Life thrived on Earth 3.5 billion years ago, research suggests

Scientists use stable sulfur isotopes to understand ancient microbial metabolism

February 8, 2019
Tokyo Institute of Technology
Three and a half billion years ago Earth hosted life, but was it barely surviving, or thriving? A new study provides new answers to this question. Microbial metabolism is recorded in billions of years of sulfur isotope ratios that agree with this study’s predictions, suggesting life throve in the ancient oceans. Using this data, scientists can more deeply link the geochemical record with cellular states and ecology.

Electron microscopy image of microbial cells which respire sulfate.
Credit: Guy Perkins and Mark Ellisman, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research

Three and a half billion years ago Earth hosted life, but was it barely surviving, or thriving? A new study carried out by a multi institutional team with leadership including the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) of Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) provides new answers to this question. Microbial metabolism is recorded in billions of years of sulfur isotope ratios that agree with this study’s predictions, suggesting life throve in the ancient oceans. Using this data, scientists can more deeply link the geochemical record with cellular states and ecology.

Scientists want to know how long life has existed on Earth. If it has been around for almost as long as the planet, this suggests it is easy for life to originate and life should be common in the Universe. If it takes a long time to originate, this suggests there were very special conditions that had to occur. Dinosaurs, whose bones are presented in museums around the world, were preceded by billions of years by microbes. While microbes have left some physical evidence of their presence in the ancient geological record, they do not fossilize well, thus scientists use other methods for understanding whether life was present in the geological record.

Presently, the oldest evidence of microbial life on Earth comes to us in the form of stable isotopes. The chemical elements charted on the periodic are defined by the number of protons in their nuclei, for example, hydrogen atoms have one proton, helium atoms have two, carbon atoms contain six. In addition to protons, most atomic nuclei also contain neutrons, which are about as heavy as protons, but which don’t bear an electric charge. Atoms which contain the same number of protons, but variable numbers of neutrons are known as isotopes. While many isotopes are radioactive and thus decay into other elements, some do not undergo such reactions; these are known as “stable” isotopes. For example, the stable isotopes of carbon include carbon 12 (written as 12C for short, with 6 protons and 6 neutrons) and carbon 13 (13C, with 6 protons and 7 neutrons).

All living things, including humans, “eat and excrete.” That is to say, they take in food and expel waste. Microbes often eat simple compounds made available by the environment. For example, some are able to take in carbon dioxide (CO2) as a carbon source to build their own cells. Naturally occurring CO2 has a fairly constant ratio of 12C to 13C. However, 12CO2 is about 2 % lighter than 13CO2, so 12CO2 molecules diffuse and react slightly faster, and thus the microbes themselves become “isotopically light,” containing more 12C than 13C, and when they die and leave their remains in the fossil record, their stable isotopic signature remains, and is measurable. The isotopic composition, or “signature,” of such processes can be very specific to the microbes that produce them.

Besides carbon there are other chemical elements essential for living things. For example, sulfur, with 16 protons, has three naturally abundant stable isotopes, 32S (with 16 neutrons), 33S (with 17 neutrons) and 34S (with 18 neutrons). Sulfur isotope patterns left behind by microbes thus record the history of biological metabolism based on sulfur-containing compounds back to around 3.5 billion years ago. Hundreds of previous studies have examined wide variations in ancient and contemporary sulfur isotope ratios resulting from sulfate (a naturally occurring sulfur compound bonded to four oxygen atoms) metabolism. Many microbes are able to use sulfate as a fuel, and in the process excrete sulfide, another sulfur compound. The sulfide “waste” of ancient microbial metabolism is then stored in the geological record, and its isotope ratios can be measured by analyzing minerals such as the FeS2 mineral pyrite.

This new study reveals a primary biological control step in microbial sulfur metabolism, and clarifies which cellular states lead to which types of sulfur isotope fractionation. This allows scientists to link metabolism to isotopes: by knowing how metabolism changes stable isotope ratios, scientists can predict the isotopic signature organisms should leave behind. This study provides some of the first information regarding how robustly ancient life was metabolizing. Microbial sulfate metabolism is recorded in over a three billion years of sulfur isotope ratios that are in line with this study’s predictions, which suggest life was in fact thriving in the ancient oceans. This work opens up a new field of research, which ELSI Associate Professor Shawn McGlynn calls “evolutionary and isotopic enzymology.” Using this type of data, scientists can now proceed to other elements, such as carbon and nitrogen, and more completely link the geochemical record with cellular states and ecology via an understanding of enzyme evolution and Earth history.


Ways to help kids cope with — and help combat — climate change

As the tone surrounding climate change becomes more dire, our conversations about it with children grow more important. (Jon Cannell/For The Washington Post)

January 22 at 9:00 AM

News of the coming environmental collapse has broken with unnerving regularity, and with each new tidbit — the Arctic Ocean has lost 95 percent of its oldest ice, global warming is making already-dramatic natural disasters more fierce, Europe’s climate disaster is growing, and October’s news that we have 12 years to limit climate-change catastrophe — my anxiety about the future grows.

But I’m far more worried about our kids.

They hear about our planet’s rising temperature and rapidly melting ice, giant islands of floating plastic, and the more than 16,000 animals threatened with extinction almost as much as we do, and they’re feeling the impact.

Conversations about threats to the environment and the plight of endangered species are not new for kids. And in Seattle, where I live, environmental stewardship and eco-consciousness are de rigueur: My children have been learning about conservation since preschool. Reusable bags, water bottles and compost bins in homes and public places have been part of the fabric of our lives for years. Children here can participate in beach cleanups with their classes; in my kids’ school, they separate compost from recyclables and garbage — last month, they even weighed it classroom by classroom to measure their sorting success.

