David Shepherd

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So far David Shepherd has created 35 blog entries.

6 questions on the future of indoor agriculture

By |2021-09-24T09:51:30+01:00September 24th, 2021|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

Q & A with Plenty’s co-founder and chief science officer Nate Storey about the companies take on indoor ag profitability, industry collaboration and promising markets in Asia

What you should know about carbon removal purchase agreements

By |2021-09-23T10:36:06+01:00September 23rd, 2021|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

The industry recognizes the need to share lessons, which is one reason you’ve seen companies including Microsoft, Shopify and Swiss Re all publish playbooks about how they are selecting and valuing projects that have verifiable permanence.

Celebrating Earth Day 2021 !

By |2021-04-23T14:27:06+01:00April 21st, 2021|

The theme for Earth Day 2021 is ‘Restore Our Earth’, urging everyone to focus on how we can both reduce our impact on the planet and actively repair ecosystems.

EARTHDAY.ORG™ works in countries around the world to drive meaningful action for our planet across:

  • Food & Environment: Simply put, the event’s organisers want you to combat climate change by changing your diet – better known as reducing your “foodprint.” While we should all be working to reduce our foodprints, there are several factors to consider, such as access, availability, health, and sustainability.

  • Climate Literacy: Climate and environmental awareness, when combined with civic education, is expected to create jobs, develop a green consumer market, and enable people to meaningfully engage with their governments in the fight against climate change, according to Earth Day organisers. They believe that climate and environmental education should be mandatory, measured, and include a strong civic participation aspect in every school around the world.
  • The Canopy Project: By planting trees all over the world, this initiative aims to enhance our common climate. Since 2010, Earth Day organisers have worked with global partners to plant tens of millions of trees with The Canopy Project, reforesting areas in desperate need of rehabilitation.

  • The Great Global Clean Up: Did you know that unregulated burning of household waste causes 270,000 premature deaths per year, and that 2 billion people lack access to waste collection services? It’s also reported that 79 percent of all plastics ever made have ended up in landfills or the natural environment.

  • Global Earth Challenge: Begun in April 2020 and aims to involve millions of people by incorporating billions of data points from new and ongoing citizen science initiatives. Essentially, the Global Earth Challenge aims to become the world’s largest organised citizen science initiative by creating a new mobile app that allows public volunteers to contribute to scientific research.

This year’s focus is on assisting local communities, with a particular emphasis on areas that are disproportionately impacted by environmental concerns. Many who live on the front lines of environmental disasters don’t always have the money to repair the damage.

DONATE TO EARTHDAY.ORG™ HERE ! DONATE

 

Nine-year-old is first UK person to have air pollution listed on death certificate

By |2021-04-21T21:41:01+01:00April 21st, 2021|

The Government has been urged to set much tougher legally binding pollution targets by the coroner in an inquest into a nine-year-old girl who died of a fatal asthma attack after being exposed to toxic air.

Philip Barlow, assistant coroner for Inner South London, ruled in a landmark second inquest last year that air pollution contributed to the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah from an asthma attack.

In a report to prevent future deaths, he said legally binding targets for particulate matter in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK and the Government should take action to address the issue.

The WHO limit is 10 micrograms of tiny “particulate” matter per cubic metre – and if the UK were to introduce such a limit about 15 million people would be living in areas with illegally high levels of pollution.The current UK – and EU – limit is 25 micrograms per cubic metre, which far exceeds the level of air pollution any part of the country, yet air pollution is responsible for an estimated 36,000 early deaths a year.

Mr Barlow also said greater public awareness of air pollution information would help individuals reduce their personal exposure.

And he warned the adverse effects of pollutants were not being sufficiently communicated to patients and their carers by medical staff

Responding to the report, Ella’s mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah called on the Government to act on the recommendations in the coroner’s report, warning “children are dying unnecessarily because the Government is not doing enough to combat air pollution”.

Ella was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on their death certificate, following the inquest ruling by Mr Barlow last December.

She lived 25 metres from the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London – one of the capital’s busiest roads.

Ella Kissi-Debra named as the first person to die of air pollution in the UK

Ella Kissi-Debrah

She died in February 2013, having endured numerous seizures and made almost 30 hospital visits over the previous three years.

A previous inquest ruling from 2014, which concluded Ella died of acute respiratory failure, was quashed by the High Court following new evidence about the dangerous levels of air pollution close to her home.

In his report following the second inquest, published this morning, Mr Barlow said national limits for particulate matter – a dangerous form of air pollutant – were set far higher than WHO guidelines.

“The evidence at the inquest was that there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be seen as minimum requirements.

“Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK,” the report said.

He said Government departments for environment, health and transport should address the issue, while local and national governments should address the lack of public awareness about pollution information.

Health bodies and professional organisations needed to tackle the failure by doctors and nurses to communicate the adverse effects of air pollution on health to patients, he said.

Ms Kissi-Debrah said she would be contacting Environment Secretary George Eustice to urge him to put the WHO pollution guidelines into law in the Environment Bill and achieve them in the shortest possible time.

She also said there needed to be improved public information about the levels of pollution that people are exposed to and the health risks.

“As the parent of a child suffering from severe asthma, I should have been given this information but this did not happen.

“Because of a lack of information I did not take the steps to reduce Ella’s exposure to air pollution that might have saved her life. I will always live with this regret.

“But it is not too late for other children.”

And she said: “I invite the Government to act now to reduce air pollution. Immediately. Not in eighteen months, not in five years – that’s not fast enough.

“People are dying from air pollution each year. Action needs to be taken now or more people will simply continue to die.”

A Government spokesman said: “Our thoughts continue to be with Ella’s family and friends.”

The spokesman added that the Government is delivering a £3.8bn plan to clean up transport and tackle nitrogen pollution, and going further in protecting communities from air pollution, particularly particulate matter known as PM2.5.

