Plastic Free News is a weekly round up of environmental news from the local to the global. From the state of the climate emergency, to animal matters, to interesting stuff that makes living on Earth cool, Plastic Free News is here with all the details. So what’s going on this week?
State of the Emergency
The Amazon is Still Burning.
The climate change story of the week has been, and remains, the raging wildfires in the Amazon rain forest, the so-called “lungs of the world.” Tracking by NASA’s Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) scanned the region of northern Brazil and eastern Bolivia, and observed termperatures of 104 degrees Celsius or more, with large plums of smoke sometimes obscuring, and even blacking our, ECOSTRESS’ photos of the area.
According to The Guardian, fires have been reported in areas that are protected reserves for Brazil’s Indigenous people, including the Araribóia Indigenous reserve in the Maranhão state, where there has been heavy deforestation by land developers. This area is home to the Awá people, considered by the NGO Survival International to be the most endangered Indigenous tribe in the world.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro was forced to ban legal fires used for land clearing for 60 days, a practice common for farmers to clear land for crops and livestock, which is typically done in Brazil’s dry season. This is Brazil’s dry season.
Bolsonaro also announced that the countries of South America will meet on September 6 to discuss policies concerning the Amazon, which covers 40 per cent of the land area in South America. Bolsonaro has been public enemy number one due to his reaction to the fires, which included blaming environmentalists and NGOs for starting the fires, accusing world leaders of colonialism for wanting to aid Brazil, and then refusing that aid because he believed that French President Emmanuel Macron questioned his trustworthiness to use the money to combat the fires.
And as the fires rage, government employees for Brazil’s main environmental agency, Ibama, signed an open letter saying that Bolsonaro’ s pro-development policies are contributing to the Amazon fires. As reported by the New York Times, Ibama workers said, “their mission had been hobbled in recent years as a result of budget cuts, staff reductions in remote areas, political interference and a weakening of environmental regulations,” and that “There is no way to separate those factors and the significant rise in deforestation and fires.”
Here in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for world leaders to do more on climate change, but people are telling Trudeau that he needs to focus more on it himself, and less on doing business with Brazil. Right now, Canada is pursuing trade talks with the South American Mercosur trading bloc, which includes Brazil.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told the Canadian Press that Trudeau “is putting the interests of rich corporations ahead of the fight against climate change by continuing free-trade negotiations with President Bolsonaro,” but a spokesperson for International Trade Minister Jim Carr said those trade talks include greater environmental protections.
“As part of negotiations, Canada is seeking environmental provisions that would be more ambitious than the current (World Trade Organization) guidelines, and include sustainable forest management and combating illegal logging and related trade,” said Michael Jones.
To be continued…
Passing the Gas Buck.
As reported by Time magazine, the Trump Administration has taken steps to loosen restrictions on methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes a lot to the worsening climate change picture. How bad? NASA says the concentration of methane in the atmosphere has risen 25 teragrams since 2006 (fun fact: a teragram is one million tonnes), while a 2016 study found that methane is at its highest levels in two decades.
“[The Environmental Protection Agency]’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in the statement.
The new regulations were put into effect by the EPA during the Obama Administration, and, surprisingly, it had the backing of big oils and gas companies like Shell, BP, and Exxon. Why? According to Time’s analysis, these companies operate in countries all over the world, and some of them have stricter methane controls than Obama’s America. So who are these changes for? Basically, it’s the small to medium companies in the U.S. that the Trump Administration is trying to appeal to.
Still, America’s second biggest oil producer says it’s staying the course on the emissions restrictions. North Dakota’s Republican(!) Governor Doug Burgrum said that his state administration will “continue to control methane emissions and work diligently with industry to find solutions to methane challenges” regardless of changes at the federal level, according to the Bismark Tribune.
Methane is 20 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, and although methane occurs naturally from swamps and animals, oil and gas production tips the natural balance of methane out of whack, and helps contribute to the greenhouse effect.
Chicken of the Sea.
A new leaked version of an upcoming United Nations report says that the world’s oceans are “poised to unleash misery” on the landlubbers of planet Earth. The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate will not be released to the public until later next month, but Agence France-Presse was leaked a draft version of the 900-page report, and it does not paint a pretty picture:
Destructive changes already set in motion could see a steady decline in fish stocks, a hundred-fold or more increase in the damages caused by superstorms, and hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising seas, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “special report” on oceans and Earth’s frozen zones, known as the cryosphere.
As the 21st century unfolds, melting glaciers will first give too much and then too little to billions who depend on them for fresh water, it finds.
Without deep cuts to manmade emissions, at least 30 percent of the northern hemisphere’s surface permafrost could melt by century’s end, unleashing billions of tonnes of carbon and accelerating global warming even more.
In terms of the consequences, the report says that by 2050 low-lying cities and small island communities will be experiencing “extreme sea level events”, and that even if the global temperature is capped at a two degree increase, it will mean that a quarter of a billion people will still be displaced due to rising ocean levels.
The full report will be released on September 25.
Air Pollution is Going to Our Heads.
A new U.S./Danish study has suggested that there may be a link between mental health, and growing up in an area with a lot of air pollution, according to an article in The Guardian. In the journal PLOS Biology, Prof. Andrey Rzhetsky of the University of Chicago found that rates of bipolar disorder were 27 per cent higher in the bottom seventh of countries with poor air quality as compared to the top seventh with the best air quality.
Also, other mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia and personality disorders were, respectively, 51 per cent, 148 per cent, and 162 per cent higher in those countries with the worst air pollution. The study took into account factors like age, sex and socioeconomic status, and although the results aren’t conclusive, it has definitely made researchers curious. “While causation cannot be proved, this work suggests substantial morbidity from mental disorders could be avoided with improved air quality,” said Dr Ioannis Bakolis, an expert in biostatistics from King’s College London.
Saving the Animals
Blue is the Warmest Shark Water.
In Halifax, researchers are trying to figure out why so many blue sharks are being seen in waters of the Maritimes. While sharks have been a regular part of the local ecosystem in that part of the Atlantic, a very specific mystery is top of mind for scientists.
“It’s an unusual group of blue sharks that we have here,” Fred Whoriskey, the executive director of the Ocean Tracking Network told CTV News. “It seems to be immature females. So we are trying to figure out what is it about this particular area that is a magnet for this group. Now that we’ve discovered that these animals come back here year after year, for a number of years, can we determine a trigger to show how climate change is changing the distribution of sharks in these areas over a number of years?”
First, a neonicotinoid is a type of type of insecticide that is chemically similar to nicotine, and its become a preferable insecticide because it’s less toxic to birds and mammals than insects. So knowing that, the University of Guelph completed the first ever study of neonicotinoid insecticides and discovered that at least one bee species is being exposed to lethal levels of the stuff in the soil, which is bad news because most bee species in Canada nest in the ground.
“We don’t yet know what effect these pesticides are having on squash bee numbers because wild bees are not yet tracked the same way that honeybee populations are monitored. But we do know that many other wild bee species nest and forage in crop fields, which is why these findings are so concerning,” said U of G School of Environmental Sciences professor, Nigel Rain who worked on the study.
The study was published in Scientific Reports.
Greta Has Landed.
In some good news, the ocean didn’t claim Swedish teenager and climate activist Greta Thunberg, who arrived safe and sound in New York City after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-carbon yacht to attend the U.N. summit on zero emissions. Thurnberg took a moral stand against travelling by airplane to attend the conference. “It is insane that a 16-year-old would have to cross the Atlantic to take a stand … [against] the climate and ecological crisis is a global crisis and the biggest humanity has ever faced,” she told the crowd that greeted her at the dock according to The Guardian.
Getting Dirty Against Litter.
