By Stiv Wilson
As the policy director of an ocean conservation nonprofit 5 Gyres, focused on pervasive marine plastic issues, and who has sailed to four of the five gyres, my personal Facebook page ends up being an aggregator for all things related to lamenting and solving the marine eco-disaster that is oceanic plastic pollution.
This past week, I witnessed the exponential metrics around Boyan Slat’s "gyre cleanup device" climb to epic proportions in the blogosphere. Over the week at least 50 friends emailed me, tweeted me and posted articles about Slat with captions like, "there is hope" and "finally a real solution." In a game of Sisyphean "whack a mole" I did my best to try and refute the viability of this media darling and found myself—a career environmentalist—in an ugly position.
I was accused of being a "kid hater" or worse, a person who lacked vision or the ability to "think outside the box." I’m all about thinking outside the box, but the brute fact about thinking outside the box is you can’t think outside the box until you’ve thought in the box, exhaustively working to understand every facet of the design of that box. And, although Slat is calling his project a feasibility study, I think much of the work on feasibility has already been done.
If an outlier subset of the movement to end oceanic plastic pollution exists, it would be the proponents of gyre cleanup. These guys pop up now and again (make no mistake, Slat’s idea and drawings are not new), but for some reason his idea got big media attention. No serious scientist or policy advocate believes that microplastic gyre cleanup is a real strategy for ridding micro-plastics from the oceans—not even the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Industry often backs ‘gyre cleanup’ concepts because they give the impression that we can continue to consume more and more and good old human ingenuity will figure out how to solve all the environmental problems. The public, for their part, loves the thought of a quick fix and wants to believe that a "boy genius" can come along and solve a problem that all the old crusty PHDs can’t.
It’s a great story, but it’s just a story. I find debating with gyre cleanup advocates akin to trying to reason with someone who will argue with a signpost and take the wrong way home. Gyre cleanup is a false prophet hailing from La-La land that won’t work—and it’s dangerous and counter productive to a movement trying in earnest stop the flow of plastic into the oceans. Gyre cleanup plays into the hand of industry, but worse, it diverts attention and resources from viable, but unsexy, multi-pronged and critically vetted solutions.
Slat’s project as it stands is in the fairy tale phase, which is where all the other gyre cleanup schemes out there are, too. So far Slat’s is not a "design schematic" nor is it "engineered" nor is there a business plan attached to it—a fact that Slat all of the sudden underscores in an update to the website, saying he’s just conducting a "feasibility study," and that his intention was never to suggest that it was presently viable. But that certainly is not what his website suggested before the media attention—and this is precisely why it got so much media attention. From the website: “Extract 7,250,000,000KG of plastic from the oceans in just five years per gyre, Contribute Now!”
Well, if Slat’s intention is to funnel the money into a feasibility study, maybe I can save him some money. Let’s look at gyre cleanup schemes from a vantage governed not by dreams, passion and media preciousness, but from something a little more effective and a lot more boring—reason.
The sea is cruel and it’s really really really big
The nonprofit I work for, as part of its mission, takes people other than scientists on expeditions to the gyres. Why? It’s simple. We want regular people, like Slat, to understand the scale of the problem and the vectors that contribute to the difficulty of solving it by being informed by a firsthand vantage. So far, we’ve taken one gyre cleanup advocate across the South Atlantic, from Brazil to South Africa. We had 22 days of storms with seas in excess of 30 feet at times. By the time we got to the other side, some 30+ days later, he’d abandoned his hope of cleaning the gyres once he realized how big a "place" we’re talking about. What I find astonishing is that out of all the gyre cleanup proponents I’ve met, none of them have ever been to the gyres.
The ocean surface is 315 million square kilometers—70 percent of the earth’s surface. Plastic isn’t just contained within the borders of the gyres, it’s everywhere in the ocean. Half of it, like Coke bottles and PVC pipe, sinks. What does a garbage patch look like? Imagine the night sky on a cloudless, moonless night. Now replace the ocean surface with space, and the stars with plastic; it’s dispersed and it goes on infinitely. Yes, humans have managed to create a problem on a degree of scale that’s nearly incomprehensible and so overwhelming we’re predisposed to like ideas like Slat’s because it has the appearance of near divine simplicity. Every time a gyre cleanup proponent has shown me a design for addressing the problem, the first thing I ask is, "do you have the money to make 20 million of those doo-hickies?" They look at me with a puzzled look, and I just mutter, ‘The ocean is really, really, really, big.”
