Region: Central & South America


Vanishing Act: What’s Causing Sharp <br />Decline in Insects and Why It Matters

Report

Vanishing Act: What’s Causing Sharp
Decline in Insects and Why It Matters

by christian schwägerl
Insect populations are declining dramatically in many parts of the world, recent studies show. Researchers say various factors, from monoculture farming to habitat loss, are to blame for the plight of insects, which are essential to agriculture and ecosystems.
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Floating Solar: A Win-Win for <br />Drought-Stricken Lakes in U.S.

Opinion

Floating Solar: A Win-Win for
Drought-Stricken Lakes in U.S.

by philip warburg
Floating solar panel arrays are increasingly being deployed in places as diverse as Brazil and Japan. One prime spot for these “floatovoltaic” projects could be the sunbaked U.S. Southwest, where they could produce clean energy and prevent evaporation in major man-made reservoirs.
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What Would a Global Warming <br />Increase of 1.5 Degrees Be Like?

Analysis

What Would a Global Warming
Increase of 1.5 Degrees Be Like?

by fred pearce
The Paris climate conference set the ambitious goal of finding ways to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than the previous threshold of 2 degrees. But what would be the difference between a 1.5 and 2 degree world? And how realistic is such a target?
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At 1,066 Feet Above Rainforest, <br />A View of the Changing Amazon

Report

At 1,066 Feet Above Rainforest,
A View of the Changing Amazon

by daniel grossman
A steel structure in the Amazon, taller than the Eiffel Tower, will soon begin monitoring the atmosphere above the world’s largest tropical forest, providing an international team of scientists with key insights into how this vital region may be affected by global warming.
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Interview

Why CO2 'Air Capture' Could Be
Key to Slowing Global Warming

by richard schiffman
Physicist Klaus Lackner has long advocated deploying devices that extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to combat climate change. Now, as emissions keep soaring, Lackner says in a Yale Environment 360 interview that such “air capture” approaches may be our last best hope.
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After Paris, A Move to Rein In <br />Emissions by Ships and Planes

Analysis

After Paris, A Move to Rein In
Emissions by Ships and Planes

by fred pearce
As the world moves to slash CO2 emissions, the shipping and aviation sectors have managed to remain on the sidelines. But the pressure is now on these two major polluting industries to start controlling their emissions at last.
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How Rising CO2 Levels May <br />Contribute to Die-Off of Bees

Report

How Rising CO2 Levels May
Contribute to Die-Off of Bees

by lisa palmer
As they investigate the factors behind the decline of bee populations, scientists are now eyeing a new culprit — soaring levels of carbon dioxide, which alter plant physiology and significantly reduce protein in important sources of pollen.
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How Nations Are Chipping <br /> Away at Their Protected Lands

Analysis

How Nations Are Chipping
Away at Their Protected Lands

by richard conniff
Winning protected status for key natural areas and habitat has long been seen as the gold standard of conservation. But these gains are increasingly being compromised as governments redraw park boundaries to accommodate mining, logging, and other development.
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From Mass Coral Bleaching, <br /> A Scientist Looks for Lessons

Interview

From Mass Coral Bleaching,
A Scientist Looks for Lessons

by katherine bagley
For climate scientist Kim Cobb, this year’s massive bleaching of coral reefs is providing sobering insights into the impacts of global warming. Yale Environment 360 talked with Cobb about the bleaching events and the push to make reefs more resilient to rising temperatures.
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Climate Change Adds Urgency <br /> To Push to Save World’s Seeds

Report

Climate Change Adds Urgency
To Push to Save World’s Seeds

by virginia gewin
In the face of rising temperatures and worsening drought, the world’s repositories of agricultural seeds may hold the key to growing food under increasingly harsh conditions. But keeping these gene banks safe and viable is a complicated and expensive challenge.
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Can We Reduce CO2 Emissions<br /> And Grow the Global Economy?

Analysis

Can We Reduce CO2 Emissions
And Grow the Global Economy?

by fred pearce
Surprising new statistics show that the world economy is expanding while global carbon emissions remain at the same level. Is it possible that the elusive “decoupling” of emissions and economic growth could be happening?
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How Satellites and Big Data<br /> Can Help to Save the Oceans

Opinion

How Satellites and Big Data
Can Help to Save the Oceans

by douglas mccauley
With new marine protected areas and an emerging U.N. treaty, global ocean conservation efforts are on the verge of a major advance. But to enforce these ambitious initiatives, new satellite-based technologies and newly available online data must be harnessed.
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Interview

For James Hansen, the Science
Demands Activism on Climate

by katherine bagley
Climate scientist James Hansen has crossed the classic divide between research and activism. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he responds to critics and explains why he believes the reality of climate change requires him to speak out.
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Interview

How Ocean Noise Pollution
Wreaks Havoc on Marine Life

by richard schiffman
Marine scientist Christopher Clark has spent his career listening in on what he calls “the song of life” in the world’s oceans. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he explains how these marine habitats are under assault from extreme—but preventable—noise pollution.
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Is Climate Change Putting <br /> World's Microbiomes at Risk?

Report

Is Climate Change Putting
World's Microbiomes at Risk?

by jim robbins
Researchers are only beginning to understand the complexities of the microbes in the earth’s soil and the role they play in fostering healthy ecosystems. Now, climate change is threatening to disrupt these microbes and the key functions they provide.
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As Electric Cars Stall, A Move <br /> To Greener Trucks and Buses

Report

As Electric Cars Stall, A Move
To Greener Trucks and Buses

by cheryl katz
Low gasoline prices and continuing performance issues have slowed the growth of electric car sales. But that has not stymied progress in electrifying larger vehicles, including garbage trucks, city buses, and medium-sized trucks used by freight giants like FedEx.
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New Green Challenge: How to <br />Grow More Food on Less Land

Analysis

New Green Challenge: How to
Grow More Food on Less Land

by richard conniff
If the world is to have another Green Revolution to feed its soaring population, it must be far more sustainable than the first one. That means finding ways to boost yields with less fertilizer and rethinking the way food is distributed.
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The Carbon Counters: Tracking <br /> Emissions in a Post-Paris World

Report

The Carbon Counters: Tracking
Emissions in a Post-Paris World

by nicola jones
In the wake of the Paris climate agreement, developing countries find themselves in need of analysts capable of monitoring their emissions. It’s a complex task, but organizations are stepping in with online courses to train these new green accountants.
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Can Data-Driven Agriculture<br /> Help Feed a Hungry World?

Report

Can Data-Driven Agriculture
Help Feed a Hungry World?

by john roach
Agribusinesses are increasingly using computer databases to enable farmers to grow crops more efficiently and with less environmental impact. Experts hope this data, detailing everything from water use to crop yields, can also help the developing world grow more food.
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In Mexico, Fish Poachers Push </br> Endangered Porpoises to Brink

Report

In Mexico, Fish Poachers Push
Endangered Porpoises to Brink

by ben goldfarb
China’s lucrative black market for fish parts is threatening the vaquita, the world’s most endangered marine mammal. The porpoises, who live only in the Gulf of California, are getting caught up as bycatch in illegal gill nets and killed.
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What’s Causing Deadly Outbreaks of<br /> Fungal Diseases in World’s Wildlife?

Report

What’s Causing Deadly Outbreaks of
Fungal Diseases in World’s Wildlife?

by elizabeth kolbert
An unprecedented global wave of virulent fungal infections is decimating whole groups of animals — from salamanders and frogs, to snakes and bats. While scientists are still trying to understand the causes, they are pointing to intercontinental travel, the pet trade, and degraded habitat as likely factors.
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Why Brazil’s New Pledges On <br />Carbon Emissions Fall Short

Interview

Why Brazil’s New Pledges On
Carbon Emissions Fall Short

by diane toomey
Brazil has won international acclaim for curbing deforestation. But Brazilian forestry expert Maria Fernanda Gebara says her country has not gone far enough in its pledges to cut carbon emissions and continues to have a dismal record on developing wind and solar power.
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On an Unspoiled Caribbean Isle, <br />Grand Plans for Big Tourist Port

Report

On an Unspoiled Caribbean Isle,
Grand Plans for Big Tourist Port

by fred pearce
East Caicos is a tropical jewel – the largest uninhabitated island in the Caribbean and home to rare birds and pristine turtle-nesting beaches. But plans for a giant port for cruise and cargo ships could change it forever.
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As Andes Warm, Deciphering <br />The Future for Tropical Birds

Report

As Andes Warm, Deciphering
The Future for Tropical Birds

by daniel grossman
Scientists have theorized that tropical birds in mountainous regions will move uphill as the climate warms. But new research in the Peruvian Andes suggests that the birds will stay put and face a new threat — predator snakes that will climb into their territory to escape the heat.
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Nicaragua Canal: A Giant Project <br />With Huge Environmental Costs

E360 Special Report

Nicaragua Canal: A Giant Project
With Huge Environmental Costs

by chris kraul
Work has already begun on a $50 billion inter-ocean canal in Nicaragua that would cut through nature reserves and bring massive dredging and major ship traffic to Central America’s largest lake. Scientists and conservationists are warning that the project is an environmental disaster in the making.
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Interview

What Lies Behind the Recent
Surge of Amazon Deforestation

by richard schiffman
After declining by more than 70 percent in recent years, deforestation in the Amazon is soaring. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, scientist Philip Fearnside explains what’s driving the clearing of the Amazon and what needs to be done to once again bring deforestation under control.
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Along Cuba’s Coast, The Last Best <br />Coral Reefs in the Caribbean Thrive

Photo Essay

Along Cuba’s Coast, The Last Best
Coral Reefs in the Caribbean Thrive

Decades of communist rule and a U.S. embargo have stifled coastal development in Cuba, which has had the beneficial effect of leaving many of the country’s coral reefs intact. In this gallery, photographer Robert Wintner documents the exquisite beauty and biodiversity of Cuba’s coral reef ecosystems.
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Agricultural Movement Tackles <br />Challenges of a Warming World

Report

Agricultural Movement Tackles
Challenges of a Warming World

by lisa palmer
With temperatures rising and extreme weather becoming more frequent, the “climate-smart agriculture” campaign is using a host of measures — from new planting practices to improved water management — to keep farmers ahead of the disruptive impacts of climate change.
READ MORE

