By Suzanne Cords
One day Lizzie, the first-person narrator of the novel, receives an old book as a gift, with a dedication wishing the reader to be among the survivors. Like the preppers who build bunkers and stockpile supplies in remote areas to be ready for the end of the world, Lizzie is convinced that the end of the world is definitely near in times of a threatening climate disaster.
Lizzie, who lives in New York with her husband and son, is a university campus librarian. She worries about almost everything: her brother, an ex-junkie, or her dental insurance and the future in the face of the apocalypse. She is obsessed with reading reference books and articles about climate change.
She also devours words of wisdom, including about Buddhist spirituality: "A visitor once asked the old monks on Mount Athos what they did all day, and was told: We have died and we are in love with everything." But nothing can lift her spirits.
'Lizzie Is Just Like Us'
Lizzie observes rich New Yorkers plan their move to regions that are less threatened by climate change, something she simply cannot afford. Sometimes she watches disaster movies, which lead her to worry even more.
Above all, she is a gifted observer of her fellow human beings. "Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters? Old person worry: What if everything I do, does?"
Lizzie, the U.S. author told DW, is a bit like the rest of us — well aware of the climate crisis, but because she cares and worries about so many other things, that awareness falls by the wayside. That's how she felt herself, Jenny Offill said, but the more she looked into the issue, the more she saw a need for action on her part, too.
"I also was trying to see if there was a way to make it funny, because, you know, so much of the world of prepping and imagining disaster is actually sort of strangely funny."
The novel was shortlisted for the 2020 UK's Women's Prize for Fiction and has now been released in German translation.
Climate Activist With a Vision
But then, there is also this serious, scientifically based concern about what climate change means. In the past, says Offill, artists were the ones who would predict disasters; today it's the experts, as well as the students she teaches. In the end, their fears and their justified anger motivated her to take a closer look at the issue. Today, she is a climate activist herself, and is involved in initiatives along with many other artists.
Lizzie, the heroine of Weather, hasn't gotten that far. But she voices her fears, and that's a start. "Of course, the world continues to end," says Sylvia, a mentor of Lizzie's, at one point — and commences to water her garden. There is hope after all.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Michel Penke
More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.
Though made in large part of plastic, glass, ceramics, gold and copper, they also contain critical resources. The gallium used for LEDs and the camera flash, the tantalum in capacitors and indium that powers the display were all pulled from the ground — at a price for nature and people.
"Mining raw materials is always problematic, both with regard to human rights and ecology," said Melanie Müller, raw materials expert of the German think tank SWP. "Their production process is pretty toxic."
The gallium and indium in many phones comes from China or South Korea, the tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Rwanda. All in, such materials comprise less than ten grams of a phone's weight. But these grams finance an international mining industry that causes radioactive earth dumps, poisoned groundwater and Indigenous population displacement.
Environmental Damage: 'Nature Has Been Overexploited'
The problem is that modern technologies don't work without what are known as critical raw materials. Collectively, solar panels, drones, 3D printers and smartphone contain as many as 30 of these different elements sourced from around the globe. A prime example is lithium from Chile, which is essential in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.
"No one, not even within the industry, would deny that mining lithium causes enormous environmental damage," Müller explained, in reference to the artificial lakes companies create when flushing the metal out of underground brine reservoirs. "The process uses vast amounts of water, so you end up with these huge flooded areas where the lithium settles."
This means of extraction results in the destruction and contamination of the natural water system. Unique plants and animals lose access to groundwater and watering holes. There have also been reports of freshwater becoming salinated due to extensive acidic waste water during lithium mining.
But lithium is not the only raw material that causes damage. Securing just one ton of rare earth elements produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste, and has devastated large regions of China, said Günther Hilpert, head of the Asia Research Division of the German think tank SWP.
He says companies there have adopted a process of spraying acid over the mining areas in order to separate the rare earths from other ores, and that mined areas are often abandoned after excavation.
"They are no longer viable for agricultural use," Hilpert said. "Nature has been overexploited."
China is not the only country with low environmental mining standards and poor resource governance. In Madagascar, for example, a thriving illegal gem and metal mining sector has been linked to rainforest depletion and destruction of natural lemur habitats.
States like Madagascar, Rwanda and the DRC score poorly on the Environmental Performance Index that ranks 180 countries for their effort on factors including conservation, air quality, waste management and emissions. Environmentalists are therefore particularly concerned that these countries are mining highly toxic materials like beryllium, tantalum and cobalt.
But it is not only nature that suffers from the extraction of high-demand critical raw materials.
"It is a dirty, toxic, partly radioactive industry," Hilpert said. "China, for example, has never really cared about human rights when it comes to achieving production targets."
Dirty, Toxic, Radioactive: Working in the Mining Sector
One of the most extreme examples is Baotou, a Chinese city in Inner Mongolia, where rare earth mining poisoned surrounding farms and nearby villages, causing thousands of people to leave the area.
In 2012, The Guardian described a toxic lake created in conjunction with rare earth mining as "a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world."
Local residents reported health issues including aching legs, diabetes, osteoporosis and chest problems, The Guardian wrote.
South Africa has also been held up for turning a blind eye to the health impacts of mining.
"The platinum sector in South Africa has been criticized for performing very poorly on human rights — even within the raw materials sector," Müller said.
In 2012, security forces killed 34 miners who had been protesting poor working conditions and low wages at a mine owned by the British company Lonmin. What became known as the "Marikana massacre" triggered several spontaneous strikes across the country's mining sector.
Müller says miners can still face exposure to acid drainage — a frequent byproduct of platinum mining — that can cause chemical burns and severe lung damage. Though this can be prevented by a careful waste system.
Some progress was made in 2016 when the South African government announced plans to make mining companies pay $800 million (€679 million) for recycling acid mine water. But they didn't all comply. In 2020, activists sued Australian-owned mining company Mintails and the government to cover the cost of environmental cleanup.
Another massive issue around mining is water consumption. Since the extraction of critical raw materials is very water intensive, drought prone countries such as South Africa, have witnessed an increase in conflicts over supply.
For years, industry, government and the South African public debated – without a clear agreement – whether companies should get privileged access to water and how much the population may suffer from shortages.
Mining in Brazil: Replacing Nature, People, Land Rights
Beyond the direct health and environmental impact of mining toxic substances, quarrying critical raw materials destroys livelihoods, as developments in Brazil demonstrate.
"Brazil is the major worldwide niobium producer and reserves in [the state of] Minas Gerais would last more than 200 years [at the current rate of demand]," said Juliana Siqueira-Gay, environmental engineer and Ph.D. student at the University of São Paulo.
While the overall number of niobium mining requests is stagnating, the share of claims for Indigenous land has skyrocketed from 3 to 36 percent within one year. If granted, 23 percent of the Amazon forest and the homeland of 222 Indigenous groups could fall victim to deforestation in the name of mining, a study by Siqueira-Gay finds.
In early 2020, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a bill which would allow corporations to develop areas populated by Indigenous communities in the future. The law has not yet entered into force, but "this policy could have long-lasting negative effects on Brazil's socio-biodiversity," said Siqueira-Gay.
One example are the niobium reserves in Seis Lagos, in Brazil's northeast, which could be quarried to build electrolytic capacitors for smartphones.
"They overlap the Balaio Indigenous land and it would cause major impacts in Indigenous communities by clearing forests responsible for providing food, raw materials and regulating the local climate," Siqueira-Gay explained.
She says scientific good practice guidelines offer a blueprint for sustainable mining that adheres to human rights and protects forests. Quarries in South America — and especially Brazil — funded by multilaterial banks like the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group have to follow these guidelines, Siqueira-Gay said.
They force companies to develop sustainable water supply, minimize acid exposure and re-vegetate mined surfaces. "First, negative impacts must be avoided, then minimized and at last compensated — not the other way around."
Reposted with permission from DW.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Sam Baker
What really makes this reporter's stomach churn thinking about climate change? Thawing permafrost. A scenario where it all melts, releasing copious amounts of CO2 and methane (it holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere holds right now), and there's no going back.
But what's at the top of the list of concerns for those who study how climate change is unfolding – on ice sheets and urban street corners, in oceans and farm fields – the climate scientists themselves?
DW asked a dozen experts spanning climatology, entomology, oceanography and yes, permafrost research, what keeps them up at night when it comes to the climate.
The Greatest Unknown – People
Nana Ama Browne Klutse studies changing weather with climate models at the University of Ghana. While she says tipping points like permafrost thaw worry her, she also worries how individuals will handle changing climates.
"What can you do as an individual to avoid the impact of climate change?" she asked. "We need government policies for resilience, building of community, city resilience. Then we need that global action."
Climate scientist Ruth Mottram studies the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and sea level rise for the Danish Meteorological Institute, but it's not the science that worries her.
"I'm less concerned that there are unknown processes going on that we don't understand, and there could potentially be some unforeseen catastrophe on the way," she said. "We know what a lot of the impacts are going to be. I think what keeps me awake at night in a metaphorical sense is really the interaction between the physical system and how human societies are going to handle it."
Giving the example of sea level, she says we will see a meter rise this century — in our lifetimes or that of our children — and will have to make tough decisions about our coastal cities. But she says it won't end there.
"I think that human societies have not really grasped what that means and that adaptation to sea level rise is going to be a long process and we are going to be doing it for hundreds of years," said Mottram, suggesting that we start thinking in terms of the lifetimes of cities (hundreds of years) rather than just human lifetimes.
Protecting the Vulnerable
Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Permafrost Laboratory, said that while he thinks about how what happens in the Arctic will affect the rest of the world, his concerns are much more local.
"We should remember that there are still some people living in the Arctic," he said. Around 4 million people in fact who would have to deal with the real-life consequences of solid ground thawing beneath their feet and houses. "Changes in these local or regional kind of climates and environments, they impact these people and some of these impacts could be very severe."
Closer to the planet's other pole, Carolina Vera fears that existing inequalities will only be exacerbated by climate change.
"Climate change is already impacting the most vulnerable sectors of our planet," said Vera, who studies climate variability as a principal researcher for the National Council of Science of Argentina, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and chief of staff for Argentina's Ministry of Science and Technology. Her work has led her to incorporate local knowledge and data collection into studies, involving communities that are balancing the problems of deforestation with their need to farm.
Heat and New Extremes
Perhaps not surprisingly, global heating is a key concern for many researchers, like Dim Coumou, who studies extreme weather at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Of most concern to him are heat and humidity extremes in the tropics – especially highly populated parts like West Africa, Pakistan and India – which will make it unbearable to be outside. When cooling down by sweating is no longer possible, people can't work outside and therefore can't grow food. The likely result being mass migration.
But it's not just the tropics.
Closely related to heat is the increase in extreme weather brought on by a warming climate. Coumou and his colleagues' research shows how changes to the jet stream will lead to more extreme weather in Europe, including floods and droughts.
This increase in extreme weather is climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker's biggest climate concern.
"A warmer atmosphere can hold more water in it and when it rains, it rains heavily leading to floods. A warmer ocean can lead to stronger tropical cyclones," said Babiker, who works for the East African Climate Center ICPAC in Nairobi. He explained that cyclones gain more energy from warmer water.
"We have seen evidence of all these events," he said. "The strongest tropical cyclones to impact the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, and Mozambique occurred in the past 20 years!"
Science for Solutions
Pests, drought and flooding are on Esther Ngumbi's mind too.
An entomologist and professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she said that what keeps her up at night is the thought: "How can my science truly help?"
Ngumbi's work on pest and drought-resistant crops is driven by her concerns for vulnerable farmers who live in countries lacking social safety nets, where one season of crop devastation due to insects can mean going hungry and being unable to pay for their children's education.
"That truly makes me wake up every day and go to the lab to understand how my research can contribute to solutions that we need," she said.
Natasha Picone – an urban climatologist at the National University of Central Buenos Aires – says it's the solutions that occupy her thoughts too.
"With the pandemic, I realized that we are not doing enough for changing our cities to be more livable," she said. Her research informs urban planners about phenomena such as the urban heat island effect, air pollution and urban run-off that can lead to flooding. "If we don't change the path now, it will be really difficult to go back."
Weighing on the mind of oceanographer Renata Hanae Nagai at the University of Parana in Brazil is her four-year-old nephew and what his life will look like in a warmer world, but he also gives her hope. During a recent trip to the beach to watch nesting turtles, he warned others to leave the turtles alone.
She sees this same care in her students – learning about problems and coming up with solutions.
"People are the solution," she said. "We try, even under the hardest conditions."
'Scientists are Humans' Too
"For me, that's like morally totally unacceptable what they do – they lie," said the climate physicist from Maynooth University in Ireland, reflecting on encountering such people at public talks. "I mean, you can't argue with climate."
But this only pushes Caesar to better communicate what the science shows.
They Worry About Us
A common thread of this (rather unscientific) survey is that while we laypeople might be worrying about what the science says, climate scientists are often worrying about us.
"Scientists always think about what are the results of their studies, how are they important for, you know, for usual people, for normal people," the permafrost scientist told me. While doing his research, Romanovsky said he's always thinking about "how this could be used to make life of people easier or more predictable."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
A new study published Wednesday found that the destruction of primary forest increased by 12% in 2020, impacting ecosystems that store vast amounts of carbon and shelter abundant biodiversity.
Brazil saw the worst losses, three times higher than the next highest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the report from Global Forest Watch (GFW) citing satellite data.
The driving factor of deforestation has been a combination of a demand for commodities, increased agriculture, and climate change.
2020 was meant to be a "landmark year" in the fight against deforestation in which companies, countries and international organizations had pledged to halve or completely stop forest loss, said the report.
What Were the Main Takeaways?
The report, which included data from the University of Maryland, study cited in the report registered the destruction of 10.4 million acres (4.2 million hectares) of primary forest.
The loss of tree cover ー which refers to plantations as well as natural forest ー was a total of 30 million acres. Australia saw a ninefold increase in tree cover loss from late 2019 to early 2020 compared to 2018 primarily driven by extreme weather.
Heat and drought also stoked huge fires in Siberia and deep into the Amazon, researchers said.
The findings did, however, show signs of hope, particularly in southeast Asia. Indonesia and Malaysia saw downward trends for deforestation after implementing regulations such as a temporary palm oil license ban — although that is set to expire in 2021.
Researchers Voice Concern
These losses constitute a "climate emergency. They're a biodiversity crisis, a humanitarian disaster, and a loss of economic opportunity," said Frances Seymour of the World Resources Institute, which is behind the
The destruction of tropical forests released vast amounts of CO2 in 2020, a total of 2.6 million tons. That equals the annual amount of emissions from India's 570 million cars, researchers said.
COVID's Impact on Deforestation
The study suggested that COVID-19 restrictions may have had an effect when it came to illegal harvesting because forests were less protected or the return of large numbers of people to rural areas.
Researchers, however, said that little had changed when it comes to the trajectory of forest destruction. They warned the worst could still be to come if countries slash protections in an attempt to ramp up economic growth, hampered by the pandemic.
If deforestation goes unchecked it could lead to a negative feedback loop ー where trees lost leads to more carbon in the air, which in turn leads to increased climate change impacts leading to more trees being lost, researchers said.
The aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic could offer and opportunity to reimagine policies and economies in a way that protects forest before it is too late, the report suggests.
Seymour said the most "ominous signal" from the 2020 data is the instances of forests themselves falling victim to climate change.
