Tag Archives: Human health

Mixed farming beats intensive agriculture methods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All-round winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All-round winners

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

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

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

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

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

Climate crisis finds ample answers in world’s trees

The world’s trees can build cities, devour carbon and feed developing countries’ small farmers. It’s time to branch out.

LONDON, 17 November, 2020 − The great climate change challenge should consider the world’s trees. New wooden cities and suburbs − that is, new homes fashioned from wood rather than bricks and mortar − could consume 55 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year: that adds up to almost half of the annual greenhouse gas emissions from Europe’s cement industry.

And the bigger and more substantial the tree, the more value in the arboreal effort to limit global warming and contain climate change. A US study has found that large trees − those with trunks of 53 cms at breast height − might make up only 3% of a measured plot, but contain 42% of all the above-ground carbon.

And trees could enhance human health as well as capture carbon: an international team believes that tree-sourced food − think mangoes, avocados, Brazil nuts and so on − could deliver much more nourishment for tomorrow’s supper tables.

The planet is home to at least 7,000 edible plants. Half the world’s calories come from just four crops, all high in calories but low in nutrients − wheat, rice, sugar cane and maize − that simultaneously fuel both malnutrition and obesity. There are 50,000 tree species in the tropics alone, a number of them potentially new sources of high quality food.

The conclusions of all three studies are tentative. But they are also familiar: that is, other research teams have for years been investigating trees as fabric, trees as absorbers of atmospheric carbon, and trees as enhanced forms of farming.

“This is the first time that the carbon storage potential of wooden building construction has been evaluated on the European level”

But all three offer a new and more detailed look, and confirm the big picture: when it comes to climate, the world’s trees are among the most important things on the planet.

Finnish scientists report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they looked again at 50 case studies of timber as a way of growing cities: Europe builds about 190 million square metres of housing each year, largely in cities, and this demand for new homes is growing at 1% a year. Buildings worldwide − concrete, steel, glass, bricks, tiles, paving and so on − account for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

If however 80% of new residential buildings in Europe were built of, clad with and furnished from timber from sustainable forests, then this could represent a carbon sink of 55 million tonnes of CO2 a year, represent a 47% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from Europe’s cement-makers, and deliver energy-efficient homes.

“This is the first time that the carbon storage potential of wooden building construction has been evaluated on the European level, in different scenarios,” said Ali Amiri, of Aalto University, who led the study. “We hope that our model could be used as a roadmap to increase wooden construction in Europe.”

US scientists report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that they took a close look at large diameter trees on National Forest lands in the states of Oregon and Washington.

Size matters

Trees with diameters greater than 21 inches, or 53.3 cms, accounted for only 3% of the total number of trees in the plots they chose to study. But when it came to absorbing atmospheric carbon, these were the real heavyweights. They contained 42% of all the above-ground carbon in the entire measured ecosystem.

Trees bigger than 30 inches, or 76 cms in diameter, made up only 0.6% of the total number, but accounted for 16% of the total above-ground carbon. The message was, the bigger the better.

The forest giants are themselves natural habitat: they support birds, mammals, insects, microbes and other plants; they serve as soaring water towers, tapping groundwater and cooling the environment through evotranspiration. And their value as a store of atmospheric carbon has been confirmed again and again.

“If you think of adding a ring of new growth to the circumference of a large tree and its branches every year, that ring adds up to a lot more carbon than the ring of a small tree,” said David Mildrexler, of Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands, who led the research. “This is why specifically letting large trees grow larger is important for climate change.”

And trees, researchers from five nations argue in the journal People and Nature, could be the healthy solution both to the climate crisis and to poor diet.

Better fed

Of the world’s 100 most nourishing foods, 14 come from trees. The planet is home to 60,000 species of tree, and many − especially in the tropics − provide nutritious fruits, nuts, leaves and seeds. Many are exploited only by small rural communities.

In the Amazon basin, for instance, a shrub called Myrciaria dubia was found to have a vitamin C content 54 times that of an orange. The scientists looked at seven tropical nations to identify foods from 90 tree species: these provided local families with 11% of diet by mass but 31% of the daily intake of vitamins A and C.

Never mind the giant commercial palm oil plantations and cacao harvests: the researchers see tree crops as something that could sustainably help hundreds of millions of the world’s smallholder farmers, by diversifying income and providing more and healthier food with a very low investment.

“The right type of trees in the right place can provide nutritious foods to improve diets sustainably while providing other valuable ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration,” said Merel Jansen, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology known as ETH Zurich, who led the investigation.

“It can also contribute to development issues related to poverty reduction, biodiversity conservation, and food security.” − Climate News Network

The world’s trees can build cities, devour carbon and feed developing countries’ small farmers. It’s time to branch out.

LONDON, 17 November, 2020 − The great climate change challenge should consider the world’s trees. New wooden cities and suburbs − that is, new homes fashioned from wood rather than bricks and mortar − could consume 55 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year: that adds up to almost half of the annual greenhouse gas emissions from Europe’s cement industry.

