The Happy Eco News Weekly Top 5:
On the same day that energy giant GE announced it would no longer participate in the coal industry, their customer in the UK announced the purchase of 190 newly engineered wind turbines. The largest commercially available turbine in the world, the GE Haliade-X has blades longer than a soccer field (or about 120m) and each one is able to produce enough electricity to power an average home for 2 days – with each revolution! When complete, the 3.6 gigawatt Dogger Bank windfarm will supply energy for 4.5 million homes or about 5% of the homes in the UK.
Dogger Bank is a shallow area located North East of England in the North Sea. Known as a significantly productive area for marine wildlife, Dogger Bank has been commercially fished for hundreds of years and is named for the doggers – medieval Dutch vessels that fished in the area. In more modern times, seafloor trawlers began to work in the area. These vessels are controversial as they are highly destructive to the seafloor environment. Their effect on the seafloor has been compared to driving a bulldozer through a forest.
While the wind farm will undoubtedly and unfortunately cause damage to the seafloor, it’s presence will remove the trawlers from the area. Considering each turbine can provide enough clean energy to power 16,000 British households and save the equivalent of 9,000 vehicles’ emissions in a year, it seems like a comparitively small price to pay for such a significant step forward in renewable energy for England.
There is nothing like a good juicy burger fresh from the grill. Unfortunately, when hundreds of millions of us consume commercially produced beef every day, we are supporting an industry known as big agriculture. Most people like to think of their food as coming from family farms, carefully tended by salt of the earth people who have run their family farms for generations. Indeed, big ag cultivates this idea with their marketing, but look a little closer and some dirty secrets begin to leak out. Big ag is also known for some very questionable practices with regard to pollution and animal husbandry. Everything from massive toxic tailings ponds of concentrated animal waste to unethical treatment and even abuse of the animals themselves. And then there’s the climate cost, particularly from commercially raised beef.
These are not your typical small family farms we are talking about. These are the mega-farms with thousands of animals. Commercial beef production requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases than staple plant-based foods such as potatoes, wheat, and rice. Cows emit so much methane they cause almost 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
But what about that juicy burger?
Impossible Burger is the plant-based, meat alternative burger that the beef industry said couldn’t be made. It has had so much success in recent months that it has now become a force in the retail food industry. Their product is within reach of Americans in all 50 states and is now distributed in 11,000 grocery stores (up from just 150 6 months ago). Their growth has been exponential and is a result of shifting attitudes by the general public. It seems the events of 2020 such as the pandemic, have made the general public change their habits significantly. These people are now looking to improve their health and also to purchase products based on a lower impact on the planet. In fact, Impossible Burger has increased its market share directly at a cost to the beef market. 72% of their customers are buying Impossible Burger as a replacement to beef.
The beef industry is not going away any time soon, but with tasty and healthy alternatives like Impossible Burger now on the market, plant-based foods will soon have their day, and it will be delicious.
We all know that recycling isn’t enough. We need to reduce the sheer amount of consumer products that enter the waste stream, not simply hope that we can recycle some of it. This is the target of many waste reduction campaigns worldwide.
But what about the huge glut of plastic that is already found in almost every corner of the world? A new super enzyme being engineered by scientists at the University of Portsmouth, UK might be the answer. Plastic and oil-eating enzymes have been found before, but this particular advancement combines two mutant varieties that had much faster digestion than others. When they were combined in the lab, something special happened; a very rapid increase in activity was recorded, and the enzymes consumed the plastic they were fed at an exponentially greater rate than when they were on their own. Combined, they were more effective than simply the sum of their parts.
This holds great promise as a way to fix many of the plastic pollution problems around the world. Because it works at room temperature, the enzyme may be used in almost any location without significant energy inputs, thus making it accessible for developing nations. Often, these are the very places that have the biggest plastic problems and no facilities to capture and recycle the waste. Unfortunately, these are often also the same places that the plastic industry has been targeting with their single-use products. When combined with a cotton eating enzyme, the process has the ability to completely consume the very hard to recycle mixed products such as those from the apparel industry – a pair of stretchy jeans for example. Denim is eaten by the cotton enzyme and stretchy polyester by the plastic enzyme. Until now, a stretch cotton fabric was unable to be recycled and was either incinerated or put into landfills for disposal.
With modern science and enzymes that have taken thousands of years for nature to evolve, we may be on the verge of a way to clean up one of the most pervasive problems plaguing the world today.
Question: What do an Elephant Shrew, a Terror Skink, a Cuban Solenodon, a Bermuda Petrel, and an Australian Night Parrot have in common? Answer: They all were considered extinct and rediscovered by science. These animals, known as Lazarus species for their so-called return from the dead (the term refers to the story in the Christian bible in which Jesus Christ raised Lazarus from the dead).
These species may not be thriving, but they are surviving. Considering modern efforts to reduce the rate of extinction, protection efforts for these creatures are far more likely than otherwise. It is also highly probable that many other extinct species may in fact be so good at hiding, or live in such remote areas, that they will end up to be Lazarus in their own right.
This was the statement released by political leaders from 64 countries and the European Union on September 28 ahead of the UN biodiversity summit. These countries have committed to stronger environmental protections after a UN report found the world has failed to meet any of its biodiversity targets.
The commitments, announced days before the summit in New York, include eliminating plastic pollution in the world’s oceans by 2050 and incentivizing banks and businesses to value the natural world. Unsustainable production and consumption were identified as key drivers of pollution problems that “require urgent and immediate global action.”
Pollution from plastics is only one part of the problem. In 2010 a UN summit outlined a host of 10 initiatives that were to be addressed. 10 years later, the list has been largely been ignored. Pesticides have not been brought down to safe levels. Governments still subsidize businesses that damage ecosystems. Coral reefs, which are dying across the world, are struck by the triple-threat of human action: climate change, pollution, and overfishing. Some are getting worse, others are slowly getting better. The summit also reported that while none of the problems had been completely fixed, many were being reduced. Interestingly, individual countries had been making some of the biggest successes on their own.
With 65 governments participating in this program it would seem like a sure success and yes, it may well be, but the success of it would be much stronger if global heavyweights like the USA, China, India, and Russia would sign on as well. This is a strong start, however, and like any of these initiatives, such as the Paris Accord, many countries are focussed on the economic repercussions of signing on. I believe most if not all will follow suit soon enough, and with COP26 Glasgow occurring next year, there is good reason to think it will happen soon.
Until next time, stay happy and share the Happy Eco News!
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