WE’RE EATING THIS PLANET TO DEATH

DANIEL ACKER/GETTY IMAGES

THE UN’S INTERGOVERNMENTAL Panel on Climate Change released a dire report today arguing that humanity can’t truly fight climate change without addressing the land problem—habitat degradation, deforestation, and soils beat to hell by agriculture. We now use nearly three-quarters of the world’s ice-free surface and waste a quarter of the food we produce, all while the global food system contributes up to 37 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions.

In short, we have to fundamentally rethink how we grow crops and raise livestock. There’s no cure-all, and every potential fix is fraught with maddening complications. But if we can’t figure out how to feed our species in a more sustainable way, climate change will continue to accelerate, making it all the more difficult to grow enough food. Food systems will collapse, and people will die.

The fundamental problem is that we have finite arable land and an exploding population. And trends that are positive from a social perspective, such as the ascent of the poor into the middle class in booming economies like China’s, end up ratcheting up the demand for meat even more.

So let’s start with meat. Raising livestock for slaughter is, of course, not particularly good for the planet. Animals demand lots of food and water: A single cow might consume 11,000 gallons of water a year. And that cow burps up methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

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In labs around the world, researchers are working on an alternative, by trying to get meat cells to grow in petri dishes. Using vats controlled for temperature, oxygen content, and more, they are replicating the conditions inside a cow without the methane side effects. And that, they promise, will be far better for the planet than growing beef out in a field.

But the promise of a lab-grown meat that replaces livestock in a significant manner is still far off. No one has a fully operational facility churning out the stuff. That means there also isn’t much data to show how, exactly, it stacks up against factory farming. “If you’re growing cells, you have to provide them with oxygen and heat and food and clean their waste and all the rest of it,” says Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal geneticist at the UC Davis. “That won’t come free. A cow is keeping its body temperature and doing its own waste removal.”

Labs and cows also release different greenhouse gases. To grow meat in the lab, you need electricity, which means CO2emissions. That CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for thousands of years, whereas the methane released by cows lasts more like 12 years. Powering future lab-grown meat facilities with renewables will be essential to improving the climate-wrecking profile of meat.

But cows are not just raised for their meat. India, for example, has 300 million cattle, three times as many as the US, but most Indians don’t eat beef. What they do use is the dairy; in fact, they are the biggest producers of dairy on the planet. “I don’t have a simple solution for what you do with a country that has the most cattle on Earth and has the lowest beef consumption,” says Van Eenennaam. “Just saying eat less beef doesn’t take care of that problem.”

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There are also regional differences. A cow in one country is not fungible with a cow in another. Raising cows in Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa produces twice the emissions of cattle kept in Europe or the US, because animals in the latter countries are fed more nutritious food and are more likely to be vaccinated and medicated when they get sick. So they reach slaughtering age quicker, which means they have less time to belch methane.

Switching humans to an entirely plant-based diet would solve some of these problems, but not all of them. For one, clearing forests and peatlands—essentially sparser forests laid on a bed of slowing rotting organic matter—to make way for agricultural land destroys essential carbon sinks. Healthy forests sequester CO2 during photosynthesis and store it. In the case of mucky peatlands, they can sequester carbon for perhaps thousands of years.

Also, prior research has shown that increased CO2concentrations in the atmosphere can actually help crops grow. “But now we know that high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere decrease protein values in grain crops, and also some micronutrients like zinc and iron,” says Cynthia Rosenzweig, a coordinating lead author on the report. Lower protein in crops might then make it even harder to wean ourselves off the easy protein of meat.

So we’re caught in a brutal tension here: We need to protect and plant more trees to sequester more carbon, but we also need more land to feed a booming human population. “We can reduce our demand, or we can increase the amount of land we grow stuff on and the number of animals that produce food,” says Van Eenennaam.

Tackling this problem will require looking at every piece of the land-use problem individually, and thinking hard about how we solve each one. For example, one way to lower the demand for food might be to eliminate the massive amount of food that gets wasted every day. But the reasons why food gets wasted vary from place to place. In the US, consumers are responsible for a great deal of it, whereas in the developing world the supply chain is the bigger culprit. There, insufficient refrigeration can cause foods to spoil before they even get to the market. The solution? More refrigeration—which means more emissions and more warming.

