Tuesday, October 27, 2020

A vicious circle. Global heating leads to melting ice leads to more heating.....

                                            Nature Communications

A polar bear navigates a dwindling ice pack. Photo by Andreas Weith

The melting of ice in polar and mountain regions around the world could lead to an additional 0.43 °C increase in global warming in the long term, according to a study published online in Nature Communications.

The loss of ice cover is known to influence air temperatures, for example through albedo changes (the amount of sunlight reflected from the Earth’s surface). Although the mechanisms that are responsible for increased warming are well understood, it isn't clear how large the contributions of different ice sheets and feedback mechanisms to global temperature changes are.

Nico Wunderling and colleagues use a simplified Earth system model in combination with different CO2 concentration levels to provide such an estimate. They find an additional median warming of 0.43°C in response to the loss of all ice sheets at CO2 concentrations similar to today's (400 parts per million). The contributions from different ice masses range from 0.05°C for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to 0.19°C due to the loss of Arctic summer sea ice. 

However, these experiments do not consider changes in CO2 concentrations over time or feedback mechanisms that could have an impact on shorter time-scales. Furthermore, the authors note that this warming does not emerge over years or decades, but rather on a time-scale of centuries to millennia (although they highlight that the Arctic might become ice-free during the summer within the 21st century). Therefore, these results should be interpreted as idealized estimates of contributions of different ice sources and feedback mechanisms.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Government of Manitoba robs its rural citizens of their local autonomy to serve its political friends and big business. (Opinion)

        by Larry Powell 
The Premier of Manitoba, Brian Pallister. A Gov't. photo.

The lengths to which the Pallister government is going to enable the unfettered exploitation of Manitoba's resources and massive expansion of its hog industry, should now be clear for all to see. For the past few years, it’s been rolling out, at significant taxpayer expense, the truly draconian measures it’s now taking, to make this happen. 

While the writing has been on the wall, only now are the worst fears being realized. They expose this government’ naked contempt for the democratic rights of rural Manitobans who have the audacity to point out that these goals are misguided - that the emperor has no clothes.

Late last year, the Municipality of Rosser, near Winnipeg, rejected a bid for a gravel mine (euphemistically called a limestone aggregate quarry). The politically well-connected owner of the construction company proposing the mine (who made a substantial contribution to the Conservative Party of Manitoba last year), appealed. Then, along comes a newly-minted creation of the Pallister Conservatives, a "blue-ribbon panel," as it were, called the Municipal Board, and overturns the council’s decision. Anointed with quasi-judicial power and peopled with several of the "party faithful," it can, in the words of one savvy observer, "relieve local councils of their administrative burdens." And, it did. It overturned council's rejection and, surprise, surprise, ruled for the proponent!

So the mine, er, quarry, will now go ahead. There is no appeal. 

So I guess the good people of the little, nearby community of Lillyfield, will just have to grin and bear it.
A gravel mine near the southwestern Manitoba community of Shoal Lake. 
A PinP photo.

Believe me, I know a thing or two about gravel-mines. A big one near my home, in the picturesque Birdtail Valley (above), supplied raw product for a major roadbuilding project to the south of here last year. 
Twenty-two wheelers take a break in Shoal Lake. A PinP photo.

Convoys of big dump-trucks rumbled past my front window in a seniors' complex for months (above), from morning ’til night, carrying their loads - hundreds of round trips a day to the site. 

Never mind that diesel fumes are a major air pollutant which cause lung cancer; Or that the United Nations has long warned the construction industry to curb its greenhouse gas emissions "yesterday" if we are to make any dent in the climate crisis. 

Would the cancellation of that single project have turned this global calamity around? Of course not. 

But will a broader, worse-case climate scenario be in the cards if every community on Earth barges ahead as this government obviously wants us to? Absolutely!

The absence of "eco-wisdom" these events reveal on the part of our lawmakers, is breathtaking.

