The Weekly Roundup – Mar 08, 2019

World / Climate Change

1/ Several new studies show in the past decade ocean oxygen levels have taken a dive—an alarming trend that is linked to climate change, says Andreas Oschlies, an oceanographer at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany. It is no surprise to scientists that warming oceans are losing oxygen, but the scale of the dip calls for urgent attention, Oschlies says. Oxygen levels in some tropical regions have dropped by a startling 40 percent in the last 50 years. Levels have dropped more subtly elsewhere, with an average loss of 2 percent globally. (Scientific American)

Australia / Climate Change

2/ Australia is the only developed country that allows climate change funding to be used to upgrade coal-fired power plants. The government’s emissions reduction fund – rebadged as a “climate solutions” policy – is being used to help one of the world’s biggest gold miners pay for a fossil fuel power plant the company concedes it would have built anyway. It qualified for the emissions reduction fund because burning gas emits less carbon dioxide than diesel. To qualify to bid into the emissions reduction fund, projects are meant to deliver emissions cuts that would not have happened without public money. There are others, Rio Tinto has received $2m for a diesel-fired power plantat a bauxite mine and Vales Point coal plant looks likely to bid for the money. (The Guardian / The Guardian 2)

Solomon Islands / Environment

3/ Bulk carrier MV Solomon Trader ran aground on a reef on the remote island of Rennell in the south of the Solomon Islands in early February while attemtping to load bauxite from a nearby mine. “The impact of this oil spill will have a devastating effect on the surrounding environment, including potentially on a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.” The spill is not contained. Dead fish float in the bay. The tide is black. A thick oily blanket of tar covers the surface of the water and coats beaches, rockpools, logs and leaves. An assessment by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has estimated that 60 tonnes of oil has been spilled with a further 600 tonnes onboard the ship. The Unesco protected area of Rennell is home to the largest raised coral atoll in the world. (The Guardian / ABC / Huffington Post)

China / Animals

4/ The construction of the Batang Toru Dam in North Sumatra, backed by the Bank of China, as part of the country’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure project, will rip through the Tapanuli orangutan’s habitat. Just 800 individuals are believed to exist. Campaigners said the construction of the dam is also devastating for the Sumatran orangutan which is also critically endangered, threatened by deforestation to make way for palm oil plantations.

World / Animals

5/ About 100 bird species are predicted to go extinct based on current farming and forestry practices, according to a new global analysis. This number has increased by 7% over the first ten years of this century alone, say scientists. They say the biggest factor is cattle farming, but the impact of oil seed crops like palm and soy is growing fast. By comparison, an estimated 140 birds have been lost over the past 400 years. (BBC)

Australia / Animals

6/ The spectacled flying fox is now an endangered species. This week the Environment Minister in Australia amended the list of threatened species — among the changes was an up-listing of the tropical fruit bat from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ — four years after the CSIRO recommended a change. CSIRO monitoring showed a 50 per cent loss between 2004 and 2017 and heatwaves this summer have further decimated the remaining population by an estimated 30 per cent. This comes a week after the Bramble Cay melomys was declared extinct due to climate change. (ABC)

World / Plastics

7/ Microplastic pollution spans the world, according to new studies showing contamination in the UK’s lake and rivers, in groundwater in the US and along the Yangtze river in China and the coast of Spain. Britain’s iconic waterways are full of plastic pollution, according to a new analysis. In recent years, scientists have found plastic scattered throughout the ocean, as far down as the Mariana Trench and even embedded in Arctic ice. Up to 1,000 tiny pieces of plastic found per litre were found in the worst-polluted rivers in the UK. (The Guardian / Independent)

The good news…

USA / Animals

8/ A new study has been published that examined the U.S. Endangered Species Act — an environmental protection policy that was first signed into law in 1973 as part of an effort to protect various species that were at risk of becoming either endangered or extinct. In the study, researchers examined 31 different populations of marine mammals and sea turtles and found that — of the populations they examined — 78 percent of the marine mammals and 75 percent of the sea turtles showed population increases following the legally mandated protections put in place. In fact, the population of sea turtles increased by about 980 percent following the legal protection they received as part of the law. Hawaiian humpback whales saw another amazing victory in terms of population growth; they increased from just 800 whales in 1979 to more than 10,000 in 2005. In 2016, the species recovered so significantly that they were removed from the endangered species list. (Green Matters / PLOS)

