threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Residents of Cairns in Australia speak out for the future of the Great Barrier Reef

Many people across the world are calling for changes in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, to save the world from climate change.  In Australia, this is the case too.  A recent email from the AMCS (Australian Marine Conservation Society) included a short piece of video which has been posted on Facebook. In the video, people from Cairns in Northern Queensland, describe their grief at the damage being sustained to the Reef by global warming and they cry out for policy changes, to rescue it from further harm.  It is heart-breaking:

Cairns is a large town in Northern Queensland, probably the closest town to the Great Barrier Reef and the livelihood of many of its citizens is dependent on the tourism that the GBR attracts.  But, more than that, most of them have grown up experiencing the beauty of the Reef and don’t want to lose that, especially for their children. Some of them state that their children may never see it.

GBR

One woman says that millions of tourists come to the Great Barrier Reef every year saying “I’ve heard your reef is dying and I’ve come to see it before it’s dead.” She find this devastating.  “As if we’ve already given up.”

I lived in Mackay, to the south of Cairns, for a year, back in the 60s, and also stayed on Magnetic island, just off Townsville, for a while, as well as on Middle Percy Island, 70 miles south east of Mackay – all of these places along the Great Barrier Reef coast are very special.  So I can identify very strongly with the emotions shared by the people in the video above.  We cannot stand by and watch this amazing and beautiful reef die of the coral bleaching caused by the warmer oceans that surround it. The marine life that it sustains is also similarly iconic.

GBRmarinelife



Another recent posting describes how climate change and pesticides in the water can work together to destroy fish populations, especially reef fish:

https://theconversation.com/coral-reefs-climate-change-and-pesticides-could-conspire-to-crash-fish-populations-142689

The article in The Conversation starts:

“Australia barely had time to recover from record breaking fires at the start of 2020 before the Great Barrier Reef experienced its third mass coral bleaching event in the past five years. Only five of these have occurred since records began in the 1980s. High water temperatures and marine heatwaves, caused by climate change, are making coral bleaching an almost regular occurrence in some parts of the world.

Coral reefs are among the most vibrant ecosystems on the planet, but they are also very sensitive to stress. Meteorologists predict that 2020 is likely to be the hottest year on record, threatening yet more bleaching on reefs around the world. But it’s not just the coral itself that suffers.

Reef fishes exposed to high temperatures tend not to behave normally. Underwater noise and pollutants, such as agricultural pesticides, can have the same effect. Juvenile fish exposed to this kind of stress are less able to identify and avoid predators. But scientists aren’t sure exactly why this is.

In our new study, we found that a double whammy of higher water temperatures and pesticide exposure may be affecting the development of baby reef fish, with consequences for the entire ecosystem.”




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Farming for nature pays off for Wimpole Home Farm (near Cambridge)

Nature and soil health are flourishing at the National Trust’s Wimpole Home Farm near Cambridge according to the results of a full ‘health-check’ into its biodiversity, carbon levels and levels of public accessibility.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/press-release/farming-for-nature-pays-off-for-wimpole

wimpole

Cultivating at Wimpole Home Farm (with acknowledgements to Jeanette Heard)

 The results of the health check were announced as the landmark Agriculture Bill started its crucial stage in the House of Lords.  It showed increases in the numbers of breeding pairs of rare farmland birds, invertebrates and how the land is a significant sequester of carbon.

The organic farm has been focusing on nature friendly, sustainable farming methods for the past 12 years to reflect the conservation charity’s goals for farming models which are good for nature, deliver public benefit and which are profitable.

Nationally, numbers of farmland birds have declined by 54 per cent since 1970, the distribution of bees and hoverflies declined by 31 per cent between 2009 and 2014 and it is estimated that soil degradation in England and Wales costs the economy £1.2 billion a year.

The 589 hectare (1,419 acre) mixed livestock and arable farm, which is the only lowland farm run in-hand by the conservation charity, conducted in-depth surveys over two years into farmland birds, invertebrates and soil health.

Key results included:
• the doubling in numbers of breeding pairs of rare skylarks and linnets in six years which are good indicators of a healthy ecosystem
• a 38 per cent increase in invertebrate numbers over 13 years to include the recording of 95 rare and protected species, vital for pollinating crops and preying on pests
• a total carbon balance of -2,260 tonnes of CO2 per year achieved through the amount of organic matter in the soil which soaks up carbon, the number of trees and grown out hedges

As for public goods, in terms of access for the public, Wimpole also has over 40km of public rights of way and permissive paths which are enjoyed by over 350,000 visitors a year.

