Category Archives: Nature

Microbes hold the balance in climate crisis

You need powerful microscopes to see microbes. Few microbiologists claim to know much about most of them. But they are vital in the climate crisis.

LONDON, 28 June, 2019 − Thirty scientists from nine nations have issued a challenge to the rest of climate science: don’t forget the microbes.

They argue that research is ignoring the silent, unseen majority that makes up the microbial world. Lifeforms that add up to a huge proportion of living matter on the planet are being largely left out of climate calculations.

Microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years, manipulating sunlight and turning carbon dioxide into carbon-based living tissue, and the mass of all the microbes on the planet probably contains 70 billion tonnes of carbon alone.

They are biodiversity’s bottom line. They are the arbiters of the planet’s resources. They were the first living things on the planet, and will almost certainly be the last survivors.

They are the only living things at vast depths and colossal pressures. Far below the planetary surface, many survive at temperatures beyond boiling point, in lakes composed of alkali, and some can even digest radioactive material.

“The impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future”

They affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, they colonise the intestines of ruminant species to release enormous volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane, they bury carbon at depth and they decompose vegetation to release new atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They support all life, and powerfully affect life’s health. They affect climate change, and in turn they are affected by climate change.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms that you don’t see on conservation websites”, said Ricardo Cavicchioli, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change. However they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and policy developments.”

Professor Cavicchioli and colleagues from Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada issue what they call their “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

Globally important

It is not as if climate researchers are unaware of the microbial connection: there is evidence of the powerful role microscopic life plays in ocean warming and on land.

But the consensus statement says it “documents the central role and global importance of micro-organisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.”

The scientists want to see more research, closer attention to the microbial underpinning of climate change, and more education. They point out that 90% of the mass of living things in the ocean is microbial. Marine phytoplankton take light energy from the sun, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the basis of the ocean’s life support system. A warming world could mean a diminished ocean food web.

On land, microbes are powerful agencies in both agriculture and disease. “Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen – so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences,” said Professor Cavicchioli.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) − that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.” − Climate News Network

You need powerful microscopes to see microbes. Few microbiologists claim to know much about most of them. But they are vital in the climate crisis.

LONDON, 28 June, 2019 − Thirty scientists from nine nations have issued a challenge to the rest of climate science: don’t forget the microbes.

They argue that research is ignoring the silent, unseen majority that makes up the microbial world. Lifeforms that add up to a huge proportion of living matter on the planet are being largely left out of climate calculations.

Microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years, manipulating sunlight and turning carbon dioxide into carbon-based living tissue, and the mass of all the microbes on the planet probably contains 70 billion tonnes of carbon alone.

They are biodiversity’s bottom line. They are the arbiters of the planet’s resources. They were the first living things on the planet, and will almost certainly be the last survivors.

They are the only living things at vast depths and colossal pressures. Far below the planetary surface, many survive at temperatures beyond boiling point, in lakes composed of alkali, and some can even digest radioactive material.

“The impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future”

They affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, they colonise the intestines of ruminant species to release enormous volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane, they bury carbon at depth and they decompose vegetation to release new atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They support all life, and powerfully affect life’s health. They affect climate change, and in turn they are affected by climate change.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms that you don’t see on conservation websites”, said Ricardo Cavicchioli, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change. However they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and policy developments.”

Professor Cavicchioli and colleagues from Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada issue what they call their “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

Globally important

It is not as if climate researchers are unaware of the microbial connection: there is evidence of the powerful role microscopic life plays in ocean warming and on land.

But the consensus statement says it “documents the central role and global importance of micro-organisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.”

The scientists want to see more research, closer attention to the microbial underpinning of climate change, and more education. They point out that 90% of the mass of living things in the ocean is microbial. Marine phytoplankton take light energy from the sun, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the basis of the ocean’s life support system. A warming world could mean a diminished ocean food web.

On land, microbes are powerful agencies in both agriculture and disease. “Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen – so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences,” said Professor Cavicchioli.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) − that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.” − Climate News Network

Household tissue is a climate issue

Trees are the source of much of our household tissue. And trees and soil store huge quantities of carbon to add to greenhouse gas totals.

LONDON, 27 June, 2019 − The household tissue you use to blow your nose could be adding to the problems of climate change.

A substantial portion of the tissue products we buy – toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissues – comes from boreal forests, the dense ring of trees which encircles much of the globe just below the Arctic Circle.

These forests – and the soils they stand in – contain vast amounts of carbon; when trees are felled and the land they are growing in is disturbed, carbon is released into the atmosphere, adding to the already dangerously high levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

A new report looking at tissue use in the US says Americans are voracious consumers of tissue products; they make up only 4% of the world’s population yet account for more than 20% of global tissue consumption.

The report, by the US-based environmental organisation, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says much of the tissue in the US originates from trees in Canada’s boreal forests.

“The consequences for indigenous peoples, treasured wildlife and the global climate are devastating”

“This vast landscape of coniferous, birch and aspen trees contains some of the last of the world’s remaining intact forests, and is home to over 600 indigenous communities, as well as boreal caribou, pine marten and billions of songbirds”, says the NRDC.

It says that when boreal forests are degraded, their ability to absorb man-made greehouse gas emissions declines.

“In addition, the carbon that had been safely stored in the forests’ soil and vegetation is released into the atmosphere, dramatically undermining international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Temperature increases in the world’s northern regions are already having an adverse impact on boreal forests.
Scientists say earthworms which have recently been found burrowing into the boreal undergrowth are another problem threatening the forests’ survival.

The report says logging on an industrial scale destroys more than a million acres of boreal forest each year. It says what amounts to a “tree to toilet” pipeline has been established, with trees chopped down and converted into tissue pulp, then rolled into perforated sheets or stuffed into boxes and flushed or thrown away.

Solutions available

“The consequences for indigenous peoples, treasured wildlife and the global climate are devastating”, says the NRDC. It insists there are solutions to the problem; sustainably sourced, alternative fibres such as wheat straw and bamboo are available which would greatly reduce the amount of trees being felled.

The report says some US manufacturers have made efforts to use more sustainable materials in their products, but the biggest in the sector – Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific − still rely on virgin pulp from boreal forests for almost all their tissue brands.

“The companies with the largest market shares have the power to make a significant difference for the future of our world’s forests”, says the NRDC.

“Instead, they largely adhere to decades-old tissue formulae that have taken a devastating toll on forests.”

The report calls on consumers to change their buying habits and purchase only brands derived from sustainable products.“Forests are too vital to flush away”, says the NRDC. − Climate News Network

Trees are the source of much of our household tissue. And trees and soil store huge quantities of carbon to add to greenhouse gas totals.

LONDON, 27 June, 2019 − The household tissue you use to blow your nose could be adding to the problems of climate change.

A substantial portion of the tissue products we buy – toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissues – comes from boreal forests, the dense ring of trees which encircles much of the globe just below the Arctic Circle.

These forests – and the soils they stand in – contain vast amounts of carbon; when trees are felled and the land they are growing in is disturbed, carbon is released into the atmosphere, adding to the already dangerously high levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

A new report looking at tissue use in the US says Americans are voracious consumers of tissue products; they make up only 4% of the world’s population yet account for more than 20% of global tissue consumption.

The report, by the US-based environmental organisation, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says much of the tissue in the US originates from trees in Canada’s boreal forests.

“The consequences for indigenous peoples, treasured wildlife and the global climate are devastating”

“This vast landscape of coniferous, birch and aspen trees contains some of the last of the world’s remaining intact forests, and is home to over 600 indigenous communities, as well as boreal caribou, pine marten and billions of songbirds”, says the NRDC.

It says that when boreal forests are degraded, their ability to absorb man-made greehouse gas emissions declines.