"The longer we wait to stop forestation, and get other sectors on to net zero trajectories, the more likely it is that our natural carbon sinks will go up in smoke," she said.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Richard Connor
Japanese cherry blossom lovers have been seeing their favorite time of year come ever earlier in recent times, with 2021 proving to be a record year.
The nation's favorite flower, called "sakura" — at one time very much an April phenomenon — has started to burst into bloom regularly in late March.
Peak bloom in the ancient capital of Kyoto was reached on March 26 this year, the earliest since the Japan Meteorological Agency started collecting the data in 1953.
The date is 10 days ahead of the 30-year average, with similar records set this year in more than a dozen cities across Japan.
The flowers have been a strong influence on Japanese culture for centuries. They are regularly used in poetry and literature and their fragility is viewed as a symbol of life, death and rebirth.
Hanami viewing parties, with picnics — often with alcohol — are often organized beneath the trees.
The Japanese government this week lifted a COVID virus state of emergency in the Tokyo area. However, city governor Yuriko Koike still warned residents to "avoid cherry blossom viewing parties" to prevent a coronavirus resurgence.
Indicator for Climate Change
Blossom-loving experts say this year's bloom is the earliest peak bloom ever in Kyoto, based on records from old documents, diaries and poetry books from the city.
Osaka Prefecture University environmental scientist Yasuyuki Aono told the AP news agency that he believed the earliest blooms before this year had been on March 27. Those had been in the years 1612, 1409, and 1236, although records are missing for some years.
The Japan Meteorological Agency tracks 58 "benchmark" cherry trees across the country. The trees are sensitive to temperature changes. The timing of their blooming can provide valuable data for climate change studies.
"We can say it's most likely because of the impact of the global warming," Shunji Anbe, an official at the agency's observations division, told the Associated Press.
Data shows that the average temperature for March in Kyoto has climbed to 10.6 degrees Celsius (51.1 F) in 2020 from 8.6 Celsius in 1953.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Cities around the globe dimmed their lights for an hour on Saturday, to mark Earth Hour. The annual event organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) encourages countries to dim their lights for an hour starting at 8:30 p.m. local time.
This year, organizers said they wanted to highlight the link between the destruction of nature and increasing outbreaks of diseases like COVID-19.
Experts are of the opinion that human activity, such as widespread deforestation, destruction of animals' habitats and climate change, is spurring an increase in the incidence of disease, and warn more pandemics could occur if nothing is done.
Cities Across the World Go Dark
The Asia Pacific kicked off the event, by turning off their lights at night time. New Zealand was the first to do so, with Auckland's Sky Tower and Wellington's parliament buildings switching off their power.
In Europe, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, Paris' Eiffel Tower, and the Vatican's Saint Peter's Basilica also hit the light switch. Other cities that celebrated included Tokyo, Sydney, Moscow, New Delhi, and London.
"#EarthHour reminds us that small actions can make a great difference for our planet," tweeted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
"Whether it is a decline in pollinators, fewer fish in the ocean and rivers, disappearing forests or the wider loss of biodiversity, the evidence is mounting that nature is in free fall. Protecting nature is our moral responsibility but losing it also increases our vulnerability to pandemics, accelerates climate change, and threatens our food security," said Marco Lambertini, director-general of the WWF.
"One hour is not enough for us to remember that climate change is actually a problem — I don't really see (Earth Hour) as very significant," he added.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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NASA's Mars Ingenuity helicopter will make the first attempt at powered, controlled test flight on another planet in early April, the U.S. space agency said on Tuesday.
If all goes to plan, the flights will be considered a proof of concept that could revolutionize space exploration.
Such future aircraft would shorten expedition times and enable rugged terrain research.
What Is Ingenuity and How It Got to Mars
Ingenuity is a tiny helicopter that weighs 1.8 kilograms (approximately 4 pounds). Despite its small size, it came with a hefty price tag, costing NASA around $85 million (€71.7 million) to develop.
The small detachable aircraft hitched a ride to Mars on the underside of NASA's Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February.
When Will We Know About the Flight?
The helicopter is currently making its way across the planet to the test flight "airfield" strapped to the rover.
NASA did not provide a specific date for the first flight, but the mission's chief engineer Bob Balaram said it could take place around April 8.
The helicopter has been developed to fly in an atmosphere that is 1% the density of Earth's, which makes achieving lift harder. It will be assisted by a gravity that is one-third of planet Earth's. Its rotor blades would need to spin about five times faster to achieve the same amount of lift as back on our home planet.
Its first flight will involve climbing at a rate of about one meter (three feet) per second to a height of three meters, hovering there for 30 seconds, then descending back to the surface.
The Mars helicopter will also take high-resolution photography as it flies.
Up to five increasingly higher and longer flights are planned over the course of a month.
A 'Wright Brothers' Moment for Space Travel
If all goes to plan, the test flight will mark a "Wright brothers' moment," noted Bobby Braun, director for planetary science at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, referencing the pioneers of aviation.
To show the significance of the upcoming flights, Balaram revealed for the first time on Tuesday that Ingenuity is carrying a small piece of cloth that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers' first aircraft that achieved the first powered flight on Earth in 1903.
Ingenuity's Brother to Head to Titan
The first helicopter has yet to leave the ground but a second such experiment is already in the works: Dragonfly, a rotorcraft-lander, will launch in 2026 and arrive at Saturn's icy moon Titan in 2034.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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By Stuart Braun
The melting of the polar ice caps has often been portrayed as a tsunami-inducing Armageddon in popular culture. In the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, the warming Gulf Stream and North Atlantic currents cause rapid polar melting. The result is a massive wall of ocean water that swamps New York City and beyond, killing millions in the process. And like the recent polar vortex in the Northern Hemisphere, freezing air then rushes in from the poles to spark another ice age.
The premise is obviously ridiculous. Or is it? Rapid glacial retreat in Alaska in 2015 did in fact trigger a huge landslide and a mega tsunami that was nearly 650 feet high when it hit shore. Few knew or cared because it luckily happened at the end of the Earth where no one was living.
Many of us might believe we won't be directly impacted by the breakup of trillions of tons of ice due to global heating. We figure that unless we live on a small island in the Pacific, or have a house on the beach, it's not our problem.
Or Is It?
While it's true that the glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets covering 10% of the Earth's land mass are mostly in the middle of nowhere, their rapid breakup has a cascading effect.
Consider how all the extra fresh water in the ocean is diluting salt levels. And how that messes with the balance of the Gulf Stream, one of the world's most important ocean currents. The result is climate extremes, especially tropical storms and hurricanes in places like the Gulf of Mexico, but also more frequent floods and droughts on both sides of the Atlantic. It's gonna suck for a lot of people.
To put this meltdown in context, the rate of ice sheet retreat has increased nearly 60% since the 1990s. That's a 28 trillion ton net loss of ice between 1994 and 2017. Antarctica's epic ice sheet, the world's largest, and the world's mountain glaciers have suffered half of this loss.
OK, That Sounds Like a Lot — But So What?
Again, it's the domino effect that's worrying. With temperatures rising twice as fast in the Arctic — the world's air conditioner — than anywhere else on the planet, the heat is not just melting ice. It's also weakening atmospheric air currents known as the jet stream. In other words, more bad news for the weather.
The polar vortexes that have been freezing Europe and North America in recent years are related to a weakened polar jet stream — a scenario that triggered the sudden ice age in The Day After Tomorrow.
The cold might be welcome as the planet heats up, but here's the thing: Arctic regions are heating up, too. Which means the ice that's supposed to be reflecting the sun's energy away from Earth isn't as much anymore, leaving the sea to absorb this heat.
No surprise then that in 2018 the winter ice sheet in the Bering Sea bordering Alaska was at its lowest levels in over 5,000 years.
Fish, sea bird, seal and polar bear habitats are also disappearing with the ice. Indigenous communities in the Arctic who once hunted in a thriving frozen ecosystem are being upended — their houses are also falling in the sea as the lack of ice causes the coast to erode.
Sure, it's an underpopulated part of the world. But consider also the rapid thaw of permafrost on the Siberian tundra. One of the world's biggest carbon sinks, the tundra is now releasing greenhouse gases like methane that were long trapped below the frost.
Some scientists have predicted that by century's end, 40% of permafrost regions will have disappeared, meaning they will no longer retain, but will also release carbon dioxide — and we're talking more than is already in the atmosphere right now. As global heating is turbocharged, bye bye to more ice.
Which leads us to the elephant in the room: rising sea levels.
How Bad Could Rising Sea Levels Get?
So let's start with the worst-case scenario — and remember the culprit here would be ice sheets and glaciers on land.
If the fast-retreating Antarctic ice sheet, the world's largest, completely melted, the world's oceans would rise by about 60 meters (about 200 feet). That would be Armageddon and London, Venice, Mumbai and New York would become aquariums.
Don't panic, though, this won't happen any time soon. But if emissions aren't sufficiently scaled back to mitigate climate change, some researchers reckon oceans will definitely rise by at least 2 meters by the end of the century. That's still enough to swamp the several hundred million people living below 5 meters above sea level. Another 350 million or so living higher up would have to relocate to escape regular coastal flooding.
Can't People Just Move?
Maybe, but that wouldn't be the end of it. The world's mountain glaciers, which number roughly 200,000, are melting much faster than they can accumulate these days. Problem is, though they only cover less than 0.5% of the Earth's landmass, these "water towers" provide fresh water to about a quarter of the world's population.
Glaciers also feed the rivers that irrigate the crops which hundreds of millions of people across Asia, South America and Europe depend on for their survival. So without them, many people will suffer from both thirst and hunger. Scientists say water tower retreat has put almost 2 billion people at risk of water scarcity.
Right now, cities like Santiago in Chile are watching a big part of their drinking water supply literally dry up as glaciers in the nearby Andes retreat. Meanwhile, the European Alps that supply so much fresh water across the region have shrunk by about half since 1900 and will be almost ice free by century's end if nothing more is done to curb warming.
OK, Is There Anything That We Can Do?
Like global heating in general, the best way to mitigate the meltdown is to stop polluting the atmosphere with global warming-inducing carbon.
Of course, the process can't be reversed overnight. Even if people across the world stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, one-third of the world's remaining glaciers would still disappear.