As a business, the farm is also returning a healthy profit.

Last year, production levels across 369 hectares (912 acres) of the arable farm reached impressive levels for an organic farming system with last year’s harvests resulting in 142 tonnes of wheat – enough to make 200,000 loaves of bread, or over four million scones – 123 tonnes of organic barley – equivalent to what’s needed to make nearly 1.5million pints of beer and 126 tonnes of organic oats – equivalent to over 2.5 million bowls of porridge.

For 2019, this resulted in £294,617 income, £117,588 profit for the farm (including subsidy payments).

Callum Weir farm manager at Wimpole said: “Many of the increases we recorded in the surveys are down to the combination of organic farming methods in the fields and the mosaic of margins, hedges and habitats that surround each field.

“That is not to say that organic farming is the only way to farm with nature.  There are great examples of farmers across the UK who aren’t organic, but are still delivering massive benefits to the environment.  Like many farmers, we dedicate areas of Wimpole to help biodiversity.  For example, we sow a variety of plants including phacelia which has purpley blue flowers, clover and sainfoin, with its bright pink flowers which flower from early April right through to October.  These attract and support pollinators and insects which have a vital role in the ecosystem.

“The survey results are vital to understanding how our holistic approach to farming at Wimpole is working.  We want to farm sustainably at the same time as being a truly viable business and it’s fantastic to see how nature friendly farming and a profitable farm business, can go hand in hand.”

Professor Dave Goulson, invertebrate expert at Sussex University said: “The intensification of farming practises over the last 100 years, with the move to ever-larger fields, fewer crops, and lots of chemical inputs, has been a major driver of biodiversity loss. It is hugely heartening to see that farming doesn’t need to be this way; Wimpole shows that it is possible to have a highly productive, profitable farm without pesticides, and to simultaneously encourage biodiversity and capture carbon. The new Agriculture Bill could learn from this.”

Mark Harold, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust said: “Sustainable, productive and profitable farming is underpinned by a healthy environment.

“Coronavirus has shown how important it is to have a resilient food and farming system.  We know that climate change and sustainability pose the greatest threats to food security, as this year’s flooding and now drought have shown.

“The Agriculture Bill – and the principle of public money for public goods at its heart – is an opportunity to deliver this.

“At the Trust we are working to demonstrate that sustainable farming does work and that it is profitable.

“We have taken the risks, experimented and want to share our learnings with others.  At Wimpole we’ve had to overcome particular challenges such as soil degradation, decreasing returns from farming and declines in farmland wildlife.

“With a focus on sustainable land management, wildlife and soil health can recover quicker than we might think.

“The story at Wimpole paints one of hope and optimism – and the Government’s forthcoming ‘environmental land management scheme’ will be crucial to replicating this across the farming industry, as will the new Agriculture Bill in prioritising government support for this scheme.

Together, these two mechanisms will ensure all farms have a sustainable future which will be good for the environment, good for farm businesses and good for people.

“Tomorrow, the Agriculture Bill starts its next stage in the House of Lords. It’s vital that its ambition and key public goods principles aren’t weakened.  We also mustn’t see progress at home on sustainability undermined by food imports that don’t meet our standards: the Bill should therefore be amended to provide safeguards against this.”

Survey results in detail:
To fully understand the impact of 12 years of organic farming on the environment, the team carried out surveys into rare farmland birds, invertebrates and conducted an in-depth study into carbon sequestration.

Key findings from the farmland bird survey conducted across half the farm revealed that since 2013:
– Numbers of rare skylarks have increased by 75 per cent, from 12 to 21 pairs
– Number of rare linnets have doubled from three to seven pairs
– Wimpole is one of the most important populations of the rare corn bunting in Cambridgeshire  with between five and eight pairs breeding each year
– The farm provides winter feeding habitat for at least nine rare bird species – grey partridge, lapwing, linnet, skylark, starling, yellowhammer, woodcock, hen harrier, fieldfare

A total of 1,145 species were recorded in the invertebrates survey, equating to an increase of 38 per cent in the number of species between 2003 and 2019.

This included 95 rare species with formal conservation status including Bombus Ruderatus – the large garden bumblebee and Tyria Jacobaeae – the cinnabar moth.  75 species of bee, 49 species of wasps, 46 species of hoverflies and 22 types of butterflies were recorded.  Other key results from last year included:
– A 150 per cent increase in Hymonptera (wasps, bees, ants)
– A 190 per cent increase in the number of rare invertebrate species including the nationally scarce (NS) Tumbling Flower Beeting (Mordellistena variegate), the small heath butterfly (high on the Butterfly Conservation Priority List) and the (NS) Slender-horned Leatherback
– A 30 per cent increase in the number of butterfly species including the silver washed fritillary and marbled white.
– The organic field margins support on average 30 per cent more invertebrates then conventional field margins.

Callum continued: “We were so pleased by the results of the study.  It was great to see that our margins, so rich in wildlife, bordering productive farmland.  This gave me real hope that with the right support, farmers can help address biodiversity losses and play our part with tackling the climate crisis.”

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Wimpole’s six-metre wide field margins (Acknowedgements to Jeanette Heard)

The team used the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit, a recognised carbon measure by the farming industry, to conduct a full carbon analysis across the whole estate to include the farmland, parkland and woodland.

Thanks to the team’s holistic approach to farming on the estate, incorporating soil management, habitats and tree planting/woodland management, the land is a significant sequester of carbon, with a total carbon balance of -2,260 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Callum explains: “When you think that an economy class return flight from London to New York emits an estimated 0.67 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, this is really significant.”

Over the last 12 years, by far the biggest sequester of carbon is the increase in soil organic matter (SOM).

This has been achieved by applying agroecological principles to the arable farmland which includes reducing cultivation, cover cropping, integrating livestock, utilising habitats and stewardship and embracing technology.

“Trees were a significant sequester or carbon on the estate, however the main belts and blocks of woodlands on the estate are reaching maturity and will soon stop sequestering carbon (but these old trees remain very valuable to biodiversity). However, we’ve addressed this by planting 1,000 parkland trees over the past 10 years which will help with carbon capture and biodiversity.

“We recognise that our livestock are a large emitter of carbon.  But, they are the perfect tool to manage our Grade 1 listed parkland and the traditional hay meadows.

“If we were to plough up the parkland and convert it to arable, this would release 50,000 tonnes of CO2e from this carbon sink – equivalent to 100,000 return flights to New York City (for individual people or 416 full 747 aeroplanes).  This demonstrates the value of livestock in the carbon cycle, and the benefits of grass fed meat.  If meat is produced in the right way and consumed in the right amounts, it can be sustainable.”



 


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Sixth mass extinction of wildlife is accelerating: new study

Prof. Gerardo Ceballos is an ecologist and conservationist very well-known for his theoretical and empirical work on animal ecology and conservation. He is particularly recognized by his influential work on global patterns of distribution of diversity, endemism, and extinction risk in vertebrates.

Image result for Gerardo Ceballos

Prof Gerardo Ceballos

It is his published work on the sixth mass extinction that led me to choose the title of my book “Three Generations Left: Human activity and the destruction of the planet”. In this paper, Ceballos and his colleagues who predicted that, unless we make changes to our way of life, we would be facing a sixth mass extinction of species within three generations. Now, he is suggesting, through new studies, that the mass extinction is happening even more quickly than that.

GoldenLion Tamarin

Golden Lion Tamarin – one of 500 species at risk of extinction

Several sources are quoting this new research, initially published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/05/27/1922686117

The following summary can be found on the BBC website:

“Human impacts on the places on Earth with the most richness of life have brought hundreds of wild animals to the brink of extinction, a study shows.

The likes of logging and poaching have pushed 500 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians to the point where they’re hanging by a thread, research found.

This is yet more evidence that the world’s undergoing a sixth mass extinction, scientists argue. Species are disappearing at more than 100 times the natural rate, they say.

And unlike other mass extinctions, caused by volcano eruptions or asteroid collisions, we only have ourselves to blame.

Prof Gerardo Ceballos of the National University of Mexico in Mexico City, said regional ecosystems are facing collapse.

“We have entered the sixth mass extinction,” he told BBC News. “Based on our research and what we’re seeing, the extinction crisis is so bad that whatever we do in the next 10 to 50 years is what will define the future of humanity.”

Prof Ceballos worked on the study with two other well-known conservation scientists, Stanford University’s Prof Paul Erhlich, and Dr Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis, US.

Using data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species and Birdlife (the bird authority for the IUCN), they identified at least 515 species that are on the brink of extinction, with fewer than a thousand individuals left.

The animals are found on every continent save Antarctica, in places highly impacted by humans, primarily in the tropics and subtropics.

They include the Golden Lion Tamarin, Ethiopian Wolf, Javan Rhinoceros, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Yellow-eared Parrot, Gharial and Green Poison Frog.

The scientists describe the extinction crisis as an existential threat to civilisation, along with climate change and pollution, to which it is tied.

