Tag Archives: Pollution

Waste plastic deluge could soon prove irreversible

The waste plastic deluge fouling the world’s beaches could be more than just an eyesore. It could be a toxic timebomb.

LONDON, 8 July, 2021 − European researchers have warned that the wave of pollution engulfing the globe could be nearing a tipping point. The waste plastic deluge could become an irreversible crisis.

Somewhere between 9 and 23 million tonnes of polymers get into the rivers, lakes and seas of the world every year. Even more may be getting into the terrestrial soils and by 2025 − unless the world changes its ways − these levels of pollution will have doubled.

And, the researchers warn, the uncertain and as yet unknown effects of weathering on such volumes of plastic could bring what has been called “a global toxicity debt” as drinking bottles, bits of fishing gear, coffee cups and carrier bags become covered with microbial life; as plastic particles foul the sea’s surface, become suspended in the water column, and build up in the sediments of the ocean.

Plastic waste has now been found everywhere: on the world’s highest mountains, in the deepest oceanic trenches, on the beaches of desolate islands in the Southern Ocean, in the Arctic ice, and in the tissues of living creatures, from seabirds to whales.

Worsening climate crisis

“Right now we are loading up the environment with increasing amounts of poorly reversible plastic pollution. So far we don’t see widespread evidence of bad consequences but if weathering plastic triggers a really bad effect we are not likely to be able to reverse it,” said Matthew Macleod of Stockholm University in Sweden.

“The cost of ignoring the accumulation of persistent plastic pollution in the environment could be enormous. The rational thing to do is act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic into the environment.”

Professor Macleod and colleagues warn in the journal Science that alongside threats to wildlife, and the potential hazard of environmental poisoning, there could be a number of other hypothetical consequences.

Plastic pollutants could exacerbate climate change by disrupting the traffic of carbon between the natural world and the atmosphere, and they could heighten biodiversity loss in the already over-fished oceans.

Researchers do not yet know of the long-term non-toxicological effects of plastic pollution on carbon and nutrient cycles, soil and sediment fertility, and biodiversity. Nor has there been any assessment of the potential for delayed toxic effects as the plastic polymers are altered by weathering.

“The rational thing to do is act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic into the environment”

And if there are such effects, then they could persist, to trigger what the scientists call a “tipping point”, long after people have stopped discarding plastic waste into the environment.

“The world promotes technological solutions for recycling and to remove plastic from the environment. As consumers, we believe that when we properly separate our plastic trash, all of it will magically be recycled,” said Mine Tekman, of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, and a co-author.

“Technologically, recycling of plastic has many limitations, and countries that have good infrastructures have been exporting their plastic waste to countries with worse facilities. Reducing emissions requires drastic actions, like capping the production of virgin plastic to increase the value of recycled plastic, and banning the export of plastic waste unless it is to a country with better recycling.”

And her colleague Annika Jahnke of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany warned: “In remote environments, plastic debris cannot be removed by cleanups, and weathering of large plastic items will inevitably result in the generation of large numbers of micro- and nano-plastic particles as well as leaching of chemicals that were intentionally added to the plastic and other chemicals that break off the plastic polymer backbone.

“So, plastic in the environment is a constantly moving target of increasing complexity and mobility. Where it accumulates and what effects it may cause are challenging or maybe even impossible to predict.” − Climate News Network

The waste plastic deluge fouling the world’s beaches could be more than just an eyesore. It could be a toxic timebomb.

LONDON, 8 July, 2021 − European researchers have warned that the wave of pollution engulfing the globe could be nearing a tipping point. The waste plastic deluge could become an irreversible crisis.

Somewhere between 9 and 23 million tonnes of polymers get into the rivers, lakes and seas of the world every year. Even more may be getting into the terrestrial soils and by 2025 − unless the world changes its ways − these levels of pollution will have doubled.

And, the researchers warn, the uncertain and as yet unknown effects of weathering on such volumes of plastic could bring what has been called “a global toxicity debt” as drinking bottles, bits of fishing gear, coffee cups and carrier bags become covered with microbial life; as plastic particles foul the sea’s surface, become suspended in the water column, and build up in the sediments of the ocean.

Plastic waste has now been found everywhere: on the world’s highest mountains, in the deepest oceanic trenches, on the beaches of desolate islands in the Southern Ocean, in the Arctic ice, and in the tissues of living creatures, from seabirds to whales.

Worsening climate crisis

“Right now we are loading up the environment with increasing amounts of poorly reversible plastic pollution. So far we don’t see widespread evidence of bad consequences but if weathering plastic triggers a really bad effect we are not likely to be able to reverse it,” said Matthew Macleod of Stockholm University in Sweden.

“The cost of ignoring the accumulation of persistent plastic pollution in the environment could be enormous. The rational thing to do is act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic into the environment.”

Professor Macleod and colleagues warn in the journal Science that alongside threats to wildlife, and the potential hazard of environmental poisoning, there could be a number of other hypothetical consequences.

Plastic pollutants could exacerbate climate change by disrupting the traffic of carbon between the natural world and the atmosphere, and they could heighten biodiversity loss in the already over-fished oceans.

Researchers do not yet know of the long-term non-toxicological effects of plastic pollution on carbon and nutrient cycles, soil and sediment fertility, and biodiversity. Nor has there been any assessment of the potential for delayed toxic effects as the plastic polymers are altered by weathering.

“The rational thing to do is act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic into the environment”

And if there are such effects, then they could persist, to trigger what the scientists call a “tipping point”, long after people have stopped discarding plastic waste into the environment.

“The world promotes technological solutions for recycling and to remove plastic from the environment. As consumers, we believe that when we properly separate our plastic trash, all of it will magically be recycled,” said Mine Tekman, of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, and a co-author.

