Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists

The Guardian reports: Humans are “eating away at our own life support systems” at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years by degrading land and freshwater systems, emitting greenhouse gases and releasing vast amounts of agricultural chemicals into the environment, new research has found.

Two major new studies by an international team of researchers have pinpointed the key factors that ensure a livable planet for humans, with stark results.

Of nine worldwide processes that underpin life on Earth, four have exceeded “safe” levels – human-driven climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land system change and the high level of phosphorus and nitrogen flowing into the oceans due to fertiliser use.

Researchers spent five years identifying these core components of a planet suitable for human life, using the long-term average state of each measure to provide a baseline for the analysis. [Continue reading…]

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Friluftsliv, shinrin-yoku, hygge, wabi-sabi, kaizen, gemütlichkeit, and jugaad?

forest

Starre Vartan writes about cultural concepts most of us have never heard of: Friluftsliv translates directly from Norwegian as “free air life,” which doesn’t quite do it justice. Coined relatively recently, in 1859, it is the concept that being outside is good for human beings’ mind and spirit. “It is a term in Norway that is used often to describe a way of life that is spent exploring and appreciating nature,” Anna Stoltenberg, culture coordinator for Sons of Norway, a U.S.-based Norwegian heritage group, told MNN. Other than that, it’s not a strict definition: it can include sleeping outside, hiking, taking photographs or meditating, playing or dancing outside, for adults or kids. It doesn’t require any special equipment, includes all four seasons, and needn’t cost much money. Practicing friluftsliv could be as simple as making a commitment to walking in a natural area five days a week, or doing a day-long hike once a month.

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “forest bathing” and unlike the Norwegian translation above, this one seems a perfect language fit (though a pretty similar idea). The idea being that spending time in the forest and natural areas is good preventative medicine, since it lowers stress, which causes or exacerbates some of our most intractable health issues. As MNN’s Catie Leary details, this isn’t just a nice idea — there’s science behind it: “The “magic” behind forest bathing boils down to the naturally produced allelochemic substances known as phytoncides, which are kind of like pheromones for plants. Their job is to help ward off pesky insects and slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. When humans are exposed to phytoncides, these chemicals are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress and boost the growth of cancer-fighting white blood cells. Some common examples of plants that give off phytoncides include garlic, onion, pine, tea tree and oak, which makes sense considering their potent aromas.” [Continue reading…]

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Tropical forests soak up much more carbon than we thought

Motherboard reports: Another reason to be grateful for Earth’s tropical forests: Not only do they r​elease massive quantities of oxygen, creating a pleasantly breathable atmosphere, not only do they harbor over half​ the planet’s biodiversity, they’re also doing a bang-up job mopping up all that extra carbon we’ve been pouring into the atmosphere.

That’s the conclusion of a new​ study led by researchers at NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which finds tropical forests may be absorbing far more human-emitted carbon dioxide than we thought. To wit, some 1.4 billion metric tons of CO2 annually—roughly the same amount of carbon that’s emitted every year as we slash and burn our way through them.

“This is good news, because uptake in northern forests may already be slowing, while tropical forests may continue to take up carbon for many years,” said lead study author David Schimel in a press re​lease.

By pumping carbon into the atmosphere, we’re not just warming the planet directly, we’re setting in motion a number of different “feedback” cycles. Some of these feedbacks — methane release due to permafrost melting, for instance — accelerate climate change. But our CO2 emissions also stimulate plants to grow and suck down more carbon, a negative feedback known as the “fertilization” effect.

The CO2 fertilization effect has been known for decades, but actual data on the effect is spotty, and comes from a range of sources that aren’t necessarily comparable: ecosystem and atmospheric models, satellite images, experimental plots and so forth. And while in theory, the effect should be greater in warmer climates—plant growth depends on temperature as well as CO2—most atmospheric models have observed stronger CO2 fertilization at high latitudes. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis ready to confront political challenge of tackling climate change

The Guardian reports: He has been called the “superman pope”, and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the US and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.

In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.

“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.

“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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E.O. Wilson talks about the threat to Earth’s biodiversity

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John Muir’s last stand

Tom Butler and Eileen Crist write: In this centennial anniversary of Muir’s death, it is disturbing, but not surprising, that the man and his legacy are suffering the slings and arrows of critics. These attacks are concurrent with an ongoing assault on traditional conservation ideas and tactics from some academics, think tanks, and practitioners affiliated with large nonprofits. This body of thinkers, variously called “new conservationists,” “eco-pragmatists,” or “postmodern greens,” have articulated a set of views about where they think conservation should go in the so-called Anthropocene, the new epoch of human dominion. Wilderness preservation is not on their wish list this Christmas, though corporate partnerships are.

The postmodern greens aim to reorient conservation’s primary focus away from establishing protected areas intended to help prevent human-caused extinctions and to sustain large-scale natural ecosystems. Instead, they advocate sustainable management of the biosphere to support human aspirations, particularly for a growing global economy. If some species go extinct that may be regrettable, goes their thinking, but the bottom line is that nature is resilient. As long as “working landscapes” (places we manipulate to produce commodities) are managed well enough to sustain “ecosystem services” (things like water filtration, soil health, and crop pollination), human welfare can be supported without lots of new protected areas (habitat for other species) getting in the way of economic growth.

Some of the most prominent of these new conservationists have warned against critiquing the techno-industrial growth economy that is everywhere gobbling up wild nature. “Instead of scolding capitalism,” they write, “conservationists should partner with corporations in a science-based effort to integrate the value of nature’s benefits into their operations and cultures.” [Continue reading…]

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Google’s Global Fishing Watch is using ‘manipulated data’

Unfortunately, data analysis is only as good as the data. Wired reports: Last week, Google, Oceana and SkyTruth announced they were launching a battle against overfishing everywhere. A noble pursuit, Global Fishing Watch combines interactive mapping technology and satellite data with the all-important Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmissions every tanker, passenger ship and commercial vessel above a certain size is mandated by the UN to send. Global Fishing Watch then visualises the routes taken, to show when a fishing boat strays into or lingers in waters it shouldn’t.

The only problem, maritime analytics company Windward tells us, is that any vessel engaging in illegal activities is gaming the system and manipulating AIS data. We can’t rely on what we’re seeing.

“Until 2012, AIS data was super reliable because it wasn’t commoditised. Nobody had it, so no one needed to clean the data or check it,” Ami Daniel, a former naval officer and cofounder of Windward, tells WIRED.co.uk. “Two years, there was suddenly so much data out there, so many open source portals like marinetraffic.com providing free access to [vessel positions] for everybody. People understood they were being looked at. Once that happened, spontaneously different industries started to manipulate the data.”

According to a report by Windward that looked at AIS data from mid-2013 to mid-2014, there has been a 59 percent increase in GPS manipulations. From July 2012 to August 2014, that data also showed: [Continue reading…]

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Earth faces sixth ‘great extinction’ with 41% of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo

The Observer reports: A stark depiction of the threat hanging over the world’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other life forms has been published by the prestigious scientific journal, Nature. A special analysis carried out by the journal indicates that a staggering 41% of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction while 26% of mammal species and 13% of birds are similarly threatened.

Many species are already critically endangered and close to extinction, including the Sumatran elephant, Amur leopard and mountain gorilla. But also in danger of vanishing from the wild, it now appears, are animals that are currently rated as merely being endangered: bonobos, bluefin tuna and loggerhead turtles, for example.

In each case, the finger of blame points directly at human activities. The continuing spread of agriculture is destroying millions of hectares of wild habitats every year, leaving animals without homes, while the introduction of invasive species, often helped by humans, is also devastating native populations. At the same time, pollution and overfishing are destroying marine ecosystems.

“Habitat destruction, pollution or overfishing either kills off wild creatures and plants or leaves them badly weakened,” said Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist at the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. “The trouble is that in coming decades, the additional threat of worsening climate change will become more and more pronounced and could then kill off these survivors.” [Continue reading…]

Miles King writes: Humans are “the ultimate invasive species” having spread from Africa to every corner of the planet (and beyond) in 100,000 years. In doing so, we have removed the habitats of other species, or affected them by moving other invasive species around, causing pollution and driving climate change. We do so at our peril, because humans depend on nature utterly for our survival.

If it is possible to stop this mass extinction, humans need to take rapid and radical action.

Here are five actions that I think will be needed: [Continue reading…]

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In West Africa, a model for worldwide conservation takes root

Anna Badkhen writes: An hour before sunup the Bani River uncoils through the dark Sahel in bright silver curves, a reflection of a day not yet dawned, hardships not yet known, hopes not yet broken. Onto such a magical surface the Bozo fishermen of Sindaga shove off with bamboo poles and float downstream in redwood pirogues, one silent man per boat. The fishermen work standing up: solitary Paleolithic silhouettes keeping perfect balance against the river’s luminescence, each man one with his boat like some pelagic centaur, performing one of mankind’s oldest rites. They cast their diaphanous seines into the night. Handmade sinkers kiss the surface, pucker it lightly, drag the nets under.

By the time daybreak trims burgundy the sparse savannah, the fishermen row their day’s first catch back to the village. In squat banco houses that crowd the river, the men take breakfast of rice and fish sauce. They patch up the nets while their wives and mothers sort the morning haul into giant wicker baskets and lug it to the nearest market town. After midday prayer, the men cast off again.

Such has been their fishing schedule for centuries, aligned with the orderly procession across the West African sky of 26 sequential constellations. Each new star signifies the advent of a windy season, of weeks of life-giving drizzle or days of downpour, of merciless heat or relentless malarial mosquitoes dancing in humid nights. Each star announces the arrival of the blue-tinged Nile perch, of the short-striped daggers of clown killi, of the lunar disks of the Niger stingray, of the toothless garras that like to nibble the bare ankles of laundresses, and that, in the West, are used for pedicures in foot spas.

Or so it used to be. Mali has been growing drier and hotter since the 1960s. For the past three decades, the weather has been chaotic, out of whack with the stars. The rainy season has been starting early or late or not arriving at all. Droughts throttle the land and wring dry the river. Flash floods wash away harvests and entire homesteads hand-slapped of rice straw and clay. Acres of deforested riverbank dry out and blow away, or collapse into the water. The fish run off schedule. “The river is becoming broken,” said Lasina Kayantau, a Sindaga elder. [Continue reading…]

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Milky Way over Devils Tower

Why Devils Tower and not Devil’s Tower? The question might sound trivial when posed next to the expanse of the Milky Way, but for what it’s worth, here’s the answer from the United States Board on Geographic Names:

Since its inception in 1890, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has discouraged the use of the possessive form—the genitive apostrophe and the “s”. The possessive form using an “s” is allowed, but the apostrophe is almost always removed. The Board’s archives contain no indication of the reason for this policy.

However, there are many names in the GNIS database that do carry the genitive apostrophe, because the Board chooses not to apply its policies to some types of features. Although the legal authority of the Board includes all named entities except Federal Buildings, certain categories—broadly determined to be “administrative”—are best left to the organization that administers them. Examples include schools, churches, cemeteries, hospitals, airports, shopping centers, etc. The Board promulgates the names, but leaves issues such as the use of the genitive or possessive apostrophe to the data owners.

Myths attempting to explain the policy include the idea that the apostrophe looks too much like a rock in water when printed on a map, and is therefore a hazard, or that in the days of “stick–up type” for maps, the apostrophe would become lost and create confusion. The probable explanation is that the Board does not want to show possession for natural features because, “ownership of a feature is not in and of itself a reason to name a feature or change its name.”

Since 1890, only five Board decisions have allowed the genitive apostrophe for natural features. These are: Martha’s Vineyard (1933) after an extensive local campaign; Ike’s Point in New Jersey (1944) because “it would be unrecognizable otherwise”; John E’s Pond in Rhode Island (1963) because otherwise it would be confused as John S Pond (note the lack of the use of a period, which is also discouraged); and Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View (1995 at the specific request of the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names because, “otherwise three apparently given names in succession would dilute the meaning,” that is, Joshua refers to a stand of trees. Clark’s Mountain in Oregon (2002) was approved at the request of the Oregon Board to correspond with the personal references of Lewis and Clark.

