By Kimberly M. S. Cartier
As the Arctic continues to warm, climate changes cascade into the marine environment. Top predators like polar bears, beluga whales, and narwhals are affected by shifting seasonality and loss of the Arctic sea ice that shapes where they live and what they eat. Moreover, changes in ocean currents alter the transport of toxins like mercury through Arctic waters, which can create health concerns for top consumers in marine food webs.
Historically, it has been difficult to track how decades of changes in the marine environment have impacted the denizens of the Arctic deep. A recent Current Biology study has shown, however, that the iconic spiral tusks of male narwhals record chemical tracers of diet and mercury exposure over the animals' lifetimes and provide a new paleorecord of the Arctic.
"The tusk is a relatively rare sample to get a hold of … but what's unique about them that is we can do a time trend analysis for each individual," which hasn't been possible before, said Jean-Pierre Desforges, a postdoctoral fellow in marine mammal toxicology at McGill University in Montreal who coauthored the new study. "We don't have that many tusks, but for each tusk we have a lot of data points."
A Change in Diet
Narwhals spend months at a time under Arctic sea ice in remote areas of the world, which can make sample collection very challenging. To date, most data on the impacts of climate change on narwhal come from tissue sampling, which can provide a brief snapshot of an animal's environment. If a researcher wanted to understand these impacts over a narwhal's 50-year life, they'd have to collect tissue samples for 50 years. This limits analysis of trends across a narwhal's lifetime — the samples might come from many animals, or different collection methods might be used. In population-level studies, trends can be overwhelmed by variations among individual animals.
Narwhal tusks provide an alternative. A tusk is an enlarged canine tooth that grows a little bit each year and is connected to the animal's circulatory system. Like whale earplugs, baleen, hair, and teeth, narwhal tusks can be a valuable archive of the animal's environment and habits. A single tusk provides decades' worth of data for a single narwhal. "From the time the animal was killed, we can backtrack through the animal's whole lifetime," Desforges said.
Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in the layers of a male narwhal's tusk track whether the animal's food source is from sea ice–dominated waters or open ocean. Rune Dietz
Desforges and his colleagues collected 10 narwhal tusks, each about 1–2.5 meters in length, from animals who lived in the waters off northern Greenland. The team measured stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen — δ13C and δ15N — as well as mercury levels at multiple points along the length of each tusk, representing growth from 1962 to 2010.
"The carbon isotopes are pretty good trackers of habitat use," Desforges said. "The signals of carbon are very different if you're feeding nearshore or offshore like deep in the ocean, if you're feeding along the sediment at the bottom of the ocean or within the water column…and if you're feeding along the ice-associated food web." Nitrogen isotopes track where on a food web an animal is eating. By combining information from the two isotope signals the team was able to decipher broad trends in the narwhals' diets over their lifetimes.
The tusks revealed that before 1990, the narwhals' diet primarily came from sympagic food webs associated with sea ice, with fish like halibut and Arctic cod. After 1990, narwhals primarily ate open-water (pelagic) food like capelin and armhook squid. This pattern broadly matches observed changes in Arctic sea ice and marine habitats during the study period: Climate-driven changes in the ocean have pushed more pelagic fish into icy Arctic waters, and with less sea ice, narwhals have had to shift where they hunt to better avoid predators like orcas.
Mercury Marks Human Impact
As with δ15N, mercury levels track food web position. In the tusk samples, mercury levels rose with an animal's age and declined as its food source shifted from sympagic prey, which are often at higher trophic levels and have greater bioaccumulation and biomagnification of toxins, to pelagic prey. Temporal trends in the tusks' mercury and nitrogen matched up until 2000, when they sharply diverged.
"The diet suggests that mercury should be going down, whereas the mercury levels rise," Desforges said. "Not only that, they rise a lot faster than they had in the previous decades. So the diet is not the major driver of mercury in recent decades. We propose that [the increase in mercury is associated with] increased global emissions of mercury or else a climate change impact where mercury is becoming more available in the Arctic."
Analyzing more tusks collected in Greenland and elsewhere could help scientists trace where the mercury is coming from and better understand the potential health impacts of mercury on Arctic marine mammals.
Narwhal tusk expert Martin Nweeia, a dental researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., told Nunatsiaq News that insights from tusk samples should be seen as one piece of the puzzle in tracking environmental change. Nweeia, who was not involved with this study, agrees with the researchers that tissue samples and actual stomach contents of tusked and nontusked males and females are needed to see the whole picture. He added that the best way forward would be to work with Inuit and let traditional knowledge guide that work. "I'd be curious what hunters think because they're cutting open stomachs all the time," he said. "They know exactly what that diet is."
The tusks used in this study were provided by Avanersuaq and Uummannaq hunters after traditional subsistence hunts, but "we probably have tusks in museums around the world dating back to who knows when," Desforges noted. "We can get really valuable information if the tusks are in good shape and preserved in the right way. Samples go back in time before the Industrial Revolution, so we could get a good idea of what the prehuman baseline would be for mercury in marine mammals."
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
By Stuart Braun
The melting of the polar ice caps has often been portrayed as a tsunami-inducing Armageddon in popular culture. In the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, the warming Gulf Stream and North Atlantic currents cause rapid polar melting. The result is a massive wall of ocean water that swamps New York City and beyond, killing millions in the process. And like the recent polar vortex in the Northern Hemisphere, freezing air then rushes in from the poles to spark another ice age.
The premise is obviously ridiculous. Or is it? Rapid glacial retreat in Alaska in 2015 did in fact trigger a huge landslide and a mega tsunami that was nearly 650 feet high when it hit shore. Few knew or cared because it luckily happened at the end of the Earth where no one was living.
Many of us might believe we won't be directly impacted by the breakup of trillions of tons of ice due to global heating. We figure that unless we live on a small island in the Pacific, or have a house on the beach, it's not our problem.
Or Is It?
While it's true that the glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets covering 10% of the Earth's land mass are mostly in the middle of nowhere, their rapid breakup has a cascading effect.
Consider how all the extra fresh water in the ocean is diluting salt levels. And how that messes with the balance of the Gulf Stream, one of the world's most important ocean currents. The result is climate extremes, especially tropical storms and hurricanes in places like the Gulf of Mexico, but also more frequent floods and droughts on both sides of the Atlantic. It's gonna suck for a lot of people.
To put this meltdown in context, the rate of ice sheet retreat has increased nearly 60% since the 1990s. That's a 28 trillion ton net loss of ice between 1994 and 2017. Antarctica's epic ice sheet, the world's largest, and the world's mountain glaciers have suffered half of this loss.
OK, That Sounds Like a Lot — But So What?
Again, it's the domino effect that's worrying. With temperatures rising twice as fast in the Arctic — the world's air conditioner — than anywhere else on the planet, the heat is not just melting ice. It's also weakening atmospheric air currents known as the jet stream. In other words, more bad news for the weather.
The polar vortexes that have been freezing Europe and North America in recent years are related to a weakened polar jet stream — a scenario that triggered the sudden ice age in The Day After Tomorrow.
The cold might be welcome as the planet heats up, but here's the thing: Arctic regions are heating up, too. Which means the ice that's supposed to be reflecting the sun's energy away from Earth isn't as much anymore, leaving the sea to absorb this heat.
No surprise then that in 2018 the winter ice sheet in the Bering Sea bordering Alaska was at its lowest levels in over 5,000 years.
Fish, sea bird, seal and polar bear habitats are also disappearing with the ice. Indigenous communities in the Arctic who once hunted in a thriving frozen ecosystem are being upended — their houses are also falling in the sea as the lack of ice causes the coast to erode.
Sure, it's an underpopulated part of the world. But consider also the rapid thaw of permafrost on the Siberian tundra. One of the world's biggest carbon sinks, the tundra is now releasing greenhouse gases like methane that were long trapped below the frost.
Some scientists have predicted that by century's end, 40% of permafrost regions will have disappeared, meaning they will no longer retain, but will also release carbon dioxide — and we're talking more than is already in the atmosphere right now. As global heating is turbocharged, bye bye to more ice.
Which leads us to the elephant in the room: rising sea levels.
How Bad Could Rising Sea Levels Get?
So let's start with the worst-case scenario — and remember the culprit here would be ice sheets and glaciers on land.
If the fast-retreating Antarctic ice sheet, the world's largest, completely melted, the world's oceans would rise by about 60 meters (about 200 feet). That would be Armageddon and London, Venice, Mumbai and New York would become aquariums.
Don't panic, though, this won't happen any time soon. But if emissions aren't sufficiently scaled back to mitigate climate change, some researchers reckon oceans will definitely rise by at least 2 meters by the end of the century. That's still enough to swamp the several hundred million people living below 5 meters above sea level. Another 350 million or so living higher up would have to relocate to escape regular coastal flooding.
Can't People Just Move?
Maybe, but that wouldn't be the end of it. The world's mountain glaciers, which number roughly 200,000, are melting much faster than they can accumulate these days. Problem is, though they only cover less than 0.5% of the Earth's landmass, these "water towers" provide fresh water to about a quarter of the world's population.
Glaciers also feed the rivers that irrigate the crops which hundreds of millions of people across Asia, South America and Europe depend on for their survival. So without them, many people will suffer from both thirst and hunger. Scientists say water tower retreat has put almost 2 billion people at risk of water scarcity.
Right now, cities like Santiago in Chile are watching a big part of their drinking water supply literally dry up as glaciers in the nearby Andes retreat. Meanwhile, the European Alps that supply so much fresh water across the region have shrunk by about half since 1900 and will be almost ice free by century's end if nothing more is done to curb warming.
OK, Is There Anything That We Can Do?
Like global heating in general, the best way to mitigate the meltdown is to stop polluting the atmosphere with global warming-inducing carbon.
Of course, the process can't be reversed overnight. Even if people across the world stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, one-third of the world's remaining glaciers would still disappear.
So to save some amount of precious polar and glacial ice, we need to avoid the temperature rise of over 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) that the UN says is inevitable if governments don't step up climate targets. If the world can decarbonize by 2050, it might be possible to preserve around one-third of the current glacial mass by century's end. That would take both government action and a radical commitment to reduce our individual carbon footprint.
The future remains uncertain. But it's likely that if melting isn't slowed real soon, disaster movie scenarios might not look so ridiculous to future generations.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
See what kind of financial incentives are available for Garden State homeowners who go solar.
If you're looking for information about New Jersey solar tax credit and incentive programs, you've come to the right place. According to the latest data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), electricity prices in New Jersey are about 30% higher than the U.S. average. However, this also means that the kilowatt-hours produced by solar panels will save you about 30% more, and the state offers many financial incentives that improve your return on investment.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports that by the end of Q2 2021, New Jersey had an installed solar capacity of 3,739 MW, which is enough to meet the electricity needs of over 579,000 homes. The NJ solar industry has already received over $11 billion in total investment, and there are 470 solar companies providing more than 5,300 jobs in the state.
New Jersey gets modest sunshine compared to states like Texas and California, but it has favorable laws and incentives for solar power. This has helped the Garden State become one of the best states for solar in the nation.
In this article, we'll take a look at the full array of New Jersey solar incentives. If you'd like to see right away how much a solar installation would cost for your home, you can use this tool or fill out the form below to get a free, no-obligation quote from a pre-screened New Jersey installer.
New Jersey Solar Tax Credits and Solar Rebates
When you consider New Jersey solar incentives and electricity prices, it's possible to get a solar payback period of less than six years. This is great for an investment that has a service life of 25 years or more and is covered by manufacturer warranties for the majority of that period. The following chart summarizes all the benefits available when going solar in New Jersey:
New Jersey Solar Incentive
New Jersey Net Metering Programs
Net metering is required by law in NJ, which means you get credits for surplus solar energy that gets exported to the grid. These credits can be used to pay power bills.
Transition Renewable Energy Certificates
You earn one TREC for every 1,000 kWh generated by your solar panels, and each TREC sells for $91.20 (as of November 2021).
New Jersey Solar Tax Exemptions
Solar panels are exempt from the 7% sales tax in NJ, and your home value increase after installing solar is exempt from property taxes.
Additional incentives and low-interest financing programs may be available, depending on where you live in New Jersey.
New Jersey Net Metering Programs
Net metering is a simple concept, and it makes solar power much more valuable for homes. When your solar panels are producing more electricity than what your home is consuming, the difference gets fed back into the grid. Thanks to New Jersey's net metering regulations, electricity providers must give you full retail value credit for surplus solar energy, which gets subtracted from your electric bills.
- As a quick example, assume your solar panel system produces 1,000 kWh of energy during a month, but you only consume 600 kWh. The other 400 kWh is exported to the grid.
- Thanks to net metering, you'll receive the full value of that 400 kWh. In states without this benefit, electricity companies decide how to compensate you for surplus solar power, and many of them only give partial credit.
Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) and PSE&G currently have the two largest net metering programs in New Jersey. If there is a month where your solar generation is higher than your electricity consumption, credits are rolled over to the next billing period. Once per year, accumulated credits in your favor are compensated at wholesale price (not retail price) and the balance resets to zero.
Transition Renewable Energy Certificates
In New Jersey, solar panels not only give you power bill savings. You can also accumulate Transition Renewable Energy Certificates based on how much electricity is generated.
- For every megawatt-hour (1,000 kWh) of solar generation, you get one TREC.
- Electric utilities and other companies with a legal obligation to support renewable energy will purchase TRECs as part of their compliance efforts.
- As of November 2021, each TREC sells for $91.20.
If a solar energy system in New Jersey produces over 10,000 kWh per year, you get an additional 10 TRECs. With an electricity tariff of 16 cents/kWh, you would save $1,600 per year. However, you also get $912 for the 10 TRECs, and your total economic benefit is $2,512 per year.
New Jersey Solar Tax Exemptions
There are two main tax incentives for New Jersey homeowners going solar: a property tax exemption and state sales tax exemption.
- Solar panels are exempt from increased property taxes. If a home has an assessed property value of $400,000, and solar panels increase this to $420,000, the owner will still be taxed on $400,000.
- Solar panels are exempt from New Jersey's 7% sales tax, which immediately makes them more affordable. For example, if the sales price of your home solar system is $15,000, you're saving $1,050 right away.
Solar Rebates and Other Local Incentives
In addition to the incentive programs described above, additional benefits such as solar rebates may be available in some New Jersey municipalities. Before installing solar panels, make sure you're not missing out on any incentives available in your area.
New Jersey has also enacted laws that enable PACE financing in the state. PACE stands for Property Assessed Clean Energy, and these programs give you low-interest loans for solar panels and other clean energy upgrades. As of the end of 2021, there are a few PACE programs under development in New Jersey, but the options are still limited.
Federal Solar Tax Credit
The 26% federal solar tax credit is a nationwide benefit, and you can combine it with New Jersey solar incentives to improve your ROI. The official name of this incentive is the Investment Tax Credit or ITC. The credit is set to reduce to 22% in 2023 and will not be continued thereafter unless Congress approves an extension.
You can read our federal solar tax credit guide for more information on how this credit works.
Any top solar company will be able to help you identify and apply for financial incentives available in your area. To get connected to a certified installer near you, you can use this tool or fill out the form below.
FAQ: New Jersey Solar Incentives
Is solar really free in NJ?
No, New Jersey doesn't have any official programs that offer free solar panels. However, solar panels can achieve a payback period of fewer than six years in the state, while lasting for 25 years or more. In other words, you have free electricity for many years after recovering your initial investment.
With a low-interest loan, you can go solar for $0 upfront, then use electricity savings to pay off the loan. Strictly speaking, this doesn't make solar panels free, but they are essentially paying for themselves.
Is solar good in New Jersey?
Yes, solar is good in New Jersey. New Jersey has above-average electricity prices and many incentive programs for solar power, and this improves your return on investment when going solar. Although there are sunnier places in the U.S., New Jersey gets enough sunshine to make solar panels cost-effective.
Can you sell power back to the grid in NJ?
Yes, you sell power back to the grid in NJ. New Jersey has one of the best net metering programs in the U.S., where you get full credit for solar electricity that gets exported to the grid. Unused credit can be rolled over to the next month, and you get paid for accumulated credit once per year.
All electricity sent to the grid is credited at retail price, except for accumulated annual credits, which are paid at wholesale prices (the price paid by electricity providers when purchasing energy from power generators).Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, fast food, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.
By Anne-Sophie Brändlin
Facebook has started tackling dangerous climate change myths and anti-environment propaganda that circulates among the platform's almost 3 billion monthly users.
In a new trial that was launched in the UK in late February, posts about climate change will now automatically be labelled with an information banner that directs people to accurate climate science data at the company's Climate Science Information Center.
"We do recognize that we have a bigger role to play when it comes to informing people accurately about climate change," Alexandru Voica from Facebook's tech communication team told DW.
"This will make users more aware of what information they share," he said.
Debunking Climate Myths
The Climate Science Information Center, which uses research that has been vetted by leading scientific organizations, also has a climate-myth-busting unit that actively debunks false information circulating online.
It explains, for instance, that the decline of polar bear populations is actually caused by rising temperatures, that global warming is not just part of a natural cycle of temperature fluctuation and that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere harms Earth's plant life.
Misinformation about climate change is not new, but experts believe it has been greatly amplified in the new digital world, where the topic is increasingly polarizing.
"Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are the most relevant infrastructure for information these days," Markus Beckedahl, editor in chief of Netzpolitik, a German platform advocating the digital right to freedom, told DW.
"These companies have a monopoly and dominate the market when it comes to how people get informed, communicate and debate society. That's why they carry a huge responsibility."
Fighting Climate Change Starts With Fighting Misinformation Around It
Research has shown that the best way to counteract the politicization of science is to convey the high-level consensus among experts about the reality of human‐caused climate change.
That's why Facebook's UK-based trial is putting short, corrective messages into posts containing climate-change misinformation. These messages include information like the fact that 97% of the world's scientific community agree that global warming is real and caused by humans.
Behavior and communication experts from George Mason University, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the University of Cambridge helped advise Facebook on how best to debunk such climate myths in a way that is tailored to the psychology of misinformation. Dr. Sander van der Linden is one of the experts behind the UK trial.
"One common error that we often see media outlets make, for instance, is to prominently repeat the myth in an attempt to debunk it. But that tends to strengthen people's mental associations with the myths and people kind of forget about the correction," van der Linden, who is a professor of social psychology at the University of Cambridge, told DW.
So instead of repeating the myths, they start by stating the facts.
The next step "is not to argue with people over the specifics, but to actually show what's misleading about the presentation of a particular argument and what the underlying technique is."
Social Media Business Model a 'Catalyst for Misinformation'
The Climate Science Information Center was launched in the US, Germany, the UK, and France last year and was just expanded to Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, Nigeria, South Africa, Spain, India, Indonesia and Taiwan. If the UK trial goes well, these countries could see climate information banners and corrective message next, says Voica.
"We'll need to see the results from the UK tests first before we either expand the test or we make it into a real feature."
But for Markus Beckedahl, the climate misinformation trial comes years too late. He believes social media giants haven't done enough in the past years to combat misinformation. On the contrary, he says, they have actually promoted it through their own business model of collecting data and selling ads to keep people on the site.
"And the easiest way to do that is by showing content that creates emotions and anger. That's why disinformation and conspiracy theories have been shared and promoted massively on these sites in past years," he said.
Opinion Loophole Makes Fact-Checking Even Harder
Facebook has been coming under increasing pressure in recent years for failing to weed out false information, including myths about the climate crisis.
"The future of our planet is at stake, and there should be no company too big, too powerful, and too opaque to be held accountable for its role in the climate crisis. Facebook is no exception," U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and her colleagues wrote in a statement last year.
One way the company tried to combat this problem is by outsourcing fact-checking to more than 80 independent organizations, including journalists who review and rate public Facebook and Instagram posts.
"Fact-checking posts is often very complex. There are some parts that are true, others that are not. So there is a need for explanation; this is why we need the expertise of journalists to do this work," Basak Tezcan, who leads Facebook's sustainability team in Germany, told DW.
Content that has been rated false or altered will be labelled and will be limited in its distribution. It won't be deleted, though, unless it contributes to "the risk of imminent violence or physical harm," according to Facebook's Community Guidelines.
Here's the catch, though: "The fact-checking program is not meant to interfere with individual expression or debate," which means that opinion and speech from politicians, for example, isn't necessarily subjected to a fact check.
This has led to a backlash from climate activists, saying the policy is a huge loophole for climate change deniers.
Pre-Bunking Instead of Debunking
Considering the risk to society of climate misinformation, Van der Linden believes Facebook's climate misinformation trial is at least a small step in the right direction.
In the future, van der Linden hopes Facebook will work not just on debunking, but also "pre-bunking." In his previous research he has found that facts about scientific consensus can also be used to "pre-bunk" – pre-emptively debunk – the public against climate misinformation.
"Once people are exposed to a falsehood already, it's so much more difficult to undo the damage. So the better thing is a pre-bunk."
Another question is whether, as Beckedahl sees it, tech giants will agree to give independent scientists and government agencies access to their internal data so they can better understand how misinformation and climate myths spread exactly and what impact this has on society and our planet.
"Right now, it's a big black box, and the only ones who know what's really going on are the tech giants themselves — and they won't share their information. And that's a huge and dangerous asymmetry of power."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
What Is Biodiversity?
Polar bears, honeybees, mango trees and coral reefs are all examples of the countless animal and insect species, plant life and ecosystems that comprise the planet's vast biodiversity. Every living organism has a role to play in an intricate web of connectedness, no matter the size, and without them, there would be no life on Earth. Removing just one from the chain can send significant ripple effects throughout the system, even if those effects aren't immediately felt. More crucially, every species lost increases the extinction risk to another connected species.
While biodiversity exists wherever there is life, there are some places on Earth that are considered biodiversity hotspots — specific areas that are teeming with native species that can't be found anywhere else in the world, from koalas in Australia to giant pandas in China. There are currently 36 areas that qualify as hotspots, but consider this: While that number comprises only 2.4 percent of the planet, those regions contain almost 43 percent of endemic species. But these hotspots are increasingly threatened by human activity and climate change.
Not only that, but a United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Report warned that about a million species currently face extinction, and for some it's just a matter of decades. As it stands, a 2018 World Wildlife Fund report shared that the world's vertebrate populations declined an average 60 percent in each category (mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians) since 1970.
Why Is Biodiversity Important to Ecosystems?
Mangrove roots in Mochima, Venezuela. Humberto Ramirez / Moment / Getty Images
Think of biodiversity as acting behind the scenes of day-to-day life. It's nature's way of providing clean air and water, food, resources (medicine, wood) and even climate protection. Yet consider that only 20 percent of Earth's species — at most — have been identified by science. Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus began the daunting task in the 1700s, and since that time scientists have estimated that about 8.7 million unknown species exist, although only about 1.2 million species have been identified. Of that number, who knows how many critical ecosystem players have already gone extinct, or are critically endangered, before their role is even clear?
How Do Insects and Animals Impact Us?
It's impossible to discuss this without covering the sixth mass extinction. As the name indicates, there have already been five mass extinction events throughout history, with the last one wiping out the dinosaurs 67 million years ago following an asteroid strike. After each of the prior mass extinctions, which were mainly caused by environmental factors that eliminated as much as 95 percent of existing species, scientists estimated that it took millions more years before biodiversity regained pre-mass extinction numbers.
The difference today is that the current ongoing extinction threat could have been avoided since it's a human-led catastrophe. A recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that more than 237,000 populations of 515 species have likely gone extinct since 1900, with many more not far behind; or, 100 times faster in the past 100 years compared to the more normal range of up to 10,000 years for some species. So what does that really mean?
Without the proper number of species performing their daily tasks, the everyday aspects of life that we take for granted, including oxygen and a plentiful food supply, will worsen. For example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed seven honeybee species as critically endangered. If all of the world's bees were to disappear, there would be few insects left to pollinate certain plants, ultimately affecting global food supply chains and the economy. A recent study found that bees and other insect pollinators contributed 34 billion to the U.S economy in 2012 alone.
While the worst-case scenario has yet to happen regarding bees, the world is still dealing with the very likely connection between biodiversity loss and infectious diseases. Though still unproven, scientists are getting closer to linking habitat loss and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Less land increases the likelihood of diseases spreading from animal species, such as bats, to humans. Until habitat loss is properly addressed, experts warn that pandemics will only increase in severity and frequency.
Then there are the financial costs, which are twofold. A UN report found that governments around the world allocated between $78-91 billion a year on biodiversity goals, when in fact hundreds of billions of dollars a year are needed, the report estimated. Without spending more to tackle the issues, biodiversity loss will wind up costing the world up to $140 trillion a year.
Which Species Are Most At Risk?
A Toucan feeds on fruit offered on Aug. 24 2020 at an inn at km 110 of the Transpantaneira highway whose fire consumed everything around along with the wildfires that has already burned more than 16.500 sq. km of the Brazilian Pantanal. Gustavo Basso / NurPhoto / Getty Images
The IUCN Red List identifies which species are most at risk for extinction, including their numbers, direct threats and conservation efforts. The Red List estimates that more than 37,000 known species currently face extinction, including, but not limited to, 41 percent of amphibians, 36 percent of sharks, 33 percent of coral reefs, 26 percent of mammals and 14 percent of birds. The IUCN has categorized species into Not Evaluated, Data Deficient, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct. Among the most critically endangered are Amur leopards, vaquita porpoises, Sumatran rhinos and Cross River gorillas. In some cases, such as the vaquita porpoise, researchers believe less than a dozen exist in the wild.
