Earth Day: Our House Is On Fire

April 22, 2020

Greta Thunburg’s climate change group has issued a chilling new video highlighting the complacency of the world as our earth is being destroyed.

 


The Bright Side of Covid-19 Part 2

April 7, 2020

Further to my piece two weeks ago regarding the corona virus-related drop in pollution over China, we now have even more evidence that the deterioration in our atmosphere is entirely driven by man-made causes and not some “natural” cyclical cause.

The European Space Agency has released a set of images showing the improvement in NO2 levels over France, Italy, and Spain.

 

There is also a more detailed follow-up on the situation over China.


The Bright Side of Covid-19

March 22, 2020

The reduction in industrial activity around the globe due to the covid-19 virus is doing wonders for the atmosphere.  The following image is from Visual Capitalist.

 

The latest satellite images over China show the atmosphere over Beijing starting to degrade once again as restrictions are slowly lifted.

The data from the last few months and the months to come are the clearest proof imaginable that climate change is being driven by man-made emissions.  (I feel daft even having to say that, but I am aware of too many deniers out there who choose not to face facts.)  The key to the recovery post-virus will be to ensure that this data is at the core of decision-making from this time forward.


Climate Atlas For The Future

March 7, 2020

City Lab has a fascinating article on the economic, environmental, and social affects of the ongoing climate emergency.  We can argue causes and solutions, but the simple meteorological details based on observed facts and tested models exist, continue to grow in integrity and need to be taken account of.

The following maps and discussions are for the period 2080-2100, taken from the article.  Select map for a larger view.

“The broad takeaways are dire, as usual. Heat-related deaths in the southern U.S. could grow—but so could cold-related deaths in northern areas. Workers exposed to outdoor temperatures in Texas and the Gulf Coast would be most at risk for heat-related deaths, but everyone’s risk could be heightened.”

 

“According to GDP projections through 2099, more than three quarters of U.S. counties will be suffering economically because of the damage climate change wreaks; about a quarter will benefit. “The losses are largest in the regions that are already poorer on average (Southern, Central, and Mid-Atlantic), increasing inequality as value transfers to the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes Region, and New England,” the report finds.”

There are more examples in the article.  Well worth reading and contemplating.


The Sky Is The Limit

February 19, 2020

skys the limit


The Collapse of Recycling

February 15, 2020

According to the latest figures from a Pew Research poll, concerns over the environment are as important to the US public as is the economy:

As the research writers report:

“For the first time in Pew Research Center surveys dating back nearly two decades, nearly as many Americans say protecting the environment should be a top policy priority (64%) as say this about strengthening the economy (67%).  In addition, while a smaller share (52%) rates dealing with global climate change as a top priority, this is 14 percentage points higher than just three years ago. Today, similar shares rate climate change and improving the job situation (49%) as top policy priorities.”

However, just as public consciousness is rising, the everyday business of recycling is collapsing in North America.  The problem in large part is the failure of people to properly sort their recycling and the enormous human cost of re-sorting it at plants.  Axios recently visited a facility in Prince William County, Virginia, where the problems are manifest:

“It operates up to 22 hours a day to process about 550 tons of thrown out paper, plastic, aluminum and glass delivered there daily.  Despite the heavy machinery and increased automation involved, the process is still extremely dependent on humans.  On each shift, 28 “sorters” sift through the material as it rolls down a series of fast-moving conveyer belts. The workers spot and pull out non-recyclable trash from the stream so fast that they look like card dealers in a game of blackjack.  Contamination is a huge problem. People throw surprising things — Christmas trees, old carpet, shoes, diapers and even cinder blocks — into their recycling bins … [The facility] used to turn a healthy profit from processing recycled materials from a 50-mile radius. Now it’s having to pay vendors to truck material away, and is re-negotiating decades-old contracts with cities at higher rates — and explaining to consumers why they suddenly have to pay for curbside pick-up.”

Many cities are wondering whether the cost is worth it.  More than 60 cities in the States have cancelled their recycling programs completely, while others are restricting the materials they will accept.

” Alexandria, Virginia, and Katy, Texas, no longer collect glass. Baltimore County recently admitted it hasn’t recycled the glass it’s collected for the past 7 years. Hawaii County no longer accepts paper or plastic…

“If there’s no one in your local area to buy and recycle glass, you spend more fuel and carbon trucking it somewhere that does — and the benefit to the planet falls apart,” [waste manager Richard] Coupland said.”

Many of us have concerns with how we are treating our planet and wonder what just one person can do to help.  Recycling is one of the ways in which each can contribute and it is unfortunate to see the system falling apart.  I believe we need to tackle this problem at the other end, by making it vastly more expensive for producers to force packaging on us.  They need to be made to pay for the recycling and cleanup, not the consumer.

 

 


Vinyl Sounds Better But Kills The Planet

January 29, 2020

I know quite a few people who collect vinyl records.  Some, at least, consider themselves on the green end of the ecological spectrum, I am sure.  I wonder if they’ll continue their hobby after reading this disturbing article about the manufacture of PVC and the pollution that production causes.

“The process of producing PVC compound is complicated. There are numerous phases, a campus of buildings, tall silos, deep vats, busy machines, as well as many workers in hardhats, hairnets and safety glasses.

 

“PVC contains carcinogenic chemicals, and the operation produces toxic wastewater that the [world’s primary PVC production] company has been known to pour into the Chao Phraya River according to Greenpeace, which says TPC has “a history of environmental abuses” going back to the early 1990s.”

As in Thailand, the US has a bad history of PVC production:

“In the 70s, the Keysor-Century Corporation, located north of Los Angeles, supplied about 20m kilos of PVC a year to the US record industry. That amounts to about one-third of the total annual amount used in the country at the time.  Keysor-Century was an illegal polluter. The corporation had been under investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency since 1977. It was revisited by the EPA in the early 2000s, this time with the FBI, which resulted in a $4m fine and public apology for lying about exposing workers to toxic fumes, releasing toxic chemicals into the air and dumping toxic wastewater down the drain …

“During the US sales peaks of the LP, cassette and CD, the US recording industry was using almost 60m kilos of plastic a year. Using contemporary averages on greenhouse gas equivalent releases per pound of plastic production, as well as standard weight figures for each of the formats, that is equivalent to more than 140m kilos of greenhouse gas emissions each year, in the US alone. Music, like pretty much everything else, is caught up in petro-capitalism.”

So, environmentally speaking, streaming seems the better choice.

 


Greta’s Courage

October 19, 2019


The Sky Is The Limit

October 17, 2019

skys the limit


The Scythe, Modernity, & the Crash To Come

September 30, 2019

For those of you who are keen on fighting back against the tyranny of modern technology, you could do a lot worse than read Dark Ecology” by Paul Kingsnorth.  It is a fairly long piece (by internet standards) but worth every minute you spend with it.

Each summer, Kingsnorth teaches the use of scythes in England and Scotland and in this article he uses the scythe as a surrogate for other simple tools when compared to modern machinery.  He explains the delight one gets in using a scythe, but remarks that most people use brushcutters these days:

“Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better; they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes toward technology. Performance is not really the point, and neither is efficiency. Religion is the point: the religion of complexity. The myth of progress manifested in tool form. Plastic is better than wood. Moving parts are better than fixed parts. Noisy things are better than quiet things. Complicated things are better than simple things. New things are better than old things. We all believe this, whether we like it or not. It’s how we were brought up.”

He really hits the nail on the head when he confronts critics who claim that he and those like him are simple-minded back-to-the-earth idealist dreamers:

“Romanticizing the past” is a familiar accusation, made mostly by people who think it is more grown-up to romanticize the future. But it’s not necessary to convince yourself that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers lived in paradise in order to observe that progress is a ratchet, every turn forcing us more tightly into the gears of a machine we were forced to create to solve the problems created by progress…

Critics confuse “a desire for human-scale autonomy, and for the independent character, quirkiness, mess, and creativity that usually results from it, with a desire to retreat to some imagined ‘golden age.’ It’s a familiar criticism, and a lazy and boring one. Nowadays, when I’m faced with digs like this, I like to quote E. F. Schumacher, who replied to the accusation that he was a ‘crank’ by saying, ‘A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions’.”

Kingsnorth looks closely at the “green movement” of the last century, noting how badly it failed:

“The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing.”

Worse, he says, we now have neo-environmentalism, often described as simple “ecopragmatism” but which is “something rather different” as described by the PR blurb for Emma Marris’s Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, one of the movement’s canonical texts

For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature.

Or, as Peter Kareiva, says:

“Humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment, and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well.” Trying to protect large functioning ecosystems from human development is mostly futile; humans like development, and you can’t stop them from having it. Nature is tough and will adapt to this: “Today, coyotes roam downtown Chicago, and peregrine falcons astonish San Franciscans as they sweep down skyscraper canyons. . . . As we destroy habitats, we create new ones.” Now that “science” has shown us that nothing is “pristine” and nature “adapts,” there’s no reason to worry about many traditional green goals such as, for example, protecting rainforest habitats. “Is halting deforestation in the Amazon . . . feasible?” he asks. “Is it even necessary?”

Kingsnorth responds:

“If this sounds like the kind of thing that a right-wing politician might come out with, that’s because it is. But Kareiva is not alone. Variations on this line have recently been pushed by the American thinker Stewart Brand, the British writer Mark Lynas, the Danish anti-green poster boy Bjørn Lomborg, and the American writers Emma Marris, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Schellenberger. They in turn are building on work done in the past by other self-declared green “heretics” like Richard D. North, Brian Clegg, and Wilfred Beckerman.”

Kingsnorth argues that these neo-conservatives are misunderstanding the problem, probably deliberately:

“What do we value about the Amazon forest? Do people seek to protect it because they believe it is “pristine” and “pre-human”? Clearly not, since it’s inhabited and harvested by large numbers of tribal people, some of whom have been there for millennia. The Amazon is not important because it is “untouched”; it’s important because it is wild, in the sense that it is self-willed. It is lived in and off of by humans, but it is not created or controlled by them. It teems with a great, shifting, complex diversity of both human and nonhuman life, and no species dominates the mix. It is a complex, working ecosystem that is also a human-culture-system, because in any kind of worthwhile world, the two are linked.”

“The neo-environmentalists, needless to say, have no time for this kind of fluff. They have a great big straw man to build up and knock down, and once they’ve got that out of the way, they can move on to the really important part of their message. Here’s Kareiva, giving us the money shot in Breakthrough Journal with fellow authors Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz:

Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.

There it is, in black and white: the wild is dead, and what remains of nature is for people. We can effectively do what we like, and we should.”

He looks at the future through the eyes of the past:

“Look at the proposals of the neo-environmentalists in this light and you can see them as a series of attempts to dig us out of the progress traps that their predecessors knocked us into. Genetically modified crops, for example, are regularly sold to us as a means of “feeding the world.” But why is the world hungry? At least in part because of the previous wave of agricultural improvements—the so-called Green Revolution, which between the 1940s and 1970s promoted a new form of agriculture that depended upon high levels of pesticides and herbicides, new agricultural technologies, and high-yielding strains of crops. The Green Revolution is trumpeted by progressives as having supposedly “fed a billion people” who would otherwise have starved. And maybe it did; but then we had to keep feeding them—or should I say us?—and our children. In the meantime it had been discovered that the pesticides and herbicides were killing off vast swaths of wildlife, and the high-yield monoculture crops were wrecking both the health of the soil and the crop diversity, which in previous centuries had helped prevent the spread of disease and reduced the likelihood of crop failure.

It is in this context that we now have to listen to lectures from the neo-environmentalists and others insisting that GM crops are a moral obligation if we want to feed the world and save the planet: precisely the arguments that were made last time around.”

