by Anshul Dash
Recently, the Trump Administration signed executive orders waiving many environmental regulations. One of the regulations waived was federal authority on clean air regulations. The EPA proposed a new rule that changes the way the agency conducts analyses to impose Clean Air Act regulations. This new rule has been favored by the Trump Administration, and this new rule will effectively limit the strength of air pollution control.
EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler has stated that changing the way the federal government views public health benefits will allow the agency to come up with better justifications for weakening clean air and climate change regulations. The agency plans to justify their actions using economic arguments that stem from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plunging economy is adding stress to the regulations that need to be done by the EPA, and so to relieve that stress, the agency has decided to loosen regulation on clean air in order to not take in too much of the impacts from the changing economy.
The Trump administration plans to waive parts of the National Environmental Policy Act using “emergency authorities” in order to invest more in infrastructure projects such as construction of highways and pipelines. However, these plans have been questioned by lawyers and environmental activists, who believe that these projects are being rushed by the Trump administration. According to them, the Administration is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to speed up these projects, which have been developing at a slow pace before the pandemic hit.
To put things into perspective, during the Obama administration, the EPA drafted a rule toe limit toxic mercury pollution from power plants. The agency also estimated that imposing this rule would cost the electrical utility industry $9.6 billion annually. However, an initial analysis report claims that reducing mercury emissions would save only $6 million to be used for healthcare. To justify this imbalance, The Obama administration discovered that through the side effects of reducing mercury (reduction of soot and nitrogen oxide), there would be an additional $80 billion in health “co-benefits.” However, last month, the Trump administration decided to waive the mercury rule imposed during the Obama administration, thus getting rid of the discounts.
Andrew Wheeler has recently proposed extending the mercury rule through reducing the emphasis on co-benefits. He is expected to propose something similar with the clean water and chemical safety regulations. Mr. Wheeler has also stated that the EPA would continue to calculate the economic value of these co-benefits, but would no longer use these calculations when defending other rules. This means that previous rules such as the Obama-era mercury rule will no longer be defensible.
Through the recent actions taken by the Trump administration, many of the previous rules imposed by other presidents are facing a rollback. This can deeply affect the environment and can result in more pollution. The Trump administrations differs from other administrations in that it weakens federal authority and control while other administrations have done the opposite. Without proper regulation, power plants will not be kept in place and many pollutants can be released as a result.
By Ritvik Dutta
On Wednesday, eleven investors owning about 1.35% of Total SA’s capital increased pressure on the French Oil Company, stating that the current efforts to comply under the Paris Agreement were inadequate. The investors pushed for the company to alter their business plans to focus more on the reduction of carbon emissions. Although efforts were made in the past to attenuate greenhouse gas output of their own energy generation, their marketable products remained untouched.
The Paris Agreement was signed into action on November 4, 2016 in order to ensure lower environmental carbon levels in the future. Ratified by the 55 countries that make up the majority of global emissions, the agreement brings most of the polluting countries together to “strengthen the global response.” According to the UNFCC, the main goal of the UN committee that signed the agreement is to minimize as much greenhouse gas damage to the environment as possible and keep the temperature change in this century under “2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.”
Total SA’s investor group led by Meeschaert Asset Management consists of Actiam, Ecofi Investments, Sycomore Asset Management, La Banque Postale Asset Management, and Credit Mutuel Management. Together, they are working on creating a plan that they will present later at the next Total SA shareholder meeting currently scheduled for May 29th. In an interview done by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, an oil campaigner noted that if the plan is indeed implemented by Total SA, there would be a massive change in the oil giant’s business strategy. This huge change would prove to be instrumental during this time period due to the current COVID-19 outbreak. Demand for fuel is at an all-time low and the industry as a whole is forced to take drastic measures and institute cost cuts.
The Houston Chronicle reports that a separate organization by the name of Follow This is “delighted that institutional investors have now filed a resolution with the exact same request as ours.” Follow This adds that “Similar resolutions have been proven effective with Shell in 2017 and with BP and Equinor in 2019.” This forced reduction of emissions appeals to work with Total SA as it has in the past with other supergiant oil companies.
