BBC Future Planet: The daring plan to save the Arctic ice with glass

Image: Arctic Ice Project

One of the most important, yet underappreciated, features of the Arctic sea ice is the ability of its blindingly white surfaces to reflect sunlight. For at least as long as our species has existed, the frozen seas at the top of our world have acted as a massive parasol that helps keep the planet cool and its climate stable.

Yet now, much of that ice is rapidly vanishing. Rising temperatures have locked the Arctic in a self-destructive feedback loop: the warmer it gets, the reflective white ice dissolves into darker, blue water, which absorbs more of the Sun’s warmth rather than reflecting it back into space. Warmer water accelerates melting, which means yet more absorption of heat, which drives further melting – and so on in a vicious cycle that is part of the reason why the Arctic is warming around twice as fast as the rest of the planet. This July, ice cover was as low as it had ever been at that time of the year.

As planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, some have been driven to explore desperate measures. One proposal put forward by the California-based non-profit Arctic Ice Project appears as daring as it is bizarre: to scatter a thin layer of reflective glass powder over parts of the Arctic, in an effort to protect it from the Sun’s rays and help ice grow back. “We’re trying to break [that] feedback loop and start rebuilding,” says engineer Leslie Field, an adjunct lecturer at Stanford University and chief technical officer of the organisation.

Read the rest of the story at BBC Future Planet, or listen to me speaking about it on the Solutions Journalism Podcast

National Geographic: The world missed a critical deadline to safeguard biodiversity

Image: Jim E Maragos, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The bad news is that we’ve failed the Aichi targets, a set of goals world leaders agreed on in 2010 to safeguard the natural world. But scattered throughout the landmark report published in September 2020, there are hints of progress showing that nature fares well where actions are taken to protect it. I spoke with environmental lawyers, historians, indigenous leaders and scientists about how we can scale up those actions and why there’s still hope for a future where humanity lives in harmony with nature.

Read the story at National Geographic.

National Geographic: Deforestation is leading to more infectious diseases in humans

Over the past two decades, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that deforestation, by triggering a complex cascade of events, creates the conditions for a range of deadly pathogens—such as Nipah and Lassa viruses, and the parasites that cause malaria and Lyme disease—to spread to people.

As widespread burning continues in tropical forests today in the Amazon, and some parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, experts have expressed concern about the health of people living at the frontiers of deforestation. They’re also afraid that the next serious pandemic could emerge from our world’s forests.


National Geographic: 660 species of bees live in newly shrunk national monument

Photo by Joseph S Wilson. The following genera are pictured: (A) Nomada, (B) Perdita, (C) Hylaeus, (D) Agapostemon, (E) Osmia, (F) Anthidium, and (G) Diadasia.

All in all, a whopping 660 species live within the monument’s boundaries. That’s nearly every fifth bee species in North America. Forty-nine of these were entirely new to science, according to the recently published research.

Why this remote patch of Utah is such a busy place for bees is somewhat of a mystery. It likely mirrors the diversity of desert flowers the insects pollinate, as well as the range of habitats—from sandstone canyons and sagebrush-peppered deserts to aspen and pine forests at higher elevations.

But the fate of Grand Staircase-Escalante’s bee hotspot is uncertain. Following President Donald Trump’s decision last year to shrink the 22-year old monument, the area was reduced to half its original size and sliced up into three smaller monuments in February. The once continuous stretch of protected habitat—allowing many animals like cougars and bears to roam freely with little human interference—is now broken up, while the excluded areas could see dramatic changes through development or mining activities.


Grist: The fight for cheap solar is going South

Image by Grist / Amelia Bates

The barriers built into Alabama’s energy market are just one example of the political, financial, and regulatory dynamics that can block low- and middle-income households from using rooftop solar power in the Southeast. But this tug-of-war between utility companies, regulators, and solar advocates isn’t just about money.

“It’s a real social justice issue,” says Greer Ryan, a renewable energy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based environmental organization. “Anything that makes it less economical for people to go solar is going to be harmful for low- and median-income consumers,” she says. It’s like raising taxes on people who can least afford it — putting green energy out of reach for everyone but the wealthy.


The Counter: We’re asking the wrong questions about glyphosate

Image: Robert Burns / Texas A&M Agrilife

Is glyphosate benign, does it pose some kind of clear and present threat, or is the truth somewhere in between? That’s where things get complicated. In theory, scientific research should be able to provide a sober, objective assessment of the risks. But the intensity of the debate has made it very difficult to sort out science from personal bias and industry spin.

When each concerned faction accuses the other of distorting the facts, and even independent organizations and regulatory bodies have struggled to stay above the fray, it can be hard to know what to believe. The result is that, while glyphosate everywhere in the global food system, there’s little consensus about what that actually means for human health. And so the question isn’t just whether or not the world’s most popular herbicide is safe. It’s also about how we determine what “safe” is in the first place, and who gets to decide.


National Geographic: Rise in Tailless Whale Sightings Has Scientists Concerned

Image: Alisa Schulman-Janiger

But so far this year, at least three flukeless gray whales have been spotted migrating northward along California‘s coast—a spike that has Schulman-Janiger concerned for their well-being.


The Counter: How seafood’s “dark web” obscures fraud, fish laundering, and slavery on the high seas

Image: Shannon Service / Greenpeace

“At a time when seafood traceability has never been more important, one overlooked component of the global fishing trade has started to receive increased scrutiny. It’s called transshipment, which—put simply—means the transfer of fish from smaller boats to larger ‘motherships’ that carry the catch to port. These smaller, off-the-radar transactions are where supply chain transparency usually starts to become obscured—and a broad range of government agencies, corporations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are starting to take a closer look.”