threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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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.”

 

ethiopian wolf2
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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Tropical forests losing their ability to absorb carbon

tropical forest

A study of African and Amazonian forests has been published in Nature:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2035-0.epdf?referrer_access_token=FQX2PQbaGMYb4uHGovG9LtRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0NOJ2x2BsrUNZyzCBuuL0UUqQjPW2euF71wbnss7bZVTypLc0eJu3wcwXkQBGokyA9HW2k-okTMHDdectG92AB7UCaAEYubgKcBIjfvWwAarBHNAQlggxcW6gKC8EBuatXyyNG4lsNoKGBuz6jwneDBL85C6ZibPhm8YlwdenuepVVP3nfandk-FdksbHp95BP77rMnstxyIbI75g2_nzJEQoEcaAqNNt7khmfudgMbXhiHqzvnmckcEcsSU60ImPmO4Qx-rym_TVbKyPZczrAfKyQInghQEk3hEnvAXjAkeI2PI50rx1bw45tFDkXAgSDy-RE7MB8TdOcULr7OI8TXlmV41375p0xC_5rHuhbcUPafKjd0GKGt8uVvrWV4LX7HFVFIp6FQIFCs0tn_Sq_KkE7Ax4Yz1fqPu5ThWmAM2SSTqwH1PwCPRErYU0QQ8N-MJXGQfIlAwgTeX2uJ711X&tracking_referrer=www.theguardian.com

and summarised in a Guardian article by Fiona Harvey on 4th March 2020:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/04/tropical-forests-losing-their-ability-to-absorb-carbon-study-finds?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMjAwMzEx&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=greenlight_email&utm_campaign=GreenLight

The detailed study of tropical forest trees has shown that, the uptake of carbon from the atmosphere peaked in the 1990s, when about 46bn tonnes were removed from the air, equivalent to about 17% of carbon dioxide emissions from human activities. By the last decade, that amount had sunk to about 25bn tonnes, or just 6% of global emissions.

This means that the property of these forests to act as carbon sinks is declining, mainly due to the clearance of land to grow crops. Forests lose their ability to absorb carbon as trees die and dry out from drought and higher temperatures, but the loss of forest area from logging, burning and other forms of exploitation is also a leading factor in the loss of carbon sinks.

Climate scientists have long feared the existence of “tipping points” in the climate system, which when passed will condemn the world to runaway global heating. There are many known feedback mechanisms: for instance, the melting of Arctic ice leaves more of the sea uncovered, and, as it is darker than the reflective ice, it absorbs more heat, thus leading to more melting.

These feedback mechanisms have the potential to accelerate the climate crisis far ahead of what current projections suggest. If forests start to become sources of carbon rather than absorbers of it, that would be a powerful positive feedback leading to much greater warming that would be hard to stop.



 


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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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Natural Climate solutions

Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot have made a video that they would like everybody to share.  It talks about using natural solutions – nature itself – to restore balance in the world.  They urge that funding currently being used to subsidise fossil fuels should instead be used in projects designed to green the planet.  See it here:

 



 


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Successful petition to save the endangered Sumatran elephants

I received an email today from the Rainforest Action Network.  They have been campaigning to stop a palm oil company from destroying the habitat of the rare Sumatran elephants. I signed their petition, as did many others and include their email in its entirety, together with photographs.  Well done!

In honor of this week’s “World Elephant Day,”
we’ve got some GREAT news to share with you!

I’m SO HAPPY to share some great news with you! We’ve really got something to celebrate after “World Elephant Day!” We’re so proud to announce the protection and connection of the rainforest bridge Sumatran elephants use to migrate between important parts of their habitat, their home.

You see, this elephant migration route ran smack dab through a palm oil company’s operation in the northeast lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem. Actually, reverse that, a palm oil company’s operation ran right through the migration corridors elephants have used to move around their rainforests for generations.