And they say they have a “moral imperative” to draw attention to the loss of biodiversity, which they say is still rather ignored by most people.

The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Commenting, Prof Diana Fisher of the University of Queensland, Australia, said the study deserved attention because so many people don’t realise how much of the world’s wildlife faces impending extinction.

“I agree with the authors that this extinction crisis needs to be elevated to an emergency equal to climate change,” she said.

Prof Chris Johnson of the University of Tasmania said the current rate of extinction of species is higher than at any time since 66 million years ago, when the collision of a space-rock with the Earth killed off dinosaurs and many other species.

“Threats to species in today’s world – things like habitat destruction and climate change – are growing rapidly,” he said, adding that the 515 species down to 1,000 or fewer individuals are likely to be gone very soon.

And Prof Euan Ritchie of Deakin University in Australia said the study “is yet more dire confirmation that we are destroying life at a horrific pace and scale”.”


The Guardian report from Damian Carrington (1st June 2020) states that: “More than 500 species of land animals were found to be on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years. In comparison, the same number were lost over the whole of the last century. Without the human destruction of nature, even this rate of loss would have taken thousands of years….

“The land vertebrates on the verge of extinction, with fewer than 1,000 individuals left, include the Sumatran rhino, the Clarión wren, the Española giant tortoise and the harlequin frog. Historic data was available for 77 of the species and the scientists found these had lost 94% of their populations.

“The researchers also warned of a domino effect, with the loss of one species tipping others that depend on it over the edge. “Extinction breeds extinctions,” they said, noting that unlike other environmental problems extinction is irreversible.

“Humanity relies on biodiversity for its health and wellbeing, scientists said, with the coronavirus pandemic an extreme example of the dangers of ravaging the natural world. Rising human population, destruction of habitats, the wildlife trade, pollution and the climate crisis must all be urgently tackled, they said.

“The analysis examined data on 29,400 land vertebrate species compiled by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and BirdLife International. The researchers identified 515 species with populations below 1,000 and about half of these had fewer than 250 remaining. Most of these mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians were found in tropical and subtropical regions.

“Scientists discovered that 388 species of land vertebrate had populations under 5,000, and the vast majority (84%) lived in the same regions as the species with populations under 1,000, creating the conditions for a domino effect.”

 

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Ethiopian wolf
harlequinfrog
Harlequin frog
Sumatran tiger
Sumatran Tiger
Photographs of other endangered species can be found in The New York Times article on this issue:


An analysis of the report from Vox.com outlines how the loss of one species can have an impact on other species, which are a part of a dependency web.

The researchers found that one extinction can cause ripple effects throughout an ecosystem, leaving other species vulnerable to the same fate. “Extinction breeds extinctions,” they write in their June 1 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

With the accelerating pace of destruction, scientists are racing to understand these fragile bits of life before they’re gone. “This means that the opportunity we have to study and save them will be far greater over the next few decades than ever again,” said Peter Raven, a coauthor of the study and a professor emeritus of botany at Washington University in St. Louis, in an email.

The findings also highlight how life can interact in unexpected ways and how difficult it can be to slow ecological destruction once it starts. “It’s similar to climate change; once it gets rolling, it gets harder and harder to unwind,” said Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, who was not involved in the study. “We don’t know what the tipping points are, and that’s scary.”



 


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Seven landowners join forces to create the largest lowland heathland nature reserve in Purbeck, Dorset UK

This report is taken from The Guardian 17th March 2020 by Steven Morris:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/17/uks-first-super-national-nature-reserve-created-in-dorset

Purbeck Heath in Dorset. Seven landowners are joining forces to create what they are billing as the UK’s first ‘super national nature reserve’.

It is a rich, complex landscape, a mosaic of heaths, woods, mires, reed beds, salt marsh and dunes that are home to a myriad of flora and fauna from rare birds, butterflies and bats to carnivorous plants.

Seven landowners have now joined forces to created what is being billed as the UK’s first “super national nature reserve” (NNR) on Purbeck Heaths in Dorset.

The idea is that by combining the disparate chunks of land, a more dynamic landscape easier to manage in a more natural way – and much simpler for wildlife to navigate through – will be created.

A stonechat, a bird the size of a robin with a call like two pebbles being hit together, provided the backing track as experts from the National Trust, RSPB and Natural England pointed out the features of the new super reserve from a vantage point high above the heathland.  Other rare species of birds, reptiles, butterflies and insects can also be found there.

A major aim of the super reserve project is to help such creatures spread further so they do not rely on just one tiny area – and so face being wiped out if disaster strikes their home patch.