“Technologically, recycling of plastic has many limitations, and countries that have good infrastructures have been exporting their plastic waste to countries with worse facilities. Reducing emissions requires drastic actions, like capping the production of virgin plastic to increase the value of recycled plastic, and banning the export of plastic waste unless it is to a country with better recycling.”

And her colleague Annika Jahnke of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany warned: “In remote environments, plastic debris cannot be removed by cleanups, and weathering of large plastic items will inevitably result in the generation of large numbers of micro- and nano-plastic particles as well as leaching of chemicals that were intentionally added to the plastic and other chemicals that break off the plastic polymer backbone.

“So, plastic in the environment is a constantly moving target of increasing complexity and mobility. Where it accumulates and what effects it may cause are challenging or maybe even impossible to predict.” − Climate News Network

Ecosystem sentinels sound alarm for the oceans

Sea birds are known as ecosystem sentinels, warning of marine loss. As their numbers fall, so could the riches of the ocean.

LONDON, 7 June, 2021 − For a tern in the northern hemisphere, life may be about to take a turn for the worse. For murres or guillemots, as the temperature rises, the chance of survival takes a dive. Many of the world’s seabirds could be in trouble.

And for a mix of reasons, the birds of the southern hemisphere could also be heading into difficulties, but at a slower pace. A worldwide team of 40 
ornithologists has looked at 50 years of breeding records for 67 seabird species to find that as global temperatures notch up, breeding rates are down.

That may be just an indicator of deteriorating conditions on and below the surface of the oceans: the researchers call their seabird subjects “ecosystem sentinels”.

The scientists report in the journal Science that they used their data to test a proposition: that seabird productivity − the numbers that survive each breeding season − would track “hemispheric asymmetry” in ocean climate change and human use.

Put simply, because there is less land and fewer people south of the Equator, because the southern waters are less overfished and subjected to lower pollution levels, and because a bigger ocean space ought to absorb extremes of heat more effectively, seabird survival rates would be worse north of the line than to the south.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface”

And that is because the fish and plankton that seabirds eat can move with the climate, but the seabirds cannot: during the breeding season, they return to the same colonies. And hunt they must: the species Uria aalge, known as the murre or the guillemot, must eat half its bodyweight in fish each day to survive. When a long-term marine heatwave hit the north-east Pacific in 2015-2016, almost a million of them starved to death.

Breeding colonies also suffered. The pattern of change is not uniform: surface-feeding birds were more likely to be in decline; birds like puffins that plunged below the surface tended to fare a little better at rearing offspring to survival.

“Seabirds travel long distances − some going from one hemisphere to the other − chasing their food in the ocean. This makes them sensitive to changes in things like ocean productivity, often over a large area,” said P Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington in the US.

“They have to compete with us for food. They get caught in our fishing nets. They eat our plastic, which they think is food. All of these factors can kill off large numbers of long-lived seabirds.”

She and colleagues have monitored the breeding success of a colony of Magellanic penguins in southern Argentina for 35 years. These birds go back to the water each season to feed their chicks: the further they have to swim, the greater the chance of a starved penguin chick.

Competition for food

Stormier weather on land, too, can destroy nests. Female penguins find survival tougher, and are more likely to die at sea. So the proportion of male Magellanic penguins is rising. Today the breeding population at the research site is about half of its numbers 40 years ago.

William Sydeman of the Farallon Institute in Northern California, who led the study, warned that falling seabird numbers could be an indicator of worse things happening at sea.

“What’s also at stake is the health of fish populations such as salmon and cod, as well as marine mammals and large invertebrates, such as squid, that are eating the same small forage fish and plankton that seabirds eat,” he said.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface which is concerning, because we depend on healthy oceans for quality of life.” − Climate News Network

Sea birds are known as ecosystem sentinels, warning of marine loss. As their numbers fall, so could the riches of the ocean.

LONDON, 7 June, 2021 − For a tern in the northern hemisphere, life may be about to take a turn for the worse. For murres or guillemots, as the temperature rises, the chance of survival takes a dive. Many of the world’s seabirds could be in trouble.

And for a mix of reasons, the birds of the southern hemisphere could also be heading into difficulties, but at a slower pace. A worldwide team of 40 
ornithologists has looked at 50 years of breeding records for 67 seabird species to find that as global temperatures notch up, breeding rates are down.

That may be just an indicator of deteriorating conditions on and below the surface of the oceans: the researchers call their seabird subjects “ecosystem sentinels”.

The scientists report in the journal Science that they used their data to test a proposition: that seabird productivity − the numbers that survive each breeding season − would track “hemispheric asymmetry” in ocean climate change and human use.

Put simply, because there is less land and fewer people south of the Equator, because the southern waters are less overfished and subjected to lower pollution levels, and because a bigger ocean space ought to absorb extremes of heat more effectively, seabird survival rates would be worse north of the line than to the south.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface”

And that is because the fish and plankton that seabirds eat can move with the climate, but the seabirds cannot: during the breeding season, they return to the same colonies. And hunt they must: the species Uria aalge, known as the murre or the guillemot, must eat half its bodyweight in fish each day to survive. When a long-term marine heatwave hit the north-east Pacific in 2015-2016, almost a million of them starved to death.

Breeding colonies also suffered. The pattern of change is not uniform: surface-feeding birds were more likely to be in decline; birds like puffins that plunged below the surface tended to fare a little better at rearing offspring to survival.

“Seabirds travel long distances − some going from one hemisphere to the other − chasing their food in the ocean. This makes them sensitive to changes in things like ocean productivity, often over a large area,” said P Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington in the US.

“They have to compete with us for food. They get caught in our fishing nets. They eat our plastic, which they think is food. All of these factors can kill off large numbers of long-lived seabirds.”

She and colleagues have monitored the breeding success of a colony of Magellanic penguins in southern Argentina for 35 years. These birds go back to the water each season to feed their chicks: the further they have to swim, the greater the chance of a starved penguin chick.

