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 Wrath of Dorian
The serious devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian is still being tabulated in the Bahamas even as it continues to wreck havoc on the U.S. Eastern seaboard and is bearing down on Canada’s Atlantic coast. The storm this morning is a category two, but while blowing away the Bahamas it was a category five with wind speeds of 185 miles per hour, and in some places created a 20-foot storm surge. Early estimates are pegging the damage in the Bahamas at $7 billion, but the exact toll of the storm is not yet known since so many areas are still inaccessible due to damage. The death toll in the Bahamas is still 23, but there have been anecdotal reports of many casualties due to the flooding.
Meanwhile, Dorian’s not done yet. Tracking shows that the storm will leave the outer banks of North Carolina on Friday afternoon and then head to sea… towards Atlantic Canada. Dorian should hit Nova Scotia as a tropical storm on Saturday afternoon, and then pass over Newfoundland on Sunday before heading out to the North Atlantic and cooler waters. Although the storm will not be as powerful as it once was, authorities in Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and Newfoundland are bracing for winds in excess of 100 kilometres per hour.
As people in the affected areas try to rebuild and reconnect, scientists are looking at the impact of climate change on Dorian’s track. Of particular note is that fact that Dorian was stationary over Grand Bahama for 40 hours at the height of its power last weekend before slowly moving on to Florida and the U.S. east coast. “This is yet another example of the kind of slow-moving tropical systems that we expect to see more often as a response to climate change. Upper-level steering winds are slowing over the continents during summer, so stalling weather systems are more likely,” Jennifer Francis, a scientist with the Woods Hole Research Center, told the New York Times.
A study published in Nature shows that since the midpoint of the 20th century, hurricanes and other tropical storms have become more slow moving, and thus making them more dangerous because they stay in one place longer and cause more damage. Scientists will tell you that it’s hard to draw a straight line between strong hurricanes and global warming, but according to Dr. Gabriel Vecchi, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University, it “looks like what we’re going to have more of in the future.”
Saving the Animals
Leave the Animals Alone
That’s the message from the International Penguin Conference this week, as animal experts are saying that human beings quest for wildlife selfies may be affecting animal behaviour. ‘We’re losing respect for wildlife, we don’t understand the wild at all,” explained Professor Philip Seddon, the director of Otago University’s wildlife management programme, who said that people cornering animals in the wild for a picture are causing physical and emotional stress, interrupting feeding and breeding habits, and possibly lowering birth rates.
“We have an increasingly urbanised population around the world who are alienated from the natural world and whose access to wildlife is commodified and sanitised and made safe,” said Seddon in The Guardian. “So we’re seeing these very strange behaviours that seem weird to us as biologists – such as posing your child on a wild animal.”
Species at Risk from Amazon Fires
Even though most eyes in North America have been focused on Hurricane Dorian, the fires are still burning hot in the Amazon rain forest. The Science 101 blog listed 30 species of animals that are at risk due to the wildfires, including monkeys, bird, bugs, and aquatic life. Among the more unique is the Amazon river dolphin, which is bright pink with a pointy snout and is surprisingly people friendly. Another is the jumping stick, an insect that looks like, well, a stick. The lovably adorable capybara, the world’s largest rodent, is also at risk. Check out the full list at Science 101.
Nuns Want Climate Action
Pope Francis has been making a case for action on climate change, but even rank and file brothers and sisters of the cloth are doing their part. Sister Anne Lewans, a member of the Ursuline Sisters of Prelate in Saskatoon, joined Canada’s 64 Congregations of Catholic Sisters in signing a letter that demands that the Canadian government do more on tackling climate change.
“I think it’s a really big problem,” Lewans told the CBC. “And one of the biggest things for us, as a small aging religious community, is awareness and helping to make other people aware.”
The Ursuline Sisters have apparently begun efforts to divest from fossil fuel companies and eliminate single use plastics in their own backyard, but Lewans said that there’s only so much one small group of nuns can do on their own. “The whole point of this statement is to try to bring awareness to a wider group of people and particularly to our politicians who have some ability to make an impact,” she said. “It’s not just what my little community can do.”
U.S. President Candidates Talk Climate
Ten of the Democratic nominees for President of the United States participated in a marathon town hall on CNN Wednesday that featured seven-hours of debate on climate change, and government policy to deal with climate change. There was consensus that climate change is an immediate and existential threat to the United States (and the world), but the leading candidates were tested in different ways.
As reported by the New Yorker, former Vice-President Joe Biden was tested when asked about attending a big dollar fundraiser hosted by Andrew Goldman, the founder of the fossil fuel company Western LNG. “What I was told by my staff is that he did not have any responsibility relating to the company,” Biden said. “He was not on the board. He was not involved at all in the operation of the company at all. But, if that turns out to be true, then I will not in any way accept his help.”
Biden’s nearest competition, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, was asked by moderator Chris Cuomo if Americans should switch to energy efficient light bulbs, but she didn’t take the bait. “That’s what they want us to talk about,” she said. “They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your light bulbs, around your straws and around your cheeseburgers, when seventy per cent of the pollution, of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air, comes from three industries.”
On the same day as the town halls, the Trump Administration cancelled mandates for light bulb manufacturers to use strict environmental standards in their production, a proviso that’s been in effect since the George W. Bush administration.
The Earth is So Cool
“New” Mineral Found in Australian Meteorite
People are always discovering new elements in the movies, but scientists have actually discovered a new mineral thanks to a meteorite in Victoria, Australia in 1951. According to Geology Page, the lemon-sized rock likely claim from the molten core of some ancient planet that has long since been destroyed. Dubbed Edscottite, the mineral is a kind of iron carbide that scientists have never before seen in nature; iron carbide typically occurs during smelting. “We found 500,000 to 600,000 minerals in the laboratory, but less than 6,000 that nature itself did,” Museums Victoria senior geoscience curator Stuart Mills said, which goes to show you just how rare it is to find a previously unknown mineral in nature.
A Worm Will Show Us the Way
A fossilized rock formed sometime around half-a-billion years ago is giving scientists new clues about how and when animal life began on planet Earth, according to Nature. The fossil of a worm-like creature formed between 551 million and 539 million years ago was found in southern China.
While interesting on it’s own, the discovery is also challenging the idea that animal life on Earth first came about with the so-called “Cambrian explosion” 539 million years ago, which scientists have long considered the sudden dividing line between when there were no animals on Earth, and when animals first evolved. Geoscientists say this fossil, and others found in the same area, now strongly indicate that the evolution of animal life on Earth was a longer and more complex history than previously thought.
Bird’s Eye View of the Eye
This is worth checking out: a video from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) flight through the eye of Hurricane Dorian.
Close to Home
Local Candidate Makes List of Endorsements
A group called Green PAC has endorsed Guelph Green Party candidate Steve Dyck along with 24 other Federal candidates. Green PAC, who “is a non-partisan, non-profit organization working to elect and support environmental leaders of all major parties running for office,” cited Dyck for his business work as founder and CEO of Guelph Solar, and his community activism on climate change. Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May were also endorsed by the group. Read the full Politico story here.
A Week of Climate Action in Guelph
In last week’s Plastic Free News, it was mentioned about the pending town hall on a local Green New Deal, and this week, it looks like that’s going to kickoff a series of climate actions and demonstrations later this month. Guelph will take part in the Global Climate Strike on Friday September 20 at 10 am at City Hall, which is part of a series of climate strikes that’s going to happen in conjunction with the presentation of a UN report in New York City. Other upcoming events include a discussion about staying positive while trying to take climate action on September 28, and a Federal debate on the environment in on October 3.
Plastic Free News is posted on Guelph Politico every Friday.