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News articles on bold and dangerous ideas that may save the world
Mongabay.com news articles on bold and dangerous ideas that may save the world in blog format. Updated regularly.
How remote sensing could change conservation forever
(11/18/2014) Remote sensing has changed the way we see our planet. And it has the power to change how we do conservation work, according to a new paper in Conservation Biology. Written by 32 scientists from organizations as diverse as NASA and the Jane Goodall Institute, the paper highlights ten areas where conservation efforts could benefit from remote sensing data.
Climate coup: Rockefeller announces they are dropping fossil fuel investments
(09/22/2014) In 1870, John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company. Rapidly becoming the world's largest oil refiner, Standard made Rockefeller a billionaire and one of the world's greatest philanthropists. 144 years later and John D. Rockefeller's descendants have announced they are stripping fossil fuels from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a private charity with around $860 million in assets.
Over half a million people march for climate action worldwide, shattering turnout predictions
(09/22/2014) Around 570,000 people took part in marches around the world yesterday calling for action on climate change. By far the largest event was in New York City, which had been dubbed the biggest climate march in history weeks before. Organizers estimate that 400,000 people showed up to the march in Manhattan, shattering predictions.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Harness the power of marketing
(09/11/2014) As a whole, conservationists have been slow to adapt the strategies of marketing or to market conservation at all. Dr. Diogo Veríssimo, a researcher who works at the interface between social and natural sciences, with a focus on behavior change and evidence-based conservation, thinks this needs to change.
World's rainforests could be mapped in 3D at high resolution by 2020 for under $250M
(09/05/2014) Mapping the world's tropical forests with a fleet of airplanes outfitted with advanced LiDAR could rapidly and accurately assess global forest carbon stocks for a fraction of the cost of a typical Earth observation satellite mission — and far less than field-based sampling — argues a new paper published in Carbon Balance and Management.
Saving the Atlantic Forest would cost less than 'Titanic'
(08/28/2014) Want to save the world's most imperiled biodiversity hotspot? You just need a down payment of $198 million. While that may sound like a lot, it's actually less than it cost to make the film, Titanic. A new study published today in Science finds that paying private landowners to protect the Atlantic Forest would cost Brazil just 6.5 percent of what it currently spends ever year on agricultural subsidies.
Why conservationists need a little hope: saving themselves from becoming the most depressing scientists on the planet
(08/19/2014) Here's a challenge: take a conservationist out for a drink and ask them about their work. Nine times out of ten—or possibly more—you'll walk away feeling frustrated, despondent, and utterly hopeless. Yet a few conservation scientist are not just trying to save species from extinction, but also working to save their field—their life's work—from slipping into total despair.
It's not just extinction: meet defaunation
(07/24/2014) Get ready to learn a new word: defaunation. Fauna is the total collection of animals—both in terms of species diversity and abundance—in a given area. So, defaunation, much like deforestation, means the loss of animals in all its myriad forms, including extinction, extirpation, or population declines.
Only 15 percent of world's biodiversity hotspots left intact
(07/14/2014) The world's 35 biodiversity hotspots—which harbor 75 percent of the planet's endangered land vertebrates—are in more trouble than expected, according to a sobering new analysis of remaining primary vegetation. In all less than 15 percent of natural intact vegetation is left in the these hotspots, which include well-known jewels such as Madagascar, the tropical Andes, and Sundaland.
Next big idea in forest conservation? The 'double-edged sword' of democracy
(07/03/2014) Dr. Douglas Sheil considers himself an ecologist, but his research includes both conservation and management of tropical forests. Currently teaching at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) Sheil has authored and co-authored over 200 publications including scholarly articles, books, and popular articles on the subject.
Unrelenting population growth driving global warming, mass extinction
(06/26/2014) It took humans around 200,000 years to reach a global population of one billion. But, in two hundred years we've septupled that. In fact, over the last 40 years we've added an extra billion approximately every dozen years. And the United Nations predicts we'll add another four billion—for a total of 11 billion—by century's end.
Discarded cell phones to help fight rainforest poachers, loggers in real-time
(06/24/2014) A technology that uses discarded mobile phones to create a real-time alert system against logging and poaching will soon be deployed in the endangered rainforests of Central Africa. Rainforest Connection (RFCx), a San Francisco-based non-profit startup, is partnering with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to install its real-time anti-deforestation technology at sites in Cameroon. 30 RFCx devices — recycled from old Android handsets — will monitor 10,000 hectares or nearly 40 square miles of rainforest, listening for audio signals associated with logging and poaching.
In cutting deforestation, Brazil leads world in reducing emissions
(06/05/2014) Brazil's success in reducing deforestation in the world's largest rainforest has been much heralded, but progress may stall unless farmers, ranchers and other land users in the region are provided incentives to further improve the environmental sustainability of their operations, argues a study published this week in the journal Science.
Happy Amazon: $215 million raised for world's largest protected area network
(05/21/2014) By all standards the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) program is gargantuan: the network includes over 90 parks, covers 51 million hectares, and comprises 15 percent of Brazil's Amazon. But protecting an area bigger than Spain isn't cheap or easy. Today, a broad coalition of government donors and private funders have announced $215 million to secure ARPA over the next 25 years.
APP commits to conserve, restore 1M ha of Indonesian forest; WWF pledges support
(04/28/2014) Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), Indonesia's largest pulp and paper company and a long-time target of environmental campaigners, has committed to protect and restore a million hectares of forest across Indonesia. The pledge, which represents an area equivalent to the total plantation area from which it sourced pulp in 2013, was immediately welcomed by WWF, which until today has remained one of APP's staunchest critics.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Crowdsourced forest monitoring
(04/25/2014) In the Brazilian Amazon, deforestation alerts are being submitted via smartphones. On the ground technicians send alerts to a database stored in 'the cloud.' This information is added to maps, which, along with satellite imagery, are used to inform law enforcement. And the speed of this process is getting real results.
Climate change solution? UN touts ambitious (but cheap) investment in renewable energy
(04/14/2014) The world is warming rapidly due to greenhouse gas emissions, threatening everything from our food supply to our ecosystems, but the solution may be surprisingly cheap, according to the third and final report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report recommends a rapid and aggressive switch from fossil fuel-based energy to renewables.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Quantifying the cost of forest degradation
(03/27/2014) How much is a forest really worth? And what is the cost of forest degradation? These values are difficult to estimate, but according to Dr. Phillip Fearnside, we need to do a better job. For nearly forty years, Fearnside has lived in Amazonia doing ecological research, looking at the value of forests in terms of environmental or ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water cycling, and biodiversity preservation. Fearnside then works to convert these services into a basis for sustainable development for rural populations.
Mother of God: meet the 26 year old Indiana Jones of the Amazon, Paul Rosolie
(03/17/2014) Not yet 30, Paul Rosolie has already lived a life that most would only dare dream of—or have nightmares over, depending on one's constitution. With the Western Amazon as his panorama, Rosolie has faced off jaguars, wrestled anacondas, explored a floating forest, mentored with indigenous people, been stricken by tropical disease, traveled with poachers, and hand-reared a baby anteater. It's no wonder that at the ripe age of 26, Rosolie was already written a memoir: Mother of God.
Offshore wind farms could blunt hurricane damage
(02/28/2014) Massive offshore wind turbine arrays would reduce hurricane wind speeds and storm surge, reports a study published this week in Nature Climate Change. And while the size (tens of thousands of turbines) and cost (hundreds of billions of dollars) is difficult to imagine, the reduction in storm damage and value of electricity produced would effectively bring the price tag to zero according to the study authors.
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013
(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.
Using stories to connect people to biodiversity: an interview with Tara Waters Lumpkin, PhD
(12/18/2013) In a world where extinctions are almost commonplace and global warming barely raises an eyebrow, very few of us can return to find the places we grew up in unsullied by development. Sometimes, all that is left of a favorite grove of trees or strip of forest are memories. Through Izilwane: Voices for Biodiversity Project, an online magazine for story-tellers, Tara Waters Lumpkin has succeeded in bringing together more than one hundred "eco-writers" who have shared their memories, highlighted environmental crises in their localities and raised their voices against habitat destruction.
Redeeming REDD: a conversation with Michael Brown
(11/11/2013) In Redeeming REDD: Policies, Incentives and Social Feasibility for Avoided Deforestation, anthropologist Michael Brown relays a constructive critique of the contemporary aims, standards and modalities for mitigating climate change by reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). Brown advocates for REDD as a viable mechanism for the long-term pro-poor conservation and restoration of tropical forests as well—but only if local forest dwellers and Indigenous. Peoples can join the negotiating table and act as forest stewards. Local people must first be empowered to make 'socially feasible' decisions that are necessary for their livelihoods and well-being. In other words, there can be no environmentalism without credible local leadership, which requires investment in capacity building at the local level for sustainable institutions.
Could camera trap videos galvanize the world to protect Yasuni from oil drilling?
(11/07/2013) Even ten years ago it would have been impossible to imagine: clear-as-day footage of a jaguar plodding through the impenetrable Amazon, or a bicolored-spined porcupine balancing on a branch, or a troop of spider monkeys feeding at a clay lick, or a band of little coatis racing one-by-one from the dense foliage. These are things that even researchers who have spent a lifetime in the Amazon may never see. Now anyone can: scientists at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park have recently begun using camera trap videos to take movies of animals few will ever view in their lifetimes. The videos—following years of photo camera trapping—provide an intimate view of a world increasingly threatened by the oil industry.
Ecuador shelves big idea for saving the Amazon
(08/16/2013) The fate of the most biodiverse rainforest on Earth has been decided: it will be drilled for oil.
California's next innovation: performance-based rainforest conservation (Commentary)
(07/22/2013) Californians are known as innovation leaders, and once again, we are on the verge of demonstrating critical leadership. Only this time it isn’t about the Internet, social networking, reality television, venture capital or electric cars. It is about stopping tropical deforestation and supporting local communities. 'What!?' you say? How is the great state of California, home of bankrupt and massive, thirsty desert cities and Silicon Valley, a place that elected such juggernauts of history as Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, about to lead in avoiding tropical deforestation?
Featured video: could we rewild Britain with wolves and lions?
(07/07/2013) Environmentalist and journalist, George Mobiot, makes a passionate new plea for the controversial idea of rewilding parts of Europe in his new book Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding. Rewildling—a relatively recent idea—entails bringing back some of the animals (especially large ones) lost in parts of the world in order to restore ecosystems and, in Mobiot's view, retrieve a deeper connection between humans and the wild again.
After long wait, Obama lays out fight against climate change
(06/25/2013) Five years after being elected president and six months after winning a second term, President Obama today gave his first speech devoted solely to climate change and announced several executive actions to begin weaning the United States (historically the largest emitter of greenhouse gases) off fossil fuels. At Georgetown University today, Obama stated that his administration would expand renewable energy projects on federal lands, raise energy efficiency standards on appliances, and, most importantly, limit carbon pollution from both existing and new power plants, which represent about 40 percent of the U.S.'s emissions. Obama also noted that the U.S. would spearhead global efforts to combat climate change which is pushing sea levels higher, melting glaciers and sea ice, exacerbating fires, imperiling species, and worsening extreme weather worldwide.
Solving 'wicked problems': ten principles for improved environmental management
(06/23/2013) As agriculture continues to expand at the expense of forests in the tropics, humanity struggles to meet environmental protection goals. Despite global efforts towards sustainable agriculture and some progress towards the gazetting of protected areas, there are as yet no general and effective solutions for meeting both conservation goals and food needs, and thus the loss and degradation of natural habitats continues. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has estimated a 70% increase in food production will be needed by 2050 to feed a population that will exceed 9 billion. How can such food production be met in ways that conserve the environment while also alleviating poverty?
Building a new generation of local conservationists: how improving education in Uganda may save one of the world's great forests
(06/20/2013) Conservation work is often focused on the short-term: protecting a forest from an immediate threat, saving a species from pending extinction, or a restoring an ecosystem following degradation. While short-term responses are often borne of necessity, one could argue that long-term thinking in conservation and environmental work (as in all human endeavors) is woefully neglected, especially in the tropics. This is why programs like the Kasiisi Project are so important: by vastly improving education for primary kids near a threatened park in Uganda, the project hopes to create a "generation of committed rural conservationists," according to founder and director, Elizabeth Ross.
Over 500 scientists warn we 'are causing alarming levels of harm to our planet'
(05/27/2013) A new consensus statement by 520 scientists from around the world warns that global environmental harm is putting at risk the happiness and well-being of this and future generations.
China to begin cutting carbon emissions one city at a time
(05/23/2013) China has unveiled details of its first pilot carbon-trading program, which will begin next month in the southern city of Shenzhen. The trading scheme will cover 638 companies responsible for 38% of the city's total emissions, the Shenzhen branch of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced on Wednesday. The scheme will eventually expand to include transportation, manufacturing and construction companies.
Conservation without supervision: Peruvian community group creates and patrols its own protected area
(04/30/2013) When we think of conservation areas, many of us think of iconic National Parks overseen by uniformed government employees or wilderness areas purchased and run from afar by big-donor organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, or Conservation International. But what happens to ecosystems and wildlife in areas where there's a total lack of government presence and no money coming in for its protection? This is the story of one rural Peruvian community that took conservation matters into their own hands, with a little help from a dedicated pair of primate researchers, in order to protect a high biodiversity cloud forest.
What if companies actually had to compensate society for environmental destruction?
(04/29/2013) The environment is a public good. We all share and depend on clean water, a stable atmosphere, and abundant biodiversity for survival, not to mention health and societal well-being. But under our current global economy, industries can often destroy and pollute the environment—degrading public health and communities—without paying adequate compensation to the public good. Economists call this process "externalizing costs," i.e. the cost of environmental degradation in many cases is borne by society, instead of the companies that cause it. A new report from TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), conducted by Trucost, highlights the scale of the problem: unpriced natural capital (i.e. that which is not taken into account by the global market) was worth $7.3 trillion in 2009, equal to 13 percent of that year's global economic output.
Scientists a step closer toward creating biofuels directly from atmospheric CO2
(03/29/2013) Researchers have taken a step closer to using atmospheric carbon dioxide as a biofuel, potentially helping mitigate climate change while at the same time meeting rising energy demand, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Warnings of global ecological tipping points may be overstated
(03/05/2013) There's little evidence that the Earth is nearing a global ecological tipping point, according to a new Trends in Ecology and Evolution paper that is bound to be controversial. The authors argue that despite numerous warnings that the Earth is headed toward an ecological tipping point due to environmental stressors, such as habitat loss or climate change, it's unlikely this will occur anytime soon—at least not on land. The paper comes with a number of caveats, including that a global tipping point could occur in marine ecosystems due to ocean acidification from burning fossil fuels. In addition, regional tipping points, such as the Arctic ice melt or the Amazon rainforest drying out, are still of great concern.
Controversial research outlines physics behind how forests may bring rain
(01/30/2013) It took over two-and-a-half-years for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics to finally accept a paper outlining a new meteorological hypothesis in which condensation, not temperature, drives winds. If proven correct, the hypothesis could have massive ramifications on global policy—not to mention meteorology—as essentially the hypothesis means that the world's forest play a major role in driving precipitation from the coast into a continent's interior. The theory, known as the biotic pump, was first developed in 2006 by two Russian scientists, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva of the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics, but the two have faced major pushback and delays in their attempt to put the theory before the greater scientific community.
Paradigm shift needed to avert global environmental collapse, according to author of new book The Blueprint: Averting Global Collapse
(01/10/2013) Global strategist, trained educator, and international lecturer Daniel Rirdan set out to create a plan addressing the future of our planet. His book The Blueprint: Averting Global Collapse, published this year, does just that. "It has been a sixty hour a week routine," Rirdan told mongabay.com in a recent interview. "Basically, I would wake up with the burden of the world on my shoulders and go to sleep with it. It went on like this for eighteen months." It becomes apparent when reading The Blueprint that it was indeed a monumental undertaking.
Google puts $5M toward anti-poaching drone technology
(12/18/2012) Google.org, Google Corp's philanthropic arm, earlier this month pledged $5 million toward efforts combat wildlife poaching.
Replacing lemur meat with insect protein in Madagascar
(12/12/2012) Poaching is a major threat to endangered lemurs in some parts of Madagascar, but a group has come up with an innovative solution to the problem: replace lemur meat with silkworm pupae, a byproduct of silk production.
Unique program to leave oil beneath Amazonian paradise raises $300 million
(11/26/2012) The Yasuni-ITT Initiative has been called many things: controversial, ecological blackmail, revolutionary, pioneering, and the best chance to keep oil companies out of Ecuador's Yasuni National Park. But now, after a number of ups and downs, the program is beginning to make good: the Yasuni-ITT Initiative has raised $300 million, according to the Guardian, or 8 percent of the total amount needed to fully fund the idea.
Will we need to pull carbon out of the atmosphere to save ourselves?
(10/17/2012) This year saw the Arctic sea ice extent fall to a new and shocking low, while the U.S. experienced it warmest month ever on record (July), beating even Dust Bowl temperatures. Meanwhile, a flood of new research has convincingly connected a rise in extreme weather events, especially droughts and heatwaves, to global climate change, and a recent report by the DARA Group and Climate Vulnerability Forum finds that climate change contributes to around 400,000 deaths a year and costs the world 1.6 percent of its GDP, or $1.2 trillion. All this and global temperatures have only risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) since the early Twentieth Century. Scientists predict that temperatures could rise between 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) to a staggering 6.4 degrees Celsius (11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.
Saving the world's species from oblivion will cost around $80 billion a year, but still a good deal
(10/11/2012) If the world is to conserve its wealth of life—species great and small, beautiful and terrible, beloved and unknown—it will cost from $3.41-4.76 billion annually in targeted conservation funds, according to a new study in Science. But that's not all, the cost of protecting and managing the world's conservation areas was estimated at an additional $76.1 billion a year.
Recommendations to save India's Western Ghats creates political stir
(08/20/2012) A massive expert panel report on the conservation of the Western Ghats has caused a political stir in India. The report, headed by noted ecologist Madhav Gadgil, recommends that the government phase out mining projects, cancel damaging hydroelectric projects, and move toward organic agriculture in ecologically-sensitive sections of the Ghats. The report, which was leaked after the government refused to release it, has yet to be implemented. Recently dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Western Ghats is one of India's largest wildernesses and home to thousands of species, many found no-where else.
Prominent climate skeptic reverses course, says global warming worse than IPCC forecast
(07/30/2012) After starting his own project to study global warming, a once-prominent climate change skeptic and physicist says he now accepts the reality of anthropogenic climate change. "Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause," Richard Muller writes in the New York Times as his team, the Berkeley Earth Project, releases a new paper that finds an even stronger link between greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures worldwide than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The Human Quest: Prospering Within Planetary Boundaries – Book Review
(07/22/2012) Icarus, according to ancient Greek myth, attempted to escape Crete by flying using wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus willfully flew too close to the sun causing his wings to melt resulting in him falling into the sea and drowning.
