Thor Hanson's new book explains the biology behind climate change and why some species may be better able to survive a quickly changing planet.
By Tara Lohan
When it comes to climate change, nature hasn't had the luxury of waiting for foot-dragging politicians or stonewalling corporations or science deniers. Countless species are already on the move.
"Just as the planet is changing faster than anyone expected, so too are the plants and animals that call it home," writes biologist Thor Hanson in a new book that explores the field of climate change biology.
In Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: The Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change, Hanson talks to scientists all over the world about how plants and animals are moving and changing, and why some are inherently better set up for success than others. Hanson also discusses evolution-in-action, what happens when hundreds of thousands of species hit the road at once, and what we can learn from scientists with a front-row view of the climate crisis.
Hanson's own understanding of the climate crisis comes from decades of fieldwork where climate issues rose to the top, even when it wasn't the intended area of investigation. "You'd go to the field expecting to study one thing and come home with a very different dataset because the conditions on the ground had changed so much," he told The Revelator.
What have you learned about which species are most vulnerable to climate change and those that are better capable of adapting?
If you start to look for overarching themes in the field of climate change biology, one that comes out quickly is the difference between specialists and generalists in nature. And by that I mean the creatures or plants that are very flexible and general in how they can behave and adapt. Those are the ones that are particularly good at thriving under a variety of conditions. And there are many examples of this that we're so familiar with, like dandelions, which can bloom any time of year. They can grow in the gravel of your driveway and be small and tiny. Or they can grow in the lush area of the lawn that you water and be gigantic. They're just extremely flexible generalists.
So animals or plants that are in that category are already well-suited to cope with change.
The ones that stand out as the most vulnerable oftentimes are the specialists that depend upon a particular type of habitat or relationship. For example, the very tightly co-evolved relationships between pollinators and the flowers they pollinate. Sometimes it's one pollinator specializing on one particular flower. Those kinds of tight relationships are very much at risk from this kind of rapid environmental change.
Is it possible to quantify how many species are moving in response to climate change and how that's changing ecosystems?
I spoke with a number of people about this, but one in particular, a scientist named Greta Pecl, said that we know that between 25% to 85% of species on the planet are moving already in response to climate change. But when it comes to what that means and how those novel ecosystems with all these new neighbors will get along in the future, she said "we haven't really got our shit together on that."
It's extremely complicated to try to predict how these ecosystems will settle through this period of change. Animals, plants, pests, pathogens — all of these things are moving and recombining in habitats in ways that they never have before.
Are you surprised by how fast some of the change is happening?
Yes, the speed of the responses for some things has been almost instantaneous. One of the great examples of that would be the Humboldt squid in the Gulf of California. When the waters warmed, fishers and everyone there thought that the squid had moved on. It's a mobile species and things had gotten too hot and they disappeared.
But when folks went out and did surveys, they found in fact that the squid were still there and more plentiful than ever. But the warm water or the stress from that heat had triggered a complete lifestyle change where they were maturing twice as fast, reaching only half their normal size and eating different foods.
Their adult bodies were so much smaller and so different that they were too small to bite the hooks that people had been using for decades to catch these big squid. The few that they could hook, they assumed must be juveniles or maybe even another species, and they were throwing them back.
So that is an example of the inherent flexibility built into a species. We all have a bit of what they call in biology, plasticity. It's built into your genome to be able to deal with a certain amount of environmental change. Some species, like this squid, have a lot of it. Some species have very little. So it's the ones that lack plasticity that are more at risk.
That's an example of what we see a lot in nature right now is these plastic responses that are already built into species' genomes. But there are now a few examples of evolution taking place in response to climate change and taking place quickly.
One of these stories comes to us from a scientist named Colin Donihue, who did some work on a little anole lizard that lives in the Turks and Caicos islands in the Caribbean. Colin and his team were there surveying and taking all these measurements of the lizard because there was going to be a project to remove non-native rats that were eating the lizards. And they wanted to see the response to getting rid of those rats.
But two weeks after their field season, two category four hurricanes slammed across the island with extreme winds, uprooting trees and destroying structures and causing flooding. That took the rat eradication project off the books, but Colin and his team realized it was a rare opportunity to look at what impact the hurricane had on those lizards.
So they went back down there, repeated the same field measurements and learned that the surviving lizards had measurably larger toe pads and stronger front legs for gripping tight to the branches and tree trunks they were holding onto during those high winds. And the odd part was that their back legs were smaller.
To figure out why they simulated hurricane-force winds with a leaf blower and watched the behavior of the lizards. They learned that, in fact, they hold on tightly with those strong front legs and their back legs and tail flap out like a sail in the wind. So if you have smaller back legs, it's less drag and you have a better chance of hanging on through the hurricane.
They documented all of this and then went back again later and showed that indeed these traits were being passed on to the next generation. And then they looked at a broad sweep of anoles across the Caribbean and found that this sort of selection — this evolution — has been going on in response to hurricanes all over the place. Wherever you have frequent, strong hurricanes, the anoles in those populations have these larger toe pads and stronger front legs.
So you can really see the effects of extreme weather playing out just over the course of a few generations.
Are you ever worried that when people read about the ways that some species are adapting it may make them think that climate change won't be a problem for most plants and animals?
Yes, it's a concern, I think, of anyone working in this field. They want to document what's going on, but not give people the sense that everything's going to be fine. In fact, it's not going to be fine. There's still a great cause for worry. This is still a crisis.
It's always important in a discussion of climate change biology to call out that we have some very compelling and even inspiring examples of rapid change and response and survival. But those are counterbalanced by the many species that can't respond quickly — that don't have that flexibility — and that are at risk of perishing.
But what the study of climate change biology allows us to do is not to cease worrying, but rather to worry smart. It puts us in a much stronger position in terms of how we allocate scarce resources to these problems. If you understand the species and the systems that are most vulnerable, if you understand the ones that have some natural resilience, you're in a much better position to manage the crisis.
And another thing that can be in short supply is emotional capital. I think it's very easy to feel despair, to feel overwhelmed by such a large problem. So worrying smart also allows us to allocate our emotional capital, too.
On that note, did you come away from this research feeling more worried or hopeful?
When you think about all these scientists who've spent their whole careers studying species or ecosystems that might be really suffering, you'd think that they would have more reason to worry and lose hope than anyone.
Yet what I encountered, without fail, was people who remained passionate and committed to their research efforts really felt like what they were doing was making a difference. And I came away from that surprised and somewhat gratified by the power of curiosity as a response to this crisis. It's a balance to the negative feelings.
I mean, despair, if you will, just leads to more despair. But curiosity leads to learning. And it leads to action. I really saw that across the board with the scientists that I spoke with. And I took that as a message of inspiration.
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.
Earlier this month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed five sustainability bills into law. These are aimed at supporting a circular economy within the state and reducing plastic waste, reported Upstream.
Plastics — and how to deal with them once they've been used — are an issue of global concern. Too often, consumers and municipalities think that "recycling" will save us from our plastic addiction. The reality, however, is that recycling in the U.S. is broken.
Upstream originally compiled the list of five bills and voiced their support. Policy director Miriam Gordon told EcoWatch, "Single-use plastics are really bad for the environment and our health and throughout their lifecycle — from extraction of oil and gas to manufacturing and disposal, they harm communities that live on the fenceline of these industrial operations."
The reuse expert noted that the "typical response" is to ban single-use plastic and explained how that approach can increase the use of "regrettable substitutes" like single-use aluminum, paperboard, or fiberware. These replacement single-use options can often have even higher impacts on the environment than the plastics they replaced and can also be more costly for businesses, she noted.
Instead, Gordon and Upstream are advocating for policies that encourage "upstream" solutions in products and packaging to reduce waste production in the first place. They applaud California's lead and the progressive legislation below:
1. SB 143 calls for "Truth in Labeling" for plastics and packaging.
This bill tackles one of the biggest confusions in the industry. Traditionally, many products that are not recyclable were still labeled with the "chasing arrows" symbol we've all come to know and recognize as meaning "recyclable." This has led to widespread confusion about and misunderstanding of the recycling system. Many non-recyclables with symbols are thrown into U.S. single-stream recycling, contaminating the entire batch and rendering it only fit for the landfill. Now, in California, those will no longer be allowed to use the recycling symbol.
2. AB 881 measures how much plastic actually gets recycled.
It prohibits mixed plastic waste exports to other countries from being counted as "recycled" by the local and state governments for compliance purposes. This could help curb the illegal export of plastic waste from the U.S. to other countries that continues to today, confounding the U.N.'s Basel Convention.
3. AB 1201 updates labeling for compostable products.
This bill requires anything labeled as "compostable" to break down in real-life composting conditions, bans toxic PFAS ("forever chemicals") and requires manufacturers to ensure their chemicals don't contaminate organic produce. These policies could greatly help protect vital pollinators such as bees.
4. AB 962 makes it easier for brewers and other beverage producers to create recyclable glass bottle systems.
This reduces the need for single-use beverage containers. It is "perhaps the most exciting (of the bills) because it's the first-ever effort to bring refillable beverage bottles into a state bottle deposit law," Gordon said.
5. AB 1276 reduces plastic foodware. Take-out customers are given single-use plastic foodware only upon request.
"[B]y requiring restaurants to ASK FIRST before giving us utensils, napkins, straws, and condiment packets we don't want or need, it stops the creation of instant waste," Gordon explained.
Overall, Upstream advocates for reusable and refillable ways of delivering products as an environmental and financial win for businesses. Nevertheless, Gordon added, "The most problematic idea is that we can recycle or compost our way out of the problem — more specifically that we can manage the waste properly once it's created... What we need to do is tackle the ever-growing amount of waste being generated in the first place — that is, turn off the tap. Transition from single-use to reusable as much as possible and reduce the unnecessary stuff."
Tiffany Duong is a writer, explorer and motivational speaker. She holds degrees from UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. As a contributing reporter at EcoWatch, she gives voice to what's happening in the natural world. Her mission is to inspire meaningful action and lasting change. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @tiffmakeswaves.
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Switching to period panties doesn't have to be messy.
When your time of the month comes unexpectedly and you have to rush to the store, tampons, pads and panty liners are the majority of what you traditionally find when looking in the menstrual hygiene aisle. Recently, period underwear has risen in popularity to prevent the unnecessary waste that comes from using these products.
Period panties are a newer form of menstrual care that can both replace the need for disposable hygiene products and be a solution for preventing messy leaks. They're an ecologically smart alternative to single-use period products and a great long-term investment for those who want a more comfortable and easier menstrual solution.
Every person and menstrual cycle is unique. In this article, we'll explain the benefits of period underwear and help you find what type of underwear is perfect for you.
Best Period Panties: Our Recommendations
- Best Overall: Thinx Hiphugger Menstrual Underwear
- Best Leak Protection: Proof Leakproof Hipster Underwear
- Best 100% Cotton: Cora Period Underwear
- Best High-Absorbency Underwear: 4period High Absorbency Period Panties
- Best for Teens: Thinx BTWN Teen Period Underwear
- Best Budget Option: Goat Union Overnight Period Underwear
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. Learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn a commission.
Why Switch to Period Underwear?
Designed to feel and look like regular underwear, period panties are a reusable menstrual product made to be worn longer than single-use period products. These undies can hold the equivalent of anything from one to five full-sized regular tampons.
Traditional tampons and pads are recommended by the FDA to only be worn for four to eight hours because of the risk of toxic shock syndrome or a yeast infection. When used correctly, period panties can be worn for up to 24 hours without leaks, odors or discomfort.
Not only do they have to be changed less often, but they also come in handy when you're expecting your cycle to start and you want to be prepared. Instead of a late-night run to the drugstore, you can count on having your washable, re-wearable panties ready to go when you need them most.
Besides the physical comfort and ease of period panties, this underwear is a great solution to the high number of menstrual products ending up in landfills. The average person who menstruates uses around 11,000 disposable period products in their lifetime. And it's not just the products themselves — there's usually an extra layer or two of plastic wrapped around the items for sanitation that gets discarded.
Although menstrual hygiene products are all but necessary, the waste that comes with them doesn't have to be. Period panties can be reused for up to 2 years, making them a viable solution compared to traditional hygiene products.
Full Reviews of Our Top Picks
When choosing our top recommended period underwear, we looked at factors including:
- Materials: Safe and quality fabrics ensure breathability and effectiveness for your panties. Each product below contains nontoxic materials and uses fabrics to make customers as comfortable as possible.
- Absorbency: Ranging from very light days to a heavier flow, we have you covered for every type of absorbency level. You can rest assured you'll be able to change your menstruation products less often and without hassle.
- Leak protection: Say goodbye to misaligned pads and accidental tampon leaks. Period panties move with you and provide leak protection with multiple absorbent layers and inner-thigh seals.
- Inclusive marketing: We want to celebrate companies that celebrate you. Each brand below promotes an inclusive and diverse market to ensure a comfortable menstruation cycle for everyone.
- Customer reviews: With each menstrual product recommendation, we take into consideration what previous customers have to say to ensure your future satisfaction.
Best Overall: Thinx Hiphugger Menstrual Underwear
Thinx Hiphugger Menstrual Underwear is our top pick for the best period underwear because of its popularity, absorbency, comfort and stylish features. Thinx is one of the most well-known and respected period underwear companies on the market, and its products feel identical to regular underwear.
