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Articles by Category for ‘Environment’

The animated maps that reveal in 60 seconds how cities have exploded in size over the last 130 years

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The animated maps that reveal in 60 seconds how cities have exploded in size over the last 130 years
See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2599301/Cities-60-seconds-Animated-maps-reveal-cities-expanded-just-130-years.html

They are an incredible reminder of just how quickly the world’s major cities are expanding.

These new animations show Paris, Los Angeles, São Paulo and Chicago expanding over 130 years – all condensed into a 60 second animation.

Researchers behind the project hope that making the expansion so visible they will force city planners to look ahead more.

The animations were created by the NYU Stern Urbanization Project.

The animations, created using information from The Atlas of Urban Expansion, clearly show the extremely rapid expansion in global cities in the 19th and 20th centuries.

‘Particularly striking is the growth in the latter half of the 20th century, in which many cities increased their built-up area by more than 10 times,’ said Patrick Lamson-Hall of the project.

See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2599301/Cities-60-seconds-Animated-maps-reveal-cities-expanded-just-130-years.html

Will Increased Food Production Devour Tropical Forest Lands?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Will Increased Food Production Devour Tropical Forest Lands?
See: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/will_increased_food_production_devour_tropical_forest_lands/2755/

As global population soars, efforts to boost food production will inevitably be focused on the world’s tropical regions. Can this agricultural transformation be achieved without destroying the remaining tropical forests of Africa, South America, and Asia?

I once stumbled out of a jungle in the Congo Basin and startled two Bantu farmers – both women – tending a small field. I spoke no Bantu and they no French, and so we just stared at each other, a little warily, until one of their toddlers wailed and we all shared a laugh.

For the Bantu, farming has changed little in 3,000 years. The women still work small farming plots made by slashing and burning the rainforest.

They plant crops like yams and bananas, while their men hunt or talk village politics. It’s a precarious existence, but the slash-and-burn farmers can eke out a living if their numbers are low enough and game abounds in the nearby forest.

Increasingly, though, this picture is changing. The Bantu are multiplying quickly, as are many other peoples across Africa. The United Nations’ mid-range population projections for the continent are staggering, with the number of Africans expected to nearly quadruple from 1.1 billion today to 4.2 billion in 2100. Feeding that populace will be an enormous challenge, requiring, among other things, a gigantic boom in agriculture.

See: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/will_increased_food_production_devour_tropical_forest_lands/2755/

Climate Change: The Least We Can Do

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Climate Change: The Least We Can Do
See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-walker/climate-change-the-least_b_5107476.html?utm_hp_ref=green

As the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report makes clear, we are long past the point of avoiding climate change. The best we can do now is to avoid the worst effects. The situation is more dire than previously projected and the consequences of inaction more starkly drawn than ever before:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased….Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence)…. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

In a perfect world, the IPCC’s report would summon forth our best efforts at mitigating climate change and its effects. We would be doing whatever is necessary and prudent to avoid a human and environmental catastrophe. By now, however, it is evident that governments — and the people they represent — are shrinking from the challenge. Hope for concerted global action on any kind of meaningful scale has largely evaporated.

Instead of asking what is the most that can be done to mitigate climate change and alleviate its consequences, perhaps we should be asking, “What is the least that can be done?”

See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-walker/climate-change-the-least_b_5107476.html?utm_hp_ref=green

Four Steps to Better Link Climate Adaptation and Reproductive Health Strategies

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Four Steps to Better Link Climate Adaptation and Reproductive Health Strategies
See: http://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2014/03/kathleen-mogelgaard-steps-linking-climate-adaptation-reproductive-health-strategies-2/#.U0Po5vldW8w

LINK TO PODCAST: http://ecsp-wwc.podomatic.com/entry/2014-03-27T14_53_31-07_00

Climate change vulnerability is closely tied to population dynamics, says Kathleen Mogelgaard in this week’s podcast. “We know that population size, composition and spatial distribution around the world is constantly changing, and that these changes do have implications for climate change exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity – the three elements of vulnerability.”

And yet, despite this knowledge, alternative population scenarios are rarely considered in climate assessments. “We do know that things like fertility and population growth can be responsive to policy and programmatic interventions,” she says, and more than 233 million women worldwide currently lack access to family planning but want to delay or prevent pregnancy. Addressing that unmet need could make a major difference in the growth rates of many regions of the world, reducing climate vulnerability along the way.

