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Neil Palmer/CIAT via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Neil Palmer/CIAT via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

It Could Take Another 300 Years to Identify All the Trees in the Amazon

Neil Palmer/CIAT via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Neil Palmer/CIAT via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Amazon is kind of like Pokemon Go for biologists. A new study suggests that, to date, we’ve found more than 11,000 tree species in the region’s rainforests and savannas, but there are at least another 4000 out there, waiting to be discovered. If we keep spotting them at our current pace, researchers say, catching them all could take us another three centuries. They discussed their findings in the journal Scientific Reports. 

Before the researchers could speculate on those known unknowns, they had to tally up the, well, known knowns. The team knew that the Amazon—the largest rainforest in the world, spanning nine countries—is home to around 1300 species of birds, 427 species of mammals, and 50,000 species of seed plants. And thanks to an earlier study, they had a pretty good guess of the number of tree species: 16,000. But that was just an estimate. To date, nobody had counted. 

So the team, which included botanists from six countries, dug into museum collections around the world and started counting. They reviewed more than half a million specimens from the last 308 years. The final tally was 11,676 different tree species, each one a unique thread in the Amazon’s vivid and varied tapestry. Think about that for a moment. How many different trees can you name off the top of your head? Got a number? Good. Now multiply it by a lot.

The team’s sum total doesn’t invalidate the earlier estimate of 16,000 species. Quite the opposite, in fact. Based on the number we’ve found so far, and the rate at which we’ve been collecting and discovering them, the authors believe we’ve got at least another 4000 to track down.

Doing that could take a while, says study co-author Nigel Pitman, senior conservation ecologist at The Field Museum in Chicago. “Since 1900, between 50 and 200 new trees have been discovered in the Amazon every year,” he said in a press statement. “Our analysis suggests that we won’t be done discovering new tree species there for three more centuries.” 

Will there even be an Amazon in 300 years? That remains to be seen. Deforestation levels have decreased in the last few years, but hardly stopped. “If deforestation were to increase to levels of the early 2000s,” the authors write, “most of the rare—and possibly unknown—species in eastern and southern Amazonia would face threat of extinction.”  

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There's Only One Carbon Negative Country in the World (Here's How They Do It)
Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

In 2017, the small nation of Bhutan became the first and only carbon negative country in the world. That's right: not carbon neutral, carbon negative.

In an article on the subject, the Climate Council—an independent, Australia-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public on matters related to climate change—defines carbon negative status as occurring when a country's carbon emissions are not only offset, but are actually in the negative due to the generation and exportation of renewable energy. There are several reasons for this impressive feat.

Bhutan—a small, landlocked country in the middle of the Himalayas—has a population of approximately 813,000 and produces 2.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The country is 72 percent forest, and those forests trap more than three times their carbon dioxide output through a process called carbon sequestration, the long-term storage of carbon in plants, soil, and the ocean. This means that Bhutan is a carbon sink: It absorbs more carbon than it releases as carbon dioxide. Specifically, Bhutan is a carbon sink for more than 4 million tons of CO2 each year. In addition, the country exports most of the renewable electricity generated by its rivers, which is equivalent to 6 million tons of CO2.

Bhutan is also exceptionally environmentally friendly. This is partly because it takes a holistic view of development, measuring it with the Gross National Happiness Index instead of the Gross Domestic Product Index, like most countries. Instead of only prioritizing economic improvement, Gross National Happiness balances it with sociocultural and environmental improvement. The eco-conscious country invests in sustainable transport, subsidizes electric vehicles, and has an entirely paperless government.

Bhutan has pledged to remain carbon neutral for all time, and it's safe to say it's doing pretty well so far.

[h/t The Climate Council]

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Sip on This: The Queen Has Banned Plastic Straws at Buckingham Palace
Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images
Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II is a big fan of naturalist David Attenborough, and it’s making an impact on royal dining. After working with the iconic Planet Earth narrator (and British knight) on an upcoming conservation film, the monarch felt inspired to take action close to home, banning plastics at royal palaces, Fast Company and The Telegraph report.

At Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Scotland’s Palace of Holyroodhouse, staff will now have to eschew plastic straws and plates, ditching disposable plastic dishware for china, glass, and recyclable paper. The ban will slowly rid public areas of plastic, too. In the palaces’ cafes, all takeout containers will be replaced with compostable or biodegradable alternatives, and plastic straws will slowly be phased out.

While plastic water bottles and bags often get more attention in anti-pollution campaigns, plastic straws are terrible for the environment, and the Queen isn’t the only one taking notice. Plastic straws are one of the most prevalent types of litter, and because of their size, they can’t be recycled. Scotland’s government banned them in parliament in January 2018 and hopes to ban them throughout the country by 2020. Companies like Pret a Manger are already trying to take action against straw waste, introducing paper straws instead.

The problem isn’t limited to the UK—in the U.S., Americans throw away an estimated 500 million straws per day (that’s between one and two per person). In California, several cities have mandated that restaurants provide plastic straws only if customers specifically ask for one, and the legislation may soon spread to the rest of the state. Beginning in July 2018, Seattle restaurants will have to offer compostable or recyclable straws instead of plastic ones as part of a new ban.

Time to make like the Queen and start a BYO-straw movement. Might we suggest you try a reusable silicone or stainless steel option?

[h/t Fast Company]

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