The blue-green algae bloom is visible in this image of Lake Okeechobee, acquired on 2 July 2016, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite. Photo: Joshua Stevens / NASA Earth Observatory

By Kathryn Hansen
6 July 2016

(NASA) – In early May 2016, an algae bloom grew to cover 85 square kilometers (33 square miles) of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. The conditions that gave rise to the bloom have persisted into July, and have been blamed for affecting water quality downstream all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

The blue-green algae bloom is visible in this image of Lake Okeechobee, acquired on July 2, 2016, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite. The natural-color image combines red light, green light, and coastal aerosol (blue) light (bands 4, 3 and 1).

Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, are single-celled organisms that rely on photosynthesis to turn sunlight into food. The bacteria grow swiftly when nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen are abundant in still water. The bloom pictured here may contain blue-green algae, as well as other types of phytoplankton; only a surface sample can confirm the exact composition of a bloom.

Algae blooms are a regular phenomenon in Lake Okeechobee during the summertime. Pollution, such as runoff from farms, and lake water that warms through the summer, create an environment favorable for growth. This year the bloom grew large early in the season and it affected more people than usual, showing up far beyond the confines of the lakeshore.

Water managers started discharging water from the lake early this year to counter the large amount of winter rainfall. That discharge flows through St. Lucie Canal—visible on the lake’s eastern side—and enters the Atlantic Ocean near Stuart, Florida. The river outflow carried nitrogen and phosphorous from the lake; it also freshened some downstream areas that are usually too salty for much algae growth. On June 29, Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie counties after the blooms appeared in local waterways.

According to news reports, water samples collected from the lake and from the river near Stuart tested positive for high levels of toxins produced by the algae. The algae and their toxins can disrupt ecosystems. They also pose concerns for human health, as ingesting algae-tainted water can cause nausea, vomiting and, in extreme cases, liver failure.

References and related reading

Bloom in Lake Okeechobee

Non-OECD petroleum and other liquid fuels consumption by region, 1990-2040. Non-OECD regions account for essentially all the growth in liquid fuels consumption in the IEO2016 Reference case. In particular, non-OECD Asia and the Middle East account for about 75 percent of the world increase in liquids consumption from 2012 to 2040, with Africa and the non-OECD Americas each accounting for about 10% of the world increase. Fast-paced economic expansion among the non-OECD regions drives the increase in demand for liquid fuels, as strong growth in income per capita results in increased demand for personal and freight transportation, as well as demand for energy in the industrial sector. Graphic: EIA

By Michael T. Klare
14 July 2016

(TomDispatch) – Here’s the good news: wind power, solar power, and other renewable forms of energy are expanding far more quickly than anyone expected, ensuring that these systems will provide an ever-increasing share of our future energy supply.  According to the most recent projections from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy, global consumption of wind, solar, hydropower, and other renewables will double between now and 2040, jumping from 64 to 131 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs).

And here’s the bad news: the consumption of oil, coal, and natural gas is also growing, making it likely that, whatever the advances of renewable energy, fossil fuels will continue to dominate the global landscape for decades to come, accelerating the pace of global warming and ensuring the intensification of climate-change catastrophes.

The rapid growth of renewable energy has given us much to cheer about.  Not so long ago, energy analysts were reporting that wind and solar systems were too costly to compete with oil, coal, and natural gas in the global marketplace.  Renewables would, it was then assumed, require pricey subsidies that might not always be available.  That was then and this is now.  Today, remarkably enough, wind and solar are already competitive with fossil fuels for many uses and in many markets.

If that wasn’t predicted, however, neither was this: despite such advances, the allure of fossil fuels hasn’t dissipated.  Individuals, governments, whole societies continue to opt for such fuels even when they gain no significant economic advantage from that choice and risk causing severe planetary harm.  Clearly, something irrational is at play.  Think of it as the fossil-fuel equivalent of an addictive inclination writ large.

The contradictory and troubling nature of the energy landscape is on clear display in the 2016 edition of the International Energy Outlook, the annual assessment of global trends released by the EIA this May.  The good news about renewables gets prominent attention in the report, which includes projections of global energy use through 2040.  “Renewables are the world's fastest-growing energy source over the projection period,” it concludes.  Wind and solar are expected to demonstrate particular vigor in the years to come, their growth outpacing every other form of energy.  But because renewables start from such a small base -- representing just 12% of all energy used in 2012 -- they will continue to be overshadowed in the decades ahead, explosive growth or not.  In 2040, according to the report’s projections, fossil fuels will still have a grip on a staggering 78% of the world energy market, and -- if you don’t mind getting thoroughly depressed -- oil, coal, and natural gas will each still command larger shares of the market than all renewables combined. […]

As the 2016 EIA report makes eye-poppingly clear, however, the endorsers of the Paris Agreement aren’t on track to reduce their consumption of oil, coal, and natural gas.  In fact, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise by an estimated 34% between 2012 and 2040 (from 32.3 billion to 43.2 billion metric tons).  That net increase of 10.9 billion metric tons is equal to the total carbon emissions of the United States, Canada, and Europe in 2012.  If such projections prove accurate, global temperatures will rise, possibly significantly above that 2 degree mark, with the destructive effects of climate change we are already witnessing today -- the fires, heat waves, floods, droughts, storms, and sea level rise -- only intensifying. [more]

