A sweeping U.N. report says methane is far worse for the climate, human health than previously thought

A sweeping U.N. report says methane is far worse for the climate, human health than previously thought

Andrew Freedman                            May 6, 2021

Methane emissions from oil and gas, agriculture and other sources are contributing to thousands more deaths per year from air pollution than previously thought, while simultaneously leading to a rapid increase in global average temperatures, according to a comprehensive new U.N. report.

Why it matters: The report, which is the most thorough study of methane’s contribution to global warming, public health ailments, and solutions to date.

  • It shows both the perils involved with continuing to drill and transport oil and natural gas and the range of available low-cost solutions to bring down emissions.

The details: The world would need to cut 40 to 45% of human-caused global methane emissions by 2030 in order to avoid 0.3°C of warming.

  • About 30% of the cuts in methane emissions by 2030 would come from targeted measures, such as containing leaks in natural gas pipelines.
  • Another 15% of the emissions cuts would come from broader efforts to decarbonize the economy, such as turning away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources, the report finds.
  • Inge Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program which co-produced the report, told reporters on a call Thursday morning that it’s no longer optional to tackle methane emissions.
  • “Without tackling this we cannot hit 1.5°C and we will certainly overshoot the [2°C target]. So, I think… that this is on the must have list.”

The big picture: Methane is a greenhouse gas that, while it is far more ephemeral in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide (it only lasts in the air about 10 years, compared to hundreds to a thousand years for a molecule of CO2), is about ten times more potent as a global warming contributor.

  • Methane concentrations have risen rapidly during the past few decades, to record highs that are incompatible with the Paris Agreement’s 2°C temperature target relative to the preindustrial era, the report notes.
  • According to the report, there is “strong evidence” that the increases in methane amounts detected since the 2010s were “primarily attributable” to increased emissions from fossil fuel-related activities.
  • This period coincides with the fracking boom and growth in oil and gas production in the U.S. Methane is the main component of natural gas, and the report focuses on leak prevention, detection, and sealing abandoned wells as cost-saving measures that industry could implement.

Of note: The study also finds that there are considerable low cost to money-saving measures that oil and gas companies can take to cut their methane emissions from pipelines, drilling sites, and other facilities.

  • However, it finds that expanding natural gas infrastructure and usage without relying on currently unproven technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere is “incompatible” with limiting global warming to keeping global warming to 1.5°C relative to the preindustrial era.
  • “One thing the report calls for very strongly is not building any more of this fossil fuel infrastructure if we are phasing this out over the next couple of decades,” said Drew Shindell, an Earth scientist at Duke University and lead author of the new report.
  • In other words, the report calls into question the popular view in Washington that natural gas is a growing, so-called “bridge fuel” for use until renewables can more reliable supply power to the grid.
  • Other solutions would be employed to cut methane emissions from agriculture and coal sectors.

Context: The study also shows that methane emissions have much more significant health impacts than previously thought.

  • For every million metric tons of methane emissions that’s reduced, about 1,430 annual premature deaths would be avoided, researchers found.
  • Methane emissions are a contributor to ground-level ozone pollution, which is a deadly form of air pollution that can aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

What they’re saying: “Of all the short lived climate pollutants, methane has by far the largest current warming impact, accounting for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it is therefore now by far the top priority, short-lived climate pollutant that we need to tackle,” said Rick Duke, senior advisor to John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy on climate.

Climate Change: Everything You Need to Know

Climate Change: Everything You Need to Know

Meredith Rosenberg        May 5, 2021


Climate Change: Everything You Need to Know
Paul Souders / Stone / Getty Images
What Is Climate Change? Is It Different From Global Warming?

Climate change is actually not a new phenomenon. Scientists have been studying the connection between human activity and the effect on the climate since the 1800s, although it took until the 1950s to find evidence suggesting a link.

Since then, the amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases) in the atmosphere have steadily increased, taking a sharp jump in the late 1980s when the summer of 1988 became the warmest on record. (There have been many records broken since then.) But climate change is not a synonym for global warming.

