Author: Tim Radford

About Tim Radford

Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

Change of diet could help tackle climate change

Food causes climate problems, and offers solutions too. New research examines what change of diet could do.

LONDON, 17 September, 2021 − Once again, scientists have confirmed that humankind could be grazing the planet to death. Food-based agriculture accounts for more than a third of all the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, and farming for an animal-based diet adds up to at least 57% of that. Could a change of diet be useful?

The implication − long ago backed up by many other studies − is that a global difference in diet could help contain climate change, conserve the world’s natural biodiversity and feed a growing population all at the same time.

And the strength of the latest study is that it could help governments, civic authorities, communities and famers identify where best to start.

US and European researchers report, in the journal Nature Food, that they looked at the big picture to apportion the contribution to global heating from the 171 crops and 16 animal products in more than 200 countries around the world in the year 2010.

“Developing climate mitigation strategies must rely on accurate estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, including plant- and animal-based foods”

Plant-based foods account for 19% of the carbon dioxide, 6% of the methane and 4% of the nitrous oxide emissions into the atmosphere. Animal-based food processes surrender 32% of the carbon dioxide, 20% of the methane and 6% of the nitrous oxide. Farming for fabrics rather than food products − think of cotton, rubber and so on − accounts for 14% of all emissions.

“Although CO2 is the most important and most frequently discussed of greenhouse gas emissions, methane generated by rice cultivation and animals, and nitrous oxide from fertilisers, are 34 and 298 times more powerful than CO2, respectively, when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere,” said Xiaoming Xu, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the lead author.

Food is part of the machinery that drives potentially catastrophic climate change. Researchers have again and again demonstrated that global food security is also likely to be put at serious risk by climate change, in the form of massive harvest failure as a consequence of extremes of temperature and drought, of the slowness of change in the agricultural sector, and of the impact of climate change on the nutritional value of the food that can be harvested in a hotter world.

Humans waste food. They demand foods that precipitate the loss of natural ecosystems that might otherwise help limit climate change. And, by fuelling climate change, humans have even put at risk those genetic resources from which human diet has, over at least 10,000 years, evolved.

Planetary diet change

But in the next 30 years, farmers will have to increase food output by 70% to meet the demands of a swelling global population. Once again, other groups have looked at the challenge and proposed ways to deliver more while emitting lower levels of greenhouse gases, and while protecting vital rainforests and grassland from further devastation.

But that means a change of diet on a planetary scale. The latest study shows that China now leads the world with emissions from animal-based foods at 8%, ahead of Brazil (6%) and the US (5%). China also leads the world with plant-based emissions at 7%, followed by India at 4% and Indonesia at 2%.

“We estimate that population growth will drive the expansion of food sub-sectors, including crop cultivation and livestock production, as well as product transportation and processing, irrigation, and materials like fertiliser and pesticides,” said Atul Jain, who heads atmospheric sciences research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“Developing climate mitigation strategies must rely on accurate estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, including those from the production and consumption of total and individual plant- and animal-based foods.” − Climate News Network

Food causes climate problems, and offers solutions too. New research examines what change of diet could do.

LONDON, 17 September, 2021 − Once again, scientists have confirmed that humankind could be grazing the planet to death. Food-based agriculture accounts for more than a third of all the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, and farming for an animal-based diet adds up to at least 57% of that. Could a change of diet be useful?

The implication − long ago backed up by many other studies − is that a global difference in diet could help contain climate change, conserve the world’s natural biodiversity and feed a growing population all at the same time.

And the strength of the latest study is that it could help governments, civic authorities, communities and famers identify where best to start.

US and European researchers report, in the journal Nature Food, that they looked at the big picture to apportion the contribution to global heating from the 171 crops and 16 animal products in more than 200 countries around the world in the year 2010.

“Developing climate mitigation strategies must rely on accurate estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, including plant- and animal-based foods”

Plant-based foods account for 19% of the carbon dioxide, 6% of the methane and 4% of the nitrous oxide emissions into the atmosphere. Animal-based food processes surrender 32% of the carbon dioxide, 20% of the methane and 6% of the nitrous oxide. Farming for fabrics rather than food products − think of cotton, rubber and so on − accounts for 14% of all emissions.

“Although CO2 is the most important and most frequently discussed of greenhouse gas emissions, methane generated by rice cultivation and animals, and nitrous oxide from fertilisers, are 34 and 298 times more powerful than CO2, respectively, when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere,” said Xiaoming Xu, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the lead author.

Food is part of the machinery that drives potentially catastrophic climate change. Researchers have again and again demonstrated that global food security is also likely to be put at serious risk by climate change, in the form of massive harvest failure as a consequence of extremes of temperature and drought, of the slowness of change in the agricultural sector, and of the impact of climate change on the nutritional value of the food that can be harvested in a hotter world.

Humans waste food. They demand foods that precipitate the loss of natural ecosystems that might otherwise help limit climate change. And, by fuelling climate change, humans have even put at risk those genetic resources from which human diet has, over at least 10,000 years, evolved.

Planetary diet change

But in the next 30 years, farmers will have to increase food output by 70% to meet the demands of a swelling global population. Once again, other groups have looked at the challenge and proposed ways to deliver more while emitting lower levels of greenhouse gases, and while protecting vital rainforests and grassland from further devastation.

But that means a change of diet on a planetary scale. The latest study shows that China now leads the world with emissions from animal-based foods at 8%, ahead of Brazil (6%) and the US (5%). China also leads the world with plant-based emissions at 7%, followed by India at 4% and Indonesia at 2%.

“We estimate that population growth will drive the expansion of food sub-sectors, including crop cultivation and livestock production, as well as product transportation and processing, irrigation, and materials like fertiliser and pesticides,” said Atul Jain, who heads atmospheric sciences research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“Developing climate mitigation strategies must rely on accurate estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, including those from the production and consumption of total and individual plant- and animal-based foods.” − Climate News Network

As big forests shrink, the carbon leaks and the heat rises

The world’s greatest forests are turning to patchwork. The patches get more frequent, the carbon leaks and the heat rises.

LONDON, 16 September, 2021 − The world’s tropical forests are getting smaller, and this process may be inexorable. That is because, in effect, the great rainforest canopies are being shredded into ever-smaller pieces. As this happens the carbon leaks, the heat rises.

In other words every year, a greater proportion of natural intact forest becomes a forest edge. And researchers have demonstrated, repeatedly, that canopy up to 100 metres from the edge of any forest becomes less effective at storing carbon, maintaining moisture and conserving biodiversity.

At the beginning of this century, researchers report in the journal Science Advances, they pored over high-resolution forest cover maps of the globe to count 131 million fragments of forest: that is forest subdivided by roads, or mining and quarrying works, or plantations, or clearance for logging, or for plantations or ranches. In just 10 years, this number had reached 152 million.

In Africa alone, the number of forest fragments increased from 45 million to 64 million: that is an increase of 42%. In the year 2000, the area of forest edge − the irrevocably degraded area − for the entire tropics had reached 27%. Ten years later, this proportion was 31%.

Increasing forest loss

“This situation has deteriorated so much that now almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest areas are in edge areas. If deforestation is not stopped, this trend will continue,” said Rico Fischer of UFZ, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.

“The edge, unlike the forest interior, is subject to direct sunlight. It is more exposed to the wind. Humidity also decreases in the edge areas. The altered microclimate particularly damages the large trees that depend on a good water supply.”

Forest conservation is a key component in the global efforts to limit climate change and slow global temperature rise. Across the entire tropics, the study found, the average size of these forest fragments had fallen, from 15 hectares in 2000 to 12 hectares in 2010. In those years, an area of 177 million hectares that had once been undisturbed, intact forest has been lost either through direct deforestation, or conversion to forest edge.

This is an area almost the size of Indonesia. By the century’s end, half of all tropical forest will be classified as forest edge. The loss of forest actively delivers extra carbon into the atmosphere to accelerate global heating even more alarmingly, and that could mean even more forest loss, as cycles of drought and fire become more probable in a warming world.

“Almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest areas are in edge areas. If deforestation is not stopped, this trend will continue”

The problem, of course, is the road: without new roads, miners, farmers, ranchers and loggers could not have made much impact on what were once vast intact forests in tropical Africa, the Amazon basin and south-east Asia.

And the problem will continue: within the next 30 years, there could be another 25 million kilometres of new road, enough to circle the globe 600 times, and most of these in the developing world, that is, the tropics.

Where these roads divide the forest they precipitate carbon loss: at the beginning of this century, forest edges surrendered around 420 million tonnes of carbon a year to the atmosphere. By 2010, this had gone up to 450 million.

Every year now in the tropics, the clearance, destruction or degradation of forest releases between 1,000 and 1,500 million tonnes of carbon. The loss of efficiency at the edge of the surviving forest could increase this figure by almost a third.

Halt to deforestation

And, of course, the gaps between surviving patches of tropical forest are getting bigger. This is good for neither the trees nor the creatures that live under the forest’s protection.

“This makes the long-term survival of animal species such as the jaguar, which depends on large, connected forest areas, more difficult,” said Franziska Taubert, a co-author, also at the UFZ Leipzig centre.

