Category: Environmental Science

A Year in Review: A Challenging 2020 for the Environment

As 2020 comes to a close, we reflect on what has largely been a difficult and turbulent year for the world. Amid a global pandemic, the world’s landscape has changed and our way of life forever altered. Over a course of a resilient humanity and a different scope of the way we now see our lives, we have impacted – in both good ways and bad – the environment every step of the way. As we reflect on what came to be over the course of 2020, we acknowledge the difficulties that come with shutting down economies around the globe that resulted in decreases, then increases in pollution. It has surely been an equally turbulent year for the environment, experiencing some of the highest pollution and differences we have ever seen. Looking forward to seeing what 2021 has to bring, here is a list of some of the most notable changes from this year.

– The Incentive Team

Can Carbon Capture Stop Climate Change?

https://theincentive.org/2020/03/17/can-carbon-capture-stop-climate-change/

How Half the World’s Beaches Could Disappear by the End of the Century

https://theincentive.org/2020/03/17/how-half-the-worlds-beaches-could-disappear-by-the-end-of-the-century/

Here’s How Plant-Based Meats are Reducing the Carbon Footprint of the Agriculture Industry

https://theincentive.org/2020/03/01/heres-how-plant-based-meats-are-reducing-the-carbon-footprint-of-the-agriculture-industry/

Sweden’s Efficient Recycling Process the World Needs to Adapt for a Better Future

https://theincentive.org/2020/03/01/swedens-efficient-recycling-process-the-world-needs-to-adapt-for-a-better-future/

European Union Votes for 60% Cut in Emissions by 2030

https://theincentive.org/2020/10/17/european-union-votes-for-60-cut-in-emissions-by-2030/

China Looks to Achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2060

https://theincentive.org/2020/10/14/china-looks-to-achieve-carbon-neutrality-by-2060/

Protecting Peat Bogs Can Avert Global Warming Effects

https://theincentive.org/2020/10/12/protecting-peat-bogs-can-avert-global-warming-effects/

How Air Pollution Can Be Helpful in Developing Hurricane Path Models

by Arun

New research by a team of atmospheric scientists surprisingly found that industrial air pollution can actually help link hurricane path models to their cause. According to eos.org, researchers on the team compared models with aerosols to those without with observed data in relation to Hurricane Harvey’s path and rainfall, coming to the conclusion that air pollution was an influential factor that actually drove some of the catastrophic flooding in Houston and surrounding areas. They proved that current models didn’t predict the rainfall accurately because the aerosols the study considered and came with accurate results had not been previously addressed.

Why are aerosols so important?

Research surrounding the relationships between air pollution and storms has been a hot topic for atmospheric scientists recently as they seek to more accurately predict and determine causal effects for many natural disasters. Eos states that “particulate matter, especially very fine soot, can hover in the air for extended periods of time before settling to the ground, providing a focal point around which water molecules can condense. When water droplets form around the particles, a small amount of heat is released. In this way, more pollution leads to more condensed water and more heat, which in turn produces heavier rainfall and more intense lightning.”

In short, air pollution directly causes heavier rainfall as it allows for greater collection of water droplets and their concentration, allowing them to further condense.

The findings can be particularly useful for future hurricane modeling as it will allow scientists to look for air pollution patterns and accurately designate them as zones for heavier rainfall. In that regard, it will allow for greater protection for affected citizens and more information to spread around.

Another largely important finding this study brings about is yet again the effect that pollution is having on our lives, especially in the case of natural disasters. It brings about the need to be more cautious and mindful in the ways we pollute and the way we approach fuel, gas usage, and any other sort of environmental harm.

Study Shows Excess Plastic Pollution Causing Camels to Die

by Arun

A study done recently that has been published in the Journal of Arid Environments states that 1% of camels in the United Arab Emirates are dying due to the plastic they are unintentionally ingesting. The researchers, who looked through the remains of over 30,000 dead camels for their study, found that over 300 of them had large amounts of plastic in their stomachs. This is startling, as a figure of 1% is extremely high given the population of camels in the UAE. This is similar to ocean life and their plastic pollution which several creatures mistake for food.

The UAE is one of the largest homes for camels across the globe with over 459,000 camels. There have been issues in the past with these camels aside from pollution, as a research article published in December of 2015 showed that camels in the UAE also contained dangerous parasites. Plastic pollution, however, seems to be far more dangerous, wide-spread, and something that we can fix.

These camels are vulnerable creatures for ingesting plastic, as they most commonly eat plastic bags that drift and land alongside roads.

