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Namibia Enlists the IAEA to Help Study its Marine Ecosystem Supporting Key Fisheries

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Namibia's coast is home to protected species like these flamingos. (Photo: D. C. Louw/Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Namibia)

Authors: Miklos Gaspar & Lucas Smalldon*

The first-ever comprehensive study on the concentration of radionuclides and trace elements in Namibia’s coastal waters revealed that while radionuclide levels are very low, there is an indication of higher than usual concentration of certain trace elements. Further study is required to determine whether these are the result of human activity along the coast or are due to the underlying geology, according to a scientific report delivered by the IAEA to the Government of Namibia in late 2017, based on research carried out at the Government’s request.

“The IAEA report provides excellent information about the current status and can be used as the basis for future monitoring activities,” said Axel Tibinyane, Director of Namibia’s National Radiation Protection Authority. “As marine resources contribute significantly to our national development, it is imperative that they be used sustainably. The report will help us do that.”

Following this preliminary research, the IAEA will continue to provide support to the Government to gain better insight into the high trace element levels.

In addition to the country’s increasing population, uranium, gold and diamond mining, as well as industrial activity, are on the rise and there is a growing interest in seabed mining for phosphates. Namibia is among the world’s top five uranium producers. To assess any impact on the environment of this increased level of human activity, a baseline needs to be established, as some of these undertakings could result in increased levels of radionuclides and trace elements. The data in the report can provide such a baseline.

“This project is the first of its kind and has provided new information on the Namibian shelf,” said Deon Louw, the marine scientist in charge of the study at Namibia’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. “We need this knowledge to monitor and protect our marine ecosystem as human activity continues to rise.”

Increased coastal activities mean that new regulations are needed to monitor and manage natural and human-caused (or anthropogenic) radionuclides and trace elements that may contaminate the marine ecosystem, with potential impact on seafood, local populations and the economy.

Namibia’s coastal waters support a rich biodiversity and stretch along the south Atlantic’s turbulent Benguela current for over 1500 kilometres. Much of the coastline is a marine protected area, which is considered unpolluted. It is part of the northern Benguela large marine ecosystem — one of the most productive coastal ecosystems in the world — and supports valuable fisheries and mariculture industries. It is a highly dynamic environment: strong winds, seething currents, and underwater sulphur eruptions surround rich stocks of fish, plankton, and other marine life, including the world’s largest bacteria — visible to the naked eye.

Despite all this activity, little was known about Namibia’s levels of marine radioactivity and trace elements until now.

The study

At the request of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, in 2014 the IAEA began collecting a diverse range of marine samples off the coast. Over 500 samples were gathered, including sediment, seawater, fish, mussels and seaweed. Several thousand measurements were performed on the samples. More than 40 researchers from 11 institutions in six countries participated in the research project.

In addition to providing baseline measurements for ongoing pollution assessment and regulation, radionuclides and trace metal isotopes can serve as tracers to better understand oceanographic and pollution processes (see Studying the oceans through isotopes). The study of lead isotopes, for example, can help assess whether the lead is present naturally or as a result of human activities. Lead’s isotopic signature can also provide information on the sources of pollutants.

“This research not only helps Namibia, but will also continue to add international scientific value by improving knowledge of global patterns of marine pollution,” said Martina Rožmarić, a research scientist at the IAEA Environment Laboratories. “In studying the presence of natural and anthropogenic radionuclides and trace elements, such as lead, mercury, copper, and cadmium, off Namibia’s seaboard, we are filling in a critical knowledge gap on the world map.”

THE SCIENCE

Studying the oceans through isotopes

The concentration of radionuclides (natural and anthropogenic), trace elements and rare earth elements is difficult to measure. But measuring the levels of these substances and tracing them to their sources is central to understanding the state of the marine environment.

Several anthropogenic radionuclides can be detected at ultra-low levels; some, like the iodine isotope I-129 and the uranium isotope U-236, can be used as radiotracers to study oceanographic processes such as the movement of water masses or pollutants in the oceans and to improve the accuracy of marine dispersion models. Just like a colourful dye that can be observed in a water mass to see where it goes, these radionuclides have a unique signature that researchers can track to study different currents and see how fast it takes them to go from one part of the globe to another.

These isotopes are decaying slowly, which makes them a reliable tracer of natural processes, such as the circulation and mixing of water masses. But U-236 concentrations in the oceans are extremely low and can only be measured using highly sensitive accelerator mass spectrometry, which enables monitoring of ratios between U-236 and U-238, a more abundant natural isotope. In the Namibian project, these measurements were carried out at an IAEA collaborating centre, Spain’s National Centre of Accelerators in Seville.

*Lucas Smalldon, IAEA Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications

This article was featured in the IAEA Bulletin, March 2018.

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Green Planet

Why This Planet Is Becoming Uninhabitable

Eric Zuesse

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There are now overt indications that this planet is becoming uninhabitable. Not only are increasing numbers of humans migrating from near the Equator, northward toward nations that have more temperate climates, but also there are stronger and more frequent hurricanes and longer droughts and spreading desertification and larger and more frequent forest fires, all of which are lowering agricultural productivity in the global-overheating areas from which these migrants are coming. This is forcing billions of people to relocate from rural farming southern regions into big cities, and ultimately toward the cooler climates of the more-polar regions, as the large central Equatorial belt of our increasingly hot planet becomes less and less inhabitable for more and more of the people who are so unfortunate as to be still living there. Thus, instead of food being grown in that broad Equatorial belt where the Earth is fat and large, it’s increasingly being grown near the narrow, tiny, polar region. Agriculture is moving northward, and, as it does so, it will be occupying a band too small to feed the world. Agriculture is thus being severely threatened worldwide by global heating. Starvation will consequently soar, as this planet increasingly burns.

The inhabitable portion of this planet is shrinking, decade-by-decade, and especially century-by-century. A reasonable expectation would be that the grandchildren of today’s generation will routinely fight each other for food.

The Trump Administration finally now publicly accepts that all these things will happen, and sooner than scientists had been predicting even as recently as only a decade ago. But this Presidential Administration is determined to do nothing about it.

Here is the summary statement of the Trump Administration’s rationale for abolishing the Obama Administration’s anti-global-warming fuel-economy standards, as the Trump Administration has stated it, on page 107 of their finalized document. (The original document, which was their “Draft Environmental Impact Statement” on this matter, had been dated July 2018.) This final document was issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on 16 October 2018. The public-comment period on that document closed ten days later, on 26 October 2018, and the document says:

[page 107:]NHTSA’s Environmental Impact Statement performed for this rulemaking shows that the preferred alternative [abolishing the Obama Administration’s fuel-economy standard] would result in 3/1,000ths of a degree Celsius increase in global average temperatures by 2100, relative to the standards finalized in 2012 [which Trump is abolishing]. On a net CO2 basis, the results are similarly minor. The following graph compares the estimated atmospheric CO2 concentration (789.76 ppm) in 2100 under the proposed standards to the estimated level (789.11 ppm) under the standards [being abolished] set forth in 2012 — or [only] an 8/100ths of a percentage increase [as compared to the Obama-standards]:

Figure 2-4 – Estimated Atmospheric CO2 Concentration in 2100

Net Benefits from Preferred Alternative

Maintaining the MY 2020 curves for MYs 2021-2026 will save American consumers, the auto industry, and the public in general a considerable amount of money as compared to if EPA retained the previously-set CO2 standards and NHTSA finalized the augural [original] standards. This was identified as the preferred alternative, in part, because it maximizes net benefits compared to the other alternatives analyzed. Comment is sought on whether this is an appropriate basis for selection. [But that comment-period has already ended.]

A 789 ppm (parts per-million) CO2 (carbon dioxide) level compares against today’s 407 ppm, and that 382 ppm increase will, according to their “Draft Environmental Impact Statement”, raise global atmospheric temperatures by an estimated “3.48°C (6.27°F)” between now and the end of this century. That document’s summary asserts:

“Global mean surface temperature is projected to increase by approximately 3.48°C (6.27°F).”

“Projected sea-level rise in 2100 ranges from a low of 76.28 centimeters (30.03 inches) … to a high of 76.34 centimeters (30.06 inches) [depending upon which policy-option they adopt].”

With ocean-levels being raised around a yard by this century’s end, and hurricane-intensities being substantially increased, many coastal areas will have to become abandoned. Their plunged property-values haven’t even begun to be priced in to their inevitable downward spiral toward zero usability and thus economic worthlessness, as the coasts move inland. Since the self-reinforcing effects of higher ppm causing higher temperatures causing even higher ppm, temperatures have become clearly a vicious circle that’s beyond control, so that a yard higher by 2010 could become ten yards higher, much faster than the Paris Climate Accord was assuming would be the case if the world makes no policy changes at all — which is what Trump wants: no policy-changes. The shoddy Paris Agreement benchmark was to avoid exceeding 1.5 degree Centigrade or around 2.7 degree Fahrenheit temperature-rise by 2100, but that now clearly cannot be achieved, and so Trump and other recent global-warming deniers are ‘vindicating’ themselves by saying that the failure to do something when something could have been done is ‘confirmation’ that they were right, after all. They were ‘right’ to say “Don’t feed the horse,” because now the horse can no longer even be salvaged.

