The Eco News Roundup brings stories and commentary about issues related to climate change, renewable energy and the environment.

Climate Pact Signing Kick-Starts the World’s Push to Reduce Emissions

Governments of 175 nations marked Earth Day at the United Nations on Friday by signing the landmark Paris Agreement on the climate crisis. This sets in motion an unexpectedly swift process that the treaty’s supporters hope will hasten its coming into force well before its target date in 2020.

Their urgency stems from danger signs that the planet is headed rapidly toward unusually high climate risks. Never in the record books has the world’s temperature risen so high, nor the blanket of carbon dioxide causing the warming been so thick.

Exxon and Its Allies Invoke First Amendment to Fight Climate Fraud Probes

Exxon, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and their allies are invoking free speech protections in a pugnacious pushback against subpoenas from attorneys general seeking decades of documents on climate change. Their argument is that the state-level investigations violate the First Amendment rights of those who question climate science.

Exxon has sued to block a subpoena issued by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in an unusual step, named as a defendant the Washington, D.C. law firm and attorney representing the territory in the inquiry. In its complaint against the Virgin Islands subpoena, Exxon wrote, “The chilling effect of this inquiry…strikes at protected speech at the core of the First Amendment.”

Americans used less energy in 2015

Americans used less energy overall in 2015 than the previous year, according to the most recent energy flow charts released by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Each year, the Laboratory releases energy flow charts that illustrate the nation’s consumption and use of energy. Overall, Americans used 0.8 quadrillion BTU, or quads, less in 2015 than in 2014 (a BTU or British Thermal Unit, is a unit of measurement for energy; 3,600 BTU is equivalent to about 1 kilowatt-hour).

Natural gas use increased by 3 percent to 28.3 quads while coal use decreased by 12 percent to 15.7 quads. “The drop in coal consumption is almost entirely due to the electricity sector, which continues to use more natural gas, in favor of coal,” said A.J. Simon, group leader for LLNL’s energy program. “In fact, much of the overall decrease in energy consumption can be traced to the shift from coal to gas, because modern gas-fired plants may use up to 46 percent less energy to produce the same amount of electricity.”

Closure of Lauded Munk School Water Program ‘Distressing,’ Experts Say

Water experts across the country have reacted with anger and surprise to the closure of one of the nation’s most celebrated and effective water study programs at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

For 15 years, the Program on Water Issues (POWI), directed by Adele Hurley, brought together the nation’s best scientists and policy-makers to debate and report on the nation’s hot button water issues in an independent, non-partisan forum.

The timely topics included oil sands water withdrawals from the Athabasca River, groundwater monitoring, climate change, the future of the Columbia River Treaty, and the impacts of hydraulic fracking on groundwater.

‘And then we wept’: Scientists say 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef now bleached

The conclusions are in from a series of scientific surveys of the Great Barrier Reef bleaching event — an environmental assault on the largest coral ecosystem on Earth — and scientists aren’t holding back about how devastating they find them.

Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force has surveyed 911 coral reefs by air, and found at least some bleaching on 93 percent of them. The amount of damage varies from severe to light, but the bleaching was the worst in the reef’s remote northern sector — where virtually no reefs escaped it.

“Between 60 and 100 percent of corals are severely bleached on 316 reefs, nearly all in the northern half of the Reef,” Prof. Terry Hughes, head of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said in a statement to the news media. He led the research.

Old-growth forests may provide buffer against rising temperatures

The soaring canopy and dense understory of an old-growth forest could provide a buffer for plants and animals in a warming world, according to a study from Oregon State University published today in Science Advances. Comparing temperature regimes under the canopy in old-growth and plantation forests in the Oregon Cascades, researchers found that the characteristics of old growth reduce maximum spring and summer air temperatures as much as 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to those recorded in younger second-growth forests.

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