Giving Local Women a Voice <br />In Grass-Roots Conservation

Interview

Giving Local Women a Voice
In Grass-Roots Conservation

by diane toomey
As “gender advisor” at Conservation International, Kame Westerman seeks to include local women’s perspectives and priorities into the planning of projects in developing countries. This approach, she says, can be critical in determining whether a project succeeds or fails.
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Fostering Community Strategies For Saving the World's Oceans

Interview

Fostering Community Strategies For Saving the World's Oceans

by crystal gammon
To conservationist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, getting coastal communities involved in plans to protect their waters is critical for protecting the planet's oceans. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, she talks about her work in one Caribbean island and how it shows how such a strategy can get results.
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A Conservationist Sees Signs of Hope for the World’s Rainforests

Opinion

A Conservationist Sees Signs of Hope for the World’s Rainforests

by rhett butler
After decades of sobering news, a prominent conservationist says he is finally finding reason to be optimistic about the future of tropical forests. Consumer pressure on international corporations and new monitoring technology, he says, are helping turn the tide in efforts to save forests from Brazil to Indonesia.
READ MORE

How Drones Are Emerging <br />As Valuable Conservation Tool

Interview

How Drones Are Emerging
As Valuable Conservation Tool

by crystal gammon
Lian Pin Koh believes drones can be a key part of conservation efforts, particularly in remote regions. In a Yale Environment 360 interview, he talks about how his project, ConservationDrones, is promoting the use of drones for everything from counting orangutans to stopping poaching.
READ MORE

Primate Rights vs Research: <br /> Battle in Colombian Rainforest

Report

Primate Rights vs Research:
Battle in Colombian Rainforest

by chris kraul
A Colombian conservationist has been locked in a contentious legal fight against a leading researcher who uses wild monkeys in his search for a malaria vaccine. A recent court decision that banned the practice is seen as a victory in efforts to restrict the use of monkeys in medical research.
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Mining Showdown in Andes <br />Over Unique Páramo Lands

Report

Mining Showdown in Andes
Over Unique Páramo Lands

by chris kraul
High-altitude neotropical ecosystems known as páramos are increasingly at risk in Colombia and elsewhere in South America as major mining companies seek to exploit rich deposits of gold and other minerals. Such projects, scientists warn, could have serious impacts on critical water supplies.
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In the Pastures of Colombia, <br />Cows, Crops and Timber Coexist

Analysis

In the Pastures of Colombia,
Cows, Crops and Timber Coexist

by lisa palmer
As an ambitious program in Colombia demonstrates, combining grazing and agriculture with tree cultivation can coax more food from each acre, boost farmers’ incomes, restore degraded landscapes, and make farmland more resilient to climate change.
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In Developing World, A Push to <br />Bring E-Waste Out of Shadows

Report

In Developing World, A Push to
Bring E-Waste Out of Shadows

by mike ives
For decades, hazardous electronic waste from around the world has been processed in unsafe backyard recycling operations in Asia and Africa. Now, a small but growing movement is seeking to provide these informal collectors with incentives to sell e-waste to advanced recycling facilities.
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Microbiomes at the Roots: <br />A New Look at Forest Ecology

Analysis

Microbiomes at the Roots:
A New Look at Forest Ecology

by richard conniff
With advances in genetic sequencing technology, scientists are now able to readily identify the microbes living in and around the roots of trees. This information is proving to have important implications for everything from tropical forest restoration to climate change planning.
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In Galápagos, An Insidious <br />Threat to Darwin's Finches

Report

In Galápagos, An Insidious
Threat to Darwin's Finches

by elizabeth kolbert
The birds that have come to be known as Darwin's finches have long intrigued students of evolution. But now a parasitic fly introduced to the Galápagos Islands is threatening the future of one or more of these iconic finch species.
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Into the Heart of Ecuador’s Yasuni

e360 Video

Into the Heart of Ecuador’s Yasuni

Few places on earth harbor as much biodiversity as Ecuador’s Yasuni Biosphere Reserve, which sits atop vast deposits of oil and now faces intense development pressure. In a Yale Environment 360 video, filmmaker Ryan Killackey travels to the heart of Yasuni with scientists inventorying its stunning wildlife and plants. The researchers hope their work will bolster initiatives to preserve this threatened land.
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Grisly Trend: Green Activists<br /> Are Facing Deadly Dangers

Report

Grisly Trend: Green Activists
Are Facing Deadly Dangers

by fred pearce
With activists killed in Brazil, Cambodia, the Philippines, and elsewhere, 2012 may have been the worst year yet for violence against those working to protect the environment. So far, little has been done to halt this chilling development.
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In the Land of the Maya,<br /> A Battle for a Vital Forest

Report

In the Land of the Maya,
A Battle for a Vital Forest

by william allen
In Guatemala’s vast Maya Biosphere Reserve, conservation groups are battling to preserve a unique rainforest now under threat from Mexican drug cartels, Salvadoran drug gangs, and Chinese-backed groups illegally logging prime tropical hardwoods.
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At Edge of Peruvian Andes,<br /> Tracking Impacts of Warming

Report

At Edge of Peruvian Andes,
Tracking Impacts of Warming

by elizabeth kolbert
The Andes in eastern Peru, with steep slopes and remarkable biodiversity, are what one scientist calls a “perfect laboratory” for studying the effects of climate change. E360 contributor Elizabeth Kolbert trekked there with researchers seeking to determine if tree populations can move uphill fast enough to survive warming temperatures.
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The Imperative of Thinking Big<br /> In Global Conservation Efforts

