By John R. Platt
Spring has arrived, and while the rapidly improving weather begs us to spend more time outdoors and with friends and families, the ongoing pandemic also offers some good reasons to stay safe and indoors until most people have been vaccinated.
So let's get out into the world virtually with the latest books about environmental issues we care about. Publishers have lined up a great set of new titles to read while you stay indoors during what we hope is the final phase of the pandemic.
We've collected ten of the best new books of 2021 to date. They cover climate change, the extinction crisis, environmental justice and a whole lot more. You'll even find a cookbook to freshen up your mealtimes, a collection of comics to inspire the kids in your life, and some weird fiction to keep your blood pumping. Most are available now, with a few titles hitting the shelves over the next two weeks.
The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet by Michael E. Mann
We've been played, but we can fight back.
"A renowned climate scientist shows how fossil fuel companies have waged a thirty-year campaign to deflect blame and responsibility and delay action on climate change and offers a battle plan for how we can save the planet." (Check out our interview about Mann's previous book, The Tantrum That Saved the World.)
Earth's Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World by Kathleen Dean Moore
What does the extinction crisis sound like?
"At once joyous and somber, this thoughtful gathering of new and selected essays spans Kathleen Dean Moore's distinguished career as a tireless advocate for environmental activism in the face of climate change." (Read our interview with Moore.)
A relevant book as President Biden looks to undo the previous administration's damage.
"…acclaimed adventure writer David Roberts takes readers on a tour of his favorite place on Earth as he unfolds the rich and contradictory human history of the 1.35 million acres of the Bears Ears domain. Weaving personal memoir with archival research, Roberts sings the praises of the outback he's explored for the last twenty-five years."
Will the pen be mightier than the poisoners?
"Lee Johnson was a man with simple dreams. All he wanted was a steady job and a nice home for his wife and children, something better than the hard life he knew growing up. He never imagined that he would become the face of a David-and-Goliath showdown against one of the world's most powerful corporate giants. But a workplace accident left Lee doused in a toxic chemical and facing a deadly cancer that turned his life upside down. In 2018, the world watched as Lee was thrust to the forefront of one the most dramatic legal battles in recent history."
#EATMEATLESS: Good for Animals, the Earth & All by the Jane Goodall Institute
Honor your tastebuds and the natural world at the same time.
"…nourishing vegan recipes crafted especially for curious consumers looking to incorporate healthier dietary practices, those interested in environmental sustainability and animal welfare, and for fans of Jane Goodall's work."
Mutts Go Green: Earth-Friendly Tips and Comic Strips by Patrick McDonnell
Laughs and eco-lessons for younger readers, but the comic strips speak to us all.
"…a special kids' collection of the popular comic strip MUTTS, featuring themes of ecology, environmental friendliness and animal education." (Available 3/30.)
Gonna Trouble the Water: Ecojustice, Water, and Environmental Racism edited by Miguel A. De La Torre
A challenging book for challenging times.
"With compelling contributions from scholars and activists, politicians and theologians — including former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, global academic law professor Ved P. Nanda, Detroit-based activist Michelle Andrea Martinez, and many more — Gonna Trouble the Water de-centers the concept of water as a commodity in order to center the dignity of water and its life-giving character." (Available 4/1.)
Lessons From Plants by Beronda L. Montgomery
Look into the green world and learn.
"Lessons from Plants enters into the depth of botanic experience and shows how we might improve human society by better appreciating not just what plants give us but also how they achieve their own purposes. What would it mean to learn from these organisms, to become more aware of our environments and to adapt to our own worlds by calling on perception and awareness? Montgomery's meditative study puts before us a question with the power to reframe the way we live: What would a plant do?" (Available 4/6.)
The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country From Corporate Greed by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh
An inspirational story that will echo around the world.
"The David and Goliath story of ordinary people in El Salvador who rallied together with international allies to prevent a global mining corporation from poisoning the country's main water source."
Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer
Science fiction with a horrific real-world twist.
"Security consultant 'Jane Smith' receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control." Sales benefit two organizations working to fight wildlife trafficking, the Wildlife Conservation Society and TRAFFIC. (Available 4/6.)
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His "Extinction Countdown" column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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About 66 million years ago, a 12-km asteroid struck Earth. The massive heat and impact likely triggered tidal waves and clouded the skies with ash, The Washington Post reported. Scientists estimate that up to 75 percent of all life on land went extinct, including the dinosaurs.
The space rock that triggered that mass extinction event is also the likely reason we have the Amazon Rainforest, a new study suggests. Published in the prestigious journal Science, the research indicates that that same asteroid that killed the dinosaurs also birthed all of Earth's tropical rainforests.
Mónica Carvalho, study co-author from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution (STRI) in Panama, examined tens of thousands of fossils in Columbia to understand how the plant life in Central and South America shifted from before and after the impact, reported Nerdist. Her team discovered that the type of vegetation comprising the continent's forests drastically changed from before and after. Before the crash, widely spaced conifers and ferns filled the region, allowing in large amounts of light, The Post reported.
After the asteroid struck, many species went extinct, particularly seed-bearing plants. Plant diversity declined about 45 percent after the impact, researchers found. Examining more than 50,000 fossil pollen records, the team discovered that flowering plants called angiosperms took over as the forests recovered during the next six million years. These filled in where other species had gone extinct, leading to the "reign of flowers," an STRI press release noted.
The impact also changed the spatial structure of forests, from widely spaced to densely packed. Leaf data from more than 6,000 fossils shows that the thick, dense tropical canopy associated with today's rainforests did not develop until after the impact. The data suggests that the spatial change from "relatively open to closed and layered... led to increased vertical stratification and a larger diversity of plant growth forms," News18 reported. As trees grew taller and closer, they partially blocked the sun, allowing different species of flowering plants to flourish, the Post reported. This is how Earth's most diverse terrestrial ecosystem — the tropical rainforests teeming with bright bromeliads and abundant orchids — developed, the study implies.
As for why, the researchers offered three theories: dinosaurs had kept the forest open and sparse by feeding on and trampling plants; falling ash enriched soils, giving an advantage to faster-growing flowering plants; and preferential extinction of conifers created the opportunity for flowering plants to take over.
While scientists aren't sure which theory, or combination of theories, created modern rainforests, Carvalho did conclude with one key takeaway: "The lesson learned here is that under rapid disturbances... tropical ecosystems do not just bounce back; they are replaced, and the process takes a really long time."
The end-Cretaceous asteroid impact that resulted in the destruction of nearly 75% of Earth's terrestrial life drast… https://t.co/nMS1dbmCCb— Science Magazine (@Science Magazine)1617726607.0
The shift in plant species and tree density likely also impacted the past and present climate, the STRI release added. Tropical rainforests, and the Amazon in particular, are some of the planet's most important carbon sinks. By absorbing greenhouse gases, the trees help curb the climate crisis and keep Earth habitable.
"The sparser canopies of the pre-impact forests, with fewer flowering plants, would have moved less soil water into the atmosphere than did those that grew up in the millions of years afterward," the STRI release explained. This increased humidity and cloud coverage, making the area much more productive, Wired reported.
Legume trees, a dominant feature in today's tropical rainforests, also entered the fossil record after the impact. These trees, with the help of symbiotic bacteria in their roots, fix nitrogen into soil, Wired reported. Without these shifts in forest spacing and makeup, today's climate could have developed differently.
The researchers hope the new study can help scientists understand how today's rainforests will respond to the rapidly changing climate currently threatening their existence.
According to Wired, Carvalho also warned, "The changes we are seeing today in relation to climate and deforestation are so rapid that we haven't really seen them in any other scenario in the history of the planet. Extinction is something that occurs really fast."
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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.
Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It is home to more than 7% of all the world's plant and animal species, many of which are endemic. One such species, the Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee, was recently rediscovered after spending nearly 100 years out of sight from humans.
James B. Dorey, a Ph.D. student at Flinders University, was sampling more than 225 general and 20 targeted sites for research on native bee populations when he identified P. lactiferus among the specimens. Dorey took samples from areas around Queensland and New South Wales, two areas that have seen an increased loss of biodiversity in the past decades. Dorey recently published his findings in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research.
Prior to the study, the last publication on the bee species was recorded in 1923 in Queensland, with very little information on the bee's biology. However, the study in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research indicates that this bee is in need of special attention. Dorey asserts that the species "requires conservation assessment," due to its increasing loss of habitat.
Deforestation seems to be at the top of the list of concerns for P. lactiferus and neighboring species. WWF predicts that between 2015 and 2030, a mere 11 deforestation areas will account for more than 80% of global deforestation. Australia, specifically Queensland and New South Wales where P. laciferus resides, is in those top 11 regions. An alarming 80% of deforestation in Australia happens in the Queensland region, which threatens not only the endemic bee species but other iconic Australian species such as the koala.
However, Dorey cited bushfires as an equally dangerous threat to P. laciferus and other native bee species. Their dependence on the bushland for shelter and food nectar, coupled with habitat fragmentation from deforestation, has made the increasing intensity of Australian bushfires harder to survive. Dorey stated that "GIS analyses... indicate susceptibility of Queensland rainforests and P. lactiferus populations to bushfires, particularly in the context of a fragmented landscape."
Dorey also noted that the 2019 and 2020 bushfire seasons "burnt a greater area than in any year prior," for the habitats in which P. laciferus resides. However, the devastating bushfires of 2019 and 2020 are not only affecting the bees in Queensland, but are also potentially fueling the extinction crisis throughout Australia. University of Sydney ecologist, Chris Dickman, told Huffington Post that an estimated 1 billion species were affected during the wildfires. Compounding research on climate change indicates that the wildfire crisis is global, and P. laciferus might be next on the list of species affected.However, there is hope for this rare bee and the other species facing real threats from the world's extinction crisis. Dorey's work in ecology research, as well as wildlife photography, is helping to fuel wildlife preservation in Australia and beyond. To see more of his work with native Australian bees, click here
Savannah Hasty is an environmental writer with more than six years of experience and has written thousands of articles for clients around the world. Her work focuses on environmental news, lifestyle content, and copywriting for sustainable brands. Savannah lives on the sunny coast of Florida and is inspired by this to play an active role in the preservation of the state's marine life and natural ecosystems.
Endangered North Atlantic right whales gave birth in greater numbers this winter compared to the past six years — a promising sign for a species that's been driven to the brink of extinction due to human activity.
