Coronavirus Holds Key Lessons on How to Fight Climate Change

Coronavirus Holds Key Lessons on How to Fight Climate Change

When the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, societies may adopt some important measures that would lower emissions, from more teleconferencing to shortening global supply chains. But the most lasting lesson may be what the coronavirus teaches us about the urgency of taking swift action.

A frightening new threat cascades around the world, upending familiar routines, disrupting the global economy, and endangering lives. Scientists long warned this might happen, but political leaders mostly ignored them, so now must scramble to respond to a crisis they could have prevented, or at least eased, had they acted sooner.

The coronavirus pandemic and the slower-moving dangers of climate change parallel one another in important ways, and experts say the aggressive, if belated, response to the outbreak could hold lessons for those urging climate action. And while the dip in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the sharp drop in travel and other economic activity is likely to rebound once the pandemic passes, some carbon footprint-shrinking changes that the spread of COVID-19 is prompting could prove more lasting.

Both the pandemic and the climate crisis are problems of exponential growth against a limited capacity to cope, said Elizabeth Sawin, co-director of Climate Interactive, a think tank. In the case of the virus, the danger is the number of infected people overwhelming health care systems; with climate change, it is that emissions growth will overwhelm our ability to manage consequences such as droughts, floods, wildfires, and other extreme events, she said.

With entire nations all but shutting down in hopes of slowing the viral spread, “the public is coming to understand that in that kind of situation you have to act in a way that looks disproportionate to what the current reality is, because you have to react to where that exponential growth will take you,” she said. “You look out the window and it doesn’t look like a pandemic, it looks like a nice spring day. But you have to close down all the restaurants, the schools.”

The virus has shown that if you wait until you can see the impact,
it is too late to stop it.

While the disease is playing out more quickly than the effects of global warming, the principle is the same, she said: If you wait until you can see the impact, it is too late to stop it.

“COVID-19 is climate on warp speed,” said Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University and co-author of Climate Shock. “Everything with climate is decades; here it’s days. Climate is centuries; here it’s weeks.”

Governments’ responses have morphed almost as fast as the threat. French President Emmanuel Macron ordered all non-essential businesses to close barely a week after spending an evening at the theater with his wife. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made similarly abrupt shifts, and President Trump pivoted from downplaying the virus’s dangers to backing measures that had seemed unimaginable shortly before.

“We are watching our political leaders learn these lessons live on TV, within days,“ Wagner said. “That’s a learning curve we have never seen with anything, at least not in my lifetime.”

Now, he said, politicians who have grasped the terrifying power of compounding growth must apply that new understanding to the climate.

And as with the coronavirus, said Wagner, climate policies must push everyone to take heed of the costs their actions — whether disease exposure or carbon emissions — impose on others. “It’s all about somebody else stepping in and forcing us to internalize the externality, which means don’t rely on parents to take their kids out of school, close the school,” he said. “Don’t rely on companies or workers to stay home or tell their people to stay home, force them to do so or pay them to do so, but make sure it happens. And of course that’s the role of government.”

Stimulus measures aimed at easing COVID-19’s economic shock could aim to drive emissions reductions too, by funding low-carbon infrastructure or offering online training for green-economy jobs to newly unemployed workers stuck at home, Sawin said. Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency, last week similarly urged governments and international financial institutions to incorporate climate action into their stimulus efforts by funding investment in clean power, battery storage, and carbon capture technology.

In Sawin’s view, the pandemic’s multi-layered impact supports an argument U.S. Green New Deal backers have been making: Tackling our biggest problems in tandem may be more effective than taking them on one at a time. Just as those without sick leave may spread the virus because they must work while infected, unaffordable child care and an employer-based health insurance system can rob people of the flexibility to relocate for jobs in growing industries like clean power, she said. “People are starting to understand that to have a whole society shift behavior really quickly, you need to support everyone,” Sawin said. “A social safety net reduces the friction of change.”

Another parallel between the two crises is that we could have headed them off, said Michele Wucker, author of The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore. The book’s title is the metaphor Wucker uses for a high-probability, high-impact event, a counterpoint to the popular idea of a black swan, the term writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined for a very unlikely but highly damaging event that is by its nature hard to foresee.

Voters reward politicians for fixing problems,
but rarely for preventing them.

Both viral spread and climate change are gray rhinos, Wucker said — “the 2-ton thing that’s coming at you, and most of the time we downplay it or neglect it. We kind of miss the obvious.”

The Trump administration, which has aggressively rolled back measures meant to reduce carbon emissions, also axed the National Security Council’s global health security office and sought to cut funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, like many other countries, the United States did little to ramp up coronavirus preparations even as the disease ravaged China.

Wucker said there were political, structural, and psychological reasons for such inaction. “Heading off a risk is risky in and of itself,” she said. “People are afraid of doing the wrong thing,” more than they are of doing nothing. Voters reward politicians for fixing problems, but rarely for preventing them, giving leaders incentive to kick knotty issues down the road.

And powerful interests are vested in maintaining the status quo, she pointed out. That dynamic has been central to the global failure to act on climate, with the fossil fuel industry funding a decades-long effort to cast doubt on climate science, and lobbying to thwart changes that would threaten its profits.

In the case of COVID-19, while some have sought to deny the seriousness of the coronavirus, people and governments have mostly been far quicker to appreciate its danger. That may in part be because we are instinctually more frightened of disease than of climate threats that many people struggle to envision, Sawin said.

More importantly, though, “one of the richest industries in human history [fossil fuels] isn’t trying to prevent people from understanding” the coronavirus, she said.

The global response to COVID-19 — a near halt in international aviation, factories closing in China and elsewhere, a panicked scramble to enable remote work — will almost certainly bring a downward blip in carbon emissions.

But such changes are likely to be temporary, with emissions from driving, for example, expected to bounce back as soon as people return to workplaces. If many grow fearful of public transportation, commuting’s carbon footprint might even rise further, experts say.

But some new behaviors could outlast the pandemic, including carbon-cutting shifts climate activists have sought for years. The changes most likely to stick in such a crisis are those that were already underway before it hit, said Amy Myers Jaffe, director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The question is what trends were out there that could now happen faster,” she said. At the top of the list, Jaffe believes, is a fall in business travel, as big companies realize video meetings can often accomplish as much as in-person ones.

Similarly, she said, the pandemic may hasten a flattening, or even reversal, in the growth of international trade, which began to slow in 2019 because of tensions over tariffs. “Now, of course, it’s really crashing,” Jaffe said. If virus-induced shutdowns or border closings create shortages of drugs, medical equipment, or other essential items, many nations and companies may be anxious to reduce their vulnerability to highly globalized supply networks. “If we shrink supply chains, if countries are going to produce more of their own goods, I think that is structurally going to reduce oil demand” and shrink shipping’s carbon footprint, she said.

A shift toward remote working may also be here to stay,
with some companies abandoning offices altogether.

A shift toward remote working may also be here to stay, said Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard Business School. And it doesn’t just mean workers logging on from home in the same city as their company. It offers the freedom to work from anywhere — in a small town with a lower cost of living, for example, or wherever a spouse’s job is, he said. Some companies and organizations have gone completely virtual, abandoning offices altogether.

“There’s a lot of latent demand” among workers for such arrangements, and companies may welcome the change as they realize they can save money by maintaining smaller offices, or none at all, Choudhury said.

Those workplace changes may bring real emission reductions, but Sawin said the pandemic’s most important climate impact could come from people applying the lessons the coronavirus teaches about the urgency of swift action.

When the outbreak finally ends, “if we can tell that story of what we just went through and help people understand that this is an accelerated version of another story we’re going through that has the same plot structure but a different timeline, that could be transformative,” she said.

No one could celebrate a disease spreading so much fear and suffering, Sawin emphasized, but with the losses inflicted by the coronavirus sure to mount, “maybe there’s a kind of honoring of that, to at least take what we learn and put it to good use.”

Original source: https://e360.yale.edu

Kenya’s only female white giraffe and her calf are killed by poachers

Kenya’s only female white giraffe and her calf are killed by poachers


Kenya’s only female white giraffe and her calf have been killed by poachers, conservationists said Tuesday, in a major blow for the rare animals found nowhere else in the world.

The bodies of the two giraffes were found ‘in a skeletal state after being killed by armed poachers’ in Garissa in eastern Kenya, the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy said in a statement.

Their deaths leave just one remaining white giraffe alive – a lone male, borne by the same slaughtered female, the conservancy said.

‘We are the only community in the world who are custodians of the white giraffe,’ said Mohammed Ahmednoor, the manager of the conservancy.

‘Its killing is a blow to tremendous steps taken by the community to conserve rare and unique species, and a wakeup call for continued support to conservation efforts.’

The white giraffe stirred huge interest in 2017 when she was first spotted on the conservancy and again when she birthed two calves, the latest in August last year.

Their alabaster colour is caused not by albinism but a condition known as leucism, which means they continue to produce dark pigment in their soft tissue, giving them dark eyes.

Ahmednoor said their deaths, confirmed by rangers and community members, was a ‘sad day’ and a major loss for researchers and tourism providers working in the remote corner of Kenya.

Original source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/

Tropical forests losing their ability to absorb carbon, study finds

Tropical forests losing their ability to absorb carbon, study finds

Amazon could turn into source of COin atmosphere
by next decade, research suggests

Tropical forests are taking up less carbon dioxide from the air, reducing their ability to act as “carbon sinks” and bringing closer the prospect of accelerating climate breakdown.

The Amazon could turn into a source of carbon in the atmosphere, instead of one of the biggest absorbers of the gas, as soon as the next decade, owing to the damage caused by loggers and farming interests and the impacts of the climate crisis, new research has found.

If that happens, climate breakdown is likely to become much more severe in its impacts, and the world will have to cut down much faster on carbon-producing activities to counteract the loss of the carbon sinks.

“We’ve found that one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun,” said Simon Lewis, professor in the school of geography at Leeds University, one of the senior authors of the research. “This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models.”

For the last three decades, the amount of carbon absorbed by the world’s intact tropical forests has fallen, according to the study from nearly 100 scientific institutions. They are now taking up a third less carbon than they did in the 1990s, owing to the impacts of higher temperatures, droughts and deforestation. That downward trend is likely to continue, as forests come under increasing threat from climate change and exploitation. The typical tropical forest may become a carbon source by the 2060s, according to Lewis.

“Humans have been lucky so far, as tropical forests are mopping up lots of our pollution, but they can’t keep doing that indefinitely,”. “We need to curb fossil fuel emissions before the global carbon cycle starts working against us. The time for action is now.”

At this year’s UN climate talks, known as Cop26 and to be held in Glasgow in November, many countries are expected to come forward with plans to reach net zero emissions by mid-century. But some rich countries and many companies plan to reduce their emissions via offsetting, often by preserving, replanting or growing new forest.

This research shows that relying on tropical forests is unlikely to be enough to offset large-scale emissions. “There is a lot of talk about offsetting, but the reality is that every country and every sector needs to reach zero emissions, with any small amount of residual emissions needing to be removed from the atmosphere,” said Lewis. “The use of forests as an offset is largely a marketing tool for companies to try to continue with business as usual.”

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

The difference is about the same as a decade of fossil fuel emissions from the UK, Germany, France and Canada put together.

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

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

Forests lose their ability to absorb carbon as trees die and dry out from drought and higher temperatures, but the loss of forest area from logging, burning and other forms of exploitation is also a leading factor in the loss of carbon sinks.

Tom Crowther, founder of the Crowther Lab, who was not involved with the research: “This analysis provides concerning evidence that, along with continuing deforestation rates, the carbon sequestration rate of tropical forests could also be threatened by increasing tree mortality under climate change. This is very important information, as the capacity of tropical forests to capture anthropogenic carbon emissions could be severely impaired.”