And the bigger and more substantial the tree, the more value in the arboreal effort to limit global warming and contain climate change. A US study has found that large trees − those with trunks of 53 cms at breast height − might make up only 3% of a measured plot, but contain 42% of all the above-ground carbon.

And trees could enhance human health as well as capture carbon: an international team believes that tree-sourced food − think mangoes, avocados, Brazil nuts and so on − could deliver much more nourishment for tomorrow’s supper tables.

The planet is home to at least 7,000 edible plants. Half the world’s calories come from just four crops, all high in calories but low in nutrients − wheat, rice, sugar cane and maize − that simultaneously fuel both malnutrition and obesity. There are 50,000 tree species in the tropics alone, a number of them potentially new sources of high quality food.

The conclusions of all three studies are tentative. But they are also familiar: that is, other research teams have for years been investigating trees as fabric, trees as absorbers of atmospheric carbon, and trees as enhanced forms of farming.

“This is the first time that the carbon storage potential of wooden building construction has been evaluated on the European level”

But all three offer a new and more detailed look, and confirm the big picture: when it comes to climate, the world’s trees are among the most important things on the planet.

Finnish scientists report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they looked again at 50 case studies of timber as a way of growing cities: Europe builds about 190 million square metres of housing each year, largely in cities, and this demand for new homes is growing at 1% a year. Buildings worldwide − concrete, steel, glass, bricks, tiles, paving and so on − account for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

If however 80% of new residential buildings in Europe were built of, clad with and furnished from timber from sustainable forests, then this could represent a carbon sink of 55 million tonnes of CO2 a year, represent a 47% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from Europe’s cement-makers, and deliver energy-efficient homes.

“This is the first time that the carbon storage potential of wooden building construction has been evaluated on the European level, in different scenarios,” said Ali Amiri, of Aalto University, who led the study. “We hope that our model could be used as a roadmap to increase wooden construction in Europe.”

US scientists report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that they took a close look at large diameter trees on National Forest lands in the states of Oregon and Washington.

Size matters

Trees with diameters greater than 21 inches, or 53.3 cms, accounted for only 3% of the total number of trees in the plots they chose to study. But when it came to absorbing atmospheric carbon, these were the real heavyweights. They contained 42% of all the above-ground carbon in the entire measured ecosystem.

Trees bigger than 30 inches, or 76 cms in diameter, made up only 0.6% of the total number, but accounted for 16% of the total above-ground carbon. The message was, the bigger the better.

The forest giants are themselves natural habitat: they support birds, mammals, insects, microbes and other plants; they serve as soaring water towers, tapping groundwater and cooling the environment through evotranspiration. And their value as a store of atmospheric carbon has been confirmed again and again.

“If you think of adding a ring of new growth to the circumference of a large tree and its branches every year, that ring adds up to a lot more carbon than the ring of a small tree,” said David Mildrexler, of Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands, who led the research. “This is why specifically letting large trees grow larger is important for climate change.”

And trees, researchers from five nations argue in the journal People and Nature, could be the healthy solution both to the climate crisis and to poor diet.

Better fed

Of the world’s 100 most nourishing foods, 14 come from trees. The planet is home to 60,000 species of tree, and many − especially in the tropics − provide nutritious fruits, nuts, leaves and seeds. Many are exploited only by small rural communities.

In the Amazon basin, for instance, a shrub called Myrciaria dubia was found to have a vitamin C content 54 times that of an orange. The scientists looked at seven tropical nations to identify foods from 90 tree species: these provided local families with 11% of diet by mass but 31% of the daily intake of vitamins A and C.

Never mind the giant commercial palm oil plantations and cacao harvests: the researchers see tree crops as something that could sustainably help hundreds of millions of the world’s smallholder farmers, by diversifying income and providing more and healthier food with a very low investment.

“The right type of trees in the right place can provide nutritious foods to improve diets sustainably while providing other valuable ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration,” said Merel Jansen, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology known as ETH Zurich, who led the investigation.

“It can also contribute to development issues related to poverty reduction, biodiversity conservation, and food security.” − Climate News Network

Green spaces keep hearts healthy and save lives

Planting trees and creating urban parks brings more green spaces and cleaner air, cutting heart deaths and saving lives.

LONDON, 16 November, 2020 − A vast study of the incidence of heart disease, the amount of green spaces and air quality in each county of the United States has shown that the presence of trees, shrubs and grass saves lives.

It has long been known that particulate matter from industry and car exhausts is bad for lungs and hearts. While it is also accepted that the greenery absorbs pollution, it has been hard until now to relate the extent of the two effects.

Using the data collected by NASA from satellites to calculate the greenness of vast areas of the US, the researchers compared it with the national death rates from the Atlas of Heart Disease.

They overlaid this with data from the Environment Protection Agency’s air quality measurements of particulate matter for each county and the Census Bureau’s information on age, race, education and income by county.

Using an internationally recognised system to measure the amount of green vegetation in any location, from a barren area of rock at one extreme (0.00 on the scale) to dense tropical rain forest (0.80) at the other, they found a measurable link between greenness and survival rates.

