Global inequality isn't just a problem for human populations. A new study has found that it is also a major factor in the wildlife trade.
The research, published in Science Advances Wednesday, found that wild animals were more likely to be traded from poorer nations to wealthier ones, and this could be the key to reducing a traffic that harms endangered species and public health.
"Our findings suggest that international policies for reducing the global wildlife trade should address inequalities between signatory states," the study authors wrote.
The trade in wildlife is a major cause of biodiversity loss, the study authors noted. Not only does it remove species from their ecosystems at unsustainable rates, it also risks introducing invasive species into new environments and bringing diseases like amphibian chytrid fungus to new populations. This last threat is a problem for humans too, and the wildlife trade has been linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
To better understand this problem, researchers looked at data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates the trade on an international level. The study authors, who are based in Hong Kong and Singapore, compared CITES data on international wild animal sales with socioeconomic information about the countries involved, as Phys.org explained.
They found that around 420 million wild animals were trafficked between 226 countries from 1998 to 2018. These animals were more likely to be traded from poorer to wealthier countries. For example, BBC News pointed out, wild frogs travel from Madagascar to the U.S., while fish caught in Thailand are sent to Hong Kong.
Overall, the U.S. was the No. 1 importer of wild animals, with France and Italy trailing behind in second and third place, the study found. Indonesia, Jamaica, and Honduras were the largest exporters on a country-by-country basis, while most wild animals on the market either came from Asia or the Panamanian region.
While the scale of this trade is enormous, the findings also suggest a solution, as study lead author Jia Huan Liew of the University of Hong Kong told BBC News. Liew argued that poorer, exporting countries should be given financial help to stop the trade over a period of time. The money would only become available if the country met its reduction targets.
"Funding would ideally be drawn from wealthy countries, given their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and the fact that they play a disproportionately large role in the global wildlife market," Liev told BBC News.
The findings also come at a crucial moment for change, as the world has woken up to the dangers posed by wildlife trafficking in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This has led to a temporary ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals in China.
"To avoid returning to business as usual, we should take advantage of the public's awareness of the possible consequences of consuming wildlife products to reduce demand, and make the Chinese ban on wildlife consumption permanent," Liew told BBC News.
- Biden Must Take a Leadership Role Against Wildlife Crime - EcoWatch ›
- Who Eats Lemurs — and Why? - EcoWatch ›
By Rich Collett-White and Rachel Sherrington
Fossil fuel companies could face legal challenges over their misleading advertising, after a DeSmog investigation uncovered the extent of their "greenwashing."
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have put companies on notice with the publication of the Greenwashing Files. The analyses, which use DeSmog's research, show how adverts of major fossil fuel companies and energy producers continue to overemphasize their green credentials, giving the public a misleading impression of their businesses.
DeSmog analyzed the advertising output of Aramco, Chevron, Drax, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Ineos, RWE, Shell and Total, and compared this with the reality of the companies' current and future business activities.
ClientEarth submitted a complaint against BP's advertising in 2019, before the company decided to withdraw its "Possibilities Everywhere" campaign. The lawyers say other fossil fuel companies could face similar challenges if they mislead the public through their advertising. The group is calling for tobacco-style advertising bans and health warnings to counter fossil fuel companies' "deceptive" marketing.
DeSmog's investigation found messaging that touts companies' climate pledges without being transparent about their large emissions contributions is widespread across advertising campaigns and social media promotions.
The adverts regularly highlight the companies' preferred solutions to climate change — from carbon capture and storage, to experimental algae biofuels, and investment in renewable energy sources — without being open about the small percentage of overall investment allocated to these technologies, nor their various limitations.
The Greenwashing Files lay bare the contrast between the public image these adverts create, and the reality of the fossil fuel companies' activities.
All companies featured in this article were contacted for comment.
ExxonMobil – 'Powering Progress'
"We're working on ways to provide energy while addressing the risks of climate change, producing clean-burning natural gas to reduce emissions from power plants, capturing CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere, and exploring unexpected energy sources like biofuels made from algae," a reassuring voice tells us in Exxon's "Powering Progress" advert – one of several released in recent years that present the US oil giant as a leader in green technologies.
But while the ad shows Exxon scientists hard at work developing "algae farms" and technology designed to suck carbon dioxide from the air, its business activities tell a different story.
Exxon is increasingly an outlier among fossil fuel companies and other major emitters, having refused to set an absolute emissions reduction target, opting instead for gradual "carbon intensity" reductions which still allow for overall emissions to increase. It has no plans to cut oil and gas production, which energy analysts say is urgently needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
While Exxon remains responsible for a significant portion of global emissions – with documents in 2019 revealing a total annual output roughly equivalent to that of Canada – its spending on clean energies has been a tiny fraction of its investments, with just 0.2 percent of its investment in new projects going to low carbon sources between 2010 and 2018.
And while "Powering Progress" and other ads put Exxon's investments in algae biofuels at the fore, it has spent just $300 million on the technology in a decade, compared with yearly capital investment of around $20 billion. Experts doubt whether the technology will ever be commercially viable or usable at scale.
RWE – 'We are the new RWE'
A video by German energy giant RWE takes the viewer through landmark inventions that have spurred on human civilisation since the industrial revolution – the light bulb, the radio, mass transport – before arriving at the present day. "Every time has its energy," the ad tells us, adding that "times are changing. Society is changing. Companies are changing, and we are changing too."
The images cut to wind turbines, and the forces of nature that are powering what we are told is today's "renewable age." The company positions itself at the heart of this transition, telling the viewer it is "focusing on renewable energies and storage, for a sustainable world," and that it is providing "clean, reliable and affordable" energy as part of its transition to "the new RWE."
The campaign accompanies pledges to become "carbon neutral" by 2040 and oversee a significant expansion into wind and solar energy.
But the growth of RWE's low-carbon activities has not been matched by an exit from fossil fuels. RWE remains the largest emitter in Europe, according to a recent study by Greenpeace, and its three major lignite coal-fired power stations all feature in the EU's top five highest-emitting plants. Under current plans, it will continue to generate coal-fired electricity until the end of 2038, almost a decade after the deadline recommended for OECD countries by climate experts, at the same time as expanding its already significant fossil gas business.
Despite its claims to focus on clean energy, 80 percent of the company's energy still comes from non-renewable sources, mostly highly-polluting brown coal, hard coal and gas. The company also counts controversial and carbon-intensive biomass amongst its "renewable" energy sources despite warnings from scientists over its use.
Drax – 'Beyond Coal'
Drax, another energy company that now relies heavily on biomass and operates the UK's largest power station in North Yorkshire, has worked hard to bolster its green credentials in recent years, positioning itself as an ally in the fight against climate change.
Last year, it released an advert celebrating the company's shift away from coal-fired energy production, which it completed in March. Set to an uplifting soundtrack, the video calls the move a "major step towards Drax's ambition to become carbon negative by 2030," while touting a new "Zero Carbon Skills Taskforce" to ensure the surrounding area "isn't defined by its past, but by its future."
A 2020 year-in-review video meanwhile describes Drax as "among Europe's lowest carbon intensity power generators," producing "77 percent renewable electricity."
But the company's claims about the climate-friendliness of biomass, which has now taken over from coal as the principal source of energy at its power station thanks to generous government subsidies, have been widely disputed. Burning wood pellets has been found to be more carbon-intensive than fossil fuels in most circumstances, while experts doubt that trees planted in their place can re-absorb the carbon dioxide emitted, on a meaningful timescale.
Carbon capture and storage – another key plank of Drax's low-carbon strategy – remains uneconomical at scale, with the company's own use of the technology still in the pilot phase.
In response to questions from DeSmog, Drax said emissions from biomass energy are "already accounted for in the land-use sector and therefore considered carbon neutral at the point of combustion," in line with "established global best practice" set out by the UN IPCC.
It also said biomass should be considered renewable "because the forests we source from are growing and storing more carbon" and pointed to its plans for a bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) unit by 2027, "creating tens of thousands of jobs" and "permanently removing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year."
Aramco – 'The Moment is Now'
The Saudi Arabian state-owned oil and gas giant, Aramco, became the most valuable listed company in history when it floated on the stock market at the end of 2019. But the fossil fuel behemoth is at pains to assure viewers it is concerned about more than just its bottom line.
In an advert titled "The Moment is Now," an Aramco employee tells a lecture theatre full of colleagues that "as we open up to the world, we know more than ever before that we must continue towards a sustainable future."
