Plastics for Life
October 8, 2013 10:54 AM - Robin Blackstone, ENN
This is no news flash, but plastics don't biodegrade. And yet almost 50% of it never sees a landfill. Worse, approximately 80% of the plastic debris in our oceans comes from the land. Plastics inevitably become part of our ecosystem from top to bottom. Of course, we think of the most pure environments as those in the highest mountaintops. The springs percolate into the headwaters on our mountain peaks, cascade down, hopping rocks and tumbling through forests into lakes, eventually emerging into larger rivers and ultimately out into the oceans. Along the way human influence affects their purity. Generally, we have hypothesized that water starts pure and becomes more polluted with each tier of drainage but recent research suggests that we are not starting with as clean a slate as we thought.
Good news for European wildlife
October 8, 2013 06:16 AM - Luke Dale-Harris, The Ecologist
From Eastern Europe, Luke Dale-Harris argues that the extent to which the findings of a recently published report can be considered positive depend on one's perspective of rewilding......... A couple of weeks ago the unusual happened. Europe received positive news about the environment. Not just a claim that maybe things aren’t quite as bad as we previously thought, but the release of a report which shows, quite clearly, that for many species across large swathes of Europe, things haven't been better for decades.
Australian Environmental Politics in Denial
October 7, 2013 01:18 PM - Daniel Yeow, Worldwatch Institute
Australia seems to be going backwards in time with regard to environmental politics. A startlingly high number of people there deny climate change. Most Australians do believe in it, but in a country that no longer has a science minister, the newly-elected conservative government is populated by "leaders" who believe that it is some kind of conspiracy. The media that the average Australian consumes is overwhelmingly populated by sources which are owned by people of a highly conservative and libertarian belief. Libertarianism—the belief that people should be free to do as they wish so long as they do not impinge on the freedom of others, is a decidedly human-centric philosophy and as such, large-scale environmental problems are generally not well-handled. In the minds of people like Rupert Murdoch, among others, environmental regulations are an unnecessary burden on people's freedom, and even if you don't really believe that, if that's what you read in the newspaper every day, then that's what you will be led to believe.
Atmospheric aerosols and how they influence climate
October 7, 2013 05:57 AM - Roger Greenway, ENN
Climate models are evolving, and are getting more accurate, but they are still incomplete. Our atmosphere is very complex, and there are factors that even current models don't address, or address with an in-complete knowledge of the physical processes involved. This leads to inaccuracies that create uncertainty in the results of climatic projections. Aerosols are an important part of atmospheric dynamics, and their mechanisms of formation are not fully understood. University of Leeds experts have helped scientists get a step closer to understanding how aerosol particles are formed in the atmosphere and the effect these particles have on our climate. Working with scientists from the CLOUD experiment at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Geneva, climate change experts from the University have shown that amines — atmospheric vapours closely related to ammonia, largely derived from activities such as animal husbandry — combine with sulphuric acid to form highly stable aerosol particles at rates similar to those observed in the lower atmosphere.
What's holding up offshore wind energy in the US?
October 6, 2013 09:11 AM - Dave Levitan, Yale Environment 360
In June, after years of offshore wind power projects being thwarted in the United States, the first offshore wind turbine began spinning off the U.S. coast. The turbine was not a multi-megawatt, 400-foot behemoth off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, or Texas — all places where projects had long been proposed. Rather, the turbine was installed in Castine Harbor, Maine, rising only 60 feet in the air and featuring a 20-kilowatt capacity — enough to power only a few homes. But it was a turbine — finally. Offshore wind power in the U.S. has struggled mightily to rise from the waves, even as other renewable energy industries have steadily grown. The country now has more than 60,000 megawatts of onshore wind, but still just the lone offshore turbine, a pilot project run in part by researchers at the University of Maine. Meanwhile, Europe has left the U.S. far behind, installing its first offshore turbine in 1991 and growing rapidly in the past decade. To date, the countries of the European Union have built 1,939 offshore turbines with 6,040 megawatts of capacity.
Climate models need to get small
October 5, 2013 07:27 AM - Jan Piotrowski, SciDevNet
Better observational data and geographically precise climate models are needed to allow scientists to predict the effects of rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at a local level, says a major climate change report. Deficiencies in these areas prevent reliable temperature and rainfall predictions being made on a regional scale, according to the report published this week (30 September) by Working Group I of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
China's Dam Environmental Problem
October 4, 2013 12:40 PM - Alison Singer, Worldwatch Institute
Although the Chinese government has acknowledged the extensive environmental issues resulting from the Three Gorges Dam, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has given the green light for construction for another massive hydro project. As the global leader in hydropower, China must adopt environmental policies that account for methane and carbon emissions as well as ecosystem disruptions and erosion potential.
Climate Change May Increase Mercury Content in Fish
October 4, 2013 09:02 AM - Editor, ENN
Mercury pollution can be a serious health threat as once mercury enters our body, it acts as a neurotoxin, interfering with the brain and nervous system. Mercury is emitted to the air by power plants and other industrial facilities and becomes a serious threat when it settles into oceans. As the mercury enters waterways, naturally occurring bacteria absorb it and the pollutant makes it way up the food chain as larger fish consume smaller fish. As an example, mackerel, swordfish, tuna, and grouper rank high when it comes to mercury content. We have known about the effects of mercury in fish for some time now, however, looming changes in climate could make fish accumulate even more mercury, according to a study in the journal PLOS ONE.
Australia and Canada Conservation
October 4, 2013 06:08 AM - Jeffrey Welll, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Care2
At first glance, Australia and Canada could not be more different. They are separated by more than 7,500 miles (12,000 km). One country is known for its hot, dry lands and kangaroos, and the other is known for its cold, wet forests and caribou. But at a symposium at the International Congress for Conservation Biology last July, which I co-chaired with my colleague Barry Traill, who directs The Pew Charitable Trusts' conservation work in Australia, presenters explored some interesting similarities and new ideas in conservation approaches between Australia's Outback region and Canada's Boreal Forest region. One of the reasons Traill and I were interested in comparing these two areas is because both are among the global areas identified as having the smallest "human footprint"—areas with the fewest roads, least number of people and other human-related disturbances. Another is that science and scientists have played a major role in both countries in ensuring that policymakers and the public have a clear understanding of the likely consequences that different policies could have on the biodiversity and ecological values of a region.
Government Shutdown Leaves Farm Bill on Table
October 3, 2013 04:08 PM - Editor, ENN
By now, you've probably heard that the US government has shutdown, as members of Congress have not been able to agree on a spending plan for the fiscal year. While big media topics include healthcare and fiscal issues, another item on the table is the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill officially expired as of October 1 and there is no agenda to extend or reauthorize the bill because of the standoff. Ironically, a handful of low-cost Farm Bill programs that could improve the health of Americans and save taxpayers billions in health care costs are among the political casualties. Daniel Z. Brito, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food & Environment Program further explains the situation for farmers and consumers.