Many other species, including those in the food chain such as Chilean sea bass and Atlantic bluefin tuna, are being pushed toward extinction thanks to popular consumer demand, which leads to overfishing.
Then there are the species that the world has permanently lost in the last 100 years, from the Tasmanian tiger, which was hunted to extinction (mainly for museum display purposes) to the Pinta giant tortoise, a Galápagos native that was hunted to extinction by the fishing industry. The last known survivor, Lonesome George, passed away in captivity in 2012. In more recent years, the media has been following the world's last two remaining northern white rhinos. Both female, their kind is headed toward extinction, but scientists are attempting IVF using white rhino surrogates in the wild.
Yet the question remains, why are so many species going extinct or are threatened with extinction compared to previous centuries? As with most complex issues, there's no one explanation. Rather, a combination of population growth/overconsumption, the wildlife trade, pesticides, pollution, hunting, deforestation, wildfires, invasive species, big ag and climate change are among the larger culprits.
This category poses the largest threat to global biodiversity as rainforests to plains are cleared to make way for agriculture, housing and everything else that comes with modern-day living. Rainforests around the world especially suffered in 2020, having lost 12 percent of tree cover due in part to wildfires. Many of these wildfires in turn are caused by deforestation, with Brazil leading the way under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to raze this resource for more profitable industries involving cattle and soy. As a result, Brazil's deforestation loss hit a 12-year high in 2020 according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). This biodiverse hotspot is now at risk of losing endangered species such as the Amazonian jaguar, hyacinth macaw, pink dolphins and spider monkeys. Other major habitat loss threats throughout the Amazon come from gold mining and logging. Unfortunately, this scale of destruction isn't limited to the Amazon, with habitat loss taking a toll on species everywhere from Nepal and Borneo to China and Africa.
Ironically, the industry responsible for providing the world's food supply is also a major contributor. Industrial agriculture is a main culprit behind habitat loss as increasing amounts of land are converted to feed growing populations. Compounding this is an overreliance on a small number of crops and animals to meet global food supply needs, placing some of these species at risk for extinction.
About 600 million people populated the planet in 1700 compared to 7.7 billion in 2019. Future projections put that number even higher, reaching 10.9 billion by 2021. This massive population boom has taxed Earth's finite resources. While a Population Action International study has concluded that this boom is an indirect cause of biodiversity loss, it's nonetheless a habitat loss driver as more land is needed every year for food and other resources, along with urban and industrial development.
With increased land clearing and development comes increased pollution on a range of levels. This takes a toll on ecosystems in a myriad of ways: For example, chemical-laden water causes toxic algae blooms; rapidly changing climates make it difficult for many species to adapt; rising ocean temperatures bleach and kill coral reefs; oil spills kill fish, birds and other wildlife; and plastic pollution strangles or slowly kills wildlife that ingest it. Throw in noise pollution, light pollution, acid rain and pesticides, and it's no wonder that many species are experiencing population declines due to decreased breeding and numbers.
Speaking of pesticides, these chemicals are most notably destroying bee populations. While they're not the only reason, pesticides are a direct link. The Center for Food Safety found that some beekeepers have been reporting a complete loss of their colonies in recent years; at the same time, studies are showing a link between declining bee populations and pesticides: neonicotinoids in particular. Not only are these the most common insecticide, but neonicotinoids saturate an entire plant, not just the surface, proving especially toxic to bees. To put this in greater perspective, the United Nations Environment Programme has determined that 71 out of 100 crops are pollinated by bees, and these 100 crop varieties supply 90 percent of the global food supply.
This category is another contributor to bee loss, but invasive species are increasingly threatening all manner of plant and animal life. Invasive species are non-native plants or animals that have been introduced, either intentionally or by accident, and inflict ecological damage to their new environments as they compete for resources and disrupt an established ecosystem. In fact, invasive species rank just behind habitat loss when it comes to biodiversity threats. A 2019 study revealed that out of 953 extinctions since 1500, more than 400 were attributed to invasive species. For example, simply introducing cats to New Zealand in 1769 led to the downfall of the Stephens Island wren by 1900. In more recent times, Florida has banned 16 invasive species, including popular pet iguanas, as a way to reduce ecological and economic damages.
While some invasive species have been inadvertently introduced throughout the centuries, the billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade is another driver — both for introducing invasive species and biodiversity loss. A 2019 study predicted that the wildlife trade threatens almost 9,000 land species with extinction; this trade is the largest illegal market after drugs and weapons, with pangolin scales and elephant tusks among the market's most popular commodities.
Though not as large of a market, many plant-loving consumers are likely unaware that their latest acquisition could have been sourced via the illegal plant trade.
Poaching (illegal hunting) fuels the wildlife trade, but legal hunting is also detrimental to species' survival. During the Trump administration, many hunting regulations were scaled back, such as allowing hunters to shoot and kill bears and wolves in a wildlife refuge, along with their offspring, in their dens. Yet hunting easements aren't limited to administrations. Idaho recently passed a bill giving hunters the greenlight to kill 90 percent of the state's gray wolf population, which would reduce the overall number from around 1,500 to just 150. The endangered threshold is 100.
Overfishing falls into this category as well. Illegal fishing is a common practice, marine sanctuaries have opened up to commercial fishing and large numbers of marine life are getting caught up in fishing nets as unintended bycatch. Consumer demand has caused species such as beluga sturgeon, Atlantic halibut and bluefin tuna to land on the endangered list.
Certainly not least, this vast area encompasses enough issues for a separate discussion. In a nutshell, ever-increasing greenhouse gases are exacerbating the gamut of climate-induced events: rising seas, droughts, floods, wildfires, etc., all of which threaten plant and animal species just as much as they threaten human life.
What's Being Done About It?
M/V Farley Mowat crew member Tomas, pilots a boat at the port of San Felipe, in the Gulf of California, northwestern Mexico, in 2018, as part of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's operation "Milagro IV" to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. GUILLERMO ARIAS / AFP / Getty Images
Despite the many extinction threats facing species, global and local entities are working to address the problem.
The Convention on Biological Diversity formed in 1993 to protect biodiversity, and includes 196 participating nations. In 2010, the group set 20 biodiversity goals to meet by 2020. Unfortunately none of those goals have been met, although six targets were partially achieved, such as conserving protected areas and preventing invasive species. A recent UN report determined that it's not too late for global leaders to take action, but that countries need to focus on sustainability in general, from food systems and oceans to land and infrastructure. The next opportunity for countries to address biodiversity issues will occur in October 2021 in China, when the UN Biodiversity Conference convenes to troubleshoot biodiversity loss.
U.S. President Joe Biden formally announced a conservation plan in 2021 to protect 30 percent of the country's land and water by 2030. Additionally, under Biden the U.S. has rejoined the Paris Agreement, ended permitting for the Keystone XL pipeline and halted oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Other recent biodiversity wins include Biden's plan to restore migratory bird protections, however, protecting gray wolves and monarch butterflies is still under review.
There are numerous wildlife groups devoted to conserving biodiversity; some of the major players include the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, The Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and the Jane Goodall Institute. Meanwhile, conservation tourism remains a growing area, despite experiencing COVID-19 pandemic setbacks. For example, the African Wildlife Foundation has partnered with the Rwandan government to protect endangered mountain gorillas, resulting in a booming tourism industry. Elsewhere in Africa, wildlife safaris and game drives remain a critical way to bolster local economies while protecting species that are favored by poachers, such as rhinos and elephants. By no means limited to Africa, conservation tourism is helping to boost and/or protect the numbers of giant pandas in China, Bengal tigers in India, polar bears in Canada and giant tortoises in the Galapagos.
Zoos and animal facilities around the world have been participating in captive breeding programs since the 1960s, which are meant to increase populations of endangered species. While some programs breed animals that will remain in captivity, particularly zoos, others breed with the intention of introducing endangered species back into the wild. Not all attempts have been successful, but there are positive stories. Take the black-footed ferret, a North American species that was declared extinct in 1979. A captivity breeding program launched after 18 were found a couple years later; today, it's estimated that 301 survive in captivity and another 340 live in the wild. The ferrets are also notable for the fact that they're the first endangered species in the U.S. to be cloned, raising new hope for not just the ferrets, but other endangered species as well — even those that are extinct, such as the passenger pigeon.
While there's overlap with general wildlife conservation groups, an equal number of conservation organizations are dedicated to protecting marine life: Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and The Cousteau Society are among those making a difference by addressing pressing issues that involve, but aren't limited to, overfishing, coral reef bleaching, plastic pollution, commercial whaling and ocean acidification.
What Can We Do?
