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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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How climate change affects extreme weather around the world: Carbon Brief analysis

Carbon Brief is a UK-based website designed to “improve the understanding of climate change, both in terms of the science and the policy response”.  It is funded by the European Climate Foundation and is based in London. The article cited , and included, below received a highly-commended award for investigative journalism from the Royal Statistical Society.  Originally published in 2017, it is updated annually.



Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world

Scientists have published more than 230 peer-reviewed studies looking at weather events around the world, from Hurricane Katrina to Russia’s 2010 heatwave. The result is mounting evidence that human activity is raising the risk of some types of extreme weather, especially those linked to heat.

Carbon Brief’s analysis suggests 68% of all extreme weather events studied to date were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for 43% such events, droughts make up 17% and heavy rainfall or floods account for 16%.

To track how the evidence on this fast-moving topic is stacking up, Carbon Brief has mapped – to the best of their knowledge – every extreme event attribution study from a peer-reviewed journal.

The map below shows 260 extreme weather events across the globe for which scientists have carried out attribution studies. The different symbols show the type of extreme weather; for example, a heatwave, flood or drought. The colours indicate whether the attribution study found a link to human-caused climate change (red), no link (blue) or was inconclusive (grey).

How to use our map of attribution studies.

Use the plus and minus buttons in the top-left corner, or double click anywhere, to zoom in on any part of the world. Click on a weather event to reveal more information, including a quote from the original paper to summarise the findings and a link to the online version.

The filter on the left allows users to select a specific type of weather event to look at or, for example, only those found to be influenced by climate change.

The software used to make the map currently only works with a Web Mercator projection (as used by virtually all major online map providers). It is worth noting that this – like all map projections – offers a somewhat distorted view of the world.

It is important to note that the weather events scientists have studied so far are not randomly chosen. They can be high-profile events, such as Hurricane Harvey, or simply the events that occurred nearest to scientific research centres. (More on this later.)

Guardsmen help evacuate Texans in need during Hurricane Harvey, Houston, Texas

Weather types

The 260 weather events in the map are covered by 234 individual scientific papers. Where a single study covers multiple events or different locations, these have been separated out.

Combining the evidence over the past 20 years, the literature is heavily dominated by studies of extreme heat (31%), rainfall or flooding (20%) and drought (18%). Together, these make up more than two-thirds of all published studies (68%). The full list is available in this Google sheet.

As the chart below shows, the number of events studied each year has grown rapidly over time; from eight in 2012 to 59 in 2018. Note that the studies typically follow a year or so after the event itself as the writing and peer-review process for journal papers can take many months.

The majority of studies included here have been published in the annual “Explaining extreme events” special issues of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). Each bumper volume typically contains around 20-30 peer-reviewed studies of events from the previous year. Other studies have been found through the Climate Signals database and online searches through journals.

Specific types of event can be displayed in the chart below by clicking on the category names at the top.

https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/cbhighcharts2019/attribution/attribution-studies.html

Number of attribution studies by extreme weather event type and year. Note: the total number of events dipped in 2017 because the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society special report for that year was published in early 2018 rather than late 2017.

Most of the categories of extreme weather are self-explanatory, but “storms” and “oceans” require a bit of explanation.

For ease of presentation, the “storms” category includes both tropical cyclones (i.e. hurricanes, typhoons) and extratropical storms. The “oceans” category encompasses studies looking at sea surface temperatures and storm surges, such as those generated by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Hurricane Sandy (pdf, p17) along the eastern US seaboard.

Thirsty people drinking from a public fountain set up for Paris Plage, during the summer heatwave, Paris, France.

There are also some new categories of events in this update, including “coral bleaching” and “ecosystem services”, reflecting the ongoing developments in attribution science.

For example, two studies focusing on 2016 found that El Niño and human-caused climate change combined to bring drought and poor harvests to southern Africa (pdf, p91), and that enhanced warming of sea surface temperatures increased the risk (pdf, p144) of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

Such studies show that attribution studies are increasingly considering the impacts of extremes, rather than focusing purely on the weather event. One of the first of these “impact attribution” studies was published in 2016. It estimated that 506 of the 735 fatalities in Paris during the 2003 European heatwave were down to the fact that climate change had made the heat more intense than it would otherwise have been. The same was true for 64 of the 315 fatalities in London, the study said.

This shift towards impacts “is quite significant”, says Prof Peter Stott, who leads the climate monitoring and attribution team at the Met Office Hadley Centre and has been a co-editor of the BAMS reports since they began in 2012. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Impacts are hard to do because you have to establish a significant link between the meteorology and the impact in question. As editors, we’ve been trying to encourage more studies on impacts because it’s the impacts rather than the meteorology per se that tends to motivate these types of study – and if we only have the attribution on the meteorological event then we only have an indirect link to the relevant impact.”

Finally, some attribution research has also looked at the human influence on changes in general indicators of climate change, such as global average temperature or sea level rise. These have not been included in the attribution map as the focus here is on extremes.

Human influence

Turning to the results of the attribution studies that have been published so far, scientists found that human-caused climate change has altered the likelihood or severity of an extreme weather event in 78% of cases studied (68% made more severe or likely and 10% made less so).

In Carbon Brief’s first edition of this analysis in 2017, 68% of events were found to have a human impact (with 63% made more severe or likely and 6% less so).

