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Dangerous Plastics Are a Threat to Us and Future Generations

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Every day people make decisions about what to eat, sometimes opting for colorful fruits and veggies, sometimes finding the smell of bacon irresistible.  At the end of the day people are controlling their own health.  What is remarkable though, is the possibility that something one swallows today could have a lasting effect on future offspring – children, grandchildren, great grandchildren.  New research is finding a generational impact of certain chemicals.  This time it’s not the bacon we’re worried about – but plastics and the toxins within them.  

Twenty years ago, researchers  at Washington State University discovered accidentally that the now-infamous bisphenol A (BPA) was leaching out of plastic cages, harming the mice within.  The contamination caused abnormalities in mice eggs and fertility.  Numerous subsequent studies found BPA exposure affects adult fertility and health across species, including monkeys, fish, and humans.  Known to decrease sperm count in rats and to cause breast cancer in women, BPA was banned in 2012 by the FDA from being used in baby bottles and sippy cups.  Yet BPA is still used in many products, including epoxy resins used to coat canned foods.  A 2004 study of 2,517 people found that 93% had detectable quantities of BPA’s by-product in their urine. 

Since the toxic effects of BPA came to light, several replacement bisphenols were quickly brought to market by chemical companies and are now in widespread use.  Twenty years after the BPA toxicity discovery, by remarkable chance, the same Washington State University lab recently noticed again that something was amiss with their mice.  This time the mice were housed in cages comprised of replacement bisphenols, largely believed to be safer than BPA.  The researchers subsequently performed controlled studies with several of the replacement bisphenols including BPS, a widely used replacement.  

Results demonstrated that the new bisphenols behaved similarly to BPA, causing health problems including detrimental effects on fertility in both males and females, reported in Cell Biology in September 2018.  Scientist Sarah Hunt explained, “This paper reports a strange déjà vu experience in our laboratory.”  What the lab discovered once with BPA, it was seeing again with the replacements.  Perhaps most troubling were the long-lasting effects of the toxins.  Even if all bisphenols could be magically eliminated today, the toxic effects would still last about three generations through the germline of people already exposed.  This means bisphenols ingested today could affect the fertility of one’s great grandchildren.

The bisphenol case demonstrates that FDA bans do not necessarily solve the root problem.  Chemical companies tend to roll out similar chemicals to those that have been banned, because this is the easiest way to bring something to market quickly.  But more testing is needed before chemicals are released into the environment.  Long term problems such as generational infertility and cancer risk often cannot easily be examined in clinical trials, and environmental effects are not rigorously analyzed prior to release.  

The Washington State University study also proved that damaged and heated plastics are particularly deadly, as the damaged cages leached more toxins.  This should serve as a warning for those who microwave food in plastic containers for their families.  And it should remind us that discarded plastic bottles degrading in oceans and rivers are releasing toxins that cause irreversible infertility.

The current estimate of plastics in our oceans is approximately 150 million metric tons. By 2050, the amount is expected to ‘outweigh the fish,’ according to Jim Leape, co-director of the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions.  A recent study has determined microplastics (small plastic particles) are present in every river and lake in Britain.  And they have been found in tap water, everywhere from the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC to the Trump Grill in New York.  A study of 159 drinking water samples on five continents found that 83% of those samples were contaminated.  Plastics are everywhere, from the highest mountains to the deepest parts of the ocean and Arctic.  Nanoplastics less than 50 nanometers long have even been found in plankton, which is ingested by fish that humans eat.

Scientists are finding that plastics are disrupting marine mammals’ ability to reproduce.  Many forms of plastic including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Bisphenol A are endocrine disruptors, meaning they affect the hormonal systems of animals.  An orca of adult age called Lulu, researchers recently found, was barren as if she was a juvenile.  Analysis revealed very high levels of PCBs in her lipid tissues.  One orca pod off the coast of Scotland has not produced a calf in 25 years.  Despite bans on PCBs 30 years ago,  toxins remain in orca mothers’ milk, and are passed from mother to baby.  A recent study published in the journal Science predicts that half the world’s population of orcas will be extinct in just a few decades due to PCB poisoning.  Researchers have also found that despite the PCB ban in Europe, levels of PCBs have not decreased, indicated that they may be leaching out of landfills.  Hormone disruptors have also been found to impair male frogs’ fertility, and to cause tadpoles to more frequently develop ovaries rather than testicles, thus skewing the proportion of males to females.  Similar problems have been found in fish.  Reproductive risks associated with endocrine disrupting chemicals span species.

