Do we really need to put ocean ecosystems at risk in order to transition to a renewable-energy economy? Proponents of deep-sea mining claim that the as-yet-untested practice is the best means of supplying minerals like cobalt, lithium, nickel, copper, vanadium and indium used in electric vehicles, storage batteries and other green technologies.
But a new article published in Frontiers in Marine Science on Thursday challenges this view. The team of experts from the University of Exeter, Greenpeace Research Laboratories and Globelaw instead says that human societies can both preserve marine biodiversity and eschew fossil fuels by making different choices about how new technologies are designed and used.
"If businesses, researchers and members of the public work collaboratively we have the means to achieve a future in which technology can be designed and manufactured to be sustainable and not involve extracting additional non-renewable resources," study lead author Kathryn Miller told EcoWatch in an email. "It will require changes in behaviour but it is possible."
Thursday's paper builds on two previous studies from the same research team considering the risks of mining minerals from the sea bed. The first, published in 2018, focused on the environmental risks posed by disturbing ecosystems where many species are still unknown to science. The second, also from 2018, looked at how the deep sea bed should be governed and regulated for the benefit of all people, not just the profit of wealthy corporations in the global North. The new paper also addresses these issues, but emphasizes how the green transition might proceed without seabed minerals.
Specifically, the researchers considered the case of electric vehicle batteries.
"[T]he point we make in the paper is that estimates of future demand for minerals... always depend on a set of assumptions about how we will live and which technologies will be available," study co-author David Santillo told EcoWatch in an email, "and we have to remember that neither of those things are fixed."
For one thing, those projections assume the use of the current lithium-ion battery that incorporates cobalt or nickel. However, there are already alternatives either in use or in development, such as Svolt's cobalt-free lithium-ion car battery or Tesla's lithium-ion phosphate batteries.
For another, mineral needs depend on the sustainability of both transportation systems and technological design. A move away from a one-person-one-car model and towards improved metal recycling could significantly reduce the demand for novel mineral resources.
"I challenge the assumption that we need to continue producing and consuming technological products at the rate at which we have become accustomed over the past decade or more," Miller said. "For example, I think that the premise that it will be necessary to replace every 'conventional' petrol or diesel car with an electric car is not forward thinking or sustainable – it will not solve the problems we are beginning to see in terms of resource availability, energy use and congestion in towns and cities."
The reason that the necessity of deep-sea mining is such an important question is because of what is at stake if the practice goes ahead.
"Any commercial deep-sea mining activity at any scale will cause irreversible damage to deep-sea ecosystems," Miller said. "Recovery of species in deep-sea habitats is extremely slow – centuries or millennia in many cases."
If mining occurs, species could be harmed by noise and light pollution, habitat fragmentation and sediment plumes that could spread for hundreds of kilometers.
In addition, scientists don't yet know all of the species that exist in deep-sea ecosystems, or how deep-sea animals like cold water corals, crabs and shrimps would be impacted. They also don't know how closely deep water ecosystems are connected to the rest of the ocean.
Furthermore, the practice could threaten many of the ecosystem services that the ocean provides to human communities. There are fish species that spawn in seamount ecosystems, and cultures that consider ocean life to be sacred. While deep-sea mining may be justified based on the need to shift the energy system away from fossil fuels, it could actually harm the ocean's ability to help us fight climate change by threatening its ability to sequester carbon, though again more research is needed to understand exactly what the consequences of mining would be on the carbon cycle.
"There is certainly the potential for the disturbance of deep-sea sediments by mining to disrupt their role in storing and locking away carbon over long time-scales, thereby putting more carbon into open cycles in ecosystems (including into seawater and the atmosphere) and harming the processes by which those sediments normally act as carbon sinks," Santillo said.
The paper comes at an urgent moment in the debate over whether or not deep-sea mining should proceed. At the end of June, the island nation of Nauru announced plans to start mining, as The Guardian reported at the time. This triggered something called the "two-year rule," which gives the UN's International Seabed Authority two years to finalize regulations for the practice.
Nauru is acting on behalf of Canadian mining company DeepGreen, which hopes to mine nodules containing manganese, nickel and cobalt for electric vehicles. On the other side stand more than 530 marine science and policy experts, business leaders and conservation groups like WWF who are calling for a global moratorium on deep-sea mining until its impacts can be more fully researched and understood.
Such a global pause would make it impossible for anyone to be granted a license to mine, mirroring the global moratorium on whaling or mining in Antarctica. WWF's senior global ocean governance and policy expert Jessica Battle told EcoWatch that Nauru's ultimatum made such a moratorium "even more imperative."
"It has happened before and it can happen again," Battle said.
While so far no nation has stood up in the proper forum and called for a global pause, Battle has hope that this will happen before the two-year clock stops ticking, in part because there are so many new studies coming out warning about mining's potential impacts on the ocean. While many polluting industries are well into the process of eradicating species and altering Earth systems, deep-sea mining is still only an idea.
"This one we can actually be smart as a society to prevent from the beginning," Battle said, "so why the rush?"
Miller and Santillo said they also supported a moratorium on the practice, but ultimately their paper argued for changing how decisions about Earth's resources are made. This means recognizing "Rights of Nature," considering the ocean itself as an entity with rights rather than a resource to be used.
"A true transition from ownership to guardianship of the natural world could include a Rights of Nature approach to the ocean, rather than only considering the benefits that it may deliver to a small percentage of the global population," the study authors wrote.
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Will we find corals' white knights in spiny armor? The question is one that Florida scientists and ocean advocates are eager to answer ー and using lobsters to do so.
The coral reefs in Florida are in trouble. With the climate crisis, warming and acidifying ocean waters, poor water quality and a rampant, mystery coral disease, the reefs in the Southern United States have been in sharp decline. They're in such an unhealthy state that even grazing by sea snails, which occurs naturally, are adding undue stress to corals and becoming a serious issue.
The snail, Coralliophila galea, is an "inconspicuous" predator that hides on the underside of coral structures during the day and emerges at night to feed on sessile coral prey that are unable to evade them, said Casey B. Butler, Research Associate with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which is a part of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI).
The corallivorous snail, Coralliophila galea. These snails were partially eaten by lobsters. FWC / FWRI
"Our coral reefs in Florida and throughout the Caribbean have been hit with an onslaught of stressors, such as poor water quality, rampant coral disease outbreaks, coral bleaching, and damage from direct human impacts," Butler told EcoWatch. "Though often overlooked because it is a natural stressor, predation of corals by animals like snails and other organisms is nonetheless important and one of the greatest contributors to the death of small coral outplants."
Outplants are nursery-raised, transplanted corals being used to restore degraded parts of Florida's reefs, said Michelle Ashton, a representative of Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida (FWFF). They're grown and planted with the hope that they will persist and reproduce naturally to help restore the reefs. With the survival of coral reefs in question, restoration efforts are critical to fight for their future.
Controlling the snails is particularly important around outplants, Ashton added. Butler explained why: newly-outplanted corals are particularly vulnerable to predation by snails and other animals because they are typically small and planted in areas lacking coral abundance. The gastropods can consume young corals before they even have a chance to grow or reproduce to restore the reefs.
"Even though these snails are small in size, they can demolish the small coral outplants," Butler said. If outplants die, it can frustrate coral restoration efforts.
To combat this, FWFF funded a study with FWC to determine if transplanting spotted spiny lobsters at coral restoration sites is an effective way to control the snails. The lobsters are found naturally on Florida's reefs and are known to eat sea snails. One full-grown lobster can consume several snails a day.
A spotted lobster. FWC / FWRI
"Restoration practitioners often try to remove as many of these snails at restoration sites when they can, but the aim of this current project to harness the marine food web by employing lobsters that will eat those corallivorous snails and keep the snail populations, and thus the mortality of the coral outplants, at bay," Butler said.
FWC scientists will collect and study wild spotted spiny lobsters to determine "who's eating who, Butler explained. They will look to see how many snails lobsters are eating, if they're eating anything else (such as "good" animals that keep algal growth down) and the resulting health of the reefs. If high levels of coral predators in the lobsters' guts results in healthy reefs, the lobsters could be deployed during the next phase of the study at reef outplantings to help protect young corals. If spotted lobsters are eating more good grazers than predatory snails, they could be removed from coral restoration sites, instead.
Butler noted that FWC does not intend to grow spotted lobsters for transplanting, instead moving them from other non-reef areas to bolster populations at restoration sites for the study.
This is a novel form of "biological control" that hopes to "harness the trophic cascade" that naturally exists on reefs between corals, predatory snails and lobsters. Restoration practitioners could potentially employ these techniques to keep coral predation down and to facilitate outplant survivorship not only on Florida's reefs but across the Caribbean where spiny lobsters are naturally found, Ashton said.
With the future of coral reefs in question, further scientific efforts like these will be critical to bolster coral restoration efforts and outcomes.
Elkhorn corals are amongst those being outplanted in Florida to restore the reef. David Gross / Ocean Image Bank
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While solar energy has plenty of benefits, there are also high upfront costs associated with installing a home renewable energy system. So, at the end of the day, are solar panels worth it?
If you want to minimize your ecological impact while reducing or even eliminating monthly utility bills, solar panels may be well worth the money. But they may not be the best solution for every home. In this article, we'll review solar panel costs, longevity and return on investment to help you decide whether they're right for you.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
The first thing to be aware of is that installing a residential solar system is always going to be expensive. Yes, saving money on your monthly utility bills can help balance that startup expense, and you can get some incentives to help undercut the cost of solar panels (more on that in a moment). But ultimately, there's no way around it: Investing in a residential solar system can be pricey.
How pricey, exactly? Your total solar energy system cost will depend on a myriad of factors, including the type of solar panels you choose, the number of panels required for your home, and the specific solar panel installation company you hire.
With that said, according to Sunrun, the average cost of installing solar panels in 2021 is between $16,200 to $21,400. And it's worth noting that this actually represents a significant drop in the price tag for solar panels. Solar installation is becoming more and more affordable, even if the startup price remains a little daunting.
