A destructive beetle has jumped the Rockies

SOURCE: Yale Climate Connections DATE: January 22, 2018 SNIP: Canada’s vast conifer forests are being destroyed by tiny beetles that are on the move. Mountain pine beetles are native to western North America, but as the climate warms, the beetle’s range is expanding. Six: “It’s actually jumped the Rockies and has spread across Alberta to Saskatchewan. That’s in the far north, it’s interior. It’s typically very, very cold, and in the past too cold for the beetle to survive there, but now it’s warm enough.” Diana Six is an entomologist at the University of Montana. She says that, as the beetles spread to these new locations, they are starting to kill a new type of tree: jack pine, which is a dominant species across much of Canada. Six: “Jack pine is what we call a naive host. It means it’s one that the beetle hasn’t co-evolved with and so that tree has never had to evolve defenses against the beetle.” She fears that the beetles could destroy vast areas of jack pine forests across Canada, and eventually even move into eastern pine forests. When dead trees decompose, they release stored carbon back to the atmosphere. So when millions of trees are destroyed by beetles, it is not just devastating for wildlife – it makes climate change...
Scientists just presented a sweeping new estimate of how much humans have transformed the planet

Scientists just presented a sweeping new estimate of how much humans have transformed the planet

SOURCE: Washington Post DATE: December 20, 2017 SNIP: In this age of climate change, we naturally train our attention on all the fossil fuels being combusted for human use — but scientists have long known that what’s happening is also all about the land. Just as buried fossil fuels are filled with carbon from ancient plant and animal life, so too are living trees and vegetation on Earth’s surface today. Razing forests or plowing grasslands puts carbon in the atmosphere just like burning fossil fuels does. Now, new research provides a surprisingly large estimate of just how consequential our treatment of land surfaces and vegetation has been for the planet and its atmosphere. If true, it’s a finding that could shape not only our response to climate change, but our understanding of ourselves as agents of planetary transformation. Using a series of detailed maps derived from satellite information and other types of ecological measurements, Karl-Heinz Erb, the lead study author, and his colleagues estimated how much carbon is contained in Earth’s current vegetation. The number is massive: 450 billion tons of carbon, which, if it were to somehow arrive in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, would amount to over a trillion tons of the gas. But the study also presented an even larger and perhaps more consequential number: 916 billion tons. That’s the amount of carbon, the research calculated, that could reside in the world’s vegetation — so not in the atmosphere — if humans somehow entirely ceased all uses of land and allowed it to return to its natural state. The inference is that current human use of...
Carbon Loophole: Why Is Wood Burning Counted as Green Energy?

Carbon Loophole: Why Is Wood Burning Counted as Green Energy?

SOURCE: Yale Environment 360 DATE: December 19, 2017 SNIP: It was once one of Europe’s largest coal-burning power stations. Now, after replacing coal in its boilers with wood pellets shipped from the U.S. South, the Drax Power Station in Britain claims to be the largest carbon-saving project in Europe. About 23 million tons of carbon dioxide goes up its stacks each year. But because new trees will be planted in the cut forests, the company says the Drax plant is carbon-neutral. There is one problem. Ecologists say that the claims of carbon neutrality, which are accepted by the European Union and the British government, do not stand up to scrutiny. The forests of North Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi — as well as those in Europe — are being destroyed to sustain a European fantasy about renewable energy. And with many power plants in Europe and elsewhere starting to replace coal with wood, the question of who is right is becoming ever more important. In September, some 200 scientists wrote to the EU insisting that “bioenergy [from forest biomass] is not carbon-neutral” and calling for tighter rules to protect forests and their carbon. Yet just a month later, EU ministers rubber-stamped the existing carbon accounting rules, reaffirming that the burning of wood pellets is renewable energy. Under the terms of both the UN Paris climate agreement and Europe’s internal rules, carbon losses from forests supplying power stations should be declared as changes to the carbon storage capacity of forest landscapes. But such changes are seldom reported in national inventories. And there is no system either within the EU or at...
Some forests aren’t growing back after wildfires, research finds

Some forests aren’t growing back after wildfires, research finds

SOURCE: CBC News DATE: December 12, 2017 SNIP: Bigger, hotter wildfires are ravaging forests and burning them to the ground more frequently as the climate gets hotter and drier. Now a new study shows that in some places in the U.S., those forests may never grow back. That adds to evidence that amid climate change, some forest landscapes — including those in Canada — can change dramatically after being burned. The new U.S. study looked at 1,500 forest sites affected by 52 wildfires in five states in the U.S. Rockies between 1985 and 2015. It found overall decreases in the amount of tree regrowth since 2000 compared to before 2000 due to warmer, drier conditions. After 2000, no seedlings were growing back at about one third of sites, compared to 15 per cent of sites that burned before 2000, said Camille Stevens-Rumann, lead author of the study published today in the journal Ecology Letters. “We often think about climate change as something that we’re going to feel the effects of in the future. The truth is wildfires are facilitating those changes happening sooner,” Stevens-Rumann told CBC News. “And I think that was a really big surprise to all of us to see it even over just a 30 year...
Global tree cover loss reaches a record high in 2016

Global tree cover loss reaches a record high in 2016

SOURCE: Think Progress DATE: October 23, 2017 SNIP: In 2016, the world’s forests lost more than 73.4 million acres of tree cover — an area roughly the size of New Zealand, and a 51 percent increase from the year before. Tree cover — considered any wooded area, natural or otherwise — is declining at an alarming rate, fueled by poor forest management and climate change-driven drought, according to a study published Monday by Global Forest Watch. “We see a massive increase in tree cover loss in 2016, and, from what we have seen, it seems like the main reason for the increase is a proliferation of forest fires both in the tropics and other parts of the world,” Mikaela Weisse, a research analyst with Global Forest Watch, told ThinkProgress. The tree cover loss recorded in 2016 is the highest amount since Global Forest Watch began keeping records in...