Birds across the U.S. are disappearing, though many of us probably haven’t noticed.
Over the past half century, North American bird populations have undergone a quiet crisis, with scientists estimating the continent to have lost 29% of its total avian population, as revealed a new paper published in the journal Science on Thursday. That’s a loss of nearly 3 billion birds in the last half century.
“I would call it an imminent disaster,” says Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy, and the lead author on Thursday’s paper in Science. “We need to do something about it now, and we need to pay attention.”
Scientists have been tracking populations of threatened and endangered birds for years, and noted that some populations were in decline. But they assumed that those threatened species were being replaced by “generalist species,” or more adaptable birds that were better suited to deal with man-made changes to their environment.
What’s stunning in these newest findings is the fact that broad population declines are being recorded across North American birds as a whole, in a trend not confined to any one species or ecological niche.
“The bulk of that loss is occurring in the common species,” says Rosenberg. “It’s across every habitat.”
Grassland bird species showed the largest impacts, with more than half their number, over 700 million breeding individuals across 31 species, lost since 1970. Birds living in forests also showed massive hits, with total losses of more than a billion birds.
“Birds are really facing an unprecedented crisis due to human activity,” says Nicole Michel a senior quantitative ecologist with the National Audubon Society. “We really need to take action quickly.”
Scientists believe that the loss of bird populations is due to a variety of factors, chief among them habitat loss, intensifying agricultural production and disruption of coastal ecosystems, all of which are exacerbated by the intensifying impacts of anthropogenic climate change. In particular, the authors of the paper believe that the stunning losses of grassland bird populations are driven in large part by increased pesticide usage and habitat loss due to agriculture.
Not all species showed population declines, and many even showed gains over the decades, but the overall drop in bird populations was startling. Those broad declines may not be readily visible to the average bird watcher, but over decades of data the devastating trend becomes all too clear.
“The loss of that magnitude could signal an unraveling of ecological processes,” says Rosenberg. “People need to start paying attention to the birds around them, because if the loss continues we’re really going to notice it and feel it.”
To compile the report, Rosenberg and his colleagues looked at data from sources that tracked 529 species of birds in the continental United States and Canada, spanning far flung geographic areas and habitats. The scientists relied in large part on information gathered through the North American Breeding Birds Survey, a longstanding partnership between scientists and amateur bird watchers. Those efforts showed persistent declines in bird populations. And when the scientists used supercomputers to examined data from weather radar, which for the past decade has recorded the biomass of migrating birds passing overhead at night, they discovered similar population declines.
“This is groundbreaking because of the incorporation of the radar data,” explains Michel. That information, Michel explains, allowed scientists to count bird populations that breed in sparsely populated northern regions where people aren’t necessarily able to reach them, and also enabled the report authors to independently verify the survey data that showed massive population losses.
There was one ray of hope in the paper’s overall gloomy findings — wetland birds showed gains in population, probably due in part to the billions of dollars in investment that have been poured into wetlands protection and restoration. For the authors, those gains show that this crisis does not necessarily need to become a full-blown catastrophe, assuming government and citizens take action to protect bird species from further impacts.
“We’re at a point where we can reverse these declines,” says Rosenberg. “We need to be acting now.”
Public action is urgently needed, but Rosenberg also notes that there are measures that individual citizens can take to help sustain bird populations, like planting native species in gardens and keeping cats indoors.
For Michel, successes like the recovery of raptor populations after DDT, a potent pesticide, was banned show that we have not yet reached the point of no return for North American birds.
“This is a crisis and a warning call,” she says. “But birds are resilient if you give them a chance.”
The book ignited a revolution, breaking free from conventional wisdom that said children required schedules, discipline and little affection. Instead, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Childcare, written by Dr. Benjamin Spock and published in 1946, encouraged parents to think for themselves and to trust their instincts.
Spock’s book was a huge best-seller, second in the U.S. only to the Bible. It sold more than 50 million copies and was translated into more than 40 languages. It helped to usher in a fundamental shift in how Americans approached parenting.
My wife and I are pediatric health professionals, but when our children were born, we rushed to buy Spock’s book. I have also researched Dr. Spock’s leadership in the field of pediatrics.
Before and after Spock
The timing of Baby and Childcare could hardly have been better. Two historical events had led Americans to put off childbearing: the Great Depression and World War II. With the war’s end in 1945, Americans began reproducing at an unprecedented rate — more than 76 million babies, the Baby Boom generation, were born from 1946 to 1964.
Child-rearing experts in the early 1900s promoted conformity and detachment in raising children. In 1928, John B. Watson, one of the founders of behaviorist psychology, argued that children should be treated as adults. Mothers should habituate their children to strict schedules, let them cry themselves to sleep and avoid too much love and attention. In his 1930 book Behaviorism, he wrote:
“Never, never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning.”
Spock advocated a radically different approach. He believed that children come into the world with distinct needs, interests and abilities, and that the core of good parenting is attending carefully to what each child requires at each stage of development.
Parents needed to trust themselves — or, as he wrote in the book’s first edition, “You know more than you think you do.” Human beings, after all, had been bearing and raising children long before John Watson, the invention of the printing press and the introduction of writing.
Spock emphasized parenting as a voyage of discovery. He treated mistakes as learning opportunities. True to his word, his own views evolved over time. In later editions of the book, he stopped treating parenting as “mothering,” introduced gender-neutral language for children and admitted that he had been wrong to warn against allowing babies to sleep on their backs.
A good start in life
Spock was born in 1903 in New Haven, Conn., where his father was a successful attorney. He attended elite institutions including Phillips Andover Academy and Yale University. While at Yale, the 6’4″ Spock rowed on the crew team, which represented the United States in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris and won a gold medal.
He attended Yale School of Medicine before transferring to Columbia, where he graduated first in his class in 1929. While attending medical school, he married his first wife, Jane, who would later collaborate on his book. In addition to his pediatric training, Spock, who believed that the emotional aspects of child life were underemphasized, also trained in psychoanalysis.
During World War II, Spock joined the medical corps of the U.S. Navy Reserves and wrote The Commonsense Book of Baby and Child Care. He then took faculty positions at the University of Minnesota, the University of Pittsburgh and Case Western Reserve University, lecturing and appearing in popular media all over the world. In 1976, Spock married his second wife, Mary. In 1998, he died at the age of 94.
Anti-war activism and a legacy
During the 1960s, Spock became a political activist, opposing the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation and supporting civil rights. In 1968, he was arrested for promoting nonviolent military draft resistance, although his conviction was overturned the following year.
Despite Spock’s extraordinary popularity, he was not without detractors. Some attacked him for his political views, and others accused him of promoting excessive permissiveness. Others argued that he created unreasonable expectations for maternal dedication. Critics on both sides of the political spectrum complained that he had largely ignored fathers.
Spock’s most enduring legacy was his love of children. He said that if he had a fault as a pediatrician, it was his tendency to “whoop it up too much with children.” Above all, he dreamed of a world in which children would be “inspired by their opportunities for being helpful and loving.”
A Navy official has confirmed that recently released videos of unidentified flying objects are real, but that the footage was not authorized to be released to the public in the first place.
Joseph Gradisher, the spokesman for the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare, confirmed to TIME that three widely-shared videos captured “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.”
Gradisher initially confirmed this in a statement to “The Black Vault” a website dedicated to declassified government documents.
“The Navy designates the objects contained in these videos as unidentified aerial phenomena,” Gradisher told the site.
He tells TIME that he was “surprised” by the press coverage surrounding his statement to the site, particularly around his classification of the incursions as”unidentifiable,” but says that he hopes that leads to UAP’s being “de-stigmatized.”
“The reason why I’m talking about it is to drive home the seriousness of this issue,” Gradisher says. “The more I talk, the more our aviators and all services are more willing to come forward.”
Gradisher would not speculate as to what the unidentified objects seen in the videos were, but did say they are usually proved to be mundane objects like drones—not alien spacecraft.
“The frequency of incursions have increased since the advents of drones and quadcopters,” he says.
In December 2017 and March 2018, three videos of UFOs were published by the New York Times and “To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science“, a self-described “public benefit corporation” co-founded by Tom Delonge, best known as the vocalist and guitarist for the rock band, Blink-182.
The first of the videos, known as the “GIMBAL footage” shows a 2004 encounter near San Diego between a Navy fighter jet and an unidentified aerial phenomenon.
The video was featured in a December 2017 story by New York Times about the U.S. Defense Department’s “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program,” which studied videos of encounters between unidentified aerial phenomena and U.S. military aircraft.
According to Gradisher, investigations into unidentified objects are driven by the danger they pose to pilots.
“Incursions by [unidentified aerial phenomena] represent a safety hazard to aviators and security issues for operations,” he tells TIME. “The Navy is investigating the incursions seen in the three videos,” adding that sightings “occur frequently.”
Gradisher explained to the Black Vault why the Navy prefers the term unidentified aerial phenomena over “UFO.”
“The ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena’ terminology is used because it provides the basic descriptor for the sightings/observations of unauthorized/unidentified aircraft/objects that have been observed entering/operating in the airspace of various military-controlled training ranges,” he told the site.
Gradisher also goes on to say that the videos published in May by the Times were not approved for public release by the U.S. government, despite claims from To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science.
“The Navy has not released the videos to the general public,” he told The Black Vault.
Gradisher tells TIME the Navy is aware that the 2004 video was shared and posted online by a crew member, but could not account for how the other two videos were released.
He says there is “very much an ongoing investigation,” into the objects seen in those videos.
In response to reports on Gradisher’s statements, To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science uploaded a Facebook post that said, “The U.S Navy has officially acknowledged that UFOS are real and violate American airspace.”
A gas explosion has sparked a fire at a Russian bioweapons facility which stores viruses including Ebola, smallpox and Anthrax.
The blast occurred on Monday after a gas cylinder exploded during scheduled repair work on the fifth floor of the six-story Russian State Centre for Research on Virology and Biotechnology, commonly known as Vector, the facility said in a statement.
No biological material was held in the sanitary inspection room where the explosion occurred, and no structural damage was caused to the concrete laboratory building, the center added.
One worker was taken to hospital and is being treated in intensive care for burns, Russia’s TASS news agency reported. A fire, covering 30 square meters was later extinguished by fire fighters.
The bioweapons facility, located in Koltosvo, in the Novosibirsk region of Siberia, is known for being one of two centers in the world housing samples of smallpox. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the only other center in the world known to hold live samples of the disease.
Originally, the center was used to develop biological weapons research during the Cold War Soviet era. Now it is one of the largest scientific virological and biotechnological centers in Russia.