"We value the natural resources we discover but never forget it is our human energy that drives us to create a better world," she says to the audience, who reward her presentation with a standing ovation.
Elsewhere, the company insists it is driven by a "commitment to preserving the environment because protecting our planet is one of our most important values."
That's despite the company being the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitter, responsible for an estimated four percent of all global emissions since 1965.
Aramco's oil and gas reserves total more than those of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total combined, while the company refuses to disclose its full emissions. Its majority shareholder, the Saudi Arabian government, has been at the forefront of efforts to stall international action on climate change for decades. At the last UN climate talks in Madrid, over a third of Saudi Arabia's representatives were associated with the oil and gas industry, many with Aramco.
Equinor – 'This is what changed us.'
Previously trading under the name Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned oil and gas company Equinor rebranded in 2018, with the hope of highlighting its transformation into a "broad energy company" and its growing low-carbon energy division.
Equinor explained its reasons for the name change in an advert called "Equinor. This is what changed us." Scenes of raging storms and melting ice caps are displayed while the narrator says: "Some changes are so profound that they transcend everything. Changes that require us to find a new balance."
In a more recent ad, the company insists that "emissions must come down and it must happen fast."
Equinor is certainly taking steps to increase its investments in low-carbon technologies, with plans to up its renewable energy capacity to 4-6 gigawatts by 2026, and has set a "net zero" emissions target for 2050.
But this shift is largely in addition to, rather than in place of, its core oil and gas business. The company is still exploring for more oil and gas reserves and does not intend to start reducing its fossil fuel production before 2030. Last year, it opened the largest oil field in Western Europe and is heavily involved in ventures in the Arctic.
Equinor promotes natural gas as the "perfect fuel to balance renewable energy" and was given a warning two years ago by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority for claiming the fuel was a "low-carbon" energy source.
Another technology the company touts is carbon capture and storage (CCS), but all of the projects it is involved in currently amount to less than three percent of its overall emissions.
ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White said the collection of adverts showed the fossil fuel companies were involved in a "great deception."
"We need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But instead of leading a low-carbon transition, these companies are putting out advertising which distracts the public and launders their image," he said.
"These adverts are misrepresenting the true nature of companies' businesses, of their contribution to climate change, and of their transition plans," he added, saying that "we cannot underestimate the real world impact this advertising has on the pace of change."
You can find the full set of adverts and analyses here.
Additional research by Michaela Herrmann. Edited by Mat Hope.
Disclaimer: ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac sits on the board of DeSmog UK Ltd.
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
Portable generators allow you to power your devices and certain appliances, even away from home or when your primary power source is taken offline. These devices are also perfect for camping or outdoor adventures. A portable solar generator can give you the power you need with a smaller ecological footprint by using solar panels. In this article, we'll outline some of the top options available in 2021.
Our Picks for the Best Portable Solar Generators
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Goal Zero Yeti 1500X
- Best High-Capacity - MAXOAK Bluetti EB150
- Best Expandable Power - EcoFlow RIVER Pro
- Best Compact Design - Renogy PHOENIX 300
- Best Portability - Suaoki S370
- Best for Camping - Jackery Explorer 300
- Best Price - Westinghouse iGen200s
How We Reviewed Portable Solar Generators
A good portable generator will offer you backup power in a convenient and reliable way. We have reviewed some of the top models on the market today, and arrived at a few that we think stand out from the rest.
To rank the best solar generators, we considered the following criteria:
- Size and weight. Smaller, more lightweight units offer much greater ease of use. We sought portable solar generators that aren't too challenging to lug around your home, or take with you when you go camping.
- Battery storage capacity. While your generator absorbs light through a solar panel, that energy is ultimately stored in a battery. The battery storage capacity, measured in watt-hours (Wh) determines how long you can use the generator before it requires a recharge.
- Inverter rating. Basically, inverter rating refers to the total number of watts that the solar generator can extract at any given time. Inverter rating, along with battery capacity, determine the wattage and power output of your generator.
- Expandability. Some generators come with a predetermined number of solar panels, while some allow you to add more solar panels as needed. This is an important feature to consider when looking for generators.
- Price point. Naturally, when looking for a new solar generator, staying on budget is always going to be a factor. We chose generators that are competitively priced.
The Best Portable Solar Generators
With these ranking factors in mind, here are our picks for the best portable solar generators available in 2021.
Goal Zero's line of Yeti portable power stations are well-suited for a wide range of off-grid uses, including emergency power, camping trips, and more. The Goal Zero Yeti 1500X is their most-popular large power station with enough power for everything from cell phones and laptops to medical devices like CPAP machines and even full-size refrigerators.
Why buy: The Goal Zero Yeti 1500X includes a 2000W AC (3500W Surge) inverter giving you the equivalent of a wall outlet power supply on-the-go. It also has seven different port options and a top-of-the-line app that makes it easy to monitor and manage your solar powered generator, no matter where you are.
For a high-capacity power station, check out the Bluetti EB150 from MAXOAK. Though it's not the most affordable option, you'll get a lot of features and utility for your investment. It includes a lithium ion battery capacity of 1500 Wh. When connected to three 150W solar panels, it can be recharged in about 3.5 to 4 hours.
Why buy: For a portable solar generator designed to power most household appliances under 1000W, the high-powered Bluetti EB150 is a great choice. MAXOAK also backs their product with a 24-month replacement or maintenance warranty.
EcoFlow boasts an impressive catalog of portable power stations, as well as reliable solar panels. We like the EcoFlow RIVER Pro power station because its technology enables incredibly fast recharging; you can connect it to two 110W solar panels to recharge in as little as 4.5 hours.
Why buy: The EcoFlow RIVER Pro includes a wide range of best-in-class technologies. Offering 720 Wh of power with three pure sine wave AC outlets, and weighing only 15.9 pounds, these units are well-suited for camping and hiking, as well as use around the house. You can also add an additional EcoFlow battery pack to upgrade the power of your generator as needed.
Renogy produces several different power stations and chargers, but we especially like the PHOENIX 300, a solar power solution that's extremely lightweight and compact. It comes with an easy-grip handle and only weighs 6.4 pounds, making it one of the most portable solar generators around while still offering up to 200W of AC power for off the grid activities.
Why buy: The PHOENIX 300 can provide 337 watt-hours for up to 8 hours of AC continuous power without the noise or fumes associated with gas generators. It includes a number of the most common charging ports like two AC adaptors, a USB-C, USB-A, USB, and a D-Tap port for photography equipment.
Suaoki is a company that's known for simple, functional, reliable technology. Their S370 portable solar generator isn't necessarily flashy, but it's an extremely lightweight option, perfect for camping, hiking, and other outdoor adventures. It includes 14 outlet ports and a pure sine wave inverter, making it a versatile power option.
Why buy: This is one of our top picks for camping and hiking, though it may also serve your needs as a backup power station for small appliances and electronics. A lithium-ion battery gives this generator an incredible capacity battery life, particularly in relation to its compact size.
Jackery's portable power stations are ideally suited for camping and hiking. The Explorer 300 offers great portability and fast rechargeable power at an affordable price. It includes two AC outputs, a USB-C, USB-A, USB ports, and a 12-volt car port.
Why buy: The Explorer 300 generator is a good option for those who are new to solar power, thanks to its low price and easy-to-use controls. Jackery offers a number of portable solar panel options, and the power station's MPPT technology means that it can be recharged from the sun in just 5.5 hours.
There are plenty of reasons to consider the Westinghouse iGen200s portable generator. This is one of the more affordable options on the market today, which makes it a good entry-level solar power solution. The unit offers four charging options. You can recharge with solar panels, with the power from your vehicle, with a household power outlet, or with a separate generator.
Why buy: For a simple and inexpensive solar power generator, Westinghouse makes an outstanding product. You can charge up to nine devices at a time; and, depending on how you use it, you can potentially get more than 40 hours out of your generator.
What Types of Batteries Do Solar Generators Use?
It's important to note that solar power generators may employ different kinds of batteries. The most common option is the lithium-ion battery. These tend to be more expensive than lead-acid batteries, at least on the front end. With that said, a lithium-ion battery will prove more durable, which usually makes it the smarter investment in the long run. Solar generators include charge controllers, which regulate the volts of energy coming from the solar panels to the battery to make sure the battery isn't overcharged and damaged.
The energy stored in the battery is converted from DC power into AC power using an inverter or adapter.
What Can You Power With a Portable Solar Generator?
There are different types of solar generators. A backup generator is primarily used to power your home, should your electricity go out. In this article, we focused on portable generators, which are mostly used for hiking and camping. With that said, a portable generator can also be really useful during power outages, potentially keeping your lights, electronic devices, and small devices or appliances on for several hours. Depending on the watts of power your solar system generator kit can support, you can use it to power things like phones, tablets, laptops, TVs, coffee makers, a mini-fridge, certain medical devices, and most anything you would plug into a car charger.
Some of the generators we've listed here can be charged by solar energy or via other sources, including vehicles and power outlets. These different charging solutions make a generator more versatile, though of course, solar energy is what you'll want to use if staying away from fossil fuels is your goal.
What are the Benefits of a Portable Solar Generator?
There are a number of reasons why you might consider a portable solar generator:
- These units are ideally suited for camping and hiking. The ones on our list range in weight from under 10 pounds to over 50, but they are all fairly easy to cart around as needed, or to keep in your camper or RV.
- Though they are not primarily intended to be emergency backup generators, they can certainly be used in that capacity. In particular, they can provide emergency power to important medical devices as well as phones and computers.
- Unlike gas generators, portable solar generators offer power without making a lot of noise or creating a lot of fumes. This makes them much more appealing for campsites.
- Portable solar generators are better for the environment, since they don't rely on gas or diesel fuel to run.
- Using a solar generator is ultimately more cost-effective as you will never need to purchase fuel to recharge it.
Solar Power Can Take You Further
Solar power is one of the best options for dependable, renewable energy. Not only can it help power your house, but you can use these portable generators to carry that power with you, wherever you may go.
There are clearly lots of options on the market today. We hope our guide is helpful to you as you assess our own backup power needs, and as you determine which portable solar generator will give you the greatest value. Note that you can find many of these solar power options through third-party retailers like Amazon. Do your due diligence as you seek the perfect, portable solar solution for you and your family.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
By Mark Patrick Taylor, Neda Sharifi Soltani and Scott P. Wilson
Australians are eating and inhaling significant numbers of tiny plastics at home, our new research shows.
These “microplastics," which are derived from petrochemicals extracted from oil and gas products, are settling in dust around the house.
Some of these particles are toxic to humans — they can carry carcinogenic or mutagenic chemicals, meaning they potentially cause cancer and/or damage our DNA.
We still don't know the true impact of these microplastics on human health. But the good news is, having hard floors, using more natural fibers in clothing, furnishings and homewares, along with vacuuming at least weekly can reduce your exposure.
What Are Microplastics?
Microplastics are plastic particles less than five millimeters across. They come from a range of household and everyday items such as the clothes we wear, home furnishings, and food and beverage packaging.
Our study demonstrates it's an inescapable reality that we're living in a sea of microplastics — they're in our food and drinks, our oceans, and our homes.
What We Did and What We Found
People spend up to 90% of their time indoors and therefore the greatest risk of exposure to microplastics is in the home.
Our study is the first to examine how much microplastic we're exposed to in Australian homes. We analyzed dust deposited from indoor air in 32 homes across Sydney over a one-month period in 2019.
Here's how microplastics can be generated, suspended, ingested and inhaled inside a house. Monique Chilton
We found 39% of the deposited dust particles were microplastics; 42% were natural fibers such as cotton, hair and wool; and 18% were transformed natural-based fibers such as viscose and cellophane. The remaining 1% were film and fragments consisting of various materials.
Between 22 and 6,169 microfibers were deposited as dust per square meter, each day.
Homes with carpet as the main floor covering had nearly double the number of petrochemical-based fibers (including polyethylene, polyamide and polyacrylic) than homes without carpeted floors.
Conversely, polyvinyl fibers (synthetic fibers made of vinyl chloride) were two times more prevalent in homes without carpet. This is because the coating applied to hard flooring degrades over time, producing polyvinyl fibers in house dust.
Microplastics Can Be Toxic
These chemicals can leach from the plastic surface once in the body, increasing the potential for toxic effects. Microplastics can have carcinogenic properties, meaning they potentially cause cancer. They can also be mutagenic, meaning they can damage DNA.
However, even though some of the microplastics measured in our study are composed of potentially carcinogenic and/or mutagenic compounds, the actual risk to human health is unclear.
How Much Are We Exposed To? And Can This Be Minimized?
Roughly a quarter of all of the fibers we recorded were less than 250 micrometers in size, meaning they can be inhaled. This means we can be internally exposed to these microplastics and any contaminants attached to them.
Using human exposure models, we calculated that inhalation and ingestion rates were greatest in children under six years old. This is due to their lower relative body weight, smaller size, and higher breathing rate than adults. What's more, young children typically have more contact with the floor, and tend to put their hands in their mouths more often than adults.
Children under six inhale around three times more microplastics than the average — 18,000 fibers, or 0.3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per year. They would also ingest on average 6.1 milligrams of microplastics in dust per kg of body weight per year.
For a five-year-old, this would be equivalent to eating a garden pea's worth of microplastics over the course of a year. But for many of these plastics there is no established safe level of exposure.
Our study indicated there are effective ways to minimize exposure.
First is the choice of flooring, with hard surfaces, including polished wood floors, likely to have fewer microplastics than carpeted floors.
Also, how often you clean makes a difference. Vacuuming floors at least weekly was associated with less microplastics in dust than those that were less frequently cleaned. So get cleaning!
Mark Patrick Taylor is a Professor of Environmental Science and Human Health, Macquarie University.
Neda Sharifi Soltani is an Academic Casual, Macquarie University
Scott P. Wilson works at Macquarie University.
Disclosure statement: Mark Patrick Taylor received research support for this project via an Australian Government Citizen Science Grant, CSG55984, 'Citizen insights to the composition and risks of household dust' (the DustSafe project). Participant questionnaires for collecting meta-data were approved by Macquarie University's ethics panel, project ID 2446. Cochlear Sydney provided access to their Nicolet iN10-MX FTIR instrument to undertake the research. Neda Sharifi Soltani receives funding from the Australian Government as a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship no.2017678. Scott Wilson receives funding from the Total Environment Centre and NSW EPA to conduct research on microplastics in the environment. He is the Research Director of the Australian Microplastic Assessment Project (AUSMAP), which is a citizen science focussed program.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- Paint: The Big Source of Ocean Microplastics You Didn't Know ... ›
- Microplastics Found in Antarctica's Food Chain for First Time ... ›
- Microplastics Are Increasing in Our Lives, New Research Finds ... ›
- Microplastics Are Wafting in on the Sea Breeze - EcoWatch ›
- Microplastics Found in Human Organs for First Time - EcoWatch ›
- New Study: 15.5 Million Tons of Microplastics Litter Ocean Floor ... ›
By Jake Johnson
A new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature warns that if the world's governments fail to meet warming targets set by the Paris climate accord, sea level rise from the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet will accelerate at a "rapid and unstoppable" rate in the coming decades.
Authored by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the new paper finds that if planetary warming continues at its current rate—which is headed toward 3° Celsius above pre-industrial levels—Antarctic melting will reach a tipping point by 2060, beyond which the consequences would be "irreversible on multi-century timescales."
"If the world warms up at a rate dictated by current policies we will see the Antarctic system start to get away from us around 2060," Robert DeConto, the lead author of the study, told The Guardian. "Once you put enough heat into the climate system, you are going to lose those ice shelves, and once that is set in motion you can't reverse it."
"It's really the next few decades that will determine the sea level rise from Antarctica," DeConto added. "These ice shelves won't be able to just grow back."
The researchers find that if the most optimistic Paris goal of no more than 1.5° Celsius of warming by the end of the century is met, the Antarctic ice sheet would contribute around six centimeters of sea level rise by 2100.
"But if the current course toward 3 degrees is maintained, the model points to a major jump in melting," the study warns. "Unless ambitious action to rein in warming begins by 2060, no human intervention, including geoengineering, would be able to stop 17 to 21 centimeters of sea-level rise from Antarctic ice melt alone by 2100."
Under a scenario in which no further action is taken to limit planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, the research paper finds, Antarctic melting would contribute a "globally catastrophic" 10 meters or more to sea level rise by 2300.
"If we did nothing at all to reduce emissions we could get five meters of sea level rise just from Antarctica by 2200, at which point you'd have to remap the world from space," said DeConto. "It would be unimaginable."