Competition for food

Stormier weather on land, too, can destroy nests. Female penguins find survival tougher, and are more likely to die at sea. So the proportion of male Magellanic penguins is rising. Today the breeding population at the research site is about half of its numbers 40 years ago.

William Sydeman of the Farallon Institute in Northern California, who led the study, warned that falling seabird numbers could be an indicator of worse things happening at sea.

“What’s also at stake is the health of fish populations such as salmon and cod, as well as marine mammals and large invertebrates, such as squid, that are eating the same small forage fish and plankton that seabirds eat,” he said.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface which is concerning, because we depend on healthy oceans for quality of life.” − Climate News Network

Polar cod face new threat from Arctic oil pollution

Already struggling to survive in warming Arctic seas, the polar cod are now at risk from rising oil pollution.

LONDON, 2 June, 2021 – They are small – on average around 25cm long. But polar cod (Boreogadus saida) are a vital part of the Arctic food chain, a major ingredient in the diet of seals, narwhals and a wide variety of seabirds.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other area on the planet, and a study published in 2020 found that declines in winter sea ice cover in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic, plus warmer sea temperatures, were causing declines in polar cod reproduction rates.

The latest research indicates that the polar cod is now under threat not only from warming Arctic seas, but because of oil pollution as well, as the region’s rapidly diminishing ice cover allows more shipping traffic and commercial activity.

Morgan Lizabeth Bender is a researcher in the department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the University of Tromsø (UiT) in northern Norway. Her research has found that when the polar cod is exposed to a combination of warmer waters and only very slight levels of oil pollution, its development is interrupted, with abnormalities common.

“Polar cod is a somewhat difficult species that hasn’t been researched that much,” Dr Bender told the Science Norway website. “The fish are a difficult species to find and to take care of in the lab. However, this species has a very important ecological role.”

“Increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure”

The fish, monitored during the breeding process, were sorted into aquariums – some at a current Arctic water temperature of 0.5°C, others at a warmer 2.8°C to mimic an Arctic affected by climate change.

The aquariums contained either pure water or water contaminated by minuscule amounts of crude oil. “The pollution level would be the equivalent of about five drops of oil in an Olympic-size swimming pool,” says Dr Bender.

Though the study found that polar cod eggs in the warmer water hatched much faster than those in the colder water, at first there was little difference between survival rates in the various aquariums.

But then something strange started happening to the fry – the young fish – that were exposed to oil.

“When they first hatched, there wasn’t much difference,” says Dr Bender. “But as their jaw, face and eyes started to develop, we saw very clearly that they weren’t forming properly.”

Lower survival rates

The research found that the fry were very sensitive to even the slightest amount of oil pollution: death rates were highest among fry exposed to both warmer water and oil.

When the fry became large enough to start feeding, only 8% survived in the contaminated warmer water and 23% in the contaminated cold water.

Marine scientists say that polar cod numbers have shown a downward trend since 2010, despite the fact that they are not a fished species.

Sonnich Meier, of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, has been examining the impact of both global warming and oil pollution on Arctic fish species for a number of years.

“Polar cod is one of the fish species that is hardest hit by climate change in the Arctic,” he says. “The study shows that increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure.” – Climate News Network

Already struggling to survive in warming Arctic seas, the polar cod are now at risk from rising oil pollution.

LONDON, 2 June, 2021 – They are small – on average around 25cm long. But polar cod (Boreogadus saida) are a vital part of the Arctic food chain, a major ingredient in the diet of seals, narwhals and a wide variety of seabirds.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other area on the planet, and a study published in 2020 found that declines in winter sea ice cover in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic, plus warmer sea temperatures, were causing declines in polar cod reproduction rates.

The latest research indicates that the polar cod is now under threat not only from warming Arctic seas, but because of oil pollution as well, as the region’s rapidly diminishing ice cover allows more shipping traffic and commercial activity.

Morgan Lizabeth Bender is a researcher in the department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the University of Tromsø (UiT) in northern Norway. Her research has found that when the polar cod is exposed to a combination of warmer waters and only very slight levels of oil pollution, its development is interrupted, with abnormalities common.

“Polar cod is a somewhat difficult species that hasn’t been researched that much,” Dr Bender told the Science Norway website. “The fish are a difficult species to find and to take care of in the lab. However, this species has a very important ecological role.”

“Increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure”

The fish, monitored during the breeding process, were sorted into aquariums – some at a current Arctic water temperature of 0.5°C, others at a warmer 2.8°C to mimic an Arctic affected by climate change.

The aquariums contained either pure water or water contaminated by minuscule amounts of crude oil. “The pollution level would be the equivalent of about five drops of oil in an Olympic-size swimming pool,” says Dr Bender.

Though the study found that polar cod eggs in the warmer water hatched much faster than those in the colder water, at first there was little difference between survival rates in the various aquariums.

But then something strange started happening to the fry – the young fish – that were exposed to oil.

“When they first hatched, there wasn’t much difference,” says Dr Bender. “But as their jaw, face and eyes started to develop, we saw very clearly that they weren’t forming properly.”

Lower survival rates

The research found that the fry were very sensitive to even the slightest amount of oil pollution: death rates were highest among fry exposed to both warmer water and oil.

When the fry became large enough to start feeding, only 8% survived in the contaminated warmer water and 23% in the contaminated cold water.

Marine scientists say that polar cod numbers have shown a downward trend since 2010, despite the fact that they are not a fished species.

Sonnich Meier, of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, has been examining the impact of both global warming and oil pollution on Arctic fish species for a number of years.

“Polar cod is one of the fish species that is hardest hit by climate change in the Arctic,” he says. “The study shows that increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure.” – Climate News Network

Asia’s cities are worst hit in warming world

Climate change, water shortage and pollution are worst for Asia’s cities, researchers say. The rest of us have a lucky escape.

LONDON, 17 May, 2021 – It’s bad news for residents of Jakarta. People living in Delhi, Chennai or Wuhan do not fare much better. A new study has found that a wide range of environmental and climate change threats are worst for Asia’s cities, with the rest of the planet getting off more lightly.

The study, by the analysis and forecasting group Verisk Maplecroft, looks primarily at the risks posed to businesses operating and investing in various urban centres.

Based on such factors as pollution, a lack of water, extreme heat and general vulnerability to climate change, 99 of the 100 most risk-prone cities in the world are in Asia, with the Indonesian capital Jakarta topping the list and cities in India close behind.

Jakarta, with a population of more than 10.5 million people, is sinking. Like many coastal cities round the world, it is vulnerable to sea level rise.
Built on what was once a swamp, the city has serious water supply problems as well, and the air is severely polluted.

“The reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”

Little can be done: the Indonesian government plans to shut up shop and move the capital to East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

Air and water pollution are particularly acute problems in India’s cities. In its risk index, the study ranks Delhi, Chennai, Agra and Kanpur in the top ten of the world’s cities most at risk of environmental disaster and climate change.

Several cities in China, along with Manila in the Philippines, Bangkok in Thailand and Karachi in Pakistan score badly. Nor are cities outside Asia immune from the growing environmental and climate crisis.

“Londoners might envisage warm days in the park and an Italian café culture, but the reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”, says the study.

Clean Cairo?

The business sector has to be aware of what’s happening and assess the risks of locating and investing in various urban centres. “How well global organisations manage the escalating environmental and climate crisis is now one of the most critical factors determining their long-term resilience”, says Verisk Maplecroft.

Legal issues have to be considered. “As the pace picks up on carbon regulations, legal liabilities related to climate are also becoming more mainstream”, the study says.

Cities in Canada and New Zealand generally perform well on the Verisk Maplecroft index. Many European cities also achieve a good rating.

Istanbul in Turkey and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia perform badly while, perhaps surprisingly, the Egyptian capital Cairo – a city of nearly 10 million – performs better, mainly due to its cleaner air and greater access to water supplies.

Northern attraction

Elsewhere In Africa, the teeming metropolises of Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo have a low rating. In South America, the desert city of Lima, the Peruvian capital, is facing severe water shortages and other environmental problems.

There is more and more evidence that fish and many other creatures are moving north as ocean and land temperatures rise. Plant life is also trying to adjust to global warming.

One of the overall messages of the study seems to be that, however grim the problems of Asia’s cities, when it comes to looking for cities to live in, we humans should also be moving northwards.

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, scores well on the study’s index. Vancouver and Ottawa in Canada would not be a bad bet. Krasnoyarsk in Siberia looks OK.

And there’s good news for those heading for Glasgow for the big COP-26 climate conference later this year. The Scottish city – not renowned for warm, moisture-free days – is among those in the world least exposed to the dangers of climate change, says the study. – Climate News Network

Climate change, water shortage and pollution are worst for Asia’s cities, researchers say. The rest of us have a lucky escape.

LONDON, 17 May, 2021 – It’s bad news for residents of Jakarta. People living in Delhi, Chennai or Wuhan do not fare much better. A new study has found that a wide range of environmental and climate change threats are worst for Asia’s cities, with the rest of the planet getting off more lightly.

The study, by the analysis and forecasting group Verisk Maplecroft, looks primarily at the risks posed to businesses operating and investing in various urban centres.

Based on such factors as pollution, a lack of water, extreme heat and general vulnerability to climate change, 99 of the 100 most risk-prone cities in the world are in Asia, with the Indonesian capital Jakarta topping the list and cities in India close behind.

Jakarta, with a population of more than 10.5 million people, is sinking. Like many coastal cities round the world, it is vulnerable to sea level rise.
Built on what was once a swamp, the city has serious water supply problems as well, and the air is severely polluted.

“The reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”

Little can be done: the Indonesian government plans to shut up shop and move the capital to East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

Air and water pollution are particularly acute problems in India’s cities. In its risk index, the study ranks Delhi, Chennai, Agra and Kanpur in the top ten of the world’s cities most at risk of environmental disaster and climate change.

Several cities in China, along with Manila in the Philippines, Bangkok in Thailand and Karachi in Pakistan score badly. Nor are cities outside Asia immune from the growing environmental and climate crisis.

“Londoners might envisage warm days in the park and an Italian café culture, but the reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”, says the study.

Clean Cairo?

The business sector has to be aware of what’s happening and assess the risks of locating and investing in various urban centres. “How well global organisations manage the escalating environmental and climate crisis is now one of the most critical factors determining their long-term resilience”, says Verisk Maplecroft.

Legal issues have to be considered. “As the pace picks up on carbon regulations, legal liabilities related to climate are also becoming more mainstream”, the study says.

Cities in Canada and New Zealand generally perform well on the Verisk Maplecroft index. Many European cities also achieve a good rating.

Istanbul in Turkey and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia perform badly while, perhaps surprisingly, the Egyptian capital Cairo – a city of nearly 10 million – performs better, mainly due to its cleaner air and greater access to water supplies.

Northern attraction

Elsewhere In Africa, the teeming metropolises of Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo have a low rating. In South America, the desert city of Lima, the Peruvian capital, is facing severe water shortages and other environmental problems.

There is more and more evidence that fish and many other creatures are moving north as ocean and land temperatures rise. Plant life is also trying to adjust to global warming.

One of the overall messages of the study seems to be that, however grim the problems of Asia’s cities, when it comes to looking for cities to live in, we humans should also be moving northwards.

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, scores well on the study’s index. Vancouver and Ottawa in Canada would not be a bad bet. Krasnoyarsk in Siberia looks OK.

