The Earth911 Reader summarizes the week’s sustainability, recycling, and science news, making it easy for you to stay up-to-date. Be sure not to miss this week’s opportunities to support environmental and sustainability projects.
Deforestation Efforts Not Making Needed Progress
The New York Declaration on Forests reports that national and global programs to prevent deforestation are falling short of their goals because of a lack of transparency. The nonprofit says, “Progress toward Goals 3 and 4 — reducing deforestation from infrastructure and extractive developments, while supporting sustainable livelihoods — is too slow to protect remaining intact forest landscapes.” Infrastructure projects account for 17% of deforestation, mainly due to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The organization argues that accountability combined with transparency is required to force economic planners to acknowledge their words and deeds are not aligned.
Arctic Thaw Awakens Ancient Microorganisms
As permafrost melts in Siberia, Alaska, Canada and Iceland accelerate, humans are at risk from microbes that have remained frozen for millennia. For example, anthrax broke out in Russia after the disease was released by melting permafrost due to higher ocean temperatures. We cannot know the consequences that will come to pass, but working to prevent the thawing of Northern permafrost by restoring the climate to pre-industrial CO2 levels does offer a path to avoid the risk.
Human Pollution Includes Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria
The spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to human use of drugs and chemicals in medical and industrial waste is a growing threat to nature. As humans enter the third century of industrialization, the consequences of drug-resistant bacteria impact species worldwide, from Tasmanian devils and flying-fox bats to Australian sea lions. Researcher Michelle Power writes at Phys.org that “we need to use “One Health“—an approach to public health that recognizes the interconnectedness of people, animals, and the environment.” Take a few minutes to read about the infectious diseases emerging in the era of climate warming.
Nature Offers Many New Antifungal and Medical Compounds
While we continue to destroy natural environments, scientists discover new medically significant compounds in the natural world. Preserving wilderness and forests is a good investment. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced their discovery of a new antifungal compound in the marine species that fights human infections from Aspergillus fumigatus and Candida auris, pathogens that cause deadly respiratory disease and blood infections which lead to organ failure, respectively. In related news, Phys.org reports that a team spearheaded by the Korean National Institute of Agricultural Sciences has identified a part of the genetic sequence of the Senna tora, a legume, that counteracts diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. Nature is packed with innovation because it has tried every way to solve the problem of living. Like any treasure trove, wilderness should be preserved to provide humanity with solutions to its medical, energy, and dietary challenges in the future.
The Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Nears Fusion Breakthrough
Unlike nuclear fusion reactors that produce deadly toxic waste, nuclear fusion promises a clean source of energy. Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory report progress toward creating a “burning plasma” that does not require additional external power to continue the fusion reaction. Until now, fusion has needed more energy than it produces. This breakthrough may signal an essential step toward continuous fusion reactions that deliver vast amounts of new electricity to power homes, electric vehicles, and businesses.
Biden’s Climate Team Comes Into Focus
President-elect Joe Biden has the most aggressive climate change strategy in U.S. history. He announced that former Secretary of State John Kerry would serve as the special presidential envoy on climate change to rebuild American relationships after President Trump abandoned the Paris Accord and international collaborations to address the climate. “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Kerry said. Biden’s climate policy will include recruiting replacements for, or coaxing back, 700 scientists who left the government during the past four years. And climate groups have their ideas to share. The Alliance to Save Energy, for example, recommends raising mileage standards, accelerating electrification of the U.S. shipping fleet, more research, and development funding, and an aggressive program of retraining for the workforce to ready them for the post-fossil fuels economy.
Amazingly, Trump Cancels the Pebble Mine Approval
After widely reported braggadocio by Pebble Mine executives that the Trump Administration would quickly approve the project, which threatens salmon spawning grounds in Alaska, the White House has canceled the project. The Guardian reports that the Pebble Mine did not meet the Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act requirements for approval. The Department of Energy also released $130 million for renewable energy research. Does this mean that Team Trump came around the importance of climate issues? No, just that the Pebble Mine folks blew their corruption cover and that the DoE was not cowed into suppressing decades of funding for solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources. Nature writes that Biden will face continuing Republican opposition in the Mitch McConnell-dominated Senate but can still make inroads with economic stimulus programs that emphasize green energy and clean energy requirements for federally funded initiatives and the introduction of a carbon tax to raise revenues after the pandemic.
