The cocaine trade and efforts to combat it, including the U.S.-led war on drugs, are helping to drive deforestation in Central America, new research shows.
The findings, released Tuesday at UN events sponsored by the government of Costa Rica, show that traffickers are being pushed into more remote forested areas to avoid law enforcement, causing $214.6 million in "natural and cultural resource loss" each year.
Cocaine is driving deforestation, climate change, and migration https://t.co/UCpgx1GOWu https://t.co/l0o74HrxxQ— The Verge (@The Verge)1570570782.0
Traffickers also launder money through industries like ranching and farming, which are additional drivers of deforestation. Researchers say that government funds that currently promote a "military-based" approach to fighting drug trafficking should be put towards strengthening Indigenous and community land rights to protect local forests and conservation efforts.
For a deeper dive:
By Tara Lohan
The Sargasso Sea, an area of the Atlantic Ocean between the Caribbean and Bermuda, has bedeviled sailors for centuries. Its namesake — sargassum, a type of free-floating seaweed — and notoriously calm winds have "trapped" countless mariners, including the crew of Christopher Columbus's Santa Maria.
For the past 500 years, most of the stories that have come from the Sargasso have been about stranded ships and sunken vessels. But in recent years scientists have rewritten the sea's narrative. It's not a life-stealing sea, but a life-giving one. The seaweed alone helps support 100 species of invertebrates, 280 species of fish and 23 species of birds.
That's one of the reasons why a team of scientists from 13 universities and institutions included the Sargasso Sea as one of 10 biodiversity hotspots in the high seas — areas of the ocean outside of national boundaries — that their research indicates should be considered for designation as marine protected areas.
Their recommendations, published earlier this year in the journal Marine Policy, took more than a little bit of work to develop.
Results from the global data-driven conservation planning analysis showing priority areas to be considered for protection (green) in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction. Visalli et al
Quantifying the Great Unknown
The high seas make up two-thirds of the ocean, much of which is remote. Scientists are still learning about the diversity and complexity of life there.
"We're discovering new species in the high seas all the time," said Morgan Visalli, lead author of Marine Policy study and a project scientist with U.C. Santa Barbara's Benioff Ocean Initiative.
But at the same time, her colleague and study coauthor Douglas McCauley, director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative, said there's also a lot we do know that can help guide conservation.
They began their study by reaching out to networks of colleagues across the world to help gather data.
"I was really impressed by how much we actually know — how much data we have for what is out there, biologically speaking," he said. "And also what people are doing in that space. We can't fall back on the excuse of not knowing enough."
The researchers ended up analyzing 22 billion data points — a huge data-processing challenge — to identify areas of the high seas that could warrant protection.
That included looking at indicators such as seafloor habitat, ocean productivity, diversity and richness of species, and extinction risks. They also identified certain physical features — like seamounts and hydrothermal vents — where changes in elevation and temperature help foster biodiversity.
Their results identified priority regions in nearly all the major ocean basins, with the largest areas in the South Pacific Ocean. Key areas also included the Sargasso Sea, as well as the Costa Rica thermal dome in the Pacific Ocean; the South Tasman Sea; the Emperor Seamount Chain northwest of the Hawaiian Islands; the Mascarene Plateau in the Indian Ocean; and the Walvis Ridge, an undersea mountain range off southwestern Africa.
UCSB analysis; Marineregions.org; Natural Earth. © 2020 The Pew Charitable Trusts
Their model avoided areas of high fishing activity in order to avoid what the study calls "real or perceived negative socioeconomic impacts" of setting aside conservation areas. It also took into consideration how climate change could alter biodiversity by selecting areas critical today and ones likely to be important in the future as well.
The Need for Protection
The research comes at a critical time for the future of the ocean — and the high seas, specifically.
A new United Nations treaty to protect and conserve biodiversity in the high seas is currently being negotiated, and a focus of those talks is how to create a framework for establishing marine protected areas outside of national waters. This could help ensure that unique ecosystems like the Sargasso Sea and others identified in the Marine Policy study aren't overexploited.
The current law that governs the high seas, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, was finalized in 1982. But since then, our collective impact is starting to reveal gaps in governance.
Marine shipping traffic is up 1,600 percent and plastic pollution has increased 100-fold. At least one-third of fish stocks are being overharvested, and many migratory fish species, such as tuna, have declined more than 60 percent. Technological advances have led to more prospecting in the ocean's depths for minerals and other genetic resources, as well as more destructive practices, like trawling along the ocean floor. Climate change, which is warming waters and increasing acidification, poses even more risks to ocean life.
Coral bleaching in the Gulf of Thailand. Petchrung Sukpong / CC BY-SA 2.0
This has all taken a toll.
A landmark report last year from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found massive declines in biodiversity globally — including in the ocean, with one-third of all reef-forming corals and marine mammals threatened with extinction.
A recent study in the journal Nature, published just a few days after the Marine Policy study, suggests that we've come to a critical crossroads.
"We are at a point at which we can choose between a legacy of a resilient and vibrant ocean or an irreversibly disrupted ocean, for the generations to follow," wrote the researchers, led by Carlos Duarte, a professor of marine science at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
They posited that with enough resources and global will, we can see a "substantial recovery of the abundance, structure and function of marine life" by 2050. But to do that, we need to scale up efforts to protect vulnerable species and habitats, reduce pollution and — most critically — curb climate change.
That's why Visalli and McCauley believe efforts like the emerging high seas treaty are important.
So far fully implemented marine protected areas span just 5 percent of the ocean. And the vast majority of these reserves are in national waters, which are only one-third of the ocean. But a high seas treaty would help create a framework to more easily set aside conservation-rich areas in a much greater expanse.
"Even though there is industry out there and it has been increasing over the past several decades," said Visalli, "there is still a lot of wilderness in the high seas, and we are at this moment where we have an opportunity to protect these wild places before industry continues to expand even further."
To truly protect and restore ocean health, scientists have been calling for a bare minimum of 30 percent of the ocean to be protected. More protected areas in the high seas are important for meeting that goal. But just as crucial as how much space, is also where that space is.
The Need for Protected Spaces
The major driver for changing and threatening biodiversity in the long term is climate change, said McCauley, which makes protecting these spaces vital in the short term.
"We are already seeing the first manifestation of these threats and we need to think about climate change and always manage the oceans — from fishing regulations to ocean parks — with that in mind," he said. "Climate change is changing where biodiversity will be in the high seas, and we can use data to plan for that."
Duarte and authors of the Nature study wrote that "Climate change is the critical backdrop against which all future rebuilding efforts will play out." But well-managed marine protected areas, they said, can help ecosystems be better equipped to handle threats from climate change, like warming temperatures and changing ocean chemistry.
Getting there won't be cheap. A global network of marine protected areas that conserves 20–30 percent of the ocean could cost $5–19 billion a year, the researchers write in Nature.
But supporting local economies, feeding communities, and fostering biodiversity don't have to be mutually exclusive. The money spent on conservation will be more than returned in economic gains from the new jobs, revenue from ecotourism, restored fisheries, and protections for coastal areas, their research found.
But establishing the policy and international agreements, like the high seas treaty, to set plans in motion will require a lot of compromise, said McCauley.
"We need that space to have an ocean economy and we need that space to have biodiversity," he said. "Can we find a sweet spot?"
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
By Maddy Savage
Americans love their cars — their gas-guzzling, air-polluting, smog-producing cars. Although the vast majority agree that if we all drove electric vehicles we could reduce oil consumption and pollution, only a third would consider buying one anytime soon. Far fewer are actually making the switch.
Compare that to the situation in Norway, the world's unofficial leader in EV driving, where more than 40% of new cars sold are now electric and thousands of drivers are on waiting lists for the latest models. It's a trend 30 years in the making.
"These things take time, because you need those first guys willing to break the mold, buy an EV and tell their pals, 'Shut up, this car is awesome!'" said Daniel Milford Flathagen, 36, from Trondheim, a government agency employee who waited 18 months for a Hyundai Kona Electric, his second electric vehicle.
Norway, a small, largely rural country with a population of just 5 million, has been steadily building hype for electric cars. Given their significantly larger populations, China and the U.S. report higher total sales numbers (around 1.2 million and 360,000, respectively, including plug-in hybrids, in 2018). The Scandinavian nation has the highest share of new electric vehicle purchases in the world.
Credit for this could go to an evolved cultural acceptance of functional electric cars over more "macho" gas-guzzlers, or Norway's long-held reputation as a nature-loving, environmentally friendly population. But there's a more direct, prosaic explanation: In Norway, it pays to drive electric.
"The environmental aspect is a very good bonus for everyone," said Elisabeth Sakkestad, a 32-year-old EV user who works for an aid organization in Stavanger. "You feel better about driving an electric car than a fossil-fueled one."
But it is what Sakkestad described as the "economic benefits" that have played by far the greatest role in persuading her — and huge swaths of the population — to switch to emissions-free vehicles.
Successive Norwegian governments from across the political spectrum have been offering financial incentives to electric car owners as part of their wider efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And, as electric vehicles have become increasingly advanced in terms of speed, range and aesthetics, growing numbers of consumers have become motivated to cash in on the perks.
"In Norway we tax what we don't want and we promote what we want, and the consumer has, in this way, actually the opportunity to make the right choice," said Christina Bu, secretary-general of Norsk elbilforening, the Norwegian EV Association.
In Norway, most cars are imported. On top of the regular 25% consumption tax (Value Added Tax, or VAT) charged on most consumer goods, all vehicles used to be subject to an additional purchase tax. But that tax was scrapped for electric cars in 1990. EV buyers also became exempt from paying VAT in 2001. A few years later, they scored a fast-track commute when they were given permission to drive in bus lanes.
Until 2017, EV owners were exempt from charges for toll roads and eligible for free parking. Current rules allow municipalities to charge them no more than 50% the standard toll and parking rates.
The center-right governing coalition in Norway has promised to keep most of the incentives running until at least 2021 and aims to ban all new sales of gas-powered cars by 2025.
In Norway, as everywhere, electric cars tend to be pricier than their conventional counterparts. Bloomberg analysts predict price parity in 2022, but Norway's tax breaks mean that in some cases greener models are already cheaper. The base import price for a Volkswagen e-Golf, for example, is around $36,000, compared to $24,000 for a regular Golf. But after VAT, emissions taxes and other fees, the electric version is nearly $1,000 less ($36,300 versus $37,200).
"Buying a new electric car is more or less the same price as buying a nice petrol or diesel car now," said Bu, even before you factor in additional savings such as not having to pay for gas and lower maintenance costs.
Some critics have argued that the country's incentives favor those who are already wealthy enough to afford new cars, while low-income owners can often only afford used gas-fueled models, which remain cheaper than used EVs.
Ask Ibsen Lindal, energy spokesperson for Norway's Green Party, sees the second-hand market for gas cars as an impediment to the nationwide trend toward electric cars, but he said he hopes it's just a matter of time until EVs become affordable for virtually all Norwegians.
"What's been the most important goal of the Norwegian electric car incentive is that ... you hope to start the market moving, and then prices will fall and that is what we are seeing now within a very short time," Isben Lindal said.
He said he expects that in three to five years, EVs will push nearly all new gas-powered cars out of the Norwegian market.
Globally, analysts worry about how electric vehicle sales will fare with the coronavirus pandemic shaking consumer markets and oil prices plunging. One new report predicts worldwide EV sales will tank in 2020, a factor it partly pegs to global uncertainty, which may make people less willing to take a chance on technology that's new to them.
A potential glimmer of hope? A small survey of U.K. consumers in April found that air quality improvements resulting from stay-at-home measures are inspiring new interest in buying non-fossil fuel cars.
How quickly other countries around the world might catch up with Norway's incentivized buying is an ongoing debate in the electric vehicle industry.
Bu said she accepts that it is "probably politically very difficult" for most governments, including in the U.S., to introduce the type of wide-ranging tax differences for electric and fossil-fuel-powered cars that Norway has used.
"I think we will see different countries following faster than the others, but interest is growing," she said. "We definitely will start seeing the same development in country after country."
In Sweden, EV buyers get a bonus of up to 60,000 Swedish krona (roughly $6,000) paid to them six months after their purchase, while Germany recently expanded its subsidies to a similar amount, as long as owners keep their car for at least nine months. Costa Rica, which has committed to going carbon neutral by 2050, exempts electric car owners from its regular 13% sales tax on vehicles.
In the U.S., the federal government has boosted EV sales by offering a $7,500 tax credit to buyers. But that amount phases down once manufacturers sell 200,000 cars; Tesla has already hit the threshold for all its models, as has the Chevrolet Bolt. In December, Congress declined to expand the federal credit program.
Nearly every state and Washington, D.C., offers some incentives for buying an electric vehicle. But while the majority of Americans support the idea of tax breaks or other incentives, and even those who aren't actively considering buying an EV say such a break would encourage them to do so, eight out of 10 of people don't know whether any are available in their state, according to one 2019 poll.
Cost issues aside, American drivers, most of whom can't name an electric car make and model or describe how the vehicles work, are still largely paralyzed by two key worries: that they won't be able to get where they're going on a single charge, and that they won't be able to find a charging station when they need one.
Such anxieties persist among consumers even though today's EVs generally have enough range to handle most drivers' daily travel. The average American drives less than than 30 miles a day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, while more than half a dozen electric models now get over 200 miles on a single charge.
