02 May 2016:
After a Decade of Decline,
Brazil's Deforestation Again on the Rise
Brazil is losing two soccer field-sized parcels of rainforest every minute, equal to 1,930 square miles annually, according to new reporting from the Thompson Reuters Foundation
The trend represents a significant blow to Brazil’s decades-long fight against illegal logging activity, which achieved an 80 percent decline in deforestation from 2003 to 2013 due to aggressive government and civil monitoring of the forests. But these efforts have slackened in recent years, and loggers have changed their tactics to better hide their activities, said Tasso Azevedo, a conservationist and former director of the Brazilian Forest Service. "In some cases, we are walking backwards," he told Thompson Reuters. The uptick could pose a challenge to pledges Brazil made during international climate talks in Paris last December. The country promised to eliminate illegal deforestation and restore nearly 30 million acres of forest by 2030 to combat global warming.
27 Apr 2016:
Wooden Skypscrapers Grow in
Popularity in Effort to Reduce Emissions
Architects are increasingly abandoning traditional steel-and-cement skyscrapers in favor of wood-and-glue designs — a move that experts say could help drastically reduce CO2 emissions from the world’s building sector.
Acton Ostry Architects
Creating steel, iron, and non-metallic minerals — including concrete — is an energy-intensive process that accounts for more than 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the 1990s, developers created a product known as cross-laminated timber — planks of wood glued together by a polyurethane adhesive — with the strength and durability of traditional building materials, and far fewer CO2 emissions. With concern for climate change mounting, wood-based skyscrapers have been popping up around the globe in recent years
. The University of British Columbia, for example, approved an 18-story, wooden housing complex in 2015. “This revolution has happened rather quietly and happened rather slow,” Kris Spickler, a heavy timber specialist at Structurlam, told Popular Science
. “But I think we’re in a year right now where we’re going to see it explode.”
22 Apr 2016:
Brazilian Officials Put a
Hold on Mega-Dam Project in the Amazon
A proposed 8,000-megawatt hydroelectric dam in the Amazon was put on hold this week by Brazil’s environmental agency out of concerns over its impact on a local indigenous tribe.
The São Luiz do Tapajós project — which would be Brazil’s second-largest dam and a cornerstone of government efforts to expand hydroelectric power — would require developers to flood an area the size of New York City and home to thousands of Munduruku people. The environmental agency, Ibama, said they were suspending the project’s licensing because of “the infeasibility of the project from the prospective of indigenous issues.” Brent Millikan, the Amazon program director for International Rivers, told Reuters
, "The areas that would have been flooded include sites of important religious and cultural significance. The local communities have a huge amount of knowledge about the resources where they are — if they were forced off the land and into cities they would become unskilled workers."
20 Apr 2016:
Entries Invited for Third
Annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest
The third annual Yale Environment 360
Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the year's best environmental videos. Submissions must focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and be a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, and two runners-up will each receive $500. The winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360
. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360
editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker
writer and e360
contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. Deadline for entries is June 10, 2016. Read More.
12 Apr 2016:
Scientists Reimagine The
Tree of Life With New Microbe Knowledge
Following years of intense exploration and research into the microbial world, scientists have reimagined the tree of life
—the iconic visual representation of the living world first proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859.
The new tree of life.
The project was led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who over the last decade have been gathering DNA from across the globe—from everywhere from meadow soils and river mud to deep sea vents—to reconstruct genomes and describe thousands of new microbial species. Curious how their findings fit into the tree of life, the scientists used a supercomputer
to visualize how more than 3,000 new and known species related to one another. They discovered that eukaryotes, the group that includes humans, exist on a thin twig compared to the microbial branch of the tree. “The tree of life as we know it has dramatically expanded due to new genomic sampling of previously enigmatic or unknown microbial lineages,” the authors wrote
04 Apr 2016:
As Habitat Loss Slows Down,
Tigers Could Double In Number By 2022
With populations hovering at less than 3,500 worldwide, tigers have long been considered on the brink of extinction. But scientists finally have good news:
Habitat loss has slowed down more than expected in recent years due to conservation efforts, and there is now enough forest for tigers to double in number by 2022. According to a new study in the journal Science Advances
, less than 8 percent of global tiger habitat disappeared between 2001 and 2014, 98 percent of which happened in Indonesia and Malaysia due to the booming palm oil industry. “It is not a sign that we are in the clear yet, but it does show us that tigers can potentially recover from the edge of extinction if we make the right forest management choices,” said Anup Joshi, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota and lead author. Tiger populations in Nepal and India, for example, have increased 61 and 31 percent, respectively.
