Category Archives: Nature

UK nuclear plants will exact heavy fish toll

Environmental groups are alarmed at the heavy fish toll which two new British nuclear plants will inflict on stocks.

LONDON, 4 May, 2021 − The high fatality rate which the cooling systems of two British nuclear power stations may impose on marine life is worrying environmentalists, who describe the heavy fish toll they expect as “staggering”.

The two stations, Hinkley Point C, under construction on England’s west coast, and Sizewell C, planned for the eastern side of the country, will, they say, kill more than 200 million fish a year and destroy millions more sea creatures. But the stations’ builders say their critics are exaggerating drastically.

Objectors to the fish kill had hoped that the UK government agency tasked with conserving fish stocks in the seas around Britain, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), would be on their side.

They have been disappointed to learn that Cefas is a paid adviser to the French nuclear company EDF, which is building the stations, and would raise no objections to the company’s method of cooling them with seawater.

“Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace”

In a detailed rebuttal of the objectors’ arguments, Cefas denies any conflict of interest between advising EDF about the damage the stations would do to the marine environment and its own duty to protect fish stocks – and it claims that the loss of millions of fish would not affect stocks overall.

The Hinkley Point C twin nuclear reactors being built in Somerset, in the West of England, which are due for completion by 2026, will kill about 182m fish a year by some estimates, although EDF says it is doing its best to reduce the problem with modified cooling water intakes and an acoustic method of deterring fish from approaching the intakes. The green groups fear the proposed Sizewell C plant in Suffolk on the east coast will kill another 28.5m fish annually.

Using figures taken directly from EDF’s own planning documents, the opponents of the Suffolk plant calculate that 560m fish will be slaughtered in a 20-year period through being sucked into its cooling systems. They say the fish will be unable to avoid the pipes, which take in 131 cubic metres of seawater every second.

Peter Wilkinson, chairman of Together Against Sizewell C, said: “Even this staggering figure hides a grim truth. It represents only a percentage of the overall impact on the marine environment inflicted by nuclear power.

Corporate impunity

“Unknown millions of eggs, marine crustaceans, larvae and post-larval stages of fish fry, along with other marine biota, are entrained [dragged] through the nuclear plant cooling systems every year, adding to the toll of those impinged [caught] on the mesh of the cooling intakes and the decimation of fish stocks.”

Among the scores of species that will be killed are several protected fish, including bass, Blackwater herring, eels and river lampreys, as well as fish under special conservation measures to allow depleted stocks to recover.

The existing nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast, Sizewell B, already kills 800,000 bass a year. The planned station is expected to kill 2m more. Someone fishing from the beach at Sizewell could be prosecuted for catching a single bass: EDF will be allowed to kill millions with impunity. A heavy fish toll appears to be inevitable.

Wilkinson added: “This carnage is wholesale, inhumane and unacceptable and flies in the face of the government’s so-called ‘green agenda’. We expect Cefas to condemn this level of impact.

Not many fatalities

“This marine life will be sacrificed for the purposes of cooling a plant which is not needed to keep the lights on, which will do nothing to reduce global carbon emissions, which will be paid for from the pockets of all UK taxpayers and bill-paying customers, leaving future generations with a lasting legacy of an impoverished environment. Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace.”

In a statement to the Climate News Network, Cefas denied any conflict of interest, saying it was paid by EDF to give objective and rigorous scientific advice to ensure that both new stations were environmentally sustainable. It advised where possible how to reduce the fish kill.

“Where impacts do occur, such as the mortality of fish on power station intake screens, we assess these against other sources of mortality … and the ability of the population to withstand such losses.  Compared to the natural population size, relatively few fish will be impacted . . . ”, the statement said.

Cefas would not say how much it was paid by EDF, saying its fees were less than 10% of its annual income and so it was not obliged to do so. It added: “There is no scientific evidence that the proposed new nuclear developments will cause large-scale destruction of marine life or impact protected species.” − Climate News Network

Environmental groups are alarmed at the heavy fish toll which two new British nuclear plants will inflict on stocks.

LONDON, 4 May, 2021 − The high fatality rate which the cooling systems of two British nuclear power stations may impose on marine life is worrying environmentalists, who describe the heavy fish toll they expect as “staggering”.

The two stations, Hinkley Point C, under construction on England’s west coast, and Sizewell C, planned for the eastern side of the country, will, they say, kill more than 200 million fish a year and destroy millions more sea creatures. But the stations’ builders say their critics are exaggerating drastically.

Objectors to the fish kill had hoped that the UK government agency tasked with conserving fish stocks in the seas around Britain, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), would be on their side.

They have been disappointed to learn that Cefas is a paid adviser to the French nuclear company EDF, which is building the stations, and would raise no objections to the company’s method of cooling them with seawater.

“Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace”

In a detailed rebuttal of the objectors’ arguments, Cefas denies any conflict of interest between advising EDF about the damage the stations would do to the marine environment and its own duty to protect fish stocks – and it claims that the loss of millions of fish would not affect stocks overall.

The Hinkley Point C twin nuclear reactors being built in Somerset, in the West of England, which are due for completion by 2026, will kill about 182m fish a year by some estimates, although EDF says it is doing its best to reduce the problem with modified cooling water intakes and an acoustic method of deterring fish from approaching the intakes. The green groups fear the proposed Sizewell C plant in Suffolk on the east coast will kill another 28.5m fish annually.

Using figures taken directly from EDF’s own planning documents, the opponents of the Suffolk plant calculate that 560m fish will be slaughtered in a 20-year period through being sucked into its cooling systems. They say the fish will be unable to avoid the pipes, which take in 131 cubic metres of seawater every second.

Peter Wilkinson, chairman of Together Against Sizewell C, said: “Even this staggering figure hides a grim truth. It represents only a percentage of the overall impact on the marine environment inflicted by nuclear power.

Corporate impunity

“Unknown millions of eggs, marine crustaceans, larvae and post-larval stages of fish fry, along with other marine biota, are entrained [dragged] through the nuclear plant cooling systems every year, adding to the toll of those impinged [caught] on the mesh of the cooling intakes and the decimation of fish stocks.”

Among the scores of species that will be killed are several protected fish, including bass, Blackwater herring, eels and river lampreys, as well as fish under special conservation measures to allow depleted stocks to recover.

The existing nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast, Sizewell B, already kills 800,000 bass a year. The planned station is expected to kill 2m more. Someone fishing from the beach at Sizewell could be prosecuted for catching a single bass: EDF will be allowed to kill millions with impunity. A heavy fish toll appears to be inevitable.

Wilkinson added: “This carnage is wholesale, inhumane and unacceptable and flies in the face of the government’s so-called ‘green agenda’. We expect Cefas to condemn this level of impact.

Not many fatalities

“This marine life will be sacrificed for the purposes of cooling a plant which is not needed to keep the lights on, which will do nothing to reduce global carbon emissions, which will be paid for from the pockets of all UK taxpayers and bill-paying customers, leaving future generations with a lasting legacy of an impoverished environment. Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace.”

