Satellites Detect California Cow Burps, a Major Methane Source, From Space

Satellites have detected methane emissions from belching cows at a California feedlot, marking the first time emissions from livestock – a major component of agricultural methane – could be measured from space.

Environmental data firm GHGSat this month analyzed data from its satellites and pinpointed the methane source from a feedlot in the agricultural Joaquin Valley near Bakersfield, California in February.

This is significant, according to GHGSat, because agricultural methane emissions are hard to measure, and accurate measurement is needed to set enforceable reduction targets for the beef-production industry.

GHGSat said the amount of methane it detected from that single feedlot would result in 5,116 tons of methane emissions if sustained for a year. If that methane were captured, it could power over 15,000 homes, it said.

Agriculture contributes 9.6% to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and about 36% of methane emissions, mostly from livestock.

The Biden administration late last year announced its plan to crack down on methane emissions from the U.S. economy.

The EPA unveiled its first rules aimed at reducing methane from existing oil and gas sources that require companies to detect and repair methane leaks. The Agriculture Department rolled out a voluntary incentive program for farmers.

At last year’s climate talks, more than 100 countries pledged to cut methane emissions by 30% and to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. Much of this reduction would need to come from the livestock industry, according to the U.N. food agency, which said that livestock accounts for 44% of man-made methane emissions.

Several methods to reduce livestock methane emissions are being tested, including adding seaweed to cattle diets.  

GHGSat provides its data to the United Nations’ International Methane Emissions Observatory program.

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India, Pakistan Reeling From Pre-Monsoon Season Heat Wave

Meteorologists warn the extreme heat gripping India and Pakistan is likely to have many cascading effects on human health, ecosystems, agriculture, water, energy, and the economy. 

For the past few days, hundreds of millions of people have been sweltering under temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius in widespread areas of India and Pakistan. The intense heat is predicted to continue until May 2 and then subside.

The World Meteorological Organization says both India and Pakistan regularly experience excessively high temperatures in the pre-monsoon period, especially in May. While heatwaves do occur in April, it says they are less common.

WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis said national meteorological and hydrological departments in both countries are implementing measures that have been successful in saving lives in the past few years.

“A lot of work has been taken on heat health action plans specifically and in particular to protect the most vulnerable, and the most vulnerable in urban areas where the impact of the heat tends to be magnified,” she said. “So, we do hope that mortality from this ongoing event will be limited.”

Nullis said large swaths of Pakistan are experiencing daytime temperatures between five and eight degrees Celsius above normal for this time of year. She said the extreme heat will have a punishing impact on Pakistan’s mountainous regions of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“The Pakistan Meteorological Department is warning that the unusual heat has the risk of speeding up the melting of snow and ice, and this might trigger what we call glacial lake outbursts, which lead to flash floods,” she said. “These are, obviously, very deadly hazards.”

Meteorologists say it is premature to attribute the extreme heat in India and Pakistan solely to climate change. However, they agree it is consistent with what is expected in a changing climate.

In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns heat waves and humid heat stress will be more intense and frequent in South Asia this century.

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White House Correspondents Dinner Returns, With Biden Headlining

U.S. President Joe Biden will resume a Washington tradition by speaking at the White House Correspondents Association dinner on Saturday night, the first president to speak at the annual event since 2016.

After being canceled for two years due to COVID-19 pandemic and boycotted by Donald Trump during his presidency, the event returns with gusto this year, featuring remarks by comedian Trevor Noah.

More than 20 WHCA-related parties are being staged around Washington before and after the major event on Saturday night and several senior administration officials will attend as well as a smattering of celebrities from the entertainment world.

However, a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Washington, in particular an outbreak at the journalists’ white-tie Gridiron dinner early in April, has brought an undercurrent of caution to the White House dinner.

Organizers are requiring every attendee be tested for the virus, and some top officials, including infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, have dropped out.

The White House said Biden will take extra precautions at the event – skipping the dinner portion and attend only the speakers program, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. He may opt to wear a mask when he is not speaking.

Asked what Biden will tell the crowd, Psaki said, “I will lower expectations and say it’s not funny at all.”

In recent weeks, the president has mostly been unmasked at crowded White House events, but those events had lower attendance than Saturday’s dinner, which is expected to seat about 2,600 journalists, Washington officials and celebrities.  

The White House Correspondents Association was founded in 1914 and has held a dinner nearly every year since the first one in 1921 to celebrate the reporters who cover the presidency and raise money for scholarships.

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Foreign Businesses Consider Leaving China Amid Lockdowns

Chris Mei has been stuck in his Shanghai flat for a month save for PCR testing and occasional volunteer work delivering food to neighbors. That will change in a couple of days when he boards his flight for a long-scheduled trip home to Portland, Oregon.

He uses Zoom to do factory inspections for his 2-year-old import-export firm, Shanghai Fanyi Industry, but he can’t complete all the orders for clients overseas. He’s locked down like most of the 26 million people in the city, along with some of the factories where he normally sources goods, such as artificial plants and solar lights.

“In terms of how’s business, it’s definitely affected us,” Mei said. “Clients abroad always have deadlines, especially for some of our products.” He continued, “For example, for a shipment that recently went out, we had a portion of the order canceled due to the fact that the factory, they were on lockdown as well, so we basically could only produce what they could, and then the remaining part of the order basically passed the client’s deadline in South America.”

Leaving a city in lockdown has become an expensive, multistep process. Mei, a U.S. citizen, applied for permission to leave Shanghai by getting a pass from his neighborhood committee. He then found a driver with special permission to take him to the airport during lockdown – for about six times the usual price of that ride.

Shanghai’s residents have been ordered to stay home since early April in response to a spike in COVID-19 infections. Last week, authorities began easing restrictions in parts of the city to restore economic activity.

Mei’s case is typical, analysts who follow China say. Large numbers of foreign businesspeople in China are planning on leaving the country, for now or for good. The lockdowns have hammered an economy already hobbled by the 4-year-old Sino-U.S. trade dispute, capital outflows and last year’s crackdown on tech giants.

On March 18, That’s Shanghai, a local magazine, reported the results of an online survey saying 85% of foreigners in the city would “rethink their future in China” because of the lockdowns. The survey found that 48% of respondents plan to leave China over the next year and that 37% would wait in case anti-pandemic measures improve.

Risk seems to be increasing

Shipments through seaports in Shanghai and the Chinese tech hub Shenzhen, which locked down in March, have slowed because of a lack of workers and a shortage of truckers who are allowed to move imports and exports around the country.

Larger businesses can afford to wait in case lockdowns ease and China resumes its robust economic growth, said Doug Barry, communications vice president with the U.S.-China Business Council, a 265-member advocacy group in Washington.

Smaller companies are having more trouble because they depend on China’s advanced contract manufacturing ecosystem and cannot easily relocate, Barry said. He said some businesses have closed temporarily because so many workers can’t report to their jobs.

Others have spent money to help feed workers and even let them stay overnight at workplaces so they can report to their jobs the next day.

Overseas-based company leaders are staying away from their China projects because of quarantine rules, he said.

“Business in some cases has come to a complete stop,” Barry said. “The risk seems to be increasing, and the unknowns are also increasing and you’re looking at bottom lines and the future of things, and you’re wondering what to do.”

While foreign businesspeople are thinking of leaving, the significance of China to outside companies can be seen in the numbers. Foreign businesses invested $173.5 billion in China last year, up from $163 billion in 2020 and $140 billion a year earlier, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s latest report.

Just more than 1 million foreign companies were registered in China at the end of 2020.

Companies normally relocate in China for contract manufacturing – which is seen as professional yet inexpensive – or to sell cars, coffee, phones and fashion apparel to the massive consumer market.

Incentives to stay

Mei will be back in Shanghai after a couple of months at home. By then, he expects there will be a “more solid” response to COVID-19 with clarity about people’s mobility.

Some people he knows have been called back to work in May, he said.

William Frazier, a 58-year-old U.S.-born owner of a business advisory firm in Shanghai, has lived in the city continuously since 2002.  He has no plans to leave the city even though he’s been locked down since March 16. Frazier has a spacious flat in a high-end compound, making life tolerable as he works though emails, phone and video conferences. The economic chaos has caused more clients to call him for information.