Note that events are classified here as having an human impact if climate change is found to have influenced at least one aspect of that event. For example, a study of the 2011 East Africa drought found that climate change contributed to the failure of the “long rains” in early 2011, but that the lack of “short rains” in late 2010 was down to the climate phenomenon La Niña. This event is, thus, designated as having a human impact.

For the majority of events affected by climate change, the balance has shifted in the same direction. That is, rising temperatures made the event in question more severe or more likely to occur. These events are represented by the red in the chart below. Clicking on the red “slice” reveals that heatwaves account for 43% of such events, droughts for 17% and rainfall or flooding for 16%. Return to the original chart, and do the same with the other slices to see the proportion of different weather types in each category.

https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/cbhighcharts2019/attribution/attribution-drilldown.html

In 11% of studied weather events, scientists found climate change had made the event less likely or less severe (pale orange in the chart above).

Unsurprisingly, this category includes blizzards and extreme cold snaps. However, it also features a few studies that suggest climate change has lessened the chances of heavy rainfall, and another that found rising temperatures have made agricultural drought in California less likely.

With thanks and acknowledgements to Carbon Brief.

The complete article can be found at

Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world

Later sections of the article contains sections on:

heatwaves

drought

heavy rain and flooding

 

 



 


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The Truth about Heatwaves: 2

In the first of my blogs about heatwaves, I focused on the heatwaves that are occurring on land more and more often and the effects these are having on terrestrial life forms, including humans.

In this blog, I will describe the effects of heatwaves on the oceans, which have doubled in the last 30 years. Up till now, perhaps we have been unaware that heatwaves do affect the oceans and the life that in them. In other blogs, and in my book, I have talked about the destruction of coral as the seas warm, causing coral bleaching.  It is also known that, after the 2016 heatwave in Australia, one third of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef died.  Many of the beautiful fish who live in coral reefs, and are dependent on them, will be affected by the death of corals.

2_3_X_PacificReefFishesExh (2)

Fish in a coral reef

In yet another blog, I have referred to how global warming is affecting the gender of sea turtle eggs, developing in the hot sands where they have been laid, so that now the majority (99%) of the hatchlings born in Northern Australia are female.

Swiss scientists have been recording sea water temperatures over the period 1982-2016 and have found that the number of ocean heatwaves has doubled.  Marine heatwaves can last for several days, and even weeks, as water absorbs heat more readily than air and releases it more slowly.  Dr Thomas Frölicher, of the University of Bern in Switzerland, is the climate scientist who has conducted this study. He believes that the trend of increasing ocean heatwaves will only accelerate with time. Prolonged periods of extreme heat in the oceans can damage kelp forests as well as coral reefs, and harm fish and other marine life. Some sea creatures have evolved to survive in a very narrow band of temperatures compared to creatures on land.  Some free swimming fish can move to other places when the sea becomes too hot for them but, with fixed organisms like coral and kelp forests, there is no opportunity to move.

kelpforest

Kelp forest

If the plankton in the sea, as well as kelp forests, are affected by warming temperatures, many marine creatures will lose their main source of food.

Further details of the study, published in Nature, can be found on the following websites:

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

http://www.itv.com/news/2018-08-15/marine-heatwaves-on-the-increase-in-worlds-oceans/



 


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The death of coral reefs

In Chapter 1 of my book, Our beautiful world in harmony, I talk about coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, caused by warming sea temperatures and Australia’s recent surge in industrialisation projects.  The Great Barrier Reef is 1,400 miles long and is the longest and largest coral reef in the world. It lies off the N.E. coast of Queensland, Ausltralia. This blog goes into the issue in more detail and cites from articles in The Guardian, The Atlantic.com and the campaigning organisation Fight for our Reef.

According to Ben Smee in The Guardian (18th April 2018), the 2016 heatwave in Australia caused the death of 30% of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef. A study by scientists, led by Prof Terry Hughes (Director of ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies), and published in Nature, examined the link between the level of heat exposure, subsequent coral bleaching and ultimately coral death.  Hughes commented,

“When corals bleach from a heatwave, they can either survive and regain their colour slowly as the temperature drops, or they can die.”  Across the whole of the barrier reef, 30% of the corals died during the period March to November 2016.  The figure below shows that losses were greater in the warmer northern part of the barrier reef but coral deaths were recorded as far south as off Rockhampton, Queensland.

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                            The loss of coral cover along the Great Barrier Reef in 2016.                                Photograph: Nature/Hughes et al. 2016

North of Cooktown, coral losses of between 75-100% were recorded.  The study found that “initially, at the peak of temperature extremes in March 2016, many millions of corals died quickly in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef over a period of only two to three weeks”.  Those corals that died were the temperature-sensitive species, such as staghorn and tabular corals; other corals were more resilient to temperature changes which resulted in radical changes in the mix of coral species on hundreds of individual reefs”.

Staghorn corals play crucial roles in reef-building, and in providing food, shelter and other services to the remarkable array of associated species (fish, crustaceans etc), a number of which are important to humans.   See: https://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/fact_sheet_red_list_staghorn_corals.pdf
This article, entitled “Staghorn Corals and Climate Change, published in pdf by the Species Survival Commission, gives a great deal of information about staghorn corals.

