Only two areas of forest remain on this planet that are not fragmented by human development

ThinkProgress reports: For most, forests are something to be driven by or hiked through briefly. A new study shows just how much humankind has tailored these landscapes to our own devices at the expense of the rest of the natural world.

The findings, published this week in the journal Science Advances, offer some of the longest-term evidence available on how ecosystems and species react to habitat loss and fragmentation over time. The trend is distinctively negative.

“There is a consistent loss of species — birds, butterflies, plants — across every experiment, and these experiments varied widely,” Nick M. Haddad, North Carolina State University biologist and lead author of the study on habitat fragmentation, told ThinkProgress. “But they were all going downward.”

Hadded said he was “shocked” at the study’s findings on how much we’ve “sliced and diced” forest ecosystems through human development, which includes everything from building railroads to cutting down trees for cropland.

“I expected to see more forest that was more remote, and more wilderness,” he said.

Bringing together numerous studies chronicling global habitat divisions over the last 35 years, Haddad and his co-authors found that only two “big blobs” of forest remain on Earth — in the Brazilian Amazon and the Congo Basin. They also found that some 70 percent of all remaining global forest cover is within one kilometer, or 0.6 miles, of human development. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Pipeline nation: America’s broken industry

facebooktwittermail

We’re treating soil like dirt. It’s a fatal mistake, as our lives depend on it

George Monbiot writes: Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re finished if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper.

It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanskrit text written in about 1500BC noted: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers Weekly reports, we have “only 100 harvests left”. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

New WHO report shows that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller probably causes cancer

Climate Progress: The most popular weed-killer in the United States — and possibly the world — “probably” causes cancer, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Published Thursday in the journal The Lancet Oncology, the report focuses on a chemical called glyphosate, invented by Monsanto back in 1974 as a broad-spectrum herbicide. It’s the active ingredient in Roundup, a popular product used mostly in commercial agriculture production. Roundup is particularly good for genetically modified crops, which can be bred to resist damage from the product while it kills the weeds surrounding it.

In the U.S., glyphosate is not considered carcinogenic. The Environmental Protection Agency’s current position is that “there is inadequate evidence to state whether or not glyphosate has the potential to cause cancer from a lifetime exposure in drinking water.” In the wake of Thursday’s report, however, the EPA said it “would consider” the U.N. agency’s findings.

Note for the Monsanto comment trolls: Don’t bother wasting your time or mine by responding to this post.

facebooktwittermail

How roads threaten ecosystems

Michelle Nijhuis writes: The first paved highway across the Brazilian Amazon began, in the nineteen-seventies, as a narrow, hard-won cut through dense rainforest. The road, which connects the northern port city of Belém with the country’s capital, Brasília, twelve hundred miles away, was hailed as a huge step in the region’s development, and so it was: it quickly spawned a network of smaller roads and new towns, drawing industry to the Brazilian interior. But the ecological price was high. Today, much of the Belém-Brasília highway is flanked by cattle pastures—a swath of deforestation some two hundred and fifty miles wide, stretching from horizon to horizon. Across the planet, road construction has similarly destroyed or splintered natural habitats. In equatorial Africa’s Congo Basin, logging roads have attracted a new wave of elephant poachers; in Siberia, road expansion has caused an outbreak of wildfires; in Suriname, roads invite illegal gold mining; and in Finland, so many reindeer are killed by cars that herders have considered marking the animals with reflective paint.

“Roads scare the hell out of ecologists,” William Laurance, a professor at James Cook University, in Australia, said. “You can’t be in my line of business and not be struck by their transformative power.” [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

An anthropocentric Anthropocene would be very short

New Scientist interviews journalist and biologist, Christian Schwägerl:

What does the term Anthropocene – the proposed name for the geological era we live in – mean to you?

Many people view the Anthropocene merely as the sum of all environmental problems. For me it is also the process of becoming aware of our collective responsibility in shaping the future Earth. Can we create a better or even positive geological record that will later tell the story of a planet that regenerated from exploitation?

Isn’t there a danger that if we define it as a geological era it will do the opposite and absolve people of responsibility?

There’s a risk that the Anthropocene idea is misunderstood as human entitlement to control planet Earth. That interpretation couldn’t be more wrong. The Anthropocene should be the age of responsibility, cooperation, creativity, inventiveness and humility. Fortunately, I see the debate moving in this direction.

A paper in Nature this week looked at arguments for an official start date for the Anthropocene. What’s your view?

The working group on the Anthropocene – part of the International Union of Geological Sciences – favours a date around 1950, because nuclear explosions and the start of modern consumerism really started to have long-term effects on the biosphere.

