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UN Secretary General António Guterres speaks on the first day of the UN Ocean Conference, June 27, 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal. Pedro Fiúza / NurPhoto via Getty Images

From sea level rise to ocean acidification to plastic pollution, our planet faces an “ocean emergency,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said on the first day of the UN Ocean Conference.

The conference, which is taking place in Lisbon, Portugal, from June 27 to July 1, is an international gathering co-hosted by the governments of Kenya and Portugal with a goal of developing ways to use science and innovation to protect the world’s oceans. And Guterres was clear that it comes at an urgent moment. 

From sea level rise to ocean acidification to plastic pollution, our planet faces an “ocean emergency,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said on the first day of the UN Ocean Conference.

The conference, which is taking place in Lisbon, Portugal, from June 27 to July 1, is an international gathering co-hosted by the governments of Kenya and Portugal with a goal of developing ways to use science and innovation to protect the world’s oceans. And Guterres was clear that it comes at an urgent moment. 

“Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted and today we face what I would call an ocean emergency,” he said, as The Guardian reported. “We must turn the tide.”

Guterres cited many of the challenges human activity has imposed on the ocean, including overfishing, increased flooding of low-lying islands and coastal cities, dead zones caused by nutrient pollution and the proliferation of ocean plastic

“Without drastic action, the plastic could outweigh all the fish in the ocean by 2050,” he said. 
He also criticized world leaders for failing to act to protect the ocean. Currently, there is no single set of laws governing the high seas, AP News pointed out. World leaders have been working on an agreement concerning Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, or a Treaty of the High Seas, for a decade now, but talks four months ago failed to reach consensus. 

“The world’s largest ecosystem… is still unprotected and is dying as we watch,” activist group Ocean Rebellion said, as AP News reported.

A total of 64 percent of the high-seas is not governed by any country, and only 1.2 percent of that is protected, according to The Guardian.

When asked by reporters why he thought an agreement had not yet been reached on an ocean treaty, Guterres blamed “egoism,” as Reuters reported. 

“Some people still think they are powerful enough to think international waters should be theirs,” he said. 

However, UN Special Envoy of the Ocean Peter Thomson told Reuters he thought a treaty would emerge this year. The next round of negotiations is scheduled for August in New York, according to AP News. However, the conference also presents an opportunity to make progress informally. It will conclude with a non-binding declaration on Friday. 

Officially, the purpose of the conference is to promote action in order to fulfill UN Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water, according to the conference website. The goal focuses on the sustainable use and management of the oceans and their resources. 

“To mobilize action, the Conference will seek to propel much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action,” the website reads. 

In his remarks, Guterres said that sustainable management of the oceans could produce six times more food and four times more renewable energy than the current state of affairs, according to The Guardian. He also endorsed a goal of mapping 80 percent of the seabed by 2030. 

The conference will involve around 7,000 people, according to Reuters. Among them are leaders and scientists from more than 120 countries, according to AP News. 

Some activists expressed skepticism about the usefulness of the conference. 

“Leaders in Lisbon will congratulate each other for how well they’re doing on marine protection, while the ocean crisis deepens,” Greenpeace’s Laura Meller told Reuters. “We don’t need another talking shop, with vague statements and voluntary commitments.”

However, Guterres also said that ordinary people not at the conference had a role to play in making sure an ocean treaty is finally passed. 

“We need to make people put pressure on those who decide,” Guterres said, as AP News reported. 

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Farmers harvest kale on an organic farm in Washington state. Thomas Barwick / DigitalVision / Getty Images

In farming, high crop yields are often associated with the use of human-made fertilizers. But what if these abundant results could instead be achieved by using farming practices that were more environmentally friendly?

An extensive new study of 30 farms in Africa and Europe has shown that the combination of small amounts of fertilizer with natural farming methods like mixing compost or manure with the soil, cultivating a wider variety of crops and cultivating plants like clover or beans that amplify soil’s fertility can result in high crop yields while maintaining the harmony of agricultural ecosystems, a press release from Rothamsted Research said.

In farming, high crop yields are often associated with the use of human-made fertilizers. But what if these abundant results could instead be achieved by using farming practices that were more environmentally friendly?

An extensive new study of 30 farms in Africa and Europe has shown that the combination of small amounts of fertilizer with natural farming methods like mixing compost or manure with the soil, cultivating a wider variety of crops and cultivating plants like clover or beans that amplify soil’s fertility can result in high crop yields while maintaining the harmony of agricultural ecosystems, a press release from Rothamsted Research said.

The study found that a significant amount of chemical fertilizers could be replaced by adopting these more natural techniques, which would have multiple benefits.

“Reducing reliance on chemical fertilisers would help to buffer farmers and consumers against economic shocks, such as the current spike in fertiliser costs and consequent increase in food prices,” said plant ecologist at Rothamsted Research in the UK Dr. Chloe MacLaren, who was the lead author of the paper, as The Guardian reported. 

