Tag Archives: Biodiversity

Biggest animals face extinction for food

Megafauna is a mouthful of a word. And that is the problem. The biggest animals are being hunted for their meat.

LONDON, 19 February, 2019 – The world’s biggest animals – the largest birds, the bigger mammals and even reptiles, sharks and amphibians – are in increasing danger of extinction. Climate change, habitat loss and pollution may all be part of the problem, but the biggest and most direct threat is a simple one.

They are being hunted to death. They are being killed for meat, for trophies such as horns and tusks, and for body parts used in Asian medicine.

The findings, reported in the journal Conservation Letters, are stark. Of 362 mammals, sharks and rays larger than 100 kilograms and birds and reptiles larger than 40kg, 200 species or more were in decline and more than 150 could become extinct. And when the researchers composed a catalogue of hazards to species survival, they found that hunting was for most large animals the biggest danger.

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at the Oregon State University school of forestry in the US.

Traditional medicine’s toll

“Through the consumption of various body parts, users of traditional Asian medicine also exert heavy tolls on the largest species. In the future, 70% will experience further population declines and 60% of the species could become extinct or very rare.”

Biologists already have databases of the body mass and habitats of most described species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has for decades kept and updated a catalogue of extinction risks.

Professor Ripple and colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, France and Mexico selected all the information they could about the bigger species, and those known to be threatened. They subdivided the potential threats into a range of categories – ranch and livestock farming, logging and wood harvesting, aquaculture, fishing and so on – for 362 species, and found to their surprise that hunting was the biggest danger for 98% of those species for which they could find threat data.

The lesson is: it’s bad to be big. “Megafauna species are more threatened and have a relatively higher percentage of decreasing populations than all vertebrates together,” they write. “Notably, the top-ranked threat within each megafauna class was direct harvesting by humans, although there were typically multiple co-occurring threats, mostly related to habitat degradation.”

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction”

Meat consumption, they found, was the most common motive for hunting mammals, birds and the cartilaginous fish; the reptiles were more likely to be pursued for their eggs.

The loss of species – and the decline in numbers of surviving individuals – is not news: researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change, driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use, raises the odds of extinction.

But the sheer growth in human numbers and national economies in the last century has devastated what was once the wilderness, and biologists now believe they may be witnessing the sixth great extinction.

The latest study fits into this pattern. What makes it different is the unequivocal identification of human beings as the super-predators, pursuing the biggest and most charismatic of the surviving large animals, sometimes simply as sporting trophies, more often for food or for parts that can be sold.

In retreat everywhere

Nine megafauna – the word for a large animal – have gone extinct in the wild in the past 250 years. But large species numbers everywhere are falling. Their numbers were always fewer, and often their meat more prized.

With first the spear and the arrow, and then the gun, humans mastered the art of killing from a safe distance. And bigger animals became the most obvious targets. In 500 years, 0.8% of all vertebrates have gone extinct. For large animals, the ratio of extinction is 2%.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Professor Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it as well as cultural and social obstacles.

“But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.” – Climate News Network

Megafauna is a mouthful of a word. And that is the problem. The biggest animals are being hunted for their meat.

LONDON, 19 February, 2019 – The world’s biggest animals – the largest birds, the bigger mammals and even reptiles, sharks and amphibians – are in increasing danger of extinction. Climate change, habitat loss and pollution may all be part of the problem, but the biggest and most direct threat is a simple one.

They are being hunted to death. They are being killed for meat, for trophies such as horns and tusks, and for body parts used in Asian medicine.

The findings, reported in the journal Conservation Letters, are stark. Of 362 mammals, sharks and rays larger than 100 kilograms and birds and reptiles larger than 40kg, 200 species or more were in decline and more than 150 could become extinct. And when the researchers composed a catalogue of hazards to species survival, they found that hunting was for most large animals the biggest danger.

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at the Oregon State University school of forestry in the US.

Traditional medicine’s toll

“Through the consumption of various body parts, users of traditional Asian medicine also exert heavy tolls on the largest species. In the future, 70% will experience further population declines and 60% of the species could become extinct or very rare.”

Biologists already have databases of the body mass and habitats of most described species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has for decades kept and updated a catalogue of extinction risks.

Professor Ripple and colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, France and Mexico selected all the information they could about the bigger species, and those known to be threatened. They subdivided the potential threats into a range of categories – ranch and livestock farming, logging and wood harvesting, aquaculture, fishing and so on – for 362 species, and found to their surprise that hunting was the biggest danger for 98% of those species for which they could find threat data.

The lesson is: it’s bad to be big. “Megafauna species are more threatened and have a relatively higher percentage of decreasing populations than all vertebrates together,” they write. “Notably, the top-ranked threat within each megafauna class was direct harvesting by humans, although there were typically multiple co-occurring threats, mostly related to habitat degradation.”

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction”

Meat consumption, they found, was the most common motive for hunting mammals, birds and the cartilaginous fish; the reptiles were more likely to be pursued for their eggs.

The loss of species – and the decline in numbers of surviving individuals – is not news: researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change, driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use, raises the odds of extinction.

But the sheer growth in human numbers and national economies in the last century has devastated what was once the wilderness, and biologists now believe they may be witnessing the sixth great extinction.

The latest study fits into this pattern. What makes it different is the unequivocal identification of human beings as the super-predators, pursuing the biggest and most charismatic of the surviving large animals, sometimes simply as sporting trophies, more often for food or for parts that can be sold.

In retreat everywhere

Nine megafauna – the word for a large animal – have gone extinct in the wild in the past 250 years. But large species numbers everywhere are falling. Their numbers were always fewer, and often their meat more prized.

With first the spear and the arrow, and then the gun, humans mastered the art of killing from a safe distance. And bigger animals became the most obvious targets. In 500 years, 0.8% of all vertebrates have gone extinct. For large animals, the ratio of extinction is 2%.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Professor Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it as well as cultural and social obstacles.

“But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.” – Climate News Network

Whales’ appetite for plastics yawns wide

Polluting fragments and fibres get everywhere. Whales’ appetite for plastics shows how that includes the living tissue of some of the biggest sea creatures.

LONDON, 6 February, 2019 − There seem to be few limits to whales’ appetite for plastics. Scientists who checked the stomachs and intestines of 50 whales, dolphins and seals found stranded and dead on British coasts have identified plastic particles ingested by every one of them.

So far the researchers make no link between what now seems ubiquitous plastic pollution of the seas and the health of the animals – the numbers in each were tiny – but the find is yet another indicator of the steady degradation of the planet’s biggest natural habitat by just one terrestrial species with a lately-acquired addiction to fossil fuels.

A small fraction of the world’s oil, coal and natural gas output is turned into plastics or organic polymers with versatile and enduring properties, and four-fifths of the particles were identified as synthetic fibres from clothes, fishing nets and toothbrushes: the remainder may have come from food packaging and plastic containers.

“It’s shocking – but not surprising – that every animal had ingested microplastics,” said Sarah Nelms of the University of Exeter and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study.

“The number of particles in each animal was relatively low (average of 5.5 particles per animal) suggesting they eventually pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated. We don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.”

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at”

The find was not surprising because in the last few years researchers have repeatedly established that in the century since the first synthesis of artificial polymer materials, colossal quantities have ended up in the oceans in ever-tinier particles: they have been found in the high Arctic, in every litre of sampled seawater, in coral reefs and in polar bears.

The scientists write in the journal Scientific Reports that they found at least one microplastic particle in every animal they examined, in either stomach or intestine.

Altogether, in 10 species – the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the bottlenose, common, striped, white-beaked and Risso’s dolphins, the grey seal, the harbour seal, the harbour porpoise and the pygmy sperm whale − they found 273 particles, and 261 of these were smaller than 5mm. Most were fibres, ranging in size from 2cms to 0.1mm; 16% were fragments. At least 26 marine mammals are known to use British waters.

