Recycled cars, the butterfly effect and a Biden boost for biodiversity

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

The wings of the morhpo butterfly act like prisms, creating their stunning colors. Scientists are trying to mimic the structures to create safe colorants for paints and cosmetics. Rennett Stowe, Flickr
20 November 2020
20 November 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

Joe Biden, now the president-elect, on the campaign trail in South Carolina earlier this year. sting-rayschuller, Flickr
Joe Biden, now the president-elect, on the campaign trail in South Carolina earlier this year. stingrayschuller, Flickr

Joe Biden will be the next U.S. president. Here’s what that means for biodiversity.

Trees could be our most formidable weapon against the climate crisis – but we must be careful how and where we plant them.

COVID-19

The Danish government has called for the culling of minks in farms following confirmed re-ports of a mutated strain of the COVID-19 virus in some of the animals. Becca Tyler, Flickr
The Danish government has called for the culling of minks in farms following confirmed reports of a mutated strain of the COVID-19 virus in some of the animals. Becca Tyler, Flickr

The fur industry is facing scrutiny over a mutated coronavirus strain found in Danish mink farms. These and further mutations could limit the effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine, experts fear.

After vaccine breakthroughs by Pfizer and Modernaover 1 billion people could be vaccinated by the end of 2021 – but many in the Global South might have to wait for cheaper alternatives.

And when ‘normality’ resumes, many people across the globe plan to drive more than before, despite accepting that humans are to blame for the climate crisis.

CLIMATE

An Air China Boeing 747 takes off from San Francisco International Airport in 2010. dsleeter_2000, Flickr
An Air China Boeing 747 takes off from San Francisco International Airport in 2010. dsleeter_2000, Flickr

Hurricane Iota has battered Central America just two weeks after Hurricane Eta devastated the region and its Indigenous communities. Iota is the 30th named storm of this year’s record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, and the strongest ever to hit Nicaragua.

Even more destructive storms may be yet to come, as the climate crisis is causing hurricanes to last longer after landfall, allowing them to cause greater damage to inland areas.

Just 1 percent of the world’s population is responsible for half of global carbon emissions from aviation, and only 11 percent took a flight at all in 2018.

But even if we stopped burning fossil fuels completely, emissions from food production alone could heat the planet by 2 degrees by 2100 unless we drastically revamp our food systems.

Still, renewable energy is set to break new records again, accounting for 90 percent of new electricity generation in 2020.

PEOPLE

The Mi’kmaq are a First Nations people indigenous to Canada and the northeastern region of Maine. Shawn Harquail, Flickr
The Mi’kmaq are a First Nations people indigenous to Canada and the northeastern region of Maine. Shawn Harquail, Flickr

Over 1 million livelihoods are at stake in Kenya and Tanzania as biodiversity dwindles in the Mara River, home to the planet’s largest concentration of vertebrates.

In Montenegro, NATO is attempting to build a military training ground on traditional lands in a biosphere reserve – but local pastoralists are fighting back.

Amid tensions with commercial fishers over First Nation fishing rights, Indigenous Mi’kmaq communities in Canada have bought one of North America’s largest seafood companies.

Brazil has received a record number of applications to mine on Indigenous lands, which violates the country’s constitution. Also in Brazil, 39 enslaved people have been rescued from an illegal gold mine.

PLANET

A blue morpho butterfly in the Missouri Botanical Gardens in 2010. Timothy K Hamilton, Flickr
A blue morpho butterfly in the Missouri Botanical Gardens in 2010. Timothy K Hamilton, Flickr

Spain is set to become the E.U.’s largest pork producer this year – and undercover footage has surfaced documenting severe animal abuse across dozens of the country’s pig farms.

Brazil’s carbon emissions rose by 9.6 percent in 2019, the first year of President Jair Bolsonaro’s term, due to a drastic increase in deforestation in the Amazon.

Could morpho butterflies help make our paint and cosmetics less toxic? Scientists are working to develop a colorant inspired by their bright blue hues to replace chemical dyes and pigments.

And check out this new map of Mumbai that showcases the Indian megacity’s rich biodiversity, designed by wildlife cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty.

POLICY

Tristan da Cunha, the most remote archipelago in the world. Spixey, Flickr
Tristan da Cunha, the most remote archipelago in the world. Spixey, Flickr

Don’t count on a global green recovery from COVID-19: countless countries are doubling down on fossil fuels while spending little on green stimulus.

One potential exception is the U.S. under a future Biden administration – though even that could be doubtful if the Republican Party maintains control of the Senate.

Regardless, here are 10 executive actions the U.S. President-elect could still take to tackle the climate crisis without congressional approval.

The E.U. plans to increase its offshore wind farm capacity by 250 percent by 2030. Meanwhile, the remote south Atlantic archipelago of Tristan da Cunha – population 250 – will soon host the world’s fourth-largest marine sanctuary.

BUSINESS

A 2019 Volkswagen e-Golf in Leamington Spa, UK. Vauxford, Wikimedia Commons
A 2019 Volkswagen e-Golf in Leamington Spa, UK. Vauxford, Wikimedia Commons

The world’s largest banks invested some USD 2.6 trillion in industries that drive biodiversity loss last year.

Public development banks, too, are endangering nature worth USD 1.1 trillion per year. Despite pledging to align with the Paris Agreement, they stopped short on committing to phasing out fossil fuel financing.

BP is partnering with Ørsted to develop its first green hydrogen project (here’s a short explainer), while Volkswagen Group is shifting resources towards electric vehicles in a bid to keep up with Tesla.

But these students at the Technical University of Eindhoven might be one step ahead: they’ve developed a fully functional electric car made entirely out of waste.


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