But the tone has shifted. The feeling is more dire. I don’t know what kids are supposed to do with the sobering fact that their planet is changing for the worse.

According to Laura Kastner, a clinical psychologist and professor in the psychology department and the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, the way to teach kids about environmental issues is not by overwhelming them with data or presenting them with projected outcomes they can see no way of changing. It’s by being realistic with kids and also teaching them agency and action.

It’s what Kastner describes as the “both-and.” The idea of first acknowledging that, yes, climate change is happening, and there are things we can do to help. “We really are going to have to deal with this, and there is so much to do, so let’s get to work,” she said. “We want to be responsible and smart and informed about what’s happening, and we want to be hopeful and agentic.”

Heather Price, an atmospheric chemist, climate scientist and chemistry instructor at North Seattle College, who has presented climate science to members of Congress, says that whenever she gives a talk about rising temperatures, ocean acidification and mass extinctions, she always spends at least a quarter of her time discussing the areas where scientists see hope and how people are already altering the trajectory. For example, the capacity of renewable energy in the United Kingdom has surpassed that of fossil fuels for the first time, and in the United States, electric car sales were up 81 percent in 2018 over sales in 2017. Price knows the science is depressing. “But,” she says, “it’s not on the science side where the good things are happening. It’s on the mitigation, on the solutions.”

It’s possible to be straightforward about climate change with our children and protect their emotional well-being. Here are some ways to help children be part of the team that mitigates the impact of climate change, so they don’t have to despair over the future.

Don’t overdo the news

Kastner recommends news in moderation. Although adults may want to watch and listen to the news, a little goes a long way for children. “There’s a difference between being prepared and being overwhelmed, especially for kids,” she said. “I don’t want them to feel hopeless.”

The news cycle can be too much, especially if a child is sensitive. “When you have anxious kids watching the TV or anxious families . . . you literally see an uptick in kids’ anxiety,” she says. “When parents do doom and gloom and watch TV a lot, they’re hurting their children.” It’s the responsibility of parents and caregivers to regulate their kids’ media consumption; they simply do not need to know everything.

Know your child

As in all areas of parenting, it’s up to caregivers to assess how much their kid can take. “If you know your child is more anxious than the next kid or has a sensitive temperament, you have to parent differently,” Kastner says. “It’s not so much about keeping kids away from every bit of information” about rising temperatures and extinction, it’s that “you handle it differently. You change the words depending on their age, their sophisticationand what we think they can handle — what they need.”

When Price visits middle schools to give climate talks to eighth-grade classes, she engages them with activities tailored for their age. “I take methane and make bubbles and then we light them on fire; we put ice in buckets.” With kids, she says, you have to “make it fun and talk about hope, kind of inspire them.” These students , she discovered, really like Teslas, “so I talk with them about how by the time they’re my age, they’re probably going to be driving a car more like a Tesla.”

Emphasize agency

At home or in school, parents and educators can pair environmental studies with actionable steps such as having kids organize a challenge to increase the number of students and faculty bringing reusable bottles to school. They can research how many species have thrived under the Endangered Species Act or find a way to compost cafeteria scraps. Inviting children to brainstorm strategies for progress helps energize and give them hope. Families can support an environmental organization, plan a park cleanup or host a bake sale to raise money for habitat preservation of a kid’s favorite endangered animal.

“Part of depression,” Kastner explains, “is hopelessness and helplessness. . . . When you are agentic, when you are the one to go get the blue tarps [after a hurricane] and hand them out, you’re always going to do better than if you’re sitting there waiting for the tarps.”

Price agrees: “It’s all about framing: How am I going to act, what am I going to do?”

Price’s mantra is that “action feeds hope feeds action feeds hope. Because without hope, you’re not going to have action, without action, you’re not going to have hope. They feed each other.”

Manage what you can manage

None of us will be able to make a dent in all aspects of climate change on our own, but we can break down the issues into bite-size, manageable pieces. We can explore the many ways in which we can change outcomes, whether that’s supporting science and tech to help manage rising sea levels, getting involved in politics to protect those who have to leave flooded land, or helping physically move displaced people.

“Seeing how quickly humans can transition” is what encourages Price. For example, she says, “the price to install solar back in 1977 when Star Wars first came out was $77 per watt, and today, depending in which state you live, it’s anywhere from 10 cents to 20 cents per watt.” And, in Seattle, because of hydroelectric energy and solar and wind farms, almost no electricity is coming from coal, oil or gas, making it one of the greenest cities for electricity, she says.

And there are young leaders such as 16-year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, named one of Time magazine’s most influential teens of 2018. After grabbing international headlines for striking from school to draw attention to Sweden’s unprecedented heat waves and growing struggle with wildfires, she confronted world leaders about global inaction on climate change, telling representatives from the nearly 200 nations gathered at COP24, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): “I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.”

We are entering a new environmental era, and parents can guide children through this time by acknowledging that climate changecan be frightening and helping kids take action.

“What’s important,” Kastner says, “is that parents know how much they matter in this.” They aren’t sticking their heads in the sand; they know what challenges await their children. But when parents decide “that they’re going to plant trees, and they’re going to volunteer at the school to do cleanup, and they’re going to be activated by this, then their kids are going to do better.”

As daunting as climate change might be, we do have a choice about how to use our energy — even worried, anxious energy. We don’t have to wait to be rescued. We can show our children that we can choose hope and empowerment. We can be the ones who hand out the blue tarps.

