Add Global Worming To Your List Of Concerns

An illustration of a mass of worms beneath a forest.

Myriam Wares

Thanks to Julia Rosen, writing in the Atlantic, I am reading for the second time about worms as a radically different creature than I had assumed for my entire life:

Cancel Earthworms

The “crazy worms” remaking forests aren’t your friendly neighborhood garden worms. Then again, those aren’t so great either.

On a sweltering July day, I follow Annise Dobson down an overgrown path into the heart of Seton Falls Park. It’s a splotch of unruly forest, surrounded by the clamoring streets and cramped rowhouses of the Bronx. Broken glass, food wrappers, and condoms litter the ground. But Dobson, bounding ahead in khaki hiking pants with her blond ponytail swinging, appears unfazed. As I quickly learn, neither trash nor oppressive humidity nor ecological catastrophe can dampen her ample enthusiasm. Continue reading

Another Look At Blackrock

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In response to mounting public pressure, Larry Fink, the C.E.O. of BlackRock, announced, in a letter to investors, that the firm will make some modest policy changes related to climate change.
Photograph by Damon Winter / NYT / Redux

One of the authors, also a prolific activist, who we cite most frequently has shared his view on the news we linked to earlier this last week:

Citing Climate Change, BlackRock Will Start Moving Away from Fossil Fuels

By Bill McKibben

If you felt the earth tremble a little bit in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, it was likely caused by the sheer heft of vast amounts of money starting to shift. “Seismic” is the only word to describe the recent decision of the asset-management firm BlackRock to acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis and begin (emphasis on begin) to start redirecting its investments.

By one estimate, there’s about eighty trillion dollars of money on the planet. If that’s correct, then BlackRock’s holding of seven trillion dollars means that nearly a dime of every dollar rests in its digital files, mostly in the form of stocks it invests in for pension funds and the like. So when BlackRock’s C.E.O., Larry Fink, devoted his annual letter to investors to explaining that climate change has now put us “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” it marked a watershed moment in climate history. Continue reading

Investing With Climate Change In Mind Is The Right Thing To Do

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Damon Winter/The New York Times

He may be late, but better that versus never. Investing with consideration for the environment seemed obvious long ago to some, but not to the decision-makers who most count–those whose investment decisions impact generations to come. Presumably, from the size of fund he manages, one of the most respected investors has decided to do the right thing as best he can, and that may be huge:

BlackRock Will Put Climate Change at Center of Investment Strategy

In his influential annual letter to chief executives, Larry Fink said his firm would avoid investments in companies that “present a high sustainability-related risk.”

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Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Laurence D. Fink, the founder and chief executive of BlackRock, plans to announce Tuesday that his firm will make investment decisions with environmental sustainability as a core goal.

BlackRock is the largest in its field, with nearly $7 trillion under management, and this move will fundamentally shift its investing policy — and could reshape how corporate America does business and put pressure on other large money managers to follow suit. Continue reading

Questions, Answers & Plans For Managing Environmental Challenges

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Experts have identified oceans as a key battleground in the fight to protect humanity’s natural ‘life support system’. Photograph: Christian Loader/Alamy

The plan provides one possible answer, its execution is an important question:

UN draft plan sets 2030 target to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction

Paris-style proposal to counter loss of ecosystems and wildlife vital to the future of humanity will go before October summit

Almost a third of the world’s oceans and land should be protected by the end of the decade to stop and reverse biodiversity decline that risks the survival of humanity, according to a draft Paris-style UN agreement on nature.

To combat what scientists have described as the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, the proposal sets a 2030 deadline for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and wildlife that perform crucial services for humans.

The text, drafted by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is expected to be adopted by governments in October at a crucial UN summit in the Chinese city of Kunming. It comes after countries largely failed to meet targets for the previous decade agreed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010. Continue reading

Do The Right Thing, As Best You Can

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People demonstrate in support outside the trial of 12 activists who stormed and played tennis inside a Credit Suisse office in November 2018. Photograph: Jean-Christophe Bott/AP

We love Greta. We love Roger. We love a strenuous challenge between two strong contenders, as long as the climate may be the beneficiary:

  • Credit Suisse closely linked with fossil fuel industry
  • #RogerWakeUpNow has been trending on Twitter

Roger Federer has issued a cautiously worded response to mounting criticism, including from climate activist Greta Thunberg, over his sponsorship deal with Credit Suisse. Continue reading

Do Not Wait

Citizens of the USA have not much right to tell Australians what or how to think about climate change, and certainly not at this precise moment. On the contrary, scenes coming from Australia might well get Americans immediately wondering:

What Will Another Decade of Climate Crisis Bring?

2019 has been called the year we woke up to climate change. Australia’s wildfires are yet more evidence that it’s time we started acting like it.

