Tag Archives: Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increasing forest loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halt to deforestation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increasing forest loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halt to deforestation

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

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

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

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

Smoke from wildfires kills thousands annually

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban penalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban penalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon fires are rising threat to Brazil’s great rainforest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiral of decline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiral of decline

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

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

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

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

Brazil’s Grain Railway alarms indigenous groups

Brazil’s Grain Railway will cut right through the Amazon forest. Indigenous people and ecologists are aghast at the plan.

SÃO PAULO, 26 August, 2021 − A controversial 933 km-long line planned to run through the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s Grain Railway, is one of a package of railway infrastructure projects which the UK-based Climate Bonds Initiative is considering for green certification.

The Ferrogrão, as it is known locally, will run north from Sinop in the heart of the soy- and maize-growing state of Mato Grosso to the port of Miritituba on the Tapajos river, an Amazon tributary.

The chosen route runs close to indigenous areas of the Munduruku, Kayapo and Kayabi peoples, and cuts through the Jamanxim national park, a protected area. To permit this route the Brazilian government introduced a law to reduce the park limits, but this has been suspended by the Supreme Court.

The government plans to auction the proposed railway, which will cost an estimated R$12.7 billion, or almost £2bn, in January 2022. To convince foreign investors that it is environmentally sustainable, in September 2019 it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Climate Bonds Initiative, a non-profit organisation which awards green certification to sustainable projects.

“They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish”

If the CBI awards the project its green seal of approval, this will enable the railway’s eventual concessionaire to access funding via green bonds on the international market, now worth an estimated US$1tn. A CBI spokesperson said it had not yet evaluated the certification request of the financial operations for the Ferrograõ’s construction.

Brazil’s infrastructure minister, Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, explained: “If I’m going to build a railway in the Amazon, I need to transmit security to investors, principally in terms of image. We want to be state-of-the-art in green structuring, environmental governance, monitoring of processes, recovery of degraded areas and crossings for wildlife.”

Freitas says the railway will remove one million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by providing a cheaper alternative to diesel-fuelled lorry traffic, reducing it by 90% on the existing road connection between Mato Grosso and Miritituba, known as the BR163 highway. Without the railway, the heavily used road, which runs through once dense forest, now extensively cleared, would have to be duplicated.

His Ministry’s site informs users that a “green barrier” will be created by tree planting along the railway route, to hold back the encroachment of farming land.

Exporters will benefit

But the idea that this “ecological barrier” will prevent invasions, especially since the Bolsonaro government has been steadily weakening environmental law enforcement in the Amazon, is strongly disputed by the indigenous peoples affected, who argue they have not been properly consulted about the route, as they have a right to be under Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation, of which Brazil is a signatory.

Munduruku leader Alessandra says the railway will accelerate the growth of more soy farms and urbanisation: “They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish.”

Indigenous leaders say they are not against the project per se, but against the way it is being executed, without consultation, violating their right to be heard. They and environmental NGOs dispute the idea that the railway will be ecologically sustainable, claiming that instead it will cause more deforestation, more clearings, deposits of waste, the suppression of vegetation, and the damming of streams.

Those who stand to benefit from the Grain Railway are the large international agribusiness companies who export to China and Europe, who will gain a cheaper route to the international ports on the Amazon river. At the moment 70% of Mato Grosso’s grain harvest is trucked 2000 kms south to ports like Santos.

More destruction ahead

The newly formed Forests and Finance Coalition, an international alliance of almost 50 groups, has just sent a letter to 80 Brazilian and overseas financial institutions, warning them of the risks of investing in Brazil when the national congress is debating laws which could bring irreversible consequences to critical ecosystems like the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Cerrado, and to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Record levels of deforestation and fires are destroying huge swathes of these biomes, aided by a major drought, said to be the worst in 90 years. Rivers are drying up, reservoirs are emptying and fires are raging all over Brazil. If the Grain Railway goes ahead it will inevitably lead to further rainforest destruction.

For the government of Jair Bolsonaro, which has cut funding for environmental protection, dismantled environmental agencies and encouraged the invasion of indigenous and protected areas, to gain the backing of a reputable organisation like Climate Bonds Initiative is a major asset.

For Climate Bonds Initiative, which says it wants to “place Brazil at the centre of the international market to access global capital flows from international investors who are actively looking for good financial products with climate and environmental credentials”, the advantage of linking itself to Brazil’s Grain Railway and to a government with such an openly anti-environment agenda is not clear. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s Grain Railway will cut right through the Amazon forest. Indigenous people and ecologists are aghast at the plan.

SÃO PAULO, 26 August, 2021 − A controversial 933 km-long line planned to run through the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s Grain Railway, is one of a package of railway infrastructure projects which the UK-based Climate Bonds Initiative is considering for green certification.

The Ferrogrão, as it is known locally, will run north from Sinop in the heart of the soy- and maize-growing state of Mato Grosso to the port of Miritituba on the Tapajos river, an Amazon tributary.

