The Sixth Extinction: Two-thirds of global wildlife population expected to be lost by the end of this decade


Marco Lambertini, Director General,WWF International, writes [PDF]: The evidence has never been stronger and our understanding never been clearer. Not only are we able to track the exponential increase in human pressure over the last 60 years — the so-called “Great Acceleration” and the consequent degradation of natural systems, but we also now better understand the interdependencies of Earth’s life support systems and the limits that our planet can cope with.

Take biodiversity. The richness and diversity of life on Earth is fundamental to the complex life systems that underpin it. Life supports life itself. We are part of the same equation. Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems, as we know them today, will collapse. We completely depend on nature, for the quality of the air we breathe, water we drink, climate stability, the food and materials we use and the economy we rely on, and not least, for our health, inspiration and happiness.

For decades scientists have been warning that human actions are pushing life on our shared planet toward a sixth mass extinction. Evidence in this year’s Living Planet Report supports this. Wildlife populations have already shown a concerning decline, on average by 58 per cent since 1970 and are likely to reach 67 per cent by the end of the decade. [Continue reading…[PDF]]


Now is not the time to go Green (Party)

Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth Action, writes: Friends of the Earth Action endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president a year ago but today we are encouraging our members and supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton for president. While we align with many facets of the Green Party platform, we do not support Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein for president.

We have vigorously disagreed with Sec. Clinton on many issues. We have fought over the Keystone XL Pipeline, the Trans Pacific Partnership, her interventionist foreign policy, her support for fracking, her ties to fossil fuel lobbyists and her neo-liberal economic platform. Yet without equivocation, we would rather have Hillary Clinton in the White House and push like hell for her to create better policy than fight Donald Trump to save basic human rights and centuries-old social agreements.

Urging our members and supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton does not constitute what Dr. Stein describes as being trapped in the two-party “duopoly.” Our assessment comes from a deep political and strategic analysis: Dr. Stein and the Green Party are not credible standard barriers for the progressive movement or Sen. Sanders’ Revolution. [Continue reading…]


The climate movement has to elect Hillary Clinton — and then give her hell

Bill McKibben writes:  It’s an odd feeling to be working for the election of someone you know dislikes you and your colleagues. I’ve spent a good chunk of this month trying to register voters on campuses in Pennsylvania and Ohio — registering them to vote against Donald Trump, which means pushing for the election of Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t how I wanted to spend the fall—I’d much rather have been campaigning for Bernie Sanders.

It didn’t get any easier when Wikileaks released a tape of Clinton talking to backers in the building-trades unions about the environmental work so many of us (including much of the rest of organized labor) have been engaged in for the last few years. “They come to my rallies and they yell at me and, you know, all the rest of it. They say, ‘Will you promise never to take any fossil fuels out of the earth ever again?’ No. I won’t promise that. Get a life, you know.”

I know the young people Clinton was talking about, and they weren’t demanding she somehow wave a wand and stop the fossil-fuel age overnight. They were asking her about the scientific studies showing that we can’t actually keep mining and drilling new supplies of coal, oil, and gas if we’re going to meet the temperature targets set with such fanfare in Paris last year. They were asking her to support the “Keep It In the Ground” Act introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and endorsed by a passel of other senators, from Barbara Boxer of California to Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. (Oh yeah, and that guy Bernie.) They were also asking her to take a stand against fracking, since new studies demonstrate quite clearly that the release of methane from the use of natural gas makes climate change worse. Publicly, she hemmed and hawed. When Bernie said in a debate that he was against fracking, period, Clinton said, “By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.” That was a pretty weak hedge to begin with, but we now know that privately she reassured the building trades unions: “My view is, I want to defend natural gas…. I want to defend fracking.”

Truth be told, these aren’t revelations. All of us working on climate issues have known this is how Clinton feels; she set up a whole wing of the State Department devoted to spreading fracking around the world. She’d favored the Keystone Pipeline from the start, and it was abundantly clear that only Sanders’s unexpected success in the primaries convinced her she’d have to change. (And it was only his refusal to endorse her until after the platform was agreed upon that made the platform into the fairly progressive document that it is, on climate and other issues). Still, it stings to see in black and white exactly how little regard she has for people fighting pipelines, frack wells, coal ports. Though truth be told, that was no huge surprise either: Politicians are forever saying they want people engaged in the political process, but most of them really just want people to vote and then go home.

So why are many of us out there working to beat Trump and elect her? Because Trump is truly a horror. He’s man who looks at fourth-grade girls and imagines that he’ll be dating them in ten years. He’s a racist. He knows next to nothing and lacks the intellectual curiosity to find out more. He’s a bully. He’s almost a cartoonish villain: If a writer invented a character this evil, no one would believe them. But he’s very nearly president.

Because environmentalists are not just concerned about the climate — we have allies and friends whom we support. And on some of those issues Clinton actually seems sincere: She clearly cares about women’s issues and understands that we are a nation of immigrants. [Continue reading…]


Why is the U.S. Green Party so irrelevant?