So how can we make something positive out of the Anthropocene?

The biggest challenge is to become less anthropocentric: we should stop optimising the planet for our short-term needs. Our economic system needs to start valuing healthy rainforest and the interests of future inhabitants of Earth. An anthropocentric Anthropocene would be very short. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

William deBuys: A global war on nature

In her bestselling book The Sixth Extinction, the New Yorker‘s superb environmental journalist, Elizabeth Kolbert, reports on an event, already unfolding in the present moment, the likes of which may only have been experienced five other times in the distant history of life on this planet. As she writes, “It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion. The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific and in the North Atlantic, in the Arctic and the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys. If you know how to look, you can probably find signs of the current extinction event in your own backyard.”

Scientists believe that this round of mass extinction is accelerating, and one way or another, it all traces back to us, whether thanks to the way we are changing the planet’s atmosphere or to what Kolbert terms a human-induced, often disastrous “intercontinental reshuffling of species.” But of all the ways in which that mass extinction is being pushed forward, none is more straightforwardly obvious than the quite literal slaughter that constitutes the illegal animal trade.  In recent years, environmentalist and TomDispatch regular William deBuys set out to see the results of that aspect of mass extinction for himself, and what a grisly spectacle it proved to be.  In the process, he penetrated deep into the jungles of Laos in search of a deer-like creature you’ve undoubtedly never heard of that may — or may not — still exist.

It was an adventure of the first order, which deBuys depicts in his remarkable new book, The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures. He captures both the grimness of what’s happening to animals of every sort in the distant forests of a land we’ve paid no attention to since the Vietnam War ended and the glorious beauty of the species we humans are indeed destroying. The result is both a personal adventure story and a missive from a planet undergoing a rare form of destruction. Today at this site, he offers us all a look at one of what could be the final “achievements” of humankind: the ability to devastate this planet in a way no other creature would be capable of.

Kolbert ends her book on a question that any mass extinction on planet Earth would naturally have to bring up sooner or later: What about us?  In extinction terms, could we potentially be just another form of rhinoceros? Are we, in fact, capable not just of creating civilizations but engaging in a kind of species suicide? This is, of course, a question that can’t be answered, but she adds, “The anthropologist Richard Leakey has warned that ‘Homo Sapiens might not only be the agent of the sixth extinction, but also risks being one of its victims.’ A sign in the Hall of Biodiversity [at the American Museum of Natural History in New York] offers a quote from the Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich: ‘In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.’” Take a moment, then, with deBuys to experience what that sawing-off process is like, up close and personal. Tom Engelhardt

The politics of extinction
An introduction to the most beautiful animal you’ll never see
By William deBuys

Maybe baby steps will help, but the world needs a lot more than either the United States or China is offering to combat the illegal traffic in wildlife, a nearly $20-billion-a-year business that adds up to a global war against nature. As the headlines tell us, the trade has pushed various rhinoceros species to the point of extinction and motivated poachers to kill more than 100,000 elephants since 2010.

Last month China announced that it would ban ivory imports for a year, while it “evaluates” the effectiveness of the ban in reducing internal demand for ivory carvings on the current slaughter of approximately 100 African elephants per day. The promise, however, rings hollow following a report in November (hotly denied by China) that Chinese diplomats used President Xi Jinping’s presidential plane to smuggle thousands of pounds of poached elephant tusks out of Tanzania.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has launched its own well-meaning but distinctly inadequate initiative to curb the trade. Even if you missed the roll-out of that policy, you probably know that current trends are leading us toward a planetary animal dystopia, a most un-Disneyesque world in which the great forests and savannahs of the planet will bid farewell to the species earlier generations referred to as their “royalty.” No more King of the Jungle, while Dorothy’s “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” will truly be over the rainbow. And that’s just for starters.

[Read more…]

facebooktwittermail

How to save jobs and destroy the planet

If I was invested with the powers of a dictator, I’d be especially ruthless in one particular way: I’d show no mercy to those guilty of crimes against language.

No, I wouldn’t be another Bryan Henderson — the Wikipedia editor who has a vendetta against the phrase “comprised of.”

The guilty, in my book, are not those who fail to bow in obeisance to the mythical gods of grammar. What I view as an inexcusable abuse of language is to regard it as nothing more than a tool of deception.

The people who specialize in this corrupt art, work in advertising, public relations, and politics, and they create things like this:

The American Progressive Bag Alliance.

