Biopiracy, no-snow November and furniture from face masks

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

Ice crystals on a November morning. Samuel S, Flickr
18 December 2020
18 December 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

A person watching for the critically endangered tamaraws in Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park in the Philippines. Rangers at the national park received help from a crowdfunding campaign after business stalled from the COVID-19 pandemic. Andy Nelson, Flickr
A person watching for the critically endangered tamaraws in Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park in the Philippines. Rangers at the national park received help from a crowdfunding campaign after business stalled from the COVID-19 pandemic. Andy Nelson, Flickr

Lockdown has had virtually no impact on global warming – and we’re still set for a 3-degree Celsius rise in temperatures by 2100.

These New York street artists are sounding the alarm, while these three youth climate activists are giving their all to help vulnerable communities cope with the climate crisis.

As the pandemic decimates global tourism, crowdfunding and fintech are safeguarding both livelihoods and biodiversity across Southeast Asia.

But in one of the more egregious forms of biopiracy, digital technologies are also enabling corporations to take out patents on DNA.

In the last exploration of our Forgotten Forests series this year, we venture away from the tropics to the montane climes of Central Asia, where the ancient fruit and nut forests that stocked the trades of the Silk Road still grow to provide us our pistachios, pomegranates, apples and more. Happy holidays!

COVID-19

A vaccination underway in British Columbia, Canada. Province of British Columbia, Flickr
A vaccination underway in British Columbia, Canada. Province of British Columbia, Flickr

As the first COVID-19 vaccinations begin in the U.K., the vast majority of people in low-income countries – or nearly one in four globally – are unlikely to receive a vaccine until at least 2022.

Some countries could even be forced to wait until 2024 for a vaccine, should the WHO’s COVAX program fail.

While we still don’t know what causes severe COVID-19 conditions, it appears to be associated with exposure to a chemical called perfluorobutyrate (PFBA).

And after Denmark culled 15 million mink to contain a mutated coronavirus strain, the decomposing carcasses may now be contaminating groundwater.

CLIMATE

A polar bear on one of the last ice floes in the area. Gerard Van der Leun, Flickr
A polar bear on one of the last ice floes in the area. Gerard Van der Leun, Flickr

In an apparent case of Groundhog Day, this year is likely to be the hottest on record, while last month was the hottest November ever. The Arctic is also heating up much more quickly than expected.

The climate crisis is already costing lives and threatening natural World Heritage sites as extreme heat, wildfires and food insecurity grow increasingly common.

But COVID-19 offers an opportunity to address both crises collectively, and by slashing emissions today, we could be reaping the benefits within 20 years.

PEOPLE

Hurricanes Eta and Iota hit Central American and Colombia within the same fortnight, disrupting the lives of 7.3 million people. D. Membreño, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid
Hurricanes Eta and Iota hit Central American and Colombia within the same fortnight, disrupting the lives of 7.3 million people. D. Membreño, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

Human-made materials now weigh more than all other life on Earth – and our plastics weigh twice as much as the entire animal kingdom.

A month after the double whammy of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, some 400,000 people are homeless in Honduras and Guatemala, with millions in need of humanitarian aid across Central America.

In the U.S., too, the climate crisis is taking a disproportionate toll on low-income residents and people of color, who are more likely to live in the hottest urban neighborhoods. 

PLANET

A mural in London by mural artist Michelle Meola commemorating Australia’s last bushfire season, which killed many of the continent’s iconic koalas. duncan c, Flickr
A mural in London by mural artist Michelle Meola commemorating Australia’s last bushfire season, which killed many of the continent’s iconic koalas. duncan c, Flickr

Almost 60,000 koalas were among the 3 billion animals killed or harmed by Australia’s devastating bushfires a year ago.

The U.S. border wall with Mexico is threatening the survival of migratory animals in the area, including jaguars, wolves and cougars.

The world’s largest mammal migration, in which some 10 billion fruit bats fly from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Zambia in a single day, is under threat from deforestation.

Deforestation may have also destroyed 8 percent of the Amazon in just 18 years, though natural regrowth could prevent its ecosystems from collapsing – for now.

The latest IUCN Red List update marks 31 species as extinct and all freshwater dolphins as threatened, although the European bison is slowly recovering.

POLICY

An oil field in the North Sea, where Denmark has been extracting oil and gas since 1972. Jo Christian Oterhals, Flickr
An oil field in the North Sea, where Denmark has been extracting oil and gas since 1972. Jo Christian Oterhals, Flickr

The Paris Agreement has turned five years old – but so far, the world is nowhere near achieving its goals of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius.

Nonetheless, the U.S. has pledged to rejoin the agreement in January 2021. It will also protect 16,000 square kilometers of coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean. 

China has promised to reduce its carbon intensity by 65 percent by 2030, although its newly expanded weather modification program could disrupt rainfall patterns as far as India.

The E.U. has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels. The U.K. will reduce emissions by 68 percent during this period, while Denmark will end oil production by 2050.

Europe’s marine protected areas aren’t exactly protected areas, and the world has also fallen short on protecting 10 percent of the ocean by 2020 under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.

BUSINESS

More than twice as many Coca-Cola plastic products were recorded in a global plastic audit than the next two largest polluters combined. papanooms, Flickr
More than twice as many Coca-Cola plastic products were recorded in a global plastic audit than the next two largest polluters combined. papanooms, Flickr

Coca-Cola has secured the dubious crown of top plastic polluter for the third year running, beating Pepsi and Nestlé to the title.

Calls for a ban on deep sea mining are growing ever louder – and this new Greenpeace report reveals a highly secretive and poorly regulated industry dominated by mining and arms interests.

Over 500,000 electric cars have been sold in Europe so far this year, but growing demand for lithium batteries is sparking a mining boom in Portugal.

And for those of you interested in a souvenir from 2020: meet this South Korean student designing furniture made from recycled face masks.


Leave a Reply