By Per Urlaub, University of Texas at Austin

Many Americans value environmental protection and want to see more of it. But Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, is drawing only 1 to 3 percent in recent polls, even in an election where many voters dislike the major candidates and are looking for alternatives.

Stein certainly has worked to differentiate herself from the two major party candidates. In July she asserted that electing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton – probably the choice of most pro-environment voters – would “fan the flames of … right-wing extremism,” and be as bad as electing Donald Trump.

[Read more…]


Great Barrier Reef obituary goes viral, to the horror of scientists

Huffington Post reports: Dead and dying are two very different things.

If a person is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, their loved ones don’t rush to write an obituary and plan a funeral. Likewise, species aren’t declared extinct until they actually are.

In a viral article entitled “Obituary: Great Barrier Reef (25 Million BC-2016),” however, writer Rowan Jacobsen proclaimed ― inaccurately and, we can only hope, hyperbolically ― that Earth’s largest living structure is dead and gone.

“The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness,” reads the sensational obituary, published Tuesday in Outside Magazine. “It was 25 million years old.”

There’s no denying the Great Barrier Reef is in serious trouble, having been hammered in recent years by El Niño and climate change. In April, scientists from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies found that the most severe coral bleaching event on record had impacted 93 percent of the reef.

But as a whole, it is not dead. Preliminary findings published Thursday of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority surveys show 22 percent of its coral died from the bleaching event. That leaves more than three quarters still alive ― and in desperate need of relief.

Two leading coral scientists that The Huffington Post contacted took serious issue with Outside’s piece, calling it wildly irresponsible. [Continue reading…]


Seagrass is a marine powerhouse, so why isn’t it on the world’s conservation agenda?

By Richard K.F. Unsworth, Swansea University; Jessie Jarvis, University of North Carolina Wilmington; Len McKenzie, James Cook University, and Mike van Keulen, Murdoch University

Seagrass has been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth, it is responsible for keeping the world’s coastlines clean and healthy, and supports many different species of animal, including humans. And yet, it is often overlooked, regarded as merely an innocuous feature of the ocean.

But the fact is that this plant is vital – and it is for that reason that the World Seagrass Association has issued a consensus statement, signed by 115 scientists from 25 countries, stating that these important ecosystems can no longer be ignored on the conservation agenda. Seagrass is part of a marginalised ecosystem that must be increasingly managed, protected and monitored – and needs urgent attention now.

Seagrass meadows are of fundamental importance to human life. They exist on the coastal fringes of almost every continent on earth, where seagrass and its associated biodiversity supports fisheries’ productivity. These flowering plants are the powerhouses of the sea, creating life in otherwise unproductive muddy environments. The meadows they form stabilise sediments, filter vast quantities of nutrients and provide one of the planet’s most efficient oceanic stores of carbon.

But the habitat seagrasses create is suffering due to the impact of humans: poor water quality, coastal development, boating and destructive fishing are all resulting in seagrass loss and degradation. This leads in turn to the loss of most of the fish and invertebrate populations that the meadows support. The green turtle, dugong and species of seahorse, for example, all rely on seagrass for food and shelter, and loss endangers their viability. The plants are important fish nurseries and key fishing grounds. Losing them puts the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people at risk too, and exposes them to increasing levels of poverty.

[Read more…]


‘Great Pacific garbage patch’ far bigger than imagined, aerial survey shows

The Guardian reports: The vast patch of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean is far worse than previously thought, with an aerial survey finding a much larger mass of fishing nets, plastic containers and other discarded items than imagined.

A reconnaissance flight taken in a modified C-130 Hercules aircraft found a vast clump of mainly plastic waste at the northern edge of what is known as the “great Pacific garbage patch”, located between Hawaii and California.

The density of rubbish was several times higher than the Ocean Cleanup, a foundation part-funded by the Dutch government to rid the oceans of plastics, expected to find even at the heart of the patch, where most of the waste is concentrated.

“Normally when you do an aerial survey of dolphins or whales, you make a sighting and record it,” said Boyan Slat, the founder of the Ocean Cleanup.

“That was the plan for this survey. But then we opened the door and we saw the debris everywhere. Every half second you see something. So we had to take snapshots – it was impossible to record everything. It was bizarre to see that much garbage in what should be pristine ocean.” [Continue reading…]


Video: Aurora Borealis over Iceland


Time reports: Streetlights across much of Iceland’s capital were switched off Wednesday night so its citizens could make the most of the otherworldly glow of the aurora borealis dancing in the sky above them — without the usual interference from light pollution.

Lights in central Reykjavik and several outlying districts went out for about an hour at 10 p.m. local time, and residents were encouraged to turn off lights at home, the Iceland Monitor reported.