In a statement to the Climate News Network, Cefas denied any conflict of interest, saying it was paid by EDF to give objective and rigorous scientific advice to ensure that both new stations were environmentally sustainable. It advised where possible how to reduce the fish kill.

“Where impacts do occur, such as the mortality of fish on power station intake screens, we assess these against other sources of mortality … and the ability of the population to withstand such losses.  Compared to the natural population size, relatively few fish will be impacted . . . ”, the statement said.

Cefas would not say how much it was paid by EDF, saying its fees were less than 10% of its annual income and so it was not obliged to do so. It added: “There is no scientific evidence that the proposed new nuclear developments will cause large-scale destruction of marine life or impact protected species.” − Climate News Network

Now ticks flee the heat by taking to the mountains

Higher temperatures are driving more creatures to climb higher for comfort. Now ticks flee the heat to stay cool.

LONDON, 30 April, 2021 – A warming climate means many fish species swim polewards in search of cooler waters. Warming can cause birds to change migration patterns, and the growing season of plants and trees also alters as temperatures rise. The latest refugees? Now ticks flee the heat by heading higher.

There’s mounting evidence that ticks – those bothersome blood-sucking creatures which take up residence on animals and humans – are changing their ways and spreading to new regions, encouraged by global warming.

Nicolas De Pelsmaeker of the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) has been leading a team of researchers tracking the spread of ticks in the mountains of southern Norway. He and his colleagues have found ticks at altitudes of 1,000 metres.

“Before this discovery ticks had not been found at altitudes higher than 583m above sea level,” De Pelsmaeker says in an article on the Science Nordic website.

“An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and the transmission of tick-borne diseases”

“A dramatic development has taken place over a short period of time and we do not know where it will stop. Further studies can tell us if ticks are present even higher up in the mountains.”

Ticks – there are believed to be 900 different species in the world – are amazingly resilient and tenacious. Experiments have shown that female ticks – they out-tough the males – can live without air, completely immersed in water, for up to 13 days with no sign of weakening.

Ticks can also adapt to different temperatures, and are at their most energetic in warmth. Some can live for seven years, while others have been found to go on drinking the blood of animals – and humans – for up to 20 years.

“They hibernate when the temperature falls below five or six degrees Celsius,” says De Pelsmaeker, who uses his fridge to monitor tick behaviour.

Risk to humans

“They virtually stop all their bodily functions. As soon as the temperature rises, they become active again.”

In the course of its fieldwork, the USN team captured 3500 small rodents in Norway’s southern mountains. More than 15,000 tick larvae were found on the animals.

Tick bites can be fatal for livestock. They can also spread disease among humans, causing borreliosis or Lyme disease, a debilitating condition.

“Many Norwegians spend a lot of time in the mountains,” says De Pelsmaeker. “An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and therefore also the transmission of tick-borne diseases.”

Potential uses

As temperatures rise in various parts of the world, the incidence of Lyme disease is increasing, as is evident particularly in parts of the US.

In Norway there are signs that more tick species are arriving in the country, hitching a ride on birds migrating from warmer parts of the world. In the past these ticks from more southern regions would not have survived, but as the climate in Norway warms the chances of their survival increase.

Ticks are not all bad. Scientists are analysing whether the substance which ticks use to glue themselves to their hosts could be used to bind human skin after operations, or on wounds and injuries.

Tick saliva might be used to treat skin diseases. “Because ticks often drink blood over the course of several days, they do not want to be detected by the host,” says De Pelsmaeker. “Therefore special molecules are also present in the saliva that prevent skin irritation and itching.” – Climate News Network

Higher temperatures are driving more creatures to climb higher for comfort. Now ticks flee the heat to stay cool.

LONDON, 30 April, 2021 – A warming climate means many fish species swim polewards in search of cooler waters. Warming can cause birds to change migration patterns, and the growing season of plants and trees also alters as temperatures rise. The latest refugees? Now ticks flee the heat by heading higher.

There’s mounting evidence that ticks – those bothersome blood-sucking creatures which take up residence on animals and humans – are changing their ways and spreading to new regions, encouraged by global warming.

Nicolas De Pelsmaeker of the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) has been leading a team of researchers tracking the spread of ticks in the mountains of southern Norway. He and his colleagues have found ticks at altitudes of 1,000 metres.

“Before this discovery ticks had not been found at altitudes higher than 583m above sea level,” De Pelsmaeker says in an article on the Science Nordic website.

“An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and the transmission of tick-borne diseases”

“A dramatic development has taken place over a short period of time and we do not know where it will stop. Further studies can tell us if ticks are present even higher up in the mountains.”

Ticks – there are believed to be 900 different species in the world – are amazingly resilient and tenacious. Experiments have shown that female ticks – they out-tough the males – can live without air, completely immersed in water, for up to 13 days with no sign of weakening.

Ticks can also adapt to different temperatures, and are at their most energetic in warmth. Some can live for seven years, while others have been found to go on drinking the blood of animals – and humans – for up to 20 years.

“They hibernate when the temperature falls below five or six degrees Celsius,” says De Pelsmaeker, who uses his fridge to monitor tick behaviour.

Risk to humans

“They virtually stop all their bodily functions. As soon as the temperature rises, they become active again.”

In the course of its fieldwork, the USN team captured 3500 small rodents in Norway’s southern mountains. More than 15,000 tick larvae were found on the animals.

Tick bites can be fatal for livestock. They can also spread disease among humans, causing borreliosis or Lyme disease, a debilitating condition.

“Many Norwegians spend a lot of time in the mountains,” says De Pelsmaeker. “An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and therefore also the transmission of tick-borne diseases.”

Potential uses

As temperatures rise in various parts of the world, the incidence of Lyme disease is increasing, as is evident particularly in parts of the US.

In Norway there are signs that more tick species are arriving in the country, hitching a ride on birds migrating from warmer parts of the world. In the past these ticks from more southern regions would not have survived, but as the climate in Norway warms the chances of their survival increase.

Ticks are not all bad. Scientists are analysing whether the substance which ticks use to glue themselves to their hosts could be used to bind human skin after operations, or on wounds and injuries.

Tick saliva might be used to treat skin diseases. “Because ticks often drink blood over the course of several days, they do not want to be detected by the host,” says De Pelsmaeker. “Therefore special molecules are also present in the saliva that prevent skin irritation and itching.” – Climate News Network

Invasive alien species exact huge ecosystem cost

At last, a global price on invasive alien species: it runs to billions of dollars and doubles every six years.

LONDON, 8 April, 2021 − French scientists have put a value on the cost of ecosystem destruction by often almost invisible newcomers: the damage invasive alien species do, and the price of containing that damage, has already passed the US$1.28 trillion mark in less than 50 years.

That’s because the annual toll imposed by cats, rats and mice, boll weevils, gipsy moths, African bees, red imported fire ants and other unwelcome migrants has averaged $26.8 billion a year from 1970 to 2017, and has been doubling every six years, and trebling every decade.

Which is why the global economic losses in 2017 alone reached $162bn, and will go on rising, they warn in the journal Nature.