Mogelgaard outlines four ways the links between climate change adaptation and reproductive health strategies need to be strengthened: in adaptation planning frameworks, tools and training, program design, and the evidence base for these connections.

The creation of National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs) was a major initiative by the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change to create climate adaptation plans for the most vulnerable countries. Most of the plans, in fact, identified rapid population growth as something that exacerbates vulnerability. But when it came to the implementation phase, only a “handful of the NAPAs recognized that family planning and reproductive health services could be part of an adaptation strategy,” Mogelgaard says; fewer still made them a priority, and none were funded.

See: http://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2014/03/kathleen-mogelgaard-steps-linking-climate-adaptation-reproductive-health-strategies-2/#.U0Po5vldW8w

Hungry monkeys raid farms in north India as forests shrink

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Hungry monkeys raid farms in north India as forests shrink
See: http://www.trust.org/item/20140403102617-cv8xn/

JAMMU, India (Thomas Reuters Foundation) – Panicked monkeys jump off an orange tree and disappear fast as angry children pelt them with stones and shout abuse. Crackers are let off in the distance, and more kids rush out to a nearby field, dotted with scarecrows, to stop wild animals destroying crops.

For a few years now, the small farmers of Pouni block, an area surrounded by green hills and mountains in Jammu and Kashmir’s Reasi district, have faced an unusual threat from hungry wildlife whose forest habitats are in decline.

The animals are harming crops, livestock and even people here in India’s far north. In many villages, almost entire crops have been damaged on a yearly basis, threatening to bring food insecurity for small farmers living in and around traditional forest areas.

“The monkeys don’t spare any crop in our fields,” said Bal Krishan Arya, a resident of Kheralair village in Pouni block, pointing to the devoured shoots of his wheat plants. “They have destroyed my orange orchard, not leaving a single fruit on any tree.”

“There used to be dense forest on the higher reaches of the hills, but in the past few decades, the forest canopy has become patchy,” said Arya. The nearby Bayard forests were well known for their thick bamboo bushes but in the recent past, they have thinned out dramatically. Other trees have suffered too, shrinking the area’s natural vegetation.

Arya blames “reckless tree-felling” due to development activities undertaken by the state – mainly road building and expansion of human settlements – as well as local people’s dependence on wood for fuel and other purposes.

See: http://www.trust.org/item/20140403102617-cv8xn/

NY Times: Old Forecast of Famine May Yet Come True

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Old Forecast of Famine May Yet Come True

See: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/02/business/energy-environment/a-200-year-old-forecast-for-food-scarcity-may-yet-come-true.html?_r=1

Might Thomas Malthus be vindicated in the end?

Two centuries ago — only 10 years after a hungry, angry populace had ushered in the French Revolution — the dour Englishman predicted that exponential population growth would condemn humanity to the edge of subsistence.

“The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race,” he wrote with alarm.

This was, we now know, wrong. The gloomy forecast was soon buried under an avalanche of progress that spread from England around the world. Between 1820 and the year 2000 the world’s population grew sixfold. Economic output multiplied by more than 50.

Nonetheless, Malthus’s prediction was based on an eminently sensible premise: that the earth’s carrying capacity has a limit. On Monday, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided a sharp-edged warning about how fast we are approaching this constraint.

See: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/02/business/energy-environment/a-200-year-old-forecast-for-food-scarcity-may-yet-come-true.html?_r=1

Norman Borlaug enters U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Norman Borlaug enters U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall

See: http://archive.desmoinesregister.com/article/20140326/NEWS/303260057/Norman-Borlaug-enters-U-S-Capitol-s-Statuary-Hall

WASHINGTON — Far from the fields and laboratories where Norman Borlaug worked much of his life, hundreds gathered in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to unveil a statue honoring the plant geneticist credited with saving more than a billion people around the world from starvation.

As light snow blanketed Washington, attendees joined to praise the late scientist’s work to boost crop production and recognize his enduring impact on agriculture — still yielding benefits for people living in Mexico, India and other countries around the globe five years after his death.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Sen. Chuck Grassley, among the nearly dozen people to talk about the Cresco native, called Borlaug a great humanitarian and a visionary who was focused on ending hunger and boosting farm productivity.

