SOURCE: The Independent
DATE: January 18, 20201
SNIP: A “human fingerprint” covers the global temperature rise seen from before the industrial era to today, new research has found.
From pre-industrial times to near present day, worldwide temperatures increased by about 1.1C, according to the research.
The study says that, over that period, greenhouse gases released by humans caused global temperatures to go up by between 1.2 and 1.9C.
But at the same time, air pollution from humans had a net cooling effect, causing temperatures to decrease by between 0.1 and 0.7C, the study says.
This suggests that the influence of greenhouse gas emissions on global temperature rise from pre-industrial times until near present would have been even greater were not for the cooling impact of air pollution via tiny particles known as aerosols.
Nathan Gillett, a climate scientist from the government of Canada and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, told The Independent: “This is the first study to calculate the separate contributions of greenhouse gases and aerosols to temperature changes since the 1800s, rather than just their contributions to trends over the past 50 to 60 years.
“[The findings show that] humans have already had a very substantial impact on global temperatures, which would have been even larger without the offsetting effects of aerosols.”
The researchers used a range of climate models to estimate the relative contributions of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, human-caused aerosols and natural factors to the global temperature rise seen in 2010-19, when compared with the period 1850-1900.
Aerosols are released into the atmosphere through a range of natural and human processes, such as volcanic eruptions and fossil-fuel burning. They can have either a cooling or warming impact on the climate. However, research suggests that the aerosols released by humans have so far had a net cooling effect on the planet.
The scientists looked specifically at changes to global near-surface air temperatures, a measure commonly used to study climate impacts.
The results show that greenhouse gas emissions released by humans accounted for the vast majority of global temperature rises observed from pre-industrial times to today, while natural factors had a “negligible” effect.
In addition, human-caused aerosols had a net cooling effect, which cancelled out some of the warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions, according to the results.
“Approximately one-quarter of the greenhouse gas-induced warming has been offset by cooling due to aerosols,” said Dr Gillett.
But aerosol emissions are likely to decrease in future as countries reduce air pollution to protect public health.
Understanding the extent to which greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to the global temperature rise is key to future efforts to tackle the climate crisis, said Peter Stott, an expert in the attribution of climate change to humans from the UK’s Met Office, who was not involved in the research.
He told The Independent: “We know that the warming that has been observed has been dominated by greenhouse gases. But this study gets into the question of exactly how much of the warming that has been observed is human-caused. This is particularly relevant for the Paris Agreement.”
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: January 14, 2021
SNIP: [I]n 2015, the Estonian government allowed what is known as clear-cutting in some parts of the Haanja nature reserve. The practice involves stripping entire areas of mature forest and removing whole tree trunks.
This relaxation of the logging rules came as international demand for Estonian wood soared – not just for furniture or construction, but because of an unlikely culprit: Europe’s renewable energy policies.
Forests cover 2m hectares or more than half of Estonia. Around 380,000 hectares (939,000 acres) of that, including the Haanja nature reserve, fall under the EU’s Natura 2000 network, which is designed to protect Europe’s forests and offer a haven to rare and threatened species. Haanja is home to 29 protected species, including the black stork, the lesser-spotted eagle and the corncrake.
Natura-protected zones are managed under the legally binding provisions of the 1979 EU birds directive and the 1992 habitats directive. But logging is governed by domestic laws, and Estonia permits it as long as it does not damage bogs and other special habitats, or fall within bird mating seasons.
Campaigners say that by allowing intensive clear-cutting in Natura 2000 sites, Estonia is in breach of the habitats directive and undermining the EU’s climate goals.
Siim Kuresoo of the non-profit Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF) doesn’t just blame the Estonian government. He says there is a direct connection between the subsidised growth in the biomass industry encouraged by EU renewable energy policies and the acceleration of unsustainable Baltic tree-felling.
“There is clear evidence that the intensification of logging is at least partly driven by higher demand for biomass for heat and power,” says a report co-authored by Kuresoo for the ELF and the Latvian Ornithological Society. “Given that over half of Estonia’s and Latvia’s wood pellet exports in 2019 went to Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, ‘green energy’ use in those three countries contributes directly to increased logging in the two Baltic states.”
The Council of Estonian Environmental NGOs (EKO), of which the ELF is a member, has made a complaint to the European commission alleging “systematic” breaches by Estonia of its forest conservation obligations.
