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Amazon Fires: What do they mean for the Planet

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So, the Amazon forest has been on fire for the past couple of weeks and nothing of substance has been done to put out the Amazon fires and save the world’s largest tropical rainforest. You’ve probably seen how sluggish the Brazilian government has been and how fast the news has moved down the priority list in the CNN and Fox News bulletins.

Amazon fires are a big deal!

The UN’s zeal to come to the rescue of the “earth’s lungs” has been questionable and the ordinary population has been unconsciously lulled into believing there is not much at stake or that we would lose more than we would gain trying to save the forest.

Well, this should be a no-brainer. Trees take in CO₂ and release oxygen, which we survive on. Without a single tree on earth, carbon dioxide would accumulate to toxic levels and jeopardize the very existence of the millions of animal species that call this planet home. It would be the beginning of the end of life on earth as we know it

Image Credit: Haiku Deck

Of course, trees make up for a measly 1/3 of the overall oxygen supply in our atmosphere with the bulk of it coming from phytoplankton and algae in the ocean, but this seemingly negligible dip would still take a massive toll on the higher animals, humans included. Believe it or not, the oceans and all the animal and plant species they house all depend on trees for survival.

We would start experiencing extinctions in as little as 50 years. Flooding, hurricanes, erosions, and landslides would become commonplace and some areas, particularly the lowlands, would become near-uninhabitable. Sediment deposits in water bodies would be detrimental to lake wildlife and one important source of food for humans will go down the drain with it.

Any species that survives it all will face an extremely reduced lifespan, and the high toxicity in the air and water would make life on earth an utter living death. We would also have to do without rubber, paper, beer and host of other products that are extracted from trees. And, don’t even get us started on the aesthetic impact of such a catastrophic event on the planet.

Image Credit: Precision Landscape & Tree

The Amazon rainforest has an estimated 400 billion trees – little over ten percent of the world’s tree population. What makes it so important? What would happen if we lost it or even just half of it?

There are animals that can only be found in the Amazon Rainforest

Over 2,000 species of animals call the Amazon rainforest home. These include jaguars, macaws, sloths, poison dart frogs, glass frogs, river dolphins, and anacondas. A whopping tenth of all known species can be found in the rainforest, and that is certainly nothing to sniff at.

But, did you know that there are species that live only in the Amazon Rainforest? Yes, some animals have never been sighted outside the Amazon and inability to adapt to other environments could have something to do with it. Popular examples include the sloth, the electric eel, the amazon pink river dolphin, the Amazonian manatee, and the toucan. That’s just a fraction of what we would lose if the Amazon disappeared today, given that 400 new species of animals have been discovered in the ecosystem over the past one decade only.

80 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are stored in the Amazon Rainforest

Global warming may not be a theory you believe in, but just in case it is true, then the rainforest is partly to thank for the fact that we haven’t crossed the Rubicon yet. A third of the world’s carbon stores are in the Amazon and loss of even half the forest would immediately make global warming a global problem.

Image Credit: Syfy

 

300 indigenous tribes rely entirely on the Amazon for food and shelter

There are suspicions that the recent Amazon fires were started by crop and animal farmers looking for more land for Soybean farming and grazing. If this is true, then the farmers must have been oblivious of the science that the Amazon is a self-sustaining ecosystem that would take the favorable climate with it if it had to go.

The Amazon Rainforest experiences heavy rains for the better part of the year, and this is not a mere coincidence or accident. It is a concoction of chicken-and-egg and catch-22 situations, whereby there wouldn’t be as much rain in the Amazon basin were it not for the rainforest, and the forest wouldn’t be there were it not for the heavy rains in the region. While looking to harness the favorable climate, humans are killing the very reason the climate is there in the first place.

If we surpass a certain threshold, this orchestra of self-sustenance will likely fall out of tune. There will not be enough trees to absorb moisture from the ground and evaporate it into the atmosphere for rain formation, and this would be the beginning of the end. Without sufficient rainfall, there would be a fierce competition among the vegetation and animals for the reduced water availability, and the less adaptable species will be forced to bow out. The rainforest will gradually move from dense woodland to a sparse savannah, in a scenario called a forest dieback. The Amazon tribes will have to adapt to the drastic changes or be forced to migrate to more hospitable places, which will not come without short and long-term consequences.

