Read the full story from the University of Newcastle.
A new model tracking the vertical movement of algae-covered microplastic particles offers hope in the fight against plastic waste in our oceans.
Read the full story at Design Week.
As chewers wise up to the plastic content in conventional gums, we speak to the designers in charge of defining a new visual language for the sector.
Balloons are often seen as fun, harmless decorations. But they become deadly litter as soon as they are released into the air and forgotten.
Plastic pollution is one of today’s biggest environmental challenges. Microplastics have been found in our drinking water, food and even the air we breathe. While many people are trying to reduce their use of single-use plastic bags, bottles, utensils and straws, balloons are often overlooked.
To help bring attention to the environmental dangers of released balloons, one of us (Lara O’Brien) created a citizen science survey to track and map balloon debris. This work is designed to raise awareness about the dangers of balloons, while also gathering data to help influence policies regulating celebratory balloon releases.
Deliberate releases of tens, hundreds or sometimes thousands of balloons are common sights at weddings, graduations, memorials, sporting events and other celebrations. These fleeting feel-good acts inflict long-lasting and potentially deadly consequences on the environment and wildlife.
Balloons filled with helium – a finite and rapidly dwindling resource – travel hundreds or even thousands of miles. They land as litter on beaches, rivers, lakes, oceans, forests and other natural areas.
The two most common types of balloons are Mylar and latex. Mylar balloons, also called foil balloons, are made from plastic nylon sheets with a metallic coating and will never biodegrade. They also cause thousands of power outages every year when they come into contact with power lines or circuit breakers.
While some manufacturers claim that natural latex balloons made from liquid rubber are biodegradable, they still take years to break down because they are mixed with plasticizers and other chemical additives that hinder the biodegradation process. Other latex balloons are synthetic, made from a petroleum derivative called neoprene – the same material used to make scuba diving wetsuits – and will remain in the environment indefinitely, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces over time.
Both Mylar and latex balloons are a significant threat to wildlife, livestock and pets, which can be injured or killed from eating balloon fragments, getting tangled in long balloon ribbons or strings, or being spooked by the falling debris.
Unlike Mylar balloons, latex balloons burst in the atmosphere, shredding into small pieces that, when floating on the surface of water, resemble jellyfish or squid. Plastic debris in the ocean can also become coated with algae and other marine microbes that produce a chemical scent, which sea turtles, seabirds, fish and other marine life associate with food. Because they are soft and malleable, latex balloons easily conform to an animal’s stomach cavity or digestive tract and can cause obstruction, starvation and death.
As a result, latex balloons are the deadliest form of marine debris for seabirds. They are 32 times more likely to kill than hard plastics when ingested. Balloons tied with ribbons and strings also rank just behind discarded fishing gear and plastic bags and utensils due to the high risk of entanglement and death that they pose to marine life.
Environmental organizations are working to both clean up and record data on plastic pollution and marine debris, including balloons. Between 2016 and 2018, volunteers with the Alliance for the Great Lakes picked up and recorded more than 18,000 pieces of balloon debris. In 2019 the International Coastal Cleanup, an annual event organized by the Ocean Conservancy, recorded over 104,150 balloons found around the world, with almost half in the United States.
Utilizing citizen science as a way to collect more data and help raise awareness in the Great Lakes region and beyond, Lara O’Brien created an online survey in June 2019 that people can use to record the date, location, condition and photo of balloon debris. The survey is completely anonymous and can be easily accessed on a smartphone, so users can document balloon debris they find while walking the dog, hiking or participating in a beach cleanup.
Since the survey began, citizen scientists have helped record more than 1,580 pieces of balloon debris found in an area stretching from remote Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior to Sandbanks Provincial Park in Lake Ontario. Surveys and photos have also been submitted from Washington state, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Kansas, Florida, Iceland and the United Kingdom. (View an interactive map of balloon debris sightings submitted since June 2019 at Balloondebris.org).
The most important feature of this survey allows volunteers to pinpoint and submit the exact GPS coordinates of balloon debris in real time. This geospatial data is immediately uploaded onto an interactive map that clearly and powerfully shows where released balloons end up, and how prevalent and widespread balloon waste is. It helps researchers see emerging patterns or trends that might be present, including potential hotspots where higher concentrations of balloon debris may occur.
