Tag Archives: Agriculture

Under-nutrition will grow in warmer world

Tomorrow’s world will not just be hungrier: it will increasingly face under-nutrition. More carbon dioxide means harvests with lower protein, iron and zinc.

LONDON, 1 August, 2019 − Climate change driven by ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do more than just limit harvests. It will increase under-nutrition, making the planet’s staple foods less nourishing.

Put simply, the higher the use of fossil fuels, the greater the growth in the numbers of anaemic mothers, malnourished babies and stunted children, and the higher the count of overall deaths from malnutrition.

More than 2 million children of five years or less die each year from conditions associated with protein deficiency. Zinc deficiency is linked to 100,000 deaths a year, and iron levels to 200,000 deaths a year among young children.

And things will get worse. Over the next three decades, according to a new study in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, the combination of shocks from a hotter, stormier, more extreme world and ever-higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will combine to make plant proteins, zinc and iron less available.

By 2050, levels of protein available per head could fall by 19.5% and of iron and zinc by 14.4% and 14.6% respectively. That is a fall of – for all three vital elements of survival – almost one fifth.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide”

Researchers warn that even though agricultural techniques have improved, even though markets are better at distributing food surpluses, and even though the extra carbon dioxide will act to add fertility to crops if atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise, dietary protein, iron and zinc will all fall by significant percentages in the harvests of 2050.

This will hold true for many of the world’s most important staples, among them wheat, rice, maize, barley, potatoes, soybeans and vegetables.

And many nations that already experience higher levels of malnutrition – in South Asia, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the former Soviet Union − will continue to be disproportionately affected.

“We’ve made a lot of progress reducing under-nutrition around the world recently but global population growth over the next 30 years will require increasing production of foods that provide sufficient nutrients,” said Timothy Sulser of the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the researchers.

Plant-based diet

“These findings suggest that climate change could slow progress on improvements in global nutrition by simply making key nutrients less available than they would be without it.”

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals: it has at least twice comprehensively addressed aspects of climate change. At the start of this year it found that with a plant-based diet, it would be in theory possible to feed, and properly nourish, the 10 billion population expected later this century.

Late last year it also warned that, just in this century alone, extremes of temperature had threatened the health and economic growth of an additional 157 million people.

The latest study is a confirmation of earlier findings: other scientists have already warned that protein levels and micronutrient properties will be diminished in a greenhouse world.

Separate research has found that both the rice and wheat harvests of tomorrow could have less food value.

Famine threat

A third study has found that global fruit and vegetable production is already not enough to sustain a healthy population. And researchers have repeatedly warned that ever more-intense and frequent natural shocks that accompany global heating – floods, heat waves, drought, windstorm and so on – threaten food harvests worldwide and could even precipitate the kind of global famines last seen in the 19th century.

The researchers limited their horizon to 2050: they warn that, on present trends, problems with food nutrition levels are only likely to get worse in the decades beyond.

They also point out that the availability of nutrients is only part of the problem: the poorest also need access to clean water, sanitation and education to take advantage of any improved diet.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide,” Professor Sulser said. − Climate News Network

Tomorrow’s world will not just be hungrier: it will increasingly face under-nutrition. More carbon dioxide means harvests with lower protein, iron and zinc.

LONDON, 1 August, 2019 − Climate change driven by ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do more than just limit harvests. It will increase under-nutrition, making the planet’s staple foods less nourishing.

Put simply, the higher the use of fossil fuels, the greater the growth in the numbers of anaemic mothers, malnourished babies and stunted children, and the higher the count of overall deaths from malnutrition.

More than 2 million children of five years or less die each year from conditions associated with protein deficiency. Zinc deficiency is linked to 100,000 deaths a year, and iron levels to 200,000 deaths a year among young children.

And things will get worse. Over the next three decades, according to a new study in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, the combination of shocks from a hotter, stormier, more extreme world and ever-higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will combine to make plant proteins, zinc and iron less available.

By 2050, levels of protein available per head could fall by 19.5% and of iron and zinc by 14.4% and 14.6% respectively. That is a fall of – for all three vital elements of survival – almost one fifth.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide”

Researchers warn that even though agricultural techniques have improved, even though markets are better at distributing food surpluses, and even though the extra carbon dioxide will act to add fertility to crops if atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise, dietary protein, iron and zinc will all fall by significant percentages in the harvests of 2050.

This will hold true for many of the world’s most important staples, among them wheat, rice, maize, barley, potatoes, soybeans and vegetables.

And many nations that already experience higher levels of malnutrition – in South Asia, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the former Soviet Union − will continue to be disproportionately affected.

“We’ve made a lot of progress reducing under-nutrition around the world recently but global population growth over the next 30 years will require increasing production of foods that provide sufficient nutrients,” said Timothy Sulser of the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the researchers.

Plant-based diet

“These findings suggest that climate change could slow progress on improvements in global nutrition by simply making key nutrients less available than they would be without it.”

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals: it has at least twice comprehensively addressed aspects of climate change. At the start of this year it found that with a plant-based diet, it would be in theory possible to feed, and properly nourish, the 10 billion population expected later this century.

Late last year it also warned that, just in this century alone, extremes of temperature had threatened the health and economic growth of an additional 157 million people.

The latest study is a confirmation of earlier findings: other scientists have already warned that protein levels and micronutrient properties will be diminished in a greenhouse world.

Separate research has found that both the rice and wheat harvests of tomorrow could have less food value.

Famine threat

A third study has found that global fruit and vegetable production is already not enough to sustain a healthy population. And researchers have repeatedly warned that ever more-intense and frequent natural shocks that accompany global heating – floods, heat waves, drought, windstorm and so on – threaten food harvests worldwide and could even precipitate the kind of global famines last seen in the 19th century.

The researchers limited their horizon to 2050: they warn that, on present trends, problems with food nutrition levels are only likely to get worse in the decades beyond.

They also point out that the availability of nutrients is only part of the problem: the poorest also need access to clean water, sanitation and education to take advantage of any improved diet.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide,” Professor Sulser said. − Climate News Network

Crop diversity keeps bees buzzing happily

Big business agriculture could be bad for pollinators, which need crop diversity. And that could mean very bad news for an ever-hungrier world.

LONDON, 26 July, 2019 − Tomorrow’s world could be a hungrier world. That is because as large-scale agribusiness gets busier crop diversity diminishes, and the pool of potential pollinators will become increasingly at risk.

Those crops that rely on pollination by the animal world can only deliver the reward of nourishment to bees and other insects for a very short time. As developing nations switch increasingly to massive plantations of soy, canola and palm oil, the creatures farmers rely on to set seed and begin the process of setting fruit will have a problem finding a food supply for the rest of the year.

The message of the latest research is simple: a sustainable world must be a diverse one. And that means a diversity of crops and crop varieties as well as a diversity of forest, grasslands and wildflowers to keep the honeybees buzzing.

Scientists from Argentina, Chile, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and Korea report in the journal Global Change Biology that without an increase in crop diversity, agricultural productivity worldwide could be put at risk by its increasing dependence on pollinators – and insects of all kinds could be on the decline, even as crop-devouring predator insects could be on the increase.

The researchers looked at data from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization on the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016. They found that more and more land is being colonised for agriculture, and the area cultivated for crops that rely on pollinators has increased by 137%. But crop diversity has increased only by 20%. And 16 of the 20 fastest-growing crops require pollination by insects or other animals.

Efficiency above all

The researchers paint a picture of a world in which vast tracts of landscape have been converted for maximum efficiency into plantations producing just one crop, while bees and other pollinators − already at hazard from climate change, pesticides and invasive infection – face a fall in the variety of their own potential food supply.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye of the University of Maryland in the US, one of the authors.

And a co-author, Robert Paxton of the Martin Luther University at Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, said: “Just a few months ago, the World Biodiversity Council (IPBES) revealed that up to one million plant and animal species are being threatened with extinction, including many pollinators.”

The researchers found that developing nations in South America, Africa and Asia had invested in vast monocultures grown for the global market: soy, for instance, exported to Europe as cattle feed, had risen by about 30% per decade globally, at great cost to natural and semi-natural tropical and subtropical forests and meadows that might otherwise have provided the blooms that pollinators could turn to once the cash crop seeds and nuts had set.

“Studying how this mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem”

“The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management,” said Professor Inouye.

In a world of potentially catastrophic climate change, global food security is already a worry. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat could slash yields and even precipitate global famine.

They have warned that rapid ecosystem change could affect global food supplies and that rapid warming will accelerate the spread of crop pests and diseases.

And even the shifts in the growing season – and in particular the earlier flowering each spring – may soon no longer be matched by the appearance of vital pollinators.

Bees avoid cold

Researchers in Japan report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society that they monitored the emergence of the flower Corydalis ambigua and its pollinator bumblebee in the forests of northern Japan for 19 years.

The earlier the snowmelt, the earlier the flowering. And the earlier the snowmelt, the more likely it was that the flowers would emerge before the bumblebees, which hibernate underground until the soil temperatures reach 6°C, could begin looking for food and, in the course of doing so, pollinate the flower and set seed for the next generation.

“Our study suggests the early arrival of spring increases the risk of disruption to the mutualism between plants and pollinators,” said Gaku Kudo, who led the research.

“Studying how this phenological mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to the larger question of how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem.” − Climate News Network

Big business agriculture could be bad for pollinators, which need crop diversity. And that could mean very bad news for an ever-hungrier world.

LONDON, 26 July, 2019 − Tomorrow’s world could be a hungrier world. That is because as large-scale agribusiness gets busier crop diversity diminishes, and the pool of potential pollinators will become increasingly at risk.

Those crops that rely on pollination by the animal world can only deliver the reward of nourishment to bees and other insects for a very short time. As developing nations switch increasingly to massive plantations of soy, canola and palm oil, the creatures farmers rely on to set seed and begin the process of setting fruit will have a problem finding a food supply for the rest of the year.

The message of the latest research is simple: a sustainable world must be a diverse one. And that means a diversity of crops and crop varieties as well as a diversity of forest, grasslands and wildflowers to keep the honeybees buzzing.

Scientists from Argentina, Chile, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and Korea report in the journal Global Change Biology that without an increase in crop diversity, agricultural productivity worldwide could be put at risk by its increasing dependence on pollinators – and insects of all kinds could be on the decline, even as crop-devouring predator insects could be on the increase.

The researchers looked at data from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization on the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016. They found that more and more land is being colonised for agriculture, and the area cultivated for crops that rely on pollinators has increased by 137%. But crop diversity has increased only by 20%. And 16 of the 20 fastest-growing crops require pollination by insects or other animals.

Efficiency above all

The researchers paint a picture of a world in which vast tracts of landscape have been converted for maximum efficiency into plantations producing just one crop, while bees and other pollinators − already at hazard from climate change, pesticides and invasive infection – face a fall in the variety of their own potential food supply.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye of the University of Maryland in the US, one of the authors.

And a co-author, Robert Paxton of the Martin Luther University at Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, said: “Just a few months ago, the World Biodiversity Council (IPBES) revealed that up to one million plant and animal species are being threatened with extinction, including many pollinators.”

The researchers found that developing nations in South America, Africa and Asia had invested in vast monocultures grown for the global market: soy, for instance, exported to Europe as cattle feed, had risen by about 30% per decade globally, at great cost to natural and semi-natural tropical and subtropical forests and meadows that might otherwise have provided the blooms that pollinators could turn to once the cash crop seeds and nuts had set.

“Studying how this mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem”

“The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management,” said Professor Inouye.

In a world of potentially catastrophic climate change, global food security is already a worry. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat could slash yields and even precipitate global famine.

They have warned that rapid ecosystem change could affect global food supplies and that rapid warming will accelerate the spread of crop pests and diseases.

And even the shifts in the growing season – and in particular the earlier flowering each spring – may soon no longer be matched by the appearance of vital pollinators.

Bees avoid cold

Researchers in Japan report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society that they monitored the emergence of the flower Corydalis ambigua and its pollinator bumblebee in the forests of northern Japan for 19 years.

The earlier the snowmelt, the earlier the flowering. And the earlier the snowmelt, the more likely it was that the flowers would emerge before the bumblebees, which hibernate underground until the soil temperatures reach 6°C, could begin looking for food and, in the course of doing so, pollinate the flower and set seed for the next generation.