From December through March, an aerial survey team reported 17 calves swimming with their mothers between Florida and North Carolina, AP News reported. This overall calf count is equal to the total number of births for the past three years and is a hopeful sign compared to 2018, when no right whale births were recorded.
North Atlantic right whales — which can grow to be 52-feet long, weigh up to 140,000 pounds and live about 70 years — each have unique callus patterns on their backs, helping scientists to track and identify individual whales and estimate total populations, according to NOAA Fisheries. But after being decimated by human hunting by the 1890s, right whales continue to be threatened by human activity, making them one of the most endangered large whale species in the world, with less than 400 individuals remaining.
"What we are seeing is what we hope will be the beginning of an upward climb in calving that's going to continue for the next few years," Clay George, a wildlife biologist who oversees right whale surveys for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, told AP News about this year's higher birth rates. "They need to be producing about two dozen calves per year for the population to stabilize and continue to grow again."
According to scientists, the right whale's rebound could be attributed to shifting to a habitat where zooplankton food sources are more plentiful, Yale Environment 360 reported. "It's a somewhat hopeful sign that they are starting to adjust to this new regime where females are in good enough condition to give birth," Philip Hamilton, a right whale researcher at the New England Aquarium in Boston, told AP News.
But scientists warn that the hopeful news shouldn't distract from the leading causes of right whale deaths: entanglement in fishing gear and boat and ship collisions.
Since 2017, these threats have killed about 34 to 49 right whales, Yale Environment 360 reported. Research has also shown that entanglements caused 72 percent of diagnosed right whale mortalities between 2010-2018, according to The Conversation. Right whales that get tangled in lines and gear will often suffer for months or even years, slowly becoming emaciated and debilitated, the authors wrote.
"The greatest entanglement risk is from ropes that lobster and crab fishermen use to attach buoys to traps they set on the ocean floor. Humpback and minke whales and leatherback sea turtles, all of which are federally protected, also become entangled," explained Michael Moore, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Hannah Myers, a guest investigator with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
But recent proposals to reduce fishing activity that could harm right whales haven't gone without criticism. For example, Maine Gov. Janet Mills said the rules, which include reducing the number of vertical lines in the water, would be "devastating for the lobster fishery," AP News reported. "If this comes to pass, it is not only fishermen and their crew who will be impacted, gear suppliers, trap builders, rope manufacturers — all these businesses face a deeply uncertain future," Mills said in a letter to NOAA, AP News reported.
But for some conservationists, the solution is simple. "North Atlantic right whales can still thrive if humans make it possible," Moore and Myers wrote in The Conversation, pointing to the closely related southern right whales, which have recovered from just 300 individuals in the early 20th century to an estimated 15,000 in 2010, due to decreased human threats.
"If we reduced or eliminated the human-caused death rate, their birth rate would be fine," Hamilton told AP News. "The onus should not be on them to reproduce at a rate that can sustain the rate at which we kill them. The onus should be in us to stop killing."
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Turns out, bee labor is required to produce most avocados and almonds in the U.S. Honeybees pollinate most fruits and vegetables in the country, The Washington Post reported. With native bee populations in sharp decline, there aren't enough of them to complete the job naturally or efficiently, The Post added.
Enter migratory beekeeping. Farmers truck beehives full of European honeybees across the country and into their fields so that the insects can pollinate crops during important fertile periods, The Post reported. Without this practice, farmers would lose about one-third of their crops, including broccoli, blueberries, cherries, apples, melons and lettuce, according to The Post.
The practice is so widespread that Tracy Reiman, a representative for PETA, said, "Average shoppers can't avoid produce that involves migratory beekeeping, any more than they can avoid driving on asphalt," Vegan Life reported.
In 2013, Scientific American estimated that California's booming almond industry used 31 to 80 billion migrant honeybees a year in order to achieve maximum pollination during almond trees' two-week bloom. California produces up to 80 percent of all the world's almonds, Scientific American noted, and could not achieve such scale without migratory beekeeping.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0
According to From the Grapevine, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.
U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. CNN reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.
Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.
Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.
Adding pesticides to the picture, bees don't stand a chance. Many countries still use neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics), which are believed to kill bees. In Jan. 2021, the U.K. faced backlash after approving the emergency use of the toxin on sugar beets, despite pledging not to increase its usage in the wake of Brexit. Although restricted, this family of pesticides is still the most widely used in the U.S., and scientists warn that neonics' continued prevalence could be catastrophic for food supplies, honeybee populations and mass die-offs of native species. Neonics are a primary cause behind the massive honeybee and native bee losses each year, researchers and environmentalists argue.
In Columbia, mass bee deaths are being blamed directly on avocado farms, Phys.org reported. Avocado exports from Columbia skyrocketed from 1.7 tons in 2014 to 44.5 tons in 2019, and in 2021, Colombia became Europe's largest avocado supplier, Phys.org added. This boom has resulted in the increased use of neonic insecticide fipronil. Banned in Europe and restricted in the U.S. and China, fipronil is still used in Colombia to grow avocados and citrus for export. This has been bad for neighboring bees, which become contaminated as they buzz through pesticide-treated plantations looking for food.
"They bring this poison to the hive and kill everyone else," Abdon Salazar, a Columbian beekeeper, lamented to Phys.org after losing 800 hives and 80 million bees in the last two years.
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0
Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.
The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could trigger food security issues.
Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"
By Tara Lohan
It's not too hard to find salmon on a menu in the United States, but that seeming abundance — much of it fueled by overseas fish farms — overshadows a grim reality on the ground. Many of our wild salmon, outside Alaska, are on the ropes — and have been for decades.
Twenty years ago Pacific salmon were found to have disappeared from 40% of their native rivers and streams across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California. In places where they remain, like the Columbia River system, the number of wild fish returning to streams is estimated to have plunged by as much as 98%. Today 28 populations of West Coast salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
New research is helping to put the problem — and solutions — into focus. But in some cases, policy to implement changes still lags.
1. Trouble in Washington
With 14 salmon and steelhead species listed as endangered in Washington, a new report by the state declared that "too many salmon remain on the brink of extinction. And time is running out." Four key factors, the researchers say, have been attributed to their historical decline: habitat, harvest, hydropower and hatcheries.
2. Upstream Changes
Along with historic threats, there's another new factor making salmon recovery challenging for Washington and other West Coast states: climate change. Increasing temperatures are causing snowpack declines, resulting in warmer streams that can stress or kill salmon. Additionally, more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow causes rivers to run faster earlier in the season, which can wash away salmon nests and sweep young salmon out of their calm-water habitat before they're ready — reducing their chances of survival.
3. Ocean Woes
It's not just freshwater habitat for salmon that's changing. A recent study in the journal Communications Biology looked at how eight populations of wild spring-summer Chinook from the Snake River Basin fared during the ocean phase of their lives. And it's not good. If ocean warming continues, by the 2060s mortality for Chinook could be as high as 90%.
4. Ripple Effect
Pacific salmon are an integral cultural resource for Pacific Northwest tribes and provide thousands of regional jobs. But the fish don't just feed people. They also nourish freshwater and marine ecosystems, along with more than 100 species.
And for one animal in particular, the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whale (Orcinus orca), the decline of Chinook is an existential threat. It's been long known that Southern Residents feed primarily on Chinook — the largest Pacific salmon species — during the summer. But a new study published in the journal Plos One found that Chinook were also important year-round.
Southern Resident killer whales. NOAA
5. Implementing Solutions
In an effort to help the recovery of Southern Residents and help boost salmon populations in the region, conservation groups have increased their calls to remove four dams on the Lower Snake River, a major tributary of the Columbia River in Washington.
While the science supports dam removal to save salmon, putting that into action has run into a wall of political opposition — mostly from conservatives. However, a recent plan proposed by Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson to breach the Snake River dams was a rare showing of Republican support, which could signal more bipartisan efforts ahead.
Other dam removals — both large and small — have proved beneficial for salmon in Washington and other states. In California a groundbreaking project to allow rivers to flood fallow farm fields in winter has helped provide both food and rearing habitat for salmon — and has helped prove that water managers don't have to choose between fish and farmers.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Jeff Peterson
America's coastal saltwater wetlands are on a course toward functional extinction in the coming decades. Their demise will come at the hands of steadily accelerating sea-level rise and relentless coastal development. As these wetlands disappear, they will take with them habitat, storm buffering and carbon sequestration benefits of tremendous value.
Fortunately, there is still time to change course. A determined and coordinated effort by local, state and federal governments — led by the Biden administration — could dramatically increase the number of saltwater wetlands that survive and go a long way to maintaining their ecological and societal benefits into the future.
Saltwater Wetlands: To Know Them Is to Love Them
The most recent estimate of the extent of saltwater wetlands along the American coast, published in 2009, found some 6.4 million acres with about half occurring along the Gulf of Mexico. This is a mere remnant of their historic extent and a decline of some 95,000 acres from the previous assessment in 2004, largely in the Gulf of Mexico. Ominously, the rate of loss increased by 35% from the prior five-year reporting period.
The remaining saltwater wetlands still provide an impressive array of ecological services and benefits to society. Often termed "the most productive ecosystems on Earth" they are nursery grounds for fisheries and provide habitat for birds, mammals and other wildlife.
Wetlands also protect communities from storm surges and flooding. Along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts the protective value of wetlands is estimated to be about $1.8 million per square kilometer annually. On top of all that, saltwater wetlands help fight global warming by storing carbon at a rate that is about two to four times greater than that observed in mature tropical forests.
The Saltwater Wetland Extinction Scenario
Rising sea level and steady coastal urbanization pose an existential threat to saltwater wetlands.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that sea level along much of the American coast is likely to rise by 2 to 4 feet, and may rise by as much as 8 feet, by 2100. And seas will continue to rise in the centuries to come, with an "intermediate" estimate of more than 9 feet by 2200.
NOAA's National Geodetic Survey installs a device to provide data to model the fate of a Chesapeake Bay marsh in the face of rising water levels. National Ocean Service Image Gallery
The rising seas will eventually drown all the saltwater wetlands that now exist, converting them to open water. Some wetlands will survive in place for a time if seas rise slowly enough. But the rate of sea-level rise is accelerating rapidly and other factors, such as land subsidence, will shift the balance in favor of rising seas in the years ahead.
For most saltwater wetlands, survival will require landward migration. This is possible where geography does not present obstacles, such as steep slopes, and where human development has not already staked a claim. There is no national assessment of the feasibility of saltwater wetland migration, but several studies of smaller geographic areas present a bleak picture.
On the Pacific coast, some 83% of wetlands are projected to become open water by 2110 and "migration of most wetlands was constrained by coastal development or steep topography," according to a 2018 study in Science Advances. Along the Gulf of Mexico, estimated conversion of wetlands to open water varies for each state, with rates from 24 to 37% by 2060.
The outlook for saltwater wetland survival darkens further when one considers new coastal development occupying dry land that might otherwise become a new wetland. Population in the 100-year coastal floodplain is expected to almost double by 2060, significantly expanding the coastal development footprint.
And the rising sea levels that drive wetlands inland will also prompt people to defend the land they are on, often with seawalls, bulkheads or levees. Some 14% of the coast is already armored by this infrastructure and, if the current rate of armoring continues, that percentage is expected to double by 2100.
Finally, wetlands that are able to migrate will need years to provide the same degree of ecosystem services they did originally. A study of over 600 restored wetlands worldwide found that biological structure and biogeochemical functioning "remained on average 26% and 23% lower, respectively, than in reference sites" even a century after restoration, which means that even the wetlands to do survive won't provide the same benefits.
Envisioning a Strategy for Saving Saltwater Wetlands
What can be done to help saltwater wetlands survive the one-two punch of a changing climate and coastal development?
A critical step is to admit we have a problem and agree that we need a national response strategy. A national strategy should define a goal for saltwater wetlands protection (e.g., a net increase in acreage nationally and by state) and charge a federal agency (e.g., NOAA) with leading the effort.
The heart of a new strategy needs to be carefully planned for landward migration of saltwater wetlands and deployment of new authority and resources toward that end. This key objective is widely supported in the academic literature and the work to address it must engage local, state and federal agencies.
Since it's been more than a decade since the last published assessment of the United States' coastal wetlands, existing saltwater wetlands need to be mapped anew. Then their varying rates of natural change should be assessed and the feasibility of landward migration evaluated. Evaluation of migration should include obstacles, such as natural features, and both existing and likely future development. Coastal places that are not wetlands today but are well suited to become wetlands as sea level rises, should be identified. All this information should be used to develop place-specific plans to protect and preserve the land that wetlands will need to migrate inland on a priority basis.
While that work is going on, we'll also need to focus on dampening the rate of population growth right along the coast. This will be essential to leave space for successful landward migration of saltwater wetlands. State and local government have diverse tools, including land-use plans and regulations, to apply to this challenge, but the federal government needs to help. For example, FEMA should stop issuing federal flood insurance for new development in coastal floodplains.
Another critical tool is expanded authority to restrict new coastal armoring projects that would prevent landward migration of saltwater wetlands. Eight states have implemented total or partial bans on coastal armoring, but efficacy and enforcement vary. All states should adopt and enforce such bans. These projects also require permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and existing requirements should be revised to give stronger preference for "living shorelines" that replace traditional structures with designs using biological and natural materials.
Creating a "living shoreline" in the Delaware estuary. Danielle Kreeger CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
In some places, regulation will not be enough and acquisition of real estate will be necessary. Some states have land-acquisition programs that consider sea-level rise. For example, Maryland identifies "coastal lands with the highest potential to aid in adaptation if sea level rises a meter per century" and uses the assessment in making conservation investments. People in the San Francisco Bay area voted for Measure AA to provide local funds for wetlands protection in the face of sea-level rise. These programs and some others are a foothold but more states need to follow this example.
Federal agencies need to support these state initiatives by expanding modest existing federal programs that protect coastal wetlands to include purchasing land for prospective wetlands and removing buildings and other structures where needed.
Saving saltwater wetlands will require that Congress, federal agencies, states and local governments collaborate to agree on the strategy and then approve the new tools and funding needed to carry it forward. This will require years of effort, but the start of a new Congress and a new administration is an auspicious time to begin this important work.
Jeff Peterson is a retired senior policy advisor at the Environmental Protection Agency and the author of A New Coast: Strategies for Responding to Devastating Storms and Rising Seas. https://islandpress.org/books/new-coast
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
Only six to 11 percent of the habitat used by the fishing cat, leopard cat and rusty-spotted cat is currently protected, based on findings published in the journal Scientific Reports by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden.
All three species are endemic to the Indian subcontinent, comprising India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan and the Maldives. Over a third of the world's wild felines call the region home, and the three species studied share a common cat ancestor. There are no current population figures on the rare cats as they are extremely difficult to find, even with state-of-the-art camera traps.
But the fishing cat, about twice the size of an average house cat, may no longer have a home, as its preferred habitat — mangrove swamps and coastal wetlands — are increasingly eradicated for development. Since 2016 the species has been listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List.
"This study is important because it shows that many small, rare and elusive cats in the Indian subcontinent don't get as much attention as the more spectacular big cats. Nevertheless, the need to protect them is just as pressing," said Mats Björklund, a professor emeritus of Zooecology at Uppsala University, in a statement about the findings.
The leopard cat is also a victim of habitat destruction, but its environment ranges from shrub land and low-lying forests to inland wetlands, and populations are steadier than those of the fishing cat. Part of the study identified which ecological conditions each species preferred, using computer algorithms to predict their numbers and locations in favored areas.
