We’re all familiar with rainbows, tornados, and shooting stars. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to see Aurora Borealis, or even bioluminescent waves rolling in from the ocean. Our planet exhibits such awe-inspiring natural phenomena wherever we look: at its highest peaks, deepest ice formations, or right in our own backyards.
Here are a few amazing environmental spectacles that you probably haven’t heard of.
A Brocken spectre in the Central Balkan National Park, Bulgaria. Maya Karkalicheva / Moment / Getty Images
In German folklore, a man walked in the misty mountains, the sun behind him and clouds of fog below, looking down on the haze, he saw a giant, shadowy figure, ringed by a rainbow halo that inspired such terror that he jumped off the mountain to his death.
The Brocken spectre – also called the Brocken bow, mountain spectre, or a mountain glory – luckily presents no real danger to unsuspecting hikers, but has inspired awe in outdoor enthusiasts and artists alike; Carl Jung, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Dickens have all written about this mountain phenomenon. Named after Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz Mountains in Northern Germany where it was first documented, the Brocken spectre appears when the sun is low behind someone – often mountain climbers – who have climbed high enough to look down upon the clouds or mist. The low sun projects their human shadow onto the fog, encircled by a rainbow ring created from the refraction of light within the water droplets.
The spectre is so breathtaking in part due to the seemingly massive size of the human shadow: an illusion borne of the distance it lies from the person, and the way it falls on water droplets of various depths. All reference points are also obscured by the mist, which makes it hard to judge the proportions and size of the shadow.
Airline passengers might also see the Brocken spectre from their windows: the shadow of the plane projected onto the clouds and encircled by a rainbow halo.
A longer exposure of this eruption was created by combining 3 sequential short exposures taken one after the other. The result is as if a longer exposure had been done, resulting in a spectacular eruption photo emphasizing the glowing lava and volcanic lightning. Mike Lyvers / Getty Images
Flowing lava and billowing ash are expected traits of volcanoes, but what about lightning?
These bolts of electricity occur during the early stages of explosive volcanic eruptions where ash, gases, rock, and lava are expelled very quickly. When lava – molten rock developed in the Earth’s mantle or crust – erupts on the surface, ash and soot often join, creating the fodder for volcanic lightning displays.
Lightning is formed in two different places within the volcano: in the clouds of ash close to the ground, and in the high plumes of smoke. Ground-level lightning occurs when the billions of particles of ash and smoke rub together, creating enough friction to transform electrons in the atmosphere into static electricity. The higher, stratospheric lightning is generated similarly to regular lightning; as ash and water vapor rise in plumes out of the volcano, ice begins to form. Like typical lightning, where waves of warm and cold air produce electric charges, so do the collision of ice crystals in these ash plumes.
Mt. Vusuvius’ famous eruption 2,000 years ago is the first recorded instance of volcanic lightning, and was seen when the volcano erupted again in 1944. Some of the best observations of volcanic lightning by scientists occurred in 1980 when Washington State’s Mount St. Helen erupted continuously over several months. It’s also been viewed at Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, Sakurajima in Japan, Mount Augustine in Alaska, Taal in the Phillipines, and many other volcanoes around the globe.
Ignacio Palacios / Stone / Getty Images
You don’t need to visit a volcano or climb a mountain to witness breathtaking natural phenomena. Sun halos are a common sight, and can be viewed from your own backyard.
These ghostly white or pale rainbow halos around the sun are created by the interaction of light and ice crystals in the atmosphere. When light from the sun or moon passes through the hexagonal ice crystals in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds, they act as a prism, breaking visible light into its individual component colors. This refraction makes the colors visible to the human eye.
No two halos are alike. A neighbor looking at the same halo from a different vantage point – therefore seeing the crystals from a different angle – might observe entirely different colors. But, no matter how beautiful the halo, make sure not to look at the sun directly.
Cirrus clouds are very high – typically 20,000 feet or more – and usually come before a storm, so sun halos are often a sign that bad weather is approaching, such as rain or snow.
Derek Bruff / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
Imagine letting thick, viscous slime drip slowly through a screen, and you’ll have a decent picture of what mammatus clouds look like in the sky.
These bulging, pouch-like protrusions reach downwards from the underside of clouds, and can extend for hundreds of miles. The word “mammatus” comes from the Latin mamma, meaning “breast” or “udder,” which the clouds certainly resemble.
Unlike normal clouds, mammatus are formed by sinking air rather than rising, and are made primarily of ice. They usually form alongside cumulonimbus clouds, with their unstable masses of air. Turbulence within cumulonimbus creates the bulges on the underside of the anvil – the flattened part of cloud – as it descends.
Mammatus are generally associated with bad weather, like hail, rain, or snow; they’re more rarely seen on clouds other than cumulonimbus that produce no rain, or on clouds of volcanic ash.
Large desert rose stone formation and rose flowers in the flower bed next to the road in the Tunisian desert. Anna Chaplygina / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Flowers can grow in the desert, but they’re not always plants; some are made of sand.
Desert roses form over tens of thousands of years (which is very short in the geological world), resulting in an aggregate of disc-shaped gypsum or baryte crystals that include sand grains. The crystals are flat and fan out like petals, giving them a flower-like appearance.
The environmental conditions must be just right for desert roses to grow. Gypsum is an “evaporite,” meaning it forms during the evaporation of water; inflowing water containing calcium sulfate is balanced with the water flowing out by evaporation, leaving these floral formations behind. The “petals” even take on a rusty color if iron oxides are present.
The roses are usually only a few inches wide, but can grow to be three feet tall and over 1,000 pounds. They’re found in desert areas around the world, including many countries in and around Northern Africa, Germany, Spain, Australia, and Mexico, among others. In the U.S., they can be found in Arizona, Texas, and Oklahoma.
In 2014, the first of about 20 confirmed gas emission craters was discovered accidentally by a helicopter flying overhead. The craters are the result of huge gas explosions in the permafrost – a layer of perpetually-frozen ground – in West Siberia, concentrated on the Yamal and Gydan Peninsulas. One such crater is 100 feet deep.
The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on Earth, and scientists have long warned about the effects of climate change on permafrost. Temperatures in the region were nearly 11ºF higher than usual in 2020, and many of these craters were found after such unusually warm summers, suggesting that heat could have led (at least partially) to the explosions
As temperatures rise, permafrost in Arctic regions melts, deforming the Earth’s surface and releasing methane and other greenhouse gases – created from the decomposition of organic matter once frozen in the ice – into the atmosphere. These methane gases also build up beneath the ground, creating pressure and forming hills in the 3-5 years before the explosion. The permafrost’s “caps” become weaker as they thaw, and eventually reach a tipping point when the gas breaks through.
