In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world

Yosemite, United States.

Yosemite, United States. (© Eric Li)

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.

  1. Conflicting data: How fast is the world losing its forests?

Two data sources used to determine rate of deforestation directly contradict each other.

The story: Of the two main databases used to track forest loss, one claims that we are losing forests while the other says that we are gaining them — and scientists disagree on which one is more accurate, Fred Pearce for Yale Environment 360 wrote last Tuesday. What’s behind the discrepancy? One source pulls satellite images of forest cover, painting a gloomy picture, and the other compiles government inventories on how land is being used, pointing to declining rates of deforestation. For example, in the latter database, even if an area was cleared for logging, it is still considered “productive forest” because it is expected to regrow.

The big picture: Although the two datasets are meant to be complementary, Pearce wrote, “the problem is that they give out very different and irreconcilable messages about the state of the world’s forests.” Forests are listed as an important solution to halting global warming in a new report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; without a definitive measurement of how much deforestation is occurring, however, determining the viability of forests as a solution is impossible.

Read the story here.

  1. E.P.A. to disband a key scientific review panel on air pollution

An Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) panel that helped the agency determine safe air pollutant levels will not continue its work next year.

The story: The Particulate Matter Review Panel will no longer be monitoring soot levels in our air, Lisa Friedman with The New York Times reported Thursday. In its place, the 7-person Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee will provide advice on air quality standards. Scientists have expressed concerns that the committee may be too inexperienced and will not be able to handle the work load.

The big picture: Since President Trump took office, multiple changes have been made within the E.P.A. regarding environmental policy, including eliminating the Office of the Science Advisor post and advocating for new rules to restrict the type and number of studies the E.P.A. should consider when they write new regulations. “To me this is part of a pattern,” Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said. “We’re seeing E.P.A trying to cut science out of the process.”

Read the story here.


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  1. The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say

A report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday says that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is possible, but only if unprecedented action is taken.

The story: The panel warns that the deadline to limit warming to 1.5 degrees is rapidly approaching, Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis with the Washington Post wrote last Sunday. In order to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees, a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation would have to occur. Emissions must quickly decline — most coal plants would need to be shut down by 2050 and transportation would need to rely primarily on renewable energy; overall reliance on renewably energy must increase from 24 percent to between 50 and 60 percent in a little more than 10 years; and large portions of land currently used for agriculture would need to be converted back to forests.

The big picture: The goal of the Paris Agreement — the most ambitious global climate goal to date, ratified by 181 parties and entered into force almost two years ago — was to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius. But according to the report, two degrees of warming would still cause catastrophic damage, including much greater sea level rise, total devastation of coral reefs and permafrost thaw, which would in turn release more greenhouse gases. “When a report like this comes out, we’re presented with choices: give in to despair and fatalism, or keep working,” Shyla Raghav, Conservation International’s climate change lead, said. “I choose to keep working — not only because we can’t afford not to, but because there is ample cause for hope. It’s called nature.”

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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