“Raising cows in Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa produces twice the emissions of cattle kept in Europe or the US.” —Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Davis

Researchers are racing to develop solutions to the preservation problem—a clever spray, for instance, can double the ripeness window of avocados. Robots, if deployed widely, could help fill in labor gaps and grow fruits and vegetables more efficiently, for example using machine vision to determine optimal ripeness. All great ideas that are still very young.

“The products are coming out faster than the science,” says Gabe Youtsey, chief innovation officer of the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources division. “But there’s definitely a lot of promise there.”

But to make a meaningful impact on climate change, he notes, those new ideas need to be deployed not in isolation, but as part of a larger technological system. A robot that picks apples may help fill a labor gap and get more fruit to market, but that’s just one crop. Our whole food system needs to change, a sort of biotech awakening. So optimizing the supply chain to cut down on food waste, while boosting yields with optimal varietals could allow more food to grow on the same amount of land, preserving more habitats for reforestation.

The vast scale of this crisis can only be tackled through massive, perhaps unparalleled cooperation—everyone needs to find the solutions that work for their corner of the world. But by tailoring solutions to a community, researchers can capitalize on particular customs. In Madagascar, for instance, scientists have launched a program to get folks to ditch bushmeat and eat sustainably farmed crickets, which was already the tradition, but had been forgotten in the country of late. That would be a tougher sell in the US, where lab-grown meat might have a better chance of taking hold.

Changing our ways will be a massive political, cultural, and technological undertaking. But change we must, because we’re eating this planet to death.

Cows, carbon and climate change

Cows, carbon and climate change
© Getty

With record heat waves, costly fire seasons, rising sea levels, and superstorms wracking our planet, it is clear that human-caused climate disruption is causing major problems for all of Earth’s inhabitants. Fossil fuels have long (and correctly) been identified as the biggest culprits, with the majority of humanity’s atmospheric carbon contribution coming from burning fossil fuels — oil, coal, and natural gas — and reversing hundreds of millions of years of natural carbon sequestration on the part of swamps and forests. However, there is an increasing global awareness that animal agriculture also plays a major role in accelerating climate change.

Cattle and other domestic ruminants have a four-chambered stomach, including a fermentation vat (called a rumen) that enables the animal to use microbes to break down cellulose — the main component of wood, paper and cardboard — into sugar. This fermentation process creates methane, which increases atmospheric temperatures  25 to 84 times as much as carbon dioxide. Thus, cattle, sheep and other livestock boost the carbon dioxide absorbed by plants into a far more climate-potent gas.

Livestock belching, farting and manure emissions of this and other gases has been estimated to account for 14 to 18 percent of the total human-induced greenhouse gases that are responsible for climate change. The remaining 82 to 86 percent of carbon emissions into the atmosphere comes from taking carbon out of the ground and pumping it into the atmosphere, whether through equally-potent methane leaks from natural gas wellfields and pipelines or through burning fuels to produce carbon dioxide. Thanks to the combined effect of greenhouse gases from livestock production and fossil fuel combustion on the world’s climate, the survival of the planet’s life forms, humanity included, is now at risk.

But the livestock also convert and degrade lands, radically reducing carbon sequestration — the natural ability of the biosphere to soak up atmospheric carbon — creating an even greater climate problem than methane emissions themselves. This effect is most obvious in tropical rainforest areas, which are being deforested at an accelerating pace to create pasture lands for livestock. This upsets natural nutrient cycling, as soil nutrients present in rainforest settings quickly leach out of the soil. Following deforestation, the massive carbon banks tied up in rainforest trees, vines and shrubs are gone for the long term. This bankrupting of carbon reserves in the tropics is paired with a catastrophic loss of biodiversity, an environmental crisis co-equal to climate disruption in its severity and significance.

Less visibly but perhaps more importantly, livestock grazing on the world’s grasslands, shrubsteppes and deserts can cause even greater withdrawals from a carbon banking standpoint than cutting down the forests. Livestock grazing eliminates deep-rooted native grasses and wildflowers, replacing them with shallow-rooted annual weeds that thrive in disturbed environments and die every year, releasing their carbon back to the atmosphere. Annual weeds therefore have little ability to store carbon in the soil.

In addition, once rangelands become degraded through overgrazing, shrubs sometimes increase, but clearing these shrubs to stimulate forage production for livestock further cripples the land’s ability to store carbon.

Throughout the Intermountain West, heavy grazing by livestock flips the ecological switch that converts healthy native habitats to an annual weed called cheatgrass, by suppressing the native perennial grasses and destroying the soil crusts that otherwise prevent cheatgrass invasion. Cheatgrass is highly flammable, and the resulting high-frequency range fires can eliminate deep-rooted shrubs, accelerating carbon loss from the soil.

Restoring the 25 million acres of livestock-degraded and cheatgrass-infested rangelands in the western United States back to native shrubs and grasses could offset some 23 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions. Stopping the livestock-induced damage would allow the land to heal over time and regain its carbon-storing capacity.

Natural areas are the lungs of the planet, breathing in carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen. Personal choices by consumers (adding rooftop solar panels, eating less meat) can help, but they’re not enough to stem the tide. Returning half the Earth to nature would restore carbon reserves while also addressing the biodiversity crisis.

We need major policy initiatives like the Green New Deal to force decisive action, stabilize and slash carbon emissions, and restore healthy levels of carbon sequestration through the natural processes of photosynthesis. Major livestock reforms on America’s western public lands would be a key step forward in this effort.

We must transform food production to save the world, says leaked report

Cutting carbon from transport and energy ‘not enough’ IPCC finds
Hereford beef cattle.  The IPCC report says meat consumption should be cut to reduce methane emissions.
 Hereford beef cattle. The IPCC report says meat consumption should be cut to reduce methane emissions. Photograph: Australian Scenics/Getty Images

Attempts to solve the climate crisis by cutting carbon emissions from only cars, factories and power plants are doomed to failure, scientists will warn this week.

A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land.

Humans now exploit 72% of the planet’s ice-free surface to feed, clothe and support Earth’s growing population, the report warns. At the same time, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, about half of all emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields, while deforestation and the removal of peat lands cause further significant levels of carbon emissions. The impact of intensive agriculture – which has helped the world’s population soar from 1.9 billion a century ago to 7.7 billion – has also increased soil erosion and reduced amounts of organic material in the ground.

It is a bleak analysis of the dangers ahead and comes when rising greenhouse gas emissions have made news after triggering a range of severe meteorological events. These include news that:

 Arctic sea-ice coverage reached near record lows for July;

 The heatwaves that hit Europe last month were between 1.5C and 3C higher because of climate change;

 Global temperatures for July were 1.2C above pre-industrial levels for the month.

This last figure is particularly alarming, as the IPCC has warned that rises greater than 1.5C risk triggering climatic destabilisation while those higher than 2C make such events even more likely. “We are now getting very close to some dangerous tipping points in the behaviour of the climate – but as this latest leaked report of the IPCC’s work reveals, it is going to be very difficult to achieve the cuts we need to make to prevent that happening,” said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

The new IPCC report emphasises that land will have to be managed more sustainably so that it releases much less carbon than at present. Peat lands will need to be restored by halting drainage schemes; meat consumption will have to be cut to reduce methane production; while food waste will have to be reduced.

Among the measures put forward by the report is the proposal of a major shift towards vegetarian and vegan diets. “The consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses and vegetables, and nuts and seeds … presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

There also needs to be a big change in how land is used, it adds. Policies need to include “improved access to markets, empowering women farmers, expanding access to agricultural services and strengthening land tenure security”, it states. “Early warning systems for weather, crop yields, and seasonal climate events are also critical.”

The chances of politicians and scientists achieving these goals are uncertain, however. Nations are scheduled to meet in late 2020, probably in the UK, at a key conference where delegates will plant how to achieve effective zero-carbon emission policies over the next few decades.

The US, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will have just had its presidential elections. A new Democrat incumbent would likely be sympathetic to moves to control global heating. Re-election of Donald Trump, who has called climate change “a hoax”, would put a very different, far gloomier perspective on hopes of achieving a consensus.

Wildlife Changing Too Slowly to Survive Climate Change

 

BERLIN, Germany, July 23, 2019 (ENS) – Climate change can threaten species and extinctions can impact ecosystem health, so it is of vital importance to assess how animals respond to changing environmental conditions, and whether these shifts enable the persistence of populations in the long run.

To answer these questions an international team of 64 researchers led by Viktoriia Radchuk, Alexandre Courtiol and Stephanie Kramer-Schadt from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) evaluated more than 10,000 published scientific studies.

flycatcher

European Pied Flycatcher in Switzerland. This species usually adapts well to environmental changes, Aug. 9, 2018, (Photo by Aaron Maizlish)

They concluded that although animals do commonly respond to climate change, for example by shifting the timing of breeding, such responses are in general insufficient to cope with the rapid pace of rising temperatures and sometimes go in wrong directions.

Their findings are published in the scientific journal “Nature Communications.”

Co-author Thomas Reed, a senior lecturer at University College Cork, Ireland, explains, “These results were obtained by comparing the observed response to climate change with the one expected if a population would be able to adjust their traits so to track the climate change perfectly.”

In wildlife, the most commonly observed response to climate change is an alteration in the timing of biological events such as hibernation, reproduction or migration.

Changes in body size, body mass or other morphological traits have also been associated with climate change, but, as confirmed by this study, show no systematic pattern.

The researchers extracted relevant information from the scientific literature to relate changes in climate over the years to possible changes in both types of traits.

Next, they evaluated whether observed trait changes were associated with higher survival or an increased number of offspring.

Radchuk

Lead author Victoriia Radchuk of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Photo courtesy Victoriia Radchuk via LinkedIn)

“Our research focused on birds because complete data on other groups were scarce,” says lead author Radchuk. “We demonstrate that in temperate regions, the rising temperatures are associated with the shift of the timing of biological events to earlier dates.”

Co-author Steven Beissinger, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “This suggests that species could stay in their warming habitat, as long as they change fast enough to cope with climate change.”

Senior author Alexandre Courtiol said, “This is unlikely to be the case because even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence.”

Even more worrisome is the fact that the data analyzed included predominantly common and abundant species such as the great tit, Parus major, the European pied flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca,or the common magpie, Pica pica, which are known to cope with climate change relatively well.

“Adaptive responses among rare or endangered species remain to be analyzed. We fear that the forecasts of population persistence for such species of conservation concern will be even more pessimistic,” concludes Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, who heads the Department of Ecological Dynamics at Leibniz-IZW.

The scientists hope that their analysis and the assembled datasets will stimulate research on the resilience of animal populations in the face of global change and contribute to a better predictive framework to assist future conservation management actions.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2019

Do airplane contrails add to climate change? Yes, and the problem is about to get worse.

New research suggests the global warming effect will triple by 2050 as air travel increases.
Image: Airplane contrail

Contrails from a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747 jetliner flying high over Las Vegas on Feb. 27, 2019.Larry MacDougal / AP file

Are cattle in the U.S. causing an increase in global warming?

Cows: Problem or solution? ( FJ )

Over the past decade, we have seen the media place blame for our changing climate on cattle. Scientific evidence does not support this claim though for cattle in the United States.

Cattle produce a lot of methane gas, primarily through enteric fermentation and fermentation of their manure. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that, along with nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and some other compounds in the atmosphere, create a blanket around our planet. This is good; without this atmospheric blanket, the earth would be too cold for us to survive. The current problem is that concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere are increasing, which is thickening our blanket.

Greenhouse gases and the atmosphere

The methane that cattle produce is part of a natural carbon cycle that has been happening since the beginning of life on our planet. Through photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere and fixed as carbohydrates in plant material. Cattle consume and digest these carbohydrates, where some of the carbon is transformed to carbon dioxide and methane gases that are respired back to the atmosphere. This methane is oxidized in the atmosphere through a series of reactions, transforming that carbon back to where it started as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In contrast, when we burn fossil fuels, we are taking carbon that has been stored in the earth since pre-historic times and converting it to “new” carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere. For every gallon of fuel consumed, about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide are created and released to the atmosphere. We are releasing this gas more rapidly than it can be absorbed in our oceans and soils. Thus, we are observing a rather rapid increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, and the effect of this change will be with us for 1000s of years. Whereas cattle are part of a natural cycle with short-term impact, burning of fossil fuels has a more permanent impact.

Cattle numbers and greenhouse gas emissions

We must also consider the number of cattle and their productivity. Cattle numbers in the United States have been stable or declining for many years. Beef cow numbers peaked in 1975, and the current number is similar to that maintained in the early 1960s. Dairy cow numbers are the lowest they have been in over 100 years.

We also have to consider that modern cattle are getting larger and more productive. They consume more feed and produce more methane per animal, but they are also more efficient producing more meat or milk per unit of feed consumed. Considering cattle numbers and these increases in productivity and efficiency, methane emission from cattle in the United States has not increased over the past 50 years.

This is recent history; what if we look further back? Ruminant wildlife were prevalent in North America before European settlement. Although there are not accurate numbers for the buffalo, elk, deer, and other ruminants on the continent at that time, estimates are available. Based upon those estimates, these animals produced methane in the range of 50% less to 25% more than the current population of cattle, other farm ruminants and wildlife. This indicates that cattle today are not contributing a substantial increase in the methane emissions from U.S. lands compared to pre-settlement times.

So what might be increasing methane concentration in the atmosphere? Global cattle numbers are increasing. Methane is also released during the extraction, refining, and transport of fossil fuels. This methane also oxidizes in the atmosphere to form carbon dioxide, but this is not part of a natural cycle. Like the combustion of fuels, this removes carbon stored in the earth to create new carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with very long-term effects.

Can cattle be part of the solution?

The fact remains that cattle produce a lot of methane. This methane is essentially wasted energy escaping the rumen. Reducing this waste by increasing the efficiency of the rumen may provide a substantial benefit by producing more meat or milk with less feed consumed. Dietary changes can reduce enteric methane production, and feed supplements are being explored to improve feed efficiency and reduce emissions.

Depending upon the cost of dietary changes and supplements, these interventions may provide economic benefit to the producer. In addition, there is the possibility of claiming carbon credits for this reduction. Companies and other institutions desiring to reduce their carbon footprint may be willing to pay cattle producers to use these mitigation practices. This is largely in the future for now.

 

So, although cattle in the United States are not causing an increase in global warming and related climate change, they may become part of the solution. Reducing any source of greenhouse gas emission will benefit our planet.

Birds Are Trying To Adapt To Climate Change — But Is It Too Little, Too Late?

A common guillemot (Uria aalge) brings a sprat to feed to its chick. The laying dates of this species were followed for 19 consecutive years on the Isle of May, off the coast of southeast Scotland. According to a new paper in Nature Communications, many birds are adapting to climate change — but probably not fast enough.

Michael P. Harris

Viktoriia Radchuk, an evolutionary ecologist at Berlin’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, wanted to know how animals were responding to climate change.

So she scoured the results of more than 10,000 animal studies — on species from frogs to snakes, from insects to birds to mammals — looking for information on how changing environments were affecting animal behavior. Based on the available data, she decided to focus on birds in the Northern Hemisphere.

As detailed in a new paper in Nature Communications, Radchuk and her co-authors found that many birds are adapting to climate change — but probably not fast enough. “Which means, on average, these species are at risk of extinction,” she says.

The data focused on common and abundant bird species, such as tits, song sparrows and magpies (which are also the most well documented in studies). They showed that some bird populations are breeding, laying eggs and migrating earlier, which makes them better prepared for earlier onsets of spring — a significant effect of climate change.

Radchuk explains that when temperatures warm, plants flower earlier, and insects also develop earlier.

Enlarge this image

An adult red-billed gull (Larus novaehollandiae scopulinus) with a chick. The birds are part of a 54-year study on New Zealand’s Kaikoura Peninsula.

Deborah A. Mills

“For many birds, insects are their food source, which means that birds [should] time their egg laying to correspond to the peak of prey abundance,” she says, so their chicks have lots of food. Some birds have been shifting to earlier dates.

“We’ve known for a long time that global climate change is happening. We’ve known for a long time that animals are changing in response to this. But what we really haven’t known is how well the animals are keeping up with the selection,” says Melissa Bowlin, an ecologist at the University of Michigan-Dearborn who was not involved with the study.

The paper, which is largely based on studies from the past 30 years, comes to a stark conclusion: “The temperature is changing so fast that evolution isn’t able to keep up,” Bowlin says.

The abundance of the species in the studies is evidence that they are already better able to adapt to changing environments, says Radchuk. “So we would expect that the species that are rare and in danger already — from habitat fragmentation or invasive species or any other environmental change — would be even more sensitive to climate change.”

Bridget Stutchbury, a field biologist and ornithologist at York University in Toronto, is hopeful because birds have shown resilience in the past.

“At least for birds, many of the studies are done on species that are relatively short-lived, and they reproduce very easily,” she says. “Those traits allow them to adapt and respond quickly to changes.”

Stutchbury points to the bald eagle, whose U.S. population in the lower 48 states declined to 417 pairs in the 1960s but then rebounded to nearly 10,000 in the mid-2000s, after the federal government banned DDT and helped protect their habitat. “They can recover very quickly if we can put the environment back on track for them,” she says.

‘Unprecedented’ wildfires ravage the Arctic

Wildfire smoke is spreading from Alaska across parts of Canada.

Story highlights

  • The wildfires come as the planet is on track to experience the hottest July on record
  • Wildfires contribute to global warming by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere

(CNN)More than 100 intense wildfires have ravaged the Arctic since June, with scientists describing the blazes as “unprecedented.”

New satellite images show huge clouds of smoke billowing across uninhabited land in Greenland, Siberia and parts of Alaska.
The wildfires come after the planet experienced the hottest June on record and is on track to experience the hottest July on record, as heatwaves sweep across Europe and the United States.
Since the start of June, Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), which provides data about atmospheric composition and emissions, has tracked more than 100 intense wildfires in the Arctic Circle.
Pierre Markuse, a satellite photography expert, said the region has experienced fires in the past, but never this many.
Satellite images show smoke billowing across Greenland and Alaska as wildfires ravage the region.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at a faster rate than the global average, providing the right conditions for wildfires to spread, according to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at CAMS.
“The number and intensity of wildfires in the Arctic Circle is unusual and unprecedented,” Parrington told CNN.
“They are concerning as they are occurring in a very remote part of the world, and in an environment that many people would consider to be pristine,” he said.
See how Europe is dealing with an extreme heatwave

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See how Europe is dealing with an extreme heatwave 01:34
The average June temperature in Siberia, where the fires are raging, was almost 10 degrees higher than the long-term average between 1981–2010, Dr Claudia Volosciuk, a scientist with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) told CNN.
Parrington said there seemed to be more wildfires due to local heatwaves in Siberia, Canada and Alaska.
The fires themselves contribute to the climate crisis by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
They emitted an estimated 100 megatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere between 1 June and 21 July, almost the equivalent of Belgium’s carbon output in 2017, according to CAMS.
Volosciuk said wildfires are also exacerbating global warming by releasing pollutants into the atmosphere.
“When particles of smoke land on snow and ice, [they] cause the ice to absorb sunlight that it would otherwise reflect, and thereby accelerate the warming in the Arctic,” she said.

Netherlands and Belgium record highest ever temperatures

All-time records in Germany and Luxembourg could also fall in continent-wide heatwave

Water is sprayed on a taxiway at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
 Water is sprayed on a taxiway at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam during extreme heat. Photograph: Robin van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

The Netherlands and Belgium have recorded their highest ever temperatures as the second extreme heatwave in consecutive months to be linked by scientists to the climate emergency advances across the continent.

The Dutch meteorological service, KNMI, said the temperature reached 39.1C(102F) at Gilze-Rijen airbase near the southern city of Tilburg on Wednesday afternoon, exceeding the previous high of 38.6C set in August 1944.

In Belgium, the temperature in Kleine-Brogel hit 38.9C, fractionally higher than the previous record of 38.8C set in June 1947. Forecasters said temperatures could climb further on Wednesday and again on Thursday.

“The most extreme heat will build from central and northern France into Belgium, the Netherlands and far-western Germany into Thursday,” said Eric Leister of the forecasting group AccuWeather, with new all-time highs also possible in Germany and Luxembourg.

After several cities in France broke previous temperature records on Tuesday, including Bordeaux, which hit 41.2C, the national weather service, Météo France, said Paris was likely to beat its all-time high of 40.4C, set in July 1947, with 42C on Thursday.

City records in Amsterdam and Brussels are also expected to fall. Cities are particularly vulnerable in heatwaves because of a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect, in which concrete buildings and asphalt roads absorb heat during the day and emit it again at night, preventing the city from cooling.

The latest heatwave, caused by an “omega block” – a high-pressure pattern that blocks and diverts the jet stream, allowing a mass of hot air to flow up from northern Africa and the Iberian peninsula – follows a similar extreme weather event last month that made it the hottest June on record.

Quick guide

What is causing Europe’s heatwaves?

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The highest ever June temperatures were recorded in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Andorra, Luxembourg, Poland and Germany, while France registered an all-time record high of 45.9C in the southern commune of Gallargues-le-Montueux.

Clare Nullis, a World Meteorological Organization spokeswoman, said the heatwaves bore the “hallmark of climate change”. The extreme events were “becoming more frequent, they’re starting earlier and they’re becoming more intense”, she said. “It’s not a problem that’s going to go away.”

The 26-28 June heatwave in France was 4C hotter than a June heatwave would have been in 1900, according to World Weather Attribution, a new international programme helping the scientific community to analyse the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events.

A study published earlier this year by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich said the summer heatwave across northern Europe last year would have been “statistically impossible” without climate change driven by human activity.

Rail passengers in Paris are given bottled water
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 Rail passengers in Paris are given bottled water as temperatures on the city’s transport network soar. Photograph: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

KNMI has issued a code orange extreme temperature warning for everywhere except the offshore Wadden Islands and implemented its “national heat emergency” plan, while Belgium has taken the unprecedented step of placing the entire country on a code red warning.

Spain has also declared a red alert in the Zaragoza region, where the worst wildfires in 20 years took place last month. The EU’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service warned of an “extreme danger” of further forest fires in France and Spain on Thursday, with a high or very high threat level in Portugal, Italy, Belgium and Germany.

Twenty French départements were also placed on red alert. Agnès Buzyn, the health minister, said: “Nobody is immune in the face of such extreme temperatures. There are risks even if you are not particularly vulnerable.” Britain’s Met Office issued similar advice and said the UK all-time high of 38.5C, recorded in Faversham, Kent, in August 2003, could also be exceeded on Thursday.

Local authorities in France have placed restrictions on water usage in 73 of the country’s 96 départements following dramatic falls in ground and river water levels. “It’s tricky but under control, but we need to be very vigilant,” said the junior environment minister, Emmanuelle Wargon.

A thermometer outside the town hall of Belin-Béliet, south-western France
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 A thermometer shows the temperature outside the town hall of Belin-Béliet in south-western France. Photograph: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

The French energy company EDF said it was shutting down two reactors at its Golfech nuclear power plant in the southern Tarn-et-Garonne region in order to limit the heating of water used to keep the reactors cool.

Scientists have said such heatwaves are closely linked to the climate emergency and will be many times more likely over the coming decades.

Last month, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said Europe’s five hottest summers since 1500 had all occurred in the 21st century – in 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016 and 2002.

Monthly records were now falling five times as often as they would in a stable climate, the institute said, adding that this was “a consequence of global warming caused by the increasing greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas”.

Scientists have a new suggestion to create more climate-friendly cows

Dairy cows of the Norman breed stand in a field in Mesnil-Bruntel, near Peronne, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol - RC15FF485E20

Moo-ving in the right direction?
Image: REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Belching bovines are a primary culprit when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Farmed livestock are responsible for 14.5% of all emissions related to human activity, and cows make up by far the largest proportion of that.

Although vegan diets are on the rise in countries like the UK and US, and meat alternatives are increasingly available, cattle farming is still widespread.

Image: FAO

So attention has turned to putting a cork in the volume of methane cows produce, by targeting their gut microbes.

Researchers looked at more than 1,000 cows on farms throughout Europe, and found they had a large proportion of their gut bacteria in common. By inoculating calves with targeted probiotics, the scientists suggest the mix of microbes could be altered, and the volume of methane produced limited. By eliminating the worst-offending gut bacteria, emissions could be cut in half, they say.

Livestock production around the world.

Livestock production around the world.
Image: FAO

Environmentally friendly cows?

The researchers say the gas-causing bacteria in cows’ digestive systems are linked to their genetic make-up. Longer-term, this could mean some of the most problematic microbes could potentially be eliminated by selective breeding.

Previous studies have suggested mixing seaweed into cattle feed could also be a way to cut the volume of methane produced. And it might also help cows grow bigger and stronger. However, there are still questions about how this might work in reality: growing seaweed on the scale necessary is likely to be problematicand environmentally damaging in itself.

Image: Statista

Ruminating about cow guts

Failure to mitigate the effects of climate change is one of the primary threats facing the planet, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report. And methane is one of the biggest causes of the problem, after the more commonly discussed carbon dioxide.

Given the pure number of cows in the world, farmed for beef and milk, intrepid scientists have spent a lot of time investigating their burps and belches.

But unfortunately, it would seem these aren’t the only bovine emissions we need to concern ourselves with – cattle urine is also a climate offender. It releases nitrous oxide, another harmful gas, particularly in poor-quality pastures, new research has demonstrated.

Veggie burger, anyone?