Colossal quantities of microplastics get into the sea from a variety of sources. Rain washes away fragments of tyres and paint; debris gets spilled during transportation; microbeads get washed out of fibres and cosmetics; large objects get abraded, crushed and fragmented.

Effects unknown

The smaller the size, the easier it is for the particles to be taken up by small crustaceans called copepods, shellfish, fish, seabirds and the bigger sea creatures and the marine mammals at the top of the food chain.

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at; from tiny zooplankton at the base of the marine food web to fish larvae, turtles and now dolphins, seals and whales,” said Pennie Lindeque, who heads the marine plastics research group at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

“We don’t yet know the effects of these particles on marine mammals. Their small size means they may easily be expelled, but while microplastics are unlikely to be the main threat to these species, we are still concerned by the impact of the bacteria, viruses and contaminants carried on the plastic.

“This study provides more evidence that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas.” − Climate News Network

Polluting fragments and fibres get everywhere. Whales’ appetite for plastics shows how that includes the living tissue of some of the biggest sea creatures.

LONDON, 6 February, 2019 − There seem to be few limits to whales’ appetite for plastics. Scientists who checked the stomachs and intestines of 50 whales, dolphins and seals found stranded and dead on British coasts have identified plastic particles ingested by every one of them.

So far the researchers make no link between what now seems ubiquitous plastic pollution of the seas and the health of the animals – the numbers in each were tiny – but the find is yet another indicator of the steady degradation of the planet’s biggest natural habitat by just one terrestrial species with a lately-acquired addiction to fossil fuels.

A small fraction of the world’s oil, coal and natural gas output is turned into plastics or organic polymers with versatile and enduring properties, and four-fifths of the particles were identified as synthetic fibres from clothes, fishing nets and toothbrushes: the remainder may have come from food packaging and plastic containers.

“It’s shocking – but not surprising – that every animal had ingested microplastics,” said Sarah Nelms of the University of Exeter and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study.

“The number of particles in each animal was relatively low (average of 5.5 particles per animal) suggesting they eventually pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated. We don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.”

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at”

The find was not surprising because in the last few years researchers have repeatedly established that in the century since the first synthesis of artificial polymer materials, colossal quantities have ended up in the oceans in ever-tinier particles: they have been found in the high Arctic, in every litre of sampled seawater, in coral reefs and in polar bears.

The scientists write in the journal Scientific Reports that they found at least one microplastic particle in every animal they examined, in either stomach or intestine.

Altogether, in 10 species – the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the bottlenose, common, striped, white-beaked and Risso’s dolphins, the grey seal, the harbour seal, the harbour porpoise and the pygmy sperm whale − they found 273 particles, and 261 of these were smaller than 5mm. Most were fibres, ranging in size from 2cms to 0.1mm; 16% were fragments. At least 26 marine mammals are known to use British waters.

Colossal quantities of microplastics get into the sea from a variety of sources. Rain washes away fragments of tyres and paint; debris gets spilled during transportation; microbeads get washed out of fibres and cosmetics; large objects get abraded, crushed and fragmented.

Effects unknown

The smaller the size, the easier it is for the particles to be taken up by small crustaceans called copepods, shellfish, fish, seabirds and the bigger sea creatures and the marine mammals at the top of the food chain.

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at; from tiny zooplankton at the base of the marine food web to fish larvae, turtles and now dolphins, seals and whales,” said Pennie Lindeque, who heads the marine plastics research group at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

“We don’t yet know the effects of these particles on marine mammals. Their small size means they may easily be expelled, but while microplastics are unlikely to be the main threat to these species, we are still concerned by the impact of the bacteria, viruses and contaminants carried on the plastic.

“This study provides more evidence that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas.” − Climate News Network

Coffee harvests face risk from rising heat

Global coffee harvests, which provide the drink of choice for millions and the livelihoods of many more, are in peril, not least from rising temperatures.

LONDON, 28 January, 2019 – Coffee drinkers, be warned. A combination of factors – including climate change – is threatening supplies of the beans on which the coffee harvests depend.

Latest analysis by a team of scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London found that more than 60% of over 120 coffee species known across Africa, Asia and Australasia are threatened with extinction.

For many people, coffee is their favourite tipple. In the UK alone, more than 80 million cups of coffee are drunk every day. The experts at Kew say a total of 100 million people around the world depend on coffee for their livelihoods.

Climate change, together with fungal diseases and the impact of land clearances and deforestation, are all having negative impacts on coffee plants.

Coffee plants are fragile and often acutely sensitive to temperature changes, particularly those belonging to the Arabica species (Coffea arabica), the source of the world’s most popular coffee variety.

“Climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”

The Coffee Research Institute says Arabica plants need year-round temperatures of between 15°C and 24°C in order to maintain high production levels and good quality.

Wild coffee plants play an essential role in building up more robust plants for cultivation; cross-bred with plantation plants, they provide the genetic resources to help withstand pests and diseases. They also encourage resilience to changes in climate and improve the flavour and quality of the coffee beans.

The Kew scientists, together with colleagues in Ethiopia,
the biggest producer of Arabica coffee in Africa, used climate change models and temperature projections to gauge the future health and survival rates of wild Arabica plants.

The results of the analysis, the first ever comprehensive survey linking climate change with Arabica coffee production, will have coffee drinkers crying into their cups.

Wide extinction threat

Dr Justin Moat, who headed up the Kew study, says more than 60% of wild Arabica plants are threatened with extinction.

“The worst case scenario, as drawn from our analyses, is that wild Arabica could be extinct by 2080.

“This should alert decision makers to the fragility of the species.”

The highlands of Ethiopia and of South Sudan are the natural home of Arabica coffee. Researchers found that deforestation over the past 70 years plus more recent changes in climate could result in wild Arabica becoming extinct in South Sudan within the next two years.

“The climate sensitivity of Arabica is confirmed, supporting the widely reported assumption that climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”, says Dr Moat.

Pay growers more

In coffee-growing areas around the world, including Ethiopia and Brazil, temperatures have been rising while amounts of rainfall have been decreasing.

The Kew study says that while bumper coffee harvests over the last two years have led to generally low prices, this pattern is unlikely to continue as crop yields decline and demand grows.

The study says coffee growers, mostly smallholders, should be paid more for their produce in order not only to improve living standards but to encourage more sustainable and innovative cultivation methods. The Yayu Project in Ethiopia is seen as a model for this form of development.

There should also be more research into wild coffee species and investment in building up collections and seed banks. – Climate News Network

Global coffee harvests, which provide the drink of choice for millions and the livelihoods of many more, are in peril, not least from rising temperatures.

LONDON, 28 January, 2019 – Coffee drinkers, be warned. A combination of factors – including climate change – is threatening supplies of the beans on which the coffee harvests depend.

Latest analysis by a team of scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London found that more than 60% of over 120 coffee species known across Africa, Asia and Australasia are threatened with extinction.

For many people, coffee is their favourite tipple. In the UK alone, more than 80 million cups of coffee are drunk every day. The experts at Kew say a total of 100 million people around the world depend on coffee for their livelihoods.

Climate change, together with fungal diseases and the impact of land clearances and deforestation, are all having negative impacts on coffee plants.

Coffee plants are fragile and often acutely sensitive to temperature changes, particularly those belonging to the Arabica species (Coffea arabica), the source of the world’s most popular coffee variety.

“Climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”

The Coffee Research Institute says Arabica plants need year-round temperatures of between 15°C and 24°C in order to maintain high production levels and good quality.

Wild coffee plants play an essential role in building up more robust plants for cultivation; cross-bred with plantation plants, they provide the genetic resources to help withstand pests and diseases. They also encourage resilience to changes in climate and improve the flavour and quality of the coffee beans.

The Kew scientists, together with colleagues in Ethiopia,
the biggest producer of Arabica coffee in Africa, used climate change models and temperature projections to gauge the future health and survival rates of wild Arabica plants.

