Please see below selected recent environment-related change.
- What's New? - Environment
- What's Changing? - Climate
- What's Changing? - Habitat?
- What's Changing? - Sustainability
- Annual deforestation in Brazil's part of the Amazon rainforest reached a 12 year high in 2020, with more than 4,200 square miles burned, n increase of 9.5 percent over the previous year. Destruction of the Amazon increased under Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who favoured economic development of the rainforest.
- Around 1.67 million Indians died from exposure to toxic air in 2019, roughly 18 percent of all fatalities that occurred in the country that year, according to a study by The Lancet. Air pollution briefly declined in India in 2020 due to pandemic lockdowns, but immediately returned once economic activity resumed.
- US emissions hit their lowest levels since 1990. The pandemic brought a steeper drop than seen during the 2009 recession. A study suggested that the biggest drop was in transport, one of the hardest hit sectors by pandemic-related lockdowns
- The global response to the Covid-19 crisis had little impact on the continued rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said. Carbon emissions fell dramatically in 2020 due to lockdowns that saw transport and industry grind to a halt, but this has marginally slowed down the overall rise in concentrations, the scientists said. The details were published in the WMO's annual greenhouse gas bulletin, which highlighted the concentrations of warming gases in the atmosphere.
- Humans are overusing Earth's biocapacity by at least 56%, according to WWF's Living Planet Report in 2020. This means that our "ecological footprint has exceeded the Earth’s rate of regeneration," which has significant consequences for the natural world and humanity's future.
- Something happened on the ocean floor off the east coast of Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula.
- Of the world's 20 most polluted cities, 14 are in India. As seasonal air pollution worsens, irritating eyes and lungs, that could spell even more respiratory trouble for a country that had already suffered more than 7 million COVID-19 cases by October 2020.
- Despite the pandemic-driven economic downturn and a slowdown in production, methane leaks from the oil and gas industry increased by 32 percent by late 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.
- 95% of marine life on the sea bed died. Crabs, fish, molluscs, octopi and sea urchins have washed up dead in their tens of thousands. No one knows why. It could be something natural, like a subsea seismic event, but pollution looks more likely. The deaths all happened in Avancha Bay, near Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the region’s biggest settlement, and kite surfers there have been complaining of sore eyes for weeks. Greenpeace said petroleum levels at a nearby beach are four times normal, reported Tortoise Media.
- Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels were 62 percent higher in 2019 than in 1990, according to a UN report. The report noted that while pandemic-related lockdowns will curb emissions slightly in 2020, the global response to COVID-19 will have a negligible impact on global progress on mitigating climate change, with many impacts already "irreversible."
- Deutsche Welle reported in late 2020 that there were more than 6,000 fires burning in the Amazon - more than at any time in the past two decades. It’s illegal to clear land by burning it but ranchers do it anyway. And why not, asked Tortoise Media? President Bolsonaro has their back.
- Leaders from 64 countries and the European Union pledged to enact stronger environmental protections ahead of the (virtual) UN Summit on Biodiversity, including commitments to eliminate plastic buildup in the oceans by 2050. The leaders of some of the world's top polluting nations - the US, China, India, Russia, and Brazil - did not sign up.
- the World Bank warned that “without urgent action, global waste will increase by 70 percent on current levels by 2050, Innovative solutions are around the corner. MIT Media Lab is producing reusable N95 masks that solve both waste and PPE supply chain challenges. Waste recognition software like Greyparrot helps waste managers identify what might belong in recycling bins, keeping more items out of landfills. The smart waste management sector is expected to be worth $4 billion by 2025, or more if COVID-related waste trends continued. Waste piled up during the coronavirus crisis, with disposable masks and gloves littering streets and dotting the oceans. Thanks to PPE and take-out containers, single-use plastics made a fast comeback.
- The symbolic day of the year when humanity “overshoots” the Earth’s carrying capacity is creeping steadily earlier. In 1970, “Earth Overshoot Day” was in late December. In 2020, it was August 22.
- Spreading rock dust over half the world’s farmland could make it more fertile and, crucially, remove 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. The news, published in Nature and reported by the Guardian, is a solution, not a problem, claimed Tortoise Media, There are no obvious harmful side effects and it could remove CO2 from the air for as little as $80 a tonne in places with low labour costs, like India, compared with around $600 a tonne for energy-intensive “direct air capture” machines used so far only in pilot schemes.