The scientists calculate that at the present rate of deforestation, half of all tropical forest by the end of this century will be classed as forest edge, and this forest edge will release 530 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year. If the rate of tropical deforestation is cut by half that proportion will still increase to 40%. If all deforestation is stopped by 2050, the proportion could be held to 30%.

“Only if deforestation of the rainforest is stopped from 2050 onwards can emissions be limited to a maximum of 480 million tonnes of carbon,” said Dr Fischer. − Climate News Network

The world’s greatest forests are turning to patchwork. The patches get more frequent, the carbon leaks and the heat rises.

LONDON, 16 September, 2021 − The world’s tropical forests are getting smaller, and this process may be inexorable. That is because, in effect, the great rainforest canopies are being shredded into ever-smaller pieces. As this happens the carbon leaks, the heat rises.

In other words every year, a greater proportion of natural intact forest becomes a forest edge. And researchers have demonstrated, repeatedly, that canopy up to 100 metres from the edge of any forest becomes less effective at storing carbon, maintaining moisture and conserving biodiversity.

At the beginning of this century, researchers report in the journal Science Advances, they pored over high-resolution forest cover maps of the globe to count 131 million fragments of forest: that is forest subdivided by roads, or mining and quarrying works, or plantations, or clearance for logging, or for plantations or ranches. In just 10 years, this number had reached 152 million.

In Africa alone, the number of forest fragments increased from 45 million to 64 million: that is an increase of 42%. In the year 2000, the area of forest edge − the irrevocably degraded area − for the entire tropics had reached 27%. Ten years later, this proportion was 31%.

Increasing forest loss

“This situation has deteriorated so much that now almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest areas are in edge areas. If deforestation is not stopped, this trend will continue,” said Rico Fischer of UFZ, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.

“The edge, unlike the forest interior, is subject to direct sunlight. It is more exposed to the wind. Humidity also decreases in the edge areas. The altered microclimate particularly damages the large trees that depend on a good water supply.”

Forest conservation is a key component in the global efforts to limit climate change and slow global temperature rise. Across the entire tropics, the study found, the average size of these forest fragments had fallen, from 15 hectares in 2000 to 12 hectares in 2010. In those years, an area of 177 million hectares that had once been undisturbed, intact forest has been lost either through direct deforestation, or conversion to forest edge.

This is an area almost the size of Indonesia. By the century’s end, half of all tropical forest will be classified as forest edge. The loss of forest actively delivers extra carbon into the atmosphere to accelerate global heating even more alarmingly, and that could mean even more forest loss, as cycles of drought and fire become more probable in a warming world.

“Almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest areas are in edge areas. If deforestation is not stopped, this trend will continue”

The problem, of course, is the road: without new roads, miners, farmers, ranchers and loggers could not have made much impact on what were once vast intact forests in tropical Africa, the Amazon basin and south-east Asia.

And the problem will continue: within the next 30 years, there could be another 25 million kilometres of new road, enough to circle the globe 600 times, and most of these in the developing world, that is, the tropics.

Where these roads divide the forest they precipitate carbon loss: at the beginning of this century, forest edges surrendered around 420 million tonnes of carbon a year to the atmosphere. By 2010, this had gone up to 450 million.

Every year now in the tropics, the clearance, destruction or degradation of forest releases between 1,000 and 1,500 million tonnes of carbon. The loss of efficiency at the edge of the surviving forest could increase this figure by almost a third.

Halt to deforestation

And, of course, the gaps between surviving patches of tropical forest are getting bigger. This is good for neither the trees nor the creatures that live under the forest’s protection.

“This makes the long-term survival of animal species such as the jaguar, which depends on large, connected forest areas, more difficult,” said Franziska Taubert, a co-author, also at the UFZ Leipzig centre.

The scientists calculate that at the present rate of deforestation, half of all tropical forest by the end of this century will be classed as forest edge, and this forest edge will release 530 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year. If the rate of tropical deforestation is cut by half that proportion will still increase to 40%. If all deforestation is stopped by 2050, the proportion could be held to 30%.

“Only if deforestation of the rainforest is stopped from 2050 onwards can emissions be limited to a maximum of 480 million tonnes of carbon,” said Dr Fischer. − Climate News Network

Smoke from wildfires kills thousands annually

Smoke from wildfires, linked to climate, grows daily more of a threat. Now science can see the direct human health cost.

LONDON, 14 September, 2021− Smoke from wildfires in burning forest vegetation now claims at least 33,500 lives a year worldwide. And that’s based on data from just 749 cities in 43 countries during the years 2000 to 2016.

The true cost to humankind of wildfire pollution from tiny particles of incinerated vegetation in cardiovascular and respiratory deaths will inevitably be much larger.

And a separate study finds that the fires now blazing every year in the Brazilian Amazon send more than 48,000 Brazilians to hospital. In the same timespan − the first 15 years of this century − an estimated 755,091 Brazilians have been admitted to hospitals with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions triggered by wildfire pollution.

Both findings are based on the use of subtle statistical techniques to tease out from public records the direct causes of hospitalisation and death. In the first study, researchers report in the journal Lancet Planetary Health that they combed through records of more than 66 million deaths from all causes in a selection of cities from 43 nations and regions, and then applied sophisticated mathematics to calculate which cases would have been triggered by the inhalation of what health scientists called “fine particulate matter” − fine enough to enter the lungs, cross the walls of the lung tissue and enter the blood circulation.

Wildfire smoke is deadlier than most forms of atmospheric pollution: it’s made up of smaller particles of a different chemical composition forged in higher temperatures. It can also travel further, up to 1,000 kms (625 miles), and still be potentially sickening.

Urban penalty

And, in a world in which planetary temperatures are soaring, droughts are becoming more intense and more frequent, and human destruction of the forests more devastating, the potential dangers are increasing.

California in 2020 recorded more than 46,000 outbreaks of wildfire. In the 2019-2020 burning season, Australia lost more than 100,000 sq kms of bush, forest and parkland to wildfire.

Brazil’s Amazon forest, disfigured by an accelerating number of fire outbreaks in the last two years, has lost more than 33,000 sq kms of canopy to fire every year since 2003.

A second study in the same journal identifies the cost across the decades to the nation with the largest and most important tropical forest on the planet: Brazil.

The fires may burn in distant regions now being converted to cattle ranches, soy plantations or mining operations, but the price is paid in crowded cities.

“In a world in which planetary temperatures are soaring and human destruction of the forests more devastating, the potential dangers are increasing”

Toxic smoke from these wildfires in the Amazon region can rise to enormous heights and travel colossal distances to trigger asthma, heart attack, stroke, respiratory conditions, hospitalisation and death, in young children and the elderly in particular.

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most prestige-laden medical journals: it has also paid close attention to the health costs linked in any way to climate change driven by profligate greenhouse gas emissions, as the use of fossil fuels continues to expand.

It and its sister publications have examined the global hazard to new-born children in a fast-warming world; the massive global death toll of ever-increasing extremes of heat and cold; the health costs in terms of hunger and malnutrition that will follow as harvests wither, and as energy, protein and mineral levels in staple foods begin to change with ever-higher temperatures; and even to the direct consequences to the workforce and the economy as extreme temperatures begin to rise to unprecedented levels.

So the latest finding is in part a warning to governments, municipalities, nations and above all health professionals to be prepared for greater levels of hospitalisation and death.

Although one study is a worldwide look, the second a closer look at the costs to just one nation, the problem is truly worldwide: Japan, according to data from 47 cities, loses 7,000 people a year to wildfire pollution; Mexico (10 cities) more than 3,000; and the US records more than 3,200 deaths in 210 cities each year. − Climate News Network

Smoke from wildfires, linked to climate, grows daily more of a threat. Now science can see the direct human health cost.

LONDON, 14 September, 2021− Smoke from wildfires in burning forest vegetation now claims at least 33,500 lives a year worldwide. And that’s based on data from just 749 cities in 43 countries during the years 2000 to 2016.

The true cost to humankind of wildfire pollution from tiny particles of incinerated vegetation in cardiovascular and respiratory deaths will inevitably be much larger.

And a separate study finds that the fires now blazing every year in the Brazilian Amazon send more than 48,000 Brazilians to hospital. In the same timespan − the first 15 years of this century − an estimated 755,091 Brazilians have been admitted to hospitals with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions triggered by wildfire pollution.

Both findings are based on the use of subtle statistical techniques to tease out from public records the direct causes of hospitalisation and death. In the first study, researchers report in the journal Lancet Planetary Health that they combed through records of more than 66 million deaths from all causes in a selection of cities from 43 nations and regions, and then applied sophisticated mathematics to calculate which cases would have been triggered by the inhalation of what health scientists called “fine particulate matter” − fine enough to enter the lungs, cross the walls of the lung tissue and enter the blood circulation.

Wildfire smoke is deadlier than most forms of atmospheric pollution: it’s made up of smaller particles of a different chemical composition forged in higher temperatures. It can also travel further, up to 1,000 kms (625 miles), and still be potentially sickening.

Urban penalty

And, in a world in which planetary temperatures are soaring, droughts are becoming more intense and more frequent, and human destruction of the forests more devastating, the potential dangers are increasing.