Furthermore:

5.3.4 Tipping Points and Abrupt Climate Change 

The term tipping point is most typically used, in the context of climate change, to describe situations in which the climate system (the atmosphere, hydrosphere, land, cryosphere, and biosphere) reaches a point at which a disproportionally large or singular response in a climateaffected system occurs as a result of a moderate additional change in the inputs to that system (such as an increase in the CO2 concentration). … [It] could result in abrupt changes in the climate or any part of the climate system. Abrupt climate changes could occur so quickly and unexpectedly that human systems would have difficulty adapting to them.

They are asserting what the scientific consensus has been asserting for the past fifty years, and with ever-increasing confidence: that the graph of future temperatures is now like a hockey-stick, and we’ve reached the suddenly and increasingly upward far-right side of it, where there’s runaway global heating and will soon (perhaps within even 200 years) be global burnout — an unlivable planet.

Basically, the Trump Administration is saying that by the present century’s end, this planet will be hellish, and that it will become unlivable soon thereafter, and that nothing can be done now to prevent any of this, because it’s too late to start and runaway global heating has already begun and it can’t be stopped.

The Trump Administration is therefore saying to its Republican base, that they had been suckers to believe them when they were asserting that global warming is a hoax (and had even been making fun of the people who were taking seriously the global-warming threat), or that it’s not Man-made; Trump is now publicly saying that it is Man-made, and that Man has, in fact, done it, and it’s now too late to stop or even to slow significantly; so, we should just forget about it. Their changed message now is: Buy your gas-guzzlers, because life’s going to be hell for your grandchildren and for virtually everyone anyway, so don’t worry about it.

Rex Tillerson, before he became Trump’s Secretary of State, was the CEO of ExxonMobil; and on 29 May 2013 he addressed his stockholders likewise that the reason not to worry about global warming is that it can’t be stopped. Here is the opening of one news-report about that, at the time:

Exxon Mobil CEO: We’re Going In, Can’t Pull Up, Brace For Impact

2 June 2013. Julian Cox

May 29th in what is set to become a defining moment in the history of capitalism; Rex Tillerson, the CEO of the world’s most valuable company, Exxon Mobil (XOM), in an address to shareholders redefined the meaning of rational self interest for the markets everywhere in a short series of astonishing quotes:

“What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” “We do not see a viable pathway with any known technology today to achieve the 350 [ppm] outcome that is not devastating to economies, societies and peoples’ health and well-being around the world,”

“So the real question is, do you want to keep arguing about that and pursuing something that cannot be achieved at costs that will be detrimental? Or do you want to talk about what’s the path we should be on and how do we mitigate and prepare for the consequences as they present themselves?”

The most interesting things about these statements:

  1. No more denial of scientific evidence.
  2. No more diversion about whether human activity or something else is to blame.
  3. No more disingenuous claims that NG or Hydrogen are clean fuels.

Just an honest and straightforward macroeconomic outlook: We are on a collision course with the consequences of rising CO2 levels, we cannot afford to stop it, and so there is nothing Exxon can offer but a warning to prepare for the worst. …

Here’s one of the numerous studies that have been done showing how the free-market approach has produced this coming hell-on-earth. To summarize its proven-true message: Making suckers of people is extremely profitable, and the richest people are the ones who are the most adept at doing it. They’ve won. Pity our grandchildren.

Some American teens (who definitely aren’t suckers) are suing the U.S. Government for violating the U.S. Constitution’s requirement to “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” by the Government’s having refused to do what it must do against climate-change. The Trump Administration (on behalf of investors in America’s coal, oil, and gas corporations) unsuccessfully tried to block the suit.

Tillerson, to his stockholders, and now Trump, to his voters, say: Just have fun. Don’t worry about any grandchildren, and not even about your own children. This is the message, both to psychopathic stockholders, and to stupid voters. It’s obviously a winning message. It has already won. It’s the way any aristocracy wins: by lies, plus their societal system in which no accountability exists for the kingpins at the top of even the biggest crime that has ever been perpetrated, this world-ending crime. It is dictatorship by the aristocracy. That’s what we’ve had. And that’s the reason why this planet is becoming uninhabitable and why the process is now unstoppable — runaway global burning, soon to become hell-on-Earth. No religious “Apocalypse.” Just the result of billionaire psychopaths, and their fools.