These Animal Species Went Extinct In 2018


The Poʻo-uli


Proliferating on our planet for millions of years, these animals could no longer be seen in the coming years as 2018 has proved to be a year of extinction for these animal species. For instance, three bird species went extinct this year, scientists said, two of which are songbirds from north-eastern Brazil namely, The Cryptic Treehunter and Alagoas Foliage-gleaneraccording to a report from the conservation group Birdlife International.

Related: The Three Ways The Universe Might End

According to Birdlife, the other extinct bird is Hawaii’s Po’ouli, which has not been seen in the wild since 2004, the year in which the last captive bird died. An important disturbing fact is that mainland species are starting to go extinct, rather than island species.

The Poʻo-uli


Image Source: Wikimedia

According to Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s chief scientist and lead author on the paper, “Ninety per cent of bird extinctions in recent centuries have been of species on islands, “However, our results prove that there is a growing wave of extinctions sweeping across the continents, driven mainly by habitat loss and degradation from unsustainable agriculture and logging,” he said.

Related: Astounding fact about Orangutans: The Only Non-Human Primates Who Can Talk About The Past

An additional species of bird that reached the verge of extinction in 2018 is the Spix’s macaw, which was declared extinct in the wild and now only a few captive Spix’s macaws are alive. This species was wiped out in the wild because of deforestation and other factors such as the creation of a dam and trapping for wild trade. A few other bird species which are at the verge of extinction include New Caledonian Lorikeet and the Pernambuco Pygmy-owl. Beyond birds, other animals such as the vaquita, a dolphin-like porpoise and the northern white rhino are also heading towards extinction.

Spix's macaws

Image Source: Wikimedia

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Vaquitas are the foremost vulnerable of the world’s marine mammals,” “Less than thirty vaquitas remain in the wild, and trap in gill nets is driving the species toward extinction.” Also, the last male northern white rhino died at a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya last March according to a recent report. Now, only two females are left. According to a report discharged last year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, only forty endangered red wolves are left wild in the USA, and the population might go extinct within eight years. Earth “is currently within the thick of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals – the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years,” according to the Centre for Biological Diversity.

Related: 10 New Plant Species Discovered in 2018

Northern White Rhino

“We are presently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago,” they added.

Indeed, extinction is a natural phenomenon and it occurs at a natural ‘background’ rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate that the rate of losing species is 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate.” In the past 500 years, the centre estimates that about 1,000 species have gone extinct, ranging from the woodland bison of West Virginia and Arizona’s Merriam’s elk to the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, passenger pigeon and Puerto Rico’s Culebra parrot.

Source: Mashable

How Trump’s Wall Would Alter Our Biological Identity Forever

It would destroy an extraordinary web of biodiversity that evolved over millions of years

How Trump's Wall Would Alter Our Biological Identity Forever
Credit: Sandy Huffaker Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Trump administration is attacking science. From scrubbing the words “climate change” from federal agency websites to cutting public health programs in the Environmental Protection Agency to burying its own climate report involving more than 300 leading climate scientists, President Donald Trump and his appointees take well-established scientific facts and treat them like science fiction. One environmental attack is particularly appalling, but headlines have focused more on its political theatrics than on its catastrophic consequences for North American biodiversity: building the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. As a scientist who understands the implications of this decision for wildlife, I am astounded and outraged that such a precious biological treasure is being sacrificed for political gain. And I am not alone.

Earlier this year, my colleagues at Defenders of Wildlife and I led more than 2,500 scientists from around the world in declaring consensus over the impending consequences of the border wall on North America’s biodiversity in a synthesis study published in BioScience. In an exceptional moment of unity, we scientists agree with the irrefutable evidence that the border wall is a rampant ecological disaster. This is notable because consensus is rare among scientists. When scientific consensus does exist—as with climate change—it’s a wake-up call that business as usual is likely to result in catastrophe.

While the border wall has critical implications for human migration and international relations, this physical barrier is also an ecological nightmare. As it divides communities where millions of people live, the border wall also cuts through the habitats of over 1,500 wildlife species. As they evolved through time, these species developed specific characteristics to thrive in the ecologically diverse landscapes along the border, ranging from extreme desert scrublands to rain-heavy wetlands. Many eked out a living by tracking rare resources along north-south migratory routes by land and air. The breadth of species that thrive in this ecological marvel make the borderlands one of the most biologically rich regions in the world, and an internationally acclaimed conservation hotspot.

While campaigning for office, Trump riled up his supporters with promises of a “great, great wall on our southern border,” one that will divide the complex biological mosaic of the Southwest. But large parts of our border with Mexico are already walled off. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has already constructed 600 miles of blockades without regard for impacts to the region’s previous biodiversity, using the 2005 Real ID Act to sidestep bedrock environmental protection laws like the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with no chance for public engagement.

This 600-mile stretch of wall is an unclimbable barricade for 346 nonflying animal species, not to mention flighted species like the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly and the threatened and endangered ferruginous pygmy-owl that cannot fly high enough to surmount the wall. Without passage, animals cannot disperse to new populations to spread their genes, potentially leading to genetic inbreeding akin to the plight of the African cheetah. During natural seasonal flooding, the wall traps flood waters and kills wildlife and vegetation. During natural disasters like heat waves, when water or food on one side of the wall is not available, those species will be left to perish, unable to access resources on the other side.

But the border wall is much more than just a physical wall. Massive construction vehicles drag building supplies through delicate habitat, and light and noise pollution disturb and displace diurnal and nocturnal species. Once built, security vehicles patrol along miles of paved and unpaved roads and extensive networks of undesignated off-road paths, all of which expand the barren footprint of the wall.

These pervasive impacts will not be recognized, assessed or addressed, because the Trump administration has waived dozens of laws in New Mexico, Texas and California designed to protect plants, animals and humans. These are laws that Congress passed, and which the American people wholeheartedly support to safeguard our environmental and public health. With these laws ignored, wall construction proceeds—at this very moment—without environmental impact analysis, mitigation, public input or protection of legal action.

Besides the 600 miles installed, there may be 1,953 miles of border wall yet to come. In one generation, humans will have successfully disintegrated an extraordinary biodiversity web that evolved over millions of years. It is a legacy of which we should not be proud. Building the border wall sacrifices the ancient biodiversity of North America for the momentary political gain of one president. Our biodiversity is less flexible, requiring millions of years to evolve to its intricate state of ecological intactness. Further construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall will undoubtedly lead to the death of countless species in the process—adding to the 10 million species marching towards extinction worldwide as a result of the broader human footprint.

But there is hope. Biodiversity is resilient, and we can reverse this biodiversity crisis if we act now. Congress can still defund the wall, support flexible barriers or technology measures that consider the needs of biodiversity, and require the DHS to comply with U.S. laws to assess and address environmental impacts. We live in an age with technological capabilities to keep people safe without sacrificing wildlife, wild places and fellow humans. Let us apply our innovative minds to this worthwhile task.

Let us not compromise thousands of species and a rare biodiversity hotspot, alongside the identity of millions of people along the border, for reprehensible campaign promises and political theatrics that will only further divide us.

This is what I’m worried about:

These species went extinct in 2018. More may be doomed to follow in 2019.


They’ve been on our planet for millions of years, but 2018 was the year several species officially vanished forever.

Three bird species went completely extinct this year, scientists say, two of which are songbirds from northeastern Brazil: The Cryptic Treehunter (Cichlocolaptes mazarbarnetti) and Alagoas Foliage-gleaner (Philydor novaesi), according to a recent report from the conservation group BirdLife International.

According to BirdLife, the other extinct bird is Hawaii’s Poo-uli (Melamprosops phaeosoma), which has not been seen in the wild since 2004 (the same year the last captive bird died).

A disturbing trend is that mainland species are starting to go extinct, rather than island species: “Ninety percent of bird extinctions in recent centuries have been of species on islands,” said Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s chief scientist and lead author on the paper.

“However, our results confirm that there is a growing wave of extinctions sweeping across the continents, driven mainly by habitat loss and degradation from unsustainable agriculture and logging,” he said.

More: Humans have killed off most of Earth’s big mammals. In 200 years, cows could be biggest ones left.

More: Red wolves nearing extinction — only 40 left in the wild

An additional species of bird – the Spix’s macaw, which was made famous in the 2011 animated movie Rio – has been declared extinct in the wild. Only a few dozen captive Spix’s macaws are alive today.

That species was wiped out in the wild because of deforestation and other factors such as the creation of a dam and trapping for wild trade.

A few other bird species that are near extinction have such exotic names as the New Caledonian Lorikeet and the Pernambuco Pygmy-owl.

Beyond birds, other animals such as the vaquita (a dolphin-like porpoise) and the northern white rhino are also near the end.

“Vaquitas are the most endangered of the world’s marine mammals,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. “Less than 30 vaquitas remain in the wild, and entanglement in gill nets is driving the species toward extinction.”

The last male northern white rhino died at a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya last March, Mashable reported. Only two females are left. 

Here in the U.S., only 40 endangered red wolves remain in the wild in the U.S., and the population could go extinct within eight years, according to a report released earlier this year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Earth “is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The group said “we’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

“Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate.”

In the past 500 years, the center estimates that about 1,000 species have gone extinct, from the woodland bison of West Virginia and Arizona’s Merriam’s elk to the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, passenger pigeon and Puerto Rico’s Culebra parrot.


Scary picture of past global warming event painted in UW study

Harsh drought conditions in parts of the American West are pushing wild horses to the brink and forcing extreme measures to protect them. Federal land managers have begun emergency roundups in the deserts of western Utah and central Nevada. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Curtis Deutsch recently released a study in the journal Science that is the stuff of nightmares, or at least a major motion picture about a dystopian past.

The associate professor of oceanography at the University of Washington essentially ran a computer simulation of the end of the Permian geological period to try to determine why most of the Earth’s species were snuffed out 252 million years ago.

What’s extraordinary is what happened when Deutsch combined his model with data from fossils and information that scientists at Stanford have collected on animal species. They were able to conclude that greenhouse gases released from massive volcanoes warmed the Earth and depleted oxygen from the oceans, thus cooking or suffocating 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of terrestrial species.

“Today, of course, we are the volcanoes,” Deutsch said. “We are accessing deep reservoirs of carbon stored in the Earth and we’re releasing that carbon dioxide in those fuels into the atmosphere. That’s ultimately what warms up the climate.”

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But, unlike the volcanoes of the Permian Period, humans can control how much carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere. Deutsch says there’s more promise now that humans have the ability to move away from fossil fuels and harness the power of solar and wind.

“It’s true that we are well behind schedule and in many cases, including in this country, often lack the political willpower to do it, but scientifically and technologically, we can do it,” Deutsch said.

If humans end up dragging their feet and have to deal with another near-total extinction, there’s pretty good past evidence that shows the Earth will rebound and life will flourish once again. But, of course, paleontologists say it’ll take a few million years to build back the diversity of life that existed pre-mass extinction.

“Even knowing that diversity will return, I still think it’s better not to induce a large extinction event,” Deutsch said.

