Saturday, September 29, 2012

Constraining world trade is unlikely to help the climate, study finds

Constraining world trade is unlikely to help the climate, study finds

ScienceDaily (Sep. 23, 2012) — From rubber dinghies to television sets: the emissions of greenhouse gases in countries like China are to a significant extent caused by the production of goods that are exported to Germany or the United States. But this doesn't necessarily mean that Western countries have relocated their emission-intensive industries and hence escape regulation for climate protection. This is shown in a study appearing in Nature Climate Change this week.

Instead, researchers were able to pin down a number of factors explaining the pronounced imbalances between emission importers and exporters, the US current account deficit being one of them. Their conclusion: interventions in world trade, like CO2 tariffs, would probably have only a small impact on global emissions.

Almost half of the CO2 transfers into the US are caused by the American trade deficit
"For the first time, we have now broken down the known emission transfers into their components," Jakob says. The economic analysis is based on an evaluation of estimates that were determined by other researchers in earlier studies. "We can show that of the CO2 flowing into the US in form of imported goods, almost 50 per cent are due to the American trade deficit alone," Jakob explains. The US emits less CO2 in the production of its exports than is contained in its imports, simply because it imports more than it exports. "And only about 20 per cent of CO2 transfers from China into the US can be traced back to the fact that China is in effect relatively more specialized in the production of dirty goods," Jakob says. But this is the only driver of emission transfers on which the currently controversially discussed climate tariffs could take effect.

Without world trade, the emission of greenhouse gases in countries like China could potentially be even higher than today, according to the study. Western countries often export goods like machines that need a lot of energy in the production process. Usually, this energy stems from comparatively clean production processes. On the other hand, China produces a lot of export goods like toys, whose production needs relatively little energy, but stems from emission-intensive coal power plants. If China with its fossil energy mix had to produce more energy-intensive goods itself instead of importing them, emissions would increase. "In the end, interventions in world trade could do more harm than good," says co-author Robert Marschinski from PIK and Technische Universität Berlin.

"The crucial question is how clean or how dirty national energy production is in each case"
Crucial for CO2 transfers is not only world trade, but also the question of how clean or dirty national energy production is in each case," Marschinski emphasizes. To look only at CO2 transfers could be misleading. If for instance the European Union were to adopt new low emission production metho

"To really justify trade-policy interventions like the much discussed CO2 tariffs, further analysis would be needed -- the observed CO2 transfers alone are not enough as a basis," Marschinski explains. "Such measures cannot replace what it really takes: more international cooperation." Binding global climate targets could give incentives for investors to promote low-emission technologies. Innovations in efficiency could get financial support, and regional emission trading systems could be linked with each other, Marschinski says. "All this could help to achieve climate protection targets in an economically reasonable way."

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Dioxin causes disease and reproductive problems across generations, study finds

Dioxin causes disease and reproductive problems across generations, study finds

ScienceDaily (Sep. 26, 2012) — Since the 1960s, when the defoliant Agent Orange was widely used in Vietnam, military, industry and environmental groups have debated the toxicity of one of its ingredients, the chemical dioxin, and how it should be regulated.

But even if all the dioxin were eliminated from the planet, Washington State University researchers say its legacy would live on in the way it turns genes on and off in the descendants of people exposed over the past half century.

Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, biologist Michael Skinner and members of his lab say dioxin administered to pregnant rats resulted in a variety of reproductive problems and disease in subsequent generations. The first generation of rats had prostate disease, polycystic ovarian disease and fewer ovarian follicles, the structures that contain eggs. To the surprise of Skinner and his colleagues, the third generation had even more dramatic incidences of ovarian disease and, in males, kidney disease.

