By Grayson Jaggers
The connection between the pandemic and our dietary habits is undeniable. The stress of isolation coupled with a struggling economy has caused many of us to seek comfort with our old friends: Big Mac, Tom Collins, Ben and Jerry. But overindulging in this kind of food and drink might not just be affecting your waistline, but could potentially put you at greater risk of illness by hindering your immune system.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Pamela Davis-Kean
With in-person instruction becoming the exception rather than the norm, 54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Initial projections from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which conducts research and creates commonly used standardized tests, suggest that these fears are well-grounded, especially for children from low-income families.
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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>
By Anthony C. Didlake Jr.
Of all the hazards that hurricanes bring, storm surge is the greatest threat to life and property along the coast. It can sweep homes off their foundations, flood riverside communities miles inland, and break up dunes and levees that normally protect coastal areas against storms.
But what exactly is storm surge?
What Storm Surge Looks Like From Shore<p>As a hurricane reaches the coast, it pushes a huge volume of ocean water ashore. This is what we call storm surge.</p><p>This surge appears as a gradual rise in the water level as the storm approaches. Depending on the size and track of the hurricane, storm surge flooding can last for several hours. It then recedes after the storm passes.</p><p>Water level heights during a hurricane can reach 20 feet or more above normal sea level. With powerful waves on top of it, a hurricane's storm surge can cause catastrophic damage.</p>
What Determines How High a Storm Surge Gets?<p>Storm surge begins over the open ocean. The strong winds of a hurricane push the ocean waters around and cause water to pile up under the storm. The low air pressure of the storm also plays a small role in lifting the water level. The height and extent of this pile of water depend on the strength and size of the hurricane.</p><p>As this pile of water moves toward the coast, other factors can change its height and extent.</p>
Other Factors That Shape Storm Surge<p>Ocean tides – caused by the gravity of the moon and sun – can also strengthen or weaken the impact of a storm surge. So, it's important to know the timing of the local tides compared to the hurricane landfall.</p><p>At high tide, the water is already at an elevated height. If landfall happens at high tide, the storm surge will cause even higher water levels and bring more water further inland. The Carolinas saw those effects when Hurricane Isaias hit at close to high tide on Aug. 3. Isaias brought a storm surge of about <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2020/08/03/isaias-path-carolinas-northeast/" target="_blank">4 feet at Myrtle Beach</a>, South Carolina, but the water level was <a href="https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/waterlevels.html?id=8661070&units=standard&bdate=20200802&edate=20200804&timezone=GMT&datum=MLLW&interval=6&action=" target="_blank">more than 10 feet</a> above normal.</p>
How a storm surge and high tide add up to coastal flooding. The COMET Program/UCAR and National Weather Service<p><a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2680/new-study-finds-sea-level-rise-accelerating/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sea level rise</a> is another growing concern that influences storm surge.</p><p>As water warms, <a href="https://sealevel.nasa.gov/understanding-sea-level/global-sea-level/thermal-expansion" target="_blank">it expands</a>, and that has slowly raised sea level over the past century as <a href="https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/world-of-change/global-temperatures" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">global temperatures have risen</a>. Freshwater from melting of ice sheets and glaciers also adds to sea level rise. Together, they <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevate the background ocean height</a>. When a hurricane arrives, the higher ocean means storm surge can bring water further inland, to a more dangerous and widespread effect.</p>
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Алексей Филатов / Getty Images
By Zebedee Nicholls and Tim Baxter
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas - why do we average it out over 100 years? By doing so, do we risk emitting so much in the upcoming decades that we reach climate tipping points?<p>The climate conversation is often dominated by talk of carbon dioxide, and rightly so. <a href="https://www.livescience.com/58203-how-carbon-dioxide-is-warming-earth.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon dioxide</a> is the climate warming agent with the biggest overall impact on the heating of the planet.</p><p>But it is not the only greenhouse gas driving climate change.</p>
Comparing Apples and Oranges<p>For the benefit of policy makers, the climate science community set up several ways to compare gases to aid with implementing, monitoring and verifying emissions reduction policies.</p><p>In almost all cases, these rely on a calculated common currency - a carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO₂-e). The most common way to determine this is by assessing the global warming potential (<a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">GWP</a>) of the gas over time.</p><p>The simple intent of GWP calculations is to compare the climate heating effect of each greenhouse gas to that created by an equivalent amount (by mass) of carbon dioxide.</p><p>In this way, emissions of one gas - like methane - can be compared with emissions of any other - like carbon dioxide, nitrous dioxide or any of the myriad other greenhouse gases.</p><p><span></span>These comparisons are imperfect but the point of GWP is to provide a defensible way to compare apples and oranges.</p>
