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From scientific reports to online journalism and social media, stories of hope and resilience are hard to come by these days. It’s clear that climate doomism is bad for our mental health and anxiety levels. Moreover, pessimistic sustainability communications do little to inspire action and spur positive change.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to add another good news section to my existing newsletters. I will now be summarizing the findings of optimistic research at the end of each month too.
Tell me what you think: Send me your feedback and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to any newsletter.
Could we ever out-evolve climate change?
Amid recent updates citing reduced rates of deforestation in the Amazon this year, the role of mushrooms in fighting megafires, and the EU’s passing of a key nature restoration law, it feels like the right time to kick off with research into species resilience.
We’ve seen it before, the caveat at the end of each nature documentary. Each ending shot of a pristine ecosystem or species quickly followed by the famous “but”. The ultimate conclusion is that nature is helpless in the face of anthropogenic climate change.
As conversations of mass extinction become more common, our capacity to remain hopeful and motivated begins to dwindle. But, while studies into species adaptation to climate change have been far and few between until recently, some promising findings are now emerging.
In May 2023, Nature published new research into climate adaptation in an endangered Californian songbird. Piloted by a group of scientists interested in climate adaptation in a wild population, ‘Historical DNA reveals climate adaptation in an endangered songbird’ draws on DNA from the last century to determine a single species’ capacity to adapt and, ultimately, survive a changing climate.
The southwestern willow flycatcher has been recognised as federally endangered since 1995. Primarily native America’s desert southwest, it inhabits an area that has already experienced rapid habitat loss over the last century. Coupling this problematic backdrop with unpredictable precipitation, warming annual temperatures, and more frequent extreme weather events, the outlook for this little bird appears fairly bleak.
But, this is where findings from the recent study provide a glimmer of hope. Despite being subject to such challenging conditions, the study indicates that the southwestern subspecies of the flycatcher could be showing signs of evolutionary change over just a few generations. Driven by natural selection, evidence suggests that adaptations can occur where there is a genetic variation for a desirable trait and this trait is consistently selected.
Concluding their study, the researchers argue that their findings validate the idea that wild populations might have some capacity to cope with a changing climate, considering changes occurring over one century.
In a similar vein, other scientists have been busy investigating the influence of ‘natural hybridization’ between separate species - from rainbow fish to potatoes. Suggesting that the line between definitive species is more blurred than previously thought, articles like that published by Scientific American discuss gene trading - or breeding - between species as a potential rapid adaptation to changing climates.
All of these studies caveat their findings with a reminder that both evolution and the climate crisis are innately complex. From the scale of climate change to its pace and unpredictability, any combination of factors could limit a species' capacity to adapt. Moreover, scientists also highlight that these promising results by no means suggest that species will simply follow suit if we fail to act and rapidly cut emissions.
Instead, such studies should be taken as tokens of hope and motivation to act on climate change for the sake of our ecosystems and species. Above all else, they demonstrate that not all is lost. On the contrary, there is still much to be saved - and gained - if we accelerate emission reductions, conservation efforts and a climate positive framework.
Positive eco-news from across the month
This month has been a particularly tough time for climate news - from a ‘five-sigma event' unfolding in the Antarctic to record temperatures and fires across Europe. Now more than ever, we must embrace a solutions-focused approach. Here are a few recent stories of good news to share with you:
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced its new initiative to reduce carbon emissions in the aviation industry. With a focus on sustainable fuel development and operational efficiency improvements, the plan aims to achieve a net zero carbon footprint by 2050. This groundbreaking effort is set to revolutionize the way airlines approach environmental sustainability.
Utrecht, a city in the Netherlands, is set to become home to an extraordinary vertical forest, accommodating an impressive array of 10,000 plants and trees.
This innovative architectural project aims to create a sustainable and green living environment while improving air quality and biodiversity. Discover how residents will benefit from this unique urban oasis.
Harnessing the power of electric water heaters to store renewable energy could have a transformative impact, equivalent to the capacity of two million home batteries.
This groundbreaking concept not only offers a practical solution for energy storage but also has the potential to save billions of dollars. Discover how this innovative approach is revolutionizing the renewable energy landscape.
Biogas is emerging as a powerful force in shaping our sustainable future. This renewable energy source, derived from organic waste, is being harnessed to generate electricity and heat, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing an environmentally friendly alternative.
Explore the potential and benefits of biogas in revolutionizing our energy landscape.
Printed fish in the fridge, anyone?
A start-up is taking an innovative approach to combat the looming threat of empty oceans by 2048. Using 3D printing technology, they are producing fish alternatives to meet the rising demand for seafood. Discover how this groundbreaking solution aims to protect marine ecosystems while satisfying our appetite for fish.
In the pristine landscapes of Iceland, a mammoth undertaking is in motion to combat climate change on an unprecedented scale. Nestled amidst glaciers and geothermal wonders, this groundbreaking "air capture" plant is poised to extract a staggering 36,000 tonnes of CO2 annually from the atmosphere.
Impact-focused investment firm LeapFrog plans to commit more than $500 million to climate solutions companies, aimed at providing green tools and technologies to 50 million low-income people while combating climate change in Africa and Asia.
The inaugural Sustainability Gap Index Report takes center stage. Unearth the secrets behind brands' claims and actions, as this comprehensive analysis scrutinizes their commitment to sustainability. This groundbreaking report sheds light on the chasm between promises and actual practices, laying bare the true efforts of companies toward a greener and more responsible future.