The Climate Has Always Changed. Why Is This Time So Much Worse?
By Nexus Media, with Katrin Meissner and Alan C. Mix
A recently released study brought sobering news about the future effects of climate change, predicting they could be twice as bad as current models have projected under a "business-as-usual" scenario—and then some. Even if the world hits its 2 degree Celsius target, the paper—which appeared in the journal Nature Geoscience—warned that sea levels could rise six meters or more, large areas of the polar ice caps could collapse, the Sahara Desert could become green, and tropical forest borders could produce fire-dominated savanna.
To obtain their findings, the researchers studied three well-documented historical warm periods: the Holocene thermal maximum, some 5,000–9,000 years ago, the last interglacial, 129,000–116,000 years ago, which were both caused by predictable changes in the Earth's orbit; and the mid-Pliocene warm period, 3.3–3 million years ago, when atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were similar to what they are today. Two of the study's co-authors, Katrin Meissner, director of the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre, and Alan C. Mix, distinguished professor of earth, ocean, and atmospheric sciences at Oregon State University, recently spoke with Nexus Media about the study, which was conducted by an international team of researchers from 17 countries. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What led you to conclude that existing models underestimate the seriousness of climate change, and why look to the past to make projections about the future?
Alan C. Mix: There were lots of groups working on pieces of what warm climates look like. We realized someone had to put all these puzzle pieces together. Some motivation came from silly comments reported in the press like, 'there is no global warming,' or 'it isn't caused by CO2,' or 'it's caused by CO2, but not by humans,' or 'we live through hot summers so what's the big deal?' None of that stuff, of course, is true but the press reports it. So we wanted to use real data, not models, to see what the impacts have been in past warming events. In most cases, humans—at least not as many, or with modern high-infrastructure civilizations and national borders and political problems—didn't exist then, so we don't know if they would have survived. But other plants and animals did, and we can see how ecosystems were affected. And we can ask whether models do a good job simulating those real-world conditions, or if they overestimate (or underestimate) changes. We need to know that stuff—what the impacts are, and whether the models are any good—so governments of the world can set rational policies.
Katrin Meissner: We tried to find episodes in the past that were 1.5–2C warmer than preindustrial levels and/or slightly warmer, but still within the target of the Paris Agreement. These episodes happened a long time ago, especially the ones with similar CO2 concentrations to today. To piece together the climate at this time, we use climate archives, for example sediment cores, ice cores, corals, pollen records, etc. These archives don't have a very high temporal resolution, so we cannot reconstruct changes at the scale of decades or, in some cases, even hundreds of years. All we can do is to get a holistic picture of how a climate might look like in equilibrium: a climate that has been warm for hundreds or thousands of years.
The key word here is "equilibrium," we are talking hundreds to thousands of years from now—not tomorrow. The recent CO2 changes are happening so fast that the climate system is still getting used to these changes, it is still adapting. To get into "equilibrium" will take a long time, hundreds to thousands of years.
What kind of "predictable" changes in the Earth's orbit caused the warming in the first two periods?
KM: Orbital cycles and Milankovitch.
The shape of the Earth's orbit around the sun and the inclination of the Earth's axis in relation to its plane of orbit are constantly changing. The orbital shape can be more or less elliptical. There have been times in the past when Earth has received overall more—or less—solar radiation, depending on the shape of its orbit around the sun. These overall changes are very small though and not likely to impact climate significantly. More likely to impact climate are regional and seasonal changes in incoming solar radiation. These changes are defined by the inclination—or tilt—of the Earth and its wobble around its axis. For example, if the tilt is strong we would get warm summers and cold winters in both hemispheres. If on top of that the Northern Hemisphere is strongly tilted towards the sun at a point of time when Earth is at its closest position to the sun, we would get even warmer Northern Hemisphere summers. While the tilt won't change the overall energy received from the sun, it can change the seasonality and the regional distribution of energy.
Let's imagine that we slowly transition to a regime where Northern Hemisphere summers become warmer. That would lead to stronger snow and ice melt during the summer months at high latitudes. When snow and ice starts to melt, a white surface gradually changes to whatever is below, that is, rocks, soil, ocean, mostly darker colors than ice or snow. This triggers a feedback. White surfaces reflect incoming solar radiation—that's why you burn so easily when you are skiing—while black surfaces absorb more of this radiation. That's why it is a bad idea to cross an asphalt road barefoot in the summer, at least in Australia. Therefore, less incoming radiation will now be reflected and more radiation will be absorbed, which leads to further warming and further melting, which will lead to darker surfaces and so on. This is one of the feedbacks that act within the climate system.
