Population

Hungry Planet: Can Big Data Help Feed 9 Billion Humans?

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 17, 2014   View Article

With a population set to hit 9 billion human beings by 2050, the world needs to grow more food —without cutting down forests and jungles, which are the climate’s huge lungs.

The solution, according to one soil management scientist, is Big Data.

Kenneth Cassman, an agronomist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, recently unveiled a new interactive mapping tool that shows in fine-grain detail where higher crop yields are possible on current arable land.

“By some estimates, 20 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with agriculture and of that a large portion is due to conversion of natural systems like rainforests or grassland savannahs to crop production, agriculture,” Cassman told NBC News at a conference in suburban Seattle.

That Sinking Feeling: Rising Sea Level Isn’t Cities’ Only Water Worry

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 1, 2014   View Article

Some of the world’s expanding coastal cities face a two-pronged threat involving water: Sticking giant straws into the ground to suck up freshwater can cause the ground below to sink at the same time that sea levels are rising.

That interplay between subsiding land and rising seas highlights an underappreciated risk in global climate change, according to scientists.

It’s not known how many people live on coastal lands that are sinking due to excessive groundwater pumping, but about 150 million live within 3.3 feet of today’s high-tide mark. And the worst-case scenario for sea level rise by the end of this century is nearly six feet, according to a recent study.

Ancient Egyptian Art Opens Window on Mammal Extinctions

Publication: NBC News   Date: September 8, 2014   View Article

Images of lions, giraffes, wildebeests and other creatures depicted on ancient Egyptian artifacts have helped scientists create a 6,000-year record of local mammal extinctions, according to a new study. Several of the extinction episodes correlate with known periods of drought and rapid human population growth.

While the correlations aren’t proof that drought and population pressures caused the animals to disappear, “it is an interesting pattern,” Justin Yeakel, a biologist at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, told NBC News. What’s more, he added, “as the communities lost species, the system became more unstable and this was largely due to the loss of redundancy in the system.”

In other words, when an herbivore went locally extinct several thousand years ago, it wasn’t a big deal because there were plenty of other herbivores around for the carnivores to eat. Now, there are so few of any mammals left, that the loss of any one species has a larger impact on those that remain.

Five distinct humpback whale populations identified in North Pacific

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 4, 2013   View Article

Five distinct populations of humpback whales ply the North Pacific Ocean each year between winter breeding and summer feeding grounds, according to a new study. The finding adds a layer of complexity to ongoing efforts to conserve the majestic marine mammals.

Humpback whales are found throughout the world’s oceans. In the North Pacific, they number more than 21,000 today, up from less than 1,000 at the end of commercial humpback whaling in 1966. “That is a great thing,” Scott Baker, a marine biologist with Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, told NBC News.

It is time to adapt to unstoppable global warming, scientists say

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 7, 2013   View Article

Even if the world’s 7 billion people magically stop burning fossil fuels and chopping down forests today, the greenhouse gases already emitted to the atmosphere will warm the planet by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century, according to scientists who are urging a focused scientific effort to help humanity adapt to the changing climate.

And reality shows no sign of such a magic reduction in emissions. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached another new high in 2012, the World Meteorological Association announced Wednesday. In fact, concentrations of carbon dioxide, the most abundant planet warming gas, grew faster last year than its average growth rate of the past decade.

Humans on course to triple daily waste by 2100

Publication: NBC News   Date: October 30, 2013   View Article

Humanity may generate more than 11 million tons of solid waste daily by the end of this century, barring significant reductions in population growth and material consumption, according to experts.

That mind-boggling large heap of trash expected by century end represents a three-fold increase in the amount of stuff people throw away today. In 1900, the world’s 220 million urban residents tossed out fewer than 330,000 tons of trash daily, such as broken household items, packaging and food waste.

Want to save the planet? Ditch meat, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 19, 2013   View Article

A shift to plant-based diets is one strategy to help the world meet its food demands by the year 2050, according to a new study that says crop yields are improving too slowly to satisfy meat-eaters’ appetites.

“That is a very optimistic part” of the paper, lead author Deepak Ray, with the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, told NBC News.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach