Archive for the ‘OCEAN’ Category
This story was featured on the IPS wire and on the Al Jazeera network in 2011. It shows that national parks, conservation and protected areas do not and cannot halt the decline in biodiversity that is humanity’s life support system. It is hopeless without addressing the root causes: too many of us, taking too much and having too big of an impact. On our present course we’ll need 27 planet Earths by 2050 experts conclude. — Stephen
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jul 29, 2011 (IPS)
Protecting bits of nature here and there will not prevent humanity from losing our life support system. Even if areas dedicated to conserving plants, animals, and other species that provide Earth’s life support system increased tenfold, it would not be enough without dealing with the big issues of the 21st century: population, overconsumption and inefficient resource use.
Without dealing with those big issues, humanity will need 27 planet Earths by 2050, a new study estimates.
The size and number of protected areas on land and sea has increased dramatically since the 1980s, now totaling over 100,000 in number and covering 17 million square kilometres of land and two million square kilometres of oceans, a new study reported Thursday.
But impressive as those numbers look, all indicators reveal species going extinct faster than ever before, despite all the additions of new parks, reserves and other conservation measures, according to the studypublished in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.
“It is amazing to me that we haven’t dealt with this failure of protected areas to slow biodiversity losses,” said lead author Camilo Mora of University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“We were surprised the evidence from the past 30 years was so clear,” Mora told IPS. Read the rest of this entry »
“Rio+20 should have been about life, about the future of our children”
By Stephen Leahy
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS)
“Very disappointing.” That was the term business and non-governmental organisations used to describe the formal intergovernmental negotiations at the Rio+20 Earth Summit as of Tuesday.
With overwhelming scientific evidence showing that the Earth’s ability to support human life is at serious risk, the Rio+20 summit is being held to help chart a safe course that will steer away from disaster and bring a better future people around the globe.
After two years, negotiators from more than 190 nations agreed Tuesday to a 49-page draft of the document “The Future We Want”, intended to be the roadmap for this transformation. This document will be presented to heads of states in Rio de Janeiro to revise and finalise by the summit’s conclusion on Friday.
Yet the draft document leaves out a 30-billion-dollar fund proposed by a group of developing countries known as the G77 to finance the transition to a green economy. Nor does it define tangible Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be substituted for the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015.
“This (the revised text) is extremely disappointing….There is no vision, no money and really no commitments here,” said Lasse Gustavsson, head of the Rio+20 delegation from WWF International, which works to stop environmental degradation worldwide.
“Rio+20 should have been about life, about the future of our children, of our grandchildren. It should have been about forest, rivers, lakes, oceans that we are all depending on for our food, water and energy security,” Gustavsson told TerraViva.
“This document is a great disappointment. There’s no ambition and little reference to the planetary boundaries we face,” said Kiara Worth, representing the U.N.’s Major Group on Children and Youth at Rio+20.
“The voices of civil society and future generations is going unheard. We ought to call this Rio minus 20 because we are going backwards,” Worth told TerraViva. Read the rest of this entry »
Earth’s Ability to Support Us At Risk – An Indictment of Governments We Elected
By Stephen Leahy
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS)
The science is crystal clear: humans are threatening Earth’s ability to support mankind, and a new world economy is urgently needed to prevent irreversible decline, said scientists and other experts at an event on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
Yet the Global Environment Outlook report, or GEO 5, which was launched on June 6 and assessed 90 of the most important environmental objectives, found that significant progress had been made only in four in the 20 years since the first landmark summit in Rio in 1992.
Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said the results of GEO 5 were “depressing, even to me”.
“This ought to have us shaking in our boots,” Steiner told TerraViva at the Fair Ideas conference that concluded Sunday. ”It is an indictment of our behaviour over the past 20 years and of the governments we elected. We need an honest conversation about why we are not turning things around.”
Instead, “what’s happening right now in the RioCentro (Rio+20 official site) is that science is being picked out of the text of the final agreement,” Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, told the conference.
Rockström said he had received updates from the negotiations that the United States and some of the world’s least developed countries were attacking the science showing humanity is pushing up against “planetary boundaries”.
Climate is only one of those “planetary boundaries”. Another is the ongoing decline of biodiversity, where so many plants and animals are going extinct that the Earth’s living systems, upon which humanity depends, are unravelling. Fresh water is another planetary boundary. Water is a limited resource, yet water use has increased six-fold in the past century.
“The science is absolutely clear: we are up against the edges of the planet’s ability to support us and approaching irreversible tipping points,” Rockström said. Read the rest of this entry »
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 11 2013 (IPS)
Experts on the health of our planet are terrified of the future. They can clearly see the coming collapse of global civilisation from an array of interconnected environmental problems.
“We’re all scared,” said Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University.
“But we must tell the truth about what’s happening and challenge people to do something to prevent it,” Ehrlich told IPS.
