Category: Environment

Photos stained with the same pollutants as the scenery

Barnegat Bay, NJ

Brandon Seidler…takes photos of historically contaminated sites, then bathes the film in the same chemicals that poisoned the land. Seidler finds it the perfect way to not just talk about pollution, but show it. “I want my work to make people think,” he says. “If this is the effect of these chemicals on a plastic piece of film, what is it doing to the environment we are polluting?”

Same as it ever was.

Don’t worry about Styrofoam in landfills – just add mealworms


If you’ve ever kept mealworms as food for a pet reptile or frog, then you probably fed them fruits or vegetables. What you likely didn’t know, however, was that the insects can also survive quite nicely on a diet of Styrofoam. With that in mind, scientists at Stanford University have now determined that mealworms can break the difficult-to-recycle plastic foam down into a biodegradable waste product.

The Stanford team fed Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene to a colony of approximately 100 mealworms.

Within 24 hours, the worms consumed 34 to 39 milligrams of the plastic, converting about half of it to carbon dioxide – as they would with any other food source. Bacteria in the worms’ gut degraded the other half into tiny biodegradable droppings. The researchers believe that those droppings could safely be used as a crop fertilizer.

The mealworms themselves appeared to be just as healthy as worms that received a more traditional diet of vegetable matter.

Working with colleagues in China, the Stanford team members are now investigating whether mealworms or other insects could also be used to break down additional types of plastic, such as polypropylene. They also hope to find a marine equivalent to mealworms, that could consume the tons of plastic waste currently fouling the world’s oceans.

Phew! Now we can go back to comfy styrofoam cups of coffee at our favorite fast food joints.

New York mayor calls on pension funds to divest from coal

Koch Bros carbon wall of shame

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the city’s five pension funds…to end their investments in coal companies, demonstrating his commitment to taking on climate change.

The pension funds – whose assets total a collective $160bn – have $33m invested in coal, according to the mayor’s office.

“New York City is a global leader when it comes to taking on climate change and reducing our environmental footprint. It’s time that our investments catch up – and divestment from coal is where we must start,” De Blasio said…

This announcement follows a continued global movement to divest from coal. In June, Norway’s parliament endorsed the selling of coal investments from its $900bn sovereign wealth fund, and on 2 September, California lawmakers passed a bill requiring the state’s two largest pension plans to divest any holdings of thermal coal within 18 months…

The mayor also proposed that the pension funds establish long-term investment strategies for all fossil fuel investments “as New York City continues to move toward renewables and away from fossil fuels”.

Now, if we would only kick the foot-draggers [knuckle-draggers?] out of Congress we might see progressive movement in the whole United States on pollution and climate change.

There’s a very cold ‘blob’ in the North Atlantic Ocean

day after tomorrow

Last week we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the first eight months of 2015 were the hottest such stretch yet recorded for the globe’s surface land and oceans, based on temperature records going back to 1880. It’s just the latest evidence that we are, indeed, on course for a record-breaking warm year in 2015.

Yet, if you look closely, there’s one part of the planet that is bucking the trend. In the North Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland and Iceland, the ocean surface has seen very cold temperatures for the past eight months:

What’s up with that?

First of all, it’s no error. I checked with Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, who confirmed what the map above suggests — some parts of the North Atlantic Ocean saw record cold in the past eight months…

And there’s not much reason to doubt the measurements — the region is very well sampled. “It’s pretty densely populated by buoys, and at least parts of that region are really active shipping lanes, so there’s quite a lot of observations in the area,” Arndt said. “So I think it’s pretty robust analysis.”

Thus, the record seems to be a meaningful one — and there is a much larger surrounding area that, although not absolutely the coldest it has been on record, is also unusually cold.

At this point, it’s time to ask what the heck is going on here. And while there may not yet be any scientific consensus on the matter, at least some scientists suspect that the cooling seen in these maps is no fluke but, rather, part of a process that has been long feared by climate researchers — the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation…

The fact that a record-hot planet Earth coincides with a record-cold northern Atlantic is quite stunning. There is strong evidence — not just from our study — that this is a consequence of the long-term decline of the Gulf Stream System, i.e. the Atlantic ocean’s overturning circulation AMOC, in response to global warming.

