Earth911 Reader: Civilian Conservation Corps and the Economic Impact of Extreme Temperatures

The Earth911 Reader collects and comments on useful news about science, business, sustainability, and recycling to save you time and keep you informed about the trends in environmental issues.

IN SCIENCE

Temperature Changes Negatively Impacts Economic Growth

One of the characteristics of global warming is much broader day-to-day temperature ranges. A new study in Nature that examined 40 years of daily temperature variations in 1,500+ regions shows that local temperatures can reduce economic growth by an average of 5%. In low-income areas, where people are less prepared to stay cool or warm, they can see as much as a 12% reduction in economic growth. The study also found that the worst impacts are concentrated in the Southern Hemisphere.

Because extreme weather can be hotter and colder than average, the economic effects are growing as summer and winter temperatures become more erratic. The loss of livelihoods could drive mass migrations to areas where extreme weather is less severe. No nation is insulated from these issues because the prospect of economic collapse would ruin Northern businesses, too.

Another study also reported in Nature this week lays out the growing business risk from climate change and the importance of improving climate analytics to support sustainable decisions.

“The disconnect between what climate science can provide and what business demands is not simply solved by open access to climate model data or the packaging of that information,” the University of Sydney Business School research team wrote. “Rather, many of the emerging demands for financially meaningful information cannot be met by current climate models that were designed for other purposes.”

Thawing Permafrost Found to Release More CO2 Than Expected

As the Arctic warms, more than 9 million square miles of permafrost is thawing. A study published in Nature reports that the permafrost releases CO2 at a far higher rate than expected by science — the region contains more than four times as much CO2 as humans have released into the atmosphere since 1850.

The reason for the accelerated release turns out to be ordinary bacteria. As they unfreeze and water starts to flow around them, the bacteria begin to process the organic material around it, releasing methane, nitrous oxide, and CO2. “This means that we have a large new source of CO2 emissions that needs to be included in climate models and more closely examined,” Carsten W. Müller of the University of Copenhagen told Phy.org.

 

IN BUSINESS

Coca-Cola Introduces 100% Recycled Plastic Packaging

The Coca-Cola Company will begin shipping its beverages in 100%-recycled Plastic #1 recycled PET bottles. The company aims to make its packaging 100% recyclable by 2025. If you want to buy the products, you can look for recycled 13.2-ounce bottles of Coke, Coke Zero Sugar, Diet Coke, and Fanta. They will be available in parts of California, New England, and Florida this month. Coke will add a 20-ounce bottle made from recycled plastic starting this summer.

“[W]e are reducing the use of new plastic by more than 20% across the portfolio in North America compared to the amount of plastic used in 2018,” Alpa Sutaria, of Coca-Cola’s North America Operating Unit, told Waste360. He also said that Coke had invested $17 million in recycling infrastructure to support its goal of using at least 50% recycled content in all its products, not just plastic bottles, by 2030. Of course, this reinforces the use of plastic despite the widespread pollution caused by discarded packaging.

Compared to steel, glass, and aluminum, which can be recycled indefinitely, plastic can be recovered and reused only one to three times. But this move by the largest beverage company in the world is a significant step. Resource Recycling reports that demand for recycled plastic resin has increased dramatically during 2020. That demand will drive higher prices for recovered plastic, which could help kickstart new recycling programs.

Another company, Procter & Gamble, is taking a different tack. This week, P&G introduced its Old Spice and Secret deodorants in refillable packaging, Environmental Leader reports. The refills are made with paper containers. They are biodegradable.

 

IN SUSTAINABILITY

Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps Could Be a Tree-planting Army

Taking a note from the Depression-era New Deal, President Biden recently signed an executive order that creates a Civilian Climate Corp. It will create jobs for young people and is designed to support the growth of environmental career opportunities. Grist recounts the history of Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and its popularity during the Depression. In addition to employing 3 million men who built trails, cleared brush, and planted trees, the CCC provided income to businesses in the communities near worksites.

As the U.S. emerges from the COVID pandemic with 18 million people receiving unemployment payments, the time for a work program that restores the environment seems ideal. However, there will be critics from the right who decry socialism. If you like the idea, it’s time to contact your Congressional representatives to ask that they support funding for the Civilian Climate Corp. This historically proved program would be a massive step toward the large-scale planting of trees necessary to capture more CO2 and preserve the 30% of lands essential to biodiversity.

Your Catalytic Converter May Be Stolen, Switch to an EV

The New York Times reports that catalytic converters are being stolen across the country to recover the precious metals inside. Palladium and rhodium, two precious metals used in the converters to capture unburned exhaust and reduce emissions, have soared in value. Palladium is now worth as much as $2,500 an ounce, while rhodium is worth up to an astronomical $21,900 an ounce. Replacing a catalytic converter can cost more than $3,000, and new converters add to the cost of internal-combustion vehicles.

So what’s a car owner to do? Electric vehicles don’t need a catalytic converter. Rising prices for gas-powered vehicles will increase demand for EVs, and greater demand will drive a shift in manufacturing toward components used in EVs, potentially lowering the cost for consumers. As dozens of EVs are poised to come to market over the next two to three years, the electric moment has arrived.

But the transition could go even faster, Tina Casey argues at Triple Pundit. She suggests that helping Lyft and Uber drivers switch to EVs would reduce emissions and potentially transform urban travel. However, last week we reported that research shows the on-demand ride-sharing companies increase congestion.

The best idea for an Uber, Lyft, Instacart, or other local ride or delivery service would be a financing program. By offering drivers a loan to purchase an EV, these companies can do right by the planet. They can also increase driver retention. If, for example, an Uber driver could pay their car loan automatically with half of their earnings until their car payment was covered, it would make EV ownership easier and help the company keep drivers working. Uber has as many as 3 million drivers globally. Imagine if they could step up to a clean, green vehicle. Based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s estimated average emissions per vehicle, the transition of Uber’s drivers would reduce CO2 by 13.8 million tons annually — more than the CO2 emitted by the state of New York annually.

8 Million Fossil-Fuels Deaths a Year

More than 8 million people worldwide died due to pollution from fossil fuels, a new study reports. Fossil fuel-related deaths account for 18% of early deaths globally each year.

“We often discuss the dangers of fossil fuel combustion in the context of CO2 and climate change and overlook the potential health impacts,” said Joel Schwartz of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said in a statement. Airborne particulate matter — the soot produced by burning oil and coal and emitted by forest fires — cuts human lives short by 4.1 years in China and 3.9 years in India, with even higher losses in regions where emissions are highest, the study reports.

“Compared with other causes of premature death, air pollution kills 19 times more people each year than malaria, nine times more than HIV/AIDS, and three times more than alcohol,” Phys.org writes, summarizing the findings. Exposure to fossil fuel emissions contributes to asthma, lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease, CNN adds.

A related study released in The Lancet confirms that reducing emissions and embracing sustainable lifestyles would prevent more than 9 million deaths a year by 2040. It’s time for a sweeping change, one as comprehensive as the anti-smoking movement that saved 800,000 people from early death each year.

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