“What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.”

This is a sad pass we have come to.  Humanity has been too clever by half.


An Evening Out With The Right People

May 16, 2017

Last night I attended a presentation by Vivian Krause, the pro-oil Harper Tory who claims the environmental movement (and much else) in Canada has been hijacked by American economic interests. She drew a decent crowd to Federico’s Supper Club on Commercial which was just about the right size for the gathering; a crowd dominated by supporters of the interchangeable BC Liberals and Federal Tories, plus a good number of anti-Vision Vancouver folks, most of whom, I would guess, support the NPA locally.

Knowing her audience, she began with a section on the foreign funding for Vision Vancouver and Gregor Robertson in particular.  However, nothing she talked about was new. Even a know-nothing like me has been writing about that Billionaire Boy’s Club for many years. Perhaps she gave a bit more detail, but nothing that could not have been inferred from what we already knew.  I have been actively seeking the demise of Vision for years and years (as a hundred or more entries in this blog will attest) but she added nothing to the argument. And, frankly, the foreign funding of Vision is the least part of their callous unpleasantness.

She then parlayed  the Tides Foundation funding of Robertson into a much wider conspiracy in which American oil interests, working through a network of supposedly “progressive” foundations (Hewlett, Rockefeller, Gates etc) , has provided “$600 million” to a large number of “Canadian” environment groups. The entire purpose of this campaign, apparently, is to make sure Alberta oil stays in North America and does not achieve a world price on the open market. She claims the environmental movement are dupes to this evil cabal and she proclaims herself shocked (and apparently horrified) that the ecological movement is highly professional and well-funded, with PR companies and copy writers and not just hippy protesters.

Finally, she expanded her thesis to encompass an entire tin-hat empire of anti-Canada conspiracy:  including the creation of huge areas of land where any form of industrialisation or farming or extraction would be completely banned. a personal attack on the editor of “Science” magazine, and an imputation that the Canada Revenue Agency is either in cahoots with this cabal or somehow otherwise too distracted to lay charges against improper charities.

This was a very one-sided presentation (or “fair and balanced” in Fox News terms) and I don’t blame her for that; it was received with great applause. It was no surprise therefore that she didn’t mention the foreign donations to the BC Liberals (in what is now just about the only jurisdiction in the world that allows political donations from outside the country) or the massive infusions of pro-oil cash from the Kansas Koch brothers who subsidise the Fraser Institute and other right-wing groups, and who now own a majority of Alberta tar sands and thus would be the major beneficiaries if Alberta could achieve higher prices — more profits for them and more price increases for us.

While I don’t really care to give someone with her views any tips, it has to be said that her presentation was a bit of a mess. It was too long, by far, and full of impenetrable spreadsheets and indistinct images of “donation cover letters” and similar material.  She began her lecture by immediately showing this kind of document without any context. She would have done much better to slow down and spend two minutes up front (and between each of the segments of her story) giving an executive summary which would have helped the audience make more sense of the documents that were to follow. And then to limit the documents she showed to those that were most relevant to her case. As it stands, it was all a bit of a mish-mash.

But I am glad I went because, as they say, you need to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.


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.

 

Previous What Are We Doing posts


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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What Are We Doing To The Planet #9

February 6, 2015

The following articles about our damage to the planet and each other caught my attention this week.

 

A new study reveals the devastating effect of pollutants on the future of the albatross population and by inference on the future of many other seabirds:

“Persistent organic pollutant and mercury have long-term effects on breeding performances in wandering albatross, which may lead to population decline,” Aurelie Goutte, co-author and lecturer at Ecole Pratique des Hatues Etudes … Sporting the world’s longest wingspan, the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) is a fierce marine predator, residing at the top of the trophic web or food chain. But the massive seabird, found throughout the Southern Ocean and North Pacific, is also threatened with extinction… “Our population models suggested that the actual Hg and POPs levels could decelerate the population growth rate (0.991), whereas the population growth rate would increase (1.027) with zero concentrations of blood Hg and POPs,” the researchers write in their paper.  As Goutte explains, “these pollutants (PCB, DDT, etc) are already prohibited. But they are persistent in the environment, they are mobile and may reach remote areas and they biomagnify across the trophic web, which means that top predators are the most exposed.”

