Indigenous leader killed, submerged cities, gorilla victory, California wildfires: 4 stories you may have missed

© CI/photo by John Martin

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.

This post was updated on November 4, 2019 at 1:30 pm.

1. Indigenous leader who protected rainforest in Brazil is ambushed and killed

A Brazilian indigenous leader was killed by illegal loggers last week. 

The Story: Paulo Paulino Guajajara, an indigenous leader in Brazil, was shot and killed last week by illegal loggers in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhao, reported Claudia Dominguez for CNN. Another tribesman was injured during the attack, but was able to escape. A leader of one of Brazil’s largest indigenous groups, Guajajara was also a member of the “Forest Guardians,” a group dedicated to protecting tribal lands from deforestation and logging.

The Big Picture: Murders of environmental activists and indigenous leaders reflect chronic clashes over resource use around the globe. Indigenous peoples account for only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet they use or manage more than a quarter of the Earth’s surface and protect 35 percent of intact forests. To protect nature — and the entire planet — the rights and roles of the world’s indigenous peoples as powerful environmental allies must be recognized and elevated.

Read the full story here.

2. Rising seas will erase more cities by 2050, new research shows 

Several major cities across the globe could be submerged by 2050, according to a new report.

The Story: New research shows that rising sea levels could impact more than 150 million people around the world by 2050, a figure three times greater than previously estimated, reported Denise Lu and Christopher Flavelle for the New York Times. Using a new technique to analyze satellites that record land elevations, the report’s authors determined that several major coastal cities could be almost entirely underwater by the middle of the century, including Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Shanghai, China; and Mumbai, India. 

The Big Picture: “This is far more than an environmental problem,” said General John Castellaw, a member of the advisory board of the Center for Climate and Security. “It’s a humanitarian, security and possibly military problem too.” The adverse impacts of climate breakdown are already forcing communities across the globe to relocate, giving rise to a new class of migrants known as “climate refugees.” As sea-level rise accelerates and pushes coastal populations out of their communities, other cities may become overpopulated, which could exacerbate internal conflict in many areas.

Read the full story here.

Once pushed to the brink of extinction, mountain gorilla populations are rebounding in central Africa. 

The Story: Mountain gorilla populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda have increased from 680 to 1,000 in the past decade, reported Christina Larson for the Associated Press. This population spike is largely due to a collaborative conservation effort by scientists, non-governmental organizations and local rangers, who track every single gorilla in the forest to monitor and limit poacher activity. 

The Big Picture: Over the course of its lifetime, a single mountain gorilla can generate more than US$ 3 million in ecotourism revenue for a community. In Rwanda, for example, part of the revenue from mountain gorilla tourism is shared among communities across the country and is crucial to building infrastructure, protecting forest areas, and funding schools and local hospitals. 

Read the full story here.

Climate breakdown is driving longer and more severe wildfire seasons in California.

The Story: Fueled by drier and warmer air caused by climate change, wildfires in California have already burned through more than 38,000 hectares (94,000 acres) of land, reported Ray Sanchez and Brandon Miller for CNN. According to a recent report, California’s wildfires on average have grown eight times in size since the 1970s, and have displaced more than 190,000 people from their homes so far this year.

The Big Picture: “This is only the beginning,” said former California governor Jerry Brown. “This is only a taste of the horror and terror that will occur in decades.” As fires surge around the globe — from the Amazon basin to Indonesia — burning forests are releasing massive amounts of carbon that they previously stored. To slow climate breakdown, countries must protect their existing forests and restore degraded forests

Read the full story here.

Kiley Price is a staff writer for Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: A family of mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. (© John Martin/Conservation International)