Increase in burning of plastic ‘driving up emissions from waste disposal’

Increase in burning of plastic ‘driving up emissions from waste disposal’

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: November 16, 2020 SNIP: Carbon emissions from waste disposal are increasing because of the expansion of energy-from-waste incineration plants, a coalition of campaigners has warned. By 2030 the government’s push to increase incineration of waste will increase CO2 emissions by 10m tonnes a year, mostly from the burning of plastics, the groups said. They argue that the growth in energy-from-waste incineration means the UK will not be able to meet its commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In an open letter to the prime minister they are calling for a law requiring the waste sector to decarbonise by 2035, similar to legislation passed in the Scandinavian countries and Finland. Rembrandt Koppelaar, an environmental economist and co-author of the open letter, said: “The UK will not be able to deliver on its net zero commitments unless the government intervenes in the waste sector. “Without a change in government policy, we can expect large-scale expansion of energy-from-waste incineration to lock us into an additional 10m tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by 2030, primarily from the burning of plastics.” The amount of waste incinerated in the UK increased from 4.9m tonnes in 2014 to 10.8m tonnes in 2017-18 and is set to continue rising. Meanwhile, recycling rates have reached a plateau and the UK is expected to miss its 50% recycling target by the end of this year. Evidence presented to MPs last year suggested that areas that had increased levels of incineration of waste had correspondingly lower levels of recycling. The Guardian and Greenpeace revealed that incineration plants are also three times as likely...
The world’s largest wetlands are on fire. That’s a disaster for all of us

The world’s largest wetlands are on fire. That’s a disaster for all of us

SOURCE: CNN DATE: November 13, 2020 SNIP: The world watched as California and the Amazon went up in flames this year, but the largest tropical wetland on earth has been ablaze for months, largely unnoticed by the outside world. South America’s Pantanal region has been hit by the worst wildfires in decades. The blazes have already consumed about 28% of the vast floodplain that stretches across parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. They are still not completely under control. The fires have destroyed unique habitats and wrecked the livelihoods of many of the Pantanal’s diverse indigenous communities. But their damaging impact reaches far beyond the region. Wetlands like the Pantanal are Earth’s most effective carbon sinks — ecosystems that absorb and store more carbon than they release, keeping it away from the atmosphere. At roughly 200,000 square kilometers, the Pantanal comprises about 3% of the globe’s wetlands and plays a key role in the carbon cycle. When these carbon-rich ecosystems burn, vast amounts of heat-trapping gases are released back into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE) has detected more than 21,200 fires in the Pantanal biome so far this year, a figure that is already 69% higher than the full-year record from 2005, when INPE recorded roughly 12,500 fires. There were 8,106 fires in September alone — more than four times the historic average for the month. The Pantanal’s distinctive habitats rely on what scientists call the “flood pulse.” During the wet season between November and March, three quarters of the plain gets flooded, only for much of the water to...
Danger in the deeps: COVID‑19 spread through wastewater could devastate some marine mammal species

Danger in the deeps: COVID‑19 spread through wastewater could devastate some marine mammal species

SOURCE: Phys.org DATE: November 9, 2020 SNIP: Certain species of whales, seals and other endangered marine mammals could fall victim to COVID-19 infection through wastewater and sewage that seeps into their marine habitats, researchers at Dalhousie say in a new study that has found some of the animals to be highly susceptible to the virus. In a study published in Science of the Total Environment, the team describes how it used genomic mapping to determine which marine mammals would be vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They looked at key amino acids that the virus binds to and found that there were striking similarities between those in humans and in several marine mammals, including dolphins, beluga whales, seals and sea otters. Graham Dellaire (shown left), director of research in the Department of Pathology at Dalhousie, led the research that used a modeling approach to predict a marine mammal’s susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. The team found at least 15 marine mammal species were susceptible to infection from SARS-CoV-2 because of their ACE2 receptors—the critical protein required for the virus to enter and infect the cell. Importantly, more than half of the species determined to be vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 are already at risk globally. “Many of these species are threatened or critically endangered,” says Dr. Dellaire. “In the past, these animals have been infected by related coronaviruses that have caused both mild disease as well as life-threatening liver and lung damage.” The team predicts that the majority of whale, dolphin and porpoise species—18 out of 21—have the same or higher susceptibility to the virus as humans, while eight out of...
Government turning a blind eye to wildlife crime