"Therefore, it is not just the individuals exposed, but potentially the great-grandchildren that may experience increased adult-onset disease susceptibility," says Skinner

Skinner is a professor of reproductive biology and environmental epigenetics -- the process in which environmental factors affect how genes are turned on and off in the offspring of an exposed animal, even though its DNA sequences remain unchanged. In this year alone, Skinner and colleagues have published studies finding epigenetic diseases promoted by jet fuel and other hydrocarbon mixtures, plastics, pesticides and fungicides, as well as dioxin.

The field of epigenetics opens new ground in the study of how diseases and reproductive problems develop. While toxicologists generally focus on animals exposed to a compound, work in Skinner's lab further demonstrates that diseases can also stem from older, ancestral exposures that are then mediated through epigenetic changes in sperm.

This latest study was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Skinner designed the study; the research was done by Assistant Research Professor Mohan Manikkam, Research Technician Rebecca Tracey and Post-doctoral Researcher Carlos Guerrero-Bosagna.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Climate change to fuel northern spread of avian malaria: Malaria already found in birds in Alaska

Climate change to fuel northern spread of avian malaria: Malaria already found in birds in Alaska

ScienceDaily (Sep. 19, 2012) — Malaria has been found in birds in parts of Alaska, and global climate change will drive it even farther north, according to a new study published September 19 in the journal PLoS ONE.

The spread could prove devastating to arctic bird species that have never encountered the disease and thus have no resistance to it, said San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Biology Ravinder Sehgal, one of the study's co-authors. It may also help scientists understand the effects of climate change on the spread of human malaria, which is caused by a similar parasite.

Researchers examined blood samples from birds collected at four sites of varying latitude, with Anchorage as a southern point, Denali and Fairbanks as middle points and Coldfoot as a northern point, roughly 600 miles north of Anchorage. They found infected birds in Anchorage and Fairbanks but not in Coldfoot.

Using satellite imagery and other data, researchers were able to predict how environments will change due to global warming -- and where malaria parasites will be able to survive in the future. They found that by 2080, the disease will have spread north to Coldfoot and beyond.

"Right now, there's no avian malaria above latitude 64 degrees, but in the future, with global warming, that will certainly change," Sehgal said. The northerly spread is alarming, he added, because there are species in the North American arctic that have never been exposed to the disease and may be highly susceptible to it.

"For example, penguins in zoos die when they get malaria, because far southern birds have not been exposed to malaria and thus have not developed any resistance to it," he said. "There are birds in the north, such as snowy owls or gyrfalcons, that could experience the same thing."

The study's lead author is Claire Loiseau, a former postdoctoral fellow in Sehgal's laboratory at SF State. Ryan Harrigan, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, provided data modeling for the project. The research was funded by grants from the AXA Foundation and National Geographic.

Researchers are still unsure how the disease is being spread in Alaska and are currently collecting additional data to determine which mosquito species are transmitting the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria.

The data may also indicate if and how malaria in humans will spread northward. Modern medicine makes it difficult to track the natural spread of the disease, Sehgal said, but monitoring birds may provide clues as to how global climate change may effect the spread of human malaria.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

U.S. underestimates costs of carbon pollution and climate change

U.S. underestimates costs of carbon pollution and climate change

ScienceDaily (Sep. 17, 2012) — Model used by government all but ignores economic damages that climate change will inflict on future generations.

The U.S. federal government is significantly underestimating the costs of carbon pollution because it is using a faulty analytical model, according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

A more appropriate accounting of costs would pave the way to cleaner, more economically efficient sources of power generation, the study found.

"This is a wake-up call for America to start aggressively investing in low carbon sources of energy. The very real economic benefits will accrue quickly and increase over time," said Dr. Laurie Johnson, chief economist in the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"With approximately 40 percent of all carbon emissions in the U.S. coming from power plants, the economic advantages of clean electricity sources are significant," she said.

Johnson, who co-authored the study (with Chris Hope of Judge Business School, University of Cambridge) "The Social Cost of Carbon in U.S. Regulatory Impact Analyses," said the model used by the government is incomplete because it all but ignores the economic damages that climate change will inflict on future generations. That model was the product of an interagency task force composed of six cabinet agencies and six executive branch offices.