When it comes to charging infrastructure, Norway is miles ahead. It has been rapidly increasing the availability of charging points and electricity supply since 2015, when the government set the goal of having at least one fast charging station every 31 miles on major highways, offering subsidies to providers in order to accelerate installations. By mid-2017, there were more than 1,500 stations along these key routes, up from 300 in 2014.
The country was also the first in the world to introduce supercharger points, where more than two dozen vehicles can charge at the same time. The capital, Oslo, is working with housing cooperatives to install thousands more charging points outside people's homes, and it has started a program that provides wireless charging for its taxi network.
Environmental activists like Ibsen Lindal argue that Norway still isn't quite keeping up with demand. He said that although Oslo has gained a reputation as something of a trailblazer when it comes to charging infrastructure, other cities and municipalities are further behind.
Nationwide, there were about 1.7 electric vehicles per charging point in 2011, compared with around 19.5 today. Ibsen Lindal said that while hard data is limited, anecdotal evidence suggests some electric car users who are frustrated with the current infrastructure may be returning to fossil-fueled vehicles for convenience.
"There have been some reports on people buying electric cars, but then after a few months, they say that there are too many people in line waiting at charging stations, making EV ownership impractical for some people today," he said.
Trondheim EV-owner Flathagen said he has observed long queues at some rural stations and met customers, usually elderly people, who "aren't really prepared for how rapid charging differs from getting gas at a petrol station" or how to use some of the other necessary related technologies, such as apps or SMS messages to pay for electricity. (Norsk ebilforening's research suggests that while early adopters tended to be young, educated men, a much wider range of consumers are now buying the vehicles, including increasing numbers of women and people over 50 years of age.)
Geir Kulia, a 28-year-old in southern Norway who recently bought an electric BMW i3, admitted that while it's been surprisingly easy to charge his car, "the planning phase is a bit more important" when it comes to longer trips. "There is a limit to your freedom; you have to consider where to charge and the time it takes to charge, so you can't just go off driving around Europe."
For Americans with range anxiety, Flathagen said that although Norway is far smaller than the United States, in some ways it's a perfect proving ground.
"It's a rural country with a cold climate, where people drive longer distances than most other European countries," he said. (Cold weather saps batteries faster.) "If EVs work here, they should work everywhere."
This story originally appeared in HuffPost and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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Vondelpark, Amsterdam's public urban park in the southwest of the city, is anything but a remote place. Even on a weekday, it's full of people taking a stroll, playing soccer or chatting with friends on the neatly mowed grass.
There are also countless people bicycling on the wide, paved roads — after all, this is the Netherlands.
Vondelpark definitely might not seem like the ideal place to look for new species of insects, but biologist Iva Njunjic begs to differ.
"Unknown biodiversity is lurking everywhere, even in this place dominated by humans."
Njunjic works for Taxon Expeditions, a Netherlands-based organization that offers ecotourism trips, usually to places like Borneo, Panama and Montenegro.
Last year, they embarked on a week long citizen-science project to comb a small island nature reserve in Vondelpark called the "Koeienweide" — "cow meadow" — for new species.
A single path leads to the reserve, which is padlocked and clearly off-limits to the general public.
Managed by an Amsterdam citizens' initiative, the Koeienweide — an island surrounded by canals — clearly hasn't seen a lawnmower for quite a while.
Collecting What's There
Every day for a week, eight amateur researchers set up traps on the island to catch different kinds of resident critters, such as spiders, beetles, worms and moths.
"I'm not sure how many species we caught but I was surprised that it was so many," Norbert Peeters, a participant and philosopher from the city of Leiden, told DW.
Iva Njunjic says the group collected 143 different types of moths alone. Taxonomy experts at the Free University of Amsterdam helped the amateur researchers identify the species under the microscope.
"By the end of the week we were given some hints that we might be onto something," Peeters said.
It turns out the group discovered two species of insects that hadn't previously been described by scientists.
Njunjic unscrews a small plastic container to reveal one of the new finds. It is a small black dot, no larger than 3 millimeters or one-eighth of an inch, glued to a piece of paper and neatly labelled.
She explains that it's a beetle belonging to the family of Leiodidae, commonly called "round fungus beetles."
It most likely lives underground. "We think this species probably feeds on some decaying organic matter or fungi because we found it in a trap with meat and cheese."
Its Penis Gave It Away
How did they know this beetle was a new discovery?
"It differs from very closely related species from southern Europe by the shape of its penis," Njunjic explains and laughs. "When studying insects we compare male genitalia. So we had to dissect its penis and observe it under a microscope."
The group decided to name the new species after the band "The Beatles," because as Njunjic puts it, "it's kind of unfair that there is no beetle species named after them yet." Its full name will be Ptomaphagus beatles.
The group of researchers also found a new species of parasitic wasp, which are small insects that lay their eggs on or in the bodies of other invertebrates, sooner or later causing the death of their hosts.
The new parasitic wasp will be named Aphaereta Vondelpark to honor the place where it first was found.
More to Uncover
According to Martin Kubiak, insect researcher at the Center of Natural History at Hamburg University, who was not involved in the study, the outcome of the Vondelpark expedition is "not surprising."
While the fauna in Central Europe is well explored in terms of species of vertebrates, butterflies and dragonflies, there is still much to discover in other parts of the animal world.
"We still know amazingly little about insect groups comprising beetles, wasps, bees, flies and mosquitoes, especially if they are only 1 to 2 millimeters big," Kubiak says.
In 2011, biologists from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, estimated that there are an overall 8.7 million species on Earth.
So far, scientists have only described 1.5 million species.
Using a technique called DNA barcoding, researchers identify species by analyzing a short section of their DNA.
When biologists at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich analyzed the genetic material of a large number of insects they had trapped across Germany, they were able to estimate that 930 different gall midges — a family of flies — live around us, yet only 800 species have been described so far.
Biodiversity and the City
Like Norbert Peeters, many people might assume that cities are not where animals are most likely to be found.
But Menno Schilthuizen, evolutionary biologist at Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden and co-founder of Taxon Expeditions, says the opposite is the case.
"In a country like the Netherlands, cities are actually biologically rich in comparison to the countryside," he told DW. "This is because there is intensive agriculture everywhere."
The organizers hope their findings will shed light on the importance of insects.
"Even though they're so tiny they perform many important functions like aerating the soil, decomposing organic matter and pollinating the plants," Iva Njunjic says. "Everyone wants to save pandas and lions, but insects are actually more important."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Liz Carlisle
This opinion piece was originally published by Yes! Magazine on March 30, 2020.
As the coronavirus crisis has laid bare, the U.S. urgently needs a strategic plan for farmland. The very lands we need to ensure community food security and resilience in the face of crises like this pandemic and climate change are currently being paved over, planted to chemically raised feed grains for factory farm animals, and acquired by institutional investors and speculators. For far too long, the fate of farmlands has flown under the radar of public dialogue—but a powerful new proposal from think tank Data for Progress lays out how a national strategic plan for farmland could help boost economic recovery while putting the U.S. on a path to carbon neutrality.
