Dialogues surrounding environmental sustainability tend to conflate reducing pollution with stopping global warming. After all, greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and other emissions create holes in the ozone layer. However, not all pollutants have a warming effect. In fact, trying to remove some of the most dangerous air pollution from the atmosphere could actually worsen global warming.
The cooling effect of aerosols
While greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap heat, aerosols like sulfates are heavier particles that reflect sunlight back into space. Thus, the heavy smog around urban areas is actually often cooling regions down by blocking out sunlight.
When cities say they plan to clean up smog and pollution, they are often targeting these visible sulfates. While greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for a long time after being emitted, sulfates tend to fall back to Earth since they are heavier. That means that stopping emissions right now could significantly lower the amount of sulfates in the air while not having a huge effect on the decades worth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Problematically, scientists from the Center for International Climate Research predict that stopping all air pollution could increase temperatures by one-half to one degree. The cooling effect of aerosols is so significant that some scientists have proposed releasing large quantities of aerosols into the atmosphere to cool the Earth.
Current dangers of aerosols
Despite the cooling effect of aerosols, they are still one of the main types of air pollution and pose an urgent threat. Scientists estimate that air pollution has caused over 7 million premature deaths around the world.
In the U.S., North Carolina saw a significant decrease in respiratory disease-related deaths after air pollution regulation laws passed in 2002. Air pollution has also been linked to a number of other diseases. Many toxic pollutants can cause cardiovascular diseases as well as some forms of cancer. A recent study conducted at the University of Chicago found that air pollution is significantly linked to mental disorders. Scientists found that poor air quality caused up to a 27% increase in bipolar disorder.
But there’s an important Catch-22
Removing sulfates and other dangerous aerosols from the atmosphere could save millions of lives around the globe. However, with climate change being so drastic already, increasing temperatures by half to one degree could spell disaster.
In any case, countries are already moving forward with air-pollution cleaning initiatives. When it comes to galvanizing sustainable action, countries are often prioritizing short-term gains. Stopping life-threatening air pollution is a much more popular position than preventing global warming in many areas. Of course, it won’t vanish overnight and current cleaning efforts won’t increase global temperatures by too much.
Furthermore, in the long run, removing air pollution is definitely beneficial for stopping climate change. Not only do greenhouse gases worsen global warming, but heavier aerosols also prevent solar panels from working at full efficiency.
There’s Hope: Effective Forest Management Can Still Save Our Biodiversity If We Act Now
We know how critical forests are to life on Earth, yet, at large, our actions often don’t reflect that. Industries destroy forests constantly for their lumber and companies constantly clear land to make room for construction and agriculture.
It makes sense to treat trees as an easily renewable resource, but unfortunately, it is much harder to renew a true forest.
Unperturbed forests consist of a wide array of plants, trees, and animals of different species and ages, and if handled irresponsibly, this diverse balance can easily fall out of place.
Deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon and Australia have made it clear that we need better forest management. As we approach a critical tipping point, the time to act truly is now.
Here’s what you need to know about deforestation tipping points and how forest management can play a role in making sure we don’t lose our coveted biodiversity.
Forest Tipping Points
Several countries have strict laws governing how forests can be treated by industry. These laws set a strict precedent on how to replant and renew wildlife in order to maintain balance. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
The Amazon Rainforest, in particular, has lost 24,000 square miles over the past year due to environmentally regressive policy. It is estimated that 20% of the original forest has been cleared since 1970, meaning it is approaching a “tipping point”.
A recent study from the University of Cincinnati explained the concept of forest tipping points.
A team of ecologists and geographers surveyed every square mile of the Earth digitally year by year in order to understand the progression of deforestation.
Researchers divided the world into small “blocks” of land and studied how the blocks changed individually over time. The complex study uncovered a simple truth.
They found that “deforestation occurs comparatively slowly … until about half of the forest is gone. Then the remaining forest disappears very quickly.”
This is because wildlife wants to be one uniform biome, and as ecosystems fragment, it becomes harder to continue.
Wildfires and the Amazon Rainforest’s Tipping Point
Understanding how deforestation impacts the environment can allow us to set preventative measures.
Politicians must understand the concept of deforestation tipping points and integrate it into political action.
Scientists have concluded that the Amazon Rainforest is dangerously close to its tipping point.
Carlos Nobre of Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo and Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University recently proclaimed that:
“Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.” — Carlos Nobre And Thomas Lovejoy, Science Advances
In fact, the entire world is approaching its tipping point.
The same University of Cincinnati researchers discovered in an earlier study that “22 percent of the Earth’s habitable surface has been altered in measurable ways, primarily from forest to agriculture, between 1992 and 2015.”
Forests have shrunk, and so have the ice caps, and reefs. The rate of destruction of these delicate biomes has increased exponentially and will likely continue to do so.
The outlook does look bleak but it is certainly not hopeless.
The Importance of Forest Management
On the other hand, reefs and forests have benefited greatly from technological advancement and active management.
Recently, researchers discovered that underwater speakers, among other measures, could counteract reef decay.
The solution is less clear for forests, but active forest management can certainly make a difference.
It may seem rather unremarkable, but forest management is an incredibly effective tool.
Forest Management Could Have Been Beneficial to California and Australia
The increased occurrence of wildfires in areas like California and Australia directly correlates with a decrease in preventative forest management.
Controlled burns generally prevent a larger wildfire from occurring, and Australia had drastically cut the number of controlled burns it performs prior to the wildfire crisis.
California suffers from a similar problem and has elected to pursue preventative measures, specifically forest thinning, in order to create more stable forests.
Currently, the privately-owned Forest Resilience Board can be contracted to manage healthy forests, and a government-wide forest management board could certainly help states like California and countries like Australia.
We Need To Vote Leaders Out If They Won’t Help With Forest Management
Unfortunately, the management of biomes cannot make a significant difference as long as politicians have no interest in the solutions.
Citizens are becoming more and more aware of climate issues and this has been reflected in voter priorities.
As our environment reaches a tipping point, we need to elect politicians who want to make a difference.
Only through doing so can we must pass the laws and preventative management necessary to ensure the usage of the Earth’s resources is sustainable for the years to come.
This Restaurant Giant Is Making An Ambitious Commitment To Sustainable Packaging
With 12 Taco Party Packs and refreshing Baja Blasts, there is no question as to how Taco Bell attracts over 40 million customers each week in the United States. Unfortunately, each of these orders presents a more pressing issue: sustainable packaging.
Each year, only 29% of all fast-food containers and packaging are recovered. The rest accumulates in landfills, unable to serve another purpose in their lifetime. Fortunately, Taco Bell wants to address the issue of sustainable packaging.
Kicking 2020 off with a bang, the fast-food giant recently released a plan promising a sustainable mindset. Here’s what its plan is all about.
Sustainable Packaging: Recyclable, Compostable, and Reusable Products Only
Last week, Taco Bell announced its goal to make all consumer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025 world wide.
With 7,000 stores open across the globe, the company sits as one of the largest fast-food corporations in the world. However, with this comes great environmental responsibility. Fortunately, Mark King, Taco Bell’s CEO, is already preparing for the company’s future.
In his own words, “As Taco Bell expands its footprint, our responsibility to drive positive impact increases.”
King adds, “Our business growth in the last decade has positioned us to create change for good and implement creative solutions for our planet, our people and our food. We’re excited to shake things up and make 2020 even more about what matters most: our purpose”.
Fast-Food Giant Eliminates Chemicals and Adds In-Store Recycling Opportunities
In order to achieve its goal for sustainable packaging, Taco Bell is altering many of its products.
Moving forward, several things such as fountain drink cups to paper bags will no longer have PFAS, Phthalates, and BPA. Despite being found in many food packaging, there is an unsettling link between these chemicals and multiple negative health effects.
For example, research suggests that BPA, or bisphenol A, may cause cancer and affect brain development in the womb.
By doing so, the brand strives to increase its products’ ability to be recycled, compostable, or reusable. Taco Bell did not release any information on what materials they will be using in its future packaging.
In addition to this, Taco Bell will also be offering sustainable in-store options in the near future. As of right now, these changes include implementing recycling and/or composting bins into all restaurants (where infrastructure permits).
However, there is a possibility that the restaurant will soon be supplying reusable food baskets for dine-in meals.
Taco Bell’s Previous Actions On Sustainable Packaging
In 2019, Taco Bell banned plastic straws from all of its locations in Romania and Moldova. Unfortunately, the company does not have any official commitments on bans involving plastic bags or foam containers.
Reducing Its Carbon Footprint
There is no doubt that Taco Bell is ringing in the new year with ambitious goals. However, this is not the first time that it has tried to implement sustainable goals.
In 2019, the fast-food giant publicized 7 of its prioritized goals. Surprisingly, almost half of them can be attributed to reducing its carbon footprint.
For example, Taco Bell vowed to work to ensure that all its beef is sustainable, as well as to improve recycling efforts and include menu diversity for those leaning towards a plant-based diet.
Although already having successfully launched new favorites like the Black Bean Crunchwrap, it seems like Taco Bell hopes to continue this momentum.
As another one of its 2020 goals, the company is currently striving to be the number one QSR for vegetarians.
Needless to say, environmental activists, vegetarians, and flexitarians around the globe are all happy for these announcements.
It’s Time For All Fast-Food Brands To Use Sustainable Packaging
With its efforts, Taco Bell is one of many fast-food restaurants to begin adopting a greener mindset. Working with similar ideas, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Subway have already made sustainable commitments. However, there is still room for improvement in this industry.
Although there are many options for companies to reduce their environmental footprint, there are a few ideas that should be implemented as soon as possible:
- Reduce packaging or use of plastic wherever possible.
- Ditch hard to recycle materials such as polystyrene.
- Like Taco Bell, offer in-store recycling opportunities.
By doing so, monumental change can quickly occur.
How Can YOU Help In The Fight Against The Australia Fires?
Australia fires have burned an area twice the size of Maine in the past few months.
Authorities report that at least 25 people have died. Two thousand homes have been destroyed. Tens of thousands have been urged to leave their homes due to spreading flames and declining air quality.
What’s even more alarming are estimations for affected animals. Some 600,000 different species are contained in the area burning, and many are completely unique to Australia. Based on calculations from Professor Christopher Dickman of the University of Sydney, 1 billion animals have died.
And Australia still has another month of fire season left.
So how can we help?
How to Help Affected Families of the Australia Fires
There are two main groups that are hurting because of the fires: people and animals. Some ways to help out the displaced people due to Australia fires include:
1. The Australian Red Cross (for Communities)
Helping out with medical aid, food, and shelter, this organization has sent over 1,200 people to affected communities to help meet the increased need in their 70 evacuation and recovery centers.
Australian actor Dacre Montgomery, who starred in “Stranger Things”, set up a GoFundMe page to gather funds for the Australian Red Cross. Help reach the goal of raising $500,000 here.
2. Australia Wildlife Fund (to Increase Firefighting Efforts)
This organization was started by a $3 million donation from Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance. It first aims to help the people affected by the fires by funding firefighting efforts and supporting the damaged communities. The Australia Wildlife Fund will also dedicate funds to wildlife, both in the most urgent times and after the fires to restore ecosystems. Donate here.
3. New South Wales Rural Fire Service (for Families of Firefighters Who Passed Away)
Battling the Australia fires is a dangerous job. Thousands of brave men and women are risking their lives to limit the damage of the fires. They don’t always come home; three have lost their lives so far in this wildfire season. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service is accepting donations for the families of those firefighters here.
How to Help Impacted Animal Habitats
Wildlife affected by the fires need aid right now, but they will also need new habitats when the fire season is over. The organizations below have laid out plans to tackle one or both of these issues.
1. WIRES (for Wildlife Rescue)
New South Wales Wildlife, Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. is the country’s largest wildlife rescue organization. WIRES volunteers carried out over 3,300 rescues in December alone. Donate here.
2. Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital (for Injured Animals)
Run in part by Steve Irwin’s daughter, this zoo has started the Wildlife Warriors program, which is raising money for new enclosures to house the influx of flying foxes and koalas injured in the fire. Help build these new facilities by donating here.
3. World Wildlife Fund Australia (Planting Trees and Restoring Lost Habitats)
One of the organizations mainly focused on the repercussions of habitat loss, the WWF Australia has set a goal of planting 10,000 native trees in what were previously highly populated koala habitats.
Their action will begin at the conclusion of the fire season and are accepting donations here.
Companies That Have Provided Support During the Australia Fires
Another way to help Australia is to support companies who have helped the country fight the fires. Airbnb, for example, has offered temporary free housing to those in New South Wales and Melbourne, the places the fires’ effects have been the worst, who have been displaced.
Amazon contributed AU$1 million to aid fire relief efforts. Coca-Cola Amatil has given paid leave to workers volunteering with emergency services to fight the fires and provide relief, and 250,000 bottles of water to volunteers.
Additionally, several retail chains in Australia like Levi’s and The North Face pledged to donate 100% of profits from a day last week to the Australian Red Cross.
Beyond Donations: What Should Businesses and Government do About the Australia Fires
Donations now, or helping out however you can, is, of course, selfless and highly impactful. However, we also need to think about how these fires could look in the future if current environmental practices around the world continue.
While climate change may not have started the fires, the increased temperatures dry out plant material, essentially increasing kindling for the fires, making it easier for them to grow and spread.
In 2018, Australia’s national science agency and Bureau of Meteorology concluded that a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperatures has likely contributed to increased intensity in the Australia fires.
Hopefully, these fires can help spur some changes in environmental policy worldwide. So even if donating is not possible at this time, help out Australia by pressuring businesses and governments to put in place more environmentally friendly practices.
Subscribe for the most important sustainability stories sent to your email every morning!
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.
Business1 week ago
JetBlue Airways Will Become Carbon Neutral By July 2020, Making It The First In US History
Politics1 week ago
Let’s Say Trump Starts A War With Iran. What Would Happen To The Environment?
Sustainability4 days ago
What You Need To Know About Sustainable Transportation: Obstacles, Progress, And More
Action3 days ago
How Can YOU Help In The Fight Against The Australia Fires?
Business22 hours ago
This Restaurant Giant Is Making An Ambitious Commitment To Sustainable Packaging