Tag Archives: Deforestation

Biden’s climate summit faces challenge by Brazil

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil is becoming a climate pariah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ecocide alleged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biden’s new direction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ecocide alleged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biden’s new direction

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

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

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

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

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

Human handiwork’s mass exceeds world lifeforms

Human handiwork, all we’ve produced, now outweighs the plants and animals evolved over 3 billion years: a global takeover.

LONDON, 10 December, 2020 − Our domination of the planet may have just reached a new level: human handiwork now probably surpasses all that evolution has placed on the Earth. The mass of all the things made by humans − cities, roads, factories, houses, cars, trains, machines, bricks, concrete, steel, glass, tile, asphalt and so on − may have just overtaken the mass of all the living things on the planet.

Among those living things now being outweighed by buildings and roads are all seven billion-plus people on the planet and all their livestock, their cornfields and rice paddies, orchards and gardens.

This conclusion − open to challenge and difficult to establish with immediate certainty − is a fresh and startling measure of the scale of human change to the planet, and of the speed at which it has happened.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the mass of human-produced infrastructure probably added up to just 3% of the mass of the planet’s living tissue: its forests and savannahs, wetlands and scrub, its mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects and microbes.

But in the course of little more than a century, says a new study in the journal Nature, two things happened. The human population increased fourfold, and with those numbers so did human demand for manufactured things and built objects.

Forests erased

Humans’ demand for farmland has cleared the wilderness and reduced the overall mass of planetary foliage by about half.

Even though humans use ever more land for crops, the mass of those crops is vastly outweighed by the mass of trees and other forest plants cleared to make room for soy, or maize.

Once the planet was home to 2 trillion tonnes, or 2 teratonnes, of natural vegetable life. Now the tally of the green wilderness has been reduced to about 1 teratonne, according to researchers who have embarked on this global accounting of human profit and natural loss.

But the burden of human-fashioned hardware has been growing at around 30 billion tonnes a year, doubled in mass every 20 years or so, and is now estimated at 1.1 teratonnes.

In effect, a species that now numbers about 7.7 bn, and still adds up to only about 0.01% of global biomass, has quarried, mined, and built over so much of the planet that its infrastructure weighs more than the rest of living creation.

“If current trends continue, anthropogenic mass, including waste, is expected to exceed 3 teratonnes [3tn tonnes] by 2040 − almost triple the dry biomass on Earth”

Even the output of the plastics industries, at eight billion tonnes, adds up to more than twice the mass of all the planet’s animals.

Conclusions of this kind rest on how measurements are arrived at. And there is room for error. Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute for Science in Israel and his colleagues settled for estimates of the dry weight of living things − that is, tissue as if without water − and this skews the raw figures, because humans and other animals are around 60% water by weight. If the same estimates were made with wet tissue, then the outcome would be different, but not very different.

If so, Professor Milo and his fellow authors suggest that the great crossover could be happening now, or in the next few years. But equally, human handiwork might already have reached its zenith in the last decade.

Either way, the broad conclusion remains the same. The scale of the takeover of the planet by one species is almost complete, and could be devastating to the rest of the natural world.

“The study provides a sort of ‘big picture’ snapshot of the planet in 2020. This overview can provide a crucial understanding of our major role in shaping the face of the Earth in the current age of the Anthropocene,” Professor Milo said.

“The message to both the policy makers and the general public is that we cannot dismiss our role as a tiny one in comparison to the huge Earth. We are already a major player and I think with that comes a shared responsibility.”

Rollcall of devastation

This study is yet another in a long series that demonstrates the now-overwhelming impact of human handiwork upon the environment in which they evolved. Two years ago Professor Milo and colleagues made estimates of the mass of all things living on planet Earth, and confirmed that humans probably outweighed by a factor of ten the mass of all other living wild mammals.

Another team tried to calculate the mass of the human technosphere − once again, all the things humans have ever made − and reached a figure of 30 trillion tonnes.

In the course of the last century or so, profligate human use of fossil fuels may have precipitated a new climate regime, halted the cycle of Ice Ages and reversed a 50 million-year cooling trend.

Geologists who argue that human handiwork has now shifted the planet into a new geological epoch − one still unofficially known as the Anthropocene − have compiled a devastating catalogue of change to the natural world. Other groups have also highlighted the human appropriation of the planet’s land and water, and its toll upon millions of other species with which humanity shares the sunlight.

Professor Milo and his colleagues settled for a more simple illustration. They reckon that for the last five years, humans have been accumulating anthropogenic mass − roads and buildings − at the rate of 30 billion tonnes a year. This is as if every person on the planet produced more than his or her own bodyweight in tarmac and bricks, cement and steel, every week.

They warn: “If current trends continue, anthropogenic mass, including waste, is expected to exceed 3 teratonnes by 2040 − almost triple the dry biomass on Earth.” − Climate News Network

Human handiwork, all we’ve produced, now outweighs the plants and animals evolved over 3 billion years: a global takeover.

LONDON, 10 December, 2020 − Our domination of the planet may have just reached a new level: human handiwork now probably surpasses all that evolution has placed on the Earth. The mass of all the things made by humans − cities, roads, factories, houses, cars, trains, machines, bricks, concrete, steel, glass, tile, asphalt and so on − may have just overtaken the mass of all the living things on the planet.

Among those living things now being outweighed by buildings and roads are all seven billion-plus people on the planet and all their livestock, their cornfields and rice paddies, orchards and gardens.

This conclusion − open to challenge and difficult to establish with immediate certainty − is a fresh and startling measure of the scale of human change to the planet, and of the speed at which it has happened.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the mass of human-produced infrastructure probably added up to just 3% of the mass of the planet’s living tissue: its forests and savannahs, wetlands and scrub, its mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects and microbes.

But in the course of little more than a century, says a new study in the journal Nature, two things happened. The human population increased fourfold, and with those numbers so did human demand for manufactured things and built objects.

Forests erased

Humans’ demand for farmland has cleared the wilderness and reduced the overall mass of planetary foliage by about half.

Even though humans use ever more land for crops, the mass of those crops is vastly outweighed by the mass of trees and other forest plants cleared to make room for soy, or maize.

Once the planet was home to 2 trillion tonnes, or 2 teratonnes, of natural vegetable life. Now the tally of the green wilderness has been reduced to about 1 teratonne, according to researchers who have embarked on this global accounting of human profit and natural loss.

But the burden of human-fashioned hardware has been growing at around 30 billion tonnes a year, doubled in mass every 20 years or so, and is now estimated at 1.1 teratonnes.

In effect, a species that now numbers about 7.7 bn, and still adds up to only about 0.01% of global biomass, has quarried, mined, and built over so much of the planet that its infrastructure weighs more than the rest of living creation.

“If current trends continue, anthropogenic mass, including waste, is expected to exceed 3 teratonnes [3tn tonnes] by 2040 − almost triple the dry biomass on Earth”

Even the output of the plastics industries, at eight billion tonnes, adds up to more than twice the mass of all the planet’s animals.

Conclusions of this kind rest on how measurements are arrived at. And there is room for error. Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute for Science in Israel and his colleagues settled for estimates of the dry weight of living things − that is, tissue as if without water − and this skews the raw figures, because humans and other animals are around 60% water by weight. If the same estimates were made with wet tissue, then the outcome would be different, but not very different.

If so, Professor Milo and his fellow authors suggest that the great crossover could be happening now, or in the next few years. But equally, human handiwork might already have reached its zenith in the last decade.

Either way, the broad conclusion remains the same. The scale of the takeover of the planet by one species is almost complete, and could be devastating to the rest of the natural world.

“The study provides a sort of ‘big picture’ snapshot of the planet in 2020. This overview can provide a crucial understanding of our major role in shaping the face of the Earth in the current age of the Anthropocene,” Professor Milo said.

“The message to both the policy makers and the general public is that we cannot dismiss our role as a tiny one in comparison to the huge Earth. We are already a major player and I think with that comes a shared responsibility.”

Rollcall of devastation

This study is yet another in a long series that demonstrates the now-overwhelming impact of human handiwork upon the environment in which they evolved. Two years ago Professor Milo and colleagues made estimates of the mass of all things living on planet Earth, and confirmed that humans probably outweighed by a factor of ten the mass of all other living wild mammals.

Another team tried to calculate the mass of the human technosphere − once again, all the things humans have ever made − and reached a figure of 30 trillion tonnes.

In the course of the last century or so, profligate human use of fossil fuels may have precipitated a new climate regime, halted the cycle of Ice Ages and reversed a 50 million-year cooling trend.

Geologists who argue that human handiwork has now shifted the planet into a new geological epoch − one still unofficially known as the Anthropocene − have compiled a devastating catalogue of change to the natural world. Other groups have also highlighted the human appropriation of the planet’s land and water, and its toll upon millions of other species with which humanity shares the sunlight.

Professor Milo and his colleagues settled for a more simple illustration. They reckon that for the last five years, humans have been accumulating anthropogenic mass − roads and buildings − at the rate of 30 billion tonnes a year. This is as if every person on the planet produced more than his or her own bodyweight in tarmac and bricks, cement and steel, every week.

They warn: “If current trends continue, anthropogenic mass, including waste, is expected to exceed 3 teratonnes by 2040 − almost triple the dry biomass on Earth.” − Climate News Network

Food system causes one third of greenhouse gases

How we eat causes dangerous climate heating. It’s time to change not only our diet, but the entire global food system.

LONDON, 13 November, 2020 − If the nations of the world really want to limit climate change to the level agreed five years ago, it will not be enough to immediately abandon fossil fuels as the principal source of energy: the global food system demands radical overhaul.

Humans will have to make dramatic changes to every aspect of agriculture worldwide, to planetary diet and to much else besides.

That is because the global food system − everything from clearing land and felling forests for cattle ranches to the arrival of meat and two vegetables on a suburban family dinner plate − accounts for 30% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And to contain global heating later this century to no more than 1.5°C above the levels that existed before the Industrial Revolution, urgent action is needed.

In Paris in 2015, 195 nations undertook to limit the planetary thermometer rise to “well below” 2°C. The undeclared target was 1.5°C. In the last century, the global temperature has already risen by 1°C, and at the present rate it’s heading for a potentially catastrophic 3°C or more rise by around 2100.

“Food is a much greater contributor to climate change than is widely known”

British and US scientists report in the journal Science that they looked at the challenge of feeding a global population that has almost trebled in one human lifetime, and could reach 9bn or even 10bn later this century.

They found that the greenhouse gas emissions from food production alone would by 2050 take the world to the 1.5°C target, and to 2°C by the end of the century.

In just the five years that separated 2010 from 2017, the global food system accounted for an average of 16 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in emissions each year. If humans go on pursuing business as usual, then the cumulative emissions from the food system could add up to 1,365 billion tonnes.

Emissions on that scale from the food system alone would take the planet past the preferred 1.5°C limit some time between 2051 and 2063, and reach the 2°C limit by 2100.

Remedies at hand

“Food is a much greater contributor to climate change than is widely known,” said Jason Hill, of the University of Minnesota, and one of the authors. “Fortunately, we can fix this problem by using fertiliser more efficiently, by eating less meat and more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, and by making other important changes to our food system.”

The finding should come as no great surprise: global heating is driven by more than simply the return of carbon dioxide fossilised 300 million years ago as coal, oil and natural gas to the atmosphere with every touch of the accelerator, with every jet plane take-off, with every ignition of the electric light, the air conditioning system and the heating, and every turn of industrial machinery around the planet.

It is also fuelled by the devastating clearance of natural forest, grassland and marsh for grazing land or plantation, and the conversion of natural canopy to fodder crops to nourish the world’s domestic cattle and sheep.

Researchers have repeatedly pointed out that even a relatively simple shift to greater reliance on a plant diet could save on carbon emissions, protect the million or so species threatened with imminent extinction, and improve global health, all at the same time.

Multiple benefits

So the latest study offers a new way of spelling out the scale of the problem − a global challenge that could be resolved by concerted and coherent international action.

The researchers identified five strategies that, they believe, could both help limit climate change and improve human health, enhance air quality, reduce water pollution, slow extinction rates and make farms more profitable.

The challenge is to increase crop yields per hectare, reduce food waste, improve farm efficiency and switch to healthy calorie supplies based increasingly on plant crops.

“Even partially adopting several of these five changes would solve this problem as long as we start right now,” said David Tilman, another author, and an ecologist at the university’s College of Biological Sciences. − Climate News Network

How we eat causes dangerous climate heating. It’s time to change not only our diet, but the entire global food system.

LONDON, 13 November, 2020 − If the nations of the world really want to limit climate change to the level agreed five years ago, it will not be enough to immediately abandon fossil fuels as the principal source of energy: the global food system demands radical overhaul.

Humans will have to make dramatic changes to every aspect of agriculture worldwide, to planetary diet and to much else besides.

That is because the global food system − everything from clearing land and felling forests for cattle ranches to the arrival of meat and two vegetables on a suburban family dinner plate − accounts for 30% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And to contain global heating later this century to no more than 1.5°C above the levels that existed before the Industrial Revolution, urgent action is needed.

In Paris in 2015, 195 nations undertook to limit the planetary thermometer rise to “well below” 2°C. The undeclared target was 1.5°C. In the last century, the global temperature has already risen by 1°C, and at the present rate it’s heading for a potentially catastrophic 3°C or more rise by around 2100.

“Food is a much greater contributor to climate change than is widely known”

British and US scientists report in the journal Science that they looked at the challenge of feeding a global population that has almost trebled in one human lifetime, and could reach 9bn or even 10bn later this century.

They found that the greenhouse gas emissions from food production alone would by 2050 take the world to the 1.5°C target, and to 2°C by the end of the century.

In just the five years that separated 2010 from 2017, the global food system accounted for an average of 16 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in emissions each year. If humans go on pursuing business as usual, then the cumulative emissions from the food system could add up to 1,365 billion tonnes.

Emissions on that scale from the food system alone would take the planet past the preferred 1.5°C limit some time between 2051 and 2063, and reach the 2°C limit by 2100.

Remedies at hand

“Food is a much greater contributor to climate change than is widely known,” said Jason Hill, of the University of Minnesota, and one of the authors. “Fortunately, we can fix this problem by using fertiliser more efficiently, by eating less meat and more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, and by making other important changes to our food system.”

The finding should come as no great surprise: global heating is driven by more than simply the return of carbon dioxide fossilised 300 million years ago as coal, oil and natural gas to the atmosphere with every touch of the accelerator, with every jet plane take-off, with every ignition of the electric light, the air conditioning system and the heating, and every turn of industrial machinery around the planet.

