Environment

Desalination Brine

The nearly 16,000 desalination plants around the world that extract fresh water from the sea are discharging far greater amounts of toxic brine back into the ocean than previously thought, a new U.N. study reveals.

It says the salt-laden liquid is increasing the density of salinity where it is released, and poses a significant risk to marine life and ecosystems.

More than half of the 5 billion cubic feet of brine discharged each day worldwide comes from desalination plants operating in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.

Magnetic North Pole Shift

The erratic and rapid shift of the Magnetic North Pole since 2014 has prompted scientists to update a year earlier than scheduled a model used in crucial navigation systems.

The unprecedented update was requested by the U.S. military due to the mounting level of inaccuracies in guidance across the Arctic for ships, planes and submarines.

Scientists believe the wayward pole is being influenced by changes in the flow of iron in Earth’s outer core.

But some experts believe the planet’s magnetic poles are on the verge of reversing, which is long overdue.

Environment

Garbage Patch Cleanup Setback

A giant U-shaped floating barrier designed to corral debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been broken apart by the constant wind and waves of the North Pacific winter.

The prototype was towed to the patch between Hawaii and California last September, and early reports said it was moving slower than the plastic, allowing the trash to escape.

“This is an entirely new category of machine that is out there in extremely challenging conditions,” said the device’s 24-year-old inventor, Boyan Slat.

He said his Ocean Cleanup project will tow the broken device to Hawaii for examination, and it may need to be brought back to the project’s headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area for full repairs.

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Environment

Roach Recyclers

Food waste from China’s expanding cities has become such a problem that firms are being encouraged to set up urban waste farms that use countless cockroaches to devour the scraps.

Reuters reports that one facility on the outskirts of Jinan, capital of Shandong province, feeds food waste the equivalent in weight to seven adult elephants each day to a billion captive roaches. The bugs have the potential to provide nutrition for livestock once they die, and some say their dead bodies could also be used to cure stomach ailments and create beauty products.

Wildlife

Pollution!

A dead sperm whale had more than 100 plastic cups, plastic bags, flip flops and other pieces of plastic in its stomach when it was found rotting on a beach in Indonesia.

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Wildlife

Profound Effects of Pesticides on Bees

Whether it’s foraging for food, caring for the young, using their bodies to generate heat or to fan the nest, or building and repairing nests, a bee colony does just about everything as a single unit.

While recent studies have suggested exposure to pesticides could have impacts on foraging behavior, a new study, led by James Crall, has shown that those effects may be just the tip of the iceberg.

The new study that shows exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides — the most commonly-used class of pesticides in agriculture — has profound effects on a host of social behaviors.

Using an innovative robotic platform to observe bees’ behavior, the study authors showed that, following exposure to the pesticide, bees spent less time nursing larvae and were less social that other bees. Additional tests showed that exposure impaired bees ability to warm the nest, and to build insulating wax caps around the colony. The study is described in a November 9 paper in Science.

Environment

Pharma Pollution

Australian researchers say more than 60 common prescription drugs are finding their way through wastewater into rivers and streams, contaminating insects that wind up being eaten by other wildlife up the food chains.

The scientists at Monash University found 69 medications in insects collected in waters around Melbourne, including painkillers, antibiotics, antidepressants and blood pressure treatments.

They say that while the highest levels of contamination were found near wastewater treatment plants, low levels were also detected in insects from more pristine areas.

Environment

Air Pollution

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that air pollution has become so acute that the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people annually worldwide while also harming billions of others.

“The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ – the toxic air that billions breathe every day,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The U.N. agency estimates that 91 percent of the world’s population now lives in areas with air pollution above WHO limits.

It says children and babies are the most vulnerable to the toxic effects of air pollution.

Wildlife

Maritime Noise Pollution

Underwater noise created by shipping and recreational boats is making it more difficult for dolphins to talk to each other, according to a new study.

University of Maryland researchers say the complex whistle calls used by the marine mammals are becoming simplified to make sure they can be understood through the din of maritime traffic.

“It’s kind of like trying to answer a question in a noisy bar and after repeated attempts to be heard, you just give the shortest answer possible,” said marine biologist Helen Bailey. She and colleagues made the discovery by analyzing recordings from microphones on the bottom of the Atlantic.

An earlier Japanese study found that humpback whales stop singing or reduce their songs when near loud noise from passing ships.

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Mass Extinction

Earth’s wild animal population has plunged 60 percent since 1970, and the rate of extinction is now 100 to 1,000 times higher due to pressure from human activities, a new report warns.

