Human impact on wildlife to blame for spread of viruses, says study

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2020/04/07 - 4:01pm

Increased contact with animals likely cause of outbreaks such as Covid-19, say experts, as conservationists call for global ban on wildlife markets

Hunting, farming and the global move of people to cities has led to massive declines in biodiversity and increased the risk of dangerous viruses like Covid-19 spilling over from animals to humans, a major study has concluded.

In a paper that suggests the underlying cause of the present pandemic is likely to be increased human contact with wildlife, scientists from Australia and the US traced which animals were most likely to share pathogens with humans.

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Seal the deal: amorous mammals forced to contend with cruise ships

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2020/04/07 - 4:01pm

Harbour seals struggle to match volume of passing ships when trying to attract a mate

Cruise ships are drowning out the roars of seals that are important for bagging a mate, researchers have found in the latest study to reveal the consequences of human activity on wildlife.

Ships are known to produce low-frequency sounds which can overlap with calls made by marine creatures. But now researchers studying harbour seals say such noise could be taking its toll.

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Birdwatch: skylark's song lifts my spirits in these darkened times

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2020/04/07 - 1:30pm

On my daily walk I can enjoy hearing a bird whose song is the definitive sound of the countryside

Our world is cribbed, confined and bound in as never before. Yet amid all the fear and horror, there is one silver lining, as we reconnect with nature on our doorstep. My Somerset garden is awash with birdsong: chiffchaffs, wrens, robins and a new arrival, the blackcap, all competing to see who can shout the loudest as spring gathers pace. Overhead, buzzards soar and ravens tumble, as delighted as I am to herald the new season.

Related: Wildflower planting on farms boosts birds, from skylarks to starlings

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Snow-white coral of once-vibrant Great Barrier Reef a sign urgent action must be taken | Adam Morton

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2020/04/07 - 10:30am

Plan for net-zero emissions combined with a new diplomatic effort is Australia’s best chance at saving reef for future generations

The news is overwhelming and exhausting in a way it has rarely been in most of our lifetimes, but if you have five minutes of energy left this is worth your attention. That it hasn’t been reported in most of Australia’s major news outlets doesn’t make that any less the case.

Across nine days last month, Prof Terry Hughes from James Cook University travelled the length of the Great Barrier Reef in a small plane to survey the health of more than 1,000 individual sites. He was joined by an observer from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, a government agency.

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Air pollution linked to far higher Covid-19 death rates, study finds

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2020/04/07 - 9:16am

Dirty air increases risk of respiratory problems that can be fatal for coronavirus patients

Air pollution is linked to significantly higher rates of death in people with Covid-19, according to analysis.

The work shows that even a tiny, single-unit increase in particle pollution levels in the years before the pandemic is associated with a 15% increase in the death rate. The research, done in the US, calculates that slightly cleaner air in Manhattan in the past could have saved hundreds of lives.

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'Please don't come': calls to close US national parks over virus fears

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2020/04/07 - 6:54am

More than half the National Park Service’s unit remain open but local police and health officials are urging people to stay away

As mild temperatures and spring blooms emerged in southern Utah this past weekend, so did the tourists. At Capitol Reef national park, the trailhead parking lot was full of cars bearing plates from states such as California, Washington, Colorado and Georgia, all Covid-19 hotspots. The hikers were either oblivious to or ignoring the plea from the local sheriff’s office that outsiders stay away.

“While we would normally welcome visitors to enjoy the beauty of Wayne county, we really don’t want visitors during the Covid-19 pandemic,” stated a 3 April post on the sheriff’s Facebook page. Wayne county, where Capitol Reef is located, has 2,600 residents and little in the way of healthcare services. “If you don’t live here, please don’t come here.”

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Queensland parks and wildlife officer dies after being bitten by a shark at Great Barrier Reef

Guardian Environment News - Mon, 2020/04/06 - 5:08pm

The 23-year-old man sustained injuries to his hand, leg and elbow in a ‘horrific’ attack

A shark has killed a Queensland parks and wildlife officer during a work trip at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has paid tribute to the 23-year-old, who died in hospital on Monday night a few hours after he was mauled near North West Island.

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Lockdown has cut Britain's vibrations, seismologists find

Guardian Environment News - Mon, 2020/04/06 - 10:02am

There’s a kind of hush all over the world as the reduction in human activity stops the Earth buzzing so much

The dramatic quietening of towns and cities in lockdown Britain has changed the way the Earth moves beneath our feet, scientists say.

Seismologists at the British Geological Survey have found that their sensors are twitching less now that human activity has been curtailed, leading to a drop in the anthropogenic din that vibrates through the planet.

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Categories: Environment

New renewable energy capacity hit record levels in 2019

Guardian Environment News - Mon, 2020/04/06 - 8:41am

Most new electricity globally was green and coronavirus bailouts must boost this further, says agency

Almost three-quarters of new electricity generation capacity built in 2019 uses renewable energy, representing an all-time record. New data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) shows solar, wind and other green technologies now provide more than one-third of the world’s power, marking another record.

Fossil fuel power plants are in decline in Europe and the US, with more decommissioned than built in 2019. But the number of coal and gas plants grew in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In the Middle East, which owns half the world’s oil reserves, just 26% of new electricity generation capacity built in 2019 was renewable.

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Millions in US at risk of 'water shutoffs' amid layoffs triggered by pandemic

Guardian Environment News - Mon, 2020/04/06 - 4:00am

Two-fifths of Americans rely on water utilities which have not suspended the policy of shutoffs for non-payment

Millions of Americans risk losing running water if they fall behind with bill payments in coming months, as mass layoffs triggered by the coronavirus pandemic force families to make impossible tradeoffs on paying household expenses.

Around two-fifths of the country rely on water utilities which have not suspended the policy of shutoffs for non-payment, despite public health warnings that good hygiene – specifically frequent hand washing – is crucial to preventing spread of the highly contagious virus, according to data analysed by Food and Water Watch (FWW) and the Guardian.

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VW installed 'defeat devices' to subvert emissions tests, high court finds

Guardian Environment News - Mon, 2020/04/06 - 3:54am

Judge makes major ruling in mass ‘dieselgate’ litigation against VW in England and Wales

The car manufacturer Volkswagen subverted key air pollution tests, a British court has found, by using special software to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides under test conditions.

The high court finding is a boost to attempts by campaigners to force the company to address the impact of its cars in producing lung-damaging pollutants at far higher levels than were legally permissible.

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Ban wildlife markets to avert pandemics, says UN biodiversity chief

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2020/04/05 - 9:00pm

Warning comes as destruction of nature increasingly seen as key driver of zoonotic diseases

The United Nations’ biodiversity chief has called for a global ban on wildlife markets – such as the one in Wuhan, China, believed to be the starting point of the coronavirus outbreak – to prevent future pandemics.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, said countries should move to prevent future pandemics by banning “wet markets” that sell live and dead animals for human consumption, but cautioned against unintended consequences.

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'Bad news': radiation spikes 16 times above normal after forest fire near Chernobyl

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2020/04/05 - 4:06pm

The blaze started on Saturday close to the site of the world’s worst ever nuclear disaster, Ukrainian officials say

Ukraine has reported a spike in radiation levels in the restricted zone around Chernobyl, scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident, caused by a forest fire.

“There is bad news – radiation is above normal in the fire’s centre,” Yegor Firsov, head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service, said on Facebook on Sunday.

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Households to be paid for daytime green electricity use during lockdown

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2020/04/05 - 6:33am

Fall in energy use combined with bright, breezy weather leads to lowest electricity prices in 10 years

Thousands of British homes will be paid to use electricity during the day for the first time, as wind and solar projects produce a surge in clean energy during the coronavirus lockdown.

On Sunday morning, windfarms contributed almost 40% of the UK’s electricity, while solar power made up almost a fifth of the power system. Fossil fuels made up less than 15% of electricity, of which only 1.1% came from coal plants.

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Scottish fruit farmers recruit thousands of locals to save harvest

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2020/04/05 - 6:23am

Students and laid-off bar and restaurant workers given jobs as pickers after urgent appeal

Scottish fruit farmers have solved a recruitment crisis that could have resulted in this year’s harvest of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries being destroyed.