Fortunately for us, we’re smarter than marine life and we’re not living in a massive cloud of volcanic ash. So can’t we just invest in more air conditioning?

Deutsch says humans certainly have the ability to adapt to many of the results of global warming. For example, we’re able to plan for droughts, fight summer forest fires, and sit in front of air conditioners.

“The Permian Period extinction is a good example because there is a very clear signal in the data that shows us that when you push the climate to that level – 10 degrees of warming on the Celsius scale – you clearly are beyond the limits of adaptation. Temperatures get beyond what species would accommodate today and oxygen gets extremely low – beyond what most species can handle today.”

The problem with the extinction of the ocean is there is nothing we know of that will reverse the damage, according to Deutsch. It’s technologically infeasible to cool off the ocean and add more oxygen. The only way to avoid major disruption is to not allow the ocean to warm in the first place while also hoping that marine life is able to adapt. They must also contend with avoiding large fishing nets, which obviously weren’t around during the Permian Period.

Climate change will shrink US economy and kill thousands, government report warns

(CNN)new US government report delivers a dire warning about climate change and its devastating impacts, saying the economy could lose hundreds of billions of dollars — or, in the worst-case scenario, more than 10% of its GDP — by the end of the century.

The federally mandated study was supposed to come out in December but was released by the Trump administration on Friday, at a time when many Americans are on a long holiday weekend, distracted by family and shopping.
David Easterling, director of the Technical Support Unit at the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, emphasized that there was “no external interference in the report’s development.” He added that the climate change the Earth is experiencing is unlike any other.
“The global average temperature is much higher and is rising more rapidly than anything modern civilization has experienced, and this warming trend can only be explained by human activities,” Easterling said.
Coming from the US Global Change Research Program, a team of 13 federal agencies, theFourth National Climate Assessment was put together with the help of 1,000 people, including 300 leading scientists, roughly half from outside the government.
It’s the second of two volumes. The first, released in November 2017, concluded that there is “no convincing alternative explanation” for the changing climate other than “human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases.”
The report’s findings run counter to President Donald Trump’s consistent message that climate change is a hoax.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted, “Whatever happened to Global Warming?” as some Americans faced the coldest Thanksgiving in over a century.
But the science explained in these and other federal government reports is clear: Climate change is not disproved by the extreme weather of one day or a week; it’s demonstrated by long-term trends. Humans are living with the warmest temperatures in modern history. Even if the best-case scenario were to happen and greenhouse gas emissions were to drop to nothing, the world is on track to warm 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit.
As of now, not a single G20 country is meeting climate targets, research shows.
Without significant reductions in greenhouse emissions, the annual average global temperature could increase 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius) or more by the end of this century, compared with preindustrial temperatures, the report says.

The expense

The costs of climate change could reach hundreds of billions of dollars annually, according to the report. The Southeast alone will probably lose over a half a billion labor hours by 2100 due to extreme heat.
Farmers will face extremely tough times. The quality and quantity of their crops will decline across the country due to higher temperatures, drought and flooding. In parts of the Midwest, farms will be able to produce less than 75% of the corn they produce today, and the southern part of the region could lose more than 25% of its soybean yield.
Heat stress could cause average dairy production to fall between 0.60% and 1.35% over the next 12 years — having already cost the industry $1.2 billion from heat stress in 2010.
When it comes to shellfish there will be a $230 million loss by the end of the century due to ocean acidification, which is already killing off shellfish and corals. Red tides, or algae bloom that deplete oxygen in the water and can kill sea life — like those that triggered a state of emergency in Florida in August — will become more frequent.

Impacts on our health

Higher temperatures will also kill more people, the report says. The Midwest alone, which is predicted to have the largest increase in extreme temperature, will see an additional 2,000 premature deaths per year by 2090.
There will be more mosquito- and tickborne diseases like Zika, dengue and chikungunya. West Nile cases are expected to more than double by 2050 due to increasing temperatures.
Expect asthma and allergies to be worse due to climate change.
No one’s health is immune from climate change, the report concludes. People will be exposed to more foodborne and waterborne diseases. Particularly vulnerable to higher temperatures in the summer, children, the elderly, the poor and communities of color will be at a much greater risk for illness and death.

Heat and flooding

Wildfire seasons — already longer and more destructive than before — could burn up to six times more forest area annually by 2050 in parts of the United States. Burned areas in Southwestern California alone could double by 2050.
Dependable and safe water for the Hawaii, the Caribbean and others are threatened by these rising temperatures.
Along the US coasts, public infrastructure and $1 trillion in national wealth held in real estate are threatened by rising sea levels, flooding and storm surges.
Energy systems will be taxed, meaning more blackouts and power failures, and the potential loss in some sectors could reach hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of the century, the report said.
The number of days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit will multiply; Chicago, where these days are rare, could start to resemble Phoenix or Las Vegas, with up to two months worth of these scorching-hot days.
Sea levels have already gone up 7 to 8 inches since 1900. Almost half that rise has been since 1993, a rate of rise greater than during any century in the past 2,800 years. Some countries are already seeing land underwater.
By midcentury, it’s likely that the Arctic will lose all sea ice in late summer, and that could lead to more permafrost thaw, according to the report. As the permafrost thaws, more carbon dioxide and methane would be released, amplifying human-induced warming, “possibly significantly.”