“This trillion dollar bill doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, with a consistent threefold increase per decade,” said Christophe Diagne of the Université Paris-Saclay, who led the research.

“Our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs”

“Our annual global estimates signify the huge economic burden, with the average cost exceeding the gross domestic product of 50 countries on the African continent in 2017, and it’s more than 20 times higher than the total funds available for the World Health Organisation and UN combined.”

Displaced species − accidental stowaways such as the Norway rat and the malarial mosquito, or deliberate introductions such as coypu and mink
− can and do cause colossal damage to unique habitats fashioned by evolution and to the ecosystem services they provide.

African bees and boll weevils from Mexico present a potentially devastating threat to farm incomes worldwide; the larvae of gypsy moths from Europe − known to devour the foliage of at least 500 tree species − have caused devastation in US forests, and the colonies of the subterranean Formosan termite are now chewing their way through woodwork on mainland Asia and the US.

And, researchers warn, the expansion of global economic traffic, the degradation of natural habitat and the new opportunities delivered by climate change driven by global warming can only deliver more and more devastating opportunities for such invaders.

Models verified

Dr Diagne and his colleagues in Europe and Australia have been compiling a database of the economic costs of biological invasion, and a mechanism for calculating the scale of annual monetary losses. And these, the researchers warn, are probably much higher than $1.28 trillion in the last five decades.

They want to see the hazard of biological invasion taken seriously in the discussion of transnational projects. They also urge international co-operation to reduce the risks.

“The global costs of invasive alien species are so massive that we spent months verifying our models and this overall estimate, to ensure we were not exaggerating,” Dr Diagne said.

“As it turns out, our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs.” − Climate News Network

At last, a global price on invasive alien species: it runs to billions of dollars and doubles every six years.

LONDON, 8 April, 2021 − French scientists have put a value on the cost of ecosystem destruction by often almost invisible newcomers: the damage invasive alien species do, and the price of containing that damage, has already passed the US$1.28 trillion mark in less than 50 years.

That’s because the annual toll imposed by cats, rats and mice, boll weevils, gipsy moths, African bees, red imported fire ants and other unwelcome migrants has averaged $26.8 billion a year from 1970 to 2017, and has been doubling every six years, and trebling every decade.

Which is why the global economic losses in 2017 alone reached $162bn, and will go on rising, they warn in the journal Nature.

“This trillion dollar bill doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, with a consistent threefold increase per decade,” said Christophe Diagne of the Université Paris-Saclay, who led the research.

“Our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs”

“Our annual global estimates signify the huge economic burden, with the average cost exceeding the gross domestic product of 50 countries on the African continent in 2017, and it’s more than 20 times higher than the total funds available for the World Health Organisation and UN combined.”

Displaced species − accidental stowaways such as the Norway rat and the malarial mosquito, or deliberate introductions such as coypu and mink
− can and do cause colossal damage to unique habitats fashioned by evolution and to the ecosystem services they provide.

African bees and boll weevils from Mexico present a potentially devastating threat to farm incomes worldwide; the larvae of gypsy moths from Europe − known to devour the foliage of at least 500 tree species − have caused devastation in US forests, and the colonies of the subterranean Formosan termite are now chewing their way through woodwork on mainland Asia and the US.

And, researchers warn, the expansion of global economic traffic, the degradation of natural habitat and the new opportunities delivered by climate change driven by global warming can only deliver more and more devastating opportunities for such invaders.

Models verified

Dr Diagne and his colleagues in Europe and Australia have been compiling a database of the economic costs of biological invasion, and a mechanism for calculating the scale of annual monetary losses. And these, the researchers warn, are probably much higher than $1.28 trillion in the last five decades.

They want to see the hazard of biological invasion taken seriously in the discussion of transnational projects. They also urge international co-operation to reduce the risks.

“The global costs of invasive alien species are so massive that we spent months verifying our models and this overall estimate, to ensure we were not exaggerating,” Dr Diagne said.

“As it turns out, our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs.” − Climate News Network

Plants will be hit as a warming world turns drier

If a warming world becomes a drier one, how will the green things respond? Not well, according to a new prediction.

LONDON, 26 March, 2021 − The air of planet Earth has been gradually drying this century. If this goes on, that could be bad news for humankind. In a warming world crop harvests will dwindle, even in well-watered farmlands, and trees could shrink in height.

The prospect of stunted forests and shortages of food in a world hit by global heating, climate change and rapid population growth is ominous. But if US and Canadian scientists are right, it may be a simple consequence of plant response to a rarely-discussed worldwide phenomenon known as vapour pressure deficit, which has been rising for the past 20 years as the world has warmed.

The argument isn’t a simple one. Higher global temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher atmospheric temperatures also mean that the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture also rises − the rule of thumb is 7% more vapour per degree Celsius rise. So a warmer world should be a wetter world.

But climate science also predicts that although those regions already rainy will get rainier, the drylands and arid zones will get even dryer as the thermometer soars.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle. Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting”

Now there is another factor in the calculations: vapour pressure deficit, or the overall drying of the atmosphere, and how plants react to the problem of dwindling atmospheric moisture.

New research in the journal Global Change Biology analyses 50 years of research and 112 plant species, and 59 physiological traits in those plants. The evidence suggests that atmospheric drying reduces plant yield, as the plants adjust to new conditions.

“When there is a high vapour pressure deficit, our atmosphere pulls water from other sources: animals, plants, etc. An increase in vapour pressure deficit places greater demand on the crop to use more water. In turn, this puts more pressure on farmers to ensure this demand for water is met − either via precipitation or irrigation − so that yields do not decrease,” said Walid Sadok, of the University of Minnesota.

“We believe a climate change-driven increase in atmospheric drying will reduce plant productivity and crop yields both in Minnesota and globally.”

The paradox is that plants can adjust to a changing world but in this case by becoming more drought-resistant. Which, in the case of wheat, maize and even birch trees, means growing less.

Less productive plants

Findings such as this are tentative, and will in any case be tested by time. But they also illustrate just how much there is yet to learn about the consequence of climate change in a complex, responsive world.

Other research teams have repeatedly observed that even in the drier regions, plants have so far responded to rising greenhouse gas emissions by an increase in global greenness. But there is nothing simple about the greenhouse effect. And there has been repeated evidence too that forest conservation and more tree plantations may not provide all the answers to the challenge of growth in an ever-warmer world.

The reasoning within the new study is that plant stomata, those tiny holes in foliage through which plants breathe and release water, adjust according to new conditions. The plants become more conservative. They grow shorter, smaller and more resistant to drought, even if there is no drought. And in parallel, they become less able to fix atmospheric carbon dioxide to provide new tissue. So, overall, plant productivity is reduced.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle that will need to be cleared,” said Dr Sadok. “Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting, such as Minnesota.” − Climate News Network

If a warming world becomes a drier one, how will the green things respond? Not well, according to a new prediction.

LONDON, 26 March, 2021 − The air of planet Earth has been gradually drying this century. If this goes on, that could be bad news for humankind. In a warming world crop harvests will dwindle, even in well-watered farmlands, and trees could shrink in height.

