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Predictable evolution: bad news for toads, good news for their predators | @GrrlScientist

Researchers reveal that, under certain circumstances, the process of evolution can be highly predictable, especially when there are limited solutions to a particular problem, such as resistance to dangerous toxins

A research paper that was published a few days ago in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reports that evolution can follow predictable pathways when available solutions to a particular problem are severely limited. This new study found that resistance to heart-stopping cardiac glycoside toxins produced by some plants and animals for defensive purposes has independently converged across several lineages of insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, after following a highly predictable evolutionary pathway.

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Source: Guardian Environment

New wave of fracking licences threatens hundreds of key English wildlife sites

Nearly 300 sites of special scientific interest, home to rare animals and plants, have been opened up to fracking by the Tory government, RSPB study shows

Hundreds more of England’s most important wildlife sites are now at risk from fracking after the government opened up 1,000 sq miles of land to the controversial technology, a new analysis has found.

Among the 159 licences issued last month to explore for oil and gas onshore in the UK – likely to include fracking for shale oil or gas – are 293 sites of special scientific interest (SSSI), the definition given to an area protecting rare species or habitats.

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Source: Guardian Environment

How does the laburnum tree produce arsenic?

Readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific concepts

We have an apple and a pear tree that both produce good edible fruit. A few metres away is a laburnum tree with leaves and seeds containing arsenic. Arsenic is an element and cannot be made, so how does it happen?

Peter Byrnes, Merseyside

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Source: Guardian Environment

Sustainable investing: are companies finally moving money away from fossil fuels?

Wall Street’s big banks are starting to realize it’s possible to drop oil without dropping returns

Wall Street’s big banks are becoming increasingly interested in sustainable investing. The most recent convert is Goldman Sachs: in June, it named Hugh Lawson, a partner and managing director, as its global head of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing. This move was part of a larger trend: a month later, Goldman acquired Imprint Capital, a boutique investment firm that seeks measurable social and environmental impacts on top of financial returns.

“We think ESG is going, in essence, mainstream,” Lawson said. “A wider set of clients is interested.”

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Source: Guardian Environment

Arctic sea ice shrinks to fourth lowest extent on record

Polar region’s sea ice continues long term decline since satellite monitoring began in the 1970s, driven by warming temperatures in atmosphere and ocean

Ice coverage in the Arctic this year shrunk to its fourth lowest extent on record, US scientists have announced.

The National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, said the ice reached a low of 4.41m sq km (1.70m sq miles) on 11 September in what experts said was a clear indicator of climate change.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Global drought: why is no one discussing fresh water at Cop21?

In December, the UN’s conference on climate change gathers in Paris but the issue of fresh water is absent from the agenda. How can policymakers be brought onside?

Around the world, fresh water supplies are drying up: California in the US and São Paulo in Brazil are enduring historic droughts, groundwater sources have been plundered in south Asia, and globally more than 750 million people lack access to safe drinking water. The global fresh water shortage is one of the world’s most pressing challenges, yet the issue is not scheduled to be discussed at Cop21 – the UN’s climate change conference – in Paris this December.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Pope Francis faces challenge persuading US's Catholic leaders on climate change

Campaigners say challenge lies in diverting church leaders from preoccupation with gay marriage in order to take up public cause the pope is seeking to ignite

When the US supreme court legalised same-sex marriage in June, the leader of America’s Catholics erupted in white-hot fury, condemning the historic decision as “a tragic error”.

When a week or so earlier, it fell to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz as leader of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to deliver the official welcome to Pope Francis as he issued his sweeping indictment of the global economic order and its effects on the poor and the environment, the response was several degrees cooler.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Why Soil Is The Key To Feeding The World

It’s no under-estimation to say that food is an essential aspect of human life. The challenge of ensuring that a global population, which is predicted to reach nine billion by 2050, has access to an affordable and nutritious food supply is not a simple one. Food production that provides the right nutrition levels and is economically viable depends upon access to water and the health and richness of soil. Discussions about the ‘health of the earth’ may usually carry spiritual connotations, but there is a growing body of evidence that a significant economic opportunity exists in altering our agricultural and farming paradigms, and gearing them more towards the preservation and restoration of soil.

