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Scientists Say Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction is Underway

The planet’s current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point.

Scientists and researchers at Stanford University speculate that the Earth is on the brink of its sixth mass extinction. New evidence suggests that the first days of a great extinction are underway, and it’s a much sneakier type of extinction than what people normally think of.

According to Weather.com, many animal species are dying off 1,000 times faster today than they did before humans walked the earth. The human population has almost doubled in just 40 short years, while many other animal populations have decreased by 45 percent in the same time period.

Within the 5 to 9 million animal species that exist on Earth today, scientists speculate that between 11 to 58 thousand of them will go extinct this year. It is assumed that almost 99 percent of all known species to have ever existed on Earth are gone forever. Although extinction is not uncommon, it is the rate at which species extinction occurs that alarms researchers.

Tech Times reports that the disappearance of large animals is called megafauna, and can have a trickle down effect on smaller species, such as rodents and insects.

Researchers from Stanford University explains that today’s extinctions are different than previous, because the driving force is not a meteorite or a volcano. “It is one species – homo sapiens.”

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Better Farming Could Feed 3 Billion More People

Research reveals large increases in population expected in the next three decades need not result in widespread hunger.

The world’s existing cropland could feed at least 3 billion extra people if it were used more efficiently, a new study has found, showing that the large increases in population expected in the next three decades need not result in widespread hunger.

More than half of the fertilizer currently poured on to crops in many countries is wasted, according to the study. About 60 per cent of the nitrogen applied to crops worldwide is not needed, as well as about half of the phosphorus, an element whose readily available sources are dwindling.

Cutting waste even by modest amounts would also feed millions. Between one-third and a half of the viable crops and food produced from around the world is wasted in the developing world usually because of a lack of infrastructure such as refrigerated transport, and in the rich world because of wasteful habits.

The study, published in the peer-review journal Science and led by scientists at the University of Minnesota in the U.S., suggested that a focus on staple crops such as wheat and rice in key countries, including China, India, the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and Europe, would pay off in terms of producing more food for the world’s growing population. Most forecasts are that the world will number more than 9 billion people by 2050, up from about 7 billion people today.

Looking after water could also yield vast dividends, the report found. If the water used for irrigation was pinpointed more efficiently to where it is needed, then much more could be grown, but currently much of it is sprayed uselessly over crops. Between 8 % and 15 % of the water currently used could be saved, the study suggested.

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Over-reliance on meat:

But the research also found that at least 4 billion people could be fed with the crops we currently devote to fattening livestock, fueling the argument that the over-reliance on meat in the west and among the growing middle classes in the developing world is an increasing problem when it comes to feeding the world.

Paul West, of Minnesota’s Institute of the Environment, and lead author of the paper, said the research would enable funders and policymakers to focus their efforts better on areas of agriculture where it could do most good. For instance, increasing agricultural productivity in Africa, where the actual crop yields lag severely behind their potential, could produce enough to feed hundreds of millions of people.

By focusing fertilizer use where it is needed, and avoiding overuse, countries could also bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture currently amounts to between one-fifth and one-third of greenhouse gases, coming from deforestation, methane and fertilizer use.

Cause for optimism:

The world’s growing population could be adequately fed in the future if basic measures are taken to look after food supply. But politics would play a big role in whether the world grasps these opportunities.

Sustainably feeding people today and in the future is one of humanity’s grand challenges. Agriculture is the main source of water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and habitat loss, yet we need to grow more food. The focus needs to be on areas, crops and practices with the most to be gained, as the first step for governments, companies and NGOs, with a focus on China, India, the US, Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan.

The study also noted that preventing the waste of meat was vital, as the disposal of a single kilogram of beef was equal to the waste of 24 kilograms of wheat, in terms of the effort — water, fertilizer, greenhouse gases, cropland needed — that had gone into its production.

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Will Renewable Energy Be Able to Sustain an Independent Scotland?

As September 18th – the day Scottish nationals vote whether to stay in or leave the UK – draws closer, Peter Rolton, ceo of the Rolton Group and former government advisor on the UK’s Renewables Advisory Board, considers what the clean energy landscape may look like in a post-referendum, independent Scotland.
In 2012, 25% of the renewable energy generated in Scotland made its way south into the UK.  As a sizeable chunk of the total, it will have made a substantial contribution to the sector’s annual success. This friendly give and take, however, depends on the maintenance of an amicable relationship between the two countries, and make no mistake, the energy market will not be exempt from the bitter divorce proceedings that will undoubtedly ensue if the two nations unwed.

Scotland: bountiful resource of green energy
One thing there can be no debate about is that Scotland is a particularly bountiful resource of natural and sustainable energy, with wind and tidal potential that is among the best in Europe. It is this abundant supply that Alex Salmond MP hopes to use as a springboard to a successful economy, announcing that an independent Scotland could source 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable supplies by 2020.
The problem is that sustainability isn’t cheap. Wind and tidal energy are both heavily subsidized to make them commercially appealing to investors, and they are also subject to very low levels of tax. This means that rather than sitting back and waiting for the big bucks to roll in should Scotland vote ‘yes’, the Government will find itself having to pay out subsidies that annually run into the hundreds of millions of pounds.
European energy powerhouse or economic minefield?
While we wait for the technology to reach parity with traditional fuel, predicted by many as a distant dream until the mid-2020s, it won’t be possible to remove the financial incentives that currently support the industry, not least because there are already many deals in place that investors will expect to be honored regardless of September’s vote. If an independent Scotland is serious about kick-starting its green economy, it will need to have enough in the coffers to support an industry hoped to be so large that it can, in Salmond’s words, ‘power much of Europe’.

A Journey Into Deeper Understanding

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