Ocean Mist

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18 Nov 2020

Citizen voices on tough choices

Posted by Michael Keating. No Comments

Over the past 50 years, I watched and written about governments struggling to deal with environmental problems, often caught between the interests of polluting companies and evidence of serious environmental damage and threats to human health. Over time governments brought in laws and regulations to control pollution and limit the overuse of natural resources. When it comes to the really big issues of our times, such as climate change, governments are facing unprecedented challenges. To deal with climate change they must curtail pollution from virtually every citizen. Many governments have promised to make dramatic cuts in greenhouse gases but are hesitating to bring in controls that will be unpopular with many. The use of “citizen assemblies” is an attempt to give permission to politicians to make tough choices. An article in Science, the journal of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, looks at the U.K. Climate Assembly. It was created by the British House of Commons and made up of 110 people randomly selected to reflect the age, education level, wealth and gender makeup of the general population. The group was given the task of identifying policies to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. They made a series of recommendations, including an early shift to electric vehicles and improvement of public transport, and higher taxes on frequent flyers. The question is how closely will the British government listen to the advice.

17 Nov 2020

Risk of pandemics

Posted by Michael Keating. No Comments

Denmark’s decision to kill its 15 million farmed mink because of COVID-19 infections is just the latest signal of how the way we deal with nature is putting our own health at risk. Earlier this month Denmark said a mutated form of the coronavirus had sickened 11 people. The origin of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China is believed to be from a wild animal market. Earlier this month, 22 experts with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warned, “Future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world economy and kill more people than COVID-19 unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases.” The group said that pandemics are triggered by the way humans push into wild areas and use wildlife, exposing us to previously unknown viruses. Pandemic risk can be significantly lowered by reducing the human activities that drive the loss of biodiversity, by greater conservation of protected areas, and through measures that reduce unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions. This will reduce wildlife-livestock-human contact and help prevent the spillover of new diseases, says the report.

25 Oct 2020

Choosing health and sustainability

Posted by Michael Keating. No Comments

A global public opinion survey found people want to live more healthy lives and reduce their environmental impact but find it too difficult and expensive. The June survey of 27,000 people in 26 countries by GlobeScan wanted to find out what enables them or prevents people from living in a healthier and more sustainable way. It found people worried about COVID-19, the spread of diseases, climate change and the depletion of natural resources. More than 80 per cent are trying to improve their own health and well-being, and three-quarters want to reduce their impact on the environment and nature “by a large amount.” However, most are not ready to make the kind of changes experts say are needed to achieve sustainability. While half said they wanted to move to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle only 25 per cent they had made major changes to do so in the past year. People want change to be easy and less expensive. Younger people were more eager to make a significant effort to become healthier, more environmentally friendly, and more helpful to others.

13 Oct 2020

A step toward a circular economy

Posted by Michael Keating. No Comments

Last week the Canadian government took a run at slowing the flood of plastic garbage in the environment when it announced a ban on a number of plastics by the end of next year. They include single-use items such as plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery, and food ware made from hard-to-recycle plastics. It is step toward a national goal of zero plastic waste by 2030, and is part of a push for industry to stop creating so much waste. This follows years of stories of a world flooded with plastic garbage, some of which breaks down into tiny particles that end up in our food, water and bodies. Every year, Canadians throw away 3 million tonnes of plastic waste. Only 9 per cent is recycled while the vast majority ends up in landfills. In 2019, Canada was publicly embarrassed when the Philippines and Malaysia shipped contaminated plastic waste back to Canada, saying it was unfit for recycling. This came a year after China banned importation of most foreign plastics for recycling.

Last week’s announcement draws from the Canada-wide strategy on zero plastic waste, an agreement among the federal, provincial and territorial governments. It seeks to reduce plastic waste and move used plastics into a circular economy. According to the Recycling Council of Alberta, “the current economy is linear, which means that things are made with raw materials, used and then disposed. In contrast, a circular economy keeps products and materials circulating within the economy at their highest value for as long as possible, through reuse, recycling, remanufacturing, sharing and delivering products as services.” Circular systems minimize input of raw resources and creation of waste by keeping materials in use rather than throwing them away.

Unwanted plastic.
Credit: Laura Sullivan, NPR

The problem is that many plastics are hard to recycle. In the 1980s and 1990s plastics manufacturers were under fire for the amount of plastic garbage in the environment. Companies funded a number of plastic recycling operations. According to a story by National Public Radio in the United States, these were often a financial failure, but gave people the impression that something was being done even though much of the plastic went from recycling containers into garbage landfills. There a number of reasons. Sometimes the plastic is too contaminated with food waste or other materials to be worth cleaning to recycle. There are hundreds of types of plastic, and sometimes several are combined in one product, meaning waste materials have to be sorted before being melted down for a new use. Plastics will also degrade to lower quality when recycled, limiting their use. With low oil prices, it’s often cheaper to make new plastic.

Governments are putting more onus on industry to make changes at the design, collection and recovery stages of plastics. It may mean less stuff thrown into recycling bins and less confusion for people trying to figure out what they can and cannot recycle.

