Trump’s threat to tear up the Paris agreement could help to make it law

Climate change denying president-elect (said with the contempt it deserves) Donald Trump has reiterated his campaign threat to tear up the Paris agreement signed less than a year that committed all nations to limit the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees.

Trump believes (or claims to – who really knows what’s going on beneath the wig?) that climate change is a Communist conspiracy invented by the Chinese to bring down American capitalism. It’s not.

Last year, the UNFCCC managed to sign up all 195 nations of the ailing planet to a voluntary agreement to limit the global temperature increase and mitigate climate change; it’s key pledge is to:

Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change

This is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement and is absolutely essential in reducing the impact of climate change before it is too late. Within a year, 111 of the 195 countries have ratified that deal, making it official. It is a monumental achievement that both the US and China, which together account for over 40% of global emissions, actually agreed to do this, and Trump has promised to retract that commitment.

It’s not clear whether Trump will be “allowed” to back out of it; however, the actual agreement is voluntary, and consists of promises to change behaviour, and crucially there is no fiscal punishment for backtracking or failing to keep those promises.

It’s tempting to deny climate change – I was never very clear about the evidence myself because apparently the climate has changed a lot throughout the history of the planet. But it’s obvious to me that humans are destroying the earth – we’ve been cutting down those rainforests for decades with no thought or care about the wildlife housed within them, and polluting the oceans with our discarded plastic. So it makes perfect sense that there would be some environment consequence of this.

There’s not much we can do on an individual level, apart from recycle the little we can, limit our waste and consumption where possible, and walk the distances we can manage rather than driving. But what’s the point of me carefully cleaning out yoghurt pots when China and America keep on coughing up coal?

This song ‘4 degrees‘ by Anohni is an ironic anthem for our doomed planet and a challenging reminder that we’re all part of the problem.

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If climate change deniers don’t give a damn about the environment, maybe they will consider the health impacts on people demonstrated in this graph.

 

 

The Incredible Likeness of Chimps

This month brought us the news that chimps might be religious.

This bizarre conclusion is hard to draw from the episode that provoked it; however, we can say, fairly confidently, that chimps sometimes display behaviours that have no clear purpose or function.

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Scientists from the Humboldt University of Berlin set up camera traps in chimp territory in the Republic of Guinea, and found the the chimps placed rocks in the hollow of a tree, and bashed the tree with rocks.

It is not clear what the chimps are doing this for, but it’s possible that the footage demonstrates chimps engaging in ritual; this could be the evolutionary origin of religion.

This is by no means the first time we’ve seen chimps behave strangely, in ways that possibly demonstrate symbolic behaviours we did not expect them to be capable of. In 2010, the New Scientist reported that chimps in Uganda’s Kibale National Park had been spotted using sticks as toys. The behaviour was more common in females, and seemed to indicate that chimps selected doll-shaped sticks and treated them as dolls, playing with them and making nests for them to sleep in. Sonya Kahlenberg of Bate’s College, Maine, remarked that this could reasonably be assumed to be practise for motherhood.

So what purpose could placing stones in trees possibly serve the chimp family? How can we interpret this bizarre behaviour? Banging the rocks against the tree makes a loud noise, so could be a way of showing dominance or communicating to other chimps; but why store the rocks in the hollow – convenience, perhaps? Chimps are expert tool-makers and they are capable of using a variety of objects to accomplish some function to aid the survival of the group, but it is hard to see what functional purpose this apparently ritualistic behaviour could serve.

Although chimps have frequently been observed using stones to crack open nuts, or to display dominance and demonstrate their place within the group, this footage does not seem to fit within these establish behaviours; they are not doing this to gain food or status.

Laura Kehoe, who took part in the research, suggests the following theories:

 The behaviour could be part of a male display, where the loud bang made when a rock hits a hollow tree adds to the impressive nature of a display. This could be especially likely in areas where there are not many trees with large roots that chimps would normally drum on with their powerful hands and feet. If some trees produce an impressive bang, this could accompany or replace feet drumming in a display and trees with particularly good acoustics could become popular spots for revisits.

On the other hand, it could be more symbolic than that – and more reminiscent of our own past. Marking pathways and territories with signposts such as piles of rocks is an important step in human history. Figuring out where chimps’ territories are in relation to rock throwing sites could give us insights into whether this is the case here.

Even more intriguing than this, maybe we found the first evidence of chimpanzees creating a kind of shrine that could indicate sacred trees. Indigenous West African people have stone collections at “sacred” trees and such man-made stone collections are commonly observed across the world and look eerily similar to what we have discovered here.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sixth Mass Extinction Event Is Definitely Underway

According to new international research conducted by the Stanford Woods Institute, human activity has prompted the beginning of the Sixth Mass Extinction event recorded on earth, threatening to wipe out hundreds of thousands of species, including humans.

Professor Paul Ehrlich offers what he claims to be a “conservative estimate” of species loss due to human behaviour, which he puts at 100 times faster than the background rate of extinction (a base rate of extinction if humans were absent.) The team deliberately underestimated their estimates because recording species loss is notoriously difficult, yet their statistics are all the more shocking for it.

A devastating mixture of habitat loss, climate change, pollution and overpopulation has led to an environmental disaster that scientists refer to as the Holocene extinction. It is expected that this extinction event will be as severe as the End-Crustaceous Mass Extinction, which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. That was, of course, due to an asteroid collision; this mass extinction is entirely due to human behaviour.

International Union for Conservation of Nature chart showing species loss over the last century.

And why should we care that species are dying out while humans industrialize the planet? We need biodiversity: it pollinates and irrigates our crops, purifies our water, and produces our food. We are entirely dependent on biodiversity.

Secret Gibbon Whispers Translated By Scientists

Since the 1940s, we have known that gibbons use a secret language to communicate, but only now, with ultra sensitive equipment, have scientists been able to decipher their unusual calls. This research could give us clues to the evolution of human language.

Lar gibbons, or the white-handed gibbon, are an endangered primate, usually found in Thailand, Laos or Malaysia. Every morning, the gibbon family gathers at the edge of its territory, and sings out a ‘great call’, a duet between the breeding pair, each pair exhibiting a unique variation of the family song.

Lar gibbons can produce sounds so soft that they can’t be easily heard by the human ear. Scientists from Durham University have managed to record these calls by spending four months following them through the forests of North-eastern Thailand, and they have published their analysis in the BMC Evolutionary Biology journal.

The team found that there were different calls or ‘words’ for a range of predators, including leopards, tigers, pythons and eagles. The whispers even distinguished between different types of birds even when they were physically quite similar, such as eagle owls and serpent eagles.

The gibbons use over 450 ‘hoo’ sounds, and each ‘word’ or ‘call’ serves a different purpose in a specific context. This new research suggests that, according to the lead scientist, Dr Esther Clark:

…lar gibbons are able to generate significant, context-dependent acoustic variation within their main social call, which potentially allows recipients to make inferences about the external events experienced by the caller.

You can listen to the lar gibbons’ call here: