Our thanks to the activists who take on the cause of endangered wild cats around the world, and to Fred Pearce and Yale e360 for bringing them to our attention:
Richard Conniff does not always have the answers, but he always asks the right questions:
Taxpayer-funded conservation initiatives on private land cost the U.S. public hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Yet information on where these lands are and how they are being protected often is not monitored or publicly available, raising questions about the programs’ effectiveness.
A few years ago, an environmental lawyer named Jessica Owley set out to learn how well it works when the federal government allows development in the habitat of an endangered species. Under the terms of these deals, introduced in the 1980s to mollify opponents of the Endangered Species Act, the developers provide mitigation, typically with a conservation easement on some other parcel of private land.
Owley focused on four California examples, out of the almost 700 so-called Habitat Conservation Plans (or HCPs) that now exist nationwide. She had a long list of questions, from “Where are the protected parcels?” to “How do endangered species fare in the face of these deals?”
“I ended up being stopped at the first question,” says Owley, now a professor at the University of Buffalo Law School. “It wasn’t just that I couldn’t find the HCP sites, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t know and couldn’t find them.” In one case, an HCP to protect the Mission blue butterfly outside San Francisco, nobody had even bothered to record the easement in municipal land records. Owley came away thinking that a lack of transparency is standard for conservation practices on private land — even when these practices are paid for by taxpayers and meant to serve a significant public interest. Continue reading
It’s an unfortunate truth that plastic is a serious problem in the world’s oceans, so every bit of progress addressing it is good news. Kudos to Mary Crowley and the volunteers at Ocean Voyages Institute for using simple technology to have such profound results.
Sausalito, CA – Ocean Voyages Institute, a nonprofit organization, announced today that it has successfully removed more than 40 tons of fishing nets and consumer plastics from the area known as the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, or more commonly known as the Pacific Gyre.
The sailing cargo ship, S/V KWAI, arrived in Honolulu today, having completed a 25-day clean up mission. In the Pacific, between California and Hawaii, four ocean currents converge to create a vortex that collects huge amounts of plastics. One sees detergent bottles, beer and soft drink crates, bleach and cleaning bottles, plastic furniture, packaging straps, buckets, children’s toys, and myriad types of plastic floating mid-ocean. This debris field covers vast expanses of ocean.
A prime target for OV Institute’s 2019 voyage was the fishing gear called “ghost nets.” Often weighing tons, these massive nets of nylon or polypropylene drift for decades, amassing plastic debris, ensnaring wildlife, and even entangling ships. An estimated 600,000 tons of this abandoned gear ends up in the oceans every year. According to the United Nations, some 380,000 marine mammals are killed every year by either ingesting or being caught in it.
“Satellite technology played a key role in our recovery effort, offering an innovative solution to finding areas of dense plastic pollution,” said Mary Crowley, Founder and Executive Director of OV Institute. “The nets and other debris are signs of the proliferating plastic pollution that poses threats to marine life, coastal environments, shipping, fisheries, wildlife and our health.” Continue reading
Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor, shares a report on the value of reforestation for carbon sequestration:
Research shows a trillion trees could be planted to capture huge amount of carbon dioxide
Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.
As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.
The analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy. Continue reading
We’ve written a great deal about the sobering truth of human created climate change lately; highlighting the difficult science of the increasingly limited options on how to avert worst case scenarios.
There’s something calming about this piece of animation by Sebastian Ramn that addressed climate change as nature’s SOS, reaching out to creative communities and NGOs who may be in search of ways to get involved in any way possible.
More information at natureneeds.help
People easily forget “last of” stories about individual species, but the loss of nature also threatens our existence.
The first documented extinction of 2019 occurred on New Year’s Day, with the death of a Hawaiian tree snail named George. George, who was about an inch long, had a grayish body, grayish tentacles, and a conical shell striped in beige and brown. He was born in captivity, in Honolulu, and had spent his unassuming life oozing around his terrarium, consuming fungi. Researchers with Hawaii’s forestry department had tried to find a partner for him—George was a hermaphrodite, but he needed a mate in order to reproduce—and when they couldn’t they concluded that he was the last of his kind, Achatinella apexfulva. A few days after he went, presumably gently, into that good night, the department posted a eulogy under the heading “farewell to a beloved snail . . . and a species.” “Unfortunately, he is survived by none,” it observed. Continue reading
Two luminaries on climate, in conversation:
The world has done little to tackle global warming since Bill McKibben’s landmark book on the subject was published in 1989. In ane360 interview, McKibben talks about the critical time lost and what can be done now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Three decades ago, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature, the first book on climate change aimed at a general audience. McKibben went on to found the international environmental group 350.org, help launch the fossil fuel divestment movement, and write a dozen more non-fiction books, as well as a novel. In 2014, McKibben received the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes referred to as the “alternative Nobel,” for mobilizing popular support for “strong action to counter the threat of global climate change.”
McKibben’s latest book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, was published this month and debuted last week on the New York Times bestseller list. In an interview with Yale Environment 360 , McKibben talks about why the critical time for action on climate was missed, where he still finds hope, and what the world will look like three decades from now.
“Thirty or 50 years out, the world’s going to run on sun and wind, because they’re free,” McKibben says. “The question is… what kind of world will it be?”
Yale Environment 360: It’s almost exactly 30 years since you published The End of Nature. One way to read that book is as a warning. How you would characterize Falter? Is it also a warning, or are we beyond that?
Bill McKibben: Look, 30 years ago this was all still prospective. You couldn’t really take a picture of climate change yet. Now, having wasted 30 years, we’re at the point where it’s a dominant fact of everyday life for hundreds of millions of people and promising to be the overwhelming fact of our time in the years ahead. It’s too late, obviously, to stop climate change. I hope that the book gets across that it may not be too late to keep it from getting absolutely out of control. It’s not a warning. It’s some combination of a report and a chronicle and a plea, I think. Continue reading
Thanks to Eliza Griswold, who writes about religion (which does not feature often in our pages) and occasionally finds an overlap with environmental causes:
On a crisp October morning in 2017, Sister Sara Dwyer, a sixty-eight-year-old nun wearing a red T-shirt that read “you will not spoil our land,” led three elderly nuns and seventy other protesters onto an industrial work site in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Many carried red banners stencilled with wheat sheaves. They were there to protest Williams, an Oklahoma-based pipeline company that was trying to build the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, a two-hundred-mile natural gas pipeline that would carry shale gas from fields in northeastern Pennsylvania to the coast, where the fuel could be shipped abroad. The company was trying to lay the line under a cornfield belonging to the nuns, and the sisters had decided to fight back, hoping that they might draw attention to the issue of climate change. “Just being in resistance is not the goal,” Dwyer told me. “The goal is spiritual conversion.” As the protesters entered the work site, Malinda Clatterbuck, who had helped plan the event with the sisters, reminded the participants, “This is a nonviolent protest in all ways. We’re not going to yell or speak to the workers.” She walked around asking each person to nod in agreement. “If you’re angry today, go home and come back to an action once you’re in a better place,” she said. Continue reading
Payal Mohta reported from Mumbai for this story in the Guardian that caught our attention with images of urban flamingos. An unusual beauty can be the result of a common problem. As it is important to understand nature in wilderness areas, which is our strong preference, it is also important to understand these man-made phenomena:
There is an air of anxious excitement among the urban professionals and tourists on board our 24-seater motorboat as we enter Thane Creek.
A chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” breaks out as we spot the visions in pink we came to see – hundreds of flamingos listlessly bobbing in the murky green water – followed by the furious clicking of cameras.
Then, almost as one, the birds skim the water and take off in sync. “They always stay together,” says Prathamesh Desai, who has been organising birding excursions in the city for seven years. “They are an extremely gregarious species.”…
That story continues after the jump below. First, thanks to National Public Radio (USA)’s Audrey Nguyen and Sarah Oliver for producing and bringing this story to our attention with this opening line (which goes on to credit the Guardian story as its source):
Around this time every year, tens of thousands of flamingos flock to Mumbai to feed. But this year, there are almost three times more than the normal amount in the city — about 120,000.
The reason for the influx is currently a mystery. But some scientists believe that pollution in the birds’ natural habitat might be one factor at play… Continue reading
Throughout the history of this site we’ve focussed on accentuating positive steps in conservation, while also pointing out the negative forces with the intention that knowledge is power that leads to action.
We applaud the UN Environment Assembly for pressing further into the remaining window of opportunity to restore ecosystem health.
The UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, is the world’s leading decision-making forum. From 11 to 15 March 2019, it will be considering how best to improve outcomes for people and planet. Ecosystems will be high up on the agenda.
The timing looks good. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, declared on 1 March 2019 by the UN General Assembly, aims to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems as a proven measure to fight climate change, and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity.
The degradation of land and marine ecosystems undermines the well-being of 3.2 billion people and costs about 10 per cent of the annual global gross domestic product in loss of species and ecosystems services. Key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against hazards and provision of habitat for species such as fish and pollinators, are declining rapidly.
Restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services and take an additional 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
UN Environment and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will lead implementation of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Continue reading
It takes the full 15 minutes of video above to fully appreciate what happened a few days ago. The soundbite 57 second version had me convinced that the senator was haughty and deserved to be schooled by these kids. But the full picture above, as often happens, provides better perspective, an attribute of little l liberalism. She was not quite the jerk I first thought.
There was a moment in time when a political slogan about something very important became a movement with potential; and then it seemed to disappear as quickly as it had appeared. That was my first exposure to political activism, and certainly not my last. But it provided an important lesson. Use the time you have on the stage wisely. I get reminded of this constantly in the last few years. This dispatch by Bill McKibben is what I take away from the moment these kids had in the spotlight:
Ivory Coast has lost more than 80 percent of its forests in the last 50 years, mainly to cocoa production. The government has a plan to turn over management of former forest to international chocolate manufacturers: Is it a conservation strategy or a land grab?
How can you save the last rainforests from rampant deforestation in one of Africa’s most biodiverse countries? A crackdown on those responsible — in this case, chocolate growers and traders? In the Ivory Coast, the government thinks differently. It is unveiling a plan instead to remove protection from most of its remaining forests and hand them over to the world’s chocolate traders. Is this madness, a brutal land grab, or the only way out?
In the past half-century, few countries have lost rainforests as fast as the Ivory Coast. More than 80 percent of its forests are gone, most following an illegal invasion by as many as a million landless people into national parks and other supposedly protected forests. The Marahoue National Park alone has 30,000 illegal inhabitants. The invaders are growing cocoa to supply the global chocolate business.
The Ivory Coast, a West African country the size of New Mexico, produces more than a third of the world’s cocoa. The crop contributes around a tenth of the nation’s GDP. But around 40 percent of the country’s cocoa crop — more than a tenth of the world’s chocolate bars — is grown illegally in the country’s national parks and 230 supposedly protected government-owned forests, known as forêts classée, says Etelle Higonnet of Mighty Earth, a United States-based environmental group active in cataloging the footprint of key global commodities.
Most cocoa is grown in monocultures of what is known as the full-sun system, requiring the removal of all surrounding trees. Meeting the world’s insatiable demand for the beans that make chocolate has resulted in many protected areas being “completely converted to farms,” according to Eloi Anderson Bitty of the University Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan. Continue reading
Emergency? The evidence is clear in the case of the environment, and it is a global emergency with a global solution. Thanks to Yale e360 for this summary of a new finding:
There is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new analysis by ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university. Continue reading
When I started my Saturday morning reading it was just prior to our weekly visit to the farmer’s market and there was visual resonance with our own experience eliminating, or trying to eliminate plastic:
Going plastic free starts with cloth bags and straws. Suddenly, you’re … making your own toothpaste?
Like most people, resonance is always welcome in my reading. But like a second cup of coffee to really get the day going, there is nothing like cognitive dissonance. I can think eliminating plastic from our lives is a big deal one moment, and then the next it is clear that it is not enough, that it is like tinkering. Or as the punchy cliche puts it, like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. David Wallace-Wells is a skilled dissonance artist in this vein. He can make your best efforts suddenly seem pathetic; not in a snarky way and if you listen to him explain his work you will realize resistance is futile; you cannot look away from what he is saying, even if you want to.
His book will not likely be damned by faint praise; its look at our future prospects will more likely draw extreme responses in favor of the intensity of his alarm, and claims of alarmism from the usual suspects. He is catching up to Elizabeth Kolbert in balancing our preference for optimism with extreme realism. His op-ed on Saturday tipped the balance for me quite like a second, maybe third cup of coffee:
The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.
We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization. Continue reading
When the first couple of stories about the Colorado River ran in Yale e360, it was difficult to imagine how much more there might be to say about it. But now the last article in the series, Restoring the Colorado: Bringing New Life to a Stressed River, provides an example of saving the best for last:
The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.