Purbeck Heaths is one of the most biodiverse places in the UK – home to thousands of species of wildlife, including 450 that are listed as rare, threatened or protected.

All six native reptiles are to be found here, including endangered smooth snakes and sand lizards. As well as the smaller birds such as the stonechat, raptors including hen harriers, marsh harriers, merlins, hobbies and ospreys hunt the heathland. It is also one of the last strongholds for many specialist insects and other invertebrates, such as southern damselflies and the Purbeck mason wasp.

damselfly

the Southern Damselfly



 


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The impact of bushfires on coastal and marine environments

This is a report, published by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

Bushfires Impacts on our oceans report Australian Marine Conservation Society

It can be found at:

Bushfire-Report_February-2020_Final-full-for-web-1.pdf

Bascially, what the report outlines is that the full effects of the summer of disasters will take months to materialise. The report shed light on the dangers to guard against in the critical months ahead.

  • Sediment slugs harming habitats and wildlife: Nutrients, ash and debris released by bushfires can damage habitats and form into sediment slugs following heavy rains – which slowly work their way to our oceans, harming aquatic life along the way.
  • Contamination: Metals and other contaminants released by bushfires in sediment, smoke and ash can change the physiology and behaviours of marine animals and work their way into the food chain.
  • Algal blooms killing fish: Harmful algal blooms caused by nutrient enrichment can kill fish and contaminate oyster farms, forcing their closure;
  • Damage to protective vegetation: Debris, sediment and ash washed into seagrass meadows, mangrove forests and reefs could further burden these already pressured environments.

Critically, the research report has uncovered alarming gaps in the monitoring of waterways and a lack of infrastructure and resources for responding to the threats. Unless these gaps are addressed urgently, many species face an uncertain future in the face of intensifying bushfire seasons.

The report recommends:

  • Monitoring of waterways: a comprehensive and integrated monitoring program for coastal and marine environments, that builds understanding of bushfire impacts and informs responses.
  • Urgent rehabilitation funding: Increased support will be vital for programs targeting the rehabilitation of the most vulnerable catchments and restoration of damaged coastal environments.
  • Rapidly cut carbon emissions: leaders must deal with the root cause of intensifying bushfires – rising temperatures – including swift and effective action to cut carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy sources.


 


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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

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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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How a Green New Deal will benefit us all

Taken from the Labour Party’s manifesto and written by Paul Halas, with acknowledgements also to:

https://watershed2015.wordpress.com/2019/10/18/how-a-green-new-deal-will-benefit-us-all-paul-halas/


There’s been a lot of excitement about Labour’s Green New Deal, but what does it involve and how will it affect us?

Burning up carbon deposits – in the form of oil, coal and gas – which were laid down over hundreds of millions of years, is pushing us to the brink of extinction. To avoid this we need to take some pretty drastic action and we’ll have to be prepared for major changes in the way we live, work, travel and even eat.

As part of its Green New Deal, Labour has undertaken to make the UK carbon neutral by 2030. This is how –

Some of the biggest changes will have to take place at the top, starting with the major international corporations – which carry the biggest responsibility for carbon emissions. They produce and sell both the fossil fuels and the machines and gadgets that cause climate change. By increasing tax on products and services that release more carbon, and reducing it on ones that cause less damage, big business can be made to do the right thing.

Greener energy will be a priority. Renewable energy sources now account for half our electricity, but to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 green energy must still be increased vastly. Labour plans to double offshore wind-powered generation, and will encourage local energy production – whether it’s from sun, wind or water, or a combination of them.

Transport and travel are major contributors to climate change. The Green New Deal will encourage greener ways of travelling, more sustainable technologies and better ways of making use of the resources we have. While they’re only a partial solution, the development and ownership of cars running on electricity from renewable sources will be helped, public transport will be improved and bus and rail networks widened. In the areas still not well served by public transport, vehicle-sharing schemes will be created.

Energy saving begins at home, and the Green New Deal proposes both a massive scheme of building new, energy-efficient homes and finding ways of improving existing buildings. There will be a major drive to insulate homes better, and the Conservatives’ tax increases on solar heating will be reversed.

Over time we’ll have to adapt our eating habits. Clearly, flying in foodstuffs from the four corners of the globe produces an unacceptable carbon footprint; equally, industrial-scale meat production releases an incredible amount of methane, another greenhouse gas. Producing more of our food closer to home will reduce our carbon output and help our economy, and a more plant-based diet will be less wasteful and in the end healthier.

