Where have all Britain’s insects gone?

Robin McKie reports:

When Simon Leather was a student in the 1970s, he took a summer job as a postman and delivered mail to the villages of Kirk Hammerton and Green Hammerton in North Yorkshire. He recalls his early morning walks through its lanes, past the porches of houses on his round. At virtually every home, he saw the same picture: windows plastered with tiger moths that had been attracted by lights the previous night and were still clinging to the glass. “It was quite a sight,” says Leather, who is now a professor of entomology at Harper Adams University in Shropshire.

But it is not a vision that he has experienced in recent years. Those tiger moths have almost disappeared. “You hardly see any, although there used to be thousands in summer and that was just a couple of villages.”

It is an intriguing story and it is likely to be repeated over the next few weeks. The start of summer is the time of year when the nation’s insects should make their presence known by coating countryside windows with their fluttering presence, and splattering themselves on car windscreens. But they are spectacularly failing to do so. Instead they are making themselves newsworthy through their absence. Britain’s insects, it seems, are disappearing.

This point was underlined last week when tweets from the naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham went viral after he commented on the absence of insects during a weekend at his home in the New Forest. Packham said he had not seen a single butterfly in his garden, and added that he sleeps with his windows open but rarely finds craneflies or moths in his room in the morning. By contrast, they were commonplace when he was a boy. “Our generation is presiding over an ecological apocalypse and we’ve somehow or other normalised it,” he later said. [Continue reading…]

Antarctic ice loss has tripled in a decade. If that continues, we are in serious trouble

The Washington Post reports:

Antarctica’s ice sheet is melting at a rapidly increasing rate, now pouring more than 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean annually and raising sea levels a half-millimeter every year, a team of 80 scientists reported Wednesday.

The melt rate has tripled in the past decade, the study concluded. If the acceleration continues, some of scientists’ worst fears about rising oceans could be realized, leaving low-lying cities and communities with less time to prepare than they had hoped.

The result also reinforces that nations have a short window — perhaps no more than a decade — to cut greenhouse-gas emissions if they hope to avert some of the worst consequences of climate change.

Antarctica, the planet’s largest ice sheet, lost 219 billion tons of ice annually from 2012 through 2017 — approximately triple the 73 billion-ton melt rate of a decade ago, the scientists concluded. From 1992 through 1997, Antarctica lost 49 billion tons of ice annually. [Continue reading…]

‘Shocking’ die-off of Africa’s oldest baobabs


AFP reports:

Some of Africa’s oldest and biggest baobab trees — a few dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks — have abruptly died, wholly or in part, in the past decade, researchers said Monday.

The trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years and some as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated.

“We report that nine of the 13 oldest… individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years,” they wrote in the scientific journal Nature Plants, describing “an event of an unprecedented magnitude.”

“It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages,” said the study’s co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania.

Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs.

While the cause of the die-off remains unclear, the researchers “suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular.” [Continue reading…]

Climate change can be stopped by turning carbon dioxide pollution into gasoline

The Atlantic reports:

A team of scientists from Harvard University and the company Carbon Engineering announced on Thursday that they have found a method to cheaply and directly pull carbon-dioxide pollution out of the atmosphere.

If their technique is successfully implemented at scale, it could transform how humanity thinks about the problem of climate change. It could give people a decisive new tool in the race against a warming planet, but could also unsettle the issue’s delicate politics, making it all the harder for society to adapt.

Their research seems almost to smuggle technologies out of the realm of science fiction and into the real. It suggests that people will soon be able to produce gasoline and jet fuel from little more than limestone, hydrogen, and air. It hints at the eventual construction of a vast, industrial-scale network of carbon scrubbers, capable of removing greenhouse gases directly from the atmosphere.

Above all, the new technique is noteworthy because it promises to remove carbon dioxide cheaply. As recently as 2011, a panel of experts estimated that it would cost at least $600 to remove a metric ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The new paper says it can remove the same ton for as little as $94, and for no more than $232. At those rates, it would cost between $1 and $2.50 to remove the carbon dioxide released by burning a gallon of gasoline in a modern car.

“If these costs are real, it is an important result,” said Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. “This opens up the possibility that we could stabilize the climate for affordable amounts of money without changing the entire energy system or changing everyone’s behavior.” [Continue reading…]

IKEA unveils ambitious climate goals

GreenBiz reports:

Swedish furniture giant IKEA has promised to outlaw single-use plastic products across its entire product range and in-store eateries by 2020 and ensure zero emission home deliveries as standard by 2025, as part of a sweeping set of new sustainability goals.