- GZEROMedia reported that, under Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's push to develop the Amazon, more than 10,000 square kilometres of the rainforest were destroyed in 2019, That's an area equal to the size of Lebanon, and it's a 34 percent increase over 2018. In the first half of 2020 alone. destruction of the Amazon went up 55 percent. The Amazon's vast absorption of greenhouse gasses is critical for limiting global warming, scientists say.
- Research by Utah State University has found “there’s no nook or cranny on the surface of the earth that won’t have microplastics”. In a paper published in the journal Science, researchers found microplastics in 98 per cent of 339 samples collected from the remotest parts of the US, accounting for 4 per cent of the dust particles that were tested. It looks likely that these deposits come during rainfall, and the lead author warned that the presence of such fine particles in the air means “we’re breathing it, too”, reported Tortoise Media.
- The US announced a $12.1 million aid package to the semi-autonomous Danish territory of Greenland, which has become the site of a new US-China-Russia scramble for Arctic influence. The Danish government reacted coolly to the cash, expressing concerns about any possible strings that the Trump administration might attach. in 2019 Trump said he wanted to "buy" Greenland.
- The Amazon rainforest is emitting more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, with around 20 percent of the total forest area now a net source of CO2 in the atmosphere, according to a new decade-long study. The main cause, it says, is deforestation, which raises for GZEROMedia further concerns about Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's policy of prioritising development of the Amazon over conservation.
- Rising sea levels will affect cities inhabited by 150 million people by the mid-century, threatening to wipe out some of the world's largest coastal cities, according to a new report. By 2050, three times more people will be living on land below the high-tide line than originally projected.
- Breathing dirty air is linked to aggressive behaviour, according to a paper by Colorado State University and the University of Minnesota. Using crime data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and air-pollution data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the authors analysed the link between air pollution and violent crime in 397 American counties between 2006 and 2013.
- Home appliance manufacturer Arçelik announced a new washing machine which will help keep microplastics out of the ocean. The Turkish company’s machine targets the tiny plastic fibres that are released when clothes are washed; it contains a filter that Arçelik say captures 90% of those fibres. According to the company around one million fibres are released per load of laundry; these end up in water systems and from there can be ingested by fish and people. The company planned to open-source its filter technology, so that other home appliance brands could use it.
- The tradition of doing business in person - attending meetings, closing company deals over a handshake or meeting a potential customer for lunch - can be a burden not just to jet-lagged business travellers themselves, but to the environment. Each trip, whether it is a transatlantic flight to a conference or a day spent in cabs meeting clients, generates CO2 and can therefore swiftly ramp up a company’s carbon footprint. Businesses which consistently pump out high levels of greenhouse gases are falling under growing state and public scrutiny.
- Millions of new trees were pledged after a study indicated their ‘mind-blowing potential’ to tackle the climate crisis A slew of tree-planting schemes were announced following findings by Swiss scientists that mass-scale reforestation has “mind-blowing” potential to help combat the climate crisis. According to the study, by researchers at the Crowther Lab in Zurich, planting trees across the 0.9bn hectares of land suitable for reforestation globally could capture as much as two-thirds of all emissions that have been released by human activities.
- Globally, some seven million deaths each year are linked to the effects of air pollution, according to the World Health Organisation, making it the biggest environmental killer. Pollution kills more people than car accidents, diabetes or dementia. The effects are particularly pronounced for children, who can experience stunted lungs and lifelong cognitive impacts.
- A report by the Australian government downgraded the “outlook” for the Great Barrier Reef from “poor” to “very poor.” Listing climate change as the most significant long-term threat to the World Heritage Area, the report says 50 percent of the reef has been exposed to destructive waves from cyclones over the past five years, while mass coral bleaching continues to devastate the ecosystem.
- About 90 global companies with a collective market capitalisation of more than 2.3 trillion have pledged to significantly slash their greenhouse gas emissions, with some promising to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
- Over the past 50 years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest - which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses - have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports.
- In the US alone, annual toilet paper consumption comes at an eco-cost of 437 billion gallons of water, 253,000 tons of bleach, and 15 million trees.
- Savannas and grasslands are home to nearly one billion people, many of whom raise livestock and grow crops. Tropical grassy biomes were the cradle of humankind – where modern humans first evolved – and they are where important food crops such as millet and sorghum originated, which millions eat today. And, yet among the usual threats of climate change and wildlife habitat loss, these ecosystems face a new threat – tree planting. Increasing the tree cover in savanna and grassland can mean plant and animal species which prefer open, well-lit environments are pushed out. Studies from South Africa, Australia and Brazil indicate that unique biodiversity is lost as tree cover increases.
- Ethiopians planted a record 353 million trees in a single day in 2019, according to a government official, as part of a state-led project to plant 4 billion trees to combat deforestation in a country historically plagued by droughts. India set the previous record of 50 million in 2016.
- The world is 5% greener now than it was two decades ago, according to a study by Nasa. The US space agency claims that leaf cover on Earth has increased by two million square miles since the early 2000s, which is roughly equivalent to the area covered by the Amazon rainforest. Around a third of the greening is attributed to ambitious tree-planting schemes in India and China, the world’s most populous countries.
- The world currently generates 2 billion tons of solid waste every year, according to the World Bank. By 2050, that figure will rise to 3.4 billion, with most of the increase coming from low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia, where greater urbanisation and prosperity will generate more consumption, and more trash.
- Studies about the impact of pollution on our health have existed for decades. But this research has largely focused on ambient, or outdoor, air where governments are responsible for enforcing pollution policies. But there is little awareness about the existence or impact of indoor pollution. Some 3.8 million deaths every year are caused by household exposure to smoke from dirty stoves and fuels, according to the World Health Organisation.
- Maritime shipping accounts for 90% of all global trade and ships tends to burn the dirtiest, lowest-quality fuels available, making them one of the most significant sources of global pollution today.
- For Quartz, shade is an environmental justice issue. The ability to step into a shadow - of a tree, building, or shelter - should be widely accessible. Shade is not just a vital refuge from the burning sun, it can also help cool surface and air temperatures. In a warming world, shade is essential. Poor urban planning and deforestation in cities leave shade in short supply, which can be fatal during extreme heat. And that’s not the only reason policymakers should cast a light on the issue. Shade trees can also reduce electric bills and carbon footprints, all while sequestering the carbon produced by urbanisation.
- CNN reported that the world's rivers are now widely contaminated with antibiotics, according to a 2019 global study, the first of its kind. Researchers from the University of York analysed samples from rivers in 72 countries and found that antibiotics were present in 65% of them. Dangerous levels of contamination were most frequently found in Asia and Africa, with sites in Bangladesh, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan and Nigeria exceeding safe levels by the greatest degree. The worst case was found at a site in Bangladesh, where concentrations of the drug Metronidazole - which is used to treat bacterial infections, including skin and mouth infections -- exceeded safe levels by up to 300 times.
- In China alone, air pollution reportedly results in over a million premature deaths per year. Of course, air pollution is a worldwide problem, with an estimated 90% of the world’s children inhaling polluted air daily.
- Hanhwa Galleria Seoul, a mall in South Korea, now changes the colours on the outside of the building to inform pedestrians of current air pollution levels. If the city’s levels of fine dust are high, the exterior’s lighting and video displays are red; if the levels are low, the building will display shades of green.
- In the World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2019, environmental concerns dominated results of the Global Risk Perception Survey for the third consecutive year. They accounted for three of the top five risks by likelihood and half of the top 10 by impact, with extreme weather not surprisingly ranking highest. However, some sectors are already realising the reward-potential inherent in this redirection, with climate change and environmental drivers already transforming markets, as the debate has moved on from mitigating business risk to seizing opportunities that come from disruption.
- The Financial Times noted that, although companies are more likely to recycle when it is profitable - such as with batteries - improving a corporate image with the public is another potent driver of change. Public concerns over plastic waste were piqued after widely watched TV footage showed turtles tangled in bags and seabirds who had died after consuming plastic microbeads.
- The head of the Centre for Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastic Waste at Cambridge University in the UK, claims that little of the estimated 8 billion tonnes of plastic produced since the 1950s has been recycled.
- "It is the most important news humanity has ever received: the general collapse of life on Earth." So environmentalist George Monbiot proclaimed the vast international assessment of the state of nature, as revealed in 2019, that he believes tells us that the living planet is in a death spiral.
- Choked, chronicled a journey – from the UK to the US; India to Poland – following those impacted by air pollution, the scientists exploring its effects, and the people battling for a healthier future. In short, the book argued that air pollution is one of the most pressing issues of our time. At a population level, when scientists look at a larger group of people - a city, a county - they can say when air pollution goes up, the death rate - people who literally die young, prematurely - goes up. The number of heart attacks, the level of cancer, the rates of dementia. Every month, almost, with every new study, there are more and more illnesses that are related to dirty air.