California in 2020 recorded more than 46,000 outbreaks of wildfire. In the 2019-2020 burning season, Australia lost more than 100,000 sq kms of bush, forest and parkland to wildfire.

Brazil’s Amazon forest, disfigured by an accelerating number of fire outbreaks in the last two years, has lost more than 33,000 sq kms of canopy to fire every year since 2003.

A second study in the same journal identifies the cost across the decades to the nation with the largest and most important tropical forest on the planet: Brazil.

The fires may burn in distant regions now being converted to cattle ranches, soy plantations or mining operations, but the price is paid in crowded cities.

“In a world in which planetary temperatures are soaring and human destruction of the forests more devastating, the potential dangers are increasing”

Toxic smoke from these wildfires in the Amazon region can rise to enormous heights and travel colossal distances to trigger asthma, heart attack, stroke, respiratory conditions, hospitalisation and death, in young children and the elderly in particular.

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most prestige-laden medical journals: it has also paid close attention to the health costs linked in any way to climate change driven by profligate greenhouse gas emissions, as the use of fossil fuels continues to expand.

It and its sister publications have examined the global hazard to new-born children in a fast-warming world; the massive global death toll of ever-increasing extremes of heat and cold; the health costs in terms of hunger and malnutrition that will follow as harvests wither, and as energy, protein and mineral levels in staple foods begin to change with ever-higher temperatures; and even to the direct consequences to the workforce and the economy as extreme temperatures begin to rise to unprecedented levels.

So the latest finding is in part a warning to governments, municipalities, nations and above all health professionals to be prepared for greater levels of hospitalisation and death.

Although one study is a worldwide look, the second a closer look at the costs to just one nation, the problem is truly worldwide: Japan, according to data from 47 cities, loses 7,000 people a year to wildfire pollution; Mexico (10 cities) more than 3,000; and the US records more than 3,200 deaths in 210 cities each year. − Climate News Network

Warming seas cut marine mammals’ survival chances

Warmer waters force endangered whales to move into the danger zone to find food, and leave other marine mammals hungry.

LONDON, 13 September, 2021 − Thanks to climate change, things are going wrong for the right whale. As the Atlantic warms, one ocean giant has had to shift its feeding grounds − and into more dangerous unprotected waters. Other marine mammals will find it harder to survive.

Eubalaena glacialis, or the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, may in the last decade have lost more than a quarter of its population. There could be only 356 individuals left.

And a second, separate study reports that, thanks to climate change, the future also looks lean for ringed seals and other Arctic marine predators: as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, and seas get warmer, the fish these mammals depend on will get smaller, and more scarce.

US scientists report in the journal Oceanography that, because of a shift in ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Maine − their traditional and protected habitat − the abundance of copepods or tiny crustaceans that nourish the giant mammals has fallen. This in turn has reduced the rates of calving, and forced the whales from their favourite mid-summer feeding grounds to the cooler waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence.

These new feeding grounds have no protection in place to prevent ship strikes, or entanglement in fishing gear. In 2017, biologists confirmed 17 right whale deaths in Canadian waters. Ten were found dead in 2019. In the last two years, there have been four identified deaths. The creature has a normal lifespan of about 70 years.

“We’ve never seen such drastic change so quickly. We’re rolling the dice, and we don’t know exactly what will happen”

The Gulf of Maine has been warming at depth, as ocean currents change in response to the climate emergency. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a part of the world climate powerhouse, could be changing, and with it the famous Gulf Stream that brings tropical waters into the North Atlantic.

That too has changed its trajectory in the last 10 years, and is now injecting warmer and saltier water into the Gulf of Maine, to alter the conditions that for most of human history provided food for the whales.

“Right whales continue to die each year,” said Erin Meyer-Gutbrod of the University of South Carolina, who led the study. “Protective policies must be strengthened immediately before this species declines past the point of no return.”

As the seas warm, the Artic ice retreats. The Arctic cod may be on the move, which is bad news not just for fishermen but for the seals and other creatures that depend on a rich energy source to maintain population numbers.

Smaller fish predominating

Canadian scientists report in the journal Ecology Letters that changes in the makeup, size and distribution of fish in Hudson Bay will begin to accelerate after 2025 and become rapidly more extreme unless humans drastically limit fossil fuel combustion.

And that would be bad news for the ringed seal, Phoca hispida: it would be left with a meaner food source. “We found that, by the end of the century, the large fatty Arctic cod may decline dramatically in terms of biomass and distribution.

“Then smaller fish like capelin and sand lance may become much more prevalent”, said Katie Florko, of the University of British Columbia, lead author. Warmer temperatures tend to favour smaller individuals. Arctic cod could shrink by up to 35%; they will also tend to move further north.

“It costs energy to forage. Does that mean the seals will need to spend more energy to get a larger number of these smaller fish for the same amount of energy as capturing a bigger fish?”

Her co-author Travis Tai, of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, said: “We’ve never seen such drastic change so quickly. We’re rolling the dice, and we don’t know exactly what will happen. When we have dramatic shifts in food web structure, we can expect large changes not only to how species such as ringed seals use the oceans, but also how people use the oceans.” − Climate News Network

Warmer waters force endangered whales to move into the danger zone to find food, and leave other marine mammals hungry.

LONDON, 13 September, 2021 − Thanks to climate change, things are going wrong for the right whale. As the Atlantic warms, one ocean giant has had to shift its feeding grounds − and into more dangerous unprotected waters. Other marine mammals will find it harder to survive.

Eubalaena glacialis, or the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, may in the last decade have lost more than a quarter of its population. There could be only 356 individuals left.

And a second, separate study reports that, thanks to climate change, the future also looks lean for ringed seals and other Arctic marine predators: as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, and seas get warmer, the fish these mammals depend on will get smaller, and more scarce.

US scientists report in the journal Oceanography that, because of a shift in ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Maine − their traditional and protected habitat − the abundance of copepods or tiny crustaceans that nourish the giant mammals has fallen. This in turn has reduced the rates of calving, and forced the whales from their favourite mid-summer feeding grounds to the cooler waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence.

These new feeding grounds have no protection in place to prevent ship strikes, or entanglement in fishing gear. In 2017, biologists confirmed 17 right whale deaths in Canadian waters. Ten were found dead in 2019. In the last two years, there have been four identified deaths. The creature has a normal lifespan of about 70 years.

“We’ve never seen such drastic change so quickly. We’re rolling the dice, and we don’t know exactly what will happen”

The Gulf of Maine has been warming at depth, as ocean currents change in response to the climate emergency. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a part of the world climate powerhouse, could be changing, and with it the famous Gulf Stream that brings tropical waters into the North Atlantic.

That too has changed its trajectory in the last 10 years, and is now injecting warmer and saltier water into the Gulf of Maine, to alter the conditions that for most of human history provided food for the whales.

“Right whales continue to die each year,” said Erin Meyer-Gutbrod of the University of South Carolina, who led the study. “Protective policies must be strengthened immediately before this species declines past the point of no return.”

As the seas warm, the Artic ice retreats. The Arctic cod may be on the move, which is bad news not just for fishermen but for the seals and other creatures that depend on a rich energy source to maintain population numbers.

Smaller fish predominating

Canadian scientists report in the journal Ecology Letters that changes in the makeup, size and distribution of fish in Hudson Bay will begin to accelerate after 2025 and become rapidly more extreme unless humans drastically limit fossil fuel combustion.

And that would be bad news for the ringed seal, Phoca hispida: it would be left with a meaner food source. “We found that, by the end of the century, the large fatty Arctic cod may decline dramatically in terms of biomass and distribution.

“Then smaller fish like capelin and sand lance may become much more prevalent”, said Katie Florko, of the University of British Columbia, lead author. Warmer temperatures tend to favour smaller individuals. Arctic cod could shrink by up to 35%; they will also tend to move further north.

“It costs energy to forage. Does that mean the seals will need to spend more energy to get a larger number of these smaller fish for the same amount of energy as capturing a bigger fish?”

Her co-author Travis Tai, of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, said: “We’ve never seen such drastic change so quickly. We’re rolling the dice, and we don’t know exactly what will happen. When we have dramatic shifts in food web structure, we can expect large changes not only to how species such as ringed seals use the oceans, but also how people use the oceans.” − Climate News Network

Amazon fires are rising threat to Brazil’s great rainforest

Brazil’s great rainforest is a reservoir of global richness. Its government has reduced that wealth and burned a resource.

LONDON, 9 September, 2021 − For at least 12,000 Amazon species, extinction has just got a little closer. In this century alone, more than 100,000 vital square kilometres of Brazil’s great rainforest have been damaged by fire.

In the course of that burning and degradation, up to 85% of all those Amazon plants and vertebrates already listed as threatened have lost precious habitat.

The Amazon basin is home to at least 40% of the planet’s remaining rainforest. It is a vital functioning part of the planetary climate machine. It is one of the world’s richest ecosystems: a tenth of all known species on the planet live under its canopy. In just one square kilometre of forest, there could be 1,000 species of tree.

And although Brazilian government policies since 2001 have slowed the rate at which forest habitat has been destroyed, since 2019 and a change of government this trend has been reversed, say 23 scientists in a new study for the journal Nature.