The firm also promised to design all its products in line with circular principles and using renewable and recycled materials, and reduce the climate footprint of its wares by an average of 70 percent per product by 2030.

IKEA announced its new global commitments today, as the next step towards its target of becoming a circular and climate-positive business by 2030.

The plan implies major investments in greener supply chains and a wholesale switch to an ultra-low emission fleet within seven years. [Continue reading…]

‘Carbon bubble’ could spark global financial crisis, study warns

The Guardian reports:

Plunging prices for renewable energy and rapidly increasing investment in low-carbon technologies could leave fossil fuel companies with trillions in stranded assets and spark a global financial crisis, a new study has found.

A sudden drop in demand for fossil fuels before 2035 is likely, according to the study, given the current global investments and economic advantages in a low-carbon transition.

The existence of a “carbon bubble” – assets in fossil fuels that are currently overvalued because, in the medium and long-term, the world will have to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions – has long been proposed by academics, activists and investors. The new study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that a sharp slump in the value of fossil fuels would cause this bubble to burst, and posits that such a slump is likely before 2035 based on current patterns of energy use.

Crucially, the findings suggest that a rapid decline in fossil fuel demand is no longer dependent on stronger policies and actions from governments around the world. Instead, the authors’ detailed simulations found the demand drop would take place even if major nations undertake no new climate policies, or reverse some previous commitments. [Continue reading…]

World dangerously underestimating economic cost of climate change, study finds

HuffPost reports:

Leading global forecasts widely underestimate the future costs of climate change, a new paper warns.

The findings, to be released Monday in the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, say projections used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rely on outdated models and fail to account for “tipping points” ― key moments when global warming rapidly speeds up and becomes irreversible.

The IPCC, established in 1988, is the leading international body for assessing climate change, and took on an expanded role after every country on Earth signed the Paris Agreement, the first global pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions. By relying on inaccurate economic models, the organization is misleading policymakers around the world about the risks of climate change, according to the researchers at the Environmental Defense Fund, Harvard University and the London School of Economics who co-authored the paper. [Continue reading…]

‘We can’t see a future’: Group takes EU to court over climate change

The Guardian reports:

Lawyers acting for a group including a French lavender farmer and members of the indigenous Sami community in Sweden have launched legal action against the EU’s institutions for failing to adequately protect them against climate change.

A case is being pursued in the Luxembourg-based general court, Europe’s second highest, against the European parliament and the council of the European Union for allowing overly high greenhouse gas emissions to continue until 2030.

The families, including young children, claim their lives have been blighted by the policy decisions in Brussels, and that the EU’s inadequate emissions targets will cause more suffering.

The legal complaint asserts that the EU’s existing climate target to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, does not protect their fundamental rights of life, health, occupation and property. [Continue reading…]

Climate change warriors’ latest weapon of choice is litigation

Bloomberg reports:

In the global fight against climate change, one tool is proving increasingly popular: litigation.

From California to the Philippines, activists, governments and concerned citizens are suing the biggest polluters and national governments over the effects of climate change at a break-neck pace.

“The courts are our last, best hope at this moment of irreversible harm to our planet and life on it,” said Julia Olson, an attorney for Our Children’s Trust, a legal challenge center in the U.S. that is involved in climate change litigation across 13 countries, including the U.S., Pakistan and Uganda. [Continue reading…]

Hemp legalization poised to transform agriculture in arid West

Amid all the excitement around marijuana legalization in America, another newly legal crop has received comparatively little attention: hemp. And yet hemp may prove to be even more transformative, especially in the West’s arid landscapes.

Hemp is a variety of the cannabis sativa plant that is not psychoactive. Whereas marijuana plants can produce both the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) extracts, hemp produces only the latter.

And while marijuana is generally grown in small quantities under tightly controlled conditions – often indoors – hemp is grown like most other field crops such as corn and alfalfa.

Therein lies the potentially huge benefit for the West. Hemp can be grown to harvest on about half as much water as corn can, for example. Hemp also tolerates a wide variety of soils and temperatures, requires no pesticides and grows extremely fast, soaring to as much as 20ft in 100 days.

Thus, if hemp eventually replaces other crops across large acreages, it could free up precious water supplies in the arid West for other uses. This could become especially important with climate change expected to shrink Western mountain snowpacks.

[Read more…]