The prospect of stunted forests and shortages of food in a world hit by global heating, climate change and rapid population growth is ominous. But if US and Canadian scientists are right, it may be a simple consequence of plant response to a rarely-discussed worldwide phenomenon known as vapour pressure deficit, which has been rising for the past 20 years as the world has warmed.

The argument isn’t a simple one. Higher global temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher atmospheric temperatures also mean that the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture also rises − the rule of thumb is 7% more vapour per degree Celsius rise. So a warmer world should be a wetter world.

But climate science also predicts that although those regions already rainy will get rainier, the drylands and arid zones will get even dryer as the thermometer soars.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle. Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting”

Now there is another factor in the calculations: vapour pressure deficit, or the overall drying of the atmosphere, and how plants react to the problem of dwindling atmospheric moisture.

New research in the journal Global Change Biology analyses 50 years of research and 112 plant species, and 59 physiological traits in those plants. The evidence suggests that atmospheric drying reduces plant yield, as the plants adjust to new conditions.

“When there is a high vapour pressure deficit, our atmosphere pulls water from other sources: animals, plants, etc. An increase in vapour pressure deficit places greater demand on the crop to use more water. In turn, this puts more pressure on farmers to ensure this demand for water is met − either via precipitation or irrigation − so that yields do not decrease,” said Walid Sadok, of the University of Minnesota.

“We believe a climate change-driven increase in atmospheric drying will reduce plant productivity and crop yields both in Minnesota and globally.”

The paradox is that plants can adjust to a changing world but in this case by becoming more drought-resistant. Which, in the case of wheat, maize and even birch trees, means growing less.

Less productive plants

Findings such as this are tentative, and will in any case be tested by time. But they also illustrate just how much there is yet to learn about the consequence of climate change in a complex, responsive world.

Other research teams have repeatedly observed that even in the drier regions, plants have so far responded to rising greenhouse gas emissions by an increase in global greenness. But there is nothing simple about the greenhouse effect. And there has been repeated evidence too that forest conservation and more tree plantations may not provide all the answers to the challenge of growth in an ever-warmer world.

The reasoning within the new study is that plant stomata, those tiny holes in foliage through which plants breathe and release water, adjust according to new conditions. The plants become more conservative. They grow shorter, smaller and more resistant to drought, even if there is no drought. And in parallel, they become less able to fix atmospheric carbon dioxide to provide new tissue. So, overall, plant productivity is reduced.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle that will need to be cleared,” said Dr Sadok. “Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting, such as Minnesota.” − Climate News Network

Protect fish to increase catches − and cut carbon

There is a clear way to get more value from the seas: protect fish. New research confirms an old argument.

LONDON, 25 March, 2021 − Scientists have identified a sure way towards more profitable fishing: don’t do it. Protect fish and leave as much of the seas as possible untouched.

To convert the right stretches of the blue planet into marine sanctuaries would actually deliver bigger hauls than any uncontrolled harvests could promise. It could also protect marine wildlife and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

“Ocean life has been declining worldwide because of overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change. Yet only 7% of the ocean is currently under some kind of protection,” said Enric Sala, of the Pristine Seas project at the National Geographic Society.

“In this study, we’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that − if protected − will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions,” Dr Sala said.

“It’s clear that humanity and the economy will benefit from a healthier ocean. And we can realise those benefits quickly if countries work together to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030.”

No to exploitation

He and 25 other scientists from the US, Canada, France, Germany and Australia report in the journal Nature that they have devised a planning framework and identified regions of ocean that would benefit most from status as Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs.

Right now only around 2.7% of the high seas are fully or highly protected, and in all 7% have been designated or proposed as suitable for such status.

The scientists argue that to safeguard their proposed areas could offer safety for 80% of marine species, ultimately add eight million tonnes more to the global catch than any uncontrolled trawling could offer, and prevent the release of more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year − simply by preventing disturbance of the sea floor.

They see an enormous gain if even 21% of the ocean is protected, and they want to see 30% of the global ocean undisturbed and valued as a conservation resource by the year 2030.

The argument that humans can profit more from conserving the wilderness than by ruthlessly exploiting it sounds radical. But it has been made again and again.

“We’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that − if protected − will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions”

On land, separate research teams have found repeatedly that forests and wetlands deliver a higher net return in the long term, and to the greatest number of people, than mining, felling or farming can offer.

And it has been the same story afloat: world fish catches would benefit from protected areas; fishing itself would become more dangerous and
with lower returns in a regime of uncontrolled global climate change; and a reduction in the rate of global heating would pay off in richer marine harvests.

Diplomats and scientists from 190 nations will meet in Kunming in China this year for a conference of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The US, Canada, the European Commission and other nations have committed to the goal of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030.

But the implication of the latest study is that such declarations are only as good as the effort to realise them that sponsor nations are prepared to make. Most of the proposed protected stretches of sea are within the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of coastal nations; others − the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, for instance, and the Southwest Indian Ridge between South Africa and Antarctica, are governed by international law.

The researchers’ proposals would require a ban on bottom trawling, in which heavy nets scour the submarine ooze. The carbon dioxide released into the ocean from this practice alone is higher than emissions from global aviation; higher even than most countries’ annual carbon emissions.

More is worse

“The ocean floor is the world’s largest carbon storehouse. If we’re to succeed in stopping global warming, we must leave the carbon-rich seabed undisturbed,” said Trisha Atwood of Utah State University, one of the authors.

“Yet every day, we are trawling the seafloor, depleting its biodiversity and mobilising millennia-old carbon and thus exacerbating climate change. Our findings about the climate impacts of bottom trawling will make the activities on the ocean’s seabed hard to ignore in climate plans going forward.”

The overall argument the researchers put to the world’s great fishing nations is a simple one: the worst enemy of successful fishing is overfishing.

“It’s simple: When overfishing and other damaging activities cease, marine life bounces back,” said Reniel Cabral of the University of California Santa Barbara, another of the signatories.

“After protections are put in place, the diversity and abundance of marine life increase over time, with measurable recovery within reserves occurring in as little as three years. Target species and large predators come back, and entire ecosystems are restored within MPAs. With time, the ocean can heal itself and again provide services to humankind.” − Climate News Network

There is a clear way to get more value from the seas: protect fish. New research confirms an old argument.

LONDON, 25 March, 2021 − Scientists have identified a sure way towards more profitable fishing: don’t do it. Protect fish and leave as much of the seas as possible untouched.

To convert the right stretches of the blue planet into marine sanctuaries would actually deliver bigger hauls than any uncontrolled harvests could promise. It could also protect marine wildlife and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

“Ocean life has been declining worldwide because of overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change. Yet only 7% of the ocean is currently under some kind of protection,” said Enric Sala, of the Pristine Seas project at the National Geographic Society.

“In this study, we’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that − if protected − will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions,” Dr Sala said.

“It’s clear that humanity and the economy will benefit from a healthier ocean. And we can realise those benefits quickly if countries work together to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030.”