While those in Iceland can expect to see the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, at any time from September to May, high solar-particle activity combined with clear skies on Wednesday created unusually perfect conditions. [Continue reading…]


Something is shifting out there in the ocean

Rebecca Kessler writes: ‘It’s hard to believe that a 40-ton animal can get hidden. They’re sneaky.’ Charles ‘Stormy’ Mayo was scanning the sea from the deck of the R/V Shearwater searching for omens: a cloud of vapour, a patch of white water, a fluke. A few minutes earlier someone had spotted the first North Atlantic right whales of the day. But now they were down below and out of sight in 80 feet of murky seawater. Feeding, most likely.

Finally, a whale’s head emerged briefly on the sea surface. Then a slab of black back followed by the silhouette of flukes, signaling another deep dive. The appearance lasted maybe a second and a half. Groans from the crew, who did not quite manage to snap a photo that could help identify the whale, one of an early March influx that foretold another strong season in Cape Cod Bay. ‘There’s probably a bunch of whales here but it’s going to drive us crazy,’ Mayo chimed in. ‘I’m going to say there are probably three. It’s hard as hell to tell.’

The world’s rarest whales – Eubalaena glacialis – have been visiting the bay in late winter and early spring for as long as anyone can remember. But Mayo and his team at the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown documented a puzzling uptick in recent years. Not just a few dozen animals, as was typical, but hundreds were showing up and, in one year, darn-near two-thirds of the world’s entire living population of around 500 North Atlantic right whales. ‘Right Whale Kingdom’ Mayo has called the bay. Simultaneously, the whales went AWOL from their usual summer feeding grounds 300 miles to the northeast in Canada’s Bay of Fundy and elsewhere, further mystifying researchers.

The Shearwater idled, waiting. The whales remained deep down, scooping up patches of zooplankton and straining out the seawater through the long strips of baleen in their mouths. Scooping and straining, scooping and straining. A change in the location of their preferred food is the most likely explanation for the whales’ wandering itinerary, Mayo said. Something is shifting out there in the ocean. As with so much else about their lives, only the whales know what it is. [Continue reading…]


More than 9 in 10 people breathe unhealthy air, WHO study says

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The New York Times reports: The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that 92 percent of people breathe what it classifies as unhealthy air, in another sign that atmospheric pollution is a significant threat to global public health.

A new report, the W.H.O.’s most comprehensive analysis so far of outdoor air quality worldwide, also said that about three million deaths a year — mostly from cardiovascular, pulmonary and other noncommunicable diseases — were linked to outdoor air pollution. Nearly two-thirds of those deaths are in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region, compared with 333,000 in Europe and the Americas, the report said.

“When you look out through the windows in your house or apartment, you don’t see the tiny little particles that are suspended in the air, so the usual perception is that the air is clean,” Rajasekhar Balasubramanian, an air quality expert at the National University of Singapore who was not involved in the study, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

“But the W.H.O. report is a clear indication that even in the absence of air pollution episodes, the concentrations of particles suspended in the air do exceed what’s considered to be acceptable from a health viewpoint,” he said. [Continue reading…]


Why the International Criminal Court is right to focus on the environment

By Tara Smith, Bangor University

The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But these people may now one day find themselves on trial in The Hague.

The move was announced by chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in a recent policy document that contains a new and welcome focus on the prosecution of individuals for human atrocities that are committed by destroying the environment in which we live and on which we depend.

The document doesn’t change the law applied by the court. There is no new crime of ecocide for instance. Instead, it sets out the types of cases that the court will now select and prioritise for prosecution. These will include the illegal exploitation of natural resources, cases of environmental destruction, and “land grabbing”, where investors buy up vast areas of poor countries.

The International Criminal Court, or ICC, has already shown a willingness to apply its laws to situations involving environmental destruction. Between 2009 and 2010, then-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo successfully obtained arrest warrants from the court against the president of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, for acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among other acts, these alleged crimes involved the contamination of wells and water pumps in Darfur to target and destroy certain groups of people. Al-Bashir’s trial has not yet commenced as he continues to evade arrest.

[Read more…]


Regenerating soil by turning our backs on industrial farming holds the key to tackling climate change

Jason Hickel writes: Soil is the second biggest reservoir of carbon on the planet, next to the oceans. It holds four times more carbon than all the plants and trees in the world. But human activity like deforestation and industrial farming – with its intensive ploughing, monoculture and heavy use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides – is ruining our soils at breakneck speed, killing the organic materials that they contain. Now 40% of agricultural soil is classed as “degraded” or “seriously degraded”. In fact, industrial farming has so damaged our soils that a third of the world’s farmland has been destroyed in the past four decades.

As our soils degrade, they are losing their ability to hold carbon, releasing enormous plumes of CO2 [pdf] into the atmosphere.

There is, however, a solution. Scientists and farmers around the world are pointing out that we can regenerate degraded soils by switching from intensive industrial farming to more ecological methods – not just organic fertiliser, but also no-tillage, composting, and crop rotation. Here’s the brilliant part: as the soils recover, they not only regain their capacity to hold CO2, they begin to actively pull additional CO2 out of the atmosphere. [Continue reading…]