‘Recycling is like a Band-Aid on gangrene’

 

Hundreds of new pesticides approved in Brazil under Bolsonaro

The Guardian reports:

Brazil has approved hundreds of new pesticide products since its far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, took power in January, and more than 1,000 since 2016, a study has found. Many of those approved are banned in Europe.

Of 169 new pesticides sanctioned up to 21 May this year, 78 contain active ingredients classified as highly hazardous by the Pesticide Action Network and 24 contain active ingredients banned in the EU, according to the study published on Wednesday by Greenpeace UK’s news agency Unearthed. Another 28 pesticides not included in the report were approved in the last days of 2018.

“It really appears that they have accelerated their approvals process,” said Prof David Eastmond, a toxicologist at the University of California, Riverside. “Some of these are highly hazardous and this raises concern.”

Brazil began accelerating pesticide approvals in September 2016 after Michel Temer, a conservative politician with close agribusiness links, assumed the presidency. Bolsonaro also won the presidency with strong support from the agribusiness sector. [Continue reading…]

Republican and Democratic former EPA heads sound alarm on Trump administration

Think Progress reports:

Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials — including three Republicans and one Democrat — sounded the alarm on Tuesday about the direction of the agency under President Donald Trump. They warned that decades of environmental progress are on the line.

Former EPA administrators under the Obama and Reagan administrations, as well as both Bush administrations, shared their concerns during a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing.

“I am here today because I am deeply concerned that five decades of environmental progress are at risk because of the attitude and approach of the current administration,” said Christine Todd Whitman, who headed the agency under former President George W. Bush and served as governor of New Jersey before that.

She was joined by Gina McCarthy, who led the EPA under former President Barack Obama, and both William Reilly and Lee Thomas, who led the agency under former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, respectively. [Continue reading…]

‘Frightening’ number of plant extinctions found in global survey

The Guardian reports:

Human destruction of the living world is causing a “frightening” number of plant extinctions, according to scientists who have completed the first global analysis of the issue.

They found 571 species had definitely been wiped out since 1750 but with knowledge of many plant species still very limited the true number is likely to be much higher. The researchers said the plant extinction rate was 500 times greater now than before the industrial revolution, and this was also likely to be an underestimate.

“Plants underpin all life on Earth,” said Dr Eimear Nic Lughadha, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who was part of the team. “They provide the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat, as well as making up the backbone of the world’s ecosystems – so plant extinction is bad news for all species.”

The number of plants that have disappeared from the wild is more than twice the number of extinct birds, mammals and amphibians combined. The new figure is also four times the number of extinct plants recorded in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list.

“It is way more than we knew and way more than should have gone extinct,” said Dr Maria Vorontsova, also at Kew. “It is frightening not just because of the 571 number but because I think that is a gross underestimate.” [Continue reading…]

The end of the Arctic as we know it

Jonathan Watts writes:

The demise of an entire ocean is almost too enormous to grasp, but as the expedition sails deeper into the Arctic, the colossal processes of breakdown are increasingly evident.

The first fragment of ice appears off the starboard bow a few miles before the 79th parallel in the Fram strait, which lies between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The solitary floe is soon followed by another, then another, then clusters, then swarms, then entire fields of white crazy paving that stretch to the horizon.

From deck level it is a stunning sight. But from high above, drones and helicopters capture the bigger, more alarming picture: a slow-motion blast pattern of frozen shrapnel radiating from the high Arctic southwards through this strait, which is the interchange of 80% of the water between the ice cap and the world’s oceans.

This is where ice floes come to die, and the cemetery is filling faster each year, according to the leader of this scientific expedition, Till Wagner, of the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). One of the objectives of the expedition is to investigate why the collapse of Arctic ice is happening faster than climate computer models predict and to understand what this augurs for the rest of the planet. [Continue reading…]

Can soil solve the climate crisis?

Kenneth Miller writes:

When Rattan Lal was awarded the Japan Prize for Biological Production, Ecology in April—the Asian equivalent of a Nobel—the audience at Tokyo’s National Theatre included the emperor and empress. Lal’s acceptance speech, however, was down-to-earth in the most literal sense.

“I’d like to begin, rather unconventionally, with the conclusion of my presentation,” he told the assembled dignitaries. “And the conclusion is four words: In soil we trust.”

That statement could serve as the motto for a climate crisis-fighting strategy that has gained remarkable momentum over the past five years or so—and whose rise to international prominence was reflected in that glittering award ceremony. Lal, a septuagenarian professor of soil science at Ohio State University, is one of the foremost exponents of carbon farming, an approach that centers on correcting a man-made, planetary chemical imbalance.