No to exploitation

He and 25 other scientists from the US, Canada, France, Germany and Australia report in the journal Nature that they have devised a planning framework and identified regions of ocean that would benefit most from status as Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs.

Right now only around 2.7% of the high seas are fully or highly protected, and in all 7% have been designated or proposed as suitable for such status.

The scientists argue that to safeguard their proposed areas could offer safety for 80% of marine species, ultimately add eight million tonnes more to the global catch than any uncontrolled trawling could offer, and prevent the release of more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year − simply by preventing disturbance of the sea floor.

They see an enormous gain if even 21% of the ocean is protected, and they want to see 30% of the global ocean undisturbed and valued as a conservation resource by the year 2030.

The argument that humans can profit more from conserving the wilderness than by ruthlessly exploiting it sounds radical. But it has been made again and again.

“We’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that − if protected − will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions”

On land, separate research teams have found repeatedly that forests and wetlands deliver a higher net return in the long term, and to the greatest number of people, than mining, felling or farming can offer.

And it has been the same story afloat: world fish catches would benefit from protected areas; fishing itself would become more dangerous and
with lower returns in a regime of uncontrolled global climate change; and a reduction in the rate of global heating would pay off in richer marine harvests.

Diplomats and scientists from 190 nations will meet in Kunming in China this year for a conference of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The US, Canada, the European Commission and other nations have committed to the goal of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030.

But the implication of the latest study is that such declarations are only as good as the effort to realise them that sponsor nations are prepared to make. Most of the proposed protected stretches of sea are within the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of coastal nations; others − the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, for instance, and the Southwest Indian Ridge between South Africa and Antarctica, are governed by international law.

The researchers’ proposals would require a ban on bottom trawling, in which heavy nets scour the submarine ooze. The carbon dioxide released into the ocean from this practice alone is higher than emissions from global aviation; higher even than most countries’ annual carbon emissions.

More is worse

“The ocean floor is the world’s largest carbon storehouse. If we’re to succeed in stopping global warming, we must leave the carbon-rich seabed undisturbed,” said Trisha Atwood of Utah State University, one of the authors.

“Yet every day, we are trawling the seafloor, depleting its biodiversity and mobilising millennia-old carbon and thus exacerbating climate change. Our findings about the climate impacts of bottom trawling will make the activities on the ocean’s seabed hard to ignore in climate plans going forward.”

The overall argument the researchers put to the world’s great fishing nations is a simple one: the worst enemy of successful fishing is overfishing.

“It’s simple: When overfishing and other damaging activities cease, marine life bounces back,” said Reniel Cabral of the University of California Santa Barbara, another of the signatories.

“After protections are put in place, the diversity and abundance of marine life increase over time, with measurable recovery within reserves occurring in as little as three years. Target species and large predators come back, and entire ecosystems are restored within MPAs. With time, the ocean can heal itself and again provide services to humankind.” − Climate News Network

Declining English wetland ‘is poor advert for UK’

A declining English wetland will embarrass the UK government at November’s UN climate conference, campaigners say.

LONDON, 23 March, 2021− The area around Chichester Harbour on Britain’s south coast overlooks the English Channel. Famed as a beauty spot, it is a draw for holiday-makers from the crowded towns and cities of southern Britain. It is also one of the UK’s key habitats for many bird species and for endangered mammals such as water voles. But the condition of this declining English wetland is stirring concern.

Coastal wetlands are not only important for wildlife and tourism, conservationists argue. They are one of nature’s most efficient ecosystems for absorbing carbon dioxide, and among the best forms of coastal protection, increasingly recognised for making low-lying areas more resilient and adaptable to sea level rise.

A report by researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, spells out how the value of natural wetlands far exceeds that of managed or farmed land.

The low-lying coastal plain surrounding the ancient Roman city of Chichester is one of the UK areas most vulnerable to sea level rise, increased storminess and intense rainfall.

“The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference”

It has done pioneering work in climate change mitigation and adaptation, including protecting the Medmerry Reserve wetlands, Europe’s largest coastal realignment scheme  when it opened in 2013. The Harbour contains the largest salt marsh on the south coast, but nearly half of it has been lost since 1970.

But now local people charge the government with neglecting their efforts to increase the area’s resilience. Libby Alexander founded the Save our South Coast Alliance (SOSCA). She says: “The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference, due to be held this year in Glasgow in November.” Nor is the physical condition of the Harbour her only concern.

“The government continues to preach to us and the rest of the world about climate change and the environment”, she says, “but practices an entirely different agenda. It is driving forward a building programme which is endangering the future of some of the country’s most important wetlands.”

Unfavourable condition

A report in the Guardian newspaper described the fear of many local people at “the threat of ‘rural sprawl’ creating new landscapes … the ‘suburbanisation’ of the countryside”, resulting from the government’s plans for changes to England’s planning system.

SOSCA says the threats it faces from the government’s drive for more housebuilding in south-east England include 12,650 unnecessary new homes across the coastal plain with the strong possibility of many more − “the wrong houses in the wrong places” − which will inevitably lead to extensive and irreversible damage through pollution and flooding. It says Chichester is being forced by the government to build far more new houses than it can safely accommodate.

Residents say a real threat is the untreated sewage that is pumped into the harbour, for which the local water company, Southern Water, has been penalised. It was fined £126 million in 2019 for spills of waste water into the environment from its sewage plants and for deliberately misreporting its performance. A great number of these discharges went into Chichester Harbour. The Environment Agency is reported to have launched a criminal investigation into the case.

Chichester Harbour Trust says not enough is being done to improve water quality in the Harbour. Its chairman, John Nelson, said: “We all need to force the regulators to take immediate action before we have an environmental and public health catastrophe.”

In January this year the Chichester Observer reported that over the 2020 Christmas period there were uninterrupted sewage discharges into Chichester Harbour for six days. Mr Nelson said: “Given Southern Water’s record over the Christmas period the time has come to implement radical change. The Trust is calling on the regulatory body Ofwat to use its legislative powers to put Southern Water into special administration in order to avoid an environmental catastrophe.”

Natural England is the government’s official environment adviser. It has published a new and authoritative report which describes Chichester Harbour, globally important for migratory birds, as now being in an “unfavourable and declining” condition, because of increasing development and rising sea levels.

Serious climate change adaptation and mitigation needs to be factored into the planning process immediately, says SOSCA. “Ironically, the UK government is promoting global coastal wetland conservation through its Blue Forests Initiative but failing to support the efforts of its own citizens”, said Libby Alexander. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Carolyn Cobbold is a Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. A former journalist, she has been writing about climate change issues since the mid-1980s. Twitter: @DrCobbold

A declining English wetland will embarrass the UK government at November’s UN climate conference, campaigners say.

LONDON, 23 March, 2021− The area around Chichester Harbour on Britain’s south coast overlooks the English Channel. Famed as a beauty spot, it is a draw for holiday-makers from the crowded towns and cities of southern Britain. It is also one of the UK’s key habitats for many bird species and for endangered mammals such as water voles. But the condition of this declining English wetland is stirring concern.

Coastal wetlands are not only important for wildlife and tourism, conservationists argue. They are one of nature’s most efficient ecosystems for absorbing carbon dioxide, and among the best forms of coastal protection, increasingly recognised for making low-lying areas more resilient and adaptable to sea level rise.

A report by researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, spells out how the value of natural wetlands far exceeds that of managed or farmed land.

The low-lying coastal plain surrounding the ancient Roman city of Chichester is one of the UK areas most vulnerable to sea level rise, increased storminess and intense rainfall.

“The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference”

It has done pioneering work in climate change mitigation and adaptation, including protecting the Medmerry Reserve wetlands, Europe’s largest coastal realignment scheme  when it opened in 2013. The Harbour contains the largest salt marsh on the south coast, but nearly half of it has been lost since 1970.

But now local people charge the government with neglecting their efforts to increase the area’s resilience. Libby Alexander founded the Save our South Coast Alliance (SOSCA). She says: “The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference, due to be held this year in Glasgow in November.” Nor is the physical condition of the Harbour her only concern.

“The government continues to preach to us and the rest of the world about climate change and the environment”, she says, “but practices an entirely different agenda. It is driving forward a building programme which is endangering the future of some of the country’s most important wetlands.”

Unfavourable condition

A report in the Guardian newspaper described the fear of many local people at “the threat of ‘rural sprawl’ creating new landscapes … the ‘suburbanisation’ of the countryside”, resulting from the government’s plans for changes to England’s planning system.

SOSCA says the threats it faces from the government’s drive for more housebuilding in south-east England include 12,650 unnecessary new homes across the coastal plain with the strong possibility of many more − “the wrong houses in the wrong places” − which will inevitably lead to extensive and irreversible damage through pollution and flooding. It says Chichester is being forced by the government to build far more new houses than it can safely accommodate.

Residents say a real threat is the untreated sewage that is pumped into the harbour, for which the local water company, Southern Water, has been penalised. It was fined £126 million in 2019 for spills of waste water into the environment from its sewage plants and for deliberately misreporting its performance. A great number of these discharges went into Chichester Harbour. The Environment Agency is reported to have launched a criminal investigation into the case.

Chichester Harbour Trust says not enough is being done to improve water quality in the Harbour. Its chairman, John Nelson, said: “We all need to force the regulators to take immediate action before we have an environmental and public health catastrophe.”

In January this year the Chichester Observer reported that over the 2020 Christmas period there were uninterrupted sewage discharges into Chichester Harbour for six days. Mr Nelson said: “Given Southern Water’s record over the Christmas period the time has come to implement radical change. The Trust is calling on the regulatory body Ofwat to use its legislative powers to put Southern Water into special administration in order to avoid an environmental catastrophe.”

Natural England is the government’s official environment adviser. It has published a new and authoritative report which describes Chichester Harbour, globally important for migratory birds, as now being in an “unfavourable and declining” condition, because of increasing development and rising sea levels.

Serious climate change adaptation and mitigation needs to be factored into the planning process immediately, says SOSCA. “Ironically, the UK government is promoting global coastal wetland conservation through its Blue Forests Initiative but failing to support the efforts of its own citizens”, said Libby Alexander. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Carolyn Cobbold is a Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. A former journalist, she has been writing about climate change issues since the mid-1980s. Twitter: @DrCobbold

Nature left alone offers more than if we exploit it

Save nature, save money. It’s a simple argument. Wilderness cleared and ploughed offers us less than nature left alone.

LONDON, 19 March, 2021 − British scientists have once again made the commercial case for conserving wilderness. They have demonstrated that in its pristine state − mangrove swamps, wetlands, savannahs, forests and so on − nature left alone is of more value to humankind than as exploited real estate.

This argument has been made already, and more than once. But this time the researchers can provide the detail for their argument: they report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they had devised an accounting methodology to test such arguments, and then applied this in 24 selected sites around the planet.

Some of the value would be in intangibles such as providing a shelter for the wild things and wild plants; some of it would be measurable. For instance, if the damage inherent in carbon spilled into the atmosphere through habitat destruction or fossil fuel combustion presents an overall cost to society of $31 a tonne − and this is a conservative estimate − then almost three quarters of the sample sites have greater value simply as natural habitats.

And that includes 100% of all forests. If that greenhouse gas carbon was valued at a paltry $5 a tonne, almost two thirds of the sites would still be, over a 50-year period, a better investment left untouched.

“At current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity”

But what climate scientists now call “natural capital” − the invisible services  provided by nature in crop pollination, water filtration and planetary air conditioning − is of measurable commercial value even without the vital role of carbon sink. Of the 24 sites, 42% would still be worth more in their natural form than converted to cropland.

“Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing,” said Richard Bradbury, of the University of Cambridge. “We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”

And his Cambridge co-author Andrew Balmford said: “Current rates of habitat conversion are driving a species extinction crisis unlike anything in human history. Even if you are only interested in dollars and cents, we can see that conserving and restoring nature is now very often the best bet for human prosperity.”

In fact the researchers made their conclusions based on 62 sites, but concentrated on 24 simply because in these cases they had the most reliable information about the potential commercial value of their sample against which to measure the value of restoring it, or protecting it, or both.

Valuable saltmarsh

If Nepal’s Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park was turned from forest to farmland, investors would gain immediate capital from the value of the timber, and a longer-term income from crops. But the loss of carbon storage would be 60%, and the damage to water quality would be 88%, and Nepal would be $11m worse off.

Even a saltmarsh near Preston in the United Kingdom proved to be worth $2000 a hectare in terms of its value in mitigating carbon emissions: no income from crops or forage grazing could match that.

That left 38 sites for which the economic data was less certain: even in these cases, the “goods and services” delivered by the site in its natural state was, for two thirds of them, of more value to humankind as a whole than calculated exploitation by a few.

“Our findings indicate that, at current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity,” the authors say. − Climate News Network

Save nature, save money. It’s a simple argument. Wilderness cleared and ploughed offers us less than nature left alone.

LONDON, 19 March, 2021 − British scientists have once again made the commercial case for conserving wilderness. They have demonstrated that in its pristine state − mangrove swamps, wetlands, savannahs, forests and so on − nature left alone is of more value to humankind than as exploited real estate.

This argument has been made already, and more than once. But this time the researchers can provide the detail for their argument: they report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they had devised an accounting methodology to test such arguments, and then applied this in 24 selected sites around the planet.

Some of the value would be in intangibles such as providing a shelter for the wild things and wild plants; some of it would be measurable. For instance, if the damage inherent in carbon spilled into the atmosphere through habitat destruction or fossil fuel combustion presents an overall cost to society of $31 a tonne − and this is a conservative estimate − then almost three quarters of the sample sites have greater value simply as natural habitats.

And that includes 100% of all forests. If that greenhouse gas carbon was valued at a paltry $5 a tonne, almost two thirds of the sites would still be, over a 50-year period, a better investment left untouched.