And Bill 19, the same legislation which tramples local autonomy (or, in the fertile mind of government, reduces red tape), has resulted in another outrage in another part of the province. 
The HyLife killing plant in Neepawa, the largest pork processor in Canada. 
A corporate monolith based in Thailand with tentacles reaching into many
corners of the world's food business, now owns controlling interest.
A PinP photo.

The local, duly-elected Council in the RM of Grassland, near Brandon, has also voted decisively to reject another proposed project - this time a massive complex of hog barns proposed by HyLife Foods (above) near the Village of Elgin. 

And surely, only the naive now believe the Municipal Board will rule any way other than it did in Rosser.

The Grassland Council simply doesn’t believe the tax revenue from the project will cover the cost of servicing it. And residents fear the increased traffic will bring dust and noise, disrupting their quiet, rural lifestyles. 

They also worry about their water supply. That’s because the new complex will suck more than 100 thousand litres of water each and every day from the local aquifer. Twenty-four thousand pigs will be crowded into several large buildings. 

That’s about thirty times the human population of my own little town of Shoal Lake. And each pig produces several times the waste of one person. Yet even here we struggle to keep nutrients from our sewage lagoon - which often exceed recommended levels - from entering the lake. 
These likely help feed the growth of toxic algae which have been clogging up the lake water for years, tangling outboard motors and surely contributing to major fish-kills like the one we had here last year (above). 

It's been common knowledge for some time that, wherever humans or pigs are gathered together, deteriorating water quality soon follows. So, if our small town can feel such an impact, imagine the potential for harm there!

And, as a new report from the World Wildlife Fund reveals: "The overall (pollution) threat in the Assiniboine-Red watershed and each of its four sub-watersheds (where the new barns will be built) is (already) “very high.” It blames much of this on "agricultural runoff!"

Dissenting voices are systematically ignored.

In the spring of 2018 - the citizens' group, Hogwatch Manitoba - 
emblazened this headline across its website.


Here is Hogwatch's prophetic, cautionary tale, word for word, as it appeared, two-&-a-half years ago.

"Bill 19 will silence the public. It will allow municipal leaders to get rid of conditional use hearings and Provincial Technical Reviews for factory hog barns. If local politicians take this route, the Province will have the only and final say on where hog factories can be built. The Government of Manitoba is and has been both a promoter and regulator of the hog industry.  Bill 19 is the latest move to promote and de-regulate hog industry expansion. Why is Provincial control a problem? If conditional use disappears, local councils and rural people will not have any say in how factory hog operations perform. Municipalities will have no means of monitoring, enforcing conditions, and protecting local people and the environment from hog operations." 

John Fefchak of Virden is another example of a voice that needs to be listened to, but is not. John is a veteran of the Canadian military and long-time critic of his province's factory-farming style of pork production. He sees the government’s almost messianic drive to be both a regulator of, and cheerleader for the industry, as an attack on the democratic freedoms he did his part to win in the deadly conflicts of the past. Yet, his frequent comments to the news media, including the farm press, are often censored. 

And my local Shoal Lake newspaper, the Crossroads, is refusing to print this story which I put in the form of a letter-to-the-editor. The publisher, Ryan Nesbitt, claims it is "not local enough." He has also refused other letters I have submitted, about climate change, for the same reason.

It's encouraging that the Opposition is now taking up this issue. But I do hope it won't roll out as just another bit of political theatre. We need a profound public discourse on the very ways we develop our resources, produce our food, and exercise and protect our precious democratic rights, too. Is it all working? Or does it need to change? We all need to think about these things when the next election comes around.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Can manmade rope bridges offer relief for the world's rarest primate - the Hainan gibbon? A new study shows encouraging results.

by Larry Powell

Hainan gibbons started to use the canopy bridge 176 days after installation. Females and small juveniles were the faithful users.

The Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus) is described as "The world's most critically endangered primate." In fact, its numbers are said to be much lower than any other primate on Earth, with only about 30 individuals remaining for the entire species. It's found in just a single block of forest on Hainan Island, China, and nowhere else. 

The adult male is jet black with a hairy crest.

The female is golden yellow with a black crown patch.
The immature gibbon is black, regardless of gender.

Like so many similar creatures, it travels through the forest canopy, tree-to-tree. But major disturbances, like roads or landslides, can produce major gaps or gorges which seriously restrict its movements. This, in turn, can make it harder for it to feed or breed, but easier to be killed by predators.

Professional tree climber in action constructing the canopy bridge, December 2015. Mountaineering-grade ropes were tied to sturdy trees to provide connectivity at the forest gap created by a landslide.
All photos by Kadoorie Farm and Botanic.Garden.

So researchers decided to conduct an experiment. In 2015, they installed motion sensor cameras and enlisted the help of professional tree-climbers (above). They used strong ropes tied to sturdy trees to bridge a 15-metre-wide gully formed by a natural landslide. It had become a barrier separating two areas of gibbon habitat.

After a wait of almost six months, their efforts paid off. The gibbons - mostly mothers with younger members of the family - were first captured on the camera traps - actually using the bridge. (See top photo, above.) Adult males and larger juveniles seemed to prefer leaping across the gap together, instead.

Well over a year after the experiment began, more than two hundred photos and over fifty videos showed many gibbons belonging to the family group involved in the study, using the bridge. (Gibbons are territorial and live in family groups.)

As the authors conclude, "The study highlights the use and value of rope bridges to connect gaps in forest canopies. Although restoring natural forest should be a priority conservation intervention, artificial canopy bridges may be useful short-term solutions."  

In an e-mail to PinP, the head of the study, Dr. Bosco Chan of the Kadoorie Conservation China Dept. in Hong Kong, explains further. 

"Landslides created by heavy rains occur throughout Hainan Island, and I believe it is very common in areas affected by tropical cyclones throughout the world. So, yes I believe rope bridges can provide short-term solution to restore forest canopy connectivity in these places.

"In fact, artificial canopy bridges are quite widely applied in South America, Australia, and also see some attempts in Africa and more recently Asia, for natural disasters like the one we described, but also in forest fragmented by roads, pipelines and other artificial structures or disturbances.

"I do not believe the survivorship of this critically-endangered gibbon relies on building canopy bridges. But it surely helps alleviate impacts of forest fragmentation locally."

The findings were published earlier today in Nature.


New conservation action to save four threatened gibbon species

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Siberian heatwave of 2020 'almost impossible' without climate change

world weather attribution

Siberian wildfire north of the Arctic Circle. Photo by Pierre Markuse.

In the first six months of 2020, Siberia experienced a period of unusually high temperatures, causing wide-scale impacts including wildfires, loss of permafrost, and an invasion of pests.
Story here. 

Location! Location! Location! "Rewilding" less than a third of the world's damaged ecosystems in the right places, could go a long way toward curbing both species extinctions and atmospheric carbon!


The Great Egret in a wetland in southwestern Manitoba, Canada.  Canadian populations are said to be declining. For decades, the egrets have had to contend with major habitat loss and degradation, as well as threats like contaminated runoff from farm fields. A PinP photo.

Restoring 30% of the world’s ecosystems in priority areas could stave off more than 70% of projected extinctions and absorb nearly half of the carbon buildup in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.

As the world focuses on dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, a landmark report in Nature pinpoints the ecosystems that, if restored, give us the biggest "bang for our buck" in terms of both climate and biodiversity benefits.

Despite being shown to be beneficial, shelterbelts are being systematically 

destroyed by modern farmers. A PinP video.

Returning specific ecosystems in all continents worldwide that have been replaced by farming to their natural state would rescue the majority of land-based species of mammals, amphibians and birds under threat of dying out while soaking up more than 465 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Protecting 30% of the priority areas identified in the study, together with protecting ecosystems still in their natural form, would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to 49% of all the carbon that has built up in our atmosphere over the last two centuries. Some 27 researchers from 12 countries contributed to the report, which assesses forests, grasslands, shrublands, wetlands and arid ecosystems.