The Hiphugger Menstrual Underwear binds to the body comfortably and securely with its built-in leak protection. As your flow is contained, it also provides a leak-resistant moisture barrier to keep you feeling dry even during the most active part of your cycle. These panties can hold up to 5.5 teaspoons, which is equivalent to three tampons. Once full, simply machine wash with cold water, then hang them to dry before reusing.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 1,500 Amazon ratings
Standout Review: "Absolutely amazing. I bought a few pairs and I wore these and these alone (no pads or tampons) for my entire period. I was super comfy and never had a leak. Pay attention to the absorbency level and make sure you are getting the super absorbent for heavy flow days." — Mom Skills Blog via Amazon
Why Buy: These period panties feature a patented absorbency design and come in a variety of colors. The Hiphugger Menstrual Underwear is Thinx's best-selling pair of panties and are certified according to Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX®️.
Best Leak Protection: Proof Leakproof Hipster Underwear
Proof Leakproof Hipster Underwear is the ultimate choice for preventing leakage on heavy days. These period panties have multiple layers and incorporate the company's proprietary Leak-Loc technology that draws moisture away from the body. They're also designed to provide extended coverage, so you can sleep without the worry of waking up in the middle of the night to change.
Made of cotton, polyester and nylon, this sleek-feeling underwear comes in black and sand colors and can hold up to five tampons' worth of fluid. Proof also sells underwear designed to handle other types of leaks, including bladder leaks, sweat and postpartum leaks.
Customer Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars with about 25 ratings on Proof's website
Standout Review: "One thing I was worried about was feeling hot, but they are so breathable and comfortable I forgot I was even on my period. I was also worried it would be gross, but rinsing them out, I was more just impressed with how much they held. There's no odor and, amazingly, I felt dry all day. Absolutely the best way to period." — Artamisha Y. via Proof's websiteWhy Buy: Proof is HSA/FSA approved and has a large range of options for every size and absorbency level. The Proof website even contains a quiz to properly find your perfect underwear match.
Best 100% Cotton: Cora Period Underwear
Cora was started with the intent to help people with menstrual cycles around the world and relieve them of the stigmatized shame they may feel when it comes to periods. The 100% cotton Cora Period Underwear includes transparently sourced materials that make it perfect for period protection, especially for those who are UTI-prone or have sensitive skin.
This breathable underwear can absorb the equivalent of three tampons or 95 milliliters and features an ultra-soft waistband. The bikini-style panties provide full coverage and a moisture-wicking core to keep you dry and comfortable throughout the day. They're preferable for light to medium flows and can be used alongside other period products like a menstrual cup for extra protection.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 90 Amazon ratings
Standout Review: "I ordered these again after receiving my first pair. They're comfortable, not really thick and not unpleasant to have on thought the whole day. [I] used these on my heavy days no problem. I like using a cup but sometimes can't be bothered with it early in the morning; that's where these undies step in. I say get them." — A via AmazonWhy Buy: This bikini underwear contains only nontoxic, OEKO-TEX certified cotton to provide comfortable menstrual support for the most sensitive skin. A portion of every purchase helps Cora provide period hygiene products and health education to children and teens around the world.
Best High-Absorbency Underwear: 4period High Absorbency Period Panties
Made with bamboo-derived fabric and spandex, the 4period High Absorbency Period Panties are able to hold 50 milliliters of fluid (the equivalent of four super plus tampons). These super-absorbent undies are designed to protect in all the right places; they're lined with front and high-back absorbent layers, which make them suitable for tossing and turning at night.
With sizes ranging from small to 3XL, these full-coverage undies offer breathable and moisture-wicking leak protection for all shapes and sizes. The viscose bamboo fabric and high-absorbency liners can easily be machine washed. You can purchase a single pair of underwear or a five-pack for use every weekday.
Customer Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars with over 2,500 Amazon ratings
Standout Review: "I've used these for a few months now and they are great. There are no leaks or smells. They are easy to clean. I will definitely be ordering more." — S Henneke via AmazonWhy Buy: This underwear includes nontoxic materials and is free of PFAs, which can be irritating to sensitive skin. 4period is diverse in its products, with period underwear available in every style of cut as well as a wide range of sizing options.
Best for Teens: Thinx BTWN Teen Period Underwear
Starting your cycle can be daunting at first, but with the help of Thinx BTWN Teen Period Underwear, teens can feel comfortable and secure. These period undies are specifically designed for developing bodies, so they come in smaller proportions for a perfect fit and to prevent leakage.
The teen period underwear comes in a range of colors and styles, including bikini, briefs and boyshorts. Each pair is made with organic cotton and can hold the equivalent of four to five tampons. Machine washable, tagless and odor-controlled, these period undies will provide reliable yet comfortable protection to make sure your teen is always prepared.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with about 800 Amazon ratings
Standout Review: "My daughter is 12 and started her period a few months ago. She is also a competitive cheerleader, and wearing a thick pad wasn't really an option. She wasn't comfortable wearing a tampon… I bought these, and my daughter … said they fit so nice, are comfortable and it doesn't feel like she is wearing a 'diaper.'" — N. Coombs via AmazonWhy Buy: Certified to OEKO-TEX Standard 100, you don't have to worry about harmful substances or unsustainable production when purchasing this product. Plus, if Thinx period underwear isn't for you after two months of wearing, you can get a full refund.
Best Budget Option: Goat Union Overnight Period Underwear
If you're looking to try period underwear but aren't ready to invest money into a pair you don't know if you'll like, Goat Union Overnight Period Underwear will give you the best bang for your buck. This underwear offers high absorbency, leak protection and comes at an affordable price.
The full-coverage briefs can hold three to four tampons' worth and are made with 95% bamboo viscose. They're soft, smooth and have a high-waisted design that offers full coverage from front to rear in order to ease your mind while you sleep at night. Replace the need for single-use products and try these affordable period panties to see if period underwear is right for you.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 200 Amazon ratings
Standout Review: "Upped my underwear game in the past year, since it protects a pretty delicate area of the body. Adding a few absorbent styles was one of the best decisions I've ever made, and this pair is in my top two! Fits me exactly as expected (I struggle with waistbands staying up since my middle is bigger than my bottom) and is really comfortable." — Amber M via Amazon
Why Buy: Goat Union's fabric has been tested for harmful substances and has been certified safe and sustainable by OEKO-TEX. The padded underwear can be used alone or as backup protection with other menstrual products. It can also be used for postpartum leaks and incontinence issues.
Caring for Your Period Panties
Once you're done with your period underwear for the day, rinse them with cold water. If the period underwear is machine-washable (some are not, so be sure to check your pair), place them in a washable mesh bag and throw them on a delicate or gentle cycle with cold water. Try to use a mild laundry detergent and never use softener or bleach, since these can deteriorate the absorbency layers.
If you want to help your period underwear last even longer, try to hand-wash them to help the fabric's integrity. Once your underwear is washed, make sure to always hang them to dry (putting them in the dryer can shrink and distort the materials).
