The Rapid Decline Of The Natural World Is A Crisis Even Bigger Than Climate Change

The Rapid Decline Of The Natural World Is A Crisis Even Bigger Than Climate Change

SOURCE: Huffington Post and UN, IPBES DATE: March 15, 2019 SNIP: The last year has seen a slew of brutal and terrifying warnings about the threat climate change poses to life. Far less talked about but just as dangerous, if not more so, is the rapid decline of the natural world. The felling of forests, the over-exploitation of seas and soils, and the pollution of air and water are together driving the living world to the brink, according to a huge three-year, U.N.-backed landmark study to be published in May. The study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), expected to run to over 8,000 pages, is being compiled by more than 500 experts in 50 countries. It is the greatest attempt yet to assess the state of life on Earth and will show how tens of thousands of species are at high risk of extinction, how countries are using nature at a rate that far exceeds its ability to renew itself, and how nature’s ability to contribute food and fresh water to a growing human population is being compromised in every region on earth. Around the world, land is being deforested, cleared and destroyed with catastrophic implications for wildlife and people. Forests are being felled across Malaysia, Indonesia and West Africa to give the world the palm oil we need for snacks and cosmetics. Huge swaths of Brazilian rainforest are being cleared to make way for soy plantations and cattle farms, and to feed the timber industry, a situation likely to accelerate under new leader Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist. Industrial farming is to...
As High-Tide Flooding Worsens, More Pollution Is Washing to the Sea

As High-Tide Flooding Worsens, More Pollution Is Washing to the Sea

SOURCE: Yale e360 DATE: March 14, 2019 SNIP: With global sea levels steadily rising — already up 8 inches in the past century and now increasing at an average of 1.3 inches per decade — the incidence of high-tide “sunny day” or “blue sky” flooding is on the rise, especially along the U.S. East Coast. Those flooding events now routinely wash over sections of cities, and when the waters recede they take with them an excess of nutrients and a toxic mix of pollutants that flows into rivers, bays, and oceans. As high-tide flooding worsened in Norfolk, Virginia in recent years, Margaret Mulholland, a biological oceanographer at Old Dominion University, started to think about the debris she saw in the waters that flowed back into Chesapeake Bay. Tipped-over garbage cans. Tossed-away hamburgers. Oil. Dirty diapers. Pet waste. [S]he decided to sample those waters. Until Mulholland… few if any researchers had examined exactly how much pollution this sunny day flooding was creating. And what Mulholland found shocked her. Analysis of water samples indicates that one morning of tidal flooding along the Lafayette River in Norfolk poured nearly the entire annual U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allocation of nitrogen runoff for the river — 1,941 pounds — into Chesapeake Bay. Mulholland is focused on measuring nitrogen, including ammonium, because of its effect on algae blooms, which create oxygen-depleted dead zones in bay waters. She said that other pollutants — including oil, gasoline, and trace metals — are also washing into waterways, as evidenced by the petroleum sheens visible on the water during high-tide flooding. “We can see it, and it would be...
Sharp rise in Arctic temperatures now inevitable

Sharp rise in Arctic temperatures now inevitable

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: March 13, 2019 SNIP: Sharp and potentially devastating temperature rises of 3C to 5C in the Arctic are now inevitable even if the world succeeds in cutting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement, research has found. Winter temperatures at the north pole are likely to rise by at least 3C above pre-industrial levels by mid-century, and there could be further rises to between 5C and 9C above the recent average for the region, according to the UN. Such changes would result in rapidly melting ice and permafrost, leading to sea level rises and potentially to even more destructive levels of warming. Scientists fear Arctic heating could trigger a climate “tipping point” as melting permafrost releases the powerful greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, which in turn could create a runaway warming effect. “What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” said Joyce Msuya, the acting executive director of UN Environment. “We have the science. Now more urgent climate action is needed to steer away from tipping points that could be even worse for our planet than we first thought.” If melting permafrost triggers a tipping point, the likely results would be global temperature rises well in excess of the 2C set as the limit of safety under the Paris agreement. Nearly half of Arctic permafrost could be lost even if global carbon emissions are held within the Paris agreement limits, according to the UN study. Even if all carbon emissions were to be halted immediately, the Arctic region would still warm by more than 5C by the century’s end,...
Resource extraction responsible for half world’s carbon emissions