Bisphenol A is known to decrease sperm count and to cause cancer in many species.  Its counterpart replacement plastics (BPS, BPF, BPAF, BPZ, BPP, BHPF… to name just a few), researchers have recently discovered, are no better.  Whether these pollutants have already affected humans is anyone’s guess, but it would be wise to view statistics during the time period since plastics became popular, starting in the 1960s, and to see if there is a significant trend over time.  

It appears there is.  Notably, a 2017 study found that sperm counts per milliliter declined by more than 50% from 1973 to 2011, with total sperm counts down almost 60%.  Two other recent studies have demonstrated that over the past few decades in the U.S. and Europe, both sperm count and motility have decreased.

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) recently debated a proposed legally binding treaty to address plastic pollution.  One objective of the proposed treaty was to phase out single use plastics by 2025.  Norway also suggested a global agreement for handling ocean plastic pollution.  Sadly, the U.S. was the largest voice against the proposed treaty and the proposed global waste disposal plan.  

Eventually a non-legally-binding agreement was reached in which the U.S. watered down the language to “significantly reduce” plastics by 2030, eleven years from now.  One UN delegate described the Trump representatives as “trying to remove all targets and timelines.”  

Meanwhile, the U.S. has been exporting large quantities of plastics overseas for years, historically mostly to China.  In the previous year, 70% was exported to China and Hong Kong.  But in 2018, China banned imports of plastic waste.  Since the ban the U.S. has looked to poorer nations for its overseas garbage dump.  Unearthed, Greenpeace’s research group, has found that in the first six months of 2018, almost half of U.S. plastic waste was sent to developing countries: Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam.  U.S. plastic waste exports to Thailand went up by nearly 2,000% this year.  

Most developing nations do not have sufficient recycling infrastructure to properly handle plastic waste.  On Earth Day 2018, the top producers of mismanaged ocean plastic waste were ranked by tons of waste.  The top five after China were Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.  In some cases as in parts of the Philippines, recycling is done laboriously by hand, picking bottles out of large dumps.  As this is very difficult and time consuming, large quantities find their way into oceans and rivers.  Sadly and not surprisingly, the Pasig River in the Philippines transports approximately 72,000 tons of plastic downstream, and has been declared “biologically dead” since 1990.  Instead of helping these countries to develop recycling infrastructure, we are sending them more toxic waste.

We might think we are kicking the can down the road by sending plastics overseas but they will wash right back up on the Hawaiian and California coast.  Beachgoers might witness solid litter washing ashore, or unearthed from the stomachs of dead whales.  Or they might not notice the pollution  — instead unknowingly consuming microplastics in their next Ahi Tuna sandwich.  On the East Coast, one might encounter them in a glass of water at the Trump Grill in New York.  There is only one world sink after all.  Tossing poison to the other end of the tub only works for so long – it will inevitably, over time, mix and wash back to your side of the water.  And when one of us is diagnosed with cancer, do we really know the cause? 

It is instructive to remember the orca Lulu, a mammal like us, who no longer produces eggs.  And to remember that if sperm counts continue to decline at the present rate, they will soon reach levels where it becomes difficult to have children.  By then, the world’s water supply may be irreversibly contaminated and an enforceable treaty will be too late.

Postponing a legally binding treaty may put us on the path of our fellow mammals the orcas, half of which already face inevitable extinction worldwide.  And we can not forget the tragedy of the orca Tahlequah, who last summer carried her dead calf for a record 17 days and 1,000 miles in mourning. 

Eleven years may be too late.  

Author’s note: this piece first appeared in CommonDreams.org

Meena Miriam Yust is an attorney based in Chicago, Illinois. Educated at Vassar College and Case Western Reserve University School of Law, she published a draft Migratory Insect Treaty with commentary in the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law.

Green Planet

Warm Winters and Global Warming: Does the COP work?

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We have passed 2022 with many environmental problems and the impact of a changing climate, natural disasters that cannot be avoided, wars that are still happening, and social habituation with the COVID-19 outbreak. However, more than the things that have been mentioned, humans who are in this anthropocene period need to be more cautious in responding to their environment. The loss of many animals and the increase in seawater temperature are indications that the real threats from the environment are no longer in “alert” or “alert” status but are already at the “danger” level. Some scientists are predicting a worst-case scenario of the earth in the next few years.

In early 2023, the news was shocked by the fact that the Saudi Arabian desert had become green due to the incessant rains in recent months. Saudi Arabia, a desert country, has become a green land, something that has never existed in history, violating its natural laws. It’s different in Arabia and Europe, which go through the winter and experience a temperature rise so that the ice is no longer present in some parts of Europe this year. Although there are numerous traditions and sports practiced by the community that can only be practiced in winter, for example, ski sports,

In 2022, the warmest weather record was broken into different parts of the world, including England, where it was recorded above 40 degrees Celsius. The cause of this increase in temperature is triggered by many factors, of course; for example, severe forest fires that hit parts of Europe and Australia are related to hot weather. During this time, the weather in Pakistan and India is very warm because the temperature reaches 51 degrees Celsius.

In a range of studies, scientists have concluded that the increase in temperature is probably due to climate change. Rising temperatures are expected to negatively impact humans and nature, including frequent droughts and diseases caused by warm weather.

The British Meteorological Office predicts that the Earth’s temperature will rise in 2023, making it one of the warmest years in the world.

Temperatures are forecast to rise for the 10th consecutive year, when global temperatures have risen at least one degree Celsius above average.

The world is about 1.1 degrees Celsius hotter compared to the period before the Industrial Revolution in 1750–1900, when humans started using large amounts of fossil fuels and released emission gases into the atmosphere.

Temperatures on Earth in 2023 are expected to be 1.08 to 1.32 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial or pre-industrial average.

COP and its myths

Meanwhile, countries around the world are committed to reducing emissions to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees Celsius to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Many countries around the world have come to an agreement on that commitment since 2015. Similarly, the real actions that have been achieved However, the reality is that global temperatures also become warmer each year without being able to avoid it. The existence of the COP, which aims to slow the rate of increase in the earth’s temperature, actually needs to be questioned again, starting from the formation of the COP itself, the procedures for implementing decisions, and the time-consuming implementation.

Among the things that make the COP less reliable in efforts to control the earth’s temperature, there are:

Firstly, the fact that the COP, which is under the umbrella of the UN, is not a suitable place for efforts to reduce carbon emission commitments because, basically, the UN was originally designed to bring about peace between people, while climate change must be designed for humans to face an environment that cannot be negotiated like humans.

Secondly, the UN has a voluntary system. There is no obligation to follow and obey the rules that are in place. Not all countries in the world have participated in the 2015 COP Paris Agreement. Countries of the world can leave the UN at any time if they are deemed inappropriate and are no longer sought after. There is no ultimate coercive law; it’s all voluntary.

The third, the COP was designed inappropriately based on the needs of nature and the environment, because the environment cannot speak like humans do, but the agendas and communiqués in the COP are prepared based on the needs and interests of the countries in the COP, where the votes are the most and are considered most profitable; that’s how the agenda and the rules of the COP were made. This is clear from previous COPs 26 and 27.

At COP26, the phrase “stop” the use of fossil fuels was modified to “periodically decrease” the use of fossil fuels. With regard to COP27, the discussion focused on financing and the financing system established by developed countries for developing countries. The grants that were issued during the Paris agreement were considered to have not been on target; there was a lot of suspicion in the flow of grants, not to mention that developed countries like America were considered to not be keeping their promises to spend climate change funds as promised at the beginning of the agreement. China, which produces the second-largest gas emissions after America, is considered not entitled to climate compensation funds, but as the second-largest economy, it should contribute funds.

Indirectly, every year, the COP even looks like a myth because they say that if you do this, it’s going to produce this. All the agendas which have been agreed are but temporary human consolations. It’s not that the COP under the umbrella of the United Nations is not functioning properly; all plans and aspirations are actually logical and can be implemented; it’s just who and how these commitments are carried out that makes everything feel like a myth.

An insight into the climate disaster in the future

The IPCC released its most recent report in August 2021 by analyzing 14,000 studies, 234 experts from 65 countries concluded that the earth’s temperature will rise 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times of 1800–1850 in 2040.

The temperature increase is faster than forecast for 2050. According to this 4,000-page report over seven years, rising global temperatures cannot be avoided even if each country achieves net-zero or net-zero emissions by 2050.

The meaning of this research is that certain countries will run out of water, some lands will sink, diseases from ancient viruses will return to life and attack humans more than COVID-19, there will be no ice in winter, and predictions of extinction or the genetic transformation of humans will occur.

A bright light in the dark

Human instinct will always seek to prevent catastrophes, hunger and fear. Even though the rate of change on the earth is getting worse day by day, several new breakthroughs have still been successfully created by humans to meet their needs in order to survive. Examples such as air conditioners are created by people to cope with warm summers. Cell farms that can cut livestock production costs, carbon bankers for energy, and even plans to occupy the moon and discover new habitable planets All efforts outside of climate agreements and negotiations will always be a way of life for the good hopes of human life in the future, especially for today’s young generation, which will inherit the earth in the future. However, it is important to understand that regardless of the quality of existing discoveries, they will not be the same as the clean air that still exists today. Similarly, whatever the quality of the house in the future, it will not necessarily be as comfortable as the land we live on today.