Experts: sustainable logging in rainforests impossible
(07/19/2012) Industrial logging in primary tropical forests that is both sustainable and profitable is impossible, argues a new study in Bioscience, which finds that the ecology of tropical hardwoods makes logging with truly sustainable practices not only impractical, but completely unprofitable. Given this, the researchers recommend industrial logging subsidies be dropped from the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program. The study, which adds to the growing debate about the role of logging in tropical forests, counters recent research making the case that well-managed logging in old-growth rainforests could provide a "middle way" between conservation and outright conversion of forests to monocultures or pasture.
Scientists: iron fertilization could be a big climate help
(07/18/2012) For a long time, oceanic iron fertilization was seen as a promising mechanism to combat global climate change. But then in 2009 a well-publicized study found that iron fertilization stored 80 times less carbon than expected, dampening enthusiasm and support around the geoengineering scheme. Now, however, the idea of fertilizing the ocean with iron may be back: a new study in Nature reports that iron fertilization, in the right conditions, could store carbon in the deep ocean for centuries.
Indigenous tribes occupy Belo Monte dam for over 10 days
(07/03/2012) As of Tuesday, the occupation of Belo Monte dam by indigenous tribes entered its 13th day. Indigenous people, who have fought the planned Brazilian dam for decades, argue that the massive hydroelectric project on the Xingu River will devastate their way of life. According to a statement from the tribes, 17 indigenous villages from 13 ethnic groups are now represented at the occupation, which has successfully scuttled some work on the dam.
Cowards at Rio?: organizations decry 'pathetic' agreement
(06/20/2012) As world leaders head to Rio de Janeiro for the UN Summit on Sustainable Development, environmental and poverty groups are denouncing the last-minute text agreed on by dignitaries as "pathetic," (Greenpeace), a "damp squib" (Friends of the Earth), "a dead end" (Oxfam), and, if nothing changes, "a colossal waste of time" (WWF). "We were promised the 'future we want' but are now being presented with a 'common vision' of a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck the rain forests,“ the head of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, said. "This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty, it’s the last will and testament of a destructive twentieth century development model."
Rio+20 and economic perils in Europe: opportunity for linkage
(06/19/2012) This month, momentous events will occur on the global scene that will set the tone for whether 2012 will be a hopeful year or one in which dislocations and disconnects are further exacerbated by political failings. The EU will decide on its fiscal and monetary union that hinges on Greece’s recent June election, which backed the political party that wants to stay in the Euro zone, but insists on adjustments to the earlier-negotiated economic rescue package.
Scientists: if we don't act now we're screwed
(06/07/2012) Scientists warn that the Earth may be reaching a planetary tipping point due to a unsustainable human pressures, while the UN releases a new report that finds global society has made significant progress on only four environmental issues out of ninety in the last twenty years. Climate change, overpopulation, overconsumption, and ecosystem destruction could lead to a tipping point that causes planetary collapse, according to a new paper in Nature by 22 scientists. The collapse may lead to a new planetary state that scientists say will be far harsher for human well-being, let alone survival.
Want to stop climate change: buy fossil fuel deposits
(06/07/2012) Governments, NGOs, and others fighting climate change should consider buying coal and oil deposits—not to exploit them, but to keep them from being exploited, according to a bold new policy paper in the Journal of Political Economy. Economist Bard Harstad with the Kellogg School of Management argues that climate coalitions could quickly slash carbon emissions by purchasing and conserving marginal fossil fuel deposits, a strategy that would solve the current problem of carbon leakage, i.e. when cutting emissions in one place pushes others to burn more elsewhere. Given that carbon emissions rose to a new record last year—31.6 gigatons—and carbon has hit 400 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere for the first time in at least 800,000 years, Harstad's analysis comes at a time when scientists are warning that urgent and bold action is needed to mitigate global climate change before it becomes irreversible.
Scientists launch crowd-funding experiment for research projects
(05/12/2012) Seeking to capitalize on the crowd-funding trend, a pair of biologists this month launched the #SciFund Challenge to raise money for dozens of scientific projects.
Can loggers be conservationists?
(05/10/2012) Last year researchers took the first ever publicly-released video of an African golden cat (Profelis aurata) in a Gabon rainforest. This beautiful, but elusive, feline was filmed sitting docilely for the camera and chasing a bat. The least-known of Africa's wild cat species, the African golden cat has been difficult to study because it makes its home deep in the Congo rainforest. However, researchers didn't capture the cat on video in an untrammeled, pristine forest, but in a well-managed logging concession by Precious Woods Inc., where scientist's cameras also photographed gorillas, elephants, leopards, and duikers.
Organic yields lag behind industrial farming, but that's not the whole story
(04/26/2012) In general, industrial agriculture beats organic farming in yields, according to a comprehensive new study in Nature. The study adds new data to the sometimes heated debate of organic versus conventional farming. Proponents of organic farming argue that these practices are environmentally friendly, sustainable over the long-term, and provide a number of social goods. However, critics argue that organic farming requires more land, thereby increasing global deforestation, which offsets any other environmental benefits of organic food production. At stake is whether organic or conventional is capable of feeding the world's seven billion people (and rising), including increasing demand for energy-intensive foods like meat in the developing world.
Doing good and staying sane amidst the global environmental crisis
(04/23/2012) Several years ago while teaching a course in environmental science a student raised her hand during our discussion of the circumstances of modern ecological collapse and posed the question, "what happens when there is no more environment?" At the time I had no response and stumbled to formulate some sort of reply based on the typical aseptic, apathetic logic with which we are programmed through education in the scientific tradition: that there will always be some sort of environment, that life has prospered through the five previous mass extinctions and that something will survive. While this may be the case, the time has come for more of us to consider the broader spectrum of what global humanity is facing as the planet’s ecology is decimated.
For Earth Day, 17 celebrated scientists on how to make a better world
(04/22/2012) Seventeen top scientists and four acclaimed conservation organizations have called for radical action to create a better world for this and future generations. Compiled by 21 past winners of the prestigious Blue Planet Prize, a new paper recommends solutions for some of the world's most pressing problems including climate change, poverty, and mass extinction. The paper, entitled Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act, was recently presented at the UN Environment Program governing council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.