So to save some amount of precious polar and glacial ice, we need to avoid the temperature rise of over 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) that the UN says is inevitable if governments don't step up climate targets. If the world can decarbonize by 2050, it might be possible to preserve around one-third of the current glacial mass by century's end. That would take both government action and a radical commitment to reduce our individual carbon footprint.
The future remains uncertain. But it's likely that if melting isn't slowed real soon, disaster movie scenarios might not look so ridiculous to future generations.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Natalie Muller
Trees soak up carbon from the atmosphere, provide a home to wildlife and even improve our mental well-being. But did you know they can also "talk" to each other, and send out distress signals when under attack?
1. 60,000 Different Species
There are around 3 trillion trees on Earth, according to a global study led by researchers from Yale University. That includes over 60,000 known tree species, more than half of which are endemic — meaning they're found in only one country. Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia are home to the most tree species. The bad news: there are 46% fewer trees today than at the start of human civilization.
2. Trees 'Migrate' to Escape Climate Change
Trees clearly can't uproot themselves and move, but their population centers can shift over time in response to climate pressures. A study looking at 86 trees species between 1980 and 2015 in the eastern United States found that 73% moved west, where rainfall is increasing. Others headed to the poles, apparently to escape heat. On average, they moved about 16 kilometers (10 miles) per decade.
3. Keeping Cities Cool
Trees not only give us shade, they can also mitigate extreme temperatures by transpiring — absorbing the sun's radiation and releasing water into the air through their leaves. Urban areas can become sweltering "heat islands" in summer. But a 2019 study from the US found that tree canopy cover of 40% or more could lower summer temperatures in cities by as much as 5 degrees Celsius.
4. Sucking Up Pollutants
Trees draw CO2 from the atmosphere and are therefore crucial in the fight against climate change. They can also use their leaves to filter particulate matter and toxic gases like nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide from the air. A recent UK study found that silver birch, yew and elder trees could reduce particles at rates of 79%, 71% and 70% respectively.
5. Healing Power
Trees can reduce our stress levels and help us feel happier and healthier. Several studies have shown that spending time in nature, or even just looking at trees or flowers through a window, can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, improve sleep, reduce depression and anxiety, and even speed up recovery after surgery.
6. Trees 'Talk' to Each Other
Forests have their own communication systems — almost like an underground internet —that allows trees to swap nutrients and send warnings about drought or disease. They interact via networks of soil fungi, known as mycorrhizal networks. Research by ecologist Suzanne Simard has shown that paper birch (pictured) and fir trees use this system to send water, carbon and nutrients back and forth.
7. Sending Signals in the Air
Trees can't flee if their leaves are being devoured by a hungry herbivore. But what they can do is release chemicals — volatile organic compounds — into the air to warn nearby members of the same species there's a threat in the area. Studies show that other trees respond by boosting their own production of anti-herbivore toxins, which, in the case of acacias (pictured), makes their leaves bitter.
8. Call for Backup
When besieged by bugs or parasites, some species, including apple trees, and tomato, cucumber and lima bean plants, release compounds into the air to alert the attackers' predator. Most often, these predators are insects. But a European study showed that trees infested with caterpillars also put out chemical signals to attract caterpillar-eating birds, such as the great tit (pictured).
9. Methuselah Has Lived Through a Lot
Trees are the oldest living organisms on Earth. One individual can survive hundreds, even thousands of years. According to the OldList, an officially dated record of ancient trees, the oldest known living individual is a bristlecone pine in California's White Mountains. Named Methuselah, it's around 4,850 years old. Its exact location is kept a secret to protect it from vandals.
10. Hyperion, the Giant
A photograph can't really do justice to the world's tallest trees: redwoods. The tallest known living specimen is a coast redwood called Hyperion measuring 115.85 meters (380 feet) — more than Big Ben or the Statue of Liberty. The giant, discovered in 2006 in California, is believed to be several hundred years old.
11. Other Record Breakers
California is also home to a giant sequoia named General Sherman, thought to be the biggest living tree in terms of volume. It stretches to a height of 83.8 meters and is 7.7 meters in diameter. The title of the world's widest tree goes to the Arbol del Tule (pictured), a Montezuma cypress in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It has a diameter of 11.6 meters and a circumference of 42 meters.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
Rural communities in the Australian state of New South Wales are battling a "plague" of mice that has struck the region.
Thousands of mice are invading grain silos, barns and homes and infesting the farmers' bumper grain harvest.
Farmers Share Mice 'Plague' Impact on Social Media
Videos captured on the Moeris family farm in Gilgandra — a five-hour drive northwest of Sydney — show thousands of mice scurrying from under pipes, through storage columns and over machinery.
"Winter crop sowing is at risk and there is a human health impact," the NSW Young Farmers association warned in a tweet, alongside a video showing mice running through hay bales.
#Mice numbers are exploding in many parts of NSW. Haystacks are being destroyed, silos invaded, winter crop sowing… https://t.co/leJr2VXuIj— NSW Young Farmers (@NSW Young Farmers)1615934579.0
"Mice are still causing nightmares for farmers and rural communities," the NSW Farmers association tweeted.
Mice are still causing nightmares for farmers and rural communities in many parts of NSW, as evidenced by this frid… https://t.co/gORpjIjGx2— NSW Farmers (@NSW Farmers)1615764660.0
"At night... the ground is just moving with thousands and thousands of mice just running around" farmer Ron Mckay told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
The Impact of the Mice Plague
Australia's ABC reported three hospital patients in regional New South Wales have been bitten by mice.
There was one report of a rare mouse-related illness known as lymphocytic choriomeningitis [LCM] in the region, ABC reported, quoting the region's Western Local Health District.
Farmers are also concerned the mice will destroy this year's harvest.
How Farmers Plan to Combat the Mice
Farmers in New South Wales (NSW) have asked the government for help to combat the "drastic increase" in mice.
The NSW Farmers Association wants emergency permission to lay down the pesticide zinc phosphide to treat their grain.
"This mice situation is only getting worse," NSW Farmers President James Jackson said.
Reposted with permission from DW.
By Martin Kuebler
When Fridays for Future (FFF) takes to the streets on March 19, activists around the world are going to be doing everything they can to make sure the climate crisis stays in the news.
In the Netherlands, 16-year-old Erik Christiansson will join a small physically distanced protest in The Hague with other Dutch FFF members.
Meanwhile, some 12,000 kilometers to the south in Zambia, a 26-year-old man named Chilekwa Kangwa will give a radio interview highlighting the importance of education and sustainable agriculture.
Across the Atlantic and eight time zones away, Adriana Calderon, an 18-year-old Mexican, will be deploying a sticker campaign in support of renewable energy and targeting the massive global K-pop fan base on social media, in the hope that the FFF message goes viral.
"The big marches with tens of thousands of people which we had in 2019 are just not possible anymore," said Christiansson, 16, speaking with DW from his home near Utrecht.
Over the past year, he and other young activists around the globe have tried to adapt and come up with new virtual approaches to get the message out — a #DigitalStrike from online class, for example, or social media posts with eye-catching slogans.
School strike week 82. In a crisis we change our behaviour and adapt to the new circumstances for the greater good… https://t.co/OHNXdFHsj9— Greta Thunberg (@Greta Thunberg)1584087062.0
Overall, though, it's been a struggle. "We noticed that it's been a lot less effective," said Christiansson, who has been involved with climate advocacy for about two years. "On social media, often your posts get seen by other people who already agree with you and you don't really get that much attention from outside."
Calderon has also found it difficult to share her climate concerns under Mexico's emergency coronavirus measures. Speaking with passersby at an in-person march, she said, you may have several minutes to get your message across. Online, that attention span shrinks to just seconds.
"With social media, it's very hard — you have to be really precise in your words," she said. Her local FFF group, based in Cuernavaca, Morelos, found it too difficult to carry on under the quarantine measures and shut down its social media presence in November.
Has the Pandemic Weakened Friday's for Future?
Still, Friday's for Future has managed to continue. But can it regain the momentum it once had?
"Visible public events are undeniably the foundation for a social movement — to mobilize people, to mobilize support and to gain public attention. And this is definitely missing," said Jens Marquardt, a postdoctoral researcher in climate change politics and societal transformation at Stockholm University.
While it was inevitable that some media coverage would drop off in 2020 once the movement's novelty had worn off, he believes the pandemic has hit FFF particularly hard and made it difficult for the movement to get its message out. But that hasn't necessarily been detrimental, said Darrick Evensen, a professor of environmental politics at the University of Edinburgh.
"It's a very different world because of the coronavirus pandemic and the manifestation of climate activism has certainly evolved — necessarily so because of the lack of opportunities for in-person interaction," he said.
Christiansson agrees. Stuck at home in the Netherlands under lockdown, Christiansson helped produce some webinars for the FFF YouTube channel and began chatting with other activists his age abroad.
"We've talked a lot more internationally than we did before, when everyone was focused on their own strikes and their national politics," he said. "Since we were communicating with everyone online already, it was easy to get connections with people in other countries as well."
Evensen points out that it's not just the medium of the message that's changing, either — the message itself has evolved over the last year. Global strikes like the one set for this Friday aren't just stressing the climate emergency; talking points now include worker welfare, climate justice and the role of civil society in climate decision-making.
"The rhetoric is changing," said Evensen. "It does seem that this really heavy focus on science is waning, and it's become more of a blended image in terms of the interests that are that are being represented."
This shift in focus could be linked to the secondary effects of the pandemic and a heightened perception of risk, both in terms of our health and the health of the planet, he said, adding, "People are maybe spending more time outside, people are thinking more about their interaction with the natural world."
Evensen was part of a recent UK study showing that climate concerns haven't diminished during the pandemic, as they did during the last global financial crisis in 2008 — and he said he was seeing similar data in other parts of the world. In some cases, respondents even identified climate change as a bigger threat than the virus.
"It is actually quite astonishing to see that this [FFF] movement has been so resilient and robust, despite this massive crisis," said Marquardt. "This year of reflection has been helpful in shaping the agenda about what this movement is about and what this movement wants to achieve in the future."
More Space for Marginalized Voices
Marquardt said the pandemic has also given FFF the chance to bring in marginalized voices. At the last global strike on September 25 the movement emphasized the "most affected people and areas," or MAPA, a new term for the areas of the world that will be disproportionately harmed by climate change, in an attempt to bring them into the global debate.
"Of course, you still have some imbalance, in terms of basic internet access, ways of communicating, who speaks for whom. [But] the pandemic has very much increased cooperation and also exchange between different national and local activist groups," he said.
Adriana Calderon, who joined FFF in Mexico about a year ago just as the world was shutting down, has thrown herself into virtual campaigns on social media and YouTube, coordinating global support for MAPA. Before the pandemic, she said, people in the Global South lacked this dedicated community to express themselves among people who understood their concerns.
"Today, there are more than a hundred activists, and we are like a community. We have calls on Saturdays, we have our own social media. We plan together what we want to do, and we ally with other groups to make campaigns," she said. "There was a community before, but now I think the international community is doing more because we were forced to move to digital, forced to interact with other groups. And I can see how much the movement has grown since last year."
'We Can't Stop Here'
Taking part of that growth has been Chilekwa Kangwa, a 26-year-old from Mpika in northeastern Zambia. Kangwa, who founded the Action for Nature conservation and development group in 2017, only got involved with FFF recently. But he has already linked up with several campaigners in other countries to swap stories about sustainable agriculture and other issues relevant for his region.
"Climate change affects people in different ways," he said, adding that this global exchange through MAPA can help his community, and others, find the tools needed to fight climate change and transform livelihoods. "What should be done now is that we must begin to listen to one another."
On Friday, Zambia's less restrictive coronavirus measures will allow Kangwa to take part in a march in Mpika with many excited young students, the first such FFF event in his community. That's an experience that Calderon hopes will soon be possible in her part of the world, too.
"People miss physically going on strike," she said. But she thinks that when the world begins to emerge from the COVID restrictions, the digital advances of the last year won't be forgotten. "At the end of the day, we will still be using both. We have developed so much, and we can't stop here."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Gero Rueter
Proven technologies for a net-zero energy system already largely exist today, according to a report published Tuesday by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The report predicts that renewable power, green hydrogen and modern bioenergy will shape the way we power the world in 2050.
Adopting such solutions would set world leaders on track to meet their target of keeping the planet from heating by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels this century, according to the World Energy Transitions Outlook report. The UN had warned in November that pledges to meet this goal were so far "woefully inadequate."
"The window of opportunity to achieve the 1.5 C Paris Agreement goal is closing fast," said Francesco La Camera, the director-general of IRENA. "The gap between where we are and where we should be is not decreasing, but widening. We are heading in the wrong direction."
Instead, IRENA — an intergovernmental organization based in Abu Dhabi made up of 162 countries and the European Union — calls for a change in direction and a dramatic acceleration of the energy transition as countries walk the "narrow tightrope" toward the 1.5 C target.
Global Turnaround Through Green Power
That would make it the main energy source in the world, powering more than 80% of all vehicles. Heating would mainly be provided by heat pumps, whose number is set to rise 20-fold by 2050 to around 400 million.
To stay in line with climate targets, coal-fired power plants would have to be shut down and no new ones built. Ninety percent of electricity would have to come from renewable sources, mainly sun and wind, with a global installed capacity of photovoltaics almost 30 times greater than in 2018. There would have to be 14 times the wind power, and hydropower would have to double.
Fossil gas and nuclear energy, meanwhile, would make up 4% and 6% of electricity generated, respectively.
But, even with such an expansion of renewables and a drop in fossil fuels, the report relies on removing CO2 from the atmosphere to meet climate goals. This includes reforesting areas in which trees have been hacked down or burned, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere by growing plants, and capturing it from industrial sites and injecting it underground. The technology to capture carbon and store it is expensive, and exists only at a small scale.
Major Challenge, But Possible
To meet climate goals, the report assumed a globally available budget of 500 billion tons of CO2 for the current scenario. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if no more than this amount is released into the atmosphere, the world has a half-chance of warming 1.5 C and missing the target.
But, for a two-thirds chance of avoiding that level of warming, even more CO2 would have to be kept out of the atmosphere. According to the IPCC, total emissions would have to be limited to about 285 billion tons. Around 42 billion tons of CO2 are emitted by the energy and agricultural sectors every single year.
"A scenario like the one presented by IRENA is conceivable," said Christian Breyer, a professor of solar economics at LUT University in Finland, who was not involved in the study. Breyer criticized the report for its high CO2 budget and reliance on technologies to remove emissions rather than stop them in the first place.
In addition, he said, the benefits "of extremely low-cost solar electricity have not yet been fully incorporated into the scenario, but very expensive system solutions such as nuclear power and biomass with CO2 capture."
Economic Stimulus to Bring Jobs
That turnaround has already begun.
Global oil consumption will continue to fall in the coming years, and fossil gas is set to join it in 2025. "Financial markets are already reflecting this change by shifting capital away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable assets like renewables," La Camera said.
Echoing warnings from the UN last year, IRENA said that stimulus packages in the wake of the pandemic must be used strategically to meet the 1.5 C target. Doing so would also help employment. The report projects that investing in the energy transition will create close to three times more jobs than fossil fuels for every million dollars spent.
"While the pathway is daunting, several favorable elements can make it achievable," La Camera said. "Major economies accounting for over half of global CO2 emissions are turning carbon-neutral. Global capital is moving, too."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.