Offsetting the Cost of Solar Panels
Something else to be aware of is that, over the past decade or so, both the federal government and many state governments have unveiled programs to provide financial incentives for solar installation. These programs include local and federal tax credits and other rebates. Top solar companies are usually able to help you identify and apply to any programs you are eligible for.
The current federal solar tax credit, called an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) provides a 26% credit for systems installed between 2020 and 2022. State incentives can be added on top for even more savings. However, even with numerous solar incentives, pricing and solar panel installation costs can still be steep.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
As you think about the initial startup investment in solar panels, another question to consider is system longevity. After you buy solar panels, how long do they last? Will they function long enough for you to get your money's worth?
Again, the answer can vary slightly depending on the specific type of solar panels you choose. As a rule of thumb, however, most residential solar systems last between 20 and 30 years and require only the most minimal maintenance and upkeep. Most of the best solar panels come backed with fairly rigorous warranties, ensuring your system holds up for at least two decades. Of course, when purchasing a solar panel system, you'll want to take a close look at the warranty information offered.
The longevity of your solar panel system can also add to the value of your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, buyers nationwide have been willing to pay an average premium of about $15,000 for a home with a solar array. In many cases, that alone can cover most of all of your solar investment.
How Much Money Will You Save With Solar Panels?
Related to the question of panel longevity is the question of a solar power system's return on investment, or ROI. How much power is a home solar system going to generate? How much money will it save you? Will month-to-month electric bill savings mean that your solar system "pays for itself" after a few years?
The amount of money you save on your monthly utility costs can vary depending on the efficiency and power of your solar panels, as well as your household energy consumption habits. Keep in mind that your savings will be greater if you live in an area where electricity rates are higher; by contrast, if you live somewhere with a lower cost of electricity, the money you save from going solar may be comparatively meager.
EnergySage notes that, over the lifespan of your solar system, you're likely to save anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 on utility costs. This may or may not be enough for the unit to "pay for itself," though an upside of solar power ROI is that it's fairly instantaneous. Once your system is installed, you'll be able to start saving money right away.
Free Quote: See How Solar Panels Would Cost for Your Home
Fill out this 30-second form to get a quote from one of the best solar energy companies in your area. You could an average of $2,500 each year on your electric bills and receive a tax rebate.
Are Solar Panels Worth It for Your House?
Ultimately, whether solar panels are worth it will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case and home-by-home basis. Simply put, solar power is a smarter option for some than for others. The question is, how can you tell whether you're a good candidate for solar panels?
Best Candidates for Solar Power
Solar panels tend to be a better investment for homeowners who meet the following criteria:
- Ample exposure to sun: If you live in a part of the country that gets lots of exposure to sunlight throughout the year, then you'll probably get more mileage out of your solar panels. It's little wonder that solar power is most popular in places like Arizona, Texas, California and even North Carolina.
- Accommodating roof space: A good solar system will require plenty of surface area on your roof, unobstructed by skylights, chimneys or other fixtures. With a smaller roof, you can still potentially install a system, but you'll need to find the most efficient solar panels (which are often more expensive) to maximize your limited space.
- High electricity bills: The amount of money you save by going solar will be directly proportional to the amount you spend each month on electrical costs. So, if you live in a community where the price of electricity is pretty high, you stand to achieve greater savings when you go solar.
Who's Not a Good Candidate for Solar Power?
By contrast, some homes may not be as well-positioned to reap a high solar power ROI.
- Homes without much sun exposure: If you know anything about how solar panels work, it won't be a surprise that darker areas benefit less from this renewable energy source. In a place where there tends to be a lot of cloud coverage or more limited solar exposure for good chunks of the year, the jump to solar may not be as advantageous.
- Homes with too much shade: Similarly, if your roof tends to be shaded for long stretches of the day (for example, if your home is in the shadow of a larger building or a lot of dense trees), then your solar panels may not get the sun exposure they need to generate a solid ROI.
- You pay lower costs for electricity: If your electrical bills are already fairly minimal, then installing a residential solar system will yield more modest and measured savings.
- You don't have the right kind of roof: Certain types of roofs just aren't as well-suited for solar power installation. For example, older or historic homes that have particular kinds of tiled roofs and homes that have larger skylights may not be good matches for solar energy.
How to Determine Your Solar Power ROI
Is solar worth it for you and your household? There are a few steps you can take to weigh solar energy pros and cons and make an informed decision.
One option is to consult with a solar panel installation company that can assess your roof and your positioning in relation to the sun, then supply you with a basic estimate of how much money you could save by installing solar panels. Reputable installers can also provide greater detail about the different types of solar panels that are available and recommend the technology you'll need to realize a significant solar power ROI for your home.
Even before you take the initial step and meet with a solar installer, a number of solar companies offer online calculators, which you can use to estimate your monthly utility savings. We'll stress that these calculators only give a very rough estimate and should be taken lightly, but they can still create a basic sense of whether solar panels are worth it for your home.
So, Are Solar Panels Worth It? It All Depends...
The bottom line for homeowners: Solar energy represents one of the best ways to reduce your dependence on traditional utility companies. And for many homeowners, solar power ROI will be well worth it. With that said, the startup cost can be prohibitive, and not every homeowner will achieve the same bang for their buck.