Prof Hughes and his researchers estimated that half of the corals in shallow-water habitats in the northern Great Barrier Reef have already been lost but their conclusion is that the Great Barrier Reef is certainly threatened by climate change, but it is not completely doomed yet, “if we deal very quickly with greenhouse gas emissions”.  Their conclusion was: “If the targets in the Paris agreement are met, the reef will survive as “a mixture of heat-tolerant [corals], and the ones that can bounce back”.

See: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/19/great-barrier-reef-30-of-coral-died-in-catastrophic-2016-heatwave


The Atlantic.com article also draws on the Nature article but gives further detail about how the study was conducted. See:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/since-2016-half-the-coral-in-the-great-barrier-reef-has-perished/558302/

It also refers to a further study, conducted in 2017 when warm waters struck the reef again and triggered another bleaching event.  The results have not yet been published but Hughes is quoted as saying:

“Combined, the back-to-back bleaching events killed one in every two corals in the Great Barrier Reef. It is a fact almost beyond comprehension: In the summer of 2015, more than 2 billion corals lived in the Great Barrier Reef. Half of them are now dead.”

Hughes was also clear about the cause of this coral bleaching and death: human-caused global warming. The accumulation of heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere has raised the world’s average temperature, making the oceans hotter and less hospitable to fragile tropical corals.

Bleached-staghorn-coral-Rummer-889x628

bleached staghorn corals


The Australian-based Fight for Our Reef Campaign has no doubt about who is the greatest culprit in causing this warming of the barrier reef water – Adani Group coal supply chain.  The following comes from their latest email:


A couple of weeks ago we emailed you with the shocking news. Adani Group representatives had been quietly meeting with federal Trade Minister Steven Ciobo and the government’s Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC) – trying to secure funds for their Reef-wrecking coal project and their suppliers via this backdoor channel.¹

We asked for your help to expose Adani, and the response has been incredible. We dialled up the pressure with thousands of emails to Minister Steven Ciobo. And with the world watching we ran a mobile billboard during the Commonwealth Games – calling on the Federal government to not give Adani any of our taxpayer dollars through EFIC.

The reaction to our billboard was overwhelming. Honks, whistles and cheers as the billboard drove past, exposing Adani’s backdoor plans to people living in Minister Ciobo’s electorate and international visitors alike.

Let’s turn this moment into unstoppable momentum. We’ve reached 9,000 emails calling for Minister Ciobo to rule out taxpayer funding. 

The Commonwealth Games may be over now but our effort to stop Adani getting their hands on taxpayer money isn’t finished yet. To protect our Reef from the pollution this mine would unleash, the Minister must rule out any EFIC funding going to the Adani Group’s coal supply chain.

If Adani succeed, and get this money, it will be bad news for our beautiful Reef. The mining and burning of coal from Adani’s colossal Carmichael coal mine would generate billions of tonnes of new carbon pollution, heating our oceans and endangering the future of our beautiful but damaged Great Barrier Reef.

We have to ensure that Adani does not get their hands on our taxpayer money. The window of opportunity is closing fast. Tell Minister Ciobo to rule out any EFIC money going to the Adani Group and its suppliers.

We exposed Adani and stopped the $1 billion NAIF loan of taxpayer money. Public pressure has gotten banks around the world to rule out funding this Reef-wrecking coal mine. Together we can stop Adani getting taxpayer money from EFIC.

Yours, for our Reef.

Imogen Zethoven
With the Fight For Our Reef Campaign team
P.S. Outrage is growing. More and more people are talking about Adani’s sneaky attempts to get our taxpayer money for their Reef-wrecking mine. But it’s going to take more voices to turn this momentum into change. Add your name to the thousands of Australians fighting for our Reef – no taxpayer money to Adani!

¹ Source: ABC News – Adani Finance Agency Talks Suggest Door Not Shut on Taxpayer Funds
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-20/adani-finance-agency-talks-suggest-door-not-shut-taxpayer-funds/9344886 ;


And in May 2018, further concerns about another company applying to start mining in the Galilee Basin in Queensland.  The latest email from the “Fight for Our Reef Campaign” states the following:

Thank you for contacting the federal Minister for Environment and Energy and asking him to reject the Waratah Coal mine proposal and protect our beautiful Great Barrier Reef.

Waratah Coal, a Clive Palmer associated company, is currently seeking approval for a new coal mining project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. If built the mine would be 33% bigger than Adani’s Carmichael coal mine and would be a disaster for our precious Reef.  

While we didn’t manage to have the mine proposal rejected outright, we were successful in ensuring any impacts to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and Marine Park must be considered as part of the assessment process.

In its application Waratah Coal stated that the mine would have no impact on the Great Barrier Reef. They failed to acknowledge the extra coal ships that will plough through the Reef’s waters, the dredging that will be required to expand the port of Abbot Point and above all the climate change-related impacts on the Reef caused by the burning of coal from this mine in power plants.       

Thanks to you and the other 8000 people who contacted the Minister – we drew the Minister’s attention to the impacts the mine would have on the Great Barrier Reef.

To preserve the remainder of our precious Reef we must rapidly reduce carbon pollution, not open up new mega mines. With your help we will continue to fight this and other Galilee Basin mines to ensure the Reef has a future.

Thanks for all that you do.

For our Reef,
Dr Lissa Schindler


 


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Australia to abandon clean energy target

Recent reports from the Financial Times and the Washington Post suggest that Australia is following Trump’s US Energy policy by ditching their own clean energy target in exchange for cheaper power.  Conservation groups have condemned the ruling conservative coalition for abandoning the renewable energy target for 2030 that was recommended this year by Australia’s chief scientist to comply with the Paris climate change agreement.

