Tag Archives: Food

Faster glacier melting raises hunger threat

The world’s upland icecaps are in retreat. Faster glacier melting could slow to a trickle streams that once fed foaming rivers.

LONDON, 5 May, 2021 − Glacial retreat − the rate at which mountain ice is turning to running water − has accelerated. In the last two decades, the world’s 220,000 glaciers have lost ice at the rate of 267 billion tonnes a year on average, and this faster glacier melting could soon imperil downstream food and water supplies.

To make sense of this almost unimaginable volume, think of a country the size of Switzerland. And then submerge it six metres deep in water. And then go on doing that every year for 20 years.

European scientists report in the journal Nature that, on the basis of satellite data, they assembled a global snapshot of the entire world’s stock of land-borne ice, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. And then they began to measure the impact of global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use on the lofty, frozen beauty of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, the Andes, the Himalayas and the mountains of Alaska.

They found not just loss, but a loss that was accelerating sharply. Between 2000 and 2004, the glaciers together surrendered 227 billion tons of ice a year on average. By 2015 to 2019, the annual loss had risen to 298 billion tonnes. The run-off from the retreating glaciers alone caused more than one-fifth of observed sea level rise this century.

“The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario”

Right now an estimated 200 million people live on land that is likely to be flooded by high tides at the close of this century. Altogether, one billion people could face water shortages and failed harvests within the next three decades, in many instances because of glacier loss.

Glacial ice in the high mountains represents so much water stored, to be released in the summer melt to nourish crops downstream. The fastest melt is in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps, but global warming is also affecting the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and other peaks in Central Asia.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” said Romain Hugonnet, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, and the University of Toulouse.

“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face food and water shortages in a few decades.”

Climate change link

Such news could hardly be a shock to geographers and climate scientists: researchers have been warning for years that as many as half of the planet’s mountain glaciers could be gone by the century’s end. Europe’s Alps could by 2100 have lost nine-tenths of all the continent’s flowing ice.

Researchers have also identified the consequent risk to water supplies for millions, and confirmed an “irrefutable” link between human-induced climate change and glacier loss. So the latest research is an update, and a check on subtle changes in rates of loss, based on imagery from Nasa’s Terra satellite, which has been orbiting the planet every 100 minutes since 1999.

The scientists found that melt rates in Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia all slowed in the first two decades of the century, perhaps because of a change in temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic. Conversely, glaciers in the Karakoram range that had once seemed anomalously stable had now started to melt.

“Our findings are important on a political level,” said Daniel Farinotti, also of ETH Zurich. “The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario.” − Climate News Network

The world’s upland icecaps are in retreat. Faster glacier melting could slow to a trickle streams that once fed foaming rivers.

LONDON, 5 May, 2021 − Glacial retreat − the rate at which mountain ice is turning to running water − has accelerated. In the last two decades, the world’s 220,000 glaciers have lost ice at the rate of 267 billion tonnes a year on average, and this faster glacier melting could soon imperil downstream food and water supplies.

To make sense of this almost unimaginable volume, think of a country the size of Switzerland. And then submerge it six metres deep in water. And then go on doing that every year for 20 years.

European scientists report in the journal Nature that, on the basis of satellite data, they assembled a global snapshot of the entire world’s stock of land-borne ice, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. And then they began to measure the impact of global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use on the lofty, frozen beauty of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, the Andes, the Himalayas and the mountains of Alaska.

They found not just loss, but a loss that was accelerating sharply. Between 2000 and 2004, the glaciers together surrendered 227 billion tons of ice a year on average. By 2015 to 2019, the annual loss had risen to 298 billion tonnes. The run-off from the retreating glaciers alone caused more than one-fifth of observed sea level rise this century.

“The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario”

Right now an estimated 200 million people live on land that is likely to be flooded by high tides at the close of this century. Altogether, one billion people could face water shortages and failed harvests within the next three decades, in many instances because of glacier loss.

Glacial ice in the high mountains represents so much water stored, to be released in the summer melt to nourish crops downstream. The fastest melt is in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps, but global warming is also affecting the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and other peaks in Central Asia.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” said Romain Hugonnet, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, and the University of Toulouse.

“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face food and water shortages in a few decades.”

Climate change link

Such news could hardly be a shock to geographers and climate scientists: researchers have been warning for years that as many as half of the planet’s mountain glaciers could be gone by the century’s end. Europe’s Alps could by 2100 have lost nine-tenths of all the continent’s flowing ice.

Researchers have also identified the consequent risk to water supplies for millions, and confirmed an “irrefutable” link between human-induced climate change and glacier loss. So the latest research is an update, and a check on subtle changes in rates of loss, based on imagery from Nasa’s Terra satellite, which has been orbiting the planet every 100 minutes since 1999.

The scientists found that melt rates in Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia all slowed in the first two decades of the century, perhaps because of a change in temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic. Conversely, glaciers in the Karakoram range that had once seemed anomalously stable had now started to melt.

“Our findings are important on a political level,” said Daniel Farinotti, also of ETH Zurich. “The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario.” − Climate News Network

Building back better needs radical change − by us

We’ve got the money, we’ve got the knowhow, but averting the worst of the climate crisis needs radical change by us.

LONDON, 20 April, 2021 − With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging across the globe, plenty of thinkers are devoting their time to what comes next. The hopeful argue for an effort to Build Back Better. The less hopeful doubt that that will be easy, or perhaps even possible, and not necessarily because of the pandemic itself. The pragmatists say the future can be different, if humans can achieve radical change in themselves and their lives.

They start from where we are and try to plot a way through to where we want to be. One of these is a UK think tank, the  Cambridge Sustainability Commission on behaviour change and the climate crisis, whose report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

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

The Commission’s report notes that some of us need to change our behaviour more than others. “Globally, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population is responsible for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest half is responsible for less than 10%,” it says.

“The lifestyle emissions of the richest in society are actually increasing … Relying on conscientious individuals to ‘do their bit’ will never be enough to put society on a sustainable pathway without substantial shifts in the behaviour of the polluter elite.”

“I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity”

The report looks beyond the problem of taming the polluter elite, identifying several other “behaviour hotspots”. One, described as high-impact behaviours and ways of life, not very surprisingly lists these as “car and plane mobility, the consumption of meat and dairy, and the heating of residential homes”.

Some readers, though, may gulp to see a fourth candidate suggested for the list − the need for a 25% reduction in average personal living space in order to stay below the stricter emissions limit adopted by the Paris Agreement, 1.5°C.

How should we measure lifestyle sustainability? The Cambridge report says that as “global meat production (which roughly mirrors consumption) has fallen for the past two years (FAO, 2020), strategies to reduce meat consumption could accelerate the move away from meat-heavy diets and food production, acting as a social tipping point.”

Earlier it defines these as small quantitative changes which “lead to a qualitatively different state of the social system”, and are therefore to be welcomed.

Eager for change

There are certainly grounds in the report for thinking that more Britons are ready to change the way they behave than to stay the way they are.

The authors report a substantial appetite in the United Kingdom for post-pandemic behavioural change, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) RESET enquiry, led by Caroline Lucas MP. This found that, from a sample of more than 57,000 people:

  • 66% of UK adults want the government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of citizens over GDP growth
  • 66% of the public think the Government should intervene to make society fairer
  • 60% support a shorter working week
  • 63% support a jobs guarantee
  • 57% support some form of universal basic income
  • 65% support rent caps

But these changes may be a long way from all that’s needed. Chapter 5 of the Cambridge report, Future intervention points, starts with a warning: “As things stand under a business-as-usual scenario, we are headed towards 3-4°C of warming by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences for humanity and the ecosystems upon which we depend.”

Simple step

The end of the century may feel comfortably far distant for much of humanity, but not everybody is confident that we have even that much time to change. In March the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) published a report, Global Trends 2040. The website Axios offered a summary: “This is not your typical grim climate report projecting disaster in the year 2100, i.e. the distant future.