As you consider whether solar panels are a sound investment for your home, make sure you take into account cost, warranty, longevity and overall efficiency, all while seeking guidance from qualified solar experts.
Ice sheets in Greenland are melting so rapidly due to high temperatures in the Arctic that the amount of ice melt from Tuesday was enough to cover all of Florida in two inches of water, according to the researchers at Polar Portal.
A massive ice melting event is taking place in #Greenland, according to @PolarPortal It would be enough to cover F… https://t.co/kZdBLFjDQ6— World Meteorological Organization (@World Meteorological Organization)1627548056.0
Greenland has lost 18.4 billion tons of surface mass since last Sunday. While not as bad as 2019, this is the third instance of extreme melting in the past decade and the scientists say the area of land melting is larger this time.
"In the past decade, we've already seen that surface melting in Greenland has become both more severe and more erratic," Thomas Slater, a glaciologist at the University of Leeds told CNN. "As the atmosphere continues to warm over Greenland, events such as yesterday's extreme melting will become more frequent."
As reported by CNN:
In 2019, Greenland shed roughly 532 billion tons of ice into the sea. During that year, an unexpectedly hot spring and a July heat wave caused almost the entire ice sheet's surface to begin melting. Global sea level rose permanently by 1.5 millimeters as a result.
As Greenland's surface continues to thaw, Slater said coastal cities around the world are vulnerable to storm-surge flooding, especially when extreme weather coincides with high tides. Melting from Greenland is expected to raise global sea level between 2 and 10 centimeters by the end of the century, he added.
"While such events are concerning, the science is clear," Slater said. "Meaningful climate targets and action can still limit how much the global sea level will rise this century, reducing the damage done by severe flooding to people and infrastructure around the world."
For a deeper dive:
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As this summer's extreme heat waves and floods have made devastatingly clear, the climate crisis is already deadly. And it is likely to get even deadlier if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, a study published in Nature Communications on Thursday has calculated exactly how many excess deaths we can expect per additional metric ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The figure, called the mortality cost of carbon (MCC), estimates that one person will die for every 4,434 metric tons of carbon dioxide in excess of the 2020 emissions rate. To put that in perspective, this is the same amount of emissions generated by 3.5 average U.S. residents over the course of their lives.
"One key takeaway is that there are a significant number of lives that can be saved by reducing emissions," study author and Columbia University Ph.D. candidate R. Daniel Bressler told NPR.
Using his calculations, Bressler estimated what would happen if we reduce emissions to zero by 2050 and what would happen if temperatures are allowed to rise to four degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The difference between the two, he found, is around 74 million lives.
The study also looked at issues of climate justice between nations. While it only takes 3.5 U.S. residents to emit enough for one death, it would take 25 Brazilians or 146 Nigerians to have the same effect, The Guardian reported. However, Bressler told The Guardian that he was less interested in individual emissions than the policies and infrastructure that surround them.
Specifically, the purpose of the research is to supplement something called the "social cost of carbon," a tool developed by economist William Nordhaus that calculates the financial cost of emitting a metric ton of carbon dioxide, considering factors such as agricultural productivity, energy use, biodiversity loss and human health. The metric is important because it is often used to help make policy decisions, and Bressler found it would be even higher if his MCC is taken into account.
"Nordhaus came up with a fantastic model but he didn't take in the latest literature on climate change's damage upon mortality, there's been an explosion of research on that topic in recent years," Bressler told The Guardian.
Nordhaus' model would put the 2020 social cost of carbon at $37 a metric ton. But Bressler found it increased by more than six times, to $258 a metric ton, when his mortality calculations were factored in. That means Bressler's tool could be a part of deciding whether or not to build a new coal plant, for example, considering that emissions from the average U.S. coal plant will cost 904 lives by the end of the century.
"It could well have a significant impact on climate change policies," New York University School of Law professor Richard Revesz, who was not involved with the research, told The New York Times of Bressler's figure.
There are still many uncertainties involved with the measurement, however. For one thing, Bressler based his calculations only off of excess heat deaths and did not include deaths from other extreme weather events, crop failures, civil unrest or the air pollution associated with greenhouse gas emissions, according to The New York Times and The Guardian. That means the true MCC could be either higher or lower.
"Based on the current literature," he told The New York Times, "this is the best estimate."
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By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The California condor has been teetering on the brink of extinction for decades. When the species was first assessed in 1994 for the IUCN Red List, the global authority on the conservation statuses of species, it was listed as "critically endangered." Nearly 30 years later, its status has not changed. But this doesn't tell the whole story.
Conservationists have actually been working hard to keep the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) alive with captive breeding and reintroduction efforts. "They would be extinct without conservation by now," Claudia Hermes, a Red List researcher at BirdLife International who has worked on the California condor listing, told Mongabay. "But with conservation, they actually respond fairly well."
Now, a new addition to the IUCN's Red List — the IUCN Green Status of Species — illustrates the condor's positive response to conservation efforts, despite its critically endangered status, and its high recovery potential if these efforts are maintained.
