I learned a big lesson this last week here in Chiangmai, northern Thailand. Expecting clear blue skies and hot weather I was treated to hot weather but not bright sunshine, though the sun through the constant haze in the late afternoon was beautiful. Clear blue skies are not in the cards here for February to April. Every day is very hazy from the burning of organic matter in regional farms and also similar activities in nearby Laos and Myanmar; all added onto the local pollution from motor vehicles and some small manufacturing. The current Air Quality Index (AQI) (as per the AirVisual application) is, in fact, about 10 times higher (i.e., worse) than at home north of Toronto. And levels of PM2.5 (the nastiest of pollutants being so small at 2.5 micrograms they can well penetrate deep into the lungs and gain access to the circulatory system) is today about 115 mcg/cubic metre in Chiangmai compared to home at 4.0. The difference is striking. Interestingly, enough, the air quality in the Old Town (with much dating from the 14th Century and where I've been hanging out) is better than other parts of this now very large city. I had thought that with the small winding streets and many motorbikes and tuktuks the air would be worse. I will certainly, though, be looking at this type of information seriously before setting out on travels again.
This last week, too, the world achieved a super important biodiversity agreement, to try to save Earth’s Ocean from destruction, with commitments to protect a good piece of it. Culminating UN-facilitated talks that began in 2004 the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction agreed to protect 30% of marine life in the high seas by 2030, and now it’s up to the 190 agreeing nations to ratify it and put it into action – this is key! Many countries had already started to implement the goal within their own jurisdictions, albeit very slowly, through the implementation of marine protected areas (MPAs). That we are way less than half-way to this goal is disturbing as we know the fate of so many ‘declarations’ in the past.
Many are just not implemented or only part way. With each successive COP we have only seen increasing GHG emissions, rather than the prescribed reduction needed to keep us from literally going over the cliff. With cliff hanging being a totally scary scenario, the relentless walk towards it, without making any global gains except for a brief moment during Covid, has our knees trembling and our feet buckling over at the ankle. We all must, wherever we live, put pressure on governments to now implement this agreement. The huge depletion of fish stocks around the world, the gathering plastic infusion so large it’s really unimaginable, the destruction of coral reefs, Ocean’s acidification, etc. all point to the need of such an agreement and for it to begin to be implemented without delay.
Being in Chiangmai, Thailand, far inland from the sea yet enjoying dishes of seafood is as remarkable as it is common. We can only hope that what appeared to be an almost infinite resource in the past, will continue to share its bounty with us for many more years and centuries to come. We have to take such agreements seriously, and most of all ensure the rubber hits the road. Though, as per the story below in today’s edition of the Planetary Health Weekly (#10 of 2023) that metaphor is losing its panache as vehicle rubber pollution is now exceeding that of the tailpipe, adding to the haze here in Chiangmai. Do read on.
David Zakus, Editor and Publisher
SUNSET IN CHIANGMAI
March 6, 2023
IN COMPLETE SOLIDARITY WITH UKRAINE SEEKING PEACE AND VICTORY
"THE MOMENT OF TRUTH" Founder of the Kiev Therapeutical School V. Obraztsov and his pupil N. Strzhesko were the first to diagnose myocardial infarction in 1909. In: "The Way Artists See It" (1994; p. 93) by A. Grando, founder and director of the Central Museum of Medicine of Ukraine in Kyiv. ISBN
AND WITH THE BRAVE PROTESTERS IN IRAN (AND AFGHANISTAN)
City of Food, Temples, Music, History, Tourists and More
CLIMATE & BIODIVERSITY CRISES UPDATES
Nations Agree on Language for Historic Treaty to Protect Ocean Life
Activists were outside the United Nations headquarters in New York in February during the negotiations on a treaty to protect ocean biodiversity. Credit: Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
After two decades of planning and talks that culminated in a grueling race over the past few days in New York, a significant majority of nations agreed on language for a historic United Nations treaty that would protect ocean biodiversity. The treaty would make it possible to create marine-protected areas and enact other conservation measures on the “high seas,” the immense expanse of ocean covering almost half the world.