The study comes days after U.S. President Joe Biden hosted a climate summit with 40 world leaders to discuss ways to bring the world into line with Paris warming targets. Biden, for his part, pledged to cut U.S. emissions at least 50% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade—a goal climate activists slammed as nowhere near sufficient.
"Science and justice demand that we reduce emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 on the road to zero emissions by mid-century," Janet Redman of Greenpeace USA said last month. "The White House can get this done by removing government subsidies to fossil fuel companies, investing in an equitable and sustainable economic recovery, and stopping fishy carbon offset deals."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
Though giant sequoias have historically been resilient to wildfire, the Castle Fire was so severe it likely killed more than 1,000 of the trees including many that had stood for more than 1,000 years. Climate change is making droughts more likely to occur, and more severe when they do, and thus makes wildfires more extreme as forests and other fuels sources are turned into proverbial tinder boxes.
"The fact areas are still smoldering and smoking from the 2020 Castle Fire demonstrates how dry the park is," Leif Mathiesen, assistant fire management officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, told The Associated Press. California's current severe and extreme drought conditions covering the Sierra Nevada mountains set a dire stage for the upcoming wildfire season.
As reported by The Associated Press:
According to AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dave Samuhel, fires are projected to burn 14,844 square miles (38,445 square kilometers) of land across the Western U.S.
"Unfortunately, in a nutshell, it looks like it's going to be another busy season," he said in a statement. "We're seeing a lot of drought. Almost half of the country is experiencing drought, and the bulk of that is to the West."
For a deeper dive:
- 1,000 Giant Sequoias Likely Killed in Castle Fire, Many Had Lived ... ›
- California National Parks' Archives Are Saved From Wildfires ... ›
- California Wildfires Burn 10,000 Acres in a Single Day - EcoWatch ›
- 11 Surprising Facts About Trees - EcoWatch ›
After almost a decade of no precipitation, 10mm of rain caused an entire desert in South Africa to bloom. Rare species in Richtersveld National Park awoke and flowered for the first time in nine years, only to be stolen for the illegal plant trade, The Guardian reported. Plant poaching is not new, nor is it unique to the area; but, pandemic-inspired houseplant purchases have exacerbated the issue worldwide.
According to Pieter van Wyk, a botanist and nursery curator at Richtersveld, the World Heritage Site is the world's most biodiverse desert. With its unique geology, including the world's oldest mountains, and location creating a perfect ecosystem for many plants to thrive, more than 3,000 plant species exist in a relatively small area, including 400 endemic to the region, The Guardian reported. Many of these are prized succulents that fetch high prices on the black market. Some species are so specialized they only grow in one valley or on one mountain top. There are even cases where an entire species lives in an area smaller than a soccer field, "so a poacher could render a species extinct in a morning," The Guardian noted.
"In regards to rare, more than half of the plants from the region were not rare, but are now becoming rare" due to environmental and human factors, van Wyk told EcoWatch.
Van Wyk adds how demand is high and supply is low, especially for charismatic and endangered species, making the black market quite profitable. South African plants such as those in Richtersveld are sold to distant places by crime syndicates who subcontract the actual theft to desperate locals and even tourists, he said.
"People [here] don't have work... People are desperate for money and food, willing to make quick money," van Wyk explained. Due to increased interest in rare plants, "now syndicates pay several months' worth of salary to locals for plants which, in the end, are being sold in Asia and Europe, as well as America, for values that could sustain a family for years in Namaqualand."
Van Wyk noted that the appeal of the black market continues to grow because ethical and legal nurseries can take five to 15 years to build up enough stock for retail sale, while it can be difficult dealing with export regulations and obtaining permits.
He told The Guardian that plant poaching in South Africa might eclipse the country's lucrative rhino horn industry. The nursery curator fears that many iconic species may go extinct within his lifetime, having already witnessed massive losses within the last five years, The Guardian added. This is mainly due to poaching and habitat loss from farming, mining and the climate crisis, van Wyk told EcoWatch.
The botanist also warned that the global-local crime cycle has caused locals to poach more than what is asked of them. "The quick money-making scheme has gone viral amongst locals who are now removing plants without having buyers, causing large-scale destruction with many plants eventually being thrown away," van Wyk told EcoWatch.
He warned that this biodiversity loss will have a greater impact on general ecology, ecosystem health and climate regulation. "This has a severe impact on humans as well, as [this area] eventually will become uninhabitable, and probably soon," van Wyk said.
Plant poaching itself is not a new crime nor limited to South Africa. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) defines the act as the illegal removal of rare and endangered plants from their natural habitat. Plants are stolen without regard to laws and regulations created for their protection, and theft can occur either on government land or private property.
In a 2020 "buyer beware" warning for Venus flytrap plants, FWS asked collectors to help stem poaching of the popular potted plant. Endemic to North and South Carolina, wild populations of the carnivorous plant are in serious decline. Habitat loss and alteration are the primary threats, but poaching causes enough damage that it was declared a felony in 2014.
Another article by The Guardian highlighted how the quarantine-fueled gardening craze around the world is also spurring plant poaching in the Philippines. Carnivorous pitcher plants and those used to cultivate bonsai became especially popular, and these and other endangered species are being dug up from forests and mountains in record numbers, according to the article.
Iconic saguaro cacti are another wild plant now threatened with extinction due to climate change and poaching. Saguaros grow slowly, taking 50 years to reach three feet tall, A Natural Curiosity reported. The cacti don't typically begin to grow their famous arms until they are at least 70 years old, and can live around 150 years. Coveted amongst collectors, the cacti sell for up to $100 a foot. But saguaro poaching has escalated to the point where individual wild plants are now microchipped to track and deter poaching.
Although not as widely publicized as animal poaching, removing plants from nature has an "equally large effect on the vital balance needed to maintain healthy ecosystems," A Natural Curiosity reported. The article also covered an issue facing small rosette succulents in California. These succulents prevent erosion on rocks and cliffs where few other plants can survive, and removing them for houseplants destabilizes the entire ecosystem base. And that's exactly what is happening due to pandemic plant demand.
As plants such as monsteras, hoyas and succulents gained popularity on social media, poachers have been enlisted to source them no matter the consequence, A Natural Curiosity found.
FWS offered a few tips to rare plant collectors to help avoid buying poached or stolen plants:
- Examine the entire tray. Nursery-propagated or tissue-cultured plants will have uniform sizing. Poached plants are more likely to vary in size.
- Examine the soil. Nursery soil is uniform, often with sterile peat moss. Mixed gravel and sand in soil is a tip-off.
- Look for other species growing in the same pot. Weedy pots are another indication that the plants were taken from the wild.
- 7 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Having Plants at Home ... ›
- Barcelona Opera House Reopens With Concert for 2,292 Plants ... ›
- Bumblebees Trick Plants Into Flowering Early, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
- 40 Percent of World's Plants at Risk of Extinction, New Report Finds ... ›
- Plants Are Decades Away From Absorbing Less Carbon, Study ... ›
What Is Climate Change? Is It Different From Global Warming?
Climate change is actually not a new phenomenon. Scientists have been studying the connection between human activity and the effect on the climate since the 1800s, although it took until the 1950s to find evidence suggesting a link.
Since then, the amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases) in the atmosphere have steadily increased, taking a sharp jump in the late 1980s when the summer of 1988 became the warmest on record. (There have been many records broken since then.) But climate change is not a synonym for global warming.
The term global warming entered the lexicon in the 1950s, but didn't become a common buzzword until a few decades later when more people started taking notice of a warming climate. Except climate change encompasses a greater realm than just rising temperatures. Trapped gases also affect sea-level rise, animal habitats, biodiversity and weather patterns. For example, Texas' severe winter storms in February 2021 demonstrate how the climate isn't merely warming.
Why Is Climate Change Important? Why Does It Matter?
Marc Guitard / Moment / Getty Images
Despite efforts from forward thinkers such as SpaceX Founder Elon Musk to colonize Mars, Earth remains our home for the foreseeable future, and the more human activity negatively impacts the climate, the less habitable it will become. It's estimated that Earth has already warmed about one degree Celsius, or two degrees Fahrenheit, since the start of the Industrial Revolution around the 1750s, although climate change tracking didn't start until the late 1800s. That warming number may not sound like much, but this increase has already resulted in more frequent and severe wildfires, hurricanes, floods, droughts and winter storms, to name some examples.
Then there's biodiversity loss, another fallout of climate change that's threatening rainforests and coral reefs and accelerating species extinction. Take rainforests, which act as natural carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But as rampant deforestation is occurring everywhere from Brazil's Amazon to Borneo, fewer trees mean that rainforests are becoming carbon sources, emitting more carbon than they're absorbing. Meanwhile, coral reefs are dying as warming ocean temperatures trigger bleaching events, which cause corals to reject algae, their main food and life source. Fewer trees, coral reefs and other habitats also equate to fewer species. Known as the sixth mass extinction, a 2019 UN report revealed that up to a million plant and animal species could become extinct within decades.
It can be easy to overlook climate change in day-to-day life, or even realize that climate change is behind it. Notice there's yet another romaine lettuce recall due to E. Coli? Research suggests that E. Coli bacteria are becoming more common in our food sources as it adapts to climate change. Can't find your favorite brand of coffee beans anymore? Or that the price has doubled? Climate change is affecting that too. Climate change is also worsening air quality and seasonal allergies, along with polluting tap water. Not least, many preliminary studies have also drawn a line between climate change and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that is still gripping much of the world. Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently until the root causes, such as deforestation, are addressed.
Speaking of larger-scale issues, global water scarcity is already happening more frequently. The Caribbean is facing water shortages due to rising temperatures and decreased rainfall; Australia's dams may run dry by 2022 as severe wildfires increase and Cape Town, South Africa has already faced running out of water.
As touched upon earlier, it's one thing to be inconvenienced by a lack of romaine lettuce for a couple of weeks or higher coffee bean prices, but reports warn how climate change will continue to threaten global food security, to the point of triggering a worldwide food crisis if temperatures surpass two degrees Celsius.
Many of these factors are already contributing to climate migration, forcing large numbers of people to relocate to other parts of the world in search of better living conditions.
Unless more immediate, drastic action is taken to combat climate change, future generations will have to contend with worst-case scenario projections by the end of the 21st century, not limited to coastal cities going underwater, including Miami; lethal heat levels from South Asia to Central Africa; and more frequent extreme weather events involving hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, droughts, floods, blizzards and more.
What's Happening and Why?
Fiddlers Ferry power station in Warrington, UK. Chris Conway / Moment / Getty Images
The Earth's temperature has largely remained stable until industrial times and the introduction of greenhouse gases. These gases have forced the atmosphere to retain heat, as evidenced by rising global temperatures. As the planet grows warmer, glaciers melt faster, sea levels rise, severe flooding increases and droughts and extreme weather events become more deadly.
The Greenhouse Effect
In the late 1800s, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius studied the connection between the amount of atmospheric carbon and its ability to warm and cool the Earth, and while his initial calculations suggested extreme warming as carbon increased, researchers didn't start to take human-induced climate change seriously until the late 20th century.
But proof of human-led climate change can be traced to the 1850s, and satellites are among the ways that scientists have been tracking increased greenhouse gases and their climate impact in more recent years. Climate researchers have also documented warmer oceans, ocean acidification, shrinking ice sheets, decreased snow amounts and extreme weather as among the events resulting from greenhouse gases heating the planet.
Numerous factors contribute to the production of greenhouse gases, known as the greenhouse effect. One of the biggest causes involve burning fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas, to power everything from cars to daily energy needs (electricity, heat). From 1970-2011, fossil fuels have comprised 78 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Big Ag is another greenhouse contributor, particularly beef production, with the industry adding 10 percent in 2019. This is attributed to clearing land for crops and grazing and growing feed, along with methane produced by cows themselves. In the U.S. alone, Americans consumed 27.3 billion pounds of beef in 2019.
Then there's rampant deforestation occurring everywhere from the Amazon to Borneo. A 2021 study from Rainforest Foundation Norway found that two-thirds of the world's rainforests have already been destroyed or degraded. In Brazil, deforestation reached a 12-year-high in 2020 under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. As it stands, reports predict that the Amazon rainforest will collapse by 2064. Rainforests are important carbon sinks, meaning the trees capture and remove carbon from the atmosphere. As rainforests collapse, the remaining trees will begin emitting more greenhouse gases than they're absorbing.
Meanwhile, a recent study revealed that abandoned oil and gas wells are leaking more methane than previously believed, with U.S. wells contributing up to 20 percent of annual methane emissions.
Not least is the cement industry. Cement is heavily used throughout the global construction industry, and accounts for around eight percent of carbon dioxide emissions.
Natural Climate Change
Granted, natural climate change exists as well, and can be traced throughout history, from solar radiation triggering the Ice Ages to the asteroid strike that rapidly raised global temperatures and eliminated dinosaurs and many other species in the process. Other sources of natural climate change impacts include volcano eruptions, ocean currents and orbital changes, but these sources generally have smaller and shorter-term environmental impacts.
How We Can Combat Climate Change
Participant holding a sign at the climate march on Sept. 20, 2020, in Manhattan. A coalition of climate, Indigenous and racial justice groups gathered at Columbus Circle to kick off Climate Week with the Climate Justice Through Racial Justice march. Erik McGregor / LightRocket / Getty Images
While the latest studies and numbers can often feel discouraging about society's ability to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening, there's still time to take action.
As a Society
In 2015 at COP 21 in Paris, 197 countries came together to sign the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty agreeing to limit global warming in this century to two degrees Celsius, and ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels; it's believed that the planet has warmed one degree Celsius since 1750. Studies show that staying within the two-degree range will prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. Achieving this goal requires participating parties to drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later. However, there have already been numerous setbacks since then, from former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in 2020 to world leaders, such as China, the world's biggest polluter, failing to enact aggressive climate action plans. Yet many of the treaty participants have been slow to implement changes, putting the world on track to hit 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century even if the initial goals are met. However, it's worth noting that U.S. President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement in 2021, and pledged to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2030.
Then there's the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 global agreement to phase out ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals that were commonly used in air-conditioning, refrigeration and aerosols. Recent studies show that parts of the ozone are recovering, proving that a unified commitment to combatting climate change issues does make a difference.
On a smaller scale, carbon offset initiatives allow companies and individuals to invest in environmental programs that offset the amount of carbon that's produced through work or lifestyle. For example, major companies (and carbon emitters) such as United Airlines and Shell have pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in part by participating in carbon offset programs that remove carbon from the atmosphere. The problem is that these companies are still producing high levels of fossil fuel emissions.
While individuals can make a small impact through carbon offsets, the greater responsibility lies with carbon-emitting corporations to find and implement greener energy alternatives. This translates to car companies producing electric instead of gas vehicles or airlines exploring alternative fuel sources. It also requires major companies to rely more on solar and wind energy for their energy needs.
In Our Own Lives
While it's up to corporations to do the heavy lifting of carbon reduction, that doesn't mean individuals can't make a difference. Adopting a vegan lifestyle, using public transportation, switching to an electric car and becoming a more conscious consumer are all ways to help combat climate change.
Consuming meat relies on clearing land for crops and animals, while raising and killing livestock contributes to about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization. By comparison, choosing a plant-based diet could reduce greenhouse gas footprints by as much as 70 percent, especially when choosing local produce and products.
Riding public trains, subways, buses, trams, ferries and other types of public transportation is another easy way to lower your carbon footprint, considering that gas-powered vehicles contribute 95 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Electric cars and trucks have come down in price as more manufacturers enter the field, and these produce far lower emissions than their gas counterparts. Hybrid vehicles are another good alternative for lowering individual emission contributions.
Buying locally produced food and items is another way to maintain a lower carbon footprint, as the products aren't shipped or driven long distances. Supporting small companies that are committed to sustainability is another option, especially when it comes to clothes. Fast fashion has become a popular option thanks to its price point, but often comes at the expense of the environment and can involve unethical overseas labor practices. Not least, plastic saturates every corner of the consumer market, but it's possible to find non-plastic alternatives with a little research, from reusable produce bags to baby bottles.
Those interested in becoming even more involved can join local climate action organizations. Popular groups include the Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, to name a few. Voting, volunteering, calling local representatives and participating in climate marches are additional ways to raise your voice.
It's taken centuries to reach a climate tipping point, with just a matter of decades left to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. But there's still hope of controlling a warming climate as long as individuals, companies and nations make an immediate concerted effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions. As the world already experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic, a rapid unified response can make all the difference.
