As negotiators from around the world gathered in Poland to discuss how to lower carbon emissions, the Trump Administration unveiled two schemes promoting fossil fuels.
Last week, representatives from around the world gathered to begin another round of climate negotiations in Katowice, a city in the heart of Poland’s coal-mining country. Delegates arriving at the meeting, known in United Nations-speak as a Conference of the Parties, or cop, were treated to an outdoor performance by a Polish coal miners’ band. Inside the convention pavilions, they found mounds of coal displayed behind glass, like objets d’art, as well as arrangements of coal-based cosmetics and coal-encrusted jewelry. Poland gets about eighty per cent of its electricity from coal, the most carbon-intensive of carbon-based fuels, and the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, noted in his opening remarks that the country had enough as yet unmined supplies to last another two centuries. “It would be hard not to use them,” he said.
Depending on how you look at things, a coal-stuffed climate summit is either completely absurd—“beyond parody,” as one commentator put it—or merely appropriate. With each passing month, the threat posed by global warming grows clearer. And so, too, does the world’s failure to take that threat seriously. “We are in trouble,” the United Nations’ Secretary-General, António Guterres, said at the cop’s opening session. “It is hard to comprehend why we are collectively still moving too slowly—and even in the wrong direction.” 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
Our work has required occasional philosophical reflection to get our bearings on the choices we have made on how to approach conservation. Share approaches such as the duck farming mentioned here, or the coffee farming mentioned here are equally as common as the spare approaches in our practice. I had not encountered these two terms until now, so thanks to Fred Pearce for this expansion of my vocabulary:
What is the best way to save nature – to cordon off areas for parks and open space or to integrate conservation measures on working lands? Recent research makes a case for each of these approaches and has reignited a long-standing debate among scientists and conservationists.
It is one of the biggest questions in conservation: Should we be sharing our landscapes with nature by reviving small woodlands and adopting small-scale eco-friendly farming? Or should we instead be sparing large tracts of land for nature’s exclusive use – by creating more national parks and industrializing agriculture on existing farmland?
The argument between “sparing” and “sharing” as a conservation tool has been raging since researchers first coined the terms more than a decade ago. Arguably it began almost half a century before when Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution of high-yielding crop varieties, declared that “by producing more food per unit of cultivated area, more land would be available for other uses, including recreation and wildlife.”
E.O. Wilson’s 2016 book Half-Earth upped the ante by calling for us to extend protected areas from the current 15 percent of the earth’s land surface to 50 percent. Research studies and critiques have flourished on both sides. Continue reading
Brooke Jarvis has written a longform feature article with the word apocalypse in the title, which may make you wince and turn away. As might the word insect, even if you find the illustration above mesmerizing as I do. And reading to the end is an investment in time. But do not turn away just because the illustration below is alarming. It is another alarming topic we are responsible for taking account of.
Sune Boye Riis was on a bike ride with his youngest son, enjoying the sun slanting over the fields and woodlands near their home north of Copenhagen, when it suddenly occurred to him that something about the experience was amiss. Specifically, something was missing.
It was summer. He was out in the country, moving fast. But strangely, he wasn’t eating any bugs.
For a moment, Riis was transported to his childhood on the Danish island of Lolland, in the Baltic Sea. Back then, summer bike rides meant closing his mouth to cruise through thick clouds of insects, but inevitably he swallowed some anyway. When his parents took him driving, he remembered, the car’s windshield was frequently so smeared with insect carcasses that you almost couldn’t see through it. But all that seemed distant now. He couldn’t recall the last time he needed to wash bugs from his windshield; he even wondered, vaguely, whether car manufacturers had invented some fancy new coating to keep off insects. But this absence, he now realized with some alarm, seemed to be all around him. Where had all those insects gone? And when? And why hadn’t he noticed? Continue reading
I was not aware that Elizabeth Kolbert has been writing for Yale e360 for the entire time we have been linking to her New Yorker work on this platform. And then some, because she started publishing there ten years ago. This is her 17th publication for Yale e360 and it can help a layperson understand in a relatively short read whether technology has any chance of accelerating our progress on climate change mitigation:
A U.S. scientific panel reports that technologies that take CO2 out of the atmosphere could be a significant part of a strategy to mitigate global warming. In an e360 interview, Stephen Pacala, the panel’s chairman, discusses how these fast-developing technologies are becoming increasingly viable.
