Tag Archives: Pollution

UN survival plan offers new hope for the planet

A bold UN survival plan could put nature back in charge of the Earth − and researchers explain why that should happen.

LONDON, 26 February, 2021 − UN chiefs want to transform the world by putting nature back at the heart of global decision-making, arguing that the global economic shutdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change the planet for the better: for a stable climate, for cleaner air and water, and for a richer natural environment, thanks to the UN survival plan.

The goal? A more sustainable and more equitable world by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050, a curb on global pollution and waste and a halt to ever-accelerating rates of wildlife extinction worldwide.

The methods? One of the first, in Making Peace With Nature, the new United Nations Environment Programme report, will be to incorporate what conservationists call “natural capital” into measures of national economic performance.

That is because forests, savannahs, wetlands and other natural habitats represent wealth, and their loss accelerates poverty. If nations and regions can reverse environmental decline then they can at the same time advance the alleviation of poverty, and secure reliable food and water, and good health, for all.

And to reinforce such arguments, new and entirely separate research continues to underline the UN vision of natural capital as real investment in the services on which all humankind depends.

Vital sanitation need

In 48 cities around the globe, nature provides at least 18% of the sanitation services: creatures in the soils filter and clean around 2.2 million cubic metres of human excrement in the form of pit latrines before it can reach the groundwater table.

Since, in 2017, around one fourth of the global population had no access to sanitation facilities, and 14% used toilets that disposed of waste on site, this is not just an important service but a vital one: vital to human health.

The same research team reports in the journal One Earth that − since more than 892 million people worldwide in effect release excrement into holes in the ground − then nature must sanitise more than 41 million tonnes of human waste every year before it gets into the groundwater. So that’s a service worth US$4.4 billion (£3.14bn) a year, British researchers calculate.

Around 70% of the world’s crops depend on insect pollination, and the range and abundance of insect pollinators is vulnerable to shifts in climate. Importantly, many crops rely on wild pollinators − that is, commercial honey bee colonies cannot always do the trick of turning flowers into fruit, or grain − so what happens to wild insect populations affects what is available for supper.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it guides us by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”

US researchers report in the journal Ecological Applications that they took the case of wild bees and open field tomato crops: these depend on insects that release pollen by vibration, among them bumble bees.

They matched distribution of 15 species and climate data now against predictions for climate change across North America to find that − in the eastern US alone − within the next three to four decades, 11 species of pollinator could be in decline. The implications for food security are inescapable.

And a third study simply looked at what climate change, human population expansion, pollution and demand for freshwater had done to the planet’s rivers and lakes.

French and Chinese scientists report in the journal Science that they had identified what they call “marked changes” in the biodiversity of more than half the world’s rivers and lakes, thanks to human impact.

Of more than 1,000 fish species, 170 were extinct in their natural river basins, at a very conservative estimate. Out of 2,456 river basins, found everywhere except the deserts and the poles, 1,296 of them, covering more than 40% of the planet’s continental surface, and accounting for 37% of the length of the world’s rivers, revealed “deep and spatially distributed anthropogenic impacts.” That is science-speak for loss and defilement.

Lethal heat prospect

Such research − published on an almost daily basis − provides the context in which the latest UNEP report makes its argument. The report identifies a threefold planetary emergency and calls for advances in science and bold policy-making to make lives better both for the poorest in the world, and for nature itself.

It warns that the planet is heading for a warming of at least 3°C by the century’s end; that more than one million species could be heading for extinction; and that pollution-triggered diseases right now deliver an estimated nine million premature deaths each year.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safe place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme,” says António Guterres, UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.

“By recognising nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” − Climate News Network

A bold UN survival plan could put nature back in charge of the Earth − and researchers explain why that should happen.

LONDON, 26 February, 2021 − UN chiefs want to transform the world by putting nature back at the heart of global decision-making, arguing that the global economic shutdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change the planet for the better: for a stable climate, for cleaner air and water, and for a richer natural environment, thanks to the UN survival plan.

The goal? A more sustainable and more equitable world by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050, a curb on global pollution and waste and a halt to ever-accelerating rates of wildlife extinction worldwide.

The methods? One of the first, in Making Peace With Nature, the new United Nations Environment Programme report, will be to incorporate what conservationists call “natural capital” into measures of national economic performance.

That is because forests, savannahs, wetlands and other natural habitats represent wealth, and their loss accelerates poverty. If nations and regions can reverse environmental decline then they can at the same time advance the alleviation of poverty, and secure reliable food and water, and good health, for all.

And to reinforce such arguments, new and entirely separate research continues to underline the UN vision of natural capital as real investment in the services on which all humankind depends.

Vital sanitation need

In 48 cities around the globe, nature provides at least 18% of the sanitation services: creatures in the soils filter and clean around 2.2 million cubic metres of human excrement in the form of pit latrines before it can reach the groundwater table.

Since, in 2017, around one fourth of the global population had no access to sanitation facilities, and 14% used toilets that disposed of waste on site, this is not just an important service but a vital one: vital to human health.

The same research team reports in the journal One Earth that − since more than 892 million people worldwide in effect release excrement into holes in the ground − then nature must sanitise more than 41 million tonnes of human waste every year before it gets into the groundwater. So that’s a service worth US$4.4 billion (£3.14bn) a year, British researchers calculate.

Around 70% of the world’s crops depend on insect pollination, and the range and abundance of insect pollinators is vulnerable to shifts in climate. Importantly, many crops rely on wild pollinators − that is, commercial honey bee colonies cannot always do the trick of turning flowers into fruit, or grain − so what happens to wild insect populations affects what is available for supper.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it guides us by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”

US researchers report in the journal Ecological Applications that they took the case of wild bees and open field tomato crops: these depend on insects that release pollen by vibration, among them bumble bees.

They matched distribution of 15 species and climate data now against predictions for climate change across North America to find that − in the eastern US alone − within the next three to four decades, 11 species of pollinator could be in decline. The implications for food security are inescapable.

And a third study simply looked at what climate change, human population expansion, pollution and demand for freshwater had done to the planet’s rivers and lakes.

French and Chinese scientists report in the journal Science that they had identified what they call “marked changes” in the biodiversity of more than half the world’s rivers and lakes, thanks to human impact.

Of more than 1,000 fish species, 170 were extinct in their natural river basins, at a very conservative estimate. Out of 2,456 river basins, found everywhere except the deserts and the poles, 1,296 of them, covering more than 40% of the planet’s continental surface, and accounting for 37% of the length of the world’s rivers, revealed “deep and spatially distributed anthropogenic impacts.” That is science-speak for loss and defilement.

Lethal heat prospect

Such research − published on an almost daily basis − provides the context in which the latest UNEP report makes its argument. The report identifies a threefold planetary emergency and calls for advances in science and bold policy-making to make lives better both for the poorest in the world, and for nature itself.

It warns that the planet is heading for a warming of at least 3°C by the century’s end; that more than one million species could be heading for extinction; and that pollution-triggered diseases right now deliver an estimated nine million premature deaths each year.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safe place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme,” says António Guterres, UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.

“By recognising nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” − Climate News Network

Human rubbish is smothering the planet’s oceans

In a throwaway world garbage may be unseen, but not gone. Human rubbish is everywhere, from ocean abyss to coastal mud.

LONDON, 29 January, 2021 − In the next 30 years, an estimated three billion metric tonnes of human rubbish − everything from abandoned trawl nets to plastic bottles, from broken teacups to tins of toxin − could find its way into the sea, to defile the ocean floor.

One recent survey in the Strait of Messina, the seaway that separates Italy and Sicily, measured this detritus at concentrations of between 121,000 and 1.3 million items per square kilometre trapped in submarine canyons.

In seabed fissures off Portugal, bits of human litter large enough to identify have been counted at rates of 11,000 per sq km. Off the Ryukyu Islands far from mainland Japan, divers and remotely operated vehicles have made estimates of up to 71,000 items per sq km.

There is more and worse lying on other parts of the seabed. An estimated one million tonnes of chemical weaponry could be scattered about the planet’s oceans. The North Sea floor could be host to 1.3 million tonnes of conventional and chemical weapons; the Baltic enfolds and flows over 385,00 tonnes of dropped bombs, grenades, torpedoes, landmines and other weaponry.

“As humans, we have little or no care at all to prevent litter from accumulating everywhere”

And, says a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters, this conversion of sea floor to careless landfill site creates problems for at least 693 marine species that so far have been observed to “interact” with marine debris: eat it, get caught in it, grow on it. Of these species, around one in six are in some degree endangered.

This list of sea creatures includes 93 kinds of invertebrate, 89 fish, 83 birds, 38 mammals and all species of sea turtle. So many fish now become ensnared in abandoned and derelict fishing gear that they are known as “ghost catches.”

Across the Asia-Pacific region, an estimated 11.1 billion bits of plastic bigger than 25mm could be entangled in the coral reefs. This problem of marine pollution goes far beyond the concern over plastic pollution of the planet’s seas and shores, from pole to pole, and is now found even in marine tissues.

Much of the previous concern has been about the presence of microfibres and small particles of polymer material now found everywhere. But the new study by European scientists tries to address the more obvious problem of these larger items − generally larger than 25mms − of all kinds of detritus, including plastic denser than water and ultimately destined to reach the seabed.

Poor management

The researchers want to try to find standard ways to measure the levels of waste, map its concentrations accurately, identify all the sources of refuse and classify the most problematic kinds: the toxic waste, the heavy metals and radioactive substances, the pharmaceuticals. They also urge international co-operation, and policies designed to discourage marine discharges and to clear up stretches of the sea floor.

“Marine litter has reached the most remote places in the ocean, even the least − or never − frequented by our species and not yet mapped by science,” said Miquel Canals of the University of Barcelona, who led the study.

“In order to correct something bad, we must attack its cause. And the cause of the accumulation of waste on the coasts, seas and oceans , and all over the planet, is the excess waste generation and spillage in the environment, and poor or insufficient management practices.

“As humans, we have little or no care at all to prevent litter from accumulating everywhere.” − Climate News Network

In a throwaway world garbage may be unseen, but not gone. Human rubbish is everywhere, from ocean abyss to coastal mud.

LONDON, 29 January, 2021 − In the next 30 years, an estimated three billion metric tonnes of human rubbish − everything from abandoned trawl nets to plastic bottles, from broken teacups to tins of toxin − could find its way into the sea, to defile the ocean floor.

One recent survey in the Strait of Messina, the seaway that separates Italy and Sicily, measured this detritus at concentrations of between 121,000 and 1.3 million items per square kilometre trapped in submarine canyons.

In seabed fissures off Portugal, bits of human litter large enough to identify have been counted at rates of 11,000 per sq km. Off the Ryukyu Islands far from mainland Japan, divers and remotely operated vehicles have made estimates of up to 71,000 items per sq km.

There is more and worse lying on other parts of the seabed. An estimated one million tonnes of chemical weaponry could be scattered about the planet’s oceans. The North Sea floor could be host to 1.3 million tonnes of conventional and chemical weapons; the Baltic enfolds and flows over 385,00 tonnes of dropped bombs, grenades, torpedoes, landmines and other weaponry.

“As humans, we have little or no care at all to prevent litter from accumulating everywhere”

And, says a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters, this conversion of sea floor to careless landfill site creates problems for at least 693 marine species that so far have been observed to “interact” with marine debris: eat it, get caught in it, grow on it. Of these species, around one in six are in some degree endangered.

This list of sea creatures includes 93 kinds of invertebrate, 89 fish, 83 birds, 38 mammals and all species of sea turtle. So many fish now become ensnared in abandoned and derelict fishing gear that they are known as “ghost catches.”

Across the Asia-Pacific region, an estimated 11.1 billion bits of plastic bigger than 25mm could be entangled in the coral reefs. This problem of marine pollution goes far beyond the concern over plastic pollution of the planet’s seas and shores, from pole to pole, and is now found even in marine tissues.

Much of the previous concern has been about the presence of microfibres and small particles of polymer material now found everywhere. But the new study by European scientists tries to address the more obvious problem of these larger items − generally larger than 25mms − of all kinds of detritus, including plastic denser than water and ultimately destined to reach the seabed.

Poor management

The researchers want to try to find standard ways to measure the levels of waste, map its concentrations accurately, identify all the sources of refuse and classify the most problematic kinds: the toxic waste, the heavy metals and radioactive substances, the pharmaceuticals. They also urge international co-operation, and policies designed to discourage marine discharges and to clear up stretches of the sea floor.

“Marine litter has reached the most remote places in the ocean, even the least − or never − frequented by our species and not yet mapped by science,” said Miquel Canals of the University of Barcelona, who led the study.

“In order to correct something bad, we must attack its cause. And the cause of the accumulation of waste on the coasts, seas and oceans , and all over the planet, is the excess waste generation and spillage in the environment, and poor or insufficient management practices.

“As humans, we have little or no care at all to prevent litter from accumulating everywhere.” − Climate News Network

A new city rises in the desert, under a fake moon

The world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is planing a new city entirely dependent on clean energy.

LONDON, 18 January, 2021 − Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has not till now shown any great enthusiasm for tackling climate chaos, is working on designs for an environmentally-friendly new city in the kingdom.

At successive international climate meetings Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has been among those states which have obstructed rather than encouraged attempts to tackle the increasingly urgent problems associated with a fast-warming world.

But recently Prince Mohammed, seen very much as the power behind the Saudi throne, has been talking of building a zero emissions city and establishing what he describes as “a blueprint for how people and planet can co-exist in harmony.”

In a glitzy presentation high on vision but low on detail, the prince outlined plans for a new, futuristic urban area to be carved out of the desert in the province of Tabuk, in north-west Saudi Arabia.

The city, to be called The Line, will stretch inwards for 106 miles from the Saudi Red Sea coast. It will be powered by 100% clean energy, says the prince, with no roads or cars. Instead “a belt of hyper-connected future communities” will be established.

Future techno-hub

There will be flying taxis, and scores of robot servants. The whole scheme will be built around nature, Prince Mohammed says. “Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development?”, he asks. “Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

The cost of the project will be between US$100-200 billion: initial construction work will begin early next year, and an airport has already been built.

The Line is just one element in an overall Saudi plan called Vision 2030,  which seeks to wean the country off its dependence on oil revenues – which account for a major part of gross domestic product.

The aim is to turn Saudi Arabia into one of the world’s technological hubs. A multi-billion dollar tourist industry will also be established. Eventually, says Prince Mohammed, desert lands bordering Egypt and Jordan covering more than 10,000 square miles – an area roughly the size of Belgium – will be developed.

The Line, built to house a million people, will form part of a much larger US$500bn project called Neom – a combination of the Greek word Neos, meaning new, and the Arabic word mustaqbal, or future.

“Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

Details about Neom are scarce: the project website says it will be home to both a Saudi and an international community, composed of “dreamers and doers.”

Attractions will include beaches with glow-in-the-dark-sand. There will even be a large fake moon to light the sky on cloudy nights.

If all this sounds a trifle fantastical, look no further than the Gulf cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi where, over a relatively short time, small fishing and trading settlements have been turned into international centres of commerce and tourism. Prince Mohammed’s ambitions, though – and his talk of a sustainable, emissions-free future – are open to doubt.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most profligate users of energy – almost all of it derived from the country’s plentiful reserves of fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects, announced in the past with much fanfare, have often come to nothing.

The Arabian peninsula is among the fastest-warming areas on the planet. For several years scientists have been warning that parts of the region will become uninhabitable if temperatures continue to rise.

Champion desalinator

Saudi Arabia has severely depleted water resources: the Neom project says it will help tackle this problem through extensive cloud seeding. Whether this will work is also open to question: cloud seeding can lead to its own set of environmental problems.

The project and its offshoot The Line will need to process water by using desalination technology. Saudi Arabia is already home to more desalination plants than any other country: the brine discharged in large quantities by such plants is harmful, particularly in such fragile ecological areas as the Red Sea.

Prince Mohammed and the Saudi planners have made little mention of those living in the north-west of the country who will be severely disrupted by Neom. The Huwaitat tribe, native to the area, say they are being forcibly relocated. A spokesman for the tribe was killed recently: reports say he was shot by government security forces.

Whether The Line and Prince Mohammed’s emissions-free Neom zone are built might ultimately depend on finance. Even for the deep-pocketed Saudis, the cost of the scheme represents a considerable challenge.

The project’s backers are wooing international investors: though many foreign companies will be licking their lips at the prospect of being involved in Neom, international banks and other financial institutions might be reluctant to invest funds, particularly in the wake of the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident, and the ongoing imprisonment of others who voice any opposition to the prince and the kingdom’s hierarchy. − Climate News Network

The world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is planing a new city entirely dependent on clean energy.

LONDON, 18 January, 2021 − Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has not till now shown any great enthusiasm for tackling climate chaos, is working on designs for an environmentally-friendly new city in the kingdom.

At successive international climate meetings Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has been among those states which have obstructed rather than encouraged attempts to tackle the increasingly urgent problems associated with a fast-warming world.

But recently Prince Mohammed, seen very much as the power behind the Saudi throne, has been talking of building a zero emissions city and establishing what he describes as “a blueprint for how people and planet can co-exist in harmony.”

In a glitzy presentation high on vision but low on detail, the prince outlined plans for a new, futuristic urban area to be carved out of the desert in the province of Tabuk, in north-west Saudi Arabia.