They generated maps of the region’s astonishing biodiversity and catalogued the ranges of 11,514 plant and 3,079 animal species. They then imposed on this map their satellite-based observations of fire and damage since 2001.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control”

They calculated that in the last two decades, somewhere between 103,079 and 189,755 sq kms of rainforest have caught fire or been harmed by it. This adds up to somewhere between 2.2% and 4.1% of the total. They calculated that for every 10,000 sq kms of forest torched, somewhere between 27 and 37 different plants and two or three vertebrates must have been affected.

That adds up to an estimated total of between 12,064 and 12,801 plants and animals that have lost range and become increasingly threatened.

Since 1960, around 20% of the Amazon forest has been scorched and cleared. By 2050, Brazil’s great rainforest could have lost 40%. And the point the researchers make is that what happens to the forest is a matter for the people, and for the government of Brazil which notoriously in 2019 started to dismantle some of the region’s protection.

“We show how policy has had a direct and enormous influence on the pace at which biodiversity across the entire Amazon has been affected. Even with policies in place, which you can think of as a brake slowing the rate of deforestation, it’s like a car that keeps moving forward, just at a slower speed. But in 2019 it’s like the foot was let off the brake, causing it to accelerate again,” said Brian Enquist of the University of Arizona in the US, one of the authors.

Spiral of decline

“This is important in light of the fact that biodiversity goes hand in hand with ecosystem functioning. Species can become virtually extinct even before they lose their entire range of habitat.”

Researchers have addressed these themes before and warned repeatedly of the potential calamity already facing one of the planet’s most important ecosystems, as forest destruction drives climate change and climate change in turn begins to dry up what was once rainforest, to make it even more vulnerable and intensify climate change even further.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control,” said Patrick Roehrdanz of Conservation International, another of the authors.

“One way is to recommit to strong anti-deforestation policies in Brazil, combined with incentives for a forest economy, and replicate them in other Amazonian countries.” − Climate News Network

Brazil’s great rainforest is a reservoir of global richness. Its government has reduced that wealth and burned a resource.

LONDON, 9 September, 2021 − For at least 12,000 Amazon species, extinction has just got a little closer. In this century alone, more than 100,000 vital square kilometres of Brazil’s great rainforest have been damaged by fire.

In the course of that burning and degradation, up to 85% of all those Amazon plants and vertebrates already listed as threatened have lost precious habitat.

The Amazon basin is home to at least 40% of the planet’s remaining rainforest. It is a vital functioning part of the planetary climate machine. It is one of the world’s richest ecosystems: a tenth of all known species on the planet live under its canopy. In just one square kilometre of forest, there could be 1,000 species of tree.

And although Brazilian government policies since 2001 have slowed the rate at which forest habitat has been destroyed, since 2019 and a change of government this trend has been reversed, say 23 scientists in a new study for the journal Nature.

They generated maps of the region’s astonishing biodiversity and catalogued the ranges of 11,514 plant and 3,079 animal species. They then imposed on this map their satellite-based observations of fire and damage since 2001.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control”

They calculated that in the last two decades, somewhere between 103,079 and 189,755 sq kms of rainforest have caught fire or been harmed by it. This adds up to somewhere between 2.2% and 4.1% of the total. They calculated that for every 10,000 sq kms of forest torched, somewhere between 27 and 37 different plants and two or three vertebrates must have been affected.

That adds up to an estimated total of between 12,064 and 12,801 plants and animals that have lost range and become increasingly threatened.

Since 1960, around 20% of the Amazon forest has been scorched and cleared. By 2050, Brazil’s great rainforest could have lost 40%. And the point the researchers make is that what happens to the forest is a matter for the people, and for the government of Brazil which notoriously in 2019 started to dismantle some of the region’s protection.

“We show how policy has had a direct and enormous influence on the pace at which biodiversity across the entire Amazon has been affected. Even with policies in place, which you can think of as a brake slowing the rate of deforestation, it’s like a car that keeps moving forward, just at a slower speed. But in 2019 it’s like the foot was let off the brake, causing it to accelerate again,” said Brian Enquist of the University of Arizona in the US, one of the authors.

Spiral of decline

“This is important in light of the fact that biodiversity goes hand in hand with ecosystem functioning. Species can become virtually extinct even before they lose their entire range of habitat.”

Researchers have addressed these themes before and warned repeatedly of the potential calamity already facing one of the planet’s most important ecosystems, as forest destruction drives climate change and climate change in turn begins to dry up what was once rainforest, to make it even more vulnerable and intensify climate change even further.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control,” said Patrick Roehrdanz of Conservation International, another of the authors.

“One way is to recommit to strong anti-deforestation policies in Brazil, combined with incentives for a forest economy, and replicate them in other Amazonian countries.” − Climate News Network

Extreme sea levels could soon become annual events

Extreme sea levels are inevitable. Researchers now know more about their scale. Prepare for high tides almost every year.

LONDON, 8 September, 2021 − Those who live by the sea could soon enough be at risk from it. Extreme sea levels − those episodes of high tide, storm surge and coastal flood − that now happen only once in every century could within a lifetime be happening every year.

And this is increasingly likely even if nations act on promises made six years ago and make drastic reductions in fossil fuel use. The global warming already inevitable because of the last decades of greenhouse gas emissions makes frequent flooding ever more likely.

US, European and Australian researchers report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they used computer projections to model what would be likely to happen to sea levels at 7,283 coastal locations worldwide over the next 70 years, under a range of scenarios that saw global temperatures rise to between 1.5°C and 5°C.

The bad news is that at least half of them face a massive increase in the frequency of extreme episodes by 2070.

“How much warming will it take to make a 100-year event an annual event? Not much more than what has already been documented”

The most vulnerable regions will be in the tropics and subtropics, including the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Peninsula, the southern part of North America’s Pacific Coast, Hawaii and the Caribbean, the Philippines, Indonesia and much of the southern hemisphere.

“One of our central questions driving this study was this: how much warming will it take to make what has been known as a 100-year event an annual event? Our answer is, not much more than what has already been documented,” said Claudia Tebaldi, of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the US.

In the last century, the world has warmed by at least one degree Celsius above the average for most of human history: in 2015, in Paris, 195 nations vowed to contain global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C by 2100, and ideally to no more than 1.5°C. That promise has yet to be backed up by concerted, dramatic international action.

In fact, the planet could surpass the 1.5°C limit, at least temporarily, some time this decade. Within 70 years, at present rates of emissions, the world will be committed to a potentially catastrophic global average rise of 3°C.

Warmth in store

And, researchers have warned, and warned again, coastal flooding could reach devastating levels. So the latest study simply confirms an alarming future, and adds a little more certainty to the zones more at risk.

The research is also a reminder that although drastic cuts and a concerted effort to restore the natural world could limit the rise in global air temperatures, the world’s oceans are subject to a slower timetable: the warming that has already happened will increasingly be reflected in tide levels for decades to come.

Like all such projections, the potential outcome ranges from optimistic to very pessimistic. With a temperature rise of just 1.5°C, seven-tenths of the studied locations might experience little increase in flood frequency. At the gloomier end of the spectrum, 99% could see flooding multiply 100-fold.

“It’s not huge news that sea level rise will be dramatic even at 1.5°C and will have substantial effects on extreme sea level frequencies and magnitude,” Dr Tebaldi said. “This study gives a more complete picture around the globe. We were able to look at a wider range of warming levels in fine spatial detail.” − Climate News Network

Extreme sea levels are inevitable. Researchers now know more about their scale. Prepare for high tides almost every year.

LONDON, 8 September, 2021 − Those who live by the sea could soon enough be at risk from it. Extreme sea levels − those episodes of high tide, storm surge and coastal flood − that now happen only once in every century could within a lifetime be happening every year.

And this is increasingly likely even if nations act on promises made six years ago and make drastic reductions in fossil fuel use. The global warming already inevitable because of the last decades of greenhouse gas emissions makes frequent flooding ever more likely.

US, European and Australian researchers report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they used computer projections to model what would be likely to happen to sea levels at 7,283 coastal locations worldwide over the next 70 years, under a range of scenarios that saw global temperatures rise to between 1.5°C and 5°C.

The bad news is that at least half of them face a massive increase in the frequency of extreme episodes by 2070.

“How much warming will it take to make a 100-year event an annual event? Not much more than what has already been documented”

The most vulnerable regions will be in the tropics and subtropics, including the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Peninsula, the southern part of North America’s Pacific Coast, Hawaii and the Caribbean, the Philippines, Indonesia and much of the southern hemisphere.

“One of our central questions driving this study was this: how much warming will it take to make what has been known as a 100-year event an annual event? Our answer is, not much more than what has already been documented,” said Claudia Tebaldi, of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the US.

In the last century, the world has warmed by at least one degree Celsius above the average for most of human history: in 2015, in Paris, 195 nations vowed to contain global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C by 2100, and ideally to no more than 1.5°C. That promise has yet to be backed up by concerted, dramatic international action.

In fact, the planet could surpass the 1.5°C limit, at least temporarily, some time this decade. Within 70 years, at present rates of emissions, the world will be committed to a potentially catastrophic global average rise of 3°C.

Warmth in store

And, researchers have warned, and warned again, coastal flooding could reach devastating levels. So the latest study simply confirms an alarming future, and adds a little more certainty to the zones more at risk.