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The rise in killings of Peru’s environmental and land defenders

Anti-logging campaigner, Edwin Chota, was murdered in September.

A new report by Global Witness sheds light on what’s driving the high number of killings of environmental defenders in Peru, less than a month before the country hosts the UN climate talks in Lima. Peru’s Deadly Environment calls into question the commitments of Peru to protect its carbon-rich forests and the people who live in them, in light of unfettered illegal logging, disregard for indigenous land claims, and new laws that favour industrial exploitation over environmental protection.

The report comes on the heels of the killings of four indigenous leaders in Ucayali in September, including prominent anti-logging activist Edwin Chota and three of his fellow Ashéninka leaders from the Peruvian Amazon.

“The murders of Edwin Chota and his colleagues are tragic reminders of a paradox at work in the climate negotiations,” said Patrick Alley, Co-Founder of Global Witness. “While Peru’s government chairs negotiations on how to solve our climate crisis, it is failing to protect the people on the frontline of environmental protection. Environmental defenders embody the resolve we need to halt global warming. The message is clear, if you want to save the environment, then stop people killing environmental defenders.”

Peru is the fourth most dangerous country to be an environmental defender, behind Brazil, Honduras and the Philippines. At least 57 environmental and land defenders were killed in Peru between 2002 and the present day, more than 60% of them in the last four years, according to new Global Witness data. Most of these deaths involved disputes over land rights, mining and logging. 72% of Peru’s indigenous communities still have no way of demonstrating their land tenure rights, and over 20 million hectares of land claims have not yet been processed. [Continue reading…]

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Polar bears facing ‘worst-case trajectory’ because of climate change

The Toronto Star reports: Even the High Arctic won’t remain a haven for polar bears if the Earth continues to warm at the current pace, says an alarming new study.

Published in PLOS One, an online science journal on Wednesday, the study warns that all regions of Canada’s Arctic islands could potentially be ice-free for two to five months every year by the end of the century, triggering starvation and reproductive failure for polar bears.

Conditions outside the islands could be worse for the bears.

“It doesn’t look too good,” said Andrew Derocher of the University of Alberta in Edmonton and one of the authors of the study.

Using a regionally focussed climate model, the researchers projected that sea ice in the Canadian Arctic islands will decline remarkably, leaving long periods each year when there isn’t any ice. That would force pregnant females on to land earlier than usual and could interfere with successful births, the study said. The rest of the sea ice may not persist long enough to allow bears enough time to hunt and store energy. [Continue reading…]

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The well-oiled politics of North Dakota

Deborah Sontag writes: In late June, as black and gold balloons bobbed above black and gold tables with oil-rig centerpieces, the theme song from “Dallas” warmed up the crowd for the “One Million Barrels, One Million Thanks” celebration.

The mood was giddy. Halliburton served barbecued crawfish from Louisiana. A commemorative firearms dealer hawked a “one-million barrel” shotgun emblazoned with the slogan “Oil Can!” Mrs. North Dakota, in banner and crown, posed for pictures. The Texas Flying Legends performed an airshow backlit by a leaping flare of burning gas. And Gov. Jack Dalrymple was the featured guest.

Traveling through the “economically struggling” nation, Mr. Dalrymple told the crowd, he encountered many people who asked, “Jack, what the heck are you doing out there in North Dakota?” to create the fastest-growing economy, lowest unemployment rate and (according to one survey) happiest population.

“And I enjoy explaining to them, ‘Yes, the oil boom is a big, big help,’ ” he said.

Outsiders, he explained, simply need to be educated out of their fear of fracking: “There is a way to explain it that really relaxes people, that makes them understand this is not a dangerous thing that we’re doing out here, that it’s really very well managed and very safe and really the key to the future of not only North Dakota but really our entire nation.”

