Canada has recently announced a plan to ban “harmful” single-use plastics, joining a global movement to significantly reduce waste. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the plan will go into effect as early as 2021.
Items such as plastic bags, straws, and water bottles will likely be barred under the new ban. When compiling a definitive list of banned items, Trudeau says the government will take “a science-based approach.”
Canada’s Plastic Problem
Currently, Canadians recycle only 10% of plastics. At this rate, Canadians will throw out around $11 billion worth of plastic goods annually by 2030.
“This is a big step,” Trudeau said. “But we know we can do this for 2021.”
According to the Canadian government, 1 million birds and more than 100,000 sea mammals worldwide are injured or die every year due to plastic pollution. “You’ve all heard the stories and seen the photos,” Trudeau said. “To be honest, as a dad, it is tough trying to explain this to my kids. How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches across the world, their stomachs jam-packed with plastic bags?”
The prime minister says that the European Parliament’s sweeping vote to ban single-use plastics in March inspired the plan. The proposal included a ban of the top 10 most common single-use plastic items present on European beaches by 2021. Additionally, it includes an ambitious goal to recycle 90% of plastic bottles by 2029.
In May, the UN agreed on a landmark deal preventing plastic waste from entering the world’s oceans. Around 180 countries decided to crack down on waste management with a legally binding agreement to regulate plastic waste exports. The United States, the third highest plastic exporter in the world, was not among these nations.
China Tackles Plastic Pollution
This comes around a year after China announced a ban on waste plastic imports. Formerly, China accepted a majority of the world’s shipments of recyclables from other nations including the United States. Consequently, unrest ensued among foreign markets now questioning where to divert their plastic waste.
American Involvement Against Plastic Pollution
Although environmental policy has been largely partisan within the American government, ocean pollution is an issue met with bipartisan agreement. Earlier in October, President Donald Trump signed legislation aimed to control plastic pollution in oceans.
While many agree this measure was a step in the direction, critics insist more change is necessary. Trump has historically excluded the U.S. from being among countries to “blame” for excessive waste damaging oceans. Instead, he has mainly cited countries like China and Japan for contributing to the issue.
However, some individual states have imposed plans of their own to curtail ocean degradation. Recently, Oregon lawmakers voted 17-12 to prohibit single-use plastic bags.
The state’s Senate decided restaurants and grocery stores will no longer be able to provide plastic bags, but will instead give customers the option of purchasing recyclable plastic and paper bags for 5 cents. Governor Kate Brown is poised to pass the bill, after voicing her support for it previously.
In 2015, the EPA reported that the United States produced more than 126 billion plastic bags that year. However, Americans only recycled 12.8% of those bags. If the Senate approves the bill, Oregon will join New York, Hawaii, and California in the fight against plastic pollution.
“Something we use once shouldn’t be able to pollute our environment for hundreds of years,” Oregon State Senator Michael Dembrow said.
Across the world, government officials have attempted to foresee the future of the world’s oceans—and it’s not promising. Plastic pollution has been empirically harmful toward ocean habitats, and a staggering amount of marine organisms have died or been injured as a result. That’s why Canada’s plan is such a major victory in the battle for environmental action and justice. To truly provoke meaningful change and save the planet’s oceans from complete degradation, it cannot be done without the support of nations.
Greta Thunberg and fellow youth climate activists testify to Congress
This week, Greta Thunberg is making a case on Capitol Hill.
On Tuesday, the 16-year old climate activist met with the Senate climate crisis task force, where she testified alongside young climate activists from across the U.S.
And on Wednesday morning, the group testified before Congress again. This time, they spoke at a hearing on Climate Change Leadership, organized by the House Climate Crisis Committee and a Foreign Affairs subcommittee.
Their goal? To demand the U.S. government finally stand up against the climate crisis.
Greta Thunberg and Jamie Margolin urge politicians to unite behind science
Rather than giving prepared remarks, Thunberg kept her statement short and sweet. In under a minute, she submitted the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming to serve as her testimony.
“I don’t want you to listen to me,” she explained. “I want you to listen to the scientists.”
The report, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, discusses the increasing threats of global warming. It warns that, without drastic change, the global temperature will rise 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2030. And the consequences of that rise in temperature are dire.
By submitting the report to Congress, Thunberg made a simple statement — there’s no time to waste. “I want you to unite behind science, and then I want you to take real action.”
At her meeting on Tuesday with the Senate climate crisis task force, Thunberg made a similar demand. Speaking to Congress as a whole, she said, “I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.”
Her fellow activists agree.
Jamie Margolin, the 17-year-old co-founder of the Zero Hour movement, urged Congress to forge a path to climate recovery. To her, there’s still a chance to solve the climate crisis. “But this must start today,” she said. “In fact, it should’ve started yesterday.”
And Vic Barrett, the 20-year-old member of the Alliance of Climate Education, continued the call to action. He pointed out his greatest fears about imminent climate change. How marginalized communities are the most at risk. How, for him and his friends, climate change has become a source of serious mental and physical stress.
“My culture and inheritance are slipping into the sea,” he went on, discussing the threat of rising water levels on the Caribbeans. “My people are going extinct.”
Youth take charge in climate movement
Following their statements, House Speakers commended the young activists for their leadership in the movement against climate change.
But recognition is not what they need from Congress. “We need your leadership,” said the 21-year-old conservationist Benji Backer. “You have remarkable power.”
“The fact that you are staring at a panel of young people testifying before you today pleading for a livable earth should not fill you with pride. It should fill you with shame,” said Margolin.
These testimonials are part of a greater movement initiated by young people across the globe to combat climate change. The face of the movement, Greta Thunberg will continue her efforts to incite policy change this Saturday at the first ever UN Youth Climate Summit in New York.
And on Friday, she will join thousands of other concerned young people as they march against climate change during the Global Climate Strike.
An Environmental Crisis is Looming Over the Horizon in Yemen
The civil war in Yemen has been raging on, with the UN calling it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The conflict between the internationally-recognized government of Yemen and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has led to disease outbreaks, widespread famine, and water scarcity, all of which threaten the livelihoods of millions across the country. On top of this, it now seems to be in a time of environmental crisis.
A large portion of the death toll, which has exceeded 91,600 fatalities since fighting broke out in 2015, can be attributed to civilian deaths from extensive bombing campaigns. Countless bombs have left chemical residue which can attach to particles in the air, seep into the soil, and traverse across vast distances via wind and rain.
In the coming years, climate change and sea level rise will strike Yemen hard. This has been illustrated in the past decade by an unprecedented amount of hurricanes and back-to-back cyclones in a region where tropical storms rarely occur.
Extreme heat is affecting most of the country and will enable tropical diseases like malaria to easily spread. Biodiversity loss is also accelerating across many ecosystems.
The war has undermined critical action in few ways. First, issues like the environment have not received proper attention due to humanitarian aid being the number one priority for most international organizations.
Second, the government has been caught in a fiscal bind in recent years. It has poured all of its resources into pushing back the Houthi resistance. In August, for example, violence escalated when separatists took over the port city of Aden. Mainstream coverage of the war hasn’t helped either; despite the toll the environment is taking, it has largely ignored these issues.
“It’s certain that Yemen is one of the countries most affected by climate change,” Tawfeeq al-Sharjabi, the Yemeni Deputy Water and Environment Minister.
Solar power could help mitigate the environmental crisis
One solution that could alleviate some of Yemen’s problems is solar power. Countries that support the Yemeni government’s efforts, specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have been developing alternative energy which could prop up Yemen’s energy sector and save billions of dollars in the process.
International organizations have also stepped up. The World Bank is working with local communities to install solar applications in schools and other public facilities. It aims to bring electricity into the lives of over 1.3 million people while also helping Yemen meet its Paris Agreement goals by reducing carbon emissions by as much as 430,000 tons.
On the other hand, as The Cairo Review points out, the drawbacks of solar alternatives may also just push civilians back to traditional fuel sources once they are available again.
A ticking time bomb with global implications
Though many problems manifest on land, issues could soon arise in the seas. In July, the UN warned that the Safer FSO, an oil tanker abandoned in 2015, could explode from a buildup of volatile gases and leak over 1 million barrels of oil.
To put that into perspective, experts warn that it could result in a spill four times greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. It would devastate the Red Sea and surrounding bodies of water, reaching as far as Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and even the coast of Egypt.
A spill of this magnitude would effectively block commerce from reaching international destinations through the Red Sea, which accounts for 10% of global trade. Furthermore, it would wreak havoc on marine life for hundreds of miles around and further exacerbate Yemen’s water crisis.
The trouble stems from Houthi control over the tanker, which has prevented maintenance from outside groups. Fortunately, a UN team was recently dispatched to assess the situation after complicated negotiations with the rebel group. Other than that, not much progress has been made.
“The danger increases with every day that goes by,” Doug Weir, policy director of the Conflict and Environment Observatory, told CNBC.
Yemen’s environmental crisis is quickly deteriorating but the country’s conflict has halted important preventative measures from being enacted—the government faces countless issues of its own. Its lack of financial flexibility means that these problems will likely persist into the near future.
Bringing solar technology into the country is a worthy initiative, but it is only one piece of the larger puzzle. Securing the Safer FSO will also require substantial effort.
Yemen needs a coordinated global response to tackle this dilemma. However, given the complexities of international diplomacy, its environmental pleas will likely yield little to no response.
Bill Gates is funding solar geoengineering research. Is it a viable climate change solution?
Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently invested in a drastic approach to lowering the surface temperature of the earth, solar geoengineering. Along with other individuals and 14 companies, he helps to fund the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) at Harvard University. The study has raised a total of $16,225,000 as of August 2019.
What is solar geoengineering?
Solar geoengineering relies on the idea that all of the heat on the earth is from the sun. Certain gasses in the atmosphere keep the heat near the planet. Gasses like carbon dioxide, in this sense, act as insulators, keeping the heat close to the earth instead of letting it escape. gasses like carbon dioxide trapping solar heat in the earth’s atmosphere too well creates the climate change trend.
From this background, two paths of dealing with climate change can be discerned. One is to reduce carbon emissions. This would decrease the amount of it that is in the atmosphere trapping solar heat. The other is to change the amount of solar heat that the earth and the surrounding atmosphere absorb initially. This is the path that solar geoengineering pursues.
To decrease the amount of solar heat that the earth absorbs, a plane would release small particles into the stratosphere, about 50 km above the earth’s surface. These particles will reflect a portion of the sunlight, theoretically creating cooler surface temperatures. However, while many researchers have run simulations, this has never been tried in the actual atmosphere. They have not yet determined the most beneficial article to use, either.
The SCoPEx Project
Later next month, the group anticipates running its first real-world experiment. While computer simulations can be highly accurate, the environment is extremely complex. Thus, running small-scale tests is an essential step before deploying this strategy on a scale that could impact worldwide temperature.
This will involve, per the research website, using a “high-altitude balloon to lift an instrument package approximately 20 km into the atmosphere.” The machine will then release approximately 2kg of naturally occurring chemicals like calcium carbonate and sulfates into the air. The release of these chemicals will create a “perturbed air mass” approximately one kilometer long and 100 meters across. This will allow for measurement of this theoretical idea in a real-world setting. Researchers will outfit the balloon with equipment to measure “aerosol density, atmospheric chemistry, and light scattering.” After particles are released, researchers will use these pieces of equipment to measure the effectiveness of this tactic.
Such a large amount of particles would have to be dispensed that they would spread to cover the entire atmosphere. Thus, this strategy would affect all countries and people on earth. All nations would have to consent in order for this strategy to be used fairly. If the particles were released into the atmosphere without the consent of all countries, it could create tension between nations, or even incite war.
Additionally, many condemn this idea as a lazy approach to dealing with climate change, because it does not address the ultimate cause of the crisis: pollution. Thus, solar geoengineering would have to be used continuously, constantly releasing more and more particles to reflect sunlight, if carbon emissions are not curbed. If carbon emissions continue at their current rates, geoengineering couldn’t be stopped without temperatures rising several degrees as soon as there weren’t particles in the atmosphere anymore.
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