“At current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity”

But what climate scientists now call “natural capital” − the invisible services  provided by nature in crop pollination, water filtration and planetary air conditioning − is of measurable commercial value even without the vital role of carbon sink. Of the 24 sites, 42% would still be worth more in their natural form than converted to cropland.

“Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing,” said Richard Bradbury, of the University of Cambridge. “We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”

And his Cambridge co-author Andrew Balmford said: “Current rates of habitat conversion are driving a species extinction crisis unlike anything in human history. Even if you are only interested in dollars and cents, we can see that conserving and restoring nature is now very often the best bet for human prosperity.”

In fact the researchers made their conclusions based on 62 sites, but concentrated on 24 simply because in these cases they had the most reliable information about the potential commercial value of their sample against which to measure the value of restoring it, or protecting it, or both.

Valuable saltmarsh

If Nepal’s Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park was turned from forest to farmland, investors would gain immediate capital from the value of the timber, and a longer-term income from crops. But the loss of carbon storage would be 60%, and the damage to water quality would be 88%, and Nepal would be $11m worse off.

Even a saltmarsh near Preston in the United Kingdom proved to be worth $2000 a hectare in terms of its value in mitigating carbon emissions: no income from crops or forage grazing could match that.

That left 38 sites for which the economic data was less certain: even in these cases, the “goods and services” delivered by the site in its natural state was, for two thirds of them, of more value to humankind as a whole than calculated exploitation by a few.

“Our findings indicate that, at current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity,” the authors say. − Climate News Network

Europe has grown drier over the last two millennia

Global heating may be to blame for the fact that Europe has grown drier over the last 2,000 years to a new high in 2015.

LONDON, 17 March, 2021 − Europe has grown drier, an outcome shown by the continent’s last five summers, which have been marked by drought that has no parallel in the last two millennia.

Researchers studied two kinds of evidence delivered by 27,000 measurements taken from 21 living oak trees and 126 samples from ancient beams and rafters, to piece together a precise picture of the climate of Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic over the last 2,110 years.

They report, after 2015, that drought conditions intensified suddenly, in ways that were beyond anything over that entire 2000-year tract of time. And, they add, “this hydroclimatic anomaly is probably caused by anthropogenic warming.”

Europe is also getting hotter. In 2003, 2015 and 2018 it was hit by severe summer heat waves and spells of drought that damaged plantations, crops and vines; the damage from drought was intensified by more virulent attacks from pathogens, insect outbreaks and tree death.

“Extreme conditions will become more frequent, which could be devastating for agriculture, ecosystems and societies as a whole”

In the baking summer of 2003, an estimated 70,000 people died because of extremes of heat. And, the researchers say, “a further increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves under projected global warming implies a multitude of harmful direct and indirect impacts on human health.”

In other words, things are bad now and are likely to get worse, according to a report by 17 British, European and Canadian researchers in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Dendrochronologists can and do routinely build up a picture of bygone temperatures by measuring the growth rings in trees: enough old living trees, and reliable knowledge about the felling of oaks for chateaux, cathedrals, sailing ships, fortresses and stockades can help pinpoint seasonal change on an annual basis.

But trees are also living chronicles of changes in carbon and oxygen isotope ratios − tiny atomic variations in the plant’s biochemistry − which provide evidence of rainfall and therefore a more precise picture of any growing season.

Wandering jet stream

The trees delivered mute evidence of very wet summers in 200, 720 and 1100 AD, and very dry summers in the years 40, 590, 950 and 1510 of the Common Era. But overall the big picture emerged: for the years 75 BC to 2018, Europe has slowly been getting drier.

Even so, the evidence from 2015 to 2018 shows that drought conditions in the area from which the trees were taken far exceeds anything in the previous centuries. The mostly likely explanation is the impact of ever-rising temperatures, driven by ever-higher greenhouse gas emissions from the ever-more profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

These temperatures are now considered high enough to affect the course of the stratospheric jet stream in ways that alter the long-term pattern of temperature and rainfall that defines a region’s climate.

“Climate change does not mean it will get drier everywhere,” said Ulf Büntgen, who holds research posts in the University of Cambridge, UK and the Czech Republic and Switzerland. “Some places may get wetter or colder, but extreme conditions will become more frequent, which could be devastating for agriculture, ecosystems and societies as a whole.” − Climate News Network

Global heating may be to blame for the fact that Europe has grown drier over the last 2,000 years to a new high in 2015.

LONDON, 17 March, 2021 − Europe has grown drier, an outcome shown by the continent’s last five summers, which have been marked by drought that has no parallel in the last two millennia.

Researchers studied two kinds of evidence delivered by 27,000 measurements taken from 21 living oak trees and 126 samples from ancient beams and rafters, to piece together a precise picture of the climate of Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic over the last 2,110 years.

They report, after 2015, that drought conditions intensified suddenly, in ways that were beyond anything over that entire 2000-year tract of time. And, they add, “this hydroclimatic anomaly is probably caused by anthropogenic warming.”

Europe is also getting hotter. In 2003, 2015 and 2018 it was hit by severe summer heat waves and spells of drought that damaged plantations, crops and vines; the damage from drought was intensified by more virulent attacks from pathogens, insect outbreaks and tree death.

“Extreme conditions will become more frequent, which could be devastating for agriculture, ecosystems and societies as a whole”

In the baking summer of 2003, an estimated 70,000 people died because of extremes of heat. And, the researchers say, “a further increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves under projected global warming implies a multitude of harmful direct and indirect impacts on human health.”

In other words, things are bad now and are likely to get worse, according to a report by 17 British, European and Canadian researchers in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Dendrochronologists can and do routinely build up a picture of bygone temperatures by measuring the growth rings in trees: enough old living trees, and reliable knowledge about the felling of oaks for chateaux, cathedrals, sailing ships, fortresses and stockades can help pinpoint seasonal change on an annual basis.

But trees are also living chronicles of changes in carbon and oxygen isotope ratios − tiny atomic variations in the plant’s biochemistry − which provide evidence of rainfall and therefore a more precise picture of any growing season.

Wandering jet stream

The trees delivered mute evidence of very wet summers in 200, 720 and 1100 AD, and very dry summers in the years 40, 590, 950 and 1510 of the Common Era. But overall the big picture emerged: for the years 75 BC to 2018, Europe has slowly been getting drier.

Even so, the evidence from 2015 to 2018 shows that drought conditions in the area from which the trees were taken far exceeds anything in the previous centuries. The mostly likely explanation is the impact of ever-rising temperatures, driven by ever-higher greenhouse gas emissions from the ever-more profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

These temperatures are now considered high enough to affect the course of the stratospheric jet stream in ways that alter the long-term pattern of temperature and rainfall that defines a region’s climate.

“Climate change does not mean it will get drier everywhere,” said Ulf Büntgen, who holds research posts in the University of Cambridge, UK and the Czech Republic and Switzerland. “Some places may get wetter or colder, but extreme conditions will become more frequent, which could be devastating for agriculture, ecosystems and societies as a whole.” − Climate News Network

UN survival plan offers new hope for the planet

A bold UN survival plan could put nature back in charge of the Earth − and researchers explain why that should happen.