"The Green Status really fills this gap because it tells us that despite the fairly high extinction risk that we still have this hope," Hermes said.
The preliminary green status for the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus). IUCN
A new paper published July 28 in Conservation Biology introduces the IUCN Green Status as a new assessment framework that provides information about the ecological functionality of a species within its range, and also how much a species has recovered due to conservation efforts. A team of more than 200 international scientists from 171 institutions presented preliminary Green Status assessments for 181 species, ranging from the pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) to the gray wolf (Canis lupus) to the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis).
"It's providing a more nuanced picture of what's going on with a species and that's going to provide information that's really important for conservation planning and also measuring and celebrating the impact of past conservation," lead author Molly Grace, a researcher at the University of Oxford who led the development of the IUCN Green Status, told Mongabay. "The Red List is a wonderful tool, but when we try to use it beyond what it was made to do, which is to measure extinction risk, then we sometimes get answers that are a bit misleading or don't tell the full story."
The IUCN Green Status will classify species into nine recovery categories that will use historical population levels to indicate if a species has been largely depleted from its range or if it is nearing recovery. The assessment framework will also measure the impact of past conservation efforts, species' reliance on conservation action, and how much a species could gain in the next 10 years due to conservation action. It also offers a long-term view of species' recovery potential over the next 100 years.
A pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) photographed in its native Mauritius. Sergey Yeliseev / Flickr
Sometimes a species' Red List status will align with the Green Status, but other times the two metrics will not match up. Take the burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur), a small marsupial, for example. The species' Red List status is "near threatened," which suggests that while the species is in peril there isn't an immediate risk of extinction. But the Green Status shows that the burrowing bettong is actually "critically depleted" from its range and does not have a high recovery potential due to the difficulties in controlling invasive species like cats and foxes that prey upon these animals.
Less than 2% of the surveyed species had a conservation impact metric of zero, which indicates "that conservation has, or will, play a role in improving or maintaining species status for the vast majority of these species," the authors write in the paper.
Co-author Elizabeth Bennett, vice president for species conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), says the new framework can help incentivize conservation action.
"There are... donors that are starting to be interested in this because it's more fine-tuned and sensitive to change than the Red List," Bennett told Mongabay. "So within a granting period, you potentially could improve the green status of a species, where the Red List status tends to be much slower to react to change."
Burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur), a near threatened species that is critically depleted from its native range in Australia. Daniele Parra / Flickr
The IUCN Green Status will be officially launched online at the start of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which will take place in Marseille, France, from Sept. 3-11, 2021.
"The core thing that excites me is that it's an optimistic view of where we want to go with species conservation," Bennett told Mongabay. "And it gives people a really good clear roadmap about that for each species. So instead of just saying, Oh, we don't want this species to go extinct… we can say, but we want it to be thriving, and we want to be playing its full ecological role. And this is what it could look like. And this is how we can get there."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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In India, snakes are the primary source of human-wildlife conflict. The country has the highest rate of snakebite mortality, Top 5 reported. According to eLife Sciences, an estimated 1.2 million people died from snakebites in India between 2000 and 2019. Now, new snake apps available for download to mobile phones are helping the public and conservationists work together to save the lives of both humans and snakes.
In developing countries like India, snakebites usually are underreported and inadequately treated, The Guardian reported. Poor literacy and a lack of information on how to deal with snakes and treat bites exacerbates the problem. Victims also often live in areas without easy and quick access to medical care, which can cause bites to become fatal, the BBC reported. This is where the snake apps come in.
Some of the popular mobile phone apps tackling this issue are Sarpa (Snake Awareness, Rescue and Protection app), SnakeHub, Snake Lens, Snakepedia, Serpent and the Big Four Mapping Project. Widely accessible, these apps can help with snake identification, first aid tips and hospital locations. Critically, farmers, villagers and others who often get bitten when working in rodent-laden fields barefoot can now report a bite and request emergency advice from bite experts, right from their phones. Some apps give real-time reports about the locations of rescuers in the fields and can assign one to a victim, The Guardian reported.
"A snakebite victim can survive for five hours but the golden (first) hour is critical. If the victim gets treatment within this time frame, chances of his survival go up significantly," conservationist Vijay Neelakantan told the news report.
The apps are also helping snakes end up with a better fate. The first instinct of most villagers, when they find a snake, is to kill it, Neelakantan told The Guardian. The apps helps educate users that killing snakes is actually illegal. They also help connect villagers to rescuers, who are trained to catch and handle snakes without killing them. According to the news report, use of the Sarpa app alone has led to the rescue of 2,000 snakes, including 800 cobras, in just the first six months of 2021.
Snake identification, also available on the apps, helps teach what the "Big Four" snakes are in India: the Indian cobra, common krait, Russell's viper and saw-scaled viper. These four species cause 95% of all snakebite deaths in the country, herpetologist Sandeep Das told The Guardian. Proper identification can help avoid unnecessary panic and snake deaths when human-wildlife interactions occur with non-venomous species.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), snakebites are also a global health priority and a "neglected public health issue in many tropical and subtropical countries," with 81,000 to 138,000 people dying annually from bites. Three times that number are left with amputations and permanent disabilities. The organization noted that agricultural workers and children are most affected.