9 Oct 2020

What do people want?

Posted by Michael Keating. No Comments

The United Nations was born in a time of crisis, in the aftermath of the Second World War, which killed tens of millions. The organization marks its 75th anniversary during the COVID-19 crisis. It chose this time to conduct a survey of more than 1 million people around the world. It asked about their hopes and fears for the future, priorities for international cooperation and thoughts about the United Nations. The immediate priority of most respondents was improved access to health care, safe water and sanitation, and education. People also wanted greater international solidarity and increased support to those hardest hit by the pandemic. This includes tackling poverty, inequalities and unemployment. Looking ahead, most people worried about our inability to stop the climate crisis and the destruction of the environment. They also worried about poverty, corruption and violent conflicts     .

UN logo

9 Oct 2020

The Earthshot prize

Posted by Michael Keating. No Comments

Fifty ways to save the planet. If you have one, you could win more than $1 million. It’s called the Earthshot Prize, announced this week by Prince William and David Attenborough, one of the world’s greatest environmental broadcasters. The first five prizes will focus on protecting and restoring nature, clean air, reviving oceans, building a waste-free world and fixing the climate. The goal is to draw ideas from people around the world over the next decade. Earthshot was inspired by U.S. president John F. Kennedy’s 1961 plan to put a human on the moon before the end of the decade, called a moonshot. It led to a host of inventions. Prince William said an Earthshot prize could go to a new technology, a new way of doing things or a new policy. There are 50 prizes of 1 million pounds to be awarded over the next decade, funded by a group of individuals, businesses and organizations. Prince William’s project echoes the work of his father, Prince Charles, a long-time environmentalist, and grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, who once president of the World Wildlife Fund.

Earthrise. Credit: NASA

8 Oct 2020

Plastics ban and a circular economy

Posted by Michael Keating. 1 Comment

Canada took a step closer to a circular economy on October 7 with a ban on some plastics and a plan is to encourage recycling of plastic by requiring recycled content in products and packaging. By the end of 2021 the federal government will join some its provinces and cities and a number of other countries with a crackdown on plastics that too often end up as garbage. The ban includes plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery, and food ware made from hard-to-recycle plastics. The move is part of a national goal of zero plastic waste by 2030. It will make producers and sellers of plastic products responsible for collecting them. One goal is to drive investment in recycling infrastructure and spur innovation in technology and product design to extend the life of plastic materials. Every year, Canadians throw away 3 million tonnes of plastic waste. Only 9 per cent is recycled while the vast majority goes into landfills. An estimated 29,000 tonnes ends up litter on fields and shorelines, chokes wildlife and breaks down into minute particles that end up in our food, water and our bodies. According to the Recycling Council of Alberta a circular economy, “keeps products and materials circulating within the economy at their highest value for as long as possible, through reuse, recycling, remanufacturing, sharing and delivering products and services.”

Credit: Troy Mayne

14 Sep 2020

The clock is ticking

Posted by Michael Keating. No Comments

Time is running out for the future of species, including us, according to a survey of more than 1,800 environmental experts from around the world. People were asked to say how close to environmental midnight we were. As a global average the time was 9:47pm, with the greatest concern in North American where experts said we were at 10:33pm. The 29th annual report on survival of humankind comes from the Asahi Glass Foundation in Japan is based on what it calls an Environmental Doomsday Clock. Biodiversity was the area where experts saw time running out fastest, followed by climate change. The other big issues were: society, economy and environment policies and measures; water resources; population; pollution; lifestyles (consumption habits); land use; and food. When it came to improvements, public awareness was listed most often as opposed to actual improvements.

Environmental Doomsday Clock

8 Sep 2020

Two steps back

Posted by Michael Keating. No Comments

Among the many problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is the huge increase in plastic being used and too often discarded into the environment. In recent years there has been a global movement to limit, even ban throwaway plastics. People have become alarmed about the amount contaminating our oceans and ending up as tiny particles in our food, water and bodies. With the pandemic came a sudden upsurge in single-use plastics as companies wrapped virtually everything in plastic.  An article in the Toronto Star by author Adria Vasil, who is managing editor of Corporate Knights magazine, does a great job of summing up the situation and possible solutions to our plastic waste problem.

Mounds of plastic waste

Credit: University of Toronto

10 Aug 2020

Project Drawdown

Posted by Michael Keating. No Comments

What are the most effective ways to reverse global warming? We can all come up with a list but is it the best list? In 2014 two Americans, Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce, and climate activist Amanda Ravenhall, started Project Drawdown, an attempt to answer one of the most important questions in the world. They asked experts from around the world for a list of the most effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They got some obvious ones, such as more wind and solar power. Others that get less coverage, such as plant-rich diets [eat less meat], cutting food waste and better management of land, including croplands, pastures and forests, also ranked very high. Their website has a Table of Solutions showing how many tonnes of greenhouse gases would be cut or stored for each option. It should be a must-read for everyone, especially for government and business leaders looking for the most effective solutions for the greatest crisis we face.