The real benefits of carbon reduction range from 2.6 to more than 12 times higher than the government's estimate.

"It turns out that the price we now pay for energy is much higher than what shows up on our electric bills or the tab at the gas pump," Johnson said.

Without properly accounting for pollution costs, natural gas appears to be the cheapest generation option for new power plants. However, the revised estimates show that, after incorporating the economic costs of carbon and other pollutants from fossil fuel generation, building new generation using wind and solar power would be more cost effective than either natural gas or coal.

Supplementary analysis by one of the authors shows even greater gains from replacing existing coal plants with new wind and solar photovoltaic, or with new fossil fuel generation that has carbon capture and storage technology.

The country's existing coal fleet accounts for approximately 36 percent of all U.S. CO2 emissions and is responsible for virtually all power-sector sulfur dioxide emissions, which cause thousands of premature deaths every year, respiratory problems, heart disease, and a number of ecosystem damages.

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When it rains, it pours: Intensification of extreme tropical rainfall with global warming modeled

When it rains, it pours: Intensification of extreme tropical rainfall with global warming modeled

ScienceDaily (Sep. 17, 2012) — Extreme precipitation in the tropics comes in many forms: thunderstorm complexes, flood-inducing monsoons and wide-sweeping cyclones like the recent Hurricane Isaac.

Global warming is expected to intensify extreme precipitation, but the rate at which it does so in the tropics has remained unclear. Now an MIT study has given an estimate based on model simulations and observations: With every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature, the study finds, tropical regions will see 10 percent heavier rainfall extremes, with possible impacts for flooding in populous regions.
"The study includes some populous countries that are vulnerable to climate change," says Paul O'Gorman, the Victor P. Starr Career Development Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT, "and impacts of changes in rainfall could be important there."

O'Gorman found that, compared to other regions of the world, extreme rainfall in the tropics responds differently to climate change. "It seems rainfall extremes in tropical regions are more sensitive to global warming," O'Gorman says. "We have yet to understand the mechanism for this higher sensitivity."

Results from the study are published online this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

A warm rain will fall
Global warming's effect on rainfall in general is relatively well-understood: As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere, they increase the temperature, which in turn leads to increases in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. When storm systems develop, the increased humidity prompts heavier rain events that become more extreme as the climate warms.

Scientists have been developing models and simulations of Earth's climate that can be used to help understand the impact of global warming on extreme rainfall around the world. For the most part, O'Gorman says, existing models do a decent job of simulating rainfall outside the tropics -- for instance, in mid-latitude regions such as the United States and Europe. In those regions, the models agree on the rate at which heavy rains intensify with global warming.

However, when it comes to precipitation in the tropics, these models, O'Gorman says, are not in agreement with one another. The reason may come down to resolution: Climate models simulate weather systems by dividing the globe into a grid, with each square on the grid representing a wide swath of ocean or land. Large weather systems that span multiple squares, such as those that occur in the United States and Europe in winter, are relatively easy to simulate. In contrast, smaller, more isolated storms that occur in the tropics may be trickier to track.

An intensity of extremes
To better understand global warming's effect on tropical precipitation, O'Gorman studied satellite observations of extreme rainfall between the latitudes of 30 degrees north and 30 degrees south -- just above and below the Equator. The observations spanned the last 20 years, the extent of the satellite record. He then compared the observations to results from 18 different climate models over a similar 20-year period.

"That's not long enough to get a trend in extreme rainfall, but there are variations from year to year," O'Gorman says. "Some years are warmer than others, and it's known to rain more overall in those years."

This year-to-year variability is mostly due to El Niño -- a tropical weather phenomenon that warms the surface of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño causes localized warming and changes in rainfall patterns and occurs independent of global warming.