Competitors such as BP Plc, Repsol SA. Royal Dutch Shell, and Equinor ASA have all pledged to implement some form of carbon emission reduction, with BP plc and Repsol SA assuring carbon-free emissions by 2050. Total SA reports that since 2010, they have already reduced carbon emissions by 25%, pledging to reduce 40 million tons of carbon emissions by 2025. However, what the future actually entails for Total SA is yet to be seen.
By Ritvik Dutta
The Camden Power Station in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa currently produces around 5% of South Africa’s electricity production. Rising demands for energy in the continent of Africa have led to the recent swing of momentum towards using cleaner alternatives. A recent analysis conducted by the IAEA, an organization under the UN General Assembly that oversees the worldwide usage of nuclear energy by inhibiting malicious intents and promoting safe usage, suggests that African nations are starting to consider nuclear power as a possible source of energy.
As of now, only one of the fifty-four African countries has a commercial-use nuclear power plant: South Africa. That number is slated to change with countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Sudan, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Egypt discussing and assessing their readiness and steps to implement this surrogate form of energy. Countries that are less prepared, such as Algeria, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia are open to the possibility and their leaders are currently considering their possible options.
This sudden interest in nuclear energy was sparked due to a wide variety of reasons with the main being that most of the water in the sub-Saharan hydroelectric dams has started to dry up. Most South African countries are highly dependent on this electricity generated by these dams. The situation has become so dire that Zimbabwe has had to shed its power load. Learning from this situation, many African countries are looking to establish the security of power supply by looking to other sources.
Currently, one in three Africans lacks access to electricity, a rather sizable 600 million Africans. Members of an African organization named Power for All like Benson Kibiti believe that Africa should pursue off-grid solar energy, and that nuclear energy proves to be an expensive source. Africa is the second poorest continent measured by GDP per capita, second only to Antarctica. Yet despite this, African countries seem to have garnered enough interest to “embrace nuclear science in general,” as noted by Colin Namalambo in an interview with the Thomas Reuters Foundation. Notably, however, is the large interest that China and Russia have shown in the financing of these nuclear power plants.
The investment in this new form of renewable energy would engender a wide plethora of rules and cooperation between the estranged African nations. They would have to work together to solve financial and ethical issues and forge an agreement with one another and the IAEA to make sure that the safety of each country is held in check. Undoubtedly, the lack of coordination between the African nations poses a key challenge for the future.
By Anna Subbanna
It is commonly known that a patch of garbage bigger than Texas exists, which is dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is composed of several different types of plastic, including styrofoam. Styrofoam is especially dangerous because it is prone to fragmentation, which increases the rate at which disintegrates into microplastics. Microplastics are harmful to marine organisms and ecosystems because they have a “high potential to interfere with trophic processes and therefore with the export and cycling of organic matter” (Galgani, Nature News). However, the situation seems to be looking up, following a discovery that mealworms can safely eat styrofoam, formally known as polystyrene.
This finding comes as a result of a study by Stanford researchers. In the study, half of the polystyrene given to the mealworms was converted into CO2, while the other half of the material was turned into organic waste that is safe enough to use as mulch. When the researchers compared the styrofoam-eating mealworms to ones with a “regular diet,” there seemed to be no discernible difference in the behaviors, life spans, or biological process of the two groups. This discovery is significant because before this study, it was generally assumed that plastics such as polystyrene were non-biodegradable, or at least took an extremely long time (a thousand years) to even begin breaking down.
Can These Worms Take Out Our Trash?
According to Sloactive, “plastics and polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) comprise 90% of all marine debris” with most of it being single-use containers, such as coffee cups. One potential use of this research is to allow mealworms to feast on common trash items in order to reduce the amount of garbage that has to be processed and dealt with. Consequently, this will reduce the amount of garbage overflowing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, allowing clean up efforts on the patch to be more efficient as the growth rate is slowed.
However, these creatures are not a sustainable solution to our growing garbage problem. Like all animals, the mealworm secretes carbon dioxide. If these worms are put to work to process polystyrene, one drawback is that they would release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increasing the rate of climate change. Ultimately, the true effects are unknown as no research has been done on the hypothetical consequences. Aside from this, the mealworms can only help minutely curb the overflow of plastics; they are only a crutch. While mealworms could help us with existing plastic waste, we should work towards reducing or even eliminating the creation of new plastic waste. This is the only viable way to stop plastic pollution on marine ecosystems and the harmful effects they will have on aquatic organisms.