Hooked! The Unyielding Grip of Fossil Fuels on Global Life

Trossulus byssus mussels. Scientists from the University of Washington have found evidence that ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions can prevent mussels attaching themselves to rocks and other substrates, making them easy targets for predators and threatening the mussel farming industry. Photo: Emily Carrington

6 July 2016 (Society for Experimental Biology) – Scientists from the University of Washington have found evidence that ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions can prevent mussels attaching themselves to rocks and other substrates, making them easy targets for predators and threatening the mussel farming industry.

“A strong attachment is literally a mussel’s lifeline,” said UW biology professor Emily Carrington, who presented these findings July 6 at a meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology.

Mussels attach themselves to hard surfaces so that they can filter plankton from seawater for food. They generally live in tidal zones, where the strong waves and currents protect them from predators such as crabs, fish and sea stars. But if a mussel falls off its perch, it sinks down into calmer waters where it is readily eaten.

Future conditions may make it more difficult for mussels to attach themselves and stay out of harm’s way. This is because the pH level appears to be critical during the attachment process, and our oceans are becoming more acidic from absorbing CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.

“Our early laboratory studies showed mussels made weaker attachment threads when seawater pH dropped below 7.6,” said Carrington, who is based primarily at UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories.

These results could have severe implications for aquaculture. In mussel farms, the mussels attach themselves to ropes suspended in the water for six to 12 months while they grow to market size. Currently, weak attachments can cause up to 20 percent of the crop to fall off and be lost on the seafloor.

The researchers have shown that the change in pH specifically affects the adhesive plaque which cements the mussel to the underlying surface.

“We investigated whether lowering seawater pH would affect the curing process of the attachment threads,” said Carrington.

Threads made by mussels in seawater with a “normal” pH of 8 were then kept at either pH 8, 7 or 5 to cure for 12 days. Using a materials testing machine, the team found that threads cured at the lower pH values were 25 percent weaker than the controls.

“We conclude that mussels rely on the high pH of seawater to cure their adhesive effectively and form strong attachments,” said Carrington.

Furthermore, one mussel species, Mytilus trossulus, also made fewer and weaker threads when the temperature of the water was increased above 64°F. In contrast, a closely related non-native species, Mytilus galloprovincialis, made more and stronger threads. This suggests warming oceans will increasingly favor the non-native species, allowing it to expand its distribution polewards and push out native species.

Although the global average ocean pH is only predicted to lower from 8.0 to 7.8 by the end of the century, this could still have a profound effect on mussel communities, says Carrington.

“Due to upwelling and local productivity, our seawater in Washington is already at a baseline of pH 7.8,” said Carrington. “Moreover, mussels live in highly dynamic coastal environments that routinely fluctuate up or down 0.5 pH units.”

This means that mussels are already exposed at times to conditions that weaken attachment and these periods may be longer and more severe in the future.

Carrington’s colleagues on this study include UW doctoral student Matthew George, former UW doctoral student and recent graduate Laura Newcomb, Ian Jefferds with Penn Cove Shellfish, UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences Carolyn Friedman and former UW researcher Michael O’Donnell, who is now with the University of California.

The research was funded by Washington Sea Grant.


For more information, contact Emily Carrington at

Adapted from a release by the Society for Experimental Biology.

Acid attack — can mussels hang on for much longer?

Screenshot of a television commercial for 'Essence of Rhino Horn', a synthetic keratin cosmetic made by Pembient, 14 June 2015. Photo: Pembient

Updated April 2016 (IRF/SRI) – Joint Statement by the International Rhino Foundation and Save the Rhino International (July 2015)


Over the past two years or so, Save the Rhino International (SRI) and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) have been monitoring the progress of four US-based companies that have announced their intentions – with varying degrees of success – to produce synthetic or bio-fabricated rhino horn, and occasionally also other products including, e.g., elephant ivory, lion bones, or pangolin scales. The proposed development of synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn should concern a wide range of stakeholders:

  • All international governments that must implement the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (ABS) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which provides a transparent legal framework for the effective implementation of one of the three objectives of the CBD: the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. The Nagoya Protocol has been adopted by 71 Parties (75 Ratifications ) (92 Signatures )
  • Law enforcement officials in rhino Range States, and rhino horn transit and consumer countries, who would be required to distinguish between illegal real rhino horn and potentially legal synthetic / bio-fabricated horn
  • Those people or organizations in favour of a legal international trade in rhino horn, who may be concerned about synthetic / bio-fabricated horn undercutting their potential marker
  • Those people or organizations working on demand-reduction and behaviour-change strategies in rhino horn consumer countries, who may be concerned that allowing trade in synthetic / bio-fabricated horn maintains and develops a consumer base that wishes to progress to real horn

Opposition to plans to produce synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn

Save the Rhino International / International Rhino Foundation position

In response to numerous media releases about the intent of several companies – Rhinoceros Horn LLC, Pembient and Stop Poaching Through Synthetic Rhino Horn – proposing to manufacture and sell synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn, in June 2015 SRI and IRF published a joint statement on their respective websites, which outlined the issues and claims:

Drawing on interviews and articles published online, the statement asked a series of questions and expanded upon them:

  • How are these companies proposing to manufacture synthetic / bio-fabricated horn?
  • How close will this synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn be to the real thing?
  • How will this synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn be marketed and to whom?
  • Will people want to buy synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn?
  • How will synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn be priced?
  • How will synthetic / bio-fabricated horn be distinguished from real rhino horn?
  • Will any proceeds from these synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horns go towards rhino conservation?
  • What is the impact on the synthetic / bio-fabricated horn business if trade in real rhino horn is legalised?
  • Will rhino poaching stop with the sale of synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn?

Having considered the available media coverage, SRI and IRF concluded that they were “opposed to the development, marketing and sale of synthetic rhino horn” for the following reasons:

  • There is no evidence that selling synthetic / bio-fabricated horn would reduce the demand for rhino horn or dispel the myths around rhino horn and could indeed lead to more poaching because it increases demand for “the real thing”
  • More than 90% of “rhino horns” in circulation are fake (mostly carved from buffalo horn or wood), but poaching rates continue to rise annually
  • Synthetic / bio-fabricated horn could give credence to the notion that rhino horn has medicinal value, which is not supported by sound science
  • Users buy from trusted sources and value “the real thing”
  • The availability of legal synthetic / bio-fabricated horn could normalise or remove the stigma from buying illegal real horn
  • It will take time to develop synthetic / bio-fabricated horn and meanwhile the poaching crisis continues
  • How can consumers and law enforcement officials distinguish between legal synthetic / bio-fabricated horn that looks real, and illegal real horn?
  • Companies benefitting from making synthetic / bio-fabricated horn have shown very little commitment to use their profits to help the core problem of rhino poaching; besides which, those profits would meet only a tiny fraction of the total rhino protection costs that would remain to be met as long as demand reduction campaigns falter, as they would with the marketing of synthetic / bio-fabricated horn
  • Finally, the manufacture / marketing / sale of synthetic / bio-fabricated horn diverts funds and attention from the real problem: unsustainable levels of rhino poaching

Since publishing this statement in 2015, SRI and IRF have identified further concerns including the following:

  • Allowing the trade of synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn would rely on quick and accurate analysis of samples to determine whether they are real, synthetic / bio-fabricated or fake. However, in the past decade, out of 61 seizures of rhino horn in China, samples from only one of these seizures have been sent to the RhODIS Veterinary Genetics Laboratory in China for analysis
  • The manufacture of synthetic / bio-fabricated bear bile has not reduced the practice of bear farming, as consumers prefer the real thing (Dutton, et al., 2011; Hankins, 2009), and medicinal practitioners are reluctant to prescribe alternatives
  • Traffickers caught with real rhino horn may be able to use a legal defence that they thought they were transporting synthetic / bio-fabricated horn
  • The “Gresham’s Law” (e.g., Bernholz and Gersbach, 1992) analogy used by Pembient is not a good comparison, in that legal and illegal markets do not necessarily behave the same way; the breakeven point for real, poached rhino horn may be much lower than the baseline established by Pembient for its bio-fabricated product, and finally that Gresham’s Law assumes buyers are blind, while criminal syndicates may find ways of certifying that their products are real
  • The Nagoya Protocol issue: is it ethical for a US-based company to profit from a product based on genetic material from several developing countries without a clear means of compensation?

NGO coalition position

On World Rhino Day 2015 (22 September), a coalition of 10 NGOs published a joint statement (Annamiticus website, 2015).

This coalition, which included Education for Nature-Vietnam, Annamiticus, WildAid, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Born Free Foundation, Environmental Investigation Agency, Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching, WildlifeRisk-Hong Kong, African Wildlife Foundation and Wildlife Protection Society of India, warned that “the development and distribution of a synthetic / bio-fabricated alternative to real rhino horn runs the very real risk of only exacerbating the rhino crisis by removing the stigma of rhino horn consumption and creating unnecessary obstacles for law enforcement.” Further grounds for concern were articulated as follows:

  • “Introducing rhino horn from alternative ‘legal’ sources into an unpredictable market could stimulate further demand, provide a loophole into which poached rhino horn can be introduced into the market, and create huge challenges for enforcement authorities, putting the world’s remaining rhinos under even more pressure,” Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA
  • ”Given the physical and emotional exhaustion being felt by conservationists in South Africa, the idea that some American company is going to make a fortune by increasing the threat to our rhinos is too much to bear. These people may think they have all the answers, but they have no idea what they’re dealing with. It’s our rhinos that will suffer as a result,” Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching
  • “Pembient is completely out of touch with the realities of wildlife trafficking, and has not once considered how harmful its product will be to law enforcement efforts on the front lines in Africa and Asia,” Annamiticus
  • “Pembient risks undermining all the progress already undertaken in Vietnam by giving credibility to scientifically unproven medicinal beliefs, compromising enforcement, and potentially stimulating demand, while failing to address a key issue: status-driven rhino horn users want real horn from wild rhinos,” Education for Nature-Vietnam

Fauna and Flora International position

In January 2016, in an article on their website, FFI outlined a series of reasons why it believes synthetic / bio-fabricated horn will not save the rhino, summarised as follows:

  • synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn does not have the same symbolic or medicinal value as the genuine article
  • genuine wildlife products are considered superior to farmed or synthetic / bio-fabricated alternatives
  • the availability of a cheaper synthetic / bio-fabricated substitute may amplify future demand for the real thing
  • flooding the market with synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn contributes little to demand reduction efforts
  • the work of law enforcement agencies will become more complicated if they have to distinguish between real, fake and synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn
  • the availability of synthetic / bio-fabricated horn may remove the stigma attached to buying an illegally-traded product
  • consumer research by synthetic / bio-fabricated horn manufacturers has not sought to assess whether synthetic / bio-fabricated horn would be accepted as a real substitute for genuine rhino horn

Finally, FFI called into question the motivation of companies involved in synthetic / bio-fabricated horn production.

Center for Biological Diversity and WildAid position

In February 2016, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildAid petitioned the Obama government, via US Fish & Wildlife Service, to use its authority under a wildlife trade treaty and two laws enacted by Congress — the Endangered Species Act and the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act — to regulate and prohibit bio-fabricated or “cultured” products that are derived from imperiled wildlife species such as rhinos. (Center for Biological Diversity website, 2016).

The “Petition to ban the import, export and sale of cultured rhinoceros horn and cultured products of other protected wildlife species” considers the legality of synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn as regards the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act (RTCA) and concludes that “as the commercial import, export, and interstate sale of cultured rhino horn is already banned under the ESA, CITES, and the RTCA, and any other cultured product of an endangered - or CITES Appendix I-listed species is banned by the ESA and CITES”, the petitioners therefore “urge the Service to exercise its authority and obligations under these laws to immediately prohibit import, export, and sale of these cultured products and to timely promulgate regulations affirmatively banning such trade.”

Zoological Society of London position

In Spring 2016, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) developed an internal position paper on synthetic / bio-fabricated wildlife products, so that its staff could respond to media enquiries on the subject. The paper considered three tests that must be satisfied in order to synthetic / bio-fabricated wildlife products to act as desirable substitutes for the real product: perfect substitution, strong governance, and consumer(s) preferences.

The paper then considered the specific case of rhino horn, drawing upon case studies of other synthetic / bio-fabricated wildlife products, concluded that “synthetic rhino horn meets none of the conditions that appear to be important for reducing demand,” and stated that “ZSL would be opposed to supplying synthetic rhino horn as a solution to illegal rhino poaching.”

Pembient’s responses to NGO opposition

Media interviews with Pembient’s founders since some of these position statements were published make it clear that the company has revised its thinking on the type of product it intends to market. For example, it no longer plans a partnership with a Chinese company to manufacture and sell beer containing powdered rhino horn. (It is unclear which party decided to withdraw.) Pembient no longer intends to market powdered rhino horn for luxury face creams in Vietnam, having previously launched a video advertisement, in Vietnamese, on YouTube. Instead, Pembient’s most recent announcements say that it intends to focus on whole bio-fabricated rhino horns, targeted at the luxury carving market.

Similarly, the launch date for its bio-fabricated rhino horn has been delayed. While reports in early 2015 referred to beginning to trade on World Rhino Day (22 September) 2015, later reports talked about a launch date in May / June 2016.

The authors of this paper have not been able to find any media statements by Pembient that address questions over how its bio-fabricated rhino horn will be marketed (as bio-fabricated or as real?) and through which outlets / trading partners it will be sold.

Recent developments

Since the IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group meeting in February 2016, other organizations have also taken an interest in the rhino horn issue.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

According to Mike Knight, Chair of the AfRSG, the IUCN is considering producing a position paper on the production of synthetic / bio-fabricated wildlife products; however a planned workshop at the 2016 AfRSG meeting was cancelled, owing to the Chair’s perceived lack of interest by participants in the potential offered by companies like Pembient.

An IUCN press release in October 2015 reported on a consultative meeting organized jointly by the Pakistani Ministry of Climate Change and the IUCN to discuss the possibility of incorporating biosafety concerns into the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). Concerns were expressed that the Cartagena Protocol only covered living organisms and not new synthetic products, and said that experts found it “alarming that natural products were being replaced with synthetic products,” which “has serious socio-economic implications as it enhances poverty, impacting the growers of the natural products.”

The authors of this paper feel that it would be useful if the AfRSG were to present a submission on the particular concerns around synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn to the IUCN.


TRAFFIC has recently published an article by Steven Broad and Gayle Burgess on synthetic wildlife products in TRAFFIC Bulletin vol 28, No. 1, April 2016, titled “Synthetic biology, product substitution and the battle against illegal wildlife trade”.

The article frames the issue, discussing theories of product substitution, product substitution in the wildlife trade, challenges of strategic substitution and the rise of synthetic wildlife substitutes, and then looks at “The opportunities and risks of trading synthetic rhinoceros horn – a case example”. The article differs from other NGO positions in that it considers the success factors required, advantages and disadvantages for two contrasting marketing methodologies: overt alternative, whereby synthetic rhino horn is clearly identified as a synthetic product; and covert substitution, whereby synthetic rhino horn is marketed and sold as if it were the real thing, setting these out in a summary table before discussing the implications and viability of using synthetic horn in more detail.

The authors offer some “tentative conclusions” and say that it “would be rash to rule out the possibility that trade in synthetic rhinoceros horn could play a role in future conservation strategies” but point to “some important questions that need to be addressed in judging the likely viability and impact of any approach to the use of synthetic rhinoceros horn as a strategic intervention to undermine trade in natural rhinoceros horn.”

US government

The United States of America has submitted a document for consideration at the CITES 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17), under the heading “Interpretation and implementation of the Convention; Compliance and Enforcement; Actions to Combat Wildlife Trafficking” [pdf].

Paragraphs 21-26 inclusive address the issue of wildlife products produced from synthetic or cultured DNA (Pembient says its rhino horn is bio-fabricated from rhinoceros DNA) and, in paragraph 29, recommends that CITES Parties “adopt draft decisions contained in Annex 1 regarding CITES controls for specimens of CITES-listed species produced from synthetic or cultured DNA.”


Bernholz, P. and Gersbach, H. (1992). "Gresham's Law: Theory." The New Palgrave Dictionary of Money and Finance, vol. 2., 1286-288. Macmillan: London and Basingstoke.

Dutton, A., Hepburn, C. and Macdonald, D. (2011). A stated preference investigation into Chinese demand for farmed vs. wild bear bile. PLoS ONE 6(7): e21243. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021243

Hankins, A. (2009). Producing and marketing wild simulated Ginseng in forest and agroforestry systems. Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 354–312. Virginia State University.

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity United Nations Environmental Programme, (2011). Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity: text and annex. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Synthetic / bio-fabricated rhino horn: Will it save the rhino?

'I will not follow.' The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, decries carbon emissions limitations as constrictive for developing countries like the Philippines, 18 July 2016. Photo: Pia Ranada / Rappler

By Pia Ranada
18 July 2016

MANILA, Philippines (Rappler) – President Rodrigo Duterte "will not honor" international agreements binding the Philippines to limit its carbon emissions.

"You are trying to stymie us with an agreement na ganito lang kayo (that you will stay this way) … That’s stupid. I will not honor that. Sabi niya (He said), you signed. That was not my signature," said the Philippine president during a meeting with Philippine Olympics athletes on Monday, July 18, in Malacañang Palace.

Duterte was referring to an instance in which he was asked by an ambassador if the Philippines would be able to limit its carbon emissions – carbon dioxide spewed by economic sectors like industrialization, transportation, agriculture, waste management, and more.

"Kaya galit ako. Ngayon, I have this ambassador. Gusto ko sipain. (That's why I'm mad. Now I have this ambassador. I want to kick him.) He was reminding me about these emissions, carbon footprints. Yes, we are a signatory there and 'will you able to contain your emissions?' Sabi ko (I said), 'No. I cannot tell,'" he said.

Duterte did not specify which international agreement signed by the Philippine government the ambassador was referring to.

But most likely, it was the Paris Agreement on Climate Change to which the Philippines pledged support during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) held in France last December. (READ: PH on Paris climate pact: Monumental feat for humanity) […]

"Sabi ko (I said), 'You do not do it that way Mr Ambassador. You who have reached your apex and along the way spewed a lot of contaminants and emissions and went ahead in destroying the climate, good for you. We are here, we have not reached the age of industrialization. We are going into it,'" said Duterte, narrating his conversation with the envoy.

The Philippine president called the limits on carbon emissions "kalokohan (nonsense)" and added, "I will not follow."

“That is not my signature. We will make a new one or we do not honor at all," he said. [more]

Duterte won't honor int'l pacts on carbon emissions

Change in observed and simulated cloud amount and albedo between the 1980s and 2000s. a, Trend in average of PATMOS-x and ISCCP total cloud amount 1983–2009. b, Change in albedo from January 1985–December 1989 (ERBS) to July 2002–June 2014 (CERES). c, Trend in ensemble mean total cloud amount 1983–2009 from CMIP5 historical simulations with all radiative forcings (ALL). d, Locations where majority of observations and majority of simulations show increases (blue) or decreases (orange). Black dots indicate agreement among all three satellite records on sign of change in a and b and trend statistical significance (P < 0.05 two-sided) in c. All trends and changes are relative to the 60° S–60° N mean change. Graphic: Norris, et al., 2016 / Nature

By Chris Mooney
14 July 2016

(Washington Post) – Every week, there are many new scientific studies published relating to climate change. It is a big field, a multidisciplinary field and a hot field.

But according to leading climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan — credited with discovering that chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, are actually a greenhouse gas, among other major findings — a new study this week showing that clouds already are shifting their distributions across the Earth, and in a way predicted by climate change models, stands out. And not in a good way.

The study was led by Ramanathan’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography colleague Joel Norris, though Ramanathan said he was not involved in the work and didn’t know about it until shortly before publication. But Ramanathan said that the study basically confirms that there’s nothing to prevent the world from reaching the high levels of warming that have long been feared — except for our own swift policy actions, that is.

“My reaction was, my goodness,” Ramanathan said. “Maybe the 4 to 5 degree warming, certainly we were all wishing there was some certainty that would make it go away. So I consider the findings of this paper, the data shows major reorganization of the cloud system.”

This matters because clouds are fundamental regulators of how much solar radiation makes it to the Earth’s surface (rather than being reflected back to space by white cloud tops), and how much infrared or “longwave” radiation escapes back to space once again. […]

The shift is expected to exacerbate climate change, as moving clouds toward the poles means they reflect less sunlight back to space — there is less sunlight at the poles than at Equator, so the reflectivity of clouds counts for less there. [more]

‘The most singular of all the things that we have found': Clouds study alarms scientists

ABSTRACT: Clouds substantially affect Earth’s energy budget by reflecting solar radiation back to space and by restricting emission of thermal radiation to space1. They are perhaps the largest uncertainty in our understanding of climate change, owing to disagreement among climate models and observational datasets over what cloud changes have occurred during recent decades and will occur in response to global warming2, 3. This is because observational systems originally designed for monitoring weather have lacked sufficient stability to detect cloud changes reliably over decades unless they have been corrected to remove artefacts4, 5. Here we show that several independent, empirically corrected satellite records exhibit large-scale patterns of cloud change between the 1980s and the 2000s that are similar to those produced by model simulations of climate with recent historical external radiative forcing. Observed and simulated cloud change patterns are consistent with poleward retreat of mid-latitude storm tracks, expansion of subtropical dry zones, and increasing height of the highest cloud tops at all latitudes. The primary drivers of these cloud changes appear to be increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and a recovery from volcanic radiative cooling. These results indicate that the cloud changes most consistently predicted by global climate models are currently occurring in nature.

Evidence for climate change in the satellite cloud record

World map of threat to agriculture from invasive species. (A) The overall invasion threat (OTt) to each threatened country, t; (B) the total invasion cost (TICt) (in millions of US dollars) to threatened countries; (C) the total invasion cost (TICt) (in millions of US dollars) to threatened countries, as a proportion of GDP; and (D) the total invasion cost (TICs) (in millions of US dollars) from source countries, s. Graphic: Paini, et al., 2016 / PNAS

21 June 2016 (CSIRO) – The research, which is published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that although the chances of invasive species entering Australia were relatively high, the overall threat to agriculture is lessened due to our robust management practices.

The research examines the worldwide distribution of nearly 1300 invasive pests and pathogens, international trade flows, and each country's main agricultural production crops, to determine potential invasion risks and impact.

This is the first analysis of invasive species' threat to global crop production on a country-by-country basis, calculating the total potential cost of these species invading each of the 124 countries.

Senior researcher Dr Dean Paini said the research found that the most vulnerable countries were located in sub-Saharan Africa.

"These countries generally do not have diverse economies making them disproportionately more dependent on agriculture," Dr Paini said.

"As a result any threat from invasive species can potentially have a greater relative impact on these countries."

The study also determined which countries present the greatest threat to the rest of the world given the scale of agricultural export and the invasive species already established.

The USA and China posed the greatest threat as a source of invasive species, however this is not surprising given the high number of pests already present, the scale of their agriculture export industries and their role as regional food hubs with an extensive network of trade partners.

Conversely, as the countries with the largest agricultural export industries, the USA and China could also experience the greatest absolute cost from further species invasions.

However, their ability to manage or mitigate the impact via means such as pest management, plant breeding, crop substitutions, or imports, means that their agriculture industries are not as vulnerable as those of developing countries.

As trade volumes continue to increase and more trade connections are made between countries, the pressures from invasive species will only intensify.

"This research provides insights that will enable the first steps towards the management of invasive species at the global scale," Dr Paini said.

"By identifying the countries and regions that are most vulnerable, governments can make informed decisions regarding the deployment of resources necessary to protect their borders and agriculture industries by limiting the further spread of invasive species."

This research was supported by funding from the Plant Biosecurity CRC.


Ms Cassandra Leigh
Communication Advisor
Phone: +61 3 6232 5070, +61 414 868 409 (Mobile)

Global threat to agriculture from invasive species

ABSTRACT: Invasive species present significant threats to global agriculture, although how the magnitude and distribution of the threats vary between countries and regions remains unclear. Here, we present an analysis of almost 1,300 known invasive insect pests and pathogens, calculating the total potential cost of these species invading each of 124 countries of the world, as well as determining which countries present the greatest threat to the rest of the world given their trading partners and incumbent pool of invasive species. We find that countries vary in terms of potential threat from invasive species and also their role as potential sources, with apparently similar countries sometimes varying markedly depending on specifics of agricultural commodities and trade patterns. Overall, the biggest agricultural producers (China and the United States) could experience the greatest absolute cost from further species invasions. However, developing countries, in particular, Sub-Saharan African countries, appear most vulnerable in relative terms. Furthermore, China and the United States represent the greatest potential sources of invasive species for the rest of the world. The analysis reveals considerable scope for ongoing redistribution of known invasive pests and highlights the need for international cooperation to slow their spread.

Global threat to agriculture from invasive species

Comparison of Australasian temperature reconstructions. Red: original temperature reconstruction published in the May 2012 version of the study; green: more recent reconstruction published in Nature Geoscience in April 2013; black: newly published reconstruction; orange: observed instrumental temperatures. Grey shading shows 90% uncertainty estimates of the original 2012 reconstruction; purple shading shows considerably expanded uncertainty estimates of the revised 2016 version based on four statistical methods. The recent 30-year warming (orange line) lies outside the range of temperature variability reconstruction (black line) over the past 1,000 years. Graphic: Gergis, et al., 2016 / Journal of Climate

By Joelle Gergis
10 July 2016

(The Conversation) – In May 2012, my colleagues and I had a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Climate, showing that temperatures recorded in Australasia since 1950 were warmer than at any time in the past 1,000 years.

Following the early online release of the paper, as the manuscript was being prepared for the journal’s print edition, one of our team spotted a typo in the methods section of the manuscript.

While the paper said the study had used “detrended” data – temperature data from which the longer-term trends had been removed – the study had in fact used raw data. When we checked the computer code, the DETREND command said “FALSE” when it should have said “TRUE”.

Both raw and detrended data have been used in similar studies, and both are scientifically justifiable approaches. The issue for our team was the fact that what was written in the paper did not match what was actually done in the analysis – an innocent mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.

Instead of taking the easy way out and just correcting the single word in the page proof, we asked the publisher to put our paper on hold and remove the online version while we assessed the influence that the different method had on the results.

Enter the bloggers

It turned out that someone else had spotted the typo too. Two days after we identified the issue, a commenter on the Climate Audit blog also pointed it out.

The website’s author, Stephen McIntyre, proceeded to claim (incorrectly) that there were “fundamental issues” with the study. It was the start of a concerted smear campaign aimed at discrediting our science.

As well as being discussed by bloggers (sometimes with a deeply offensive and sexist tone), the “flaw” was seized upon by sections of the mainstream media.

Meanwhile, our team received a flurry of hate mail and an onslaught of time-consuming Freedom of Information requests for access to our raw data and years of our emails, in search of ammunition to undermine and discredit our team and results. This is part of a range of tactics used in Australia and overseas in an attempt to intimidate scientists and derail our efforts to do our job.

Bloggers began to accuse us of conspiring to reverse-engineer our results to dramatise the warming in our region. Former geologist and prominent climate change sceptic Bob Carter published an opinion piece in The Australian claiming that the peer-review process is faulty and climate science cannot be trusted.

Checking the facts

Meanwhile, we set about rigorously checking and rechecking every step of our study in a bid to dispel any doubts about its accuracy. This included extensive reprocessing of the data using independently generated computer code, three additional statistical methods, detrended and non-detrended approaches, and climate model data to further verify the results.

The mammoth process involved three extra rounds of peer-review and four new peer-reviewers. From the original submission on 3 November, 2011, to the paper’s re-acceptance on 26 April, 2016, the manuscript was reviewed by seven reviewers and two editors, underwent nine rounds of revisions, and was assessed a total of 21 times – not to mention the countless rounds of internal revisions made by our research team and data contributors. One reviewer even commented that we had done “a commendable, perhaps bordering on an insane, amount of work”.

Finally, today, we publish our study again with virtually the same conclusion: the recent temperatures experienced over the past three decades in Australia, New Zealand and surrounding oceans are warmer than any other 30-year period over the past 1,000 years.

Our updated analysis also gives extra confidence in our results. For example, as the graph below shows, there were some 30-year periods in our palaeoclimate reconstructions during the 12th century that may have been fractionally (0.03–0.04℃) warmer than the 1961–1990 average. But these results are more uncertain as they are based on sparse network of only two records – and in any event, they are still about 0.3℃ cooler than the most recent 1985–2014 average recorded by our most accurate instrumental climate network available for the region. [more]

How a single word sparked a four-year saga of climate fact-checking and blog backlash  

ABSTRACT: Multiproxy warm season (September–February) temperature reconstructions are presented for the combined land–ocean region of Australasia (0°–50°S, 110°E–180°) covering 1000–2001. Using between 2 (R2) and 28 (R28) paleoclimate records, four 1000-member ensemble reconstructions of regional temperature are developed using four statistical methods: principal component regression (PCR), composite plus scale (CPS), Bayesian hierarchical models (LNA), and pairwise comparison (PaiCo). The reconstructions are then compared with a three-member ensemble of GISS-E2-R climate model simulations and independent paleoclimate records. Decadal fluctuations in Australasian temperatures are remarkably similar between the four reconstruction methods. There are, however, differences in the amplitude of temperature variations between the different statistical methods and proxy networks. When the R28 network is used, the warmest 30-yr periods occur after 1950 in 77% of ensemble members over all methods. However, reconstructions based on only the longest records (R2 and R3 networks) indicate that single 30- and 10-yr periods of similar or slightly higher temperatures than in the late twentieth century may have occurred during the first half of the millennium. Regardless, the most recent instrumental temperatures (1985–2014) are above the 90th percentile of all 12 reconstruction ensembles (four reconstruction methods based on three proxy networks—R28, R3, and R2). The reconstructed twentieth-century warming cannot be explained by natural variability alone using GISS-E2-R. In this climate model, anthropogenic forcing is required to produce the rate and magnitude of post-1950 warming observed in the Australasian region. These paleoclimate results are consistent with other studies that attribute the post-1950 warming in Australian temperature records to increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Australasian Temperature Reconstructions Spanning the Last Millennium

According to global monitoring data for 452 species, there has been a 45 percent decline in invertebrate populations over the past 40 years. Graphic: Dirzo, 2014 / Science

By Christian Schwägerl
6 July 2016

(e360) – Every spring since 1989, entomologists have set up tents in the meadows and woodlands of the Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve and 87 other areas in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The tents act as insect traps and enable the scientists to calculate how many bugs live in an area over a full summer period. Recently, researchers presented the results of their work to parliamentarians from the German Bundestag, and the findings were alarming: The average biomass of insects caught between May and October has steadily decreased from 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds) per trap in 1989 to just 300 grams (10.6 ounces) in 2014.

"The decline is dramatic and depressing and it affects all kinds of insects, including butterflies, wild bees, and hoverflies," says Martin Sorg, an entomologist from the Krefeld Entomological Association involved in running the monitoring project.

Another recent study has added to this concern. Scientists from the Technical University of Munich and the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt have determined that in a nature reserve near the Bavarian city of Regensburg, the number of recorded butterfly and Burnet moth species has declined from 117 in 1840 to 71 in 2013. "Our study reveals, through one detailed example, that even official protection status can't really prevent dramatic species loss," says Thomas Schmitt, director of the Senckenberg Entomological Institute.

Declines in insect populations are hardly limited to Germany. A 2014 study in Science documented a steep drop in insect and invertebrate populations worldwide. By combining data from the few comprehensive studies that exist, lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, an ecologist at Stanford University, developed a global index for invertebrate abundance that showed a 45 percent decline over the last four decades. Dirzo points out that out of 3,623 terrestrial invertebrate species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] Red List, 42 percent are classified as threatened with extinction.

"Although invertebrates are the least well-evaluated faunal groups within the IUCN database, the available information suggests a dire situation in many parts of the world," says Dirzo.

A major survey of threats to insect life by the Zoological Society of London, published in 2012, concluded that many insect populations worldwide are in severe decline, limiting food supplies for larger animals and affecting ecosystem services like pollination. In Europe and the United States, researchers have documented declines in wild and managed bee populations of 30 to 40 percent and more due to so-called colony collapse disorder. Other insect species, such as the monarch butterfly, also have experienced sharp declines.

Jürgen Deckert, insect custodian at the Berlin Natural History Museum, says he is worried that "the decline in insect populations is gradual and that there's a risk we will only really take notice once it is too late."

Scientists cite many factors in the fall-off of the world’s insect populations, but chief among them are the ubiquitous use of pesticides, the spread of monoculture crops such as corn and soybeans, urbanization, and habitat destruction. [more]

Vanishing Act: Why Insects Are Declining and Why It Matters

ABSTRACT: Environmental changes strongly impact the distribution of species and subsequently the composition of species assemblages. Although most community ecology studies represent temporal snap shots, long-term observations are rather rare. However, only such time series allow the identification of species composition shifts over several decades or even centuries. We analyzed changes in the species composition of a southeastern German butterfly and burnet moth community over nearly 2 centuries (1840–2013). We classified all species observed over this period according to their ecological tolerance, thereby assessing their degree of habitat specialisation. This classification was based on traits of the butterfly and burnet moth species and on their larval host plants. We collected data on temperature and precipitation for our study area over the same period. The number of species declined substantially from 1840 (117 species) to 2013 (71 species). The proportion of habitat specialists decreased, and most of these are currently endangered. In contrast, the proportion of habitat generalists increased. Species with restricted dispersal behavior and species in need of areas poor in soil nutrients had severe losses. Furthermore, our data indicated a decrease in species composition similarity between different decades over time. These data on species composition changes and the general trends of modifications may reflect effects from climate change and atmospheric nitrogen loads, as indicated by the ecological characteristics of host plant species and local changes in habitat configuration with increasing fragmentation. Our observation of major declines over time of currently threatened and protected species shows the importance of efficient conservation strategies.

Butterfly community shifts over two centuries


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