The city, to be called The Line, will stretch inwards for 106 miles from the Saudi Red Sea coast. It will be powered by 100% clean energy, says the prince, with no roads or cars. Instead “a belt of hyper-connected future communities” will be established.

Future techno-hub

There will be flying taxis, and scores of robot servants. The whole scheme will be built around nature, Prince Mohammed says. “Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development?”, he asks. “Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

The cost of the project will be between US$100-200 billion: initial construction work will begin early next year, and an airport has already been built.

The Line is just one element in an overall Saudi plan called Vision 2030,  which seeks to wean the country off its dependence on oil revenues – which account for a major part of gross domestic product.

The aim is to turn Saudi Arabia into one of the world’s technological hubs. A multi-billion dollar tourist industry will also be established. Eventually, says Prince Mohammed, desert lands bordering Egypt and Jordan covering more than 10,000 square miles – an area roughly the size of Belgium – will be developed.

The Line, built to house a million people, will form part of a much larger US$500bn project called Neom – a combination of the Greek word Neos, meaning new, and the Arabic word mustaqbal, or future.

“Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

Details about Neom are scarce: the project website says it will be home to both a Saudi and an international community, composed of “dreamers and doers.”

Attractions will include beaches with glow-in-the-dark-sand. There will even be a large fake moon to light the sky on cloudy nights.

If all this sounds a trifle fantastical, look no further than the Gulf cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi where, over a relatively short time, small fishing and trading settlements have been turned into international centres of commerce and tourism. Prince Mohammed’s ambitions, though – and his talk of a sustainable, emissions-free future – are open to doubt.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most profligate users of energy – almost all of it derived from the country’s plentiful reserves of fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects, announced in the past with much fanfare, have often come to nothing.

The Arabian peninsula is among the fastest-warming areas on the planet. For several years scientists have been warning that parts of the region will become uninhabitable if temperatures continue to rise.

Champion desalinator

Saudi Arabia has severely depleted water resources: the Neom project says it will help tackle this problem through extensive cloud seeding. Whether this will work is also open to question: cloud seeding can lead to its own set of environmental problems.

The project and its offshoot The Line will need to process water by using desalination technology. Saudi Arabia is already home to more desalination plants than any other country: the brine discharged in large quantities by such plants is harmful, particularly in such fragile ecological areas as the Red Sea.

Prince Mohammed and the Saudi planners have made little mention of those living in the north-west of the country who will be severely disrupted by Neom. The Huwaitat tribe, native to the area, say they are being forcibly relocated. A spokesman for the tribe was killed recently: reports say he was shot by government security forces.

Whether The Line and Prince Mohammed’s emissions-free Neom zone are built might ultimately depend on finance. Even for the deep-pocketed Saudis, the cost of the scheme represents a considerable challenge.

The project’s backers are wooing international investors: though many foreign companies will be licking their lips at the prospect of being involved in Neom, international banks and other financial institutions might be reluctant to invest funds, particularly in the wake of the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident, and the ongoing imprisonment of others who voice any opposition to the prince and the kingdom’s hierarchy. − Climate News Network

Chile’s waste bus changes throw-away societies

In a world choking on its own discarded rubbish, Chile’s waste bus is showing a way to slow the flood.

LONDON, 22 December, 2020 − If the climate crisis keeps you awake at night, the impact of what we casually throw away is sure to have you worried: it makes global heating a lot worse. But Chile’s waste bus is managing to change behaviour in a country with ingrained ways of disposing of what it no longer wants.

An estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) were generated globally from the treatment and disposal of waste in 2016 – representing about 5% of global CO2 emissions.

But recycling, experts say, is simply not enough to tackle this deluge. It’s useful and necessary, but waste needs to be “designed out” of the production and consumption cycle early in the life of a product.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) 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 Paris Agreement on climate change). It’s singled out a Latin American pioneer of an approach to waste which it thinks can teach the world a lesson or two.

It’s a social enterprise in Chile which encourages people to produce less waste and to recycle more − and which knows how policy and economic shifts can help to achieve rapid change. Enter TriCiclos, a company focused on changing consumerism and waste management so as to balance its three eponymous cycles: social, environmental, and financial.

Largest network

The TriCiclos model develops more sustainable ways of working, while engaging people in playing an active part and helping companies to re-design their processes to suit a circular economy.

TriCiclos was founded by two friends, Gonzalo Muñoz and Joaquin Arnolds Reyes, both determined to change how society thinks about resource use and to question what happens when something is “thrown away”.

It provides a service – on-site recycling centres called “Puntos Limpios”, or “clean-up points”, made from old shipping containers – where products that can be recycled or recovered are deposited in separate waste streams by consumers.

Brightly coloured and easy to use, each functions as a self-contained small-scale recycling centre coping with 25 different types of materials divided into categories: cellulose, plastic-coated cardboard, plastics, metals (aluminium and other metals), and glass. The containers gain by being installed in a chain of retail stores – one of the major players in home improvements in Latin America – allowing the partners to create the largest national network of clean-up units in Chile.

“In a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today”

The company also runs education programmes to teach people about waste disposal and recycling, and its “waste bus” travels the country providing advice on how to re-use waste and recycle it properly. The bus visits schools as well, and supports beach cleaning projects. TriCiclos has also invented a machine that turns plastic into toys, to show the potential of re-using materials, and works with waste pickers’ groups and cooperatives.

Unusually, perhaps, TriCiclos also offers business consultancy. True to its core belief that “waste is a design error that needs to be fixed”, the company helps manufacturers and designers to prevent their products entering the waste stream at all. To influence the production chain of consumer goods even before their creation, the company has developed its own software and machinery to help clients transform materials into circular resources.

Muñoz calls TriCiclos a company of cultural change disguised as recycling: “We want to change the culture of product design; the consumer culture that now exceeds our planet’s capabilities; the culture of citizens who must do their part by choosing better, as well as preparing and separating materials; the culture of the recycler that, as a standard, can and should become a service provider; and finally, the culture of waste that must disappear to accommodate the circular economy culture.”

By 2014 the business had arrived in Brazil. Today it is working in Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Nets salvaged

It is spawning imitators at home as well. Marine plastic has become a huge pollution issue on Chile’s beaches and in the poorer southern half of the country no facilities existed for fishermen to dispose safely of unusable plastic nets. Now a recent startup, Bureo, founded by three North American surfers, is collaborating with local fishing communities to keep hundreds of tonnes of discarded nets out of the ocean each year to be treated in Bureo’s warehouse, before being turned into 100% recycled pellets which are sold as a sustainable alternative to first-use plastics.

TriCiclos works with waste collectors to pass on their knowledge and experience of recycling to citizens, showing people how to separate their garbage, and also having conversations that lead the Punto Limpio users to reflect on their consumption and purchasing choices, raising awareness of which materials are recyclable as well as which brands and products follow sustainable practices.

Dr Muñoz says: “The first thing you have to consider is where garbage comes from. This way we can understand that in a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today. In order for this to happen, we must change our culture, change our incentives, challenge waste and programmed obsolescence.”

Waste, already a huge global problem, is growing fast. A 2018 World Bank report said annual waste generation was expected to jump from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.4 bn tonnes over the next 30 years, driven by rapid urbanisation, advertisements promoting consumerism, and growing populations. Humanity is already consuming more resources and producing more waste than the biosphere can regenerate and safely absorb.

Plastics – a product of the fossil fuel industry – are especially problematic. If not collected and managed properly, they will contaminate and affect waterways and ecosystems for hundreds or even thousands of years. More than a third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting, but only 4% is recycled in low-income countries . – 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.

In a world choking on its own discarded rubbish, Chile’s waste bus is showing a way to slow the flood.

LONDON, 22 December, 2020 − If the climate crisis keeps you awake at night, the impact of what we casually throw away is sure to have you worried: it makes global heating a lot worse. But Chile’s waste bus is managing to change behaviour in a country with ingrained ways of disposing of what it no longer wants.

An estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) were generated globally from the treatment and disposal of waste in 2016 – representing about 5% of global CO2 emissions.

But recycling, experts say, is simply not enough to tackle this deluge. It’s useful and necessary, but waste needs to be “designed out” of the production and consumption cycle early in the life of a product.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) 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 Paris Agreement on climate change). It’s singled out a Latin American pioneer of an approach to waste which it thinks can teach the world a lesson or two.

It’s a social enterprise in Chile which encourages people to produce less waste and to recycle more − and which knows how policy and economic shifts can help to achieve rapid change. Enter TriCiclos, a company focused on changing consumerism and waste management so as to balance its three eponymous cycles: social, environmental, and financial.

Largest network

The TriCiclos model develops more sustainable ways of working, while engaging people in playing an active part and helping companies to re-design their processes to suit a circular economy.

TriCiclos was founded by two friends, Gonzalo Muñoz and Joaquin Arnolds Reyes, both determined to change how society thinks about resource use and to question what happens when something is “thrown away”.

It provides a service – on-site recycling centres called “Puntos Limpios”, or “clean-up points”, made from old shipping containers – where products that can be recycled or recovered are deposited in separate waste streams by consumers.

Brightly coloured and easy to use, each functions as a self-contained small-scale recycling centre coping with 25 different types of materials divided into categories: cellulose, plastic-coated cardboard, plastics, metals (aluminium and other metals), and glass. The containers gain by being installed in a chain of retail stores – one of the major players in home improvements in Latin America – allowing the partners to create the largest national network of clean-up units in Chile.

“In a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today”

The company also runs education programmes to teach people about waste disposal and recycling, and its “waste bus” travels the country providing advice on how to re-use waste and recycle it properly. The bus visits schools as well, and supports beach cleaning projects. TriCiclos has also invented a machine that turns plastic into toys, to show the potential of re-using materials, and works with waste pickers’ groups and cooperatives.

Unusually, perhaps, TriCiclos also offers business consultancy. True to its core belief that “waste is a design error that needs to be fixed”, the company helps manufacturers and designers to prevent their products entering the waste stream at all. To influence the production chain of consumer goods even before their creation, the company has developed its own software and machinery to help clients transform materials into circular resources.

Muñoz calls TriCiclos a company of cultural change disguised as recycling: “We want to change the culture of product design; the consumer culture that now exceeds our planet’s capabilities; the culture of citizens who must do their part by choosing better, as well as preparing and separating materials; the culture of the recycler that, as a standard, can and should become a service provider; and finally, the culture of waste that must disappear to accommodate the circular economy culture.”

By 2014 the business had arrived in Brazil. Today it is working in Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Nets salvaged

It is spawning imitators at home as well. Marine plastic has become a huge pollution issue on Chile’s beaches and in the poorer southern half of the country no facilities existed for fishermen to dispose safely of unusable plastic nets. Now a recent startup, Bureo, founded by three North American surfers, is collaborating with local fishing communities to keep hundreds of tonnes of discarded nets out of the ocean each year to be treated in Bureo’s warehouse, before being turned into 100% recycled pellets which are sold as a sustainable alternative to first-use plastics.

TriCiclos works with waste collectors to pass on their knowledge and experience of recycling to citizens, showing people how to separate their garbage, and also having conversations that lead the Punto Limpio users to reflect on their consumption and purchasing choices, raising awareness of which materials are recyclable as well as which brands and products follow sustainable practices.

Dr Muñoz says: “The first thing you have to consider is where garbage comes from. This way we can understand that in a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today. In order for this to happen, we must change our culture, change our incentives, challenge waste and programmed obsolescence.”

Waste, already a huge global problem, is growing fast. A 2018 World Bank report said annual waste generation was expected to jump from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.4 bn tonnes over the next 30 years, driven by rapid urbanisation, advertisements promoting consumerism, and growing populations. Humanity is already consuming more resources and producing more waste than the biosphere can regenerate and safely absorb.

Plastics – a product of the fossil fuel industry – are especially problematic. If not collected and managed properly, they will contaminate and affect waterways and ecosystems for hundreds or even thousands of years. More than a third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting, but only 4% is recycled in low-income countries . – 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.

Ocean research plan seeks to preserve seas’ wealth

A decade of ocean research is about to begin to try to save the planet’s richest habitat from human destruction.

LONDON, 9 December, 2020 − Humans need urgently to invest in ocean research and protection. In return, the ocean could repay them handsomely, by soaking up atmospheric carbon, delivering huge amounts of renewable energy, providing six times more sustainable seafood, creating millions of jobs and generating trillions in economic benefits.

The oceans cover 70% of the planet but, a trio of scientists warn in the journal Nature, “for much too long, the ocean has been out of sight, out of mind and out of luck.”

From the margins of the coast to the deepest seas, the oceans’ habitats and the living creatures in them have been threatened by excessive and destructive fishing, they say.

“Unsustainable development along coastlines is destroying coral reefs, seagrass beds, salt marshes and mangrove forests. These house biodiversity, sequester carbon, provide nurseries for fish and buffer coasts against storm surges.

Separate approaches inadequate

Plastics and nutrients washed from the land are also killing wildlife. All of these threats erode the capacity of the ocean to provide nutritious food, jobs, medicines and pharmaceuticals as well as regulate the climate.”

But something can be done. A new report − commissioned by Norway, Palau, 12 other nations and a UN envoy, collectively responsible for two-fifths of the world’s coastlines, almost a third of the exclusive economic zones and a fifth of the world’s shipping − argues that it is not enough for individual nations to manage their sectors or confront challenging issues separately. The largest and deepest continuous living space on the planet demands something more.

The report finds that − if the world co-operated in an holistic approach to care for the oceans, and protected at least 30% of them − then by 2050 the deep blue sea could account for 20% of the carbon emission reductions needed to match the Paris climate agreement target of no more than 1.5°C warming above pre-industrial levels.

Such an initiative could exploit the ocean to provide 40 times the renewable energy generated worldwide in 2018. It could provide six times the sustainable seafood, create 12 million jobs and generate US$15.5 trillion in net economic benefits.

“Managing these resources sustainably requires first that we understand deep-sea ecosystems and their role on the planet”

But to make all this happen, the nations of the world would have to co-operate to manage fishing and seafood farming in sustainable ways; and they would have to take steps to mitigate climate change.

The world would have to invest in a variety of ways of generating renewable energy. It would have to clean up the shipping business − 90% of global goods move across the sea’s surface − to reduce emissions and pollution.

And it would have to halt the decline of, and restore, salt marshes, seagrass beds and mangroves: these cover areas more than 50 times smaller than the world’s forests, but they can store carbon at 10 times the rate of land-based ecosystems.

The world would also have to seriously protect great tracts of the seas: at least 30%. Right now, only 2.6% is fully protected from fishing and other disturbance. The researchers argue that political action to deliver a healthy ocean has been lacking − until now. But, they add, “Our knowledge of the ocean is deep.”

Ten-year study

It may not be deep enough, though, which explains the emphasis on more ocean research. Right on cue, another team of scientists reminds the world that the deepest parts of the ocean cover 60% of the globe and most of this has yet to be properly explored.

So, 150 years after the history-making British research ship HMS Challenger began its first systematic measurement of the deep sea, a consortium of scientists from 45 laboratories and universities in 17 countries has called for a dedicated decade of systematic and detailed study of a saltwater habitat that begins at 200 metres and extends as far in a few places as 11,000 metres in depth.

This initiative, they argue in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, should happen during the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, from 2021 to 2030.

“The deep seas and seabed are increasingly being used by society, and they are seen as a potential future asset for the resources they possess,” said Kerry Howell, an ecologist at the University of Plymouth in the UK, lead author. “But managing these resources sustainably requires first that we understand deep-sea ecosystems, and their role on the planet, its people and its atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

A decade of ocean research is about to begin to try to save the planet’s richest habitat from human destruction.

LONDON, 9 December, 2020 − Humans need urgently to invest in ocean research and protection. In return, the ocean could repay them handsomely, by soaking up atmospheric carbon, delivering huge amounts of renewable energy, providing six times more sustainable seafood, creating millions of jobs and generating trillions in economic benefits.

The oceans cover 70% of the planet but, a trio of scientists warn in the journal Nature, “for much too long, the ocean has been out of sight, out of mind and out of luck.”

From the margins of the coast to the deepest seas, the oceans’ habitats and the living creatures in them have been threatened by excessive and destructive fishing, they say.

“Unsustainable development along coastlines is destroying coral reefs, seagrass beds, salt marshes and mangrove forests. These house biodiversity, sequester carbon, provide nurseries for fish and buffer coasts against storm surges.

Separate approaches inadequate

Plastics and nutrients washed from the land are also killing wildlife. All of these threats erode the capacity of the ocean to provide nutritious food, jobs, medicines and pharmaceuticals as well as regulate the climate.”

But something can be done. A new report − commissioned by Norway, Palau, 12 other nations and a UN envoy, collectively responsible for two-fifths of the world’s coastlines, almost a third of the exclusive economic zones and a fifth of the world’s shipping − argues that it is not enough for individual nations to manage their sectors or confront challenging issues separately. The largest and deepest continuous living space on the planet demands something more.

The report finds that − if the world co-operated in an holistic approach to care for the oceans, and protected at least 30% of them − then by 2050 the deep blue sea could account for 20% of the carbon emission reductions needed to match the Paris climate agreement target of no more than 1.5°C warming above pre-industrial levels.

