This is my latest post in “Making the Links,” a monthly blog series in which I attempt to connect the dots between nature and people in the news. (To learn more about the goal of the series, read the first post.)
Here’s my link roundup from June.
The nature in humans (stories secretly about nature)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that food manufacturers will be required to remove partially hydrogenated oils — the primary source of artificial trans fat — from their products over the next three years. A major ingredient in many processed foods, trans fats have been linked to increased risk of heart disease.
The link: Although this decision may be good news for public health, without proper regulation it could have unintended impacts for the planet. Palm oil could serve as a substitute for trans fats in many products, increasing demand and leading to the expansion of oil palm plantations — often at the expense of forests. Palm oil production is currently a major driver of tropical deforestation, particularly in Southeast Asia. For this reason, it’s also a major contributor to climate change. But palm oil itself isn’t the enemy; it’s the way the plants are typically grown that needs to change. Leading companies and industry coalitions like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil are working to address this issue and ensure that palm oil production doesn’t lead to further forest loss.
According to a recent report from the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, the number of refugees in 2014 — nearly 60 million — was greater than at any other point since records have been kept.
The link: This Washington Post article points out that this staggering number does not account for people displaced by natural disasters. Yet as climate change continues to raise global temperatures and increase the frequency and strength of extreme weather events like droughts and storms, the number of people worldwide whose homelands are no longer habitable will grow — likely spurring more conflict as these people seek refuge in new places and clash with people already living there.
The humans in nature (stories secretly about people)
Last weekend, two swimmers were attacked by sharks off North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Both men remain hospitalized. The number of shark attacks in North Carolina has been higher than usual this year; according to National Geographic, weather and currents may be a factor.
The link: The widespread media attention garnered by shark attacks reflects our society’s collective fascination with and fear of these creatures. Shark attacks get far more media attention than human run-ins with cows, which according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kill more people every year than sharks. In fact, sharks help keep our oceans healthy, maintaining the food web and performing other duties we depend on.
A new study indicates that genetics impact coral’s tolerance of higher temperatures. By planting corals that are more resilient to warmer waters, researchers aim to restore damaged coral areas in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which counts climate change among its major threats.
The link: The world-famous Great Barrier Reef is a “must-see” for millions of visitors to Australia every year, supporting a multibillion-dollar tourism industry and thousands of jobs. If scientists can figure out a way to protect this unique place — as well as help it adapt to changes that may be inevitable — the country can maintain this important source of income.
The daily news cycle by necessity sometimes has to leave out the big picture. However, the more we can train ourselves to see the links between nature and the news, the more aware we’ll be of nature’s central role in our lives — and of the importance of protecting it.
Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature.