Green infrastructure is an interconnected network of natural areas and other open spaces that conserve natural ecosystem values and functions, sustain clean air and water and provide a wide array of benefits to people and wildlife. It is the ecological framework for environmental, social, and economic health – in short, our natural life-support system (Benedict and McMahon 2006). In this webinar we will explore the benefits, scalability, implementation, politics, and potential funding of green infrastructure projects. We will dive deep into green infrastructure as another equitable and effective tool to address the climate crisis.
This Deep Dive webinar discussion will be led by three experts who are nationally-known for their advocacy and successful implementation of green infrastructure projects. Christine Conn is the Landscape Conservation Planner for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. She is especially recognized for successfully engaging diverse stakeholders in innovative green infrastructure projects in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Sacoby Wilson directs the Community Engagement, Environmental Justice and Health Laboratory. His views on exposure science, environmental justice and environmental health disparities — based on crowd science and community-based participatory research — are especially pertinent to successful green infrastructure projects in frontline communities. Finally, Will Allen, who oversees the Conservation Leadership Network, is an expert on green infrastructure and conservation GIS.
This conversation will be moderated by Jane Fountain, Professor at the UMass School of Public Policy, which is sponsoring this webinar. The program is part of a series of forums on national climate policy co-hosted by Climate XChange and the Pricing Carbon Initiative.
The Trump administration has called for oil and gas firms to pick spots where they’d like to drill on Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as it races to open the pristine wilderness to development and lock in drilling rights before president-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The “call for nominations” to be published Tuesday allows companies to identify tracts they’d like to bid on during an upcoming lease sale on the refuge’s nearly 1.6-million acre coastal plain, which the Interior Department aims to hold before Biden takes the oath of office in January. The move would be a capstone of President Trump’s efforts to open up public lands to logging, mining and grazing — something Biden strongly opposes.
In the six decades that plastic has been manufactured for commercial uses, more than 8.3 billion metric tons have been produced. Plastics are light, versatile, cheap and nearly indestructible (as long as they don’t get too hot). These properties make them incredibly useful in an enormous range of applications that includes sterile food packaging, energy-efficient transportation, textiles and medical protective gear. But their indestructible nature comes at a cost. Most of them decompose extremely slowly in the environment – on the order of several hundred years – where they are creating a global epidemic of plastic trash. Its consequences for human and ecosystem health are still incompletely known, but are potentially momentous.
I am a chemist with experience in designing processes for making plastics, and I became interested in using plastic as a large, untapped resource for energy and materials. I wondered if we could turn plastic waste into something more valuable to keep it out of landfills and the natural environment.
A new way to use plastic waste
Plastics are made by stringing together a large number of small, carbon-based molecules in an almost infinite variety of ways to create polymer chains.
To reuse these polymers, recycling facilities could, in principle, melt and reshape them, but plastics’ properties tend to deteriorate. The resulting materials are almost never suitable for their original use, although they can be used to make lower-value stuff like plastic lumber. The result is a very low effective rate of recycling.
A new approach involves breaking the long chains down into small molecules again. The challenge is how to do this in a precise way.
Since the process of making the chains in the first place releases a lot of energy, reversing it requires adding a large amount of energy back in. Generally this means heating up the material to a high temperature – but heating up plastic causes the stuff to turn into a nasty mess. It also wastes a lot of energy, meaning more greenhouse gas emissions.
Polyethylene is one of the world’s most useful and most used plastic types. It is also one of the largest contributors to plastic waste. It represents a third of the nearly 400 million metric tons of plastic the world makes every year, for purposes ranging from sterile food and medical packaging, waterproof films and coatings, cable and wire insulation, construction materials and water pipes, to wear-resistant hip and knee replacements and even bulletproof vests.
How the new process works
The process we have developed does not require high temperatures, but instead depends on tiny amounts of a catalyst containing a metal that removes a little hydrogen from the polymer chain. The catalyst then uses this hydrogen to cut the bonds that hold the carbon chain together, making smaller pieces.
The key is using the hydrogen as soon as it forms so that the chain-cutting provides the energy for making more hydrogen. This process is repeated many times for each chain, turning the solid polymer into a liquid.
The chopping slows down naturally when the molecules reach a certain size, so it’s easy to prevent the molecules from becoming too small. We’re able to recover the valuable liquid before it turns into less useful gases.
A majority of the molecules in the recovered liquid are alkylbenzenes, which are useful as solvents and can easily be turned into detergents. The global market for this type of molecule is about US$9 billion annually.
Turning waste plastic into valuable molecules is called upcycling. Although our study represented a small-scale demonstration, a preliminary economic analysis suggests that it could easily be adapted to become a much larger-scale process in the next few years. Keeping plastic out of the environment by reusing it in a way that makes good economic sense is a win-win.
A new report by UK charity The Ellen MacArthur Foundation advises policymakers on paving the way for a low-carbon recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
It states that, in order to recover from the pandemic in a resilient, sustainable way, policies that focus on long-term ‘recovery’ efforts will be needed just as much as short-term ‘rescue’ efforts are. It notes ‘many countries around the world are still prioritising ‘brown’ stimulus packages over ‘green’ ones, relaxing … laws around controlling pollution and standards for vehicle energy efficiency’.
Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina are teaming up on an effort to kickstart wind energy and economic development off their shores.
The new initiative provides a framework for the three states to “cooperatively promote, develop, and expand offshore wind energy and the accompanying industry supply chain and workforce,” they said in a joint press release.
All this wall construction will have a significant environmental impact. Much is unknown, in part because Department of Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf has waived scores of laws—including the Endangered Species Act—that would require extensive mitigation and research of likely effects. This would normally be illegal, but it is permitted under the 2005 Real ID Act, which allows the agency to not comply with almost any law in the process of building the border wall.