Limits of Metrics<p>Unlike carbon dioxide, which is relatively stable and by definition has a GWP value of one, methane is a live-fast, die-young greenhouse gas.</p><p>Methane traps very large quantities of heat in the first decade after it is released in to the atmosphere, but quickly breaks down.</p><p>After a decade, most emitted methane has reacted with ozone to form carbon dioxide and water. This carbon dioxide continues to heat the climate for hundreds or even thousands of years.</p><p>Emitting methane will always be worse than emitting the same quantity of carbon dioxide, no matter the time scale.</p><p>How much worse depends on the time period used to average out its effects. The most commonly used averaging period is 100 years, but this is not the only choice, and it is not wrong to choose another.</p><p>As a starting point, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/anthropogenic-and-natural-radiative-forcing/" title="IPCC AR5 Ch. 8" target="_blank">Fifth Assessment Report</a> from 2013 says methane heats the climate by 28 times more than carbon dioxide when averaged over 100 years and 84 times more when averaged over 20 years.</p>
Many Sources of Methane<p>On top of these base rates of warming, there are other important considerations.</p><p>Fully considered using the 100-year GWP and including natural feedbacks, the IPCC's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/anthropogenic-and-natural-radiative-forcing/" title="IPCC AR5 Ch. 8" target="_blank">report</a> says fossil sources of methane - most of the gas burned for electricity or heat for industry and houses - can be up to 36 times worse than carbon dioxide. Methane from other sources - such as livestock and waste - can be up to 34 times worse.</p><p>While <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GL079826" title="Understanding Rapid Adjustments to Diverse Forcing Agents" target="_blank">some uncertainty remains</a>, a <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2016GL071930" title="Radiative forcing of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide: A significant revision of the methane radiative forcing" target="_blank">well-regarded recent assessment</a> suggested an upwards revision of fossil and other methane sources, that would increase their GWP values to around 40 and 38 times worse than carbon dioxide respectively.</p><p>These works will be assessed in the IPCC's upcoming <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/" target="_blank">Sixth Assessment Report</a>, with the physical science contribution due in 2021.</p><p>While we should prefer the most up to date science at any given time, the choice to consider - or not - the full impact of methane and the choice to consider its impact over 20, 100 or 500 years is ultimately political, not scientific.</p><p>Undervaluing or misrepresenting the impact of methane presents a clear risk for policy makers. It is vital they pay attention to the advice of scientists and bodies such as the IPCC.</p><p>Undervaluing methane's impact in this way is not a risk for climate modellers because they rely on more direct assessments of the impact of gases than GWP.</p>
Tipping Points<p>The idea of climate tipping points is that, at some point, we may change the climate so much that it crosses an irreversible threshold.</p><p>At such a tipping point, the world would continue to heat well beyond our capability to limit the harm.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252" title="Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene" target="_blank">many tipping points</a> we should be aware of. But exactly where these are - and precisely what the implications of crossing one would be - is uncertain.</p>
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By Pep Canadell and Rob Jackson
The Paris climate agreement seeks to limit global warming to 1.5℃ this century. A new report by the World Meteorological Organization warns this limit may be exceeded by 2024 – and the risk is growing.
Greenhouse Gases Rise as CO₂ Emissions Slow<p>Concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO₂), methane (CH₄) and nitrous oxide (N₂O), have all increased over the past decade. Current concentrations in the atmosphere are, respectively, 147%, 259% and 123% of those present before the industrial era began in 1750.</p><p>Concentrations measured at Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory and at Australia's Cape Grim station in Tasmania show concentrations continued to increase in 2019 and 2020. In particular, CO₂ concentrations reached 414.38 and 410.04 parts per million in July this year, respectively, at each station.</p>
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO₂), methane (CH₄) and nitrous oxide (N₂0) from WMO Global Atmosphere Watch.<p>Growth in CO₂ emissions from fossil fuel use slowed to around 1% per year in the past decade, down from 3% during the 2000s. An unprecedented decline is expected in 2020, due to the COVID-19 economic slowdown. Daily CO₂ fossil fuel emissions declined by 17% in early April at the peak of global confinement policies, compared with the previous year. But by early June they had recovered to a 5% decline.</p><p>We estimate a decline for 2020 of about 4-7% compared to 2019 levels, depending on how the pandemic plays out.</p><p>Although emissions will fall slightly, atmospheric CO₂ concentrations will still reach another <a href="https://theconversation.com/carbon-dioxide-levels-over-australia-rose-even-after-covid-19-forced-global-emissions-down-heres-why-144119" target="_blank">record high</a> this year. This is because we're still adding large amounts of CO₂ to the atmosphere.</p>
Global daily fossil CO₂ emissions to June 2020. Updated from Le Quéré et al. 2020, Nature Climate Change.
