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/

Nuclear Fusion: Solution to the Climate Crisis?

by Arun

President-elect Joe Biden has a vision for the United States that sees the elimination of all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2035, as a result of the wide-spread adoption of the economization of renewable energy from the wind and sun. Recent findings from researchers may speed up this timeline, as they found promising results that nuclear fusion may be a possible solution to the climate crisis.

The researchers are developing promising technology that generates more energy than it consumes. Though there is no prototype yet and the reactor is still in development, scientists behind what is called the “Sparc,” believe it will be capable of producing electricity for the grid by 2030. In an interview, one of the project’s senior scientists built on the optimism by saying that “fusion seems like one of the possible solutions to get ourselves out of our impending climate disaster.” 

What is Nuclear Fusion?

By definition, nuclear fusion is “a nuclear reaction in which atomic nuclei of low atomic number fuse to form a heavier nucleus with the release of a large amount of energy.” The scientists hope that by harnessing this large release of energy, they will be able to produce large amounts of energy that will supplement daily electricity usage. But what is actually the challenge of this project is actually harnessing the energy, in addition to nuclear fusion being equally very dangerous and powerful. It is more promising than the nuclear fission reactors that we see today, as fusion produces no greenhouse gases or carbon, and does not have risks of a meltdown.

The science behind the device is far more complicated, and to learn more about the MIT-based team, projects, and ventures, follow this link: https://www.psfc.mit.edu/sparc

The initial results of the project seem promising, yet being able to scale the project and effectively being able to harness the energy without letting any escape and causing related catastrophes are yet to be nailed down. The exploratory project, however, seems to be very exciting and met with a lot of optimism and it seems to be a feasible alternative to scaling renewable energy and promoting a greener world.

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.

Biden Selects Brenda Mallory to Lead Environmental Quality Council

by Arun

This past week, President-elect Joe Biden picked Brenda Mallory to lead the Environmental Quality Council, putting her in a position to coordinate government-wide initiatives that will mitigate climate change and encourage sustainable development. Her selection comes at the heels of several other picks Biden has made as he assembles his cabinet and team that will carry out the entirety of his agenda.

What does the council do?

According to the New York Times, The Environmental Quality Council is “a division of the office of the president, and plays a behind-the-scenes role in federal environmental policy.” The council’s main role is the coordination of government-led initiatives and often works in concordance with the larger agencies like the Interior Department or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Brenda Mallory currently serves as the director of regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center and has worked on issues ranging from pollution to land conservation. She is also a graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, and has spent over 15 years at various positions within the Environmental Protection Agency.  Under the Obama administration, where she had the role of general counsel, she pioneered efforts that created new national monuments.

Moreover, she also helped lead The Climate 21 Project, which has given recommendations and guidelines for how the government can address climate change effectively, which lines in with the ideals of the Council on Environmental Quality as they stated that “[the council] is best suited to elevate environmental justice to the White House and to lead the agenda on climate change resilience.”

Bill Gates’s Plan for US Leadership to Combat Climate Change

by Arun

Bill Gates, famously known for his prominence as a big tech CEO as the co-founder of Microsoft has not seen his influence diminish since he left Microsoft’s day-to-day operations in 2008. He now dedicates his time to philanthropy, improving developing countries, and humanitarian efforts – most recently, with climate change. Gates unveiled a plan of how US Leadership could effectively fight climate, noted in a plan that involves a $25 billion boost in spending, creating over 370,000 new jobs in the process as well.

Another key note in his plan is the outline for the creation of a network of “National Institutes of Energy Innovation.” Gates writes that there should be separate institutions that focus on separate facets of the environment like carbon capture, energy storage, and renewable technology. Additionally, Gates adds that the innovation taken by these institutes, which will be located around the country, should also be prepared to be commercialized in order to see any real impact.

Gates’s involvement in fighting climate change follows the now increasing trend of technology CEOs and major corporations joining to promote environmental awareness. Jeff Bezos has been another big name in this regard, as he has led a $10 billion dollar climate fund to which he will distribute to 16 organizations. The $10 billion Bezos is committing is 10 times as much as all philanthropic foundations dedicated towards efforts to combat climate change in 2018. In suit, Microsoft said in January that it would spend $1 billion over four years “on technologies that remove planet-heating carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

With industry leaders and major corporations backed by significant amounts of money, the fight towards mitigating climate change seems all the more stronger. As big money joins the effort, it brings up the importance of how all people – for-profit corporations and individuals alike – have a responsibility to participate in the fight for a better environment.

Image: https://pixelz.cc/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/bill-gates-microsoft-portrait-uhd-4k-wallpaper.jpg

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

How US President-Elect Joseph Biden plans to Combat Climate Change

by Kunaal Venugopal

With the results of the recent Presidential Election, Joseph R. Biden has been elected the 46th President of the United States, and the President-Elect has a climate plan that will go into effect as soon as he is in office. 

In a tweet, Biden outlined that he would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office. Limit global temperature rise by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Agreement aims to “Limit global temperature rise by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, provide a framework for transparency, accountability, and the achievement of more ambitious targets, and mobilize support for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing nations” (NRDC). Biden’s decision reverses the action by the Trump Administration to pull out of the Paris Agreement in 2017.

Biden’s Administration proposes making US energy production carbon-free by 2035, with the ultimate goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. To do this, Biden plans to make buildings more energy-efficient, invest in public transport, and incentivize electric vehicle use. All of these implementations create new jobs for the American people, so jobs won’t be at stake even with Biden phasing fracking out.

At the end of 2019, Biden’s original climate plan received a 75/200 score, an F. Since then, Biden has taken more radical steps to create a quicker transition to cleaner energy. Sunrise Movement’s executive director Varshini Prakash said to Inside Climate News. “We forced [Biden’s advisers] to backtrack, and … he put out a comprehensive climate plan that cites the Green New Deal and names climate change as the greatest challenge facing America and the world.”

The world will have to wait and see if Biden’s plan will be effective in mitigating climate change, but for the first time in many years, the United States may have something to look forward to in respect to helping the environment; whether it works or not, it’s a change the world, and the US, needed to see.

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