The new Data For Progress memo builds on the Green New Deal resolution—a sweeping proposal to build out a carbon neutral economy, inspired by the package of Roosevelt administration social policy that lifted the United States out of the 1930s Depression and created the largest middle class in history. The Green New Deal, advocates say, would mobilize similar infrastructure and jobs programs, but with a focus on climate mitigation and resilience, and a more broadly construed focus on equity. (While the original New Deal met many goals expressed by organized labor, it failed to address racial inequality).
Yet this latest Data for Progress memo, published today, hearkens back several decades before Roosevelt's presidency. Reopening conversations that were front and center during Abraham Lincoln's time in the White House, the memo proposes one of the most promising strategies yet offered for meeting climate targets while building broad-based economic prosperity: a systematic national policy to facilitate land access for small farmers.
Lincoln’s Unfinished Business
Farmland ownership has not followed the path that President Lincoln envisioned, explains the memo's co-lead author Meleiza Figueroa, a Ph.D. candidate in geography at University of California, Berkeley and faculty-owner of the Birmingham-based Cooperative New School for Urban Studies and Environmental Justice. When Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862, he promised small tracts of land to family farmers. Following emancipation, the Lincoln administration also promised "40 acres and a mule" to formerly enslaved Africans.
However, land speculators cheated from the beginning of the homestead era, gobbling up multiple claims under different names. And "40 acres and a mule" were never provided to emancipated slaves, as President Andrew Johnson rescinded the promise after Lincoln's assassination. Homestead claims trickled to a close in the early 1900s, and the federal government backed out of land policy, letting the market take its course. "When you look at the history of injustice in this country," Figueroa says, "it's all about land."
In the century-long absence of a coherent U.S. policy framework for farmland, Figueroa and her coauthors point out, several worrying trends have developed. For one, prime farmland has been paved over. According to the American Farmland Trust, 25.1 million acres of U.S. agricultural land—nearly the size of the state of Ohio—was converted to developed uses between 1982 and 2015.
Such land use change has significant climate implications. A 2012 University of California, Davis study that compared an acre of urban land to an acre of irrigated cropland found that the urban land generated 70 times as many greenhouse gas emissions. There's also an opportunity cost: Land-based carbon sequestration strategies like agroforestry and cover cropping can't be adopted if the land is under concrete.
Second, the memo points out, what farmland remains has become ever more concentrated in the hands of large farms and institutional investors. A mere 3.2% of U.S. farms account for 51% of the total value of the nation's agricultural production. Forty percent of U.S. farmland is rented, discouraging sustainable agricultural practices that require long-term management and secure land tenure. And farmers make up just 1.3% of the U.S. workforce.
"There's an assumption out there that this is just the forward march of progress," Figueroa says. " 'Who wants to be a farmer anymore?' Actually, a lot of people want to be farmers now—especially young people who are aware of the effects of climate change and also not satisfied by alienating office labor. Why not offer the opportunity for meaningful and gainful work that is beneficial to everybody, to people and planet?"
Racial Injustice Plays Out on the Land
The absence of a coherent U.S. land policy can be blamed for some of the current problems with farmland concentration, say the authors of the Data for Progress memo. But co-lead author Leah Penniman, founding co-director of Soul Fire Farm in Upstate New York, argues that the U.S. government has had a very influential de facto land policy over the past century, even if it wasn't articulated as such. "The very basis of U.S. land policy is rooted in the theft of land and the exclusion of people of color from land," Penniman explains. "This, of course, started with the genocidal stealing of almost the entire continent from the stewardship of Indigenous people … [and] throughout much of our history, there have been various state-level property ownership requirements that excluded people of color from being able to own property."
When people of color did amass property, Penniman says, they were targeted with violence.
"The Ku Klux Klan, the White Caps, and the White Citizens Council were responsible for lynching almost 4,500 people, many of whom were landowners, who they saw as having the audacity to get off the plantation and to want to stop sharecropping." The federal government also discriminated against black farmers through USDA programs, Penniman explains, resulting in a rapid decline of black farmers from 14% of the nation's farmers in 1910 to approximately 1% today.
Given that the average age of the American farmer is 57, and a significant share of the nation's farmland will soon change hands, Penniman and her co-authors argue, Americans have a short window of opportunity to rectify this unjust history while ensuring that farmland is conserved and that farmers have opportunities to combat climate change.
A Diverse Coalition for Reform
The diverse coalition mobilizing around these shifts to farm policy is notable: Contributors to the Data for Progress memo range from staffers at predominantly white farm state groups like National Family Farm Coalition and Family Farm Defenders to racial justice leaders like Penniman and Figueroa to academics focused on economic policy.
What these diverse constituencies share, the memo's authors explain, is that they've all gotten the short end of the stick of land consolidation and are struggling to survive. Ironically, many family farmers have accumulated significant land over the past generation or two but are less economically secure, as they've taken on debt to keep up with the treadmill of overproduction stimulated by current agriculture policy.
"We need to give current family farmers, who are mostly white, a lot of credit," Penniman says. "Nobody wants to be complicit in racism and in that kind of harm and exclusion. I think it's in our best interest as a nation not to pretend that we're all the same or that we all need the same policies, but to really look truthfully at what needs to change. And we've found that having these honest conversations in our communities often leads to common ground."
As for how to turn this common ground into policy change, the memo's authors outline a couple different pathways. The 'low hanging fruit' option, explains contributor Adam Calo, a researcher at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, would be to expand three separate kinds of existing policies. For one, Calo believes, the U.S. should ramp up efforts to conserve farmland and protect it from development while limiting land investment by large corporations. Second, programs that incentivize farmers to use regenerative agricultural practices that combat climate change should be dramatically scaled up. The third and critical piece of this policy triad, Calo emphasizes, is equity: the U.S. must strengthen and enforce policies that ensure "Socially Disadvantaged Farmers" (the USDA's term for farmers subjected to racial discrimination) have equal access to all farm programs and particular set-asides to redress historic injustices.
More ambitious and transformative, the memo's authors suggest, would be to combine these objectives with a fully integrated land policy. Such a policy would include public land banks that could acquire land from retiring farmers and provide affordable access for farmers of color, new farmers, and farm cooperatives who pledged to use sustainable practices. It would also include a land commission, anchored by community-based institutions led by people of color, that would periodically assess that state of farmland access and make policy recommendations.
Good Stewardship at Scale
Figueroa is excited about these more far-reaching approaches, which she sees as opportunities to mobilize the underutilized climate response potential in Black and brown communities. "How many Oaxacan farmers are in apartment buildings right now?," Figueroa asks. "If you gave them land, they know what to do with it. It's not like they forgot what to do with it once they crossed the border."
But getting farmers on land isn't enough, Figueroa and her coauthors emphasize. A successful Green New Deal for farmland must help ecological farmers stay on the land—and thrive. Penniman points to the success of payment for ecosystem services policies like those in Costa Rica, where farmers are compensated for providing environmental benefits on behalf of society—benefits like maintaining pollinator habitat, preventing soil erosion, and sequestering carbon. We already have such programs in the U.S., including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, but they are funded at much lower levels than other farm programs that predominantly support industrial agriculture.
Overhauling farm programs by shifting current subsidies to instead compensate farmers for climate-beneficial practices—and establishing public procurement and supply management—would allow current family farmers to earn more money on fewer acres. At the same time, it would enable farmers to produce more human food (rather than biofuels and feed grain for factory farms) and provide more public benefits (such as drawing down emissions and improving watershed health). Remaining and degraded acres no longer needed by these now much more viable farms could be transitioned into land banks like those envisioned by the Data for Progress team, offering a just transition for both existing family farmers and landless farmers looking to contribute to climate mitigation and community food security by stewarding land.
"It's a win-win," Figueroa says. "People who want to put their labor into agriculture and struggling farmers who want support can actually join together as a community."
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
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Costa Rica launched a plan this week to fully decarbonize the country by 2050, setting a goal of powering its electrical grid entirely with renewables by 2030 and aiming to aggressively increase the use of electric vehicles and buses.
President Carlos Alvarado signed a decree Sunday laying out a roadmap with key targets in the transportation, industry, waste management, and agriculture industries to achieve zero net emissions, and on Monday extended the country's moratorium on oil exploration through 2050. Costa Rica's plan is "unprecedented" in terms of what other countries are doing to transition off fossil fuels, former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres explained to Thomson Reuters. More than 95 percent of the country's electricity has come from renewable sources for the past four years.
For a deeper dive:
Jaguars face a number of threats, from habitat destruction and fragmentation for agriculture to poaching, trophy hunting and retaliatory killings by ranchers. The cats are estimated to have lost nearly half of their historic range and to have declined by as much as 20 to 25 percent over the past three generations, which is why the species is listed as nearly threatened on the IUCN Red List.
According to research published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice earlier this month, there may be an overlooked threat facing this most iconic of species: the booming ayahuasca tourism industry.
The trade in jaguar body parts is growing across Latin America, particularly in Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru and Suriname. Over the past few years, the most serious new threat to jaguars that has emerged is the illegal trade in jaguar fangs for the Chinese market. But according to a team of researchers led by Alexander Braczkowski of Australia's University of Queensland, "commercialized ayahuasca tourism may be an undervalued contributor to the trade" in jaguar body parts.
Jaguar skin for sale in the Passage Paquito section of Belen market, Iquitos. Steve Winter / National Geographic
"In Southeast Asia, jaguar claws and teeth are worn as jewellery; their skins are bought for home decor; and a glue paste (made from boiled jaguar parts) is consumed to heal various ailments," Braczkowski and co-authors write in the paper. "Most organized trafficking appears to be by contractors working for foreign companies hired to hunt cats to export body parts. With Latin America's current ayahuasca and shamanic tourist boom there are additional demands for jaguar products."
Braczkowski and the team conducted an investigation between August 2016 and August 2019 into the jaguar parts trade in markets in three Peruvian cities that are considered top ayahuasca tourism destinations: Lima, Iquitos and Pucallpa. They found jaguar skins for sale at prices ranging from $49 to $152, paws that could be purchased for $9, jaguar skin purses available for $6, and stuffed jaguars heads for which the asking price was anywhere from $30 to $91. Jaguar canines can fetch between $61 and $122 each.
"Every single place we went to look for jaguar skins, jaguar teeth, we found them," Sharon Guynup, a co-author of the paper, told Mongabay.
Jaguar teeth for sale in the Passage Paquito section of Belen market, Iquitos. Steve Winter / National Geographic
Through discussions with street vendors, shamans and people working in the tourism industry, the researchers found that jaguar canine pendants, jaguar skin bracelets and other jaguar products are being sold to tourists under the pretense that they somehow enhance the ayahuasca experience. Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew made from the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and chakruna leaves (Psychotria viridis). It has traditionally been used for spiritual and physical healing in ritual shamanic ceremonies, but has also become popular among recreational users in recent decades.
"This appears to be a case of rebranding, specifically using 'ayahuasca marketing' for sellers to charge a premium on jaguar parts," the researchers write in the paper. "Local indigenous shamans and healers from the Pucallpa area (Shipibo, Conibo, and Ashaninka ethnicities) denied the notion that jaguar parts enhance the ayahuasca experience for visiting tourists, and suggested that this practice is being marketed by 'charlatan shamans' seeking financial gain from the ayahuasca boom."
The researchers suggest that one way to effectively halt this growing illicit trade is to more formally regulate ayahuasca tourism and educate both tourists and tour operators. "The shamans we encountered in Iquitos and Pucallpa stressed the importance of the jaguar to the Amazon ecosystem and as a powerful totem in the spiritual world," they write in the paper. "The leadership of ayahuasca retreats could be important champions for jaguar conservation in Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, and other regions where ayahuasca is used, and they could discourage tourists from using jaguar parts."
Jaguar teeth and a jaguar skull for sale in a craft market in Yarinacocha Market, Pucallpa. Alex Braczkowski / Mongabay
Peru already has a national anti‐wildlife trafficking policy in place that punishes traffickers with a prison sentence of 3 to 5 years. Guynup said that, during their investigation of local markets, the researchers found a number of purveyors of jaguar products who exercised caution in their dealings with would-be buyers, suggesting that there has been some enforcement of anti-wildlife trafficking laws. But she called for the government of Peru to be more aggressive in enforcing its laws.
"The Peruvian government needs to recognize that this is happening and address it. There are good wildlife laws in Peru, I think they need to be better enforced and if they're not, there's very little reason for this trade to end," Guynup said.
"A big factor here is also education, for ayahuasca tourists and for tourists in general, not only on the plight of jaguars but the plight of endangered species in general. It's not that this trade is specifically [due to] ayahuasca tourism, there's a much broader trade that does include trade to Asia. But this is a piece of the puzzle and it's really important for potential consumers to be aware of this and not participate."
Jaguars in Mato Grosso Sur, Brazil. Steve Winter / National Geographic
Note: A co-author of the paper, Romi Castagnino, works for Mongabay LatAm. She had no editorial input on this article.
Reposted with permission from our media partner Mongabay.
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Planned fossil fuel extraction by 2030 would also double what would be required to limit warming to two degrees celsius. This puts the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to "well below" two degrees far out of range and hampers nations' ability to meaningfully address the climate crisis. An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in October 2018 warned that even two degrees of warming would have catastrophic consequences.