The rusty-spotted cat is one of the smallest wild cat species in the world and mostly spends its time in the deciduous forests of India and Sri Lanka. It is listed as "Near Threatened" on the IUCN Red List, due to increased farmland use of its home.
"Species like the rusty-spotted cat exist only in this region, so to ensure we don't lose them it's essential to create more protected areas," said André P. Silva, the study's lead author and a doctoral student in the department of ecology and genetics at Uppsala University.
The goal of the study was to better understand environmental factors such as land cover, land use and climate, which threaten the three cat species. Thanks to this research, more protective measures can be implemented.
"The number and size of the protected areas must be increased to include more biotopes containing these species," says Björklund.
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By Ajit Niranjan
The way food is grown around the world threatens 24,000 of the 28,000 species that are at risk of extinction, according to a report published Wednesday that calls on world leaders to urgently reform the global food system.
Plants and animals are dying out at a rate that is at least tens — if not hundreds — of times faster than the average over the past 10 million years, according to the report, which was published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), British think tank Chatham House, and animal welfare organization Compassion in World Farming. The decline has mostly been driven by people destroying natural ecosystems to make space for cropland and pastures.
But world leaders could slow the accelerating loss of the planet's wildlife with simple steps: protecting more land, farming with fewer pesticides and monocultures, and shifting diets from meat towards plants. The scope of the first two solutions, the authors warned, depends on how much people change their diets and stop throwing food away.
"If our demand for food continues to increase, the more intensively we have to use the land that is left," said Tim Benton, an ecologist at the think tank Chatham House and co-author of the report. "It is about changing the way that we relate to food."
Feeding the World
The food system sits at the heart of four worsening global crises: climate, extinction, hunger and obesity. With more than a third of the world's land used for agriculture, experts are grappling with how to feed a growing population more food that is healthy — while at the same time killing less wildlife and emitting fewer greenhouse gases.
For decades, environmental activists have held up organic farms, which avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, as a nature-friendly alternative to conventional agriculture. Some farmers have turned to regenerative practices that store carbon dioxide in soils and make crops more resilient to storms and droughts.
But ecologists say there is a catch.
The Organic Dilemma
Because organic and regenerative farms typically yield less food per hectare than industrial farms, sustainable farmers need to use more land if they are to grow the same amount of food.
A 2019 study published in the journal Nature Communications found that adopting organic farming across the UK would, in fact, lead to more greenhouse gas emissions. Lower yields at home would be offset by imported food from croplands that would expand onto natural ecosystems.
In the US, a detailed lifecycle assessment of a regenerative farm found that its greenhouse gas emissions for each kilogram of meat were 66% lower than conventional alternatives, but took up 2.5 times more land, according to a study published in December in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.
Experts say there isn't enough land to feed the world and its growing appetite for meat through sustainable farms alone, even if they were built on marginal lands like degraded cropland.
The only thing that will allow us to farm in a sustainable way is changing our demand for food, said Benton. "That sounds horribly elitist, middle-class, 'let's all go vegan'," he said. But it could free up demand for land that could then be satisfied by sustainable farms.
Beef and a few other red meats, for instance, supply 1% of the world's calories but account for 25% of the emissions that come with changing how land is used, according to a study published in the journal Nature in January. To produce the same amount of protein as tofu, beef uses up 75 more times land.
In countries like Brazil and Indonesia, foreign demand for commodities drives companies to raze rainforests to grow soy for cattle and oil palm for cooking and use in processed foods.
In many cases, the food is not even eaten. About a third of all food made is lost during production or wasted.
Cheap, Unhealthy Food
The charge sheet ecologists have against industrial agriculture is long: destroying forest homes of endangered mammals like orangutans; killing bees that farmers rely on to pollinate crops; chopping trees that suck CO2 out of the atmosphere; and degrading soils that future generations will need to feed themselves.
But doctors, too, are worried.
Expanding farmlands raises the risk of zoonotic diseases crossing from animals to humans. Factory farms pump antibiotics into livestock that encourages the growth of bacteria that are resistant to treatment. And then there's nutrition.
Obesity rates have tripled in the last half century amid a rise in foods high in fat and sugars and a fall in physical activity, bringing greater risk of heart disease and some cancers. The World Health Organization has called on the food industry to reduce the fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods, and make sure that healthy choices are affordable to everybody.
"Our current food system is a double-edged sword shaped by decades of the cheaper food paradigm," said Susan Gardner, Director of UNEP's Ecosystems Division. It aims to make more food, quickly and cheaply, without considering the costs to biodiversity and health, she said.
But at the same time, cheap food prices and productivity increases in agriculture have given more people access to food, said Irene Hoffman, Secretary of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), who was not involved in the report. "Otherwise, our current food insecurity index would be much, much higher."
The world population has doubled in the last 50 years to 7.8 billion people. While food production has kept up, 1 in 10 people today still go to bed hungry each night. By 2050, when the population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion people, the competition for land will be even greater because of efforts to grow plants to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
A landmark study published in the medical journal Lancet in 2019 found that world leaders could feed 10 billion people and still stay within a "safe operating space on Earth" by radically changing food production and shifting diets.