Interview

The Imperative of Thinking Big
In Global Conservation Efforts

by fen montaigne
In his 12 years as president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Steven E. Sanderson oversaw major projects in Gabon, Chile, South Sudan, and elsewhere. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Sanderson explains why conservation groups need to better coordinate work across large, human-influenced landscapes and more effectively marshal science to fight their battles.
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Looking for Solutions in the<br /> Fight to Preserve Biodiversity

Interview

Looking for Solutions in the
Fight to Preserve Biodiversity

by roger cohn
At the Rio+20 conference this week, conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy received the prestigious Blue Planet Prize. Before traveling to Brazil, Lovejoy talked with Yale Environment 360 about the loss of biodiversity and about whether it is too late for the world to do something about it.
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Digital Defenders: Tribal People<br /> Use GPS to Protect Their Lands

Report

Digital Defenders: Tribal People
Use GPS to Protect Their Lands

by fred pearce
From the rainforests of central Africa to the Australian outback, indigenous people armed with GPS devices are surveying their territories and producing maps they can use to protect them from logging and other outside development.
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In Fight to Save Coral Reefs,<br /> Finding Strategies that Work

Interview

In Fight to Save Coral Reefs,
Finding Strategies that Work

by kevin dennehy
In four decades as a marine biologist, Nancy Knowlton has played a key role in documenting the biodiversity of coral reefs and the threats they increasingly face. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, she assesses the state of the world’s corals and highlights conservation projects that offer hope of saving these irreplaceable ecosystems.
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On the Road Back to Rio,<br /> Green Direction Has Been Lost

Opinion

On the Road Back to Rio,
Green Direction Has Been Lost

by fred pearce
Twenty years ago, an historic environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro produced groundbreaking treaties and high hopes that pressing issues would be addressed. But as organizers prepare for the Rio+20 conference in June, there is little on the agenda to suggest any substantive action will be taken.
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As Roads Spread in Rainforests,<br /> The Environmental Toll Grows

Opinion

As Roads Spread in Rainforests,
The Environmental Toll Grows

by william laurance
From Brazil to Borneo, new roads are being built into tropical forests at a dizzying pace, putting previously intact wilderness at risk. If we hope to preserve rainforests, a leading researcher says, new strategies must be adopted to limit the number of roads and reduce their impacts.
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A Defender of World’s Whales<br /> Sees Only a Tenuous Recovery

Interview

A Defender of World’s Whales
Sees Only a Tenuous Recovery

by christina m. russo
Biologist Roger Payne played a key role in helping end the wholesale slaughter of whales. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Payne discusses the mysteries of these legendary marine mammals and the threats they continue to face.
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A Rise in Fungal Diseases is<br /> Taking Growing Toll on Wildlife

Report

A Rise in Fungal Diseases is
Taking Growing Toll on Wildlife

by michelle nijhuis
In an increasingly interconnected world, fungal diseases are spreading at an alarming rate and have led to deadly outbreaks in amphibian, bat, and bee populations. And in the last decade, researchers note, some of the most virulent strains have infected people.
READ MORE

A Revolutionary Technology is<br /> Unlocking Secrets of the Forest

Report

A Revolutionary Technology is
Unlocking Secrets of the Forest

by rhett butler
A new imaging system that uses a suite of airborne sensors is capable of providing detailed, three-dimensional pictures of tropical forests — including the species they contain and the amount of CO2 they store — at astonishing speed. These advances could play a key role in preserving the world’s beleaguered rainforests.
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In Brazil, Palm Oil Plantations<br /> Could Help Preserve the Amazon

Analysis

In Brazil, Palm Oil Plantations
Could Help Preserve the Amazon

by rhett butler
In recent years, palm oil development in Malaysia and Indonesia has devastated tropical forests there. With Brazil on the verge of its own palm oil boom, can sustainable cultivation of the crop actually help save the rainforest, rather than hastening its destruction?
READ MORE

The World’s Tropical Forests<br /> Are Already Feeling the Heat

Analysis

The World’s Tropical Forests
Are Already Feeling the Heat

by william laurance
Much attention has been paid to how global warming is affecting the world’s polar regions and glaciers. But a leading authority on tropical forests warns that rising temperatures could have an equally profound impact on rainforests and are already taking a toll on some tropical species.
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The Cerrado: Brazil’s Other<br /> Biodiverse Region Loses Ground

Report

The Cerrado: Brazil’s Other
Biodiverse Region Loses Ground

by fred pearce
While Brazil touts its efforts to slow destruction of the Amazon, another biodiverse region of the country is being cleared for large-scale farming. But unlike the heralded rainforest it borders, the loss of the cerrado and its rich tropical savanna so far has failed to attract much notice.
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A Scientist Extols the Value<br /> Of Forests Shaped by Humans

Interview

A Scientist Extols the Value
Of Forests Shaped by Humans

by john carey
Political ecologist Susanna Hecht has incurred the wrath of some conservationists by arguing that the notion of the primeval forest is largely a myth and that disturbed forests play a vital ecological function. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, she makes the case for a “new rurality” that places less emphasis on protected forests and more on the areas where people live.
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Threat of Mercury Poisoning<br /> Rises With Gold Mining Boom

Report

Threat of Mercury Poisoning
Rises With Gold Mining Boom

by shefa siegel
With high gold prices fueling a global gold rush, millions of people in the developing world are turning to small-scale gold mining. In many countries, including Colombia, miners are putting themselves and those who live nearby at risk by using highly toxic mercury in the refining process.
READ MORE

Did Cancun Prove the UN<br /> Irrelevant in Tackling Climate?