LONDON, 26 February, 2021 − UN chiefs want to transform the world by putting nature back at the heart of global decision-making, arguing that the global economic shutdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change the planet for the better: for a stable climate, for cleaner air and water, and for a richer natural environment, thanks to the UN survival plan.

The goal? A more sustainable and more equitable world by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050, a curb on global pollution and waste and a halt to ever-accelerating rates of wildlife extinction worldwide.

The methods? One of the first, in Making Peace With Nature, the new United Nations Environment Programme report, will be to incorporate what conservationists call “natural capital” into measures of national economic performance.

That is because forests, savannahs, wetlands and other natural habitats represent wealth, and their loss accelerates poverty. If nations and regions can reverse environmental decline then they can at the same time advance the alleviation of poverty, and secure reliable food and water, and good health, for all.

And to reinforce such arguments, new and entirely separate research continues to underline the UN vision of natural capital as real investment in the services on which all humankind depends.

Vital sanitation need

In 48 cities around the globe, nature provides at least 18% of the sanitation services: creatures in the soils filter and clean around 2.2 million cubic metres of human excrement in the form of pit latrines before it can reach the groundwater table.

Since, in 2017, around one fourth of the global population had no access to sanitation facilities, and 14% used toilets that disposed of waste on site, this is not just an important service but a vital one: vital to human health.

The same research team reports in the journal One Earth that − since more than 892 million people worldwide in effect release excrement into holes in the ground − then nature must sanitise more than 41 million tonnes of human waste every year before it gets into the groundwater. So that’s a service worth US$4.4 billion (£3.14bn) a year, British researchers calculate.

Around 70% of the world’s crops depend on insect pollination, and the range and abundance of insect pollinators is vulnerable to shifts in climate. Importantly, many crops rely on wild pollinators − that is, commercial honey bee colonies cannot always do the trick of turning flowers into fruit, or grain − so what happens to wild insect populations affects what is available for supper.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it guides us by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”

US researchers report in the journal Ecological Applications that they took the case of wild bees and open field tomato crops: these depend on insects that release pollen by vibration, among them bumble bees.

They matched distribution of 15 species and climate data now against predictions for climate change across North America to find that − in the eastern US alone − within the next three to four decades, 11 species of pollinator could be in decline. The implications for food security are inescapable.

And a third study simply looked at what climate change, human population expansion, pollution and demand for freshwater had done to the planet’s rivers and lakes.

French and Chinese scientists report in the journal Science that they had identified what they call “marked changes” in the biodiversity of more than half the world’s rivers and lakes, thanks to human impact.

Of more than 1,000 fish species, 170 were extinct in their natural river basins, at a very conservative estimate. Out of 2,456 river basins, found everywhere except the deserts and the poles, 1,296 of them, covering more than 40% of the planet’s continental surface, and accounting for 37% of the length of the world’s rivers, revealed “deep and spatially distributed anthropogenic impacts.” That is science-speak for loss and defilement.

Lethal heat prospect

Such research − published on an almost daily basis − provides the context in which the latest UNEP report makes its argument. The report identifies a threefold planetary emergency and calls for advances in science and bold policy-making to make lives better both for the poorest in the world, and for nature itself.

It warns that the planet is heading for a warming of at least 3°C by the century’s end; that more than one million species could be heading for extinction; and that pollution-triggered diseases right now deliver an estimated nine million premature deaths each year.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safe place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme,” says António Guterres, UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.

“By recognising nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” − Climate News Network

A bold UN survival plan could put nature back in charge of the Earth − and researchers explain why that should happen.

LONDON, 26 February, 2021 − UN chiefs want to transform the world by putting nature back at the heart of global decision-making, arguing that the global economic shutdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change the planet for the better: for a stable climate, for cleaner air and water, and for a richer natural environment, thanks to the UN survival plan.

The goal? A more sustainable and more equitable world by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050, a curb on global pollution and waste and a halt to ever-accelerating rates of wildlife extinction worldwide.

The methods? One of the first, in Making Peace With Nature, the new United Nations Environment Programme report, will be to incorporate what conservationists call “natural capital” into measures of national economic performance.

That is because forests, savannahs, wetlands and other natural habitats represent wealth, and their loss accelerates poverty. If nations and regions can reverse environmental decline then they can at the same time advance the alleviation of poverty, and secure reliable food and water, and good health, for all.

And to reinforce such arguments, new and entirely separate research continues to underline the UN vision of natural capital as real investment in the services on which all humankind depends.

Vital sanitation need

In 48 cities around the globe, nature provides at least 18% of the sanitation services: creatures in the soils filter and clean around 2.2 million cubic metres of human excrement in the form of pit latrines before it can reach the groundwater table.

Since, in 2017, around one fourth of the global population had no access to sanitation facilities, and 14% used toilets that disposed of waste on site, this is not just an important service but a vital one: vital to human health.

The same research team reports in the journal One Earth that − since more than 892 million people worldwide in effect release excrement into holes in the ground − then nature must sanitise more than 41 million tonnes of human waste every year before it gets into the groundwater. So that’s a service worth US$4.4 billion (£3.14bn) a year, British researchers calculate.

Around 70% of the world’s crops depend on insect pollination, and the range and abundance of insect pollinators is vulnerable to shifts in climate. Importantly, many crops rely on wild pollinators − that is, commercial honey bee colonies cannot always do the trick of turning flowers into fruit, or grain − so what happens to wild insect populations affects what is available for supper.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it guides us by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”

US researchers report in the journal Ecological Applications that they took the case of wild bees and open field tomato crops: these depend on insects that release pollen by vibration, among them bumble bees.

They matched distribution of 15 species and climate data now against predictions for climate change across North America to find that − in the eastern US alone − within the next three to four decades, 11 species of pollinator could be in decline. The implications for food security are inescapable.

And a third study simply looked at what climate change, human population expansion, pollution and demand for freshwater had done to the planet’s rivers and lakes.

French and Chinese scientists report in the journal Science that they had identified what they call “marked changes” in the biodiversity of more than half the world’s rivers and lakes, thanks to human impact.

Of more than 1,000 fish species, 170 were extinct in their natural river basins, at a very conservative estimate. Out of 2,456 river basins, found everywhere except the deserts and the poles, 1,296 of them, covering more than 40% of the planet’s continental surface, and accounting for 37% of the length of the world’s rivers, revealed “deep and spatially distributed anthropogenic impacts.” That is science-speak for loss and defilement.

Lethal heat prospect

Such research − published on an almost daily basis − provides the context in which the latest UNEP report makes its argument. The report identifies a threefold planetary emergency and calls for advances in science and bold policy-making to make lives better both for the poorest in the world, and for nature itself.

It warns that the planet is heading for a warming of at least 3°C by the century’s end; that more than one million species could be heading for extinction; and that pollution-triggered diseases right now deliver an estimated nine million premature deaths each year.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safe place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme,” says António Guterres, UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.

“By recognising nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” − Climate News Network

Hope springs eternal for species facing extinction

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network