ACM: It is now generally known that the basic ice age cycles are associated with the so-called "Milankovitch" orbital wobbles, which arise because of the various gravitational pulls of all the planets in the solar system on each other. These cycles are rhythmic and predictable, and occur slowly. Basically the Earth wobbles slowly on its axis, like a child's spinning top on the kitchen floor. The net result is changes in the shape of the orbit—from circular to elliptical—a "stretched" circle—and in the tilt of the polar axis relative to the plane of the orbit, and in the timing of the Earth-Sun distance relative to the seasons as the earth circles the sun. All of this creates changes in the way the earth collects sunlight, and that influenced climate. But it is still a bit unclear whether [the] climate changes directly in response to this change in seasonal heating, or indirectly, for example, as a result of natural CO2 changes triggered by the orbital changes. For this reason, we usually don't say that the orbital changes force the ice ages, but instead that they pace the ice ages. The analogy is to a heart pacemaker, which sets the heart beat's rhythm in cardiac patients but doesn't actually force the heart to beat. Either way, this known creation of ice ages from very subtle external inputs shows that [the] global climate is quite sensitive to change when pushed even a little bit. And we're talking about big changes in the past, like covering Canada and northern Europe with mile-thick ice and then turning around and melting nearly all of it, making sea level go up and down by more than 120 meters. That kind of sensitivity to change is a matter of concern regarding human CO2 emissions and the greenhouse effect. We know this changes the way the atmosphere collects heat, and based on our knowledge of the past, we know that the climate is sensitive to change, so it follows that our release of CO2 into the atmosphere will—indeed must—change the climate. The question is not whether this will happen, but how much? And how fast?
In the third period, what prompted such high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide?
KM: I think the correct question here is: what prompted such low levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the past 2 million years.
The typical CO2 concentrations that Earth has experienced in the past 2 million years are almost an "anomaly" compared to the long term record. During these past 2 million years, Earth has switched between glacials—periods of time when large ice sheets were present in the Northern Hemisphere—and interglacials—periods of time without these ice sheets. We are currently in an interglacial.
The fact that greenhouse gas concentrations have been as high or higher in the past is unfortunately not a good reason to feel reassured about modern day climate change. One big difference is the rate of change. CO2 concentrations are changing much more rapidly than any documented change in the past. For example, 20,000 years ago, during the last glacial, cities like Chicago, Toronto and Montreal were under an ice sheet that was over 3 km thick. These huge ice sheets are gone now, mainly because of an increase of 100 parts per million in atmospheric CO2 over about 8,000 years. Recently, humans have added another 120 parts per million of CO2 to our atmosphere. What our oceans managed to do in 8,000 years, with large consequences to the environment, such as the melting of huge ice sheets, we did in less than 100 years.
It is an open question whether and how ecosystems will be able to adapt to such fast changes in temperature, precipitation and acidification. Life on Earth has been adapting to lower CO2 concentrations over the past 2 to 3 million years. The youngest period of time when CO2 levels were at today's levels happened over 3 million years ago; that was when our ancestors were Australopithecus and still had to evolve to the genus Homo. The fauna and flora was very different from today's.
Recreation of Pliocene era in northern Spain. Mauricio Antón
ACM: It is reasonably well known that in the Pliocene time interval, roughly 2–5 million years ago, CO2 was a bit higher than today. The exact cause isn't known, but it came from some geologic reservoirs where CO2 is locked up today. These reservoirs are things like organic matter in soil and in sediments under the ocean. It isn't a lot of carbon in every square meter, or square foot, but there is a huge area, so it adds up. Carbon is also stored today in permafrost, and in the deep ocean. The fact that the Pliocene was both a bit warmer than today and had a bit more CO2 in the atmosphere is important, because it shows that warmth, however it is triggered, can become self-sustaining by letting some of that locked-up carbon out into the atmosphere. In other words, the climate system isn't "self-correcting." It doesn't automatically return to a state that looks like the one humans enjoyed as they built their modern civilizations. We used to think that. A few decades ago, there was a popular idea called "Gaia," the Earth Goddess, which basically thought that the living Earth was self-correcting to stay within a narrow environmental range suitable for life. For the most part, those ideas have been abandoned. We now know the Earth has experienced some pretty large climate swings, and they likely involve release and uptake of CO2. So maybe life helps to stabilize climate on a very large scale, a Gaian idea, but on the scale that matters to us here and now, we know the system is sensitive to change because it has changed. So if Gaia is a Goddess, she certainly is fickle.
Couldn't citing those previous warm periods give deniers the opportunity to argue that because climate has fluctuated in the past—which we survived—we will survive this too?
KM: Did we survive something similar? I am not sure. As far as ice cores go back, there is no episode with such rapid rates of increase in greenhouse gases. Before ice core records, the temporal resolution becomes more challenging, but even fast warming events seem to have happened on much slower timescales than what is happening today.
