When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

TOPIC: environment


Gimme Shelter! Using Tech To Rethink How We Protect Endangered Species

Human-made shelters don’t always keep creatures out of harm’s way. Can technology help design a better protect birds and possums?

In 2016, Ox Lennon was trying to peek in the crevices inside a pile of rocks. They considered everything from injecting builders’ foam into the tiny spaces to create a mold to dumping a heap of stones into a CT scanner. Still, they couldn’t get the data they were after: how to stack rocks so that a mouse wouldn’t squeeze through, but a small lizard could hide safely inside.

Lennon, then a Ph.D. student at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, aimed to protect skinks, snake-like lizards on which non-native mice prey. When road construction near Wellington displaced a local population of the reptiles, they were moved to a different site. But the new location lacked the rock piles that skinks use as shelter.

So, Lennon and their colleagues set out to create a mice-proof pile of rocks. It proved harder than they thought.

Watch VideoShow less

Bears! The Issue Sneaking Up On Slovakia's Campaign Trail

Slovakian elections set for later this month have been shifting towards an unexpected issue. Bears have been threatening people living near the Tatra Mountains, and how to respond has been dividing politicians.

BRATISLAVA — Slovaks will be going to the polls to select a new parliament on September 30. Among other issues, they will be deciding the fate of the country’s bear populations, which have recently become one of their major political topics. A portion of these animals live along the Polish-Slovakian border.

The growing population of bears in Slovakia and worries about potential attacks on humans have now been addressed by senior politicians. These include not only parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, but also members of the government and even the Slovakian President, Zuzana Czaputova. Czaputova, a well-known environmentalist, has been especially outspoken on the matter.

When a female bear jumped out of a thick bush at a man near the village of Sučany in northern Slovakia while he was out walking his dog, he began to fear for his life. Using a legally held gun, he shot at the bear several times, which killed her. In a second publicized incident that day, a jogger near Liptovsky Hradok reported a bear attack, and had to be hospitalized with an injured shoulder and an open wound on his calf. A few hours later, a forest worker fell victim to a bear attack near the south Slovak village of Drienovo, and was forced to defend himself with a weapon held in his hand.

More incidents involving bear attacks took place in just these 24 hours in mid-July than in the entire year, bringing the total number of bear attacks in Slovakia to eight. This caused widespread public outcry, with social media being almost immediately flooded with videos and photos depicting bear encounters not only in the rural wilderness, but also in villages and cities. The bears are typically unafraid of humans while they forage for food, reports Zprawy Aktualne, and they can often be seen in residents’ backyards. Last year, a bear even made its way into a hotel in the High Tatras, a known tourist destination.

“The situation is serious,” said Environment Minister Milan Chrenko.

Keep reading...Show less

How Planting Trees Could Inject New Life Into Dry Soil

Dry soil, hardly any rain — this summer's drought is making life difficult for farmers. In one of the driest regions in Germany, environmentally friendly farmer Benedikt Bösel is turning his fields into a laboratory, experimenting with an exciting new approach.

ALT MADLITZ — In summer, Benedikt Bösel likes to set up his table out in the fields, with herds of cattle grazing nearby. The 38-year-old has an estate and a large farm in Brandenburg, the driest region in Germany. For many years now, he has been a leader in the world of environmentally friendly farming, using Instagram, a book and talk show appearances to spread the message about his mission to save the soil.

“Everywhere now, you can feel that water is becoming scarcer, and we don’t have any healthy soil left,” says Bösel, who runs a large farm with 1,000 hectares of arable land and 2,000 hectares of woodland in Alt Madlitz, in the Briesen region, about an hour from Berlin. He has turned his fields into a kind of laboratory. In a region with one of the lowest precipitation rates in all of Germany, and with very sandy soil, he is developing new ways of using the land, in response to the environmental crisis.

Agro-forestry systems play an important role in reducing the damage caused by drought and erosion. In simple terms, this means interspersing trees and bushes throughout arable fields. The trees are regularly spaced out in rows across the fields. Experts believe this helps the soil to retain moisture, meaning that extreme weather causes less damage. When tilling the land, most farmers prefer to “drive in long, straight lines,” says Bösel, who works in partnership with a number of research institutes and is supported by the German Ministry of Agriculture.

According to the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research’s records on droughts, there is a vast swathe of land, running from eastern Lower Saxony across Saxony-Anhalt to Berlin and Brandenburg, that has been consistently too dry for the past five years. As a result, farms in the east of Germany, which tend to be far larger than the national average, have suffered poor harvests.

Keep reading...Show less

Kyiv Air Attack, Greek Fire Record, U.S. Open Weed

👋 नमस्कार!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where army officers say they’ve seized power in Gabon, Kyiv is under fire in a major Russian air assault in Ukraine, and tennis players complain about wafts of weed at the U.S. Open. Meanwhile, The Puszcza Białowieska, one of Europe's oldest forests, has become a battleground not only for environment causes, but also for a geopolitical standoff over migration.

[*Namaskār - Marathi, India]

Keep reading...Show less

Europe's Oldest and Largest Forest Is Now A Major Political Battleground

The Puszcza Białowieska, one of Europe's oldest forests, has become a battleground, with environmentalists increasingly concerned about widespread logging in the forest, which is also ground zero for heightened tensions with neighbor Belarus and the ongoing migration crisis. And, all across Poland, increased logging with political motivations has been stirring activist tensions.

The Białowieża Forest, Puszcza Białowieska, known as the oldest and last of the remaining primeval forests in Europe, has become a battleground for activists. Environmentalists have noted the “lightning speed” with which timber is being extracted from the forest, bringing complaints from as high up as the European Commission.

The forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site — and the only nature site in Poland to make the list — “includes the most representative and most important natural habitats for the conservation of biodiversity, including those with endangered species," according to the NGO Puszcza Pracownia.

But to some in the Polish government, nature conservation is a step for tomorrow, to follow economic growth, and not necessary right now. “In the West, first they built their infrastructure, and then laws to protect nature began to be introduced," said ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) MP Jan Duda. “We — through no fault of our own — have been developing for only 20-odd years and we are forced to (protect the environment) now, taking into account the restrictive environmental protection law."

With a so-called “special act," PiS demolished the Białowieża Forest, dividing it in half with a fence, which was protested by several hundred scientists from Europe. The fence divides the forest, people and populations of protected species, threatening their genetic connectivity and biodiversity. The fence was built without the usual environmental, construction or tender procedures. On the basis of the same principles, the bank of the border section of the Bug River was covered with razor wire. Animals have died in agony, caught in the wire’s coils, according to a report from Gazeta Wyborcza.

Watch VideoShow less
Marta Danielewicz

Toxic Fires Reveal Poland's "Time Bomb" Of Illegal Waste Dumps

A fire involving a hazardous waste dump has brought attention to the hundreds of illegal waste dumps across Poland. Yet the government has failed to offer an adequate response.

ZIELONA — On July 23, an illegal toxic waste dump set ablaze in Zielona Góra, a city of about 140,000 inhabitants in western Poland, causing high levels of polluted smog and a fire that raged for several hours before finally being extinguished. The waste brought attention to the sheer number of illegal landfills across the country. There are hundreds of such places in Poland, and even more companies operating this way. They are present in every region of the country.

The ruling party government has boasted about tightening the regulations on illegally dumping waste, which they claim has been a so-called “declaration of war” on the “garbage mafia”.

It turns out, however, that the more restrictive the regulations, the more the black market behind Poland’s waste management is able to develop. Recent data shows that every year, more warehouses and sheds filled with toxic chemicals are detected. And this is not the only problem regarding illegal waste storage sites.

Watch VideoShow less
Niccolò Zancan

Rolling Into Catenanuova, The Hottest Spot In Europe

The streets are deserted until 7 p.m., air conditioning for those lucky enough to have it blasts constantly, and locals dream of leaving the arid desert that has become of their hometown.

CATENANUOVA – No one would want to work as a baker in Catenanuova. Home to little more than 5,000 residents, the central Sicilian town is the hottest municipality in Europe. "Yet, you get used to it," says Salvatore Santoro, puffing clouds of flour. "There's nothing else to do."

The baker is putting pizza dough and snacks in the oven at noon sharp. The oven blasts hot gusts, the air conditioner tries to counter them with a creaking noise. Outside, it's the scorching summer of 2023. "Today, it's 42°C (107.6°F), so for us, it's a good day," Santoro quips.

Catenanuova is the town with the highest officially recorded temperature in the European Union: 48.5 °C (119.3°F) . But all its inhabitants claim that during this year's peak of heat, even that record was surpassed. "It was so hot that if you stepped outside for just five seconds, you felt like passing out. Forty degrees is almost autumn for us," baker Santoro jokes bitterly.

There are two sounds in Catenanuova. The hum of air conditioners all turned on at once, like a constant electronic buzz that permeates nearly every street streets. And then, the sound of cars left in neutral. No one turns off the engine during errands, thus transitioning from one air conditioning to another, from the baker's to the car's, and from the car's to home.

Aside from this, if you pay attention, in Catenanuova you can hear another undefinable sound. At first, it's hard to distinguish. It's the amplified noise of every tiny gesture, within a small lifeless town. Without humans. Without bars and without inhabitants. It's just like a lockdown or quarantine. In the square, all the tables of the outdoor seating areas are empty.

Watch VideoShow less
Laura Anello

Silver Lining To Sicilian Heat: Baby Boom Of Endangered Sea Turtles

Italy has experienced a difficult summer of climate disasters, but the country is experiencing a boom in turtles' nests, with Sicily leading the way.

