Small Steps Could Lead to Big Impacts

A Chinese labourer sorting out plastic bottles on the outskirt of Beijing. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

With over a billion consumers, even with exemptions these bans will hopefully have relevant impacts. Thanks once again to the Guardian for bringing these actions to our attention.

China moves to phase out single-use plastics

Plastic bags to be banned in all major cities by end of 2020, says state planner

China is stepping up restrictions on the production, sale and use of single-use plastic products, according to the state planner, as it seeks to tackle one of the country’s biggest environmental problems.

Vast amounts of untreated plastic waste are buried in landfills or dumped in rivers. The United Nations has identified single-use plastics as one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges.

The national development and reform commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, which issued the policy, said plastic bags would be banned in all of China’s major cities by the end of 2020 and banned in all cities and towns in 2022. Markets selling fresh produce will be exempt from the ban until 2025. Continue reading

Questions, Answers & Plans For Managing Environmental Challenges

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Experts have identified oceans as a key battleground in the fight to protect humanity’s natural ‘life support system’. Photograph: Christian Loader/Alamy

The plan provides one possible answer, its execution is an important question:

UN draft plan sets 2030 target to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction

Paris-style proposal to counter loss of ecosystems and wildlife vital to the future of humanity will go before October summit

Almost a third of the world’s oceans and land should be protected by the end of the decade to stop and reverse biodiversity decline that risks the survival of humanity, according to a draft Paris-style UN agreement on nature.

To combat what scientists have described as the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, the proposal sets a 2030 deadline for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and wildlife that perform crucial services for humans.

The text, drafted by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is expected to be adopted by governments in October at a crucial UN summit in the Chinese city of Kunming. It comes after countries largely failed to meet targets for the previous decade agreed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010. Continue reading

Stop Funding Arctic Drilling

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‘The Arctic refuge is not just a piece of land with oil underneath. It’s the heart of our people; our food security, way of life and very survival depends on its protection.’ Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to the Guardian for this op-ed by Bernadette Demientieff:

Goldman Sachs agreed to stop funding Arctic drilling. Will other banks join them?

If banks destroy our homeland, they’ll have the Gwich’in Nation, and the millions of Americans who stand with us, to answer to

Last fall, I traveled more than 4,000 miles from my home in Alaska to meet with major banks and urge them to help protect the Arctic national wildlife refuge from destructive oil drilling and exploration. In all the years I’ve worked to defend this place, we’ve been focused on trying to make our voices heard by leaders in the White House or in Congress, and I never thought I’d be sitting in a conference room on the 43rd floor of Goldman Sachs’ global headquarters in downtown New York, talking about the Arctic refuge. Continue reading

Countries Where Troubles Are Left Behind

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Illustrations by Peter Arkle

Since finishing my doctoral work in the mid-1990s I have been working for and in emerging or re-emerging tourism destinations. I do not have time to comment on this now, but quick appreciation out to Tariro Mzezewa for this story, How to Rebrand a Country.

Having worked in two of the three countries she features, and having proposed work in the third (learning quite a bit about Rwanda for that proposal, nearly a decade prior to Seth’s work there this year) I will have more to say on this when time permits:

Colombia, Rwanda and Croatia were seen as dangerous and conflict-ridden. Now they top travel bucket lists. How other countries can follow their lead, in seven steps.

Twenty years ago, an opinion writer for The New York Times described Colombia as a country dominated by “drug killings, paramilitary massacres, guerrilla kidnappings, death squad murders and street crime.”

Five years before that, a 1994 Washington Post article grappled with the question of whether people would want to visit war-torn Croatia. “Only the more intrepid will consider a trip,” the article stated.

And a New Yorker article the same year described the genocide in Rwanda as being so dangerous that foreigners providing aid never went beyond the airport perimeter. One street was described as a place “where everything is shot up and every building is riddled.”

In the years since, conflict and strife have receded, with infrastructure rebuilt and economies recovering. And through a combination of marketing, social media and development — and with the fading associations of discord that come with the passage of time — these three countries are now booming tourist destinations, topping travel rankings, bucket lists and flooding Instagram feeds…

Read the whole story here.

