Earth has highest greenhouse gas concentrations in 800,000 years

A new worldwide database charting the levels of 43 greenhouse gases over 2,000 years provides the clearest evidence yet that global warming is being caused by human activity.



Scientists from the Australian-German Climate and Energy College at the University of Melbourne, have created the database by collating historical and contemporary information on greenhouse gas levels, including from samples of air trapped in bubbles in ice cores at the North and South Poles.

The samples show a marked rise in the levels of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution, and particularly since 1950.

The lead author of the study, Malte Meinhausen, says that the numbers tell us the story we already know, ‘only in more details and more colour’.


“If we look at the whole 800,000 years of this Earth’s history, we never had such big greenhouse gas concentrations ~ of CO2, of methane, and of a lot of other gases… so we are doing an immense experiment with the planet and we are seeing the effects right now.”


The study also showed humanity’s power to reverse these changes, as the authors note that levels of CFCs have dropped steadily since they were phased out due to the Montreal Protocol in the late 1980s. However, these gases are still making a large contribution to global warming.

The data will be used by scientists to create more detailed and accurate models of how climate change affects the planet we call home by looking at temperatures, weather patterns, sea level rise, and ice melting in relation to greenhouse gas levels. It will also be used to inform the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s next assessment report in 2021.


Re-post ~ Greenhouse gases higher than any time in 800,000 years ‘shows definite human effect’ by Claire Slattery on ABC News

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The Top 100 Solutions To Climate Change. (You’ll Never Guess What’s Number One)

Drawdown ~ a new project and book spearheaded by Paul Hawken, represents the first comprehensive attempt to rank solutions to climate change and measure their relative effectiveness. Researchers studied existing data on solutions which are already in use and proven to reduce global warming, in order to help normal people understand what they can do to combat climate change and how much effect it might have.

Hawken and his team were surprised by some of the results and pleased to be able to highlight such a diverse array of solutions. In addition to the oft-touted wind and solar solutions the team discovered that factors such as educating girls (#6) and reducing food waste (#3) were high up on the list.

And number one? Refrigerant management! When was the last time you heard about that on the news?


Together, educating girls and family planning constitute the most impactful intervention towards carbon drawdown.


Drawdown top ten


Each potential solution was modeled on three scenarios: The Plausible Scenario, where these solutions continue to be adopted at a realistic rate based on current trends; The Drawdown Scenario, where the implementation of solutions is accelerated achieve drawdown by 2050; and The Optimum Scenario, where all currently available solutions achieve their maximum potential and fully replace conventional technologies.


“Drawdown is that point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begins to decline on a year-to-year basis.” ~ Paul Hawken


This project serves a two-fold purpose of keeping humanity hopeful with evidence that drawdown is possible and providing clear, science-based information for ordinary people about where our climate change efforts should be focused.

The even better news is that even the ‘Optimum Scenario’ only takes into account technologies and approaches which have already been developed and proven. There is a whole world of emerging technologies which will likely have huge impacts on the problem of global warming. These ‘coming attractions’ and are likely to make drawdown an even more achievable goal.


Read more ~

Drawdown website

A new book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change: the results are surprising by David Roberts in Vox Magazine

Paul Hawken’s classic book Natural Capitalism (written with Amory Lovens and L. Hunter Lovins) is available for free download here.

Healthy soil, not large scale agriculture, is key to feeding the world

In a recent article in The Conversation, a professor from the University of Washington busts some myths about industrialised agriculture and presents his findings on worldwide regenerative farming practices, which suggest that ‘the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil’.


Soil building practices, like no-till and composting, can build soil organic matter and improve soil fertility. Photo: David Montgomery,

A recent United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation report shows that, contrary to popular belief, over three-quarters of the world’s food production happens on small family farms. This is opposed to the large-scale industrialised ones which feed most of the developed world. Linked to this, Montgomery points out that large farms are not, in fact, likely to be more efficient than small ones:


“According to a 1992 agricultural census report, small, diversified farms produce more than twice as much food per acre than large farms do.”


Add in a 2015 meta-analysis which showed less than a 10% gap in food production between conventional industrialised farms and organic farms where cover crops were planted and crops were rotated to increase soil fertility. Combine it all with the fact that about a quarter of all food produced worldwide is never eaten, and it begins to seem like¬†industrialised farming really isn’t necessary to meet food production needs after all.