“In addition, the carbon that had been safely stored in the forests’ soil and vegetation is released into the atmosphere, dramatically undermining international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Temperature increases in the world’s northern regions are already having an adverse impact on boreal forests.
Scientists say earthworms which have recently been found burrowing into the boreal undergrowth are another problem threatening the forests’ survival.

The report says logging on an industrial scale destroys more than a million acres of boreal forest each year. It says what amounts to a “tree to toilet” pipeline has been established, with trees chopped down and converted into tissue pulp, then rolled into perforated sheets or stuffed into boxes and flushed or thrown away.

Solutions available

“The consequences for indigenous peoples, treasured wildlife and the global climate are devastating”, says the NRDC. It insists there are solutions to the problem; sustainably sourced, alternative fibres such as wheat straw and bamboo are available which would greatly reduce the amount of trees being felled.

The report says some US manufacturers have made efforts to use more sustainable materials in their products, but the biggest in the sector – Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific − still rely on virgin pulp from boreal forests for almost all their tissue brands.

“The companies with the largest market shares have the power to make a significant difference for the future of our world’s forests”, says the NRDC.

“Instead, they largely adhere to decades-old tissue formulae that have taken a devastating toll on forests.”

The report calls on consumers to change their buying habits and purchase only brands derived from sustainable products.“Forests are too vital to flush away”, says the NRDC. − Climate News Network

Very heavy rain bouts are on the way

Here is the long-term forecast. Rain will become more torrential, flash floods more frequent. Very heavy rain is a simple response to global temperatures.

LONDON, 19 June, 2019 – Canadian scientists have examined an exhaustive collection of rain records for the past 50 years to confirm the fears of climate scientists: bouts of very heavy rain are on the increase.

They have measured this increase in parts of Canada, most of Europe, the US Midwest and Northeast, northern Australia, Western Russia and parts of China.

Between 2004 and 2013, worldwide, bouts of extreme rainfall rain increased by 7%. In Europe and Asia, the same decade registered a rise of 8.6% in cascades of heavy rain.

The scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they excluded areas where the records were less than complete, but analysed 8,700 daily rain records from 100,000 stations that monitor rainfall worldwide. They found that from 1964 to 2013, the frequency of catastrophic downpours increased with each decade.

“Our study of records from around the globe shows that potentially devastating bouts of extreme rain are increasing decade by decade”

“By introducing a new approach to analysing extremes, using thousands of rain records, we reveal a clear increase in the frequency of extreme rain events over the recent fifty years when global warming accelerated,” said Simon Papalexiou, of the University of Saskatchewan’s college of engineering.

“This upward trend is highly unlikely to be explained by natural climate variability. The probability of this happening is less than 0.3% under the model assumptions used.”

As temperatures rise, evaporation increases. A warmer atmosphere can absorb more moisture: capacity increases by 7% with each extra degree Celsius on the thermometer. Moisture absorbed into the atmosphere will inevitably fall again.

Flash flood threat

The world has warmed by at least 1°C in the last century, thanks to ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, and hydrologists, engineers and planners have been warning  for years that human settlements and low-lying terrains have a rainfall problem, in the form of flash floods that can overwhelm sewage treatment plants and increase water contamination: rain-induced floods have claimed half a million lives since 1980.

Such floods – and other studies have confirmed their increase – trigger landslides, wash away crops, overwhelm buildings and bridges, flood homes and block road transport.

And they could be expected to increase even more because of the phenomenal growth of the world’s cities, covering more ground with brick, tile, cement and tarmacadam, to reduce the available marsh, forest and grassland that usually absorbs much of any downpour.

Scientists have measured alarming increases in rainfall in urban Australia, linked the catastrophic floods delivered by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 over Houston in Texas to global warming, and warned more and worse is on the way.

Start planning now

“If global warming progresses as climate model projections predict, we had better plan for dealing with frequent heavy rain right now.

“Our study of records from around the globe shows that potentially devastating bouts of extreme rain are increasing decade by decade,” Dr Papalexiou said.

“We know that rainfall-induced floods can devastate communities, and that there are implications of increasing bouts of heavy rain for public health, agriculture, farmers’ livelihoods, the fishing industry and insurance, to name but a few.” – Climate News Network

Here is the long-term forecast. Rain will become more torrential, flash floods more frequent. Very heavy rain is a simple response to global temperatures.

LONDON, 19 June, 2019 – Canadian scientists have examined an exhaustive collection of rain records for the past 50 years to confirm the fears of climate scientists: bouts of very heavy rain are on the increase.

They have measured this increase in parts of Canada, most of Europe, the US Midwest and Northeast, northern Australia, Western Russia and parts of China.

Between 2004 and 2013, worldwide, bouts of extreme rainfall rain increased by 7%. In Europe and Asia, the same decade registered a rise of 8.6% in cascades of heavy rain.

The scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they excluded areas where the records were less than complete, but analysed 8,700 daily rain records from 100,000 stations that monitor rainfall worldwide. They found that from 1964 to 2013, the frequency of catastrophic downpours increased with each decade.

“Our study of records from around the globe shows that potentially devastating bouts of extreme rain are increasing decade by decade”

“By introducing a new approach to analysing extremes, using thousands of rain records, we reveal a clear increase in the frequency of extreme rain events over the recent fifty years when global warming accelerated,” said Simon Papalexiou, of the University of Saskatchewan’s college of engineering.

“This upward trend is highly unlikely to be explained by natural climate variability. The probability of this happening is less than 0.3% under the model assumptions used.”

As temperatures rise, evaporation increases. A warmer atmosphere can absorb more moisture: capacity increases by 7% with each extra degree Celsius on the thermometer. Moisture absorbed into the atmosphere will inevitably fall again.

Flash flood threat

The world has warmed by at least 1°C in the last century, thanks to ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, and hydrologists, engineers and planners have been warning  for years that human settlements and low-lying terrains have a rainfall problem, in the form of flash floods that can overwhelm sewage treatment plants and increase water contamination: rain-induced floods have claimed half a million lives since 1980.

Such floods – and other studies have confirmed their increase – trigger landslides, wash away crops, overwhelm buildings and bridges, flood homes and block road transport.

And they could be expected to increase even more because of the phenomenal growth of the world’s cities, covering more ground with brick, tile, cement and tarmacadam, to reduce the available marsh, forest and grassland that usually absorbs much of any downpour.

Scientists have measured alarming increases in rainfall in urban Australia, linked the catastrophic floods delivered by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 over Houston in Texas to global warming, and warned more and worse is on the way.

Start planning now

“If global warming progresses as climate model projections predict, we had better plan for dealing with frequent heavy rain right now.

“Our study of records from around the globe shows that potentially devastating bouts of extreme rain are increasing decade by decade,” Dr Papalexiou said.

“We know that rainfall-induced floods can devastate communities, and that there are implications of increasing bouts of heavy rain for public health, agriculture, farmers’ livelihoods, the fishing industry and insurance, to name but a few.” – Climate News Network

Most protected areas lack proper policing

On paper, nations are protecting their wilderness areas. In practice, most protected areas lack effective policing. Nature is not safe, even in reserves.

LONDON, 13 June, 2019 − Three-quarters of all the world’s protected areas – bits of ocean and wilderness nominally made safe for animals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, plants and fungi produced by 500 million years of evolution – may not be sufficiently staffed or funded.

And of 12,000 species of amphibians, birds and mammals whose ranges include protected areas, fewer than one in 10 are safely within properly policed and cared-for parks and reserves.

Researchers report in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment that they looked at a sample of more than 2,100 protected areas in Africa, South America and Asia to see which could be classed as sufficiently funded and staffed.

Only 22.4% of these – covering a total area of about 25% of the total areas assessed – could claim to be sufficiently or well resourced.