The plan was to generate 42 percent of the country’s power from wind and solar energy, in compliance with climate change commitments. The new ruling will end subsidies paid to wind and solar generators from 2020, in order to help reduce energy costs for consumers. Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told Parliament that coal and gas would generate 64 to 72 percent of Australia’s electricity by 2030.

This is a sad departure from former commitments by this country to reduce greenhouse gases but it is in line with other government policies to support mining developments which will damage the Great Barrier Reef.

See: https://www.fightforourreef.org.au/

and:

http://www.greenpeace.org › Home › What We Do › Climate
I find it difficult to justify the current stance of the Australian government, who appear to have no concern for the damage their policies will do to both the health of the planet and the iconic Great Barrier Reef.
In chapter 7 of my book on the Economy, I reproduce a graph (Figure 67), which shows how the carbon emissions in Australia reduced significantly during the two year period after they introduced a carbon tax in 2012. In July 2014, the carbon tax act was repealed.  The graph shows the carbon emissions  immediately rising again.  This latest ruling is likely to make the situation even worse.  It is difficult to understand why Australia politicians are failing to see the effects of their recent legislation.  The graph can be seen in the Chapter 7 blog on this website.
A huge mistake was made back in 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted through the United Nations (UNFCCC).  At that time, three countries, who were in the early stages of industrialising their economies (China, India and Australia) were exempted from complying with the Kyoto Protocol.  These three countries went on to become some of the worst polluters on the planet.  It would seem that China and India are making attempts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions but Australia is far from acting in a responsible manner in this respect.
Australians per capita are among the world’s worst greenhouse gas polluters because of the country’s heavy reliance on its abundant coal reserves for power. But no new coal-fired generators are being built because of uncertainty over how Australia intends to achieve its greenhouse gas cuts.
Perhaps they can be brought in line with other global economies during COP23.
coral bleaching
Bleached coral skeletons in the Great Barrier Reef near Port Douglas photographed on Feb. 20. 2017 – image from Greenpeace
However, on October 30th 2017 news came through from the Fight for the Reef campaign that, as one of their last acts before calling the election, the Queensland Government had banned dangerous trans-shipping of coal, petroleum and other substances in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  This means that all coal ships and major vessels will be prohibited from loading in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
And three days later, Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, announced she will veto the $1 billion taxpayer loan for the Adani coal project!


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Our Beautiful World in Harmony

CHAPTER 1

Our beautiful world in harmony

One October, when I was about 6 years old, my mother took me out for a treat. My older siblings were involved in other things and this was a rare opportunity for me to have my mother’s undivided attention. We walked to a local park, Scotch Common, which had a variety of trees, beginning to show their autumn colours: coppers, browns, golds, ochres and reds. We identified some of the trees as horse chestnut, oak and sycamore and then searched beneath them to collect their seeds: shiny brown conkers with a varnish-like sheen, green and brown acorns, some separated from their craggy cups, and the winged sycamore paired seeds, which would spiral slowly down to the ground if you threw them into the air.  Mum suggested I take a selection to school to put on the nature table.

I don’t know why this incident sticks in my mind but I believe that it may have been the beginning of a growing love of nature in me, which is still a significant part of my identity.  Though I am now 73 years old, each autumn I still collect conkers and acorns and sycamore seeds for my own nature table at home. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to do this, as the seasons are changing so much. Already the conker crop last year seemed smaller and autumn was extended with a mild spell, with golden leaves on the trees until well into November, and winter still not started by Christmas. Are we in danger of losing some of these great trees and their fruit and their annual cycles related to the seasons?  Why is it that we have summer flowers still in blossom in December and reports that in some parts of the UK, the spring flowers (daffodils etc) are already in blossom in December?

Yes, I love nature but my love of animals far surpasses that of the plant kingdom.  We share this world with some wonderful creatures: the large wild carnivores and herbivores of Africa and Asia; the strange marsupials of Australasia; the prairie animals; the domesticated pets who share our homes with us; the birds who visit our gardens and who migrate across great oceans every year; the creatures and fish of the seas; the inhabitants of the polar ice caps and the smaller secretive wild mammals who live in burrows.

I believe that I am not the only person in this world who loves nature in this way and who respects and enjoys the splendour of our world. We live on a magnificent planet and share it with some spectacular creatures.

I am writing this book because I believe that we are in danger of losing it all. And the magnitude of this loss is greater, and the need for action more urgent, than many believe.

How everything fits together in harmony

It has been known for more than 50 years, and certainly since I was at school during the 50s and 60s, that the process of photosynthesis in plants is closely linked to the process of respiration in animals. Indeed, one could almost describe the relationship between plants and animals as symbiotic, one being dependent upon the other to maintain its life.  The plant life on the planet absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil and, through chemical reactions, changes them into glucose and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air and breathed in by the animal life (including ourselves). In animals, oxygen is inhaled and carbon dioxide is released through the process of respiration.  Thus, plants provide oxygen for animals to breathe and animals exhale carbon dioxide, which is used by plants in the process of photosynthesis.