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Illustration by João Fazenda

Last week, thousands of people in the Australian state of Victoria were urged to evacuate their homes. “Don’t wait,” the alert warned. Bushfires were burning across the state; so large were some of the blazes that, according to Victoria’s commissioner of emergency management, they were “punching into the atmosphere” with columns of smoke nine miles high. The smoke columns were producing their own weather, generating lightning that, in turn, was setting more fires. Some time after residents received the evacuation warning, many of those in the most seriously affected region, East Gippsland, which is a popular tourist destination, received another alert. It was now too late to leave: “You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive.” Continue reading

Concise Primer On Carbon Sequestration’s Latest, Greatest Options

Economist2020We always look for the latest on how to fight climate change and in this podcast episode there is a concise and clear explanation:

It is increasingly clear that putting less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will not be enough to combat climate change; we take a look at the effort to actively remove the stuff from the air. Our correspondent takes a ride on Chicago’s Red Line, whose length represents a shocking level of inequality. And why a push to go organic in Turkey isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

It’s Not Easy Being Green In 2020

Cobalt Mining in Congo

Thanks to

Building climate-saving tech digs up new problems

Solving the climate crisis is going to take a lot of mining

The solar power and electric vehicles we need to stop the climate crisis pose a different threat to people and the environment: a boom in mining. Moving away from fossil fuels depends on tech like batteries and solar panels that can provide alternative forms of energy. But digging up the raw materials can undermine human rights and destroy fragile ecosystems. As governments and industries try to tackle climate change by building up renewable energy, they’ll need to consider other problems unearthed in the process. Continue reading

Another Look At Svalbard

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Melissa Schäfer

The seed vault has been covered in our pages so many times, that I thought I knew enough, and that plentitude made me almost skip this travel story. Having seen the Northern lights in my teen years, while working at a summer camp in Maine, with 40+ years perspective I can say with certainty that no travel experience comes close to that. I am a travel junky, and have had some profound travel experiences. Kelly McMasters makes me want to chase down that visual wonder that, try as I may, I cannot explain to anyone, and to combine it with some serious winter adventuring:

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Greeting the New Year In Earth’s Northernmost Settlement

In Svalbard, above the Arctic Circle, you can’t be born and you can’t be buried, but you can find renewal in the dark of winter.

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Melissa Schäfer

Few people have heard of Svalbard and even fewer have seen it. The isolated group of islands is an old mining settlement turned glacial adventuring outpost located 1,200 miles north of mainland Norway, one of the closest landmasses to the North Pole, along with Greenland and Nunavut. The approximately 2,200 inhabitants dotting the desolate tundra are itinerant, a mix of climate scientists, miners and globe-trotting explorers mostly from Russia, Scandinavia and Canada. There are more polar bears than people.

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The northern-most greenhouse dome in the world provides microgreens to a local restaurant. Melissa Schäfer

Historically, this archipelago was the isolated purview of turn-of-the-century airship explorers obsessed with finding the Northwest Passage; more recently Svalbard served as the fantastical setting for Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. Today, it is poised to be the next extreme vacation destination for tourists obsessed with climate change, wilderness and chasing the Northern Lights. Continue reading

Farms & Non-Farms For Our Future

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Critics note that flawed strategies have encouraged tree farms, such as this oil palm plantation in Costa Rica. SHUTTERSTOCK

Richard Conniff explains why tree farms, like the one pictured above, are not part of the solution to climate change, whereas abandoned ancient farms like the one picture below may be part of the solution:

Could Abandoned Agricultural Lands Help Save the Planet?

Agriculture’s global footprint is decreasing — more land globally is now being abandoned by farming than converted to it. This, some researchers contend, presents an opportunity for ecological restoration that could help fight climate change and stem the loss of biodiversity.

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The town of Castro Laboreiro, Portugal, where former grazing lands have reverted to nature. ANTONIO LOMBA/FLICKR

People have lived in Castro Laboreiro, where northern Portugal borders Spain, long enough to have built megaliths in the mountainous countryside and a pre-Romanesque church, from 1,100 years ago, in the village itself. But the old rural population has dwindled away, leaving behind mostly elders yearning for their vanishing culture. Continue reading

117 of 314 Bird Species, As Urban Murals

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Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

A couple years ago we linked to a story about urban murals and now, progress:

Where Birds Meet Art . . . After Dark

Greater Sage-Grouse by George Boorujy

Greater Sage-Grouse by George Boorujy
Location: 3920 Broadway, New York, NY 10032

The Audubon Mural Project is a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and Gitler &_____ Gallery to create murals of climate-threatened birds throughout John James Audubon’s old Harlem‐based neighborhood in New York City.

