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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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The effects of heat waves on human survivability

An article in the New Scientist (No.3161) by John Pickrell, entitled “Too hot to handle”, discusses the increasing trend of heatwaves throughout the world, as a result of climate change.

heatwave

Pickrell starts by discussing Australia, which had a heatwave in January 2017, with the hottest ever recorded temperatures in Sydney and Brisbane (Sydney had over 47 degrees). Large parts of the country had temperatures over 40 degrees C for weeks on end, as well as bush fires.  Many of the unique species of wildlife common to Australia had to be rescued from fires and heat, many of them suffering from heat exhaustion, burns, dehydration and stress.

koala

kangaroo

 

Temperatures of 50 degrees C are predicted by 2040 for Australia.

Pickrell then goes on to cite papers, which give statistics about fatalities during heatwaves, one from The Lancet which covered research by 26 institutions (including the World Health Organization).

The 2003 heatwave in France killed 70,000 people – but it would appear that the level of humidity is the crucial factor, as high levels of water in the atmosphere can reduce the body’s ability to cool down through sweating.  To sweat effectively, you must maintain your blood volume, so dehydration can cause heat stress, followed by heat stroke, multiple organ failure and possible death.  The elderly and children are at greater risk of heat stroke, as well as those on medication or with heart disease.

I came across another wordpress website, which gives a useful chart showing temperature against relative humidity and which combinations are lethal:

See: https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/heatwaves/

and below for the table (with acknowledgments):

nclimate_heatwaves

The black crosses in the chart above show temperature and relative humidity during events that were lethal. The blue line shows the likely boundary between lethal and non-lethal events, and the red line is a 95% probability threshold.


According to The Lancet, global warming has reduced the workforce in India by 418,000.


An interesting map of the world is given in the New Scientist article to show the probability of deadly heatwaves for three global warming scenarios: 1.5 degrees C; 2 degrees C and 4 degrees C.  This can be seen by clicking on the link below:

heatwaves data

It shows that, even with an increase in global temperature of 2 degrees, many parts of the world will become uninhabitable, through rising temperatures: North West Africa, much of the Middle East, parts of Central and South America, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and much of Australia.  At four degrees the situation is dire throughout much of the tropical world.

The New Scientist article concludes with a list of advice on how to keep cool.


 Another academic article on a similar subject has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA by Sherwood and Huber in 2010 (Vol 107, (21), 9552-5) entitled “An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress.”  This article has been summarised in the Science & Technology section of the The Observer (10th Sept. 2017).  This article gives a chart showing which species die at particular degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels.  Amphibians will be the first to go (at 0.6 degrees+), followed by penguins, due to loss of food sources, as the krill populations dwindle. At 1.6 degrees+, the wooded tundra is lost, along with its inhabitants, moose, lynx and brown bears, followed by large African mammals, such as elephants, then rain forest dwellers (orangutans, jaguars, sloths) at 2.6 degrees+.  At a warming of 4 degrees, 70% of species would be extinct, coral reefs dead and deserts would expand across the world. The fate of humankind would be dominated by mass migration, on a scale even larger than we see today, with water resources extremely limited, as we would have to abandon most of the Earth or live underground.  The authors predict that, by 2050, temperatures will be in a range that nobody has experienced before.

It is interesting to note that the Australian town of Coober Pedy, a major site for opal mining, has already built an underground town, including hotels, for those times in the year when it is already too hot to live above ground.


2nd August 2018

Since this post was first written, time has now moved on into 2018 with heatwaves across much of the northern hemisphere (see other posts on this site for details).  Even climate sceptics are now beginning to accept that climate change is with us, with the extremes of weather which accompany it.

A piece this week in The Guardian by David Carrington deals with the issue of human survivability during heat waves.  I quote a short passage from him, in which he summarises scientific work on the issue:

The new analysis assesses the impact of climate change on the deadly combination of heat and humidity, which is measured as the “wet bulb” temperature (WBT). Once the WBT reaches 35C, the air is so hot and humid that the human body cannot cool itself by sweating and even fit people sitting in the shade die within six hours.