In the United States, balloons float eastward with prevailing west-to-east winds. In the Great Lakes region, higher concentrations of balloon debris have been reported along the eastern shores of Lakes Michigan and Huron. This includes the Indiana Dunes National Park southeast of Chicago, where volunteers regularly come across balloons. One person reported finding 84 balloons in a single morning along a two-mile stretch of beach. (View an interactive heat map showing where the greatest concentrations of balloon debris in the Great Lakes region have been found since June 2019 at Balloondebris.org.)
Thanks to research like this and work by organizations such as Balloons Blow, the Alliance for the Great Lakes and the NOAA Marine Debris Program, awareness of balloon pollution is growing. More people are choosing to use alternatives and urging schools, businesses and other organizations to stop balloon releases.
A growing movement across the United States is calling for more policies and laws restricting or eliminating single-use plastics, including balloons. California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia have all passed laws prohibiting the deliberate release of balloons in order to protect the environment and wildlife. Others, including Maryland, Kentucky and Arizona, are considering similar bans.
Volunteers who want to collect data and map the location of balloon debris in their communities may visit the project’s page on the citizen science site SciStarter or at balloondebris.org. There they can find links to the survey, interactive maps, photos, suggestions for eco-friendly alternatives and more. By helping people visualize and understand balloon pollution, we hope to prevent future balloon releases.
Lara O’Brien, Master of Science in Conservation Ecology and Environmental Informatics, University of Michigan and Shannon Brines, Applied Geographer, Lecturer and Manager, Environmental Spatial Analysis Laboratory, University of Michigan
Read the full speech at BIS.
Both climate change and the transition to a carbon neutral economy pose substantial challenges for the economy and the financial system, with the potential to affect growth and inflation in the short term, but also over much longer horizons.
Physical risks, stranded assets and greater firm default risk expose the financial system to losses, which may impair the transmission of monetary policy. And the Eurosystem’s balance sheet itself is exposed to climate risk from the assets we hold, notably through our asset purchase programmes.
In short, climate change has consequences for us as a central bank pursuing our primary mandate of price stability, and our other areas of competence, including financial stability and banking supervision.
It is governments, not central banks, who are primarily responsible for facilitating an orderly transition, and who control the main required tools.
Nonetheless there are several areas where central banks can and will contribute.
This report reviews the full range of policies and initiatives that an ideal green central bank would adopt across four categories: Research and Advocacy, Monetary Policy, Financial Policy, and Leading by Example. Based on this literature review, expert consultation, and bilateraliinteractions with central bankers and supervisors, we develop a system to score and rank G20 countries on the green policies and initiatives of their monetary and prudential authorities.
The MSCI Net-Zero Tracker indicates the collective progress of publicly listed companies in the MSCI ACWI Investable Market Index (IMI) (which covers 9,300 listed companies, representing 99% of the global equity universe) in keeping global warming well below 2°C. It also highlights the largest listed companies with improved climate disclosures, as well as those that lag. It offers investors, companies, financial intermediaries and policymakers an objective gauge of the contribution by the world’s public companies to total carbon emissions and their progress toward a net-zero economy.
Biodiversity, and the benefits it provides, is fundamental to human well-being and a healthy planet.
Despite ongoing efforts, biodiversity is deteriorating worldwide and this decline is projected to continue or worsen under business-as-usual scenarios. The post-2020 global biodiversity framework builds on the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and sets out an ambitious plan to implement broad-based action to bring about a transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity and to ensure that, by 2050, the shared vision of living in harmony with nature is fulfilled.
Read the full story from the BBC.
A group of conservationists are ‘tucking in’ glaciers with special blankets to protect them from melting.
Read the full story at Wired.
After 72 years and billions of interlocking polymer toy bricks, the company finally has an eco-friendly alternative.
Summer isn’t even half over, and we’ve seen heat waves in the Pacific Northwest and Canada with temperatures that would make news in Death Valley, enormous fires that have sent smoke across North America, and lethal floods of biblical proportions in Germany and China. Scientists have warned for over 50 years about increases in extreme events arising from subtle changes in average climate, but many people have been shocked by the ferocity of recent weather disasters.