Opinion

Did Cancun Prove the UN
Irrelevant in Tackling Climate?

by fred pearce
The Cancun conference is being credited with keeping international climate talks alive. But the real potential for bringing emissions under control may lie in a Plan B, with nations acting on their own in moving toward a low-carbon economy.
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Deep in Ecuador’s Rainforest,<br /> A Plan to Forego an Oil Bonanza

Report

Deep in Ecuador’s Rainforest,
A Plan to Forego an Oil Bonanza

by kelly hearn
Ecuador's Yasuni National Park is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth and is home to remote Indian tribes. It also sits atop a billion barrels of oil. Now, Ecuador and the United Nations are forging an ambitious plan to walk away from drilling in the park in exchange for payments from the international community.
READ MORE

Spurred by Warming World,<br /> Beetles Threaten Coffee Crops

Report

Spurred by Warming World,
Beetles Threaten Coffee Crops

by erica westly
Coffee production has long been vulnerable to drought or excess rains. But recently, a tiny insect that thrives in warmer temperatures — the coffee berry borer — has been spreading steadily, devastating coffee plants in Africa, Latin America, and around the world.
READ MORE

In the Fight to Save Forests,<br /> Activists Target Corporations

Analysis

In the Fight to Save Forests,
Activists Target Corporations

by rhett butler
Large corporations, not small-scale farmers, are now the major forces behind the destruction of the world’s tropical forests. From the Amazon to Madagascar, activists have been directing their actions at these companies — so far with limited success.
READ MORE

Will REDD Preserve Forests <br />Or Merely Provide a Fig Leaf?

Analysis

Will REDD Preserve Forests
Or Merely Provide a Fig Leaf?

by fred pearce
The tropical forest conservation plan, known as REDD, has the potential to significantly reduce deforestation and carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. But unless projects are carefully designed and monitored, the program could be undercut by shady dealings at all levels, from the forests to global carbon markets.
READ MORE

Coping With Climate Change:<br /> Which Societies Will Do Best?

Opinion

Coping With Climate Change:
Which Societies Will Do Best?

by gaia vince
As the world warms, how different societies fare in dealing with rising seas and changing weather patterns will have as much to do with political, social, and economic factors as with a changing climate.
READ MORE

Controlling the Ranching Boom<br /> that  Threatens the Amazon

Report

Controlling the Ranching Boom
that Threatens the Amazon

by rhett butler
Clearing land for cattle is responsible for 80 percent of rainforest loss in the Brazilian Amazon. But with Amazon ranching now a multi-billion dollar business, corporate buyers of beef and leather, including Wal-Mart, are starting to demand that the destruction of the forest be halted.
READ MORE

Hailed as a Miracle Biofuel,<br /> Jatropha Falls Short of Hype

Report

Hailed as a Miracle Biofuel,
Jatropha Falls Short of Hype

by jon r. luoma
The scrubby jatropha tree has been touted as a wonder biofuel with unlimited potential. But questions are now emerging as to whether widespread jatropha cultivation is really feasible or whether it will simply displace badly-needed food crops in the developing world.
READ MORE

Retreat of Andean Glaciers<br /> Foretells Global Water Woes

Report

Retreat of Andean Glaciers
Foretells Global Water Woes

by carolyn kormann
Bolivia accounts for a tiny fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions. But it will soon be paying a disproportionately high price for a major consequence of global warming: the rapid loss of glaciers and a subsequent decline in vital water supplies.
READ MORE

As Rain Forests Disappear,<br /> A Market Solution Emerges

Report

As Rain Forests Disappear,
A Market Solution Emerges

by rhett butler
Despite the creation of protected areas in the Amazon and other tropical regions, rain forests worldwide are still being destroyed for a simple reason: They are worth more cut down than standing. But with deforestation now a leading driver of global warming, a movement is growing to pay nations and local people to keep their rain forests intact.
READ MORE

Opinion

Has the Population Bomb Been Defused?

by fred pearce
Paul Ehrlich still believes that overpopulation imperils the Earth’s future. But the good news is we are approaching a demographic turning point: Birth rates have been falling dramatically, and population is expected to peak later this century — after that, for the first time in modern history, the world's population should actually start to decline.
READ MORE

Global Commodities Boom <br />Fuels New Assault on Amazon

Report

Global Commodities Boom
Fuels New Assault on Amazon

by rhett butler
With soaring prices for agricultural goods and new demand for biofuels, the clearing of the world's largest rain forest has accelerated dramatically. Unless forceful measures are taken, half of the Brazilian Amazon could be cut, burned or dried out within 20 years.
READ MORE

Opinion

The Ethics of Climate Change

by richard c. j. somerville
When it comes to setting climate change policy, science can only tell us so much. Ultimately, a lead report author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change writes, it comes down to making judgments about what is fair, equitable, and just.
READ MORE

DNA Technology: <br />Discovering New Species

Report

DNA Technology:
Discovering New Species

by jon r. luoma
By taking bits of a single gene, scientists are using DNA barcoding to identify new species. If a portable hand-held scanning device can be developed, one ecologist says, it could “do for biodiversity what the printing press did for literacy.”
READ MORE

e360 digest

RELATED e360 DIGEST ITEMS


25 Jul 2016: Global Economy Has Reduced
Its Energy Intensity By One-Third Since 1990

The global economy is becoming less energy intensive, using fewer fossil fuels to power productivity and economic growth, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Rooftop solar panels
Global energy intensity — a measure of energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) — has decreased nearly one-third since 1990, the agency said. The U.S., for example, burned 5,900 British thermal units per dollar of GDP in 2015, compared to 6,600 BTUs in 2010. China burned 7,200 BTUs per dollar in 2015 versus 8,300 BTUs in 2010. The Department of Energy says the decrease is the result of the growth in low-carbon energy sources, such as wind and solar, and improved energy efficiency. “This is excellent news,” Penn State University climatologist Michael Mann told Climate Central. “The dramatic drop we are seeing in global energy intensity is a direct indication that energy efficiency measures are having a very direct impact on global carbon emissions.”
PERMALINK

 

20 Jul 2016: Global Temperatures Continue
To Shatter Heat and Arctic Ice Records

June marked the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking heat, with global temperatures measuring 1.62 degrees F above the 20th-century average, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week.

Global 2016 temperatures.
The first half of 2016 was 1.89 degrees F above last century’s average, breaking the previous January-June record set in 2015 of 0.36 degrees F above average. “2016 has really blown [2015] out of the water,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told reporters. Five of the first six months of this year have also set records for the smallest Arctic sea ice extent since satellite records began in 1979. Scientists said the recent record-breaking heat could be partly attributed to last year’s strong El Nino, but not entirely. “While the El Niño event… this winter gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards, it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers,” Schmidt said.
PERMALINK

 

18 Jul 2016: Following El Nino, Amazon
At Risk of Intense Wildfire Season

As a result of the recent El Nino, the Amazon rainforest is the driest it has been at the start of a dry season since 2002 — setting “the stage for extreme fire risk in 2016” in the region,

The Amazon rainforest.
NASA warned in a new fire forecast for South America. The risk for wildfire this year now exceeds the risk in 2005 and 2010, years when wildfires burned large swaths of the forest, the scientists found. Terrestrial water storage, or soil moisture, is also lower than previous years, NASA said. “When trees have less moisture to draw upon at the beginning of the dry season, they become more vulnerable to fire and evaporate less water into the atmosphere,” said UC-Irvine scientist Jim Randerson, who helped create the forecast. “This puts millions of trees under stress and lowers humidity across the region, allowing fires to grow bigger than they normally would.”
PERMALINK

 

12 Jul 2016: Climate Change Has Shifted
The World’s Cloud Cover Over Past 30 Years

Warming global temperatures have altered the distribution of clouds across the Earth in recent decades, according to new research published in the journal Nature.

Global cloud cover.
Mid-latitude storm clouds have shifted polewards, dry subtropical zones have expanded in size, and the tops of clouds have gotten higher as a result of a warmer troposphere and cooler stratosphere, according to the study, which relied on satellite images taken between 1983 and 2009. Researchers said these shifts in cloud cover could further exacerbate climate change. As cloud systems shift toward the poles, where there’s less solar radiation, more sunlight will reach the Earth’s surface near the equator, boosting temperatures. Also, taller, thicker clouds trap more heat. “We now have a thicker blanket, which is also a warming effect,” said Joel Norris, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego who helped lead the study.
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24 Jun 2016: Cities on Six Continents
Join Forces to Combat Climate Change

Mayors from more than 7,100 cities on six continents announced this week that they are creating a new alliance to fight climate change at the local level.

New York City
The new group — a merger of the European Union-based Covenant of Mayors and the United Nations-backed Compact of Mayors — represents a combined 600 million people in 119 countries. The initiative aims to set city-based CO2 emissions cuts, build sustainable communities, and foster the sharing of resiliency policies and technologies. “Cities are key to solving the climate change challenge,” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission, wrote in The Guardian. “They account for most of the world’s carbon emissions, and mayors often have control over the largest sources. Cities can also act quickly to confront climate change, without the political and bureaucratic hurdles that often hold back national governments.”
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23 Jun 2016: Scientists Discover Contagious
Cancer in More Species of Shellfish

Last year, scientists discovered a type of contagious cancer in soft-shell clams in which free-floating cells transmitted the disease from one animal to another.

Mussels
Now, a team of Columbia University researchers is reporting that contagious cancers in the ocean may be more common than previously thought and can not only jump from animal to animal, but across species. According to the new study published in Nature, the leukemia-like cancer, known as disseminated neoplasia, has been found in three more species of bivalves: mussels, cockles, and golden carpet shell clams. The cancer cells were genetically distinct from their hosts, indicating they originated elsewhere. Transmissible cancer had previously been found in Tasmanian devils and dogs, but there’s no indication that humans are at risk. “I would only worry deeply if I was a mollusk,” Stephen P. Goff, a molecular biologist at Columbia University and co-author of the study, told The New York Times.
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20 Jun 2016: 2015 Deadliest Year for
Environmentalists on Record, Finds Report

Last year was the deadliest year on record for environmentalists, according to a new report from Global Witness, a nonprofit that tracks environmental and human rights abuses worldwide.

