Tag Archives: Extinction

Solve nature and climate together or not at all

Sink or swim as one, says science. Solve nature and climate together, or neither of the twin crises will be soluble.

LONDON, 11 June, 2021 − Two of the world’s leading scientific institutions have joined forces to arrive at a not very surprising conclusion: solve nature and climate together, or forget them both. If the world does not work to tackle the climate crisis and the extinction threat confronting millions of wild species together, it has little hope of solving either of them separately.

So says a report published by the snappily-titled Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), each respected for their commanding knowledge in their own fields.

The report, the IPBES/IPCC Workshop Report, which marks the first collaboration between the two bodies’ scientists, is not content simply to urge joint action on the intertwined problems threatening the world. It goes on to identify what it says are key options for solving them.

Both biodiversity loss and climate change are driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other, the report says.

While previous policies have largely tackled the twin crises independently of each other, addressing the synergies between the two simultaneously offers hope of maximising benefits and meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives”

“Human-caused climate change is increasingly threatening nature and its contributions to people, including its ability to help mitigate climate change. The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives, in many regions”, said Prof. Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the report’s scientific steering committee.

“Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, especially through impacts on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles,” he said. “The evidence is clear: a sustainable global future for people and nature is still achievable, but it requires transformative change with rapid and far-reaching actions of a type never before attempted, building on ambitious emissions reductions.

“Solving some of the strong and apparently unavoidable trade-offs between climate and biodiversity will entail a profound collective shift of individual and shared values concerning nature − such as moving away from the concept of economic progress based solely on GDP growth, to one that balances human development with multiple values of nature for a good quality of life, while not overshooting biophysical and social limits.”

The authors also warn that narrowly-focused action to combat climate change can directly and indirectly harm nature, and vice versa, but say there are many ways to benefit both areas.

Their suggestions include:

* Stopping the loss and degradation of carbon- and species-rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean and restoring them. The authors say reducing deforestation and forest degradation can help to lower human-caused greenhouse gas emissions by between 0.4 and 5.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year.

End damaging subsidies

* Increasing sustainable agriculture and forestry to improve the capacity to adapt to climate change, improve biodiversity, increase carbon storage and reduce emissions. The report estimates this improved management of cropland and grazing systems could offer annual climate change mitigation potential of 3 to 6 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent.

* Enhanced and better targeted conservation supported by strong climate adaptation and innovation. Protected areas currently represent about 15% of land and 7.5% of the ocean. Global estimates of what the world needs range from 30 to 50% of all ocean and land surface areas.

* Eliminating subsidies that support both local and national activities harmful to biodiversity, such as deforestation, excessive fertilisation and over-fishing, can also support climate change mitigation and adaptation. It can also help to change individual consumption patterns, reduce loss and waste and shift diets, especially in rich countries, towards more plant-based options.

The report also warns against climate mitigation and adaptation measures which it says can harm biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. These measures, it says, include increasing irrigation capacity, a common response to adapt agricultural systems to drought which it says often leads to water conflicts, dam building and long- term soil degradation from salinisation. − Climate News Network

Sink or swim as one, says science. Solve nature and climate together, or neither of the twin crises will be soluble.

LONDON, 11 June, 2021 − Two of the world’s leading scientific institutions have joined forces to arrive at a not very surprising conclusion: solve nature and climate together, or forget them both. If the world does not work to tackle the climate crisis and the extinction threat confronting millions of wild species together, it has little hope of solving either of them separately.

So says a report published by the snappily-titled Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), each respected for their commanding knowledge in their own fields.

The report, the IPBES/IPCC Workshop Report, which marks the first collaboration between the two bodies’ scientists, is not content simply to urge joint action on the intertwined problems threatening the world. It goes on to identify what it says are key options for solving them.

Both biodiversity loss and climate change are driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other, the report says.

While previous policies have largely tackled the twin crises independently of each other, addressing the synergies between the two simultaneously offers hope of maximising benefits and meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives”

“Human-caused climate change is increasingly threatening nature and its contributions to people, including its ability to help mitigate climate change. The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives, in many regions”, said Prof. Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the report’s scientific steering committee.

“Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, especially through impacts on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles,” he said. “The evidence is clear: a sustainable global future for people and nature is still achievable, but it requires transformative change with rapid and far-reaching actions of a type never before attempted, building on ambitious emissions reductions.

“Solving some of the strong and apparently unavoidable trade-offs between climate and biodiversity will entail a profound collective shift of individual and shared values concerning nature − such as moving away from the concept of economic progress based solely on GDP growth, to one that balances human development with multiple values of nature for a good quality of life, while not overshooting biophysical and social limits.”

The authors also warn that narrowly-focused action to combat climate change can directly and indirectly harm nature, and vice versa, but say there are many ways to benefit both areas.

Their suggestions include:

* Stopping the loss and degradation of carbon- and species-rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean and restoring them. The authors say reducing deforestation and forest degradation can help to lower human-caused greenhouse gas emissions by between 0.4 and 5.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year.

End damaging subsidies

* Increasing sustainable agriculture and forestry to improve the capacity to adapt to climate change, improve biodiversity, increase carbon storage and reduce emissions. The report estimates this improved management of cropland and grazing systems could offer annual climate change mitigation potential of 3 to 6 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent.

* Enhanced and better targeted conservation supported by strong climate adaptation and innovation. Protected areas currently represent about 15% of land and 7.5% of the ocean. Global estimates of what the world needs range from 30 to 50% of all ocean and land surface areas.

* Eliminating subsidies that support both local and national activities harmful to biodiversity, such as deforestation, excessive fertilisation and over-fishing, can also support climate change mitigation and adaptation. It can also help to change individual consumption patterns, reduce loss and waste and shift diets, especially in rich countries, towards more plant-based options.

The report also warns against climate mitigation and adaptation measures which it says can harm biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. These measures, it says, include increasing irrigation capacity, a common response to adapt agricultural systems to drought which it says often leads to water conflicts, dam building and long- term soil degradation from salinisation. − Climate News Network

Fossils show oblivion’s malign impact on nature

We are obliterating other life: oblivion’s malign impact could bring extinction faster than at almost any time known so far.

LONDON, 28 May, 2021 − Evolutionary biologists have looked at the timetable of mass murder 66 million years ago in what is now called the Fifth Great Extinction. By looking at fossil snails and other freshwater citizens of what is now Europe, they traced oblivion’s malign impact over many millennia.

The grim news is that the loss of species began soon after a substantial comet or asteroid crashed into planet Earth, but it took another 12 million years for evolution to catch up again.

The even grimmer news is that the Sixth Great Extinction has already begun, and is proceeding at a rate 1,000 times faster than the massacre of the little creatures that perished alongside the dinosaurs.