The study, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, tracked 300,000 trees over 30 years, providing the first large-scale evidence of the decline in carbon uptake by the world’s tropical forests. The researchers combined data from two large research networks of forest observations in Africa and the Amazon, as well as years spent travelling to remote field sites, including a week spent in a dug-out canoe to reach Salonga national park in the troubled Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They used aluminium nails to tag individual trees, measuring the diameter and estimating the height of every tree within 565 patches of forest, and returning every few years to repeat the process. This enabled them to calculate the carbon stored in the trees that survived and those that died. They found that the Amazon sink started weakening first, but that African forests are now rapidly following. Amazonian forests are exposed to higher temperatures, faster temperature increases, and more frequent and severe droughts, than African forests.

Their projection that the Amazonian forest will turn into a carbon source in the mid-2030s is based on their observations and a statistical model and trends in emissions, temperature and rainfall to forecast changes in how forests will store carbon up to 2040.

Doug Parr, the chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said governments should heed the science and make strong commitments to cut greenhouse gases at the Cop26 summit, and agree to measures to protect and restore forests. “For years, we have had scientific warnings about tipping points in the Earth system and they’ve been largely ignored by policy and decision-makers,” he said. “That forests are now seemingly losing the ability to absorb pollution is alarming. What more of a wake-up call do we need?”

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com

Co-existing with nature isn’t only desirable, but necessary for survival

Co-existing with nature isn’t only desirable, but necessary for survival

Humans are dependent on natural resources, but the future of our resources is becoming more uncertain every day. We are now facing the harsh truth that if we continue to mismanage our resources, we might not have much more to work within the near future.

This issue becomes more daunting and urgent every day. Population growth is skyrocketing and usable land is diminishing. These two factors are not at all compatible. Countries are being forced to think harder about their future existence.

A country’s ability to feed itself depends largely on the available land, resources, and capital. These three elements feed each other and depend on each other. They cannot exist without each other. They encompass everything we need to consider when we talk about sustainable development alongside nature.

Why is sustainable development important?

Sustainable development is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future. It is about development that allows us to grow without consuming every resource that future generations will need to satisfy their own needs.

Sustainable development is crucially important because it either guarantees or dooms the future of our planet.

The goal of sustainable development is to satisfy our needs without sabotaging the needs of future generations so that they can continue to grow and develop their societies, economies, and civilizations, and not be doomed by the aftermath of ours. It is about finding solutions that strive to find and fix the problems we face in trying to achieve indefinite progress with access to finite resources on earth.

As a concept, sustainable development covers a broad spectrum from social development to economic development to environmental preservation and more.

Sustainability and conservation should be at the forefront of all human development. With this in mind, it is becoming increasingly important for natural environments to be taken into consideration in city developments. We are living in an age of mass extinction, allowing the death of billions of species at the hands of rapid urbanization.

Scientists have officially declared that we are living in a mass extinction period. It even has a name – the Anthropocene epoch. Earth has not seen a mass extinction of this level since the dinosaurs were around, 65 million years ago! You do not need a science degree to figure out what is causing the disaster this time.

People. Agriculture. Urbanization.

Scientists have been urging us for a long time to consider the repercussions that we will soon face for the damage we are causing.

Human society – especially western society – has become alarmingly detached from nature. This does not mean that we are not still extremely dependent on nature to survive. Insects, for example, are mostly considered to be a pest to people, but they are so crucial to our survival that we would almost certainly die without them.

Bees have been on the forefront of this topic for a few years. We understand the importance of bees, even if other insects sometimes fall off of our radars. Everyone is aware that bees are dying at an alarming rate and that we have to do something about it for the good on the environment and the good of humanity.

Bees and other pollinating insects are responsible for keeping approximately 90% of wild plants alive. They are absolutely crucial to the survival of our environment.

Thanks to the stressed importance of these buzzing creatures, recent years have seen many initiatives developing in hopes of protecting bees. One of these initiatives is ‘Bee Saving Paper’ – a multi-use paper product that doubles as an ‘energy drink’ for bees. It is a durable and biodegradable product that serves many purposes to humans and fuels bees who are attracted to it. The boost bees receive from Bee Saving Paper comes from it being composed of energy-rich glucose and honey plant seeds. Numerous brands are working with Bee Saving Paper and promoting its various uses.

This is the kind of initiative that encourages humans to take small steps to better the world around them. It may seem like saving the bees is not your problem, but when agriculture runs out, you will be singing a different tune!

Bees are not the only creatures that we have been trying to save. Past efforts have often focused on preserving endangered species, but we are starting to understand that almost every species is endangered by our modern way of life. Increasing efforts are evolving to focus on the importance of wildlife and ecosystems as a whole.

The Birds and Habitats Directives is one of these. The European based project is demanding that cities take birds and their habitats into more consideration when developing construction and city-related developments. Similarly, the Water Framework Directive is putting pressure on European governments to take natural water systems into more consideration. Rapid population growth and urbanization are putting increasing demand on water supplies, and drastic measures have to be taken to ensure the sustainability of our water supplies.

There are a growing number of organizations focused on water conservation. In Sweden, the Stockholm International Water Institute is rewarding global efforts towards water sustainability. They award initiatives with titles including:

  • The Stockholm Water Prize
  • The Stockholm Junior Water Prize
  • The Stockholm Industry Water Prize

Additionally, they conduct water research and provide advisory services regarding water research. Their overall goal is to guide water sustainability through education and recognizing global efforts of businesses, governments, and individuals working towards water sustainability.

A Stockholm International Water Institute Promotional image (source)

Water is not the only industry where Sweden is at the forefront of sustainability. Sweden has adopted a vast amount of green initiatives and is working hard to push themselves towards a greener tomorrow. Some of these initiatives include:

  • District Heating in Gothenburg

Gothenburg is one of the only major European cities that functions on a centralized heating system. This has drastically reduced the amount of energy needed for heating. A centralized system of heating and cooling operates through one main source and makes use of recycled heat from other industries that would otherwise go to waste.

  • Urban farming

Sweden has long allowed its population to reap the rewards of their own gardening projects. It has been a popular Swedish pastime for over a century. Residents share a piece of land that they use to cultivate fruits and vegetables for personal use, allowing people to practice self-sufficiency while taking some pressure off of mass agricultural production.

  • Using body heat to power buildings

Another fascinating and unique concept to come out of Sweden is the concept of ‘passive houses’. These houses reduce energy consumption by harvesting the heat from people and appliances inside the houses. Passive houses can be found in several Swedish communities.

Sweden is a global leader in sustainability for these reasons and many more. For most Swedes, sustainability is a way of life. They are global leaders in recycling, with about 90% of recyclable goods being recycled. This is much more than any other country has achieved, even in other European countries where recycling is becoming increasingly easy and encouraged. They even recycle fashion – with vintage fashion now so popular that even major retailers are selling second-hand products alongside high fashion items. Sweden also has the largest demand for organic food. It seems like they live and breath sustainability in Sweden – so it is not surprising that they are also investing heavily in green technology and promoting research into sustainability beyond what any other European country is doing.

In Europe, there is a lot of pressure to adapt currently existing architecture to coincide with nature. Growing importance is placed on renewable energy that utilizes natural resources in respectful and non-harmful ways.

Electric transport is one of the leading ways that cities are turning greener, However, this is only a good thing if electricity is also being created in greener ways.

Despite a few exceptions, Europe is largely moving away from fossil fuels. Countries are finding ways to harvest energy from the sun, the wind, and the seas in unique ways that work for the habitats that they are established in.