ACM: It's wrong to say that because climate has changed in the past, either we aren't causing climate change, or it is no big deal and we will survive. Quite the contrary. The evidence of past change shows that climate can change pretty wildly, given even a little push. And we are pushing it pretty hard. Sure, humanity survived some past climate change, but at least during the "Holocene" time when agriculture developed and civilizations flourished, climate has been relatively stable. And the smallish changes that occurred had a pretty major impact of biblical proportion… famines, floods, mass migration, heat waves, killing frosts. So maybe we survived. But it wasn't fun. And some civilizations collapsed. I don't think we want that.
We are changing climate much more, and much faster, and on a much larger scale, than anything humanity experienced in its early history. I'm discounting the Neanderthals who lived in southern Europe during the ice ages—I don't want to be a cave man and I don't think we want to go there. Although we have modern technology that can help us, we also have nearly eight billion people on the planet, and we are already seeing daily crises with refugees. So if climate change makes a region of the planet uninhabitable, those people can't just pick up and go somewhere else. There is no place to go on an overpopulated planet. What will we do when we see hordes of climate refugees fleeing rising sea levels flooding their cities, or crop failure from heat stress, or insufficient water? Who is responsible? Who will take them? The issue of surviving climate changes in the past is a red herring that says nothing about today.
Flooding in Port Arthur, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, August 31, 2017.SC National Guard
So, you're saying if we keep emitting, it's going to be far worse than in the past, or than current models of the future suggest?
KM: Yes, it will be worse. It is very risky to keep emitting because of the rate and magnitude of change. As far as we know today, there has been no similar event in terms of rate of change in climate history. What we refer to as "fast" changes in the geological record happened on much slower time scales than what we see today. It is an open question if and how ecosystems will adapt to such fast changes.
If we realize in the near future that these changes are not acceptable, we won't be able to quickly stop or reverse the changes. Many components of the climate system adapt slowly. The ocean, for example, has a very high heat capacity. It takes a long time for the ocean to warm up, but it then also takes a very long time for it to cool down again. The climate system is still in the process of adapting to the changes in atmospheric greenhouse gases. Even if we decide to stop all emissions, the climate will continue to adapt to the changes we already caused.
ACM: We are forcing changes much faster and on a scale that is much larger than any natural climate changes experienced by humanity. Just look at a graph of CO2 change through time, say over the past half-million years from ice core data, and it bops up and down like a teenage head listening to the pop music charts. Then compare that to the ongoing CO2 rise caused by people, and it is off-the-charts extreme, headed straight up and off the page in a blink. Climate takes some time to adjust, and it will eventually catch up to the huge changes in CO2 we are causing. Scientists call that the climate "commitment," meaning that we have already committed to future climate change by the CO2 we've already put into the atmosphere. So again, it is way faster and way bigger than anything humans have experienced in the history of civilization.
The more CO2 we put in the atmosphere, the hotter it will get. But the system is a bit non-linear, meaning that the change in temperature may respond at different rates or amounts to additional increments of CO2. It may cross a "tipping point," where things get pretty crazy. You can think about this as if you are walking along on level ground near the Grand Canyon, doing just fine, and then casually take one more step and fall off a cliff. So the first steps moved you forward and didn't do all that much, but the next step caused a disaster. In that example, it would be irreversible. And not fun. Climate is like that. There is concern that we will keep plodding along, releasing a bit more CO2 each year, until—wham—we cross the tipping point and realize all the earth's ice sheets are going away and we can't get them back, and sea level is going to keep rising for thousands of years. Although we can't stop climate change entirely, we need to choose whether we will slow down and eventually stop emitting CO2, or just keep going until we cross a point of no return.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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In a troubling sign for the future of the Italian Alps, the snow and ice in a glacier is turning pink due to the growth of snow-melting algae, according to scientists studying the pink ice phenomenon, as CNN reported.
By Abdullahi Alim
The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, this anger resurfaced in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, only this time driven by the children of the 2008 financial crisis.