To investigate the subsidised European pellet trade and its impact on Baltic forests, we uploaded boundary files for Estonia’s Natura 2000 zones to Global Forest Watch, an online platform for monitoring forests, and found that per-hectare tree cover loss (the removal of the tree canopy rather than outright deforestation) in these areas accelerated after 2015. That was when the government adjusted park conservation rules to allow clear-cutting of up to one hectare at a time in some nature reserves.
Across Estonia, between 2001 and 2019, Natura 2000 areas lost more than 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of forest cover, an area more than twice the size of Manhattan. The last five years account for 80% of that loss. Further alterations to rules in other Estonian national parks are planned.
This acceleration appears to be taking a toll on bird species like the black grouse, woodlark and others. Woodland birds are declining at a rate of 50,000 breeding pairs a year, according to national records.
A switch to burning wood in the form of pellets appears to offer a simple and in theory carbon-neutral alternative to coal-fired power stations because trees take up carbon dioxide from the air as they grow. As long as the burned trees are replaced with new plantings, there is no net addition to the stock of carbon in the atmosphere.
However, that process of carbon take-up can take many decades. And in the furnace, burning wood releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than burning gas, oil, or even coal. By accelerating carbon dioxide emissions in the short term, burning wood for electricity could be fatal for states’ ability to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global heating to well below 2C by 2050.
Demand for woody biomass or energy from wood as an alternative to coal in power stations took off from 2009, when the first EU renewable energy directive obliged member states to source 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 and classified biomass energy as carbon-neutral.
A flaw in the legislation meant that woody biomass was fully categorised as renewable, even if it came not just from wood residues or waste, but from whole trees. This meant that companies could directly harvest forests for pellets – rather than making pellets from the by-products of timber cut for other uses – in the name of sustainable forest management.
As the EU moved in 2018 to double the use of renewable energy by 2030, scientists warned the European Parliament that this loophole in the sustainability criteria of the revised EU legislation would accelerate the climate crisis and devastate mature forests. But against the competing interests of the multibillion euro biomass lobby, it went unamended.
Almost all European countries have recorded an increase in logging for energy. Nearly a quarter of the trees harvested in the EU in 2019 were for energy, up from 17% in 2000.
Biomass, of which wood from forests is the main source, now makes up almost 60% of the EU’s renewable energy supply, more than solar and wind combined, and a vast cross-border industry has emerged to meet this demand.
Taxpayer subsidies are driving much of the growth in this trade. Between 2008 and 2018, subsidies for biomass, of which wood is the main source, among 27 European nations increased by 143%.
“Biomass only exists at the scale that it does because of subsidies,” says Duncan Brack, associate fellow at the London-based thinktank Chatham House. “We’re effectively paying to increase carbon emissions in the atmosphere, which is an absurd use of public money.”
On paper, Estonia’s forest stock seems to be stable and even slightly increasing, according to Estonia’s 2020 Forest Resources Assessment (FRA). On the ground, we found felled areas replanted with small spruces, which count towards forest area, even though the young trees will take decades to absorb the same amount of carbon as the old felled trees. These “temporarily unstocked or recently regenerated” forests have increased more than 20% since 2010, FRA data says, with serious consequences for the capacity of Estonian land to store carbon. As a result, the Estonian land-use sector, which includes forestry, is expected to switch from being a carbon sink to an emitter of carbon by 2030, according to Estonia’s National Energy and Climate report – the same year by which, under the EU’s updated Renewable Energy Directive, Europe must have increased its energy from renewable sources to 32%.
Experts hold that generally, the more diverse the forest, the greater the variety of animals and plants it can host. Žiga Malek, assistant professor in land use and ecosystem dynamicsat Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, says: “The vegetation that was there before protected the soil from being eroded.” Clear-cutting is allowed in Natura 2000 areas as long as it does not conflict with local conservation rules, Malek adds. “In this case it would mean minimum disturbance,” he says. “Which this is not.” Replanted forests can provide climate benefits, he adds, but they cannot fully replace the lost forest ecosystem.
Altering the forest type can also affect the amount of carbon stored in the ground. Mature and closer-to-natural forests sequester more carbon in the long run, due to a healthier ground biomass, Malek says. “Even if the clear-cut area is planted with one fast-growing species, it will not be as effective in terms of carbon sink as the more nature-like forest would in the long term.”
SOURCE: New York Times
DATE: January 13, 2021
SNIP: The Trump administration on Wednesday removed more than 3 million acres of Pacific Northwest land from the protected habitat of the northern spotted owl, 15 times the amount it had previously proposed opening to the timber industry.
