Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
The story: Scientists moved the hands of the symbolic “Doomsday Clock” closer to midnight on Thursday amid increasing worries about nuclear weapons and climate change. Each year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a non-profit group, sets the clock by deciding whether the events of the previous year pushed humanity closer or farther from destruction. The clock is now two minutes to midnight, reported Doyle Rice of USA Today.
The big picture: The clock is now the closest it’s been to midnight since 1953, when the hydrogen bomb was first tested. Nuclear war wasn’t the scientists’ only consideration. “On the climate change front, the danger may seem less immediate, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run require urgent attention now. The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate risks manageable, and so far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said.
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The story: Outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, scientists are studying a hole in the ground. Dug in the 1960s so the Army could study the permafrost blanketing a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, the hole extends downward more than 1,000 feet, reported Michaeleen Doucleff of NPR. Buried within the permafrost are creatures that lived over the past 100,000 years, from grass to woolly mammoths — and they’re all made out of carbon. Alarmingly, scientists have started noticing the permafrost in the giant hole is melting, which is a good indicator permafrost across the Arctic is doing the same thing. And that means all that carbon buried deep underground is going one direction: up.
The big picture: Permafrost contains twice as much carbon as is currently in Earth’s atmosphere. In fact, says Dr. Thomas Douglas, a geochemist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “there’s more carbon in the permafrost than all the carbon humans have spewed into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution — first with steam trains, then with coal plants, cars and planes.” As the permafrost melts, it will be released into the atmosphere and exacerbate the effects of climate change. Scientists are unsure how much carbon will get released or how fast it will happen, describing the situation as a geological time bomb. Whether the “boom” is big or a dud will have to wait to be seen.
The story: Bulgaria’s environment minister, Neno Dimov, was recently named president of the European Union’s Environment Council, despite statements he’s made in the past claiming climate change is a fraud. Members of the European Parliament questioned him on past statements this week, but Dimov refused to discuss his opinion on climate change. Saying there was a “political consensus” within the EU when it came to climate change and that he would “keep this consensus alive,” Dimov immediately followed that statement by claiming there is always room for “challenges and doubts,” reported Dave Keating for Forbes.
The big picture: As president, Dimov will have the power to steer pieces of environmental policy during his six-month tenure, setting the agenda and conducting negotiations with the European Parliament. In addition to his statements denying climate change, Dimov is mired in controversy over decisions he made as environment minister to open up Pirin National Park to development, inspiring national protests.
Parliament members grilling Dimov didn’t hesitate to voice their concerns over his opinions — or his new leadership role. “You personally have been questioning climate change and whether human activity is the cause; you even challenged the theory of sea-level rise,” said Dutch Liberal MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy.
Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for Conservation International.
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