1. Learn From the Past<p>Young people tend to be comfortable with change. Their instant adoption of technology is an example.<a target="_blank"> However, they may lack an understanding of the more permanent realities – requiring patience and </a>stoicism.</p><p>This wisdom is typically in the hands of individuals who either work within systems or who have accumulated far more tenure. This was effectively echoed by 13-year old activist, Naomi Wadler who <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Aa6XLZe9A" target="_blank">said</a>, "We can educate our youth a lot better. We're not delving deeper into social justice movements from the past."</p><p>Youth movements that are informed by the success and pitfalls of prior efforts offer a more promising outcome. Take for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, co-founded by a 32-year old Alicia Garza.<span></span></p><p>Unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960's, BLM lacks central governance. This means that opponents can't attack its leadership as a means to discredit the whole movement. In the 1960's, this is exactly what happened to the civil rights movement, when critics went after Martin Luther King, stalling the collective efforts of the movement.</p><p>In fact, King spent his final year <a href="https://eu.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/04/04/martin-luther-king-jr-50-years-assassination-donald-trump-disapproval-column/482242002/" target="_blank">mired in public disapproval</a> with over 75% of Americans considering him "irrelevant" including 60% of African Americans.</p><p>By studying the legacy of previous efforts, BLM has managed to rally approximately <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/big-majorities-support-protests-over-floyd-killing-and-say-police-need-to-change-poll-finds/2020/06/08/6742d52c-a9b9-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html" target="_blank">75% of the American public</a>; a feat that will undeniably ensure the longevity of its cause.</p><p>For the youth climate movement, it too must reconcile the long record of activism that predates its tenure. It ought to model itself as an intergenerational movement by giving greater credence to the activists, environmental scientists and <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/juan-manuel-santos-colombia-indigenous-peoples-coronavirus-pandemic-climate-change-environment-nature/" target="_blank">indigenous elders</a> that have fought for climate justice before its inception and ultimately signal the nuance and maturity that would activate allies within systems of power.</p>
2. Become Part of Systems Change<p>From the college campus to the coworking space, you would be hard pressed to avoid the sight of a social impact competition that invites young people to resolve some of the world's most intractable problems.<br></p><p>Unsurprisingly, this often leads to problematic and incomplete solutions. Take, for example, <a href="https://ssir.org/articles/entry/tackling_heropreneurship" target="_blank">an app for African farmers</a> developed by students who have neither farmed nor been to Africa.<br></p><p>Fortunately, there is a growing shift towards empowering young people to better diagnose the systems that uphold inequality. For example, Oxford University hosts the annual <a href="http://www.oxfordglobalchallenge.com/" target="_blank">Map the System</a> competition to celebrate some of the most promising youth-led mappings and the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://www.globalshapers.org/story" target="_blank">Global Shapers Community</a> convenes more than 7,000 young people under the age of 30 to address local, regional and global challenges.</p><p>To achieve systemic change, young changemakers must first unpack systems into <a href="https://wtf.tw/ref/meadows.pdf" target="_blank">three components</a>; elements, interconnections and functions:</p><ul><li>Elements are essentially the key stakeholders in the system. This can include individuals, land or objects.</li><li>Interconnections are the laws and social norms that bind the elements together.</li><li>Functions are the end-goals.</li></ul><p>Take for example, the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace as a systems issue. The elements in the system would include the victim, perpetrator and other intermediary bodies including line managers and human resource teams. The interconnections could include forced arbitration laws that prohibit employees from seeking public courts and a managerial culture that protects high performing perpetrators and pressures victims into silence. In which case, the ultimate functions (or rather dysfunctions) of the system discourage victims from pursuing action and enable perpetrators and enablers to enjoy the benefits of career progression without due trial.</p><p>Systemic change is about redesigning the interconnections (the cultural norms and laws). In the example above, it involves challenging the use of private arbitrary courts and uprooting a toxic work culture. Reclaiming this intuition opens a pandora's box that ultimately allows for any given system to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>Today, young changemakers can rely on online resources like <a href="http://systems-ledleadership.com/" target="_blank">Systems-Led-Leadership</a> to analyze any given system of inequality and then direct their unique skills and knowledge towards the most effective intervention.</p>
3. Avoid Heropreneurship<p>Daniela Papi-Thornton first coined the term <a href="http://tacklingheropreneurship.com/" target="_blank">heropreneurship</a> to describe a growing trend that credits social change to the "founder" of an organization or movement exclusively.</p><p>This culture has inspired an entire generation of young change-makers who are swayed by the allure of the "heroic" founder and whose behaviors are validated through youth awards, grants and speaking circuits that glorify a role in the limelight. This pervasive culture undercuts the entire spectrum of actors that really creates social change.</p><p>Social change does not necessarily warrant the creation of a new organization or movement. Change-makers should consider the root causes that perpetuate and uphold inequalities and then map the existing players and solutions. This process might point to scaling up the work of an existing organization or helping a local candidate run for office.<br><br>For young people who wish to create social change, their efforts – while extremely important – may go unnoticed. This is an expectation that needs to be managed.<br></p>
