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Our Cataclysmic Planet

How mass extinctions inform our understanding of human-caused climate change

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/clams-totally-have-it-figured-out/519432/?utm_source=nl-atlantic-daily-031517

If you could have been there, somewhere in Siberia at the end of the Paleozoic Era nearly 252 million years ago, you would have witnessed an apocalyptic horror that rarely visits our planet.

Also, I mean, you would have been doomed. Almost certainly. It was a bad scene. Mass extinction is a real shitshow.

But let’s say, somehow, you could have watched this madness unfold—without succumbing to the monstrous cloud of carbon dioxide belched up from the volcanoes of the Siberian Traps, without being incinerated by an ocean of lava, without starving in the ruins of the global acid rain that destroyed the ecosystems on land, and without being burned alive in the wildfires that scorched the earth.

If you could have lived through all of this, which, by the way, you wouldn’t have, you would have been among the few creatures to survive what paleontologists now refer to as the Great Dying. It’s a good name for what happened.

There have only been five mass extinction events, that we know of, on Earth. The mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs was the most recent—but it wasn’t the most devastating. The Great Dying, which preceded the demise of the dinosaurs by about 180 million years, was by far the worst: The planet warmed rapidly— roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit over a 60,000-year period. Some 90 percent of all living creatures went kaput. It then took 10 million years for life on Earth to bounce back, which was a curiously long recovery period, even for an extinction of that magnitude.

“What interested us was how long it took life to recover afterward,” said William Foster, a professor of geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin and the lead author of a new study about the Great Dying, published in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday. “Because not only was this the worst mass-extinction event, but recovery took millions of years.”

Foster wanted to know: Did the recovery of life on Earth take so long after the Great Dying because the extinction event itself was so cataclysmic? Or was something else going on?

To find out, he and his colleagues traveled to the Dolomites, a mountain range in northeastern Italy that’s known for its long geologic record of the Triassic, the period that came just after the Permian, which was capped by the Great Dying. The team examined marine invertebrate fossils, and from that work produced the most continuous dataset ever collected from the region.

The fossils they found showed that there were two additional extinction events in the recovery period after the Great Dying—not so major as to be deemed “mass extinctions,” but bad enough to slow the recuperation of life on Earth. Foster and his colleagues found that during that 10 million year recovery period marine invertebrates peaked then died off two times in association with carbon isotope shifts, which correlated with volcanic pulses from the Siberian Traps. In other words, just as life seemed to be bouncing back from the Great Dying, another extinction event derailed it—twice.

“This is not only interesting from an evolutionary point of view,” Foster says, “but also because those environmental conditions that life had to adapt to, to survive back then, are similar to those predicted for future climate warming scenarios.”

Similar, maybe, but not the identical. And thank goodness for that.

The volcanic eruptions that marked the start of the Great Dying were absolutely monstrous. The entire area of what is now China was covered in some 40 feet of lava. Those same volcanoes released a huge amount of gas, which set off the atmospheric deoxygenation that led to dramatic climate change. For context, it’s borderline ridiculous to compare the magnitude of this event to the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, one of the deadliest and most violent volcanic eruptions in recorded history. “Krakatoa is very, very, very small compared to what happened at the Siberian Traps,” Foster said. Krakatoa killed some 36,000 people.

The magnitude of the volcanic eruptions 252 million years ago may be difficult to comprehend today, but what’s happening to the atmosphere is familiar.

“This is what makes it so interesting,” Foster told me, “Because you have this huge volcanic eruption that releases all these gases, and then you look at what’s happening today [with climate change] and they’re all the same gases. They’re causing the same effects. So we can say, ‘This is what it did in the past and this is what we might be looking at for the future.’”

The natural next question is: Where’s the threshold, in terms of planetary warming, for setting off a mass extinction like the Great Dying? “For most animals we don’t know the threshold,” Foster said. “It’s really, really hard to reconstruct values that far back in the past, but it’s what we’re trying to develop: What are our thresholds? What sorts of temperatures are we talking about?”

Looking at the human activity that is spiking global temperatures today, we’re still nowhere near the deoxygenation that took place 252 million years ago. “We don’t think we will reach the threshold we reached in the Great Dying,” Foster told me. “Or, we hope we won’t, anyway.”