David vs. Goliath: Goldman Environmental Prize winners highlight development projects gone awry
(04/16/2012) A controversial dam, a massive mine, poisonous pesticides, a devastating road, and criminal polluters: many of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize winners point to the dangers of poorly-planned, and ultimately destructive, development initiatives. The annual prize, which has been dubbed the Green Nobel Prize is awarded to six grassroots environmental heroes from around the world and includes a financial award of $150,000 for each winner.
Scientists unlock indigenous secret to sustainable agriculture in the Amazon's savannas
(04/11/2012) Indigenous populations in the Amazon successfully farmed without the use of fire before the arrival of Europeans, demonstrating a potentially sustainable approach to land management in a region that is increasingly vulnerable to man-made fires.
Degraded lands hold promise in feeding 9 billion, while preserving forests
(03/29/2012) Making productive use of degraded lands and boosting productivity of small-holder farmers are key to meeting surging global consumption of agricultural products while preserving critical wildlife habitats, said an agricultural expert on the sidelines of the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford.
Six nations, including U.S., set up climate initiative to target short-term greenhouse gases
(02/20/2012) With global negotiations to tackle carbon emissions progressing interminably, nations are seeking roundabout ways to combat global climate change. U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, announced in India last week a new six nation initiative to target non-carbon greenhouse gases, including soot (also known as "black carbon"), methane, and hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs). Reductions of these emissions would not only impact short-term climate change, but also improve health and agriculture worldwide according to a recent study in Science.
New meteorological theory argues that the world's forests are rainmakers
(02/01/2012) New, radical theories in science often take time to be accepted, especially those that directly challenge longstanding ideas, contemporary policy or cultural norms. The fact that the Earth revolves around the sun, and not vice-versa, took centuries to gain widespread scientific and public acceptance. While Darwin's theory of evolution was quickly grasped by biologists, portions of the public today, especially in places like the U.S., still disbelieve. Currently, the near total consensus by climatologists that human activities are warming the Earth continues to be challenged by outsiders. Whether or not the biotic pump theory will one day fall into this grouping remains to be seen. First published in 2007 by two Russian physicists, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva, the still little-known biotic pump theory postulates that forests are the driving force behind precipitation over land masses.
Targeting methane, black carbon could buy world a little time on climate change
(01/12/2012) A new study in Science argues that reducing methane and black carbon emissions would bring global health, agriculture, and climate benefits. While such reductions would not replace the need to reduce CO2 emissions, they could have the result of lowering global temperature by 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degree Fahrenheit) by mid-century, as well as having the added benefits of saving lives and boosting agricultural yields. In addition, the authors contend that dealing with black carbon and methane now would be inexpensive and politically feasible.
Ecuador makes $116 million to not drill for oil in Amazon
(01/02/2012) A possibly ground-breaking idea has been kept on life support after Ecuador revealed its Yasuni-ITT Initiative had raked in $116 million before the end of the year, breaking the $100 million mark that Ecuador said it needed to keep the program alive. Ecuador is proposing to not drill for an estimated 850 million barrels of oil in the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin (ITT) blocs of Yasuni National Park if the international community pledges $3.6 billion to a United Nations Development Fund (UNDF), or about half of what the oil is currently worth. The Yasuni-ITT Initiative would preserve arguably the most biodiverse region on Earth from oil exploitation, safeguard indigenous populations, and keep an estimated 410 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. However, the initiative is not without its detractors, some arguing the program is little more than blackmail; meanwhile proponents say it could prove an effective way to combat climate change, deforestation, and mass extinction.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2011
(12/22/2011) Many of 2011's most dramatic stories on environmental issues came from people taking to the streets. With governments and corporations slow to tackle massive environmental problems, people have begun to assert themselves. Victories were seen on four continents: in Bolivia a draconian response to protestors embarrassed the government, causing them to drop plans to build a road through Tipnis, an indigenous Amazonian reserve; in Myanmar, a nation not known for bowing to public demands, large protests pushed the government to cancel a massive Chinese hydroelectric project; in Borneo a three-year struggle to stop the construction of a coal plant on the coast of the Coral Triangle ended in victory for activists; in Britain plans to privatize forests created such a public outcry that the government not only pulled back but also apologized; and in the U.S. civil disobedience and massive marches pressured the Obama Administration to delay a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands from Canada to a global market.
Is the Russian Forest Code a warning for Brazil?
(12/19/2011) Brazil, which last week moved to reform its Forest Code, may find lessons in Russia's revision of its forest law in 2007, say a pair of Russian scientists. The Brazilian Senate last week passed a bill that would relax some of forest provisions imposed on landowners. Environmentalists blasted the move, arguing that the new Forest Code — provided it is not vetoed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff next year — could undermine the country's progress in reducing deforestation.
REDD advances—slowly—in Durban
(12/15/2011) A program proposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation made mixed progress during climate talks in Durban. Significant questions remain about financing and safeguards to protect against abuse, say forestry experts. REDD+ aims to reduce deforestation, forest degradation, and peatland destruction in tropical countries. Here, emissions from land use often exceed emissions from transportation and electricity generation. Under the program, industrialized nations would fund conservation projects and improved forest management. While REDD+ offers the potential to simultaneously reduce emissions, conserve biodiversity, maintain other ecosystem services, and help alleviate rural poverty, concerns over potential adverse impacts have plagued the program since its conception.
Mixed reactions to the Durban agreement
(12/12/2011) Early Sunday morning over 190 of the world's countries signed on to a new climate agreement at the 17th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa. The summit was supposed to end on Friday, but marathon negotiations pushed government officials to burn the midnight oil for about 36 extra hours. The final agreement was better than many expected out of the two week summit, but still very far from what science says is necessary to ensure the world does not suffer catastrophic climate change.
Evidence mounts that Maya did themselves in through deforestation
(12/08/2011) Researchers have garnered further evidence for a smoking gun behind the fall of the great Maya civilization: deforestation. At the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference, climatologist Ben Cook presented recent research showing how the destruction of rainforests by the Mayan ultimately led to declines in precipitation and possibly civilization-rocking droughts. While the idea that the Maya may have committed ecological-suicide through deforestation has been widely discussed, including in Jared Diamond's popular book Collapse, Cook's findings add greater weight to the theory.
Yasuni ITT: the virtues and vices of environmental innovation
(12/07/2011) As the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is taking place in Durban, Ecuador has embarked on the development of a project presented as highly innovative. This project targets Yasuni National Park, which has been protected since 1979. Yasuni is home to several indigenous peoples and is a biodiversity hotspot. But it so happens that the park also sits atop a vast oil field of 846 million barrels, representing about 20 percent of the country’s oil reserves. The acronym Yasuni ITT stands for Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin, which are the names of three potential zones for oil extraction.
11 challenges facing 7 billion super-consumers
(10/31/2011) Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Halloween this year is not the ghouls and goblins taking to the streets, but a baby born somewhere in the world. It's not the baby's or the parent's fault, of course, but this child will become a part of an artificial, but still important, milestone: according to the UN, the Earth's seventh billionth person will be born today. That's seven billion people who require, in the very least, freshwater, food, shelter, medicine, and education. In some parts of the world, they will also have a car, an iPod, a suburban house and yard, pets, computers, a lawn-mower, a microwave, and perhaps a swimming pool. Though rarely addressed directly in policy (and more often than not avoided in polite conversations), the issue of overpopulation is central to environmentally sustainability and human welfare.
Five ways to feed billions without trashing the planet
(10/13/2011) At the end of this month the UN predicts global population will hit 7 billion people, having doubled from 3.5 billion in less than 50 years. Yet even as the Earth hits this new milestone, one billion people do not have enough food; meanwhile the rapid expansion of agriculture is one of the leading causes of global environmental degradation, including greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of forests, marine pollution, mass extinction, water scarcity, and soil degradation. So, how do we feed the human population—which continues to rise and is expected to hit nine billion by 2050—while preserving the multitude of ecosystem services that support global food production? A new study in Nature proposes a five-point plan to this dilemma.
Controversial study finds intensive farming partnered with strict protected areas is best for biodiversity
(09/01/2011) Given that we have very likely entered an age of mass extinction—and human population continues to rise (not unrelated)—researchers are scrambling to determine the best methods to save the world's suffering species. In the midst of this debate, a new study in Science, which is bound to have detractors, has found that setting aside land for strict protection coupled with intensive farming is the best way to both preserve species and feed a growing human world. However, other researchers say the study is missing the point, both on global hunger and biodiversity.
Protected areas not enough to save life on Earth
(08/03/2011) Since the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 protected areas have spread across the world. Today, over 100,000 protected areas—national parks, wildlife refuges, game reserves, marine protected areas (MPAs), wildlife sanctuaries, etc.—cover some 7.3 million square miles (19 million kilometers), mostly on land, though conservation areas in the oceans are spreading. While there are a number of reasons behind the establishment of protected areas, one of the most important is the conservation of wildlife for future generations. But now a new open access study in Marine Ecology Progress Series has found that protected areas are not enough to stem the loss of global biodiversity. Even with the volume of protected areas, many scientists say we are in the midst of a mass extinction with extinction levels jumping to 100 to 10,000 times the average rate over the past 500 million years. While protected areas are important, the study argues that society must deal with the underlying problems of human population and overconsumption if we are to have any chance of preserving life on Earth—and leaving a recognizable planet for our children.
Adaptation, justice and morality in a warming world
(07/28/2011) If last year was the first in which climate change impacts became apparent worldwide—unprecedented drought and fires in Russia, megaflood in Pakistan, record drought in the Amazon, deadly floods in South America, plus record highs all over the place—this may be the year in which the American public sees climate change as no longer distant and abstract, but happening at home. With burning across the southwest, record drought in Texas, majors flooding in the Midwest, heatwaves everywhere, its becoming harder and harder to ignore the obvious. Climate change consultant and blogger, Brian Thomas, says these patterns are pushing 'prominent scientists' to state 'more explicitly that the pattern we're seeing today shows a definite climate change link,' but that it may not yet change the public perception in the US.
Germany backs out of Yasuni deal
(06/13/2011) Germany has backed out of a pledge to commit $50 million a year to Ecuador's Yasuni ITT Initiative, reports Science Insider. The move by Germany potentially upsets an innovative program hailed by environmentalists and scientists alike. This one-of-a-kind initiative would protect a 200,000 hectare bloc in Yasuni National Park from oil drilling in return for a trust fund of $3.6 billion, or about half the market value of the nearly billion barrels of oil lying underneath the area. The plan is meant to mitigate climate change, protect biodiversity, and safeguard the rights of indigenous people.
Program that cuts illegal logging by providing high quality health care in Borneo wins major conservation award
(05/14/2011) The co-founder of an initiative that discourages illegal logging by bringing affordable, high quality health care to impoverished communities in Indonesian Borneo has been recognized with a prestigious conservation award.
Scientists scramble to save dying amphibians
(04/28/2011) In forests, ponds, swamps, and other ecosystems around the world, amphibians are dying at rates never before observed. The reasons are many: habitat destruction, pollution from pesticides, climate change, invasive species, and the emergence of a deadly and infectious fungal disease. More than 200 species have gone silent, while scientists estimate one third of the more than 6,500 known species are at risk of extinction. Conservationists have set up an an emergency conservation measure to capture wild frogs from infected areas and safeguard them in captivity until the disease is controlled or at least better understood. The frogs will be bred in captivity as an insurance policy against extinction.
What does Nature give us? A special Earth Day article
(04/22/2011) There is no question that Earth has been a giving planet. Everything humans have needed to survive, and thrive, was provided by the natural world around us: food, water, medicine, materials for shelter, and even natural cycles such as climate and nutrients. Scientists have come to term such gifts 'ecosystem services', however the recognition of such services goes back thousands of years, and perhaps even farther if one accepts the caves paintings at Lascaux as evidence. Yet we have so disconnected ourselves from the natural world that it is easy—and often convenient—to forget that nature remains as giving as ever, even as it vanishes bit-by-bit. The rise of technology and industry may have distanced us superficially from nature, but it has not changed our reliance on the natural world: most of what we use and consume on a daily basis remains the product of multitudes of interactions within nature, and many of those interactions are imperiled. Beyond such physical goods, the natural world provides less tangible, but just as important, gifts in terms of beauty, art, and spirituality.