The chosen route runs close to indigenous areas of the Munduruku, Kayapo and Kayabi peoples, and cuts through the Jamanxim national park, a protected area. To permit this route the Brazilian government introduced a law to reduce the park limits, but this has been suspended by the Supreme Court.

The government plans to auction the proposed railway, which will cost an estimated R$12.7 billion, or almost £2bn, in January 2022. To convince foreign investors that it is environmentally sustainable, in September 2019 it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Climate Bonds Initiative, a non-profit organisation which awards green certification to sustainable projects.

“They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish”

If the CBI awards the project its green seal of approval, this will enable the railway’s eventual concessionaire to access funding via green bonds on the international market, now worth an estimated US$1tn. A CBI spokesperson said it had not yet evaluated the certification request of the financial operations for the Ferrograõ’s construction.

Brazil’s infrastructure minister, Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, explained: “If I’m going to build a railway in the Amazon, I need to transmit security to investors, principally in terms of image. We want to be state-of-the-art in green structuring, environmental governance, monitoring of processes, recovery of degraded areas and crossings for wildlife.”

Freitas says the railway will remove one million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by providing a cheaper alternative to diesel-fuelled lorry traffic, reducing it by 90% on the existing road connection between Mato Grosso and Miritituba, known as the BR163 highway. Without the railway, the heavily used road, which runs through once dense forest, now extensively cleared, would have to be duplicated.

His Ministry’s site informs users that a “green barrier” will be created by tree planting along the railway route, to hold back the encroachment of farming land.

Exporters will benefit

But the idea that this “ecological barrier” will prevent invasions, especially since the Bolsonaro government has been steadily weakening environmental law enforcement in the Amazon, is strongly disputed by the indigenous peoples affected, who argue they have not been properly consulted about the route, as they have a right to be under Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation, of which Brazil is a signatory.

Munduruku leader Alessandra says the railway will accelerate the growth of more soy farms and urbanisation: “They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish.”

Indigenous leaders say they are not against the project per se, but against the way it is being executed, without consultation, violating their right to be heard. They and environmental NGOs dispute the idea that the railway will be ecologically sustainable, claiming that instead it will cause more deforestation, more clearings, deposits of waste, the suppression of vegetation, and the damming of streams.

Those who stand to benefit from the Grain Railway are the large international agribusiness companies who export to China and Europe, who will gain a cheaper route to the international ports on the Amazon river. At the moment 70% of Mato Grosso’s grain harvest is trucked 2000 kms south to ports like Santos.

More destruction ahead

The newly formed Forests and Finance Coalition, an international alliance of almost 50 groups, has just sent a letter to 80 Brazilian and overseas financial institutions, warning them of the risks of investing in Brazil when the national congress is debating laws which could bring irreversible consequences to critical ecosystems like the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Cerrado, and to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Record levels of deforestation and fires are destroying huge swathes of these biomes, aided by a major drought, said to be the worst in 90 years. Rivers are drying up, reservoirs are emptying and fires are raging all over Brazil. If the Grain Railway goes ahead it will inevitably lead to further rainforest destruction.

For the government of Jair Bolsonaro, which has cut funding for environmental protection, dismantled environmental agencies and encouraged the invasion of indigenous and protected areas, to gain the backing of a reputable organisation like Climate Bonds Initiative is a major asset.

For Climate Bonds Initiative, which says it wants to “place Brazil at the centre of the international market to access global capital flows from international investors who are actively looking for good financial products with climate and environmental credentials”, the advantage of linking itself to Brazil’s Grain Railway and to a government with such an openly anti-environment agenda is not clear. − Climate News Network

Forest people offer the best hope of saving them

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trees as rainmakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trees as rainmakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

More carbon dioxide will dry world’s rainforests

More carbon dioxide could parch the rainforest as effectively as the woodman’s axe or farmer’s torch. Both are on the cards.

LONDON, 7 July, 2021 − Brazilian scientists have identified a new way to take the rain out of the rainforest. All the world has to do is to make sure more carbon dioxide reaches the trees − half as much again as today.

The effect will be stark: it will be roughly the same as if Brazil’s business leaders, politicians and farmers cleared the entire Amazon rainforest and replaced it with cattle pasture.

As climate scientists have been pointing out for years, both processes seem to be happening anyway. The region is already experiencing fire and drought as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. And great tracts of the forest are being destroyed, degraded or felled in pursuit of land for soya or beef. What is new is the confirmation that extra carbon dioxide can itself affect the levels of rainfall on the canopy.

That is because most of the rain that in the right season sweeps almost daily over the inland Amazon is not freshly evaporated water from the Atlantic, but condensed from vapour transpired from the forest foliage. As the forest extends inland, most of the rainfall is recycled, again and again. In effect, a great rainforest powers its own repeating sprinkler system. And more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could limit the flow.

“CO2 is a basic input for photosynthesis, so when it increases in the atmosphere, plant physiology is affected and this can have a cascade effect on the transfer of moisture from trees to the atmosphere, the formation of rain in the region, forest biomass and several other processes,” said David Montenegro Lapola, of the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Double conundrum

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already forecast a possible one-fifth reduction in annual rainfall in the region. Professor Lapola and colleagues report in the journal Biogeosciences that they ran computer simulations of the interplay of climate and forest to test two propositions.

One was: what would happen over the next 100 years if the ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 588 parts per million? For most of human history, this ratio hovered around 288ppm. Worldwide, since the global exploitation of fossil fuels began 200 years ago, this ratio has already soared beyond 400 ppm. And under various climate scenarios, the 588 ppm figure could happen by 2050, or 2080.

The second question was: what would happen over a century if the entire forest − it spreads across nine nations − was cleared for grassland? Much of the forest enjoys notional official protection but is still being cleared, lost or degraded anyway.

“To our surprise, just the physiological effect on the leaves of the forest would generate an annual fall of 12% in the amount of rain, whereas total deforestation would lead to a fall of 9%,” Professor Lapola said. “These numbers are far higher than the natural variation in precipitation between one year and the next, which is 5%.”

“The wind gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall”

At the heart of the puzzle of plants and precipitation is the physiology of green growth: the stomata that control the exchange of atmospheric gases on all foliage. These tiny portals open to capture carbon, and emit water vapour. With more CO2 in the atmosphere, they would remain open for shorter spells. The result: less water vapour, reduced cloud formation, lower rainfall.

But there is a second factor: trees are tall and very leafy, with six times the leaf area per square metre of grass, which is low and earthbound. If the entire forest was replaced by pasture, leaf area would be down by two-thirds. And both rising greenhouse gas ratios and deforestation would also influence wind and the movement of the air masses that carry the potential rainfall.

“The forest canopy has a complex surface made up of the tops of tall trees, low trees, leaves and branches. This is called canopy surface roughness. The wind produces turbulence, with eddies and vortices that in turn produce the instability that gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall,” Professor Lapola said.

“Pasture has a smooth surface over which the wind always flows forward, and without forest doesn’t produce vortices. The wind intensifies as a result, bearing away most of the precipitation westward, while much of eastern and central Amazonia, the Brazilian part, has less rain.” − Climate News Network

More carbon dioxide could parch the rainforest as effectively as the woodman’s axe or farmer’s torch. Both are on the cards.

LONDON, 7 July, 2021 − Brazilian scientists have identified a new way to take the rain out of the rainforest. All the world has to do is to make sure more carbon dioxide reaches the trees − half as much again as today.

The effect will be stark: it will be roughly the same as if Brazil’s business leaders, politicians and farmers cleared the entire Amazon rainforest and replaced it with cattle pasture.

As climate scientists have been pointing out for years, both processes seem to be happening anyway. The region is already experiencing fire and drought as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. And great tracts of the forest are being destroyed, degraded or felled in pursuit of land for soya or beef. What is new is the confirmation that extra carbon dioxide can itself affect the levels of rainfall on the canopy.

That is because most of the rain that in the right season sweeps almost daily over the inland Amazon is not freshly evaporated water from the Atlantic, but condensed from vapour transpired from the forest foliage. As the forest extends inland, most of the rainfall is recycled, again and again. In effect, a great rainforest powers its own repeating sprinkler system. And more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could limit the flow.

“CO2 is a basic input for photosynthesis, so when it increases in the atmosphere, plant physiology is affected and this can have a cascade effect on the transfer of moisture from trees to the atmosphere, the formation of rain in the region, forest biomass and several other processes,” said David Montenegro Lapola, of the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Double conundrum

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already forecast a possible one-fifth reduction in annual rainfall in the region. Professor Lapola and colleagues report in the journal Biogeosciences that they ran computer simulations of the interplay of climate and forest to test two propositions.

One was: what would happen over the next 100 years if the ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 588 parts per million? For most of human history, this ratio hovered around 288ppm. Worldwide, since the global exploitation of fossil fuels began 200 years ago, this ratio has already soared beyond 400 ppm. And under various climate scenarios, the 588 ppm figure could happen by 2050, or 2080.

The second question was: what would happen over a century if the entire forest − it spreads across nine nations − was cleared for grassland? Much of the forest enjoys notional official protection but is still being cleared, lost or degraded anyway.

“To our surprise, just the physiological effect on the leaves of the forest would generate an annual fall of 12% in the amount of rain, whereas total deforestation would lead to a fall of 9%,” Professor Lapola said. “These numbers are far higher than the natural variation in precipitation between one year and the next, which is 5%.”