"In contrast to many other serious health conditions, a highly effective treatment exists," the WHO wrote. "Most deaths and serious consequences of snake bites are entirely preventable by making safe and effective antivenoms more widely available and accessible. High quality snake antivenoms are the most effective treatment to prevent or reverse most of the venomous effects of snake bites."
Unfortunately, the global body noted, poor data, severe underreporting of bites and fatalities and deficient medical infrastructure have made it difficult for governments and international bodies to determine the extent of need for antivenoms. This has led to underestimation, low production and soaring prices 一 all of which further prevent access with poor and rural victims.
The emergence and popularity of the homegrown apps are trying to tackle these issues by connecting potential and actual victims to the knowledge and care that they need. The technology is being heralded as the "Uber for snake emergencies," said Jose Louies, head of wildlife crime control at the Wildlife Trust of India, a non-profit conservation group. He told The Guardian that the apps provide a speedy response to snake bite incidents through a network of volunteers managed by local wildlife departments.
"This innovative technology helps minimize human-snake conflict and save the lives of both," he added.
The COVID effect didn't last. Earth Overshoot Day, the day humanity exceeds its yearly allotment of the planet's biological assets, is nearly back to its record high. What can be done to ease the burden?
By Martin Kuebler
After a temporary reprieve due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Earth Overshoot Day — the day humanity is projected to have used up all the planet's biological resources regenerated in one year — has shifted forward again, this year landing on July 29.
"With almost half a year remaining, we will already have used up our quota of the Earth's biological resources for 2021," said Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, where world leaders will gather later this year for the COP26 climate summit in November. "If we need reminding that we're in the grip of a climate and ecological emergency, Earth Overshoot Day is it."
As much of the world was living under coronavirus lockdowns in 2020, last year's Overshoot Day fell on August 22, nearly a month later than the high of July 25 set in 2018. But this year, even though carbon emissions from air travel and road transport are still lagging 2019 highs, a rallying global economy is pushing emissions and consumption back up.
"Rather than recognize this as a reset moment, governments have been eager to get back to business-as-usual. Global emissions are already creeping back up to pre-pandemic levels," said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a US-based environmental group.
In an email to DW, she pointed out that even with last year's shutdowns, greenhouse gases only declined 6.4% in 2020 — a substantial drop representing around twice Japan's yearly emissions, but not enough to turn things around.
"We missed opportunities when bailout funds were given to major climate polluters, like the aviation and meat industries, without any requirements for a green recovery," said Feldstein. "And we continue to miss opportunities every day that officials refuse to recognize the climate and extinction crises as emergencies — just like the pandemic."
Balancing the Books
Earth Overshoot Day, first created in 2006, aims to calculate the number of days per year that correspond to the necessary biocapacity — the ability of an ecosystem to reestablish its biological resources and absorb waste — to account for civilization's ecological footprint.
Global Footprint Network (GFN), the research organization which comes up with the yearly date along with environmental group WWF, compares the calculation to a bank statement tracking income against expenditures. It crunches thousands of UN data points on resources like biologically productive forests, grazing lands, cropland, fishing grounds and urban areas. That tally is then measured against the demand for those natural resources, among them plant-based foods, timber, livestock, fish and the capacity of forests to absorb carbon dioxide emissions.
Today, humanity uses about 74% more than what global ecosystems can regenerate; to continue living the way we do now, we'd need the resources of about 1.7 Earths. And that doesn't look set to change any time soon. CO2 emissions related to energy — particularly fossil fuels like coal — are projected to grow by 4.8% this year over 2020 levels, according to the International Energy Agency.
Boosting the Bioeconomy
Feldstein, however, sees some reasons to be optimistic. "The most hopeful signs are coming from communities around the world that are taking the climate crisis seriously, rethinking consumption and growth, and integrating equity and environmental protection into their policies," she said.
Among them are communities looking to tap into the bioeconomy, which aims to swap a "bio-based, or renewables-based, economy for the fossil fuels-based economy" while addressing societal challenges, as outlined in a December 2019 report by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
Rocio A. Diaz-Chavez, the deputy center director at SEI Africa in Nairobi, Kenya and the report's author, said making the shift to a bioeconomy can help preserve natural resources for future generations while working to create sustainable industries today. She highlighted regional groups like the UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean or BioInnovate Africa in Kenya — organizations which are working to promote bioeconomy and sustainable development in their parts of the world.
Diaz-Chavez told DW that the pandemic recovery could be the opportunity for these regions to explore alternatives to the traditional economy that would "contribute to job creation and improve livelihoods, [while] producing alternatives to fossil fuel products."
One example: reducing the Global South's reliance on fossil-fuel derived pesticides and fertilizers shipped in from abroad, in favor of locally produced biofertilizers. "This would have a series of contributions to human health, and to the environment," she said, adding that this shift could also help develop alternative supply chains for other sustainable products.
