Ten Environmental Reports
1. Conversion of natural habitats to farmland is a major cause of biodiversity loss and poses the greatest extinction risk to birds worldwide
Phil Shaw et al., “African savanna raptors show evidence of widespread population collapse and a growing dependence on protected areas” Nature Ecology (4 Jan 2024). bit.ly/3vk4AkY
The conversion of natural habitats to farmland is a major cause of biodiversity loss and poses the greatest extinction risk to birds worldwide. Tropical raptors are of particular concern, being relatively slow-breeding apex predators and scavengers, whose disappearance can trigger extensive cascading effects. Many of Africa’s raptors are at considerable risk from habitat conversion, prey-base depletion and persecution, driven principally by human population expansion. Here we describe multiregional trends among 42 African raptor species, 88% of which have declined over a ca. 20–40-yr period, with 69% exceeding the International Union for Conservation of Nature criteria classifying species at risk of extinction. Large raptors had experienced significantly steeper declines than smaller species, and this disparity was more pronounced on unprotected land. Declines were greater in West Africa than elsewhere, and more than twice as severe outside of protected areas (PAs) than within. Worryingly, species suffering the steepest declines had become significantly more dependent on PAs, demonstrating the importance of expanding conservation areas to cover 30% of land by 2030—a key target agreed at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15. Our findings also highlight the significance of a recent African-led proposal to strengthen PA management—initiatives considered fundamental to safeguarding global biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and climate resilience.
See also, Patrick Greenfield, “Birds of prey in Africa experiencing population collapse, study finds,” The Guardian (4 Jan 2024). bit.ly/4aQ8pyS
2. Badger culls not best way to cut bovine TB
Badger Trust, Badger Cull (Jan 2024). www.badgertrust.org.uk/cull
See also, Patrick Barkham, “Badger culls are not best way to cut bovine TB, report finds, The Guardian (4 Jan 2024). bit.ly/47q5Al0 “Improved cattle testing, better financial and mental health support for farmers, and cattle and badger vaccination will more effectively tackle bovine TB in cattle than culling badgers, according to a report.
The review of evidence by the Badger Trust comes after 10 years of culling in England killed 210,237 badgers, costing £58.8m, without a significant easing of cattle TB.
The disease costs taxpayers more than £100m each year, with 20,000 cows prematurely slaughtered.”
3. Need for new framework for addressing justice and climate change
Caroline Zimm et al., “Justice considerations in climate research,” Nature Climate Change (8 Jan 2024). bit.ly/3ROoUTk
Climate change and decarbonization raise complex justice questions that researchers and policymakers must address. The distributions of greenhouse gas emissions rights and mitigation efforts have dominated justice discourses within scenario research, an integrative element of the IPCC. However, the space of justice considerations is much larger. At present, there is no consistent approach to comprehensively incorporate and examine justice considerations. Here we propose a conceptual framework grounded in philosophical theory for this purpose. We apply this framework to climate mitigation scenarios literature as proof of concept, enabling a more holistic and multidimensional investigation of justice. We identify areas of future research, including new metrics of service provisioning essential for human well-being.
See also, Kevin O’Sullivan, “If world is to decarbonise, climate policy must be just and deploy new framework, researchers suggest,” The Irish Times (8 Jan 2024). bit.ly/3vo0fgJ
4. Shifting of social norms relating to reproduction, consumption and waste – the three “levers’ of ecological overshoot
Joseph J. Merz, et al., “World scientists’ warning: The behavioural crisis driving ecological overshoot,” Sage Journals (20 Sept 2023). bit.ly/3U18TMr
Previously, anthropogenic ecological overshoot has been identified as a fundamental cause of the myriad symptoms we see around the globe today from biodiversity loss and ocean acidification to the disturbing rise in novel entities and climate change. In the present paper, we have examined this more deeply, and explore the behavioural drivers of overshoot, providing evidence that overshoot is itself a symptom of a deeper, more subversive modern crisis of human behaviour. We work to name and frame this crisis as ‘the Human Behavioural Crisis’ and propose the crisis be recognised globally as a critical intervention point for tackling ecological overshoot. We demonstrate how current interventions are largely physical, resource intensive, slow-moving and focused on addressing the symptoms of ecological overshoot (such as climate change) rather than the distal cause (maladaptive behaviours). We argue that even in the best-case scenarios, symptom-level interventions are unlikely to avoid catastrophe or achieve more than ephemeral progress. We explore three drivers of the behavioural crisis in depth: economic growth; marketing; and pronatalism. These three drivers directly impact the three ‘levers’ of overshoot: consumption, waste and population. We demonstrate how the maladaptive behaviours of overshoot stemming from these three drivers have been catalysed and perpetuated by the intentional exploitation of previously adaptive human impulses. In the final sections of this paper, we propose an interdisciplinary emergency response to the behavioural crisis by, amongst other things, the shifting of social norms relating to reproduction, consumption and waste. We seek to highlight a critical disconnect that is an ongoing societal gulf in communication between those that know such as scientists working within limits to growth, and those members of the citizenry, largely influenced by social scientists and industry, that must act.
5. Green spaces and stronger bones in children, carrying over to old age
Hanne Sleurs, et al., “Exposure to Residential Green Space and Bone Mineral Density in Young Children,” Environmental Health (4 Jan 2023). JAMA Network
See also, Damian Carrington, “Children living near green spaces ‘have stronger bones’,” The Guardian (13 Jan 2024). bit.ly/3ShOh0Z
“Children with more green space near their homes have significantly stronger bones, a study has found, potentially leading to lifelong health benefits.
Scientists found that the children living in places with 20-25% more natural areas had increased bone strength that was equivalent to half a year’s natural growth.
The study, the first of its kind, also found that the risk of having very low bone density was about 65% lower for these children.
Bone strength grows in childhood and adolescence, before plateauing until about the age of 50 and then declining. Increasing the size and accessibility of green spaces for children could therefore prevent fractures and osteoporosis in older people, the researchers said.”
6. Air pollution, strokes and dementia: the connections
Jiawei Wang et. al., “Ambient air pollution and the dynamic transitions of stroke and dementia: a population-based cohort study,” eClinicalMedicine ((Jan 2024). bit.ly/3vL3lLK
See also, Gary Fuller, “Evidence grows of air pollution link with dementia and stroke risk,” The Guardian (12 Jan 2023). bit.ly/41XQj9U
“Stroke is the second-leading cause of death globally, accounting for about 11% of deaths. About 50 million people live with dementia, and the figure is expected to rise to about 150 million by 2050…
Over the course of 11 years, 6,484 people had a stroke, 3,813 developed dementia and 376 had a stroke and developed dementia. Having allowed for other risk factors, the researchers found relationships between long-term air pollution exposure and acquiring dementia, as well as developing dementia after a stroke.”
7. Loss of ice from Greenland ice cap and risks for collapse of North Atlantic ocean currents
Chad A. Greene, et al., “Ubiquitous acceleration in Greenland Ice Sheet calving from 1985 to 2022,” Nature (17 Jan 2024).
See also, Damian Carrington, “Greenland losing 30m tonnes of ice an hour, study reveals,” The Guardian (17 Jan 2024). bit.ly/3vQ9VAG via @guardian
“The Greenland ice cap is losing an average of 30m tonnes of ice an hour due to the climate crisis, a study has revealed, which is 20% more than was previously thought.
Some scientists are concerned that this additional source of freshwater pouring into the north Atlantic might mean a collapse of the ocean currents called the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (Amoc) is closer to being triggered, with severe consequences for humanity.”
8. Major gaps in petrochemical emissions reporting
Megan He et al., “Total organic carbon measurements reveal major gaps in petrochemical emissions reporting,” Science (25 Jan 2024). bit.ly/42nHbf6
Air pollution from gaseous organic compounds generated by petrochemical extraction typically is estimated using measurements of a subset of those species, volatile organic compounds. He et al. showed that this approach can vastly underestimate the true magnitude of the problem. Their aircraft-based measurements of total gas-phase organic carbon concentrations over the Athabasca oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, revealed that emissions from that region alone were much larger than estimates made on the basis of more limited arrays of species by as much as a factor of 64. The underreported species included abundant precursors to secondary air pollution that must be included in organic carbon pollution monitoring and reporting. —H. Jesse Smith
9. Historic and Devastating Drought in the Amazon Was Caused by Climate Change
Ben Clarke et. al., “Climate change, not El Niño, main driver of exceptional drought in highly vulnerable Amazon River Basin,” World Weather Attribution bit.ly/49dV4hR
See also, Georgina Gustin, “A Historic and Devastating Drought in the Amazon Was Caused by Climate Change, Researchers Say,” Inside Climate News (214 Jan 2024). bit.ly/49aFYKd
A new report untangles the impact of global warming on an “exceptional” drought across the world’s largest land-based carbon sink.
10. Connections between authoritarian and populist developments and environmental politics and governance
James McCarthy, “Authoritarianism, Populism, and the Environment: Comparative Experiences, Insights, and Perspectives,” Annals of the American Association of Geographers (13 Feb 2019). bit.ly/47V2xBp
Recent years have seen the widespread rise of authoritarian leaders and populist politics around the world, a development of intense political concern. This special issue of the Annals explores the many and deep connections between this authoritarian and populist turn and environmental politics and governance, through a range of rich case studies that provide wide geographic, thematic, and theoretical coverage and perspectives. This introduction first summarizes major commonalities among many contemporary authoritarian and populist regimes and reviews debates regarding their relationships to neoliberalism, fascism, and more progressive forms of populism. It then reviews three major connections to environmental politics they all share as common contexts: roots in decades of neoliberal environmental governance, climate change and integrally related issues of energy development and agricultural change, and complex conflations of nation and nature. Next, it introduces the six sections in the special issue: (1) historical and comparative perspectives (two articles); (2) extractivism, populism, and authoritarianism (six articles); (3) the environment and its governance as a political proxy or arena for questions of security and citizenship (seven articles); (4) racialization and environmental politics (five articles); (5) politics of environmental science and knowledge (six articles); and (6) progressive alternatives (five articles). It concludes with the suggestion that environmental issues, movements, and politics can and must be central to resistance against authoritarian and reactionary populist politics and to visions of progressive alternatives to them.