Editorial

Thoughts on saving the planet

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

By |2020-09-29T14:19:14+01:00September 29th, 2020|Editorial|

From BBC Science Focus Magazine: 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 [...]

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

By |2020-09-29T14:19:25+01:00September 28th, 2020|Editorial|

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 [...]

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

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

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 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, [...]

The drive to plant one trillion trees by 2030

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

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 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 [...]

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|Editorial|

As 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 [...]

Why does earth smell so wonderful after rain ?

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

That 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 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 [...]

Pulling carbon dioxide from the air by farming

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

Exciting 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 [...]

When the taps run dry in England

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

There 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 [...]

Beautiful pink snow in the Italian Alps heralds another environmental catastrophe

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

An 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 [...]

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

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

  Long-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.  

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