The results of the analysis, the first ever comprehensive survey linking climate change with Arabica coffee production, will have coffee drinkers crying into their cups.

Wide extinction threat

Dr Justin Moat, who headed up the Kew study, says more than 60% of wild Arabica plants are threatened with extinction.

“The worst case scenario, as drawn from our analyses, is that wild Arabica could be extinct by 2080.

“This should alert decision makers to the fragility of the species.”

The highlands of Ethiopia and of South Sudan are the natural home of Arabica coffee. Researchers found that deforestation over the past 70 years plus more recent changes in climate could result in wild Arabica becoming extinct in South Sudan within the next two years.

“The climate sensitivity of Arabica is confirmed, supporting the widely reported assumption that climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”, says Dr Moat.

Pay growers more

In coffee-growing areas around the world, including Ethiopia and Brazil, temperatures have been rising while amounts of rainfall have been decreasing.

The Kew study says that while bumper coffee harvests over the last two years have led to generally low prices, this pattern is unlikely to continue as crop yields decline and demand grows.

The study says coffee growers, mostly smallholders, should be paid more for their produce in order not only to improve living standards but to encourage more sustainable and innovative cultivation methods. The Yayu Project in Ethiopia is seen as a model for this form of development.

There should also be more research into wild coffee species and investment in building up collections and seed banks. – Climate News Network

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

“ We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet”

The study simultaneously addresses what should be on the global supper table, and how it gets there. It presumes a daily intake for a 70kg active adult male aged 30, or a 60kg woman, of up to 2,500 kilocalories per day, with around 35% of these from wholegrains and tubers.

It recommends a limit of 14 grams of red meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The global appetite for red meat and sugar must be halved, while consumption of nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit intake must double.

And it recommends fair shares on a global scale; North Americans chew their way through more than six times the recommended meat portion; people in South Asia right now consume only half what they should.

And across the globe, people depend too much on starchy foods such as potato and cassava: in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.5 times too much. If people adopt a healthy diet and limit the use of processed foods, this would avert between 10.9m and 11.6m premature deaths each year.

Unprecedented change

But the same advice then addresses the global and seemingly intractable problem of managing agriculture so that it serves all and saves the planet for permanent occupation. To make this happen, change is necessary at rates so far without precedent in history.

Somehow, production must be intensified, but without greater destruction of forests and savannah, and while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Another of the authors, Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and who now directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, calls it “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

“The good news is that not only is it doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” he said.

Planetary perspective needed

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective.”

The study is the latest and most authoritative iteration of a series of research papers that have argued, over and over again, for a change in planetary diet, a shift towards more efficient but also more sustainable  farming methods, and a greater focus on planetary equity.

The message from most of them is that it is, or should be, technically possible to grow food for a hungry planet without wasting productivity and without devastating wildlife and natural ecosystems any further.

Five-point plan

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy. It includes campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources; a shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants; appropriate agricultural practices; careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas; and a concerted attempt to at least halve food wastage, an issue in high-income countries and in different ways also in poor and middle-income countries.

This is one of a series of studies published by the Lancet to address global problems related to climate: in December the same journal carried an authoritative assessment of the health costs of heat extremes in the decades to come.

Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the issue of global nutrition was “everyone’s and no-one’s problem. The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” − Climate News Network

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

“ We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet”

The study simultaneously addresses what should be on the global supper table, and how it gets there. It presumes a daily intake for a 70kg active adult male aged 30, or a 60kg woman, of up to 2,500 kilocalories per day, with around 35% of these from wholegrains and tubers.

It recommends a limit of 14 grams of red meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The global appetite for red meat and sugar must be halved, while consumption of nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit intake must double.

And it recommends fair shares on a global scale; North Americans chew their way through more than six times the recommended meat portion; people in South Asia right now consume only half what they should.

And across the globe, people depend too much on starchy foods such as potato and cassava: in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.5 times too much. If people adopt a healthy diet and limit the use of processed foods, this would avert between 10.9m and 11.6m premature deaths each year.

Unprecedented change

But the same advice then addresses the global and seemingly intractable problem of managing agriculture so that it serves all and saves the planet for permanent occupation. To make this happen, change is necessary at rates so far without precedent in history.

Somehow, production must be intensified, but without greater destruction of forests and savannah, and while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Another of the authors, Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and who now directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, calls it “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

“The good news is that not only is it doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” he said.

Planetary perspective needed

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective.”

The study is the latest and most authoritative iteration of a series of research papers that have argued, over and over again, for a change in planetary diet, a shift towards more efficient but also more sustainable  farming methods, and a greater focus on planetary equity.

The message from most of them is that it is, or should be, technically possible to grow food for a hungry planet without wasting productivity and without devastating wildlife and natural ecosystems any further.

Five-point plan

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy. It includes campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources; a shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants; appropriate agricultural practices; careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas; and a concerted attempt to at least halve food wastage, an issue in high-income countries and in different ways also in poor and middle-income countries.

This is one of a series of studies published by the Lancet to address global problems related to climate: in December the same journal carried an authoritative assessment of the health costs of heat extremes in the decades to come.

Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the issue of global nutrition was “everyone’s and no-one’s problem. The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” − Climate News Network

Warmer waters leave Irish anglers fishless

Irish anglers are having little luck as fish feel the effects of warmer waters − which are also increasing greenhouse gases.

WEST OF IRELAND, 16 January, 2019 − Unusually high temperatures in 2018 have left many Irish anglers frustrated as fish struggle to survive in the Emerald Isle’s lakes and rivers, with the rising heat also causing an increase in methane emissions.

Now changes in climate could threaten the anglers’ activities, putting in jeopardy what is a multi-million euro leisure industry.

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), a state agency, says that a heat wave across Ireland in the summer of 2018 caused temperatures in the country’s lakes and rivers to rise to what it describes as lethal levels for a number of freshwater fish species.

The IFI’s findings, reported in the Irish Times newspaper, indicate that the two most affected species were salmon and trout – both prized by the freshwater fishing community.

“The 2018 summer water temperatures need to be considered in the context of climate change predictions”, Cathal Gallagher, the IFI’s head of research, told the Irish Times.“If temperatures continue to increase, sensitive cold water fish species will be at risk.”

Long heat

The warming trends were most noted in the west of Ireland, says the IFI. One of the worst affected rivers was the Owenriff in County Galway, where temperatures well above summer time norms were recorded over a prolonged period.

Dr Gallagher says high temperatures could lead to localised extinction of native fish diversity in the future; there would be knock-on economic losses.

“We would reach a stage where the Owenriff catchment or similar catchments become inhospitable to brown trout and salmon over the summer period in the near future.”

The IFI says it’s looking at ways to combat extreme weather events and help safeguard fish stocks. These include planting more trees along river banks to provide increased shade and cool river waters.

“If temperatures continue to increase, sensitive cold water fish species will be at risk”

Recent studies indicate that climate change and rising temperatures will have further negative impacts on lakes in Ireland and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.

The increasing warmth is encouraging the growth of various reed-type plants in and around freshwater lakes. When these plants die and rot in lake waters the process leads to a considerable increase in releases of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than CO2.

The summer of 2018 was one of the hottest and driest in Ireland on record.

Ireland is noted for its abundant rainfall and its verdant vegetation. For a prolonged period in 2018 water restrictions were put in place and grasslands turned from green to a drought-ridden brown.

The Irish government’s Environmental Protection Agency  says the long-term trend has been for an increase in temperatures, with less rainfall in many regions and warmer winters. − Climate News Network

Irish anglers are having little luck as fish feel the effects of warmer waters − which are also increasing greenhouse gases.

WEST OF IRELAND, 16 January, 2019 − Unusually high temperatures in 2018 have left many Irish anglers frustrated as fish struggle to survive in the Emerald Isle’s lakes and rivers, with the rising heat also causing an increase in methane emissions.