Greenpeace activists create a burnt smoldering rain-forest with a lifelike animatronic orangutan at the headquarters of Oreo cookies, in protest over their use of palm oil on November 19, 2018 in Uxbridge, England. Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty Images
Luckily, there are ways to make an impact on a smaller scale, and the more people that partake in these efforts, the greater the overall effect will be.
Support Sustainable Products and Food
Where possible, choose sustainably made goods, whether that's organic coffee from producers who eschew pesticides or furniture made from FSC-certified wood. (This designation certifies that the wood was sourced from well-managed forests.) Supporting local, organic farmers is another way to make a difference, along with understanding which types of seafood are more sustainable and being aware of eco-certification labels and what they really mean.
Avoid Palm Oil Products
Palm oil plantations have devastated large swaths of land across Asia, Latin America and Africa, although the majority of this popular vegetable oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. Mass production comes at the expense of endangered species facing habitat loss: the Sumatran elephant, orangutan, rhino and tiger are now among the critically endangered as plantation land expansion continues unchecked. Consumers can fight back by avoiding products made with palm oil; however, this can prove difficult since the ingredient is prevalent in everything from makeup products and laundry detergent to chocolate and soap. Read labels closely, since many items disguise palm oil under other names, or use other names for palm oil derivatives. Vegetable oil, palmate and sodium lauryl sulfate are all clues that a product contains palm oil.
Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Another way to avoid palm oil is by switching to a plant-based diet. But this diet has much larger environmental benefits for biodiversity as it requires far less land usage and reduces reliance on a small number of animal species as a global food source. The world is currently using 80 percent of its agricultural land to raise livestock; consider how much biodiversity could be saved and preserved otherwise.
Become a Citizen Scientist
It's not uncommon for environmental organizations to seek help from average citizens to participate in all manner of projects. Whether it's keeping track of cicadas, searching for penguin eggs or identifying coral reef damage, there are programs around the world that welcome assistance. Even better, it's entirely possible to find projects that can be performed in your own backyard.
The world has reached a critical make-or-break point for preserving a million species at risk for extinction, some within the next few decades. The issue may seem overwhelming, much like climate change, but it's not hopeless. As with anything related to the environment, getting involved at a local level, learning about the current issues and becoming a conscious consumer are good starting points for fighting back against biodiversity loss.
Meredith Rosenberg is a senior editor at EcoWatch. She holds a Master's from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NYC and a B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia.
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Scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences said Wednesday that there were increasing reports of bears attacking other bears for food, The Moscow Times reported.
"Cases of cannibalism among polar bears are a long-established fact, but we're worried that such cases used to be found rarely while now they are recorded quite often," polar bear expert at Moscow's Severtsov Institute of Problems of Ecology and Evolution Ilya Mordvintsev told the Interfax news agency, as AFP reported.
Mordvintsev, who presented his findings in Saint Petersburg, attributed the increase in cannibalism to lack of other food options.
"In some seasons there is not enough food and large males attack females with cubs," he said.
Fossil fuel extraction is attacking the polar bears' habitat and traditional food sources on two fronts. On the one hand, the climate crisis is heating Russia 2.5 times faster than the rest of the world, according to The Moscow Times. Sea ice extent in the Russian Arctic by the end of summer has decreased by 40 percent, fellow scientist Vladimir Sokolov said, according to AFP.
On the other hand, oil and gas development in the Yamal Peninsula and the Gulf of Ob is directly disturbing the polar bears' habitat, Mordvintsev said, according to The Moscow Times. Their hunting grounds along the gulf have become a shipping channel for liquefied natural gas, AFP reported.
"The Gulf of Ob was always a hunting ground for the polar bear. Now it has broken ice all year round," Mordvintsev said, according to AFP.
However, the increased human presence in the region also means the uptick in reported bear cannibalism could be partly attributed to the fact that there are now more people around to witness it.
"Now we get information not only from scientists but also from the growing number of oil workers and [defense] ministry employees," Mordvintsev said.
But the uptick in reported cannibalism is far from the only signal that polar bears are suffering because of human activity. A study published this month found that polar bears in Canada and Greenland were losing weight and having fewer babies because of reduced sea ice.
This loss of habitat is also pushing bears into human villages. In 2019, Russian authorities had to declare a state of emergency when more than 50 polar bears wandered into a settlement on Russia's Novaya Zemlya islands.
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By Jacob Job
Maybe you've seen a video clip of a fluffy white fox moving carefully through a frozen landscape. Suddenly it leaps into the air and dive-bombs straight down into the snow. If so, you've witnessed the unusual hunting skills of an Arctic fox.
During winter at the most northern parts of Earth, snow and ice transform the Arctic tundra into a blanket of white as far as the eye can see. It's a long, cold and harsh season, and animals like the Arctic fox have a number of special tricks that help them survive. Here's how they're able to locate and catch their prey.
Blending in With the Arctic Landscape
Some Arctic animals have evolved unique camouflage to blend in with their surroundings. The most obvious example is the polar bear. These large predators have white fur that makes them nearly invisible as they hunt seals on the white sea ice.
Arctic foxes actually change color with the seasons. During summer, their gray and brown fur blends in with tundra rocks and plant life. This camouflage helps Arctic foxes slowly sneak up on their prey and avoid being eaten themselves.
But dark fur would make Arctic foxes easy to see on the all-white winter tundra once it's covered with snow. As winter nears, Arctic foxes shed their dark fur and begin growing all white fur to blend in with the snow and ice. Their changing color helps keep these foxes hidden year-round.
Changing Hunting Strategies
Many of the bird species that Arctic foxes hunt during the summer migrate south to escape the harsh winter weather. The foxes are left with fewer food choices. While they still hunt some birds, like ptarmigan, on top of the snow, Arctic foxes often turn their attention to food found underneath the snow – specifically, lemmings.
Lemmings are small rodents that live on the Arctic tundra all year. To survive the cold winters, they remain active under deep snow, moving through tunnels, and search for leaves, roots and berries to eat. The snow insulates them from the cold air above, allowing them to stay active even during the middle of winter.
But how do Arctic foxes find lemmings that are hidden underneath the snow? The answer: by listening for their footsteps!
Hearing Like a Dog
Like other canid species – a fancy way to describe dog-like animals – Arctic foxes have very sensitive ears.
Have you ever seen a dog running through tall grass and then suddenly stop short, tilting its head back and forth? It probably looked like it was listening to something, even though you couldn't detect what might attract its attention. In fact, there was probably a mouse or vole moving nearby, and your dog was able to hear its footsteps.
What does a mouse or lemming sound like when it runs through the grass or snow? It makes a quiet, high-pitched rustling sound. It sort of sounds like the softest gust of wind causing grass blades to rub against each other.
Most people can't hear this sound, but your dog and Arctic foxes can hear it just fine. Because human beings domesticated dogs, they don't need to use their special hearing to find food – we make it easy by filling their food bowls every day. But wild canids, including Arctic foxes, still very much need this unique ability to survive.
An Ambush From Above
Arctic foxes spend hours each day roaming across the tundra during winter looking for food. This includes listening for lemmings under the snow. But hearing a lemming is only the first step in getting a meal. Arctic foxes still must catch them.
Once a fox hears a lemming, it becomes almost completely still. The fox then tilts its head back and forth, trying to better locate where the lemming is. It requires careful listening to pinpoint the lemming's quiet movements in the snow.
When a fox is confident it knows exactly where the lemming is, the ambush begins. It will jump straight up in the air, sometimes several feet, and plunge headfirst into the snow with its mouth wide open. If the attack was successful, the fox will emerge from the snow with a lemming in its mouth. Dinner is served.
Although this pouncing technique, known as "mousing," may seem easy enough, an Arctic fox may attempt it hundreds of times per day with little success. It takes practice and persistence.
Hunting in Noise
Humans make a lot of noise that makes it harder for predators to find prey. Although Arctic foxes live far enough north to avoid most noise pollution, other species including coyotes and red foxes live much farther south, where many more people live.
Coyotes and red foxes also hunt like Arctic foxes. The noise from airplanes, vehicles and other engines likely makes it harder for these species to hear rodent footsteps under the snow. And as the human population grows, bringing noise with them as they spread across the globe and into Arctic regions, it's reasonable to assume that Arctic foxes will also have a harder time finding food.
Jacob Job is a research associate in the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University.
Disclosure statement: Jacob Job does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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The climate crisis wreaks havoc on animals and plants that have trouble adapting to global heating and extreme weather. Some of the most obvious examples are at the far reaches of the planet, as bees disappear from Canada, penguin populations plummet in the Antarctic, and now polar bears in the Arctic are struggling from sea ice loss, according to a new study, as CNN reported.