“The wind gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall”

At the heart of the puzzle of plants and precipitation is the physiology of green growth: the stomata that control the exchange of atmospheric gases on all foliage. These tiny portals open to capture carbon, and emit water vapour. With more CO2 in the atmosphere, they would remain open for shorter spells. The result: less water vapour, reduced cloud formation, lower rainfall.

But there is a second factor: trees are tall and very leafy, with six times the leaf area per square metre of grass, which is low and earthbound. If the entire forest was replaced by pasture, leaf area would be down by two-thirds. And both rising greenhouse gas ratios and deforestation would also influence wind and the movement of the air masses that carry the potential rainfall.

“The forest canopy has a complex surface made up of the tops of tall trees, low trees, leaves and branches. This is called canopy surface roughness. The wind produces turbulence, with eddies and vortices that in turn produce the instability that gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall,” Professor Lapola said.

“Pasture has a smooth surface over which the wind always flows forward, and without forest doesn’t produce vortices. The wind intensifies as a result, bearing away most of the precipitation westward, while much of eastern and central Amazonia, the Brazilian part, has less rain.” − Climate News Network

Brazil’s environmental licences face near-abolition

President Bolsonaro wants to slash Brazil’s environmental licences, a move critics say will open a free-for-all in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, 19 May, 2021 − The pro-government majority in the lower house of the congress has rushed through a bill (PL3792) which will virtually eliminate the need for Brazil’s environmental licences for a wide range of economic activities, opening the way for widespread exploitation.

The activities which will be freed from licensing include agriculture, cattle raising, logging, dam and road building, sewage plants and water management. Their abolition will impact the Amazon and other biomes, including hundreds of indigenous and quilombo territories, areas occupied by descendants of runaway slaves, which have not yet been officially recognised.

Environmental organisations say the bill’s effects will be disastrous, leading not only to more deforestation, but also to possible repeats of the two mine tailings dam disasters in the state of Minas Gerais, which have killed almost 300 people in recent years.

Under the existing law, any enterprise or activity potentially harmful to the environment must obtain a licence before it can go ahead. IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources,  is responsible for licensing large infrastructure projects. It also consults anthropologists and archaeologists and conducts public hearings in communities that will be affected.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”

Environmental impact studies must be supplied by the project company, including compensation measures where necessary. The new law will replace this complex, often long drawn-out but thorough process with a “self declaration” filed online by the interested party, without any consultation, research or expert opinion. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is hoped the pressure of public opinion, if sufficiently strong, could lead to it being watered down.

Legislators who supported the bill, many themselves ranchers and landowners, claimed the existing licensing law blocked development, because the process was too slow. But public prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança pointed out that what caused the delays were badly prepared studies of environmental impact, and the environmental agencies that have been hollowed out and left without adequate staff.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”, she said.

For Carlos Bocuhy, president of Proam, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection, the bill “favours private interests in detriment to the public interest, and ignores constitutional guarantees for a balanced environment and the accumulated technical and scientific knowledge on licensing.”

International damage

He said its negative results reached far beyond Brazil’s frontiers, because Brazilian commodities would be associated with environmental deregulation.

Nine former environment ministers from right, left and centrist governments have published an open letter of protest at the bill. They claim it will negatively affect the trade agreement due to be signed between the EU and Mercosur, the bloc of four South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and will harm Brazil’s hope of joining the OECD as well.

The bill also makes a mockery of US climate envoy John Kerry’s optimistic declaration that Brazil can become a climate leader. Appearing before the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives, Kerry defended the need to negotiate climate agreements with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in spite of it having cut 24% from the environment ministry’s budget the day after the climate summit organised by President Joe Biden, saying: “If we don’t talk to them, you can be sure the Amazon forest will disappear.”

Among those already affected by the continuing destruction of the rainforest are Brazilian farmers. A study published in the journal Nature Communications on 10 May found that “the lack of rain and the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation in the south of the Amazon region is already causing a fall in productivity and income.”

Bolsonaro’s empty promises

The study, by scientists of the Centre for Remote Sensing at the Brazilian universities of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and Viçosa (UFV) and the University of Bonn in Germany, calculated that fewer trees lead to lower humidity in the air and less rainfall. Forest scientist Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho, the study coordinator, warned that deforestation is putting Brazil’s agricultural systems on the road to what he called agro-suicide.

And official figures indicate that Amazon deforestation will be higher than ever this year. Satellite images used by INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, have revealed that the equivalent of 58,000 football pitches was illegally cleared in April, a 42% increase on last year, and the highest figure since 2015.

If the licensing bill is ratified unchanged by the Senate, then another hurdle in the path of President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to turn the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes into free-for-all territories without oversight, enforcement or the rule of law will have been achieved, in flagrant contrast with his promises just a month ago at Joe Biden’s climate summit.