Period panties are usually designed to be stain-resistant and odor-free, but if you're looking for extra care, you can always use natural remedies such as applying white vinegar or lemon juice directly to the desired area before washing.
Frequently Asked Questions: Period Underwear
Does period underwear really work?
Yes, period underwear really works. These products are made with multiple protective layers to replace traditional single-use menstrual products like tampons, liners and pads and to make you more comfortable during your menstrual cycle. They can be worn during the day, overnight or as backup protection.
Can you wear period underwear all day?
Much like tampons and pads, how long you can wear menstrual underwear depends on the product's absorbency level and your flow. For lighter days, you can typically wear a single pair for a full day. When it comes to heavier days, make sure to use high-absorbency panties to get the most out of each pair and prevent the need to change mid-day.
Can you leak with period underwear?
Like all menstrual products, period panties have a max absorbency amount but usually can withstand much more than the average tampon or pad. Most period panties hold at least two times more than tampons. Some period underwear, such as Proof's Leakproof Hipster Underwear, contains barriers to prevent leaking even if the absorbent layer is completely full.
Can you wear period underwear without a pad?
Period underwear can easily be worn alone. Just ensure you purchase the correct absorbency level according to your flow. Made with moisture-wicking barriers, absorbency layers and leak-proof seals, you can count on period panties to keep you comfortable and protected without the bulky feeling of a pad. However, you can also use them alongside your usual menstrual products if desired.
Scientists have grown increasingly alarmed about the decline in insect populations worldwide. While some causes — like pesticide use, habitat loss and the climate crisis — are clear, other potential factors, like artificial light at night (ALAN), are more nebulous.
Now, researchers writing in Science Advances Wednesday told BBC News they have found the strongest evidence yet that nighttime lights really are leading to the decline of local insect populations. In some of the areas they studied, the presence of light decreased moth caterpillar populations by nearly 50 percent.
"We were really quite taken aback by just how stark it was," lead study author Douglas Boyes from UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology told AFP.
Previous studies have shown that ALAN can have numerous negative impacts on insects, including increasing their risk of being eaten by predators and disrupting their reproduction and pollination, the study authors noted.
"Yet," they continued, "it remains unclear whether the effects of ALAN are predominately disruptive impacts on the behavior of individuals or whether ALAN is actively diminishing the populations of pollinators and insect populations more broadly."
To answer this question the researchers looked at moth caterpillars near roadsides in southern England. They compared the populations of caterpillars at hedgerows and grass margins at 26 sites along lit and unlit roads, BBC News explained. What they found is that there were 47 percent fewer caterpillars in the lit hedgerows and 33 percent fewer caterpillars in the lit grass margins.
In a separate experiment, they also set up lights on fields and found that there were fewer caterpillars under LED lights, suggesting the lights were disrupting feeding.
"In a local setting we can now be quite confident that light pollution is important, but what's less clear is if we're looking at a whole landscape," Boyes told BBC News.
One important aspect of the study is that the caterpillars were more impacted by LED lights than high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps or older low-pressure sodium (LPS) lamps that create a yellow-orange light, AFP reported. This is troubling because LED lights have grown more popular in recent years because they are more energy efficient.
However, Boyes told AFP that "there are really quite accessible solutions" to the problem.
These include putting filters on the lights to change their color to one less like sunlight, or adding shields around the lights so they illuminate the road and not surrounding insect habitat.
"If insects are in trouble — as we believe they are, and have evidence to support that — perhaps we should be doing all we can to reduce these negative influences," he told BBC News.
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By Jenna McGuire
Commonly used herbicides across the U.S. contain highly toxic undisclosed "inert" ingredients that are lethal to bumblebees, according to a new study published Friday in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
The study reviewed several herbicide products and found that most contained glyphosate, an ingredient best recognized from Roundup products and the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. and worldwide.
While the devastating impacts of glyphosate on bee populations are more broadly recognized, the toxicity levels of inert ingredients are less understood because they are not subjected to the same mandatory testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"Pesticides are manufactured and sold as formulations that contain a mixture of compounds, including one or more active ingredients and, potentially, many inert ingredients," explained the Center for Food Safety in a statement. "The inert ingredients are added to pesticides to aid in mixing and to enhance the products' ability to stick to plant leaves, among other purposes."
The study found that these inert substances can be highly toxic and even block bees' breathing capacity, essentially causing them to drown. While researchers found that some of the combinations of inert ingredients had no negative impacts on the bees, one of the herbicide formulations killed 96% of the bees within 24 hours.
According to the abstract of the study:
Bees exhibited 94% mortality with Roundup® Ready‐To‐Use® and 30% mortality with Roundup® ProActive®, over 24 hr. Weedol® did not cause significant mortality, demonstrating that the active ingredient, glyphosate, is not the cause of the mortality. The 96% mortality caused by Roundup® No Glyphosate supports this conclusion.
"This important new study exposes a fatal flaw in how pesticide products are regulated here in the U.S.," said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now the question is, will the Biden administration fix this problem, or will it allow the EPA to continue its past practice of ignoring the real-world harms of pesticides?"
According to the Center for Food Safety, there are currently 1,102 registered formulations that contain the active ingredient glyphosate, each with a proprietary mixture of inert ingredients. In 2017, the group filed a legal petition calling for the EPA to force companies to provide safety data on pesticide formulations that include inert ingredients.
"The EPA must begin requiring tests of every pesticide formulation for bee toxicity, divulge the identity of 'secret' formulation additives so scientists can study them, and prohibit application of Roundup herbicides to flowering plants when bees might be present and killed," said Bill Freese, science director at the Center for Food Safety. "Our legal petition gave the EPA a blueprint for acting on this issue of whole formulations. Now they need to take that blueprint and turn it into action, before it's too late for pollinators."
ATTN @EPA: Undisclosed "inert" ingredients in #pesticide products warrant further scrutiny! ➡️ A new study compared… https://t.co/bdFwXCVHsD— Center 4 Food Safety (@Center 4 Food Safety) 1618592343.0
Roundup — also linked to cancer in humans — was originally produced by agrochemical giant Monsanto, which was acquired by the German pharmaceutical and biotech company Bayer in 2018.
The merger of the two companies was condemned by environmentalists and food safety groups who warned it would cultivate the greatest purveyor of genetically modified seeds and toxic pesticides in the world.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Andrea Germanos
Despite lower applied amounts of pesticides in U.S. agriculture, their toxicity to non-target species including honeybees more than doubled in a decade, according to a new study.
The findings by a team of researchers from Germany's University Koblenz-Landau were published Friday in the journal Science.
"We have taken a large body of pesticide use data from the U.S. and have expressed changes of amounts applied in agriculture over time as changes in total applied pesticide toxicity," explained lead author Ralf Schulz, professor for environmental sciences in Landau, in a statement.
