The world’s largest wetlands are on fire. That’s a disaster for all of us

The world’s largest wetlands are on fire. That’s a disaster for all of us

SOURCE: CNN DATE: November 13, 2020 SNIP: The world watched as California and the Amazon went up in flames this year, but the largest tropical wetland on earth has been ablaze for months, largely unnoticed by the outside world. South America’s Pantanal region has been hit by the worst wildfires in decades. The blazes have already consumed about 28% of the vast floodplain that stretches across parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. They are still not completely under control. The fires have destroyed unique habitats and wrecked the livelihoods of many of the Pantanal’s diverse indigenous communities. But their damaging impact reaches far beyond the region. Wetlands like the Pantanal are Earth’s most effective carbon sinks — ecosystems that absorb and store more carbon than they release, keeping it away from the atmosphere. At roughly 200,000 square kilometers, the Pantanal comprises about 3% of the globe’s wetlands and plays a key role in the carbon cycle. When these carbon-rich ecosystems burn, vast amounts of heat-trapping gases are released back into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE) has detected more than 21,200 fires in the Pantanal biome so far this year, a figure that is already 69% higher than the full-year record from 2005, when INPE recorded roughly 12,500 fires. There were 8,106 fires in September alone — more than four times the historic average for the month. The Pantanal’s distinctive habitats rely on what scientists call the “flood pulse.” During the wet season between November and March, three quarters of the plain gets flooded, only for much of the water to...
Indonesia readies its green diesel. These are the likely social and environmental impacts

Indonesia readies its green diesel. These are the likely social and environmental impacts

SOURCE: Phys.org DATE: October 23, 2020 SNIP: In July, Indonesia’s state-owned oil company, Pertamina, produced its first batch of biofuel made entirely from palm oil. Called D100, this “green diesel” is part of Indonesia’s strategy to promote what is claimed to be environmentally friendly fuel. Indonesia began mandating a 30% mix of biofuel in gasoline in January 2020. The plan is to increase the amount of biofuel used in the country. The policy will increase demand for palm oil—the country’s number one agricultural export. The government has positioned the program as a way to lower fossil fuel imports and greenhouse gas emissions. But it will worsen deforestation, increase greenhouse gas emissions and lead to a loss of biodiversity. It will also lead to more social conflicts. Research shows the palm oil industry is a major driver of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and loss of biodiversity. Palm oil plantations produce more oil per unit of land than alternative crops. A report by the European Union concluded palm oil is associated with higher levels of deforestation than other biofuels. In any event, the biodiesel policies aim to replace fossil fuels. Thus, the comparison should be with fossil fuels, not other kinds of vegetable oil. Studies have found palm oil-based biodiesel creates more carbon emissions than fossil fuels. Indonesia’s 94.1 million hectares of forests are particularly rich in both biodiversity and carbon content. Peatlands are also very rich in carbon. When land is converted to palm oil plantations, carbon is released into the air. In 2014, more than half of Indonesia’s carbon emissions came from forest and land-use changes. As production of...
Jasper National Park says one caribou herd gone, two others on the brink of local extinction

Jasper National Park says one caribou herd gone, two others on the brink of local extinction

SOURCE: CBC DATE: September 16 SNIP: Caribou populations in Jasper National Park are in deep trouble. Of three southern mountain woodland caribou herds managed by Parks Canada, one — the Maligne herd — is now considered extirpated, or locally extinct, while the other two are dangerously small, according to the Jasper National Park’s Species at Risk report. Worse, neither of those herds has enough breeding females to be able to grow the herds, a situation that has an Alberta wilderness society calling for swift action. “The Tonquin is estimated to have about 45 caribou left only, the Brazeau less than 15. And a key thing for caribou is the number of breeding females,” said Carolyn Campbell, a conservation specialist for the Calgary-based Alberta Wilderness Association. “In each case, unfortunately, these two populations have 10 or less breeding females. That means they cannot grow any bigger and they’re very vulnerable to sudden disasters or setbacks.” Caribou have one calf per season. Three aerial surveys of the Maligne Valley conducted in 2018 and 2019 failed to locate caribou tracks or animals, the annual report stated. It says the Tonquin and Brazeau herds are “too small to recover on their...
Wildlife in ‘catastrophic decline’ due to human destruction, scientists warn

Wildlife in ‘catastrophic decline’ due to human destruction, scientists warn

SOURCE: BBC and The Guardian DATE: September 10, 2020 SNIP: Wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years, according to a major report by the conservation group WWF. The report says this “catastrophic decline” shows no sign of slowing. And it warns that nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before. Wildlife is “in freefall” as we burn forests, over-fish our seas and destroy wild areas, says Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF. “We are wrecking our world – the one place we call home – risking our health, security and survival here on Earth. Now nature is sending us a desperate SOS and time is running out.” The report looked at thousands of different wildlife species monitored by conservation scientists in habitats across the world. They recorded an average 68% fall in more than 20,000 populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970. The decline was clear evidence of the damage human activity is doing to the natural world, said Dr Andrew Terry, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which provides the data. “If nothing changes, populations will undoubtedly continue to fall, driving wildlife to extinction and threatening the integrity of the ecosystems on which we depend,” he added. Taken together, they provide evidence that biodiversity is being destroyed at a rate unprecedented in human history. This particular report uses an index of whether populations of wildlife are going up or down. It does not tell us the number of species lost, or extinctions. The largest declines are in tropical areas. The drop...
‘This land is all we have left’: tribes on edge over giant dam proposal near Grand Canyon

‘This land is all we have left’: tribes on edge over giant dam proposal near Grand Canyon

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: August 12, 2020 SNIP: Phoenix-based Pumped Hydro Storage LLC has received a preliminary permit from federal regulators for its Big Canyon Pumped Storage Project – a string of four huge dams near the Little Colorado River, along with reservoirs and a power-generation facility. The preliminary permit does not allow construction, but it gives Pumped Hydro priority in getting a license to build. The project is the third Pumped Hydro has proposed in the Big Canyon region – the two previous ones received major pushback from tribes and environmentalists. If built, it would function as both a battery and station for generating up to 7,900 gigawatt-hours of electricity. It would pump groundwater up into four reservoirs, one of which would flood Big Canyon. That water would be stored as potential power, ready to be unleashed down canyons, through generators and toward the Little Colorado River when electricity is needed [sic… electricity is never “needed” only “wanted”]. The environmental and cultural costs of this proposal would be major. Tribal members and environmentalists say the project would flood several miles of canyons sacred to the Navajo; risk damaging cultural sites for several tribes; draw vast amounts of critical groundwater; potentially harm habitats for plants and animals, including some endangered species; and risk adverse effects for waterways leading into the Grand Canyon. Any electricity the Big Canyon project generates would go off the reservation, probably to the bigger cities in southern Arizona. Opposition from tribal and environmental organizations is fierce. “This land is all we have left. And yeah, we’re gonna fight. I’m gonna fight,” said Rita Bilagody, a...