Environment

‘Dark Waters’ Tells the Origin Story of a Public Health Nightmare. We’re Still Living It.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/12/2019 - 1:55am in

On a docu-drama that recounts the first major suit against toxic "forever chemicals" and what's being done about them now.

The Fixer: Turning Farm Workers into Farm Owners

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/12/2019 - 4:47am in

Welcome back to The Fixer, our weekly briefing of solutions reported elsewhere. This week: an incubator gives agricultural workers space to grow their own crops. Plus, carbon offsets start surging, and one of America’s first stormwater farms reports on the soggy success of its first rain-soaked spring.

Room to grow

Farming is a tough business in America. There are 162,572 fewer farms today than there were just 12 years ago, in part because starting a new farm is such a heavy lift. It requires not just costly machinery and land, but business savvy and connections. To help turn the tide, incubator farms are helping field workers overcome these hurdles and start their own farms.

Nearly 200 farm incubators are now active in the U.S. One is the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), which offers a 10-month course in agribusiness management. Tuition is income-based, and most enrollees pay only about $300 to learn everything from marketing strategies to meeting organics standards. Graduates of the program pitch their farm concept to the incubator, and those selected are rented plots on ALBA’s 100-acre farm for as little as $130 per quarter acre. As the participants’ farms profit and grow, ALBA rents them more and more land, until their farms have reliable enough revenues to be spun off and sustain themselves.

Nearly half of ALBA’s 104 graduates own their own farm today, an impressive success rate by startup standards. “They’re doing something right,” one industry rep told the New York Times. And most of those who decided not to start their own farm still work in the agriculture industry, but report increases in their incomes thanks to the business training they received from the incubator.

“I came a long way,” one graduate who now owns an organic broccoli farm told the Times. “They taught me a lot—not just how to grow, but the business part.”

Read more at the New York Times

Carbon offsets hit their stride

The Guardian reports that public pressure is driving “huge increases” in carbon offsetting, in which companies invest in carbon-reducing efforts elsewhere to offset their own emissions.

According to ClimateCare, a company that helps large corporations offset their emissions, the amount of carbon offset during the last 18 months increased from two tons to 20. Regular folks appear to be investing more heavily, too—the NGO Climate Stewards told the paper that carbon offsetting by individuals and small companies had increased by 156 percent and 80 percent year on year, respectively. 

Credit: International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance

Some industry observers chalk up the shift to what they call the “Greta Effect,” named for the 16-year-old Swede who has led a series of massive global climate protests. These protests have increased the pressure on businesses to mitigate their effects on the environment. “We are seeing the Greta effect, the impact of Extinction Rebellion, the impact of the words of David Attenborough, the school strikes, all of these coming together,” said one carbon offset advocate.

The offset model has its critics, who say it’s simply a way for those with money to shift responsibility onto those who can’t afford to pass the buck. But global carbon and renewable energy markets have become far better regulated over the last decade, and participants are held to tougher standards than they used to be, according to advocates. 

“People are willing to take action and are looking for ways to take action,” said the director of Gold Standard, which monitors the integrity of carbon offsetting schemes. “We see it as a way that someone can feel empowered and reduce their carbon footprint.”

Read more at the Guardian

Going with the flow

Last year, one of America’s first stormwater farms opened in Peoria, Illinois, a bucolic swathe of poplar trees and planting beds smack in the middle of the city. Known as the Well Farm, its beds of lettuce, kale and other vegetables capture runoff from a one-and-a-half acre section of the city when it rains. Now well on its way to maturity, Peoria’s stormwater farm got its first test this year.

It was an especially wet spring for the city—14 inches of rain fell from May through July. Normally, much of that rain would have flowed directly into the Illinois River. According to a report recently released by the city, however, 1.1 million gallons of this stormwater was diverted to the farm, which absorbed 98 percent of it. 

Posted by The Well Farm at Voris Field on Friday, July 6, 2018

 

As one of the engineers working on the project put it, “This area of the country has a hydrology… so that in the past, most of the rainwater that fell actually soaked into the ground. So now we’re looking at some of nature’s wisdom to exploit some of that capacity of plants and soil to keep [the rainwater] from getting into the combined sewer system.”

The farm does double-duty as a revenue generator for the city. An impact assessment found that the jobs and harvestable crops from the farm generated $2.8 million in economic activity, or $1.50 for every dollar invested. And there’s plenty of room to scale—the EPA has identified 860 other cities where overflow from combined sewer systems is a water pollution priority.

Read more at Next City

The post The Fixer: Turning Farm Workers into Farm Owners appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Wealthy Countries’ Approach to Climate Change Condemns Hundreds of Millions of People to Suffer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/12/2019 - 7:43pm in

Emerging economies want large scale subsidies from their richer brethren to pay for them to move to green energy sources.

J.D Alt: The People’s Money (Part 4)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/12/2019 - 1:55am in

Why a Green New Deal looks like it will create a money, as in spending, as in inflation problem. Rest assured, there is an answer....

An Introduction to the State of Energy Storage in the U.S.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 9:14pm in

A look at energy storage options in connection with wind and solar power is not entirely reassuring.

Don’t Look, Don’t See: Pesticides in the MSM

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 4:00pm in

Colin Todhunter The UK-based Independent online newspaper recently published an article about a potential link between air pollution from vehicles and glaucoma. It stated that according to a new study air pollution is linked to the eye condition that causes blindness. The report explained that researchers had looked at vision tests carried out on more …

Yes, the world is paying attention to Australia’s climate inaction

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 11:48am in

That’s the title of my latest piece in Inside Story Opening paras

Like their counterparts in many other countries, members of Australia’s political class are frequently accused of living inside a self-regarding bubble. That’s certainly true when it comes to climate policy. But bubbles can be punctured by shocks from the outside, and one arrived earlier this month in the shape of a demand from the European Union, led by France, that Australia must make stronger climate commitments if it wants a trade agreement with Europe.

Before looking at the EU position, it’s worth considering how far removed from reality our political class has become. As bushfires raged through October and November, a bipartisan consensus emerged: any discussion of the relationship between the fire catastrophe and climate change, let alone any suggestion of a policy response, would be divisive and unnecessary. Many media outlets were happy to go along with it.

The same willingness to ignore the deeper issues extends to climate-related policy more broadly. As energy minister, Angus Taylor has repeatedly and egregiously misled the public about key aspects of his portfolio. He has denounced renewable energy, made spurious claims about the benefits of coal-fired power, and promoted the government’s claim to be observing our emissions-reduction commitments while vetoing any policy action that might promote that goal.

For all of this, he has had a free pass from Labor and most of the media. Their attention has been focused on a series of trivial scandals, culminating in the publication of a forged document used to accuse the Sydney City Council of hypocrisy. These transgressions may or may not cost Taylor his job, but their pursuit will do nothing to tackle the climate emergency.

More over the fold

This mindset helps explain why the sudden discovery that the world, including the European Union, is paying attention to our lack of action on climate — and may actually do something about — has come as such a nasty surprise. France has taken the lead in these demands, but there is no sign that they won’t be supported by any major EU member.

To recap: in line with its refusal to sign trade agreements with countries that have failed to ratify and implement the Paris agreements, the European Union is demanding a stronger commitment to reducing emissions as a precondition for any new trade agreements. In Australia’s case, it has also made more specific demands, including an end to our use of high-sulphur petrol, which is more polluting than would be allowed in India or China and is part of the reason why the government has rejected tighter fuel efficiency standards.

Australia’s trade minister, Simon Birmingham, has described France’s push to force Australia to adopt climate-change targets as “unprecedented.” It’s a claim that suggests he hasn’t been paying enough attention to his job. Far from being a novel demand, this is a standard part of the EU negotiating position, and Australia is unlikely to secure an exemption — particularly now we’ve been specifically identified as being unfit to speak at this week’s UN Climate Summit.

The European Union, again led by France, has made exactly the same demand of Britain in relation to any post-Brexit trade deal, and of the United States as a precondition for any trade agreement. Canada, which signed a trade deal with Europe in 2017, has recently agreed to add a joint commitment to the Paris agreement. The EU deal with Japan, also signed in 2017, includes similar terms.

With the American political system largely paralysed, the European Union has emerged as a source of global standards. We’ve seen one effect of this in our email inboxes, with organisations of all kinds rushing to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation by seeking explicit consent for their use of our data.

There is every reason to suppose that the same pattern will emerge in relation to climate clauses in trade agreements. One of the knottier features of these agreements is “rules of origin,” designed to prevent one of the signatories from exploiting an agreement by importing goods from a third country, repackaging them and then exporting them to their partner country. As one of the most notorious laggards on climate, Australia is likely to fall foul of these rules in relation to any country that signs or updates an agreement with the EU.

Of course, as long as the Trump administration remains in office, the effects will remain limited, particularly if China persists in its shift back towards coal. But if Trump is defeated, an incoming Democratic administration is unlikely to look kindly on his global allies, including the Morrison government. Moreover, with scepticism about free trade dominant in the Democratic Party, the United States will probably match Europe in refusing deals with countries that are cheating on their Paris commitments.

For Australia’s current leaders, the worst case would arise if Washington offered to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership but demanded commitments on climate be built in to a revised deal. It’s unlikely, but by no means impossible.

The EU demand is a warning to our leaders that a climate policy based on appeasing culture warriors and narrow interest groups amounts to an attempt to cheat the rest of the world by free riding on their efforts. It won’t go unpunished for long.

Ban the Bag!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 7:41am in

One hundred twenty-seven countries have introduced regulations like bans and fees to cut down on single-use plastic bags… the kind every deli and bodega still hand out here in New York where I live. This is great news. Plastic bags aren’t just an eyesore — they cause major environmental damage. Thankfully, there is evidence that these bans and fees have begun to have an effect.

One of the most ambitious of these initiatives had been in India, which vowed just last year to eliminate single-use bags entirely by 2022. But in October, officials called off the bag ban, apparently caving to industry pressure. Workers who believed their jobs were threatened by the ban also pushed back. I saw this sign when I was in India this past December:

Credit: David Byrne

There’s no debating that India desperately needs to ban plastic bags, and its sudden reversal shows how political and economic pressures can derail even much-needed efforts. Here is the beach near Mumbai… catastrophic. 

Do the plastic profession workers actually have a point? Couldn’t the plastic containers and bags be replaced by other packaging — paper or reusable bags — and jobs be created in the process?

This is not merely a cosmetic problem. Plastic bags are doing serious harm to all kinds of life on the planet. Even domestic animals like cows die from ingesting these things. In Kenya and other places, where cows are a measure of one’s wealth, there is a huge incentive to prevent your life’s savings from vanishing due to a plastic bag. Plastic bags also clog drains, which causes flooding, and the damage they’re inflicting on ocean life is disrupting the whole food chain. 

Plastic is not just a water problem, it gets caught in trees, endangers wildlife, clogs drains and causes all sorts of ecological and health hazards. Credit: Michael Coghlan/Flickr

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle (who has walked untethered on the ocean floor at a depth no one else has ever matched) has written extensively about the intertwined fates of humans and the ocean: “Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.” 

Many kinds of plastic eventually break down and flow into the soil and the oceans as microplastics — tiny shards of plastic less than five millimeters big. Fish eat these particles, and we eat the fish, which means that just like the cows and the turtles, our bodies are filled with plastic bits.

Manufactured microbeads from exfoliants are only one type of microplastic. Credit: Greenpeace

 Malene Møhl of the Danish Ecocouncil says:

“Microplastics are more jagged and porous than large pieces of plastic, making them like little sponges that soak up toxins from the seas. When animals mistake microplastic for food—like fish eggs or plankton—they also ingest the chemicals the plastic contains. If the plastic doesn’t stop up their digestive systems and cause starvation, the chemicals in the plastic kill them slowly over time.”

