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

“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

24 Policies That Can End Our Earth Emergency

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“Ecological literacy is vital for those in positions of power and influence”

Never vote for anyone who isn’t literate

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jun 7 2012 (IPS)

Ecologically ignorant policies are largely responsible for the interlinked crises that are unraveling the planet’s life support system.

The unintended consequences of such policies are climate change, desertification, biodiversity decline, ocean pollution and the destruction of forests, according to the policy advocacy organisation World Future Council.

The solution is to eliminate “bad” policies and implement policies that ensure a healthy planet for future generations. On world environment Day, Jun. 5, the World Future Council will present an emergency policy agenda consisting of 24 tipping-point policies that need to be implemented globally to preserve a habitable planet.

“We are in an Earth Emergency. It’s an unbelievable crisis. Policies are the most important tool we have to change this,” Jakob von Uexkull, founder and chair of the World Future Council (WFC).

The five-year old WFC is based in Hamburg, Germany and comprised of 50 eminent individual from around the globe who have already successfully promoted change.

“Policy may be seen as dull and boring but they are the things that shape our societies,” von Uexkull told IPS.

In 2000, the German government created the now famous feed-in tariff policy launching a renewable energy revolution. That policy has enabled Germany to generate 22 percent of its electricity from renewables today and created a new business sector employing more people than its automotive industry.

“With the best laws and right policy incentives we can mobilise human inventiveness and entrepreneurship to safeguard a healthy planet for future generations,” he said.

On the other hand bad government policies allow 3,000 of the world’s biggest corporations to escape more than 2.2 trillion dollars in annual costs through their impacts on the natural environment, according to the U.N. Environment Programme. (A trillion is one thousand billion. A trillion seconds is nearly 32,000 years). Continue reading

The Most Important Number in Human History

Carbon overload Carbon in atmosphere and amount in fossil fuel reserves
Carbon overload Carbon in atmosphere and amount in fossil fuel reserves

That number was 52 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2012

Only when this number declines will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Dec 17 2012 (IPS) 

The most important number in history is now the annual measure of carbon emissions. That number reveals humanity’s steady billion-tonne by billion-tonne march to the edge of the carbon cliff, beyond which scientists warn lies a fateful fall to catastrophic climate change.

With the global total of climate-disrupting emissions likely to come in at around 52 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) this year, we’re already at the edge, according to new research.

To have a good chance of staying below two degrees C of warming, global emissions should be between 41 and 47 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020, said Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Switzerland’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.

Only when we see the annual global emissions total decline will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection,” Rogelj told IPS.

Making the shift to a future climate with less than two degrees C of warming is doable and not that expensive if total emissions peak in the next few years and fall into the 41-47 Gt “sweet spot” by 2020, Rogelj and colleagues show in their detailed analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study is the first to comprehensively quantify the costs and risks of emissions surpassing critical thresholds by 2020. Continue reading

Green Energy Solves Dual Crises of Poverty and Climate

native-windmill-art1Dirty fossil fuel energy leads to 350,000 premature deaths in Europe

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 25 2013 (IPS)

Green energy is the only way to bring billions of people out of energy poverty and prevent a climate disaster, a new study reveals.

Conservative institutions like the World Bank, the International Energy Agency and accounting giant Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) all warn humanity is on a path to climate catastrophe unless fossil fuel energy is replaced by green energy.

The U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative intends to bring universal access to modern energy, doubling the share of renewable energy globally, and doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.

If those targets are met and similar efforts undertaken to reduce deforestation, then climate disaster can be avoided, said Joeri Rogelj of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich  who headed the analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Poverty eradication, sustainable development and the transition away from fossil fuel energy go hand in hand,” Rogelj told IPS. Continue reading

Worlds’ Scientists Say Facing “Planetary Emergency”

Planet Under Pressure – State of the Planet Declaration Mar 29 2012.

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.

 

Hothouse Needed for Green Energy, Green Ideas Revolution

Concentrated Solar Power plant of Ain Beni Mathar, Morocco is a first in the world.

Countries cannot afford to miss the green wave of Rio+20

No alternative to low-carbon, resource-efficient economies

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 25, 2012 (IPS)

Think of Rio+20 as the hothouse to grow the green ideas and values humanity needs to thrive in the 21st century.

No one is expecting, or even wants, a big new international treaty on sustainable development said Manish Bapna, interim president of the World Resources Institute, a global environmental think tank based in Washington, D.C.

“The important action will be on the sidelines of the formal negotiations,” Bapna told IPS in an interview.

Blocs of countries, civil society organisations and representatives of business will meet, create coalitions and make commitments on specific issues and on regional concerns.