By Jalen Xing
Climate Change has not only caused significant problems in peoples’ health but also detrimental effects on the economy. As temperatures and ocean levels continue to rise, infrastructure, agriculture, and business can be greatly affected.
A report projected two scenarios: “if the higher-temperature scenario (4.5˚ C) prevails, climate change impacts on these 22 sectors could cost the U.S. $520 billion each year. If we can keep to 2.8˚ C, it would cost $224 billion less.” Infrastructure may begin to lose value near coasts because, due to the trend of rising sea levels, people are unable to predict whether or not their building will be in the water in the future. Therefore, in the future, many people will have trouble predicting trends and whether or not infrastructure should be built near coasts.
Another impact of rising water trends is in agriculture. Extreme rainfall events have increased 37 percent in the Midwest since the 1950s, and this year, the region has experienced above-normal amounts of rain and snowmelt that have caused historic flooding. This will result in many farmers losing their jobs from loss of agriculture, and disrupt food distribution in local markets. Farmers also face other difficulties from rising temperatures: droughts, fire risk, pests, and weeds. Furthermore, many commodity crops such as corn, soybean, wheat, rice, cotton, and oats don’t grow well in warm temperatures. This will begin to impact the price of each of these because growing and sustaining the crops will become substantially more difficult. Farmers will have to adapt by buying more pesticides, finding new ways to adapt, or utilizing alternatives in order to promote cooler temperatures, which will directly affect the consumer. Human productivity will begin to decrease as a result of the rising temperatures: temperature extremes are projected to cause the loss of two billion labor hours each year by 2090, resulting in $160 billion of lost wages. As more and more people are unwilling to work jobs in the heat, the cost to find workers will begin to increase and as a result, affect the consumer.
Climate change can also wreak havoc on businesses. Due to the varying temperatures and natural disasters, many businesses such as airports can’t predict the number of customers per season, which greatly affects their planning. Insurance plans can also increase because people are looking for different types of support in case of any extreme natural disasters. Many of the big companies have to preemptively prepare for natural disasters, costing them trillion dollars. Climate change can potentially change the economy whether we expect it to or not.
By Anna Subbanna
The COVID-19 situation has hit many sectors and communities hard, but the healthcare industry has taken the worst hit. As hospitals go into overdrive, there is a lot more production and disposal of medical equipment, which has a significant impact on climate change. According to the CDC, climate change indirectly results in a myriad of medical problems, such as “increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events.” The logical conclusion to derive is that slowing climate change is the most beneficial for the health of everyone. Ironically, just the US healthcare sector alone “accounts for nearly 1/10th of US greenhouse gas emissions” (New England Journal of Medicine) and if considered as a country, it would rank seventh in the world for number of emissions produced.
Where Are The Emissions Coming From?
As one can assume, running a hospital requires large amounts of energy, energy that is commonly sourced from coal-burning power plants. However, this is true for all businesses, so what makes the healthcare sector such a big polluter? To ensure that each patient remains safe when being treated, it is a policy that most medical instruments and tools are single-use, such as PPE, needles, cotton swabs. Since most of these items interact with blood or other potentially infectious material (OPIM), they are deemed to be hazardous and thus must go through a special medical-waste disposal process. Most states opt to incinerate their medical waste. This incineration process contributes to the industry’s large carbon emissions and also releases other potentially harmful air pollutants. However, this incineration process is not the only way the healthcare industry can worsen climate change. Medical waste that is not harmful enough to go through the incineration process is treated and then shipped to a “sanitary landfill.” Sanitary landfills are solely for hazardous waste, such as treated medical waste. If not sealed properly, the toxins and leftover chemicals in the waste can leak into the groundwater and pollute nearby water bodies.
What Can Be Changed?
Hospitals can lean towards using renewable and alternative energy sources, following the lead of institutions like Kaiser Permanente. Rather than relying on coal-burning power plants, they can turn to wind energy, solar power, or even utilize excess methane that is released from landfills. Additionally, some materials such as gauze can be recycled rather than incinerated, so hospitals can work towards ensuring the recycling of materials occurs. The healthcare industry must make an initiative to move towards being carbon-neutral and reduce its overall carbon emissions for a better future.