“Our study suggests the early arrival of spring increases the risk of disruption to the mutualism between plants and pollinators,” said Gaku Kudo, who led the research.

“Studying how this phenological mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to the larger question of how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem.” − Climate News Network

Climate crisis needs radical food changes

From farm to fork, agriculture fuels global heating. Can the world eat well, but stay a little cooler? That will need radical food changes.

LONDON, 3 July, 2019 – To feed 9 billion people by 2050, and keep planet Earth from overheating, will mean massive and radical food changes – and not just in the way food is grown.

To contain global temperatures to no more than 2°C above the average for most of human history will require humanity to change its diet, contain its appetite and reform the entire system of food production and distribution.

This is the verdict of the latest study of the challenge set in Paris in 2015, when 195 nations promised to limit global warming – driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and by the conversion of forest, grassland and wetlands into commercial use – to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

Researchers report in the journal Sustainability that they looked at 160 studies and analyses of global agriculture and food systems and most closely at the world’s smallholders and markets that sustain as many as 2.5 billion people, mostly in the developing world.

Farming’s massive impact

Small farmers account for about a third of global agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, but these include also many of the people most vulnerable to the coming climate crisis, which is likely to put harvests at hazard on a global scale.

Agriculture, together with forestry and changes in land use, accounts for a quarter of all the carbon dioxide, methane and oxides of nitrogen that fuel global warming.

Just on its own, the action of growing grain, fruit and vegetables or feeding grazing animals accounts for no more than 12% of global warming, but a third of all the food that leaves the farm gate is wasted before it arrives on the supper table.

This is enough to provide 8% of the world’s emissions, and if just one fourth of the waste could be saved, that would be enough to feed 870 million people for a year.

By making smart investments in climate action, we can save lives now through improved air quality and health”

Agronomists, crop researchers, climate scientists and ministry planners know of many steps that can be taken to reduce the greenhouse impact of agriculture: even under the most hopeful forecasts, these are likely to be deployed slowly.

The researchers see reductions in food loss as a “big opportunity” that will benefit farmers and consumers as well as reduce emissions. A more challenging problem is to change global appetites: the meat and dairy business accounts for about 18% of all human-triggered emissions, counting the clearance of forests and the impact of changes in the way land is used to feed the demand for meat, milk, butter and cheese.

A shift to plant-based diets would save on land and water and deliver more and healthier meals and permit more forest restoration.

“If you think about the two degree increase, efforts need to go beyond the agriculture sector,” said Anna Maria Loboguerrero, of the climate change, agriculture and food security programme of CGIAR, once known as the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, who led the study.

Drastic cuts needed

“This means reducing emissions by stopping deforestation, decreasing food loss and waste, reducing supply chain emissions and rethinking human diets, if we really want to get on track to that target.”

The researchers acknowledge that what they propose will constrain farm choices and increase costs. But a second study reports once again that the health benefits of immediate, dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions will save lives, improve human health, and offset the immediate costs of containing planetary heating and adapting to the climate crisis.

“The global health benefits from climate policy could reach trillions of dollars annually, but will importantly depend on the air quality policies that nations adopt independently of climate change,” they write in the journal Nature Communications.

And Mark Budolfson of the University of Vermont, one of the authors, said: “We show the climate conversation doesn’t need to be about the current generation investing in the further future. By making smart investments in climate action, we can save lives now through improved air quality and health.” – Climate News Network

From farm to fork, agriculture fuels global heating. Can the world eat well, but stay a little cooler? That will need radical food changes.

LONDON, 3 July, 2019 – To feed 9 billion people by 2050, and keep planet Earth from overheating, will mean massive and radical food changes – and not just in the way food is grown.

To contain global temperatures to no more than 2°C above the average for most of human history will require humanity to change its diet, contain its appetite and reform the entire system of food production and distribution.

This is the verdict of the latest study of the challenge set in Paris in 2015, when 195 nations promised to limit global warming – driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and by the conversion of forest, grassland and wetlands into commercial use – to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

Researchers report in the journal Sustainability that they looked at 160 studies and analyses of global agriculture and food systems and most closely at the world’s smallholders and markets that sustain as many as 2.5 billion people, mostly in the developing world.

Farming’s massive impact

Small farmers account for about a third of global agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, but these include also many of the people most vulnerable to the coming climate crisis, which is likely to put harvests at hazard on a global scale.

Agriculture, together with forestry and changes in land use, accounts for a quarter of all the carbon dioxide, methane and oxides of nitrogen that fuel global warming.

Just on its own, the action of growing grain, fruit and vegetables or feeding grazing animals accounts for no more than 12% of global warming, but a third of all the food that leaves the farm gate is wasted before it arrives on the supper table.

This is enough to provide 8% of the world’s emissions, and if just one fourth of the waste could be saved, that would be enough to feed 870 million people for a year.

By making smart investments in climate action, we can save lives now through improved air quality and health”

Agronomists, crop researchers, climate scientists and ministry planners know of many steps that can be taken to reduce the greenhouse impact of agriculture: even under the most hopeful forecasts, these are likely to be deployed slowly.

The researchers see reductions in food loss as a “big opportunity” that will benefit farmers and consumers as well as reduce emissions. A more challenging problem is to change global appetites: the meat and dairy business accounts for about 18% of all human-triggered emissions, counting the clearance of forests and the impact of changes in the way land is used to feed the demand for meat, milk, butter and cheese.

A shift to plant-based diets would save on land and water and deliver more and healthier meals and permit more forest restoration.

“If you think about the two degree increase, efforts need to go beyond the agriculture sector,” said Anna Maria Loboguerrero, of the climate change, agriculture and food security programme of CGIAR, once known as the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, who led the study.

Drastic cuts needed

“This means reducing emissions by stopping deforestation, decreasing food loss and waste, reducing supply chain emissions and rethinking human diets, if we really want to get on track to that target.”

The researchers acknowledge that what they propose will constrain farm choices and increase costs. But a second study reports once again that the health benefits of immediate, dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions will save lives, improve human health, and offset the immediate costs of containing planetary heating and adapting to the climate crisis.

