its offensive in Rafah in southern Gaza.

Waving pro-Palestinian flags and banners, thousands marched through the streets of Madrid, Spain to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

In the UK’s capital London, approximately 250,000 people took part in the protest demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, according to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).

Continue ReadingThousands take part in pro-Palestine protests across the world

Human Activity Pushing More Than 1 in 5 Migratory Species Toward Extinction: UN

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Original article by JULIA CONLEY republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

A humpback whale is seen in the ocean. (Photo: Thomas Kelley/Unsplash)

“The global community has an opportunity to translate this latest science of the pressures facing migratory species into concrete conservation action,” said one U.N. official.

As world governments gathered in Uzbekistan Monday for the United Nations conference on migratory species, they centered the theme “Nature Knows No Borders”—an idea that a new landmark report said must take hold across the globe to push policymakers in all countries and regions to protect the billions of animals that travel each year to reproduce and find food.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) marked the opening of the 14th Conference of the Parties (CMS COP14) to the United Nations biodiversity treaty by releasing the first-ever State of the World’s Migratory Species report, showing that nearly half of migrating species are declining in population.

The crisis is especially dire for more than 1 in 5 species that are threatened with extinction, and 70 species listed under the CMS which have become more endangered, including the steppe eagle, the Egyptian vulture, and the wild camel.

The populations of nearly all species of fish listed in the U.N. treaty, including sharks and rays, have declined by 90% since the 1970s.

The two biggest drivers of endangerment and threatened extinction are overexploitation—including incidental and intentional capture—and habitat loss, and both are directly caused by human activity.

Seven in 10 CMS-listed species are threatened by overexploitation, while 3 in 4 of the species are at greater risk of dying out due to habitat loss, as humans expand energy, transportation, and agricultural infrastructure across the globe.

The climate crisis and planetary heating, pollution, and the spread of invasive species—thousands of which are introduced by humans—are also major threats to migratory species, the report says.

“Unsustainable human activities are jeopardizing the future of migratory species—creatures who not only act as indicators of environmental change but play an integral role in maintaining the function and resilience of our planet’s complex ecosystems,” said Inger Andersen, undersecretary-general of the U.N. and executive director of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP). “The global community has an opportunity to translate this latest science of the pressures facing migratory species into concrete conservation action. Given the precarious situation of many of these animals, we cannot afford to delay.”

Migratory species “reinforce” the fact that nature does not observe borders put in place by humans, Andersen added in a video posted on social media, and humans must work across borders to ensure these species are protected.

According to the report, nearly 10,000 of the world’s key biodiversity areas are crucial for the survival of migratory species, but more than half are not designated as areas that must be conserved—and 58% are under threat due to human activities.

Mapping and taking adequate steps to protect “the vital locations that serve as breeding, feeding, and stopover sites for migratory species” is a key priority, said the CMS in a statement.

“Migratory species rely on a variety of specific habitats at different times in their lifecycles,” said Amy Fraenkel, CMS executive secretary. “When species cross national borders, their survival depends on the efforts of all countries in which they are found. This landmark report will help underpin much-needed policy actions to ensure that migratory species continue to thrive around the world.”

In addition to increasing understanding of migration paths and minimizing human infrastructure in the pathways, the report recommended that policymakers “strengthen and expand efforts to tackle illegal and unsustainable taking of migratory species”; scale up efforts to tackle climate change and light, noise, chemical, and plastic pollution; and consider expanding CMS listings to include more at-risk migratory species in need of international attention.

“There are many things that are needed to be done on addressing the drivers of environmental change, such as agriculture for habitat destruction, the sprawl of cities, we have to look at rail, road, and fences,” said Fraenkel. “One of the most important things for migratory species is something we call ecosystem integrity: they need particular sites to breed, feed, and travel. If those sites cannot be accessed or don’t exist any more, then it’s obviously going to be detrimental.”

The report focused on 1,189 migratory species identified by the U.N. as needing protection, but found that another 399 migratory species are either threatened or near threatened with extinction.

“People might not realize that whales, lions, gorillas, giraffes, and many birds are migratory species,” Fraenkel said.

At the opening ceremony of CMS COP14, Andersen called on policymakers to live up to the conference’s theme “by ensuring free passage of migratory species and by ensuring that, through multilateralism, we reach a hand across every border to ensure long-term sustainability, for people and for planet.”

Reversing population decline is possible, the report emphasized, pointing to coordinated local action in Cyprus that reduced illegal bird netting by 91% and “hugely successful” conservation and restoration work in Kazakhstan, “which has brought the saiga antelope back from the brink of extinction.”

“I ask parties to consider how to work in harmony with other processes for mutually assured success,” said Andersen, “all in the interests of sustainable economies and societies.”

Original article by JULIA CONLEY republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Image of a Great White Shark
Image of a Great White Shark
Image of a Great White Shark
Image of a Great White Shark, think it might be the same wun actually.
Continue ReadingHuman Activity Pushing More Than 1 in 5 Migratory Species Toward Extinction: UN

Survivors mark 79 years since the liberation of Auschwitz

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People light candles by the monument at the Birkenau Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, January 27, 2024

SURVIVORS of Nazi death camps marked 79 years since the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau at a modest ceremony in southern Poland on Saturday.

About 20 survivors of various camps set up by Nazi Germany across Europe laid wreaths and flowers and lit candles at Auschwitz’s Death Wall, where thousands of inmates, mostly Polish resistance members and others, were executed.

Later the group, along with state officials and other participants, gathered for a ceremony by a brick women’s barrack at nearby Birkenau that has recently undergone conservation.

The group prayed and lit candles at the monument in Birkenau, near the crematoria ruins, to remember around 1.1 million camp victims, mostly Jews.

Events were also held in many other countries to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the Nazis’ killing nearly six million European Jews and countless others.

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World will look back at 2023 as year humanity exposed its inability to tackle climate crisis, scientists say

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Scientists protest at UK Parliament 5 September 2023.
Scientists protest at UK Parliament 5 September 2023.

The hottest year in recorded history casts doubts on humanity’s ability to deal with a climate crisis of its own making, senior scientists have said.

As historically high temperatures continued to be registered in many parts of the world in late December, the former Nasa scientist James Hansen told the Guardian that 2023 would be remembered as the moment when failures became apparent.

“When our children and grandchildren look back at the history of human-made climate change, this year and next will be seen as the turning point at which the futility of governments in dealing with climate change was finally exposed,” he said.

“Not only did governments fail to stem global warming, the rate of global warming actually accelerated.”

After what was probably the hottest July in 120,000 years, Hansen, whose testimony to the US Senate in 1988 is widely seen as the first high-profile revelation of global heating, warned that the world was moving towards a “new climate frontier” with temperatures higher than at any point over the past million years.

Now director of the climate programme at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York, Hansen said the best hope was for a generational shift of leadership.

“The bright side of this clear dichotomy is that young people may realise that they must take charge of their future. The turbulent status of today’s politics may provide opportunity,” he said.

Hottest 12 months in 125,000 years – how extreme weather broke more records in 2023

Severe conditions brought turmoil across the world, impacting small towns and major cities, as storms, heatwaves, floods, and droughts claimed many lives and destroyed communities.

Weather of 2023

Continue ReadingWorld will look back at 2023 as year humanity exposed its inability to tackle climate crisis, scientists say

COVID Cronyism and Mone – The Tip of the Iceberg: Byline Times’ Full Story of the PPE Cash Carousel 

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This story goes far wider than PPE Medpro and Baroness Michelle Mone Photo: Justin Tallis/PA/Alamy

Byline Times has been unravelling the dealings behind the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the UK since the very early days of the pandemic. Here’s what we learnt – and what we still need answers to…

Within weeks of the first lockdown, Nafeez Ahmed on Byline Times became arguably the first journalist to break the story of the emerging personal protective equipment (PPE) scandal. 

On April 2 2020, he exposed how lucrative contracts were being awarded to Conservative Party associates. 

Boris Johnson’s Government had appointed a giant haulage firm with financial ties to the Tory Party to be in charge of a new supply channel for PPE to the NHS. Its founding executive chairman was Steven N. Parkin, a top Conservative Party donor who has attended exclusive ‘Leaders Group’ meetings and donated almost £1 million to the party in the preceding five years. 