“Pushing forward on plans to return significant sweeps of nature to a natural state is critical to preventing ongoing biodiversity and climate crises from spinning out of control,” said Bernardo Strassburg, the study's lead author. “We show that if we’re smarter about where we restore nature, we can tick the climate, biodiversity and budget boxes on the world’s urgent to-do list.” 

By identifying precisely which destroyed ecosystems worldwide should be restored to deliver biodiversity and climate benefits at a low cost, without impact on agricultural production, the study is the first of its kind to provide global evidence that, where restoration takes place has the most profound impact on the achievement of biodiversity, climate and food security goals.  Restoration can be 13 times more cost-effective when it takes place in the highest priority locations. 

The study focuses on the potential benefits of restoring both forest and non-forest ecosystems on a global scale. “Previous research has emphasized forests and tree planting, sometimes at the expense of native grasslands or other ecosystems, the destruction of which would be very detrimental for biodiversity and should be avoided. Our research shows that while reviving forests is critical for mitigating global warming and protecting biodiversity, other ecosystems also have a massive role to play,” said Strassburg. 

The new report in Nature builds on the UN’s dire warnings that we’re on track to lose 1 million species in coming decades and that the world has mostly failed in its efforts to reach globally-set biodiversity targets in 2020, including the goal to restore 15% of ecosystems worldwide. Nations are re-doubling efforts to stave off mass extinctions in the leadup to the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 in Kunming, China, in 2021. That's when a global framework to protect nature is expected to be signed. This new report will inform the discussion around restoration and offer insight into how reviving ecosystems can help tackle multiple goals. 

Researchers assessed almost three million hectares of ecosystems worldwide that have been converted to farmland. Of these,  over half were originally forests, one-quarter grasslands, 14% shrublands, 4% arid lands and 2%  wetlands.  They then evaluated these lands based on animal habitats, carbon storage and cost-effectiveness to determine which swathe of lands worldwide would deliver the most benefits for biodiversity and carbon at the lowest cost when restored. 

Researchers were further able to identify a global-level, multiple-benefits solution—unconstrained by national boundaries—that would deliver 91% of the potential benefit for biodiversity, 82% of the climate mitigation benefit, and reduce costs by 27% by focusing on areas with low implementation and opportunity costs.

When researchers looked at the benefits if the restoration were to take place at the national level—which means that each country would restore 15% of its forests—they saw a reduction in biodiversity benefits by 28% and climate benefits by 29%, a rise in costs by 52%. 

“These results highlight the critical importance of international cooperation in meeting these goals. Different countries have different, complementary roles to play in meeting overarching global targets on biodiversity and climate,” Strassburg said.

Responding to fears that restoring ecosystems will encroach on the land needed for crop  production, researchers calculated how many ecosystems could be revived without cutting into food supplies. They found that 55%, or 1,578 million hectares, of ecosystems that had been converted to farmlands, could be restored without disrupting food production. This could be achieved through the well-planned and sustainable intensification of food production, together with a reduction in food waste and a shift away from foods such as meat and cheese, which require large amounts of land and therefore produce disproportionate greenhouse gas emissions. 

“As government officials gradually refocus on global climate and biodiversity goals, our study provides them with the precise geographic information they need to make informed choices about where to restore ecosystems,” said Robin Chazdon, one of the report authors. 

The approach developed is already supporting implementation at national and local scales. It’s attracting the attention of policy makers, NGOs and the private sector due to the substantial cost-benefit increase of restoration efforts. “We intend to help restoration achieve massive scales by aligning socioecological and financial interests, simultaneously increasing impacts for nature and people while improving returns and reducing risks for investors,” said Strassburg. 