The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) latest Living Planet Index says the global biodiversity needs “life support,” and called on heads of state to step up and fight for the planet.

The group says tackling climate change by advancing renewable energy and boosting environmentally friendly food production would begin taking the pressure off the world’s wildlife.

Environment

Erratic Jet Stream

The jet stream, the ribbon of wind that circles the Earth is contorting into extreme loops sharply towards the poles with ridges of high pressure and dips to the equator with low pressure.

The resultant calamity list includes wildfires across Scandinavia, Greece and California, record heat in Texas, Japan and Africa and flooding rains along the U.S. East Coast that could last another week. The world is hotter in general, which means when temperatures spike, they do so off a higher baseline.

Plastic Pollution in the Dominican Republic

Large waves of plastic pollution washed onto the coast of the Dominican Republic, prompting officials to dispatch more than 500 workers to remove the debris from a beach in the capital of Santo Domingo.

More than 1,000 tons of plastic waste, including bottles and foam takeout boxes mixed with seaweed, were hauled away. The debris was said to have washed onto the beach from a nearby polluted river.

Parley for the Oceans, a group working to reduce plastic waste in the world’s oceans, says the phenomenon occurs in many developing nations with a coastline.

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Environment

High Garbage Dump

Mount Everest has a mountain of a problem: trash. And not just leftover camping meals, beer and fuel cans, but human waste, too. Climbers traveling to the bottom of the majestic mountain for the first time might be surprised to find half-buried fluorescent tents, fuel bottles and other miscellaneous pieces of old camp sites strewn about the base camps. The various lodges and villages in surrounding areas have also created dozens of landfills surrounding the base of the mountain.

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Global Warming

German Cities to Ban Diesel Cars

German cities are entitled to ban older diesel vehicles from streets with immediate effect to bring air pollution levels in line with European Union rules, Germany’s top administrative court confirmed on Friday.

Germany opened the door to diesel bans in February when it allowed environmental groups to sue cities which fail to enforce Europe’s clean air rules, despite fierce lobbying to oppose bans from carmakers.

Environment

Towelette Pollution

Masses of wet wipes accumulating along riverbanks are causing concern that the waste product is altering the ecology and shape of some of the world’s waterways.

The moist towelettes and baby wipes are made with polyester or polypropylene, and are not biodegradable.

British researchers recently found more than 5,000 of them along the River Thames in an area the size of half a tennis court.

“People get confused and don’t realize that you are not supposed to flush wet wipes down the toilet,” environmental advocate Kirsten Downer of Thames 21 told The Guardian.

Environment

Most Polluted Cities

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) global air pollution database released in Geneva, India has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM 2.5 concentrations — the worst being Kanpur with a PM 2.5 concentration of 173 micrograms per cubic metre, followed by Faridabad, Varanasi and Gaya.

The report states that 9 in 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. In a statement, it said 7 million people die every year because of outdoor and household air pollution. “Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period,” it said.

More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries in the eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.

Environment

Plastic Eaters

Mutant plastic-dissolving enzymes could help curb the increasing global plastic pollution that threatens marine life and even the humans who eat it.

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth were studying a bacterium discovered at a Japanese dump in 2016 that had naturally evolved to eat plastic.

While using ultra-intense beams of X-rays to examine the structure of the key enzyme produced by the bacterium, they accidentally improved the enzyme’s ability to break down the kind of plastic used to make beverage bottles.

Environment

China Changes Trash Import Policy – Refuses to be a Trash Dumping Ground

For decades, China was the world’s largest importer of waste but that’s changing after Beijing banned 24 types of scraps from entering its borders starting January.

The ban was hailed as a big win for global green efforts by environmentalists, who said it would not only clean up China, but also force other countries to better manage their own trash.

More than three months into the ban, waste exporters such as the U.S., Europe and Japan are still scrambling for an alternative to China.

China was the dumping ground for more than half of the world’s trash before the ban and, at its peak, was importing almost 9 million metric tons of plastic scrap a year, according to Greenpeace.

The country started importing waste in the 1980s to fuel a growing manufacturing sector. It grew a whole waste processing and recycling industry, but improper handling of trash and a lack of effective supervision turned the country into a major polluter.

China, now the second-largest economy in the world, has been doubling down on efforts to clean up its air, water and land. Under President Xi Jinping, the country has shuttered tens of thousands of factories that contributed pollution, pushed for greater use of renewable energy and became a green finance giant.

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