In case you missed it: 4 big stories from our world

Sorting corn in Tanzania.

Woman sorting corn in Tanzania. In order to feed the world’s growing population in a changing climate, agricultural methods must shift. (© Benjamin Drummond)

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 news stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Can we grow more food on less land? We’ll have to, a new study finds

In order to fight climate change, we have to change the way we produce food, a new report finds.

The story: The world’s population is supposed to be almost 10 billion by 2050, and that means we’re going to need more food, Brad Plumer reported in The New York Times last week. If farmers were to produce this food the way they have been — by clearing forests — they would end up destroying an area two times the size of India, which would release enough carbon to almost certainly prevent us from reaching the 2 degree goal set by the Paris Agreement.

The big picture: The solution is to eat less meat — Europeans and Americans should decrease their lamb and beef consumption by 40 percent — and to improve the productivity and sustainability of already existing agricultural land, the study’s authors found. Because climate change is expected to affect agriculture even more in the future, farmers should also invest in new crop varieties that are more drought resistant and have higher yields.

Read the story here.

  1. Sea levels may rise more rapidly due to Greenland ice melt

Sea-level rise may be a worldwide concern much sooner than previously thought.

The story: Greenland, currently the largest single source of meltwater adding volume to the oceans, is melting much faster because of man-made climate change, Jonathan Watts reported in The Guardian last week. The rate of melt is 50 percent higher than pre-industrial levels and is expected to increase exponentially as the Earth continues to warm due to climate change.

The big picture: Currently Greenland contributes 20 percent of overall sea-level rise, and if it were to completely melt, it would raise global sea levels by 7 meters. “The Greenland ice sheet is like a sleeping giant who is slowly but surely awakening to ongoing global warming, and there are surprises in its response,” Edward Hanna, professor of climate science and meteorology at the University of Lincoln, said. “However, the response may be more rapid than previously believed.”

Read the story here.

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  1. How whales and dolphins may be harmed by new seismic airgun approval

Oil and gas companies have been given the green light to use seismic airgun blasts in their search for resources in the Atlantic.

The story: The blasts, used to detect oil and gas deposits in the seafloor, are allowed by five companies and can only occur during specific months, Sarah Gibbens reported in National Geographic last week. Although the blasts can’t come within 56 miles of any endangered marine animals, the sound can travel more than 2,000 miles and a study last year found that zooplankton decreased by 64 percent in areas within 4,000 feet of a blast.

The big picture: Not only do the seismic blasts affect larger marine animals that use sound to communicate, hunt and feed, but by diminishing zooplankton, the blasts also directly affect the food chain. Environmentalists are concerned that the blasts are forewarning of oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, a controversial topic.

Read the story here.

  1. Activists feared Brazil’s Bolsonaro would accelerate Amazon deforestation. Now they think it’s already happening.

 Deforestation in the Amazon increased 50 percent from August through October.

The story: Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has promised to allow further development of the Amazon, but it seems that loggers are not waiting for him to take office in January, Marina Lopes reported in The Washington Post last week. Once Bolsonaro emerged as Brazil’s favorite presidential candidate, deforestation rapidly accelerated in the Amazon, and an area twice the size of New York City was lost just in the last few months of his campaign. 

The big picture: Deforestation contributes 10 percent of overall greenhouse gas emissions, and is one of the largest contributors to climate change, following fossil fuel use. Bolsonaro isn’t even in office yet and deforestation numbers have already increased, and analysts expect them to increase even more drastically after January 1, which means climate change mitigation will be even more difficult in the future.

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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