“We leave here with the ability to create protected areas in the high seas and achieve the ambitious goal of conserving 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.” - Monica Medina
Currently, the open oceans of the world have no international body or agreement with a primary focus of protecting marine biodiversity. If enacted, this treaty would change that.
However, there is still a way to go before the treaty can take effect. The next major step would be for countries to formally adopt the language, which was settled on Saturday night. Then, nations would need to ratify the treaty itself, which often requires legislative approval.
What's at stake there?
Overfishing and climate change are leading threats to marine biodiversity. Sharks and rays that live in the open ocean, for example, have declined by more than 70 percent since 1970, according to a global assessment. New threats to marine life are emerging as people look to the ocean for the mining of valuable minerals and for possible ways to do “carbon sequestration,” which involves efforts to lock away carbon dioxide to keep it out of the atmosphere, where it is a major contributor to global warming. Deep sea mining poses a risk to species that are particularly fragile and unknown, scientists say. Far from the sunlight, these creatures grow and recover slowly.
The high seas have “probably the largest reserve of undiscovered biodiversity left on Earth,” said Lisa Speer, director of the international oceans program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Every time scientists go out there, they find species new to science.”
Human well-being is at stake, too, scientists say, because the health of the high seas is critical to the health of the overall ocean. Billions of people around the world rely on the ocean for food and jobs, according to the World Bank.
Confusion Surrounds China’s Energy Policies as GDP and Climate Goals Clash
A wave of permits for coal-fired power plants sparks concern as ambitions for GDP growth and lowering emissions come into conflict
China’s energy policies are fast creating a type of “emissions ambiguity”, as the twin goals of boosting GDP growth and reducing carbon emissions come into conflict. The uncertainty is whether and when the world’s biggest carbon emitter will start to curb greenhouse gas pollution. The release of the country’s annual statistics communique on Tuesday did not clear things up.
A crude conversion of the 3% GDP growth reported by China and its 0.8% reduction in the carbon intensity of economic activity – as stated in the communique – indicates emissions may have risen 2.2% last year. The calculations matter as China emits more than a quarter of global emissions, roughly twice as much as the next largest, the US.
In November 2021, China told the UN it would reach carbon neutrality “before 2060”, and President Xi Jinping has also promised to reduce coal consumption by the 2026-30 period, but has not said when China will stop building new power plants. As Myllyvirta’s centre reported on Monday, China was busy granting permits for an average of two power plants a week in 2022, or six times more capacity than the rest of the world combined. One executive boasted of securing approval to build a 4,000-megawatt coal-fired plant in just 63 days after taking ownership of the project.
“One of the clear upshots is that China is now very significantly behind its energy and carbon intensity targets for 2025”, Myllyvirta said.
Analysis: Contradictory Coal Data Clouds China’s CO2 Emissions ‘Rebound’ in 2022
CO2 emissions by fuel and sector in 2019, billions of tonnes Credit: Carbon Brief
New preliminary energy data from the Chinese government suggests there was a 1.3% rebound in the nation’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions during 2022. However, separate figures point to a 1% decline. The discrepancy centres on official coal consumption data, which recorded a 3.3% surge in demand during 2022.
The scale of the uncertainty over the true nature of China’s coal demand means it is hard to establish whether there was an overall rise or fall in the country’s CO2 emissions in 2022. This difference could have global implications for action on climate change.
China's Climate Goals:
The reported increases in energy consumption and CO2 emissions mean that China has fallen significantly behind on its climate targets for 2025, as set out in its 14th five-year plan. As a result, China’s CO2 intensity would have to fall rapidly – by 5.1% per year for the next three years – to meet the 14th five-year plan target for 2025.
Even if coal consumption growth in 2022 turns out to be over-reported and is consequently revised down to the levels implied by power and industrial output data, carbon intensity would still need to fall by 4.5% per year over the next three years.
Structural Drivers of Emissions Decline:
China’s CO2 emissions started to fall in summer 2021, after the surge that followed the first Covid lockdowns in early 2020. This fall continued into the first half of 2022, extending what had already become the longest sustained decline in China’s emissions in recent history. The drivers of that fall in emissions continued through the second half of 2022. Real estate and infrastructure construction volumes continued to contract, as shown by falling construction “starts” and cement output, low-carbon energy generation grew rapidly and strict Covid control policies affected activity, particularly emissions from transport.
