mfioretti: pollution*

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  1. Ultimately, the ban could push countries to tackle wasteful, disposable lifestyles at source, by forcing plastics and other disposable goods manufacturers to take responsibility for the environmental damage caused by their products throughout their whole life cycle. For plastic bottles, for example, the life cycle from production to decomposition can be up to 450 years.

    There are fears that the ban will simply lead to these huge quantities of waste being exported to less ­developed, less well-regulated waste industries, especially in Southeast Asia. In fact, UK exports of waste to Vietnam and Malaysia doubled in 2017, compared to 2016. However, there are no new waste markets with equivalent capacity to China’s over the last three decades.

    This globally disruptive event, then, leaves governments little alternative but to face up to the reality of their waste problems.
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  2. It is undeniably an ambitious vision. Boyan Slat, a charismatic 22-year-old drop-out inventor, plans to clean up plastic trash circulating in the North Pacific Gyre by launching a fleet of floating trash collectors. Ocean currents would propel floating plastic trash into curved floating booms, which would funnel trash toward a central tank, to be collected monthly by ships. “We let the plastic come to us,” he says. The group hopes to eventually finance the operation by recycling the plastic and selling it as a branded product or raw material. Slat already has a pair of sunglasses made from recycled Pacific plastic.

    Skeptics say the idea doesn’t make much sense and that collecting trash closer to shore would be more cost effective. “Focusing clean-up at those gyres, in the opinion of most of the scientific community, is a waste of effort,” says marine biologist Jan van Franeker of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands. “It’s a lot of money to reduce something that disappears in 10 to 20 years, if you stop the input.” His research on seabirds showed a 75% decline of ingested plastic over 2 decades after reductions in industrial plastic entering the North Sea. Critics also worry that the high-tech clean-up project could distract from less glamorous efforts to lessen the use of plastic.

    Slat’s 4-year-old organization, The Ocean Cleanup, based in Delft, the Netherlands, is well on its way to launching its first unit. At an event tonight in the Werkspoorkathedraal—an industrial meeting hall in Utrecht, the Netherlands—Slat unveiled a new design that he says will allow The Ocean Cleanup to deploy its first collector in 2018, 2 years earlier than planned. It will also collect trash at twice the rate of earlier designs, he predicts.
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  3. Stiv Wilson writes:

    “The sheer scale of the problem is immense—in the United States alone, it is estimated that there are 89 million washing machines doing an average of nine loads of laundry a week. Each load can emit anywhere from 1,900 fibers to 200,000 per load, a nightmare scenario.”

    Ocean conservation group Rozalia Project estimates that the average U.S. family sends the equivalent plastic of 14.4 water bottles into public waterways per year via washing machines.
    So what’s a concerned individual to do?

    It’s a tough problem to solve – much more difficult than getting plastic microbeads banned (the Story of Stuff’s last big project). This is a problem that affects everyone, especially considering than 60 percent of the fabric manufactured globally in 2014 was polyester, and that the athletic wear sector is the fastest-growing one in the fashion world.
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  4. there's multiple countries, islands, continents involved in the sourcing of the parts of an iPhone. I actually followed one assembly inside the phone - the home button, which also has a touch ID sensor. And you would think, oh, well, the parts all must be assembled in one place and then put together. But it doesn't work that way. The actual glass cover, the sapphire - synthetic sapphire that is the button - comes from one place. And that's sent to the next factory, which turns it into an assembly and adds a little circuit.

    And then it goes to another country, and - or it may even go back to the same place again for another part to be added because the expertise has been spread around the world. And by the time you finish this trip tick that this little assembly takes, there's something like 12,000 of miles embedded in the homely little button that goes on your phone. And the logistics behind the fully assembled phone is something like 160,000 miles. And that's just for the parts. It doesn't even consider the raw materials, the precious metals and the rare earth elements and all the other things that have to go in.

    1) Bunker fuel, a massive pollutant, is burned by the tonne, by international shipping fleets.
    2) Just 160 of these mega-ships pollutes more than all the cars in the world.
    3) That 160 is a small fraction of the entire fleet, which pollutes more than most countries, enough to be in the top 10 list of polluters.
    4) And it is all hidden and unaccounted for:

    " I » t's all off the books when we look at countries and businesses' carbon footprints because for it to count in the global assessment of carbon pollution, it has to belong to a country. But when these ships are at sea and beyond national boundaries, their emissions aren't part of that accounting. So this tremendous impact doesn't even figure in our calculations about, for instance, the carbon footprint of a product or a country or a business."
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  5. The Center for International Environmental Law, or CIEL, a nonprofit legal organization, said it traced the industry’s coordinated, decades-long cover-up back to a 1946 meeting in Los Angeles by combing through scientific articles, industry histories and other documents.

