Tag Archives: Pollution


Europe warns of Brazilian trade boycott over fires

Appalled by more forest loss and worse wildfires, eight European countries warn of a possible Brazilian trade boycott.

SÃO PAULO, 21 September, 2020 − There was international concern over the forest fires which swept the Amazon last year. This year’s devastation looks set to be still more severe. And it won’t go without vigorous protest, and possible action: a Brazilian trade boycott.

Six EU countries and the UK have sent an open letter to the Brazilian government protesting at Brazil’s environmental policy and threatening a boycott.

Fires in two of Brazil’s most important biomes (areas of the Earth  that can be classified according to the plants and animals that live in them), the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands area, have reached record numbers of fires.

The seven countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom), are signatories to the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, set up in 2015 to ensure sustainable commodity supply chains. Their focus is on deforestation and sustainable palm oil.

Worse than 2019

Their letter (which is supported by a non-member of the Partnership, Belgium) was prompted by evidence that this year’s fires in the Amazon are going to be even worse than those last year, which led to worldwide protests against the Brazilian government. In the first two weeks of September 2020 more fires have been recorded than during the entire month of September last year.

In addition, not only is the Amazon burning: the Pantanal is also seeing a record number of fires. An area the size of Belgium (almost 3 million hectares) has already been burnt. The Pantanal is a wildlife sanctuary, and untold millions of animals, birds and reptiles have been burned to death or have died from smoke inhalation, in what is probably one of the worst-ever extinctions of wildlife.

The fires in the Pantanal have been facilitated by an unprecedented drought, leaving rivers and streams dry, but police are investigating evidence that they were started deliberately by farmers seeking more grassland for their cattle. The Pantanal is also home to millions of cattle.

The letter’s signatories express alarm at the growth in deforestation which has led to the fires, pointing out that in the past Brazil successfully expanded agricultural production while reducing forest clearing.

Supermarkets intervene

“There is growing concern among consumers, companies, investors and European civil society about the present rates of deforestation”, they say.

Recently two of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains, Edeka and Lidl, asked the German government to put pressure on Brazil to reduce deforestation.

For Marcio Astrini, of the Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory, the letter will influence the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which still has to be ratified by most European parliaments.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology, which favours environmental crime in detriment to productive forces and the comparative advantages which Brazil enjoyed”, he said.

Global protest

President Bolsonaro and his ministers, who against all the evidence continue to deny the severity of the fires in the Amazon, downplayed the importance of the letter, dismissing it as a “trade strategy” of the Europeans.

But it is not only the Europeans who are worried about what’s happening in the Amazon. A few days ago 230 agribusiness companies and NGOs joined forces to present the government with a list of proposals for ending deforestation (in Brazilian Portuguese)

The group, which includes WWF Brazil, the World Resources Institute, Imazon and Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), as well as some of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, like Bayer, Danone, Unilever, Natura, JBS, Marfrig and Amaggi, says that a rapid decrease in deforestation is fundamental, not only for environmental but for economic reasons too.

It wants a return to regular monitoring and application of fines for illegal clearing, which the Bolsonaro government has effectively sabotaged by cutting funds for environmental agencies.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology”

It says access to official funds should be conditional upon socio-environmental criteria, and attempts by private landowners to declare themselves owners of areas located within protected public lands should be stopped.

In other words, what it is demanding is not rocket science, but the enforcement of existing laws, instead of the illegality which the Bolsonaro government has indirectly encouraged.

Neither the Amazon nor the Pantanal, both humid areas, catches fire spontaneously. Huge areas illegally cleared last year are being set on fire to prepare the land for farming. Trees were felled en masse by big chains stretched between tractors that topple everything in their path.

This year the felled vegetation is being burned to clear the land for cattle or soy. Between January 2019 and April 2020 an area of over 4,500 sq kms of Amazon forest was cleared.

Catastrophe foretold

The fires spread easily because of tinder-dry conditions, and because the environment ministry failed to release funds for firefighting until the dry season was well under way.

There were warnings. In June IPAM declared that the deforestation of the last year and a half in the Amazon could herald a catastrophe in the region. “If 100% is burnt, an unprecedented health calamity will add to the effects of Covid-19”, it said.

The fires have covered towns and cities in the Amazon with huge clouds of sooty smoke, leading to thousands of people, including babies and small children, being hospitalised for breathing problems, as reported in a study published by Human Rights Watch, IPAM and IPES (the Health Policies Study Institute), on 26 August.

The fires’ impact is not confined to the Amazon region: black clouds of sooty particles are spreading south and are expected to reach São Paulo, Brazil’s major metropolis, within a few days. Pressure for a Brazilian trade boycott is liable to intensify. − Climate News Network

Appalled by more forest loss and worse wildfires, eight European countries warn of a possible Brazilian trade boycott.

SÃO PAULO, 21 September, 2020 − There was international concern over the forest fires which swept the Amazon last year. This year’s devastation looks set to be still more severe. And it won’t go without vigorous protest, and possible action: a Brazilian trade boycott.

Six EU countries and the UK have sent an open letter to the Brazilian government protesting at Brazil’s environmental policy and threatening a boycott.

Fires in two of Brazil’s most important biomes (areas of the Earth  that can be classified according to the plants and animals that live in them), the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands area, have reached record numbers of fires.

The seven countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom), are signatories to the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, set up in 2015 to ensure sustainable commodity supply chains. Their focus is on deforestation and sustainable palm oil.

Worse than 2019

Their letter (which is supported by a non-member of the Partnership, Belgium) was prompted by evidence that this year’s fires in the Amazon are going to be even worse than those last year, which led to worldwide protests against the Brazilian government. In the first two weeks of September 2020 more fires have been recorded than during the entire month of September last year.

In addition, not only is the Amazon burning: the Pantanal is also seeing a record number of fires. An area the size of Belgium (almost 3 million hectares) has already been burnt. The Pantanal is a wildlife sanctuary, and untold millions of animals, birds and reptiles have been burned to death or have died from smoke inhalation, in what is probably one of the worst-ever extinctions of wildlife.

The fires in the Pantanal have been facilitated by an unprecedented drought, leaving rivers and streams dry, but police are investigating evidence that they were started deliberately by farmers seeking more grassland for their cattle. The Pantanal is also home to millions of cattle.

The letter’s signatories express alarm at the growth in deforestation which has led to the fires, pointing out that in the past Brazil successfully expanded agricultural production while reducing forest clearing.

Supermarkets intervene

“There is growing concern among consumers, companies, investors and European civil society about the present rates of deforestation”, they say.

Recently two of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains, Edeka and Lidl, asked the German government to put pressure on Brazil to reduce deforestation.

For Marcio Astrini, of the Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory, the letter will influence the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which still has to be ratified by most European parliaments.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology, which favours environmental crime in detriment to productive forces and the comparative advantages which Brazil enjoyed”, he said.

Global protest

President Bolsonaro and his ministers, who against all the evidence continue to deny the severity of the fires in the Amazon, downplayed the importance of the letter, dismissing it as a “trade strategy” of the Europeans.

But it is not only the Europeans who are worried about what’s happening in the Amazon. A few days ago 230 agribusiness companies and NGOs joined forces to present the government with a list of proposals for ending deforestation (in Brazilian Portuguese)

The group, which includes WWF Brazil, the World Resources Institute, Imazon and Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), as well as some of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, like Bayer, Danone, Unilever, Natura, JBS, Marfrig and Amaggi, says that a rapid decrease in deforestation is fundamental, not only for environmental but for economic reasons too.

It wants a return to regular monitoring and application of fines for illegal clearing, which the Bolsonaro government has effectively sabotaged by cutting funds for environmental agencies.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology”

It says access to official funds should be conditional upon socio-environmental criteria, and attempts by private landowners to declare themselves owners of areas located within protected public lands should be stopped.

In other words, what it is demanding is not rocket science, but the enforcement of existing laws, instead of the illegality which the Bolsonaro government has indirectly encouraged.

Neither the Amazon nor the Pantanal, both humid areas, catches fire spontaneously. Huge areas illegally cleared last year are being set on fire to prepare the land for farming. Trees were felled en masse by big chains stretched between tractors that topple everything in their path.

This year the felled vegetation is being burned to clear the land for cattle or soy. Between January 2019 and April 2020 an area of over 4,500 sq kms of Amazon forest was cleared.

Catastrophe foretold

The fires spread easily because of tinder-dry conditions, and because the environment ministry failed to release funds for firefighting until the dry season was well under way.

There were warnings. In June IPAM declared that the deforestation of the last year and a half in the Amazon could herald a catastrophe in the region. “If 100% is burnt, an unprecedented health calamity will add to the effects of Covid-19”, it said.

The fires have covered towns and cities in the Amazon with huge clouds of sooty smoke, leading to thousands of people, including babies and small children, being hospitalised for breathing problems, as reported in a study published by Human Rights Watch, IPAM and IPES (the Health Policies Study Institute), on 26 August.

The fires’ impact is not confined to the Amazon region: black clouds of sooty particles are spreading south and are expected to reach São Paulo, Brazil’s major metropolis, within a few days. Pressure for a Brazilian trade boycott is liable to intensify. − Climate News Network

Lethal price of climate inertia far exceeds action

Climate change will impose a lethal price if we do not all pay the far smaller cost of confronting it.

LONDON, 10 September, 2020 – In the hotter world of climate change, it won’t just be the glaciers that melt: national and regional economies, big business, government and even the multinationals will all pay a lethal price.

If the planet becomes 4°C warmer by 2100, then many regions could see a 10% fall in economic output. They’d be the lucky ones. In the tropics, the economic losses could be double that.

There are of course ways to limit losses and save lives. US researchers believe that if a quarter of all motorists in the US switched to electric vehicles, the nation could save $17bn a year in the costs of climate change and air pollution. If three fourths of drivers switched to cars fuelled by renewable electricity, savings could tip $70bn.

Both studies are specimens of the kind of economic reasoning – always arguable and often intensely-argued – that necessarily must make “what-if” calculations about the notional costs to society of carbon dioxide emissions and the notional value of human lives blighted by heat-related illnesses and air pollution a lifetime from now.

But both are just the latest in a long line of calculations that demonstrate, repeatedly, that the costs to the next generation of doing nothing about climate change far outweigh the costs now of shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture”

The latest exploration of the price of doing nothing is published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

German scientists report that they looked, in detail, at the possible consequences of a 4°C warning, not on national economies but on 1500 states, provinces, departments and other political subdivisions within 77 nations around the globe.

Their finding – that more intense global heating could cost all of them 10% of their output and those in the warmer regions more than 20% – is, they say, conservative.

That is because their calculations do not take into account the potential catastrophic damage from extreme weather events and sea level rise – both of which could be substantial.

“Climate damages hit our businesses and our jobs, not just polar bears and coral reefs,” said Leonie Wenz, of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Tangible value

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture. They affect our harvests and they mean extra stress, and thus costs for our infrastructure.”

But, according to a study in the journal GeoHealth, even the purchase of a new car could soften the impact: providing the car is electric and the power for its batteries is delivered by wind or solar energy.

If electric vehicles replaced 25% of all cars on US roads, the country could save $17bn a year in the notional costs of climate change and health damage – asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and premature death – from choking exhausts. Triple that, and the savings would reach $70bn.

“The social cost of carbon and value of statistical life are much studied and much debated metrics,” said Daniel Horton, of Northwestern University in Illinois, one of the authors.

“But they are used regularly to make policy decisions. It helps to put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Climate change will impose a lethal price if we do not all pay the far smaller cost of confronting it.

LONDON, 10 September, 2020 – In the hotter world of climate change, it won’t just be the glaciers that melt: national and regional economies, big business, government and even the multinationals will all pay a lethal price.

If the planet becomes 4°C warmer by 2100, then many regions could see a 10% fall in economic output. They’d be the lucky ones. In the tropics, the economic losses could be double that.

There are of course ways to limit losses and save lives. US researchers believe that if a quarter of all motorists in the US switched to electric vehicles, the nation could save $17bn a year in the costs of climate change and air pollution. If three fourths of drivers switched to cars fuelled by renewable electricity, savings could tip $70bn.

Both studies are specimens of the kind of economic reasoning – always arguable and often intensely-argued – that necessarily must make “what-if” calculations about the notional costs to society of carbon dioxide emissions and the notional value of human lives blighted by heat-related illnesses and air pollution a lifetime from now.

But both are just the latest in a long line of calculations that demonstrate, repeatedly, that the costs to the next generation of doing nothing about climate change far outweigh the costs now of shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture”

The latest exploration of the price of doing nothing is published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

German scientists report that they looked, in detail, at the possible consequences of a 4°C warning, not on national economies but on 1500 states, provinces, departments and other political subdivisions within 77 nations around the globe.

Their finding – that more intense global heating could cost all of them 10% of their output and those in the warmer regions more than 20% – is, they say, conservative.

That is because their calculations do not take into account the potential catastrophic damage from extreme weather events and sea level rise – both of which could be substantial.

“Climate damages hit our businesses and our jobs, not just polar bears and coral reefs,” said Leonie Wenz, of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Tangible value

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture. They affect our harvests and they mean extra stress, and thus costs for our infrastructure.”

But, according to a study in the journal GeoHealth, even the purchase of a new car could soften the impact: providing the car is electric and the power for its batteries is delivered by wind or solar energy.

If electric vehicles replaced 25% of all cars on US roads, the country could save $17bn a year in the notional costs of climate change and health damage – asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and premature death – from choking exhausts. Triple that, and the savings would reach $70bn.

“The social cost of carbon and value of statistical life are much studied and much debated metrics,” said Daniel Horton, of Northwestern University in Illinois, one of the authors.

“But they are used regularly to make policy decisions. It helps to put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

‘Ban adverts for cars that damage the climate’

Tobacco advertisements are often banned these days. So why not ban adverts for gas-guzzling cars that damage the planet?

LONDON, 1 September, 2020 – Many countries now ban adverts for tobacco products and some now limit sales of junk food, to protect public health. All of them have reduced advertising, or ended it outright.

So, campaigners argue, why not do the same with adverts which promote high-carbon products and lifestyles, damaging people’s health and heating the planet?

There’s growing pressure for bans like that in the United Kingdom, with a focus on ending the promotion of highly-polluting cars, gas-guzzling 4x4s, also known as SUVs, an argument developed by a campaign called Badvertising.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based group which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

As part of its work to publicise how projects and communities can withstand the effects of climate heating, the Alliance too is supporting Badvertising, which it is convinced can succeed.

40-year resistance

The RTA argues that advertising bans have worked before, provided they have had three factors in their favour: strong evidence from trusted sources; clear campaigning; and a threat to public health, which policymakers take seriously.

Even so, it says, powerful moneyed interests will oppose changes that threaten their income. Advertising is one key way of driving consumption, encouraging us to “shop till we drop”. In 2020 world expenditure on advertising is expected to reach US$691.7 billion (£520bn), up by 7.0% from 2019, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

That’s more than China’s infrastructure investment programme after the 2008 financial crisis, and over four times more than the $153bn provided to developing countries in 2018 by the 30 members of the OECD’s development assistance committee.

With tobacco, once its huge public health impact became clear – 100 million people died in the last century from its use, and the figure for this century is expected to be ten times greater – campaigners had to work tirelessly for another 40 years until its promotion was banned.

The tobacco industry meanwhile resisted fiercely, arguing, for example, that adverts didn’t increase smoking but merely encouraged people to switch brands, despite evidence to the contrary.

“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power”

For climate and health campaigners today there are valuable lessons to be learned from the fight against tobacco, the RTA says. Both tobacco smoke and car exhausts contain similar toxins that directly threaten human health.

Underlying health conditions mean that poorer households are worse hit than richer ones by the effects of tobacco and air pollution from vehicles, and so are more vulnerable too to health crises like Covid-19.

Junk food is another target for campaigners against advertising, particularly where child obesity is an issue. In London a ban on unhealthy food advertising was introduced in 2018, to widespread public approval. The UK government is now set to implement stricter rules on how junk food is advertised and sold across the country.

This year the Mexican state of Oaxaca banned the sale of sugary drinks and high-calorie snack foods to children. Mexicans drink 163 litres of soft drinks a year per head – the world’s highest level – and they start young. About 73% of Mexicans are considered overweight, and related diseases such as diabetes are rife.

A survey by El Poder del Consumidor (in Spanish) – a Mexican consumer advocacy group and drinks industry critic – found 70% of schoolchildren in a poor region of Guerrero state reported having soft drinks for breakfast. “When you go to these communities, what you find is junk food. There’s no access to clean drinking water,” said Alejandro Calvillo, the group’s director.

Doubt-spreading

In 2006 a US district judge ruled that tobacco companies had “devised and executed a scheme to defraud consumers … about the hazards of cigarettes, hazards that their own internal company documents proved they had known about since the 1950s.” After four decades of delay, obfuscation and the spreading of doubt by the industry, the tobacco companies were found guilty.

In the UK the first calls to restrict advertising came in 1962 from the Royal College of Physicians. The general advertising of tobacco products was banned in stages from 2003. But concern at the damage that advertising can cause continues.

Communities in the UK city of Bristol recently acted against the bright LCD billboards which have proliferated there, causing light pollution and using huge amounts of energy to adverise a range of goods and services. A Bristol initiative to help residents object to planning applications for new digital advertising screens has now led to a wider network, Adfree Cities.

Advertising is part of the broader public relations industry. The RTA quotes an American citizen, often called the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, who worked for the US Committee on Public Information, a body for official propaganda during the first world war.

Bernays once wrote: “Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power. We are governed, our minds moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of.”

Doctors’ crucial intervention

One turning point in the battle against tobacco industry propaganda in the UK, the RTA says, was the involvement of the doctors’ trades union, the British Medical Association (BMA). This brought the people the public trusted most – their family doctors – into direct confrontation with the tobacco industry.

But the medical profession was to play another crucial part in protecting public health on a far wider front in 2017, when an article in the Lancet, the leading British medical journal, featured a major study, this time with evidence supporting the climatologists’ findings that climate change is a growing health hazard.

In response, Simon Dalby of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada asks why we don’t use advertising restrictions for climate change in the same way that we have with other public health hazards like smoking.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world are already suffering because of climate change, he points out. Infectious diseases are spreading faster as the climate heats, hunger and malnutrition are worsening, allergy seasons are getting longer, and sometimes it’s simply too hot for farmers to tend their crops.

Professor Dalby’s suggestion? Not only should we restrict adverts for gas-guzzlers. We should treat climate change itself, not as an environmental problem, but as a health emergency. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Tobacco advertisements are often banned these days. So why not ban adverts for gas-guzzling cars that damage the planet?

LONDON, 1 September, 2020 – Many countries now ban adverts for tobacco products and some now limit sales of junk food, to protect public health. All of them have reduced advertising, or ended it outright.

So, campaigners argue, why not do the same with adverts which promote high-carbon products and lifestyles, damaging people’s health and heating the planet?

There’s growing pressure for bans like that in the United Kingdom, with a focus on ending the promotion of highly-polluting cars, gas-guzzling 4x4s, also known as SUVs, an argument developed by a campaign called Badvertising.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based group which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

As part of its work to publicise how projects and communities can withstand the effects of climate heating, the Alliance too is supporting Badvertising, which it is convinced can succeed.

40-year resistance

The RTA argues that advertising bans have worked before, provided they have had three factors in their favour: strong evidence from trusted sources; clear campaigning; and a threat to public health, which policymakers take seriously.

Even so, it says, powerful moneyed interests will oppose changes that threaten their income. Advertising is one key way of driving consumption, encouraging us to “shop till we drop”. In 2020 world expenditure on advertising is expected to reach US$691.7 billion (£520bn), up by 7.0% from 2019, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

That’s more than China’s infrastructure investment programme after the 2008 financial crisis, and over four times more than the $153bn provided to developing countries in 2018 by the 30 members of the OECD’s development assistance committee.

With tobacco, once its huge public health impact became clear – 100 million people died in the last century from its use, and the figure for this century is expected to be ten times greater – campaigners had to work tirelessly for another 40 years until its promotion was banned.

The tobacco industry meanwhile resisted fiercely, arguing, for example, that adverts didn’t increase smoking but merely encouraged people to switch brands, despite evidence to the contrary.

“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power”

For climate and health campaigners today there are valuable lessons to be learned from the fight against tobacco, the RTA says. Both tobacco smoke and car exhausts contain similar toxins that directly threaten human health.

Underlying health conditions mean that poorer households are worse hit than richer ones by the effects of tobacco and air pollution from vehicles, and so are more vulnerable too to health crises like Covid-19.

Junk food is another target for campaigners against advertising, particularly where child obesity is an issue. In London a ban on unhealthy food advertising was introduced in 2018, to widespread public approval. The UK government is now set to implement stricter rules on how junk food is advertised and sold across the country.

This year the Mexican state of Oaxaca banned the sale of sugary drinks and high-calorie snack foods to children. Mexicans drink 163 litres of soft drinks a year per head – the world’s highest level – and they start young. About 73% of Mexicans are considered overweight, and related diseases such as diabetes are rife.

A survey by El Poder del Consumidor (in Spanish) – a Mexican consumer advocacy group and drinks industry critic – found 70% of schoolchildren in a poor region of Guerrero state reported having soft drinks for breakfast. “When you go to these communities, what you find is junk food. There’s no access to clean drinking water,” said Alejandro Calvillo, the group’s director.

Doubt-spreading

In 2006 a US district judge ruled that tobacco companies had “devised and executed a scheme to defraud consumers … about the hazards of cigarettes, hazards that their own internal company documents proved they had known about since the 1950s.” After four decades of delay, obfuscation and the spreading of doubt by the industry, the tobacco companies were found guilty.

In the UK the first calls to restrict advertising came in 1962 from the Royal College of Physicians. The general advertising of tobacco products was banned in stages from 2003. But concern at the damage that advertising can cause continues.

Communities in the UK city of Bristol recently acted against the bright LCD billboards which have proliferated there, causing light pollution and using huge amounts of energy to adverise a range of goods and services. A Bristol initiative to help residents object to planning applications for new digital advertising screens has now led to a wider network, Adfree Cities.

Advertising is part of the broader public relations industry. The RTA quotes an American citizen, often called the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, who worked for the US Committee on Public Information, a body for official propaganda during the first world war.

Bernays once wrote: “Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power. We are governed, our minds moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of.”

Doctors’ crucial intervention

One turning point in the battle against tobacco industry propaganda in the UK, the RTA says, was the involvement of the doctors’ trades union, the British Medical Association (BMA). This brought the people the public trusted most – their family doctors – into direct confrontation with the tobacco industry.

But the medical profession was to play another crucial part in protecting public health on a far wider front in 2017, when an article in the Lancet, the leading British medical journal, featured a major study, this time with evidence supporting the climatologists’ findings that climate change is a growing health hazard.

In response, Simon Dalby of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada asks why we don’t use advertising restrictions for climate change in the same way that we have with other public health hazards like smoking.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world are already suffering because of climate change, he points out. Infectious diseases are spreading faster as the climate heats, hunger and malnutrition are worsening, allergy seasons are getting longer, and sometimes it’s simply too hot for farmers to tend their crops.

Professor Dalby’s suggestion? Not only should we restrict adverts for gas-guzzlers. We should treat climate change itself, not as an environmental problem, but as a health emergency. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Oceans’ plastic tide may be far larger than thought

Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 − The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.

“Plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there. We don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard”

Scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that at 12 places along a 10,000 km north-south voyage in the Atlantic late in 2015, the waters were sampled for evidence of just three forms of plastic litter: polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.

These samples were taken at depths of 10 metres below the surface, between 10 and 30 metres below what oceanographers call the mixed layer, and then 100 metres even deeper.

They then looked for fragments of the three plastics right down to the scale of 25 millionths of a metre, and began counting. They found up to 7,000 particles of all three types in a cubic metre of seawater.

Then they did the sums: people have been throwing plastic bags, packets, bottles, cups, nets and packaging away since 1950, and it has been getting into the Atlantic since 1950, with the estimated mass so far ranging from 17 million to 47 million tonnes.

The Atlantic has an average depth of 3000 metres. The discovery that the mass of plastic just in the upper 200 metres of one ocean lies somewhere between 12 and 21 million tonnes suggests that the flow of plastic into the seas everywhere may have been seriously under-estimated.

Missing measurement

“Previously, we couldn’t balance the mass of floating plastic we observed with the mass we thought had entered the ocean since 1950,” said Katsiaryna Pabortsava of the UK National Oceanography Centre, at Southampton, who led the study.

“This is because earlier studies hadn’t been measuring the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface. Our research is the first to have done this across the entire Atlantic, from the UK to the Falklands.”

Large plastic fragments disfigure the landscape and represent a direct threat to animals that mistake them for food.

Nobody yet knows how dangerous microplastic fibres might be, but if they are consumed by little animals they soon get concentrated in bigger predators, including the greatest predators of all: humans.

Scientists told the American Chemical Society – at a virtual meeting – that they had developed the techniques needed to identify microplastic fibres in 47 samples from donated lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys: that is, such fragments did more than simply pass through a gastrointestinal tract. They became part of human flesh.

Seabird vulnerability

“There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there,” said Charles Rolsky of Arizona State University. “And at this point we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard.”

Although plastic seems to be durable and indestructible, there may be evidence that it can react with biology. The journal Frontiers in Environmental Science reports that fragments of plastic, collected from beaches and incubated in natural oils from the stomachs of a seabird known as the northern fulmar – hunted for food in the Faroe Islands – eventually released chemicals.

These were agents that had been added in the process of making that plastic: among them flame retardants, stabilisers and plasticisers. Once again, there is no certainty that such releases would harm the birds, but some of these chemicals have been identified in other tests as hormone disruptors.

“I’ve been working on northern fulmars for almost 10 years,” said Susanne Kühn of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands.

“As these seabirds ingest plastics regularly, and 93% of the fulmars from the North Sea have some plastic in their stomachs, it is important to understand the potential harm this could cause.” − Climate News Network

Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 − The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.

“Plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there. We don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard”

Scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that at 12 places along a 10,000 km north-south voyage in the Atlantic late in 2015, the waters were sampled for evidence of just three forms of plastic litter: polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.

These samples were taken at depths of 10 metres below the surface, between 10 and 30 metres below what oceanographers call the mixed layer, and then 100 metres even deeper.

They then looked for fragments of the three plastics right down to the scale of 25 millionths of a metre, and began counting. They found up to 7,000 particles of all three types in a cubic metre of seawater.

Then they did the sums: people have been throwing plastic bags, packets, bottles, cups, nets and packaging away since 1950, and it has been getting into the Atlantic since 1950, with the estimated mass so far ranging from 17 million to 47 million tonnes.

The Atlantic has an average depth of 3000 metres. The discovery that the mass of plastic just in the upper 200 metres of one ocean lies somewhere between 12 and 21 million tonnes suggests that the flow of plastic into the seas everywhere may have been seriously under-estimated.

Missing measurement

“Previously, we couldn’t balance the mass of floating plastic we observed with the mass we thought had entered the ocean since 1950,” said Katsiaryna Pabortsava of the UK National Oceanography Centre, at Southampton, who led the study.

“This is because earlier studies hadn’t been measuring the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface. Our research is the first to have done this across the entire Atlantic, from the UK to the Falklands.”

Large plastic fragments disfigure the landscape and represent a direct threat to animals that mistake them for food.

Nobody yet knows how dangerous microplastic fibres might be, but if they are consumed by little animals they soon get concentrated in bigger predators, including the greatest predators of all: humans.

Scientists told the American Chemical Society – at a virtual meeting – that they had developed the techniques needed to identify microplastic fibres in 47 samples from donated lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys: that is, such fragments did more than simply pass through a gastrointestinal tract. They became part of human flesh.

Seabird vulnerability

“There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there,” said Charles Rolsky of Arizona State University. “And at this point we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard.”

Although plastic seems to be durable and indestructible, there may be evidence that it can react with biology. The journal Frontiers in Environmental Science reports that fragments of plastic, collected from beaches and incubated in natural oils from the stomachs of a seabird known as the northern fulmar – hunted for food in the Faroe Islands – eventually released chemicals.

These were agents that had been added in the process of making that plastic: among them flame retardants, stabilisers and plasticisers. Once again, there is no certainty that such releases would harm the birds, but some of these chemicals have been identified in other tests as hormone disruptors.

“I’ve been working on northern fulmars for almost 10 years,” said Susanne Kühn of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands.

“As these seabirds ingest plastics regularly, and 93% of the fulmars from the North Sea have some plastic in their stomachs, it is important to understand the potential harm this could cause.” − Climate News Network

The poor pay for the grim legacy of uranium mining

Uranium mining costs humans dearly. The nuclear industry prefers not to discuss the price paid by miners and their families.

LONDON, 31 July, 2020 – The scars left on barren landscapes by uranium mining are rendered more frightening in many countries – in the former Soviet bloc, for example – by the signs warning would-be visitors of their presence, decorated with little more than a skull-and-crossbones.

The signs use few words to explain that vast areas of land, containing small mountains of mine tailings, will be dangerous to intruders for billions of years, by which time the deadly alpha particles in the dust should have decayed.

But the terrible price paid by the poor miners and indigenous peoples who have had their lands torn apart to get at the uranium ore is now laid bare  in a new publication, The Uranium Atlas, Facts and Data about the Raw Material of the Nuclear Age. It is the work of a band of researchers from around the world, first published in German and now updated in English.

The central message of the Atlas is uncompromising: “The price for keeping the nuclear power stations in South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the EU and USA online is paid by the people in the mining regions: their health and livelihoods are destroyed.”

The particles inhaled by uranium miners bring lung cancer, and the dust carried back to their homes endangers their families, even unborn children. Although uranium is everywhere, even in seawater, extracting it for use in nuclear power stations is a messy business.

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided”

The Atlas shows how extracting uranium from the ore is carried out in remote locations, often on the lands of indigenous peoples, for example in Canada, Australia and the US. More recently, though, two African states, Namibia and Niger, have joined the list of prime examples.

At the mines large quantities of rock have to be crushed and treated with chemicals to leach out the uranium. For a uranium content of 0.1%, 10,000 tonnes of ore must be mined to yield one tonne of uranium.

The ore is then ground down and the uranium chemically extracted, producing a form of powdered concentrate called yellowcake, totalling 7.11 kgs of usable material left over from the original 10,000 tonnes of ore.

The yellowcake then has to be transported long distances to the countries which use nuclear power so that they can extract the fissile material needed to fuel power stations and make nuclear weapons – uranium-235.

Little European mining

The point the “Atlas” is making is that supposedly civilised and crowded countries that rely on nuclear power to keep the lights on will not allow uranium mining at home because of the destruction it causes and the danger to the health of their citizens.

The authors write: ”At the start of 2020 there were still 124 nuclear power plants in operation in the EU, making it the world’s largest consumer of uranium. The nuclear fuel is imported from outside the EU and there is strong opposition to any new uranium mining in Europe.”

With maps and diagrams the Atlas traces the history and current operations of the uranium mining business, but comments: “The exact pathway of uranium is hard to follow: the mining companies do not disclose where they deliver the uranium and the power plant operators do not reveal where the uranium for their power plants comes from.”

Not surprisingly, the researchers conclude that nuclear power has no place in the modern world, and that renewable technologies are both cheaper and safer than power from uranium.

They say: “One kilogram of uranium-235 contains enough energy to generate 24 million kilowatt hours of heat; one kilogram of coal can generate only eight. As a result the nuclear industry has always promoted nuclear power as a better alternative to fossil fuels, and is now using the climate crisis to justify its continued – and expanded – use.

High subsidies

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided.

“For almost 70 years the nuclear industry has been highly subsidised and has never been able to stand on its own two feet economically.

“From cleaning up the damage caused by uranium mining, to routine operations, to decommissioning and final storage of nuclear waste, the industry has neither calculated the real costs of its activities nor has it adequately disclosed its financial conditions.

“Viewed as an essential component of the construction of nuclear weapons and the maintenance of nuclear submarine fleets, the nuclear power industry has always been a steady recipient of generous state subsidies.” – Climate News Network

Uranium mining costs humans dearly. The nuclear industry prefers not to discuss the price paid by miners and their families.

LONDON, 31 July, 2020 – The scars left on barren landscapes by uranium mining are rendered more frightening in many countries – in the former Soviet bloc, for example – by the signs warning would-be visitors of their presence, decorated with little more than a skull-and-crossbones.

The signs use few words to explain that vast areas of land, containing small mountains of mine tailings, will be dangerous to intruders for billions of years, by which time the deadly alpha particles in the dust should have decayed.

But the terrible price paid by the poor miners and indigenous peoples who have had their lands torn apart to get at the uranium ore is now laid bare  in a new publication, The Uranium Atlas, Facts and Data about the Raw Material of the Nuclear Age. It is the work of a band of researchers from around the world, first published in German and now updated in English.

The central message of the Atlas is uncompromising: “The price for keeping the nuclear power stations in South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the EU and USA online is paid by the people in the mining regions: their health and livelihoods are destroyed.”

The particles inhaled by uranium miners bring lung cancer, and the dust carried back to their homes endangers their families, even unborn children. Although uranium is everywhere, even in seawater, extracting it for use in nuclear power stations is a messy business.

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided”

The Atlas shows how extracting uranium from the ore is carried out in remote locations, often on the lands of indigenous peoples, for example in Canada, Australia and the US. More recently, though, two African states, Namibia and Niger, have joined the list of prime examples.

At the mines large quantities of rock have to be crushed and treated with chemicals to leach out the uranium. For a uranium content of 0.1%, 10,000 tonnes of ore must be mined to yield one tonne of uranium.

The ore is then ground down and the uranium chemically extracted, producing a form of powdered concentrate called yellowcake, totalling 7.11 kgs of usable material left over from the original 10,000 tonnes of ore.

The yellowcake then has to be transported long distances to the countries which use nuclear power so that they can extract the fissile material needed to fuel power stations and make nuclear weapons – uranium-235.

Little European mining

The point the “Atlas” is making is that supposedly civilised and crowded countries that rely on nuclear power to keep the lights on will not allow uranium mining at home because of the destruction it causes and the danger to the health of their citizens.

The authors write: ”At the start of 2020 there were still 124 nuclear power plants in operation in the EU, making it the world’s largest consumer of uranium. The nuclear fuel is imported from outside the EU and there is strong opposition to any new uranium mining in Europe.”

With maps and diagrams the Atlas traces the history and current operations of the uranium mining business, but comments: “The exact pathway of uranium is hard to follow: the mining companies do not disclose where they deliver the uranium and the power plant operators do not reveal where the uranium for their power plants comes from.”

Not surprisingly, the researchers conclude that nuclear power has no place in the modern world, and that renewable technologies are both cheaper and safer than power from uranium.

They say: “One kilogram of uranium-235 contains enough energy to generate 24 million kilowatt hours of heat; one kilogram of coal can generate only eight. As a result the nuclear industry has always promoted nuclear power as a better alternative to fossil fuels, and is now using the climate crisis to justify its continued – and expanded – use.

High subsidies

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided.

“For almost 70 years the nuclear industry has been highly subsidised and has never been able to stand on its own two feet economically.

“From cleaning up the damage caused by uranium mining, to routine operations, to decommissioning and final storage of nuclear waste, the industry has neither calculated the real costs of its activities nor has it adequately disclosed its financial conditions.

“Viewed as an essential component of the construction of nuclear weapons and the maintenance of nuclear submarine fleets, the nuclear power industry has always been a steady recipient of generous state subsidies.” – Climate News Network

Waste plastic cascade could triple in 20 years

In a throwaway world, some discards are forever. New research measures the crisis of the world’s waste plastic.

LONDON, 30 July, 2020 − Without immediate, sustained and concerted action worldwide, the flow of waste plastic into the world’s oceans could triple by 2040.

Right now, 11 million tonnes of throwaway bags, cups, bottles, cables, netting, and other products made of almost indestructible polymers get into the sea each year.

And in the next 20 years, this tide of detritus could almost triple to 29 million tonnes, according to new research in the journal Science. This works out at nearly 50kg of plastic on every metre of coastline worldwide.

And because plastic may fragment but never degrade or decompose, the message is that by 2040 the measure of plastic in the oceans would equal the mass of three million blue whales.

The choice of the whale as indicator is not arbitrary. Discarded plastic has become a global hazard to ecosystems worldwide.

“The plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; we can solve it in one generation”

It has been found in all oceans, in lakes, in rivers, in soils and sediments, in the atmosphere and in the tissues of 700 marine species including whales, and in 50 freshwater species. It fouls beaches, blocks drains, and provides a substrate and breeding surface for the carriers of disease.

It is also expensive. At a very conservative estimate the economic costs of plastic pollution on tourism, fishing and shipping reach US$13bn (£10bn) a year. And plastic particles have entered the human food chain, though nobody can yet be certain of the impact of this.

The researchers modelled the flow of plastic and its accumulation in the environment and tested the consequences under six scenarios. These include one in which the world simply goes on making single-use plastic products and carelessly discarding them, and one in which the world’s plastics systems undergo complete overhaul, including every aspect of production, collection, consumption and disposal.

So far, on the evidence of government promises, the flow is likely to be reduced by only 7% by 2040.

Offering an opportunity

The scientists also identified eight things that could together reduce the flow of plastics into the sea by 80% in the next 20 years. That would still see five million tonnes each year getting into the oceans.

And the researchers warn that, even if every nation invested in concerted and immediate action, by 2040 at least 710 million tonnes of the stuff will have worked its way into the world’s wetlands, soils, estuaries, beaches and seas.

The report presents a calamity in the making, but one that could also be seen as an opportunity.

“Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation,” said Martin Stuchtey, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, one of the authors.

“We have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80%. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so.” − Climate News Network

In a throwaway world, some discards are forever. New research measures the crisis of the world’s waste plastic.

LONDON, 30 July, 2020 − Without immediate, sustained and concerted action worldwide, the flow of waste plastic into the world’s oceans could triple by 2040.

Right now, 11 million tonnes of throwaway bags, cups, bottles, cables, netting, and other products made of almost indestructible polymers get into the sea each year.

And in the next 20 years, this tide of detritus could almost triple to 29 million tonnes, according to new research in the journal Science. This works out at nearly 50kg of plastic on every metre of coastline worldwide.

And because plastic may fragment but never degrade or decompose, the message is that by 2040 the measure of plastic in the oceans would equal the mass of three million blue whales.

The choice of the whale as indicator is not arbitrary. Discarded plastic has become a global hazard to ecosystems worldwide.

“The plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; we can solve it in one generation”

It has been found in all oceans, in lakes, in rivers, in soils and sediments, in the atmosphere and in the tissues of 700 marine species including whales, and in 50 freshwater species. It fouls beaches, blocks drains, and provides a substrate and breeding surface for the carriers of disease.

It is also expensive. At a very conservative estimate the economic costs of plastic pollution on tourism, fishing and shipping reach US$13bn (£10bn) a year. And plastic particles have entered the human food chain, though nobody can yet be certain of the impact of this.

The researchers modelled the flow of plastic and its accumulation in the environment and tested the consequences under six scenarios. These include one in which the world simply goes on making single-use plastic products and carelessly discarding them, and one in which the world’s plastics systems undergo complete overhaul, including every aspect of production, collection, consumption and disposal.

So far, on the evidence of government promises, the flow is likely to be reduced by only 7% by 2040.

Offering an opportunity

The scientists also identified eight things that could together reduce the flow of plastics into the sea by 80% in the next 20 years. That would still see five million tonnes each year getting into the oceans.

And the researchers warn that, even if every nation invested in concerted and immediate action, by 2040 at least 710 million tonnes of the stuff will have worked its way into the world’s wetlands, soils, estuaries, beaches and seas.

The report presents a calamity in the making, but one that could also be seen as an opportunity.

“Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation,” said Martin Stuchtey, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, one of the authors.

“We have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80%. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so.” − Climate News Network

World wilts beneath weight of e-waste and plastic

It’s the throwaway society: e-waste outweighs Europe’s population, plastic waste often ends in the sea. Recycling rates offer little hope.

LONDON, 13 July, 2020 – Spoil heaps, landfill sites, incinerators and scrapyards of the world are bursting with a tide of e-waste, a discarded and growing sea of computers, cellphones and household appliances, according to a new international survey.

In 2019 businesses, industries and households threw away nearly 54 million tonnes of electronic waste: that is, devices – from computers and cellphones to refrigerators and vacuum cleaners – that need a power plug or a battery. And this detritus included an estimated US$57bn in gold, silver, copper, platinum and other expensive metals.

Less than 18% of this costly material went for recycling. In a separate study, Irish scientists have found that much of the plastic waste collected in Europe and exported for recycling ends up in the oceans: in 2017 the burden of polyethylene tipped into the seas off south-east Asia could have totalled more than 180,000 tonnes.

Discarded electronic gear – e-waste – is now the world’s fastest-growing waste stream, according to the latest report from a UN monitoring consortium.

Last year’s 53.6 million tonnes of it is a new record and represents a rise of more than one-fifth in the last five years. By 2030, this count of thrown-away electrically-powered hardware could hit 74 million tonnes annually.

“True recycling rates may deviate significantly from rates reported by municipalities and countries where the waste originates”

The total for 2019 alone was enough to outweigh all the adults in Europe; and its mass can be imagined as a line of 350 cruise ships, each the size of the Queen Mary 2, stretching for 125 kilometres. It amounted to 7.3 kilogrammes for every human on Earth.

This waste added directly to global warming. Greenhouse gases equivalent to an estimated 98 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were released by unwanted refrigerators and air conditioners.

E-waste also constitutes a health hazard: at least 50 tonnes of toxic mercury seeped into the environment from thrown-away monitors, printed circuit boards, fluorescent lights and so on.

Right now, only 78 nations have legislation or national policies to deal with e-waste. Electrically-powered devices are still only a small fraction of the entire human technosphere: the sum of things humans have manufactured, fashioned or simply built from minerals over the last 10,000 years has been estimated at 30 trillion tonnes.

But electronic waste is already a significant cost and possibly an important potential resource. Another – new and entirely separate – study of metal sources on the planet estimates that in the next 25 years the global demand for copper, lead, zinc and nickel is likely to exceed the total produced so far in all human history.

Recycling goes overboard

European Union members and partner countries – the UK, Switzerland and Norway – have developed the infrastructure to manage another menacing discard, plastic waste, but 46% of this is exported out of the country of origin for recycling in countries with poor records of waste management, and a high proportion ends up in the oceans.

Plastic debris has been found on the deep seabed, on the beaches of desolate Antarctic islands, in the north polar ice, and in the tissues of sea creatures from sardines to whales.

Most of this is directly and deliberately discarded. But even the waste intended for recycling gets into the oceans. Researchers report in the journal Environment International that they made estimates of the fate of Europe’s exported waste in 2017.

They think up to 7% of all exported polyethylene – the commonest plastic in Europe – found its way to the oceans: at the very least 32,115 tonnes were tipped into the sea, and at the most 180,558 tonnes.

“This study suggests that true recycling rates may deviate significantly from rates reported by municipalities and countries where the waste originates,” said one of the authors, David Styles of the University of Limerick in Eire and the National University of Ireland in Galway.

“In fact, our study found 31% of the exported plastic wasn’t actually recycled at all.” – Climate News Network

It’s the throwaway society: e-waste outweighs Europe’s population, plastic waste often ends in the sea. Recycling rates offer little hope.

LONDON, 13 July, 2020 – Spoil heaps, landfill sites, incinerators and scrapyards of the world are bursting with a tide of e-waste, a discarded and growing sea of computers, cellphones and household appliances, according to a new international survey.

In 2019 businesses, industries and households threw away nearly 54 million tonnes of electronic waste: that is, devices – from computers and cellphones to refrigerators and vacuum cleaners – that need a power plug or a battery. And this detritus included an estimated US$57bn in gold, silver, copper, platinum and other expensive metals.

Less than 18% of this costly material went for recycling. In a separate study, Irish scientists have found that much of the plastic waste collected in Europe and exported for recycling ends up in the oceans: in 2017 the burden of polyethylene tipped into the seas off south-east Asia could have totalled more than 180,000 tonnes.

Discarded electronic gear – e-waste – is now the world’s fastest-growing waste stream, according to the latest report from a UN monitoring consortium.

Last year’s 53.6 million tonnes of it is a new record and represents a rise of more than one-fifth in the last five years. By 2030, this count of thrown-away electrically-powered hardware could hit 74 million tonnes annually.

“True recycling rates may deviate significantly from rates reported by municipalities and countries where the waste originates”

The total for 2019 alone was enough to outweigh all the adults in Europe; and its mass can be imagined as a line of 350 cruise ships, each the size of the Queen Mary 2, stretching for 125 kilometres. It amounted to 7.3 kilogrammes for every human on Earth.

This waste added directly to global warming. Greenhouse gases equivalent to an estimated 98 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were released by unwanted refrigerators and air conditioners.

E-waste also constitutes a health hazard: at least 50 tonnes of toxic mercury seeped into the environment from thrown-away monitors, printed circuit boards, fluorescent lights and so on.

Right now, only 78 nations have legislation or national policies to deal with e-waste. Electrically-powered devices are still only a small fraction of the entire human technosphere: the sum of things humans have manufactured, fashioned or simply built from minerals over the last 10,000 years has been estimated at 30 trillion tonnes.

But electronic waste is already a significant cost and possibly an important potential resource. Another – new and entirely separate – study of metal sources on the planet estimates that in the next 25 years the global demand for copper, lead, zinc and nickel is likely to exceed the total produced so far in all human history.

Recycling goes overboard

European Union members and partner countries – the UK, Switzerland and Norway – have developed the infrastructure to manage another menacing discard, plastic waste, but 46% of this is exported out of the country of origin for recycling in countries with poor records of waste management, and a high proportion ends up in the oceans.

Plastic debris has been found on the deep seabed, on the beaches of desolate Antarctic islands, in the north polar ice, and in the tissues of sea creatures from sardines to whales.

Most of this is directly and deliberately discarded. But even the waste intended for recycling gets into the oceans. Researchers report in the journal Environment International that they made estimates of the fate of Europe’s exported waste in 2017.

They think up to 7% of all exported polyethylene – the commonest plastic in Europe – found its way to the oceans: at the very least 32,115 tonnes were tipped into the sea, and at the most 180,558 tonnes.

“This study suggests that true recycling rates may deviate significantly from rates reported by municipalities and countries where the waste originates,” said one of the authors, David Styles of the University of Limerick in Eire and the National University of Ireland in Galway.

“In fact, our study found 31% of the exported plastic wasn’t actually recycled at all.” – Climate News Network

Clean ships needed now to cut polluting emissions

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

“There must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target”

The shipping industry cannot wait for the arrival of new, low-carbon ships, says the study.

“Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, rather than rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions”, it says.

Shipping is the lifeline of world trade: tens of thousands of vessels crisscross the oceans each year, carrying between 80% and 90% of global goods traffic. At any one time about 90,000 vessels are at sea.

Most vessels – both trade and cruise ships − burn low-grade, polluting forms of fuel. These emit not only GHGs but large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates which are seriously damaging to health.

A 2018 report in the journal Nature Communications estimated that sulphur-rich shipping emissions account for up to a quarter of a million deaths and more than six million cases of childhood asthma around the world each year.

Sluggish action

The International Maritime Organization has set various climate change targets, including a reduction of at least 50% in GHG emissions by 2050, compared with levels in 2008.

There’s been little action so far. A report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, says shipping emissions – in both the transport and cruise ship sectors – have been largely unregulated and subject to very few financial penalties.

A review of the shipping sector by the analysis groups the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics says the industry is nowhere near reaching its targets and, on present projections, shipping emissions will continue rising.

“There is tremendous potential for the international shipping industry to decarbonise completely and reach zero emissions by 2050, yet there is very little sign of this sector moving anywhere near fast enough and certainly nowhere near a Paris Agreement pathway”, says Climate Analytics.

The University of Manchester/Tyndall Centre study highlights some of the ways ships can cut emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption, connecting to the local grid for electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures such as Flettner rotors to help propulsion.

Delay unaffordable

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis”, says James Mason, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre.

“We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

Shipping industry analysts say bringing about wholesale change in the sector is a formidable task. The industry is extremely diffuse, involving multiple countries, ship owners and transport companies, while overall governance is weak. − Climate News Network

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

“There must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target”

The shipping industry cannot wait for the arrival of new, low-carbon ships, says the study.

“Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, rather than rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions”, it says.

Shipping is the lifeline of world trade: tens of thousands of vessels crisscross the oceans each year, carrying between 80% and 90% of global goods traffic. At any one time about 90,000 vessels are at sea.

Most vessels – both trade and cruise ships − burn low-grade, polluting forms of fuel. These emit not only GHGs but large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates which are seriously damaging to health.

A 2018 report in the journal Nature Communications estimated that sulphur-rich shipping emissions account for up to a quarter of a million deaths and more than six million cases of childhood asthma around the world each year.

Sluggish action

The International Maritime Organization has set various climate change targets, including a reduction of at least 50% in GHG emissions by 2050, compared with levels in 2008.

There’s been little action so far. A report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, says shipping emissions – in both the transport and cruise ship sectors – have been largely unregulated and subject to very few financial penalties.

A review of the shipping sector by the analysis groups the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics says the industry is nowhere near reaching its targets and, on present projections, shipping emissions will continue rising.

“There is tremendous potential for the international shipping industry to decarbonise completely and reach zero emissions by 2050, yet there is very little sign of this sector moving anywhere near fast enough and certainly nowhere near a Paris Agreement pathway”, says Climate Analytics.

The University of Manchester/Tyndall Centre study highlights some of the ways ships can cut emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption, connecting to the local grid for electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures such as Flettner rotors to help propulsion.

Delay unaffordable

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis”, says James Mason, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre.

“We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

Shipping industry analysts say bringing about wholesale change in the sector is a formidable task. The industry is extremely diffuse, involving multiple countries, ship owners and transport companies, while overall governance is weak. − Climate News Network

Sport’s carbon footprint is global bad news

The result of sport’s carbon footprint is worldwide damage. And global heating is itself penalising players and fans alike.

LONDON, 22 June, 2020 − The amount of damage caused by global sport’s carbon footprint and the other forms of climate pollution sport produces matches the havoc resulting from the activities of entire countries, a new study by a British journalist says.

Emissions from global sport fuelling the climate emergency could, at the low end of estimates, equal those of a nation like Bolivia, but could reasonably also match those of nations like Spain or Poland, which consume much more fossil fuel.