Plastic bags — fluttering down windswept streets, getting caught in branches, blocking drains, choking animals, poisoning groundwater, and colonizing oceans — might seem to have a life of their own. Apparently they are now also demanding political rights and claim they are progressive.

It turns out, however, that APBA is not an alliance of bags, but instead (predictably) it represents the transnational corporate power and interests of the plastics industry:

  • Advance Polybag, Inc. – bag manufacturer
  • The Dow Chemical Company – resin maker
  • ExxonMobil Corporation – HDPE resin maker
  • Hilex Poly Co., LLC. – bag manufacturer, co-founder
  • Inteplast – bag manufacturer
  • NOVA Chemicals, Inc. – polyethylene manufacturer
  • Superbag Corporation – bag manufacturer
  • Total Petrochemicals USA – polyethylene manufacture
  • Unistar Plastics, LLC – bag manufacturer

I imagine that those came up with the name American Progressive Bag Alliance, have to drug themselves to sleep — and probably drug themselves at work, too. Either that, or through a self-administered lobotomization which cuts out principles for the sake of career, the conscience they were born with, withered away a long time ago.

If, like me, you’ve never heard of this alliance before, Bill Raden explains what they have done:

Just when Californians were getting used to the idea of living without getting free, single-use grocery bags at the supermarket checkout, Secretary of State Alex Padilla recently announced that a referendum effort aimed at rescinding the plastic bag ban signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September had qualified for the 2016 ballot. Pending the results of next year’s vote, the announcement effectively suspends the July 1 implementation of the measure, Senate Bill 270, which would have been the first statewide bag ban in the nation. (Citywide bans, such as those passed in Los Angeles and San Francisco, will remain in place.)

Padilla’s office says that a random sampling found that the measure’s supporters collected at least 555,236 valid signatures — more than the 504,706 needed. Ironically, Padilla had been a key force behind the passage of SB 270, when he was in the State Senate.

Californians currently use about 11 billion disposable plastic shopping bags annually with a market value that the plastic bag industry estimates at between $100 million to $150 million. Those sales will now be secure for an additional 15 months.

The effort to put the so-called “people’s veto” onto the ballot was mounted by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, the same industry consortium that bitterly fought passage of the ban.

facebooktwittermail

The great acts of vandalism by ISIS are by no means unique

George Monbiot writes: Journalists are meant to be able to watch and read dispassionately: to face horror with equanimity. I have never acquired this skill, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s true that we seek out bad news, but there is some news that many of us find hard to confront.

This is why I write about extinction less often than I should: most of the time I just don’t want to know. It’s one of the reasons why I have turned my gaze away from the Middle East. I’ve been unable to watch, or even to think very much about the bombing of Gaza, the war in Syria or the slaughter of hostages by Isis. But, reluctantly, I’ve forced myself to read about the destruction of the ancient wonders at Nimrud and Hatra.

The war Isis is waging against difference has many fronts. Just as this rebarbative movement is engaged in the ethnic cleansing of the peoples whose lands it has occupied, it is also involved in the cultural cleansing of the pre-Islamic past. Anything that deviates from its narrow strictures must be destroyed.

The magnificent buildings at Nimrud and Hatra and the precious sculptures and friezes they held were, to Isis, nothing more than deviance. Marvels that have persisted for thousands of years were leveled in hours with explosives and bulldozers. These people have inflicted a great wound upon the world.

But while this destruction, as Isis doubtless intends, is shocking, for me it is also familiar. Almost every day, I find in my inbox similar stories of the razing of priceless treasures. But they tend to involve natural marvels, rather than manmade ones.

The clearing of forests and savannas, the trawling or dredging of coral reefs and seamounts and other such daily acts of vandalism deprive the world of the wonders that enhance our lives. A great global polishing is taking place, eliminating difference, leaving behind grey monotonies of the kind that Isis appears to love. But while the destruction of those ancient citadels in northern Iraq has been widely and rightly denounced as a war crime, the levelling of our natural wonders is treated as if it were a sad but necessary fact of life. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

We need regenerative farming, not geoengineering

Charles Eisenstein writes about regenerative agriculture, but begins with a false piece of information: Geoengineering has been back in the news recently after the US National Research Council endorsed a proposal to envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols to reduce solar radiation and cool the atmosphere. [Ed. This isn’t true. See my note below.]

The proposal has been widely criticised for possible unintended consequences, such as ozone depletion, ocean acidification and reduced rainfall in the tropics. Perhaps even more troubling, geoengineering is a technological fix that leaves the economic and industrial system causing climate change untouched.

The mindset behind geoengineering stands in sharp contrast to an emerging ecological, systems approach taking shape in the form of regenerative agriculture. More than a mere alternative strategy, regenerative agriculture represents a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature.

