Newscoop Footnotes: May 15, 2019

Welcome to Newscoop Footnotes —

the weekly review of important news no one’s talking about.

Hi, I’m Zoe Licata.

Looking today at the state of our planet.

April 22nd was the 49th anniversary of the first Earth Day, birth of the modern environmental movement. That watershed effort in 1970 drew support from Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor alike. And within just one year, under a Republican president, America had passed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and created the Environmental Protection Agency.

We’re living in a different era now. Climate change deniers, along with oil lobbyists and the politicians they finance, have made it all but impossible to hold onto the achievements of the 70s, let alone make progress. And we’re rapidly seeing the effects.

One can almost feel the earth shudder. While some American policymakers continue to thumb their noses at the science around climate change, we heard last week that much of the earth’s biodiversity is about to disappear.

Today we review the latest reports and concerns on the state of our planet. Political roadblocks to progress. And citizen efforts to stop the downward spiral.

  • A new landmark UN report, based on thousands of scientific studies by 145 experts in 50 countries over 3 years, announced last week that the biodiversity of our planet is in peril. The report states that “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely…”

    More than a million animal and plant species are said to be facing extinction, many of them within decades. We know the causes, and they’re mostly man-made — pollution, climate change, and activities like over-farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining.

    The study’s authors warn that the world’s economies are threatened, as are the health and food supplies for populations around the globe.

    Sir Robert Watson, chair of IPBES, the intergovernmental biodiversity panel that compiled the report, is emphatic that the effect of biodiversity loss is as foreboding for our planet and coming generations as is climate change. Fish are already disappearing around the world, and taps are running dry.

    Watson emphasizes that this is not about just saving nature for nature’s sake: “…this report makes clear the links between biodiversity and nature and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries.”

    Source:  UN IPBES Report, NYTimes, Guardian

  • The IPBES report also addresses a frightening decline in insect populations — a loss of as much as 40% in recent years. A large study last February by the journal Biological Conservation warned that insects are really in trouble — which means we’re in trouble, because the base of our food chain depends on those insects.

    Norwegian entomologist Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, talks about insects as “the glue in nature” that supplies our food and water. And Vox reporting revealed that butterflies have declined by 53%, grasshoppers and crickets by 50%, with 40% of bee species facing extinction.  

    Source:  Smithsonian Magazine, Vox, Guardian

  • We also heard about two major studies that say that glaciers and Arctic ice are disappearing. They point to the deep thaw in the Arctic permafrost layer, and that glaciers on the world’s great mountain ranges are melting so fast they could be gone by end of the century.

    Climate activist Bill McKibben tells us: “The biggest physical features on the planet are now changing in ways they haven’t since long before the dawn of human history.”

    Source:  Guardian

  • Global warming, and climate change generally, continues to be the biggest driver of the myriad environmental changes we’re seeing around the globe. The recent State of the Climate report from the World Meteorological Organization tells us that the effects of climate change are accelerating. The report included the following findings:

    1. The long-term global warming trend continues.
    2. Ocean temperature is at a record high and global sea levels continue to rise.
    3. Arctic and Antarctic sea-ice is well below average.
    The world is not on track to meet climate targets and rein in temperature increases.

    In addressing the UN Cop24 climate change conference in Poland last December, well-known naturalist David Attenborough said: “If we don’t take action on climate change, the collapse of our civilization and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon… What we do in the next 20 years will determine the future for all life on Earth.”

    Source:  Washington Post, NYTimes, Guardian

  • So… glaciers are melting faster than anyone thought possible. Insect populations have been decimated. Biodiversity has been clobbered, and we’re now facing a mass extinction event. But despite the pile up of dire warnings from scientists and researchers, the U.S. administration of Donald Trump continues in its failure to provide leadership.

    For the first time time since its inception in 1996, the Arctic Council canceled its joint statement on the state of the Arctic. This was because the Trump administration objected to language that expressed concern about the effect of climate change on the Arctic. Most of the world is expressing alarm at the rapidly rising Arctic temperatures and melting sea ice, which are leading to rising sea levels, coastal flooding and loss of species. But Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, instead welcomed the melting of Arctic ice — as likely to open new trade routes.

    Also, the far right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) Party in Germany has gone on the attack, with climate activist Greta Thunberg as its target.  Linked to prominent conservative groups in the U.S., AfD has made climate denial central to its platform since becoming part of the German government in autumn 2017. The AfD must feel the power of the young Swedish activist Thunberg — who has like no one else, had the ability to unite millions around the world for climate action.

    Source:  BBC, Guardian

  • And that’s the good news. People are stepping up their level of engagement dramatically — especially young people.

    1. Over the past year, young climate activist Greta Thunberg sparked youth climate strikes globally that had millions of school children in over 100 countries leaving their classes to march for climate action. Thunberg spoke at the UN COP24 conference and at Davos, gave Ted talks, and last month crossed Europe by train to create climate awareness.

    2. The Extinction Rebellion movement shut down the center of London for more than a week, calling for action on climate and biodiversity loss.

    3. On May 1st, the UK parliament declared a “climate emergency” — followed by the Welsh government and the Republic of Ireland.

    And last February, U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey presented a 10-year national mobilization plan for a Green New Deal that would leverage public resources to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. And while Trump and many of his supporters ridiculed the plan, and the Republican Senate voted it down, it still has legs

    Source:  Guardian, Ted Talks, New Yorker, BBC, Independent, Time

As Bill McKibben says:  “The respectable have punted; so now it’s up to the scruffy, the young, the marginal, the angry to do the necessary work.”

We’ll give Greta Thunberg the last word. From her speech at the UN COP24 conference last year in Poland:

“We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.”

This has been the latest edition of Newscoop Footnotes – important events getting too little attention.

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