This set the tone for an extensive investigation into COVID-19 contracts, shedding light on a concerning trend of cronyism.

That May, Stephen Delahunty on Byline Times revealed that another Conservative donor was involved in the COVID-19 contracts.

Europa Worldwide Group – the managing director of which was a personal donor to Johnson – was found to be arranging PPE supplies for the NHS and manufacturing testing kits. 

In July 2020, Delahunty revealed that companies with no prior experience or expertise were inexplicably receiving multi-million-pound contracts. This was despite the looming threat of legal challenges over what was to be dubbed the ‘VIP Lane’: pathways for firms to win government contracts with little oversight and through referrals from well-connected politicians. 

In quick succession, we found that a recruitment firm with just £322 in net assets had received an £18 million Government contract.

Things got even weirder that August, when Byline Times revealed the companies linked to the exclusive Plymouth Brethren religious sect which were mopping up huge COVID contracts. And still the warning signs kept flashing, as we dug up dormant firms which emerged from seemingly nowhere to win millions in PPE deals. 

All these contracts could be justified if they were effective in saving lives. But in August 2020, we began to see the true picture: much of the PPE purchased at vast sums couldn’t actually be used. It wasn’t up to scratch. Meanwhile, NHS staff continued to complain of shortages and shoddy equipment.  

In 2021, the COVID cash machine just kept giving – to a select few. 

Pulling together a year of evidence, Byline Times and The Citizens revealed that deals worth at least £2 billion had been awarded to top Conservative Party associates during the Coronavirus crisis.

A firm that gave £400,000 to the Conservatives won a £93.8 million PPE deal. The figures being handed to the Plymouth Brethren sect alone hit £1.1 billion. 

And, as before, vast amounts of the PPE were useless. 

This newspaper was the first to reveal Mone’s links to the firm – links which were vigorously denied under threat of libel action, but which we now know to have been true. (Mone and PPE Medpro are under investigation by the National Crime Agency but deny any illegality).

It was one of many companies that were referred by Conservative MPs and peers to the expedited ‘VIP Lane’ for PPE contracts during the pandemic. 

PPE Medpro took in the region of £60 million in profits. Much of its PPE was also deemed unusable by the NHS.

Overall, the value lost to dodgy PPE was nearly £9 billion – a quarter of the annual UK budget for housing and the environment put together.

Is there any other country in the world that has witnessed sleaze and scandal on such a scale around COVID contracts?

And did the £200 million-plus COVID ‘bungs’ to the press – the Government’s ‘All in, All Together’ public information campaign subsidising profitable newspapers – help Johnson’s administration get away with it? 

COVID Cronyism and Mone – The Tip of the Iceberg: Byline Times’ Full Story of the PPE Cash Carousel 

Image of an iceberg
The tip of the iceberg

Continue ReadingCOVID Cronyism and Mone – The Tip of the Iceberg: Byline Times’ Full Story of the PPE Cash Carousel 

GB News breaches Ofcom rules for fifth time this year

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Nigel Farage ass.

It has led to calls for tougher repercussions for repeat rule breaks

GB News has been found in breach of impartiality rules for the fifth time this year after Ofcom launched an investigation into the channels campaign “Don’t Kill Cash”.

Six separate investigations were initiated after complaints were raised to the regulator, with this case being the first to conclude and concerning an episode of The Live Desk.

The programme had promoted the campaign, which called on viewers to sign a petition for the Government to introduce legislation to protect the status of cash as legal tender and as a widely accepted means of payment in the UK until at least 2050.

Ofcom ruled the programme ‘failed to preserve due impartiality in its coverage of this matter, with only limited references to different perspectives’.

The regulator cited rule 5.4 of the Broadcasting Code which sets out that ‘all broadcasters’ programmes exclude all expressions of the views and opinions of the person providing the service on matters of political or industrial controversy or current public policy’.

The issue was found to be a matter of political debate as the Financial Services and Markets Bill was due to receive Royal Assent four days before GB News launched the campaign, so it was seen as ‘representing an attempt to influence Government policy’.

There are a further five GB News programmes under investigation by the regulators in relation to this campaign, with the outcomes to be published ‘in due course’.

Continue ReadingGB News breaches Ofcom rules for fifth time this year