Researchers warn that the trash could increase more than tenfold in the next decade
We’ve all heard about the great Pacific garbage patch and other huge swirls of plastic trash floating around in our world’s oceans damaging marine ecosystems and sea creatures. But what’s not been clear is just how much more plastic is making its way from land to sea every year. Now we have an estimate.
A new study in the February 13 issue of the journal Science calculates that about 8 million tons of plastic waste wound up in the world's oceans in 2010 — equal to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.
Photo by Cesar Harada
The study, by researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, and their colleagues from other schools in the US and Australia, also identifies the major sources of this plastic debris and lists the 20 countries — including China, India, Brazil and the United States — that are the biggest polluters.
It warns that the trash could increase more than tenfold in the next decade unless the international community improves its waste management practices.
The researchers combined data on solid waste from 192 different coastal countries with factors such as population density and economic status. They found that “uncaptured waste” — trash that is littered or lost from waste management systems — was the biggest source of ocean-bound plastic debris in the world.
They estimate that coastal countries generated nearly 275 million tons of plastic waste in 2010 — and that 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of that plastic made its way to the oceans. “Our estimate of plastic waste entering the ocean is one to three orders of magnitude greater than the reported mass of floating plastic debris in high-concentration ocean gyres and also globally,” they write in their report. And the trash pile is only going to get bigger: The estimate for 2015 is 9.1 million metric tons.
Using population growth data to project the increase in mass to 2025, the researchers estimate that by 2025, the volume of ocean trash would expand to 155 million metric tons. "In 2025, the annual input would be about twice the 2010 …more
Ball is in the president's court after Senate passes bill approving the controversial oil pipeline project
Yesterday afternoon, after some debate that broke no new ground, the House of Representatives passed the Senate’s version of the Keystone XL pipeline bill by a vote of 270-152, the Senate passed the bill on Jan. 29 by a vote of 62-36. The House had quickly approved it — for the tenth time — just days after the current session of Congress convened in early January, sending the bill to the Senate. There it passed for the first time, thanks to Republicans taking control of the Senate following last November’s mid-term elections.
Photo by Christopher Dilts for Obama for America
Yesterday’s vote was necessary to reconcile the two versions of the bill, the final step before sending it to President Obama’s desk. President Obama has consistently indicated that he will veto the bill. To override his veto it would have required 67 votes in the Senate, which they did not achieve.
“The only thing Congressional Republicans accomplished with this vote is a show of unflinching loyalty to their Big Oil campaign donors who put this tar sands pipeline at the top of their wish list,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
“President Obama has made it clear he will veto this toxic legislation, clearing the way for his administration to finish its assessment of the damage this dangerous project will do to our air, water, land and climate. We are confident that assessment will find that Keystone XL fails the President’s climate test and is therefore not in our national interest, meaning it must be rejected once and for all.”
Earlier yesterday in a Republican House leadership press briefing, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) did some cheerleading for the pipeline, which he referred to as a “people’s priority.” He repeated exaggerated jobs creation claims and publicly pressured Obama by tying him to environmental activists whom he smeared.
“Instead of listening to the people, the President is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists,” said Boehner. “The president needs to listen to the American people and say yes! Let’s build the Keystone pipeline!”
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise followed Boehner, pouring on the pipeline praise. He said:
“The House has been focused on creating jobs and …more
Feds proposal to revise forest management plan that safeguards old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest could lead to increased logging
Twenty years ago, the Clinton administration adopted the Northwest Forest Plan to safeguard what little remained of the region’s heavily logged old-growth forests, as well as protect its imperiled wildlife. The plan limited the timber industry’s access to federal timber in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California. But now, the Obama administration appears willing to concede to the demands of the logging industry and members of Congress who are clamoring for timber they say they were promised but never delivered.
Photo by Sam Beebe
The Northwest’s ancient forests need protection now more than ever. Since the plan went into effect in April 1994, many more species that call these forests home face extinction and unanticipated threats, like climate change, have worsened. Yet the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the two federal agencies that jointly administer the plan, want to introduce revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan that could again open up these forests to more logging.
The Forest Service revealed the basic outline of the revised plan to representatives of several environmental groups and the American Forest Resources Council, an industry group, at separate private briefings in Portland last November. The revisions involve folding the ecosystem-wide Northwest Forest Plan — which applies to 24.5 million acres of forests across the region — into planning documents for each of the 17 national forests across the three states, and another nine areas in western Oregon managed by the US Bureau of Land Management.
“We were there [at the briefing] because the agency wanted to hear our concerns,” says Chuck Willer of the Corvallis-based conservation group, Coast Range Association. “In rapid order, speaker after speaker from the conservation community urged the agency ‘Keep the Northwest Forest Plan intact.’”
The timber industry’s response was quite the opposite. “We want a plan that will work. It hasn’t worked for a variety of reasons,” says Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resources Council, a logging industry group based in Portland. He said the Northwest Forest Plan was designed to deliver 1.2 billion board feet of timber to the industry, but …more
$2m to be spent on growing milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants along main migration routes from Minnesota to Mexico
The Obama administration and conservation groups launched a plan on Monday to halt the death spiral of the monarch butterfly.
The most familiar of American butterflies, known for their extraordinary migration from Mexico through the mid-west to Canada, monarch populations have plummeted 90 percent over the past 20 years.
Photo by Jill Heemstra
Fewer than 50m butterflies made it to Mexico last winter – a fraction of the population once estimated at 1bn.
Those numbers mirror the sharp declines of honey bees in recent years.
“We need to turn that around,” Dan Ashe, director of US Fish and Wildlife Service, told The Guardian. “If you look at the 20-year trend definitely monarchs are at risk of vanishing.”
The USFWS will spend $2m (£1.3m) and work with the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to grow milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants along the monarchs’ main migration routes from Minnesota to Mexico.
The initiative aims to restore more than 200,000 acres of habitat through the spring breeding grounds of Texas and Oklahoma and summer breeding areas in the Corn Belt, tracking closely to the I-35 highway from Austin, Texas to St Paul, Minnesota.
There are also plans to promote wildflowers such as goldenrod and aster along pipeline and electricity lines.
Monarch populations have fallen precipitously over the past 20 years because of changes in farming methods, and the destruction of milkweed that is the caterpillars’ main habitat.
The idea is to get populations back up to 1bn.
Monarchs showed a slight rebound this year, because of good weather. “That’s a sign we haven’t yet reached any disastrous tipping point,” Ashe said. “If the habitat improves, if we make more habitat for them, then the population still seems to have the ability to respond.”
The Centre for Biological Diversity went to court last August to seek protection for the monarch under the endangered species act. Ashe said the petition presented “substantive evidence” for such protections, and the government was studying the case.
The group welcomed the new initiative – but said protecting the monarchs would be far more effective.
What’s next for New York’s environmental movement?
It’s been just over a month since Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration announced that fracking would be banned in New York State. This decisive victory for environmental activists who had campaigned for years to keep the industry out of the state also presents a dilemma: Without a high profile issue to rally around, will the state’s environmental movement be able to achieve more far-reaching goals?
Photo by Adam Welz/CREDO Action
In a post on its website Catskill Mountainkeeper, a grassroots organization involved in the anti-fracking movement from the very beginning, summed up the mood as follows: “This is a huge win for New Yorkers,” the organization wrote, “but the fight is far from over.” Indeed, some activists argue that Cuomo’s decision to ban fracking was less fraught for the governor than it seemed. With oil and gas prices as low as they are, the economic imperative to drill simply wasn’t there. In a few years oil could easily be trading at $100 a barrel, natural gas prices could be high, and a future administration might decide to change course.
“While there was a really amazing and grassroots effort that happened across New York state,” says Henry Harris, an organizer with Rising Tide, “I think we are left with the problematic equation that we’re always dealing with where an environmental win is usually temporary and a loss is usually permanent.”
Still, the ban on fracking in New York State is freeing up precious time and resources for the environmental community to move onto other campaigns, many of which are related to unconventional oil and gas development, as well as focus on the important task of figuring out how to move away from fossil fuels altogether. Plus, activists haven’t given up on the push to ban fracking elsewhere, in nearby states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, or nationwide for that matter. “We’d like to spread the ban fever from New York across the nation,” says Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “Until that happens, nobody is safe or in any way free from the pollution and degradation of our natural world that comes with …more
Norway’s giant fund removes investments made risky by climate change and other environmental concerns, including coal, oil sands, cement and gold mining
The world’s richest sovereign wealth fund removed 32 coal mining companies from its portfolio in 2014, citing the risk they face from regulatory action on climate change.
Photo by Curt Carnemark/World Bank
Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), worth $850bn and founded on the nation’s oil and gas wealth, revealed a total of 114 companies had been dumped on environmental and climate grounds in its first report on responsible investing, released on Thursday. The companies divested also include tar sands producers, cement makers and gold miners.
As part of a fast-growing campaign, over $50bn in fossil fuel company stocks have been divested by 180 organizations on the basis that their business models are incompatible with the pledge by the world’s governments to tackle global warming. But the GPFG is the highest profile institution to divest to date.
A series of analyses have shown that only a quarter of known and exploitable fossil fuels can be burned if temperatures are to be kept below 2C, the internationally agreed danger limit. Bank of England governor Mark Carney, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim and others have warned investors that action on climate change would leave many current fossil fuel assets worthless.
“Our risk-based approach means that we exit sectors and areas where we see elevated levels of risk to our investments in the long term,” said Marthe Skaar, spokeswoman for GPFG, which has $40bn invested in fossil fuel companies. “Companies with particularly high greenhouse gas emissions may be exposed to risk from regulatory or other changes leading to a fall in demand.”
She said GPFG had divested from 22 companies because of their high carbon emissions: 14 coal miners, five tar sand producers, two cement companies and one coal-based electricity generator. In addition, 16 coal miners linked to deforestation in Indonesia and India were dumped, as were two US coal companies involved in mountain-top removal. The GPFG did not reveal the names of the companies or the value of the divestments.
“One of the largest global investment institutions is winding down its coal interests, as it is clear the business model for coal no longer works with western markets already in a death spiral, and signs …more
Conservation biologist discusses his new PBS Series, the challenges of co-existing with wild animals, and the schism among conservationists these days.
Last night PBS debuted its newest nature special, EARTH: A New Wild. In the opening episode, the program’s host, M. Sanjayan, promises that this will be a genre-busting kind of environmental documentary. “My mission,” Sanjayan says, “is to tell you an untold story, where we humans are not separate from nature – we are part of it.” And indeed this isn’t just a Planet Earth knock off. Instead of focusing the camera on the planet’s myriad natural wonders, Sanjayan is more interested in exploring a thornier question: How can human civilization and wild nature coexist, especially in this worrisome new era of the Anthropocene?
Earlier this week I got the chance to geek out with Sanjayan, who, when not hosting globe-spanning television documentaries, works for the NGO Conservation International. We talked about his aspirations for the new program, why Americans have such an especially hard time living with bears and wolves, and the current tensions in the field of conservation biology.
You’ve titled your new PBS Series, “Earth: A New Wild.” So what exactly is it about the wild today that makes it new?
So, first of all, you should know the way that titles come up, I had very, very little to do with the title. At the end of the day it becomes this gigantic – many people get involved. They have to look at what’s been done before, and what’s been on television, etcetera. But the original working title for the show was, “Earth in the Age of Man.” So, the Anthropocene. When I think about the new wild, what I think about is a place that still feels, looks, tastes, acts wild – but along with the larger human presence within it. And if you want one example of it, it’s the Centennial Valley of Montana. The Serengeti plains would be [another] great example. These are places that look wild, but have had a human presence for a long time. And in some ways human presence has modified those landscapes and in some ways, today, they are fundamentally protecting that landscape, too.
You didn’t use the term, because it’s a little academic, but this really is the PBS nature special for …more