Tag Archives: Ecology

‘We Can’t Recycle Our Way Out of This Problem’: Ben & Jerry’s Bans Single-Use Plastics

By Lorraine Chow – Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announced major efforts on Monday to quickly curb its use of single-use plastics.

All together, the move is expected to prevent 2.5 million plastic straws and 30 million plastic spoons from being handed out each year, Jenna Evans, Ben & Jerry’s Global Sustainability Manager, said in a press release.

“We’re not going to recycle our way out of this problem,” she said. “We, and the rest of the world, need to get out of single-use plastic.”

In response to the initiative, Greenpeace praised the brand for setting clear, short-term targets and for acknowledging that recycling alone is not enough to solve the world’s mounting plastic problem.

We’ve all been taught that recycling is an important environmental responsibility, but of the 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste generated since the 1950s, only 9 percent has been recycled, according to one recent study. What’s more, recycling plastics only perpetuates the use of fossil fuel-based polymers. more>

Europe’s energy transition must steer towards social justice

By Kristian Krieger, Marie Delair and Pierre Jean Coulon – The fundamental transformation of Europe’s economies towards carbon neutrality does not however present only a vast technological challenge. The popular demonstrations by the gilets jaunes in France against increasing fuel taxes testified to a feeling of fiscal unfairness surrounding the energy transition. Local resistance against offshore wind is another indication of the political difficulty of turning Europe’s economies upside-down within an extremely tight time-frame.

Critically, as with any major transformation, benefits and risks are unevenly distributed regionally and socially across Europe. By focusing on market integration, climate change and energy security, the political system struggles to pay sufficient attention to the social dimension of the energy transition.

A case in point is energy poverty, where individuals are not able to afford services they need—heat, light, air-conditioning and so on—in their homes. It is estimated that about 10 per cent of the EU population might be affected.

Progress within EU policy-making has been slow. Even though energy poverty became a legally recognized concept in 2009 with the Third Energy Package, the legislation did not translate into substantive, binding obligations on member states or concrete actions addressing the challenge.

Where governments lag behind, civil society emerges as a main advocate, raising awareness at European level. more>

Are We Living Through Climate Change’s Worst-Case Scenario?

By Robinson Meyer – The year 2018 was not an easy one for planet Earth.

In the United States, carbon emissions leapt back up, making their largest year-over-year increase since the end of the Great Recession. This matched the trend across the globe. According to two major studies, greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide shot up in 2018—accelerating like a “speeding freight train,” as one scientist put it.

Many economists expect carbon emissions to drop somewhat throughout the next few decades. But maybe they won’t. If 2018 is any indication, meekly positive energy trends will not handily reduce emissions, even in developed economies like the United States. It raises a bleak question:

Are we currently on the worst-case scenario for climate change?

When climate scientists want to tell a story about the future of the planet, they use a set of four standard scenarios called “representative concentration pathways,” or RCPs. RCPs are ubiquitous in climate science, appearing in virtually any study that uses climate models to investigate the 21st century. They’ve popped up in research about subjects as disparate as southwestern mega-droughts, future immigration flows to Europe, and poor nighttime sleep quality.

Each RCP is assigned a number that describes how the climate will fare in the year 2100. Generally, a higher RCP number describes a scarier fate: It means that humanity emitted more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the 21st century, further warming the planet and acidifying the ocean. The best-case scenario is called RCP 2.6. The worst case is RCP 8.5.

“God help us if 8.5 turns out to be the right scenario,” Jackson told me. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Growing Pile of Human and Animal Waste Harbors Threats, Opportunities
By Josh Brown – As demand for meat and dairy products increases across the world, much attention has landed on how livestock impact the environment, from land usage to greenhouse gas emissions.

Now researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are highlighting another effect from animals raised for food and the humans who eat them: the waste they all leave behind.

In a paper published November 13 in Nature Sustainability, the research team put forth what they believe is the first global estimate of annual recoverable human and animal fecal biomass. In 2014, the most recent year with data, the number was 4.3 billion tons and growing, and waste from livestock outweighed that from humans five to one at the country level.

“Exposure to both human and animal waste represent a threat to public health, particularly in low-income areas of the world that may not have resources to implement the best management and sanitation practices,” said Joe Brown, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “But estimating the amount of recoverable feces in the world also highlights the enormous potential from a resource perspective.” more>

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How The Handling Of The Financial After-Crisis Fuels Populism

By Guillaume Duval – Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers people are frequently asking themselves why the crisis has done so much to strengthen populism and nationalism everywhere you go. However, economically and socially, the process that lies behind this development is, unfortunately, all too easy to describe.

During the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, central banks’ rescue of finance continued on an unprecedented scale for ten years with what is called Quantitative easing (QE). The striking effect of this was to send prices of financial assets sky-high and thereby substantially enrich the bankers, speculators and the already rich holders of these assets at levels that are much higher than before the crisis.

At the same time, ordinary people found themselves lastingly out of work on a huge scale. Governments whose own finances deteriorated steeply – not least because of their aid to the financial sector – rushed to cut back on their spending, especially on welfare. Everywhere, classic right-wing governments but also social-liberal left ones as in France adopted deflationary policies to cut the cost of labor and loosen up the labor market rules, thus making ordinary people’s working and living conditions far worse. While cutting again the taxes on the super-rich and corporate earnings to preserve the country’s “attractiveness.”

These public policies – that have put all European countries permanently on the edge of recession and deflation – are also the main reason for the pursuit of the above-mentioned monetary policy that has so significantly increased inequalities. more>

The Next Trend In Travel Is… Don’t.

By Allison Jane Smith – Bali is in the midst of an ecological crisis. Half of the Indonesian island’s rivers have dried up. Its beaches are eroding. In 2017, officials declared a “garbage emergency” across a six-kilometer stretch of Bali’s coast. At the peak of the clean-up, hundreds of cleaners removed 100 tons of debris from the beaches each day.

The cause? Too many tourists — who just keep coming. This year, the Indonesian tourism ministry hopes Bali attracts 7 million foreign tourists, to an island of only 4 million residents.

Bali is one among many places to feel the ill effects of mass tourism. Thailand closed an entire island because litter and food waste from tourists were destroying the island’s ecosystem.

In Venice, Italy, colossal cruise ships tear straight through the city and affordable Airbnb options push residents out of the housing market.

Across Spain, anti-tourism graffiti can be found in Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Mallorca, declaring “tourism kills,” “tourists go home” and “why call it tourism season if we can’t shoot them?”

When tourism dominates an economy, some governments prioritize tourists over their own citizens. Around the world, people are evicted from their homes to make way for tourism developments.

Globally, displacement for tourism development — including hotels, resorts, airports, and cruise ports — is a growing problem. In India, tens of thousands of indigenous people were illegally evicted from villages inside tiger reserves.

No wonder even those in the business of selling travel are urging tourists to reconsider visiting certain destinations. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Human Factors Research Helps Accelerate Mission Planning
By John Toon – The key to a successful flight mission is planning – sometimes several hours of it. Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) specialists in human factors and human computer interfaces are working with NAVAIR PMA-281, Strike Planning and Execution Systems in Patuxent River, Maryland, to streamline the current mission planning process and identify user interface requirements supporting multi-domain mission management in next-generation naval planning capabilities.

With guidance from the GTRI researchers, the project will improve usability of the mission planning software tools, creating a more consistent and intuitive screen design that’s easier to learn and more logical to follow. This effort could benefit all Department of Defense (DoD) agencies for collaborative mission planning.

“We are working with Navy and Marine Corps aviators to identify areas in mission planning where work-flow can be streamlined, reducing the time required to mission plan,” said Marcia Crosland, project director for GTRI’s Joint Mission Planning System (JMPS) User Interface Design and Usability efforts. “Our task has been to define the user interface concepts and decision-making tools to help reduce the time required for mission planning. We’ve created detailed designs and specifications to direct current and future development of mission planning systems.” more>

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The Two-Degree Delusion

By Ted Nordhaus – Forty years after it was first proposed, the two-degree target continues to maintain a talismanic hold over global efforts to address climate change, despite the fact that virtually all sober analyses conclude that the target is now unobtainable.

But it is worth considering the consequences of continuing to pursue a goal that is no longer obtainable. Some significant level of future climate impact is probably unavoidable. Sustaining the fiction that the two-degree target remains viable risks leaving the world ill prepared to mitigate or manage the consequences.

In reality, most of the climate risks that we understand reasonably well are linear, meaning that lower emissions bring a lower global temperature increase, which in turn brings lower risk.

There are a range of potential nonlinear tipping points that could also bring catastrophic climate impacts. Many climate scientists and advocates argue that the risks associated with triggering these impacts are so great that it is better to take a strict precautionary approach to dramatically cut emissions. But there are enormous uncertainties about where those tipping points actually are.

The precautionary principle holds equally well at one degree of warming, a threshold that we have already surpassed; one and a half degrees, which we will soon surpass; or, for that matter, three degrees. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Researchers Boost Efficiency and Stability of Optical Rectennas
By John Toon – The research team that announced the first optical rectenna in 2015 is now reporting a two-fold efficiency improvement in the devices — and a switch to air-stable diode materials. The improvements could allow the rectennas – which convert electromagnetic fields at optical frequencies directly to electrical current – to operate low-power devices such as temperature sensors.

Optical rectennas operate by coupling the light’s electromagnetic field to an antenna, in this case an array of multiwall carbon nanotubes whose ends have been opened. The electromagnetic field creates an oscillation in the antenna, producing an alternating flow of electrons. When the electron flow reaches a peak at one end of the antenna, the diode closes, trapping the electrons, then re-opens to capture the next oscillation, creating a current flow.

The switching must occur at terahertz frequencies to match the light. The junction between the antenna and diode must provide minimal resistance to electrons flowing through it while open, yet prevent leakage while closed.

“The name of the game is maximizing the number of electrons that get excited in the carbon nanotube, and then having a switch that is fast enough to capture them at their peak,” Baratunde Cola, explained. “The faster you switch, the more electrons you can catch on one side of the oscillation.” more>

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The danger in deregulation

By Samantha Gross – In the United States and around the world, energy production depends on support from local communities, what the industry calls “social license to operate.” Especially in a democracy, public opposition can make life very difficult for energy producers. Public support for energy resource development depends on trust—in the companies doing the development and in the regulatory structure that governs their activities.

When the Trump administration dismantles energy regulation, it runs the risk of undermining the trust that underpins domestic energy development. U.S. oil and gas production has grown dramatically in recent years, but we have also seen a public backlash.

The proposal to open nearly all U.S. offshore waters to drilling is an opening salvo in a battle likely to go on for some time. Many governors, even Republicans, are vehemently opposed to drilling in waters off their states.

But the hard push toward deregulation is likely to have consequences for public trust, not just in companies, but in government itself. If the public feels that the government is being run by and for the energy industry, accomplishing many important societal goals—like modernizing infrastructure and preventing the worst impacts of climate change—become much more difficult. more>