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Veganuary 2021 hits record-breaking 500,000 sign-ups, 2020 was the joint hottest year on record, and bean plants show signs of intent, say scientists

Veganuary 2021 hits record-breaking 500,000 sign-ups, 2020 was the joint hottest year on record, and bean plants show signs of intent, say scientists

Welcome to this week’s news roundup, our first of 2021. As always we’ll be mixing it up - there’ll be some good news stories, some not so good news stories, and maybe some stories you won't have seen elsewhere!

Hope you enjoy!

The good:

Veganuary 2021 hits record-breaking 500,000 sign-ups (Vegan Food & Living)

“Global campaign Veganuary, which encourages the masses to try eating vegan for a month, is celebrating the news that just days into its 2021 campaign, a record-breaking number of people have already signed up to take part. So far, over 500,000 people have pledged to take the 31-day vegan challenge, an impressive figure which surpasses 2020’s total of 400,000, with new sign-ups still coming in thick and fast. In October, the vegan campaign group shared that news that to date, over a million people have taken part in Veganuary since its inception in 2014, which shows just how popular this year’s campaign is already with half that figure already taking part in 2021. In the space of six years, Veganuary has taken the media by storm and is now regarded as bigger in the retail calendar than Christmas, according to Co-founder Matthew Glover, with huge soars in vegan product launches in January year on year.”

Blue whales: New population found in the Indian Ocean (BBC)

“Scientists made the discovery after picking up a new 'song' while they were studying another group of whales in 2017. Whales make sounds - described as a song - to communicate with each other. Each population of whale sings in their own pattern, this helps scientists to identify one group from another. Dr Salvatore Cerchio, the director of the African Aquatic Conservation Fund's Cetacean Programme, is one of the scientists who was studying a different type of whale when he picked up the new sound. A blue whale's song is one of the lowest frequency sounds made by any animal and can be heard by other whales over distances of 500 miles. Dr Cerchio knew the song belonged to a group of whales but not a group he had come across before.”

Trump administration’s sale of Arctic refuge drilling rights labeled an ‘epic failure’ (Independent)

“The Trump administration sold off drilling rights to oil and gas companies in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for the first time ever on Wednesday, a move that had led to multiple legal battles from environmental and indigenous groups, along with significant public outcry. The auction was labelled as an “epic failure” by critics after major oil companies avoided the sale and a state corporation in Alaska emerged as the main bidder. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had offered ten-year leases on 22 tracts covering about 1,563 square miles (4,048 sq km) in the coastal plain, which accounts for about 5 per cent of the refuge's area. The agency said it was acting in accord with a law passed in 2017 that called for lease sales. Only half the tracts attracted bids on Wednesday, totaling just more than $14 million. This was well below the $1.8 billion (or less than 1 per cent) in government revenue promised by drilling proponents, said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.”

Forget silicon. This material could be a game-changer for solar power (CNN)

“Solar energy is poised for what could be its biggest transformation in over half a century. A group of materials called perovskites are being used to create the next generation of solar panels, which could eventually be twice as efficient as current models, and flexible enough to wrap around entire buildings. The first solar cell capable of powering everyday electrical equipment was made in the 1950s at Bell Labs in New Jersey. Back then the silicon-based panels were hugely expensive and converted just 6% of sunlight into electricity. Since then, costs have come down dramatically and today's silicon solar cells can turn up to 22% of sunlight into power. But they're nearly maxed out in terms of efficiency. Now, perovskites offer the potential for dramatic increases in power output, and they could ultimately replace silicon altogether.”

Alok Sharma to work full-time on Cop26 climate conference preparation (Guardian)

“Boris Johnson has moved his business secretary, Alok Sharma, to work full-time on preparations for the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow this November, a change urged by environmental experts given the scale of the role. For the past 11 months, Sharma has combined being Cop26 president with his job as business secretary. He will now undertake the Cop role full-time, with Kwasi Kwarteng taking the business brief. Cop26, which is expected to gather representatives from nearly 200 countries, was scheduled for last November, but was delayed for a year because of Covid. The government said the event would be the largest summit the United Kingdom has ever hosted. Earlier this week, former ministers and climate change experts urged Johnson to make Sharma’s Cop role full-time. Amber Rudd, who as energy and climate secretary led the UK delegation to the successful Paris climate talks in 2015, said Sharma needed to devote “100% of his time, energy and persuasion to make it a success”.”

The not so good:

Climate change: 2020 was the joint hottest year on record (New Scientist)

“Last year was the joint hottest globally and by far the warmest year recorded in Europe, making the years from 2015 onwards the warmest six on record. Global average temperatures tied with 2016 at 0.6°C above the long-term average – despite the absence of an El Niño event, a climate phenomenon that has a warming effect. There was an El Niño in 2016. Europe, by contrast, demolished records by a wide margin, at 1.6°C above the long-term average. This compared with 2019’s 1.2°C above the average – itself record-breaking at the time. Norway and Sweden both had their hottest years on record.”

Government to let farmers use bee-killing pesticide banned in EU (Independent)

“A bee-killing pesticide so poisonous that it is banned by the EU may be used on sugar beet in England, the government has announced. The decision to allow temporary use of the pesticide prompted fury from nature-lovers and environmentalists, who accused ministers of bowing to pressure from farmers. They said during the biodiversity crisis, when at least half the world’s insects have disappeared, the government should be doing everything it could to save bees, not allow them to be killed. Environment secretary George Eustice has agreed to let a product containing the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam to treat sugar beet seed this year in an effort to protect the crop from a virus.”

The Last Two Northern White Rhinos On Earth (New York Times)

“The day Sudan died, everything felt both monumental and ordinary. It was a Monday. Gray sky, light rain. On the horizon, the sun was struggling to make itself seen over the sharp double peaks of Mount Kenya. Little black-faced monkeys came skittering in over the fence to try to steal the morning carrots. Metal gates creaked and clanked. Men spoke in quiet Swahili. Sudan lay still in the dirt, thick legs folded under him, huge head tilted like a capsizing ship. His big front horn was blunt, scarred, worn. His breathing was harsh and ragged. All around him, for miles in every direction, the savannah teemed with life: warthogs, zebras, elephants, giraffes, leopards, lions, baboons — creatures doing what they had been doing for eons, hunting and feeding and scavenging, breathing and going and being. Until recently, Sudan had been a part of this pulse. But now he could hardly move. He was a giant stillness at the center of all the motion.”

And something a bit different:

Food for thought? French bean plants show signs of intent, say scientists (Guardian)

“A project on abandoned spaces reclaimed by nature has won the 2020 Earth Photo competition. The winning series, by French photographer Jonathan Jimenez aka 'Jonk', includes images of a coffee shop and theatre in Abkhazia, a hotel in Portugal and a swimming pool in Italy. The work was chosen from more than 2,600 submissions. Pulitzer-Prize-winning photojournalist Marissa Roth, who chairs the competition, said of Jonk's work: "We chose Jonk's compelling photographs as the overall winner because of the high degree of skill and vision they represent, and also because they exemplify Earth Photo by straddling the duality of human co-existence with nature." Forestry England and the Royal Geographical Society selected the winners in six categories from a shortlist of 50 photographs and four films. The competition attempts to showcase the best in environmental visual media and aims to encourage discussion about the world and its inhabitants.”

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