The Earth911 Reader consolidates useful news about science, business, sustainability, and recycling to save you time. This week, scientists warn that 1.5° C warming is inevitable, Trump’s efforts to auction oil-drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, progress in global plastic recycling policy, and much more.
1.5° C Warming Is Inevitable Despite the Paris Accord, Scientists Warn
An international team of scientists have analyzed recent climate trends and warn between 1.5° C and 2° C atmospheric warming is virtually certain to happen, according to a report in Nature Climate Change. The current Paris Accord CO2 targets are not aggressive enough to prevent reaching this critical tipping point. Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M University, one of the report coauthors, told EcoWatch: “While I would not categorize this as good news, it is not game over for the climate.” In other words, we can set more aggressive limits on carbon emissions. Dressler explained the findings in a YouTube video. These reports echo the comments on a recent Earth911 podcast with James Renwick, coauthor of the upcoming 2021 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) report and head of the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. What can we do? In addition to supporting a rapid transition to renewable energy, we can embrace electric vehicles and stop driving internal combustion vehicles. Renwick also suggested that reducing the amount of meat in our diets, particularly industrially raised cattle, will make a big difference.
Scientists Call for Declaration of Climate Emergency
Another team of climate researchers published a call for a global declaration of a climate emergency in Scientific American this week. Pointing to record global temperatures, a historically long hurricane season that caused more than $41 billion in damages in the U.S. and Caribbean, and wildfires that burned more than 4 million acres in California, they declared that, “The climate emergency has arrived and is accelerating more rapidly than most scientists anticipated.” Earth911 will have coauthor William Ripple of Oregon State University on the podcast in the coming week. The call for a climate emergency comes on the heels of another Scientific American report that atmospheric warming is reshaping ecosystems as animals and plants respond to higher temperatures. But minds are starting to change, too. A University of Houston survey found that four out of five Texans now acknowledge climate change is real. It is time for steps toward a sustainable future. Let’s hope that this week’s calamitous events in Washington, D.C., lead to a fundamental shift in the national dialogue and that we respond forcefully to the emerging global crisis.
President Trump’s Last Anti-environmental Ploy Falls Flat
The exiting president’s effort to auction oil-drilling rights for large swaths of the coastal plains in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) found little interest. It generated a mere $14.4 million in bids, with major oil companies staying on the sidelines. Bids were submitted for only half of the land, and most came from the state government rather than private companies. “They held the lease in ANWR — that is history-making. That will be recorded in the history books and people will talk about it,” Larry Persily, an Alaskan who tracks the fossil fuel industry in the state, told NPR. “But no one showed up.” The Guardian reports that Adam Kolton of the Alaska Wilderness League said, “This lease sale was an epic failure for the Trump administration and the Alaska congressional delegation.”
IKEA To Launch Tiny Mobile Home
IKEA has introduced a 187-square-foot tiny net-zero home on wheels to allow “anyone, anywhere [to] live a more sustainable life,” according to Green Matters. You can take a virtual tour of the space, which is designed in part to introduce consumers to green lifestyles — the model home is full of IKEA furniture and products. It is solar-powered and can operate off the grid. The company said, “We built a sustainable tiny home from the ground up to better educate and inspire consumers to bring sustainability into their own lives.”
Norway’s Auto Sales Present Hope for the Future
Although U.S. electric vehicle sales are rising, they still account for only a tiny fraction of annual sales. Norway is a vision of the future because it embraces EVs wholeheartedly. In December, 87.1% of the passenger vehicles sold in the Nordic country were plug-in electric cars. About two-thirds of those vehicles were electric-only, while 20.4% were hybrids. Audi’s e-rton led in sales, followed by Tesla’s Model 3, the Volkswagen ID.3, and Nissan Leaf, CleanTechnica reports. In the U.S., Tesla accounted for 81.6% of EV sales in the first half of 2020, but a slew of electric sedans and trucks are expected to reach the market in the coming 18 months. If consumers adopt electrics, they can change the demand for oil and end the fossil fuel era.
Georgia Political Earthquake Will Shake Climate Denialism in D.C.