Now changes in climate could threaten the anglers’ activities, putting in jeopardy what is a multi-million euro leisure industry.

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), a state agency, says that a heat wave across Ireland in the summer of 2018 caused temperatures in the country’s lakes and rivers to rise to what it describes as lethal levels for a number of freshwater fish species.

The IFI’s findings, reported in the Irish Times newspaper, indicate that the two most affected species were salmon and trout – both prized by the freshwater fishing community.

“The 2018 summer water temperatures need to be considered in the context of climate change predictions”, Cathal Gallagher, the IFI’s head of research, told the Irish Times.“If temperatures continue to increase, sensitive cold water fish species will be at risk.”

Long heat

The warming trends were most noted in the west of Ireland, says the IFI. One of the worst affected rivers was the Owenriff in County Galway, where temperatures well above summer time norms were recorded over a prolonged period.

Dr Gallagher says high temperatures could lead to localised extinction of native fish diversity in the future; there would be knock-on economic losses.

“We would reach a stage where the Owenriff catchment or similar catchments become inhospitable to brown trout and salmon over the summer period in the near future.”

The IFI says it’s looking at ways to combat extreme weather events and help safeguard fish stocks. These include planting more trees along river banks to provide increased shade and cool river waters.

“If temperatures continue to increase, sensitive cold water fish species will be at risk”

Recent studies indicate that climate change and rising temperatures will have further negative impacts on lakes in Ireland and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.

The increasing warmth is encouraging the growth of various reed-type plants in and around freshwater lakes. When these plants die and rot in lake waters the process leads to a considerable increase in releases of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than CO2.

The summer of 2018 was one of the hottest and driest in Ireland on record.

Ireland is noted for its abundant rainfall and its verdant vegetation. For a prolonged period in 2018 water restrictions were put in place and grasslands turned from green to a drought-ridden brown.

The Irish government’s Environmental Protection Agency  says the long-term trend has been for an increase in temperatures, with less rainfall in many regions and warmer winters. − Climate News Network

Migrant birds face risk in earlier springs

Spring in the high latitudes is arriving ever earlier. But migrant birds from the tropics may not realise that, and faulty timing could cost them their lives.

LONDON, 11 January, 2019 – Biologists have identified another tale of conflict and bloodshed as African migrant birds compete with European natives for resources in a fast-warming world.

Death rates among male pied flycatchers – African carnivores that migrate each spring to the Netherlands to breed – have risen in the 10 years between 2007 and 2016, as winters have warmed and springs have arrived earlier.

And in some years, almost one in 10 of the male migrant flycatchers has been found pecked to death by great tits that have already taken up residence in nest boxes that both species favour.

Jelmer Samplonius, then of the University of Groningen and now at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a colleague report in the journal Current Biology that they became interested in the competition between the migrant Ficedula hypoleuca and the European garden bird Parus major because both compete for the same resources.

These are the spring explosion of the caterpillar population, and the nest boxes established by householders who like to encourage wildlife. Both species try to time their breeding calendar to coincide with the arrival of plentiful, nourishing food for their chicks, and both species have become accustomed to colonising available nest boxes.

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”

But, the scientists say, climate change driven by global warming, in turn fired by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that increase the ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has brought new challenges.

Climate change poses a hazard for many species that are precisely adapted to their immediate environment.
They become more vulnerable as their breeding timetable goes out of synchrony with the food supply, or they become more at risk from predation in once relatively secure nesting sites in the rapidly warming Arctic.

The northern hemisphere spring now arrives much earlier. Some migrant species have been able to adapt, and the great tit in particular has shown itself to be resourceful and ready to cope with new challenges.

It now gets to the nesting sites to breed on average 16.6 days earlier than the pied flycatcher which winters in West Africa, and therefore has no way of knowing the right moment to head for a breeding site so far to the north in Europe.

Growing violence

And the late arrival of the African competitor has meant a marked increase in conflict. When the researchers checked the nest boxes, they counted 86 male flycatchers dead from injuries delivered by great tits, and two killed by the smaller species, the blue tit.

“The dead flycatchers were all found in active tit nests and had severe head wounds, and often their brains had been eaten by the tits,” they write.

“This could exhibit a significant mortality cause on male pied flycatchers in some years, with up to 8.9% of all males … known to defend a nest box being killed in a single year.”

Some years there were almost no little feathered corpses: other years were marked by conspicuous slaughter, and the researchers put the variation in the kill count down to what they define as a problem of synchrony. Tits killed more flycatchers when the competitors turned up at the peak of the tits’ breeding season.

Powerful claws

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”, Dr Samplonius said. “The great tit is heavier, as the flycatchers are built for a long migration from Europe to Western Africa and back. Also, great tits have very strong claws.”

The finding doesn’t seem to mean that the flycatcher is in immediate danger of local extinction: the scientists say that most of the slaughter occurred among surplus males; those who turned up late were less likely to find a breeding partner, and more likely to die from competition with great tits.

A surplus of males acts as a “buffer” to protect the overall population. But in the long run, the flycatcher could lose the race for survival.

“If buffers are diminished,” the scientists write, “population consequences of interspecific competition may become apparent, especially after warm winters that are benign to resident species.” – Climate News Network

Spring in the high latitudes is arriving ever earlier. But migrant birds from the tropics may not realise that, and faulty timing could cost them their lives.

LONDON, 11 January, 2019 – Biologists have identified another tale of conflict and bloodshed as African migrant birds compete with European natives for resources in a fast-warming world.

Death rates among male pied flycatchers – African carnivores that migrate each spring to the Netherlands to breed – have risen in the 10 years between 2007 and 2016, as winters have warmed and springs have arrived earlier.

And in some years, almost one in 10 of the male migrant flycatchers has been found pecked to death by great tits that have already taken up residence in nest boxes that both species favour.

Jelmer Samplonius, then of the University of Groningen and now at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a colleague report in the journal Current Biology that they became interested in the competition between the migrant Ficedula hypoleuca and the European garden bird Parus major because both compete for the same resources.

These are the spring explosion of the caterpillar population, and the nest boxes established by householders who like to encourage wildlife. Both species try to time their breeding calendar to coincide with the arrival of plentiful, nourishing food for their chicks, and both species have become accustomed to colonising available nest boxes.

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”

But, the scientists say, climate change driven by global warming, in turn fired by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that increase the ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has brought new challenges.

Climate change poses a hazard for many species that are precisely adapted to their immediate environment.
They become more vulnerable as their breeding timetable goes out of synchrony with the food supply, or they become more at risk from predation in once relatively secure nesting sites in the rapidly warming Arctic.

The northern hemisphere spring now arrives much earlier. Some migrant species have been able to adapt, and the great tit in particular has shown itself to be resourceful and ready to cope with new challenges.

It now gets to the nesting sites to breed on average 16.6 days earlier than the pied flycatcher which winters in West Africa, and therefore has no way of knowing the right moment to head for a breeding site so far to the north in Europe.

Growing violence

And the late arrival of the African competitor has meant a marked increase in conflict. When the researchers checked the nest boxes, they counted 86 male flycatchers dead from injuries delivered by great tits, and two killed by the smaller species, the blue tit.

“The dead flycatchers were all found in active tit nests and had severe head wounds, and often their brains had been eaten by the tits,” they write.

“This could exhibit a significant mortality cause on male pied flycatchers in some years, with up to 8.9% of all males … known to defend a nest box being killed in a single year.”

Some years there were almost no little feathered corpses: other years were marked by conspicuous slaughter, and the researchers put the variation in the kill count down to what they define as a problem of synchrony. Tits killed more flycatchers when the competitors turned up at the peak of the tits’ breeding season.

Powerful claws

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”, Dr Samplonius said. “The great tit is heavier, as the flycatchers are built for a long migration from Europe to Western Africa and back. Also, great tits have very strong claws.”