The door will be flung wide open for mining, farming and logging in areas now occupied by conservation units, indigenous and traditional populations. Brazil’s climate promises will have been reduced to a pile of ashes. − Climate News Network

President Bolsonaro wants to slash Brazil’s environmental licences, a move critics say will open a free-for-all in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, 19 May, 2021 − The pro-government majority in the lower house of the congress has rushed through a bill (PL3792) which will virtually eliminate the need for Brazil’s environmental licences for a wide range of economic activities, opening the way for widespread exploitation.

The activities which will be freed from licensing include agriculture, cattle raising, logging, dam and road building, sewage plants and water management. Their abolition will impact the Amazon and other biomes, including hundreds of indigenous and quilombo territories, areas occupied by descendants of runaway slaves, which have not yet been officially recognised.

Environmental organisations say the bill’s effects will be disastrous, leading not only to more deforestation, but also to possible repeats of the two mine tailings dam disasters in the state of Minas Gerais, which have killed almost 300 people in recent years.

Under the existing law, any enterprise or activity potentially harmful to the environment must obtain a licence before it can go ahead. IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources,  is responsible for licensing large infrastructure projects. It also consults anthropologists and archaeologists and conducts public hearings in communities that will be affected.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”

Environmental impact studies must be supplied by the project company, including compensation measures where necessary. The new law will replace this complex, often long drawn-out but thorough process with a “self declaration” filed online by the interested party, without any consultation, research or expert opinion. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is hoped the pressure of public opinion, if sufficiently strong, could lead to it being watered down.

Legislators who supported the bill, many themselves ranchers and landowners, claimed the existing licensing law blocked development, because the process was too slow. But public prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança pointed out that what caused the delays were badly prepared studies of environmental impact, and the environmental agencies that have been hollowed out and left without adequate staff.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”, she said.

For Carlos Bocuhy, president of Proam, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection, the bill “favours private interests in detriment to the public interest, and ignores constitutional guarantees for a balanced environment and the accumulated technical and scientific knowledge on licensing.”

International damage

He said its negative results reached far beyond Brazil’s frontiers, because Brazilian commodities would be associated with environmental deregulation.

Nine former environment ministers from right, left and centrist governments have published an open letter of protest at the bill. They claim it will negatively affect the trade agreement due to be signed between the EU and Mercosur, the bloc of four South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and will harm Brazil’s hope of joining the OECD as well.

The bill also makes a mockery of US climate envoy John Kerry’s optimistic declaration that Brazil can become a climate leader. Appearing before the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives, Kerry defended the need to negotiate climate agreements with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in spite of it having cut 24% from the environment ministry’s budget the day after the climate summit organised by President Joe Biden, saying: “If we don’t talk to them, you can be sure the Amazon forest will disappear.”

Among those already affected by the continuing destruction of the rainforest are Brazilian farmers. A study published in the journal Nature Communications on 10 May found that “the lack of rain and the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation in the south of the Amazon region is already causing a fall in productivity and income.”

Bolsonaro’s empty promises

The study, by scientists of the Centre for Remote Sensing at the Brazilian universities of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and Viçosa (UFV) and the University of Bonn in Germany, calculated that fewer trees lead to lower humidity in the air and less rainfall. Forest scientist Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho, the study coordinator, warned that deforestation is putting Brazil’s agricultural systems on the road to what he called agro-suicide.

And official figures indicate that Amazon deforestation will be higher than ever this year. Satellite images used by INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, have revealed that the equivalent of 58,000 football pitches was illegally cleared in April, a 42% increase on last year, and the highest figure since 2015.

If the licensing bill is ratified unchanged by the Senate, then another hurdle in the path of President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to turn the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes into free-for-all territories without oversight, enforcement or the rule of law will have been achieved, in flagrant contrast with his promises just a month ago at Joe Biden’s climate summit.

The door will be flung wide open for mining, farming and logging in areas now occupied by conservation units, indigenous and traditional populations. Brazil’s climate promises will have been reduced to a pile of ashes. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil is becoming a climate pariah

Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.

SÃO PAULO, 1 February, 2021 − At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

Ecocide alleged

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.

They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognise ecocide – the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life − as a crime against humanity.

“Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy”

William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”

At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the prime ministers of France, Germany and Norway, with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.

They wrote: “In 2020 the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”

Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.

On another front, the Climate Action Network − CAN, representing over 1300 organisations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” with regards to the updated NDC submitted by Brazil on the 9th of December 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement of 2015 NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their carbon dioxide emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.

Biden’s new direction

CAN says: “As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.

Instead, it says, the NDC now submitted is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency or the participation of civil society, scientists and other stakeholders.

CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.

Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the US government under President Joe Biden.

During the election campaign, he said that there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, 22 April, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock for his policies. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.

SÃO PAULO, 1 February, 2021 − At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

Ecocide alleged

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.

They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognise ecocide – the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life − as a crime against humanity.

“Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy”

William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”

At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the prime ministers of France, Germany and Norway, with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.

They wrote: “In 2020 the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”

Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.