What can be done

The report was created to inform policy-makers and makes no specific recommendations on how to remedy the problem. However, it suggests that if the United States immediately reduced its fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, it could save thousands of lives and generate billions of dollars in benefits for the country.
The Defense Department is trying to understand what risk climate change poses to security. But the Trump administration has signaled that the country will pull out of international initiatives like the Paris climate accord, aimed at lowering global temperatures, claiming that these treaties have been unfair for the US economy.
A report from the UN in October urged all governments to take “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to avoid disaster from climate change. That report predicted that the Earth will reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030. It also suggested the world faces a risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.

Time for action

Reactions to the new report have been strong across the scientific community.
“If we’re going to run this country like a business, it’s time to address climate as the threat multiplier we know it is before more lives are lost,” said Robert Bullard, an environmental scientist at Texas Southern University.
“In Houston, communities of color have endured back to back major weather events without the acknowledgment from Washington that climate change is the cause. We’ve known for years that it’s true and it’s important to our organizing and our local policy efforts that information like this is not only considered, but believed and acted upon.”
Scientists who have been raising the alarm about the negative consequences of climate change for years welcomed the findings.
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“The findings in the Trump administration’s NCA report show how the health and daily lives of Americans are becoming more and more interrupted because of climate change,” said Beverly Wright, founding director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and a professor at Dillard University. “We challenge the administration to finally begin using this information to rebuild and strengthen the communities in the direct path of the atrocities wrought by the fossil fuel industry and decades of poor policies that have neglected our concerns. The science is undeniable, let’s fix it.”

The Global Extinction Rebellion Begins

Dr. Gail Bradbrook, a mother of two boys, has seen enough of her government’s complicity in pumping increasing amounts of CO2 and methane into an already overburdened atmosphere.

A professor of molecular biophysics, her deep understanding of science has led her to confront the existential crisis facing humans. Acting on her love for her children and the disrupted world that is being left to them, she has channeled her horror about this crisis into action.

Dr. Bradbrook co-founded the group Rising Up!, which is now helping to organize the Extinction Rebellion, a movement composed of several thousand people across the UK that is using nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to demand action on our climate emergency.

On October 31, more than 1,000 of them blocked Parliament Square in London, launching their mass civil disobedience campaign. They issued a “Declaration of Rebellion” against the UK Government for its inaction.

A “rebellion” might sound extreme, but given the times, it is not. This moment has been long in the making for Dr. Bradbrook. Truthout asked what compelled her to the point of fomenting a rebellion against her government. Was it the climate crisis, or government inaction?

“Something deeper,” Dr. Bradbrook replied. “A lifetime of a deeper knowing that something isn’t right…starting at age nine, a longing to be part of the change process and a ridiculous nerdy side that is always asking why? Why is [the state of the planet] like this?”

Bradbrook devoted herself to learning about economics and theories of change. She knew the system had to be changed before it killed us all, but for nearly a decade she repeatedly failed in her attempts to inspire or ignite a mass civil disobedience movement.

“So in 2016 I went on a deep retreat to address personal anxiety and to pray for guidance,” she explained. When she returned, Dr. Bradbrook galvanized the Extinction Rebellion.

Her online call to action is a critical overview of the extent the climate crisis and should be mandatory viewing for everyone. It has gone viral. The Extinction Rebellion is taking hold in the UK.

“The social model of power says that government and institutions don’t have power — we afford them power by our obedience to them, hence the social contract,” she told Truthout. “It’s time to break that. I believe our biggest responsibility right now is to step forward in acts of peaceful civil disobedience.”

“Based on the science,” reads the group’s website, “we have ten years at the most to reduce CO2 emissions to zero, or the human race and most other species are at high risk of extinction within decades.”

Her statement loosely references a recent UN report warning that humanity has only a dozen years to take dramatic actions in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5C), or face catastrophic impacts.

In order to create a political crisis, Dr. Bradbrook believes mass civil disobedience must involve roughly three percent of her country’s population. She believes it’s possible to build such a coalition, because the kind of changes that Extinction Rebellion is advocating for would ultimately benefit everyone. The by-products of forcing governments around the world to take drastic actions to mitigate the climate crisis at hand are a more beautiful Earth, deeper connections and less frenetic lives.

“I think that the changes needed will also resolve many other issues we are facing,” Bradbrook explained. “That is why I call for those working in other fields to join this movement…there is a time for mass civil disobedience to change the system and I feel it has arrived.”

Lizia, who described herself to Truthout as a 20-year-old apprentice from Southeast London, said she joined Extinction Rebellion because she had always been moved by the suffering of our planetary citizens and the planet itself.

“What’s harder to swallow is when the suffering is needless and preventable,” she said. “Extinction Rebellion seems to me a culmination of everything I have fought for.”

Describing the sixth mass extinction as “unlike any other injustice I have protested against,” Lizia feels her government has been “apathetic and neglectful towards life” and believes they are actively supporting the slow annihilation that we are experiencing, “all in the name of greed and extremely short-sighted ‘benefits’ such as financial gain or political brownie points. I not only have a moral objection to their conduct, this is a fight for survival.”

The Declaration

During their action on October 31st in London, Extinction Rebellion sent out a press release, which read in part:

The disruption we have caused today is nothing to the destruction that is being unleashed by our leaders’ criminal inaction on climate and ecological breakdown. Just yesterday a WWF report announced that humanity has wiped out 60 percent of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, yet Philip Hammond MP entirely neglected to mention climate breakdown in his budget. Our politicians have failed us. We must take our future into our own hands.

Today we pledge, in accordance with our consciences, and with a clear duty to our children; our communities; this nation and planet; a non-violent rebellion on behalf of life itself and against our criminally negligent government. The abject failure to protect citizens and the next generations from unimaginable suffering brought about by climate breakdown and social collapse is no longer tolerable.