The plan, issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, grew out of a legal settlement with a lumber association that had sued the government in 2013 over 9.5 million acres that the agency designated as essential to the survival of the northern spotted owl. The federal protections restricted much of the land from timber harvesting, which companies claimed would lead to calamitous economic losses.
But rather than trim about 200,000 acres of critical habitat in Oregon, as the agency initially proposed in August, the new plan will eliminate protections from 3.4 million acres across Washington, California and Oregon. What is left will mostly be land that is protected for reasons beyond the spotted owl.
The decision is the latest in a series of midnight regulations the Trump administration has pushed out in recent weeks that privilege industry over protecting the environment, including shielding industry from fines and prosecution if they kill migratory birds and reducing protections for animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act.
Conservation groups are almost certain to sue, and they said they would lean on House and Senate Democrats to use the Congressional Review Act — a procedural tool that allows lawmakers to nullify recently finalized regulations with a simple majority vote. But it could fall to the incoming Biden administration to do the slow work of unwinding the decision through the federal regulatory process.
Two people familiar with the spotted owl decision said the sharp increase in excluded land was done at the behest of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and other senior Trump administration appointees and was not backed up by the months of biological analysis previously conducted by the agency.
The final rule does not provide new scientific analysis. Instead it says “the Secretary has exercised his discretion” to exclude millions of more acres of land from critical habitat. He concluded, it said, “based upon the best scientific and commercial data available” that the northern spotted owl would not be threatened with extinction.
Conservationists said that assertion was unsupported by the agency’s own evidence. In December, the Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the northern spotted owl should actually be reclassified, as endangered rather than threatened, but the agency said it would not take steps to do so because it had “higher priority actions.”
Northern spotted owls live in forests with dense, multilayered canopies and other features that take 150 to 200 years to develop, the Fish and Wildlife Service has said. They typically mate for life and breed relatively slowly. Threatened by logging and land conversion, they came under protection in 1990 after a fierce political fight, but their numbers have continued to decline by an average of about 4 percent a year, according to the service.
Now the administration is taking away critical protection, scientists say.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: January 13, 2021
SNIP: The planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals” that threaten human survival because of ignorance and inaction, according to an international group of scientists, who warn people still haven’t grasped the urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises.
The 17 experts, including Prof Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University, author of The Population Bomb, and scientists from Mexico, Australia and the US, say the planet is in a much worse state than most people – even scientists – understood.
“The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms – including humanity – is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts,” they write in a report in Frontiers in Conservation Science which references more than 150 studies detailing the world’s major environmental challenges.
The delay between destruction of the natural world and the impacts of these actions means people do not recognise how vast the problem is, the paper argues. “[The] mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation.”
The report warns that climate-induced mass migrations, more pandemics and conflicts over resources will be inevitable unless urgent action is taken.
An estimated one million species are at risk of extinction, many within decades, according to a recent UN report.
“Environmental deterioration is infinitely more threatening to civilisation than Trumpism or Covid-19,” Ehrlich told the Guardian.
In The Population Bomb, published in 1968, Ehrlich warned of imminent population explosion and hundreds of millions of people starving to death. Although he has acknowledged some timings were wrong, he has said he stands by its fundamental message that population growth and high levels of consumption by wealthy nations is driving destruction.
He told the Guardian: “Growthmania is the fatal disease of civilisation – it must be replaced by campaigns that make equity and well-being society’s goals – not consuming more junk.”
Large populations and their continued growth drive soil degradation and biodiversity loss, the new paper warns. “More people means that more synthetic compounds and dangerous throwaway plastics are manufactured, many of which add to the growing toxification of the Earth. It also increases the chances of pandemics that fuel ever-more desperate hunts for scarce resources.”
The report follows years of stark warnings about the state of the planet from the world’s leading scientists, including a statement by 11,000 scientists in 2019 that people will face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless major changes are made. In 2016, more than 150 of Australia’s climate scientists wrote an open letter to the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, demanding immediate action on reducing emissions. In the same year, 375 scientists – including 30 Nobel prize winners – wrote an open letter to the world about their frustrations over political inaction on climate change.
SOURCE: WUSF Public Media
DATE: January 13, 2021
SNIP: The neurotoxin aldicarb is banned in about 100 countries, and is only one of 36 pesticides that the World Health Organization has called “extremely hazardous.” It’s now allowed to be used on Florida oranges and grapefruits.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced late Tuesday its approval for registering the expanded use of the harmful pesticide aldicarb on Florida citrus trees to combat the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect that has spread citrus greening and decimated production.
