Are Microwaves Really as Bad for the Environment as Cars?
According to many headlines blared around the Internet this week, "microwaves are as damaging to the environment as cars." But this misleading information, based on a new study from the University of Manchester, hopefully doesn't make you feel guilty about zapping your next Hot Pocket.
The research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found that microwave ovens across the European Union generate as much carbon dioxide as nearly 7 million cars and consume an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour of electricity per year. Okay, that sounds like a lot. But also consider that there are about 130 million microwaves in Europe and some 291 million vehicles on its roads.
David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the study, pointed out to the Guardian that the emissions from microwaves are "dwarfed by those from cars."
"There are around 30 million cars in the UK alone and these emit way more than all the emissions from microwaves in the EU," he added. "Latest data show that passenger cars in the UK emitted 69m tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015. This is 10 times the amount this new microwave oven study estimates for annual emissions for all the microwave ovens in the whole of the EU."
Microwaves are actually more eco-friendly than conventional ovens. Even a press write up on the new study stated, "An individual microwave uses 573 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity over its lifetime of eight years. That is equivalent to the electricity consumed by a 7 watt LED light bulb."
TreeHugger's Lloyd Alter put it blankly, "That, right there, is the silliest comparison ever, and says it all—an oven uses in eight years what an LED bulb uses in nine, or 1.14 times the power consumption of an LED bulb. This is killing the planet?"
"Almost everything we do uses power, and you can multiply it out and find that when you have a lot of people, it uses a lot of power. Using this logic, I expect that my electric toothbrush is killing the planet," Alter quipped.
The bigger picture, and perhaps the point of the study, is the environmental footprint of our consumeristic, throwaway culture. A microwave's life cycle, aka from "cradle to grave," has decreased from around 10 to 15 years in the late 90s to between six to eight years today, the press release said.
Additionally, many modern day conveniences—from vacuum cleaners to hair dryers and, yes, our beloved microwave—should be designed and used more efficiently.
Importantly, as the authors of the study noted, our everyday appliances run off of polluting fossil fuels, rather than, say, renewables.
"Electricity consumption has the biggest impact," the study's lead author Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, a research associate at the University of Manchester, told AFP. "This is because of the fuels used to generate the electricity."
The AFP reported that coal and gas account for about 70 percent of electricity generation around the world. In the EU, that figure is about 40 percent.
The researchers suggested that manufacturers and individual action can do a lot to reduce the environmental impact of our kitchen gadgets.
"On average, kettles boil 50 percent more water than people need," Gallego-Schmid said. "There are about 144 million kettles in the European Union. The environmental impacts—and the margin for improvement—is huge."
Similarly, most people operate microwaves longer than needed to heat or cook food, he added.
The study is the first to analyze the environmental impacts of microwaves by considering their whole life cycle.
Microwaves were likely considered for the study because they account for the largest percentage of sales of all type of ovens in the European Union, with numbers set to reach nearly 135 million by 2020.
"It is electricity consumption by microwaves that has the biggest impact on the environment," the authors said.
Gallego-Schmid also told the Guardian, "The aim of our study was not to compare microwaves to other cooking appliances but to look at the environmental impacts of microwaves as ubiquitous devices in households in Europe and draw attention to the need to make their design, use and end-of-life waste management more efficient."
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.