Overshoot Day 2016 … ‘Waste of energy more problematic than pollution’ !

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If a tree falls in the Forest, does anybody hear? Bruce Cockburn’s song is about – to my mind – energy and ecology…. a tree has impact, whether we hear / know about it or not!

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Earth Overshoot Day is hosted and calculated by Global Footprint Network, an international think tank that coordinates research, develops methodological standards and provides decision-makers with a menu of tools to help the human economy operate within Earth’s ecological limits.
To determine the date of Earth Overshoot Day for each year, Global Footprint Network calculates the number of days of that year that Earth’s biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint. The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot.

From today’s The Guardian: Scotland’s industries and farmers must cut energy, greenhouse gas emissions and resource use as waste overtakes pollution as the major environmental threat, says head of regulator.

Scotland’s environment agency has warned the country’s industries and farmers that their waste and inefficiency is now the biggest threat to the environment, overtaking pollution.

In a marked shift in strategy, the regulator’s chief executive, Terry A’Hearn, will urge businesses, farmers and manufacturers to adopt a “one planet prosperity” policy designed to cut their energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, waste and resource use.

“The major threat to the environment now is that humanity is overusing the planet as a resource base,” he told the Guardian.

More about Overshoot Day here

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More about environmental education / NAEE 

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POLLUTION : Yachtsman describes horror at ‘dead’, rubbish strewn Pacific Ocean

From the Guardian : An Australpacific garbageian sailor has described parts of the Pacific Ocean as “dead” because of severe overfishing, with his vessel having to repeatedly swerve debris for thousands of kilometres on a journey from Australia to Japan.

Ivan MacFadyen told of his horror at the severe lack of marine life and copious amounts of rubbish witnessed on a yacht race between Melbourne and Osaka. He recently returned from the trip, which he previously completed 10 years ago.

“In 2003, I caught a fish every day,” he told Guardian Australia. “Ten years later to the day, sailing almost exactly the same course, I caught nothing. It started to strike me the closer we got to Japan that the ocean was dead.

“Normally when you are sailing a yacht, there are one or two pods of dolphins playing by the boat, or sharks, or turtles or whales. There are usually birds feeding by the boat. But there was none of that. I’ve been sailing for 35 years and it’s only when these things aren’t there that you notice them.

MacFadyen said that the lack of ocean life started at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, describing Queensland waters as “barren” and “unquestionably overfished”.

“We saw a boat come towards us and we thought they might be pirates, but they had bags and bags of fish,” he said. “We said ‘there’s only two of us, we can’t do anything with all that’ and they said ‘don’t worry, just throw it over the side’.

“There was around 100 large fish there. But it was valueless for them because they were after tuna and nothing else. They just trawled the whole ocean and everything other than tuna was bycatch.”

For the majority of the voyage to Japan, MacFadyen had to ensure that his yacht wasn’t holed by clumps of rubbish he said were “as large as a house”.

“There were fenders from ships, balls of net and telegraph poles with barnacles on them that were never going to sink,” he said. “There was nothing like that 10 years ago. I couldn’t believe it.

“We wouldn’t motor the boat at night due to the fear of something wrapping around the propeller. We’d only do that during the day with someone on lookout for garbage. When you stood on the deck and looked down you’d see the rubbish shimmering in the depths below, up to 20 metres under the water.

“We went onto the US and back again. We did 23,000 miles [37,000km] and I’d say 7,000 of those were in garbage. The boat is still damaged from it. We had to free the rudder of rubbish one night, which was scary. We were terrified of something ripping a hole in the boat.”

MacFadyen said that the trip had made him “very cranky” and has inspired him to encourage better monitoring of ocean rubbish to ensure governments’ anti-pollution policies are working.

“Humans are such a blight on the planet that we will just trash an area because it is out of sight most of the time,” he said. “It completely changed the way I look at things. I used to chuck rubbish away without thinking twice but there’s no way I will do that now.”

According to marine conservationists, overfishing is a global problem affecting nearly 90% of the world’s fisheries.

The problem has resulted on catch quotas being placed on many species of fish, although the exact extent of overfishing in Australia is slightly unclear.

Government fisheries data shows only bluefin tuna and the school shark are dangerously overfished in Australian waters. However, the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s guide to sustainable seafood places 26 species – including kingfish, snapper and tiger prawns – on a “red list” that should not be consumed due to their fragile status.

Pamela Allen, marine campaigner at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Guardian Australia that there have been improvements in Australian fisheries in recent years but problems remain.

