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Beating pollution by redesign

Ellen MacArthur

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Over 8 million tons of plastic pollute the oceans each year. The problem is so severe that, if nothing changes, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. We must urgently rethink how we make and use this ubiquitous material, now a staple of our modern economy. The appetite to take action is real: public and private sector financial commitments to combat ocean pollution made at the European Union’s Our Ocean conference this year, for instance, totalled 7.2 billion euros. Yet if cleaning up is a short-term necessity, only a whole system reset will provide a long-term solution to plastics pollution and the economic losses associated with it.

Pollution is just one symptom of our hugely wasteful plastics system. It is an iconic example of our linear “take-make-dispose” economy as a whole. Forty years after the launch of the first universal recycling symbol, a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to the 2016 World Economic Forum revealed that only 14 per cent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling globally: this results in a loss of $80 billion to $120 billion a year to the global economy.

Packaging is not the only culprit. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has estimated that around half a million tons of plastic micro-fibres shed from the washing of plastic-based textiles like polyester end up in the ocean every year. The challenge is to reconcile the undeniable benefits of plastics and clothing, among other everyday products, with systems that work in the long-term and avoid pollution and the loss of valuable materials.

Can such a dilemma be solved by applying the principles of a circular economy? These are to design out pollution, keep materials in use, and build natural capital within a restorative and regenerative system. The circular economy could contribute significantly to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals which, since their adoption just two years ago, seem to be generating an unprecedented level of collaboration between private and public stakeholders.

The circular economy does not just apply to global streams of materials like plastics and textiles. Sustainable production and consumption may, at first glance, be the prime target of this system shift, but its reach is wider. Analysis from New Climate Economy, for instance, has shown that China’s air quality targets can only be achieved by combining accelerated economic restructuring, energy conservation, fuel switching and environmental policy: even the strictest end-of-pipe treatment measures could only do half the job.

Similarly, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has found that circular economy opportunities in India’s food system could, by 2030, yield a 15 per cent reduction in spending on food, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (and their associated pollution) by 21 per cent and 45 per cent respectively. The circular economy provides a positive way forward on a wide range of issues, from helping urbanization take place in a way that benefits its citizens to preserving life below water.

Realising such benefits requires a concerted effort. Revolutions do not happen by decree, so public-private dialogue around policy design must be at the heart of any serious system shift. Policymakers have an important catalysing role in both setting a direction for industries, and in putting in place mechanisms to help them move faster. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Toolkit for Policymakers report provides a methodology to help structure such a transition.

Policy can be about setting the rules of the game. For plastics, for example, this could include being selective about the use of certain polymers, other chemicals or applications. Such action can be effective, cost little and garner public support. Rapid reductions in single use shopping bags – through bans or charges – have been achieved with little disruption in France, Rwanda, and the United Kingdom.

Restriction, however, is only part of the story. It must be complemented by mechanisms that foster innovation. Policymakers are well-positioned, as they can connect the design of plastic packaging with collecting, sorting and subsequently reusing or recycling it. The New Plastics Economy initiative, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, aims to establish initial elements of a “Global Plastics Protocol” to address the industry’s need for common guidelines and standards in plastics design, use and reuse.

This would be a crucial step in getting all the industry actors involved in producing and using plastics packaging that can be either reused, recycled or composted – thus staying out of the environment. Policymakers’ most potent tool, however, is the ability to set high-level ambition, providing both a vision for a better system and visibility for industry. Clear signals indicating that the future will be materially different from the past must be sent to the market to help investment decisions.

The Sustainable Development Goals aim at a materially better future. We must think hard about what model of economic growth we want, since it will form the bedrock of that future. It must be fit for its purpose – promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. There are several ways of looking at such a model but, whatever its complexion, it must build economic, societal, and natural capital rather than deplete it.

This article was originally published in Our Planet.

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Green Planet

Air pollution linked to “huge” reduction in intelligence

MD Staff

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Air pollution can have a “huge” negative effect on cognitive intelligence – especially amongst older men – according to a study released this past August.

The research is one of the first of its kind to focus on the links between air pollution and cognition in older people. It was undertaken by scientists at Peking University in Beijing, China and Yale University in the U.S. and was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. In particular, it found that long-term exposure to air pollution may impede overall cognitive performance.

The researchers’ sample set included a panel of over 25,000 people across 162 randomly chosen counties in China. The study was also based on daily readings for three atmospheric pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers (PM10) where the participants lived.

The research found that that accumulative exposure to air pollution impedes cognitive performance in verbal and math tests. It found that as people age, the negative effect becomes particularly pronounced on verbal scores, especially for men while, “the gender gap is particularly large for the less educated.” One of the reasons why the researchers suggest that older men with less education were worst affected by chronic exposure to air pollution is because those subjects often work in outdoor, manual jobs.

The scientists concluded that, “The damage on the aging brain by air pollution likely imposes substantial health and economic costs, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly for both running daily errands and making high-stake decisions.” Given this damaging effect of air pollution on cognition, particularly on the aging brain, “the study implies that the indirect effect on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought.”

“Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge,” Yale School of Public Health’s Professor Xi Chen, one of the report’s authors, said in an interview published in The Guardian.

The study also suggests that air pollution increases the risk of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“Air pollution is a significant threat to public health and this study highlights the negative effect that such pollution may have on the ageing brain,” said Soraya Smaoun, Air Quality Coordinator at UN Environment. “A better understanding of the critical links between air pollution and health for policies and investments supporting cleaner transport and power generation, as well as energy-efficient housing and municipal waste management can reduce key sources of outdoor air pollution.”

According to the World Health Organization, seven million people die each year from exposure to polluted air, both indoor and outdoor. The three biggest killers which are associated to air pollution are stroke (2.2 million deaths), heart disease (2.0 million) and lung disease and cancer (1.7 million deaths).

The World Health Organization’s air quality database shows that that 97 per cent of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet air quality guidelines presently. However, the percentage is much lower in higher income countries – 40 per cent.

What is being done about air pollution?

A worldwide movement to address air pollution is gradually taking shape and growing. Breathe Life – a global campaign headed by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, the World Health Organization and UN Environment – is supporting a range of cleaner air initiatives that cover 39 cities, regions and countries, reaching over 80 million people.

Most major cities are still struggling to keep air pollution within acceptable levels as set out by the World Health Organization guidelines. However, by instituting policies and programmes to reduce transport and energy emissions, and by encouraging the use of clean energy, cities are leading change and improving the lives of a large number of people.

In 2018, the World Health Organization found that more than 57 per cent of cities in the Americas and more than 61 per cent of cities in Europe had seen a fall in both PM10 and PM2.5 particulate matter between 2010 and 2016.

The rise of renewable energy is also ideally positioned to make a big difference, with investment in new renewable sources outstripping fossil fuel investments every year.

UN Environment

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Green Planet

IPCC Report: On Our global Jihad against Cognitive mind

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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A major new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was just released in Korea on October 8 (2018). Although it is nearly 800 pages long and includes more than 6,000 scientific references, it can be summarized in few sentences:

The average global temperature is now 1.0°C above its pre-industrial levels.That increase is already causing more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, and is damaging untold number of land and sea ecosystems.

A 1.5°C increase, likely by 2040, will make things worse. A 2.0°C increase will be far worse than that. Only radical socio-economic and politico-diplomatic change can stop catastrophe. The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years left for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C. Beyond that an irreversibility effect would be set in motion: even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. To avoid the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of a fantastic $54 trillion. This transformation goes – of course – beyond what we usually label as ‘economy’. It requires a change of entire human dynamics; moods and preference of how we extract, manufacture, distribute, consume, spend, live, travel, power all that, think of and teach about it.

Reactions are folding: “Limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels would be a herculean task, involving rapid, dramatic changes in the way that governments, industries and societies function” – says the Nature magazine. Science Daily predicts: “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society … With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society”.

Ecological Footprint of ‘Here-Us-Now’ civilisation

However, for the informed and willing ones all was clear already with the Rio summit. Back then, I was quick to react: it was me being one of the very first to concept and introduce (and set as obligatory) the subject of SD (along with Environment Ethics) in the universities of Europe. Thus, for the past two decades I’ve been teaching my students that: “Currently, the amount of crops, animals and other bio matter we all extract from the earth each year exceeds what such a small planet can replace by an estimated 20% – meaning it takes almost 14,4 months to replenish what we use perannum – in consecutive 12 months – deficit spending of the worst kind.”

Lecture after lecture, generation after generation, I educated my students that: “Through pollution and global warming are legacies of products, processes and systems designed without thought to the environmental consequences, cohesion of international community along with rapid introduction of new international policies and strategies in a form of clean practices and technologies holds the solutions (e.g. promoting greater coherence between energy, research and environmental policies). Since the environmental degradation (incl. the accelerated speed of extinction of living species – loss of biodiversity) knows no borders – the SD (Sustainable Development) is a matrix of truly global dimensions.”

In the meantime, the Climate Change nihilists and paid lobbyists dominated media by accusing this sort of constructivism and predictive education as an environmental alarmism and scientific sensationalism. This is how we lost almost three decades from Rio over Johannesburg, Copenhagen, Kyoto and Paris to come to our current draw: an abyss of “only 12 years left” diagnosis.

How shall we now tackle our past optimism about the possibilities and the current pessimism about the probabilities? How to register our future claims rapidly and effectively on preservation of overall human vertical when we systematically ridiculed and dismissed every science short of quick profit (or defensive modernization), when we pauperized and disfranchised so many people of this planet  in past few decades like never before in history?

Hence, the rapid, far-reaching changes to almost every facet of society are needed to avoid catastrophic climate change, reforms far beyond anything governments are currently either doing or planning to do. Additionally, it requires complete reversion of our life styles and socio-economic fashions, passions and drives – e.g. elimination of “here-us-now” over-consumerism of everything tangible and non-tangible.

Social fractured Planet devastated by anti-intellectualism

Are we are able to mobilise our socially fractured, and anti-intellectualised globe that fast and that solid?