Such an initiative could exploit the ocean to provide 40 times the renewable energy generated worldwide in 2018. It could provide six times the sustainable seafood, create 12 million jobs and generate US$15.5 trillion in net economic benefits.

“Managing these resources sustainably requires first that we understand deep-sea ecosystems and their role on the planet”

But to make all this happen, the nations of the world would have to co-operate to manage fishing and seafood farming in sustainable ways; and they would have to take steps to mitigate climate change.

The world would have to invest in a variety of ways of generating renewable energy. It would have to clean up the shipping business − 90% of global goods move across the sea’s surface − to reduce emissions and pollution.

And it would have to halt the decline of, and restore, salt marshes, seagrass beds and mangroves: these cover areas more than 50 times smaller than the world’s forests, but they can store carbon at 10 times the rate of land-based ecosystems.

The world would also have to seriously protect great tracts of the seas: at least 30%. Right now, only 2.6% is fully protected from fishing and other disturbance. The researchers argue that political action to deliver a healthy ocean has been lacking − until now. But, they add, “Our knowledge of the ocean is deep.”

Ten-year study

It may not be deep enough, though, which explains the emphasis on more ocean research. Right on cue, another team of scientists reminds the world that the deepest parts of the ocean cover 60% of the globe and most of this has yet to be properly explored.

So, 150 years after the history-making British research ship HMS Challenger began its first systematic measurement of the deep sea, a consortium of scientists from 45 laboratories and universities in 17 countries has called for a dedicated decade of systematic and detailed study of a saltwater habitat that begins at 200 metres and extends as far in a few places as 11,000 metres in depth.

This initiative, they argue in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, should happen during the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, from 2021 to 2030.

“The deep seas and seabed are increasingly being used by society, and they are seen as a potential future asset for the resources they possess,” said Kerry Howell, an ecologist at the University of Plymouth in the UK, lead author. “But managing these resources sustainably requires first that we understand deep-sea ecosystems, and their role on the planet, its people and its atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

Advertisements harm the planet, researchers say

Like them or loathe them, advertisements are everywhere. And they’re worsening the climate crisis, say social scientists.

LONDON, 27 November, 2020 − Part and parcel of modern society, advertisements are so familiar in the background of most of our lives that we probably scarcely notice them. That’s a pity, because − if a new report is right − their influence may be indirectly causing climate and ecological damage.

The report, Advertising’s role in climate and ecological degradation, was commissioned by the Badvertising campaign, which is run by the New Weather Institute, a group backing a rapid transition to a fairer economy, and the climate campaign Possible. It is published today to coincide with Black Friday, regarded as the start of the US Christmas shopping season.

The report’s message is simple: advertising makes us want more material goods and services, which damage the environment and the climate in both their provision and their use. So less and better advertising would be good for the planet.

Its author is Dr Tim Kasser. Answering an argument often made in support of advertising, he told the Climate News Network: “Advertising does help people choose between products, but it also inculcates a general desire to want more of what is offered in the marketplace.

“When hundreds of millions of people have desires for more and more stuff and for more and more services and experiences, that really adds up and puts a strain on the Earth.”

Dependent media

Cautiously, perhaps, the advertising industry “indirectly” contributes to climate and ecological degradation, the report argues. For this it holds responsible the industry’s “encouragement of materialistic values and goals, the consumption-driving work & spend cycle”, and the consumption of two products in particular − beef and tobacco.

Definitions may help here. Materialism, the researchers say, is people’s desire to be rich as a result of “exposure to messages in their environment which suggest that happiness and a good life depend upon wealth and consumption.”

And here’s a spoiler alert for journalists: the survival of the media “typically depends on revenue obtained from presenting users with advertisements that encourage consumption.” The more TV you watch, the more adverts you’ll see, and the more materialistic you’ll become, it seems.

On the work & spend cycle, the study says: “Individuals who live under consumer capitalism are subjected to numerous pressures to work long hours … [one] is the desire to consume.” So “advertising leads people to place higher value on consumption of what they see advertised and lower value on having more time available for non-work activities.”

“Advertising serves capitalist economies in much the same way that state-sponsored art served Stalin’s Soviet Union, presenting a fake, idealised world that papers over an often brutal reality”

Advertisements can in fact mean “many people come to want to work, shop, and consume relatively more than to rest, recreate, and relate with others.” And there’s more: “Long work hours are associated with higher ecological footprints, greenhouse gas emissions, and overall energy consumption.”

When people work long hours, they have less time to engage in ecologically-sustainable and relatively time-intensive activities: bike-riding rather than car-driving, or growing food instead of buying it pre-packaged from a shop.

One of the researchers’ selected products, beef, can cause environmental damage as it is produced: unsustainable water use, destruction of forests, high levels of both greenhouse gases and pollutants that cause excessive algal growth. It can also damage human health (for example, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, linked in cattle to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease). Excessive consumption has been linked with heart disease and cancer.

The lethal risks of smoking tobacco are all too familiar. Producing and using cigarettes, the report finds, has much the same environmental effects as the beef industry and, a familiar refrain, “scientific evidence is consistent with the conclusion that advertising indirectly causes climate and ecological degradation through its encouragement of the consumption of tobacco.”

It may sound as though this demolition of advertisements is essentially an attack on the bedrock of capitalism. Andrew Simms, a co-author, told the Network it’s not that simple: “Advertising is so clever at being attractive or entertaining that it’s easy to forget it is manipulating us to get what it wants.

Broader reach

“And what it wants is for us to consume more, regardless of the environmental consequences or, indeed, the impact on our mental health or personal debt.

“I find it helps to remember that advertising serves capitalist economies in much the same way that state-sponsored art served Stalin’s Soviet Union, presenting a fake, idealised world that papers over an often brutal reality. But advertising in one sense is even more dangerous, because it is so pervasive, sophisticated in its techniques and harder to see through.”

The authors also take a sideswipe at two other products: flying for leisure, and sports utility vehicles. For possible solutions they refer readers to the Badvertising campaign’s toolkit.

They sum up their report with a suggestion that there’s more to come: “Substantial scientific evidence exists to support the claim that advertising has indirect but real effects on climate and ecological degradation. It seems likely that similar dynamics occur for other products, services, and experiences.”

Realists (or cynics) may conclude that the report simply proves that advertising really does work. Idealists may counter that that shows the researchers have not been wasting their time. − Climate News Network

Like them or loathe them, advertisements are everywhere. And they’re worsening the climate crisis, say social scientists.

LONDON, 27 November, 2020 − Part and parcel of modern society, advertisements are so familiar in the background of most of our lives that we probably scarcely notice them. That’s a pity, because − if a new report is right − their influence may be indirectly causing climate and ecological damage.

The report, Advertising’s role in climate and ecological degradation, was commissioned by the Badvertising campaign, which is run by the New Weather Institute, a group backing a rapid transition to a fairer economy, and the climate campaign Possible. It is published today to coincide with Black Friday, regarded as the start of the US Christmas shopping season.

The report’s message is simple: advertising makes us want more material goods and services, which damage the environment and the climate in both their provision and their use. So less and better advertising would be good for the planet.

Its author is Dr Tim Kasser. Answering an argument often made in support of advertising, he told the Climate News Network: “Advertising does help people choose between products, but it also inculcates a general desire to want more of what is offered in the marketplace.

“When hundreds of millions of people have desires for more and more stuff and for more and more services and experiences, that really adds up and puts a strain on the Earth.”

Dependent media

Cautiously, perhaps, the advertising industry “indirectly” contributes to climate and ecological degradation, the report argues. For this it holds responsible the industry’s “encouragement of materialistic values and goals, the consumption-driving work & spend cycle”, and the consumption of two products in particular − beef and tobacco.

Definitions may help here. Materialism, the researchers say, is people’s desire to be rich as a result of “exposure to messages in their environment which suggest that happiness and a good life depend upon wealth and consumption.”

And here’s a spoiler alert for journalists: the survival of the media “typically depends on revenue obtained from presenting users with advertisements that encourage consumption.” The more TV you watch, the more adverts you’ll see, and the more materialistic you’ll become, it seems.

On the work & spend cycle, the study says: “Individuals who live under consumer capitalism are subjected to numerous pressures to work long hours … [one] is the desire to consume.” So “advertising leads people to place higher value on consumption of what they see advertised and lower value on having more time available for non-work activities.”

“Advertising serves capitalist economies in much the same way that state-sponsored art served Stalin’s Soviet Union, presenting a fake, idealised world that papers over an often brutal reality”

Advertisements can in fact mean “many people come to want to work, shop, and consume relatively more than to rest, recreate, and relate with others.” And there’s more: “Long work hours are associated with higher ecological footprints, greenhouse gas emissions, and overall energy consumption.”