Looking through the climate models, which can simulate the effects of both El Niño and global warming, O'Gorman found a pattern. Models that showed a strong response in rainfall to El Niño also responded strongly to global warming, and vice versa. The results, he says, suggest a link between the response of tropical extreme rainfall to year-to-year temperature changes and longer-term climate change.

O'Gorman then looked at satellite observations to see what rainfall actually occurred as a result of El Niño in the past 20 years, and found that the observations were consistent with the models in that the most extreme rainfall events occurred in warmer periods. Using the observations to constrain the model results, he determined that with every 1 degree Celsius rise under global warming, the most extreme tropical rainfall would become 10 percent more intense -- a more sensitive response than is expected for nontropical parts of the world.

"Unfortunately, the results of the study suggest a relatively high sensitivity of tropical extreme rainfall to global warming," O'Gorman says. "But they also provide an estimate of what that sensitivity is, which should be of practical value for planning."

The results of the study are in line with scientists' current understanding of how global warming affects rainfall, says Richard Allan, an associate professor of climate science at the University of Reading in England. A warming climate, he says, adds more water vapor to the atmosphere, fueling more intense storm systems.

"However, it is important to note that computer projections indicate that although the rainfall increases in the wettest regions -- or similarly, the wet season -- the drier parts of the tropics … will become drier still," Allan says. "So policymakers may have to plan for more damaging flooding, but also less reliable rains from year to year."

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Most coral reefs are at risk unless climate change is drastically limited, study shows

Most coral reefs are at risk unless climate change is drastically limited, study shows

Coral reefs face severe challenges even if global warming is restricted to the 2 degrees Celsius commonly perceived as safe for many natural and human-made systems. Warmer sea surface temperatures are likely to trigger more frequent and more intense mass coral bleaching events. Only under a scenario with strong action on mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions and the assumption that corals can adapt at extremely rapid rates, could two thirds of them be safe, shows a study now published in Nature Climate Change. Otherwise all coral reefs are expected to be subject to severe degradation.

Coral reefs house almost a quarter of the species in the oceans and provide critical services -- including coastal protection, tourism and fishing -- to millions of people worldwide. Global warming and ocean acidification, both driven by human-caused CO2 emissions, pose a major threat to these ecosystems.

"Our findings show that under current assumptions regarding thermal sensitivity, coral reefs might no longer be prominent coastal ecosystems if global mean temperatures actually exceed 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level," says lead author Katja Frieler from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "Without a yet uncertain process of adaptation or acclimation, however, already about 70% of corals are projected to suffer from long-term degradation by 2030 even under an ambitious mitigation scenario." Thus, the threshold to protect at least half of the coral reefs worldwide is estimated to be below 1.5 degrees Celsius mean temperature increase.

A more comprehensive and robust representation than in previous studies
This study is the first comprehensive global survey of coral bleaching to express results in terms of global mean temperature change. It has been conducted by scientists from Potsdam, the University of British Columbia in Canada and the Universities of Melbourne and Queensland in Australia. To project the cumulative heat stress at 2160 reef locations worldwide, they used an extensive set of 19 global climate models. By applying different emission scenarios covering the 21st century and multiple climate model simulations, a total of more than 32,000 simulation years was diagnosed. This allows for a more robust representation of uncertainty than any previous study.

Corals derive most of their energy, as well as most of their famous color, from a close symbiotic relationship with a special type of microalgae. The vital symbiosis between coral and algae can break down when stressed by warm water temperatures, making the coral "bleach" or turn pale. Though corals can survive this, if the heat stress persists long enough the corals can die in great numbers. "This happened in 1998, when an estimated 16% of corals were lost in a single, prolonged period of warmth worldwide," says Frieler.

Adaptation is uncertain and ocean acidification means even more stress
To account for a possible acclimation or adaptation of corals to thermal stress, like shifts to symbiont algae with a higher thermal tolerance, rather optimistic assumptions have been included in the study. "However, corals themselves have all the wrong characteristics to be able to rapidly evolve new thermal tolerances," says co-author Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia. "They have long lifecycles of 5-100 years and they show low levels of diversity due to the fact that corals can reproduce by cloning themselves. They are not like fruit flies which can evolve much faster."

