After six months of deliberation, an international panel of 12 legal experts has drafted an official definition of ecocide.
The draft defines ecocide as, "unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts." If adopted by the ICC, those accused of ecocide would be tried in the same court as war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression, said The Guardian.
The proposal and definition came less than a month after a groundbreaking case in which a Dutch court held Royal Dutch Shell liable for its contributions to climate change, and a growing number of world leaders have pushed for ecocide to be recognized as a crime. The Pope has even proposed making it a sin for Catholics, Inside Climate News reports.
According to CNBC, ecocide, "is an umbrella term for all forms of the mass damage of ecosystems, from industrial pollution to the release of micro plastics into the oceans," and the exact definition has been debated since the early 1970s. Now that a definition is in place, activists hope the next step is holding people, companies and governments accountable for environmental destruction that ultimately harms humans.
"There have been working definitions in the past, but this is the first time that something has been convened globally and in response to political demand," Jojo Mehta, co-founder of the Stop Ecocide campaign, the organization behind the law, told CNBC. "What that shows is that the space is opening up in the political world to actually look at a solution like this. This conversation is no longer falling on deaf ears and, indeed, it is actually gathering momentum at quite a pace."
- Top Lawyers to Define Ecocide to Enforce Environmental Justice ... ›
- Young Climate Leaders Conclude Mock COP26 With Calls for ... ›
- Are the Amazon Fires a Crime Against Humanity? - EcoWatch ›
- Big Oil’s ‘Wokewashing’ Is the New Climate Science Denialism ›
By Giuliana Viglione
Current estimates of land-use change may be capturing only one-quarter of its true extent across the world, new research shows.
The paper, published in Nature Communications, revises previous estimates of how much humans change Earth's land surface – such as via the destruction of tropical rainforests. It finds that, when accounting for multiple instances of change in the same place, 720,000 square kilometers (approximately 278,000 square miles) of land surface has changed annually since 1960 – an area, the authors note, "about twice the size of Germany."
These new estimates are a synthesis of high-resolution satellite imagery and long-term inventories of land use. Combining these two types of data sources, the authors write, allows them to examine land-use change in "unprecedented" detail.
Despite steadily increasing rates of land-use change over the latter half of the 20th century, the global rate has been decelerating since 2005. The authors attribute this slowdown to the 2007-08 financial crisis, which they hypothesize caused economic shifts in the global north that reverberated around the world.
A 'Careful Reconstruction'
"Land-use change" is any way in which humans modify the natural landscape. Some of these changes are permanent destruction, such as urban expansion. Other changes, such as cropland abandonment and forest restoration, may attempt to repair previous damage. It is a widespread phenomenon – humans have altered "about three-quarters of the Earth's land surface" in the past millennium, the authors write.
Land use is typically measured in one of two ways: by high-resolution satellite imagery, or by large-scale statistical surveys. But each of these methods has its drawbacks when assessing land-use change, the study says. Satellites can capture land use in high detail, but their records only extend back a few decades. Estimates based on satellite images also tend to miss some nuances of land use – such as the distinction between unmanaged grasslands and those used for grazing.
Statistical methods and surveys, such as those that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been carrying out since 1961, extend further back in time than the satellite record, but at a much more coarse resolution. And little work has been done to combine these two approaches.
"The information on land and land-use change is very fragmented," Karina Winkler, the lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in land-system dynamics at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Wageningen University, tells Carbon Brief:
"The idea was to collect as many data [sources] as possible and bring them together."
Combining all of these disparate data sources, the authors write, also has the advantage of reducing the inconsistencies or limitations of any single dataset.
Winkler and her colleagues brought together more than 20 satellite land-use products and long-term surveys. The resulting dataset, which they termed the "Historic Land Dynamics Assessment plus" (HILDA+, for short), captures annual changes in land use across the globe with a resolution of 1km.
But not all land-use change is permanent. So rather than looking at "net" changes that only capture the overall transformation of an area, HILDA+ captures places where land use has changed multiple times – such as rotation between cropland and pasture. When these "gross" changes are summed up, the total extent of land-use change between 1960 and 2019 is 43m km2 – just under one-third of the total land surface of Earth.
The map below shows where both single-change (yellow shading) and multiple-change (red) events are occurring around the world. Instances of multiple-change events are dominant across Europe, India and the U.S., while single change events are widespread across South America, China and Southeast Asia.
Global instances of single (yellow) and multiple (red) land-use-change events. The pie charts show the total extent of change as a percentage of global land cover. Winkler et al. (2021)
Global land-use change nearly doubles when considering gross change, from 17% to 32% of Earth's land surface. And nearly two-thirds of this gross change is due to multiple-change events. Studying land-use change in this way – as an accumulation of all the changes occurring over time, rather than as net change – can help better account for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use, Winkler says.
A Source and a Sink
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2019 special report on climate change and land, nearly one-quarter of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions between 2007 and 2016 were due to agriculture, forestry and other land use. In total, land use falls just behind electricity and heat production as the world's second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
But land is also a major "sink" of greenhouse gases – for example, through the carbon taken up by forests. This balance of sources and sinks through land-use change, the IPCC report says, is a "key source of uncertainty" in considering the future of the land carbon cycle. Knowing the dynamics of past land-use change in finer detail can help inform the way climate modelers represent these changes, Winkler says.
"Land-cover change is really, really dynamic," professor Navin Ramankutty, a land-systems scientist at the University of British Columbia, tells Carbon Brief. Ramankutty, who was not involved in the study, adds:
"If you're just using net land-use changes over time, you might not actually capture the dynamic of carbon being taken back up by the land."
The new work on its own cannot provide much insight into how these gross land-use changes might affect the picture of climate change, Ramankutty says. "The devil is in the details," he explains:
"It's hard to say what the implications are [for climate change] without actually running [the new estimates] through a carbon-cycle model."
However, he adds, the updated estimates are "a much more careful reconstruction of how land has changed". He notes that it "seems more sophisticated than previous work" and that he would recommend using the new dataset.
Patterns of Change
Following the definitions used in the FAO's annual surveys, the researchers separate out six categories of land use: urban areas, cropland, pasture, unmanaged grassland, forest and sparsely vegetated land. Several notable patterns jump out when looking at what types of change are occurring where, the authors say.
For example, about half of the single-change events – or nearly 20% of the total changes – occur due to agricultural expansion, such as deforestation. And 86% of the multiple-change events are agriculture-related, predominantly occurring in the global north and select rapidly growing economies.
Averaged globally, land-use change steadily increased for nearly half a century since the FAO surveys began. But, in 2005, there was a "rather abrupt change" in this trend and land-use change began decelerating worldwide, the authors write.
The charts below depict the differences in land-use change rates between six geographical regions, as well as the worldwide average. The global rates of change can be defined by an acceleration period from 1960 to the early 2000s, followed by deceleration since about 2005.
Rates of change of land use in (clockwise from top left): North and Central America, Europe, central and eastern Asia, south-east Asia and Australia, Africa, South America, and globally.
Examining these changes in the context of global political and economic events, the researchers hypothesize that the "rate and extent of global land-use change is responsive to socio-economic developments and disruptions."
Although it is hard to prove such causation with certainty, they write that "the transition from accelerating to decelerating land-use change is related to market developments in the context of the global economic and food crisis" that occurred in the late 2000s. Increasing globalization and a fast-growing population drove expanding land use in the 1990s and early 2000s. As oil prices rose rapidly, peaking in 2008, demand for biofuels from the global north – but grown in the global south – rose, too.
However, in the aftermath of the 2007-08 global financial crisis, imports declined and agricultural expansion in the global south slowed as demand for commodity crops dropped off. Since then, reduced foreign investment and land acquisitions have meant the deceleration of land-use change has continued.
This phase shift from accelerating to decelerating land-use change is just one example of a larger pattern of "teleconnections," whereby economic changes in one region of the world can have far-flung effects on land-use elsewhere, Winkler says:
"Political changes in the global north are driving some land-intensive changes in the global south and these effects have increased since the 2000s or late '90s."
Changes in agricultural land use are more variable than changes in forest cover, the authors note, because agriculture is more responsive to external factors such as geopolitical shifts, extreme weather and global supply-chain disruptions.
In the future, Winkler plans to continue trying to tease out the impacts of socio-economic events on land-use change around the world, but she hopes that many others will take advantage of the new data for their own work. She tells Carbon Brief that the new dataset is "for many different interest groups to use. It's kind of a playground and a starting point for a new perspective on land-use change." She adds:
"The most important message is that when we look at the topic of land-use change with a finer lens or more detail…with this harmonising approach, we can track the speed of land-use change in a better way and we can also explore the background of why land-use change happens."
Reposted with permission from Carbon Brief.
The sprawling size and sunny days of Texas make it one of the top states for solar energy. If you live in the Lone Star State and are interested in switching to a solar energy system, you may be wondering: What's the average solar panel cost in Texas?
In this article, we'll discuss the cost of solar panels in Texas, what factors affect pricing, Texas' solar incentives and more. Of course, the only way to know for sure how much you would pay to install a solar panel system on your roof is to receive a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company near you. You can get started by filling out the quick form below.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in Texas?
Thanks to the growing investment in renewable energy technology statewide, homeowners now enjoy a below-average cost of solar in Texas. Based on market research and data from top brands, we've found the average cost of solar panels in Texas to be $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is especially valuable when you take into account the unpredictable Texas energy rates.
Here's how that average calculates into the cost of the most common sizes of home solar panel systems:
|Size of Solar Panel System||Texas Solar Panel Cost||Cost After Federal Tax Credit|
Though this data reflects the statewide averages, you'll need to contact a solar installer near you to get an accurate quote for your home. Savvy customers will get free quotes from multiple companies and compare them to the state averages to make sure they receive the best value possible. Bear in mind that the biggest providers of solar won't always have the best prices.
What Determines the Cost of Solar Panels in Texas?
The main factor determining the cost of solar panel installations in Texas is the homeowner's energy needs. No two homes are the same, and installation costs will look far different for a home needing a basic 5kW system and a home needing 10kW with backup power capabilities. The solar financing and installation company a homeowner chooses will also affect a customer's overall solar costs in Texas. Here's how each factor comes into play:
Similar to phones, cars and other technology, solar products and system costs vary greatly based on their quality, scale and included features. Some customers may be satisfied with a modest array of affordable solar panels and inverters, while others may opt for a system with premium panels, full-home backup power and cutting-edge energy monitoring technology.
The overall cost of solar depends significantly on how a customer chooses to finance their system. The three most common solar financing options include paying in cash, taking out a solar loan and solar leasing.
- The most economical way to purchase solar, an upfront cash purchase provides the best long-term return on investment and the lowest overall cost.
- Customers can choose to take out a solar loan to purchase the system outright and make monthly payments to repay the loan. The typical payback period for a solar loan averages around 10 years. Systems purchased with a loan are still eligible for the federal solar tax credit.
- Signing a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) allows a solar customer to rent solar panels from a company or third party. Though requiring the least amount of money upfront, solar leases provide the least amount of overall value. Also, solar leases aren't eligible for the federal tax credit, as the homeowner doesn't actually own the system.
Solar Installation Company
Texas has seen some of the strongest solar energy market growth over the last few years, and the SEIA reports that there are now nearly 600 solar companies based in Texas, and each is looking to expand its market share.
Price ranges can differ significantly based on the installer. Larger solar providers like Sunrun offer the advantage of solar leases and quick installations. Local providers, on the other hand, provide more personalization and competitive prices to undercut the biggest national companies.
Because of this, it's wise to get quotes from a few local and national installers and compare rates — because of the stiff competition between companies, you could end up saving several thousand dollars.
Texas Solar Incentives
For the most part, Texas taxes are administered by local governments. As a result, the state doesn't offer a large number of statewide solar-related policies, and incentives will depend more on the locality in which you live.
However, all homeowners in the state remain eligible for the federal solar tax credit, and there are some statewide local property tax exemptions for both photovoltaic solar and wind-powered renewable energy systems. Let's walk through how to find what incentives are available to you.
Federal Solar Tax Credit
All Texans can claim the federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC, for PV solar panels and energy storage systems. By claiming the ITC on your tax returns, the policy allows you to deduct 26% of the total cost of the solar system from the taxes you owe the federal government.
The tax credit is available to both residential and commercial system owners who have installed solar panels at any point since 2006. The credit is worth 26% through the end of 2022 and will drop to 22% in 2023. It is set to expire at the end of 2023 unless congress extends it.
Net Metering Policies in Texas
Net metering programs allow customers to sell unused solar energy back to their local utility company in exchange for credits that can be cashed in when panels aren't producing energy. Due to the energy bill savings, this incentive can greatly reduce the solar investment payback period.
As is true with most of Texas' solar rebates and incentives, there is not one net metering program that is offered throughout the entire state. Rather, your eligibility will depend on the policy of your local utility company or municipality. Most utilities in the state have a net metering policy, including American Electric Power (AEP), CPS Energy, Green Mountain Energy, El Paso Electric, TXU Energy in Dallas and more.
The rate at which your local utility will compensate for this excess energy will depend on your local policy, so we encourage you to look into the policy offered by your utility company.
Local Solar Rebates in Texas
In addition to identifying your local net metering program, look into any local rebates available to you. Homeowners who live in the top cities for solar in Texas, like Austin, San Marcos or Sunset Valley might have more luck than customers in other areas. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency has a full list of local rebates, solar loan programs and more.
FAQ: Solar Panel Cost Texas
Is it worth going solar in Texas?
Long, sunny days and below-average solar installation costs make Texas one of the best states in the U.S. for generating energy with solar panels. The ample sunshine provides more than enough energy for most families, serving up huge benefits to homes in Texas equipped with solar panels.
How much does it cost to install solar panels in Texas?
As of 2021, the average cost of solar panels in Texas is $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is slightly below the national average due to the resource availability in Texas, current energy costs and the state's available sunlight. The best way to assess how much solar would cost you is to consult local providers near you for a free estimate.
Do solar panels increase home value in Texas?
Solar panels increase home value everywhere, but mostly in areas with generous net metering policies and solar rebates. As such, the proportion at which solar panels increase home value in Texas corresponds with the areas with the most solar-friendly policies.
How much do solar panels cost for a 2,500 sq foot house?
Though knowing the size of a house is helpful in determining how many solar panels could fit on its roof, the energy use of the house is the more important factor in determining solar panel cost in Texas. The higher your energy use, the greater your solar needs will be.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
Carbon offset programs provide a real opportunity to be part of the climate change solution. In 2021, there are a number of impactful carbon offset programs to choose from. The question is, which one allows you to make the biggest difference? Our review will provide an overview of carbon offset programs and recommend the best ones to help reduce and counterbalance your greenhouse gas emissions.
