Millions of Drowned Decomposing Livestock Animals allowed to be Rendered

The pitfalls of simplification when looking at greenhouse gas emissions from livestock

What we choose to eat,  how we move around and how these activities contribute to climate change is receiving a lot of media attention. In this context, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and transport are often compared, but in a flawed way.

The comparison measures direct emissions from transport against both direct and indirect emissions from livestock. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identifies and monitors human activities responsible for climate change and reports direct emissions by sectors. The IPCC estimates that direct emissions from transport (road, air, rail and maritime) account for 6.9 gigatons per year, about 14% of all emissions from human activities. These emissions mainly consist of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from fuel combustion. By comparison, direct emissions from livestock account for 2.3 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, or 5% of the total. They consist of methane and nitrous oxide from rumen digestion and manure management. Contrary to transport, agriculture is based on a large variety of natural processes that emit (or leak) methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide from multiple sources. While it is possible to “de-carbonize” transport, emissions from land use and agriculture are much more difficult to measure and control.

Using a global life cycle approach, FAO estimated all direct and indirect emissions from livestock (cattle, buffaloes, goat, sheep, pigs and poultry) at 7.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent per year, or 14.5% of all anthropogenic emissions reported by the IPCC. In addition to rumen digestion and manure, life cycle emissions also include those from producing feed and forages, which the IPCC reports under crops and forestry, and those from processing and transporting meat, milk and eggs, which the IPCC reports under industry and transport. Hence, we cannot compare the transport sector’s 14% as calculated by the IPCC, to the 14.5% of livestock using the life cycle approach.

Though it is the most systematic and comprehensive method for assessing environmental impacts according to the IPCC, there is no life cycle approach estimate available for the transport sector at a global level to our knowledge. Non-availability, uncertainty or variability of data limit its application. But several studies, including some reported by the IPCC, show that transport emissions increase significantly when considering the entire life cycle of fuel and vehicles, including emissions from extracting fuel and disposing of old vehicles. For example in the US, greenhouse gas emissions for the life cycle of passenger transport would be about 1.5 times higher than the operational ones.

Comparing transport and livestock raises another issue. Wealthy consumers, in both high and low income countries, who are rightly concerned about their individual carbon footprint, have options like driving less or choosing low carbon food. However, more than 820 million people are suffering from hunger and even more from nutrient deficiencies. Meat, milk and eggs are much sought after to address malnutrition. Out of the 767 million people living in extreme poverty, about half of them are pastoralists, smallholders or workers relying on livestock for food and livelihoods. The flawed comparison and negative press about livestock may influence development plans and investments and further increase their food insecurity.

Livestock emissions have come into particular focus because it generally takes more resources to produce beef than comparable other food items. Hence emissions from land-use change and feed production are high, in addition to enteric fermentation. Moreover, methane has a higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide but it’s lifespan in the atmosphere is only 12 years, which means that reducing methane emissions would have a positive impact on climate change in a much shorter time span.

Countries, particularly in Latin America, are responding to these challenges by developing low carbon livestock production that will achieve emission reductions at scale, focusing on emission intensity, soil carbon and pasture restoration, and better recycling of by-products and waste. Such programmes also produce a number of environmental and socio-economic co-benefits, like biodiversity and water conservation, or generation of rural employment and income.

The world needs both consumers that are aware of their food choices and producers and companies that engage in low carbon development. In that process, livestock can indeed make a large contribution to climate change mitigation, food security and sustainable development in general.

Anne Mottet is a Livestock Development Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, specialising in natural resource use efficiency and climate change. She has 15 years of work experience in research, quantitative analysis and strategic consulting to the agricultural sector.

Henning Steinfeld is head of the livestock sector analysis and policy branch at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, Italy. He has been working on agricultural and livestock policy for the last 15 years, in particular focusing on environmental issues, poverty and public health protection. 

Jane Goodall and Alec Baldwin Discuss Importance of Plant-Based Diet at Global Climate Action Summit

This year’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco got pretty heated (no pun intended). Between California Governor Jerry Brown calling President Donald Trump a “liar, criminal, fool” and protestors rallying outside against fossil fuel extraction, despite the governor signing into law the state’s commitment to 100 percent clean energy by 2045 this week, the event was certainly not lacking in high emotion. But on a cooler note, actors Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin and everyone’s favorite primatologist, Jane Goodall, were also present at the Summit, and Baldwin and Goodall sat down for a chat on the importance of plant-based diets in regards to forests and the fight against climate change.

And although a primatologist and an actor may seemingly have little in common, the two celebrities have one very important commonality — they are advocates for the environment and promote ditching meat for the sake of the planet.



Goodall and Baldwin both ditch meat from their diets and credit environmental concerns as reasoning for it. And they are absolutely right that eliminating animal products from your life has a humongous positive effect on not only your health and the livelihood of animals, but on the environment and world as a whole as well.

Animal agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change, being responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector (cars, planes, trains, etc.) combined. In fact, a recent study revealed that animal agriculture is more harmful to the environment than fossil fuel extractors like Shell and Exxon Mobil (so maybe those protestors at this year’s Summit should have been carrying anti-meat, egg, and dairy signs instead…). Going plant-based just for one year has the potential to cut your carbon footprint in HALF, while giving you a myriad of health benefits (vegan diets are free of cholesterol, antibiotics, etc. and chock-full of vitamins and nutrients) and saving the lives of so many innocent animals. If everyone adopted a plant-based diet, then yes, we could certainly meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and keep our planet’s temperature from rising those two more dangerous degrees.

To learn more about the connections between our diets and the environment, be sure to check out the fact-filled, image-rich Eat for the Planet book!

And please remember to share this with your network as a reminder that going plant-based can literally help save the world!

Image Source: eatforclimateweek/Instagram 

Yellowstone hit by global warming, increased visitation: report

PINEDALE, Wyo. (Reuters) – Hotter, drier conditions have led to more severe wildfires in Yellowstone National Park, while growing numbers of visitors have harmed everything from prized hydrothermal features to its famed grizzly bears, the park said in a report on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: A bison walks in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, U.S. on August 10, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Average temperatures in Yellowstone, which has been designated as both World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve sites by a United Nations panel, are exceeding historical norms even as climate change is blamed for a string of fires that have increased in size and which last longer, according to the study.

The 60-page “The state of Yellowstone vital signs and select park resources, 2017” report is one of just four compiled in the past decade. They are designed to track one of the largest, nearly intact temperate ecosystems in the world.

Yellowstone is celebrated for geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, as well as forests, mountains, meadows, rivers and lakes considered a crucial sanctuary for the largest concentration of diverse wildlife in the Lower 48 states. The report shows it has seen warmer summers with less moisture and shorter winters in recent years.

At Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest of the park, for example, the average annual daily minimum temperature has increased by 3.9 degrees Fahrenheit from 1941 to 2016 even as total annual precipitation has for the most part been below the long-term mean of 15.3 inches and snowpack has generally declined, scientists found.

Researchers noted an increase in the size of wildfires that impact vegetation and degrade air quality and said the future holds more of the same.

“If climate trends continue along their current trajectory, fires within the park will continue to be larger (and) burn for longer durations,” according to the report.

The millions of visitors who flock to Yellowstone each year from around the globe are behind a trend that includes vandalism to unique thermal features.

The thermal features have been subjected to everything from a drone crashing into one of them to crowds surging onto fragile grounds surrounding the features.

And while the grizzly population in the Yellowstone area is considered stable at roughly 700 bears, humans engaged in such pastimes as driving, hiking, camping and cycling can disrupt bear activities and even contribute to their deaths.

Yellowstone, most of whose 2.2 million acres sit in Wyoming but which also encompasses portions of Idaho and Montana, saw a record 4.2 million visits in 2016 and recorded its second busiest year in history in 2017.

Rice farming up to twice as bad for climate change as previously thought, study reveals

Levels of overlooked greenhouse gas are up to 45 times higher in fields that are only flooded intermittently

Rice is a vital crop that provides people with more calories in total than any other food

Rice is a vital crop that provides people with more calories in total than any other food ( STR/AFP/Getty Images )

Rice farming is known to be a major contributor to climate change, but new research suggests it is far bigger a problem than previously thought.

Techniques intended to reduce emissions while also cutting water use may in fact be boosting some greenhouse gases, meaning the impact of rice cultivation may be up to twice as bad as previous estimates suggest.