Thanks to your petitions, strong negotiating by our campaign team, and powerful media exposés, Mopoli Raya (said palm oil company) was put on the “No Buy” list by many of the Snack Food 20, including Nestlé and Unilever, and by the biggest palm oil traders sourcing from the Leuser. And once Mopoli Raya was cut out from the global market for long enough, it decided to start doing the right thing. Naturally 😉

So now I have the good fortune of sharing with you that Mopoli Raya has committed to protect the remaining three-and-a-half thousand acres of forests within its operations. The protection of these forests will maintain the connectivity of thousands of acres of surrounding rainforests in this critical elephant corridor. Thank you for everything you’ve done to help make this happen!

Long live the elephants, long may they roam,

 

Gemma Tillack
Forest Policy Director
Rainforest Action Network

 



 


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Scotland plants 22 million trees

In an article in The Independent, Phoebe Weston states that Scotland has planted 22 million trees to tackle the climate crisis, whilst England has not met its target, falling short by 7 million, or 3,000 hectares.

A total of 11,200 hectares of Scottish countryside were covered, according to Government statistics.  But in England just 1,420 hectares of woodland was planted, despite a target of 5,000 hectares being set, figures from the Forestry Commission suggest. This means it missed its annual target by seven million trees.

While the overall figures for the UK in the year to 31 March are up, that success is down to large increases in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Woodland Trust said.

The percentage of woodland cover in the UK remains at 13 per cent, with 10 per cent in England, 15 per cent in Wales, 19 per cent in Scotland and 8 per cent in Northern Ireland.

trees

The number of trees planted in Scotland now represents 84 per cent of the UK total. Increasing the number of trees being planted is part of the country’s efforts to tackle climate change, with a target of 15,000 hectares a year set to be in place from 2024-25.

After the latest figures were released, Abi Bunker, from the Woodland Trust, said: “The UK needs renewed ambition when it comes to tree planting and woodland expansion. The scale of what needs to be achieved to reach net zero targets is obvious; it will necessitate a three-fold increase on current levels.”

In the meantime, it has been announced on the Government’s website that Sir William Worsley has been reappointed to continue his drive to accelerate tree planting rates. The chair of the National Forest Company was tasked last year with setting a bold direction for the country’s forests and woodlands over the next 25 years.

Now Sir William is marking his reappointment with a call to land owners, farmers and foresters across the country to take up the mantle of tree planting by accessing the Government’s Woodland Creation Grant Scheme.

Through this fund, which is now open for applications all year round, planting grants of up to £6,800 are available to help landowners realise the benefits of expanding woodland cover.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tree-champion-reappointed-to-continue-tree-planting-push

A picture of Sir William Worsley leaning on a fence in a field.

Sir William Worsley



 


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Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE) in India starts an urban afforestation project

cere-header-2

CERE’s Urban Afforestation Project (UAP) is increasing the green cover in Indian cities by helping companies, organisations, and individuals to reduce their carbon footprint.

CERE calculates the amount of carbon sequestered at each plantation site, taking into consideration species type, age of saplings and projected growth rates. Sequestration values are calculated as projections over 5, 10, or 15 years. Carbon Sequestration Certification is an integral part of the program and clients are provided with a CERE Offset Certificate at the end of the plantation and assessment.

See the locations at which plantation drives have been held and added information on this new website.

cere-team

Katy, Rashneh and colleagues – full list here

CERE’s Rain Water Harvesting programme has proved to control floods and our Carbon Map and Cap project is also growing from strength to strength, helping major companies to go green by mapping their carbon emissions and determining their carbon footprint and thereafter, helping achieve reduction targets to cap their carbon emissions.

Their Schools for Solar programme started this year with three institutions being solarised and the project will expand further next year to cover many more schools and colleges. CERE’s educational books, posters and e-learning courses are being used by various stakeholders.

As they say, most parts of India receive a high amount of solar radiation for 250 to 300 days in a year which-eventually adds up to a potential of producing 6,000 million GWh of energy per year. All will hope that – as soon as possible – the country will tap this resource to generate electricity on a large scale.

With acknowledgements to:  https://notthembutus.wordpress.com/2019/02/23/news-about-the-work-of-cere/