Our Picks for the Best Carbon Offset Programs
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best for E-Commerce - Shopify
- Best Online Calculator - NativeEnergy
- Best for Travel and Tourism - Sustainable Travel International
- Most Transparent - myclimate
- Easiest to Use - TerraPass
- Best for Certified Projects - Clear
- Best for Air Travel - atmosfair
- Best for Businesses - 3Degrees
What is a Carbon Offset Program?
What is a carbon offset program?
Every day, you engage in activities that leave behind an environmental footprint. You add to the world's carbon dioxide pollution every time you drive your car, purchase goods from a major manufacturer, and so forth.
When you purchase a membership in a carbon offset program, also offered as carbon credits, you invest in clean energy and carbon reduction efforts elsewhere in the world. The goal is basically for this environmental activity to offset your own carbon footprint. The ultimate objective is to become as close to carbon neutral as possible.
Both individuals and corporations can invest in carbon offset programs. While there are a number of options to choose from, many of them involve investment in eco-friendly initiatives in developing countries. Others help to offset the travel, shipping, or production that are part of other industries. The idea is to create an infrastructure that will allow these companies to work towards sustainability and emissions reductions well into the future, while effectively canceling out their carbon emissions in the meantime.
Historically, carbon offset programs have been fairly simple. For example, in some programs, your investment essentially goes to planting trees in reforestation efforts. More advanced carbon offset programs, however, allow you to help fund the development of important sustainability technologies, like efficient cookstoves in developing countries or methane capture at landfills.
How We Chose the Best Programs
Mischa Keijser / Getty Images
There are concerns among some activists that carbon offset programs allow certain countries or industries to pay to appear eco-friendly while avoiding actual efforts to reduce the amount of of carbon they produce. When used properly, however, carbon offsets can be a legitimate tool to help encourage sustainable development and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
We vetted a number of climate offset programs to find options making the biggest impact in our world. A number of factors have gone into our choices.
First, we looked for carbon offset programs that came with the endorsement of prestigious environmental stewardship groups. These organizations thoroughly vet all carbon offset projects for transparency, impact, and additionality. The carbon offset programs on our list are endorsed by prominent third-party organizations, including:
- The Gold Standard
- Climate Action Reserve
- American Carbon Registry
- Verified Carbon Standard
- Plan Vivo
- Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance
- Clean Development Mechanism
Additionally, we have been intentional about choosing programs that represent many different types of projects. And, we have considered factors such as the presence of easy-to-use online calculators; the convenience of making a transaction; and the total number of options that each carbon offset program presents.
The 8 Best Carbon Offset Programs
While Shopify is not a carbon offset program, they do provide a platform to help more merchants and buyers offset the carbon emissions of their e-commerce deliveries. For merchants and businesses, they developed an app called Offset that allows them to opt in and offset all of their deliveries. For customers, there is the Shop app, and for every order purchased using Shop Pay, Shopify will offset all of the emissions from the delivery. All Shopify carbon offsets are purchased from Pachama, a company that seeks to use technology and A.I. to help drive carbon capture and protect global forests. Shopify notes that "offsets are not a perfect solution—but they're a necessary tool." We appreciate that they are making it easier for more and more people to use this necessary tool to reduce carbon emissions with every purchase.
You can visit the Shopify site to learn more about their carbon offsets strategy.
NativeEnergy does a lot of pioneering work to reduce carbon emissions, promote biodiversity in ecosystems, and invest in regenerative agriculture across the world. We like them because they make it easy to get involved, either as an individual or as a corporation, via an intuitive online carbon calculator and a range of investment options. We'll also note that they have been around for more than 20 years, and in that time have taken on some high-level corporate partners, including Ben & Jerry's.
Learn more about NativeEnergy by checking out their website.
This organization made our list because their underlying premise makes so much sense: One of the best ways to support sustainability developments in ecologically vulnerable areas is to invest in their travel and tourism industries in local communities. Sustainable Travel International works with premier destinations, helping them develop their tourist trades while also enacting important environmental protections.
At their website, you can find a ton of information about the work Sustainable Travel International has done to minimize pollution and reduce carbon emissions. And of course, you can purchase carbon offsets to help subsidize their work.
There's a lot to appreciate about myclimate, but above all, we love this organization because of how easy they make it to purchase carbon offsets. When you go to their website, you will immediately see their carbon offset calculator, which will allow you to input information about recent travel (including flights and cruises), household activities, and more. Using this data, myclimate will provide you with an estimate of your total carbon footprint and show you some ways to invest in meaningful offsets.
If you truly want to offset your day-to-day carbon footprint in a calculated and precise way, head to myclimate and get going.
TerraPass is one of the leading names in carbon offsets, and it's not hard to see why. When you visit their website, you will find ways to get involved as an individual, as a small or mid-sized business, and even as a large enterprise. Not only do they provide a great carbon calculator, but they also have a lot of valuable information about embracing sustainability, both within your household and your business. Your investment with TerraPass can help fund energy efficiency through wind power, sustainable farming, and a range of other environmental projects.
You can explore some of the options by checking out the TerraPass website.
Clear is extremely well-regarded. Since 2005, this organization has developed a reputation for only supporting the highest quality projects, including sustainability measures that attain such standards as Certified Emission Reduction (CER) certification and Gold Standard VERs. This is actually the only organization where you can be sure that all carbon offsets are certified by the Quality Assurance Standard for Carbon Offsetting. Additional reasons to choose Clear include ultra-precise carbon offset calculators, fair and affordable pricing, and a range of opportunities for both individuals and businesses.
You can visit the Clear website to learn more about purchasing carbon offsets from them.
atmosfair is a non-profit organization based in Germany. The organization's stated goals are to offset carbon emissions, promote sustainable travel, and ultimately play a role in long-term energy transitions across the planet. They currently have projects in more than a dozen countries, and they rely entirely on carbon offsets purchased by individuals and by companies.
Their big emphasis is on offsetting the environmental impact of air travel, so if that's something that you're passionate about, we'd recommend taking a look at the atmosfair website.
Finally, we're really enthusiastic about all the good work being done by 3Degrees. This organization works with corporations across the world, helping them implement renewable energy sources, decarbonize their transportation, and more. Of course, they also have some options for you to support their work by purchasing carbon offsets. You can find out a lot more about what they do by visiting their website; they have a lot of detailed information about their different projects, including case studies.
Visit the 3Degrees site to find out more.
How to Find a Carbon Offset Program
Nick Brundle Photography / Getty Images
Clearly, there are plenty of ways to support green initiatives, and to counterbalance some of your own carbon emissions. As you seek to find the best carbon offset program for you, the primary factor to keep in mind is transparency. You want to make sure that the dollars you're donating actually go to high-quality projects that make a real-world difference in the amount of carbon produced each year.
That's one of the main reasons why we emphasize the importance of third-party verification. We mentioned a number of independent organizations above that do a lot of important work auditing and accrediting carbon offset programs. Their validation can give you confidence in selecting a carbon offset project to support.
The Benefits and Limits of Carbon Offset Programs
Before investing, it's worth pausing to consider just how much good a carbon offset program can do, and where these projects sometimes come up short.
To start with, here are some benefits to carbon offsetting:
- Carbon offset projects allow you to neutralize any negative impact you make on the environment, specifically in terms of the metric tons of carbon emissions, or CO2e, that contribute to global warming.
- Investments in developing nations can also help provide wages and other benefits to those who need them, while also preventing deforestation and supporting critical forestry projects.
- By backing carbon offset projects, you can incentivize companies to spend more money on sustainability and clean energy measures.
- Carbon offsets also help expedite the development of eco-friendly technology.
As for the potential limitations of carbon offset projects, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The effectiveness of carbon offsetting can fluctuate from one industry to the next.
- Sometimes, carbon offsetting can make it easy to excuse large or irresponsible carbon emissions.
- Without due diligence, it's all too easy to inadvertently back an unscrupulous or non-transparent carbon offset project.
Choose the Right Carbon Offset Program for You
The bottom line is that carbon offsetting, while imperfect, can nevertheless make a positive impact, especially if you choose your carbon offset program wisely. Purchasing carbon offsets shouldn't take the place of reducing your own carbon footprint, but they can make an impact.
Start your research with some of the options here and remember to augment your carbon offsets with other lifestyle changes at work or at home.
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.
On August 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of its sixth assessment of the climate crisis. Years in the making, the report once again warned the world of our dire circumstances. Within the nearly 4000 page breakdown of the physical science driving climate chaos lies a particularly disturbing section. One that illuminates just what's at stake if we continue on the path of unhindered extraction and emissions. This is the story of tipping points: what they are, when they will happen, and what actions we can take now to stop drastic domino effects in the future.
Imagine you're playing Jenga. You and your friends are slowly taking apart the tower brick by brick until, suddenly, one of you pulls out a wooden block and the whole tower collapses. This is a tipping point in a nutshell. As our global capitalist system pulls more and more wooden blocks, which on the global scale represent carbon emissions or deforestation, the physical states of ocean currents, glaciers, and whole forests become unstable. So with one small push or the removal of one more block, whole glacial or rainforest systems can cascade into a different state, often with no ability to return back to normal. The climate crisis is now driving us headlong past these precipices. Carbon Brief, the award-winning science explainer website, identified nine of the biggest possible tipping points around the world, that if triggered, could create "abrupt and irreversible change." These tipping points look like everything from irreversible coral reef die-offs, to catastrophic shifts in West African and Indian monsoons, or even the collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation which includes the Gulf Stream. In short, once these systems have barrelled past their tipping points, there's very little chance of reverting back to the environments humanity has grown accustomed to. With this in mind let's take a look at two of the most consequential tipping points we face in the coming decades of the climate crisis.
To learn more about climate tipping points, check out the video above!
Our Changing Climate is an environmental YouTube channel that explores the intersections of social, political, climatic, and food-based issues. The channel dives into topics like zero waste and nuclear energy in order to understand how to effectively tackle climate change and environmental destruction.
To receive all the latest videos produced by Charlie subscribe to his YouTube channel here.
- What Is the IPCC and What Does It Do? - EcoWatch ›
- Latest IPCC Report Is 'Code Red for Humanity' - EcoWatch ›
During 18 months, Mongabay investigated allegations challenging the "sustainable" status of the Brazilian palm oil supply chain, revealing impacts including deforestation and water contamination, and what appears to be an industry-wide pattern of brazen disregard for Amazon conservation and for the rights of Indigenous people and traditional communities in northern Pará state.
In this behind-the-scenes video, Mongabay's contributing editor in Brazil, Karla Mendes, takes us on her reporting journey as she and the team track how the palm oil industry is changing this Amazonian landscape.
Karla herself experienced a rapid onset of coughing, shortness of breath, nausea and headaches when she inhaled fumes from these oil palm trees doused with pesticides. "I came back to the car because the smell is very strong. I started coughing, it's horrible," she says.
The Mongabay team also witnessed a wide range of wrongdoing, including the dumping of alleged palm oil residue in the Acará River and the lack of a buffer zone around Indigenous reserves, which are all surrounded by oil palm plantations.
The Mongabay investigation will be used by federal prosecutors as evidence to hold a palm oil company accountable for water contamination in the Turé-Mariquita Indigenous Reserve.
Read the full investigative report here:
Related listening: hear Mongabay's reporter Karla Mendes discuss these issues along with researcher Sandra Damiani and federal prosecutor Felício Pontes Júnior on Mongabay's podcast:
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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- Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park protects the unique, remote rainforest in northeastern Colombia.
- Satellite data show the park lost 6.2% of its tree cover between 2001 and 2019, with several months of unusually high deforestation in 2020.
- Sources say illegal coca cultivation is rapidly expanding in and around Catatumbo Barí and is driving deforestation as farmers move in and clear forest to grow the illicit crop, which is used to make cocaine.
- Area residents say armed groups are controlling the trade of coca in and out of the region, and are largely operating in an atmosphere of impunity.
The Catatumbo River originates in northeastern Colombia's Norte de Santander Department and flows to Venezuelan Lake Maracaibo. For generations, it has provided passage for fishermen and small farmers; but increasingly, it is being used to transport illegal good like weapons, timber and coca crops, from which cocaine is produced.
The location of the Catatumbo region sits on the border with Venezuela, making it a strategic route for armed groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), to traffic drugs out of Colombia. Territorial disputes over coca-producing areas reportedly happen daily, and residents say they live in fear of displacement or even death if they speak out about illegal activities connected to the region's drug trade. Those who agreed to speak to Mongabay did so on the condition of anonymity; their names have been changed in this story.
"Be very careful with this information," said Pablo*, a farmer.
Recently cleared land in Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park. Colombian Army Vulcano Task Force
In addition to a threatening environment for local communities, the illegal cultivation of coca and its manufacture into cocaine appears to be coming at the cost of the region's forests. Even areas given the highest level of protection are not immune – including Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park, where satellites are detecting deforestation creeping deeper and deeper into the park's old-growth rainforest.
The Rise of Coca
Today Pablo cultivates legal crops, but until a few years ago he was a coca grower. He said he has watched as coca fields have expanded to the edges of the roads and banks of the Catatumbo River with total impunity, thus breaking with the old practice of growers cultivating coca in more remote, hidden areas.
"Now people burn pastures to cultivate coca that used to be destined for livestock or growing fruit … They don't respect anything, not even the river," Pablo said.
Pablo says that since the arrival of coca in 1997, the region has not been the same and that the situation deteriorated further after the signing of the FARC peace agreement in 2016.
"There are almost no trees left and the wells in the creeks and river where I bathed when I was a child no longer exist because of the landslides," said Pablo, who has lived more than 50 years in the same region.
Pablo added that, ultimately, farmers have opted for the money that comes with coca cultivation over the peace of mind of growing legal crops.
"The business is not bad if you cultivate enough [coca leaves], not like the scraps I had," he said, referencing the less-than 10 hectares (24 acres) of land he once owned. He claims that coca fields tend to be larger now, some hundreds of hectares in size.
According to Pablo, one kilo of coca paste is selling for approximately 2.7 million pesos ($790). If the buyer is someone from the guerrilla group, they sell it for 2.58 million pesos ($755). Meanwhile, the price of one kilo of cacao – a popular legal crop in the area whose cultivation has been encouraged by the government to combat the coca industry – is just 8,000 pesos ($2.30).
Government policies and strategies aimed at reducing coca cultivation have been controversial.
"The programs have only targeted families that grow illicit crops," said Jericó, a cacao producer. "Families who do not have these crops have been displaced and are being indirectly told that they have to grow coca to be beneficiaries of the programs."
Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park is nestled in the foothills of the eastern mountain range in the department of Norte de Santander and covers 158,125 hectares (390,735 acres) with elevations ranging from 70 to 2,000 meters (230 to 6,562 feet) above sea level. Orchids, bromeliads, lianas and heliconias predominate in the park, as well as trees over 45 meters (148 feet) tall. It harbors part of the Catatumbo Moist Forest ecoregion, which is the only area north of the Andes inhabited by Amazonian plants and animals – and which has been heavily degraded by agriculture and oil extraction.
Much of the forest of the Catatumbo region has been fragmented. Colombian Army Vulcano Task Force
Catatumbo Barí is more than six hours from Cúcuta, the capital of Norte de Santander Department, and there is little, if any, passable road access. The best way to get there is by boat with the help of the Barí, the Indigenous group that occupies a sector of the park across two reservations: Motilón Barí which comprises 108,900 hectares (269,097 acres) and Gabarra-Catalaura of 13,300 hectares (32,865 acres).
Along the way to the park, fields of coca crops are easy to see.
"The crops are reaching Cúcuta," said an inhabitant of the region.
Tibú is one of the municipalities that has jurisdiction over the park. It's also the municipality with the highest deforestation rate in Norte de Santander. According to the latest report from the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (Ideam), 7,103 hectares (17,551 acres) were cleared in Tibú in 2019, representing 72% of its area.
According to the United Nations' Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System (SIMCI), 41,711 hectares (103,070 acres) of coca crops were cultivated across the region in 2019, an increase of more than 76% over 2016 when SIMCI recorded 24,831 hectares (61,358 acres) of coca cultivation.
Norte de Santander lost 11% of its tree cover between 2001 and 2019, according to satellite data from the University of Maryland (UMD), while Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park lost 6.2%. In both areas, preliminary UMD data for 2020 showing several spikes of deforestation that were "unusually high" compared to years past.
Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park protects some of the last primary rainforest in the region. But satellite data show deforestation continued to whittle it away in 2020 — including inside the park.
National Natural Parks of Colombia (PNN) is the environmental authority that oversees Catatumbo Barí. The areas outside the park are overseen by the Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Northeast Frontier (Corponor), which manages renewable natural resources in Norte de Santander. Sandra Gómez, deputy director of Corponor, explains that high deforestation rates outside the park are due largely to the expansion of the agricultural frontier, illicit crops, illegal mining and timber trafficking.
"Entering is difficult and inaccessible because of (the lack of) roads, the ongoing conflict and security issues. All this makes illegal activities easier," Gómez said.
The latest report from SIMCI found 1,448 hectares (3,578 acres) of coca cultivation inside Catatumbo Barí in 2019, representing 15% of the area deforested between 2001 and 2019 and a 60% jump over 2018. However, this may pale in comparison to 2020; according to a government source who studies the area, and who spoke on condition of anonymity, 90% of the deforested land in Catatumbo Barí has now been planted with coca crops, with the remaining 10% used as cropland for plantains and yucca, or as livestock pasture.
According to SIMCI figures, coca crops had reached two indigenous reservations within Catatumbo Barí as of 2019, with 411 hectares cultivated in the Motilón Barí reservation and 43 hectares in the Gabarra-Catalaura reservation. Totaling 454 hectares (1,121 acres), this marks a 66% increase in coca cultivation in the two reservations compared to 2018.
Juan Carlos Quintero, president of the Catatumbo Small Farmers Association (Ascamcat), said that coca cultivation, as well as the expansion of large-scale oil palm plantations, is worrying. He added that the departure of government oversight after the signing of the 2016 FARC peace deal has created an atmosphere of impunity in the region.
"The national government is only present with the army," Quintero said, adding that armed groups soon invaded territory left vacant by the FARC and unprotected by the government.
Gómez said the situation in the Catatumbo region stems from a structural problem that facilitates land grabbing. Under a law that dates back to 1959, the government earmarked territories for forest protection; however, they did not formally register the land, which would have avoided land use disputes and help mitigate environmental degradation of protected areas.
"The problem is land grabbing and illegal land-use change … as there is no physical registration, people buy land and then cultivate coca," Gómez said. "If it goes bad, they sell it. [These lands] are vacant lots and they belong to the nation."
Rodrigo Botero, director of the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development (FCDS), says that the Colombian government wants to officially map the tenure of all the different plots in the region, which is the first step needed to register the ownership, use, extension, occupation time and legal status of the land.
Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park has untouched areas of rainforest that are still unstudied by the scientific community. Carlos Herney Cáceres Martínez, a biologist who has done research in various Colombian parks, has tried to enter the protected area for years to conduct genetic sampling of the Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus). The project aims to characterize the connectivity of Andean bear populations in Colombia, and from the eight different regions where its presence has been registered, Catatumbo Barí is the only area where sampling has not been yet possible due to the difficulty of accessing the park.
The Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus), also called the spectacled bear, is the last remaining species of short-faced bear. It is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Futureman1199 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Cáceres said deforestation like that which is happening in and around Catatumbo Barí has cascading repercussions that can ripple through ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them.
"When a humid forest is affected, everything is affected: the capture of carbon dioxide, oxygen leveling, water regulation, erosive processes (…) Not only are plants or animals lost, as a society we are losing a free service that the planet offers us to have a healthy life," Cáceres said. He added that fire – which is often used to clear land – can be particularly destructive to the region's forest.
"We know that it is very difficult for them to return to their natural state," he said. "For [a forest] to recover 50% they need at least 100 years."
This is a translated and adapted version of a story that was first published by Mongabay Latam on Dec. 2, 2020.
Editor's note: This story was powered by Places to Watch, a Global Forest Watch (GFW) initiative designed to quickly identify concerning forest loss around the world and catalyze further investigation of these areas. Places to Watch draws on a combination of near-real-time satellite data, automated algorithms and field intelligence to identify new areas on a monthly basis. In partnership with Mongabay, GFW is supporting data-driven journalism by providing data and maps generated by Places to Watch. Mongabay maintains complete editorial independence over the stories reported using this data.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
Coffee has enormous cultural significance. It's a staple of culture, cuisine, and everyday life for people all over the planet. Americans alone consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, and the crop is a highly traded commodity of huge importance to global economies.
These millions of cups aren't without consequence, however. The growing, processing, and transportation of coffee – everything that happens before it's poured into our mugs – have large-scale environmental and social repercussions.
Grown in tropical regions around the equator – called the "Bean Belt" – coffee beans travel far before ending up in our cabinets. Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia are the top producers of coffee – so, for those living in the continental United States, "local" coffee isn't an option, and its impact will always be substantial.
Increased demand and the undercutting of smallholders in coffee production have led to more destructive growing practices, including monocropping and replacing shade-grown coffee with sun-grown. Extreme exploitation of labor is also tied to coffee production, and farmers typically earn only between 7-10% of the retail price of their product – and less than 2% in Brazil – according to the Food Empowerment Project.
Beyond its production, the way we choose to prepare and consume coffee can also create avoidable waste: from filters to mugs, to spent coffee grounds. Luckily, there are ways to choose and consume your coffee more consciously, from choosing the product to how it's prepared.
Here are a few tips for a more sustainable and responsible coffee routine if you can't kick the habit.
1. Choose Consciously
Doi Chaang coffee on display for sale inside a coffee shop in Chiang Rai. Artur Widak / NurPhoto / Getty Images
When perusing the coffee aisle, look at the packaging for legitimate labels and third-party certifications. Real certifications will let you know that the coffee's production processes followed specific environmental and/or humanitarian regulations.