It is also fuelled by the devastating clearance of natural forest, grassland and marsh for grazing land or plantation, and the conversion of natural canopy to fodder crops to nourish the world’s domestic cattle and sheep.

Researchers have repeatedly pointed out that even a relatively simple shift to greater reliance on a plant diet could save on carbon emissions, protect the million or so species threatened with imminent extinction, and improve global health, all at the same time.

Multiple benefits

So the latest study offers a new way of spelling out the scale of the problem − a global challenge that could be resolved by concerted and coherent international action.

The researchers identified five strategies that, they believe, could both help limit climate change and improve human health, enhance air quality, reduce water pollution, slow extinction rates and make farms more profitable.

The challenge is to increase crop yields per hectare, reduce food waste, improve farm efficiency and switch to healthy calorie supplies based increasingly on plant crops.

“Even partially adopting several of these five changes would solve this problem as long as we start right now,” said David Tilman, another author, and an ecologist at the university’s College of Biological Sciences. − Climate News Network


Europe warns of Brazilian trade boycott over fires

Appalled by more forest loss and worse wildfires, eight European countries warn of a possible Brazilian trade boycott.

SÃO PAULO, 21 September, 2020 − There was international concern over the forest fires which swept the Amazon last year. This year’s devastation looks set to be still more severe. And it won’t go without vigorous protest, and possible action: a Brazilian trade boycott.

Six EU countries and the UK have sent an open letter to the Brazilian government protesting at Brazil’s environmental policy and threatening a boycott.

Fires in two of Brazil’s most important biomes (areas of the Earth  that can be classified according to the plants and animals that live in them), the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands area, have reached record numbers of fires.

The seven countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom), are signatories to the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, set up in 2015 to ensure sustainable commodity supply chains. Their focus is on deforestation and sustainable palm oil.

Worse than 2019

Their letter (which is supported by a non-member of the Partnership, Belgium) was prompted by evidence that this year’s fires in the Amazon are going to be even worse than those last year, which led to worldwide protests against the Brazilian government. In the first two weeks of September 2020 more fires have been recorded than during the entire month of September last year.

In addition, not only is the Amazon burning: the Pantanal is also seeing a record number of fires. An area the size of Belgium (almost 3 million hectares) has already been burnt. The Pantanal is a wildlife sanctuary, and untold millions of animals, birds and reptiles have been burned to death or have died from smoke inhalation, in what is probably one of the worst-ever extinctions of wildlife.

The fires in the Pantanal have been facilitated by an unprecedented drought, leaving rivers and streams dry, but police are investigating evidence that they were started deliberately by farmers seeking more grassland for their cattle. The Pantanal is also home to millions of cattle.

The letter’s signatories express alarm at the growth in deforestation which has led to the fires, pointing out that in the past Brazil successfully expanded agricultural production while reducing forest clearing.

Supermarkets intervene

“There is growing concern among consumers, companies, investors and European civil society about the present rates of deforestation”, they say.

Recently two of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains, Edeka and Lidl, asked the German government to put pressure on Brazil to reduce deforestation.

For Marcio Astrini, of the Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory, the letter will influence the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which still has to be ratified by most European parliaments.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology, which favours environmental crime in detriment to productive forces and the comparative advantages which Brazil enjoyed”, he said.

Global protest

President Bolsonaro and his ministers, who against all the evidence continue to deny the severity of the fires in the Amazon, downplayed the importance of the letter, dismissing it as a “trade strategy” of the Europeans.

But it is not only the Europeans who are worried about what’s happening in the Amazon. A few days ago 230 agribusiness companies and NGOs joined forces to present the government with a list of proposals for ending deforestation (in Brazilian Portuguese)

The group, which includes WWF Brazil, the World Resources Institute, Imazon and Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), as well as some of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, like Bayer, Danone, Unilever, Natura, JBS, Marfrig and Amaggi, says that a rapid decrease in deforestation is fundamental, not only for environmental but for economic reasons too.

It wants a return to regular monitoring and application of fines for illegal clearing, which the Bolsonaro government has effectively sabotaged by cutting funds for environmental agencies.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology”

It says access to official funds should be conditional upon socio-environmental criteria, and attempts by private landowners to declare themselves owners of areas located within protected public lands should be stopped.

In other words, what it is demanding is not rocket science, but the enforcement of existing laws, instead of the illegality which the Bolsonaro government has indirectly encouraged.

Neither the Amazon nor the Pantanal, both humid areas, catches fire spontaneously. Huge areas illegally cleared last year are being set on fire to prepare the land for farming. Trees were felled en masse by big chains stretched between tractors that topple everything in their path.

This year the felled vegetation is being burned to clear the land for cattle or soy. Between January 2019 and April 2020 an area of over 4,500 sq kms of Amazon forest was cleared.

Catastrophe foretold

The fires spread easily because of tinder-dry conditions, and because the environment ministry failed to release funds for firefighting until the dry season was well under way.

There were warnings. In June IPAM declared that the deforestation of the last year and a half in the Amazon could herald a catastrophe in the region. “If 100% is burnt, an unprecedented health calamity will add to the effects of Covid-19”, it said.

The fires have covered towns and cities in the Amazon with huge clouds of sooty smoke, leading to thousands of people, including babies and small children, being hospitalised for breathing problems, as reported in a study published by Human Rights Watch, IPAM and IPES (the Health Policies Study Institute), on 26 August.

The fires’ impact is not confined to the Amazon region: black clouds of sooty particles are spreading south and are expected to reach São Paulo, Brazil’s major metropolis, within a few days. Pressure for a Brazilian trade boycott is liable to intensify. − Climate News Network

Appalled by more forest loss and worse wildfires, eight European countries warn of a possible Brazilian trade boycott.

SÃO PAULO, 21 September, 2020 − There was international concern over the forest fires which swept the Amazon last year. This year’s devastation looks set to be still more severe. And it won’t go without vigorous protest, and possible action: a Brazilian trade boycott.

Six EU countries and the UK have sent an open letter to the Brazilian government protesting at Brazil’s environmental policy and threatening a boycott.

Fires in two of Brazil’s most important biomes (areas of the Earth  that can be classified according to the plants and animals that live in them), the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands area, have reached record numbers of fires.

The seven countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom), are signatories to the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, set up in 2015 to ensure sustainable commodity supply chains. Their focus is on deforestation and sustainable palm oil.

Worse than 2019

Their letter (which is supported by a non-member of the Partnership, Belgium) was prompted by evidence that this year’s fires in the Amazon are going to be even worse than those last year, which led to worldwide protests against the Brazilian government. In the first two weeks of September 2020 more fires have been recorded than during the entire month of September last year.

In addition, not only is the Amazon burning: the Pantanal is also seeing a record number of fires. An area the size of Belgium (almost 3 million hectares) has already been burnt. The Pantanal is a wildlife sanctuary, and untold millions of animals, birds and reptiles have been burned to death or have died from smoke inhalation, in what is probably one of the worst-ever extinctions of wildlife.

The fires in the Pantanal have been facilitated by an unprecedented drought, leaving rivers and streams dry, but police are investigating evidence that they were started deliberately by farmers seeking more grassland for their cattle. The Pantanal is also home to millions of cattle.

The letter’s signatories express alarm at the growth in deforestation which has led to the fires, pointing out that in the past Brazil successfully expanded agricultural production while reducing forest clearing.

Supermarkets intervene

“There is growing concern among consumers, companies, investors and European civil society about the present rates of deforestation”, they say.

Recently two of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains, Edeka and Lidl, asked the German government to put pressure on Brazil to reduce deforestation.

For Marcio Astrini, of the Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory, the letter will influence the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which still has to be ratified by most European parliaments.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology, which favours environmental crime in detriment to productive forces and the comparative advantages which Brazil enjoyed”, he said.

Global protest

President Bolsonaro and his ministers, who against all the evidence continue to deny the severity of the fires in the Amazon, downplayed the importance of the letter, dismissing it as a “trade strategy” of the Europeans.

But it is not only the Europeans who are worried about what’s happening in the Amazon. A few days ago 230 agribusiness companies and NGOs joined forces to present the government with a list of proposals for ending deforestation (in Brazilian Portuguese)

The group, which includes WWF Brazil, the World Resources Institute, Imazon and Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), as well as some of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, like Bayer, Danone, Unilever, Natura, JBS, Marfrig and Amaggi, says that a rapid decrease in deforestation is fundamental, not only for environmental but for economic reasons too.

It wants a return to regular monitoring and application of fines for illegal clearing, which the Bolsonaro government has effectively sabotaged by cutting funds for environmental agencies.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology”

It says access to official funds should be conditional upon socio-environmental criteria, and attempts by private landowners to declare themselves owners of areas located within protected public lands should be stopped.

In other words, what it is demanding is not rocket science, but the enforcement of existing laws, instead of the illegality which the Bolsonaro government has indirectly encouraged.

Neither the Amazon nor the Pantanal, both humid areas, catches fire spontaneously. Huge areas illegally cleared last year are being set on fire to prepare the land for farming. Trees were felled en masse by big chains stretched between tractors that topple everything in their path.

This year the felled vegetation is being burned to clear the land for cattle or soy. Between January 2019 and April 2020 an area of over 4,500 sq kms of Amazon forest was cleared.

Catastrophe foretold

The fires spread easily because of tinder-dry conditions, and because the environment ministry failed to release funds for firefighting until the dry season was well under way.

There were warnings. In June IPAM declared that the deforestation of the last year and a half in the Amazon could herald a catastrophe in the region. “If 100% is burnt, an unprecedented health calamity will add to the effects of Covid-19”, it said.

The fires have covered towns and cities in the Amazon with huge clouds of sooty smoke, leading to thousands of people, including babies and small children, being hospitalised for breathing problems, as reported in a study published by Human Rights Watch, IPAM and IPES (the Health Policies Study Institute), on 26 August.

The fires’ impact is not confined to the Amazon region: black clouds of sooty particles are spreading south and are expected to reach São Paulo, Brazil’s major metropolis, within a few days. Pressure for a Brazilian trade boycott is liable to intensify. − Climate News Network

New Brazilian map unmasks its illegal foresters

Those who illegally clear protected forests for profitable soy and beef exports are now revealed by a new Brazilian map.

LONDON, 22 July, 2020 – Europe’s shoppers should have a bone to pick with Brazil: at a conservative estimate, one fifth of its beef and animal feed exports to the European Union are tainted by the illegal destruction of the nation’s rainforest and savannah woodland, a new Brazilian map reveals.

Researchers report in the journal Science that they painstakingly compiled a map of the boundaries of 815,000 farms, plantations, ranches and other rural properties to identify those that did not comply with the nation’s Forest Code, designed to protect native biodiversity, and those that had cleared forest illegally.

Just 2% of these properties were responsible, they found, for 62% of illegal forest destruction in the Amazon and the Cerrado regions, and much of this destruction was linked to agricultural exports.

They think that 22% of the soy harvest and more than 60% of the beef exported to the European Union each year could be contaminated by illegal destruction of natural wilderness the Forest Code law was designed to help protect.

“Now Brazil has the information, it needs to take swift and decisive action to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse”

“Until now, agribusiness and the Brazilian government have claimed they cannot monitor the entire supply chain, nor distinguish legal from illegal deforestation,” said Raoni Rajão, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

“Not any more. We used freely available maps and data to reveal the specific farmers and ranchers clearing forests to produce soy and beef ultimately destined for Europe.

“Now Brazil has the information, it needs to take swift and decisive action against these rule-breakers to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse.”

Right now Brazil is losing its native wilderness at the rate of a million hectares a year. This is the highest in a decade. A million hectares is 10,000 sq kms, an area bigger than the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Brazil’s Forest Code has been around for more than 50 years but revised and updated much more recently.

Brazil is one of the world’s great agricultural nations, and the biggest producer of soy – often as fodder for pigs and chickens in Europe and Asia – in the world.

Worsened under Bolsonaro

Of the 4.1 million head of cattle sent to slaughterhouses, at least 500,000 come from properties that may have illegally destroyed forest. Altogether 60% of all slaughtered animals could carry with them the taint of illegal deforestation. The EU imports 189,000 tonnes of Brazilian beef a year.

Although much of the Amazon and the Cerrado wilderness enjoys formal protection, levels of destruction have increased under the government led by Jair Bolsonaro and some of the protections have since been weakened.

Earlier this year, the scale of damage linked to drought, forest fire, climate change and illegal destruction led scientists to wonder aloud if the devastation was irretrievable.

Meanwhile, sustainable agriculture has become a key tenet in the EU’s so-called Green New Deal and an instance of concern that greenhouse gas emissions from forest clearing and forest fires in Brazil could cancel EU efforts to mitigate climate change.

Breaking point

European consumers and their suppliers have separately begun to worry about the global costs of agriculture at home and abroad.

The Science study, provocatively headlined “The rotten apples of Brazil’s agribusiness”, is likely to increase Europe-wide awareness of the neglect of legislation still nominally enforceable, and of the latest disregard of environmental protection intended to stop illegal forest destruction.

“Brazil’s forests are at breaking point,” said Britaldo Soares-Filho, another of the authors, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.

“It’s critical for Europe to use its trade might and purchasing power to help roll back this tragic dismantling of Brazil’s environmental protection, which has implications for the global climate, local people and the country’s valued ecosystem services.” – Climate News Network

Those who illegally clear protected forests for profitable soy and beef exports are now revealed by a new Brazilian map.

LONDON, 22 July, 2020 – Europe’s shoppers should have a bone to pick with Brazil: at a conservative estimate, one fifth of its beef and animal feed exports to the European Union are tainted by the illegal destruction of the nation’s rainforest and savannah woodland, a new Brazilian map reveals.

Researchers report in the journal Science that they painstakingly compiled a map of the boundaries of 815,000 farms, plantations, ranches and other rural properties to identify those that did not comply with the nation’s Forest Code, designed to protect native biodiversity, and those that had cleared forest illegally.

Just 2% of these properties were responsible, they found, for 62% of illegal forest destruction in the Amazon and the Cerrado regions, and much of this destruction was linked to agricultural exports.

They think that 22% of the soy harvest and more than 60% of the beef exported to the European Union each year could be contaminated by illegal destruction of natural wilderness the Forest Code law was designed to help protect.

“Now Brazil has the information, it needs to take swift and decisive action to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse”

“Until now, agribusiness and the Brazilian government have claimed they cannot monitor the entire supply chain, nor distinguish legal from illegal deforestation,” said Raoni Rajão, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

“Not any more. We used freely available maps and data to reveal the specific farmers and ranchers clearing forests to produce soy and beef ultimately destined for Europe.