Is there still time to avoid runaway climate change? To a large degree, the answer depends on the feasibility of “negative emissions” — techniques or technologies that suck CO2 out of the air. In the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), all scenarios for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius depend on negative emissions technologies, or NETs. Most 2-degree scenarios also rely on negative emissions; many call for removing billions of tons of CO2 per year by mid-century.
Yet most NETs remain either untested or unproved. To help bridge this gap, the National Academies convened a panel of scientists and asked it to propose a research agenda. The panel considered several possible techniques, ranging from the low-tech — planting more trees — to the high-tech — developing machines to scrub CO2 from the sky. It also looked at a hybrid technology that has become known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. The panel recommended several billion dollars be directed to research on NETs. Such technologies, it suggested, ought to be viewed as a “component of the mitigation portfolio,” rather than as a futuristic, last-ditch effort to reduce atmospheric CO2.
Stephen Pacala, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, chaired the panel. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about why NETs are needed, what should be done to advance them, and why he believes that “direct air capture” technologies could come into widespread use within the next decade. Continue reading
Posts like this one tend to not fare as well with readers visiting our platform. Whoever makes their way here is normally looking for what we normally offer, stories about entrepreneurial conservation. Which we believe can be a winning formula for the challenges at hand. But from time to time, we must acknowledge that the odds look grim.
Two articles, both very well written, about the report warning of the dangers of climate change to the US economy, note that the report is not likely to have much impact. Because of Black Friday? No, because the forces behind willful ignorance have been at it for a long time, with plentiful resources to strengthen their game. This cartoon says more in fewer words than either article on why. Nathaniel Rich’s short essay, dark and stark and alarming, is akin. Bill McKibben, though, once again hits the nail squarely and firmly, and more effectively than news, because of his trench-based perspective:
With wildfires, heat waves, and rising sea levels, large tracts of the earth are at risk of becoming uninhabitable. But the fossil-fuel industry continues its assault on the facts.
Thirty years ago, this magazine published “The End of Nature,” a long article about what we then called the greenhouse effect. I was in my twenties when I wrote it, and out on an intellectual limb: climate science was still young. But the data were persuasive, and freighted with sadness. We were spewing so much carbon into the atmosphere that nature was no longer a force beyond our influence—and humanity, with its capacity for industry and heedlessness, had come to affect every cubic metre of the planet’s air, every inch of its surface, every drop of its water. Scientists underlined this notion a decade later when they began referring to our era as the Anthropocene, the world made by man.
I was frightened by my reporting, but, at the time, it seemed likely that we’d try as a society to prevent the worst from happening. Continue reading
My only wish is to have been able to share this earlier, during the exhibition’s run. But better late than never.
Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for another fresh dose of creative rational thinking, with her short piece Ask a Scientist: How to Deal with a Climate-Change Skeptic:
Trust, a kind of social glue, keeps us from having to think nonstop about worst case scenarios. We trust that those with authority, whether intellectual or political, will use it responsibly. Thinking about this recently, I have been adjusting where I have least and greatest trust that responsible environmental actions are taken. Today I have made an adjustment on the former. The USA’s political leadership has been at the forefront of my thought when it comes to least responsible, least trustworthy actions. Philip Fearnside, an ecologist at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA) in Brazil, studies the consequences of deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest, so his word carries scientific weight for me. He has put in perspective why I should turn my attention to Brazil:
Thanks to Lisa Cox, the Guardian’s Australia correspondent for environment, for this:
This is more science-y than is our custom, but Nature magazine has been appreciated on this platform as a source of intriguing findings about creatures from time to time, so here goes:
Elaborate video system tracks how pigment cells controlled by neurons generate complex patterns of camouflage.
Cuttlefish are masters at altering their appearance to blend into their surroundings. But the cephalopods can no longer hide their inner thoughts, thanks to a technique that infers a cuttlefish’s brain activity by tracking the ever-changing patterns on its skin. The findings, published in Nature on 17 October1, could help researchers to better understand how the brain controls behaviour.
The cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) camouflages itself by contracting the muscles around tiny, coloured skin cells called chromatophores. The cells come in several colours and act as pixels across the cuttlefish’s body, changing their size to alter the pattern on the animal’s skin.
The cuttlefish doesn’t always conjure up an exact match for its background. It can also blanket itself in stripes, rings, mottles or other complex patterns to make itself less noticeable to predators. “On any background, especially a coral reef, it can’t look like a thousand things,” says Roger Hanlon, a cephalopod biologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “Camouflage is about deceiving the visual system.” Continue reading
The latest UN report on climate says reducing deforestation is crucial to slowing global warming. But researchers must first reconcile two contradictory sets of statistics on tree loss in order to determine whether promises made by nations to protect and restore forests are on target.
The world is losing trees faster than ever. An area the size of Italy disappeared last year. Or did it? New research suggests three-quarters of those lost forests may already be regrowing. That hardly means we are out of the woods. Fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity still needs a global campaign to reforest the planet. But it does suggest that, given the chance, nature will do much of the work. Continue reading
Deniers, we already know you will find a way to see this from some other perspective, and we have given up trying to understand why you do that. But for everyone else, there is still time to understand the implications of this science. And there is no shame in using props to help learn. Thanks to Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich for making sure we get the point, with clear graphical illustration, about what this recent study is saying and why every one of us should care:
Extreme heat will be much more common worldwide under 2°C of warming compared to 1.5°C, with the tropics experiencing the biggest increase in the number of “highly unusual” hot days.
Read the rest of this graphics-rich story here.
Two years of working in southern Chile taught me just enough about the complexity of this particular issue (among the many complex issues in our practice)to appreciate the article below by Emma Marris, who we already knew to be provocative, enough that she could challenge Bill McKibben two minutes into her TED talk, and does so convincingly. The primary reason I appreciate this article, is the same reason this platform has showcased the best of this genre of writers over the years. Scientists, translated into regular language we non-scientists can understand:
Invasive species are sometimes trapped, poisoned, and shot in large numbers to save native species from extinction. Some scientists say the bloodshed isn’t worth it.
The desert of south-central Australia is crenellated with sandstone hills in shades of ivory, crimson, and apricot. The ground is littered with dead trees and tree limbs, big hunks of transparent mica, dried cow dung, and thousands of stone spearheads and blades made by the Aboriginal people who lived here for tens of thousands of years—and live here still. Around the few water holes are the doglike tracks of dingoes, wild canines that were brought to Australia thousands of years ago and are now the country’s top predators.
I have come to the Evelyn Downs ranch, on the famously remote highway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, to meet Arian Wallach, a conservationist who thinks there is too much killing in conservation. Wallach has come to this massive 888-square-mile ranch because it is one of the few places in Australia where people aren’t actively killing wild animals. Tough, outback Herefords share the landscape with kangaroos, wild horses, wild donkeys, camels, emus, cats, foxes, native rodents, dingoes, and very large antediluvian-looking reptiles called perenties. Of the animals on this list, dingoes, cats, foxes, horses, camels, and donkeys are all killed in large numbers throughout Australia—but not here. Wallach has convinced the owners to experiment with a more hands-off approach. Continue reading
High in the Andes Mountains in Colombia, a reforestation project led by SavingSpecies works to protect one of the world’s most renowned bio hot spots.
WESTERN ANDES CLOUD FOREST, Colombia — Just before sunrise on a crisp summer morning high in a rain forest in Colombia’s Western Andes, the renowned ecologist Stuart Pimm gathered his research team over breakfast and made final plans for that morning’s journey to install motion-sensor cameras to monitor hummingbirds.
In just a few hours, the installations would be done by Andrea Kolarova, 20, who was here with other students from Duke University, where Dr. Pimm holds the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation. She was getting some advice from him and from Luis Mazariegos, founder of the Hummingbird Conservancy of Colombia.
My daughter, Alexandra, 11, a student at Saxe Middle School in New Canaan, Conn., had also been invited to participate in the Colombia project, which is how I found myself for two weeks this summer living in a cabin in this remote mountainous territory. Although not far from the town of Jardin, which is about two and a half hours from Medellin, it takes a slightly harrowing hourlong ride in an ATV along a dirt switchback road to get here.
Ms. Kolarova’s hummingbird research will be used by Dr. Pimm’s organization, SavingSpecies, which he founded in 2007 to combat global warming using money he was awarded as a recipient of the Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences a year earlier. SavingSpecies works with local organizations around the world to buy land with the goal of restoring forests that have been destroyed, often because of logging, agricultural expansion, mining and oil extraction, and protecting the species that are under threat as a result.
Thanks to Ed Yong for this:
Scientists have finally confirmed that a weird ribbed oval called Dickinsonia is an animal.
While it sits in place, petrifying, waiting, the world around it changes. The Earth’s landmasses merge into a single supercontinent before going their separate ways. In the ocean, animal life explodes; for the first time, the world is home to eyes, shells, and mouths. Living things invade the land, coating it first in thin films of moss and lichens, and then covering it in huge forests. Insects rise, into existence, and then into the skies. A dinosaur empire rises and falls. Mammals finally take over, and one of them—a human by the name of Ilya Bobrovskiy—finally unearths the fossilized ribbed oval from its resting place. Continue reading
Thanks to JoAnna Klein a regular contributor for The New York Times Trilobites feature, for this:
By dosing the tentacled creatures with MDMA, researchers found they share parts of an ancient messaging system involved in social behaviors with humans.
Though interactive, they’re generally asocial, and temperamental, with unique behavior patterns, like those shown by Otto, who caused blackouts at a German aquarium and Inky, who famously escaped a tank in New Zealand.They learn through experience and observation, forming lasting memories with brain-like bundles of hundreds of millions of neurons in each arm and a centralized bundle in the middle.
A desire to understand the evolutionary underpinnings of this brain power led scientists to give octopuses ecstasy. Yes ecstasy — molly, E, MDMA, the party drug, which in humans reduces fear and inhibition, induces feelings of empathy, distorts time and helps people dance to electronic music all night. Continue reading
Alan Taylor, who compiles and edits the news photo blog “In Focus” for the Atlantic, shares 21 spectacular images with captions that help even a lay person understand better the science of climate change:
Earlier this year, Lucas Jackson, a photographer with Reuters, joined a team of scientists affiliated with a NASA project named Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) and traveled with it to the Greenland ice sheet and fjords. Jackson photographed the researchers as they set up their scientific equipment and took readings to help understand the ongoing impact of the melting glaciers and map out what to expect in the future. Jackson says: “For both journalists and scientists, climate change is difficult to document. It most often happens imperceptibly—a tenth of a degree increase in temperature, a few less inches of rain, a slowly melting ice sheet.” Continue reading
Thanks to James Gorman for the latest examination of animal intelligence:
Chalk up another achievement for parrots, with an odd twist that raises questions about whether the experimenters or the birds know best.
Anastasia Krasheninnikova and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany tested four species of parrots in an experiment that required trading tokens for food and recently reported their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.
Would the birds resist an immediate reward to trade for something better? Many species have shown the ability to hold off on an immediate treat — like a dry corn kernel — for something tastier later on, like a bit of walnut. Continue reading