Be very wary of greenwashing as well: many companies will stamp illegitimate certifications on their packaging – like "100% All Natural," or "Certified Sustainable" – which don't represent any real standards and mislead consumers, giving the appearance of sustainability and responsibility without any basis.
The "local" label is another one to avoid; no coffee is "local" if you live in the continental U.S., regardless of what the packaging might tell you (locally roasted, maybe, but not grown).
There are a few legitimate certifications that consumers can look for when purchasing coffee:
Shade-grown coffee employs natural processes in coffee-growing, as overhead trees drop leaves and bark that suppress weeds and deliver nutrients to the soil, while also providing a habitat for wildlife and preventing soil erosion. Because of its higher yield, sun-grown coffee – that is, coffee grown in wide-open spaces – became popularized in the 1970s, but has reduced biodiversity and necessitated greater use of pesticides and fertilizers by farmers. Deforestation is already linked to coffee production and has only accelerated with the rise of sun-grown coffee and increasing global demand.
Many of the following certifications mandate that a certain percentage of coffee produced by a farm is shade-grown.
Rainforest Alliance Certified
Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee includes environmental, social, and economic criteria. Growers certified under this label must follow a list of standards set by the Sustainable Agricultural Network, which addresses deforestation, bans the alteration of waterways and dumping of wastewater, restricts the use of pesticides, and requires farms to pay workers at least the federal minimum wage. The Rainforest Alliance certification is being upgraded this summer to address more issue areas and employ newer technologies to verify compliance on farms.
The seal has faced criticism, however, for requiring only 30% of the coffee in a package to have followed these standards, and for not including a fixed price for growers or a provision for organic cultivation.
Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Bird Friendly Coffee
The requirements for Bird Friendly Coffee are often considered more stringent than those of the Rainforest Alliance, mandating coffee be 100% organic and 100% shade-grown. The seal aims to protect the habitats of migratory birds and requires that a farm be certified organic, maintain a healthy soil base, and employ zero use of pesticides.
The checklist requires, among other qualifications, at least 40% of a coffee farm to be covered in shade and grow 10 different tree species at a minimum to discourage monocropping.
Fair Trade Certified
Fair trade standards primarily focus on supporting farmers and workers. The major labels indicating that a product is fair trade certified are Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade America – the U.S. member of Fairtrade International. Both protect farmers against price fluctuations by setting a price floor that requires a minimum price per pound of coffee, plus additional funds for community development.
These labels have their own complications, as there are many other political and economic complications for farmers, including debts from previous price fluctuations; but, they are a step in the right direction.
The word "fair trade" is also ripe for greenwashing, stamped onto packages with no standards behind it. Be sure to verify whether a product is actually fair trade certified by one of these organizations when purchasing coffee.
USDA OrganicLike other certified-organic products, this label verifies that a farm has followed strict environmental standards, which prohibit synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Products labeled "100% organic" follow these guidelines completely, "organic" products must contain at least 95% organically-produced material, and anything indicating it was "made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70%.
You can learn more about organic coffee subscriptions here.
2. Replace Disposable With Reusable
Hiraman / E+ / Getty Images
Given all of the complex, energy-intensive processes that go into producing coffee, the environmental footprint of your morning cup goes far beyond plastic waste – but, with 64% of Americans drinking at least one cup a day, that resulting waste is nothing to scoff at.
When brewing coffee at home or grabbing one on-the-go, consider replacing the following:
Coffee filters are like any disposable product: they require energy and resources to produce and then end up in landfills when disposed of. Many of these filters are also chemically bleached with oxygen or chlorine, which has further environmental consequences.
Compostable filters are a partial solution, as they do reduce the overall volume of waste, but still must be created and transported before ending up in your coffee machine.
Luckily, many reusable alternatives can easily replace a disposable filter in traditional coffee machines or pour-over appliances: often made of plastic, metal, or a washable fabric (usually linen or cotton), they should be emptied and rinsed between each use.
Twenty-five percent of Americans have reported using single-cup coffee brewers, although it's no secret that single-use coffee capsules are an incredible source of waste, given that many aren't designed to be recycled or composted. If every K-cup thrown into landfills were lined up, it would wrap around the globe more than ten times.
If you can't quit the coffee-capsule method, stainless steel capsules can be purchased for most single-serve coffee machines. Some compostable capsules have been developed, but, like coffee filters, these too had to be produced and transported, expanding their environmental impact far beyond that of a reusable alternative.
What about coffee on-the-go?
Fifty-eight billion paper cups are thrown away every year in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and their inner polyethylene coating is expensive to recycle, so most of those 58 billion are sent directly to landfills.
A durable, reusable mug for to-go coffee can cut out this waste – around 23 pounds of trash each year, for a daily coffee drinker – and last for years, or even decades. Collapsible coffee mugs can be easily stored in a bag for when you're in a pinch.
Buy in Bulk
Skip the single-use packaging if you can. Many grocery stores will sell coffee beans in bulk, poured into your own reusable bag, and paid for by weight.
3. Consider Your Vessel
Besides choosing reusable alternatives to single-use items, you can also brew your coffee by methods that inherently require less energy.
Think of the energy used by a typical drip-coffee machine: the hotplate left on for hours, the digital display, and the phantom energy sucked up whenever it's plugged in. Appliances like these are usually cheaply made, and planned obsolescence will guarantee the need to purchase a newer model within a few years. Large coffee pots also produce much more than a single cup, often leading to wasted coffee down the drain.
Manual brewing methods require far less energy, such as French presses and Moka pots, which skip the disposable filters and require only the energy needed to boil the water. Pour-over coffee carafes can produce enough for multiple people and are very compatible with a linen coffee filter.
For those with an affinity for iced coffee, cold brew is perhaps the least energy-intensive of all, with time being the main component.
4. Don't Waste It
Natalia Rüdisüli / EyeEm / Getty Images
The average mature coffee tree will produce only about two pounds of beans per year – so, given the environmental and social impacts of its production along with that low yield, it's important to make sure that no coffee is poured down the drain.
When you find yourself with leftover brew, save it in the fridge for tomorrow's iced coffee, or freeze it in an ice cube tray to add to cold brew or smoothies.
5. Compost the Grounds
MonthiraYodtiwong / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen and can be given a second life through composting. Some gardeners even sprinkle spent coffee grounds around their plants to repel slugs and snails without the use of insecticides.
Explore options for composting at home or in your neighborhood, and keep those nutrient-rich grounds out of landfills.
While making our morning coffee might seem as simple as pulling the grounds out of the cabinet and boiling the water, we should be aware of the complex processes that brought these beans to our kitchens, especially as climate change begins to impact our coffee consumption.
Some argue that the only truly responsible action would be cutting coffee out of our lives altogether – but, incorporating more realistic methods by which to reduce the impact of our morning cup will help ensure that both the environment and workers are being protected.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.
Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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By Michel Penke
More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.
Though made in large part of plastic, glass, ceramics, gold and copper, they also contain critical resources. The gallium used for LEDs and the camera flash, the tantalum in capacitors and indium that powers the display were all pulled from the ground — at a price for nature and people.
"Mining raw materials is always problematic, both with regard to human rights and ecology," said Melanie Müller, raw materials expert of the German think tank SWP. "Their production process is pretty toxic."
The gallium and indium in many phones comes from China or South Korea, the tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Rwanda. All in, such materials comprise less than ten grams of a phone's weight. But these grams finance an international mining industry that causes radioactive earth dumps, poisoned groundwater and Indigenous population displacement.