"This provides a new view on the potential consequences that pesticide use in agriculture has on biodiversity and ecosystems," he said.
The researchers looked at changes in the use of 381 pesticides from 1992 to 2016 and analyzed toxicity impacts on eight non-target species groups, drawing data from the U.S. Geological Survey and Environmental Protection Agency. They used the EPA's threshold values to determine "total applied pesticide toxicity."
Lower amounts of pesticides have been applied, which brought decreased impacts on vertebrates, the scientists noted. But the same can't be said for non-target species including aquatic invertebrates like crustaceans and pollinators like bees, who faced a doubling in toxicity between 2005 and 2015 — a shift the authors put on increases in the use of pesticides called pyrethroids and neonicotinoids.
Also troubling is that an increase in herbicide toxicity has been on the rise as well, the scientists said, with the biggest impact seen on terrestrial plants. The study pointed to increased toxicity in the widely cultivated genetically modified crops in the U.S. of corn and soybean.
Schulz said the findings "challenge the claims of decreasing environmental impact of chemical pesticides in both conventional and GM crops and call for action to reduce the pesticide toxicity applied in agriculture worldwide."
The study was released amid continued concerns, both nationally and international, about wide-ranging adverse ecological impacts of neonicotinoids, or neonics, as they're sometimes called, especially amid a global decline in insect numbers that threatens humanity's future.
As Philip Donkersley, a senior research associate in entomology at Lancaster University, wrote this month at The Conversation:
Since their introduction in the late 1980s, robust scientific evidence has emerged to suggest these chemicals impair learning and memory, foraging behavior, and pollination in bees. The E.U. banned neonicotinoids in 2019, and while the U.K. government pledged to follow suit, it granted a special exemption for sugar beet farmers to use the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam in January 2021. Thankfully, it wasn't used.
Because honeybees don't spend much time on the ground, environmental risk assessments for neonicotinoids often neglect to consider how exposure to these chemicals in the soil affects all pollinators. But in a landmark study published in Nature, researchers have shown how neonicotinoids affect bees not just by accumulating in the plants pollinators visit, but in the ground where most wild bees build their nests.
Evidence suggests neonics' impacts go well beyond bees, including possibly to mammals like deer who inadvertently consume them.
As Civil Eats reported last month, the concerns are prompting continued demands for U.S. regulators to take action to curb or ban use of neonics.
Daniel Raichel, a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the outlet: "It's a bee issue for sure, but really, it's an ecosystem issue. It's an everything issue."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Daniel Raichel
While many know Chicago as the "Second City," the old stomping grounds of Michael Jordan or Al Capone, or perhaps even still as "Hog Butcher to the World," I doubt many think of it as a home for endangered wildlife.
However, as a recent Chicago Tribune article shows, that's exactly what it is for one of our very favorite endangered pollinators—the rusty patched bumble bee.
For the better part of a decade, NRDC has fought for the rusty patched bumble bee's survival, and we are now suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the fourth time—this time, to reverse a Trump-Era decision not to designate federally protected "critical habitat" for the bee.
That's why it was particularly sweet to learn that a couple of rusty patched bumble bees were spotted foraging near the Rogers Park Metra stop, not far from the Honeybear Cafe and some of my old foraging grounds growing up.
"Rogers Park Metra Community Garden" by LN is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Although the article provides a fun "work meets life" moment for me, it also underscores the importance of our lawsuit. As Abby Shafer of the Evanston Native Bee Initiative notes, one patch of native habitat can be meaningful, but what's most needed is a network of interconnected habitat so that the bee's populations can recover and once again thrive.
By refusing to designate "critical habitat" for the bee, the Fish and Wildlife Service effectively scuttled any plan for such a federally protected habitat network—breaking the law and putting this magnificent and vulnerable bee one step closer to extinction. That's why we'll keep fighting in court until we (yet again) secure the protections that the rusty patched bumble bee deserves.
Who knows, if we're successful, maybe you'll see the rusty patched bumble bee in your neighborhood too.
"The Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park" by UGArdener is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
By Brian Lovett
As winter phases into spring across the U.S., gardeners are laying in supplies and making plans. Meanwhile, as the weather warms, common garden insects such as bees, beetles and butterflies will emerge from underground burrows or nests within or on plants.
Most gardeners know how beneficial insects can be for their plots. Flies pollinate flowers. Predatory bugs, such as the spined shoulder bug, eat pest insects that otherwise would tuck into garden plants.
As a scientist whose research involves insects and as a gardener, I know that many beneficial insect species are declining and need humans' help. If you're a gardener looking for a new challenge this year, consider revamping all or part of your yard to support beneficial insects.
Lawns Are Insect Food Deserts
Some gardeners choose native plants to attract and support helpful insects. Often, however, those native plants are surrounded by vast expanses of lawn.
The vast majority of insect species find blades of grass as unappetizing as we do. Yet, lawns sprawl out across many public and private spaces. NASA estimated in 2005 that lawns covered at least 50,000 square miles (128,000 square kilometers) of the U.S. – about the size of the entire state of Mississippi.
A well-manicured lawn is a sure sign that humanity has imposed its will on nature. Lawns provide an accessible and familiar landscape, but they come at a cost for our six-legged neighbors. Grasses grown as turf provide very few places for insects to safely tuck themselves away, because homeowners and groundskeepers cut them short – before they send up flowering spikes – and apply fertilizers and pesticides to keep them green.
Entomologists have a recommendation: Dig up some fraction of your lawn and convert it into a meadow by replacing grass with native wildflowers. Wildflowers provide pollen and nectar that feed and attract a variety of insects like ants, native bees and butterflies. Just as you may have a favorite local restaurant, insects that live around you have a taste for the flowers that are native to their areas.
Have you thought about this? https://t.co/nz31BXYKKI— David Steen, Ph.D. (@David Steen, Ph.D.) 1562630208.0
This bold choice will not just benefit insects. Healthier insects support local birds, and meadows require fewer chemical inputs and less mowing than lawns. The amount of attention lawns demand from us, even if we outsource the work to a landscaping company, is a sign of their precarity.
A meadow is a wilder, more resilient option. Resilient ecosystems are better able to respond to and recover from disturbances.
Entomologist Ryan Gott, integrated pest management and quality control specialist at Maitri Genetics in Pittsburgh, describes lawns and meadows as two opposite ends of a resiliency spectrum. "As far as basic ecological functions go, a lawn does not have many. A lawn mainly extracts nutrition and water, usually receiving outside inputs of fertilizer and irrigation to stay alive, and returns very little to the system," he told me.
Native flowers, by definition, will grow well in your climate, although some areas will have more choices than others and growing seasons vary. Native plants also provide a palette of colors and variety that lawns sorely lack. By planting them as a meadow, with many different flowers emerging throughout the growing season, you can provide for a diverse assortment of local insects. And mowing and fertilizing less will leave you more time to appreciate wildlife of all sizes.
There are many different types of meadows, and every wildflower species has different preferences for soil type and conditions. Meadows thrive in full sunlight, which is also where lawns typically do well.
Making Insects Feel at Home
Not every yard can support a meadow, but there are other ways to be a better, more considerate neighbor to insects. If you have a shady yard, consider modeling your garden after natural landscapes like woodlands that are shady and support insects.
What's important in landscaping with insects in mind, or "entoscaping," is considering insects early and often when you visit the garden store. With a few pots or window boxes, even a balcony can be converted into a cozy insect oasis.
If you're gardenless, you can still support insect health. Try replacing white outdoor lights, which interfere with many insects' feeding and breeding patterns. White lights also lure insects into swarms, where they are vulnerable to predators. Yellow bulbs or warm-hued LEDs don't have these effects.
Another easy project is using scrap wood and packing materials to create simple "hotels" for bees or ladybugs, making sure to carefully sanitize them between seasons. Easiest of all, provide water for insects to drink – they're adorable to watch as they sip. Replace standing water at least weekly to prevent mosquitoes from developing.
A Refuge in Every Yard
Many resources across the U.S. offer advice on converting your lawn or making your yard more insect-friendly.
The Xerces Society for Insect Conservation publishes a guide to establishing meadows to sustain insects. Local university extension offices post tips on growing meadows with specific instructions and resources for their areas. Gardening stores often have experience and carry selections of local plants.
You may find established communities of enthusiasts for local plants and seeds, or your journey could be the start of such a group. Part of the fun of gardening is learning what plants need to be healthy, and a new endeavor like entoscaping will provide fresh challenges.
In my view, humans all too often see ourselves as separate from nature, which leads us to relegate biodiversity to designated parks. In fact, however, we are an important part of the natural world, and we need insects just as much as they need us. As ecologist Douglas Tallamy argues in his book, Nature's Best Hope, the best way to protect biodiversity is for people to plant native plants and promote conservation in every yard.
Brian Lovett is a postdoctoral researcher in mycology at West Virginia University.
Disclosure statement: Brian Lovett 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.
The so-called murder hornet, known for its "excruciating" sting and ability to wipe out an entire bee-colony in just a few hours, is coming out of hibernation and scientists need help in eradicating them, VICE reported.
Scientists in the U.S. and Canada announced a "war" against the murder hornet as it begins to establish its nests in spring, AP reported. Over the past two years, the world's largest hornets have been spotted in British Columbia and Washington state.
"This is not a species we want to tolerate here in the United States," Sven-Erik Spichiger of the Washington state Department of Agriculture said, according to AP. "We may not get them all, but we will get as many as we can."
Scientists are encouraging citizens to begin setting up an orange juice or a brown sugar-based trap in July, The Washington State Department of Agriculture wrote in a statement. Residents in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Island, Jefferson, and Clallam counties are especially encouraged to participate.
While the department and several agencies, including Washington State University, are planning their own eradication efforts, citizen reportings are necessary to cover as much ground as possible. Last year, half of the confirmed reports of the murder hornet in Washington and all confirmed reports in British Columbia were from members of the public, the department wrote.
While the murder hornet, more commonly known as the Asian giant hornet, is rarely deadly, its venom can damage human tissue if stung, CNN reported. "It's an absolutely serious danger to our health and well-being," Paul van Westendorp of the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries told AP. "These are intimidating insects."
The hornets kill at most a few dozen people a year in Asian countries, according to AP. At the same time, hornets, wasps and bees found in the U.S. kill an average of 62 people a year, AP reported.
But the giant insect is not after humans, posing instead a more serious threat to bee populations. Just a small group of Asian giant hornets, for example, can destroy an entire honey bee hive in a few hours, AP reported.
"During one recorded slaughter examined by researchers, each hornet killed one bee every 14 seconds, using powerful mandibles to decapitate its prey," The New York Times reported.
In a state that relies on honey bees to pollinate its multibillion-dollar agricultural industry, beekeepers and entomologists in Washington worry for the future if the murder hornet is able to establish itself in North America.
"Most people are scared to get stung by them," Ruthie Danielsen, a beekeeper in Birch Bay, Washington told The New York Times. "We're scared that they are going to totally destroy our hives."
Additional efforts to eradicate the giant insect include conducting genome sequencing to find out how the Asian giant hornet first arrived in North America and if there are any subpopulations, VICE reported. "Knowing the origin is important to control efforts because it may offer a better understanding of nesting biology and potential range, which varies in native populations," Anna Childers, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told VICE.
Scientists and department workers plan to catch the live hornet, tag it and track it back to its nest to then be destroyed, VICE reported. "So hanging a trap actually protects you. It lets you know that there's something in the area and contains it in such a way that you can then call [authorities in B.C. or Washington] and we can do something about it." Spichiger told VICE.
Washington residents can report all sightings of Asian giant hornets to WSDA at agr.wa.gov/hornets, via email at [email protected], or by calling 1-800-443-6684.
- 'Murder Hornets' Spotted in U.S. for the First Time - EcoWatch ›
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Americans take great pride in their lawns. A centuries-old practice adopted from Great Britain and Northern France, lawns have become a status symbol; a standard fixture of American communities.
In the United States, more than 40 million acres of land are covered in grass, making it the single largest irrigated crop in the country, requiring more labor, fuel, toxins, and equipment than industrial farming. These vast areas of monoculture (the practice of planting only a single crop) do ultimately have devastating consequences for ecosystem health.
Constituting 2% of the continental US, turf grass has a substantial environmental impact, especially in regards to lawn care: 3 trillion gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas (for mowing), and 70 million pounds of pesticides are used for lawn maintenance every year; fertilizer – containing large concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous – runs off of lawns, into storm drains, and eventually flows to waterways, causing algal blooms and contaminating drinking water; herbicides and pesticides kill unwanted – yet necessary – plants and insects, causing harm to humans and wildlife alike.
Moreover, the turf grass used for most lawns in the United States isn't native to North America and doesn't support the rich, diverse life needed for a healthy ecosystem. Blanketing an area with exclusively non-native grass eliminates the habitats of native plants and insects, decimating the biodiversity of the area and creating far-reaching consequences for food chains.
While boasting a bright green, perfectly mowed, immaculate lawn has become the norm, turning your yard into a native ecological refuge – sometimes called "naturescaping" – with these eco-friendly alternatives can do wonders for the biodiversity and overall health of your backyard ecosystem.
1. Native Plants and Flowers
Lake Lou / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
The ryegrass and Kentucky Bluegrass that make up most American lawns aren't native to the US; between 5,000 and 385,000 acres of native ecosystems are displaced by lawns every day, crowding out regional flowers, plants, and grasses across the country. Without these native plants, monoculture lawns are essentially wastelands for birds and pollinators – like bees, whose populations have been declining rapidly around the world – eliminating the flowers they feed on and locations for nesting.
Choosing to instead foster a yard of native flowers and plants creates a ripple affect in regional food chains: plants provide food for the bugs and bees that depend on it, which in turn provide food for mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, restoring the biodiversity that has been lost. Creating a deliberate landscaping plan to replace grass with low-maintenance plants will attract wildlife and bring some beauty to your backyard.
In urban areas, clover, dandelion, and other lawn "weeds" have been identified as some of the most important food sources for bees, and flowers like columbine, monarda, asters, and holly provide a friendly habitat for birds. Of course, native plants vary by region, so be sure to check with your state's Native Plant Society to find the right species for your eco-haven.
2. Grass Alternatives
If you love to look out the window at your luscious patch of green, you don't have to give it up entirely.
Groundcover plants provide an alternative to turf, but eliminate the need for mowing and still deliver that traditional verdant green. Clover, creeping jenny, barberry cotoneaster, Corsican mint, and creeping herbs like thyme and oregano require very little maintenance; clover especially needs little attention once it's established, suppresses weeds, and has a deep root system that aerates the soil.
Flowering perennial groundcover species – like sweet woodruff, liriope, and horned violets – bring a dash of color to your yard and often do well in shaded areas, as do many kinds of moss. Species of native ornamental grass thrive in different ranges of light, moisture, and soil, giving you plenty of options for your space.
Growing a natural lawn also eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, improves soil quality, and prevents erosion – all while creating a native habitat for the birds and the bees.
3. Befriend the Bugs
The prevailing rhetoric of traditional yard maintenance is to eliminate as many humming, buzzing, and crawling things as possible, which drives away the beneficial bugs that foster healthy, thriving ecosystems such as ladybugs, spiders, and ground beetles. While caterpillars and Japanese beetles might not be a welcome sight, not all bugs are a bad sign!
During their lifetime, ladybugs may eat as many as 5,000 aphids – a common backyard enemy. Ground beetles too feed on less-desirable bugs like caterpillars, slugs, weevils, and nematodes. To encourage such insects to make a home in your yard, you can purchase many of them online or at garden stores to jumpstart the process. But, once you begin to populate your yard with native plants and bid the turf adieu, the insects should start crawling, flying, and buzzing back.
Learn what beneficial bugs live in your area so you can identify the signs of a healthy, bio-diverse lawn.
4. Ditch the Fertilizer …
While typical fertilizers ramp up the productivity of farms and might keep our backyards emerald green, they also emit harmful greenhouse gases – accounting for 1.5% of global emissions – and fertilized lawns are no exception.
According to Dr. Chuanhui Gu of Appalachian State University, a standard lawn emits up to 6 times more CO2 than what can be absorbed during photosynthesis through mowing, irrigating, and fertilizing, including the production and transportation of the fertilizer.
Instead of synthetic fertilizers, try adding organic nutrients to your eco-friendly lawn by spreading compost. "Topdressing" your yard with compost supplies nutrients and keeps the soil healthy without depleting it, allowing you to maintain a healthy ecosystem for the diverse plant and animal life thriving in your eco-oasis.
5. … and the Pesticides
Henner Zeller / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Scientists have directly linked pesticides to the demise of frog, bat, and bee populations, throwing delicately balanced ecosystems and food chains into disorder. Ninety percent of flowering plants depend on bees and other pollinators to survive – species that have seen alarming decreases in population across the globe (also referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder).
Luckily, saving the bees can start in your own backyard: lawn-owners can make a tangible difference by cutting pesticides from their lawn-care regimen. Allowing native plants and weeds to grow freely and bugs to crawl amongst them will save the lives of your local bees, providing them a sanctuary to live, eat, and thrive in.
6. No-Mow Zones
Mile-for-mile, gas-powered lawn mowers produce about 11 times more pollution than a new car, estimates the EPA – so, running a single gas-powered mower for an hour is nearly equivalent in emissions to a 100-mile car trip.
Mowing lawns is also extremely time-consuming, accounting for more than three million collective hours each year for Americans, who, on average, mow their lawns 22 times per year. Think of the time saved by going no-mow!
The No-Mow Movement encourages lawn-owners to leave native grasses to their own devices, growing tall and wild to eliminate the environmental cost of watering and mowing, and allowing a more natural landscape to take over unimpeded. If you've decided on an alternative to grass that requires no mowing – like clover or moss – you're already there.
Do keep an eye out for invasive weeds in your no-mow lawn that might crowd out native plants and grasses.
Before embarking on your eco-oasis adventure, you'll need to set about "killing" your lawn – that is, doing away with existing turf grass to make way for your native plants and no-mow zones.
Covering the lawn with a sheet of black plastic will trap heat and kill the turf underneath; or, adopt the no-till method of layering newspaper over a section of grass and covering it with a few inches of soil. The newspaper will decay over time and provide a fresh start for your new lawn.
While recovering global biodiversity may seem like a daunting goal, cutting down your environmental impact and saving native ecosystems can all begin in your own yard!
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Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Along with her most recent position at Hunger Free America, she has interned with the Sierra Club in Washington, DC., Saratoga Living Magazine, and Philadelphia's NPR Member Station, WHYY.
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But now, researchers from the University of Georgia say a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from a type of mustard plant could reduce flying's carbon footprint by as much as 68 percent.
"Carinata-based SAF could help reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation sector while creating economic opportunities and improving the flow of ecosystem services across the southern region," study co-author Puneet Dwivedi of the University of Georgia said in a press release.
Plant-based jet fuel could reduce emissions by 68% according to new UGA research. https://t.co/TZAgnuEaG6 🌽 ✈️ @UGAWarnell— UGA (@UGA) 1634673601.0
The fuel in question is made from an oil obtained from Brassica carinata, a non-edible oilseed crop. Dwivedi is part of a research team called the Southeast Partnership for Advanced Renewables from Carinata (SPARC), which has spent the past four years looking into the possibility of growing carinata in the southeastern U.S.
Brassica carinata flowers. pablo lara de la sen / iStock / Getty Images Plus
In a paper published in GCB Bioenergy, Dwivedi and his team calculated the price and lifecycle carbon emissions of replacing conventional jet fuel with sustainable fuel made from Southern-grown carinata. They found that the fuel would reduce emissions from aviation by between 61 and 68 percent.
Without any government subsidies, the new fuel was more expensive than jet fuel, which is priced at $0.50 per liter. However, with current incentives and subsidies in place, the new fuel could cost as low as $0.12 per liter. The study comes as President Joe Biden has proposed a sustainable fuel tax credit as part of a nation-wide goal of reducing aviation emissions 20 percent by 2030 and achieving zero-carbon by 2050, the press release pointed out.