Overall, the study provides compelling evidence to policymakers seeking affordable, efficient ways to meet United Nations goals around biodiversity, climate and, additionally, desertification, that restoration, when well-coordinated and carried out in combination with the protection of intact ecosystems and the better use of agricultural lands, is an unmatched—though currently underused—solution. 

“Our results provide very strong evidence of the benefits of pursuing joint planning and implementation of climate and biodiversity solutions, which is particularly timely given the landmark meetings planned for 2021 of the associated UN conventions on climate biodiversity and land degradation,” Strassburg said.  

“The study also demonstrates a crucial but hitherto-unexplored application of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,” noted Thomas Brooks, Chief Scientist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and a co-author of the study. “It will inform discussion next year at IUCN World Conservation Congress and fifteenth CBD Conference of the Parties regarding implementation of policy commitments, including the Bonn Challenge, the UN Decade of Restoration and the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“A new focus on prioritizing multiple outcomes of restoring ecosystems beyond forests, and beyond country level area-based targets, calls for intensifying international cooperation to realize globally important benefits of restoring the Earth’s precious ecosystems. We need to stimulate action for the sake of a healthy planet,” said Chazdon.  

Monday, October 12, 2020

Compassion needed for farm animals. (Letter)

The following letter appeared in the Saturday, Oct. 10th edition of the Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo added by PinP.)

Sows like this spend much of their lives in tiny steel cages.

Re: Changes needed to protect farms, animals (Opinion, Oct. 5) 

As a former executive director at the Winnipeg Humane Society, I feel compelled to respond to Bill Campbell’s op-ed on the need to protect farms and animals. After starting at the Humane Society in 1994, I quickly came to learn that some of the most egregious suffering imposed on animals by humans occurs in the industrial barns of today’s animal agriculture.

I am not speaking of the few remaining family farms, but rather the large industrial-style buildings that house thousands of animals in small confined spaces with no access to the outdoors. These operations treat the animals more like cars on an assembly line, as they do not allow the animals to fulfill natural instincts and limit their movement severely. In short, the millions of animals raised for food in Canada are enduring lives of chronic suffering due to the very conditions that are allowed under our laws.

Anyone can check the facts by looking at the Animal Care Act of Manitoba. At first glance, it’s reassuring to see that animals shall not be confined with inadequate space, unsanitary conditions, or without opportunity for exercise. But just move down to the next section and you will see the list of animals that are exempted from the above requirements, and agricultural uses of animals are at the top of the list.

So, recent moves to bring in “ag-gag” laws are by no means aimed at bringing further protection to animals, but rather to keep the barn doors tightly locked so the public will not be able to see how the pigs and chickens providing food for us are actually living. In my view, industrial animal agriculture is unethical and, as a society, we should be working to ensure that animals raised for food are treated humanely as living creatures, not assembly-line parts.




Action Alert! Tell the Manitoba Government That Exposing Animal Cruelty is Not A Crime | Winnipeg Humane Society. Ag-gag laws

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Nitrous oxide emissions pose an increasing climate threat

The sprawling Koch fertilizer plant in Brandon, Manitoba, CA. Each month, hundreds of trucks and rail cars deliver both nitrogen and methane-based fertilizers made here, to farmers in western Canada & the US. Both nitrogen & methane are more potent as greenhouse gases than CO2, the commonest one. The plant has, for many years, been the single-biggest industrial source of GH gases in MB.
A PinP photo.

Rising nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions are jeopardizing the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, according to a major new study. The growing use of nitrogen fertilizers in farming worldwide is increasing atmospheric concentrations. N2O is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years. Story here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Arctic is burning in a whole new way


"Where There's Smoke There's Fire" by Western Arctic National Parklands

Widespread wildfires in the far north aren't just bigger; they're different. Details here.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Global heating. How will it impact the world’s nature reserves?


The Athabasca glacier in Jasper National Park, Canada.
Already a shadow of its former self, many fear it will be gone altogether
within a generation. A 2020 photo by Ethan Sahagun.