“The quota for bluefin tuna has just been increased by 10%, despite there being no evidence to justify this,” she said. “There are also issues in state fisheries — Queensland has no scientific observer system, for instance, and rely just on fishers’ logbooks for what they catch in sensitive areas such as the Great Barrier Reef.

“Trawling the ocean results in a high level of bycatch because it’s hard to be exact with what you’re catching when you’re dragging a gigantic net along the sea floor.

“People don’t realise that flake is shark and that sharks are threatened due to overfishing. There is no single sustainable source of shark in fisheries. Consumers have a choice every day to make a small difference.

“Fish is one of the last wild foods we eat, along with mushrooms, and we have to realise that once it has gone, it is gone. Governments and fishers are making some changes but they need to move more quickly or there won’t be any fish left.”

@NAEE_UK is concerned about the marine environment – and how badly we are treating it!

MARINE : Google Earth presents fish-eye view of coral reefs

From ENN It is estimated that coral reefs cover around 284,000 square kilometers providing a habitat for thousands of species to live. And unless you’ve snorkeled in some of these underwater habitats, or perhaps have seen a Planet Earth documentary, most of us have never experienced these natural wonders.

But thanks to Google Earth, you can now visit up-close and personal some of the world’s most imperiled ecosystems. The Google team is currently working with scientists to provide 360 degree panoramas, similar to Google street-view, to give armchair ecologists a chance to experience the most biodiverse ecosystems under the waves.

“Only 1% of humanity has ever dived on a coral reef and by making the experience easily accessible the survey will help alert millions of people around the world to the plight of coral reefs,” says Ove Hoegh-Guldberg with the University of Queensland. Hoegh-Guldberg heads the Catlin Seaview Survey which brings cameras mounted to a manned vehicle to photograph the reefs. Last year the team did around 30 surveys in the Great Barrier Reef region, while this year they have expanded to the Caribbean.

The technology has other potential beyond education and appreciation. Researchers hope to employ citizen scientists to identify marine species via images, helping to catalogue biodiversity on embattled reefs. Much like the way the public can upload pictures onto Google Earth and Google Maps, there will be a feature to create public interaction in helping with the project.

Coral reefs are threatened by pollution, coastal development, on-land deforestation, and overfishing. However the largest threat to coral reefs is burning fossil fuels, which is pushing marine temperatures up and causing to ocean acidification.

“Our results show that even under the most moderate climate change projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, most corals will struggle to survive and reefs will rapidly decalcify,” says Hoegh-Guldberg, who is running a longterm project in Australia that measures how corals respond to rising temperatures and acidification in controlled conditions.

In addition, global warming poses a major threat to these massive living structures and the improved Google Earth application will allow us to explore the state of coral reefs around the world, seeing their distribution and concerns facing their future existence.

@NAEE_UK believes children should learn about coral reefs / marine environments

POLLUTION : Chinese coal company releasing toxic wastewater

Pollution of The Ordos Grasslands :waste water  from Shenhua Coal to Liquid Project, Inner Mongolia

From The Guardian

A project operated by China‘s largest coal miner, Shenhua Group, has reduced groundwater levels in an Inner Mongolia region and discharged high levels of toxic wastewater, environmental campaign group Greenpeace said on Tuesday.

The report, the first by Greenpeace to single out and publicly challenge one of China’s powerful state-owned companies, comes as the country’s new leadership steps up its focus on pollution amid growing protests over environmental degradation.

China recently cancelled plans to build a $6bn (£4bn) uranium processing plant after hundreds of protestors took to the streets. Other petrochemical projects have also been cancelled after mass demonstrations.

Shenhua’s coal-to-liquid pilot close to Ordos city is one of three such projects operating in China. It has drained more than 50m tonnes of groundwater from the Haolebaoji region since 2006, Greenpeace said in the report.

“We are taking these allegations very seriously and we will start our own investigations into the project to ensure that it meets all environment-related regulations,” a spokeswoman from Shenhua Group said. “We will release our own environmental report on the project after the investigation.”

The Greenpeace investigation, which the group said was based on 11 field trips to the Shenhua project from March to July this year, found high levels of toxic chemicals in discharged wastewater. It said many other carcinogenic compounds were identified in sediment samples.

“Shenhua claims its coal-to-liquid project has ‘low water consumption’ and ‘zero discharge’. Our investigation proves these claims are false,” Greenpeace east Asia campaigner Deng Ping said.

“Shenhua’s practices are violating Chinese water resource principles and laws controlling industrial waste water discharge.”

Shenhua’s coal-to-liquid project has a production capacity of 1.08m tonnes a year, with plans to expand to 5m tonnes.

Plans to scale up the project would see its water use triple to 41m tonnes by 2017, according to Greenpeace.

Coal-to-liquid technology turns the traditional fuel into petrochemicals. The process has long been controversial due to its high water and energy needs but with slowing growth of coal power generation, China’s coal companies are seeking new markets. More than 100 coal chemical projects are currently waiting for approval, said Li Yan, Greenpeace climate and energy manager.

“This is why we chose to stand out against a big iconic project like Shenhua coal-to-liquid at this time as it’s still possible that some major decisions can be shifted because of environmental concerns.”

The Ordos city government has also claimed damage caused by Shenhua’s coal-to-liquid project in two notices published on its website, pointing to reduced groundwater levels, irrigation problems, and a lack of safe drinking water for residents. It cited petitions from residents and warned of the threat to social harmony, recommending the relocation of farmers and compensation for water losses.

OIL SPILL: US government assessment of BP ‘will not account for damage’


Oil spills have a ‘huge’ impact on our seas – and therefore the planet systems! Efforts to put a price on damage from disaster fails to capture full extent of environmental losses in Gulf waters. The Guardian reports

The US government cannot hope to arrive at a full accounting of the environmental destruction caused by the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico using its current methods, an expert panel has said.

report from the National Research Council said the US government’s efforts to put a price on damage from the April 2010 disaster failed to capture the full extent of the environmental and economic losses in Gulf waters and coastal areas, fisheries, marine life, and the deep sea caused by BP’s runaway well.

Compiled by a team of 16 scientists at the request of Congress, the study went on to call for a sweeping overhaul of methods for putting a price on environmental losses – especially after an event on the scale of the BP disaster.

“The full value of losses resulting from the spill cannot be captured … without consideration of changes in ecosystem services – the benefits delivered to society through natural processes,” the report said.

The experts involved in drafting the report said on Wednesday they believed their findings could still influence the settlement of environmental claims against BP brought by the federal government and five state governments.

But they conceded the report would probably carry greater weight in guiding future efforts to account for environmental damage.

It digs into one of the great debates arising from the BP disaster: how to put a price on oiled coastlines, and marine animals, and how to hold the company accountable for restoration.

The researchers noted that 20 million people in the US alone lived and worked around the Gulf of Mexico. Before the April 2010 disaster, the Gulf accounted for about a quarter of the country’s seafood catch. It also provided about 30% of America’s oil and nearly 20% of natural gas. Meanwhile, coastal wetlands provided protection against storm surges.

But the report noted: “Disruptions in the ecosystem caused by the oil spill could impair these services, leading to economic and social impacts that may not be apparent from an assessment of environmental damage alone.”

The April 2010 explosion killed 11 workers aboard the oil rig, and spewed more than 4m barrels of oil into the Gulf, according to the US government’s estimate. It was the worst offshore oil spill in US history.

BP says it has spent $25bn so far in clean-up and restoration costs. It owes the government an additional $4.5bn in fines. The company is also on the hook for an $8bn settlement of economic claims – a figure which is uncapped and growing.

BP could be facing even more expensive litigation in the autumn, involving fines of up to $17.5bn under the Clean Water Act.

Billions more hinge on the outcome of a trial involving claims by the federal government and five Gulf states for restoring damage to natural resources. Government scientists are now engaged in a closely guarded exercise of trying to get a full accounting of the damage done to the Gulf, and the cost of restoring oiled coastlines and waters, and protecting populations of marine wildlife, such as dolphins, which have suffered die-offs since the disaster.

However, the report said it was not possible to capture the full extent of that damage with current accounting methods, which focus on tallying up the restoration costs for individual resources rather than the ecosystem in its entirety.

Researchers have been trying since the BP spill to come up with a method that could account for the full magnitude of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The recommendations of the expert committee for an ecosystems-based approach were welcomed by Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland’s Centre for Environmental Science, who was a member of the White House commission on the BP oil spill.

“If you get stuck in the game of paying out 25 cents a crab for example, you are not really in a situation where you are understanding the broader impacts of the loss of that population,” he said.

Boesch also said that putting a valuation on the environment of the Gulf might also help prevent misuse of funds. A report last month from the Inspector General’s office in the Department of Interior found the state of Mississippi had mis-spent some $30m that had been designated for coastal restoration projects since 2007.

However, David Pettit, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defence Council, argued the approach devalued the environment. “It’s more human economy centred, and less centred in the idea that wild things and wild places have an inherent value – whether or not they make somebodies’ cash register ring,” he said.

China’s largest algal bloom turns the Yellow Sea green


The largest algal bloom ever recorded in China has turned the Yellow Sea green and may be related to pollution from agriculture and industry. The Guardian reports

Officials in the city of Qingdao had used bulldozers to remove 7,335 tonnes of the growth from beaches according to the Xinhua news agency.

The phenomenon has become an annual occurrence in the region over the past six summers. This year’s incident has swathed 28 900 sq km (11 158 sq miles), twice as much as the previous biggest bloom in 2008.

The algae, called Enteromorpha prolifera, is not toxic to humans or animals.

However the carpet on the surface can dramatically change the ecology of the environment beneath it. It blocks sunlight from entering the ocean and sucks oxygen from the water suffocating marine life.

The algae thrives on an abundance of nutrients in the sea. University of Cambridge and EnAlgae Project researcher Dr Brenda Parker said that the Chinese bloom may well be linked to industrial pollution.

“Algal blooms often follow a massive discharge of phosphates or nitrates into the water. Whether it’s farming, untreated sewage or some kind of industrial plant that is discharging waste into the water,” she said.

The recent explosion of the algae pointed to a dramatic change in the ecosystem which was probably not natural.

“That would probably be an indicator that something is a little bit unbalanced,” said Parker.

She said that the 2009 example algal bloom on the Brittany coast was a similar example of a human-induced algal bloom.

Protecting China’s good earth


With China’s large and expanding population, it’s inevitable that pollution has crept in

THE “cadmium rice” scandal has raised awareness of the extent of heavy metal pollution in China, but the situation in Shanghai is considerably better. Zhang Qian talks to researchers mapping city pollution. Shanghai Daily reports

Cadmium discovered in rice from Hunan Province astonished Chinese residents once again, indicating a more pervasive food safety problem and focusing attention on the dangerous levels of heavy metal soil pollution.

The discovery of the toxic, cancer-causing heavy metal in Hunan rice came to light in February in Guangzhou Province. News reports said contaminated batches had been discovered over the years.

Scientists found that no cadmium was part of any chemical additives used after the rice was harvested, thus, leaving heavy metal soil pollution as the likely cause.

Cadmium, a known carcinogen, builds up in the body and damages the kidneys, lungs and bones, causing brittle bones and pain.

It is one of several toxic heavy metals that have leached from Hunan mines, mine tailings and chemical factories into waterways, mainly the Xiangjiang River and tributaries. Water from contaminated rivers, lakes and streams is typically diverted in rice paddies where metals settle into the soil and taint the crops.

Though less obvious than air and water pollution, soil pollution is now getting unprecedented public and official attention, with the revelation of “cadmium rice.”

Pollution maps

China’s Ministry of Land and Resources is said to be working on a nationwide soil pollution map, with checks on 81 chemical indexes (including 78 chemical elements) in the topsoil and deep soil all over the country.

The Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau is also launching a soil pollution investigation of key industrial areas in the city.

Lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and chromium are the top five heavy metals frequently discovered in polluted soil near industrial areas. Antimony and selenium are also found in some regions. Heavy metals are essential in electronic gadgets and their batteries.

“Soil pollution is not a new issue, the problem has existed for more than a decade. But the polluted regions are expanding at an enormous speed in recent years,” says Professor Chen Zhenlou of Resource and Environmental Science School of East China Normal University.

“Generally speaking, heavy metal soil pollution in Shanghai is not as serious as that in Hunan and Jiangxi provinces, and there is no need to worry about ‘cadmium rice’ with the relatively low content of cadmium in local soil,” says Professor Chen. However, there are polluted areas and sources of pollution date back to the days before toxic discharges were banned.

Rice quality report

About one-fifth of China’s farmland, more than 20 million hectares, is polluted by heavy metal and farmland polluted by cadmium is found in around 25 regions in 11 provinces, according to a report issued in 2010 by institutes including the Agriculture Ministry’s rice quality test center.

The report, titled “Research on China’s Rice Quality, the Safety Situation and Development of Countermeasures,” indicates that the problem is most serious in regions south of the Yangtze River, including Hunan and Jiangxi provinces.

“The problem is that the soil cannot self-purify itself from heavy metals,” says Professor Chen, “Once the heavy metal pollution happens, it stays. Even pesticides degrade in 20-30 years, but heavy metals can never degrade the natural way.”

Using irrigation water polluted by domestic sewage and industrial waste was common in the 1970s and 80s.

Irrigating with such polluted water has been banned since the 1990s, but the heavy metals discharged before that period have persisted.