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- Thu Jan 23, 2020 - World's consumption of materials hits record 100bn tonnes a year
The amount of material consumed by humanity has passed 100bn tonnes every year, a report has revealed, but the proportion being recycled is falling.
The climate and wildlife emergencies are driven by the unsustainable extraction of fossil fuels, metals, building materials and trees. The report's authors warn that treating the world's resources as limitless is leading towards global disaster.
The materials used by the global economy have quadrupled since 1970, far faster than the population, which has doubled. In the last two years, consumption has jumped by more than 8% but the reuse of resources has fallen from 9.1% to 8.6%.
The report, by the Circle Economy thinktank, was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It shows that, on average, every person on Earth uses more than 13 tonnes of materials per year. But the report also found that some nations are making steps towards circular economies in which renewable energy underpins systems where waste and pollution are re
- Thu Jan 23, 2020 - What does 'dangerous' climate change really mean?
The conversation around climate change can sometimes seem riddled with magic numbers and dark thresholds. Researchers talk about the dangers of surpassing 2 degrees of warming. Headlines blare about the importance of reducing emissions by 2030. Even your friendly neighborhood climate reporter (hi!) gets tripped up by the complex calculations involved.
But all this math didn't get pulled out of a hat; it's the product of years of careful research by scientists and painstaking negotiations among diplomats. So it's worth understanding how the world comes up with these targets --- and what might happen if we fail to meet them.
Way back in 1992, world leaders signed a treaty promising to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere \'at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic\' --- human-caused --- \'interference with the climate system.\' This set up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and member countries have been trying to figure
- Thu Jan 23, 2020 - The audacious effort to reforest the planet
At age 9, Felix Finkbeiner planted his first tree.
He had just learned about Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize for leading an effort to plant 30 million trees in Africa. The boy was struck by her message --- that trees are powerful allies in the fight to curb global warming.
Some of the more sophisticated details went over his head, Finkbeiner recalled. But, he said, he \'understood the tree-planting part.\' So, in 2007, he dug a hole in front of his school near Munich and inserted a crab-apple sapling. \'I thought that we kids should be planting some trees, as well,\' he said.
Finkbeiner's fourth-grade awakening blossomed into a personal crusade and eventually birthed a tree-planting foundation, Plant for the Planet. The organization, which is responsible for planting millions of new trees around the world, is part of a growing constellation of campaigns that seek to reforest every continent except Antarctica.
Driven by the recognition that trees su
- Wed Jan 22, 2020 - Spain declares climate emergency, gets climate plan ready
Spain's new government declared a national climate emergency on Tuesday, taking a formal first step toward enacting ambitious measures to fight climate change.
The declaration approved by the Cabinet says the left-of-center Socialist government will send to parliament within 100 days its proposed climate legislation. The targets coincide with those of the European Union, including a reduction of net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
Spain's coalition government wants up to 95% of the Mediterranean country's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2040. The plan also foresees eliminating pollution by buses and trucks and making farming carbon neutral.
Details of the plan are to be made public when the proposed legislation is sent to parliament for approval.
More than two dozen countries and scores of local and regional authorities have declared a climate emergency in recent years.
Scientists say the decade that just ended was by far the hottest ever m
- Wed Jan 22, 2020 - New bans in China are the latest step in a global 'war on plastic'
China is set to join a growing number of countries cracking down on single-use plastic items, with multiple bans expected to come into force gradually over the next six years.
The new policy, announced Sunday, is slated first to take effect in major cities, where many of the non-biodegradable plastics found in the world's oceans originate. Microplastics threaten the health of fish and other marine animals, through which the harmful materials enter the human food chain.
In large Chinese cities, the distribution of plastic bags is set to cease by the end of the year, whereas smaller cities and rural areas have until 2022. Some exceptions will allow the use of reusable, thicker bags or other plastic bags through 2025.
Among other items set to be phased out over the next few years are many utensils distributed by food delivery companies and restaurants, including single-use straws.
