Category Archives: Environment

Climate change: Penalizing those least responsible


While it’s the industrialized nations hat produce the most emissions of greenhouse gases, it’s the poorer nations and other low-emissions countries that will bear the biggest cost as climate change accelerates, according to a new scientific study, as exemplified in these maps:

(a) Climate change equity for 2010. (b) Climate change equity for 2030. Countries with emissions in the highest quintile and vulnerability in the lowest quintile are shown in dark red (the climate free riders), and those countries with emissions in the lowest quintile and vulnerability in the highest quintile are shown in dark green (the climate forced riders). Intermediate levels of equity are shown in graduating colours, with countries in yellow producing GHG emissions concomitant with their vulnerability to the resulting climate change. Data deficient countries are shown as grey. Maps generated using ESRI ArcGIS.

(a) Climate change equity for 2010. (b) Climate change equity for 2030. Countries with emissions in the highest quintile and vulnerability in the lowest quintile are shown in dark red (the climate free riders), and those countries with emissions in the lowest quintile and vulnerability in the highest quintile are shown in dark green (the climate forced riders). Intermediate levels of equity are shown in graduating colours, with countries in yellow producing GHG emissions concomitant with their vulnerability to the resulting climate change. Data deficient countries are shown as grey. Maps generated using ESRI ArcGIS.

Details from the Wildlife Conservation Society:

SECOND HAND SMOKE: Nations That Produce Fewer Greenhouse Gases Most Vulnerable to Climate Change, Study Says

  • Conversely, nations that produce most greenhouse gases less vulnerable
  • Study shows “enormous global inequality” between emitters versus impacted nations
  • Countries like U.S., Canada, Russia, and China are climate “free riders,” which dis-incentivizes mitigating their emissions
  • Problem will worsen in coming decades

A new study by University of Queensland and WCS shows a dramatic global mismatch between nations producing the most greenhouse gases and the ones most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The study shows that the highest emitting countries are ironically the least vulnerable to climate change effects such as increased frequency of natural disasters, changing habitats, human health impacts, and industry stress.

Those countries emitting the least amount of greenhouse gases are most vulnerable.

The majority of the most vulnerable countries are African and Small Island States. These countries are exposed to serious environmental change such as oceanic inundation or desertification. They are also generally the least developed nations, having few resources available to cope with these issues.

“There is an enormous global inequality in which those countries most responsible for causing climate change are the least vulnerable to its effects,” said lead author Glenn Althor of University of Queensland.  “It is time that this persistent and worsening climate inequity is resolved, and for the largest emitting countries to act.”

“This is like a non-smoker getting cancer from second-hand smoke, while the heavy smokers continue to puff away. Essentially we are calling for the smokers to pay for the health care of the non-smokers they are directly harming,” said co-author James Watson of University of Queensland and WCS.

The study found that 20 of the 36 highest emitting countries – including the U.S. Canada, Australia, China, and much of Western Europe – were least vulnerable.  Eleven of the 17 countries with low to moderate emissions were most vulnerable to climate change. Most were found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.  The authors say the finding acts as a disincentive for high-emitting “free-rider” countries to mitigate their emissions.

The number of acutely vulnerable countries will worsen by 2030 say the authors as climate change related pressures such as droughts, floods, biodiversity loss and disease mount.

“The recent Paris agreement was a significant step forward in global climate negotiations” said study co-author Richard Fuller.  “There now needs to be meaningful mobilization of these policies, to achieve national emissions reductions while helping the most vulnerable countries adapt to climate change”.

The study appears today in the journal Scientific Reports [and though it’s from Nature, there’s no paywallesnl].

New study: Organic ag better for feeding the world


Here at esnl, we’ve long believed that agroecology, the science of working with rather than against the natural environment, is the best solution for feeding us big-brained bipeds.

While modern industrial agriculture treats the environment as an externality, something of no value in itself other than as a source of profit, agroecology looks at raising living things for our own consumption as an integral process, in which the environment is to be embraced.