Bulgaria Rolls Back Plans to Phase Out Coal Amid Fears Over Energy and Job Security
Over 1,000 miners and workers from Bulgaria's largest coal-fired power plant on Wednesday marched through Sofia to demand that the government protect their employment and support their industry. From: https://www.tvcnews.tv/2021/10...
The move came on Thursday after as more than 1,500 miners and utility workers demonstrated in front of the parliament in support of the coal industry. They were protesting against plans for an early phase-out of coal-fired power plants.
In a 187-11 vote, lawmakers across the political spectrum agreed that the interim government should backtrack from its EU commitment to cut energy sector greenhouse gas emissions.
The target was to lower emissions by 40% from 2019 levels by the end of 2025. That would prompt the early closure of some of the coal-fired plants, lawmakers said, adding the power generators need to be fully operational until 2038.
Why does Bulgaria want to retain its coal plants? Bulgaria's coal-fired power plants produce over 45% of the country's electricity. Thermal power plants give energy independence and security.
Fossil Fuels Kill More People than COVID. Why are We So Blind to the Harms of Oil and Gas?
If fossil fuel use and impact had suddenly appeared overnight, their catastrophic poisonousness and destructiveness would be obvious. But they have so incrementally become part of everyday life nearly everywhere on Earth that those impacts are largely accepted or ignored (that they’ve also corroded our politics helps this lack of alarm). This has real consequences for the climate crisis. Were we able to perceive afresh the sheer scale of fossil fuel impact we might be horrified. But because this is an old problem too many don’t see it as a problem. Human beings are good at regarding new and unfamiliar phenomena as dangerous or unacceptable. But long-term phenomena become acceptable merely because of our capacity to adjust. We saw this with Covid-19, where in the first months most people were fearful and eager to do what it took to avoid contracting or spreading the disease, and then grew increasingly casual about the risks and apparently oblivious to the impacts (the WHO charts almost 7 million deaths in little over three years).
Often what activists need to do is turn the status quo back into a crisis, as US Civil Rights Movement organizers so ably did in the 1960s by making racial inequality, exclusion, and violence more dramatically visible and more unacceptable, as well as insisting that the world could be different, that change was possible.
The fossil fuel industry through airborne particulate matter alone annually kills far more people every year than Covid-19 has in three years. Recent studies conclude that nearly 9 million people a year die from inhaling these particulates produced by burning fossil fuel. It’s only one of the many ways fossil fuel is deadly, from black lung among coal miners and cancer and respiratory problems among those near refineries to fatalities from climate-driven catastrophes such as wildfire, extreme heat, and floods.
As Greta Thunberg once put it: “Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.”
Metro Systems are Among Our Cities' Most Polluted Places: We Asked an Expert if We Should be Worried
Passengers stand on a platform at Saint-Lazare metro station in Paris, France. Credit: REUTERS/ Sarah Meyssonnier
Air pollution in the Copenhagen Metro is higher than on the most polluted stretch of road in the Danish city. New measurements from the University of Copenhagen found ultra-small particle concentrations underground were 10 to 20 times higher than next to the city’s Town Hall Square. “Our measurements show that the metro is probably the place in Copenhagen’s public space where you are exposed to the most concentrated air pollution,” says Professor Matthew Johnson, lead author of the study.
The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety found metros in the country had three times the pollution of the outside air. Research on the London Underground discovered ultrafine metallic particles small enough to end up in our bloodstream.
Why does pollution build up in metro systems?
Professor Frank Kelly, head of the Environmental Research Group at Imperial College London, calls the issue with metro systems a “box problem”. “Imagine that the pollution being generated is going into a relatively small volume of air, that's the underground system itself,” he explains. “Whereas the pollution generated above ground is going into an enormous volume of air, so it gets diluted down quite quickly.” A 2020 study surveyed the entire London Underground system. The bottom line of its findings was, the deeper the train line the worse the pollution is. It all comes down to a lack of ventilation - a problem that many cities are aware of and are working hard to solve.
Where does pollution in the metro come from?