These explosions are expected to continue as permafrost keeps thawing. Geologists are studying the phenomenon and creating models to predict explosions, especially those that might occur near critical infrastructure and populated areas; one has already occurred close to a major pipeline, and another near the Obskaya-Bovanenkovo railway.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Along with her most recent position at Hunger Free America, she has interned with the Sierra Club in Washington, DC., Saratoga Living Magazine, and Philadelphia's NPR Member Station, WHYY.
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Plastic pollution keeps accumulating in the ocean. lindsay_imagery / E+ / Getty Images
The United States is the world’s leader in the generation of plastic waste, nearly all from fossil fuels, and must develop a plan to curb its destructive impacts on the health of oceans and marine wildlife, concludes a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The first recommendation of the committee of academic experts who wrote the report is that the U.S. stop producing so much plastic, especially non-reusable materials or plastics that are not “practically recyclable,” Inside Climate News reported. The report also proposed a national cap on the production of virgin plastics.
“The developing plastic waste crisis has been building for decades,” the study said, as reported by The Washington Post. “The success of the 20th century miracle invention of plastics has also produced a global scale deluge of plastic waste seemingly everywhere we look.”
“[T]he committee was able to conclude that while only 4.3 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, the nation was the top generator of plastic waste, producing 42 million metric tons in 2016, with per person plastic waste generation at 287 pounds,” reported James Bruggers of Inside Climate News.
“The fundamental problem here is that plastics are accumulating in the natural environment, including in the ocean,” said Margaret Spring, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s chief conservation officer and chair of the report committee, said in a telephone interview, Inside Climate News reported. Plastics are “pervasive and persistent environmental contaminants,” Spring said, and the problem is “going to continue unless we change — we have to change. And that’s just the truth.”
“A lot of U.S. focus to date has been on the cleaning it up part. There needs to be more attention to the creation of plastic,” Spring said, as reported by The Washington Post.
“We suggest that one way to reduce plastic waste would be to make less plastic,” oceanographer and report co-author Kara Lavender Law said, as reported by The Associated Press. “Recycling cannot manage the vast majority of the plastic waste that we generate.”
“The panel provided a menu of potential ways to fix the plastics problem, starting with ‘national goals and strategies to cap or reduce virgin plastic production,” as Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press reported.
“Virgin plastic is plastic that starts from feedstock that hasn’t been used — namely, non-recycled material. The problem, the report said, is that ‘virgin plastic prices are artificially low due to fossil fuel subsidies, therefore virgin plastics are more profitable to produce’ — and U.S. manufacturing of them continues to increase,” Borenstein reported.
In Congress’ recently passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, there was division concerning plastics reform, with industry-friendly lawmakers supporting “advanced recycling,” as Inside Climate News reported.
“Environmental advocates find the industry’s touting of ‘advanced recycling’ a form of greenwashing — making an official stance seem more environmentally friendly than it actually is — and say it is continuing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels,” reported James Bruggers of Inside Climate News.
“When you reduce plastics production, there are less air toxins and greenhouse gases,” which are often a problem in or near low income communities or communities of color, said former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and president of environmental group Beyond Plastic, Judith Enck, as reported by Inside Climate News. Enck added that low recycling rates add to landfills and incinerators and that these are likely to be located in these communities.
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Rugs add a cozy aesthetic to the home, but they can also contribute to toxin exposure if you’re not careful when shopping around. How do you find the best sustainable rugs in a world where almost everything is mass produced with questionable chemicals involved?
There is a lot to consider in the search for a nontoxic rug you hope was ethically made. That’s especially true in a time where we are reevaluating our environmental impact every day. We rounded up four of the best sustainable rugs for any area of your home, from your living room to your outdoor space. Read on to learn more.
Best Sustainable Rugs: Our Recommendations
- Best Overall: Safavieh Handmade Flatweave Jute Area Rug
- Best Cotton Rug: Lorena Canals Washable Rug
- Best Runner: Chardin Home Runner Rug
- Best Outdoor Rug: Fab Habitat Recycled Plastic Outdoor Rug
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. Learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn a commission.
Why Switch to a Sustainable, Nontoxic Rug?
Many people want to secure an area rug in the most affordable, fastest and easiest way. However, that often leaves your choices limited to rugs that are most likely not sustainably or ethically made.
Most ordinary new rugs and carpets contain harmful chemicals called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. They can off-gas for up to five years, emitting VOCs in your home and causing short- and long-term health issues including headaches, dizziness, liver and kidney damage, and even cancer in animals and humans. An eco-friendly rug choice avoids these adverse health effects.
You may also wonder why you need a special cleaner filled with questionable chemicals for a rug. In some ways, you end up spending more money over time on a synthetic rug that ends up in the landfill.
By choosing home decor products made from sustainable materials, you can make a positive impact and promote a kinder and healthier planet.
Full Reviews of Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Safavieh Handmade Flatweave Jute Area Rug
Safavieh is a trusted name in natural rug making that has been around for over 100 years. Its handmade flatweave jute rug collection contains size and shape options ranging from 3-by-5-foot area rugs to 5-by-6-foot ovals to 9-by-12-foot runners. The rug is handwoven, and the beige color and traditional weave of sustainably-harvested sisal and seagrass make it a classic option for any space.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with over 600 Amazon ratings
Standout Review: “These rugs are absolutely awesome… They're both easy on the eyes and the feet. We have a round one in the entryway and an oval one at the bottom of the stairs… They are easy to vacuum and sweep, combining pleasing aesthetics with functionality and durability.” — Alison via Amazon
Why Buy: Safavieh is known for its high-quality yet affordable products. The flatweave jute rug is beautifully handwoven and provides a classic, minimalist look to any area of the home.
Best Cotton Rug: Lorena Canals Washable Rug
Lorena Canals’ washable cotton rugs are made with a base of 97% recycled cotton and use only natural dyes in the coloring process. They’re handcrafted by artisans in India and can give a warm yet modern touch to your home. This particular rug measures just over 5.5 by 8 feet, but there are other size options available.
The company’s RugCycled program utilizes textile leftovers from the production of its cotton and wool rugs, helping Lorena Canals’ overall process become less wasteful. Plus, every purchase helps a child in North India attend school.
Customer Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars with under 10 Amazon ratings
Standout Review: “Taking 1 star away because by no means it can be washed in a regular washer machine… Now do I like this rug? I LOVE IT! It is worth the trip to the laundromat.” — Ann via Amazon
Why Buy: If you’re looking for something you can throw in the wash after a spill or accident, this is one of the best sustainable rugs to consider.
Best Runner: Chardin Home Runner Rug
Chardin Home collects cotton rags from different factories and upcycles them into multicolor rugs. No two rugs are exactly the same, though the company makes every effort to best match them if you buy more than one of the same kind. The most popular size is this 2-by-7-foot, but the rug options span from 2-by-5 feet to up to 8-by-10 feet. The rugs are also reversible and long-lasting.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with almost 1,500 Amazon ratings
Standout Review: “With this rug, suddenly everything goes together beautifully! … I have an 8-year-old, two dogs (5 pounds and 40 pounds), and a cat. I’ve had this rug for a bit, and it has held up so well.” — Lauren W. via Amazon
Why Buy: This affordable, colorful runner is reversible and withstands your pets while being healthy for them. It’s one of the best sustainable rugs for narrow spaces.
Best Outdoor Rug: Fab Habitat Recycled Plastic Outdoor Rug
Made from recycled plastic straws, this rug by Fab Habitat is perfect for outdoor spaces. Some people also use these indoors (I personally use an outdoor rug under my bed). The rug is fade-resistant and stain-deterrent. The material also means the rug will never be threatened by moisture.
This 5-by-8-foot rug comes in several eclectic and oceanically-colorful designs from jodhpur blue to monochromatic teal and a more practical blue. At an affordable price, it helps save both the planet and your purse.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with over 1,100 Amazon ratings
Standout Review: “This rug lives up to its reputation. We just moved to Florida, and it rains almost daily since we got here. This rug doesn’t hold water, and it feels smooth under your feet.” — Katelyn via Amazon
Why Buy: The U.S. city-by-city ban on plastic straws started around 2018, but they still overtake landfills and take ages to decompose. A recycled plastic straw rug helps provide one solution to this while being stylish, stain-deterrent, fade-resistant and easy to clean. Just shake it out and hose it down.
How to Choose the Best Sustainable Rug
There are a few factors to consider when purchasing the best sustainable rug for your home:
- Natural fibers: What material is the rug made out of? When looking for nontoxic rugs, choose natural fibers like organic cotton, jute, wool and sisal. Agave sisalana is the botanical name for sisal, which is native to southern Mexico. Many fruit plants also make cozy natural textile materials in place of genetically modified cotton.
- Material harvesting and manufacturing: Was the material ethically harvested? Was the rug sustainably made? Is it an ethically made rug? Was the rug treated with any chemicals?
- Cost: A handmade rug understandably costs more than a mass-produced one. However, you should also shop around and stay within budget.
- Style: Many natural fiber and sustainable rugs are varied and unique in design. Have a look in mind when shopping for an organic rug to ensure you will be happy with the aesthetic.
Note that some natural fibers, like jute, can shed and may tend to unravel lightly in some areas over time. That’s the nature of the material.
Frequently Asked Questions: Best Nontoxic Rugs
How do you know if a rug is toxic?
A rug’s surface can consist of natural fibers. However, many don’t consider that the rug's backing and underlay padding could contain toxic materials. All parts of the rug should be produced with natural materials. Unfortunately, you may also find hidden toxins in the form of formaldehyde, stain deterrent treatments and flame retardants on the surface of the rug.
Are jute rugs environmentally friendly?
Yes, jute rugs can be very environmentally friendly. Jute is a sturdy natural fiber that many consider to be one of the most eco-conscious materials out there. Jute comes from a tropical plant and is both recyclable and biodegradable. Jute fibers are spun into durable threads to create such products as twine, mats and rugs.
Are handwoven rugs ethical and sustainable?
It is ethical to purchase from a craftsperson who used their skills and traditional practices to thoughtfully make a beautiful and sustainable rug. However, many products that are labeled “sustainable” can still be produced unethically and illegally via child labor and human rights violations. A good resource to check is Amnesty.org, which recently discovered human rights violations by larger U.S. companies in the production of “sustainable” palm oil.
Research each product and manufacturer across various platforms, always checking reviews and non-biased news sources. Where possible, purchase ethical rugs from craftspeople directly. Local maker collectives and arts organizations are great places to start.
How do you clean a natural fiber rug?
Drenching a natural fiber rug with wet shampoo or steam can cause damage and discoloration. Spot-clean natural fiber rugs with a mild detergent, or use club soda for acidic stains.
Routinely sweep or vacuum your rugs lightly, using a rug beater as appropriate. You can also buy a dry cleaning powder that is compatible with natural fiber rugs. Simply sprinkle this powder on the rug and vacuum it up. Take more heavily soiled rugs to a green dry cleaner if care instructions allow.
With fair labor practices and ethical standards in place, a rug made of natural fibers is a much more eco-friendly option than a rug made with toxic chemicals. Be wary of companies that greenwash their marketing with sustainability claims they fail to deliver on.
Where possible, consider handcrafted rugs when shopping for a rug for your home. It’s much easier to verify sustainability, and you support a talented individual and the local economy with your purchase.
In the past year, high fashion has turned to a material called mycelium, which can be grown from fungi in weeks but has the look and feel of calfskin. Experts think that working with mushrooms could give designers a more sustainable relationship with waste.
“I am excited to support the fashion world in its efforts to become more sustainable,” biologist Merlin Sheldrake, who wrote Entangled Lives: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures, told The Guardian ahead of the Business of Fashion Voices conference Thursday. “There is so much potential in fungi to overcome some of the problems we face.”
Mycelium is another word for the threads that make up the vegetable part of mushroom-producing organisms, according to designboom. However, biomaterials company MycoWorks has developed and patented a material called fine mycelium.
“Fine Mycelium engineers mycelium cells as they grow to create three dimensional structures that are densely entwined and inherently strong,” the company website explains. “Fine Mycelium is a patented process to grow materials with superior strength, durability and performance.”
In March, the material entered the high fashion world for the first time as a Hermès Victoria bag.
“MycoWorks’ vision and values echo those of Hermès,” Hermès artistic director Pierre-alexis dumas told designboom at the time. “A strong fascination with natural raw material and its transformation, a quest for excellence, with the aim of ensuring that objects are put to their best use and that their longevity is maximized.”
MycoWorks: The Making of Reishi™️ Fine Mycelium™️ www.youtube.com
Another company called Bolt Threads is also using mushroom-based leather to work with Stella McCartney and with Adidas on a handbag , according to The Guardian.
The rise of the new material comes as there is growing awareness of the environmental harms caused by animal agriculture. The livestock sector is responsible for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and a recent report found that major fashion brands including Coach, Prada and Adidas are sourcing their leather from tanneries and manufacturers linked to Amazon deforestation.
The rise of alternative materials reflects a real desire from consumers to buy more sustainable and ethical products, sustainability blogger Sara Anne Leeds told Input.
“It’s a company and it exists for profit,” she told Input of Hermès’s foray into vegan leathers. “If its supply chain had been operating fine with real leather, the only reason it would change its leather is because consumers were demanding sustainable alternatives.”
This movement towards mushroom-based leather is so far starting with high fashion.
“We are working with luxury fashion first because they are ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability,” MycoWorks CEO Dr. Matt Scullin told The Guardian. “These are brands which are in a position to think big and to think long term.”
However, he said partnerships with more affordable brands are “on the radar.”
If that happens, though, there is a risk the sustainability factor could decrease. While plant-or-fungi-based materials are preferable to animal or plastic-based leather options, they still encourage the production and consumption of a steady supply of new goods, Leeds pointed out.
“If consumers spend $4,000 on a Gucci bag, they’ll keep it around,” she told Input. “But with a recycled label, consumers may think they don’t have to keep it for long, thinking the product will have a low impact [on the environment] once put in a landfill.”
She said the most sustainable leather option was to buy real leather second hand.
Sheldrake, however, thought the use of mushroom materials themselves could teach designers and consumers a new relationship with waste.
“If fungi didn’t do what they do, our planet would be piled metres high in the bodies of animals and plants,” he told The Guardian. “We have been trained as consumers to think in terms of a straight line whereby we buy something, use it and throw it away. Fungi can inform thinking about fashion on lots of levels. This is about material innovation, but it’s also about the culture of making endless new things, and what we can learn from thinking in terms of nature and of cycles instead.”
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Can solar panels be recycled?
Despite challenges to growth from the pandemic, the U.S. solar energy market set another record with 19.2 GW of solar installed in 2020. That’s well over 50 million solar panels. Over the next 10 years, the Solar Energy Industries Association projects that nearly 350 GW will be installed, more than 18 times the amount of solar installed in 2020. That means more than 1 billion solar panels will be actively collecting solar energy throughout the U.S. alone over the next decade.
This pace of growth is tremendous — and great news for the environment. However, we at EcoWatch won’t deny that solar panels do have an impact (albeit a nominal one when compared to that of oil drilling, fracking or coal mining). One of the most common challenges surrounding solar energy is the amount of waste that these panels will produce after their 25-year lifespan.
In order to avoid an onslaught of e-waste accompanying our rapid solar development, scientists are developing ways to recycle solar panels, minimizing their environmental impact. Entrepreneurs and economists alike are also eyeing the huge financial value that a practical recycling method would offer.
So, can solar panels be recycled? The short answer is yes, but the process needs refining. Here’s what we know.
Why Recycle Solar Panels?
Recycling solar panels offers much more than a minimized environmental impact. Here are a few other reasons recycling solar panels is so important:
Conserving Finite Materials
A number of the materials within a solar panel are non-renewable resources; copper, silicon, gallium and indium may be abundant, but they’re still finite. The solar boom has already placed a huge strain on efforts to acquire these materials, and we’re readily seeing forecasts of severe copper shortages over the next decade.
Recapturing these materials from solar panels presents an opportunity to ease supply chain issues and lower the need for new materials, which in the long run will only lower the cost of solar further.
An Emerging Market
Solar panel recycling offers huge potential for emerging businesses — forecasts show the solar panel recycling market has the potential to grow by $238.30 million from 2020 to 2024, and the market’s growth momentum will accelerate during the forecast period and thereafter.
How to Recycle Solar Panels
When talking about how to deal with solar panel waste and sustainable end-of-life processes, it helps to understand the different physical elements of solar photovoltaic panels. Most solar panels are made with the following basic components:
- Metal frame (usually an aluminum frame)
- Glass or plexiglass (usually 75% of the panel)
- Crystalline silicon solar cells
- Wiring (usually copper wiring)
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be examining monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon PV panels, which are by far the most common types of solar panels.
Though aluminum, glass and copper are all recyclable materials, recycling a solar panel isn’t as simple as dropping it off at your local recycling plant. The materials within the panels must be separated and recycled separately, which can be a complex process. Solar panels are also layered with polymer sealing, which can contain chemicals like ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), complicating the process of recycling glass. If the encapsulant can be removed from the glass, the glass can be recycled.
But what about recycling the silicon solar cells? Though it’s possible, it’s a little more complicated than recycling basic metals and glass.
Silicon solar cells are typically derived from quartz, a mineral made from the two most abundant elements on earth: oxygen and silicon. This quartz must be purified, a process that varies by manufacturer, in order to end up with silicon crystals pure enough for modern solar cells. However, similar to common plastic, pure silicon degrades slightly when recycled. This means that its quality will suffer with each subsequent use of the material.
So, where does this leave us?
As it stands today, there are two common methods for recycling solar panels: mechanical and chemical recycling.
Mechanically Recycling Solar Panels
The more simple form of recycling solar panels, mechanical recycling involves dismantling the solar panel and separately recycling its parts: glass, metal, copper wiring and silicon solar modules.
In recycling facilities, these various materials are crushed into small pieces and broken down into a material similar in consistency to sand. From there, the material is sent through a magnetic separation process that removes and isolates the metals within. These valuable materials can be reused to make glass, roadways, insulation and more.
The most advanced forms of mechanical recycling can recover 99% of raw materials at a pace of one solar panel per 40 seconds. Methods currently in use, such as First Solar’s recycling process, are capable of reusing up to 90% of the semiconductor material and 90% of the glass in its modules. These facilities are still limited, however, and most solar customers don’t have access to them at this point.
Chemically Recycling Solar Panels
Chemical (or thermal) recycling uses chemical treatments and heat to delaminate a solar panel, separate its chemical components and recapture the pure silicon within it. Research in this arena shows promising results, yet efficiency on a large scale still lacks. Additionally, the production and necessary treatment of potentially harmful gases associated with this recycling process still present challenges to its commercial viability.
Solar Panel Reuse & Refurbishment
We usually cite the lifetime of solar panels at 25 years, as most warranties only cover up to that mark. However, the vast majority of solar panels can be used longer than 25 years, though their efficiency suffers over time. As a result, most of the e-waste associated with solar panels comes from old panels that still produce energy, just at a lower level.
This leads to another question: Can solar panels be reused or refurbished? Certainly, this method is the most economical due to how little processing would be required relative to mechanical, chemical and thermal recycling methods.
Not every solar installation will require the best solar panels on the market, so reused, low-efficiency panels do offer solutions for small-scale solar needs, like off-grid systems, solar chargers, lights for street signs and other applications that don’t necessarily require new panels.
But what about the refurbishment of defective or broken panels? Companies like Rinovasol specialize in this type of solar panel refurbishment, extending life cycles through a process of defect analysis, refinishing and recoating with a polymer of their own development. Rinovasol’s process is garnering international attention, and it is shown to extend solar panel lifetimes by about 10 years.
Companies That Will Help You Recycle Your Panels
Though promising methods of solar recycling, refurbishment and re-use are in development, they still exist on a very small scale in the U.S. However, there are companies taking the first steps into this new area of the solar industry and may offer a convenient way for you to sustainably dispose of your solar panels.
With facilities in the U.S., Germany and Malaysia, First Solar’s recycling process achieves high recovery rates (around 90%) and offers a convenient, effective disposal method for your solar PV modules.
We Recycle Solar
We Recycle Solar provides comprehensive solutions for manufacturers, installers and solar contractors needing large-scale solar panel disposal and PV recycling. The company’s approach allows home and business owners to cash in on any residual value of damaged panels while complying with regulations regarding panel removal.
RecyclePV offers a simple process for removing and disposing of unwanted solar panels. Achieving a recovery rate of 90%, RecyclePV shows a great deal of promise for solar recycling. If it can ramp up its scale in the U.S. solar market, RecyclePV may be a leading solution to solar waste management problems.
The Future of Solar Recycling: A Closed Loop?
Have you ever heard the term “circular economy?” Well, solar panel recycling offers the perfect example to demonstrate its feasibility and benefits.
A circular economy is a system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products lose as little value as possible. Though still in the early stages, top solar companies like SunPower are leading the charge toward a circular solar economy, designing solar panels that can be perpetually recycled. This would close the loop on the materials involved in the manufacturing process, lowering the costs and impact of solar power systems.
It should be noted that SunPower manufactures the most efficient solar panels on the market, demonstrating that sustainability (when baked into the process) has little to no effect on the price or quality of solar products.
SunPower, First Solar and other leading companies show us that closing the loop on the solar economy is possible (dare I say practical, too?). So what’s stopping the rest of the nation’s top solar companies from doing the same?
Sadly, the U.S. still lags far behind in its clean energy policies. The federal government has zero regulations in place requiring solar manufacturers to design closed-loop products, has zero laws barring the disposal of solar panels in landfills and offers zero support for solar recycling programs, despite its ambitious goals for solar development nationwide.
The government can’t be the sole driver of change, however. With any luck, our nation’s solar manufacturers will follow SunPower’s lead and realize the benefits of developing technologies that lessen solar’s growing impact.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, or the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” stretches for more than 610,000 square miles between California and Hawai’i. The gyre hosts around 79,000 metric tons of microplastics, nets, buoys and bottles. And, in a surprising turn, coastal life.
“Floating plastic debris from pollution now supports a novel sea surface community composed of coastal and oceanic species at sea that might portend significant ecological shifts in the marine environment,” the study authors wrote.
Coastal species hitching rides across the open ocean is nothing new. This is, after all, how many plants and animals reach islands in the first place. However, in the past these animals could only travel on biodegradable rafts made from natural materials like trees and seaweed. That meant that coastal species could move from land mass to land mass, but not find a permanent home on the waves.
Coastal podded hydroid Aglaophenia pluma, open-ocean Planes crab and open-ocean Lepas gooseneck barnacles colonizing a piece of floating debris. Smithsonian Institution
That changed with the emergence of plastic pollution. There are currently 150 million metric tons of ocean plastic, and eight million metric more tons join them every year. The understanding of how this might provide new habitats for life emerged following the 2011 tsunami in Japan, which dumped about five million tons of debris into the ocean. Researchers discovered coastal species thriving on that debris when it washed up on the North American Pacific coast and the Hawaiian Islands. These species didn’t just survive for years while travelling more than 6,000 kilometers (approximately 3,728 miles), they also grew and reproduced in transit.
“This discovery demonstrated that anthropogenic debris, which was largely composed of floating plastics, provided long-lived, habitable rafts and exceeded our expectations of coastal species survival at sea,” the study authors wrote.
To investigate this further, Linsey E. Haram and Gregory M. Ruiz from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center teamed up with University of Hawai‘i at Manoa oceanographers Jan Hafner and Nikolai Maximenko and plastic-collection nonprofit the Ocean Voyages Institute.
First, Hafner and Maximenko created a model that predicted where plastic was most likely to turn up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Then, the Ocean Voyages Institute used that information to collect a record 103 tons of plastic and other debris from the garbage patch. They sent the debris to Haram in her lab, where she analyzed them and found several coastal species.
The permanent presence of coastal species in the open ocean is a big deal.
“The open ocean has not been habitable for coastal organisms until now,” Ruiz said in a press release emailed to EcoWatch.
The researchers called the new communities of life they discovered on the garbage patch neopelagic communities (neo for new and pelagic for open ocean). And they still have many questions about what this means for ocean life. For one thing, there are already ecosystems that live in the open ocean, which the coastal arrivers could potentially disrupt.
“Coastal species are directly competing with these oceanic rafters,” Haram said in the press release. “They’re competing for space. They’re competing for resources. And those interactions are very poorly understood.”
Further, the new species could travel on the plastic to other coasts, including vulnerable islands and protected areas, once again potentially competing with the species already there.
The researchers do not know how widespread these communities really are and whether they have found a home in the other four garbage gyres. But they do represent a new way that marine plastic pollution impacts marine life.
“The issues of plastic go beyond just ingestion and entanglement,” Haram said in the press release. “It’s creating opportunities for coastal species’ biogeography to greatly expand beyond what we previously thought was possible.”
- Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Now Twice the Size of Texas ... ›
- Ocean Plastic: What You Need to Know - EcoWatch ›
- What Will It Take to Clean Up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch ... ›
- Whales and Dolphins Found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for ... ›
According to the study, predicted costs for renewables have likely been overestimated, as evidenced by the true costs of these energies, such as solar power, falling short of early pricing model predictions again and again.
The World Economic Forum explains that renewable price forecasts didn’t account for infrastructure cost improvements. For example, early pricing models estimated that solar power prices would fall about 6% per year from 2010 to 2020. In reality, costs dropped 15% each year.
This is important, because the initial investments of renewable energies are often a sticking point for making the switch from fossil fuels. But as the new report shows, renewable energy prices aren’t as high as anticipated. As the technology improves and scales up, the prices will continue to drop, too.
From 2010 to 2019, solar electricity prices decreased from $378 per MWh to $68 per MWh. In the same time frame, onshore wind costs decreased by 40%, and offshore wind costs decreased by 29%. For coal, the most widely used source of electricity globally, prices fell from $111 to $109 during this time.