And there’s good news for those heading for Glasgow for the big COP-26 climate conference later this year. The Scottish city – not renowned for warm, moisture-free days – is among those in the world least exposed to the dangers of climate change, says the study. – Climate News Network

Funeral smoke adds to South Asia’s woes

With the sub-continent battling a vicious Covid onslaught, the worst fires in years are adding to South Asia’s woes.

LONDON, 10 May, 2021 − A thick pall of smoke hangs over much of northern India. For weeks residents of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, have not seen the sun. Smoke blankets areas of Bangladesh and the mountain kingdom of Bhutan. The pandemic has spread South Asia’s woes far and wide.

Forest fires sweep across the north Indian states of Uttarakhand – the country’s most forested state – and Himachal Pradesh. Further north in Nepal, fire is destroying thousands of hectares of forest. The fires, most of them out of control, are blamed in part on farmers burning stubble in their fields in order to plant crops.

But climate change is also a factor: over the past two years the level of rainfall across northern India has been considerably less than usual, while average temperatures have increased. Snowfall in the Himalayas has been well below average. As a result, say officials, much of the area has become tinder dry and fires have been spreading at lightning speed, leaving several people dead.

The conflagrations lead to the release of vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases, the air pollution causes widespread health problems, and biodiversity is lost.

“On average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India”

Smoke from the fires also causes fundamental changes high up in the Himalayas. Glaciers in the world’s highest mountain range are melting at considerable speed. This can lead to flooding in the short term and, in the long term, water shortages.

Higher temperatures are one reason for the melting, but soot from fires and other pollution is another important factor. When smoke particles fall on snow and ice they form a dark blanket which causes the absorption of more sunlight which, in turn, leads to further melting.

The Himalayas are particularly prone to such soot pollution. The Indo-Gangetic Plain to the south of the world’s highest and biggest mountain range is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

Winds carry the smoke from millions of household fires – many of them burning animal dung – high up into the mountains. Particulates from industrial pollution are also deposited on the snow and ice. Hindus burn the bodies of their dead on funeral pyres, and the smoke from these fires is also carried up into the Himalayas.

Role of rituals

Shamsh Pervez, a researcher at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University in India, says that on average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India.

Organic carbon released during funerals and in the course of other religious rituals contains a number of light-absorbing compounds, many of them toxic, Pervez says.

In a study carried out some years ago by academics in India and at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, it was found that smoke from various religious rituals makes a significant contribution to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: it also causes further melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.

In the present Covid pandemic – hitting India and Nepal in particular – the number of such funerals is increasing. It’s estimated that wood from more than 50 million trees is used to fuel funeral pyres in South Asia each year. − Climate News Network

With the sub-continent battling a vicious Covid onslaught, the worst fires in years are adding to South Asia’s woes.

LONDON, 10 May, 2021 − A thick pall of smoke hangs over much of northern India. For weeks residents of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, have not seen the sun. Smoke blankets areas of Bangladesh and the mountain kingdom of Bhutan. The pandemic has spread South Asia’s woes far and wide.

Forest fires sweep across the north Indian states of Uttarakhand – the country’s most forested state – and Himachal Pradesh. Further north in Nepal, fire is destroying thousands of hectares of forest. The fires, most of them out of control, are blamed in part on farmers burning stubble in their fields in order to plant crops.

But climate change is also a factor: over the past two years the level of rainfall across northern India has been considerably less than usual, while average temperatures have increased. Snowfall in the Himalayas has been well below average. As a result, say officials, much of the area has become tinder dry and fires have been spreading at lightning speed, leaving several people dead.

The conflagrations lead to the release of vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases, the air pollution causes widespread health problems, and biodiversity is lost.

“On average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India”

Smoke from the fires also causes fundamental changes high up in the Himalayas. Glaciers in the world’s highest mountain range are melting at considerable speed. This can lead to flooding in the short term and, in the long term, water shortages.

Higher temperatures are one reason for the melting, but soot from fires and other pollution is another important factor. When smoke particles fall on snow and ice they form a dark blanket which causes the absorption of more sunlight which, in turn, leads to further melting.

The Himalayas are particularly prone to such soot pollution. The Indo-Gangetic Plain to the south of the world’s highest and biggest mountain range is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

Winds carry the smoke from millions of household fires – many of them burning animal dung – high up into the mountains. Particulates from industrial pollution are also deposited on the snow and ice. Hindus burn the bodies of their dead on funeral pyres, and the smoke from these fires is also carried up into the Himalayas.

Role of rituals

Shamsh Pervez, a researcher at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University in India, says that on average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India.

Organic carbon released during funerals and in the course of other religious rituals contains a number of light-absorbing compounds, many of them toxic, Pervez says.

In a study carried out some years ago by academics in India and at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, it was found that smoke from various religious rituals makes a significant contribution to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: it also causes further melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.

In the present Covid pandemic – hitting India and Nepal in particular – the number of such funerals is increasing. It’s estimated that wood from more than 50 million trees is used to fuel funeral pyres in South Asia each year. − Climate News Network

City motorists in UK buy most off-road cars

Most UK buyers of off-road cars designed for rural use are urban motorists, worsening city congestion and air pollution.


LONDON, 7 April, 2021 − Three-quarters of all sports utility vehicles (SUVs) sold in the UK are bought by people living in towns and cities, new analysis shows. The largest SUVs, off-road vehicles designed to appeal to farmers and other country dwellers, are most popular in some of the wealthiest parts of London, where they aggravate existing problems of air pollution and heavy traffic.

Campaigners say this trend is the result of psychological techniques and dishonest messaging used by the vehicles’ advertisers.