In their book, Natural Capitalism, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins suggest that “the superficial success [judged by raw agricultural output] of America’s farms masks other underlying problems”. The key challenge identified by Hawken, Lovins and Lovins was that one third of the original topsoil in the United States has gone and that a subtler soil degradation is impacting the nutrition of what remains, and consequently the quantity and quality of the crops that can grown in it. There are signs that the era where seemingly endless improvements in the size of crop yields may be over.

Licensed under CC - credit Flickr user: Parker Knight
Licensed under CC – credit Flickr user: Parker Knight

A combination of petrochemicals, inorganic fertilisers, pesticides and monocropping has created farmland that doesn’t hold nutrients, has become eroded and has high salinity. Dr Elaine Ingham, the president of Soil Foodweb Inc, has pointed out that rainforest habitats typically have immeasurably low nitrate and ammonium levels, no inorganic fertilisers are used, and yet there is a productivity in terms of plant life that is unmatched by any farm. Ingham’s work is focused on the importance of soil in restoring agricultural productivity. She argues that there is a microbiology in the growing of healthy crops and plants that is under-appreciated in farming and gardening and that monocropping and fertilising of land has disrupted the ecosystem balance exist naturally. Moreover, the application of fertilisers is has been found to be highly in effective. A recent study of Europe found that 70% of the fertiliser applied on farms was not taken up by crops [1].

There are some examples of modern farming techniques adjusting to take into account soil health, for example, the utilisation of Internet of Things data technology to irrigate more effectively. However, Ingham’s work suggests that there are also opportunities to do farming differently, in a way that has positive outcomes for both producers and consumers.

Licensed under CC - credit Flickr user: US Department of Agriculture
Licensed under CC – credit Flickr user: US Department of Agriculture

Leontino Balbo Jr is an obvious example of a sugarcane farmer who has pioneered a farming method that he calls “ecosystem revitalising agriculture”. Balbo’s sugarcane farm is most often associated with the idea of organic farming that doesn’t utilise fertiliser. However, its real focus is actually on soil health. Balbo believes that by restoring and revitalising soil, a number of favourable agricultural benefits can be achieved including; greater productivity and resilience to pests, increased biodiversity and a reduction in the resources needed to farm. His two sugar mills in São Francisco and Santo Antonio (Brazil) are a testament to the fact that a different approach can work.

IMG_0760The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s recent report, “Growth within: a circular economy vision for a competitive Europe”, suggests an alternative vision for a “regenerative food system”. In “Growth within”, six levers that could reshape the food system are identified, including the development of new regenerative farming practices and the preservation and restoration of natural capital. It highlights the increase is in organically cultivated land and no-till farming techniques as farmers aim to conserve and protect soil, aim to optimise long-term yields and improve the economics of their business. It emphasises the commercial viability of these project, using the example of the Loess plateau in China, where 1.5 million hectares of degraded land was restored increasing grain output and the availability of water, biodiversity and carbon absorption, all while lifting more than 2.5 million people out of poverty.

The 21st century challenges for agriculture are just beginning to be explored, but there is enough encouragement from current examples and research to conceive of a positive future. At its core, an abundant farming system must focus in some way on preserving and regenerating the nutrition and richness of soil, and natural capital more broadly. In that sense, the work done by the likes of Lovins, Ingham, Balbo Jr., and the vision presented in “Growth within” come together.

The topic of regenerative food systems and agriculture will be explored in detail during the Disruptive Innovation Festival 2015. Hunter Lovins and Leontino Balbo Jr. will be providing headliner talks, while Elaine Ingham will be doing a presentation and there will also be an opportunity to explore the “Growth Within” findings in detail with the project lead Ashima Sukhdev. Register to be a part of the DIF at thinkdif.co.

Notes:

[1] Statistic taken from chapter 3 of “Growth within: a circular economy vision for a competitive Europe

The post Why Soil Is The Key To Feeding The World appeared first on Circulate.

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Liberal senator Ian Macdonald says children 'brainwashed' on climate change

Of course the climate changes, politician says, but idea that humanity is contributing to it is ‘farcical and fanciful’

The Liberal senator Ian Macdonald has said children are being “brainwashed” by education campaigns urging Australians to take action on climate change, describing the political debate about how to tackle it as “puerile”.

“The children of Australia have been brainwashed into thinking if you turn off a light in Australia, somehow that is going to stop climate change,” the Queensland senator told parliament on Wednesday.

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Source: Guardian Environment