In the study, published in Ecological Applications, researchers found that polar bears are losing weight and having fewer babies because their habitat is under threat. The scientists from the University of Washington found that polar bears are spending more time on land than in previous decades, as Oceanographic Magazine reported.
Polar bears rely on sea ice for every aspect of their survival. They use sea ice to hunt seals, travel, build dens and mate. As ice begins to melt earlier in the year, the polar bears have less time for eating and having babies, as CNN reported.
"Climate-induced changes in the Arctic are clearly affecting polar bears," said lead author Kristin Laidre, an associate professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, in a statement. "They are an icon of climate change, but they're also an early indicator of climate change because they are so dependent on sea ice."
The intentional research team looked at satellite tracking and visual monitoring of polar bears in the 1990s and compared them with more recent years. The team focused on the area around Baffin Bay, a large expanse of water between northeastern Canada and Greenland.
Laidre and her team tracked female polar bears and gauged their litter size and general health in two different periods — the 1990s and from 2009 to 2015, according to a press release from the University of Washington.
The satellite tracking tags showed the researchers that the polar bears averaged 30 more days on land in the period from 2009 to 2015 than they did in the 1990s. In the 90s, the bears averaged 60 days on land. More recently, it has been 90 days, as Oceanographic Magazine reported.
"When the bears are on land, they don't hunt seals and instead rely on fat stores," said Laidre, as the Global News in Canada reported. "They have the ability to fast for extended periods, but over time they get thinner."
The more time the bears spend on land, the thinner they get, the researchers found. Out of the 352 bears studied in the more recent period, not even 50 were considered fat, as the Global News reported. That's less than 15 percent. The bears need to be fat by the end of summer to make it through the winter.
The nutritionally stressed polar bears are venturing further into residential areas than ever before and more frequently, which can lead to conflict between people and the vulnerable bears, as CNN reported.
In December, a polar bear warning was issued in Newfoundland after a bear was spotted there. These types of sightings have become more frequent since 2013, according to the Global News.
"This work just adds to the growing body of evidence that loss of sea ice has serious, long-term conservation concerns for this species," Laidre said in a statement. "Only human action on climate change can do anything to turn this around."
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By Jim Palardy
As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.
The panel, coordinated by the UK-based Cambridge Conservation Initiative, conducted a horizon scan — an effort to spot early signs of significant phenomena — of global biological conservation issues. For the resulting study, which was funded by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the panel winnowed down an initial list of 97 topics, settling on the following 15 because of their novelty or their potential to move the conservation needle in either a positive or negative direction over the coming decade.
1. Seabirds Could Help Spot Illegal Fishing
Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to score easy meals. Now, scientists are hoping to exploit this behavior to help spot illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, which accounts for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood every year, or 1 in 5 fish sold. Researchers have had some success attaching transmitters to seabirds to locate fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean, but more study is needed to validate the use of this tactic.
2. Marine Vessels and GPS Spoofing
Vessels plying the ocean navigate and transmit their locations and identities mainly through the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and automatic identification system (AIS). The panel points out that a recent rise in GNSS spoofing and AIS cloning incidents could facilitate the trade of illegal goods and hamper authorities' efforts to identify vessels engaged in illicit resource extraction activities such as fishing and dredging.
3. More Corals May Suffer From Lack of Oxygen
Several factors — including climate-driven marine heat waves and nutrient runoff from land — can lower oxygen levels in the ocean. Corals in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans have died from this hypoxia, and, although those events weren't widespread, some scientists fear that the threat may grow significantly as climate change further warms the ocean. Research is needed to better understand the extent and impact of low oxygen conditions on coral reefs.
4. Understanding the Impacts of Increased Dissolved Iron on Coastal Polar Ecosystems
Coastal zones in polar latitudes are among Earth's most productive — that is, they create and support large numbers of organisms ranging from tiny marine plants to animals such as polar bears and seals — a characteristic driven by the availability of dissolved iron from glaciers and ice. Increased melting in the polar regions will result in higher iron concentrations, which in turn will probably fuel more intense phytoplankton blooms and enable organisms on the seafloor to capture more carbon and other nutrients. Such changes could have wide-ranging effects — including impacts on the structure of the region's marine ecosystems and on carbon sequestration — and warrants investigation.
5. What to Do With a Growing Number of Decommissioned Offshore Energy Platforms
It is estimated that 3,000 offshore oil and gas platforms will be decommissioned in the coming decades and that the number of offshore wind farms will continue to grow. Currently, decommissioning practices vary by country and include full removal, conversion of platforms to artificial reefs, and abandonment. As new offshore energy infrastructure is built and old platforms are phased out, nations will need to evaluate the immediate and long-term impacts of their decommissioning strategies on the marine environment.
6. A Drug Problem in the Water
When some chemicals used in pharmaceuticals and in garden and farm products are introduced into waterways — usually through runoff or via sewage systems directly or in human waste — they can cause changes in fish and other organisms, including altering the number of female to males in a population, lower fertility, and deformities. There is emerging evidence that the effects of exposure can be multigenerational, affecting organisms that were never directly exposed.
7. Changes in Low Cloud Cover
Low clouds shade sizable portions of the planet in subtropical regions. It is predicted that these clouds will become increasingly unstable if atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to rise at current rates. The resulting changes could have negative effects on wildlife and human communities.
8. Tree Planting as a Simple Carbon Sequestration Solution
Pledges to plant large areas of trees to help tackle climate change are often perceived as a win for conservation. However, tree planting must be planned and implemented with a clear understanding of regional ecosystems to avoid negative effects on biological diversity.
9. Logging to Reduce Fire Risk
As nations around the world contend with more extreme wildfires, some policymakers suggest that tree removal may be part of the solution. However, the effectiveness of such policies is uncertain, and any short-term gains from removing trees are often offset by the growth of non-native grasses and flowering plants, which may themselves be highly flammable.
10. Large-Scale Adoption of Sustainable Farming Techniques Across India
Driven by government policies and local innovations, sustainable farming practices are becoming more prevalent in India. The state government of Sikkim has adopted organic farming as policy, and the state of Andhra Pradesh, with 6 million farmers, plans to adopt natural farming practices by 2025. Other states across the country plan to follow suit. Early evaluations indicate that these large-scale transitions boost crop yields and incomes, improve the health of farmers, and increase women's access to microfinance. With such results, there is the potential for similar large-scale shifts in other parts of the world.
11. Low Earth-Orbiting Satellites May Mislead Animals Responding to Celestial Cues
More than 2,600 artificial satellites currently orbit the earth, a number that is rapidly increasing. Many species of mammals, insects, and birds use celestial cues to migrate long distances and to orient themselves in local habitats and could be affected by the proliferation of satellites.
12. Bitcoin Mining With Stranded Energy
An emerging use for stranded energy sources, such as low-value methane byproducts vented from oil wells and excess energy produced by wind turbines and solar panels, is to power computers used for Bitcoin mining — the process of creating new Bitcoin by solving complex algorithms. Monetizing stranded energy in this way is a mixed bag that decision-makers will probably have to evaluate. The practice could increase carbon emissions from marginal fossil fuel sources but also could incentivize the deployment of renewable energy by guaranteeing a minimum selling price.
13. Open-Source Investigations of Environmental Threats
Scientists demonstrated some success with using online videos, social media posts, and other open-source data to document the effects of the locust swarms in East Africa in 2020. As faster internet connections and access to smartphones continue to grow globally, the use of open-source data may become an effective tool for researchers.
14. Self-Healing Building Materials
The potential to engineer building materials made of chemicals, polymers, and bacteria that can fix themselves when damaged could reduce the need for repairs and shrink the environmental footprints of construction projects. Recently, scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder used a type of cyanobacteria found in the ocean, along with other materials, to engineer a living building material that can regenerate when fractured.
15. A Waterway to Connect the Baltic and Black Seas
A planned 1,200-mile inland navigable waterway connecting the Baltic and Black seas would alter the flow of cargo and trade in the region. However, the waterway, which would pass through Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine, could alter habitat in 70 wildlife areas and numerous international conservation areas, introduce non-native species, and change the region's rivers and wetlands. Additionally, dredging in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone could disrupt radioactive sediment.
Jim Palardy is a project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts' conservation science program. He served on this year's horizon scan panel and is a co-author on the resulting study.
Reposted with permission from The Pew Charitable Trust.
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By Andrea Germanos
"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge faces its biggest threat yet."
That's the warning issued by the National Audubon Society on Tuesday — a day before the Trump administration is set to sell oil and gas leasing rights in the refuge's coastal plain, a biodiversity hotspot of critical importance to the Gwich'in people and dubbed America's Serengeti.