Bill McKibben Does The New Math

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An oil field near McKittrick, California. DAVID MCNEW/GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Mr. McKibben, as always and to Yale e360 as the forum provided him, for more scientific evidence about the singular challenge facing all of us:

New Climate Math: The Numbers Keep Getting More Frightening

Scientists keep raising ever-louder alarms about the urgency of tackling climate change, but the world’s governments aren’t listening. Yet the latest numbers don’t lie: Nations now plan to keep producing more coal, oil, and gas than the planet can endure. Continue reading

America’s Best Idea Needs Help

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Heather McGrath/Redux

Thanks to Jon Waterman, a former park ranger and the author of National Geographic’s Atlas of the National Parks, for this note of caution:

CARBONDALE, Colo. — Deep inside Alaska’s six-million-acre Denali National Park and Preserve, I could see miles of space beneath my feet as I stood on the summit of the tallest mountain in North America. The startling view from the 20,310-foot Denali of rugged wilderness spreading out in all directions, plus the challenge of climbing it, were just two of the many wonders and adventures that I’ve experienced in America’s national parks.

I recently finished writing a book for National Geographic, Atlas of the National Parks, based on extensive research, a lifetime of exploring the parks and several years in the 1980s working as a ranger in two of them, Denali and Rocky Mountain in Colorado.

I meant the book as a celebration of the 103-year-old national park system, and it is. But what I also discovered was an operation in deep trouble, with some parks degraded by ruinous overcrowding; invasions of nonnative plants and animals that are upending delicate ecological balances; and a warming climate that is melting glaciers and withering away the rare yuccas that give their name to Joshua Tree National Park. Continue reading

Convenience & Connivance

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‘I think we’ve taken convenience and just turned it into a monster,’ said Shaymah Ansari.
Photograph: Francis Gardler/AP

I acknowledge it has not been easy to eliminate plastic from my life. Plastic is everywhere. It is ubiquitous in developing economies as well as in more developed economies. But since recycling is costly, then at least radically reducing its use is important. So consider how seductive convenience is, and how conniving companies can be:

US recycling event is cover for enormous volume of plastic pollution, say critics

America Recycles Day promoted by EPA is brainchild of not-for-profit backed by companies that produce plastic products

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 Packaging for plastic food items that cannot be accepted for recycling. Photograph: Emily Holden/The Guardian

America’s government-backed national recycling awareness day is being used as cover by large corporations that are churning out enormous volumes of plastic that end up strewn across landscapes, rivers and in the ocean, critics have said.

The second annual America Recycles Day event on Friday is being vigorously promoted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a way to encourage Americans to recycle more.

But critics point out that the initiative is the brainchild of Keep America Beautiful, a not-for-profit founded and backed by large companies that produce vast quantities of plastic products that end up as pollution.

Current backers include Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsico, and Altria, the tobacco giant formerly known as Phillip Morris. Decades of campaigns by the group have emphasized individual responsibility for plastic recycling, which data reveals to be a largely broken system. Continue reading

Really, E.P.A.?

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Matthew Brown/Associated Press

Of all the knuckle-headed ideas, this headline says knuckle louder than most:

E.P.A. to Limit Science Used to Write Public Health Rules

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking.

A new draft of the Environmental Protection Agency proposal, titled Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, would require that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before the agency could consider an academic study’s conclusions. E.P.A. officials called the plan a step toward transparency and said the disclosure of raw data would allow conclusions to be verified independently. Continue reading

Mr. Trash Wheel Is Going Strong

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Since 2014, Mr. Trash Wheel has collected approximately twelve hundred and thirty-three tons of trash and debris that otherwise would have flowed into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Photograph by Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty

Thanks to a writer who never disappoints for this update to an inspiring story we lost track of:

The Promise of Mr. Trash Wheel

By Carolyn Kormann

John Kellett, the former director of Baltimore’s Maritime Museum, used to cross a footbridge over Jones Falls, the largest tributary feeding into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, every day on his way to work. “When it rained, there was a river of trash flowing down,” he told me. He had spent twenty years working on the harbor, primarily in environmental education and shipbuilding, and had a deep knowledge of its hydrodynamics and history. City officials, he told me, “said they were open to ideas, so I started sketching.” He drew plans for a machine powered by an old-fashioned water wheel—a technology that had once been a staple throughout the city—designed to intercept trash at the mouth of Jones Falls, which is the main source of harbor pollution. A prototype was installed in 2008. By 2014, Kellett’s invention was reborn as Mr. Trash Wheel—a fifty-foot-long machine, weighing nearly a hundred thousand pounds, that resembles a friendly mollusk, with giant, googly eyes and its own Twitter account.