The term global warming entered the lexicon in the 1950s, but didn’t become a common buzzword until a few decades later when more people started taking notice of a warming climate. Except climate change encompasses a greater realm than just rising temperatures. Trapped gases also affect sea-level rise, animal habitats, biodiversity and weather patterns. For example, Texas’ severe winter storms in February 2021 demonstrate how the climate isn’t merely warming.

Why Is Climate Change Important? Why Does It Matter?


Despite efforts from forward thinkers such as SpaceX Founder Elon Musk to colonize Mars, Earth remains our home for the foreseeable future, and the more human activity negatively impacts the climate, the less habitable it will become. It’s estimated that Earth has already warmed about one degree Celsius, or two degrees Fahrenheit, since the start of the Industrial Revolution around the 1750s, although climate change tracking didn’t start until the late 1800s. That warming number may not sound like much, but this increase has already resulted in more frequent and severe wildfires, hurricanes, floods, droughts and winter storms, to name some examples.

Environmental Impacts

Then there’s biodiversity loss, another fallout of climate change that’s threatening rainforests and coral reefs and accelerating species extinction. Take rainforests, which act as natural carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But as rampant deforestation is occurring everywhere from Brazil’s Amazon to Borneo, fewer trees mean that rainforests are becoming carbon sources, emitting more carbon than they’re absorbing. Meanwhile, coral reefs are dying as warming ocean temperatures trigger bleaching events, which cause corals to reject algae, their main food and life source. Fewer trees, coral reefs and other habitats also equate to fewer species. Known as the sixth mass extinction, a 2019 UN report revealed that up to a million plant and animal species could become extinct within decades.

Human Impact

It can be easy to overlook climate change in day-to-day life, or even realize that climate change is behind it. Notice there’s yet another romaine lettuce recall due to E. Coli? Research suggests that E. Coli bacteria are becoming more common in our food sources as it adapts to climate change. Can’t find your favorite brand of coffee beans anymore? Or that the price has doubled? Climate change is affecting that too. Climate change is also worsening air quality and seasonal allergies, along with polluting tap water. Not least, many preliminary studies have also drawn a line between climate change and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that is still gripping much of the world. Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently until the root causes, such as deforestation, are addressed.

Speaking of larger-scale issues, global water scarcity is already happening more frequently. The Caribbean is facing water shortages due to rising temperatures and decreased rainfall; Australia’s dams may run dry by 2022 as severe wildfires increase and Cape Town, South Africa has already faced running out of water.

As touched upon earlier, it’s one thing to be inconvenienced by a lack of romaine lettuce for a couple of weeks or higher coffee bean prices, but reports warn how climate change will continue to threaten global food security, to the point of triggering a worldwide food crisis if temperatures surpass two degrees Celsius.

Many of these factors are already contributing to climate migration, forcing large numbers of people to relocate to other parts of the world in search of better living conditions.

Unless more immediate, drastic action is taken to combat climate change, future generations will have to contend with worst-case scenario projections by the end of the 21st century, not limited to coastal cities going underwater, including Miami; lethal heat levels from South Asia to Central Africa; and more frequent extreme weather events involving hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, droughts, floods, blizzards and more.

What’s Happening and Why?


The Earth’s temperature has largely remained stable until industrial times and the introduction of greenhouse gases. These gases have forced the atmosphere to retain heat, as evidenced by rising global temperatures. As the planet grows warmer, glaciers melt faster, sea levels rise, severe flooding increases and droughts and extreme weather events become more deadly.

The Greenhouse Effect

In the late 1800s, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius studied the connection between the amount of atmospheric carbon and its ability to warm and cool the Earth, and while his initial calculations suggested extreme warming as carbon increased, researchers didn’t start to take human-induced climate change seriously until the late 20th century.

But proof of human-led climate change can be traced to the 1850s, and satellites are among the ways that scientists have been tracking increased greenhouse gases and their climate impact in more recent years. Climate researchers have also documented warmer oceans, ocean acidification, shrinking ice sheets, decreased snow amounts and extreme weather as among the events resulting from greenhouse gases heating the planet.