Previous analyses estimated the effect of thermal adaptation on bleaching thresholds, but not the possible opposing effect of ocean acidification. Seawater gets more acidic when taking up CO2 from the atmosphere. This is likely to act to the detriment of the calcification processes crucial for the corals' growth and might also reduce their thermal resilience. The new study investigates the potential implications of this ocean acidification effect, finding that, as Hoegh-Guldberg says: "The current assumptions on thermal sensitivity might underestimate, not overestimate, the future impact of climate change on corals."

This comprehensive analysis highlights how close we are to a world without coral reefs as we know them. "The window of opportunity to preserve the majority of coral reefs, part of the world's natural heritage, is small," summarizes Malte Meinshausen, co-author at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Melbourne. "We close this window, if we follow another decade of ballooning global greenhouse-gas emissions."

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

How fast can ice sheets respond to climate change?

How fast can ice sheets respond to climate change?

ScienceDaily (Sep. 13, 2012) — A new Arctic study in the journal Science is helping to unravel an important mystery surrounding climate change: How quickly glaciers can melt and grow in response to shifts in temperature.

According to the new research, glaciers on Canada's Baffin Island expanded rapidly during a brief cold snap about 8,200 years ago. The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence showing that ice sheets reacted rapidly in the past to cooling or warming, raising concerns that they could do so again as Earth heats up.

"One of the questions scientists have been asking is how long it takes for these huge chunks of ice to respond to a global climate phenomenon," said study co-author Jason Briner, PhD, a University at Buffalo associate professor of geology. "People don't know whether glaciers can respond quickly enough to matter to our grandchildren, and we're trying to answer this from a geological perspective, by looking at Earth's history."

"What we're seeing," he added, "is that these ice sheets are surprisingly sensitive to even short periods of temperature change."

Briner's colleagues on the study included lead author Nicolás Young, who worked on the study as part of his PhD at UB and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Dylan H. Rood of the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre and the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Robert C. Finkel of UC Berkeley.

A video outlining the findings is available at
The research, scheduled to appear in Science on Sept. 14, found that mountain glaciers on Baffin Island, along with a massive North American ice sheet, expanded quickly when cooled about 8,200 years ago.

The finding was surprising because the cold snap was extremely short-lived: The temperature fell for only a few decades, and then returned to previous levels within 150 years or so.

"It's not at all amazing that a small local glacier would grow in response to an event like this, but it is incredible that a large ice sheet would do the same," Young said.

To conduct the research, Briner led a team to Baffin Island to read the landscape for clues about the pre-historical size and activity of glaciers that covered the island.

Moraines -- piles of rocks and debris that glaciers deposit while expanding -- provided valuable information. By dating these and other geological features, the scientists were able to deduce that glaciers expanded rapidly on Baffin Island about 8,200 years ago, a period coinciding with a short-lived cold snap.

The researchers also found that Baffin Island's glaciers appeared to have been larger during this brief period of cooling than during the Younger Dryas period, a much more severe episode of cooling that began about 13,000 years ago and lasted more than a millennium.

This counterintuitive finding suggests that unexpected factors may govern a glacier's response to climate change.

With regard to Baffin Island, the study's authors say that while overall cooling may have been more intense during the Younger Dryas, summer temperatures may have actually decreased more during the shift 8,200 years ago. These colder summers could have fueled the glaciers' rapid advance, decreasing the length of time that ice melted during the summer.

