Tag Archives: climate change

Big builders’ plans threaten to wreck forest survival

Plans by corporate power and government investors risk corporate good intentions and national vows for forest survival.

LONDON, 24 November, 2020 − Forest survival in the world’s great conservation targets − the Amazon, the Congo and South-east Asia, for example − is at risk from not just ranchers, loggers and illegal foresters: it’s also under assault from some of the planet’s biggest spenders: governments and the big banks, giant mining corporations and road builders.

A new report warns that in the Amazon region alone − across Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador − governments have promised $27bn worth of investment on 12,000 kms (7,456 miles) of roads over the next five years. If all the promised infrastructure goes ahead, that could mean the loss of 24,000 square kilometres of forest in the next 20 years.

The Indonesian government is planning to drive a 4,000 km network of highway through a national park in Papua, western New Guinea, for access to 500 sq kms of mining concessions. A new planned railway in Kalimantan, Indonesia, will open up new opportunities for palm oil plantations and coal mining concessions.

And in sub-Saharan Africa nations plan dozens of “international development corridors” to provide access to minerals and to energy. The plans threaten to cut through 400 protected areas and degrade another 1800.

Threat intensified

“Big new projects under way or planned in the Amazon, Indonesia, Meso-America, the Congo basin and beyond, reveal that our insatiable appetite for coal, minerals, metals, energy and agricultural commodities like soy has opened up a new front in the battle to protect the world’s forests,” said Franziska Haupt, executive director of Climate Focus, Berlin, and the lead author of a new report on efforts so far to limit the destruction of the world’s forests.

“Some governments are compounding this threat and rolling back forest protections, as countries struggle to cope with the economic fallout of Covid-19.”

Forests are key to limiting climate change. It is not enough simply to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy to halt global heating: the climate emergency also requires nations to halt the destruction of, and restore, the world’s great forests.

But much of the promised investment will be devoted to destroying forest and then compounding the damage by producing new reserves of fossil fuels to increase levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are living in a dreamworld of pledges, but a reality of very little progress, lack of transparency, vested interests and short-termism … Alas, reality will always catch us up”

“Many of these projects would never get the green light if the true value of forests was factored in − their role in reducing climate change, protecting animal habitats and reducing the spread of zoonotic diseases [infections caught from other creatures], keeping water sources clean, providing economic opportunity and a long list of other benefits without a price tag,” said Erin Matson, a consultant at Climate Focus, and a co-author.

“Forests are at a dangerous tipping point, and these new large-scale infrastructure projects could push us over the edge and undermine global efforts to stop deforestation.

“There’s a very small − and closing − window of opportunity now to rethink and re-orient these projects in a more sustainable direction. Governments, companies and investors all need to step up, commit to more transparency and act quickly to avoid further harm to people, wildlife and nature.”

The report points out that mining is the world’s “most violent” economic sector, with the largest share of environmental conflicts. In 2019, 50 environmental defenders were murdered.

“Local peoples tend to have little say in economic development approaches and the allocation and use of forest lands,” the report says. “Instead, powerful corporations and national elites influence decision-making to facilitate resource exploitation, while grassroots actors who express their preferences are often shunted aside or ignored.”

Doubtful promise

Forest survival is tough going. Roads, too, are part of the problem: roads and road networks make it easier for farmers and loggers to clear land. They could account for as much as 16% of the destruction of tropical and subtropical forests.

Six years ago, in what became known as the New York Declaration on Forests, endorsed by the world’s governments, multinationals and non-governmental organisations, there were international pledges to halve deforestation by 2020, and end it by 2030.

The 2020 target will not be met. The 2030 pledge looks increasingly improbable. In 2019, a World Bank analysis of 29 case studies of sites of large-scale mining in forests could not find a single example of a mining operation that properly addressed and limited the risks to the forest and its biodiversity.

“This is a salutary reminder that we are living in a dreamworld of pledges, but a reality of very little progress, lack of transparency, vested interests and short-termism,” said Robert Nasi, director general of the International Centre for Forest Research. “Alas, reality will always catch us up.” − Climate News Network

Plans by corporate power and government investors risk corporate good intentions and national vows for forest survival.

LONDON, 24 November, 2020 − Forest survival in the world’s great conservation targets − the Amazon, the Congo and South-east Asia, for example − is at risk from not just ranchers, loggers and illegal foresters: it’s also under assault from some of the planet’s biggest spenders: governments and the big banks, giant mining corporations and road builders.

A new report warns that in the Amazon region alone − across Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador − governments have promised $27bn worth of investment on 12,000 kms (7,456 miles) of roads over the next five years. If all the promised infrastructure goes ahead, that could mean the loss of 24,000 square kilometres of forest in the next 20 years.

The Indonesian government is planning to drive a 4,000 km network of highway through a national park in Papua, western New Guinea, for access to 500 sq kms of mining concessions. A new planned railway in Kalimantan, Indonesia, will open up new opportunities for palm oil plantations and coal mining concessions.

And in sub-Saharan Africa nations plan dozens of “international development corridors” to provide access to minerals and to energy. The plans threaten to cut through 400 protected areas and degrade another 1800.

Threat intensified

“Big new projects under way or planned in the Amazon, Indonesia, Meso-America, the Congo basin and beyond, reveal that our insatiable appetite for coal, minerals, metals, energy and agricultural commodities like soy has opened up a new front in the battle to protect the world’s forests,” said Franziska Haupt, executive director of Climate Focus, Berlin, and the lead author of a new report on efforts so far to limit the destruction of the world’s forests.

“Some governments are compounding this threat and rolling back forest protections, as countries struggle to cope with the economic fallout of Covid-19.”

Forests are key to limiting climate change. It is not enough simply to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy to halt global heating: the climate emergency also requires nations to halt the destruction of, and restore, the world’s great forests.

But much of the promised investment will be devoted to destroying forest and then compounding the damage by producing new reserves of fossil fuels to increase levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are living in a dreamworld of pledges, but a reality of very little progress, lack of transparency, vested interests and short-termism … Alas, reality will always catch us up”

“Many of these projects would never get the green light if the true value of forests was factored in − their role in reducing climate change, protecting animal habitats and reducing the spread of zoonotic diseases [infections caught from other creatures], keeping water sources clean, providing economic opportunity and a long list of other benefits without a price tag,” said Erin Matson, a consultant at Climate Focus, and a co-author.

“Forests are at a dangerous tipping point, and these new large-scale infrastructure projects could push us over the edge and undermine global efforts to stop deforestation.

“There’s a very small − and closing − window of opportunity now to rethink and re-orient these projects in a more sustainable direction. Governments, companies and investors all need to step up, commit to more transparency and act quickly to avoid further harm to people, wildlife and nature.”

The report points out that mining is the world’s “most violent” economic sector, with the largest share of environmental conflicts. In 2019, 50 environmental defenders were murdered.

“Local peoples tend to have little say in economic development approaches and the allocation and use of forest lands,” the report says. “Instead, powerful corporations and national elites influence decision-making to facilitate resource exploitation, while grassroots actors who express their preferences are often shunted aside or ignored.”

Doubtful promise

Forest survival is tough going. Roads, too, are part of the problem: roads and road networks make it easier for farmers and loggers to clear land. They could account for as much as 16% of the destruction of tropical and subtropical forests.

Six years ago, in what became known as the New York Declaration on Forests, endorsed by the world’s governments, multinationals and non-governmental organisations, there were international pledges to halve deforestation by 2020, and end it by 2030.

The 2020 target will not be met. The 2030 pledge looks increasingly improbable. In 2019, a World Bank analysis of 29 case studies of sites of large-scale mining in forests could not find a single example of a mining operation that properly addressed and limited the risks to the forest and its biodiversity.

“This is a salutary reminder that we are living in a dreamworld of pledges, but a reality of very little progress, lack of transparency, vested interests and short-termism,” said Robert Nasi, director general of the International Centre for Forest Research. “Alas, reality will always catch us up.” − Climate News Network

Mixed farming beats intensive agriculture methods

It sounds like the conservationist’s dream. But a return to traditional mixed farming ways could pay off for farmers too.

LONDON, 23 November, 2020 − Once again, researchers have shown that it should be possible to feed the human race and leave enough space for the rest of creation, simply by going back to centuries-old mixed farming practices.

That would mean an end to highly intensively-farmed landscapes composed of vast fields that were home to just one crop, and a return to a number of once-traditional husbandry methods. It sounds counter-intuitive, but European researchers are convinced that it could be good value.

They report in the journal Science Advances that they looked at more than 5,000 studies that made more than 40,000 comparisons between what they term diversified and simplified agriculture.

And they found that crop yield in general either kept to the same level or even increased when farmers adopted what they called diversified practices of the kind that sustained subsistence farmers for many centuries.

These include intercropping − different crops side by side − and multiple crops in rotation, strips of flowers to encourage pollinating insects, lower levels of disturbance of the soil and hedges, and forested shelter belts to encourage wildlife alongside farmland.

“Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields”

The payoff? Better ecosystem services such as pollination, the regulation of crop pests by natural enemies, a more efficient turnover of nutrients, higher water quality, and in many cases better storage of carbon in ways that could mitigate climate change.

This, of course, is not how big agribusiness delivers much of the world’s food.

“The trend is that we are simplifying major cropping systems worldwide,” said Giovanni Tamburini, an ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, who led the study.

“We grow monoculture on enlarged fields in homogenised landscapes. According to our study, diversification can reverse the negative impacts that we observe in simplified forms of cropping on the environment and on production itself.”

It’s an old argument. Is it better for a farmer to invest all in one vast crop of maize or wheat or soy, regularly nourished by commercial fertilisers, routinely sprayed to suppress pests, moulds and mildews, with the land ploughed and harrowed after harvest for the next crop, and always at risk of frost or flood, locust swarms, drought or blight?

All-round winners

Or would it be better in the long run for the farmer to spread the risk by changing and multiplying the crops, and to rely more on undisturbed soils and local habitats for birds and insects that would demolish some of the pests (and of course take some of the crop)?

Researchers have repeatedly argued that both to contain climate change and to preserve the natural world from which all human nourishment and almost all human wealth ultimately derive, farming practices must change, and so must human appetite. The argument remains: what is the best way to set about change down on the farm itself?

There have already been a large number of studies of this question. There have also been meta-analyses, or studies of collected studies. Dr Tamburini and his colleagues identified 41,946 comparisons embedded in 5,160 original studies. They also found 98 meta-analyses. And they took a fresh look at the whole lot to identify what could be win-win, trade-off and lose-lose outcomes.

They found that diversification is better for biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility and water regulation at least 63% of the time. “Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields,” they report.

“Widespread adoption of diversification practices shows promise to contribute to biodiversity conservation and food security from local to global scales.” − Climate News Network

It sounds like the conservationist’s dream. But a return to traditional mixed farming ways could pay off for farmers too.

LONDON, 23 November, 2020 − Once again, researchers have shown that it should be possible to feed the human race and leave enough space for the rest of creation, simply by going back to centuries-old mixed farming practices.

That would mean an end to highly intensively-farmed landscapes composed of vast fields that were home to just one crop, and a return to a number of once-traditional husbandry methods. It sounds counter-intuitive, but European researchers are convinced that it could be good value.

They report in the journal Science Advances that they looked at more than 5,000 studies that made more than 40,000 comparisons between what they term diversified and simplified agriculture.

And they found that crop yield in general either kept to the same level or even increased when farmers adopted what they called diversified practices of the kind that sustained subsistence farmers for many centuries.

These include intercropping − different crops side by side − and multiple crops in rotation, strips of flowers to encourage pollinating insects, lower levels of disturbance of the soil and hedges, and forested shelter belts to encourage wildlife alongside farmland.

“Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields”

The payoff? Better ecosystem services such as pollination, the regulation of crop pests by natural enemies, a more efficient turnover of nutrients, higher water quality, and in many cases better storage of carbon in ways that could mitigate climate change.

This, of course, is not how big agribusiness delivers much of the world’s food.

“The trend is that we are simplifying major cropping systems worldwide,” said Giovanni Tamburini, an ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, who led the study.

“We grow monoculture on enlarged fields in homogenised landscapes. According to our study, diversification can reverse the negative impacts that we observe in simplified forms of cropping on the environment and on production itself.”

It’s an old argument. Is it better for a farmer to invest all in one vast crop of maize or wheat or soy, regularly nourished by commercial fertilisers, routinely sprayed to suppress pests, moulds and mildews, with the land ploughed and harrowed after harvest for the next crop, and always at risk of frost or flood, locust swarms, drought or blight?

All-round winners

Or would it be better in the long run for the farmer to spread the risk by changing and multiplying the crops, and to rely more on undisturbed soils and local habitats for birds and insects that would demolish some of the pests (and of course take some of the crop)?

Researchers have repeatedly argued that both to contain climate change and to preserve the natural world from which all human nourishment and almost all human wealth ultimately derive, farming practices must change, and so must human appetite. The argument remains: what is the best way to set about change down on the farm itself?

There have already been a large number of studies of this question. There have also been meta-analyses, or studies of collected studies. Dr Tamburini and his colleagues identified 41,946 comparisons embedded in 5,160 original studies. They also found 98 meta-analyses. And they took a fresh look at the whole lot to identify what could be win-win, trade-off and lose-lose outcomes.

They found that diversification is better for biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility and water regulation at least 63% of the time. “Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields,” they report.

“Widespread adoption of diversification practices shows promise to contribute to biodiversity conservation and food security from local to global scales.” − Climate News Network

Warming puts surviving great tits in jeopardy

Among the best loved and most frequent visitors to gardens in the UK and elsewhere, great tits face mounting problems.

LONDON, 19 November, 2020 – In the scientific community great tits are known as one of the most adaptable of bird species, showing considerable ability in adjusting to changing weather patterns and differing times of food supplies.

But latest research indicates that even these ever-enterprising and resilient birds are coming under growing pressure from global heating.

“Wildlife has shown a great ability to adapt to climate change”, Emily Simmonds, lead author of a study of great tits and their food supplies, told Climate News Network.

“So far the great tit has shown a remarkable degree of adaptation to changes in climate. The problem occurs when change happens too fast – then, at some point in the future, the species could become extinct.”

“Our projections suggest that current population stability could be masking a route to population collapse”

Research by Simmonds and her colleagues involved both complex mathematical modelling and extensive fieldwork. Its main focus was to establish how quickly great tits could adapt to changes in the supply of caterpillars or larvae, vital food for the birds’ hatchlings.

Differing climate scenarios were used. In warmer conditions spring can occur earlier, with trees coming into leaf sooner than usual. This, in turn, causes larvae that feed on plants and leaves to hatch out earlier.

The problem is that if at some stage great tits fail to keep pace with these changes, then there will be no food for the hatchlings.

“If greenhouse gas emissions are too high and there’s more warming, then great tits might not be able to adjust their breeding habits quickly enough in order to adapt to the earlier supply of larvae”, says Simmonds.

Too fast for survival

“So far it seems that the birds are coping, but if warming continues at its present pace then it could be too much for them.”

Simmonds, now at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology,  carried out her research at Oxford in the UK.

At Wytham Woods outside Oxford scientists have been recording the nesting and breeding habits of the great tit – Parus major – and the blue tit – Cyanistes caeruleus – since 1947. Up to 40 generations of birds have been marked in what is one of the longest-running ecological studies of wild animals in the world.

The recent study looked at great tits’ reproduction success rates, hatching dates and inheritance factors – the ability of one generation to pass on to the next changes in breeding and feeding patterns.

Safety threshold

Winter temperatures, rainfall patterns and the availability of food supplies under different climate projections were considered.

“The good news is that populations of great tits can survive and adapt to scenarios with lower or medium warming trends”, says Simmonds.

But the study found that if warming trends continue at present levels, with larvae appearing, by the end of the century, about 24 days earlier than at present, great tit populations could become extinct.

“Our projections suggest that current population stability could be masking a route to population collapse, if high greenhouse gas emissions continue”, the study says. – Climate News Network

Among the best loved and most frequent visitors to gardens in the UK and elsewhere, great tits face mounting problems.

LONDON, 19 November, 2020 – In the scientific community great tits are known as one of the most adaptable of bird species, showing considerable ability in adjusting to changing weather patterns and differing times of food supplies.

But latest research indicates that even these ever-enterprising and resilient birds are coming under growing pressure from global heating.

“Wildlife has shown a great ability to adapt to climate change”, Emily Simmonds, lead author of a study of great tits and their food supplies, told Climate News Network.

“So far the great tit has shown a remarkable degree of adaptation to changes in climate. The problem occurs when change happens too fast – then, at some point in the future, the species could become extinct.”

“Our projections suggest that current population stability could be masking a route to population collapse”

Research by Simmonds and her colleagues involved both complex mathematical modelling and extensive fieldwork. Its main focus was to establish how quickly great tits could adapt to changes in the supply of caterpillars or larvae, vital food for the birds’ hatchlings.

Differing climate scenarios were used. In warmer conditions spring can occur earlier, with trees coming into leaf sooner than usual. This, in turn, causes larvae that feed on plants and leaves to hatch out earlier.

The problem is that if at some stage great tits fail to keep pace with these changes, then there will be no food for the hatchlings.

“If greenhouse gas emissions are too high and there’s more warming, then great tits might not be able to adjust their breeding habits quickly enough in order to adapt to the earlier supply of larvae”, says Simmonds.

Too fast for survival

“So far it seems that the birds are coping, but if warming continues at its present pace then it could be too much for them.”

Simmonds, now at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology,  carried out her research at Oxford in the UK.

At Wytham Woods outside Oxford scientists have been recording the nesting and breeding habits of the great tit – Parus major – and the blue tit – Cyanistes caeruleus – since 1947. Up to 40 generations of birds have been marked in what is one of the longest-running ecological studies of wild animals in the world.

The recent study looked at great tits’ reproduction success rates, hatching dates and inheritance factors – the ability of one generation to pass on to the next changes in breeding and feeding patterns.

Safety threshold

Winter temperatures, rainfall patterns and the availability of food supplies under different climate projections were considered.

“The good news is that populations of great tits can survive and adapt to scenarios with lower or medium warming trends”, says Simmonds.

But the study found that if warming trends continue at present levels, with larvae appearing, by the end of the century, about 24 days earlier than at present, great tit populations could become extinct.

“Our projections suggest that current population stability could be masking a route to population collapse, if high greenhouse gas emissions continue”, the study says. – Climate News Network

Greek island ditches fossil fuel cars to go green

For one Greek island the future is green. It’s switching from internal combustion-driven transport to electric vehicles.

LONDON, 12 November, 2020 – Not a lot happens in the winter months on Astypalea, a butterfly-shaped Greek island in the Aegean Sea.

The thousands of summertime tourists have gone: the locals – there are about 1,300 of them – work the land and busy themselves painting their neat white houses and tidying up ready for the next holiday season.

But this year life on the island is set to be a little different.

In what’s considered as a groundbreaking experiment with implications for the battle against climate change, the Greek government has teamed up with the Volkswagen car group to establish a complete system of sustainable energy on Astypalea.

Under the scheme, VW will provide the island with 1,000 of its electric vehicles (EVs), replacing 1,500 internal combustion vehicles.

Police cars, ambulances and the island bus service will all become electric. The more than 70,000 tourists who visit Astypalea each year will be encouraged to hire EVs and electric scooters and motorbikes.

Climate-neutral vision

The Greek government is said to be giving considerable state aid and tax incentives to the project.

“Politics, business and society have a common responsibility to limit climate change”, said Herbert Diess, the VW group CEO.

“Our long-term goal is climate-neutral mobility for everyone – and with the Astypalea project, we will explore how to realise that vision.”

Astypalea, part of the Dodecanese group of islands in the south-east Aegean, is 18 kms long and 12 kms wide at its broadest point.

VW says it will install more than 200 private and public charging points on the island. The government says Astypalea will become a pioneer for sustainable tourism throughout the country.

At present four diesel generators supply the island’s power. Within two years, the government says, Astypalea will become completely self-sufficient in energy, with wind turbines and solar panels replacing the ageing and inefficient generators.

“Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island’s inhabitants”

“Today is a great day for Astypalea and all of Greece”, said Konstantinos Fragogiannis, Greek deputy foreign minister.

“We are launching the first ‘smart green island’ project in our country, which marks a major change in our outlook.

“Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island’s inhabitants. Combined with a pioneering public transport system, we are turning futuristic ideas into reality.”

Tourism plays a central role in the economy of Greece: the country has a population of under 11 million but in recent times more than three times that number have visited each year, putting considerable strain on local infrastructure and on the environment.

Scandal to forget

Many Greek islands suffer severe energy and water shortages during the peak tourist season. Air pollution caused by growing numbers of cruise ships is another problem.

VW says it’s committed to adjusting its production processes in order to meet the challenge of climate change.

The company, considered by some measures to be the world’s biggest car maker, aims to manufacture more than a million electric cars a year by 2025.

In recent days VW announced that Bentley cars – the luxury UK brand now owned by the German carmaker – will cease manufacturing diesel and petrol-driven vehicles by 2030 and concentrate solely on hybrid vehicles and EVs.

The German conglomerate has been struggling to repair its image after a widespread scandal in 2015, when it was forced to admit it had sold nearly 600,000 cars in the US which had been fitted with devices deliberately designed to circumvent emissions regulations and to falsify exhaust gas tests.

VW had to pay out billions of dollars in compensation as a result of what US prosecutors described as an “appalling” fraud – Climate News Network

For one Greek island the future is green. It’s switching from internal combustion-driven transport to electric vehicles.

LONDON, 12 November, 2020 – Not a lot happens in the winter months on Astypalea, a butterfly-shaped Greek island in the Aegean Sea.

The thousands of summertime tourists have gone: the locals – there are about 1,300 of them – work the land and busy themselves painting their neat white houses and tidying up ready for the next holiday season.

But this year life on the island is set to be a little different.

In what’s considered as a groundbreaking experiment with implications for the battle against climate change, the Greek government has teamed up with the Volkswagen car group to establish a complete system of sustainable energy on Astypalea.

Under the scheme, VW will provide the island with 1,000 of its electric vehicles (EVs), replacing 1,500 internal combustion vehicles.

Police cars, ambulances and the island bus service will all become electric. The more than 70,000 tourists who visit Astypalea each year will be encouraged to hire EVs and electric scooters and motorbikes.

Climate-neutral vision

The Greek government is said to be giving considerable state aid and tax incentives to the project.

“Politics, business and society have a common responsibility to limit climate change”, said Herbert Diess, the VW group CEO.

“Our long-term goal is climate-neutral mobility for everyone – and with the Astypalea project, we will explore how to realise that vision.”

Astypalea, part of the Dodecanese group of islands in the south-east Aegean, is 18 kms long and 12 kms wide at its broadest point.

VW says it will install more than 200 private and public charging points on the island. The government says Astypalea will become a pioneer for sustainable tourism throughout the country.

At present four diesel generators supply the island’s power. Within two years, the government says, Astypalea will become completely self-sufficient in energy, with wind turbines and solar panels replacing the ageing and inefficient generators.

“Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island’s inhabitants”

“Today is a great day for Astypalea and all of Greece”, said Konstantinos Fragogiannis, Greek deputy foreign minister.

“We are launching the first ‘smart green island’ project in our country, which marks a major change in our outlook.

“Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island’s inhabitants. Combined with a pioneering public transport system, we are turning futuristic ideas into reality.”

Tourism plays a central role in the economy of Greece: the country has a population of under 11 million but in recent times more than three times that number have visited each year, putting considerable strain on local infrastructure and on the environment.

Scandal to forget

Many Greek islands suffer severe energy and water shortages during the peak tourist season. Air pollution caused by growing numbers of cruise ships is another problem.

VW says it’s committed to adjusting its production processes in order to meet the challenge of climate change.

The company, considered by some measures to be the world’s biggest car maker, aims to manufacture more than a million electric cars a year by 2025.

In recent days VW announced that Bentley cars – the luxury UK brand now owned by the German carmaker – will cease manufacturing diesel and petrol-driven vehicles by 2030 and concentrate solely on hybrid vehicles and EVs.

The German conglomerate has been struggling to repair its image after a widespread scandal in 2015, when it was forced to admit it had sold nearly 600,000 cars in the US which had been fitted with devices deliberately designed to circumvent emissions regulations and to falsify exhaust gas tests.

VW had to pay out billions of dollars in compensation as a result of what US prosecutors described as an “appalling” fraud – Climate News Network

More avoidable pandemics await a heedless world

There will be more avoidable pandemics, more devastating and lethal, as humans intrude further upon the planet’s forests.

LONDON, 11 November, 2020 − Once again, naturalists have warned that the invasion of wilderness can seriously damage human health: avoidable pandemics − Covid-19 is an instance of a disease transferred from wild mammals to humans − threaten to arrive more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the global economy, and kill more people.

That’s because the odds on even more fearful infections remain very high: the world’s wild mammals could between them be hosts to 1.7 million viruses that have yet to be identified and named. If only a third of them them could infect humans, that’s 540,000 new diseases waiting to happen.

The number could be higher: perhaps 850,000 potential infections lie so far undisturbed, waiting to happen.

A new report by a team of 22 global experts warns that Covid-19 is at least the sixth global health pandemic since the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918: all had their origins in microbes carried by animals, and all were awakened and spread by human interaction with the wilderness.

By July 2020, the coronavirus linked to a market in wild animals in Wuhan in China had spread around the planet at a cost of between US$8 trillion and $16tn. The world has already seen the Ebola virus devastating West African communities, the HIV/Aids epidemic, Zika, and many others claiming lives in the last century.

Wilderness no more

The arrival of new zoonotic diseases − infections caught from other creatures − has been counted at roughly two a year since 1918. The number could increase to as many as five a year. And most of them will be linked to increasing human impact upon what had once been largely undisturbed wilderness.

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic − or of any modern pandemic”, said Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance and chair of a workshop of the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES for short) that assembled the research.

“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics.”

All living things are host to viruses and other microbes: in most cases host and parasite adapt to live peaceably with each other. The danger comes when a microbe transfers to a new host that is entirely unprepared for the invader.

“We still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge. We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a greater focus on prevention”

What became known as the human immuno-deficiency virus HIV-1 is believed to have emerged first in West or Central Africa from the remains of chimpanzees hunted and sold for bushmeat. It spread around the planet within a decade, to claim millions of lives as the disease AIDS. Ebola infects both primates and humans: in an outbreak among humans, it has been known to kill 90% of all infected people.

Researchers have consistently linked epidemic and pandemic outbreaks to climate change, to the destruction and degradation of the wilderness, and to the traffic in wild creatures as objects of value or commerce.

And all are consequences ultimately of exponential growth in human numbers in the last century, a growth that puts ever greater pressure on what had once been largely undisturbed tropical forest, grassland and wetland.

Around a quarter of all wild terrestrial vertebrate species are traded globally. International, legal wildlife trade has increased fivefold in revenue in the last 14 years. It is now worth an estimated $107bn.

The illegal traffic in wildlife could be worth anywhere between $7bn and $23bn annually. The US imports around 10 to 20 million wild animals a year. In China in 2016, what is now called wildlife farming employed 14 million people and generated $77bn in revenue.

Negligible cost

Researchers have already argued that intrusion into what should be protected ecosystems that are home to the shrinking pool of wild birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians − a million species could be nearing global extinction − not only threatens the wellbeing of the planet; it also generates an increasing health hazard.

The latest study lists a range of policy options to reduce the risk of assault by new plagues. These rest upon greater awareness of, and respect for, the natural capital of the wilderness. Conservation of this kind costs money, but at least 100 times less than the toll of successive pandemics likely without a change in human attitudes.

“We have increasing ability to prevent pandemics, but the way we are tackling them right now largely ignores that ability,” Dr Daszak said. “Our approach has effectively stagnated − we still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge, through vaccines and therapeutics.

“We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction.” − Climate News Network

There will be more avoidable pandemics, more devastating and lethal, as humans intrude further upon the planet’s forests.

LONDON, 11 November, 2020 − Once again, naturalists have warned that the invasion of wilderness can seriously damage human health: avoidable pandemics − Covid-19 is an instance of a disease transferred from wild mammals to humans − threaten to arrive more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the global economy, and kill more people.

That’s because the odds on even more fearful infections remain very high: the world’s wild mammals could between them be hosts to 1.7 million viruses that have yet to be identified and named. If only a third of them them could infect humans, that’s 540,000 new diseases waiting to happen.

The number could be higher: perhaps 850,000 potential infections lie so far undisturbed, waiting to happen.

A new report by a team of 22 global experts warns that Covid-19 is at least the sixth global health pandemic since the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918: all had their origins in microbes carried by animals, and all were awakened and spread by human interaction with the wilderness.

By July 2020, the coronavirus linked to a market in wild animals in Wuhan in China had spread around the planet at a cost of between US$8 trillion and $16tn. The world has already seen the Ebola virus devastating West African communities, the HIV/Aids epidemic, Zika, and many others claiming lives in the last century.

Wilderness no more

The arrival of new zoonotic diseases − infections caught from other creatures − has been counted at roughly two a year since 1918. The number could increase to as many as five a year. And most of them will be linked to increasing human impact upon what had once been largely undisturbed wilderness.

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic − or of any modern pandemic”, said Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance and chair of a workshop of the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES for short) that assembled the research.

“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics.”

All living things are host to viruses and other microbes: in most cases host and parasite adapt to live peaceably with each other. The danger comes when a microbe transfers to a new host that is entirely unprepared for the invader.

“We still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge. We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a greater focus on prevention”

What became known as the human immuno-deficiency virus HIV-1 is believed to have emerged first in West or Central Africa from the remains of chimpanzees hunted and sold for bushmeat. It spread around the planet within a decade, to claim millions of lives as the disease AIDS. Ebola infects both primates and humans: in an outbreak among humans, it has been known to kill 90% of all infected people.

Researchers have consistently linked epidemic and pandemic outbreaks to climate change, to the destruction and degradation of the wilderness, and to the traffic in wild creatures as objects of value or commerce.

And all are consequences ultimately of exponential growth in human numbers in the last century, a growth that puts ever greater pressure on what had once been largely undisturbed tropical forest, grassland and wetland.

Around a quarter of all wild terrestrial vertebrate species are traded globally. International, legal wildlife trade has increased fivefold in revenue in the last 14 years. It is now worth an estimated $107bn.

The illegal traffic in wildlife could be worth anywhere between $7bn and $23bn annually. The US imports around 10 to 20 million wild animals a year. In China in 2016, what is now called wildlife farming employed 14 million people and generated $77bn in revenue.

Negligible cost

Researchers have already argued that intrusion into what should be protected ecosystems that are home to the shrinking pool of wild birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians − a million species could be nearing global extinction − not only threatens the wellbeing of the planet; it also generates an increasing health hazard.

The latest study lists a range of policy options to reduce the risk of assault by new plagues. These rest upon greater awareness of, and respect for, the natural capital of the wilderness. Conservation of this kind costs money, but at least 100 times less than the toll of successive pandemics likely without a change in human attitudes.

“We have increasing ability to prevent pandemics, but the way we are tackling them right now largely ignores that ability,” Dr Daszak said. “Our approach has effectively stagnated − we still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge, through vaccines and therapeutics.

“We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction.” − Climate News Network

Scientists’ oath pledges full climate crisis facts

Do you ever feel you can’t share the reality of what you know about the climate crisis? A new scientists’ oath could help.

LONDON, 9 November, 2020 − If you devote your working life to extending what we know about the climate crisis and how we may face it, you can now take a scientists’ oath, a pledge committing you to tell the unvarnished facts: uncompromising public statements explaining how grave the reality is.

Two UK-based groups are urging climate scientists and researchers to promise full disclosure: what their evidence shows, what it requires from them and from the rest of us in our personal lives, coupled with a demand for a matching response from their employers.

The pull-no-punches initiative is the brainchild of Scientists for Global Responsibility and the Rapid Transition Alliance (which helps to fund the Climate News Network). It has a parallel in long-established practice in the medical world: Hippocrates, a physician born in Greece around 2,500 years ago, was known as the Father of Medicine, and many newly-qualified doctors today adopt what is still called the Hippocratic oath, an ethical code designed to guide their professional conduct.

This modern successor, A science oath for the climate: a pledge of scrutiny, integrity and engagement, has already attracted the support of a number of internationally-renowned climate experts. Its language is spare, but its purpose is beyond doubt: those who know what climate change is doing must warn the world:

“Science has no higher purpose than to understand and help maintain the conditions for life to thrive on Earth. We may look beyond our planet with wonder and learn, but this is our only viable home.

Our dwelling though is critically threatened by the loss of the stable climate which has allowed humanity to flourish. We pledge to act in whatever ways we are able, in our lives and work, to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. 

To translate this pledge into a force for real change, we will:

  • explain honestly, clearly and without compromise, what scientific evidence tells us about the seriousness of the climate emergency
  • not second-guess what might seem politically or economically pragmatic when describing the scale and timeframe of action needed to deliver the 1.5°C and 2°C commitments, specified in the Paris Climate Agreement.  And, speak out about what is not compatible with the commitments, or is likely to undermine them
  • to the best of our abilities, and mindful of the urgent need for systemic change, seek to align our own behaviour with the climate targets, and reduce our own personal carbon emissions to demonstrate the possibilities for change. 

With courtesy and firmness, we will hold our professional associations, institutions and employers to these same standards, and invite our colleagues across the scientific community to sign, act on and share this pledge.”

One signatory, Chris Rapley, is well-known for his work in Antarctica and in the communication of climate science. Professor Rapley told the Climate News Network: “The climate crisis is unfolding before us. Our ability to retain some control of our climate destiny is slipping away.

“The climate science community has a duty to speak what it knows in the hope of evoking the necessary scale and pace of societal response. The oath commits us to doing so.”

To see who has already signed the science oath and to add your name click here.

Hippocrates was honoured as the first doctor to distinguish medicine from superstition − no bad example for those working today to convince a hesitant world that there is a vital difference between climate fact and fiction. − Climate News Network

Do you ever feel you can’t share the reality of what you know about the climate crisis? A new scientists’ oath could help.

LONDON, 9 November, 2020 − If you devote your working life to extending what we know about the climate crisis and how we may face it, you can now take a scientists’ oath, a pledge committing you to tell the unvarnished facts: uncompromising public statements explaining how grave the reality is.

Two UK-based groups are urging climate scientists and researchers to promise full disclosure: what their evidence shows, what it requires from them and from the rest of us in our personal lives, coupled with a demand for a matching response from their employers.

The pull-no-punches initiative is the brainchild of Scientists for Global Responsibility and the Rapid Transition Alliance (which helps to fund the Climate News Network). It has a parallel in long-established practice in the medical world: Hippocrates, a physician born in Greece around 2,500 years ago, was known as the Father of Medicine, and many newly-qualified doctors today adopt what is still called the Hippocratic oath, an ethical code designed to guide their professional conduct.

This modern successor, A science oath for the climate: a pledge of scrutiny, integrity and engagement, has already attracted the support of a number of internationally-renowned climate experts. Its language is spare, but its purpose is beyond doubt: those who know what climate change is doing must warn the world:

“Science has no higher purpose than to understand and help maintain the conditions for life to thrive on Earth. We may look beyond our planet with wonder and learn, but this is our only viable home.

Our dwelling though is critically threatened by the loss of the stable climate which has allowed humanity to flourish. We pledge to act in whatever ways we are able, in our lives and work, to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. 

To translate this pledge into a force for real change, we will:

  • explain honestly, clearly and without compromise, what scientific evidence tells us about the seriousness of the climate emergency
  • not second-guess what might seem politically or economically pragmatic when describing the scale and timeframe of action needed to deliver the 1.5°C and 2°C commitments, specified in the Paris Climate Agreement.  And, speak out about what is not compatible with the commitments, or is likely to undermine them
  • to the best of our abilities, and mindful of the urgent need for systemic change, seek to align our own behaviour with the climate targets, and reduce our own personal carbon emissions to demonstrate the possibilities for change. 

With courtesy and firmness, we will hold our professional associations, institutions and employers to these same standards, and invite our colleagues across the scientific community to sign, act on and share this pledge.”

One signatory, Chris Rapley, is well-known for his work in Antarctica and in the communication of climate science. Professor Rapley told the Climate News Network: “The climate crisis is unfolding before us. Our ability to retain some control of our climate destiny is slipping away.

“The climate science community has a duty to speak what it knows in the hope of evoking the necessary scale and pace of societal response. The oath commits us to doing so.”

To see who has already signed the science oath and to add your name click here.

Hippocrates was honoured as the first doctor to distinguish medicine from superstition − no bad example for those working today to convince a hesitant world that there is a vital difference between climate fact and fiction. − Climate News Network

Covid-19’s spread: Into the second lockdown

Parts of the UK are in a second lockdown aimed at stopping Covid-19’s spread. The first one left some useful lessons.

LONDON, 5 November, 2020 − Many countries have tried to arrest Covid-19’s spread by imposing a temporary lockdown on daily life, usually at grave cost to economies and to people across society, and many of them, including parts of the United Kingdom, faced with the pandemic’s second wave, have opted for a second lockdown.

So we’ve been here before. As we tread reluctantly into this renewed attempt to tame the virus, there is some hope that we can use the lessons the first effort taught us.

Just over a month ago the Climate News Network published a highly abridged summary singling out a few of the specific life-saving lessons identified by the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) in its three published briefings on what we can learn so far from our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The RTA argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change).

This update includes three short RTA films, embedded below, which show the reactions and experiences of people who told the Alliance what lessons they had learnt − people not only from the UK itself but from a range of countries, among them France, Sweden, Hong Kong and the US. The Alliance hopes the films “find the balance between hope and realism”.

To see them (each film is from six to nine minutes long), click on the title of the report to which it refers. The text following each film has been added by the Network and is intended to provide a thumbnail sketch.

Looking after each other better

The rules by which we have lived have changed, and we know that our behaviour can change radically overnight, not just incrementally − which the urgency of the climate and extinction crisis means we cannot afford anyway. Governments can find immense sums of money quickly. We need to value the people on whom society depends better than we have − carers, workers in food production and distribution, for example. Covid has traumatised us, but it is also helping us to think in new ways.

More space for people and nature

We do not need to travel so much: working from home is easy for many of us, and so is growing food closer to home. But we need to recognise that while space is essential for our health, it is out of reach for many people on this fast-urbanising planet, and for growing stretches of the natural world. In the UK, and elsewhere, there is a national divide in access to green open space, and to much more of what is essential for a healthy life.

Living with less stuff

We can live well by buying less and making more for ourselves; this way we can even cut our debts. Thinking afresh will help us to survive Covid − and that includes realising that many of us are time-rich. One UK respondent says: “To find that extra six hours down the back of the sofa has been wonderful.” So there are grounds to hope that we may be better prepared for the second lockdown. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

Parts of the UK are in a second lockdown aimed at stopping Covid-19’s spread. The first one left some useful lessons.

LONDON, 5 November, 2020 − Many countries have tried to arrest Covid-19’s spread by imposing a temporary lockdown on daily life, usually at grave cost to economies and to people across society, and many of them, including parts of the United Kingdom, faced with the pandemic’s second wave, have opted for a second lockdown.

So we’ve been here before. As we tread reluctantly into this renewed attempt to tame the virus, there is some hope that we can use the lessons the first effort taught us.

Just over a month ago the Climate News Network published a highly abridged summary singling out a few of the specific life-saving lessons identified by the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) in its three published briefings on what we can learn so far from our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The RTA argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change).

This update includes three short RTA films, embedded below, which show the reactions and experiences of people who told the Alliance what lessons they had learnt − people not only from the UK itself but from a range of countries, among them France, Sweden, Hong Kong and the US. The Alliance hopes the films “find the balance between hope and realism”.

To see them (each film is from six to nine minutes long), click on the title of the report to which it refers. The text following each film has been added by the Network and is intended to provide a thumbnail sketch.

Looking after each other better

The rules by which we have lived have changed, and we know that our behaviour can change radically overnight, not just incrementally − which the urgency of the climate and extinction crisis means we cannot afford anyway. Governments can find immense sums of money quickly. We need to value the people on whom society depends better than we have − carers, workers in food production and distribution, for example. Covid has traumatised us, but it is also helping us to think in new ways.

More space for people and nature

We do not need to travel so much: working from home is easy for many of us, and so is growing food closer to home. But we need to recognise that while space is essential for our health, it is out of reach for many people on this fast-urbanising planet, and for growing stretches of the natural world. In the UK, and elsewhere, there is a national divide in access to green open space, and to much more of what is essential for a healthy life.

Living with less stuff

We can live well by buying less and making more for ourselves; this way we can even cut our debts. Thinking afresh will help us to survive Covid − and that includes realising that many of us are time-rich. One UK respondent says: “To find that extra six hours down the back of the sofa has been wonderful.” So there are grounds to hope that we may be better prepared for the second lockdown. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

Australian forests’ smoke climbed 20 miles in 2019

Blazing Australian forests made their mark high in the stratosphere and cast a cloud that lingered for months.

LONDON, 4 November, 2020 − Australian forests, devoured by devastating wildfires in the last southern hemisphere summer, set a new high − a huge smoke cloud that soared more than 20 miles into the upper atmosphere and stayed there for months.

An international team of scientists reports in the Nature journal Communications Earth and Environment that they tracked the cloud to an altitude of 35 kilometres (21 miles).

They measured it as 1,000 kms (625 miles) across. They followed it around the planet for 66,000 kms (41,010 miles). And they confirm that it remained intact for three months.

This high-flying pollution wasn’t the first such instance: just three times the size of any observed predecessor. Until now the record was held by plumes soaring from forest fires in western Canada in 2017.

Growing intensity

“When I saw the satellite measurement of the smoke plume at 35 kms, it was jaw-dropping. I never would have expected that”, said Adam Bourassa of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, one of the researchers.

“We’re seeing records broken in terms of the impact on the atmosphere from these fires. Knowing that they’re likely to strike more frequently and with more intensity due to climate change, we could end up with a pretty dramatically changed atmosphere.”

A blaze that can make a new cloud 35 kms above its surface is an indicator both of the potential devastation of climate change driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels and of the intricate workings of the biosphere and atmosphere.

After months of desperate drought in 2019, eastern Australia effectively caught fire. Around 110,000 sq kms of bush, forest and grassland went up in smoke: with them went thousands of homes and millions of wild and domestic animals. Altogether 33 people died.

“We’re seeing records broken in terms of the impact on the atmosphere from these fires … we could end up with a pretty dramatically changed atmosphere”

So huge and sustained were the fires, and so dense the smoke, that the fires began to generate their own thunderstorms, known as pyrocumulonimbus, to create powerful updrafts to carry the aerosols and soot far above the flight paths of the highest jet airliners.

Researchers from France, the UK and Canada used sensitive satellite readings to track the sustained smoke signal from a part-incinerated island: at altitude, it was still dense enough to absorb, scatter and weaken the sunlight falling on the Earth below.

“What was also really amazing was that as the smoke sits in the atmosphere, it starts to absorb sunlight and so it starts to heat up,” Professor Bourassa said.

“And then, because it’s getting hotter, it starts to rise in a swirling vortex bubble, and it just rose higher and higher through the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

Blazing Australian forests made their mark high in the stratosphere and cast a cloud that lingered for months.

LONDON, 4 November, 2020 − Australian forests, devoured by devastating wildfires in the last southern hemisphere summer, set a new high − a huge smoke cloud that soared more than 20 miles into the upper atmosphere and stayed there for months.

An international team of scientists reports in the Nature journal Communications Earth and Environment that they tracked the cloud to an altitude of 35 kilometres (21 miles).

They measured it as 1,000 kms (625 miles) across. They followed it around the planet for 66,000 kms (41,010 miles). And they confirm that it remained intact for three months.

This high-flying pollution wasn’t the first such instance: just three times the size of any observed predecessor. Until now the record was held by plumes soaring from forest fires in western Canada in 2017.

Growing intensity

“When I saw the satellite measurement of the smoke plume at 35 kms, it was jaw-dropping. I never would have expected that”, said Adam Bourassa of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, one of the researchers.

“We’re seeing records broken in terms of the impact on the atmosphere from these fires. Knowing that they’re likely to strike more frequently and with more intensity due to climate change, we could end up with a pretty dramatically changed atmosphere.”

A blaze that can make a new cloud 35 kms above its surface is an indicator both of the potential devastation of climate change driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels and of the intricate workings of the biosphere and atmosphere.

After months of desperate drought in 2019, eastern Australia effectively caught fire. Around 110,000 sq kms of bush, forest and grassland went up in smoke: with them went thousands of homes and millions of wild and domestic animals. Altogether 33 people died.

“We’re seeing records broken in terms of the impact on the atmosphere from these fires … we could end up with a pretty dramatically changed atmosphere”

So huge and sustained were the fires, and so dense the smoke, that the fires began to generate their own thunderstorms, known as pyrocumulonimbus, to create powerful updrafts to carry the aerosols and soot far above the flight paths of the highest jet airliners.

Researchers from France, the UK and Canada used sensitive satellite readings to track the sustained smoke signal from a part-incinerated island: at altitude, it was still dense enough to absorb, scatter and weaken the sunlight falling on the Earth below.

“What was also really amazing was that as the smoke sits in the atmosphere, it starts to absorb sunlight and so it starts to heat up,” Professor Bourassa said.

“And then, because it’s getting hotter, it starts to rise in a swirling vortex bubble, and it just rose higher and higher through the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

Rewilded farmland can save money − and the Earth

To save civilisation, try rewilded farmland. But that salvation depends on which land goes back to forest and savannah.

LONDON, 2 November, 2020 − An international consortium of scientists has worked out − once again − how to conserve life on the planet and absorb dramatic quantities of the atmospheric carbon that is driving potentially calamitous climate change: go for rewilded farmland, fields of crops and livestock returned to prairie and forest. And they have identified the most cost-effective way to do it.

Global salvation requires the world’s nations to do simply what they have already undertaken to do: restore 15% of cultivated land to natural forest, grassland, shrubland, wetland and desert ecosystem.

If such restoration happened in the highest priority zones, then almost two-thirds of the wild things now threatened with imminent extinction could survive.