UK / Climate Change

9/ The UK government will throw its weight behind an expansion in the use of offshore wind power in the hope the renewable energy source will provide a third of the UK’s electricity by 2030. In a deal between the government and the offshore wind sector, industry players have agreed to invest £250m over the next 11 years in exchange for participation in £557m of state subsidies for renewable energy. Reaching a target of more than 30% of electricity coming from offshore wind would also mean that 70% of Britain’s energy would be from renewable sources by the end of the period. (The Guardian)

UK / Food waste

10/ A major British fruit supplier and a craft spirits producer have teamed up to find a way to prevent an estimated 166m surplus supermarket grapes from going to waste every year – by turning them into gin. The new Hyke gin goes on sale at 300 Tesco branches later this month. In the production of Hyke gin, each whole grape is pressed, but Foxhole only uses the juice from the pressing to ferment into the wine, which is distilled to produce a grape spirit. This leaves the skin, pulp and pips (a dry mixture known as pomace), most of which which is then sent for anaerobic digestion. (The Guardian)

Other notables…

  • Researchers worry that Andean hairy armadillos, poached in Bolivia and largely ignored by conservationists, may be headed toward extinction. (National Geographic)

  • The Trump administration is reportedly ready to set up a panel to reconsider and possibly change the US government’s position on climate change. Having the panel operate under the NSC would avoid the public scrutiny usually required of government advisory committees. (Independent)
  • At least eight US cities, five counties, and one state are suing some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies for selling products that contribute to global warming while misleading the public about their harms. In parallel, 21 young people are trying to suspend fossil fuel development as part of their high-profile climate rights case, Juliana v. United States, against the government. (The case is currently awaiting a hearing at the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals.) In Canada, the Netherlands, and Ireland, citizens are taking their governments to court to demand more ambitious policies to fight climate change. (Vox)
  • Medicines including antibiotics and epilepsy drugs are increasingly being found in the world’s rivers at concentrations that can damage ecosystems, a study has shown. Dutch researchers developed a model for estimating concentrations of drugs in the world’s fresh water systems to predict where they could cause the most harm to the food web. Between 1995 and 2015 it found that rising concentrations of the drugs and the increasing number of water tables affected meant the risks to aquatic ecosystems are 10 to 20 times higher than two decades earlier. (Independent)

  • The Australian Senate just signed a bill prohibiting animal testing for new cosmetics across the country (current product lines can still be non-cruelty-free). Lawmakers passed the bill as part of Industrial Chemicals Bills 2017. It has a few more steps to go before it would become law. (HSI / APH)
  • Evidence for man-made global warming has reached a “gold standard” level of certainty, adding pressure for cuts in greenhouse gases to limit rising temperatures, scientists said. They said that confidence human activities were raising the heat at the Earth’s surface had reached a “five-sigma” level. This statistical measure meaning there is only a one-in-a-million chance that the signal would appear if there was no warming. (Independent)
  • Numbers of fish being hauled out of the ocean have fallen by nearly 5 per cent as stocks are hit by rising sea temperatures. Cod, herring and various shellfish species are among the creatures already suffering due to climate change, according to a new analysis examining data from around the world. The decline has been even more pronounced in key fishing regions such as the East China Sea and the North Sea, where climate-induced losses have been as high as 35 per cent. (Independent) Since the year 2000, we’ve used more plastic than in all the years before. On average, we each use 53 kilograms of plastic a year and generate a collective total of more than 300 million tonnes of plastic waste. By 2030, this is predicted to double, with the brunt of the impacts expected to hit our oceans. (ABC)
  • Over the next 30 years, mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and the Zika virus are on course to spread – posing a risk to half the world’s population, new research has revealed. In the next five to 15 years, the models predict the spread of both species will be driven by human movement, rather than environmental changes. But thereafter, expansion will be driven more by changes in climate, temperature and urbanisation which will create new mosquito habitats. (Independent)
  • Rain is becoming more frequent in Greenland and accelerating the melting of its ice, a new study has found. Precipitation usually falls as snow in winter – rather than as rain – which can balance out any melting of the ice in the summer. The findings show that while there were about two spells of winter rain every year in the early phase of the study period, that had risen to 12 spells by 2012. On more than 300 occasions between 1979-2012, the analysis found that rainfall events were triggering a melting of the ice. (BBC)

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