Resource extraction responsible for half world’s carbon emissions

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: March 12, 2019 SNIP: Extraction industries are responsible for half of the world’s carbon emissions and more than 80% of biodiversity loss, according to the most comprehensive environmental tally undertaken of mining and farming. While this is crucial for food, fuel and minerals, the study by UN Environment warns the increasing material weight of the world’s economies is putting a more dangerous level of stress on the climate and natural life-support systems than previously thought. Resources are being extracted from the planet three times faster than in 1970, even though the population has only doubled in that time, according to the Global Resources Outlook. Each year, the world consumes more than 92b tonnes of materials – biomass (mostly food), metals, fossil fuels and minerals – and this figure is growing at the rate of 3.2% per year. Since 1970, extraction of of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has increased from 6bn tonnes to 15bn tonnes, metals have risen by 2.7% a year, other minerals (particularly sand and gravel for concrete) have surged nearly fivefold from 9bn to 44bn tonnes, and biomass harvests have gone up from 9bn to 24bn tonnes. Land use change – mostly for agriculture – accounts for over 80% of biodiversity loss and 85% of water stress as forests and swamps are cleared for cropland that needs irrigation. Extraction and primary processing of metals and other minerals is responsible for 20% of health impacts from air pollution and 26% of global carbon emissions. The biggest surprise to the authors was the huge climate impact of pulling materials out of the ground...
Air pollution deaths are double previous estimates

Air pollution deaths are double previous estimates

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: March 12, 2019 SNIP: The number of early deaths caused by air pollution is double previous estimates, according to research, meaning toxic air is killing more people than tobacco smoking. The scientists used new data to estimate that nearly 800,000 people die prematurely each year in Europe because of dirty air, and that each life is cut short by an average of more than two years. The health damage caused by air pollution in Europe is higher than the global average. Its dense population and poor air results in exposure that is among the highest in the world. The new research, published in the European Heart Journal, indicates that while air pollution hits the lungs first, its impact via the bloodstream on heart disease and strokes is responsible for twice as many deaths as respiratory diseases. The analysis builds on research published in September and confirms that calculation of 8.8m early deaths a year from outdoor air pollution around the world, double previous estimates. The EU’s PM2.5 limit is more than double the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline used by Canada and...
Climate study warns of vanishing safety window

Climate study warns of vanishing safety window

SOURCE: National Geographic and Nature Climate Change DATE: March 12, 2019 SNIP: A new scientific analysis of millions of possible climate futures found only a narrow window to keeping global warming to levels the international community has deemed safe. Out of 5.2 million possible climate futures, carbon emissions must reach zero by 2030 in every country in the world if we are to stay at less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) by 2100 of warming, the target set by the United Nations to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, from rising seas to deadly heat waves. And unlike last fall’s “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which held out the possibility of a 2.7 degree Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) climate future—the new paper published March 11 in the journal Nature Climate Change employed three practical constraints: spending to cut carbon emissions would be no more than three percent of global GDP per year; no use of geoengineering or technologies to remove carbon; and the climate’s response to doubling carbon in the atmosphere would be at the median level or higher. The latter is called climate sensitivity—how much warming happens when carbon is added to the atmosphere. “We show that our generation has an important responsibility to ensure that coming generations have a tolerable future,” the paper concluded. Global emissions are currently over 40 billion tons a year and increased the last two years. Meanwhile the International Energy Agency announced on March 11 that oil consumption will continue to grow over the next five years, driven by increased demand...