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Mysterious seeds, ehighways and the largest go at nuclear fusion yet

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

Seeds from China are being received unsolicited in mailboxes all over the world. Speculation remains as to why. Thr0ke, Flickr
7 August 2020
7 August 2020

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

Could popular science help prevent the next pandemic? Author David Quammen thinks so. We also take a quick look at how farmers are tackling the challenges of COVID-19.

And in case you missed it, we spoke to young climate activist Varshini Prakash, whose Sunrise Movement is taking to social media and phone banks to push for climate justice ahead of this year’s U.S. elections.

COVID-19

Bike riders in New Delhi. Elliott Scott, Flickr
Bike riders in New Delhi. Elliott Scott, Flickr

This pandemic could cost the world economy some USD 11.5 trillion this year alone – but it would cost just 2 percent of that figure to prevent future pandemics by protecting biodiversity.

Bicycles are back in fashion in India as many commuters avoid public transport, but fears of catching the coronavirus on mass transit might not be well-founded after all.

And human-generated noise fell by up to 50 percent around the world during this year’s lockdowns, allowing geologists to more easily monitor volcanoes and seismic activity.

CLIMATE

A temporary shelter during last year’s floods in Bangladesh. UN Women Asia and the Pacific
A temporary shelter during last year’s floods in Bangladesh. UN Women Asia and the Pacific

A third of Bangladesh is underwater after heavy flooding, killing more than 100 and displacing millions. The floods come just two months after Cyclone Amphan devastated the region, highlighting the stark inequities of the climate crisis.

Low-lying countries like Bangladesh aren’t the only areas at risk: coastal flooding will reach farther inland as sea levels rise, threatening the livelihoods of up to 200 million people by 2050.

A small silver lining from South Asia’s monsoon rains is that Indian farmers have planted 14 percent more crops than last year.

PEOPLE

Indigenous women in Colombia are often defenders of territorial and environmental rights. Sixty-four environmental defenders were killed in the country last year. GPA Photo Archive
Indigenous women in Colombia are often defenders of territorial and environmental rights. Sixty-four environmental defenders were killed in the country last year. GPA Photo Archive

Around 800 million children, approximately one-in-three globally, have dangerous levels of lead in their blood, finds a new UNICEF report. Lead is a neurotoxin that can impair cognitive ability and has been linked with violent behavior and cardiovascular disease.

A record 212 land and environmental defenders were killed last year, according to Global Witness. More than half of the killings took place in Colombia and the Philippines.

After months without electricity following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, communities in Puerto Rico are installing their own solar energy systems to build climate resilience.

PLANET

A salmon leaps up a river in Perthshire, Scotland. Ian_woodhead1, Flickr
A salmon leaps up a river in Perthshire, Scotland. Ian_woodhead1, Flickr

Migratory river fish such as salmon and trout have declined by 76 percent globally since 1970 – and that figure is as high as 93 percent in Europe. Sharks are also in sharp decline in coral reefs across the globe.

The illegal wildlife trade is responsible for removing millions of animals, including endangered species, from the Brazilian Amazon. Weak laws, poor enforcement and corruption are all contributing factors.

Officials believe naturally-produced toxins could be responsible for the deaths of at least 281 elephants in Botswana since May.

Some of the planet’s most primitive species are also its most resilient: scientists have managed to revive microbes that had lain on the ocean floor since the time of the dinosaurs.

POLICY

Trucks are hooked up to cables on ehighways in California. Courtesy of Siemans
Trucks are hooked up to cables on an e-highway in California. Courtesy of Siemans

Vietnam has tightened the enforcement of laws on the wildlife trade, albeit without banning it outright. Local conservation groups are cautiously optimistic.

However, in the U.S., the Trump administration is seeking to narrow the definition of “habitat” for endangered species to exclude potential future sites. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

Could electric “trolley trucks” be the best way to decarbonize road freight? The batteries used in electric cars aren’t powerful enough for semi-trailer trucks, but electrified highways with overhead cables, known as ehighways, have already been piloted in Sweden and the U.S. and are looking promising in the U.K. as well.

Meanwhile, France is embarking on the world’s largest nuclear fusion project, which aims to produce clean energy without radioactive waste.

BUSINESS

The Caledonian sleeper train takes passengers through the U.K. landscape between London and Scotland. Rail Explorer, Flickr
The Caledonian sleeper train takes passengers through the U.K. landscape between London and Scotland. Rail Explorer, Flickr

Mustard, cabbage and other seeds are mysteriously arriving in the mail across Europe and North America. U.S. officials believe they’re part of a scam to generate fake online reviews but warn that they could also include invasive species.

Banks in Japan and South Korea are shying away from coal, which is increasingly viewed as a risky investment amid low demand due to COVID-19. The two countries, along with China, are the main financiers of coal-fired power plants in South and Southeast Asia.

With the pandemic largely under control in China, at least eight Chinese airlines are offering all-you-can-fly deals for as little as USD 500 in an attempt to revive domestic air travel.

Luckily for the climate, momentum in Europe is shifting the other way, with sleeper trains seeing a renaissance as travelers steer clear of the skies.


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