Europe swelters, Pacific Islands refuse to die, and climate is a muse

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

"Beauty," a water-based installation by artist Olafur Eliasson, whose work often focuses on climate. Courtesy of Olafur Eliasson
29 July 2019
Ming Chun Tang

Welcome to the Landscape News bi-weekly digest on landscapes, climate and sustainability. From what’s on your shelves to what’s in the atmosphere, here’s the news to know.

LANDSCAPE NEWS: Buckle up

With summer now upon the northern hemisphere, forego planes’ carbon emissions and travel with Landscape News. We’ve got Kiribati for island-lovers, Kyoto for a city trip and five of the most remote yet life-filled additions to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The world population will hit 9.8 billion by 2050; here’s how to make sure everyone gets fed. Rice, a staple for many, will be key.

And whether it’s through smartphone apps or paying people to plant trees, there’s no lack of innovative ways to preserve our forests.

Autumn crocus and cigarette butt
Photo: Miss Rhyne (birdtrouble), Flickr

RESEARCH: Smoking kills plants too

Did the Kiribati story get you down? Here’s some good news: the natural cycles of reefs around the Pacific’s low-lying islands could help them remain inhabitable rather than sinking beneath the waves.

Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter – 4.5 trillion are improperly disposed of every year. They’re also inhibiting plant growth.

Heat waves aren’t just deadly on their own: they’re increasingly occurring after destructive tropical cyclones, putting already devastated communities at further risk.

Sunbathers in Paris
Sunbathers by the Seine in Paris. Chris Ruggles, Flickr

CLIMATE: Too hot spots

Speaking of heat waves, they’re having a heyday in Western Europe. The second in a month has smashed all-time national temperature records in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands not once but twice in two days.

Paris, too, recorded its highest ever temperature – a staggering 42.6 degrees Celsius – while British commuters faced chaos as the heat broke multiple trains.

The U.S. also suffered, with temperatures nearing 40 degrees Celsius across much of the country.

Such extreme heat will become increasingly common in the coming decades, says the Union of Concerned Scientists. No wonder architects are turning against glass skyscrapers.

St. John
Jumbie Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. David Barnas, Flickr

POLICY: Screening sunscreen

A major victory for fossil fuel divestment: the European Investment Bank will stop funding fossil fuel projects at the end of 2020 and instead help EU countries transition to clean energy.

Last week, both Cambodia and Sri Lanka took a stand against being landfills for Western waste, sending containers trash back to the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Meanwhile, Indonesia plans to tackle its plastic waste crisis by burning it to generate electricity.

Beach-goers be warned: the U.S. Virgin Islands has become the latest jurisdiction to ban coral-damaging sunscreens, following Hawaii, Palau, Aruba and Bonaire.

Rural landscape in Colombia
A rural landscape in Colombia. Lina Velasquez, Flickr

BIODIVERSITY: Not so hidden in the trees

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has continued to accelerate in July, as authorities turn a blind eye to illegal logging. That could in turn lead to more frequent wildfires, warns a new study in Global Change Biology.

Likewise, smallholder farming threatens biodiversity in the Peruvian Amazon, say researchers at Princeton University.

But there’s a silver lining in Colombia, where deforestation has dropped by 10 percent compared to 2017.

CULTURE: Homophones for the win

This time next year, we’ll be watching the Olympics in Tokyo. Japan has already clocked an early victory: it is making the medals from metals extracted from 80,000 tons of donated electronics.

Environment is the current darling of the art world. Artist Olafur Eliasson is commanding London’s art scene with a natural phenomena–focused exhibit, a two-year project to perfectly photograph a solar eclipse came to fruition, and an opera about climate change took the Venice Bienniale’s top prize.

Not an opera fan? Greta Thunberg and the 1975 released a new pop-rock anthem.

One last thing to listen to: a podcast about those sustainable sneakers everyone is wearing.


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