Rapid and effective soil regeneration is possible and it is the key to ‘a stable and resilient agriculture’. The adoption of regenerative farming practices such as no-till methods, cover cropping and complex rotations, along with the deep understanding of the particular qualities of the land and socioeconomic environment made possible by small-scale farming, leads to the ability to use fewer inputs to produce higher yields.

In order to speed along the uptake of farming practices which focus on soil health, David Montgomery calls for system-scale research, demonstration farms and, perhaps most importantly, changes in agricultural policy and subsidies, to encourage farmers to adopt regenerative practices.

Read about Starfish’s work in this area:

Biochar For Sustainable Soils is a project which seeks to share knowledge and build capacity around using biochar-based organic amendments to improve soil quality.
The Living Classroom in Bingara is a visionary project working to turn the Town Common into a visually beautiful, working regenerative farm  as a centrepiece for education, research, tourist activities and functions.

Re-post ~ Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world by David R Montgomery in The Conversation

Rapid glacier melt changes course of major river in only four days

In a strikingly visual demonstration of the effects of global warming, the Slims River in the Yukon area of Canada has almost disappeared overnight. Analysis of data collected by a team of scientists who documented the change shows that there is a 99.5% likelihood that this event was caused by post-industrial climate change due to human activities.


The Kaskawulsh River has a dramatically increased flow due to the extra water which has been diverted from the Slims River

The Kaskawulsh River, seen here near its headwaters, is running higher now thanks to the addition of water that used to flow into the Slims River. Photograph: Jim Best/University of Illinois


The Slims, which was previously around 3 metres deep and up to 150 metres wide, has been re-directed into the Kaskawulsh River by a period of intense glacier melting which caused an alternate channel to be carved into the ice and re-directed the river’s flow. This has resulted in a huge increase in water being carried to the Gulf of Alaska rather than into the Bering Sea. It has also left the Slims as a dried out dust bowl.

Although evidence of similar events has been detected in the distant past, this is the first instance of ‘river piracy’ to be documented in the modern era.

There have been knock-on effects for local ecosystems including Alsek River, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage region and is now receiving significantly increased flow from the glacier. Although the area is sparsely populated and the impact on human settlements has so far been limited, the analysis points out that this kind of instant and massive restructuring of a river system could be devestating in an area where people rely on a watercourse.


Prof Lonnie Thompson, a paleoclimatologist at Ohio State University, said the observations highlight how incremental temperature increases can produce sudden and drastic environmental impacts. ‚ÄúThere are definitely thresholds which, once passed in nature, everything abruptly changes,‚ÄĚ he said.


Read more ~ River piracy and drainage basin reorganization led by climate-driven glacier retreat in Nature Geoscience

Read more ~ Receding glacier causes immense Canadian river to vanish in four days in The Guardian Online

Read more ~ Abrupt glacier melt causes Canadian river to vanish in four days in ABC News

A Trillion Trees

Plant For The Planet, a global tree-planting movement sparked by a nine-year-old’s school project, has joined forces with the UN’s Billion Trees Campaign. They aim to encourage the planting of at least one billion native trees each year worldwide. In the first five years of the campaign 12,585,293,312 were planted and they are still going strong.

Stop talking, start planting: Giselle Bundchen shows her support for the tree-planting projecte

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen with campaign founder Felix Finkbeiner, showing her support for the tree-planting initiative.

Felix Finkbeiner set the challenge to plant a million trees in his home country of Germany when he was nine years old, inspired by founder of the Greenbelt Movement Wangari Maathai, who he learnt about during a school project. Felix planted his first tree outside the gates of his school in 2007 and by the time he was 13 his message had spread and he was speaking at international conferences. That year, in 2011, the one millionth tree was planted in Germany.

The charismatic Finkbeiner, who is now studying at university in London, has inspired a generation of young activists to believe in their ability to influence change.


‚ÄúI knew he was this legendary kid,‚ÄĚ says Aji Piper, a 15-year-old tree ‚Äúambassador‚ÄĚ in Seattle who met Finkbeiner in 2015. Piper, an activist and plaintiff in a children‚Äôs‚Äô lawsuit against the United States government over climate change, regards Finkbeiner as a role model.

‚ÄúWe saw he was doing speeches. He was so young. Very impressive. That‚Äôs the skill level I want to get to.‚ÄĚ


The campaign also prompted the first global tree count, carried out by NASA, which showed that there are around three trillion trees on the planet, over seven times more than was previously estimated. However, with deforestation occurring at a rate of 10 billion trees per year, the coalition¬†realised that they needed to up their goal from a billion to a trillion trees planted… and they took on the challenge, adding their weight to other tree-planting initiatives around the world.