4. Know Your Place<p>In 2016, a political action committee entitled <a href="http://canyounot.org/" target="_blank">Can You Not</a> emerged with the aim of discouraging white men from running for office in minority districts.</p><p>Despite the comical graphics, the campaign highlights an important question for young changemakers, particularly if they advocate for issues that they have not lived: in the quest for social change, can the actions of change-makers unwittingly perpetuate injustices, even as they seek to end them?<br></p><p>In the example above, could the notion of a white man effectively assuming the role of a translator between minority communities and government only reinforce their structural underrepresentation in political decision-making? Could the desire to assume office without lived experience also signal little faith in the leadership of the very communities being served?<br></p><p>A more effective approach to social change may be to encourage such actors to take stock of the unintended consequences of misrepresentation. In doing so, they may come to appreciate the importance of "stepping back" to allow others to "step forward." More concretely, this could result in building trusted relationships with the community and eventually empowering more local voices to consider public leadership.<br></p><p>For young changemakers, it is pivotal that they assess their own standing in a given system and avoid perpetuating the very inequalities they wish to tackle.</p>
Strategic Intelligence: Youth Perspectives. World Economic Forum
A More Targeted, Effective Kind of Activism<p>Social media has played its critical part in providing young people with a vehicle to advocate for social reform.</p><p>Whether it's <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/23/greta-thunberg-speech-un-2019-address" target="_blank">Greta Thunberg's speech</a> during the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 or <a href="https://variety.com/2018/politics/features/emma-gonzalez-parkland-interview-1202972485/" target="_blank">Emma Gonzalez</a> rallying crowds for more stringent gun control. younger voices are swaying public opinion and pressuring political systems to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>The impact of these extraordinary young people is inspiring, but arguably they struggle to provide a course of action for the average young person who is motivated to pursue social change. The inconvenient truth is that social reform is difficult and even more so for a young person who wrestles with challenges related to experience and credibility.<br></p><p>To be more effective, young changemakers must forge greater bonds with late-stage activists as well as potential allies within systems of power. They must also understand the systems that uphold equality and pinpoint the intervention that would most likely inspire systemic change.<br></p><p>Finally, it is pivotal that they invest in a support system and seek to dissolve <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/this-is-how-wellbeing-drives-social-change-and-why-cultural-leaders-need-to-talk-about-it" target="_blank">personal anxieties</a> that may compromise their change-making potential.</p><p>It's time for youth activism to grow up.</p>
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By Jake Johnson
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By Agustín del Castillo
For 20 years, the Colima fir tree (Abies colimensis) has been at the heart of many disputes to conserve the temperate forests of southern Jalisco, a state in central Mexico. Today, the future of this tree rests upon whether the area's avocado crops will advance further and whether neighboring communities will unite to protect it.
The Nevado de Colima volcano stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level. Agustín del Castillo<p>According to biologist José Villa Castillo, the director of Nevado de Colima National Park and Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park, it is imperative to stop the commercialization of the tree's timber and to create policies that conserve the forests in which it lives. Villa Castillo also supported the inclusion of the tree on the endangered species list.</p><p>Villa Castillo acknowledged the enormous challenge of conserving this tree, and he said the pressure to exploit its timber without sustainable management is far from the only problem. The expansion of the nearby avocado industry also threatens its survival.</p><p>When allowed to grow, the Colima fir tree can become monumental: It can reach 60 meters (196 feet) in height and 2 m (6.5 ft) in diameter. To protect this giant, specialists and communities often promote ecotourism and conservation projects inside the national and state parks that surround the Nevado de Colima volcano.</p>
Fires That Clear Land for Avocado Crops<p>In 2012, a group of researchers from the University of Guadalajara proposed to the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) the recognition of the <em>A. colimensis</em> as a unique species to differentiate it from the sacred fir (<em>A. religiosa</em>), which is the dominant fir tree in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, a collection of volcanoes in central Mexico.</p><p>The Colima fir tree "has extremely low genetic diversity; it has the lowest known genetic diversity among all the species in the Abies genus in Mesoamerica and one of the lowest among all the species of trees on the planet," according to the authors of the proposal to recognize the tree as an endangered species. The area it occupies "is very limited": just 15,002 hectares (37,071 acres), or 0.007% of the territory of Mexico.</p><p>The Nevado de Colima volcano, which stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level, is one of only eight peaks that exceed 4,000 m (13,123 ft) in Mexico. It is only 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Pacific Ocean and is considered an "evolutionary island" because the ecosystems in its high-altitude areas drive unique adaptations in species and are cut off from other ecosystems by hundreds of kilometers. The Colima fir tree is an example of the area's biological differentiation, according to Libertad Arredondo, a researcher and expert on the ecology of high mountains.</p>