This photosynthetic cycle has been analysed and shown to be a series of chemical reactions, all initially triggered by light energy from the sun.  Chloroplasts in plants (in the green chlorophyll) trap the sunlight, which provides the energy for the photosynthetic cycle (Fig.1).

Fig 1. The relationship between photosynthesis in plants and respiration in animals

the process of photosynthesis

From: http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/nature/how-photosynthesis-works-zw0z1406zwea.aspx                                          with permission

This process happens throughout nature, from the very smallest algae and plankton to the giant trees in our forests and from the smallest amoebae and zooplankton in water to the largest of our land and sea mammals (elephants and whales) – an interchange of gases and chemical products between plants and animals which is important to sustain life.

But the photosynthetic and respiratory cycles do not stand alone.  They are inter-linked with other kinds of cycles, the chemical processes of which have been carefully studied by scientists.  For example, plants store another product of photosynthesis (glucose or starch) and this is consumed by herbivorous and omnivorous animals and provides them with the energy they need for growth and development. Thus, there is a transfer of energy from the sun to plants and then on to animals, this energy is needed to sustain life.  And none of this could begin without the presence of the sun itself – at exactly the right strength.

Fig 2 THE CARBON CYCLE

Illustration by LizzardBrandInc, with permission from UCAR

There are other cycles in nature too: the nitrogen cycle, the Krebs cycle (to process and release energy) and the carbon cycle (Fig 2), which is closely linked to the respiratory cycle of animals.  The carbon cycle involves the decomposition of dead and decaying matter into fossil fuels (see later for the significance of this).

Following the discovery of interactive cycles in nature, it was not long before the whole concept of food chains was proposed, with the lowest forms of life being consumed by the next species up the food chain, from herbivores (plant eaters) to omnivores (plant and meat eaters), with the carnivores (big cats, birds of prey etc) at the top of the food chain.  Thus, the sun’s energy is transferred first through plants to animals and then up through the food chain, simplified diagrams of which are in Figure 3.

Fig 3.  Simple Food chains

From: www.k8schoollessons.com/food-chains-and-food-webs/ (with permission)

 The diagrams in Fig.3 show simplified food chains but, in fact, things are rarely as simple as this and the concept of a “food web” is much closer to reality. Figure 4 shows a woodland food web, which can be seen to be much more complex than a simple chain, with various species being inter-dependent.

Image result for woodland food web

Figure 4:  A Woodland Food Web from www.docbrown.info, (with permission)

 A recent programme on BBC TV, “Secrets of our Living Planet”, also available on DVD9, gave examples of some fascinating food webs throughout the world, from tropical rain forests, to savannahs and in the oceans, and demonstrated that if one member of the web disappeared, then others wouldn’t survive.  The most compelling example of this was the brazil nut tree, which relied on a small rodent, the agouti (Fig. 5), to crack and disperse its seeds, as well as an orchid, which grew on its trunk and attracted a particular species of bee, to pollinate both tree and orchid, the male bee pollinating one and the female bee pollinating the other, with the bees reliant on the nectar in the flowers for their survival.

Fig 5 – the Brazilian agouti (from www.hidephotography.com with permission)

So we can see from this that, not only is there an interaction and inter-dependency between plants and animals, but that inter-dependency continues throughout the animal kingdom, in a complex web.  Thus, if one species disappears, or becomes extinct, this may also affect other species, which are dependent on it as a food source or pollinator. This whole interaction between members of the plant and animal species is called an ecosystem.

I feel that the interaction of all the cycles and ecosystems is close to being miraculous.  Our world has been regulated in an astounding way.  It is as if everything on this planet has been put in place in ecosystems, or has evolved, to work harmoniously, so that all life on this planet remains in balance, in a wonderful connectedness and interdependency that maintains life.

I love to wander through parts of our green land, with rolling hills and tranquil forests, just taking in the beauty of it. I also love to visit beaches to hear the sea and breathe in the clean, salty ocean air. It is not surprising therefore that I have been  excited by the hypothesis proposed by the scientist, James Lovelock, in 197910, which states that the earth itself is a self-regulating body;  that the earth is like one big organism with the ability to regulate critical systems to meet its own needs and to sustain life. It is called the Gaia Hypothesis.

Image result for gaia hypothesis

Fig.6 Gaia Hypothesis (from http://www.google.com)

The regulatory mechanisms which have been keeping all life in balance and harmony for thousands of years are now being undermined and put out of harmony by the hand of man.   Let’s have a look at what we have been doing to place all this at risk and what we need to do to make things right again.

Our beautiful world no longer in harmony

Fossil fuels, produced as part of the carbon cycle, have been used by humans for centuries, but especially since the industrial revolution, to produce other forms of energy for humans to heat their homes, run their vehicles, power up vast factories and to develop more and more complex gadgets and life-enhancing commodities.  The downside of this practice is, of course, that carbon dioxide and other toxic gases are released into the atmosphere as a by-product of their use, resulting in global warming.

Global warming is the rise in average global surface temperature caused primarily by the build-up of human-produced greenhouses gases, mostly carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat in the lower levels of the atmosphere.

At the beginning of the industrial revolution it was not realised that the plant life on earth could not cope with absorbing all the extra carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere from manufacturing and the problem was made worse by the felling of many of the great trees in the mighty rainforests of the earth, in order to clear land for agriculture and to sell the wood.  Figure 7 shows the dramatic increase in fossil fuel emissions since 1870. This is comprised mainly of carbon dioxide.