I know it may be hard to convince you, but let me try: Don’t kill the next spider you see in your home.
Why? Because spiders are an important part of nature and our indoor ecosystem – as well as being fellow organisms in their own right.
People like to think of their dwellings as safely insulated from the outside world, but many types of spiders can be found inside. Some are accidentally trapped, while others are short-term visitors. Some species even enjoy the great indoors, where they happily live out their lives and make more spiders. These arachnids are usually secretive, and almost all you meet are neither aggressive nor dangerous. And they may be providing services like eating pests – some even eat other spiders.
Although they are generalist predators, apt to eat anything they can catch, spiders regularly capture nuisance pests and even disease-carrying insects – for example, mosquitoes. There’s even a species of jumping spider that prefers to eat blood-filled mosquitoes in African homes. So killing a spider doesn’t just cost the arachnid its life, it may take an important predator out of your home.Both build webs where they lie in wait for prey to get caught. Cellar spiders sometimes leave their webs to hunt other spiders on their turf, mimicking prey to catch their cousins for dinner.
It’s natural to fear spiders. They have lots of legs and almost all are venomous – though the majority of species have venom too weak to cause issues in humans, if their fangs can pierce our skin at all. Even entomologists themselves can fall prey to arachnophobia. I know a few spider researchers who overcame their fear by observing and working with these fascinating creatures. If they can do it, so can you!
If you truly can’t stand that spider in your house, apartment, garage, or wherever, instead of smashing it, try to capture it and release it outside. It’ll find somewhere else to go, and both parties will be happier with the outcome.
But if you can stomach it, it’s OK to have spiders in your home. In fact, it’s normal. And frankly, even if you don’t see them, they’ll still be there. So consider a live-and-let-live approach to the next spider you encounter.
MIAMI — Beachgoers on the southeastern U.S. coast should be wary of potentially dangerous rip currents caused by Hurricane Humberto, the National Hurricane Center said Sunday.
Late Sunday, Humberto strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane. By early Monday, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (137 kph). The storm was about 760 miles (1,223 kilometers) west of Bermuda and moving northeast at 5 mph (8 kph).
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Humberto will bring large swells to the northwestern Bahamas and southeastern U.S. coast for several days.
The National Weather Service issued advisories warning of high rip current risks through Monday evening at beaches from northeast Florida to North Carolina.
Rip currents are narrow channels of water that move away from shore at high speed, posing a drowning threat to swimmers.
Additional strengthening is forecast through Wednesday, when the eye of the storm is expected to be out in the open Atlantic.
(HIGH ROCK, Bahamas) — The government of the Bahamas has issued a tropical storm warning for several of its northwestern islands, which are still reeling from Hurricane Dorian.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center says a tropical cyclone is expected to form in the coming hours near the northwestern Bahamas. The system is emerging about 235 miles (380 kilometers) southeast of Great Abaco Island. The disturbance has maximum sustained winds of 30 mph (45 kph) and is moving to the northwest at 8 mph (13 kph).
Forecasters say the system could become a tropical storm within the next day or so. Heavy winds and rain are expected within the northwest Bahamas by late Friday, except for Andros Island.
The hurricane center says people on Florida’s east coast should monitor progress of the storm system.
(WASHINGTON) — The universe is looking younger every day, it seems.
New calculations suggest the universe could be a couple billion years younger than scientists now estimate, and even younger than suggested by two other calculations published this year that trimmed hundreds of millions of years from the age of the cosmos.
The huge swings in scientists’ estimates — even this new calculation could be off by billions of years — reflect different approaches to the tricky problem of figuring the universe’s real age.
“We have large uncertainty for how the stars are moving in the galaxy,” said Inh Jee, of the Max Plank Institute in Germany, lead author of the study in Thursday’s journal Science .
Scientists estimate the age of the universe by using the movement of stars to measure how fast it is expanding. If the universe is expanding faster, that means it got to its current size more quickly, and therefore must be relatively younger.
The expansion rate, called the Hubble constant , is one of the most important numbers in cosmology. A larger Hubble Constant makes for a faster moving — and younger — universe.
The generally accepted age of the universe is 13.7 billion years, based on a Hubble Constant of 70.
Jee’s team came up with a Hubble Constant of 82.4, which would put the age of the universe at around 11.4 billion years.
Jee used a concept called gravitational lensing — where gravity warps light and makes far away objects look closer. They rely on a special type of that effect called time delay lensing, using the changing brightness of distant objects to gather information for their calculations.
But Jee’s approach is only one of a few new ones that have led to different numbers in recent years, reopening a simmering astronomical debate of the 1990s that had been seemingly settled.
In 2013, a team of European scientists looked at leftover radiation from the Big Bang and pronounced the expansion rate a slower 67, while earlier this year Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute used NASA’s super telescope and came up with a number of 74. And another team earlier this year came up with 73.3.
Jee and outside experts had big caveats for her number. She used only two gravitational lenses, which were all that were available, and so her margin of error is so large that it’s possible the universe could be older than calculated, not dramatically younger.
Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who wasn’t part of the study, said it an interesting and unique way to calculate the universe’s expansion rate, but the large error margins limits its effectiveness until more information can be gathered.
“It is difficult to be certain of your conclusions if you use a ruler that you don’t fully understand,” Loeb said in an email.
A September full moon, also known as a “Harvest Moon,” will be visible to many Americans this Friday the 13th.
According to NASA, the moon will be full early Saturday morning, Sept. 14, at 12:33 a.m. EST, but for those who live in the Central, Mountain and Pacific time zones, the full moon will be visible shortly before midnight on Friday the 13th.
NASA says that the moon will appear full for about three days centered around this time — from Thursday night through Sunday morning.
The next one isn’t expected to happen again for another 30 years—on Aug. 13, 2049.
On average, the Farmers’ Almanac says a Friday the 13th full moon is a 20-year occurrence.
As you might expect, September’s full moon is called the “Harvest Moon” because it comes at the peak of harvest season.
According to NASA, this moon has historically been especially helpful to farmers who relied on moonlight during harvest season. Although the moon traditionally rises about 50 minutes later each night leading up to a full moon, in the days leading up to September’s full moon it generally rises just 25 to 30 minutes later across the northern U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe.
The moon will also appear about 14% smaller because of its distance from Earth, which led to the September full moon’s additional nickname: “Micro Moon,” according to the Almanac.
“Micro Moon” is a sort of opposite phenomenon to a “Supermoon,” which makes the Moon appear larger in the night sky because it is orbiting especially close to Earth.
September’s full moon nearly lines up with the point when the moon’s orbit is farthest from Earth—a point known as “apogee,” which the Almanac says is a distance of about 252,100 miles away.
Let’s imagine for a moment that we’ve reached the middle of the century. It’s 2050, and we have a moment to reflect—the climate fight remains the consuming battle of our age, but its most intense phase may be in our rearview mirror. And so we can look back to see how we might have managed to dramatically change our society and economy. We had no other choice.
There was a point after 2020 when we began to collectively realize a few basic things.
One, we weren’t getting out of this unscathed. Climate change, even in its early stages, had begun to hurt: watching a California city literally called Paradise turn into hell inside of two hours made it clear that all Americans were at risk. When you breathe wildfire smoke half the summer in your Silicon Valley fortress, or struggle to find insurance for your Florida beach house, doubt creeps in even for those who imagined they were immune.
Two, there were actually some solutions. By 2020, renewable energy was the cheapest way to generate electricity around the planet—in fact, the cheapest way there ever had been. The engineers had done their job, taking sun and wind from quirky backyard DIY projects to cutting-edge technology. Batteries had plummeted down the same cost curve as renewable energy, so the fact that the sun went down at night no longer mattered quite so much—you could store its rays to use later.
And the third realization? People began to understand that the biggest reason we weren’t making full, fast use of these new technologies was the political power of the fossil-fuel industry. Investigative journalists had exposed its three-decade campaign of denial and disinformation, and attorneys general and plaintiffs’ lawyers were beginning to pick them apart. And just in time.
These trends first intersected powerfully on Election Day in 2020. The Halloween hurricane that crashed into the Gulf didn’t just take hundreds of lives and thousands of homes; it revealed a political seam that had begun to show up in polling data a year or two before. Of all the issues that made suburban Americans—women especially—uneasy about President Trump, his stance on climate change was near the top. What had seemed a modest lead for the Democratic challenger widened during the last week of the campaign as damage reports from Louisiana and Mississippi rolled in; on election night it turned into a rout, and the analysts insisted that an underappreciated “green vote” had played a vital part—after all, actual green parties in Canada, the U.K. and much of continental Europe were also outperforming expectations. Young voters were turning out in record numbers: the Greta Generation, as punsters were calling them, made climate change their No. 1 issue.
And when the new President took the oath of office, she didn’t disappoint. In her Inaugural Address, she pledged to immediately put America back in the Paris Agreement—but then she added, “We know by now that Paris is nowhere near enough. Even if all the countries followed all the promises made in that accord, the temperature would still rise more than 3°C (5°F or 6°F). If we let the planet warm that much, we won’t be able to have civilizations like the ones we’re used to. So we’re going to make the changes we need to make, and we’re going to make them fast.”
Fast, of course, is a word that doesn’t really apply to Capitol Hill or most of the world’s other Congresses, Parliaments and Central Committees. It took constant demonstrations from ever larger groups like Extinction Rebellion, and led by young activists especially from the communities suffering the most, to ensure that politicians feared an angry electorate more than an angry carbon lobby. But America, which historically had poured more carbon into the atmosphere than any other nation, did cease blocking progress. With the filibuster removed, the Senate passed—by the narrowest of margins—one bill after another to end subsidies for coal and gas and oil companies, began to tax the carbon they produced, and acted on the basic principles of the Green New Deal: funding the rapid deployment of solar panels and wind turbines, guaranteeing federal jobs for anyone who wanted that work, and putting an end to drilling and mining on federal lands.
Since those public lands trailed only China, the U.S., India and Russia as a source of carbon, that was a big deal. Its biggest impact was on Wall Street, where investors began to treat fossil-fuel stocks with increasing disdain. When BlackRock, the biggest money manager in the world, cleaned its basic passive index fund of coal, oil and gas stocks, the companies were essentially rendered off-limits to normal investors. As protesters began cutting up their Chase bank cards, the biggest lender to the fossil-fuel industry suddenly decided green investments made more sense. Even the staid insurance industry began refusing to underwrite new oil and gas pipelines—and shorn of its easy access to capital, the industry was also shorn of much of its political influence. Every quarter meant fewer voters who mined coal and more who installed solar panels, and that made political change even easier.