The short term variations will at some point also go the other way again, so I don’t expect the subpolar Atlantic to remain at record cold permanently. But I do expect the AMOC to decline further in the coming decades. The accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet will continue to contribute to this decline by diluting the ocean waters.

This won’t lead to anything remotely like The Day After Tomorrow (which was indeed based — quite loosely — on precisely this climate scenario). But if the trend continues, there could be many consequences, including rising seas for the U.S. East Coast and, possibly, a difference in temperature overall in the North Atlantic and Europe.

A good time to go back and watch at least the first portion of Day After Tomorrow. The movie does a good job of explaining the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation and what potentially can happen. There are climate scientists who agree – and some who disagree. A localized effect can become a regional effect and vice versa.

What is fairly likely is that if the circulation is interrupted by what has long been a predictable feature of global warming, folks in NW Europe and the UK who’ve been getting used to a generally warmer year-round batch of seasons better get out their woolies. The Gulf Stream circulation brings a fair chunk of warmth to what should feel like Poland or even Belarus. And may, soon.

Blue skies in Paris — city center car-free

Click to enlarge — Champs Élysées in 1900

With the eight lanes of France’s most famous avenue cleared of all traffic on Paris’s first car-free day, the usual cacophony of car-revving and thundering motorbike engines had given way to the squeak of bicycle wheels, the clatter of skateboards, the laughter of children on rollerblades and even the gentle rustling of wind in the trees. It was, as one Parisian pensioner observed as she ambled up the centre of the road taking big gulps of air, “like a headache lifting”.

There were other weird and pleasant effects of this tiny glimpse of carless utopia. “Everyone seems to be smiling, and not as stressed,” marvelled Elisabeth Pagnac, a civil servant in her 50s, who had been emboldened to cycle in from the eastern edge of the city without a helmet. But strangest of all was the sky.

“I live high in a tower block in the east of the city and looking out of my window today I saw the difference straight away: the sky has never been this blue, it really is different without a hazy layer of pollution hanging in the air,” she said.

Others agreed that looking up towards the Arc de Triomphe and to La Défense beyond, a view that was so often hazy and distorted by the city’s famous smog was suddenly crystal clear.

“What a joy to go down the middle of the road taking in the sights,” said Claude Noirault, a wheelchair-basketball coach, who had done 10km in his sports wheelchair and was planning 30km more.

When Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, launched the idea of the French capital’s first car-free day at the suggestion of the collective Paris Without Cars, pollution was top of the agenda

Hidalgo, launching the event with other mayors who have already pioneered car-free days, including the mayor of Brussels, said the initiative showed people “are not obliged to move around in a personal car, there are other ways to approach mobility in a city”.

It wasn’t a complete success. RTFA. The sophistry brigade will find plenty to whine about, Left or Right.

The core commitment to a day without fossil fuel pollution in the City of Light let in lots of sunlight. A fresh beginning.

Sheepdog guardians keep this colony of Fairy Penguins safe

Click to enlargeJJ Harrison

They’ve been our best friends for centuries, and in more recent years, dogs have proved they can also be our allies in conservation, from sniffing out endangered species to fighting wildlife crime. One place where they’ve notched up a major conservation victory is on a small island off the Australian coast, where a colony of tiny penguins has been brought back from the brink – a success story that’s now inspired a multimillion-dollar movie that opens in the country this week.

Middle Island, a rocky outcrop off the coast of Victoria, is best known for its avian inhabitants: it’s home to a colony of the world’s smallest penguins. Just 33 centimetres tall (13 inches), the little penguin – or fairy penguin, if you prefer (of course you do!) – tips the scales at only around one kilogram.

While the birds spend most of their lives at sea, they do come ashore when breeding season rolls round – and that’s where Middle Island’s residents began running into trouble. The few hundred metres that separate the island from the mainland are not much of an obstacle for hungry foxes who proved quite capable of crossing the distance at low tide for the promise of an easy penguin meal.

With the predators picking off the defenceless birds, populations began to plummet dangerously: by 2005, what was once a colony numbering in the hundreds had been left with fewer than ten survivors.

Enter “Oddball”. The maremma sheepdog was initially bought by a mainland farmer whose chickens were being targeted by the very same enemy. “I used to spend my nights up with a rifle shooting foxes. One night I noticed the neighbour’s dog barking and the light went on in my head. I realised he was barking at the same thing I was trying to shoot,” the farmer, Allan Marsh, told ABC last year.