The message − familiar for decades to conservationists, evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, but still to be appreciated by politicians − is that the impact of more than 7 billion humans on the rest of the living world is less immediate, but more devastating, than the celestial traffic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“We have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years”

And it looks set to continue. A century from today, a third of freshwater species living now may have vanished from the face of the planet. And it won’t stop there.

“Even if our impact on the world’s biota stops today, the extinction rate will likely stay high for an extended period of time,” said Thomas Neubauer, of Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“Considering that the current biodiversity crisis advances much faster than the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, the recovery period may be even longer. Despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years.”

Dr Neubauer and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment that they considered the fossils of 3,122 species of European freshwater gastropods unearthed in 24,759 instances, to calculate extinction rates over the last 200 million years.

They selected the snails because snails’ shells are distinctive, and preserved; and because freshwater ecosystems occupy only about 1% of the planet’s surface, but are home to perhaps 10% of all species.

Lessons from Europe

And they settled on European evidence because Europe has, they write, an “exceptionally rich and well-studied fossil record”. European biologists, too, have a more complete record of living species for comparison.

More importantly, they had enough data to work out the rates at which old species become extinct and new species evolve on a stable planet under normal conditions over hundreds of millions of years. From that, they could confirm that after the devastating impact that brought the Cretaceous era to a close − and wiped out the dinosaurs − conditions on Earth were harsh enough to force a greater rate of extinction for the next 5.4 million years.

In that time, 92.5% of all species were extinguished: the rate of extinction increased by an order of magnitude − that is, around tenfold. Although new species emerged, it was another 6.9 million years before recovery was complete.

“However, present extinction rates in European freshwater gastropods are three orders of magnitude higher than even these revised estimates for the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction,” the researchers write. That is, present extinction rates are already 1,000 times faster than one unpredictable moment of global devastation 66 million years ago. It follows that extinction rates must be four orders of magnitude − 10,000 times − faster than in a period of evolutionary stability.

Snails matter too

That life’s evolution has been marked by periodic extinction has been firmly settled for more than a century, and an overload of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been an agent of at least one of them, and perhaps an actor in all.

What alarms today’s biologists is that they can see it all happening again, as human numbers grow and human economies alter the planetary atmosphere. And they have said so, repeatedly.

In this study, they spell it out it again. “The current biodiversity crisis appears even more drastic, with species being lost at a much faster pace. Our analyses suggest that 75% of all European species may be lost within centuries. Our findings provide yet additional evidence that immediate and effective action is needed to protect biodiversity,” they write.

Just in case anybody thinks freshwater snails don’t matter to humans, they do. They are part of a functioning ecosystem on which terrestrial life depends.

“Losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects ecosystems,” said Dr Neubauer.“We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and freshwater supply.” − Climate News Network

We are obliterating other life: oblivion’s malign impact could bring extinction faster than at almost any time known so far.

LONDON, 28 May, 2021 − Evolutionary biologists have looked at the timetable of mass murder 66 million years ago in what is now called the Fifth Great Extinction. By looking at fossil snails and other freshwater citizens of what is now Europe, they traced oblivion’s malign impact over many millennia.

The grim news is that the loss of species began soon after a substantial comet or asteroid crashed into planet Earth, but it took another 12 million years for evolution to catch up again.

The even grimmer news is that the Sixth Great Extinction has already begun, and is proceeding at a rate 1,000 times faster than the massacre of the little creatures that perished alongside the dinosaurs.

The message − familiar for decades to conservationists, evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, but still to be appreciated by politicians − is that the impact of more than 7 billion humans on the rest of the living world is less immediate, but more devastating, than the celestial traffic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“We have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years”

And it looks set to continue. A century from today, a third of freshwater species living now may have vanished from the face of the planet. And it won’t stop there.

“Even if our impact on the world’s biota stops today, the extinction rate will likely stay high for an extended period of time,” said Thomas Neubauer, of Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“Considering that the current biodiversity crisis advances much faster than the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, the recovery period may be even longer. Despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years.”

Dr Neubauer and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment that they considered the fossils of 3,122 species of European freshwater gastropods unearthed in 24,759 instances, to calculate extinction rates over the last 200 million years.

They selected the snails because snails’ shells are distinctive, and preserved; and because freshwater ecosystems occupy only about 1% of the planet’s surface, but are home to perhaps 10% of all species.

Lessons from Europe

And they settled on European evidence because Europe has, they write, an “exceptionally rich and well-studied fossil record”. European biologists, too, have a more complete record of living species for comparison.

More importantly, they had enough data to work out the rates at which old species become extinct and new species evolve on a stable planet under normal conditions over hundreds of millions of years. From that, they could confirm that after the devastating impact that brought the Cretaceous era to a close − and wiped out the dinosaurs − conditions on Earth were harsh enough to force a greater rate of extinction for the next 5.4 million years.

In that time, 92.5% of all species were extinguished: the rate of extinction increased by an order of magnitude − that is, around tenfold. Although new species emerged, it was another 6.9 million years before recovery was complete.

“However, present extinction rates in European freshwater gastropods are three orders of magnitude higher than even these revised estimates for the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction,” the researchers write. That is, present extinction rates are already 1,000 times faster than one unpredictable moment of global devastation 66 million years ago. It follows that extinction rates must be four orders of magnitude − 10,000 times − faster than in a period of evolutionary stability.

Snails matter too

That life’s evolution has been marked by periodic extinction has been firmly settled for more than a century, and an overload of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been an agent of at least one of them, and perhaps an actor in all.

What alarms today’s biologists is that they can see it all happening again, as human numbers grow and human economies alter the planetary atmosphere. And they have said so, repeatedly.

In this study, they spell it out it again. “The current biodiversity crisis appears even more drastic, with species being lost at a much faster pace. Our analyses suggest that 75% of all European species may be lost within centuries. Our findings provide yet additional evidence that immediate and effective action is needed to protect biodiversity,” they write.

Just in case anybody thinks freshwater snails don’t matter to humans, they do. They are part of a functioning ecosystem on which terrestrial life depends.

“Losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects ecosystems,” said Dr Neubauer.“We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and freshwater supply.” − Climate News Network

Lunar Noah’s Ark might help threatened species

Desperate times demand desperate measures. So just possibly a lunar Noah’s Ark might help to avert the threat of extinction.

CO. MAYO, IRELAND, 16 March, 2021 – What if a collision with an asteroid, a giant volcanic eruption – or runaway climate change – caused human civilisation to collapse and threatened the survival of life as we know it on Earth? What could be done to preserve the world’s wonderful biodiversity? A lunar Noah’s Ark?

Scientists and students at the University of Arizona have come up with a solution which might seem slightly fanciful to some, but feasible to the more space-minded.

Their proposal is for a modern version of Noah’s Ark, not bobbing about on the Earth’s oceans but hidden below the surface of the moon.