Old systems will have to go as new technologies are developed. Much of our economy depends on technology and services that are no longer sustainable and will have no place in our greener future. Old systems will have to go as new technologies are developed. This will inevitably mean that some jobs disappear, but an expanding green economy will mean that more and better jobs will be created, and training will be provided for those who fill them. The green technological revolution will be funded by a £250 billion national investment scheme.

As well as a greener future, Labour’s Green New Deal aims to bring about a more equal future too. The excesses of the super-rich corporations will be curbed; tax avoidance will at last be tackled. The multimillionaire class have taken more and more, while the rest of us – the many – have been left with less and less. One way to tackle the problem is through taxation, and another is through localism – also known as Community Wealth Building. Many communities throughout the world are already benefiting from these schemes, and an increasing number of towns and cities in the UK are adopting them.

The idea is that communities and councils always give priority to local suppliers and services. For instance when building a new school, or hospital, or sports complex, etc, local firms will always be preferred to the big players to carry out the work. The same goes for services. Under the Labour Green New Deal local energy suppliers will be encouraged, especially if they are publicly-owned, or run by people’s co-operatives. Local credit unions will be created, house-building schemes, housing associations, food co-operatives – all manner of local enterprises – all creating fairly-paid, unionised jobs. That way money earned in the locality stays in the locality and benefits local people. It cuts down our carbon output by reducing transport of both people and goods, and encourages green technologies. It also creates a greater degree of equality and reduces our dependence on the big corporations. What’s not to like?

To prevent catastrophic climate change we’re all going to have to adapt to major changes. But they needn’t be daunting. We’re not going to go back to a pre-industrial age. We won’t have to cycle everywhere unless we want to, and we won’t have to live on a diet of turnips and pottage.

 

Many of the changes will be beneficial and will bring about a more equitable and contented society. They should be embraced.

These policies were mentioned in Jeremy Corbyn’s address to the 2019 Labour Party Conference and the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group is campaigning on the Green New Deal as part of the Campaign against Climate Change which set up the One Million Climate Jobs campaign.



 


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NBN National Diversity Report 2019

The Nottingham-based National Biodiversity Network has published its 2019 Report and it does not make good reading.

https://nbn.org.uk/stateofnature2019/reports/

It revealed that the UK’s most important animal populations are down by 60% compared to 1970.  One in four UK mammals and nearly half of our native birds are in danger of extinction. The most vulnerable animals include hedgehogs, hares and bats. One in four moths and one in five butterflies have already disappeared. The report shows no significant improvement since the last one in 2016, which said the UK was “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”.

UK-summary-cover

“The indicator for 696 terrestrial and freshwater species shows a significant decline of 13% in average abundance since 1970, and has fallen by 6% over the past 10 years.
Within this indicator, more species have decreased than increased. Since 1970, 41% of species have decreased and 26% have increased in abundance, with the remaining 33% showing little change. Over the past 10 years, 44% of species have decreased and 36% have increased in abundance, with 20% showing little change. The UK’s wildlife is undergoing rapid changes in abundance; the proportion of species defined as showing strong changes in abundance – either increases or decreases – rose from 33% over the long term to 53% over the past 10 years.

Long-term decreases in average abundance in butterflies since 1976 (16%) and moths since 1970 (25%) have not slowed. The mammal indicator shows little change since 1994; while an increase of 43% in the bird indicator has been driven by recovery of some species from very low numbers, conservation successes and colonising species, as well as increasing numbers of wintering waterbirds. These increases mask abundance declines in common and widespread breeding species; the total number of breeding birds in the UK fell by 44 million between 1967 and 2009.

Our indicator of average species’ distribution, covering 6,654 terrestrial and freshwater species over a broad range of taxonomic groups, has fallen by 5% since 1970. Because species tend to decline in abundance before they disappear from a site, this change could reflect more severe underlying abundance declines that we are currently unable to quantify.

Within this indicator, more species have decreased than increased. Since 1970, 27% of species have decreased and 21% have increased in distribution, with 52% showing little change. Over the past 10 years, 37% of species have decreased and 30% have increased in distribution, with 33% showing little change. The UK’s wildlife is undergoing rapid changes in distribution; the proportion of species defined as showing strong changes in distribution – either increases or decreases – rose from 17% over the long term to 39% over the past 10 years.

Of the 8,431 species that have been assessed using the IUCN Regional Red List criteria, and for which sufficient data were available, 1,188 (15%) are currently threatened with extinction from Great Britain and 2% are already extinct.”