But beyond the size of the ocean, the sea is one giant corrosive force. Even on just a month-long sail across the South Atlantic, we tore our sails twice, broke some rigging and utterly destroyed a wind-powered generator—all due to the force of nature. Any blue water sailor will tell you about how destructive the sea is to anything with moving parts. That’s why sailors say, "a boat is a hole you fill with money." Heck, outer space is less corrosive to machines than the ocean is.
But let’s look at a practical example. My home state of Oregon has been trying to create North America’s first offshore wave energy farm. The first test buoy that was launched, just about 2.5 miles offshore, sank after just a few months. That buoy had a "100 year survivability" rating, and wasn’t just an idea on an iPad. That was the result of an incredible amount of engineering and venture capital. The company, Finavera Renewables, has since abandoned their wave energy ambitions. Is it because Finavera lacked vision? No. Whether you like it or not, Finavera, like all for-profit schemes, is governed by profit and loss. What’s interesting is that Finavera actually had a product (energy) that was worth money, and still it didn’t pencil out. Eventually, because energy is so valuable and wave farms are near shore, the technology will become more viable. Which leads me to my next point.
The economics of gyre cleanup don’t work—and a few notes on recycling
The two most common types of plastic in the ocean are polyethylene (PE- plastic bags, dispensing bottles) and polypropylene (PP- bottle caps, fishing gear). So, it stands to reason that these types of plastic would be what Slat’s machine would ‘harvest’ to sell to recyclers. Well, if the economic viability of Slat’s ocean cleaning device rests on his assumption that it will produce a product that will be sold in the market, he needs to better understand the market landscape for his product.
Plastics, chemically speaking, are polymer chains of monomer hydrocarbon molecules. Ultraviolet light weakens the polymer chains until they break, which is why you have the confetti-like micro-plastics found in the ocean. The number one barrier to a closed loop, cradle-to-cradle scenario for plastic is that recycling weakens the polymer chains and thus, the structural integrity of what you can recycle them into.
Ocean-borne plastics are so brittle you can break them apart with your fingers, and they’re also saturated with toxic chemicals present in seawater. Another issue is bio-fouling. Life adheres to plastic, and for the most part, plastic can only be recycled if it’s clean or cleaned. Another issue is that plastics have to be separated by type, i.e. PP, PE, etc. In an ocean plastic scenario where all these bits are crazy small, this requires spectroscopic analysis that identifies plastic by the frequency of light it reflects. This is very expensive, even in an automated scenario.
Another issue is transportation—plastic bags are hardly ever recycled because in most places, it’s more expensive to transport them to a recycler then the recycler will pay for them. So, from the market analysis standpoint in a gyre cleanup business plan, ocean plastics are about the worst possible feedstock for recycling imaginable, putting the product at a severe competitive disadvantage. Put it this way: Hiring people to climb trees in New York City to gather all the plastic bags in their branches would be more efficient and cheaper than ocean harvesting. Wait, do I sound crazy? Or visionary?
One company, Envision Plastics, has successfully managed to use ocean plastics, working with a company called Method to create a bottle with 25 percent post-ocean High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). But the economic viability of the product is the issue. Out of 67 products listed on Method’s website, only one is packaged in this type of bottle and it costs a dollar more than other products of the same volume in other types of recycled bottles. Envision Plastics does not advertise "Ocean Plastic" as a wholesale product available on their website. The fact that Method’s "Ocean Plastic" didn’t take off should be noted in Boyan Slat’s feasibility study. Slat seems at least cognizant of this problem when he says:
According to current estimations—due to the plan’s unprecedented efficiency—recycling benefits would significantly outweigh the costs of executing the project. Although the quality of the plastic is somewhat lower than ordinary recycled plastic it could for example be mixed with other plastics to produce high-quality products. PR through an Ocean Plastics brand can further increase the plastics’ value, and would create awareness with the consumer.
First up, there is no “plan” so it’s really difficult to vet its “unprecedented efficiency.” And “quality of plastic somewhat lower?” The word “terrible” is a better description. Though cool and innovative, Envision’s Ocean Plastic hasn’t taken off—and do you remember the massive PR around it just months ago? It’s gone.
Like the size of the ocean, the amount of plastic we consume is an issue of scale. In North America, the annual per capita consumption of plastic is roughly 326 pounds as of 2010. That statistic is up nearly a 100 pounds per capita from 2001. Of course, the plastics industry doesn’t like the idea of us consuming less because it means less plastic sold. They keep saying all we need is "more recycling." But despite even nominal gains in recycling, the sum total of virgin plastics produced in the world annually is going up, not down, which means the sum total of plastics entering the ocean is going up, too. I’m not anti-recycling; recovery is part of the solution, albeit small.
The problem is that the economics of most recycling are terrible, especially in the case of Polyethylene and Polypropylene. A growing single-use input for a market that has a sustained-use durable goods output means the input is always going to be greater than the output—that is—the supply will always exceed demand. Most plastics are very difficult to recycle not because we lack infrastructure, but because they’re not worth enough in a commodities market to incentivize venture capitalists to invest in more infrastructure to process them. Let’s remember that recycling isn’t the work of little green altruistic elves and fairies, it’s a business.
But even when plastics do get recycled, in the vast majority of cases, recycling only kicks the can down the road one generation by creating a product that can’t or won’t (because of economic constraints) be recycled again. In short, the vast majority of the recycling industry isn’t doing anything to solve marine plastic pollution, and for the most part, recycling is just creating a secondary market for waste. Even if the economics of Slat’s Ocean Cleanup Array didn’t further impede its viability, more plastic would still be entering the ocean than his device would pull out. Placing fees on producers of virgin plastics, and giving breaks to those who use 100 percent recycled content or are actively working towards it, would help to balance this equation out and would be great news for the ocean.
What about the science?
In the simplest of terms, anything floating in the ocean tends to be a "party barge" for life. What I’d like to see for Slat’s design is a time-lapse of his structure at sea predicting how fast it would be colonized by sea life—colonization happens very quickly. I can personally attest to this from recovering tsunami debris at sea, just a year after the devastating wave hit Japan. Anywhere you have seawater you’re going to have havoc wreaking barnacles. Anywhere where you have a platform, you’re going to have dead squid and flying fish stranding themselves, which will attract sea birds, and thus, guano. All of this stuff, coupled with salt, makes moving parts seize.
Little sea life attracts big sea life. Big sea life means entanglement issues. And unfortunately, sea life big or small is notorious for not doing what designers assume it will do. Slat’s design depicts massive booms sticking out of the sides in a "V" pattern thus corralling the floating plastic into some mysterious filter that will separate plankton and plastic. First up, life would colonize the booms, weight it down, and create their own current and eddies around it which would affect the "flow" of how the thing is supposed to work. Fish, attracted by the littler life and the protection from larger predators tend to be voracious "munchers" and thus, really destructive. Oh and storms? You can’t imagine the ferocity we’re talking about until you’ve sailed in full gale. The wind itself becomes audible.
Slat claims that 24 of his devices are all that is needed to cleanup each gyre in five years. How massively long are the booms, and how do they stay in a "V" shape that Slat assumes is needed to gather the plastic? Where on earth does the 24 number come from? Slat mentions that these would be anchored to the seabed. That’s great, but it’s not currently possible to anchor anything in 4,000 meters of water (the average depth of the open ocean). The deepest known mooring is 2,000 meters. Even if you could anchor it, one big storm and his device is going to be ripped from its mooring. Ask NOAA about how many data buoys they lose to storms, even in shallow water.
Another technicality is bycatch. Slat suggests that plankton wouldn’t be collected along with the plastic, though he admits more research is needed on this. The definition of plankton is an organism that can’t swim against a current; plankton have no control where they go and the assumption that they’ll somehow avoid the current that is taking the plastic into the processing thinga-ma-jiggy is a bad one. After conducting 50+ surface samples myself, at least half of the material we get from the surface is biomass.