And the restored wilderness that would protect them would also start absorbing atmospheric carbon at an accelerating rate: it could sequester an estimated 229 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). This is almost a third of all the CO2 spilled into the atmosphere by coal, oil and gas combustion in the last 200 years.

All that would be possible if the world’s nations delivered on vows made 10 years ago in Japan, to restore 15% of ecosystems worldwide. If the 196 nations that signed up went further, and restored a carefully chosen 30%, they could save more than 70% of the million or so species sliding towards extinction, and absorb 465 billion tonnes of CO2: almost half of all the extra atmospheric carbon loaded into the atmosphere by human societies since the Industrial Revolution.

Two provisos

“Pushing forward on plans to return significant sweeps of nature to a natural state is critical to preventing ongoing biodiversity and climate crises from spinning out of control,” said Bernado Strassburg, of the Pontifical Catholic University in Brazil, who led the study.

“We show that if we’re smarter about where we restore nature, we can tick the climate, biodiversity and budget boxes on the world’s urgent to-do list.”

There is a catch. To be most effective, and for the lowest costs, nations would have to work together.

Right now, scientists report in the journal Nature, each nation has undertaken to restore 15% of its wilderness. But to save the greatest number of species, and absorb the highest levels of carbon, with the lowest cost to farmland and food security, humankind would have to assess the world as a whole, and restore those ecosystems that would serve the goals most effectively.

There is a second catch: barely a month ago, a UN report confirmed that although 196 nations agreed on 20 targets to protect biodiversity − to be achieved by 2020 − a decade ago, there has been “partial progress” in just six of them. The million species then threatened with extinction are still threatened.

Potential ignored

“Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Nevertheless the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised.”

And that threat starts with the green things on which all life depends: in September, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London published a new study on ways to identify and care for the plants and fungi that underwrite survival for what could be seven million or more species alive on the planet, and more than seven billion humans.

The study, involving 210 scientists in 42 countries, said Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, paints a picture “of a world that has turned its back on the incredible potential of plant and fungal kingdoms to address some of the biggest challenges we face.

“We have particularly earmarked the gaps in our knowledge, the changes we are seeing, the species being named new to science and the shocking pace of biodiversity loss.”

“The rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised”

The most recent finding builds on the drive not just to fulfil the obligations undertaken 10 years ago, but to identify the very best ways to fulfil them, so as to benefit the greatest number of people.

It delivers the evidence that restoration in the most carefully chosen regions would have the most profound impact: put simply, restoration could be 13 times more cost-effective if it happened in what the Nature researchers have identified as the highest priority locations.

They used sophisticated mathematical tools and detailed geographic data to take a closer look at the 28.7 million square kilometres of natural wilderness that have been converted to farmland: 54% of these were originally forest, 25% grasslands, 14% shrublands, 4% arid lands and 2% wetland.

They then tested these areas against three considerations: their value as habitat, their capacity for carbon storage and their cost-effectiveness. And they came up with recommendations that would deliver 91% of the potential benefit for plants and animals of the wilderness and 82% of the climate mitigation benefit, and reduce costs by 27%.

And then they considered the nation-by-nation approach: were each country to restore 15% of its own forests, the biodiversity boon fell by 28%, the climate benefits by 29%, while the costs would rise by 52%.

Vital partnership

They then considered the impact on the world’s food supplies, to find that 15.78 million sq kms, or 55% of wilderness converted to farmland, could be restored without squeezing food supplies, always providing nations encouraged what they call the “sustainable intensification” of farming, along with a reduction in food waste and a move away from meat and dairy products.

The findings simply extend a procession of such outcomes by other teams. It has been a given for decades that, if forest and other ecosystems become farmland, greenhouse gas levels rise. If wilderness is restored, then the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will fall.

Researchers have repeatedly argued that simply planting more trees could have a dramatic impact on global heating; that a switch towards a plant-based diet could help stem biodiversity loss and reduce emissions; and that without concerted global action, precious ecosystems could collapse altogether.

They have over and over again confirmed that conservation delivers real rewards. And they have pointed out that although nations have promised to act, such promises have not always been kept. The latest study highlights the need for action to be concerted, and global.

“These results highlight the critical importance of international co-operation in meeting these goals,” Dr Strassburg said. “Different countries have different, complementary roles to play in meeting overarching global targets on biodiversity and climate.” − Climate News Network

To save civilisation, try rewilded farmland. But that salvation depends on which land goes back to forest and savannah.

LONDON, 2 November, 2020 − An international consortium of scientists has worked out − once again − how to conserve life on the planet and absorb dramatic quantities of the atmospheric carbon that is driving potentially calamitous climate change: go for rewilded farmland, fields of crops and livestock returned to prairie and forest. And they have identified the most cost-effective way to do it.

Global salvation requires the world’s nations to do simply what they have already undertaken to do: restore 15% of cultivated land to natural forest, grassland, shrubland, wetland and desert ecosystem.

If such restoration happened in the highest priority zones, then almost two-thirds of the wild things now threatened with imminent extinction could survive.

And the restored wilderness that would protect them would also start absorbing atmospheric carbon at an accelerating rate: it could sequester an estimated 229 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). This is almost a third of all the CO2 spilled into the atmosphere by coal, oil and gas combustion in the last 200 years.

All that would be possible if the world’s nations delivered on vows made 10 years ago in Japan, to restore 15% of ecosystems worldwide. If the 196 nations that signed up went further, and restored a carefully chosen 30%, they could save more than 70% of the million or so species sliding towards extinction, and absorb 465 billion tonnes of CO2: almost half of all the extra atmospheric carbon loaded into the atmosphere by human societies since the Industrial Revolution.

Two provisos

“Pushing forward on plans to return significant sweeps of nature to a natural state is critical to preventing ongoing biodiversity and climate crises from spinning out of control,” said Bernado Strassburg, of the Pontifical Catholic University in Brazil, who led the study.

“We show that if we’re smarter about where we restore nature, we can tick the climate, biodiversity and budget boxes on the world’s urgent to-do list.”

There is a catch. To be most effective, and for the lowest costs, nations would have to work together.

Right now, scientists report in the journal Nature, each nation has undertaken to restore 15% of its wilderness. But to save the greatest number of species, and absorb the highest levels of carbon, with the lowest cost to farmland and food security, humankind would have to assess the world as a whole, and restore those ecosystems that would serve the goals most effectively.

There is a second catch: barely a month ago, a UN report confirmed that although 196 nations agreed on 20 targets to protect biodiversity − to be achieved by 2020 − a decade ago, there has been “partial progress” in just six of them. The million species then threatened with extinction are still threatened.

Potential ignored

“Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Nevertheless the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised.”

And that threat starts with the green things on which all life depends: in September, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London published a new study on ways to identify and care for the plants and fungi that underwrite survival for what could be seven million or more species alive on the planet, and more than seven billion humans.

The study, involving 210 scientists in 42 countries, said Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, paints a picture “of a world that has turned its back on the incredible potential of plant and fungal kingdoms to address some of the biggest challenges we face.

“We have particularly earmarked the gaps in our knowledge, the changes we are seeing, the species being named new to science and the shocking pace of biodiversity loss.”

“The rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised”

The most recent finding builds on the drive not just to fulfil the obligations undertaken 10 years ago, but to identify the very best ways to fulfil them, so as to benefit the greatest number of people.

It delivers the evidence that restoration in the most carefully chosen regions would have the most profound impact: put simply, restoration could be 13 times more cost-effective if it happened in what the Nature researchers have identified as the highest priority locations.

They used sophisticated mathematical tools and detailed geographic data to take a closer look at the 28.7 million square kilometres of natural wilderness that have been converted to farmland: 54% of these were originally forest, 25% grasslands, 14% shrublands, 4% arid lands and 2% wetland.

They then tested these areas against three considerations: their value as habitat, their capacity for carbon storage and their cost-effectiveness. And they came up with recommendations that would deliver 91% of the potential benefit for plants and animals of the wilderness and 82% of the climate mitigation benefit, and reduce costs by 27%.