“The global health benefits from climate policy could reach trillions of dollars annually, but will importantly depend on the air quality policies that nations adopt independently of climate change,” they write in the journal Nature Communications.

And Mark Budolfson of the University of Vermont, one of the authors, said: “We show the climate conversation doesn’t need to be about the current generation investing in the further future. By making smart investments in climate action, we can save lives now through improved air quality and health.” – Climate News Network

Ancient water-saving can help modern Peru

Ancient water-saving methods may help Lima, Peru’s capital, through its water crisis, caused by climate change and population growth.

LONDON, 2 July, 2019 − There’s plenty to learn in modern Peru from the designers of ancient water-saving methods, scientists are finding. Our forebears could even keep the capital’s taps running through the summer heat.

Lima, Peru’s desert capital, a city of 12 million people, expects to run out of water by 2025. It already faces a crisis each summer as the supply from the mountains dwindles to a trickle. Yet the quantity of rain in the wet season can be overwhelming.

Between the Andes and the Pacific ocean, Lima sits on a coastal plain where the average rainfall is a tiny 9 mm a year, and it has to rely on the snow melt from the mountains and glaciers to provide summer drinking water and the needs of industry and farming.

But with the glaciers disappearing because of climate change, and the population increasing, the city will soon become untenable for many of the poor in summer, unless water supplies can be improved.

A group of scientists has found that reviving systems developed 1,400 years ago by local people before the Inca empire existed could harvest water from the winter rainy season in the mountains to ensure Lima’s summer supplies.

“You’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills”

Researchers from Imperial College London and their colleagues at the Regional Initiative for Hydrological Monitoring of Andean Ecosystems studied a water system in Huamantanga, in the central Andes, one of the last of its kind.

The local people still use a method developed in 600 AD by Peruvian civilisations that created systems in the mountains to divert excess rainwater from source streams through ponds and canals onto mountain slopes and down through fissures in the rocks.

The water would take weeks or even months to trickle through the system and resurface downstream – just in time for the dry season.

The researchers used dye tracers and hydrological monitoring to study the system from the wet to dry seasons of 2014–2015 and 2015–2016. Social scientists involved also worked with Huamantanga’s local people to understand the practice and help map the landscape.

Big increase

They found the water took between two weeks and eight months to re-emerge, with an average time of 45 days. From these timescales, they calculated that, if governments upscale the systems to cater for today’s population size, they could reroute and delay 35% of wet season water, equivalent to 99 million cubic metres per year of water flowing through Lima’s natural terrain.

This could increase the water available in the dry season by up to 33% in the early months, and an average of 7.5% for the rest of the summer.

The method could essentially extend the wet season, providing more drinking water and longer crop-growing periods for local farmers.

The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, is the first to examine the pre-Inca system in this much detail to find answers to modern problems. The authors say their research shows how indigenous systems could complement modern engineering solutions for water security in coastal Peru.

Lead author Dr Boris Ochoa-Tocachi, from Imperial’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: “With the advent of modern science, you’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However, it turns out that we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills.”

Growing too fast

Senior author Dr Wouter Buytaert, from the same department, said: “Like many tropical cities, Lima’s population is growing fast – too fast for water reserves to keep up during dry seasons. Upscaling existing pre-Inca systems could help relieve Peru’s wet months of water and quench its dry ones.”

The seasonal variability typical of coastal Peru is worsened by human impacts. Apart from glacier melting caused by global warming, humans also contribute to erosion, which renders soil too weak to support dams big enough to hold all the water needed in the summer.

Climate change also makes wet seasons wetter, and dry seasons drier − making the need for effective water storage in Peru even more urgent.

The authors say combining pre-Inca systems with classic structures, such as smaller dams, could also help to improve adaptability and water supply in an unpredictable climate. − Climate News Network

Ancient water-saving methods may help Lima, Peru’s capital, through its water crisis, caused by climate change and population growth.

LONDON, 2 July, 2019 − There’s plenty to learn in modern Peru from the designers of ancient water-saving methods, scientists are finding. Our forebears could even keep the capital’s taps running through the summer heat.

Lima, Peru’s desert capital, a city of 12 million people, expects to run out of water by 2025. It already faces a crisis each summer as the supply from the mountains dwindles to a trickle. Yet the quantity of rain in the wet season can be overwhelming.

Between the Andes and the Pacific ocean, Lima sits on a coastal plain where the average rainfall is a tiny 9 mm a year, and it has to rely on the snow melt from the mountains and glaciers to provide summer drinking water and the needs of industry and farming.

But with the glaciers disappearing because of climate change, and the population increasing, the city will soon become untenable for many of the poor in summer, unless water supplies can be improved.

A group of scientists has found that reviving systems developed 1,400 years ago by local people before the Inca empire existed could harvest water from the winter rainy season in the mountains to ensure Lima’s summer supplies.

“You’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills”

Researchers from Imperial College London and their colleagues at the Regional Initiative for Hydrological Monitoring of Andean Ecosystems studied a water system in Huamantanga, in the central Andes, one of the last of its kind.

The local people still use a method developed in 600 AD by Peruvian civilisations that created systems in the mountains to divert excess rainwater from source streams through ponds and canals onto mountain slopes and down through fissures in the rocks.

The water would take weeks or even months to trickle through the system and resurface downstream – just in time for the dry season.

The researchers used dye tracers and hydrological monitoring to study the system from the wet to dry seasons of 2014–2015 and 2015–2016. Social scientists involved also worked with Huamantanga’s local people to understand the practice and help map the landscape.

Big increase

They found the water took between two weeks and eight months to re-emerge, with an average time of 45 days. From these timescales, they calculated that, if governments upscale the systems to cater for today’s population size, they could reroute and delay 35% of wet season water, equivalent to 99 million cubic metres per year of water flowing through Lima’s natural terrain.

This could increase the water available in the dry season by up to 33% in the early months, and an average of 7.5% for the rest of the summer.

The method could essentially extend the wet season, providing more drinking water and longer crop-growing periods for local farmers.

The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, is the first to examine the pre-Inca system in this much detail to find answers to modern problems. The authors say their research shows how indigenous systems could complement modern engineering solutions for water security in coastal Peru.

Lead author Dr Boris Ochoa-Tocachi, from Imperial’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: “With the advent of modern science, you’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However, it turns out that we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills.”

Growing too fast

Senior author Dr Wouter Buytaert, from the same department, said: “Like many tropical cities, Lima’s population is growing fast – too fast for water reserves to keep up during dry seasons. Upscaling existing pre-Inca systems could help relieve Peru’s wet months of water and quench its dry ones.”

The seasonal variability typical of coastal Peru is worsened by human impacts. Apart from glacier melting caused by global warming, humans also contribute to erosion, which renders soil too weak to support dams big enough to hold all the water needed in the summer.

Climate change also makes wet seasons wetter, and dry seasons drier − making the need for effective water storage in Peru even more urgent.

The authors say combining pre-Inca systems with classic structures, such as smaller dams, could also help to improve adaptability and water supply in an unpredictable climate. − Climate News Network

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

Thirty years to climate meltdown – or not?

For years most of us largely ignored the idea of climate meltdown. Now we’re talking about it. So what should we be doing?

LONDON, 10 June, 2019 − How much of a threat is climate meltdown? Should we treat it as the biggest danger to life in the 21st century, or as one of many problems − serious, but manageable?

A new study says human civilisation itself could pass the point of no return by 2050. The Australian climate think-tank Breakthrough: National Centre for Climate Restoration says that unless humanity takes drastic and immediate action to save the climate, a combination of unstable food production, water shortages and extreme weather could lead to the breakdown of global society.

One renowned US climate scientist, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, says that Breakthrough is exaggerating and its report could be counter-productive.

In the UK, though, Mark Maslin of University College London says the report underlines the deep concerns expressed by some security experts.

Act together

Chris Barrie, a retired Royal Australian Navy admiral and former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, is now an honorary professor at the Australian National University, Canberra.

In a foreword to the Breakthrough study he writes: “We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind.”

David Spratt, Breakthrough’s research director and a co-author of the study, says that “much knowledge produced for policymakers is too conservative,” but that the new paper, by showing the extreme end of what could happen in just the next three decades, aims to make the stakes clear. “The report speaks, in our opinion, a harsh but necessary truth,” he says.

“To reduce this risk and protect human civilisation, a massive global mobilisation of resources is needed in the coming decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system and set in train the restoration of a safe climate,” the report reads. “This would be akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilisation.”

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly”

Breakthrough acknowledges that the worst possibility it foresees − the total collapse of civilisation by mid-century − is an example of a worst-case scenario, but it insists that “the world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change.”

The picture of the possible near future it presents is stark. By 2050, it says, the world could have reached:

  • a 3°C temperature rise, with a further 1°C in store
  • sea levels 0.5 metres above today’s, with a possible eventual rise of 25m
  • 55% of the world’s people subject to more than 20 days a year of heat “beyond the threshold of human survivability”
  • one billion people forced to leave the tropics
  • a 20% decline in crop yields, leaving too little food to feed the world
  • armed conflict likely and nuclear war possible.

The report’s authors conclude: “The scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilisation coming to an end.”

Warnings examined

Warnings of the possible end of human civilisation are not new. They range from those which offer highly-qualified hope for humanity’s future to others which find very little to celebrate, even tentatively.

The Breakthrough study fits unequivocally into the second group. To weigh the credibility of some of its statements, the journal New Scientist looks at the sources they cite and the wider context of the claims they make.

Its scrutiny ends with the views of two eminent climate scientists. Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, says: “I respect the authors and appreciate that their intentions are good, but … overblown rhetoric, exaggeration, and unsupportable doomist framing can be counteractive to climate action.”

For his part, Mark Maslin, professor of geography at UCL, tells New Scientist that the Breakthrough report adds to the deep concerns expressed by security experts such as the Pentagon over climate change.

Hope nurtured

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly,” he says.

The 2020 round of UN climate negotiations is due to take place in November next year, with hopes building that many countries will agree then to make much more radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than they have pledged so far.

Altogether 195 countries promised in 2015, in the Paris Agreement, to make the cuts needed to prevent global average temperatures rising more than 2°C, and if possible to stay below a maximum rise of 1.5°C, the levels climate scientists say are the highest that can assure the planet’s safety. But the cuts that many countries have promised so far will not achieve either goal.

Scientists say it is still possible for the world to achieve the 1.5°C limit. But doing so requires immediate emissions cuts, on a scale and at a pace that are not yet in sight − “a very big ‘if’”, as one of them put it. − Climate News Network

For years most of us largely ignored the idea of climate meltdown. Now we’re talking about it. So what should we be doing?

LONDON, 10 June, 2019 − How much of a threat is climate meltdown? Should we treat it as the biggest danger to life in the 21st century, or as one of many problems − serious, but manageable?

A new study says human civilisation itself could pass the point of no return by 2050. The Australian climate think-tank Breakthrough: National Centre for Climate Restoration says that unless humanity takes drastic and immediate action to save the climate, a combination of unstable food production, water shortages and extreme weather could lead to the breakdown of global society.

One renowned US climate scientist, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, says that Breakthrough is exaggerating and its report could be counter-productive.

In the UK, though, Mark Maslin of University College London says the report underlines the deep concerns expressed by some security experts.

Act together

Chris Barrie, a retired Royal Australian Navy admiral and former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, is now an honorary professor at the Australian National University, Canberra.

In a foreword to the Breakthrough study he writes: “We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind.”

David Spratt, Breakthrough’s research director and a co-author of the study, says that “much knowledge produced for policymakers is too conservative,” but that the new paper, by showing the extreme end of what could happen in just the next three decades, aims to make the stakes clear. “The report speaks, in our opinion, a harsh but necessary truth,” he says.

“To reduce this risk and protect human civilisation, a massive global mobilisation of resources is needed in the coming decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system and set in train the restoration of a safe climate,” the report reads. “This would be akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilisation.”

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly”

Breakthrough acknowledges that the worst possibility it foresees − the total collapse of civilisation by mid-century − is an example of a worst-case scenario, but it insists that “the world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change.”

The picture of the possible near future it presents is stark. By 2050, it says, the world could have reached:

  • a 3°C temperature rise, with a further 1°C in store
  • sea levels 0.5 metres above today’s, with a possible eventual rise of 25m
  • 55% of the world’s people subject to more than 20 days a year of heat “beyond the threshold of human survivability”
  • one billion people forced to leave the tropics
  • a 20% decline in crop yields, leaving too little food to feed the world
  • armed conflict likely and nuclear war possible.