She stressed, however, that the development of the bioeconomy hinged on having the necessary infrastructure or improved supply chains in place to support and market such products, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Solutions to #MoveTheDate
Greening our economies isn't the only way to bring us back into balance with the Earth. On its site under the rallying cry #MoveTheDate, the Global Footprint Network (GFN) highlights other ways to bring that date closer to December 31.
Reforesting an area the size of India, for example, would shift the date back by eight days, according to GFN. Retrofitting buildings and industries with existing energy-saving technology, such as mechanical system upgrades, water conservation controls and sensors that accurately control lighting, temperature and air quality, would move the date back by 21 days.
Food is another important area — according to GFN, half of the Earth's biocapacity is used just to keep us fed. But too much of that food is lost due to inefficiencies during the production process, or waste; an estimated 30 to 40% of food in the US ends up in landfills every year.
By eliminating food loss and waste, reducing meat consumption and choosing foods grown with more sustainable agricultural practices less reliant on fossil fuels, another month could be added to the Earth's biocapacity account. Shifting to more plant-based diets, for example, could help reduce food-related emissions as much as 70% by 2050, according to a recent draft report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"While we need to transition away from industrial agriculture as a whole, we can't solve this problem by simply tweaking how food is produced — we must change what is produced," said the CBD's Feldstein, adding that while fossil fuels are responsible for more emissions overall, meat and dairy production are also a major cause of habitat loss. "Governments can accelerate this change by supporting plant-centered diets and agriculture and ending subsidies for cheap meat and dairy."
Reposted with permission from Deutsch Welle.
The Whatcom County Council in Washington state has unanimously passed permanent land-use policies that ban new fossil fuel infrastructure, becoming the first in the U.S. to pass such a measure.
The ordinance prohibits the construction of new refineries or coal facilities and places more restrictions on expansion of fossil fuel facilities at Cherry Point, such as requiring offsets for greenhouse gases emitted from any expansions and rigorous environmental review.
Whatcom is currently polluted by two of Washington's five oil refineries, and five years ago saw the cancellation of the country's largest planned coal export facility due to concerns from the Lummi Tribe around fishing treaty rights.
"What's been happening in Whatcom County for the last 10 years and in the state and Oregon is that people have been saying no to these new proposals coming forward one by one by one," said Matt Krogh, director of the Safe Cities campaign for Stand.earth. "And people are winning."
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The video, released by Columbia Riverkeeper on Tuesday, shows salmon suffering lesions and fungal infections when water temperatures in the Columbia River Gorge topped 70 degrees Fahrenheit, The Guardian reported. The river is legally never supposed to get hotter than 68 degrees.
"The sockeye salmon in the Columbia River are dying," video narrator Don Sampson, who is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and an advisory board member for the Northwest Tribal Salmon Alliance, said. "As you can see, they're in lethally hot water. We're in a salmon crisis."
Salmon are Dying from Hot Water Featuring Don Sampson www.youtube.com
The salmon in the video were on their way back to their natal spawning grounds after spending around two years in the ocean. However, Columbia Riverkeeper executive director Brett VandenHeuvel told The Guardian that they were destined never to make it home. Instead, when the video was taken July 16 they had veered off course to the Little White Salmon River — a Columbia tributary — to escape the high heat. There, they will not be able to spawn and are likely to die of heat stress and disease.
It isn't yet known how many salmon in the river might be impacted by the summer's heat, but VandenHeuvel said he had observed similar scenes of suffering in other tributaries. Snake River sockeye are endangered, so even a few deaths can have a big impact.
"It's heartbreaking to watch animals dying unnaturally," he told The Guardian. "And worse, thinking about the cause of it. This is a human caused problem, and it really makes me think about the future."
Heat waves are becoming more frequent because of the climate crisis. The U.S. has suffered five distinct heat waves so far this summer, with most of them concentrated on the West Coast. One of them, which baked the Pacific Northwest at the end of June, was found to have been "virtually impossible" without human-generated climate change, according to World Weather Attribution.
The Columbia River salmon are far from the first casualties of the successive West Coast heat waves, which have killed hundreds of people in the Pacific Northwest and Canada and more than a billion marine mammals, The Guardian pointed out. In California, meanwhile, officials predicted that high temperatures would kill almost all of the juvenile Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River.
In the case of the Sacramento River, the climate crisis is interacting with river management decisions to harm the salmon. The river is damned, and diversions from the reservoir to agriculture keep water levels lower and, therefore, temperatures warmer.
A similar constellation of factors is to blame for the Columbia River salmons' condition. There, the situation is worsened by the Lower Snake River Dams.
Columbia Riverkeeper is urging people distressed by the video to sign a petition calling on Washington and Oregon's Senators to breach the dams.
"We need people to wake up to see what it is," Sampson concluded at the end of the video. "How important [salmon] are to not only just Indigenous people, but all people on this Earth."
The kiwikiu, or Maui parrotbill, is recognized as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and is endemic to the island. According to the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, the small, olive-green-and-yellow bird once inhabited all of Maui and the neighboring island of Moloka'i. But humans, feral pigs, wildcats and mosquito-induced disease have dwindled the birds' numbers to around 150.
Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources researcher Zach Pezzillo recognized the kiwikiu's distinct song last Wednesday before spotting the welcomed sight on a reserve that covers the Haleakalā volcano, said Newsweek.
"It then sang about ten times across a gulch in some koa trees. It dropped down into some kolea trees where it spent the next twenty minutes calling and actively foraging through the berries, bark, and leaves. I walked down into the gulch to get a closer look," Pezzillo said in a statement published by Newsweek.
In a Facebook post published Friday, the department said the re-discovery of this individual bird is "remarkable" and "provides a glimmer of hope for saving a species."
According to the San Francisco Gate, seven kiwikiu were taken to Maui's Nakula Natural Area Reserve in October 2019, five of which were killed by avian malaria that was transmitted to the birds by non-native mosquitoes. The remaining two were thought to be dead — until the discovery last Wednesday. He was identified as wild #1 from the 2019 translocation by a band on his leg.
"This bird has been exposed to disease, as the others were, and has somehow persevered," Dr. Hanna Moucne of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project told the SF Gate. "This is an amazing sign of hope for the species as we still may have time to save them. This is a hopeful sign that a population of kiwikiu and other native forest birds could survive in restored landscapes in the future, especially without mosquitoes and disease."
Thousands of scientists reiterated calls for immediate action over the climate crisis in an article published Wednesday in the journal BioScience.
"The extreme climate events and patterns that we've witnessed over the last several years — not to mention the last several weeks — highlight the heightened urgency with which we must address the climate crisis," said Philip Duffy, co-author of the study and executive director of the Woodwell Climate Research Center in the US state of Massachusetts.
Two years ago, more than 10,000 scientists from around 150 countries jointly declared a global climate emergency. They are now joined by over 2,800 more signatories in urging the protection of life on Earth.
Since the 2019 declaration, Earth has seen an "unprecedented surge" in climate-related disasters, researchers noted.
What Are the Signs?
For the study, researchers relied on "vital signs" to measure planetary health, including greenhouse gas emissions, glacier thickness, sea-ice extent and deforestation. Out of 31 signs, scientists found that 18 hit record highs or lows.
The year 2020 was the second-hottest year since records began, scientists said. And earlier this year, the carbon dioxide concentration in the Earth's atmosphere was higher than at any time since measurements began.
The authors noted that all-time low levels of ice mass have been recorded in Greenland and Antarctica. Glaciers are melting 31% faster than they did just 15 years ago, they added.
Meanwhile, the annual loss rate of the Brazilian Amazon reached a 12-year high in 2020.
Tim Lenton, director of the University of Exeter's Global Systems Institute and co-author of the study, said the recent record-breaking heat wave in the western United States and Canada showed that the climate had already begun to "behave in shocking, unexpected ways."
"We need to respond to the evidence that we are hitting climate tipping points with equally urgent action to decarbonize the global economy and start restoring instead of destroying nature," he said.
How Can We Respond to the Climate Crisis?
Researchers reiterated calls for transformative change, listing three main emergency responses in the immediate term:
- Phasing out and eliminating fossil fuels
- Implementing "a significant carbon price"
- Restoring ecosystems such as carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots
Climate change should be included in core curricula in schools worldwide to raise awareness, the authors said.
Scientists also urged slashing pollutants, stabilizing the human population and switching to plant-based diets.
"We need to stop treating the climate emergency as a standalone issue — global heating is not the sole symptom of our stressed Earth system," said William Ripple, a lead author of the study and professor of ecology at Oregon State University's College of Forestry.
"Policies to combat the climate crisis or any other symptoms should address their root cause: human overexploitation of the planet."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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One part of President's Biden's infrastructure plan, a Civilian Climate Corps (CCC), could help places like storm-battered Lake Charles, Lousiana recover from extreme weather and prepare for future storms, Rolling Stone reports.
Many residents in Lake Charles are still recovering from Hurricanes Laura and Delta which hit the region last year, even as a new hurricane season begins. Currently, many in the region are relying on nonprofits and the federally funded, voluntary civil society program AmeriCorp to recover, as FEMA aid has been slow or nonexistent.
The CCC, which is based on the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps, could help. Among other things, the program would put people to work restoring natural environments. In Lake Charles and coastal communities like it, restoring wetlands not only improves the natural habitat, but also can also serve as a buffer to absorb hurricane storm surge. At the funding level proposed in Biden's plan, the CCC would operate on a much smaller scale than the original Civilian Conservation Corps, employing around 200,000 people.
'However, there are several plans from Congressional Democrats calling for a more robust program that focuses on environmental justice and calls for investments in local-led adaptation projects. In May, members of the Sunrise Movement marched from New Orleans to Houston to highlight the potential of a CCC along the Gulf Coast. The fossil fuel industry supports up to 10 percent of jobs in Louisiana and even more in Lake Charles, so a program that offers employment would be welcome in the region.
"People feel forced to choose between putting food on their table and getting rid of the petrochemical plants," said Jenna Hanes, who marched with Sunrise. But a CCC would mean "workers can gain skills for the future, that aren't in an industry that's going to eventually die."
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