Carbon Life: Bacteria to President Barack Obama

EarthsCarbonConcentrations_black_low

Life survives miles below the Earth’s surface

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 5 2013 (IPS)

Every living thing from bacteria to President Barack Obama is made of carbon from exploding stars.

Billions of years ago, motes of carbon and other stardust formed the Earth. Carbon is the basis of all life but most vanished deep inside the planet, researchers now believe. And surprisingly, life thrives inside the rocky layers kilometres below our feet.

“Microbes survive by eating rock at those depths,” said Robert Hazen, executive director of the , a decade-long, global collaboration investigating the inner workings of the planet.

“Life is very different under those tremendous pressures and temperatures,” Hazen told IPS.

The variety of bacterial life at extreme high-pressure depths worldwide constitutes a subterranean “Galapagos”, he said. There may be as much as half of all life in the ground deep below us, according to one estimate, although Hazen thinks that might be too high.

“Drill a hole one or two kilometres deep just about anywhere and you will find a sparse but hardy microbial community,” said Isabelle Daniel of l’Université Claude Bernard in Lyon, France.

“These deep microbes, which live in the tiniest cracks and fissures in rocks, survive on the chemical energy of minerals,” said Daniel, who is one hundreds of scientists involved in the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO).

DNA analysis reveals a diversity of microorganisms, mainly single-celled. However, deep below the ocean floor live fungi-like organisms with complex cell structures. Researchers estimate that these are extraordinarily long-living organisms, conceivably living for millions of years.

“There are also a huge numbers of viruses, their DNA carefully inserted into living cells,” said Hazen.

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Help Wanted: 27 Planet Earths

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.

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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. Continue reading

Governments Fail to Take Steps to Steer Away From Looming Crisis

ttfiscal carbon cliff

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.

Instead, two years of work have resulted in merely a long document that commits to virtually nothing but more meetings, he said.Rio+20 logo

“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. Continue reading

“We Should be Shaking in Our Boots” – UN Environment Official

Construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, Brazil -- sml Photo by Hans Silvester

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.”rio banner sml

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. Continue reading

Concrete Sustainable Development Goals the Only Recipe for Success

solar powered irrigation benin

How to Secure a Viable Future for All

By Stephen Leahy

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 16 (TerraViva)

Goals drive action, and that’s why establishing a set of Sustainable Development Goals is so important to put the world on a sustainable pathway, experts said Saturday under the tropical fig and palm forest that covers much of the ground at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.

“Building a consensus on a set of goals will give the world community clarity about what needs to be done and a way to measure progress,” said Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow in the Climate Change Group at the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED).

Terms like “green economy” and “sustainability” have too many different meanings and too many different interpretations, Huq told TerraViva during a break at the two-day Fair Ideas conference organised by IIED and the Pontifical Catholic University.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have proven to be a useful tool even though some will not be achieved by the 2015 deadline, he said. The MDGs helped guide governments in setting their policies to try to meet the targets such as reducing poverty by half. The MDG target of having the number of people without access to safe drinking water was met early this year.

The MDGs have no environmental focus and they only applied to the developing world, Huq said.

Sustainable Development Goals would be much broader covering pollution, environment impacts and consumption and apply to all countries rich and poor but in different ways.”

Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow, Climate Change Group at the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED). Credit: Stephen Leahy/IPS

 

The governments of Colombia and Guatemala first proposed a framework for establishing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) be one of the main outcomes at the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development.

“The SDGs are not about the environment, they are about securing a viable future for all people,” said Paula Caballero, director of economic, social and environmental affairs, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores of Colombia.

“We need the public and policy makers to understand this,” Caballero told the conference. Continue reading

Poor Countries Need to Green, Low -Carbon Economies to End Poverty

Small-scale gold mining in West Africa
Small-scale gold mining in West Africa

“If we can’t get this right, we will be in big trouble

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 15 (TerraViva)

Poor countries that green their economies will lift millions of their citizens out of poverty and generate higher incomes while protecting invaluable natural ecosystems, says a report released here in Rio Thursday.

Some developing countries are actively pursuing a transition towards low-carbon, resource-efficient economies, it found.

“Our message is that economy and ecology can be brought together for the greater benefit of all people, but especially the poorest,” said Peter Hazlewood, director of Ecosystems and Development at the World Resources Institute (WRI), and co-author of the report “Building an Inclusive Green Economy for All”.Rio+20 logo

“This transition will not be easy. It will require new policies, targeted investments and reforms of government institutions,” Hazlewood said.

Governmental departments like agriculture, environment and economic development that rarely talk to each other will have to be integrated and learn to work together, he told TerraViva.

“If we can’t get this right, we will be in big trouble,” Hazlewood warned. Continue reading

Voice of Youth Ignored by Governments

future policy award

Taking away the voice of the next generation

By Stephen Leahy

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 17 (TerraViva)

Youth and future generations do not deserve a voice in their own future, the Brazilian government appears to have arbitrarily decided here at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, where the theme is “The Future We Want”.

Representatives of children and youth, as well as the European Union and other countries, want to see the summit conclude with an agreement to create a High-Level Representative for Sustainable Development and Future Generations.

However, Brazil, under its formal leadership of the summit, has deleted all references to this from the “outcome document” currently under negotiation.

It is a bit surprising considering 62 percent of Brazil’s 185 million people are under 29 years of age.

The proposed representative for future generations would act to balance the short-term nature of government electoral cycles by advocating for the interests and needs of future generations, says youth representative Alice Vincent of the World Future Council Foundation in London, UK.

“I strongly believe that a Rio+20 outcome that does not include the creation of such an advocate for the needs of future generations wouldn’t be worthy of the title The Future We Want,” Vincent told TerraViva.Rio+20 logo

Over the past weeks there has been little progress on agreement of the content for the final 20-page “outcome document” intended to serve as the world’s roadmap to sustainable development. It will include details for greening of the global economy and possibly include sustainable development goals and a timetable for reaching them.

Countries were essentially deadlocked over the contents, so the Brazilian government revised the document and presented it to countries this morning saying it is an attempt to “make all delegates a bit happy, and a bit unhappy”. Continue reading