The report’s authors conclude: “The scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilisation coming to an end.”

Warnings examined

Warnings of the possible end of human civilisation are not new. They range from those which offer highly-qualified hope for humanity’s future to others which find very little to celebrate, even tentatively.

The Breakthrough study fits unequivocally into the second group. To weigh the credibility of some of its statements, the journal New Scientist looks at the sources they cite and the wider context of the claims they make.

Its scrutiny ends with the views of two eminent climate scientists. Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, says: “I respect the authors and appreciate that their intentions are good, but … overblown rhetoric, exaggeration, and unsupportable doomist framing can be counteractive to climate action.”

For his part, Mark Maslin, professor of geography at UCL, tells New Scientist that the Breakthrough report adds to the deep concerns expressed by security experts such as the Pentagon over climate change.

Hope nurtured

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly,” he says.

The 2020 round of UN climate negotiations is due to take place in November next year, with hopes building that many countries will agree then to make much more radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than they have pledged so far.

Altogether 195 countries promised in 2015, in the Paris Agreement, to make the cuts needed to prevent global average temperatures rising more than 2°C, and if possible to stay below a maximum rise of 1.5°C, the levels climate scientists say are the highest that can assure the planet’s safety. But the cuts that many countries have promised so far will not achieve either goal.

Scientists say it is still possible for the world to achieve the 1.5°C limit. But doing so requires immediate emissions cuts, on a scale and at a pace that are not yet in sight − “a very big ‘if’”, as one of them put it. − Climate News Network

Siberia expects mass migration as it warms

Scientists mapping the effects of increased temperature and rainfall across Siberia say it could expect mass migration in a warmer world.

LONDON, 7 June, 2019 − Siberia, currently one of the most sparsely populated places in the northern hemisphere, could become a target for mass migration as the climate warms.

By 2080, scientists report, melting permafrost and warming summer and winter temperatures will mean that agriculture could thrive and support between five and seven times the current population.

Lands to the south are becoming far less able to feed and sustain their existing populations, as heat makes crops harder to grow and cities untenable, and mass migration northward is likely, the scientists predict.

Their study, which is produced by the Krasnoyarsk Federal Research Centre in Siberia and the US National Institute of Aerospace, says the current problem of falling population in Russia will be reversed as conditions in Siberia become much better for growing food, and both summers and winters more pleasant to live in. It is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

With 13 million square kilometres of land area, Asian Russia – east of the Urals, towards the Pacific – accounts for 77% of Russian territory. Its population, however, accounts for just 27% of the country’s people and is concentrated along the forest-steppe in the south, with its comfortable climate and fertile soil.

“In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable”

The findings have a certain irony, because at the close of the Communist era the Soviet government was not keen to take any action on climate change: it saw the warming of Siberia as a chance for the USSR to grow more wheat and challenge US dominance of the world’s grain supply.

The scientists warn, however, that mass migration will not be that simple. The melting of the permafrost threatens what little infrastructure there is in the region. Before a larger population could provide for itself, investments need to be made in new roads, railways and power supplies to support it.

They say warming in the region already exceeds earlier estimates. Depending on how much carbon dioxide humans continue to pump into the atmosphere, the scientists predict mid-winter temperatures over Asian Russia will increase between 3.4°C and 9.1°C by 2080. Increases in mid-summer will be between 1.9°C and 5.7°C, they say.

Permafrost, which currently covers 65% of the region, would fall to 40% by 2080, and crucially there will be increases in rainfall of between 60 mm and 140 mm, making the unfrozen area much more favourable for crops.

Migration ‘probable’

Using something called Ecological Landscape Potential, or ELP, to gauge the potential for land to support human populations, the scientists came to the conclusion that mass migration north was probable.

“We found the ELP would increase over most of Asian Russia, which would lead to a five- to seven-fold increase in the capacity of the territory to sustain and become attractive to human populations, which would then lead to migrations from less sustainable lands to Asian Russia during this century,” they say.

Dr Elena Parfenova, from the Krasnoyarsk centre, said: “In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable to support settlements in what is currently an extremely cold Asian Russia.”

She said that obviously people would flock first to the already developed areas in the south, but most of the area of Siberia and the Far East “have poorly developed infrastructure. The rapidity that these developments occur is dependent on investments in infrastructure and agriculture, which is dependent on the decisions that will be made in the near future.” − Climate News Network

Scientists mapping the effects of increased temperature and rainfall across Siberia say it could expect mass migration in a warmer world.

LONDON, 7 June, 2019 − Siberia, currently one of the most sparsely populated places in the northern hemisphere, could become a target for mass migration as the climate warms.

By 2080, scientists report, melting permafrost and warming summer and winter temperatures will mean that agriculture could thrive and support between five and seven times the current population.

Lands to the south are becoming far less able to feed and sustain their existing populations, as heat makes crops harder to grow and cities untenable, and mass migration northward is likely, the scientists predict.

Their study, which is produced by the Krasnoyarsk Federal Research Centre in Siberia and the US National Institute of Aerospace, says the current problem of falling population in Russia will be reversed as conditions in Siberia become much better for growing food, and both summers and winters more pleasant to live in. It is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

With 13 million square kilometres of land area, Asian Russia – east of the Urals, towards the Pacific – accounts for 77% of Russian territory. Its population, however, accounts for just 27% of the country’s people and is concentrated along the forest-steppe in the south, with its comfortable climate and fertile soil.

“In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable”

The findings have a certain irony, because at the close of the Communist era the Soviet government was not keen to take any action on climate change: it saw the warming of Siberia as a chance for the USSR to grow more wheat and challenge US dominance of the world’s grain supply.

The scientists warn, however, that mass migration will not be that simple. The melting of the permafrost threatens what little infrastructure there is in the region. Before a larger population could provide for itself, investments need to be made in new roads, railways and power supplies to support it.

They say warming in the region already exceeds earlier estimates. Depending on how much carbon dioxide humans continue to pump into the atmosphere, the scientists predict mid-winter temperatures over Asian Russia will increase between 3.4°C and 9.1°C by 2080. Increases in mid-summer will be between 1.9°C and 5.7°C, they say.