“There could be some exciting specific commitments coming out of Rio,” Bapna said.

Perhaps the most important outcome from Rio+20 would be to put to rest the erroneous belief that protecting the environment comes at the cost of economic growth when it is in fact the opposite. Without a healthy, functioning environment, humanity loses the benefits of the environment’s “free products”: air, water, soil to grow food, stable climate and so on.

“One of the big hurdles to a sustainable future is that officials in many countries think they can’t afford to move onto a more sustainable pathway,” he said.

Bapna hopes Rio+20 will generate a “new narrative” – a wider understanding that there is no viable alternative to the transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient economies that alleviate poverty and create more jobs. Continue reading

We all have responsibility to ensure our stuff if properly disposed of.

Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

‘Public largely unaware of the e-waste impacts on human health and environment’

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 1, 2011 (IPS)

Mountains of hazardous waste grow by about 40 million tons every year. This waste, mostly from Europe and North America, is burned in developing countries like Ghana in a hazardous effort to recover valuable metals.

A children’s school in Accra, Ghana’s capital, was recently found to be contaminated by lead, cadmium and other health-threatening pollutants at levels over 50 times higher than risk-free levels. The school is located directly beside an informal electronic waste salvage site.

“Poor people in Africa cannot afford to process Europe’s or America’s electronic wastes,” said Ghanaian researcher Atiemo Sampson.

“Those wastes are poisoning our children,” Sampson told IPS from Accra.

Ghana does not regulate the importation and management of electronic waste, or e-waste. The government hopes to have rules in place next year, he…

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New Projects Dispel Myths and Spread the Truth About Vaccines

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 3, 2012 (IPS)

In northern Pakistan, one in ten children dies before the age of five from diseases such as polio, measles or hepatitis, despite the availability of vaccines. And while health workers feared visiting this region, which includes the mountainous Swat district controlled by the Taliban until 2009, local people also fear the potentially life-saving vaccines.

“Some local imams (religious leaders) have been preaching that vaccines are an attempt by the U.S. government to sterilise children,” said Erfaan Hussein Babak, director of The Awakening project, which aims to promote vaccinations in the Swat district.

“The child mortality rate from preventable diseases is distressingly high,” Babak told IPS by phone from the region.

Some people in the region understand that vaccines are safe, but overall, there is little demand by parents for vaccinations, he said. To counter certain negative perceptions, The Awakening project is working to promote child vaccination by establishing village health committees, school clubs and radio programs.

The project is being funded by the Canada-based Sandra Rotman Centre as one of five projects awarded 10,000 U.S. dollars to educate populations in developing countries about the use of vaccines and immunisation to prevent diseases.

Combating myth

By 2004, polio had nearly been eradicated in Pakistan. However, the disease has seen a resurgence in the northern areas, in part due to the mistaken belief that the oral vaccine could render children impotent or sterile.  Continue reading

Wealthy Countries and Investors Buying Up Farmland in Poor Countries

Lopiso Lagebo, 25, comes from Kambata, a small town 800km away from Metahar. He starts working at 0500, cuts up to 5 tons (5,000 kg) of sugar cane a day and earns $0.8. The company recruits most of the work force around his home town, where land shortage drives the workers to emigrate. Caption and Photo: Alfredo Bini/Cosmos  http://www.facebook.com/alfredobini

[I wrote this article three years ago revealing a global land grab by rich investors that is now estimated to be more than 200 million hectares – my recent update here – Stephen]

By Stephen Leahy*

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, USA, May 5 , 2009 (Tierramérica)

More than 20 million hectares of farmland in Africa and Latin America are now in the hands of foreign governments and companies, a sign of a global “land grab” that got a boost from last year’s food crisis.

Rich countries that are short on land or water at home are looking to secure food-producing lands elsewhere as a way to ensure food security for their populations, said Joachim von Braun, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

“There is a major lack of transparency in these land deals,” von Braun said in a telephone press conference from Washington.

The IFPRI study, “‘Land Grabbing’ by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries,” by von Braun and Ruth Meinzen-Dick, which was presented last week, estimates that 15 to 20 million hectares have been acquired or are in the process of being sold.

Von Braun pointed out that this is equivalent to about 25 percent of all the farmland in Europe.

Because hard data is difficult to come by – the study was based primarily on information from press reports – IFPRI conservatively estimates that the deals represent 20 to 30 billion dollars being invested by China, South Korea, India and the Gulf States, mainly in Africa.

“About one-quarter of these investments are for biofuel plantations,” von Braun said.  Continue reading