The finding doesn’t seem to mean that the flycatcher is in immediate danger of local extinction: the scientists say that most of the slaughter occurred among surplus males; those who turned up late were less likely to find a breeding partner, and more likely to die from competition with great tits.

A surplus of males acts as a “buffer” to protect the overall population. But in the long run, the flycatcher could lose the race for survival.

“If buffers are diminished,” the scientists write, “population consequences of interspecific competition may become apparent, especially after warm winters that are benign to resident species.” – Climate News Network

Satellites can be sustainable monitors

Remote sensing by satellites and sound recorders could yield answers to complex global questions and reveal what is happening in the world’s great forests.

LONDON, 9 January, 2019 − High tech answers using satellites and sound recorders could contribute to solving the global information crisis. To check on progress towards world development and conservation goals, researchers could exploit the highest technology of all.

Satellite data and number-crunching computer analysis could identify the world’s poorest households, and those on the way to new hope. And subtle listening devices planted in primal rainforest and near human settlements could provide a low-cost, high-speed check on biodiversity loss and conservation efforts in the developing world.

In effect, researchers argue in two entirely separate studies, the look-and-listen approach could deliver effective levels of information at relatively low expense, and keep nations and international monitoring organisations informed on issues ultimately inseparable from climate change driven by human appropriation of the planet’s resources.

At the heart of each is the search for a sustainable way of monitoring sustainable development. The governments of 93 nations have committed themselves to the UN’s sustainable development goals, to help lift their citizens out of poverty while maintaining the natural resources on which they must rely.

“When we use space data with a socio-ecological insight, we capture the financial status and, in this way, also the development in an area much better”

Danish, British and US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that if social scientists were to rely on traditional methods of research − house-to-house surveys and questionnaires of sample populations on an annual basis and so on − the cost could add up, over the lifetime of the programme, to $253 billion. This is almost twice what the world spent on global development assistance in 2013.

But satellite studies, already massed for other purposes, could hold most of the answers in fine detail already. “Based on high resolution satellite images, we can very precisely assess the poverty at household level in rural areas in developing countries,” said Jens-Christian Svenning, a bioscientist at Aarhus University in Denmark.

“The method that we have developed is designed to analyse the satellite images in a way that takes into account that people have access to and use different resources in the landscape at different levels,” he said.

“Some use the area just around their house, while others use the common areas of a village. When we use space data with a socio-ecological insight, we capture the financial status and, in this way, also the development in an area much better than we have previously been able to.”

Better prospects

There are 17 declared sustainable development goals that could, by 2030, make the world a better place for the people of the poorest countries, without loss of the wildlife around them and without adding to the profligate use of fossil fuels to deliver the energy to fuel potentially catastrophic global warming along with economic growth.

The Aarhus team has already tested their approach in rural western Kenya, to confirm that satellite data could account for 62% of the variation in household wealth: the size of buildings within one homestead, the amount of bare ground within it and the size of the agricultural land around it − and the length of the growing season − were enough to answer important questions.

And since the body of data available from satellite observation is continuously growing, this would offer a substitute for on-the-ground annual monitoring visits, which, they say, would be “prohibitively expensive.”

Within the same week, US and Australian scientists argue in the journal Science for a simple, bio-acoustics approach to ways of measuring and monitoring conservation efforts in the world’s tropical forests.

Listening in

These could yield treasuries of information. Important ecological data could be recovered from what they call “soundscapes” of animal and human activity in the vast tracts of forest that provide a home for most of the world’s terrestrial species, while at the same time drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into timber to slow the seemingly-inexorable rise in greenhouse gas concentrations that has already lifted global average temperatures by 1°C, reachimg perhaps a devastating 3°C increase by the end of the century.

Satellite images can answer questions about the loss of forests on a wide scale. But these cannot easily identify other problems, among them overhunting, fires or invasion by exotic species. And field surveys are costly, time-consuming and possible only over small samples of forest. But sound-recorders linked to satellites, and suspended in choice areas of forest, and near areas of human exploitation, can pick up subtle signals of change.

They can measure animal sounds and birdsong from distances of several hundred metres. They can be turned on at required times or used continuously, and they can identify sounds of birds, mammals, insects and amphibians: to make the case, researchers already have a set of multi-year bio-acoustics registers of change in chosen test zones.

Plants make no such noises − but since all animals depend on vegetation in ways that are both general and specific, the sound of animal life would also be indirect evidence of the health and vigour of the green things around them.

Check on intruders

And, if researchers could build a global organisation to host a platform available for such data, this could provide the basis not just for valuable ecological understanding, but for ways of monitoring human behaviour in the forests.

Big business has in many countries committed itself to economic activity without destroying any more forest, but checks on such promises are hard to make. Bio-acoustic monitors however could as easily tune into the sound of a tractor as to a toucan, to a chainsaw as to the chatter of monkeys, to the sound of a poacher’s gun as to the screech of a parrot.

“Companies are adopting zero deforestation commitments, but these policies do not always translate to protecting biodiversity due to hunting, habitat degradation, and sub-canopy fires,” said Rhett Butler, one of the authors, and founder of Mongabay.com.

“Bioacoustic monitoring could be used to augment satellites and other systems to monitor compliance with these commitments, support real-time action against prohibited activities like illegal logging and poaching, and potentially document habitat and species recovery.” − Climate News Network

Remote sensing by satellites and sound recorders could yield answers to complex global questions and reveal what is happening in the world’s great forests.

LONDON, 9 January, 2019 − High tech answers using satellites and sound recorders could contribute to solving the global information crisis. To check on progress towards world development and conservation goals, researchers could exploit the highest technology of all.

Satellite data and number-crunching computer analysis could identify the world’s poorest households, and those on the way to new hope. And subtle listening devices planted in primal rainforest and near human settlements could provide a low-cost, high-speed check on biodiversity loss and conservation efforts in the developing world.

In effect, researchers argue in two entirely separate studies, the look-and-listen approach could deliver effective levels of information at relatively low expense, and keep nations and international monitoring organisations informed on issues ultimately inseparable from climate change driven by human appropriation of the planet’s resources.

At the heart of each is the search for a sustainable way of monitoring sustainable development. The governments of 93 nations have committed themselves to the UN’s sustainable development goals, to help lift their citizens out of poverty while maintaining the natural resources on which they must rely.

“When we use space data with a socio-ecological insight, we capture the financial status and, in this way, also the development in an area much better”

Danish, British and US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that if social scientists were to rely on traditional methods of research − house-to-house surveys and questionnaires of sample populations on an annual basis and so on − the cost could add up, over the lifetime of the programme, to $253 billion. This is almost twice what the world spent on global development assistance in 2013.

But satellite studies, already massed for other purposes, could hold most of the answers in fine detail already. “Based on high resolution satellite images, we can very precisely assess the poverty at household level in rural areas in developing countries,” said Jens-Christian Svenning, a bioscientist at Aarhus University in Denmark.

“The method that we have developed is designed to analyse the satellite images in a way that takes into account that people have access to and use different resources in the landscape at different levels,” he said.

“Some use the area just around their house, while others use the common areas of a village. When we use space data with a socio-ecological insight, we capture the financial status and, in this way, also the development in an area much better than we have previously been able to.”

Better prospects

There are 17 declared sustainable development goals that could, by 2030, make the world a better place for the people of the poorest countries, without loss of the wildlife around them and without adding to the profligate use of fossil fuels to deliver the energy to fuel potentially catastrophic global warming along with economic growth.

The Aarhus team has already tested their approach in rural western Kenya, to confirm that satellite data could account for 62% of the variation in household wealth: the size of buildings within one homestead, the amount of bare ground within it and the size of the agricultural land around it − and the length of the growing season − were enough to answer important questions.

And since the body of data available from satellite observation is continuously growing, this would offer a substitute for on-the-ground annual monitoring visits, which, they say, would be “prohibitively expensive.”