A more general survey of endangered wildlife in Asia is captured in a useful photo essay from the Guardian.

In a previous post, harmful concentrations of arsenic in water supplies was highlighted.  A series of new studies are about to be published that indicate the breadth of the problem:

“Naturally occurring arsenic in private wells threatens people in many U.S. states and parts of Canada, according to a package of a dozen scientific papers to be published next week. The studies, focused mainly on New England but applicable elsewhere, say private wells present continuing risks due to almost nonexistent regulation in most states, homeowner inaction and inadequate mitigation measures.

The failure of food chains — and most of us, really — to recycle waste products is highlighted in a new report.

“Overall, Americans recycle at the lamentable rate of 34.5 percent and recycle plastic packaging at the even measlier rate of 14 percent. So the majority of that food packaging is ending up in landfills, or on the street as litter, where it may eventually get swept into the ocean. There, our wrappers and cans and cups become a much bigger problem — a direct threat to marine life that may ingest it and die. According to a report published Thursday by the environmental groups As You Sow and the Natural Resources Defense Council, most of the major players in the restaurant and beverage industry are not doing a whole lot to ameliorate this problem.

Finally, ancient glaciers are fast disappearing in Norway. As reported in ScienceDaily:

“Norway is dotted with small glaciers and permanent snow patches that contain all sorts of archaeological treasures, from ancient shoes to 5000-year-old arrowheads. But climate change has turned up the temperature on these snowfields and they are vanishing at an astonishing rate… With one or two more hot summers, they will be history.

 

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What Are We Doing To The Planet? #8

January 30, 2015

The following articles regarding human impact on the planet caught my attention this week:

 

According to a well supported report pollution is now the leading cause of death in developing countries.

In 2012, pollution – in the form of contaminated soil, water, and both indoor and outdoor air – was responsible for 8.4 million deaths in developing countries, finds Pollution: The Silent Killer of Millions in Poor Countries. That’s almost three times more deaths than those caused by malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis combined: Malaria claimed 600,000 lives in 2012, HIV/AIDS caused 1.5 million deaths and tuberculosis killed 900,000 individuals.

Why should we in the developed world worry (other than for humanity’s sake)? Because…

… polluted air from newly-industrialized countries can blow into your hometown; mercury from mining and coal plants can find its way into the fish you’re having for dinner; and arsenic and other toxins may show up in the rice and other food in your pantry.

Similar poisons are already working their way into our children’s health in the form of pesticides:

A commonly used pesticide may alter the development of the brain’s dopamine system — responsible for emotional expression and cognitive function – and increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, according to a new Rutgers study … Using data from the Centers for Disease Control, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) the study analyzed health care questionnaires and urine samples of 2,123 children and adolescents.  Researchers asked parents whether a physician had ever diagnosed their child with ADHD and cross-referenced each child’s prescription drug history to determine if any of the most common ADHD medications had been prescribed. Children with higher pyrethroid pesticide metabolite levels in their urine were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Finally this week, dams on the Missouri River are killing off the sturgeon.  The dams apparently cause dead zones where the oxygen levels are too low to support the survival of young sturgeon.

“Pallid sturgeon come from a genetic line that has lived on this planet for tens of millions of years; yet it has been decades since anyone has documented any of the enormous fish successfully producing young that survive to adulthood in the upper Missouri River basin … “This research shows that the transition zone between the freely flowing river and reservoirs is an ecological sink – a dead zone – for pallid sturgeon,” [Professor Christopher] Guy said. “Essentially, hatched sturgeon embryos die in the oxygen-depleted sediments in the transition zones.”

 

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