Back in 2017, when the Paris Climate Agreement goal was “to keep global temperature rise well below 2° Celsius” and the realistic expectation was “that temperatures will rise between 2C and 4.9C by 2100”, there were no official predictions, anywhere, of a “3.48°C (6.27°F)” rise by 2100. In 2017, the fear was that the migrant-crisis might be “One Billion by 2050”, and “Up To 2 Billion Refugees By 2100”, and clearly the Trump Administration now accepts it. Trump’s response to this catastrophe is urgently to send the military and razor-wire to our southern border in order to block those people from getting out of their increasing hell. What these emigrants experience now is what all Americans will be experiencing in coming decades, but today’s refugees from the south are already experiencing it, and trying to escape it. They are trying to escape a global problem that the U.S. did more than any other country to cause.

By far, the one nation that (especially on a per-capita basis) has produced the largest percentage of CO2 in the global atmosphere is the U.S. — the very same nation that has now abandoned the Paris Climate Agreement because that Agreement doesn’t ‘sufficiently’ place the burden of clean-up from this catastrophic mess upon other nations, such as India and other near-Equatorial lands which are mainly in the near-Equatorial areas that will be suffering the most from the overheating that the U.S. has done more than any other nation to cause. For some reason, these victim-countries are not economically sanctioning and boycotting the products and services from their chief victimizer, their chief bringer-of-doom. Either the victim-countries will retaliate until the victimizer-country is forced to agree to take the exceptional steps that it would now need to take in order to reverse the global process that is unfolding, or else the victim-countries will let the U.S. continue to rape the planet. For the United States, the requirements should be and must be required to be far more stringent than are applied to the developing countries especially. If the U.S. will take that conscientious and intelligent path, then perhaps the U.S. will even lead the world to the technological breakthroughs that will now be needed in order to be able to reverse global warming. The U.S. would also benefit from doing that. Global burnout will otherwise destroy every nation. But if the victim-countries avoid forcing the U.S. to do what it must, the victim-countries will be raped even harder. Clearly, now, the United States won’t do what it needs to do, unless it’s forced to. The U.S. must be forced to become a decent member of the global community of nations. Or else, the world is doomed.

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Cleaner Lakes Mean a Healthier Environment for the Residents of Baku

MD Staff

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Travelling to or from Baku by airplane one is likely to see from the air dozens of small lakes scattered across the surrounding Absheron peninsula. While the lakes might look beautiful from high above, the reality on the ground is somewhat different.

Many of the lakes have been exposed to significant levels of pollution caused by industrial development over the past 150 years.

Azerbaijan’s capital city has around 2.5 million inhabitants today, and its population is expected to reach 3.5 million people within 15 years – growth that will require much more land, infrastructure and services to cater for the needs of its citizens.

Inevitably, Baku will expand outwards, towards old oil fields and polluted lakes that pose major health risks to people. And eventually, that polluted land and water will mean reduced property values and limited economic opportunities for residents of those outer urban areas.

That is why cleaning and regenerating the ecosystems of the lakes around Baku is so important – it will not only improve people’s health outcomes, but also lay the foundations for redevelopment and ecological protection in the future.

With support from the Korean Green Growth Trust Fund, the World Bank is helping the Government of Azerbaijan and Baku city authorities find optimum rehabilitation solutions for one of the lakes – Lake Khajasan. Close to urban areas and important infrastructure in Baku, Lake Khajasan has significant redevelopment potential. And, because it is located upstream among four lakes forming a single watershed, its water levels and water quality have important impacts on the other three lakes, groundwaters, and, eventually, seawater.

International experts, environmentalists, and water, urban and social development specialists from both Azerbaijan and the World Bank are preparing a detailed feasibility study of Lake Khojasan. And they are liaising with experts in the Republic of Korea, who have been dealing with similar challenges in their country.

Recently, a 20-member delegation from Azerbaijan, representing central and local governments, utility companies, and universities, travelled to the Republic of Korea to meet with their peers and visit lakes and rivers that are being rehabilitated.

The Azerbaijani delegation learned in great detail about the rehabilitation process – from planning to implementation – of the previously contaminated Lake Sihwa. They also visited Gwanggyo New City, an entirely new town built around two artificial lakes, and which uses a sustainable water and waste management approach.

The Azerbaijani delegation saw first-hand how the redevelopment of an area requires significant time and resources, in addition to highly diligent planning and strong coordination across several agencies. The Azeris also heard from the Korean Land and Housing about the issue of increased land value following the rehabilitation of an area, and the length of time it takes to see a boost in economic activity.

The insights and knowledge gained by the Azeri delegation during their visit to the Republic of Korea will be instrumental in helping them establish synergy and cooperation between local and international experts for the cleanup and redevelopment of the Khojasan Lake area.

