Otters, economic inequality, Arctic warming: 3 big stories you might have missed

Sea otters

Sea otters swim in California. (© Will Turner)

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. These otters are popular pets in Asia. That may be their undoing

Asian small-clawed otters have rapidly become popular as pets in Asia, but they’re often captured illegally.

The story: From otter cafes to personal pets, otters have become highly sought-after as pets on the continent, Rachel Nuwer reported for The New York Times last week. Most otter species in Asia are listed as vulnerable or endangered because they are the targets of pollution, fishers, human development and poachers — and their newfound popularity as pets is making it harder for them to recover.

The big picture: Numerous suppliers claim that they are captive-breeding the otters, but research shows newborn otters are most often captured in the wild, their parents killed. As a predatory species, otters are an essential part of a healthy ecosystem, helping to control prey populations such as fish and crustaceans.  “Some of these [otter owners] really care about their animals, and if we can find a way to engage with them to show them why keeping otters is wrong, they can become advocates for wildlife conservation,” Daniel Willcox, science adviser to Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, said.

Read the story here.

  1. Inequality is decreasing between countries — but climate change is slowing progress

While economic inequality between countries has been decreasing for decades, climate change has actually been widening that gap, according to new research.

The story: The inequality gap between the world’s poorest and richest countries is 25 percent greater than it would be in a world without climate change, Alejandra Borunda reported for National Geographic last week. And as climate change drives temperatures higher in certain parts of the world, that isn’t likely to change: Countries with lower annual average temperatures, such as China and the U.S., have higher economic output than countries with higher temperatures.

The big picture: “The countries that have paid the highest price tend to be those least responsible for causing the problem, emitting much less carbon dioxide per capita over past decades than richer countries,” Borunda wrote. Even without the wider economic gap caused by climate change, poorer countries tend to bear the brunt of its effects because they have fewer resources to recover from natural disasters, lost crops and rising temperatures.

Read the story here.

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  1. Arctic warming will cost at least $24 trillion more than we thought, study finds

Even if we meet the Paris Agreement goals, arctic ice and permafrost melt will cost the world at least US$ 24 trillion more than scientists originally thought.

The story: A new paper studied two feedback loops in the Arctic and found that they could speed up arctic ice and permafrost melting by 5 percent, Becky Ferreira reported for Motherboard last week. Permafrost carbon feedback occurs when permafrost thaws, releasing greenhouse gases that warm the planet further — causing more permafrost thaw. Surface albedo feedback occurs when darker surfaces (such as ocean water) absorb greater warmth from the sun than lighter surfaces (such as ice), promoting global warming and causing more ice to melt.

The big picture: The two feedback loops could exponentially increase the effects of climate change — costing the world US$ 67 trillion by 2300 if we do not take action soon. “Our findings support the need for more proactive mitigation measures to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C,” Dmitry Yumashev of Lancaster University, the lead author, said in a statement. One way to do this, he suggests, is to adopt renewable energy on a global scale.

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International. 

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