Top ED: Mercury in Tusks, Biden’s Paris Goal, and a Radical Shift in The Way We Think
Narwhals are exposed to more mercury as the climate warms, dramatic transformation is demanded, and new report evaluates the way we think about nature and climate change.
Hot Topics to Cover:
- Narwhal Tusks Contain More Mercury as the Climate Warms
- Biden’s Paris Goal: Pressure Builds for a 50 Percent Greenhouse Gas Cut by 2030
- A new UN report urges a radical shift in the way we think about nature
Narwhal Tusks Contain More Mercury as the Climate Warms
As the climate changes, narwhals are being exposed to higher levels of the neurotoxin mercury, according to data collected from their tusks, a new study shows.
Researchers analyzed narwhal tusks from animals up to 50 years old to track mercury levels and carbon and nitrogen isotopes, an indirect way of seeing what they ate. The tusks are essentially a three-meter-long tooth that protrudes from the whale’s head and resembles a unicorn horn.
Like other top predators, narwhals ingest high levels of contaminants that have accumulated up the food chain.
Researchers found that before 1990, mercury levels in narwhals were relatively high, because they were eating fish that were higher on the food chain like halibut and Arctic cod.
But after 1990, as sea ice began to disappear, narwhals changed their diet and began to eat more open ocean fish that were lower on the food chain, like capelin and polar cod. Because of the shift to a low-mercury diet, mercury levels stored in their tusks declined.
Researchers expected this trend to continue as the narwhal diet remained the same, but around 2000, mercury levels increased despite no change in the animals’ diet.
Since mercury is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, scientists suggesr that the increase in the contaminant in narwhal tusks could be due to more mercury circulating the planet.
With more mercury available in the environment, plants and animals low on the food chain take it up more readily, storing higher concentrations of it that are then taken up by predators like the narwhal.
Biden’s Paris Goal: Pressure Builds for a 50 Percent Greenhouse Gas Cut by 2030
In two weeks, President Biden is going to reveal the details of the nation’s pledge for reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
President Barack Obama pledged that the United States would cut emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025, a goal the nation is not quite on track to meet.
Environmental advocates are pushing for Biden to set a goal of at least a 50% cut in U.S. emissions by 2030, based on a slew of recent studies, including research by the United Nations and the National Academies of Science, showing that a 50 percent target is both necessary and achievable.
On Tuesday, a coalition of hundreds of businesses, including Walmart, Apple, Microsoft, Verizon and Unilever, sent a letter to the White House, joining in the call for a 50 percent goal.
Only by doubling the original U.S. commitment under the Paris accord, they argue in the letter, will the world’s largest economy and historic contributor to carbon pollution be in a position to persuade other nations to join in the action necessary to hold global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Scientists and economists have charted a number of different paths that would allow the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half in less than a decade, but all of them entail dramatic changes.
At least half of new passenger vehicles purchased in 2030 would be electric. Coal-fired electricity would essentially become a thing of the past and carbon capture and storage plants would become common at the remaining fossil fuel plants, which would be mostly natural gas-fired. Millions of buildings would be retrofitted to use less energy.
Critics of the idea warn that there are plenty of obstacles in the real world that could complicate an overhaul of the energy system like the one envisioned by academics.
The push back from Republicans in Congress over Biden’s infrastructure plan made clear the resistance he is certain to face in any effort to implement such a transformation.
But environmental advocates argue that the rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy and battery technologies make a high target economically feasible.
And the broadening of the climate movement — including support for a strong goal from businesses — make it possible for Biden to be bold when he delivers the U.S. pledge, an announcement expected at or before the April 22, virtual Earth Day climate summit of 40 nations, organized by the White House.
A new UN report urges a radical shift in the way we think about nature
The United Nations published a report, “Making Peace with Nature,” on Thursday. It spans 168 pages and distills the latest science on climate change and mankind’s “war” on the planet.
It also argues that amid our pursuit of wealth and security, humans must now learn to value the fundamental “natural capital” of geology, soil, air and water — and urgently.
“For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a news briefing Thursday presenting the report. “The result is three interlinked environmental crises: climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pollution that threaten our viability as a species.”
The world is far from meeting its agreed objectives to protect the planet. Species and ecosystems are vanishing faster than ever, despite long-standing global commitments to protect them.
While the ozone layer is slowly being restored, mankind has fallen off track to limit global warming as envisioned in the landmark Paris Agreement, the report says.
The report offers suggestions for everyone from governments to financial institutions to individuals, but its proposition for a new way to think about the environment and the global economy is civilizational in scale.
If mankind began to factor the value of our environment — and the costs of its degradation to our health and security — into economic activity, our decisions might be different, the report argues.
Several global meetings planned for this year could begin to shift mankind’s perspective on nature. The virtual UN Environment Assembly falls next week, followed by the COP15 Conference on Biodiversity and the UN Climate Change Conference later in the year.
“There is indeed no precedent for what we have to do, but if 2020 was a disaster, let 2021 then be the year humanity began making peace with nature and secured a fair, just and sustainable future for everyone,” said the UN secretary.