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After millions of years of gloriously successful life on Earth, a dangerous new organism arose and spread rapidly across the planet. Mankind? No. Two billion years ago the delinquent organisms were cyanobacteria, the first photosynthetic life forms to give off pure oxygen gas, a chemical deadly to all extant organisms. There may be surprising parallels between the, eventually positive, cyanobacteria impact 2 billion years ago and human impact today. Human beings too are a self-inflicted biosphere disaster in progress, but, in the extremely long-term, we could be just what the planet needs. We have much to learn before we become guardians rather than despoilers of Earth. If our destiny is to safeguard life’s future, it’s time our apprenticeship began.
The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report. In the starkest language the IPCC has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.
Six years after the Lehman disaster, the industrialized world is suffering from Japan Syndrome. Growth is minimal, another crash may be brewing and the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen. Can the global economy reinvent itself?
The phrase “Silk Road” evokes a romantic image – half history, half myth – of tented camel caravans winding their way across the trackless deserts and mountains of Central Asia. But the Silk Road is not just part of a fabled past; it is an important feature of China’s current foreign policy.
So, there’s this widely used class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that have emerged as a prime suspect in honeybee collapse, and may also be harming birds and water-borne critters. But at least they provide benefits to farmers, right? Well, not soybean farmers, according to a blunt economic assessment released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The dangers of climate change have grown and become palpable in myriad ways but nations have made little progress. In fact, having put the car in reverse, they are accelerating in the wrong direction. The planet has a big problem. I’m here to argue that divestment from fossil fuel companies is an important strategy for fiduciaries of all types to pursue. Divestment by any group, but particularly by thought leaders such as those responsible for public pension funds, helps to stigmatize the oil, gas and coal giants as repugnant social pariahs and rogue political forces bent on profit at whatever cost to the planet and its people.
It is clear that the current drought event in California is an extreme event, and that it is resulting from a complex confluence of interacting climatic conditions. And it is also clear, given the dramatic and far-reaching impacts, that effective management of climate-related risks requires rigorous, objective assessment of the probability of this kind of extreme event in the current climate.
Between 1970 and 2010 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe dropped 52 percent, says the 2014 Living Planet Report released today by World Wildlife Fund. This biodiversity loss occurs disproportionately in low-income countries—and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries. The report’s data also point to other warning signs about the overall health of the planet.
The State of the Birds report, the most comprehensive review of bird trends and data ever undertaken in the US, makes clear that birds across the US are in deep trouble. Almost half of all shorebird species, such as ruddy turnstones, red knots and piping plovers, are either endangered or at risk of becoming endangered. In Hawaii the situation is even worse. “Hawaii is the extinction capital of the world,” says Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center.
For all their superhero powers, birds are in trouble. Globally, one in eight—more than 1,300 species—are threatened with extinction, and many others are in worrying decline, from the tropics to the poles. Much of their decline is driven by the loss of places to live and breed—their marshes, rivers, forests, and plains—or by diminished food supply. But more and more these days, the birds are telling us about new threats to the environment and potentially to human health in the coded language of biochemistry. Birds provide the starkest clues in the animal kingdom about whether humans, too, may be harmed by toxic substances. And they prophesy what might happen to us as the load of carbon-based, planet-warming gases in the atmosphere and oceans climbs ever higher.
A few months ago, the international food manufacturing giant General Mills was branded a “clear laggard” by climate activists for not doing enough to cut its carbon footprint. Today, Oxfam International is claiming big victory: General Mills has released a new set of climate policies that Oxfam says makes it “the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term science-based targets to cut emissions.”
Around the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade. For bees and the plants they pollinate this is a catastrophe. But in the midst of crisis can come learning. Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.
Given their immense wealth and how they got it — politicized kickbacks from the most powerful political forces in Washington, on Wall Street and around the globe — the Clintons would do well to admit that they are unusually wealthy and stop trying to pass themselves off as ordinary folks. If they don’t, their fate may very well resemble Romney’s.
To look for aliens, most people peer towards the sky. But if you look down, you’ll discover they already live among us. These aliens have brains, like we do, but they’re mostly inside their arms, and each arm acts as if it has a mind of its own – the aliens are cephalopods. The kinds of decisions that octopus arms can make on their own, such as those involved in self recognition and in complex camouflage, appear to be more complex than simple pain avoidance, and in addition to their arms’ impressive sensory abilities, cephalopods have excellent vision, are capable of generating and storing both short-term and long-term memories, and can learn new tasks with ease. Some species even use tools.