Zooplankton is really fragile, and trying to separate it from plastic in most cases is going to damage these critters beyond survivability, especially on an industrial scale. Plan B in Slat’s concept is to centrifuge the critters out—that would rip off their antennae and feeding apparatus. Scientists, when collecting zooplankton, use live catch nets and are very, very careful so as not to damage them. Plankton biologists, needless to say, are skeptical. Though zooplankton certainly isn’t the most charismatic fauna out there (and probably wouldn’t draw the ire of PETA if Slat’s device killed them), let’s remember that all life in the ocean depends on plankton at the base of the food chain. And if one endangered sea turtle was caught up? The fines that Slat would face would bankrupt his project in a second.
Perhaps one of the worst assumptions evident in this design is that the plastic will be on the sea surface. Researchers have shown that plastic suspends in the water column at 100-150 meters due to wave action and sea state. Not only does this mean that Slat’s design wouldn’t capture this plastic, it shows that his estimates of how much plastic is out there aren’t correct and thus, his five year timeframe to clean a gyre becomes even more unrealistic. For more analysis on what the premiere scientists working on the issue think, go here.
Why so bitter?
I absolutely love human creativity, especially when it’s channeled for a greater environmental good. But why I have such an adverse reaction to Slat’s concept is the naiveté with which he proposes it. And sure, maybe I’m a bit jealous that this tale of how solve the problem went viral when so many of my colleagues working on real solutions go unnoticed and uncelebrated by the media.
But I also smell an arrogance here—an arrogance that flies in the face of everything we know about the ocean and the problems with recycling. If Slat were just simply floating a design concept, that would be one thing, but that’s not exactly how he portrays it–and all the ipso facto disclaimers working in concert with a fundraising scheme are really troubling. Slat’s facebook page feeds this in its tagline: “The first realistic ocean clean-up concept?” Seriously? Maybe he has the best intentions, but I find this gyre cleanup stuff to be a major distraction from the real solutions to the problem and as such, counter productive. To me, quite frankly, he’s selling snake oil even if he doesn’t know it yet. Remember what William Blake said about good intentions?
The good news
Here’s something that will blow your mind—to clean the ocean of floating plastic, you don’t need to go out and get it, it will come to you. Yep, that’s right. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbsmeyer, author of, Flotsametrics, describes a rarely talked about phenomena that occurs naturally in the ocean called Gyre Memory. Gyre Memory demonstrates that upon each orbit of a gyre, the gyre will spit out about half its contents. These contents will then either enter another current or gyre or wash up on land. As this repeats, it means that eventually, all the plastic in the ocean will be spit—out which is why you find plastic fragments on every beach in the world. Beach cleanup is gyre cleanup.
The solution to this problem isn’t elegant, and there exists no silver bullet. The first step in solving the problem is to personally lower your plastic consumption. The next steps are to get involved in cleanups, get involved in campaigns to eliminate problem products and demand that companies take responsibility for their products post consumer. There is a lot to be hopeful about, even if the real solutions don’t appear real sexy. But with engagement, en masse, there is light at the end of the sewer pipe. Unfortunately with Slat’s idea, I see only wasted resources and more ocean garbage in the making.
Image: Stuart Rankin via Flickr
By Tim Radford
Scientists poring over military and satellite imagery have mapped the unimaginable: a network of rivers, streams, ponds, lakes and even a waterfall, flowing over the ice shelf of a continent with an annual mean temperature of more than -50C.
In 1909 Ernest Shackleton and his fellow explorers on their way to the magnetic South Pole found that they had to cross and recross flowing streams and lakes on the Nansen Ice Shelf.
Now, U.S. scientists report in the journal Nature that they studied photographs taken by military aircraft from 1947 and satellite images from 1973 to identify almost 700 seasonal networks of ponds, channels and braided streams flowing from all sides of the continent, as close as 600km to the South Pole and at altitudes of 1,300 meters.
And they found that such systems carried water for 120km. A second research team reporting a companion study in the same issue of Nature identified one meltwater system with an ocean outflow that ended in a 130-meter wide waterfall, big enough to drain the entire surface melt in a matter of days.
In a world rapidly warming as humans burn ever more fossil fuels, to add ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, researchers expect to observe an increase in the volume of meltwater on the south polar surface. Researchers have predicted the melt rates could double by 2050. What isn't clear is whether this will make the shelf ice around the continent—and shelf ice slows the flow of glaciers from the polar hinterland—any less stable.
"This is not in the future—this is widespread now, and has been for decades," said Jonathan Kingslake, a glaciologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who led the research.
