The Eco News Roundup brings stories and commentary about issues related to climate change, renewable energy and the environment.
Humans are “eating away at our own life support systems” at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years by degrading land and freshwater systems, emitting greenhouse gases and releasing vast amounts of agricultural chemicals into the environment, new research has found.
Two major new studies by an international team of researchers have pinpointed the key factors that ensure a livable planet for humans, with stark results.
Of nine worldwide processes that underpin life on Earth, four have exceeded “safe” levels – human-driven climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land system change and the high level of phosphorus and nitrogen flowing into the oceans due to fertiliser use.
The numbers are in. The year 2014 – after shattering temperature records that had stood for hundreds of years across virtually all of Europe, and roasting parts of South America, China and Russia – was the hottest on record, with global temperatures 1.24F (0.69C) higher than the 20th-century average, US government scientists said on Friday.
A day after international researchers warned that human activities had pushed the planet to the brink, new evidence of climate change arrived. The world was the hottest it has been since systematic records began in 1880, especially on the oceans, which the agency confirmed were the driver of 2014’s temperature rise.
It was just a theory, but for years scientists believed what years of observation were telling them. As Arctic sea ice melted because of climate change, polar bears appeared to be creeping their way toward a final refuge in the icy Canadian archipelago.
Now a study of polar bear DNA backs that up. Scientists who research the animals across the Arctic teamed up to produce a paper showing that the “directional gene flow” of recent polar bear generations is “moving towards areas with more persistent year-round sea ice”.
In a paper I just published with colleague Dr Ted Scambos from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, we highlight the impact of southern ice sheet loss, particularly the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, on sea-level rise around the world.
We know that human emissions of greenhouse gases are causing the Earth’s temperature to rise and are creating other changes across the Earth’s climate system. One change that gets a great deal of attention is the current and future rates of sea-level rise. A rising sea level affects coastal communities around the world; approximately 150 million people live within 1 meter of current sea level.
The waters are rising because of a number of factors. First, water expands as it warms. In the past, this “thermal expansion” was the largest source of sea-level rise. But as the Earth’s temperatures continued to increase, another factor (melting ice, particularly from large ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica) has played an ever increasing role.
Almost half of the processes that are crucial to maintaining the stability of the planet have become dangerously compromised by human activity. That is the view of an international team of 18 researchers who provide new evidence of significant changes in four of the nine systems which regulate the resilience of the Earth. One of the systems which has been seriously affected is the nitrogen-phosphorus cycle which is essential to all life, and is particularly important to both food production and the maintenance of clean water. “People depend on food, and food production depends on clean water,” says Prof. Elena Bennett from McGill’s School of the Environment who contributed the research on the nitrogen-phosphorus cycle to the study. “This new data shows that our ability both to produce sufficient food in the future and to have clean water to drink and to swim in are at risk.”
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2. The earth is our home, not our trash can.
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