But this is not the first fire incident in the Amazon

This is certainly not the first time the Amazon is rocked by thousands of wildfires at around this time of the year. This year’s fires started early in August, coinciding with the start of the dry season in the Amazon basin. Towards the end of the month, there were already 156,000 fires in the rainforest and this rapid surge is what captured the international community’s attention. There hasn’t been a worse case of wildfires in the rainforest since 2010. The highest Amazon fire numbers this century were recorded back in 2001, between 2002 and 2005, and in 2007.

The Brazil government, with a little pressure from the west and donations from countries such as Germany and Norway managed to enforce new policies that were aimed at preventing runaway deforestation in parts of the Amazon. The most notable actions were taken in 2004 and 2012, with counties that did little to reduce deforestation receiving heavy penalties. The effort seemed to work, albeit deforestation and wildfires continued to eat up the rainforest at an alarming rate of about one football pitch every hour. The recent fires have sped that up many times over and the international community for the umpteenth time has had to offer financial aid to Brazil – the most affected nation – to extinguish the fires.

But, the question is, why is the world so worried about something that has happened time and again in the past? There are several plausible explanations to this. Firstly, we are in the middle of the catastrophe. The Amazon fires are spreading fast and there is potential of beating all previous records if the Brazilian troops don’t put the fires out, and fast. Secondly, the Amazon is significantly smaller now. Since the early 2000’s, the Amazon has lost as much as 200,000 hectares of forest, which is the equivalent of around 6 percent of the Amazon of the 1970’s. Any fire right now definitely has a far larger impact than a fire of its size 15-20 years ago as it eats up a bigger portion of the rainforest.

Experts also believe internet and social media accessibility has contributed to the 2019 fires being more publicized. Indeed most people have only learned about the fires on Twitter and Facebook, something that may have not been possible in the previous decade.

You can also not overlook the fact that there has been a lot of global warming and climate change sensitization talks on television and platforms such as YouTube lately, which have undoubtedly made more people echo-conscious.

Additionally, being an ongoing issue and still fresh on our minds, the tendency to think and feel that the incident has been publicized a lot more than preceding crises of equal magnitude is expected.

Wrap up

With so much on the line, there is more to worry about the Amazon fires than the cause of it and why there is such a big fuss about it this year. The planet’s lungs are on fire, that’s the bottom line. The 3-million-square-kilometer green land is at the very center of our plans to decelerate global warming and put the future of our species and that of millions of other species back in our control.

Nothing can justify sitting back and watching as it goes down on a free fall. Not the costs, not the cause, and certainly not the political and diplomatic relations between the host countries and the rest of the world. In one way or another, we are all going to be affected and held liable for the far-reaching impacts by the future generations.

 

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Endangered Animals That Might Disappear From The Earth Soon

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Endangered animals are those animals that are under great threat of becoming extinct in the near future. When an animal or species is marked as endangered, it simply means that they are vanishing fast or the population is not large enough to stand the test of time. Here is a list of some of the threatened animals:



Siberian Tiger: The cold, snowy climate of Siberia is the natural habitat of the Siberian tiger, the largest member of the cat family. It is a highly endangered species with approximately 540 of them at present. Loss of habitat and hunting of Amur tigers have been responsible for the reduction in their numbers. Another area of concern is that there is not much genetic diversity in the existing population, enhancing their vulnerability.



Black Rhino: Black Rhino of Africa is a critically endangered species at the moment. A shocking report revealed that there were 70,000 black rhinos in the 1960s and only 2410 of them in the year 1995. The biggest reason behind the extinction of these animals is poaching as the horn of the rhino is used to prepare Chinese medicine. After that, measures have been taken to stop poaching and selling their horns to countries such as Vietnam and China.



Mandarin Duck: The mandarin duck is among the most beautiful- looking ducks, often spotted on the lakes and ponds in Britain. However, the native habitats of these bright- colored ducks are China, eastern Asia, Japan, and Korea. With forests being cut down, they are having difficulty surviving.



Mountain Gorilla: Mountain gorillas reside along the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Not discovered until 1902, the mountain gorillas have endured a lot due to human activities such as war, hunting, habitat destruction, and unlawful pet trade. In 1989, the total number of mountain gorillas left was 620. Thanks to diligent conservation efforts, the population has started increasing and the current number is 880.



Blue Whale: The blue whale is the largest animal to have inhabited planet Earth and also among the endangered animals. They live mainly in the ice-cold waters of the Antarctic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean where there is an abundance of plankton for their sustenance. In the whaling season between1930 and 1931, the Antarctic whalers killed 30,000 of them. The community of blue whales needs at least 10 decades of protection to reach a number that will diminish threats of extinction.



Komoda Dragon: The Komoda dragons are the largest members of the lizard family and they are found in the islands of Indonesia. These giant lizards can be as long as 3 meters and are considered to be powerful predators. They prefer to live in uninhabited islands are, therefore, are at a constant threat from human beings.



Loggerhead Turtle: Loggerhead turtle is a threatened reptile living in the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Black Sea. In ancient times, the main dangers to loggerhead turtles were hunting for their meat and shell. At present times, tourists crowding the sandy beaches preferred by turtles for nesting have been responsible for their small population. Again, increased temperature of sand results in the birth of more females, thereby disturbing the balance.



Lion-tailed Macaque: If you want to spot some of these small monkeys you have to travel all the way to the tropical rainforests in the southwestern part of India. Unlike several other animals residing there, the long-tailed macaque faces difficulties adapting to the changed habitat. Poachers have also captured thousands of baby macaques in the past, often killing the parents while doing so.

What are we doing to save the endangered species? The United States of America passed the US Endangered Act or ESA in the year 1973 with the aim of recovering and protecting imperiled species along with the ecosystems that are crucial to their survival. The ESA has acted as a safety net for the endangered animals and has been successful in preventing the extinction of more than 90 percent of the species under its effective care. Many species bald eagle, Stellar sea lion, and grizzly bear are on the path to recovery, thanks to this law.

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Global Warming: The Coronavirus and the Reduction of Global Carbon Emissions

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Have you wondered whether any good can come from the global coronavirus, COVID-19? Will there be a long-term decline in global warming statistics caused by the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions?

The disastrous consequences of COVID-19

At a glance, there are many more disadvantages than advantages. The global economy is battling to hold up under the strain of the rapid spread of the virus. Mainland China has closed off her airports and harbors, and as most of the world’s manufactured products come from China, these closures are causing havoc in the rest of the world.

Eric Morath of the Wall Street Journal notes that “financial markets and economic forecasters are warning of rising risks for the U.S and global economy, which we’re improving before the novel coronavirus spread from China around the world.”

Current infection rates stand at 102 469 cases across the globe, with more than sixty-four countries reporting at least one case. And, most of the infections, 80 651 cases, are in mainland China. As Alan Whiteside notes, in his seminal piece titled, “Covid-19 (the SARS-CoV-2) and you,” there are “puzzling blank spots on the map, notably most of Africa and Latin America and China outside Hubei.”

Consequently, the question that scientists and researchers are asking is: Why are the COVID-19 infection numbers extremely low or non-existent in these areas? There are currently no answers to this question. Researchers simply do not know.

The trajectory in global infection rates is difficult to predict because there are too many unknowns in how the virus spreads, mutates, and whether it is seasonal or not. Thus, the researchers who use mathematical algorithms to develop predictive models determining how bad the outbreak will be, are reporting vastly different outcomes based on the various mathematical equations used as a basis for a particular model. In this case, the number of predicted cases range from at least 500 000 cases to a maximum of 4.4 million cases. 

As an aside, researchers know that the virus spreads through touch. This typically occurs when a person touches a surface that has been contaminated by an infected person and touches their face, especially their mouth, eyes, or nose. It is also transferred via infected droplets that are sprayed everywhere by an infected person coughing or sneezing.

Finally, the Case Fatality Rate (CFR) needs to be considered to put the disease into perspective. The seasonal flu CFR rates in the USA is usually less than 0.1%. In other words, there is one fatality for every 1000 infections. The original CFR rate in China was originally thought to be 2.3%.

However, it has also been reported by the Worldometers.info website that a number of COVID-19 cases double every 7.4 days. Thus, the global CFR rate has dropped from 2.3% to 2.2%. And, more than 50% of those infected have recovered.