On another front, the Climate Action Network − CAN, representing over 1300 organisations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” with regards to the updated NDC submitted by Brazil on the 9th of December 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement of 2015 NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their carbon dioxide emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.

Biden’s new direction

CAN says: “As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.

Instead, it says, the NDC now submitted is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency or the participation of civil society, scientists and other stakeholders.

CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.

Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the US government under President Joe Biden.

During the election campaign, he said that there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, 22 April, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock for his policies. − Climate News Network

Extreme drought and fire risk may double by 2060

Climate change may soon double the impact of extreme drought and fire. And it’s a two-way traffic.

LONDON, 25 January, 2021 − As climate change threatens a doubling of the impact of extreme drought and fire within a generation, researchers are uncovering the influence of human activity on both these growing risks.

One study has found that human numbers exposed to the hazard of extreme drought are likely to double in the decades to come, as global heating bakes away the groundwater and limits annual snowfall.

Another team of researchers says the risks of extreme wildfire could also rise twofold in the next 40 years in the Mediterranean, southern Africa, eastern North America and the Amazon. In those places already severely scorched by frequent fire − western North America, equatorial Africa, south-east Asia and Australia − hazards could rise by 50%.

And a third, separate study warns that global temperature rise will shift the patterns of rainfall around the tropics − with the consequent risks to tropical crop harvests and to equatorial ecosystems such as rainforest and savannah.

All three studies are reminders of the intricacies of the planetary climate system and the impact of human action in the last hundred years.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

An international research team reports in the journal Nature Climate Change that it looked at the simple problem of global terrestrial water storage: all the moisture in the canopies of forest trees, in the mountain snows and ice, in the lakes, rivers, wetlands, and in the soil itself.

This wealth of stored water is a big player in the patterns of global flooding and drought in the monsoon climates and the arid lands alike. But, the researchers say, there has so far been no study of the potential impact of global climate change on global terrestrial water storage overall.

So researchers from the US, China, Japan and Europe began modelling tomorrow’s world. And they found that, while 3% of the planet’s people were vulnerable to extreme drought in the timespan from 1976 to 2005, later in the century this proportion could increase to 7% or even 8%.

“More and more people will suffer from extreme droughts if a medium-to-high level of global warming continues and water management is maintained in its present state,” warned Yadu Pokhrel, an engineer at Michigan State University, who led the research.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this increase in water scarcity will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

Fire chances increased

Australia is a southern hemisphere country that knows about water scarcity: its wildfires in 2019 broke all records and sent a vast cloud of smoke to an altitude of 35 kms.

And, on the evidence of a new study in the journal Nature Communications, it won’t be the last such extreme event. Californian scientists, struck by the scale and intensity of Californian wildfires in 2017 and 2018, report that they took a closer look at the way greenhouse gas emissions and human land use change have played into the risks of extreme fire weather.

The simple act of setting forests afire to clear land for farm use has amplified the risk of extreme blazes in the Amazon and North America by 30% in the last century. Fires create aerosols that could, by absorbing sunlight, help cool the terrain beneath them − in some zones. But they could also affect rainfall levels and raise the chances of fire. The nature of such impacts varies from place to place.

“South-east Asia relies on the monsoon, but aerosols cause so much cooling on land that they can actually suppress a monsoon,” said Danielle Touma of the University of California at Santa Barbara. “It’s not just whether you have aerosols or not, it’s the way the regional climate interacts with aerosols.”

Aerosols − with other forces − cannot just suppress a monsoon, they can shift rain patterns permanently. The tropics, too, have begun to feel the heat of the moment.

Drought stress rises

The footprint of extreme drought and fire is massive. Californian researchers report in Nature Climate Change that, across two thirds of the globe, the tropical rainbelt is likely to shift north over eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean to cause more drought stress in south-eastern Africa and Madagascar and intensified flooding in south Asia.

In the western hemisphere, however, as the Gulf Stream current and the North Atlantic deep water formation weaken, the rain belt could move south to bring greater drought stress to Central America.

And once again, climate change driven by global heating is at work with other human influences to alter what had for most of human history been a stable pattern of climate.

“In Asia, projected reductions in aerosol emissions, glacier melting in the Himalayas and loss of snow cover in northern areas brought on by climate change will cause the atmosphere to heat up faster than in other regions,” said James Randerson of the University of California, Irvine, one of the authors.

“We know the rainbelt shifts towards this heating, and that its northward movement in the eastern hemisphere is consistent with these expected impacts of climate change.” − Climate News Network

Climate change may soon double the impact of extreme drought and fire. And it’s a two-way traffic.

LONDON, 25 January, 2021 − As climate change threatens a doubling of the impact of extreme drought and fire within a generation, researchers are uncovering the influence of human activity on both these growing risks.

One study has found that human numbers exposed to the hazard of extreme drought are likely to double in the decades to come, as global heating bakes away the groundwater and limits annual snowfall.