Detailed analyses of this kind will be critical to developing accurate models for predicting how future climate change will affect glaciers around the world, Briner said.
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Himalayan glaciers retreating at accelerated rate in some regions: Consequences for water supply remain unclear

Himalayan glaciers retreating at accelerated rate in some regions: Consequences for water supply remain unclear

ScienceDaily (Sep. 12, 2012) — Glaciers in the eastern and central regions of the Himalayas appear to be retreating at accelerating rates, similar to those in other areas of the world, while glaciers in the western Himalayas are more stable and could be growing, says a new report from the National Research Council.

The report examines how changes to glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, which covers eight countries across Asia, could affect the area's river systems, water supplies, and the South Asian population. The mountains in the region form the headwaters of several major river systems -- including the Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers -- which serve as sources of drinking water and irrigation supplies for roughly 1.5 billion people.

The entire Himalayan climate is changing, but how climate change will impact specific places remains unclear, said the committee that wrote the report. The eastern Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau are warming, and the trend is more pronounced at higher elevations. Models suggest that desert dust and black carbon, a component of soot, could contribute to the rapid atmospheric warming, accelerated snowpack melting, and glacier retreat.

While glacier melt contributes water to the region's rivers and streams, retreating glaciers over the next several decades are unlikely to cause significant change in water availability at lower elevations, which depend primarily on monsoon precipitation and snowmelt, the committee said. Variations in water supplies in those areas are more likely to come from extensive extraction of groundwater resources, population growth, and shifts in water-use patterns. However, if the current rate of retreat continues, high elevation areas could have altered seasonal and temporal water flow in some river basins. The effects of glacier retreat would become evident during the dry season, particularly in the west where glacial melt is more important to the river systems. Nevertheless, shifts in the location, intensity, and variability of both rain and snow will likely have a greater impact on regional water supplies than glacier retreat will.

Melting of glacial ice could play an important role in maintaining water security during times of drought or similar climate extremes, the committee noted. During the 2003 European drought, glacial melt contributions to the Danube River in August were about three times greater than the 100-year average. Water stored as glacial ice could serve as the Himalayan region's hydrologic "insurance," adding to streams and rivers when it is most needed. Although retreating glaciers would provide more meltwater in the short term, the loss of glacier "insurance" could become problematic over the long term.

Water resources management and provision of clean water and sanitation are already a challenge in the region, and the changes in climate and water availability warrant small-scale adaptations with effective, flexible management that can adjust to the conditions, the committee concluded. Current efforts that focus on natural hazard and disaster reduction in the region could offer useful lessons when considering and addressing the potential for impacts resulting from glacial retreat and changes in snowmelt processes in the region.

Many basins in the region are "water-stressed" due to both social changes and environmental factors, and this stress is projected to intensify with large forecasted population growth, the committee concluded. Climate change could exacerbate this stress in the future.

Although the history of international river disputes suggests that cooperation is a more likely outcome than violent conflict in this region, social conditions could change. Therefore, modifications in water supplies could play an increasing role in political tensions, especially if existing water management institutions do not evolve to take better account of the region's social, economic, and ecological complexities, the committee said.

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Priceless or worthless? 100 most threatened species first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done, conservationists warn

Priceless or worthless? 100 most threatened species first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done, conservationists warn

ScienceDaily (Sep. 10, 2012) — Tarzan's chameleon, the spoon-billed sandpiper and the pygmy three-toed sloth have all topped a new list of the species closest to extinction released today by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The list's creation and publication has received the backing of His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge who said: "This book does not merely tell us which species are most endangered, it shows us how we can save them. It challenges us to commit to safeguarding our priceless natural heritage for future generations."

For the first time ever, more than 8,000 scientists from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) have come together to identify 100 of the most threatened animals, plants and fungi on the planet. But conservationists fear they'll be allowed to die out because none of these species provide humans with obvious benefits.

Professor Jonathan Baillie, ZSL's Director of Conservation explains: "The donor community and conservation movement are leaning increasingly towards a 'what can nature do for us' approach, where species and wild habitats are valued and prioritised according to the services they provide for people. This has made it increasingly difficult for conservationists to protect the most threatened species on the planet.