Research commissioned by a think-tank, the New Weather Institute, and a climate charity, Possible, shows that 75% of all SUVs sold in the UK in 2019 and 2020 were registered to urban households. It found that the largest, most polluting SUVs followed a similar pattern, with two-thirds sold to people living in towns and cities.

These findings follow recent claims by carmakers and advertisers that SUVs are needed by people living in rural areas. One motoring guide describes the supposedly seductive vehicles in glowing terms: “The SUV is the fastest-growing car type in the UK, with more and more customers being seduced by their high driving position, practicality, and sense of security.”

Tempting urbanites

One motorist’s surrender to seduction, though, may come at a high price to others who are obliged to share the roads with them and their off-road cars, both those in smaller vehicles squeezed for space and cyclists and pedestrians forced to breathe more polluted air.

Or, as the research puts it, quoting Theodor Adorno, the post-war German philosopher and social critic, “Which auto-driver has not felt the temptation, in the power of the motor, to run over the vermin of the street – passers-by, children, bicyclists?”

The research is detailed in a report, Mindgames on wheels, published by the Badvertising campaign, which aims to stop adverts fuelling the climate crisis.

Rather than large SUVs being most popular in the areas for which they are most suited, Britain’s remote farming regions, the report says, six of the top ten areas in the UK for new sales are urban or suburban districts.

“One of advertising’s biggest manipulations has persuaded urban families that it’s perfectly ‘normal’ to go shopping in a two-tonne truck”

Although these vehicles have four-wheel-drive and off-road capability, the top districts for large SUV sales are three wealthy inner London boroughs: Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster, and Hammersmith & Fulham. On average, one in three new private cars bought in these areas is a large SUV.

Areas where the largest new cars are most popular also correspond closely with places where road space is most scarce and where the highest proportion of cars are parked on the street. The report points out that many of these cars are too big to fit into a standard UK parking space.

It includes an analysis of what it says is the history of car makers’ marketing messages around SUVs, for instance “get back to nature” and “help the environment”. The team behind the report argues that car makers have spent decades working with advertisers to develop persuasive but dishonest messaging.

It says this has created consumer demand for far bigger cars than buyers need, and calls for an end to SUV advertising, renewed commitments to tackle climate change by the Advertising Standards Authority, and for advertising agencies to reject future work from polluting SUV companies.

Status symbols

The report’s authors have written to the UK advertising agency Spark44,  which runs multiple SUV campaigns, asking it to outline its plans for meeting the requirements of the UK government’s climate targets.

Andrew Simms, co-director of the New Weather Institute and one of the report’s co-authors, said: “One of advertising’s biggest manipulations has persuaded urban families that it’s perfectly ‘normal’ to go shopping in a two-tonne truck. The human health and climate damage done by SUVs is huge and needs to be undone.

“Just as tobacco advertising was successfully ended, it’s time to stop promoting polluting SUVs. The climate emergency and a new awareness of air pollution’s lethal impact calls on regulators to update our advertising codes.”

Robbie Gillett, campaigner at the climate charity Possible and the report’s other co-author, said: “Car companies have promoted SUVs as a luxury status symbol for far too long. And now our city streets are full of them.

Global price

“Advertisers lured us into focusing on the safety and spaciousness of these vehicles. and to overlook that these benefits come at the cost of other road users who consequently are less safe and have less space.”

The researchers say SUVs are a global and not a uniquely British problem. As larger, heavier vehicles, they are significantly more lethal in road accidents. The World Health Organisation says about 1.3 million people die each year on the world’s roads, with between 20 and 50 million more sustaining non-fatal injuries.

Especially in the global south, where car ownership is lower, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists make up almost half of those dying on the roads.

Research by the International Energy Agency has found that increasing demand for SUVs added significantly to global CO2 emissions from 2010 to 2018. Around 40% of annual car sales today are SUVs, more than double the figure a decade ago. The lure of the off-road car continues to spread. − Climate News Network

Most UK buyers of off-road cars designed for rural use are urban motorists, worsening city congestion and air pollution.


LONDON, 7 April, 2021 − Three-quarters of all sports utility vehicles (SUVs) sold in the UK are bought by people living in towns and cities, new analysis shows. The largest SUVs, off-road vehicles designed to appeal to farmers and other country dwellers, are most popular in some of the wealthiest parts of London, where they aggravate existing problems of air pollution and heavy traffic.

Campaigners say this trend is the result of psychological techniques and dishonest messaging used by the vehicles’ advertisers.

Research commissioned by a think-tank, the New Weather Institute, and a climate charity, Possible, shows that 75% of all SUVs sold in the UK in 2019 and 2020 were registered to urban households. It found that the largest, most polluting SUVs followed a similar pattern, with two-thirds sold to people living in towns and cities.

These findings follow recent claims by carmakers and advertisers that SUVs are needed by people living in rural areas. One motoring guide describes the supposedly seductive vehicles in glowing terms: “The SUV is the fastest-growing car type in the UK, with more and more customers being seduced by their high driving position, practicality, and sense of security.”

Tempting urbanites

One motorist’s surrender to seduction, though, may come at a high price to others who are obliged to share the roads with them and their off-road cars, both those in smaller vehicles squeezed for space and cyclists and pedestrians forced to breathe more polluted air.

Or, as the research puts it, quoting Theodor Adorno, the post-war German philosopher and social critic, “Which auto-driver has not felt the temptation, in the power of the motor, to run over the vermin of the street – passers-by, children, bicyclists?”

The research is detailed in a report, Mindgames on wheels, published by the Badvertising campaign, which aims to stop adverts fuelling the climate crisis.

Rather than large SUVs being most popular in the areas for which they are most suited, Britain’s remote farming regions, the report says, six of the top ten areas in the UK for new sales are urban or suburban districts.