Several thousand people, including students and restaurant and bar workers laid off because of the coronavirus outbreak, have taken low-paid fruit-picking jobs in Tayside and Fife normally done by seasonal workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

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Big Oil is using the coronavirus pandemic to push through the Keystone XL pipeline | Bill McKibben

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2020/04/05 - 2:14am

The oil industry saw its opening and moved with breathtaking speed to take advantage of this moment

I’m going to tell you the single worst story I’ve heard in these past few horrid months, a story that combines naked greed, political influence peddling, a willingness to endanger innocent human beings, utter blindness to one of the greatest calamities in human history and a complete disregard for the next crisis aiming for our planet. I’m going to try to stay calm enough to tell it properly, but I confess it’s hard.

The background: a decade ago, beginning with indigenous activists in Canada and farmers and ranchers in the American west and midwest, opposition began to something called the Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry filthy tar sands oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. It quickly became a flashpoint for the fast-growing climate movement, especially after Nasa scientist James Hansen explained that draining those tar sands deposits would be “game over” for the climate system. And so thousands went to jail and millions rallied and eventually Barack Obama bent to that pressure and blocked the pipeline. Donald Trump, days after taking office, reversed that decision, but the pipeline has never been built, both because its builder, TC Energy, has had trouble arranging the financing and permits, and because 30,000 people have trained to do nonviolent civil disobedience to block construction. It’s been widely assumed that, should a Democrat win the White House in November, the project would finally be gone for good.

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Fears for wildlife recovery after bushfires as coronavirus crisis stymies scientists’ fieldwork

Guardian Environment News - Sat, 2020/04/04 - 1:00pm

Monitoring work suspended due to restrictions on travel and physical contact, in a blow for research into threatened species

Scientists are being forced to shut down or scale back fieldwork to assess the impact of last summer’s devastating bushfires on threatened species amid the coronavirus crisis, prompting concerns it could affect wildlife recovery.

Several universities have shut down fieldwork to comply with restrictions on travel and physical contact and government agencies working on the recovery have had to scale back some of their operations.

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Crossbreeding corals: the hunt for ways to heal the Great Barrier Reef

Guardian Environment News - Sat, 2020/04/04 - 2:30am

Scientists, farmers and volunteers are looking for ways to lessen the impact of climate change as experts warn a third mass bleaching has taken place

  • Photographs by Jonas Gratzer

One of the dive instructors points out two blacktip reef sharks circling a docile green turtle busy grazing on algae. Stingrays of various sizes, colours and shapes pass beneath us. Suddenly, a pod of dolphins appears, swimming over the hard corals.

The dive takes place on what appears to be healthy and pristine coral reef surrounding Lady Elliot Island, at the very southern end of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef off Queensland.

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Stinkbug invasion in Turkey threatens world hazelnut supplies

Guardian Environment News - Sat, 2020/04/04 - 1:00am

Scientists race to halt spread of pungent insect species after it sweeps eight cities

The world’s hazelnut supplies could be threatened by a stinkbug that has recently invaded Turkey, scientists have warned.

The brown marmorated stinkbug, which is native to north-east Asia, has been spreading across the world in shipping containers, breeding freely thanks to warmer temperatures and a lack of natural predators.

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Naturalists flock to Chris Packham's DIY 'Springwatch' on Facebook

Guardian Environment News - Fri, 2020/04/03 - 11:00pm

The presenter’s daily Self-Isolating Bird Club draws on wildlife footage caught by enthusiasts on mobile phones in their gardens. Packham calls it ‘Dad’s Army makes TV’

Lockdown day 10 in south-east London. A loud rhythmic tweeting is emanating from the cherry plum tree in my back garden. A great tit? Blue tit? I catch a glimpse; too small for a great tit, not as colourful.

I don’t know my birdsongs beyond the basics, but I remember a friend imitating calls to coax birds nearer so he could identify them. I have an idea and grab my phone and Google “coal tit song”. I press play and the rival tweeting produces instant results. Hopping from branch to branch towards me a delightful but agitated coal tit emerges and alights on a branch barely two metres away (I think it knows). Is it angry or amorous? My exhilaration at our proximity turns to doubt and guilt – I’ve used gadgetry to disrupt the natural world. What was I thinking? The coal tit flies off, its song tinged with irritation.

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