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Fifth Of Countries Worldwide At-Risk Of “Environmental Shocks” Collapsing Ecosystem 

A new report via insurance firm Swiss Re warns that one-fifth of countries worldwide are at risk of their ecosystems collapsing because of a decline in biodiversity.

The reinsurer said more than half of global GDP, equal to about $41.7 trillion, is highly dependent on “high-functioning biodiversity and ecosystem services” and warns 20% of countries are nearing tipping points.

Swiss Re Institute’s new Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Index (BES), built on ten critical ecosystem services (water security, timber provision, food provision, habitat intactness, pollination, soil fertility, water quality, regulation of air quality and local climate, erosion control and coastal protection), offers government officials and business leaders with a more enhanced view into their local ecosystems that are so critical to their economies. Reinsurers can use BES to develop insurance solutions that protect communities at risk from biodiversity loss.

Among G20 economies, South Africa, India, Turkey, Mexico, and Italy had the highest shares of fragile ecosystems within the BES index. Meanwhile, countries, including Germany, Canada, Indonesia, Brazil, and the United Kingdom, had very low percentages of their ecosystems in a fragile state.

Global BES Index Map

BES Index Ranking G20 Countries 

Christian Mumenthaler, Swiss Re’s Group Chief Executive Officer, said: “This important piece of work provides a data-driven foundation for understanding the economic risks of deteriorating biodiversity and ecosystems. In turn, we can inform governmental decision-making to help improve ecosystem restoration and preservation.”

“We can also support corporations and investors as they fortify themselves against environmental shocks. Armed with this information, we can also ensure the provision of stronger sustainable insurance services,” Mumenthaler said.

One example Swiss Re said is that certain developing and developed countries were at risk for water scarcity issues, which could damage manufacturing sectors, properties, and supply chains. The domino effect of biodiversity loss could have on economies is catastrophic if nothing is done.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Do Weeds Matter for Biodiversity?

Do Weeds Matter for Biodiversity?

Weeds. A very negative-sounding word for many. However, weeds might not exactly be what we used to think they are. Let me take you on a walk in the countryside, observing fields of barley as we pass them by. In the meanwhile, let’s explore who weeds really are. Let’s find out: do weeds matter for biodiversity? And how much?

I bet only few of you have ever seen a field as the one on the picture. Even as an attentive observer of the farmlands around me, I haven’t seen such a colourful cereal-field before, until I saw this one at my faculty of agricultural sciences. At this test plot, no herbicides have been applied, allowing the weeds to come to full bloom in summer. Maybe those from the older generation will remember such blooming fields from the time when they were young, but it has become a rare sight nowadays.

Barley field full of blooming weeds
Barley field full of blooming weeds. Photo by Naomi Bosch

While the flowers are exceptionally beautiful to look at, this is not an homage to the good old times, when “everything used to be better”. Neither does this text mean to condemn all the farmers of the world who do apply pesticides. In fact, its purpose is to strike up a debate about flowers, bread, bees and biodiversity. About who is and who isn’t paying the cost for the cornflowers and poppies we don’t see around us anymore.

Unwanted weeds

There is no doubt that the blue and red spots of flowers in the field of cereals on the picture are a pretty sight. But this doesn’t change the fact that those are weeds. Weeds are any plants that grow on the field along with a crop, that haven’t been sown there intentionally.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How our food choices cut into forests and put us closer to viruses

How our food choices cut into forests and put us closer to viruses

As the global population has doubled to 7.8 billion in about 50 years, industrial agriculture has increased the output from fields and farms to feed humanity. One of the negative outcomes of this transformation has been the extreme simplification of ecological systems, with complex multi-functional landscapes converted to vast swaths of monocultures.

From cattle farming to oil palm plantations, industrial agriculture remains the greatest driver of deforestation, particularly in the tropics. And as agricultural activities expand and intensify, ecosystems lose plants, wildlife and other biodiversity.

The permanent transformation of forested landscapes for commodity crops currently drives more than a quarter of all global deforestation. This includes soy, palm oil, beef cattle, coffee, cocoa, sugar and other key ingredients of our increasingly simplified and highly processed diets.

The erosion of the forest frontier has also increased our exposure to infectious diseases, such as Ebolamalaria and other zoonotic diseases. Spillover incidents would be far less prevalent without human encroachment into the forest.

We need to examine our global food system: Is it doing its job, or is it contributing to forest destruction and biodiversity loss — and putting human life at risk?

What are we eating?

The food most associated with biodiversity loss also tends to also be connected to unhealthy diets across the globe. Fifty years after the Green Revolution — the transition to intensive, high yielding food production reliant on a limited number of crop and livestock species — nearly 800 million people still go to bed hungry; one in three is malnourished; and up to two billion people suffer some sort of micronutrient deficiency and associated health impacts, such as stunting or wasting.

Forest cut down for an agricultural field
A large soy field cuts into the forest in Brazil. (Shutterstock)

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Human over-consumption causes far more biodiversity loss than climate change

Human over-consumption causes far more biodiversity loss than climate change

Preface.  Human ancestors began reducing biodiversity 4 million years ago, when large carnivores in Africa began disappearing, probably due to our ancestors stealing food predators had caught, starving them to death and eventually driving some of them extinct (Faurby, S., et al. 2020. Brain expansion in early hominins predicts carnivore extinctions in East Africa. Ecology Letters.)

***

2016-8-13. Climate change isn’t the biggest danger to Earth’s wildlife, our thirst for natural resources is even more damaging

2016-8-10 “Biodiversity: The ravages of guns, nets, and bulldozers” Nature)

Even though climate change is going to have a very powerful impact on plants and wildlife world-wide, climate change has also become a scape-goat, with a “growing tendency for media reports about threats to biodiversity to focus on climate change.”

But scientists have found that over-exploitation, including logging, hunting, fishing and the gathering of plants is the biggest single killer of biodiversity, directly impacting 72% of the 8,688 species listed as threatened or near-threatened by the IUCN. Agricultural activity comes second, affecting 62% of those species, followed by urban development at 35% and pollution at 22%.  Species such as the African cheetah and Asia’s hairy-noes otter are among the 5,407 species that find themselves threatened by agricultural practices, while illegal hunting impacts several populations such as the Sumatran rhino and African elephant.

Climate change on the other hand comes in on a surprising, if somewhat unimpressive, 7th place in the 11 threats identified by the team. Even when you combine all its effects, it currently threatens just 19% of the species on the list, the team reports. Species such as the hooded seal, which the team reports has seen a population decline of 90% in the northeastern Atlantic Arctic over the past few decades as a result of declining ice cover, are part of the 1,688 species directly impacted by climate change.

One million plant & animal species at risk of extinction

One million plant & animal species at risk of extinction

As usual, no mention of birth control or carrying capacity. 

Plumer, B. 2019. Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace. New York Times.

Extinction rates are tens to hundreds of times higher than they have been in the past 10 million years. 

Over the past 50 years, global biodiversity loss has primarily been driven by activities like the clearing of forests for farmland, the expansion of roads and cities, logging, hunting, overfishing, water pollution and the transport of invasive species around the globe. 

All told, three-quarters of the world’s land area has been significantly altered by people, the report found, and 85 percent of the world’s wetlands have vanished since the 18th century.

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food

Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food

Photograph Source: Mattes – CC BY-SA

The ontology and ecology of food

Food is not a commodity, it is not “stuff” put together mechanically and artificially in labs and factories. Food is life. Food holds the contributions of all beings that make the food web, and it holds the potential of maintaining and regenerating the web of life. Food also holds the potential for health and disease, depending on how it was grown and processed. Food is therefore the living currency of the web of life.

As an ancient Upanishad reminds us “Everything is food, everything is something else’s food. “

Good Food and Real Food are the basis of health .

Bad food, industrial food, fake food is the basis of disease.

Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine”. In Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life, food is called “sarvausadha” the medicine that cures all disease.

Industrial food systems have reduced food to a commodity, to “stuff” that can then be constituted in the lab. In the process both the planet’s health and our health has been nearly destroyed.

75% of the planetary destruction of soil, water, biodiversity, and 50% of greenhouse gas emissions come from industrial agriculture, which also contributes to 75% of food related chronic diseases. It contributes 50% of the GHG’s driving Climate Change. Chemical agriculture does not return organic matter and fertility to the soil. Instead it is contributing to desertification and land degradation. It also demands more water since it destroys the soil’s natural water-holding capacity. Industrial food systems have destroyed the biodiversity of the planet both through the spread of monocultures, and through the use of toxics and poisons which are killing bees, butterflies, insects, birds, leading to the sixth mass extinction.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

UK climate emergency is official policy

UK climate emergency is official policy

Heathrow’s expansion is now in question. Image: By J Patrick Fischer, via Wikimedia Commons

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

1,700+ Species Now at Risk From Human Action, Researchers Report

1,700+ Species Now at Risk From Human Action, Researchers Report

There is only one Earth, but human growth is ensuring that it carries steadily more passengers. And that leaves less and less room for humanity’s companions on board the planet.

The Nile lechwe is an antelope that lives in the swamps of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Its Linnaean name is Kobus megaceros and it stands a meter high (approximately 3.3 feet) at the shoulders so you couldn’t miss it. Except that you could.

That is because it is one of at least 1,700 species identified by biologists to be at risk from human action: quite simply, as humans take an ever-greater share of animal living space, the animals’ chances of survival dwindle rapidly.

So the Nile lechwe joins the Lombok cross frog of Indonesia (Oreophryne monticola) and the curve-billed reedhaunter (Limnornis curvirostris) that lives in the marshes of north-east Argentina to be at risk of extinction by 2070, simply because humankind will intrude on at least half of their geographic ranges.

Biologists, conservationists and climate scientists have been warning for decades that the dangerous combination of human population growth and climate change driven by human-induced global warming puts whole ecosystems at risk, and will hasten the extinction of many species that are already shrinking in numbers.

These include many that underwrite the provision of food, medicine, fabric for the world’s cities and air and water purification systems on which human civilization is founded.

Most such warnings have been based on projections of economic growth, urban demand and climate change. U.S. researchers approached the challenge in a different way.

They report in Nature Climate Change that they collected data on the geographic distributions of 19,400 species and combined this with four different projections of future changes in land use — a euphemism for scorched or felled forest, drained swamp, ploughed grassland and so on — in the next 50 years.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Make Your Garden Have Less Weeds?

HOW TO MAKE YOUR GARDEN HAVE LESS WEEDS?

In crop gardens, we sometimes get into a spatial race with weeds, and the solution is to replace the weeds with “designed weeds” to take up the space. This can be done with green manure mulches to fertilize the gardens and supply quality mulch. This is an example of how understanding the inner workings of weeds allows us to harmonize with natural systems to both repair the earth and create production for ourselves.

It’s important to understand that the term “weed” is applied to any plant that isn’t wanted in a particular area. While we now call dandelions weeds, they once were sought-after greens. Banana trees are so prone to take root in the tropics that someone might consider them a weed, removing them from the yard, though they are the best-selling fruit in the world. The point is that just because we call a plant a weed doesn’t mean it lacks value. “Weeds” can be useful, or they can be prevented. Often, it’s us, as cultivators, who make and foster these choices or pick our small battles.

Mulch – The best way to have a weed-free garden is to prevent them in the first place, and organic mulch is probably the best way to go about that. Thickly (about 5-10 cm) mulch gardens with straw or leaves to effectively suppress weeds, and those weeds that do make it through are much more easily pulled. Not only will mulching help with weeds, but it’ll reduce the need to water, support soil life, and prevent erosion. Ultimately, the mulch will break down and continually replenish and improve the soil.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Saving the Planet

SAVING THE PLANET

I have often found myself wincing as I hear people talking about saving the planet. It’s felt wrong!  I can hear the voices of condemnation screaming at me now … ‘What a horrible person you are not to agree with saving the planet.’… but let me explain.

I’m the same age as Geoff Lawton!  Though I think he’s doing better than me!

I was brought up in the 50s/60s. I had two dads, my biological one and my step dad. My father was a left wing, ‘why is the government giving money to the farmers just because they have a drought’ type of person. He was always railing against the government because it didn’t look after the poor people. He was also the one who would order me out of the room so he could spray DDT in the living room to kill the flies. We left when I was 10.