From the air, the last gasp of the Colorado River is sudden and dramatic. The pale green river flows smack into the Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border, and virtually all of it is immediately diverted into a large irrigation canal that waters a mosaic of hundreds of fields — alfalfa, asparagus, lettuce, and other vegetables, their vivid green color clashing against the sere desert. The slender thread of water that remains in the Colorado’s channel continues to flow south, but is soon swallowed up by a sea of sand, far short of its delta, which lies 100 miles farther on.
The Colorado River once surged through the delta during high flows, carrying so much water at times that shallow draft steamboats chugged hundreds of miles up the river into the U.S. with loads of freight. The water in the delta nourished a vast fertile landscape, a fitting end to a river known as the Nile of North America.
“The river was everywhere and nowhere,” the naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote during a 1922 canoe trip to the delta, describing the waterway as it ebbed, flowed, braided, and stalled into pools, nourishing a rich and diverse ecosystem of “a hundred green lagoons,” a “milk and honey wilderness” with thick stands of cottonwoods and willows that provided habitat for hundreds of species of birds. The delta’s marshes, mudflats, and white sand beaches were home to clapper rails, bitterns, mallards, teal, and clouds of egrets.
Bobcats, puma, deer, and wild boar wandered the delta’s forests. Leopold was searching for the jaguar that roamed there, but didn’t see any. Continue reading
At a time when the current administration and it’s legislative supporters are busy dismantling the environmental protections that have been painstakingly developed for over half a century, this bipartisan achievement is surprising, and heartening news.
The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping public lands conservation bill, designating more than one million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures.
The Senate voted 92 to 8 in favor of the bill, offering a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber and a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when the Trump administration is working aggressively to strip away protections on public lands and open them to mining and drilling.
“It touches every state, features the input of a wide coalition of our colleagues, and has earned the support of a broad, diverse coalition of many advocates for public lands, economic development, and conservation,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the majority leader.
Western lawmakers of both parties have been working for four years on the bill, which will next be taken up by the House of Representatives, where it also enjoys bipartisan support.
“This package gives our country a million acres of new wilderness, protects a million acres of public lands from future mining, permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and balances conservation and recreation for the long term,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House Natural Resources Committee. “It’s one of the biggest bipartisan wins for this country I’ve ever seen in Congress.” Continue reading
Thanks to Yale e360, with this headline below I found my way to the video above and the website where the video is hosted:
Reading further, I sensed that Yale e360 was being a bit polite saying “thousands” — more than 50,000 balls have already been extracted over two years. The article linked to National Public Radio’s coverage of the same story, with this slightly more aggressive headline:
During my PhD years I got to be reasonably competent at the game of golf. I can say I even loved the game. One odd bi-product of my dissertation was that I learned of the perils to the planet from out of control golf course development. Then I felt compelled to give up the game. (I did play a bunch during the mid-1990s, in Costa Rica, as I slowly learned of those perils.) Recently I found the clubs I used to play with, and the shoes, while cleaning out a store room in Costa Rica. I left them there.
To this day I have some close friends who play golf. I never comment on this topic in front of them, because my message is easily misconstrued. I am not against all golf. I just think there are more than enough courses already built on this planet. A moratorium on building more would make me happy. My friends already have more than enough courses to play on. Anyway, this topic is of interest now for a new, very specific reason. And it comes as a bit of a surprise what a big problem golf balls are in the ocean. The website of the organization that is featured in both articles can be reached by clicking the image below:
I remember advertisements from not that long ago that encouraged you to daydream about hitting balls endlessly into the ocean from cruise ship voyages with golf tees on the back of the ship. At first I thought maybe that kind of weird pleasure was the culprit, considering all the other dirty outcomes of cruising. But it’s complicated, as I learned from The Plastic Pickup website:
In the spring of 2016, my dad (Mike Weber) and I (Alex Weber) were freediving along the central coast of California in the shallow waters adjacent to the Pebble Beach golf course, when we came across a discovery that had never been reported before. Thousands of golf balls blanketed the seafloor, and inhabited nearly every crack and crevice in the underwater and onshore environment. The overabundance of inorganic materials was overwhelming but for a second it did not phase us. As we began diving to the bottom to collect the balls, we realized what perfect freediving training it was and the whole operation felt like a fun game; we were having a blast. But soon, the enormity and vast scale of the pollution set in and it made me feel sick to my stomach. To preface this day, for a few years prior I had been spending at least an hour a day down at the beach collecting microplastics and nurdles after heavy storms would wash them ashore. As a kid I was raised in the sea, boogie boarding everyday after school in kindergarten, scuba diving as soon as I was allowed to, and spending each summer day swimming offshore to hang out with dolphins and swim through giant kelp forests. To me the ocean was a peaceful home as well as my favorite teacher, so the discovery of such a large scale underwater plastic problem both shocked me and also captivated my curiosity. What began as a day of freediving resulted in a project that has changed my life ever since.
The next dive-able day, we were underwater early in the morning equipped with mesh bags and a new diver, Jack Johnston. Jack and I had been long time friends since middle school, and spent all our time together either underwater or on mountains, so he didn’t need much convincing to come along. Jack’s reaction was similar to mine, but his wildly curious mind helped him stay positive and motivated. That day we collected nearly 2,000 golf balls which was just the start of what grew into The Plastic Pick-Up. As we continued diving, we were not only collecting golf balls, but data too…
Thanks to Jim Robbins and Yale e360 for this second installment, and especially to Ted Wood for photography as visually compelling as the implication of the story:
CRISIS ON THE COLORADO: PART II
With the Southwest locked in a 19-year drought and climate change making the region increasingly drier, water managers and users along the Colorado River are facing a troubling question: Are we in a new, more arid era when there will never be enough water?
In the basement of the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, the fragrant smell of pine hangs in the air as researchers comb through the stacks of tree slabs to find a round, 2-inch-thick piece of Douglas fir.
They point out an anomaly in the slab — an unusually wide set of rings that represent the years 1905 to 1922. Those rings mean it was a pluvial period — precipitation was well above average — and so the trees grew far more than other years.
“In 1905, the gates opened and it was very wet and stayed very wet until the 1920s,” said David Meko, a hydrologist at the lab who studies past climate and stream flow based on tree rings. “It guided their planning and how much water they thought was available.”
The planning was that of the states that share the water of the Colorado River. Worried that a burgeoning California would take most of the water before it was fairly divvied up, representatives from the other Colorado River Basin states, presided over by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, came together in 1922 to develop an equitable apportionment. They looked at flow measurements and figured that the river contained an average of 15 million acre-feet. They divided the Colorado River states into two divisions – the upper basin and the lower basin, with the dividing line in northern Arizona near the Utah border. The upper basin states — Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico — agreed not to take more than a total of 7.5 million acre-feet and to allow the other half to flow south to the lower basin. The agreement they signed was called the 1922 Colorado River Compact, also known as the Law of the River. Continue reading
Thanks to the Guardian for the latest story in this series. We have avoided adding our voice to the many rightly concerned about the radically pro-extraction, carbon-freewheeling policies of the United States since early 2017. The concern is loud and widespread. We have listened. Today, reading this story, I pictured a naughty boy, a bully, getting away with bad behavior for an extended period. Any period of bad boy behavior is intolerable but it happens. Until it is no longer tolerated. Which eventually always happens. And that may be the best stand-in for optimism these days:
Exclusive: a new study reveals the vast extent of public lands being opened up to the energy industry. The Guardian heard from three communities on the frontlines
by Charlotte Simmonds, Gloria Dickie and Jen Byers
In the great expanses of the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument, the silence hits you first. Minutes pass, smooth and unbroken as glass. The smallest sound – a breath of wind, a falling rock – can seem as loud as passing traffic.
Colter Hoyt knows this landscape well. As an outdoor guide, he walks the monument almost daily. Yet these days he is full of fear. This remote paradise of red rocks, slot canyons and towering plateaus faces an uncertain future, following a controversial presidential proclamation that removed 800,000 acres from the monument and opened land up for potential energy development.
When Trump took office in 2016, he promised the energy industry a new era of “American energy dominance”. This would only be possible by exploiting America’s 640m acres of public land: mountains, deserts, forests and sites of Native American history that cover more than a quarter of the country. Continue reading
WASHINGTON — If the world hopes to make meaningful progress on climate change, it won’t be enough for cars and factories to get cleaner. Our cows and wheat fields will have to become radically more efficient, too.
That’s the basic conclusion of a sweeping new study issued Wednesday by the World Resources Institute, an environmental group. The report warns that the world’s agricultural system will need drastic changes in the next few decades in order to feed billions more people without triggering a climate catastrophe.
The challenge is daunting: Agriculture already occupies roughly 40 percent of the world’s land and is responsible for about a quarter of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. But with the global population expected to grow from 7.2 billion people today to nearly 10 billion by 2050, and with many millions of people eating more meat as incomes rise, that environmental impact is on pace to expand dramatically. Continue reading