Numerous factors contribute to the production of greenhouse gases, known as the greenhouse effect. One of the biggest causes involve burning fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas, to power everything from cars to daily energy needs (electricity, heat). From 1970-2011, fossil fuels have comprised 78 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Big Ag is another greenhouse contributor, particularly beef production, with the industry adding 10 percent in 2019. This is attributed to clearing land for crops and grazing and growing feed, along with methane produced by cows themselves. In the U.S. alone, Americans consumed 27.3 billion pounds of beef in 2019.

Then there’s rampant deforestation occurring everywhere from the Amazon to Borneo. A 2021 study from Rainforest Foundation Norway found that two-thirds of the world’s rainforests have already been destroyed or degraded. In Brazil, deforestation reached a 12-year-high in 2020 under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. As it stands, reports predict that the Amazon rainforest will collapse by 2064. Rainforests are important carbon sinks, meaning the trees capture and remove carbon from the atmosphere. As rainforests collapse, the remaining trees will begin emitting more greenhouse gases than they’re absorbing.

Meanwhile, a recent study revealed that abandoned oil and gas wells are leaking more methane than previously believed, with U.S. wells contributing up to 20 percent of annual methane emissions.

Not least is the cement industry. Cement is heavily used throughout the global construction industry, and accounts for around eight percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

Natural Climate Change

Granted, natural climate change exists as well, and can be traced throughout history, from solar radiation triggering the Ice Ages to the asteroid strike that rapidly raised global temperatures and eliminated dinosaurs and many other species in the process. Other sources of natural climate change impacts include volcano eruptions, ocean currents and orbital changes, but these sources generally have smaller and shorter-term environmental impacts.

How We Can Combat Climate Change


While the latest studies and numbers can often feel discouraging about society’s ability to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening, there’s still time to take action.

As a Society

In 2015 at COP 21 in Paris, 197 countries came together to sign the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty agreeing to limit global warming in this century to two degrees Celsius, and ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels; it’s believed that the planet has warmed one degree Celsius since 1750. Studies show that staying within the two-degree range will prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. Achieving this goal requires participating parties to drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later. However, there have already been numerous setbacks since then, from former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in 2020 to world leaders, such as China, the world’s biggest polluter, failing to enact aggressive climate action plans. Yet many of the treaty participants have been slow to implement changes, putting the world on track to hit 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century even if the initial goals are met. However, it’s worth noting that U.S. President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement in 2021, and pledged to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2030.

Then there’s the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 global agreement to phase out ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals that were commonly used in air-conditioning, refrigeration and aerosols. Recent studies show that parts of the ozone are recovering, proving that a unified commitment to combatting climate change issues does make a difference.

On a smaller scale, carbon offset initiatives allow companies and individuals to invest in environmental programs that offset the amount of carbon that’s produced through work or lifestyle. For example, major companies (and carbon emitters) such as United Airlines and Shell have pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in part by participating in carbon offset programs that remove carbon from the atmosphere. The problem is that these companies are still producing high levels of fossil fuel emissions.

While individuals can make a small impact through carbon offsets, the greater responsibility lies with carbon-emitting corporations to find and implement greener energy alternatives. This translates to car companies producing electric instead of gas vehicles or airlines exploring alternative fuel sources. It also requires major companies to rely more on solar and wind energy for their energy needs.

In Our Own Lives

While it’s up to corporations to do the heavy lifting of carbon reduction, that doesn’t mean individuals can’t make a difference. Adopting a vegan lifestyle, using public transportation, switching to an electric car and becoming a more conscious consumer are all ways to help combat climate change.


Consuming meat relies on clearing land for crops and animals, while raising and killing livestock contributes to about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. By comparison, choosing a plant-based diet could reduce greenhouse gas footprints by as much as 70 percent, especially when choosing local produce and products.

Public Transportation

Riding public trains, subways, buses, trams, ferries and other types of public transportation is another easy way to lower your carbon footprint, considering that gas-powered vehicles contribute 95 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric Vehicles

Electric cars and trucks have come down in price as more manufacturers enter the field, and these produce far lower emissions than their gas counterparts. Hybrid vehicles are another good alternative for lowering individual emission contributions.

