By Gloria Oladipo
In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.
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By Betsy Mason
For decades, climate scientist David Keith of Harvard University has been trying to get people to take his research seriously. He's a pioneer in the field of geoengineering, which aims to combat climate change through a range of technological fixes. Over the years, ideas have included sprinkling iron in the ocean to stimulate plankton to suck up more carbon from the atmosphere or capturing carbon straight out of the air.
Solar geoengineering would involve injecting reflective aerosols from high-altitude planes into the layer of the upper atmosphere known as the stratosphere, which stretches between 10 to 50 kilometers (6 to 31 miles) above Earth's surface. The idea is that the aerosol particles would reflect a small amount of sunlight away from the planet, reducing the amount of heat trapped by greenhouse gases and mitigating some of the effects of climate change.
The planned Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment will send a balloon carrying scientific instruments in a gondola into the stratosphere. The instruments will release a small amount of material — likely ice or mineral dust — to form a kilometer-long plume of aerosol particles (left). Modified airboat propellers will allow the gondola to maneuver above the plume (middle) and lower instruments into the plume to take repeated measurements of how the particles spread through the stratosphere (right). ADAPTED FROM J.A. DYKEMA ET AL / PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY A 2014
David Keith envisions using multiple approaches to combat climate change. The red line shows how the impacts of climate change would worsen with a business-as-usual scenario of unabated burning of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions. Aggressively cutting emissions bends that curve, and removing carbon from the atmosphere offers further cuts, but there are still consequences from the already high levels of carbon dioxide. In this scenario, solar geoengineering would lessen the impact from existing atmospheric carbon dioxide, effectively carving the top off the curve.<p>Some people think we should use it only as a get-out-of-jail card in an emergency. Some people think we should use it to quickly try to get back to a preindustrial climate. I'm arguing we use solar geoengineering to cut the top off the curve by gradually starting it and gradually ending it.</p><p><strong>Do you feel optimistic about the chances that solar geoengineering will happen and can make a difference in the climate crisis?</strong></p><p>I'm not all that optimistic right now because we seem to be so much further away from an international environment that's going to allow sensible policy. And that's not just in the US. It's a whole bunch of European countries with more populist regimes. It's Brazil. It's the more authoritarian India and China. It's a more nationalistic world, right? It's a little hard to see a global, coordinated effort in the near term. But I hope those things will change.</p>
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The Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau are a tribe of less than 300 people in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest who first came into contact with people outside their community in the early 1980s, according to the Povos Indigenas No Brasil. While they still maintain many of their tribal ways, they and other tribes have recently begun using modern drones to detect and fight illegal deforestation in their territory.
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By Sean Taylor
MilkRun, a Portland, Oregon-based company, is supporting small, local farmers by enabling them to sell produce safely and directly to consumers' homes.
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>
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New technology could produce a better, cheaper beer that's also good for the planet.
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By Sean Fleming
You probably can't outrun a forest fire. They can travel at speeds of up to 22 kilometers per hour (up to 14 miles) and are dangerously unpredictable.
The fires currently tearing through parts of northern California include the second and third largest in the state's recorded history, have seen 200,000 people asked to leave their homes and killed at least six people.
Fire boundaries are clearly marked and refreshed hourly. Google
Wildfire timelapse. Google Maps
Early Warnings<p>The data also feeds into the company's maps and navigation tools, meaning anyone in the vicinity of a fire, and using Google Maps, can be alerted to the danger. Satellite data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is fed into Google Earth, and is refreshed hourly. This gives both infrared and standard optical views of the location and spread of fires.</p><p>Forest <a href="https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/GlobalFire/fire_2.php" target="_blank">fires are part of the natural cycle of the woodland ecosystem</a>, actually helping to maintain biodiversity. Not only does fire kickstart the germination process of many seeds, it also "initiates critical natural processes by breaking down organic matter into soil nutrients," Nasa's Earth Observatory explains.</p><p>Climate change is partly responsible for wildfire spread, or is at the very least becoming a contributory factor. Reduced rainfall in northern California has left forests and surrounding areas drier than normal, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. This helps create <a href="https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/" target="_blank">the ideal circumstances for fires to get out of control</a>, regardless of how they started.</p><p>Large parts of the U.S. face higher than normal fire risk this year, including California, putting lives and property in jeopardy. The cost of fighting such fires is also on the increase, almost doubling in California across the first two decades of the century.</p>
Counting the cost of California's wildfires. Statista
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A Michigan bald eagle proved that nature can still triumph over machines when it attacked and drowned a nearly $1,000 government drone.
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Researchers at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a cheap, efficient way to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuel, potentially reducing the amount of new carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.
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By Maddie Stone
One of the starkest inequalities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic is the difference between the digital haves and have-nots. Those with a fast internet connection are more able to work and learn remotely, stay in touch with loved ones, and access critical services like telemedicine. For the millions of Americans who live in an internet dead zone, fully participating in society in the age of social distancing has become difficult if not impossible.
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By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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By Ashutosh Pandey
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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