How wild animals can help us deal with capricious climate

Climate Pioneers No 13 is about animals creating a liveable climate for humans.

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Dear Climate Pioneer

Can animals protect us against extreme weather events? In this number we look at a few examples and other interesting things:

  • Animals assisting us in creating a liveable climate

  • This startup is turning CO2 into physical products

  • Microsoft requests information to accelerate climate action

  • Let’s create low-emission products and services

Especially after a grim IPCC report earlier this month it is important to stay pragmatic and positive.

Thank you for reading!


A collection of animals providing ecosystem services that can prevent climate risks

You might have heard that bees contribute billions to the economy (wild bees pollinating fruit and vegetable crops is estimated to be worth over $3,000 per hectare on average). Are there animal activities that have very specific climate benefits? A short collection.

Furry firefighters: Beavers prevent wildfires from spreading and help ecosystems recover post-fire

Beavers provide a whole range of services: water purification, moderation of extreme events and greenhouse gas sequestration amongst others. By cutting trees and building wetlands, beavers mitigate the spread of wildfire and provide refuge and recovery. Their work is worth millions to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. But beavers are a bit like humans. They have the capability to transform landmass quite fundamentally. When beavers start building it can also be destructive and lead to flooding of sewers and wells. They can also damage farm land. And in Alaska they’re changing the landscape in ways that could actually release more greenhouse gases.

Marine food transportation system: Whales are as important as wind and worth as much as 1000 trees

Whales may be as important as wind for mixing the ocean. Sperm whales, for example, feed on fish and squid in the deep ocean, and then come to the surface and enrich it with feces rich in iron and nitrogen. Whales also accumulate carbon in their bodies during their long lives. “When they die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean; each great whale sequesters 33 tons of CO2 on average, taking that carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries. A tree, meanwhile, absorbs only up to 48 pounds of CO2 a year.” The National Geographic estimates protecting whale populations could be equalising the annual carbon emissions of Brazil. If the 1.3 million great whales could be increased to the pre-commercial population level of 4-5 million, they could capture about 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Hairy seed planters: Squirrels plant trees because they only find a fraction of the thousands of nuts they hide every year 

Researchers at the University of Richmond found that squirrels fail to recover up to 74% of the nuts they bury. The study says that the misplacing of so many seeds like acorns, is likely responsible for oak forest regeneration. 

Shell-ter from the storm: Oysters protect coasts from storm surge and wave action and help reduce erosion

Oysters and clams are known to filter particulates and remove excess nitrogen from coastal waters. Oyster beds, coral reefs and seagrasses can also break up the seafloor and buffer the severity of storm surges and waves in hurricanes and coastal erosion.

Feathery gardeners: Birds spread seeds and eat insects and worms, and thereby protect plants and help them grow

Birds don’t just snack seeds, they’re spreading them when they travel, drop or digest. Similar to squirrels, some birds hide seeds and forget about it, thus allowing plants to colonize new areas. Birds also pollinate plants and protect them by eating insects that are pests to plants. 

Thanks to Minda Monteagudo, Emilie Danna, Alex Kats-Rubin and Lassor Feasley for contributions to this collection. Do you know of more good examples we should add? Add them in the comments.

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One could argue the climate situation already is crucial for us and other species. The question is, can we intelligently make use of other species and create win-win situations? This requires extensive imagination and knowledge.

The more we occupy earth, the better we need to understand its inhabitants in detail to be able to create a liveable climate. In fact, if human organizations and technologies manage ecosystem services, we will need to know all about life out there.

Today, we may know only 10% of all plant and animal species. For example, we have perhaps a hundred million species of insects yet to find. Let’s discover.

What are your thoughts on this?

Turning CO2 into physical products: “Technology gives us options, so we have choices. So we can choose to do something about climate change”

Twelve is a company that produces material for shoes, cars or phones out of CO2. Turning pollution into items is an amazing achievement. The products of the future are made from dirty air. "I don't think we're doomed" says their CTO Kendra Kuhl,  “Technology gives us options, so we have choices. So we can choose to do something about climate change”.

Microsoft is looking for ideas to accelerate carbon removal, renewable energy and materials with lower or negative carbon footprint

Microsoft has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to accelerate carbon removal, renewable energy and materials with lower or negative carbon footprint. Deadline for submissions is September 15. Evelyne Viegas, Microsoft’s Senior Director for Global Research Engagement, says “With this RFI we are looking at engaging with the research and technical community committed to driving to a carbon negative globe. Responses to this RFI may help inform our future plans around engaging with and supporting the research community, including research collaborations, in the areas described in the RFI.”

Let’s help organizations to create low-emission products and services – submit your introductions or interest

Following our call, we have received initial introductions and are currently talking to potential partners. We want to continue exchanging with decision makers for new ways to source sustainable solutions for their businesses. Are you interested to talk to us about an innovation competition or do you know anyone who could be? Please do get in touch and let’s bring low-emission products alive.

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