Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this occasional series, Human Nature shares three recent stories of interest in our world.
The story: Despite claims of captive breeding, research shows that the vast majority of animals imported for zoos and pet stores are caught in the wild. As global attention has been focused on the impacts of the illegal trade of iconic species such as elephants, tigers and rhinos, the negative impact of the pet trade has remained largely out of the spotlight. According to an article in U.S. News, “92 percent of the 500,000 live animal shipments between 2000-2006 to the United States (that’s 1,480,000,000 animals) were for the pet trade, and 69 percent of these originated in Southeast Asia.” Many of them were illegally caught and then, according to the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, “laundered to appear legal.”
What’s next: Demand for certain species as pets, particularly reptiles, is so high that it has driven several to extinction in the wild. Birds, fish, orchids — even primates are being illegally traded internationally, particularly troubling in light of new research showing primates face a greater threat of extinction than any other large mammal group. Numerous roadblocks hamper efforts to stem the illegal pet trade: incomplete classifications (legal to trade vs. illegal, etc.); a lack of communication and consensus among nations; and weak monitoring and enforcement.
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The story: In a recent paper published in Science, Dirk Notz of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and his coauthor “found a direct link between carbon dioxide [CO2] emissions and sea ice loss. Specifically, they showed that for every ton of CO2 emitted, three square meters of sea ice, around 32 square feet, disappears.” At this rate of emissions — 700 to 1,000 gigatons of CO2, or about 20 to 25 years’ worth at the current rate — the Arctic summer ice will entirely vanish, and “iceless Arctic summers will become the norm.” Sea ice loss amplifies rising temperatures, more severe winter weather and rising sea levels.
What’s next: A single person in Germany emitting 10 tons of CO2 in a year (the average in the country) is responsible for the loss of 30 square meters of Arctic sea ice a year. But Notz suggests this same metric can be viewed as an opportunity: Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will have an almost immediate stabilizing effect on Arctic sea ice. “If we could halve our emission rates magically next year, then we would have twice as long until the ice is gone,” Notz said. Though the current trend is pointing rapidly downward, individuals and countries can reverse Arctic sea ice loss by reducing their emissions — a challenge many countries accepted when they signed the Paris Agreement and committed to limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
The story: Along with record-high temperatures and an increase in major storms, climate change is causing sea-level rise — a threat to coastal populations around the world. A competition in San Francisco is seeking to address how urban regions can prepare for sea-level rise proactively: 10 multidisciplinary teams will receive US$ 250,000 each to research and design visually appealing and scientifically sound coastal protection solutions. The contest is part of a growing trend to use competition, collaboration and prize money to find innovative answers to tricky problems — a recent “hackathon” brought MIT engineers and CI scientists together to tackle climate change with technology, for example.
What’s next: San Francisco Bay could see tides climbing as much as 66 inches by 2100 — a level that would have grave consequences for the city’s inhabitants. Pacific island nations such as Kiribati are already experiencing the impacts of sea-level rise, forcing communities to migrate as environmental refugees — and driving home the severity of climate change’s impact on people. As Adrian Covert, a vice president of the Bay Area Council, said: “This is not a future concern. It’s something we need to grapple with right now. If we have the chance to get ahead of something that will be a major challenge, we should do it.”
Sophie Bertazzo is a staff writer for CI.