We will not stand idly by and allow the ongoing destruction of all that we love. Our hearts break and we rage against this madness. We have both a right and duty to rebel in the face of this tyranny of idiocy, of this planned collective suicide. Join us.

George Monbiot, long-time climate change and environmental journalist for The Guardian spoke at the action, as did MP Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP from South West England Molly Scott Cato, and 15-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who is currently breaking Swedish law by refusing to go to school due to inaction on the climate.

More than a thousand people blocked the road in front of Parliament for the launching of the rebellion, and conscientious protectors of the Earth locked themselves onto each other in the middle of the road. Thousands of others supported the rebellion online and pledged future arrest and involvement in a series of actions planned for November.

Demands from the group include demanding the UK government tell the truth about the ecological emergency upon us, enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2025, and create a national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes needed as part of creating a functional democracy.

Extinction Rebellion describes the British government’s position towards our crisis as “criminal inaction.”

“Even the Most Optimistic Predictions Are Dire”

Dr. Bradbrook’s presentation outlines many of the basic facts of the climate crisis, and underscores how bleak our situation truly is.

After discussing the imperative to grieve what is happening, she outlines the over-conservative nature of much of the climate science most governments and mainstream media rely upon. She quotes Professor Hans Schellnhuber, who was the head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the senior advisor to Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the European Union: “Climate change is now reaching the end-game…the issue is the very survival of our civilization.”

Discussing non-linear temperature increases, Dr. Bradbrook spells out how Earth can easily tip into a “hothouse state” and remain there, considering the fact that there is already only a meager five percent chance of keeping global warming to 2°C. Yet even the goal of preventing the planet from warming more than 2°C is now acknowledged by most scientists as being an outdated politically influenced goal, with the real goal being more in the realm of limiting warming to 1.5°C, if not even 1°C, which we have already surpassed.

Of the sixth mass extinction event already well underway, Dr. Bradbrook outlines how one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all the world’s amphibians and 70 percent of the world’s assessed plants are already an endangered species, and how a 2018 study of British mammals showed one in five could be extinct within a single decade.

“I don’t personally know how to deal with the grief from all of this, when I think about the specifics,” she says.

In her presentation, Dr. Bradbrook discusses a 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that showed that there is a one in 20 chance that the 2.2 trillion tons of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere could cause an existential warming threat (meaning it could cause the extinction of humans) if Earth’s temperature warms to 5°C or greater, which it may very well do at current trajectories.

“It is equivalent to a one-in-20 chance the plane you are about to board will crash,” one of the authors of the study has said. “We would never get on that plane with a one-in-20 chance of it coming down but we are willing to send our children and grandchildren on that plane.”

This kind of warming would lead to loss of humans on a mass scale. Yet Dr. Bradbrook points out that governmental responses are nowhere near proportional to the amount of danger we face.

In fact, in some ways, they’re going backward. In the UK, the government has scrapped support for onshore wind, killed off the flagship green home scheme, sold off the green investment bank, watered down the incentive to buy a greener car, ditched the green tax target, and refused tidal power, among other regressive actions.

Meanwhile, London’s Heathrow Airport has approved a third runway that will increase the airport’s emissions by 7.3m tonnes — the carbon equivalent of more than the country of Cyprus. Fracking is tax subsidized, even though an increase in global methane emissions has been linked to fracking. Dr. Bradbrook’s presentation underscores how the UK is experiencing its worst period of environmental policy in 30 years.

“The scope of the crisis shows starkly just how massively our governments have failed us,” Lizia told Truthout of this aspect of the crisis.

“I have heard stories from generations above about retirement pensions, adequate healthcare, easy access to higher education, owning houses and vehicles… but in my own short lifetime I have witnessed spiraling desperation and consequent emotional detachment, apathy and abuse in the people around me from the failing of many vital services,” she said. “What on Earth will the result be to sit back and let those in charge handle an issue of this magnitude?”

And in the US, under the Trump administration, the situation is far worse.

Dr. Bradbrook’s presentation shows that the first IPCC report was in 1990, which was 28 years ago. The UN, even back then, warned us to keep global temperatures from reaching 1°C (above a late 19th century baseline temperature) or face societal collapse. Global temperatures are currently at 1.1°C, and will likely reach a 1.5°C increase within a decade from now. Carbon dioxide levels are now 60 percent higher than they were in 1990, and are still rising, as are methane levels.

“We have to conclude that conventional methods of dealing with climate change have failed,” Dr. Bradbrook says. “Governments have failed to implement the wide-scale changes that only they have the power to implement. And environmental organizations have failed to pressure governments enough to implement these changes.”

She then shares a quote from Dr. Kate Marvel of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who is studying human activities effect on the climate and what we can expect in the future.

“To be a climate scientist is to be an active participant in a slow-motion horror story,” Dr. Marvel has written. “We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet…. As a climate scientist, I am often asked to talk about hope. Particularly in the current political climate, audiences want to be told that everything will be all right in the end. Climate change is bleak, the organizers always say. Tell us a happy story. Give us hope. The problem is, I don’t have any.”

Dr. Marvel adds something that is worth quoting in full:

Hope is a creature of privilege….[T]he opposite of hope is not despair. It is grief. Even while resolving to limit the damage we can mourn. And here, the sheer scale of the problem provides a perverse comfort: we are in this together. The swiftness of the change, its scale, and inevitability binds us into one, broken hearts trapped together under a warming atmosphere. We need courage, not hope…Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.

Dr. Bradbrook is asking us to consider this ethical question: “What do you do when your government is actively promoting the gassing of the world and driving extinction events?”

