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.
Nature can help humanity tackle climate change — if we protect it.
The story: With the power to pull carbon from the air, ecosystems like forests and mangroves are critical to slowing climate breakdown — but only if we protect them, wrote Sarah Kaplan for The Washington Post. Citing a 2017 study led by Conservation International’s Bronson Griscom, Kaplan outlined the immense potential of nature to deliver at least 30 percent of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to prevent climate catastrophe. However, critical ecosystems are being degraded by human activities such as deforestation, farming and oil palm production, releasing emissions they once locked away.
The big picture: This October, world leaders are set to meet — COVID-permitting — to negotiate new goals to protect Earth’s biodiversity. According to Conservation International climate policy expert Lina Barrera, countries must urgently commit to protecting and restoring the Earth’s biodiversity at a global scale.
“It is the planet’s biodiversity — from tiny organisms in fertile soil to healthy trees — that gives nature its ability to effectively store carbon and slow climate change,” said Barrera in a recent interview with Conservation News.
“When biodiversity is lost or an ecosystem is degraded, nature can no longer store as much carbon — and its capacity to provide water, food and health benefits to people is also diminished. There is no time for incremental actions — governments and companies must make transformational changes at national and industry levels.”
- Looking ahead: After lost year, urgency rises for climate, nature policy
- What on Earth are 'natural climate solutions'?
Air pollution is threatening nearly half the U.S. population.
The story: A recent report revealed that 135 million Americans live in counties with polluted air, largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels and increased wildfires, reported Alexandria Herr for Grist. According to the report, pollution is having the greatest impact on communities of color, which are 61 percent more likely to live with unhealthy levels of air pollution than people living in white neighborhoods. Compounding the problem, climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires, which can release massive amounts of smoke and contribute to air pollution across the entire country.
The big picture: “This report shines a spotlight on the urgent need to curb climate change, clean up air pollution and advance environmental justice,” Harold Wimmer, the president and CEO of the American Lung Association, which authored the report, said in a press release.
Research shows that people of color are disproportionately impacted by the effects of environmental degradation — from extreme weather events to climate change. Experts agree that countries must address these social inequities to spur real progress on climate action.
“The nation has a real opportunity to address all three at once — and to do that, we must center on health and health equity as we move away from combustion and fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy,” Wimmer added.
Monsoons are the lifeblood of India — but climate change is making them more unpredictable.
The story: Each year, from June to September, the southwest monsoon hits India, inundating the country with 70 percent of its annual rainfall and nourishing key crops such as rice, soybeans and corn. However, as climate change accelerates, monsoon rainfalls are increasing to unmanageable levels and becoming more erratic, a recent study found. This could put India’s crops — and the farmers who depend on them — at risk, reported Derek Van Dam for CNN.
"We don't know how climate change will work out,” agriculture policy expert Devinder Sharma told CNN. “It could be heavy rain at one point, followed by drought or cyclones. It won't be uniform. This will create a lot of problems for the agriculture sector and as well as for the economy."
The big picture: India’s agriculture sector accounts for nearly 20 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) — and is critical to feeding the country’s ever-growing population. Unless countries rapidly decrease greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change, scientists predict that monsoons in India will continue to become more “chaotic” and severe — threatening the country’s economy and food security.
"The problem with increased variability is … the reduced predictability, which makes it harder for farmers to deal with the monsoon," said Anders Levermann, a climate scientist and lead author of the study.