Global collapse of human civilisation seems likely, write Ehrlich and his partner Anne Ehrlich in the prestigious science journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society.
This collapse will take the form of a “…gradual breakdown because famines, epidemics and resource shortages cause a disintegration of central control within nations, in concert with disruptions of trade and conflicts over increasingly scarce necessities”, they write.
Already two billion people are hungry today. Food production is humanity’s biggest industry and is already being affected by climate and other environmental problems. “No civilisation can avoid collapse if it fails to feed its population,” the authors say.
Escalating climate disruption, ocean acidification, oceanic dead zones, depletion of groundwater and extinctions of plants and animals are the main drivers of the coming collapse, they write in their peer-reviewed article “Can a collapse of global civilisation be avoided?” published this week.
Dozens of earth systems experts were consulted in writing the 10-page paper that contains over 160 references.
“We talked to many of the world’s leading experts to reflect what is really happening,” said Ehrlich, who is an eminent biologist and winner of many scientific awards.
Our reality is that current overconsumption of natural resources and the resulting damage to life-sustaining services nature provides means we need another half of a planet to keeping going. And that’s if all seven billion remain at their current living standards, the Ehrlichs write.
If everyone lived like a U.S. citizen, another four or five planets would be needed. Read the rest of this entry »
“The first law of humanity is not to kill your children.”
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 27 2013 (IPS)
Killer heat waves, floods and storms are increasingly caused by climate change, new research reveals.
Scientists in Germany say they have found how greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are helping to trap the jet stream, resulting in extraordinary weather such as the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States.
Human-driven climate change repeatedly disturbs the flow of atmospheric waves around the globe’s Northern hemisphere, said lead author Vladimir Petoukhov of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.
Giant atmospheric waves called Rossby waves are meanders in the strong, high-altitude winds known as jet streams and have a major influence on weather. These wave movements are caused by the difference in temperatures between the cold air from the Arctic and hot air from the tropics.
When the waves shift north, they suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the U.S., and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic, said Petoukhov.
“During several recent extreme weather events, these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” he said. “So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays.”
This unnatural pattern is due to human heating of the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels, according to the study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
However, this heating of the atmosphere is wildly uneven. The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the global temperature rise of 0.8C and that affects the Rossby waves and is slowing the jet stream.
“(Our research) complements previous research that already linked such phenomena to climate change,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study. Read the rest of this entry »
[This is my first exclusive blog post - virtually everything else on this site are my published articles. Not sure if I'll have time to do more. Let me know what you think - Stephen ]
A new study released Feb 13 revealed that the volume of Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly. Ice volume in September 2012 had fallen 80 percent compared with the volume of ice in September 1980 according to the latest data from European Space Agency satellite, CryoSat-2. As the Arctic heats up Most of the ice loss has been in recent years. Between 2003 and 2012 the volume declined a whopping 36 percent. Summers with a sea ice-free Arctic are only a few years away, scientists now agree. This will have significant and permanent impacts on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere.
My previous article Ice-Free Arctic Is “Uncharted Territory” documented last September’s one year record area decline of 18 percent. Here’s what this means:
The impacts are already being felt across the entire northern hemisphere. The loss of sea ice in recent years has been affecting weather patterns, recent research has shown. The all-important jet stream – the west-to-east winds that are the boundary between the cold Arctic and the warm mid-latitudes – is slowing down, moving north and become more erratic.
When continent-sized areas of the Arctic Ocean flip from the all-white ice to dark blue, tremendous amounts of heat are absorbed from the 24-hour summer sun. When the bitter cold Arctic winter sets in over the next few weeks, all the heat in the ocean must be released into the atmosphere before ice can form again.
The Arctic will be ice-covered in winter for decades to come but what’s fundamentally changed is that every fall, unprecedented amounts of heat and water vapour will be released into the atmosphere.
“The polar meltdown shows we’re teetering on the brink of climate change catastrophe,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.
As the sea ice declines, Arctic temperatures increase, thawing more and more permafrost, which will release more climate-heating carbon and methane. Permafrost is frozen soil, sediment and rock spanning 13 million square kilometres of the land in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe. It has twice the carbon that the atmosphere currently holds.
A Swedish study released Feb 17 has found a link between sea ice declines and increases in methane emissions. Methane has 40x the warming of carbon. This is may lead to an even faster meltdown of the Arctic risking the release of huge amounts of permafrost carbon and methane.
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 16 2013 (IPS)
The largest climate rally in U.S. history is expected Sunday in Washington DC with the aim of pressuring President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Activists are calling Keystone “the line in the sand” regarding dangerous climate change, prompting the Sierra Club to suspend its 120-year ban on civil disobedience. The group’s executive director, Michael Brune, was arrested in front of the White House during a small protest against Keystone on Wednesday.
“The Keystone XL pipeline is part of the carbon infrastructure that will take us to dangerous levels of climate change,” said Simon Donner, a climate scientist at the University of British Columbia.