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, average global temperatures are likely to increase by at least 3 degrees within the next 80 years. In some places, they might increase by nearly 9 degrees—still substantially below the 50-degree increase that began after the eruptions of the Siberian Traps. (Even a difference of one or two degrees, however, can yield extraordinarily different outcomes for the planet.) There’s clear scientific consensus that human activity is driving climate change today. What happens to our species as a result is less certain.

The Earth has reinvented itself at least five times before. In each mass extinction, planetary life was very nearly wiped clean. Microscopic organisms, insects, furry beasts, and reptilian land monsters have all been destroyed at one point or another.

There are survivors, of course. Even the Great Dying spared some clams, sea snails, urchins, brittle stars, and seed shrimp. These creatures didn’t just survive, they also became the most abundant animals in our oceans, a reminder that the story of life on our planet isn’t the story of a single species at the top of the food chain, but ultimately a tale of relentless adaptability.

“Big cool things like dinosaurs are pretty rare to find compared with clams,” says Peter Brannen, the author of The Ends of the World. And from one mass extinction to the next, there’s remarkably constancy on one hand—same magmatic systems on the same planet orbiting the same ole star. Yet there’s staggering newness, too.

“The world looks totally different before and after a mass extinction,” Brannen told me. “Sixty-seven million years ago, you had mosasaurs and big non-bird dinosaurs, and 15 million years later you have whales and giant land-mammals.”

“In one way it’s scary that we’re even in the same conversation as major mass extinction events,” Brannen added, referring to climate change. “But the Earth has seen way worse than we could ever dish out and it still recovers. The Earth, in the long run? The Earth will be fine.”

Humans, maybe not so much.

Lung disease costs the United Kingdom £11bn every year – report

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/lung-disease-costs-united-kingdom-11bn-every-report-015300294.html

New figures show lung disease is costing the UK more than £11bn every year, prompting criticism the NHS and governments are not doing enough to tackle one of the country’s biggest killers.

A report by the British Lung Foundation (BLF) says, despite such a large healthcare bill for respiratory conditions, there has been little change in mortality rates over the last 10 years.

The Foundation says 115,000 people die from lung disease every year – one person every five minutes.

More than 12 million people are living with a lung condition in the UK.

It also claims the UK has the highest mortality rates for children with asthma in Europe.

According to the BLF, of the £11.1bn that lung disease costs every year, £9.9bn is spent by the NHS.

A further £1.2bn is lost in the wider economy through things like days off work.

There are calls for the governments and NHS in both England and Scotland to create special taskforces for lung health, and produce new five-year strategies for tackling lung disease.

Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, Medical Adviser for the British Lung Foundation, told Sky News air pollution is a major part of the problem.

He said: “In this country, the estimate from the Royal College of Physicians is that there are about 40,000 excess deaths per year caused by air pollution and one of the things in parallel with a respiratory task-force would be a new Clean Air Act.

“We need for the Government to be setting strong binding targets and actions to reduce this air quality problem.”

At the Hospice of St Francis in Hertfordshire, a group of patients with pulmonary fibrosis take part in a fortnightly exercise group.

Their condition will get worse. Some will take years to deteriorate and others will worsen more quickly.

One of the patients, Peter Bryce, runs the Pulmonary Fibrosis Trust. He told Sky News groups like his offer vital support.

“Coming here is like joining a family. The people understand the nature of this illness and it’s easy to relate to them and share experiences and support each other. It’s brilliant,” he said.

The Hospice only receives 20% of its funding from the NHS – but it is this sort of support group campaigners want to see more of to help those with lung conditions.

The Department of Health insists it is doing more to tackle lung conditions.

A DoH spokesperson told Sky News: “It is plainly wrong to suggest that tackling lung disease is not a priority – government research funding has risen to over £25 million, our policies have helped reduce smoking rates to a record low and Public Health England has extended its successful ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms.”

Hong Kong can create its own smog, researchers say

Scientists from Hong Kong and Macau found one day in which pollutants were formed when dirty air was not blowing from the north

Smoggy days are often blamed on regional pollution and weather, but at least one recent scientific study has shown that the city can, under the right conditions, “form its own smog”.