The research is also a reminder that although drastic cuts and a concerted effort to restore the natural world could limit the rise in global air temperatures, the world’s oceans are subject to a slower timetable: the warming that has already happened will increasingly be reflected in tide levels for decades to come.

Like all such projections, the potential outcome ranges from optimistic to very pessimistic. With a temperature rise of just 1.5°C, seven-tenths of the studied locations might experience little increase in flood frequency. At the gloomier end of the spectrum, 99% could see flooding multiply 100-fold.

“It’s not huge news that sea level rise will be dramatic even at 1.5°C and will have substantial effects on extreme sea level frequencies and magnitude,” Dr Tebaldi said. “This study gives a more complete picture around the globe. We were able to look at a wider range of warming levels in fine spatial detail.” − Climate News Network

Unknown waters ahead puzzle marine modellers

Climate change will alter the blue planet on an almost global scale. Marine life will change in the unknown waters ahead.

LONDON, 3 September, 2021 − By the close of this century, the world’s mariners may be sailing over unknown waters. Up to 95% of the ocean surface climates that Charles Darwin voyaged in the Beagle in the 19th century, and that became part of the global battleground during the wars of the 20th century, will have vanished.

And some − perhaps most − of these climates will be of a kind that have no precedent in human history, or prehistory.

Quite how sharply those familiar waters will disappear depends on what happens to global greenhouse emissions. But at the rates at which humans have been burning fossil fuels so far, somewhere between 35% and almost all the sea surface conditions will have changed, and so will the marine ecosystems that depend upon those conditions.

What happens to the algae and plankton, the pelagic fish and the predators that hunt them, is increasingly difficult to guess: another study has just concluded that even after more than a century of oceanography and marine biological research, humans still don’t know enough about how ocean ecosystems work to be able to be sure of the future.

US researchers write in the journal Scientific Reports that they looked at measurements that define marine surface climate: water temperature, the concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide that defines its pH value on the acid-alkaline chemical spectrum, and the water’s saturation with aragonite, a form of dissolved calcium carbonate, washed over the aeons by the rivers into the sea.

Telling comparisons

Put simply, as greenhouse gas emissions rise, so the oceans become both warmer and more acidic, and the saturation level of aragonite falls. And as this level falls, corals and other marine creatures find it harder to turn sea water into the shell structures that protect them.

The researchers report that they modelled the ocean climates for the years 1795 to 1834 − the years of Coleridge’s poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and of the British Royal Navy’s command of the high seas − and for the years 1963 to 2004, the years of the aircraft carrier and supertanker.

Then they compared their findings with what ocean surfaces will look like if carbon emissions peak in 2050, or − this is sometimes called the “business-as-usual” scenario − in 2100.

Under the first scenario, 35.6% of sea surface climates familiar for the last two centuries may have disappeared. Under the second, 95% will have gone, to be replaced by what the authors call ”novel climates.” And, they say in the constrained syntax of academic language, “the degree of global climate novelty at a location may … indicate how stressful novel conditions will be for all species.

“In contrast, the degree of global climate disappearance for a location may represent how hard it might be for species who are well-adapted to climate at that location to find a similar climate in the future.”

“Attempting to summarise the vast complexity of the global marine ecosystem in a handful of equations is enormously difficult”

That the marine world is changing is no surprise: scientists have reported again and again that once-valuable species are migrating, or growing smaller, or dwindling in number.

As temperatures rise, oxygen levels drop, leaving some species gasping. As breeding grounds warm, spawning becomes problematic. So researchers can see what is already happening. It’s much harder to guess what the oceans will be like decades from now.

And in a timely study in the journal Progress in Oceanography, a team from Australia, the US, Canada and Europe issues a similar warning: humans are about to voyage into unknown waters.

Global heating is already driving what they call “significant changes in the structure of marine ecosystems” worldwide. That is, the tiny creatures on which bigger fish ultimately depend will change. And that could be bad news for the millions of people who live by the sea, and seafood.

But, they warn, it is becoming difficult to calculate how the denizens of the deep, and the citizens of the shallows, will respond to ocean climate shifts. There is a lot more research to be done, and some complex mathematical challenges ahead.

Food supplies lessen

“We know the impact of climate change on both water temperature and primary production will alter marine ecosystems in fundamental ways. Fish and other marine animals will burn more energy in warmer waters, leaving less scope for growth and reproduction.

“At the same time, in regions where primary production from phytoplankton decreases there will be less food, which will drive marine biomass down further,” said Ryan Heneghan of Queensland University of Technology in Australia, who led the study.

“Between now and 2100, the change in global marine animal biomass across our models varied between a 30% decline and a small increase of 5%. Across all the models, there were biomass declines across most of the world’s oceans, but the models disagreed on where, why and by how much marine biomass would decline under climate change,” he said.

“Attempting to summarise the vast complexity of the global marine ecosystem in a handful of equations is enormously difficult, and global marine ecosystem modelling is a relatively new field of research; our oldest models are just over 10 years old, whereas the climate modelling community were developing their first models over 40 years ago. There is a lot of work to do.” − Climate News Network

Climate change will alter the blue planet on an almost global scale. Marine life will change in the unknown waters ahead.

LONDON, 3 September, 2021 − By the close of this century, the world’s mariners may be sailing over unknown waters. Up to 95% of the ocean surface climates that Charles Darwin voyaged in the Beagle in the 19th century, and that became part of the global battleground during the wars of the 20th century, will have vanished.

And some − perhaps most − of these climates will be of a kind that have no precedent in human history, or prehistory.

Quite how sharply those familiar waters will disappear depends on what happens to global greenhouse emissions. But at the rates at which humans have been burning fossil fuels so far, somewhere between 35% and almost all the sea surface conditions will have changed, and so will the marine ecosystems that depend upon those conditions.

What happens to the algae and plankton, the pelagic fish and the predators that hunt them, is increasingly difficult to guess: another study has just concluded that even after more than a century of oceanography and marine biological research, humans still don’t know enough about how ocean ecosystems work to be able to be sure of the future.

US researchers write in the journal Scientific Reports that they looked at measurements that define marine surface climate: water temperature, the concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide that defines its pH value on the acid-alkaline chemical spectrum, and the water’s saturation with aragonite, a form of dissolved calcium carbonate, washed over the aeons by the rivers into the sea.

Telling comparisons

Put simply, as greenhouse gas emissions rise, so the oceans become both warmer and more acidic, and the saturation level of aragonite falls. And as this level falls, corals and other marine creatures find it harder to turn sea water into the shell structures that protect them.

The researchers report that they modelled the ocean climates for the years 1795 to 1834 − the years of Coleridge’s poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and of the British Royal Navy’s command of the high seas − and for the years 1963 to 2004, the years of the aircraft carrier and supertanker.

Then they compared their findings with what ocean surfaces will look like if carbon emissions peak in 2050, or − this is sometimes called the “business-as-usual” scenario − in 2100.

Under the first scenario, 35.6% of sea surface climates familiar for the last two centuries may have disappeared. Under the second, 95% will have gone, to be replaced by what the authors call ”novel climates.” And, they say in the constrained syntax of academic language, “the degree of global climate novelty at a location may … indicate how stressful novel conditions will be for all species.

“In contrast, the degree of global climate disappearance for a location may represent how hard it might be for species who are well-adapted to climate at that location to find a similar climate in the future.”

“Attempting to summarise the vast complexity of the global marine ecosystem in a handful of equations is enormously difficult”

That the marine world is changing is no surprise: scientists have reported again and again that once-valuable species are migrating, or growing smaller, or dwindling in number.

As temperatures rise, oxygen levels drop, leaving some species gasping. As breeding grounds warm, spawning becomes problematic. So researchers can see what is already happening. It’s much harder to guess what the oceans will be like decades from now.

And in a timely study in the journal Progress in Oceanography, a team from Australia, the US, Canada and Europe issues a similar warning: humans are about to voyage into unknown waters.

Global heating is already driving what they call “significant changes in the structure of marine ecosystems” worldwide. That is, the tiny creatures on which bigger fish ultimately depend will change. And that could be bad news for the millions of people who live by the sea, and seafood.

But, they warn, it is becoming difficult to calculate how the denizens of the deep, and the citizens of the shallows, will respond to ocean climate shifts. There is a lot more research to be done, and some complex mathematical challenges ahead.

Food supplies lessen

“We know the impact of climate change on both water temperature and primary production will alter marine ecosystems in fundamental ways. Fish and other marine animals will burn more energy in warmer waters, leaving less scope for growth and reproduction.

“At the same time, in regions where primary production from phytoplankton decreases there will be less food, which will drive marine biomass down further,” said Ryan Heneghan of Queensland University of Technology in Australia, who led the study.

“Between now and 2100, the change in global marine animal biomass across our models varied between a 30% decline and a small increase of 5%. Across all the models, there were biomass declines across most of the world’s oceans, but the models disagreed on where, why and by how much marine biomass would decline under climate change,” he said.

“Attempting to summarise the vast complexity of the global marine ecosystem in a handful of equations is enormously difficult, and global marine ecosystem modelling is a relatively new field of research; our oldest models are just over 10 years old, whereas the climate modelling community were developing their first models over 40 years ago. There is a lot of work to do.” − Climate News Network

Climate denial? Flat Earth? What’s the difference?