The news comes only weeks after UN chiefs warned that up to a million species around the globe could be at risk of imminent extinction, and researchers found that many areas declared protection zones for the wilderness were being reclassified, degraded or exploited by industry and agribusiness.

Protection fails

“This analysis shows that most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Nations need to do much more to ensure that protected areas fulfil their role as a major tool to mitigate the growing biodiversity crisis.”

The researchers also identified 11,919 species of bird, amphibian and mammal that might have natural ranges that included protected areas, and made estimates of those that could be sure of properly protected areas within their range.

They found that this represented 4% of amphibians, 8% of birds and 9% of mammal species in the sample. This is at least five times lower than the targets protected areas were supposed to meet.

Humans usurp nature

That there is a biodiversity crisis has been established and confirmed, again and again. It has been driven by the fourfold explosion both in human population and in the advancement of global economies just in the 20th century, as humans have colonised savannah, forest and wetland to build cities, establish farms and exploit minerals.

The climate crisis, driven by a remorseless rise in global average temperatures in turn driven by profligate use of fossil fuels, can only intensify the hazard to the other species which share the planet, recycle the air and water, scavenge detritus and provide the primary foodstuffs and fibres on which humans depend.

Researchers have also repeatedly established that properly protected wilderness areas offer a way of slowing climate change. And almost on a daily basis, fresh studies identify the cascade towards extinction.

Research in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution reveals that since 1900, at least 571 species of seed plant have been extinguished. The researchers also say that “almost as many may have been erroneously declared extinct and then been rediscovered”, but even that caveat simply highlights the numbers that might be nearing oblivion, and reinforces the call for effective protection of natural habitat.

“Most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity”

On paper, around 15% of the global terrestrial surface and about 12% of marine areas are under national protection, and nations are on track to match a global commitment to protect 17% of land surface and 10% of the seas by 2020, under an internationally agreed strategic plan for biodiversity.

The implication of the latest studies is that “on paper” isn’t good enough. Even if nations can claim to be on target, that doesn’t mean the wild things the protected areas are intended to protect are very much safer.

“While continued expansion of the world’s protected areas is necessary, a shift in emphasis from quantity to quality is critical to effectively respond to the current biodiversity crisis,” said the researchers.

And Professor Watson warned that without such a shift, conservationists could risk “sending a false message that sufficient resources are being committed to biodiversity protection.” − Climate News Network

On paper, nations are protecting their wilderness areas. In practice, most protected areas lack effective policing. Nature is not safe, even in reserves.

LONDON, 13 June, 2019 − Three-quarters of all the world’s protected areas – bits of ocean and wilderness nominally made safe for animals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, plants and fungi produced by 500 million years of evolution – may not be sufficiently staffed or funded.

And of 12,000 species of amphibians, birds and mammals whose ranges include protected areas, fewer than one in 10 are safely within properly policed and cared-for parks and reserves.

Researchers report in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment that they looked at a sample of more than 2,100 protected areas in Africa, South America and Asia to see which could be classed as sufficiently funded and staffed.

Only 22.4% of these – covering a total area of about 25% of the total areas assessed – could claim to be sufficiently or well resourced.

The news comes only weeks after UN chiefs warned that up to a million species around the globe could be at risk of imminent extinction, and researchers found that many areas declared protection zones for the wilderness were being reclassified, degraded or exploited by industry and agribusiness.

Protection fails

“This analysis shows that most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Nations need to do much more to ensure that protected areas fulfil their role as a major tool to mitigate the growing biodiversity crisis.”

The researchers also identified 11,919 species of bird, amphibian and mammal that might have natural ranges that included protected areas, and made estimates of those that could be sure of properly protected areas within their range.

They found that this represented 4% of amphibians, 8% of birds and 9% of mammal species in the sample. This is at least five times lower than the targets protected areas were supposed to meet.

Humans usurp nature

That there is a biodiversity crisis has been established and confirmed, again and again. It has been driven by the fourfold explosion both in human population and in the advancement of global economies just in the 20th century, as humans have colonised savannah, forest and wetland to build cities, establish farms and exploit minerals.

The climate crisis, driven by a remorseless rise in global average temperatures in turn driven by profligate use of fossil fuels, can only intensify the hazard to the other species which share the planet, recycle the air and water, scavenge detritus and provide the primary foodstuffs and fibres on which humans depend.

Researchers have also repeatedly established that properly protected wilderness areas offer a way of slowing climate change. And almost on a daily basis, fresh studies identify the cascade towards extinction.

Research in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution reveals that since 1900, at least 571 species of seed plant have been extinguished. The researchers also say that “almost as many may have been erroneously declared extinct and then been rediscovered”, but even that caveat simply highlights the numbers that might be nearing oblivion, and reinforces the call for effective protection of natural habitat.

“Most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity”

On paper, around 15% of the global terrestrial surface and about 12% of marine areas are under national protection, and nations are on track to match a global commitment to protect 17% of land surface and 10% of the seas by 2020, under an internationally agreed strategic plan for biodiversity.

The implication of the latest studies is that “on paper” isn’t good enough. Even if nations can claim to be on target, that doesn’t mean the wild things the protected areas are intended to protect are very much safer.

“While continued expansion of the world’s protected areas is necessary, a shift in emphasis from quantity to quality is critical to effectively respond to the current biodiversity crisis,” said the researchers.

And Professor Watson warned that without such a shift, conservationists could risk “sending a false message that sufficient resources are being committed to biodiversity protection.” − Climate News Network

Rising US heat spurs urban rats’ numbers

It may not be the sole cause of US urban rats’ rising numbers, but climate change’s growing heat is probably implicated.

LONDON, 12 June, 2019 − In the heat of a US summer, urban rats’ thoughts focus on one goal: it’s reproduction time, as the media make clear.

They go for the type of headlines which send shivers down the spine. “Rats love climate change”, says one. “Climate change is scary; rat explosion is scarier”, says another.

Reports from several cities in the US indicate that city rat populations are increasing, and many point to climate change as a primary cause of what is a growing rodent problem.

The actual reasons for what some of the more florid commentators refer to as a “ratpocalypse” are difficult to gauge. Little research has been carried out.

Take, for example, New York City. Estimates of the size of the city’s rat population – the human population is 8.6 million – range anywhere between 2 and 32 million.

“The brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter”

While the figures might be vague, there’s general agreement that the city’s rat numbers are growing substantially. Calls to vermin controllers have increased. City officials say the incidence of rat sightings has gone up by nearly 40% over the last five years.

Rats can be vectors, or carriers, of disease and can transmit ticks and fleas. They can also do considerable damage to vital infrastructure, gnawing through wires and damaging pavements and drainage systems by their burrowing.

In cold weather rats tend to be inactive and stay in their burrows. With milder winters and rising average temperatures, rats’ breeding season is extended.

Rats reproduce at a prolific rate; the brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter.

“Everywhere I go, rat populations are up”, a research scientist told the New York Times newspaper.

More city residents

Other US cities report similar rat infestations; Chicago is said to have a particularly serious rodent problem.

While increased temperatures are believed to be one cause of the growth in rat populations, other factors are involved. In the US and around the world, more and more people are choosing to live in cities.

By 2050, it’s estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be urban-based. More people in tightly-packed areas means more food being accumulated and more rubbish. Inefficient waste collection facilities in many urban areas inevitably lead to a growth in rodent numbers.

Surprisingly, there seems to have been little research into urban rats, their behaviour and the size of populations in various cities.

One problem encountered by researchers is that many urban dwellers, particularly landlords, are reluctant to admit to rat infestation problems – or to highlight the issue by allowing scientists to carry out surveys on their premises. − Climate News Network

It may not be the sole cause of US urban rats’ rising numbers, but climate change’s growing heat is probably implicated.

LONDON, 12 June, 2019 − In the heat of a US summer, urban rats’ thoughts focus on one goal: it’s reproduction time, as the media make clear.

They go for the type of headlines which send shivers down the spine. “Rats love climate change”, says one. “Climate change is scary; rat explosion is scarier”, says another.

Reports from several cities in the US indicate that city rat populations are increasing, and many point to climate change as a primary cause of what is a growing rodent problem.

The actual reasons for what some of the more florid commentators refer to as a “ratpocalypse” are difficult to gauge. Little research has been carried out.

Take, for example, New York City. Estimates of the size of the city’s rat population – the human population is 8.6 million – range anywhere between 2 and 32 million.

“The brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter”

While the figures might be vague, there’s general agreement that the city’s rat numbers are growing substantially. Calls to vermin controllers have increased. City officials say the incidence of rat sightings has gone up by nearly 40% over the last five years.

Rats can be vectors, or carriers, of disease and can transmit ticks and fleas. They can also do considerable damage to vital infrastructure, gnawing through wires and damaging pavements and drainage systems by their burrowing.

In cold weather rats tend to be inactive and stay in their burrows. With milder winters and rising average temperatures, rats’ breeding season is extended.

Rats reproduce at a prolific rate; the brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter.

“Everywhere I go, rat populations are up”, a research scientist told the New York Times newspaper.

More city residents

Other US cities report similar rat infestations; Chicago is said to have a particularly serious rodent problem.

While increased temperatures are believed to be one cause of the growth in rat populations, other factors are involved. In the US and around the world, more and more people are choosing to live in cities.

By 2050, it’s estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be urban-based. More people in tightly-packed areas means more food being accumulated and more rubbish. Inefficient waste collection facilities in many urban areas inevitably lead to a growth in rodent numbers.

Surprisingly, there seems to have been little research into urban rats, their behaviour and the size of populations in various cities.

One problem encountered by researchers is that many urban dwellers, particularly landlords, are reluctant to admit to rat infestation problems – or to highlight the issue by allowing scientists to carry out surveys on their premises. − Climate News Network

Wilderness – saved today, sold tomorrow

While scientists call for more protection for wild things, governments have removed protection from wilderness areas the size of Mexico.

LONDON, 5 June, 2019 – Nature is losing ground even where it is supposedly protected: the wilderness is under increasing pressure.

The world’s protected areas – places of greater safety for the millions of trees, shrubs, flowers, fungi, insects, reptiles, fish, amphibians, mammals and birds that survive from millions of years of evolution – are being downgraded, reduced or developed at an increasing rate.

New research shows that since 1892, the formally protected areas of wilderness have in effect lost 2 million square kilometres. This is an area of land and water greater than the state of Mexico, and only slightly smaller than Saudi Arabia.

Of these losses, almost four-fifths have occurred since the year 2000, and most openly in the US and the region of Amazonia. In the United States alone, 90% of such proposed downsizing and degradation events have been proposed in the past 18 years, and 99% of these have been for industrial scale development.

And a new study in the journal Science warns that decisions by President Trump to “downsize” two national monuments – known as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante – will reduce the protected terrain by 85% and 51% respectively.

“Lost protections can accelerate forest loss and carbon emissions – putting our climate and global biodiversity at greater risk”

In Brazil, the government proposes to “roll back” more than 183,000 square kilometres (45,000 million acres) of protected forest and other habitat. This is an area about the size of the US state of North Dakota.

“We are facing two global environmental crises: biodiversity loss and climate change. To address both, governments have established protected areas with the intent of conserving nature in perpetuity. Yet our research shows that protected areas can be rolled back and are not necessarily permanent,” said Rachel Golden Kroner, a social scientist at George Mason University in the US, who led the study.

“Lost protections can accelerate forest loss and carbon emissions – putting our climate and global biodiversity at greater risk.”

The finding – backed by a worldwide team of more than 20 researchers – comes only weeks after scientists warned yet again of the losses of perhaps a million species because of environmental destruction and climate change.

They have repeatedly warned that wildlife needs greater protection and that conservation areas are being lost.

Wilderness offers solutions

And researchers have once again confirmed that wilderness areas remain the best way to protect species while slowing climate change.

Although the US and Brazil have made conspicuous reductions in wildlife protected areas, Brazil was just one of seven Amazonian countries that have “rolled back” 245 state-designated protected areas between 1961 and 2017. Australia removed 13,000 square kilometres from protection and undermined protection for another 400,000 sq km.

The United Kingdom rolled back more than 46,000 sq km in 61 places, all to permit hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Cambodia authorised industrial agriculture in 120 instances covering nearly 10,000 sq km, and Kenya downsized 14,000 square kilometres of forest and game reserve.

Not all changes to protected areas have been necessarily harmful, and not all designated areas in any case offered sustained protection. But, the researchers warn, the rates of protected area loss are accelerating, and more than 60% of such events have been associated with industrial-scale resource extraction.

The researchers argue that it should be as difficult to “roll back” protected areas as it is to establish them in the first place. – Climate News Network

While scientists call for more protection for wild things, governments have removed protection from wilderness areas the size of Mexico.

LONDON, 5 June, 2019 – Nature is losing ground even where it is supposedly protected: the wilderness is under increasing pressure.

The world’s protected areas – places of greater safety for the millions of trees, shrubs, flowers, fungi, insects, reptiles, fish, amphibians, mammals and birds that survive from millions of years of evolution – are being downgraded, reduced or developed at an increasing rate.

New research shows that since 1892, the formally protected areas of wilderness have in effect lost 2 million square kilometres. This is an area of land and water greater than the state of Mexico, and only slightly smaller than Saudi Arabia.

Of these losses, almost four-fifths have occurred since the year 2000, and most openly in the US and the region of Amazonia. In the United States alone, 90% of such proposed downsizing and degradation events have been proposed in the past 18 years, and 99% of these have been for industrial scale development.

And a new study in the journal Science warns that decisions by President Trump to “downsize” two national monuments – known as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante – will reduce the protected terrain by 85% and 51% respectively.

“Lost protections can accelerate forest loss and carbon emissions – putting our climate and global biodiversity at greater risk”

In Brazil, the government proposes to “roll back” more than 183,000 square kilometres (45,000 million acres) of protected forest and other habitat. This is an area about the size of the US state of North Dakota.

“We are facing two global environmental crises: biodiversity loss and climate change. To address both, governments have established protected areas with the intent of conserving nature in perpetuity. Yet our research shows that protected areas can be rolled back and are not necessarily permanent,” said Rachel Golden Kroner, a social scientist at George Mason University in the US, who led the study.

“Lost protections can accelerate forest loss and carbon emissions – putting our climate and global biodiversity at greater risk.”

The finding – backed by a worldwide team of more than 20 researchers – comes only weeks after scientists warned yet again of the losses of perhaps a million species because of environmental destruction and climate change.

They have repeatedly warned that wildlife needs greater protection and that conservation areas are being lost.

Wilderness offers solutions

And researchers have once again confirmed that wilderness areas remain the best way to protect species while slowing climate change.

Although the US and Brazil have made conspicuous reductions in wildlife protected areas, Brazil was just one of seven Amazonian countries that have “rolled back” 245 state-designated protected areas between 1961 and 2017. Australia removed 13,000 square kilometres from protection and undermined protection for another 400,000 sq km.

The United Kingdom rolled back more than 46,000 sq km in 61 places, all to permit hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Cambodia authorised industrial agriculture in 120 instances covering nearly 10,000 sq km, and Kenya downsized 14,000 square kilometres of forest and game reserve.