The White House has set up a taskforce to tackle the decline of honey bees. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the agriculture department will lead the effort, which includes $8m (£4.7m) for new honey bee habitats. Bee populations saw a 23% decline last winter, a trend blamed on the loss of genetic diversity, exposure to certain pesticides and other factors.
President Obama on Tuesday will announce his intent to make a broad swath of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities. The proposal, slated to go into effect later this year after a comment period, could create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected. The announcement is part of a broader push on maritime issues by an administration that has generally favored other environmental priorities. On Capitol Hill, some Republicans have sought to limit the administration’s ability to influence offshore activities, viewing it as another attempt by the president to test the limits of White House power.
The World Health Organization has surveyed the growth of antibiotic-resistant germs around the world and come up with disturbing findings. The organization reports on its finding that antimicrobial resistance in bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites is an increasingly serious threat in every part of the world.
Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend three million dollars to help farmers and ranchers improve pastures in five Midwestern states to provide food for the nation’s struggling honeybees. Agricultural production has been threatened by a more than decade-long decline in commercial honeybees and their wild cousins due to habitat loss and pesticide use.
Climate change exists on a time scale not congenial either to media time or to the individual lifetimes of our short-lived species. If the end of the world doesn’t fit well with “the news,” neither does denial. The idea of a futureless humanity is difficult to take in and that has undoubtedly played a role in suppressing the newsiness of climate change.
Easter Island has been thought of as a clear example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources. Two anthropologists now think that may not be what happened, but their alternative view is hardly consoling. On Easter Island, people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more. Maybe that will happen to us. A future in which we continuously degrade our planet, losing plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, cannot be called “success.” To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed – that’s when we’ll act – but the new Easter Island story suggests that humans may never hit the alarm. There’s a lesson here and it’s not a happy one.
Of all the threats looming over the planet today, one of the most alarming is the seemingly inexorable descent of the world’s oceans into ecological perdition. Over the last several decades, human activities have so altered the basic chemistry of the seas that they are now returning to the barren primeval waters of hundreds of millions of years ago. The world faces a choice. We do not have to return to an oceanic Stone Age. Whether we can summon the political will and moral courage to restore the seas to health before it is too late is an open question. The challenge and the opportunity are there.
EPA does not have a reliable system, such as an automated data system, to track key information related to conditional registrations of pesticides, including whether companies have submitted additional data within required time frames. As a result, pesticides with conditional registrations could be marketed for years without EPA’s receipt and review of these data.
Ever since man first picked up a spear, other species have suffered. As his technology improved, so his destructive power increased. In a sense, this orgy of destruction was natural. In the wild, different species compete for resources, and man proved a highly successful competitor. Religion sanctioned his ascendancy. But in recent times attitudes have changed.
A group of scientists led by Dutch conservation expert Frans Schepers has launched a unique experiment centered on the return of the large grazing animals and predators that populated the Continent long ago. The scientists expect the greatest possible diversity of species to develop around the spectacular mammals, including insects, vultures, toads and snakes — all the kinds of animals that were once forced out of their habitats by human activity.
Since it was created by the UN in 1988, the IPCC has synthesized scientific thinking around climate change and delivered a series of consensus assessments to policymakers. But the question is now being asked: Is the IPCC still fit for its purpose? It may do good science, but does it deliver what policymakers need?
Just when you thought genetically modified mosquitoes and mutated dinner entrees were the extent of biotech’s hunger to manipulate the genetic coding of the planet, scientists have now unleashed a plan to launch thousands of ‘frankenfly’ style insects into the wild in order to combat pests.
The idea that an impact caused the Permian extinction has been around for a while. But the abruptness of the extinctions indicates the coup de grâce was administered by something else, and that something was an asteroid or a comet causing a huge burp of methane into the atmosphere making things too hot for much of the planet’s animal life.
Biologist Edward O. Wilson is University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, and author of the books: The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth; The Future of Life; and The Diversity of Life, which describes how man is in the process of causing the “sixth extinction”.