The fir forests are mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. Agustín del Castillo<p>Even though the tree has remained on that "evolutionary island," its situation has become increasingly complicated by the impact of deforestation, which was propelled by the issuance of permits for forest exploitation. Fires, started to convert the land to agriculture or other uses, also present a threat to the ecosystem, according to the experts who suggested the tree should be considered endangered.</p><p>The researchers said the tree's future prospects are further complicated by its slow growth rate, its high degree of genetic erosion, the effects of climate change, and the movement of clouds to higher altitudes. The position of clouds is crucial because they act as an essential source of moisture for fir trees.</p><p>Villa Castillo, an expert in pine genetics and reproduction, said the Colima fir tree has never been successfully reproduced in nurseries, which would likely make it impossible to conduct reforestation efforts to help repopulate the species.</p><p>The forests that contain the Colima fir tree are in cold, humid climates, with very little light reaching the understory, and they're mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. The species thrives when surrounded by oak trees, coniferous trees and other types of vegetation common in mountainous cloud forests. The tree also requires a primary habitat with little disturbance from humans.</p><p>According to Villa Castillo, fire kills most Colima fir tree seedlings, as it kills seedlings of other species in the <em>Abies</em> genus. In recent years, more fires have been started in the forest to clear the way for avocado trees.</p>
A tree and other vegetation in the cloud forest surrounding the Nevado de Colima volcano. Agustín del Castillo<p>Sonia Navarro Pérez, a researcher from the University of Guadalajara who has monitored and conducted biological inventories in the area, has seen firsthand how the growth of the avocado industry has led to the loss of important forested areas.</p><p>She described the case of the indigenous community of San José del Carmen, which is in the municipality of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, near one of the patches of forest.</p><p>"We were working with them to establish productive alternatives that are good for nature," Navarro Pérez said. "But when the avocado came, it overwhelmed us completely."</p><p>Since 2013, the coniferous forests around the Nevado de Colima volcano have lost nearly 6,600 hectares (16,300 acres) due to illegal logging, livestock rearing and intentionally set fires, according to Mexico's deforestation risk index developed by the <a href="https://www.gob.mx/inecc" target="_blank">National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change</a>.</p>
A section of cloud forest in San José del Carmen, inside the state park created in 2009. Community members have been protecting the forest voluntarily for over two decades. Agustín del Castillo<p>"[What was once] an original area of 7,000 hectares [17,300 acres] of fir-specific forest is now cut in half," said Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks.</p><p>The expansion of the avocado crops is the most recent threat in a series of events that have negatively impacted the conservation of the forests in the area.</p><p>Between the 1940s and the 1990s, the Atenquique Industrial Company had exclusive rights to use the timber from these forests under a concession from the Mexican government. The result was "that the forests were skimmed — that is, they took the best parts," Villa Castillo said.</p><p>When the concession expired in 1995, the forests did not experience a transition to a sustainable timber extraction method. Those who, along with landowners who held small plots, had rights to the shared land were limited to selling the forested areas, at very low prices, to the new logging industries located in Ciudad Guzmán. "Then, there were many abuses against the communities. The money was given to the caciques" — families who have always controlled the shared land — "alms were left for the community, and our forests were very poorly managed," said Rafael González Merín, the former president of Huescalapa, a collective of communally owned farmland known as an <em>ejido</em>.</p><p>As a result, many residents of the community believe the solution is to conserve the forests with productive projects.</p>
Communities Pitch in to Save Their Trees<p>Unlike the communities that have been overtaken by the avocado industry, Huescalapa has largely managed to resist its arrival. The community of shared land, which spans more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres), is home to pine and fir trees within its shady temperate forests.</p><p>The residents of Huescalapa have also set aside the proposals they've received from the forestry industry, which has expressed interest in buying their trees.</p><p>According to Gerardo Bernabé Aguayo, logging activity in this area of Jalisco "has been very negative because the industry has managed delicate areas — with very limited species — poorly, so we are supporting and launching projects with the communities." Bernabé Aguayo is the president of the board of trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins, a civil association created about 20 years ago after being promoted by the government of the state of Jalisco. To support the conservation of the national and state parks, the board has financing from the regional private sector.</p><p>The board manages about 6 million pesos ($268,000) contributed by the federal government in 2020. With resources from the private sector, it has been able to access an additional 1.5 million pesos ($67,000).</p>