“More than half of the renewable capacity added in 2019 achieved lower electricity costs than new coal,” the International Renewable Energy Agency said in a separate report. “New solar and wind projects are undercutting the cheapest of existing coal-fired plants.”
The INET report authors note that rapid expansion of renewables is key to the best cost-savings. Through their research methods, they found that a fast transition to renewable energy could lead to a net savings of trillions of dollars compared to fossil fuels. If renewable energy continues to expand at the current rates for the next 10 years, the authors predict we could reach a near-net-zero-emissions energy system in 25 years.
“In response to our opening question, ‘Is there a path forward that can get us there cheaply and quickly?’ our answer is an emphatic ‘Yes!’” the study says. “The key is to maintain the current high growth rates of rapidly progressing clean energy technologies for the next decade. This is required to build up the industrial capabilities and technical know-how necessary to produce, install and operate these technologies at scale as fast as possible so that we can profit from the resulting cost reductions sooner rather than later.”
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- Cost of Solar Panels in 2022: What to Expect - EcoWatch ›
- Renewables Were the World's Cheapest Source of Energy in 2020 ... ›
By John R. Platt
A recent poll found that people today, especially younger people, feel helpless when it comes to fighting climate change.
Here’s the thing: That’s exactly how polluting corporations want you to feel. The more people believe their actions don’t matter, the more they find themselves rolling over and accepting the status quo.
Yes, solving the climate crisis requires bold action from governments and corporations, but that doesn’t mean individuals have to sit on the sidelines. Not only do our actions add up and influence others, we also have the ability to push for — and demand — systemic change.
And that push, importantly, can help turn our individual feelings of hopelessness around. Psychologists and climate activists tell us we can go from feeling helpless or hopeless about the future and toward a more positive, productive attitude just by taking a few steps forward.
Done correctly, these steps we take can also create a momentum for the future. As scientist Katharine Hayhoe wrote last month: “If we wait for someone else to fix the problem, we’ll never solve it. But when we raise our voices to call for change, when we take action together — that’s when we find that hope is all around us.”
With that in mind, we’ve created a simple action plan for the next 30 days. They include small steps we can take to advocate for bigger societal changes — and in the process remind us that the power for change lies in ourselves, too.
Start at the Top:
1. Submit a public comment on proposed federal rules or regulations. You can find opportunities to voice your support or concerns at regulations.gov. You might be surprised how few comments have already been submitted, or how much your voice might matter.
2. Write to your senator to demand action on climate — either in general or about a specific legislative action. (Find your elected officials’ contact information here.)
3. Write to your congressional representative with a similar request, perhaps one more tailored to your district. Remember, your voice as a voter counts 365 days a year, not just on Election Day.
Now Think Local:
4. Write to your mayor or other community leader about how you see climate affecting your region and encourage them to take action.
5. Write to your town parks manager and ask about their plans to keep green spaces open in the face of warming temperatures, wildfires and increased extreme storms.
6. Attend your local planning board meeting and speak out about any projects you feel don’t pass environmental muster. You can’t stop runaway development without getting in front of the people who make the decisions about what goes where.
7. Attend a school board meeting to support educators’ efforts to teach science (or, you know, to verify that they’re actually teaching it in the first place).
Next Up, the Corporations:
8. Write to a major corporation or retailer to offer feedback about their business models — for example, overpackaging. Can’t find a public email address? Sometimes it pays to take photos and share them on social media.
9. Take this a step further and sign on to support producer responsibility legislation.
10. Now strike closer to home. Write to a top employer in your town or county to ask about their climate policies or request they adopt more sustainable business practices. (The more specific, the better; it shows you know and understand their business and their role in your shared community.)
11. Ask your energy company about switching your account to renewable sources. The more customers who sign up to get their power from wind or solar, the better.
12. Hit ‘em in their stock portfolios. If you or your town, company, church, pension plan or friends have any investments in fossil fuels, intentionally or otherwise, divesting is a great way to send a message that profiting on destruction is no longer socially or financially acceptable.
Focus on Your Neighborhood:
13. Walk — or run! — around your neighborhood with a garbage bag or two to pick up trash and recyclables, then post what you find to social media. (This isn’t necessarily about shaming people; it’s a good way to show our effect on the environment.)
14. Attend a larger cleanup day in your area. Connect with local activists and organizations while you’re at it. You’re going to need people to talk to about all of this, so build your community as you go along.
15. Find a Little Free Library in your area and stock it with environmentally themed books. You never know who might find and read them. (Don’t have a Little Free Library near you? Talk to your local bricks-and-mortar library about setting up a display or webpage about their climate-related books and related materials.)
16. Ask how you can help an environmental justice cause in your area. We can practically guarantee some neighborhoods in your community suffer higher environmental burdens than others (if you don’t know of any, one place to start your search is the Environmental Justice Atlas). Find out how you can support existing efforts or create awareness. Oh, and if you’re in an area affected by these burdens, it’s OK to ask for help.
17. Attend a protest. Add your voice to a public event demanding action while meeting like-minded people. (Pro tip: Buy a reusable whiteboard instead of making new posters that will just end up in the trash.)
Game the Algorithms:
18. Share positive news. Fight the incentive for social media to focus on the stories and disinformation that makes people angry and tears us apart. The Earth Optimism and Conservation Optimism accounts are good places to start.
19. Follow a climate scientist on social media to amplify their voices. Check out Katharine Hayhoe’s “Scientists who do climate” list on Twitter for ideas (or just bookmark the whole list).
20. Review a green product you like and write about the qualities that you find worthy of praise. In the online commerce world we live in now, products (and businesses) live or die by five-star reviews. (You can also give negative reviews to products you find egregious, or those whose marketing claims amount to little more than greenwashing.)
21. Find climate-denying videos on YouTube (Tucker Carlson is a good start) and give them thumbs-down votes so fewer people get them in their recommendations. (Just don’t watch too long: That way lies madness.)
22. Ask your friends about their favorite energy-saving techniques. Do this online and you might end up with a lot of interesting suggestions that everyone can learn from. As Texas State University environmental studies professor Tom Ptak wrote recently, “When enough individuals make changes that lower daily household energy consumption, huge emissions reductions can result.”
23. Start or join an environmental book club so you’re up to date on the latest climate science or related issues (and can share with like-minded other readers). Here’s a list of recent books to get you started.
24. Write to your local media — either a letter for publication about an issue, or just a friendly note to a local editor or reporter to praise their climate coverage. (You could also suggest they do more to cover it.)
25. Donate or subscribe to environmental news. A thriving independent press serves as an essential watchdog against corporate malfeasance and government corruption.
26. Set up a Google Alert for a topic you’re passionate about. It can be as simple as “climate change,” a topic like “sea-level rise,” or more specific like “climate” and the name of your town.