The majority of air pollution in metro systems is usually PM 2.5 (tiny particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns). On the London Underground, this pollution is mainly made up of particles of metals - primarily iron and copper. These are generated from the wheels running on the rails. A small amount of particulate pollution is also generated by the connection between the trains and the electrified rail.
But Professor Kelly says the pollution that builds up is very unique to the environment and is different in other metro systems.
Covid-19 continues to spread globally; it is not going away. The pandemic continues, though now to a lower extent, and it seems the only ones paying attention are the families of the 1000/day dying and the 270,000/day registered sick. Information about Covid-19's presence in our communities and outcomes is hard to find, and many erroneously feel it's over. In Canada, it is still infecting many and killing about 28/day (down very slightly since last week) with total deaths now well over 50,000.
Collective action, data reporting and leadership have all but disappeared and the world marches on, more worried about many other things.
Globally, over the last week, reported cases are almost double to about 270,000/day; deaths same at about 1000/day; and vaccinations down further o about 850k/day.
Vaccination, despite ongoing concerns about waning immunity and much misinformation, along with other proven public health measures, remain the best ways to keep yourself and others safe from serious consequences.
See below for more global stats and current hotspots.
Note: the only remaining high risk countries are Austria and New Zealand.
"It is the plague in seemingly all sincerity." Bob Woodward
Physical Interventions to Interrupt or Reduce the Spread of Respiratory Viruses
Credit: Cochrane Library
Viral epidemics or pandemics of acute respiratory infections (ARIs) pose a global threat. Examples are influenza (H1N1) caused by the H1N1pdm09 virus in 2009, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) caused by SARS‐CoV‐2 in 2019. Antiviral drugs and vaccines may be insufficient to prevent their spread. This is an update of a Cochrane Review last published in 2020. We include results from studies from the current COVID‐19 pandemic.
Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of acute respiratory viruses.
The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions. There were additional RCTs during the pandemic related to physical interventions but a relative paucity given the importance of the question of masking and its relative effectiveness and the concomitant measures of mask adherence which would be highly relevant to the measurement of effectiveness, especially in the elderly and in young children.
There is uncertainty about the effects of face masks. The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect. The pooled results of RCTs did not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks. There were no clear differences between the use of medical/surgical masks compared with N95/P2 respirators in healthcare workers when used in routine care to reduce respiratory viral infection. Hand hygiene is likely to modestly reduce the burden of respiratory illness, and although this effect was also present when ILI and laboratory‐confirmed influenza were analysed separately, it was not found to be a significant difference for the latter two outcomes. Harms associated with physical interventions were under‐investigated.
There is a need for large, well‐designed RCTs addressing the effectiveness of many of these interventions in multiple settings and populations, as well as the impact of adherence on effectiveness, especially in those most at risk of ARIs.
Soakaway area at New Farmers' Market, Chiangmai Thailand. Credit: Edward Milner
As I indicated last month (Blog #11), authorities around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about the likely impact of climate change on cities and city life, especially the effects of extreme weather events. A month’s rain fell in a single hour recently in Auckland, New Zealand; few cities could cope with this kind of assault, but when even moderate cloudbursts have recently resulted in deaths, damage and disruption, perhaps some new thinking and action is urgently needed. In London where relatively minor downpours often cause local flooding even now, I fear for the functioning of the city as a whole in a more turbulent future. At least London has the good fortune to be built on fairly level ground while many other cities are not so lucky. Flooding is often exacerbated by inadequate drainage and poor-quality building construction, a combination which frequently turns an inconvenient problem into a lethal one, with spiralling overall costs.
Paradoxically, the current approach to groundwater management has also resulted in making drought conditions worse. They paved paradise, put up a parking lot as Joni Mitchell sang. The predominant strategy of most urban authorities seems to be to cover as much of the land surface with impermeable concrete, for example in London by allowing front gardens to be turned into parking lots, covering open spaces and reducing greenery. ‘Our cities are designed to get rid of the most precious resource we have, as quickly as possible’ says Bruce Reznik, director of a sustainable water NGO in Los Angeles, where recent storms have failed to ease the area’s water shortages. In London drought conditions are common in summer months, a trend that is likely to intensify, putting all greenery under stress, while vast amounts of rainwater and greywater is wasted by sending it down drains. In my own street in north London saplings are constantly having to be renewed when they fail to get established due to a lack of accessible groundwater; evidence that the obsession with tree-planting is not supported with appropriate aftercare.
Under ‘normal’ circumstances, rainwater’s destination depends largely on the intensity of the precipitation. Drizzle mostly evaporates again or ends up in groundwater. Heavier rain rapidly fills watercourses which may easily overflow; in cities it is carried away in street drains, most of it ending up in urban waterways like rivers, canals and lakes, with only a small proportion of the total actually sinking into the ground. Cloudbursts or other violent storms can rapidly overwhelm ordinary drainage systems. In nature major downpours neither evaporate nor are carried away; the water accumulates on site filling up low-lying areas - ponds, lakes and marshes, and then gradually percolates down to replenish the groundwater. River meanders, flood meadows and marshland effectively smooth the effect of violent weather events creating conditions for both vegetation and wildlife to thrive. Cities by their predominant design do the opposite, but as climate change effects intensify could nature’s way offer a way forward? Could cities be adapted to contain more excess rainwater rather than trying to funnel it out as fast as possible?
In the countryside a natural approach is increasingly being used to regulate the flow of rivers; levees along both the Rhine and the Danube having been deliberately breached in recent years restoring large areas of natural flood meadow, and this approach is now being actively pursued on the Somerset Levels and in the East Anglian Fenland in the U.K. There are several advantages of this sustainable approach; groundwater is replenished, soil fertility benefits from annual inundation, and nature benefits enormously from wildflowers and birds to fish and frogs.
Some cities are experimenting with a completely novel approach to water management. In part of East Los Angeles the innovative Sustainable Stormwater Capture Project is already starting to blossom. New parks, sinkaways and ‘drywells’ have been constructed to retain stormwater rather than waste it, partly financed by a special ‘polluter pays’ tax on every square metre of impermeable surface. The funds raised have been used to develop new parks and enable a spectacular regreening of the area that is popular with residents. A similar approach to sustainable water management is visible in other cities around the world where water conservation measures are a condition of the design of all new developments, so that gardens and other green areas can ensure the capture of rainfall on a regular basis.
In China, where flooding due to violent rainfall is a particular concern, this idea is being taken further. The idea of whole ‘sponge cities’ has been developed with wetlands and woodlands being promoted within an entire urban area so that excess rainfall can be absorbed rather than overwhelming local drainage systems ‘aligning the urban environment more closely with natural forest systems’ according to official publicity. Taking matters even further Liuzhou Forest City claims it is ‘set to challenge perceptions about urban living’ by effectively integrating forest with buildings in a comprehensive design for a whole new city. These ideas are effectively sustainable and multi-purpose, countering pollution and improving the environment for the benefit of people and nature while maximising retained water and minimising runoff and potential disaster.
Of course, not all the flooding problems in urban areas are the result of excess precipitation on the city itself but are caused by excess runoff from deforested areas upstream, especially mountain areas. Loss of upland forest and woodland usually results in restricted vegetation and relatively unstable soils that are incapable of absorbing heavy rainfall. Excessive erosion then results in the siltation of watercourses leading to downstream flooding or worse. In the English Lake District a few years ago a major road was washed away during heavy rain causing major disruptions for months. It was no coincidence that the place where the problem occurred was immediately below completely bare slopes denuded of their former natural woodland cover.
In considering future-proofing cities another issue that arises from predicted climate change is that the ‘heat island effect’ is set to get worse. Currently the energy use in cities is rising inexorably with increased need for air-conditioning to keep buildings cool. But pumping hot air out into the atmosphere at increasing cost is obviously unsustainable and new ways of keeping both buildings and the outside air cool are urgently needed. Trees and other areas of greenery such as green roofs and green walls all contribute, while the installation of solar panels above green roofs can multiply the benefit by maintaining the humidity of the roofs for the benefit of diverse urban nature. An aerial view of most big cities, including London, reveals that very few public or large commercial buildings have either solar panels or green roofs while the few solar panels are mostly to be seen on private houses. London may be lucky in having many parks, gardens and squares, but serious future-proofing is an urgent issue that clearly needs a sophisticated approach combining nature with technology in ways that are still at the experimental stage.
'A War Society Doesn't See': The Brazilian Force Driving Out Mining Gangs from Indigenous Lands
Felipe Finger, a special forces commander for Brazil's environmental protection agency, Ibama, leads his troops on a mission to destroy illegal mines into the Yanomami Indigenous territory.
Credit: The Guardian
An elite unit is on a mission to expel the illegal miners who devastated Yanomami territory during Bolsonaro’s presidency.
For the last four years Brazil’s rainforests bled. “They bled like never before,” said Felipe Finger as he prepared to venture into the jungle with his assault rifle to staunch the environmental carnage inflicted on the Amazon under the former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.
The group’s objective was Xitei, one of the most isolated corners of the Yanomami Indigenous territory on Brazil’s northern border with Venezuela. Tens of thousands of illegal miners devastated the region during Bolsonaro’s environmentally calamitous 2019-2023 presidency, hijacking Indigenous villages, banishing health workers, poisoning rivers with mercury, and prompting what his leftist successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has called a premeditated genocide.
The raid in Xitei was part of what has been hailed by the government as a historic drive to expel miners from Yanomami lands and rescue the Amazon after four years of chaos, criminality and bloodshed such as that which saw the British journalist Dom Phillips and the Indigenous specialist Bruno Pereira murdered last June.
“This region has been absolutely devastated … there are villages that are now completely surrounded by the mines,” said Finger, 43.
When the Guardian last visited the Xitei region in 2007, it was a sea of largely pristine rainforest dotted with traditional communal huts and deactivated clandestine airstrips that were dynamited during the last major operation to evict miners, in the early 1990s. Fifteen years later the jungle around Xitei has been shattered. Immense sand-coloured lacerations have replaced dark green woodlands. Ramshackle mining campsites stand where tapirs and deers once roamed. Unknown quantities of mercury have polluted rivers, poisoning the fish on which the Yanomami rely.
In Peru: Two Visions of Land, One Protected by a Dirty Law
Siekopai community members present their demands in Loreto, Peru
Credit: Amazon Frontlines
Imagine this scene. You are on the territory your ancestors have lived on and protected for hundreds of generations, thousands of years. Suddenly, a person from a city far away, who has never been to your territory, arrives to tell you what you can use this territory for, and that this isn’t really your land after all. This is not a hypothetical scenario, but a story.
At the core of the issue are two starkly contrasting relationships with the living world, and two opposing visions of what land is for. On the one hand is the dominant understanding, implemented by the Peruvian government, which is rooted in the assumption that land is exclusively for production. The state’s land titling entity is housed within the Ministry of Agriculture, and is guided by indisputable agrarian principles and laws forged over decades of mass colonization of unrecognized Indigenous lands.
On the other hand are Indigenous peoples who have maintained a much more integral and intimate relationship with their land, one of generative coexistence that has evolved and refined with the accumulation of knowledge and experience over millennia. Jorge Perez, the current President of AIDESEP (The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Forest) reflects that “most Indigenous peoples describe their ancestral territory as a very part of their existence. Wherein one depends on the other. The territory is the main source of material and spiritual life. The effective transfer of knowledge from generation to generation is only possible through the resources of the territory.”
Peru’s discriminatory legal system only recognizes property rights on territories that comply with a colonial understanding of agriculture and grazing. Land can only be property if it fulfills a capitalist logic of extraction.
The law neglects and devalues Indigenous history, culture, practices and worldviews, on their lands, depriving communities of protected property rights, and leaving them at risk of losing access to their territory.
Siekopai communities are taking the Peruvian government to court, demanding the state recognise their ancestral territories in line with international law. They have the potential to achieve a game-changing precedent in how the Peruvian government understands land and property rights in relation to Indigenous peoples.
More than 50% of the world’s land is held by Indigenous peoples and local communities, yet only 10% is legally recognized, leaving them and their forests increasingly vulnerable to incursion and deforestation.
EU Delays Vote on Combustion Engine Ban as Germany Hesitates
The FDP says the EU must first explain how it plans to offer exemptions for cars running on synthetic fuels.
Credit: Volker Herold/ Funke Foto Services/ IMAGO
An EU vote scheduled for next Tuesday on stopping the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2035 has been delayed. Sweden announced the postponement amid hesitancy from one party in Germany's ruling coalition, the FDP.
The deal had appeared to be secure late last year, when the various arms of the EU — the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament — agreed on a law they were confident could be passed. Since then, the European Parliament has voted in favor of the plans, and the next step on the path would have been a qualified majority approval from the ruling governments around the EU in the European Council. That would have formalized the plans at the EU level. A qualified majority in a European Council vote requires both the support of at least 15 of 27 member states and of governments representing at least 65% of the EU population. Other European countries like Italy, Poland, and Bulgaria were known to oppose the proposal, and if Germany were added to this list — even if it had abstained in the vote planned for Tuesday — the 65% support hurdle could not be cleared.
Background: Numerous groups, such as the tobacco industry, have deliberately altered and misrepresented knowable facts and empirical evidence to promote an agenda, often for monetary benefit, with consequences for environmental and public health. Previous research has explored cases individually, but none have conducted an in-depth comparison between cases. The purpose of this study was to compile a comprehensive list of tactics used by disparate groups and provide a framework for identifying further instances of manufactured doubt. Results: We recognized 28 unique tactics used to manufacture doubt. Five of these tactics were used by all five organizations, suggesting that they are key features of manufactured doubt. The intended audience influences the strategy used to misinform, and logical fallacies contribute to their efficacy.
Conclusion: This list of tactics can be used by others to build a case that an industry or group is deliberately manipulating information associated with their actions or products. Improved scientific and rhetorical literacy could be used to render them less effective, depending on the audience targeted, and ultimately allow for the protection of both environmental health and public health more generally.
A New 'Science' Textbook Wants to Make Students Believe Climate Change Doesn't Exist
Credit: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
‘The 1990s called. They want their scientific misinformation back.’
After decades of intense public debate and misinformation campaigns, nearly three-quarters of Americans now accept that climate change is happening; not only that, more than half understand it is caused by human activity. This shift has forced fossil fuel companies — and the organizations they fund — to alter their tactics to avoid regulation. But the Heartland Institute, the infamous, free-market think tank that has operated at the center of climate misinformation for decades, is still hanging onto the old ways as it pushes on with its attempt to discredit established climate science.
This week, the organization sent copies of its book “Climate at a Glance” to 8,000 middle and high school teachers across the country, in order to provide them, it says, with “the data to show the earth is not experiencing a climate crisis.”
“This is not Heartland’s first rodeo,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the non-profit National Center for Science Education, which promotes and defends accurate science education. “In previous campaigns, the bulk of teachers and students who received the materials threw them out or put them in the recycling bin.”
The Day the World Stops Shopping: How Ending Consumerism Saves the Environment and Ourselves
Credit: Book Cover
Consuming less is our best strategy for saving the planet—but can we do it? In this thoughtful and surprisingly optimistic book, journalist J. B. MacKinnon investigates how we may achieve a world without shopping.
We can’t stop shopping. And yet we must. This is the consumer dilemma. The economy says we must always consume more: even the slightest drop in spending leads to widespread unemployment, bankruptcy, and home foreclosure. The planet says we consume too much: in America, we burn the earth’s resources at a rate five times faster than it can regenerate. And despite efforts to “green” our consumption—by recycling, increasing energy efficiency, or using solar power—we have yet to see a decline in global carbon emissions.
Addressing this paradox head-on, acclaimed journalist J. B. MacKinnon asks, What would really happen if we simply stopped shopping? Is there a way to reduce our consumption to earth-saving levels without triggering economic collapse? At first this question took him around the world, seeking answers from America’s big-box stores to the hunter-gatherer cultures of Namibia to communities in Ecuador that consume at an exactly sustainable rate. Then the thought experiment came shockingly true: the coronavirus brought shopping to a halt, and MacKinnon’s ideas were tested in real time.
Drawing from experts in fields ranging from climate change to economics, MacKinnon investigates how living with less would change our planet, our society, and ourselves. Along the way, he reveals just how much we stand to gain: An investment in our physical and emotional wellness. The pleasure of caring for our possessions. Closer relationships with our natural world and one another. Imaginative and inspiring, The Day the World Stops Shopping will embolden you to envision another way.
“It is clear that having a specific limit, rather than fighting to stop every fraction of a degree in temperature rise, has actually been counterproductive. There is a perennial problem with targets, and that is that they are always still reachable – until they aren’t. In this way, they can be used to justify inertia right up until it is too late. And this is exactly how fossil-fuel corporations, world leaders and others have used 1.5C – as a get-out-of-jail card to justify inaction on emissions. Continuing to present this temperature threshold as doable provides a fig leaf for business as usual. Take it away, and this dangerous jiggery-pokery is exposed for all to see. Only if COP acknowledges that 1.5C is now lost, and that dangerous, all-pervasive climate breakdown is unavoidable, will corporations and governments no longer have anywhere to hide, and no safety net that they can use as an excuse to do little or nothing. Only if they finally lay bare the bankruptcy of efforts to achieve the goals of COP21 [i.e., the Paris Agreement] will we be able to move on to acknowledging that every 0.1C temperature rise needs fighting for.”
Bill McGuire: volcanologist, Emeritus Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London, activist, broadcaster, blogger, writer of popular science and speculative fiction, and author of "Hothouse Earth: An Inhabitant’s Guide"
Can India's Push for Millets Start a Food Revolution?
Sorghum, a type of millet, is known as jowar in India. Credit: picture alliance
In its push to popularize the production and consumption of millets, India is attempting a major change - not only within the country, but across the world. Will the push bring about a new era for the ancient grains?
With 2023 declared as the UN International Year of Millets, several events and activities are expected to be rolled out across India aimed at spreading awareness about the ancient grain. The humble millet is believed to have been around for about 7,000 years. In India, archaeological evidence suggests their consumption dates as far back as the great Indus Valley Civilization era. Millets are essentially a group of small-grained cereals like sorghum (known in India as jowar), pearl millet (bajra), finger millet (ragi/ mandua), foxtail millet (kangni/ Italian millet) and many others. The millets are cultivated in at least 130 countries but have generally been relegated to the sidelines by the popularity of rice and wheat.
Ancient crops, with an edge
However, millets have several advantages over their more popular cousins. Millets can grow on arid lands with minimal inputs and are resilient to changes in climate, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is leading this year's millet celebrations.
"They are therefore an ideal solution for countries to increase self-sufficiency and reduce reliance on imported cereal grains," said the UN agency. Millets also appear to have a nutritional advantage. The FAO says they are naturally gluten-free and are a low-cost but rich source of fiber, antioxidants, minerals, proteins, and iron. They could be a "great food option for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, high-blood sugar or diabetes," according to the FAO.
Making the switch
Millet production will need to be ramped up if people are expected to ditch rice and wheat in favor of the ancient grain alternative.
More than half of all the small particle pollution from road transport came from tire and brake wear in 2021, a U.K. government report estimates.
Credit: Imthaz Ahamed/ Unsplash
Scientists are “increasingly concerned” by the health impact of air pollution produced by the wear of vehicle tires. The particles are especially damaging due to the toxic chemicals they are made from, say the scientists from Imperial College London. The warning follows U.K. government data that shows significantly more tiny pollution particles now come from tire erosion than are emitted from vehicle exhausts. The report estimates 52 percent of all the small particle pollution from road transport came from tire and brake wear in 2021, plus a further 24 percent from abrasion of roads and their paint markings. Just 15 percent of the emissions came from the exhausts of cars and a further 10 percent from the exhausts of vans and HGVs.
However, trials of new types of tires sponsored by Transport for London (TfL) found they could result in up to 35 percent less emissions. The EU is also due to regulate t-re emissions in a world first, with new standards due to be in force by mid-2025.
Exhaust emissions from U.K. vehicles have fallen by 90 per cent since 1996, according to the government data, owing to stricter standards being enforced. As a result, the particles from tires, brakes and roads have become the main cause of pollution from traffic, presenting a new frontier in efforts to reduce levels of dirty air.
June 22-23, 2023: Positive Zero Transport Futures and Mobility Network will host the Emerging Mobility Scholars Conference at the University of Toronto. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows across Canadian institutions are invited to join in person at the University of Toronto to exchange ideas and showcase research relative to mobility and climate change.
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