My step dad was right wing. He didn’t believe the government should be giving out free money to people. He believed in self responsibility. What can you do to get yourself out of the situation?  He was also a firm believer in organic farming, no poisons, and natural health solutions. (Yes, I know that sounds counterintuitive, but you’d be amazed how many right wing people believe in self responsibly and growing their own food!)

My teen years saw my parents growing all our produce organically and sharing produce with friends who also grew organically.

In Grade 10, a science teacher gave us a scenario. He explained that all energy can be quantified as BTUs, from the physical energy you put into something, to the energy it takes to make a product. He gave us an example…

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The Big Picture

Humanity has a lot of problems these days. Climate change, increasing economic inequality, crashing biodiversity, political polarization, and a global debt bubble are just a few of our worries. None of these trends can continue indefinitely without leading to a serious failure of our civilization’s ability to maintain itself. Taken together, these metastasizing problems suggest we are headed toward some kind of historic discontinuity.

Serious discontinuities tend to disrupt the timelines of all complex societies (another name for civilizations—that is, societies with cities, writing, money, and full-time division of labor). The ancient Roman, Egyptian, and Mayan civilizations all collapsed. Archaeologists, historians, and systems thinkers have spent decades seeking an explanation for this pattern of failure—a general unified theory of civilizational collapse, if you will. One of the most promising concepts that could serve as the basis for such a theory comes from resilience science, a branch of ecology (the study of the relationship between organisms and their environments).

adaptive cycle

Why Civilizations Collapse: The Adaptive Cycle

Ecosystems have been observed almost universally to repeatedly pass through four phases of the adaptive cycle: exploitation, conservation, release, and reorganization. Imagine, for example, a Ponderosa pine forest. Following a disturbance such as a fire (in which stored carbon is released into the environment), hardy and adaptable “pioneer” species of plants and small animals fill in open niches and reproduce rapidly.

This reorganization phase of the cycle soon transitions to an exploitation phase, in which those species that can take advantage of relationships with other species start to dominate. These relationships make the system more stable, but at the expense of diversity.

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The battle for the future of farming: what you need to know

It is widely agreed that today’s global agriculture system is a social and environmental failure. Business as usual is no longer an option: biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution are exceeding planetary limits, and catastrophic risks of climate change demand immediate action.

Most concede that there is an urgent need to radically transform our food systems. But the proposed innovations for more sustainable food systems are drastically different. Which we choose will have long-lasting effects on human society and the planet.

Suggested innovations in food systems can be broadly understood as either seeking to conform with – or to transform – the status quo.

The future of farming is ours to decide. Raggedstone/Shutterstock.com

A technological future

Some want to keep the agriculture industry as close to existing practices as possible. This is true of the increasing number of corporate and financial actors who seek to solve the food crisis by developing new technologies. These technologies are envisaged as being part of what is being called the “fourth industrial revolution” (4IR). The “answer” here is thought to lie in a fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between physical, digital and biological domains.

For example, the World Economic Forum is currently supporting agricultural transitions in 21 countries through its “New Vision for Agriculture” initiative. This initiative supports “innovation ecosystems” to re-engineer food systems based on “12 transforming technologies”. In this imagined future, next generation biotechnologies will re-engineer plants and animals. Precision farming will optimise use of water and pesticides. Global food systems will rely on smart robots, blockchain and the internet of things to manufacture synthetic foods for personalised nutrition.

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Durable Goods

Ed. note: The post below is a transcription of Post Carbon Fellow Stephanie Mills’ remarks at the 50 year anniversary of the publication of the Whole Earth Catalog.

Gratitude to Mother Earth, ground of being. Gratitude to Stewart and Ryan and their colleagues for realizing this event.  Gratitude to Stephanie Feldstein for her partnership tonight.

The image was taken this summer in a stand of old growth White Pine saved in 1973 from the chainsaws by a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. The flowers are Bunchberry and Canada Mayflower. Gratitude to all those beings.

Stewart, master of compressed utterance, asked for five minutes on the last and next half-centuries: More than a tweet, less than a tome.

Fifty years is an eyeblink.  Yet despite many good faith efforts at every level to prevent waste and ruin, the growth of industrial civilization has ravaged the Earth, depleting soil, water, and biodiversity, contaminating oceans and the atmosphere.

In 1968 Paul and Anne Ehrlich dropped The Population Bomb.  There were about 3.5 billion of us then, over seven billion now.  Contraceptive means improved, while political calculation, cultural conservatism and patriarchy hampered their widespread adoption.

Sixties temblors of revolutionary change cracked a few foundations. In 1972 from the Club of Rome we got a world systems model forecasting industrial civilization’s inescapable limits to growth. In 1974, Congress heard of M. King Hubbert’s curve mapping the limits to oil production, the end times for a petroleum-driven global infrastructure. Big business as usual has continued. Critical thresholds have been crossed.  A late-breaking discussion of degrowth is underway but yet to reach a wide audience.

A half-century ago we thought about living more responsibly. “Access to tools” enlivened possibilities of household, homestead, village, and neighborhood self-reliance. There was hope of stalling the Apocalypse Juggernaut.  There still may be.

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How to Green the Desert: Europe’s Heatwave and Some Holistic Suggestions

HOW TO GREEN THE DESERT: EUROPE’S HEATWAVE AND SOME HOLISTIC SUGGESTIONS

In the Northern Hemisphere, the balance of light is turning ever more towards darkness as we approach the Autumn Equinox. This is following a summer which in many places was unusually hot and dry(1, 2). This is perhaps not unexpected; climate change scientists have been predicting extreme temperature spikes for a number of years(3). However, it seems that a lot of farmers were nevertheless unprepared and many crops have been lost(2). Such occurrences can be seen as unfortunate; but can also serve as lessons for us. When you look at the factors exacerbating aridity, it seems clearer than ever that industrial farming is ill-equipped to deal with adaptation. This article will explore a little what happened in the heatwave, particularly in the UK and look at an example of a permaculture site which survived unharmed.

Dry continent

Throughout Europe, rainfall in the summer of 2018 was so low that many places were reported as having droughts. While some of the affected areas of the drought were wild places, such as the forest fires which swept through the coniferous forests of Norway and Sweden in June and July(4), the main losses were from the farming industry. Both Lithuania and Latvia declared national states of emergency in July(2, 5). Germany and Poland were reported as experiencing severe losses in wheat production(2), with many farmers in Germany resorting to destroying their crops since they did not have the resources to continue watering them(2). Many cattle farmers, such as in the UK, had to use their winter supply of animal food to feed their cows(6), since the grass had all withered and dried, creating a temporary solution and more problems in the months to come.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Insects are disappearing. Why should we care? What can be done?

Insects are disappearing. Remember how in the ’90s when you went for a drive down a country lane on a summer evening, you’d end up with hundreds of splatters on the windscreen? No more does that happen. Your car is no longer like a 1 ton moth collecting sheet. That’s not to draw a parallel between vehicles and insect roadkill, although hold that thought.

We are seeing fewer insects in everyday life, whether you realise it or not. Studies suggest insect numbers have declined by around 50%.

Electrotettix attenboroughi Heads & ThomasA pygmy locust preserved in amber, named after Sir David Attenborough Photo: Electrotettix attenboroughi Heads & Thomas. Sam W. Heads. CC BY 4.0.A world ever more incompatible with life for those on six legs

When we talk of modern wildlife science some may think of wonderful discoveries, à la Sir David Attenborough and a community of scientists and researchers around the world. These advances should not be discredited. Since the 1970s we have also got better at monitoring our wildlife, and subsequently observed the scale of the problem we’re facing.

The modern world has become ever more incompatible with life for those on six legs.

Insects are by far the largest group of hexapod invertebrates. Insects include ants, bees, and flies. Of the planet’s creatures, it’s reckoned 90% of species belong to the class Insecta.

“The current state of our wildflide in this country, and globally, is approximately catastrophic. We are losing biodiversity at a rate that is of geological proportions.” David MacDonald, of the University of Oxford, refers to the fact that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event – the Anthropocene epoch.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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