It’s an expensive endeavor, and it can be slow in some places, but global pressure is demanding that countries all try to do better. The Paris Agreement gave many different cities personal goals to meet. Some have done better than others, but the goal of sustainability has been drilled into all of them and the pressure is on.

In any state that is dependent on fossil fuels such as coal, there needs to be pressure on governments and energy providers to make the change to renewable energy. The only way we can hope to achieve this is by pushing education and putting pressure on those with money and power to make the change.

People often think that they are insignificant in change, yet social pressure can and has made leaps and bounds of change before. Don’t believe me? Look at plastic straw bans around the world.

When California banned plastic straws, a wave of states followed suit. It soon became criminally unfashionable to use plastic straws in socially conscious circles all around the world. What started as a small social media movement has made entire cities completely ban single-use plastic straws. Where they aren’t banned, there is so much social stigma against them that even those who genuinely don’t care about the environment are finding themselves embarrassed to be seen toting one in the beverage.

Alternatives to plastic straws used to be few and far between. Now, they can be located in several different materials in their own booming industry. Businesses have really been getting creative with what they are offering in the place of plastic for your beverages. There are now brands selling paper straws, glass straws, and even seaweed straws.

The disdain from plastic straws comes from two places:

  • They are not biodegradable
  • They are not reusable

This is not something unique to plastic straws. It can be said of many products; especially in the plastic industry! Plastic is one of our biggest waste problems because it simply does not go away. Researchers have found plastic and rock merged together so tightly in the ocean that they are becoming a whole new substance. That’s right – long after humans are dead and gone, and our societies have been wiped out – there will still be plastic in the form of rocks in the ocean. That is how deep the damage has gone.

Of the estimated 83,000 million tonnes of plastic that humans have created so far, only 9% of that has been recycled. The rest is majorly in landfills and the ocean, polluting the earth and damaging our resources. Plastic was once seen as a wonder product, and in many ways it still is. Since it came into mass production in the 1950’s, it’s durability and versatility have made it a favorite for uses from packaging to high tech products. The problem is that none of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable, and the only reliable way to destroy plastics is with heat that emits a toxic gas and contributes to greenhouse gases.

Plastic straws are not the only thing that needs replacing. In the face of the plastic crisis, straws are a minuscule issue in a sea of waste. Plastic manufacturers from all industries are being urged to find innovative ways to replace plastic with more sustainable solutions.

Manufacturers have lead us to believe that oil-based plastic is hard to replace. That is not true at all. It might be more costly and less convenient, but plastic alternatives are available in so many different shapes and forms that it is shameful to see how little they are being used. Plastic can be made from an abundance of substances, including but not limited to:

  • Bio-plastic

Bio-plastic is manufactured from plants, making it inherently eco-friendly. It often comes from agricultural waste, giving it extra sustainability points.

  • Milk

As crazy as it sounds, milk plastic has been around for over a century. It has not been popular in the past, but new technology has made it more accessible and milk plastics have been making a comeback in recent years. Milk plastic is biodegradable and even edible, although it is not recommended for taste, but sustainability.

  • Stones

Stones can be used to make paper or plastic. Calcium carbonate is extracted and used to make these products. They are recyclable and waterproof, but not biodegradable.

Plastic is immensely harmful to nature. Supporting brands that make use of plastic substitutes is the smart and sustainable thing to do. Plastic is the cause of one of the biggest wastes crises we are facing today, and it has only been in use for roughly 70 years. Another 70 years and who knows how drastic the damage will be.

The environment has already taken a massive hit from our actions. We will never fully recover from the damage we have done. All there is to do now is work towards conservation. Our environment urgently needs protecting. We can achieve this through conscious conservation efforts and conscious buying habits. Industries of all kinds need to be driven away from plastic and other products that are not biodegradable or recyclable. Plastic use is possibly the least sustainable thing on the earth. With so many other options available, there is no excuse for it anymore.

Sustainability means moving away from plastic, away from fossil fuels, and towards renewable energy and biodegradable or recyclable products. If we don’t work hard now to save nature, there will not be any nature left to save.