Tioga, population 3,000, welcomed North Dakota’s first well in 1951, more than a half-century before hydraulic fracturing liberated the “tight oil” trapped in the Bakken shale formation. So it was fitting that Tioga ring in the daily production milestone that had ushered the Bakken into the rarefied company of historic oil fields worldwide.

But Tioga also claims another record: what is considered the largest on-land oil spill in recent American history. And only Brenda Jorgenson, 61, who attended “to hear what does not get said,” mentioned that one, sotto voce.

The million-barrel bash was devoid of protesters save for Ms. Jorgenson, a tall, slender grandmother who has two wells at her driveway’s end and three jars in her refrigerator containing blackened water that she said came from her faucet during the fracking process. She did not, however, utter a contrary word.

“I’m not that brave (or stupid) to protest among that,” she said in an email afterward. “I’ve said it before: we’re outgunned, outnumbered and out-suited.” [Continue reading…]

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The Keystone XL’s Senate failure isn’t the end of the pipeline as an act of war

Vi Waln writes: My Lakota people have a phrase – Mni Wiconi – which means “water of life”. Water is also Pejuta – our primary medicine. It is an extremely sacred element without which we cannot live, yet many people take it for granted. They do not realize: when our drinking-water sources are gone or contaminated, humanity will perish.

Water is also present in every single Lakota ceremony at which I pray – it is essential to our ceremonial way of life. Like our ancestors who sacrificed their very lives for our survival, many of us pray for the descendants who will soon stand in our place, and one of our most important prayers is for our descendants to always have an abundance of clean drinking water.

But TransCanada’s Keystone XL oil pipeline (KXL), which the company has proposed building directly over the Ogallala Aquifer, is still an immediate threat to all of us who drink water from that underground reservoir.

The Ogallala Aquifer is a major water supply for eight states, from here in North Dakota down to Texas and all the way out to New Mexico. Without clean water, these eight states will become uninhabitable. Many people – Indian and non-Indian alike – are prepared to fight the pipeline’s construction to protect the water and land, no matter the result of Tuesday evening’s vote in the US Senate.

Many Lakota people in particular view the construction of this pipeline through our treaty territory as a true act of war. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The most significant attempt yet to force US government approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline failed narrowly to clear the Senate on Tuesday night as a coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats fell one vote short of the 60 votes needed for the legislation to pass.

Fourteen Democrats, led by Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu, joined all 45 Republicans in voting for the bill, which called for the controversial energy project to be given immediate go-ahead after years of delay due to environmental concerns.

A similar bill was passed in the House of Representatives on Friday.

But, as expected, the bipartisan coalition failed to win over sufficient wavering Democrats, such as Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and independent Maine senator Angus King, who joined the party’s leadership and opposed the bill for a total of 41 votes against.

Landrieu, who is fighting to hold on to her seat in a run-off election next month, had called for the bill in a last-ditch effort to shore up her support in Louisiana. She attempted to heal party rifts afterwards, telling reporters in the Senate: “there is no blame, there is only joy in the fight”.

Nevertheless the size of the Democratic rebellion may put additional pressure on the White House to approve construction of the pipeline in future if, as promised, Republicans make a fresh attempt to pass legislation when the new Senate is sworn in next January. [Continue reading…]

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Hydrogen cars about to go on sale. Their only emission: water

The New York Times reports: Remember the hydrogen car?

A decade ago, President George W. Bush espoused the environmental promise of cars running on hydrogen, the universe’s most abundant element. “The first car driven by a child born today,” he said in his 2003 State of the Union speech, “could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.”

That changed under Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was President Obama’s first Secretary of Energy. “We asked ourselves, ‘Is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen-car economy?’” Dr. Chu said then. “The answer, we felt, was ‘no.’ ” The administration slashed funding for hydrogen fuel cell research.

Attention shifted to battery electric vehicles, particularly those made by the headline-grabbing Tesla Motors.

The hydrogen car, it appeared, had died. And many did not mourn its passing, particularly those who regarded the auto companies’ interest in hydrogen technology as a stunt to signal that they cared about the environment while selling millions of highly profitable gas guzzlers.

Except the companies, including General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Daimler and Hyundai, persisted.

After many years and billions of dollars of research and development, hydrogen cars are headed to the showrooms. [Continue reading…]

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Landmark 20-year study finds pesticides linked to depression in farmers

Modern Farmer reports: Earlier this fall, researchers from the National Institute of Health finished up a landmark 20-year study, a study that hasn’t received the amount of coverage it deserves. About 84,000 farmers and spouses of farmers were interviewed since the mid-1990s to investigate the connection between pesticides and depression, a connection that had been suggested through anecdotal evidence for far longer. We called up Dr. Freya Kamel, the lead researcher on the study, to find out what the team learned and what it all means. Spoiler: nothing good.

“There had been scattered reports in the literature that pesticides were associated with depression,” says Kamel. “We wanted to do a new study because we had more detailed data than most people have access to.” That excessive amount of data includes tens of thousands of farmers, with specific information about which pesticides they were using and whether they had sought treatment for a variety of health problems, from pesticide poisoning to depression. Farmers were surveyed multiple times throughout the 20-year period, which gives the researchers an insight into their health over time that no other study has.

Because the data is so excessive, the researchers have mined it three times so far, the most recent time in a study published just this fall. The first one was concerned with suicide, the second with depression amongst the spouses of farmers (Kamel says “pesticide applicators,” but most of the people applying pesticides are farmers), and the most recent with depression amongst the farmers themselves.

There’s a significant correlation between pesticide use and depression, that much is very clear, but not all pesticides. The two types that Kamel says reliably moved the needle on depression are organochlorine insecticides and fumigants, which increase the farmer’s risk of depression by a whopping 90% and 80%, respectively. The study lays out the seven specific pesticides, falling generally into one of those two categories, that demonstrated a categorically reliable correlation to increased risk of depression.

These types aren’t necessarily uncommon, either; one, called malathion, was used by 67% of the tens of thousands of farmers surveyed. Malathion is banned in Europe, for what that’s worth. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s bird population has fallen by over 420 million in three decades

The Guardian reports: Bird populations across Europe have decreased by over 420 million in the past 30 years, according to a study that brings together the results of scientific surveys in 25 countries. While some rarer species have seen an increase in numbers due to concerted conservation efforts, more common species across Europe are facing a steep decline.

Some of the birds that have suffered the most alarming declines are the most well known species including the house sparrow which has fallen in number by 147m or 62%, the starling (53%) and skylark (46%).

The study looked at 144 species across Europe between 1980 and 2009. Dividing the species up into four groups, from extremely rare to most common, analysts found that a small number of common species declined by over 350 million –over 80% of the total population decline of birds in that time period overall. Rarer birds, in contrast, increased by over 21,000 in the same time period.

The results indicate that efforts at conserving rarer species seem to be having an impact but may be too narrow an approach, possibly at the expense of more common species. [Continue reading…]

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Amazon rainforest losing ability to regulate climate, scientist warns

The Guardian reports: The Amazon rainforest has degraded to the point where it is losing its ability to benignly regulate weather systems, according to a stark new warning from one of Brazil’s leading scientists.

In a new report, Antonio Nobre, researcher in the government’s space institute, Earth System Science Centre, says the logging and burning of the world’s greatest forest might be connected to worsening droughts – such as the one currently plaguing São Paulo – and is likely to lead eventually to more extreme weather events.

The study, which is a summary drawing from more than 200 existing papers on Amazonian climate and forest science, is intended as a wake-up call.

“I realised the problem is much more serious than we realised, even in academia and the reason is that science has become so fragmented. Atmospheric scientists don’t look at forests as much as they should and vice versa,” said Nobre, who wrote the report for a lay audience. “It’s not written in academic language. I don’t need to preach to the converted. Our community is already very alarmed at what is going on.”

A draft seen by the Guardian warns that the “vegetation-climate equilibrium is teetering on the brink of the abyss.” If it tips, the Amazon will start to become a much drier savanna, which calamitous consequences. [Continue reading…]

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