The next time someone catches the words “Pornhub” in your browser, you can tell them that you were just interested in saving the world’s oceans and beaches from the blight of garbage and litter. The adult film website has released what they’ve billed as “The Dirtiest Porn Ever,” where an amateur couple from the site’s staple of performers has sex on a litter-filled beach.
“We’re dirty here at Pornhub, but that doesn’t mean our beaches need to be,” said the vice president of Pornhub Corey Price in a statement (as reported by the Independent).
“This is a brand with significant global reach spanning all demographics, so it is a very effective platform to raise awareness and support for the crisis we face in our oceans today,” added a grateful Heather Wigglesworth. She’s the executive director of Ocean Polymers, a group that’s trying to do something about the 5-million tonne annual plastic dump in the world’s oceans.
Pornhub is not only providing titillation, but advice as to how you can contribute the cause of ridding waterways of plastic in your own backyard. Click here if you dare.
The Earth is So Cool
Jakarta is Sinking.
This week, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced that his country’s capital will be moving from Jakarta to Borneo, and though there are a variety of reasons, the biggest one is that the city of 10 million people is sinking at a rate of between three to ten centimetres per year.
Why is Jakarta sinking? It’s a confluence of things, but mostly it comes down to the city’s reliance on ground water, which drains aquafers, and causes the spaces to collapse in on themselves. Combined with a lack of water systems infrastructure including pipes and dams that could help regulate the water that runs through the city’s 13 rivers during the rainy season, they’ve got. serious flooding problem, and it’s getting worse.
Other reasons include unchecked development and poor urban planning, but Jakarta is over 500 years old, so undoing all that is easier said than done.
According to Reuters, Widodo’s plan is to begin relocating the 1.5 million civil servants working in Jakarta starting in 2024 at a cost of $33 million U.S.D.
It’s a Pumice Raft.
Imagine sailing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no land in sight, and all in the sudden your boat is slowed to a single knot, and you realize the ocean your sailing on is made of rock. That’s what happened to an Australian couple when they encountered a “pumice raft” the size of about 20,000 football fields between the islands of Tonga and Fiji on August 7. Pumice is a type of volcanic rock that tends to be light and porous, and scientists think that this pumice probably came from an underwater volcano.
According to the BBC, scientists also thing that pumice fields like this might be able to repopulate the Great Barrier Reef. “A lot of life… can attach themselves to the pumice and be transported thousands of km away. So it’s a way to renew ecosystems somewhere, but it also can introduce invasive species,” said Dr Martin Jutzeler from the University of Tasmania.
Close to Home
New New Deal Meeting.
Attention New Dealers: Guelph is having another Green New Deal Town Hall on September 19 at 6 pm in Peter Clark Hall at the University Centre. This is a follow up to the town hall held in June at the Italian Canadian Club, and will be co-sponsored by the Central Student Association. “Our goal is to continue the conversation and provide opportunities to connect and act. We will have amazing speakers (more on that later) to share information and stories of action,” said the Facebook events page. To stay in the loop, and interact with other people attending, click here.
Sticker Rules Now in Effect
The Ontario government’s new rules about gas pumps displaying their anti-carbon tax stickers go into effect today even though official have said that there won’t be harsh penalties for those who don’t display the stickers. At least, not yet, according to CBC.
“For the first few months, inspectors are focusing on education and helping gasoline retailers come into compliance,” said Sydney Stonier, a spokeswoman for Energy Minister Greg Rickford. “After this initial period, inspectors could issue warnings and lay charges as they deem necessary.”
Although the government has since reduced the maximum fines gas stations can incur for not posting the stickers, it’s still going to cost individuals up to $500 each day, or up to $1,000 a day for repeat offences, while corporations could be fined up to $5,000 a day, or up to $10,000 a day for repeat offences.
In other news, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek announced earlier this week that Ontario is proceeding with a Supreme Court challenge of the carbon tax. It was just last week that Premier Doug Ford said that he would wait and see about the results of October’s Federal Election before deciding about whether or not to proceed to the Supreme Court.
Plastic Free News is posted on Guelph Politico every Friday.