How much stuff will you give and receive this holiday season? Add it to the growing pile—the 30-trillion-ton pile. That's how much technology and goods humans have produced, according to a study by an international team led by England's University of Leicester. It adds up to more than all living matter on the planet, estimated at around four trillion tons.
Scientists have dubbed these times the "Anthropocene," because humans are now the dominant factor influencing Earth's natural systems, from climate to the carbon and hydrologic cycles. Now they're labeling our accumulated goods and technologies—including houses, factories, cars, roads, smartphones, computers and landfills—the "technosphere" because it's as large and significant as the biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. Researchers estimate it represents 50 kilograms for every square meter of Earth's surface and is 100,000 times greater than the human biomass it supports.
It's Official: The Anthropocene Epoch Is Here - EcoWatch https://t.co/pkNze5xaot @BraveNewClimate @CANEurope— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1472642423.0
As CBC science commentator Bob McDonald wrote, "Our technology is a super-organism that competes with the biosphere for resources and is winning that competition by taking over the surface of the planet."
Report co-author Mark Williams explained the significance: "The technosphere can be said to have budded off the biosphere and arguably is now at least partly parasitic on it. At its current scale the technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet—and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly. Compared with the biosphere, though, it is remarkably poor at recycling its own materials, as our burgeoning landfill sites show. This might be a barrier to its further success—or halt it altogether."
Living systems renew and recycle. Organisms die, get eaten or absorbed by other organisms, and other life takes their place. But much of what we produce takes enormous amounts of natural, mostly finite resources to make and breaks down slowly, if at all. It covers the land and fills oceans, and even extends into space. As the human population continues to grow and consumerism shows no signs of abating, the technosphere expands, causing pollution, contamination and resource depletion, further upsetting the delicate natural balance that keeps our planet habitable for humans and other life forms.
Many things we've invented have made our lives easier in some ways. But much is unnecessary and, we've learned, a lot comes with consequences we didn't foresee—such as climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions from our obsession with private automobiles and cheap energy.
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If this pace continues, we'll leave a fascinating fossil record for any intelligent species that comes across our planet in the future. But that may be all. If we want to survive as a species, we must get a handle on population growth and consumerism. It's something to consider this time of year, when so much time and energy are spent on acquiring new stuff, for ourselves and others.
Although population growth is starting to stabilize, curtailing growth requires greater access to effective, voluntary family planning and birth control, increased women's rights including the right to make decisions about their bodies and reproduction, and reducing poverty.
We can all do our part to reduce consumption. We might find we're happier when we do. At the end of his life, my father didn't talk about accomplishments or possessions or wealth. He talked about connections to friends and family and shared experiences. Although he didn't have a lot of material possessions, he felt wealthy and happy.
That's what life is about. A new car or smartphone won't make you happier in the long run. Nor will it fill gaps caused by loneliness or lack of connection to others. That doesn't mean we should live without material goods, but we should consider what we really need, and make sure we recycle items we can no longer use. Reduce, re-use and recycle! And reconsider what really makes us happy.
More important, during the holiday season, we should nurture our connections to friends and family, and give gifts that won't add to the technosphere. We can share time, experiences and food. Those who find themselves alone might consider volunteering to help others during what can be a difficult time.
May you all have a joyous season, focused on the important things in life. And may the New Year bring humanity a greater understanding of what truly makes life worthwhile.
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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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