In global climate change fight, half a degree could make all the difference

Sea water flooding in Kiribati.

The islands of Kiribati are already feeling the effects of climate change and may soon be completely covered by water due to seawater flooding. (© Ciril Jazbec)

Two degrees Celsius.

It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s the limit for global temperature increase set by policy makers. The problem? It’s not rigorous enough to protect our planet. In an editorial published today in Science Advances, scientists at Conservation International and the UN Foundation say if Earth’s temperature were to warm any more than 1.5°C, we would experience devastating losses.

The paper’s authors — Lee Hannah, Conservation International’s senior climate change scientist, and Tom Lovejoy, senior fellow at the UN Foundation — theorize that the 2.0°C target set by policy makers is not enough to stop effects of warming, such as loss of coral reefs, destruction of forests, an increase in wildfires and species extinction.

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End-of-summer reading list: 4 staff picks

Sunrise on beach

Sunrise on a turtle nesting beach in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. (© Robin Moore/iLCP)

As the lazy days of summer come to an end, Conservation International staff are spending their free time with their favorite books. Here are four picks they can’t put down.

1. “Brilliant Green” by Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola 

“We underestimate plants and their intelligence. This book shows surprising plant capabilities, such as responding to external signals, remembering, sleeping and communicating between them. We have been learning so much from plants, from developing networks to technological innovations and new materials. Understanding how plants live and solve problems can inspire solutions to some of the challenges our society are facing too.”

— Giacomo Fedele, climate change adaptation fellow

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

Tarantula, pictured above, in the Rainforest Rewa River. (© Pete Oxford/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. Tarantulas: Cambodia’s disappearing delicacy

Tarantulas, a delicious fried snack enjoyed by tourists and locals in Cambodia, face a devastating population loss.

The story: These spiders face two distinct threats: loss of habitat and over-harvesting, Kris Janssens with DW News reported August 15. While tarantulas are now enjoyed as a delicacy in Cambodia, in the past, they were used as a food staple during famine. Their decreasing numbers mean they may not be used as either in the future.

The big picture: Combine loss of habitat with over-harvesting and you have a recipe for extinction. New cashew and rubber plantations and illegal timber harvesting are destroying tarantula habitat. Thomas Gray, a biologist and director of Science and Global Development at Wildlife Alliance, told Janssens that if future generations want to enjoy the arachnoid delicacy, actions should be taken now to save the species.

Read more here.

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Why you should be watching California in September

California’s Humboldt Redwoods State Park. (© Michael Balint/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Trump administration’s decision last year to begin pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement was a giant step backward for the fight against climate change.

Fortunately, one state is pressing on.

In September, all eyes will be on California for the Global Climate Action Summit, which will convene states, cities, companies, investors and others to make the commitments necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change.

To say that this conference is unprecedented is an understatement.

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In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world, World Elephant Day edition

Still shot from “My Africa,” Conservation International’s latest virtual reality film. (© Georgina Goodwin)

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 in honor of World Elephant Day.

  1. Inside the effort to save Africa’s elephant population

The story: A new satellite technology is being used to track endangered elephants in Tanzania, reported Kenneth Dickerman for the Washington Post August 8. Rangers are using satellite collars and mobile devices to track elephants and prevent them from moving into areas of high poaching activity.

The big picture: Reports show that while the illegal killing of elephants is starting to decline — helped in part by new tools such as this tracking technology — it’s still a major threat to the species. Tens of thousands of elephants are poached every year for ivory trade. In a review of the tracking program, the Associated Press described the current situation: “It’s far too early to declare a turnaround. Poachers are moving to new areas, and traffickers are adapting, aided by entrenched corruption. The rate of annual elephant losses still exceeds the birthrate. And the encroachment of human settlements is reducing the animals’ range.”

Read more here.

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Expert: Conservation, indigenous rights at a crossroads

Kayapo woman, pictured above, in Brazil. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Editor’s note: August 9 is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

A recently published paper has added to a body of evidence showing that indigenous peoples can be powerful allies for protecting nature.

That said, some recent reports have cast a critical eye at the relationship between conservationism and indigenous rights.

What are conservationists getting right? What do they need to change? Human Nature spoke with Kristen Walker Painemilla, managing director and senior vice president of Conservation International’s Policy Center for Environment and Peace, about these and other questions.

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Climate mitigation takes root

Mangrove forest, Indonesia

Mangrove forest, Indonesia. (© Joel Vodell)

If there is a last line of defense against climate change, it may well lie in the mangrove trees that cling to coastlines throughout the tropics.

Locked in the mud of these unique tidal forests is thousands of years’ worth of accumulated carbon. Clear the mangroves — as humanity has been doing ever faster in recent years — and that carbon is slowly released into the atmosphere, where it accelerates global warming.

Fast-growing and incomparably capable of storing carbon in their soils, mangroves thrive in salty waters, where their hearty root systems form a barrier against erosion and provide a haven for wildlife. Communities that live among healthy mangroves benefit immeasurably from the upsides that mangroves provide — from acting as buffers against waves and storms to providing a nursery for fish, crab and clam species that are crucial parts of coastal diets and livelihoods.

Yet in the battle to prevent the worst effects of climate change, this last line of defense is thinning.

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‘Absolutely raw’: In remote islands, documenting nature brings high risk, high reward

Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Aleutian Islands, Alaska. “Even in our visit in March, signs of winter still lingered on the Aleutian Islands. Winter has a firm grasp on the area, with few days getting warmer then 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Here, you see the valleys start to lose their winter coats in favor of the harsh Aleutian tundra flora.” — Chris Burkard (© Chris Burkard)

Editor’s note: Louisa Barnes is Conservation International’s photography manager.

Getting to the remote Aleutian Islands, a small chain in the Alaskan Peninsula, is no easy feat: There are long-haul flights, ferries and complicated logistics involved.

Those who make the trek are rewarded with a dramatic landscape of active volcanoes and agate beaches, virtually untouched by development. For thousands of years, the Aleut Families have lived on these islands, fishing the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.

But as flooding and erosion have eaten away at the coastline, the future of the land and the people who inhabit it is unclear.

Award-winning photographer — and Conservation International photography fellow — Chris Burkard set out in a tiny, twin-engine plane to capture the beauty of the islands and the critical need to conserve them. In honor of World Nature Conservation Day, I spoke with Burkard to understand his process and what he hopes people take away from his photos.

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

Sea otter

Sea otters, such as the one pictured above in California, have been on the Endangered Species List since the 1970s. (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)

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. Trump administration officials dismissed benefits of national monuments

The story: Senior Interior Department officials rejected evidence supporting the cultural and economic value of the national monuments they proposed shrinking, reported Juliet Eilperin for The Washington Post July 23. Revelations about the strategy of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to dismiss justifications for keeping existing protections, and to strengthen the case for rolling them back, came in the form of thousands of pages of emails released by the department and then retracted the next day.

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3 shark stories you don’t want to miss

A Black tip Reef Shark, pictured above, cruising the shallow reefs of a tropical lagoon. (© Kydd Pollock/Marine Photobank)

Editor’s note: Shark Week 2018 has kicked off! Before you dive in, take a look at three shark stories from the past week that you should know about. For even more content, check out six of Human Nature’s most popular shark stories, including our exploration of “demon whale biters.” 

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