As America’s new leaders began trying to mend fences with other nations, climate action proved to be a crucial way to rebuild diplomatic trust. China and India had their own reasons for wanting swift action—mostly, the fact that smog-choked cities and ever deadlier heat waves were undermining the stability of the ruling regimes. When Beijing announced that its Belt and Road Initiative would run on renewable energy, not coal, the energy future of much of Asia changed overnight. When India started mandating electric cars and scooters for urban areas, the future of the internal-combustion engine was largely sealed. Teslas continued to attract upscale Americans, but the real numbers came from lower-priced electric cars pouring out of Asian factories. That was enough to finally convince even Detroit that a seismic shift was under way: when the first generation of Ford E-150 pickups debuted, with ads demonstrating their unmatched torque by showing them towing a million-pound locomotive, only the most unreconstructed motorheads were still insisting on the superiority of gas-powered rides.
Other easy technological gains came in our homes. After a century of keeping a tank of oil or gas in the basement for heating, people quickly discovered the appeal of air-source heat pumps, which turned the heat of the outdoors (even on those rare days when the temperature still dropped below zero) into comfortable indoor air. Gas burners gave way to induction cooktops. The last incandescent bulbs were in museums, and even most of the compact fluorescents had been long since replaced by LEDs. Electricity demand was up—but when people plugged in their electric vehicles at night, the ever growing fleet increasingly acted like a vast battery, smoothing out the curves as the wind dropped or the sun clouded. Some people stopped eating meat, and lots and lots of people ate less of it—a cultural transformation made easier by the fact that Impossible Burgers turned out to be at least as juicy as the pucks that fast-food chains had been slinging for years. The number of cows on the world’s farms started to drop, and with them the source of perhaps a fifth of emissions. More crucially, new diets reduced the pressure to cut down the remaining tropical rain forests to make way for grazing land.
In other words, the low-hanging fruit was quickly plucked, and the pluckers were well paid. Perhaps the fastest-growing business on the planet involved third-party firms that would retrofit a factory or an office with energy-efficient technology and simply take a cut of the savings on the monthly electric bill. Small businesses, and rural communities, began to notice the economic advantages of keeping the money paid for power relatively close to home instead of shipping it off to Houston or Riyadh. The world had wasted so much energy that much of the early work was easy, like losing weight by getting your hair cut.
But the early euphoria came to an end pretty quickly. By the end of the 2020s, it became clear we would have to pay the price of delaying action for decades.
For one thing, the cuts in emissions that scientists prescribed were almost impossibly deep. “If you’d started in 1990 when we first warned you, the job was manageable: you could have cut carbon a percent or two a year,” one eminent physicist explained. “But waiting 30 years turned a bunny slope into a black diamond.” As usual, the easy “solutions” turned out to be no help at all: fracked natural-gas wells were leaking vast quantities of methane into the atmosphere, and “biomass burning”—cutting down forests to burn them for electricity—was putting a pulse of carbon into the air at precisely the wrong moment. (As it happened, the math showed letting trees stand was crucial for pulling carbon from the atmosphere—when secondary forests were allowed to grow, they sucked up a third or more of the excess carbon humanity was producing.) Environmentalists learned they needed to make some compromises, and so most of America’s aging nuclear reactors were left online past their decommissioning dates: that lower-carbon power supplemented the surging renewable industry in the early years, even as researchers continued work to see if fusion power, thorium reactors or some other advanced design could work.
The real problem, though, was that climate change itself kept accelerating, even as the world began trying to turn its energy and agriculture systems around. The giant slug of carbon that the world had put into the atmosphere—more since 1990 than in all of human history before—acted like a time-delayed fuse, and the temperature just kept rising. Worse, it appeared that scientists had systematically underestimated just how much damage each tenth of a degree would actually do, a point underscored in 2032 when a behemoth slice of the West Antarctic ice sheet slid majestically into the southern ocean, and all of a sudden the rise in sea level was being measured in feet, not inches. (Nothing, it turned out, could move Americans to embrace the metric system.) And the heating kept triggering feedback loops that in turn accelerated the heating: ever larger wildfires, for instance, kept pushing ever more carbon into the air, and their smoke blackened ice sheets that in turn melted even faster.
This hotter world produced an ongoing spate of emergencies: “forest-fire season” was now essentially year-round, and the warmer ocean kept hurricanes and typhoons boiling months past the old norms. And sometimes the damage was novel: ancient carcasses kept emerging from the melting permafrost of the north, and with them germs from illnesses long thought extinct. But the greatest crises were the slower, more inexorable ones: the ongoing drought and desertification was forcing huge numbers of Africans, Asians and Central Americans to move; in many places, the heat waves had literally become unbearable, with nighttime temperatures staying above 100°F and outdoor work all but impossible for weeks and months at a time. On low-lying ground like the Mekong Delta, the rising ocean salted fields essential to supplying the world with rice. The U.N. had long ago estimated the century could see a billion climate refugees, and it was beginning to appear it was unnervingly correct. What could the rich countries say? These were people who hadn’t caused the crisis now devouring their lives, and there weren’t enough walls and cages to keep them at bay, so the migrations kept roiling the politics of the planet.
There were, in fact, two possible ways forward. The most obvious path was a constant competition between nations and individuals to see who could thrive in this new climate regime, with luckier places turning themselves into fortresses above the flood. Indeed some people in some places tried to cling to old notions: plug in some solar panels and they could somehow return to a more naive world, where economic expansion was still the goal of every government.
But there was a second response that carried the day in most countries, as growing numbers of people came to understand that the ground beneath our feet had truly shifted. If the economy was the lens through which we’d viewed the world for a century, now survival was the only sensible basis on which to make decisions. Those decisions targeted not just carbon dioxide; these societies went after the wild inequality that also marked the age. The Green New Deal turned out to be everything the Koch brothers had most feared when it was introduced: a tool to make America a fairer, healthier, better-educated place. It was emulated around the world, just as America’s Clean Air Act had long served as a template for laws across the globe. Slowly both the Keeling Curve, measuring carbon in the atmosphere, and the Gini coefficient, measuring the distribution of wealth, began to flatten.
That’s where we are today. We clearly did not “escape” climate change or “solve” global warming—the temperature keeps climbing, though the rate of increase has lessened. It’s turned into a wretched century, which is considerably better than a catastrophic one. We ended up with the most profound and most dangerous physical changes in human history. Our civilization surely teetered—and an enormous number of people paid an unfair and overwhelming price—but it did not fall.
People have learned to defend what can be practically defended: expensive seawalls and pumps mean New York is still New York, though the Antarctic may yet have something to say on the subject. Other places we’ve learned to let go: much of the East Coast has moved in a few miles, to more defensible ground. Yes, that took trillions of dollars in real estate off the board—but the roads and the bridges would have cost trillions to defend, and even then the odds were bad.
Cities look different now—much more densely populated, as NIMBY defenses against new development gave way to an increasingly vibrant urbanism. Smart municipalities banned private cars from the center of town, opening up free public-transit systems and building civic fleets of self-driving cars that got rid of the space wasted on parking spots. But rural districts have changed too: the erratic weather put a premium on hands-on agricultural skills, which in turn provided opportunities for migrants arriving from ruined farmlands elsewhere. (Farming around solar panels has become a particular specialty.) America’s rail network is not quite as good as it was in the early 20th century, but it gets closer each year, which is good news since low-carbon air travel proved hard to get off the ground.
What’s changed most of all is the mood. The defiant notion that we would forever overcome nature has given way to pride of a different kind: increasingly we celebrate our ability to bend without breaking, to adapt as gracefully as possible to a natural world whose temper we’ve come to respect. When we look back to the start of the century we are, of course, angry that people did so little to slow the great heating: if we’d acknowledged climate change in earnest a decade or two earlier, we might have shaved a degree off the temperature, and a degree is measured in great pain and peril. But we also know it was hard for people to grasp what was happening: human history stretched back 10,000 years, and those millennia were physically stable, so it made emotional sense to assume that stability would stretch forward as well as past.
We know much better now: we know that we’ve knocked the planet off its foundations, and that our job, for the foreseeable centuries, is to absorb the bounces as she rolls. We’re dancing as nimbly as we can, and so far we haven’t crashed.
Humans were not around to see Antarctica in the good times, tens of millions of years ago, when it was home to palms and baobab trees, reptiles and marsupials. It had some of the same mountains it has today, some of the same valleys and inlets. But it didn’t have the same address.
Long ago, Antarctica was located in the mid-latitudes, once part of the supercontinent Gondwana, until it slowly broke away, leaving continental kin like Africa and South America behind. It then went its own way, carried off by continental drift at just 1 to 2 in. per year, until it wound up where it is today, banished by tectonics to the bottom of the world.
There, the 5.4 million sq. mi. continent—larger than Australia’s 2.9 million and Europe’s 3.9 million—gets its sunlight only laterally, never vertically, and will thus ever be sunk in a deep freeze, until the same crustal migration carries it to a kinder part of the planet. For now, Antarctica is buried under a layer of ice that averages 7,100 ft. deep—or 1.3 miles. That dense covering represents 90% of all the world’s ice and 70% of its fresh water, locked in a wasteland.
Only it’s not a wasteland. Antarctica is home to penguins, seals, visiting whales, gulls, krill, albatross and more. Like all continents, it has its complex food web; like all continents it has its seasons and its landscapes and its peaks and valleys. They aren’t the seasons we might like; it’s not a landscape we could survive. But our species is not the sole measure of a continent’s worth.
What’s more, all of that entrained ice is serving us well. In a world in which Antarctica were situated elsewhere, the ice would be water and the oceans would be deeper, inundating what are now our coasts. It wouldn’t have mattered to us if we’d been born into that world. If there had been no Florida in the first place, we never would have built a Miami. But there is, and we did. And now, thanks to our industrial enterprise and our fossil-fuel gluttony, we’re raising the temperature and melting the ice. The Arctic is already vanishing and the Antarctic is following, threatening us with the very inundation the polar ice spares us. The numbers here tell an alarming story—and it’s a story we are every day authoring.
Kamala Harris is trying not to step in it. As the California Senator turned presidential candidate tours a beef-and-produce farm in south-central Iowa on Aug. 11, a crouching campaign aide carefully walks a few feet ahead, pointing out the cow droppings littering the grass. The farmer strolling next to Harris, a bespectacled 49-year-old named Matt Russell, wants to talk about climate change. “Farmers and rural Americans, that’s who’s going to solve this,” Russell says to Harris as the two stroll accompanied by a bevy of cameras in front of his red barn. “We have the land for renewable energy, and we have the farming systems to sequester carbon.”
The trip to Russell’s 110-acre farm is becoming a habit for the Democratic candidates for President. Ohio Representative Tim Ryan visited before launching his campaign, and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke stopped by in June. Russell has also chatted with Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg elsewhere, and hopped on the phone with staffers for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, among others. But he’s hardly the only Iowan giving candidates an earful on climate change. Across the state, Democratic presidential hopefuls have heard from business owners whose storefronts have flooded, mothers concerned about contaminated drinking water, and farmers who have lost harvests to a cycle of flooding and drought in the state. “There is deep concern about climate change across Iowa,” says Michael Bennet, a U.S. Senator from Colorado currently running for the Democratic nomination. Survey after survey of Iowa Democrats have identified global warming as one of voters’ top two issues, right after health care and ahead of immigration and the economy, among others.
In previous elections, climate change was essentially a nonissue. A Pew Research poll released three weeks after the 2008 Iowa caucuses found that just 1% of Americans ranked the issue as the nation’s most important problem. Eight years later, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debated three times without facing a single question about climate change.
In the early stages of the 2020 campaign, things looked much the same: many Democratic campaigns offered little more than boilerplate support for a Green New Deal or an endorsement of the Paris Agreement. But over the course of the race, climate change has emerged for the first time as a top-tier presidential campaign issue. A slew of factors have contributed to the spike in national interest, from the activists pushing for a Green New Deal to the warning for urgent action embedded in the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last year by the U.N. to Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s climate-focused presidential campaign, which raised the bar for other candidates. But climate’s growing political clout is also due to the reality of daily life in Iowa, whose outsize importance in the presidential primaries has forced candidates to finally pay attention.
Since late April, all the major Democratic candidates have released comprehensive climate plans, addressing everything from the details of new research-and-development funding to how they would support other countries’ climate efforts to how they would change permitting rules for new oil-and-gas pipelines. Several presidential hopefuls have proposed ideas tailored for Iowa, including new climate-insurance programs for farmers and new agricultural-research agencies. At multiple Iowa campaign stops in August, Ryan spoke at length about how farmers might one day receive government funding for capturing carbon dioxide in soil. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has proposed funding programs to give farmers expanded access to renewable energy. “At every event, the candidates will talk about climate change,” says Rob Hogg, an Iowa state senator from Cedar Rapids who has hosted town halls.
This is a glimpse of what’s to come in U.S. politics, as the country contends with the creeping menace of climate change, from rising seas in Florida to wildfires in California. “Extreme weather events are waking people up,” says Steve Shivvers, a retired agricultural equipment company CEO from Des Moines, who is active in local climate groups. The climate challenges Iowa faces today help explain why scientists and advocates are so eager for the issue’s political salience to catch up to its ecological and economic importance. In the long run, that may be inevitable. The question is whether the politics change radically enough before the climate does.
Jim Lykam knows Davenport like the back of his hand. The Democratic state senator has lived in this city on Iowa’s eastern border his entire life, and as he drives me down Davenport’s empty back roads he recalls how it has been defined by its most powerful resident, the Mississippi River. Lykam, 69, points to the little adaptations that have sprouted over the decades, designed to make life on the river bearable: a dirt barrier one business owner constructed to prevent flooding; elevated homes resting awkwardly on cinder blocks.
But this past spring, the combination of persistent rain and high water levels from fast-melting snowpack caused Davenport’s levee system to fail. Downtown was inundated; the city’s main thoroughfare was underwater. In total, the economic impact ran to some $30 million. Driving through town, you can still see the marks on doors and windows where water levels stagnated, in many cases for as long as two months. Parts of town were inaccessible for even longer than that. “They call them 100-year floods,” says Lykam. “We’ve had three of them in the last 15 to 18 years.”
The flooding in Davenport is just one example of how climate change and extreme weather have rocked Iowa. Throw a dart at a map of the state, and you’re likely to hit a place that has flooded in recent years. In the past year alone, nearly 40% of Iowans have personally experienced anxiety over extreme weather or know a family member who has, according to a July survey from Climate Nexus in partnership with Yale and George Mason universities.
This isn’t a surprise to scientists. Warmer air holds more moisture, which creates the potential for bigger storms, a problem that will leave few corners of the globe untouched. Across Iowa, the annual precipitation level averaged less than 33 in. during every decade of the 20th century. For the first half of this decade, average precipitation tops 36 in. An analysis from Iowa State University released earlier this year found a greater than 90% chance that global warming has driven the spike in the state’s late-spring floods.
Voters across Iowa say the real-life effects of climate change have sparked a political awakening of sorts. Hogg, the state senator from Cedar Rapids, says record flooding in 2008 all but eliminated climate-change skepticism in the city. Recurring flooding contributed to the Iowa City council’s recent decision to declare a climate crisis. The council made a commitment in August to reduce the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions 45% by 2030. “It’s not just about climate strikers,” says Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton, referring to the global movement of schoolchildren striking to call for action on climate change, and “not just about the IPCC report, but also about our own experience and own observation.”
Flooding, and the extreme precipitation that caused it, has had a range of effects across Iowa, disrupting the cycles that farmers rely on to plant, grow and harvest their crops. This spring alone, extreme rain put 100,000 acres of farmland underwater in the state, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in damage to farmers. To top it off, July was exceptionally dry, throwing another wrinkle at farmers. By 2050, climate change threatens to erase all the gains made in agricultural productivity since the 1980s in the Midwest, meaning farmers will need to spend heavily or cut production, according to the National Climate Assessment, a report from more than a dozen U.S. federal agencies on the impacts of climate change.
Surveys have historically identified farmers as skeptical of climate science, but in Iowa there are hints that this may be changing. Aaron Heley Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, says climate has become a regular topic of conversation among farmers. Greg Franck, a self-described “farm boy” who lives in the Des Moines area but has worked in agriculture, described a recent meeting he attended in southwest Iowa, where farmers gathered to hear advice from federal government scientists on how to adapt to the effects of climate change. “There’s hope there,” he says.
The surge of interest explains why Democratic candidates have become increasingly attuned to climate issues as they crisscross the state. At campaign stops in rural areas in the summer of 2019, the grim future for farms in a climate-changed world was a frequent subject of questions for presidential candidates. In urban areas, concerns about climate change often come up through discussions about water quality, since spikes in precipitation and flooding have swept chemicals in agricultural soil into the water supply. The town of Pacific Junction, near the state’s western border with Nebraska, has become a frequent stop for Democratic presidential candidates since a levee breach nearly wiped it off the map earlier this year. “It’s a reminder,” Warren said on a Aug. 7 visit. “Everything is changing.”
Conversations like these have translated into policy proposals. In April, O’Rourke was the first Democratic presidential candidate of the 2020 campaign to release a comprehensive climate plan, calling for a $5 trillion investment and the elimination of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. Many climate advocates lauded it, but they weren’t his only audience. After the former Texas Congressman spent weeks on the trail in Iowa—including a visit with Russell—O’Rourke updated his white paper with more robust provisions to help farmers, including a funding stream for those who sequester carbon dioxide in their soil.
By the time the Iowa State Fair rolled around in August, at least seven Democratic candidates had put out similar proposals, from Booker’s pledge to provide the Department of Agriculture with tens of billions of dollars in conservation funding to Bennet’s idea to create a new research agency to focus on climate solutions for farmers. “Candidates are not just showing up and walking through the state,” says Russell. “They’re sitting down and listening.”
None of this is to say that climate change will be the defining issue of the Democratic primary or that Iowans are now single-issue voters. And while the presidential hopefuls have all committed rhetorically to the cause—using language like “existential threat” and “climate crisis”—the strengths of their plans and commitments to the cause vary.
For many of the candidates, climate change has thus far remained a secondary concern in their careers with few of the members of Congress in the race having proposed comprehensive climate legislation before this year. And many still haven’t met the demands of today’s climate advocates. Klobuchar’s plans center on restoring initiatives begun during Barack Obama’s presidency, short of what climate scientists say is necessary, and she has described natural gas as a “transition fuel,” to the derision of environmental campaigners.
When Harris visited Russell’s farm in mid-August, it was clear that the California Senator was more comfortable discussing run-of-the-mill agricultural issues than the specifics of the policy Russell suggested. “Farmers are innovators,” Harris responded when Russell talked about farmers capturing carbon with their agricultural practices. “As they say, farmers’ almanac. But really, it’s about you who are so close to the ground really having an understanding of what it tells us and knowing how to then use all these natural elements in a way that is maximizing productivity.” (Harris later released a comprehensive climate plan.)
Many Democrats, especially in Washington, believe bread-and-butter issues like health care and the economy should remain at the core of the party’s message. That may be why members of the Democratic National Committee rejected requests from activists and candidates to sanction a debate focused entirely on climate change. In a June statement, DNC chair Tom Perez seemed to dismiss climate as a pet issue for Inslee, saying he “could not allow individual candidates to dictate the terms of debates.”
Still, of the two dozen voters I interviewed throughout Iowa in August, nearly every one brought up climate change unsolicited, from the Democrats staked out to catch the candidates’ stump speeches at the Wing Ding dinner in Clear Lake to the crowd following Harris around the Iowa State Fair. Rachel Wilke-Shapiro, a preschool teacher in Des Moines and a Harris supporter, complained that the national narrative around climate change hasn’t caught up with the reality she sees on the ground. “You have to explain to them why it’s their 3 a.m. issue,” she says. “People don’t always tie it together.”
In the drizzling rain, Mitchell Hora walks me to the top of a 40-ft. grain bin on his family’s farm in southeast Iowa’s Washington County, where his family has worked for seven generations. Even to my untrained eye, it’s clear that the Horas’ 800 acres of corn and soybean crops are thriving while his neighbors’ fields are dotted with patches of dead plants. The difference, he says, is that he changed growing practices in recent years, planting different crops on the same fields as the corn and soybeans he sells, a practice known as planting cover crops. He’s reduced pesticide use and stopped tilling the land, which keeps key nutrients in the ground. All of these practices, he says, have improved his yield. It’s good news for his farm, but it’s also good news for the planet. Agriculture accounts for nearly 10% of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. Hora’s new practices store carbon dioxide in the soil, meaning there’s less of it in the atmosphere.
These are big changes for farmers accustomed to traditional growing practices. But the farmers implementing them aren’t radical—Hora, whose family home is decorated with Bible verses and other religious items, makes clear that he’s “not a hippie.” The changes he has made, much like those of the state at large, are another sign that most people, regardless of their political leanings, are ready to talk about solutions. “We need to farm more sustainably,” says Hora. “It’s going to make us money and make us more economically resilient. And it’s also good for the environment.”