"We're in a deep hole – and we need to stop digging," Måns Nilsson, executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), which helped produce the report, told The Guardian. "Despite more than two decades of climate policymaking, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever."
🆕 #ProductionGap report shows that in 2030, countries are planning to extract ⚫️6 billion tonnes of unburnable coa… https://t.co/xYNygPX7cx— UN Environment Programme (@UN Environment Programme)1574314164.0
The report looked at the plans of 10 counties, the executive summary explained: seven top fossil fuel producers China, the U.S., Russia, India, Australia, Indonesia and Canada; and three countries that both produce significant amounts of fossil fuels and have made ambitious climate plans — Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom.
The report also found that there is a gap between the nations' stated climate policies and the amount of fossil fuels they plan to produce. The production plans outlined in the report surpass what would be consistent with the countries' Paris agreement commitments. The so-called "production gap" found in the report is therefore greater than the "emissions gap" between the Paris agreement goals and actual national policies.
New report shows that the world is on track to produce 120% more fossil fuels than can be burned under 1.5°C warmin… https://t.co/MD5qQRkU4I— SEI Research (@SEI Research)1574255917.0
"The discrepancy between national policies ― the climate change policies and fossil fuel production policies ― highlights there is much more that needs to be done both at country level and international climate negotiations to put a sharpened and increased focus on fossil fuels," UN Environment Programme climate change coordinator Niklas Hagelberg said in a press call reported by HuffPost.
The production gap was especially wide when it came to coal, the report found. Countries plan to produce 150 percent more coal by 2030 than would be consisted with two degrees of warming, and 280 percent more than would be consistent with 1.5 degrees.
Countries are also investing in new oil and gas infrastructure to such a degree that it would "lock in" 43 percent more oil and 47 percent more gas production by 2040 than would be consistent with 2 degrees of warming.
The gap has not been helped by the policies of the Trump administration, which has moved forward with plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement and has supported more fossil fuel production, AFP noted.
The U.S. produced more oil and gas than any other country last year and is the world's No. 2 coal producer, behind China.
The report outlined positive developments in certain countries that could be adopted elsewhere: Belize, Costa Rica, France, Denmark and New Zealand have all implemented partial or total bans on oil and gas extraction, and Germany and Spain are in the process of banning coal extraction. The report also encouraged countries to reform fossil fuel subsidies, implement a just transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy and be transparent about planned fossil fuel production.
SEI member Cleo Verkuijl recommended to The Guardian a global agreement for ending fossil fuel extraction. While Verkuijl noted such an agreement was unlikely while Trump remains president of the U.S., many of the Democratic primary candidates have called for ending fossil fuel subsidies or limiting extraction on public lands. If such a candidate won in 2020, it would be a "gamechanger," she told The Guardian.
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By Jason Bittel
Authorities in Hong Kong intercepted some questionable cargo three years ago — a rather large shipment of shark fins that had originated in Panama. Shark fins are a hot commodity among some Asian communities for their use in soup, and most species are legally consumed in Hong Kong, but certain species are banned from international trade due to their extinction risk. And wouldn't you know it: this confiscated shipment contained nearly a ton of illegal hammerhead fins.
But all that hammerhead contraband should never have made it to China in the first place. Because after the cargo left Panama, it made a stop in Houston, where trade in shark fins of any species, endangered or not, is forbidden. And while the ship's bill of lading didn't specify any illegal species onboard, it did note the presence of dried seafood, including fish maws, shark fins, and shark tails. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials in Houston could have inspected such cargo to ensure it complied with state, federal, and international regulations — but nobody did. (We'll get to why in a moment).
This isn't a problem only in Houston. That 2016 Panama shipment is just one of dozens discovered by NRDC (onEarth's publisher) in a recent report titled, Unintentional Partner: How the United States Helps the Illegal Shark Fin Market.
In their research, the report's authors made Freedom of Information Act requests; sought information from foreign conservation partners such as OceanaPeru and Costa Rica–based MarViva; and conducted interviews with various U.S. agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. They learned that shark fins move through the U.S. by air, land, and sea. They pass through huge international ports like Los Angeles, Miami, and Seattle as well as landlocked airports like those in Atlanta and Memphis. They even make pit stops in places like Pipersville, Pennsylvania. The smuggled fins tend to come from the waters off Central and South America, and most are destined for Hong Kong.
From 2010 to 2017, the U.S. unintentionally played middleman to somewhere between 650 and 772 tons of shark fin exports, accounting for as many as 1.29 million sharks. (The exact number of sharks is difficult to determine, since most of the records NRDC managed to obtain expressed shipment size by weight, not individual parts, and different conditions translate into different weights per piece. Frozen fins weigh more than dried fins, for example).
"When we let these shark fin shipments pass through our borders without monitoring them, the U.S. becomes a weak link," says report coauthor Elizabeth Murdock, director of the NRDC's Pacific Oceans Initiative.
It doesn't have to be this way. The U.S. has a stronger legal framework and more regulatory resources than most of the world. If anything, we should be one of the strongest links in the fight against a black market trade that threatens marine biodiversity.
Back in 2000, the U.S. banned shark finning, the practice of cutting a shark's fins off and then dumping the animal back into the ocean. But it is still legal in many states to catch a shark, bring it back to shore, and cut it up into parts including fins, steaks, and other marketable items. (Possessing or selling shark fins is not always illegal — just when the fins come from species protected by the Endangered Species Act or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
Each year, tens of millions of sharks wind up on hooks and in nets, many of which belong to Americans. According to NRDC's report, the number of sharks we land each year makes us the seventh-largest shark-fishing nation in the world. Still, scientists seem to agree that the U.S. is doing a pretty good job of managing its shark populations. A study published in 2017 in the journal Current Biology listed America's Alaskan skate, blacktip shark, and spiny dogfish fisheries (among others) as "bright spots of sustainable shark fishing." Indeed, countries such as the U.S., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are leading the world when it comes to harvesting sharks in ways that don't drive them toward extinction. However, the unfortunate fact remains that the vast majority (91 percent) of the world's shark fisheries are unsustainable.
Silky shark. NOAA / Teachers at Sea Program
For instance, a study of Hong Kong's market, published last year in Conservation Letters, found that silky sharks were the second-most commonly sold species there from 2014 to 2016. The animals are considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. And close behind the silkies, ranking fourth and fifth, were scalloped hammerheads (endangered) and smooth hammerheads (vulnerable). All three species are listed under Appendix II of CITES, which strictly regulates their trade. The study also found evidence of illegal hammerhead fins in 46 out of 46 sampling events in Hong Kong.
The U.S. obviously can't control what happens in every market all over the world. But we could be doing more to watch over what's moving in and out of our own ports.
Part of the answer is logistics, says Murdock. Better communication among agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could help. Some budgetary improvements could also be made — currently, wildlife shipments are mandated to funnel through just 17 U.S. ports that have the appropriate inspection personnel.
But honestly, a lot of the problem comes down to wording.
As cargo, shark fins are not required to route through one of those 17 ports if they are not "unloaded." If that's the case, those fins can move along without a second glance. At the same time, products that qualify as "seafood" are also exempt from special port inspection unless the species involved requires a permit under the Endangered Species Act (which lists only the two hammerhead species mentioned above) or CITES (which lists only 14 of the more than 400 shark species known to science). The hammerhead fins in Hong Kong were listed as "dried seafood," which is one of the reasons why they were able to pass through Houston without closer inspection.
Murdock says sharks slip through a legal loophole because they qualify as both wildlife and seafood. This makes shark products even more difficult to regulate than, say, elephant ivory or rhino horn. "It's not a new problem," says environmental consultant David Shiffman, a marine conservation biologist at Arizona State University, "but it's one that doesn't get a lot of attention."
"One of the things is just how it's coded," Shiffman says. "In some countries shark is counted as 'seafood, frozen,' and in some cases it's 'shark fins,' and in some cases it's shark fins from a particular species. But it's not consistent from country to country, and it's not necessarily consistent from year to year, and that makes it really hard to keep track of this stuff."
So how do we help close these loopholes? Murdock says routing all shark fin shipments through the ports where officials have capacity to inspect them properly should become standard operating procedure. (This measure alone wouldn't stop every illegal wildlife shipment; Houston, after all, is one of those ports). A full-on federal ban against the shark fin trade wouldn't hurt either, she says. (Twelve states, such as Texas and California, have so far banned the shark fin trade within their borders). Other recommendations from the report are more international in scope, including ratcheting up the existing CITES resolutions; improving enforcement of fishing laws in nations where the shark products typically originate; and generally more, more, and still more partnerships between countries.
"It's clear that it's only going to get solved through international collaboration, because some of the countries from which these shipments are coming have a lot less capacity for law enforcement and inspections and monitoring than the United States does," says Murdock. So by stepping up efforts on our own shores, we can also help keep things on the up-and-up all over the world.
Shiffman says the report "has some excellent recommendations of what we should do about this," but he'd really like to see more data on how prevalent the problem is. And so would Murdock. She and her colleagues have had to scratch and claw for roughly two years to bring as many cases to the surface as they have.
"We're confident that this is just the tip of the iceberg," says Murdock. "It's just hard to know how big the iceberg is."
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By Wesley Rahn
The global population of forest-dwelling vertebrates has plummeted in the period between 1970 and 2014, according to a study published Tuesday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Berlin.
The study, titled Below The Canopy tracked the development of 268 vertebrate species and 455 populations in forests around the world. It found that the numbers of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have dropped by an average of 53 percent since 1970.
A landmark report on the state of forest-dwelling wildlife highlights a crisis below the canopy, but also that with… https://t.co/jtvgpDm2FP— WWF 🐼 (@WWF 🐼)1565702146.0
In light of these figures, the WWF called on the international community to declare a global forest emergency and to begin taking steps to reverse the trend by adopting sustainable forestry policies and beginning the process of restoring lost forest habitats.
Deforestation and degradation of forests are thought to be responsible for more than 60 percent of the decline in populations, according to the study.
Effect on Climate Change
WWF researchers emphasized that a rich variety of animal species is vital to forest ecosystems. According to the study, a decline in forest vertebrates has "serious consequences for forest integrity and climate change, because of the role that particular vertebrate species play in forest regeneration and carbon storage. Other essential functions for forest ecosystems performed by animals include pollination and seed dispersal.
"Forests are our greatest natural ally in the fight against global warming," said Susanne Winter, program director at WWF Germany. "If we want to reverse the worldwide decline in biodiversity and prevent the climate crisis, we need to protect the forests and the species living there."
Winter pointed out that animals and forests live in symbiosis, and if certain species dwindle, flora will begin to suffer.
"Forests depend on an intact animal world to perform functions essential to life," she said. "Without animals, it is harder for forests to absorb carbon, as tree species important for protecting the climate could be lost without animals."
Recovery is Possible
Loss of habitat is not the only threat facing the world's forest animals. According to WWF researchers, overexploitation, invasive species, climate change and disease are also factors harming population levels. And while forest degradation was identified as the primary driver of population loss, restoring forests alone would not solve the problem.
To increase animal populations, the WWF said local communities must be engaged to address "overexploitation of wildlife, and tackling invasive species to address the multiple pressures on forest species."
The study showed that conservation measures restored the population of gorillas in Central and East Africa and that of capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica.
"Success stories show that with the right conservation strategies, forest vertebrate populations can recover," the report said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Deutsche Welle.
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By Jessica Corbett
More than 7,000 colleges and universities across the globe declared a climate emergency on Wednesday and unveiled a three-point plan to collectively commit to addressing the crisis.
The declaration came in a letter — which other education institutions are encouraged to sign — that was organized by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), U.S.-based higher education climate action organization Second Nature, and UN Environment Program's (UNEP) Youth and Education Alliance.
The letter, according to a statement from organizers, "marks the first time further and higher education establishments have come together to make a collective commitment to address the climate emergency," and outlines the three-point plan:
- Committing to going carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest;
- Mobilizing more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation; and
- Increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curricula, campus, and community outreach programs.
"The young minds that are shaped by our institutions must be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and capability to respond to the ever-growing challenges of climate change," the letter says. "We all need to work together to nurture a habitable planet for future generations and to play our part in building a greener and cleaner future for all."
#ClimateAction— UN Environment (@UNEnvironment) July 10, 2019
Networks representing more than 7,000 higher & further education institutions from 6 continents 🌎🌍🌏 are declaring a #ClimateEmergency & agreed to undertake a 3️⃣-point plan to address the crisis through their work with students. https://t.co/IZZrpfwE2m
The letter, which calls on other institutions and governments to declare a climate emergency and pursue urgent action to combat it, was presented at a Wednesday event hosted by the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative — a partnership of various United Nations agencies — at UN headquarters in New York City.
"The expectation is that over 10,000 institutions of higher and further education will come on board before the end of 2019, with governments invited to support their leadership with incentives to take action," said the organizers' statement. So far, the letter has been signed by 25 networks that represent approximately 7,050 institutions and 59 individual institutions that, combined, have about 652,000 students.
The individual institutions that have joined the declaration include five in the continental U.S. and two in Puerto Rico as well as colleges and universities in Argentina, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kenya, Kuwait, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Venezuela.
"What we teach shapes the future. We welcome this commitment from universities to go climate neutral by 2030 and to scale-up their efforts on campus," said UNEP executive director Inger Andersen. "Young people are increasingly at the forefront of calls for more action on climate and environmental challenges. Initiatives which directly involve the youth in this critical work are a valuable contribution to achieving environmental sustainability."