Another team of researchers says the risks of extreme wildfire could also rise twofold in the next 40 years in the Mediterranean, southern Africa, eastern North America and the Amazon. In those places already severely scorched by frequent fire − western North America, equatorial Africa, south-east Asia and Australia − hazards could rise by 50%.

And a third, separate study warns that global temperature rise will shift the patterns of rainfall around the tropics − with the consequent risks to tropical crop harvests and to equatorial ecosystems such as rainforest and savannah.

All three studies are reminders of the intricacies of the planetary climate system and the impact of human action in the last hundred years.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

An international research team reports in the journal Nature Climate Change that it looked at the simple problem of global terrestrial water storage: all the moisture in the canopies of forest trees, in the mountain snows and ice, in the lakes, rivers, wetlands, and in the soil itself.

This wealth of stored water is a big player in the patterns of global flooding and drought in the monsoon climates and the arid lands alike. But, the researchers say, there has so far been no study of the potential impact of global climate change on global terrestrial water storage overall.

So researchers from the US, China, Japan and Europe began modelling tomorrow’s world. And they found that, while 3% of the planet’s people were vulnerable to extreme drought in the timespan from 1976 to 2005, later in the century this proportion could increase to 7% or even 8%.

“More and more people will suffer from extreme droughts if a medium-to-high level of global warming continues and water management is maintained in its present state,” warned Yadu Pokhrel, an engineer at Michigan State University, who led the research.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this increase in water scarcity will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

Fire chances increased

Australia is a southern hemisphere country that knows about water scarcity: its wildfires in 2019 broke all records and sent a vast cloud of smoke to an altitude of 35 kms.

And, on the evidence of a new study in the journal Nature Communications, it won’t be the last such extreme event. Californian scientists, struck by the scale and intensity of Californian wildfires in 2017 and 2018, report that they took a closer look at the way greenhouse gas emissions and human land use change have played into the risks of extreme fire weather.

The simple act of setting forests afire to clear land for farm use has amplified the risk of extreme blazes in the Amazon and North America by 30% in the last century. Fires create aerosols that could, by absorbing sunlight, help cool the terrain beneath them − in some zones. But they could also affect rainfall levels and raise the chances of fire. The nature of such impacts varies from place to place.

“South-east Asia relies on the monsoon, but aerosols cause so much cooling on land that they can actually suppress a monsoon,” said Danielle Touma of the University of California at Santa Barbara. “It’s not just whether you have aerosols or not, it’s the way the regional climate interacts with aerosols.”

Aerosols − with other forces − cannot just suppress a monsoon, they can shift rain patterns permanently. The tropics, too, have begun to feel the heat of the moment.

Drought stress rises

The footprint of extreme drought and fire is massive. Californian researchers report in Nature Climate Change that, across two thirds of the globe, the tropical rainbelt is likely to shift north over eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean to cause more drought stress in south-eastern Africa and Madagascar and intensified flooding in south Asia.

In the western hemisphere, however, as the Gulf Stream current and the North Atlantic deep water formation weaken, the rain belt could move south to bring greater drought stress to Central America.

And once again, climate change driven by global heating is at work with other human influences to alter what had for most of human history been a stable pattern of climate.

“In Asia, projected reductions in aerosol emissions, glacier melting in the Himalayas and loss of snow cover in northern areas brought on by climate change will cause the atmosphere to heat up faster than in other regions,” said James Randerson of the University of California, Irvine, one of the authors.

“We know the rainbelt shifts towards this heating, and that its northward movement in the eastern hemisphere is consistent with these expected impacts of climate change.” − Climate News Network

Western US and Southeast Asia face rising dust risk

It obscures the skies and darkens the snows. Wind-borne dust risk is increasingly ominous in a warming world.

LONDON, 26 October, 2020 − Half a planet apart, one low-lying and the other on the roof of the world, two huge regions confront an increasing dust risk − a menace to jobs, to food and to lives.

The Great Plains of North America are getting dustier every year because more soil is now being exposed to erosion. And high in the Himalayas on the continent of Asia, the peaks too are becoming dustier, in ways that threaten to increase the melting of high-altitude snows.

Both findings are in essence bad news. In the western US, higher levels of wind erosion as a consequence of changing farm practices combined with ever-greater probabilities of drought mean ever-higher probabilities of a return of the Dust Bowl that devastated the US Midwest 90 years ago.

And 700 million people in Southeast Asia, China and India depend on the slow melting of the Himalayan glaciers to irrigate their crops in the hot dry season: earlier melting threatens not just livelihoods but lives.

Taken for farming

In the 1930s, the Great Plains region was hit by drought that extended from Canada to Mexico. By then, vast tracts of prairie had been converted from wild grassland to ploughed field.

“The result was massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl. These dust storms removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur,” said Andrew Lambert of the University of Utah.

He and colleagues from Colorado report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they measured atmospheric dust levels by studying evidence from both space and from the ground, and collected data from 1988 to 2018.

