The Weekly Roundup – Feb 01, 2019

World / Climate Change

1/ Arctic summers may be hotter now than they have been for 115,000 years, according to new research. As glaciers melt in the Canadian Arctic, landscapes are emerging that have not been ice-free for more than 40,000 years. The Arctic ice has effectively preserved ancient mosses and lichens for thousands of years, providing the scientists with a valuable insight into the past. They sampled around 50 plants from 30 ice caps in the region, as well as rock samples to confirm the age and history of ice coverage across the landscape. The researchers also suggested that the island was likely to be completely devoid of ice within the next few centuries. (Independent)

World / Agriculture

2/ Western corporations are pumping huge sums of money into developing industrial farming in Sri Lanka, research has found – despite warnings meat and dairy consumption must halve to avoid climate change. Scientists believe it is one of the top two nations that will suffer most from tropical storms and floods. Companies and food groups in the US, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand are changing Sri Lanka’s eating habits, the study found. Australia will benefit from the deals longer term, too, as animal feed is one of its main exports to Sri Lanka. Swiss-based Nestlé has become a major player in growing the nation’s dairy industry: it buys milk from more than 25,000 dairy farms, representing about 40 per cent of all milk sold nationwide.  The US government has put $14m (£10.6m) into efforts to double yields from herds by 2022. (Independent

US / Climate Change

3/ Satellite images show glaciers in US and Canada, excluding Alaska, are shrinking four times faster than in previous decade, according to a new study. Alaskan glaciers get much of the attention in North America because Alaska is warming faster than the continental US. Mount Hunter in Denali national park, is seeing 60 times more snow melt than it did 150 years ago. (The Guardian)

UK / Environment

4/ No-deal Brexit will compromise ‘last line of defence’ for UK’s threatened habitats. Legal challenges against the British government over its inability to protect nature will be brought to an abrupt halt in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Frustrated after failed attempts to block roads being built through swan-nesting grounds or the burning of bogs to create shooting estates, many local groups have turned to Europe for help. There are currently 14 active cases from Britain involving potential breaches of environmental laws listed by the European Commission, with more thought to be in the pipeline. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is capable of holding states to account for their environmental shortcomings. The EU has taken the UK to court more than 50 times over its poor efforts to protect nature, forcing it to clean up the air and protect porpoises in its waters. Nation’s largest wetland among protected sites in danger (Independent / Related: The Guardian)

China / Climate Change

5/ China, the world’s coal juggernaut, has continued to produce more methane emissions from its coal mines despite its pledge to curb the planet-warming pollutant, according to new research. Not only were the reductions not made, but Chinese methane emissions actually increased by 1.2 million tons per year during the five-year period. It matters because coal is the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, and China is, by far, the largest producer in the world. Coal accounts for 40 percent of electricity generation globally and an even higher share in China, which has abundant coal resources and more than four million workers employed in the coal sector. Scientists and policymakers agree that the world will have to quit coal to have any hope of averting catastrophic climate change. (NYT)

UK / Plastics

6/ Microplastics are being widely ingested by Britain’s marine mammals, scientists say, with samples found in every animal examined in a study. The study found that nylon made up more than 60% of the microplastics, with possible sources including fishing rope and nets, clothing microfibres and toothbrush bristles. Polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) and polyester were also widely present. As well as accidental consumption, microplastics are ingested indirectly when predators consume contaminated prey such as fish. On average, 5.5 particles were found in the guts of each animal, suggesting they pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated. (Huffington Post / The Guardian)

Europe / Animals

7/ Climate change is likely to push Europe’s critically endangered eels even closer to extinction, a new study have revealed. Populations have been in freefall for decades due to a combination of overfishing, pollution and dams being constructed along rivers, blocking their traditional migration routes. Numbers of the once abundant fish have dropped by over 90 per cent since the early 1980s and now rising temperatures and acidic waters are posing yet another existential threat. (Independent)

UK / Environment

8/ A gigantic cavity growing under West Antarctica that scientists say covers two-thirds the footprint of Manhattan and stands almost 300 metres (984 ft) tall has been discovered through NASA led study. The chamber is large enough to have contained about 14 billion tons of ice — most of which the researchers say melted in the last three years. The Thwaites Glacier has been responsible for about 4% of the rise in sea levels so far, still holds enough ice to raise the world ocean a little over 2 feet upon melting. It could also lead to melting in neighboring glaciers that could add another 8 feet to sea levels if they completely melted. An expedition is underway to understand the changes. “For global sea-level change in the next century, this Thwaites glacier is almost the entire story.” (Science Advances / NYT / Fortune / BBC)

Asia / Animals

9/ A record eight tonnes of pangolin scales and more than 1,000 elephant tusks have been seized from a shipping container in Hong Kong. The scales likely came from some 14,000 pangolins. The illegal cargo has an estimated value of about $8m (£6m). The pangolin is thought to be the world’s most trafficked mammal. They are the world’s most scaly animal. All eight species are endangered because they are hunted for their scales and meat – and are now protected under international law since 2016. (BBC / QZ / NYT)

