Earth Day 2016

April 22, 2016

Earth Day 2016

Time to go out and appreciate this glorious earth that we inhabit. Time to reflect on re-using and re-cycling in our daily lives, and helping to restore the damage that we have done to our one and only planet.


Bill Gates Is Wrong

February 26, 2016

Yesterday or the day before, I found myself subjected to the Bill Gates PR offensive. He seemed to be everywhere at once telling the world that it is “going to take a miracle” to stop climate change from being a hellishly disastrous process for us all.

But that was just the splashy sound-bite, the clickbait. His real purpose for the media offensive was to push once again the dangerous myth that, given enough effort and money, technology will eventually solve the climate change problem.

Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” is just the most recent critique of technological determinism or the technological imperative. Her takedown of Richard Branson’s billionaire bullshit is masterful. And she spends considerable time compiling evidence showing that technological “fixes” are generally more dangerous than the status quo.

In this case, the play is designed to over-ride the obvious truth, that we all know, which is that we must reduce emissions immediately, leave fossil fuels in the ground, and change our lifestyle to one that brings us back in line with the rhythms of the planet.

The energy titans have to over-ride this obvious truth because their economic status relies on continued and indeed expanded extraction. The technology giants, with Gates at their head, feed the same myth because they are the technology wizards. They feed off the perceived need for trillions of dollars of research, ever-more powerful analytical tools/weapons, and the ever-disappearing-into-the-future promise of a fix that will clear us of all guilt or responsibility for the planet’s damage.

Bill Gates is a remarkable man, to be admired for many things, but in peddling the technological myth in the face of massive climate change he is doing his legacy no service.

Finally, it was annoying that Gates could get such extended coverage without an attempt by any broadcaster that I could see to balance the argument with an environmental perspective. Just another advantage for the 1%, I guess.


Remembering Bhopal, Thirty-One Years After

December 2, 2015

On the night of 2/3 December 1984 the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, released toxic gasses that led to the worst industrial accident in human history.  Estimates of deaths caused by the gas are between 12,000 and 15,000.  In addition, the Government of India claims that there were more than 500,000 injuries directly related to the incident.

In June 2010, seven ex-employees, including the former company chairman, were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by law.  More cases are still “pending” in US courts 26 years after the event.

In 1989, a settlement was reached under which the company agreed to pay US$470 million (the insurance sum, plus interest) in a full and final settlement of its civil and criminal liability. In other words, this immense human tragedy cost the company nothing.

Capitalism at its best.


What Are We Doing To The Planet #13

March 6, 2015

The following articles concerning our negative impact on the planet caught ny attention this week.

 

High levels of traffic-created air pollution has been linked to slower cognitive development in children by a recent study.

The researchers measured three cognitive outcomes (working memory, superior working memory, and attentiveness) every 3 months over a 12-month period in 2,715 primary school children attending 39 schools. By comparing the development of these cognitive outcomes in the children attending schools where exposure to air pollution was high to those children attending a school with a similar socio-economic index where exposure to pollution was low, they found that the increase in cognitive development over time among children attending highly polluted schools was less than among children attending paired lowly polluted schools, even after adjusting for additional factors that affect cognitive development.

These dangers include those children who travel to school on school buses and shown by studies in California where advanced HECA air-filtration systems are being tested.

Studies have shown that exposure to high levels of vehicle pollution is associated with pulmonary and cardiovascular health risks, including oxidative stress, mitochondrial damage and acute pulmonary inflammation.

This all ties in with dire warnings from Europe that hundreds of thousands of people will die is air pollution is not dealt with immediately.

In 2011, the latest year for which figures have been reliably collated, more than 400,000 are estimated to have died prematurely [in Europe alone] as a result of breathing toxic fumes, despite recent improvements in some countries.

In last week’s report we noted that forest cover in Amazonia and elsewhere is shrinking more rapidly than previously reported.  Now we have a new study showing one of the dangers that can cause — loss of bio-diversity,

One of the first studies to map the impact of deforestation on biodiversity across entire regions of the Amazon has found a clear ‘threshold’ for forest cover below which species loss becomes more rapid and widespread. By measuring the loss of a core tranche of dominant species of large and medium-sized mammals and birds, and using the results as a bellwether, the researchers found that for every 10% of forest loss, one to two major species are wiped out. This is until the threshold of 43% of forest cover is reached, beyond which the rate of biodiversity loss jumps from between two to up to eight major species gone per 10% of disappeared forest …

Unless urgent action is taken to stem deforestation in key areas that are heading towards or have just dipped below the forest cover ‘threshold’ – which, according to the research team’s models, amounts to a third of the Amazon – these areas will suffer the loss of between 31-44% of species by just 2030.
Finally this week we have a new study that shows that so-called “green” products contain unlisted ingredients that are very damaging.
A University of Melbourne researcher has found that common consumer products, including those marketed as ‘green’, ‘all-natural’, ‘non-toxic’, and ‘organic’, emit a range of compounds that could harm human health and air quality. But most of these ingredients are not disclosed to the public …

The study, published in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health found 156 different VOCs emitted from the 37 products, with an average of 15 VOCs per product. Of these 156 VOCs, 42 are classified as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws, and each product emitted at least one of these chemicals. Findings revealed that emissions of carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants from ‘green’ fragranced products were not significantly different from regular fragranced products. In total, over 550 volatile ingredients were emitted from these products, but fewer than three percent were disclosed on any product label or material safety data sheet (MSDS).

 

Previous What Are We Doing posts.

 

 


What Are We Doing To the Planet #12

February 27, 2015

The following articles about our negative impact on the planet caught my eye this week:

 

The desire by outsiders to build hydro-electric projects in south-east Europe could be catastrophic, according to this article in the Guardian:

More is known about rivers in the Amazon than Europe’s last wild waterways in the Balkans. But these unique ecosystems in south-east Europe could soon be gone, along with endangered species such as the balkan lynx, if plans for over 2,000 dams go ahead, conservationists warn … On past trends, deforestation and soil erosion will follow, along with irrevocable changes to the course and character of untamed rivers, a quarter of which lie in pristine national parks and protected areas, according to new analysis by RiverWatch and Euronatur.

This series has mentioned several times the severe problems that plastics are causing the oceans. Now, scientists have discovered that some corals are actually ingesting plastic to their harm.

“Corals are non-selective feeders and our results show that they can consume microplastics when the plastics are present in seawater,” says Dr Mia Hoogenboom, a Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. “If microplastic pollution increases on the Great Barrier Reef, corals could be negatively affected as their tiny stomach-cavities become full of indigestible plastic,” Dr Hoogenboom says … “We found that the corals ate plastic at rates only slightly lower than their normal rate of feeding on marine plankton,” she says. The plastic was found deep inside the coral polyp wrapped in digestive tissue, raising concerns that it might impede the corals ability to digest its normal food.s the global climate warms

As the global climate warms, farmers are using ever greater amounts of agricultural pesticides. These in turn are affecting water resources across the planet, according to new reports.

“We know from earlier investigations for example that pesticides can reduce the biodiversity of invertebrates in freshwater ecosystems by up to 42 percent and that we can expect an increased application of pesticides as a result of climate change,” explains Prof. Dr. Matthias Liess … Liess warns of an increase in the application of pesticides in many developing countries as farmers increasingly switch from traditionally extensive agricultural practices to more intensive ones …

“The risks of insecticide exposure to water bodies increased significantly the further South one travelled on a North-South gradient in Europe, North America and Asia, mainly driven by a higher insecticide application rate as a result of higher average temperatures,” Dr. Mira Kattwinkel reports … At the moment it is water bodies in the Mediterranean, the USA, Central America and Southeast Asia that are particularly vulnerable. In Southeast Asia, countries such as the Philippines or Vietnam are greatly affected.”

Finally this week, recent UN reports have suggested that the loss of tropical forests has been stopped. However, that conclusion is reversed in a new report that suggests forest depletion has soared in recent years.

The rate at which tropical forests were cut, burned or otherwise lost from the 1990s through the 2000s accelerated by 62 percent, according to a new study which dramatically reverses a previous estimate of a 25 percent slowdown over the same period. That previous estimate, from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Forest Resource Assessment, was based on a collection of reports from dozens of countries. The new estimate, in contrast, is based on vast amounts of Landsat image data which directly record the changes to forests over 20 years … They found that during the 1990-2000 period the annual net forest loss across all the countries was 4 million hectares (15,000 square miles) per year. During the 2000-2010 period, the net forest loss rose to 6.5 million hectares (25,000 square miles) per year – a 62 percent increase is the rate of deforestation.

 

Previous What Are We Doing posts


What Are We Doing To The Planet? #11

February 20, 2015

The following articles about our negative impact on the earth caught my eye this week:

 

Scientists report that chemicals that are not controlled by a United Nations treaty designed to protect the Ozone Layer are contributing to ozone depletion.

Measurements of [Very Short Lived Substances] VSLS in the atmosphere over the past two decades, provided by collaborators from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States, were also analysed. These measurements revealed a rapid increase in atmospheric concentrations of dichloromethane, a man-made VSLS used in a range of industrial processes …

The researchers found that while the amount of ozone depletion arising from VSLS in the atmosphere today is small compared to that caused by longer-lived gases, such as CFCs, VSLS-driven ozone depletion was found to be almost four times more efficient at influencing climate … “The increases observed for dichloromethane are striking and unexpected; concentrations had been decreasing slowly in the late 1990s, but since then have increased by about a factor of two at sites throughout the globe.”