Think of the difference between the two system as similar to the difference between war and peace. In one, nature is seen as something to be conquered; in the other, the natural environment is embraced in a relationship of mutuality.

One way to perceive the relationship is embodied in this chart, from a groundbreaking the study from Washington State University, published in Nature Plants, sadly hidden behind a $35 paywall [and click on the image to enlarge]:

An assessment of organic farming relative to conventional farming illustrates that organic systems better balance the four areas of sustainability.

An assessment of organic farming relative to conventional farming illustrates that organic systems better balance the four areas of sustainability.

The lead author learned agroecology at two University of California campuses, Berkeley and Davis, back when Berkeley had a thriving agroecology program. Sadly, Berkeley has radically downsized agroecology while major corporate grants have transformed the curriculum to one which places heavy emphases on creating GMO crops.

And now for details on the new study, via the Washington State University newsroom:

40 years of science: Organic ag key to feeding the world

Washington State University researchers have concluded that feeding a growing global population with sustainability goals in mind is possible. Their review of hundreds of published studies provides evidence that organic farming can produce sufficient yields, be profitable for farmers, protect and improve the environment and be safer for farm workers.

The review study, “Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century,” is featured as the cover story for the February issue of the journal Nature Plants and was authored by John Reganold, WSU regents professor of soil science and agroecology, and doctoral candidate Jonathan Wachter.

It is the first study to analyze 40 years of science comparing organic and conventional agriculture across the four goals of sustainability identified by the National Academy of Sciences: productivity, economics, environment and community well being.

“Hundreds of scientific studies now show that organic ag should play a role in feeding the world” said lead author Reganold. “Thirty years ago, there were just a couple handfuls of studies comparing organic agriculture with conventional. In the last 15 years, these kinds of studies have skyrocketed.”

Organic production accounts for one percent of global agricultural land, despite rapid growth in the last two decades.

Critics have long argued that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land to yield the same amount of food. The review paper describes cases where organic yields can be higher than conventional farming methods.

“In severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils,” Reganold said.

However, even when yields may be lower, organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. Higher prices can be justified as a way to compensate farmers for providing ecosystem services and avoiding environmental damage or external costs.

Numerous studies in the review also prove the environmental benefits of organic production. Overall, organic farms tend to store more soil carbon, have better soil quality and reduce soil erosion. Organic agriculture creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s more energy efficient because it doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

It is also associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes as well as genetic diversity. Biodiversity increases the services that nature provides, like pollination, and improves the ability of farming systems to adapt to changing conditions.

Reganold said that feeding the world is not only a matter of yield but also requires examining food waste and the distribution of food.

“If you look at calorie production per capita we’re producing more than enough food for 7 billion people now, but we waste 30 to 40 percent of it,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of producing enough, but making agriculture environmentally friendly and making sure that food gets to those who need it.”

Reganold and Wachter suggest that no single type of farming can feed the world. Rather, what’s needed is a balance of systems, “a blend of organic and other innovative farming systems, including agroforestry, integrated farming, conservation agriculture, mixed crop/livestock and still undiscovered systems.”

Reganold and Wachter recommend policy changes to address the barriers that hinder the expansion of organic agriculture. Such hurdles include the costs of transitioning to organic certification, lack of access to labor and markets and lack of appropriate infrastructure for storing and transporting food. Legal and financial tools are necessary to encourage the adoption of innovative, sustainable farming practices.

DroughtWatch: Still parched, but less so


Another week and a little reduction in California’s worst categories of drought, though the entire state remains in on level or another of Uncle Sam’s categories of dehydration.

For the very worst category, Exceptional Drought, there’s a 0.8 percent reduction, a 0.6 percent reduction in the Extreme Drought category, and a 1.07 percent reduction in area deemed to be suffering from Moderate Drought.

From the United States Drought Monitor:

BLOG Drought

Fracking waste impacts poor and minorities


From Environmental Health News:

Poor and minority neighborhoods bear a disproportionate share of fracking wastewater wells in South Texas’ Eagle Ford play, according to a new study.