The study, “Long-term evidence for ecological intensification as a pathway to sustainable agriculture,” was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

The farm experiments the researchers examined for the study had been going for more than nine years and 25,000 harvests and included 30 individual experiments on crops of oats, wheat, barley, maize, potatoes and sugar beet, the press release said. The research team analyzed how the variety of natural methods used interacted with various levels of plowing and nitrogen-rich fertilizers. Each analysis considered at least one of the trio of natural farming practices.

It was the first time a major study had explored the interaction of a variety of natural farm methods with fertilizer and land cultivation practices.

The study also found that, in general, the use of more natural farming methods in combination with large amounts of chemical fertilizer didn’t further increase crop yields. In fact, the most abundant yields in the experiment were achieved when some nitrogen was added to the “ecological intensification” practices.

Ecological intensification is when farmers actively support the environmentally friendly practices that benefit agriculture.

“Ecological intensification could help return agriculture into a ‘safe operating space’ for humanity,” MacLaren said in the press release. “Our results demonstrate that it could play an important role in the development of future sustainable farming systems.”

MacLaren went on to say that the worldwide playing field of nitrogen fertilizer distribution could also be leveled with the increased use of these natural practices.

“Widespread uptake of these practices could also contribute to a more equitable global distribution of fertiliser. Currently, average nitrogen fertiliser rates in Africa are a small fraction of those in Europe, with smallholders in particular using much less than their fair share. If fertiliser use is reduced where it is currently high, then fertiliser use could be increased where it is currently low — addressing food security issues without exceeding planetary boundaries,” said MacLaren in the press release from Rothamsted Research.

In the last 60 years, the excessive use of human-produced fertilizer has contributed to increased carbon emissions, water pollution and biodiversity loss.

MacLaren said that a combination of many factors should be looked at when evaluating the fostering of these environmentally friendly practices in the future.

“Future assessments of ecological intensification should include a wider analysis of all social, economic and environmental factors, such as nutritional value or farm profitability. There are undoubtedly benefits beyond just yield, such as reducing costs, reducing pollution, or providing other valuable farm products,” MacLaren said, according to the press release. “Conversely, socioeconomic factors can also limit the adoption of such practices by farmers. These factors can include a lack of markets for these diverse products and limited access to necessary resources including land, seed, and manure. Upscaling these practices will require policymakers and society to create a more conducive socioeconomic context.”

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A girl cooks on a natural gas stove. Jason Todd / Photodisc / Getty Images

A new study from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that the natural gas piped into homes for cooking and heating actually contains toxic volatile organic compounds, including chemicals linked to cancer.

Research from the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard (C-CHANGE) in collaboration with PSE Healthy Energy, Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER), Gas Safety Inc., Boston University and Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), collected more than 200 unburned natural gas samples from 69 different kitchen stoves and building pipelines around Greater Boston from December 2019 to May 2021.

A new study from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that the natural gas piped into homes for cooking and heating actually contains toxic volatile organic compounds, including chemicals linked to cancer.

Research from the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard (C-CHANGE) in collaboration with PSE Healthy Energy, Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER), Gas Safety Inc., Boston University and Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), collected more than 200 unburned natural gas samples from 69 different kitchen stoves and building pipelines around Greater Boston from December 2019 to May 2021.

In the samples, the team found 296 chemical compounds, and 21 of these compounds are federally considered to be hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and hexane. While the concentration of chemicals varied by location and time of year, the study generally found the highest concentrations of pollutants in the winter.

“It is well-established that natural gas is a major source of methane that’s driving climate change,” Drew Michanowicz, visiting scientist at Harvard Chan C-CHANGE and senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy, said in a statement. “But most people haven’t really considered that our homes are where the pipeline ends and that when natural gas leaks it can contain health-damaging air pollutants in addition to climate pollutants.”

The study, recently published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, also measured odorants in consumer-grade natural gas. These odorants give gas its well-known smell that alerts people to a leak. But the researchers found that with gas leaks 10 times higher than naturally occurring levels, there may not be enough odorant for people to detect the leak. These leaks can make both indoor and outdoor air contaminated with hazardous chemicals.

“This study shows that gas appliances like stoves and ovens can be a source of hazardous chemicals in our homes even when we’re not using them. These same chemicals are also likely to be present in leaking gas distribution systems in cities and up the supply chain,” said Jonathan Buonocore, co-author and research scientist at Harvard Chan C-CHANGE. “Policymakers and utilities can better educate consumers about how natural gas is distributed to homes and the potential health risks of leaking gas appliances and leaking gas pipes under streets, and make alternatives more accessible.”

More and more cities are already banning natural gas hookups in homes, and the researchers shared some actions for individuals and lawmakers to take to further reduce exposure to harmful pollutants coming from natural gas pipelines.

Among the policy recommendations, the team noted that both gas pipeline companies and utility companies need to measure, report and monitor natural gas composition, including odorant content. According to the scientists, there should also be more stringent performance standards for gas stoves and range hoods.

As for individual actions, the team recommends hiring a specialist to perform an in-home leak inspection and improving ventilation when cooking.

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