A WBT above 31C is classed by the US National Weather Service as “extreme danger”, with its warning stating: “If you don’t take precautions immediately, you may become seriously ill or even die.”

He then goes on to discuss which parts of the world are most at risk of high WBT temperatures.  This would appear to be the north China plain, with a population of 400 million people, most of them farmers.  The scientists who produced the data have predicted that by 2070 to 2100, this area of the world will become uninhabitable.  Other areas at risk are the Middle East, around the Gulf (particularly Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and the coastal cities of Iran) and parts of South Asia (around the Indus and Ganges valleys).

For the full Guardian article, see:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/31/chinas-most-populous-area-could-be-uninhabitable-by-end-of-century?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Green+Light+2016&utm_term=282539&subid=2617869&CMP=EMCENVEML1631



July 2019

The UK has experienced another heatwave period this summer, with record temperatures being reached in a number of countries.  It was particularly humid in the UK, with weather forecasters predicting the humidity above 50%, a level which can prove fatal with temperatures above 25ºC, according to the graph shown above.

So its worth looking again at the relationship between WBT (wet bulb temperature) and death due to heat stress.  The following can be found in Wikipedia:

“Living organisms can survive only within a certain temperature range. When the ambient temperature is excessive, humans and many animals cool themselves below ambient by evaporative cooling (sweat in humans and horses, saliva and water in dogs and other mammals); this helps to prevent potentially fatal hyperthermia due to heat stress. The effectiveness of evaporative cooling depends upon humidity; wet-bulb temperature, or more complex calculated quantities such as Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) which also takes account of solar radiation, give a useful indication of the degree of heat stress, and are used by several agencies as the basis for heat stress prevention guidelines.

A sustained wet-bulb temperature exceeding 35 °C (95 °F) is likely to be fatal even to fit and healthy people, unclothed in the shade next to a fan; at this temperature our bodies switch from shedding heat to the environment, to gaining heat from it. Thus 35 °C (95 °F) is the threshold beyond which the body is no longer able to adequately cool itself. A study by NOAA from 2013 concluded that heat stress will reduce labour capacity considerably under current emissions scenarios.

A 2010 study concluded that under a worst-case scenario for global warming with temperatures 12 °C (22 °F) higher than 2007, the wet-bulb temperature limit for humans could be exceeded around much of the world in future centuries. A 2015 study concluded that parts of the globe could become uninhabitable. An example of the threshold at which the human body is no longer able to cool itself and begins to overheat is a humidity level of 50% and a high heat of 46 °C (115 °F), as this would indicate a wet-bulb temperature of 35 °C (95 °F).”



 


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EU’s clean energy plan could put forests at risk

A letter in last December 14th’s Guardian, and signed by numerous leading scientists, drew attention to the fact that the clean energy plan allows fuel from felled trees to qualify as renewable energy, when in fact this would accelerate climate change and devastate forests.

The European Union is moving to enact a directive to double Europe’s current renewable energy by 2030. This is admirable, but a critical flaw in the present version of the plan would accelerate climate change, allowing countries, power plants and factories to claim that cutting down trees and burning them for energy fully qualifies as renewable energy.

Even a small part of Europe’s energy requires a large quantity of trees and to avoid profound harm to the climate and forests worldwide the European council and parliament must fix this flaw.

bluebells

European producers of wood products have for decades generated electricity and heat as beneficial by-products, using wood wastes and limited forest residues. Most of this material would decompose and release carbon dioxide in a few years anyway, so using them to displace fossil fuels can reduce the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere in a few years too.

Unfortunately, the directive moving through parliament would go beyond wastes and residues and credit countries and companies for cutting down additional trees simply to burn them for energy. To do so has fundamentally different consequences because the carbon released into the air would otherwise stay locked up in forests.

The reasoning seems to be that so long as forests re-grow, they will eventually reabsorb the carbon released. Yet even then, the net effect – as many studies have shown – will typically be to increase global warming for decades to centuries, even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.

The full letter can be found at:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/14/eu-must-not-burn-the-worlds-forests-for-renewable-energy

There is also a petition to the EU which cn be signed by concerned people:

https://goo.gl/forms/TWrHVs0eSQi7w5Vx2


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Cape Town in South Africa is running out of water – whilst Paris experiences floods

An unprecedented drought in South Africa is causing an imminent shortage of water.  Officials estimate that the taps will run dry by 12 April 2018 (Day Zero).  Cape Town’s reservoirs have less than 90 days’ of water left.  Rationing has been introduced. the four million residents have been asked to restrict their water usage to 87 litres per person per day. This means car washing, topping up swimming pools and using potable water to irrigate gardens has been banned.  Hotels have drained their swimming pools and removed bath plugs.

See: https://globalnews.ca/news/3967288/cape-town-running-out-of-water-crisis/

The drought has been caused by very low rainfall over the past few years and increased water consumption by the city’s growing population.

Now, further news from the Times states that Cape Town has pleaded with the South African government to declare a national disaster as it faces the prospect of becoming the first modern city in the world to run out of water.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/world/cape-town-asks-for-disaster-zone-status-to-stave-off-drought-3ktqsw33g

To put South Africa’s crisis in context, Canadians use around 329 litres of water a day. And the average Canadian uses about 65 per cent of it in their bathrooms, according to Environment Canada.

Presumably, the drought in South Africa is yet another effect of the climate change that is being experienced in different ways across the globe.

south africa water

Cape Town residents fill water bottles and containers at a local spring

Meanwhile, in France, the capital is in flood, with many being evacuated from their homes as a result of the River Seine bursting its banks.  The New York Times headlines this story with the statement, “Floods leave Paris contemplating a wetter future”.  See:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/world/europe/france-paris-floods.html

Paris flooding

A flooded park on Ile de la Cite, Paris

Clearly, a result of climate change and the unstable weather patterns throughout the world, South Africa experiencing drought, whilst much of Europe is experiencing extremes of rain and snow.

April 2018  According to reports, Day Zero (12th April) has been deferred to August but restrictions on water usage are still in place at 50 litres per person per day.

May 2018  Greenpeace have reported that “Cape Town’s water shortage crisis has been averted (at least until 2019). Caused by a mixture of climate change, poor infrastructure and politicking, the city came dangerously close to ‘day zero’, that is, running completely dry. But welcome rains and some human efforts (including the mayor shaming water wasters) pulled it back in the nick of time”.

 


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Plastics and global pollution: the UK population want plastic-free supermarkets NOW – and more!

Of all the factors associated with the demise of our planet, the one which seems to have caught the public’s imagination is plastics and plastic pollution of the oceans and the damage that is being done to marine life by them.  And they want immediate action, as evidenced by comments on a recent BBC phone-in programme about the issue.

In the UK, watchers of the TV programme Blue Planet II, have had their awareness raised about the huge distress and death caused to many thousands of animals through plastic debris in the sea, as typified in the photograph of a dead penguin, caught up in plastic below:

penguin

This is just one example of the many horrifying and distressing photographs of creatures caught in plastic debris and fishing nets, which can be found by searching google images: turtles, seals, fish, sea birds and so on – all dead and dying because they have become trapped in plastic waste floating in the sea.

A sperm whale recently washed up dead on the Spanish coast and its stomach was full of 29 Kg of plastic, blocking its digestive system and causing its death.  Altogether a massive 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans each year.

And so, the public is beginning to demand that something be done about the use of plastic packaging for everyday products, much of it bought at the supermarket.

A letter from 200 MPs from seven different political parties urged the country’s major supermarkets to scrap plastic packaging.  And the Queen has also banned plastic straws and bottles from the royal estate.

Friends of the Earth have invited people to take a pledge to have a #PlasticFree Friday.

Prime Minister Theresa May also announced her proposed policies on plastic-free aisles in supermarkets and a tax on takeaway containers. She plans to limit all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years.   TWENTY FIVE YEARS!  ARE YOU SERIOUS?  The public want it banned right now.  Even the supermarket, Iceland’s plan to have no plastic packaging in their supermarkets in FIVE years time is not soon enough.  So, let’s get serious about this.

I grew up at a time when there were no supermarkets and I remember accompanying my mother to the local grocer, who would weigh out the goods she ordered, tip them into a brown paper bag, twist the corners to close it and then Mum would place it in her linen shopping bag and take it home.  No plastic in sight.

gapps-store-50-fulham-road

A small corner shop from the 50s – pre-supermarkets

It was encouraging therefore to hear about a man who has opened a plastic-free supermarket in Digbeth, Birmingham in July 2018.  See:

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/we-went-shopping-at-a-zero-waste-supermarket-thats-chucked-single-use-plastics_uk_5b3e22f6e4b07b827cbe2122

5b3e95d82000004200b96418

The plastic-free shop in Digbeth, Birmingham

And Greenpeace are campaigning for this too.  Let’s hope that the impact of the Blue Planet II series will also reach beyond these shores and set off a global response to this shocking issue.


Greenpeace have produced a youtube video, which describes the issues about supermarkets and plastics and whether “biodegradable” plastics are a good idea.  See:


An article by Roger Harrabin on the BBC website states that there is already an international law against polluting the oceans with plastic.  However, he comments that, as legal action needs to be taken by a country, rather than individuals, those smaller nations, such as islands, are unlikely to take the larger countries to the International Court of Justice.  The greatest plastic polluters of the oceans are China, India and Indonesia.  His article contains a map showing the biggest plastic polluters:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-43115486


Turtles and plastic

A piece of research, carried out by the University of Queensland in Australia, has demonstrated that one in three sea turtles has eaten plastic.  This can kill them or make them very ill, as it can either perforate the internal organs, leading to septicaemia, or cause a condition called ‘floater syndrome’, which makes the turtle more buoyant and unable to swim down to lower depths to feed on sea grass.  As a result, sea turtles are now an endangered species. A short piece of video shows a turtle with floater syndrome.  See:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/03/17/turtles-marine-plastic_n_9455496.html

sea-turtle-in-grass1

sea turtle in sea grass

This is not about plastic but I insert it here because there is some news breaking from Australia that 99% of green sea turtles born in Northern Australia are now female.  This is due to global warming, as the temperature of the sand incubating turtle eggs can determine the gender of the hatchling.  Ultimately, this could lead to the loss of this species, with no male turtles to fertilise the offspring.


Microplastics found in tap water and sea salt

The Guardian reported on numerous studies which have found microplastics in tap water, bottled water and sea salt.  It is not yet known whether this has an effect on human health.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/08/sea-salt-around-world-contaminated-by-plastic-studies


The UK campaigning group, 38 Degrees, have recently emailed their supporters outlining successes they have had with their petition-focused campaigns.  The following is taken from their latest email about plastics:

In recent months 38 Degrees members have played a huge role in tackling plastic waste. In March, after months of campaigning from 38 Degrees members and other campaign groups, Environment Minister Michael Gove announced a plan to bring back a bottle deposits recycling scheme in England.

Here’s how we did it:

  • 329,314 of us signed the petition – one of the biggest in 38 Degrees history – demanding that Michael Gove did the right thing to tackle plastic pollution
  • We handed in the petition in style straight to 10 Downing Street – complete with a boat made of bottles
  • A huge 150,944 of us told the government what we thought about plastic and litter when they asked for the public’s thoughts
  • We chipped in fivers and tenners for polling to show that the public was behind the idea of a bottle deposit scheme and it made it into national news

 

And it’s not just the government that 38 Degrees members pressured into taking plastic waste seriously – we’ve convinced big businesses to change their ways too.

When Mike, a gardener from Wrexham in Wales, discovered his morning cuppa was harming the planet he started a 38 Degrees petition asking Britain’s biggest tea company, PG Tips, to remove plastic from their tea bags.

More than 200,000 of us joined his campaign. We signed petitions and spread the word among our friends and family. And when it seemed like PG Tips were ignoring the issue, we upped the pressure. Tens of thousand of us emailed them directly and wrote on their Twitter and Facebook pages…. And it worked! PG Tips announced they would aim to make their tea bags plastic free by the end of this year.

 



June 2018:

The BBC TV programme “Springwatch” featured the whole plastics issue this week and found groups of people in different parts of the country who were removing plastic waste from beaches and rivers.  Well done!

Another campaigning organisation, Global Citizen, have circulated an email on the subject of plastics, as follows:

“Today is World Oceans Day, a day to celebrate our beautiful oceans, and to take action to protect them — because they’re in trouble. 

Earlier this year, thanks to Sir David Attenborough and his epic BBC series Blue Planet II, we opened our eyes to plastic pollution, which is wreaking havoc on oceans, wildlife, and on people in the poorest countries who are often worst hit, but least responsible.

Now, we’re taking a stand against plastics that we use once and then throw away — like drinking straws, bottles, and bags — and we want governments and businesses to join us.

Click here to sign the petition calling on world leaders to take concrete steps towards reducing the use of single-use plastics. 

Plastic pollution has a detrimental impact on people’s health, with a disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest. It pollutes life-sustaining rivers, causes diseases, and floods poor communities that lack proper facilities for collecting and disposing of waste.

The numbers are appalling. There are over 5 TRILLION pieces of plastic already in the ocean — and if we stay on our current trajectory, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.

Change is happening. Countries like the UK are cracking down on plastic pollution by exploring sustainable alternatives, such as providing greater access to water fountains to reduce plastic bottle waste. Businesses like Tesco and Iceland are also pledging to tackle unnecessary plastic waste in their supermarkets, but we want to see more governments and businesses to follow their lead.

This World Oceans Day, take part in the plastic revolution: call on governments and businesses to commit to ending the distribution of single-use plastics, and to develop renewable alternatives that won’t threaten our planet — and the people who inhabit it. 

With hope,

Marissa and the Global Citizen team”


Many companies are now stating that they will phase out plastic straws but the dilemma is what to replace them with. Now, a new company is opening up in Wales to meet the demand. It is Transcend Packaging, based in Ebbw Vale and has already signed a deal with McDonalds to supply paper straws to their 1,361 outlets.  See:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jun/17/paper-straw-factory-to-open-in-britain-as-restaurants-ditch-plastic-mcdonalds


At a European level, a new law has been proposed to ban single-use plastics but the EC is being lobbied by the plastics industry not to ratify this law.  As a result, a petition has taken off to get ordinary people to pressure the EC to maintain its proposals on plastics.  Europe is the world’s second largest producer of plastic. See:

WeMove.EU


Not all plastics are recyclable!

News is coming out that only a third of all the plastics that we put in our recycling bins can actually be recycled.  The black plastic trays frequently used for microwave meals cannot be recycled.  Nor can other items which may contain a mixture of different kinds of plastics.

According to the Guardian (4th August 2018), local authorities are saying that two thirds of plastics cannot be recycled and are sent to landfill or incinerated.  They are urging industry to stop using plastics to package their goods.  The LGA is saying that manufacturers should work with councils to develop a plan to stop the use of unrecyclable plastic and that the government should consider a ban on low-grade plastics.  They also believe that producers should contribute to the cost of collecting and disposing of plastic products.


September 2018

The UK government website state that there is strong public support for measures to reduce the use of plastics.  Here is the text of the statement:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/strong-public-backing-bolsters-fight-against-blight-of-plastic-waste

 

 


And, according to George Monbiot, the problem is not just about plastics but about consumerism:

Plastic Soup


October 2018

Greenpeace, in their newsletter “Unearthed” have announced that they have been following up what happens to plastics sent from the UK and other European countries to be re-cycled in Malaysia. They report the following:

We have a breaking story in the news. It’s about the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic scrap that the UK sends abroad every year to be recycled.

For the past year, I’ve been finding out where it goes – and if it actually gets recycled.

Two weeks ago, we went out to Malaysia – where a quarter of UK plastic scrap exports are sent – to follow up on reports of illegal dumping there.

In the illegal dumps, we found: packaging for Fairy dishwasher tablets, Yeo Valley yoghurt and Tesco finest crisps, alongside plastics from Spain, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan and Australia. In an adjoining recycling facility that was shut down months ago, we also found ripped-open recycling bags from UK local authorities discarded among a huge pile of plastic bags.”

You can read the story – and see all the pictures – here.



October 2018:

The Huffington Post published details of which company’s products contributed to most of the plastic pollution in the world.  This was derived from an analysis of 187,000 pieces of plastic found on beaches in 42 countries (249 clean-ups).

CocaCola, PepsiCo and Nestle produced the majority of the plastics analysed.

Coke branded plastic was found in 40 countries; PepsiCo and Nestle came second and third.

Other company’s plastics found in at least 10 countries were:

Danone, Mondelez, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars, and Colgate-Palmolive.

See:https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/coca-cola-nestle-and-pepsico-are-worst-brands-for-plastic-pollution-on-beaches_uk_5bbdb7fbe4b01470d0570227

Plastic in Cornwall

Picture published by Cornwall Wildlife Trust after a beach clean-up



January 2019

The Guardian has announced that it is phasing out the polythene wrappers that have been used to enclose its additional reports at weekends.  Instead of using polythene, it will now use wrappers made of potato starch.  These can be recycled in a composter.  See:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46849937



March 2019

A report in The Guardian tells the story of a young Cuvier’s beaked whale washed up on a beach in The Philippines.  It had 40 Kg of plastic in its stomach and had died of gastric shock.  The plastic included 16 rice bags 4 banana plantation bags and multiple shopping bags.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/18/dead-whale-washed-up-in-philippines-had-40kg-of-plastic-bags-in-its-stomach?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMTkwMzIy&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GreenLight&CMP=greenlight_email



March 2019

The European Union passes legislation to remove single-use plastics.

According to the European Commission, more than 80% of marine litter is plastics. The products covered by this new law constitute 70% of all marine litter items. Due to its slow rate of decomposition, plastic accumulates in seas, oceans and on beaches in the EU and worldwide. Plastic residue is found in marine species – such as sea turtles, seals, whales and birds, but also in fish and shellfish, and therefore in the human food chain.

seal in plastic

Parliament approved a new law banning single-use plastic items such as plates, cutlery, straws and cotton buds sticks.  560 MEPs voted in favour of the agreement with EU ministers, 35 against and 28 abstained.

The following products will be banned in the EU by 2021:

  • Single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks)
  • Single-use plastic plates
  • Plastic straws
  • Cotton bud sticks made of plastic
  • Plastic balloon sticks
  • Oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups

New recycling target and more responsibility for producers

Member states will have to achieve a 90% collection target for plastic bottles by 2029, and plastic bottles will have to contain at least 25% of recycled content by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

The agreement also strengthens the application of the polluter pays principle, in particular for tobacco, by introducing extended responsibility for producers. This new regime will also apply to fishing gear, to ensure that manufacturers, and not fishermen, bear the costs of collecting nets lost at sea.

The legislation finally stipulates that labelling on the negative environmental impact of throwing cigarettes with plastic filters in the street should be mandatory, as well as for other products such as plastic cups, wet wipes and sanitary napkins.

Quote

Lead MEP Frédérique Ries (ALDE, BE) said: “This legislation will reduce the environmental damage bill by €22 billion – the estimated cost of plastic pollution in Europe until 2030. Europe now has a legislative model to defend and promote at international level, given the global nature of the issue of marine pollution involving plastics. ”



May 2019

A recent report states that Sir David Attenborough has warned that the growing tide of plastic pollution is killing up to a million people as year as well as having devastating consequences on the environment.

A report on the impact of plastic pollution, one of the first to document the impact of discarded plastic on the health of the poorest people in the world, estimates that between 400,000 and one million people die every year because of diseases and accidents linked to poorly managed waste in developing countries.

Bali beach

Plastic waste on a beach in Bali, Indonesia

Sir David, whose Blue Planet TV programme alerted the world to the damage plastic was wreaking on the oceans, says that the effects of plastic pollution is an “unfolding catastrophe that has been overlooked for too long”.

He said it was time to act “not only for the health of our planet, but for the wellbeing of people around the world”.

“We need leadership from those who are responsible for introducing plastic to countries where it cannot be adequately managed, and we need international action to support the communities and governments most acutely affected by this crisis,” he said.

Just one in four people around the world have their rubbish collected so plastic and other waste often ends up discarded in the environment, blocking waterways and drains. This leads to flooding, which, in countries with poor sanitation, leads to outbreaks of cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases, as well as drowning. Discarded plastic also provides a fertile ground for disease vectors such as malaria- and dengue-carrying mosquitoes which breed in the rainwater collecting in waste.

The report also highlights the link between plastic waste and air pollution. For many in low and middle income countries the only way to get rid of plastic and other waste is to burn it, releasing toxic fumes into the air.

The effects of microplastics on human health is still unknown.



Also, in the news this week is a report that the deepest ever submarine dive in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean has taken place and that plastic waste was found on the floor of the ocean even at this deep level.



The Guardian – May 24th 2019:

The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a report warns.

Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fuelled in part by the fracking boom in the US. The report says plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product.

This plastic binge threatens attempts to meet the Paris climate agreement. It means that by 2050 plastic will be responsible for up to 13% of the total “carbon budget” – equivalent to 615 coal-fired power plants – says the research published on Thursday.

The contribution of plastic production and disposal to climate change has been largely hidden, say the authors of the report by the Center for International Environmental Law, which estimates the greenhouse gas footprint of plastic from the cradle to the grave for the first time.



 


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Children making speeches about climate change

Children and young people can often speak in challenging ways.  I would like to offer five.  The first is a 7-year-old Australian girl, Gillian, who is concerned about damage to the Great Barrier Reef:

 

Secondly, a young Fijian boy, Timoci Naulusala, who spoke at the COP23 meeting in Bonn, in November 2017:

 

Thirdly, a 13-year old Canadian girl, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who addressed the United Nations Rio Summit in 1992:

In October 2014, in Copenhagen, Denmark, a group of children from Ghana, Belgium, Nigeria, Sweden, India, Zambia and Denmark, also raised issues associated with climate change:

The United Nations has a special Joint Framework initiative for youth.  Further details can be found at:

http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/documents/youth/fact-sheets/youth-climatechange.pdf



Since this was posted, another young girl has hit the headlines, a 15-year old Swedish girl who stopped going to school, so that she could protest outside the Swedish parliament.  Her story can be found on another, more recent, blog and is also copied below with acknowledgements to democracynow.org:

You Are Stealing Our Future: Greta Thunberg, 15, Condemns the World’s Inaction on Climate Change

STORY DECEMBER 13, 2018

Fifteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the U.N. plenary last night in Katowice, Poland, condemning global inaction in the face of catastrophic climate change.

GRETA THUNBERG: My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old, and I’m from Sweden. I speak on behalf of Climate Justice Now!

Many people say that Sweden is just a small country, and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I’ve learned that you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.

But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.

But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

Until you start focusing on what needs to be done, rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself.

We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past, and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses, and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people. Thank you.



Here is Greta Thunberg’s speech to the Climate Action Summit 2019 in the USA:



And here, a 22-year old college student from Uganda, Hilda Flavia Nakabuye,who talks about how climate change is already affecting her parents’ livelihood:

 

https://time.com/5698417/hilda-nakabuye-uganda-climate/?link_id=46&can_id=ae8fb89f0e3f1a9dcfdb9ae6492433d2&source=email-newsletter-30-a-roadblock-on-memory-lane&email_referrer=email_648843&email_subject=newsletter-30-a-roadblock-on-memory-lane

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The speech above was to the C40 Mayors summit in Copenhagen, October 2019.



 


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New York City to bring lawsuits against five of the biggest oil companies

Full details of this breaking story are to be found in The Times: January 11th 2018 article by Robin Pagmanenta, Deputy Business Editor.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/business/oil-firms-face-global-warming-lawsuit-bl7fc9xf9

The global warming lawsuit claims that these oil companies have contributed towards global warming.  The first lawsuit will be brought against BP and Royal Dutch Shell.  New York city’s mayor will be claiming damages worth billions of dollars from the companies.

New York city has spent $20 billion on schemes to boost the resilience of the city to flooding  and other effects of climate change.  The mayor, Bill de Blasio, is a Democrat and is quotes as saying: “We’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits…“As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.”

The oil industry has been aware for decades that burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change.  This issue has been outlined in chapter 4 of my book “Three Generations Left: Human Activity and the Destruction of the Planet”, which provides data to substantiate the issue; it particularly focuses on ExxonMobil, which is one of the companies that New York City is bringing a lawsuit against, together with Chevron and Conoco Phillips.

de Blasio made the announcement as he unveiled plans for the city’s five pension funds to end their investments in fossil fuel companies. “New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major US city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels,” he said.  The city would submit a “joint resolution to pension fund trustees to begin analysing ways to divest from fossil fuel owners in a responsible way that is fully consistent with fiduciary obligations”.

Other American cities are also filing lawsuits against fossil fuel companies.

These actions are also in line with a UK initiative, which is crowdfunding to raise funds to sue the UK government for not acting to meet its targets agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement (see earlier blog on this website). However, whilst important in drawing attention to the plight the world is in, action is needs on other fronts as well, so that the use of fossil fuels worldwide declines more rapidly.

 

 


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Global disaster insurance losses in 2017 double those of 2016

Oliver Ralph, insurance correspondent for the Financial Times reported on this on 20th December 2017.  His main source of information was Swiss Re, a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance, insurance and other insurance-based forms of risk transfer. See: www.swissre.com.

According to Ralph’s figures, natural and man made disasters caused $136 billion of insured losses in 2017, more than double the 2016 figure and well above the 19-year average of $58 billion.

Most of the losses have been as a result of hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes in the Caribbean, southern US and Mexico.

Insurers and reinsurers are currently negotiating premiums and many predict widespread increases. However, there are signs that prices are not rising as swiftly as many predicted, apparently because insurance companies are awash with capital. Investors believe that insurance companies will give a higher return than elsewhere.

Image from the Mexico earthquake in 2017


Lloyd’s of London will look to cut costs after a year of expensive natural catastrophes plunged the insurance market into a £2 billion loss, its first in six years.

Lloyd’s reported a pre-tax loss of £2 billion for the year to December 31 (2017), compared with a profit of £2.1 billion in 2016, after it paid out £4.5 billion in compensation to victims of a spate of natural disasters.

During one of the most expensive hurricance seasons on record last year, Hurricane Harvey ripped into Texas in late August, followed swiftly by Irma, which hit the Florida peninsula, and then Maria, which left devastation in its wake in Puerto Rico. There were also devastating wildfires in California, an earthquake in Mexico, monsoon flooding in Bangladesh and a mudslide in Colombia.

Lloyd’s of London is the world’s oldest insurance market, whose history dates back to coffee houses in the City in 1688. It is based in the renowned Lloyd’s building in the heart of the City. It acts as the umbrella organisation for the insurers and brokers who provide commercial cover in areas ranging from shipping and airlines to oil rigs and trains, often choosing to pool the risks they take on by forming syndicates of underwriters.

During the course of its existence, it has survived several near-death experiences, including the impact of a wave of asbestos-related claims during the 1990s and the seizure of the airline market after the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. It also fought, and won, a damaging battle with wealthy insurance investors, known as Names, who claimed they were misled over risky deals they bought into in the early 1990s.

As well as the London market, Lloyd’s operates in overseas markets from the US and China to emerging markets such as Africa. It has also got involved in new areas of insurance, including providing cover against cyberattacks.

The world’s insurers are estimated to face a collective bill for last year’s disasters of about $140 billion, according to experts at JLT Re, a unit of Jardine Lloyd Thompson. Lloyd’s paid out £18.3 billion in claims last year, including £4.5 billion in connection with natural disasters, more than double the previous year. The catastrophe-related losses wiped out the effect of a 12.4 per cent increase in gross written premiums to £33.6 billion during the year and a 38 per cent jump in the return that Lloyd’s generated from investing the premiums received, from £1.3 billion to £1.8 billion.

Inga Beale, who took charge of the Lloyd’s market four years ago, described 2017 as an “exceptionally difficult year” for the insurance market and the organisation wil now focus on a cost-cutting and efficiency drive. All of Lloyd’s members had been ordered to process 30 per cent of their insurance quotes and risk-related documentation electronically by the end of September to bring down their expenses.