“One of advertising’s biggest manipulations has persuaded urban families that it’s perfectly ‘normal’ to go shopping in a two-tonne truck”

Although these vehicles have four-wheel-drive and off-road capability, the top districts for large SUV sales are three wealthy inner London boroughs: Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster, and Hammersmith & Fulham. On average, one in three new private cars bought in these areas is a large SUV.

Areas where the largest new cars are most popular also correspond closely with places where road space is most scarce and where the highest proportion of cars are parked on the street. The report points out that many of these cars are too big to fit into a standard UK parking space.

It includes an analysis of what it says is the history of car makers’ marketing messages around SUVs, for instance “get back to nature” and “help the environment”. The team behind the report argues that car makers have spent decades working with advertisers to develop persuasive but dishonest messaging.

It says this has created consumer demand for far bigger cars than buyers need, and calls for an end to SUV advertising, renewed commitments to tackle climate change by the Advertising Standards Authority, and for advertising agencies to reject future work from polluting SUV companies.

Status symbols

The report’s authors have written to the UK advertising agency Spark44,  which runs multiple SUV campaigns, asking it to outline its plans for meeting the requirements of the UK government’s climate targets.

Andrew Simms, co-director of the New Weather Institute and one of the report’s co-authors, said: “One of advertising’s biggest manipulations has persuaded urban families that it’s perfectly ‘normal’ to go shopping in a two-tonne truck. The human health and climate damage done by SUVs is huge and needs to be undone.

“Just as tobacco advertising was successfully ended, it’s time to stop promoting polluting SUVs. The climate emergency and a new awareness of air pollution’s lethal impact calls on regulators to update our advertising codes.”

Robbie Gillett, campaigner at the climate charity Possible and the report’s other co-author, said: “Car companies have promoted SUVs as a luxury status symbol for far too long. And now our city streets are full of them.

Global price

“Advertisers lured us into focusing on the safety and spaciousness of these vehicles. and to overlook that these benefits come at the cost of other road users who consequently are less safe and have less space.”

The researchers say SUVs are a global and not a uniquely British problem. As larger, heavier vehicles, they are significantly more lethal in road accidents. The World Health Organisation says about 1.3 million people die each year on the world’s roads, with between 20 and 50 million more sustaining non-fatal injuries.

Especially in the global south, where car ownership is lower, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists make up almost half of those dying on the roads.

Research by the International Energy Agency has found that increasing demand for SUVs added significantly to global CO2 emissions from 2010 to 2018. Around 40% of annual car sales today are SUVs, more than double the figure a decade ago. The lure of the off-road car continues to spread. − Climate News Network

Japanese nuclear power station leaves toxic legacy

Ten years ago, the Japanese nuclear power station at Fukushima was devastated by a tsunami. Its baleful ruins remain today.

LONDON, 10 March, 2021 − Almost a decade ago, on 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake created a 14 metre-high tsunami wave which destroyed the reactors of a Japanese nuclear power station at the town of Fukushima. Ten years on, the clean-up has barely begun.

Large areas of farmland and towns near the plant are still highly contaminated, too dangerous to inhabit. Constant vigilance is needed to prevent the stricken reactors causing further danger. It will be at least another 20 years before they can be made safe.

At first the gravity of the accident was overshadowed by the other damage the tsunami had caused, particularly the loss of nearly 20,000 people from communities along the coast who were swept to their deaths as their towns and villages were ruined.

Heart-rending scenes filled television screens across the world for days as rescue teams hunted for survivors and parents separated from their children searched evacuation centres.

Damage downplayed

As with the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the true extent of the damage to Fukushima’s six reactors was not fully grasped. When it was, the authorities tried to play it down.

Because the wave had overwhelmed the cooling system three reactors had suffered a meltdown, but for some this was not public knowledge. The damage had meant that overheated uranium fuel had melted, turning to liquid and dissolving its cladding. The cladding contained zirconium, which reacted with the cooling water to make hydrogen; by 14 March this had caused three explosions at the plant.

Downwind the danger from the radiation spewing from the plant was so great that 164,000 people were evacuated from their homes. Many will never return, because the houses are too contaminated.

In an attempt to get people to return to the villages and towns in the less affected areas the government spent US$28 billion (£20bn) and created 17 million tonnes of nuclear waste. This has proved only partially successful because of widespread mistrust of the government, and measurements by independent groups, including Greenpeace − which show that levels of radiation are well above internationally agreed safe limits for members of the public.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination … they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan”

But the knock-on effects of the disaster, both in Japan and in the rest of the world, are still being felt. Japan’s nuclear industry shut down its 54 operational reactors, and both the nuclear companies and the government are still trying to persuade local people to allow most of them to reopen.

This year there are 33 reactors that could still be restored to use, but only nine (in five power plants) that are actually operating.

Across the world some countries decided to close down their reactors as soon as possible, and not to build any more. Among them was Germany.
Even in countries like France, where nuclear power dominates the electricity system, there were demands for the country’s reactors to fit far tighter safety measures.

The net effect of the accident has been to turn public opinion against nuclear power in many countries. Even in those still interested in building new stations, the higher safety standards now demanded have made nuclear power more expensive.

Opting for close-down

In Japan itself the Fukushima crisis is far from over. The government is still facing compensation claims from citizens, and the bill for the clean-up keeps mounting.

One of the most critical current problems is the 1.25 million tonnes of cooling water used to prevent the stricken reactors from further meltdown. It is now stored in tanks on site.

In October 2020 the government announced plans to release it into the Pacific Ocean, because it could think of no other way of getting rid of it. This idea has caused outrage among fishermen along the coast, who fear that no one will buy their catch for fear of the radiation.

Longer-term technical problems also remain unresolved. With the reactor cores too dangerous to approach, special robots have been developed to dismantle them. This is perhaps one of the most difficult engineering tasks it is possible to envisage, because intense radioactivity attacks electrical equipment and can destroy the expensive robots.

