Worryingly, such weather events may not remain unusual
Heatwaves bring problems, especially in the developing world. Crops are ravaged, food spoils and workers become less productive. Studies have linked rising temperatures to violent crime and civil strife. And heat can kill on its own. In 2003 more than 70,000 Europeans may have died as a direct result of an infernal summer.
That was seen as a once-a-millennium heatwave at the time. By comparison, notes Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, outside of northern Europe the summer of 2018 looks unremarkable, so far, in terms of temperature. The Netherlands, for instance, can expect scorchers every couple of years. Except, he adds, a century ago that might have been once every 20 years. A few years back, a team led by Peter Stott of Britain’s Met Office calculated that, by 2012, summers like the one in 2003 would be expected to occur not every 1,000 years but every 127.
Decades ago, synthetic polymers became popular because they were cheap and durable. Now, scientists are creating material that self-destructs or breaks down for reuse on command.
The environmental effects of plastic buildup and the declining popularity of plastics have helped to spur chemists on a quest to make new materials with two conflicting requirements: They must be durable, but degradable on command. In short, scientists are in search of polymers or plastics with a built-in self-destruct mechanism.
The Eastern monarch is in trouble, and this is the time to help (no science degree needed).
As a species, the Eastern monarch — an iconic butterfly that migrates 3,000 miles every year — is in serious trouble. A changing climate is part of the problem, imperiling the monarch’s Mexican wintering grounds and spawning extreme weather events that can destroy millions of migrating butterflies. And pesticide drift can poison caterpillars even when they aren’t the targeted pest.
Monarch caterpillars are never targeted, in fact, because monarchs are important pollinators that don’t eat crops or damage gardens. Their caterpillars eat only milkweed, which was once ubiquitous along American roadsides and in the margins between fields on small farms. The biggest danger to the monarch butterfly is the disappearance of milkweed because of habitat destruction and the widespread use of herbicides, like Roundup, by both commercial farms and state highway departments.
Once a leader in protecting the region’s vast forests, Brazil is now moving in the opposite direction.
If the government’s retrenchment on environmental protection continues, there may soon be nothing to stop the chain saws on the Amazonian frontier, where the rule of law can be weak and land is frequently seized and cleared illegally. This has implications beyond Brazil. The Amazon’s lush forests make up the largest reserve of carbon dioxide on the surface of the earth. This potent greenhouse gas is released when forests are burned or bulldozed and left to decay.
A plague of tiny beetles is tearing into our trees and killing them. The unprecedented crisis has led to towns, cities, companies and universities scrambling to find an urgent solution.
The innocuous-looking villain is the 2mm-long shot hole borer. An invasive alien species from Asia, the borer burrows deep into trees to create a nest for its eggs.
It then secretes a fungus (Fusarium euwallacea) to feed its larvae.
The fungus feeds on the capillaries of its unwilling host and starves the tree of water and nutrition.
High CO2 levels cause plants to thicken their leaves, could worsen climate change effects
Plant scientists have observed that when levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rise, most plants do something unusual: They thicken their leaves.
And since human activity is raising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, thick-leafed plants appear to be in our future.
But the consequences of this physiological response go far beyond heftier leaves on many plants. Two University of Washington scientists have discovered that plants with thicker leaves may exacerbate the effects of climate change because they would be less efficient in sequestering atmospheric carbon, a fact that climate change models to date have not taken into account.
Denying climate change doesn’t stop its devastating effects.
As Hurricane Michael rips through homes and communities, we send our sympathies to all those in its path, but let’s also review what some leading Florida residents have said about climate change.
“One of the most preposterous hoaxes in the history of the planet,” scoffed Rush Limbaugh of Palm Beach. Gov. Rick Scott’s administration went so far as to bar some agencies from even using the term “climate change,” according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (Scott denied this).