“Now Brazil has the information, it needs to take swift and decisive action against these rule-breakers to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse.”

Right now Brazil is losing its native wilderness at the rate of a million hectares a year. This is the highest in a decade. A million hectares is 10,000 sq kms, an area bigger than the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Brazil’s Forest Code has been around for more than 50 years but revised and updated much more recently.

Brazil is one of the world’s great agricultural nations, and the biggest producer of soy – often as fodder for pigs and chickens in Europe and Asia – in the world.

Worsened under Bolsonaro

Of the 4.1 million head of cattle sent to slaughterhouses, at least 500,000 come from properties that may have illegally destroyed forest. Altogether 60% of all slaughtered animals could carry with them the taint of illegal deforestation. The EU imports 189,000 tonnes of Brazilian beef a year.

Although much of the Amazon and the Cerrado wilderness enjoys formal protection, levels of destruction have increased under the government led by Jair Bolsonaro and some of the protections have since been weakened.

Earlier this year, the scale of damage linked to drought, forest fire, climate change and illegal destruction led scientists to wonder aloud if the devastation was irretrievable.

Meanwhile, sustainable agriculture has become a key tenet in the EU’s so-called Green New Deal and an instance of concern that greenhouse gas emissions from forest clearing and forest fires in Brazil could cancel EU efforts to mitigate climate change.

Breaking point

European consumers and their suppliers have separately begun to worry about the global costs of agriculture at home and abroad.

The Science study, provocatively headlined “The rotten apples of Brazil’s agribusiness”, is likely to increase Europe-wide awareness of the neglect of legislation still nominally enforceable, and of the latest disregard of environmental protection intended to stop illegal forest destruction.

“Brazil’s forests are at breaking point,” said Britaldo Soares-Filho, another of the authors, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.

“It’s critical for Europe to use its trade might and purchasing power to help roll back this tragic dismantling of Brazil’s environmental protection, which has implications for the global climate, local people and the country’s valued ecosystem services.” – Climate News Network

Threatened mangrove forests won’t protect coasts

Rising tides driven by global heating could swamp the mangrove forests – bad news for the natural world, and for humans.

LONDON, 17 June, 2020 – If sea levels go on rising at ever higher rates, then by 2050 the world’s mangrove forests could be obliterated, drowned by rising tides.

Mangrove forests cover between 140,000 and 200,000 square kilometres of the intertidal zones that fringe more than 100 tropical and subtropical countries, and have become among the richest ecosystems of the planet.

They are estimated to store at least 30 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon each year, and a couple of sq kms of this saltwater forest can harbour nursery space for what could become 100 tonnes of commercial fish catch every year.

They also provide shelter for a huge range of creatures, including an estimated 500 Bengal tigers in the vast Sundarbans mangrove forests along the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta.

And while most of the 80 or so species of mangrove tree can keep up with an annual sea level rise of around 5mm a year, they seem unlikely, on evidence from the past, to be able to survive a 10mm rise. Right now, the world is heading for the higher end of the scale.

Sheltering people

A second and separate study finds that, importantly for humans, along with coral reefs, the mangrove forests provide vital natural protection from tropical storms for 31 million very vulnerable people in North and Central America and the crowded archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Researchers from Australia, China, Singapore and the US report in the journal Science that they looked at the evidence locked in the sediments in 78 locations from the last 10,000 years, to work out how mangrove forests have – through the millennia – responded to changes in sea level.

At the close of the last ice age, sea levels rose at 10mm a year and slowed to nearly stable conditions 4000 years ago.

In a high emissions scenario, by 2050 sea level rise would exceed 6mm: the scientists found a 90% probability that mangroves would not be able to grow fast enough to keep up. Nor – because of the development of coastal settlements worldwide – would the forests be able to shift inland.

“Simply put, it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall”

“This research therefore highlights yet another compelling reason why countries must take urgent action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Benjamin Horton of Nanyang Technical University in Singapore., one of the researchers.

“Mangroves are among the most valuable of natural ecosystems, supporting coastal fisheries and biodiversity, while protecting shorelines from wave and storm attack across the tropics.”

As so often happens in research, confirmatory evidence of the importance of mangroves had been published only days earlier, in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

US researchers found that – in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, off the coasts of east Africa and in the Indo-Pacific – a total of 30.9 million people lived in regions vulnerable to powerful tropical storms such as Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Harvey.

Of these, more than 8 million people were offered severe weather protection by shoreline mangrove forests and coral reefs, both of which absorb wave energy, reduce wave heights and keep coastal settlements safer.

Not enough protection

But only 38% of mangroves and 11% of coral reefs along the vulnerable coastlines are protected, they found.

A 100-metre screen of shoreline mangrove forest can reduce wave heights by as much as two-thirds. By 2100, coastal floods could be costing the world’s nations US$1 trillion a year in economic damage.

Geographers have argued for decades that natural protection is the most efficient way of saving lives and settlements from the storm surges and flooding associated with tropical cyclone extremes.

“Simply put”, said Holly Jones of Northern Illinois University, who led the research, “it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall.” – Climate News Network

Rising tides driven by global heating could swamp the mangrove forests – bad news for the natural world, and for humans.

LONDON, 17 June, 2020 – If sea levels go on rising at ever higher rates, then by 2050 the world’s mangrove forests could be obliterated, drowned by rising tides.

Mangrove forests cover between 140,000 and 200,000 square kilometres of the intertidal zones that fringe more than 100 tropical and subtropical countries, and have become among the richest ecosystems of the planet.

They are estimated to store at least 30 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon each year, and a couple of sq kms of this saltwater forest can harbour nursery space for what could become 100 tonnes of commercial fish catch every year.

They also provide shelter for a huge range of creatures, including an estimated 500 Bengal tigers in the vast Sundarbans mangrove forests along the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta.

And while most of the 80 or so species of mangrove tree can keep up with an annual sea level rise of around 5mm a year, they seem unlikely, on evidence from the past, to be able to survive a 10mm rise. Right now, the world is heading for the higher end of the scale.

Sheltering people

A second and separate study finds that, importantly for humans, along with coral reefs, the mangrove forests provide vital natural protection from tropical storms for 31 million very vulnerable people in North and Central America and the crowded archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Researchers from Australia, China, Singapore and the US report in the journal Science that they looked at the evidence locked in the sediments in 78 locations from the last 10,000 years, to work out how mangrove forests have – through the millennia – responded to changes in sea level.

At the close of the last ice age, sea levels rose at 10mm a year and slowed to nearly stable conditions 4000 years ago.

In a high emissions scenario, by 2050 sea level rise would exceed 6mm: the scientists found a 90% probability that mangroves would not be able to grow fast enough to keep up. Nor – because of the development of coastal settlements worldwide – would the forests be able to shift inland.

“Simply put, it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall”

“This research therefore highlights yet another compelling reason why countries must take urgent action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Benjamin Horton of Nanyang Technical University in Singapore., one of the researchers.

“Mangroves are among the most valuable of natural ecosystems, supporting coastal fisheries and biodiversity, while protecting shorelines from wave and storm attack across the tropics.”