Jekan Thanga of the university’s College of Engineering described his project and what he refers to as a “modern global insurance policy” at a meeting of international aerospace experts.

The idea is to store frozen seed, spores, sperm and egg samples transported from 6.7 million species on Earth in caverns below the moon’s surface.

“It’s not crazy big. We were a little bit surprised about that”

If climate change accelerates and sea levels continue to rise, many of the Earth’s dry places will be under water, says Thanga.

This would include the global seed vault on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard which holds hundreds of thousands of seed samples in order to protect the world against loss of biodiversity.

Professor Thanga and his team say that if seed and other samples were stored on a celestial body separate from our own planet, then there would be less likelihood of biodiversity being completely lost if and when an event happened causing total annihilation on Earth.

“Earth is naturally a volatile environment”, he says. “As humans, we had a close call about 75,000 years ago with the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which caused a thousand-year cooling period and, according to some, aligns with an estimated drop in human diversity.

Lava tubes

“Because human civilisation has such a large footprint, if it were to collapse, that could have a negative, cascading effect on the rest of the planet.”

The lunar storage facility would make use of about 200 giant lava tubes located beneath the moon’s surface. Formed between three and four billion years ago, these underground caverns would provide shelter from solar radiation, micrometeorites and surface temperature changes, says Profesor Thanga.

He and his colleagues admit that constructing the lunar ark would not be easy, but might not be as overwhelming as it could seem.

Transporting about 50 samples from each of the 6.7 million species on Earth would require 250 rocket launches. It took 40 rocket launches to build the international space station.

“It’s not crazy big”, says Thanga. “We were a little bit surprised about that.”

‘Please try later’

The model of the ark sketched out by the Arizona team includes a set of solar panels on the moon’s surface to provide electricity.

Two or more lift shafts would lead down into the facility where seeds, cooled down to temperatures of minus 180°C, would be preserved in a series of petri dishes.

Professor Thanga and his team admit that a lot more research needs to be carried out on the building and operation of the proposed lunar ark. There’s the question of how the preserved seeds might be affected by the lack of gravity on the moon.

And then there’s the issue of establishing communications with a base on Earth – if, of course, there is anyone left to receive calls. – Climate News Network

Desperate times demand desperate measures. So just possibly a lunar Noah’s Ark might help to avert the threat of extinction.

CO. MAYO, IRELAND, 16 March, 2021 – What if a collision with an asteroid, a giant volcanic eruption – or runaway climate change – caused human civilisation to collapse and threatened the survival of life as we know it on Earth? What could be done to preserve the world’s wonderful biodiversity? A lunar Noah’s Ark?

Scientists and students at the University of Arizona have come up with a solution which might seem slightly fanciful to some, but feasible to the more space-minded.

Their proposal is for a modern version of Noah’s Ark, not bobbing about on the Earth’s oceans but hidden below the surface of the moon.

Jekan Thanga of the university’s College of Engineering described his project and what he refers to as a “modern global insurance policy” at a meeting of international aerospace experts.

The idea is to store frozen seed, spores, sperm and egg samples transported from 6.7 million species on Earth in caverns below the moon’s surface.

“It’s not crazy big. We were a little bit surprised about that”

If climate change accelerates and sea levels continue to rise, many of the Earth’s dry places will be under water, says Thanga.

This would include the global seed vault on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard which holds hundreds of thousands of seed samples in order to protect the world against loss of biodiversity.

Professor Thanga and his team say that if seed and other samples were stored on a celestial body separate from our own planet, then there would be less likelihood of biodiversity being completely lost if and when an event happened causing total annihilation on Earth.

“Earth is naturally a volatile environment”, he says. “As humans, we had a close call about 75,000 years ago with the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which caused a thousand-year cooling period and, according to some, aligns with an estimated drop in human diversity.

Lava tubes

“Because human civilisation has such a large footprint, if it were to collapse, that could have a negative, cascading effect on the rest of the planet.”

The lunar storage facility would make use of about 200 giant lava tubes located beneath the moon’s surface. Formed between three and four billion years ago, these underground caverns would provide shelter from solar radiation, micrometeorites and surface temperature changes, says Profesor Thanga.

He and his colleagues admit that constructing the lunar ark would not be easy, but might not be as overwhelming as it could seem.

Transporting about 50 samples from each of the 6.7 million species on Earth would require 250 rocket launches. It took 40 rocket launches to build the international space station.

“It’s not crazy big”, says Thanga. “We were a little bit surprised about that.”

‘Please try later’

The model of the ark sketched out by the Arizona team includes a set of solar panels on the moon’s surface to provide electricity.

Two or more lift shafts would lead down into the facility where seeds, cooled down to temperatures of minus 180°C, would be preserved in a series of petri dishes.

Professor Thanga and his team admit that a lot more research needs to be carried out on the building and operation of the proposed lunar ark. There’s the question of how the preserved seeds might be affected by the lack of gravity on the moon.

And then there’s the issue of establishing communications with a base on Earth – if, of course, there is anyone left to receive calls. – Climate News Network

UN survival plan offers new hope for the planet

A bold UN survival plan could put nature back in charge of the Earth − and researchers explain why that should happen.

LONDON, 26 February, 2021 − UN chiefs want to transform the world by putting nature back at the heart of global decision-making, arguing that the global economic shutdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change the planet for the better: for a stable climate, for cleaner air and water, and for a richer natural environment, thanks to the UN survival plan.

The goal? A more sustainable and more equitable world by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050, a curb on global pollution and waste and a halt to ever-accelerating rates of wildlife extinction worldwide.

The methods? One of the first, in Making Peace With Nature, the new United Nations Environment Programme report, will be to incorporate what conservationists call “natural capital” into measures of national economic performance.

That is because forests, savannahs, wetlands and other natural habitats represent wealth, and their loss accelerates poverty. If nations and regions can reverse environmental decline then they can at the same time advance the alleviation of poverty, and secure reliable food and water, and good health, for all.

And to reinforce such arguments, new and entirely separate research continues to underline the UN vision of natural capital as real investment in the services on which all humankind depends.

Vital sanitation need

In 48 cities around the globe, nature provides at least 18% of the sanitation services: creatures in the soils filter and clean around 2.2 million cubic metres of human excrement in the form of pit latrines before it can reach the groundwater table.

Since, in 2017, around one fourth of the global population had no access to sanitation facilities, and 14% used toilets that disposed of waste on site, this is not just an important service but a vital one: vital to human health.

The same research team reports in the journal One Earth that − since more than 892 million people worldwide in effect release excrement into holes in the ground − then nature must sanitise more than 41 million tonnes of human waste every year before it gets into the groundwater. So that’s a service worth US$4.4 billion (£3.14bn) a year, British researchers calculate.