An area of fir trees that has been destroyed by logging. Agustín del Castillo<p>Rodrigo Cantera Hernández, the president of the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center, said that in Huescalapa, the caciques removed timber from the fir forests, "but they did not report any money to the other community members, so we fought to eject them and were able to do so a couple of years ago."</p><p>In Huescalapa, three main conflicts over timber have taken place in the past 20 years. First, in 1999, a group of community members sold part of the forest to a forestry industry from Ciudad Guzmán. A movement led by citizens put an end to the logging five months later.</p><p>Next, in 2012, environmental authorities granted permission for forest exploitation in these areas, so fir trees continued to be cut down. An opinion by the <a href="https://www.ideaac.org.mx/" target="_blank">Institute of Environmental Law</a>, a civil society organization, cited scientific evidence that demonstrated the uniqueness of mountain fir trees and forced SEMARNAT to withdraw these permissions.</p>
The citizens of Huescalapa formed a cooperative to launch the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center. El Alcázar Ecotourism Center<p>Then, in 2015, a federal judge suspended a new authorization to exploit timber in the cloud forest.</p><p>For communities like Huescalapa to have economic options that do not involve the use of timber because of the detrimental effects that this may have on the remaining population of Colima fir trees, ecotourism and similar activities are promoted.</p><p>According to Bernabé Aguayo, the goal is for the natural forest to be conserved as "a key area for contemplation, enjoyment, the preservation of environmental services, and research."</p><p>In 2019, the cooperative in El Alcázar received 1 million pesos ($44,600), which allowed it to have the basic infrastructure for the ecotourism center. The cooperative may receive an additional 3 million pesos ($133,800) in 2020 to purchase more equipment and improve the roads, but support for this funding was blocked in a community assembly. "They have not understood that it is for the benefit of everyone, that it is not money for our pockets," said Cantera Hernández, the president of the cooperative.</p><p>In Huescalapa, one of the challenges that interferes with efforts to promote the ecotourism center is the division that exists between community members. Many seek to use the timber, but others are already convinced of the importance of conservation.</p><p>Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks, emphasized that projects similar to the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center are being promoted in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo, which are very close to the border between the states of Jalisco and Colima.</p>
María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, the leader of the Amixtlán cooperative, which was created in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>The Amixtlán Ecotourism Center is located in the community of San José del Carmen. A cluster of cabins marks the entrance to the cloud forest, designated a state park since 2009.</p><p>"We decided to protect our forest long before they declared the state park, 20 years before then," said María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, a community leader in San José del Carmen. She recalled that when loggers came with offers to buy the forest, members of the community believed that they offered very little payment and that "the damage [that the loggers left] was too much." For that reason, they decided "not to touch the forest, because it produces water for the crops and for our houses."</p><p>Cortés Reyes said the community was able to construct the ecotourism center because it had resources managed by the Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park and by the Board of Trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins. However, she said it is important that more promotion is given to the area and that urgent problems, such as those with the water supply system, are resolved.</p>
A view of the Nevado de Colima volcano from the Amixtlán Ecotourism Center in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>In the community of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, citizens also promoted the Puerta de la Hacienda Ecotourism Center, where administrators support the biocultural production of mezcal, an alcoholic beverage made from agave. The drink is made by two <em>mezcaleros</em>, or people who are experts in creating mezcal: Marcario Partida from Zapotitlán de Vadillo, and Rosario Pineda from Tetapán, a small community in Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>Other productive projects that are promoted in the communities include the organic production of eggs, such as by Efigenia Larios, a small producer from the community of El Tecuán. Additionally, the shared land communities of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, San José del Carmen and Huescalapa are provided with equipment for fire prevention and materials to help restore the forest soil.</p><p>Artists have painted murals that shine a spotlight on forest conservation in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>The intention of these efforts is to allow those who own land or have rights on this fragile mountain to "understand that there are other options besides logging, and that they, too, can generate development," said Arredondo, the researcher who specializes in the ecology of high mountains.</p><p>Despite the strong pressure for land use changes brought by the avocado agroindustry and fostered by the high level of impunity that often prevails in rural areas, many of the area's landowners continue to search for a model in which their forests can remain standing.</p><p>"Many neighbors say that we are foolish for not wanting to sell this beautiful forest that we have, but that money only lasts for a short time," said José Avalo Lino, a farmer in San José del Carmen. "We are so certain of [the importance of] preventing logging that, long before the declaration of the natural protected area, our community assembly had already decided to save this forest. We will continue to be 'foolish' in this decision."</p>
By Jeanette Cwienk
This summer's high street fashions have more in common than styles and colors. From the pink puff-sleeved dream going for just €19.99 ($22.52) at H&M, to Zara's elegant €12.95 ($14.63) halter-neck dress, clothing stores are alive with cheap organic cotton.
"Sustainable" collections with aspirational own-brand names like C&A's "Wear the change," Zara's "join life" or H&M's "CONSCIOUS" are offering cheap fashion and a clean environmental conscience. Such, at least, is the message. But is it really that simple?