Five years later, Mr. Trash Wheel has spawned three replicas around Baltimore—Professor Trash Wheel, Captain Trash Wheel, and another that was announced last week but has yet to be named or installed in the water. Continue reading

Moderating Methane

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Cristina Byvik

During June and July last year we were in residence on a dairy farm, and the prospective benefit of cows having seaweed added to their diet came to my attention. Today another briefing on this topic, from Rowan Walrath writing in Mother Jones, notifies me that this idea is making progress:

One day in January 2014, police rushed to a farm in Rasdorf, Germany, after flames burst from a barn. They soon discovered that static electricity had caused entrapped methane from the flatulence and manure of 90 dairy cows to explode.

Headline writers had a field day. But the incident pointed to a serious problem: Ruminant livestock, mostly cattle, account for 30 percent of all global methane emissions, pumping out 3 gigatons of the gas every year in their burps, farts, and manure. Methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas: During its 12-year lifespan after being released, it traps 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, and its effect on global warming over a century is 34 times that of CO2. According to the United Nations, reducing methane emissions from cows could be one of the quickest ways to slow climate change. Continue reading

250 Miles Of Protected Bike Lanes, At Long Last

Today, good news from New York City resulting from some extended bad news. Instead of putting the headline and the photo from the news story (tragedy), we have placed the video above to digest before reading the news below:

Riding a bicycle in New York City is often a harrowing journey across a patchwork of bike lanes that leave cyclists vulnerable to cars. The dangers came into focus this year after 25 cyclists were killed on city streets — the highest toll in two decades.

Now Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council have agreed on a $1.7 billion plan that would sharply expand the number of protected bike lanes as part of a sweeping effort to transform the city’s streetscape and make it less perilous for bikers.

Its chief proponent, Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, calls it nothing less than an effort to “break the car culture.’’

Such ambitions show how far New York has come since around 2007 when the city, under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, started aggressively taking away space for cars by rolling out bike lanes and pedestrian plazas. Continue reading

Citizen Science Deepdive

By collecting images and GPS data from citizen divers, scientists can get a better sense of the health of the entire Great Barrier Reef. (Damian Bennett)

Citizen Science has been a common thread for us on this site, linking creatures of land, sea and air as subjects of study. Marine Ecosystem citizen science has especially  fascinated us in terms of the creative thinking applied to problems of invasive species.

The collaborative goal of documenting such a vast ecosystem as the Great Barrier Reef, and using creative solutions to combat threats to this wonder of the natural world is inspiring, to say the least.

Massive Citizen Science Effort Seeks to Survey the Entire Great Barrier Reef

Only about 1,000 of 3,000 individual reefs have been documented, but the Great Reef Census hopes to fill in the gaps

The majority of individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef have not been directly surveyed. (Damian Bennett)

In August, marine biologists Johnny Gaskell and Peter Mumby and a team of researchers boarded a boat headed into unknown waters off the coasts of Australia. For 14 long hours, they ploughed over 200 nautical miles, a Google Maps cache as their only guide. Just before dawn, they arrived at their destination of a previously uncharted blue hole—a cavernous opening descending through the seafloor.

After the rough night, Mumby was rewarded with something he hadn’t seen in his 30-year career. The reef surrounding the blue hole had nearly 100 percent healthy coral cover. Such a find is rare in the Great Barrier Reef, where coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 led to headlines proclaiming the reef “dead.”

“It made me think, ‘this is the story that people need to hear,’” Mumby says.

The expedition from Daydream Island off the coast of Queensland was a pilot program to test the methodology for the Great Reef Census, a citizen science project headed by Andy Ridley, founder of the annual conservation event Earth Hour. His latest organization, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, has set the ambitious goal of surveying the entire 1,400-mile-long reef system in 2020.

“We’re trying to gain a broader understanding on the status of the reef—what’s been damaged, where the high value corals are, what’s recovering and what’s not,” Ridley says. Continue reading

Sumatra & Creative Conservation

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Traditional houses in West Sumatra. Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

Finding this story by Mike Ives, with Topher White getting up into the trees for a good purpose, brightens the day just a little bit:

Using Old Cellphones to Listen for Illegal Loggers

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Topher White installing a solar-powered listening unit in a rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in July. Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

PAKAN RABAA, Indonesia — This village in West Sumatra, a lush province of volcanoes and hilly rain forests, had a problem with illegal loggers.

They were stealing valuable hardwood with impunity. At first, a group of local people put a fence across the main road leading into the forest, but it was flimsy and proved no match for the interlopers. Continue reading

When A Company Says One Thing And Does Another

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Eric Schmidt being interviewing on Bloomberg in 2014. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

We usually introduce a story for context. No introduction needed (or possible) in this case, just thanks to the Guardian for sharing it:

The obscure law that explains why Google backs climate deniers

Company wants to curry favour with conservatives to protect its ‘section 230’ legal immunity

Revealed: Google made large contributions to climate change deniers

When Eric Schmidt was asked on a radio show in 2014 why Google was supporting an ultra-conservative climate-denying pressure group in Washington, the then chairman of the internet giant offered an unequivocal response: it was wrong and Google was not going to do it again.

Continue reading

Kids Saying It The Way Kids Say Things

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Thanks to Alex Kalman for the story and to Mmuseumm for the photos:

Children Lead the Way: A Gallery of Youth-Made Climate-Strike Signs

signs-4-BIO.jpgWhen is skipping school more important than attending? When is a child’s design more effective than a professional’s? When are children more responsible than adults? On September 20th, millions of children, led by the activist Greta Thunberg, took to the streets to protest the world’s inaction on climate change. Here are some of the signs made by children who participated in the New York City march. Inspiring and confrontational, these signs provide a visual counterpoint to the individual voices of our children as they plead with the powers that be to act, and act responsibly.

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See the entire collection here.

A Thoughtful Discussion On The Green New Deal

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Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Thanks to Sarah Jones for The Future Is Ours for the Taking, an updated primer on the big policy bundle proposed to make the USA economy greener, healthier and more prosperous than ever:

In New York City and around the world, millions of people took to the streets on Friday morning. A single demand unified them: Leaders must act, and act now, to stop climate change from getting any worse. “I want you to unite behind science. And then I want you to take real action. Thank you,” Greta Thunberg, the teen climate-change activist from Sweden, told Congress on Wednesday.

And a growing number of climate-change activists have coalesced around an answer to this imperative, a Green New Deal. The proposal, which would transition the U.S. economy to clean energy and create millions of new jobs, has become a rallying cry for organizations like the Sunrise Movement and left-wing Democrats like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Although Ocasio-Cortez helped popularize the Green New Deal, and so has her fellow congressional democratic socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the basic concept is at least 12 years old. Not long after New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called for a “Green New Deal” in 2007, a group of British academics and activists began drafting a substantive proposal that was published in July 2008.

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Photo: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

Why do you think it has taken this long for the Green New Deal to catch fire in the public imagination?

For several reasons. Really, it takes an American, doesn’t it? I mean, when the Americans decide something is important, then it suddenly becomes important, and that’s fantastic. But I think what happened back in 2008 was that we were going through this grim financial crisis and London was at the heart of it already thanks to the City of London. We were writing [the British Green New Deal] after the date that I called Detonation Day — on the ninth of August 2007, when interbank lending froze and the system blew up. Continue reading

Are Strikes Going To Get Us To A Solution?

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Illustration by João Fazenda

During last week my attention has been commanded more than at any other time by the increased attention to the perils of climate change and the clamor for action. I do not tire of reading on this subject, in the hope that one day I will read something that will give some hope of progress. Thanks to Elizabeth Kolbert for weighing in on the debate over whether we should admit defeat, or instead insist on finding another way out of the pending doom, in the manner prescribed by a former Vice President of the USA (a country now officially leading a race to the bottom on this issue):

Summits, Strikes, and Climate Change

There are positive signs that the politics of climate change are changing in America. And giving up isn’t really an option.

Late last month, Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist from Sweden, arrived in New York. Thunberg, who is sometimes compared to Joan of Arc and sometimes to Pippi Longstocking, doesn’t fly—the emissions from aviation are too high—so she’d spent two weeks sailing across the Atlantic in a racing boat. When she reached New York Harbor, she told Trevor Noah, on “The Daily Show,” the first thing she noticed was “Suddenly, it smells.”