As so often happens in research, confirmatory evidence of the importance of mangroves had been published only days earlier, in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

US researchers found that – in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, off the coasts of east Africa and in the Indo-Pacific – a total of 30.9 million people lived in regions vulnerable to powerful tropical storms such as Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Harvey.

Of these, more than 8 million people were offered severe weather protection by shoreline mangrove forests and coral reefs, both of which absorb wave energy, reduce wave heights and keep coastal settlements safer.

Not enough protection

But only 38% of mangroves and 11% of coral reefs along the vulnerable coastlines are protected, they found.

A 100-metre screen of shoreline mangrove forest can reduce wave heights by as much as two-thirds. By 2100, coastal floods could be costing the world’s nations US$1 trillion a year in economic damage.

Geographers have argued for decades that natural protection is the most efficient way of saving lives and settlements from the storm surges and flooding associated with tropical cyclone extremes.

“Simply put”, said Holly Jones of Northern Illinois University, who led the research, “it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall.” – Climate News Network

UK food giants mull Brazil boycott to protect forests

UK supermarkets are considering a Brazil boycott, an end to purchases of its food to try to save its forests.

SÃO PAULO, 1 June, 2020 − The UK’s leading supermarkets are threatening a Brazil boycott in an attempt to protect the Amazon and slow the loss of its forests.

Their move has led the Brazilian Congress to postpone the reading of a bill supported by the president, Jair Bolsonaro, which is widely seen as a green light for more Amazon destruction.

Over 40 companies, including Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons, Lidl, Asda, and Marks & Spencer, signed the open letter containing the protest, as well as the Swedish pension fund AP7 and the Norwegian asset manager Storebrand.

The letter, published by the Retail Soy Group, says: “Should the measure pass, it would encourage further land grabbing and widespread deforestation which would jeopardise the survival of the Amazon and meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and undermine the rights of indigenous and traditional communities.

“We believe that it would also put at risk the ability of organisations such as ours to continue sourcing from Brazil in the future.

Climate regulation

“We urge the Brazilian government to reconsider its stance and hope to continue working with partners in Brazil to demonstrate that economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.”

The letter also outlines the importance of the Amazon for the environment, highlighting its role in regulating the global climate.

The Imazon Institute, a leading Brazilian NGO, estimates that, if passed, the bill would lead to an increase in deforestation of between 4000-6000 sq. miles (11 to 16,000 sq. kms).

The bill was originally presented to congress by President Bolsonaro as an executive order, Medida Provisoria No.910. Due to widespread protests in Brazil, its more outrageous provisions – which had led to it being dubbed “the landgrabbers’ charter” – were watered down, and it became a bill, No. 2633/5, due for reading two weeks ago.

“Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate”

After the speaker of the chamber of deputies, Rodrigo Maia, received the supermarkets’ letter, and letters from UK and European MPs, expressing concern about the preservation of the Amazon, he postponed the reading: a new date has yet to be set.

The European Parliament still has to approve a proposed trade deal between the European Union and the countries of the Mercosul block (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and the question of the Amazon could prove an obstacle here.

The government’s attempt to undo environmental protections and open up public lands to deforestation, and eventually to soy and cattle production, became clear when the video of a cabinet meeting held on 22 April was made public a few days ago, following a Supreme Court order to investigate allegations of presidential misconduct.

During the ministerial meeting the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, was recorded as saying: “Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate” – or, as he put it, “drive the herd through, while everyone’s looking the other way.”

Salles’ 16 months in charge of the environment have already proved disastrous for the Amazon. He has fired veteran staff, weakened enforcement and effectively encouraged illegal deforestation.

Fire season nears

Last year the fires in the Amazon alarmed the world. This year, even during the first four months when normally the rains keep it low, deforestation has remained high, boding ill for the traditional fire season, which begins in June.

The landowners’ lobby, which supports the bill, says that legally titling the land – “land regularisation” – is an essential step towards forcing owners to comply with environmental laws to limit deforestation in the Amazon.

But the bill’s opponents say the bill will reward land grabbers who have already invaded and deforested public lands, and who will now be able to “self-declare” the land and claim it as their own, instead of being fined and expelled. This will encourage more occupations and deforestation in the future.

Not only public forests are at stake, but also many indigenous areas whose formal recognition has not yet been sanctioned by the president. Instead Jair Bolsonaro has declared he will not sanction a single further indigenous area, leaving them vulnerable to invasion. − Climate News Network

UK supermarkets are considering a Brazil boycott, an end to purchases of its food to try to save its forests.

SÃO PAULO, 1 June, 2020 − The UK’s leading supermarkets are threatening a Brazil boycott in an attempt to protect the Amazon and slow the loss of its forests.

Their move has led the Brazilian Congress to postpone the reading of a bill supported by the president, Jair Bolsonaro, which is widely seen as a green light for more Amazon destruction.

Over 40 companies, including Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons, Lidl, Asda, and Marks & Spencer, signed the open letter containing the protest, as well as the Swedish pension fund AP7 and the Norwegian asset manager Storebrand.

The letter, published by the Retail Soy Group, says: “Should the measure pass, it would encourage further land grabbing and widespread deforestation which would jeopardise the survival of the Amazon and meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and undermine the rights of indigenous and traditional communities.

“We believe that it would also put at risk the ability of organisations such as ours to continue sourcing from Brazil in the future.

Climate regulation

“We urge the Brazilian government to reconsider its stance and hope to continue working with partners in Brazil to demonstrate that economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.”

The letter also outlines the importance of the Amazon for the environment, highlighting its role in regulating the global climate.

The Imazon Institute, a leading Brazilian NGO, estimates that, if passed, the bill would lead to an increase in deforestation of between 4000-6000 sq. miles (11 to 16,000 sq. kms).

The bill was originally presented to congress by President Bolsonaro as an executive order, Medida Provisoria No.910. Due to widespread protests in Brazil, its more outrageous provisions – which had led to it being dubbed “the landgrabbers’ charter” – were watered down, and it became a bill, No. 2633/5, due for reading two weeks ago.

“Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate”

After the speaker of the chamber of deputies, Rodrigo Maia, received the supermarkets’ letter, and letters from UK and European MPs, expressing concern about the preservation of the Amazon, he postponed the reading: a new date has yet to be set.

The European Parliament still has to approve a proposed trade deal between the European Union and the countries of the Mercosul block (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and the question of the Amazon could prove an obstacle here.

The government’s attempt to undo environmental protections and open up public lands to deforestation, and eventually to soy and cattle production, became clear when the video of a cabinet meeting held on 22 April was made public a few days ago, following a Supreme Court order to investigate allegations of presidential misconduct.

During the ministerial meeting the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, was recorded as saying: “Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate” – or, as he put it, “drive the herd through, while everyone’s looking the other way.”

Salles’ 16 months in charge of the environment have already proved disastrous for the Amazon. He has fired veteran staff, weakened enforcement and effectively encouraged illegal deforestation.

Fire season nears

Last year the fires in the Amazon alarmed the world. This year, even during the first four months when normally the rains keep it low, deforestation has remained high, boding ill for the traditional fire season, which begins in June.

The landowners’ lobby, which supports the bill, says that legally titling the land – “land regularisation” – is an essential step towards forcing owners to comply with environmental laws to limit deforestation in the Amazon.

But the bill’s opponents say the bill will reward land grabbers who have already invaded and deforested public lands, and who will now be able to “self-declare” the land and claim it as their own, instead of being fined and expelled. This will encourage more occupations and deforestation in the future.

Not only public forests are at stake, but also many indigenous areas whose formal recognition has not yet been sanctioned by the president. Instead Jair Bolsonaro has declared he will not sanction a single further indigenous area, leaving them vulnerable to invasion. − Climate News Network

Natural forests are best at storing carbon

Natural forests are a global good. Well conserved, they help combat climate change. But as new research confirms, it’s not that simple.

LONDON, 18 May, 2020 – Two new studies have freshly confirmed an argument unchallenged for more than three decades: the best way to absorb and permanently store carbon from the atmosphere is to restore and conserve existing natural forests.

This proposition – successively urged on governments around the world since the first studies of strategy to confront global warming and potentially catastrophic climate change – has more chance of sustained success than any attempts to offset carbon emissions by indiscriminate plantations of new canopy, or even systematic investment in public initiatives such as the Trillion Tree Campaign.

And the argument gets even more support from a closer look at disturbances to natural woodland: these demonstrate that even simple clearings in forests will create unfavourable local microclimates and disturb the species that flourish in stable forests.

Karen Holl is a restoration ecologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She and a colleague from São Paulo in Brazil argue in the journal Science that while planting trees can help protect biodiversity, assist in natural water management and increase local shade, the same act can actually also damage local native ecosystems, reduce water supply, dispossess local landholders and increase social inequity.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle. Planting trees is not a simple solution”

The point she makes is that the wrong kind of tree on the wrong sort of land helps nobody. Nor does a tree that, once planted, is neglected and left to die, or to change the nature of the land it occupies – not even if there are a trillion of them.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “Planting trees is not a simple solution. It’s complicated, and we need to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve.”

Her argument is that planting trees is not the same as increasing forest cover, and in any case will add up to only a fraction of the carbon reductions needed by 2100 to keep global temperatures from rising to 2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

And given that increasing drought and temperatures can lead to widespread tree death, some of the effort could be hopelessly wasted.

Leave well alone

“The first thing we can do is keep existing forests standing, and the second is to allow trees to regenerate in areas that were formerly forests,” she said.

“In many cases, trees will recover on their own – just look at the entire eastern United States that was deforested 200 years ago. Much of that has come back without actively planting trees.

“Yes, in some highly degraded lands we will need to plant trees, but that should be the last option since it is the most expensive and often is not successful. I’ve spent my life on this. We need to be thoughtful about how we bring the forest back.”

Just how thoughtful is illuminated by another study, also in Science. European scientists looked at temperatures in 100 forest interiors and matched this with 80 years of data from 2,955 locations in 56 regions to discover that the routine open space temperature measurements collected by climate scientists do not reflect conditions under a mature forest canopy.

Avoid clearings

The denser the leaf cover, the more effectively the forest buffers the wild things that live there from climate change. But as the cover becomes sparser, conditions change and the thermometer goes up by several degrees.

The implication – supported by other recent research – is that any kind of clearing in some way weakens the integrity of a forest, both as a refuge for otherwise threatened biodiversity, and as a potential store of atmospheric carbon.

Global warming is already increasing what researchers have labelled “thermophilisation” – that is, a tendency for warm climate species to flourish at the expense of those already at the limit of their preferred temperature.

The implication is that some species will not be able to adapt swiftly enough to ever more intense extremes of heat and drought, and the nature of forest cover is likely to change. – Climate News Network

Natural forests are a global good. Well conserved, they help combat climate change. But as new research confirms, it’s not that simple.

LONDON, 18 May, 2020 – Two new studies have freshly confirmed an argument unchallenged for more than three decades: the best way to absorb and permanently store carbon from the atmosphere is to restore and conserve existing natural forests.

This proposition – successively urged on governments around the world since the first studies of strategy to confront global warming and potentially catastrophic climate change – has more chance of sustained success than any attempts to offset carbon emissions by indiscriminate plantations of new canopy, or even systematic investment in public initiatives such as the Trillion Tree Campaign.

And the argument gets even more support from a closer look at disturbances to natural woodland: these demonstrate that even simple clearings in forests will create unfavourable local microclimates and disturb the species that flourish in stable forests.

Karen Holl is a restoration ecologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She and a colleague from São Paulo in Brazil argue in the journal Science that while planting trees can help protect biodiversity, assist in natural water management and increase local shade, the same act can actually also damage local native ecosystems, reduce water supply, dispossess local landholders and increase social inequity.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle. Planting trees is not a simple solution”

The point she makes is that the wrong kind of tree on the wrong sort of land helps nobody. Nor does a tree that, once planted, is neglected and left to die, or to change the nature of the land it occupies – not even if there are a trillion of them.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “Planting trees is not a simple solution. It’s complicated, and we need to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve.”

Her argument is that planting trees is not the same as increasing forest cover, and in any case will add up to only a fraction of the carbon reductions needed by 2100 to keep global temperatures from rising to 2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

And given that increasing drought and temperatures can lead to widespread tree death, some of the effort could be hopelessly wasted.

Leave well alone

“The first thing we can do is keep existing forests standing, and the second is to allow trees to regenerate in areas that were formerly forests,” she said.

“In many cases, trees will recover on their own – just look at the entire eastern United States that was deforested 200 years ago. Much of that has come back without actively planting trees.

“Yes, in some highly degraded lands we will need to plant trees, but that should be the last option since it is the most expensive and often is not successful. I’ve spent my life on this. We need to be thoughtful about how we bring the forest back.”

Just how thoughtful is illuminated by another study, also in Science. European scientists looked at temperatures in 100 forest interiors and matched this with 80 years of data from 2,955 locations in 56 regions to discover that the routine open space temperature measurements collected by climate scientists do not reflect conditions under a mature forest canopy.

Avoid clearings

The denser the leaf cover, the more effectively the forest buffers the wild things that live there from climate change. But as the cover becomes sparser, conditions change and the thermometer goes up by several degrees.

The implication – supported by other recent research – is that any kind of clearing in some way weakens the integrity of a forest, both as a refuge for otherwise threatened biodiversity, and as a potential store of atmospheric carbon.

Global warming is already increasing what researchers have labelled “thermophilisation” – that is, a tendency for warm climate species to flourish at the expense of those already at the limit of their preferred temperature.

The implication is that some species will not be able to adapt swiftly enough to ever more intense extremes of heat and drought, and the nature of forest cover is likely to change. – Climate News Network

The great coronavirus toilet tissue panic buy-up

In the UK and elsewhere, many people were preoccupied last March with toilet tissue. Could it help to slow climate change?

LONDON, 13 May, 2020 – What was on your mind two months ago: might it have been toilet tissue? For many Britons the answer is yes. It was when the United Kingdom began to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you welcome or condemn the action your government took in those uncertain days, in many countries the response was very similar: broad approval for the speed of the official reaction.

That sheer speed has even prompted some people to ask whether modern societies could act as fast to protect themselves, not only against another pandemic, but against a possible comparable global threat. Climate change, perhaps?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which 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 Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

Taken for granted

So we can. But the introduction of lockdown and similar measures brought an example (and not only in the UK) of very quick changes in daily habits which suggested they might not help exactly as the RTA hopes in the case of the climate crisis. There was an outbreak of panic buying of supposedly staple goods – including toilet tissue.