“Through our landmark Environment Bill, we are also setting ambitious new air quality targets, with a focus on reducing public health impacts.

“We will carefully consider the recommendations in the report and respond in due course.”

As reported by By Tom Bawden, Science & Environment Correspondent, inews.co.uk

April 21, 2021 11:24 am

Super-enzyme breaks down plastic bottles in ‘a matter of days’

By |2021-04-23T14:32:49+01:00September 29th, 2020|

From BBC Science Focus Magazine:

Professor John McGeehan, director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth

Professor John McGeehan at work

The enhanced protein is made up of two enzymes produced by a type of bacteria that feeds on plastic bottles.

A so-called “super-enzyme” that eats plastic could be “a significant leap forward” in finding solutions to tackle the pollution crisis, scientists hope.

The enhanced protein is made up of two enzymes produced by a type of bacteria that feeds on plastic bottles, known as Ideonella sakaiensis.

Professor John McGeehan, director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth, said that unlike natural degradation, which can take hundreds of years, the super-enzyme is able to convert the plastic back to its original materials, or building blocks, in just a few days.

“Currently, we get those building blocks from fossil resources such as oil and gas, which is really unsustainable,” he said. “But if we can add enzymes to the waste plastic, we can start to break it down in a matter of days.”

He said the process would also allow plastics to be “made and reused endlessly, reducing our reliance on fossil resources”.

In 2018, Prof McGeehan and his team accidentally discovered that an engineered version of one of the enzymes, known as PETase, was able to break down plastic in a matter of days.

As part of their current study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team mixed PETase with the second enzyme, called MHETase, and found “the digestion of the plastic bottles literally doubled”. The researchers then connected the two enzymes together in the lab, like “two Pac-men joined by a piece of string”, using genetic engineering.

The super enzyme, which is two proteins joined together © Aaron McGeehan/Knott et al

“This allowed us to create a super-enzyme six times faster than the original PETase enzyme alone. This is quite a significant leap forward because the plastic that ends up in our oceans today is going to take hundreds of years to break down naturally,” Prof McGeehan said.

“[Eventually] through sunlight and wave action, it will start to break down into smaller and smaller pieces – and we will end up with microplastics, which is a serious problem for the organisms that live in the environment.”

Tests showed that this super-enzyme was able to break down a type of plastic used in soft drinks and fruit juice packaging, known as PET (polyethylene terephthalate). Although it is said to be highly recyclable, discarded PET persists for hundreds of years in the environment before it degrades.

Aside from PET, the super-enzyme also works on PEF (polyethylene furanoate), a sugar-based bioplastic used in beer bottles. However, Prof McGeehan said it is unable to break down other types of plastic.

Working with US colleagues, Prof McGeehan used intense X-ray beams at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility in Harwell, Oxfordshire, to map 3D structures of the enzymes. These molecular blueprints allowed the researchers to create the super-enzyme with an enhanced ability to attack plastic.

As part of the next steps, the researchers are looking at ways to even further speed up the break-down process, so the technology can be used for commercial purposes.

“The faster we can make the enzymes, the quicker we can break down the plastic, and the more commercially viable it will be,” Prof McGeehan said. “Oil is very cheap so we need to compete with that by having a very cheap recycling process.”

Reader Q&A: Why are some plastics recyclable and others are not?

Most of the plastics we use are either thermoplastic or thermosetting.

Thermoplastics include acrylics, nylon and polyethylene (polythene). As you heat them up they get soft, so they can be shaped into any form you like, which also makes them easy to recycle. Milk containers can be melted and reformed into furniture, plastic water bottles become fleece jackets, and hard bottle tops can get a new lease of life as storage boxes.

Thermosetting plastics, like Bakelite or polyurethane, are different because they harden as you heat them. Once they have set, you can’t melt them. This makes thermosetting plastics almost impossible to recycle.

Global climate goals ‘virtually impossible’ without carbon capture – IEA

By |2021-04-23T14:39:07+01:00September 28th, 2020|

capturing CO2 cartoon

Up to $160 billion needs to be invested in the technology by 2030, a ten-fold increase from the previous decade, it added. “Without it, our energy and climate goals will become virtually impossible to reach,” the IEA head Fatih Birol said in a statement.

A sharp rise in the deployment of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology is needed globally if countries are to meet net-zero emissions targets designed to slow climate change, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Thursday.A growing number of countries and companies are targeting net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by around the middle of the century in the wake of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

To reach that, the amount of CO2 captured must rocket to 800 million tonnes in 2030 from around 40 million tonnes today, the IEA, which advises industrialised nations on energy policies, said in a report.

Up to $160 billion needs to be invested in the technology by 2030, a ten-fold increase from the previous decade, it added.

“Without it, our energy and climate goals will become virtually impossible to reach,” the IEA head Fatih Birol said in a statement.

The global economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic risks delaying or cancelling projects dependent on public support, the IEA said.

An oil price slide had also reduced revenues for existing CCUS facilities selling CO2 for so-called enhanced oil recovery (EOR). However, the IEA added: “Economic recovery packages are a unique window of opportunity for governments to support CCUS alongside other clean energy technologies.”

Referring to a major investment to build two carbon capture plants and an offshore CO2 storage facility, Birol said: “Norway showed its leadership in Europe by making a major funding commitment to the Longship project.” Nonetheless, the story of CCUS has largely been “one of unmet expectations”, marred by lack of commercial incentives, large capital costs and public opposition to storage, especially onshore, the IEA said.

In 2009, the IEA called for 100 large-scale CCUS projects to be built by 2020 to store around 300 million tonnes of CO2 per year. To date, just 20 commercial projects are in operation, capturing around 40 million tonnes per year.