01 Apr 2016:
Scientists Study the Skies
To Create a Map of the World’s Biomes
Curious where certain species live? Don’t look down. Rather, study the skies, according to new research published in the journal PLoS Biology
. Scientists from the University of Buffalo and Yale University
used images from NASA satellites to build a database of cloud cover for every square kilometer of the planet from 2000 to 2014. They then used the information to map the world’s biomes. They found that cloud patterns are a much more accurate way of predicting species distribution than using extrapolated on-the-ground observations, the method most conservationists use today. “Sunlight drives almost every aspect of ecology,” Adam Wilson, an ecologist at the University of Buffalo who led the study, told New Scientist
. “So when you put something in between the sun and plants, that is going to have implications on the amount of energy they are receiving, soil moisture, leaf wetness, and humidity—almost everything that is important.”
04 Mar 2016:
Leading Brands Unsure If Palm
Despite well-intentioned pledges
Oil Purchases Linked to Rainforests
, some of the world’s largest consumer companies admitted that
Rainforest in Borneo cleared for palm oil
they have no idea whether the palm oil they purchase from Indonesia is linked to rainforest destruction, according to a new report from Greenpeace
, which surveyed 14 companies, including PepsiCo, Mars, Unilever, and Johnson & Johnson. “Palm oil is found in so many products, which is why brands have a responsibility to their customers to act,” said Greenpeace’s Annissa Rahmawati
. “But our survey shows that brands are not doing enough to stop the palm oil industry ransacking Indonesia’s rainforests.” Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, a vegetable oil used in a wide range of household products, from lipstick to soap to instant noodles, and environmentalists have long argued the industry is a leading cause of deforestation. Since 1990, Indonesia has lost 76 million acres of forest, an area almost equal to the size of Germany.
11 Jan 2016:
Scientists Warn of Biodiversity
Impacts of Major Hydropower Projects
Hydropower is considered by many to be a key ingredient to reducing carbon emissions and meeting global climate goals,
The Belo Monte dam under construction in the Amazon
but it comes at a great cost to biodiversity, particularly in tropical rainforests, according to a new report
published in the journal Science
. “Far too often in developing tropical countries, major hydropower projects have been approved and their construction begun before any serious assessments of environmental and socioeconomic impacts had been conducted,” says the report's lead author Kirk Winemiller, an aquatic ecologist at Texas A&M University. The dam-building rush, with more than 450 dams planned for the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong river basins alone, impedes tropical fish migration and vastly expands deforestation due to road construction, according to the authors. Other concerns include development of previously inaccessible terrain, as well as methane emissions from newly built reservoirs.
04 Jan 2016:
How Science Can Help to Halt
The Western Bark Beetle Plague
Tens of millions of acres of pine and spruce trees have died in western North America in recent
years as a result of bark beetle infestations spawned by a hotter, drier climate. University of Montana entomologist Diana Six has been working to understand why the genetics of some individual trees enable them to survive even as whole forests around them are turning brown and perishing. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Six explains the root causes of the beetle infestations, discusses why U.S. Forest Service policies may be making the problem worse, and describes why the best hope for Western forests will come from the trees’ capacity to genetically adapt to a new climate regime. Read the interview.
