Billions face food, water shortages over next 30 years as nature fails

Billions face food, water shortages over next 30 years as nature fails

SOURCE: National Geographic DATE: October 10, 2019 SNIP: As many as five billion people, particularly in Africa and South Asia, are likely to face shortages of food and clean water in the coming decades as nature declines. Hundreds of millions more could be vulnerable to increased risks of severe coastal storms, according to the first-ever model examining how nature and humans can survive together. “I hope no one is shocked that billions of people could be impacted by 2050,” says Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer a landscape ecologist at Stanford University. “We know we are dependent on nature for many things,” says Chaplin-Kramer, lead author of the paper “Global Modeling Of Nature’s Contributions To People” published in Science. That nature is in sharp decline was made clear in the first-ever global assessment of biodiversity released earlier this year. Human activity has resulted in the severe alteration of more than 75 percent of Earth’s land areas and 66 percent of the oceans, putting a million species at risk of extinction, according to the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Human well-being is dependent upon nature’s contributions. The new model looked at three of nature’s contributions or services: providing clean water; coastal protection, or crop pollination. The model reveals that the future declines in those services will hit people in Africa and South Asia hardest because they are more directly dependent on nature, says Chaplin-Kramer in an interview. People in wealthier countries can buffer the impacts though imports of food and infrastructure. To look at clean water, the model mapped plants that grow near lakes and rivers. Depending on topography, climate, runoff,...
Algae Blooms Fed by Farm Flooding Add to Midwest’s Climate Woes

Algae Blooms Fed by Farm Flooding Add to Midwest’s Climate Woes

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: June 26, 2019 SNIP: The historic rains that flooded millions of acres of Midwestern cropland this spring landed a blow to an already struggling farm economy. They also delivered bad news for the climate. Scientists project that all that water has flushed vast amounts of fertilizer and manure into waterways, triggering a potentially unprecedented season of algae blooms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted that the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico—a massive overgrowth of algae—could become the size of Massachusetts this summer, coming close to a record set in 2017, and that an algae bloom in Lake Erie could also reach a record size. “Every place in the Midwest is wet,” said John Downing, an aquatic ecologist and director of the Minnesota Sea Grant. “There will be a terrific amount of algae blooms.” As rain washes nutrients—mostly fertilizers and manure—into streams, rivers and lakes, those nutrients stoke the growth of algae, a process known as eutrophication that depletes oxygen in the water. That algae can choke the waterways, killing aquatic life and making water unsafe to swim in or drink. These algae-filled waterways also emit methane, a powerful climate pollutant. Atmospheric methane has shot up over the past 12 years, threatening global emissions-reduction goals. Downing and his colleagues have determined that algae blooms could accelerate methane emissions even more. “We not only lose good water,” he said, “we also exacerbate climate...
Industrial Agriculture, an Extraction Industry Like Fossil Fuels, a Growing Driver of Climate Change

Industrial Agriculture, an Extraction Industry Like Fossil Fuels, a Growing Driver of Climate Change

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: January 25, 2019 SNIP: On his farm in southwestern Iowa, Seth Watkins plants several different crops and raises cattle. He controls erosion and water pollution by leaving some land permanently covered in native grass. He grazes his cattle on pasture, and he sows cover crops to hold the fertile soil in place during the harsh Midwestern winters. Watkins’ farm is a patchwork of diversity—and his fields mark it as an outlier. But for several decades, ever-bigger and less-varied farms have overtaken diversified operations like his, replacing them with industrialized row crops or gigantic impoundments of cattle, hogs and chickens. This trend is a central reason why American agriculture has failed to deal with climate change, a crisis that has been made worse by large-scale farming practices even as it afflicts farmers themselves. The consolidation of American farming, reinforced by an emphasis on just one or two main crops—corn and soybeans—has led to a system in which there’s little incentive to grow much else, especially in the agricultural heartland of the Midwest. This has profound climate and environmental implications. Mega-sized farming encourages practices that degrade the soil, waste fertilizer and mishandle manure, all of which directly increase emissions of greenhouse gases. At the same time, it discourages practices like “no-till” farming and crop rotation that grab carbon dioxide from the air, store it in the soil and improve soil health. One recent government report called the trend toward ever-bigger farms “persistent, widespread and pronounced.” “From a climate, soil health, and carbon sequestering perspective, we need greater diversity,” said Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture...