The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.
- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- Humans Release 40 to 100x More CO2 Than Volcanoes, Major ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Conservation 'Game-Changer': China Removes Pangolin Scales ... ›
- Trump Budget Undercuts U.S. Commitment to Global Wildlife ... ›
- A Conservationist's Guide to "Tiger King": Keep Wildlife in the Wild ... ›
By Morgan Erickson-Davis
As the world heads towards 2021 with COVID-19 still raging overhead, it might be easy to forget about the other global crises. But a new app, debuted today, aims to light the way to a brighter future, showing how we can stop global warming, halt extinctions and prevent pandemics – all in one fell swoop.
‘Conserve at Least Half and in the Right Places’<p>The Global Safety Net combines six primary data layers: existing protected areas, habitats where rare species live, areas of high biodiversity, landscapes inhabited by large mammals, large areas of intact wilderness and natural landscapes that can absorb and store the most carbon.</p>
Areas of the terrestrial realm where increased conservation action is needed to protect biodiversity and store carbon. Numbers in parentheses show the percentage of total land area of Earth contributed by each set of layers. Unprotected habitats drawn from the 11 biodiversity data layers underpinning the Global Safety Net augment the current 15.1% protected with an additional 30.6% required to safeguard biodiversity. Additional CSAs add a further 4.7% of the terrestrial realm. Also shown are the wildlife and climate corridors to connect intact habitats (yellow lines). Data are available for interactive viewing at www.globalsafetynet.app. Dinerstein et al., 2020.<p>In a study accompanying the release of the platform published today in <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/36/eabb2824" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Science Advances</em></a>, the researchers describe what we need to do in order to stave off the worst effects of global warming and extinction. Overall, they found that in addition to the 15.1% of the world's land that is already protected, 35.3% will need to be added to fold over the next 10 years. This means that ultimately 50% of the planet's land area will need to be protected from further degradation to keep it under the 1.5-degree threshold and stave off ecological collapse.</p><p>The researchers were surprised how well their numbers lined up with <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Half-Earth" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">previous estimates</a> of how much of the planet needs to be set aside for nature.</p><p>"Without trying, the analysis landed on 50.4% of the terrestrial surface requiring protection," said study coauthor Karl Burkart, managing director of the NGO One Earth. "Of course conservation is much more nuanced now and strictly protected areas are just one type of land designation that can contribute towards this goal."</p><p>Zooming in, the study finds 30% of land area is of "particular importance for biological diversity." An additional 20% of land area is needed to maintain ecosystem intactness and provide additional carbon storage and absorption. The authors also note that restoration of degraded areas could help meet carbon sequestration and wildlife conservation goals.</p>
Somalia has large areas inhabited by rare species – but very few protected areas. Global Safety Net<p>It should be noted that these rankings do not take into consideration deforestation within protected areas. If so, countries like <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/05/takeover-of-nigerian-reserve-highlights-uphill-battle-to-save-forests/" target="_blank">Nigeria</a> and <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/08/brazilian-amazon-protected-areas-in-flames-as-land-grabbers-invade/" target="_blank">Brazil</a>, where protected areas are increasingly beset by illegal clearing, might not rank so high on the list. Still, the researchers say protected areas provide needed accountability and a metric with which to measure conservation effort.</p><p>"Protected Areas (or area-based targets) are certainly no guarantee of conservation outcome, as we can see with the fires burning in Brazil as we speak," Burkart told Mongabay via email. "But without them we are lost at sea."</p><p>Both Burkart and Dinerstein view area-based targets as the "North Star" of biodiversity preservation and climate protection, and say they are an important part of creating a framework for action that civil society can use to help motivate and mobilize conservation efforts.</p><p>"We've got to take conservation out of the ivory towers of academic institutions (or basements of government ministries)," Burkart said. "It is the public good we're talking about, so we need an open and transparent stocktaking of where we are right now, and what we need to immediately prioritize. Area-based targets are just the beginning, a 'blueprint' if you will of the cathedral we need to build."</p>
Will It Happen in Time?<p>If more than tripling the amount of land under official, effective protection in less than 10 years sounds daunting, you're not alone. But Dinerstein and his colleagues say it is possible.</p><p>One avenue they recommend is safeguarding Indigenous territories. The Global Safety Net shows important conservation areas often overlap with areas occupied by Indigenous communities or regarded as ancestral land, which previous research indicates contain around 80% of the planet's remaining biodiversity and contribute significantly to carbon storage. Putting land under the management of Indigenous and local communities has been shown to <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2014/07/true-stewards-new-report-says-local-communities-key-to-saving-forests-curbing-global-warming/" target="_blank">be an effective way</a> to protect it.</p><p>"Addressing indigenous land claims, upholding existing land tenure rights, and resourcing programs on indigenous-managed lands could help achieve biodiversity objectives on as much as one-third of the area required by the Global Safety Net," the researchers write in their study. "Simultaneously, this focus would positively address social justice and human rights concerns."</p><p>Protecting such a large amount of land will take a lot of money. But researchers say that the COVID-19 pandemic is showing just how quickly countries can allocate large amounts of resources if needed. And since <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02341-1" target="_blank">research shows</a> deforestation can increase the risk of outbreak of deadly diseases like Ebola and COVID-19, Dinerstein and his colleagues say there is added incentive for funding such efforts.</p><p>"The need for an ambitious global conservation agenda has taken on a new urgency in 2020 after the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus," they write in their study.</p><p>The researchers were surprised to find that only 2.3% of the planet's land area would needed to be further protected to safeguard the species most at risk of extinction. This, they say, could be accomplished within five years.</p><p>Overall, they say the investment spent on preserving these important areas of land would be offset by the trillions of dollars worth of benefits provided by a healthy environment.</p><p>"Literally billions of dollars are being spent trying to invent technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere with very little to show for it. Meanwhile we can protect the spectacular diversity of life on this planet while simultaneously providing all the ecosystem services humanity needs by protecting and conserving the 50% of lands identified in the GSN," Burkart said. "Based on a new economic analysis, we estimate that the global safety net would cost about $200 [billion per year] to manage. This is a tiny investment for a massive return, as nature provides $33 trillion in ecosystem services every year."</p><p>For their part, Dinerstein, Burkart and their colleagues are continuing to improve the GSN, and are planning on releasing an updated version next year that will include more data layers and higher resolution. They are also developing technology to help monitor elephant populations in the hopes of reducing human-elephant conflict and prevent poaching, as well as a system that detects logging trucks before they get a chance to start cutting down trees.</p><p>"Protecting forests begins with early detection and then enforcement," Dinerstein said. "We think our ForestGuard AI is an important piece of this."</p><p>But the main thing, the researchers say, is that governments must act – and soon.</p><p>"Human societies are late in the game to rectify impending climate breakdown, massive biodiversity loss, and, now, prevent pandemics," they write. "The Global Safety Net, if erected promptly, offers a way for humanity to catch up and rebound."</p>
- Why Biodiversity Loss Hurts Humans as Much as Climate Change ... ›
- Climate-Driven Biodiversity Loss Will Be Sudden, Study Warns ... ›
- WWF: 60% of Global Biodiversity Loss Due to Land Cleared for Meat ... ›
By Sean Fleming
As many as one million species of animal and plant could face extinction. This dramatic decline in the health of global biodiversity is a crisis in itself as well as a threat to the wellbeing of the planet's population, the UN warns. Plus, it poses a very immediate risk to global food security and economic activity.
A quarter of all species are threatened with extinction. Statista<p>That said, there have been many <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/conservation-stories-on-world-wildlife-day/" target="_blank">notable conservation successes</a>. There have also been several discoveries of animals that were believed to have become extinct. Here are five examples of what are often referred to as Lazarus species – breeds that have seemingly come back from the dead.</p>
1. Elephant Shrew<p>The last time anyone recorded a sighting of the Somali elephant shrew was almost 50 years ago, after which, it was assumed to have become extinct. Then, in August 2020, a team of researchers and academics reported that <a href="https://peerj.com/articles/9652/" target="_blank">these tiny, odd-looking creatures were alive and well</a>. Also known as the Somali Sengi, this mouse-sized animal, with its distinctive elongated nose, is thriving across the Horn of Africa.</p>
2. Terror Skink<p>In 1872, the French botanist Benjamin Balansa noted the discovery of a lizard while visiting the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia. At around 50cm (20 inches) in length, it probably wasn't too hard to spot. Yet, the terror skink – <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0078638" target="_blank">the 'terror' part of the name refers to its mouthful of rapacious teeth</a> – was never seen again. Not until 2003, that is. Having been rediscovered by scientists, more research is now underway to learn more about them.</p>
3. Cuban Solenodon<p>There are <a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/solenodon-8216-extinct-8217-venomous-mammal-rediscovered-in-cuba-after-10-year-search/" target="_blank">few venomous mammals in the world</a> – the Cuban solenodon is one such example. But it was a missing example for some time. Although never technically extinct, its numbers are so low and sightings are so rare, that it has often been thought to be. The Cuban <a href="http://www.edgeofexistence.org/species/cuban-solenodon/" target="_blank">solenodon's forebears were around at the same time as dinosaurs</a>: it is "a 'living fossil' that hasn't changed much in millions of years," according to the publication Scientific American. Its bite can kill yet it lacks the strength and dexterity to defend itself or flee from danger, making it an easy target for predators. Deforestation has also contributed to population disturbance.</p>
4. Bermuda Petrel<p>The Cahow, or Bermuda petrel, was last seen on Nonsuch Island in 1620. But here in 2020, you can <a href="http://www.nonsuchisland.com/live-cahow-cam/#LIVE-CahowCam" target="_blank">watch webcam footage of them</a>. A small number of the birds were spotted nesting in the east of Bermuda in the 1950s, and the population has since been resurrected. The Cahow is a burrowing bird and much of its natural habitat has been destroyed by sea erosion and hurricane damage. New <a href="http://static.squarespace.com/static/501134e9c4aa430673203999/501295cfe4b0ebc53ba7b337/501295cfe4b0ebc53ba7b33b/1320261274877/" target="_blank">nesting sites were constructed by the Government of Bermuda</a>, while chicks from established populations were relocated to Nonsuch, too.</p>
5. Australian Night Parrot<p>Another elusive bird, the Australian night parrot, was thought to be extinct after the last recorded sighting in 1912. Then, <a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129980-lazarus-species-five-cool-animals-we-wrongly-believed-extinct/" target="_blank">in 1990, one was found in the state of Queensland</a>. Sadly, it was dead. It would be another 23 years before a living example was spotted by a researcher. The precise location of that sighting was kept secret to protect the birds, whose <a href="https://nightparrot.com.au/" target="_blank">populations are now closely monitored</a> and who live in vast wildlife sanctuaries.</p>
- Koalas Face Extinction in Next 30 Years Without Urgent Intervention ... ›
- Biggest Animals Face Extinction Due to Hunting - EcoWatch ›
- De-Extinction: If We Could Revive a Species, Does It Mean We ... ›
By Leslie Brooks
More than 75 percent of the world's food crops rely on pollinators, according to the United Nations Environment Program. Through their pollination, bees not only promote biodiversity, but also secure our food supply.
But one in four species of bee is at risk of extinction in North America, according to the United Nations Environment Program. And the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has recorded declines in bee populations in Europe, South America, and Asia.
- Trump EPA OKs 'Emergency' Use of Bee-Killing Pesticide on 13.9 ... ›
- 7-Mile 'Bee Corridor' of Wildflowers Will Feed London's Pollinators ... ›
- 347 Native Bee Species 'Spiraling Toward Extinction' - EcoWatch ›
- Bees Face ‘a Perfect Storm’ — Parasites, Air Pollution and Other Emerging Threats - EcoWatch ›
- European Top Court Upholds French Ban on Bee-Harming Pesticides - EcoWatch ›
The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.
The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.
"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."
The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.
The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.
The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.
To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.
Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.
"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.
"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."
- Sixth Mass Extinction Accelerating, Study of Land Animals Finds ... ›
- Biggest Animals Face Extinction Due to Hunting - EcoWatch ›
- Back From Extinction: Returning Threatened Pangolins to the Wild ... ›
By Robert McLachlan
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to email@example.com
Is humanity doomed? If in 2030 we have not reduced emissions in a way that means we stay under say 2℃ (I've frankly given up on 1.5℃), are we doomed then?
<div id="98101" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c658bbc6292bd7eb49514c454053d13"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1078329950703357952" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">As I have been pointing out for some time, climate change isn't a cliff we go off at 1.5C or 2C. It's much more lik… https://t.co/tY8NoRq153</div> — Michael E. Mann (@Michael E. Mann)<a href="https://twitter.com/MichaelEMann/statuses/1078329950703357952">1545928869.0</a></blockquote></div>
Good Reasons Not to Give Up Just Yet<p>The <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/" target="_blank">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change</a> described the effects of a 1.5℃ increase in average temperatures in a <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">special report</a> last year. They are also nicely summarized in an article about <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2865/a-degree-of-concern-why-global-temperatures-matter/" target="_blank">why global temperatures matter</a>, produced by NASA.</p><p>The global average temperature is currently about <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">1.2℃</a> higher than what it was at the time of the Industrial Revolution, some 250 years ago. We are already witnessing localized impacts, including the <a href="https://theconversation.com/we-just-spent-two-weeks-surveying-the-great-barrier-reef-what-we-saw-was-an-utter-tragedy-135197" target="_blank">widespread coral bleaching</a> on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.</p>
This graph shows different emission pathways and when the world is expected to reach global average temperatures of 1.5℃ or 2℃ above pre-industrial levels. Global Carbon Project, Author provided
The Pessimist Perspective<p>Now suppose we don't manage that. It's 2030 and emissions have only fallen a little bit. We're staring at 2℃ in the second half of the century.</p><p>At 2℃ of warming, we could expect to lose more than 90% of our coral reefs. Insects and plants would be at higher risk of extinction, and the number of dangerously hot days would increase rapidly.</p><p>The challenges would be exacerbated and we would have new issues to consider. First, under the "<a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2009/06/proving-the-shifting-baselines-theory-how-humans-consistently-misperceive-nature/" target="_blank">shifting baseline</a>" phenomenon — essentially a failure to notice slow change and to value what is already lost — people might discount the damage already done. Continuously worsening conditions might become the new normal.</p><p><span></span>Second, climate impacts such as mass migration could lead to a rise of nationalism and make international cooperation harder. And third, we could begin to pass unpredictable "<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03595-0" target="_blank">tipping points</a>" in the Earth system. For example, warming of more than 2°C could set off widespread melting in Antarctica, which in turn would contribute to sea level rise.</p><p>But true doom-mongers tend to assume a worst-case scenario on virtually every area of uncertainty. It is important to remember that such scenarios are not very likely.</p><p><span></span>While bad, this 2030 scenario doesn't add up to doom — and it certainly doesn't change the need to move away from fossil fuels to low-carbon options.</p>
- U.S. Carbon Emissions Spiked 3.4% in 2018, Second-Largest ... ›
- 21 Countries That Reduced Carbon Emissions While Growing Their ... ›
- Carbon Dioxide Emissions Near Level Not Seen in 15 Million Years ... ›
- Wealthy One Percent Are Producing More Carbon Emissions Than Bottom Half ›
- CO2 Emissions Caused Earth’s Largest Mass Extinction, Study Confirms - EcoWatch ›
By JoAnn Adkins
A landmark study by Global FinPrint reveals sharks are absent on many of the world's coral reefs, indicating they are functionally extinct — too rare to fulfill their normal role in the ecosystem.
If world governments don't act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most polar bear populations will not survive the century, a new study has found.
- Polar Bears Are Increasingly Resorting to Cannibalism - EcoWatch ›
- Arctic Refuge Oil Surveys Put Polar Bears in the Crosshairs ... ›
- Russian Polar Bear 'Invasion' Is a Sign of Something Much Bigger ... ›
- Climate Change, Oil Development Threaten Alaska’s Polar Bears - EcoWatch ›
- Two Canadian Ice Caps Disappear Completely - EcoWatch ›
Jane Goodall on Conservation, Climate Change and COVID-19: 'If We Carry on With Business as Usual, We're Going to Destroy Ourselves'
By Jeff Berardelli
While COVID-19 and protests for racial justice command the world's collective attention, ecological destruction, species extinction and climate change continue unabated. While the world's been focused on other crises, an alarming study was released warning that species extinction is now progressing so fast that the consequences of "biological annihilation" may soon be "unimaginable."
- Jane Goodall Institute Revolutionizes Chimpanzee Protection With ... ›
- These Jane Goodall Quotes Will Inspire You to Save the World ... ›
- Jane Goodall: COVID-19 Is Result of Our Unhealthy Relationship ... ›
By Peter Yeung
A pair of pink Amazon river dolphins emerges for just a moment, arcing above the chocolate brown waters inside the Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development, a research facility at the tropical heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Powerful jets of water spray out of their blowholes as these freshwater mammals take in air before submerging.
- In a Sign of Cleanup Success, Dolphins Are Living and Giving Birth ... ›
- First Ever Tagging of Amazon Dolphins to Boost Conservation Efforts ›
- Hunting, Fishing Cause Dramatic Decline in Amazon River Dolphins ... ›
- Researchers Are Creating a Drone to Study Wild Dolphins With Help From Trained Dolphins - EcoWatch ›
The sixth mass extinction is here, and it's speeding up.
Terrestrial vertebrates on the brink (i.e., with 1,000 or fewer individuals) include species such as (A) Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis; image credit: Rhett A. Butler [photographer]), (B) Clarion island wren (Troglodytes tanneri; image credit: Claudio Contreras Koob [photographer]), (C) Española Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis; image credit: G.C.), and (D) Harlequin frog (Atelopus varius; the population size of the species is unknown but it is estimated at less than 1,000; image credit: G.C.).
- Humanity 'Sleepwalking Towards the Edge of a Cliff': 60% of Earth's ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
- The Insect Apocalypse Is Coming: Here Are 5 Lessons We Must Learn ›
- Climate Change Likely Eliminated Woolly Rhinos, New Study Shows ›
By Lamfu Fabrice Yengong and Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue
Biodiversity loss is a global crisis. In May last year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that over 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction worldwide. On May 22, the International Day of Biodiversity, it is important to recall the silent victims of our country's obsession for industrial growth at the expense of our forests.
- UN Biodiversity Chief: Humans Risk Living in an 'Empty World' With ... ›
- Why Biodiversity Loss Hurts Humans as Much as Climate Change ... ›
- These Scientists Are Listening to the Borneo Rainforest ›