Democrats have tapped into that conversation. At least 10 candidates have proposed to offer farmers an additional income stream if they implement climate-friendly practices. “What we’re seeing is a significant change in how the Democrats are engaging with farmers in rural America,” says Russell.
This approach can provide a model for candidates to follow long after the Iowa nominating contest is done. Climate activists say Democrats have an opportunity to connect with voters by putting forth equivalent policies for communities across the country. “For far too long, climate policy has stayed in the realm of carbon and inanimate things,” says Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, an activist group that advocates for the Green New Deal. Politicians need to “tie it to what Americans are concerned about on a daily basis.”
Many of the early primary states face climate-related challenges. In New Hampshire, whose voters go to the polls a week after Iowa’s, a $9 billion recreation industry is vulnerable as ski runs melt early and local lakes face a potential decline in water quality. Scientists say parts of Nevada, the third state on the Democratic primary calendar, could be virtually unlivable by the end of the century; Las Vegas is warming faster than any other major city in the country. In South Carolina, the fourth state where Democrats will vote in 2020, coastal cities flood regularly and inland rivers are often inundated. Across the U.S., 9 in 10 Democratic voters say they are concerned about climate change, compared with 44% of Republicans, according to a national survey conducted by Climate Nexus, also in partnership with Yale and George Mason universities, released on Sept. 4. As in Iowa, the issue ranks second nationally only to health care as a priority among Democrats.
This is all no surprise to Inslee, who dropped out of the presidential race last month after running the most climate-change-centered campaign of any candidate in history. “We still have too many people who are trapped by the past,” he told me over a beer in Polk City, Iowa. “Maybe 10 years ago, this was not a first-tier issue in voters’ minds. But it is now.”
Thirty years ago, TIME named Planet Earth its Man of the Year, featuring a cover by the artist Christo of the earth encased in plastic on a beach in Long Island, NY.
For this week’s special issue cover on climate change, TIME returned to sand — albeit this time on the shores east of Toyko.
Japanese sand sculptor Toshihiko Hosaka and his seven-person team spent 14 days creating the 98-foot by 65-foot TIME cover on the playground site of the former Iioka Junior High School in Iioka, Asahi. The school, just a few hundred yards from the Pacific, closed after the East Japan Earthquake in 2011. But the natural disasters that threatened Hosaka’s project flowed from the slower, but no less deadly changes the cover raises a warning about.
“The biggest enemy of my work is the heat,” says Hosaka, who started building the sculpture on August 9, when temperatures hit 96. “I have been making sand sculptures for over 20 years and most of my work is outdoors. I feel that the heat has increased compared to before.”
Hosaka spent one day preparing the ground and two days laying out the design. The sculpture process involves raking the sand for 8 hours a day, which the team did for seven days, followed by two days of fine adjustments. The entire cover was then photographed with a Phantom 4 Pro drone camera capable of shooting 4k video.
“We sculpt letters, frames, and earth parts using shovels, forks, and rakes used for gardening,” says Hosaka, who graduated in sculpture from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. “It was necessary to always moisten because if the ground was dry it did not form. It is a huge work. I carved it a little and shot it with a drone to adjust the balance and depth. A dust spray is sprayed thinly on the finished part. This spray is used for road construction. This will withstand some rain and dryness.”
The typhoon that swept across Japan in mid-August carried more than “some rain,” however. With climate change, extremes in weather have grown more intense and frequent across the globe, and Typhoon Krosa could have erased the image Hosaka and his team had labored over for two weeks “We were all worried,” the artist recalls. “But the course changed a little and we were able to avoid a direct hit.”
Avocets, terns and gulls swoop down onto Wallasea Island on England’s eastern coast, searching for food between blades of grass ruffled by the summer sea breeze. Aside from the wind, and the odd chirp or squawk, it’s quiet—the kind of peaceful scene that seems like it’s been going on for centuries. Yet five years ago, these wetlands didn’t exist.
The mud the birds have landed on once lay under the streets of central London. In 2015, as part of a railway project, a construction crew scooped more than 3 million metric tons of dirt out from beneath the capital, drove it 50 miles east and piled it onto farmland on the coastline of the county of Essex. In summer 2019, a crane hoisted old heavy machinery out of the water, removing the last vestiges of human interference.
Wallasea is the largest restored coastal wetland in Europe, an exemplar of a growing movement to “rewild” land and return it to the way it was before humans began exploiting it millennia ago. It’s good for the birds. But it’s also increasingly understood as crucial for ensuring a world hospitable to people. As water sloshes in and out of Wallasea’s restored mudflats and salt marshes, carbon dioxide that could otherwise escape into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming gets buried. “Bits of decomposing leaves and seaweed come down rivers to the coast,” explains Rob Field, a senior conservation scientist at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which runs Wallasea. “When it gets to the [slow-flowing] salt marshes, the carbon falls out of suspension and gets stored there, in the thick, gloopy mud.” Ecologists say coastal wetlands like these are capable of trapping carbon up to 40 times faster per hectare than tropical rain forest. But over the past 400 years, farmland, coastal development and rising sea levels have combined to destroy 91% of wetland habitats on the Essex coast. Worldwide, 35% of global wetlands were destroyed from 1975 to 2015, according to the U.N.
Scientists say it’s too late to prevent catastrophic climate change by only reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. As well as rapidly phasing out fossil fuels, the world also needs to deploy so-called negative-emissions technologies to draw down large amounts of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Many believe that nature restoration is the cheapest and simplest way to do it. Other options, including machines that catch carbon as it is being emitted by power plants or suck carbon out of the atmosphere to store it underground, need research, money and time to mature before they can be used on a large scale. For that reason, most Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pathways for limiting warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels rely on forestry and better land management to make up the bulk of carbon drawdown over the next 30 years. To save the planet, we may need to give some of it back to nature.
In Europe, home to some of the most densely populated land in the world, and where true wilderness has become almost nonexistent, the idea of bringing nature back while also fighting climate change has captured the imagination. Dozens of privately and publicly funded rewilding projects have popped up across the continent. Europeans are reviving coastal habitats like Wallasea in the U.K., reversing the drainage of peatland bogs in Germany and replanting forests in the Scottish Highlands. The projects not only sequester carbon but also boost biodiversity and help the land adapt to the changing climate by preventing floods and wildfires.
Advocates of nature restoration say those benefits give rewilding an edge over simple tree planting, which has been popular with European governments for decades. From 2005 to 2015, Europe’s forest cover grew by the equivalent of 1,900 football fields every day, as the E.U. spent several billion euros to fund tree planting, often on farmland that had been abandoned because of changing agricultural practices in places like France and Italy. Some of that was reforestation, using native species to restore forests to what they were before, but much of it was so-called afforestation, the planting of many of one species of tree where there was none before, in regular lines. Many afforested trees are regularly cut down and used to produce timber, paper or biofuel.
Rewilding advocates say afforestation, while offering similar carbon-sequestration capacity to reforestation, offers little benefit to wildlife and carries risks. Studies have found that the large-scale planting of nonnative trees in Canada and China have disturbed natural ecosystems, worsened wildfires and depleted groundwater levels.
Meanwhile, other landscapes have been neglected. “I think politicians like planting trees because it’s a very clear, simple action,” says Timon Rutten, head of enterprise at Rewilding Europe, a Netherlands-based NGO that oversees nature-restoration schemes from Portugal to Bulgaria. “But peatlands, wetlands and grasslands are just as good or sometimes even better at storing carbon.”
Northern European countries shelter large expanses of peatlands—sometimes called moors, bogs or mires—that perhaps offer the greatest opportunity for natural climate mitigation. The plants that grow on the surface of peatlands sequester, or absorb, carbon dioxide as they grow. When they die, the decomposing plants do not leach carbon back into the atmosphere but get buried in waterlogged bogs, compressing into a new layer of peat. These habitats cover about 3% of the globe but contain more stored carbon than all other kinds of vegetation on earth combined. They sequester 370 million metric tons of CO₂ per year. But 15% of the world’s peatlands have been drained for agricultural use, or so that their peat could be burned to power generators, emitting carbon dioxide in the process. The dried-out peatland that’s left behind then releases stored carbon into the atmosphere; peatlands now account for almost 6% of annual global human-caused carbon emissions. E.U.-funded rewilding projects in Finland, the U.K. and Germany are rewetting peatlands to turn them back into carbon sinks.
Rewilding advocates are competing for investment with more modern negative-emissions technologies. Dozens of companies are developing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, in which machines use chemical processes to filter CO₂ out of the air. The gas is then used to make products or stored underground, removing it from the atmosphere.
Swiss startup Climeworks, for example, scrubs CO₂ from the air at plants in Italy, Switzerland and Iceland, at a cost of $500 to $600 per metric ton of CO₂. It is then sold for use in greenhouses, soda manufacturing and biofuel production, or stored in rocks deep underground.
But most IPCC plans for preventing more than 1.5°C of warming include a different kind of CCS: bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (BECCS), which should account for the majority of negative emissions by the end of the century. BECCS power stations burn trees and plants—which have sequestered carbon while growing—to produce electricity, then trap the resulting CO₂ emissions. The U.K. government has invested $32 million in domestic BECCS projects, including the first pilot program to launch in the E.U., the Drax power station in the U.K., which went online in February.
Currently, these high-tech methods for removing carbon from the atmosphere are expensive and so have limited reach. Rewilding, at least at the moment, is cheaper and more proven. Peatland restoration, for example, can trap a metric ton of CO₂ per year for about $16.
Despite the low cost, however, there are obstacles to rewilding on a meaningful scale. “There’s a limited amount of land that we can do restoration on,” says Simon Lewis, a professor of global change science at University College London. The mudflats and salt marshes at Wallasea currently bury around 1,200 metric tons of CO₂ a year—the equivalent of the per capita emissions of only around 200 Brits in 2018. The U.K. would need to rewild wetlands about 10 times the size of the entire country’s land area to zero out national carbon emissions.
Large-scale nature restoration also doesn’t yet have real political support. The British government’s current rewilding plans include just 500,000 hectares of land—0.2% of the country’s total surface area—over the next 25 years. And privately funded rewilding schemes often come up against resistance; one of the largest such projects, Summit to Sea, which calls for the restoration of ecosystems on 10,000 hectares of farmland in Wales, has attracted fierce opposition from local communities and agricultural groups, which fear no longer being able to use the land for their livelihoods. A local politician has described the project as “urban values being forced on a rural Welsh area” and the Welsh Farmers’ Union is calling for it to be cancelled.