When people work long hours, they have less time to engage in ecologically-sustainable and relatively time-intensive activities: bike-riding rather than car-driving, or growing food instead of buying it pre-packaged from a shop.

One of the researchers’ selected products, beef, can cause environmental damage as it is produced: unsustainable water use, destruction of forests, high levels of both greenhouse gases and pollutants that cause excessive algal growth. It can also damage human health (for example, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, linked in cattle to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease). Excessive consumption has been linked with heart disease and cancer.

The lethal risks of smoking tobacco are all too familiar. Producing and using cigarettes, the report finds, has much the same environmental effects as the beef industry and, a familiar refrain, “scientific evidence is consistent with the conclusion that advertising indirectly causes climate and ecological degradation through its encouragement of the consumption of tobacco.”

It may sound as though this demolition of advertisements is essentially an attack on the bedrock of capitalism. Andrew Simms, a co-author, told the Network it’s not that simple: “Advertising is so clever at being attractive or entertaining that it’s easy to forget it is manipulating us to get what it wants.

Broader reach

“And what it wants is for us to consume more, regardless of the environmental consequences or, indeed, the impact on our mental health or personal debt.

“I find it helps to remember that advertising serves capitalist economies in much the same way that state-sponsored art served Stalin’s Soviet Union, presenting a fake, idealised world that papers over an often brutal reality. But advertising in one sense is even more dangerous, because it is so pervasive, sophisticated in its techniques and harder to see through.”

The authors also take a sideswipe at two other products: flying for leisure, and sports utility vehicles. For possible solutions they refer readers to the Badvertising campaign’s toolkit.

They sum up their report with a suggestion that there’s more to come: “Substantial scientific evidence exists to support the claim that advertising has indirect but real effects on climate and ecological degradation. It seems likely that similar dynamics occur for other products, services, and experiences.”

Realists (or cynics) may conclude that the report simply proves that advertising really does work. Idealists may counter that that shows the researchers have not been wasting their time. − Climate News Network

Roof of the world is home to microplastic fibres

Microplastic fibres have been found in the snows of Everest. Pollution levels have literally reached new heights.

LONDON, 26 November, 2020 − Scientists have set a new record for the identification of microplastic fibres − an altitude record. They have found them at 8,440 metres high in the Himalayas, almost at the summit of Mt Everest.

It should be no surprise. Microplastic fibres and polymer fragments − derived from plastic products and especially from plastic waste − have been found in the sediments at the bottom of the sea, on the beaches around barren Antarctic islands, in the Arctic ice, on the surfaces of the ocean, and in the tissues of living things, from sea snails to whales.

And as the issue of plastic pollution made its way up the political agenda, it has now also climbed Mt Everest. Researchers report, in the journal One Earth, that they identified 12 fibrous plastic particles in every litre of snow from the highest measuring point, the so-called Balcony of Everest; particles were also identified in stream water at high altitudes and in even greater numbers − 79 per litre of snow − at the famous Everest Base Camp.

Their arrival on the world’s highest and most famous peak would have been inevitable. Seventy years ago manufacturers made plastic products at the rate of 5 million tonnes a year. In 2020, the world purchased 330 million tonnes, much of it used once and discarded.

“It really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener”

Somewhere between 93,000 tonnes and 236,000 tonnes is estimated to be floating on the sea surfaces. The cascade of polyester, acrylic, nylon, polypropylene and other polymer waste could increase threefold in the next two decades.

And just as there is more plastic on the planet, so there are more and more visitors to Sagamartha National Park in Nepal, and to the slopes of Mt Everest. In 1979, the region was host to 3,600 trekkers and climbers. By 2016, that number had climbed to 45,000. By 2019, climbers were forming an orderly queue and taking turns to reach the summit.

And each of these would have been wearing high-performance outdoor clothing, while carrying − and sometimes leaving behind − ropes, tents and lunch boxes fashioned from polymer materials.

The snow samples were collected by a National Geographic research team
formed to investigate the impact of climate change on the world’s highest peak, and studied by Imogen Napper of the University of Plymouth in the UK.

No longer pristine

“Mt Everest has been described as the world’s highest junkyard. Microplastics haven’t been studied on the mountain before, but they are generally just as persistent and typically more difficult to remove than larger items of debris,” Dr Napper said.

“I didn’t know what to expect in terms of results, but it really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample I analysed. Mt Everest is somewhere I had always considered remote and pristine. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener.”

She added: “These are the highest microplastics discovered so far. While it sounds exciting, it means that microplastics have been discovered from the depths of the ocean all the way to the highest mountain on Earth.

“With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it’s time to focus on informing appropriate environmental solutions. We need to protect and care for our planet.” − Climate News Network

Microplastic fibres have been found in the snows of Everest. Pollution levels have literally reached new heights.

LONDON, 26 November, 2020 − Scientists have set a new record for the identification of microplastic fibres − an altitude record. They have found them at 8,440 metres high in the Himalayas, almost at the summit of Mt Everest.

It should be no surprise. Microplastic fibres and polymer fragments − derived from plastic products and especially from plastic waste − have been found in the sediments at the bottom of the sea, on the beaches around barren Antarctic islands, in the Arctic ice, on the surfaces of the ocean, and in the tissues of living things, from sea snails to whales.

And as the issue of plastic pollution made its way up the political agenda, it has now also climbed Mt Everest. Researchers report, in the journal One Earth, that they identified 12 fibrous plastic particles in every litre of snow from the highest measuring point, the so-called Balcony of Everest; particles were also identified in stream water at high altitudes and in even greater numbers − 79 per litre of snow − at the famous Everest Base Camp.

Their arrival on the world’s highest and most famous peak would have been inevitable. Seventy years ago manufacturers made plastic products at the rate of 5 million tonnes a year. In 2020, the world purchased 330 million tonnes, much of it used once and discarded.

“It really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener”

Somewhere between 93,000 tonnes and 236,000 tonnes is estimated to be floating on the sea surfaces. The cascade of polyester, acrylic, nylon, polypropylene and other polymer waste could increase threefold in the next two decades.

And just as there is more plastic on the planet, so there are more and more visitors to Sagamartha National Park in Nepal, and to the slopes of Mt Everest. In 1979, the region was host to 3,600 trekkers and climbers. By 2016, that number had climbed to 45,000. By 2019, climbers were forming an orderly queue and taking turns to reach the summit.

And each of these would have been wearing high-performance outdoor clothing, while carrying − and sometimes leaving behind − ropes, tents and lunch boxes fashioned from polymer materials.

The snow samples were collected by a National Geographic research team
formed to investigate the impact of climate change on the world’s highest peak, and studied by Imogen Napper of the University of Plymouth in the UK.

No longer pristine

“Mt Everest has been described as the world’s highest junkyard. Microplastics haven’t been studied on the mountain before, but they are generally just as persistent and typically more difficult to remove than larger items of debris,” Dr Napper said.

“I didn’t know what to expect in terms of results, but it really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample I analysed. Mt Everest is somewhere I had always considered remote and pristine. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener.”

She added: “These are the highest microplastics discovered so far. While it sounds exciting, it means that microplastics have been discovered from the depths of the ocean all the way to the highest mountain on Earth.

“With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it’s time to focus on informing appropriate environmental solutions. We need to protect and care for our planet.” − Climate News Network

Green spaces keep hearts healthy and save lives

Planting trees and creating urban parks brings more green spaces and cleaner air, cutting heart deaths and saving lives.

LONDON, 16 November, 2020 − A vast study of the incidence of heart disease, the amount of green spaces and air quality in each county of the United States has shown that the presence of trees, shrubs and grass saves lives.

It has long been known that particulate matter from industry and car exhausts is bad for lungs and hearts. While it is also accepted that the greenery absorbs pollution, it has been hard until now to relate the extent of the two effects.

Using the data collected by NASA from satellites to calculate the greenness of vast areas of the US, the researchers compared it with the national death rates from the Atlas of Heart Disease.

They overlaid this with data from the Environment Protection Agency’s air quality measurements of particulate matter for each county and the Census Bureau’s information on age, race, education and income by county.

Using an internationally recognised system to measure the amount of green vegetation in any location, from a barren area of rock at one extreme (0.00 on the scale) to dense tropical rain forest (0.80) at the other, they found a measurable link between greenness and survival rates.

Policy shift needed

For every 0.10 (12.5%) increase in what’s called the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index, heart disease decreased by 13 deaths per 100,000. For every one microgram increase in particulate matter per cubic metre of air, heart disease increased by roughly 39 deaths per 100,000.

“We found that areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and that having higher greenness measures, in turn, is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease,” said William Aitken, a cardiology fellow with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Florida.

“Given the potential cardiovascular benefits of higher greenness measures, it’s important that dialogue about improved health and quality of life include environmental policies that support increasing greenness,” he said.