Scientists at the US-based advocacy group the Environmental Defense Fund suggest the short-term warming impact of these additional gases in the atmosphere could be equivalent to 1,200 coal power plants.

Considering the importance of rice as a staple food crop, providing more calories to the global population than any other food, the researchers have recommended ways to adapt farming practices and make its cultivation more climate-friendly.

Past estimates have suggested that 2.5 per cent of human-induced climate warming can be attributed to rice farming.

The main culprit is methane, a potent greenhouse gas emitted from flooded rice fields as bacteria in the waterlogged soil produce it in large quantities.

However, there is another gas produced by rice fields that can have a harmful climate effect. Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is also produced by soil microbes in rice fields.

Partly in a bid to reduce methane emissions, several international organisations have promoted intermittent flooding of rice fields, but this practice comes with problems of its own.

“The full climate impact of rice farming has been significantly underestimated because up to this point, nitrous dioxide emissions from intermittently flooded farms have not been included,” said Dr Kritee Kritee from the Environmental Defense Fund, who led the research.

Analysis by the team showed that process of alternately wetting and drying rice fields – while reducing methane levels – is producing up to 45 times more nitrous oxide than constantly flooded fields.

The intermittent flooding and airing of the fields results in pulses of microbial activity that in turn leads to increased nitrous oxide levels.

These results, obtained by working with farms in southern India, were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Increasing pressure on limited water resources under a changing climate could make additional rice farming regions look to intermittent flooding to address water limitations and concerns about methane emissions,” said Dr Kritee.

“Water management on rice farms needs to be calibrated to balance water use concerns with the climate impacts of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions.”

Despite being a powerful greenhouse gas in its own right that traps even more heat in the atmosphere than methane over long time periods, most rice producing countries do not report their nitrous oxide emissions.
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Dr Kritee said it was essential that scientists began investigating this overlooked threat so that nations can tackle it effectively.

“We now know nitrous oxide emissions from rice farming can be large and impactful,” said Richie Ahuja, a co-author of this study.

By considering each farm individually and taking into account their methane, nitrous oxide and water use, the scientists suggest that specific strategies can be used that can minimise emissions of climate harming gases.

“We now also know how to manage the problem. Major rice producing nations in Asia are investing to improve the agriculture sector and could benefit from the suggested dual mitigation strategies that lead to water savings, better yields, and less climate pollution,” said Mr Ahuja.

Study suggests meat and dairy industry on track to surpass oil companies as biggest greenhouse gas emitters

July 20, 2018 by Bob Yirka, report
Study suggests meat and dairy industry on track to surpass oil companies as biggest greenhouse gas emitters
Estimated global greenhouse gas emission (GHG) targets to keep within a 1.5°C rise in temperature compared to emissions from global meat and dairy production based on business-as-usual growth projections. Credit: Emissions impossible

Researchers at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and GRAIN have released a report titled “Emissions impossible – How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet.” The report is a discussion regarding an analysis the groups did on the impact the meat and dairy industries have on global warming. One of their major findings is that large meat and dairy corporations are set to overtake large oil companies as the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. In the report, the researchers also suggest that it is time to expand the field of corporations that get the major share of attention surrounding global warming. They make the case that that meat and dairy producers have flown under the radar for years, and that now, the time has come to include them.

Researchers for the two groups report that they conducted an extensive review of production numbers released by the largest  and  and used those numbers to calculate greenhouse gas emissions. They note that very few of the largest meat and dairy corporations offer emissions data and that those that do fail to include data regarding the supply chain. They suggest further that the supply chain in the industry typically accounts for up to 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions—it typically includes emissions from activities related to growing crops as well as methane emitted directly from livestock.

The researchers also report that a very large share of meat and dairy production occurs in just a few regions: Argentina, Brazil, the U.S., the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They also claim that five of the biggest meat and dairy corporations are already responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than BP, ExxonMobil or Shell. They further claim that their analysis of the industry showed that approximately 80 percent of the global allowable greenhouse gas emissions budget would be taken up by just the meat and dairy industry by 2050, if production is not reduced.

The researchers conclude their report by suggesting that soon there will be no choice—if we are to curb  to meet targets set by agreed upon protocols, meat and  production will have to be greatly reduced.