And they will play a critical role in helping improve the health and quality of life of the residents of Baku.

World Bank

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Bicycle comeback amongst initiatives to help Hangzhou cut air pollution

MD Staff

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The city of Hangzhou in eastern China was once described by the Italian explorer Marco Polo as the, “finest and most splendid city in the world”. Today it is once again on the map thanks to a range of initiatives to cut air pollution and increase the livability of the city.

Indeed, many cities across China have suffered from the effects of air pollution. To remedy the situation, China introduced an Air Pollution Action Plan in 2013 to reduce dangerous particulate matter (PM) 2.5 levels.

For the city of Beijing, the solution has been to drastically eliminate the use of coal: the city closed its coal-fired power stations and banned people in surrounding areas from burning coal for heat. The city’s efforts were so effective that, while in 2013, Beijing ranked as the 40th worst city for PM 2.5 by the World Health Organization, it ranked in 187th place in 2018. As part of nationwide efforts to curb air pollutants, other cities in China followed suit and dramatically reduced their PM 2.5 levels.

The new 2018-2020 Three-year Action Plan for Winning the Blue Sky War, announced in July 2018, is the successor of the original air pollution action plan. It calls for a reduction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide by more than 15 per cent compared with 2015 levels by 2020.

Hangzhou’s bike-sharing success

The bustling city of Hangzhou, home to nearly 10 million people, is world-famous for being home to the high-tech industry, including the world’s leading e-commerce group, Alibaba.

However, like other cities in China, Hangzhou has had to tackle the scourge of air pollution. Since most of the Hangzhou’s PM 2.5 pollution comes from vehicle emissions, Hangzhou city authority started China’s very first public bike-sharing scheme. Launched in 2008, the primary purpose of this initiative was to a provide a convenient public service for short journeys in the city. They ended up with two knock-on benefits: less traffic and a reduction in air pollution.

In 2017, when the number of bikes hit a peak, a total of 10 companies, including commercial ones, operated more than 882,000 bikes. The number of bike trips is estimated in the range of hundreds of millions since 2008.

Furthermore, the integration of the public bike-sharing scheme with other public transport in the city has increased its attractiveness and ease-of-use. “This healthy transport has made our city better and its air quality is good,” says Tao Xuejun, general manager of the Hangzhou Public Bicycle Service.

China was known as the “Kingdom of the bicycle” in the 1980s. With economic progress, many people moved to motorized forms of transport. The re-emergence of the bicycle in Hangzhou since 2008 may have been somewhat unexpected but its contribution to helping reduced air pollution is undeniable.

In 2017, the Hangzhou bike-sharing scheme won an award from the Ashden charity which said that “the combination of convenient and free bicycles, well separated bicycle lanes and good public transport appears to have led to reduced use of cars and their associated congestion, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions”.

“Hangzhou is a great example of how cities can introduce initiatives like bike sharing to encourage people to get out of their cars and reduce air pollution,” says Rob de Jong, Head of UN Environment’s Air Quality and Mobility Unit. “We really need to encourage city governments and planners around the world to design cities for people, and not cars – leading to safer and cleaner living spaces”.

Switching to non-polluting vehicles an international priority

Tackling air pollution by removing cars from the road is the focus of UN Environment’s Share the Road Programme. The Programme is centered around the concept that everyone begins and ends their journeys as pedestrians, and in cities, some people rely almost exclusively on walking and cycling. Yet, investors and governments continue to prioritize road space for cars. To make the switch to more eco-friendly means of transport, UN Environment supports governments and other stakeholders in developing countries to systematically prioritize and invest in infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

Bike-sharing schemes have not been without criticism, however. As the number of bicycles grew rapidly across China, many found their way to massive dumps, as companies went bankrupt because of insufficient demand. Vast piles of impounded, abandoned or broken bicycles have become a familiar sight in many big cities.

Hangzhou itself has had to cut the number of bikes. Cities around the world are learning from this example and ensuring they have full control over the number of bikes released into the city within their bike-sharing schemes.

Other initiatives in Hangzhou to reduce air pollution

Conscious of the risk air pollution poses to health, Hangzhou has implemented many other measures to improve air quality. It expanded its metro system to reduce traffic and invested in thousands of electric buses and taxis.

The city also developed an innovative battery-swapping mechanism for the its electric taxi fleet, allowing one electric taxi to travel for 230 kilometers on two to three fully charged batteries every day. Hangzhou’s goal is to reach a total fleet of 1,000 electric taxis, ultimately aiming at a zero-emission taxi fleet.

UN Environment

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