Forced to return

The government continues to reassure citizens that it has the situation under control, although it expects it will take decades to make the area completely safe.

But there continues to be criticism among environmental groups about the government’s handling of the situation, both at the plant and in the surrounding countryside.

The Greenpeace report details moves to coerce local people into returning to their homes, even though they remain well above international safety levels.

The report said the result of a November 2020 survey showed that in some areas which the government had designated as safe, Greenpeace’s measurements found radiation remains too high for normal life to be considered possible without increased health risks to returning citizens, particularly children and women of child-bearing age.

‘False narrative’

It says: “One decade after March 2011, we are in the early stages of the impact of this disaster. This is not the official narrative. For the government of Shinzo Abe, in power for most of the last 10 years, and his successor Yoshihide Suga, the communication to the people of Japan and the wider world is that decontamination has been effective, completed and that radiation levels are safe. This is clearly false.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination of a large part of Japan. However, they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan.”

Greenpeace says this failure is largely due to active citizens and their lawyers holding the Tokyo Electric Power Company to account for the accident and asking for compensation.

It pledges that, together with scientists and various United Nations agencies that monitor the plant, it will ensure that the “ongoing nuclear disaster, its effects and consequences will continue to be better understood and explained in the years and decades ahead.” − Climate News Network

Ten years ago, the Japanese nuclear power station at Fukushima was devastated by a tsunami. Its baleful ruins remain today.

LONDON, 10 March, 2021 − Almost a decade ago, on 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake created a 14 metre-high tsunami wave which destroyed the reactors of a Japanese nuclear power station at the town of Fukushima. Ten years on, the clean-up has barely begun.

Large areas of farmland and towns near the plant are still highly contaminated, too dangerous to inhabit. Constant vigilance is needed to prevent the stricken reactors causing further danger. It will be at least another 20 years before they can be made safe.

At first the gravity of the accident was overshadowed by the other damage the tsunami had caused, particularly the loss of nearly 20,000 people from communities along the coast who were swept to their deaths as their towns and villages were ruined.

Heart-rending scenes filled television screens across the world for days as rescue teams hunted for survivors and parents separated from their children searched evacuation centres.

Damage downplayed

As with the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the true extent of the damage to Fukushima’s six reactors was not fully grasped. When it was, the authorities tried to play it down.

Because the wave had overwhelmed the cooling system three reactors had suffered a meltdown, but for some this was not public knowledge. The damage had meant that overheated uranium fuel had melted, turning to liquid and dissolving its cladding. The cladding contained zirconium, which reacted with the cooling water to make hydrogen; by 14 March this had caused three explosions at the plant.

Downwind the danger from the radiation spewing from the plant was so great that 164,000 people were evacuated from their homes. Many will never return, because the houses are too contaminated.

In an attempt to get people to return to the villages and towns in the less affected areas the government spent US$28 billion (£20bn) and created 17 million tonnes of nuclear waste. This has proved only partially successful because of widespread mistrust of the government, and measurements by independent groups, including Greenpeace − which show that levels of radiation are well above internationally agreed safe limits for members of the public.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination … they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan”

But the knock-on effects of the disaster, both in Japan and in the rest of the world, are still being felt. Japan’s nuclear industry shut down its 54 operational reactors, and both the nuclear companies and the government are still trying to persuade local people to allow most of them to reopen.

This year there are 33 reactors that could still be restored to use, but only nine (in five power plants) that are actually operating.

Across the world some countries decided to close down their reactors as soon as possible, and not to build any more. Among them was Germany.
Even in countries like France, where nuclear power dominates the electricity system, there were demands for the country’s reactors to fit far tighter safety measures.

The net effect of the accident has been to turn public opinion against nuclear power in many countries. Even in those still interested in building new stations, the higher safety standards now demanded have made nuclear power more expensive.

Opting for close-down

In Japan itself the Fukushima crisis is far from over. The government is still facing compensation claims from citizens, and the bill for the clean-up keeps mounting.

One of the most critical current problems is the 1.25 million tonnes of cooling water used to prevent the stricken reactors from further meltdown. It is now stored in tanks on site.

In October 2020 the government announced plans to release it into the Pacific Ocean, because it could think of no other way of getting rid of it. This idea has caused outrage among fishermen along the coast, who fear that no one will buy their catch for fear of the radiation.

Longer-term technical problems also remain unresolved. With the reactor cores too dangerous to approach, special robots have been developed to dismantle them. This is perhaps one of the most difficult engineering tasks it is possible to envisage, because intense radioactivity attacks electrical equipment and can destroy the expensive robots.

Forced to return

The government continues to reassure citizens that it has the situation under control, although it expects it will take decades to make the area completely safe.

But there continues to be criticism among environmental groups about the government’s handling of the situation, both at the plant and in the surrounding countryside.

The Greenpeace report details moves to coerce local people into returning to their homes, even though they remain well above international safety levels.

The report said the result of a November 2020 survey showed that in some areas which the government had designated as safe, Greenpeace’s measurements found radiation remains too high for normal life to be considered possible without increased health risks to returning citizens, particularly children and women of child-bearing age.

‘False narrative’

It says: “One decade after March 2011, we are in the early stages of the impact of this disaster. This is not the official narrative. For the government of Shinzo Abe, in power for most of the last 10 years, and his successor Yoshihide Suga, the communication to the people of Japan and the wider world is that decontamination has been effective, completed and that radiation levels are safe. This is clearly false.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination of a large part of Japan. However, they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan.”

Greenpeace says this failure is largely due to active citizens and their lawyers holding the Tokyo Electric Power Company to account for the accident and asking for compensation.

It pledges that, together with scientists and various United Nations agencies that monitor the plant, it will ensure that the “ongoing nuclear disaster, its effects and consequences will continue to be better understood and explained in the years and decades ahead.” − Climate News Network

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