Study co-author Marcus Eriksen says he doesn’t blame the camels. He told onegreenplanet (onegreenplanet.org) that “If [the camels] see a plastic bag stuck in a tree… or stuck against a fence, they might think, ‘Oh, that’s a novel piece of food,’ and they’ll consume it.” The camels won’t know good from bad, and whatever drifts their way is what they will eat as a source of food. This situation comes at the square responsibility of society around the globe which has consistently increased the use of single-use plastics despite sustainability needs. A major issue that is presented is that plastic bags are often more economical and far more convenient. There are no incentives in place globally to not use plastic bags, and often, alternatives are not offered.

The Consequences of Noise and Air Pollution on Bird Reproduction

by Saarang Kashyap

The impacts of noise and light pollution on the health of bird populations has been largely overlooked. A new study by biologists at California Polytechnic State University takes a huge step forward in quantifying the negative effects of noise and light pollution on bird nesting habits and success.

Researchers looked at a massive collection of data sets — including those collected by citizen scientists through the NestWatch Program — to assess how light and noise affected the reproductive success of 58,506 nests from 142 species across North America. The team considered several factors for each nest, including the time of year breeding occurred and whether at least one chick fledged from the nest.

The biologists found that light pollution causes birds to begin nesting up to a month earlier than normal in open environments such as grasslands and wetlands, and 18 days earlier in forested environments. The consequence could be a mismatch in timing — hungry chicks may hatch before their food is available. When considering noise pollution, results showed that birds living in forested environments tend to be more sensitive to noise than birds in open environments.  Noise pollution delayed nesting for birds whose songs are at a lower frequency as they were more difficult to hear through low-frequency human noise.

As NASA states, these findings suggest two conclusions about birds’ responses to climate change. First, at least temporarily, birds in brighter conditions are tracking climate change slightly better than those living in dark areas. Second, when considering noise pollution, results showed that birds that live in forested environments tend to be more sensitive to noise than birds in open environments.

The study is the first step toward a larger goal of developing a sensitivity index for all North American birds. The index would allow managers and conservationists to cross-reference multiple physical traits for one species to assess how factors such as light and noise pollution would affect each species. Developers and land managers can then use this data to see how implementations of new plans affect avian wildlife.

Image: https://justbirding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/cool-birds-european-bee-eater-couple-Merops-apiaster.jpg

Carbon Dioxide Pollution Reaches Record High Despite Lockdown

by Arun

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization has released a report detailing that climate-heating gases have reached record highs despite the lockdowns instituted due to the widespread COVID-19 pandemic.

According to The Guardian, there is estimated to be between a 4.2% and 7.5% cut in emissions in 2020 as a result of the global lockdowns which have significantly impacted the industrial and travel industries but has also negated the need for standard commute. With all the facts pointed out, however, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) states that although these numbers have been a small dip in greenhouse gas emissions, it should not detract from the fact that there has been a continuous buildup of greenhouse gases caused by unnatural, human-influenced activities.

In 2019, the WMO reports that the increase in carbon dioxide level in 2019 has risen by more than the average increase over the last decades. Furthermore, scientists agree that in order to limit global heating to about 1.5C, global emissions must fall by 50% by 2030, a steep drop that warrants serious action. 

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 50% higher than it was in 1750, which sparked the start of the industrial revolution, causing an increase in urbanization and a rise in factories. During the industrial revolution, pollution in the cities was described as being unbearable and filling the air as a result of the spike in modernization.

To accomplish the ambitious goals set forth by the WMO, Petteri Taalas, Secretary of the WMO, states that a “complete transformation of our industrial, energy and transport systems” would be needed. Global leaders have resonated with this idea, setting forth ambitious goals of achieving carbon neutrality within the next few decades in addition to banning many gas-emitting processes, including gasoline cars. These changes have given rise to companies across the globe that focus on the future of renewable energy, like Tesla.

As global carbon dioxide emissions continuously increase, it brings forth the need for the world to bound together to address the issue. As a result of individuals and companies alike working together to mitigate climate change, the future of a green planet seems to be bright.

Image: https://www.wallpaperflare.com/gray-and-white-factory-blue-co2-dioxide-energy-gases-greenhouse-wallpaper-zfmmv

Study Reveals How Plastic Pollution Spreads Everywhere

by Arun

Since the invention of plastic in 1907 by Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland, who created the first mass-produced plastic, which he called “Bakelite,” the use of plastic has astronomically increased. According to plasticoceans.org, “packaging is the largest end-use market segment [which accounts] for just over 40% of plastic usage.” Additionally, approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide annually, coming out to more than one million plastic bags every minute. The organization also claims that the average “working life,” or use for a plastic bag, is an average of 15 minutes.

