Newsletter 2021-01-07



We’re approaching critical climate tipping points: Q&A with Tim Lenton by Rhett A. Butler [01/06/2021]

– Over the past twenty years the concept of “tipping points” has become more familiar to the public. Tipping points are critical thresholds at which small changes can lead to dramatic shifts in the state of the entire system.
– Awareness of climate tipping points has grown in policy circles in recent years in no small part thanks to the work of climate scientist Tim Lenton, who serves as the director of the Global Systems Institute at Britain’s University of Exeter.
– Lenton says the the rate at which we appear to be approaching several tipping points is now ringing alarm bells, but “most of our current generation of politicians are just not up to this leadership task”.
– The pandemic however may have caused a shock to the system that could trigger what he calls “positive social tipping points” that “can accelerate the transformative change we need” provided we’re able to empower the right leaders.

How to transform systems: Q&A with WRI’s Andrew Steer by Rhett A. Butler [01/05/2021]

– Between the pandemic, rising food insecurity and poverty, and catastrophic disasters like wildfires, storms and droughts, 2020 was a year of challenges that prompted widespread calls for systemic change in how we interact with one another, with other species, and with the environment. Bringing about such changes will require transforming how we produce food and energy, how we move from one place to another, and how we define economic growth.
– But it’s a lot easier to talk about transforming systems than to actually do it. Because real change is hard, we’re more likely to slip back into old habits and return to business as usual than embrace paradigm shifts.
– Recognizing this limitation, World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that operates in 60 countries, works across sectors by creating tools that increase transparency, create a common understanding, and provide data and analysis that enable action.
– WRI’s development of these platforms and tools has grown by leaps and bounds since the early 2010s when Andrew Steer joined the organization as president and CEO from the World Bank. Steer spoke with Mongabay during a December 2020 interview.

Rainforests: 11 things to watch in 2021 by Rhett A. Butler [01/01/2021]

– 2020 was a rough year for tropical rainforest conservation efforts. So what’s in store for 2021?
– Mongabay Founder Rhett A. Butler reviews some of 11 key things to watch in the world of rainforests in 2021.
– These include: the post COVID recovery; the transition of power in the U.S.; deforestation in Indonesia; deforestation in Brazil; the effects of the La Niña climate pattern; ongoing destabilization of tropical forests; government to government carbon deals; data that will allow better assessment of the impact of COVID on tropical forests; companies incorporating forest-risk into decision-making; ongoing violence against environmental defenders; and whether international policy meetings can get back on track.



Historical data point to ‘imminent extinction’ of Tapanuli orangutan by Hans Nicholas Jong [07 Jan 2021]
– A new study indicates that the Tapanuli orangutan, already the world’s most threatened great ape species, faces a much greater risk of extinction than previously thought.
– It estimates the orangutans today occupy just 2.5% of their historical range, and attributes this to loss of habitat and hunting.
– Those threats persist today and are compounded by mining and infrastructure projects inside the Tapanuli orangutan’s last known habitat in northern Sumatra.
– At the current rates at which its habitat is being lost and the ape is being hunted, the extinction of the Tapanuli orangutan is inevitable, the researchers say.

Canopy beetles and flowering trees rely on each other in the Amazon, study by Liz Kimbrough [06 Jan 2021]
– A canopy scientist collected 859 species of beetles from the canopy species of a healthy lowland tropical rainforest in southern Venezuela.
– More than 75% of the beetle species collected were found living exclusively on flowering trees — many on trees with small white flowers.
– The results suggest that flowering trees play an important role in maintaining canopy beetle diversity in the Amazon and that these trees are being visited by beetles more than any other insect order, including bees and butterflies.
– To fight the global decline of insects, “researchers and conservationists must understand the ecological connections between insects and their food plants.”

‘Great concern’ as study finds microplastics in human placentas by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [06 Jan 2021]
– A new study has found microplastics present inside human placentas, which could potentially affect fetal health and development.
– The microplastics probably entered the women’s bodies through ingestion and inhalation, and then translocated to the placentas, the study suggests.
– While further research needs to be done on the subject, it is believed that these microplastics could disrupt immunity mechanisms in babies.

Indonesia’s plantation program on collision course with wildlife, Indigenous groups by Hans Nicholas Jong [06 Jan 2021]
– Indonesia’s food estate program threatens to overlap onto habitats of key species like orangutans and tigers in Sumatra, according to a government map.
– Environmental activists warn this could exacerbate human-wildlife conflicts, and have criticized the lack of an environmental assessment before the start of the program.
– Also at threat are forests that Indigenous communities rely on for their livelihoods, with the government again failing to involve them in the planning process.
– The government claims it mapped the food estate areas in a way to minimize disturbances to known wildlife habitats.

For Sumatran elephant conservation, involvement of local people is key (commentary) by Roderick T.J. Buiskool [05 Jan 2021]
– For critically endangered Sumatran elephants, a long-term conservation strategy must include community involvement in mitigating human-elephant conflict, in addition to securing viable habitats.
– Any successful conflict mitigation should raise the awareness of–and gain acceptance from–the local community, requiring adequate support from governments and conservation NGOs.
– Only when viable habitats and community involvement are both ensured will the well-being of the local people, as well as the conservation of Sumatran elephants, be secured.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

A hi-tech eye in the sky lays bare Hawaiʻi’s living coral reefs by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [05 Jan 2021]
– A team of researchers used an airborne mapping technique to survey living coral distribution across the main Hawaiian archipelago.
– Hawaiʻi’s reefs are under threat due to a number of human-driven stressors, such as coastal development, pollution, fishing activities, and climate change events like marine heat waves.
– Places with high levels of live coral included West Hawaiʻi and West Maui, while Oʻahu had some of the lowest coral cover.
– This mapping process can help inform marine protection efforts and identify areas ideal for restoration, according to the research team.

Study warns of ‘biotic annihilation’ driven by hunting, habitat destruction by Malavika Vyawahare [05 Jan 2021]
– Humans are driving wildlife to extinction 1,000 times faster than the natural rate, robbing the planet not just of species but also of functional and phylogenetic diversity, the authors of a new paper argue.
– Different kinds of human activities affect biodiversity differently, with hunting having the largest impact on terrestrial mammals, the research found.
– Millions of years of evolution are encoded into species that coexist with humans today; to lose them is also to lose that biological heritage.
– The research maps out the relationship between species richness and functional and phylogenetic loss for individual countries to aid national-level policymaking.

Indonesia renews peat restoration bid to include mangroves, but hurdles abound by Hans Nicholas Jong [05 Jan 2021]
– Indonesia’s peatland restoration agency has had its mandate renewed for four more years, with the added task of restoring mangroves.
– Known as the BRGM, the agency now has the job of restoring an estimated 2 million hectares (5 million acres) of degraded peatland and mangrove ecosystems across 13 provinces.
– Experts have lauded the mandate extension and expanded scope of work, but point out a number of challenges ahead, such as government policies and legislation that undermine environmental protection in favor of economic growth.

Mongabay’s most popular conservation news posts in December 2020 by [04 Jan 2021]
– Mongabay’s site-wide traffic in December 2020 amounted to 12.3 million pageviews, a 55% increase over December 2019.
– Aggregate time on the site in December set a new all-time high, surpassing the previous peak from the initial pandemic lockdown period form April-June 2020.
– For the year Mongabay attracted 142 million pageviews, a 40% increase over 2019.
– Below is a list of the 25 most popular articles for December 2020. Traffic totals are for the month of December only.

Agribusiness giants ADM, Bunge trading in ‘conflict’ palm oil, report says by Hans Nicholas Jong [04 Jan 2021]
– A report by Global Witness has found that more than 100 Indonesian palm oil mills supplying agribusiness giants ADM and Bunge have been accused of land and human rights violations and environmental destruction.
– Global Witness found that neither company is addressing the majority of these allegations through their formal grievance processes, and effectively passing on this “conflict” palm oil to major consumer brands such as Nestlé, Unilever and PepsiCo.
– ADM and Bunge have denied any failure to police their suppliers, but have also pledged to look into the allegations.

Companies must account for quality, not just quantity, when it comes to forests (commentary) by Julie Nash and Jamison Ervin [31 Dec 2020]
– With the explosion of net-zero commitments as a part of corporate sustainability plans, forests are having a moment in the spotlight. More and more companies are beginning to recognize the value of intact forests in reaching net-zero emissions.
– However, new research shows that despite these commitments, forests are still dwindling, with devastating effects on the climate, ecosystem services, and biodiversity.
– In the opinion piece, the authors Dr. Julie Nash at Ceres and Dr. Jamison Ervin at UNDP, make the business case for preserving intact forests. They outline the importance of forests beyond their use as carbon offsets, and call for investors to assess the quantity and quality of forest commitments in corporate sustainability plans.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Mongabay’s environmental investigations in 2020 by [31 Dec 2020]
– Over the course of 2020, Mongabay published more than 5,200 stories, which collectively had on-site readership of 140 million pageviews.
– The reach of this content was further amplified by readership within social media and by the many third party outlets that syndicate our stories.
– This post reviews some of the investigations we undertook in 2020. Some of these investigations were collaborative efforts with other news outlets and agencies.



Top positive environmental stories from 2020 by Liz Kimbrough [12/30/2020]
How the pandemic impacted rainforests in 2020: a year in review by Rhett A. Butler [12/28/2020]
Notable deaths in conservation in 2020 by [12/28/2020]