Notes and shorts from around the world


Better than trees?
Governments all over the world are promising to plant billions of trees to help fight climate change, but restoring whale populations could be an even more effective means of reducing levels of atmospheric CO2. Whales, studies have found, are natural carbon sinks. Over their lives, great whales, such as humpbacks and minkes, absorb around 30,000kg of carbon, and when they die, they take it to the bottom of the ocean, where it can lie undisturbed for centuries. (Trees, by contrast, typically absorb 21kg a year, and it is likely to be returned to the atmosphere much sooner.) Whales also help to capture carbon while they are alive, thanks to their excrement. The creatures feed on tiny marine organisms, such as plankton in the ocean’s depths, which are then expelled as excrement when the cetaceans come up to the surface. This releases a plume of nutrients into the water, which stimulates the growth of phytoplankton – algae that absorb carbon from the air via photosynthesis. In aggregate, phytoplankton capture the same amount of carbon as 1.7 trillion trees (or four Amazon forests’ worth). Though some of this is released at the surface when the organisms die, much of it sinks with the dead creatures. According to a recent IMF report, increasing phytoplankton productivity by just 1% would have the same impact on levels of CO2 as conjuring up two billion mature trees. “When it comes to saving the planet,” reads the study, “one whale is worth thousands of trees.” It recommends urgent measures to try to bring whale populations back to pre-industrial levels.
Art watch
A artist based in Denmark has won a court injunction to stop two watchmakers cutting up one of his paintings and using the pieces of canvas to make decorative faces for a line of luxury watches. Dann Thorleifsson and Arne Leivsgard, founders of the luxury timepiece company Kanske, bought Paris Chic, by the artist Tal R, from a gallery in London for £70,000, and planned to use it to make some 300 watches that would sell for more than £1,000 each. Under Danish law, an artwork’s owner may destroy it, but Tal R argued that the pair’s plan was an “alteration” of his work, not its destruction and the court agreed.
Late starter
A 100 year old German decided to celebrate her centenary by standing for election as a town councillor, so that she could “do something for young people”. Lisel Heise, a former teacher, won her seat in Kirchheimbolanden last May.
Bons mots
“If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.” – Quentin Crisp, eccentric British writer and raconteur


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