- The World Economic Forum warned that air pollution is an insidious killer. If you are among the 91% of the world’s population who breathes air the World Health Organisation (WHO) deems unsafe, then every time you inhale, microscopic particles are being drawn into your lungs. They get into your bloodstream, causing cancers, strokes and heart disease, stunting children’s growth and development, and even reducing your intelligence. A study by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace identified the cities where air pollution is highest: the list is dominated by India, with seven of the worst 10 cities, and 22 of the worst 30.
- Swedish automaker Volvo completed a two-day ocean waste cleanup by the Zapallar Cove in Chile. In partnership with event space Casa Las Cujas de Cachagua, the company recruited professional divers to extract over 200 kilos of garbage. Notable items fished out of the ocean included tires, a chimney, and PVC pipes. The mission is part of Volvo’s global environmental efforts, which also include a 3D-printed a seawall in Sydney, and a commitment to make 25% of its cars out of recycled materials by 2025.
- Reports indicate that indoor air pollution accounts for significantly more deaths than the outdoor kind.
- Between 2016 and 2017, some 6.7 million additional sq km (2.6 million sq miles) of the world’s oceans were put under environmental protection. The majority of that is in national waters, meaning more countries are actively assisting in the global ocean conservation project.
- The world is choking on digital pollution. Society learned to manage the waste produced by the Industrial Revolution and must do the same with the internet today, claimed Quartz.
- Up to 23 billion tons of organisms could be living in Earth’s netherworld. The amount of living matter far below the ocean surface is hundreds of times more than the carbon mass of all humans on the planet, reported Quartz.
- Further reading:
- When aggregated in terms of income, Our World in data noted that the richest half (high and upper-middle income countries) emit 86 percent of global CO2 emissions. The bottom half (low and lower-middle income) only 14%. The very poorest countries (home to 9 percent of the global population) are responsible for just 0.5 percent. This provides a strong indication of the relative sensitivity of global emissions to income versus population. Even several billion additional people in low-income countries - where fertility rates and population growth is already highest - would leave global emissions almost unchanged. 3 or 4 billion low income individuals would only account for a few percent of global CO2. At the other end of the distribution however, adding only one billion high income individuals would increase global emissions by almost one-third.
- Supermarkets in the UK alone are producing more than 59 billion pieces of plastic packaging every year, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency.
- The BBC screened 'Drowning in Plastic', a 90 minute documentary which uncovered the devastating impact plastic is having on our fragile planet, and also explored the innovative solutions to this global epidemic.
- From plastic straws to condoms to discarded temple flowers, consumers are waking up to negative environment consequences in places they never thought to look before, believes TrendWatching.
- A commission made up of 24 countries and the EU met in Hobart, Australia to decide if they should create the world’s largest protected area at nearly 2 million sq km, reported Quartz.
- Attitudes towards the environment, and how packaging affects it, vary wildly from country to country. A Raconteur infographic explored the views of different nations when it comes to waste, recycling and what’s needed to reduce packaging’s impact on the planet.
- Polar bears are hogging the limelight in Arctic conservation, believes Quartz, arguing that too much attention is being paid to non-endangered species at the expense of other dangers facing the polar region.
- Air pollution has recently been linked to dementia and found to harm infantsbefore they are born, warned Futures Centre, adding that if 90% of the world's population breathes polluted air, what level of particulates is marine life up against? Tackling micro-plastics is beyond the scope of some major projects, such as the Ocean Cleanup's 600 metre-long barrier, which aims to sweep up five tonnes of plastic a month from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and Denmark's new 'aquadrone' WasteShark.
- PM2.5 is the technical term for fine particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter. It’s the smallest unit of air pollution, the kind spewed out of wildfires, car exhaust, and power plants that burn fossil fuels. It’s small enough to invade human airways and slip into the bloodstream. Exposure to PM2.5 air pollution, warned Quartz, has detrimental effects on the heart and lungs. It hits babies and the elderly hardest, and exposure in the womb has long been associated with an array of adverse outcomes that include preterm birth and low birth weight.
- The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, filled with a plastic soup of discarded fishing nets and fragments of old water bottles and bags, is twice the size of Texas. Though plastic is found throughout the ocean, swirling currents make concentrations higher in the area; a recent study suggests that there is 16 times more plastic in the patch than researchers previously believed. Some of the pieces of microplastic are too tiny to collect.
- Many food vendors have switched to bioplastic, which sounds like an ethical choice. But, while it may make some food feel virtuous, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace challenge its green rep. It is resource intensive and less than 40% of bioplastic is designed to be biodegradable. In many ways, it is just another polluting plastic, claimed The Guardian.
- About 9 million people died from pollution-related causes in 2015, according to a recent study in a prominent medical journal – half of them in Asia. India alone accounted for more than 2.5m of the deaths.
- Currently, nine in ten people around the world breathe air that has high levels of pollution, according to data from the World Health Organisation. The agency estimates that 7 million deaths each year can be attributed to pollution.
- Indeed, air pollution causes up to 1 in 9 deaths. It is the biggest environmental health crisis we face, according to the World Health Organisation.
- However, residents of Beijing can reportedly breathe more easily - as the central government makes a push for clean energy, five of the seven months with the lowest air pollution in the capital city have been recorded since the beginning of last summer, according to data gathered by the US Embassy in Beijing.
- The 1st August 2018 saw the earliest ever arrival of Earth Overshoot Day - the date at which humanity's consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate in that year.
- Recycling is counterproductive, claimed Quartz. It’s ineffective, inefficient, expensive, and legitimises single-use items.
- Air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health. The research was conducted in China but is relevant across the world, with 95% of the global population breathing unsafe air. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.
- Only 13% of our oceans are unpolluted, warned Quartz. Just Earth’s poles and a small portion of the Pacific remain largely unaffected by fishing, shipping routes, and pollution.
- About 80% of the current deforestation rate in the Amazon rainforest is reportedly connected to cattle ranching.
- Around the world, air pollution is the fourth largest killer, causing 6.5 million deaths annually, according to the World Health Organisation.
- A vegan diet is the best way to reduce your environmental impact, according to new research from the University of Oxford.
- The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), reduces GDP for negative environmental factors such as the cost of pollution, loss of primary forest and soil quality, and social factors such as the cost of crime and commuting. It increases the measure for positive factors missing from GDP such as housework, volunteer work, and higher education.
- June 5 was World Environment Day. This is the UN’s most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries.
- Humans are chopping down about 15 billion trees a year and planting about 9 billion. So there’s a net loss of 6 billion trees a year. Hand planting trees is slow and expensive. To keep pace with the tractors and bulldozers clearing vast areas of land, we need an industrial-scale solution. For example, a drone that can plant up to 100,000 trees a day.
- Biodiversity is a complex topic to gather data on, according to Our World in Data. So many known (and still unknown) species across a span of biological levels makes this hard to monitor. This is especially true when trying to derive trends through time. We are interested to better understand large-scale global or regional changes in biodiversity over the long-term. Location or species-specific studies are undoubtedly useful, but make it challenging to interpret whether these are discrete examples or are reflected in overall global change. The largest-scale estimates on biodiversity change we are aware of is the Living Planet Index. We are very interested to find more/better or longer-term sources on these trends.
- Less laundry less often: how to lighten the washday load on the environment. From clothes that won’t shed microplastics to natural detergents, responsible laundry is a thing - and it’s crucial.
- Humans are likely to consume about 114 plastic microfibres in each meal simply from household dust that settles on their plates, according to Environmental Pollution.
- Around the world there is a desperate need for low-cost, affordable accommodation, according to the 2017 World Resources Report. It estimates that the global affordable housing gap is 330 million urban households. This is forecast to grow by more than 30% to 440 million households, or 1.6 billion people, by 2025.
- According to GZEROMedia, Chinese President Xi Jinping is looking to burnish his legacy with a massive urban development, the Xiong’an New Area, that will cover an area of 1,770 kilometers, more than twice the size of New York City. It will include an estimated 20,000 sensors for facial and sound recognition.
- China's Sponge City Initiative, launched in 2015, invests in projects that focus on absorbing floodwater. The current aim of the initiative is that, by 2020, 80 percent of urban areas in China will re-use at least 70 percent of their rainwater. The 30 cities included in the initiative have received more than $12 billion in funding for sponge projects. For example, the Lingang district in Shanghai is piloting an ecologically friendly alternative to traditional flood defences and drainage systems in the coastal city which faces long-term risks from rising sea levels.
- In November 2017, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”