The chemical in question is carbon. Too much of it in the atmosphere (in the form of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas) is the main driver of global heating. Too little of it in the soil is the bane of farmers in many parts of the world, and a threat to our ability to feed a ballooning global population. Advocates say agriculture can mitigate both problems—by adopting techniques that keep more soil carbon from escaping skyward, and draw more atmospheric carbon down into fields and pastures. [Continue reading…]

People eat at least 50,000 plastic particles a year, study finds

The Guardian reports:

The average person eats at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year and breathes in a similar quantity, according to the first study to estimate human ingestion of plastic pollution.

The true number is likely to be many times higher, as only a small number of foods and drinks have been analysed for plastic contamination. The scientists reported that drinking a lot of bottled water drastically increased the particles consumed.

The health impacts of ingesting microplastic are unknown, but they could release toxic substances. Some pieces are small enough to penetrate human tissues, where they could trigger immune reactions.

Microplastic pollution is mostly created by the disintegration of plastic litter and appears to be ubiquitous across the planet. Researchers find microplastics everywhere they look; in the air, soil, rivers and the deepest oceans around the world.

They have been detected in tap and bottled water, seafood and beer. They were also found in human stool samples for the first time in October, confirming that people ingest the particles.

The new research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, took the data from 26 previous studies that measure the amounts of microplastic particles in fish, shellfish, sugar, salt, beer and water, as well as in the air in cities. [Continue reading…]

Fears grow that ‘nuclear coffin’ is leaking radioactive waste into the Pacific

Trevor Nace writes:

The tropical blue skies over the southern Pacific Ocean were enveloped by towering mushroom clouds lingering over the Marshall Islands in 1954 as the United States continued its testing of nuclear weapons.

The United States conducted 67 nuclear weapon tests from 1946 to 1958 on the pristine Marshall Islands. The most powerful test was the “Bravo” hydrogen bomb in 1954, which was about 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

The extensive nuclear bomb testing blanketed the islands in radioactive ash, covering it in the fine, white, powder-like substance. Children, unaware of what the radioactive ash was, played in the “snow” and ate it according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.

Today, there are growing concerns that the temporary containment of the nuclear waste resulting from those tests is leaking into the Pacific Ocean and could be cracked wide open from the next storm that rolls by. Specifically, the site is believed to be leaking one of the most toxic substances in the world, the radioactive isotope plutonium-239, a byproduct of nuclear bombs that decays with a half-life of 24,100 years. [Continue reading…]

 

Influential panel votes to recognize Earth’s new epoch: The Anthropocene

Nature reports:

A panel of scientists voted this week to designate a new geologic epoch — the Anthropocene — to mark the profound ways in which humans have altered the planet. That decision, by the 34-member Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), marks an important step towards formally defining a new slice of the geologic record — an idea that has generated intense debate within the scientific community over the past few years.

The panel plans to submit a formal proposal for the new epoch by 2021 to the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which oversees the official geologic time chart.

Twenty-nine members of the AWG supported the Anthropocene designation and voted in favour of starting the new epoch in the mid-twentieth century, when a rapidly rising human population accelerated the pace of industrial production, the use of agricultural chemicals and other human activities. At the same time, the first atomic-bomb blasts littered the globe with radioactive debris that became embedded in sediments and glacial ice, becoming part of the geologic record.

“The Anthropocene works as a geological unit of time, process and strata,” says Jan Zalasiewicz, chair of the AWG and a geologist at the University of Leicester, UK, who wasn’t confident of that conclusion when the AWG began its work a decade ago. But the vote demonstrates that the group has mostly coalesced around the geological unit. “It is distinguishable. It is distinctive,” he says. [Continue reading…]

World’s rivers ‘awash with dangerous levels of antibiotics’

The Guardian reports:

Hundreds of rivers around the world from the Thames to the Tigris are awash with dangerously high levels of antibiotics, the largest global study on the subject has found.

Antibiotic pollution is one of the key routes by which bacteria are able develop resistance to the life-saving medicines, rendering them ineffective for human use. “A lot of the resistance genes we see in human pathogens originated from environmental bacteria,” said Prof William Gaze, a microbial ecologist at the University of Exeter who studies antimicrobial resistance but was not involved in the study.

The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a global health emergency that could kill 10 million people by 2050, the UN said last month.

The drugs find their way into rivers and soil via human and animal waste and leaks from wastewater treatment plants and drug manufacturing facilities. “It’s quite scary and depressing. We could have large parts of the environment that have got antibiotics at levels high enough to affect resistance,” said Alistair Boxall, an environmental scientist at the University of York, who co-led the study. [Continue reading…]