Environmental Damage: 'Nature Has Been Overexploited'
The problem is that modern technologies don't work without what are known as critical raw materials. Collectively, solar panels, drones, 3D printers and smartphone contain as many as 30 of these different elements sourced from around the globe. A prime example is lithium from Chile, which is essential in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.
"No one, not even within the industry, would deny that mining lithium causes enormous environmental damage," Müller explained, in reference to the artificial lakes companies create when flushing the metal out of underground brine reservoirs. "The process uses vast amounts of water, so you end up with these huge flooded areas where the lithium settles."
This means of extraction results in the destruction and contamination of the natural water system. Unique plants and animals lose access to groundwater and watering holes. There have also been reports of freshwater becoming salinated due to extensive acidic waste water during lithium mining.
But lithium is not the only raw material that causes damage. Securing just one ton of rare earth elements produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste, and has devastated large regions of China, said Günther Hilpert, head of the Asia Research Division of the German think tank SWP.
He says companies there have adopted a process of spraying acid over the mining areas in order to separate the rare earths from other ores, and that mined areas are often abandoned after excavation.
"They are no longer viable for agricultural use," Hilpert said. "Nature has been overexploited."
China is not the only country with low environmental mining standards and poor resource governance. In Madagascar, for example, a thriving illegal gem and metal mining sector has been linked to rainforest depletion and destruction of natural lemur habitats.
States like Madagascar, Rwanda and the DRC score poorly on the Environmental Performance Index that ranks 180 countries for their effort on factors including conservation, air quality, waste management and emissions. Environmentalists are therefore particularly concerned that these countries are mining highly toxic materials like beryllium, tantalum and cobalt.
But it is not only nature that suffers from the extraction of high-demand critical raw materials.
"It is a dirty, toxic, partly radioactive industry," Hilpert said. "China, for example, has never really cared about human rights when it comes to achieving production targets."
Dirty, Toxic, Radioactive: Working in the Mining Sector
One of the most extreme examples is Baotou, a Chinese city in Inner Mongolia, where rare earth mining poisoned surrounding farms and nearby villages, causing thousands of people to leave the area.
In 2012, The Guardian described a toxic lake created in conjunction with rare earth mining as "a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world."
Local residents reported health issues including aching legs, diabetes, osteoporosis and chest problems, The Guardian wrote.
South Africa has also been held up for turning a blind eye to the health impacts of mining.
"The platinum sector in South Africa has been criticized for performing very poorly on human rights — even within the raw materials sector," Müller said.
In 2012, security forces killed 34 miners who had been protesting poor working conditions and low wages at a mine owned by the British company Lonmin. What became known as the "Marikana massacre" triggered several spontaneous strikes across the country's mining sector.
Müller says miners can still face exposure to acid drainage — a frequent byproduct of platinum mining — that can cause chemical burns and severe lung damage. Though this can be prevented by a careful waste system.
Some progress was made in 2016 when the South African government announced plans to make mining companies pay $800 million (€679 million) for recycling acid mine water. But they didn't all comply. In 2020, activists sued Australian-owned mining company Mintails and the government to cover the cost of environmental cleanup.
Another massive issue around mining is water consumption. Since the extraction of critical raw materials is very water intensive, drought prone countries such as South Africa, have witnessed an increase in conflicts over supply.
For years, industry, government and the South African public debated – without a clear agreement – whether companies should get privileged access to water and how much the population may suffer from shortages.
Mining in Brazil: Replacing Nature, People, Land Rights
Beyond the direct health and environmental impact of mining toxic substances, quarrying critical raw materials destroys livelihoods, as developments in Brazil demonstrate.
"Brazil is the major worldwide niobium producer and reserves in [the state of] Minas Gerais would last more than 200 years [at the current rate of demand]," said Juliana Siqueira-Gay, environmental engineer and Ph.D. student at the University of São Paulo.
While the overall number of niobium mining requests is stagnating, the share of claims for Indigenous land has skyrocketed from 3 to 36 percent within one year. If granted, 23 percent of the Amazon forest and the homeland of 222 Indigenous groups could fall victim to deforestation in the name of mining, a study by Siqueira-Gay finds.
In early 2020, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a bill which would allow corporations to develop areas populated by Indigenous communities in the future. The law has not yet entered into force, but "this policy could have long-lasting negative effects on Brazil's socio-biodiversity," said Siqueira-Gay.
One example are the niobium reserves in Seis Lagos, in Brazil's northeast, which could be quarried to build electrolytic capacitors for smartphones.
"They overlap the Balaio Indigenous land and it would cause major impacts in Indigenous communities by clearing forests responsible for providing food, raw materials and regulating the local climate," Siqueira-Gay explained.
She says scientific good practice guidelines offer a blueprint for sustainable mining that adheres to human rights and protects forests. Quarries in South America — and especially Brazil — funded by multilaterial banks like the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group have to follow these guidelines, Siqueira-Gay said.
They force companies to develop sustainable water supply, minimize acid exposure and re-vegetate mined surfaces. "First, negative impacts must be avoided, then minimized and at last compensated — not the other way around."
Reposted with permission from DW.
Google's New Timelapse Shows 37 Years of Climate Change Anywhere on Earth, Including Your Neighborhood
Google Earth's latest feature allows you to watch the climate change in four dimensions.
The new feature, called Timelapse, is the biggest update to Google Earth since 2017. It is also, as far as its developers know, the largest video taken of Earth on Earth. The feature compiles 24 million satellite photos taken between 1984 and 2020 to show how human activity has transformed the planet over the past 37 years.
"Visual evidence can cut to the core of the debate in a way that words cannot and communicate complex issues to everyone," Google Earth Director Rebecca Moore wrote in a blog post Thursday.
Moore herself has been directly impacted by the climate crisis. She was one of many Californians evacuated because of wildfires last year. However, the new feature allows people to witness more remote changes, such as the melting of ice caps.
"With Timelapse in Google Earth, we have a clearer picture of our changing planet right at our fingertips — one that shows not just problems but also solutions, as well as mesmerizingly beautiful natural phenomena that unfold over decades," she wrote.
Some climate impacts that viewers can witness include the melting of 12 miles of Alaska's Columbia Glacier between 1984 and 2020, Fortune reported. They can also watch the disintegration of the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica. The changes are not limited to the impacts of global warming, however.
Moore said the developers had identified five themes, and Google Earth offers a guided tour for each of them. They are:
- Forest change, such as deforestation in Bolivia for soybean farming
- Urban growth, such as the quintupling of Las Vegas sprawl
- Warming temperatures, such as melting glaciers and ice sheets
- Sources of energy, such as the impacts of coal mining on Wyoming's landscape
- Fragile beauty, such as the flow of Bolivia's Mamoré River
However, the feature also allows you to see smaller-scale change. You can enter any location into the search bar, including your local neighborhood, CNN explained. The feature does not offer the detail of Street View, Gizmodo noted. It is intended to show large changes over time, rather than smaller details like the construction of a road or home.
The images for Timelapse were made possible through collaboration with NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey's Landsat satellites and the European Union's Copernicus program and Sentinel satellites. Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab helped develop the technology.
To use Timelapse, you can either visit g.co/Timelapse directly or click on the Ship's Wheel icon in Google Earth, then select Timelapse. Moore said the feature would be updated annually with new images of Earth's alterations.
"We hope that this perspective of the planet will ground debates, encourage discovery and shift perspectives about some of our most pressing global issues," she wrote.
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Animal Agriculture Responsible for 57% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Food Production, Study Finds
By Brett Wilkins
Global food production accounts for more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, with meat and dairy responsible for twice as much planet-heating carbon pollution as plant-based foods, according to the results of a major study published Monday.
According to research published in Nature Food, 35% of all global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to food production, "of which 57% corresponds to the production of animal-based food," including livestock feed.
"The global population has quadrupled over the last century," the study notes. "Demographic growth and associated economic growth have increased global food demand and caused dietary changes, such as eating more animal-based products. The United Nations projects that food production from plants and animals will need to increase 70% by 2050, compared to 2009, to meet increasing food demand."
"Increased food production," the paper continues, "may accelerate land-use changes (LUCs) for agriculture, resulting in greater greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reduced carbon sequestration, and further climate change."
Beef production — which according to the study contributes 25% of all food-based greenhouse gas emissions — is by far the biggest culprit, followed by cow's milk, pork, and chicken. Among plant-based foods, rice production is responsible for 12% of food-based emissions.
The publication notes that the provision of adequate grazing land and food for livestock fuels deforestation, while the animals also produce tremendous quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas found to be up to 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
"Global GHG emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods." A new study @NatureFoodJnl es… https://t.co/u5A8XdOv1H— Leila Niamir (@Leila Niamir) 1631568176.0
"To produce more meat you need to feed the animals more, which then generates more emissions," University of Illinois researcher and study lead author Xiaoming Xu told The Guardian. "You need more biomass to feed animals in order to get the same amount of calories. It isn't very efficient."
The paper notes that while it only takes 2.5 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions to produce one kilogram of wheat, producing the same quantity of beef emits 70 kilograms of emissions.
"I'm a strict vegetarian and part of the motivation for this study was to find out my own carbon footprint, but it's not our intention to force people to change their diets," study co-author Atul Jain told The Guardian. "A lot of this comes down to personal choice. You can't just impose your views on others. But if people are concerned about climate change, they should seriously consider changing their dietary habits."
Jain added that "this study shows the entire cycle of the food production system, and policymakers may want to use the results to think about how to control greenhouse gas emissions."
20 meat and dairy firms emit more greenhouse gas than Germany, Britain or France. These emissions make up 56 to 58… https://t.co/jGwwpemIkp— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace) 1631102387.0
The new study's findings closely mirror those of separate research published last week by Friends of the Earth Europe, its German arm Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz, and the Berlin-based Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, which concluded that worldwide food production accounts for up to 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with animal agriculture responsible for more than half of that amount.
Noting that "industrialized meat and dairy production are killing the planet, poisoning rural communities, and hurting independent farmers," the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said Monday that the Farm System Reform Act — legislation reintroduced in July by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) — "would end some of the worst practices and begin building a just food system for people and the planet."
Industrialized meat and dairy production are killing the planet, poisoning rural communities and hurting independen… https://t.co/gXfWyAUOIo— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div) 1631539803.0
"Meat and dairy production in the United States is based on heavily subsidized factory farming — a leading contributor to climate change, pollution, pesticide use, biodiversity loss, wildlife killings, and worker exploitation," CBD explains in a petition supporting the proposed legislation, which is endorsed by more than 300 diverse advocacy groups. "This broken system is the result of the unequal power that multinational meat corporations wield over federal farm policy."
Reposed with permission from Common Dreams.
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Despite Brazil previously setting a goal of slowing the pace of deforestation to 3,900 sq km annually by 2020, deforestation increased 9.5% from last year, and a total of 11,088 sq km (4,281 sq miles) of rainforest was destroyed from August 2019 to July 2020, according to the news report. That area is just smaller than the state of Connecticut, The New York Times noted.
Scientists blame part of this acceleration on far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected on a pro-development promise and took office in Jan. 2019. Bolsonaro encourages agriculture and mining in the world's largest rainforest and has actively introduced policies and bills that open up the forest to loggers, ranchers and mining operations. He has also cut critical funding for federal enforcement agencies that police farmers and loggers breaking environmental laws, the BBC reported.
Bolsonaro has simultaneously shunned outside influence from other countries, especially concerning the development of the Amazon. He has been accused of using the coronavirus shutdowns as a smokescreen to promote more deforestation and exploitation of forest resources. He has argued that he wants to develop the forest's resources to lift the area out of poverty, The New York Times reported.
As a result, deforestation and forest fires have increased under Bolsonaro's leadership. Fires are often used to clear vegetation from clear-cut areas of the forest to prepare them for illegal cattle-raising and agriculture, the report said.
Civil society groups and public prosecutors in Brazil filed lawsuits against the Bolsonaro government to stop deforestation, taking issue with the president's reduction of inspections of exported timber and freezing of climate funds that help preserve the forests when other countries use these to offset their carbon emissions.
The trees in the Amazon are a vital component in the fight against the climate crisis because they absorb billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, The New York Times reported. As the Amazon is cut down, it is becoming a carbon source instead of one of the world's largest carbon sinks. This will have dire consequences for global temperatures.
The rainforest is also home to roughly three million species of plants and animals and one million indigenous people, the BBC reported. As habitat is lost, many species could be driven to extinction before they are even discovered. Protected tribal lands serve as a buffer against deforestation, and indigenous tribes survey the land to protect the trees. Their way of life and actual lives are at risk as the forest is cut down.
Despite the total size of deforested land being at a 12-year high, at least one federal official highlighted the slowing percentage-of-growth figure (9.5%) as a sign of progress because it is far lower than the 34% increase seen in 2019, The New York Times reported.
"While we are not here to celebrate this, it does signify that the efforts we are making are beginning to bear fruit," Vice President Hamilton Mourão said.
Environmentalists and scientists disagree and remain skeptical because Bolsonaro has asserted that "deforestation and fires will never end" because they are "cultural," reported Axios.
"The [new] figures show that Bolsonaro's plan worked, Brazilian non-governmental organization Climate Observatory said in a statement, Reuters reported. "They reflect the result of a successful initiative to annihilate the capacity of the Brazilian State and the inspection bodies to take care of our forests and fight crime in the Amazon."
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Tropical depression Grace is expected to pass over Haiti on Monday and Tuesday, just days after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake left nearly 1,300 dead and 5,700 injured, threatening to cause flooding and landslides and further hampering rescue efforts already contending with devastated infrastructure and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forecasters predict Grace will drop 5 to 10 inches of rain on Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic, with as much as 15 inches across southern portions of Hispaniola.
Climate change is intensifying tropical storm systems, compounded with sea level rise and deforestation that worsens flooding and landslides that make Haiti particularly vulnerable. The nation, which has not yet fully recovered from the 7.0 quake in 2010 that leveled significant portions of the island's infrastructure and killed as many as 300,000 people, has been hit by major storms in 2020, two in 2017, another in 2016 and four in 2008.
As reported by NPR:
In an interview with ABC's Good Morning America, Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., Bocchit Edmond, said authorities are still trying to figure out exactly how bad the devastation is. Their top priority is getting medical attention and shelter for people who have been hurt or displaced, he said.
Edmond is also concerned that the weather will complicate relief efforts. Tropical Depression Grace, currently wending its way through the Caribbean, could bring heavy rains and flooding on Monday as it hits Haiti, potentially triggering mudslides. Many areas could see 4 to 8 inches of rain, with isolated spots of 15 inches across the south of the country, the National Hurricane Center said.
"Hopefully Grace will be graceful enough to spare us," Edmond said.
Haiti: drone footage shows devastation after deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake youtu.be
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