Human Cooperation Can Restore Climate Patterns: The Case of the Ozone Layer and the Southern Jet Stream
Emissions from the chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons used as refrigerants and aerosols didn't just burn a hole in the ozone layer. They also shifted the Southern Hemisphere's jet stream south towards Antarctica.
Now, a study published in Nature Wednesday found that the 1987 Montreal Protocol banning those substances wasn't just successful in helping to repair the ozone hole. It also paused this jet stream shift.
"This is an object lesson in how the international community should react to global environmental challenges," the study's authors concluded. "Restricting dangerous emissions and changing business practices is also the way to combat global warming caused by greenhouse gases."
Previous research had shown that the jet stream in the Southern Hemisphere had been shifting south by one degree of latitude each decade until 2000, The Guardian reported. This caused changes to storms and rainfall in South America, East Africa and Australia.
But after 2000, the shift stopped, and researchers were able to use a combination of models and computer simulations to determine this pause was down to the shrinking ozone hole, and not natural causes, ScienceAlert explained. In fact, the shift may have even begun to reverse.
This is a relief to some parts of the world.
"The 'weather bands' that bring our cold fronts have been narrowing towards the south pole, and that's why southern Australia has experienced decreasing rainfall over the last thirty years or so," Ian Rae, an organic chemist from the University of Melbourne who was not involved in the study, said, according to ScienceAlert! "If the ozone layer is recovering, and the circulation is moving north, that's good news on two fronts (pun not intended)."
In Chile and Argentina, the reversal will bring more rain and less ultraviolet light, but farther north in South America and in parts of East Africa the change could actually reverse the greater rain and area available for agriculture that it had brought, The Guardian explained.
On a global scale, however, the news is a hopeful example of how we might act on the climate crisis.
"This is good news, definitely," paper reviewer Alexey Karpechko of the Finnish Meteorological Institute told The Guardian. "It shows our actions can stop climate change. We can see coordinated action works. It is a strong message to us as emitters of greenhouse gases. This shows we can manipulate the climate both ways: in a wrong way and by reversing the damage we have done."
However, our failure to act collectively on greenhouse gasses so far means that the reversal in the jet stream's shift is not guaranteed to last: While the recovering ozone layer pushes it back to normal, greenhouse gas emissions draw it south again.
"We term this a 'pause' because the poleward circulation trends might resume, stay flat, or reverse," lead author Antara Banerjee, a NOAA scientist and visiting fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a university press release. "It's the tug of war between the opposing effects of ozone recovery and rising greenhouse gases that will determine future trends."
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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