Not all changes to protected areas have been necessarily harmful, and not all designated areas in any case offered sustained protection. But, the researchers warn, the rates of protected area loss are accelerating, and more than 60% of such events have been associated with industrial-scale resource extraction.

The researchers argue that it should be as difficult to “roll back” protected areas as it is to establish them in the first place. – Climate News Network

Reindeer turn to seaweed as winters warm

The world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed as global warming puts their normal food beyond reach.

LONDON, 30 May, 2019 − Deep in the Arctic Circle, on the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, nature has found a way to outwit climate change: deprived of their normal diet, the world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed.

Strangely, it is not cold and snow that have threatened them with starvation, but rain. In the warmer winter weather rain falls instead of snow, causing a crust of ice too thick for the reindeer to break through and reach the plants beneath which they need to eat to survive.

The Svalbard reindeer are a sub-species adapted to the extreme climate and known locally as Arctic pigs, because of their round shape and stubby legs.

Normally even with deep snow the reindeer can use their hooves to scrape the covering layer away to reach the grasses and plants underneath and survive the long dark winter. But recently Svalbard, which is at the most northerly point of the Gulf Stream, has been experiencing warmer winters

.Frequently it rains heavily rather than snowing, and the rain turns to ice when it hits the frozen surface, cutting off the reindeers’ food supply. The animals have taken to moving down to the seashore to graze to get enough nourishment until the spring comes.

“The reindeer are surprisingly adaptive. They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions”

Scientists who studied the reindeer report in the journal Ecosphere that they had assumed that global warming would make life easier for the reindeer, but found that the 20,000 Arctic pigs were struggling to survive the rain.

An earlier study found that the impact of climate change on the vegetation the animals eat had caused their average weight to fall by more than 10% in a 16-year period.

To find out about their new eating habits the scientists, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), studied the droppings of the reindeer to establish what they had been eating.

This was no small task. Using GPS tracking devices attached to 2,199 animals the scientists tracked their movements over nine years. They compared the movements with nine years of data they had on ice thickness covering the snow, called basal ice: this showed that reindeer moved to the coast when the ice was thickest.

Biologist Brage Bremset Hansen and colleagues, who have been studying the reindeer for decades, were delighted to be able to prove that the newly acquired seaweed-eating habit was related to new conditions on Svalbard.

Varied diet

But the reindeer don’t exclusively feed on seaweed; the stable isotope and GPS collar data show instead that they eat it as a supplementary source of nutrition. “It seems they can’t sustain themselves on seaweed. They do move back and forth between the shore and the few ice-free vegetation patches every day, so it is obvious that they have to combine it with normal food, whatever they can find,” Hansen said.

Eating seaweed also comes at a cost – it gives the reindeer a lot of diarrhoea – probably from the salt, according to Hansen.

Although eating seaweed isn’t ideal, he said, it does show the animals are able to adapt, which is the good news. “The bigger picture is that, although we sometimes observe that populations crash during extremely icy winters, the reindeer are surprisingly adaptive,” he said.

“They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, they have a variety of strategies, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions.” − Climate News Network

The world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed as global warming puts their normal food beyond reach.

LONDON, 30 May, 2019 − Deep in the Arctic Circle, on the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, nature has found a way to outwit climate change: deprived of their normal diet, the world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed.

Strangely, it is not cold and snow that have threatened them with starvation, but rain. In the warmer winter weather rain falls instead of snow, causing a crust of ice too thick for the reindeer to break through and reach the plants beneath which they need to eat to survive.

The Svalbard reindeer are a sub-species adapted to the extreme climate and known locally as Arctic pigs, because of their round shape and stubby legs.

Normally even with deep snow the reindeer can use their hooves to scrape the covering layer away to reach the grasses and plants underneath and survive the long dark winter. But recently Svalbard, which is at the most northerly point of the Gulf Stream, has been experiencing warmer winters

.Frequently it rains heavily rather than snowing, and the rain turns to ice when it hits the frozen surface, cutting off the reindeers’ food supply. The animals have taken to moving down to the seashore to graze to get enough nourishment until the spring comes.

“The reindeer are surprisingly adaptive. They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions”

Scientists who studied the reindeer report in the journal Ecosphere that they had assumed that global warming would make life easier for the reindeer, but found that the 20,000 Arctic pigs were struggling to survive the rain.

An earlier study found that the impact of climate change on the vegetation the animals eat had caused their average weight to fall by more than 10% in a 16-year period.

To find out about their new eating habits the scientists, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), studied the droppings of the reindeer to establish what they had been eating.

This was no small task. Using GPS tracking devices attached to 2,199 animals the scientists tracked their movements over nine years. They compared the movements with nine years of data they had on ice thickness covering the snow, called basal ice: this showed that reindeer moved to the coast when the ice was thickest.

Biologist Brage Bremset Hansen and colleagues, who have been studying the reindeer for decades, were delighted to be able to prove that the newly acquired seaweed-eating habit was related to new conditions on Svalbard.

Varied diet

But the reindeer don’t exclusively feed on seaweed; the stable isotope and GPS collar data show instead that they eat it as a supplementary source of nutrition. “It seems they can’t sustain themselves on seaweed. They do move back and forth between the shore and the few ice-free vegetation patches every day, so it is obvious that they have to combine it with normal food, whatever they can find,” Hansen said.

Eating seaweed also comes at a cost – it gives the reindeer a lot of diarrhoea – probably from the salt, according to Hansen.

Although eating seaweed isn’t ideal, he said, it does show the animals are able to adapt, which is the good news. “The bigger picture is that, although we sometimes observe that populations crash during extremely icy winters, the reindeer are surprisingly adaptive,” he said.

“They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, they have a variety of strategies, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions.” − Climate News Network

Wilder world can slow climate change

If you want to tackle climate change and restore once-familiar animals at the same time, a wilder world can help − naturally.

LONDON, 21 May, 2019 − Imagine a wilder world where many of the species humanity has almost wiped out are instead protected, cared for and encouraged to thrive.

No − it’s not Jurassic Park brought to life; it’s still largely an idea waiting to happen. But if it does ever become reality rewilding, as it’s known, could do a lot for us.

Rewilding simply means re-introducing wild creatures which used to live in countries like the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and North America. One example is the Eurasian beaver, hunted in the UK to near-extinction several centuries ago but now making a tentative return to Britain.

They began their UK recovery modestly: two families were imported from Norway in 2001, with more animals following later to increase genetic diversity.

Through their skillful lodge-building and engineering of woods and waterways, beavers show how they benefit humans and other creatures. They create a range of habitats for birds, insects, fish, small mammals and plants; one re-introduction project records that the 10 clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers. They slow water flow, prevent flooding, and store water for local use.

Three wins in one

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that beavers’ lifestyles can prove a fast, cheap way to slow climate breakdown, to build resilience to its inescapable impacts and to restore natural diversity.

Another good candidate for rewilding, almost a century after they were wiped out in northern Europe and the US, is the wolf, one of 21 key species identified by the Rewilding Britain group for reintroduction. Among the species the British journalist George Monbiot lists in his book Feral as suitable for rewilding in the UK are not only beavers and wolves but bison, lynx, wild boar, European sturgeon and grey whales.

The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park in the US in 1995 shows how rewilding can work on a large scale to increase biodiversity. By the end of the 1920s almost all of the US wolves had been killed off, mainly by ranchers protecting their livestock. They clung on in small populations in the northern wildernesses along the border with Canada.

But within a few years the Yellowstone wolf packs had made favourable impacts on the whole ecosystem through their control of the elk population. They reduced overall numbers of elk, which are herbivorous, and without predators had grown enormous. This helped the grazing areas and let more trees grow.

“Ten clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers”

Along river banks the tree growth slowed the flow of water and reduced flooding during heavy rainfall. It also shaded the banks, allowing fish to flourish. And the wolves are bringing in money: wolf-watching is big business and earns an estimated four times more than elk hunting.

A 2018 report by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, argued for rewilding because native herbivores produce less methane than modern cattle and maintain forests by dispersing seeds in their dung.

Much of the UK would naturally support trees that absorb carbon, but it has some of the lowest tree cover in Europe. Rewilding could change that. And the RTA says people would benefit from the increased encounters with wildlife that would be possible, citing a 2013 Woodland Trust estimate that if every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space, it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in healthcare costs.

Predators take livestock, admittedly, but its supporters say we can mitigate losses with planning, design and compensation. For example, Germany sees few losses from herds because the farmers keep their livestock enclosed. Using specialist dog breeds to warn off wolves has also proved highly successful.

The UK badly needs rewilding. The 2016 State of Nature report noted that between 1970 and 2013 56% of species declined.

Resident nightingales

In southern England the Knepp Wildland project shows how rewilding can work. It is devoted to free-roaming herds of cattle, horses, pigs and deer as the drivers of habitat creation. Since it began in 2001 the numbers of many endangered species returning to Knepp have increased sharply: it now boasts 2% of the UK’s entire breeding population of nightingales.

Elsewhere in Europe countries including Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria, led by Rewilding Europe, an independent group based in the Netherlands and funded by the EU, are working towards similar goals.

If rewilding can work in Europe and North America, could it help in other parts of the world too? They certainly need it: the UN reported earlier this month in its Global Assessment Report that about one million of the Earth’s animal and plant species are at risk of extinction.

There’s just one snag. Historically, humans have exploited wildlife for fairly narrowly defined purposes: fur, feathers and flesh, often. Now we just want to shove them aside so that we can exploit the entire planet. Wildlife that doesn’t pay its way seldom gets the chance to stay. The Assessment’s authors say the main cause of the extinction crisis is the change which humans are making to their use of the Earth’s land and seas.

At that rate, the Rapid Transition Alliance thinks, it doesn’t sound as though there’ll be much room left by tomorrow to re-introduce anything, unless rewilding is part of a much wider strategy, including an absolute reduction of human consumption. − Climate News Network

*  *  * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

If you want to tackle climate change and restore once-familiar animals at the same time, a wilder world can help − naturally.

LONDON, 21 May, 2019 − Imagine a wilder world where many of the species humanity has almost wiped out are instead protected, cared for and encouraged to thrive.

No − it’s not Jurassic Park brought to life; it’s still largely an idea waiting to happen. But if it does ever become reality rewilding, as it’s known, could do a lot for us.

Rewilding simply means re-introducing wild creatures which used to live in countries like the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and North America. One example is the Eurasian beaver, hunted in the UK to near-extinction several centuries ago but now making a tentative return to Britain.

They began their UK recovery modestly: two families were imported from Norway in 2001, with more animals following later to increase genetic diversity.

Through their skillful lodge-building and engineering of woods and waterways, beavers show how they benefit humans and other creatures. They create a range of habitats for birds, insects, fish, small mammals and plants; one re-introduction project records that the 10 clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers. They slow water flow, prevent flooding, and store water for local use.

Three wins in one

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that beavers’ lifestyles can prove a fast, cheap way to slow climate breakdown, to build resilience to its inescapable impacts and to restore natural diversity.

Another good candidate for rewilding, almost a century after they were wiped out in northern Europe and the US, is the wolf, one of 21 key species identified by the Rewilding Britain group for reintroduction. Among the species the British journalist George Monbiot lists in his book Feral as suitable for rewilding in the UK are not only beavers and wolves but bison, lynx, wild boar, European sturgeon and grey whales.

The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park in the US in 1995 shows how rewilding can work on a large scale to increase biodiversity. By the end of the 1920s almost all of the US wolves had been killed off, mainly by ranchers protecting their livestock. They clung on in small populations in the northern wildernesses along the border with Canada.

But within a few years the Yellowstone wolf packs had made favourable impacts on the whole ecosystem through their control of the elk population. They reduced overall numbers of elk, which are herbivorous, and without predators had grown enormous. This helped the grazing areas and let more trees grow.

“Ten clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers”

Along river banks the tree growth slowed the flow of water and reduced flooding during heavy rainfall. It also shaded the banks, allowing fish to flourish. And the wolves are bringing in money: wolf-watching is big business and earns an estimated four times more than elk hunting.

A 2018 report by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, argued for rewilding because native herbivores produce less methane than modern cattle and maintain forests by dispersing seeds in their dung.

Much of the UK would naturally support trees that absorb carbon, but it has some of the lowest tree cover in Europe. Rewilding could change that. And the RTA says people would benefit from the increased encounters with wildlife that would be possible, citing a 2013 Woodland Trust estimate that if every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space, it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in healthcare costs.

Predators take livestock, admittedly, but its supporters say we can mitigate losses with planning, design and compensation. For example, Germany sees few losses from herds because the farmers keep their livestock enclosed. Using specialist dog breeds to warn off wolves has also proved highly successful.

The UK badly needs rewilding. The 2016 State of Nature report noted that between 1970 and 2013 56% of species declined.

Resident nightingales

In southern England the Knepp Wildland project shows how rewilding can work. It is devoted to free-roaming herds of cattle, horses, pigs and deer as the drivers of habitat creation. Since it began in 2001 the numbers of many endangered species returning to Knepp have increased sharply: it now boasts 2% of the UK’s entire breeding population of nightingales.

Elsewhere in Europe countries including Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria, led by Rewilding Europe, an independent group based in the Netherlands and funded by the EU, are working towards similar goals.

If rewilding can work in Europe and North America, could it help in other parts of the world too? They certainly need it: the UN reported earlier this month in its Global Assessment Report that about one million of the Earth’s animal and plant species are at risk of extinction.

There’s just one snag. Historically, humans have exploited wildlife for fairly narrowly defined purposes: fur, feathers and flesh, often. Now we just want to shove them aside so that we can exploit the entire planet. Wildlife that doesn’t pay its way seldom gets the chance to stay. The Assessment’s authors say the main cause of the extinction crisis is the change which humans are making to their use of the Earth’s land and seas.

At that rate, the Rapid Transition Alliance thinks, it doesn’t sound as though there’ll be much room left by tomorrow to re-introduce anything, unless rewilding is part of a much wider strategy, including an absolute reduction of human consumption. − Climate News Network

*  *  * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Desert dust cools vulnerable Red Sea corals

Desert dust whipped up by strong winds and volcanic aerosols alter the climate as the world warms.

LONDON, 20 May, 2019 − Located between two of the hottest and driest places on earth, the Red Sea is being protected by the desert dust that the winds whip up in the lands that surround it.

The dust so effectively blocks out the sun that the Red Sea is kept cool, saving its coral reefs from dangerous overheating and providing nutrients that keep its waters healthy.

The sea lies between North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the world’s largest region for generating dust, which strong summer winds pump down a narrowing mountain-fringed passage that forces it into the air over the widest southern portion of the sea.

The research, carried out by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST, the first mixed-gender university in Saudi Arabia), is part of a wider programme to discover the effect of dust in the atmosphere in changing the weather and climate.

Cooling influence

Volcanic eruptions can have a significant effect by ejecting aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere where they block out some of the sun’s rays, radiating heat back into space, a process known as radiative forcing. Dust blown from deserts also has a strong regional effect.

Sergey Osipov, postdoctoral fellow and co-author with his supervisor Georgiy Stenchikov of the Red Sea study, said: “We show that summer conditions over the Red Sea produce the world’s largest aerosol radiative forcing, and yet the impact of dust on the Red Sea was never studied − it was simply unknown.”

