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Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

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22 Apr 2021

Science and choices

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on Science and choices

If there is one lesson COVID-19 can teach us about environmental decision making it’s that if you ignore the science advice, you’re going to get into a lot of trouble. Politicians who listened to advice from doctors made much better decisions than those who pushed it aside under pressure from other interests.

When it comes to climate change we are faced with even more complex choices. We’ve got clear advice about the risks, some of which are already evident and about how much we have to cut greenhouse gas emissions: half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. How do we do it? Are electric cars going to save us? Will our electricity systems be able to handle the demand? Is carbon capture and storage a worthwhile technology? How fast can we transition from fossil fuels to renewables? How do we cope with intermittent power supplies? What do we do about food supplies? The list of questions is endless. There are many answers, often from people or organizations trying to further their interests. There are billions of dollars at stake as well as the shape of our economy and society for decades. Governments, businesses and the public need the best possible advice and we need it now. Governments could use the model of COVID-19 expert panels and groups to provide the best advice on the difficult transition ahead.

13 Apr 2021

The rich polluters

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on The rich polluters

The world’s rich not only have more money but they create a huge amount of the planet’s pollution. Changing our ways? Behaviour change and the climate crisis, by the Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change lays out some shocking numbers. It says greenhouse gas emissions of the world’s richest one per cent are greater than all those from the poorest 50 per cent. It says that one per cent – the polluter elite – needs to reduce its footprint by a factor of 30 if the world is to meet the Paris climate agreement targets. The situation is worsening according to the report because of the expanding middle classes in developing countries are trying to emulate lifestyles in rich nations.

It cites the 2020 UN Emissions Gap report which said we need more than a 90 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Cambridge commission says we need a rapid shift to a sustainable lifestyle based on low energy demand, low material consumption and eating food that does not result in high greenhouse gas emissions. This includes a more plant-based diet, a reduction in food waste, a ban on big gas-guzzling vehicles and big cuts to air travel.

It won’t be easy. “The belief that this enormous, existential problem could have been fixed if all of us had just tweaked our consumptive habits is not only preposterous; it’s dangerous.” It will take both changes in personal behaviour combined with government policies that give people low-polluting options they often lack today. While many will see the huge changes as losses, the report says we will gain cleaner air, more vibrant local communities and improvements to well-being.

20 Mar 2021

We need more imagination

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on We need more imagination

What we need to deal with the environmental sustainability crisis is the imagination to take on our great challenges. A very interesting article in The Guardian newspaper talks about a proposal to regreen the Sinai Peninsula, a chunk of Egyptian desert abutting Israel to the east with the Red Sea to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Long ago, the Sinai had forests and rivers. But, like too many parts of the world it was deforested for firewood and building materials, and grazing animals prevented forests from coming back. The loss of greenery led to a process of desertification, leaving an arid, barren and inhospitable landscape.

“This world is ready for regenerative change,” says Ties van der Hoeven, co-founder of a group of Dutch holistic engineers called The Weather Makers. They are proposing to regreen the Sinai, effectively rolling back the ecological clock. He compares this project to putting someone on the moon, very difficult but doable once people set their minds to it. What his group proposes is ecological restoration, the renewing and restoring of damaged or destroyed ecosystems.

There are good examples. The Loess Plateau an area in northwest China went over the centuries from a breadbasket to a dry, barren, heavily eroded landscape because of cutting too many trees and overgrazing the land. About 30 years ago a major restoration project turned around the soil degradation with planting vegetation and controls on land use. The land is more stable and food production went up.

In Africa’s Sahel region, at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert the Great Green Wall project aims to plant an 8,000-kilometre belt of trees from The Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. It is now one of the poorest places on the planet, subject to war and famine. The aim is to restore this degraded landscape providing a better environment, food security, jobs and possibly peace.