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic herd animals. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

But these methods are impractical, expensive and slow in feeding a growing population, right?

Wrong. While comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, yields from regenerative methods often exceed conventional yields (see here and here for scientific research, and here and here for anecdotal examples). Likewise, since these methods build soil, crowd out weeds and retain moisture, fertiliser and herbicide inputs can be reduced or eliminated entirely, resulting in higher profits for farmers. No-till methods can sequester as much as a ton of carbon per acre annually (2.5 tons/hectare). In the US alone, that could amount to nearly a quarter of current emissions. [Continue reading…]

Contrary to Eisenstein’s claim that the NAS “endorsed” geoengineering, its reports were an attempt to assess “the potential impacts, benefits, and costs of two different proposed classes of climate intervention: (1) carbon dioxide removal and (2) albedo modification (reflecting sunlight).” And they reached this conclusion:

Climate change is a global challenge, and addressing it will require a portfolio of responses with varying degrees of risk and efficacy. There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change, together with adaptation of human and natural systems to make them more resilient to changing climate. However, if society ultimately decides to intervene in Earth’s climate, the Committee most strongly recommends any such actions be informed by a far more substantive body of scientific research — encompassing climate science and economic, political, ethical, and other dimensions — than is available at present.

Far from endorsing geoengineering, the unfortunately-named Committee on Geoengineering Climate, put its foot firmly on the brakes. They did not, as Eisenstein claimed, endorse a proposal to “envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols.” On the contrary, they said that such a method of attempting to reduce CO₂ would be “irrational and irresponsible.”

facebooktwittermail

Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

Robin McKie writes: Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Subhankar Banerjee: Arctic nightmares

If Sarah Palin were president, we’d know just what it was: a drill-baby-drill administration.  Of course, there’s no mama grizzly in the White House, yet these last years have been a grizzly tale of the expansion of American oil and natural gas exploration and drilling from the fracking fields of Texas and North Dakota to the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico.  Most recently, the southern Atlantic seaboard, where there are an estimated untapped four billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of gas, was provisionally opened for future exploration and drilling.  So keep in mind that it wasn’t under Palin’s tutelage but Barack Obama’s that the United States experienced its staggering resurgence in the oil and gas sweepstakes, turning itself into “Saudi America.”

The math, which this president undoubtedly knows well, isn’t that complicated.  According to climate change scientists, of all the fossil fuel reserves believed to be left on the planet — and the ability of oil companies to successfully tap ever more extreme deposits has been a regular surprise in these years — scientists estimate that 80% must remain underground to prevent a planetary disaster.  And yet, it seems that ever fewer waters off ever fewer American coasts are now sacrosanct.  Back in the presidential campaign of 2008, Obama criticized his opponent, John McCain, for pushing the expansion of offshore drilling.  “It would have long-term consequences for our coastlines… When I’m president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium.”  And he was right that to expand significantly into coastal waters is indeed dangerous.  Sooner or later, it ensures more BP-style Gulf of Mexico environmental catastrophes, as well as the everyday cumulative disasters that, as marine biologist Carl Safina has written, simply come with oil company exploration and extraction efforts.

It’s true that a 2011 moratorium on new drilling and lease sales off the West Coast remains in place until 2018, but in addition to the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic, the most forbidding and dangerous waters off any American coast — those in the Arctic — are again in play.  You would think that this would be an open-and-shut no-go case for reasons that Subhankar Banerjee, leading Arctic photographer, environmentalist, and author of Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, lays out vividly today. (Back in 2003, a show of his photos on Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History was scandalously all but cancelled at a moment when the Bush administration was eager to open that pristine wilderness area to exploitation.)

If you’re talking about extracting extreme fossil fuels from an incredibly rich environment that is utterly treacherous and would be the single most obvious reserve on the planet to simply keep in the ground, this has to be the place.  And yet the president has long shown a special interest in those Arctic waters and Royal Dutch Shell’s urge to drill in them.  Now, at a time that would seem inauspicious as well as unappealing, given the glut of new American oil on the market (and falling oil prices), the Obama administration, despite a recent bow to Arctic preservation, stands at the edge of once again green-lighting a Shell foray into Arctic waters. You explain it. Tom Engelhardt

To drill or not to drill, that is the question
The Obama administration, Shell, and the fate of the Arctic Ocean
by Subhankar Banerjee

Here’s a Jeopardy!-style question for you: “Eight different species of whales can be seen in these two American seas.” Unless you’re an Iñupiaq, a marine biologist, or an Arctic enthusiast like me, it’s a pretty good guess that you can’t tell me what those seas are or what those whales are either. The answer: the Chukchi Sea and the adjacent Beaufort Sea, off Arctic Alaska, and you can commonly spot bowhead, beluga, and grey whales there, while fin whales, minkes, humpbacks, killer whales, and narwhals are all venturing into these seas ever more often as the Arctic and its waters continue to warm rapidly.