They found that atmospheric dust over the Great Plains was increasing at 5% a year. That would mean a doubling in just two decades.

“The massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur”

They also found that levels of dust matched the planting and harvest months of soybean in the north, and corn in the southern states. How the land was farmed could be connected directly to the haze in the air.

Dust plays a powerful role in planetary management: researchers established years ago that the rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest was nourished and supplemented almost annually by deposits of fertile dust blown across the Atlantic from the African Sahara. And dust falling into the ocean on the journey also helped nourish marine life far below the surface of the Atlantic.

Now it seems that wind-blown dust from two continents also settles on the biggest and highest tracts of the Himalayas, to darken the snow, change its reflectivity and absorb the sun’s warmth.

Scientists from the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report in Nature Climate Change that they used detailed satellite imagery of the Himalayas to measure aerosols, elevation and snow surfaces to identify dust and other pollutants.

Constant release

They found that, at up to 4500 metres altitude, black carbon or soot played an important role in influencing the melt timetable of the high snows. Above that altitude, dust was the most important factor: dust from the Thar desert in India, from Saudi Arabia and even from the African Sahara.

Although this was part of a natural cycle, humankind may be accelerating the traffic and adding to the dust risk: ever-higher planetary temperatures have begun to affect atmospheric circulation. And as humans turn natural ecosystems into farmland, they release even more dust.

“The snow in the western Himalayas is receding rapidly. We need to understand why this is happening and we need to understand the implications,” said Chandan Sarangi, then at Pacific Northwest but now at the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai, and one of the authors.

“We’ve shown that dust can be a big contributor to the accelerated snowmelt. Hundreds of millions of people in the region rely on snow for their drinking water − we need to consider factors like dust seriously to understand what’s happening.” − Climate News Network

It obscures the skies and darkens the snows. Wind-borne dust risk is increasingly ominous in a warming world.

LONDON, 26 October, 2020 − Half a planet apart, one low-lying and the other on the roof of the world, two huge regions confront an increasing dust risk − a menace to jobs, to food and to lives.

The Great Plains of North America are getting dustier every year because more soil is now being exposed to erosion. And high in the Himalayas on the continent of Asia, the peaks too are becoming dustier, in ways that threaten to increase the melting of high-altitude snows.

Both findings are in essence bad news. In the western US, higher levels of wind erosion as a consequence of changing farm practices combined with ever-greater probabilities of drought mean ever-higher probabilities of a return of the Dust Bowl that devastated the US Midwest 90 years ago.

And 700 million people in Southeast Asia, China and India depend on the slow melting of the Himalayan glaciers to irrigate their crops in the hot dry season: earlier melting threatens not just livelihoods but lives.

Taken for farming

In the 1930s, the Great Plains region was hit by drought that extended from Canada to Mexico. By then, vast tracts of prairie had been converted from wild grassland to ploughed field.

“The result was massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl. These dust storms removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur,” said Andrew Lambert of the University of Utah.

He and colleagues from Colorado report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they measured atmospheric dust levels by studying evidence from both space and from the ground, and collected data from 1988 to 2018.

They found that atmospheric dust over the Great Plains was increasing at 5% a year. That would mean a doubling in just two decades.

“The massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur”

They also found that levels of dust matched the planting and harvest months of soybean in the north, and corn in the southern states. How the land was farmed could be connected directly to the haze in the air.

Dust plays a powerful role in planetary management: researchers established years ago that the rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest was nourished and supplemented almost annually by deposits of fertile dust blown across the Atlantic from the African Sahara. And dust falling into the ocean on the journey also helped nourish marine life far below the surface of the Atlantic.

Now it seems that wind-blown dust from two continents also settles on the biggest and highest tracts of the Himalayas, to darken the snow, change its reflectivity and absorb the sun’s warmth.

Scientists from the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report in Nature Climate Change that they used detailed satellite imagery of the Himalayas to measure aerosols, elevation and snow surfaces to identify dust and other pollutants.

Constant release

They found that, at up to 4500 metres altitude, black carbon or soot played an important role in influencing the melt timetable of the high snows. Above that altitude, dust was the most important factor: dust from the Thar desert in India, from Saudi Arabia and even from the African Sahara.

Although this was part of a natural cycle, humankind may be accelerating the traffic and adding to the dust risk: ever-higher planetary temperatures have begun to affect atmospheric circulation. And as humans turn natural ecosystems into farmland, they release even more dust.

“The snow in the western Himalayas is receding rapidly. We need to understand why this is happening and we need to understand the implications,” said Chandan Sarangi, then at Pacific Northwest but now at the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai, and one of the authors.

“We’ve shown that dust can be a big contributor to the accelerated snowmelt. Hundreds of millions of people in the region rely on snow for their drinking water − we need to consider factors like dust seriously to understand what’s happening.” − Climate News Network