7 Mar 2021

Throw less, fix more

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on Throw less, fix more

The fastest and cheapest way to reach our environmental goals is not some new machine or process. It’s much simpler and we can do it now. It’s consuming and wasting less materials and energy. Earlier this year, France used an anti-waste law to require makers of some consumer products to display a repairability index with the price. The index covers smartphones, laptops, televisions, washing machines and lawnmowers. The aim of the index is to encourage people to choose more repairable products, and manufacturers to improve the repairability of their products. It’s an important attempt to fight against the throwaway culture. France estimated that only 40 per cent of broken electronic devices were repaired last year. It’s also an effort to roll back the clock to a time when products were expected to last for years and repairs were cheaper than replacement. In three years, the French index will be expanded to include durability. All this is part of a growing movement to encourage a circular economy where materials remain in use rather than ending up in the garbage.

28 Feb 2021

The end of ICE

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on The end of ICE

When I was young, ice was something to slide on and then to skate on. As I got older it was something that lurked under the snow when skiing, ready to send me sideways. Later still, it was a threat when I walked in winter. Now the world worries about disappearing ice in our polar regions. Huge glaciers are melting and Arctic ice is retreating, opening one of the most dangerous oceans to shipping. ICE is also shorthand for internal combustion engine and this is something else that will be disappearing. As a young man, I watched car engines grow to mammoth sizes, as much as 7 litres. They burned huge amounts of gasoline and spewed out plumes of air pollution. Anti-pollution regulations have drastically cut the stinking fumes but can’t stop the carbon dioxide coming out the tailpipes. With climate change threatening the world’s future, the axe is falling on the fossil fuel engine. Around the world, governments are mandating a shift to emission-free vehicles over the next 10-15 years. The sales of battery electric vehicles is starting to climb. They were the majority of sales in progressive Norway last year. The automotive giants are moving. Companies like Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen, among others, have announced billions of dollars in investments in electric vehicles. Prepare to say goodbye to the roar of motor and hello to the sound of silence when you pull out of the driveway.

picture of Ford's new electric Mustang Mach-E
An electric Mustang
Credit: Ford Motor Co.

24 Feb 2021

Making Peace with Nature

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on Making Peace with Nature

Once more the United Nations has sounded the tocsin on the threats environmental decline poses for our well-being. Its latest report, Making Peace With Nature, lays out grim scenarios. We are creating “…a world of extreme weather events, sea level rise, a drastic loss of plants and animals, food and water insecurity and increasing likelihood of future pandemics,” said report lead author Sir Robert Watson. “The emergency is in fact more profound than we thought only a few years ago,” he added. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said humans “have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature,” and “We are close to the point of no return.” The climate is becoming more unstable, millions die from air pollution, land is becoming less fertile, fisheries are in decline and food supplies put at risk. All this is driven by unsustainable forms of production and consumption.

First World War devastation of nature

The report applies a new twist to the war metaphor. Guterres says making peace with nature will be “the defining task of the coming decades.” Drawing parallels with recovery efforts from past military conflicts, the report proposes “a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme.” We have to reach net zero carbon emissions, and transform how we produce food, and manage our land, water and oceans. The UN says governments should look beyond economic growth as an indicator of performance and take account of the value of preserving ecosystems. They need to redirect vast amounts of money now spent to support fossil fuels when we are supposed to be phasing them out. The timing is good. The echoes the calls of many governments for a green recovery from the economic devastation of COVID-19, something that seems to have broad public support.

19 Feb 2021

Are we reaching a tipping point?

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on Are we reaching a tipping point?

More than 30 years after the Brundtland report, Our Common Future, called for sustainable development, are we reaching a tipping point for a greener future? The struggle to control climate change is taking off. First, and most important, a lot more people are worried. People have seen enough killer forest fires, floods and giant storms to realize the world is changing for the worse, because of our actions. Fear of climate change is a great driver of action. They are starting to spend serious money on electric cars and are pulling their investments from fossil fuels. They are giving governments permission to roll out one greenhouse gas control after another.