Within the same week, US and Australian scientists argue in the journal Science for a simple, bio-acoustics approach to ways of measuring and monitoring conservation efforts in the world’s tropical forests.

Listening in

These could yield treasuries of information. Important ecological data could be recovered from what they call “soundscapes” of animal and human activity in the vast tracts of forest that provide a home for most of the world’s terrestrial species, while at the same time drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into timber to slow the seemingly-inexorable rise in greenhouse gas concentrations that has already lifted global average temperatures by 1°C, reachimg perhaps a devastating 3°C increase by the end of the century.

Satellite images can answer questions about the loss of forests on a wide scale. But these cannot easily identify other problems, among them overhunting, fires or invasion by exotic species. And field surveys are costly, time-consuming and possible only over small samples of forest. But sound-recorders linked to satellites, and suspended in choice areas of forest, and near areas of human exploitation, can pick up subtle signals of change.

They can measure animal sounds and birdsong from distances of several hundred metres. They can be turned on at required times or used continuously, and they can identify sounds of birds, mammals, insects and amphibians: to make the case, researchers already have a set of multi-year bio-acoustics registers of change in chosen test zones.

Plants make no such noises − but since all animals depend on vegetation in ways that are both general and specific, the sound of animal life would also be indirect evidence of the health and vigour of the green things around them.

Check on intruders

And, if researchers could build a global organisation to host a platform available for such data, this could provide the basis not just for valuable ecological understanding, but for ways of monitoring human behaviour in the forests.

Big business has in many countries committed itself to economic activity without destroying any more forest, but checks on such promises are hard to make. Bio-acoustic monitors however could as easily tune into the sound of a tractor as to a toucan, to a chainsaw as to the chatter of monkeys, to the sound of a poacher’s gun as to the screech of a parrot.

“Companies are adopting zero deforestation commitments, but these policies do not always translate to protecting biodiversity due to hunting, habitat degradation, and sub-canopy fires,” said Rhett Butler, one of the authors, and founder of Mongabay.com.

“Bioacoustic monitoring could be used to augment satellites and other systems to monitor compliance with these commitments, support real-time action against prohibited activities like illegal logging and poaching, and potentially document habitat and species recovery.” − Climate News Network

Tell us more on palm oil sources, say buyers

A British study says consumers must be able to make sustainable choices more easily on products containing palm oil.

LONDON, 4 January, 2019 − Companies selling products which contain palm oil need to be upfront about where it comes from, so as to relieve consumers of the burden of making sustainable choices, a UK study says.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say companies should not rely simply on purchasers’ own awareness of the need to make environmentally responsible decisions, but should publicly disclose the identities of their palm oil suppliers.

Palm oil production causes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from peatland conversion, and biodiversity loss, and the oil is found in many products, often without consumers’ knowledge. It is a common ingredient in foods, body products, detergents and biofuels.

Dr Rosemary Ostfeld is the study’s lead author. She said: “The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has made efforts to improve the sustainability of palm oil production by creating an environmental certification system for palm oil.

Low uptake

“But currently only 19% of palm oil is RSPO-certified. This means the majority that finds its way into products people buy daily is still produced using conventional practices.

“We wanted to find out if consumers were actively seeking to make a sustainable choice about palm oil. We also explored what extra efforts governments could make to ensure sustainable palm oil consumption.”

The researchers, whose study is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, surveyed 1,695 British consumers through the market research company YouGov.

Respondents were asked about their awareness of palm oil and its environmental impact; their recognition of “ecolabels” such as Fairtrade, the Soil Association and RSPO; and which ecolabelled products they included in their weekly household shopping.

“Relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations”

The study found that UK consumer awareness of palm oil was high (77%), with 41% of those aware of it viewing it as “environmentally unfriendly”. Yet almost no consumers were aware of the RSPO label that showed a product contained sustainably-produced palm oil.

“In terms of label recognition versus action, 82% of people recognised the Fairtrade label, but only 29% actively buy Fairtrade products,” said Dr Ostfeld.

“Only five per cent recognised the RSPO label – the same as a fictional label we put into the survey as a control. Of that small number, only one per cent said they actively include products with the label in their shopping.”

The low recognition of the RSPO label could be caused by the scarcity of its use by consumer goods companies and retailers.

Action not guaranteed

Dr Ostfeld said: “This may be due in part to reluctance to draw attention to their use of palm oil, or it may be because they fall short of the 95% physical certified palm oil content that used to be needed to use the label.

“Either way, we found that relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations. Our results show that even when consumer awareness of an ecolabel is high, action is not guaranteed.”

To address this problem, the researchers put forward several policy recommendations. Dr Ostfeld explained: “Palm oil is more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils and plays a vital role in the livelihoods of millions of people, so banning it is not plausible. Instead, the goal should be to encourage sustainable palm oil production.

“We recommend governments require consumer goods companies and retailers to buy identity-preserved certified palm oil, which can be traced back to the individual plantation. If national targets must be met with identity-preserved certified palm oil, demand for it will increase. It will also enable unsustainable practices to be uncovered more easily.

Disclosure needed

“Companies should also publicly disclose their palm oil suppliers. This will help consumers know if they’re sourcing their palm oil from growers who use best practices.

“We believe these measures could promote a more rapid move towards sustainable palm oil consumption, and higher levels of accountability throughout the supply chain.”

Some campaigners argue that sustainability standards, including certification schemes, can have a wider effect by, for example, helping to shape governments’ policies and to steer investment into research.

A year ago one major US financial company, Dimensional, said it had divested two of its portfolios of all palm oil plantation companies. − Climate News Network

A British study says consumers must be able to make sustainable choices more easily on products containing palm oil.

LONDON, 4 January, 2019 − Companies selling products which contain palm oil need to be upfront about where it comes from, so as to relieve consumers of the burden of making sustainable choices, a UK study says.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say companies should not rely simply on purchasers’ own awareness of the need to make environmentally responsible decisions, but should publicly disclose the identities of their palm oil suppliers.

Palm oil production causes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from peatland conversion, and biodiversity loss, and the oil is found in many products, often without consumers’ knowledge. It is a common ingredient in foods, body products, detergents and biofuels.

Dr Rosemary Ostfeld is the study’s lead author. She said: “The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has made efforts to improve the sustainability of palm oil production by creating an environmental certification system for palm oil.

Low uptake

“But currently only 19% of palm oil is RSPO-certified. This means the majority that finds its way into products people buy daily is still produced using conventional practices.

“We wanted to find out if consumers were actively seeking to make a sustainable choice about palm oil. We also explored what extra efforts governments could make to ensure sustainable palm oil consumption.”

The researchers, whose study is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, surveyed 1,695 British consumers through the market research company YouGov.

Respondents were asked about their awareness of palm oil and its environmental impact; their recognition of “ecolabels” such as Fairtrade, the Soil Association and RSPO; and which ecolabelled products they included in their weekly household shopping.

“Relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations”

The study found that UK consumer awareness of palm oil was high (77%), with 41% of those aware of it viewing it as “environmentally unfriendly”. Yet almost no consumers were aware of the RSPO label that showed a product contained sustainably-produced palm oil.

“In terms of label recognition versus action, 82% of people recognised the Fairtrade label, but only 29% actively buy Fairtrade products,” said Dr Ostfeld.

“Only five per cent recognised the RSPO label – the same as a fictional label we put into the survey as a control. Of that small number, only one per cent said they actively include products with the label in their shopping.”

The low recognition of the RSPO label could be caused by the scarcity of its use by consumer goods companies and retailers.

Action not guaranteed

Dr Ostfeld said: “This may be due in part to reluctance to draw attention to their use of palm oil, or it may be because they fall short of the 95% physical certified palm oil content that used to be needed to use the label.

“Either way, we found that relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations. Our results show that even when consumer awareness of an ecolabel is high, action is not guaranteed.”