"I think most polar scientists have considered water moving across the surface of Antarctica to be extremely rare. But we found a lot of it, over very large areas."
The big question is: has the level of surface melting increased in the last seven decades? The researchers don't yet have enough information to make a judgment.
"We have no reason to think they have," Dr Kingslake said. "But without further work, we can't tell. Now, looking forward, it will be really important to work out how these systems will change in response to warming, and how this will affect the ice sheets."
Many of the flow systems seem to start in the Antarctic mountains, near outcrops of exposed rock, or in places where fierce winds have scoured snow off the ice beneath. Rocks are dark, the exposed ice is of a blue colour, and during the long days of the Antarctic summer both would absorb more solar energy than white snow or ice. This would be enough to start the melting process.
The Antarctic is already losing ice, as giant floating shelves suddenly fracture and drift north. There is a theory that meltwater could be part of the fissure mechanism, as it seeps deep into the shelves.
But the companion study, led by the polar scientist Robin Bell of the Lamont-Doherty Observatory suggests that drainage on the Nansen Ice Shelf might help to keep the ice intact, perhaps by draining away the meltwater in the dramatic waterfall the scientists had identified.
"It could develop this way in other places, or things could just devolve into giant slush puddles," she said. "Ice is dynamic, and complex, and we don't have the data yet."
This time, the Department of Energy (DOE) has significantly altered its websites on renewable energy, removing references on how clean energy technologies can reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels and help lower climate-changing emissions.
The DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy—which could face deep funding cuts under Trump's budget proposal—has made "extensive changes and reorganizations" on websites for the Bioenergy Technologies Office, the Wind Energy Technologies Office and the Vehicle Technologies Office, according to the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), a coalition of academics and nonprofits that has tracked changes to federal websites ever since Donald Trump took office.
Environmental Data and Governance Initiative
As The Washington Post explained:
"Under the Obama administration, these offices' websites emphasized the importance of cutting down on U.S. carbon emissions and reducing the nation's dependence on fossil fuels—a message in keeping with President Barack Obama's push to address climate change.
"But with the Trump administration de-emphasizing climate change and looking to promote climate-friendly and carbon-intensive energy sources—an agenda that coincides with a broad attempt to eliminate regulations on fossil fuels and particularly on coal—the priorities outlined on these offices' Web pages have been shifting since the inauguration."
For instance, on the wind technology office page, this sentence was entirely removed:
"Wind power is an emission-free and water-free renewable energy source that is a key component to the Administration's renewable electricity generation goals."
Instead, the new wording emphasizes the potential of wind for U.S. jobs and economic growth. For example, this sentence was added:
"Wind energy currently supports more than 100,000 U.S. jobs, and wind turbine technician is the nation's fastest-growing occupation. According to industry experts, the U.S. wind industry is expected to drive over $85 billion in economic activity from 2017 to 2020, and wind-related employment is expected to reach 248,000 jobs in all 50 states by 2020."
This, of course, is true. The renewable energy sector has been a major boon to the nation's job growth and even the DOE can't ignore that.
However, the Rick Perry-led agency gives little weight to the clear environmental benefits of renewable energy.
Take the wind technology office's "WHY IT MATTERS" description. The EDGI noticed that the wording changed from how wind can "help the nation reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, diversify its energy supply, provide cost-competitive electricity to key regions across the country, and reduce water usage for power generation" to how wind "helps the nation increase its competitiveness, diversify its energy supply, increase energy security and independence, reduce emissions of air pollutants, save water that would otherwise be used by thermal power generation, and provide cost-competitive electricity across the country."
Another subtle change was, "creating long-term, sustainable skilled jobs" to "creating long-term skilled jobs." Notice the difference?
As the Washington Post puts it:
"Together, the changes collectively downplay the climate benefits of each form of technology and distance the agency from the idea that they might be used to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, instead emphasizing their economic advantages. It's a move that's well in line with the Trump administration's generally dismissive attitude toward the issue of climate change."
"We are in a race against time to save our coast, and it is time we make bold decisions," Edwards said. "The Louisiana coast is in a state of crisis that demands immediate and urgent action to avert further damage to one of our most vital resources."