 Fig.7  Fossil fuel emissions since 1751

Projection of global carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, 1751 to 2006 (CDIAC data)

From: http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/ecolonomics/00/ecolonomics-20091013.shtml

GteC refers to Giga-tonnes of carbon

 Human activity has been bringing all the ecosystems on the planet into an imbalance and a resulting effect of this has been the loss of numerous species, as well as changes to the climate and global temperatures.

Another way in which plant life and animal life (insects and birds) have interactive cycles is the way in which bees depend on flowers for nectar and, in visiting plants to feed on nectar, they inadvertently brush against the pollen in the flower stamens.  They then carry this pollen on their bodies to other flowers and become the means by which pollination occurs in plants (part of the reproductive cycle of plants).  Recently, vast decreases in the numbers of bees have been noticed and this is thought to be caused by the use of pesticides on plants.  If the bees were to disappear altogether, pollination might not occur and this could reduce some of the food sources available to us.  Vegetables and fruit known to be pollinated by bees are okra, kiwifruit, onion, celery, cashew nuts, strawberries, papaya, custard apples, turnips, beet, brazil nuts, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, water melon, coconut, tangerine, cucumber, quince, fig, apple, walnuts, mangos, avocados, peach, nectarine, pear, raspberry, blackberry, elderberry, cocoa, passion fruit and many others.

Thus, the loss of bees might result in the loss of most of the vegetables and fruits that the human race, and other species, rely upon for their food.

Fig 8:  Bees in the process of pollinating flowers

Image result for diagram of cycle of bees pollinating flowers

Originally from: http://www.kidsgardening.org/node/99559 but no longer at this link, so try: https://www.shutterstock.com/search/pollination for alternatives.

See also: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=bees+pollinating+flowers&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbs=rimg:CTpuYoMW5ZSSIjgW8_1txAk4IgYpc3e5d-4HgQpGItS4O9xelkTjXySTGVqkykrdJPwSAU6iebYFVLH47ms-8vG_1ppyoSCRbz-3ECTgiBEZYLUJ0fGq3lKhIJilzd7l37geARifWWnCmf-egqEglCkYi1Lg73FxGuZrGBofnZ2ioSCaWRONfJJMZWEbc4FklQt4jCKhIJqTKSt0k_1BIAR_1zn7c-hvXs8qEglTqJ5tgVUsfhFwlTLIh3C8eSoSCTuaz7y8b-mnERK4BV0iiMEp&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiK4Ln6zd3cAhXCC8AKHZn9DQwQ9C96BAgBEBs&biw=1262&bih=610&dpr=1#imgrc=kfKkyM_dHzHk1M:

or:

http://ib.bioninja.com.au/higher-level/topic-9-plant-biology/untitled-3/plant-reproduction.html

There have been vast changes in the way that farmers have carried out their agricultural activities in recent years; they have copied some processes from the manufacturing industry to become more “productive”, using intensive farming methods, removing hedgerows and maximising the use of their fields.  Over this same period, certain species of birds have been disappearing because the insects in hedgerows that they feed on are no longer there, or have been killed off with pesticides.

Wikipedia lists 190 species of birds which have become extinct since 1500 and a further 321 are currently endangered, including the cuckoo and several of our garden species.

A recent report from American scientists, Ceballos and colleagues11, suggests that human activity has already triggered the beginnings of another mass extinction, thereby threatening our own future. According to this group, there have been five mass extinctions in the earth’s past (the extinction of dinosaurs being the most well-known) and that this latest threat to the planet would be its sixth mass extinction. They state that, in the last century, vertebrates (animals with backbones) have been disappearing at a rate 114 times greater than would normally be expected, without the destructive activity of humans.  They pointed out that, since 1900, over 400 more vertebrates than expected had vanished; this included 69 mammals, 80 birds, 24 reptiles, 146 amphibians and 158 fish species.  They warn that species loss will have a significant effect on human populations in as little as three generations.  The researchers concluded that this destruction of species is accelerating and initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.

This report has triggered significant discussion within the scientific community, and some have ventured to include humans (also vertebrates) as part of this extinction.  They are confident that bees will definitely be extinct by then and perhaps many of the large carnivores, such as lions. Whether humans also become extinct depends, one supposes, on whether those creatures and plants which we rely on for food, have disappeared in this mass extinction.  It is estimated that 2,000 sheep and 100 cattle were drowned in the recent floods engulfing the north of England, so the loss of our food sources due to climate change is a possibility.  So, with bees gone and the vegetables that they pollinate and the loss of some of our meat sources, things look bleak for humans in the future too. A number of organisations are predicting crop failures due to climate change by 2030, particularly in the poorer countries in Asia and Africa.

There are also concerns about the effects of climate change on human health12. This 43-page significant publication by Antony Costello and others gives evidence of grave concern to human health.

Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute for Global Health said: “Our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate change, we can also benefit health — and tackling climate change in fact represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come”. And Hugh Montgomery who co-chaired the Commission said, “Climate change is a medical emergency. It thus demands an emergency response, using the technologies available right now”.

Also, in its 2010 report “A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change”13 the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences gives a list of the health consequences of increased greenhouse gases and climate change. The list includes about twelve major health risks.  The human population would therefore seem to be as much at risk as the creatures with whom we share this planet.

And yet, humans don’t seem to be able to stop tinkering with the natural order of things in the ecosystems of the world.  One vivid example comes from Australia where, in 1935, a toad from South America was introduced to Queensland, with the aim of using it to consume cane beetles, which were damaging sugar cane crops.  This toad did not eat the beetle and instead multiplied in huge numbers, because it had no natural predators, so that the cane toad is now a national pest.  It is also poisonous to other species and is now being blamed for a massive reduction in the number of dwarf crocodiles in Australia.

Fig. 9: Cane Toad

Image result for cane toad

To go back to farming practices:  Fields are no longer left to lie fallow and so do not have a chance to replenish the nutrients found in soil that are essential to plant life, so that they become less productive.  However, some farmers are now introducing permaculture, with good results and organic farming is also on the increase.

During the 1990’s the condition of “mad cow disease” (BSE – bovine spongiform encephalopathy) appeared in the UK and it was eventually discovered that foodstuffs fed to cattle at that time had been processed from animal sources and so cows, who are herbivores, were being fed foodstuffs which turned them into not only carnivores but also cannibals.  This violation of the natural food chains had far reaching consequencies, as it would appear that it could be passed on to humans who consumed meat from cattle with BSE, the human form of the disease being named CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease).  Another example of human activity which had devastating effects on the life of the planet.

In a recent “Springwatch” programme on BBC TV, we were made aware of another dangerous practice:  the production of exfoliation products for washing our faces; these soap-based products contain tiny particles of plastic (which do the exfoliation); these are washed down sinks and eventually get down via rivers into the sea.  They are absorbed by microplankton, which are subsequently eaten by fish – and thus find their way into the food chain, if they do not kill the fish off first.

So here we have several kinds of human activity that are interfering with the natural cycles and transfer of chemicals and energy through the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as through the food chains:

  • the whole industrialisation process, which releases excessive carbon dioxide and other toxic pollutants into the air;
  • the use of pesticides to enhance agricultural production, which has killed off bees and other insects and also birds;
  • intensive farming methods which have eliminated hedgerows and thus the bird species which rely on them for nests and food;
  • the feeding of processed animal products to herbivores;
  • the expansion in the use of exfoliants, which get into rivers and seas and work their way up through the food chain;
  • the introduction of non-native species into other countries;
  • deforestation and land clearance.

And these have not been the only human activities to do this. Humans also exploit the animal kingdom, sometimes in very cruel ways, in order to make money for themselves and this has also put some species at risk of extinction.  This exploitation includes killing elephants for ivory, rhinos for their horns, sharks for their fins, bears for their bile, pangolins and forest mammals for their meat and capturing baby monkeys and other primates, some from rare species, to sell in markets. Some species, such as the tiger, are currently threatened because of habitat loss or fragmentation. Forests where the tiger lives are cleared for agricultural activity, such as growing palm oil. Many other species are also in danger because of habitat loss (orang utan, elephant, rhino, polar bear etc).  As I write, we hear about a huge fire in the country of Indonesia, originally started to clear forest for the planting of palm oil crops, but now burning out of control, leaving a smoky haze over a wide area.  Indonesia is the only habitat for the endangered orang utan, as well as the rare Bornean white-bearded gibbon, sun bears and pangolins.

Global warming has led to the melting of the ice caps and a subsequent rise of sea levels, so that some island nations are at risk of disappearing into the sea. Scientists have predicted that global average surface temperatures are likely to rise by 3-4˚ within the lifespan of today’s teenagers, though there are efforts to keep it down to below 1.5˚.   The BBC recently reported that, as 2015 has been a particularly hot year, the average global temperature is likely to increase above 1˚ for the first time14. In a later chapter I will discuss the efforts being made at UN level to keep the temperature rise below 1.5˚.

 Fig. 10 – increases in global average temperature since 1860

Temperatures

From: www.bbc.co.uk (GCSE Bitesize)

Recent reports, described in the Guardian, have demonstrated that global temperatures in 2016 have been the hottest since records began15  so that 2016 is likely to be the hottest on record, with 2015 was the hottest year on record before that and 2014 the hottest year before that.

Also affected has been the climate, with more frequent catastrophic events, such as tornados and cyclones, mud slides, flooding, droughts, desertification etc. With the melting of the polar ice caps, the ecological balance of species living in these areas has also been disturbed, the most well-known being the polar bear, which can no longer rely on its main food resource, the seal.

 FIG 11: A starving and emaciated female polar bear on a small block of ice

Image result for emaciated polar bear

Photograph by Kerstin Langenberger with permission

 Already, in several parts of the world there has been a rise in sea level, affecting especially coastal areas and island nations (Maldives, Marshall Islands, Philippines, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands). Over the past century, the world’s oceans have risen 4-8 inches. It is reported that several rocket launch areas and space stations in the US will have to be moved inland, because of the risk of flooding.  Scientific models have suggested that sea levels will rise by 20 centimetres by 2050 (that’s another 8 inches), or triple that if the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt. The acidity of the sea has also increased by 30%, due to it absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to form carbonic acid and this puts some marine creatures and coral at risk.  Coral reefs are particularly in danger, especially the iconic Great Barrier Reef, just off Australia. Australia’s recent surge in industrialisation projects (mega-mines, dredging and railway projects) has put the reef in danger with rapid destruction of the coral. We are told that 50% of coral has been lost since the 1980s, due to the warming of the sea.

