What if we applied the urgency of solving COVID to climate change?

Read the full post at Brink.

There has been a lot written about what climate change and COVID-19 have in common. They both present huge risks to life on our planet and to our economic prosperity. They affect every country, albeit to varying degrees, and they both are causing the greatest harm to the poorest in society, who can least afford the additional suffering.

But there is one critical difference: The human and economic tolls from today’s climate change-linked natural disasters have not yet risen to the level of the current pandemic, which has resulted in millions of deaths, faltering economies and overwhelmed health care systems. As a result, our response to rising global temperatures has lacked the kind of urgency that pushed governments and the scientific community to develop not one, but several vaccines only a year after the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed.

A Comparison of Different Approaches for Characterizing Microplastics in Selected Personal Care Products

Renner, K.O., Foster, H.A., Routledge, E.J. and Scrimshaw, M.D. (2021). “A Comparison of Different Approaches for Characterizing Microplastics in Selected Personal Care Products.” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Accepted Author Manuscript. https://doi.org/10.1002/etc.5057.

Abstract: Any uncertainty in determining numbers of microplastics in the environment may be barrier to assessing their impact and may stem from various aspects of methodologies used to quantify them. This paper undertakes a comparison of approaches to quantify and characterize microplastics in four personal care products. The aim was to not only determine how many particles were present, but to assess any differences due to the methods used. Counting of extracted microplastics was undertaken using particle size analysis, light microscopy and imaging flow cytometry. Micro Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (µ‐FT‐IR) was used to characterize the particles in each product. The mean size distribution of microplastics differed depending on the method employed and it was apparent that imaging flow cytometry was affected by high background noise that may require staining of plastics to overcome. The application of µ‐FT‐IR confirmed polyethylene as the microplastic in each product. Methodological challenges encountered in the study and the literature have highlighted the need for standardization of methods for determining microplastics.

Microplastics generated from a biodegradable plastic in freshwater and seawater

Xin-Feng Wei, Martin Bohlén, Catrin Lindblad, Mikael Hedenqvist, Aron Hakonen (2021). “Microplastics generated from a biodegradable plastic in freshwater and seawater.” Water Research 198, 117123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2021.117123

Abstract: Biodegradable polymers have been regarded as a promising solution to tackle the pollutions caused by the wide use of conventional polymers. However, during the biodegradation process, the material fragmentation leads to microplastics. In this work, the formation of microplastics from biodegradable poly (butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) (PBAT) in different aquatic environments was investigated and compared with the common non-biodegradable low-density polyethylene (LDPE). The results showed that a much larger quantity of plastic fragments/particles were formed in all aquatic environments from PBAT than from LDPE. In addition, UV-A pretreatment, simulating the exposure to sunlight, increased the rate of PBAT microplastic formation significantly. The size distribution and shapes of the formed microplastics were systematically studied, along with changes in the polymer physicochemical properties such as molecular weight, thermal stability, crystallinity, and mechanical properties, to reveal the formation process of microplastics. This study shows that the microplastic risk from biodegradable polymers is high and needs to be further evaluated with regards to longer timeframes, the biological fate of intermediate products, and final products in freshwater, estuarine and seawater natural habitats. Especially, considering that these microplastics may have good biodegradability in warmer 20 – 25° water but will most likely be highly persistent in the world’s cold deep seas.

Climate rules built to last

Read the full story on the Climate Law Blog.

President Biden, National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy and many others in the administration leadership have touted its highly ambitious, whole-government approach to taking the climate crisis. In the administration’s first three months, we have already seen this begin to take shape. Yet, even as global leaders convene for President Biden’s Earth Day climate summit to make major announcements about new climate pledges, the international community, still recovering from four years of Donald Trump’s climate denial and disengagement, has begun to push back, at least in places, against the idea of U.S. leadership in the climate policy space. The question they raise is a good one: Can Biden’s climate policies last, even if an anti-regulation, anti-science, anti-environment president once again sits in the White House?

New Recycling Realities for Packaging

Read the full story from Environment + Energy Leader.

To lure sustainable-minded consumers and capture the additional revenue, retail brands have historically turned to the most visible and logical approach to demonstrate their environmental stewardship: recycled packaging. This, however, is no longer a simple solution. Traditional brown, low-grade material does not meet the requirements for today’s consumers looking to create that restaurant experience at home or for luxury brands wanting to capture the eye of shoppers. Packaging has a purpose and still needs to perform. Food packaging needs to maintain food quality and heat. High-end packaging still requires durability, along with bright white, smooth surfaces for graphics. Ultimately, however, there is a shrinking supply of these high-end recycled materials, and retail brands and restaurants are now being forced to rethink their approach towards sustainable sourcing and seek new options to meet this sustainable trend.

New U.S. Carbon Monitor website compares emissions among the 50 states

Read the full story from the University of California-Irvine.

Following last year’s successful launch of a global carbon monitor website to track and display greenhouse gas emissions from a variety of sources, an international team led by Earth system scientists from the University of California, Irvine is unveiling this week a new data resource focused on the United States.

Near real-time, state-level emissions estimates are now available at the U.S. Carbon Monitor website to serve the academic community, policy makers, the news media and the general public. As a companion to launch of the public website, the team today also released an explanatory paper on the EarthArXiv preprint server.

Basic Science Leads to Sustainable Solutions

Read the full story in Northwestern Magazine.

Materials scientist and engineer Sossina Haile couldn’t have predicted that the cost of solar and wind energy would plummet in recent years, or that places like California would start paying customers to take electricity because their supply outstripped demand. But once those things happened, she had a solution.

Haile’s team developed a way to convert electricity into hydrogen, store it and convert it back to electricity when more is needed. This breakthrough offers a way to rebalance, and even stabilize, the U.S. energy grid.

Views of health professionals on climate change and health: a multinational survey study

Kotcher, John et al. (2021). “Views of health professionals on climate change and health: a multinational survey study.” The Lancet Planetary Health online ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00053-X (open access)

Abstract: Climate change arguably represents one of the greatest global health threats of our time. Health professionals can advocate for global efforts to reduce emissions and protect people from climate change; however, evidence of their willingness to do so remains scarce. In this Viewpoint, we report findings from a large, multinational survey of health professionals (n=4654) that examined their views of climate change as a human health issue. Consistent with previous research, participants in this survey largely understood that climate change is happening and is caused by humans, viewed climate change as an important and growing cause of health harm in their country, and felt a responsibility to educate the public and policymakers about the problem. Despite their high levels of commitment to engaging in education and advocacy on the issue, many survey participants indicated that a range of personal, professional, and societal barriers impede them from doing so, with time constraints being the most widely reported barrier. However, participants say various resources—continuing professional education, communication training, patient education materials, policy statements, action alerts, and guidance on how to make health-care workplaces sustainable—can help to address those barriers. We offer recommendations on how to strengthen and support health professional education and advocacy activities to address the human health challenges of climate change.

The Schools at the Front Lines of Solar

Read the full story at Next City.

In the early 2010’s Chisago Lakes was leading the way, but they’re now one of a growing number of school districts that are using solar not only to save money and reduce their carbon footprints, but to increase learning and vocational opportunities for their students as well.

This is thanks in part to Solar in Schools, an initiative of Generation 180, a non-profit that inspires and equips people to take action on clean energy.

An Assessment of the Impacts of Climate Change in Illinois

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This assessment takes an in-depth look at how the climate is changing now in Illinois, and how it is projected to change in the future, to provide greater clarity on how climate change could affect urban and rural communities in the state. Beyond providing a general overview of anticipated climate changes, the report explores predicted effects on hydrology, agriculture, human health, and native ecosystems.