With its exponential increase in usage, it is clear to see the large environmental implications plastic can have on the environment. Microplastic particles from disposable goods can be found in natural environments throughout the globe, including Antarctica. 

But how could these particles travel so far?

The answer, surprisingly, lies in soil. A recent study by Princeton University reveals a mechanism by which microplastic and pollutants can be carried and transferred over large distances by soil which also brings to light the potential implications for preventing the spread of contaminants in food and water sources. 

Assistant Professor Sujit Datta, who led the research endeavor, found that the microplastic particles are released when the rate of fluid flowing through the clog remains high enough. Additionally, the researchers showed that through the process of deposition and erosion, the breakup of these particles is cyclical, as they are broken up by fluid pressure over distance, allowing them to reform and ultimately travel over larger distances.

The findings are exciting, as it enables us to better understand the sources of contamination, working towards the ultimate goal of eventually preventing all forms of contamination. According to the organization Eurek Alert, the research can help inform mathematical models to better understand the likelihood of a particle moving over a certain distance and reaching a destination such as a river or an aquifer.

Image: https://www.wallpaperflare.com/garbage-in-the-middle-of-green-grass-waste-container-waste-bins-wallpaper-uikbv

Researchers Find that Air Pollution Reduces Life Expectancy in Utah

by Arun

Since the beginning of the industrial age of America sparked by the Industrial Revolution, the country’s air quality has begun to worsen significantly. Recently, these issues have been brought to light as the issue of climate change is now being brought into the political light. A recent study done at Brigham Young University (BYU) highlights the pressing nature of the need to address the current climate crisis, as they found that the state’s poor air quality affects both the state’s economy and its residents’ longevity. 

The study, led by graduate student Isabella Errigo, concluded that air pollution in Utah has resulted from anywhere between 2,500 and 8,000 premature annual deaths, in addition to reducing the median life expectancy from a range of 1.1 to 3.6 years. To reach these results, the study employed an approach called “expert assessment,” which goes through freely available and cited research from scientific studies in conjunction with expert opinions to make a conclusion. From their analysis, the researchers were able to identify both the diseases and economic damage that came as a result of the poor air quality.

What was surprising, however, was the startling economic impact of the poor air quality. The researchers found that anywhere from $750 million to $3.3 billion were lost due to poor air conditions as a primary result of crop damage, health care expenses, and lost tourism.

The state has been at work to combat these issues, as outlined in the Utah Roadmap to Clean Air, which outlines regulations that will save the state approximately $500 million annually as soon as 2030.

Poor air quality has been on the rise across the country, and it is clear that it is having both severe economic and health impacts. Utah is working to address these issues, and as more states follow, the future of carbon neutrality for America looks to be happening sooner than later.

Image: https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/GettyImages-687918212.jpg

Global Warming is Threatening the Survival of UK Wildlife

by Arun

The ongoing climate crisis is having an effect on all facets of life, such as politics, business, and daily lifestyle, and global leaders have taken notice of their trend and are starting to prioritize the fight against global warming in their agenda. Beyond humans and Earth-preservation, the largest victim group of human-induced climate change is perhaps the wildlife. This is exemplified in the United Kingdom (UK), where new research shows that warming temperatures have outpaced wildlife adaptation time and the survival of several wildlife species is now on the edge of extinction.

According to The Guardian, research suggests that “researching and connecting species-rich wild habitat across 30% of Britain’s land and sea by 2030 could save a fifth of species from climate-driven habitat loss, decline, or extinction.” Furthermore, organizations have common together to support the cause and help fight back against the at-risk wildlife by relocating them to cleaner areas. However, these organizations observe that large scale and sustained impact is impossible without lasting and extended support, which is not all-so-present currently.

One of these organizations, Rewilding Britain, “is proposing a network of rewilding areas in native forests, peat bogs, moorlands, heaths, grasslands, saltmarshes, and living reefs, without any loss of productive farmland.” Through this process, the organization hopes to make existing land without a more densely populated wildlife, in a manner that does not coincide with human processes.

The steps made by British organizations are clearly in the right direction as the country is working together and carrying out tangible tasks in an effort to effectively mitigate global warming and support the preservation of wildlife. The outcomes are promising, but the organizations can not do it alone. Widespread support and action, they say, are the keys to effectively combat global warming. Without everyone coming together, global warming simply can not be addressed.