The declaration follows months of students — from all levels of education — taking to the streets around the world as part of the school strike for climate movement, which calls on governments and powerful institutions to pursue bolder policies targeting the human-caused climate crisis.
Praising the college and universities' letter on Wednesday, Charlotte Bonner of Students Organizing for Sustainability (SOS) said that "young people around the world feel that schools, colleges, and universities have been too slow to react to the crisis that is now bearing down on us."
"We welcome the news that they are declaring a climate emergency, we have no time to lose," Bronner added. "We will be calling on those who haven't yet supported this initiative, to come on board. Of course, the most important element is the action that follows."
Read the full letter below. Representatives for education institutions can sign the letter here.
As institutions and networks of higher and further education from across the world, we collectively declare a Climate Emergency in recognition of the need for a drastic societal shift to combat the growing threat of climate change.
The young minds that are shaped by our institutions must be equipped with the knowledge, skills and capability to respond to the ever-growing challenges of climate change. We all need to work together to nurture a habitable planet for future generations and to play our part in building a greener and cleaner future for all.
We are today committing to collectively step up to the challenge by supporting a three-point plan which includes:
- Mobilizing more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation;
- Committing to going carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest;
- Increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curriculum, campus and community outreach programmes.
We call on governments and other education institutions to join us in declaring a Climate Emergency and back this up with actions that will help create a better future for both people and our planet.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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Tropical forests globally are being lost at a rate of 61,000 square miles a year. And despite conservation efforts, the global rate of loss is accelerating. In 2016 it reached a 15-year high, with 114,000 square miles cleared.
At the same time, many countries are pledging to restore large swaths of forests. The Bonn Challenge, a global initiative launched in 2011, calls for national commitments to restore 580,000 square miles of the world's deforested and degraded land by 2020. In 2014 the New York Declaration on Forests increased this goal to 1.35 million square miles, an area about twice the size of Alaska, by 2030.
Ecological restoration is a process of helping damaged ecosystems recover. It produces many benefits for both wildlife and people — for example, better habitat, erosion control, cleaner drinking water and jobs.
That's why the Bonn Challenge is so exciting for geographers and ecologists like us. It brings restoration into the center of global discussions about combating climate change, preventing species extinctions and improve farmers' lives. It connects governments, organizations, companies and communities, and is catalyzing substantial investments in forest restoration.
However, a closer look shows that a struggle remains to fully realize the Bonn Challenge vision. Some reforestation efforts provide only limited benefits, and studies have shown that maintaining these forests for decades is critical to maximize the economic and ecological benefits of establishing them.
Putting Trees Back on the Land
So far, 48 nations and 10 states and companies have made Bonn Challenge commitments to restore 363,000 square miles by 2020 and another 294,000 square miles by 2030. The U.S. and a Pakistani province have already fulfilled their commitments, restoring a total of 67,000 square miles.
Restoring forests poses political and economic challenges for national governments. Letting forests grow back inevitably means pulling land out of farming. Natural forest regeneration mainly occurs where farmers have abandoned poor quality land, or where governments discourage poor farming practices — for example, near wetlands or on steep slopes. Opportunities for natural regeneration elsewhere are limited.
As a result, much forest landscape restoration under the Bonn Challenge focuses on improving existing landscapes using trees. Restoration activities may include creating timber or fruit plantations; agroforestry, or planting rows of trees in and around agricultural fields; and silviculture, or improving the condition of degraded forests.
One early success, the "Billion Tree Tsunami" in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has exceeded its 350,000-hectare pledge through a combination of protecting forest regeneration and planting trees. Similarly, Rwanda has restored 700,000 of the 2 million hectares it pledged, primarily through agroforestry and reforesting erosion-prone areas, and created thousands of green jobs.
Logging and degradation of tropical forests is the main reason why forestry and land use account for 10–15 percent of the world's total human-induced CO2 emissions.
However, these "restored forests" are often poor replacements for natural habitat. For animals dwelling in tropical forests, agroforestry and tree plantations can look more like green deserts than forests.
Many tropical forest wildlife species are only found in mature tropical forests and cannot survive in open agroforests, monoculture tree plantations or young natural regeneration. Truly restoring tropical forest habitat takes a diversity of forest species, and time.
Nonetheless, these working "forests" do have ecological value for some species, and can spare remaining natural forests from axes, fire and plows. In addition, scientists have estimated that restored forests could sequester up to 16 percent of the carbon needed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while generating some US$84 billion in assets such as timber and erosion control.
Restored, but for How Long?
Benefits for wildlife and Earth's climate from forest restoration accrue over decades. However, many forests are unlikely to remain protected for this long.
In a 2018 study we showed that forests that naturally regenerated in Costa Rica between 1947 and 2014 had only a 50 percent chance of enduring for 20 years. Most places where forests regrew were subsequently re-cleared for farming. Twenty years represents about a quarter of the time needed for forest carbon stocks to fully recover, and less than one-fifth of the time required for many forest-dwelling plants and animals to return.
This problem is not limited to natural forests. Agroforests worldwide are under pressure. For example, until recent decades, coffee and cocoa farmers in the tropics raised their crops in agroforests under a shady canopy of trees, which mimicked the way these plants grow in nature and maximized their health. Today, however, many of them grow their crops in the sun. This method can improve yield, but requires pesticides and fertilizer to compensate for added stress on the plants.
And although timber plantations sequester additional carbon with every harvest and replanting, their replanting is dependent on shifting market demand for wood. Once they are harvested after six to 14 years of growth, tropical timber plantations can be abandoned as a bad investment and replaced with higher-yielding row crops or pasture.
Solid Foundations for Recovery
If the Bonn Challenge is to achieve its goals, nations will have to find ways of converting short-term restoration pledges into long-term ecosystem recovery. This may require tightening the rules.
Some countries have pledged to protect unrealistically large areas. For example, Rwanda committed to restore 77 percent of its national territory, and Costa Rica and Nicaragua pledged to restore 20 percent of their territories apiece. Another flaw is that the Bonn Challenge does not prevent countries from deforesting some areas even as they are restoring others.
It will be impossible to track overall progress without an international commitment to monitor and sustain restoration successes. International organizations need to invest in satellite and local monitoring networks. We also believe they should consider how large international investments in sectors such as agriculture, mining and infrastructure drive forest loss and regrowth.
Countries like Indonesia that may be considering a Bonn Challenge pledge should be encouraged to focus on long-term impacts. Instead of restoring 10,000 square miles of one-year-old forest by 2020, why not restore 5,000 square miles of 100-year-old forest by 2120? Countries like Costa Rica that have already pledged can lock in those gains by protecting regrown forests.
The U.N. General Assembly recently approved a resolution designating 2021 to 2030 as the U.N. Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. We hope this step will help motivate nations to keep their promises and invest in restoring Earth's deforested and degraded ecosystems.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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