Fire burns at night in the refugee camp in Calais, France, known as 'the Jungle', 26 October 2016. Photo: AP

Fire burns at night in the refugee camp in Calais, France, known as “the Jungle”, 26 October 2016. Photo: AP

22 January 2017 (Desdemona Despair) – For a long time, Desdemona has feared that when the effects of global warming become obvious to everyone, governments will shut down our Earth observation science, so that collectively, the human species can bury its head in the sand.

The year 2016 saw huge strides toward this goal of dismantling science and blinding us all. The May government in the UK and the Turnbull government in Australia defunded their climate science research programs. In the U.S., the Trump team declared that they are seeking quick ways of withdrawing from the Paris agreement on climate change, and that NASA Earth science will be defunded. Scientists undertook a desperate effort to copy public climate data from government servers, in the event that Trump’s climate denialists order its destruction.

The most ominous threat to science rose in the advanced economies, as ultra-nationalist populism captured the governments of the U.S. and the Philippines, and threatened the social democracies of Europe. Surely, the doomiest story of 2016 was the ascension of Donald Trump’s antiscience forces. Trump leads the vanguard of reactionary politics that rejects the expertise of thousands of scientists globally, substituting random opinions from blogs and “alt-right” propaganda mills.

With murderous force, reactionary parties oppose efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to preserve indigenous lands: 2016 saw the assassination of numerous defenders of the natural world, including Honduran activists Berta Cáceres and Nelson García. The government of Cambodia banned a film about murdered rainforest activist, Chut Wutty, and the UN declared that governments globally are undertaking an extraordinary war on freedom of expression.

A mural of murdered forest-rights and indigenous-rights activist Berta Cáceres in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Photo: disoniador / Pixabay

A mural of murdered forest-rights and indigenous-rights activist Berta Cáceres in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Photo: disoniador / Pixabay

These martyrs to the cause of environmental preservation and indigenous rights presage the sacrifices people will be making globally against extractive industries and the autocracies that back them.


January 2016

The extremely rare vaquita, a small porpoise, drowns in gill nets intended to catch totoaba, whose swim bladders are worth thousands on the Chinese market. Photo: Flip Nicklin / Minden Pictures / National Geographic Creative

Demand for fish bladder may wipe out world’s rarest porpoise

10 January 2016 (National Geographic) – No one’s sure how many totoaba are left, but it’s clear they’re endangered. A century ago they were fished heavily to meet demand for swim bladders in both China and the U.S. But their population dropped, and fishing them was banned in 1975.

Totoaba are now at risk from illegal fishing. Nor does it help that the Colorado River, where they go to spawn, has become so salty because of water diversion that breeding is hard for them.

Poachers use gill nets to catch the fish, which can grown more than six feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds. Gill nets are literally walls of netting dropped down into the ocean to trap fish. But they also trap all kinds of other marine life, including non-target fish, dolphins, sea turtles—and vaquitas.

“The vaquita’s only hope for survival is that gill nets are permanently removed from its entire range in the Gulf of California,” said EIA researcher Clare Perry, echoing NOAA’s recommendation. Last April, the Mexican government expanded its ban on gill net fishing in the gulf to try to save the species.

Chairman of World Economic Forum warns refugee crisis could be precursor to something much bigger

18 January 2016 (Bloomberg News) – As the crash in commodities prices spreads economic woe across the developing world, Europe could face a wave of migration that will eclipse today’s refugee crisis, says Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

“Look how many countries in Africa, for example, depend on the income from oil exports,” Schwab said in an interview ahead of the WEF’s 46th annual meeting, in the Swiss resort of Davos. “Now imagine 1 billion inhabitants, imagine they all move north.”

Large and increasing methane emissions from lakes at high northern latitudes

7 January 2016 (Stockholm University) – Climate-sensitive regions in the north are home to most of the world’s lakes. New research from universities in Sweden and the US, shows that these northern freshwaters are critical emitters of methane, a more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Methane is increasing in the atmosphere, but many sources are poorly understood. Lakes at high northern latitudes are such a source. However, this may change with a new study published in Nature Geoscience. By compiling previously reported measurements made at a total of 733 northern water bodies – from small ponds formed by beavers to large lakes formed by permafrost thaw or ice-sheets – researchers are able to more accurately estimate emissions over large scales.

“The release of methane from northern lakes and ponds needs to be taken seriously. These waters are significant, contemporary sources because they cover large parts of the landscape. They are also likely to emit even more methane in the future”, says Martin Wik, PhD student at the Department of Geological Sciences and Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, who led the study.

Brazil inflames forest fires with pro-deforestation laws

14 January 2016 (Climate News Network) – Almost a quarter of a million forest fires were detected in Brazil last year – and the main cause of a huge increase is being attributed to climate change that brought about a year-long drought in much of the country.

Satellite data revealed a 27.5% increase in forest fires in 2015 compared with the previous year. The total number was 235,629, almost as high as the record of 249,291 in 2010.

Last year’s fires occurred all over Brazil, but most of them were in the greater Amazon region, where three of the largest states, Pará, Mato Grosso, and Maranhão, accounted for over 100,000 fires.

In Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, a dense pall of smoke from forest fires covered the city for most of the month of October, causing a big rise in respiratory problems among the population. Record temperatures of almost 40°C were also registered in October, the highest since records began 90 years ago.

February 2016

Researchers find the world’s forests are fragmenting at three times the rate of forest loss as a whole

4 February 2016 ( – Recent research by the U.S. Forest Service finds that the world lost interior forest at three times the rate of forest loss as a whole. They write that this fragmentation could severely jeopardize the ability of remaining forests to provide critical wildlife habitat and other ecological functions.

In total, the team found there was a global a net loss of 1.71 million square kilometers of forest cover from 2000 to 2012 — 3.2 percent of total global forest area.

But the Forest Service researchers argue that focusing on forest area loss alone risks ignoring the ecological threats of forest fragmentation. In addition to the direct loss of forest, they found a “widespread shift” in the world’s remaining forests to a more fragmented condition.

They calculated a net loss of 3.76 million square kilometers of interior forest area amounting to 9.9 percent of global interior forest cover, according to their study in the journal Landscape Ecology [pdf].

The number of months per year in which blue water scarcity exceeds 1.0, at 30 × 30 arc minute resolution. Period: 1996–2005. Graphic: Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2016 / Science Advances

Four billion people face severe water scarcity, new research finds – ‘The results imply the global water situation is much worse than suggested by previous studies’

12 February 2016 (Guardian) – At least two-thirds of the global population, over 4 billion people, live with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year, according to a major new analysis.

The revelation shows water shortages, one of the most dangerous challenges the world faces, is far worse previously than thought.

The new research also reveals that 500m people live in places where water consumption is double the amount replenished by rain for the entire year, leaving them extremely vulnerable as underground aquifers run down.

Many of those living with fragile water resources are in India and China, but other regions highlighted are the central and western US, Australia and even the city of London.

These water problems are set to worsen, according to the researchers, as population growth and increasing water use – particularly through eating meat – continues to rise.

Study: Will we ever stop using fossil fuels? ‘The world will likely be awash in fossil fuels for decades and perhaps even centuries to come’

On the heels of a historic climate agreement in Paris, a new study [pdf] in the Journal of Economic Perspectives sheds light on the world’s ability to stop using fossil fuels. Its conclusion: fossil fuel consumption is likely to continue to grow without clear and decisive global actions to put an adequate price on carbon dioxide emissions and increase research and development spending toward clean energy technologies.

Tropical Cyclone Winston is strongest ever to hit Fiji – 6 dead from ‘monster’ cyclone – All houses destroyed in Koro Island village

21 February 2016 ( – Fiji took a direct hit by Tropical Cyclone Winston, the strongest tropical cyclone to strike the island nation.

According to a blog by New Zealand MetService, "Winston is now the strongest tropical cyclone and the first Category 5 [in the Southern Hemisphere] tropical cyclone on record to hit Fiji."

EU set to emit 2 gigatons more CO2 than Paris climate pledge – ‘The current proposals are not consistent with what was agreed in Paris’

BRUSSELS, 29 February 2016 (Guardian) – The EU is set to emit 2bn tonnes more CO2 than it promised at the Paris climate talks, threatening an agreement to cap global warming at 2C, a note from the European commission has revealed.

Carbon prices will rise too slowly to cut industrial emissions as much as needed, says a confidential note prepared for MEPs on the environment committee, which the Guardian has seen.

Lawmakers say that the shortfall could spur criticism from other countries that signed up to the Paris agreement, which aims for net zero emissions later this century.

Representative photographs of Pisaster ochraceus sea stars pre-summer 2014 abundance and wasting disease progression. P. ochraceus were abundant in the intertidal survey areas in May, 2014 (a). Healthy sea stars (b) develop lesions (c) that can lead to arms detaching from central disk (d) prior to extensive tissue necrosis and death (e). Photo: Eisenlord, et al., 2016 / Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

Scientists link massive starfish die-off to warming ocean

21 February 2016 (Seattle Times) – It was the starfish arms walking off on their own that alerted biologist Steven Fradkin that something was terribly wrong at Starfish Point at Olympic National Park.

Next he noticed white lesions pitting the skin of the usually colorful orange, purple and brick-red starfish that are the signature of Olympic tide pools. Worse, the starfish, usually so thick and clinging robustly to their rock, were melting into goo.

“They were just falling apart,” said Fradkin, Olympic National Park coastal ecologist. “It was a horror show.”

The observations he made and shared June 7, 2013, would turn out to be the first reported sighting of a mysterious starfish wasting disease that in 2013 and 2014 would devastate more than 20 species of starfish from Alaska to Mexico.

March 2016

Rhino poaching: Another year, another grim record

9 March 2016 (BBC News) – The mass slaughter of rhinos has increased for the sixth year in a row, according to grim new figures from international researchers.

At least 1,338 of the iconic animals were killed for their horns in Africa last year.

This is the greatest loss in a single year since an intense wave of poaching began recently.

Since 2008, as many as 5,940 rhinos have been killed although scientists fear that could be an underestimate.

The findings were compiled by researchers from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The losses come despite a drive to fight poaching gangs by strengthening patrols, harnessing satellite technology and boosting intelligence-gathering.

The IUCN blames continuing demand from South East Asia - where rhino horn is wrongly believed to have medicinal properties - fed by increasingly sophisticated international crime networks.

Unprecedented spike in CO2 levels in 2015 – ‘Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years’

10 March 2016 (Climate Central) – The annual growth rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose more in 2015 than scientists have ever seen in a single year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced.

It was the fourth year in a row that carbon dioxide concentrations grew by more than 2 parts per million, with an annual growth rate of 3.05 parts per million in 2015. ­The spike comes in the same year that Earth reached an ominous global warming milestone -- scientists last year measured the highest atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide ever recorded.

Surface air temperature (◦C) relative to 1880–1920 in (a) 2065, (b) 2080, and (c) 2096. Top row is IPCC scenario A1B. Ice melt with 10-year doubling is added in other scenarios. Graphic: Hansen, et al., 2016 / Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics

Scientists warn of perilous climate shift within decades, not centuries

23 March 2016 (CBS News) – A sobering new report on the impact of climate change finds that extreme weather like killer storms and high-rising seas could be mere decades, not centuries, away.

The report, "Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms" [pdf] published Tuesday in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, says that the 2-degree Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) global warming threshold previously agreed upon by global leaders and scientists is too high. The research in the 52-page report is derived from observations of ancient climate change -- "paleo-climatology" -- as well as observations of current climate shifts, and data from computer modeling to forecast where the planet is headed.