Myopic Floridians have plenty of company. President Trump dismissed climate change as a hoax “created by and for the Chinese.” Senator James Inhofe, a Republican of Oklahoma, “disproved” climate change by taking a snowball onto the Senate floor and noting that it was chilly outside; using similarly rigorous scientific methods, he wrote a book about climate change called “The Greatest Hoax.”
Alas, denying climate change doesn’t actually prevent it. North Carolina passed a law in 2012 prohibiting the use of climate science in certain state planning, yet that didn’t intimidate Hurricane Florence last month. And banning the words “climate change” isn’t helping Florida now.
An organization on the coast of Kenya tries to persuade local residents to help return the trapped reptiles to the ocean, rather than sell their meat and shells for a living.
WATAMU, Kenya — The young hawksbill turtle was accidentally caught in a net in the Indian Ocean off Kenya’s coast.
The fisherman called Local Ocean Conservation, a nonprofit based in the town of Watamu that is the only turtle rescue and rehabilitation center on the East African seaboard. The hawksbill, critically endangered in this region, was a mere seven pounds; adults can weigh up to 160 pounds.
X-rays showed that the reptile’s intestinal tract was clogged with plastic. Hogaar, as Local Ocean named her, floated and couldn’t dive. Gas had built up in her innards after she had eaten small pieces of plastic mistaken for food such as jellyfish. Local Ocean staff members placed Hogaar in a rehab pool and gave her laxatives. She passed feces laced with shreds of packaging and had little appetite. After more than four months at Local Ocean, Hogaar died. A necropsy revealed her gut was also full of sharp shards of white, blue and pink plastic and tangles of blue and gray string.
Microplastics Find Their Way Into Your Gut, a Pilot Study Finds
Researchers looked for microplastics in stool samples of people from eight countries. “The results were astonishing,” they said.
In the next 60 seconds, people around the world will purchase one million plastic bottles and two million plastic bags. By the end of the year, we will produce enough bubble wrap to encircle the Equator 10 times.
Though it will take more than 1,000 years for most of these items to degrade, many will soon break apart into tiny shards known as microplastics, trillions of which have been showing up in the oceans, fish, tap water and even table salt.
Now, we can add one more microplastic repository to the list: the human gut.
In a pilot study with a small sample size, researchers looked for microplastics in stool samples of eight people from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and Austria. To their surprise, every single sample tested positive for the presence of a variety of microplastics.
The biggest crime scene on the planet is the planet. We know the earth is warming, but who or what is causing it?
When this is all put together, the conclusions are inescapable: Without human activities the planet would not have warmed over the past century. When scientists include all of the effects that humans have had on the climate system, they can match them with these many independent and varied observations. Our best assessment is therefore that humans, at least the ones responsible for the bulk of carbon dioxide emissions, have been responsible for all of the recent trends in global temperatures.
Ismailis and World Leaders Attend Global Climate Action Summit
“By becoming engaged, by informing itself of the challenge we face and collective actions that can make a difference. The AKDN is particularly well placed to assist at various levels; through the common actions of the diaspora, high-level scientific work in the academic centers of AKDN and population based actions on sustainable development in the geographies in which AKDN works.”
Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, Aga Khan University, a speaker at the Global Climate Action Summit, reflecting on the significance of the event.
The Moscone Center in San Francisco was thriving with influential personalities as the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), hosted by California Governor Jerry Brown, brought together governors, mayors, and business leaders from across the world to not only celebrate the achievements of climate action, but to demonstrate that cities and businesses, by going green in their own backyard, can inspire others to follow suit.
Just as momentum on global climate action seemed to falter following the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, the GCAS re-engaged and re-energized international leaders, and further positioned California as leading the charge on positive climate action. Taking place between the 2015 and 2020 Paris climate discussions, the GCAS provided a platform for leaders to demonstrate that positive climate can be feasible as well as practical and economical.
