Portugal-Old-houses-in-portoPortugal kept its lights on with renewable energy alone for four consecutive days in a clean energy milestone revealed by data analysis of national energy network figures. Electricity consumption in the country was fully covered by solar, wind and hydro power in an extraordinary 107-hour run that lasted from 6.45am on Saturday 7 May until 5.45pm the following Wednesday, the analysis says. News of the zero emissions landmark comes just days after Germany announced that clean energy had powered almost all its electricity needs on Sunday 15 May, with power prices turning negative at several times in the day – effectively paying consumers to use it.  And Germany experienced the same phenomenon when a particularly bright and sunny day supercharged their solar and wind power sectors. Around 1 p.m. on May 8, the nation’s renewable energy generating facilities were supplying around 55 gigawatts of the 63 gigawatts being consumed – about 87 percent of the total electricity consumption. With the addition of the country’s conventional power plants, the output actually exceeded the national demand. This energy surplus meant that, for a brief time, energy prices were actually negative, meaning consumers were effectively being paid to consume electricity. A similar feat occurred in Denmark last year, when a terrifically windy day boosted their wind power sector so much that these turbines alone generated 140 percent of the nation’s electricity demand, with the excess energy being exported to Germany, Norway, and Sweden.

paris smogFarming is the biggest single cause of the worst air pollution in Europe, a new study has found, as nitrogen compounds from fertilisers and animal waste drift over industrial regions. When the nitrogen compounds are mixed with air already polluted from industry, they combine to form solid particles that can stick in the fine lung tissue of children and adults, causing breathing difficulties, impaired lungs and heart function, and eventually even premature death. The compounds come from nitrogen-rich fertilisers, which have been in common use for decades. Nitrogen, the major content of the air we breathe, is essential for plant growth, and enhancing that growth has led to a massive industry in putting nitrogen – already naturally present in soils – back into the ground in greater quantities. Ammonia, whose chemical composition is nitrogen and hydrogen (NH3), is a byproduct both of fertilised fields and of animal waste, as it can come from the breakdown of livestock excretions.

RoundUpBestselling weedkillers by Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta could be removed from shops across Europe by July, after an EU committee failed for a second time to agree on a new license for its core ingredient, glyphosate. The issue has divided EU nations, academics and the World Health Organisation (WHO) itself. One WHO agency found it to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” while another ruled that glyphosate was unlikely to pose any health risk to humans, in an assessment shaded by conflict of interests allegations earlier this week. EU officials say that while there could be a voluntary grace period of six-12 months, unless a compromise can be found, the product’s license will be allowed to expire on 30 June.  Now that EU nations have refused to back a limited extension of the pesticide glyphosate’s use, it seems Monsanto’s Roundup and other weedkillers will be withdrawn from shelves if no decision is reached by the end of the month.

Degradation of the world’s natural resources by humans is rapidly outpacing the planet’s ability to absorb the damage, meaning the rate of deterioration is increasing globally, the most comprehensive environmental study ever undertaken by the UN has found. The study, which involved 1,203 scientists, hundreds of scientific institutions and more than 160 governments brought together by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), concludes that without radical action the level of prosperity that millions of people in the developed world count on will be impossible to maintain or extend to poorer countries. Water scarcity is the scourge of some of the poorest regions on Earth, the study found, leaving developing countries increasingly unable to feed themselves, and causing hardship for millions of people. There appears little prospect of this dire situation being remedied, according to the UN, without radical action being taken. More on the Guardian here.

Last April was the hottest April on record globally – and the seventh month in a row to have broken global temperature records. The latest figures smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded. It makes three months in a row that the monthly record has been broken by the largest margin ever, and seven months in a row that are at least 1C above the 1951-80 mean for that month.

Rex Tillerson, the boss of oil giant ExxonMobil, said cutting oil production was “not acceptable for humanity” as he fought off shareholders’ and activists’ attempts to force the company to fully acknowledge the impact of climate change on the environment and Exxon’s future profits. During a long and fractious annual meeting in Dallas on Wednesday, Tillerson, who serves as Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, beat back several proposals to force the company to take more action on climate change.However, dissident shareholders won a vote that could make it easier for them to propose board candidates concerned about climate change and remove incumbent directors. The Guardian reports that Tillerson said Exxon had invested $7bn in green technology, but the science and technology had not yet achieved the breakthroughs needed to compete with fossil fuels. “Until we have those, just saying ‘turn the taps off’ is not acceptable to humanity,” he said.

Biodegradable plastic water bottles and shopping bags are a false solution to the ubiquitous problem of litter in the oceans, the UN’s top environmental scientist has warned. Most plastic is extremely durable, leading to large plastic debris and “microplastics” to spread via currents to oceans from the Arctic to the Antarctic, a UN report found. Greener plastics that breakdown in the environment have been marketed as a sustainable alternative that could reduce the vast amount of plastic waste that ends up in the sea after being dumped. But Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme, told the Guardian that these biodegradable plastics were not a simple solution. “It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down,” she said.

floodsThe Paris floods, that saw extreme rainfall swell the river Seine to its highest level in decades, were made almost twice as likely because of the manmade emissions driving global warming, scientists have found. A three-day period of heavy rain at the end of May saw tens of thousands of people evacuated across France, and the capital’s normally busy river closed to traffic because the water levels were so high under bridges. As artworks in the Louvre were moved to safety and Paris’s cobbled walkways were submerged, the French president, François Hollande, blamed the floods on climate change. Now a preliminary analysis by a group of scientists, including the Dutch weather agency and the University of Oxford, has concluded the risk of the flooding event in Paris was almost doubled – multiplied by a factor of 1.8 – by humanity’s influence on the climate.

Alaska is on track for hottest year since records began. The warmest spring on record has helped push states’s year-to-date temperature more than 10°F (5.5°C) above average, reports Climate Central.  A record number of Americans believe global warming will pose a threat to their way of life, new polling data shows, amid strengthening public acceptance that rising temperatures are being driven by human activity. “I think a shift in public opinion and consciousness has been underway for several years now,” Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, told the Guardian.