 Explore further: Meeting climate targets may require reducing meat and dairy consumption

Read more at:

New Zealand needs to get rid of up to a fifth of livestock methane emissions to stop more global warming

New Zealand’s emissions profile is unique

Agriculture 45%Road transport 17%Other 13%Manufacturing 8%Industrial 7%Public electricity 5%Waste disposal 5%

New research on methane emissions
New official research suggest we need 10-22 per cent reduction of livestock emissions

New Zealand would need to reduce livestock methane emissions by up to 22 per cent by 2050 to stop any additional global warming, official research shows.

This would likely require a serious reduction in the number of livestock farmed, unless new and untried technologies can be shown to work.

Livestock contribute the vast majority of our methane emissions, mostly through belching.

The release from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment throws a wrench into an emerging consensus across the country that “stabilising” NZ’s short-lived methane emissions at current levels could be a viable option to stop warming.

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It suggests that actual “stabilisation” would still require a reduction in livestock or the success of new methods to lower emissions, such as special feeds, vaccines or tweaking livestock breeding.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw is currently consulting on plans for a Zero Carbon Act, which would set some kind of reduction target in law.

Parliamentary Commissioner and former National Party Environment Minister Simon Upton is working on a wider report concerning the Zero Carbon Act but decided to put out this research from Andy Reisinger early in order to inform debate.

Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard said the key point of the report was  reductions of 10-22 per cent were needed by 2050, whereas earlier reports before said they just needed to be stabilised.

There are three goals for 2050 currently on the table – and none of them consider “no more warming” to be the actual goal.

One is exactly what it says on the tin: net zero carbon, but nothing else, meaning agriculture’s “short-lived” methane emissions would be left alone. The second or middle option is net zero long-lived gases, like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, and “stabilised” short-term gases, like methane.

Finally, the third option is simply net zero for all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“To me the report is saying we don’t need to go to complete net zero,” Hoggard said.

The middle option of “stabilisation” has attracted a lot of interest but has not yet been made completely clear. The idea behind it is that since methane emissions decay in the atmosphere much faster than carbon, the Government could keep a steady level of methane emissions over time and, because of the drop-off from emissions ten years ago, simply keep the level consistent without contributing much to further warming, recycling the decaying methane with new emissions.

About 43 per cent of New Zealand’s greenhouse gases are caused by methane and 11 per cent by nitrous oxide, the first generated by all livestock burping, the latter mainly by cows urinating.

The research released by Upton is careful not to suggest policy, but to simply make clear that while methane mostly decays within a decade or so, its lasting effects are such that a significant reduction would still be needed for New Zealand to contribute to no further warming.

“It shows that holding New Zealand’s methane emissions steady at current levels would not be enough to avoid additional global warming,” Upton said.

“If New Zealand’s emissions of livestock methane were held steady at 2016 levels, then within about ten years the amount of methane in the atmosphere from that source would level off. However the warming effect of that methane would continue to increase at a gradually declining rate for more than a century.”

Livestock contribute the vast majority of our methane emissions, mostly through belching.
Livestock contribute the vast majority of our methane emissions, mostly through belching.

Hoggard said if cow efficiency could be improved as it has, and farmers reduced stock, the reductions could occur.

“There are things I could do but might not be allowed. One the things that holds me back are dry conditions. Irrigation would help but that’s a dirty word, and a herd home would help but people get upset if cows are in there for a length of time.”

“People say cut cow numbers but they have an ideological view of the sector and don’t understand the trade-offs in operating a biological system,” Hoggard said.

The research shows that even if stabilised at 2016 levels warming from methane would increase by 10-20 per cent by 2050, and 25-40 per cent by 2100.

To avoid this New Zealand would need to reduce livestock methane emissions by between 10 and 22 per cent by 2050 and then 20-27 per cent by 2100.

The range of options depends on the amount that other countries reduce their emissions, as methane interacts with other gases in complex ways.

National climate change spokesman Todd Muller welcomed the report, saying it showed New Zealand needed to reduce agricultural emissions by “just” 10-22 per cent.

 “The research released today shows that reducing methane emissions by just 10 – 22 per cent will mean New Zealand’s methane emissions have a neutral impact on global temperature,” Muller said.