Warmest Five Years on Record<p>The global average surface temperature from 2016 to 2020 will be among the warmest of any equivalent period on record, and about 0.24℃ warmer than the previous five years.</p><p>This five-year period is on the way to creating a new temperature record across much of the world, including Australia, southern Africa, much of Europe, the Middle East and northern Asia, areas of South America and parts of the United States.</p><p>Sea levels rose by 3.2 millimeters per year on average over the past 27 years. The growth is accelerating – sea level rose 4.8 millimeters annually over the past five years, compared to 4.1 millimeters annually for the five years before that.</p><p>The past five years have also seen many extreme events. These include record-breaking heatwaves in Europe, Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, major bushfires in Australia and elsewhere, prolonged drought in southern Africa and three North Atlantic hurricanes in 2017.</p>
Left: Global average temperature anomalies (relative to pre-industrial) from 1854 to 2020 for five data sets. UK-MetOffice. Right: Average sea level for the period from 1993 to July 16, 2020. European Space Agency and Copernicus Marine Service.
1 in 4 Chance of Exceeding 1.5°C Warming<p>Our report predicts a continuing warming trend. There is a high probability that, everywhere on the planet, average temperatures in the next five years will be above the 1981-2010 average. Arctic warming is expected to be more than twice that the global average.</p><p>There's a one-in-four chance the global annual average temperature will exceed 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels for at least one year over the next five years. The chance is relatively small, but still significant and growing. If a major climate anomaly, such as a strong El Niño, occurs in that period, the 1.5℃ threshold is more likely to be crossed. El Niño events generally bring warmer global temperatures.</p><p>Under the Paris Agreement, crossing the 1.5℃ threshold is measured over a 30-year average, not just one year. But every year above 1.5℃ warming would take us closer to exceeding the limit.</p>
Global average model prediction of near surface air temperature relative to 1981–2010. Black line = observations, green = modelled, blue = forecast. Probability of global temperature exceeding 1.5℃ for a single month or year shown in brown insert and right axis. UK Met Office.
Arctic Ocean Sea-Ice Disappearing<p>Satellite records between 1979 and 2019 show sea ice in the Arctic summer declined at about 13% per decade, and this year reached its lowest July levels on record.</p><p>In Antarctica, summer sea ice reached its lowest and second-lowest extent in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and 2018 was also the second-lowest winter extent.</p><p>Most simulations show that by 2050, the Arctic Ocean will practically be free of sea ice for the first time. The fate of Antarctic sea ice is less certain.</p>
Urgent Action Can Change Trends<p>Human activities emitted 42 billion tons of CO₂ in 2019 alone. Under the Paris Agreement, nations committed to reducing emissions by 2030.</p><p>But our report shows a shortfall of about 15 billion tons of CO₂ between these commitments, and pathways consistent with limiting warming to well below 2℃ (the less ambitious end of the Paris target). The gap increases to 32 billion tons for the more ambitious 1.5℃ goal.</p><p>Our report models a range of climate outcomes based on various socioeconomic and policy scenarios. It shows if emission reductions are large and sustained, we can still meet the Paris goals and avoid the most severe damage to the natural world, the economy and people. But worryingly, we also have time to make it far worse.</p>
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By Kathryn Crawford
Nearly a year before the novel coronavirus emerged, Dr. Leonardo Trasande published "Sicker, Fatter, Poorer," a book about connections between environmental pollutants and many of the most common chronic illnesses. The book describes decades of scientific research showing how endocrine-disrupting chemicals, present in our daily lives and now found in nearly all people, interfere with natural hormones in our bodies. The title sums up the consequences: Chemicals in the environment are making people sicker, fatter and poorer.
A comparison of the structures of estradiol (left), a female sex hormone, and BPA (right), an endocrine disruptor found in plastics often used in containers for storing food and beverages. Wikimedia
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By Regina Frei and Diego Vazquez-Brust
The secretive way in which plastic recycling is handled in the UK carries the potential for the next big scandal. While the government's statutory guidance is supposed to clarify who is responsible, our research suggests that what happens to plastics we believe to be recycled in the UK is in reality quite obscure.
Recycling Rates<p>We sifted through countless reports from businesses and local government bodies, as well as news stories and dozens of interviews with people at waste management companies, including one whistleblower.</p><p>What we discovered revealed several inconsistencies about recycling in the UK.</p><p>A <a href="https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8515/" target="_blank">government briefing paper</a> from March 2020 stated that 91% of the five million tonnes of plastics used in the UK each year is "sent towards treatment." This does not mean it is actually recycled, just that it went to a waste management company. Even so, the World Wide Fund for Nature estimated that the recycling rate for single-use plastics was <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2018-03/WWF_Plastics_Consumption_Report_Final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">29% in 2018</a>.</p><p>A <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/45069410" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018 report</a> by the Local Government Association found only one-third of plastics collected from households <em>can</em> be recycled, due to contamination, low-grade and mixed materials and technical difficulties.</p><p>The National Audit Office, an independent body responsible for auditing government departments, claimed in <a href="https://www.nao.org.uk/report/the-packaging-recycling-obligations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a> that there was a sixfold increase in exports of packaging material for recycling abroad between 2002 and 2017. Exports accounted for half of all packaging reported as recycled in 2017. So what happened to all of it?</p>
Exporting the Problem<p>According to industry experts, many businesses that call themselves recycling companies actually only sort waste and then sell it on, often via brokers, towards unknown destinations. Few have their own recycling facilities, and many refuse to say where the plastics go, claiming this is commercially sensitive information.</p><p>The prices at which plastic waste is traded vary depending on who you ask – councils, waste management and recycling companies, or businesses using recycled materials – without any explanation for the discrepancies. A report by the UK charity WRAP <a href="https://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/WRAP_Plastics_market_situation_report.pdf" target="_blank">indicated</a> that mixed rigid plastics fluctuated between negative prices and £55 (about $73) per tonne between 2016 and 2019, and about £50 ($66) to £120 ($158) for mixed polymers. One company we interviewed claimed to receive £350 ($462) per tonne of mixed plastics.</p><p>The UK exports large quantities of plastics to other countries, including Turkey, Egypt and Malaysia, as <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/china-ban-plastic-trash-imports-shifts-waste-crisis-southeast-asia-malaysia/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">China stopped importing waste</a> in January 2018. These countries lack the facilities to recycle their own plastics, let alone plastics from elsewhere. Little wonder that most plastics Turkey promises to recycle are actually <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/turkey-awash-plastic-waste-coronavirus-worse-200422003922227.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">burned or dumped</a>. Turkey's recycling capacity in 2019 was claimed to be <a href="https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/2019/10/17/plastic-recycling-sets-43-million-ton-goal-by-2030" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">850,000 tonnes</a> whereas <a href="https://www.ban.org/news/2020/6/29/plastic-waste-sent-from-eu-to-turkey-increased-by-almost-200-times" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost 600,000 tonnes were imported</a> from EU countries. Compare this to the 650 million tonnes that the UK alone exported and something does not add up.</p><p>Even just talking about "plastic waste" obscures how diverse the materials involved are, and how complicated the inevitable recycling process is. Take <a href="https://theecologist.org/2010/jan/19/how-green-are-tetrapak-food-cartons" target="_blank">TetraPaks</a> – the drink cartons you probably buy milk or orange juice in. Some 68% of councils <a href="http://www.ace-uk.co.uk/" target="_blank">collect them from the curbside</a>, but there are <a href="https://mashable.com/article/tetra-pak-recycle/?europe=true" target="_blank">few facilities worldwide</a> equipped to recycle them. The UK has <a href="http://www.ace-uk.co.uk/recycling/uk-reprocessing-plant" target="_blank">only one</a>, built in 2013, that can process 25,000 tonnes a year. But the UK produces about 60,000 tonnes of these cartons annually. Yet, the facility is running under capacity, according to an email they sent us. So most drink cartons must either be exported or have only their cardboard recycled, as they also contain low-density polyethylene (about 21%) and aluminum foil (4%) which are <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269412640_Optimizing_and_developing_a_continuous_separation_system_for_the_wet_process_separation_of_aluminum_and_polyethylene_in_aseptic_composite_packaging_waste" target="_blank">difficult to separate</a>.