10/ The catastrophic rupture of a mine-tailings dam in Brumadinho, Brazil last week, left at least 110 dead, 238 missing and an environmental disaster of epic proportions.Tailings are the wet waste from mining operations, often laced with toxic chemicals. At thousands of mines around the world, millions of tons of the muck accumulate behind dams. The most common type of dam — and the cheapest to build — is known as “upstream,” made by piling up thick sludge and raising the height of the dam as the pond grows. At the mine where the accident occurred in southeastern Brazil, owned by the giant mining company Vale, the dam was 28 stories high. are being found everywhere. Vale’s mine dumps, have already reached the portion of the Paraopeba River that cuts through the Pataxó Hã-hã-hãe Indigenous Land. (NYT / BBC / Economist)

The good news…

Germany / Climate Change

10/ Germany agrees to end reliance on coal stations by 2038. The commission’s plan now requires approval from the leaders of four states affected and the federal government to become official policy. The country is the last major bastion of coal-burning in north-western Europe and the dirtiest of fossil fuels still provides nearly 40% of Germany’s power, compared with 5% in the UK, which plans to phase the fuel out entirely by 2025. (The Guardian / NYT / LA Times)

Australia / Climate Change

11/ Dutch man’s epic 89,000km drive proves electric cars are viable in Australia. Since March 2016, adventurer Wiebe Wakkerhas driven across 33 countries from Europe to the Middle East to south-east Asia and finally to Australia in a 2009 Volkswagen Golf, converted to electric. Over the past seven months he has continued the journey around Australia from Darwin down to Perth, across the Nullarbor to Newcastle, up to Queensland, and back down to Adelaide. After Adelaide, Wakker will finish once he reaches Melbourne and then Sydney. Australia has one of the slowest uptakes of electric vehicles in the developed world. In 2016, only 0.1% of all new car sales were electric, compared to 29% in Norway, 6% in Wakker’s native Netherlands and 1.5% in China and the UK. The average daily commute in Australia is just 20km. (The Guardian)

Haiti / Environment

12/ Haiti’s first-ever personal nature reserve created to guard imperiled species. An American professor and a Haitian CEO have teamed up to establish private nature reserves to protect Haiti’s disappearing species. Recent research has found that Haiti is barely hanging on to its forest cover. The country has less than 1 percent of primary forest left, and many species found only in Haiti have now been lost. Now, with funding from Global Wildlife Conservation and Rainforest Trust, the first such park has been purchased: Grand Bois, a mountain in the southwest of Haiti with rare and endangered plants and animals. (Rainforest Trust / Mongabay)

Other notables…

  • A group of killer whales held captive in Russia’s remote far East are at risk of freezing to death as their pens ice over in mid-winter temperatures, campaigners say. Volunteer monitors have warned that the 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales, captured last year for sale to China, may start dying after many reportedly developed frostbite. The marine mammals were taken last summer from the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, to be sold to dolphinariums. In winter, orcas – warm-blooded killer whales – naturally migrate to warmer seas and spend most of their time underwater. (Independent)

  • Lions in Namibia have turned to hunting seabirds and seals in the face of scarce food resources in the desert landscape, research has found. The desert lions, which are found exclusively within the country’s Skeleton Coast region, are the only lions known to target marine life. (The Guardian)
  • Donald Trump has again appeared to fundamentally misunderstand climate change by suggesting extreme cold weather in the US is evidence global warming does not exist. In a tweet he said, “In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming (sic)? Please come back fast, we need you!” We only have one word for this: idiot. (Independent

  • Australia is still in a recycling crisis, stockpiling its products. Since China blocked the import of waste, Southeast Asia has become the new destination for Australia’s recycled plastics, with 80-87% going to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Other countries have also begun to accept Australia’s plastics, including the Philippines and Myanmar. In the middle of last year Thailand and Vietnam announced restrictions on imports. Vietnam announced it would stop issuing import licences for plastic imports, as well as paper and metals, and Thailand plans to stop all imports by 2021. Malaysia has revoked some import permits and Indonesia has begun inspecting 100% of scrap import shipments. (The Guardian)
  • A coalition of investors is calling on McDonald’s,  Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut and KFC to take swift action on climate change. (BBC)
  • Microplastics flushed into the oceans are causing mussels to lose their grip, a new study warned. The tiny particles of plastic fragments are affecting the ability of mussels to attach themselves to their surroundings and triggering an immune response in the mollusc. (The London Economic)
  • A team of researchers found small trees can store carbon for an average of 74 years, whereas big trees can store it for an average of 54 to 57 years. That’s because the small ones grow slower and live longer than the big ones. (Phys Org)
  • “Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion.” One of the biggest stars to come out of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week wasn’t a CEO or a head of state or a venture capitalist. It was Rutger Bregman, a Dutch journalist and historian, who used his speaking time at the conference to lambaste the rich attendees for failing to talk about the one thing we know could fight wealth inequality: raising taxes for the kind of people who go to Davos. (The Guardian)
  • Meat from endangered sharks is finding its way on to the British menu, according to a study.  The UK is playing a continuing role in the “damaging trade in endangered shark species”, they say. One of the two threatened sharks identified – the scalloped hammerhead – is subject to international restrictions. (BBC)

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