What the run on loo rolls did achieve, as the RTA points out in its delicately-worded treatment of it, was to remind many people in relatively wealthy countries not to take for granted some familiar aspects of daily life. It illuminated the rapid but unfinished global progress towards universal access to safe water and sanitation.

In fact supplies of toilet paper hadn’t altered. It was an artificial shortage created by the suddenly changed behaviour of people buying far more than they really needed: anything from 50 to 100 rolls of paper are used in US toilets annually, without pandemic pressures.

But sewage systems, clean water and efficient drainage are constant  development priorities across the world, and today they are centre stage in climate emergency planning.

“For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and not places of privacy or sanctuary”

The future will include more flooding, heatwaves and heavier summer rainfall, which will hit hardest places that are already low-lying or on reclaimed land, or on coasts.

Diseases that thrive in these conditions – diarrhoea, malaria, leptospirosis, for example – are expected to worsen. In Mumbai slum dwellers ironically say during the monsoon: “There’s water everywhere, except in the taps.”

The profit-led colonial system left behind in India a patchwork of supply and disposal, with the city’s vast slum areas mostly unserved, and subject to flooding which in 2005 killed over 900 people.

There have been improvements to sanitation globally since 2000, thanks to the UN’s Millennium Goals. The numbers of people using safe sanitation increased from 28% in 2000 to 45% in 2017. During that time 2.1 billion people gained access to at least basic services and the number practising open-air defecation halved, from 1.3 billion to 673 million – still a huge number.

Many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed. But Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which began in rural Bangladesh in 2000, has worked by focusing on helping people to change their behaviour.

Making the links

By raising awareness of the links between open defecation and disease, CLTS encourages local people to analyse their situation and then act. Typically, its facilitators help communities to carry out their own appraisal  of community sanitation.

This usually leads them to recognise the volume of human waste they generate and how open defecation means they are likely to be ingesting one another’s faeces. In turn, this can prompt them to act by building latrines without waiting for external support.

For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and certainly not places of privacy or sanctuary.

In 2015 2.3bn people still lacked even a basic sanitation service. An estimated 4 in 10 households globally still do not have soap and water on the premises, and half of all schools lack hand-washing facilities. For a sizeable minority – and in particular for women – the daily trip to relieve themselves can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

The production of toilet tissue for use in the global North raises serious environmental issues, including destruction of woodland, the wasteful use of water and energy, and chemicals for processing.

Bamboo alternative

This is still a message unheard by most people. The Australian company Who Gives A Crap supplies recycled or bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the global South. But it is a rarity. Analysis from the UK’s Ethical Consumer magazine found in 2019 that major brands were using less recycled paper than they had in 2011.

Climate change? How’s that mixed up in toilet tissue? Does a sudden bout of panic buying help anyone to cut their carbon footprint? It sounds far-fetched.

There’s a gulf between the strains of social lockdown caused by a pandemic and the daring required for an economic change of direction demanded by impending climate catastrophe. And somehow we recognised the pandemic threat, but still fail to recognise the climate mayhem about to overtake us.

But if making the connection adds urgency to the quest for better sanitation, that will bring better health, less poverty and a world whose population stays within slimmer bounds.

And emptying the supermarket shelves of loo rolls two months ago showed how determined if misguided action could achieve very fast results. That could work wonders for slowing greenhouse gas emissions. – 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.

In the UK and elsewhere, many people were preoccupied last March with toilet tissue. Could it help to slow climate change?

LONDON, 13 May, 2020 – What was on your mind two months ago: might it have been toilet tissue? For many Britons the answer is yes. It was when the United Kingdom began to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you welcome or condemn the action your government took in those uncertain days, in many countries the response was very similar: broad approval for the speed of the official reaction.

That sheer speed has even prompted some people to ask whether modern societies could act as fast to protect themselves, not only against another pandemic, but against a possible comparable global threat. Climate change, perhaps?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which 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 Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

Taken for granted

So we can. But the introduction of lockdown and similar measures brought an example (and not only in the UK) of very quick changes in daily habits which suggested they might not help exactly as the RTA hopes in the case of the climate crisis. There was an outbreak of panic buying of supposedly staple goods – including toilet tissue.

What the run on loo rolls did achieve, as the RTA points out in its delicately-worded treatment of it, was to remind many people in relatively wealthy countries not to take for granted some familiar aspects of daily life. It illuminated the rapid but unfinished global progress towards universal access to safe water and sanitation.

In fact supplies of toilet paper hadn’t altered. It was an artificial shortage created by the suddenly changed behaviour of people buying far more than they really needed: anything from 50 to 100 rolls of paper are used in US toilets annually, without pandemic pressures.

But sewage systems, clean water and efficient drainage are constant  development priorities across the world, and today they are centre stage in climate emergency planning.

“For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and not places of privacy or sanctuary”

The future will include more flooding, heatwaves and heavier summer rainfall, which will hit hardest places that are already low-lying or on reclaimed land, or on coasts.

Diseases that thrive in these conditions – diarrhoea, malaria, leptospirosis, for example – are expected to worsen. In Mumbai slum dwellers ironically say during the monsoon: “There’s water everywhere, except in the taps.”

The profit-led colonial system left behind in India a patchwork of supply and disposal, with the city’s vast slum areas mostly unserved, and subject to flooding which in 2005 killed over 900 people.

There have been improvements to sanitation globally since 2000, thanks to the UN’s Millennium Goals. The numbers of people using safe sanitation increased from 28% in 2000 to 45% in 2017. During that time 2.1 billion people gained access to at least basic services and the number practising open-air defecation halved, from 1.3 billion to 673 million – still a huge number.

Many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed. But Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which began in rural Bangladesh in 2000, has worked by focusing on helping people to change their behaviour.

Making the links

By raising awareness of the links between open defecation and disease, CLTS encourages local people to analyse their situation and then act. Typically, its facilitators help communities to carry out their own appraisal  of community sanitation.

This usually leads them to recognise the volume of human waste they generate and how open defecation means they are likely to be ingesting one another’s faeces. In turn, this can prompt them to act by building latrines without waiting for external support.

For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and certainly not places of privacy or sanctuary.

In 2015 2.3bn people still lacked even a basic sanitation service. An estimated 4 in 10 households globally still do not have soap and water on the premises, and half of all schools lack hand-washing facilities. For a sizeable minority – and in particular for women – the daily trip to relieve themselves can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

The production of toilet tissue for use in the global North raises serious environmental issues, including destruction of woodland, the wasteful use of water and energy, and chemicals for processing.

Bamboo alternative

This is still a message unheard by most people. The Australian company Who Gives A Crap supplies recycled or bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the global South. But it is a rarity. Analysis from the UK’s Ethical Consumer magazine found in 2019 that major brands were using less recycled paper than they had in 2011.

Climate change? How’s that mixed up in toilet tissue? Does a sudden bout of panic buying help anyone to cut their carbon footprint? It sounds far-fetched.

There’s a gulf between the strains of social lockdown caused by a pandemic and the daring required for an economic change of direction demanded by impending climate catastrophe. And somehow we recognised the pandemic threat, but still fail to recognise the climate mayhem about to overtake us.

But if making the connection adds urgency to the quest for better sanitation, that will bring better health, less poverty and a world whose population stays within slimmer bounds.

And emptying the supermarket shelves of loo rolls two months ago showed how determined if misguided action could achieve very fast results. That could work wonders for slowing greenhouse gas emissions. – 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.