Meredith Rosenberg is a senior editor at EcoWatch. She holds a Master's from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NYC and a B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia.
- Climate Change Likely Drove Our Ancestors to Extinction, Study ... ›
- Climate Change Made Earth-like Venus Uninhabitable - EcoWatch ›
- 4 Reasons the Paris Agreement Won't Solve Climate Change ... ›
- Fighting Climate Change Is a Social Justice Issue Too - EcoWatch ›
- Millennials: Climate Change Is World's Biggest Problem - EcoWatch ›
Coffee has enormous cultural significance. It's a staple of culture, cuisine, and everyday life for people all over the planet. Americans alone consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, and the crop is a highly traded commodity of huge importance to global economies.
These millions of cups aren't without consequence, however. The growing, processing, and transportation of coffee – everything that happens before it's poured into our mugs – have large-scale environmental and social repercussions.
Grown in tropical regions around the equator – called the "Bean Belt" – coffee beans travel far before ending up in our cabinets. Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia are the top producers of coffee – so, for those living in the continental United States, "local" coffee isn't an option, and its impact will always be substantial.
Increased demand and the undercutting of smallholders in coffee production have led to more destructive growing practices, including monocropping and replacing shade-grown coffee with sun-grown. Extreme exploitation of labor is also tied to coffee production, and farmers typically earn only between 7-10% of the retail price of their product – and less than 2% in Brazil – according to the Food Empowerment Project.
Beyond its production, the way we choose to prepare and consume coffee can also create avoidable waste: from filters to mugs, to spent coffee grounds. Luckily, there are ways to choose and consume your coffee more consciously, from choosing the product to how it's prepared.
Here are a few tips for a more sustainable and responsible coffee routine if you can't kick the habit.
1. Choose Consciously
Doi Chaang coffee on display for sale inside a coffee shop in Chiang Rai. Artur Widak / NurPhoto / Getty Images
When perusing the coffee aisle, look at the packaging for legitimate labels and third-party certifications. Real certifications will let you know that the coffee's production processes followed specific environmental and/or humanitarian regulations.
Be very wary of greenwashing as well: many companies will stamp illegitimate certifications on their packaging – like "100% All Natural," or "Certified Sustainable" – which don't represent any real standards and mislead consumers, giving the appearance of sustainability and responsibility without any basis.
The "local" label is another one to avoid; no coffee is "local" if you live in the continental U.S., regardless of what the packaging might tell you (locally roasted, maybe, but not grown).
There are a few legitimate certifications that consumers can look for when purchasing coffee:
Shade-grown coffee employs natural processes in coffee-growing, as overhead trees drop leaves and bark that suppress weeds and deliver nutrients to the soil, while also providing a habitat for wildlife and preventing soil erosion. Because of its higher yield, sun-grown coffee – that is, coffee grown in wide-open spaces – became popularized in the 1970s, but has reduced biodiversity and necessitated greater use of pesticides and fertilizers by farmers. Deforestation is already linked to coffee production and has only accelerated with the rise of sun-grown coffee and increasing global demand.
Many of the following certifications mandate that a certain percentage of coffee produced by a farm is shade-grown.
Rainforest Alliance Certified
Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee includes environmental, social, and economic criteria. Growers certified under this label must follow a list of standards set by the Sustainable Agricultural Network, which addresses deforestation, bans the alteration of waterways and dumping of wastewater, restricts the use of pesticides, and requires farms to pay workers at least the federal minimum wage. The Rainforest Alliance certification is being upgraded this summer to address more issue areas and employ newer technologies to verify compliance on farms.
The seal has faced criticism, however, for requiring only 30% of the coffee in a package to have followed these standards, and for not including a fixed price for growers or a provision for organic cultivation.
Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Bird Friendly Coffee
The requirements for Bird Friendly Coffee are often considered more stringent than those of the Rainforest Alliance, mandating coffee be 100% organic and 100% shade-grown. The seal aims to protect the habitats of migratory birds and requires that a farm be certified organic, maintain a healthy soil base, and employ zero use of pesticides.
The checklist requires, among other qualifications, at least 40% of a coffee farm to be covered in shade and grow 10 different tree species at a minimum to discourage monocropping.
Fair Trade Certified
Fair trade standards primarily focus on supporting farmers and workers. The major labels indicating that a product is fair trade certified are Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade America – the U.S. member of Fairtrade International. Both protect farmers against price fluctuations by setting a price floor that requires a minimum price per pound of coffee, plus additional funds for community development.
These labels have their own complications, as there are many other political and economic complications for farmers, including debts from previous price fluctuations; but, they are a step in the right direction.
The word "fair trade" is also ripe for greenwashing, stamped onto packages with no standards behind it. Be sure to verify whether a product is actually fair trade certified by one of these organizations when purchasing coffee.
USDA OrganicLike other certified-organic products, this label verifies that a farm has followed strict environmental standards, which prohibit synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Products labeled "100% organic" follow these guidelines completely, "organic" products must contain at least 95% organically-produced material, and anything indicating it was "made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70%.
2. Replace Disposable With Reusable
Hiraman / E+ / Getty Images
Given all of the complex, energy-intensive processes that go into producing coffee, the environmental footprint of your morning cup goes far beyond plastic waste – but, with 64% of Americans drinking at least one cup a day, that resulting waste is nothing to scoff at.
When brewing coffee at home or grabbing one on-the-go, consider replacing the following:
Coffee filters are like any disposable product: they require energy and resources to produce and then end up in landfills when disposed of. Many of these filters are also chemically bleached with oxygen or chlorine, which has further environmental consequences.
Compostable filters are a partial solution, as they do reduce the overall volume of waste, but still must be created and transported before ending up in your coffee machine.
Luckily, many reusable alternatives can easily replace a disposable filter in traditional coffee machines or pour-over appliances: often made of plastic, metal, or a washable fabric (usually linen or cotton), they should be emptied and rinsed between each use.
Twenty-five percent of Americans have reported using single-cup coffee brewers, although it's no secret that single-use coffee capsules are an incredible source of waste, given that many aren't designed to be recycled or composted. If every K-cup thrown into landfills were lined up, it would wrap around the globe more than ten times.
If you can't quit the coffee-capsule method, stainless steel capsules can be purchased for most single-serve coffee machines. Some compostable capsules have been developed, but, like coffee filters, these too had to be produced and transported, expanding their environmental impact far beyond that of a reusable alternative.
What about coffee on-the-go?
Fifty-eight billion paper cups are thrown away every year in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and their inner polyethylene coating is expensive to recycle, so most of those 58 billion are sent directly to landfills.
A durable, reusable mug for to-go coffee can cut out this waste – around 23 pounds of trash each year, for a daily coffee drinker – and last for years, or even decades. Collapsible coffee mugs can be easily stored in a bag for when you're in a pinch.
Buy in Bulk
Skip the single-use packaging if you can. Many grocery stores will sell coffee beans in bulk, poured into your own reusable bag, and paid for by weight.
3. Consider Your Vessel
Besides choosing reusable alternatives to single-use items, you can also brew your coffee by methods that inherently require less energy.
Think of the energy used by a typical drip-coffee machine: the hotplate left on for hours, the digital display, and the phantom energy sucked up whenever it's plugged in. Appliances like these are usually cheaply made, and planned obsolescence will guarantee the need to purchase a newer model within a few years. Large coffee pots also produce much more than a single cup, often leading to wasted coffee down the drain.
Manual brewing methods require far less energy, such as French presses and Moka pots, which skip the disposable filters and require only the energy needed to boil the water. Pour-over coffee carafes can produce enough for multiple people and are very compatible with a linen coffee filter.
For those with an affinity for iced coffee, cold brew is perhaps the least energy-intensive of all, with time being the main component.
4. Don't Waste It
Natalia Rüdisüli / EyeEm / Getty Images
The average mature coffee tree will produce only about two pounds of beans per year – so, given the environmental and social impacts of its production along with that low yield, it's important to make sure that no coffee is poured down the drain.
When you find yourself with leftover brew, save it in the fridge for tomorrow's iced coffee, or freeze it in an ice cube tray to add to cold brew or smoothies.
5. Compost the Grounds
MonthiraYodtiwong / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen and can be given a second life through composting. Some gardeners even sprinkle spent coffee grounds around their plants to repel slugs and snails without the use of insecticides.
Explore options for composting at home or in your neighborhood, and keep those nutrient-rich grounds out of landfills.
