Where Will Your Plastic Trash Go Now That China Doesn’t Want It

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Plastic garbage from Trader Joe’s and an AARP card are peeking out of hillocks of plastic trash piling up in Indonesia. It’s a sign of a new global quandary: What should wealthy countries do with their plastic waste now that China no longer is buying it?

For years, America sold millions of tons of used yogurt cups, juice containers, shampoo bottles and other kinds of plastic trash to China to be recycled into new products.And it wasn’t just the U.S. Some 70 percent of the world’s plastic waste went to China – about 7 million tons a year.

Numerous Chinese millionaires were minted as recycling businesses started and blossomed. Sure, they paid for the world’s plastic and paper trash, but they made far more money from processing it and selling the resulting raw materials.

But last year the Chinese government dropped a bombshell on the world recycling business: It cut back almost all imports of trash. And now a lot of that plastic gets shipped to other countries that don’t have the capacity to recycle it or dispose of it safely….

About ‘The Plastic Tide’

NPR is exploring one of the most important environmental issues of our time: plastic waste. Click here to read more about the topic.

Shifting away from coal and keeping nuclear are key to cutting greenhouse gas emissions

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  1. Anasis et al. Optimal energy resource mix for the US and China to meet emissions pledgesApplied Energy, 2019; 238: 92 DOI: 10.1016/j.apenergy.2019.01.072

The United States could fulfill its greenhouse gas emission pledge under the Paris Climate Agreement by virtually eliminating coal as an energy source by 2024, according to new research.

….The researchers said eliminating coal as an energy source was the most significant step for the U.S. to meet its emissions target. As a result, the U.S. would need shift to an energy portfolio based on natural gas, efficiency, wind, solar power and biofuels, with oil used predominately for transportation fuel.

In the best of all worlds, nuclear power also would be part of the mix. The authors state that 12 new nuclear power plants would have to be built by 2025 to cost efficiently make up for the loss of coal, but that the goals could be reached without them at only a slightly higher cost….

As sea level rises, wetlands crank up their carbon storage

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  1. Rogers et al. Wetland carbon storage controlled by millennial-scale variation in relative sea-level riseNature, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-0951-7

Some wetlands perform better under pressure. A new study revealed that when faced with sea-level rise, coastal wetlands respond by burying even more carbon in their soils. Coastal wetlands, which include marshes, mangroves and seagrasses, already store carbon more efficiently than any other natural ecosystem, including forests….

For wetlands that had faced rising seas, carbon concentrations doubled or nearly quadrupled in just the top 20 centimeters of soil. When the scientists looked deeper, at 50 to 100 centimeters beneath the surface, the difference hit five to nine times higher.

The extra boost comes because the carbon added to wetland soils by plant growth and sediment is buried faster as wetlands become wetter. Trapped underwater with little to no oxygen, the organic detritus does not decompose and release carbon dioxide as quickly. And the higher the waters rise, the more underwater storage space exists for the carbon to get buried.

….The trick, of course, is to ensure wetlands do not drown and disappear if waters rise too quickly. “Preservation of coastal wetlands is critical if they are to play a role in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change,” Rogers said. For coastal wetlands to survive, they need space to migrate inland….

Want to save the planet? Green choices can’t compensate for unsustainable choices… All consumption causes permanent environmental harm

In reality, green options are at best less harmful rather than restorative.The best thing for the environment would of course be for us to consume less overall.
–We should give consumers immediate feedback on how much ‘eco-labeled’ and other products add to the environmental impact of what they are buying. For example, self-scanning systems in supermarkets could provide customers with an accumulated carbon footprint estimate of their shopping basket.

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Sörqvist et al. Why People Harm the Environment Although They Try to Treat It Well: An Evolutionary-Cognitive Perspective on Climate CompensationFrontiers in Psychology, 2019; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00348

A new theory suggests that we think of our relationship with the environment like a social exchange, leading to the belief that ‘environmentally friendly’ behavior can compensate for ‘harmful’ behavior.

But unlike a social misstep, our environmental footprint cannot be smoothed over. Research reveals how advertisers, politicians and economic systems play on the psychology of ‘climate compensation’ — and encourages a more rational approach to environmental responsibility.

…”Reciprocity and balance in social relations have been fundamental to social cooperation, and thus to survival, so the human brain has become specialized through natural selection to compute and seek this balance,” says lead author Patrik Sörqvist, Professor of Environmental Psychology at the University of Gävle, Sweden. “But when applied to climate change, this social give-and-take thinking leads to the misconception that ‘green’ choices can compensate for unsustainable ones.”…. The best thing for the environment would of course be for us to consume less overall...

Climate change is shifting productivity of fisheries worldwide, threatens protein source for >50% of world population

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Fish provide a vital source of protein for over half the world’s population, with over 56 million people employed by or subsisting on fisheries. But climate change is beginning to disrupt the complex, interconnected systems that underpin this major source of food. …

These findings highlight the importance of accounting for the effects of climate change in fisheries management. This means coming up with new tools for assessing the size of fish populations, new strategies for setting catch limits that consider changing productivity, and new agreements for sharing catch between winning and losing regions….

Preventing overfishing will be a critical part of addressing the threat that climate change poses to the world’s fisheries….”It makes fish populations more vulnerable to warming, while warming hinders the recovery of overfished populations.”… Ocean acidification, falling oxygen levels and habitat loss will also impact marine life. More research is necessary to fully understand how climate change will affect fish populations and the livelihoods of people that depend on them.

  1. Christopher M. Free, James T. Thorson, Malin L. Pinsky, Kiva L. Oken, John Wiedenmann, Olaf P. Jensen. Impacts of historical warming on marine fisheries productionScience, 2019 DOI: 10.1126/science.aau1758

Climate change + population growth set stage for water shortages including in CA, the Southwest; reductions in ag water use will be key to limiting future shortages

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Even efforts to use water more efficiently in municipal and industrial sectors won’t be enough to stave off shortages, say the authors of the new study. The results suggest that reductions in agricultural water use will probably play the biggest role in limiting future water shortages.

The new study is part of a larger 10-year U.S. Forest Service assessment of renewable resources including timber, rangeland forage, wildlife and water. …The new study finds climate change and population growth are likely to present serious challenges in some regions of the U.S., notably the central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest and central Rocky Mountain States, and California, and also some areas in the South and the Midwest.

The heart of the new analysis is a comparison of future water supply versus estimated water demand in different water-using sectors, like industry and agriculture….

  1. Thomas C. Brown, Vinod Mahat, Jorge A. Ramirez. Adaptation to Future Water Shortages in the United States Caused by Population Growth and Climate ChangeEarth’s Future, 2019; DOI: 10.1029/2018EF001091

Natural climate solutions (through forests, soil and other natural carbon sinks) are not enough: emissions reductions from energy and industry sectors must be accelerated at the same time

Strategies for incorporating Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) with energy and industrial mitigation in the climate portfolio should not be “either/or” but “yes, and.”

Read Science Daily summary here and SCIENCE article here

To stabilize the Earth’s climate for people and ecosystems, it is imperative to ramp up natural climate solutions and, at the same time, accelerate mitigation efforts across the energy and industrial sectors, experts argue in a new article.

Among their findings, the researchers warn that a ten-year delay in emissions reductions from energy and industry could this century result in emissions that negate the net potential emissions reductions benefit of natural climate solutions.

  1. Christa M. Anderson, Ruth S. Defries, Robert Litterman, Pamela A. Matson, Daniel C. Nepstad, Stephen Pacala, William H. Schlesinger, M. Rebecca Shaw, Pete Smith, Christopher Weber, Christopher B. Field. Natural climate solutions are not enoughScience, 2019; 363 (6430): 933-934 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw2741

Healthy Soils to Cool the Planet – A Philanthropic Action Guide

See more here about Breakthrough Strategies and read their excellent new guide here (Pdf)

Background from Ellie: Conservatively, managing agricultural soils for soil organic matter can sequester 5 billion tons (Gt) of CO2e out of the atmosphere globally every year, drawing down 50% of what is needed to return to a safe climate by 2050.

The UN IPCC’s recent 1.5C report called soil carbon sequestration as among the cheapest methods with the greatest potential (http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/). Healthy soils are foundational to human well-being, climate stabilization and vibrant ecosystems. The sustainable management and restoration of soils enhance agricultural productivity, fresh water availability, biodiversity, and climate change preparedness with enormous potential to slow and reverse negative impacts such as droughts, floods and more (von Unger, M. & Emmer, I. 2018. Carbon Market Incentives to Conserve, Restore and Enhance Soil Carbon. Silvestrum & TNC).  

Almost all IPCC scenarios that keep us below 2°C of warming include CO2 removal – typically about 10 billion tons CO2 yr-1. Based on the latest estimates from the IPCC, soils management could conservatively pull 5 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually on croplands and rangelands by 2050, offering 50% of the needed carbon removal, with zero additional land and water use (D. Bossio, TNC; and, Zomer et al. Global Sequestration Potential of Increased Organic Carbon in Cropland Soils. Scientific Reports 7.; Vermeulen et al, A Global Agenda for Action on Soil Carbon. Nature Sustainability, Jan 2019). Equally important is avoiding future emissions from soil by protecting existing soil carbon stocks in grasslands and wetlands. 

Currently, only 8 governments include soil health in their efforts to achieve the Paris Climate goals (UNFCCC 2015). Yet boosting soil health at scale should be relatively easy to achieve through low-tech sustainable agricultural practices with policy, funding and technical support. There are other natural climate solutions as well such as climate-smart habitat restoration (https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/59fb62cbe4b0531197b165f8 and Dybala et al. (2018) Carbon sequestration in riparian forests: a global synthesis and meta-analysisGlobal Change Biology. ) and silviculture (https://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/silviculture-climate-change).  

CO2 emissions in 18 developed economies fall due to decreasing fossil fuel and energy use, increase in renewables and climate policies in place

University of East Anglia Read full ScienceDaily article here

Efforts to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and tackle climate change in developed economies are beginning to pay off according to new research.

…Policies supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency are helping to reduce emissions in 18 developed economies. The group of countries represents 28 per cent of global emissions, and includes the UK, US, France and Germany.

The research team analysed the reasons behind changes in CO2emissions in countries where emissions declined significantly between 2005 and 2015. The findings, published in Nature Climate Change, show that the fall in CO2 emissions was mainly due to renewable energy replacing fossil fuels and to decreasing energy use.

However, the decrease in energy use was partly explained by lower economic growth reducing the demand for energy following the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Significantly, countries where CO2 emissions decreased the most were those with the largest number of energy and climate policies in place…

  1. Corinne Le Quéré, Jan Ivar Korsbakken, Charlie Wilson, Jale Tosun, Robbie Andrew, Robert J. Andres, Josep G. Canadell, Andrew Jordan, Glen P. Peters, Detlef P. van Vuuren. Drivers of declining CO2 emissions in 18 developed economiesNature Climate Change, 2019; 9 (3): 213 DOI: 10.1038/s41558-019-0419-7