The research is significant in the battle against climate change too. Asian countries, particularly India and China, have severe problems with early death and disease as a result of air pollution. They have concentrated their efforts for reducing air pollution by reducing traffic and suppressing coal burning.

It is clear from this research that they could both remove particulates from the air and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by increasing the amount of vegetation in polluted areas.

“Areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and having higher greenness measures is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease”

The US researchers hope their results will encourage clinical trials using built environment interventions (e.g., tree planting to increase the presence of vegetation) to improve cardiovascular health. “We will be performing a longitudinal study in Miami to assess if changes in neighbourhood greenness over time are associated with changes in cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Aitken said.

Commenting on the research Joel Kaufman, a volunteer expert for the American Heart Association and a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington, Seattle, said in addition to the actions that individuals could take to ensure healthy lives, such as not smoking, being physically active and controlling cholesterol, environmental factors had turned out to be very important.

Ambient air pollution from burning fossil fuels is one of the major factors. Research over 20 years has shown that living in areas with higher concentrations of air pollutants, and breathing in the pollution, leads to higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Demonstrably, green spaces matter.

Dr Kaufman said that community-led action had mostly been directed at increasing controls over the sources of air pollution affecting the environment. But another effective approach would be to increase the level of greenness, planting trees, shrubs and grass.

In a statement the American Heart Association said long-term exposure to air pollution reduced life expectancy by between several months and a few years, depending on its severity. Cutting pollution improved the health and life expectancy of those living in the area quite quickly. − Climate News Network

Planting trees and creating urban parks brings more green spaces and cleaner air, cutting heart deaths and saving lives.

LONDON, 16 November, 2020 − A vast study of the incidence of heart disease, the amount of green spaces and air quality in each county of the United States has shown that the presence of trees, shrubs and grass saves lives.

It has long been known that particulate matter from industry and car exhausts is bad for lungs and hearts. While it is also accepted that the greenery absorbs pollution, it has been hard until now to relate the extent of the two effects.

Using the data collected by NASA from satellites to calculate the greenness of vast areas of the US, the researchers compared it with the national death rates from the Atlas of Heart Disease.

They overlaid this with data from the Environment Protection Agency’s air quality measurements of particulate matter for each county and the Census Bureau’s information on age, race, education and income by county.

Using an internationally recognised system to measure the amount of green vegetation in any location, from a barren area of rock at one extreme (0.00 on the scale) to dense tropical rain forest (0.80) at the other, they found a measurable link between greenness and survival rates.

Policy shift needed

For every 0.10 (12.5%) increase in what’s called the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index, heart disease decreased by 13 deaths per 100,000. For every one microgram increase in particulate matter per cubic metre of air, heart disease increased by roughly 39 deaths per 100,000.

“We found that areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and that having higher greenness measures, in turn, is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease,” said William Aitken, a cardiology fellow with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Florida.

“Given the potential cardiovascular benefits of higher greenness measures, it’s important that dialogue about improved health and quality of life include environmental policies that support increasing greenness,” he said.

The research is significant in the battle against climate change too. Asian countries, particularly India and China, have severe problems with early death and disease as a result of air pollution. They have concentrated their efforts for reducing air pollution by reducing traffic and suppressing coal burning.

It is clear from this research that they could both remove particulates from the air and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by increasing the amount of vegetation in polluted areas.

“Areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and having higher greenness measures is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease”

The US researchers hope their results will encourage clinical trials using built environment interventions (e.g., tree planting to increase the presence of vegetation) to improve cardiovascular health. “We will be performing a longitudinal study in Miami to assess if changes in neighbourhood greenness over time are associated with changes in cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Aitken said.

Commenting on the research Joel Kaufman, a volunteer expert for the American Heart Association and a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington, Seattle, said in addition to the actions that individuals could take to ensure healthy lives, such as not smoking, being physically active and controlling cholesterol, environmental factors had turned out to be very important.

Ambient air pollution from burning fossil fuels is one of the major factors. Research over 20 years has shown that living in areas with higher concentrations of air pollutants, and breathing in the pollution, leads to higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Demonstrably, green spaces matter.

Dr Kaufman said that community-led action had mostly been directed at increasing controls over the sources of air pollution affecting the environment. But another effective approach would be to increase the level of greenness, planting trees, shrubs and grass.

In a statement the American Heart Association said long-term exposure to air pollution reduced life expectancy by between several months and a few years, depending on its severity. Cutting pollution improved the health and life expectancy of those living in the area quite quickly. − Climate News Network

Japan faces another Fukushima disaster crisis

A plan to dump a million tonnes of radioactive water from the Fukushima disaster off Japan is alarming local people.

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − The Japanese government has an unsolvable problem: what to do with more than a million tonnes of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, in store since the Fukushima disaster and growing at more than 150 tonnes a day.

The water, contained in a thousand giant tanks, has been steadily accumulating since the nuclear accident in 2011. It has been used to cool the three reactors that suffered a meltdown as a result of the tsunami that hit the coast.

Tritium is a radioactive element produced as a by-product by nuclear reactors under normal operation, and is present everywhere in the fabric of the reactor buildings, so water used for cooling them is bound to be contaminated by it.

To avoid another potentially catastrophic meltdown in the remaining fuel the cooling has to continue indefinitely, so the problem continues to worsen. The government has been told that Japan will run out of storage tanks by 2022.

Announcement delayed

As often happens when governments are faced with difficult problems, the unpalatable decision to release the contaminated water into the sea has not been formally announced, but the intention of the government to take this course has been leaked and so widely reported.

Immediately both local and worldwide adverse reaction has resulted. There are the direct effects on the local fishermen who fear that no one will want to buy their catch, but over a wider area the health effects are the main concern.

As ever with the nuclear industry, there are two widely different views on tritium. The Health Physics Society says it is a mildly radioactive element that is present everywhere, and doubts that people will be affected by it. But the Nuclear Information and Resource Service believes tritium is far more dangerous and increases the likelihood of cancers, birth defects and genetic disorders.

The issue is further complicated because the Fukushima wastewater contains a number of other radionuclides, not in such high quantities, but sufficient to cause damage. Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, is extremely concerned about Japan’s plans and the health of the local people.

“Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least. This will allow time also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power”

In a detailed assessment of the situation he says other highly dangerous radioactive substances, including caesium-137 and strontium-90, are also in the water stored at Fukushima.

They are in lower quantities than the tritium, he says, but still unacceptably high – up to 100 times above the legally permitted limit. All these radionuclides decay over time − some take thousands of years − but tritium decays faster, the danger from it halving every 12.3 years.

In a briefing for the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), a UK based organisation, another independent analyst, Tim Deere-Jones, discusses research that shows that tritium binds with organic material in plants and animals.

This is potentially highly damaging to human health because it travels up the food chain in the marine environment, specifically accumulating in fish. This means fish-eating communities on the Japanese coast could ingest much larger quantities of tritium than some physicists think likely.

Relying on dilution

Tim Deere-Jones is also concerned that the tritium will be blown inshore on the prevailing wind in sea spray and will bio-accumulate in food plants, making it risky to eat crops as far as ten miles inland. Because of the potential dangers of releasing the water the NFLA has asked the Japanese government to reconsider its decision.

The government has not yet responded though, because officially it is still considering what to do. However, it is likely to argue that pumping the contaminated water into the sea is acceptable because it will be diluted millions of times, and anyway seawater does already contain minute quantities of tritium.

Dr Fairlie is among many who think this is too dangerous, but he admits there are no easy solutions.

He says: “Barring a miraculous technical discovery which is unlikely, I think TEPCO/Japanese Gov’t [TEPCO is the Tokyo Electric Power Company, owner of the Fukushima Daiichi plant]  will have to buy more land and keep on building more holding tanks to allow for tritium decay to take place. Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least.

“This will allow time not only for tritium to decay, but also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power.” − Climate News Network

A plan to dump a million tonnes of radioactive water from the Fukushima disaster off Japan is alarming local people.

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − The Japanese government has an unsolvable problem: what to do with more than a million tonnes of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, in store since the Fukushima disaster and growing at more than 150 tonnes a day.

The water, contained in a thousand giant tanks, has been steadily accumulating since the nuclear accident in 2011. It has been used to cool the three reactors that suffered a meltdown as a result of the tsunami that hit the coast.

Tritium is a radioactive element produced as a by-product by nuclear reactors under normal operation, and is present everywhere in the fabric of the reactor buildings, so water used for cooling them is bound to be contaminated by it.

To avoid another potentially catastrophic meltdown in the remaining fuel the cooling has to continue indefinitely, so the problem continues to worsen. The government has been told that Japan will run out of storage tanks by 2022.

Announcement delayed

As often happens when governments are faced with difficult problems, the unpalatable decision to release the contaminated water into the sea has not been formally announced, but the intention of the government to take this course has been leaked and so widely reported.

Immediately both local and worldwide adverse reaction has resulted. There are the direct effects on the local fishermen who fear that no one will want to buy their catch, but over a wider area the health effects are the main concern.

As ever with the nuclear industry, there are two widely different views on tritium. The Health Physics Society says it is a mildly radioactive element that is present everywhere, and doubts that people will be affected by it. But the Nuclear Information and Resource Service believes tritium is far more dangerous and increases the likelihood of cancers, birth defects and genetic disorders.

The issue is further complicated because the Fukushima wastewater contains a number of other radionuclides, not in such high quantities, but sufficient to cause damage. Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, is extremely concerned about Japan’s plans and the health of the local people.

“Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least. This will allow time also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power”

In a detailed assessment of the situation he says other highly dangerous radioactive substances, including caesium-137 and strontium-90, are also in the water stored at Fukushima.

They are in lower quantities than the tritium, he says, but still unacceptably high – up to 100 times above the legally permitted limit. All these radionuclides decay over time − some take thousands of years − but tritium decays faster, the danger from it halving every 12.3 years.

In a briefing for the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), a UK based organisation, another independent analyst, Tim Deere-Jones, discusses research that shows that tritium binds with organic material in plants and animals.

This is potentially highly damaging to human health because it travels up the food chain in the marine environment, specifically accumulating in fish. This means fish-eating communities on the Japanese coast could ingest much larger quantities of tritium than some physicists think likely.

Relying on dilution

Tim Deere-Jones is also concerned that the tritium will be blown inshore on the prevailing wind in sea spray and will bio-accumulate in food plants, making it risky to eat crops as far as ten miles inland. Because of the potential dangers of releasing the water the NFLA has asked the Japanese government to reconsider its decision.

The government has not yet responded though, because officially it is still considering what to do. However, it is likely to argue that pumping the contaminated water into the sea is acceptable because it will be diluted millions of times, and anyway seawater does already contain minute quantities of tritium.

Dr Fairlie is among many who think this is too dangerous, but he admits there are no easy solutions.

He says: “Barring a miraculous technical discovery which is unlikely, I think TEPCO/Japanese Gov’t [TEPCO is the Tokyo Electric Power Company, owner of the Fukushima Daiichi plant]  will have to buy more land and keep on building more holding tanks to allow for tritium decay to take place. Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least.

“This will allow time not only for tritium to decay, but also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power.” − Climate News Network

Poor air inflicts billions of premature deaths in Asia

Air pollution by tiny particles is among the world’s worst health risks. In South Asia, poor air is as bad as it gets.

NEW DELHI, 22 October, 2020 − Poor air costs lives, but finding out just how many of them will come as a shock to many residents of South Asia’s big cities.

In India’s capital, New Delhi, just going outside and breathing the air can shorten your life by more than nine years, according to a new report into the region’s air quality that measures the effects of pollution on life expectancy.

For millions of people across across north-west India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it will be bad news − despite the Covid crisis − because of the current surge in air pollution in the region.

But none of the people of four countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, will be happy with the prediction that their lives will be shortened unless their governments take air pollution seriously.

New Delhi is the worst single example in the four, but few of their citizens − a quarter of the world’s population − will escape.

Bangladesh worst hit

Averaged across the whole population, the people of Bangladesh suffer most from air pollution in any country, with their average life span cut short by 6.2 years.

An air quality index (AQI) provides daily air quality assessments, but not the actual health risk. An air quality life index (AQLI) goes further: it converts particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important air pollution metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy.

The report is the work of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), which has recently updated its AQLI, based on research by its director Michael Greenstone that quantified the causal relationship between human exposure to air pollution and reduced life expectancy.

While the report makes grim reading for nations south of the Himalayas, it does offer some hope, saying that the people of China can see marked improvements since their government began clamping down on polluting industries in 2013.

The report uses two measures to calculate lower expectations of life expectancy: the more stringent World Heath Organisation guidelines (WHO) and the limits imposed by the governments concerned.

“The threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving [but] embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives”

It says air pollution shortens Indian average life expectancy by 5.2 years, relative to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met, but by 2.3 years relative to the rate if pollution were reduced to meet the country’s own national standard.

Some areas of India fare much worse than the average, with air pollution shortening lives by 9.4 years in Delhi and 8.6 years in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the report’s India fact sheet 2020 says.

Similarly, the Pakistan sheet says the average Pakistani’s life expectancy has been shortened by 2.7 years, while air pollution cuts lives by more than 4 years in the most polluted areas.

Naming Bangladesh as the world’s most polluted country, EPIC’s report says air pollution shortens the average citizen’s life expectancy by 6.2 years, compared to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met.

Again, some areas suffer far more, with lives cut by about 7 years in the most polluted district. In every one of the country’s 64 districts, particulate pollution levels are at least four times the WHO guidelines.

Possible underestimate

Surprisingly Nepal, which unlike its southern neighbours is not normally associated with air pollution, also had serious problems with its crowded and polluted cities. As a result, life expectancy there is cut by 4.7 years across the whole population.

“Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving − perhaps more in some places − embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives,” says Professor Greenstone.

The science of air pollution, and the impact of poor air on the human body, is evolving rapidly, and some Asian scientists have expressed reservations about the accuracy of some of the calculations. However, none of them disputes the fact that millions are dying early because of the pollution.

The report concentrates on the effect of the smaller particulates that are known to do the most damage to lungs, and to enter the bloodstream, and it may in fact be underestimating the overall effects of poor air quality. − Climate News Network

* * * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, covering development and the environment: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com and on twitter at @nivedita_Him

Air pollution by tiny particles is among the world’s worst health risks. In South Asia, poor air is as bad as it gets.

NEW DELHI, 22 October, 2020 − Poor air costs lives, but finding out just how many of them will come as a shock to many residents of South Asia’s big cities.

In India’s capital, New Delhi, just going outside and breathing the air can shorten your life by more than nine years, according to a new report into the region’s air quality that measures the effects of pollution on life expectancy.

For millions of people across across north-west India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it will be bad news − despite the Covid crisis − because of the current surge in air pollution in the region.

But none of the people of four countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, will be happy with the prediction that their lives will be shortened unless their governments take air pollution seriously.

New Delhi is the worst single example in the four, but few of their citizens − a quarter of the world’s population − will escape.

Bangladesh worst hit

Averaged across the whole population, the people of Bangladesh suffer most from air pollution in any country, with their average life span cut short by 6.2 years.

An air quality index (AQI) provides daily air quality assessments, but not the actual health risk. An air quality life index (AQLI) goes further: it converts particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important air pollution metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy.

The report is the work of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), which has recently updated its AQLI, based on research by its director Michael Greenstone that quantified the causal relationship between human exposure to air pollution and reduced life expectancy.

While the report makes grim reading for nations south of the Himalayas, it does offer some hope, saying that the people of China can see marked improvements since their government began clamping down on polluting industries in 2013.

The report uses two measures to calculate lower expectations of life expectancy: the more stringent World Heath Organisation guidelines (WHO) and the limits imposed by the governments concerned.

“The threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving [but] embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives”

It says air pollution shortens Indian average life expectancy by 5.2 years, relative to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met, but by 2.3 years relative to the rate if pollution were reduced to meet the country’s own national standard.

Some areas of India fare much worse than the average, with air pollution shortening lives by 9.4 years in Delhi and 8.6 years in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the report’s India fact sheet 2020 says.

Similarly, the Pakistan sheet says the average Pakistani’s life expectancy has been shortened by 2.7 years, while air pollution cuts lives by more than 4 years in the most polluted areas.

Naming Bangladesh as the world’s most polluted country, EPIC’s report says air pollution shortens the average citizen’s life expectancy by 6.2 years, compared to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met.

Again, some areas suffer far more, with lives cut by about 7 years in the most polluted district. In every one of the country’s 64 districts, particulate pollution levels are at least four times the WHO guidelines.

Possible underestimate

Surprisingly Nepal, which unlike its southern neighbours is not normally associated with air pollution, also had serious problems with its crowded and polluted cities. As a result, life expectancy there is cut by 4.7 years across the whole population.

“Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving − perhaps more in some places − embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives,” says Professor Greenstone.

The science of air pollution, and the impact of poor air on the human body, is evolving rapidly, and some Asian scientists have expressed reservations about the accuracy of some of the calculations. However, none of them disputes the fact that millions are dying early because of the pollution.

The report concentrates on the effect of the smaller particulates that are known to do the most damage to lungs, and to enter the bloodstream, and it may in fact be underestimating the overall effects of poor air quality. − Climate News Network

* * * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, covering development and the environment: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com and on twitter at @nivedita_Him