The Chinese effort, if fully implemented, could be among the most significant developments so far
- Wed Jan 22, 2020 - How melting permafrost is beginning to transform the Arctic
Canadian scientist Philip Marsh and I were flying along the coast of the Beaufort Sea, where the frozen tundra had recently opened up into a crater the size of a football stadium. Located along the shoreline of an unnamed lake, the so-called thaw slump was gray, muddy, and barren, in sharp contrast to the brilliant russet and gold of the surrounding autumn tundra. These retrogressive thaw slumps, or landslides --- formed as warming temperatures rapidly thaw permafrost --- are increasing across the Arctic, including the kilometer-long, 100-meter-deep Batagaika Crater in the Yana River Basin of Siberia.
The tundra of the western Canadian Arctic has long been carpeted in cranberries, blueberries, cloudberries, shrubs, sedges, and lichen that have provided abundant food for grizzly bears, caribou, and other animals. Now, however, as permafrost thaws and slumping expands, parts of that landscape are being transformed into nothing but mud, silt, and peat, blowing off massive amounts of cl
- Wed Jan 22, 2020 - 7.7 Billion people and counting
The threat of climate change is endlessly discussed, but the ballooning growth of the world's population may be the most critical issue facing humankind. Chris Packham certainly thinks so.
\'It's undeniably the elephant in the room,\' he says, though lack of elephants is one of its many alarming symptoms -- and in 7.7 Billion People and Counting, he showed us why.
The Earth's population is about 7.7 billion now and could reach 10 billion by 2050. Packham touched down in São Paolo, Brazil, where the population is five times greater than London's and the inhabitants are having to pay to drill their own private wells to find a water supply. He visited formerly forested areas of Brazil where the natural animal and plant life has been obliterated to grow soya (to feed animals to provide more food for the expanding masses of people) or eucalyptus trees (imported from Australia to make toilet paper). In Lagos, he found a pop-up city built on mounds of compacted garbage, its two million in
- Tue Jan 21, 2020 - A Blockchain Crash Course: How it can enable the clean, Smart Grid
Blockchain is everywhere --- at least when you're talking about media coverage. It's the new technology that enables those wild cryptocurrencies.
But some techies think it will revolutionize more than money. In short, in the words of a recent Wired overview of the technology, blockchain creates \'tamperproof databases.\' Every transaction in some defined system, like all trades of a particular currency, is \'cryptographically signed,\' meaning it's encoded to be theoretically unhackable. Then, the \'block\' of data, with its crypto info, is saved on thousands of computers in parallel --- so that if you wanted to tamper with a record, you'd have to change everyone's computer at the same time.
At first blush, it's unclear why a really good, tamperproof database will be so groundbreaking. But big companies and startups alike are exploring how blockchain could change everything from contracts, corporate compliance, and auditing to digital identity and voting, supply chain tracking, and eve
- Tue Jan 21, 2020 - Why do we demolish buildings instead of deconstructing them for re-use?
Just a few years after starting a non-profit reselling used building materials in the early 1990s, Ted Reiff's organization, The ReUse People, hit a wall. \'We couldn't get enough materials to supply the demand,\' he says. Despite tons of donated and salvaged doors, windows and structural beams coming in to his San Diego-based operation, the amount of people seeking cheap materials for home building and renovation projects was overwhelming. \'We were constantly getting cleared out every day.\'
So Reiff got a demolition license. But unlike traditional demolition crews that simply knock buildings down with a backhoe, Reiff's approach was to gradually disassemble the structures, carefully extracting saleable materials like a miner plucking gold nuggets from the ground. Reiff's company became specialists in a relatively new concept known as deconstruction, dismantling homes piece by piece to preserve the abundant reusable components within.
Reiff was just trying to augment his supplies,
- Tue Jan 21, 2020 - Climate change pushes investors to take their temperature
Policymakers are pushing investors to do more to ensure their portfolio choices help to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat climate change by limiting planetary warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably to 1.5C.
A vanguard of insurers and pension funds, many of whom will be in Davos this week for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, say part of the answer is a new \'temperature score\' that gives a snapshot of how their investments are contributing to climate change.
A single score, they say, can help them navigate the reallocation of capital from heavily polluting sectors of the global economy likely to take a financial hit to greener companies poised to profit.
So far, the temperature metric has been adopted by only a handful of the thousands of financial institutions worldwide but the buzz it has generated shows how investors' concerns about climate risk are finally moving into the mainstream.
\'There's still a massive amount of work to be done