The study by Hong Kong and Macau air scientists argued that a rapid build-up of particulate matter in the air – a key component of smog – was possible even in the absence of northerly winds that can transport pollutants from afar.

The evidence boiled down to at least one particular sunny September day in Hong Kong in which a “land-sea breeze” pattern formed along with weak winds far below average speeds.

The scientists observed a rapid rise of photochemical activity during mid-afternoon, in which ozone and nitrogen dioxide skyrocketed along with increasing sunshine.

“It is clear that there was a rapid increase in particulate matter (PM) concentration on this day when we were not really affected by external meteorological conditions. It’s not easy to argue in this case that winds were blowing PM to Hong Kong from the region ,” said co-author Professor Chan Chak-keung, dean of City University’s school of energy and environment.

The culprits, he said, were most likely local sources such as vehicles or industrial emissions, which contain nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. The latter pollutant is also found in products such as organic solvents, paints and printer inks.

Chan’s team investigated “episodes” – days with high PM concentrations – in one-month periods in each of the four seasons from 2011 to 2012 at the University of Science and Technology’s air quality research supersite.

Other episodes across the seasons were also observed with high local photochemical activity, but those days also came under the influence of transported air from the north, making it less clear what was actually local or regional.

The paper was published in scientific journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in November.

“Of course, regional sources play a role but [this research] shows that under the right conditions, PM can build up and Hong Kong can form its own photochemical smog.”

Photochemical smog is created when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds in the air under sunlight. It leads to the formation of ozone. This hazardous pollutant facilitates the formation of the tiny particles, small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream.

The particulate matter in the air lowers visibility, turning the sky smoggy and gives it a lurid orange tint at dusk.

The Environmental Protection Department usually points to meteorological influences such as northeast monsoons when the air quality health index hits “very high” health risk levels.

During a bout of high pollution last Thursday, it said: “Hong Kong is being affected by an airstream with higher background pollutant concentrations. The light wind hinders effective dispersion of air pollutants.”

It added that the formation of ozone and fine particulates during the daytime resulted in high pollution in the region.

Chan said most smoggy days were doubtless a result of regional factors or pollution. But he said the study’s findings warranted more research on how PM was formed and pinpointing its sources.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2076236/hong-kong-can-create-its-own-smog-researchers-say

‘Forest Cities’: The Visionary Plan to Save China From Air Pollution

Stefano Boeri, the architect famous for his plant-covered skyscrapers, has designs to create entire new green settlements in a nation plagued by dirty air

http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/42061-forest-cities-the-visionary-plan-to-save-china-from-air-pollution

Nanjing Green Towers, promoted by Nanjing Yang Zi State-owned National Investment Group Co., Ltd, will be the first Vertical Forest built in Asia. (photo: Stefano Boeri Architetti)

Nanjing Green Towers, promoted by Nanjing Yang Zi State-owned National Investment Group Co., Ltd, will be the first Vertical Forest built in Asia. (photo: Stefano Boeri Architetti)

hen Stefano Boeri imagines the future of urban China he sees green, and lots of it. Office blocks, homes and hotels decked from top to toe in a verdant blaze of shrubbery and plant life; a breath of fresh air for metropolises that are choking on a toxic diet of fumes and dust.

Last week, the Italian architect, famed for his tree-clad Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) skyscraper complex in Milan, unveiled plans for a similar project in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing.

The Chinese equivalent – Boeri’s first in Asia – will be composed of two neighbouring towers coated with 23 species of tree and more than 2,500 cascading shrubs. The structures will reportedly house offices, a 247-room luxury hotel, a museum and even a green architecture school, and are currently under construction, set for completion next year.

But Boeri now has even bolder plans for China: to create entire “forest cities” in a country that has become synonymous with environmental degradation and smog.

“We have been asked to design an entire city where you don’t only have one tall building but you have 100 or 200 buildings of different sizes, all with trees and plants on the facades,” Boeri told the Guardian. “We are working very seriously on designing all the different buildings. I think they will start to build at the end of this year. By 2020 we could imagine having the first forest city in China.”

Boeri described his “vertical forest” concept as the architectural equivalent of a skin graft, a targeted intervention designed to bring new life to a small corner of China’s polluted urban sprawl. His Milan-based practice claimed the buildings would suck 25 tons of carbon dioxide from Nanjing’s air each year and produce about 60 kg of oxygen every day.