Business is in a historic shakeup, one caused not by new inventions or changes in consumer demand but by a series of environmental crises. Mark Carney, who has headed the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, warned that companies that fail to adapt to climate change will go bankrupt. Major financial groups are turning away from fossil fuels. BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment fund manager, has threatened to sell shares in the worst corporate polluters in a bid to support the goal of net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. While fossil fuel generating stations are still being built, the rate of growth is slowing while the growth in renewable energy has grown dramatically. Renewable energy companies are overtaking the big oil companies in market value. Renewables have become the cheapest form of energy in many parts of the world.

Wind energy

Car makers are on the front line of the green shift. While most people still buy gas and diesel vehicles, one government after another has said it will ban fossil fuel vehicles over the next 10-15 years. The switch has started. In Norway, battery electric vehicles made up 54.3 per cent of all new cars sold in the country in 2020, a world record. In December one-quarter of cars sold in Germany were hybrid or pure electric.

Tesla, a pioneer in making electric cars has seen its value rocket above that of traditional automakers, helping to make founder Elon Musk the world’s richest person. Others are racing to catch up. In early 2021, Ford Motor Co. doubled its investment in electric vehicles and General Motors said it plans to make almost all its vehicles electric by 2035. This came a day after U.S. President Joe Biden signed executive orders that include moving to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet. Jaguar the maker of beautiful luxury cars, announced it will go all electric by 2025.

Governments play key roles in setting expectations, passing laws and regulations to control pollution, and in putting their money into green projects. The 2015 Paris Agreement pledged countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent a climate disaster. Globally, emissions are still rising, but many countries have promised to reduce them in coming years. Last year the European Union set a target of 32 per cent of electricity production to come from renewables by 2030. It has often been said that crisis creates opportunity for change. Many countries have promised a “green recovery” from the COVID-19 economic collapse. Last year a number of large governments made pledges to phase out fossil fuels and to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Late last year, the world’s publicly-financed development banks pledged to tie together their efforts to rescue the global economy from the Covid-19 crisis and the climate emergency, using their financial muscle to assist a green recovery for poor countries.

It is ironic that a health crisis is opening the door to more sustainable development. The fact that the COVID-19 virus appears to have originated in wild animals sold in markets revealed the dangers of pushing deeper into primaeval areas with their hidden diseases. The pandemic reminds us of how vulnerable we are to natural forces. It drives home the point that climate change can also threaten our health and well-being. The social and economic upheaval caused by lockdowns has made people realize that huge changes can happen rapidly. The effects of the COVID-19 crisis, including a sharp fall in demand for oil, gave a peek at what the future holds. Last year, I wrote that in a post COVID-19 world we will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a serious shift to sustainability. As the world recovers from the pandemic over the next few years, we will see if people, governments and business have the will and ingenuity to give us a safer and more stable future that no longer runs down the environment on which we depend for life itself.

5 Feb 2021

Living within the donut

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on Living within the donut

There is the green economy, the circular economy and now the donut economy. It’s one more idea on how to rethink and reshape a global economy that is both overusing the environment and making some super rich while hundreds of million suffer deprivation of essential needs. British economist Kate Raworth came up with the term “donut economics.” She combined the idea of ecological planetary boundaries we cannot safely exceed as an outer ring on an image with the unmet needs of many people forming a gaping hole in the middle. Raworth said that between the extremes of environmental overuse and human privation was a “safe and just space for humanity” which she called the donut.

The doughnut of social and planetary boundaries

Her ideas echo those of the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, often called the Brundtland report after its chair, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. This global group of experts pointed out that economic development by the rich countries was running down the environment, but poor countries needed more economic growth to lift themselves out of misery. The timing seems good for a new way of saying what we have known for a long time. COVID-19, which has caused not only a health but an economic and social crisis, has stimulated interest in sustainability. More people are talking about rebuilding shattered economies as green economies. Raworth runs the Donut Economics Action Lab, to inspire and support people. Her group has attracted attention from a number of cities scattered around the world, ranging from Copenhagen to Nanaimo, BC, to Dunedin, New Zealand.