People who deny that climate change is happening have something in common with people who believe in a flat Earth.

LONDON, 30 August, 2021 − Dover, a town in the county of Kent in the United Kingdom, was during the 1960s rich in eccentrics: one of them was Mr Samuel Shenton, founder and secretary of the International Flat Earth Research Society.

He was regarded with affection and merriment by local and even national newspaper reporters, and so was solemnly consulted during the US Apollo programme, the race to the moon. In 1965 he refused to believe that a photograph of the curvature of the Earth, taken by astronauts on a Gemini mission, proved that the planet was a sphere. Or that it was moving in space at 30kms a second.

“If we were going at such a tremendous speed through space you wouldn’t be able to get out of your house,” he told a Guardian colleague, “and you’d see the effects on the clouds and the waterways.”

Reportedly at his death his society had no more than 100 members. Then it crossed the Atlantic, and something started to happen.

Shared rejection

By 2018, Lee McIntyre, a researcher at Boston University in Massachusetts, could attend a Flat Earth International Conference in Denver, Colorado and use it as a starting point for an enjoyable and even mildly sympathetic new book called How to Talk to a Science Denier (MIT Press, $24.95).

The event became his template for a study of that stubborn phenomenon known as science denial, the outright refusal to accept data, experimental evidence or patient explanation of findings that you have already decided to reject.

In the course of this reporter’s lifetime, such conspicuous refusals have included the link between smoking and cancer and other health conditions; the connection between HIV infection and illness and death from Aids; the value of vaccination as a protection against disease; and most conspicuously, the connection between human exploitation of fossil fuels and the swelling climate crisis.

And although each act of denial begins from an apparently different starting point, the machinery of resistance − that determination not to be persuaded − shares five common factors.

“You cannot change someone’s beliefs against their will, nor can you usually get them to admit there is something they don’t already know”

One is a refusal to accept aspects of the evidence that do not suit your beliefs, but seize upon those that might seem to. This is called cherry-picking: you just believe the bits you like and ignore the rest.

The second factor is a commitment to the notion of massive conspiracy: a global conspiracy if need be, to declare that Covid-19 isn’t a real disease; or alternatively that it is spread by radiation from 5G radio masts; or that all the world’s science academies, almost all the world’s meteorologists and even governments, are in some monstrous plot to pretend that the climate is changing dangerously, when it isn’t, or if it is, it’s because of natural causes.

The third factor is the denunciation of real experts and the reliance on self-appointed experts. The fourth factor almost always involves logical error (we have an example above from Mr Shenton). And the last and − the deniers seem to think − the most clinching tactic is to say: “But you cannot deliver 100% proof.”

In the chapters that follow, McIntyre explores the different forms that denial takes: he talks to coal-miners in Pennsylvania about climate change; he talks to activists and campaigners about the rejection of genetic engineering as a technique for improving crops; to people who reject vaccination as a protection against disease, and to climate deniers. In all cases, he identifies evidence of the five techniques deployed to resist argument.

Selective acceptance

However, not all forms of rejection are quite as uncompromising as faith in Flat Earth. His miners know about climate change, and yes, know the costs too, but they’re miners. Mining coal is what they do.

Those against genetically-modified crops may turn out to be more concerned about economics, or choice, or the growth of corporate power. People can be vaccine-hesitant (“Is it safe? How do you know?”) rather than flat-out deniers. In each case there are separate issues underlying the unease.

Greek astronomers worked out more than 2,000 years ago that they lived on an orb; to believe the Earth is a stationary disc supported on pillars, Flat Earthers must reject the physics, astronomy and radiation science of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein, while at the same time using cellphones and the Internet, products of that science.

Climate deniers have the slightly more tricky challenge of acknowledging the value of science except when it’s climate science.

Oil money

Each group believes in a massive, worldwide conspiracy to deceive. Two Flat Earthers told McIntyre that the conspiracy to foist the globalist view of the planet was the work of “the Adversary”, the Devil himself.

Climate deniers have the slightly harder task of persuading themselves that climate scientists − Chinese, British, American, Australian, Brazilian or from anywhere in the world − are all conspiring to issue a false message confected for some kind of pecuniary gain or political motive, or for the sake of a hoax, which is a bit more complicated.

There is another compounding factor addressed by this book: the big oil companies decided in 1998 to actually systematically challenge the science, with of course big money: altogether almost a billion dollars a year now flows into an organised climate change counter-movement.

In the US, climate science, like the Covid-19 pandemic itself, has become a party political issue. Nobody gets rich by denying that the Earth is round. Quite a few already very rich people will be yet richer because concerted global action on the climate emergency has been delayed, by systematic cherry-picking, conspiracy theorising, a small army of fake experts and some wilfully illogical reasoning. A very large number are likely to become miserably and even catastrophically poorer.

Winning ways

Meanwhile, how do you talk to a science denier? McIntyre’s suggested approach involves patience, courtesy, a willingness to listen, and to address the denier’s arguments directly.

“You cannot change someone’s beliefs against their will, nor can you usually get them to admit there is something they don’t already know. Harder still might be to get them to change their values or identity.

“But there is no easier path to take when dealing with science deniers. We must try to make them understand … But first we have to go out there, face-to-face, and begin to talk to them.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason, by Lee McIntyre (MIT Press $24.95 ISBN: 9780262046107)

People who deny that climate change is happening have something in common with people who believe in a flat Earth.

LONDON, 30 August, 2021 − Dover, a town in the county of Kent in the United Kingdom, was during the 1960s rich in eccentrics: one of them was Mr Samuel Shenton, founder and secretary of the International Flat Earth Research Society.

He was regarded with affection and merriment by local and even national newspaper reporters, and so was solemnly consulted during the US Apollo programme, the race to the moon. In 1965 he refused to believe that a photograph of the curvature of the Earth, taken by astronauts on a Gemini mission, proved that the planet was a sphere. Or that it was moving in space at 30kms a second.

“If we were going at such a tremendous speed through space you wouldn’t be able to get out of your house,” he told a Guardian colleague, “and you’d see the effects on the clouds and the waterways.”

Reportedly at his death his society had no more than 100 members. Then it crossed the Atlantic, and something started to happen.

Shared rejection

By 2018, Lee McIntyre, a researcher at Boston University in Massachusetts, could attend a Flat Earth International Conference in Denver, Colorado and use it as a starting point for an enjoyable and even mildly sympathetic new book called How to Talk to a Science Denier (MIT Press, $24.95).

The event became his template for a study of that stubborn phenomenon known as science denial, the outright refusal to accept data, experimental evidence or patient explanation of findings that you have already decided to reject.

In the course of this reporter’s lifetime, such conspicuous refusals have included the link between smoking and cancer and other health conditions; the connection between HIV infection and illness and death from Aids; the value of vaccination as a protection against disease; and most conspicuously, the connection between human exploitation of fossil fuels and the swelling climate crisis.

And although each act of denial begins from an apparently different starting point, the machinery of resistance − that determination not to be persuaded − shares five common factors.

“You cannot change someone’s beliefs against their will, nor can you usually get them to admit there is something they don’t already know”

One is a refusal to accept aspects of the evidence that do not suit your beliefs, but seize upon those that might seem to. This is called cherry-picking: you just believe the bits you like and ignore the rest.

The second factor is a commitment to the notion of massive conspiracy: a global conspiracy if need be, to declare that Covid-19 isn’t a real disease; or alternatively that it is spread by radiation from 5G radio masts; or that all the world’s science academies, almost all the world’s meteorologists and even governments, are in some monstrous plot to pretend that the climate is changing dangerously, when it isn’t, or if it is, it’s because of natural causes.

The third factor is the denunciation of real experts and the reliance on self-appointed experts. The fourth factor almost always involves logical error (we have an example above from Mr Shenton). And the last and − the deniers seem to think − the most clinching tactic is to say: “But you cannot deliver 100% proof.”

In the chapters that follow, McIntyre explores the different forms that denial takes: he talks to coal-miners in Pennsylvania about climate change; he talks to activists and campaigners about the rejection of genetic engineering as a technique for improving crops; to people who reject vaccination as a protection against disease, and to climate deniers. In all cases, he identifies evidence of the five techniques deployed to resist argument.

Selective acceptance

However, not all forms of rejection are quite as uncompromising as faith in Flat Earth. His miners know about climate change, and yes, know the costs too, but they’re miners. Mining coal is what they do.

Those against genetically-modified crops may turn out to be more concerned about economics, or choice, or the growth of corporate power. People can be vaccine-hesitant (“Is it safe? How do you know?”) rather than flat-out deniers. In each case there are separate issues underlying the unease.

Greek astronomers worked out more than 2,000 years ago that they lived on an orb; to believe the Earth is a stationary disc supported on pillars, Flat Earthers must reject the physics, astronomy and radiation science of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein, while at the same time using cellphones and the Internet, products of that science.

Climate deniers have the slightly more tricky challenge of acknowledging the value of science except when it’s climate science.

Oil money

Each group believes in a massive, worldwide conspiracy to deceive. Two Flat Earthers told McIntyre that the conspiracy to foist the globalist view of the planet was the work of “the Adversary”, the Devil himself.