Around 70% of the world’s crops depend on insect pollination, and the range and abundance of insect pollinators is vulnerable to shifts in climate. Importantly, many crops rely on wild pollinators − that is, commercial honey bee colonies cannot always do the trick of turning flowers into fruit, or grain − so what happens to wild insect populations affects what is available for supper.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it guides us by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”

US researchers report in the journal Ecological Applications that they took the case of wild bees and open field tomato crops: these depend on insects that release pollen by vibration, among them bumble bees.

They matched distribution of 15 species and climate data now against predictions for climate change across North America to find that − in the eastern US alone − within the next three to four decades, 11 species of pollinator could be in decline. The implications for food security are inescapable.

And a third study simply looked at what climate change, human population expansion, pollution and demand for freshwater had done to the planet’s rivers and lakes.

French and Chinese scientists report in the journal Science that they had identified what they call “marked changes” in the biodiversity of more than half the world’s rivers and lakes, thanks to human impact.

Of more than 1,000 fish species, 170 were extinct in their natural river basins, at a very conservative estimate. Out of 2,456 river basins, found everywhere except the deserts and the poles, 1,296 of them, covering more than 40% of the planet’s continental surface, and accounting for 37% of the length of the world’s rivers, revealed “deep and spatially distributed anthropogenic impacts.” That is science-speak for loss and defilement.

Lethal heat prospect

Such research − published on an almost daily basis − provides the context in which the latest UNEP report makes its argument. The report identifies a threefold planetary emergency and calls for advances in science and bold policy-making to make lives better both for the poorest in the world, and for nature itself.

It warns that the planet is heading for a warming of at least 3°C by the century’s end; that more than one million species could be heading for extinction; and that pollution-triggered diseases right now deliver an estimated nine million premature deaths each year.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safe place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme,” says António Guterres, UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.

“By recognising nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” − Climate News Network

A bold UN survival plan could put nature back in charge of the Earth − and researchers explain why that should happen.

LONDON, 26 February, 2021 − UN chiefs want to transform the world by putting nature back at the heart of global decision-making, arguing that the global economic shutdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change the planet for the better: for a stable climate, for cleaner air and water, and for a richer natural environment, thanks to the UN survival plan.

The goal? A more sustainable and more equitable world by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050, a curb on global pollution and waste and a halt to ever-accelerating rates of wildlife extinction worldwide.

The methods? One of the first, in Making Peace With Nature, the new United Nations Environment Programme report, will be to incorporate what conservationists call “natural capital” into measures of national economic performance.

That is because forests, savannahs, wetlands and other natural habitats represent wealth, and their loss accelerates poverty. If nations and regions can reverse environmental decline then they can at the same time advance the alleviation of poverty, and secure reliable food and water, and good health, for all.

And to reinforce such arguments, new and entirely separate research continues to underline the UN vision of natural capital as real investment in the services on which all humankind depends.

Vital sanitation need

In 48 cities around the globe, nature provides at least 18% of the sanitation services: creatures in the soils filter and clean around 2.2 million cubic metres of human excrement in the form of pit latrines before it can reach the groundwater table.

Since, in 2017, around one fourth of the global population had no access to sanitation facilities, and 14% used toilets that disposed of waste on site, this is not just an important service but a vital one: vital to human health.

The same research team reports in the journal One Earth that − since more than 892 million people worldwide in effect release excrement into holes in the ground − then nature must sanitise more than 41 million tonnes of human waste every year before it gets into the groundwater. So that’s a service worth US$4.4 billion (£3.14bn) a year, British researchers calculate.

Around 70% of the world’s crops depend on insect pollination, and the range and abundance of insect pollinators is vulnerable to shifts in climate. Importantly, many crops rely on wild pollinators − that is, commercial honey bee colonies cannot always do the trick of turning flowers into fruit, or grain − so what happens to wild insect populations affects what is available for supper.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it guides us by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”

US researchers report in the journal Ecological Applications that they took the case of wild bees and open field tomato crops: these depend on insects that release pollen by vibration, among them bumble bees.

They matched distribution of 15 species and climate data now against predictions for climate change across North America to find that − in the eastern US alone − within the next three to four decades, 11 species of pollinator could be in decline. The implications for food security are inescapable.

And a third study simply looked at what climate change, human population expansion, pollution and demand for freshwater had done to the planet’s rivers and lakes.

French and Chinese scientists report in the journal Science that they had identified what they call “marked changes” in the biodiversity of more than half the world’s rivers and lakes, thanks to human impact.

Of more than 1,000 fish species, 170 were extinct in their natural river basins, at a very conservative estimate. Out of 2,456 river basins, found everywhere except the deserts and the poles, 1,296 of them, covering more than 40% of the planet’s continental surface, and accounting for 37% of the length of the world’s rivers, revealed “deep and spatially distributed anthropogenic impacts.” That is science-speak for loss and defilement.

Lethal heat prospect

Such research − published on an almost daily basis − provides the context in which the latest UNEP report makes its argument. The report identifies a threefold planetary emergency and calls for advances in science and bold policy-making to make lives better both for the poorest in the world, and for nature itself.

It warns that the planet is heading for a warming of at least 3°C by the century’s end; that more than one million species could be heading for extinction; and that pollution-triggered diseases right now deliver an estimated nine million premature deaths each year.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safe place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme,” says António Guterres, UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.

“By recognising nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” − Climate News Network

Bill Gates: A stark and simple message for the world

His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.

LONDON, 15 February, 2021 − Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

Not for dummies

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates write as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The second is zero”

Crude oil, he calculates, “is cheaper than a soft drink”. By mid-century “climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly”.

And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world’s building stock will double. “That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years.”

I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an “absurdly high” carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he’s always trying to learn more.

And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there’s no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It’s going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.

Simple message

He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.

He touches on biofuels, nuclear power (“this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company”), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.

That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change,” he writes in his opening sentences. “The first is 51 billion. The second is zero.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need: Allen Lane, £20. By Bill Gates

His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.

LONDON, 15 February, 2021 − Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

Not for dummies

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates write as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The second is zero”

Crude oil, he calculates, “is cheaper than a soft drink”. By mid-century “climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly”.

And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world’s building stock will double. “That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years.”

I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an “absurdly high” carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he’s always trying to learn more.

And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there’s no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It’s going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.

Simple message

He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.

He touches on biofuels, nuclear power (“this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company”), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.

That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change,” he writes in his opening sentences. “The first is 51 billion. The second is zero.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need: Allen Lane, £20. By Bill Gates

Nature, not humans, may cause mass extinctions

Life on Earth has been through mass extinctions before − every 27 million years. Blame it on celestial clockwork.

LONDON, 18 December, 2020 − US scientists believe they have identified a recurring pattern of mass extinctions and catastrophic climate change − and this time humans really are not to blame.

Instead, the planet and the solar system could be caught up in some deadly astronomical cycle.

They argue that every 27 million years, a high proportion of land-dwelling species − birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians − disappear from the fossil record at around the same time.

And this disappearance seems to coincide, again according to geological evidence, with devastating eruptions of volcanic lava and violent asteroid collisions that would have had the effect of darkening the skies, lowering the temperature, depleting the ozone layer, then stimulating a greenhouse effect and starting extensive fire and acid rain.

“It seems that large-body impacts and the pulses of internal Earth activity that create flood basalt volcanism may be marching to the same 27-million-year drumbeat as the extinctions, perhaps paced by our orbit in the galaxy,” said Michael Rampino, a biologist at New York University.

Serial crises

He and colleagues used statistical analysis to identify, in the journal Historical Biology, an ominous rhythm of catastrophe in the Earth’s deep history.

Such research highlights the extraordinary nature of the present life-on-Earth survival crisis. Earth is now undergoing what naturalists and geologists see as the Sixth Great Extinction in its 500-million-year fossil history, and potentially calamitous climate change, not because of any shift in planetary orbit or galactic traffic accident, but because of the human population explosion and the 200-year-long addiction to fossil fuels.

But researchers know the present crisis to be the latest of a series of crises in the long history of life on Earth only because of the capricious evidence of the fossil record, and they have spent the last half century trying to decipher some reason how and why these might have happened.

More than 40 years ago geologists began to see what they argued seemed to be cycles of destruction, followed by the slow restoration of the biodiversity of Earth.

“The global mass extinctions were apparently caused by the largest cataclysmic impacts and massive volcanism, perhaps sometimes working in concert”

Around that time, earth scientists found evidence of an asteroid impact that appeared to have wiped out the entire dinosaur lineage, along with seven-tenths of all species on land and sea. And some began to argue that mass extinctions might not be random events, but happen according to some kind of heavenly timetable.

Most of the evidence for such happenings comes from marine sediments: evidence of extinction in the oceans every 26 million years or so. Now Professor Rampino and his colleagues have looked at the record of mass extinctions on land, and found that these seem to follow a similar cycle spaced 27.5 million years apart.

In which case, there might be an agency to take the blame: the Milky Way Galaxy, of which the solar system and planet Earth is a very small part, moving at colossal speed.

Not only does the Earth orbit the Sun at 30 kms a second, the Sun and its planets waltz around the Galaxy at 220 kms a second, and make a complete revolution, astronomers think, about every 26 million to 30 million years. That means that any galactic traffic accident guarantees a collision at very high speed.

Suspect eruptions

And it could also mean that on every round trip, the Solar System passes through some kind of unidentified hazard zone that triggers showers of comet collisions and asteroid impacts.

“In fact three of the mass annihilations of species on land and in the sea are already known to have occurred at the same times as the three largest impacts of the last 250 million years, each capable of causing disaster and resulting mass extinctions,” Professor Rampino said.

But there is another more down-to-earth factor. All eight of those episodes of mass death on land and parallel extinction in the seas also matched periods of eruptions in which hot basalts flooded across the landscape.

All volcanic eruptions release carbon dioxide: in such cases enough to create conditions of intense cold followed by greenhouse warming,  acidification of the oceans and acid rain on land, destruction of the ozone layer that normally screens the planet from dangerous ultra-violet radiation, and even marine oxygen depletion. In which case life on the planet would have to withstand a kind of double assault.

“The global mass extinctions were apparently caused by the largest cataclysmic impacts and massive volcanism, perhaps sometimes working in concert,” Professor Rampino said. − Climate News Network

Life on Earth has been through mass extinctions before − every 27 million years. Blame it on celestial clockwork.

LONDON, 18 December, 2020 − US scientists believe they have identified a recurring pattern of mass extinctions and catastrophic climate change − and this time humans really are not to blame.

Instead, the planet and the solar system could be caught up in some deadly astronomical cycle.

They argue that every 27 million years, a high proportion of land-dwelling species − birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians − disappear from the fossil record at around the same time.

And this disappearance seems to coincide, again according to geological evidence, with devastating eruptions of volcanic lava and violent asteroid collisions that would have had the effect of darkening the skies, lowering the temperature, depleting the ozone layer, then stimulating a greenhouse effect and starting extensive fire and acid rain.

“It seems that large-body impacts and the pulses of internal Earth activity that create flood basalt volcanism may be marching to the same 27-million-year drumbeat as the extinctions, perhaps paced by our orbit in the galaxy,” said Michael Rampino, a biologist at New York University.

Serial crises

He and colleagues used statistical analysis to identify, in the journal Historical Biology, an ominous rhythm of catastrophe in the Earth’s deep history.

Such research highlights the extraordinary nature of the present life-on-Earth survival crisis. Earth is now undergoing what naturalists and geologists see as the Sixth Great Extinction in its 500-million-year fossil history, and potentially calamitous climate change, not because of any shift in planetary orbit or galactic traffic accident, but because of the human population explosion and the 200-year-long addiction to fossil fuels.

But researchers know the present crisis to be the latest of a series of crises in the long history of life on Earth only because of the capricious evidence of the fossil record, and they have spent the last half century trying to decipher some reason how and why these might have happened.

More than 40 years ago geologists began to see what they argued seemed to be cycles of destruction, followed by the slow restoration of the biodiversity of Earth.

“The global mass extinctions were apparently caused by the largest cataclysmic impacts and massive volcanism, perhaps sometimes working in concert”

Around that time, earth scientists found evidence of an asteroid impact that appeared to have wiped out the entire dinosaur lineage, along with seven-tenths of all species on land and sea. And some began to argue that mass extinctions might not be random events, but happen according to some kind of heavenly timetable.

Most of the evidence for such happenings comes from marine sediments: evidence of extinction in the oceans every 26 million years or so. Now Professor Rampino and his colleagues have looked at the record of mass extinctions on land, and found that these seem to follow a similar cycle spaced 27.5 million years apart.

In which case, there might be an agency to take the blame: the Milky Way Galaxy, of which the solar system and planet Earth is a very small part, moving at colossal speed.

Not only does the Earth orbit the Sun at 30 kms a second, the Sun and its planets waltz around the Galaxy at 220 kms a second, and make a complete revolution, astronomers think, about every 26 million to 30 million years. That means that any galactic traffic accident guarantees a collision at very high speed.

Suspect eruptions

And it could also mean that on every round trip, the Solar System passes through some kind of unidentified hazard zone that triggers showers of comet collisions and asteroid impacts.

“In fact three of the mass annihilations of species on land and in the sea are already known to have occurred at the same times as the three largest impacts of the last 250 million years, each capable of causing disaster and resulting mass extinctions,” Professor Rampino said.