Greenpeace petitions UK Government to ban supertrawlers catching 7,000 tons of fish

By |2020-08-28T15:37:27+01:00August 28th, 2020|

A YouGov poll, commissioned by Greenpeace, has shown that more than 4 in 5 members of the British public believe supertrawlers, factory trawlers over 100m long, should be banned from fishing in the UK’s Marine Protected Areas. 81% said supertrawlers should be banned from fishing in protected areas, with just 4% saying they should be permitted to fish in them.

This comes after an investigation revealed that supertrawlers spent almost 3000 hours fishing in UK Marine Protected Areas in 2019, more than double the number of hours they spent fishing in UK protected areas in 2018. Marine Protected Areas exist to protect vulnerable ecosystems and marine life, like porpoises and reefs.

The Dutch-owned Annelies Ilena supertrawler in UK waters

The Dutch-owned Annelies Ilena supertrawler in UK waters

A Greenpeace petition calls on the government to ban supertrawlers from protected areas, and has already gathered 125,000 signatures, including those of Sir Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley, Gillian Anderson Green MP Caroline Lucas, Alison Steadman and the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Philip Evans, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said “This polling makes absolutely clear that the public is united behind our call for a ban on supertrawlers fishing in protected areas. After a decade of political division, our call cutting across the political divide should send a firm message to the government that enough is enough. Supertrawlers must be banned from our protected areas.

“Britain’s departure from the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy is the perfect opportunity to do this. Our government should listen to its constituents, and commit to banning supertrawlers from protected areas as a first step towards designating a network of fully or highly protected MPAs off-limits to all destructive activity across 30% of the UK’s waters.”Britain’s departure from the Common Fisheries Policy will allow the UK government to implement stronger fishing regulations in offshore waters, those beyond 12 nautical miles from the coast. Currently few restrictions are in place in offshore MPAs, which is why supertrawler operations in offshore protected areas are currently legal.

Supertrawler activity in UK waters has increased since 2017. Greenpeace data shows that the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone was the worst affected by EU supertrawler activity of any on earth in 2018 and 2019, and that the time supertrawlers spent fishing in UK Marine Protected Areas had more than doubled from 1388 hours in 2018 to 2963 hours in 2019.

A Defra spokesman said the UK is a global leader in the fight to protect British seas with the Blue Belt of protected waters that are nearly twice the size of England.

The drive to plant one trillion trees by 2030

By |2020-08-27T17:17:15+01:00August 27th, 2020|

From TIME Magazine, an announcement by Jane Goodall and Howard Benioff (excerpt):

“By far the most cost-effective of all the big solutions to climate change is to protect and restore forests. Forests extract and store CO2 from the atmosphere and produce the oxygen we breathe. But these complex ecosystems have been systematically destroyed. We have already lost nearly half the world’s trees, most within the last 100 years. And most of the remaining trees—about 3 trillion—are still under threat, even though they are a critical tool in the fight against climate change.

At this moment in time, massive fires have yet again erupted around the world, from California to the Congo Basin to the Amazon. Far too many of these fires are intentionally set because agricultural profits have been prioritized over the health of our planet. A call to stop deforestation is more important than ever before.”

View of the Congo river, Odzala national park

View of the Congo river, Odzala National Park Republic of Congo

A new World Economic Forum (WEF) initiative, the Trillion Tree challenge (1T.org), has been launched in an effort to bring together old and new partners to add momentum to the regreening of our planet and plant 1 trillion trees around the world by 2030. Companies joined by NGOs and youth movements as well as a number of governments, such as the U.S., have pledged their support for this solution. Those involved will be able to share best practices, with a major goal of maintaining biodiversity standards.

“This effort could capture an estimated 200 gigatonnes of carbon over the coming decades, an amount equal to two-thirds of the pollution produced since the Industrial Revolution. But it will take time for young trees to capture the same amount of CO2 as mature forests.

Planting 1 trillion trees won’t be easy, but each one of us can make a difference in this fight. We can plant trees in backyards and neighborhoods, or donate to one of the many responsible programs that have long been restoring and protecting forests and woodlands in almost every country around the world.

Our challenge is clear. We can protect and restore our forests while also investing in jobs and global economies. But our success will depend on one another; together we can create the kind of change needed to heal our planet.”

Scottish officials raised concerns that Shell’s £5m tree-planting scheme would be seen as “greenwashing”

By |2020-07-31T15:26:12+01:00July 31st, 2020|

Glen-Garry-in-Lochaber-ScotlandAs a result of UK Freedom of Information requests, internal emails seen by The Ferret investigative blog have revealed that, in the run-up to an announcement by Shell last October that it was funding a new £5m tree-planting initiative, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) officials raised a number of concerns.

In August 2019, Jo Ellis, FLS head of planning and environment, noted “I do think we need to be cautious about how we communicate this…I don’t want us to come across as falling for the greenwashing. The fact remains that mitigation work such as tree planting will not be sufficient to offset carbon emissions for the long term (we need to be reducing the use of fossil fuels).”

“The tiny amount Shell is putting into green initiatives is dwarfed by what it is still spending on investigating new oil and gas reserves, and in blocking initiatives to set legally binding emissions reductions targets.” she added.

“What we should actually be doing is reducing emissions – e.g. stop using petrol, which Shell is not planning to do. But until such time as technology moves us to a low emissions, projects that sequester carbon such as this one will buy us time.”

Ellis continued: “Personally I would have a problem with them saying anything that implies that this is going to make what they do environmentally friendly. This is all about reducing the harm that they do, not about them doing good.”

FLS director of land management, Trefor Owen, supported her concerns: “What Shell are offering us is relatively small beer for them, but it gets a shiny new organisation (us) to add to the list of green organisations supporting their offsetting ambitions.”

Over the next five years, as the first phase of this initiative, Shell UK is funding the co-operation to preserve and extend native woodland at Glen Garry in Lochaber, including a scheme to plant more than 200,000 trees in the first two years. As reported in the Guardian, “the fund sounds big, and it is – until you compare it with Shell’s annual income of $24bn”.