Climate deniers have the slightly harder task of persuading themselves that climate scientists − Chinese, British, American, Australian, Brazilian or from anywhere in the world − are all conspiring to issue a false message confected for some kind of pecuniary gain or political motive, or for the sake of a hoax, which is a bit more complicated.

There is another compounding factor addressed by this book: the big oil companies decided in 1998 to actually systematically challenge the science, with of course big money: altogether almost a billion dollars a year now flows into an organised climate change counter-movement.

In the US, climate science, like the Covid-19 pandemic itself, has become a party political issue. Nobody gets rich by denying that the Earth is round. Quite a few already very rich people will be yet richer because concerted global action on the climate emergency has been delayed, by systematic cherry-picking, conspiracy theorising, a small army of fake experts and some wilfully illogical reasoning. A very large number are likely to become miserably and even catastrophically poorer.

Winning ways

Meanwhile, how do you talk to a science denier? McIntyre’s suggested approach involves patience, courtesy, a willingness to listen, and to address the denier’s arguments directly.

“You cannot change someone’s beliefs against their will, nor can you usually get them to admit there is something they don’t already know. Harder still might be to get them to change their values or identity.

“But there is no easier path to take when dealing with science deniers. We must try to make them understand … But first we have to go out there, face-to-face, and begin to talk to them.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason, by Lee McIntyre (MIT Press $24.95 ISBN: 9780262046107)

More people face greater risk from extreme heat

In a hotter world, periods of extreme heat are on the increase. And that presents a massive threat to life and health.

LONDON, 27 August, 2021 − In 2019, extreme heat claimed almost a thousand lives a day worldwide. And that number will grow. If the world cannot limit planetary temperature increase by just 1.5°C by 2100 − a target agreed by 195 countries − then deaths in heat waves will become substantial.

That’s the verdict of a careful study in one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals, The Lancet, which warns that almost half the world’s population and more than one billion workers are already exposed to episodes of extreme heat: more than a third of those workers already have what the scientists called “negative health effects.”

Helpfully, the researchers list these effects. They include “an increased risk of hyperthermia and cardiovascular failure or collapse, and increased risk of acute kidney disease.”

The researchers also looked at almost 65 million records of causes of death in nine nations to identify at least 17 conditions linked to heat-related death: ischaemic heart disease, stroke, cardiomyopathy and myocarditis, hypertensive heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, lower respiratory infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Homicide, suicide, drowning and unintentional injury also increased with temperature. Yes, in 2019, more people died from extreme cold − an estimated 1.3 million − and 356,000 from extreme heat. But since 1990, cold-related deaths have increased by 31%. Deaths attributable to extreme heat have gone up by 74%.

“Urgent investment in research and measures to combat the risks of extreme heat is critical if society is not only to survive but thrive”

So besides taking global and concerted action to limit global heating to the 1.5°C target set in Paris in 2015, nations will need to start thinking of sustainable ways to keep populations cool in dangerous temperatures.

“Extremely hot days or heat waves that were experienced approximately every 20 years are now being seen more frequently and could even occur every year by the end of the century if current greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated,” said Kristie Ebi, of the University of Washington in the US, who led the study. “These rising temperatures combined with a larger and older population mean that even more people will be at risk for heat-related health effects.”

Extreme heat is on the way. One recent study in Nature Climate Change calculated that, as humans go on putting more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the number of week-long record-breaking extremes of heat will become between two and seven times more probable by 2050. By 2080, the probability increases by between three and 21 times.

The Lancet study says that steps to limit global heating and to mitigate the impact of heat extremes could save lives: at the same time global numbers are growing, so ever more people are likely to be at risk, especially in crowded cities.

In 1950, the number of urban dwellers was around 751 million. By 2018, this had grown to 4.2 billion. By 2030, six out of every 10 humans will be living in cities and the number of megacities − metropolitan areas with more than 10 million people − will have grown, from 31 in 2016 to 43.

Olympics ruled out

And air conditioning is unlikely to help. Between 1990 and 2016, the volume of carbon dioxide emitted by air conditioning units actually doubled, to make global heating even more intense. In 2019, space cooling systems added up to one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere: this is 3% of the entire sum of global emissions that year.

Although more frequent, more prolonged and more intense extremes of heat are likely to hit hardest at the poorest, and at outdoor workers in many countries, such extremes will damage national economies and will diminish life for everybody.

By 2085, the researchers warn, very few of the world’s great cities will be able to host the summer Olympic Games because of the risk to athletes. One study in West Australia calculated that by 2070 the number of days on which it might not be safe to undertake even mild physical activity could increase by a factor of eight, or even 50-fold.

“As a result of human activity, it is inevitable that much of the planet’s population will be at greater risk of exposure to extreme heat than they are today,” said Ollie Jay of the University of Sydney in Australia, another of the authors.

“Amid stark projections about the increasing effects of climate change, urgent investment in research and measures to combat the risks of extreme heat is critical if society is not only to survive, but thrive, in a hotter, future world.” − Climate News Network

In a hotter world, periods of extreme heat are on the increase. And that presents a massive threat to life and health.

LONDON, 27 August, 2021 − In 2019, extreme heat claimed almost a thousand lives a day worldwide. And that number will grow. If the world cannot limit planetary temperature increase by just 1.5°C by 2100 − a target agreed by 195 countries − then deaths in heat waves will become substantial.

That’s the verdict of a careful study in one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals, The Lancet, which warns that almost half the world’s population and more than one billion workers are already exposed to episodes of extreme heat: more than a third of those workers already have what the scientists called “negative health effects.”

Helpfully, the researchers list these effects. They include “an increased risk of hyperthermia and cardiovascular failure or collapse, and increased risk of acute kidney disease.”

The researchers also looked at almost 65 million records of causes of death in nine nations to identify at least 17 conditions linked to heat-related death: ischaemic heart disease, stroke, cardiomyopathy and myocarditis, hypertensive heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, lower respiratory infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Homicide, suicide, drowning and unintentional injury also increased with temperature. Yes, in 2019, more people died from extreme cold − an estimated 1.3 million − and 356,000 from extreme heat. But since 1990, cold-related deaths have increased by 31%. Deaths attributable to extreme heat have gone up by 74%.

“Urgent investment in research and measures to combat the risks of extreme heat is critical if society is not only to survive but thrive”

So besides taking global and concerted action to limit global heating to the 1.5°C target set in Paris in 2015, nations will need to start thinking of sustainable ways to keep populations cool in dangerous temperatures.

“Extremely hot days or heat waves that were experienced approximately every 20 years are now being seen more frequently and could even occur every year by the end of the century if current greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated,” said Kristie Ebi, of the University of Washington in the US, who led the study. “These rising temperatures combined with a larger and older population mean that even more people will be at risk for heat-related health effects.”

Extreme heat is on the way. One recent study in Nature Climate Change calculated that, as humans go on putting more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the number of week-long record-breaking extremes of heat will become between two and seven times more probable by 2050. By 2080, the probability increases by between three and 21 times.

The Lancet study says that steps to limit global heating and to mitigate the impact of heat extremes could save lives: at the same time global numbers are growing, so ever more people are likely to be at risk, especially in crowded cities.

In 1950, the number of urban dwellers was around 751 million. By 2018, this had grown to 4.2 billion. By 2030, six out of every 10 humans will be living in cities and the number of megacities − metropolitan areas with more than 10 million people − will have grown, from 31 in 2016 to 43.

Olympics ruled out

And air conditioning is unlikely to help. Between 1990 and 2016, the volume of carbon dioxide emitted by air conditioning units actually doubled, to make global heating even more intense. In 2019, space cooling systems added up to one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere: this is 3% of the entire sum of global emissions that year.

Although more frequent, more prolonged and more intense extremes of heat are likely to hit hardest at the poorest, and at outdoor workers in many countries, such extremes will damage national economies and will diminish life for everybody.

By 2085, the researchers warn, very few of the world’s great cities will be able to host the summer Olympic Games because of the risk to athletes. One study in West Australia calculated that by 2070 the number of days on which it might not be safe to undertake even mild physical activity could increase by a factor of eight, or even 50-fold.

“As a result of human activity, it is inevitable that much of the planet’s population will be at greater risk of exposure to extreme heat than they are today,” said Ollie Jay of the University of Sydney in Australia, another of the authors.

“Amid stark projections about the increasing effects of climate change, urgent investment in research and measures to combat the risks of extreme heat is critical if society is not only to survive, but thrive, in a hotter, future world.” − Climate News Network

Forest people offer the best hope of saving them

Trees are vital for solving the climate crisis. But there’s nothing simple about the forested world, as forest people know.

LONDON, 23 August, 2021 − Here’s something you perhaps didn’t know (but you can be sure forest people did). Rainforests make their own rain. Just how much rain they make is a revelation. The process starts with evaporated ocean, which condenses over coastal forest: thereafter, the trees get to work.

The initial deposit of rain will be transpired through the foliage, back into the air to be caught in a pattern of winds that might even be helped by the trees themselves: the same water will fall again across the forest five or six times before journey’s end.