Permafrost, which currently covers 65% of the region, would fall to 40% by 2080, and crucially there will be increases in rainfall of between 60 mm and 140 mm, making the unfrozen area much more favourable for crops.

Migration ‘probable’

Using something called Ecological Landscape Potential, or ELP, to gauge the potential for land to support human populations, the scientists came to the conclusion that mass migration north was probable.

“We found the ELP would increase over most of Asian Russia, which would lead to a five- to seven-fold increase in the capacity of the territory to sustain and become attractive to human populations, which would then lead to migrations from less sustainable lands to Asian Russia during this century,” they say.

Dr Elena Parfenova, from the Krasnoyarsk centre, said: “In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable to support settlements in what is currently an extremely cold Asian Russia.”

She said that obviously people would flock first to the already developed areas in the south, but most of the area of Siberia and the Far East “have poorly developed infrastructure. The rapidity that these developments occur is dependent on investments in infrastructure and agriculture, which is dependent on the decisions that will be made in the near future.” − Climate News Network

Carbon farming can slash CO2 emissions

US entrepreneurs say a new technique − carbon farming, improving the health of the soil − can achieve big cuts in atmospheric carbon.
WASHINGTON DC, 17 May, 2019 − Soil health improvement, a technique known as carbon farming, could cut the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere by more than one-sixth, a US business group says.
It says a concerted effort by the world’s farmers to restore and protect soil health could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by as much as 65 parts per million (ppm) from its current level of more than 415 ppm.
It made the announcement at a webinar on carbon farming which it hosted here in April. A full report of the webinar appears on the website of the The Energy Mix.
The group, the US-based Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), describes itself as “a national, nonpartisan group of business leaders, investors, and professionals from every sector of the economy who advocate … smart policies that are good for the economy and good for the environment”
World leaders … said that regenerative agriculture to naturally conserve and protect topsoil and support its fertility and resilience were “a huge carbon capture opportunity”
The total saving of 65 ppm represents the estimated amount of carbon that human activity has removed from the soil since the dawn of industrial agriculture.
But, E2 says, even if its eventual contribution to climate stabilisation falls well short of this figure, drawing attention to soil carbon sequestration could still concentrate minds on a climate solution often neglected in comparison with more complex and often riskier options for emission cuts.
E2 says a critical step in advancing climate-friendly soil health in the US is the ground-breaking Soil Health Demonstration Trial, a carbon farming pilot project that a coalition of farmers, agricultural technology entrepreneurs and environmentalists managed to persuade a deeply divided US Congress to accept in the December 2018 farm bill, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018.
The idea for the carbon farming pilot emerged in the wake of the UN’s 2016 annual climate conference, known as COP23, held in the German city of Bonn. World leaders there said that regenerative agriculture to naturally conserve and protect topsoil and support its fertility and resilience were “a huge carbon capture opportunity”.
Microbial key
Carbon farming depends on the activity of microbes in the soil, says E2. Through photosynthesis, plants remove vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into sugars. They use as much as 30% of these sugars to “recruit and nurture” huge, diverse populations of microbes around their root systems.
The microbes help the plants take up nutrients, retain water and tolerate stress, functioning as a key part of the process by which plants produce the roots and leaves that end up as carbon in the soil. When they die, they deposit huge amounts of carbon in the soil.
Scientists have developed a new microbial soil additive that substantially increased soil carbon sequestration in trial applications to California grapes and citrus fruit in Florida.
In the citrus trial, after scientists treated one acre of land three to four times over the course of a year, soil carbon increased by 32%, to 4.3 tons. Soil greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.33 tons, reckoned to be the rough equivalent of the CO2 produced by driving a car with an internal combustion engine for a whole year.
Depositing four tons of carbon per acre in just 10% of California’s agricultural land, it is estimated, would be the equivalent of taking 4.3 million cars off the road. − Climate News Network

 

* * * * *

The Climate News Network wishes to thank The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions, for permission to publish this slightly adapted version of its original report on carbon farming.

US entrepreneurs say a new technique − carbon farming, improving the health of the soil − can achieve big cuts in atmospheric carbon.
WASHINGTON DC, 17 May, 2019 − Soil health improvement, a technique known as carbon farming, could cut the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere by more than one-sixth, a US business group says.
It says a concerted effort by the world’s farmers to restore and protect soil health could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by as much as 65 parts per million (ppm) from its current level of more than 415 ppm.
It made the announcement at a webinar on carbon farming which it hosted here in April. A full report of the webinar appears on the website of the The Energy Mix.
The group, the US-based Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), describes itself as “a national, nonpartisan group of business leaders, investors, and professionals from every sector of the economy who advocate … smart policies that are good for the economy and good for the environment”
World leaders … said that regenerative agriculture to naturally conserve and protect topsoil and support its fertility and resilience were “a huge carbon capture opportunity”
The total saving of 65 ppm represents the estimated amount of carbon that human activity has removed from the soil since the dawn of industrial agriculture.
But, E2 says, even if its eventual contribution to climate stabilisation falls well short of this figure, drawing attention to soil carbon sequestration could still concentrate minds on a climate solution often neglected in comparison with more complex and often riskier options for emission cuts.
E2 says a critical step in advancing climate-friendly soil health in the US is the ground-breaking Soil Health Demonstration Trial, a carbon farming pilot project that a coalition of farmers, agricultural technology entrepreneurs and environmentalists managed to persuade a deeply divided US Congress to accept in the December 2018 farm bill, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018.
The idea for the carbon farming pilot emerged in the wake of the UN’s 2016 annual climate conference, known as COP23, held in the German city of Bonn. World leaders there said that regenerative agriculture to naturally conserve and protect topsoil and support its fertility and resilience were “a huge carbon capture opportunity”.
Microbial key
Carbon farming depends on the activity of microbes in the soil, says E2. Through photosynthesis, plants remove vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into sugars. They use as much as 30% of these sugars to “recruit and nurture” huge, diverse populations of microbes around their root systems.
The microbes help the plants take up nutrients, retain water and tolerate stress, functioning as a key part of the process by which plants produce the roots and leaves that end up as carbon in the soil. When they die, they deposit huge amounts of carbon in the soil.
Scientists have developed a new microbial soil additive that substantially increased soil carbon sequestration in trial applications to California grapes and citrus fruit in Florida.
In the citrus trial, after scientists treated one acre of land three to four times over the course of a year, soil carbon increased by 32%, to 4.3 tons. Soil greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.33 tons, reckoned to be the rough equivalent of the CO2 produced by driving a car with an internal combustion engine for a whole year.
Depositing four tons of carbon per acre in just 10% of California’s agricultural land, it is estimated, would be the equivalent of taking 4.3 million cars off the road. − Climate News Network

 

* * * * *

The Climate News Network wishes to thank The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions, for permission to publish this slightly adapted version of its original report on carbon farming.

