Algae flip-flops, horse antibodies and the hottest temperature ever

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

The hottest temperature ever recorded came on 16 August in the California desert. Lucian, Flickr
21 August 2020
21 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

For Indigenous Peoples’ Day, check out these five books on Indigenous wisdom, and meet these Indigenous citizen scientists defending their lands from loggers on the island of Borneo.

Speaking of stories, we spoke to filmmaker Guille Isa on how documentaries are bringing the struggles of marginalized communities to the public eye.

COVID-19

The World Health Organization recommends keeping pollution levels below 10 micrograms; China’s standard is 35. Global Panorama
The World Health Organization recommends keeping pollution levels below 10 micrograms; China’s standard is 35. Global Panorama

This year’s lockdowns may have led to drastic cuts in carbon emissions, but they’re unlikely to have any real effect on global warming. Phasing out fossil fuels might be a better bet, scientists say.

Lockdown has also reduced air pollution levels by 10 percent in China since January, though they’re still far higher than World Health Organization recommendations.

In the U.S., both Hispanic and black children are more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than white children; inequities in housing, employment and health insurance coverage may be contributing factors. Surveys also suggest Americans have become less concerned about climate change since the pandemic started.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica is trialing horse antibodies as a potential treatment until a vaccine becomes available.

CLIMATE

Bad Water Basin in Death Valley, California, is defined by its salt dried in hexagonal formations. Jim Choate, Flickr
Bad Water Basin in Death Valley, California, is defined by its salt dried in hexagonal formations. Jim Choate, Flickr

Heatwaves have hit Japan and the western U.S. and Canada. In California, a potential world-record temperature of 54.4 degrees Celsius was set in Death Valley last Sunday, and the heat is stretching the state’s electric grid and exacerbating drought and wildfires.

After the heaviest rainfall in at least 60 years, over 100,000 people have been evacuated in China as floods spread across the country’s southwestern and central regions.

Unsurprisingly, the last decade was the hottest on record, at 0.39 degrees Celsius hotter than the long-term global average. Last year’s ocean surface temperatures were also the second warmest on record, which scientists warn could cause serious disruption to marine food webs.

PEOPLE

Protests in New York against Chevron’s involvement in Ecuador, 2015. Marcela, Flickr
Protests in New York against Chevron’s involvement in Ecuador, 2015. Marcela, Flickr

Microplastics are now accumulating in human organs and tissues, new research finds. Every sample in the study contained the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA), which has been linked with a range of conditions including infertility, heart disease and diabetes.

Australia has asked the U.N. to dismiss a claim by Torres Strait Islanders that it is failing to protect their human rights from the effects of climate change. The islanders argue that the Australian government has violated their right to culture, family and life by failing to reduce carbon emissions or invest in adaptation measures for their communities.

American lawyer Steven Donziger, who successfully sued Chevron for polluting rural communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon in 2011, has been disbarred in New York. The oil giant, rather than paying the USD 9.5 billion fine, has been pursuing a retaliatory case against Donziger.

PLANET

Recent coral discoveries in the Galápagos Islands include the Tropical Eastern Pacific’s first giant solitary soft coral, a new genus of glass sponges and colorful sea fans. American Divers International
Recent coral discoveries in the Galápagos Islands include the Tropical Eastern Pacific’s first giant solitary soft coral, a new genus of glass sponges and colorful sea fans. American Divers International

A Japanese cargo vessel has run aground on a coral reef in Mauritius and broken apart, spilling over 1,000 tons of fuel oil into a marine reserve. Mauritius is a biodiversity hotspot with some 1,700 species living among its islands and waters, and the spill is likely to affect its entire ecosystem.

Marine scientists have discovered 30 new species of deep-sea corals and sponges in the waters around Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, just weeks after a fleet of over 200 Chinese fishing vessels were spotted near the fragile and biodiverse archipelago.

Could biodiversity loss be impacting human health in cities? Scientists believe a decline in microbial diversity may be weakening our immune systems as we become exposed to fewer bacteria, viruses and fungi.

POLICY

A portion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Under the Trump administration, oil drilling will expand into wildlife territories in the state. Malcolm Manners, Flickr
A portion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Under the Trump administration, oil drilling will expand into wildlife territories in the state. Malcolm Manners, Flickr

The U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement in November, but a new study finds that it would be economically better off staying in, particularly as renewable energy is rapidly becoming cheaper.

Instead, the Trump administration is continuing to weaken climate legislation; it will no longer require oil and gas companies to fix methane leaks and is opening a wildlife refuge in Alaska to oil exploration.

China has tightened regulations on its fishing fleet, which is both the world’s largest and considered the most prone to illegal practices, though it remains to be seen if the new rules will be enforced.

BUSINESS

In a financial report, banking behemoth HSBC made strong statements about private sector responsibility to curb deforestation. Nick Garrod, Flickr
In a financial report, banking behemoth HSBC made strong statements about private sector responsibility to curb deforestation. Nick Garrod, Flickr

Seven of the world’s largest oil companies have downgraded the value of their assets by USD 87 billion over the last nine months. With demand for fossil fuels showing no signs of recovering from COVID-19, European oil firms are shifting their focus toward renewable energy.

Investors are walking away from JBS, citing its complicity in deforestation in the Amazon – and now HSBC is warning against investing in the world’s largest meatpacker.

We’ll leave you with these biodegradable flip flops made from algae, courtesy of researchers at the University of California, San Diego.


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