27. Read up on a skeptic’s argument so you can debunk disinformation when you encounter it — which you will.
Think Longer Term:
28. Sign up with a voter-registration effort in your area, or a voter-motivation effort through a national organization like the Environmental Voter Project — or make a plan to volunteer on Election Day. (You’re registered to vote, too, right?)
29. Consider running for office or encouraging your friends to do so. The 2022 election is right around the corner, and too many races remain unopposed.
30. Donate to an environmental nonprofit to support the ongoing fight. Every dollar helps. You time matters, too, so if you can’t afford to give, there’s probably a good way for you to donate your time by making phone calls, sharing petitions, stuffing envelopes, or doing something that matches your particular skillset.
Wait, This Month Has 31 Days!
31. Take some time to reflect on the past month. What worked? What didn’t? What did you learn? What would you like to do again? What didn’t make it onto this list that you’d like to try? Another month looms around the corner, and the opportunities to make a difference are endless — even as the time to act grows shorter.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
- Climate Action Starts in Your Own Hometown | NRDC ›
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The proposed Jordan Cove export terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon, would have been the first liquefied natural gas export terminal on the West Coast.
The project developers told FERC they are not pursuing construction of the Pacific Connector pipeline nor the Jordan Cove export terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon, because they were unable to obtain necessary state permits.
The move is a win for landowners, Tribes, and conservation groups across Southern Oregon who fought the proposed pipeline and export facility for 17 years.
The three-foot-wide, 229-mile-long pipeline would have carried methane-based gas from Canada to the Oregon facility where it would have been shipped to international markets. The at-least $8 billion cancellation is the latest of several LNG projects cancelled or delayed in the past year.
As reported by The Oregonian:
Stacey McLaughlin, a Myrtle Creek landowner whose property would have been traversed by the pipeline, said Wednesday she is “extraordinarily relieved” the developers are pulling out.
“I’m feeling an immense amount of relief. It has been a horrific nightmare, not just at the thought of the damage that they would do to our property but the damage they would do to the beautiful state of Oregon. And in the long run the cost to all of humanity for continuing on the path of fossil fuel,” McLaughlin said.
She said she’s hoping the decision is a sign of better things to come for the way the country moves forward on energy and climate issues.
For a deeper dive:
- Oregon a Battlefield Again for Fracked Gas Pipeline and Jordan ... ›
- People Power Over Corporate Power = Canceled Pipeline Projects ... ›
As the climate continues to warm, rain will replace snow as the primary form of precipitation in the Arctic decades earlier than previously thought, according to research. This will have profound implications for the planet.
Snow still falls more frequently than rain in the Arctic, but the study suggests that will change. All the land and nearly all its seas will see more rain than snow before the end of the century if the Earth’s temperatures increase by three degrees Celsius. A global temperature rise of 1.5 to two degrees Celsius would still result in rain dominating the areas of the Greenland and Norwegian Seas.
“The transition from a snow- to rain-dominated Arctic in the summer and autumn is projected to occur decades earlier and at a lower level of global warming, potentially under 1.5C with profound climactic, ecosystem and socioeconomic impacts,” the scientists concluded in Nature Communications.
An analysis of the world's current policies by watchdog Climate Action Tracker showed that the planet is on track for a temperature increase of 2.7 degrees Celsius if countries follow through with their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as reported by CNN.
“In the central Arctic, where you would imagine there should be snowfall in the whole of the autumn period, we’re actually seeing an earlier transition to rainfall. That will have huge implications,” research leader Michelle McCrystall of the University of Manitoba in Canada said, as reported by The Guardian. “The Arctic having very strong snowfall is really important for everything in that region and also for the global climate, because it reflects a lot of sunlight.”
The latest climate models showed that the central Arctic will become dominated by rain by the autumn of 2060 or 2070 if there is no reduction in carbon emissions, instead of by 2090, as earlier models had predicted. McCrystall and her colleagues found that the shift from snow to rain could be most pronounced in autumn.
“What happens if the Arctic doesn’t stay there,” McCrystall said, as reported by The Guardian. “You might think the Arctic is far removed from your day-to-day life, but in fact temperatures there have warmed up so much that [it] will have an impact further south.”
In August, scientists were stunned when rain was recorded on the summit of Greenland’s ice cap for the first time.
“Now all of a sudden, if you introduce liquid water into the picture and rainfall, there are a lot of engineering questions and things that could become really problematic for us in the future if this becomes a regular occurrence,” said National Science Foundation program officer, Jennifer Mercer, soon after rain fell on the summit of Greenland’s ice cap, as reported by The Washington Post.
The researchers called the implications, from melting permafrost to sea level rise, sped-up global heating and mass famine in the region’s reindeer and caribou populations, “profound.” Scientists believe that the quick Arctic warming could also be escalating floods and heatwaves in Europe, Asia and North America because of changes in the jet stream, according to The Guardian.
Cristen Hemingway Jaynes is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. She holds a JD and an Ocean & Coastal Law Certificate from University of Oregon School of Law and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London.
- Rain Is Melting Greenland's Ice, Even in Winter - EcoWatch ›
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A new California mapping project reveals another example of how the climate crisis disproportionately impacts vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.
The Toxic Tides project, unveiled during a virtual workshop Tuesday, maps more than 400 hazardous sites like power plants, refineries and toxic waste dumps that could flood if sea levels rise by more than three feet, which they are projected to do by the end of 2100 if little is done to resolve the climate crisis. This is a major environmental justice issue, because these sites are disproportionately located in low income communities of color.
"We know from past flood events that the wealthy communities are not the ones that suffer the greatest impacts," University of California (UC), Los Angeles environmental health scientist Lara Cushing told the Los Angeles Times. "The vulnerabilities of environmental justice communities to sea level rise have not been front and center in the conversation in a way that it should be."
Cushing is one of the scientists working to change that through the Toxic Tides project. Along with Rachel Morello-Frosch of UC Berkeley, environmental advocate Lucas Zucker and community groups, she worked to create an online tool that will for the first time map which toxic sites are most likely to flood and impact vulnerable communities along the entire Californai coast.
The research found that disadvantaged communities are more than five times more likely to live within a kilometer of one or more facilities that could flood by 2050, according to a project fact sheet. By 2100, these communities are more than six times more likely to live near an at-risk location. This flooding is a problem because it could expose nearby residents to harmful chemicals and polluted water, the Los Angeles Times explained.