31 Jan 2021

Bad road ahead

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on Bad road ahead

As if we don’t have enough bad news these days, a group of international scientists is warning that most people don’t understand how serious biodiversity decline has become. “The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.” They go on to say, “Without fully appreciating and broadcasting the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to achieve even modest sustainability goals.” Because the loss of biodiversity takes place over years, people don’t see its gravity and keep putting off action to stop it.

The sober warning comes in an article, Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future, in Frontiers in Conservation Science, an online journal on conservation management. It documents the huge changes humans have made to life on earth. We have altered about 70 percent of Earth’s land surface; the ocean’s large predatory fish are two-thirds gone; coral reefs have lost half their living mass. Humans and our livestock account for about 95 per cent of land animals on the planet by weight. The world’s wild populations of birds, mammals, fishes, reptiles, and amphibians have declined by an average of nearly 70 percent in just the last 50 years. “With such a rapid, catastrophic loss of biodiversity, the ecosystem services it provides have also declined. These include reduced carbon sequestration, reduced pollination, soil degradation, poorer water and air quality, more frequent and intense flooding and fires, and compromised human health.” With the steady increase in human population and consumption, the trends are worsening.

Polar bears at risk.
Credit: Dan Bolton

The 17 prominent academics and experts from the United States, Mexico and Australia call their report a “cold shower” to wake people up in time to head off disaster. They admit this will not be easy, given that many people still enjoy the status quo. The authors say we need fundamental changes to global capitalism, including the abolition of perpetual economic growth as it now exists. “These choices will necessarily entail difficult conversations about population growth and the necessity of dwindling but more equitable standards of living.”

26 Jan 2021

Global risks

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on Global risks

According to a global panel of experts we have had, “a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.” What next? First, a struggle to recover. The impacts of COVID-19 “…threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation.” What else? The experts list emerging risks to human health, rising unemployment, widening digital divides, youth disillusionment, and geopolitical fragmentation. But the biggest long-threat to our well-being is the steady, seemingly inexorable march of climate change. While the change seems steady, the panel worries that climate change will not be slow and even but will involve sudden and dramatic changes called tipping points, such as the release of frozen methane that could cause a spurt in global warming and a dramatic rise in sea levels. “We are on the path to triggering climate tipping points that could create runaway and irreversible damage that will be an existential threat to future generations.”

The Global Risks Report 2021 is the 16th in a series of reports prepared every year for the World Economic Forum, an annual meeting of the world’s rich, powerful, famous, knowledgeable and influential, including leaders from government, business, civil society and the media. This week, instead of gathering in the exclusive Swiss ski resort town of Davos, they, like millions of others, are holding virtual meetings. The economic forum was created in 1971 to introduce the American business management approach to European firms. It has evolved into a meeting to discuss critical global issues, including their impacts on business.

Top Risks
By likelihood
Top Risks
By impact
Extreme weatherInfectious diseases
Climate action failureClimate action failure
Human environmental damageWeapons of mass destruction
Infectious diseasesBiodiversity loss
Biodiversity lossNatural resource crises
Digital power concentrationHuman environmental damage
Digital inequalityLivelihood crises
Interstate relations fractureExtreme weather
Cybersecurity failureDebt crises
Livelihood crisesIT infrastructure breakdown

Source: World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2021

The report says the pandemic caused by one of the deadliest viruses in history is seen as relatively short term. However, “…the global economy will be threatened by the knock-on effects of the coronavirus crisis, while geopolitical stability will be critically fragile over the next 5 to 10 years.” These effects “…threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation.” Problems facing the world are the huge debt crisis caused by countries borrowing to keep people afloat, a deepening digital divide as poor struggle for access to modern technology. In addition, “youth face new barriers to social mobility, strains on mental health, uncertain economic prospects and the continued degradation of the planet.” The crisis has caused terrible unemployment, especially affecting working women. It has put great strain on many fragile health systems. It has slowed down or even stopped education for millions of young.