Image: https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/41ad05733a4fa73aa73fb2c24c54e95d6a567464/0_155_3200_1919/master/3200.jpg?width=620&quality=45&auto=format&fit=max&dpr=2&s=ed5f244a8deed8e18b5a8884aa44806c

US Department on Energy makes Statement Regarding Emissions of Electric Vehicles

by Kaushal Kumar

Recently, the US Department of Energy put to bed the myth that electric vehicles are worse, or not any better for the environment than gasoline-powered vehicles. This statement was made in response to a mass internet campaign claiming that due to the amount of energy and resources needed to form batteries for electric vehicles and the complications that come with disposing of them or re-using them, and that electric vehicles are not any better for the environment than gasoline power vehicles. An example of this campaign is a Facebook post, claiming that a 1000 pound electric battery requires 500,000 pounds of raw material to create, therefore making the vehicle it is placed in just as damaging to the environment. However, this claim has recently been proven false. The US Department of Energy recently compared the lifecycle emissions of fully-electric, hybrid, and gasoline-powered vehicles, finding that electric vehicles do, in nearly all cases, have fewer emissions than a gasoline-powered car. 

However, this barrage of misinformation does not only include internet memes and popular Facebook posts. In 2019, a German study claimed that the Tesla Model 3, a fully electric car, emitted just as much CO2 into the atmosphere as a Mercedes C-Class vehicle with a diesel engine. This was recently proven to be false with the co-author of the new study, Auke Hoekstra explaining, “A Tesla Model 3 currently emits 65% less CO2 than a Mercedes C-Class.” 

The disinformation regarding electric vehicles is an obstacle that will forever be a challenge to the renewable energy automobile industry. Critics and skeptics will continue to attack these new vehicles with factless claims and arguments. As the popularity of electric vehicles increases, so will the volume of this slander. 

Even the idea that the US Department of Energy felt that they had to make a statement on this proves the difficulty of our battle against climate change. A fact that seemed so obvious is something that people are willing to discredit and lie about. The fight against climate change is very much one about the battle for truth, with one side claiming they have the truth and the other side proving that they do. Ultimately, it is the role of the reader to sift through the lies and exaggerations of the deniers and find for themselves what the science supports.

Image: https://www.wuwm.com/sites/wuwm/files/styles/x_large/public/202002/AdobeStock_79753939.jpeg

European Union Votes for 60% Cut in Emissions by 2030

by Nakul

This past week marked a landmark event in the European Union’s attempt to strive towards a greener Europe. The member countries by 60% in the European Parliament unanimously voted in favor of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in its 2 comparisons to 1990. The proposal won the support of 392 Members of European Parliament (MEPs), with 161 MEPs voting against and 142 MEPs abstaining, as The Guardian reported. Previously, the goal had been set for a 40% emission reduction, and the European Commission recommended a maximum decrease of 55%. However, the EU simply rejected this suggestion, with the environmental committee leader Pascal Canfin explaining, “Having the parliament supporting 60% helps the progressive countries in the council to drive ambition upwards”. 

Support for the Decision

Evidently, many individuals were heavily in favor of the outcome of the vote, and many gave public statements to express their sentiments. Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout stated, “This vote shows that the European Parliament is listening to the science…”. Similarly, Swedish MEP Jytee Guteland explained, “The adoption of the report sends a clear message to the Commission and the Council, in light of the upcoming negotiations. We expect all member states to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest and we need strong interim targets in 2030 and 2040 for the EU to achieve”. Imke Lübbeke of WWF supported the decision but also explained that “[The] 60% result needs to be taken up by Member States so we can take real steps towards a green economic recovery and a planet that thrives.”

Opposition to the Decision

Right-wing politicians of many member countries were not impressed by the vote, to say the least. German politician and member of Parliament Peter Liese stated, “I regret that the majority in the European Parliament did not support the European Commission’s Climate Law proposal but voted for the overambitious 60%”. Liese was in favor of the 55% recommended cut in emissions, but felt that the 60% cut risked too many jobs. French MEP Agnes Evren concurred, saying “Going beyond 55% would endanger jobs. Let’s not be ideological”. Canfin responded to these claims, arguing, “There is no trade-off between prosperity and climate action. On the contrary, the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of action”.
Ultimately, this vote by the European Union indubitably displays its authentic attempts to work towards establishing a more eco-friendly environment. Whether the member countries will accept this ambitious decision remains to be seen; as of now, there is not majority support among the member states of the 60% vote.

Image: https://euobserver.com/opinion/140843