‘Unprecedented’: more than 100 Arctic wildfires burn in worst ever season

Huge blazes in Greenland, Siberia and Alaska are producing plumes of smoke that can be seen from space

By Edward Helmore Guardian UK Read full article here

The Arctic is suffering its worst wildfire season on record, with huge blazes in Greenland, Siberia and Alaska producing plumes of smoke that can be seen from space.

The Arctic region has recorded its hottest June ever. Since the start of that month, more than 100 wildfires have burned in the Arctic circle. In Russia, 11 of 49 regions are experiencing wildfires.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations’ weather and climate monitoring service, has called the Arctic fires “unprecedented”….

Ellie’s note: We must start counting wildfire emissions in our GHG inventories in California & globally! Otherwise we are fooling ourselves into complacency.

Megadroughts Are Likely Coming to the US Southwest Within Decades, Scientists Say

Climate change is ‘almost assured’ to cause decades-long droughts in the American Southwest not seen since medieval times, scientists warn in a new study.

by Madeleine Gregory See full Vice article here

In medieval times, the US Southwest was routinely struck by decades-long droughts. Those megadroughts stopped around 1600, but climate change could bring them back.

In a study published on Wednesday in Science Advances, researchers from Columbia’s Earth Institute used climate models to study what caused the megadroughts. Using historical climate data, they determined that two things were to blame: changing ocean temperatures and excess energy trapped inside the Earth’s atmosphere (called radiative forcing)….

“Having paleoclimatic evidence shows you what happened in the past,” lead author Nathan Steiger said over the phone. “It helps verify projections that say the American Southwest is almost assured to have a megadrought in the next few decades.” …

According to the study, the biggest driver of these historical megadroughts were La Niña events, which made the Pacific Ocean unseasonably cold, pushing the storm path north towards Washington and British Columbia. A warmer Atlantic played a smaller role, shifting a high pressure system that blocked storms from rolling over the continental US. “Both a warm Atlantic and a cold Pacific change where storms go,” Steiger said. “They both result in fewer storms going to the Southwest.”

Four years after California’s largest dam removal project, Steelhead trout numbers are growing, a model for other projects nationwide

by Paul Roger Read full Mercury News article here

The destruction of the [10-story] San Clemente Dam [along the Carmel River near Monterey], which had blocked the river since 1921, remains the largest dam removal project in California history. It’s still early, but one of the main goals of the project seems to be on track: The river is becoming wilder, and struggling fish populations are rebounding.

…. The 106 foot-tall dam had been located 18 miles up river from Monterey Bay. In 2016, the first year after it was removed, researchers found that no steelhead trout, an iconic type of rainbow trout listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, swam past its former site to a tagging location seven miles upriver. By 2017, seven steelhead had made the trip. Last year, the count was 29. So far this year, 123 steelhead have traveled upriver.

… The broader lesson, scientists say, is one of hope. Despite declines in other species, some wildlife species — from the Great Plains bison to Pacific gray whales to bald eagles — have rebounded significantly, despite plummeting close to extinction, after humans recognized what was killing them and corrected it. For bison and whales, it was hunting. For bald eagles, it was the now-banned chemical DDT. For steelhead trout, dams built across the West over the past century blocked their ability to swim to the ocean and return upriver to spawn, crashing their populations….

… Crews recycled the dam’s steel. They broke the concrete pieces ranging in size from softballs to boulders. They buried the debris in the sediment pile and covered it with willows, sycamores and other native plants. They built rocky step-pools, each one foot higher than the previous one so the fish could migrate upriver more easily. ,,

Dangerous decline of nature and increase in species extinctions unprecedented in human history- New UN report

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” The five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

Read Policymakers Summary here (Pdf), press release here and ScienceDaily coverage here.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, per a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)… More than 1,000,000 species- or ~25% of all species- are threatened with extinction. Transformative changes are needed to restore and protect nature for our well-being.

Findings include:

  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production…

….Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the Report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades.

Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the Report also draws (for the first time ever at this scale) on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point…”

For ease of reference, a number of issues highlighted in the Report are summarized in the ‘Further Information’ section that follows below, specifically on:

…Societal goals – including those for food, water, energy, health and the achievement of human well-being for all, mitigating and adapting to climate change and conserving and sustainably using nature – can be achieved in sustainable pathways through the rapid and improved deployment of existing policy instruments and new initiatives that more effectively enlist individual and collective action for transformative change. Since current structures often inhibit sustainable development and actually represent the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, such fundamental, structural change is called for. By its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good. If obstacles are overcome, commitment to mutually supportive international goals and targets, supporting actions by indigenous peoples and local communities at the local level, new frameworks for private sector investment and innovation, inclusive and adaptive governance approaches and arrangements, multi-sectoral planning and strategic policy mixes can help to transform the public and private sectors to achieve sustainability at the local, national and global levels…

Plants and soil microbes shape forest types worldwide through local underground alliances

Patterns researchers found will predict what communities of trees will go where, their effect on the environment, and how they will respond in the future to climate change and increased carbon dioxide.

Princeton University Read ScienceDaily summary here

Mingzhen Lu, Lars O. Hedin. Global plant–symbiont organization and emergence of biogeochemical cycles resolved by evolution-based trait modellingNature Ecology & Evolution, 2019; 3 (2): 239 DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0759-0

Researchers report that the distribution of forest types worldwide is based on the relationships plant species forged with soil microbes to enhance their uptake of nutrients. These symbioses could help scientists understand how ecosystems may shift as climate change alters the interplay between plants, microbes and soil.

….The biome-specific dynamics between plants and soil microbes could help scientists understand how ecosystems may shift as climate change brings about warmer temperatures that alter the interplay between trees, microbes and soil, the researchers report. Because the most competitive symbiotic arrangements for a particular biome triumph, scientists would only need to understand how an ecosystem is changing to gauge which vegetation will be moving in and which will be moving out.

…”The pattern we found can be used to tell us the landscapes that are more sensitive to human disturbance,” said senior author Lars Hedin, the George M. Moffett Professor of Biology and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the Princeton Environmental Institute. “It will predict what communities of trees will go where, their effect on the environment, and how they will respond in the future to climate change and increased carbon dioxide.”

Behavior Change For Nature: A Behavioral Science Toolkit for Practitioners.

Expanding the traditional environmental toolkit of regulations, taxes, and awareness campaigns to include behavioral insights
such as our cognitive biases, emotions, social networks, and decision-making environments that can enhance practitioners’ ability to achieve lasting change, according to a recent Rare report, which…offers 15 behavioral strategies and numerous case studies aiming to address today’s most pressing environmental challenges.

….The authors discuss the merits and shortcomings of three key approaches: legislation and regulation; market forces and material incentives; and awareness and education. They also highlight three fundamental insights from behavioral science: the need to focus on non-conscious as well as conscious drivers of behavior; the need to focus on the setting of our behaviors as well as internal motives and drivers; and the need to focus on behaviors rather than solely beliefs, attitudes or intentions….

Global Warming and Judaism: a Yom Kippur Sermon on climate change and the Bible– a re-post from 2006

For Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, Rabbi Camille Shira Angel;

See here and here for some current resources on religion and climate change; Read entire sermon here

By Ellie M. Cohen October 2, 2006

My 4 year old daughter and I were fortunate to spend a few days in August on a beautiful high Sierra lake.  One morning we decided to attempt her first fishing lesson.  The early morning air was pine-resin, mountain fresh as we sat down at the edge of the small dock.  The lake was quite still at first—a mirror reflecting the rising sun and the forests that lined the shores. 

We carefully cast out our line, trying hard to avoid getting hooked ourselves.  Together we very gradually pulled the line in, with the lightweight reel clicking and ratcheting each step.  We had no bait —so our biggest catch was some “lakeweed.”  After a few castings, Leah took off her socks and shoes, happily dangling her feet in the still-ice-cold snow-melted water. 

Suddenly a brisk wind picked up and we snuggled closer.  She dodged the chill by laying flat on her back on the sun-warmed dock and I joined her.  The new view was enchanting.  We found ourselves looking straight up into the most magnificent blue sky — that clarity you can only see when you are a mile and a half above sea level.  Wisps of clouds moved in from the south—enormous feathers of the whitest whites as my daughter described them.  Then she asked, is that God?  I hesitated, then with great parental authority, asked…. what do you think?  She replied, “I think God is everywhere– in the clouds, in the wind, in the trees, in the birds and in the ground.”  God was definitely present in that very special moment.

The High Holidays are a time to contemplate the meaning of heaven and earth as we celebrate the creation of the world, its incredible diversity of inhabitants and the powerful forces that shape it every day.  On Yom Kippur especially— as we explore repentance and forgiveness on this holiest of days, this final day of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe—we refrain from earthly pleasures, abstain from food, even abstain from colorful clothing as our thoughts are focused towards heaven.   Yet paradoxically, Yom Kippur prayers constantly bring us back to earth by urging us to reflect on our mundane routines and behaviors to reach the lofty goals of reconciliation and renewal. 

Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Simeon observed almost 2,000 years ago, ‘Why does Scripture at times put earth before heaven and at other times heaven before earth?  To teach that the two are of equal value.[2]

What better day than today to contemplate heaven and earth, the oneness of our world, our role as stewards of God’s creation and our commitment as Jews to preserving it….. [Read more here]

For a healthier planet, eat these 50 foods; From mushrooms, beans and pulses, to nuts, tubers, seaweed, algae, cactuses, and greens, our food choices can protect our future (WWF, Knorr)

Read NPR story here; see WWF Knorr Report here (pdf)

….According to the report, 75 percent of the food we consume comes from just 12 plant sources and five animal sources. And just three crops — wheat, corn and rice — make up nearly 60 percent of the plant-based calories in most diets.

The lack of variety in agriculture is both bad for nature and a threat to food security, the report says. It argues that it’s essential we change our eating habits to protect the planet and ensure we are able to feed our growing global population….

….Maria Haga, the head of Crop Trust, an organization focused on preserving crop diversity, says the new campaign is on target. “We probably have globally like 30,000 plants that we could eat,” she says. “We eat roughly 150 of those.” And to have just a handful of crops be so dominant is “really a challenge for the whole food system.”

Haga says dependence on just a few crops is also a threat to food security…. If we’re to feed everyone with a changing climate, says Haga, we’ll need diverse crops that can adapt to extreme weather conditions. The planet has lost thousands of varieties of foods in the last hundred years, says Haga. And once they’re gone, they’re gone forever….

….people are beginning to wake up to the problem and to the wide variety of alternative foods, many of which he grew up eating. One example is the ancient grain fonio, which resembles couscous. “It’s a grain that’s great for the planet,” says Thiam. “And it’s gluten free; it’s drought resistant; it grows in two months; it scores low on the glycemic index, so it’s great for your health too.”… Besides grains like fonio, they include various mushrooms, beans and pulses, nuts, tubers, algae and cactuses…

Climate Change: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

MAGC/ One Tam /GGNPC Presentation March 14, 2019

Many thanks to the Marin Art and Garden Club, One Tam and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for inviting me to present. My presentation includes some of the latest science about climate change (as well as land use change and pollution impacts on ecosystems) globally and regionally; an overview of the United Nations efforts to address climate change including the most recent UNFCCC COP 24 meeting outcomes (which I was honored to attend representing Point Blue); and, what we can do- and are doing- to secure a vibrant future for us all. You can view a pdf of my presentation here.

Nitrogen pollution’s path to streams weaves through more forests (and faster) than suspected

Read full ScienceDaily coverage here

Sebestyen et al. Unprocessed atmospheric nitrate in waters of the Northern Forest Region in the USA and CanadaEnvironmental Science & Technology, 2019; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b01276

Scientists have completed one of the largest and longest examinations to trace unprocessed nitrate movement in forests. The team found that some nitrate occasionally moves too fast for biological uptake, resulting in ‘unprocessed’ nitrate bypassing the otherwise effective filter of forest biology.

The study links pollutant emissions from various and sometimes distant sources including industry, energy production, the transportation sector and agriculture to forest health and stream water quality.

“Nitrogen is critical to the biological productivity of the planet, but it becomes an ecological and aquatic pollutant when too much is present,” said Stephen Sebestyen, a research hydrologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station based in Grand Rapids, Minn., and the study’s lead author….

“From public land managers to woodlot owners, there is a great deal of interest in forest health and water quality. Our research identifies widespread pollutant effects, which undermines efforts to manage nitrogen pollution.”