Solutions to plastic pollution in the ocean

As I mentioned in my previous post, the scale of plastic pollution has now reached unprecedented levels. We now can identify some of the issues with plastic and microplastic. Simply, microplastic is a danger to aquatic life, human life and water filtration systems. One of the largest problems with microplastic is the abundance of it found in our oceans and our rivers. For example, the Great Pacific garbage patch demonstrates the amount of plastic and other waste which has accumulating in our oceans.

This already being common knowledge amongst environmental researchers and activists, some have already started cleaning the oceans in an effort to repair what we have damaged and help spread awareness of the problem.

The Ocean CleanUp is a non-profit organisation which aims to clean up 90% of plastic pollution from the ocean. They use different technologies to help rid our oceans of plastic pollution and have also started helping in river systems as well. One of their technologies is a U-shaped foam like barrier which traps plastic ready for it to be collected and recycled.

Ichthion is a technological company which specialises in delivering the first scalable solution to reducing plastic from our waterways. They are working towards building energy-generative systems that can be installed in rivers, coastal areas and oceans.

The Great Bubble Barrier is a company which uses a current of bubbles in the water to prevent plastic from moving forward and trapping the waste. This is already an existing technology used to prevent oil spills from spreading and does not hinder fish or ships.

In summary, these are just a few examples of the different ways organisations are solving plastic pollution in our oceans and rivers. There are many more companies associated with these organisations and others which are doing similar work. With this movement where everyone takes responsibility for the planet and does not see it as someone else’s problem, a sustainable future will be all the more likely.


News: Microplastic on Mount Everest

Since the mass production of plastic from the 1920s to the 1950s, plastic has been a useful commodity for various reasons. However, its biggest drawback is the amount of harm it can cause when thrown away after it has fulfilled its use. Microplastic is often the most harmful because it can get everywhere and can be defined as:

Plastic debris can come in all shapes and sizes, but those that are less than five millimeters in length (or about the size of a sesame seed)’

These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems, access fish and birds which rely on the ocean and lakes for sources of food. Some speculate that they even find there way inside humans through various avenues of our own consumption. Safe to say that plastic is now everywhere and polluted across most parts of the world.

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Microplastics now pollute our planet extensively, to the point where they have recently been discovered at the summit of Mount Everest. Researchers concluded:

evidence of microplastic pollution on Mount Everest. While the highest concentrations of microplastics were around Base Camp where hikers and trekkers spend the most time, the team also found microplastics as high up as 8,440 meters above sea level, just below the summit

This is alarming news as now we have evidence that the extent of our plastic pollution has no end, being found from the depths of the ocean to some of the largest peaks on the planet. What is even more concerning is that plastic pollution is one of the easiest to prevent, simply investing into biodegradable alternatives and not using plastic is the easiest way to prevent further damage. However, the overuse of plastic has already polluted our planet to a point where it will be difficult to cleanse the planet from all aspects of its grasp. Maybe it will become a normalised problem caused by our destructive behaviour, as it is already known that plastic pollution has a negative impact on humans, sea birds and marine life.


How much waste do we produce?

During the 20th century where technological innovation was progressing faster at an unprecedented rate, the world witnessed a surge in commodities which helped life become more simple. However, now we understand that consumerism is one of the biggest problems which causes climate change. For example, in 2016 the UK generated approximately 41.1 million tonnes of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste. This is more alarming when looking at the scale of waste globally and the ways waste is produced.

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One way modern society produces so much waste is through fast fashion. The fashion industry greatly impacts the planet by the ways that textiles are made and the by-products which pollute the environment. It is stated that every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. Fast fashion is also a humanitarian crisis as well, with textiles workers often forced to work long hours with little pay. This is an industry which is large in scale but also present large problems to us and the environment.

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Another way we produce so much waste is through the food industry. It is estimated that one-third of all food produced goes to waste. We not only waste food but also the energy and water used to make the food produced. As the global population continues to grow unprecedentedly, we need to figure out ways to feed people more sustainably.

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Finally, another way waste is produced is through the by-product of toxic waste caused by numerous activities such as manufacturing, farming and construction etc. It is estimated that in 2020 we have produced 355 million tonnes of toxic waste worldwide. Fortunately, toxic waste is more regulated than it once was but we still have large corporations and government dumping toxic waste illegally in the ocean or in developing countries. For example, Sir Lanka recently returned toxic waste which was imported to their country by the UK. Demonstrating the lack of international cooperation and consideration taken with the waste produced in developed countries.

In summary, we are living in a time of advance technological innovation but also a time where we produce the most waste without real thought or consideration for what this is doing to us and our planet. If we could spend more time looking toward sustainable solutions to the problems that we ourselves create and less time on industries such as fast fashion, maybe a healthier future may be all the more plausible.


News: United Kingdom’s food imports vulnerable due to climate change

A recent scientific article has found that the United Kingdom’s fruit and vegetable supply is increasingly dependant on imports from climate-vulnerable countries. Using data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) bilateral trade database over a 27 year period, they found that:

‘The proportion of fruit and vegetables supplied to the UK market from climate-vulnerable countries increased from 20% in 1987 to 32% in 2013. Sensitivity analyses using climatic and freshwater availability indicators supported these findings. Increased reliance on fruit and vegetable imports from climate-vulnerable countries could negatively affect the availability, price and consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK, affecting dietary intake and health, particularly of older people and low-income households’

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This is concerning as now we are starting to notice the potential struggle for resources certain countries will have as climate change intensifies. This also demonstrates the far reaching and collateral affects climate change can have, which is why international communication and cooperation is essential in dealing with climate change.

As it is now clear that countries which often contribute the least to climate change often suffer the most from it, as a developed nation it is important that we concentrate on helping developing nations more. Providing them with resources or funding when in times of need is not only a humanitarian concern, it helps alleviate the collateral damage which will affect developed nations as well. The evidence is clear that if we are to limit the impact of climate change, a unified effort is needed in order to prevent the worst case scenarios from happening.

Psychology and climate change

The psychological impacts experienced from the consequences of climate change are often subjective to each individual. Psychologically, climate change often creates anxiety or feelings of helplessness when one considers the future state of the world. This feeling has been labelled differently by various researchers but often mean the same thing.

One label for this type of feeling when considering climate change has been labelled Eco-anxiety, which is defined as:

Eco-anxiety refers to a fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster. This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change

Whereas, others have addressed it as climate anxiety, stating that:

‘Although climate anxiety appears to be a real phenomenon that deserves clinical attention, it is important to distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive levels of anxiety’

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Others have researched into whether taking action locally has a positive impact on the individual in relation to stress and anxiety surrounding climate change. They concluded that it can often lead to three separate outcomes depending on the individual and theoretical perspective one adopts:

proximizing can bring about the intended positive effects, can have no (visible) effect or can even backfire

Suggesting that finding remedies for climate anxiety appears to be more complex than first assumed, possibly due to the international effort needed to help reduce the rapidly changing climate and the little an individual can do without being in a position of influence.

Clayton et al. has recognised the importance of human behaviour in responding and adapting to climate change, as it is human behaviour which has caused the climate to become so unstable.

They state that human well-being can be affected by climate change in numerous ways:

Abrupt environmental events, experienced as natural disasters, will have direct impacts on mental health and quality of life; in addition, indirect impacts will result from gradually evolving and often cumulative environmental stresses on livlihoods, economic opportunity and sociocultural conditions

They also recognise that to successfully communicate the risks of climate change and to change human behaviours, it is necessary to:

consider individual capabilities, cognitive processes, biases, values, beliefs, norms, identities and social relationships, and to integrate understanding at this level into broader understanding of human intercations with a changing climate’

Similarly, others recognise the three different ways people can be affected by climate change (direct, indirect & psychosocial) but they also provide responses as well. They suggest that the responses for dealing with these impacts include psychological interventions for those impacted directly, promoting emotional resilience and empowerment for those indirectly feeling helpless and acting at system and policy levels to address psychosocial impacts.

This helps identify the different ways someone can be psychology impacted by climate change and suggests appropriate responses in dealing with these issues. Additionally, other researchers have specified more by looking at the psychological impact climate change has on children.

Researchers examining the impact on children (those aged between 12 -25) have identified severe outcomes for children and their mental health but also recognise that this age group are simultaneously impacted by economic and employment concerns.

Burke et al. states:

climate change place children at risk of mental health consequences including PTSD, depression, anxiety, phobias, sleep disorders, attachment disorders, and substance abuse. These in turn can lead to problems with emotion regulation, cognition, learning, behavior, language development, and academic performance. Together, these create predispositions to adverse adult mental health outcomes. Children also exhibit high levels of concern over climate change

They also recognise that children in developing countries are impacted the most, unfortunately this is also the case with climate change in general where those contributing the least to climate change often suffer the most from it.

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The appearance of climate anxiety and an increasingly worried youth demonstrates the seriousness of climate change even at this early stage, although some are still in denial. Solutions to this worry can be solved to help both the individual and the planet. As a previous study suggested, taking climate action can result in reduced stress and anxiety. However, treatment to an individual’s psychology is subjective to that person as is the case with the mental state of an individual. Therapists have recognised that more patients are seeking treatment for climate anxiety, one way this can be treated is with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Simply, this is a way of talking to help manage problems by changing the way you feel, think and act. Therefore, climate change does not only impact our planet but also our mental health, fortunately there are ways to managed both as long as these issues are considered integral to the progression of our societies.


News: Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral since 1995

In a previous post I mentioned the continuing degradation of coral reefs and coral bleaching due to climate change which destroys marine habitats and the ecosystems which depend on them.

In recent news, Marine scientists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Queensland, Australia have discovered that from 1995 to 2017 an array of different coral has declined in the largest reef worldwide.

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This demonstrates the impact global warming can have on marine life. With coral reefs disappearing, the natural cycles which are unseen for many of us are disrupted leading to more species decay and instability.

Coral bleaching does not only impact coral communities but human communities that depend on coral reefs as well. Therefore, the increased decline of biodiversity in our oceans as well as in our rainforests does not serve well against the mountain of issues climate change presents us with.

However, there are ways we can help coral reefs recover from extensive bleaching. Recognising the solutions to these problems help bring awareness to the fact that we can tackle these negative changes but only with enough care and attention to the important world around us which all life ultimately depends on.


What 2050 will look like if ‘business as usual’ continues

The phrase ‘business as usual‘ is a prediction model which demonstrates what will happen if nothing is changed over the next few decades. With the majority of business and governments central focus on economy rather than well-being, for both the planet and the people, often the future does not bode well if change is not instigated. Often 2050 is seen as the decade where the consequences of not changing our ways will have catastrophic impacts on all of us.

If business does continue as usual, then by 2050 due to the increased warming of the planet we will begin to see some of the consequences unprecedented in human history.

It is estimated that we will have an ice free artic in the coming decades, causing unprecedented sea levels to rise by 2100, meaning many coastal areas will be uninhabitable. However, by only 2050 these slight increases to sea level are estimated to impact 1 billion people.

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Another problem is coral reefs bleaching. This already a problem but will continue to worsen by 2050, causing major damage for marine ecosystems and the wildlife that depends on them.

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Another tragic loss by 2050 will be the loss of many animal and plant species due to human behaviour continuing as usual. This has also been estimated to reach a point unprecedented in human history as a report claims that we may experience around 1 million species going extinct in the near future.

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What we can do now to prevent this from happening? The need for change is upon us in many different ways. The change for renewable energy is a must if we want to curtail the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere. The need to change our diets is also a must if we want to alleviate the stress we put on our planet by producing too much meat which has shown to be an insufficient food source. As well as making sure countries stick to their goals which were agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Agreement. We need start thinking smarter about the way we live and actively grow out of the wasteful lifestyles that capitalism has instilled in all of us. The profits of big business and government will not mean as much if we are left with a lifeless planet for future generations to inhabit.

News: UN report claims exported cars to developing nations harm the environment

A report published by the UN environmental programme has stated that millions of used cars from developed nations are exported to developing nations and greatly impact the planet’s health.

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The report expressed the key concerns being the emissions produced by used vehicles, the quality and safety of these cars and the costs to keep them operational.

An image taken from the report demonstrates the areas used cars are exported to and from:

Source: UNEP, based
on data collected from
major exporters, 2017

The report also states that this is a growing issue as most developing countries have little to no regulation regarding the safety and quality of imported used vehicles. This is a problem as many old and highly polluting vehicles can be exported and used in developing countries without recognising their impact on the environment.

This issue is said to worsen as well, as the report highlights by 2050 this problem will double in size, creating more of an issue surrounding pollution and unsafe cars being used in developing nations.


Eating meat can no longer sustain human life on Earth

Looking back at human history, we have all been meat eaters for thousands of years and it is something that is linked closely with our ancestry. However, as the planet now holds an unprecedented amount of us, approximately 8 billion, it does not have the capacity to hold that many daily meat eaters as David Attenborough made clear in his recent documentary ‘A life on Our Planet‘.

Current statistics show that globally we consume around 350 million tons of meat a year, this number is continuously increasing with meat consumption since the 1980s doubling in 30 years. Providing space and resources for all the animals that we eat also has major damaging impacts on the environment. Additionally, one of the issues with meat consumption in developed countries is the desensitisation of killing and eating animals that we all have become comfortable with, automated factories which process dozens of animals each day take away the moral aspect which is an important factor as to why consumption is so high. Therefore, switching to a more vegetarian diet needs to become the new norm if we are going to give our planet the respite from all the damage we have caused it up to this point.

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A report published by 37 scientists last year concluded that our current food systems are currently threating human health and environmental sustainability. They assessed that more than 820 million people have insufficient food and low-quality diets, urging that global transformation of the food system is needed now more than ever. Another report published in the same journal stated that we can no longer feed our population a healthy diet whilst balancing planetary resources for the first time in 200,000 years.

Another study found that the animals we use for food take up 83% of the world’s farmland, whilst only contributing to 18% of our calorie consumption. Also, contributing up to 58% of food’s emissions. Whereas, a vegetarian diet can help reduce the green house gas emissions produced by meat production, use less land to cultivate crops and provide healthier alternatives to many poor diet choices. Demonstrating that eating meat is somewhat an inefficient food source and with so many of us understandably eating meat due to our ancestry here the problem can start to become apparent.

Not only is eating meat inefficient as a food source but it also contributes to a host of other problems. For example, an conservation website found problems with meat consumption ranging from deforestation and loss of biodiversity to eutrophication and desertification.

Due to the large amount of space it takes to raise livestock for meat production and the lack of space we have left, natural areas which we rely on are beginning to suffer. For example, the Amazon rainforest is currently being destroyed, mostly illegally, for meat production, timber and minerals. The rate at which it is being destroyed is also alarming as it is one of the largest rainforests on our planet which we rely on for species diversity, minimising carbon emissions and protects indigenous communities. The image below demonstrates the extent of the clearing taking place for farmland.

© Paulo Pereira / Greenpeace

Desertification is the process where fertile areas of soil become increasingly arid. Too much grazing livestock in one area can prohibit the land from replenishing and thus, cause the process of desertification. The IPCC report ‘Climate Change and Land‘ states that: ‘Asia and Africa are projected to have the highest number of people vulnerable to increased desertification‘. The report also states: ‘Projected increases in population and income, combined with changes in consumption patterns, result in increased demand for food, feed, and water in 2050‘. Reinforcing the need for a change toward a more vegetarian diet, as the population increases, so does the demand for lifestyles which are not sustainable at such as scale on a planet with finite capacity and resources.

However, scientists also recognise that changing people’s diets on a mass scale is a major challenge. As a 2018 publication in Science states:

Although meat is a concentrated source of nutrients for low-income families, it also enhances the risks of chronic ill health, such as from colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease. Changing meat consumption habits is a challenge that requires identifying the complex social factors associated with meat eating and developing policies for effective interventions‘.

It also suggests that governments need to shape food systems around environmental health and animal welfare and not just for contamination and economical priorities.

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Referring back to the report ‘Climate Change and Land‘ – this report does offer some solutions to these issues:

A number of land management options, such as improved management of cropland and grazing lands, improved and sustainable forest management, and increased soil organic carbon content, do not require land use change and do not create demand for more land conversion

A wide range of adaptation and mitigation responses, e.g., preserving and restoring natural ecosystems such as peatland, coastal lands and forests, biodiversity conservation, reducing competition for land, fire management, soil management, and most risk management options (e.g., use of local seeds, disaster risk management, risk sharing instruments) have the potential to make positive contributions to sustainable development, enhancement of ecosystem functions and services and other societal goals

As you can see, these responses focus not just on meat production and agriculture but other issues as well. As is the nature of climate change, a problem is not exclusive to itself but often interlinks with a set of problems which all react collaterally with each other. Due to our rapid population expansion since the previous century, we are at a crucial point in human history where we not only need to make a renewable energy transformation but also a dietary transformation in order to continue to sustain human life on Earth and prevent a sixth mass extinction event from happening.


News: Jamaican beaches are degrading from climate change

It is now well known that global warming as a result of climate change is leading to the loss of many coastal regions on our planet. Often, the people least involved with causing climate change are also the ones impacted by it the most.

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This has become apparent in places such as Jamaica, where beaches are starting to minimise and degrade due to rising tides. As a result, many of their Caribbean beaches are starting to lose its tourist attractions which they rely on as a source of income.

A recent news report stated that:

The beachfront has been swallowed by the surging tides, a result of decades of climate change and mismanagement

Coasts play a critical role in the economies of many Caribbean nations, whose population centers are close to the shore and who rely heavily on their ports and on tourists attracted to their picturesque waters. But beaches throughout the Caribbean are eroding as a result of rising sea levels and dangerous storms resulting from climate change‘.

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This is especially worrying as places like Jamaica are starting to see the results of climate change whilst the US, which has a big impact on the climate and a lot of resources for potential solutions, are set to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on November 4th. Therefore, if international unity toward climate change is not guaranteed, which the Paris Agreement set out to do, then the problems will only continue to worsen and certain countries will be left to fend for themselves over issues which they did not entirely cause.