The world must invest $2.4 trillion in clean energy every year through 2035 and cut the use of coal-fired power to almost nothing by 2050 to avoid catastrophic damage from climate change, according to scientists convened by the United Nations. That of course includes an elimination of oil and gas from our Primary Energy Mix (PEM) as well as total eradication of the ICE-powered cars (of both diesel and petrol/ benzin). All that is required within the following decade.

What changes this new “Cambrian explosion” will cause on adaptive and non-adaptive inorganic clusters and systems of our biota, and its group dynamics? Notably, what impact it will have on the traditionally automotive-industry leaning regions, and what on aviation industry – which, at least when comes to continental Europe, could have been grounded decades ago – since even at our current technological level, the rail transportation would be cheaper faster safer than using planes? What implication does it bring to the extremely crude-exporting dependent Middle East, which is situated in a center of our planet but at the periphery of human progress? This is to name but few of numerous implications and unanswered dilemmas yet even unasked question[1].

No doubt, our crisis is real, but neither sudden nor recent. Our environmental, financial and politico-economic policies and practices have created the global stress for us and untold number of other species. Simply, our much-celebrated globalisation deprived from environmental and social concerns, as well as from a mutual and fair cooperation(instead of induced confrontation and perpetuated exclusion) caged us into the ecological globalistan and political terroristan. (Acidifying of oceans and brutalization of our human interactions are just two sides of a same coin. What is the social sphere for society that is the biosphere for the very life on earth, since what what we euphemistically call anthropogenic Climate Change is actually a brutal war against nature.)

The world based on agreed principles that – besides businesses and governments – involves all other societal stakeholders, re-captured global cohesion and commonly willing actions is not a better place. It is the only way for the human race to survive.

Deep and structural, this must be a crisis of our cognitivity. Therefore, the latest Climate Change (CC) Report is only seemingly on Climate; it is actually a behavioristic study on (the dead end of) our other ‘CC’ – competition and confrontation, instead of cooperation and (all-included) consensus. Simply, it is the Report on our continued global Jihad against cognitive mind.

  • [1] Still today, sustainability is lacking an operational definition: There is a controversy whether to consider a human-made capital combined with a natural capital (weak sustainability) or separately (strong sustainability). The central to this question is to which extend a human capital or rather technology can substitute the loss of natural resources.
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Accelerating Renewables Is Our Most Effective Climate Solution

MD Staff

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With the UN Climate Conference in Katowice (COP24) only weeks away, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the much-awaited Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C. In its assessment of 1.5 °C pathway scenarios, the IPCC highlights the need for a rapid energy transition based on a significant increase of renewables particularly in end-use sectors. Commenting on this, Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) today welcomed the report’s focus on the critical role of renewable energy in tackling climate change and urged the global community to accelerate its deployment.

No climate solution without renewables

“The IPCC report sends a clear signal and calls for a large-scale transformation of the global energy system. A decarbonised energy system, increasingly fueled by renewable sources, is vital to the global response to the threat of climate change”, Adnan Z. Amin said. “IRENA’s analysis shows that renewable energy and energy efficiency represent the most cost-effective pathway for achieving 90 per cent of the energy-related CO2 emission reductions needed to meet the ‘well below 2 degrees objective’ of the Paris Agreement”.

“The world of energy is witnessing rapid and disruptive changes. Renewables already account for around a quarter of global electricity generation. In the last six years, renewable power capacity additions outpaced additions from fossil fuels and nuclear power combined. However, if we are to meet our climate goals, renewables deployment must accelerate six times faster than today.”

Countries leave potential of renewables untapped

“Renewable energy allows governments to opt for significantly higher ambition levels in their climate plans, including their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement”, Adnan Z. Amin added. “Thanks to dramatic cost reductions and technology improvements, renewables are technically feasible and economically attractive. This is for instance also increasingly manifested in the energy choices of private actors. IRENA estimates that, through corporate sourcing of renewables alone, companies have already created demand the size of the electricity market of France.”

“A sustainable energy transformation will not only contribute to climate objectives. IRENA’s Roadmap to 2050 shows it will support positive social and economic outcomes, lifting millions out of energy poverty, increasing energy independence and stimulating sustainable economic growth and job creation. To fully reap the benefits of the energy transformation, we have to make sure that its welfare gains and costs are fairly distributed. We have opportunities at hand that we must rally behind by adopting strong policies, mobilising capital and driving innovation across the energy system.”, concluded Adnan Z. Amin.

IRENA’s Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050 finds that the shift to renewable energy and energy efficiency could generate global gains of up to USD 6 trillion annually by 2050. The global economy would grow by one per cent – leading to a cumulative gain of up to USD 52 trillion by 2050. Global welfare such as health benefits from reduced air pollution and reduced climate impacts would improve by 15 per cent. This massive transformation would generate a net gain of over 11 million additional jobs in the energy sector by 2050. However, this shift requires new approaches to planning, system and market operations, regulation and public policy. As countries are working towards transitioning to a sustainable energy future, IRENA is actively supporting their efforts by providing policy, technology, and financial knowledge on renewable energy and strengthening international cooperation through the exchange of experiences and best practices.

IRENA

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