“If we reduce methane by 10 – 22 per cent, and reduce all other gases to zero, it is equivalent to a 54 – 60 per cent reduction in our total emissions which is in line with New Zealand’s existing 2050 target.”

Muller and party leader Simon Bridges have made clear they want to work with the Government on setting a target not likely to be changed the moment the Government does.

“We are working with the Government to make meaningful bi-partisan progress on climate change. National wants an independent, non-political Climate Change Commission established so we have a framework through which we address climate change issues in the future,” Muller said.

Acting Climate Change Minister Eugenie Sage said it was a useful contribution to the policy debate, and the reduction was achievable.

“This report shows New Zealand’s methane emissions would need to reduce by about 10 to 22 per cent below 2016 levels (ie the latest year for which emissions data is available) by 2050, with further reductions between 20 to 27 per cent by 2100, if we want to ensure methane emissions from livestock don’t contribute to additional global warming,” Sage said.

She noted some in the sector believed the reduction was possible with existing technology.

“That is seen as achievable by some in the agricultural sector, given that methane output per unit of production has been in decline by about 1 per cent per year for the last few decades, and given some leaders in the sector believe they can reduce methane output by as much as 30 per cent using existing technology and best practice.”

Greenpeace sustainable agriculture campaigner Gen Toop disagreed, saying a reduction in cow numbers was the only viable path forwards.

“The dairy industry say there are no easy solutions for reducing methane emissions from ruminants but they deny the obvious solution is to reduce livestock numbers. Fewer cows means fewer emissions,” Toop said.

“The simple truth is there are already too many cows for our climate to cope with, yet the Government is still allowing dairy conversions to continue – even in fragile and unique places like the Mackenzie country.”

Upton himself said the country and world needed to focus on reducing emissions.

“This whole debate started off in the early 1990s and we all said ‘we’re going to plant pine trees in the mean time because we don’t have an easy set of technologies, we’re going to use that time to find the technologies to find a way out,'” Upton said.

“We’ve used up 25 years, we still haven’t found the technologies. We haven’t focused on reducing emissions. We have to now focus on that.”

“2050 is not far away. You can’t turn things around overnight.”

He said there were encouraging technological breakthroughs, particularly on the carbon side of the issue, but actual reduction would still be needed.

Upton expected Governments would make peace with some level of warming from methane emissions, but should aim to get carbon down to net zero.

Kangaroos: The Latest Victims of a Climate Change Problem We Seem Unwilling to Address

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative

Published 08/24/18

Western Grey KangarooPhoto by Donald Hobern

Australian farmers in New South Wales (NSW) are being given permission to kill increased numbers of larger species of kangaroos. There is already a kangaroo product industry that sees numbers of the animals hunted down for meat and leather, but now drought has decreased herbage required by both cattle and kangaroos.

Global climate change has been identified as contributing to heat and drought around the world. Study after study identifies meat production as a major, perhaps the major, contributor to greenhouse gases. Between us, humans and domestic animals account for 96 percent of the world’s animal biomass. Meanwhile, meat and dairy production are increasingly identified as among the most significant contributors to climate change.

Long ago, it was recognized that market hunting – killing wildlife for profit – was a fast track to extinction and thus not sustainable within capitalism, which demands continued growth in profits to work properly. But, so insatiable is the gastronomic demand for parts of dead animals that wild animals were simply replaced by domestic ones, which in turn are major sources of greenhouse gases. Animal protectionists have sought to convince environmentalists, including scientists able to understand complex processes that seem to challenge the cognitive abilities of the likes of U.S. president Donald Trump (who is still mired in denial over climate change), that reducing consumption of meat and dairy in favor of a more, even exclusively, plant-based diet is one of the easiest and most effective ways we have to reduce greenhouse gases.

No matter. Instead of attempting to reduce the source of the problem, the meat industry is instead encouraged, and kangaroos must give way so folks won’t have to think twice about their steaks and burgers.

There already is a commercial kangaroo hunt, but with regard NSW, Niall Blair, NSW Minister of Primary Industries, claims that without massive slaughter of kangaroos the kangaroos themselves will first eat all the food, and then starve. Such “pre-emptive euthanasia” is a commonly provided rationale for such culls. Major die-offs, both “natural” and human-caused, do occur in wildlife and natural selection generates adaptation to changing conditions, which are inevitable if we are so unable to control our own contribution to the problem, and clearly that is the case.

