Conservation & Environment

First International Agreement Protecting Newly Opened Arctic High Seas

Posted by on Nov 9, 2018 @ 1:29 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

First International Agreement Protecting Newly Opened Arctic High Seas

The Pew Charitable Trusts today praised the signing of an international agreement that prevents unregulated fishing in the high seas of the Central Arctic Ocean for at least 16 years unless science-based measures are agreed upon and established. Delegations from nine nations and the European Union met near Greenland’s Ilulissat Ice Fjord to finalize the accord, the first proactive ecosystem-based approach to conservation in the Arctic Ocean.

Pew has worked for more than eight years with government officials, scientists, the fishing industry, and Indigenous leaders to postpone industrial fishing in the region, where diminishing Arctic ice is opening new waters to commercial activity. In 2012, over 2,000 scientists signed a letter backing a moratorium on commercial fishing pending further research on fish stocks. The moratorium received further backing in a 2015 letter from the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which followed up earlier this year with its Utqiaġvik Declaration calling for the use of Indigenous knowledge in all processes related to the fishing moratorium.

Steve Ganey, Pew’s senior director for lands and ocean programs, issued the following statement: “With this agreement in place, the Central Arctic Ocean is now the largest marine area where commercial fishing has been proactively placed off-limits in the interest of precaution.

“As new open waters emerge at the top of the world, international leaders have agreed that it would be risky and unwise to allow commercial fisheries to operate in the Arctic before scientists have established a baseline for monitoring the health of the region’s marine ecosystem. By using science-based measures to guide decision-making, the agreement will go a long way toward conserving this unique environment.”

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Veterans Day Is Fee Free at Our National Parks

Posted by on Nov 9, 2018 @ 8:52 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Veterans Day Is Fee Free at Our National Parks

Many national parks have direct connections to the American military—there are dozens of battlefields, military parks, and historic sites that commemorate and honor the service of American veterans. In addition, every national park is part of our collective identity that defines who we are and where we came from as a nation. They are tactile reminders of the values, the ideals, and the freedoms that our veterans protect.

The majestic landscapes, natural wonders, and patriotic icons that we cherish as a society have also inspired military members through the years. The Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the USS Arizona Memorial, and the Statue of Liberty are just a few of the national parks that have served as reminders of home to those stationed abroad. On Veterans Day, or any day, honor those who have served and sacrificed for our country with a visit to a national park.

The National Park Service invites all visitors to remember our veterans by visiting any National Park Service site for free on Veterans Day, November 11, 2018.

This Veterans Day also marks the 100th anniversary of the end of hostilities of World War I, which took effect on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918, also known as Armistice Day.

 

Widely Used Mosquito Repellent Lethal For Salamanders

Posted by on Nov 7, 2018 @ 7:31 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Widely Used Mosquito Repellent Lethal For Salamanders

Insect repellents containing picaridin can be lethal to salamanders. So reports a new study published in Biology Letters that investigated how exposure to two common insect repellents influenced the survival of aquatic salamander and mosquito larvae.

Insect repellents are a defense against mosquito bites and mosquito-borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya, Zika, and West Nile virus. Salamanders provide natural mosquito control. During their aquatic juvenile phase, they forage on mosquito larvae, keeping populations of these nuisance insects in check.

The paper is the first to suggest that environmentally realistic concentrations of picaridin-containing repellents in surface waters may increase the abundance of adult mosquitoes due to a decrease in predation pressure on mosquitoes at the larval stages.

The research team tested the effects of two of the most widely used insect repellents – DEET (Repel 100 Insect Repellent) and picaridin (Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent) – on larval salamanders and mosquitoes. In a lab, they exposed mosquito larvae and just-hatched spotted salamander larvae to three environmentally relevant concentrations of these chemicals, as well as a control treatment.

Mosquito larvae were not impacted by any of the treatments and matured unhindered. After four days of exposure to repellent with picaridin, salamanders in all of the treatment groups began to display signs of impaired development such as tail deformities. By day 25, 45-65% of picaridin-exposed salamander larvae died.

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Red wolves can’t be arbitrarily killed, federal judge rules

Posted by on Nov 6, 2018 @ 9:22 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Red wolves can’t be arbitrarily killed, federal judge rules

  A federal district court judge has forbidden the US Fish and Wildlife Service from allowing private landowners to kill nonthreatening red wolves, ruling that the agency has violated several sections of the Endangered Species Act.

Chief US District Court Judge Terence Boyle ruled that the USFWS can no longer grant “take permits” except under extremely narrow circumstances. With fewer than 35 remaining, red wolves are nearly extinct in the wild.

Boyle also determined that USFWS had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct an environmental assessment or impact statement about the effects of the agency’s new and controversial rules to manage the red wolf population.

Those rules include the transfer of most red wolves to zoos and nature centers. The agency would corral the remaining wolves onto a federal bombing range and a nature preserve in Dare County, North Carolina, sharply reducing their habitat. Until the court decision, USFWS had proposed that if the wolves strayed from that property, they could be legally shot. Conservation biologists have publicly stated that under current and proposed management practices, the species would go extinct within six years.

In 1987, USFWS introduced a breeding pair of the rare wolves into eastern North Carolina and designated five coastal counties as their habitat. Afterward, the population peaked at more than 100 wolves in 2000 — an achievement the agency heralded as a successful reintroduction of the species into the wild.

Since then, the population has plummeted. Many of the wolves were shot legally and illegally. Meanwhile, a few disgruntled landowners swayed state and federal wildlife officials to stop managing the wolves.

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Come see forests and peaks, but clean up, New Zealand says

Posted by on Nov 3, 2018 @ 8:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Come see forests and peaks, but clean up, New Zealand says

New Zealand has a message for the visitors drawn by its deep mossy forests, bubbling mud pools and magnificent peaks: clean up after yourselves.

A new campaign called the “Tiaki Promise” is telling everybody traveling to the country to take responsibility for looking after it. The country wants visitors to pick up litter and otherwise take care of their surroundings so that unsightly garbage won’t ruin the experience for others.

Tourists flying on national carrier Air New Zealand will see a 2-minute video showcasing some of the country’s stunning scenery and telling them that everybody traveling to the country should look after it.

“Tiaki” is an indigenous Maori word meaning to protect or care for. Tourism industry and government groups are also promoting the campaign.

“New Zealand is our home. It is precious. Everyone who lives and travels here has a responsibility to look after it,” a voiceover says on the video, adding that “While traveling in New Zealand, follow the Tiaki Promise.”

Tourism has boomed in recent years. Over the past year, about 3.8 million tourists visited the nation, which has a resident population of just under 5 million. The largest numbers of tourists came from Australia, China and the United States.

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Yet-to-be-discovered dinosaur fossils may be at risk after Trump slashed the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante

Posted by on Nov 1, 2018 @ 11:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Yet-to-be-discovered dinosaur fossils may be at risk after Trump slashed the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante

Southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument may have originally safeguarded untapped troves of ancient fossils, but the Trump administration’s unprecedented reduction of the monument has exposed vast deposits of these scientific treasures to potential energy development.

Areas removed from the Staircase are nearly as rich in fossils as those that remain, according to an analysis by the Wilderness Society.

“The fossil resources are throughout the original monument. The redrawn monument has no correlation with the fossil resources now at risk of fracking,” said Dan Hartinger, the society’s national monuments campaign director. “The paleontological science keeps getting better. The risk is we might not even know what we are losing until it’s too late.”

The Bureau of Land Management is accepting public comment through Nov. 30, 2018 on its draft plans for the reduced monument and lands pulled from the previous 1.9 million-acre Staircase. The 1 million acres in the shrunken monument will remain off-limits to mineral development.

But in deference to President Donald Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda for public lands, the BLM’s preferred alternative prioritizes energy extraction on much of the 900,000 acres taken out.

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Startling new research finds large buildup of heat in the oceans, suggesting a faster rate of global warming

Posted by on Nov 1, 2018 @ 6:30 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Startling new research finds large buildup of heat in the oceans, suggesting a faster rate of global warming

The world’s oceans have been soaking up far more excess heat in recent decades than scientists realized, suggesting that Earth could be set to warm even faster than predicted in the years ahead, according to new research published Wednesday.

Over the past quarter-century, the Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously had thought, said Laure Resplandy, a geoscientist at Princeton University who led the startling study published in the journal Nature. The difference represents an enormous amount of additional energy, originating from the sun and trapped by the Earth’s atmosphere — more than 8 times the world’s energy consumption, year after year.

In the scientific realm, the new findings help to resolve long-running doubts about the rate of the warming of the oceans before 2007, when reliable measurements from devices called “Argo floats” were put to use worldwide. Before that, different types of temperature records — and an overall lack of them — contributed to murkiness about how quickly the oceans were heating up.

The higher-than-expected amount of heat in the oceans means more heat is being retained within the Earth’s climate system each year, rather than escaping into space. In essence, more heat in the oceans signals that global warming itself is more advanced than scientists thought.

Wednesday’s study also could have important policy implications. If ocean temperatures are rising more rapidly than previously calculated, that could leave nations even less time to dramatically cut the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide.

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900 acres of Little White Oak Mountain become public land in Polk County

Posted by on Oct 31, 2018 @ 7:19 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

900 acres of Little White Oak Mountain become public land in Polk County

Conserving Carolina made 900 acres of North Carolina’s Little White Oak Mountain public, donating 600 acres to the state to expand the Green River Game Lands and 300 acres to Polk County for a local park.

Conserving Carolina said that together, the 900 acres of conserved land in Mill Spring protect views of a local scenic landmark, approximately 13 miles of streams flowing into White Oak Creek and then to the Green River and rare natural communities such as an endangered wildflower, the white irisette.

The land added to the Game Lands, including the summit of Little White Oak Mountain, will be open to the public for hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other outdoor activities. The local park will connect to the county’s recreation complex next to Polk County Middle with plans for a network of seven to 10 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking.

“We are excited to see this park expand outdoor recreation opportunities for local residents by adding new hiking trails and creating the first mountain biking trails in Polk County,” county Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Stensland said in a news release. “This park has the potential to make Polk County more of a destination for outdoor recreation and benefit local businesses.”

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When nature hurls your garbage right back at you

Posted by on Oct 30, 2018 @ 7:05 am in Conservation | 0 comments

When nature hurls your garbage right back at you

As long as geysers are treated like garbage cans there remains the possibility of a trash eruption.

Ear Spring geyser, located in Yellowstone National Park, had long been engorged by years of trash left inside of it by ill-mannered tourists. So naturally when the geyser erupted in September, unleashing its usual blast of searing-hot water and air, a nasty wave of dreck followed.

The contents of the garbage eruption were displayed by the National Park Service. The agency advises tourists to refrain from treating ecological wonders like dumpsters.

The garbage had clearly been building within the geyser for a while, as evidenced by the breadth of the objects retrieved. A pyrex funnel, a rather large cement block, cigarette butts, a no.2 pencil, a plastic spoon, a Solo cup, a baby pacifier and various other things were found after Ear Spring’s 30-foot belch on September 15, 2018.

The garbage blast was also historic: Some of the objects are believed to date back to the 1930s and are primed to be “inventoried by curators and may end up in Yellowstone’s archives,” per the NPS.

Thermal activity has been surging recently in Yellowstone’s Geyser Hill, and Ear Spring’s September eruption was its biggest in over 60 years. Hence the garbage explosion.

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WNC Public Asked To Report Hellbender Sightings

Posted by on Oct 27, 2018 @ 8:57 am in Conservation | 0 comments

WNC Public Asked To Report Hellbender Sightings

With fall fishing in full swing, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is asking the public, in particular hikers and anglers, to report any sightings of hellbenders (water dogs) to the agency.

Reported sightings are an important part of a long-term inventory and monitoring project for hellbenders that agency staff, along with partners, began in 2007. Agency biologists want to learn more about where hellbenders – gigantic, aquatic salamanders averaging 16 to 17 inches in length-are located and how their populations are faring.

In North Carolina, hellbenders are found only in fast-moving, clean mountain streams in the Western part of the state. Hellbenders, also called “snot otters” and “Alleghany alligators,” were once common but have disappeared throughout much of their habitat, due mainly to declining water quality and habitat degradation, and to a lesser degree to persecution from anglers who mistakenly think that hellbenders decrease trout populations.

Contrary to popular belief, hellbenders are not poisonous, venomous, toxic or harmful to humans, although they may bite if someone tries to pick them up. Leaving them alone is not only good for hellbenders but also it is the law. Hellbenders are listed as a species of special concern in North Carolina. Because of this listing, it is illegal to take, possess, transport or sell a hellbender or to attempt to do so.

Anyone who finds a hellbender is asked to leave it alone but to note the location (physical location or GPS coordinates) and take a photo, if possible and email that information to Lori Williams at lori.williams@ncwildlife.org. People also can call the Commission’s Wildlife Interaction Helpline (866) 318-2401 and provide details of the observation.

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A 14-year-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico verges on becoming one of the worst in U.S. history

Posted by on Oct 22, 2018 @ 2:48 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

A 14-year-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico verges on becoming one of the worst in U.S. history

An oil spill that has been quietly leaking millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico has gone unplugged for so long that it now verges on becoming one of the worst offshore disasters in U.S. history.

Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan. Many of the wells have not been capped, and federal officials estimate that the spill could continue through this century. With no fix in sight, the Taylor offshore spill is threatening to overtake BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever.

As oil continues to spoil the Gulf, the Trump administration is proposing the largest expansion of leases for the oil and gas industry, with the potential to open nearly the entire outer continental shelf to offshore drilling. That includes the Atlantic coast, where drilling hasn’t happened in more than a half century and where hurricanes hit with double the regularity of the Gulf.

Expansion plans come despite fears that the offshore oil industry is poorly regulated and that the planet needs to decrease fossil fuels to combat climate change, as well as the knowledge that 14 years after Ivan took down Taylor’s platform, the broken wells are releasing so much oil that researchers needed respirators to study the damage.

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The Sailing Stones of Death Valley

Posted by on Oct 22, 2018 @ 11:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Sailing Stones of Death Valley

Death Valley National Park is a strange place by any standard. Famously known for being the hottest place on earth, Death Valley also sits at the driest and lowest elevation in North America.

Its strangest feature of all is the mysterious Racetrack Playa. Here, rocks drift across the flat desert landscape, seemingly propelled by no power other than their own.

Located on the border of California and Nevada, Death Valley National Park was designated in 1933, and is home to one of the world’s strangest phenomena: rocks that move along the desert ground with no gravitational cause. Known as “sailing stones,” the rocks vary in size from a few ounces to hundreds of pounds. Though no one has ever seen them actually move in person, the trails left behind the stones and periodic changes in their location make it clear that they do.

The rocks of Racetrack Playa are composed of dolomite and syenite, the same materials that make up the surrounding mountains. They tumble down due to the forces of erosion, coming to rest on the parched ground below. Once they reach the level surface of the playa, the rocks somehow move horizontally, leaving perfect tracks behind them to record their path.

Many of the largest rocks have left behind trails as long as 1,500 feet, suggesting that they’ve moved a long way indeed from their original location. Rocks with a rough-bottomed surface leave straight tracks, while smooth-bottomed rocks tend to wander. The sailing stones have been observed and studied since the early 1900s, and several theories have been suggested to explain their mysterious movements.

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Inside the New Battle for the American West

Posted by on Oct 21, 2018 @ 1:04 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Inside the New Battle for the American West

Deep in a box canyon in Utah, in the heart of the fractured land known as Bears Ears National Monument, there is a cave—a swooping, mineral-streaked alcove in a sandstone cliff.

In December 1893 a rancher-explorer named Richard Wetherill pushed his way through dense reeds and discovered inside that alcove a stacked-stone ruin where a prehistoric group of Native Americans once lived. He named the site Cave Seven. Some would later condemn him as a vandal and a looter—but Cave Seven proved to be one of the most important finds in the archaeology of the American Southwest.

It’s easier to get there today than it was in Wetherill’s era, but it’s not easy. You bump along a dirt road that twists long miles through arroyos and canyons, past jagged crags and sandstone domes. Then you are on foot. You clamber through a dry watercourse clogged with bitterbrush and poison ivy; you sidle along a rock ledge.

Look up: A dissolving jet contrail is the only sign of the time in which we live. Look down: What seem like stones at your feet are in fact remnants of cooking vessels. Such relics are everywhere, if you know how to look: A saltbush-covered mound conceals a ceremonial kiva; a subtle line in the earth marks a road connecting ancient villages. All around is evidence of things made, laid, and lived in centuries ago.

Bears Ears National Monument is now a battleground in another collision of cultures. Across the American West, from the desert canyons of Utah to the towering conifers of the Pacific Northwest, and in the mountains and sagebrush basins between, Americans are engaged in bitter disputes over public lands. Nowhere has the battle been fiercer than around national monuments, particularly Bears Ears, which then President Barack Obama created in December 2016. Last December, President Donald Trump reduced the 1.35-million-acre monument by 85 percent.

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Is Resistance Futile? Cigarette Butts Still Dominate Public Lands Litter

Posted by on Oct 19, 2018 @ 7:04 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Is Resistance Futile? Cigarette Butts Still Dominate Public Lands Litter

Smokers burn through 6 trillion cigarettes every year, and most are tossed into the environment. Butts contain microplastics and harmful chemicals, and new research suggests they may be directly toxic to wildlife. Efforts to curb butt litter have been largely futile.

For the environmental advocacy group Surfrider, a plan to curb the littering of cigarette butts began with energetic optimism. It was 1992, and at the time, cigarette filters were the single most frequently occurring item found in most beach cleanups – a statistic the organization hoped to erase.

However, the Hold On To Your Butt campaign has dragged on and on. Even as the 23rd annual California Coast Cleanup Day in September, 2018, calculates its successes – in terms of tons of trash removed from the state’s shores – on the butt end it continues as a humbling exercise in futility.

“Cigarette butts are still the number one item that we find,” says Shelly Ericksen, the director of the San Francisco chapter of Surfrider’s campaign. “It’s pretty clear we haven’t made a recognizable dent in the numbers.”

In the San Francisco Bay Area alone, smokers are estimated to litter 3 billion used filters every year, and no amount of research, campaigning, legislation and education can stifle this waste stream. There is hardly a city block or a beach, anywhere, that isn’t strewn with cigarette butts. Public roadways are lined with billions. Hikers find them on trails. Birds use them to build nests. Animals eat them.

Mobilized by water, wind and gravity, many or most eventually wind up in streams and storm drains and, eventually, the ocean, where it’s probable they are having a variety of negative impacts that scientists are trying to understand. Laboratory research has shown that cigarette butts – generally made of a type of plastic called cellulose acetate and laced with chemicals – are acutely toxic.

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Ed. note: I volunteer picking up trash on the Blue Ridge Parkway and I can vouch for the prevalence of butts being by far the most common litter. I dispose of at least 50 every time I go for trash removal, and that’s just at one overlook. I know when you throw down one it doesn’t seem like that big a deal, but the problem compounds over time, especially when they get into creeks and rivers and oceans. You may think they are biodegradable, but they definitely are not. Like all plastics, they last for generations.

 

Biodiversity Inventory Reaches 1,000 New Species Mark at GSMNP

Posted by on Oct 17, 2018 @ 7:15 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Biodiversity Inventory Reaches 1,000 New Species Mark at GSMNP

Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its non-profit partner, Discover Life in America (DLIA), recently celebrated the 20th year of the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) with the announcement of a major milestone of the project – 1,000 new species to science!

Over the last 20 years, many species have been documented in the park for the first time, but the number of species discovered that are completely new to science – meaning they haven’t been documented anywhere on Earth before – is truly amazing. The most recent additions come from the work of lichenologists Erin Tripp, of the University of Colorado, and James Lendemer, of the New York Botanical Garden, who have added five more new-to-science species to the tally, bringing the total up to 1,000. The past 10 years of their research, which is a part of the overall ATBI, has increased the parks knowledge of its lichen fauna by 130% over the original diversity estimates. The five new lichens were named to commemorate NPS staff who played a role in their work.

In 1998, the park and DLIA formed a partnership to conduct the ATBI to discover and understand all the species that inhabit the park’s 522,000 acres, including plants, fungi, millipedes, crayfish, tardigrades (water bears), worms, insects, and many other groups. The project involves cooperating scientists from all over the US and abroad, park staff, students, and volunteer “citizen scientists.” Overall, the ATBI has more than doubled the number of species known to the park, from about 9,300 historic species records to 19,866 species known to the park today.

ATBI research provides crucial information for park managers and leads to a better understanding of ecosystem function and how it is dependent on biodiversity The project involves students of all ages in the process of discovery, which ultimately inspires them to be the next generation of park stewards.

For more information about science and research in the park, visit www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/research. To learn more about DLIA, and how to get involved in the ATBI project, call 865-430-4757, visit www.dlia.org, or find them on Facebook.

’Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss

Posted by on Oct 15, 2018 @ 3:18 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

’Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss

Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.

In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.

The latest report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates.

In the same 40-year period as an arthropod crash, the average high temperature in the rain forest increased by 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures in the tropics stick to a narrow band. The invertebrates that live there, likewise, are adapted to these temperatures and fare poorly outside them; bugs cannot regulate their internal heat.

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Huge reduction in meat-eating ‘essential’ to avoid climate breakdown

Posted by on Oct 15, 2018 @ 9:09 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Huge reduction in meat-eating ‘essential’ to avoid climate breakdown

Huge reductions in meat-eating are essential to avoid dangerous climate change, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of the food system’s impact on the environment. In western countries, beef consumption needs to fall by 90% and be replaced by five times more beans and lentils.

The research also finds that enormous changes to farming are needed to avoid destroying the planet’s ability to feed the 10 billion people expected to be on the planet in a few decades.

Food production already causes great damage to the environment, via greenhouse gases from livestock, deforestation and water shortages from farming, and vast ocean dead zones from agricultural pollution. But without action, its impact will get far worse as the world population rises by 2.3 billion people by 2050 and global income triples, enabling more people to eat meat-rich western diets.

The researchers found a global shift to a “flexitarian” diet was needed to keep climate change even under 2C, let alone 1.5C. This flexitarian diet means the average world citizen needs to eat 75% less beef, 90% less pork and half the number of eggs, while tripling consumption of beans and lentils and quadrupling nuts and seeds. This would halve emissions from livestock and better management of manure would enable further cuts.

Reducing meat consumption might be achieved by a mix of education, taxes, subsidies for plant-based foods and changes to school and workplace menus, the scientists said.

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