"Our study indicates that carinata-based aviation fuel could significantly reduce carbon emissions of the aviation sector," the study authors concluded. "However, current policy support mechanisms should be continued to support manufacturing and distribution in the Southeastern United States."
The Southeast could be an ideal place to grow carinata. Georgia, for example, is home to the world's busiest airport and provides a hub for major airline Delta. It is also the sixth largest consumer of aviation fuel in the U.S.
"In the South, we can grow carinata as a winter crop because our winters are not as severe compared to other regions of the country," Dwivedi said in the release. "Since carinata is grown in the 'off' season it does not compete with other food crops, and it does not trigger food versus fuel issues. Additionally, growing carinata provides all the cover-crop benefits related to water quality, soil health, biodiversity and pollination."
If a switch to a sustainable fuel isn't made, then the airline industry could take up as much as 22 percent of the world's remaining carbon budget by 2050, according to Yahoo News.
Another proposed solution would be to use a fuel derived from carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere through carbon capture technology.
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By Tara Lohan
Scientists have provided another reminder that, when it comes to climate change, we're all in this together. A study published last month in Nature Climate Change concluded that at least 85% of the world's population has already been affected by climate change.
"It is likely that nearly everyone in the world now experiences changes in extreme weather as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions," Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College, told The Washington Post.
While we're all in it together, not everything is equal. Wealthier countries like the United States play an outsized role in pumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere, but less wealthy nations face the gravest risks. We also know far less about how climate change will affect poorer countries — much more research and resources have been dedicated to studying North America compared to Africa or South America, the study found.
These knowledge gaps don't just affect people, either. Countless species of plants and animals face a warming world. Researchers have found that rising temperatures and related impacts can force changes in behavior, reproduction, migration and foraging. Biologist Thor Hanson wrote in a recent book that 25% to 85% of species on the planet are already on the move because of climate change. What happens when new neighbors interact in these novel ecosystems is something we know little about so far because the ripple effects are far-reaching and numerous.
But the more scientists uncover about how plants and animals — and their habitats — may change, the more effective conservation measures will be.
The Revelator has been keeping tabs on the growing field of climate change biology. Here are five new findings that scientists have made recently about wildlife and climate change.
Cottongrass blows in the wind at the edge of Etivlik Lake, Alaska. The plant is a sedge with wind-dispersed seeds. Western Arctic National Parklands / CC BY 2.0
1. Pack your bags. Numerous bat species will need to move to find suitable habitat as their current homes are predicted to get hotter and drier. Some, like the Isabelline Serotine bat (Eptesicus isabellinus), could be forced to relocate 1,000 miles. The largest exodus will likely come from Coastal Europe and North Africa, which already support the greatest amount of species richness.
2. Not a breeze. While fish can swim to colder waters as the ocean heats up, plants may have a harder time finding suitable habitat in a changing climate. A 2020 study found that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics or on the windward sides of mountain ranges could face the biggest problems because the wind isn't likely to move them in a climate-friendly direction.
3. Forest for the trees. Mangrove forests can help mitigate climate change and have been shown to store up to four times as much carbon as other tropical forests. They also help protect coastlines from hurricane damage. Nature-based solutions to help lessen the blows from climate change are good news, but researchers have also learned that mangroves themselves are threatened by rising seas. If we want help from mangroves, we're going to need to cut our greenhouse emissions to help them, too.
4. Disasters abound. So far this year the United States has been walloped by 18 weather and climate disasters costing $1 billion each. An increase in the severity of extreme weather isn't just an economic concern, though. Researchers say that such events can also take a toll on wildlife by killing animals or indirectly destroying food and habitat, contaminating water, or forcing wildlife to move to areas with greater competition or predation.
5. Taking the slow lane. Sometimes you just need a good place to hide. Last year the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment dedicated an entire issue to new research about how to identify and manage climate-change refugia — areas where the effects of rising temperatures are largely buffered because of unique local conditions. As one of the studies explained, "As the effects of climate change accelerate, climate‐change refugia provide a slow lane to enable persistence of focal resources in the short term, and transitional havens in the long term."
The hunt for climate refugia is another reminder of the benefits research can have on conservation, and why such scientific efforts need geographic parity so that some regions — and their biodiversity — aren't overlooked.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Worldwide, dead and decaying wood releases roughly 10.9 gigatons of carbon every year. This is roughly 115% of annual fossil fuel emissions, a new study shows.
The research, published in Nature, is the first time that researchers have been able to quantify the contribution of deadwood to the global carbon cycle.
"Until now, little has been known about the role of dead trees," study co-author David Lindenmayer from The Australian National University (ANU) told SciTech Daily. "We know living trees play a vital role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But up until now, we didn't know what happens when those trees decompose. It turns out, it has a massive impact."
Natural processes, including temperature and insects, drive tree decomposition, Lindenmayer said. This results in a recycling of nutrients that is critically important in forests because so many organisms that comprise the base of the food chain rely on those nutrients to survive.
In fact, "decomposition can't happen without wood-boring insects," SciTechDaily reported. Turns out, wood-boring insects like termites and Longicorn beetles accelerate deadwood decomposition and are even more important to carbon cycling than previously thought. Insects account for 29% of deadwood carbon release every year, the study found.
This is more intense in tropical regions with high wood mass and more rapid rates of decomposition, SciTech Daily reported. Rainforests account for 93% of deadwood carbon release from around the globe, the research showed.
"We found both the rate of decomposition and the contribution of insects are highly dependent on the climate, and will increase as temperatures rise," Lindenmayer told the news report.
Critically, as global temperatures rise due to increased greenhouse gas usage, rates of decomposition and insect contribution will also rise, the scientists found.
Globally, as temperatures rise, insects have been caught in the crosshairs of climate change and development. The Guardian reported that insects have declined by 75% in the past 50 years, and that the consequences of this drastic and continuing loss of biodiversity will be "catastrophic." This is because of the many ecosystem functions that insects serve — from serving as the base of the food chain to pollinating 87% of all plant species to breaking down organic matter, the news report said. Because of this, concerned scientists have warned of the rippling effect that these dramatic losses of insects will have across the globe.
The Guardian also estimated ecosystem services provided by insects to be worth at least $57 billion a year in the U.S. alone, with actual losses being incalculable due to their sheer extremity.
"As insects become more scarce, our world will slowly grind to a halt, for it cannot function without them," the report said.
In light of the new study on deadwood and carbon release, keeping forests intact becomes an increasingly important mitigation strategy. This is an effective, low-tech way to fight climate change, unrelated studies have argued.
In sum, "this [latest] study has demonstrated that both climate change and the loss of insects have the potential to alter the decomposition of wood, and therefore, carbon and nutrient cycles worldwide," Seibold said.
Insects and natural processes help break down dead trees into nutrients that other plants and animals can use again. Kristijan Arsov / Unsplash
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