Put another way, we, not kangaroos, are the problem. Australia is earmarking $141 million to assist farmers, not only with compensation for lost income, but for mental health support. It will, however, not contribute to the solution to those parts of the problem we can influence, if only we had the intelligence and will to do so.

B.C. works to safeguard livestock during another tough wildfire season

13,000 livestock, mostly cattle, have been in areas affected by evacuation orders and alerts

Cattle run on a ranch as the Shovel Lake wildfire burns in the distance sending a massive cloud of smoke into the air near Fort St. James. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

British Columbia’s agriculture minister says critical lessons learned from last year’s wildfires that had ranchers and producers suffering devastating losses will help save animals during another season that could force more people from their properties.

Lana Popham said Wednesday the province’s premises identification program, which was meant to trace cattle back to an operation during a disease outbreak, allowed animals to be rescued last year after evacuation orders were issued.

“As the fires increased last summer and this program seemed to have so much value we saw those numbers increase significantly,” she said of more farmers and ranchers registering for the program.

“That’s allowing us to get into areas that have been identified as heavy agricultural, livestock areas and be able to assess a situation and move those animals out as needed.”

In some cases, grazing cattle remained safe in certain areas after ranchers have left due to encroaching fires, Popham said, adding 35,000 livestock were on the loose last year at the height of the worst wildfire conditions.

“This program allows them to re-enter into evacuation zones and tend to their livestock so it’s extremely important for people to be registered for this program and I think over the last two years, especially, that message has hit home.”

So far this season, 13,000 livestock, mostly cattle but also sheep, horses and pigs, have been in areas affected by evacuation orders and alerts, Popham said, adding ministry staff are working with the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association to co-ordinate alternate grazing sites, organizing emergency feeds and helping with the relocation of animals.

“We won’t often know if they’ve been lost until they don’t come home later in the fall,” Popham said. “I have heard reports of cattle that have been burned, but no numbers on that yet.”

Williams Lake is one of the hardest-hit areas, Popham said.

“The emotional toll that these farmers and ranchers are feeling is tremendous. And we saw this last year. You see some of the strongest farmers you know break down when they realize some of their animals aren’t coming home.”

After the 2017 wildfires, the federal government provided $20 million in funding to help farmers and ranchers, but Popham said her ministry has not made any requests for financial help so far this year as it awaits assessments on areas that weren’t affected last year.

‘The World is On Fire:’ New NASA Satellite Photos Show Every Fire Burning on Earth

Andrew LaSane

Friday, 24 August 2018 – 1:40PM

'The World is On Fire:' New NASA Satellite Photos Show Every Fire Burning on Earth

Image Credit: screenshot
Satellite imagery of Earth is cool because it gives us a different perspective of our home, but it can also be quite disturbing. This week on Twitter, NASA shared an image that shows not only brown and green continents, vast oceans, and swirling white clouds, but also red dots that show a large number of fires currently burning over the world.

The red blobs are most concentrated in central Africa, but extend to parts of every other continent except for Antarctica. “The world is on fire,” read NASA’s tweet. In a blog post, the agency explained that the image was taken using the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Worldview, and that the areas that appear to be completely engulfed in flames were detected by thermal bands and are likely from agricultural burns. “The location, widespread nature, and number of fires suggest that these fires were deliberately set to manage land,” NASA writes. “Farmers often use fire to return nutrients to the soil and to clear the ground of unwanted plants. While fire helps enhance crops and grasses for pasture, the fires also produce smoke that degrades air quality.”

Other areas of red are likely wildfires, like the ones that continue to ravage parts of California. Northern Africa is largely untouched because there is not much to burn in the Sahara, and the poles are fine because of the low temperatures. NASA’s Worldview website allows users to go back in time to see how the burning areas have changed over the course of the summer, and there is even a feature that will animate a set period of time so that you can watch the red dots accumulate. The site also tracks major events like volcano eruptions, iceberg splits, and typhoons. The purpose is obviously not to revel in the destruction of the Earth as seen from above, but there is something cool about seeing the planet from this perspective and being able to witness its changes over time while tracking their natural and human causes.

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