</p><p>And COVID-19 has made the UK's recycling problem <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-the-pandemic-could-slash-the-amount-of-plastic-waste-we-recycle-139616" target="_blank">much worse</a>. The use of single-use plastics, including disposable masks and other PPE, has prompted <a href="https://theconversation.com/avoiding-single-use-plastic-was-becoming-normal-until-coronavirus-heres-how-we-can-return-to-good-habits-140555" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a steep increase</a> during the pandemic. Online shopping, with all the additional packaging, has risen too, while recycling in <a href="https://theconversation.com/rubbish-is-piling-up-and-recycling-has-stalled-waste-systems-must-adapt-137100" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">developing countries and elsewhere</a> has halted. All of these factors have increased the amount of plastic waste the UK exports, and increased the likelihood that it will be dumped.</p>
What to Do<p>Exporting plastic waste should be forbidden without clear proof it will be recycled. We want to alert the public to this growing problem so that the government is forced to create a legal framework with enforceable regulations, ensuring British plastics are responsibly recycled in Britain.</p><p>Plastics recycling comes in many shapes and forms. There are mechanical and chemical processes for recycling the many different types. Most processes require plastics to be clean and separated by type, but there are also processes such as <a href="https://www.plasticexpert.co.uk/plastic-recycling-pyrolysis/" target="_blank">pyrolysis</a> that can process mixed and contaminated plastics, including printed films.</p><p>To deal with all of our plastics, the UK needs to build an integrated plastics recycling facility that can deal with all these in every part of the country.</p><p>As a last resort, the unrecyclable leftover waste should be burned in an <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/climate/sweden-garbage-used-for-fuel.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">incinerator</a> to generate energy. These are common in continental Europe, but the UK seems to <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-50212332" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prefer landfill</a>, with incinerator projects <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-49056263" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">regularly rejected</a>.</p><p>Though not perfect, incineration in Britain would be a vast improvement on the current situation, where plastics are shipped to the other side of the planet only to be dumped and burned illegally.</p>
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By David Duffy and Catherine Eastman
Plastic pollution has been found in practically every environment on the planet, with especially severe effects on ocean life. Plastic waste harms marine life in many ways – most notably, when animals become entangled in it or consume it.
Post-hatchling sea turtle being treated at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, CC BY-ND
The Sargasso Sea is an important feeding ground for immature Atlantic sea turtles, but the same currents that concentrate seaweed there also carry drifting plastic trash. University of Florida, CC BY-ND
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By Erika Bocknek
The choice between in-person learning, where available, and remote learning is a fraught one for parents. Children experience joy and connection when they learn alongside other kids, but they risk being exposed to the coronavirus. Remote learning at home can protect kids from COVID-19, but does it set back their social-emotional development?
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By Scott L. Montgomery
The Trump administration has announced that it is opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development – the latest twist in a decades-long battle over the fate of this remote area. Its timing is truly terrible.
Years of Debate<p>ANWR is inarguably an ecological treasure. With 45 species of mammals and over 200 species of birds from six continents, the refuge <a href="https://www.amnh.org/explore/science-bulletins/earth/documentaries/reading-the-rocks-the-search-for-oil-in-anwr/essay-northern-alaska-rich-in-wildlife-and-oil/" target="_blank">is more biodiverse</a> than almost any area in the Arctic.</p><p>This is especially true of the 1002 <a href="https://www.fws.gov/refuge/arctic/wildlife_habitat.html" target="_blank">coastal plain portion</a>, which has the largest number of polar bear dens in Alaska. It also supports <a href="https://theconversation.com/scientist-at-work-tracking-muskoxen-in-a-warming-arctic-70378" target="_blank">muskoxen</a>, Arctic wolves, foxes, hares, migrating waterfowl and Porcupine caribou, which calve there. Most of ANWR is designated as wilderness, which puts it off-limits for development. But this <a href="https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33872.pdf" target="_blank">does not include the 1002 Area</a>, which was recognized as a promising area for energy development when the refuge was created in 1980 and left that way after a 1987 study confirmed its potential.</p><p>Climate change is causing <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">especially rapid warming in the Arctic</a>, with probable negative effects for many of these species. Environmental advocates argue that fossil fuel production in ANWR will <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/protect-arctic-national-wildlife-refuge" target="_blank">add to this process</a>, damaging habitat and impacting the <a href="https://www.alaskapublic.org/2019/07/02/in-arctic-village-gwichin-leaders-say-the-fight-to-stop-drilling-in-the-arctic-refuge-isnt-over/" target="_blank">Indigenous people who rely on the wildlife</a> for subsistence. But the situation is complex: There are also <a href="https://www.ktoo.org/2019/07/02/in-the-alaska-village-where-anwr-is-the-backyard-many-see-drilling-as-an-opportunity/" target="_blank">Indigenous groups who support ANWR development</a> for the jobs and income it would bring.</p><p>Energy companies' interest in ANWR, meanwhile, has risen and fallen over time. The discovery of oil at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prudhoe_Bay_Oil_Field" target="_blank">Prudhoe Bay</a> in 1968, followed by <a href="https://www.cfr.org/timeline/oil-dependence-and-us-foreign-policy" target="_blank">two oil shocks in the 1970s</a>, sparked support for exploration and production in the region. But this enthusiasm faded in the late 1980s and '90s in the face of fierce political and legal opposition and years of low oil prices.</p>
A majority of Americas of all political leanings believe the U.S. should develop alternative energy sources rather than expanding production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pew Research Center, CC BY-ND
Is ANWR Oil Worth It?<p>Today the oil industry is facing its greatest set of challenges in modern history. They include:</p><ul><li>A collapse in oil demand and prices due to the global pandemic, with a sluggish and <a href="https://www.iea.org/reports/oil-market-report-august-2020" target="_blank">uncertain recovery</a></li><li>Companies canceling and reducing activity worldwide, with bankruptcies in the U.S. shale industry and <a href="https://energynow.com/2020/08/u-s-oil-gas-rig-count-falls-to-record-low-for-14th-week-baker-hughes/" target="_blank">drilling rig counts</a> falling back to 1940 levels</li><li>New uncertainty about future global oil demand as climate concerns push public interest and government policy toward electric vehicles, and automakers respond with new EV designs</li><li>The growing possibility of Democratic victories in the November 2020 elections, which would likely lead to policies reducing fossil fuel use</li><li>Increasing <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-barclays/barclays-pressured-by-shareholders-to-cut-fossil-fuel-financing-idUSKBN1Z700F" target="_blank">investor pressure</a> on banks and investment firms to reduce or eliminate support for fossil fuel projects.</li></ul><p>All of these factors compound the challenges of leasing and drilling in ANWR. Well costs there would be among the highest anywhere onshore in the U.S. Only one well has ever been drilled in the area, so new drilling would be purely exploratory and have a lower chance of success than in better-studied areas. Under these conditions, it would make more sense for companies that are active on Alaska's North Slope to pursue sites they currently have under lease, which pose much lower risk.</p>
Alaska's North Slope outside of ANWR remains rich in oil, according to the latest U.S. Geological Survey assessment. USGS<p>What's more, as I have <a href="https://theconversation.com/large-scale-fracking-comes-to-the-arctic-in-a-new-alaska-oil-boom-75683#comment_1264055" target="_blank">argued previously</a>, it's not clear that there's a need to drill in ANWR. Energy companies have made new discoveries elsewhere south and west of Prudhoe Bay – most recently, the <a href="https://www.rigzone.com/news/pantheon_resources_makes_alaska_north_slope_discovery-13-apr-2020-161730-article/" target="_blank">Talitha Field</a>, which could yield 500 million barrels or more.</p><p>Companies that pursue leases in ANWR also will have to weigh the prospects of litigation, investor anger and a tarnished brand – especially large firms with public name recognition. Shell's experience in 2015, when it <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/28/shell-backtracks-on-controversial-arctic-drilling-plan/" target="_blank">abandoned plans to drill offshore in the Arctic</a> under heavy pressure, indicate what other companies can expect.</p><p>If Trump is voted out of office, I expect that a Biden administration would quickly move to <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/06/most-trump-environmental-rollbacks-will-take-years-to-be-reversed/" target="_blank">reverse</a> the directive for leasing in ANWR. In my view, this contested area will have far more meaning and value as a wildlife refuge in a warming world that is starting to seriously move away from hydrocarbon energy.</p>
By Monica Gandhi
Masks slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 by reducing how much infected people spray the virus into the environment around them when they cough or talk. Evidence from laboratory experiments, hospitals and whole countries show that masks work, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends face coverings for the U.S. public. With all this evidence, mask wearing has become the norm in many places.
Exposure Dose Determines Severity of Disease<p>When you breathe in a respiratory virus, it immediately begins hijacking any cells it lands near to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2020.05.042" target="_blank">turn them into virus production machines</a>. The immune system tries to stop this process to halt the spread of the virus.</p><p>The amount of virus that you're exposed to – called the viral inoculum, or dose – <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri2802" target="_blank">has a lot to do with how sick you get</a>. If the exposure dose is very high, the immune response can become overwhelmed. Between the virus taking over huge numbers of cells and the immune system's drastic efforts to contain the infection, a lot of damage is done to the body and a person can become very sick.</p><p>On the other hand, if the initial dose of the virus is small, the immune system is able to contain the virus with less drastic measures. If this happens, the person experiences fewer symptoms, if any.</p><p>This concept of viral dose being related to disease severity has been around for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a118408" target="_blank">almost a century</a>. Many animal studies have shown that the higher the dose of a virus you give an animal, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1258%2Fla.2012.011157" target="_blank">more sick it becomes</a>. In 2015, researchers tested this concept in human volunteers using a nonlethal flu virus and found the same result. The higher the flu virus dose given to the volunteers, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciu924" target="_blank">the sicker they became</a>.</p><p>In July, researchers published a paper showing that viral dose was related to disease severity in hamsters exposed to the coronavirus. Hamsters who were given a higher viral dose <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2009799117" target="_blank">got more sick than hamsters given a lower dose</a>.</p><p>Based on this body of research, it seems very likely that if you are exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the lower the dose, the less sick you will get.</p><p>So what can a person do to lower the exposure dose?</p>
Masks Reduce Viral Dose<p>Most infectious disease researchers and epidemiologists believe that the coronavirus is <a href="https://doi.org/doi:10.1001/jama.2020.12458" target="_blank">mostly spread by airborne droplets</a> and, to a lesser extent, tiny aerosols. Research shows that both cloth and surgical masks can <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.7326%2FM20-2567" target="_blank">block the majority of particles that could contain SARS-CoV-2</a>. While no mask is perfect, the goal is not to block all of the virus, but simply reduce the amount that you might inhale. Almost any mask will successfully block some amount.</p><p>Laboratory experiments have shown that good cloth masks and surgical masks could block at least <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/annhyg/meq044" target="_blank">80% of viral particles from entering your nose and mouth</a>. Those particles and other contaminants will get trapped in the fibers of the mask, so the CDC recommends <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-wash-cloth-face-coverings.html" target="_blank">washing your cloth mask after each use if possible</a>.</p><p>The final piece of experimental evidence showing that masks reduce viral dose comes from another hamster experiment. Hamsters were divided into an unmasked group and a masked group by placing surgical mask material over the pipes that brought air into the cages of the masked group. Hamsters infected with the coronavirus were placed in cages next to the masked and unmasked hamsters, and air was pumped from the infected cages into the cages with uninfected hamsters.</p><p>As expected, the masked hamsters were less likely to get infected with COVID-19. But when some of the masked hamsters did get infected, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa644" target="_blank">they had more mild disease</a> than the unmasked hamsters.</p>
Masks Increase Rate of Asymptomatic Cases<p> In July, the CDC estimated that around <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios.html" target="_blank">40% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic</a>, and a <a href="https://doi.org/10.7326/M20-3012" target="_blank">number of other studies</a> have <a href="https://theconversation.com/can-people-spread-the-coronavirus-if-they-dont-have-symptoms-5-questions-answered-about-asymptomatic-covid-19-140531" target="_blank">confirmed this number</a>. </p><p> However, in places where everyone wears masks, the rate of asymptomatic infection seems to be much higher. In an <a href="https://www.msn.com/en-us/travel/news/greg-mortimer-passengers-to-be-evacuated-after-almost-60-test-positive-for-coronaviru/ar-BB12ie3v" target="_blank">outbreak on an Australian cruise ship</a> called the Greg Mortimer in late March, the passengers were all given surgical masks and the staff were given N95 masks after the first case of COVID-19 was identified. Mask usage was apparently very high, and even though 128 of the 217 passengers and staff eventually tested positive for the coronavirus, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1136/thoraxjnl-2020-215091" target="_blank">81% of the infected people remained asymptomatic</a>. </p><p> Further evidence has come from two more recent outbreaks, the first at a <a href="https://apnews.com/4b9d38f206db9ce5267a5898ac24f238" target="_blank">seafood processing plant in Oregon</a> and the second at a <a href="https://www.tysonfoods.com/news/news-releases/2020/6/tyson-foods-inc-releases-covid-19-test-results-northwest-arkansas" target="_blank">chicken processing plant in Arkansas</a>. In both places, the workers were provided masks and required to wear them at all times. In the outbreaks from both plants, nearly <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-020-06067-8" target="_blank">95% of infected people were asymptomatic</a>. </p><p> There is no doubt that universal mask wearing slows the spread of the coronavirus. My colleagues and I believe that evidence from laboratory experiments, case studies like the cruise ship and food processing plant outbreaks and long-known biological principles make a strong case that masks protect the wearer too. </p><p> The goal of any tool to fight this pandemic is to slow the spread of the virus and save lives. Universal masking will do both. </p><p> <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/monica-gandhi-1080710" target="_blank">Monica Gandh</a> is a Professor of Medicine, Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. </p><p> Disclosure statement: Monica Gandhi does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. </p><p> <em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/cloth-masks-do-protect-the-wearer-breathing-in-less-coronavirus-means-you-get-less-sick-143726" target="_blank">The Conversation</a>.</em><em></em> </p>
By Luke Montrose
If I dare to give the coronavirus credit for anything, I would say it has made people more conscious of the air they breathe.
What’s in Wildfire Smoke?<p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-018-0064-7" target="_blank">What exactly is in a wildfire's smoke</a> depends on a few key things: what's burning – grass, brush or trees; the temperature – is it flaming or just smoldering; and the distance between the person breathing the smoke and the fire producing it.</p><p>The distance affects the ability of smoke to "age," meaning to be acted upon by the sun and other chemicals in the air as it travels. <a href="http://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.9b01034" target="_blank">Aging can make it more toxic</a>. Importantly, large particles like what most people think of as ash do not typically travel that far from the fire, but small particles, or aerosols, can travel <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2018.06.006" target="_blank">across continents</a>.</p>
Smoke from wildfires obscures the California sky on Aug. 19, 2020. Lauren Dauphin/NASA Earth Observatory<p>Smoke from wildfires contains <a href="https://www3.epa.gov/airnow/wildfire-smoke/wildfire-smoke-guide-revised-2019.pdf" target="_blank">thousands of individual compounds</a>, including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. The most prevalent pollutant by mass is particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, roughly 50 times smaller than a grain of sand. Its prevalence is one reason health authorities issue air quality warnings using PM2.5 as the metric.</p>
What Does That Smoke Do to Human Bodies?<p>There is another reason <a href="https://www.calhospital.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/wildfire_smoke_considerations_for_californias_public_health_officials_august_2019.pdf" target="_blank">PM2.5 is used to make health recommendations</a>: It defines the cutoff for particles that can travel deep into the lungs and cause the most damage.</p><p>The human body is equipped with natural defense mechanisms against particles bigger than PM2.5. As I tell my students, if you have ever <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/mucociliary-clearance" target="_blank">coughed up phlegm</a> or blown your nose after being around a campfire and discovered black or brown mucus in the tissue, you have witnessed these mechanisms firsthand.</p><p>The really small particles bypass these defenses and disturb the air sacks where oxygen crosses over into the blood. Fortunately, we have specialized immune cells present in the air sacks called macrophages. It's their job to seek out foreign material and remove or destroy it. However, <a href="http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2020.305744" target="_blank">studies</a> have shown that repeated exposure to elevated levels of wood smoke can suppress macrophages, leading to increases in lung inflammation.</p>
What Does That Mean for COVID-19 Symptoms?<p>Dose, frequency and duration are important when it comes to smoke exposure. Short-term exposure can irritate the eyes and throat. Long-term exposure to wildfire smoke over days or weeks, or breathing in heavy smoke, can raise the risk of <a href="https://www.calhospital.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/wildfire_smoke_considerations_for_californias_public_health_officials_august_2019.pdf" target="_blank">lung damage</a> and may also contribute to <a href="https://health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/air/smoke_from_fire.htm" target="_blank">cardiovascular problems</a>. Considering that it is the macrophage's job to remove foreign material – including smoke particles and pathogens – it is reasonable to make a <a href="http://doi.org/10.3109/08958378.2012.756086" target="_blank">connection</a> between smoke exposure and risk of viral infection.</p><p>Recent evidence suggests that long-term exposure to PM2.5 may make the coronavirus more deadly. A nationwide study found that even a small increase in PM2.5 from one U.S. county to the next was associated with a <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.05.20054502" target="_blank">large increase in the death rate</a> from COVID-19.</p>
What Can You Do to Stay Healthy?<p>The advice I gave my friend who had been running while smoke was in the air applies to just about anyone downwind from a wildfire.</p><p>Stay informed about air quality by identifying local resources for air quality alerts, information about active fires, and recommendations for better health practices.</p><p>If possible, avoid being outside or doing strenuous activity, like running or cycling, when there is an air quality warning for your area.</p><p>Be aware that not all face masks protect against smoke particles. In the context of COVID-19, the best data currently suggests that a cloth mask benefits public health, especially for those around the mask wearer, but also to some extent <a href="https://theconversation.com/cloth-masks-do-protect-the-wearer-breathing-in-less-coronavirus-means-you-get-less-sick-143726" target="_blank">for the person wearing the mask</a>. However, most cloth masks will not capture small wood smoke particles. That requires an N95 mask in conjunction with fit testing for the mask and training in how to wear it. Without a proper fit, N95s do not work as well.</p><p>Establish a clean space. Some communities in western states have offered "clean spaces" programs that help people take refuge in buildings with clean air and air conditioning. However, during the pandemic, being in an enclosed space with others can create other health risks. At home, a person can create clean and cool spaces using a window air conditioner and a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kH5APw_SLUU" target="_blank">portable air purifier</a>.</p><p><span></span><a href="https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/how-smoke-fires-can-affect-your-health" target="_blank">The EPA also advises</a> people to avoid anything that contributes to indoor air pollutants. That includes vacuuming that can stir up pollutants, as well as burning candles, firing up gas stoves and smoking.</p>
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