Costa Rica’s Net-Zero Plan Could Create $41 Billion in Economic Benefits
A plan to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050 could reinvent the Costa Rican economy, its government argued this week. The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that the Inter-American Development Bank analyzed the Central American country’s 2019 decarbonization plan. It found that Costa Rica’s government could grow by $41 billion due to new jobs and business activity generated by investing in a green economy. The United Nations also reported that the region could save $by 21 billion in the next 30 years by switching to renewable power generation and electrification and creating 7.7 million new jobs. Green strategies are emerging across the region. In Puerto Rico, Grist reports, community-led solar projects have provided a flexible micro-grid in the village of Adjuntas Pueblo, according to local renewables leader Arturo Massol-Deyá.
Industrial Farming Owns 70% of Agricultural Lands
EcoWatch reports that big agribusinesses, representing only 1% of the world’s farm owners, account for 70% of global agricultural CO2 emissions. According to a new report, Uneven Ground: land inequality at the heart of unequal societies, released by the Land Coalition and Oxfam, demonstrate that industrial farming was the primary driver of agriculture’s growing share of annual CO2 emissions. Small farms, by contrast, are far more efficient and sustainable. Still, the concentration of farm ownership continues to undercut the viability of smallholder farmers. The report suggests a variety of potential solutions, including greater transparency about land ownership, protection of women’s and customary rights, and improved food production and distribution systems. We think those changes must start at the grassroots, supporting small farmers and ensuring that local solutions are developed to prevent mismatches between problems the policies implemented to address them.
Are Extended Producer Responsibility Laws the Answer to U.S. Recycling Challenges
In Europe and the most successful recycling systems in the U.S., producer responsibility laws make a positive difference. These rules require the maker of packaging and products to shoulder part of the cost of collecting and recycling the materials they produce. These Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs usually involve small fees attached to, for example, bottles and cans. Calvin Lakhan, of York University in Toronto, assessed Canadian programs in an article for Resource Recycling. He found that more funding for producer-operated programs does not necessarily lead to improved recycling rates. Even as they accept responsibility for recycling, producers are introducing packaging that is less recyclable. “Our fixation on recycling (and increasing recycling rates) has left us unable to give proper attention to environmental-based outcomes,” Lakhan writes. “There is no evidence to suggest that a steward-run EPR model (focused on recycling) is effective in either economic or environmental terms.” But municipal and state-run programs can impose rules that contribute to better environmental outcomes. Successful EPR programs should be based on measurements that look beyond one or few factors considered by producers seeking to clean up their mess. Lakhan argues. A holistic view of collection and processing will also provide funding for comprehensive recycling investments, so more material overall is captured and reused.
Europe Will Collect Space Trash
Earth’s orbit is littered with debris from old rockets and satellites. The European Union, in a first, has committed $102 million to help bring a large chunk of space debris back to Earth in 2025. The first target: The 247-lb. Vespa payload adaptor that was launched in 2013 to place a satellite in orbit. ClearSpace SA of Ecublens, Switzerland, plans to recover some of the 23,000 objects that litter Earth’s orbit.
Cannabis Industry Set for a Recycling Leap?
Waste360 reports that the cannabis industry has sped toward a national presence without solving the problem of its glass, plastic, and composite packaging waste. Although it is the first industry to track products from source to retail in many states, cannabis companies have not factored recycling into its lifecycle until now. Dr. Bridget Williams, a doctor who founded a medical cannabis company in Ohio, Green Harvest Health, has worked for the past year to introduce a recycling program supported by its cannabis producers. She is working with Terracycle, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and out-of-state partners to develop policies for packaging materials and collection using bins in every one of the state’s dispensaries in the next year.
Diageo’s Spirits and Beer Will Use 100% Recycled Packaging by 2030
Environmental Leader reports that Diageo, maker of Johnnie Walker scotch, Smirnoff vodka, and Guinness stout, will switch all its products to recycled packaging by 2030. The company announced 25 goals to “make a positive impact on the world.” The plan includes adopting renewable energy sources in Diageo beverage production, reducing water used to make products, and supporting regenerative farming techniques in its supply chain. Earth911 recently interviewed Japanese distilling and beverage maker Suntory’s sustainability advisor, Clarkson Hine — listen to the podcast for more insight into the changing spirits industry.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE
Support the Environment on Giving Tuesday
Giving Tuesday, the global movement to turn the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving into the biggest day of the year for contributing to charities and nonprofits, is coming. There are many matching grants in place for Giving Tuesday, which can increase the value of your contribution. Here are a few of the organizations and efforts we recommend:
The Global Returns Project Reinvest in Earth Program