While the utilitarian value of nature is important conservation goes beyond this. Do these species have a right to survive or do we have a right to drive them to extinction?"

The report, called Priceless or Worthless?, will be presented at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in South Korea this week, and hopes to push the conservation of 'worthless' creatures up the agenda that is set by NGOs from around the globe.

Co-author of the report, ZSL's Ellen Butcher says: "All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable. If they vanish, no amount of money can bring them back. However, if we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist."

Their declines have mainly been caused by humans, but in almost all cases scientists believe their extinction can still be avoided if conservation efforts are specifically focused. Conservation actions deliver results with many species such as Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus) and Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) have being saved from extinction.

The 100 species, from 48 different countries are first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done to protect them.

The pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) is one of the animals facing a bleak future. Escudo Island, 17km off the coast of Panama, is the only place in the world where these tiny sloths are found. At half the size of their mainland cousins, and weighing roughly the same as a newborn baby, pygmy sloths are the smallest and slowest sloths in the world and remain Critically Endangered.

Similarly, the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is one of the most threatened mammals in Southeast Asia. Known as the Asian unicorn because of its rarity, the population of these antelope may be down to few tens of individuals today.

In the UK, a small area in Wales is the only place in the world where the brightly coloured willow blister (Cryptomyces maximus) is found. Populations of the spore-shooting fungi are currently in decline, and a single catastrophic event could cause their total destruction.

Professor Baillie adds: "If we believe these species are priceless it is time for the conservation community, government and industry to step up to the plate and show future generations that we value all life.''

Whilst monetising nature remains a worthwhile necessity for conservationists, the wider value of species on the brink of extinction should not be disregarded, the report states.

"All species have a value to nature and thus in turn to humans," says Dr Simon Stuart, Chair IUCN Species Survival Commission. "Although the value of some species may not appear obvious at first, all species in fact contribute in their way to the healthy functioning of the planet."

ZSL and IUCN will be presenting 'Priceless or Worthless?' at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea on 11th September 2012.

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Reining in red meat consumption cuts chronic disease risk and carbon footprint

Reining in red meat consumption cuts chronic disease risk and carbon footprint

ScienceDaily (Sep. 10, 2012) — Reducing red and processed meat consumption would not only prompt a fall in chronic disease incidence of between 3 and 12 per cent in the UK, but our carbon footprint would shrink by 28 million tonnes a year, suggests research published in the online only journal BMJ Open.

Food and drink account for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions attributable to UK consumers, with livestock farming accounting for around half of this proportion, owing to the large quantity of cereals and soy imported for animal feed.

Even when imported foods are taken out of the equation, the government's 2050 target for an 80% cut in the UK's carbon footprint will be "unattainable" without a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming, say the authors, citing the Committee on Climate Change.

Previously published evidence shows that the risks of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer rise by 42%, 19%, and 18% respectively, with every additional 50 g of red and processed meat eaten daily.

The authors used responses to the 2000-2001 British National Diet and Nutrition Survey to estimate red and processed meat intake across the UK population and published data from life cycle analyses to quantify average greenhouse gas emissions for 45 different food categories.

They then devised a feasible "counterfactual" alternative, based on a doubling of the proportion of survey respondents who said they were vegetarian -- to 4.7% of men and 12.3% of women -- and the remainder adopting the same diet as those in the bottom fifth of red and processed meat consumption.
Those in the top fifth of consumption ate 2.5 times as much as those in the bottom fifth, the survey responses showed.

Therefore, adopting the diet of those eating the least red and processed meat would mean cutting average consumption from 91 to 53 g a day for men and from 54 to 30 g for women.

The calculations showed that this would significantly cut the risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes, and bowel cancer by between 3 and 12 per cent across the population as a whole.

And this reduction in risk would be more than twice as much as the population averages for those at the top end of consumption who moved to the bottom end.

Furthermore, the expected reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would amount to 0.45 tonnes per person per year, or just short of 28 million tonnes of the equivalent of CO2 a year.
The authors acknowledge that their data are a decade old, but the most recent nutrition survey (2008/9) indicates broadly similar and even slightly higher figures for red and processed meat consumption.

"This indicates that our estimates remain relevant and may even be conservative, highlighting the need for action to prevent further increases in intake in the UK population," they suggest.

And while it may be harder for people to understand the direct impact that climate change has on them, it is much easier to understand the impact on their health, they say.

"Health benefits provide near term rewards to individuals for climate friendly changes and may thus 'nudge' humanity towards a sustainable future," suggest the authors. "Dietary recommendations should no longer be based on direct health effects alone."

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Forest mortality and climate change: The big picture

Forest mortality and climate change: The big picture

ScienceDaily (Sep. 9, 2012) — Over the past two decades, extensive forest death triggered by hot and dry climatic conditions has been documented on every continent except Antarctica. Forest mortality due to drought and heat stress is expected to increase due to climate change. Although research has focused on isolated incidents of forest mortality, little is known about the potential effects of widespread forest die-offs.

A new analysis of the current literature on this topic by Carnegie's William and Leander Anderegg is published September 9 in Nature Climate Change.

Along with co-author Jeffrey Kane of Northern Arizona University, the Andereggs examined papers dealing with different aspects of forest die-off events from studies all over the world. They divided their findings into the effects on a forest community of trees and other species; on ecosystem processes as a whole; on services forests provide to humans; and on the climate.

"This study provides a state-of-the-art overview of the many benefits forests provide to humans, from water purification to climate regulation," said William Anderegg, "Many of these roles can be disrupted by the widespread tree mortality expected with climate change."

They found that heat and drought, including drought-related insect infestation, can disproportionately affect some species of trees, or can hit certain ages or sizes of trees particularly hard. This can result in long-term shifts in an area's dominant species, with the potential to trigger a transition into a different ecosystem, such as grassland. It can also impact the understory--the layer of vegetation under the treetops--as well as organisms living in the soil. More research on forest community impacts is needed, particularly on the trajectories of regrowth after forest die-off.

From an ecosystem perspective, forest die-off will also likely affect hydrological processes and nutrient cycles. Depending on the type of forest, soil moisture could be increased by the lack of tree-top interception of rainfall or decreased by evaporation due to more sun and wind exposure. Debris from fallen trees could also increase a forest's fire risk.

Forests also have an effect on the climate as a whole. Forests play an important role in determining the amount of heat and light that is reflected from the Earth and into space and in taking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. On one hand, forest mortality increases the reflection of the sun's energy back into space, thus providing a cooling effect. But on the other hand, the decomposition of fallen trees releases carbon into the atmosphere, thus producing a warming effect. Overall, whether forest die-offs result in local cooling or warming is expected to depend on the type of forest, the latitude, the amount of snow cover, and other complex ecosystem factors.

Mass tree mortality would likely cause substantial losses to the timber industry, even if saplings and seedlings were unaffected. Little research has been conducted on other types of forest products that humans use, such as fruit or nuts, but there would presumably be changes in those sectors as well. Recent research has examined other services provided by forests which would likely be affected by die-off, such as declines in real-estate property values following widespread tree mortality.

Overall, the analysis found that although there are many recent advances in understanding the effects of severe forest die-off, many critical research gaps remain. These gaps are especially critical in light of increasing forest die-off with climate change.

One urgent gap is how this summer's US-wide severe drought might affect forests. William Anderegg is helping to tackle this question by spearheading a project involving dozens of research groups from around the country.

"The varied nature of the consequences of forest mortality means that we need a multidisciplinary approach going forward, including ecologists, biogeochemists, hydrologists, economists, social scientists, and climate scientists," William Anderegg said. "A better understanding of forest die-off in response to climate change can inform forest management, business decisions, and policy."

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