Reviving The Redwoods: The Life’s Work of David Milarch

Re-post ~ Teenager Is on Track To Plant A Trillion Trees by Laura Parker in National Geographic

Find out more and get involved ~ Plant For The Planet; Bonn Challenge

Show me the honey: communication between birds and humans

A remarkable interaction between humans and birds in Mozambique is a win-win for both species, reports Karl Gruber in an article summarising the recently published research of Dr Claire Spottiswoode on the ABC News Science website.


Honey guide and honey hunter working as a team in Mozambique

Photo: Dr Claire Spottiswoode


The study draws on earlier research by the Kenyan ecologist Hussein Isack in the 1980s. Isack showed that honey hunters were able to increase their harvests using information from small birds called honeyguides to help them find bees’ nests. The honeyguides have a vested interest in helping humans to find the hives because, once the hive is cracked open, they are able to feast on the eggs, larvae and beeswax within.

Dr Spottiswood’s research goes one step further by proving that the birds actively seek out honey hunters. The birds listen out for a specific call the hunters make whilst on the hunt.

It’s a startlingly odd noise, but our experiments showed that it works ‚ÄĒ giving this sound doubled the chance of being guided by a honeyguide, and tripled the overall chance of actually finding a bees’ nest, so honeyguides really are paying attention to signals that humans communicate back to them.



There are relatively few documented instances of this type of mutual collaboration between humans and wild animals. Other cases in Australia include fishermen collaborating with dolphins and killer whales to catch fish.

For the full story read the original article,¬†‘Humans and wild birds talk to each other to find honey in Mozambique’, on the ABC news site.

Net Green: A more accurate measure of corporate environmental sustainability?

Using traditional life cycle assessments (LCAs) to measure the environmental impact of products and services is not an accurate enough measure and has become outmoded, according to Roland Geyer and Trevor Zink in a recent SSIR article describing a new measurement concept that they are calling ‘net green’.


Net green illustration choosing a lightbulb

Illustration: JooHee Yoon


Many current measurements, such as LCAs, assume that each ‘green’ product will replace a standard product one-for-one and that all other variables remain fixed, therefore reducing environmental impact.

The authors argue that a more efficient or ‘greener’ product may actually increase demand for, or usage of, a product. The net effect would therefore be an increase in consumption. They also point out that ultimately all products will have an impact on the environment. They challenge the very concept of a ‘green’ product or service.


Any corporate environmental communication strategy based on selling green products will always be plagued by the fact that all products have environmental impacts, and the greenest option will always be no product at all.


A more useful measure, according to Geyer and Zink, is to calculate the ‘net green’ impact of a product. This measure takes into account a whole gamut of possible impacts. These might include how consumers behaviour has changed because of the new product, which other products it is out-competing and whether the new product increases total market demand or product use.

This is clearly no mean feat. However, the authors believe that calculating ‘net green’ will be worth the effort for companies truly wishing to take responsibility for their environmental impact.


Embracing net green will make corporate environmental sustainability efforts more complex, but also more meaningful, rewarding, and defensible. It will also help companies enhance the credibility of their environmental communication efforts and avoid the hot water of greenwashing.


For more detail on Geyer and Zink’s net green concept, read the original Stanford Social Innovation Review article here.

Doomsday Clock worsens to 2&1/2 minutes to midnight…

It’s been 64 years since the world has been this close to Doomsday.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been updating the Doomsday Clock regularly for 70 years. On Thursday, they turned the hands to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.

That’s a bit closer than last year, when the clock was three minutes to midnight and the closest the clock has been to midnight since 1953 when it was two minutes to midnight. That move came following the U.S. detonating its first thermonuclear bomb and Russia detonating a hydrogen bomb.

Doomsday Clock

In the early days, the threat of nuclear war was the primary gear turning the clock’s arms. Climate change became a cog in 2007, moving the clock closer to midnight that year. Scientists invoked it in 2015 again, pushing the clock closer still to midnight. And in 2017, another cog was added: a rising tide of political leaders around the world making statements unhinged from facts.

Climate change facts are clear: that  the world had its hottest year ever recorded in 2016, the third year in a row that mark has been set. Arctic sea ice has been decimated by repeated heat waves, seas continue to rise and researchers have warned of instability driven by climate shocks.

The cause is human’s pouring carbon pollution into the atmosphere.

Carbon temperatures

‚ÄúFacts are stubborn things and they must be taken into account if the future of humanity is preserved,‚ÄĚ said Lawrence Krauss, one of the clockmakers and a professor at Arizona State University.

Yet despite knowing all of that, scientists have stressed that the world is not doing enough to put humanity on course to avoid catastrophic climate change. David Titley, a professor at Penn State and one of the authors of the new doomsday clock report, said that while the Paris Agreement represents a positive step, the climate talks in Morocco late last year didn’t move the ball forward enough.

While these actions weighed on the decision to move the clock’s hands closer to midnight, scientists also considered another disturbing trend of world leaders espousing policies and making statements not tied to evidence.

There’s no more stark example than the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. He has espoused climate science denialism as have many of his cabinet nominees and advisors. He’s also made false statements on dozens of topics, from voter fraud to the size of his inauguration crowd.

This is hugely problematic when it comes to climate change, where the U.S. stands as an outlier with the only head of state to deny the science behind it.

This is the exact moment when the world needs to be doing more to address climate change. Yet the current administration of the world’s largest historical emitter is poised to ignore this fact, putting the future of humanity at risk.

‚ÄúNuclear weapons and climate change are precisely the sort of complex existential threats that cannot be properly managed without access to and reliance on expert knowledge,‚ÄĚ the scientists wrote in their report.

Scientists said they only moved it forward 30 seconds because Donald Trump has held office a few days. There’s still a slight hope his actions could be different from his words. If they’re not, the hands of the clock may move even closer to midnight.

Re-post ~ The Doomsday Clock just moved closer to Midnight | Climate Central

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Wetlands reborn a reward in sustainability

Wetlands reborn

From the magpie geese to the mighty Barramundi and even a few crocodiles, the rehabilitation of a wetland adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef has also brought with it recognition for the traditional owners who bought back their land.

Mungalla Aboriginal Business Corporation recently won the 2016 Minister’s Award for Leadership in Sustainability as part of the Queensland Premier’s Awards. They were also finalists in the prestigious Banksia Sustainability Awards.

They’ve been responsible for restoring the Mungalla wetland, a vital ecosystem near Ingham, north of Townsville, adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef and a nursery for reef fish.

When the Nywaigi people bought Mungalla Station in 1999, they knew their battle to truly reclaim and restore the land was only just beginning.

Around one quarter of the 880 hectare station is covered by wetlands, but these wetlands were choked by invasive weeds such as water hyacinth, hymenachne and aleman grass. The waters were so starved of oxygen that they were nearly barren of fish and bird life.

It wasn’t always this way. Older members of the Nywaigi people could recall when the wetlands were so full of life that the sky was black with magpie geese. The wetlands also hold great cultural value to the Nywaigi, but when Mungulla became a cattle station in the 1940s, an earth wall was built which blocked tidal flows into the wetlands and which turned them into freshwater which allowed for ponded pastures for the cattle.

CSIRO landscape ecologist Brett Abbott and hydrological modeller Fazlul Karim said their hydrological modelling suggested that removing the earth wall ~ called a bund ~ would allow the salt water to reach around 500 metres inland on a high tide, while research by a masters student working with the team also showed that salt water immersion was likely to kill many of the weeds.

So the wall came down, and the results stunned everyone involved.

The magpie geese have returned, along with nearly 280 other species of native bird. The waters are now home to at least nine species of fish, and serve as nursery grounds for some commercially and recreationally important reef fish such as barramundi and mangrove jack.

Magpie geese

The flourishing wetlands have also attracted tourists, and there are plans for an elevated walkway through the wetlands that would help to bring in tourist dollars to be reinvested into ongoing rehabilitation efforts.

Jacob Cassady, director of the Mungalla Aboriginal Business Corporation that now owns the station, also stresses the importance of raising awareness not just about the coastal wetlands, but about the health of the Great Barrier Reef in general.

It’s possibly the first time that a bund has been removed to rehabilitate a wetland, despite the fact that there are well over a thousand similar barriers up and down the Great Barrier Reef coastline.

‚ÄúTwo-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef is under significant bleaching, and that should be alarming, every Australian should be alarmed,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúHave they forgotten that this is one of the seven wonders of the natural world and we just take what we‚Äôve got in our backyard for granted?

‚ÄúThe wetland that we‚Äôre working in has a traditional story, and to restore the balance in that wetland is significantly important to the traditional owners,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúWhen we had our workshops, one of the traditional owners said ‚Äėhealthy country, healthy people‚Äô.‚ÄĚ

Repost ~ Wetlands reborn a reward in sustainability | ECOS