Continued global warming is likely to cause massive coral bleaching around the world this year according to a new report.

Bleaching takes place when corals are stressed due to changes in light, nutrients or temperature – though only the latter can cause events of this magnitude. This causes them to release algae, lose their colour and in some cases die off … In a large scale bleaching event, the damage caused could last for decades – and in some cases, the reefs never recover. Those that do become more susceptible to diseases.

coral bleaching

“It started in 2014 – we had severe bleaching from July to October in the northern Marianas, bad bleaching in Guam, really severe bleaching in the north western Hawaiian Islands, and the first ever mass bleaching in the main Hawaiian Islands,” said said Mark Eakin, Noaa’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator. “It then moved south, with severe bleaching in the Marshall Islands and it has moved south into many of the areas in the western south Pacific. Bleaching just now is starting in American Samoa. In Fiji we’re starting to see some, the Solomon Islands have seen some. We’ve already seen a big event.”

Perhaps of more direct danger to the human race, recent research suggests that global warming will bring new diseases.

Ravens, rodents and rattlesnakes are moving to new locales as rainfall and temperatures shift over time. The pathogens and parasites that infect these organisms move, as well, creating the risk of these diseases spilling over from one species to another. This host-parasite relationship is a bellwether for broader changes in the environment, and understanding it could help people anticipate and respond to deadly diseases and economically devastating blights …

As the average temperature of the planet goes up and as humanity encroaches on wilderness, pathogens and the organisms they infect are moving into new habitats, increasing the risk of infecting native hosts. This is being played out for muskoxen and caribou with geographic expansion on Victoria Island [in Canada]. We see that climate and temperature have dramatic effects on their parasites. The result is often a greater number of infected animals, which in turn leads to mass die-offs. This can spell disaster for communities that hunt these animals for sustenance.

 

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What Are We Doing To the Planet? #10

February 13, 2015

The following articles about our impact on the planet caught my attention this week:

I began this series of posts after I read Capt. Charles Moore’s terrifying expose in “Plastic Ocean“.  Unfortunately, the latest study shows that things are getting worse not better since he published his book about plastic pollution on the high seas:

Some eight million metric tons of plastic waste makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, and the amount of the debris is likely to increase greatly over the next decade unless nations take strong measures to dispose of their trash responsibly, new research suggests … Jenna Jambeck, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia and lead author of the study, said the amount of plastic that entered the oceans in the year measured, 2010, might be as little as 4.8 million metric tons or as much as 12.7 million. The paper’s middle figure of eight million, she said, is the equivalent of “five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world”

Climate change has brought about a huge increase in the loss of sea ice — some 19,500 square miles of ice each year — and the loss continues to increase:

Sea ice increases in Antarctica do not make up for the accelerated Arctic sea ice loss of the last three decades, according to the stark findings of a new NASA study. As a whole, the planet has been shedding sea ice at an average annual rate of 13,500 square miles (35,000 square kilometers) since 1979, the equivalent of losing an area of sea ice larger than the state of Maryland every year. However, the rate of sea ice loss has recently doubled to now reach an alarming rate of nearly 20,000 square miles …

“One of the reasons people care about sea ice decreases is that sea ice is highly reflective whereas the liquid ocean is very absorptive,” [Claire] Parkinson [author of the study and climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md] said. “So when the area of sea ice coverage is reduced, there is a smaller sea ice area reflecting the sun’s radiation back to space. This means more retention of the sun’s radiation within the Earth system and further heating.”

Climate change is even having significant effects the remotest parts of Ecuador:

A study of three remote lakes in Ecuador led by Queen’s University researchers has revealed the vulnerability of tropical high mountain lakes to global climate change — the first study of its kind to show this. The data explains how the lakes are changing due to the water warming as the result of climate change. The results could have far-reaching consequences for Andean water resources as the lakes provide 60 per cent of the drinking water for Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador.

“Andean societies are amongst the most vulnerable when it comes to the impact of climate change,” says Dr. [Neal] Michelutti [lead author and a senior research scientist at Queen’s University’s Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab (PEARL)]. “Warming in the Andes is occurring at a rate nearly twice the global average and it’s already impacting water resources as shown in this research. These changes are also a sign of bigger changes that are coming.”

Finally, closer to home, fracking is threatening US harvests:

An estimated $1.2bn (£790m) in maize, soy and wheat crops may be at risk in US states where competition with industrial water users, especially fracking, is high … MSCI ESG Research has shown that for regional crops like cotton and sugar beet, the percentage of exposed acreage is up to six times higher as key growing areas such as North Dakota, Texas and California are experiencing water-intensive oil and gas booms.

As if we needed any more reasons to stop fracking!

 

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