These microplastics affect the whole of ocean life, from the organisms lowest on the food chain all the way to the ones at the top. According to the Guardian, mussels are coming unstuck because of microplastics:

When blue mussels were exposed to doses of non-biodegradable microplastics over 52 days, they lost about half their power to stick to surfaces…If mussels are losing their grip in the wild…the effects will be felt beyond the mollusc population. Mussels cling together and form reefs, which help them to breed, and shelter myriad other marine animals and plants, playing an important role in the marine ecosystem.

At this point, at the scale humans are using and discarding plastic, it is no longer the “cheap” option. From a report produced by the World Economic Forum:

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates the costs arising from single-use plastics, together with those of the greenhouse gases emitted during production, to be $40 billion. This staggering figure exceeds the current plastic industry’s profit pool and further strengthens the arguments for why current plastic production and consumption must be curbed. It simply no longer makes financial, social or environmental sense.

Single-use plastic bags are not essential to us. They cost us money and are detrimental to our way of life, so it’s time to get rid of them.

Who is getting rid of plastic bags?

Countries like England, Scotland, Wales and Italy are trying a bag tax rather than a complete ban. Shoppers who ask for a bag in those countries pay extra. This strategy has been proven elsewhere, including in a growing number of U.S. cities and states.

From One Green Planet:

Research has shown that whenever such a levy was introduced in other countries, plastic bag usage tends to decrease quickly. When Ireland introduced a 20 cent levy on plastic bags in 2002, usage of the bags declined by 90 percent (that’s about one million fewer plastic bags), with customers now more inclined to bring reusable bags with them to the store.

A few of the many countries banning or taxing plastic bags:

Eritrea 

Eritrea banned plastic bags in its capital back in 2002, and followed up with a nationwide ban three years later. The result has been a dramatic decrease in use—most Eritreans today use nylon, cloth or straw bags—and a subsequent drop in drain blockage. Keeping drains clear helps prevent health hazards from excess sewage and wastewater, which pools to create breeding grounds for bacteria. (Yuck.)

Morocco

Before Morocco banned plastic bags in 2016, Moroccans used more plastic bags than any other country besides the United States. Since the ban took effect, however, the consumption of raw materials used in the manufacture of plastic bags in Morocco has fallen by half. Authorities seized 421 tons of plastic bags in the ban’s first year, proving they’re serious about enforcement.

China 

China began restricting plastic bags in 2008. A decade later, enforcement and scale issues remain. Though a survey conducted in the ban’s first year found a 60 to 80 percent decrease in their use in supermarkets, more recent studies have found that up to 78 percent of Chinese retailers don’t fully comply with the restrictions.

New Zealand

This country has one of the world’s newest plastic bag bans—in August 2018, Kiwis were told they would be phased out, and the ban officially took effect on July 1, 2019.

Kenya 

Kenya is home to the toughest penalties of all. Cattle are currency for some farmers in Kenya, so seeing your cows die after eating plastic bags is like watching your nest egg vanish. As of August 2017, Kenya has enforced a total ban, with fines and a four-year jail term (!) for making or importing plastic bags. Wow.

Given the ubiquity of single-use plastic bags, banning them is a major effort, but it seems the momentum is there and even growing. In our lifetimes, we may even see these bags eliminated from the Earth. This is as much about changing social norms — what constitutes acceptable behavior and practices — as it is about a harmful product. As  more bans take hold and the word gets out it will soon be socially unacceptable to be seen using or giving out single-use plastic bags. As with other habits that have become unacceptable, they will eventually vanish and become a memory.

The post Ban the Bag! appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Waste Watch: Fashion Rental Services Expand, NYC Tackles Commercial Textile Waste

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 3:15am in

More retailers join the clothing rental party, but that won’t seriously dent the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

Decrying ‘Utterly Inadequate’ Efforts to Tackle Climate Crisis, UN Chief Declares ‘Our War Against Nature Must Stop’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/12/2019 - 9:00pm in

Climate change: "The point of no return is no longer over the horizon," António Guterres warned ahead of COP 25. "It is in sight and hurtling toward us."

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