Climate change is keeping people up at night — literally: 3 stories you may have missed

© Mlenny/istockphoto

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Climate change is eroding a precious resource: sleep

Rising temperatures are disrupting peoples’ slumber.

The story: Climate anxiety isn’t the only reason global warming is keeping people up at night; a new study found that rising temperatures are actually disrupting sleep, reports Alejandra Borunda for National Geographic. Research shows 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius) is the best temperature for optimal sleep because it helps regulate the body’s core temperature. Analyzing the sleep patterns of more than 50,000 people globally through smart watches, scientists found that individuals are losing significant amounts of sleep in regions where temperatures are rising above 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) at night. 

The big picture: “Before, nights would be a chance to cool the body down,” Rupa Basu, a public health expert, told National Geographic. “But when [heat] is that chronic stressor, the body can’t cool down and recover — that’s a key piece hurting people’s health.” 

Severe heatwaves are becoming more common as climate change accelerates, but according to this study, even a few degrees of warming can potentially lead to 13 to 15 days of poor sleep each year by the end of the century. Air conditioning may seem like an obvious solution, but billions of people cannot afford or lack access to this luxury. 

Read more here

For communities in Africa, it pays to protect forests.

The story: In the Rift Valley of East Africa, carbon offsets are helping the Indigenous Hadza people protect the forests they depend on, while investing in their own long-term food security, health and well-being, reports Fred Pearce for YaleEnvironment360. In March, 1,300 Hadza people and members of the local cattle-herding tribes, with whom they share land in northern Tanzania, began receiving the first payments from a nearly US$ 500,000 fund from the carbon project generated from protecting an area of forests and grazing grounds larger than New York City. Carbon Tanzania, a social enterprise, developed the project in partnership with local communities.  

According to estimates, this project should prevent the destruction of more than 170,000 trees annually, resulting in some 177,000 tons of avoided emissions, which are being sold as carbon offsets. 

The big picture: In the past 500 years, the Hadza people have lost more than three-quarters of their traditional lands to large-scale agriculture and development. This carbon project — and the revenue it provides — is helping them ensure they don’t lose anymore by giving local people more control over their land.

The project relies on the skills and deep ancestral knowledge of the Hadza — known as renowned archers — to steward the forests.

“We are seeing a steady increase of some animal species like elephants passing through and in forest growth compared to the beginning,” says Christopher Shija, a forest scout recruited from Jobaj village. Moshi Isa, another scout from Mongo wa Mono village, says, “The carbon project has strengthened our rights. And increased forest density is sustaining our hunting and gathering life.”

The communities meet twice a year to decide how to spend the revenue, often allocating funds to paying for school fees and medical care, training new rangers, buying food and improving village infrastructure. 

Read more here


Elephants in India are dumpster diving — and consuming more waste than food. 

The story: The typical diet of an Asian elephant consists of leafy greens, fruits, grasses and bark. In India, however, an unsettling ingredient has entered the mix: plastic. According to a new study, elephants are consuming massive amounts of plastic from dumpsters, with this waste comprising up to 85 percent of their dung in the village of Kotdwar, India. 

“While trash passes through their digestive systems, the elephants may be ingesting chemicals like polystyrene, polyethylene, bisphenol A and phthalates,” Joshua Rapp Learn writes for The New York Times. 

The big picture: Not only is plastic harmful for elephants, it could have unintended consequences on entire forest ecosystems. Elephants disperse seeds in their dung throughout their habitats. Because they roam over such great distances, they play a key role in spreading tree seedlings far and wide.

Now “the same process that keeps ecosystems functioning might carry human-made pollutants into national parks and other wild areas,” Learn writes.

The good news: In March, United Nations negotiators from 175 countries agreed to develop a legally binding, global agreement aimed at ending plastic waste. The resolution establishes an intergovernmental negotiating committee, which will begin meeting on the new plastic treaty later this year with the aim of finalizing it by the end of 2024. 

Read more here.

Learn more about the plastic pollution crisis here


Kiley Price is the staff writer and news editor at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Arctic icebergs in Greenland(© Mlenny)