Amazon ecosystem is on verge of collapse, leaders tell brands such as Apple and Tesla as UN gathers in New York
Indigenous leaders from the Amazon have implored major western brands and banks to stop supporting the ongoing destruction of the vital rainforest through mining, oil drilling and logging, warning that the ecosystem is on the brink of a disastrous collapse.
Representatives of Indigenous peoples from across the Amazon region have descended upon New York this week to press governments and businesses, gathered in the city for climate and United Nations gatherings, to stem the flow of finance to activities that are polluting and deforesting large areas of the rainforest.
A biotech firm is trialling the removal of PFAS “forever chemicals” from soil at a test site in Wisconsin by injecting chemical-eating bacteria and electrocuting the ground.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of thousands of different synthetic chemicals that contain carbon and fluorine atoms linked by strong bonds. The chemicals – which repel grease and water – have been in widespread use since the 1940s in everything from firefighting foam at airports to dental floss.
But the same qualities that make PFAS useful stop the chemicals from degrading, so many of them are persistent environmental contaminants. They are often called forever chemicals, and have been found in drinking water and in people’s blood all over the world.
Peat bogs are an important carbon store, so mushroom growers are searching for a way to grow their produce on other substrates
In a huge industrial shed on Leckford Estate, a farm owned by the supermarket Waitrose in a beautiful part of southern England, a revolution is stirring in the world of mushroom growing. UK production of this crop relies on peat, the incredibly carbon-rich organic matter found in bogs and fens across the country. Peatland contains so much carbon, it is sometimes described as “the UK’s rainforests”. That is why the UK government has promised to restore 280,000 hectares of peatland in England alone by 2050, to help meet its climate change goals.
Despite a study claiming that food-mile emissions are higher than previously thought, eating less animal produce remains much more important than how far your food travels
Eat locally to reduce food miles and your carbon footprint. That is the message promoted by some environmentalists and businesses, but it has long been clear that often this isn’t true – foods that travel thousands of kilometres can have a lower carbon footprint than local produce.
At least, that is what many studies have found. But research published today in the journal Nature Food claims that global food miles account for 20 per cent of food-related emissions – a much higher proportion than reported in earlier work. So do food miles matter more than we thought? Spoiler: no, they don’t.
The production of the food we eat is responsible for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing food-related emissions is crucial to limiting further global heating. The question is, what should consumers do to help reduce these emissions?
Previous studies have found that the emissions from food miles – the distance that food has to be transported from where it is produced to where it is eaten, measured in kilometres travelled multiplied by the tonnage – are tiny compared with those from growing that food.
Emissions can be calculated based on how the food is transported – by air or by sea, for instance. A study of US diets by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania concluded that transporting food from farms to shops produces just 4 per cent of food-related emissions, while a 2018 study of European diets put it at 6 per cent.
What this means is that if you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet, you should focus on buying foods with lower overall carbon footprints rather than those that don’t have to travel far. This basically means eating less meat and dairy.
For instance, producing 1 kilogram of beef can emit as much as 99 kg of carbon dioxide or equivalents, and making a kilogram of cheese emits up to 24 kg, compared with 0.9 kg for bananas and 0.4 kg for apples.
In other words, what you eat matters to a far greater extent than where it comes from. What’s more, even with the same food types, local isn’t always better. For instance, if you live in a nation with a cooler climate where tomatoes can be grown only using heated greenhouses, these local tomatoes will typically have a higher carbon footprint than those shipped in from a warmer country where no heating is needed.
The latest study doesn’t overturn any of this. For starters, the main reason why it concludes that food miles account for such a high proportion of food-related emissions is that the 20 per cent figure includes all the transport involved, including that of fertilisers, farm equipment and pesticides, not just the transport of food.
“Our study looks at the entire supply chain for food consumption, and naturally non-food commodities are part of it,” says team member Mengyu Li at the University of Sydney in Australia.
It is worthwhile to estimate this, but the team should use a term other than “food miles” to avoid confusion, rather than redefining the existing term, says Hannah Ritchie at the University of Oxford, who is head of research at Our World in Data.
If the standard definition were applied to the numbers in the study, food miles would account for only 9 per cent of food-related emissions, says Ritchie. That is much closer to previous research, though she thinks it is still an overestimate.
What’s more, the study itself calculates that even if it were possible to produce all food in the countries where it is eaten, food-related emissions would fall by only 1.7 per cent overall. This is because although food wouldn’t travel as far, more of it would be transported by road instead of sea, says Li, and trucks produce higher emissions per tonne of cargo than ships.
“So, overall, the bottom line is still that what you eat has a much bigger impact on emissions than the distance that food has to travel to reach you,” says Ritchie.
The UN secretary general has told new university graduates not to take up careers with the “climate wreckers” – companies that drive the extraction of fossil fuels.
António Guterres addressed thousands of graduates at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, US, on Tuesday. “You must be the generation that succeeds in addressing the planetary emergency of climate change,” he said. “Despite mountains of evidence of looming climate catastrophe, we still see mountains of funding for coal and fossil fuels that are killing our planet.