An announcement was made at the summit of 26 cities including Medellin, Oxford, Rotterdam, Seoul, Tokyo, and Warsaw - representing more than 140 million urban citizens - have committed to deliver a zero emission mobility future. Organizations and philanthropists from around the world committed four billion dollars over five years that would support a number of projects promoting sustainable communities, health energy systems, and various other projects promoting positive climate action.
California has witnessed firsthand the increase in the severity of droughts and wildfires and approaches climate action with greater urgency and determination. Prior to the summit, Governor Brown passed legislation directing California to phase out fossil fuels for electricity by 2045 and operate entirely on renewable energy.
Commenting on the impact of conferences such as the Summit, Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta of the Aga Khan University, Karachi, an Ismaili physician specializing in pediatrics and child health, said that “These events are important for advocacy and also galvanizing the communities (public health, civic society, and academia) for evidence-informed action. I certainly learned a lot and was able to share what the global pediatric community could do to assist in this common good for generations to come.”
In Pakistan, an ambitious effort to plant 10 billion trees takes root
HARIPUR, Pakistan — When Mohammed Riasat, a government forest service officer, peers up at the majestic ridges around him, he sees small miracles others might miss: a few dozen pine seedlings that have sprouted in rocky, near-vertical cliffs or a grove of healthy young eucalyptus trees, planted on a patch of terrain that had been eroding after years of illegal use.
“When I see a grown tree cut down, I feel like a close relative has died,” said Riasat, who has spent three decades working with limited funds and staff to protect Pakistan’s beleaguered forests here in the verdant hills of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. “When I see a new one appear, I feel attached to it.”
Two years ago, that struggling effort got a huge boost. Imran Khan, then a politician whose party governed the province, launched a program dubbed the “Billion Tree Tsunami.” Eventually, hundreds of thousands of trees were planted across the region, timber smuggling was virtually wiped out, and a cottage industry of backyard nurseries flourished.
Today, Khan is Pakistan’s prime minister, and his new government is aiming to replicate that success nationwide, this time with a “10 Billion Tree Tsunami.” Officials said they hope the initiative, launched last month, will foster environmental awareness in their impoverished, drought-plagued country, where both greed and necessity have left forests stripped; they now cover only 2 percent of all land, according to the World Bank.
The plan is one of dozens that Khan has proposed in his wide-ranging agenda to fashion a “new” Pakistan. Some have met with skepticism, such as persuading wealthy overseas Pakistanis to finance the construction of dams and vowing to end entrenched official corruption.
Philosophers have been talking about skepticism for a long time. Some of those insights can shed light on our public discourse regarding climate change.
One way to counter the effects of skepticism is to stop talking about “knowledge” and switch to talking about probabilities. Instead of saying that you don’t know some claim, try to estimate the probability that it is true. As hedge fund managers, economists, policy researchers, doctors and bookmakers have long been aware, the way to make decisions while managing risk is through probabilities. Once we switch to this perspective, claims to “not know,” like those made by Trump, lose their force and we are pushed to think more carefully about the existing data and engage in cost-benefit analyses.
Environmental awareness highlighted through tree-planting events around the world
In Islamic tradition, society is encouraged to leave behind a wholesome and sustainable natural environment for those who will inherit the Earth. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) is believed to have said "Even if the end of time is upon you and you have a seedling in your hand, plant it."
In recent months, institutions in India, Pakistan, and Canada have held tree-planting events as part of their programming.
Trees contribute to our ecosystem by providing oxygen, improving air quality and ocean health, and supporting local wildlife. Planting trees is an important part of environmental stewardship, one that contributes to the mitigation of climate change.
As Mawlana Hazar Imam said during the inauguration of the Aga Khan Garden, Alberta on 16 October 2018: “For a central part of the garden tradition is the high calling of human stewardship, our responsibility to honour, to protect, and to share the gifts of the natural world.”
If you look at a forest through a Darwinian lens, you’ll see individual trees battling each other for finite resources like water, nutrients and sunlight. The winners take what they can and live long enough to reproduce, while the losers end up struggling to survive.
In recent years, though, this “survival of the fittest” view of forests is giving way to something altogether different. Research shows that trees have much more complex relationships. They cooperate, share resources, warn each other of danger, nurture younger trees and work together to create a vibrant, healthy community — some might say like a family or old friends.
While some scientists would prefer a less poetic — and less anthropomorphic — way of describing the interrelationships of trees, there’s little doubt that our former view of trees as loners battling for individual supremacy is no longer valid.
Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, is one of the biggest proponents of this shift in how we talk about trees.
In an interview with Smithsonian, he refers to certain pairs of trees as “old friends,” which might bring to mind the tree-like Ents in the Lord of the Rings. But this description is less Tolkienesque than it seems. Wohlleben is referring to the close connection between pairs of trees. Sometimes it is so close, he said, that if one tree dies, its partner usually dies soon afterward.
Trees have many ways of communicating with each other. An important one is through underground fungal networks, also known as mycorrhizal networks. Fungal filaments join with the hairlike root tips of trees, forming a network that connects trees in what some have dubbed the “wood wide web,” said Wohlleben.
John Kerry: Forget Trump. We All Must Act on Climate Change.
If we fail, it won’t be just the president’s fault.
But the test is not whether the nation’s cities and states can make up for Mr. Trump’s rejection of reality. They can. The test is whether the nations of the world will pull out of the mutual suicide pact that we’ve all passively joined through an inadequate response to this crisis.
Talk to leaders who are gathered in Poland. They acknowledge that we aren’t close to getting the job done in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet. People are dying today because of climate change, and many more will die and trillions of dollars of damage to property will occur unless America gets back in the fight.
The evidence is hard to miss. Fifteen of the biggest fires in California history have occurred in the past 18 years. We roll our eyes when the president suggests “raking” the forest is the answer. But clever internet memes don’t help when the stakes are this high.
Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma cost the United States some $265 billion in damages. Historic droughts are matched by historic floods. Heat waves stole 153 billion hours of labor globally last year. Infectious diseases are moving into new areas and higher altitudes. Crop yields are down in more than two dozen countries, and by 2050 the Midwestern United States could see agricultural productivity drop to its lowest level in decades. But this is a mere preview of what’s to come.
Our species possesses inherent value, but we are devastating the earth and causing unimaginable animal suffering.
There are stirrings of discussion these days in philosophical circles about the prospect of human extinction. This should not be surprising, given the increasingly threatening predations of climate change. In reflecting on this question, I want to suggest an answer to a single question, one that hardly covers the whole philosophical territory but is an important aspect of it. Would human extinction be a tragedy?
To get a bead on this question, let me distinguish it from a couple of other related questions. I’m not asking whether the experience of humans coming to an end would be a bad thing. (In these pages, Samuel Scheffler has given us an important reason to think that it would be.) I am also not asking whether human beings as a species deserve to die out. That is an important question, but would involve different considerations. Those questions, and others like them, need to be addressed if we are to come to a full moral assessment of the prospect of our demise. Yet what I am asking here is simply whether it would be a tragedy if the planet no longer contained human beings. And the answer I am going to give might seem puzzling at first. I want to suggest, at least tentatively, both that it would be a tragedy and that it might just be a good thing.
Power lines and electrified fences are killing birds, monkeys, pangolins and even elephants in surprising numbers.
South Africa is not the only country struggling with the problem, and it’s not just fences that kill. Power lines are being strung haphazardly across poor countries; these, too, electrocute animals, and collisions alone often prove fatal for birds.
“There are studies from all over the world that have documented this as an issue,” said Scott Loss, an ecologist at Oklahoma State University.
Electrocution affects a diverse variety of species; in some, it is so common that it jeopardizes the survival of species. In southern African countries, electrocution is considered a leading threat to endangered Cape vultures and critically endangered white-backed vultures.
In Central Asia, electrocution kills an estimated 4,000 endangered Saker falcons each year. In the United States, Dr. Loss and his colleagues have estimated that tens of millions of birds are killed by power lines each year.
Scientists aren’t yet sure how great a threat electrocution poses to many of the affected species. “Birds of conservation concern, like red-tailed hawks and golden eagles, are dying from electrocution, but we don’t have a good handle on how that mortality source is contributing to changes in populations of these species, if at all,” Dr. Loss said.
Hunza Girl Guides win National Award for pioneering environmental project
The Hunza Girl Guides recently achieved national recognition from the Pakistan Girl Guides Association for their work to protect the natural environment. The Hunza Girl Guides focused on the mess left behind by tourists visiting the beautiful region, cleaning making and maintaining dustbins to encourage tourists to properly dispose of rubbish. This hugely successful project won the "Begum G.A. Khan" National Shield at the Pakistan Girl Guides Association's Annual National Awards. Fiza Sadruddin of the Karimabad Girl Guides, Karachi and Maliha Shah of the Durkhan Girl Guides, Hunza also won the Presidential Gold Medal while other Ismaili Guide companies won various other awards.
Hunza is one of the most breath-taking beautiful places in Pakistan. Situated in Gilgit-Baltistan, the region features lush valleys and awe-inspiring snow-capped mountains. It is an area popular with tourists and adventure-seekers, drawn by the purity and natural beauty of the region. Unfortunately, the influx of visitors tends to leave the area in a terrible condition. During the tourist season, popular sites become littered with wrappers, plastic bags, discarded water bottles, and drinks cans.
The Hunza Girl Guides decided to tackle the pollution to their environment with a pioneering clean-up project. The project involved clearing up the litter, educating the local populace and making and maintaining dustbins to encourage tourists to properly dispose of the litter.
Wearing masks and gloves, the guides worked hard in Karimabad and Aliabad to pick up the scattered biscuit wrappers and crisp packets, the discarded soft drink cans, water bottles, and other assorted rubbish. They also raked fallen leaves and cleaned the flash flood streams of Altit. The next step was to make and place dustbins in key spots so that visitors had somewhere to deposit their rubbish.
The Girl Guides chose a bright blue shade for the dustbins to make them easily visible and painted them with slogans encouraging environmental respect and civic responsibility. Shopkeepers in busy commercial spots took the responsibility of emptying the bins in their areas while groups of guides volunteered to manage bins close to their homes.
The Girl Guides raised funds for their project by making and selling handicrafts and home-cooked treats. Ms. Gulfam Ali, the District Commissioner for Hunza Girl Guides, supervised the project, which involved girl guides of all ages from the region. The project also included activities such as a rally on the environmental issues and information sessions on water conservation and the effects of environmental pollution on human health. Doctors from the Aga Khan Health Service, Pakistan in Aliabad discussed the topic on the radio to make local people aware of environmental hazards related to their health. The guides also celebrated a plantation day with the Gilgit-Baltistan Girls High School, Karimabad Hunza.
This multi-faceted approach to environmental pollution engaged the whole community but it was the lead that the guides took with their iconic blue dustbins that really inspired both the community and the wider region. Instead of simply talking about littering, the guides made their own efforts to clean their area and keep it looking beautiful, which in turn inspired others to respect the environment more.
As of now, about 70 dustbins have been placed in different tourist areas of Hunza, mainly Altit and Karimabad. The Girl Guides plan to place more dustbins at the Paso Glacier, the Khunjerab Pass and in Duiker and Aliabad Bazaars. They were very pleased by the response of the local community and being recognised with a National Shield at the Pakistan Girl Guides Association National Awards was the icing on the cake. For the very first time in the history of Ismaili Guides Gilgit-Baltistan, this shield was awarded to Ismaili Hunza Guides.
The team leaders thanked everyone involved in the fund-raising, the cleanup and in the preparation, placing and maintenance of the dustbins. They also thanked the entire community for the support and encouragement that they had received for the project.
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