“The Unseen Pandemic”

3rd March 2021

Erin LynchErin Lynch

We won't cushion it, February wasn't a great month for the climate. As the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon reaches a 10-year high, critics have put pressure on Facebook to tackle the illegal purchase of plots of Amazon rainforest on its platform. The BBC went undercover to investigate this frightening trend.

Pointing to human-caused climate change, last week scientists warned that the Gulf Stream System has reached its weakest point in 1,000 years. The Gulf Stream is essential for maintaining weather patterns in Europe, and further pressure from global warming may result in extreme weather events such as winter storms, heatwaves and droughts.

The devastation from the severe winter storm that ravaged Texas last month shows us exactly how unprepared we are for the extreme weather events wrought by climate change. US President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Texas in mid-February after the storm killed dozens and left millions without power.

Meanwhile, 16 conservation groups have called on international governments to protect freshwater fish from catastrophic decline. Freshwater fish comprise 51% of all known species of fish and are an essential source of food and income for millions. Populations have fallen dramatically due to pollution, overfishing, habitat degradation, and the introduction of invasive species. Last year alone, 16 species of freshwater fish went extinct. The report urges governments to renew their commitment to protect and restore nature at the COP26 meeting held this November in Glasgow.

Those adding to the mounting pressure on the UK government to secure the right outcome from the COP26 summit include Sir James Bevan, the Chief Executive of the Environmental Agency, who called the climate emergency the "unseen pandemic" that "left unchecked, will kill more people and do much more harm than Covid-19".

Good Tythings

Amidst all the climate chaos, there are still a few reasons to be cheerful. Here are this month's:

  1. A new study suggests that planting trees might help address health inequities and that living closer to street trees may reduce the risk of depression. Researchers studying 10,000 Leipzig inhabitants, found that having more trees around the home was associated with a reduced risk of depression and antidepressant prescription.
  2. In his new book, The Bird-Friendly City, Timothy Beatley argues that abundant birdlife is the secret sauce for soul-nourishing cities. With their song, colour and fluttering energy, "birds make our lives richer and our days fuller". Beatley encourages cities to take inspiration from Vancouver, where the city's government has prepared a Bird Strategy and appointed a standing Bird Committee as part of its commitment to supporting birdlife in the city.
  3. With the help of World Land Trust's supporters like yourself, the Chaco Tagua project in Argentina has helped save the home of the Chacoan Peccary, a mammal thought extinct until 1970.
  4. The black-browed babbler, a bird long thought extinct, was spotted in Borneo 180 years after its last sighting (it was last seen before Charles Darwin published Origin of Species!)
  5. A success story from our charity, SolarAid - over the past few months, they've been able to distribute thousands of solar products to health clinics in Malawi and Zambia, helping rural health workers power medical devices and tackle the pandemic. SolarAid is now working to scale up this initiative to help more clinics; 3 out of 4 health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa are currently without access to reliable power.
  6. ClientEarth is supporting civil action to oppose bauxite mining in the Atewa Range Forest Reserve, an internationally recognised natural resource in Ghana. (You can also listen to a podcast explaining how ClientEarth's legal wizzes are saving the planet).
  7. What does "sustainable fishing" look like? Researchers at the University of Plymouth might be getting closer to an answer. Earlier this month they published a study showing potential "long-term environmental and economic benefits to managing the density of crab and lobster pots" in Lyme Bay.
  8. You may know your ABCs, but have you heard of the tree alphabet? Ogham is an Early Medieval Irish alphabet whose characters are named after trees. Ogham can be found on stone monuments and graveyards throughout the British Isles. Find out how to write your name in Ogham or read more about it on the Trees for Cities blog.

More ways to help

  1. Have an old smartphone lying around? Hubbub and O2 have started a Community Calling initiative to redistribute old phones to some of the 11 million people in the UK who are "digitally excluded". Each participant receives digital skills training and 12 months of free data. Donate your old phone.
  2. Action for Conservation is looking for 10-20 creative young people from North West England and the Yorkshire Dales to join their new nature restoration project. Apply here by March 14th.
  3. From "sublime seagrass" to "wind turbine robots", 39 Ways to Save the Planet is a podcast hosted by Tom Heap that reviews some of the bright ideas that might help us repair the environment.
  4. The National Lottery Climate Action Fund is looking to support community-led approaches to tackle carbon emissions, wastefulness and promote sustainable consumption. Know a project that might fit the bill? Learn more about the initiative.
  5. Ella Daish, creator of #EndPeriodPlastic has published a comprehensive list of eco-friendly period brands and products available in the UK both in shops and online. Consider purchasing an eco-friendly period product for yourself or a loved one. Period products, which contain up to 90% plastic and take over 500 years to break down, are the fifth most common type of plastic found on Europe's beaches.

Working from home and a slower pace of life meant that in 2020 many of us encountered newfound solace in nature. Tackling the climate crisis can be hard, thankless, and depressing, so as we emerge from a long winter lockdown, we hope you can stop and smell the roses with us - birdsong, cheery daffodils and longer days are enduring reminders of our planet's persistence and generosity.