threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Artificial Light at Night

NASA photo of a composite image of the Earth at night

There is considerable concern amongst biologists that turning night into day has strong effects on the natural world and is yet another stressor on biodiversity. The fact that life has evolved, over millions of years, on a planet that has had periods of darkness for some of the time, might suggest that there would be consequences of the proliferation of Artificial Light at Night (ALAN). New LED lamps are a particular cause for concern as, their spectra tend have a large blue component, and blue light is a strong signal for daytime. LED lighting is being introduced because it has lower energy consumption than other lighting but, like most technologies, it has some side-effects, causing negative impacts on the natural world.

For billions of years, all life has relied on Earth’s predictable rhythm of day and night. It’s encoded in the DNA of all plants and animals. Humans have radically disrupted this cycle by lighting up the night.

Plants and animals depend on Earth’s daily cycle of light and dark rhythm to govern life-sustaining behaviors such as reproduction, nourishment, sleep and protection from predators.

Scientific evidence suggests that artificial light at night has negative and deadly effects on many creatures including amphibians, birds, mammals, insects and plants.

For example, there is evidence for melatonin suppression in vertebrates due to light:

https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/11/22/6400

Artificial Lights Disrupt the World’s Ecosystems

Nocturnal animals sleep during the day and are active at night. Light pollution radically alters their nighttime environment by turning night into day.

According to research scientist Christopher Kyba, for nocturnal animals, “the introduction of artificial light probably represents the most drastic change human beings have made to their environment.”

“Predators use light to hunt, and prey species use darkness as cover,” Kyba explains “Near cities, cloudy skies are now hundreds, or even thousands of times brighter than they were 200 years ago. We are only beginning to learn what a drastic effect this has had on nocturnal ecology.”

Glare from artificial lights can also impact wetland habitats that are home to amphibians such as frogs and toads, whose nighttime croaking is part of the breeding ritual. Artificial lights disrupt this nocturnal activity, interfering with reproduction and reducing populations.

Artificial Lights Can Lead Baby Sea turtles to their Demise

Sea turtles live in the ocean but hatch at night on the beach. Hatchlings find the sea by detecting the bright horizon over the ocean. Artificial lights draw them away from the ocean. In Florida alone, millions of hatchlings die this way every year.

Birds that migrate or hunt at night navigate by moonlight and starlight. Artificial light can cause them to wander off course and toward the dangerous nighttime landscapes of cities. Every year millions of birds die colliding with needlessly illuminated buildings and towers. Migratory birds depend on cues from properly timed seasonal schedules. Artificial lights can cause them to migrate too early or too late and miss ideal climate conditions for nesting, foraging and other behaviors.

Ecosystems: Everything is Connected

Many insects are drawn to light, but artificial lights can create a fatal attraction. Declining insect populations negatively impact all species that rely on insects for food or pollination. Some predators exploit this attraction to their advantage, affecting food webs in unanticipated ways.

And there is a database of other research findings in this context:

http://alandb.darksky.org/

There are claims that brighter lighting greatly enhances public safety and these claims have been used to sell lighting but is this just a sales technique? Dr Paul Marchant questions this assumption in an article “Bad Science…..?”, based on work carried out in Australasia. Published in World Transport Policy and practice (March 2020).

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There is a consultation at the moment by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Dark Skies Policy https://appgdarkskies.co.uk/dark-skies-consultation but it closes very shortly – Sunday 27th September 2020. Copied below from the website is further information:

Dark Skies Policy Consultation

The APPG for Dark Skies is seeking proposals and evidence from a range of stakeholders with expertise and experience in the subject of dark sky preservation and light pollution. 

The purpose of this consultation is to collect information, to identify the main threats and challenges that the cause of dark sky preservation faces in the UK, and identify the most effective and actionable ways in which legislators and policy makers can seek to address these challenges – for example but not limited to the compliance and planning policy frameworks. It will explore the environmental, economic, energy and health consequences of light pollution.

The result of this consultation will be to produce the APPG’s first policy plan since being established in January this year. It will provide a basis for the focus of our campaigns, policy briefs and the language that our extensive group of Parliamentary members use. 

Guidelines for making a submission:

  • State clearly who the submission is from, i.e. whether from yourself in a personal capacity or sent on behalf of an organisation, for example the submission could be headed ‘Written evidence submitted by xxxxxx’
  • Be concise – we recommend no more than 1,000 words in length
  • Begin with an executive summary in bullet point form of the main points made in the submission
  • Include a brief introduction about yourself/your organisation and your reason for submitting evidence
  • Include any factual information you have to offer from which the APPG might be able to draw conclusions
  • Identify any legal or quasi-legal frameworks your proposal would impact or modify
  • Include any recommendations for action by the Government or others which you would like the APPG to consider.CLOSING DATE: Sunday 27th September

Please contact the APPG Coordinator Chris Cook (chris.cook@parliament.uk) with any further questions.

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Does light pollution affect humans as well as other species?

I think this is still to be proven but my own experience over more than seven decades of life on this planet, is a great sadness at the gradual loss of an ability to see the stars at night. This has been exacerbated by the arrival, thanks to my City Council, of an LED lamp post right outside my home. It was probably placed there for good sustainable reasons but I now find it impossible to see the stars at night and, if I wake in the night, to be able to guess what time it might be, as it is always light now.

In another post on this site, I have written about “climate change grief” and I wonder if what I have described in the previous paragraph could be described as “light pollution grief”. I certainly believe that being able to see the stars at night gives us a sense of who we are as the inhabitants of a planet, which is just a small part of a diverse and beautiful universe. Can light pollution therefore lead to a loss of identity as an important species within this vast universe? And, going further, to a loss of responsibility for the benevolent stewardship of this planet or even to an impact on human mental health?

Related to this, as described in Chapter 3 of my book (Human Inventiveness and the Concepts of Freedom and Responsibility”), is the description of “space junk” currently circulating our planet and being added to on a regular basis.

It is now known that walking under trees can improve mental health – it is called “tree therapy”. Is it possible that standing and gazing up at the stars can be equally therapeutic?

Maybe this is important to me because five decades ago, I travelled by road from Darwin to Sydney, Australia and spent each night sleeping by the side of the road, under the starts. Is that why I miss them so much now? Certainly, I was gobsmacked when, returning to Australia 10 years ago, and staying at a small town with little light pollution, I felt like I was bathed in the Milky Way. It took my breath away. I had forgotten what I was missing.

See also:https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/full/10.1289/ehp.117-a20

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Further information about light pollution can be found at:

https://www.darksky.org/eyes-in-the-sky-exploring-global-light-pollution-with-satellite-maps/



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UK Government’s £40 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund opens for applications

Grants from £50k to £5 million are now available to help the nation build back greener from the coronavirus pandemic, the government announced today [14 September].

The £40 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund, part of the government’s wider green economic recovery, jobs and skills package, brings forward funding for environmental charities and their partners to start work on projects across England to restore nature and tackle climate change.

The fund will help create up to 3,000 jobs and safeguard up to 2,000 others in areas such as protecting species, finding nature-based solutions to tackling climate change, conservation rangers and connecting people with nature. Up to 100% of project costs will be available.

The fund will be delivered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency.

All projects must contribute to at least one of the following themes of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund:

  • nature conservation and restoration;
  • nature-based solutions, particularly focused on climate change mitigation and adaptation such as through tree planting and restoring peatland; and,
  • connecting people with nature.

Projects will be favoured that create or retain jobs, creating opportunities and benefits for all ages, including young people. The fund is open to environmental charities and partnerships that include at least one environmental charity, while projects from both rural, urban and inshore marine areas are welcomed.

The fund will create a broad range of jobs such as ecologists, surveyors, nature reserve staff and education workers in environment organisations, and support their suppliers in areas such as agricultural engineering, horticulture, and equipment and seed supply.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow, said:

The Green Recovery Challenge Fund is funded by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by bringing forward £10 million of money from the Nature Recovery Fund and £30 million of Nature for Climate Funding.

Applicants for over £250k must submit expressions of interest by 24 September and if successful full applications by 26 October. The deadline for applications under £250k is 2 October.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/governments-40-million-green-recovery-challenge-fund-opens-for-applications


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WEF: The World’s Greatest Threat is not the Coronavirus

The World Economic Forum, on it’s web page has made the announcement in the title of this post.  They say that true sustainability will only be achieved through drastic lifestyle changes.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/07/affluence-bigger-threat-than-coronavirus-scientists-capitalism

The article is headed by a massive photograph of landfill rubbish and goes on to state the following:

  • Affluence is the biggest threat to our world, according to a new scientific report.
  • True sustainability will only be achieved through drastic lifestyle changes, it argues.
  • The World Economic Forum has called for a great reset of capitalism in the wake of the pandemic.

A detailed analysis of environmental research has revealed the greatest threat to the world: affluence.

 

That’s one of the main conclusions of a team of scientists from Australia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, who have warned that tackling overconsumption has to become a priority. Their report, titled Scientists’ Warning on Affluence, explains that true sustainability calls for significant lifestyle changes, rather than hoping that more efficient use of resources will be enough.

 

This assertion is taken from an article published in Nature Communications 11, Article 3107 (2020), the Abstract of which is as follows:

For over half a century, worldwide growth in affluence has continuously increased resource use and pollutant emissions far more rapidly than these have been reduced through better technology. The affluent citizens of the world are responsible for most environmental impacts and are central to any future prospect of retreating to safer environmental conditions. We summarise the evidence and present possible solution approaches. Any transition towards sustainability can only be effective if far-reaching lifestyle changes complement technological advancements. However, existing societies, economies and cultures incite consumption expansion and the structural imperative for growth in competitive market economies inhibits necessary societal change.

The reference for the article is:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-16941-y#Fig2

and it is published by Thomas Wiedmann, Thomas Lenzen, Lorenz T. Keysser and Julia Steinbergen,

The figure below is taken from the article and is entitled “The Safe and Just Space for Humanity” and is reproduced on the WEF website.

 

Fig. 2




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Net Zero: CCC recommendations on how to achieve it

The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s statutory advisor, published its progress report at the end of June.

CCC

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/25/road-to-net-zero-what-the-committee-on-climate-change-recommends

According to the report, a number of areas need urgent attention, if the government is to reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  These are:

  • Energy Efficiency – insulating Britain’s homes;
  • Domestic Heating – looking at low carbon alternatives;
  • Electric Vehicles –  the CCC suggests that a complete switch to electric vehicles can be achieved by 2032, earlier than the government’s target of 2035, though car manufacturuers are opposing this;
  • Carbon Tax – this would not hit consumers but could raise £15 billion a year, according to the CCC;
  • Agriculture and Land Use – such as tree planting and nature-friendly farming, which could change agriculture from a major source of emissions to a net absorber;
  • Reskilling and Retraining Programmes – a new workforce will be required to install low-carbon boilers, home insulation and offshore wind farms;
  • Behavioural Changes in Lockdown – showed that many people can work from home, reducing emissions from transport emissions. A new infrastructure to encourage people to cycle or walk to work needs developing;
  • Targeted Science and Innovation Funding – for the development of low-carbon technologies;
  • Adaptations to the Effects of the Climate Crisis – flood defences, protecting homes from hotter summers etc.


 


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In Antarctica, Thwaites Glacier is melting at an alarming rate

Last December, I posted a piece about the Greenland ice melting much quicker than expected.  Now, it would appear that a similar – and alarming – phenomenon is happening in Antarctica and in particular to the Thwaites Glacier.  A long description of the studies going on in Antarctica are published in the Financial Times:

https://www.ft.com/content/4ff254ed-960d-4b35-a6c0-1e60a6e79d91?accessToken=zwAAAXNShYlwkc9P8lTtlg1LNdOmwB5gpuedkQ.MEUCIFKDG6HzzEOqwoYyTRgLpei4mcXYNWOLEcNC_maDzoPOAiEAzbhmPri686P70MFRmuvW3kxRxuMNWEPQ5spA-bHNzL8&sharetype=gift?token=20c077b2-b37e-43b0-91e2-77271122f61a

The location, and comparative size, of the glacier can be seen in the following image, sourced from the Norwegian Polar Institute and included in the FT article.

Thwaites glacier

Thwaites Glacier is only a small part of the Antarctic ice but, in size, approximates to the size of England and Wales (see insert above).  According to the article, it is the most vulnerable place in Antarctica because several chunks of ice have already broken away from it. The studies of the glacier are part of a joint effort between British and American scientists.  The glacier is being studied in order to predict how much the sea level will rise in the future.

Antarctica holds around 90 per cent of the ice on the planet and is equivalent to the size of Europe.  It is covered in a blanket of ice, 2km thick. And as the planet heats up due to climate change, the polar regions warm much faster. This puts the icy continents of Antarctica and Greenland, in the Arctic region, right at the forefront of the effects of global warming. The South Pole has warmed at three times the global rate since 1989.

Scientists believe that, if Thwaites glacier is removed, other ice which it is holding back, will start draining into the ocean. By itself, Thwaites could raise sea levels about 65cm as it melts. But if it goes, there will be a knock-on effect across the western half of Antarctica, which could lead to between 2m and 3m of sea level rise, a rise that would be catastrophic for most coastal cities.



 


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Residents of Cairns in Australia speak out for the future of the Great Barrier Reef

Many people across the world are calling for changes in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, to save the world from climate change.  In Australia, this is the case too.  A recent email from the AMCS (Australian Marine Conservation Society) included a short piece of video which has been posted on Facebook. In the video, people from Cairns in Northern Queensland, describe their grief at the damage being sustained to the Reef by global warming and they cry out for policy changes, to rescue it from further harm.  It is heart-breaking:

Cairns is a large town in Northern Queensland, probably the closest town to the Great Barrier Reef and the livelihood of many of its citizens is dependent on the tourism that the GBR attracts.  But, more than that, most of them have grown up experiencing the beauty of the Reef and don’t want to lose that, especially for their children. Some of them state that their children may never see it.

GBR

One woman says that millions of tourists come to the Great Barrier Reef every year saying “I’ve heard your reef is dying and I’ve come to see it before it’s dead.” She find this devastating.  “As if we’ve already given up.”

I lived in Mackay, to the south of Cairns, for a year, back in the 60s, and also stayed on Magnetic island, just off Townsville, for a while, as well as on Middle Percy Island, 70 miles south east of Mackay – all of these places along the Great Barrier Reef coast are very special.  So I can identify very strongly with the emotions shared by the people in the video above.  We cannot stand by and watch this amazing and beautiful reef die of the coral bleaching caused by the warmer oceans that surround it. The marine life that it sustains is also similarly iconic.

GBRmarinelife



Another recent posting describes how climate change and pesticides in the water can work together to destroy fish populations, especially reef fish:

https://theconversation.com/coral-reefs-climate-change-and-pesticides-could-conspire-to-crash-fish-populations-142689

The article in The Conversation starts:

“Australia barely had time to recover from record breaking fires at the start of 2020 before the Great Barrier Reef experienced its third mass coral bleaching event in the past five years. Only five of these have occurred since records began in the 1980s. High water temperatures and marine heatwaves, caused by climate change, are making coral bleaching an almost regular occurrence in some parts of the world.

Coral reefs are among the most vibrant ecosystems on the planet, but they are also very sensitive to stress. Meteorologists predict that 2020 is likely to be the hottest year on record, threatening yet more bleaching on reefs around the world. But it’s not just the coral itself that suffers.

Reef fishes exposed to high temperatures tend not to behave normally. Underwater noise and pollutants, such as agricultural pesticides, can have the same effect. Juvenile fish exposed to this kind of stress are less able to identify and avoid predators. But scientists aren’t sure exactly why this is.

In our new study, we found that a double whammy of higher water temperatures and pesticide exposure may be affecting the development of baby reef fish, with consequences for the entire ecosystem.”




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Wildfires and record temperatures in Siberia

From the Editorial Board of the Financial Times – 26.6.20

Siberia is one of the coldest inhabited places in the world. But a few days ago, the small Russian town of Verkhoyansk recorded a temperature of 38°C. It was a record high temperature locally and, probably also, for the Arctic Circle. What made the heatwave all the more alarming, however, is that we have been warned that, if the Siberian permafrost were to melt, huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane would be released into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.

This year, much of Siberia has been experiencing unusual heat. In May, surface temperatures in parts of the vast Russian region were up to 10°C above average. The immediate consequences have been the melting of ice and snow, outbreaks of large wildfires and a thawing permafrost. The high temperatures, together with above-average heat elsewhere, ensured that May 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest May on record.

permafrost

Map showing the large area of permafrost in Siberia (dark blue)

 

siberian heat wave

Map showing the area of the 2020 Siberian heat wave

The central aim of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate is to keep global warming well below 2°C. Combating climate change is a global effort but the evidence that any concerted action is being taken is slim. There are concerns that the world’s two largest polluters, China and the US, will both fail to curb their emissions. In the US, President Donald Trump’s administration is preparing to withdraw formally from the Paris accord in November. China is already showing signs that the need to stimulate its economy after the coronavirus pandemic is proving greater than a desire to use more low-carbon energy sources. The country is approving plans for new coal power plant capacity at the fastest rate since 2015.

Europe is proving the exception. Here, the European Commission has put climate programmes at the heart of its €1.85tn economic recovery effort. The problem is that a “green” Europe alone will not be enough to combat climate change. Just over 9 per cent of world emissions come from Europe, compared with China’s share of more than 24 per cent. Given what is at stake, the size of the challenge should not be a deterrent for action. There is some scope for optimism. The scale of the energy transition taking place among the oil majors — BP being the latest example — is testament to the progress being made at the sharp end of the climate debate.

There is also evidence that investing in climate change does not have to come at the expense of sustainable economic growth. A recent analysis conducted by the International Energy Agency, together with the IMF, outlined a broad shift to clean power and new investments in areas such as electric vehicles. The plan, which would cost $1tn annually, would create 9m jobs a year and help to cut annual greenhouse gas emissions by 4.5bn tonnes once implemented. Policymakers should not ignore the warnings, or the opportunity. Decisions made today will determine not just the future of Siberia but that of the rest of the planet.

See also another report posted elsewhere in this website under 2019.



 


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COP 26: New date agreed for UN climate summit in Glasgow

COP 26, due to be held in Glasgow in November 2020, has now been postponed for a year.  The COP26 UN summit will now take place between 1 and 12 November next year.

It was originally supposed to take place in November 2020. However, it had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

Dozens of world leaders will attend the gathering, the most important round of talks since the global Paris Agreement to tackle climate change was secured in 2015.

This year’s event was due to take place at the Scottish Events Campus in Glasgow, which has been turned into a temporary hospital in response to coronavirus.

‘Clean, resilient recovery’ from Covid-19

COP 26 President Alok Sharma said: “While we rightly focus on fighting the immediate crisis of the coronavirus, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges of climate change.”

Mr Sharma, who is also the UK government’s business secretary, added: “With the new dates for COP26 now agreed we are working with our international partners on an ambitious roadmap for global climate action between now and November 2021.

“The steps we take to rebuild our economies will have a profound impact on our societies’ future sustainability, resilience and wellbeing and COP26 can be a moment where the world unites behind a clean resilient recovery.

The UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, said: “If done right, the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis can steer us to a more inclusive and sustainable climate path.”

COP 26 will be the event at which countries are expected to come forward with stronger emissions cuts to meet the goals of the Paris 2015 deal.

Plans submitted so far put the world on a pathway towards more than 3C of warming, though the Paris Agreement commits countries to curb temperatures to 1.5C or 2C above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

But with countries around the world grappling with coronavirus, and many putting citizens in lockdown, governments have prioritised the immediate global health crisis.

Since the pandemic took hold, greenhouse gas emissions have dropped sharply as industry and transport have been curtailed, but experts have warned that pollution will soon bounce back without climate action.



 


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Plastic Packaging Tax: government consultation extended to August 2020

In the Budget 2020, the UK government announced key decisions it had taken for the design of a Plastic Packaging Tax in the light of stakeholder responses to a previous consultation in 2019.

This second consultation was published on 11 March 2020 and was due to run to 20 May. However, the government recognised that many sectors with an interest in this policy have been affected by COVID-19 and wanted to give all stakeholders time to submit their views, so the consultation has been extended. The closing date is now 20 August 2020 (11.45pm) though early responses from stakeholders are encouraged.  The consultation document covers 51 pages and is geared towards the commercial sector, though individuals can respond.

Details of the consultation can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/plastic-packaging-tax-policy-design

Introduction to the consultation:

1. Introduction
1.1 At Budget 2018, the government announced that it will introduce a world leading tax on plastic packaging from April 2022. The tax will encourage the use of recycled plastic instead of new plastic within packaging. It will create greater demand for recycled plastic, and in turn stimulate increased levels of recycling and collection of plastic waste, diverting it away from landfill or incineration.
1.2 This document marks the next stage in the consultation process. So far, the government has:
– Held a Call for Evidence (March 2018) to explore how the tax system or charges could be used to reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste and published a Summary of Responses (August 2018)
– Launched a Consultation seeking views on the initial Plastic Packaging Tax design (February 2019) and published a Summary of Responses (July 2019)
1.3 At Budget 2020, the government announced that Plastic Packaging Tax will apply at a rate of £200 per tonne of plastic packaging which does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic. This will apply to plastic packaging which has been manufactured in, or imported into, the UK. The government will keep the rate of the tax and the 30% recycled plastic threshold under review to ensure that the tax remains effective in increasing the use of recycled plastic.
1.4 At Budget 2020, in response to feedback from the previous consultation, the government announced that it will:
– Extend the scope of Plastic Packaging Tax to imported filled plastic packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic content, rather than just imports of unfilled plastic packaging
– Exempt businesses that manufacture or import less than 10 tonnes of plastic packaging in a 12 month period from the requirement to pay the tax. This will ensure the administrative burden and cost of collecting the tax are not disproportionate to the environmental harms the tax seeks to address
1.5 The tax will complement the reformed Packaging Producer Responsibility Regulations. These reforms will encourage businesses to design and use plastic packaging that is easier to recycle and discourage the creation of plastic packaging which is difficult to recycle. They will also make businesses responsible for the cost of managing the packaging they place on the market when it becomes waste. These measures, together with the government’s proposals to increase consistency in household recycling collections across local authorities and businesses, will increase the supply of easier-to-recycle plastic. The government believes that tax and regulatory reform together will provide businesses with the right incentives to recognise the impact of their plastic packaging decisions and drive the development and use of more sustainable packaging. The tax and regulatory changes will be delivered as separate measures given the high level of complexity any combined system would bring. However, the government will continue to ensure that the tax complements the reformed packaging regulations.

What is the government consulting on?
1.6 This consultation seeks views on the detailed design, implementation and administration of Plastic Packaging Tax to ensure it best meets the government’s environmental objectives while placing only proportionate burdens on business. Chapters 3 to 8 set out what the government is consulting on and include specific questions on:
a. Chapter 3: The scope of the tax
b. Chapter 4: Liability for the tax
c. Chapter 5: Excluding small operators (de minimis)
d. Chapter 6: Evidence requirements
e. Chapter 7: Exports
f. Chapter 8: Registration, returns and enforcement
1.7 The government is also seeking to refine its assessment of the impact of Plastic Packaging Tax as set out in Chapter 10.
1.8 At Budget 2020, the government announced that Plastic Packaging Tax will be charged at a rate of £200 per tonne where less than 30% recycled plastic is used in packaging. The rate of the tax and the percentage of recycled content are not within the scope of this consultation.



 


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Sixth mass extinction of wildlife is accelerating: new study

Prof. Gerardo Ceballos is an ecologist and conservationist very well-known for his theoretical and empirical work on animal ecology and conservation. He is particularly recognized by his influential work on global patterns of distribution of diversity, endemism, and extinction risk in vertebrates.

Image result for Gerardo Ceballos

Prof Gerardo Ceballos

It is his published work on the sixth mass extinction that led me to choose the title of my book “Three Generations Left: Human activity and the destruction of the planet”. In this paper, Ceballos and his colleagues who predicted that, unless we make changes to our way of life, we would be facing a sixth mass extinction of species within three generations. Now, he is suggesting, through new studies, that the mass extinction is happening even more quickly than that.

GoldenLion Tamarin

Golden Lion Tamarin – one of 500 species at risk of extinction

Several sources are quoting this new research, initially published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/05/27/1922686117

The following summary can be found on the BBC website:

“Human impacts on the places on Earth with the most richness of life have brought hundreds of wild animals to the brink of extinction, a study shows.

The likes of logging and poaching have pushed 500 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians to the point where they’re hanging by a thread, research found.

This is yet more evidence that the world’s undergoing a sixth mass extinction, scientists argue. Species are disappearing at more than 100 times the natural rate, they say.

And unlike other mass extinctions, caused by volcano eruptions or asteroid collisions, we only have ourselves to blame.

Prof Gerardo Ceballos of the National University of Mexico in Mexico City, said regional ecosystems are facing collapse.

“We have entered the sixth mass extinction,” he told BBC News. “Based on our research and what we’re seeing, the extinction crisis is so bad that whatever we do in the next 10 to 50 years is what will define the future of humanity.”

Prof Ceballos worked on the study with two other well-known conservation scientists, Stanford University’s Prof Paul Erhlich, and Dr Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis, US.

Using data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species and Birdlife (the bird authority for the IUCN), they identified at least 515 species that are on the brink of extinction, with fewer than a thousand individuals left.

The animals are found on every continent save Antarctica, in places highly impacted by humans, primarily in the tropics and subtropics.

They include the Golden Lion Tamarin, Ethiopian Wolf, Javan Rhinoceros, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Yellow-eared Parrot, Gharial and Green Poison Frog.

The scientists describe the extinction crisis as an existential threat to civilisation, along with climate change and pollution, to which it is tied.

And they say they have a “moral imperative” to draw attention to the loss of biodiversity, which they say is still rather ignored by most people.

The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Commenting, Prof Diana Fisher of the University of Queensland, Australia, said the study deserved attention because so many people don’t realise how much of the world’s wildlife faces impending extinction.

“I agree with the authors that this extinction crisis needs to be elevated to an emergency equal to climate change,” she said.

Prof Chris Johnson of the University of Tasmania said the current rate of extinction of species is higher than at any time since 66 million years ago, when the collision of a space-rock with the Earth killed off dinosaurs and many other species.

“Threats to species in today’s world – things like habitat destruction and climate change – are growing rapidly,” he said, adding that the 515 species down to 1,000 or fewer individuals are likely to be gone very soon.

And Prof Euan Ritchie of Deakin University in Australia said the study “is yet more dire confirmation that we are destroying life at a horrific pace and scale”.”


The Guardian report from Damian Carrington (1st June 2020) states that: “More than 500 species of land animals were found to be on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years. In comparison, the same number were lost over the whole of the last century. Without the human destruction of nature, even this rate of loss would have taken thousands of years….

“The land vertebrates on the verge of extinction, with fewer than 1,000 individuals left, include the Sumatran rhino, the Clarión wren, the Española giant tortoise and the harlequin frog. Historic data was available for 77 of the species and the scientists found these had lost 94% of their populations.

“The researchers also warned of a domino effect, with the loss of one species tipping others that depend on it over the edge. “Extinction breeds extinctions,” they said, noting that unlike other environmental problems extinction is irreversible.

“Humanity relies on biodiversity for its health and wellbeing, scientists said, with the coronavirus pandemic an extreme example of the dangers of ravaging the natural world. Rising human population, destruction of habitats, the wildlife trade, pollution and the climate crisis must all be urgently tackled, they said.

“The analysis examined data on 29,400 land vertebrate species compiled by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and BirdLife International. The researchers identified 515 species with populations below 1,000 and about half of these had fewer than 250 remaining. Most of these mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians were found in tropical and subtropical regions.

“Scientists discovered that 388 species of land vertebrate had populations under 5,000, and the vast majority (84%) lived in the same regions as the species with populations under 1,000, creating the conditions for a domino effect.”

 

ethiopian wolf2
Ethiopian wolf
harlequinfrog
Harlequin frog
Sumatran tiger
Sumatran Tiger
Photographs of other endangered species can be found in The New York Times article on this issue:


An analysis of the report from Vox.com outlines how the loss of one species can have an impact on other species, which are a part of a dependency web.

The researchers found that one extinction can cause ripple effects throughout an ecosystem, leaving other species vulnerable to the same fate. “Extinction breeds extinctions,” they write in their June 1 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

With the accelerating pace of destruction, scientists are racing to understand these fragile bits of life before they’re gone. “This means that the opportunity we have to study and save them will be far greater over the next few decades than ever again,” said Peter Raven, a coauthor of the study and a professor emeritus of botany at Washington University in St. Louis, in an email.

The findings also highlight how life can interact in unexpected ways and how difficult it can be to slow ecological destruction once it starts. “It’s similar to climate change; once it gets rolling, it gets harder and harder to unwind,” said Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, who was not involved in the study. “We don’t know what the tipping points are, and that’s scary.”