Fig. 12: Bleaching of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef

Image result for bleaching of coral reefs in australia

From: https://fightforthereef.org.au

 Picture

Fig. 13 – the increases in sea level over the last century.                                                  Source: US EPA Climate Change website

Most worrying are the vast permafrost regions of the world (Siberia, Canada, Alaska), where the earth remains below freezing point, even during the summer.  If the temperature of these areas increases, then large quantities of methane will be released into the atmosphere, adding to the problems of global warming that we already have.

At this time, there are campaigning groups trying to stop companies drilling for oil in the Arctic ocean, where the sea ice is already melting at a rapid rate. Recent studies in Greenland have shown that there is evidence that the glaciers are shrinking and the ice is thinning.  A recent report from the Californian Institute of Technology states that one of the biggest glaciers in Greenland, Zachariae Isstrom, which holds enough ice to raise the sea level by 18 inches, has broken loose from a stable position and is melting at both ends, with ice crumbling into the North Atlantic Ocean.  Greenland is the second largest ice body in the world and already contributes to about 40% of the current sea level rise.  Since 1992, 65 million tons of Antarctic ice has melted.

Fig. 14: The Shrinking of Arctic sea ice between 1979 and 2016

copyright: Andy Lee Haviland (with permission)

Some have made calculations about what would happen to the world if all the ice caps were to melt and it is quite clear that, not only island nations, but also whole countries and some major cities would be swallowed up by the sea.  The map below shows what would happen to Europe in this circumstance.  Such a circumstance would remove much of the UK, especially the eastern areas and around the wash and the Thames, the whole of the Netherlands, Belgium, almost all of Denmark, part of northern Germany and Russia, much of Turkey and the Baltic regions. Venice would disappear into the Adriatic Sea and the Caspian and Black Seas would become much larger.  Worldwide, we would lose Bangladesh, Singapore, some of the Philippine Islands, much of Sumatra and Papua New Guinea, the whole of Florida, several Caribbean islands, Tuvalu and much of China.  Huge inland seas would develop in Australia, around the Amazon and Paraguay River basins and delta areas would also be inundated (Mekong, Nile, Ganges), leading to the submergence of Cairo and Alexandria.  Due to differences in ocean currents, the sea level increase would be higher in some areas than others (eg the eastern seaboard of the USA).  Africa’s coastline would not be as affected as that of some other continents but, due to temperature rises, some parts would become so hot that they would be uninhabitable.

In 2014, the University of Notre Dame produced a definitive ranking system that showed how countries around the world would fare if global warming increased at its current rate.

The rankings took into account the country’s location, its population density and how financially equipped it was to deal with the rising sea level and increase in temperature.

Fig 15 and 15a: Pictures showing new coastline of Europe if all the ice caps were to melt – the outer line shows coastlines as they are at present     Source: National Geographic Creative (with permission)

Related image

All of the changes described above have not gone unnoticed and there have been numerous campaigns and demonstrations to prevent some of the human activities which are endangering our planet, some more successful than others. For example, in the Netherlands, one of the countries most at risk of rising sea levels, the Hague District Court recently ordered the Dutch government to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020.  This arose following a complaint by an activist group.  The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming, with much of its land lying below sea level.  The island nations are also at risk of being swallowed up by the sea but this is as a result of greenhouse gas emissions of other countries, rather than their own. And the Philippines were recently devastated by Cyclone Yolande.  All of this is summarised in a short video clip on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/worldeconomicforum/videos/10154178419921479/).

The United Nations has been taking action, ever since the Rio Summit in 1992 (to be described in a later chapter) but it is not enough, as carbon emissions continue to rise.  As I started to write this book, the latest summit (CPO21 in Paris) had not yet taken place but, by the time it was finished, an agreement had been reached, which will be discussed in Chapter 8.

Some of the toxic chemicals released from human manufacturing activity, such as nitrous oxide and bromine and chlorine compounds (CFCs), have the effect of depleting the ozone layer, which exists in the earth’s atmosphere.  The purpose of the ozone layer is to absorb ultra-violet rays from the sun. Ozone levels in the stratosphere have reduced by 4% since 1970 and there is an ozone hole over the Antarctic circle – again more evidence that human activity is affecting the stability of the planet.

So many factors have been interacting to create the global situation in which we are at the moment and this book attempts to show how they interrelate. Each chapter in this book will look at a different factor, which has put the planet and its species at risk and will show, I hope, that each of these has an inter-connectedness.  We therefore need to tackle every factor, not just one in isolation.  Scientists have said that we have only three generations to do this before things have gone too far.  If the exponential graphs shown in Figures 7, 11 and 15 continue at this rate, then we probably have even less time than three generations to reverse the changes.

A short piece of film has recently been circulated on the internet, which summarizes all of these risk factors, and is especially targeted at those who, like me, love and cherish the natural world16.

Scientists have predicted that, in three generations time, there will be a mass extinction of many of the animal species inhabiting this planet.  It is not clear whether this extinction will include humans but many of the animal, insect and bird species that we have grown to love will have gone by then.  I think the risk is there for human populations as well, so I have used this “3 generations” factor as the title of this book and in most of the assessments and discussions which follow. Let’s hope that this never happens but using 3 generations as a rule of thumb will hopefully concentrate the minds of those who are in positions in which they can make the changes needed to ensure that this never becomes a reality.