While making our morning coffee might seem as simple as pulling the grounds out of the cabinet and boiling the water, we should be aware of the complex processes that brought these beans to our kitchens, especially as climate change begins to impact our coffee consumption.
Some argue that the only truly responsible action would be cutting coffee out of our lives altogether – but, incorporating more realistic methods by which to reduce the impact of our morning cup will help ensure that both the environment and workers are being protected.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.
Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
- Climate change threatens coffee – but we've found a delicious wild ... ›
- Starbucks Pilots Reusable Cups in Seattle, But Does the New ... ›
- Study: Climate Change Could Impact Your Favorite Cup of Coffee ... ›
One of the world's best restaurants is giving up meat.
Eleven Madison Park (EMP), a New York City fine dining establishment that was named the first of the world's 50 best restaurants in 2017, announced Monday that it would reopen June 10 with an entirely plant-based menu.
"In the midst of last year, when we began to imagine what EMP would be like after the pandemic – when we started to think about food in creative ways again – we realized that not only has the world changed, but that we have changed as well," chef Daniel Humm wrote in an announcement posted on the restaurant's website. "We have always operated with sensitivity to the impact we have on our surroundings, but it was becoming ever clearer that the current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways."
Eleven Madison Park, a New York City fine dining establishment that was named the first of the world's 50 best restaurants in 2017. Eleven Madison Park
EMP first opened its doors in 1998, and Humm joined it as executive chef in 2006, according to The New York Times. Since then, the restaurant has earned many accolades, including three stars from Michelin and four from The New York Times.
The move reflects a growing shift away from meat in fine dining as concerns about the climate crisis mount. Studies have shown that raising meat emits more greenhouse gas emissions than growing vegetables or legumes, and also requires more land and water while polluting more overall. In recent signs of this growing awareness, a vegan restaurant in France earned a Michelin star for the first time this January, and, just last week, the website Epicurious said it was no longer publishing or promoting new beef recipes.
Chef Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park Restaurant on Feb. 27, 2013 in New York City. Neilson Barnard / Getty Images for Blancpain
EMP is one of the most famous restaurants to move away from meat, according to CNN, but its high-end status may limit the reach of its decision.
"[T]here are limits to what you can do through the medium of a Michelin-starred restaurant," Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner told The New York Times. "Chefs should obviously continue sourcing their ingredients responsibly, in light of the climate emergency, but at the end of the day, you're still cooking for rich people, and you might question their commitment to these things."
Meals at EMP will still cost $335, and, even at this price-point, it is not easy to obtain a reservation, so a very small percentage of people will experience the shift from dishes like lavender honey glazed duck or butter poached lobster to the new, plant-based meals Humm and his team are now working to perfect.
However, Yale University history professor Paul Freedman said that Humm's influence as a chef meant the decision could have a larger impact on dining culture.
It could, he told The New York Times, "have an influence on the best restaurants in places like Midland, Texas — affluent places that are not Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York."
Humm is also working to expand EMP's offerings to the less affluent. During the pandemic, the shuttered restaurant prepared nearly one million meals to New Yorkers experiencing food insecurity with help from the nonprofit Rethink Food. Once the restaurant reopens, Humm said that he would continue that work, and that every meal at the restaurant would fund food for hungry New Yorkers.
"It is time to redefine luxury as an experience that serves a higher purpose and maintains a genuine connection to the community," Humm said in the announcement. "A restaurant experience is about more than what's on the plate. We are thrilled to share the incredible possibilities of plant-based cuisine while deepening our connection to our homes: both our city and our planet."
- Vegan Restaurant Awarded Michelin Star for First Time in France ... ›
- Meet the UK's First Vegan Butcher Shop - EcoWatch ›
- 2020's New Vegan Cookbooks Will Tempt Your Taste Buds All Year ... ›
The Big Idea
Consumers are more likely to choose a plant-based meat substitute when the restaurant's advertising highlights the social benefits of doing so rather than its taste, according to recently published research I conducted with a colleague. We also found that showcasing the social costs of meat consumption also leads to a preference for plant-based "meats."
To reach this conclusion, we conducted two online experiments to examine the advertising of plant-based burgers and meatballs. Participants were recruited via the crowdsourcing website Amazon Mechanical Turk.
In the first one, 156 participants were shown one of three commercials for a plant-based burger. They saw either a social appeal ("good for the environment and animal welfare"), a health appeal ("good for your health – no cholesterol and more fiber") or a taste appeal ("tasty and delicious – just like a beef burger"). In all three commercials, we presented nutritional information that showed plant-based burgers had similar levels of calories and protein as that of beef – which is generally true in the real world.
They were then asked to record their burger preference on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 indicated they definitely wanted a conventional beef burger and 7 meant they definitely wanted the plant-based version.
Participants exposed to the advertising that appealed to their social conscience were more likely to select the plant-based burger than those who saw the health or taste-based ads. Our research found that the social appeals worked because they induced positive feelings of doing something good for society.
The health appeal was ineffective because the nutritional value of the two burgers is so similar. Appealing to taste didn't work because American consumers believe the taste of beef is superior to that of plant-based meat.
In a second study, we provided 160 different participants with information on the social and health costs of meat consumption. We then asked them to state their preferences for a beef meatball sandwich or a plant-based one on the same 7-point sliding scale. Similar to the appeal to the social benefits, highlighting the costs led to a stronger preference for the plant-based version.
Why It Matters
Americans on average consumed about 58 pounds of beef and veal in 2019 – compared with a global average of 14 pounds – and a recent Gallup poll found that two in three U.S. adults say they eat meat "frequently."
But the production of beef creates 60 times the volume of greenhouse gases as peas, which is one of the vegetables that go into meat substitutes such as the Beyond Burger. Research has also found that plant-based meat substitutes require far less energy, water and land then beef.
Growing consumer concern over beef's large environmental footprint is one of the reasons major U.S. casual restaurant chains have been adding meat-like options to their menus in recent years. For example, Burger King boasts the Impossible Whopper, Subway offers the Beyond Meatball Marinara and Starbucks sells a breakfast sandwich made with Impossible sausage.
But Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the two main plant-based brands, tend to market their vegetarian burgers with claims of tastes and textures that are similar to that of meat.
Our research suggests that highlighting the social benefits of plant-based menu items would convince more consumers to choose them over meat-based options, thus reducing overall meat consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
We plan to examine if the effectiveness of social appeals carries over to healthier plant-based menu items such as Hawaiian poke bowls with fake fish.
Also, it would be interesting to conduct cross-cultural comparisons. Impossible Foods' offerings are now available in Asian markets, including Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China. We want to investigate how Asian consumers respond to meat-like products given different regional traditions and habits of meat consumption.
Anna Mattila is the Marriott Professor of Lodging Management, Penn State.
Disclosure: Anna Mattila receives funding from The Marriott Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By Christina Choi
When my five-year-old notices her dad running the water for any reason at all, she yells (at the top of her lungs and in a robot voice, of course), "ALERT. ALERT. WASTING WATER ALERT. ALERT, ALERT!" It makes me laugh but also warms my heart every time, knowing the importance of saving water—and the planet in general—is already ingrained in her mind.
Her behavior is not particularly surprising: Like many of my fellow Korean Americans and other Asian Americans, as well as Indigenous Pacific Islanders, the values of protecting and conserving resources are values I grew up with myself.
From when I was a young child, my parents—especially my mom—were constantly reminding me to turn off the faucet while I brushed my teeth, shampooed my hair, soaped the dishes, and any other time I wasn't actively using the water. My mom reused glass and plastic containers and utensils until they were practically disintegrating (BPA alert!). "Turn off the lights," she would say. "Don't waste electricity." "Eat every grain of rice in your bowl," she'd chide. "We don't waste food."
Such teachings probably play into the stereotype that Asians are overly frugal (read: cheap), but what many people may not realize is that these principles, at least in my personal experience, are deeply intertwined in our ancestral history.
Choi's maternal grandmother in Gunsan, South Korea, in the early 1960s. Christina Choi
All four of my grandparents survived the harshest decades of Japan's colonization of Korea, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. But their trauma didn't stop there. After World War II ended Japan's occupation, the United States and Russia didn't allow the Korean people to determine the future of their own country. To satisfy their own foreign policy interests, they instead split the peninsula in half—literally tearing families apart. Just five years later, in 1950, the Korean War broke out when North Korea invaded the South. Three catastrophic years followed, ending with the tragic deaths, injuries, or disappearances of an estimated 5.5 million people—many of them civilians. While the fighting stopped in 1953, there was no formal peace treaty between the two Koreas. Nearly 70 years later, the conflict is technically still not over.
From left: Choi's maternal grandparents in Gunsan, South Korea, in the early 1960s; Choi's parents in Seattle in the early 1980s. Christina Choi
My dad and mom, born near the end of Japanese colonization and in the middle of the Korean War, respectively, learned from their parents to never take anything for granted; everything could be taken away in an instant—including their own homeland. They were taught to appreciate the beauty of Korea's mountainous lands and free-flowing waters, for they could be stolen or destroyed at any moment. Before emigrating as adults to the United States in the 1970s, my parents witnessed decades of frenetic postwar economic recovery combined with extreme political corruption, as well as occupation by American troops—who still remain.
Colonization, imperialism, war, instability, corruption…it's no wonder that the importance of protecting our resources has been passed down through generations. My mom's "nagging" makes perfect sense. Add to this the fact that Korea—like many Asian cultures—is a collectivist society: Korean culture emphasizes the interconnectedness between people, and therefore we should all act so that we do not burden or harm others; it is the idea that the we transcends the I, be it in the context of family, the workplace, community, country, or, in this case, the planet. Simply put, we all do our part for the greater good. (Recent studies have also linked collectivist values to better, more effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.) And it's this heritage, reinforced with the knowledge I've gained from working at NRDC, that has nurtured my daughter's early embrace of protecting the planet and every living being on it. In some ways, the essence of environmentalism exists within us.
And yet, the environmental movement in the United States didn't ever reach out to me—I had to go to it. Despite Asian Americans' 250-plus years in this country, with the first recorded arrival of Filipinos in Louisiana in 1763, we have been constantly erased, and continue to be, from the nation's history, identity, and conversations, as well as from key statistics on public health and well-being, such as how the pandemic affects our communities.
Even now, after almost six years at NRDC, I see how Asian Americans—a faulty categorization that lumps together more than 20 different ethnicities and cultures originating from 48 countries—are left out of the narrative at environmental organizations, despite the fact that research shows that we care…quite a lot. In fact, according to a 2012 National Asian American Survey, 70 percent of Asian Americans consider themselves environmentalists, compared to the national average of 41 percent.
In California, where 15 percent of the population is Asian American, the data is even more impressive. An extensive study by the California League of Conservation Voters titled Asian American Environmentalists: An Untapped Power for Change in California found that a great majority of Asian American voters in the state—83 percent—describe themselves as environmentalists; 71 percent support environmental laws; and 61 percent believe we can protect the air, land, and water while creating jobs. In that state, 85 percent of Asian American voters said they are likely to vote for environment-focused ballot measures.
When it comes to the climate crisis, the trend continues: According to the nationwide 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, 77 percent of Asian Americans support stronger federal policies to combat climate change, while a study last year by the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America showed that 86 percent of Asian Americans agree that acting now on climate change would provide a better life for their children and grandchildren, compared to 74 percent of the general U.S. population.
Beyond the connection to our cultural values, we also care about the environment because we have to: Pollution and climate change are harming us directly. But as a result of the pervasive "model minority" stereotype, we receive little support from environmental justice work as well. The assumption is that all 20 million of us (and growing) are successful doctors, lawyers, or engineers living the "American dream"—surely no Asian American lives on the frontlines. Yet, according to the Pew Research Center, incomes vary the greatest among Asian Americans in comparison to other racial groups. In New York City, Boston, and California, one in four Asian Americans lives in poverty—many of them restaurant and hotel workers, employees in salons and laundries, and e-bike delivery workers. The highest poverty rates across the United States are found in Bhutanese and Burmese communities—33.3 percent and 35 percent, respectively; the overall U.S. poverty rate is 15.1 percent.
Just one example of a group of Asian Americans facing environmental injustice is the Laotian community in Richmond, California, where a Chevron refinery spews toxic pollution throughout their neighborhoods. For all these reasons, it is crucial that the larger white-dominant environmental movement wakes up and recognizes Asian Americans.
The origins of my strong foundation in conserving the earth's resources are my own, an unbroken thread stretching for generations, but I suspect that the values of many of those 70 percent of Asian Americans who self-identify as environmentalists have been similarly shaped by their ancestry. And maybe one day, their kids and mine, with her "water alerts," will become a powerful Asian American voice—one that the future environmental movement won't want to waste.
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
- How Residents of South LA Are Tackling Environmental Racism ... ›
- Water Crises and Environmental Racism Continue in Jackson, Miss ... ›
- Lead Poisoning Reveals Environmental Racism in the US - EcoWatch ›
By Jessica Corbett
As scientific studies continue to show the necessity of sweeping societal reforms to reduce planet-heating emissions, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined with Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee Chair Sherrod Brown on Tuesday to unveil a plan — backed by green groups and union leaders — that would invest $73 billion in electrifying public transit.
"Today, there are approximately 70,000 mass transit buses and 85,000 cutaway vehicles and transit vans in America. Approximately 2% of those buses are zero-emission vehicles," according to a summary document from the senators. "The federal government can and should be in the business of aiding transit agencies in shifting their bus fleets to zero emissions."
The Clean Transit for America Plan from Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Brown (D-Ohio) is intended to not only combat the climate emergency and improve air quality with zero-emission fleets, but also establish a workforce training program that will create well-paying union jobs. Schumer said he intends to ensure it is included in the American Jobs Plan, part of President Joe Biden's recently introduced infrastructure proposal.
"To reduce the carbon in our atmosphere and address the climate crisis, we must transform our transit system," declared the Senate majority leader. "The Clean Transit for America proposal will replace dirty, diesel-spewing buses, create new American jobs, help save the planet, and protect public health, particularly in our country's most vulnerable communities."
Brown asserted that "Americans deserve world-class public transportation that is delivered with modern, zero-emission buses built by American workers," and their plan "is the kind of transformative investment we need in public transit that will put Americans to work, connects people with opportunity, and invests in the communities that have been left on their own by Washington and Wall Street for too long."
Today @SenSherrodBrown and I are introducing our Clean Transit for America plan to replace dirty diesel buses with… https://t.co/hVfD0AgqQw— Chuck Schumer (@Chuck Schumer)1620147821.0
"Transit is the very fabric of our communities: It's what keeps us connected, brings us to and from school and work every day, allows us to buy groceries, receive medical care, and enjoy parks," said Lauren Maunus, advocacy director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement — also a key supporter of the Green New Deal Resolution that calls for a 10-year mobilization ensuring "a fair and just transition for all communities and workers."
"If we're going to beat the climate clock and stop polluting toxic fumes into our neighborhoods, we must swiftly transform every aspect of our current transportation system to reach zero emissions," Maunus said Tuesday, welcoming the plan to electrify the nation's bus fleet as "a key step towards fully transitioning our transit systems, while strengthening services vital to the health of our communities."
Katherine Garcia, acting director of Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All Campaign, said the plan "means healthier communities and a healthier economy," while Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins, a director for policy and partnerships at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the proposal "big and bold" and urged Congress to enact it "as soon as possible."
Advocates at the Environmental Defense Fund, GreenLatinos, the League of Conservation Voters, Moms Clean Air Force, and the Union of Concerned Scientists also applauded the proposal. Several campaigners noted that the plan will, as Garcia put it, "prioritize communities with the worst air quality to address decades of inequitable transportation policy."
The Clean Transit for America plan to shift to 100% electric buses means healthier communities and a healthier econ… https://t.co/niSO91co3H— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1620169616.0
"Transitioning to 100% zero-emission buses is an essential infrastructure and environmental justice priority," said Marcela Mulholland, political director at Data for Progress. "By moving our public transit systems to zero-emission fleets, the Clean Transit for America bill sets us on a path toward a world free from climate chaos and a country where there is clean air and quality public transit in every neighborhood."
The proposal was also praised by the president of the American Public Transportation Association as well as organized labor leaders including John Costa of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Lonnie R. Stephenson of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and John Samuelsen of Transport Workers Union.
"By ensuring that frontline transit workers gain the skills and training necessary to run the public transportation systems of the future, paired with a guarantee that no workers will be displaced by their proposal," said Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department, " Sens. Schumer and Brown send a strong message that, when policy is shaped correctly, workers and the communities they live in can both benefit from technological change."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.