More than half of Louisiana's 4.65 million residents live on the coast. "Parts of our state remain unprotected from or vulnerable to future hurricane and flood events," Edwards emphasized, and estimated that 2,250 square miles of coastal Louisiana will be lost in the next 50 years unless immediate action is taken.
Edwards attributed the problem to factors including climate change, sea level rise, subsidence, hurricanes, storm surges, flooding, disconnecting the Mississippi River from coastal marshes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Louisiana is still reeling from last August's historic flooding, which killed 13 people and caused more than $8 billion in damage. The Shreveport Times reported in January that Edwards was vigorously seeking more federal flood recovery funding beyond the $1.6 billion, which was finally made available last week.
According to The Advocate, Edwards "is seeking $2.2 billion in additional federal flood aid, nearly half of which would go toward homeowner assistance programs."
Also on Wednesday, Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority approved the 2017 Coastal Master Plan and the 2018 Annual Plan, in which spending priorities for restoration and protection were identified.
America's Wetland Foundation praised Edwards' announcement and said it could expedite federal help needed to enact coastal restoration projects.
"This declaration of emergency could greatly speed up the process and eliminate delays in permitting for some of these crucial projects," said King Milling, the foundation's chairman. "We urge President Trump to act on this declaration now."
According to the state of emergency announcement:
"Louisiana and its citizens have suffered tremendously as a result of the catastrophic coastal land and wetlands loss, and the threat of continued land loss to Louisiana's working coast threatens the viability of residential, agricultural, energy, and industrial development, and directly affects valuable fish and wildlife production that is vital to the nation;
Louisiana continues to experience one of the fastest rates of coastal erosion in the world, and this complex and fragile ecosystem is disappearing at an alarming rate—more than 1,800 square miles of land between 1932 and 2010, including 300 square miles of marshland between 2004 and 2008 alone."
New Orleans Public Radio WWNO reported that Edwards has written letters to Trump and to Congress, and if Louisiana is to get more federal aid, it could take months.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has an urgent message for Americans, especially for some of our most powerful politicians.
Alongside the video post, Tyson wrote:
"Dear Facebook Universe, I offer this four-minute video on 'Science in America' containing what may be the most important words I have ever spoken. As always, but especially these days, keep looking up."
The video shows how the U.S. rose from—as Tyson calls it— a "backwoods country" to "one of the greatest nations the world has ever known" because of science.
"But in this, the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me that people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not," he laments.
"When you have an established scientific emergent truth it is true, whether or not you believe in it," he says. "And the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us."
The video then shows debates on heated scientific topics, including GMOs, climate change and vaccines, as well as a clip of Vice President Mike Pence, then a congressman, saying on the House floor, "Let us demand that educators around America teach evolution not as fact, but as theory."
Tyson says this shift in attitudes is a "recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy."
Watch the video here:
This Saturday's March for Science is inherently connected to the April 29 People's Climate March, climate scientists and environmentalists say: one march is about listening to science, the other is about acting on it.
The March for Science, taking place on Earth Day, will march in defense of truth and scientific fact. A week later, these values will manifest at the People's Climate March where movements for climate, jobs and justice will put forward a vision to build bold solutions that tackle climate change, create and retain fair jobs, and bring forth justice truly for all.
"The Science March is about respecting science, the People's Climate March is about acting on it," said Ploy Achakulwisut, PhD Candidate in Atmospheric Science at Harvard University.
"Science has helped us understand the climate crisis, now we need to demand political action to help solve it. The March for Science calls for science-based policymaking, and the People's Climate March puts this value into practice by opposing Trump's reckless anti-climate agenda, defending the integrity of climate science and democracy, and standing up for justice."
The March for Science and People's Climate March will bring the fight for truth and justice right to the doorstep of the Trump administration. The week of action, dubbed "From Truth to Justice: Earth Day to May Day 2017," will see more than 50 events, including: climate education opportunities and the launch of visionary legislation, youth speak-outs and convergences, direct actions and more.
A series of climate education videos have been developed for use during the "Truth to Justice" week of action. The videos feature 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, actor and activist Maggie Gyllenhaal, renowned climate scientist James Hansen, longtime head of the EPA Environmental Justice program Mustafa Ali, and top atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe.
Many of the organizers and participants of the March for Science have backgrounds in climate science, and many have been advocating for bold climate action well before the election of Donald Trump.
"The March for Science and the People's Climate March go hand-in-hand," said MIT and Harvard renewable energy modeler Dr. Geoffrey Supran.
"Because attacks on science don't just hurt scientists, they hurt scientists' ability to protect the people, and climate change epitomizes that. When politicians cater to fossil fuel interests by denying the basic realities of climate science and pursuing anti-science climate policy, they endanger the jobs, justice, and livelihoods of ordinary people everywhere. The People's Climate March is about scientists and citizens uniting to protect the people and places we love by demanding that evidence, not ideology, inform policy."
The United Kingdom's grid operator just announced an incredible prediction—April 21 is probably going to be the country's first coal-free day since the Industrial Revolution.
"Great Britain has never had a continuous 24 hour period without #coal. Today is looking like it could be the first," according to a tweet from the National Grid's Electricity National Control Centre.
The National Grid confirmed with the Mirror that Friday is on track to be "the first time the UK has been without electricity from coal since the world's first centralized coal fired generator opened at Holborn Viaduct in London in 1882."
"The first day without coal in Britain since the industrial revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition," Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian. "A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years' time our energy system will have radically transformed again."
"The direction of travel is that both in the UK and globally we are already moving towards a low carbon economy. It is a clear message to any new government that they should prioritize making the UK a world leader in clean, green, technology," Martin added.
Great Britain's use of
renewable energy has vastly expanded in recent years and the country is now a world leader in offshore wind. And last month, the nation's large expanse of solar fields and rooftop panels reached a milestone when the amount of electricity demanded by homes and businesses was lower in the afternoon than at night.
Solar power turned the country's grid demand "upside down," Duncan Burt, National Grid's head of real time operations, explained in a tweet at that time.
Retreat of the Columbia Glacier, Alaska, USA, by ~6.5 km between 2009 and 2015. Credit: James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey
The photos appeared in the new paper "Savor the Cryosphere," published in the peer-reviewed GSA Today, a publication of the Geological Society of America. The cryosphere is the Earth's frozen waters.
"We have unretouched photographic evidence of glaciers melting all around the globe," co-author Gregory Baker, adjunct professor of geology at the University of Kansas, said.
"That includes the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica—they're reduced in size. These aren't fancy computer models or satellite images where you'd have to make all kinds of corrections for the atmosphere. These are simply photos, some taken up to 100 years ago, and my co-authors went back and reacquired photos at many of these locations. So it's just straightforward proof of large-scale ice loss around the globe."
Baker's research career centers on geophysical imaging of Earth's subsurface and geoscience education.
Stein Glacier, Switzerland, retreat of ~550 m from 2006 to 2015. Credit: James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey
Photographer James Balog, who was featured in the Emmy Award winning climate change documentary, Chasing Ice, contributed photographs from the Extreme-Ice Survey.
Other co-authors of the paper include Richard Alley, an American geologist who was invited to testify about climate change by Vice President Al Gore; Patrick Burkhart of Slippery Rock University; Lonnie Thompson of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University; and Paul Baldauf of Nova Southeastern University also contributed to the paper.
The team hopes the paper will raise awareness about the world's melting glaciers.
"We have all heard of the impact of melting ice on sea level rise, but the public also need to be aware that places around the world depend on glaciers for their water and are going to come under increasing stress, and we already see how water shortages lead to all kinds of conflict," Baker said.
"The other critical point often overlooked is that when glaciers melt we're losing these scientific archive records of past climate change at specific locations around the Earth, as if someone came in and threw away all your family photos."
Solheimajokull, Iceland, retreat of ~625 m from 2007 to 2015. Credit: James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey
"Glacier ice contains fingerprint evidence of past climate and past biology, trapped within the ice," Baker continued.
“Analyzing ice cores is one of the best ways to analyze carbon dioxide in the past, and they contain pollen we can look at to see what kind of plant systems may have been around. All of this information has been captured in glaciers over hundreds of thousands of years, and sometimes longer—Greenland and Antarctica cover perhaps up to a million years. The more that glacial ice melts, the more we're erasing these historical archives that we may not have measured yet in some remote glaciers, or deep in ice caps, that can tell us the history of the Earth that will be gone forever."
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