threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Australia is burning: is this a portent of what is to come?

As our hearts go out to the people of Australia, as they battle with unprecedented and devastating fires across the country, with lives lost, as well as homes and a billion of their unique marsupial and other wildlife species being burnt to death, I have to ask the question:

Is this one of the first of many such events that we are going to witness over the next decades?  Is this going to be the face of the effects of climate change in the future?  Are we going to witness even more harrowing events and deaths across the world?

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koala

Photographs from Australia during the fires in recent weeks

wombat after fire

Animals that survive the fires, like this wombat pictured in New South Wales, will struggle to find food and shelter

How much more dreadful is it going to become globally, as we see multiple fires, floods, hurricanes, monsoons, high temperatures, coastal erosion and mass loss of species? Ecologists are already saying that they fear two rare species (found only on Kangaroo Island, to the south of Australia), may have been wiped out in the recent fires.  These include a small mouse-like marsupial, called a dunnart, and glossy black cockatoos. See:

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/empowering-the-planet/australia-wildfires-entire-species-may-have-been-wiped-out-by-inferno-conservationists-say/ar-BBYDoQk?ocid=spartandhp

dunnart2

The endangered marsupial: Kangaroo Island Dunnart

See also: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/04/ecologists-warn-silent-death-australia-bushfires-endangered-species-extinction

An article in Nature, by an Australian ecologist Michael Clarke, describes the aftermath of such terrible fires.  He says,

“It is deathly silent when you go into a forest after a fire. Apart from the ‘undertakers’ — the carrion eaters like currawongs, ravens and shrike-thrushes — picking off the dead bodies, there’s nothing much left in the forest. It’s a chilling experience.

For survivors, it’s a perilous existence in the months that follow. Any animal that manages to make it through the fire uninjured faces three major challenges. One is finding shelter from climatic extremes — places they can hide from bad weather, like a hollow tree or a hole in the ground. The second is the risk of starvation. And third, they’ve got to avoid predators like feral cats and foxes. They’re exposed; there’s nowhere to hide in a barren landscape.

Even if an animal makes it to an unburnt patch, the density of organisms trying to eke out a living will be way beyond the area’s carrying capacity. After fires in 2007, one unburnt patch I visited in the Mallee [a region in the far north of Victoria] was literally crawling with birds, all chasing one another, trying to work out who owned the last little bit of turf. It was clearly insufficient to sustain them all.

Animals like koalas that live above ground in small, isolated populations and that have a limited capacity to flee or discover unburnt patches of forest are in all sorts of trouble. During past fires, we’ve seen some really surprising creative behaviours, like lyrebirds and wallabies going down wombat burrows to escape fire. But a large majority of animals are simply incinerated. Even really big, fast-flying birds like falcons and crimson rosellas can succumb to fire.

Some animals are more resilient to fire than others. The best adapted are those that can get underground. Termite colonies happily hum along underneath these all-consuming fires. Burrow-dwelling lizards are similar.”

See: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00043-2

michaelClarke

Professor Michael Clarke



 

Australia is not alone in facing wildfires. In 2018, a similar thing happened in California.  The 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in California, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres (766,439 ha), the largest area of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), as of December 21. Through to the end of August 2018, Cal Fire alone spent $432 million on operations. As of May 2019, insurance claims related to this fire season had reached $12 billion, most related to the Camp Fire, in Butte County (see Wikipedia). And wildfires happened in Europe too.

In India, from June to September 2019, the country received the highest amount of monsoonal rain in the past 25 years. According to the India Meteorological Department, those rains are not expected to retreat until at least October 10th, which would be the latest withdrawal of the monsoon in the country’s recorded history.

indian monsoon floods

2019 monsoon flooding in India

According to Wikepedia, climate change in China is having major effects on the economy, society and the environment. The energy structure and human activities caused global warming and climate change, and China suffered from negative effects of global warming in agriculture, forestry and water resources.

Beijing-Smog

Photograph taken in Beijing, China, where smog pollution reaches 24 times the WHO recommended safe level and children are kept from attending school as a result.

I have chosen to mention these three countries – Australia, India and China – because they were exempted from the UN Kyoto Protocol agreement, because at that time, they pleaded that they were only just beginning to industrialise and needed to be given a chance to compete with industrialised countries. This chance was given and, now, they have become amongst the highest polluting countries in the world, with China in the lead, despite its intentions to tackle climate change.  Ironic, isn’t it?

It’s easy to criticise with hindsight but I believe the UNFCCC should have had the confidence to stand firm over the Kyoto Protocol.  Because of this, many countries (including the USA – another high polluter) did not ratify it.

I came across an interesting graph a few months ago, which shows that carbon emissions have continued to climb, despite UN efforts and agreements: Rio, Kyoto and Paris and beyond.  The dates of these initiatives is marked on an ever-upwardly climbing graph of global carbon emissions.

cemissionsgraph

As I’ve watched the events of this summer unfolding, I’ve found myself wondering whether the Earth system has now breached a tipping point, an irreversible shift in the stability of the planetary system.

There may now be so much heat trapped in the system that we may have already triggered a domino effect that could unleash a cascade of abrupt changes that will continue to play out in the years and decades to come.

Rapid climate change has the potential to reconfigure life on the planet as we know it.

 

However, I believe that global warming and climate change will have multiple effects across the world; some of it will be related to food scarcity but the other effects will be more random: fires, floods, hurricanes, heat stroke, coastal erosion and the loss of islands, as well as land in low-lying countries. And, of course, the disappearance of many iconic species of wildlife. And, as a Biologist and an animal lover, I feel enormous grief over this devastating loss – and I know that I am not the only one.

Unless huge co-operative efforts are made to limit the burning of fossil fuels, the future looks bleak for all of us, including some of the wonderful and unique species with whom we share this planet. If we are seeing these effects with just 1 degree of global warming, what will it be like at 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees or even higher?  Three degrees and above are predicted if carbon emissions do not start to fall in the very near future.



 


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Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough speak to each other

An interesting conversation between Greta and David was set up recently by the BBC and can be seen on youtube:

It appears to have been set up by the BBC, as Mishal Hussain was the interviewer in the process.  Another report stated that the BBC was somewhat embarrassed to send Mishal to Sweden by air, when Greta has stood out so firmly against air travel.



 


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Melting Greenland ice ‘could leave 400 million homeless by the end of the century’

Scientists have warned that coasts could be swamped by regular floods by the end of the century.  This is because the Greenland ice sheets are melting faster than originally predicted.  Calculations suggest that up to 400,000 million people could be left homeless as a result, 40 million more than that predicted by the IPCC.

Greenland has lost 3.8 trillion tonnes of ice since 1990. The figures from this latest research are similar to the IPCC’s worst case scenario.

GreenlandIcemelt

A team of 96 polar scientists from 50 international organisations contributed to the new findings published in Nature.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07617-1

Analysis indicated rise in air and ocean temperatures caused the surface ice to melt and increased glacial flow.

According to the researchers, Greenland stores enough water to raise global sea levels by six metres and knowing how much of this ice is lost is key to understanding the effects and impact of climate change.



Another report from Danish scientists was published last June, which estimated that 2019 could be the year of record high temperatures in the Arctic (2012 having been the previous high.

On June 12 2019, the day before the photograph below was taken, the closest weather station, in Qaanaaq, registered temperatures of 17.3 degrees Celsius (63.1 Fahrenheit), just 0.3 points lower than the previous record set on June 30, 2012.

“There was a dry winter and then warm air, clear skies and sun — all preconditions for an early melting,” Ruth Mottram explained. She is a climatologist at the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI).

While researching oceanographic moorings and a weather station, Steffen Olsen snapped a picture of his sled dogs pushing through a fjord, the sea ice submerged under several centimetres of meltwater.

Sled dogs wade through standing water on the sea ice during an expedition in northwestern Greenland, whose ice sheet may have completely melted within the next millennium if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate, a study has found (AFP Photo/Steffen Olsen)

Locals who accompanied Olsen’s expedition didn’t expect the sea ice to start melting that early. They usually take that route because the ice is very thick, but they had to turn back because the water was deeper and deeper and they couldn’t advance.

See further details at:

https://news.yahoo.com/arctic-could-face-another-scorching-annus-horribilis-062144315.html;_ylt=AwrXnCJi1wldRlcAEhDQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTEyYmQzYmV0BGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjc2MDlfMQRzZWMDc3I-?guccounter=1



 


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Message from the Future

This post was written on Facebook by an Australian man, who grew up in Queensland in the 70s and 80s and now has a young family of his own.



Great-Barrier-Reef

I lived in Australia for three years during the early 60s and have returned for short visits in 1994 and 2010.  On both occasions I found the country to be hotter and drier.  This last month my brother, who has lived in NSW most of his life, had his home threatened by bush fires for the very first time.



 


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Actions politicians and public could take to reduce UK carbon emissions

This a youtube presentation by Prof. Keith Barnham (Imperial College, London) to help campaigners to know which issues to raise during the 2019 General Election.

It focuses on renewable energy and whether non-renewables are needed as a back-up.  He concludes that solar power and Anaerobic Digestion (AD), of farm animal and crop waste and food waste, which can generate biomethane for electricity and and gas grids are perfectly adequate to provide back-up, so that non-renewables no longer need to be used or developed.

He suggests that a new government should adopt this strategy.



 


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The European Parliament declares climate emergency

See: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20191121IPR67110/the-european-parliament-declares-climate-emergency

Ahead of the UN COP25 Climate Change Conference in Madrid 2-13 December, the European Parliament approved a resolution declaring a climate and environmental emergency in Europe and globally. They also want the Commission to ensure that all relevant legislative and budgetary proposals are fully aligned with the objective of limiting global warming to under 1.5 °C.

In a separate resolution, Parliament urged the EU to submit its strategy to reach climate neutrality as soon as possible, and by 2050 at the latest, to the UN Convention on Climate Change. MEPs also called on the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to include a 55% reduction target of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in the European Green Deal.

Stepping up global emission reductions for aviation and shipping

MEPs said that current aviation and shipping ambitions fall short of the necessary emissions reductions. All countries should include emissions from international shipping and aviation in their national contributions plans (NDCs), and urged the Commission to propose that the maritime sector be included in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS).

More financial support needed to fight climate change

EU countries should at least double their contributions to the international Green Climate Fund, Parliament said. EU member states are the largest providers of public climate finance and the EU’s budget should fully comply with its international commitments. They also noted that pledges by developed countries do not meet the collective goal of 100 billion USD per year as of 2020.

Finally, they urgently called on all EU countries to phase out all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies by 2020.

Quote

“The European Parliament has just adopted an ambitious position in view of the upcoming COP 25 in Madrid. Given the climate and environmental emergency, it is essential to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in 2030. It also sends a clear and timely message to the Commission a few weeks before the publication of the Communication on the Green Deal “”, said Pascal Canfin (RE, FR), Chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, during the debate on Monday.

Background

The resolution on declaring a climate and environmental emergency was adopted with 429 votes for, 225 votes against and 19 abstentions. The European Parliament adopted the resolution on COP25 with 430 votes for, 190 votes against and 34 abstentions.

A number of countries, local administrations and scientists have declared that our planet is facing a climate emergency.

The European Commission has already proposed the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but the European Council has still not endorsed it as Poland, Hungary and Czechia are opposed.

Parliament at the COP25

COP25 takes place in Madrid 2-13 December 2019. The President of the European Parliament David Maria Sassoli, (S&D, IT) will attend the official opening. A delegation from the European Parliament, led by Bas Eickhout (Greens, NL), will be there 9-14 December.



 


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Growing palm oil on former farmland cuts deforestation, CO₂ and biodiversity loss

From The Conversation:

https://theconversation.com/growing-palm-oil-on-former-farmland-cuts-deforestation-co-and-biodiversity-loss-127312

Few natural products are as maligned as palm oil, the vegetable oil that’s in everything from chocolate spread to washing up liquid. On the island of Borneo, oil palm plantations have replaced nearly 40% of the native forest cover since 2000. Deforestation releases CO₂ into the atmosphere and deprives rare and endangered species with the complex habitats they need to thrive.

A new study has tried to find out if this valuable crop can be grown without destroying more forests, by converting existing pastureland into new oil palm plantations instead. Could growing more oil palm on land with already scarce wildlife be a solution to the deforestation crisis?

The oil palm tree produces two types of vegetable oil. Palm oil from the fruit is used in cooking and baking and helps feed over three billion people, mostly in Asia. The other oil comes from the palm kernel, or seed, which is used around the world to make most of our detergents, soaps and other cleaning products.

Palm oil comes from the tree’s bright red fruit and is one of the most valuable vegetable oils in the world. Eva Blue/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

The relentless increase in global demand for vegetable oil has driven the logging and draining of forests and peatland to grow soybeans in South America and oil palm in Asia. About 85% of oil palm is grown in just two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. But other tropical countries, particularly in South America and West Africa, are establishing their own oil palm plantations. These are vast monocultures that very few species can inhabit, especially compared with the tropical forest they replace.

A drainage ditch in a recently created oil palm plantation, Sarawak, Borneo. As the peat dries, it can release large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Denis Murphy, Author provided

Use farms not forests

In the recent study, researchers measured how much carbon – previously locked up in trees and other vegetation – was lost to the atmosphere when either pastureland or rainforest was converted to oil palm plantation.

The good news is that turning pastureland into oil palm plantations reduced how much carbon was released by 99.7%, compared to when rainforest was converted. Another bonus of using pastureland might be that its starting biodiversity is relatively low anyway, so the plantation may actually have a greater diversity of wildlife than the previous ecosystem.

Areas of forest that have been cleared for oil palm plantations, in Bawa village, Subulusalam, Aceh, Indonesia, July 27 2019. EPA-EFE/HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK

Converting grassland ecosystems like the Llanos in South America to oil palm plantations also released less carbon than converting forests. But in this case, the researchers found there were significant losses for biodiversity. If we have to produce more palm oil, the best outcome for wildlife and the climate would be to make former pastureland the first choice for future plantations.

But would it not be better to ban palm oil altogether? Campaigns have urged consumers to switch to products that don’t contain palm oil, while some retailers have announced plans to exclude such items from their own-brand products.


Read more: Replanting oil palm may be driving a second wave of biodiversity loss


Oil palm plantations produce 73.5 million tonnes of vegetable oil from a total land area of 27 million hectares worldwide. This might seem like a large area, but the second most important vegetable oil crop, soybean, produces 56 million tonnes from 97 million hectares – more than 3.6 times the oil palm area. This means that oil palm actually uses much less land than other crops, which is one reason why it’s so popular with growers.

Scientists measure greenhouse gas emissions and sample groundwater in an oil palm plantation in Sarawak, Borneo. Denis Murphy, Author provided

So boycotting palm oil could actually increase deforestation, since alternative tropical oil crops tend to use much more land. A better approach is to ensure that all the palm oil used in food and other products has been obtained from a “sustainable” source, and not from recently logged forests.

That’s why it’s important to base our decisions on sound scientific evidence. Oil palm will continue to be a vital crop for many developing countries in the future. Using former pastureland to grow the crop could ensure the product’s development isn’t at the expense of vulnerable ecosystems. Given how bad red meat production is for the planet, a switch from cattle pasture to oil palm plantation in the tropics could well be a marked improvement.”


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