Conscious Consumption

Buying locally produced food and items is another way to maintain a lower carbon footprint, as the products aren’t shipped or driven long distances. Supporting small companies that are committed to sustainability is another option, especially when it comes to clothes. Fast fashion has become a popular option thanks to its price point, but often comes at the expense of the environment and can involve unethical overseas labor practices. Not least, plastic saturates every corner of the consumer market, but it’s possible to find non-plastic alternatives with a little research, from reusable produce bags to baby bottles.

Climate Activism

Those interested in becoming even more involved can join local climate action organizations. Popular groups include the Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, to name a few. Voting, volunteering, calling local representatives and participating in climate marches are additional ways to raise your voice.


It’s taken centuries to reach a climate tipping point, with just a matter of decades left to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. But there’s still hope of controlling a warming climate as long as individuals, companies and nations make an immediate concerted effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions. As the world already experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic, a rapid unified response can make all the difference.

 Meredith Rosenberg is a senior editor at EcoWatch. She holds a Master’s from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NYC and a B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia.

‘Which climate change jobs will be in high demand in the future?’

Posted in Ask Sara

‘Which climate change jobs will be in high demand in the future?’

If you’re interested in helping the environment, consider one of these careers.
By Sara Peach                               May 5, 2021

Hi Sara,

What kind of careers are going to be in high demand in the future? Climate science? Engineering? Animal conservation? Will we wake up and try to save what’s left of the species on this planet? — Christina F.

Dear Christina,

Oh my, after the year we’ve all had, it feels risky to make predictions. The year 2020 showed us that even well-founded expectations can get scrambled by the metaphorical flap of a butterfly’s wings — or in this case, by a novel virus floating into our nasal passageways.

Take jobs in the solar energy industry. Between 2010 and 2019, employment in that field grew 167%, according to the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit educational and research organization. The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, estimated that the industry would employ 302,000 U.S. workers by June 2020. But pandemic-related lockdowns and furloughs resulted in only 188,000 workers employed in jobs supported by the solar industry by that month, 38% fewer than anticipated.

Still, as pandemic restrictions ease, emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide are rebounding. The problem of climate change is still with us — but so are job opportunities in addressing it.

Growth is expected in a range of climate-related occupations by 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau developed scenarios to account for uncertainty related to the long-term economic impact of the pandemic. But even under its scenario in which pandemic-induced behavioral changes persist for years, the bureau’s estimates still point to increased demand for workers in the climate field.

Projected growth in select U.S. jobs related to climate change
Occupation title Number of U.S. jobs (2019) Growth expected, 2019-2029
Wind turbine service technicians 7,000 58.5%
Hydrologists 7,000 5.2%
Atmospheric and space scientists 9,900 6.8%
Solar photovoltaic installers 12,000 46.8%
Soil and plant scientists 17,800 7%
Conservation scientists 24,500 5%
Environmental science and protection technicians, including health 34,700 8.3%
Environmental engineers 55,800 2.9%
Environmental scientists and specialists, including health 90,900 7.8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Special thanks to Elka Torpey, economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS, who devised similar charts in 2018 and 2019 and assisted with the creation of this one.

Marilyn Waite, author of “Sustainability at Work: Careers that Make a Difference,” said in an interview that she expects to see growing demand for a range of jobs related to slowing climate change or helping people adapt to its consequences.

“There will continue to be a lot of work in renewable energy, including the technologies that enable that: energy storage as an example, energy management, energy efficiency,” she said.

Waite expects to see employment in the transportation sector, such as jobs related to the electrification of cars and decarbonization of shipping. In agriculture, she anticipates a range of opportunities, from soil scientists who will be needed to help farmers store more carbon in their soils to communicators who will market climate-friendly foods to the public.

Workers will also be needed to help communities adapt to the consequences of climate change that are already upon us, such as rising seas, intensifying wildfires, and worsening extreme weather. Engineers and builders are already in demand for projects that protect coastal communities from floodwaters.

Climate work for every profession

Demand for wind turbine service technicians will grow faster than any U.S. occupation between now and 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Similarly, despite the slowdown in 2020, solar photovoltaic installers can expect strong job prospects — it’s the third-fastest growing profession.

Top 10 U.S. occupations by expected growth
Occupation title Growth expected, 2019-2029
1. Wind turbine service technicians 58.5%
2. Nurse practitioners 52.2%
3. Solar photovoltaic installers 46.8%
4. Information security analysts 43.0%
5. Statisticians 36.1%
6. Occupational therapy assistants 34.8%
7. Home health and personal care aides 33.8%
8. Physical therapist assistants 32.8%
9. Occupational therapy assistants and aides 32.6%
10. Data scientists and mathematical science 31.9%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


But if you’re not interested in working with solar panels or wind turbines — or if your career is already established in another field — don’t despair. People in many different occupations can contribute to addressing climate change. Nurses, for example, are educating patients about climate-related health risks and pushing hospitals to reduce energy consumption. Composers, artists and dancers are helping their audiences think more deeply about the problem. Social scientists, city planners, and counselors are also being called upon to help people and communities displaced by sea-level rise, wildfires, and extreme storms.

Office workers, too, can do their part. As Waite writes in her book, “Many of the choices to save water and energy that people make at home can be made at work. Company purchasing departments can also take into consideration the social and environmental impacts of their supply chains.”

Because climate change is a systemic problem, it will take people with all kinds of skills and backgrounds to fight it: writers, scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, community organizers, union leaders, teachers, elected officials, farmers, small business owners, chefs, designers, urban planners, architects, and more: a cacophonous crowd of people contributing their talents to the problem. In other words, the ideal career for addressing climate change may be the one you already have.

Sara is the Senior Editor of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist, and Chemical…

Tom Toro is a cartoonist and writer who has published over 200 cartoons in The New Yorker since 2010.

Oil pipeline builder agrees to halt eminent domain lawsuits

Oil pipeline builder agrees to halt eminent domain lawsuits

Adrian Sainz                            May 4, 2021

In this Jan. 28, 2021, file photo, Clyde Robinson, 80, speaks with a reporter while standing on his acre-sized parcel of land, in Memphis, Tenn. Robinson has been fighting an effort by two companies seeking a piece of his land to build part of an oil pipeline that would run through the Memphis area into north Mississippi. City council members in Memphis, Tenn., delayed a vote Tuesday, May 4, on a law that could make it more difficult for a company to build an oil pipeline over an aquifer that provides clean drinking water to 1 million people. The pipeline company also agreed to halt eminent domain lawsuits against property owners like Robinson (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz, File).
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A company seeking to build a disputed oil pipeline over an aquifer that provides drinking water to 1 million people agreed verbally Tuesday to stop pursuing lawsuits against Tennessee property owners who refused to sell access to their land for construction.
Plains All American Pipeline spokesman Brad Leone said the company will put an agreement in writing with the Memphis City Council to set aside lawsuits filed against property owners fighting the Byhalia Connection pipeline. Leone spoke at a council committee meeting in which members discussed a proposed city law making it difficult for the pipeline to be approved and built.


Plains is part of a joint venture with Valero Energy to build the Byhalia Connection, a 49-mile (78-kilometer) underground pipeline linking the east-west Diamond Pipeline through the Valero refinery in Memphis to the north-south Capline Pipeline near Byhalia, Mississippi. The Capline, which has been transporting crude oil from a Louisiana port on the Gulf of Mexico north to the Midwest, is being reversed to deliver oil south through Mississippi to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf Coast.

Plains and Valero say the project will bring needed jobs and tax revenue to the Memphis area. Byhalia Connection has secured permission from Tennessee and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the pipeline.

The planned route would take the pipeline over the Memphis Sand Aquifer, which provides slightly sweet drinking water to 1 million people the Memphis area. It is part of a large aquifer system that lies beneath eight states and provides water for farms, factories and homes.

Environmentalists, lawyers, activists and politicians who oppose the pipeline are worried an oil spill would cause contaminants to seep into the aquifer and endanger Memphis’ drinking water. In a letter to the Army Corps, the Southern Environmental Law Center said the clay layer above the aquifer “has several known and suspected breaches, holes, and leaks.”

Activists also are upset that the pipeline would run through poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods in south Memphis that for decades have dealt with environmental concerns such as air and ground pollution. Community members have organized weekend rallies attended by pipeline opponents such as former Vice President Al Gore.

Most property owners along the path of the pipeline signed deals granting Byhalia access to their land. Property owners who haven’t agreed to receive payment in return for easements on their land have been sued, with the pipeline company’s lawyers trying to use eminent domain rights to claim property.

A hearing had been set for May 14 for a judge to hear arguments about whether Byhalia has a legal right to take the land.

Leone said the cases would be dismissed and the pipeline company plans to explore alternatives to the current route.

“A major part of that pause is not moving forward with the eminent domain lawsuits as mentioned,” Leone told the committee. “That’s absolutely something that we will agree to do.”

Council members then delayed vote on a proposed ordinance establishing a board to approve or deny construction of underground pipelines that transport oil or other potentially hazardous liquids near wells that pump millions of gallons of water daily from the aquifer.

Leone did not say the company would refrain from seeking easements with other property owners while the ordinance is delayed.

“We want our drinking water and our communities protected and we don’t want the pipeline company to continue misusing eminent domain to take land,” said Justin Pearson, co-founder of Memphis Community Against the Pipeline.

Pipeline opponents are backing the ordinance. But city council attorney Allan Wade said he has concerns about its legality.

Byhalia Connection said the ordinance would hurt local business and it would likely sue if the law is passed. A vote is not expected until at least July.

Byhalia has said the pipeline would be built a safe distance from the aquifer, which sits much deeper than the planned pipeline route. The company said the route was chosen after it reviewed population density, environmental features and historic cultural sites. Byhalia has attempted to build goodwill within Memphis by donating $1 million to local causes.

Byhalia also has said the pipeline route was not driven by factors such as race or class. The company has denied accusations of environmental racism that emerged after a Byhalia land agent said during a community meeting that the developers “took, basically, a point of least resistance” in choosing the pipeline’s path.

Pipeline opponents are fighting the project on several fronts. A federal lawsuit is challenging the Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the pipeline under a nationwide permit, and the Shelby County Commission has refused to sell to the pipeline builder two parcels of land that sit on the planned route.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, and about two dozen other members of Congress sent a letter asking the administration of President Joe Biden to reconsider the Army Corps’ permit approval.

Pesticides Threaten the ‘Foundations of the Web of Life,’ New Soil Study Warns

Pesticides Threaten the ‘Foundations of the Web of Life,’ New Soil Study Warns

By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams                 May 04, 2021

Pesticides Threaten the 'Foundations of the Web of Life,' New Soil Study Warns
“Beetles and springtails have enormous impacts on the porosity of soil and are really getting hammered, and earthworms are definitely getting hit as well,” said study co-author Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. smaragd8 / iStock / Getty Images Plus


A study published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science bolsters alarm about the role that agricultural pesticides play in what scientists have dubbed the “bugpocalypse” and led authors to call for stricter regulations across the U.S.

Researchers at the University of Maryland as well as the advocacy groups Friends of the Earth U.S. and the Center for Biological Diversity were behind what they say is “the largest, most comprehensive review of the impacts of agricultural pesticides on soil organisms ever conducted.”

The study’s authors warn the analyzed pesticides pose a grave danger to invertebrates that are essential for biodiversity, healthy soil, and carbon sequestration to fight the climate emergency — and U.S. regulators aren’t focused on these threats.

“Below the surface of fields covered with monoculture crops of corn and soybeans, pesticides are destroying the very foundations of the web of life,” said study co-author Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.

“Study after study indicates the unchecked use of pesticides across hundreds of millions of acres each year is poisoning the organisms critical to maintaining healthy soils,” Donley added. “Yet our regulators have been ignoring the harm to these important ecosystems for decades.”

As the paper details, the researchers reviewed nearly 400 studies “on the effects of pesticides on non-target invertebrates that have egg, larval, or immature development in the soil,” including ants, beetles, ground-nesting bees, and earthworms. They looked at 275 unique species, taxa, or combined taxa of soil organisms and 284 different pesticide active ingredients or unique mixtures.

“We found that 70.5% of tested parameters showed negative effects,” the paper says, “whereas 1.4% and 28.1% of tested parameters showed positive or no significant effects from pesticide exposure, respectively.”

Donley told The Guardian that “the level of harm we’re seeing is much greater than I thought it would be. Soils are incredibly important. But how pesticides can harm soil invertebrates gets a lot less coverage than pollinators, mammals, and birds — it’s incredibly important that changes.”

“Beetles and springtails have enormous impacts on the porosity of soil and are really getting hammered, and earthworms are definitely getting hit as well,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know that most bees nest in the soil, so that’s a major pathway of exposure for them.”

Underscoring the need for sweeping changes, Donley noted that “it’s not just one or two pesticides that are causing harm, the results are really very consistent across the whole class of chemical poisons.”

Buglife on Twitter

Co-author Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, concurred that “it’s extremely concerning that over 70% of cases show that pesticides significantly harm soil invertebrates.”

“Our results add to the evidence that pesticides are contributing to widespread declines of insects, like beneficial predaceous beetles, and pollinating solitary bees,” she said in a statement. “These troubling findings add to the urgency of reining in pesticide use to save biodiversity.”

In December, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations released a report emphasizing how vital soil organisms are to food production and battling the climate crisis — and highlighting that such creatures and the threats they face are not being paid adequate attention on a global scale.

“Soils are not only the foundation of agri-food systems and where 95% of the foods we eat is produced, but their health and biodiversity are also central to our efforts to end hunger and achieve sustainable agri-food systems,” FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said at the time, pushing for increased efforts to protect the “silent, dedicated heroes” that are soil organisms.

A growing body of research has also revealed the extent of insect loss in recent decades, with a major assessment last year showing that there has been a nearly 25% decrease of land-dwelling bugs like ants, butterflies, and grasshoppers over the past 30 years. The experts behind that analysis pointed to not only pesticides but also habitat loss and light pollution.

In January, a collection of scientific papers warned that “insects are suffering from ‘death by a thousand cuts,'” and called on policymakers around the world to urgently address the issue. That call followed a roadmap released the previous January by 73 scientists outlining what steps are needed to tackle the “insect apocalypse.”

The roadmap’s key recommendations included curbing planet-heating emissions; limiting light, water, and noise pollution; preventing the introduction of invasive and alien species; and cutting back on the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

“We know that farming practices such as cover cropping and composting build healthy soil ecosystems and reduce the need for pesticides in the first place,” Aditi Dubey of University of Maryland, who co-authored the new study, said Tuesday. “However, our farm policies continue to prop up a pesticide-intensive food system.”

“Our results highlight the need for policies that support farmers to adopt ecological farming methods that help biodiversity flourish both in the soil and above ground,” Dubey declared.

While the solutions are clear, according to the researchers, the chemical industry is standing in the way.

“Pesticide companies are continually trying to greenwash their products, arguing for the use of pesticides in ‘regenerative’ or ‘climate-smart’ agriculture,” said co-author Kendra Klein, a senior scientist at Friends of the Earth. “This research shatters that notion and demonstrates that pesticide reduction must be a key part of combating climate change in agriculture.”

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams. 

Ocean Plastic Pollution Flows From More Rivers Than Previously Thought

Ocean Plastic Pollution Flows From More Rivers Than Previously Thought

Olivia Rosane           May 3, 2021

Ocean Plastic Pollution Flows From More Rivers Than Previously Thought
The Pasig River in the Philippines is the kind of small, urban river that contributes more to ocean plastics than larger rivers, a new study has found. Artur Widak / NurPhoto via Getty Images


Plastic pollution is entering the ocean from more sources than previously thought.

A new study published in Science Advances Friday found that 80 percent of the plastic that enters the world’s oceans via rivers comes from more than 1,000 waterways. That’s as much as 100 times the number of rivers previously estimated, study leader the Ocean Cleanup explained.

“[T]he problem is actually much more vast than we used to think,” Ocean Cleanup founder Boyan Slat told BBC News. “It’s not 10 rivers, it’s 1,000.”

The Ocean Cleanup is a nonprofit launched by Slat with the goal of using technology to remove 90 percent of the plastic waste floating in the ocean. As part of that goal, the organization funded three years of research into how and how many rivers were significantly contributing to plastic pollution.

Their findings upended some previous assumptions, as National Geographic explained. In 2017, two studies concluded that 90 percent of the plastic that enters the ocean via rivers was contributed by a small fraction of the world’s rivers — 10 in one study and 20 in another. Further, these rivers were large rivers that traveled a long way, such as Egypt’s Nile or China’s Yangtze. However, the new study has found that the biggest culprits are actually smaller rivers in urban areas. The 16-mile Pasig River in the Philippines is now considered a greater contributor to ocean plastics than the Yangtze, which flows 3,915 miles and was formerly ranked the most plastic-polluted river.

The new insights are based on an increased amount of data and new modeling.

“One big difference from a few years ago is we don’t consider rivers mere conveyor belts of plastics,” lead author Lourens J.J. Meijer told National Geographic. “If you put plastic into the river hundreds of kilometers from the mouth, it doesn’t mean that that plastic will end up in the ocean.”

While the results give would-be cleaners more rivers to focus on, Ocean Cleanup is still confident that it can use the data to help remove plastics.

“While this number is much higher than previous estimations (100 times), it is only 1% of rivers worldwide, which means solving the problem is feasible,” Meijer wrote for Ocean Cleanup. “By collectively taking a global approach with various technologies to target these most polluting rivers, we can drastically reduce the influx of plastic into the ocean.”

To that end, the Ocean Cleanup launched the Interceptor, a solar-powered device that gobbles up plastic carried on a river’s current. The devices are already at work on some of the world’s most polluted rivers in Southeast Asia and the Carribean, according to National Geographic. In 2019, the nonprofit announced a plan to install the devices in 1,000 rivers within five years, though the pandemic has slowed down the rollout somewhat.

“We hope to be operational in 10 rivers by the end of the year,” Slat told BBC News. “And what we truly believe is that if we do 10 rivers really well, that forms the foundation to do the next 100. If we do 100, we can also do 1,000.”

Air pollution makes older men think and speak less clearly

Air pollution makes older men think and speak less clearly

Max Stephens                       May 3, 2021
The findings ‘stress the impact that air pollution is having on human health’, researchers said - Nick Ansell/PA
The findings ‘stress the impact that air pollution is having on human health’, researchers said – Nick Ansell/PA


Air pollution causes older men to think and speak less clearly, according to researchers at Columbia University, and even short-term spikes in airborne particles can damage brain health.

In a study of nearly 1,000 white men with an average age of 69, scientists found mental performance fell after rises in air pollution a month before testing. This occurred even when peak levels of air pollution were below safety thresholds set by the World Health Organisation.

Test scores from 954 men living in Boston were compared to local levels of PM2.5s, airborne particles measuring smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. The tests included tasks assessing word memory, number recall and verbal fluency.

The findings, published in Nature Aging, showed the fall in test scores was linked to higher levels of PM2.5s in the four weeks before the participants were assessed even when concentrations of PM2.5s stayed below 10 micrograms per cubic metre, the WHO guideline level routinely breached in London and many other cities.

However, the test scores were shown to be less adversely affected if the men were taking aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs.

Xu Gao, from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and the author of the paper, said: “Our study indicates that short-term air pollution exposure may be related to short-term alterations in cognitive function and that NSAIDs may modify this relationship.”

Earlier studies suggested the painkillers may help by reducing the inflammation triggered by air pollution particles getting into the brain.

“The findings really stress the impact that air pollution is having on human health,” Dr Joanne Ryan, the head of biological neuropsychiatry and dementia research at Monash University in Melbourne, told The Guardian.

“The importance of this study is that the findings align with a potential causal link of air pollution on brain function and they suggest that it is not just the very high levels of prolonged pollution that are concerning. The study found that even relatively low levels of air pollution can negatively impact cognitive function, and over possibly short periods of time.”