Making the Links: August 2015

A giant panda at the Bifengxia Panda Reserve in China. (© Martha de Jong-Lantink)

A giant panda at the Bifengxia Panda Reserve in China. (© Martha de Jong-Lantink)

This is my latest post in “Making the Links,” a monthly blog series that connects the dots between nature and people in the news. (To learn more about the goal of the series, read the first post.)

The nature in humans (stories secretly about nature)

1.     China’s Pearl River Delta overtakes Tokyo as world’s largest megacity  

According to the World Bank, rapid urbanization has caused this Chinese manufacturing region to become the world’s largest “megacity” in terms of both size and population. It’s now home to more people than Canada, Australia or Argentina. In the next two decades, several hundred million additional people are expected to move to cities in East Asia.

The link: Often linked to pollution and urban sprawl that destroys vital ecosystems, at first glance the world’s “concrete jungles” might appear to be the antithesis of nature — and with more than 10 million people each, megacities may look like the worst offenders. Researchers are continuing to shed light on the carbon footprint of megacities — but data suggests that when cities are built and expanded sustainably, their residents may have a smaller environmental impact than country dwellers due to smaller, denser living quarters, public transportation and other factors. As cities continue to grow, fostering smart growth and conserving the resources (like fresh water) that sustain them will become even more critical.

2.     Robots, drones and heart detectors: How disaster technology is saving lives

Technological advances are making it easier to protect and rescue people from natural and human-caused disasters. For example, robots can search for survivors and unmanned aerial vehicles (better known as drones) can photograph damaged areas from above, providing valuable information for emergency responders.

The link: In addition to helping people recover from natural disasters, this kind of technology could also limit the damage in the first place. Drones are increasingly being used to assess the health of and monitor threats to ecosystems like mangroves and coral reefs — ecosystems that, when protected or restored, can help buffer communities from the impacts of disasters.

 The humans in nature (stories secretly about people)

1.     National Zoo’s giant panda Mei Xiang gives birth to two cubs hours apart

Washington, D.C.’s obsession with the breeding habits of its resident pandas was rewarded when one of the zoo’s bears unexpectedly gave birth to male twins in late August. The species is notorious for having difficulty breeding and raising cubs in captivity; the smaller of the two cubs died after four days.

The link: Threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation in their native bamboo forests, as well as anticipated reductions in bamboo habitat resulting from a changing climate, pandas are in serious danger of extinction; the National Zoo estimates there are only about 1,600 left in the wild. As the owner of all the world’s pandas, China is making significant efforts to expand panda numbers through captive breeding. Yet, if their wild habitat is not sufficiently protected, this iconic symbol of China may soon be found only in captivity — if at all.

2.     El Niño: Why now is the time to act

As the latest cycle of El Niño ramps up in the coming months, warming ocean waters and intensifying weather conditions, Asian countries will likely be hit the hardest. For example, increased drought will affect food, water and energy security among poor populations in places like Thailand and Vietnam.

The link: El Niño is a natural phenomenon that usually occurs every 7–10 years. However, climate change is expected to exacerbate impacts, giving species and ecosystems less time to recover before the next El Niño hits. As CI scientist Lee Hannah said in a recent blog, “Whereas the previous, natural cycle helped build the resilience of the system stronger, now we’re weakening the system by having it occur more often than the system has evolved to cope with.”

Editor’s note: 

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. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

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