Here are some reports and opinion pieces that have appeared in recent weeks on important developments in the world environment:
1. An important, perhaps critical, study published in Nature has estimated that the world will exceed total amount of greenhouse gas emissions beyond which dangerous climate change occurs by 2020. This contracts still further projections that have put this threshold at 2040 or 2050.
This study is significant in that it focuses on the total amount of emissions, rather than annual rate. Placed against the total sink capacity of the atmosphere, the picture couldn’t be clear or the choices more stark.
2. An interesting essay has appeared in Guernica magazine on the competing visions of wilderness of anthropologists and wildlife conservation biologists. It argues that the vision of wilderness as a pristine environment, free of human influence, is largely a European artefact, and that the reality of these places must include the indigenous peoples who often inhabit them. The essay further argues that the best strategy for maintaining these increasingly rare environments in a sustainable form may well be to support their occupation and use by the peoples who have acted as stewards for them over millenia.
3. A new survey has drawn attention to the critical state of the ancient forests of Central Asia. These forests, in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are the historical source of more than 300 wild fruit and nut species, including, plum, cherry, and many other important food trees from which domesticated varieties are thought to descend. In the last 50 years 90 per cent of these forests have been destroyed and 44 trees species are threatened with extinction. Work is now under way with local communities and government forest to encourage sustainable use and more effective protection for forest resources, including providing training for community groups and grants for eco-friendly small businesses to assist local livelihoods.
4. I have noted in previous posts the reluctance of the business community in Australia to come to terms with both the risks and the opportunities of climate change, in the inevitable transition to a lower carbon economy. A recent report from an investment group emphasises that this trend continues, even as the country approaches an emissions trading scheme. With respect to carbon strategies, the investment sector in Australia is seen as falling into three groups:
Clean-tech funds are keen for legislation to be enacted to stimulate growth and support the profitability of renewable energy, forest sinks and associated businesses.
Some large superannuation funds that consider themselves “universal investors” are pushing for action to reduce emissions since they see physical climate change as a long-term risk to Australian and international economies.
The third group includes the many mainstream equity funds that seek to outperform the sharemarket average from a few months to a few years, through careful stock selection. These funds are watching the impact of more expensive fossil fuels, and waiting until the economic impacts become clear before adjusting their portfolios. Volatility in exchange rates and the global financial crisis are seen as more important drivers of fund returns in the short to medium term, and investment policies are unlikely to be driven by emissions policies or trading until the trends are well established.
5. A remarkable piece of laboratory research has recently been reported in the journal Nature. It’s focus is the mechanisms by which life might have emerged in the primitive states of the global environment. Attention has been focused for some decades on the possible role of RNA in forming the chemical base on which life arose. Until now it is not proved possible to synthesise RNA. The UK scientists have achieved a major step by showing how, in the presence the chemicals which are known to have been present in the primitive earth, at least two of the components of RNA can be assembled. This advance was made by combining the chemicals in a different order. There are important implications for a range of puzzles about the prebiotic conditions of life on earth.