But the climate crisis is in its turn exacting a heavy price from the sporting world. The study says that by 2050:

  • A quarter of English league football grounds will be at risk from flooding every season
  • One in three British Open golf courses will be damaged by rising sea levels
  • Globally, half of previous Winter Olympic cities will be unreliable as winter sports hosts.

The studyPlaying against the clock: Global sport, the climate emergency and the case for rapid change − was written by the British sports journalist David Goldblatt for the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). It warns that the climate emergency, already damaging, will have far more severe consequences for several individual sports.

“Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport over professional and global sport”

Climate change affects every aspect of human life, sport included. In 2019, the Rugby World Cup was disrupted by unprecedented Pacific typhoons; in early 2020, the Australian Tennis Open was disrupted by the smoke blowing in from the country’s devastating bush fires.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics had to move long-distance running events 600 miles north of Tokyo, as the city’s sweltering summer now makes them impossible to run there.

The impact on competitors can be severe. “Once you start hitting 33-35°C and you are playing sport, it’s all bad news”, the report says, “and there are going to be a lot more days like that in the global sporting calendar in the next few decades.” And that’s before allowing for the inevitable increase in humidity.

Few sports appear likely to remain immune: the study lists some of the ways in which football, cricket, tennis, athletics, motor racing and others will be hit, as well as possible threats to spectators and fans, many of whom will have travelled long distances to see the events.

Inertia prevails

The report suggests radical reforms for the rapid decarbonising of world sport, from committing every organisation to a carbon-zero plan by 2030, to ending sponsorship by fossil fuel interests. While it acknowledges the best and most innovative practice in sport’s environmental governance, it paints a stark picture of inaction.

In sporting parlance, the world is already deep into extra time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that we must deliver carbon reductions in the next decade if we are to mitigate the worst aspects of climate change. Dr Goldblatt believes global sport can offer visionary leadership on climate action.

One positive suggestion is this: “Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport (low carbon) over professional and global sport (high carbon).”

And he goes further: “Sport may be just big enough to register, in terms of carbon emissions, as a small nation state, or a single mega-city, but its own efforts are just a fraction of a percentage point of the world total”, he says.

“Yet few human practices offer such an extraordinarily large, global, and socially diverse constituency as those playing and following sport.

Hope for humanity

“Making a carbon-zero world the common sense priority of the sports world would make a huge contribution to making it the common sense priority of all politics.

“Sport, from the street to the stadium, generates hope … [and] a precious set of cultural treasures to hold in trust for the world. If global sport is ready to adopt and pursue really radical change in the field of climate action, it might be able to offer them, in all good faith, to humanity … and then you just never know.”

Andrew Simms, coordinator of the RTA, echoes that. He says: “Sport provides some of society’s most influential role models. If sport can change how it operates to act at the speed and scale necessary to halt the climate emergency, others will follow.

“If its players also speak out and say they believe clean air and a stable climate matter, millions more will see the possibilities for change. It will not only send a send a message of hope for the wider world, but it will help to guarantee a planet that is safe for sport.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

This report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance, which is kindly supported by the KR Foundation, and the report is backed by Play the Game. The climate is changing faster than we are and the Alliance is an international initiative asking how we can speed up responses. It is coordinated by a small group of people drawn from the New Weather Institute, the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, and the ESRC STEPS Centre at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) and the Institute of Development Studies, and with help from our friends, colleagues and supporters.

The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here. Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline. Thank you.

The result of sport’s carbon footprint is worldwide damage. And global heating is itself penalising players and fans alike.

LONDON, 22 June, 2020 − The amount of damage caused by global sport’s carbon footprint and the other forms of climate pollution sport produces matches the havoc resulting from the activities of entire countries, a new study by a British journalist says.

Emissions from global sport fuelling the climate emergency could, at the low end of estimates, equal those of a nation like Bolivia, but could reasonably also match those of nations like Spain or Poland, which consume much more fossil fuel.

But the climate crisis is in its turn exacting a heavy price from the sporting world. The study says that by 2050:

  • A quarter of English league football grounds will be at risk from flooding every season
  • One in three British Open golf courses will be damaged by rising sea levels
  • Globally, half of previous Winter Olympic cities will be unreliable as winter sports hosts.

The studyPlaying against the clock: Global sport, the climate emergency and the case for rapid change − was written by the British sports journalist David Goldblatt for the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). It warns that the climate emergency, already damaging, will have far more severe consequences for several individual sports.

“Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport over professional and global sport”

Climate change affects every aspect of human life, sport included. In 2019, the Rugby World Cup was disrupted by unprecedented Pacific typhoons; in early 2020, the Australian Tennis Open was disrupted by the smoke blowing in from the country’s devastating bush fires.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics had to move long-distance running events 600 miles north of Tokyo, as the city’s sweltering summer now makes them impossible to run there.

The impact on competitors can be severe. “Once you start hitting 33-35°C and you are playing sport, it’s all bad news”, the report says, “and there are going to be a lot more days like that in the global sporting calendar in the next few decades.” And that’s before allowing for the inevitable increase in humidity.

Few sports appear likely to remain immune: the study lists some of the ways in which football, cricket, tennis, athletics, motor racing and others will be hit, as well as possible threats to spectators and fans, many of whom will have travelled long distances to see the events.

Inertia prevails

The report suggests radical reforms for the rapid decarbonising of world sport, from committing every organisation to a carbon-zero plan by 2030, to ending sponsorship by fossil fuel interests. While it acknowledges the best and most innovative practice in sport’s environmental governance, it paints a stark picture of inaction.

In sporting parlance, the world is already deep into extra time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that we must deliver carbon reductions in the next decade if we are to mitigate the worst aspects of climate change. Dr Goldblatt believes global sport can offer visionary leadership on climate action.

One positive suggestion is this: “Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport (low carbon) over professional and global sport (high carbon).”

And he goes further: “Sport may be just big enough to register, in terms of carbon emissions, as a small nation state, or a single mega-city, but its own efforts are just a fraction of a percentage point of the world total”, he says.

“Yet few human practices offer such an extraordinarily large, global, and socially diverse constituency as those playing and following sport.

Hope for humanity

“Making a carbon-zero world the common sense priority of the sports world would make a huge contribution to making it the common sense priority of all politics.

“Sport, from the street to the stadium, generates hope … [and] a precious set of cultural treasures to hold in trust for the world. If global sport is ready to adopt and pursue really radical change in the field of climate action, it might be able to offer them, in all good faith, to humanity … and then you just never know.”

Andrew Simms, coordinator of the RTA, echoes that. He says: “Sport provides some of society’s most influential role models. If sport can change how it operates to act at the speed and scale necessary to halt the climate emergency, others will follow.

“If its players also speak out and say they believe clean air and a stable climate matter, millions more will see the possibilities for change. It will not only send a send a message of hope for the wider world, but it will help to guarantee a planet that is safe for sport.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

This report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance, which is kindly supported by the KR Foundation, and the report is backed by Play the Game. The climate is changing faster than we are and the Alliance is an international initiative asking how we can speed up responses. It is coordinated by a small group of people drawn from the New Weather Institute, the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, and the ESRC STEPS Centre at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) and the Institute of Development Studies, and with help from our friends, colleagues and supporters.

The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here. Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline. Thank you.

Siberia dries out as forests burn and climate heats

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network