SAN VIOTO LO CAPO — In the summer of Italy's climate disasters, from floods in Milan to fires in the south, at least there is some good news: the boom of nests of the Caretta caretta turtle (or loggerhead sea turtle), one of Italy's emblematic endangered species.

Now, the turtle is experiencing a golden moment precisely because of the planet's warming, which has made Sicily a natural cradle for these baby reptiles. The animal had previously tested the Sicilian waters, but this year's temperatures have also allowed them to colonize previously challenging lands.

After Sicily's fires, it was a turtle nest on the beach of San Vito Lo Capo that became a symbol of rebirth for the northwestern Sicilian section of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).

"Our response, and that of all those who love life, to the criminals who indiscriminately start fires, burning nature, causing death and despair, is to protect life, nature, and all living beings, both plants and animals," said the volunteers as they safeguarded the turtle nest, watched over by the local lifeguard, beachgoers, and young people who will take turns until the hatching, expected at the end of August.

Watch VideoShow less
This Happened

This Happened — August 21: Amazon Wildfires

Brazil reports fires burning in the Amazon Rainforest at unprecedented rate on this day in 2019.

Get This Happened straight to your inbox ✉️ each day! Sign up here.

Watch VideoShow less
Charlotte Meyer

Webs Worldwide! Why Spiders Are So Pivotal To The Planet's Ecosystem

Threatened with extinction, these little creatures, often feared, nonetheless provide us with significant ecological services.

PARIS — At the heart of a dimly lit room, 76 spider webs intertwine and entangle. Microphones placed on either side of the space amplify the vibrations created by the spiders as they move along the threads.

One thing is certain: it's best not to be arachnophobic when visiting the place! In 2018, Tomas Saraceno was given carte blanche to take over the 13,000 m2 of the Palais de Tokyo. The Argentine artist, who has been building one of the world's largest collections of spider webs in his Berlin studio for several years, wasted no time.

With his exhibition "On Air," the Parisian contemporary art center transformed into a vast laboratory traversed by webs of various shapes, where spiders observe the visitors. For Saraceno, the webs evoke the connections that unite living beings with each other.

If the exhibition made a sensation, it's because spiders both fascinate and repulse us. But regardless of our relationship with them, we will likely need to pay them more attention in the coming years. On April 5, the French Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) presented the first comprehensive assessment of spiders in France, which reveals that one in 10 species in France, out of the 1,622 identified, is threatened.

Watch VideoShow less
Abhijit Waghre

How India's Caste Legacy Still Denies Such Basic Rights As Equal Water Access

India's "untouchables" still face violence and discrimination for drinking or using water they are not supposed to. For the author, a Dalit himself, it's time for Indian environmentalists and researchers who are striving to provide equal water access to acknowledge the role caste is playing.

BENGALURU — This week marked one year since the death of little Indra Meghwal, a nine-year-old Dalit boy who was beaten to death by his "upper caste" teacher in Rajasthan's Jalore district. Indra was killed because he drank water from a pot meant for his teacher. His murder is not an isolated incident.

Dalit students continue to endure violence and discrimination for drinking water in schools across India. Since Indra's murder, other incidents have been reported. On February 12, 2023, a sixteen-year-old Dalit boy from Uttar Pradesh’s Sirwasuchand village of Bijnor was beaten by his principal for drinking water from his bottle. In March 2023, another nine-year-old Dalit child from Jalaun district of UP was thrashed by a teacher for drinking water from a pond. In July 2023, a Dalit boy of Rajasthan’s Netrad village (Barmer district) was physically abused by his school teacher for drinking water from the school pot.

Untouchability was legally abolished by the Indian constitution over seven decades back. The Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 is supposed to provide further safeguards against attacks like the one that killed Indra Meghwal. Why then does access to drinking water continue to be the site of some of the worst caste atrocities nearly a century after Dr B.R. Ambedkar led the Mahad Satyagraha to allow Dalits to use water in a public tank in 1927?

Despite the alarming regularity with which caste atrocity incidents related to water access occur, the social and environmental discourse in India has largely rendered caste invisible in discussions about water. Caste continues to be a "missing link." Scholars like Mukul Sharma have shown how caste is not central to the environmental discourse even when justice is ostensibly the primary field of inquiry.

Watch VideoShow less
In The News
Emma Albright and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Ambush Kills Niger Troops, Drones Hit Ukraine Grain Silos, Harrison Ford Snake

👋 Adishatz!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where at least 17 Niger soldiers are killed in an attack by suspected jihadists near the border with Mali, Russian drones strike grain silos along the Danube River and, yes, Harrison Ford, it had to be snakes. For our special Summer Reads edition of Worldcrunch Today, we feature an article by Jan Schulte in German daily Die Welt — and three other stories from around the world on architecture.

[*Occitan, France]

Watch VideoShow less