A couple of things are important to understand about climate change’s role in extreme weather like this.
First, humans have pumped so much carbon dioxide and other planet-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that what’s “normal” has shifted. Extreme heat waves that were once ridiculously improbable are on their way to becoming more commonplace, and unimaginable events are becoming possible.
Second, not every extreme weather event is connected to global warming.
Like so many things, temperature statistics follow a bell curve – mathematicians call these “normal distributions.” The most frequent and likely temperatures are near the average, and values farther from the average quickly become much less likely.
All else being equal, a little bit of warming shifts the bell to the right – toward higher temperatures. Even a shift of just a few degrees makes the really unlikely temperatures in the extreme “tail” of the bell happen dramatically more often.
The stream of broken temperature records in the North American West lately is a great example. Portland hit 116 degrees – 9 degrees above its record before the heat wave. That would be a once-unimaginable extreme at the end of the tail, but it’s now inching closer.
The width of a bell curve is measured by its standard deviation. About two-thirds of all values fall within one standard deviation of the average. Based on historical temperature records, the heat wave in 2003 that killed more than 70,000 people in Europe was five standard deviations above the mean, so it was a 1 in 1 million event.
Without eliminating emissions from fossil fuels, heat like that is likely to happen a few times a decade by the time today’s toddlers are retirees.
There’s a basic hierarchy of the extreme events that scientific research so far has shown are most affected by human-caused climate change.
At the top of the list are extreme events like heat waves that are certain to be influenced by global warming. In these, three lines of evidence converge: observations, physics and computer model simulations that predict and explain the changes. At the bottom of the list are things that might plausibly be caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases but for which the evidence is not yet convincing. Here’s a partial list.
2) Coastal flooding: Heat is causing ocean waters to expand, pushing up sea levels and melting ice sheets around the world. Both high-tide flooding and catastrophic storm surge will become much more frequent as those events start from a higher average level because of sea level rise.
3) Drought: Warmer air evaporates more water from reservoirs, crops and forests, so drought will increase because of increased water demand, even though changes in rainfall vary and hard to predict.
4) Wildfires: As the western U.S. and Canada are seeing, heat dries out the soils and vegetation, providing drier fuel that’s ready to burn. Forests lose more water during hotter summers, and fire seasons are getting longer.
5) Reduced spring snowpack: Snow starts accumulating later in the fall, more water is lost from the snowpack during winter, and the snow melts earlier in the spring, reducing the flush of water into reservoirs that supports the economies of semiarid regions.
6) Very heavy rainfall: Warmer water can transport more water vapor. Damaging rainstorms are due to strong updrafts that cool the air and condense the vapor as rainfall. The more water is in the air during a strong updraft, the more rain can fall.
7) Hurricanes and tropical storms: These derive their energy from evaporation from the warm sea surface. As oceans warm, larger regions can spawn these storms and provide more energy. But changes in winds aloft are expected to reduce hurricane intensification, so it’s not clear that global warming will increase damage from tropical storms.
8) Extreme cold weather: Some research has attributed cold weather than moves south with the meandering of the jet stream – sometimes referred to as “polar vortex” outbreaks – to warming in the Arctic. Other studies strongly dispute that Arctic warming is likely to affect winter weather farther south, and this idea remains controversial.
9) Severe thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes: These storms are triggered by strong surface heating, so it’s plausible that they could increase in a warming world. But their development depends on the circumstances of each storm. There is not yet evidence that the frequency of tornadoes is increasing.
The catastrophic impacts of extreme weather depend at least as much on people as on climate.
The evidence is clear that the more coal, oil and gas are burned, the more the world will warm, and the more likely it will be for any given location to experience heat waves that are far outside anything they’ve experienced.
Disaster preparedness can quickly fail when extreme events blow past all previous experience. Portland’s melting streetcar power cables are a good example. How communities develop infrastructure, social and economic systems, planning and preparedness can make them more resilient – or more vulnerable – to extreme events.