Dimming sunlight to slow global warming may harm crop yields, says study

This photograph taken on July 25, 2018, shows cyclists riding past a fountain in a 'green corridor' around Garibaldi Street in Lyon, which have been made to fight against global warming. Scientists on Wednesday said similar remedies are needed because spraying a veil of sun-dimming chemicals high above the Earth to slow global warming could harm crop yields in an unintended side-effect of turning down the heat. (AFP / JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK)
Updated 08 August 2018
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Dimming sunlight to slow global warming may harm crop yields, says study

  • Climate geoengineering may harm yields even as turns down heat
  • Man-made chemical sunshade may have little net benefit for crops

OSLO, Norway: Spraying a veil of sun-dimming chemicals high above the Earth to slow global warming could harm crop yields in an unintended side-effect of turning down the heat, US scientists said on Wednesday.
Some researchers say a man-made sunshade, perhaps sulfur dioxide released high in the atmosphere, could limit rising temperatures and the after-effects like the wildfires that have ravaged California and Greece this summer.
But a US scientific team found that big volcanic eruptions, such as Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 and El Chichon in Mexico in 1982, cut yields of wheat, soy and rice after spewing sun-blocking ash that blew around the world.
Pinatubo’s eruption, for instance, reduced sunlight by 2.5 percent, cooled the planet by about 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit), and disrupted rainfall patterns, they wrote in the journal Nature.
And the study said any future “geoengineering” modelled on volcanoes would have scant benefits for crops, which need light to grow. Less sunlight would reduce yields even though the plants would do better in less sweltering temperatures.
“If we think of geoengineering as an experimental surgery, our findings suggest that the side effects of the treatment are just as bad as the original disease,” author Jonathan Proctor of the University of California, Berkeley, told a telephone news conference.
Co-author Solomon Hsiang, also of the University of California, Berkeley, said the findings were a surprise after some previous research suggested plants might grow better with hazier sunshine, especially crops in the shade.
The new study “doesn’t necessarily mean we should simply rule out these (geoengineering) technologies,” he said. Governments could encourage farmers to grow more shade-tolerant crops if geoengineering were ever deployed.
And interest in geoengineering as a possible climate short-cut may rise because governments are not on track to limit global warming to goals set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement to avert floods, heat waves and rising seas.
A study on Monday said the world is at risk of entering an irreversible “hothouse” state with far higher temperatures than now, even if governments meet goals set in Paris.
But many are skeptical of geoengineering.
Janos Pasztor, head of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, welcomed Wednesday’s study as a step to understand the risks and benefits of geoengineering, which could affect everything from human health to life in the oceans.
“We need to move away from the stigma about not even being able to talk about any geoengineering options,” he told Reuters.
So far, most geoengineering experiments have been in laboratories. In the United States, Harvard University’s Solar Geoengineering Research Programme plans a tiny outdoor experiment next year in the upper atmosphere. (Reporting By Alister Doyle, editing by Larry King)


Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

Updated 21 August 2018
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Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

  • The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election
  • The company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations

Microsoft said Tuesday it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting US political groups ahead of the midterm elections.
The company said that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake Internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations: the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other fake domains were designed to look as if they belonged to the US Senate.
Microsoft didn’t offer any further description of the fake sites.
The revelation came just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is running for re-election, to reveal that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network.
The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election, which US intelligence officials have said were focused on helping to elect Republican Donald Trump to the presidency by hurting his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
This time, more than helping one political party over another, “this activity is most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in an interview this week.
Smith said there is no sign the hackers were successful in persuading anyone to click on the fake websites, which could have exposed a target victim to computer infiltration, hidden surveillance and data theft. Both conservative think tanks said they have tried to be vigilant about “spear-phishing” email attacks because their global pro-democracy work has frequently drawn the ire of authoritarian governments.
“We’re glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors,” said Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell. “It means we’re having an effect, presumably.”
The International Republican Institute is led by a board that includes six Republican senators, and one prominent Russia critic and Senate hopeful, Mitt Romney, who is running for a Utah seat this fall.
Microsoft calls the hacking group Strontium; others call it Fancy Bear or APT28. An indictment from US special counsel Robert Mueller has tied it to Russian’s main intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and to the 2016 email hacking of both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
“We have no doubt in our minds” who is responsible, Smith said.
Microsoft has waged a legal battle with Strontium since suing it in a Virginia federal court in summer 2016. The company obtained court approval last year allowing it to seize certain fake domains created by the group. It has so far used the courts to shut down 84 fake websites created by the group, including the most recent six announced Tuesday.
Microsoft has argued in court that by setting up fake but realistic-looking domains, the hackers were misusing Microsoft trademarks and services to hack into targeted computer networks, install malware and steal sensitive emails and other data.
Smith also announced Tuesday that the company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations, at least so long as they’re already using Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity software. Facebook and Google have also promoted similar tools to combat campaign interference.