To address this problem, the researchers put forward several policy recommendations. Dr Ostfeld explained: “Palm oil is more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils and plays a vital role in the livelihoods of millions of people, so banning it is not plausible. Instead, the goal should be to encourage sustainable palm oil production.

“We recommend governments require consumer goods companies and retailers to buy identity-preserved certified palm oil, which can be traced back to the individual plantation. If national targets must be met with identity-preserved certified palm oil, demand for it will increase. It will also enable unsustainable practices to be uncovered more easily.

Disclosure needed

“Companies should also publicly disclose their palm oil suppliers. This will help consumers know if they’re sourcing their palm oil from growers who use best practices.

“We believe these measures could promote a more rapid move towards sustainable palm oil consumption, and higher levels of accountability throughout the supply chain.”

Some campaigners argue that sustainability standards, including certification schemes, can have a wider effect by, for example, helping to shape governments’ policies and to steer investment into research.

A year ago one major US financial company, Dimensional, said it had divested two of its portfolios of all palm oil plantation companies. − Climate News Network

Amazon in peril as Brazil cools on climate

The man who will become Brazil’s president next month is cold-shouldering moves to tame the pace of climate change, leaving the Amazon in peril.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2018 − The election of an extreme rightwing climate sceptic as president will leave the Amazon in peril, because it radically alters Brazil’s position on climate change.

That process has already begun, with the cancellation of the outgoing president’s invitation to the United Nations to hold its 2019 climate talks, COP-25, in Brasilia.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is also threatening to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, claiming that a plot exists to reduce Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon.

While he does not officially take office until 1 January, Bolsonaro has already significantly altered Brazil’s position by cancelling the present government’s offer to host COP-25 only days after it was officially made by the departing president, Michel Temer.

Due for confirmation

It was due to be confirmed at this year’s UN talks (COP-24) in the Polish city of Katowice. The COPs (meetings of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) are rotated between the world’s five regions, and 2019 was to be the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For André Nahur, a biologist and the coordinator of WWF Brazil’s programme for climate change and energy, it is a sign that under Bolsonaro Brazil will abdicate its role as a leader in environmental questions.

He said: “Brazil has been a protagonist in international climate talks, exercising an important role in diplomatic efforts to reduce greenhouse gases … in order to achieve world targets. Brazil’s participation is vital, because at the moment it is the seventh largest producer of greenhouse gases.”

He added that the withdrawal of Brazil’s offer for COP-25 will affect the country’s economic development: “All scenarios show that in countries concerned with climate change, GDP has grown and generated jobs.”

“I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement”

The Climate Observatory, a Brazilian NGO (Observatório do Clima) says Bolsonaro’s decision means that Brazil is abdicating its role in one of the few areas where the country is not just relevant but necessary.

“Ignoring the climate agenda, the government is also failing to protect the population affected by a growing number of extreme weather events. Unfortunately they do not stop happening just because some people doubt their causes,” it said.

To try to justify his stated intention to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement Bolsonaro has invoked the existence of a forgotten project once proposed by Gaia Colombia, known as the Triple A.

He said: “What is the ‘Triple A? It’s a big strip between the Andes, the Amazon and the Atlantic … The idea is to turn it into an ecological corridor.” This, says Bolsonaro, could result in Brazil losing its sovereignty over the area.

Doubtful explanation

The ambitious plan for the corridor, covering over 500,000 square miles of rainforest, surfaced several years ago, and is credited to Martín von Hildebrand, founder of the Gaia Amazonas NGO, but it has never been taken seriously, and it is certainly no part of the Paris Agreement.

While the president-elect evoked this non-existent problem to justify his dislike of the Paris deal, French president Emmanuel Macron hinted at the real consequences of leaving the treaty, declaring: “I say clearly that I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement.”

Brazil’s new position also leaves it out of step with the BRICS, the group of five big emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

They produced a statement at the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires affirming their commitment to the “full implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the importance and urgency of guaranteeing funds for the Green Climate Fund”, to increase the developing countries’ capacity for mitigation and adaptation.

Faith in Trump

Bolsonaro has chosen as his foreign minister a diplomat, Ernesto Araujo, who scoffs at what he calls “climatism” and believes that US president Donald Trump is the saviour of the Christian values of the Western world, while globalisation is a communist plot.

If Brazil were just a small banana republic this would not matter. But the South American giant, the fifth largest country in the world, in both size and population, and ninth largest economy, is too big to ignore, especially as it contains 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest.

But even before Bolsonaro officially takes office deforestation has soared, hitting its highest level for a decade as loggers and landgrabbers anticipate a loosening of monitoring and enforcement.

Environmentalists fear that Brazil’s change of government could have disastrous consequences for the world’s climate. − Climate News Network

The man who will become Brazil’s president next month is cold-shouldering moves to tame the pace of climate change, leaving the Amazon in peril.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2018 − The election of an extreme rightwing climate sceptic as president will leave the Amazon in peril, because it radically alters Brazil’s position on climate change.

That process has already begun, with the cancellation of the outgoing president’s invitation to the United Nations to hold its 2019 climate talks, COP-25, in Brasilia.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is also threatening to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, claiming that a plot exists to reduce Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon.

While he does not officially take office until 1 January, Bolsonaro has already significantly altered Brazil’s position by cancelling the present government’s offer to host COP-25 only days after it was officially made by the departing president, Michel Temer.

Due for confirmation

It was due to be confirmed at this year’s UN talks (COP-24) in the Polish city of Katowice. The COPs (meetings of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) are rotated between the world’s five regions, and 2019 was to be the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For André Nahur, a biologist and the coordinator of WWF Brazil’s programme for climate change and energy, it is a sign that under Bolsonaro Brazil will abdicate its role as a leader in environmental questions.

He said: “Brazil has been a protagonist in international climate talks, exercising an important role in diplomatic efforts to reduce greenhouse gases … in order to achieve world targets. Brazil’s participation is vital, because at the moment it is the seventh largest producer of greenhouse gases.”

He added that the withdrawal of Brazil’s offer for COP-25 will affect the country’s economic development: “All scenarios show that in countries concerned with climate change, GDP has grown and generated jobs.”

“I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement”

The Climate Observatory, a Brazilian NGO (Observatório do Clima) says Bolsonaro’s decision means that Brazil is abdicating its role in one of the few areas where the country is not just relevant but necessary.

“Ignoring the climate agenda, the government is also failing to protect the population affected by a growing number of extreme weather events. Unfortunately they do not stop happening just because some people doubt their causes,” it said.

To try to justify his stated intention to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement Bolsonaro has invoked the existence of a forgotten project once proposed by Gaia Colombia, known as the Triple A.

He said: “What is the ‘Triple A? It’s a big strip between the Andes, the Amazon and the Atlantic … The idea is to turn it into an ecological corridor.” This, says Bolsonaro, could result in Brazil losing its sovereignty over the area.

Doubtful explanation

The ambitious plan for the corridor, covering over 500,000 square miles of rainforest, surfaced several years ago, and is credited to Martín von Hildebrand, founder of the Gaia Amazonas NGO, but it has never been taken seriously, and it is certainly no part of the Paris Agreement.

While the president-elect evoked this non-existent problem to justify his dislike of the Paris deal, French president Emmanuel Macron hinted at the real consequences of leaving the treaty, declaring: “I say clearly that I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement.”

Brazil’s new position also leaves it out of step with the BRICS, the group of five big emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

They produced a statement at the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires affirming their commitment to the “full implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the importance and urgency of guaranteeing funds for the Green Climate Fund”, to increase the developing countries’ capacity for mitigation and adaptation.

Faith in Trump

Bolsonaro has chosen as his foreign minister a diplomat, Ernesto Araujo, who scoffs at what he calls “climatism” and believes that US president Donald Trump is the saviour of the Christian values of the Western world, while globalisation is a communist plot.

