“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

blue-marble-720x696-720x696

“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

Drought and New Deserts by 2060: Most of Mexico, Central America and half of US

Projected drought and dry regions in 2060-2069

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 22, 2012 (Tierramérica)

Mexico and Central America look like they are covered in dried blood on maps projecting future soil moisture conditions.

The results from 19 different state-of-the-art climate models project extreme and persistent drought conditions (colored dark red-brown on the maps) for almost all of Mexico, the midwestern United States and most of Central America.

If climate change pushes the global average temperature to 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era levels, as many experts now expect, these regions will be under severe and permanent drought conditions.

Future conditions are projected to be worse than Mexico’s current drought or the U.S. Dust Bowl era of the 1930s that forced hundreds of thousands of people to migrate.

These are some of the conclusions of the study “Projections of Future Drought in the Continental United States and Mexico”, which was published in the December 2011 issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Hydrometeorology and has gone largely unnoticed.

“Drought conditions will prevail no matter what precipitation rates are in the future,” said co-author Michael Wehner, a climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. government research centre in California.

“Even in regions where rainfall increases, the soils will get drier. This is a very robust finding,” Wehner told Tierramérica.

Without major reductions in carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, global temperatures will increase to at least 2.5 degrees of warming between 2050 and 2090, depending on rates of emissions of greenhouse gases, climate sensitivity and feedbacks. Continue reading

Ocean Acidification Leaves Mollusks Naked and Confused

Chilean intertidal carnivorous crab (Acanthocyclus hassleri)

Climate change is making oceans warmer and more acidic…expect the worst

By Stephen Leahy

When the carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans dissolves in seawater, carbonic acid is formed and calcium carbonate, vital for the formation of the skeletons and shells of many marine organisms, becomes scarcer.

MONTEREY, California, Oct 2 2012 (IPS)

Climate change will ruin Chilean sea snails’ ability to sniff out and avoid their archenemy, a predatory crab, according to Chilean scientists who presented their findings at an international science symposium here.

Researchers from Australia also revealed that as the oceans become more and more acidic, some fish become hyperactive and confused, and move towards their predators instead of trying to escape.

“The conditions in oceans are changing 100 times faster than at any time in the past,” said Jean-Pierre Gattuso, a marine biologist with CNRS-INSU and the Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche in France.

Climate change is making oceans warmer and more acidic. “We are beginning to understand what will happen. I think we can expect the worst,” Gattuso told Tierramérica*.

Gattuso is one of nearly 600 scientists from around the world who presented their research on Sep. 24-27 at the Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World: Ocean Acidification in Monterey, California.

Researchers discovered only 10 years ago that burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas has made the oceans about 30 percent more acidic since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Continue reading

Double Food Production in 10 Years AND Reduce Global Warming

Greening of the Sahel desert region with eco-ag

Yields went up 214 percent in 44 projects in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa

“If we don’t radically transform the direction of the global food system we will never feed the billion who are hungry,” De Shutter warns.

“Nor will we be able to feed ourselves in the future.”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Feb 8, 2011 (IPS)

Eco-farming could double food production in entire regions within 10 years while mitigating climate change, according to a new U.N. report released Tuesday in Geneva.

An urgent transformation to ‘eco-farming’ is the only way to end hunger and face the challenges of climate change and rural poverty, said Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food, following the presentation of his annual report focusing on agroecology and the right to food to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“Agroecology mimics nature not industrial processes. It replaces the external inputs like fertiliser with knowledge of how a combination of plants, trees and animals can enhance productivity of the land,” De Schutter told IPS.

“Yields went up 214 percent in 44 projects in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa using agro-ecological farming techniques over a period of 3 to 10 years… far more than any GM [genetically modified] crop has ever done.”

Other recent scientific assessments have shown that small farmers in 57 countries using agro-ecological techniques obtained average yield increases of 80 percent. Africans’ average increases were 116 percent.

“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilisers in boosting food production in regions where the hungry live,” De Schutter said. [Video Interviews with De Schutter]


Agroecology applies ecological science to the design of agricultural systems. It enhances soil productivity and protects crops against pests by relying on the natural elements. Continue reading

My recent articles only touch on some of the significant problems with fracking. There’s more to come. (And check out trailer for the new fracking movie starring Matt Damon http://bit.ly/TC8qNB) —  Stephen

Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

UPDATE Jan 2013:

Yet another study reveals fracking has a huge problem of gas leaks. Up to  9% of the gas pumped out of the ground leaks into the atmosphere according to a study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published in Nature this week. Natural gas (methane) is a powerful greenhouse gas. If these leaks are widespread, fracking is worse than burning coal, accelerating global warming.

In Jan 2012 I detailed new research in the article below showing that replacing coal with natural gas from fracking does little to fight climate change (see below). Now two studies published that since then make an even stronger case that fracking for natural gas is a HUGE MISTAKE:

From Nature: Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field. Methane leaks during production may offset climate benefits of natural gas.

From Environmental Research Letters: New study demonstrates switching to natural…

View original post 1,145 more words

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