Monthly Archives: May 2017

Planting trees cannot overcome climate change!

For many years scientists thought that planting trees could counteract the effects of climate change, but not anymore. A new report by a German institute has deflated that possibility to a large degree.

A whole industry has sprouted in the belief that growing trees and other kinds of biomass could turn the tide on climate change. Carbon credits are right now exchanged by countries who preserve forests or green spaces. These credits can be sold or traded to other countries. Companies do the same thing.

Several scenarios were played out and it seems that if we continue what we are doing right now our trees and forests could not absorb all the carbon dioxide that would be pumped in the atmosphere. Furthermore there would be harmful consequences on our food production.

Even if the levels of carbon dioxide are cut to reflect the Paris Agreement, tree planting alone is still not enough to reach the goal of keeping the average temperature of the planet under 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. It seems that far from being the main solution to absorb all the carbon, tree planting can only be one strategy among others.

If one adds to the fact that not all trees are equal in absorbing carbon emissions, young forests absorbing more than old forests, it is clear that the real solution is cutting the rate at which we emit carbon dioxide. No other way is possible.

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The greening of Antarctica.

A new study seems to indicate that vegetation has increased in Antarctica in the past decades due to the warming of the climate. And the trend seems to be for a greener continent. Vegetation exists on only 0,3% of the continent.

Few plants live in this frigid environment but the study of lichens shows an increased biological activity. In three areas of the continent lichens were collected deep under ground where they have been preserved for the past 150 years the analysis seem to prove that biological activity is much higher for the last 50 years.

The temperature in the area has increased about half a degree every ten years since the 1950’s. An increase in precipitations and stronger winds all point to a warming climate. With an increase in temperature the area will be more green in the future and we will see more glaciers melting away. The future of Antarctica is green, and that is not good for the planet.

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Noise pollution in parks.

Most people do not think about noise pollution as a threat to ecosystems but in fact they can be. If animals cannot hear predators or if it creates an impediment to animal reproduction it will have a cascading effect down to plants if the behavior of herbivores is affected by a noisy environment.

Scientists have discovered that artificial noise levels were twice as loud as natural sounds in 63% of the parks and protected areas in the United States. Furthermore, this noise pollution reduces from 50 to 90% the zones where natural sounds such as birds singing or the sound of a river can be heard.

After all, if artificial noises intrude on our enjoyment of nature it will affect humans as well. The well known benefits of a walk in a park may not be as high and people might even be discouraged from going to such areas.

It seems that the worst noise pollutions come from roads, airplanes and human activities which are industrial in nature. The solution is simple; create shuttle services to some areas in order to discourage people from taking their cars, creating “silence zones” where visitors are encouraged to make less noise. And I suppose that even putting eventually a price tag that is sufficiently high could discourage people in the end.

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China’s appetite for fish.

We are depleting the world’s oceans of fish by over fishing, and now 90% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited or are facing collapse. Millions of people in the world and especially in the developed world depend on the sea for food and income. One country above all has an enormous impact on the fisheries of the world, China.

China with its population and its growing wealth are directly affecting some of the fish in the oceans. Having depleted the fisheries close to home Chinese fishermen are now sailing further and further away to exploit other fisheries. With the home government subsidizing the fishing fleet exploiting far flung areas of the globe for fish is possible.

Africa is now the destination of choice for the Chinese fishermen, more precisely West Africa. They are drawn to the area by corruption and weak governments that cannot enforce their own laws. Experts now say that two-thirds of the Chinese boats engaged in fishing there contravene international or national laws.

To illustrate the power of this Chinese fishing fleet suffice to say that the fleet has now grown to 2,600 vessels while the United States as fewer than one-tenth as many. These ships are so large that they scoop up as many fish in a week as Senegalese boats catch in a year.

What makes all this possible is the subsidies that the Chinese government gives to the boat owners who without this could not fish off the coast of Africa. In some cases these subsidies made the difference between a profit or a loss for the them. And that does not include the subsidies given to Chinese ports.

The impact on a poor country like Senegal has been massive; fishing stocks have plummeted and the locals cannot compete with the mega trawlers used by the Chinese. With less sea products there is less income for them and this results in higher food prices for the Senegalese citizens.

But there is a push back now by some affected countries. Indonesia has impounded some Chinese boats caught poaching in their waters and the Argentines sank a Chinese vessel that tried to ram a coast guard boat. Clashes between Chinese fishermen and South Korean authorities have resulted in deaths.

Perhaps eventually the Chinese government will cut back on those subsidies, especially if the rate of growth diminishes in the future or if an ecological movement can flourish in China. Faint hopes of course when faced with a dictatorship such as the one found in China.

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The lowly caterpillar and plastics.

It seems that scientists have discovered something that could have great consequences in reducing pollution from plastic bags. Caterpillars of the greater wax moth seem to have the ability to degrade polyethylene, the material used in plastic bags.

Scientists have exposed a hundred wax worms of the caterpillar moth to a plastic bag and holes appeared after 40 minutes. It seems that it is the chemicals in the caterpillars that break down the plastics and not the chewing of the plastics by the worms.

Hopefully if a single enzyme is responsible for this degradation then it could be possible to reproduce on a large scale using technology. Polyethylene represents 40% of the total demand for plastic products. It would therefore be possible to get rid of the plastic wastes that have accumulated in landfills as well as in the oceans. A truly remarkable discovery!

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