Risking Everything

Truthout asked Dr. Bradbrook what she is willing to risk with her actions for the Extinction Rebellion.

“Everything. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but my life, if necessary,” she replied. “My freedom. The risk of ridicule. Though I also pray for protection for myself and my children and those around us.”

While she is not actively seeking out danger, Dr. Bradbrook said she is willing to risk “everything” because “the stakes are so high,” and went on to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

She notes how environmental activists in other parts of the world are being killed on a regular basis, and said this: “I come from a place of deep privilege, which is another reason to step out of its comforting deadly embrace and offer service.”

Lizia felt similarly, but added another angle.

“I believe that the fate of our futures lie with our youth,” she said. “We must find a way to adequately educate them not just academically, but also equip them with the true life skills required for survival, and allow them the space to grow wild and passionate.”

Dr. Bradbrook believes we are all locked into a damaging individualism, a constant and personal asking of “what about me” and “what do I need” and “how can I feel better.” She believes this is precisely what must change in order to raise our consciousness.

“I feel the time has come to be fully initiated into our service, to give up hope as a drug for our hidden worries that we are suppressing. To fully face the grief of these times and to act accordingly is what we are called upon now, which means being willing to take risks,” she said.

Dr. Bradbrook believes it is now our responsibility personally to honor the Earth by “making changes in our relationship to her.”

“Our personal responsibility is to fully face this crisis at an emotional level, to be willing to hit the depths of grief and despair, and then to act accordingly,” she explained. “To stop having our lives be about us, because they aren’t. We are here, I believe, to serve life, to make of ourselves worthy ancestors once we die.”

20-year-old Lizia underscored Dr. Bradbrook’s comment in a poignant way. She told Truthout about how, while playing sports at school, she was taught that winning didn’t matter, only that you participated and had fun.

Now, winning is a life-or-death matter: “’Winning’ for me would be gaining some certainty that I will be able to grow old,” she said.

Dr. Bradbrook told Truthout that the actions of the rebellion must be disruptive, and they must be sacrificial. Recently, a major series of actions took place on November 12, and more are planned for November 17 at Parliament Square in London.

The Extinction Rebellion is being contacted daily by people around the world seeking to join, and is already in dialogue with groups from 15 countries, including the Climate Mobilization within the US.

When asked what she was willing to risk by joining the Extinction Rebellion, Lizia was blunt.

“My existence is at risk if I do nothing,” she said. “The lives of my siblings, my peers, everyone and everything I love are at risk if I do nothing. My friends are willingly being arrested, others are leaving education and ‘ruining their future prospects’ because – what future?”

Baby boom for some nations, bust for others: Study


Fertility rates in many African nations continue to rise, the study showed

Fertility rates in many African nations continue to rise, the study showed AFP/JOHN WESSELS

PARIS: Soaring birth rates in developing nations are fuelling a global baby boom while women in dozens of richer countries aren’t producing enough children to maintain population levels there, according to figures released Friday (Nov 9).

A global overview of birth, death and disease rates evaluating thousands of datasets on a country-by-country basis also found that heart disease was now the single leading cause of death worldwide.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), set up at the University of Washington by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used more than 8,000 data sources – more than 600 of them new – to compile one of the most detailed looks at global public health.

Their sources included in-country investigations, social media and open-source material.

It found that while the world’s population skyrocketed from 2.6 billion in 1950 to 7.6 billion last year, that growth was deeply uneven according to region and income.

Ninety-one nations, mainly in Europe and North and South America, weren’t producing enough children to sustain their current populations, according to the IHME study.

But in Africa and Asia fertility rates continued to grow, with the average woman in Niger giving birth to seven children during her lifetime.

Ali Mokdad, professor of Health Metrics Sciences at IHME, told AFP that the single most important factor in determining population growth was education.

“It is down to socioeconomic factors but it’s a function of a woman’s education,” he said. “The more a woman is educated, she is spending more years in school, she is delaying her pregnancies and so will have fewer babies.”

The IHME found that Cyprus was the least fertile nation on Earth, with the average woman giving birth just once in her life.

By contrast, women in Mali, Chad and Afghanistan have on average more than six babies.


The United Nations predicts there will be more than 10 billion humans on the planet by the middle of the century, broadly in line with IHME’s projection.

This raises the question of how many people our world can support, known as Earth’s “carrying capacity”.

Mokdad said that while populations in developing nations continue to rise, so in general are their economies growing.

This typically has a knock-on effect on fertility rates over time.

“In Asia and Africa the population is still increasing and people are moving from poverty to better income – unless there are wars or unrest,” he said.

“Countries are expected to fare better economically and it’s more likely that fertility there will decline and level out.”

Not only are there now billions more of us than 70 years ago, but we are also living longer than ever before.

The study, published in The Lancet medical journal, showed male life expectancy had increased to 71 years from 48 in 1950. Women are now expected to live to 76, compared with 53 in 1950.

Living longer brings its own health problems, as we age and deteriorate and place greater burdens on our healthcare systems.

The IHME said heart disease was now the leading cause of death globally. As recently as 1990, neonatal disorders were the biggest killer, followed by lung disease and diarrhoea.

Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Azerbaijan had the highest death rates from heart disease, whereas South Korea, Japan and France had among the lowest.

“You see less mortality from infectious diseases as countries get richer, but also more disability as people are living longer,” said Mokdad.

He pointed out that although deaths from infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis are down significantly since 1990, new, non-communicable killers have taken their place.

“There are certain behaviours that are leading to an increase in cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Obesity is number one – it is increasing every year and our behaviour is contributing to that.”