A surprising finding relates to biological productivity. “Dust deposition adds nutrients,” he said. “However, we find that dust radiative forcing slows down the Red Sea circulation and reduces the main nutrient supply to the Red Sea through the Bab-el Mandeb strait. The net effect on overall bioproductivity remains to be established.”

Volcanoes’ impact

Large volcanic eruptions, such as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, inject vast amounts of sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, where it is converted into tiny sulphate aerosol droplets.

These sulphate aerosols spread around the globe, exerting a strong radiative forcing effect, and reducing global temperature for nearly two years by 0.6°C before the dust finally settled back to earth.

The university is using its supercomputer to look at the effects of dust on the whole of the region, which is extremely arid and hurls large quantities of dust into the atmosphere, potentially changing weather patterns. It is important for future climate projections to predict droughts and famines that might cause mass migrations of the region’s peoples.

Another KAUST climate modelling study reveals potential changes in the West African monsoon caused by global warming and the dust it creates.

African monsoon

Home to more than 300 million people, West Africa has an agriculture-based economy: its food security is affected by the monsoon, making it important to understand present and future variability.

A KAUST doctoral student, Jerry Raj, simulated the monsoon under present and future climates. The results show that West Africa will become generally hotter as a result of climate change – with higher areas of the Sahel and Western Sahara projected to have increased temperatures of 4°C or more by the century’s end.

The simulations also indicate precipitation increases over the equatorial Atlantic and the Guinean coast, yet the southern Sahel appears drier. At the same time, Western Sahara experiences a moderate increase of rain.

Finally, and crucially for farmers sowing crops, the onset of the monsoon occurs earlier over the eastern part of the region, but is delayed over the western part.

“Strong equatorial volcanic eruptions often coincide with an El Niño warm phase, but the relationship is complex and poorly understood”

“Climate projection is the first and the most important step toward adaptation policies aimed at avoiding damaging environmental and socio-economic consequences,” Raj said.

Another doctoral student, Evgeniya Predybaylo, is looking further afield at the impact of large volcanic eruptions on a major natural climate variation, the El Niño‐Southern Oscillation.

This periodic warm water flush in the Pacific drives extreme weather events like hurricane and tornado activity as well as coral bleaching. It also causes floods and droughts and disrupts fish populations.

Forecasting El Niño events would help people prepare for possible collapses of fish stocks and agricultural crises, says Predybaylo. However, El Niño is notoriously difficult to predict, but volcanic eruptions may play a role.

El Niño link?

“Interestingly, strong equatorial volcanic eruptions often coincide with an El Niño warm phase, but the relationship is complex and poorly understood,” says Predybaylo.

She says the response to volcanoes partly depends on the eruption’s seasonal timing: summer eruptions induce stronger El Niños than winter or spring eruptions.
Ocean conditions prevailing at the time of the eruption also play a role.

“Radiative forcing following large eruptions generally results in surface cooling,” explains Predybaylo. “However, the tropical Pacific often shows a warming response. We show that this is due to uneven equatorial ocean cooling and changes in trade winds.”

“A Pinatubo-size eruption may partially determine the phase, magnitude and duration of El Niño, but it is crucial to account for the eruption season and ocean conditions just before the eruption,” she says. − Climate News Network

Desert dust whipped up by strong winds and volcanic aerosols alter the climate as the world warms.

LONDON, 20 May, 2019 − Located between two of the hottest and driest places on earth, the Red Sea is being protected by the desert dust that the winds whip up in the lands that surround it.

The dust so effectively blocks out the sun that the Red Sea is kept cool, saving its coral reefs from dangerous overheating and providing nutrients that keep its waters healthy.

The sea lies between North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the world’s largest region for generating dust, which strong summer winds pump down a narrowing mountain-fringed passage that forces it into the air over the widest southern portion of the sea.

The research, carried out by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST, the first mixed-gender university in Saudi Arabia), is part of a wider programme to discover the effect of dust in the atmosphere in changing the weather and climate.

Cooling influence

Volcanic eruptions can have a significant effect by ejecting aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere where they block out some of the sun’s rays, radiating heat back into space, a process known as radiative forcing. Dust blown from deserts also has a strong regional effect.

Sergey Osipov, postdoctoral fellow and co-author with his supervisor Georgiy Stenchikov of the Red Sea study, said: “We show that summer conditions over the Red Sea produce the world’s largest aerosol radiative forcing, and yet the impact of dust on the Red Sea was never studied − it was simply unknown.”

A surprising finding relates to biological productivity. “Dust deposition adds nutrients,” he said. “However, we find that dust radiative forcing slows down the Red Sea circulation and reduces the main nutrient supply to the Red Sea through the Bab-el Mandeb strait. The net effect on overall bioproductivity remains to be established.”

Volcanoes’ impact

Large volcanic eruptions, such as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, inject vast amounts of sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, where it is converted into tiny sulphate aerosol droplets.

These sulphate aerosols spread around the globe, exerting a strong radiative forcing effect, and reducing global temperature for nearly two years by 0.6°C before the dust finally settled back to earth.

The university is using its supercomputer to look at the effects of dust on the whole of the region, which is extremely arid and hurls large quantities of dust into the atmosphere, potentially changing weather patterns. It is important for future climate projections to predict droughts and famines that might cause mass migrations of the region’s peoples.

Another KAUST climate modelling study reveals potential changes in the West African monsoon caused by global warming and the dust it creates.

African monsoon

Home to more than 300 million people, West Africa has an agriculture-based economy: its food security is affected by the monsoon, making it important to understand present and future variability.

A KAUST doctoral student, Jerry Raj, simulated the monsoon under present and future climates. The results show that West Africa will become generally hotter as a result of climate change – with higher areas of the Sahel and Western Sahara projected to have increased temperatures of 4°C or more by the century’s end.

The simulations also indicate precipitation increases over the equatorial Atlantic and the Guinean coast, yet the southern Sahel appears drier. At the same time, Western Sahara experiences a moderate increase of rain.

Finally, and crucially for farmers sowing crops, the onset of the monsoon occurs earlier over the eastern part of the region, but is delayed over the western part.

“Strong equatorial volcanic eruptions often coincide with an El Niño warm phase, but the relationship is complex and poorly understood”

“Climate projection is the first and the most important step toward adaptation policies aimed at avoiding damaging environmental and socio-economic consequences,” Raj said.

Another doctoral student, Evgeniya Predybaylo, is looking further afield at the impact of large volcanic eruptions on a major natural climate variation, the El Niño‐Southern Oscillation.

This periodic warm water flush in the Pacific drives extreme weather events like hurricane and tornado activity as well as coral bleaching. It also causes floods and droughts and disrupts fish populations.

Forecasting El Niño events would help people prepare for possible collapses of fish stocks and agricultural crises, says Predybaylo. However, El Niño is notoriously difficult to predict, but volcanic eruptions may play a role.

El Niño link?

“Interestingly, strong equatorial volcanic eruptions often coincide with an El Niño warm phase, but the relationship is complex and poorly understood,” says Predybaylo.

She says the response to volcanoes partly depends on the eruption’s seasonal timing: summer eruptions induce stronger El Niños than winter or spring eruptions.
Ocean conditions prevailing at the time of the eruption also play a role.

“Radiative forcing following large eruptions generally results in surface cooling,” explains Predybaylo. “However, the tropical Pacific often shows a warming response. We show that this is due to uneven equatorial ocean cooling and changes in trade winds.”

“A Pinatubo-size eruption may partially determine the phase, magnitude and duration of El Niño, but it is crucial to account for the eruption season and ocean conditions just before the eruption,” she says. − Climate News Network

Crops at risk from changing climate

Global warming could bring yet more challenges to a hungry world. New studies have identified precise ways in which a changing climate puts crops at risk.

LONDON, 14 May, 2019 – Climate change is leaving crops at risk. Driven by global warming – and with it ever greater extremes of heat, drought and rainfall – the rising mercury can explain up to half of all variations in harvest yields worldwide.

Unusually cold nights, ever greater numbers of extremely hot summer days, weeks with no rainfall, or torrents of storm-driven precipitation, account for somewhere between a fifth to 49% of yield losses for maize, rice, spring wheat and soy beans.

And once international scientists had eliminated the effect of temperature averages across the whole growing season, they still found that heatwaves, drought and torrential downfall accounted for 18% to 43% of losses.

In a second study, US researchers have a warning for the Midwest’s maize farmers: too much rain is just as bad for the harvest as too much heat and a long dry spell.

“While Africa’s share of global maize production may be small, the largest part of that production goes to human consumption … making it critical for food security”

In a third study, British researchers have identified a new climate hazard for one of the tropical world’s staples: climate change has heightened the risk of a devastating fungal infection that is already ravaging banana plantations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The impact of climate change driven by global warming fuelled by profligate fossil fuel use had been worrying ministries and agricultural researchers for years: more carbon dioxide should and sometimes could mean a greener world.

More warmth and earlier springs mean a longer growing season with lower risks of late frost. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which means ultimately more rainfall.

But the average rise in temperature worldwide of just 1°C in the last century is exactly that: an average. What cities and countryside have observed is an increase both in the number and intensity of potentially lethal heatwaves, of longer and more frequent parching in those landscapes that are normally dry, with heavier downpours in places that can depend on reliable rainfall.

Knowledge allows preparation

In Europe, the US and Africa, researchers have started to measure the cost to the grains, pulses and tubers that feed 7.7 billion people now, and will have to feed 9bn later this century.

Scientists in Australia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the US report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they developed a machine-learning algorithm to make sense of climate data and harvest data collected worldwide from 1961 to 2008.

The aim was to isolate the factors within climate change that might affect harvests, on the principle that if farmers know the hazards, they can prepare.

“Interestingly, we found that the most important climate factors for yield anomalies were related to temperature, not precipitation, as one could expect, with average growing season temperature and temperature extremes playing a dominant role in predicting crop yields,” said Elisabeth Vogel of the University of Melbourne, who led the study.

Big picture reached

Nowhere was this more visible than in the figures for maize yield in Africa. “While Africa’s share of global maize production may be small, the largest part of that production goes to human consumption – compared to just 3% in North America – making it critical for food security in the region.”

Dr Vogel and her colleagues looked at crop yields, mean seasonal temperatures, extremes and regions to arrive at their big picture. But impacts of extremes vary according to region, soil, latitude and other factors too.

US scientists report in the journal Global Change Biology that yield statistics and crop insurance data from 1981 to 2016 on the Midwest maize harvest told them a slightly different story. In some years excessive rain reduced the corn yield by as much as 34%; drought and heat in turn could be linked to losses of 37%. It depended on where the crop was grown.

“As rainfall becomes more extreme, crop insurance needs to evolve to better meet planting challenges faced by farmers,” said Gary Schnitkey of the University of Urbana-Champaign, one of the authors.

Bananas in danger

And British scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B that changes in temperature and moisture linked to global warming could be bad for the banana crop.

These have increased the risk of infection by the fungus Pseudocercospora fijiensis, or Black Sigatoka disease, by more than 44% in Latin America and the Caribbean. The disease can reduce yield in infected plants by up to 80%.

“Climate change has made temperatures better for spore germination and growth, and made crop canopies wetter, raising the risk of Black Sigatoka infection in many banana-growing areas of Latin America,” said Daniel Bebber, of the University of Exeter.

“While fungus is likely to have been introduced to Honduras on plants imported from Asia for breeding research, our models indicate that climate change over the past 60 years has exacerbated its impact.” – Climate News Network

Global warming could bring yet more challenges to a hungry world. New studies have identified precise ways in which a changing climate puts crops at risk.

LONDON, 14 May, 2019 – Climate change is leaving crops at risk. Driven by global warming – and with it ever greater extremes of heat, drought and rainfall – the rising mercury can explain up to half of all variations in harvest yields worldwide.

Unusually cold nights, ever greater numbers of extremely hot summer days, weeks with no rainfall, or torrents of storm-driven precipitation, account for somewhere between a fifth to 49% of yield losses for maize, rice, spring wheat and soy beans.

And once international scientists had eliminated the effect of temperature averages across the whole growing season, they still found that heatwaves, drought and torrential downfall accounted for 18% to 43% of losses.

In a second study, US researchers have a warning for the Midwest’s maize farmers: too much rain is just as bad for the harvest as too much heat and a long dry spell.

“While Africa’s share of global maize production may be small, the largest part of that production goes to human consumption … making it critical for food security”

In a third study, British researchers have identified a new climate hazard for one of the tropical world’s staples: climate change has heightened the risk of a devastating fungal infection that is already ravaging banana plantations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The impact of climate change driven by global warming fuelled by profligate fossil fuel use had been worrying ministries and agricultural researchers for years: more carbon dioxide should and sometimes could mean a greener world.

More warmth and earlier springs mean a longer growing season with lower risks of late frost. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which means ultimately more rainfall.

But the average rise in temperature worldwide of just 1°C in the last century is exactly that: an average. What cities and countryside have observed is an increase both in the number and intensity of potentially lethal heatwaves, of longer and more frequent parching in those landscapes that are normally dry, with heavier downpours in places that can depend on reliable rainfall.

Knowledge allows preparation

In Europe, the US and Africa, researchers have started to measure the cost to the grains, pulses and tubers that feed 7.7 billion people now, and will have to feed 9bn later this century.

Scientists in Australia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the US report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they developed a machine-learning algorithm to make sense of climate data and harvest data collected worldwide from 1961 to 2008.

The aim was to isolate the factors within climate change that might affect harvests, on the principle that if farmers know the hazards, they can prepare.

“Interestingly, we found that the most important climate factors for yield anomalies were related to temperature, not precipitation, as one could expect, with average growing season temperature and temperature extremes playing a dominant role in predicting crop yields,” said Elisabeth Vogel of the University of Melbourne, who led the study.

Big picture reached

Nowhere was this more visible than in the figures for maize yield in Africa. “While Africa’s share of global maize production may be small, the largest part of that production goes to human consumption – compared to just 3% in North America – making it critical for food security in the region.”

Dr Vogel and her colleagues looked at crop yields, mean seasonal temperatures, extremes and regions to arrive at their big picture. But impacts of extremes vary according to region, soil, latitude and other factors too.

US scientists report in the journal Global Change Biology that yield statistics and crop insurance data from 1981 to 2016 on the Midwest maize harvest told them a slightly different story. In some years excessive rain reduced the corn yield by as much as 34%; drought and heat in turn could be linked to losses of 37%. It depended on where the crop was grown.

“As rainfall becomes more extreme, crop insurance needs to evolve to better meet planting challenges faced by farmers,” said Gary Schnitkey of the University of Urbana-Champaign, one of the authors.

Bananas in danger

And British scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B that changes in temperature and moisture linked to global warming could be bad for the banana crop.

These have increased the risk of infection by the fungus Pseudocercospora fijiensis, or Black Sigatoka disease, by more than 44% in Latin America and the Caribbean. The disease can reduce yield in infected plants by up to 80%.

“Climate change has made temperatures better for spore germination and growth, and made crop canopies wetter, raising the risk of Black Sigatoka infection in many banana-growing areas of Latin America,” said Daniel Bebber, of the University of Exeter.

“While fungus is likely to have been introduced to Honduras on plants imported from Asia for breeding research, our models indicate that climate change over the past 60 years has exacerbated its impact.” – Climate News Network