“Instead, the climate change we will see through midcentury is already baked into the climate system, thanks to how the oceans absorb and redistribute heat. Studies show that even if emissions are sharply reduced now we are still in for additional amounts of warming through mid-century, which will lead to more extreme weather events, sea level rise, and other effects … Buckle your seatbelt, we’re in for a bumpy ride.”

Perhaps the NIC is right. But just possibly we’re overcomplicating one of our main problems in the UK − and even globally. How do you cut crime? It’s simple, says one of Britain’s most senior police officers, Andy Cooke, the retiring chief constable of Merseyside in north-west England, in an interview with the Guardian: you give people something to hope for by reducing poverty.

Asked what he would do if he had £5 billion (US$7bn) to cut crime, Cooke said reducing inequality and deprivation would be his priority: “I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity.”

That would go a long way to stamping out the drugs war in Liverpool and the rest of Andy Cooke’s patch. Scaled up across the globe, it could stem the wretched flow of migrants struggling to survive. It would, in fact, give hope to people who have lost it. Is that really a radical change? − 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.

We’ve got the money, we’ve got the knowhow, but averting the worst of the climate crisis needs radical change by us.

LONDON, 20 April, 2021 − With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging across the globe, plenty of thinkers are devoting their time to what comes next. The hopeful argue for an effort to Build Back Better. The less hopeful doubt that that will be easy, or perhaps even possible, and not necessarily because of the pandemic itself. The pragmatists say the future can be different, if humans can achieve radical change in themselves and their lives.

They start from where we are and try to plot a way through to where we want to be. One of these is a UK think tank, the  Cambridge Sustainability Commission on behaviour change and the climate crisis, whose report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

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

The Commission’s report notes that some of us need to change our behaviour more than others. “Globally, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population is responsible for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest half is responsible for less than 10%,” it says.

“The lifestyle emissions of the richest in society are actually increasing … Relying on conscientious individuals to ‘do their bit’ will never be enough to put society on a sustainable pathway without substantial shifts in the behaviour of the polluter elite.”

“I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity”

The report looks beyond the problem of taming the polluter elite, identifying several other “behaviour hotspots”. One, described as high-impact behaviours and ways of life, not very surprisingly lists these as “car and plane mobility, the consumption of meat and dairy, and the heating of residential homes”.

Some readers, though, may gulp to see a fourth candidate suggested for the list − the need for a 25% reduction in average personal living space in order to stay below the stricter emissions limit adopted by the Paris Agreement, 1.5°C.

How should we measure lifestyle sustainability? The Cambridge report says that as “global meat production (which roughly mirrors consumption) has fallen for the past two years (FAO, 2020), strategies to reduce meat consumption could accelerate the move away from meat-heavy diets and food production, acting as a social tipping point.”

Earlier it defines these as small quantitative changes which “lead to a qualitatively different state of the social system”, and are therefore to be welcomed.

Eager for change

There are certainly grounds in the report for thinking that more Britons are ready to change the way they behave than to stay the way they are.

The authors report a substantial appetite in the United Kingdom for post-pandemic behavioural change, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) RESET enquiry, led by Caroline Lucas MP. This found that, from a sample of more than 57,000 people:

  • 66% of UK adults want the government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of citizens over GDP growth
  • 66% of the public think the Government should intervene to make society fairer
  • 60% support a shorter working week
  • 63% support a jobs guarantee
  • 57% support some form of universal basic income
  • 65% support rent caps

But these changes may be a long way from all that’s needed. Chapter 5 of the Cambridge report, Future intervention points, starts with a warning: “As things stand under a business-as-usual scenario, we are headed towards 3-4°C of warming by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences for humanity and the ecosystems upon which we depend.”

Simple step

The end of the century may feel comfortably far distant for much of humanity, but not everybody is confident that we have even that much time to change. In March the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) published a report, Global Trends 2040. The website Axios offered a summary: “This is not your typical grim climate report projecting disaster in the year 2100, i.e. the distant future.

“Instead, the climate change we will see through midcentury is already baked into the climate system, thanks to how the oceans absorb and redistribute heat. Studies show that even if emissions are sharply reduced now we are still in for additional amounts of warming through mid-century, which will lead to more extreme weather events, sea level rise, and other effects … Buckle your seatbelt, we’re in for a bumpy ride.”

Perhaps the NIC is right. But just possibly we’re overcomplicating one of our main problems in the UK − and even globally. How do you cut crime? It’s simple, says one of Britain’s most senior police officers, Andy Cooke, the retiring chief constable of Merseyside in north-west England, in an interview with the Guardian: you give people something to hope for by reducing poverty.

Asked what he would do if he had £5 billion (US$7bn) to cut crime, Cooke said reducing inequality and deprivation would be his priority: “I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity.”

That would go a long way to stamping out the drugs war in Liverpool and the rest of Andy Cooke’s patch. Scaled up across the globe, it could stem the wretched flow of migrants struggling to survive. It would, in fact, give hope to people who have lost it. Is that really a radical change? − 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.

Monsoon changes threaten Asia and warn the world

For generations India’s farmers have relied on its arrival, but monsoon changes suggest a hotter and less predictable world.

LONDON, 16 April, 2021 − As the world warms, monsoon changes are set to cause havoc across a huge and densely populated swathe of the planet. The great South Asian summer monsoon will become both stronger and less reliable.

German scientists predict a pattern of extremely wet years in the future, but the arrival of these will be chaotic. Even a late monsoon can be devastating for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the rainy season. A failure can be catastrophic.

And yet too much rain can also have calamitous consequences: it can flood ripening grain fields, wash away topsoils and even − by reducing the storage of carbon in the soil − help accelerate further warming of the planet.

Around one billion people depend on the monsoon for their well-being, for trade and manufacture, and for food systems and agriculture. And the years ahead could become more chaotic, as a consequence of global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems worldwide.

“For every degree Celsius of warming, monsoon rainfalls will likely increase by about 5%,” said Anja Katzenberger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the region and should be a wake-up call to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide”

“We were also able to confirm previous studies, but find that global warming is increasing monsoon rainfall in India even more than previously thought. It is dominating monsoon dynamics in the 21st century.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they analysed 32 advanced climate simulations to look for a pattern of change in the region’s weather.

About four-fifths of all the region’s rainfall happens in the summer: crop yields − especially rice − are highly sensitive to the monsoon’s coming. Agriculture makes up at least one-fifth of the Indian gross domestic product or GDP, so rainfall is vital to the economic and social well-being of hundreds of millions of people.

During the second half of the 20th century, the trend seemed to be towards a gradual drying of the rains. In the first decades of this century, the pattern seems reversed: monsoons are getting stronger. Quite how tiny annual rises in global average temperatures affect the winds that bring the summer rains has still to be ascertained, but ocean warming driven by human changes to greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere is almost certainly involved.

Rice at risk

And this is not good news for the farmers who, for generations, have placed their bets on the regular arrival of the rains. There is even evidence that in the deep past, a succession of monsoon failures may have toppled an early civilisation.

“Crops need water especially in the initial growing period, but too much rainfall during other growing states can harm plants − including rice, on which the majority of India’s population is depending for sustenance,” said Julia Pongratz from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, another of the authors.

“This makes the Indian economy and food system highly sensitive to volatile monsoon patterns.”

And Anders Levermann, also from the Potsdam Institute, said: “We see more and more that climate change is about unpredictable weather extremes and their serious consequences, because what is really on the line is the socio-economic well-being of the Indian subcontinent.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the agriculture and economy in the region and should be a wake-up call for policymakers to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” − Climate News Network

For generations India’s farmers have relied on its arrival, but monsoon changes suggest a hotter and less predictable world.

LONDON, 16 April, 2021 − As the world warms, monsoon changes are set to cause havoc across a huge and densely populated swathe of the planet. The great South Asian summer monsoon will become both stronger and less reliable.

German scientists predict a pattern of extremely wet years in the future, but the arrival of these will be chaotic. Even a late monsoon can be devastating for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the rainy season. A failure can be catastrophic.

And yet too much rain can also have calamitous consequences: it can flood ripening grain fields, wash away topsoils and even − by reducing the storage of carbon in the soil − help accelerate further warming of the planet.

Around one billion people depend on the monsoon for their well-being, for trade and manufacture, and for food systems and agriculture. And the years ahead could become more chaotic, as a consequence of global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems worldwide.

“For every degree Celsius of warming, monsoon rainfalls will likely increase by about 5%,” said Anja Katzenberger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the region and should be a wake-up call to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide”

“We were also able to confirm previous studies, but find that global warming is increasing monsoon rainfall in India even more than previously thought. It is dominating monsoon dynamics in the 21st century.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they analysed 32 advanced climate simulations to look for a pattern of change in the region’s weather.

About four-fifths of all the region’s rainfall happens in the summer: crop yields − especially rice − are highly sensitive to the monsoon’s coming. Agriculture makes up at least one-fifth of the Indian gross domestic product or GDP, so rainfall is vital to the economic and social well-being of hundreds of millions of people.

During the second half of the 20th century, the trend seemed to be towards a gradual drying of the rains. In the first decades of this century, the pattern seems reversed: monsoons are getting stronger. Quite how tiny annual rises in global average temperatures affect the winds that bring the summer rains has still to be ascertained, but ocean warming driven by human changes to greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere is almost certainly involved.

Rice at risk

And this is not good news for the farmers who, for generations, have placed their bets on the regular arrival of the rains. There is even evidence that in the deep past, a succession of monsoon failures may have toppled an early civilisation.

“Crops need water especially in the initial growing period, but too much rainfall during other growing states can harm plants − including rice, on which the majority of India’s population is depending for sustenance,” said Julia Pongratz from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, another of the authors.

“This makes the Indian economy and food system highly sensitive to volatile monsoon patterns.”

And Anders Levermann, also from the Potsdam Institute, said: “We see more and more that climate change is about unpredictable weather extremes and their serious consequences, because what is really on the line is the socio-economic well-being of the Indian subcontinent.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the agriculture and economy in the region and should be a wake-up call for policymakers to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” − Climate News Network

Global farming feels the impacts of global heating

Global heating has already set back farming around the world, and wiped out seven years of steady advance.

LONDON, 12 April, 2021 − Climate change has begun to harm the world’s farmers. Compared with a notional world in which global heating is not being driven ever higher by fossil fuel use, a new study finds that the riches to be gleaned from the soil have fallen by 21%.

This, the researchers say, is as if the steady advance in agricultural productivity worldwide − in crop breeding, in farming technologies and in fertiliser use − has been eroded everywhere by more extreme temperatures, more prolonged droughts and more intense rainfall.

“We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years,” said Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, an economist at Cornell University in the US.

“It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013, and experiencing no improvements since then. Anthropogenic climate change is already slowing us down.”

He and colleagues from Maryland and California report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they developed new ways of looking at farm costs and yields that could account for climate- and weather-related factors. The findings are potentially alarming.

Productivity drops

In the last century, the planet has warmed by at least 1°C above the long term average for most of human history, and is heading for 3°C or more by the end of this century.

By 2050, the total global population could have risen to 10bn: more than two billion extra mouths to be fed. But during the last 60 years, growth in agricultural productivity in the US has been slowed by somewhere between 5 and 15%. In Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean, growth has slowed by between 26 and 34%.

A study of this kind − comparing the present world with one that might have been − is always open to challenge, and farmers have always had to gamble on good weather and cope with bad harvests.

But over the last seven years, researchers have repeatedly confirmed that a hotter world promises to be a hungrier one. Studies have found that yields of wheat, maize and rice are all vulnerable to climate change.

They have warned that higher temperatures and more atmospheric greenhouse gases could actually affect the nutritional values of legumes, fruit and vegetables, and that changes in weather patterns − in droughts, rainfall and heat waves − will hit harvests.

“Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect”

And since the higher temperatures that global heating brings  inevitably threaten more intense, more prolonged and more extensive heat extremes and droughts, the chances of calamitous harvest failure in more than one continent at the same time will be much greater: global famine could follow.

So the latest study simply provides another way of confirming anxieties already expressed. This time there is a new perspective: the attrition of climate change began decades ago. In the constant race to keep up with demand and compensate for possible loss, the farmers may be falling behind. Technological progress has yet to deliver climate resilience.

“It is not what we can do, but where we are headed,” said Robert Chambers, of the University of Maryland, a co-author. “This gives us an idea of trends to help see what to do in the future with new changes in the climate that are beyond what we’ve previously seen.

“We are projected to have almost 10 billion people to feed by 2050, so making sure our productivity is stable but growing faster than ever before is a serious concern.”

And Dr Otiz-Bobea said: “Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect. We have to address climate change now so that we can avoid further damage for future generations.” − Climate News Network

Global heating has already set back farming around the world, and wiped out seven years of steady advance.

LONDON, 12 April, 2021 − Climate change has begun to harm the world’s farmers. Compared with a notional world in which global heating is not being driven ever higher by fossil fuel use, a new study finds that the riches to be gleaned from the soil have fallen by 21%.

This, the researchers say, is as if the steady advance in agricultural productivity worldwide − in crop breeding, in farming technologies and in fertiliser use − has been eroded everywhere by more extreme temperatures, more prolonged droughts and more intense rainfall.

“We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years,” said Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, an economist at Cornell University in the US.

“It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013, and experiencing no improvements since then. Anthropogenic climate change is already slowing us down.”

He and colleagues from Maryland and California report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they developed new ways of looking at farm costs and yields that could account for climate- and weather-related factors. The findings are potentially alarming.

Productivity drops

In the last century, the planet has warmed by at least 1°C above the long term average for most of human history, and is heading for 3°C or more by the end of this century.

By 2050, the total global population could have risen to 10bn: more than two billion extra mouths to be fed. But during the last 60 years, growth in agricultural productivity in the US has been slowed by somewhere between 5 and 15%. In Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean, growth has slowed by between 26 and 34%.

A study of this kind − comparing the present world with one that might have been − is always open to challenge, and farmers have always had to gamble on good weather and cope with bad harvests.

But over the last seven years, researchers have repeatedly confirmed that a hotter world promises to be a hungrier one. Studies have found that yields of wheat, maize and rice are all vulnerable to climate change.

They have warned that higher temperatures and more atmospheric greenhouse gases could actually affect the nutritional values of legumes, fruit and vegetables, and that changes in weather patterns − in droughts, rainfall and heat waves − will hit harvests.

“Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect”

And since the higher temperatures that global heating brings  inevitably threaten more intense, more prolonged and more extensive heat extremes and droughts, the chances of calamitous harvest failure in more than one continent at the same time will be much greater: global famine could follow.

So the latest study simply provides another way of confirming anxieties already expressed. This time there is a new perspective: the attrition of climate change began decades ago. In the constant race to keep up with demand and compensate for possible loss, the farmers may be falling behind. Technological progress has yet to deliver climate resilience.

“It is not what we can do, but where we are headed,” said Robert Chambers, of the University of Maryland, a co-author. “This gives us an idea of trends to help see what to do in the future with new changes in the climate that are beyond what we’ve previously seen.

“We are projected to have almost 10 billion people to feed by 2050, so making sure our productivity is stable but growing faster than ever before is a serious concern.”

And Dr Otiz-Bobea said: “Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect. We have to address climate change now so that we can avoid further damage for future generations.” − Climate News Network

Rich world’s demands fell poorer world’s forests

The tropical forests maintain global climate and nurture the riches of nature. The rich world’s demands are destroying them.

LONDON, 9 April, 2021 − The world’s great ecosystems − moderators of climate, nurseries for evolution − are still being destroyed in the service of global trade, to meet the rich world’s demands. Once again, researchers have confirmed that the wealthy nations are in effect ploughing savanna and felling tropical forests at a distance.

In the first 15 years of this century, the growing demand from the well-heeled for chocolate, rubber, cotton, soy, beef and exotic timber has meant that poorer nations have actually increased their levels of deforestation.

In effect, every human in the G7 nations − Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US − is responsible for the loss of at least four trees a year, mostly in the developing world.

And in a separate study in another journal, another team of scientists has examined satellite data to confirm that between 1985 and 2018, humans cleared or altered 268 million hectares of natural ecosystem on the continent of South America. This is 2.68 million sq kilometres: an area almost the size of Argentina.

Two scientists in Japan report in Nature Ecology and Evolution that they matched levels of deforestation against trade with the world’s biggest economies, to find a clear correlation. They could even distinguish demand in one rich country and its impact on the forests of a poorer nation.

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

“While cocoa consumption in Germany poses the highest risk to the forests in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, deforestation in coastal Tanzania is dominated by Japanese consumers for some agricultural commodities, such as cotton and sesame seed,” they write.

“China shares the most significant responsibility for deforestation in Indochina − particularly in northern Laos for timber and rubber.”

Ironically, many of the richer nations have expanded the areas of forest on their own soil. More than 90% of the deforestation caused by five of the G7 nations was beyond their own borders. In effect, the rich were exporting the destruction of the natural world, and the cost to the planet was disproportionate. The loss of three trees in the Amazon might be more damaging than the loss of 14 trees in Norway, the scientists argue.

“Most forests are in poorer countries who are overwhelmed with economic incentives to cut them down. Our findings show that richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities,” said Keiichiro Kanemoto of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto.

“Policies that aim to preserve forests need to also alleviate poverty. With the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment poses more challenges to forest conservation in developing countries. We want our data to assist in the policy making.”

South American losses

And in the journal Science Advances, a team from the University of Maryland reports on a closer look at the impact of demand for pulpwood, sugar cane, beef, corn and other commodities on one continent: South America, home to some of the world’s most important ecosystems.

They found that human impact on the continent’s land surface just between the years 1985 and 2018 had expanded by 60%. In those years the natural tree cover had dwindled by 16%, and the scale of pasture increased by 23%, cropland by 160% and plantation by 288%.

The sum of all the altered land reached 268 million hectares, or 2.68m sq kms. Argentina, which coincidentally covers 2.73m sq kms, saw an increase of only 23% in human conversion of land use. Brazil tipped the scales with an expansion of 65% in those years.

And, say the researchers, of all this altered land cover on the continent, around 55 million hectares had been degraded − that is, it was no longer functioning as an ecosystem − while being employed for no commercial return. This is the equivalent of more than half a million square kilometres: an area slightly bigger than France.

“No region on Earth is likely to have experienced the scale of land conversion for the sake of agricultural commodity production that South America has,” the authors write. − Climate News Network

The tropical forests maintain global climate and nurture the riches of nature. The rich world’s demands are destroying them.

LONDON, 9 April, 2021 − The world’s great ecosystems − moderators of climate, nurseries for evolution − are still being destroyed in the service of global trade, to meet the rich world’s demands. Once again, researchers have confirmed that the wealthy nations are in effect ploughing savanna and felling tropical forests at a distance.

In the first 15 years of this century, the growing demand from the well-heeled for chocolate, rubber, cotton, soy, beef and exotic timber has meant that poorer nations have actually increased their levels of deforestation.

In effect, every human in the G7 nations − Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US − is responsible for the loss of at least four trees a year, mostly in the developing world.

And in a separate study in another journal, another team of scientists has examined satellite data to confirm that between 1985 and 2018, humans cleared or altered 268 million hectares of natural ecosystem on the continent of South America. This is 2.68 million sq kilometres: an area almost the size of Argentina.

Two scientists in Japan report in Nature Ecology and Evolution that they matched levels of deforestation against trade with the world’s biggest economies, to find a clear correlation. They could even distinguish demand in one rich country and its impact on the forests of a poorer nation.

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

“While cocoa consumption in Germany poses the highest risk to the forests in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, deforestation in coastal Tanzania is dominated by Japanese consumers for some agricultural commodities, such as cotton and sesame seed,” they write.

“China shares the most significant responsibility for deforestation in Indochina − particularly in northern Laos for timber and rubber.”

Ironically, many of the richer nations have expanded the areas of forest on their own soil. More than 90% of the deforestation caused by five of the G7 nations was beyond their own borders. In effect, the rich were exporting the destruction of the natural world, and the cost to the planet was disproportionate. The loss of three trees in the Amazon might be more damaging than the loss of 14 trees in Norway, the scientists argue.

“Most forests are in poorer countries who are overwhelmed with economic incentives to cut them down. Our findings show that richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities,” said Keiichiro Kanemoto of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto.

“Policies that aim to preserve forests need to also alleviate poverty. With the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment poses more challenges to forest conservation in developing countries. We want our data to assist in the policy making.”

South American losses

And in the journal Science Advances, a team from the University of Maryland reports on a closer look at the impact of demand for pulpwood, sugar cane, beef, corn and other commodities on one continent: South America, home to some of the world’s most important ecosystems.

They found that human impact on the continent’s land surface just between the years 1985 and 2018 had expanded by 60%. In those years the natural tree cover had dwindled by 16%, and the scale of pasture increased by 23%, cropland by 160% and plantation by 288%.

The sum of all the altered land reached 268 million hectares, or 2.68m sq kms. Argentina, which coincidentally covers 2.73m sq kms, saw an increase of only 23% in human conversion of land use. Brazil tipped the scales with an expansion of 65% in those years.

And, say the researchers, of all this altered land cover on the continent, around 55 million hectares had been degraded − that is, it was no longer functioning as an ecosystem − while being employed for no commercial return. This is the equivalent of more than half a million square kilometres: an area slightly bigger than France.

“No region on Earth is likely to have experienced the scale of land conversion for the sake of agricultural commodity production that South America has,” the authors write. − Climate News Network

Plants will be hit as a warming world turns drier

If a warming world becomes a drier one, how will the green things respond? Not well, according to a new prediction.

LONDON, 26 March, 2021 − The air of planet Earth has been gradually drying this century. If this goes on, that could be bad news for humankind. In a warming world crop harvests will dwindle, even in well-watered farmlands, and trees could shrink in height.

The prospect of stunted forests and shortages of food in a world hit by global heating, climate change and rapid population growth is ominous. But if US and Canadian scientists are right, it may be a simple consequence of plant response to a rarely-discussed worldwide phenomenon known as vapour pressure deficit, which has been rising for the past 20 years as the world has warmed.

The argument isn’t a simple one. Higher global temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher atmospheric temperatures also mean that the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture also rises − the rule of thumb is 7% more vapour per degree Celsius rise. So a warmer world should be a wetter world.

But climate science also predicts that although those regions already rainy will get rainier, the drylands and arid zones will get even dryer as the thermometer soars.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle. Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting”

Now there is another factor in the calculations: vapour pressure deficit, or the overall drying of the atmosphere, and how plants react to the problem of dwindling atmospheric moisture.

New research in the journal Global Change Biology analyses 50 years of research and 112 plant species, and 59 physiological traits in those plants. The evidence suggests that atmospheric drying reduces plant yield, as the plants adjust to new conditions.

“When there is a high vapour pressure deficit, our atmosphere pulls water from other sources: animals, plants, etc. An increase in vapour pressure deficit places greater demand on the crop to use more water. In turn, this puts more pressure on farmers to ensure this demand for water is met − either via precipitation or irrigation − so that yields do not decrease,” said Walid Sadok, of the University of Minnesota.

“We believe a climate change-driven increase in atmospheric drying will reduce plant productivity and crop yields both in Minnesota and globally.”

The paradox is that plants can adjust to a changing world but in this case by becoming more drought-resistant. Which, in the case of wheat, maize and even birch trees, means growing less.

Less productive plants

Findings such as this are tentative, and will in any case be tested by time. But they also illustrate just how much there is yet to learn about the consequence of climate change in a complex, responsive world.

Other research teams have repeatedly observed that even in the drier regions, plants have so far responded to rising greenhouse gas emissions by an increase in global greenness. But there is nothing simple about the greenhouse effect. And there has been repeated evidence too that forest conservation and more tree plantations may not provide all the answers to the challenge of growth in an ever-warmer world.

The reasoning within the new study is that plant stomata, those tiny holes in foliage through which plants breathe and release water, adjust according to new conditions. The plants become more conservative. They grow shorter, smaller and more resistant to drought, even if there is no drought. And in parallel, they become less able to fix atmospheric carbon dioxide to provide new tissue. So, overall, plant productivity is reduced.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle that will need to be cleared,” said Dr Sadok. “Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting, such as Minnesota.” − Climate News Network

If a warming world becomes a drier one, how will the green things respond? Not well, according to a new prediction.

LONDON, 26 March, 2021 − The air of planet Earth has been gradually drying this century. If this goes on, that could be bad news for humankind. In a warming world crop harvests will dwindle, even in well-watered farmlands, and trees could shrink in height.

The prospect of stunted forests and shortages of food in a world hit by global heating, climate change and rapid population growth is ominous. But if US and Canadian scientists are right, it may be a simple consequence of plant response to a rarely-discussed worldwide phenomenon known as vapour pressure deficit, which has been rising for the past 20 years as the world has warmed.

The argument isn’t a simple one. Higher global temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher atmospheric temperatures also mean that the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture also rises − the rule of thumb is 7% more vapour per degree Celsius rise. So a warmer world should be a wetter world.

But climate science also predicts that although those regions already rainy will get rainier, the drylands and arid zones will get even dryer as the thermometer soars.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle. Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting”

Now there is another factor in the calculations: vapour pressure deficit, or the overall drying of the atmosphere, and how plants react to the problem of dwindling atmospheric moisture.

New research in the journal Global Change Biology analyses 50 years of research and 112 plant species, and 59 physiological traits in those plants. The evidence suggests that atmospheric drying reduces plant yield, as the plants adjust to new conditions.

“When there is a high vapour pressure deficit, our atmosphere pulls water from other sources: animals, plants, etc. An increase in vapour pressure deficit places greater demand on the crop to use more water. In turn, this puts more pressure on farmers to ensure this demand for water is met − either via precipitation or irrigation − so that yields do not decrease,” said Walid Sadok, of the University of Minnesota.

“We believe a climate change-driven increase in atmospheric drying will reduce plant productivity and crop yields both in Minnesota and globally.”

The paradox is that plants can adjust to a changing world but in this case by becoming more drought-resistant. Which, in the case of wheat, maize and even birch trees, means growing less.

Less productive plants

Findings such as this are tentative, and will in any case be tested by time. But they also illustrate just how much there is yet to learn about the consequence of climate change in a complex, responsive world.

Other research teams have repeatedly observed that even in the drier regions, plants have so far responded to rising greenhouse gas emissions by an increase in global greenness. But there is nothing simple about the greenhouse effect. And there has been repeated evidence too that forest conservation and more tree plantations may not provide all the answers to the challenge of growth in an ever-warmer world.

The reasoning within the new study is that plant stomata, those tiny holes in foliage through which plants breathe and release water, adjust according to new conditions. The plants become more conservative. They grow shorter, smaller and more resistant to drought, even if there is no drought. And in parallel, they become less able to fix atmospheric carbon dioxide to provide new tissue. So, overall, plant productivity is reduced.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle that will need to be cleared,” said Dr Sadok. “Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting, such as Minnesota.” − Climate News Network

Science warns world of ‘ghastly’ future ahead

Take all the dire warnings and assessments that scientists have made. Add them up. Their answer? A ghastly future ahead.

LONDON, 19 January, 2021 − Humankind faces what 17 scientists have called “a ghastly future” − a threat to the Earth’s living things “so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

The dangers they pinpoint are the destruction and loss of the world’s plants and animals on an unprecedented scale; the overwhelming growth of the human population and the demand upon the world’s resources; and finally, climate disruption driven by human environmental change and fossil fuel dependence.

“This dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business and the public,” they write in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

“We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future.”

The scientists from Australia, the US and Mexico warn that as many as a million species could soon disappear from the face of the Earth in what is widely recognised as the planet’s sixth mass extinction.

“The mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation”

Because the planetary burden of humans has doubled in just 50 years and could reach 10 bn by 2050, the world faces a future of hunger, malnutrition, mass unemployment, a refugee crisis and ever more devastating pandemics.

And human-triggered climate change will mean more fires, more frequent and intense flooding, poorer water and air quality, and worsening human health.

The authors base their portrait of an already beleaguered planet on more than 150 scientific studies, many of them on the dangerous loss of biodiversity, triggered by the human-wrought changes to 70% of the planet’s land surface. With this loss goes the Earth’s ability to support complex life.

“But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation,” said Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia, the lead author.

“The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymying the action that is crucial for survival.”

Familiar litany

Most of the world’s economies, the authors argue, are predicated on the political belief that meaningful counter-action would be too costly to be politically palatable. “Combined with financed disinformation campaigns in a bid to protect short-term profits, it is doubtful that any needed shift in economic investments of sufficient scale will be made in time.”

Importantly, the scientists who have signed the paper bring no new information: they simply attempt to put into perspective a series of findings that have been confirmed repeatedly.

Two-fifths of the world’s plant species are endangered; the collective mass of wild mammals worldwide has fallen by 25%; and 68% of vertebrate species have declined; much of this in the last century or so.

Humans and their domestic animals now add up to 95% of the mass of all vertebrates: the wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians constitute just 5% of surviving creation.

And the structures that humans have fashioned − roads, buildings and so on − now outweigh the animals and plants on Earth.

With the loss of wilderness comes the loss of what researchers call natural capital and ecosystem services: the reduced pollination of crops, the degradation of soils, poorer air and water supplies, and so on.

Summons to act

In 1960, humans had already requisitioned around 73% of the planet’s regenerative capacity: that is, what humans demanded was still within the limits of the sustainable. In 2016, this demand had grown to an unsustainable 170%.

Around 700 to 800 million people are starving, and between one and two billion are malnourished. Population growth sparks both internal and international conflict and is in turn exacerbated by climate change driven by ever-higher global average temperatures.

The potential count of what researchers call environmental refugees − people driven from their homes by drought, poverty, civil war, flooding or heat extremes − has been set at anywhere between 25 million and 1bn by 2050.

And the scientists warn of political impotence: what nations and national leaders are doing to address any of these issues is ineffective in the face of what they call humanity’s “ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term.”

They write: “Ours is not a call to surrender − we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.” − Climate News Network

Take all the dire warnings and assessments that scientists have made. Add them up. Their answer? A ghastly future ahead.

LONDON, 19 January, 2021 − Humankind faces what 17 scientists have called “a ghastly future” − a threat to the Earth’s living things “so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

The dangers they pinpoint are the destruction and loss of the world’s plants and animals on an unprecedented scale; the overwhelming growth of the human population and the demand upon the world’s resources; and finally, climate disruption driven by human environmental change and fossil fuel dependence.

“This dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business and the public,” they write in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

“We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future.”

The scientists from Australia, the US and Mexico warn that as many as a million species could soon disappear from the face of the Earth in what is widely recognised as the planet’s sixth mass extinction.

“The mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation”

Because the planetary burden of humans has doubled in just 50 years and could reach 10 bn by 2050, the world faces a future of hunger, malnutrition, mass unemployment, a refugee crisis and ever more devastating pandemics.

And human-triggered climate change will mean more fires, more frequent and intense flooding, poorer water and air quality, and worsening human health.

The authors base their portrait of an already beleaguered planet on more than 150 scientific studies, many of them on the dangerous loss of biodiversity, triggered by the human-wrought changes to 70% of the planet’s land surface. With this loss goes the Earth’s ability to support complex life.

“But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation,” said Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia, the lead author.

“The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymying the action that is crucial for survival.”

Familiar litany

Most of the world’s economies, the authors argue, are predicated on the political belief that meaningful counter-action would be too costly to be politically palatable. “Combined with financed disinformation campaigns in a bid to protect short-term profits, it is doubtful that any needed shift in economic investments of sufficient scale will be made in time.”

Importantly, the scientists who have signed the paper bring no new information: they simply attempt to put into perspective a series of findings that have been confirmed repeatedly.

Two-fifths of the world’s plant species are endangered; the collective mass of wild mammals worldwide has fallen by 25%; and 68% of vertebrate species have declined; much of this in the last century or so.

Humans and their domestic animals now add up to 95% of the mass of all vertebrates: the wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians constitute just 5% of surviving creation.

And the structures that humans have fashioned − roads, buildings and so on − now outweigh the animals and plants on Earth.

With the loss of wilderness comes the loss of what researchers call natural capital and ecosystem services: the reduced pollination of crops, the degradation of soils, poorer air and water supplies, and so on.

Summons to act

In 1960, humans had already requisitioned around 73% of the planet’s regenerative capacity: that is, what humans demanded was still within the limits of the sustainable. In 2016, this demand had grown to an unsustainable 170%.

Around 700 to 800 million people are starving, and between one and two billion are malnourished. Population growth sparks both internal and international conflict and is in turn exacerbated by climate change driven by ever-higher global average temperatures.

The potential count of what researchers call environmental refugees − people driven from their homes by drought, poverty, civil war, flooding or heat extremes − has been set at anywhere between 25 million and 1bn by 2050.

And the scientists warn of political impotence: what nations and national leaders are doing to address any of these issues is ineffective in the face of what they call humanity’s “ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term.”

They write: “Ours is not a call to surrender − we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.” − Climate News Network

Drylands hit harder by poverty than richer regions

The arrival of the rains leaves the drylands hit harder than richer areas. Once again, climate change sows injustice.

LONDON, 7 December, 2020 − Not even the climate can be even-handed. When the rains come they leave the world’s drylands hit harder: the wealthier fare better and the poorest get relatively a little poorer. And the evidence is visible literally at the grassroots.

European scientists have been measuring vegetation growth as recorded in fine detail by satellite observation over the last 20 years. And they report that in the developing world, the vegetation that sprouts after rainfall on arid lands is more meagre, while in the better-off nations the same rainfall on the same kind of dryland terrain produces more healthy growth.

The consequence, researchers warn in the journal Nature Sustainability, could result in more food shortages, more disruption, and growing numbers of climate refugees.

“We observe a clear trend of arid areas developing in a negative direction in the most economically challenged countries,” said Rasmus Fensholt, of the University of Copenhagen, one of the authors.

“Here it is apparent that the growth of vegetation has become increasingly decoupled from the water resources available, and that there is simply less vegetation in relation to the amount of rainfall. The opposite is the case in the wealthiest countries.”

“One consequence of declining vegetation in the world’s poorer arid regions may be an increase in climate refugees from various African countries. There is no indication that the problem will diminish”

Roughly 40% of the Earth’s habitable land is arid or semi-arid, and the global drylands are home to almost a third of all humanity, around half of all the planet’s birds and mammals, as well as providing range for livestock and land for crops. Most of the world’s drylands are also home to many of the world’s least developed countries, and many of the poorest citizenry.

And, in a world of climate change driven by ever-rising global temperatures, fuelled in turn by greenhouse gas emissions from increasing fossil fuel use, things don’t look promising.

Research from the last four decades has repeatedly predicted that although global rainfall may be higher in total, those regions already well-watered will tend to become wetter, while those that have adapted to arid climate regimes will get drier. By the end of this century the proportion defined as dryland may have expanded by 23%.

And although higher temperatures, higher levels of atmospheric carbon and changes in rainfall regimes have had the overall effect of “greening” many of the drylands, those already struggling to survive are getting less benefit from any rain that falls.

The scientists, from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, made a close analysis of satellite imagery from 2000 to 2015 to identify not rainfall changes, but vegetation productivity in relation to rainfall: they found pronounced differences across regions and continents. Drylands in Africa and Asia fared proportionately less well compared to South America and Australia.

Upward trend reversed

What made the difference, they think, is the number and the plight of the people on whom the rain fell. Rapid population growth in Africa meant greater pressure on land less suitable for agriculture, and more intense grazing on already fragile grassland cover.

In the richer nations, conversely, farms had expanded and intensified with help from fertiliser and irrigation.

This is not the first study to find that in a world of climate change, the poorest − among them those who have contributed least to global heating − will be hit hardest. The match of more people with less productive land can only mean more competition for less food at higher prices.

“One consequence of declining vegetation in the world’s poorer arid regions may be an increase in climate refugees from various African countries. According to what we have seen in this study, there is no indication that the problem will diminish in future,” Professor Fensholt said.

“We have been pleased to see that, for a number of years, vegetation has been on an upwards trend in arid regions. But if we dig only a tiny bit deeper and look at how successfully precipitation has translated into vegetation, then climate change seems to be hitting unevenly, which is troubling.” − Climate News Network

The arrival of the rains leaves the drylands hit harder than richer areas. Once again, climate change sows injustice.

LONDON, 7 December, 2020 − Not even the climate can be even-handed. When the rains come they leave the world’s drylands hit harder: the wealthier fare better and the poorest get relatively a little poorer. And the evidence is visible literally at the grassroots.

European scientists have been measuring vegetation growth as recorded in fine detail by satellite observation over the last 20 years. And they report that in the developing world, the vegetation that sprouts after rainfall on arid lands is more meagre, while in the better-off nations the same rainfall on the same kind of dryland terrain produces more healthy growth.

The consequence, researchers warn in the journal Nature Sustainability, could result in more food shortages, more disruption, and growing numbers of climate refugees.

“We observe a clear trend of arid areas developing in a negative direction in the most economically challenged countries,” said Rasmus Fensholt, of the University of Copenhagen, one of the authors.

“Here it is apparent that the growth of vegetation has become increasingly decoupled from the water resources available, and that there is simply less vegetation in relation to the amount of rainfall. The opposite is the case in the wealthiest countries.”

“One consequence of declining vegetation in the world’s poorer arid regions may be an increase in climate refugees from various African countries. There is no indication that the problem will diminish”

Roughly 40% of the Earth’s habitable land is arid or semi-arid, and the global drylands are home to almost a third of all humanity, around half of all the planet’s birds and mammals, as well as providing range for livestock and land for crops. Most of the world’s drylands are also home to many of the world’s least developed countries, and many of the poorest citizenry.

And, in a world of climate change driven by ever-rising global temperatures, fuelled in turn by greenhouse gas emissions from increasing fossil fuel use, things don’t look promising.

Research from the last four decades has repeatedly predicted that although global rainfall may be higher in total, those regions already well-watered will tend to become wetter, while those that have adapted to arid climate regimes will get drier. By the end of this century the proportion defined as dryland may have expanded by 23%.

And although higher temperatures, higher levels of atmospheric carbon and changes in rainfall regimes have had the overall effect of “greening” many of the drylands, those already struggling to survive are getting less benefit from any rain that falls.

The scientists, from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, made a close analysis of satellite imagery from 2000 to 2015 to identify not rainfall changes, but vegetation productivity in relation to rainfall: they found pronounced differences across regions and continents. Drylands in Africa and Asia fared proportionately less well compared to South America and Australia.

Upward trend reversed

What made the difference, they think, is the number and the plight of the people on whom the rain fell. Rapid population growth in Africa meant greater pressure on land less suitable for agriculture, and more intense grazing on already fragile grassland cover.

In the richer nations, conversely, farms had expanded and intensified with help from fertiliser and irrigation.

This is not the first study to find that in a world of climate change, the poorest − among them those who have contributed least to global heating − will be hit hardest. The match of more people with less productive land can only mean more competition for less food at higher prices.

“One consequence of declining vegetation in the world’s poorer arid regions may be an increase in climate refugees from various African countries. According to what we have seen in this study, there is no indication that the problem will diminish in future,” Professor Fensholt said.

“We have been pleased to see that, for a number of years, vegetation has been on an upwards trend in arid regions. But if we dig only a tiny bit deeper and look at how successfully precipitation has translated into vegetation, then climate change seems to be hitting unevenly, which is troubling.” − Climate News Network

Rising ocean heat leaves fish gasping for oxygen

Lack of oxygen will leave some fish gasping as the thermometer rises. Deep time offers a guide to those at greatest risk.

LONDON, 2 December, 2020 − As global temperatures soar, the planetary menu could start to dwindle. Cod, sea bass and haddock will move to cooler and more distant waters. Tropical species relying on the shelter of coral reefs could simply disappear. Fish gasping for oxygen will struggle to survive.

And although the world’s marine catch is already under pressure from pollution, ocean acidification and overfishing, the real threat is now clear. As ocean temperatures rise, oxygen levels in the world’s seas will fall, and the most active fish could start to stifle.

Some sea creatures will survive: sharks, rays and other cartilaginous fish will do better than the bony ones. Bivalves that cling to rocks will also cling on to life.

But some types of fish could be pushed to their tolerance limits, says a new study in the journal Global Change Biology, and global heating driven by ever-higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will be the primary cause.

“Warm water contains less oxygen than cool water. This tends to affect organisms that consume the most oxygen, which can mean that actively mobile animals are particularly affected,” said Carl Reddin of the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, who headed the research.

Heading for 3°C

He and his colleagues set themselves a simple challenge: why do some groups of marine creatures go extinct more often than others? The steady decline in fish catches on traditional grounds already has one obvious explanation: humans have overfished, and polluted. So the scientists decided to take a long cool look at the past.

“The deep time fossil record, conversely, is free from human impacts, and documents extinctions during ancient episodes of rapid climate warming, or hyperthermals,” they write.

They looked back across the evidence preserved in the rocks over the last 300 million years and identified what they call “six global hyperthermal events that shared a rapid increase in tropical sea surface temperatures, generally greater than 2°C, with an onset duration less than 100,000 years.”

In effect, they were looking for global conditions that matched those now happening. In the last 100 years, planetary average temperatures have risen by 1°C, and although almost all the world’s nations met in 2015 and vowed to try to contain global heating by 2100 to “well below” 2°C, the planet is heading towards a rise of more than 3°C above the long-term average in the next eight decades.

The Berlin team found that those groups of marine animals that − on the evidence of the fossil record − were most vulnerable to global warming in the deep past looked very like those that seem most in trouble today, among them the bony fishes.

“The deep time fossil record documents extinctions during ancient episodes of rapid climate warming”

The idea is not new. Other marine biologists have repeatedly warned of oxygen depletion in and beyond the fishing grounds.

Separately, there has been evidence that higher temperatures have begun to change the nature of the oceans, and fishermen have begun to count the cost as their catch migrates to waters that are cooler.

What this latest study does is clear up the uncertainty. Overfishing remains a problem. Ocean acidification will certainly affect some shellfish and possibly also fish behaviour. Pollution has already increased the number of marine dead zones.

But beyond that, the problem is simply one of temperature, and the latest study identifies those groups or classes of marine creature most at risk from another rise in the planetary thermometer: those sensitive to “warming-induced seawater de-oxygenation,” the researchers report.

And they add: “In anticipation of modern warming-driven marine extinctions, the trends illustrated in the fossil record offer an expedient preview.” − Climate News Network

Lack of oxygen will leave some fish gasping as the thermometer rises. Deep time offers a guide to those at greatest risk.

LONDON, 2 December, 2020 − As global temperatures soar, the planetary menu could start to dwindle. Cod, sea bass and haddock will move to cooler and more distant waters. Tropical species relying on the shelter of coral reefs could simply disappear. Fish gasping for oxygen will struggle to survive.

And although the world’s marine catch is already under pressure from pollution, ocean acidification and overfishing, the real threat is now clear. As ocean temperatures rise, oxygen levels in the world’s seas will fall, and the most active fish could start to stifle.

Some sea creatures will survive: sharks, rays and other cartilaginous fish will do better than the bony ones. Bivalves that cling to rocks will also cling on to life.

But some types of fish could be pushed to their tolerance limits, says a new study in the journal Global Change Biology, and global heating driven by ever-higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will be the primary cause.

“Warm water contains less oxygen than cool water. This tends to affect organisms that consume the most oxygen, which can mean that actively mobile animals are particularly affected,” said Carl Reddin of the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, who headed the research.

Heading for 3°C

He and his colleagues set themselves a simple challenge: why do some groups of marine creatures go extinct more often than others? The steady decline in fish catches on traditional grounds already has one obvious explanation: humans have overfished, and polluted. So the scientists decided to take a long cool look at the past.

“The deep time fossil record, conversely, is free from human impacts, and documents extinctions during ancient episodes of rapid climate warming, or hyperthermals,” they write.

They looked back across the evidence preserved in the rocks over the last 300 million years and identified what they call “six global hyperthermal events that shared a rapid increase in tropical sea surface temperatures, generally greater than 2°C, with an onset duration less than 100,000 years.”

In effect, they were looking for global conditions that matched those now happening. In the last 100 years, planetary average temperatures have risen by 1°C, and although almost all the world’s nations met in 2015 and vowed to try to contain global heating by 2100 to “well below” 2°C, the planet is heading towards a rise of more than 3°C above the long-term average in the next eight decades.

The Berlin team found that those groups of marine animals that − on the evidence of the fossil record − were most vulnerable to global warming in the deep past looked very like those that seem most in trouble today, among them the bony fishes.

“The deep time fossil record documents extinctions during ancient episodes of rapid climate warming”

The idea is not new. Other marine biologists have repeatedly warned of oxygen depletion in and beyond the fishing grounds.

Separately, there has been evidence that higher temperatures have begun to change the nature of the oceans, and fishermen have begun to count the cost as their catch migrates to waters that are cooler.

What this latest study does is clear up the uncertainty. Overfishing remains a problem. Ocean acidification will certainly affect some shellfish and possibly also fish behaviour. Pollution has already increased the number of marine dead zones.

But beyond that, the problem is simply one of temperature, and the latest study identifies those groups or classes of marine creature most at risk from another rise in the planetary thermometer: those sensitive to “warming-induced seawater de-oxygenation,” the researchers report.

And they add: “In anticipation of modern warming-driven marine extinctions, the trends illustrated in the fossil record offer an expedient preview.” − Climate News Network

Advertisements harm the planet, researchers say

Like them or loathe them, advertisements are everywhere. And they’re worsening the climate crisis, say social scientists.

LONDON, 27 November, 2020 − Part and parcel of modern society, advertisements are so familiar in the background of most of our lives that we probably scarcely notice them. That’s a pity, because − if a new report is right − their influence may be indirectly causing climate and ecological damage.

The report, Advertising’s role in climate and ecological degradation, was commissioned by the Badvertising campaign, which is run by the New Weather Institute, a group backing a rapid transition to a fairer economy, and the climate campaign Possible. It is published today to coincide with Black Friday, regarded as the start of the US Christmas shopping season.

The report’s message is simple: advertising makes us want more material goods and services, which damage the environment and the climate in both their provision and their use. So less and better advertising would be good for the planet.

Its author is Dr Tim Kasser. Answering an argument often made in support of advertising, he told the Climate News Network: “Advertising does help people choose between products, but it also inculcates a general desire to want more of what is offered in the marketplace.

“When hundreds of millions of people have desires for more and more stuff and for more and more services and experiences, that really adds up and puts a strain on the Earth.”

Dependent media

Cautiously, perhaps, the advertising industry “indirectly” contributes to climate and ecological degradation, the report argues. For this it holds responsible the industry’s “encouragement of materialistic values and goals, the consumption-driving work & spend cycle”, and the consumption of two products in particular − beef and tobacco.

Definitions may help here. Materialism, the researchers say, is people’s desire to be rich as a result of “exposure to messages in their environment which suggest that happiness and a good life depend upon wealth and consumption.”

And here’s a spoiler alert for journalists: the survival of the media “typically depends on revenue obtained from presenting users with advertisements that encourage consumption.” The more TV you watch, the more adverts you’ll see, and the more materialistic you’ll become, it seems.

On the work & spend cycle, the study says: “Individuals who live under consumer capitalism are subjected to numerous pressures to work long hours … [one] is the desire to consume.” So “advertising leads people to place higher value on consumption of what they see advertised and lower value on having more time available for non-work activities.”

“Advertising serves capitalist economies in much the same way that state-sponsored art served Stalin’s Soviet Union, presenting a fake, idealised world that papers over an often brutal reality”

Advertisements can in fact mean “many people come to want to work, shop, and consume relatively more than to rest, recreate, and relate with others.” And there’s more: “Long work hours are associated with higher ecological footprints, greenhouse gas emissions, and overall energy consumption.”

When people work long hours, they have less time to engage in ecologically-sustainable and relatively time-intensive activities: bike-riding rather than car-driving, or growing food instead of buying it pre-packaged from a shop.

One of the researchers’ selected products, beef, can cause environmental damage as it is produced: unsustainable water use, destruction of forests, high levels of both greenhouse gases and pollutants that cause excessive algal growth. It can also damage human health (for example, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, linked in cattle to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease). Excessive consumption has been linked with heart disease and cancer.

The lethal risks of smoking tobacco are all too familiar. Producing and using cigarettes, the report finds, has much the same environmental effects as the beef industry and, a familiar refrain, “scientific evidence is consistent with the conclusion that advertising indirectly causes climate and ecological degradation through its encouragement of the consumption of tobacco.”

It may sound as though this demolition of advertisements is essentially an attack on the bedrock of capitalism. Andrew Simms, a co-author, told the Network it’s not that simple: “Advertising is so clever at being attractive or entertaining that it’s easy to forget it is manipulating us to get what it wants.

Broader reach

“And what it wants is for us to consume more, regardless of the environmental consequences or, indeed, the impact on our mental health or personal debt.

“I find it helps to remember that advertising serves capitalist economies in much the same way that state-sponsored art served Stalin’s Soviet Union, presenting a fake, idealised world that papers over an often brutal reality. But advertising in one sense is even more dangerous, because it is so pervasive, sophisticated in its techniques and harder to see through.”

The authors also take a sideswipe at two other products: flying for leisure, and sports utility vehicles. For possible solutions they refer readers to the Badvertising campaign’s toolkit.

They sum up their report with a suggestion that there’s more to come: “Substantial scientific evidence exists to support the claim that advertising has indirect but real effects on climate and ecological degradation. It seems likely that similar dynamics occur for other products, services, and experiences.”

Realists (or cynics) may conclude that the report simply proves that advertising really does work. Idealists may counter that that shows the researchers have not been wasting their time. − Climate News Network

Like them or loathe them, advertisements are everywhere. And they’re worsening the climate crisis, say social scientists.

LONDON, 27 November, 2020 − Part and parcel of modern society, advertisements are so familiar in the background of most of our lives that we probably scarcely notice them. That’s a pity, because − if a new report is right − their influence may be indirectly causing climate and ecological damage.

The report, Advertising’s role in climate and ecological degradation, was commissioned by the Badvertising campaign, which is run by the New Weather Institute, a group backing a rapid transition to a fairer economy, and the climate campaign Possible. It is published today to coincide with Black Friday, regarded as the start of the US Christmas shopping season.

The report’s message is simple: advertising makes us want more material goods and services, which damage the environment and the climate in both their provision and their use. So less and better advertising would be good for the planet.

Its author is Dr Tim Kasser. Answering an argument often made in support of advertising, he told the Climate News Network: “Advertising does help people choose between products, but it also inculcates a general desire to want more of what is offered in the marketplace.

“When hundreds of millions of people have desires for more and more stuff and for more and more services and experiences, that really adds up and puts a strain on the Earth.”

Dependent media

Cautiously, perhaps, the advertising industry “indirectly” contributes to climate and ecological degradation, the report argues. For this it holds responsible the industry’s “encouragement of materialistic values and goals, the consumption-driving work & spend cycle”, and the consumption of two products in particular − beef and tobacco.

Definitions may help here. Materialism, the researchers say, is people’s desire to be rich as a result of “exposure to messages in their environment which suggest that happiness and a good life depend upon wealth and consumption.”

And here’s a spoiler alert for journalists: the survival of the media “typically depends on revenue obtained from presenting users with advertisements that encourage consumption.” The more TV you watch, the more adverts you’ll see, and the more materialistic you’ll become, it seems.

On the work & spend cycle, the study says: “Individuals who live under consumer capitalism are subjected to numerous pressures to work long hours … [one] is the desire to consume.” So “advertising leads people to place higher value on consumption of what they see advertised and lower value on having more time available for non-work activities.”

“Advertising serves capitalist economies in much the same way that state-sponsored art served Stalin’s Soviet Union, presenting a fake, idealised world that papers over an often brutal reality”

Advertisements can in fact mean “many people come to want to work, shop, and consume relatively more than to rest, recreate, and relate with others.” And there’s more: “Long work hours are associated with higher ecological footprints, greenhouse gas emissions, and overall energy consumption.”

When people work long hours, they have less time to engage in ecologically-sustainable and relatively time-intensive activities: bike-riding rather than car-driving, or growing food instead of buying it pre-packaged from a shop.

One of the researchers’ selected products, beef, can cause environmental damage as it is produced: unsustainable water use, destruction of forests, high levels of both greenhouse gases and pollutants that cause excessive algal growth. It can also damage human health (for example, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, linked in cattle to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease). Excessive consumption has been linked with heart disease and cancer.

The lethal risks of smoking tobacco are all too familiar. Producing and using cigarettes, the report finds, has much the same environmental effects as the beef industry and, a familiar refrain, “scientific evidence is consistent with the conclusion that advertising indirectly causes climate and ecological degradation through its encouragement of the consumption of tobacco.”

It may sound as though this demolition of advertisements is essentially an attack on the bedrock of capitalism. Andrew Simms, a co-author, told the Network it’s not that simple: “Advertising is so clever at being attractive or entertaining that it’s easy to forget it is manipulating us to get what it wants.

Broader reach

“And what it wants is for us to consume more, regardless of the environmental consequences or, indeed, the impact on our mental health or personal debt.

“I find it helps to remember that advertising serves capitalist economies in much the same way that state-sponsored art served Stalin’s Soviet Union, presenting a fake, idealised world that papers over an often brutal reality. But advertising in one sense is even more dangerous, because it is so pervasive, sophisticated in its techniques and harder to see through.”

The authors also take a sideswipe at two other products: flying for leisure, and sports utility vehicles. For possible solutions they refer readers to the Badvertising campaign’s toolkit.

They sum up their report with a suggestion that there’s more to come: “Substantial scientific evidence exists to support the claim that advertising has indirect but real effects on climate and ecological degradation. It seems likely that similar dynamics occur for other products, services, and experiences.”

Realists (or cynics) may conclude that the report simply proves that advertising really does work. Idealists may counter that that shows the researchers have not been wasting their time. − Climate News Network