"So, the question arises again: Have we passed the point of no return?" asked lead author James Hansen, a former NASA climate scientist, in a video message that accompanied the study release.

Hansen said that preventing such dire outcomes is all dependent on how quickly we act to "slow down" man-made climate change.

"I think the conclusion is clear, we are in a position of potentially causing irreparable harm to our children, grandchildren, and future generations," he said in the video.

The world has a problem: Too many young people

5 March 2016 (The New York Times) – At no point in recorded history has our world been so demographically lopsided, with old people concentrated in rich countries and the young in not-so-rich countries.

Much has been made of the challenges of aging societies. But it’s the youth bulge that stands to put greater pressure on the global economy, sow political unrest, spur mass migration and have profound consequences for everything from marriage to Internet access to the growth of cities.

The parable of our time might well be: Mind your young, or they will trouble you in your old age.

A fourth of humanity is now young (ages 10 to 24). The vast majority live in the developing world, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

April 2016

Australia state approves coal mining leases for $21 billion project

3 April 2016 (ABC News) – The Queensland Government has approved mining leases for the $21.7 billion Carmichael coal mine and rail project in the Galilee Basin.

The project has received widespread criticism from environmental groups who say it will have catastrophic impacts for the Great Barrier Reef.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific spokeswoman Shani Tager said in a statement the State Government's decision was "appalling", and came as the Great Barrier Reef suffered severe coral bleaching.

"Coral scientists, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and even the Queensland Government have acknowledged the severity of this latest bleaching," she said.

"The federal and Queensland environment ministers are wringing their hands, despairing over the state of the Great Barrier Reef, yet at the same time they are paving the way for the nation's biggest coal mine - a development that can only harm the reef.

"Protecting the reef and approving the Carmichael mining lease are diametrically opposed - you cannot do both." [cf. Australia approves ‘grossly irresponsible’ Carmichael coal mine; Australia coalition government proposes 1.2GW coal plant to power the Carmichael coal mine, using climate funds – ‘It boggles my mind’]

How Panama became a tax haven to the world – ‘This has been going on for so long, and is so obvious and problematic, that the question is, “How come nothing was done about it before?”’

3 April 2016 (ICIJ) – A new investigation published today by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other news organizations around the globe, reveals the offshore links of some of the planet’s most prominent people.

In terms of size, the Panama Papers is likely the biggest leak of inside information in history – more than 11.5 million documents – and it is equally likely to be one of the most explosive in the nature of its revelations.

The leak exposes the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders and reveals how associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies. [cf. The Panama Papers: Politicians, criminals, and the rogue industry that hides their cash]

A large, severely bleached coral table at Scott Reef, Western Australia, in mid-March 2016. Research divers are assessing the extent and severity of the bleaching by conducting surveys at several sites across the reef. The Greens have called on the government to urgently implement marine reserves. Photo: Nick Thake / AIMS

Coral bleaching spreads from Great Barrier Reef to Western Australia – Between 60 and 90 percent of coral at Scott Reef have been bleached

SYDNEY, Australia, 9 April 2016 (The New York Times) – Kim Cobb, a marine scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, expected the coral to be damaged when she plunged into the deep blue waters off Kiritimati Island, a remote atoll near the center of the Pacific Ocean. Still, she was stunned by what she saw as she descended some 30 feet to the rim of a coral outcropping.

“The entire reef is covered with a red-brown fuzz,” Dr. Cobb said when she returned to the surface after her recent dive. “It is otherworldly. It is algae that has grown over dead coral. It was devastating.”

The damage off Kiritimati is part of a mass bleaching of coral reefs around the world, only the third on record and possibly the worst ever. Scientists believe that heat stress from multiple weather events including the latest, severe El Niño, compounded by climate change, has threatened more than a third of Earth’s coral reefs. Many may not recover. [cf. Climate-related death of coral around world alarms scientists – ‘This is a huge, looming planetary crisis, and we are sticking our heads in the sand about it’]

Test finds Chernobyl residue in Belarus milk 10 times higher than food safety limits – ‘There is no protection of the population from radiation exposure’

GUBAREVICHI, Belarus, 25 April 2016 (AP) – On the edge of Belarus' Chernobyl exclusion zone, down the road from the signs warning "Stop! Radiation," a dairy farmer offers his visitors a glass of freshly drawn milk. Associated Press reporters politely decline the drink but pass on a bottled sample to a laboratory, which confirms it contains levels of a radioactive isotope at levels 10 times higher than the nation's food safety limits.

That finding on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident indicates how fallout from the April 26, 1986, explosion at the plant in neighboring Ukraine continues to taint life in Belarus. The authoritarian government of this agriculture-dependent nation appears determined to restore long-idle land to farm use -- and in a country where dissent is quashed, any objection to the policy is thin.

Estimated effects of water scarcity on GDP in 2050 under two policy regimes. Some regions could see their growth rates decline by as much as 6 percent of GDP by 2050 as a result of water-related losses in agriculture, health, income, and property — sending them into sustained negative growth. Graphic: The World Bank

World Bank: Water scarcity poses a greater risk of turmoil under climate change – Global water shortages to deliver ‘severe hit’ to economies

4 May 2016 (ClimateWire) – Water scarcity is expected to increase globally as populations boom and climate change sharpens uncertainty around the resource's availability, according to a report by the World Bank.

The conclusion adds to a growing body of research, and it comes days before this year's Climate Action 2016 summit in Washington, D.C. The report, titled High and Dry: Climate Change, Water, and the Economy [pdf], highlights the importance of water to human health, agriculture and geopolitical stability.

Water scarcity is expected to cost a swath of countries in regions such as sub-Saharan and northern Africa, the Middle East, and large parts of Asia roughly 6 percent of their gross domestic product, the report found. That's under a scenario in which emissions continue to be released as they are today. [cf. We’re running out of water, and the world’s powers are very worried – UN and World Bank chiefs announce joint high-level panel on water]

May 2016

One in five of world’s plant species at risk of extinction – ‘We are facing some devastating realities if we do not take stock and re-examine our priorities and efforts’

9 May 2016 (The Guardian) – One in five of the world’s plant species is threatened with extinction, according to the first global assessment of flora, putting supplies of food and medicines at risk.

But the report also found that 2,000 new species of plant are discovered every year, raising hopes of new sources of food that are resilient to disease and climate change. New finds in 2015 included a giant insect-eating plant first spotted on Facebook and a 100-tonne tree hidden in an African forest.

The State of the World’s Plants report [pdf], by experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, reveals that there are currently 390,000 species of known plants, with more than 30,000 used by people. However, more than 5,000 species have invaded foreign countries and are causing billions of dollars of damage every year.

“Plants are absolutely fundamental to humankind,” said Prof Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew, who led the new report. “Plants provide us with everything - food, fuel, medicines, timber and they are incredibly important for our climate regulation. Without plants we would not be here. We are facing some devastating realities if we do not take stock and re-examine our priorities and efforts.”

Global urban air pollution levels increased by 8 percent in five years – ‘Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health’

12 May 2016 (UN) – More than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO), with populations in low-income cities the most at risk for respiratory diseases and other long-term health problems.

Some 98 per cent of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality limits, according to the latest global urban ambient air database presented today by the agency. In high-income countries, however, that percentage drops to 56 per cent.

During the five-year period from 2008 to 2013, WHO compared 795 cities in 67 countries for levels of small and fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5 – particles smaller than 10 or 2.5 microns). This included pollutants such as sulfates, nitrates, and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and into the cardiovascular system, posing the greatest risks to human health. Data were then analyzed to develop regional trends.

Among the key trends from the period include that global urban air pollution levels increased by 8 per cent, despite improvements in some regions, according to the agency.

The world is about to install 700 million air conditioners 

31 May 2016 (Washington Post) – As summer temperatures finally settle in, many in the United States take it for granted that they can dial down the thermostat: Americans use 5 percent of all of their electricity cooling homes and buildings. In many other countries, however — including countries in much hotter climates — air conditioning is still a relative rarity. But as these countries boom in wealth and population, and extend electricity to more people even as the climate warms, the projections are clear: They are going to install mind-boggling amounts of air conditioning, not just for comfort but as a health necessity.

That’s already happened in some places. In just 15 years, urban areas of China went from just a few percentage points of air conditioning penetration to exceeding 100 percent — “i.e., more than one room air conditioner (AC) per urban household,” according to a recent report on the global AC boom by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. And air conditioner sales are now increasing in India, Indonesia and Brazil by between 10 and 15 percent per year, the research noted. India, a nation of 1.25 billion people, had just 5 percent air conditioning penetration in the year 2011.

A study last year similarly found “a close relationship between household income and air conditioner adoption, with ownership increasing 2.7 percentage points per $1,000 of annual household income.” For Mexico in particular, it therefore projected a stupendous growth of air conditioning over the 21st century, from 13 percent of homes having it  to 71 to 81 percent of homes.

“We expect that the demand for cooling as economies improve, particularly in hot climates, is going to be an incredible driver of electricity requirements,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in an interview.

June 2016

The 2010–2014 trend in U.S. methane enhancements as seen from GOSAT. The methane enhancement (Δ methane) is defined as the difference in the tropospheric column mixing ratio relative to the oceanic background measured in the glint mode over the North Pacific (176–128°W, 25–43°N) and normalized with the 2010 Δ methane. Trends are computed on a 4° × 4° grid. Statistically significant trends (p < 0.01) are indicated by a dot. Graphic: Turner, et al., 2016 / Geophysical Research Letters

White House warned of growing methane danger from fracking

2 June 2016 (Cornell Chronicle) – As methane intensifies greenhouse gas in the atmosphere – propelling average global temperatures higher toward the brink of no return – Cornell’s Robert Howarth briefed the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy May 27 on its dangers and solutions.

Statistically, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel have fallen in the U.S. since 2007 due to the economic recession and switching to natural gas from coal to generate electricity, but, Howarth cautioned, “Total greenhouse gas emissions – after dipping slightly in 2007 – have been rising since at their most rapid rate ever, due to shale gas development and large methane emissions.

“If the U.S. wants to meet the COP21 target – to which we have agreed – we need to recognize that natural gas – and shale gas, in particular – is not a bridge fuel,” Howarth told the scientists. “We need to move aggressively move toward an economy based on renewable energy.” [cf. Our leaders thought fracking would save our climate – ‘Methane emissions are substantially higher than we’ve understood’]

Mussel shells much thinner than 50 years ago

17 June 2016 (University of Chicago) – California mussel shells collected off the coast of Washington state in the 1970s are, on average, 32 percent thicker than modern specimens, according to a new study published by UChicago biologists.

Shells collected by Native Americans 1,000 to 1,300 years ago were also 27 percent thicker than modern shells, on average. The decreasing thickness over time, in particular the last few decades, is likely due to ocean acidification as a result of increased carbon in the atmosphere.

“Archival material provided by past researchers, the Makah Tribal Nation, and the Olympic National Park allowed us to document this intriguing and concerning pattern in shell thickness,” said Cathy Pfister, professor of ecology and evolution and lead author. The study was published June 15 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

As humans burn fossils fuels, the oceans absorb a large portion of the additional carbon released into the atmosphere. This in turn causes pH levels of ocean water to drop, making it more acidic. Mussels, oysters and certain species of algae have difficulty producing their calcium carbonate shells and skeletons in such an environment, and can provide an early indicator of how increasing ocean acidification affects marine life.

Southern Resident killer whale J-34, or Doublestuf, breaching in the interior waters of the Salish Sea, during Spring 2016. It's a remarkable and frightening photo for orca lovers, because the male orca's ribs are protruding prominently, which is abnormal, especially for a resident killer whale at this time of year, when the orcas are typically well fed after a winter of preying on Chinook salmon Photo: Mark Malleson

Southern Resident killer whale J-34, or Doublestuf, breaching in the interior waters of the Salish Sea, during Spring 2016. It's a remarkable and frightening photo for orca lovers, because the male orca's ribs are protruding prominently, which is abnormal, especially for a resident killer whale at this time of year, when the orcas are typically well fed after a winter of preying on Chinook salmon Photo: Mark Malleson

Pacific Northwest orcas are starving

24 June 2016 (Crosscut) – Vancouver photographer Mark Malleson took this photograph of the Southern Resident killer whale known as J-34, or Doublestuf, breaching while he was in the interior waters of the Salish Sea this spring. It’s a remarkable and frightening photo for orca lovers, because the male orca’s ribs appear to be protruding prominently.

That’s abnormal, especially for a resident killer whale at this time of year, when the orcas are typically well fed after a winter of preying on Chinook salmon. And so Malleson’s photo set off a number of alarm bells in the Northwest whale-watching community as it circulated on social media.

Subsequent photos taken of J-34 and his pod from a scientific drone suggested that, while the whales weren’t particularly plump, their girth was within their normal range. Nonetheless, veteran whale scientist Ken Balcomb is blunt about what he is seeing for the Southern Residents long-term: “These whales are starving,” he says. “There simply aren’t enough salmon out there for them to eat.”

Industrial pollutants found in Earth’s deepest ocean trenches – Crustaceans at depths of 10,000 meters have higher concentrations of chemicals than animals in the most polluted rivers

20 June 2016 (Nature) – Toxic chemicals are accumulating in marine creatures in Earth’s deepest oceanic trenches, the first measurements of organic pollutants in these regions have revealed.

“We often think deep-sea trenches are remote and pristine, untouched by humans,” says Alan Jamieson, a deep-ocean researcher at the University of Aberdeen, UK. But Jamieson and his colleagues have found man-made organic pollutants at high levels in shrimp-like crustaceans called amphipods that they collected from two deep-ocean trenches, he told a conference on deep-ocean exploration in Shanghai on 8 June 2016.

“It’s really surprising to find pollutants so deep in the ocean at such high concentrations,” says Jeffrey Drazen, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

Scientists: Window for avoiding 1.5C global warming ‘seems to have closed’

29 June 2016 (Climate Change News) – Scientists have bad news for people on the front line of climate change impacts.

The 1.5C global warming limit vulnerable countries fought hard to include in the Paris Agreement may already be out of reach.

There is slim chance of stabilising temperature rise at that level without controversial negative emissions technology, according to a study published in Nature.

“The window for limiting warming to below 1.5C with high probability and without temporarily exceeding that level already seems to have closed,” the report found.

July 2016

Adolescents are dying of AIDS at an alarming rate, UN agency warns

18 July 2016 (UN) – An average of 29 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 are infected with HIV every hour, according to the United Nations Children's Fund, which is calling for a redoubling of prevention and treatment efforts.

“After all of the saved and improved lives thanks to prevention, treatment and care; after all of the battles won against prejudice and ignorance about this disease; after all of the wonderful milestones achieved, AIDS is still the number two cause of death for those aged 10-19 globally – and number one in Africa,” Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said from Durban, South Africa, the site of the 21st International AIDS Conference which opened today.

While rates of new infections among adolescents have levelled off, UNICEF is concerned that projected increases in their population in the coming years will mean an increase in the overall number of infections.

Girls are particularly vulnerable, making up about 65 per cent of new adolescent infections worldwide, according to UNICEF.

In sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for about 70 per cent of people in the world living with HIV, three out of every four adolescents newly infected by HIV in 2015 were girls.

Whale sharks, winghead sharks, Bornean orangutans, and addax antelopes slide towards extinction – ‘We are witnessing in real time the extinction of iconic and once-plentiful species’

8 July 2016 (IUCN) – New IUCN Red List assessments reveal that growing human pressures on whale sharks, winghead sharks and Bornean orangutans are putting these species at an increasing risk of extinction. Whale sharks and winghead sharks are now listed as Endangered and Bornean orangutans as Critically Endangered – only one step from going extinct.

“It is alarming to see such emblematic species slide towards extinction,” says Jane Smart, Director of IUCN's Global Species Programme. “These new IUCN Red List assessments emphasise how urgent it is for the conservation community to act strategically to protect our planet’s incredible diversity of life. The world’s oceans and forests will only continue to provide us with food and other benefits if we preserve their capacity to do so.”

Numbers of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), the world’s largest living fish, have more than halved over the last 75 years as these slow-moving sharks continue to be fished and killed by ship propellers. [cf. Firefly populations are blinking out globally – ‘Everyone is reporting declines’]

The ancient silk road town of Dunghuang in North Western China, which is fed by water from glaciers. Photo: Wayne McAllister

Crisis on high: In the Himalayas, a climate disaster is unfolding that will impact the lives of more than 1 billion people

25 July 2016 (ABC News) – Deep in the Himalayas sits a remote research station that is tracking an alarming trend in climate change, with implications that could disrupt the lives of more than one billion people and pitch the most populated region of the world into chaos.

The station lies in the heart of a region called the Third Pole, an area that contains the largest area of frozen water outside of the North Pole and South Pole.

Despite its relative anonymity, the Third Pole is vitally important; it is the source of Asia's 10 largest rivers including the Yellow, the Yangzi, the Mekong, the Irrawaddy, and the Ganges — and their fertile deltas.

Flows from the glaciers that give the pole its name support roughly 1.3 billion people in China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan — and the glaciers are melting fast.

Zombie carbon emissions haunt the planet – ‘We’re losing the ability to really solve the climate crisis’

28 July 2016 (Bloomberg) – Deforestation in the Amazon region dropped by 30 percent  from 2005 to 2010, sparing trees that soak up carbon dioxide. A big win in the fight against climate change, right?

Maybe not big enough to save the planet, or the species on it.

After trees are cut down, they gradually decay, releasing carbon, degrading the habitat, and threatening species long after the cutting stops. These lagging emissions have an important impact on the battle against global warming, a study released today in the journal Current Biology finds. Even with the 30 percent reduction in Amazon deforestation, there was only a 10 percent decrease in carbon emissions, the researchers found.

And even if tropical deforestation had ended altogether in 2010, there would still be 8.6 petagrams (10 to the 12th kilograms) of emissions released into the atmosphere as trees decomposed, the equivalent of five to 10 years of global deforestation. That's roughly the annual amount of total global emissions, said Abigail Swann, a University of Washington professor who studies climate change and who wasn't involved in the study.

Those lagging emissions are lethal. Researchers found that 144 vertebrate species became extinct due to tropical deforestation from 1950 to 2009, about 20 percent more than a previous estimate of extinctions in forest-specific vertebrate groups since 1900. As with trees, species losses occur gradually as habitats change, the researchers found.

August 2016

The U.S. Pacific coast witnessed record numbers of dead Cassin's auklets during the record-breaking marine heatwave winter of 2015-2016. Nicknamed 'the blob', it was arguably the biggest marine heatwave ever seen. Photo: D. Derickson / COASST

‘The blob’: how marine heatwaves are causing unprecedented chaos in ocean ecosystems

14 August 2016 (Guardian) – First seabirds started falling out of the sky, washing up on beaches from California to Canada.

Then emaciated and dehydrated sea lion pups began showing up, stranded and on the brink of death.

A surge in dead whales was reported in the same region, and that was followed by the largest toxic algal bloom in history seen along the Californian coast. Mixed among all that there were population booms of several marine species that normally aren’t seen surging in the same year.

Plague, famine, pestilence, and death were sweeping the northern Pacific Ocean between 2014 and 2015.

This chaos was caused by a single massive heatwave, unlike anything ever seen before. But it was not the sort of heatwave we are used to thinking about, where the air gets thick with warmth. This occurred in the ocean, where the effects are normally hidden from view.

Nicknamed “the blob”, it was arguably the biggest marine heatwave ever seen. It may have been the worst but wide-scale disruption from marine heatwaves is increasingly being seen all around the globe, with regions such as Australia seemingly being hit with more than their fair share. [cf. The blob that cooked the Pacific Ocean; Huge puffin die-off linked to record-high Bering Sea temperatures; In warming ocean, record number of seals and sea lions sicken and starve]

More than a quarter of India’s land is turning to desert – ‘There is no coherent plan to reverse this process or its impact’

CHENNAI, India, 18 August 2016 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – More than a quarter of India's land is turning to desert and the rate of degradation of agricultural areas is increasing, according to new analysis of satellite images.

A report [pdf] from the Indian Space Research Organization says land degradation - broadly defined as loss of productivity - is estimated at 96 million hectares, or nearly 30 percent of Indian land.

"As a country we should be more than alarmed by this data," said S. Janakarajan, chairman of the South Asia Consortium for Inter-disciplinary Water Resources Studies.

"There is no coherent plan to reverse this process or its impact."

Simulated rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations during the most recent deglaciation event, resulting from the release of a Southern Ocean carbon pool (red line) and the breakdown of the permafrost and Southern Ocean carbon pools (blue line). Inclusion of the permafrost carbon pool results in a better match with CO2 reconstructions from the EPICA Dome C ice core (black diamonds), suggesting a plausible role of permafrost carbon in the deglacial CO2 rise during the Mystery Interval. The error bars are the 2σ error estimates taken from the EPICA Dome C ice core data. Graphic: Crichton, et al., 2016 / Nature Geoscience

Permafrost carbon: Catalyst for deglaciation

22 August 2016 (Nature Geoscience) – Between 17,500 and 14,500 years ago, a period sometimes referred to as the Mystery Interval1, atmospheric CO2 concentrations began their post-glacial rise from about 190 ppm in glacial times to approximately 270 ppm by the beginning of the Holocene. The rise in CO2 during the Mystery Interval is associated with large negative anomalies in the carbon isotopic composition of CO2 (refs 2,3). These anomalies suggest that a long-isolated carbon pool that was formed from a biological source was released to the atmosphere. A large pool of old 13C-depleted carbon in the Southern Ocean has been invoked as the source, but questions over the timing and magnitude of this release remain. Writing in Nature Geoscience, Crichton and colleagues5 report evidence from numerical simulations that suggest the primary source of the deglacial carbon during the Mystery Interval was instead a permafrost carbon pool.

The Anthropocene is here: Scientists recommend naming a new geological epoch as humans ‘permanently reconfigure Earth’s biological trajectory’

29 August 2016 (AFP) – The human impact on Earth's chemistry and climate has cut short the 11,700-year-old geological epoch known as the Holocene and ushered in a new one, scientists said Monday.

The Anthropocene, or "new age of man," would start from the mid-20th century if their recommendation—submitted Monday to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa—is adopted.

"Our working model is that the optimal boundary is the mid-20th century," said Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester.

If it can't be measured in rocks, lake sediments, ice cores, or other such formations—the criteria used to determine dozens of distinct eons, era, periods and ages going back four billion years—it doesn't count.

This, however, is not a problem when it comes to the Anthropocene, said Zalasiewicz.

"We are spoiled for choice," he told AFP. "There's a whole array of potential signals out there."

Micro-plastics, for example—a synthetic, man-made substance—"are now components of sediment around the world, both in land and in the sea."

September 2016

Deforestation reducing monsoon rainfall in India

2 September 2016 ( – Around 80 percent of India’s annual rainfall comes from the Indian summer monsoon, spanning from June to September. But deforestation over the past few decades has caused the summer monsoon to weaken, resulting in a considerable decline in rainfall, concludes the study published in Scientific Reports.

“Monsoon is believed to be a product of large scale atmospheric circulation,” co-author Subimal Ghosh, associate professor at the Department of Civil Engineering in IIT Bombay, told Mongabay. “But our study found that there are local factors such as changes in land use and land cover that lead to changes in monsoon rainfall. These local changes are in our hands, and because of them there has been a significant reduction in rainfall over two major regions, the Ganga basin and northeast India. That is really alarming.” [cf. Study: climate change warming Asian waters, altering monsoon]

Four out of six great ape species one step away from extinction – Updated IUCN list shows ‘just how quickly the global extinction crisis is escalating’

Honolulu, Hawai'i, 4 September 2016 (IUCN) – The Eastern Gorilla – the largest living primate – has been listed as Critically Endangered due to illegal hunting, according to the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ released today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress taking place in Hawai’i. Four out of six great ape species are now Critically Endangered – only one step away from going extinct – with the remaining two also under considerable threat of extinction.

Today’s IUCN Red List update also reports the decline of the Plains Zebra due to illegal hunting, and the growing extinction threat to Hawaiian plants posed by invasive species. Thirty eight of the 415 endemic Hawaiian plant species assessed for this update are listed as Extinct and four other species have been listed as Extinct in the Wild, meaning they only occur in cultivation.

Larger marine animals at higher risk of extinction, and humans are to blame

14 September 2016 (Stanford University) – An unprecedented pattern of extinction in the oceans today that selectively targets large-bodied animals over smaller creatures is likely driven by human fishing, according to a new Stanford-led study.

“We’ve found that extinction threat in the modern oceans is very strongly associated with larger body size,” said Jonathan Payne, a paleobiologist at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “This is most likely due to people targeting larger species for consumption first.”

Earth now warmest it’s been in 120,000 years

WASHINGTON, 26 September 2016 (AP) – A new study paints a picture of an Earth that is warmer than it has been in about 120,000 years, and is locked into eventually hitting its hottest mark in more than 2 million years.

October 2016

No country on Earth is taking the 2 degree climate target seriously

4 October 2016 (Vox) – Are any of the countries that signed the Paris agreement taking the actions necessary to achieve that target?

No. The US is not. Nor is the world as a whole.

The actions necessary to hold to 2 degrees, much less 1.5 degrees, are simply outside the bounds of conventional politics in most countries. Anyone who proposed them would sound crazy, like they were proposing, I don’t know, a war or something.

So we say 2 degrees is unacceptable. But we don’t act like it is.

This cognitive dissonance is brought home yet again in a new report from Oil Change International (in collaboration with a bunch of green groups). It’s about fossil fuels and how much of them we can afford to dig up and burn, if we’re serious about what we said in Paris. It’s mostly simple math, but the implications are vast and unsettling. [cf. Climate change pledges not nearly enough to save tropical ecosystems]

Equipment for sampling methane emissions from the sea floor is deployed in the Laptev Sea. Photo: Tomsk Polytechnic University

Arctic methane gas emission significantly increased since 2014 – ‘The rate of degradation of underwater permafrost has increased’

4 October 2016 (Siberian Times) – A new expedition in the Laptev Sea suggests an increase in the rate of underwater permafrost degradation.

The findings come from an expedition now underway led by Professor Igor Semiletov, of Tomsk Polytechnic University, on the research vessel Academic M.A. Lavrentyev which left Tiksi on 24 September 2016 on a 40-day mission. 

The seeping of methane from the sea floor is greater than in previous research in the same area, notably carried out between 2011 and 2014. 

“The area of spread of methane mega-emissions has significantly increased in comparison with the data obtained in the period from 2011 to 2014,” he said. “These observations may indicate that the rate of degradation of underwater permafrost has increased.” [cf. Permafrost thaw has increased by more than 400 percent in some Arctic regions]

Feeding 10 billion people by 2050 will require 4 million hectares of new land each year: UN

18 October 2016 (UN) – The head of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification told delegations gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, to assess the treaty’s implementation, the impacts of land degradation affect the sustainability of the entire world, so a global effort is needed to tackle it, including through the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Monique Barbut, the Executive Secretary of the Convention, known by its acronym UNCCD, opened meeting by stressing: “Ignoring land degradation neutrality (LDN) could be political suicide.”

Moreover, she stressed that LDN remains a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target – under Goal 15 – and populations will experience real benefits in terms of climate change, rural employment and food security.

“Ten billion people on Earth by 2050 will require food production to increase by 70 per cent, and that means expansion and exploitation of at least four million hectares of new land each year,” she said. However, there are only two billion hectares of degraded land at our disposal, 500 million of which can be restored, she added. In order to recover the ecosystems and feed the entire population, just 300 million hectares need to be restored.

One billion trees felled in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest now 10 million hectares of abandoned pasture

5 October 2016 (Época) – One of the strongest arguments to end deforestation in Brazil is the existence of abundant land already cleared and abandoned. The area already deforested and abandoned in Brazil is equivalent to the states of Parana, Rio Grande do Sul, and Santa Catarina added. That is, we have a territory of South size already open country and not used. Most of it is abandoned pasture. These are called dirty pastures.

The latest survey by Embrapa and Inpe points to the existence of 10 million hectares of these pastures abandoned in the Amazon. The researcher Paulo Barreto made a survey of how this area means environmental damage. According to him, the abandoned Amazon pasture represented the burning of 1 billion trees. This put into the atmosphere carbon dioxide equivalent to 36 years of emissions of all cars in Brazil - using a fleet of 50 million cars in 2015 as a reference.

November 2016

A reconstruction of the Earth's global mean temperature over the last 784,000 years, on the left of the graph, followed by a projection to 2100 based on new calculations of the climate's sensitivity to greenhouse gases. Graphic: Friedrich, et al., 2016 / Science Advances

Study finds climate sensitivity to carbon forcing has been underestimated – ‘Significantly larger values are attained during warm phases’

11 November 2016 (Independent) – It is a vision of a future so apocalyptic that it is hard to even imagine.

But, if leading scientists writing in one of the most respected academic journals are right, planet Earth could be on course for global warming of more than seven degrees Celsius within a lifetime.

And that, according to one of the world’s most renowned climatologists, could be “game over” – particularly given the imminent presence of climate change denier Donald Trump in the White House.

In a paper in the journal Science Advances, they said the actual range could be between 4.78C to 7.36C by 2100, based on one set of calculations.

102 million dead California trees ‘unprecedented in our modern history’

18 November 2016 (Los Angeles Times) – The number of dead trees in California’s drought-stricken forests has risen dramatically to more than 102 million in what officials described as an unparalleled ecological disaster that heightens the danger of massive wildfires and damaging erosion.

Officials said they were alarmed by the increase in dead trees, which they estimated to have risen by 36 million since the government’s last survey in May. The U.S. Forest Service, which performs such surveys of forest land, said Friday that 62 million trees have died this year alone.

“The scale of die-off in California is unprecedented in our modern history,” said Randy Moore, the forester for the region of the U.S. Forest Service that includes California. Trees are dying “at a rate much quicker than we thought.”

Scientists say five years of drought are to blame for much of the destruction. The lack of rain has put California’s trees under considerable stress, making them more susceptible to the organisms, such as beetles, that can kill them.  Unusually high temperatures have added to the trees’ demand for water, exacerbating an already grim situation.

Climate models: each 1°C increase in global temperature reduces global wheat production by average of 5.7 percent

23 November 2016 (PhysOrg) – Three independent methods of modelling climate change impact on yield display the same bleak tendency: When global temperature increases, wheat yield will decline. This is demonstrated in a study carried out by an international group scientists, including Professor Joergen E. Olesen and Postdoc Mohamed Jabloun from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University.

December 2016

Most of Greenland ice melted to bedrock in recent geologic past – ‘Unfortunately, this makes the Greenland ice sheet look highly unstable’

7 December 2016 (Columbia University) – Scientists have found evidence in a chunk of bedrock drilled from nearly two miles below the summit of the Greenland Ice Sheet that the ice nearly disappeared for an extended time in the last million years or so. The finding casts doubt on assumptions that Greenland has been relatively stable during the recent geological past, and implies that global warming could tip it into decline more precipitously than previously thought. Such a decline could cause rapid sea-level rise. The findings appear this week in the leading journal Nature.

The rising transnational environmental crime smuggling networks, including ivory and rhino horns, wood and wood products, heroin and cocaine, migrant trafficking, and human trafficking. Graphic: UNEP

Environmental crime threatens peace and security – Global environmental crime valued up to $258 billion annually

WASHINGTON, D.C., 8 December 2016 (UNEP) – More than 80 per cent of countries consider environmental crime a national priority, with the majority saying new and more sophisticated criminal activities increasingly threaten peace and security.

INTERPOL and UN Environment surveyed close to 70 countries for their new joint report, Environment, Peace and Security? A Convergence of Threats [pdf], released today at the Law, Justice and Development Week 2016 hosted by the World Bank in Washington DC.

The report focuses on the links between global environmental crime, valued at USD 91 - 258 billion annually, and other criminal activities, including organized crime and terrorism.

More than 60 per cent of surveyed countries stated they were witnessing new environmental crimes or modus operandi, indicating growing sophistication and adaptation by transnational organized crime groups.

In addition, 84 per cent reported a convergence with other serious crimes, such as corruption (42 per cent), counterfeiting (39 per cent), drug trafficking (36 per cent), cybercrime (23 per cent) and financial crime (17 per cent).

INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: "Environmental crime is transnational in scope and insidious in nature. It robs governments of much-needed revenues, people of their livelihoods, and communities of peace and security. The international community needs to support a comprehensive approach by following rhetoric with action, policy with implementation and law with enforcement."

Giraffes suffer ‘silent extinction’ in Africa – ‘Many species are slipping away before we can even describe them’

OSLO, Norway, 8 December 2016 (Reuters) – Giraffe numbers have declined by as much as 40 percent since the 1980s in a "silent extinction" driven by illegal hunting and an expansion of farmland in Africa, the Red List of endangered species reported.

Populations of the world's tallest land creature fell to about 98,000 from an estimated 152,000-163,000 in 1985, according to the List compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

INFORM risk index for African nations in the Sahel region, September 2016. INFORM is a composite index for risk management that identifies countries at a high risk of humanitarian crisis which are more likely to require international assistance. The index envisages three dimensions of risk: hazards & exposure, vulnerability and lack of coping capacity dimensions. Graphic: UN

UN launches $2.66 billion appeal for emergency assistance in Sahel region

7 December 2016 (UN) – The United Nations and its partner non-governmental organizations today launched an appeal for $2.66 billion to provide emergency assistance across eight countries in the Sahel region, where “millions of people still live in conditions of deplorable human suffering.”

“The Sahel faces considerable challenges and will remain the site of one of the world's major humanitarian operations in 2017,” stated UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer, in a news release on the appeal, which aims to cover the needs of 15 million people across Africa's Sahel region, which includes Chad, Mali, Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Senegal.

He said the lives and livelihoods of millions of suffering people in the region will be at stake unless the humanitarian community, governments and donors renew their engagement to assist and protect those in urgent need and help these communities become less vulnerable to shocks.


  1. Rusdy Simano said...

    Thanks for the summary, I simply love bad news!  

  2. Anonymous said...




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