Pinyon Jay by Mary Lacy

Pinyon Jay by Mary Lacy
Location: 3668 Broadway, New York, NY 10032

The project is inspired by the legacy of the great American bird artist and pioneering ornithologist and is energized by Audubon’s groundbreaking report “Survival By Degrees.” Audubon’s scientists have found that climate change will threaten at least half of all North American birds with extinction, and that no bird will escape the impacts of climate-change-related hazards like increased wildfire and sea-level rise. The project commissions artists to paint murals to call attention to this problem, and it has been widely covered in the media, including The New York Times.

On the website where Audubon features these murals you can click through to see the individual stories of each, including lots of interesting species information:

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Clockwise from top left: Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, John James Audubon, depiction of Russell Lee’s 1941 photo of Chicago, Magnolia Warbler, James Lancaster’s hand, and Tree Swallow. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Endangered Harlem by Gaia

Location: 1883, 1885, and 1887 Amsterdam, New York, NY 10032 Continue reading

Dry Spells, Sparks Fly

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The dry cliffs of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe this week, during the area’s worst drought in a century, fuelling concerns about climate change. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

What can be done? What could we do differently? What must I do now that I was not doing before, or stop doing now that I was doing before? The photo above and the story below fit a pattern of alarm, in the way I have chosen to be alarmed in recent years. That choice fuels my commitments to find alternative ways of doing things. And sometimes sparks fly, in a good way. My appreciation to the Guardian for this information, disturbing though it is considering how important water falls have been to my thinking over the years:

Victoria Falls dries to a trickle after worst drought in a century

One of southern Africa’s biggest tourist attractions has seen an unprecedented decline this dry season, fuelling climate change fears

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A combination photo of water flowing down Victoria Falls (top) and during the current drought. Photograph: Reuters

For decades Victoria Falls, where southern Africa’s Zambezi river cascades down 100 metres into a gash in the earth, have drawn millions of holidaymakers to Zimbabwe and Zambia for their stunning views.

But the worst drought in a century has slowed the waterfalls to a trickle, fuelling fears that climate change could kill one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions.

While they typically slow down during the dry season, officials said this year had brought an unprecedented decline in water levels. Continue reading

A Home For Potato Knowhow

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 A selection of the thousands of native potato varieties that grow in Peru. Photograph: The International Potato Centre

Thanks to Dan Collyns (last seen in our pages in 2013), writing in the Guardian, for this:

How Peru’s potato museum could stave off world food crisis

Agri-park high in the Andes preserves the expertise to breed strains fit for a changing climate

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A worker picking potatoes high in the Andes. Photograph: The International Potato Centre

With a climate changing faster than most crops can adapt and food security under threat around the world, scientists have found hope in a living museum dedicated to a staple eaten by millions daily: the humble potato.

High in the Peruvian Andes, agronomists are looking to the ancestral knowledge of farmers to identify genetic strains which could help the tubers survive increasingly frequent and intense droughts, floods and frosts.

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 A selection of biofortified potatoes, grown to be higher in zinc and iron. Photograph: David Dudenhoeffer/The International Potato Centre

The Potato Park in Cusco is a 90 sq km (35 sq mile) expanse ranging from 3,400 to 4,900 metres (16,000 feet) above sea level. It has “maintained one of the highest diversities of native potatoes in the world, in a constant process of evolution,” says Alejandro Argumedo, the founder of Asociación Andes, an NGO which supports the park. Continue reading

Bill McKibben Does The New Math

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An oil field near McKittrick, California. DAVID MCNEW/GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Mr. McKibben, as always and to Yale e360 as the forum provided him, for more scientific evidence about the singular challenge facing all of us:

New Climate Math: The Numbers Keep Getting More Frightening

Scientists keep raising ever-louder alarms about the urgency of tackling climate change, but the world’s governments aren’t listening. Yet the latest numbers don’t lie: Nations now plan to keep producing more coal, oil, and gas than the planet can endure. Continue reading

Are We Willing To Do What It Takes?

Thanks to John R. Platt, by way of EcoWatch, for this:

Could inventing a better air conditioner help to save species from extinction?

It’s an idea so crazy it just might work — and it’s just one of many new and innovative conservation initiatives in development around the world to help stem the tide of biodiversity loss. Continue reading

Foods For Thought

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Composite: Alamy/Getty

Thanks to Clare Finney, writing for the Guardian, for a reminder, and some cases surprises, about foods we may love but should consider the consequences of:

To eat or not to eat: 10 of the world’s most controversial foods

From beef to cod to avocados to soya, many of our best-loved foods raise big ethical and environmental questions. What do the experts say?

Deforestation. Child labour. Pollution. Water shortages. The more we learn about the side-effects of food production, the more the act of feeding ourselves becomes fraught with anxiety. How can we be sure that certain foods are “good” or “bad” for society and the planet? As Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University of London and the co-author of Sustainable Diets, puts it: “When you come to ‘judge’ food, you end up with an enormous list of variables, from taste to health outcomes to biodiversity.” Here are some of today’s most controversial products – and some thoughts that may help you when shopping. Continue reading

The Word Is Out

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Oxford said the choice reflected the rise in climate awareness and the language we use to discuss it. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

These annual declarations are often silly, but even when silly they say something about what we are thinking and talking more about. This is not exactly good news, except that it beats the alternative (not thinking or talking about it):

Oxford Dictionaries declares ‘climate emergency’ the word of 2019

Usage of the term increased 100-fold in the space of 12 months, dictionary says

Oxford Dictionaries has declared “climate emergency” the word of the year for 2019, following a hundred-fold increase in usage that it says demonstrated a “greater immediacy” in the way we talk about the climate.

Defined as “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it”, Oxford said the words soared from “relative obscurity” to “one of the most prominent – and prominently debated – terms of 2019.” Continue reading

Bioacoustics & Conservation

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The AudioMoth recording device in New Forest National Park, in the U.K., where it is searching for sounds of the New Forest cicada. COURTESY OF ALEX ROGERS

Yale e360 shares more on the value of new recording technology as it relates to conservation:

Listening to Nature: The Emerging Field of Bioacoustics

Researchers are increasingly placing microphones in forests and other ecosystems to monitor birds, insects, frogs, and other animals. As the technology advances and becomes less costly, proponents argue, bioacoustics is poised to become an important remote-sensing tool for conservation.

Mitch Aide, a tropical ecologist based in Puerto Rico, thinks we should listen to the earth a lot more than we do now — and not just listen to it, but record and store its sounds on a massive scale. His aims are not spiritual, but scientific: He, his colleagues, and other experts are developing and deploying audio recorders, data transmission systems, and new artificial intelligence software that together are rapidly expanding scientists’ ability to understand ecosystems by listening to them.

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A 20-second spectrogram, showing various audio frequencies, from Puerto Rico includes the calls of these six species. COURTESY OF SIEVE ANALYTICS

Today, Aide can nail a cheap digital audio recorder to a tree in Puerto Rico’s Luquillo Forest and transmit its recordings to a computer running prototype software, which indicates almost in real time whether any of 25 species of frogs and birds are vocalizing in the forest. The system’s apparent simplicity belies its power – Aide thinks that it and similar systems will allow scientists to monitor ecosystems in ways we can’t yet imagine.

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A golden-browed chlorophonia (Chlorophonia callophrys) in Costa Rica. SHUTTERSTOCK

He dreams that one day soon, audio recordings of natural soundscapes will be like rainfall and temperature data, collected from a worldwide network of permanent stations, widely available for analysis, and permanently archived. Each clip will be “like a museum specimen,” he said, “but containing many species.” Aide says scientists will be able to efficiently determine how species are moving or changing in response to global warming, habitat destruction, or human disturbance, and chart population shifts over large areas. Continue reading

Moderating Methane

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Cristina Byvik

During June and July last year we were in residence on a dairy farm, and the prospective benefit of cows having seaweed added to their diet came to my attention. Today another briefing on this topic, from Rowan Walrath writing in Mother Jones, notifies me that this idea is making progress:

One day in January 2014, police rushed to a farm in Rasdorf, Germany, after flames burst from a barn. They soon discovered that static electricity had caused entrapped methane from the flatulence and manure of 90 dairy cows to explode.

Headline writers had a field day. But the incident pointed to a serious problem: Ruminant livestock, mostly cattle, account for 30 percent of all global methane emissions, pumping out 3 gigatons of the gas every year in their burps, farts, and manure. Methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas: During its 12-year lifespan after being released, it traps 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, and its effect on global warming over a century is 34 times that of CO2. According to the United Nations, reducing methane emissions from cows could be one of the quickest ways to slow climate change. Continue reading

Kate Marvel Has A Way With Words

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Image by Shifaaz Shamoon/Unsplash, Public Domain Dedication (CC0).

We Should Never Have Called It Earth

We should never have called it Earth. Three quarters of the planet’s surface is saltwater, and most of it does not lap at tranquil beaches for our amusement. The ocean is deep; things are lost at sea. Sometimes we throw them there: messages in bottles, the bodies of mutinous sailors, plastic bags of plastic debris. Our sewage.

She is a scientist who explains in language I understand, without dumbing it down too much, something as complex as climate change and its relationship to global warming. She is also funny. I found the blog post above after listening to her on this podcast, just to double check that she is consistently clear, profound and funny. She will be responsible for my staying tuned to this series: