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February 2019: Monthly Environmental News Roundup

1 .Pupils strike escalating climate change crisis

16 year old Greta Thumberg started a solo protest in August, outside Sweden’s parliament, which became viral and now up to 70,000 school children across the world are taking part in school climate strikes each week. Young people are becoming increasingly radicalized by environmental crisis and the need for urgent political action. Pupils are walking out of lessons at schools and colleges amid growing concern about escalating climate crisis. While Individual protests have being happening, walkouts are planned in UK and are being billed towards global day for school strikes on 15 March.

2. Proposed law to protect sharks in the Hawaii waters

In what could be first of its kind in the US, the Honolulu lawmakers have advanced the proposed ban on killing sharks in the state waters. Apart from killing, capturing or harming these animals could incur fines and count as offense. These sharks face numerous threats. They are killed for their meat, fins and even used as bait to catch giant kingfish. Saving the shark population is crucial for the marine ecosystem. While some critics feel that the already enough protection is in place for the sharks, conservationist Ramsey hopes this law gets passed and inspires similar laws across the globe.

3. Europe’s first CO2 capture project

Giant Drax power station, burns tones of wood every year to generate electricity. It has become the first in Europe to start a pilot project to capture CO2 from wood burning. This Bio Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology is needed to ensure reduction in carbon emissions and to meet 1.5 C global temperature rise targets. There is however questions on the impact of this on the plant and animal life and also the additional energy required for this. While some are in favor of this technology, there are others who are worried that this could be a greenwash.

4.  Call for dynamic ZSI list and more focus on ecology

An official list with details of diversity of amphibian species in India and their conservation status used by researchers, policymakers, students etc is published by the Zoological Survey of India, ZSI. As per ZSI the list is updated every year. But with new species being found, numbers changing often, the list gets outdated soon, calling for more dynamic list like digital version or so on. Many amphibian species are tagged under endangered, vulnerable, critically endangered, near threatened categories, but data for 58% of them is still in grey zone and is expected to fall under one of these categories, which calls for more focus on ecology and addressing issues on conservation.

5. Global warming effects on glaciers

The studies on effects of global warming have been focused on islands, coasts, but its effect on the mountain glaciers which provide water, irrigation and power for billions of people have been overlooked. The ice caps of Hindu Kush Himalaya region is melting and a new study reveals that the glacier region could shrink by two thirds if no progress on emissions is made. The effects of this could be increase in sea levels, worsened air pollution, extreme weathers, disruption of rivers providing food, power and livelihood for billions.

6. Plastic waste to clean fuel

Researchers at Purdue University are excited about their new chemical technique which converts waste plastics, which choke the Earth’s oceans and poison wildlife, into useful polymers or clean fuel for conventional vehicles. This technique uses super-heated water to convert polyolefin waste, which accounts to around 23% of plastic waste, into valuable commodity.  According to the researchers, this conversion technology could boost the recycling industry profits besides shrinking the plastic wastes.

7. Three kinds of sensors for London’s air quality monitoring system

In January, London started an air quality monitoring project, Breathe London to help determine whether pollution controls in city are working. Traditionally for this, stationary, costly sensors have been used which only provide estimates for the relatively uniform secondary pollutants. In addition to these traditional sensors, this project would use less expensive 100 shoebox-sized sensors fixed to lampposts to measure primary pollutants, besides using two Google Street view cars fitted with sensors to gather on ground information. This is expected to provide information to help assess the effectiveness of policies for pollution control.  Breathe London, a test bed project is expected to establish protocols and make air quality monitoring accessible in places.

8. Mass Invasion of polar bears in Russian Arctic Archipelago

Russia’s Northeaster Novaya Zemlya archipelago has declared an emergency and appealed for help to tackle the mass invasion of polar bears into inhabited areas. Affected by melting Arctic ice due to global warming, these bears seem to spend more time on land. But hunting these bears is banned as they are considered endangered species. As per the head of local administration, the numbers of polar bears were unprecedented. Regional and federal officials are set to visit the place and if all other measures fail, they would not be left with any other option but to shoot the animals down.

9. Potato Wrapper for The Guardian’s print edition

The Guardian, the British newspaper has taken several measures over the years to make their products more eco-friendly. Till last year around half ton plastic was used for wrapping and they wanted to come up with an alternative to it. Having tried out other things, they settled in for Bioplast 300, a 100% biodegradable material made from potato starch and other ingredients. Happy from the overwhelming positive response of their London launch, Guardian plans to roll this out nationally from April. It is also sharing the methodology and partner details with other interested publishers.

10. Eco friendly rubber from Bimbli

What started as a project for the regional competition of Indian Science and Engineering Fair, paved way for teens Aman and Nachiketh to cross national levels and present their idea in ISWEEP and clinch the silver medal. Developing on the family secret of using Bimbli extract for coagulating rubber latex, the teens found a way to speed up the coagulation process while making quality rubber sheets. Besides eliminating the use of chemicals and reducing the production costs, it puts an end to the problem of soil depletion due to formic acids used in previous rubber coagulation technique. The teens aim to develop this further in the future.

11. 2018 Fourth Warmest year says NASA

As per NASA and NOAA, earth’s global temperature in 2018, 0.83 degree Celsius warmer than that between 1951 and 1980, is the fourth warmest behind 2016, 2017 and 2015. This global surface temperature has risen largely due to human activities leading to greenhouse gas emissions. The global surface temperature which has risen about 1 degree Celsius since 1880s is expected to still increase further. The impact of this is already visible in coastal flooding, melting of ice sheets, heat waves, ecosystem change, etc.

12. Ocean colors likely to change – new study

A new study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge has found that by 2100 the world’s oceans would be bluer and greener, but these may not be visible to naked eye. Ocean waters appear blue when the sunlight that hits ocean is reflected back and the green hues is from the phytoplankton, the microscopic plants, the foundation of marine food chain. Using simulations, scientists have shown these phytoplankton to be affected by climate change and thereby influencing the ocean’s color. Subtropical regions with even warmer waters will drive out phytoplankton and water there will be bluer while water closer to poles will be greener.

13. Highly contaminated Tasmania Lakes

Atmospheric metal contaminates from historic mining activities in Queenstown and Rosebery in Tasmania has made the lakes one amongst the most contaminated in the world as per Australian National University study. The contamination seems to have reached these mountainous lakes through atmospheric transport. Further research is however needed to understand the impact of this on fish, algae, bacteria etc and human consumption of the fishes should be stopped if it is high. While no one is ready to take responsibility for this legacy of practices which are still having negative impact, it is collective responsibility of the government and mining companies to be part of remediation feels lead researcher Larissa Schneider.

14. A Store with a difference

Friends Prachee Mandlekar, Debyani Basu and Sikha Agarwal’s common passion to spread plastic pollution awareness and mission to make people’s lifestyles better lead them to open a zero-waste depot where products and their packaging is plastic free. Their first start up ‘Green Mantra’ started with renting steel cutlery for occasions. Later on, they started their zero-waste store which keeps a variety of daily necessity items with eco-friendly packaging done with vendor help. The store sells freshly ground spices in glass jars, grains in steel cases and items like cloth sanitary napkins, bamboo toothbrushes, steel straws, etc. With over hundred products Green Mantra is becoming popular with people wanting to lead plastic-free life.

15. Looming water crisis in capital city – actions needed

A committee headed by former high court judge, SP Garg advised to National Green Tribunal (NGT) bench that of the total 6761 Rain water harvesting systems in the municipal corporations of Delhi, DCB other higher educational institutions, etc, many are not functional or not installed at all and has recommended NGT to impose 5 lakhs fine in places with such anomalies. Another important recommendation given was on recycling of water as due to exploitation, ground water level has decreased to below 40 meters in more than 15% of Delhi areas and may get exhausted by 2020.  The committee has recommended timelines to the government and to consider the issue of encroachments and recommended action against illegal siphoning of water.

16. UKEF posing a dilemma in UK’s fight for Climate change

Former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon has advised Britain to terminate funding fossil fuel foreign projects to ratify commitment to act on Climate change. Disturbed over UK’s export credit agency’s (UKEF) support to financially support oil and gas business schemes world over, he mentioned that UK should be serious about usage of fossil fuels in its land and in other countries. As per the Environment Audit Committee, in 2017 more than 10% of UKEF’s funding went into Oil and gas sector. With a number of new oil and gas and petrochemical projects in pipeline, UKEF’s incline to support fossil fuel projects seems incompatible with UK’s role as a leader to fight climate change.

17. World’s largest bee rediscovered in Indonesia

The world’s largest bee known as Wallace’s giant bee or Megachile Pluto was last seen in 1981. Earlier this year, a single female bee was found in the Indonesian island by a team of international researchers. This bee with more than two and half inches wingspan is considered the largest in the world. This giant bee was found in a termite nest where the female bees generally make their nests. Researchers hope that this discovery would spark more research towards understanding the species and protecting them.

18. Dean of Climate Scientists is no more

The researcher who sounded early warnings about climate change and popularized the term “global warming” passed away in New York hospital after a brief ailment at an age of 87. Wallace Smith Broecker, wrote in 1975 an article that accurately predicted the increasing carbon dioxide levels that would worsen global warming. He was also the first to recognize the term Ocean conveyer belt; a worldwide network of currents that affect air temperature to rain patterns. Wallace promoted the notion that dumping greenhouse gases through burning of fossil fuels is sufficient to affect ocean currents and communicated about potential for sudden climatic change and its aftermath.

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