Marsh decided to get a dog of his own, and Oddball soon proved to be a pro at keeping foxes away from the farm. After a series of fortunate events, the sheepdog ended up on Middle Island, where wildlife officials hoped her chicken-guarding skills could work to keep the penguins safe too

Oddball first set paw on Middle Island in 2006, when the penguin colony was on the verge of total collapse. Since then, other maremmas have followed in her footsteps, and the Middle Island Maremma Project has proved a major conservation success. Fox attacks have stopped entirely and penguin numbers have been recovering, with around 180 birds at last count.

Click to enlarge

Conservation success + dogs = enough to make my heart happy for quite a spell.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Wider Image: Toronto, Leslie Street Spit

Leslie Street Spit

Like a rooftop garden in an overcrowded financial district, Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit is an unexpected urban oasis whose narrow escape from development has brought marshes, lagoons and forests to the centre of Canada’s largest city.

My favorite kind of photojournalism.

Good news in the UK — Renewable electricity overtakes coal

Click to enlarge

Britain generated more of its electricity from renewable sources than from burning coal for the first time in the second quarter of 2015, as more wind and solar farms were built.

A record high of 25.3 per cent of the UK’s power came from wind, solar, biomass and hydro-electric sources in the three months to June, up from just 16.7 per cent in the same period the year before.

By contrast the share of electricity from Britain’s ageing fleet of coal-fired power stations fell to 20.5 per cent, down from 28.2 per cent a year previously…

The Department of Energy and Climate Change said the record share of renewable generation reflected not only more renewable capacity, such as the construction of big new offshore wind farms, but also “more favourable weather conditions for renewable generation”.

Biomass energy, which is also classed as renewable, also increased following the conversion of part of Drax, Britain’s biggest coal-fired power plant, to burn wood instead.

The drop in coal power also reflected the closure or temporary shutdown of other coal power stations and an increase in the UK’s carbon tax which made coal plants less profitable to run.

You don’t need an amplifier to hear the tears falling from the dark orbs that pass for eyes in the Koch Brothers. They cry for every penny of profit lost by their fossil fuel brotherhood of pollution.

EPA may be way underestimating landfill emissions

Click to enlarge

Landfills may be emitting more methane than previously reported because the Environmental Protection Agency may be drastically underestimating how much garbage is being deposited in landfills across the US, according to a new Yale University study.

Banana peels, coffee grounds, plastic bottles and other detritus tossed in the garbage usually ends up in a landfill and emits methane as it decomposes.

Methane is a greenhouse gas up to 35 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a driver of climate change over the span of a century, and landfills are the United States’ third largest source of methane emissions, according to the EPA. The Obama administration is focusing on cutting methane emissions as part of its Climate Action Plan.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, examined more than 1,200 solid waste landfills, including those that are open and those that are closed and no longer accepting waste.

Using previously unavailable data from individual landfills, the study found that in 2012, about 262 million metric tonnes of waste were deposited in landfills across the country, more than double the 122 million tonnes estimated by the EPA. The agency may be underestimating the amount of waste landing in landfills because small waste disposal facilities are not required to report how much refuse they accept.

What great reasons do our politicians offer for blocking requirements to report? Anyone?

The study also found that open landfills emit 91% of all landfill methane emissions, while closed landfills are 17% more efficient than open landfills at capturing methane so it does not escape into the atmosphere…

The study’s primary goal was to learn more about the efficiency of methane capture systems at landfills, which are more effective after a landfill stops accepting new waste…

…Atmospheric physicist Raymond Pierrehumbert, who is among the scientists who believe cutting methane should be less of a priority than cutting carbon dioxide to tackle climate change, said the study is useful in evaluating methane capture systems at landfills. But it primarily underscores that landfill gas should be used more widely as an energy source and that people should throw less in the trash, especially organic matter…

Conclusions across the board are consistent with good sense waste management. Produce less waste. Recycle and reuse where and when possible. Utilize methane produced by landfills to generate electricity or power useful machinery.

The range of solutions from the scientific side of the equation are already well known. Only Know-Nothing political barbarians dispute either the need for research or the goals.