    It was during that meeting that the oil executives decided to form a group — the Smoke and Fumes Committee — to “fund scientific research into smog and other air pollution issues and, significantly, use that research to inform and shape public opinion about environmental issues,” CIEL says on a new website devoted to the documents.

    That research, CIEL says, was used to “promote public skepticism of environmental science and environmental regulations the industry considered hasty, costly, and potentially unnecessary.”

    Muffett said in a statement that the documents “add to the growing body of evidence that the oil industry worked to actively undermine public confidence in climate science and in the need for climate action even as its own knowledge of climate risks was growing.”

    Last year, InsideClimate News revealed that top executives at Exxon knew about the role of fossil fuels in global warming as early as 1977, then lobbied against efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. In January, the New York attorney general announced an investigation into ExxonMobil over allegations that it lied to the public and its investors about climate change.

    A report that surfaced in February revealed the American Petroleum Institute knew about climate change in the early 1980s.
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  6. The system acts as if whenever one pump dispenses the energy products we want, another pump disperses other products we don’t want. Let’s look at three of the big unwanted “co-products.”

    1. Rising debt is an issue because fossil fuels give us things that would never have been possible, in the absence of fossil fuels. For example, thanks to fossil fuels, farmers can have such things as metal plows instead of wooden ones and barbed wire to separate their property from the property of others. Fossil fuels provide many more advanced capabilities as well, including tractors, fertilizer, pesticides, GPS systems to guide tractors, trucks to take food to market, modern roads, and refrigeration.

    The benefits of fossil fuels are immense, but can only be experienced once fossil fuels are in use. Because of this, we have adapted our debt system to be a much greater part of the economy than it ever needed to be, prior to the use of fossil fuels. As the cost of fossil fuel extraction rises, ever more debt is required to place these fossil fuels in use. The Bank for International Settlements tells us that worldwide, between 2006 and 2014, the amount of oil and gas company bonds outstanding increased by an average of 15% per year, while syndicated bank loans to oil and gas companies increased by an average of 13% per year. Taken together, about $3 trillion of these types of loans to the oil and gas companies were outstanding at the end of 2014.

    As the cost of fossil fuels rises, the cost of everything made using fossil fuels tends to rise as well.

    3. A more complex economy is a less obvious co-product of the increasing use of fossil fuels. In a very simple economy, there is little need for big government and big business. If there are businesses, they can be run by a small number of individuals, with little investment in capital goods. A king, together with a handful of appointees, can operate the government if it does not provide much in the way of services such as paved roads, armies, and schools. International trade is not a huge necessity because workers can provide nearly all necessary goods and services with local materials.

    The use of increasing amounts of fossil fuels changes the situation materially. Fossil fuels are what allow us to have metals in quantity–without fossil fuels, we need to cut down forests, use the trees to make charcoal, and use the charcoal to make small quantities of metals.

    Once fossil fuels are available in quantity, they allow the economy to make modern capital goods, such as machines, oil drilling equipment, hydraulic dump trucks, farming equipment, and airplanes. Businesses need to be much larger to produce and own such equipment. International trade becomes much more important, because a much broader array of materials is needed to make and operate these devices. Education becomes ever more important, as devices become increasingly complex. Governments become larger, to deal with the additional services they now need to provide.

    f an increasing share of the output of the economy is funneled into management pay, expenditures for capital goods, and other expenditures associated with an increasingly complex economy (including higher taxes, and more dividend and interest payments), less of the output of the economy is available for “ordinary” laborers–including those without advanced training or supervisory responsibilities.

    As a result, pay for these workers is likely to fall relative to the rising cost of living. Some would-be workers may drop out of the labor force, because the benefits of working are too low compared to other costs, such as childcare and transportation costs. Ultimately, the low wages of these workers can be expected to start causing problems for the economic system as a whole, because these workers can no longer afford the output of the system. These workers reduce their purchases of houses and cars, both of which are produced using fossil fuels and other commodities.

    Ultimately, the prices of commodities fall below their cost of production. This happens because there are so many of these ordinary laborers, and the lack of good wages for these workers tends to slow the “demand” side of the economic growth loop. This is the problem that we are now experiencing.

    The Two Pumps Are Really Energy and Entropy

    Unlike the markings on the pump (gasoline and ethanol), the two pumps of our system are energy consumption and entropy. When we think we are getting energy consumption, we really get various forms of entropy as well.

