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The climate crisis is now: 3 stories you may have missed

© NASA ICE/James Yungel

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. Postcards from a world on fire 

The story of our changing climate — told in snapshots.

The story: Whistling and creaking sea ice from the top of the world. Images of coastal lowlands lost to the ocean. Firsthand accounts of wildfires, heatwaves and hurricanes. In an expansive and interactive feature, the New York Times created vignettes highlighting the impacts of climate change from every single country in the world. You heard that right — every single one. 

Even a quick skim through these “postcards” offers a startling look at the complex and unexpected ways that climate breakdown is altering communities, wildlife and ecosystems across every corner of the globe. Spend some time flipping through them. Collectively, they convey a stark and irrefutable truth: The climate crisis is now. 

The big picture: Scientists agree that in the next few decades we’ll hit a 1.5-degree Celsius (2.7-degree Fahrenheit) temperature increase — the threshold at which runaway climate change will begin to upend life as we know it. The path we choose in the next few years will dictate our future.

But, as the New York Times Editorial Board concludes in the feature, there is still reason for hope: “The world can still hold the line at 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century.” If we’re going to make that happen, reversing nature loss — which can account for roughly 30 percent of global action needed to stabilize our climate — must be part of the solution.

Read more here

An important glacier is cracking under the weight of global warming. 

The story: Scientists have discovered that a portion of Thwaites Glacier — a Florida-sized ice shelf in Antarctica — is headed toward collapse within the next three to five years, reports Sarah Kaplan for the Washington Post. Until recently, this ice shelf, which holds back the rest of Thwaites, was believed to be stable. But recent data has suggested that warmer waters are melting the glacier from below, evidenced by large cracks growing across its surface.

“These weak spots are like cracks in a windshield,” Erin Pettit, a glaciologist, told the Washington Post. “This eastern ice shelf is likely to shatter into hundreds of icebergs.”

The big picture: In the immortal words of Bart Simpson: “I wouldn’t take that down if I were you — it’s a load-bearing poster.” 

Experts warn that if Thwaites crumbles into the sea, global sea-levels will rise by several feet, causing extreme flooding for millions of coastal residents. Moreover, nearby glaciers would be drawn into the ocean, triggering an even greater increase in sea-levels and subsequent flooding. While the collapse of this “doomsday glacier” is not a certainty, scientists warn that it is already contributing around 4 percent of annual global sea level rise. 

Read more here.

Indigenous knowledge could offer a solution to future food supply woes.

The story: In the Santa Catalina Mountains along the U.S.-Mexico border, scientists have planted an experimental garden using farming practices of Indigenous peoples native to the region, reports Samuel Gilbert for the Washington Post. The project, developed by the Biosphere 2 research center, seeks to reimagine agriculture for a warming world by planting crops beneath an elevated canopy of solar panels. Known as agrivoltaic, the approach mimics techniques used by Native Americans, who planted crops beneath the shade of native trees to reduce the need for frequent watering.

“We’ve had 5,000 years of farmers trying out different strategies for dealing with heat, drought and water scarcity,” Gary Nabhan, an ethnobotanist, told the Washington Post. “We need to begin to translate that.”

The big picture: Traditional knowledge can and should be a key component of climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. Though they account for only 5 percent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples use or manage more than a quarter of Earth’s surface and protect 80 percent of global biodiversity. Overall, Indigenous-managed lands show less species decline and pollution, and more well-managed natural resources. By combining their knowledge with science and technology, we have a much better chance of innovating on our agriculture and, ultimately, stabilizing our climate. 

Read more here.  

News spotlight

From ultrasonic microphones that help researchers understand how bats use echolocation to transmitters that monitor birds’ flight patterns, technology is helping to uncover the mysteries of the animal kingdom. And a new report, co-authored by Conservation International’s Eric Fegraus, assesses just how much emerging conservation technologies can increase our ability to diagnose, understand and address the most critical environmental challenges of our time, Catrin Einhorn reports for The New York Times.

 “There is a lot of untapped technological innovation potential in conservation, compared to what we see in nearly every other industry,” said Fegraus, who runs Conservation International’s technology program, in a statement.

 

Will McCarry is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: Thwaites Glacier (© NASA ICE/ James Yungel)


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