Killer Beetle Spreads Forest Destruction North
By Tim Radford
An unwelcome invader from the south has begun to infiltrate the U.S., destroying property and reducing income—and this time the blame can be securely pinned to climate change.
The southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) from Central America, one of the most voracious of tree-killing infestations, has already made itself at home in southern New Jersey and could infect the northern U.S. and southern Canada by 2080.
Its destruction of trees in the southeast U.S. cost the nation 14 million cubic meters of timber—worth $1.7 billion—between 1990 and 2004.
Now it is gaining ground in more northern regions because even though the average increase in global temperatures has so far been modest, there have been significant rises in the lowest of the extreme temperatures of U.S. winters.
The beetle can overwinter in the tree bark and make itself at home even in a snowy world, but it cannot survive minimum air temperatures of between minus 14° and minus 20°C (7°F and -4°F).
As annual average temperatures in the northeastern U.S. are projected to rise between 2° and 6°C (35°F and 48°F) by 2100, with perhaps greater rises in the winter extremes, what scientists like to call "the climatic constraints" that limit such beetle invasions will probably recede dramatically.
The destructive insect was found on Long Island in New York in 2014 and Connecticut in 2015. By 2050, 78 percent of the pitch pine forests of the U.S. Northeast, from southern Maine to Ohio, could be at the mercy of the invader.
It is predicted that, by 2060, the southern pine beetle will have settled in southern New England and, by 2080, will be able to infect 71 percent of the red pine and 48 percent of the jack pine across a vast area of the U.S. and southern Canada.
Scientists from the U.S. report in Nature Climate Change that they looked at the progress of the southern pine beetle so far, and identified the forest stands most likely to be at risk.
They then analyzed climate change projections likely as humans continue to burn fossil fuels, raise atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and accelerate the global warming that has already begun to change climates, with milder winters and longer growing seasons.
Study leader Corey Lesk, a graduate student at Columbia University's department of earth and environmental sciences, said, "We could see loss of biodiversity and iconic regional forests, and there would be damage to tourism and forest industries in already struggling areas."
Researchers have repeatedly warned that warmer climates and longer growing seasons will also favor predators and pests.
The U.S. northern forests have been shaped by 10,000 years of evolutionary adaptation to accommodate fierce swings in continental temperature, and one benefit of extremely cold winters is that each year these erase many of the natural pests that would hamper plant productivity in the spring and summer.
In some cases, the concern is driven by the response of the vegetation itself to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and in others by the impact of global warming on creatures that prey on insects.
Some pests have already responded to the rising temperatures by moving to cooler habitats. In other cases, rising temperatures simply widen the horizons for creatures that feed on tree bark, and the southern pine beetle is one of them.
The researchers found that the temperature of the bark at which pine beetles become at risk is minus 10°C (14°F)—bark is always warmer than the air around it—and this minimum has been moving northwards, with the beetle, at between 65km and 85km a decade.
Such research presents only a crude set of conclusions: there will be other factors at work to either enhance the beetle's spread or limit it.
But the scientists pointed out that forests already stressed by heat and drought become more vulnerable—and, as the century proceeds, the periods each year of extreme heat and drought could be extended by between 10 and 20 days.
"Our study reveals a plausible new threat from southern pine beetle to vast areas of pine forest in eastern North America by 2050 and into subarctic Canada after 2080 under continued climate change," the U.S. scientists warned.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.
By Betsy Mason
For decades, climate scientist David Keith of Harvard University has been trying to get people to take his research seriously. He's a pioneer in the field of geoengineering, which aims to combat climate change through a range of technological fixes. Over the years, ideas have included sprinkling iron in the ocean to stimulate plankton to suck up more carbon from the atmosphere or capturing carbon straight out of the air.
Solar geoengineering would involve injecting reflective aerosols from high-altitude planes into the layer of the upper atmosphere known as the stratosphere, which stretches between 10 to 50 kilometers (6 to 31 miles) above Earth's surface. The idea is that the aerosol particles would reflect a small amount of sunlight away from the planet, reducing the amount of heat trapped by greenhouse gases and mitigating some of the effects of climate change.
The planned Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment will send a balloon carrying scientific instruments in a gondola into the stratosphere. The instruments will release a small amount of material — likely ice or mineral dust — to form a kilometer-long plume of aerosol particles (left). Modified airboat propellers will allow the gondola to maneuver above the plume (middle) and lower instruments into the plume to take repeated measurements of how the particles spread through the stratosphere (right). ADAPTED FROM J.A. DYKEMA ET AL / PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY A 2014
David Keith envisions using multiple approaches to combat climate change. The red line shows how the impacts of climate change would worsen with a business-as-usual scenario of unabated burning of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions. Aggressively cutting emissions bends that curve, and removing carbon from the atmosphere offers further cuts, but there are still consequences from the already high levels of carbon dioxide. In this scenario, solar geoengineering would lessen the impact from existing atmospheric carbon dioxide, effectively carving the top off the curve.<p>Some people think we should use it only as a get-out-of-jail card in an emergency. Some people think we should use it to quickly try to get back to a preindustrial climate. I'm arguing we use solar geoengineering to cut the top off the curve by gradually starting it and gradually ending it.</p><p><strong>Do you feel optimistic about the chances that solar geoengineering will happen and can make a difference in the climate crisis?</strong></p><p>I'm not all that optimistic right now because we seem to be so much further away from an international environment that's going to allow sensible policy. And that's not just in the US. It's a whole bunch of European countries with more populist regimes. It's Brazil. It's the more authoritarian India and China. It's a more nationalistic world, right? It's a little hard to see a global, coordinated effort in the near term. But I hope those things will change.</p>
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By Lisa Newcomb
Analysis released Thursday of the world's top 10 biggest plastic polluters in 15 countries reveals how major corporations hide behind the veneer of corporate responsibility while actively working to thwart regulatory legislation around the globe.
<div id="5899a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f2af5e24600e9a04a59098846be0795c"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306489782529335296" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Out now! 📢 Our ground-breaking new report reveals the hypocrisy of the world’s biggest #plasticpolluters, who claim… https://t.co/TWutruUlqA</div> — Changing Markets Foundation (@Changing Markets Foundation)<a href="https://twitter.com/ChangingMarkets/statuses/1306489782529335296">1600326412.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="688ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3370c14123ff2ac521085479120d1260"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306488205198401536" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">DELAY, DISTRACT and DERAIL: 3 tactics that help Big Plastic fight plastic legislation behind the scenes across the… https://t.co/f29Pc86aMj</div> — GAIA (@GAIA)<a href="https://twitter.com/GAIAnoburn/statuses/1306488205198401536">1600326036.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="eaab1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0f6dbe75ec7e7ed4656a767958238c89"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306313773511303169" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Amount of federal government subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry every year: $15 billion. The amount it sh… https://t.co/NRWQWRiw5f</div> — Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)<a href="https://twitter.com/SenSanders/statuses/1306313773511303169">1600284448.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Urbanic urged lawmakers to act to protect the planet.</p><p>"The voluntary initiatives and commitments by the industry have failed," she said in a statement. "Policymakers should look past the industry smokescreen and adopt proven, progressive legislation globally to create the systemic change that this crisis so urgently needs."</p>
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