And then they considered the nation-by-nation approach: were each country to restore 15% of its own forests, the biodiversity boon fell by 28%, the climate benefits by 29%, while the costs would rise by 52%.

Vital partnership

They then considered the impact on the world’s food supplies, to find that 15.78 million sq kms, or 55% of wilderness converted to farmland, could be restored without squeezing food supplies, always providing nations encouraged what they call the “sustainable intensification” of farming, along with a reduction in food waste and a move away from meat and dairy products.

The findings simply extend a procession of such outcomes by other teams. It has been a given for decades that, if forest and other ecosystems become farmland, greenhouse gas levels rise. If wilderness is restored, then the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will fall.

Researchers have repeatedly argued that simply planting more trees could have a dramatic impact on global heating; that a switch towards a plant-based diet could help stem biodiversity loss and reduce emissions; and that without concerted global action, precious ecosystems could collapse altogether.

They have over and over again confirmed that conservation delivers real rewards. And they have pointed out that although nations have promised to act, such promises have not always been kept. The latest study highlights the need for action to be concerted, and global.

“These results highlight the critical importance of international co-operation in meeting these goals,” Dr Strassburg said. “Different countries have different, complementary roles to play in meeting overarching global targets on biodiversity and climate.” − Climate News Network

Geo-engineering: It’s probably not a good idea

BOOK REVIEW

Skyseed: geo-engineering the planet might be humankind’s last desperate throw, says a tale by a geophysical hazard expert.

LONDON, 30 October, 2020 − There were always three objections to the technofix answer to climate change: that geo-engineeering wouldn’t work, that it would deliver unintended consequences that would be unpredictably distributed, and a third, rarely mentioned: that it might work all too well.

In Bill McGuire’s unexpected eco-thriller Skyseed: Hacking the Earth might be the last thing we ever do it works desperately well. Unexpected is a carefully chosen word: it’s no surprise that scientists can be good writers − I’ve argued elsewhere that they can be better writers than most writers − but the leap from factual analysis to lurid fable is a challenge.

Skyseed has what good thrillers always need, as well as geo-engineering: a world to save, characters with a bit of go in them, some plausible villains, fast-paced action, sustained tension, a big moment of reckoning and (let us be honest) as little preaching as possible.

The story is a simple one of global eco-collapse. Volcanoes are involved, and extreme weather, and ice, but not the outcome that McGuire (a volcanologist who for many years headed research into natural hazards) has spent a working lifetime warning about.

In this book, instead of taking the obvious route and abandoning fossil fuels as an energy source, a bullying, dishonest and unthinking American president, dependent on what is now called “dark money”, with help from a fawning British prime minister sorely in need of a trade deal, decides to contain global heating in a different way.

“The precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible”

The duo authorise a dangerous experiment in geo-engineering, under the cover of some so-called rain-making experiments during high-altitude military flights. That’s mistake one.

Mistake two is that they do it secretly. And they seem to think that a small army of global climate scientists − people whose career is based on sampling the stratospheric atmosphere and matching its chemistry with global temperature levels − won’t notice. And that if they do, these academic busybodies can be rubbed out without anyone else asking awkward questions.

Of course, things go wrong: horribly wrong, and it doesn’t take long for a trio of all-too human scientists, working separately and together, to tumble to the truth. As soon as they start to do so, sinister forces try to contain the secret. Our heroes survive, thanks to fortune, subterfuge and some help with the weather, and come back with the truth: don’t mess with geo-engineering.

In the course of this entertainment, the informed reader could play the game of spot-the-science: quite a lot, actually, but trailed racily and with just enough explanation to keep the story at stampede speed − advanced nano-engineering, upper atmosphere chemistry, volcanic discharges, the interplay of climate change on geological hazard, the advance of an ice front, and so on. You could both enjoy the story and learn a little more about how the planet works.

Not escapist

McGuire poses no great threat to the reputations of Len Deighton, Leslie Charteris and Ian Fleming, but who cares? Their heroes always survived, to begin a new adventure in each successive volume.

In Skyseed, whoever makes it to the last page doesn’t expect to survive for much longer, and − non-spoiler alert − McGuire cheerfully breaks that bit of bad news to the reader in the prologue. You know this one is going to end badly, before it even begins.

A declaration of interest: I know McGuire, professionally, and have done for many years. Another declaration: I can think of less readable books, by vastly better-known popular authors. And a third: the precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible.

That civilisation is threatened, and all too plausibly, by the inexorable increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, unhappily is not. You could call this book a thriller. You could not call it escapist. − Climate News Network

Skyseed: The Book Guild, £8.99. By Bill McGuire

BOOK REVIEW

Skyseed: geo-engineering the planet might be humankind’s last desperate throw, says a tale by a geophysical hazard expert.

LONDON, 30 October, 2020 − There were always three objections to the technofix answer to climate change: that geo-engineeering wouldn’t work, that it would deliver unintended consequences that would be unpredictably distributed, and a third, rarely mentioned: that it might work all too well.

In Bill McGuire’s unexpected eco-thriller Skyseed: Hacking the Earth might be the last thing we ever do it works desperately well. Unexpected is a carefully chosen word: it’s no surprise that scientists can be good writers − I’ve argued elsewhere that they can be better writers than most writers − but the leap from factual analysis to lurid fable is a challenge.

Skyseed has what good thrillers always need, as well as geo-engineering: a world to save, characters with a bit of go in them, some plausible villains, fast-paced action, sustained tension, a big moment of reckoning and (let us be honest) as little preaching as possible.

The story is a simple one of global eco-collapse. Volcanoes are involved, and extreme weather, and ice, but not the outcome that McGuire (a volcanologist who for many years headed research into natural hazards) has spent a working lifetime warning about.

In this book, instead of taking the obvious route and abandoning fossil fuels as an energy source, a bullying, dishonest and unthinking American president, dependent on what is now called “dark money”, with help from a fawning British prime minister sorely in need of a trade deal, decides to contain global heating in a different way.

“The precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible”

The duo authorise a dangerous experiment in geo-engineering, under the cover of some so-called rain-making experiments during high-altitude military flights. That’s mistake one.

Mistake two is that they do it secretly. And they seem to think that a small army of global climate scientists − people whose career is based on sampling the stratospheric atmosphere and matching its chemistry with global temperature levels − won’t notice. And that if they do, these academic busybodies can be rubbed out without anyone else asking awkward questions.

Of course, things go wrong: horribly wrong, and it doesn’t take long for a trio of all-too human scientists, working separately and together, to tumble to the truth. As soon as they start to do so, sinister forces try to contain the secret. Our heroes survive, thanks to fortune, subterfuge and some help with the weather, and come back with the truth: don’t mess with geo-engineering.

In the course of this entertainment, the informed reader could play the game of spot-the-science: quite a lot, actually, but trailed racily and with just enough explanation to keep the story at stampede speed − advanced nano-engineering, upper atmosphere chemistry, volcanic discharges, the interplay of climate change on geological hazard, the advance of an ice front, and so on. You could both enjoy the story and learn a little more about how the planet works.

Not escapist

McGuire poses no great threat to the reputations of Len Deighton, Leslie Charteris and Ian Fleming, but who cares? Their heroes always survived, to begin a new adventure in each successive volume.

In Skyseed, whoever makes it to the last page doesn’t expect to survive for much longer, and − non-spoiler alert − McGuire cheerfully breaks that bit of bad news to the reader in the prologue. You know this one is going to end badly, before it even begins.

A declaration of interest: I know McGuire, professionally, and have done for many years. Another declaration: I can think of less readable books, by vastly better-known popular authors. And a third: the precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible.

That civilisation is threatened, and all too plausibly, by the inexorable increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, unhappily is not. You could call this book a thriller. You could not call it escapist. − Climate News Network

Skyseed: The Book Guild, £8.99. By Bill McGuire