Why does earth smell so wonderful after rain ?

By |2020-07-22T16:07:06+01:00July 22nd, 2020|

rain falling on grass in sunlightThat wonderful smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather is called Petrichor – a heady mixture of plant oils, bacterial spores and ozone.

In 1964, two Australian scientists, Isabel Joy Bear and R. G. Thomas, determined that one of the main causes of this distinctive smell is a blend of oils secreted by some plants during arid periods. When a rainstorm comes after a drought, compounds from the oils—which accumulate over time in dry rocks and soil—are mixed and released into the air.

In moist, forested areas in particular, a common substance is geosmin, a chemical produced by a soil-dwelling bacteria known as actinomycetes. The bacteria secrete the compound when they produce spores, then the force of rain landing on the ground sends these spores up into the air and the moist air conveys the chemical into our noses.

Actinomycetes image showing their beautiful filaments

Actinomycetes can be found almost everywhere and are often called “Nature’s pharmacists”. They are remarkable filamentous organisms responsible for producing an estimated 70% of the antibiotics used in human therapy (making them the most robust natural source of antibiotics). They have key role in composting, in that their filaments stretch through the soil and work together to control harmful or unwanted soil bacteria.
 
And the final, important ingredient in our heady Petrichor fragrance is Ozone. Ozone – the molecule made up of three oxygen atoms bonded together—also plays a role in the smell, especially after thunderstorms. A lightning bolt’s electrical charge can split oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere, and they often recombine into nitric oxide (NO), which then interacts with other chemicals in the atmosphere to produce ozone. Sometimes, you can even smell ozone in the air (it has a sharp scent reminiscent of chlorine) before a storm arrives because it can be carried over long distances from high altitudes.

Who knew that something so complex lay behind our enjoyment of a freshly cut lawn after a downpour ? There is a deeper question of why we enjoy it so much and scientists have speculated that it’s a product of our evolution.

Pulling carbon dioxide from the air by farming

By |2020-07-20T16:18:26+01:00July 20th, 2020|

Basalt columns along the Snake River Gorge, Twin Falls, Idaho, USAExciting news as ‘rock weathering’ experiment pulls carbon dioxide from the air and boosts crop production by 12%.

The Working Lands Innovation Center (WLIC) has been partnering with farmers, ranchers, government, the mining industry and Native American tribes in California on some 50 acres of cropland soil amendment trials and their experiments have yielded results that may be another important step in fighting climate change.

Rock chemistry

Many processes weather rocks on Earth’s surface, influenced by chemistry, biology, climate, and plate tectonics. The dominant form of chemical weathering occurs when carbon dioxide combines with water in the soil and the ocean to make carbonic acid.

About 95% of Earth’s crust and mantle – the thick layer between the planet’s crust and its core – is made of silicate minerals, which are compounds of silicon and oxygen.

When carbonic acid comes in contact with certain silicate minerals, it triggers a chemical process known as the ‘Urey reaction’. This reaction pulls gaseous carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and combines it with water and calcium or magnesium silicates, producing two bicarbonate ions. Once the carbon dioxide is trapped in these soil carbonates, or ultimately washed into the ocean, it no longer warms the climate

Now, emerging science – including at the California Collaborative for Climate Change Solutions’ (C4) WLIC – shows that it is possible to accelerate rock weathering rates.

Enhanced rock weathering could both slow global warming and improve soil health, making it possible to grow crops more efficiently and bolster food security.

Farming with rocks

One compelling aspect of enhanced weathering is that, in controlled-environment studies involving basalt amendments of soil, cereal grain yields are improved by roughly 12%.

As basalt weathers, it increases vital plant nutrients that can boost production and increase crops yields. Mineral nutrients such as calcium, potassium and magnesium create healthier soils. Farmers have been amending soil with rock minerals for centuries, so the concept is nothing new.

Why negative emissions matter

Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, nations have pledged to limit global warming to less then 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. This will require massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Pulling carbon dioxide from the air – also known as negative emissions – is also necessary to avoid the worst climate change outcomes, because atmospheric carbon dioxide has an average lifespan of more than 100 years. Every molecule of carbon dioxide that is released to the atmosphere through fossil fuel combustion or land clearing will remain there for many decades trapping heat and warming Earth’s surface.

When the taps run dry in England

By |2020-07-10T13:37:47+01:00July 10th, 2020|

Photo of a disused tap with a solitary drip of waterThere is a serious risk that some parts of England will run out of water within the next 20 years. 

The UK Commons Select Committee published a damning report today continuing “Some areas are facing shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. The responsible bodies – the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (the Department), the Environment Agency and Ofwat – have collectively taken their “eye off the ball” and urgent action is now required if we are to have a reliable water supply in the years ahead.”

“Over 3 billion litres, a fifth of the volume used, is lost to leakage every day. Despite this, no progress has been made in reducing leakage over the last 20 years. The government’s weak efforts to encourage reductions in water consumption have achieved very little. Water companies have at least now been given tougher targets to make improvements, but we are calling for the responsible bodies to go further, and annually publish clear performance tables so that the government and the water companies can be properly held to account.”

“Government has been too slow to implement policies that could improve water efficiency such as product labelling and changes to building regulations. Nor has it done enough to resolve the tension that water companies face between needing to invest in infrastructure to improve water supply and the pressure to keep water bills affordable for consumers, particularly where consumers say they are prepared to pay more.”

“We are sceptical about the effectiveness of water companies’ efforts to mitigate environmental damage and are not convinced the UK’s net zero emissions target has been sufficiently embedded in the oversight and regulation of the industry. The Department has shown a lack of leadership in getting to grips with these issues. We look now to the Department to step up, make up for lost time and ensure all parties act with the urgency required.”

Save the Planet .Org says that it is time that UK water authorities stopped sending begging letters to their consumers asking them to conserve water when they have failed to take action to stop leaks that are wasting millions of gallons of water across the country, every day.