“The registration limits the product’s sale and distribution to an amount allowing up to 100,000 acres in Florida to be treated each application season (Nov. 15-April 30) for three growing seasons, expiring on April 30, 2023,” said federal officials said in the release.
The agency is also allowing citrus growers across the country to use the antibiotic streptomycin, typically used to treat certain forms of tuberculosis, as a pesticide on oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have raised concerns that using the important antibiotic in this way could increase the risk for bacterial resistance to it. Streptomycin is banned for use as a pesticide in the EU and Brazil.
“Only the Trump EPA would approve use of a medically important antibiotic and a pesticide banned in over 100 countries on citrus crops,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Make no mistake, these unbelievably reckless decisions will harm children and farmworkers, and further hamper our ability to combat major public health crises.”
Aldicarb has been linked to brain damage in young children and infants.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: January 13, 2021
SNIP: The world’s oceans reached their hottest level in recorded history in 2020, supercharging the extreme weather impacts of the climate emergency, scientists have reported.
More than 90% of the heat trapped by carbon emissions is absorbed by the oceans, making their warmth an undeniable signal of the accelerating crisis. The researchers found the five hottest years in the oceans had occurred since 2015, and that the rate of heating since 1986 was eight times higher than that from 1960-85.
Reliable instrumental measurements stretch back to 1940 but it is likely the oceans are now at their hottest for 1,000 years and heating faster than any time in the last 2,000 years. Warmer seas provide more energy to storms, making them more severe, and there were a record 29 tropical storms in the Atlantic in 2020.
Hotter oceans also disrupt rainfall patterns, which lead to floods, droughts and wildfires. Heat also causes seawater to expand and drive up sea levels. Scientists expect about 1 metre of sea level rise by the end of the century, endangering 150 million people worldwide.
Furthermore, warmer water is less able to dissolve carbon dioxide. Currently, 30% of carbon emissions are absorbed by the oceans, limiting the heating effect of humanity’s burning of fossil fuels.
“Ocean warming is the key metric and 2020 continued a long series of record-breaking years, showing the unabated continuation of global warming,” said Prof John Abraham, at the University of St Thomas in Minnesota, US, and one of the team behind the new analysis.
“Warmer oceans supercharge the weather, impacting the biological systems of the planet as well as human society. Climate change is literally killing people and we are not doing enough to stop it.”
Recent research has shown higher temperatures in the seas are also harming marine life, with the number of ocean heatwaves increasing sharply.
The oceans cover 71% of the planet and water can absorb thousands of times more heat than air, which is why 93% of global heating is taken up by the seas. But surface air temperatures, which affect people most directly, also rose in 2020 to the joint highest on record.
The average global air temperature in 2020 was 1.25C higher than the pre-industrial period, dangerously close to the 1.5C target set by the world’s nations to avoid the worst impacts.
The latest research, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, showed the oceans absorbed 20 zettajoules more heat than in 2019. This is equivalent to every person on Earth running 80 hairdryers all day, every day, or the detonation of about four atomic bombs a second.
DATE: Jan 12, 2021
SNIP: For the third year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife found zero Delta smelt in the agency’s 2020 Fall Midwater Trawl Survey throughout the Delta.
The 2- to 3-inch-long Delta smelt, found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is an indicator species that reveals the overall health of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. It was once the most abundant fish in the entire estuary, numbering in the millions. Now it’s on the verge of extinction in the wild.
“All signs point to the Delta smelt as disappearing from the wild this year, or, perhaps, 2022,” according to a California Water Blog post by Peter Moyle, Karrigan Börk, John Durand, T-C Hung and Andrew L. Rypel.
The Delta smelt collapse is part of an overall decline of pelagic (open water) fish species in the Delta that also includes striped bass, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, American shad and threadfin shad.
The survey samples 122 stations each month from September to December and a subset of these data is used to calculate an annual abundance “index,” a relative measure of abundance.
While there are many factors contributing to the fish’s decline, including toxics, invasive species and decreasing water quality, none is more key to the fish’s collapse than the changes in the Delta resulting from the giant state and federal water pumping facilities that have diverted water for decades to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness and Southern California water agencies.
SOURCE: Center for Biological Diversity
DATE: January 11, 2021
SNIP: The Center for Biological Diversity today announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for the cruel and illegal mutilation of a threatened Florida manatee in north Florida’s Homosassa River. Someone carved the word TRUMP into the animal’s back.
“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately.”
Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began investigating the crime after the manatee was discovered Sunday with serious scarring in the form of the president’s name. Anyone with information can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation hotline at (888) 404-3922.
Protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1963, manatees are slow-moving plant eaters with no natural enemies. Most years boat mortality makes up about 20% of known human-caused deaths.
Harassment of a manatee is a federal criminal offense punishable by a $50,000 fine and up to one year in prison.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: January 11, 2021
SNIP: Insect populations are suffering “death by a thousand cuts”, with many falling at “frightening” rates that are “tearing apart the tapestry of life”, according to scientists behind a new volume of studies.
The insects face multiple, overlapping threats including the destruction of wild habitats for farming, urbanisation, pesticides and light pollution. Population collapses have been recorded in places where human activities dominate, such as in Germany, but there is little data from outside Europe and North America and in particular from wild, tropical regions where most insects live.
The scientists are especially concerned that the climate crisis may be causing serious damage in the tropics. But even though much more data is needed, the researchers say enough is already known for urgent action to be taken.
Insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals on Earth, with millions of species and outweighing humans by 17 times. They are essential to the ecosystems that humanity depends upon, pollinating plants, providing food for other creatures and recycling nature’s waste.
The 12 new studies are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Nature is under siege [and] most biologists agree that the world has entered its sixth mass extinction event,” concludes the lead analysis in the package. “Insects are suffering from ‘death by a thousand cuts’ [and] severe insect declines can potentially have global ecological and economic consequences.”
Prof David Wagner of the University of Connecticut in the US, the lead author of the analysis, said the abundance of many insect populations was falling by 1-2% a year, a rate that should not be seen as small: “You’re losing 10-20% of your animals over a single decade and that is just absolutely frightening. You’re tearing apart the tapestry of life.”
Another of the papers sets out actions that can protect insects. Individuals can rewild their gardens, cut pesticide use and limit outdoor lighting, it said, while countries must reduce the impacts of farming. All groups can help change attitudes towards insects by conveying that they are crucial components of the living world.
SOURCE: The Kathmandu Post
DATE: January 9, 2021
SNIP: People buying groceries, electronic gadgets, dresses and books online has become common these days with the availability of the internet and social media.
But the internet has also become a place for trade in illegal items, including wild animals, their body parts and meat. Several pages and groups on Facebook have been found to be actively involved in such a trade.
According to wildlife conservationists, traders are using social media sites to sell various mammals, reptiles, and birds. This is a worrying trend, they say.
“Traders are using several pages and groups on social media to sell wild animals’ meat,” said Raju Acharya, a wildlife conservationist. “That such trade is going on shows that protected species are being hunted and captured illegally.”
According to Acharya, the most commonly traded species killed for their meat are wild boars, kalij pheasants, barking deer, red junglefowl, and monkeys.
“Most of the animals are traded online for their meat,” said Acharya, also the executive director of Friends of Nature Nepal, a youth-led non-governmental organisation working in the field of environment and wildlife conservation. “If this is happening in broad daylight on social media, we can infer that efforts by concerned authorities to control poaching of wild animals have not been adequate.”
Even a cursory search on Facebook, reveals several posts and pages that provide details on how one can buy wild animals for consumption or to keep as pets.
Chiranjeevi Khanal, another wildlife conservationist, who closely follows such trade on social media, said birds like parrots are the most common ones to be sold on social media.
“We can also see many posts on wild boar meat. However, no one knows for sure whether the meat on offer is of a wild boar,” said Khanal. “Species like tortoise are also being sold in such groups.”
According to Khanal, generally, youths are found to be involved in such activities.
“I have even found a pangolin on sale. And, I have also captured a photo of an elongated tortoise, an endangered species being sold through social media.”
The trade in wildlife parts may be taking place easily and in the open, but such practices are against the law, officials say.
Nepal’s wildlife conservation law does not allow the killing or injuring, selling, or buying and selling of wild animals and their parts, except under official permission.
Haribhadra Acharya, spokesperson for the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation, said that as per the National Park Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973, no one can kill or injure, or even sell a wild animal.
“The department keeps getting complaints that people are taking to social media to sell wild animals and their parts. Even last fiscal year, we issued a notice after there were reports that wild animals were being sold on social media for their meat,” said Acharya. “Most of the time, such incidents are happening because the members of the public are unaware of the consequences of their actions.”
However, according to conservationists, such practices are going on unabated in different parts of the country, even in Kathmandu.
The fifth amendment to the National Park and Wildlife Conservation Rules introduced a provision to grant permission to a person or entity for commercial farming and reproduction of various wild mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. But the law hasn’t been implemented.