“By itself, Keystone won’t have much of an impact on the climate, but it is not happening on its own,” Donner told IPS.
Carbon emissions are increasing elsewhere, and the International Energy Agency recently warned humanity is on a dangerous path to four degrees C of warming before the end of this century. Children born today will experience this. Preventing that dire future is inconsistent with expanding tar sands production, Donner said.
A new study released this week revealed that the volume of Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly. Ice volume has fallen 80 percent since 1980, according to the latest data from European Space Agency satellite, CryoSat-2. Summers with a sea ice-free Arctic are only a few years away, scientists now agree. This will have significant and permanent impacts on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Keystone XL is the key to opening up the expansion of the tar sands industry,” said Jim Murphy, senior counsel with the National Wildlife Federation.
“By rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, we can keep this toxic oil in the ground,” Murphy said in a statement.
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, (IPS)
[Based on my article Climate Summit: A Moment That Must Be Seized ]
Governments, the media and the public aren’t paying attention to the “planetary emergency” unfolding around them. The situation is like firefighters yelling “fire” in crowded room and still no listens.
“The situation is absolutely desperate and yet there’s nothing on the front pages or on the agenda of world leaders,” said Pat Mooney, executive director of the ETC Group, an international environmental organisation based in Ottawa.
“The lack of attention is a tragedy,” said Mooney, who has 40 years experience in international environment and development issues.
Humanity is failing in its stewardship of the planet. An incredible 85 percent of the world’s oceans are in trouble, said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at the Pew Environment Group, a U.S. organisation.
“Planetary emergency” is how many in the world’s scientific community describe “the mess we are in“. They will detail their comprehensive state of the planet assessment at the “Planet Under Pressure” conference in London Mar. 26-29.
That assessment will summarise the overwhelming evidence that “the continued functioning of the Earth system as we know it is at risk,” conference organisers previously told IPS.
Climate change, which is overheating the planet and making the oceans more acidic, is just one of the major challenges. Another is the ongoing decline of biodiversity, where so many plants and animals are going extinct that the Earth’s living systems on which humanity depends are unraveling.
Fresh water is another “planetary boundary” humanity is pushing up against. Water use has increased six-fold in the past century and in many places the quality of water resources has been degraded. Other challenges include increasing poverty, food and energy security, and the current financial and economic instability.
A first and essential step in a green transition is for nations to commit to phasing out harmful and unsustainable subsidies for fossil fuels, fisheries and industrial agriculture.
According to Mooney, some countries and large corporations see the green economy in terms of a post-petroleum future where resources and energy for industrial production comes from biomass and other living things. Most of those “living resources” are in the global South and local people rightly fear a massive land grab, he said.
Foreign investors have already gained access to more than 35 million hectares in Africa, Asia and South America for food and biofuel production according to GRAIN, a small NGO working with small farmers and farming communities.
Earlier I called myself a hybrid storm: part nature, part human. That’s not quite right. Humans and Hurricanes are part of nature. We both thrive on this planet thanks to sunlight, water and carbon dioxide (CO2). Hurricanes and tropical storms have been around for millions of years. In the last 50 years things have changed. The oceans are warmer. This week the waters off the US east coast were 3 degrees C warmer than normal.
Read full post at Hurricane Sandy Speaks
Global Warming has made oceans 30% more acidic already
“It’s clear we are conducting a giant experiment on the planet and we don’t know what we are doing.”
[This is a repost from my May 8 2012 article - see here for more on acid ocean impacts -- Stephen]
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8, 2012 (IPS)
Without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, sunlight will kill an unknown number of ocean phytoplankton, the planet’s most important organism, a new study reports this week.
Not only are phytoplankton, also known as marine algae, a vital component in the ocean’s food chain, they generate at least half of the oxygen we breathe.
In the not so distant future, sunlight, the very source of life for phytoplankton, will likely begin to kill them because of the ocean’s increasing acidity, researchers from China and Germany have learned.
“There’s a synergistic effect between increased ocean acidity and natural light,” says Ulf Riebesell of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.
Riebesell added that it was also possible “phytoplankton could adapt”.
Researchers were surprised to discover that diatoms, one of the most important and abundant types of phytoplankton, fared very badly during shipboard experiments conducted by co-author Kunshan Gao, from the State Key Laboratory of Marine Environmental Science at Xiamen University, Xiamen China.
Previous experiments in labs like Riebesell’s found that diatoms actually did better in high-acid seawater, unlike most other shell- forming plankton. Burning fossil fuels has made the oceans about 30 percent more acidic researchers discovered less than 10 years ago. Oceans absorb one third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from using fossil fuels.
The good news is this has slowed the rate of global warming. The bad news is oceans are now more acidic and it will get worse as more CO2 is emitted. This is basic, well-understood ocean chemistry. Read the rest of this entry »