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.
Economic losses from deforestation and drought are mounting.
The story: Brazil grows more than a third of the world’s soybeans — a distinction enabled by the destruction of large swaths of forests and grasslands. A new study finds that the same deforestation that spurred the country’s soy boom is now driving hotter and drier weather, which is costing Brazil’s soybean farmers more than US$ 3 billion a year in lost productivity, reports Dan Charles for NPR.
Despite the economic losses, soybean yields have risen due to more efficient farming practices. However, according to the study, those yields would have been even higher without deforestation, Charles writes.
The big picture: A sustained dry spell has caused the worst drought in central and southern Brazil in 90 years, with major crops losses — from soy and coffee to corn and sugarcane. At the same time, deforestation is on the rise in Brazil. And fewer forests mean less rain, according to researchers. A recent study found that rainfall decreased significantly in heavily deforested parts of the Amazon that have lost more than half their tree cover.
Scientists say that deforestation in the Amazon is pushing the region to a tipping point at which the forest will gradually turn into dry savanna — and which humans will be unable to reverse. Instead of leafy forests teeming with wildlife, the Amazon would be a desolate expanse of shrublands.
- Study: Could the Amazon become ground zero for the world’s next pandemic?
- Looking ahead: After lost year, urgency rises for climate, nature policy.
Record-breaking temperatures cooked marine life along Vancouver’s coast.
The story: Amid a severe heat wave, temperatures in British Columbia broke 46 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit) in June, the highest the province has seen in more than 80 years. As a result, more than 1 billion sea creatures — from mussels to sea sponges — fell victim to sizzling ocean temperatures along the Vancouver coast, reports Valerie Yurk for Scientific American.
The big picture: The mass deaths of marine life in British Columbia could have long-term consequences for marine ecosystems across the entire Pacific Northwest, writes Yurk.
“Losing a good number of mussels ... could destabilize local parts of the ocean, since they filter the water and provide food for other species such as starfish, crabs and birds,” Yurk writes. “Rockweed” — a type of brown seaweed that died in large quantities during the heatwave — “also provides important habitat for other species.”
“Our country is better off focusing on sustainable development,” said a government statement.
The story: Greenland is halting all plans for future oil exploration, saying the environmental toll of fossil fuel extraction was “too high,” Morten Buttler reports for Bloomberg. In a statement, the government said it “has decided to cease issuing new licenses for oil and gas exploration. This step has been taken for the sake of our nature, for the sake of our fisheries, for the sake of our tourism industry, and to focus our business on sustainable potentials.”
The big picture: The ban on future oil drilling comes amid increasing climate concerns for Greenlanders, Buttler writes. Globally, sea levels have risen 8 to 9 inches since 1880 as the melting of Greenland and Antarctica’s ice sheets has accelerated. However, divesting from fossil fuels could help slow climate change, while stimulating the local economies, says Conservation International climate policy expert Maggie Comstock.
“Countries are going to need to make transformational changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — which scientists agree is necessary to prevent climate catastrophe,” Comstock recently told Conservation News. “Shifting to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels is not only good for the planet, it has the potential to create millions of green jobs.”
Cover image: A jellyfish on the coast of British Columbia (© Cristina Mittermeier/SeaLegacy)