Iberian Lynx Is Back from Brink,
But Still Faces Major Challenges
Efforts to help restore the endangered population of the Iberian lynx are showing signs of success. Chief among them are the captive breeding program, which has
An Iberian lynx in the wild
helped increase the animal’s numbers from a critical low of less than 100 individuals to 160 today. The elegant 25-pound predator, a close relative of the American bobcat, still faces a number of challenges including habitat loss of 95 percent, a high vehicular mortality rate, and a genetic exchange stymied by a lack of wildlife corridors. It remains uncertain, as well, if the lynx can acclimate quickly enough to life at higher, cooler climes, where its main prey, the European rabbit, is already beginning to relocate due to climate change. Read more.
11 Dec 2015:
NASA Detects Carbon Monoxide
Plume as Indonesian Forest Fires Burn
This fall tens of thousands of fires in Indonesia released clouds of particulate matter and toxic gases over the region
Carbon monoxide plumes detected over Indonesia
process that repeats itself year after year as property owners clear their land of debris for farming. This year, however, saw significantly more fires than usual, and many of those fires escaped their handlers and burned uncontrollably for weeks or months. The fires produced a massive plume of carbon monoxide (CO) — a toxic gas that affects both human health and the climate — that could be detected by NASA satellites
. “The 2015 Indonesian fires produced some of the highest concentrations of carbon monoxide that we have ever seen with MOPITT,” the satellite technology that detected the gas, said Helen Worden, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Typically, CO concentrations in that region are roughly 100 parts per billion. Some parts of Borneo, however, saw CO levels of nearly 1,300 parts per billion in September and October.
07 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21 — How ‘Landscape
Carbon’ Can Be Part of a Solution on Climate
A group led by the World Resources Institute has unveiled plans in Paris for a grand restoration of Africa's landscapes that includes
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian finance minister
replanting forests and reviving soils. The group, which includes the World Bank and the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development are seeking $2 billion a year to restore 100 million hectares of Africa by 2030 — an area three times the size of Germany. The plans were announced to some 3,000 delegates attending a Global Landscapes Forum in Paris on Sunday. "We need landscape restoration for development and for climate," said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister. Some African countries said they are already at work. Ethiopian ministers told the forum they had restored a million hectares of farm soils in the drought-hit Tigray region and elsewhere in the past 20 years, through terracing, irrigation and other activities.
01 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: To Save Forests,
A Combination of Carrots and Sticks
Forests must be saved and restored if the world community hopes to slow global warming. That's a given at the Paris climate
Indigenous leaders at a forestry session in Paris.
conference. But how? It's a tough issue for many environment ministers, who know that back home their agriculture, mining, and even forestry ministers have other plans for forest lands. In nations such as Peru and Indonesia, the gap between aspirations for slowing deforestation and the reality on the ground is huge. How to close that gap is a major topic of discussion in Paris, with countries, business groups, and conservationists proposing a combination of carrots and sticks to spur reform. And advocates say that returning many forests to indigenous groups is a key part of any solution.
Interview: Why Brazil’s Pledges On
Carbon Emissions Are Not Enough
In recent years, Brazil has been widely praised for reducing deforestation in the Amazon by 75 percent from 2005 to 2014.
Maria Fernanda Gebara
But analysts are now taking a closer look at Brazil’s pledges to cut deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, with some saying there is less there than meets the eye. One of the more outspoken critics of the country’s CO2-reduction policies is Brazilian political scientist Maria Fernanda Gebara. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Gebara, a research associate in the Department for International Development at the London School of Economics, says Brazil’s policies will do little more than stabilize emissions for the next 15 years, will fail to clamp down on illegal logging, and will continue the nation’s dismal record of developing solar and wind power.
Read the interview.