The findings add to growing evidence that politically marginalized black, Hispanic and poor communities carry more than their share of the nation’s energy waste burden. Fracking wastewater contains potentially harmful chemicals and metals, and has been linked to surface and groundwater contamination and earthquake spikes.

“It’s another example of the environmental racism throughout the country,” said lead author Jill Johnston, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

Industry representatives, however, called the study flawed, and said it provided no evidence that wastewater disposal is actually harming people in these communities.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that uses horizontal drilling and high volume fluid injections to release oil and gas. Along with water, the injections contain sand and a mix of chemicals—some of which have been linked to cancer, hormone impacts, and reproductive problems.

We have a perfect solution. If all the pollution problems that industry says are safe, then let’s make it mandatory that those same one percenters take up residence in areas that are the most impacted by the wastes generated by the companies they run.

We suspect that if such legislation were passed, those same companies would do a lot more to clean up their own messes.

Atlantic carbon dioxide doubles in a decade


And the consequences may be severe.

Increases in anthropogenic CO2 in the Atlantic Ocean between 2003 and 2014.

Increases in anthropogenic CO2 in the Atlantic Ocean between 2003 and 2014.

From the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science:

A University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science-led study shows that the North Atlantic absorbed 50 percent more man-made carbon dioxide over the last decade, compared to the previous decade. The findings show the impact that the burning of fossil fuels have had on the world’s oceans in just 10 years.

To determine the total uptake and storage of carbon dioxide in the North Atlantic over the last several decades, researchers analyzed data collected from the same locations, but 10 years apart, to identify changes caused by man-made CO2. The data were collected during two National Science Foundation-funded international ship-based studies, CLIVAR (Climate Variability CO2 Repeat Hydrography) and GO-SHIP (Global Ocean Ship-Based Hydrographic Investigations Program).

“This study shows the large impact all of us are having on the environment and that our use of fossil fuels isn’t only causing the climate to change, but also affects the oceans by decreasing the pH,” said Ryan Woosley, a researcher in the UM Rosenstiel School, Department of Ocean Sciences.

The oceans help to slow the growth of human produced CO2 in the atmosphere by absorbing and storing about a quarter of the total carbon dioxide emissions. The North Atlantic is an area of high uptake and storage due to large-scale ocean circulations.

The uptake of CO2 has many impacts on ocean-dwelling organisms by decreasing the pH. The findings have important implications for marine organisms, such as corals and mollusks, which require a certain pH level in the surrounding water to build their calcium carbonate-based shells and exoskeletons.

The researchers hope to return in another 10 years to determine if the increase in carbon uptake continues, or if, as many fear, it will decrease as a result of slowing thermohaline circulation.

The study, titled “Rapid Anthropogenic Changes in CO2 and pH in the Atlantic Ocean: 2003-2014″ was published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles. The study’s authors include: Woosley and Frank J. Millero of the UM Rosenstiel School; and Rik Wanninkhof of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation through grant #OCE0752972. The study can be acce$$ed at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2015GB005248/pdf

Map of the day: Forests lead to drinking water


From Effects of Drought on Forests and Rangelands in the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis [PDF], a new report from the U.S. Forest Service, a map revealing the critical importance of forest as sources of providing drinking water supplies in the U.S.:

Index of forest importance [FIMP] to surface drinking water; higher values [shown in shades of blue] indicate greater importance

Index of forest importance [FIMP] to surface drinking water; higher values [shown in shades of blue] indicate greater importance

And some good news for the enviornment


A Canadian rainforest is saved.

From the BBC:

Indigenous tribes, timber firms and environmental groups in western Canada have welcomed a deal to protect one of the world’s largest remaining tracts of temperate rainforest.

The Great Bear Rainforest on the Pacific coast of British Columbia is home to many animals and ancient trees.

Logging will be banned across a huge area of the forest.

Environmental campaigners say the deal is a model for resolving similar land-use disputes around the world.