Category Archives: Nature

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.

Heavens above!: A cold, sterile goddess in space


While in Roman mythology, Ceres was very much a being of warmth and fecundity, associated with the earth as inventor and goddess of agriculture and the harvest, her modern-day counterpart is associated with the bitter cold and sterility of space.

From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

BLOG Ceres

Dwarf Planet Ceres

Image Credit & License: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS,DLR,IDA – Composition: Justin Cowar

Explanation: Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt, with a diameter of about 950 kilometers (590 miles). Ceres is seen here in approximately true color, based on image data from the Dawn spacecraft recorded on May 4, 2015. On that date, Dawn’s orbit stood 13,642 kilometers above the surface of the small world. Two of Ceres’ famous mysterious bright spots at Oxo crater and Haulani crater are near center and center right of this view. Casting a telltale shadow at the bottom is Ceres’ cone-shaped, lonely mountain Ahuna Mons. Presently some 385 kilometers above the Cerean surface, the ion-propelled Dawn spacecraft is now returning images from its closest mapping orbit.

Charts of the day: California’s reservoirs rising


While levels remain low at California’s reservoirs, sources of both drinking water for the state’s ever-growing cities and irrigation water for its farmlands, one reservoir, Folsom near Sacramento, has finally topped the historical averagae for the year to date.

From the California Department of Water Resources:

BLOG Reservoirs

And the levels are considerably above those for a month ago:

BLOG Reservoirs 2

Heavens above!: A comet captured in space


From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day [and click on the link for a larger version]:

BLOG Comet

Comet 67P from Spacecraft Rosetta

Image Credit & Licence: ESA, Rosetta, NAVCAM

Explanation: Spacecraft Rosetta continues to circle and map Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Crossing the inner Solar System for ten years to reach the vicinity of the comet in 2014, the robotic spacecraft continues to image the unusual double-lobed comet nucleus. The featured image, taken one year ago, shows dust and gas escaping from the comet’s nucleus. Although appearing bright here, the comet’s surface reflects only about four percent of impinging visible light, making it as dark as coal. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko spans about four kilometers in length and has a surface gravity so low that an astronaut could jump off of it. With Rosetta in tow, Comet 67P passed its closest to the Sun last year and is now headed back to the furthest point — just past the orbit of Jupiter.

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

Headline of the day II: And one that’s unique?


And it’s from Science, that most austere of journals:

Ancient arachnid erection enshrined in amber

Nearly 99 million years ago, two harvestmen—known to some as daddy longlegs—decided to have sex. Little did they know that their final act would still be preserved today, enshrined in amber in striking detail.

And along the same line, a Guardian video, one of a series on Britain’s National Health Service, featuring a physician with a tale from the emergency room:

A&E confessions: a 90-year-old’s secret to a happy marriage

Program notes:

When a sweet, rosy-cheeked 90-year-old woman walked into her accident and emergency ward, the last thing Dr Sarah Johnston expected was some searingly honest and intimate advice on the secret to a lifelong happy marriage.