Research has shown that being unvaccinated raises a person’s risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus, while being older, overweight or immunocompromised can increase the severity of covid-19. Now scientists think there is another risk factor that may increase the likelihood of contracting the coronavirus and the possibility that it will lead to a poor outcome: exposure to air pollution.
A growing body of evidencesuggests links between breathing polluted air and the chances of being infected by the coronavirus, developing a severe illness or dying of covid-19. Although many of these studies focused on long-term exposure to air pollution, experts say there is also building evidence that even short-term exposures may have negative effects.
A recent study of 425 younger adults in Sweden found that brief exposures were “associated with increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection despite relatively low levels of air pollution exposure,” according to the paper published in April. Unlike many other studies that analyzed vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or young children, and tracked the effects of long-term exposures on hospitalizations and deaths, the median age of participants, who largely reported mild to moderate symptoms, was about 25 years old.
Over the past two centuries, western settlement and the Industrial Revolution dramatically changed the water quality of the Great Lakes. New economic activities and cultural centers were spawned, while the lakes saw new (and often unwanted) species and pollution from industry, agriculture and cities.
The 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement provided a path forward for Canada and the United States to jointly address these issues. The two nations have made much progress in the years since. April 15 marked the 50th anniversary of the Agreement’s signing.
But the Agreement was not the start of efforts to restore the lakes. Since its inception in 1909, the International Joint Commission (IJC) has been involved in Great Lakes water quality issues. Article IV of the Boundary Waters Treaty states that all transboundary waters “shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.” Within that scope (more limited than the Agreement as a whole), governments tasked the IJC several times prior to the Agreement to assess the Great Lakes and make recommendations.
Government agencies are tasked with setting policies to reduce the impacts of climate change. But a new Minnesota venture aims to get more of the private sector involved, to bring locally developed “green” technology to the public.
The latest State of Climate Tech report says these startups saw a 210% increase in investments in the past year. But not all firms get to see their energy innovation succeed.
That inspired Nina Axelson to found Grid Catalyst, a nonprofit program that serves as a go-between for local green-tech companies and potential customers who can get these products onto the market.
Anheuser-Busch is partnering with Cambrian to implement new water reuse technology in connection with its breweries – including a new plant in Houston, Texas, set to open in the summer of 2022. Through a series of reactors and filtration technologies, Anheuser-Busch will be able to clean and reuse previously discarded water in industrial processes which don’t contact beer, reducing the Houston brewery’s reliance on new water from the community’s municipal water supply by 10%.
Eating chicken raised on a diet of bugs or algae may sound downright unappetizing to some, but there are ways to make the idea more palatable to at least one type of food shopper. Consumers who are environmentally aware will likely warm up to the idea of using alternative proteins like insect meal in poultry feed if they’re given enough information about the health and environmental benefits, a new study shows.
It’s a dangerous shift, both for representative government and for the future climate.
Corporate capture of environmental politics
In democratic systems, elected leaders are expected to protect the public’s interests, including from exploitation by corporations. They do this primarily through policies designed to secure public goods, such as clean air and unpolluted water, or to protect human welfare, such as good working conditions and minimum wages. But in recent decades, this core democratic principle that prioritizes citizens over corporate profits has been aggressively undermined.
Today, it’s easy to find political leaders – on both the political right and left – working on behalf of corporations in energy, finance, agribusiness, technology, military and pharmaceutical sectors, and not always in the public interest. These multinational companies help fund their political careers and election campaigns to keep them in office.
When it comes to the political parties, it’s easy to find examples of campaign finance fueling political agendas.
In 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen testified before a U.S. Senate committee about the greenhouse effect, both the Republican and Democratic parties took climate change seriously. But this attitude quickly diverged. Since the 1990s, the energy sector has heavily financed conservative candidates who have pushed its interests and helped to reduce regulations on the fossil fuel industry. This has enabled the expansion of fossil fuel production and escalated CO2 emissions to dangerous levels.
Corporate interests have also fueled a surge in well-financed antidemocratic leaders who are willing to stall and even dismantle existing climate policies and regulations. These political leaders’ tactics have escalated public health crises, and in some cases, human rights abuses.
Brazil, Australia and the US
Many deeply antidemocratic governments are tied to oil, gas and other extractive industries that are driving climate change, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and China.
In “Global Burning,” I explore how three leaders of traditionally democratic countries – Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Scott Morrison of Australia and Donald Trump in the U.S. – came to power on anti-environment and nationalist platforms appealing to an extreme-right populist base and extractive corporations that are driving climate change. While the political landscape of each country is different, the three leaders have important commonalities.
Bolsonaro, Morrison and Trump all depend on extractive corporations to fund electoral campaigns and keep them in office or, in the case of Trump, get reelected.
For instance, Bolsonaro’s power depends on support from a powerful right-wing association of landowners and farmers called the União Democrática Ruralista, or UDR. This association reflects the interests of foreign investors and specifically the multibillion-dollar mining and agribusiness sectors. Bolsonaro promised that if elected in 2019, he would dismantle environmental protections and open, in the name of economic progress, industrial-scale soybean production and cattle grazing in the Amazon rainforest. Both contribute to climate change and deforestation in a fragile region considered crucial for keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.
Bolsonaro, Morrison and Trump are all openly skeptical of climate science. Not surprisingly, all have ignored, weakened or dismantled environmental protection regulations. In Brazil, that led to accelerated deforestation and large swaths of Amazon rainforest burning.
Notably, all three leaders have worked, sometimes together, against international efforts to stop climate change. At the United Nations climate talks in Spain in 2019, Costa Rica’s minister for environment and energy at the time, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, blamed Brazil, Australia and the U.S. for blocking efforts to tackle climate injustice linked to global warming.
Brazil, Australia and the U.S. are not unique in these responses to climate change. Around the world, there have been similar convergences of antidemocratic leaders who are financed by extractive corporations and who implement anti-environment laws and policies that defend corporate profits. New to the current moment is that these leaders openly use state power against their own citizens to secure corporate land grabs to build dams, lay pipelines, dig mines and log forests.
Fortunately, there is a lot that people can do to protect democracy and the climate.
Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy and reducing the destruction of forests can cut greenhouse gas emissions. The biggest obstacles, a recent U.N. climate report noted, are national leaders who are unwilling to regulate fossil fuel corporations, reduce greenhouse gas emissions or plan for renewable energy production.
The path forward, as I see it, involves voters pushing back on the global trend toward authoritarianism, as Slovenia did in April 2022, and pushing forward on replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. People can reclaim their democratic rights and vote out anti-environment governments whose power depends on prioritizing extractive capitalism over the best interests of their citizens and our collective humanity.
Research on climate change is nothing new at the University of Illinois. However, developments this year have the attention of both Midwest farmers and international climate change experts.
This summer and fall, bread-box-sized robots developed here are ready to plant 10,000 acres of cover crops on farmers’ fields.
Other attention-getters include development of new corn and soybean varieties, “agrivoltaic” fields where crops and solar panels are productive side by side, and research on perennial crops that could potentially be grown here for biofuel.
Trees can normally regenerate due to the scatterings of pine cones by the wind or with the help of animals. But when a fire burns too hot, there is no way for seeds to survive and trees to grow back naturally in charred soils. To help forests rebuild, communities are turning to technological alternatives — including drones.
With the increasing urgency to address climate change impacting businesses all over the world, companies are now more than ever working to incorporate sustainable and ethical best practice into all areas of their manufacturing and supply chain processes. While important for the planet, this shift is paying off for business too: a recent global study showed that 44% of companies found that sustainability efforts had improved their bottom line.