Zombie fires, regenerative travel and an app to prevent pandemics

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

Stan Bonnar, Flickr
11 September 2020
11 September 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

Women are given economic opportunities through the Great Green Wall restoration initiative in Africa's vulnerable Sahel region. Courtesy of MakeWaves
Women are given economic opportunities through the Great Green Wall restoration initiative in Africa’s vulnerable Sahel region. Courtesy of MakeWaves

There’s no climate justice without racial and social justice, activists say. As global warming and COVID-19 ravage the world’s poor, it’s more important than ever that we tackle all of these issues together.

The World Wildlife Fund unveiled its flagship Living Planet Report, finding that global populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have dropped by two-thirds in the last half-century, due to humans.

Another status report was released on Africa’s ambitious Great Green Wall initiative, which aims to hold back the Sahara desert with a continent-wide stretch of green. Verdict: it has a long way to go and needs some bankrollers to get there.

We also take a look at how heatwaves and wildfires are impacting life in the Arctic, the Brazilian Cerrado and the redwood forests of California. Plus, could we safeguard food security by climate-proofing our potatoes?

COVID-19

The north coast of Papua New Guinea, which the Global Safety Net app ranks as a '0', meaning that "less than 5% of areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services are protected." Jonathan E. Shaw, Flickr
The north coast of Papua New Guinea, which the Global Safety Net app ranks as a ‘0’, meaning that “less than 5% of areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services are protected.” Jonathan E. Shaw, Flickr

We are all responsible for the pandemic, says a provocative new short film, pointing at our interference with the natural world. Luckily, a new app can help us be part of the solution by identifying which landscapes most urgently need to be protected.

Hurricanes and wildfires are complicating matters in the U.S., where COVID-19 has already claimed more than 180,000 lives. Fatality rates among black, Latino and Indigenous Americans are over three times as high as for white Americans, and this racial divide continues to widen.

On the upside, humanity’s resource consumption has dropped by 9.3 percent compared to last year – but we are still exceeding the Earth’s biocapacity by 60 percent.

CLIMATE

Ice melt in Greenland, as pictured here, contributes to more than a millimeter of sea-level rise annually. Elisabeth Kruger, WWF
Ice melt in Greenland, as pictured here, contributes to more than a millimeter of sea-level rise annually. Elisabeth Kruger, WWF

The Earth has lost 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994 – and ice loss has risen by 57 percent over that period.

Amid a record heatwave, at least 200 wildfires are burning across several western U.S. states including California, Oregon and Washington. ‘Zombie fires’ are also burning through peatlands in the Arctic, and the Brazilian Amazon is likely experiencing its worst fires in a decade, putting many Indigenous communities at risk.

With hotter weather comes an opportunity for solar power: in sunny Australia, one in four households has installed rooftop solar panels. Old solar panels could soon wind up in landfills, though.

PEOPLE

The Sunday Times, one of the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp titles targeted by climate activism group Extinction Rebellion. Howard Lake, Flickr
The Sunday Times, one of the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp titles targeted by climate activism group Extinction Rebellion. Howard Lake, Flickr

Debt forgiveness could be crucial to protecting biodiversity across the Global South, where many communities are struggling with the economic fallout from COVID-19.

Six young Portuguese climate activists are taking 33 European countries to court for not taking adequate action to slash emissions. One in eight deaths in Europe are now attributable to environmental factors such as air pollution and heatwaves, according to E.U. statistics.

In London, Extinction Rebellion activists have sparked controversy by blockading a print works for four U.K. newspapers, which they accuse of inaccurately reporting on climate change. Activists also blocked traffic in Warsaw in protest against Poland’s heavy reliance on coal power.

PLANET

 A satellite image of the Great Barrier Reef taken in 2010. Since then, the Reef has experienced a series of mass bleaching events, including the worst this year, when more than a quarter of the reef was severely bleached. NASA
A satellite image of the Great Barrier Reef taken in 2010. Since then, the Reef has experienced a series of mass bleaching events, including the worst this year, when more than a quarter of the reef was severely bleached. NASA

Could COVID-19 speed up the slow death of the Great Barrier Reef? With ecotourism on hold, funds for conservation are quickly drying up. But the tourist industry is looking to build back better with a new paradigm of regenerative travel.

Some 100,000 protesters demonstrated in the Mauritian capital Port Louis after last month’s massive oil spill, which has left at least 47 dolphins dead. A similar oil spill off the coast of Venezuela could contaminate mangroves and coral reefs in the area for decades, experts say.

POLICY

The Navajo Generating Station, a coal power plant and associated mine, located on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, U.S. The plant was decommissioned last year, but now faces years of cleanup and environmental monitoring from its activities. GPA Photo Archive
The Navajo Generating Station, a coal power plant and associated mine, located on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, U.S. The plant was decommissioned last year, but now faces years of cleanup and environmental monitoring from its activities. GPA Photo Archive

Brazil has virtually stopped prosecuting illegal deforestation since it deployed its military to the Amazon in May, according to an investigation by the Associated Press.

Likewise, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has weakened rules on coal power plants, enabling them to more easily deposit toxic waste into rivers and streams. A coalition of 21 states is also suing the Trump administration for seeking to cut back regulations on infrastructure projects.

The E.U. is drafting legislation that will reduce the number of free carbon credits allocated to polluters under its Emissions Trading System. These companies will now be forced to buy additional credits.

BUSINESS

The Toyota RAV4 was the top-selling SUV globally in 2019, for the second year in a row. Toyota UK
The Toyota RAV4 was the top-selling SUV globally in 2019, for the second year in a row. Toyota UK

With all the focus on ‘flight shaming,’ are sports utility vehicles getting a free pass? SUVs made up 40 percent of global car sales in 2019 and were the second largest contributor to the increase in carbon emissions over the last decade.

Only one in ten utility firms around the world is prioritizing investing in renewable energy, while less than half of the world’s major timber and pulp companies have taken action on conservation. China’s state energy companies are only now starting to develop renewables.

But investors are shunning the oil industry as COVID-19 wipes billions off the value of their assets. Norwegian investment firm Storebrand is divesting from ExxonMobil and Chevron in protest against their climate lobbying. To compound their troubles, demand for plastics could peak and start declining as soon as 2027.


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