“It is positive because the presence of such a large number of plants, trees and shrubs is contributing to the cleaning of the air, contributing to absorbing CO2 and producing oxygen,’ the architect said. “And what is so important is that this large presence of plants is an amazing contribution in terms of absorbing the dust produced by urban traffic.”

Boeri said, though, that it would take more than a pair of tree-covered skyscrapers to solve China’s notorious pollution crisis.

“Two towers in a huge urban environment [such as Nanjing] is so, so small a contribution – but it is an example. We hope that this model of green architecture can be repeated and copied and replicated.”

If the Nanjing project is a skin graft, Boeri’s blueprints for “forest cities” are more like an organ transplant. The Milan-born architect said his idea was to create a series of sustainable mini-cities that could provide a green roadmap for the future of urban China.

The first such settlement will be located in Luizhou, a mid-sized Chinese city of about 1.5 million residents in the mountainous southern province of Guangxi. More improbably, a second project is being conceived around Shijiazhuang, an industrial hub in northern China that is consistently among the country’s 10 most polluted cities.

Compared with the vertical forests, these blueprints represent “something more serious in terms of a contribution to changing the environmental urban conditions in China,” Boeri said.

Boeri, 60, first came to China in 1979. Five years ago he opened an office in Shanghai, where he leads a research program at the city’s Tongji University.

The architect said believed Chinese officials were finally understanding that they needed to embrace a new, more sustainable model of urban planning that involved not “huge megalopolises” but settlements of 100,000 people or fewer that were entirely constructed of “green architecture”.

“What they have done until now is simply to continue to add new peripheral environments to their cities,” he said. “They have created these nightmares – immense metropolitan environments. They have to imagine a new model of city that is not about extending and expanding but a system of small, green cities.”

Boeri described the idea behind his shrub-shrouded structures as simple, not spectacular: “What is spectacular is the nature, the idea of having a building that changes colour with each season. The plants and trees are growing and they are completely changing.”

“We think – and we hope – that this idea of vertical forests can be replicated everywhere. I absolutely have no problem if there are people who are copying or replicating. I hope that what we have done can be useful for other kinds of experiments.”

India reported 1.1 million deaths due to air pollution in 2015, says a global study

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/pollution/india-reported-1-1-million-deaths-due-to-air-pollution-in-2015-says-a-global-study/printarticle/57145119.cms

The government here may be in denial mode on linking premature deaths to air pollution, but a new study on global air pollution by the US-based institutes claims that the India’s worsening air pollution caused some 1.1 million premature deaths in 2015 and the country now “rivals China for among the highest air pollution health burdens in the world.”

The special report on ‘global exposure to air pollution and its disease burden’, released on Tuesday, noted that the number of premature deaths in China caused by dangerous fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, has stabilised in recent years but has risen sharply in India.

It also said that both the countries together were responsible for over half of the total global attributable deaths while India had registered an alarming increase of nearly 50% in premature deaths from particulate matter between 1990 and 2015.

Besides data analysis on air pollution, the report also carries an interactive website on the issue highlighting that 92% of the world’s population lives in the areas with unhealthy air.

“We are seeing increasing air pollution problems worldwide, and this new report and website details why that air pollution is a major contributor to early death,” said Dan Greenbaum, President of the Health Effects Institute (HEI), the global research institute that designed and implemented the study.

He said, “The trends we report show that we have seen progress in some parts of the world – but serious challenges remain.”

The State of Global Air 2017 is the first of a new series of annual reports and accompanying interactive website, designed and implemented by the Health Effects Institute in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia.

The IHME is an independent population health research center that publishes the annual Global Burden of Diseases — a systematic scientific effort to quantify the magnitude of health loss from all major diseases, injuries, and risk factors in populations across the world. Its results are published every year in The Lancet medical journal.

“Although there are many parts of the world where air pollution has grown worse, there has also been improvement in the US and Europe. The US Clean Air Act and actions by the European Commission have made substantial progress in reducing people exposed to PM pollution since 1990,” said a statement issued by the HEI.

Referring to the study, it said, “The US has experienced a reduction of about 27% in average annual population exposures to fine particulate matter with smaller declines in Europe. Yet some 88,000 Americans and 258,000 Europeans still face increased risks of dying early due to PM levels today”.

The report noted that the highest concentrations of combustion-related fine particulate matter were in South and Southeast Asia, China and Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 where household solid fuel use, coal-fired power plants, transportation, and open burning of agricultural and other wastes were among the most important contributors to outdoor air pollution.

“The Global Burden of Disease leads a growing worldwide consensus – among the WHO, World Bank, International Energy Agency and others – that air pollution poses a major global public health challenges,” said Bob O’Keefe, Vice President of HEI and Chair of Clean Air Asia.

He said, “Nowhere is that risk more evident than in the rapidly growing economies of Asia.”

The study finds that increasing exposure and a growing and aging population have meant that India now rivals China for among the highest air pollution health burdens in the world, with both countries facing some 1.1 million early deaths from air pollution in 2015.

It said the long-term exposure to fine particulate matter — the most significant element of air pollution — contributed to 4.2 million premature deaths and to a loss of 103 million healthy years of life in 2015, making air pollution the 5th highest cause of death among all health risks, including smoking, diet, and high blood pressure.

India has, however, always been sceptical of such reports. Though the government here did never deny the negative impact of air pollution on human healths, it preferred not to speak about numbers.

Even recently during Budget session of the Parliament, the government had on February 6 said that there was no conclusive data to link deaths exclusively with air pollution. It, however, admitted that the air pollution could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory ailments and diseases.

“There is no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct co-relationship of death exclusively with air pollution. Health effects of air pollution are synergistic manifestation of factors which include food habits, occupational habits, socio-economic status, medical history, immunity, heredity etc. of the individuals,” said the country’s environment minister Anil Madhav Dave.

Dave, in his written response to a Parliament question in Rajya Sabha, had said, “Air pollution could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory associated ailments and diseases.”

Tube ‘higher than driving’ for air pollution, study finds

Travelling on the Underground exposes commuters to more than eight times as much air pollution as those who drive to work, a university study has found.

Monitors worn by commuters found those who travelled on the Tube were exposed to 68mg of harmful pollutant PM10, whereas car drivers had 8.2mg.

The University of Surrey study found when train windows were open, commuters were exposed to more pollutants.

Drivers were not as exposed because cars filter the pollutants out.

But although drivers are not exposed to as many pollutants, the types given out by cars are more harmful than the ones found on the Underground.

‘Environmental injustice’

The study found PM levels were highest on trains on the Victoria and Northern lines, because they all had their windows open, heightening the effect of pollutants when going through tunnels.

The study did not include people who commute on foot or cycle.

The study also found:

• Passengers on the District Line in trains with closed windows were exposed to far lower concentrations of PM than those travelling on trains with open windows on the same line
• Bus commuters were exposed to an average of 38mg of PM10, roughly half as much as Tube passengers but five times as much as cars
• The morning commute has more pollutants than the afternoon and evening journeys
• Although car drivers were the least exposed, they caused the most pollutants.

Dr Prashant Kumar, who led the study, said: “We found that there is definitely an element of environmental injustice among those commuting in London, with those who create the most pollution having the least exposure to it.

“The relatively new airtight trains with closed windows showed a significant difference to the levels of particles people are exposed to over time, suggesting that operators should consider this aspect during any upgrade of Underground trains, along with the ways to improve ventilation in underground tunnels.”

Drop in roadside air pollutants in Hong Kong thanks to government measures

I refer to Natalie Siu Hoi-tung’s letter on pollution in Hong Kong (“Air pollution impact can’t be ignored [1]”, January 27).

We can’t agree more that air pollution must not be ignored. The government has been taking action to improve air quality.

Locally, we have capped the emissions of power plants via statutory technical memorandums (TM) since 2008 and have been progressively tightening the caps. Since 2014, we have implemented an incentive-cum-regulatory scheme to progressively phase out 82,000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles by the end of 2019.

We have also deployed remote sensors to strengthen emission control for petrol and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles.

In July 2015, Hong Kong became the first Asian city to mandate ocean-going vessels at berth to switch to low-sulphur fuel. A new regulation was introduced in June 2015 requiring newly imported non-road mobile machinery to comply with statutory emission standards.

Regionally, we have been collaborating with the mainland authorities to reduce emissions in the whole Pearl River Delta region. Emission reduction targets have been set for key air pollutants for 2015 and 2020.

Joint efforts have been made in various scientific studies/programmes, for example, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Joint Regional PM2.5 Study, which will help provide a scientific base in formulating policies to alleviate regional air pollution.

The above measures have borne fruit. From 2012 to 2016, our roadside and ambient air pollutants have dropped by up to 30 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively, while the ambient level of ozone has seen a slight decline of 3 per cent. However, amid the improvement trends, there are still episodes of high pollution when pollutants are transported from the delta region under unfavourable meteorological conditions. Hence, we have to continue our efforts to improve air quality.

We will continue to review the emission caps under the TM for power plants and we are preparing to tighten the emission standards for newly registered vehicles to Euro VI.

We will collaborate with the mainland authorities to set up a domestic emission control area in the Pearl River Delta waters in 2019, such that all vessels in the area will have to use low-sulphur fuel. Furthermore, we have embarked on a review of the air quality objectives (AQOs) to identify new practicable air quality improvement measures and assess the scope of tightening the AQOs made possible by their implementation. The review will be completed next year.

Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director (air policy), Environmental Protection Department
________________________________________
Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/2070763/drop-roadside-air-pollutants-hong-kong-thanks-government-measures

How we discovered pollution-poisoned crustaceans in the Mariana Trench

Even animals from the deepest places on Earth have accumulated pollutants made by humans. That’s the unfortunate finding of a new study by myself with colleagues from the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

http://theconversation.com/how-we-discovered-pollution-poisoned-crustaceans-in-the-mariana-trench-72900

Up until now I have tended to stick to the nice side of deep sea biology: discovery and exploration. My colleagues and I are quite at ease in ocean trenches as scientists there can usually work without having to wrestle with anthropogenic impacts like litter or noise and chemical pollution. It is Earth at its most pristine.

But in this instance, while investigating the ecology of Pacific trenches, and with such a unique opportunity to collect deep sea specimens, we couldn’t resist having a quick look for man’s mighty footprint.

We tested various different species of tiny scavenging crustaceans known as amphipods that we gathered between 7,000 and 10,500 metres in depth in the Mariana and the Kermadec trenches in the western Pacific. We found that regardless of depth, regardless of species, regardless of trench, these animals were loaded with the two types of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) we were looking for.

In creatures that live in shallower waters, exposure to POPs can reduce reproductive success and thus population growth. It’s hard to study deeper animals alive under controlled conditions but can assume the pollutants have a similar effect. There were striking variations between trenches and between the sorts of pollutant, but the salient finding is that humanity’s footprint is thoroughly imprinted on some of the most extreme and remote environments on Earth.

In the deep sea these pollutants are particularly concerning as they are inherently hydrophobic, which means they will bind to anything that isn’t water. This includes tiny specs of “marine snow” or larger carcasses that fall through the ocean, which is how the deep sea receives most of its energy. Therefore the primary mechanism of food supply to great depths is also a very efficient way to deliver pollution.

But where did it all come from? Take one of the two types of pollutants for example, a category known as polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. About 1.3m tonnes were produced between the 1930s and 1970s to use in paints, plastics, electronic equipment and more. Of this, 65% is now contained in landfills or still within electrical equipment. But more worryingly, the other 35% was accidentally released into the environment.

These pollutants are invulnerable to natural degradation and so persist in the environment for decades, therefore once they find their way into rivers, coast lines and the open ocean there’s plenty of time to sink many kilometres below the waves.

And once a pollutant finds itself in the greatest ocean depth, where else is there to go? The bottom of the Mariana Trench, for example, the deepest point on Earth, was found to host highly-contaminated amphipods. Once these POPs are in the food web there are no mechanisms for dispersal or reversal from such great depths, and hence the bio-accumulation will only continue.

The only positive from this story is that, once people realised these chemicals were an awful contribution to the world, POPs were banned by the 2001 Stockholm Convention. At this point one would hope some major lessons were learned. But no, we don’t look have to look far to realise this taught us nothing. Just take a look at the plague of plastic microbeads (and other microplastics) turning up in the ocean following a brief excursion from, say, a cosmetics bottle, across someone’s face or armpit and then sent on the long journey down the plug hole.