If Brazil were just a small banana republic this would not matter. But the South American giant, the fifth largest country in the world, in both size and population, and ninth largest economy, is too big to ignore, especially as it contains 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest.

But even before Bolsonaro officially takes office deforestation has soared, hitting its highest level for a decade as loggers and landgrabbers anticipate a loosening of monitoring and enforcement.

Environmentalists fear that Brazil’s change of government could have disastrous consequences for the world’s climate. − Climate News Network

Extinction toll may be far worse than thought

Yet again, researchers have confirmed that climate change threatens the natural world with a soaring extinction toll. The danger may be much higher than anyone imagined.

LONDON, 11 December, 2018 − Two scientists want the world to think again about the extinction toll, the rate at which species could vanish as the planet warms. They warn that the worst fears so far may have been based on underestimates. Tomorrow’s rates of extinction could be 10 times worse.

That is because the loss of one or two key species could turn into a cascade that could spell the end for whole ecosystems. “Primary extinctions driven by environmental change could be just the tip of an enormous extinction iceberg,” they warn.

In their study, long before the complete loss of one species, other species locked into the same ecosystem started to perish. There is no need to worry about the rare but real hazard of an asteroid impact, or a burst of gamma rays from a nearby exploding star. The message from the simulators is that global average warming of between 5° and 6°C above the level for most of history since the end of the last Ice Age would be enough to wipe out most life on the hypothetical Earths.

“This makes it difficult to be optimistic about the future of species diversity in the ongoing trajectory of global change, let alone in the case of additional external, extraplanetary catastrophes.”

Giovanni Strona of the European Commission’s joint research centre in Ispra, Italy and Corey Bradshaw of Finders University in Adelaide, Australia write in the journal Scientific Reports that they turned to computer simulation to resolve an enduring ecological question: quite what is it that drives biodiversity loss?

“Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list”

The growth in human numbers, and the exploitation of the planet’s surface for economic growth, has destroyed habitats and disrupted ecosystems on a scale without parallel: global warming and climate change will make things worse.

Researchers have confirmed, repeatedly, that ecosystems are under threat; that climate change could be even more damaging than anyone suspected; that half of 976 species in one study were already being extinguished in local ecosystems, even if they survived elsewhere as the thermometer rose.

But most such studies were based on sample examinations of specific patches of woodland, grassland, marsh or lake, or surveys of published literature, and they measured change in a planet that has – since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – warmed by about 1°C as a consequence of profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the clearance of the great forests. The latest study involved testing life on a planet to destruction.

The two scientists constructed 2,000 “virtual Earths” and populated them with interacting species: that is with a food web composed of competing predators and prey, multiple consumers and consumed. Then they subjected these notional biospheres to extreme environmental change, ranging from runaway global warming driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions to the sudden, intense cooling of a “nuclear winter” in which sunlight is blocked by the dust of global thermonuclear war.

And the experiments, they say, demonstrated, once again, the co-dependency of living things in a stable environment. They set up two scenarios. In one of them a species was subjected to temperature change to the point of extinction. In the other, the researchers triggered a series of co-extinction cascades. They then matched the two outcomes.

More than species

And they found that failure to take into account the complex, entangled interdependencies of living things led to an underestimate, by 10 times, of the magnitude of mass extinction by climate change alone. The message is: don’t just save the giant panda, save the forest.

“Conservationists and decision makers need to move fast beyond a species-specific approach, and look with increasing attention at interaction networks as a fundamental conservation target,” Dr Strona said. “Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list.”

Other such simulations have delivered catastrophic conclusions: one examination of runaway global warming left the Earth uninhabitable, while another found that in the most dreadful outcomes, at least one life form, the tardigrade, might survive.

Any computer model of life on Earth must have its weaknesses, if only because the unknown and unnamed list of creatures is at least 10 times greater than those already catalogued in the world’s botanical gardens, zoos and natural history museums. That is, biologists still don’t know nearly enough about the diversity of life on Earth. There are, the researchers concede, “obvious limitations in our ambitions model.”

But, said Dr Strona: “Our results are consistent with real-world patterns for which we have empirical evidence. This makes us confident that the many assumptions we had to take in order to build a functional model are sound. On the other hand, it would be misleading to just focus on raw numbers.” − Climate News Network

Yet again, researchers have confirmed that climate change threatens the natural world with a soaring extinction toll. The danger may be much higher than anyone imagined.

LONDON, 11 December, 2018 − Two scientists want the world to think again about the extinction toll, the rate at which species could vanish as the planet warms. They warn that the worst fears so far may have been based on underestimates. Tomorrow’s rates of extinction could be 10 times worse.

That is because the loss of one or two key species could turn into a cascade that could spell the end for whole ecosystems. “Primary extinctions driven by environmental change could be just the tip of an enormous extinction iceberg,” they warn.

In their study, long before the complete loss of one species, other species locked into the same ecosystem started to perish. There is no need to worry about the rare but real hazard of an asteroid impact, or a burst of gamma rays from a nearby exploding star. The message from the simulators is that global average warming of between 5° and 6°C above the level for most of history since the end of the last Ice Age would be enough to wipe out most life on the hypothetical Earths.

“This makes it difficult to be optimistic about the future of species diversity in the ongoing trajectory of global change, let alone in the case of additional external, extraplanetary catastrophes.”

Giovanni Strona of the European Commission’s joint research centre in Ispra, Italy and Corey Bradshaw of Finders University in Adelaide, Australia write in the journal Scientific Reports that they turned to computer simulation to resolve an enduring ecological question: quite what is it that drives biodiversity loss?

“Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list”

The growth in human numbers, and the exploitation of the planet’s surface for economic growth, has destroyed habitats and disrupted ecosystems on a scale without parallel: global warming and climate change will make things worse.

Researchers have confirmed, repeatedly, that ecosystems are under threat; that climate change could be even more damaging than anyone suspected; that half of 976 species in one study were already being extinguished in local ecosystems, even if they survived elsewhere as the thermometer rose.

But most such studies were based on sample examinations of specific patches of woodland, grassland, marsh or lake, or surveys of published literature, and they measured change in a planet that has – since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – warmed by about 1°C as a consequence of profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the clearance of the great forests. The latest study involved testing life on a planet to destruction.

The two scientists constructed 2,000 “virtual Earths” and populated them with interacting species: that is with a food web composed of competing predators and prey, multiple consumers and consumed. Then they subjected these notional biospheres to extreme environmental change, ranging from runaway global warming driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions to the sudden, intense cooling of a “nuclear winter” in which sunlight is blocked by the dust of global thermonuclear war.

And the experiments, they say, demonstrated, once again, the co-dependency of living things in a stable environment. They set up two scenarios. In one of them a species was subjected to temperature change to the point of extinction. In the other, the researchers triggered a series of co-extinction cascades. They then matched the two outcomes.

More than species

And they found that failure to take into account the complex, entangled interdependencies of living things led to an underestimate, by 10 times, of the magnitude of mass extinction by climate change alone. The message is: don’t just save the giant panda, save the forest.

“Conservationists and decision makers need to move fast beyond a species-specific approach, and look with increasing attention at interaction networks as a fundamental conservation target,” Dr Strona said. “Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list.”

Other such simulations have delivered catastrophic conclusions: one examination of runaway global warming left the Earth uninhabitable, while another found that in the most dreadful outcomes, at least one life form, the tardigrade, might survive.

Any computer model of life on Earth must have its weaknesses, if only because the unknown and unnamed list of creatures is at least 10 times greater than those already catalogued in the world’s botanical gardens, zoos and natural history museums. That is, biologists still don’t know nearly enough about the diversity of life on Earth. There are, the researchers concede, “obvious limitations in our ambitions model.”

But, said Dr Strona: “Our results are consistent with real-world patterns for which we have empirical evidence. This makes us confident that the many assumptions we had to take in order to build a functional model are sound. On the other hand, it would be misleading to just focus on raw numbers.” − Climate News Network