Going Green, or Just Greenwashing?<p>"Fashion brands are capitalizing on the fact that consumers are interested in buying fairly and ecologically produced items," said Katrin Wenz, an expert in agriculture at Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND). "Organic cotton is certainly a step in the right direction, because neither <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/patents-on-plants-is-the-sellout-of-genes-a-threat-to-farmers-and-global-food-security/a-49906072" target="_blank">genetic modification</a> nor synthetic pesticides can be used in its production. But these own-brand sustainability labels rarely tell us anything about what happens later on in the production chain."</p><p>Viola Wohlgemuth, a textiles expert at Greenpeace, says companies create their sustainability labels and criteria themselves. "Sustainability is not a protected or specific term, which leaves the door wide open for so-called greenwashing," she told DW.</p>
Independent Certifications Trustworthier<p>Both experts emphasize that independent environmental certifications offer a better indicator of a product's eco credentials, including labor conditions for workers involved in production. Examples include the Global Organic Textile Standard label (GOTS) and the IVN Best certification, which is awarded by the International Association of Natural Textile Industry (IVN).</p><p>Heike Hess, head of IVN's Berlin branch, says using organic cotton alone "is not enough to make fashion really sustainable," and that producing clothes involves a more involved production chain. After being grown in the fields, cotton fibers have to be separated from their seeds, spun, dyed, printed and sewn to create finished items of clothing.</p><p>"Ecological and social standards are important at every stage of production," Hess said. "That includes minimizing the use of harmful chemicals, managing water usage and waste, limiting CO2 emissions and ensuring human rights, fair wages, protections for workers and much more. Only then can fashion really be called sustainable."</p><p>And that comes at a price. <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/heres-why-your-next-t-shirt-should-be-made-of-organic-cotton/a-39083921" target="_blank">Organic cotton</a> summer dresses certified with the GOTS label usually cost somewhere between €60-100 (about $67-113). </p>
Water Polluted and Wasted<p>Textile production often uses harmful chemicals, especially during the wet processing stage when threads are formed, dyed and woven, says Wohlgemuth. According to the UN Environment Program, around 20% of global wastewater is generated during textile dyeing and processing. Communities and ecosystems in <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/bangladeshs-textile-industry-works-towards-becoming-more-eco-friendly/a-50983898" target="_blank">textile producing countries across Asia</a> are worst affected.</p><p>Since launching its <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/international/act/detox/" target="_blank">'Detox My Fashion'</a> campaign in 2011, Greenpeace has secured commitments from some 80 global companies in the fashion industry to eliminate hazardous chemicals by the end of this year.</p><p>But that alone doesn't imply sustainability. Growing cotton also requires a huge amount of water and vast areas of land, says Sabine Ferenschild from the Südwind Institute for Economics and Ecumenism in Bonn.</p><p>"Organic cotton is only sustainable when grown in rainy regions such as India, and planted in combination with food crops rather than in competition with them," she said. "But we have seen that cotton farming is increasingly being shifted to desert regions. That can never be sustainable."</p>
Eco Collections Remain a Market Niche<p>Ferenschild is critical of major fashion brands' attempts to go green with their own criteria and labeling for certain products, while the majority of what they're selling is still produced conventionally.</p><p>Germany is pursuing a new approach to green certification with its government-backed <a href="https://www.bmz.de/en/issues/textilwirtschaft/gruener_knopf/index.html" target="_blank">'Green Button' label</a>. A company can only use the label if all its products comply with high environmental and labor standards. These standards are not as strict as those demanded by organic certifiers, but experts say the 'Green Button' label is a step in the right direction, as it prevents producers offloading responsibility to subcontractors in the production chain.</p>
An 'Eco' Dress for €20 ($22.60): Too Good to Be True?<p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, organic cotton costs between 10 and 50% more than conventional cotton. Premium fibers boost prices the most; the raw material is not necessarily the most important factor in terms of cost.</p><p>Global fashion brands like H&M are able to keep their prices down, even for the products in their "sustainable" ranges, due to the huge volume of items they produce, textiles expert Ferenschild told DW.</p><p>H&M uses its own "CONSCIOUS" label for products which contain "at least 50 percent sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester." It is not clear to consumers what percentage of organic cotton is used in the items labeled as such. In response to DW's request for clarification, H&M wrote: "Across our entire range, H&M uses 16 percent organic cotton according to our most recent figures."</p><p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, just 0.7 percent of the global cotton harvest in the 2017/18 season was organic.</p><p><strong>The Real Problem Is One of Quantity</strong></p><p>Even if the big fashion brands wanted to move further towards truly sustainable production, current consumption habits would make that almost impossible. The real problem is that far too many clothes are being produced. According to a 2015 Greenpeace study, there are more than five billion items of clothing in German wardrobes alone. </p>
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