Thunberg doesn’t adhere to social niceties. (She’s spoken openly about having Asperger’s syndrome.) She began her crusade last year, sitting outside the Swedish parliament building, in Stockholm, handing out flyers that read “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.” It’s a trait particularly well suited to the cause she’s taken up: on no other issue is the gap between what’s politically acceptable and what’s scientifically necessary wider than it is on climate change. In an address to the French parliament, in July, Thunberg put it this way: “Maybe you are simply not mature enough to tell it like it is, because even that burden you leave to us children. We become the bad guys who have to tell people these uncomfortable things, because no one else wants to, or dares to.” Continue reading

A Few Sane Words From Al Gore

There are some excellent graphics in this op-ed, but the words are better, and a fitting third entry of the last week on this topic:

Al Gore: The Climate Crisis Is the Battle of Our Time, and We Can Win

We have the tools. Now we are building the political power.

Things take longer to happen than you think they will, but then they happen much faster than you thought they could.

The destructive impacts of the climate crisis are now following the trajectory of that economics maxim as horrors long predicted by scientists are becoming realities.

More destructive Category 5 hurricanes are developing, monster fires ignite and burn on every continent but Antarctica, ice is melting in large amounts there and in Greenland, and accelerating sea-level rise now threatens low-lying cities and island nations.

Tropical diseases are spreading to higher latitudes. Cities face drinking-water shortages. The ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic, destroying coral reefs and endangering fish populations that provide vital protein consumed by about a billion people…

In The Spirit Of These Times

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Illustration by Leonardo Santamaria

The last time Jonathan Franzen appeared in our pages he was watching birds, which he has a habit of doing. But he has the power of the pen, more than most, to wield on topics related to the environment. At the core of his argument in this essay below he makes a point that has been the point of this platform since it started: since major environmental issues are difficult if not impossible for individuals to effect change on, we must each carry out our small, singular deeds. Highlighting good acts is an important element of that.

What If We Stopped Pretending?

The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.

“There is infinite hope,” Kafka tells us, “only not for us.” This is a fittingly mystical epigram from a writer whose characters strive for ostensibly reachable goals and, tragically or amusingly, never manage to get any closer to them. But it seems to me, in our rapidly darkening world, that the converse of Kafka’s quip is equally true: There is no hope, except for us. Continue reading

When Andeans Dream Of Electric Buses

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An electric bus in service on the streets of Medellín, Colombia. METRO DE MEDELLÍN

Happy to see our neighbors to the south taking the lead in greening public transportation:

An Increasingly Urbanized Latin America Turns to Electric Buses

From Colombia to Argentina, major cities in Latin America are starting to adopt electric bus fleets. In a region with the highest use of buses per person globally, officials believe the transition will help meet climate targets, cut fuel costs, and improve air quality.

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Medellín will have 65 electric buses in service by the end of the year, making it the second-largest electric bus fleet in Latin America. MARIA GALLUCCI/YALE E360

In Medellín, Colombia, passengers cram aboard a battery-powered bus during the morning commute. Inside, the vehicle is a respite from the crush of cars, taxis, and motorcycles winding through traffic outside. The driver, Robinson López Rivera, steers the bus up a steep ramp, revealing views of hillsides covered with rooftops of tile and tin. The bus dashboard indicates that the batteries are mostly charged, with enough power to last through the evening rush hour.

“It’s a little smoother and more comfortable to drive. And there’s hardly any noise,” López Rivera says from behind the wheel. He gently brakes as a street vendor pushes a fruit cart across the dedicated bus lane. At night, the bus will return to a parking lot by the airport, recharging its 360-kilowatt battery pack while the city sleeps.

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An electric bus charging terminal in Santiago, Chile, which draws power primarily from solar panels. ENEL X

The other 77 buses in the city’s bus rapid transit system, called Metroplús, run on natural gas and move about 251,000 passengers daily. Thousands more privately owned coaches and minibuses burn diesel as they traverse the sprawling metropolitan area of 3.7 million people, with older models leaving a trail of sour-smelling smoke. Faced with chronic air pollution and concerns about climate change, Medellín is now trying to move quickly to electrify its entire mass transit network. Continue reading