Government turning a blind eye to wildlife crime

SOURCE: Yorkshire Bylines DATE: November 8, 2020 SNIP: The UK is known as a nation of animal-lovers, yet it’s a terrible place to be a wild animal (or plant or fungus). For ours is one of the most nature-deprived countries on the planet, the “green and pleasant land” a pure fiction. Chief responsibility for that lies with the supermarket and multinational-dictated food system that’s seen farmland turned to green desert, and the damage done by a decade of austerity to the support systems that are supposed to protect nature – Natural England seeing two-thirds of its funding slashed in that time. But a significant proportion of the damage being done isn’t just metaphorically criminal, but legally so. That fact was brought vividly to life last week, by the launch of what’s become (since 2017) an annual report on wildlife crime in England and Wales, by Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL), a coalition of 57 organisations that between them represent eight million members. I, and MPs and other peers, heard a succession of experts tell a tale of abuse, destruction, and government failure. It’s easy to get exercised about individual actions: the horror tales of badger baiting and hare coursing, or the wanton destruction of crucial habitat by cynical developers in pursuit of windfall profits. But the message that came through loud and clear last week was that it is government failure that’s allowing many of these crimes to occur, and certainly ensuring that they are very, rarely punished. There’s also concern that much wildlife-related crime is being enabled, or committed, online, with the report this year for the first...
An Underappreciated Danger of the New Space Age: Global Air Pollution

An Underappreciated Danger of the New Space Age: Global Air Pollution

SOURCE: Scientific American DATE: November 6, 2020 SNIP: The space industry is growing and innovating at a pace not seen since the days of the moon landings. Fifty years ago, nearly everything related to space was a government-sponsored project. In 21st-century space, launch vehicle and satellite finance are most often bottom-line corporate investments or public-private partnerships. Untethered from government leashes, the global space industry looks and operates increasingly like global aviation. Sustainability has not much been a concern for space systems development. Just like their jet engine cousins, rocket engines emit a variety of gases and particles into the atmosphere that can have regional and even global consequences. Even so, launch vehicle environmental impacts are typically disregarded by comparing jet and rocket fuel consumption in an overly simplified way. The argument goes like this: Rockets burn only 0.1 percent of the fuel that aircraft burn each year and are therefore only 0.1 percent of the emissions problem that aviation presents. But this is a case of false equivalence. Careful understanding of every phase of space flight shows that space emissions can impact the atmosphere in ways that are wholly different from, and in some cases larger than, aviation emissions. Unlike with aviation, every layer of the atmosphere sees space industry emissions. While jet emissions into the troposphere are quickly washed away to the surface by precipitation, rocket emissions into the stratosphere clean away only slowly. Stratospheric emissions accumulate year over year, adding up exhaust from all of Earth’s launches and reentries over the past four or five years. In fact, the fragile ozone layer resides in the stratosphere, near...
Arctic animals are migrating earlier in the year due to climate change

Arctic animals are migrating earlier in the year due to climate change

SOURCE: New Scientist DATE: November 5, 2020 SNIP: Animals in the Arctic, including reindeer and golden eagles, are migrating earlier due to climate change, say researchers who have gathered a huge amount of data to study the behaviour of 86 Arctic species over the past three decades. “We have the ability to monitor animal movements on a very large scale,” says Eliezer Gurarie at the University of Maryland. “It seems that animals are unknowingly responding and adapting to climatic changes, and have been doing for years.” Gurarie and his team used GPS tags and satellites to track the spring migration of more than 900 female reindeer over the past 15 years. They discovered that the females are migrating to give birth approximately a day earlier year on year, probably as a result of warming temperatures. Earlier birthing times can be risky in northern parts of the Arctic, says team member Gil Bohrer at Ohio State University. “There are higher chances of these offspring encountering strong freak storms,” he says. If they do, many will inevitably die because they cannot handle extreme conditions that can see up to half a metre of snow. Reindeer are already in decline, says Gurarie, and climate change is worsening the situation. This poses a threat to people living in the region who rely on them for fur and meat. Similarly, golden eagles – which usually nest in the Arctic tundra – have been starting their spring migration half a day earlier each year over the past 25 years. “The day-to-day variation of climate change is very small,” says Bohrer. “To understand how animals respond...