But there is another more down-to-earth factor. All eight of those episodes of mass death on land and parallel extinction in the seas also matched periods of eruptions in which hot basalts flooded across the landscape.

All volcanic eruptions release carbon dioxide: in such cases enough to create conditions of intense cold followed by greenhouse warming,  acidification of the oceans and acid rain on land, destruction of the ozone layer that normally screens the planet from dangerous ultra-violet radiation, and even marine oxygen depletion. In which case life on the planet would have to withstand a kind of double assault.

“The global mass extinctions were apparently caused by the largest cataclysmic impacts and massive volcanism, perhaps sometimes working in concert,” Professor Rampino said. − Climate News Network

Warming puts surviving great tits in jeopardy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too fast for survival

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

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

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

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

Safety threshold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too fast for survival

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

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

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

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

Safety threshold

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

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

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

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

Carbon release set off Earth’s biggest extinction

A chain of calamities caused the planet’s biggest extinction, the greatest mass dying ever. Greenhouse gases explain how.

LONDON, 23 October, 2020 − German scientists are now sure they can explain the biggest extinction of life on this planet: a catastrophe at the end of the Permian Epoch 252 million years ago.

It happened because atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose dramatically over thousands of years, turning the seas ever more acidic, to precipitate dangerous changes in oceanic conditions. In this, so far the greatest of life’s periodic extinctions, 95% of all the sea creatures perished, along with three-quarters of all life on land.

The evidence of dramatic change at a particular level in the geological record − the Permian-Triassic boundary, now more precisely dated at 251.9 million years ago − has been teasing geologists for decades. And climate change through one agency or another has been a favoured candidate from the start.

That moment in vanished history was marked by a long, slow but world-changing series of volcanic eruptions − the evidence lies in great sheets of basalt known to geologists as the Siberian Traps − and since outgassing of carbon dioxide is associated with all volcanic eruption, a greenhouse effect driven by carbon dioxide has long been a favourite.

Seeking proof

So devastating was this release of heat from the deep crust that ancient coal deposits laid down in the Carboniferous may have ignited, to create the first-ever fossil fuel emissions.

But circumstantial evidence was not the same thing as proof. Dramatic ozone loss − ozone forms a shield against potentially lethal ultra-violet radiation in the upper atmosphere − has also been named as a suspect. Until somebody could deliver clear evidence of the machinery that ensured the extinction, the verdict could only be “not proven.”

Right now, with human help, the planet Earth is undergoing what has been termed a sixth great mass extinction, and evidence from the Permian extinction provides a lesson for what could happen in a changing climate, but so far simply that: an awful warning, rather than a dreadful example.

Now European researchers report in Nature Geoscience that they think they have settled the matter. They used evidence from fossils exposed in the Italian Alps to recreate the conditions in the ancient ocean.

“Humanity’s CO2 emission rate is currently fourteen times higher than the annual emission rate at the time that marked the greatest biological catastrophe in Earth’s history”

The story told by the changing isotopes of carbon, oxygen and most importantly boron in a series of brachiopod fossils was of “substantial” change in the chemistry of sea water 252 million years ago: a change that could be linked to the carbon dioxide from the Siberian Traps eruptions.

The researchers took the reasoning a step further: they used computer models to simulate the conditions of the time. The world warmed, the oceans became increasingly acidic, and right at the outset those organisms in the sea that build shells from calcium were snuffed out of existence.

But the higher temperatures, greater evaporation and ever-higher rainfall that mark a greenhouse world meant ever-greater chemical weathering on land itself. So more nutrients flowed from land to ocean, to deliver too much fertiliser, to encourage too much algal growth.

What followed was a dramatic depletion of dissolved oxygen: marine life was increasingly stifled, or poisoned by sporadic sulphide concentration.

Chain reaction

“We are dealing with a cascading catastrophe in which the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere set off a chain of events that successively extinguished almost all life in the seas,” said Hana Jurikova, then of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, but now at St Andrew’s in Scotland, who led the study.

It is an axiom of geological research that the present is key to the past, but her forensic account of ancient mayhem may not be a precise lesson for today.

“Ancient volcanic eruptions of this kind are not directly comparable to anthropogenic carbon emissions, and in fact all modern fossil fuel reserves are far too insufficient to release as much CO2 over hundreds of years, let alone thousands of years as was released 252 million years ago,” said Dr Jurikova.

“But it is astonishing that humanity’s CO2 emission rate is currently fourteen times higher than the annual emission rate at the time that marked the greatest biological catastrophe in Earth’s history”. − Climate News Network

A chain of calamities caused the planet’s biggest extinction, the greatest mass dying ever. Greenhouse gases explain how.

LONDON, 23 October, 2020 − German scientists are now sure they can explain the biggest extinction of life on this planet: a catastrophe at the end of the Permian Epoch 252 million years ago.

It happened because atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose dramatically over thousands of years, turning the seas ever more acidic, to precipitate dangerous changes in oceanic conditions. In this, so far the greatest of life’s periodic extinctions, 95% of all the sea creatures perished, along with three-quarters of all life on land.

The evidence of dramatic change at a particular level in the geological record − the Permian-Triassic boundary, now more precisely dated at 251.9 million years ago − has been teasing geologists for decades. And climate change through one agency or another has been a favoured candidate from the start.

That moment in vanished history was marked by a long, slow but world-changing series of volcanic eruptions − the evidence lies in great sheets of basalt known to geologists as the Siberian Traps − and since outgassing of carbon dioxide is associated with all volcanic eruption, a greenhouse effect driven by carbon dioxide has long been a favourite.

Seeking proof

So devastating was this release of heat from the deep crust that ancient coal deposits laid down in the Carboniferous may have ignited, to create the first-ever fossil fuel emissions.

But circumstantial evidence was not the same thing as proof. Dramatic ozone loss − ozone forms a shield against potentially lethal ultra-violet radiation in the upper atmosphere − has also been named as a suspect. Until somebody could deliver clear evidence of the machinery that ensured the extinction, the verdict could only be “not proven.”

Right now, with human help, the planet Earth is undergoing what has been termed a sixth great mass extinction, and evidence from the Permian extinction provides a lesson for what could happen in a changing climate, but so far simply that: an awful warning, rather than a dreadful example.

Now European researchers report in Nature Geoscience that they think they have settled the matter. They used evidence from fossils exposed in the Italian Alps to recreate the conditions in the ancient ocean.

“Humanity’s CO2 emission rate is currently fourteen times higher than the annual emission rate at the time that marked the greatest biological catastrophe in Earth’s history”

The story told by the changing isotopes of carbon, oxygen and most importantly boron in a series of brachiopod fossils was of “substantial” change in the chemistry of sea water 252 million years ago: a change that could be linked to the carbon dioxide from the Siberian Traps eruptions.