Indigenous people protest a dam in the Amazon.
One hundred and eighty-five people were killed trying to stop development of land, forests, and rivers in 16 countries in 2015 — equal to more than three people per week. The tally represents a 59 percent increase over 2014, and is double the number of journalists killed in the same period, according to the report. Environmentalists were most at risk in Brazil, the Philippines, and Columbia, which had 50, 33, and 26 killings last year, respectively. “This report sheds light on the acute vulnerability of indigenous people, whose weak land rights and geographic isolation make them particularly exposed to land grabbing for natural resource exploitation,” the Global Witness authors wrote. “In 2015, almost 40% of victims were indigenous.”
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16 Jun 2016: Some Coral Reef “Bright Spots”
Remain, Despite Devastating Bleaching

After decades of being overfished and mismanaged, and the worst bleaching event on record this year, scientists reported in the journal Nature this week that there remain some “bright spots” among the world’s coral reefs

Coral reef on the Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific.
– systems that are doing better than anyone expected. The study examined 18 different factors at 2,514 reefs in 46 nations, including water depth, tourism, fishing, and population density. Those systems that were still thriving — defined by the scientists as having more fish than expected — tended to be managed by, and accessible only to, local fishermen and indigenous groups. This included reefs in places like the Solomon Islands, parts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Kiribati. “There’s been a narrative about local involvement, but it’s often very token,” Joshua Cinner, a research fellow at James Cook University in Australia and lead author of the study, told The Atlantic. He said there should be more opportunity for “communities to creatively confront their own challenges.”
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15 Jun 2016: Clean Energy Could Cost Up To
59 Percent Less by 2025, Report Finds

The cost of solar energy could drop by as much as 59 percent by 2025, from 13 cents to 6 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Rooftop solar panels in Hannover, Germany.
Offshore wind could become 35 percent cheaper, and onshore wind 26 percent cheaper, by 2025. The cost of building renewable energy facilities is also likely to fall, by as much as 57 percent by the middle of next decade, the report found. “Historically, cost has been cited as one of the primary barriers to switching from fossil-based energy sources to renewable energy sources, but the narrative has now changed,” Adnan Z. Amin, director-general of IRENA, said in a statement. “To continue driving the energy transition, we must now shift policy focus to support areas that will result in even greater cost declines and thus maximize the tremendous economic opportunity at hand.”
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09 Jun 2016: Fish Can Recognize Human
Faces, According to One New Study

Fish now join humans, monkeys, primates, and birds as one of the few animals able to distinguish faces, according to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports this week.

James St. John/Wikimedia
The skill requires a sophisticated combination of perception and memory— and generally, a neocortex. But scientists at the University of Oxford in England and the University of Queensland in Australia were able to train archerfish to recognize human faces, despite the fact that these tropical fish don’t have complex brain structures. Archerfish typically feed by spitting water at prey, like insects. So the scientists taught the fish to spray water at images of particular human faces in exchange for food. Archerfish identified the correct person 81 percent of the time.
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06 Jun 2016: Fish Choose Plastic Over
Zooplankton in Polluted Waters

Fish that grow up in waters full of plastic particles develop a taste for trash, choosing to eat plastic over zooplankton, their natural food source, according to a study published in the journal Science.

Oona Lönnstedt
The research, by ecologists at Uppsala University in Swedish, found larval perch from the Baltic Sea exposed to microplastic pollution (less than 5mm in size) had stunted growth, were less active, ignored the smell of predators, and experienced increased mortality rates. Plastic pollution has become a major problem in the world’s oceans, but scientists are just beginning to understand how these fragments can affect the health of marine species. “If early life-history stages of other species are similarly affected by microplastics, and this translates to increased mortality rates, the effects on aquatic ecosystems could be profound,” said ecologist Oona Lönnstedt, lead author of the study.
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01 Jun 2016: Climate Change Could Be Making
Food Crops More Toxic, UN Report Says

As extreme weather increases in frequency and intensity, food crops are producing more chemical compounds that can be toxic to humans in large doses, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Sam Fentress/Wikimedia
Crops such as wheat, maize, and soybeans generate these compounds as a natural response to environmental stressors, such as drought, floods or heat waves. But when consumed by humans for extended periods of time, they can cause illnesses like neurological diseases or cancer, according to the study. One example, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports, is nitrate. Drought slows down plants’ conversion of nitrates into amino acids and proteins, leading to a build up of the compound. When consumed in large quantities, nitrates stop red blood cells from transporting oxygen in the human body. "We are just beginning to recognize the magnitude of toxin- related issues confronting farmers in developing countries of the tropics and sub-tropics," the UNEP report noted.
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31 May 2016: Bees’ Fuzzy Bodies Help Them
Detect Electrical Charges From Flowers

Back in 2013, scientists discovered that bees can detect the electrical charges that flowers emit, helping them locate nearby food sources.