The possible benefit of COVID-19

As an aside, it must be noted that the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak is devastating for many people across the globe, especially for those stranded in geolocations cordoned off by the authorities to prevent the spread of the virus.

And, even though the global health and economic negatives far outweigh any possible benefit to the pandemic, there is one potential advantage to the worldwide reduction of the manufacturing and transport sectors.

The CarbonBrief.org website reported on 19 February 2020, with updated information on 4 March 2020, that China’s CO2 emissions had reduced by 25%. This is because electricity demand and industrial output are still far below their usual levels. Statistically speaking, the effects of the attempt to contain the coronavirus have resulted in a 15% to 40% reduction in production across China.

Final thoughts

Preneshni R. Naicker, in her journal article titled, “The impact of climate change and other factors on zoonotic diseases,” notes that “geoclimatic change most markedly affects zoonotic diseases transmitted by arthropod vectors.”

She also highlights the fact that circa 60% of all new human pathogens are zoonoses. In other words, almost two-thirds of all new viruses contracted by humans are transferred from animals. And, there is a complicated relationship between the human-animal interface, which is continuously influenced by the effects of climate change.

Therefore, based on this scientific research, it is possible to conclude that the earth, or environment, allows, even encourages, the development of zoonoses like the latest coronavirus to protect itself from the ongoing destruction as a consequence of climate change and global warming.

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Bad News for Coal Mining: Green Energy is Gaining Grounds in India

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Coal mining is the initial step in the filthy cycle of coal use. It causes deforestation and the release of toxic levels of heavy metals and minerals into the water and soil. Besides, coal mining is linked to the negative environmental impact that persists for decades after the coal has been removed. The good news is that different nations around the world are taking important steps to mitigate the impact of coal extraction action.

India’s bold move

India has achieved a significant green energy milestone and successfully driven another nail into the coffin for coal mining and usage. The country has wrapped up what’s being perceived as the largest ‘firmed renewables’ auction in the world. Besides, India’s move has locked in some of the world’s most affordable prices for solar energy.

Launched by SECI (Solar Energy Corporation of India) in August 2019, the tender called for about 1.2 GW of grid-connected electric power capacity with a guaranteed peak supply of power. This was the first project of this kind in India. The project’s primary objective was to procure a supply of approximately 600 MW of power for 6 hours every day from 5:30 am to 9:30 am and from 5:30 pm to 12:30 am (the peak power demand hours).

Beyond the expectations

SECI’s project was oversubscribed and attracted bids for 1.62 GW of power capacity. However, it was highly competitive, with Greenko securing about 900MW of hydro-storage power for an average tariff of Rs4.404/kWh and a quoted peak tariff of about Rs6.12/kWh.

Additionally, Goldman Sachs-backed ReNew Power acquired 300 MW in battery capacity. The weighted average bid was Rs.4.30/kWh and a quoted peak price of about Rs.6.85/kWh. According to PV Magazine, India has set a world record for renewable-plus-batter storage capacity. And this is a significant step in reducing coal mining and its impact on the environment.

For the amount of renewable energy provided during the off-peak hours, SECI is expected to pay Rs2.88/kWh, a pre-specified tariff. Note that the tariffs granted are payable over a period of 25 years.

The successful bids amount to 3GWh of energy storage capacity and the associated green energy generation assets. And all these sound a warning for coal mining and usage.

Green energy is taking root

coal mining vs green energy
Image Credit: Business-Review EU

According to Kashish Shah, a reputable research analyst at IEEFA, Energy Economics and Financial Analysis), the beauty of this auction was that the target tenderers had provided time-of-use pricing. Shah mentioned that this is the first project for India where battery storage is incorporated, and it shows that when this time-of-day pricing and financial incentive are provided, it is easy to minimize coal mining and attract the top renewable energy players in the industry.

Shah told the RenewEconomy that the tender timing is somewhat right for India as the country is hovering close to the 100GW mark for the overall installed renewable capacity. After this point, storage will become increasingly crucial for all new projects.

Meanwhile, solar energy advocates across the country are now celebrating the results of this tender. This is because the advent of green energy means a death knell electric power generated from coal. Shah agrees to the fact that India should continue taking the right steps to minimize coal mining and imports and then transition from thermal-based electricity production to renewable energy-based power.

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