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Seals, Satellites and Dung Beetles -What Links Them?

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Imagine hunting for a fish dinner in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of the night without flashlight, compass, or iPhone . . . and then to find a way back to land.  This is what seals must accomplish on a regular basis to survive.  These pinnipeds, so often seen posing with a ball balanced perfectly on a whiskered nose or bowing gracefully for a circus display, have skills that cannot be seen on the stage.  In fact, they give our close relatives the chimpanzees something to envy.  

One sign of intelligence is an ability to recognize and respond to human gestures.  Chimpanzees have difficulty doing this.  Dogs are one of a few species capable of doing so.  It turns out seals, too, can recognize human gestures and, surprisingly, perform even better than dogs at these tasks, as has been demonstrated through research.  The grey seal outshone almost all the other animal contestants.  

A dog resting comfortably by the fireplace after a nice meal is a familiar sight for many of us, and it does not take a stretch of the imagination to picture a seal doing the same on a bit of rock or sand after a dinner of fish.  The intelligence of the two creatures is comparable, and to some degree, the look of their furry heads, pointy noses, and soulful eyes.  Perhaps it’s time to extend a little of the love we feel for our pets to their oceanic counterparts far out in the sea.  There is a good reason.  

Seals face many threats in the wild — loss of habitat, loss of food, pollution, numerous climate change impacts.  But there may be a new one.  Seals hunt for food at night and must find their way back to shore.  Studies have demonstrated that harbor seals can navigate using a lodestar and learned star courses. What would happen if this vital star map was disrupted?

Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites are brightly visible in the night sky, and could interfere with star navigation.  SpaceX, the largest producer of LEO satellites to date, has launched over 3,000 Starlink satellites with plans to launch as many as 42,000.  And while SpaceX is the the largest producer of LEO satellites, it is not the only one. 

Astronomers have raised concerns that low Earth orbit satellites are visible and inhibit scientific research.  The International Association of Astronomers has set up a Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference as a response.  The astronomer Meredith Rawls has described the plans of launching thousands more satellites in the coming years as “an unsustainable trajectory”.  

In addition to creating streaks in photos and hampering astronomical observations, satellites will also handicap creatures like seals, migratory birds, and even the humble dung beetle, all who use stars for navigation

Among birds, Indigo buntings prefer to travel at night during migration. Scientists studying the buntings found that the birds rely on star patterns to determine north.  European robins and yellow underwing moths also use the stars in travel.  

If the Milky Way map is disrupted by a projected 65,000 satellites as is expected in a few years, they will light up the sky.  They will not only affect astronomy research, but may also affect the survival of many creatures large and small.  There are likely many more species that rely on stars beyond the ones discussed in this article – scientists have only scratched the surface of star navigation research. 

Global Internet is a necessary purpose, but if it costs species their lives, then perhaps we could have global internet that is just a tad slower — with satellites not quite so low in orbit. 

There is another aspect of LEO satellites that is a cause for concern.  It is one that threatens not only the survival of other species but also our own.  Starlink satellites burn up in the atmosphere leaving a residue (aluminum oxide) that reflects sunlight and could deplete the ozone layer.  Furthermore, the full effects of aluminum in the atmosphere are unknown and could be severe.  SpaceX might argue that meteoroid material comes in every day – but it is made up mostly of oxygen, magnesium, and silicon.  Satellites, by contrast, are made primarily of aluminum.  Aluminum can burn to reflective aluminum oxide, which may alter the climate to worsen warming of the planet.  Scientists are also concerned that aluminum oxide could create a hole in the ozone layer.  

As recently as February 2022, about 40 Starlink Satellites burned up in the atmosphere.  And burning up is the ultimate fate for all of them — all 42,000 plus.  

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is at present examining whether satellite licensing should require environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but it may take considerable time, from months to years, for a decision to be reached, and the decision may not end up affecting satellites already approved and in space.  Since 1986, the FCC has enjoyed a categorical exclusion from NEPA.  One can only hope for a prompt determination that can have a preventive effect.

An uncontrolled aluminum experiment capable of creating holes in the ozone layer and exacerbating global warming is highly risky because we may not have a second chance. 

We used to think lead paint was a great idea.  Years later, we discovered health risks and began removing it.  The trouble is, if we find out a few years from now that aluminum is destroying the atmosphere, we cannot dispense with it as easily as the lead paint. 

The seals are enduring the consequences of human activity in more than one way.  Is it too much to ask that we give them a chance?  

Author’s note: This piece first appeared in CommonDreams.org.

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Climate change and food security in the 21st century

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Climate change is one of the many factors that influence food security. Worldwide, levels of hunger remain alarmingly high. In 2021, they exceeded all earlier records, as stated by the Global Report on Food Crises. Food is not distributed evenly around the world, so most of the world will not go hungry; however, the poorest parts of the world will be hungrier than they are now. More people are going hungry than ever before, and the UN warns that the number is growing. The latest UN report on global hunger shows that we are regressing. No fewer than 828 million people went hungry one way or another every day last year. Natural disasters, conflicts, and rising temperatures are alarming for food security. Prices of crops and wheat have amplified dramatically and will continue to do so. To avert a global food catastrophe Billions of dollars are needed. Apart from the fact that it is too late, what can we do?

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem, but even before the pandemic, hunger was on the rise because of poverty, conflicts, a growing population, disease, and climate change. According to the IPCC report, climate change could lead to an extra 183 million people on the edge of acute hunger by 2050. A warmer planet affects how food is grown and distributed around the world. Extreme heat waves, floods in northern Europe, droughts in China, and extreme wildfires in Spain and France are examples.

By 2021, global hunger will have reached nearly 830 million people. According to the UN report; Food insecurity has also increased the gender gap. At least 45 million young children go through wasting (the noxious form of malnutrition).

According to a report in Kenya, people wait for cash payouts from Kenya’s government money to cope with the rising food crisis, and how much they receive depends on how vulnerable their families are. In northern Kenya, savings are held in livestock; a man without livestock cannot provide food to their family; drought wipes out a family’s fortunes and it takes years to recover, so they have to make sure that their herd stays alive; it’s their priority.

How have Russia and the Ukraine war triggered the situation?

Conflicts have emerged, as have the effects of climate change on food structures. Nations have not made progress since COVID 19, and climate change is exposing how vulnerable global food systems are; additionally, the war in Ukraine has caused inflation and food insecurity, and numerous forms of climate disaster have occurred around the world, primarily in the global south. As Russia’s war rages around them, Ukrainian farmers go hard at work, which is critical as Ukraine is a chief supplier of grains, cooking oils, and other food items to the rest of the world. However, both making food and receiving it from the rest of the world are becoming increasingly difficult for Ukraine. Some farmers fear that it will rapidly become unbearable. When big nations get sanctioned, particularly unilaterally, then everybody suffers especially poor nations where there is still a food crisis, let alone commodities and other such things.

It is no doubt that the war has led to a massive and deteriorating food security situation in Ukraine, disrupting livelihoods during the agricultural growing season, creating limitations for physical access to inputs, and destroying homes, productive assets, agricultural and forest land, and roads. Russia and Ukraine export approximately one-third of the world’s wheat and barley, as well as more than 70% of their sunflower oil and are major corn traders. Russia is the largest global fertilizer producer. World food prices were already rising, and the war has made things worse, blocking some 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain from getting to the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia. Due to Russian obstructions of the Black Sea coast, almost 90 percent of the wheat and other grains from Ukrainian fields that are transported to world markets by sea have been affected. Some grain is being redirected through Europe by rail, road, and river, but the quantity is a drop in the bucket compared with sea routes. The consignments are also backed up as Ukraine’s rail gauges don’t match those of its nationals to the west. The costs of supply chain disruptions have both accelerated and slowed global economic recovery. Several parts of the world are facing labor shortages, further postponing transport networks. Due to a lack of truck drivers, unloaded ships have become congested.

How can we prevent food insecurity from becoming the next global pandemic?

Climate change is a far more serious issue and threat than the nuclear threat. What makes this bigger is that the majority of us do not consider this a threat because there is no Hiroshima of climate change. The government should levy taxes on more carbon emission businesses to raise awareness about environmental issues because we pollute most of the water that is available to us. Anytime we go to Sea View, people throw litter there. To alleviate climate change, keep it at levels where it is still possible to ensure and maintain everyone’s food security and nutrition. In that effort, agriculture also has a role to play, keeping in mind that food security is the priority. Adaptation to climate change in agriculture and food systems for food security and nutrition will require enabling investments, policies, and institutions in various areas where changes on the ground are needed. For the world’s poor, becoming accustomed to climate change and ensuring food security go hand in hand. Food can be grown at a higher density and quality with additional hands-on processes than with existing commercial farming practices. Effectiveness has taken precedence over quality and quantity. Commercial farming practices are harsh on the environment. Permaculture and other maintainable methods can together increase the food supply and help the environment at the same time. Of course, that would involve a complete modification of the lifestyle and economy of the world. If everyone grew their food and gave back to nature, we would be good.

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