Forest fire burns house Credit: Park Insurance

The report warns it will take a historic effort to recover and to rebuild economies that keep people safe, healthy and employed but to redirect development to green economies, not just more of the old, polluting and environmentally destructive ways.

7 Jan 2021

A new measure of how we are doing

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on A new measure of how we are doing

Which is really the most developed country in the world? For many years, economic output, measured as gross domestic product, has been used as a key measure of progress. Over the past three decades, the Human Development Index from the United Nations Development Programme [UNDP] has ranked the world’s nations based on composite of life expectancy, education, and per capita income. Using this scale, the top performers in the 2020 report are Norway, Ireland and Switzerland. They have long life expectancies [over 80 years], lots of education and high gross national income. But this year, the UNDP introduced a new experimental index on human progress that deducts points for countries’ environmental impacts: their carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint. With the new index, Norway dropped 15 places, Canada, which ranked 16th on the regular scale, dropped 40 places and the United States, which was 17th, dropped 45 places. All three countries are major fossil fuel producers.

This year’s Human Development Report, The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene, warns that the success of nations has been tied to high resource use and pollution. Achim Steiner, the UNDP administrator, writes “…no country in the world has yet achieved very high human development without putting immense strain on the planet.” If this development path continues, he warns, humanity’s progress will grind to a halt. The report says human impacts on the planet are so great that they are changing the earth. We have climate change, loss of species, acidification of the ocean, loss of tropical forests and many forms of pollution. As a result, we are “lurching from crisis to crisis.” Mr. Steiner says that to “survive and thrive in this new age, we must redesign a path to progress that respects the intertwined fate of people and planet and recognizes that the carbon and material footprint of the people who have more is choking the opportunities of the people who have less.” The report said many of the problems are rooted in inequalities within and between countries, with roots in colonialism and racism. The rich get more of the benefits of exploiting nature and export the costs to the poor who are less able to deal with the resulting problems.

1 Dec 2020

Cleaner energy is coming

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on Cleaner energy is coming

As the world starts taking climate change more seriously, business is betting on an electric future. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, 73 countries, 398 cities, 768 businesses and 16 investors are working to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Since fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – account for 84 per cent of primary energy, there is a gigantic shift ahead. Hydroelectricity at 6.4 per cent is still the largest non-fossil source but there are limited places for it to expand. Nuclear power is at 4.3 per cent but its growth is limited by costs and safety concerns. Other renewables are where the action is. An article in Bloomberg Green proclaims “The New Energy Giants are Renewable Companies.” It says a handful of companies that have invested heavily in solar and wind energy are overtaking the big oil companies in terms of their market value. Renewables are already cheaper than fossil fuel power in many parts of the world, leading to a shift in investments. The cost of solar power has dropped by as much as 90 per cent in a decade and big investments will keep driving down the cost of renewables. The question is can we make the shift fast enough to bring down greenhouse gas emissions before the cause catastrophic climate change. It’s not certain. Many countries are still subsidizing the production and transport of fossil fuels more than they are investing in renewable energy. The United Nations says the world should be cutting production of oil, coal and natural gas by 6 per cent each year by 2030 to keep global temperatures from rising too high. Instead, countries are projecting annual increases of 2 per cent in fossil fuel production.

18 Nov 2020

Citizen voices on tough choices

Posted by Michael Keating. Comments Off on Citizen voices on tough choices

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. Comments Off on Risk of pandemics

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. Comments Off on Choosing health and sustainability

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. Comments Off on A step toward a circular economy

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. Comments Off on What do people want?

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. Comments Off on The Earthshot prize

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. Comments Off on Plastics ban and a circular economy

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. Comments Off on The clock is ticking

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