20 Nov 2015:
Global Forest Cover Estimates
Vary Widely Based on Definition, Study Says
Measurements of global forest cover can vary widely — by as much as 6 percent of the planet's land area, a swath equal in size
to China, according to research
from the University of Maryland. The reason behind the discrepancy actually lies in how different researchers and organizations define forest cover, the researchers note. Geographers have long called for the definition to be standardized, but until now, no one had quantified the scope of the variance. The largest ambiguities in forest calculations are driven by uncertainties near savannas, shrublands, mountain ridge forests, and other areas with intermediate tree cover. “It’s not technology’s fault” that forest maps are inconsistent, said lead author Joseph Sexton. But until the definitions are standardized, he said, it will be difficult to properly assess land cover or conservation measures related to climate change and biodiversity.
10 Nov 2015:
New Online Tool Maps Lands
Managed and Protected by Indigenous People
Indigenous people have historically demarcated their ancestral lands in a variety of ways, from rudimentary agreements and maps to,
A new online tool maps native lands.
more recently, drone surveys. But until now, there has been no systematic way of recording the actual boundaries and legal status of each swath of land managed by native peoples, who, as research shows, often do a better job of protecting their lands than local or national governments. LandMark
, a new tool launched today by a broad partnership including the World Resources Institute (WRI), is the first online, interactive platform for mapping lands managed by native communities. It was created to fill a critical gap in indigenous and community rights and make clear that these lands are not vacant, idle, or available to outsiders for exploitative development such as mining, palm oil plantations, or timber concessions. But Abdon Nababan, secretary general of the Indonesia's Indigenous Peoples' Alliance, cautioned that “these maps do us no good unless they become public knowledge and indigenous rights are recognized by all who have ambitions to grab our lands.”
23 Oct 2015:
Powerful Foreign Companies
Behind Much of Laos' Illegal Deforestation
Industrial-scale illegal logging is routine in Laos, a southeast Asian nation which has seen its dense forest cover decline from
Illegal logging in Laos by a large Vietnamese company
29 to 8.2 percent over the past decade, and the practice is gaining momentum under the guise of special infrastructure projects, according to information obtained
by the London-based advocacy group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). In 2013, Laos exported 1.8 million cubic yards of timber to Vietnam and China — more than 10 times the country’s official harvest, EIA found. Trade data also show that in 2014 China received $1 billion in illegal timber from Laos — a 22-fold increase from 2008. The high figures imply that the bulk of this timber is composed of valuable rosewood species, which are supposedly protected under Lao law. Virtually all logging operations are linked to infrastructure projects, especially hydropower dams, roads, mining, and agricultural plantations, EIA says.
09 Oct 2015:
‘Land Grabbing’ Is Accelerating
As Pressure on Agriculture Resources Grows
An area about the size of Japan — roughly 140,000 square miles — has been purchased or
A land-grabbing operation in Uganda
leased by foreign entities for agricultural use during the last 15 years, according to a report
by the Worldwatch Institute. An additional 58,000 square miles are under negotiation, the report found. “Land grabbing,” a term for the purchase or lease of agricultural land by foreign interests, has emerged as a threat to food security in several nations. Globally, over half of this land is in Africa, especially in water-rich countries like the Congo. The largest area acquired in a single country is in Papua New Guinea, with nearly 15,500 square miles (over 8 percent of the nation’s total land cover) sold or leased to foreign entities. Foreign purchase of land in developing countries has surged since 2005 in response to rising food prices and growing biofuel demand in the U.S. and the European Union, as well as droughts in the U.S., Argentina, and Australia. “Essentially no additional suitable [agricultural] land remains in a belt around much of the middle of the planet,” writes Gary Gardner, a contributing author to the report.
30 Sep 2015:
New Agreement Yields Hope for
Saving World's Second-Largest Rainforest
In advance of the Paris climate talks, European and African countries announced
an initiative to stem the rising tide of forest destruction in Central Africa, one of the world’s last large expanses of rainforest. Norway is the first country to pledge funds to the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) — up to $47 million dollars per year through 2020 — to support the program. The agreement calls for the six participating Central African countries — Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo — to devise national investment plans that will tackle complex factors leading to deforestation, and it prioritizes long-term solutions over short-term, one-time actions. Central Africa is home to the world's second-largest tropical forest, but the region is increasingly under threat, mostly from small-scale slash-and-burn agriculture. Its preservation is key to global efforts to slow climate change, scientists say.