The researchers took the reasoning a step further: they used computer models to simulate the conditions of the time. The world warmed, the oceans became increasingly acidic, and right at the outset those organisms in the sea that build shells from calcium were snuffed out of existence.

But the higher temperatures, greater evaporation and ever-higher rainfall that mark a greenhouse world meant ever-greater chemical weathering on land itself. So more nutrients flowed from land to ocean, to deliver too much fertiliser, to encourage too much algal growth.

What followed was a dramatic depletion of dissolved oxygen: marine life was increasingly stifled, or poisoned by sporadic sulphide concentration.

Chain reaction

“We are dealing with a cascading catastrophe in which the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere set off a chain of events that successively extinguished almost all life in the seas,” said Hana Jurikova, then of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, but now at St Andrew’s in Scotland, who led the study.

It is an axiom of geological research that the present is key to the past, but her forensic account of ancient mayhem may not be a precise lesson for today.

“Ancient volcanic eruptions of this kind are not directly comparable to anthropogenic carbon emissions, and in fact all modern fossil fuel reserves are far too insufficient to release as much CO2 over hundreds of years, let alone thousands of years as was released 252 million years ago,” said Dr Jurikova.

“But it is astonishing that humanity’s CO2 emission rate is currently fourteen times higher than the annual emission rate at the time that marked the greatest biological catastrophe in Earth’s history”. − Climate News Network

Geology’s human footprint is enough to spur rage

Once again science has presented evidence that a new geological epoch is here. This human footprint is all our own work.

LONDON, 21 October, 2020 − The human footprint has left its mark on Earth, in every sense. The United States alone is scarred by 500,000 abandoned mines and quarries.

Right now, worldwide, there are more than 500,000 active quarries and pits, employing 4 million people, excavating the sand and gravel needed for new roads, new homes and new megacities.

Humans have not simply pitted the face of the Earth, they have paved it. In 1904, beyond the cities, the US had just 225 km of sealed highway. Now it has 4.3m km of asphalt or concrete roadway, consuming more than 20 billion tonnes of sand and gravel.

By comparison, the Great Wall of China, the biggest and most enduring construction in early human history, contains just 0.4bn tonnes of stone.

Humans have changed the face of the waters. In 1950, trawlers, long-liners and purse seiners fished just 1% of the high seas beyond territorial waters. No fish species of any kind was considered over-exploited or depleted.

Extinction threat widens

Less than one human lifetime on, fishing fleets roam 63% of the high seas and 87% of fish species are exploited, over-exploited or in a state of collapse. Meanwhile somewhere between 5m and almost 13 million tons of discarded plastics flow each year into the sea.

Humans and human livestock now far outweigh all other mammalian life. At least 96% of the mass of all mammals is represented by humans and their domesticated animals. Domestic poultry makes up 70% of the mass of all living birds. The natural world is now endangered, with a million species at risk of extinction.

And humans have left an almost indelible radiant signature over the entire global surface: between 1950 and 1980, nations detonated more than 500 thermonuclear weapons to smear the air and surface of the planet with radioactive materials: one of these, plutonium-239, will be detectable for the next 100,000 years.

The catalogue of planetary devastation that is the human footprint is assembled in a new study by US and European scientists in the journal Nature Communications: Earth and Environment. It is part of a fresh attempt to settle a seemingly academic question of geological bureaucracy, the naming of ages.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it”

The 11,000-year interval since the end of the last Ice Age and the dawn of agriculture, metal smelting, and the first cities, cultures and empires is still formally identified as the Holocene. The latest study of the human legacy is just another salvo in the campaign to announce and confirm the launch of an entirely new epoch, to be called the Anthropocene.

In fact, environmental campaigners, biologists and geophysicists have for years been informally calling the last six or seven decades the Anthropocene. But the authority with the last word on internationally-agreed geological labels − the International Commission on Stratigraphy − has yet to confirm the launch of the new geological epoch.

To help confirm the case for change, researchers have once again assembled the evidence and identified at least 16 ways in which humans have dramatically altered the planet since 1950, and the beginning of what is sometimes called The Great Acceleration.

For instance, humans have doubled the quantity of fixed nitrogen in the biosphere, created an alarming hole in the stratospheric ozone layer, released enough gases to raise the planetary temperature and precipitate global climate change, fashioned or forged perhaps 180,000 kinds of mineral (by comparison, only about 5,300 occur naturally) and − with dams, drains, wells, irrigation, and hydraulic engineering − effectively replumbed the world’s river systems.

Ineradicable scar

By forging metals and building structures, humans have become the greatest earth-moving force on the planet, and left a mark that will endure for aeons.

Altogether, humans have altered the world’s rivers, lakes, coastlines, vegetation, soils, chemistry and climate. The study makes grim reading.

“This is the first time that humans have documented humanity’s geological footprint on such a comprehensive scale in a single publication,” said Jaia Syvitski, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the research team that assembled the evidence.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it.

“Society shouldn’t feel complacent. Few people who read the manuscript should come away without emotions bubbling up, like rage, grief and even fear.” − Climate News Network

Once again science has presented evidence that a new geological epoch is here. This human footprint is all our own work.

LONDON, 21 October, 2020 − The human footprint has left its mark on Earth, in every sense. The United States alone is scarred by 500,000 abandoned mines and quarries.

Right now, worldwide, there are more than 500,000 active quarries and pits, employing 4 million people, excavating the sand and gravel needed for new roads, new homes and new megacities.

Humans have not simply pitted the face of the Earth, they have paved it. In 1904, beyond the cities, the US had just 225 km of sealed highway. Now it has 4.3m km of asphalt or concrete roadway, consuming more than 20 billion tonnes of sand and gravel.

By comparison, the Great Wall of China, the biggest and most enduring construction in early human history, contains just 0.4bn tonnes of stone.

Humans have changed the face of the waters. In 1950, trawlers, long-liners and purse seiners fished just 1% of the high seas beyond territorial waters. No fish species of any kind was considered over-exploited or depleted.

Extinction threat widens

Less than one human lifetime on, fishing fleets roam 63% of the high seas and 87% of fish species are exploited, over-exploited or in a state of collapse. Meanwhile somewhere between 5m and almost 13 million tons of discarded plastics flow each year into the sea.

Humans and human livestock now far outweigh all other mammalian life. At least 96% of the mass of all mammals is represented by humans and their domesticated animals. Domestic poultry makes up 70% of the mass of all living birds. The natural world is now endangered, with a million species at risk of extinction.

And humans have left an almost indelible radiant signature over the entire global surface: between 1950 and 1980, nations detonated more than 500 thermonuclear weapons to smear the air and surface of the planet with radioactive materials: one of these, plutonium-239, will be detectable for the next 100,000 years.

The catalogue of planetary devastation that is the human footprint is assembled in a new study by US and European scientists in the journal Nature Communications: Earth and Environment. It is part of a fresh attempt to settle a seemingly academic question of geological bureaucracy, the naming of ages.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it”

The 11,000-year interval since the end of the last Ice Age and the dawn of agriculture, metal smelting, and the first cities, cultures and empires is still formally identified as the Holocene. The latest study of the human legacy is just another salvo in the campaign to announce and confirm the launch of an entirely new epoch, to be called the Anthropocene.

In fact, environmental campaigners, biologists and geophysicists have for years been informally calling the last six or seven decades the Anthropocene. But the authority with the last word on internationally-agreed geological labels − the International Commission on Stratigraphy − has yet to confirm the launch of the new geological epoch.

To help confirm the case for change, researchers have once again assembled the evidence and identified at least 16 ways in which humans have dramatically altered the planet since 1950, and the beginning of what is sometimes called The Great Acceleration.

For instance, humans have doubled the quantity of fixed nitrogen in the biosphere, created an alarming hole in the stratospheric ozone layer, released enough gases to raise the planetary temperature and precipitate global climate change, fashioned or forged perhaps 180,000 kinds of mineral (by comparison, only about 5,300 occur naturally) and − with dams, drains, wells, irrigation, and hydraulic engineering − effectively replumbed the world’s river systems.

Ineradicable scar

By forging metals and building structures, humans have become the greatest earth-moving force on the planet, and left a mark that will endure for aeons.

Altogether, humans have altered the world’s rivers, lakes, coastlines, vegetation, soils, chemistry and climate. The study makes grim reading.

“This is the first time that humans have documented humanity’s geological footprint on such a comprehensive scale in a single publication,” said Jaia Syvitski, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the research team that assembled the evidence.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it.

“Society shouldn’t feel complacent. Few people who read the manuscript should come away without emotions bubbling up, like rage, grief and even fear.” − Climate News Network

Lentils can feed the world – and save wildlife too

Wildlife could flourish if humans opted for a better diet. Think of humble, healthy lentils as the green choice.

LONDON, 24 September, 2020 – US scientists have worked out how to feed nine billion people and save wildlife from extinction, both at the same time – thanks to healthy lentils.

The answer is starkly simple: if humans got their protein from lentils, beans and nuts rather than beef, pork and chicken, they could return colossal tracts of grazing land back to the wilderness.

Nearly 40% of the planet’s land surface is now committed to agriculture. And almost 83% of this proportion is used to graze animals, or grow food for animals.

If it was returned to natural habitat, then humankind might be able to prevent the extinction of perhaps a million species now under imminent threat.

The same transition would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help contain climate change, and perhaps even reduce the risks of new pandemics.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics. There is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife”

And best of all, the burden of action could sensibly fall on the better-off nations rather than the poorest.

“The greatest potential for forest regrowth, and the climate benefits it entails, exists in high and upper-middle income countries, places where scaling back on land-hungry meat and dairy would have relatively minor impacts on food security,” said Matthew Hayek of New York University.

He and colleagues report in the journal Nature Sustainability that vegetation regrowth on once-grazed land could gulp down between nine and 16 years of human carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, and buy time for a worldwide switch to renewable energy.

“We can think of shifting our eating habits towards land-friendly diets as a supplement to shifting energy rather than a substitute,” he argued.  “Restoring native forests could buy some much-needed time for countries to transition their energy grids to renewable, fossil-free infrastructure.”

The warning is only the latest in a long line of studies which conclude that if humans ate less meat, the world would be a safer, healthier and better place.

Russia-sized area

The switch is unlikely to happen soon, or completely – in some places, animals are the principal food source – or very effectively. It isn’t clear that in a rapidly warming world, forests would recolonise all farmed land, or that those forests would efficiently absorb the hoped-for atmospheric carbon.

But Dr Hayek and his colleagues mapped only an area over which seeds could disperse naturally, and deliver dense and diverse forest. They identified an area that added up to seven million square kilometres, in places moist enough to thrive naturally. This is an area the size of Russia.

The simple act of abandoning selected ranchland or pasture could work wonders for water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. And it would work for human health as well.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics,” said his co-author Helen Harwatt of Harvard Law School.

“Our research shows that there is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife. Restoring native ecosystems not only helps the climate; when coupled with reduced livestock populations, restoration reduced disease transmission from wildlife to pigs, chickens and cows, and ultimately to humans.” – Climate News Network

Wildlife could flourish if humans opted for a better diet. Think of humble, healthy lentils as the green choice.

LONDON, 24 September, 2020 – US scientists have worked out how to feed nine billion people and save wildlife from extinction, both at the same time – thanks to healthy lentils.

The answer is starkly simple: if humans got their protein from lentils, beans and nuts rather than beef, pork and chicken, they could return colossal tracts of grazing land back to the wilderness.

Nearly 40% of the planet’s land surface is now committed to agriculture. And almost 83% of this proportion is used to graze animals, or grow food for animals.

If it was returned to natural habitat, then humankind might be able to prevent the extinction of perhaps a million species now under imminent threat.

The same transition would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help contain climate change, and perhaps even reduce the risks of new pandemics.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics. There is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife”

And best of all, the burden of action could sensibly fall on the better-off nations rather than the poorest.

“The greatest potential for forest regrowth, and the climate benefits it entails, exists in high and upper-middle income countries, places where scaling back on land-hungry meat and dairy would have relatively minor impacts on food security,” said Matthew Hayek of New York University.

He and colleagues report in the journal Nature Sustainability that vegetation regrowth on once-grazed land could gulp down between nine and 16 years of human carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, and buy time for a worldwide switch to renewable energy.

“We can think of shifting our eating habits towards land-friendly diets as a supplement to shifting energy rather than a substitute,” he argued.  “Restoring native forests could buy some much-needed time for countries to transition their energy grids to renewable, fossil-free infrastructure.”

The warning is only the latest in a long line of studies which conclude that if humans ate less meat, the world would be a safer, healthier and better place.

Russia-sized area

The switch is unlikely to happen soon, or completely – in some places, animals are the principal food source – or very effectively. It isn’t clear that in a rapidly warming world, forests would recolonise all farmed land, or that those forests would efficiently absorb the hoped-for atmospheric carbon.

But Dr Hayek and his colleagues mapped only an area over which seeds could disperse naturally, and deliver dense and diverse forest. They identified an area that added up to seven million square kilometres, in places moist enough to thrive naturally. This is an area the size of Russia.

The simple act of abandoning selected ranchland or pasture could work wonders for water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. And it would work for human health as well.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics,” said his co-author Helen Harwatt of Harvard Law School.

“Our research shows that there is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife. Restoring native ecosystems not only helps the climate; when coupled with reduced livestock populations, restoration reduced disease transmission from wildlife to pigs, chickens and cows, and ultimately to humans.” – Climate News Network