The irony of this will not be lost on householders who witnessed the abundance of water (inside their own homes) as a result of severe flooding earlier this year. Living in one of the wettest countries in Western Europe appears to be no guarantee of a water supply in the future, it seems.

Perhaps it is time that the water companies ceased maximising profits and paying dividends to shareholders until they achieve meaningful leakage targets, renumerating their board members for failure and instead, used their “profits” to invest in our national water infrastructure as they are paid to do.

Then, if they cannot achieve a very significant turnaround, it will be time to renationalise our water industry – before the nation’s taps run dry.

Beautiful pink snow in the Italian Alps heralds another environmental catastrophe

By |2020-07-09T21:15:31+01:00July 9th, 2020|

Researcher-Biagio-di-Maio-sampling-the-pink-snow-on-Presena-glacierAn alarming, yet beautiful new phenomena, has gripped both Alpine tourists and scientists alike – the appearance of pink snow on the Presena glacier in Italy. 

Known as the “giant of the alps”, Presena sits 3,069 metres above sea level and is described as a paradise for all those who love nature, history and mountain sports. Situated on the border between Val di Sole and Valle Camonica, between Trentino and Lombardy, the glacier is part of the Presanella mountain group.

A type of algae usually found in Greenland has started to grow there – and it’s turning the glacier pink. The plant, known as Ancylonema nordenskioeldii, is present in Greenland’s so-called Dark Zone, where the ice is also melting.

Despite its rosy appearance, pink snow is not good news on the climate change front. Usually, ice reflects over 80 per cent of the sun’s radiation back into the atmosphere. As the ice changes colour, it loses the ability to reflect heat, meaning the glaciers are starting to melt faster.

The pace of melting ice in the mountains was already sufficient cause for concern that a local ski resort, Pontedilegno-Tonale, initiated a conservation project in 2008 using enormous pieces of geotextile fabric to cover up the glaciers all summer, keeping them cold and protecting them from melting.

Biagio Di Mauro of Italy’s National Research Council has been investigating the mysterious  appearance of the pink glacial ice and stated “The alga is not dangerous, it is a natural phenomenon that occurs during the spring and summer periods in the middle latitudes but also at the Poles” and has previously studied the algae at the Morteratsch glacier in Switzerland.

More algae appear as the ice melts more rapidly, giving them vital water and air and adding red hues to the white ice.

“Everything that darkens the snow causes it to melt because it accelerates the absorption of radiation,” said Di Mauro.

“We are trying to quantify the effect of other phenomena besides the human one on the overheating of the Earth,” said Di Mauro, noting that the presence of hikers and ski lifts could also have an impact on the algae.

Tourists at the glacier lamented the impact of climate change. “Overheating of the planet is a problem, the last thing we needed was algae,” said tourist Marta Durante. 

“Unfortunately we are doing irreversible damage. We are already at the point of no return, I think.”

Ellie Goulding loses 1,000 followers every time she posts about climate change

By |2020-07-03T15:58:58+01:00July 3rd, 2020|

 

Ellie-Goulding-UN-global-goodwill-ambassadorLong-time climate advocate and activist Ellie Goulding joined Tom Mustell and Lucy Siegle for the So Hot Right Now podcast this week and spoke openly about the fears and real impact to artists speaking out on environmental issues.

Despite her tremendous personal reach, with 22 billion social media streamings and 33 million followers overall, across combined social platforms, it’s clear that she has felt obliged to tread carefully in the past.

“Protesting wasn’t seen as cool…. I was really conscious to begin with, not to merge the two and keep my activism really separate. I genuinely thought that activism could jeopardise my job and I believe it has.”

“I lose followers every time I post anything about climate change. I lose at least a thousand followers.”

“Because people are following me for a very specific reason and it’s not the environment.”

“People say ”F**k you for posting this, we don’t want to hear this, it’s not what we’re interested in. Stop preaching. Climate change isn’t real.”

“That’s why there is a lack of artists speaking out about it because they’re just terrified for their job. I get that. I understand that. We can all be honest and say that it has affected some artists’ careers.”

Let’s hope that principled and brave artists like Ellie feel able to continue speaking out despite the cost and use their platforms to provoke thought and debate, on the most important issue of our time.

 

COVID-19 leaves Venetian canals pristine: A beautiful illusion ?

By |2020-06-18T15:48:53+01:00June 18th, 2020|

Venetian canals run clear for the first time in 60 years

Venetian canals run clear for the first time in 60 years

In April, the world was marvelling at the images of swans, dolphins, dense shoals of fish, jellyfish and even the occasional octopus, recolonising the Venetian canals, taking advantage of humankind retreating behind close doors. It seemed that there was a silver lining to the pandemic: As one observer noted, “What a marvel this Venice was. This virus brought something….beautiful.”

There were precious few reasons to be cheerful during the pandemic as the world went into lockdown, people fought for their lives in hospitals around the world and economies were paralysed but the sight of nature recolonising our empty cities was heart-warming. Wildlife needed only the smallest respite from humankind to re-establish itself.

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, Venice faced serious problems including flooding, unsustainable over-tourism, the sinking of historical buildings into the water and a dwindling population.

Now, this crisis is prompting authorities in the Italian port to reconsider its mass-tourism model.

Up to 30 million people visited in 2018. Now, like so many other places, the city is deserted.

“We’ve gone from one extreme to the other,” explained Matteo Secchi of the Venessia Association. “Here, a few months ago, we couldn’t even pass each other. Now the streets are empty.”

The clear water running through the canals teeming with wildlife and the empty monuments and plazas have a tranquil and intense beauty nowadays – but that comes at a very high cost for the city’s economy and especially, for those who make their money from tourism.

A golden opportunity for change:

With colossal numbers of tourists passing through Venice every year, there is a strong movement of Venetians wanting to claim back their city.

They have been long overwhelmed by visitors, many of whom arrived on vast cruise liners. Now, according to the city’s deputy mayor Simone Venturini, it could be time to consider a softer model, even if it means physically limiting the number of visitors.

A cruise ship overshadows a Venetian canal

A cruise ship overshadows a Venetian canal

“This will be an opportunity to move towards intelligent tourism. With tourists who take the time to understand and get away from the frenetic tours of other times.”

Perhaps the next move should be a complete ban on cruise liners within the the lagoon.

In 2019, the Italian government announced that it would consider rerouting cruise ships away from central parts of Venice and require them to dock at the Fusina and Lombardia terminals away from the city centre but still within the lagoon.

But the idea remained just that… a proposal tabled during a transport committee meeting and until now, has not been acted upon.

It was sparked by a terrifying incident earlier in the year, when a 13-deck cruise ship crashed into a wharf in the city, sending tourists running for their lives

“I’m still as worried as I ever was,” said Jane Da Mosto, founder and executive director of local conservation group We Are Here Venice.

“There’s a climate emergency. And yet, the Italian government and the cruise industry are talking only about moving these enormous, very environmentally challenging floating cities from one part of Venice to another.”

In recent days, tourists have begun returning from elsewhere in Italy and overseas, albeit in smaller numbers.

Before it returns to the days of mass tourism and cruise liners disgorging tens of thousands of passengers into the city every day (and their pollution into the lagoon), Venice has one last, golden opportunity to make a brave, principled change before it is too late.

For the moment, the streets belong to Venetians.

UK’s National Grid goes coal-free for the longest period since the Industrial Revolution

By |2020-06-09T17:45:45+01:00June 9th, 2020|

Coal has not been used to generate power for 60 days

Partly due to a collapse in demand during the Coranavirus lockdown and a greater emphasis on using solar power, the UK National Grid managed to take coal plants off the network on April 10th and to avoid bringing them back online in Britain since.

Britain continues to phase it out, with two of Britain’s oldest coal-fired power stations having closed at the end of March this year, leaving just three left on the mainland.

This is a major shift from 10 years ago when 40% of the nation’s energy came from coal and only 3% came from renewables such as wind and solar power.

In 2020, the UK has the biggest offshore wind industry in the world, with the 659MW Walney Extension the world’s biggest operational offshore wind farm to date. Located in the Irish Sea near Cumbria and covering an area equal to 20,000 football pitches, it is designed to operate for 25 years and supplies enough electricity to power 590,000 UK homes. Overall, Britain’s wind farms had a bumper quarter, with output up 40% on this time last year.

Walney windfarm in Cumbria UK

The Walney Extension offshore wind farm is the largest in the world.

In parallel, UK solar farms generated more than 9.6GW of electricity for the first time on April 20th, setting a new solar power record.

Whilst energy sector transitions are meant to be slow, Britain’s energy sector has transformed its electricity generation mix more in the 2010s than in the previous ninety years combined.

As the oil crises in the 1970s caused a switch from oil to coal, the miners’ strike that followed in the 1980s, coinciding with expanding gas production in the North Sea, encouraged a switch from coal to gas in the 1990s. Now renewables have sparked a revolution in the UK power generating industry.

 

DRAX Electric Insights reports that “if this pace of change can be maintained, renewable sources could be providing more than half of Britain’s electricity by the end of this decade and Britain’s power system could be practically carbon free.”

 
David Shepherd
Save the Planet .Org
9th June 2020

Seeing the wood for the trees in carbon offsetting

By |2020-06-04T17:15:41+01:00June 4th, 2020|

Operation Arch of Fire in Brazil

Operation Arch of Fire combatting illegal logging in Brazil

Companies are falling over themselves to offer their customers ways of contributing to cutting carbon emissions with good intent, offering them easy, “tick-box” options at the end of their on-line purchases to participate.

But are these schemes any good ? How can the consumer be assured of the benefits of the scheme they have implicitly signed up to ?

A major part of the problem is that the majority of carbon offsetting projects require a long-term investment which needs to be protected for its lifetime if it is to deliver all the benefits promised when first initiated.

Worldwide tree-planting schemes are an excellent example of how good intentions can go astray.

An endangered Mogno tree in Brazil will have to stand for 25 years, in good health, to sequester 275 Kg of carbon dioxide. It must be protected against illegal logging, disease and land clearing, often in remote sites where the indigenous people struggle to achieve even a rudimentary standard of living. At state level, the government may be committed to the success of a reforestation scheme but local officials, militia, tribal leaders and working populations may not – corruption and basic human needs will win (almost) every time. According to Haley Dixon, writing for the Daily Telegraph, “in eastern Madagascar, in the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, an area of ecological importance known as the CAZ, do not realise that the trees they cut down to clear space for mining and agriculture, or to build their homes and fuel their stoves, have already been turned into carbon credits.”

If a scheme offers clean-cook stoves to local people in India to replace the centuries-old practices of burning charcoal on open fires, how does anyone know if they use it or discard it ?

Illegal mining on protected land is often tolerated, bringing the twin perils of land clearing and pollution of local watercourses with heavy metals.

And the final nail is a lack of transparency and accountability. If a piece of land cannot be monitored continuously and the benefits of schemes measured continuously, can we assume that they are delivering ? One thing that we can be assured of – even if we did not hear the sound of a tree falling in a remote forest, it will have actually fallen.

Working in companies committed to saving the planet, or as consumers, we can make a real difference by supporting independent, verifiable carbon offsetting projects where that measurement is carried out by trusted independent accrediting bodies such as the QAS, the Climate Group or International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) promoting standards such as the Gold Standard, Clean Development Mechanism and the Voluntary Carbon Standard 2007 (VCS 2007).

Ignore the airlines and energy companies’ tick-boxes and do your own homework. Seek out worthy carbon-saving initiatives that you know are making a difference, who can prove that they will be delivering in the years to come and support those instead !

David Shepherd
Save the Planet .Org
https://www-save-the-planet.org/editorial

 

Destruction of habitat is creating the perfect conditions for diseases like COVID-19 to emerge

By |2021-04-24T15:11:40+01:00May 28th, 2020|

Republished from an article by John Vidal, the Environment Editor of Ensia with permission:

As habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the novel coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics.

Mayibout 2 is not a healthy place. The 150 or so people who live in the village, which sits on the south bank of the Ivindo River, deep in the great Minkebe forest in northern Gabon, are used to occasional bouts of diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and sleeping sickness.

Mostly they shrug them off.

But in January 1996, Ebola, a deadly virus then barely known to humans, unexpectedly spilled out of the forest in a wave of small epidemics. The disease killed 21 of 37 villagers who were reported to have been infected, including a number who had carried, skinned, chopped or eaten a chimpanzee from the nearby forest.

I traveled to Mayibout 2 in 2004 to investigate why deadly diseases new to humans were emerging from biodiversity “hot spots” like tropical rainforests and bushmeat markets in African and Asian cities.

It took a day by canoe and then many hours down degraded forest logging roads passing Baka villages and a small gold mine to reach the village. There, I found traumatized people still fearful that the deadly virus, which kills up to 90% of the people it infects, would return.

Villagers told me how children had gone into the forest with dogs that had killed a chimp. They said that everyone who cooked or ate it got a terrible fever within a few hours. Some died immediately, while others were taken down the river to hospital. A few, like Nesto Bematsick, recovered. “We used to love the forest, now we fear it,” he told me. Many of Bematsick’s family members died.

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harboring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans like Ebola, HIV and dengue.

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases like COVID-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise — with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections among the well-being of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?

“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses,” David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

Increasing Threat

Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases like Ebola, SARS, bird flu and now COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise. Pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and many are now able to spread quickly to new places. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of “new or emerging” diseases that infect humans originate in nonhuman animals.

Some, like rabies and plague, crossed from animals centuries ago. Others, like Marburg, which is thought to be transmitted by bats, are still rare. A few, like COVID-19, which emerged last year in Wuhan, China, and MERS, which is linked to camels in the Middle East, are new to humans and spreading globally.

Other diseases that have crossed into humans include Lassa fever, which was first identified in 1969 in Nigeria; Nipah from Malaysia; and SARS from China, which killed more than 700 people and traveled to 30 countries in 2002–03. Some, like Zika and West Nile virus, which emerged in Africa, have mutated and become established on other continents.

Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at UCL, calls emerging animal-borne infectious diseases an “increasing and very significant threat to global health, security and economies.”

Amplification Effect

In 2008, Jones and a team of researchers identified 335 diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004, at least 60% of which came from non-human animals.

Increasingly, says Jones, these zoonotic diseases are linked to environmental change and human behavior. The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining,road building through remote places, rapid urbanization and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species they may never have been near before, she says.

The resulting transmission of disease from wildlife to humans, she says, is now “a hidden cost of human economic development. There are just so many more of us, in every environment. We are going into largely undisturbed places and being exposed more and more. We are creating habitats where viruses are transmitted more easily, and then we are surprised that we have new ones.”

Jones studies how land use change contributes to the risk. “We are researching how species in degraded habitats are likely to carry more viruses which can infect humans,” she says. “Simpler systems get an amplification effect. Destroy landscapes, and the species you are left with are the ones humans get the diseases from.”

“There are countless pathogens out there continuing to evolve which at some point could pose a threat to humans,” says Eric Fevre, chair of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health. “The risk [of pathogens jumping from animals to humans] has always been there.”

The difference between now and a few decades ago, Fevre says, is that diseases are likely to spring up in both urban and natural environments. “We have created densely packed populations where alongside us are bats and rodents and birds, pets and other living things. That creates intense interaction and opportunities for things to move from species to species,” he says.

Tip of the Iceberg

“Pathogens do not respect species boundaries,” says disease ecologist Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor in Emory University’s Department of Environmental Sciences who studies how shrinking natural habitats and changing behavior add to the risks of diseases spilling over from animals to humans.

“I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.”

Humans, says Gillespie, are creating the conditions for the spread of diseases by reducing the natural barriers between virus host animals — in which the virus is naturally circulating — and themselves.

“We fully expect the arrival of pandemic influenza; we can expect large-scale human mortalities; we can expect other pathogens with other impacts. A disease like Ebola is not easily spread. But something with a mortality rate of Ebola spread by something like measles would be catastrophic,” Gillespie says.

Wildlife everywhere is being put under more stress, he says. “Major landscape changes are causing animals to lose habitats, which means species become crowded together and also come into greater contact with humans. Species that survive change are now moving and mixing with different animals and with humans.”

Gillespie sees this in the U.S., where suburbs fragmenting forests raise the risk of humans contracting Lyme disease. “Altering the ecosystem affects the complex cycle of the Lyme pathogen. People living close by are more likely to get bitten by a tick carrying Lyme bacteria,” he says.

Yet human health research seldom considers the surrounding natural ecosystems, says Richard Ostfeld, distinguished senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. He and others are developing the emerging discipline of planetary health, which looks at the links between human and ecosystem health.

“There’s misapprehension among scientists and the public that natural ecosystems are the source of threats to ourselves. It’s a mistake. Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage. The health risks in a natural environment can be made much worse when we interfere with it,” he says.

Ostfeld points to rats and bats, which are strongly linked with the direct and indirect spread of zoonotic diseases. “Rodents and some bats thrive when we disrupt natural habitats. They are the most likely to promote transmissions [of pathogens]. The more we disturb the forests and habitats the more danger we are in,” he says.

Felicia Keesing, professor of biology at Bard College, New York, studies how environmental changes influence the probability that humans will be exposed to infectious diseases. “When we erode biodiversity, we see a proliferation of the species most likely to transmit new diseases to us, but there’s also good evidence that those same species are the best hosts for existing diseases,” she wrote in an email to Ensia.

The Market Connection

Disease ecologists argue that viruses and other pathogens are also likely to move from animals to humans in the many informal markets that have sprung up to provide fresh meat to fast-growing urban populations around the world. Here animals are slaughtered, cut up and sold on the spot.

The “wet market” (one that sells fresh produce and meat) in Wuhan, thought by the Chinese government to be the starting point of the current COVID-19 pandemic, was known to sell numerous wild animals, including live wolf pups, salamanders, crocodiles, scorpions, rats, squirrels, foxes, civets and turtles.

Equally, urban markets in west and central Africa see monkeys, bats, rats and dozens of species of bird, mammal, insect and rodent slaughtered and sold close to open refuse dumps and with no drainage.

“Wet markets make a perfect storm for cross-species transmission of pathogens,” says Gillespie. “Whenever you have novel interactions with a range of species in one place, whether that is in a natural environment like a forest or a wet market, you can have a spillover event.”

The Wuhan market, along with others that sell live animals, has been shut by the Chinese authorities, and the government in February outlawed trading and eating wild animals except for fish and seafood. But bans on live animals being sold in urban areas or informal markets are not the answer, say some scientists.

“The wet market in Lagos is notorious. It’s like a nuclear bomb waiting to happen. But it’s not fair to demonize places which do not have fridges. These traditional markets provide much of the food for Africa and Asia,” says Jones.

“These markets are essential sources of food for hundreds of millions of poor people, and getting rid of them is impossible,” says Delia Grace, a senior epidemiologist and veterinarian with the International Livestock Research Institute, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya. She argues that bans force traders underground, where they may pay less attention to hygiene.

Fevre and Cecilia Tacoli, principal researcher in the human settlements research group at the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), argue in a blog post that “rather than pointing the finger at wet markets,” we should look at the burgeoning trade in wild animals.

“[I]t is wild animals rather than farmed animals that are the natural hosts of many viruses,” they write. “Wet markets are considered part of the informal food trade that is often blamed for contributing to spreading disease. But … evidence shows the link between informal markets and disease is not always so clear cut.”

Changing Behavior

So what, if anything, can we do about all of this?

Jones says that change must come from both rich and poor societies. Demand for wood, minerals and resources from the Global North leads to the degraded landscapes and ecological disruption that drives disease, she says. “We must think about global biosecurity, find the weak points and bolster the provision of health care in developing countries. Otherwise we can expect more of the same,” she says.

“The risks are greater now. They were always present and have been there for generations. It is our interactions with that risk which must be changed,” says Brian Bird, a research virologist at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine One Health Institute, where he leads Ebola-related surveillance activities in Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

“We are in an era now of chronic emergency,” Bird says. “Diseases are more likely to travel further and faster than before, which means we must be faster in our responses. It needs investments, change in human behavior, and it means we must listen to people at community levels.”

Getting the message about pathogens and disease to hunters, loggers, market traders and consumers is key, Bird says. “These spillovers start with one or two people. The solutions start with education and awareness. We must make people aware things are different now. I have learned from working in Sierra Leone with Ebola-affected people that local communities have the hunger and desire to have information,” he says. “They want to know what to do. They want to learn.”

Fevre and Tacoli advocate rethinking urban infrastructure, particularly within low-income and informal settlements. “Short-term efforts are focused on containing the spread of infection,” they write. “The longer term — given that new infectious diseases will likely continue to spread rapidly into and within cities — calls for an overhaul of current approaches to urban planning and development.”

The bottom line, Bird says, is to be prepared. “We can’t predict where the next pandemic will come from, so we need mitigation plans to take into account the worst possible scenarios,” he says. “The only certain thing is that the next one will certainly come.”

GEF says the Coronavirus was a collision between human systems and natural systems… and what we can do about it.

By |2020-05-28T15:12:50+01:00May 27th, 2020|

The Global Environment Facility’s new report published on May 16th, 2020 says “The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to confront how environmental degradation bringing wildlife and people too close together endangers economies and societies alike.”

“The coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered most of the world in 2020 has its roots in the environmental degradation that the Global Environment Facility and its partners are working to stop. It is increasingly clear that to manage this crisis and avert future ones, we need to understand the root cause of zoonotic diseases – namely, a collision between human systems and natural systems.”

“Recognizing the urgency of this moment, and the high stakes for governments and businesses who are starting to think through economic recovery plans, the GEF Secretariat has outlined a set of steps for the immediate, medium, and longer term to help address the present situation and reduce the probability of new environmental crises emerging in the foreseeable future. The response spans measures to address wildlife trading, deforestation, urban sprawl, and other pressures on ecosystems that are bringing wild animals and humans in dangerous proximity.”

“The response also includes efforts to support a green economic recovery consistent with sustainable and nature-based development. These steps focus on the acceleration of needed transformations to economic and social systems to reduce their conflict with nature – building on efforts already underway by the GEF-funded Good Growth Partnershipand the GEF Impact Programs on Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration; Sustainable Cities; and Sustainable Forest Management.”

“The planned steps include:

Immediate actions:
  • Increased focus on efforts to deal with the wildlife trade and consumption challenges.
  • Conduct analysis on the future risks linked to emerging infectious diseases along with their root causes, including their connection with deforestation and ecosystem fragmentation.
  • Identify risks in projects and programs that may seriously compromise past gains and future outcomes.

Medium-term actions:

  • Develop an internal blueprint on how to deploy ongoing and upcoming projects that can help lay the foundation for a green recovery.

Longer-term actions:

  • Further promote systems change thinking in the strategies to guide GEF’s upcoming 8th Replenishment cycle.”

Read the Council document for more information.

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