The ocean crisis: hope in troubled waters, an interview with Carl Safina
(02/07/2011) Being compared—by more than one reviewer—to Henry Thoreau and Rachel Carson would make any nature writer's day. But add in effusive reviews that compare one to a jazz musician, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin, and you have a sense of the praise heaped on Carl Safina for his newest work, The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. Like Safina's other books, The View from Lazy Point focuses on the beauty, poetry, and crisis of the world's oceans and its hundreds-of-thousands of unique inhabitants. Taking the reader on a journey around the world—the Arctic, Antarctic, and the tropics—Safina always returns home to take in the view, and write about the wildlife of his home, i.e. Lazy Point, on Long Island. While Safina's newest book addresses the many ways in which the ocean is being degraded, depleted, and ultimately imperiled as a living ecosystem (such as overfishing and climate change) it also tweezes out stories of hope by focusing on how single animals survive, and in turn how nature survives in an increasingly human world. However, what makes Safina's work different than most nature writing is his ability to move seamlessly from contemporary practical problems to the age-old philosophical underpinnings that got us here. By doing so, he points a way forward.
Is Obama's clean energy revolution possible?
(01/26/2011) Last night US President Barack Obama called for a massive green energy make-over of the world's largest economy. Describing the challenge as 'this generation's Sputnik moment' the US president set a goal of producing 80 percent of America's energy by clean sources by 2035. While this may sound improbable, two recent analyses back the president up, arguing that a global clean energy revolution is entirely possible within a few decades using contemporary technology and without breaking the bank. "Based on our findings, there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources," Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford said in a press release. "It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will."
How Genghis Khan cooled the planet
(01/20/2011) In 1206 AD Genghis Khan began the Mongol invasion: a horse-crazed bow-wielding military force that swept through much of modern-day Asia into the Middle East and Eastern Europe. But aside from creating the world's largest empire, the Mongol invasion had another global impact that has remained hidden in history according to new research by Julia Pongratz of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology. Genghis Khan and his empire, which lasted nearly two centuries, actually cooled the Earth.
Oil, indigenous people, and Ecuador's big idea
(11/23/2010) Ecuador's big idea—potentially Earth-rattling—goes something like this: the international community pays the small South American nation not to drill for nearly a billion barrels of oil in a massive block of Yasuni National Park. While Ecuador receives hundred of millions in an UN-backed fund, what does the international community receive? Arguably the world's most biodiverse rainforest is saved from oil extraction, two indigenous tribes' requests to be left uncontacted are respected, and some 400 million metric tons of CO2 is not emitted from burning the oil. In other words, the international community is being asked to put money where its mouth is on climate change, indigenous rights, and biodiversity loss. David Romo Vallejo, professor at the University of San Francisco Quito and co-director of Tiputini research station in Yasuni, recently told mongabay.com in an interview that this is "the best proposal so far made to ensure the protection of this incredible site."
Will biodiversity agreement save life on Earth?
(11/07/2010) On Friday, October 29th, 193 member nations of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) reached a possibly landmark agreement on saving the world's suffering biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan. The agreement was especially notable after nations failed—by all accounts—to live up to the goals from the previous CBD agreement, including stemming the global loss of biodiversity by 2010. According to scientists, the world's species continue to vanish at mass-extinction rates due to habitat loss, deforestation, overconsumption, pollution, climate change, and invasive species. To addresses this crisis the new CBD agreement sets out 20 goals for 2020. But given the global challenges in saving the world's species and the lack-of-teeth in agreement (it is strictly voluntary), will the CBD make a difference or in ten years time will goals be again unmet and life on planet Earth worse off than ever? To answer this mongabay.com turned to a number of experts in the conservation world.
Mixed messages on geoengineering: international community approves moratorium, US pushes research
(10/31/2010) Efforts to explore geoengineering, whereby governments would employ large-scale projects to alter the world's climate in a bid to combat climate change, received mixed messages this week. In Nagoya, Japan—where all but three of the world's nations (the US, Andorra, and the Holy See) met at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to hammer out an agreement on stemming biodiversity loss—member nations agreed on Friday to a moratorium on geoengineering schemes. On the same day a US congressional report on geoengineering, which it termed climate engineering, recommended "research now to better understand which technologies or methods, if any, represent viable stopgap strategies for managing our changing climate."
Harrison Ford chides US for spurning international biodiversity treaty
(10/28/2010) In a speech in Nagoya, Japan at the UN's Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) actor and conservationist, Harrison Ford, called on delegates to put aside differences and adopt a strong treaty to protect biodiversity. As a US citizen, he also urged his country to become a full signatory of the CBD. "The time has come for the United States to step up to the plate. The problem is so big and the time is so short, we have no choice. We have to act and we have to act now," said Ford.
Undergrads in the Amazon: American students witness beauty and crisis in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador
(10/28/2010) Although most Americans have likely seen photos and videos of the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon, they will probably never see it face-to-face. For many, the Amazon seems incredibly remote: it is a dim, mysterious place, a jungle surfeit in adventure and beauty—but not a place to take a family vacation or spend a honeymoon. This means that the destruction of the Amazon, like the rainforest itself, also appears distant when seen from Oregon or North Carolina or Pennsylvania. Oil spills in Ecuador, cattle ranching in Brazil, hydroelectric dams in Peru: these issues are low, if not non-existent, for most Americans. But a visit to the Amazon changes all that. This was recently confirmed to me when I traveled with American college students during a trip to far-flung Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. As a part of a study abroad program with the University of San Francisco in Quito and the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS), these students spend a semester studying ecology and environmental issues in Ecuador, including a first-time visit to the Amazon rainforest at Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Yasuni—and our trips just happened to overlap.
Jackpot: how international community could raise $141 billion for biodiversity
(10/20/2010) Leaders from around the world meeting in Nahoya, Japan for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to discuss solutions to stem the current mass extinction crisis may be in need of a little book: The Little Biodiversity Finance Book. While a recent report by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) found that degradation of ecosystems—including biodiversity loss—was costing the global economy $2-5 trillion annually, one of the primary threats to wildlife around the world is simply a lack of funds to enact program. But The Little Biodiversity Finance Book says that with the right policy initiatives the burgeoning ecosystem market could be worth $141 billion by 2020.
Environmentalists must recognize 'biases and delusions' to succeed
(10/18/2010) As nations from around the world meet at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan to discuss ways to stem the loss of biodiversity worldwide, two prominent researchers argue that conservationists need to consider paradigm shifts if biodiversity is to be preserved, especially in developing countries. Writing in the journal Biotropica, Douglas Sheil and Erik Meijaard argue that some of conservationists' most deeply held beliefs are actually hurting the cause.