See: http://archive.desmoinesregister.com/article/20140326/NEWS/303260057/Norman-Borlaug-enters-U-S-Capitol-s-Statuary-Hall

No, Alan, population is not an economic boom

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

No, Alan, population is not an economic boom

See: http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2014/04/no-alan-population-growth-is-not-an-economic-boom/

Alan Kohler has today uncovered the key ingredient behind Australia’s recent economic growth: the population ponzi:

It’s perfectly clear what is now taking over as the main driver of Australia’s economic growth: population.

In the 1990s, it was the productivity growth that resulted from the microeconomic reforms of the Hawke Government. In the 2000s, it was the increase in commodity prices resulting from Chinese demand.

Productivity growth finished long ago, and the investment boom is coming to an end now. Although mining and energy exports will continue to support GDP, the burning question is: what will replace resources investment as the new driver of growth?

The answer is people, or more specifically, the infrastructure required to house, feed and transport them.

Last year Australia’s population grew 1.8 per cent — the most in the Western world…

Without that, the new boom in city infrastructure needed to cope with the increase in population will simply lead to higher costs. Its impact would be negated by making Australia less competitive, leading to higher interest rates to deal with inflation.

The key issue in all this is whether expanding Australia’s population by more than 1 million people every three years is beneficial to the existing population. Sure, while it might be great for Australia’s business elites – who enjoy the fruits of an expanded market – it imposes real costs on the rest of us, who must endure increased costs of congestion, higher infrastructure costs, lower environmental amenity, and minimal uplift in material economic well-being.

See: http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2014/04/no-alan-population-growth-is-not-an-economic-boom/

Environmental impact to worsen over time

Monday, March 31st, 2014
Environmental impact to worsen over time

HAVING PICKED MOST of the ‘low hanging fruit’, humans are now putting more effort into extracting useful materials, and a new study says the associated environmental impacts are only going to grow.

Lead author, Dr Debra Davidson of the University of Alberta, said it is a worrying trend that is set to continue as natural resources become even more limited. She said environmental impacts would grow even if current consumption levels remained constant.
“A barrel of oil that was consumed in 1950 would have had a relatively smaller ecological impact than a barrel of oil that was consumed in 1980, and that will have had a relatively smaller ecological impact than a barrel of oil that will be consumed in 2020,” Davidson said.
The reason for the increasing environmental impact over time is due to declines in the quality of natural resources as they are exploited. As the easy-to-reach and better quality materials diminish, greater effort is required to extract and process the poorer quality material that is remaining.
This extra effort could be in the form of human labour, more intensive technologies, and increased requirements for inputs such as land, water, energy and chemicals.

(Wrong) Opinion: Overpopulation is a red herring

Monday, March 31st, 2014

(Wrong) Opinion: Overpopulation is a red herring

See: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/concern-overpopulation-red-herring-consumption-problem-sustainability

More than half the world’s population now lives in countries where the fertility rate – the average number of babies born per woman – is below the replacement level (around 2.1).

This seems good news for anyone concerned about the environment. A finite planet obviously cannot sustain limitless population growth, and many environmentalists make the case that even the current population, 7.2 billion, exceeds the planet’s ecological carrying capacity. If birth rates continue to fall, we might realise the UN’s “low” projection of a population peak of around 8.3 billion mid-century, declining back to today’s population by 2100.

For economists, however, and for the public officials they inform, the aging and decline of the population presents not a boon but a threat. When the fertility rate falls below replacement level, the older generation outnumbers the newer. That means fewer workers supporting more retirees, falling income-tax revenues and reduced economic growth. Accordingly, many countries including Singapore, France, Austria, Chile and South Korea, are offering people financial incentives to have children.

So here, as in many other arenas, we seem to face a contradiction between economic and ecological health. But a closer look at population and economic growth reveals there is more to the story, with problems extending right to the basic structure of our financial system.

To see how, let’s ask a naive question: already in many countries with slowing population growth, youth unemployment is at record levels. Why then do we think we need to add even more youth to the workforce?

See: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/concern-overpopulation-red-herring-consumption-problem-sustainability