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

Irish schools fail to teach climate change

Students at Irish schools are being let down by the country’s education system, say lawmakers demanding full climate change literacy.

DUBLIN, 10 May, 2019 − There’s a yawning gap in Irish schools, say the country’s legislators: they’re just not telling the new generation what it needs to know about climate change, although young people in many countries are on the march, protesting against governments’ inaction on the mounting problems associated with the issue.

Inspired in part by the actions of people like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl who has very publicly challenged world leaders to act to prevent climate meltdown, the young around the world are demanding urgent action.

This movement has come about almost entirely on young peoples’ own initiative; in many countries there is still a serious lack in the education system of any information on climate change.

In Ireland – a country where leading government officials have been forced to admit their failure to tackle climate change – students are given little or no guidance on the subject.

Climate competence needed

Now a hard-hitting report by the Oireachtas – or Parliament – Joint Committee on Climate Action (JCCA), an all-party group, says that must change. Schools, says the report, must ensure that the next generation is fully literate on the subject of climate change.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change and geography, a critical subject for engaging in the topic, has been removed as a core subject at Junior Certificate level.

“There are insufficient opportunities in the formal education system to learn about or to act on climate change”, says the report.

Ireland, a relatively sparsely populated country with little heavy industry, is among the worst performers in the European Union on climate change.

The report says the country’s emissions of highly damaging greenhouse gases are still at 1990 levels; a fast-expanding cattle population is responsible for producing a large amount of GHGs. Inadequate action on tackling GHG emissions in the housing and transport sectors is also to blame for Ireland’s bad performance.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change … Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”

The JCCA study says that in tandem with more emphasis being placed on issues associated with global warming in the education system, there should also be public information campaigns, and state-funded media should be more vocal on the subject.

Met Eireann, the state meteorological service, should play a greater role and be more proactive on the issue, says the report.

The state’s response to a warming world has been insufficient, says the JCCA; urgent action must be taken. “Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”, says the report.

Changes in climate are affecting Ireland in several ways, some big, some small. The Irish Times reports that the numbers of wild salmon returning to spawn in Irish waters are at their lowest level since records were first compiled.

Scottish parallel

Similar declines have been reported in Scotland, where the survival of wild salmon is said to be “at crisis point.”

In one of nature’s great migrations, mature wild salmon swim many hundreds of miles through the ocean to lay their eggs where they first began life. In the 1970s, 1.7 million salmon were recorded returning to Irish rivers. That number has now dropped to about 200,000.

Dr Ciarán Byrne, CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland, says the decline in numbers is due to several factors, including climate change. Rising temperatures at sea could be influencing migration patterns.

Warmer ocean temperatures could also be encouraging the growth of sea lice, which attach themselves to the salmon, ultimately causing their death. − Climate News Network

Students at Irish schools are being let down by the country’s education system, say lawmakers demanding full climate change literacy.

DUBLIN, 10 May, 2019 − There’s a yawning gap in Irish schools, say the country’s legislators: they’re just not telling the new generation what it needs to know about climate change, although young people in many countries are on the march, protesting against governments’ inaction on the mounting problems associated with the issue.

Inspired in part by the actions of people like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl who has very publicly challenged world leaders to act to prevent climate meltdown, the young around the world are demanding urgent action.

This movement has come about almost entirely on young peoples’ own initiative; in many countries there is still a serious lack in the education system of any information on climate change.

In Ireland – a country where leading government officials have been forced to admit their failure to tackle climate change – students are given little or no guidance on the subject.

Climate competence needed

Now a hard-hitting report by the Oireachtas – or Parliament – Joint Committee on Climate Action (JCCA), an all-party group, says that must change. Schools, says the report, must ensure that the next generation is fully literate on the subject of climate change.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change and geography, a critical subject for engaging in the topic, has been removed as a core subject at Junior Certificate level.

“There are insufficient opportunities in the formal education system to learn about or to act on climate change”, says the report.

Ireland, a relatively sparsely populated country with little heavy industry, is among the worst performers in the European Union on climate change.

The report says the country’s emissions of highly damaging greenhouse gases are still at 1990 levels; a fast-expanding cattle population is responsible for producing a large amount of GHGs. Inadequate action on tackling GHG emissions in the housing and transport sectors is also to blame for Ireland’s bad performance.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change … Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”

The JCCA study says that in tandem with more emphasis being placed on issues associated with global warming in the education system, there should also be public information campaigns, and state-funded media should be more vocal on the subject.

Met Eireann, the state meteorological service, should play a greater role and be more proactive on the issue, says the report.

The state’s response to a warming world has been insufficient, says the JCCA; urgent action must be taken. “Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”, says the report.

Changes in climate are affecting Ireland in several ways, some big, some small. The Irish Times reports that the numbers of wild salmon returning to spawn in Irish waters are at their lowest level since records were first compiled.

Scottish parallel

Similar declines have been reported in Scotland, where the survival of wild salmon is said to be “at crisis point.”

In one of nature’s great migrations, mature wild salmon swim many hundreds of miles through the ocean to lay their eggs where they first began life. In the 1970s, 1.7 million salmon were recorded returning to Irish rivers. That number has now dropped to about 200,000.

Dr Ciarán Byrne, CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland, says the decline in numbers is due to several factors, including climate change. Rising temperatures at sea could be influencing migration patterns.

Warmer ocean temperatures could also be encouraging the growth of sea lice, which attach themselves to the salmon, ultimately causing their death. − Climate News Network