Humanity consuming the Earth: by 2030 we'll need two planets
(10/13/2010) Too many people consuming too much is depleting the world's natural resources faster than they are replenished, imperiling not only the world's species but risking the well-being of human societies, according to a new massive study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), entitled the Living Planet Report. The report finds that humanity is currently consuming the equivalent of 1.5 planet Earths every year for its activities. This overconsumption has caused biodiversity—in this case, representative populations of vertebrate animals—to fall by 30 percent worldwide since 1970. The situation is more dire in tropical regions where terrestrial species' populations have fallen by 60 percent and freshwater species by 70 percent.
Farms in the sky, an interview with Dickson Despommier
(10/12/2010) To solve today's environmental crises—climate change, deforestation, mass extinction, and marine degradation—while feeding a growing population (on its way to 9 billion) will require not only thinking outside the box, but a "new box altogether" according to Dr. Dickson Despommier, author of the new book, The Vertical Farm. Exciting policy-makers and environmentalists, Despommier's bold idea for skyscrapers devoted to agriculture is certainly thinking outside the box.
Citizens of 188 countries challenge leaders on climate change
(10/11/2010) As world leaders continue to fumble a coherent, rapid, and comprehensive response to climate change, citizens from around the world yesterday sent a message to inert politicians by participating in over 7,300 events against climate change, according to 350.org, the head organizer of the day dubbed the 'Global Work Party'. "The fossil fuel industry may have thought that the collapse of the Copenhagen talks and its victory in the U.S. Congress were the final word—that people would give up in discouragement," said, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, so-called because 350 parts per millions (ppm) is the 'safe' amount of carbon in the atmosphere according to many scientists. Currently the concentration is around 390 ppm.
The Nestlé example: how responsible companies could end deforestation
(10/06/2010) The NGO, The Forest Trust (TFT), made international headlines this year after food giant Nestlé chose them to monitor their sustainability efforts. Nestlé's move followed a Greenpeace campaign that blew-up into a blistering free-for-all on social media sites. For months Nestle was dogged online not just for sourcing palm oil connected to deforestation in Southeast Asia—the focus of Greenpeace's campaign—but for a litany of perceived social and environmental abuses and Nestlé's reactions, which veered from draconian to clumsy to stonily silent. The announcement on May 17th that Nestlé was bending to demands to rid its products of deforestation quickly quelled the storm. Behind the scenes, Nestlé and TFT had been meeting for a number of weeks before the partnership was made official. But can TFT ensure consumers that Nestlé is truly moving forward on cutting deforestation from all of its products?
Losing nature's medicine cabinet
(10/04/2010) In all the discussions of saving the world's biodiversity from extinction, one point is often and surprisingly forgotten: the importance of the world's species in providing humankind with a multitude of life-saving medicines so far, as well as the certainty that more vital medications are out there if only we save the unheralded animals and plants that contain cures unknown. Already, species have provided humankind everything from quinine to aspirin, from morphine to numerous cancer and HIV-fighting drugs. "As the ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin commented, the history of medicine can be written in terms of its reliance on and utilization of natural products," physician Christopher Herndon told mongabay.com. Herndon is co-author of a recent paper in the journal Biotropica, which calls for policy-makers and the public to recognize how biodiversity underpins not only ecosystems, but medicine.
Could industrial interests ruin payments for environmental services?
(09/27/2010) One of the biggest ideas in the conservation world over the past decade is Payments for Environmental Services, known as PES, whereby governments, corporations, or the public pays for the environmental services that benefit them (and to date have been free), i.e. carbon, biodiversity, freshwater, etc. For example, Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is the largest such proposed PES concept, yet many others are emerging. However, a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science argues that in order for PES to be effective—and not perversely lead to further harm—decision-makers must consider the danger of paying industrial and commercial interests versus financially supporting local populations, as originally conceived, to safeguard the environment.
Could biochar save the world?
(08/16/2010) Biochar—the agricultural application of charcoal produced from burning biomass—may be one of this century's most important social and environmental revolutions. This seemingly humble practice—a technology that goes back thousands of years—has the potential to help mitigate a number of entrenched global problems: desperate hunger, lack of soil fertility in the tropics, rainforest destruction due to slash-and-burn agriculture, and even climate change. "Biochar is a recalcitrant form of carbon that will stay almost entirely unaltered in soils for very long periods of time. So you can sequester carbon in a simple, durable and safe way by putting the char in the soil. Other types of carbon in soils rapidly turn into carbon dioxide. Char doesn't," managing director of the Biochar Fund, Laurens Rademakers, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
Logged forests retain considerable biodiversity in Borneo providing conservation opportunity
(08/12/2010) A new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B finds that forests which have undergone logging in the past, sometimes even twice, retain significant levels of biodiversity in Borneo. The researchers say these findings should push conservationists to protect more logged forests from being converted into oil palm plantations where biodiversity levels drop considerably and endangered species are almost wholly absent. Given that much of Borneo's forests have been logged as least once, these long-dismissed forests could become a new frontier for conservationists.
Hunting threatens the other Amazon: where harpy eagles are common and jaguars easy to spot, an interview with Paul Rosolie
(08/05/2010) If you have been fortunate enough to visit the Amazon or any other great rainforest, you've probably been wowed by the multitude and diversity of life. However, you also likely quickly realized that the deep jungle is not quite what you may have imagined when you were a child: you don't watch as jaguars wrestle with giant anteaters or anacondas circle prey. Instead life in the Amazon is small: insects, birds, frogs. Even biologists will tell you that you can spend years in the Amazon and never see a single jaguar. Yet rainforest guide and modern day explorer Paul Rosolie says there is another Amazon, one so pristine and with such wild abundance that it seems impossible to imagine if not for Rosolie's stories, photos, and soon videos. This is an Amazon where the big animals—jaguars, tapir, anaconda, giant anteaters, and harpy eagles—are not only abundant but visible. Free from human impact and overhunting, these remote places—off the beaten path of tourists—are growing ever smaller and, according to Rosolie, are in danger of disappearing forever.
Bold rainforest idea makes good: Ecuador secures trust fund to save park from oil developers
(08/03/2010) In what may amount to a historic moment in the quest to save the world's rainforests and mitigate climate change, Ecuador and the United Nations Development Fund (UNDF) have created a trust fund to protect one of the world's most biodiverse rainforests from oil exploration and development. The fund will allow the international community to pay Ecuador to leave an estimated 850 million barrels of oil in Yasuni National Park in the ground instead of extracting it. This first-of-its-kind agreement, known as the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, will allow the rainforest protected area to remain pristine: preserving one of the most species-rich places on Earth, safeguarding the lives of indigenous people, and keeping an estimated 410 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
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