“But we know investing in fossil fuels is a dead end – no amount of greenwashing or spin can change that. So we must put them on notice: accountability is coming for those who liquidate our future.”
He added: “You hold the cards. Your talent is in demand from multinational companies and big financial institutions. You will have plenty of opportunities to choose from. My message to you is simple: don’t work for climate wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future.”
Guterres has become increasingly outspoken on the climate crisis in recent months, telling world leaders in April: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is killing us.”
A large trial is underway to see how much CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere by burying a charcoal-like material in fields
Farmers in England are starting to bury a charcoal-like material in their fields to see if it could offer a new large-scale way of putting the brakes on climate change.
Biochar is the carbon-rich material left over from burning wood and other biomass at high temperatures in an oxygen-free environment. Most of its use today is at the small scale, such as gardeners using it as a fertiliser.
However, a team led by Colin Snape at the University of Nottingham, UK, has started burying up to 200 tonnes of biochar in fields to gauge if it could help meet the UK’s net-zero goal by removing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It is the biggest biochar trial yet in the UK, and one of several CO2 removal ideas in a £31.5 million research programme, including scattering rock dust on fields and planting more trees.
“The key thing is that all of these greenhouse gas removal technologies, we need to test their viability. We need to figure out how big a slice of the pie biochar is. It’s about not putting all our eggs into one basket, of one magical technology that will save us,” says Genevieve Hodgins, who is managing the biochar project.
Around 15 tonnes of biochar is in the ground already, and more farmers are being recruited across the Midlands region of England this spring and summer to begin widespread burials this autumn. Beyond tackling climate change, a big attraction for farmers is that research indicates biochar can improve soil health, which is in a parlous state in England.
Caroline Dennett tells staff in video she made decision because of ‘double-talk on climate’
A senior safety consultant has quit working with Shell after 11 years, accusing the fossil fuel producer in a bombshell public video of causing “extreme harms” to the environment.
Caroline Dennett claimed Shell had a “disregard for climate change risks” and urged others in the oil and gas industry to “walk away while there’s still time”.
The executive, who works for the independent agency Clout, ended her working relationship with Shell in an open letter to its executives and 1,400 employees. In an accompanying video, posted on LinkedIn, she said she had quit because of Shell’s “double-talk on climate”.
Environmental campaigners are suing the Dutch airline KLM over “greenwashing” adverts they say misleadingly promote the sustainability of flying.
Lawyers from ClientEarth are supporting Fossielvrij NL, a Netherlands-based campaign group, to bring a claim that KLM’s ad campaigns give a false impression of the sustainability of its flights and its plans to address its impact on the climate.
“KLM’s marketing misleads consumers into believing that its flights won’t worsen the climate emergency. But this is a myth,” said Hiske Arts, a campaigner at Fossielvrij NL.
“Unchecked flying is one of the fastest ways to heat up the planet. Customers need to be informed and protected from claims that suggest otherwise.”
Activists from Fossielvrij NL submitted a pre-action letter to Air France KLM, KLM’s parent company, during its AGM in Paris on Tuesday. Their legal action takes aim at KLM’s “Fly Responsibly” campaign, which presents the airline as “creating a more sustainable future”.
Analysis: Major IPCC report, approved by 195 countries, lays bare devastating harm caused by unchecked global heating
“A liveable and sustainable future for all”. It is the very last words of the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that spell out what is at stake. In short, it is everything.
The damage from global heating is already hitting hard. The comprehensive IPCC assessment, which is based on 34,000 studies, documents “widespread and pervasive” impacts on people and the natural world from increasingly frequent and intense heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms and floods. Some impacts are now irreversible.
Frustrated with the Australian government’s inaction on climate change, software king Mike Cannon-Brookes is trying to buy several big coal plants so he can shut them down in favour of renewables
Mike Cannon-Brookes, the third-richest person in Australia, has launched an audacious bid to buy the country’s biggest electricity company – and shut its coal-fired power plants. It is a bold approach to decarbonisation, but can he pull it off?
Australia currently produces the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world from burning coal for power generation. The country’s government is highly attached to fossil fuels. Not long before becoming the current prime minister, Scott Morrison brought a lump of coal to parliament and announced: “This is coal. Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you.”
Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of software giant Atlassian, has been a vocal critic of the government’s climate inaction. Now, he is using his net worth of A$20 billion to try to take matters into his own hands.
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prepares to release a major report on adapting to climate change, Adam Vaughan visits the site of 2021’s deadly floods in Ahr, Germany, to discover how locals are rebuilding.
“I SAW a tree with people sitting in it, crying and screaming. I could hear them despite all the noise. But I couldn’t help them. I didn’t know what to do,” says Melanie Schultz-Coerne, crying too as she recalls the traumatic night last year when Germany experienced its worst floods in six decades. She doesn’t know what happened to the campers she saw, but 134 people in the country’s Ahr valley died during the floods in mid-July, with hundreds more injured.