Policy shift needed

For every 0.10 (12.5%) increase in what’s called the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index, heart disease decreased by 13 deaths per 100,000. For every one microgram increase in particulate matter per cubic metre of air, heart disease increased by roughly 39 deaths per 100,000.

“We found that areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and that having higher greenness measures, in turn, is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease,” said William Aitken, a cardiology fellow with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Florida.

“Given the potential cardiovascular benefits of higher greenness measures, it’s important that dialogue about improved health and quality of life include environmental policies that support increasing greenness,” he said.

The research is significant in the battle against climate change too. Asian countries, particularly India and China, have severe problems with early death and disease as a result of air pollution. They have concentrated their efforts for reducing air pollution by reducing traffic and suppressing coal burning.

It is clear from this research that they could both remove particulates from the air and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by increasing the amount of vegetation in polluted areas.

“Areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and having higher greenness measures is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease”

The US researchers hope their results will encourage clinical trials using built environment interventions (e.g., tree planting to increase the presence of vegetation) to improve cardiovascular health. “We will be performing a longitudinal study in Miami to assess if changes in neighbourhood greenness over time are associated with changes in cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Aitken said.

Commenting on the research Joel Kaufman, a volunteer expert for the American Heart Association and a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington, Seattle, said in addition to the actions that individuals could take to ensure healthy lives, such as not smoking, being physically active and controlling cholesterol, environmental factors had turned out to be very important.

Ambient air pollution from burning fossil fuels is one of the major factors. Research over 20 years has shown that living in areas with higher concentrations of air pollutants, and breathing in the pollution, leads to higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Demonstrably, green spaces matter.

Dr Kaufman said that community-led action had mostly been directed at increasing controls over the sources of air pollution affecting the environment. But another effective approach would be to increase the level of greenness, planting trees, shrubs and grass.

In a statement the American Heart Association said long-term exposure to air pollution reduced life expectancy by between several months and a few years, depending on its severity. Cutting pollution improved the health and life expectancy of those living in the area quite quickly. − Climate News Network

Planting trees and creating urban parks brings more green spaces and cleaner air, cutting heart deaths and saving lives.

LONDON, 16 November, 2020 − A vast study of the incidence of heart disease, the amount of green spaces and air quality in each county of the United States has shown that the presence of trees, shrubs and grass saves lives.

It has long been known that particulate matter from industry and car exhausts is bad for lungs and hearts. While it is also accepted that the greenery absorbs pollution, it has been hard until now to relate the extent of the two effects.

Using the data collected by NASA from satellites to calculate the greenness of vast areas of the US, the researchers compared it with the national death rates from the Atlas of Heart Disease.

They overlaid this with data from the Environment Protection Agency’s air quality measurements of particulate matter for each county and the Census Bureau’s information on age, race, education and income by county.

Using an internationally recognised system to measure the amount of green vegetation in any location, from a barren area of rock at one extreme (0.00 on the scale) to dense tropical rain forest (0.80) at the other, they found a measurable link between greenness and survival rates.

Policy shift needed

For every 0.10 (12.5%) increase in what’s called the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index, heart disease decreased by 13 deaths per 100,000. For every one microgram increase in particulate matter per cubic metre of air, heart disease increased by roughly 39 deaths per 100,000.

“We found that areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and that having higher greenness measures, in turn, is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease,” said William Aitken, a cardiology fellow with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Florida.

“Given the potential cardiovascular benefits of higher greenness measures, it’s important that dialogue about improved health and quality of life include environmental policies that support increasing greenness,” he said.

The research is significant in the battle against climate change too. Asian countries, particularly India and China, have severe problems with early death and disease as a result of air pollution. They have concentrated their efforts for reducing air pollution by reducing traffic and suppressing coal burning.

It is clear from this research that they could both remove particulates from the air and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by increasing the amount of vegetation in polluted areas.

“Areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and having higher greenness measures is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease”

The US researchers hope their results will encourage clinical trials using built environment interventions (e.g., tree planting to increase the presence of vegetation) to improve cardiovascular health. “We will be performing a longitudinal study in Miami to assess if changes in neighbourhood greenness over time are associated with changes in cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Aitken said.

Commenting on the research Joel Kaufman, a volunteer expert for the American Heart Association and a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington, Seattle, said in addition to the actions that individuals could take to ensure healthy lives, such as not smoking, being physically active and controlling cholesterol, environmental factors had turned out to be very important.

Ambient air pollution from burning fossil fuels is one of the major factors. Research over 20 years has shown that living in areas with higher concentrations of air pollutants, and breathing in the pollution, leads to higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Demonstrably, green spaces matter.

Dr Kaufman said that community-led action had mostly been directed at increasing controls over the sources of air pollution affecting the environment. But another effective approach would be to increase the level of greenness, planting trees, shrubs and grass.

In a statement the American Heart Association said long-term exposure to air pollution reduced life expectancy by between several months and a few years, depending on its severity. Cutting pollution improved the health and life expectancy of those living in the area quite quickly. − Climate News Network

More avoidable pandemics await a heedless world

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilderness no more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negligible cost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilderness no more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negligible cost

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

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

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

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

Covid-19’s spread: Into the second lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking after each other better

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

More space for people and nature

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

Living with less stuff

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking after each other better

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

More space for people and nature

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

Living with less stuff

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

Japan faces another Fukushima disaster crisis

A plan to dump a million tonnes of radioactive water from the Fukushima disaster off Japan is alarming local people.

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − The Japanese government has an unsolvable problem: what to do with more than a million tonnes of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, in store since the Fukushima disaster and growing at more than 150 tonnes a day.

The water, contained in a thousand giant tanks, has been steadily accumulating since the nuclear accident in 2011. It has been used to cool the three reactors that suffered a meltdown as a result of the tsunami that hit the coast.

Tritium is a radioactive element produced as a by-product by nuclear reactors under normal operation, and is present everywhere in the fabric of the reactor buildings, so water used for cooling them is bound to be contaminated by it.

To avoid another potentially catastrophic meltdown in the remaining fuel the cooling has to continue indefinitely, so the problem continues to worsen. The government has been told that Japan will run out of storage tanks by 2022.

Announcement delayed

As often happens when governments are faced with difficult problems, the unpalatable decision to release the contaminated water into the sea has not been formally announced, but the intention of the government to take this course has been leaked and so widely reported.

Immediately both local and worldwide adverse reaction has resulted. There are the direct effects on the local fishermen who fear that no one will want to buy their catch, but over a wider area the health effects are the main concern.

As ever with the nuclear industry, there are two widely different views on tritium. The Health Physics Society says it is a mildly radioactive element that is present everywhere, and doubts that people will be affected by it. But the Nuclear Information and Resource Service believes tritium is far more dangerous and increases the likelihood of cancers, birth defects and genetic disorders.

The issue is further complicated because the Fukushima wastewater contains a number of other radionuclides, not in such high quantities, but sufficient to cause damage. Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, is extremely concerned about Japan’s plans and the health of the local people.

“Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least. This will allow time also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power”

In a detailed assessment of the situation he says other highly dangerous radioactive substances, including caesium-137 and strontium-90, are also in the water stored at Fukushima.

They are in lower quantities than the tritium, he says, but still unacceptably high – up to 100 times above the legally permitted limit. All these radionuclides decay over time − some take thousands of years − but tritium decays faster, the danger from it halving every 12.3 years.

In a briefing for the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), a UK based organisation, another independent analyst, Tim Deere-Jones, discusses research that shows that tritium binds with organic material in plants and animals.

This is potentially highly damaging to human health because it travels up the food chain in the marine environment, specifically accumulating in fish. This means fish-eating communities on the Japanese coast could ingest much larger quantities of tritium than some physicists think likely.

Relying on dilution

Tim Deere-Jones is also concerned that the tritium will be blown inshore on the prevailing wind in sea spray and will bio-accumulate in food plants, making it risky to eat crops as far as ten miles inland. Because of the potential dangers of releasing the water the NFLA has asked the Japanese government to reconsider its decision.

The government has not yet responded though, because officially it is still considering what to do. However, it is likely to argue that pumping the contaminated water into the sea is acceptable because it will be diluted millions of times, and anyway seawater does already contain minute quantities of tritium.

Dr Fairlie is among many who think this is too dangerous, but he admits there are no easy solutions.

He says: “Barring a miraculous technical discovery which is unlikely, I think TEPCO/Japanese Gov’t [TEPCO is the Tokyo Electric Power Company, owner of the Fukushima Daiichi plant]  will have to buy more land and keep on building more holding tanks to allow for tritium decay to take place. Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least.

“This will allow time not only for tritium to decay, but also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power.” − Climate News Network

A plan to dump a million tonnes of radioactive water from the Fukushima disaster off Japan is alarming local people.

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − The Japanese government has an unsolvable problem: what to do with more than a million tonnes of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, in store since the Fukushima disaster and growing at more than 150 tonnes a day.

The water, contained in a thousand giant tanks, has been steadily accumulating since the nuclear accident in 2011. It has been used to cool the three reactors that suffered a meltdown as a result of the tsunami that hit the coast.

Tritium is a radioactive element produced as a by-product by nuclear reactors under normal operation, and is present everywhere in the fabric of the reactor buildings, so water used for cooling them is bound to be contaminated by it.

To avoid another potentially catastrophic meltdown in the remaining fuel the cooling has to continue indefinitely, so the problem continues to worsen. The government has been told that Japan will run out of storage tanks by 2022.

Announcement delayed

As often happens when governments are faced with difficult problems, the unpalatable decision to release the contaminated water into the sea has not been formally announced, but the intention of the government to take this course has been leaked and so widely reported.

Immediately both local and worldwide adverse reaction has resulted. There are the direct effects on the local fishermen who fear that no one will want to buy their catch, but over a wider area the health effects are the main concern.

As ever with the nuclear industry, there are two widely different views on tritium. The Health Physics Society says it is a mildly radioactive element that is present everywhere, and doubts that people will be affected by it. But the Nuclear Information and Resource Service believes tritium is far more dangerous and increases the likelihood of cancers, birth defects and genetic disorders.

The issue is further complicated because the Fukushima wastewater contains a number of other radionuclides, not in such high quantities, but sufficient to cause damage. Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, is extremely concerned about Japan’s plans and the health of the local people.

“Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least. This will allow time also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power”

In a detailed assessment of the situation he says other highly dangerous radioactive substances, including caesium-137 and strontium-90, are also in the water stored at Fukushima.

They are in lower quantities than the tritium, he says, but still unacceptably high – up to 100 times above the legally permitted limit. All these radionuclides decay over time − some take thousands of years − but tritium decays faster, the danger from it halving every 12.3 years.

In a briefing for the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), a UK based organisation, another independent analyst, Tim Deere-Jones, discusses research that shows that tritium binds with organic material in plants and animals.

This is potentially highly damaging to human health because it travels up the food chain in the marine environment, specifically accumulating in fish. This means fish-eating communities on the Japanese coast could ingest much larger quantities of tritium than some physicists think likely.

Relying on dilution

Tim Deere-Jones is also concerned that the tritium will be blown inshore on the prevailing wind in sea spray and will bio-accumulate in food plants, making it risky to eat crops as far as ten miles inland. Because of the potential dangers of releasing the water the NFLA has asked the Japanese government to reconsider its decision.

The government has not yet responded though, because officially it is still considering what to do. However, it is likely to argue that pumping the contaminated water into the sea is acceptable because it will be diluted millions of times, and anyway seawater does already contain minute quantities of tritium.

Dr Fairlie is among many who think this is too dangerous, but he admits there are no easy solutions.

He says: “Barring a miraculous technical discovery which is unlikely, I think TEPCO/Japanese Gov’t [TEPCO is the Tokyo Electric Power Company, owner of the Fukushima Daiichi plant]  will have to buy more land and keep on building more holding tanks to allow for tritium decay to take place. Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least.

“This will allow time not only for tritium to decay, but also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power.” − Climate News Network

Africa’s resistance grows as climate crisis worsens

Battered by storms and droughts during a tough 2019, Africa’s resistance to the climate crisis left no room for passivity.

LONDON, 29 October, 2020 – Attempting to come to any general conclusions on the state of a vast, varied and complex continent may be a tricky business, but Africa’s resistance to the climate crisis shows it rejects any idea of settling for victimhood.

A new report, State of the Climate in Africa 2019, published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), makes that clear.

It reaches some grim conclusions. Increased temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather are threatening human health and safety across the continent, says the report.

“Climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest and contributing to food insecurity, population displacement and stress on water resources”, says Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary-general.

“In recent months we have seen devastating floods, an invasion of desert locusts and now face the looming spectre of drought because of a La Niña event”, he says. “The human and economic toll has been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Killer cyclone

Drought caused considerable damage in 2019, particularly across southern Africa. Much of East Africa also suffered drought but then, late in the year, there was torrential rain and serious flooding and landslides in the region.

The trend, says the report, is for continuing increases in temperature: 2019 was among the three warmest years ever recorded in Africa. The WMO predicts that rainfall is likely to decrease over northern and southern regions but increase over the Sahel.

There are also likely to be more weather-related extreme events. In March 2019 Cyclone Idai hit the coast of Mozambique and went on to devastate large areas of Malawi, Zimbabwe and surrounding countries.

Described as the most destructive cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, Idai killed hundreds of people and displaced several hundred thousand.

“Climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest”

Sea levels are rising well above the global average in many parts of Africa, the report says. Coastal degradation and erosion is a major challenge, particularly in West Africa. More than 50% of the coastlines in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo are eroding – a trend likely to continue in future years.

The knock-on effects of these changes in climate are considerable. Approximately 60% of the total population of Africa is dependent on agriculture for a living.

Heat and drought, plus flood damage in some areas, are likely to reduce crop productivity. Changes in climate are also leading to pest outbreaks.

In what it describes as the worst case climate change scenario, the report says crop yields could drop by 13% by mid-century across West and Central Africa, 11% in North Africa and 8% in the eastern and southern regions of the continent. Rice and wheat crops would be particularly badly affected.

Combatting the crisis

Increased heat and continually changing rainfall patterns are also likely to lead to the spread of disease – and a fall-off in economic production in many countries.

But the report does point to some positive changes, showing Africa’s resistance to the crisis. Though the continent is responsible for only a small percentage of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, many countries in Africa are taking measures aimed at tackling climate change.

Solar power is becoming more widespread, with several large-scale projects planned. Early warning systems monitoring the approach of such cataclysmic events as Cyclone Idai are being installed across the continent.
Farm incomes in many areas are increasing, due to the application of more efficient cultivation methods, such as micro-irrigation. But good planning, based on reliable data, is essential, the report says.

“The limited uptake and use of climate information services in development planning and practice in Africa is due in part to the paucity of reliable and timely climate information”, says Vera Songwe, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. – Climate News Network

Battered by storms and droughts during a tough 2019, Africa’s resistance to the climate crisis left no room for passivity.

LONDON, 29 October, 2020 – Attempting to come to any general conclusions on the state of a vast, varied and complex continent may be a tricky business, but Africa’s resistance to the climate crisis shows it rejects any idea of settling for victimhood.

A new report, State of the Climate in Africa 2019, published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), makes that clear.

It reaches some grim conclusions. Increased temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather are threatening human health and safety across the continent, says the report.

“Climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest and contributing to food insecurity, population displacement and stress on water resources”, says Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary-general.

“In recent months we have seen devastating floods, an invasion of desert locusts and now face the looming spectre of drought because of a La Niña event”, he says. “The human and economic toll has been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Killer cyclone

Drought caused considerable damage in 2019, particularly across southern Africa. Much of East Africa also suffered drought but then, late in the year, there was torrential rain and serious flooding and landslides in the region.

The trend, says the report, is for continuing increases in temperature: 2019 was among the three warmest years ever recorded in Africa. The WMO predicts that rainfall is likely to decrease over northern and southern regions but increase over the Sahel.

There are also likely to be more weather-related extreme events. In March 2019 Cyclone Idai hit the coast of Mozambique and went on to devastate large areas of Malawi, Zimbabwe and surrounding countries.

Described as the most destructive cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, Idai killed hundreds of people and displaced several hundred thousand.

“Climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest”

Sea levels are rising well above the global average in many parts of Africa, the report says. Coastal degradation and erosion is a major challenge, particularly in West Africa. More than 50% of the coastlines in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo are eroding – a trend likely to continue in future years.

The knock-on effects of these changes in climate are considerable. Approximately 60% of the total population of Africa is dependent on agriculture for a living.

Heat and drought, plus flood damage in some areas, are likely to reduce crop productivity. Changes in climate are also leading to pest outbreaks.

In what it describes as the worst case climate change scenario, the report says crop yields could drop by 13% by mid-century across West and Central Africa, 11% in North Africa and 8% in the eastern and southern regions of the continent. Rice and wheat crops would be particularly badly affected.

Combatting the crisis

Increased heat and continually changing rainfall patterns are also likely to lead to the spread of disease – and a fall-off in economic production in many countries.

But the report does point to some positive changes, showing Africa’s resistance to the crisis. Though the continent is responsible for only a small percentage of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, many countries in Africa are taking measures aimed at tackling climate change.

Solar power is becoming more widespread, with several large-scale projects planned. Early warning systems monitoring the approach of such cataclysmic events as Cyclone Idai are being installed across the continent.
Farm incomes in many areas are increasing, due to the application of more efficient cultivation methods, such as micro-irrigation. But good planning, based on reliable data, is essential, the report says.

“The limited uptake and use of climate information services in development planning and practice in Africa is due in part to the paucity of reliable and timely climate information”, says Vera Songwe, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. – Climate News Network

Western US and Southeast Asia face rising dust risk

It obscures the skies and darkens the snows. Wind-borne dust risk is increasingly ominous in a warming world.

LONDON, 26 October, 2020 − Half a planet apart, one low-lying and the other on the roof of the world, two huge regions confront an increasing dust risk − a menace to jobs, to food and to lives.

The Great Plains of North America are getting dustier every year because more soil is now being exposed to erosion. And high in the Himalayas on the continent of Asia, the peaks too are becoming dustier, in ways that threaten to increase the melting of high-altitude snows.

Both findings are in essence bad news. In the western US, higher levels of wind erosion as a consequence of changing farm practices combined with ever-greater probabilities of drought mean ever-higher probabilities of a return of the Dust Bowl that devastated the US Midwest 90 years ago.

And 700 million people in Southeast Asia, China and India depend on the slow melting of the Himalayan glaciers to irrigate their crops in the hot dry season: earlier melting threatens not just livelihoods but lives.

Taken for farming

In the 1930s, the Great Plains region was hit by drought that extended from Canada to Mexico. By then, vast tracts of prairie had been converted from wild grassland to ploughed field.

“The result was massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl. These dust storms removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur,” said Andrew Lambert of the University of Utah.

He and colleagues from Colorado report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they measured atmospheric dust levels by studying evidence from both space and from the ground, and collected data from 1988 to 2018.

They found that atmospheric dust over the Great Plains was increasing at 5% a year. That would mean a doubling in just two decades.

“The massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur”

They also found that levels of dust matched the planting and harvest months of soybean in the north, and corn in the southern states. How the land was farmed could be connected directly to the haze in the air.

Dust plays a powerful role in planetary management: researchers established years ago that the rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest was nourished and supplemented almost annually by deposits of fertile dust blown across the Atlantic from the African Sahara. And dust falling into the ocean on the journey also helped nourish marine life far below the surface of the Atlantic.

Now it seems that wind-blown dust from two continents also settles on the biggest and highest tracts of the Himalayas, to darken the snow, change its reflectivity and absorb the sun’s warmth.

Scientists from the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report in Nature Climate Change that they used detailed satellite imagery of the Himalayas to measure aerosols, elevation and snow surfaces to identify dust and other pollutants.

Constant release

They found that, at up to 4500 metres altitude, black carbon or soot played an important role in influencing the melt timetable of the high snows. Above that altitude, dust was the most important factor: dust from the Thar desert in India, from Saudi Arabia and even from the African Sahara.

Although this was part of a natural cycle, humankind may be accelerating the traffic and adding to the dust risk: ever-higher planetary temperatures have begun to affect atmospheric circulation. And as humans turn natural ecosystems into farmland, they release even more dust.

“The snow in the western Himalayas is receding rapidly. We need to understand why this is happening and we need to understand the implications,” said Chandan Sarangi, then at Pacific Northwest but now at the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai, and one of the authors.

“We’ve shown that dust can be a big contributor to the accelerated snowmelt. Hundreds of millions of people in the region rely on snow for their drinking water − we need to consider factors like dust seriously to understand what’s happening.” − Climate News Network

It obscures the skies and darkens the snows. Wind-borne dust risk is increasingly ominous in a warming world.

LONDON, 26 October, 2020 − Half a planet apart, one low-lying and the other on the roof of the world, two huge regions confront an increasing dust risk − a menace to jobs, to food and to lives.

The Great Plains of North America are getting dustier every year because more soil is now being exposed to erosion. And high in the Himalayas on the continent of Asia, the peaks too are becoming dustier, in ways that threaten to increase the melting of high-altitude snows.

Both findings are in essence bad news. In the western US, higher levels of wind erosion as a consequence of changing farm practices combined with ever-greater probabilities of drought mean ever-higher probabilities of a return of the Dust Bowl that devastated the US Midwest 90 years ago.

And 700 million people in Southeast Asia, China and India depend on the slow melting of the Himalayan glaciers to irrigate their crops in the hot dry season: earlier melting threatens not just livelihoods but lives.

Taken for farming

In the 1930s, the Great Plains region was hit by drought that extended from Canada to Mexico. By then, vast tracts of prairie had been converted from wild grassland to ploughed field.

“The result was massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl. These dust storms removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur,” said Andrew Lambert of the University of Utah.

He and colleagues from Colorado report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they measured atmospheric dust levels by studying evidence from both space and from the ground, and collected data from 1988 to 2018.

They found that atmospheric dust over the Great Plains was increasing at 5% a year. That would mean a doubling in just two decades.

“The massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur”

They also found that levels of dust matched the planting and harvest months of soybean in the north, and corn in the southern states. How the land was farmed could be connected directly to the haze in the air.

Dust plays a powerful role in planetary management: researchers established years ago that the rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest was nourished and supplemented almost annually by deposits of fertile dust blown across the Atlantic from the African Sahara. And dust falling into the ocean on the journey also helped nourish marine life far below the surface of the Atlantic.

Now it seems that wind-blown dust from two continents also settles on the biggest and highest tracts of the Himalayas, to darken the snow, change its reflectivity and absorb the sun’s warmth.

Scientists from the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report in Nature Climate Change that they used detailed satellite imagery of the Himalayas to measure aerosols, elevation and snow surfaces to identify dust and other pollutants.

Constant release

They found that, at up to 4500 metres altitude, black carbon or soot played an important role in influencing the melt timetable of the high snows. Above that altitude, dust was the most important factor: dust from the Thar desert in India, from Saudi Arabia and even from the African Sahara.

Although this was part of a natural cycle, humankind may be accelerating the traffic and adding to the dust risk: ever-higher planetary temperatures have begun to affect atmospheric circulation. And as humans turn natural ecosystems into farmland, they release even more dust.

“The snow in the western Himalayas is receding rapidly. We need to understand why this is happening and we need to understand the implications,” said Chandan Sarangi, then at Pacific Northwest but now at the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai, and one of the authors.

“We’ve shown that dust can be a big contributor to the accelerated snowmelt. Hundreds of millions of people in the region rely on snow for their drinking water − we need to consider factors like dust seriously to understand what’s happening.” − Climate News Network

Poor air inflicts billions of premature deaths in Asia

Air pollution by tiny particles is among the world’s worst health risks. In South Asia, poor air is as bad as it gets.

NEW DELHI, 22 October, 2020 − Poor air costs lives, but finding out just how many of them will come as a shock to many residents of South Asia’s big cities.

In India’s capital, New Delhi, just going outside and breathing the air can shorten your life by more than nine years, according to a new report into the region’s air quality that measures the effects of pollution on life expectancy.

For millions of people across across north-west India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it will be bad news − despite the Covid crisis − because of the current surge in air pollution in the region.

But none of the people of four countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, will be happy with the prediction that their lives will be shortened unless their governments take air pollution seriously.

New Delhi is the worst single example in the four, but few of their citizens − a quarter of the world’s population − will escape.

Bangladesh worst hit

Averaged across the whole population, the people of Bangladesh suffer most from air pollution in any country, with their average life span cut short by 6.2 years.

An air quality index (AQI) provides daily air quality assessments, but not the actual health risk. An air quality life index (AQLI) goes further: it converts particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important air pollution metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy.

The report is the work of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), which has recently updated its AQLI, based on research by its director Michael Greenstone that quantified the causal relationship between human exposure to air pollution and reduced life expectancy.

While the report makes grim reading for nations south of the Himalayas, it does offer some hope, saying that the people of China can see marked improvements since their government began clamping down on polluting industries in 2013.

The report uses two measures to calculate lower expectations of life expectancy: the more stringent World Heath Organisation guidelines (WHO) and the limits imposed by the governments concerned.

“The threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving [but] embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives”

It says air pollution shortens Indian average life expectancy by 5.2 years, relative to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met, but by 2.3 years relative to the rate if pollution were reduced to meet the country’s own national standard.

Some areas of India fare much worse than the average, with air pollution shortening lives by 9.4 years in Delhi and 8.6 years in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the report’s India fact sheet 2020 says.

Similarly, the Pakistan sheet says the average Pakistani’s life expectancy has been shortened by 2.7 years, while air pollution cuts lives by more than 4 years in the most polluted areas.

Naming Bangladesh as the world’s most polluted country, EPIC’s report says air pollution shortens the average citizen’s life expectancy by 6.2 years, compared to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met.

Again, some areas suffer far more, with lives cut by about 7 years in the most polluted district. In every one of the country’s 64 districts, particulate pollution levels are at least four times the WHO guidelines.

Possible underestimate

Surprisingly Nepal, which unlike its southern neighbours is not normally associated with air pollution, also had serious problems with its crowded and polluted cities. As a result, life expectancy there is cut by 4.7 years across the whole population.

“Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving − perhaps more in some places − embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives,” says Professor Greenstone.

The science of air pollution, and the impact of poor air on the human body, is evolving rapidly, and some Asian scientists have expressed reservations about the accuracy of some of the calculations. However, none of them disputes the fact that millions are dying early because of the pollution.

The report concentrates on the effect of the smaller particulates that are known to do the most damage to lungs, and to enter the bloodstream, and it may in fact be underestimating the overall effects of poor air quality. − Climate News Network

* * * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, covering development and the environment: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com and on twitter at @nivedita_Him

Air pollution by tiny particles is among the world’s worst health risks. In South Asia, poor air is as bad as it gets.

NEW DELHI, 22 October, 2020 − Poor air costs lives, but finding out just how many of them will come as a shock to many residents of South Asia’s big cities.

In India’s capital, New Delhi, just going outside and breathing the air can shorten your life by more than nine years, according to a new report into the region’s air quality that measures the effects of pollution on life expectancy.

For millions of people across across north-west India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it will be bad news − despite the Covid crisis − because of the current surge in air pollution in the region.

But none of the people of four countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, will be happy with the prediction that their lives will be shortened unless their governments take air pollution seriously.

New Delhi is the worst single example in the four, but few of their citizens − a quarter of the world’s population − will escape.

Bangladesh worst hit

Averaged across the whole population, the people of Bangladesh suffer most from air pollution in any country, with their average life span cut short by 6.2 years.

An air quality index (AQI) provides daily air quality assessments, but not the actual health risk. An air quality life index (AQLI) goes further: it converts particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important air pollution metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy.

The report is the work of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), which has recently updated its AQLI, based on research by its director Michael Greenstone that quantified the causal relationship between human exposure to air pollution and reduced life expectancy.

While the report makes grim reading for nations south of the Himalayas, it does offer some hope, saying that the people of China can see marked improvements since their government began clamping down on polluting industries in 2013.

The report uses two measures to calculate lower expectations of life expectancy: the more stringent World Heath Organisation guidelines (WHO) and the limits imposed by the governments concerned.

“The threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving [but] embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives”

It says air pollution shortens Indian average life expectancy by 5.2 years, relative to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met, but by 2.3 years relative to the rate if pollution were reduced to meet the country’s own national standard.

Some areas of India fare much worse than the average, with air pollution shortening lives by 9.4 years in Delhi and 8.6 years in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the report’s India fact sheet 2020 says.

Similarly, the Pakistan sheet says the average Pakistani’s life expectancy has been shortened by 2.7 years, while air pollution cuts lives by more than 4 years in the most polluted areas.

Naming Bangladesh as the world’s most polluted country, EPIC’s report says air pollution shortens the average citizen’s life expectancy by 6.2 years, compared to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met.

Again, some areas suffer far more, with lives cut by about 7 years in the most polluted district. In every one of the country’s 64 districts, particulate pollution levels are at least four times the WHO guidelines.

Possible underestimate

Surprisingly Nepal, which unlike its southern neighbours is not normally associated with air pollution, also had serious problems with its crowded and polluted cities. As a result, life expectancy there is cut by 4.7 years across the whole population.

“Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving − perhaps more in some places − embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives,” says Professor Greenstone.

The science of air pollution, and the impact of poor air on the human body, is evolving rapidly, and some Asian scientists have expressed reservations about the accuracy of some of the calculations. However, none of them disputes the fact that millions are dying early because of the pollution.

The report concentrates on the effect of the smaller particulates that are known to do the most damage to lungs, and to enter the bloodstream, and it may in fact be underestimating the overall effects of poor air quality. − Climate News Network

* * * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, covering development and the environment: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com and on twitter at @nivedita_Him

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