Nature reserves will be affected by future climate change in very different ways - especially in the tropics. A new study drawing attention to this fact, raises even more fears for wildlife species. It's based on forecasts for more than 130,000 nature reserves worldwide. Story here.

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Bio of Larry Powell - publisher of this blog.

Larry Powell

Powell is a veteran, award-winning journalist based in Shoal Lake, Manitoba, Canada. He specialize in stories about agriculture and the environment. For decades, he worked for broadcast outlets in western Canada, including 5 years as Senior Editor for CBC Radio News in Saskatchewan.

He is authorized to receive embargoed news releases on important, global stories, through the Science Media Centre of Canada, the Royal Society, Nature Research and the World Weather Attribution Network. He's a member of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada, the Canadian Association of  Journalists and a past member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Focusing on Wildlife

In 2020, Powell joined an international team of writers providing articles for the Swiss-based online journal, Focusing on Wildlife - celebrating  the biodiversity of Planet Earth.

In June, 2014, he was a panelist at a world conference in          Winnipeg entitled Holding Power to Account. Investigative    Journalism, Democracy and Human  Rights. A keynote speaker there was Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame.

In 1986, he received one of several awards, when the Centre for Investigative Journalism chose his radio documentary about high cancer rates among uranium miners in northern Saskatchewan as the best in the country that year. 

Since retiring as a full-time employee in the late 80s, Powell has been able to devote more time to deeply- researched articles about important issues of our time, such as climate change and industrial farming. 

In 2012, the Manitoba Community Newspapers Association awarded his story about vanishing pollinators, Plight of the Humble Bee second prize in its environmental category. 

He has reported in many media, online, print and broadcast. They include CBC Radio; CBC TV’s flagship newscast, “The National;” NACTV - Community TV, Neepawa, Manitoba; farm newspapers including The Manitoba Co-Operator and The Western Producer; the weekly newspaper, The Roblin Review in Roblin, MB; along with progressive media such as the journal Alternatives; Briarpatch; Sasquatch;  Canadian Dimension; The Dominion;  OnEarth; Planetsave; The Manitoba Eco-Journal; Earthkeeper and Outdoor Edge. 


• 1989-present: Freelance writer, broadcaster, photographer, and researcher – online, print and television. 

• 1979-’88: Employee of CBC Radio News in Regina, including five years as Senior Editor of CBC Radio News in Saskatchewan. 

• 1972-’78: CBC Radio/TV News, Calgary AB. 

• 1958-’71: News reporter/announcer/host at private radio stations at CFAR, Flin Flon, MB; CJGX, Yorkton, SK; CJVI, Victoria, BC; CHAB, Moose Jaw, SK and CFAC, Calgary, AB.


• High school diploma, Dauphin Collegiate Technical Institute, Dauphin, MB; typing and shorthand degree, Sprott-Shaw Business College, Victoria, BC along with various skills courses at CBC, including writing and interviewing. 


• 1990: The B’Nai Brith award for human rights broadcasting as part of a team at CBC Radio, Saskatchewan. The series, "A People Apart," chronicled incidents of discrimination and abuse against indigenous people.

• 1984: Nomination for Peabody and winner of Saskatchewan Reporters’ Asn. Award for best radio documentary. 


INTERESTS: Blogging, reading, writing, organics, market gardening, eat-local movements, community activism, jamming with friends on my clarinet. 


Box 364 , Shoal Lake, Manitoba, Canada R0J1Z0

Cell: (204) 937-0205

He publishes the blog www.PlanetInPeril.ca (PinP) - "where science gets respect," and can be e-mailed at:


Facebook: larry.powell.9235 

Twitter: @LarryPo54406341

Skype: Larry.Powell9

Instagram: larrypowell582


Massive B.C. coal mines are about to get a new owner. Why some are worried about Glencore’s record

THE NARWHAL Coal mine at Tumbler Ridge, B.C.  Jeffrey Wynne ,      If the sale goes through, the company will inherit a contamination proble...