“No real significant impact, I would say, not for me,” Frazier said. “I don’t see hiccups. I see opportunities.”

Local officials in China want foreign investors to stay in the country, the U.S.-China Business Council has found. They are willing to meet and hear out American businesspeople, Barry said, though no government body has offered them any economic stimulus.

Sticking around will keep companies competitive after China returns to normal, he said.

If lockdowns in Shanghai end in May, more businesspeople are likely to stay in the city, said Yan Liang, professor and chair of economics at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Local and central government policymakers have the economic aftershocks of COVID-19 “on their radar,” she said.

“It’s just so important to be able to have a foothold in a large market like this,” Liang said. “And I think some of the sentiments (are) also that even though there are some maybe temporary or maybe more permanent slowdowns, the Chinese economy is still a really bright spot when you compare with other countries in the world.”

That makes the lure of the largest market in the world worth waiting for, for businesses that can afford to hold out until cities open again.

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Beijing Tightens COVID Restrictions as Long Holiday Begins

Beijing residents will need clear COVID tests to enter public spaces, officials said Saturday, announcing fresh virus controls at the start of a Labor Day holiday muted by creeping infections in the capital.

The five-day break is typically one of China’s busiest travel periods, but the country’s worst COVID resurgence since early in the pandemic is expected to keep people home.

Faced with the highly transmissible omicron variant, Chinese officials have doubled down on their zero-COVID policy, quashing virus clusters through mass testing and lockdowns.

Despite mounting economic costs and public frustration, the capital city announced it would further restrict access to public spaces after the holiday period.

Starting May 5, a negative COVID test taken within the past week will be needed to enter “all kinds of public areas and to take public transport,” according to a notice on the city’s official WeChat page.

For activities such as sporting events and group travel, participants will also need to show a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours, along with proof of “full vaccination,” according to the new rules.

China reported more than 10,700 domestic COVID cases on Saturday, with most in economic engine Shanghai.

The eastern metropolis has been sealed off for around a month after becoming the epicenter of the latest outbreak.

Cases are trending downwards, yet frustration and anger is boiling in the city of 25 million where many have been ordered to stay at home for several weeks.

Shanghai officials said on Saturday that its new cases were all found among quarantined or restricted groups — signaling that community infections could be slowing.

They added that hundreds of companies on a “whitelist” have resumed work, with around 1,000 firms allowed to restart operations too, state media said.

In Beijing, cases nudged up to 54, according to the National Health Commission.

As the long holiday started, consumers in the capital were asked to show proof of negative COVID tests — from within 48 hours — to enter public areas such as malls, shops and scenic spots.

The city will make COVID testing free for residents starting Tuesday, authorities said. 

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For Kenya’s Birds of Prey, Power Lines Are a Deadly Enemy

A blindfold calms the large black and white augur buzzard as two men glue a prosthetic leg into an insert on her body to replace the one that she lost.

The female is one of many injured birds of prey that turn up at Simon Thomsett’s Kenyan rehabilitation center, most of which, like her, have been crippled by electrocution.

The problem has progressively grown as Kenya has upgraded its electricity network, replacing wooden poles with steel-reinforced concrete, which can be conductive, and hanging inadequately insulated power lines between them, conservationists say.

That and the lack of deterrent markers along the cables are pushing Kenya’s already dwindling bird of prey populations closer to disappearance.

“Thirty years ago, the birds were coming in being hit by cars, diseased… or hitting things like clothes lines or …windows,” said Thomsett before/after helping to fit the prosthetic.

“Now we … the vast majority is electrocution.”

Many are killed outright by the shock, both via direct collision with power lines or from perching.

Kenya’s population of augur buzzards, historically one of its most common birds of prey has plunged 91% over 40 years due to electrocution, habitat loss, and poisoning, according to a February study by Thomsett and others published in Biological Conservation.

Over the same period, hooded vulture are down 88% and long-crested eagles by 94%, the study said.

The government-run Kenya Power and Lighting Company did not respond to requests for comment.

In some parts of South Africa, bird flight diverters have successfully been introduced to reduce instances of such deaths.

“These devices can reduce collisions by over 90% for some species,” said Lourens Leeuwner, who manages the wildlife and energy program at South Africa’s Endangered Wildlife Trust.

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