The problem, however, is that the major oil company Royal Dutch Shell wants to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer and that could, in the long term, spell doom for one of the last great, relatively untouched oceanic environments on the planet. Let me explain why Shell’s drilling ambitions are so dangerous. Just think of the way the blowout of one drilling platform, BP’s Deepwater Horizon, devastated the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, imagine the same thing happening without any clean-up help in sight.

[Read more…]

facebooktwittermail

The big melt: Antarctica’s retreating ice may re-shape Earth

The Associated Press reports: From the ground in this extreme northern part of Antarctica, spectacularly white and blinding ice seems to extend forever. What can’t be seen is the battle raging thousands of feet (hundreds of meters) below to re-shape Earth.

Water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, melting it where it hits the oceans. As the ice sheets slowly thaw, water pours into the sea — 130 billion tons of ice (118 billion metric tons) per year for the past decade, according to NASA satellite calculations. That’s the weight of more than 356,000 Empire State Buildings, enough ice melt to fill more than 1.3 million Olympic swimming pools. And the melting is accelerating.

In the worst case scenario, Antarctica’s melt could push sea levels up 10 feet (3 meters) worldwide in a century or two, recurving heavily populated coastlines.

Parts of Antarctica are melting so rapidly it has become “ground zero of global climate change without a doubt,” said Harvard geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

How one community is kicking the Koch brothers’ harmful black dust out of their neighborhood

Joseph Erbentraut reports: It’s not easy to take on a wealthy, multi-national corporation and win. Especially for residents of Chicago’s struggling southeast side.

But that’s exactly what’s happening on the banks of the Calumet River, where the steel plants that used to give residents of a mostly Hispanic neighborhood access to a middle-class lifestyle were replaced, nearly two years ago, with black dust called petroleum coke (“petcoke”) piled five or six stories tall.

The piles of petcoke — a byproduct of the oil refining process — belong to KCBX Terminals, owned by the conservative billionaire Koch Brothers. The piles have been roiling area residents ever since the black dust of mostly carbon and sulfur began blowing into the backyards, playgrounds and neighborhood parks. It blackens skies and leaves behind a sticky residue, raising concerns about aggravated asthma and other health issues.

A small but energetic coalition of residents have stepped up to fight the blight, holding protests and marches, educating their neighbors about the issue and pressuring elected officials. They’ve made incredible progress in a relatively short time. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

The worst droughts in a thousand years are still to come

Pacific Standard: When it comes to water shortage, it seems the worst is yet to come. A new climate analysis indicates that by the end of the century, the United States Southwest and Central Plains regions are likely to experience drought conditions worse than any in the last millennium. These impending conditions could pose “a major adaptation challenge” for humans in a rapidly changing climate.

“We’re talking about megadrought risk,” says co-author of the study and Columbia University professor Toby Ault — an 80 percent chance or more of decades-long droughts before the end of the century.

Though it’s well established that droughts and other extreme climate events are likely to become more intense over the next century, Ault, along with climatologists Benjamin Cook and Jason Smerdon note that the Americas are no stranger to massive droughts, like the Medieval “megadrought” between roughly 1,100 and 1,300 C.E. and the Little Ice Age that followed several centuries later. This raises a vital question: Compared to those events, how bad will the coming droughts be? [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

How we are trashing our oceans and destroying life

The New York Times reports: Some eight million metric tons of plastic waste makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, and the amount of the debris is likely to increase greatly over the next decade unless nations take strong measures to dispose of their trash responsibly, new research suggests.

The report, which appeared in the journal Science on Thursday, is the most ambitious effort yet to estimate how much plastic debris ends up in the sea.

Jenna Jambeck, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia and lead author of the study, said the amount of plastic that entered the oceans in the year measured, 2010, might be as little as 4.8 million metric tons or as much as 12.7 million.

The paper’s middle figure of eight million, she said, is the equivalent of “five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world” — a visualization that, she said, “sort of blew my mind.”

By 2025, she said, the amount of plastic projected to be entering the oceans would constitute the equivalent of 10 bags per foot of coastline. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

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…]

facebooktwittermail

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…]

facebooktwittermail