And doing so, the authors found, would make people healthier.
A move to healthy, sustainable diets would involve eating half as much red meat and sugar globally, and twice as many nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes. It would avoid more than 7 million premature deaths per year, as well as reducing pressure on nature.
This, in turn, this would also make the farms more resilient to shocks like climate change, disease and soil erosion, safeguarding food supplies for the future.
"There's often a tendency to play nature against agriculture, which is absolutely not the case," said Hoffmann. "Agriculture depends on biodiversity, it is shaped by biodiversity [and] it manages biodiversity."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Jessica Corbett
A collection of new scientific papers authored by 56 experts from around the world reiterates rising concerns about bug declines and urges people and governments to take urgent action to address a biodiversity crisis dubbed the "insect apocalypse."
"The Global Decline of Insects in the Anthropocene Special Feature," which includes an introduction and 11 papers, was published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences alongside a related news article. "Nature is under siege," the scientists warn. "Insects are suffering from 'death by a thousand cuts.'"
The set of studies—resulting from a symposium in St. Louis—comes as the body of research on insect declines has grown in recent years, leading to major assessments published in February 2019 and April 2020, as well as a roadmap released last January by 73 scientists detailing how to battle the "bugpocalypse."
As the new package and below graphic explain, human stressors that experts have tied to bug declines include agricultural practices; chemical, light, and sound pollution; invasive species; land-use changes; nitrification; pesticides; and urbanization.
Emphasizing the consequences of such declines, University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, the package's lead author, told the Associated Press that insects "are absolutely the fabric by which Mother Nature and the tree of life are built."
According to Wagner, many insect populations are dropping about 1-2% per year. As he put it to The Guardian: "You're losing 10-20% of your animals over a single decade and that is just absolutely frightening. You're tearing apart the tapestry of life."
While most causes of declines are well known, "there's one really big unknown and that's climate change—that's the one that really scares me the most," he said, warning the crisis could be causing "extinctions at a rate that we haven't seen before."
Insect populations suffering death by 1,000 cuts, say scientists - ‘Frightening’ global decline is ‘tearing apar… https://t.co/iyKLoyUz4i— Damian Carrington (@Damian Carrington)1610396907.0
Roel van Klink of the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research told The Guardian that "the most important thing we learn [from these new studies] is the complexity behind insect declines. No single quick fix is going to solve this problem."
"There are certainly places where insect abundances are dropping strongly, but not everywhere," he said. "This is a reason for hope, because it can help us understand what we can do to help them. They can bounce back really fast when the conditions improve."
The package's introduction points out that while much recent research and resulting news coverage focused on drops in bug populations, "four papers in this special issue note instances of insect lineages that have not changed or have increased in abundance."
"Many moth species in Great Britain have demonstrably expanded in range or population size," the paper notes. "Numerous temperate insects, presumably limited by winter temperatures, have increased in abundance and range, in response to warmer global temperatures."
Pollinators such as the western honey bee in North America, "may well thrive due to their associations with humans," the introduction adds. "Increasing abundances of freshwater insects have been attributed to clean water legislation, in both Europe and North America."
As @dharnanoor points out in this article, too many bugs (thanks to #climatechange) can be a problem too--natural s… https://t.co/5ZNDwWhX80— erin sikorsky (@erin sikorsky)1610452988.0
In addition to the introduction, titled "Insect decline in the Anthropocene: Death by a thousand cuts," the package includes seven perspectives:
- "Agricultural intensification and climate change are rapidly decreasing insect biodiversity"
- "To us insectometers, it is clear that insect decline in our Costa Rican tropics is real, so let's be kind to the survivors"
- "Insects and recent climate change"
- "The decline of butterflies in Europe: Problems, significance, and possible solutions"
- "A window to the world of global insect declines: Moth biodiversity trends are complex and heterogeneous"
- "Deep learning and computer vision will transform entomology"
- "No buzz for bees: Media coverage of pollinator decline"
The body of work also includes three separate research articles:
- "Arthropods are not declining but are responsive to disturbance in the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico"
- "Insect biomass decline scaled to species diversity: General patterns derived from a hoverfly community"
- "Nonlinear trends in abundance and diversity and complex responses to climate change in Arctic arthropods"
The final piece is an opinion laying out "eight simple actions that individuals can take to save insects from global declines," which features five actions to create "more and better insect-friendly habitats, the loss of which is likely a leading cause of insect declines," and three that aim to adjust public attitudes.
As Dharna Noor wrote in her coverage for Earther: "I do not like bugs. Creepy, many-legged things make my skin crawl. But as unpleasant as they are, insects are absolutely crucial for our world's ecosystems to function, and sadly, new research shows that the creatures populations are on the verge of collapse."
To boost awareness and appreciation of insects, the scientists suggest countering negative perceptions, pushing for conservation efforts, and getting involved in local political advocacy. On the habitat improvement front, they recommend converting lawns into diverse natural habitats, growing native plants, cutting pesticide use, limiting light pollution, and lessening soap runoff from washing vehicles and building exteriors as well as the use of driveway sealants and de-icing salts.
"Avoiding some behaviors or adopting others will contribute both directly and indirectly to insect conservation," the scientists note. "Further, taking actions that address issues such as climate change can synergistically promote insect diversity. Climate change is increasingly recognized as a primary factor driving local and regional plant and animal extinctions."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.
In fact, scientists from Scotland's University of Saint Andrews and two major German research centers have for the first time determined a "conclusive picture" of the initial trigger and subsequent processes responsible for Earth's biggest mass extinction. The answer? Massive amounts of carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere from a volcanic eruption.
"We are dealing with a cascading catastrophe in which the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere set off a chain of events that successively extinguished almost all life in the seas," study lead author Dr. Hana Jurikova told The Independent.
The study, published in Nature Geoscience Monday, sought to understand the mechanisms behind an event known as the "Great Dying," the University of Saint Andrews explained in a press release. This was a period around 252 million years ago between the Permian and Triassic epochs in which 95 percent of marine species were wiped out within tens of thousands of years. It is the closest life on Earth has come to total extinction.
Scientists have advanced many theories for what caused this turn of events, including a release of methane from the seafloor and volcanic activity, but this is the first time a group has determined the exact cause, the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, one of the research centers involved in the new study, said.
The extinction process went something like this, as Saint Andrews explained.
- A volcanic eruption in what is now Siberia sent 100,000 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.
- This release led to ocean acidification and warming, which was especially deadly to marine life that requires calcium carbonate for their shells and skeletons.
- The atmospheric warming increased the rates of chemical weathering on land.
- This caused more nutrients to run off into the ocean, depleting it of oxygen and perhaps also poisoning it with sulphide.
"It took several hundreds of thousands to millions of years for the ecosystem to recover from the catastrophe, which profoundly altered the course of evolution of life on Earth," Jurikova said.
The researchers, who also included members of the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, were able to reach their conclusions by examining the shells of fossil brachiopods.
"These are clam-like organisms that have existed on Earth for more than 500 million years," Jurikova explained in the GEOMAR press release.
The researchers were able to assess the pH levels in the ocean based on the different isotopes of boron in the fossilized shells. Because oceanic pH levels are tightly linked to atmospheric carbon dioxide, the team could then create a model of the atmosphere at the time.
"With this technique, we can not only reconstruct the evolution of the atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but also clearly trace it back to volcanic activity," study coauthor Dr. Marcus Gutjahr of GEOMAR said in the press release.
The amount of carbon dioxide released by the Siberian volcano was more than 40 times all the carbon dioxide currently held in fossil fuel reserves, including everything that has been released since the start of the industrial revolution, according to Saint Andrews.
Still, the researchers told The Independent that the study offered "bleak lessons" for humanity as we face the sixth mass extinction.
"Ancient volcanic eruptions of this kind are not directly comparable to anthropogenic carbon emissions, and in fact all modern fossil fuel reserves are far too insufficient to release as much CO2 over hundreds of years, let alone thousands of years as was released 252 million years ago," Jurikova told The Independent. "But it is astonishing that humanity's CO2 emission rate is currently fourteen times higher than the annual emission rate at the time that marked the greatest biological catastrophe in Earth's history."
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Could the climate crisis drive Homo sapiens to extinction?
If history repeats itself, then maybe. In a study published in One Earth Thursday, scientists used a combination of the fossil record and climate modeling to determine that three early human species lost a significant chunk of their climate niche right before going extinct.
"It is worrisome to discover that our ancestors, which were no less impressive in terms of mental power as compared to any other species on Earth, could not resist climate change," lead author Pasquale Raia of Università di Napoli Federico II in Napoli, Italy said in a Cell Press press release published by Phys.org. "And we found that just when our own species is sawing the branch we're sitting on by causing climate change. I personally take this as a thunderous warning message. Climate change made Homo vulnerable and hapless in the past, and this may just be happening again."
The researchers looked at six early human species that had existed from the Pliocene to the Pleistocene epochs: Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens. They compared 2,754 archeological findings with a climate emulator that determines rainfall, temperature and other factors over the last five million years in order to determine the climate niche for each species and whether it changed over time.
A climate niche is the sweet spot of climate conditions that are best suited to a given species' survival, New Scientist explained.
For Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis, their climate niche shrunk just before extinction. Homo erectus, for example, went extinct during the last glacial period, which was the coldest period that species had ever experienced, the study said.
"Our findings show that despite technological innovations including the use of fire and refined stone tools, the formation of complex social networks, and — in the case of Neanderthals — even the production of glued spear points, fitted clothes, and a good amount of cultural and genetic exchange with Homo sapiens, past Homo species could not survive intense climate change," Raia said in the press release. "They tried hard; they made for the warmest places in reach as the climate got cold, but at the end of the day, that wasn't enough."
The researchers do think that, for Neanderthals, direct competition with modern humans combined with climate changes to push the species to the brink.
Other researchers who were not involved in the study cautioned that the fossil record is spotty for all of the species studied besides Neanderthals, which might mean that the species had longer lifespans or different climate niches than revealed in the study.
"Individuals belonging to these taxa lived at times, and in places, not sampled by the existing fossil record," Bernard Wood at George Washington University in Washington, DC told New Scientist.
The researchers did try to account for this somewhat by testing for two fossil records: a core fossil record including only remains known to belong to each species and an extended fossil record including unidentified remains that could have belonged to more than one species. They found that the climate niche shrunk before extinction for the three species in question no matter which record they used.
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