    The first pump, rising energy consumption, seems to be what makes the world economy grow.

    The second pump in Figure 3 is Entropy Production. Entropy is a measure of the disorder associated with the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels and other energy products. Entropy can be thought of as a loss of information. Once energy products are burned, we have a portion of GDP in the place of the energy products that have been consumed. This is why there is a high correlation between energy consumption and GDP. As energy products are burned, we also have an increasing pile of debt, increasing pollution (that our sinks become less and less able to handle), and increasing wealth disparity.
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  7. “There are two basic ways to reduce nitrogen emissions from European agriculture,” said Potocnik, who was environment commissioner under Jose Manuel Barroso until 2014. The Slovenian is now co-chair of a UN body on international resources.

    The first way is to reduce emissions per unit of product, i.e. per piece of meat, dairy product, or egg. The second one is to reduce consumption.

    “The first one is the one which we are normally focussing on in our policy life. Why? It's easier. It's not contagious,” noted Potocnik.

    “The second one is problematic, because it's addressing people's dietary choices and has major consequences also on the structure of European agriculture. That's why nobody is pretty much from the policy trying to address it,” he added.

    But dietary changes would have great effects.

    According to the authors, if all Europeans cut their meat consumption in half, this would result in 43 percent lower ammonia emissions, 31 percent lower nitrous oxide emissions, and 35 percent lower nitrate emissions - that is if the cuts are accompanied by a reduction in European livestock, and not a shift to exports.
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  8. As global climate negotiations stalled, China's own crises spurred the government into unilateral action.

    It has poured so much investment into renewables that new wind, solar and hydropower stations installed last year alone could generate more electricity than all the power stations in Indonesia.

    That contributed to a drop in coal demand last year, the first in over a decade, a shift the government hopes is advance notice of a broader trend. Beijing has promised to cap demand, or reach “peak coal” by 2020.

    The decline and the pledge are both an extraordinary triumph of political will, and there have been more cuts in coal use this year, all hailed by environmentalists.

    The problem for those fighting to keep global warming within 2C though, is that Chinese demand has expanded so fast that anything short of a dramatic cut in coal use – something no one is even advocating – leaves terrifying amounts of carbon dioxide pumping into the atmosphere.
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  9. When ingested by humans, mercury is a neurotoxin, attacking the brain and nervous system, and the development of babies and infants can be particularly hampered.

    Whereas most of us are at liberty to adapt our diets, people living in the Arctic strictly rely on marine wildlife for food and, unfortunately, mercury levels in animals such as seals, beluga whales and polar bears are among the highest worldwide. It’s harming birds too – recent research shows that endangered ivory gulls have 50 times more mercury in their feathers than when records began 130 years ago.

    The stuff we’re really concerned about is methylmercury, the most toxic form of the element that accumulates in those animals. And there’s a mystery here – while emissions from factories and power plants have pumped a lot of mercury into the Arctic, we still know little about exactly how this is converted to methylmercury.

    Methylmercury is then passed along the food chain via a process known as bioaccumulation. Algae pick it up from the water, are eaten by zooplankton (krill) which are eaten by smaller fish, which in turn are eaten by bigger fish – at each step, methylmercury gets many times more concentrated, reaching dangerous levels in top predators such as seals, polar bears or even humans.

    But where does all this mercury come from? Mercury is unique – it is the only heavy metal that is present as gas in the atmosphere, where it stays on for an average of about a year. As a consequence, it can travel across the globe, including to the remote Arctic. One theory is that the Arctic is a global sink for increased man-made mercury emissions from North America, Europe and now Asia, and possibly causing the high mercury levels in arctic animals. However long-term data on mercury levels in Arctic animals don’t always match up with increasing man-made emissions. Other factors must be at play.

    Missing mercury

    Though scientists have generally focused on atmospheric mercury sources over the past decade, models suggest that atmospheric emissions can’t account for all the mercury. A large source of mercury to the Arctic Ocean is missing.
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  10. China is cutting down on its coal habit. In the first four months of 2015, the country consumed almost 8% less coal than in the same period a year earlier, according to a report by Greenpeace/Energydesk China.

    This means China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions fell by around 5% in the first four months of the year, according to the report. That’s a lot—roughly equal to the volume of CO2 emissions spewed by the entire UK during that same period, as Greenpeace/Energydesk China notes. If the trend continues, China will close out 2015 with the biggest reduction in both coal use and CO2 every recorded by a single country, the environmental activist group says.
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