Carbon, clouds, lakes with legal rights: 3 big stories you may have missed

Ethiopia

Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. (© Robin Moore/iLCP)

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. Costa Rica unveils plan to achieve zero emissions by 2050 in climate change fight

The Central American country announced a plan to completely cut carbon emissions over the next 30 years.

The story: The country’s Environment Minister (formerly vice president and senior adviser for global policy at Conservation International), Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, praised the plan, saying that by 2050 his grandchildren will cease to have a carbon footprint, The Guardian reported last week. One of the biggest challenges in meeting this goal is transitioning transportation to cleaner energy; currently, transportation makes up 40 percent of Costa Rica’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The big picture: Costa Rica’s emissions pale in comparison to those from places such as China and the United States. Despite this, the model that Costa Rica uses to decarbonize could be used by other countries in the future. “We can be that example — we have to inspire people,” President Carlos Alvarado said.

Read the story here.

  1. Dissent among scientists over new study on climate change, cooling clouds

An alarming study that made the rounds in the media last week claimed that climate change will cause certain types of clouds to cease to form, sparking runaway global warming. Many climate scientists, especially those that study clouds, are pushing back on those findings.

The story: A new study found that increased carbon dioxide emissions may prevent stratocumulus clouds, which help reflect heat from the sun, from forming, keeping heat trapped in our atmosphere, Joel Achenbach reported for The Washington Post. The disappearance of these clouds could warm Earth 8 degrees Celsius more than global warming alone could, the study found.

The big picture: Some scientists are pushing back on this study, saying that the model used to create the scenario is based on one small patch of the atmosphere and therefore isn’t an accurate reflection of the whole. This dispute between scientists, reported on by Paul Voosen for Science Magazine, represents a part of the scientific process that is vital for accurate results: differing opinions.

Read The Washington Post story here and the Science article here.

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    3. Lake Erie just won the same legal rights as people

New Ohio legislation will enable citizens to sue on behalf of the lake in order to protect its environmental health.

The story: The measure, which passed by a wide margin, gives Lake Erie the same rights as a person — meaning that harming its environment can be grounds for a lawsuit, Sigal Samuel reported for Vox last week. A small group of people in Toledo, Ohio, came up with the idea to give the lake legal rights after seeing it destroyed by pollution for years, with little response from the government.

The big picture: This measure is the first rights-based legislation in the United States that protects the lake and its ecosystem as a whole — but it’s not the first in the world. Other countries such as Ecuador and India have given rivers and lakes legal rights protecting them from human harm. As ecosystems are increasingly impacted by climate change and development, these legal protections could be the difference between their survival and destruction.

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International. 

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