It seems that once again, we have a shocking example of our own stupidity, as people gradually realise that plastic microbeads are, funnily enough, made of plastic, and that stuff that goes down the sink doesn’t magically disappear into another dimension.

The deep sea is closer than you think

We have all likely heard that “Mount Everest would fit into the Mariana Trench with over a mile to spare” or some other pointless analogy regarding the number of elephants standing on a car illustrating the high pressures in the oceans. These all serve to needlessly distance ourselves from these remote marine frontiers.

Of course, the pressure and depth are immense, which do require incredible physiological adaptations for survival, and equally clever engineering solutions for exploration, but the 11km that so easily swallows Mount Everest is still only 11km. Think of it like this: 11km is only half the length of Manhattan Island, I could legally drive it in less than six minutes, and Mo Farah could run it in less than 30 minutes.

The reality is that the deep sea just isn’t that remote, and the great depth and pressures are only an imaginary defence against the effects of what we do “up here”. The bottom line is that the deep sea – most of planet Earth – is anything but exempt from the consequences of what happens above it, and it’s about time we appreciated that.

Filipino Barangays – Leading the Way in Zero Waste Models

Communities in the Philippines that were once riddled with trash are being recognized for their revolutionary zero waste models. By implementing a combination of effective policy advocacy, powerful grassroots organizing, and meaningful community education on ecological waste management, these communities decreased their waste in landfills, generated more jobs, and enhanced community safety. In this year’s celebration of the Zero Waste Month, these communities were the esteemed destinations of international delegates wanting to learn about innovative models.

http://zerowasteworld.org/regions/asia-and-pacific/filipino-barangays-leading-the-way-in-zero-waste-models/

Beginning with a presidential decree in 2014, Zero Waste Month is celebrated in the Philippines every January. This year, organizers invited foreign speakers to tour the barangays, or villages, of Potrero (Malabon City) and Fort Bonifacio (Taguig City) and the City of San Fernando (Pampanga)—communities that have successfully implemented innovative zero waste policies and models.

The policy adopted by these barangays was the RA 9003, a decentralization law that devolves solid waste management down to the barangay level. It mandates source segregation, segregated collection, and segregated destination of waste and the establishment of a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in every barangay or cluster of barangays.

Implementing ecological solid waste management was no easy task, but the barangays partnered with Mother Earth Foundation (MEF) in implementing the law. With MEF training and guidance, barangays established MRFs and strictly enforced ‘no segregation, no collection’ policy. They tapped waste pickers to conduct door-to-door segregated collection from every household, and also encouraged residents to compost their biodegradable waste.

These strategies combined resulted in significant reduction of garbage ending in landfills or dumpsites. In the first year of implementation, for example, Barangay Potrero diverted 80% of its solid waste from landfills through composting and recycling, resulting in daily savings of Php15,000 from hauling and tipping fees.

The ecological management of solid waste also generated jobs for the waste workers. In Potrero, 65 jobs were generated, benefitting the informal waste workers who later became authorized garbage collectors or monitoring staff for the daily collection of waste. Fort Bonifacio was able to employ 23 residents as official community organizers, solid waste liaison officers, and barangay collectors. The barangay collectors, most of whom earned P50 per day as informal waste collectors before the project started, now earn a minimum monthly salary of P8,000 plus all the proceeds from the sale of recyclables divided among themselves.

The project also enhanced community safety. The once unsightly streets of Potrero and Fort Bonifacio which were also sites for petty crimes, now house materials recovery facilities with mini-eco parks complete with gardens and an eco-store.

“These show that for ecological waste management, local governments do not need expensive, high-tech, and harmful waste disposal technologies that adversely affect public health and the environment, destroy much needed finite resources, cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and are unsustainable and end-of-pipe solutions,” shared Sonia Mendoza, chairman of Mother Earth Foundation.

Bannered by the theme, “On the Road to Zero Waste,” the eco-tour was organized by the Mother Earth Foundation (MEF) and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

This blog was written by Sherma Benosa, Communication Officer for GAIA Asia Pacific.