At Wallasea, the illusion of unspoiled nature was punctured on the July morning TIME visited by a plume of dark gray smoke above the island’s north edge. The British military uses nearby land to dispose of expired ammunition, explains site manager Rachel Fancy. “We get a lot of big bangs out here.”
Nevertheless, Fancy says she expects humans will find more ways to coexist with nature in the coming decades, especially as climate change threatens both. Rewilding doesn’t just sequester carbon—it also reduces the risk of floods and wildfires, both of which are becoming more frequent on a warming planet. Over the next 100 years, Wallasea’s salt marshes should creep up the sand dunes and act as a natural flood defense, protecting nearby homes and farmland even as man-made walls are overwhelmed by rising sea levels and increased storm surges.
Wallasea is doing its bit to stave off the worst of that climate breakdown, as it buries carbon amid samphire and sea lavender. Meanwhile, the birds can relax here. The weather is fine, for now.
The seedlings are ready. One hundred and fifty thousand shoots of drought-resistant acacia, hardy baobab and Moringa spill out of their black plastic casings. The ground has been prepared with scores of kilometer-long furrows leading to a horizon studded with skeletal thorn trees. It’s early August, and in less than a week, 399 volunteers from 27 countries will arrive in this remote corner of northern Senegal to participate in one of the world’s most audacious efforts to combat the effects of climate change: an $8 billion plan to reforest 247 million acres of degraded land across the width of Africa, stretching from Dakar to Djibouti.
The Great Green Wall project, spearheaded by the African Union and funded by the World Bank, the European Union and the United Nations, was launched in 2007 to halt the expansion of the Sahara by planting a barrier of trees running 4,815 miles along its southern edge. Now, as concerns mount about the impact of climate change on the Sahel, the semiarid band of grassland south of the Sahara that is already one of the most impoverished regions on earth, the Great Green Wall is filling a new role. The goal now, say its designers, is to transform the lives of millions living on the front line of climate change by restoring agricultural land ruined by decades of overuse; when done, it should provide food, stem conflict and discourage migration. When the project is completed in 2030, the restored land is expected to absorb some 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the equivalent of keeping all of California’s cars parked for 3½ years.
Over the course of a week, the volunteers descending upon the Senegalese village of Mbar Toubab will try to turn 494 acres of barren land into another forested brick in the Great Green Wall. There is only one problem: the annual rains have yet to arrive, and without them, none of the seedlings will take root. “The rain used to come in June. Here we are in August, and still there is no rain,” says El Hadj Goudiaby, who has spent the past nine years overseeing Great Green Wall projects in Mbar Toubab for Senegal’s forestry department. How is it possible, he asks, to grow trees to combat climate change if climate change is making it impossible to grow trees?
The answer may have more to do with changing attitudes than changing the landscape. When people think of potential fixes for global warming, they tend to focus on big projects. But if human activity is at the root of climate change, whether it be the carbon emissions of the industrialized world or the overgrazing of the Sahel, then that is where the solution lies as well. Environmentalists celebrate the Great Green Wall for its epic territorial ambition, but its biggest impact will come from allowing people to meet their needs without destroying nature in the process.
The Sahara isn’t expanding so much as the Sahel is shrinking, destroyed by decades of overgrazing, climate-change-induced drought and poor farming practices that have stripped the once lush grasslands of the fertile topsoil needed to regenerate. Cattle herders resort to the few remaining trees for animal fodder, denuding the landscape even further in a downward spiral of desertification. Planting trees not only reduces carbon on a global scale—research in the journal Science estimates planting more than 2 billion acres of trees could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that human activity has pumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution—it also recharges the water table and creates microclimates that increase local rainfall. (For more on rewilding and carbon reduction, click here.) But if pastoralists have nothing to feed their herds in the time it takes those trees to mature, they are likely to use the saplings, starting the cycle all over again. Which is why, though it may not sound like much, the solution to climate change in the Sahel starts with getting grass to grow.
“If we can solve people’s problems by improving their living conditions now,” says Goudiaby, “they will be able to help themselves by protecting the trees that protect their future.” After all, stopping global warming isn’t about saving the planet; the earth will survive no matter how much the climate changes. It’s about saving humanity. One way to do that is by helping those who are most vulnerable to what chaos we have already created.
Just 25 miles south of Mbar Toubab, near the village of Koyli Alpha, 50-year-old Dienaba Aka pulls her heavily laden donkey cart to the side of the road. She and her extended family have spent the day cutting grass in a “forage bank” managed by the national Great Green Wall agency. For the past eight months, the 1,700-acre field has been fenced off to let the grass, along with 250,000 saplings, grow undisturbed by the cattle, sheep and goats that roam free in this region. The field reopened in July, and now herders pay $1.70 a day to harvest the waist-high grass for their cattle until the rains bring new grazing opportunities. For Aka, the idea of a grass “bank” is a radical departure from an itinerant childhood spent following the family herd in search of forage. Now she can feed her cattle in the lean season without stripping trees.
Aka, like women from many villages in the region, has been planting trees for the GGW project since 2012. She earns $96 during the six-week planting season. It’s good money, she says, but most women do it because they have been told it will bring back the rain, which in turn brings the grass that feeds their livestock.
There is another advantage to forage banking, Aka says, gazing proudly at her two 10-year-old nieces perched atop several bags of recently cut grass. “Before the Great Green Wall, the kids had to go with us when we took the cattle to graze. Now they can stay in school.” In Mbar Toubab, the fees collected from last year’s forage bank paid for solar panels to power classrooms. This year they will cover construction of a dormitory for students who live too far to walk every day. The circular investment is part of the plan, says Goudiaby. “If we can make the children aware of the consequences of our actions today, they will teach the next generation.”
The seedlings in Senegal’s reforesting projects are usually locally sourced and selected for their drought resistance and hardiness. Thorny desert acacias carry their own protection from grazing animals, and in the dry season they shed their leaves to conserve moisture. Once baobabs take root, they are long-lived even under drought conditions. Their bark can be used to make rope, their leaves are edible, and their foot-long fruit can either be juiced or ground up and roasted to make a coffee-like drink.
Fruit trees are often overlooked in reforestation schemes that prioritize hardiness, and that needs to change, says Ali Haider, the incoming director of Senegal’s Great Green Wall agency. “If you give someone a tree that she doesn’t need, she won’t take care of it.” Give her something she values instead, he says, something she can cook, sell or use for medicine. “Then she will protect it because it improves her life.”
Some of Senegal’s GGW agency projects do just that on a grand scale, like investing in gum arabic plantations for export. Since Senegal’s first sapling in the Great Green Wall took root in 2008, the national agency says it has planted 18 million trees on 99,000 acres of restored land. Nine market gardens are up and running, and three times as many forage banks are keeping cattle fed in the lean season. Gazelles, jackals, desert tortoises and songbirds—not seen in the region for years—are returning.
All of that amounts to very little compared with the scale of the overall problem, says Chris Reij, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute who has been working on desertification in the Sahel since 1978. Even if 99,000 acres have been reforested in Senegal, a figure he thinks is likely inflated, the acreage of forested land disappearing because of logging, agriculture and construction in other parts of the country is many times higher, he says. “So unless you do something about that, you are still losing the battle.” Nor does he think massive plantations are the solution. The survival rate of planted trees in arid regions like the Sahel hovers around 20%. “If all the trees that have been planted in the Sahel since 1980 had survived, it would look like the Amazon by now,” he says.
Goudiaby concedes that planting trees on the edge of the Sahara may not be the most cost-effective solution to climate change. But given time, he says, it works. Over the nine years he has been working the plots of Mbar Toubab, he estimates a 70% survival rate. A walk through one of the earliest plantations in the area does show signs of progress. Some of the trees are 10 ft. to 12 ft. tall, and though it’s not exactly a forest, it’s certainly not barren land either.
Reij argues it would be more cost-effective to restore the original grasslands, which are almost as good at capturing carbon. Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, for example, are fencing off large areas to allow the land to recover from the effects of overgrazing over time. In agricultural areas, farmers are being taught to plant around existing trees and sprouts, rather than plowing them over. The result, says Reij, “has been mind-blowing,” with 12 million acres regreened in Niger over the past 30 years.
No one approach is better than the other, says Ibrahim Thiaw, the executive secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification. Whether countries plant trees or promote grasslands, the end result is 21 African nations are working together to combat climate change and make people’s lives better in the Sahel. His biggest concern is that so far, only 15% of the proposed area has been restored. Some of the delays are because of a lack of funding. Senegal spends $200 million a year on planting and caring for its section of the wall; poorer nations of the alliance can’t afford even that. Only half the $8 billion pledged for the project has come through, largely because other climate emergencies are drawing attention away from the Sahel.
Long-term, says Thiaw, the impact of climate change on one of the world’s most impoverished regions will have global repercussions. Some 150 million people live in the Sahel, nearly two-thirds under age 25, and the region has the highest birth rate in the world. The World Bank predicts climate change will force about 85 million sub-Saharan Africans to migrate, many to under-resourced urban enclaves in the region, while a significant number will attempt the deadly passage to Europe and the Gulf countries in search of opportunity. “It’s a time bomb,” says Thiaw.
The immediate risks are equally troubling. Across the region, governments have lost local control to extremist groups such as Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Some 4.2 million people have been displaced by drought and conflict, particularly in the region bordering Lake Chad, which used to supply fresh water and livelihoods to nearly 30 million people but has shrunk by 90% because of climate change and overuse. The lack of economic prospects provides rich recruiting prospects for Boko Haram, which can dangle employment and goods that are otherwise unavailable. Dennis Garrity, the Drylands ambassador to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, likens conditions in the Sahel to those in the impoverished, ungoverned swaths of Pakistan and Afghanistan that were the font of global terrorism two decades ago. “The Sahel is not only the area most vulnerable to climate change in the world, it is also the region where terrorism and extremism are growing most rapidly,” he says.
The rains finally came to Mbar Toubab on Aug. 19, a full month later than the year before. There wasn’t much, but it was enough for the volunteers to get started, and by the time they left, 88,000 seedlings had been carefully set into the ground. The irony of people flying in from as far away as Hong Kong to plant trees to combat climate change, which is exacerbated in part by transcontinental flights, is not lost on Goudiaby. “Maybe they are making up for climate sins they have committed back in their home countries,” he proposes, a kind of climatic reparation. The countries of the Sahel contribute least to global warming, yet they reap the worst repercussions of the wealth generated by more industrialized nations. It only seems fair, he says, that members of those nations come to Senegal to pay their debts.
From sinking islands to drought-ridden savannas, women bear an outsize burden of the global—warming crisis, largely because of gender inequalities. In many parts of the world, women hold traditional roles as the primary caregivers in families and communities, and, as the main providers of food and fuel, are more vulnerable when flooding and drought occur;…
CREMONA, Italy (AP) — Scientists announced Wednesday they have succeeded in creating two embryos of the near-extinct northern white rhino as part of an international effort to save the species, which is down to just two animals worldwide, both of them female.
The embryos, created in the lab with eggs taken from the females and frozen sperm from dead males, are now stored in liquid nitrogen, to be transferred into a surrogate mother — a southern white rhino — in the near future.
“Today we achieved an important milestone on a rocky road which allows us to plan the future steps in the rescue program of the northern white rhino,” said Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany.
The institute is part of an international consortium of scientists and conservationists that has been planning and developing the procedure for years.
The ultimate goal is to create a herd of at least five animals that could be returned to their natural habitat in Africa. That could take decades.
Decades of poaching have taken a heavy toll on the northern white rhino and other rhino species. The animals are killed for their horns, which have long been used as carving material and prized in traditional Chinese medicine for their supposed healing properties.
The last male northern white rhino was a 45-year-old named Sudan, who gained fame in 2017 when he was listed as “The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World” on the Tinder dating app as part of fundraising effort. Sudan, named for the country where he was born in the wild, was euthanized in 2018 because of age-related ills.
The creation of the embryos was achieved at Cremona’s Avantea Laboratories. Cesare Galli and his team extracted five immature egg cells from each of the remaining females, Najin and Fatu, who live at a conservancy in Kenya.
After being incubated, seven of those cells matured and were suitable for fertilization. Two of the fertilized eggs developed into viable embryos.
“Five years ago it seemed like the production of a northern white rhino embryo was an almost unachievable goal — and today we have them,” said Jan Stejskal, director of communication at the Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, where Najin and Fatu were born. “This fantastic achievement of the whole team allows us to be optimistic over our next steps.”
If planets were products their price would be tumbling. Little more than a generation ago, we knew of only eight planets in all the universe—the ones within our own solar system. Only two of them, Earth and Mars, were plausibly capable of supporting life and only one of those definitely does. Planetary demand far exceeded supply.
Now, however, the market has been flooded. Thanks to advances in ground-and space-based observatories, especially the Kepler Space Telescope, which was launched in 2009 and operated for nine years, the population of known exoplanets — or planets orbiting other stars — has exploded to more than 4,000, with about another 4,000 detected but yet to be confirmed. Virtually every star in the universe is thought to be home to at least one planet, with some hosting an entire litter.
But a big sample group does not mean that science has yet discovered the true jackpot world: an Earth-like planet with a solid surface, an atmosphere and liquid water. If you’re looking for life, that’s where you’re likeliest to find it. Now, that jackpot—minus the life (so far)—appears to have been hit. According to a study by a team of researchers from the Center for Planetary Sciences at the University College London (UCL) and published today in Nature Astronomy, a potential garden planet, going by the prosaic name K2-18b, has been found just 110 light years from Earth.
“From today onwards, we know K2-18b has atmosphere and water, making it the best known candidate for habitability,” says Angelos Tsiaris, a UCL research associate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the lead author of the Nature paper.
Discovered in 2015, K2-18b was one more of the thousands of planets discovered by Kepler. The telescope did its work not by imaging its target planets directly, but rather by detecting the slight dip in light whenever the planet orbited in front of the Earth-facing side of its star. The frequency of the dip tells you how long each orbit takes and the amount of the dimming tells you the planet’s diameter—the bigger the world the more light is briefly lost.
Using those techniques, Kepler scientists determined that K2-18b is about twice the diameter of Earth and zips through its orbit once every 33 days. Two years later, European astronomers used a ground-based telescope to measure the amount of wobble K2-18b causes in its planet star as it orbits, which reveals the planet’s mass; the greater the wobble the more massive the world. Using those findings they concluded that K2-18b weighs in at about 8 times Earth’s mass.
That combination of diameter and mass put the planet in the category known as super-Earths — bigger than our comparatively small world; smaller than gas giants like Jupiter and Neptune; and likely to have a solid, rocky surface. In terms of life, that’s a good start. But K2-18b’s zippy orbit could also present problems. In order to complete a revolution so fast, the planet had to be situated very close to its sun—just 13 million miles away, the Kepler scientists calculated. Earth, by comparison, is 93 million miles from our sun. Mercury is just 36 million — giving it a surface temperature of 800º F (427º C).
Proximity is not a problem for K2-18b, however. Its sun is not a hot yellow star like ours, but a smaller, cooler red dwarf. That means its so-called habitable zone — the distance at which surface temperatures on the planet are within the narrow range to allow liquid water to exist — would be much closer. Correcting for the cooler fires of a red dwarf, astronomers conclude that even at so close a remove, K2-18b has surface temperatures that range from a low of -100º F (-73º C) to a high of 116º F (47º C).
Still, the question remained: Does the liquid water that could exist there actually exist there? To get the answer, the UCL team turned to one of the great workhorses of modern astronomy, the Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990, Hubble predates the discovery of the very first exoplanet by two years, but its age is no bar to its ongoing productivity. The UCL researchers made use of the telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, an instrument that can see in visible wavelengths, as well as in ultraviolet and near-infrared. What they were looking for were chemical signatures of K2-18b’s atmosphere—both whether the planet has an atmosphere at all, and whether that atmosphere contains water. They knew the work would be challenging.
“The measurements involved were extremely difficult,” says Tsiaris. “Like trying to identify one person in a crowd of ten thousand.”
But the precision of the Hubble and the tenacity of the researchers were up to the task, and over the course of multiple observations, they concluded that not only does the planet have water, it seems to have lots of it—making up as much as 50 percent of the atmosphere. It took a long time, however, before they were confident enough in their findings to announce them to the world.
“I had the results a year ago,” Tsiaris says. “At first we weren’t sure exactly what it meant, but we knew we had something exciting. It took us a year of repeating data analyses to make sure that what we say we found was correct. To get you to these two facts—there is atmosphere and there is water—took a lot of effort.”
K2-18b will surely be receiving more attention from astronomers around the world, not only with existing telescopes but with next-generation ones, including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, tentatively set for launch in 2021; and the European Space Agency’s ARIEL space telescope, specifically designed to study the atmosphere of exoplanets, and targeted for a 2028 launch. Already though, the K2-18b findings are encouraging more investigations of potentially similar worlds.
“If planets like Earth are very common,” says Tsiaris, “we can say life is very common.” That, of course, is an assumption that has yet to be proven, but with today’s announcement, the proof is closer than it’s ever been. —With reporting by Maddy Roache/London
In recent years, a steadily increasing volume of data has demonstrated that peer victimization — the clinical term for bullying — impacts hundreds of millions of children and adolescents, with the effects sometimes lasting years and, possibly, decades. The problem is even recognized as a global health challenge by the World Health Organization and the United Nations. And yet, researchers maintain there is still a limited understanding of how the behavior may physically shape the developing brain.
Bullying is usually defined as repeated and intentional verbal, physical, and anti-social behavior that seeks to intimidate, harm, or marginalize someone perceived as smaller, weaker, or less powerful. Among younger children, common forms of bullying include abusive language and physical harm. This behavior may grow subtler with age as adolescent bullies routinely exclude, insult, and mock their targets. Sometimes this behavior escalates into “mobbing” among groups of bullies in school, work, or cyberspace.
Researchers believe more than 3.2 million American students experience bullying every year. That’s about 1 percent of the nation’s total population. Among these students, about 10 to 15 percent experience “chronic” or persistent bullying that will last more than six continuous months. Experiencing chronic peer victimization is associated with lower academic achievement, higher unemployment rates, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
Most of the research into the neurobiological processes that might contribute to these negative health outcomes has occurred in the past decade, much of it focused on bullying’s impact on the body’s stress response system. A paper published last December in the journal Molecular Psychiatry sheds some light on a different area: brain architecture. The trauma stemming from chronic bullying can affect the structure of the brain, according to longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data collected by an international team based at King’s College London. The findings echo previous research, which has demonstrated similar changes in children and adults who experienced what’s known as “child maltreatment” — neglect or abuse by adult caregivers.
Long-term changes to the brain’s structure and chemistry are an indicator “of how sinister bullying is” says Tracy Vaillancourt, a clinical psychologist at the University of Ottawa. Along with others in the field, she is hopeful that studies like the one from King’s College will be a catalyst for further research which could ultimately be used to inform policy decisions and support anti-bullying interventions.
The King’s College researchers used a dataset that included clinical, genetic, and, neuroimaging data of 682 youth from France, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom collected as part of a European research project known as the IMAGEN Study — one of the first longitudinal studies to research adolescent brain development and mental health. In longitudinal studies, data is collected over a number of years. This allows researchers to track kids over time and determine whether certain experiences — such as being bullied — are associated with structural changes in the brain. The youth completed questionnaires at ages 14, 16, and 19 on the extent of bullying in their daily lives. MRI scans were acquired at ages 14 and 19. The researchers identified nine regions (left and right) of interest that are associated with stress and maltreatment.
Analyzing changes in brain volume at age 19, they found that participants who experienced chronic bullying had significantly steeper decreases in the volume of two regions involved in movement and learning — the left putamen and left caudate — with the former showing the stronger effect. These participants also experienced higher levels of generalized anxiety.
“The relationship between peer victimization and generalized anxiety was due at least in part to these steeper decreases in volume,” says Erin Burke Quinlan, a neuroscientist at King’s College London and the paper’s lead author. She says this “suggests — similar to the maltreatment literature — that the areas of the brain are getting almost too small.” An earlier study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2010 also reported abnormalities in certain brain regions that correlated to reported verbal abuse by peers, though the research was not longitudinal and involved participants aged 18 and older. Even though her work shows changes over time, Quinlan notes that “the brain is plastic throughout our life. That’s how we continue to learn, that’s how environment continues to shape our behavior.” So it’s not possible to tell whether the decreased volume depicted on the MRI represents a permanent or temporary state.
Research on the neurobiology of peer victimization is roughly 15 years behind similar research on child maltreatment, says Vaillancourt, a Canada Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention at the University of Ottawa. “Just saying maltreated children ‘were sad’ was not enough to get funding” for research and targeted interventions, she says. That change didn’t occur until experts testified before Congress and showed brain scans of children who had been maltreated. Vaillancourt believes the scans provided persuasive evidence that children are measurably impacted by abuse and neglect. The study of chronic bullying, she suggests, could follow a similar path.
Quinlan’s team was not able to determine which biological mechanism altered the brain volume of the youth in their study. Vaillancourt and other researchers suggest that findings from the child maltreatment literature could provide one possible explanation. In these studies, “toxic” stress and the stress hormone cortisol appear to alter brain development.
The body’s stress response is regulated by the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. The hypothalamus — an almond-sized region near the base of the brain — helps regulate vital sensory data such as metabolism, sleep, temperature, hunger, thirst, and, emotions. The hypothalamus is activated by the amygdala — an important region for processing emotions — when danger is detected. Following their initial release of adrenaline, if danger continues to be perceived, the adrenal glands release cortisol into the bloodstream. Higher levels of cortisol allow the body to operate at higher performance when it is exposed to an acute stressor. But chronic stress — such as experiencing persistent bullying — could have just the opposite effect because memory, cognition, sleep, appetite and other functions are continually on “alert” and not allowed to repair.
Cortisol receptors are in most cells throughout the body. The toxic stress of experiencing chronic bullying could lead to damage to receptor sites and the death of neural cells, some researchers believe, and thus the many downstream negative outcomes, such as lower academic achievement and depression.
The literature consistently finds that maltreated and bullied youth typically have low cortisol, says Vaillancourt. “That is very important because we see that blunted cortisol signature with other psychiatric issues that are associated with extreme trauma [such as in] post-traumatic stress disorder, individuals who come back from combat or who have been repeatedly raped, or in concentration camps during the Holocaust,” she says.
The longitudinal data of Quinlan’s team is “fascinating,” says Andrea J. Romero, a social psychologist at the University of Arizona who researches the intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and psychology. It “doesn’t seem far-fetched and makes sense during the adolescent period because it is a period of critical growth.” It’s interesting, Romero adds, “to think there are direct physiological pathways of social experience that are affecting mental health.”
Romero has collected data on peer victimization as well, including a study on the elevated rates of bullying, depression, and suicide ideation among Latina teens. The psychologist echoes Vaillancourt’s belief that neuroimaging could have a powerful impact on government and policy interventions to address bullying. But additional qualitative research is also needed, she says. For example, this could take the form of a daily diary where young people as early as fourth or fifth grade document their bullying experiences. The results “might be very unique based on intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and gender expression,” says Romero.
One of the most interesting findings by Quinlan’s team, Vaillancourt adds, were the brain regions that experienced the steepest decreases in volume. “The regions that they are correlating with peer victimization did not seem obvious to me,” she says.
“They’re looking at things that are historically related to motor control, so I was kind or surprised by that,” Vaillancourt adds.
Vaillancourt says that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) “or another region implicated in social pain research” may have been a more obvious choice. The ACC is one of the brain regions that processes physical pain. That same neural circuitry is activated when someone experiences the “social pain” of events such as grief, rejection, exclusion, humiliation, or bullying, according to a number of studies over the past decade.
The participants in IMAGEN are largely Caucasian, Western European, and middle class, says Quinlan. The researchers are keen to add socioeconomic and racial diversity to their sample. The team is now working with researchers in China, India, and the United States to share neuroimaging and genetic data of adolescents and young adults.
The next steps in the research, says Quinlan, will be to review data from the latest phase at age 22. The researchers collected a significant amount of brain imaging data in addition to genetic and epigenetic data. Through the end of this year, the team is also planning the fourth follow-up for ages 25 and 26.
“What I theorize was that if I were to image the brains in early adulthood, say age 25, that perhaps by then these processes will continue. So, when they are adults these [brain] regions would be significantly smaller,” says Quinlan. “But that was a limitation in that we don’t yet have that brain data available, but we hope to in the next two to three years.”
Rod McCullom is a science journalist in Chicago. His work has been published by Undark, ABC News, The Atlantic, The Nation, Scientific American, and Nature, among other publications.
Hundreds of millions of people are living with the effects of global warming – some now irreversible. For those on the frontlines of climate change, developing coping mechanisms is a matter of survival. And yet the world is not paying enough attention to the need to adapt to a warming planet alongside our efforts to reduce our carbon emissions. We urgently need more resources, more collaboration and more political will to make adaptation a global priority.
The good news is that adaptation, done well, is not only the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense. The Global Commission on Adaptation, which I co-founded about a year ago with Bill Gates and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, estimates that investing $1.8 trillion to improve climate resilience between now and 2030 in five critical areas — early-warning systems against cyclones and hurricanes, resilient infrastructure, better dryland agriculture, mangrove protection and water security — would yield up to $7.1 trillion in net benefits.
Today sees the launch of the organization’s flagship report into how mankind can adapt effectively to the impacts of climate change, and it is clear that the economic benefits of investing in resilient infrastructure — in sturdier bridges, stronger cyclone shelters and storm barriers – will far outweigh costs of reconstruction. By reducing risk, adaptation lowers financial and insurance costs and makes investment more appealing in places that would otherwise appear too precarious. London’s Canary Wharf and other real-estate developments in east London would not have been possible without the protection of the Thames Barrier, a series of movable steel cylindrical gates that have been operational since 1982. By holding back storm surges and high tides, the barrier helps protect 1.3 million people who live or work below the Thames’ average level of high tide as well as extensive property and infrastructure from flooding. No surprise then that New York and New Jersey are planning to build a storm barrier of their own.
The Thames Barrier holds another lesson for investors: a small additional outlay upfront to climate-proof infrastructure delivers higher returns for longer. In a recent study the World Bank estimated that making infrastructure more resilient adds about 3% to upfront costs but increases returns 300%.
Resourceful communities are already adapting to climate change with human ingenuity and solutions that range from green tech to biotech to high-tech. In 2017, Miami became the first city in the world to issue municipal bonds to finance climate adaptation at scale, and it could become a model for how governments finance investments in resilient infrastructure. Shanghai is greening districts with wetland areas, rooftop gardens, parks and permeable pavements to capture, slow down and filter storm water. For about 20 years, Bangladesh has been investing in early-warning systems in the event of natural disasters; in building shelters; and in implementing evacuation drills. In May, when Cyclone Fani hit, India and Bangladesh moved more than 2 million people out of harm’s way. And across the Sahel in Africa, a “Great Green Wall” is now visible from space as farmers coax trees back to life from rootstock. The knowledge and benefits of natural regeneration are being shared from farmer to farmer across African countries, and millions of acres have been reclaimed.
These are bright spots where adaptation has begun, but we need to do more of it, with more urgency and at scale. Let’s not compound our climate emergency with a failure of the imagination.
(NEW DELHI) — The lander module from India’s moon mission was located on the lunar surface on Sunday, one day after it lost contact with the space station, and efforts are underway to try to establish contact with it, the head of the nation’s space agency said.
The Press Trust of India news agency cited Indian Space and Research Organization chairman K. Sivan as saying cameras from the moon mission’s orbiter had located the lander. “It must have been a hard landing,” PTI quoted Sivan as saying.
ISRO officials could not be reached for comment.
The space agency said it lost touch with the Vikram lunar lander on Saturday as it made its final approach to the moon’s south pole to deploy a rover to search for signs of water.
A successful landing would have made India just the fourth country to land a vessel on the lunar surface, and only the third to operate a robotic rover there.
The space agency said Saturday that the lander’s descent was normal until 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the lunar surface.
The roughly $140 million mission, known as Chandrayaan-2, was intended to study permanently shadowed moon craters that are thought to contain water deposits that were confirmed by the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008.
The latest mission lifted off on July 22 from the Satish Dhawan space center in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
After its launch, Chandrayaan-2 spent several weeks making its way toward the moon, ultimately entering lunar orbit on Aug. 20.
The Vikram lander separated from the mission’s orbiter on Sept. 2 and began a series of braking maneuvers to lower its orbit and ready itself for landing.
Only three nations — the United States, the former Soviet Union and China — have landed a spacecraft on the moon.
(NEW YORK) — A scientist who has collected DNA from Scotland’s Loch Ness suggests the lake’s fabled monster might be a giant eel.
Neil Gemmell, from the University of Otago in New Zealand, says the project found a surprisingly high amount of eel DNA in the water.
He cautioned, though, that it’s not clear whether that indicates a gigantic eel or just a lot of little ones. But he said at a news conference in Scotland on Thursday that the idea of a giant eel is at least plausible.
The DNA project found no evidence to support the notion that the monster is a long-necked ancient reptile called a plesiosaur.
Loch Ness is the largest and second deepest body of fresh water in the British Isles.
A version of this first appeared as the TIME Space newsletter sent on Aug. 30. Space is aspirational. Merely the act of looking through a telescope is an exercise in questing. It’s vast, exciting, and gorgeous out there. Even scenes of cataclysm—a supernova, a Jovian cyclone—can be beautiful from so safe a remove as Earth.…
(SEATTLE) — Federal scientists said Thursday they are monitoring a new ocean heat wave off the U.S. West Coast, a development that could badly disrupt marine life including salmon, whales and sea lions.
The expanse of unusually warm water stretches from Alaska to California, researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday. It resembles a similar heat wave about five years ago that was blamed for poorer survival rates for young salmon, more humpback whales becoming entangled in fishing gear as they hunted closer to shore, and an algae bloom that shut down crabbing and clamming.
“Given the magnitude of what we saw last time, we want to know if this evolves on a similar path,” said Chris Harvey, a research scientist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
NOAA Fisheries said the water has reached temperatures more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit above average. It remains to be seen whether this heat wave dissipates more quickly than the last one, the agency said.
Scientists dubbed the last West Coast heat wave “the blob.”
The new heave has emerged over the last few months, growing in a similar pattern in the same area. It’s the second-most widespread heatwave in the northern Pacific Ocean in the last 40 years, after “the blob.”
“It’s on a trajectory to be as strong as the prior event,” said Andrew Leising, a research scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, who developed a way to use satellite data to track marine heatwaves in the Pacific.
The agency said it will provide fisheries managers with information on how the unusually warm conditions could affect the marine ecosystem and fish stocks.
The last heatwave spanned 2014 and 2015 and resulted in several declared fisheries disasters. Among the other effects, thousands of young sea lions were stranded on beaches after their mothers were forced to forage further from their rookeries in the Channel Islands off Southern California.
Paul Kehmeier is a fourth-generation farmer from western Colorado. One hundred and twenty years ago, his great grandfather Wilhelm Kehmeier bought land in Delta County, dug an irrigation ditch to bring water from a nearby stream, and got to work planting. The Kehmeier family has been farming on the same land ever since, growing alfalfa,…