Mark Burnett/Wikimedia
Exactly how the bees were doing this, however, remained a mystery. Now, scientists have found that the hairs on bees’ fuzzy bodies move in response to the charges, which send nerve signals to bees’ brains that flowers are nearby. The finding is an important one: Scientists have long thought that only animals in marine or moist habitats could detect electric fields, since currents are carried through water. That bees can do this in dry air opens up the possibility that other insects might have the same ability. The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Bristol in the U.K., was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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24 May 2016: Peru Declares Emergency to
Fight Mercury Pollution from Gold Mines

Peru has declared a 60-day emergency in the Amazon due to widespread mercury pollution from the region’s booming gold mining industry, the country's environment minister announced this week.

Marcin Nowak/Wikimedia
Several studies have confirmed dangerously high levels of the neurotoxin in waterways, fish, and people living in the Madres de Dios region, near Peru’s southeast border. Members of the Harakmbut indigenous group, for example, have mercury levels in their bodies six times higher than what doctors deem safe. Mercury is used to separate gold from ore, but it can have serious health impacts, including damaging brain, kidney, and lung function. In illegal mining operations — which make up the majority of mines in the Peruvian Amazon — workers often handle the substance with bare hands, and dump excess mercury into nearby rivers. During the 60-day emergency period, the government will supply uncontaminated fish to local communities and set up mobile health clinics.
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23 May 2016: World Could Warm 8 Degrees
Celsius If All Fossil Fuel Reserves Burned

As nations meet in Bonn, Germany this week to hash out how to achieve the 2-degree Celsius goal they set in Paris, new research is providing policymakers a glimpse of what would happen if the world does nothing to curb climate change.

NASA
What if nations chose instead to burn through all of their remaining fossil fuel reserves, equal to 5 trillion tons of CO2 emissions? According to the new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the world would warm an average 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees F), or up to 17 degrees Celsius (30 degrees F) in the Arctic. The research was conducted by a team of climate scientists at the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who wanted to understand the worst-case scenario. “Such climate changes, if realized, would have extremely profound impacts on ecosystems, human health, agriculture, economies, and other sectors,” the researchers write.
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Interview: CO2 'Air Capture' Could
Be Key to Slowing Global Warming

For two decades, Klaus Lackner has pioneered efforts to combat climate change by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Klaus Lackner

Klaus Lackner
Now, after years of watching the global community fail to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control, Lackner — director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University — is delivering a blunt message: The best hope to avoid major disruptions from global warming is to launch a massive program of CO2 "air capture" that will begin to reverse the buildup of billions of tons of carbon in our atmosphere. "We need to have the ability to walk this backwards," says Lackner. "I'm saying this is a war, and we need to use all the weapons at our disposal. You don't want to get into this fight with one hand tied behind your back."
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

12 May 2016: Despite Push for Renewables,
Fossil Fuels Likely to Dominate in 2040

World leaders pledged last year in Paris to cut CO2 emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Despite these promises, U.S. analysts said Wednesday that fossil fuels

EveryCarListed/Flickr
— including coal — will still likely be the world’s primary source of energy in 2040. The findings are part of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual World Energy Outlook report. Electricity from wind, solar, and hydropower will grow 2.9 percent annually, the report concluded, and by 2040, renewables, coal, and natural gas will each generate one-third of the world’s electricity. But diesel and gasoline will still power the majority of vehicles, with electric cars making up only 1 percent of the market, the report said. The report also found that carbon emissions from energy consumption in the developing world could grow 51 percent from 2012 to 2040 as countries like India and China modernize their economies, particularly by using coal.
PERMALINK

 

10 May 2016: More than 2,000 New
Plant Species Are Found Every Year

There are currently 391,000 plant species known to science—and another 2,000 are being discovered every year, according to a new report from the U.K.’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Paulo Gonella
Last year’s new discoveries included a nearly five-foot tall carnivorous plant first identified on Facebook, a 105-ton tree in West Africa, and 90 new species of Begonia flowers. Brazil, Australia, and China were hotspots for species discovery. The State of the World’s Plants report did find, however, that one-fifth of the world’s plant species are at risk of extinction from habitat loss, disease, invasive species, and climate change. “Plants are absolutely fundamental to humankind,” Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew, told The Guardian. “Plants provide us with everything — food, fuel, medicines, timber, and they are incredibly important for our climate regulation. We are facing some devastating realities if we do not take stock and re-examine our priorities and efforts.”
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05 May 2016: With Climate Change, It Is
Survival of the Oldest, Not the Fittest

When it comes to climate change, the world’s oldest species are more likely to survive than newly evolved ones, says a new study published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Brian Gratwicke/Flickr
The logic is relatively simple: The reason they’re so old is that they’ve been tested by abrupt environmental shifts before and have come out on top. This group includes species like the cane toad and California sea lion. More specifically, the study found the planet’s oldest animals all share at least one of the following characteristics: They come in various colors, give birth to live young (as opposed to eggs), and live at low latitudes. The research could help “predict which [species] could be better able to deal with current climate change and to better predict the threat status of species on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature,” said Sylvain Dubey, an ecologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and co-author of the new study.
PERMALINK

 

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.

Matt Zimmerman/Flickr
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.
PERMALINK

 

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