Bids were submitted by the end of 2020. It's not clear, however, which oil or gas companies, if any, sought leases.
The Bureau of Land Management has "received interest" in leases, the Anchorage Daily News reported. That interest may have come solely from the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which voted unanimously last month to spend as much as $20 million on the leases. "It's a way for the state to make sure the land is set aside for oil development in case no one else bids on the leases," as Alaska Public put it.
Wednesday's virtual lease sale, according to NPR, represents:
a major moment in a 40-year fight over whether to develop the northernmost slice of the refuge's coastal plain, home to migrating caribou, birds, and polar bears.
[President-elect Joe] Biden, as well as his pick for Interior Secretary—Rep. Deb Haaland—oppose drilling in the refuge. The hand-off of drilling rights to the highest bidders could make it more difficult to reverse course.
That makes a pending decision from a federal judge in Alaska, which could come Tuesday, even more crucial to foil the lease sales and seismic activity related to fossil fuel plans.
A lease sale on Wednesday will mark the culmination of pro-development politicians' decades-long campaign for oil d… https://t.co/RSBNZ3ioWC— Audubon Society (@Audubon Society) 1609802281.0
U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason in Anchorage on Monday heard oral arguments in the case, brought forth by Audubon and other conservation groups, as ADN reported. According to the outlet, "Gleason said she'd try to issue a decision by 'close of business' on Tuesday, on the eve of the live-streamed lease sale, set for 10 a.m. Wednesday."
While the Arctic Refuge has faced development pressure throughout its 40-year existence, it hasn't confronted a more intensely perilous week than this one. "It's like the second-to-last episode of a miniseries, where all the action has built up and there are multiple things happening, and yet there's no resolution at this point," says Natalie Dawson, executive director of Audubon Alaska. "We're waiting on a court decision. We're watching to see if anyone bids on the leases. We're waiting to see what the new administration will do. And all three of those things are kind of rotating around each other at this point." [...]
The coastal plain between the Brooks Range and the Beaufort Sea is a wild expanse of tundra that each year hosts millions of migratory birds from six continents. It's where the Porcupine caribou herd, one of the continent's largest, migrates each spring to birth calves. Polar bears den in the snow and ice along the coast and river edges, while muskoxen, wolves, and other wildlife roam the rolling plain.
It's also, like the rest of the Arctic, a region changing fast as the planet warms due to fossil-fuel combustion. "We shouldn't be exploring drilling anywhere," says Martha Raynolds, an arctic plant ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). "And the last place on Earth that the U.S. should be exploring drilling is the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge."
In a statement last when the groups asked the court to put the lease sales on hold, Erik Grafe, an attorney with Earthjustice which is representing the conservation groups in the case, sounded a similar alarm.
"Climate change is the greatest threat of our time," he said, "and the consequences will be severe and irreversible if we allow oil drilling to proceed in the cherished Arctic Refuge."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Richard Mode, a North Carolina sportsman, has a story to tell. He likes to fish for trout, but the water is warming and the fish are disappearing.
But Mode's story is more than that. It's a catalyst for shifting climate beliefs among political moderates and conservatives.
The Colorado non-profit CORE, The Community Office for Resource Efficiency, is calling upon the public to submit a self-portrait and a 90-second story to be featured on an upcoming mural installation. The murals will span three Colorado Mountain College buildings in western Colorado in the spring, the Aspen Times reported.
"Climate change knows no boundaries," Mona Newton, executive director of CORE said in a press release. "We want to show the human diversity of this phenomenon, representing a breadth we don't usually see in the media or in the environmental movement."
Titled "Stories of Climate Change / Historias del Cambio Climático," the multicultural mural installation is part of French artist JR's Inside Out global art project, according to the press release. "We hope our portraits and personal stories will demonstrate that we are all in this together," Newton added.
The mural's goal to share local experiences of climate change underscores growing concern for the climate crisis across the U.S.
Yet, compared to older generations, younger people are more willing to turn this concern into action, according to a study performed by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. There's good reason for this.
A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll of American teenagers found that 57 percent reported that climate change made them feel scared, while 52 percent said it made them feel angry. Only 29 percent of teenagers said they felt optimistic about climate change, according to the Washington Post.
So, how can climate change communication motivate older generations?
"The scientists, we're interested in and motivated by the facts and figures and the raw numbers," Abel Gustafson, a postdoctoral associate at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, told Grist, "but we oftentimes forget that most other people in our audience are not."
Currently, climate communication channels make the crisis seem distant, according to an article by the Yale Program on Climate Communication. But stories like that of the North Carolina sportsman portray climate change as an issue occurring today, and affecting a larger group of people.
Researchers of the Yale study shared Mode's personal account of climate change with political moderates and conservatives. The result?
Mode's story had a persuasive impact on listeners by shifting their climate change beliefs, the Yale Program on Climate Communication article found. It reported that the more people felt worried or compassionate, the more they adjusted their climate change beliefs. "Humans just aren't wired to care deeply about dangers that seem far away," Gustafson told Grist.
Personalizing climate change through human stories could inspire more people to understand the crisis beyond polar bears in the Arctic, for example, and connect it to their next-door neighbors or hobbies.
"These findings highlight the importance of sharing personal stories about how climate change is affecting people and ecosystems," the Yale article stated. They "underscore the importance of emotion as well as facts in climate change communication."
By Julia Conley
Conservation campaigners on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of taking a "wrecking ball" to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the White House announced plans to move ahead with the sale of drilling leases in the 19 million-acre coastal preserve, despite widespread, bipartisan opposition to oil and gas extraction there.
Seven weeks before Trump is set to leave office, the administration announced it plans to conduct the sale virtually on Jan. 6. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will enter a notice about the sale in the Federal Registry next week.
The announcement comes a week after Bank of America became the latest bank to rule out financing of drilling projects in the Arctic Refuge. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo have also stated in the past year that they will not give financial backing to fossil fuel extraction in the Arctic, leading the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last month to propose a new rule that would bar financial institutions from refusing to lend to specific sectors in the name of "fair access."
"Arctic Refuge drilling makes zero sense in today's reality of high oil market volatility and with every major U.S. bank and many international banks unwilling to invest in risky, expensive Arctic oil projects," said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. "The administration is simply rushing to sell off one of the wildest places left on earth for pennies on the dollar before President-elect Biden takes office in January."
Every major US bank has now walked away from destructive, risky drilling in the Arctic refuge. Banks recognize this… https://t.co/XM7z8EOZMg— Senator Jeff Merkley (@Senator Jeff Merkley) 1607007183.0
According to Kolton, Trump's plan to move forward with his deeply unpopular leasing plan is "yet another dangerous political favor" to the fossil fuel industry and an action which suggests he is eager to do as much damage to the environment before Biden — who opposes drilling in the Arctic Refuge — is inaugurated.
"President Trump's electoral fate has been sealed and his days in office are numbered," he said. "The fact that the sale will be officially noticed on December 7, one day after we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Arctic Refuge by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, symbolizes the degree to which the president has taken a wrecking ball to decades of bipartisan conservation support."
The timing of the announcement, added the Natural Resources Defense Council, makes "a mockery of the ongoing public comment period."
Today’s decision to guide @Interior’s Arctic Refuge drilling strategy is deeply flawed: It violates Indigenous righ… https://t.co/ypkVlab9WZ— NRDC 🌎🏡 (@NRDC 🌎🏡) 1607017433.0
The Gwich'in people, who have hunted caribou on the land that is now the Arctic Refuge for thousands of years, are among the most vocal opponents to drilling in the region. In August the tribe sued the Interior Department and the BLM over the Trump administration's plan to sell leases in the refuge's 1.5 million acre coastal plain.
"The Interior Department's Arctic Refuge leasing process has been flawed from the outset, ignoring science and Indigenous voices throughout and failing at every turn to sufficiently analyze the impacts drilling will have on our climate, our air and water quality, the health of wildlife or the future of local Indigenous communities," said Kolton.
In addition to negatively impacting the Gwich'in people, opponents say drilling in the Arctic Refuge would also harm the polar bears that live there and have already been harmed by the warming of the planet, numerous fish species, and nearly 200 species of migratory birds.
"For decades, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has stood as a symbol of our nation's strong natural legacy," said Ellen Montgomery, public lands campaign director for Environment America. "Its breathtaking landscape is home to endangered polar bears, caribou, wolves, muskoxen, and migratory birds that travel annually to all 50 states. Destroying their home in the craven desire for more oil is a tragic mistake."
"Once this seal is broken, there is no going back," Montgomery added. "Industrial-level oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge cannot occur without doing catastrophic damage to vital habitats."
According to a poll released in August by Morning Consult, just 31% of Americans support drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
In light of public opinion, banks' unwillingness to fund drilling projects, and signs that renewable energy industries are poised to grow faster than the fossil fuel sector in the coming years, Kolton said, "any oil company bidding on this sale will face not only economic challenges, but enormous reputational and legal risks as well."
"America is transitioning to a new administration that has already pledged to protect the refuge," said Montgomery. "We are rapidly moving to renewable energy and clean transportation options. We don't need the current administration to jam this through, using a 'going out of business sale' approach. We strongly urge oil companies to take a pass."
The Sheenjek River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Alexis Bonogofsky / USFWS
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Daisy Simmons
Nevada City, California. Amidst a historic pandemic and social unrest, watching the accelerating impacts of climate change on the silver screen could create a sense of helplessness – or deepen the resolve to act. Emphasizing the latter, "Resilient by Nature" was the official theme of the recent Wild & Scenic Film Festival, an entirely virtual affair this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than a tagline, a sense of resilience was palpable throughout the online event, from the festival's stirring poster art, through the 100-plus documentaries that emphasized solutions, and even into the Zoom-based lobby, where attendees could drop in for a trivia game, casual conversation about the films, or even a BYOB beer tasting.
Held by the South Yuba River Conservation League (SYRCL), the 19th annual festival also played up opportunities to act on climate and other environmental issues, from participating in virtual activism workshops to simply getting outside: Self-guided excursions included the memorable "It's All Newt to Me," a guide to local amphibians.
Despite the creative ways to come together virtually, however, there was also disappointment that the event could not be held in person. Yet even this regret seemed unifying, at least in the virtual media lounge, where several filmmakers expressed an appreciation for being able to sit in on each other's video-conference interviews – pleasantly intimate conversations that any attendee could also enjoy from the comfort of their own couch, live or after the fact.
Flexibility was indeed a silver lining of the virtual festival experience, as audiences could view most of the films at any time, from any WiFi-enabled device, during the 11-day festival.
Five Documentaries to Add to Your Climate Watchlist
Resilience doesn't mean being Pollyannaish. The festival's standout climate documentaries tackled some of today's most sobering subjects, from the devastating Camp Fire that leveled Paradise, Calif. in 2018, to existential threats faced by indigenous Arctic communities experiencing intensifying oil and gas development.
Yet even these darkest of explorations reveal stories of fierce hope and determination, a reminder that heroic action on climate isn't just possible – it's happening now.
A glance at five documentaries* that may inspire your own conviction that worthy ways forward exist:
2040 (92 min. documentary, see trailer below)
How will 2040 look for the youth of today? Australian director and narrator Damon Gameau imagines a hopeful future for his four-year-old daughter, Ella – a vision that is profoundly realistic as it is based on solutions that are already available. Yet despite the film's optimism, there is no sugarcoating here. Gameau opens with a frank description of the climate crisis, albeit in terms a young child can grasp, demonstrating greenhouse gases with a steamy shower, for one example, and the danger of melting "glaciers" spilling out of the freezer, for another.
From there an expedition in "fact-based dreaming" takes off, as the film crisscrosses the world to explore some of the most promising current "solutions," including renewable energy, driverless cars, regenerative agriculture, marine permaculture, and empowering girls. For each category, we see resourceful and dedicated people in action today, followed by a fanciful, often humorous, dramatization of Ella's future, 20-something self, living in a world rich with these solutions. Will there be a giant world party in 2040 to celebrate the success of these efforts? There's no way to know whether Gameau's hopeful vision will or won't pan-out, but he points out that "we have everything we need to make it happen."
The Last Ice (83 min. documentary, see trailer below)
A new race is afoot in the waters between Canada and Greenland, where steadily melting sea ice is opening up the potential for faster shipping, increased oil extraction, and other commercial pursuits. As industries vie for space in the newly open waters, indigenous communities are rallying to protect the Arctic as they long have known it.
Taking home the Wild and Scenic "Best of the Fest" award, The Last Ice follows the personal journeys of several Inuit people whose lives are fundamentally tied to the land and wildlife, including a young man with dreams of being a hunter, who is deeply devoted to his sled dogs, and a woman working to keep her culture's ancient traditions alive, one text at a time. Mixing in archival footage and current science and political news, the film traces the threads of globalization that led to this moment over the past century, from the first forced resettlements of Inuit communities, to container ships cutting ever-more swiftly through the ice.
Through it all, there's stunning landscapes bedazzled with Northern lights; threatened, majestic animals like polar bears and narwhals; and a fervor for preserving Inuit ways of life. They combine to make the case that it's in our shared best interest to keep the Arctic from becoming a Wild West of extraction.
Public Trust | The Fight for America's Public Lands (96 min. documentary, see trailer below)
Spanning around 640 million acres and 28% of the United States' land, the nation's public lands are a uniquely American birthright – and the center of a fight over what to do with them. Do we exploit natural resources to further economic activity? Or do we preserve them from extractive industry use, to keep ecosystems and their beauty intact for future generations? Are those poles-apart choices the only two options?
This film documents both sides of what has become a cultural war over "the last large-scale public asset on the planet," from the deserts of Utah, the storied Boundary Waters of Minnesota, and the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – all threatened by oil and gas development and/or mining. But at its core, it's also a love letter to these places, and the people across the country working to protect diverse lands.
Winner of one the festival's pair of Jury Awards, Public Trust features a refreshing mix of personalities, including a hunter and investigative reporter from north Alabama. Feeling a deeply personal stake in the future of the public lands he grew up on, he is working to "follow the money" to help Americans see who's behind the destruction of our public lands.
During production, the Trump administration opened up large areas of public land to oil and gas development. Now, viewed from the fresh reality of a new administration, it may comfort some viewers to know that a Biden administration executive order has already begun halting oil and gas leasing on federal lands.
Rebuilding Paradise (91 min. documentary, see trailer below)
The deadliest fire in California history captured international attention when it decimated Paradise in 2018. But the town's story didn't end there.
It takes grit not to fast-forward through the first harrowing 10 minutes of this Ron Howard-directed documentary. Raw dashcam footage and emergency call audio blend into a nightmarish sequence of escape from the smoke-blackened town. As the flames leap higher, a police officer, alone in his cruiser, slows down to pass his own home, stiffly reports that it is engulfed in flames, then plunges back into the darkness.
From there, though, the film shifts from disaster to what comes next for locals who choose to stay and rebuild, like the former mayor who can't wait to rebuild, and the school counselor whose own home was spared but feels crushing guilt when she runs through her now-empty neighborhood.
As the year goes on, the pain doesn't subside – it somehow gets harder, for the counselor at least. There are water contamination issues to confront, the lingering trauma that strains the police officer's marriage, and an angry town meeting with PG&E, the utility whose faulty equipment started the fire.
But life has indeed gone on in Paradise. Somehow the high school remained standing, and six months after the Camp Fire, graduating seniors light up the field with exquisite joy.
Some people argue against rebuilding because the risk of another fire is too high. The former mayor, however, is defiant in his decision to stay. "A lot of people think it's wrong to rebuild. I'm 74, I don't give a damn. Is it right to build a house in a hurricane zone in Miami on the beach? This is where I want to be."
Wild Climate (27 min. documentary, see trailer below)
Got wanderlust? Enjoy a classic cross-country road from your living room with Virginia and Peter Sargent, as they cruise through rural America to get to know people whose livelihoods are threatened by climate change. Together with their dogs, Trout and Salmon, the Sargents camp out in public lands along their way to meet folks like farmers, hunters, fishermen, and even pro snowboarders, all seeing the increasing effects of climate change in their daily lives from intensified drought thwarting the Colorado farmer, to the impacts of wildfire on a hunting outfitting company in Idaho.
Interspersed with these stories is data confirming the science behind their experiences. For example, the pro snowboarder is already seeing his work threatened by diminishing snowpack; that makes sense given that western U.S. snowpack declined by 10-20% between the 1980s and 2000s, with another 60% loss anticipated in the next 30 years.
But more than a series of interviews and scenic views, the Sargents themselves give the film heart. These aren't just big city slickers swooping in and out of little towns to get the scoop and high-tail it to the next location. There's respect and even, at times, reverence for the people they meet along the way. Of the family farmers in Idaho, Peter says, "I think Purple Sage represents the best that family farms have to offer in this country. And there are so many more like them. And it's also an aspiration. It's the kind of family I want to create with Virginia."
Note: Some of the above films may not yet be available yet for general audience streaming. Keep an eye out for a local edition of the Wild and Scenic On Tour program, coming soon to roughly 250 local events across the U.S.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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