The scale of this natural corporate utility service is colossal: one pilot followed the Amazon’s own flying river from Belém near the Atlantic coast across to the Andes, where the airstream and clouds of vapour turned south to reach the coast again at São Paulo, at the same time transporting 3,200 cubic metres of water a second.

There’s no case for doubt. One of the plane’s passengers collected air samples along the way: once inland, the water vapour had the molecular signature associated with vegetation rather than freshly evaporated seawater.

And somehow the forest actually adds to the delivery: at one place near the ocean, the fall is 215 cms a year; at the heart of Amazonas it is somehow 245 cms a year.

Trees as rainmakers

The phenomenon that is the flying river is not unique to the Amazon. Others cross North America, the Congo rainforest, the Sahel and Ethiopia. The world’s most mighty high-altitude aquifer runs for 6000 kms west-to-east across the Eurasian landmass, taking six months, at the end of which four-fifths of the rain in northern China has been generated by the great boreal forest that begins in Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Trees make the rain. Arid places may be treeless not because they are arid; they could be arid because someone cleared the foliage.

A Trillion Trees: How We Can Reforest Our World, by Fred Pearce, (Granta, £20) is a reporter’s book. Pearce has been reporting the science and impacts of the environment for the New Scientist and other journals for four decades or more.

He doesn’t just deliver the big picture: he illuminates the detail. He goes to forests and the desolate landscapes where forests had once flourished. He meets scientists, activists, campaigners, government officials, loggers, farmers, businessmen, politicians and where possible the indigenous peoples of the forest.

He isn’t just there for the rainforest: he knows the American landscape, the great forests of the north, the plantations of Israel, the woodlands of Europe and the mangroves of the African shore, and he introduces the people to whom these places matter.

“If natural regrowth has to be the basis for the renaissance of the world’s trees, then the custodians of that process must be the people who live in them”

This is the book’s strength, and occasionally its weakness: just as the dense understory slows the trek through the great forest, so the vigorous tangle of evidence and counter-argument sometimes leaves the reader a little confused.

That seeming weakness is best considered part of the book’s big message: forests and trees may be simply marvellous, but they are never simple. There is good evidence that trees cool the planet, and manage their own airflow, but not so good that it is not disputed.

There is convincing evidence that trees emit volatile organic compounds that help the rain-making process but also extend the life of that potent atmospheric greenhouse gas, methane: convincing enough to permit at least one scientist to argue, seriously, that forests might not cool the world after all, even as they absorb that other greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

And along the way Pearce and his articulate arboreal experts deliver other challenges to the orthodoxies of popular ecology. Big money and unthinking greed help in the destruction of forests everywhere, but the richer the nation, the more likely it is to be extending its own canopy. Between 1990 and 2015, high-income countries on average increased forest cover by 1.3%. Low to middle-income countries however lost 0.3%, while the poorest of all bade farewell to 0.7%.

It would be nice to think that “levelling-up” would play its role in slowing climate change. But, of course, the rich nations are exporting deforestation in the service of trade. The poor world’s forests are being felled and land cleared for our beef and cattle fodder, our coffee, our chocolate.

Second thoughts

In the course of this absorbing book, Pearce undertakes some enthusiastic root-and-branch re-examination of other arboreal orthodoxies. North America was not once covered by “endless pristine forest”. For millennia, forests have been managed by indigenous peoples; the same is true for African and South American jungles.

Plantation − commercial or otherwise − may not be a good way to restore global canopy. Systematic, government-endorsed “greening projects” may not be the best solution to either carbon absorption or biodiversity restoration. It might be better to leave nature to do what nature does best: the results of “wilding” what was once degraded or deserted land can be remarkable.

Agroforestry, − partnering of trees and crops − on the other hand, also has a lot going for it. Unexpectedly, the seeming connection between land degradation and over-population isn’t really there. In the words of one research paper, “population density is positively correlated with the volume of planted woody biomass.”

And on the evidence so far, centralised policy and government initiatives might be less effective than indigenous or local guardianship. Where communities do have genuine control of their own woodlands, community management of the world’s forests “works staggeringly well.”

There is a case for people power after all. Pearce writes: “If, as I believe, natural regrowth has to be the basis for the renaissance of the world’s trees, then the custodians of that process must be the people who live in, among, and from them … They know them best and need them most.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

A Trillion Trees: How We Can Reforest Our World, by Fred Pearce: Granta, £20, ISBN: 9781783786916

Trees are vital for solving the climate crisis. But there’s nothing simple about the forested world, as forest people know.

LONDON, 23 August, 2021 − Here’s something you perhaps didn’t know (but you can be sure forest people did). Rainforests make their own rain. Just how much rain they make is a revelation. The process starts with evaporated ocean, which condenses over coastal forest: thereafter, the trees get to work.

The initial deposit of rain will be transpired through the foliage, back into the air to be caught in a pattern of winds that might even be helped by the trees themselves: the same water will fall again across the forest five or six times before journey’s end.

The scale of this natural corporate utility service is colossal: one pilot followed the Amazon’s own flying river from Belém near the Atlantic coast across to the Andes, where the airstream and clouds of vapour turned south to reach the coast again at São Paulo, at the same time transporting 3,200 cubic metres of water a second.

There’s no case for doubt. One of the plane’s passengers collected air samples along the way: once inland, the water vapour had the molecular signature associated with vegetation rather than freshly evaporated seawater.

And somehow the forest actually adds to the delivery: at one place near the ocean, the fall is 215 cms a year; at the heart of Amazonas it is somehow 245 cms a year.

Trees as rainmakers

The phenomenon that is the flying river is not unique to the Amazon. Others cross North America, the Congo rainforest, the Sahel and Ethiopia. The world’s most mighty high-altitude aquifer runs for 6000 kms west-to-east across the Eurasian landmass, taking six months, at the end of which four-fifths of the rain in northern China has been generated by the great boreal forest that begins in Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Trees make the rain. Arid places may be treeless not because they are arid; they could be arid because someone cleared the foliage.

A Trillion Trees: How We Can Reforest Our World, by Fred Pearce, (Granta, £20) is a reporter’s book. Pearce has been reporting the science and impacts of the environment for the New Scientist and other journals for four decades or more.

He doesn’t just deliver the big picture: he illuminates the detail. He goes to forests and the desolate landscapes where forests had once flourished. He meets scientists, activists, campaigners, government officials, loggers, farmers, businessmen, politicians and where possible the indigenous peoples of the forest.

He isn’t just there for the rainforest: he knows the American landscape, the great forests of the north, the plantations of Israel, the woodlands of Europe and the mangroves of the African shore, and he introduces the people to whom these places matter.

“If natural regrowth has to be the basis for the renaissance of the world’s trees, then the custodians of that process must be the people who live in them”

This is the book’s strength, and occasionally its weakness: just as the dense understory slows the trek through the great forest, so the vigorous tangle of evidence and counter-argument sometimes leaves the reader a little confused.

That seeming weakness is best considered part of the book’s big message: forests and trees may be simply marvellous, but they are never simple. There is good evidence that trees cool the planet, and manage their own airflow, but not so good that it is not disputed.

There is convincing evidence that trees emit volatile organic compounds that help the rain-making process but also extend the life of that potent atmospheric greenhouse gas, methane: convincing enough to permit at least one scientist to argue, seriously, that forests might not cool the world after all, even as they absorb that other greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

And along the way Pearce and his articulate arboreal experts deliver other challenges to the orthodoxies of popular ecology. Big money and unthinking greed help in the destruction of forests everywhere, but the richer the nation, the more likely it is to be extending its own canopy. Between 1990 and 2015, high-income countries on average increased forest cover by 1.3%. Low to middle-income countries however lost 0.3%, while the poorest of all bade farewell to 0.7%.

It would be nice to think that “levelling-up” would play its role in slowing climate change. But, of course, the rich nations are exporting deforestation in the service of trade. The poor world’s forests are being felled and land cleared for our beef and cattle fodder, our coffee, our chocolate.

Second thoughts

In the course of this absorbing book, Pearce undertakes some enthusiastic root-and-branch re-examination of other arboreal orthodoxies. North America was not once covered by “endless pristine forest”. For millennia, forests have been managed by indigenous peoples; the same is true for African and South American jungles.

Plantation − commercial or otherwise − may not be a good way to restore global canopy. Systematic, government-endorsed “greening projects” may not be the best solution to either carbon absorption or biodiversity restoration. It might be better to leave nature to do what nature does best: the results of “wilding” what was once degraded or deserted land can be remarkable.

Agroforestry, − partnering of trees and crops − on the other hand, also has a lot going for it. Unexpectedly, the seeming connection between land degradation and over-population isn’t really there. In the words of one research paper, “population density is positively correlated with the volume of planted woody biomass.”

And on the evidence so far, centralised policy and government initiatives might be less effective than indigenous or local guardianship. Where communities do have genuine control of their own woodlands, community management of the world’s forests “works staggeringly well.”

There is a case for people power after all. Pearce writes: “If, as I believe, natural regrowth has to be the basis for the renaissance of the world’s trees, then the custodians of that process must be the people who live in, among, and from them … They know them best and need them most.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

A Trillion Trees: How We Can Reforest Our World, by Fred Pearce: Granta, £20, ISBN: 9781783786916