In many cases, the communities in question already face risks from living near these facilities. Richmond, California, for example, has been an oil refinery town since 1901 and became an industrial hub for the Bay Area during the 20th century, according to a case study document. Since the 1970s, its low prices have also drawn a significant number of refugees and immigrants, particularly from the Laotian community. It now has more than 350 toxic facilities and one of the highest pollution burdens in the state. This may already be putting residents at greater risk from asthma, cancer and other ailments. Residents, therefore, are already fighting for their lives.
“Poor people who are affected by the crisis of pollution from the refinery need to fight for ourselves,” Saeng and Lipo Chantanasak, members of the Laotian community in Richmond, were quoted as saying in a summary of Toxic Tides case studies. “Rich people don’t care about us, that we have bad health from the pollution. If we don’t fight, nobody else is going to fight for us. We want the next generation - our children and grandchildren - to have clean air so that they don’t get sick and die like us now.”
If nothing is done about the climate crisis by 2100, the situation in Richmond could get even worse, according to the city case study. The city will then have 21 sites at risk for at least one yearly flooding event, and these sites are located in areas with higher poverty rates and lower high-school graduation rates than other low-elevation parts of California. One fossil-fuel port located near more than 4,000 people is projected to have more than 100 yearly flooding events by 2100.
The project hopes that pinpointing these risks can help communities prepare, according to the fact sheet. Toxic Tides can help in the following ways:
- Supporting a fair execution of state climate adaptation and resiliency programs
- Informing efforts to plan for sea level rise
- Informing the state’s definition of “vulnerable communities”
- Bolstering the ability of communities to advocate on their own behalf
- 410 Million People at Risk From Sea Level Rise by 2100, Study Finds ›
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The fossil-fuel giant had planned to search for oil and gas reserves by setting off underwater explosions along a stretch of South Africa known as the Wild Coast, according to MSN. The explorations were slated to begin December 1. However, four environmental and human rights organizations filed a legal challenge Monday night to stop the blasting, Greenpeace Africa said.
“Shell’s activities threaten to destroy the Wild Coast and the lives of the people living there,” Greenpeace Africa senior climate campaigner Happy Khambule said in a statement about the challenge. “We know that Shell is a climate criminal, destroying people’s lives and the planet for profit.”
URGENT INTERDICT FILED TO PROTEC THE WILD COAST\n\u201cWe know that Shell is a climate criminal, destroying people\u2019s lives and the planet for profit.\u201d \u2013 @hkhambule >> https://act.gp/3D1pAeA\u00a0\n#StopShell NOW >> https://act.gp/3xxaQmE\u00a0pic.twitter.com/Pm5t3Nmme4— Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeace Africa) 1638277201
“To give you an idea about the Wild Coast, where my family come from, it is the most incredibly breathtaking place one could ever dream of,” concerned citizen Tracy Carter told MSN. “The ocean is lush and abundant with sea life in all shapes and sizes.”
The testing was also slated to begin when Southern right and humpback whales are migrating back from South Africa to Antarctica after the breeding period, and the testing could injure or kill the traveling families.
The exploratory plans were first approved in 2014, before the country passed its One Environmental System legislation to coordinate mining and environmental regulations, The Guardian reported.
The environmental groups behind the court case — Border Deep Sea Angling Association, Kei Mouth Ski Boat Club, Natural Justice and Greenpeace Africa — argue that the exploration is illegal because Shell has not applied for the necessary permit under the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).
They say that the seismic testing would mean that a vessel would fire air guns every 10 seconds for five months. The shock waves would reverberate through three kilometers (approximately 1.9 miles) of water and 40 kilometers (approximately 25 miles) below the seabed into the earth’s crust. This would harm whales, dolphins, sharks, seals, penguins and smaller animals like crabs. It would also have a negative impact on the human communities of eXolobeni, Nqamakwe and Port Saint Johns, who consider the land sacred and rely on eco-tourism and fishing for their livelihoods.
“The needs and rights of these communities, the stewards of our seas, land and biodiversity, far outweigh the selfish interests of companies like Shell,” Cullinan & Associates, the law firm representing the four groups, said, according to The Guardian.
In response, Shell has argued that its actions won’t harm marine life.
“[T]he impacts are well understood and mitigated against when performing seismic surveys. This is supported by decades of scientific research and the establishment of international best practice guidelines,” the company said, as New Frame reported. “There is no indication that seismic surveys are linked to (whale and dolphin) strandings.”
However, more than 375,000 South Africans disagree. They have signed a petition started by the Oceans Not Oil Coalition to ask Minister of Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy to withdraw approval for the testing. They argue that Shell’s actions don’t just have local impacts.
“At a time when world leaders are making promises and decisions to step away from fossil fuels because climate science has shown we cannot burn our existing reserves (let alone drill for more), offshore oil and gas Operation Phakisa is pushing ever harder to get its hands on a local supply of gas,” the petition reads. “Shell must answer for how the harms done during this survey and any exploration drilling done hereafter are part of its energy transition plan to control global warming.”
In a new study in Current Biology, researchers shared how they trained 16 calves to use a specially designed toilet, called the MooLoo. On this small scale, the team noted that with 80% of urine capture in the defined location, they were able to reduce ammonia emissions by 56%.
This is important, because the nitrous oxide emissions occur when ammonia from cow urine interacts with microbes in soil. By lowering ammonia emissions and keeping ammonia from touching the soil, the nitrous oxide emissions also remain minimal.
To potty-train the cows, researchers used food, such as barley or molasses, as a reward for calves that urinated in the MooLoo. Ten of the calves took quickly to the exercise, and the study authors noted that training cows to pee in designated areas was easier than potty-training most young children.
The cows were given a diuretic to spur urination first, then they were given 45-minute periods in the MooLoo to do their business. Cows that got the job done received their reward. If cows ventured off to pee elsewhere, the authors used a small, three-second squirt of water from a lawn sprinkler to discourage the behavior.
“Our findings are original and reveal a hitherto unrealized opportunity to harness the cognitive capacities of animals to help resolve pressing environmental issues without compromising animal welfare,” the study notes. “We have shown that a majority of cattle can be trained to deposit most of their urine in a defined location, enabling the development of more effective methods to collect, treat and dispose of pure urine than is currently possible with technical solutions alone.”
Globally, livestock are responsible for 14.5% of anthropogenic emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Cattle are the No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases compared to other livestock. While most livestock emissions are methane, 29% of all livestock emissions are nitrous oxide.
The UN notes that improving herd efficiency, relying on natural resources, improving animal breeding and health interventions, and boosting land management can all help reduce livestock-related emissions. Now, incorporating training for the animals could also come into play.
The authors state that more research is required on a bigger scale, which will also require some automation to work for a larger group of cattle. Their hope is that training these animals to use the bathroom in one location could lower emissions while also improving the cleanliness of their living conditions.
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