The victories of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossof in the Georgia Senate election have handed a slim but definitive margin of control for the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C. But the narrow advantage will be constantly renegotiated by centrist legislators who can reshape U.S. climate policy for the better or keep it stuck in the past. Science Magazine and Bloomberg report on the potential policy changes that will follow. While Democrats will take over as committee chairs in the Senate, one of the most consequential committees, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, will be led by Senator Joe Manchin (D–WV), who will be hesitant to eliminate coal subsidies. But the universal lubricant of American politics, money, will play a significant role. Even far-right conservatives like Ted Cruz (R-TX) could support renewable energy as his state pivots toward green business. The resurrection of American politics will come on negotiated compromise, based on the finding of common ground instead of always identifying divisions.
COVID Relief Bill Carries Green Promise
The recent, long-delayed COVID stimulus bill included a “surprising amount for environmentalists to celebrate,” Bloomberg Green reports. It introduces strict limits on greenhouse gas equivalent hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used as refrigerants, funding for solar and wind infrastructure, and a corporate tax credit for companies that capture and sequester carbon in the atmosphere. The carbon deduction is significant because it raises the value of a metric ton of CO2 to $50, about as much as capturing the carbon costs.
Global Plastic Recycling Policy Leaps Forward, Industry Appears Ready for Change
On January 1, the United Nations began enforcing its Basel Convention that required greater transparency in plastic waste exports. The European Union also introduced waste export laws aligned with the new global rules. “It is my optimistic view that, in five years, we will see results,” Rolph Payet, the executive director of the UN’s Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions told The Guardian. There could be less plastic flowing into the oceans, and low-income nations will not suffer from the dumping of contaminated plastic waste. The U.S. sends about 28,000 tons of plastic waste a month to Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. It should be processed here at home. But the keystone of a successful recycling system will depend on producers of goods and packaging to take responsibility. Resource Recycling reports that the Product Stewardship Institute’s recent meeting saw widespread support for extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs that make companies deal with the materials they produce. Instead of pushing the obligation to recycle onto consumers, EPR regulations and industry programs collect fees used to capture and recycle materials. Of course, it still depends on ordinary people to put recyclables into the system. For too long, recycling has been underfunded. If EPR gains traction, recycling will become profitable, and companies, organizations, and communities will rush to participate.
E-Waste Recycling Rates in Decline, New Models Needed
Recycling of electronics has declined since 2015, partly because technology is increasingly miniaturized, leaving less waste, Recycling Today reports. Yet more electronics are sold every year. The foundations of a circular economy are needed to capture and recycle those old PCs, laptops, televisions, phones, radios, printers, fans, microwaves, and myriad other gadgets. A new study from the Yale School of the Environment’s Center for Industrial Ecology and the Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) Golisano Institute for Sustainability found that smaller and more complicated electronics are making recycling harder each year. Yet conversations are beginning about rethinking technology ownership to make returning, reuse, and recycling electronics a part of the purchase. EcoWatch describes how printer-maker Canon now leases its products and takes them back to be refurbished and used again when the lease ends. Since most electronics are merely licensed for use even when consumers pay full price for them, this is a natural new form of “ownership” for society to consider. In related news, the Recycling Industry Operating Standard (RIOS) will partner with Sustainable Electronics Recycling International to make electronics refurbishing easier by implementing the R2 Standard to certify recycling and reuse programs. Consumers can accelerate these efforts if they demand better recycling options before they purchase. Companies will respond because they want to sell their products. The momentum is building for a convenient, lease-based infrastructure for an electronics circular economy.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE
Find and Support Food Waste Programs That Feed Hungry People
EcoWatch provides a list of 17 organizations that collect excess food from grocers, producers, and restaurants and distribute it to people experiencing hunger. America wastes 40% of the food it grows, contributing heavily to global warming, as well as land loss and water pollution. Search the list for a local organization and support it. If you don’t find one, take the time to learn about the programs elsewhere and bring those lessons to your community.
Try Some Earthshot Prize Ideas in Your Life
Founded by Prince William of Britain and others worldwide, the Earthshot Award will present five ￡1 million prizes to programs and ideas that save the planet. But you don’t have to compete for the money. You can act on one of 16 ideas about how to change your environmental impact. Each action is explained in simple terms and the benefits of making the change detailed. Check it out, but don’t leave without deciding to apply at least one idea in your life. You’ll thank yourself later.
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