Frightening’ number of plant extinctions found in global survey

Study shows 571 species wiped out, and scientists say figure is likely to be big underestimate

” One of these [creation] stories sustains the living systems on which we depend. One of these stories opens the way to living in gratitude and amazement at the richness and generosity of the world. One of the stories asks us to bestow our own gifts in kind to celebrate our kinship with the world.  We can choose. If all the world is a commodity, how poor we grow. When all the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass


Maria Vorontsova: ‘We take them for granted and I don’t think we should.’ Photograph: Kew Gardens

Human destruction of the living world is causing a “frightening” number of plant extinctions, according to scientists who have completed the first global analysis of the issue.

They found 571 species had definitely been wiped out since 1750 but with knowledge of many plant species still very limited the true number is likely to be much higher. The researchers said the plant extinction rate was 500 times greater now than before the industrial revolution, and this was also likely to be an underestimate.

“Plants underpin all life on Earth,” said Dr Eimear Nic Lughadha, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who was part of the team. “They provide the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat, as well as making up the backbone of the world’s ecosystems – so plant extinction is bad news for all species.”

The number of plants that have disappeared from the wild is more than twice the number of extinct birds, mammals and amphibians combined. The new figure is also four times the number of extinct plants recorded in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list.

“It is way more than we knew and way more than should have gone extinct,” said Dr Maria Vorontsova, also at Kew. “It is frightening not just because of the 571 number but because I think that is a gross underestimate.”

She said the true extinction rate for plants could easily be orders of magnitude higher than that reported in the study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. There are thousands of “living dead” plant species, where the last survivors have no chance of reproducing because, for example, only one sex remains or the big animals needed to spread their seeds are extinct. MORE

Grassroots movement to address climate crisis


Organic farmer Brenda Hsueh introduces the Green New Deal to people in her barn at Black Sheep Farm outside of Scone. PAT CARSON

The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres does not talk about climate change, he talks about a “climate crisis,” adding that “we face a direct existential threat.”

The Paris Agreement on climate was signed by 195 nations, including Canada, in 2017. On April 2, 2019 the Government of Canada announced in a news release that Canada’s climate is warming twice as fast as the global average. The report added that Canadians are experiencing the costs of climate-related extremes first hand, from devastating wildfires and flooding to heat waves and droughts.

In January of 2019, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) reported that climate change is linked to depression, anxiety and stress disorders in Canada.

There is a grassroots movement afoot to address the climate crisis in Canada and it’s called the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is a political idea to tackle the climate crisis.

There have been more than 150 Green New Deal town hall gatherings across Canada this month alone, in cities like Toronto and Vancouver and smaller communities like Barrie and Wiarton. On May 25 there was one in a barn on a farm outside of Scone on Grey Road 3.

“In part it comes out of the LEAP manifesto and a lot of different progressive groups wanting to push society to make changes, not just on climate issues, but on social justice issues too,” explained Brenda Hsueh, an organic farmer who hosted the event at Black Sheep Farm.

Hsueh decided to take up the challenge of hosting a town hall because as an organic farmer most of her work is done in isolation and she wanted to see who else in her community was as angry and frustrated with society’s lack of action on this major issue.

Twenty-four people from different walks of life and different ages, including several local organic farmers, showed up as concerned as Hsueh about the climate crisis and the need for action now.

The Green New Deal calls on workers, students, union members, migrants, community organizations and people all across the country to gather and design a plan for a safe and prosperous future for all. It is a vision of rapid, inclusive and far-reaching transition, to slash emissions, protect critical biodiversity and meet the demands of the multiple crises.

In her opening remarks, Hsueh asked people to be “mindful that we are gathered today on the traditional land of the Three Fire Confederacy of the Ojibway, Potawatomi and Odawa people.”

Before beginning small group discussions she explained the concept of “green line” statements as a way to identify what people want to see and support in communities and the country. “Red line” statements identify what people do not want to see or support. The statements might be about labour, Indigenous peoples, food, disabilities, public transportation, health, agriculture, war, youth and faith to name just a few social justice topics. MORE

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Biodiversity crisis is about to put humanity at risk, UN scientists to warn

Apart from human overconsumption, agriculture, transportation, and energy production are the clear drivers that are leading to mass extinction and threatening human well-being.

‘We are in trouble if we don’t act,’ say experts, with up to 1m species at risk of annihilation


Students protest in Adelaide. UN experts warned people alive today are at risk unless urgent action is taken. Photograph: Kelly Barnes/EPA

The world’s leading scientists will warn the planet’s life-support systems are approaching a danger zone for humanity when they release the results of the most comprehensive study of life on Earth ever undertaken.

Up to 1m species are at risk of annihilation, many within decades, according to a leaked draft of the global assessment report, which has been compiled over three years by the UN’s leading research body on nature.

The 1,800-page study will show people living today, as well as wildlife and future generations, are at risk unless urgent action is taken to reverse the loss of plants, insects and other creatures on which humanity depends for foodpollination, clean water and a stable climate.

“We need to appeal not just to environment ministers, but to those in charge of agriculture, transport and energy because they are the ones responsible for the drivers of biodiversity loss.”

“There is no question we are losing biodiversity at a truly unsustainable rate that will affect human wellbeing both for current and future generations,” he said. “We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development.” MORE

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Nature loss: Major report to highlight ‘natural and human emergency’

Scientists and government officials meet this week in Paris to finalise a key assessment on humanity’s relationship with nature.

KingfisherGetty Images

The Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, or IPBES, will issue the first report of this type since 2005. It will detail the past losses and future prospects for nature and humans. One author says the report will highlight the “social and ecological emergency” the world is now facing.

“I would say that this is the most comprehensive assessment on the state of nature and humanity’s place in it.” – Prof Sir Robert Watson, who chairs IPBES.

What exactly is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is just a sciencey word for all the amazing variety of life that can be found on Earth, their interactions with each other and with their environments.

bees
Image caption Pollination is one of the key services that nature provides to humans Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

It encompasses everything from genes, through individual species such as orang-utans, through communities of creatures and then the whole ecological complexes of which they are part.

Why does biodiversity matter to me?

Well, the air you breathe depends on plants producing oxygen, and without bees to pollinate crops, we wouldn’t have so many things to eat. Biodiversity helps provide and maintain our fresh water, fertile soils, our medicines, a stable climate and gives us places for recreation.

All species are interconnected and often depend on each other. So while fungi help maintain the soils of the forest, these healthy soils help plants to grow, insects then carry pollen from one plant to another, animals can eat the plants, and the forest as a whole provides a home for animals.

Losing one species in this chain may not seem like much but each loss weakens the connections that benefit us all. MORE

Reducing agricultural carbon emissions will be good for the planet and our stomachs

“If the Green New Deal takes an appropriately broad approach, it has the potential to massively improve environmental sustainability and social equity in farming. “

From soil microbes to factory farming, the Green New Deal could radically improve our food system

carrots and leeks
Marché aux Fleurs, Nice, France

For any group activity to be successful—whether it’s a school field-trip or a country’s entire economy—people must be well fed. Our health and well-being depend on quality food, which is why food security is so closely linked to success and prosperity, on both a local and national scale. But as world populations grow, agriculture has become heavily industrialized. This has led to amazing food availability, but has also hurt the environment—impacting not only local water and land resources, but also contributing to the global climate crisis.

The Green New Deal has gained widespread public support and, unlike previous attempts at climate change legislation, it takes a holistic view of industry in society, including the need for good jobs. But agriculture alone will be a tough industry to tackle.

In conversations about agricultural emissions, the elephant in the room is a cow. Emissions from cattle farms make up around 40 percent of agricultural methane pollution. A recent study suggests that to forestall climate catastrophe, global production and consumption of red meat will need to be cut by about 50 percent. The Canadian government recently released a Food Guide that encourages people to eat less meat, and it’s true that a big swing in consumer preferences would indirectly cause changes in how we farm. But the Green New Deal could target farmers directly with initiatives intended to change agricultural practices, shifting from raising meat to growing crops.

That said, even crop-growing farms have many and varied sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Microbial respiration in soil naturally produces CO2 and nitrous gases—but when plants grow, they take up carbon dioxide from the air and nitrogen from the soil, balancing the cycle. When farmers convert land from forest to farm, biodiversity among animals, plants, and microbes is lost, and this normal processes of biomass recycling get interrupted. When ground is left bare between crops, or turned over during tilling, soil erodes. This limits the land’s ability to hold water, and releases further greenhouse gases.

But there are alternative land management practices, like no-till farming, that may help reduce these kinds of emissions. (Although there is still some controversy regarding the effect of no-till on carbon emissions, there is at least strong evidence that it’s good for soil and therefore good for farmers).

Although still short on policy details, advocates of the Green New Deal suggest that it should focus on the use of ‘green’ approaches in agriculture. As others have noted, this should include abolishing the factory farming of animals and encouraging investment in more efficient infrastructure that improves land and water footprints. For example, financial incentives could help encourage a mixed crop-livestock model, where a single farm both rears animals and grows crops. Manure from the animals can be used to fertilize the fields, and plant waste from the harvest can be used for animal bedding and bioenergy generation. If the animals are also given feed produced on-site, there’s a built-in cycling of biological material (and the carbon it contains), and very little need to import organic or synthetic fertilizers onto the farm. This idea of “circular agriculture” eventually improves the quality of the manure the animals produce, and therefore the soil fertility as well. Legislation in the Green New Deal could help promote this kind of farming by establishing legal limits on chemical fertilizer, either by acre of farmland, or by the amount of crops produced. MORE

Extinction Rebellion: Police begin second wave of arrests in London climate protests

Extinction Rebellion is an international protest group that uses non-violent civil disobedience to campaign on environmental issues. Demonstration have included blocking bridges to traffic in London and a semi-naked protest inside the House of Commons. The group says climate breakdown threatens all life on Earth, and so it is rebelling against politicians who ‘have failed us’, to provoke radical change that will stave off a climate emergency.

Unlike many other Canadian cities, Prince Edward County Council has yet to announce a climate emergency.

Extinction Rebellion activists continue action after more than 100 arrested overnight


Police officers start arresting Extinction Rebellion activists occupying Waterloo Bridge. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

Police have moved in again to begin arresting climate activists blocking Waterloo Bridge in central London.

Hundreds of people had occupied the crossing and three other sites in the capital since Monday morning.

Over Monday night, officers tried to clear the bridge, arresting 113 people, but the blockade remained in place. Just after 12.30pm on Tuesday, officers moved in again and began to carry people away.

The protests are part of a global campaign organised by the British climate group Extinction Rebellion, with demonstrations planned in 80 cities across 33 countries in the coming days.

The group has called on the UK government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a citizens’ assembly to devise an emergency plan of action to tackle climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. MORE

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The rise of the rights of nature

Image result for Share The rise of the rights of nature

A global movement to give nature rights is growing in the face of a mass extinction eventdriven by climate change and human over-use of the natural world.

Recent assessments show one third of freshwater fish species under threat of extinction alongside at least one quarter of local livestock breeds, and large numbers of the bees, bats and birds which pollinate crops. Linked to the decline of species, in the last two decades alone around 20 percent of the land we use to grow food has become less productive. Responding to these and other threats to nature, as well as high-profile campaigns like Extinction Rebellion, initiatives are increasingly taking root from the United States to India, and Ecuador to Bolivia, Turkey and Nepal, that give rights to nature.

They aim to respect and protect the living environment, and change how human society relates to its own supporting biosphere. In February 2019 voters in Toledo, Ohio, approved a ballot to give Lake Erie, suffering heavy pollution, rights normally associated with a person. But the story which brought this shift to international attention was the tale of a river in New Zealand.

On March 20th, 2017, the New Zealand government passed legislation recognizing the Whanganui River as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. The river – or those acting for it – will now be able to sue for its own protection under the law. This was no overnight innovation; it was the culmination of two centuries of physical and legal struggle by the Whanganui people against colonial control of the river and its water, including eight years of intensive negotiation.

The final settlement is considered one of the best examples of using existing legal structures and concepts to protect nature. It also prescribes an unusually advanced form of collaborative governance that may inspire others and prove useful for rapid transition in the face of climate change. Accepting a non human part of nature as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift away from placing humanity at the centre of everything. This understanding could generate other legal changes handing power to other parts of our natural world. MORE

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Europe’s forests threatened by biodiversity collapse, warn campaigners

Logging in Poland’s Vistula lagoon described by experts as part of a ‘war on nature’ across the continent’s ancient forests

Logging in Białowieża Forest in PolandLogging in the Białowieża Forest in Poland. Photograph: Adam Bohdan/Wild Poland Foundation

A logging operation at Poland’s spectacular 55-mile-long Vistula lagoon is casting a “dark omen” of deforestation and biodiversity collapse across Europe’s forests, campaigners say.

Tree felling around the Natura 2000 site is aimed at clearing a path to the Baltic Sea for use by Poland’s navy, to the alarm of Russia. But they are just one front in what some academics describe as a war on nature.

Campaigners blame the EU’s own use of biomass to meet most of its renewable energy goals for encouraging logging in Europe’s virgin forests.

The EU expects to lose about 125m tonnes of carbon sequestration potential from forests between 2010 and 2030, with countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Austria transforming from carbon sinks to carbon sources.

Poland still hopes to clear swathes of the Białowieża Forest, and several other ancient woodlands are also under threat across central and eastern Europe, with potential effects on Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. MORE

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B.C. approves 314 new cutblocks in endangered caribou habitat over last five months

Image result for B.C. approves 314 new cutblocks in endangered caribou habitat over last five months
As more caribou populations flicker out, and pressure mounts on the province to protect the species’ habitat, logging approvals have almost quadrupled since mid-October

The B.C. government approved 314 new logging cutblocks in the critical habitat of southern mountain caribou over the past five months, while simultaneously negotiating conservation plans to protect the highly endangered species, according to maps released Thursday by the Wilderness Committee.

The new cutblocks cover almost 16,000 hectares in total, an area almost eight times the size of the city of Victoria.

The Wilderness Committee discovered a sharp spike in logging approvals in the critical habitat of B.C.’s eight most imperilled caribou herds, where last October the group documented an additional 83 new cutblocks covering an area the equivalent of 11 Stanley Parks in size.

“On the one hand B.C. says it’s protecting caribou while on the other they’re handing out permits to log habitat as fast as they can,” said Charlotte Dawe, the Wilderness Committee’s conservation and policy campaigner.

“It’s as if the B.C. government is holding a clear out sale for logging companies to ‘get it while you can!’ It’s the great caribou con from our very own B.C. government.” MORE

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