 


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Earth’s Oceans bearing the brunt of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide

A new IPPC report outlines how oceans and marine life are responding to climate change:

https://news.un.org/feed/view/en/story/2019/09/1047392

https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/oceans/

The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea. Throughout history, oceans and seas have been vital conduits for trade and transportation.

Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future. However, at the current time, there is a continuous deterioration of coastal waters owing to pollution and ocean acidification is having an adversarial effect on the functioning of ecosystems and biodiversity. This is also negatively impacting small scale fisheries.

bears

Marine protected areas need to be effectively managed and well-resourced and regulations need to be put in place to reduce overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification.

Even if all human carbon-releasing activities ceased immediately, the overheated oceans will continue to heat the rest of earth’s already overheated overcrowded ecosystem for decades and possibly centuries.

Facts and figures:

  • Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 per cent of the Earth’s water, and represent 99 per cent of the living space on the planet by volume.
  • Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.
  • Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5 per cent of global GDP.
  • Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions.
  • Oceans absorb about 30 per cent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.
  • Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 3 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein
  • Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people.
  • Subsidies for fishing are contributing to the rapid depletion of many fish species and are preventing efforts to save and restore global fisheries and related jobs, causing ocean fisheries to generate US$50 billion less per year than they could.
  • Open Ocean sites show current levels of acidity have increased by 26 per cent since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Coastal waters are deteriorating due to pollution and eutrophication. Without concerted efforts, coastal eutrophication is expected to increase in 20 percent of large marine ecosystems by 2050.

Eutrophication is excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to run-off from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life.

ocean zones

At the Ocean conference in September 2019, climate experts said:

Our oceans and frozen spaces have been “taking the heat” for global warming for decades, and warned that without a radical change in human behaviour, hundreds of millions of people could suffer from rising sea levels, frequent natural disasters and food shortages.”

“The ocean is warmer, more acidic and less productive”, the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states. “Melting glaciers and ice sheets are causing sea level rise, and coastal extreme events are becoming more severe.”

According to the IPCC report on the ocean and cryosphere – the frozen parts of the planet – global warming has already reached one degree Celsius above the pre-industrial level.

This temperature rise, which the 195-strong Member State body attributes to greenhouse gas emissions, has resulted in “profound consequences” for people and the planet.

“The world’s ocean and cryosphere have been ‘taking the heat’ from climate change for decades, and consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe,” said Ko Barrett, Vice-Chair of the IPCC.

In total, 670 million people who live in the world’s high mountain regions and around the same number in low-lying coastal zones “depend directly” on the planet’s oceans and frozen resources, the IPCC notes.

In addition, four million people live permanently in the Arctic region, and small island developing states are home to 65 million people.

In a bid to protect them, their surroundings and livelihoods, the IPCC is calling for the introduction of measures to limit global warming “to the lowest possible level”, in line with the internationally agreed 2015 Paris Agreement.

“If we reduce emissions sharply, (the) consequences for people and their livelihoods will still be challenging, but potentially more manageable for those who are most vulnerable”, said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “The open sea, the Arctic, the Antarctic and the high mountains may seem far away to many people. But we depend on them and are influenced by them directly and indirectly in many ways – for weather and climate, for food and water, for energy, trade, transport, recreation and tourism, for health and wellbeing, for culture and identity.”

According to the IPCC report, average sea level rise is now 3.6 millimetres a year.

This is more than twice as fast as during the last century and levels could rise more than a metre by 2100 “if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase strongly”.

The result is likely to be more extreme sea level events that occur during high tides and intense storms. “Indications are that with any degree of additional warming, events that occurred once per century in the past, will occur every year by mid-century in many regions, increasing risks for many low-lying coastal cities and small islands”, the report states.

Without major investments in adaptation, these low-lying zones would be exposed to escalating flood risks, and some island nations “are likely to become uninhabitable”.

Glaciers could shrink 80 per cent, by 2100

Highlighting the importance of coordinated, ambitious and urgent action to mitigate the impact of global warming, the IPCC report also warns that glaciers, snow, ice and permafrost are declining “and will continue to do so”.

In Europe, eastern Africa, the tropical Andes and Indonesia, smaller glaciers are projected to lose more than 80 per cent of their current ice mass by 2100, under worst emission scenarios.

This is likely to increase hazards for people, for example through landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods, in addition to farmers and hydroelectric power producers downstream.

“Changes in water availability will not just affect people in these high mountain regions, but also communities much further downstream”, said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group I.

melting glaciers

Sea ice getting thinner every month

On sea ice, the IPCC report underscores that the extent of Arctic ice has declined every month, “and it is getting thinner”.

If global warming can be kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the Arctic ocean would only be ice-free in September once in every 100 years, the study suggests. At two degrees Celsius, however, this would occur up to one year in three.

“Some people living in the Arctic, especially indigenous peoples, have already adjusted their travelling and hunting activities to the seasonality and safety of land, ice and snow conditions, and some coastal communities have planned for relocation,” the report states.

Permafrost ‘warming and thawing’

Turning to permafrost – ground that has been frozen for many years – the IPCC suggests that it is “warming and thawing and widespread permafrost thaw is projected to occur in the 21st Century”.

Even if global warming is limited to well below two degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels, around a quarter of the permafrost down to three to four metres depth, will thaw by 2100.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase strongly, there is a potential that around 70 per cent this near-surface permafrost could be lost.

In writing the report, more than 100 authors from 36 countries assessed the latest scientific literature on the ocean and cryosphere, basing their findings on some 7,000 scientific publications.

It will provide input for world leaders gathering in forthcoming climate and environment negotiations, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Chile, in December.



And a Guardian report on this issue:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/25/extreme-sea-level-events-will-hit-once-a-year-by-2050

“Extreme sea level events that used to occur once a century will strike every year on many coasts by 2050, no matter whether climate heating emissions are curbed or not, according to a landmark report by the world’s scientists.

The stark assessment of the climate crisis in the world’s oceans and ice caps concludes that many serious impacts are already inevitable, from more intense storms to melting permafrost and dwindling marine life.

But far worse impacts will hit without urgent action to cut fossil fuel emissions, including eventual sea level rise of more than 4 metres in the worst case, an outcome that would redraw the map of the world and harm billions of people.”



Another WordPress blogger has come up with the idea of sequestering carbon dioxide by planting kelp forests in a deserted part of the South Pacific.

Maximum carbon sequestration.

Here is a quote from this site:

“The South Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and South America is at present ocean desert. In fact, it is the world’s largest ocean desert at around 37 million square km. It is far from any landmass and a lack of dust and minerals means there is very little life to be found. Growing a kelp forest ecosystem in this area would transform it from a desert into a teeming mass of life as well as providing Carbon sequestration on a truly massive scale. I suggest that every kelp plant grown in this forest could be free-floating and attached to its own simple bamboo buoy, ( The Peel Technique ).

How would the approach work?. Vast forests of both bamboo and kelp will be required.  Land based bamboo plantations would be used to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, produce oxygen and restore degraded lands. The bamboo plantations would also supply the kelp buoy production factories with the bamboo that they require. The bamboo buoys would be used to assist young kelp plants to float in deep ocean waters. The buoys would also carry the minerals that the growing kelp plants require to survive.”



And from the UK Government’s website:

While attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, International Environment Minister, Zac Goldsmith, announced on 24th September that ten countries have signed up to a UK-led initiative to safeguard the world’s ocean and its wildlife. The initiative was endorsed by the Prime Minister, also at the United Nations General Assembly, and was welcomed by the environmental organisation Greenpeace UK.

The announcement received positive coverage on several international outlets: OceanographicBusiness Leader, Energy Live News, Brits in Kenya, and Seychelles State House Blog, as well as on social media, including a tweet from the Finnish Minister of Environment, Krista Mikkonen, who said: “We must live up to our promise of halting the loss of #biodiversity.”

The 30by30 initiative, which is pushing for at least 30 per cent of the global ocean to be protected in Marine Protected Areas by 2030, has been supported by 10 countries including:

  • Belize
  • Costa Rica
  • Finland
  • Gabon
  • Kenya
  • Seychelles
  • Vanuatu
  • Portugal
  • Palau, and
  • Belgium

Further details at:

Ten countries join UK’s leading 30by30 initiative to safeguard the world’s ocean



Here is another report on the issue from the Huffington Post:

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/heatwaves-in-the-ocean-have-doubled-in-the-last-30-years_uk_5b75529fe4b02b415d75cf93?guccounter=1

“Heatwaves in the Ocean have doubled in the last thirty years

While the news has been filled with the types of heatwaves that we experience above sea level, the fact is the ocean suffers from the phenomenon as well.

In fact ocean heatwaves have roughly doubled in number over the last three decades and are already looking to become even more common and intense as the planet warms, research has found.

Prolonged periods of extreme heat in the oceans can damage kelp forests and coral reefs, and harm fish and other marine life.

To make matters worse, the oceans both absorb and release heat more slowly than air. This means that most marine heatwaves can last for at least several days — and some for several weeks, Dr Frolicher said.”