17 Sep 2015:
Chaotic Illegal Timber Trade
Threatens Crucial Forests in Southeast Asia
A murky, illegal timber trade enabled by systemic corruption exists between China and Myanmar and is worth hundreds of millions of
Illegal log trucks in Kachin wait to cross into China.
dollars annually, making it one of the world's largest illegal timber schemes, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Investigation Agency
(EIA). At stake are some of the most ecologically important remaining forests in Southeast Asia, EIA says. The report documents how Chinese businesses pay in gold bars for the rights to log entire mountains and smuggle timber out of Myanmar's conflict-torn state of Kachin. The stolen timber, primarily high-value species of rosewood and teak, is increasingly being sourced from deeper within Myanmar to feed factories in south and east China. The trade appeared to have peaked in 2005, when 1.3 million cubic yards of logs crossed the border. A brief hiatus then occurred when Chinese authorities intervened, but the scale is once again nearing peak levels, the EIA says.
10 Sep 2015:
Developing Nations Take Lead In
Cutting Forestry and Agriculture Emissions
Countries with the most potential to slash emissions from agriculture and forestry are skimping on climate commitments, while some developing countries are making the boldest and most detailed pledges for cutting land-use-related emissions. That is the conclusion of a new analysis
of climate pledges from China, Canada, Ethiopia, and Morocco by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Major opportunities to cut forestry and farming emissions exist for Canada and, especially, China, the report says. For example, UCS recently found that China could cut CO2 emissions by 1.2 gigatons per year by 2020, but its climate pledge fails to indicate how the country would do that. Canada’s climate pledge is also vague and unambitious, the report says. In contrast, Ethiopia and Morocco have released detailed and ambitious pledges, especially regarding agricultural emissions. An earlier UCS analysis also found that Mexico’s land-use-related climate pledges exceed those from the European Union and the United States.
04 Sep 2015:
Maya Permanently Altered Land
To Respond to Climate Change, Study Says
Mayan activity more than 2,000 years ago contributed to the decline of Central America's tropical lowlands and continues to influence the land and environment today, say researchers at the University of Texas at Austin
. Evidence shows that during the "Mayacene" — a period from 3,000 to 1,000 years ago when humans began greatly affecting the environment — the Maya's advanced urban and rural infrastructure altered tropical forest ecosystems. Clay and soil sequences indicate erosion and land-use changes, and sediments near wetlands reveal chemical signatures of agriculture, says the study, which was published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews
. The researchers say features such as constructed wetlands, vast field systems, and terraces show that the Maya managed land and water to adapt to climate change and rising sea levels. "Though it has no doubt accelerated in the last century, humans' impact on the environment has been going on a lot longer," said lead researcher Tim Beach.
03 Sep 2015:
Tropical Tree Cover Loss
Accelerated in 2014, Satellite Analysis Finds
More than 45 million acres of trees were cut down last year — an area twice the size of Portugal — according to an analysis
by the University of Maryland and Google. Tropical nations lost more than half of that total — nearly 25 million acres of tree cover, an area roughly the size of South Korea. Brazil and Indonesia, the two countries most often associated with deforestation, had been making gains toward stemming the problem, but 2014 saw an uptick in tree cover loss in both countries. The situation is especially concerning in Cambodia, where deforestation is accelerating faster than anywhere else in the world due to the development of rubber plantations. Last year Cambodia lost three times more tree cover than in 2001, the analysis found.
25 Aug 2015:
Endangered Chimp Population
Much Larger Than Estimated, Study Shows
A population of endangered eastern chimpanzees in Uganda is actually significantly larger than scientists had thought, new research
from the University of Southern California shows. Using DNA from fecal samples, the scientists estimated the size of the chimp population living in two reserves in western Uganda to be 250 to 320 chimps, divided among at least nine communities, whereas previous estimates had pegged the total at roughly 70. Because the forest they live in is not protected, however, the chimpanzees have been heavily impacted by forest fragmentation, and the fruit trees they rely on are rapidly being cut down, the researchers say. The eastern chimp population that lives in this region is important because it represents the growing status quo for this species, the researchers note — they no longer inhabit unbroken swaths of forest, but instead carve out an existence in shrinking forest patches.
24 Aug 2015:
Research Links Amazon
Fires and North American Hurricanes
After studying decades of data on hurricanes, sea surface temperatures, and Amazon fire frequency, researchers have concluded
North Atlantic surface temperatures
that years in which warm North Atlantic waters create powerful hurricanes are followed by periods of drought and fire in the Amazon
rainforest. University of California, Irvine scientists say their research has shown that frequent and powerful North Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes tend to pull a large belt of tropical rainfall to the north, drawing moisture away from the Amazon. The resulting dry spells lead to an increase in severity and duration of fires, which tend to be set in the Amazon by humans clearing land for agriculture. The research is expected to enable meteorologists to better understand seasonal outlooks for drought and fire risk in the Amazon, which could help reduce the extensive rainforest fires that emit large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.
31 Jul 2015:
Severe Droughts Affect Forests
And CO2 Storage for Years, Study Shows
Severe drought can affect a forest's growth for up to four years, a period during which it is less effective at removing carbon
A stressed forest in the southwestern United States
from the atmosphere, a new study
reports in the journal Science
. Standard climate models have assumed that forests and other vegetation bounce back quickly from extreme drought, but that assumption is far off the mark, the researchers say. Looking at data from more than 1,300 forest sites dating back to 1948, they found that living trees took an average of two to four years to recover and resume normal growth rates after droughts ended. Frequent droughts in places like the western U.S. could significantly impact the ability of forests to sequester carbon, the study found. Researchers aren't sure how drought causes these long-lasting changes, but they say there are likely three causes: Loss of carbohydrate and foliage reserves may impair growth; pests and diseases may accumulate in drought-stressed trees; and lasting damage to vascular tissues impairs water transport.
Interview: The High Environmental
Cost of Illicit Marijuana Cultivation
As some U.S. states move to legalize marijuana, one issue has been largely ignored in the policy debates: the serious
environmental effects of the marijuana industry. A new paper co-authored by ecologist Mary Power details many of those impacts by focusing on marijuana cultivation in California, where most of the marijuana consumed in the U.S. is grown. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Power describes how California growers siphon off scarce water resources, poison wildlife, and erode fragile soils. What’s needed, she contends, is legalization of marijuana at the federal level, which would likely drive down marijuana prices. “As long as there is a market that will pay enough to compensate for the brutally hard work they do to grow this stuff in forested mountains,” she says, “then it will keep growing.”
Read the interview.
01 Jul 2015:
Church of England Divests from
Oil Firm Exploring Virunga National Park
The Church of England has divested its holdings
in the British oil and gas company Soco International, citing ethical concerns over Soco's attempts to
Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park
drill for oil in Congo's Virunga National Park. The national park, Africa's oldest, is home to the largest surviving populations of endangered mountain gorillas and hippos
. The Church of England's investment fund is valued at roughly $10.5 billion, and $2.5 million of that had been invested in Soco International. The move marks only the third time in recent years that the church has divested from a company on ethical grounds. In 2012 it sold its holdings in News Corporation to protest the phone-hacking scandal, and in 2010 it divested from a mining corporation over human rights violations associated with its operations in India.
Photo Gallery: Scenes From
The Golden Age of Animal Tracking
Scientists are following the lives of animals in more detail than ever before, thanks to a new generation of tracking and tagging devices. From beluga whales that collect data on the Arctic Ocean to ducks that help track the spread of avian flu, data gathered by and about animals is being used to identify conservation hotspots, reduce human-animal conflicts, and monitor the health of the planet. In an e360
gallery, we look at some intriguing projects that have used state-of-the-art animal tracking and monitoring technology.
View the gallery.