In the Fight Against Climate Change, Humans and Wildlife Are Allies
By Jason Bittel
One million species could soon face extinction. Climate change is accelerating at a breakneck pace, already affecting about half of all threatened mammal species and a quarter of threatened birds. And according to a study published in Science last year, if nothing is done to curb our carbon emissions, nearly 50 percent of the planet's insects, which make up the foundation of food webs all over the globe, could disappear by the end of the century.
Until now, the crises of climate change and biodiversity loss have mostly been framed as separate issues. A 2018 study, for instance, found that climate change receives eight times more media coverage than biodiversity, despite the fact that scientists publish new studies on both subjects at about the same rate. (And to put that into broader perspective, climate change doesn't receive nearly as much press as it should.)
Clockwise from top left: A panther chameleon, a Harris's three spot moth caterpillar, a pale tussock caterpillar.
Simone Sbaraglia, Lance Featherstone, Nick Goodrum
Yet biodiversity and climate are inextricably linked. "We can't stabilize the climate without really addressing biodiversity, and we can't save biodiversity without staying below 1.5 degrees," says Eric Dinerstein, a wildlife biologist at the nonprofit RESOLVE, referring to the maximum increase in global temperature (in degrees Celsius) that scientists agree most species can survive. "You can't solve one without the other."
Dinerstein and his colleagues recently laid out a plan in Science Advances to address biodiversity loss and climate change as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Their Global Deal for Nature calls for the creation of formal, line-in-the-sand protections for 50 percent of the planet's biomes by 2050.
Dinerstein and his coauthors go into great detail about how to achieve this goal, but the heart of the effort comes down to one simple idea: By saving plants and animals, we can save the world.
One of the best strategies for combating global warming is to preserve those habitats that naturally lock up the most carbon. Tropical forests, where giant, ancient trees constantly absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then fix it into the soil, store around 40 percent of all the carbon on land. This is why protecting the lush expanses of the Amazon, the Congo River Basin, and Southeast Asia is so essential.
Clearly, cutting down nature's carbon sequestration machines is terrible for mitigating climate change, but so too is killing off the animals that spread the seeds that allow the forests to flourish. "In the tropics, these giant trees are often dispersed by things like tapirs and rhinos and elephants," says Dinerstein. "This is a critical point."
Seed dispersers aren't the only animals worth saving. Predators also help to conserve their forests—and sometimes, the bigger and scarier, the better.
A tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India.
James Warwick / www.JamesWarwick.co.uk
Dinerstein has spent much of his career studying tigers. In one study, he determined that forested landscapes that still harbor functional tiger populations in India contain three times the carbon density of landscapes where humans have eradicated tigers. This is because areas that still have tigers are often much better managed and protected. "People tend to stay out of them more," Dinerstein says, "whereas once a forest has lost its tigers, people pretty much go in there all the time and start exploiting other species and cutting down firewood, and they become degraded more quickly."
Similar relationships are playing out in the oceans. For instance, seagrass meadows cover just 0.2 percent of the ocean floor, but they hold more than 10 percent of all the carbon locked up in the sea, thanks to deep roots that can keep the plants in place for thousands of years. Too many grazers, such as sea turtles and dugongs, however, can wipe out seagrass beds and the carbon storage services they provide.
But if you throw in a few tiger sharks, the hungry herbivores are forced to nibble and move on, lest they end up as dinner themselves.
Believe it or not, Dinerstein says, coastal mangroves sequester much more carbon than almost any other habitat. They also serve as nurseries for a huge number of tropical fish species. And they protect coastlines from storm surges and erosion—"a threefold benefit," says Dinerstein. Unfortunately, shrimp farming and other commercial developments have already cleared away large swaths of mangrove habitat, most noticeably in Asia and the South Pacific.
Yes, we need trees and seagrass (and coral reefs and peat bogs and tundra), but we also need the tapirs, tigers, and tiger sharks (and the caribou and the blue whales and the hornbills). Saving the world from mass extinction and climate change is a package deal. To quote the Global Deal for Nature, "It is no coincidence that some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on land—natural forests—also harbor high levels of biodiversity." From predators and prey to decomposers, parasites, and pollinators, when every niche is full of life, carbon gets locked up like on an assembly line.
But it's one thing to identify the importance of protecting animals and their habitats, and it's another thing to do it. All told, the Global Deal would cost around $100 billion per year to reach the 2050 milestone. That seems like a hefty price tag considering that the international community currently spends $10 billion a year at the most on conservation. But that's the wrong way to look at it, says Dinerstein.
"In the U.S. alone, we spend $33 billion a year on pet food and grooming," he says. "If we just doubled that and included other countries in the world . . . if we love nature just as much, we can easily afford this."
This also isn't simply a case for charity. Numerous industries, the researchers calculate, stand to make considerable gains by mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss. According to the Global Deal for Nature, the global seafood industry could make an additional $53 billion per year. And the insurance industry, if it didn't have to cover losses caused by intensifying wildfires and flooding, could savean annual sum of approximately $4,300 billion.
To be clear, that's $4,300,000,000,000.
Here's another way to look at it: When you consider the amount of subsidies the United States alone gifts the fossil fuel industry each year, $100 billion starts to sound like chump change. As in, we'd be chumps not to invest in fixing our own planet for the cost of building a spaceship to visit another one.
We also, of course, can't afford not to.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
In Major Win for Indigenous Rights, Supreme Court Rules Much of Eastern Oklahoma Is Still a Reservation
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
- Federal Judge Orders Trump Admin to Give Native Americans Their ... ›
- Police Were Ready to Shoot Indigenous Pipeline Protesters in ... ›
- Climate Justice, Indigenous Rights Advocates Rally for Wet'suwet'en ... ›
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.
- Airborne Coronavirus Transmission Must Be Taken Seriously, 239 ... ›
- Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Is the New Coronavirus Airborne? A Study From China Finds Evidence ›
By Angela Nicoletti
The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.
- Global Frog Pandemic May Become Even Deadlier as Strains ... ›
- New Species of Diamond Frog Discovered in Remote Pocket of ... ›
- Frogs Are on the Verge of Mass Extinction, Scientists Say - EcoWatch ›
A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.
- Trump Admin Denies Endangered Species Protections to Pacific ... ›
- Trump Admin Failed to Protect 241 Species From Extinction ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
By Julia Vergin
It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
- 8 Ways to Tell if You Are Vitamin D Deficient - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Healthy Foods That Are High in Vitamin D - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Nutrient Deficiencies That Are Incredibly Common ›
Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.
EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.
Climate models are predicting faster warming of the North Atlantic Ocean, which will shift the Gulf Stream. NASA
- Could the Climate Crisis Spell the End for Maine Lobster? - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Reasons Why Biodiversity Matters - EcoWatch ›
- World Leaders, Media Ignore Biodiversity Report Detailing Mass ... ›
- The Top 10 Ocean Biodiversity Hotspots to Protect - EcoWatch ›