Carbon Capture: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Climate Change

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reportlays out a rather grim set of observations, predictions and warnings. Perhaps the biggest takeaway? That the world cannot warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5°C) over pre-industrial levels without significant impacts.

If the world warms a mere half a degree more than that, hundreds of millions of people could face dire consequences — namely famine, disease and displacement — from things like rising sea levels and increased drought and flooding.

Time for action to stem the worst effects of climate change is quickly running out, however. If we’re to stay below or within range of that 1.5°C threshold, global carbon emissions must decrease by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and we must reach zero carbon output around 2050. Energy sector carbon emissions, however, are still growing, not shrinking.

What’s more, it won’t be enough to simply slash carbon emissions to zero. As the latest IPCC report points out, we’ll also need to suck up to 1 trillion metric tons of carbon from the biosphere over the 21st century.

If large-scale CO2 extraction is to be effective, many experts warn that such efforts will need to begin in earnest within the next few years. But carbon extraction is far from a primary feature of climate discussions among policy makers. Glen Peters is a climate researcher at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Oslo. He told Norway’s VG News:

There are media reports of images showing wind turbines and solar panels. It is well and good, but meeting the goals in the Paris agreement requires so-called negative emissions — removing much of the CO₂ that has already been released. The subject is little talked about, but politicians will eventually come to understand what a huge task it is.

The other problem is that the technologies currently capable of sucking CO2 from the air are still being developed and are too expensive to be commercially viable, which leaves experts hamstrung as to whether this is the right approach to stall global warming. In a 2016 paper published in Science, Peters and Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester, called the assumption that these technologies and concepts will work to scale in time a “moral hazard.”

However, Roger Aines, chief scientist of the energy program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, disagrees. The “magnitude of the problem” is such, he told Truthout, that “we have to get started” with widely employing technologies capable of removing CO2 from the air. “It’s the question of how to get started,” he said, “that occupies a lot of my time.”

How to Achieve Negative Emissions

For the past few decades, talk of CO2 filtration has largely surrounded carbon capture and storage (CCS). In essence, CCS is when CO2 is removed at the source of the emission, like a power plant smokestack, before being repurposed. In most cases, the captured CO2 is piped back underground to boost oil production in wells that are drying up.

There’s a reason CCS is crucial when it comes to carbon extraction: It’s far easier to filter out CO2 at the source than it is directly from the air. That’s because the ratio of CO2 in, say, a coal power-plant exhaust flue (about 10 percent CO2) is that much higher than the ambient air (where CO2 is about 0.04 percent). The problem is that most CCS technologies are, at the very best, carbon neutral, meaning they squirrel away as much CO2 as they emit in the first place. However, if we’re to remain under that 1.5°C threshold, we’ll need to employ large-scale use of negative emission technologies — in other words, technologies that extract more CO2 from the atmosphere than they release.

The carbon capture and storage process prevents the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by separating and capturing it from the emissions of industrial processes and storing it in deep underground geologic formations.
The carbon capture and storage process prevents the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by separating and capturing it from the emissions of industrial processes and storing it in deep underground geologic formations.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) receives broad support in the negative emissions arena. The overall premise behind BECCS is fairly simple: Growing trees and tall grasses for use as an energy source. As they’re growing, these plants will absorb CO2 from the air, and then, when burned for energy, the CO2 emitted will be captured and piped back underground. Therefore, the whole process would absorb and store away more CO2 than it would emit. Voila! Negative emissions.

There are, however, any number of major obstacles standing in the way of BECCS being employed on a scale large enough for it to make a significant impact. For one, the amount of land required to make BECCS feasible under the Paris agreement is staggering — as much as three times the area of India. Furthermore, as Harvard Professor David Keith warned in Carbon Brief, “[W]e must be cautious of technologies that aim to remediate the carbon problem while greatly expanding our impact on the land.”

Then there’s the potentially complicated international logistics of growing the crops in one country, shipping them to another for combustion, and then to another for permanent storage — each layer possibly adding a separate carbon footprint, while making the measuring, reporting and verification of the system a nightmare of bureaucratic red tape.

All of which explains why there is currently no commercially operable BECCS facility, explained Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change science and policy at the University of East Anglia. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting technology in regard to its electricity-producing potential, and is being seriously explored by the chemical industry as a power source, she added. “The fact that BECCS produces energy and an income from the process itself is a very big incentive.”

Low-Carbon Biofuels

The cost of negative emissions has always been prohibitive. An American Physical Society report from 2011 put the price of capturing CO2 directly from the air between $600 and $1,000 per metric ton. In contrast, the cost of capturing CO2 at the source can be roughly 10 times less. Nevertheless, a Canadian company called Carbon Engineering claims that its pilot plant in Calgary can extract CO2 from the air for between $94 to $232 per metric ton. To put that into perspective, carbon is currently priced in Europe at $20.03 a metric ton, and if the Paris Climate Agreement’s emissions targets are to be met, Carbon Tracker warned, the price of traded carbon allowances must rise to levels that make even efficiently run coal power plants unprofitable.

In short, Carbon Engineering’s technology works like this: When air is blown through towers containing a potassium hydroxide solution, the CO2 molecules react with the chemical mixture to make potassium carbonate, which is then processed into calcium carbonate pellets. When heated, the pellets release CO2 for capture. What then? Carbon Engineering plans to use the CO2 to make low-carbon biofuels.

Carbon Engineering is one of only a few companies seriously developing direct air capture technologies at reasonable costs. At its Iceland power plant, Climeworks built a unit that extracts CO2 directly from the ambient air and pipes it underground, where it combines with the country’s basaltic rock to create fast-forming minerals, according to a report in Quartz — part of its fantastic recent series on climate change. Earlier this year in Zurich, Climeworks launched the world’s first commercial direct air capture plant, where the filtered CO2 is supplied to a nearby greenhouse to grow vegetables.

According to Graciela Chichilnisky, CEO and co-founder of carbon-capture company Global Thermostat, the company’s technology — which is powered by low-cost leftover heat — will be able to remove CO2 for between $25 and $80 per metric ton when it’s scaled up (and depending on capacity).

There are other more speculative projects in the pipeline. Back in 2007, the British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson offered $25 million to anyone who develops a commercially viable technology capable of removing at least 1 billion tons of CO2 annually from the air for 10 years. The prize remains unclaimed, but is still up for grabs.

Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University, is currently working on a pilot direct air capture technology that he hopes will be, within a couple of years, capable of removing from the air about a ton of CO2 a day. Commercially speaking, these technologies as a whole are “truly interesting when below $100 a [metric] ton,” he said, “but you could imagine that, if things are really hurting, people are going to do it anyway, even if it is more expensive.”

Action Must Be Quick

Besides BECCS and direct air capture technologies, there are other proposed ways to suck CO2 from the biosphere, most of which are laid out in a recent European Union report. Afforestation — the planting of forests in treeless areas — is one method bandied around by experts. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Roger Aines has other ideas.

“The last 200 years or so, we have lost the equivalent of 500 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from the carbon content of our agricultural soil. So, it’s reasonable to say, if we use good agricultural practices, that we can return that carbon from the air to the soil,” he said. While a variety of negative emissions technologies must be employed together to tackle climate change, better land use practices are the ones most likely to have the “biggest impact,” he added.

Nevertheless, “the reality of this is that it’s like a major war. The next 20 years are going to be pretty bad, from a climate perspective,” Aines said, mirroring the findings of the latest IPCC report: that any increase in global temperatures will only worsen the impacts from extreme weather patterns already being felt. And while Aines still believes that “we’re going to figure things out,” what’s now clear is that we only have a dozen or so years to actually do so.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

As the Biosphere Dies, So Do We: Using the Power of Nature to Heal the Planet


One only need look outside the window to understand that human-caused climate disruption is in overdrive.

Record warm temperatures, floods, droughts, wildfires and increasing incidents of extreme weather events have run rampant across the Northern Hemisphere this summer. These events, at least in part, stem from a global temperature increase of “only” 1 degree Celsius (1°C) above preindustrial baseline temperatures.

Harvard and MIT biogeochemist and climate and coral reef expert Dr. Thomas Goreau put this in stark perspective.

“Today’s carbon dioxide levels at 400 parts per million (ppm) [are] akin to bringing about a steady state temperature of 7°C higher and sea levels 23 meters higher than they are today,” Goreau, who is also president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance and coordinator of the Soil Carbon Alliance, told Truthout. In other words, the last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it increased the Earth’s temperature to a point 7°C higher than it is today, and increased sea levels 23 meters above their current level. Hence, we are now only waiting for the planet to catch up to what we’ve done to the atmosphere.

More than three decades ago, Goreau and some of his colleagues were already pointing out that the only way runaway global warming could be avoided was by utilizing and expanding carbon sinks – a natural or artificial area where carbon is stored — as a way of sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Despite this not happening on the scale necessary to avert widespread impacts of runaway climate change, Goreau, along with many others, is as determined as ever to utilize various methods of “eco-restoration” to draw carbon out of the atmosphere.

These recommendations have gained more attention lately. A recent BBC headline stated, “Large-scale wind and solar power ‘could green the Sahara.’” The article touts the possibility that if massive numbers of solar panels and wind turbines were installed across the Sahara Desert, they could dramatically improve the amount of rainfall, lower temperatures and increase vegetation.

Goreau is not alone in his idea of large-scale projects that could lead to this sort of mitigation. Adam Sacks is the executive director of Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (Bio4Climate), an organization working to promote eco-restoration approaches. These include the reintroduction of abundant growth to billions of acres of land that has been severely degraded or turned into desert as a result of human mismanagement.

“Clearly, there are many steps along the way, and a primary one is to shift the climate narrative from one focused almost exclusively on alternative energy and reducing fossil fuel emissions to one that’s at least half about restoring global biodiversity and pulling carbon out of the atmosphere into the soils through photosynthesis,” Sacks told Truthout.

His approach is to focus on the extraordinary power of nature as a means of healing what ails the planet.

“Since the first microbes appeared over 3.5 billion years ago and began inventing all the biochemistry of life, living things have crafted planet Earth out of dead rock, water and gas,” Sacks said. “We have destroyed much of that life as our world population grew, and while humans are very clever about expanding carrying capacity, we have overdrawn our resource account and our talents have finally reached their limits. This has happened in many ways, but global warming is the culmination of millennia of hyper-technology.”

Sacks reminds us that if the biosphere itself is ill, so are humans, as we are simply one of its creatures.

“As the biosphere dies, so do we,” he added. “Fortunately there are thousands if not millions of people pulling in that direction on millions of acres. We need to multiply that a thousandfold to successfully address climate change.”

“We Already Know How to Do This”

Sacks feels that every country on Earth has grossly underestimated the severity, extent and rapidity of the impacts of climate disruption, and has been dismayed by how, as he sees it, “The full implications are only appreciated when the damage has been done and all that’s left is to watch as destruction and death have their way.”

This is why he founded Bio4Climate, as an attempt to avert these outcomes for millions of species, including humans.

For Goreau, who collaborates with Bio4Climate, this work is nothing new. He has been writing scientific papers on recycling carbon dioxide through the tropical biota to prevent runaway global warming for nearly 35 years. He made the first measurements of greenhouse gas emissions from deforested Amazonian soils and virgin jungles, and wrote the very first short paper on the subject.

Goreau’s 1987 paper even argued for a carbon tax, although at the time, he called it an “energy-growth” tax which would transfer income from fuel burners to environmentally sound tropical development.

Through books, talks and papers, Goreau has long been suggesting methods to the general public, as well as interested governments, for implementing the concept of regenerating carbon in soils and biomass while simultaneously pulling it out of the atmosphere.

“The idea is scientifically sound and has occurred independently to many people … as people try to think about solving climate change seriously,” Goreau said, though he noted that not many people seem to be familiar with the history of the concept of eco-restoration.

Last year, Goreau presented a paper at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon that investigated how long it would take to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide at safe preindustrial levels by way of drawing carbon into soils.

“Stabilization could be achieved in decades only if we used the best existing carbon-farming practices, but never if we keep on doing what we are doing now,” Goreau said. “Thousands of farmers are out there doing the right thing and regenerating their soils, but the millions out there who are just running their soils down and amplifying the problem need to improve their act quickly for there to be any solution at all.”

Sacks is also realistic about what it would take. NASA climate scientist James Hansen sounded the alarm about anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) to Congress in 1988, and despite the ongoing efforts of tireless advocates, atmospheric greenhouse gas burdens have worsened almost every year, due in large part to burning fossil fuels.

“It should have been clear from the beginning that, even with effective sources of alternative energy, a global infrastructure would take a long time to reconstruct,” Sacks said.

But how feasible are projects like greening the Sahara? This one, in particular, would require nearly 3.5 million square miles of solar panels and wind turbines to produce the necessary change. What government on the planet is currently willing to invest in this scale of a project — even if we acknowledge that these kinds of projects may well be the last hope for mitigating some of the dramatically increasing impacts of runaway ACD?

Sacks readily admits that, on our current path, “there is no emissions scenario that can or will scale this large enough to truly mitigate the worsening impacts from human-caused climate disruption.”

“Even if we go to zero [emissions] tomorrow, the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and their committed effects are consigning us to a future that will make life for humans extremely difficult or impossible,” he said.

John Liu is the ecosystems ambassador for the Commonland Foundation, a group working towards the realization of large-scale landscape restoration with local farmers and land users. He is also a groundbreaking filmmaker who focuses on documenting ecological restoration around the planet.

Liu told Truthout he is “excited and hopeful” about the large amount of energy and interest in large-scale ecosystem restoration that he says is “exploding all over the world.”

In addition to the work of the Commonland Foundation, Liu, who is also a visiting research fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences, points to Ecosystem Restoration Camps Foundation (a group working to restore ecosystem functionality),which he sees as proof that people anywhere can self-organize and self-govern in a way that is restorative of the Earth.

While Liu acknowledges that our current situation is “fraught with danger,” he added that he believes “we are entering a new era of human civilization in which we are required to collectively understand that we all have a responsibility to act to restore the systems that naturally regulate the Earth’s life-support systems.”

Liu said his greatest hope is in the Earth’s resilience, and pointed out that it is not the planet that is most at risk, but human civilization.

While most people point towards the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as the primary issue that needs addressing, Liu sees this carbon disequilibrium in the atmosphere as an “indicator.”

“What I have learned is that we cannot simply consider carbon in the atmosphere and believe that sucking it down will solve our problems,” he said. “Even in terms of human impact on the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide is not the greatest anthropogenic cause. Most people are unaware that moisture-laden air in the upper atmosphere caused by temperature increases from devegetation is a greater anthropogenic contributor to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide.”

Like Liu, Sacks and Goreau both believe it is possible to mitigate the worsening impacts.

“Nature can do the recovery if we help by putting the necessary pieces into place,” Sacks said. “Just as absent beavers or wolves in a formerly intact habitat can completely transform the ecosystem within a few years, humans are also a keystone species, and can help nature recover orders of magnitude faster than nature would recover on its own.”

Sacks’s organizational compendium shows, as he put it, how “we already know how to do this in virtually all habitats between the poles.” He describes the methods as inexpensive and low-tech, and believes they increase productivity significantly, improve local economies and self-sufficiency, restore local water cycles, mitigate droughts and floods, and reduce resource conflicts.

“The challenge is that we would have to move this effort to a global war footing immediately,” he said. “The ‘windows of opportunity’ to act on global warming have been opening and closing and opening again (and closing again) over the past 30 years, and those squandered opportunities are just about dried up.”

There is no way to seriously mitigate the impacts of runaway climate disruption without drawing vast amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and Sacks and Goreau are convinced that the fastest way to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is via the biological sink.

“We’ve destroyed half the biomass in the world and turned it into carbon dioxide, and we’ve lost about half the carbon in the soil by burning it off,” Goreau said. “But if we were doing what the best people are doing here, we could solve the problem in a manner of decades.”

Given that there is five times the amount of carbon in soils as there is in the atmosphere, Goreau believes it is possible to sequester an immense amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide back into the Earth via natural processes like increasing nutrients in soils, as well as restoring wetlands and mangroves on a mass scale.

“From my point of view, we’ve got to be restoring carbon in all habitats and ecosystems,” he said.

Both Sacks and Goreau feel a lot of the responsibility lies with farmers and those who manage pastures, who should be regenerating the areas where they work, as opposed to industrial agriculture which, as Goreau puts it, “runs land dry of carbon.” Of course, this would entail governments supporting farmers — financially and otherwise — in working towards this way of operating.

“When you look at how effective the good farmers are at sequestering carbon, it is well within our reach to sequester enough carbon dioxide, and if there were carbon credits so they were rewarded, it would happen,” he said.

What to Do?

It’s not only farmers who are capable of acting on eco-restoration. What steps can each of us take?

“The most important is to change the mindset from ongoing growth to reducing resource exploitation and steady-state, regenerative land management and economics,” Goreau said.

For starters, he suggests that people with homes can transform their lawns into native plant and food forests, and everyone should begin to work within their communities towards urban or suburban farming. Sacks also promotes the movement to depave (roads and parking lots, for example). Depavement removes unnecessary impermeable surfaces and replaces them with green, growing things wherever possible. Additionally, Sacks points to forest regeneration efforts, and suggests that those who are interested in exploring more options should visit the Regeneration International website.

Liu admits that the question of what to do is challenging “even to discuss,” and that “it isn’t very helpful to suggest small measures that are unlikely to really change the situation.”

Still, on a personal level, he tries to slow down and consider his motivations and intentions. He says that the dominant culture’s media and education system have instilled ambitions for him — and most of us — “to rush around, to buy and sell things, to desire the ‘conveniences’ that I thought I ‘needed,’ to meet the expectations of society that have been conditioned into me through socialization. “

Liu believes each of us needs to be mindful and question the forces that drive our pursuits.

“Is our worldview something that is truth, or does it emerge from the past through norms created by those who practiced genocide, slavery, greed, power, brutality?” he asks.

Liu points out that shifting consciousness must occur alongside efforts towards biospheric restoration.

“There is [an] enormous disparity between the wealthy and the poor. There is also a growing sense of hopelessness that manifests in depression, suicide, nihilistic acts like mass shootings and great unhappiness,” he said. “The types of social dysfunction that we are witnessing are similar to witnessing ecosystem dysfunction in various biomes. A logical conclusion could be that our human social ecosystem is degraded.”

Goreau, meanwhile, is working on coral reef restoration “because we’ve already lost most of them to global warming.”

He has been warning of coral bleaching from overly warm ocean waters since the 1980s, and believes the tipping point for coral bleaching already occurred during that decade. He reminds us that our current global climate crisis is already “much more dire than most people realize.”

His projects entail the use of very low electric currents to stimulate coral growth, by way of steel grids erected underwater onto which then limestone rock grows, hence the building of reefs. He has found that in this way, coral can be kept alive at warmer temperatures as well, but added, “This is only a temporary measure to buy us some time until we can get more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”

Goreau is currently aiming to revive 400 reefs around the world, and admits this is but a fraction of what needs to happen.

“Death Is a Natural Part of Life”

Goreau reminds us that all of these projects are taking place against the backdrop of runaway ACD. The reality, he says, is even more devastating than most mainstream predictions show.

“This is far worse than the IPCC’s [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] worst-case scenarios,” he said. Goreau noted that even the IPCC’s worst-case scenarios are “so minimal” because it takes the oceans 1,500 years to mix and turn themselves over. This is relevant, he said, because oceans “are storing 95 percent of the heat we’ve generated.”

Hence, until the cold water of the depths mixes with the warmer surface water, “We’re still not feeling the full impact of the heat we’ve placed in the oceans.”

This means that we will not feel the full impact for another 1,500 years — yet, as Goreau pointed out, the IPCC ignores this “because they are only looking 100 years ahead, which is 1/15th of the time it takes for the oceans to mix. They are simply looking at the wrong time horizon.”

As we reflect on how conditions have gotten to this point, Liu also reminds us how “death is a natural part of life,” given that the dominant culture ignores this reality, with dangerous consequences.

In his view, this denial of death “has inflated our opinion of ourselves and limited our understanding and happiness. It can be hard to accept, but death is inevitable and being aware of it is very useful.”

From his perspective, it is important to remember this not just as humans, but to do so for all of life.

This is all the more reason to focus on eco-restoration — and relatedly, Liu says, on the importance of the natural world more broadly.

“We need to look carefully and compare our creations to the eternally evolving life systems on the Earth and realize that everything we have ever made and everything that we will ever make combined is worth less that the fragile atmosphere that was respirated by living things over prodigious time,” he said.

In order to undertake eco-restoration on the scale that would be necessary to mitigate the impacts of ACD, those in power in countries around the world would have to immediately prioritize that “fragile atmosphere” above all else.

Hurricane Florence Releases Toxic Coal Ash in North Carolina 

Protesters outside a Duke Energy shareholders meeting in 2014.
Photo: Davis Turner Getty

Just a few days ago, Duke Energy, the largest utility company in North Carolina, said they weren’t concerned about the ponds of coal ash that might be flooded by Hurricane Florence. Now, at least one of those ponds has given way, releasing 2,000 cubic yards of the ash, according to NBC.

Coal ash is a highly toxic byproduct of coal power plants that is linked to respiratory illnesses and cancer. It contains heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium.

When one of the slopes of a pond at a closed power station outside of Wilmington, NC collapsed during the storm, Duke says that the ash within most likely flowed into their cooling pond, Sutton Lake. “The company hasn’t yet determined if the weir that drains the cooling pond was open or whether any contamination may have flowed into the swollen Cape Fear River,” NBC says.

North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson Megan S. Thorpe said the state will inspect the site as soon as they can. “DEQ has been closely monitoring all coal ash impoundments that could be vulnerable in this record breaking rain event,” Thorpe told NBC. She added that the state will “hold the utility accountable for implementing the solution that ensures the protection of public health and the environment.”

It’s likely that other coal ash ponds will be impacted by the storm. A power station near Goldsboro was flooded by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and officials say it will probably flood again. Another cooling pond at a plant near Lumberton, NC, is expected to flood as well.

“Unfortunately, Duke Energy has spent years lobbying and litigating and still has not removed the coal ash from its dangerous riverfront pits in the coastal area, some of which are in the floodplain,” Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center told NBC. “When a hurricane like Florence hits, we have to hope and pray that our communities do not suffer the consequences of years of irresponsible coal ash practices by the coal ash utilities.”

In 2015, Duke Energy were sentenced to pay a $102 million fine after pleading guilty to nine violations of the Clean Water Act for a record-breaking coal ash spill.

Coal ash isn’t the only concern for those worried about the environmental impact of the storm. Lagoons filled with waste from the pork industry and Superfund sites in the area could also contribute to environmental damage. Environmental groups and the EPA are monitoring these sites as the storm continues to batter the Carolinas.

Tons of Plastic Trash Enter the Great Lakes Every Year — Where Does It Go?

Awareness is rising worldwide about the scourge of ocean plastic pollution, from Earth Day 2018 events to the cover of National Geographic magazine. But few people realize that similar concentrations of plastic pollution are accumulating in lakes and rivers. One recent study found microplastic particles – fragments measuring less then five millimeters – in globally sourced tap water and beer brewed with water from the Great Lakes.

According to recent estimates, over 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. Using that study’s calculations of how much plastic pollution per person enters the water in coastal regions, one of us (Matthew Hoffman) has estimated that around 10,000 tons of plastic enter the Great Lakes annually. Now we are analyzing where it accumulates and how it may affect aquatic life.

No Garbage Patches, but Lots of Scrap on Beaches

Plastic enters the Great Lakes in many ways. People on the shore and on boats throw litter in the water. Microplastic pollution also comes fromwastewater treatment plantsstormwater and agricultural runoff. Some plastic fibers become airborne – possibly from clothing or building materials weathering outdoors – and are probably deposited into the lakes directly from the air.

Sampling natural water bodies for plastic particles is time-consuming and can be done on only a small fraction of any given river or lake. To augment actual sampling, researchers can use computational models to map how plastic pollution will move once it enters the water. In the ocean, these models show how plastic accumulates in particular locations around the globe, including the Arctic.

When plastic pollution was initially found in the Great Lakes, many observers feared that it could accumulate in large floating garbage patches, like those created by ocean currents. However, when we used our computational models to predict how plastic pollution would move around in the surface waters of Lake Erie, we found that temporary accumulation regions formed but did not persist as they do in the ocean. In Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes, strong winds break up the accumulation regions.

Subsequent simulations have also found no evidence for a Great Lakes garbage patch. Initially this seems like good news. But we know that a lot of plastic is entering the lakes. If it is not accumulating at their centers, where is it?

Using our models, we created maps that predict the average surface distribution of Great Lakes plastic pollution. They show that most of it ends up closer to shore. This helps to explain why so much plastic is found on Great Lakes beaches: In 2017 alone, volunteers with the Alliance for the Great Lakes collected more than 16 tons of plastic at beach cleanups. If more plastic is ending up near shore, where more wildlife is located and where we obtain our drinking water, is that really a better outcome than a garbage patch?

Searching for Missing Plastic

We estimate that over four tons of microplastic are floating in Lake Erie. This figure is only a small fraction of the approximately 2,500 tons of plastic that we estimate enter the Lake each year. Similarly, researchers have found that their estimates of how much plastic is floating at the ocean’s surface account for only around 1 percent of estimated input. Plastic pollution has adverse effects on many organisms, and to predict which ecosystems and organisms are most affected, it is essential to understand where it is going.

We have begun using more advanced computer models to map the three-dimensional distribution of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Assuming that plastic simply moves with currents, we see that a large proportion of it is predicted to sink to lake bottoms. Mapping plastic pollution this way begins to shed light on exposure risks for different species, based on where in the lake they live.

According to our initial simulations, much of the plastic is expected to sink. This prediction is supported by sediment samples collected from the bottom of the Great Lakes, which can contain high concentrations of plastic.

In a real lake, plastic does not just move with the current. It also can float or sink, based on its size and density. As a particle floats and is “weathered” by sun and waves, breaks into smaller particles, and becomes colonized by bacteria and other microorganisms, its ability to sink will change.

Better understanding of the processes that affect plastic transport will enable us to generate more accurate models of how it moves through the water. In addition, we know little so far about how plastic is removed from the water as it lands on the bottom or the beach, or is ingested by organisms.

Prediction Informs Prevention

Developing a complete picture of how plastic pollution travels through waterways, and which habitats are most at risk, is crucial for conceiving and testing possible solutions. If we can accurately track different types of plastic pollution after they enter the water, we can focus on the types that end up in sensitive habitats and predict their ultimate fate.

Of course, preventing plastic from entering our waterways in the first place is the best way to eliminate the problem. But by determining which plastics are more toxic and also more likely to come into contact with sensitive organisms, or end up in our water supply, we can target the “worst of the worst.” With this information, government agencies and conservation groups can develop specific community education programs, target cleanup efforts and work with industries to develop alternatives to products that contain these materials.

Pope Francis Criticizes Continued Search for Fossil Fuels at Meeting with Oil Executives

At Vatican conference, Pope Francis implores investors, oil leaders to help stop climate change, saying the poor ‘suffer most from the ravages of global warming’

“Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!” Pope Francis said at a Vatican climate change conference.
“Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!” Pope Francis said at a Vatican climate change conference. PHOTO:VINCENZO PINTO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Pope Francis warned against the “continued search” for fossil fuels Saturday and urged a gathering of oil executives, investors and officials to meet the world’s energy needs while protecting the environment and the poor.

“Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!” he said at a Vatican climate change conference attended by top executives including Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Darren Woods,  BP PLC Chief Executive Bob Dudley and BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Laurence Fink.

Environmental protection has been a signature theme for Pope Francis, who has said he took the name of St. Francis of Assisi in part because of the medieval saint’s love for the natural world.

At the conference, co-sponsored by the University of Notre Dame and featuring nearly 20 speakers Friday and Saturday, the pope said that an estimated 1 billion people still lack electricity and noted that access to energy is an essential resource for escaping poverty.

But he warned that a failure to reduce the use of fossil fuels would lead to a “spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.”

The poor “suffer most from the ravages of global warming,” he said, through water shortages and extreme weather which in turn drive mass migration, among other ways.

Pope Francis commended oil and gas companies for adopting policies that account for “assessment of climate risk” and he encouraged the practice of environmentally sensitive “green finance” investment strategies. But he warned that “markets and technology” wouldn’t be sufficient to stop climate change, since our “current economic system thrives on ever-increasing extraction, consumption and waste.”

He lamented the “continued search for fossil fuel reserves” in spite of 2015 Paris Agreement, which “clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels underground.”

Pope Francis on Saturday urges a small gathering of energy executives, investors and officials at the Vatican to balance the world's energy needs with environmental protection.
Pope Francis on Saturday urges a small gathering of energy executives, investors and officials at the Vatican to balance the world’s energy needs with environmental protection. PHOTO:VATICAN MEDIA

The leaders of energy companies speaking at the two-day event included  Claudio Descalzi, chief executive of Italy’s Eni SpA, Occidental Petroleum Corp. Chief Executive Vicki Hollub, and former Royal Dutch Shell PLC Chairman Mark-Moody Stuart.

Others slated to speak were Hiromichi Mizuno, the chief investment officer of Japan’s public pension fund, Anne Simpson, director of corporate governance at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, and Ernest Moniz, who served as U.S. energy secretary under former President Barack Obama.

Oil leaders were expected to discuss their view that providing energy to those who don’t have it alleviates poverty. The companies also planned to stress their support for global action to reduce emissions, such as a tax on carbon emissions, according to people familiar with prepared remarks on the meeting. Many companies also have begun to invest in renewable energy or potential technological breakthroughs to mitigate the impact of warming temperatures.

Exxon is studying how fuel cells can be used to capture carbon emissions at power plants. BP is one of the top generators of wind power in the U.S. and recently invested in a solar company. Norway’s state energy company, formerly known as Statoil, has changed its name to Equinor  and is developing offshore wind projects.

Earlier this year, BlackRock’s Mr. Fink in a letter urged chief executives at global companies to “make a positive contribution to society.” The world’s largest asset manager has played a key role behind the scenes in insisting that companies take action to respond to climate change.

Pope Francis’ meeting with oil executives and investors comes almost exactly three years after the publication of his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he called global warming a major threat to life on the planet and said it is mainly caused by human activity.

In that document, which as an encyclical ranks among the highest levels of papal teaching, the pope blamed special interests for blocking policy responses and indicted the market economy for plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and future generations.

Pope Francis’ acknowledgment of the challenge inherent in meeting global energy demand while limiting the harmful effects of climate change will be encouraging to oil and gas professionals, said William Arnold, a former Shell executive who teaches at Rice University.

“This is an inspirational effort to find a balance between environmental protection and developing resources the world needs,” said Mr. Arnold. “It’s become increasingly difficult in the industry to find settings where you can have this kind of discussion.”

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland

 Cattle at an illegal settlement in the Jamanxim National Forest, state of Para, northern Brazil, November 29, 2009. With 1,3 million hectares, the Jamanxim National Forest is today a microsm that replicates what happens in the Amazon, where thousands of hectares of land are prey of illegal woodcutters, stock breeders and gold miners. Photograph: Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

The study, published in the journal Science, created a huge dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” he said. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

The analysis also revealed a huge variability between different ways of producing the same food. For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and use 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture. But the comparison of beef with plant protein such as peas is stark, with even the lowest impact beef responsible for six times more greenhouse gases and 36 times more land.

The large variability in environmental impact from different farms does present an opportunity for reducing the harm, Poore said, without needing the global population to become vegan. If the most harmful half of meat and dairy production was replaced by plant-based food, this still delivers about two-thirds of the benefits of getting rid of all meat and dairy production.

Cutting the environmental impact of farming is not easy, Poore warned: “There are over 570m farms all of which need slightly different ways to reduce their impact. It is an [environmental] challenge like no other sector of the economy.” But he said at least $500bn is spent every year on agricultural subsidies, and probably much more: “There is a lot of money there to do something really good with.”

Labels that reveal the impact of products would be a good start, so consumers could choose the least damaging options, he said, but subsidies for sustainable and healthy foods and taxes on meat and dairy will probably also be necessary.

One surprise from the work was the large impact of freshwater fish farming, which provides two-thirds of such fish in Asia and 96% in Europe, and was thought to be relatively environmentally friendly. “You get all these fish depositing excreta and unconsumed feed down to the bottom of the pond, where there is barely any oxygen, making it the perfect environment for methane production,” a potent greenhouse gas, Poore said.

The research also found grass-fed beef, thought to be relatively low impact, was still responsible for much higher impacts than plant-based food. “Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions,” Poore said.

The new research has received strong praise from other food experts. Prof Gidon Eshel, at Bard College, US, said: “I was awestruck. It is really important, sound, ambitious, revealing and beautifully done.”

He said previous work on quantifying farming’s impacts, including his own, had taken a top-down approach using national level data, but the new work used a bottom-up approach, with farm-by-farm data. “It is very reassuring to see they yield essentially the same results. But the new work has very many important details that are profoundly revealing.”

Prof Tim Benton, at the University of Leeds, UK, said: “This is an immensely useful study. It brings together a huge amount of data and that makes its conclusions much more robust. The way we produce food, consume and waste food is unsustainable from a planetary perspective. Given the global obesity crisis, changing diets – eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit – has the potential to make both us and the planet healthier.”

Dr Peter Alexander, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, was also impressed but noted: “There may be environmental benefits, eg for biodiversity, from sustainably managed grazing and increasing animal product consumption may improve nutrition for some of the poorest globally. My personal opinion is we should interpret these results not as the need to become vegan overnight, but rather to moderate our [meat] consumption.”

Poore said: “The reason I started this project was to understand if there were sustainable animal producers out there. But I have stopped consuming animal products over the last four years of this project. These impacts are not necessary to sustain our current way of life. The question is how much can we reduce them and the answer is a lot.”

Going For Vacations To Hawaii? Take The Right Sunscreen With You

Hawaii Sunscreen Coral Reef Damage
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

Hawaii bans sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone after a group of researchers from the United State and Israel discovers coral bleaching.

A new piece of legislation signed into law by Dave Ige will ban sunscreen from use in Hawaii if it contains oxybenzone. Just one drop of sunscreen containing the material may cause coral to fade – driving home how dangerous the substance is for organisms that are already being threatened.

After the passing of the Hawaii bill, the European Union is already taking steps to ban oxybenzone from sunscreen themselves – and the recent signing may help the legislation gain traction.

Oxybenzone, also known as BP-3, is used in more than 3500 personal care products that are being sold worldwide in order to protect from damage from UV light. While it may be good for the health of our skin, it may have damaging effects on coral – making the use of the substance a net loss for our environment.

Researchers clearly feel that the benefits the oxybenzone in sunscreen gives to humanity don’t outweigh the damage to coral, and there are other ways in order to protect our skin that don’t have the same environmental repercussions.

The Israeli-U.S. survey results were actually first published back in October 2015, but weren’t used to motivate legislation in Hawaii until recently. The research was published in the “Environmental Pollution and Toxicology Archive” and shows that oxybenzone from swimmer skin, municipal sewage discharge and coastal septic tank systems can contaminate coral reefs.

While oxybenzone may continue to be an issue from sewage discharge and septic tanks, the reduction of use on swimmer’s skins may help the coral reefs around Hawaii and around the rest of the world if areas like the European Union are to follow suit with their own version of the legislation.

“We have found that oxybenzone causes severe morphological abnormalities, DNA damage and endocrine disruptions that lead to coral closure and death,” said researchers Ariel Kushmaro and Stella Goldstein-Goren at the Environmental Biotechnology Laboratory at the Ben Grevien University in Avgaff. Department of Bioengineering.

Kushmaro added: “We are pleased to see that our study will have a measurable impact on the reduction of coral reef communities caused by chemicals, waste runoff and climate change,” reports Israel21C.

Around 14000 tons of sunscreen lotion is discharged into coral reefs every year – the majority of which contains between 1-10% oxybenzone. This is a major problem for bleaching, and hopefully the passage of this bill will help address the issue and help delay the destruction of these vibrant ecosystems. With the authors estimating that at least 10% of global coral reefs are at high risk this year, it’s clear that action is needed.

The study found that the concentration of oxybenzone observed in seawater surrounding the coral reefs were as low as 62 parts per million, which is equivalent to a single drop of water in six semi-Olympic swimming pools. It’s clear that the compound in sunscreen is terribly damaging for the coral reefs around Hawaii – even in very small amounts.

Because of the extreme damage, the legislation to ban oxybenzone from sunscreen in the area completely was likely necessary. While we may not see a ban around the world due to oxybenzone’s usefulness against UV light and the concentrations of coral reef in certain areas, it’s good that it’s at least going into effect in Hawaii.

Kushmaro said: “In Israel, sunscreens using benzophenone chemicals are widely used.

“According to the measurements not included in the study, similar concentrations of benzophenone were found near the coral reef in Eilat.

Since these chemicals are likely to be washed away from the swimmer’s body, swimming and snorkelling areas The concentration will be higher, such as the coral reef reserve in Eilat. ”

Further information can be found in the Environmental Pollution and Toxicology Archive.

Last December, atmospheric scientist Peter Kalmus ruffled some feathers when he called out 25,000 of his colleagues for flying to the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting.

Being acutely aware of the worsening impacts from anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) — since it was, after all, his job — Kalmus had already made some dramatic changes in his own life to reflect some of the steps he knew the larger culture needed to take.

In 2010 he quantified his own carbon emissions and realized they were dominated by flying: More than three-quarters of his emissions were from flying alone. So, over the next two years he made an effort to fly less, and began to think of his airplane trips within the context of a warming planet.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

“In 2012, I was sitting on a plane — the last flight I’ve taken — and I had this strong, visceral sense that I didn’t belong there, that I didn’t want to continue being part of the problem,” Kalmus told Truthout, speaking for himself (and not on behalf of any institution with which he is affiliated). “Flying felt like a sort of taking from my children. It wasn’t guilt; it was clarity.”

He has not flown again.

And now Kalmus is not alone. He has been joined by a growing number of environmental scientists and academics who are committing to fly less or not at all.

Flying Less

Flying Less, a petition for academics with over 400 signatories, is becoming better known by the day, as is the No-Fly Climate Sci website, where Earth scientists and other academics who don’t fly or fly less are joining together to share their ideas.

Dr. Andreas Heinemeyer is a senior researcher and assistant professor at the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, where he works on carbon cycling and ecosystem services in relation to ACD and land use. ​

“Flying felt like a sort of taking from my children. It wasn’t guilt; it was clarity.”

Like Kalmus, his work has impressed upon her the urgency of our global situation. He told Truthout the situation with ACD is “very urgent” and that real changes are long overdue.

“We should have curbed greenhouse gas levels about 20 years ago,” he explained. “We certainly have created the issue in the first place — all our wealth is based on this overuse of resources in connection with fossil fuel and land use impacts on rising greenhouse gases.”

In addition to the need for government action, Heinemeyer feels we are all obliged to do something about it.

“This includes assessing where we overuse resources and waste energy and limit this excess behavior,” he said. “This requires education but also leadership.”

Christoph Küffer is a professor of urban ecology in Zurich, Switzerland, and a member of No-Fly Climate Sci. He studies the ecology of the Anthropocene and ACD’s impacts on mountain ecosystems as well as restoring green infrastructure and biodiversity in cities.

“Obviously, [ACD] is a very urgent issue,” he told Truthout of his reasons for joining the group. “It affects foremost the weakest, and a small minority of us uses the vast majority of resources.”

Kalmus told Truthout he believes ACD is a far more urgent situation than the average person understands. He explained how it is affecting nearly every aspect of life on Earth.

“It threatens our homes, our livelihoods, our food supply, our geopolitical stability,” he said. “It’s happening faster than we expected. In the scientific community, we’ve had this unfortunate tendency to underestimate rates of change due to under-modeling complex processes such as permafrost methane release and ice sheet disintegration.”

He added that ACD is long-lasting because CO2 will stay in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years, and the injury to biodiversity will take millions of years to heal.

Kalmus believes it is time for us all to take a step back and think seriously about what we actually need. Do we really need to fly halfway around the world in a matter of hours?

“Or are things like a healthy biosphere, stable climate and reliable food system more important?” he asked. “Is a carbon-rich lifestyle for an elite few worth hundreds of millions of climate refugees tomorrow, and disruption for tens of thousands or even millions of years?”

Kalmus believes that while wind and solar energy are obviously also part of the solution, he does not see the prospect of developing renewables as enough of a fix on its own. Hence, he is taking action to spread consciousness about how we all live.

He told Truthout that his own process of reducing his emissions has been surprisingly fun and satisfying. He wrote about it in his book Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution.

“At work he studies the physics of clouds in a changing climate, and at home he explores how we can address climate change while living happier, more connected lives,” reads his “About the Author” page. “He lives in Altadena, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, with his wife and two children on 1/10th the fossil fuels of the American average. He enjoys orcharding, beekeeping, and backpacking.”

Is our fast, fossil-fueled lifestyle even that satisfying, or might we be happier if we slowed down a bit?

In our interview, Kalmus said that we all need to be asking ourselves some challenging questions.

“Can we get by with less electricity?” he asked. “If we cut our use in half in the US, we’d only need to build a quarter as much wind, solar and storage to decarbonize our grid. Is our fast, fossil-fueled lifestyle even that satisfying, or might we be happier if we slowed down a bit?”

Kalmus thinks what is required is a cultural shift to bring about the rapid, large-scale change that is our only hope for some mitigation of the impacts of ACD. In addition to institutional action, that cultural shift will require individuals to push the bounds of what society views as normal.

“We need to get to a point where burning fossil fuel is no longer socially acceptable,” he said. “I know we’ll get there, I’m pretty sure I’m on the right side of history here, but the question is how long will it take? Time isn’t on our side.”

Living What They Preach

Küffer, who has managed to go a year without flying, decided to affiliate himself with the No-Fly Climate Sci group because, he says, while humans invented the airplane, the pursuit of “non-flying” is its own form of innovation.

“Innovation happens only if we try, experiment and learn by doing,” he said. “There is a belief in our society that we can have everything together, that we can fly as much as we like and have simultaneously all the benefits of non-flying. But there are opportunity costs. My experience is that non-flying brings lots of benefits.”

Heinemeyer decided to affiliate himself with the no-fly group because of ACD’s impacts on society’s underpinning ecosystem services, including food security.

He does not see his efforts to fly less as an inconvenience.

“It might be an inconvenient truth, but it is quite convenient to stop flying … just do it!” He said. “However, I have to admit that there are some downsides and consequences one has to consider: lower international profile (no conferences over the pond), less involvement in conference attendance overall … and potential issues with promotion.”

However, Heinemeyer has three children and is working to be truthful with them about ACD issues and the urgency of changing their lifestyle, as well as how to do so.

“I feel that I have to live what I preach,” she said.

Kalmus thinks scientists and academics should be taking on the role of “cultural leaders.” He points out that Earth scientists, in particular, have front row seats to multiple, connected Earth system catastrophes unfolding in real time, from dying coral reefs to record-breaking wildfires — and they need to share that perspective with the public.

“We know that this isn’t the ‘new normal.’ It will get steadily worse until we stop burning fossil fuel,” he said. “Doesn’t this knowledge come with some responsibility? Studying climate change isn’t like studying astrophysics: Earth science has revealed a clear and present danger to civilization.”

The scientists behind the no-fly campaigns are not calling for individual change in a vacuum.

Kalmus feels he can’t separate being a scientist from being a concerned, responsible citizen and father. One way to communicate the urgency of the climate emergency, he says, is to live his life like it’s urgent — to model the transition away from fossil fuels.

“I don’t expect every Earth scientist to do this, but I do hope more start to see it this way, because we need all hands on deck,” he said, going on to add that he hopes that as a community, Earth scientists and climate researchers will embrace the seriousness of what their science is telling them. “A good place to start would be to find ways to systematically reduce our flying, like more teleconferencing, more local conferences. Doing this can only enhance our credibility.”

Küffer echoes the belief that “walking the talk” should be part of how credibility is evaluated among scientists and academics.

“As environmental scientists we can’t call upon the world to stop all CO2 emissions within the coming few decades while we ourselves don’t change our habits,” he said. “Maintaining credibility of scientific facts, academia and experts has become a key challenge of the sciences in our time.”

Reflecting on the kind of science that is needed today, Küffer added, “Flying even affects how we do science.”

Heinemeyer wants his colleagues to know that it is indeed possible to fly less, or even to cease flying altogether. His hope is that her efforts will inspire people. She says she wants to “create a feel for ‘it does matter what I do,’ because simply put, it does — but only if enough of us do it!​”

Too often, Heinemeyer said, people in his research area and institute work on the issue but then ignore the fact that they themselves can also be part of the solution. Many of them refuse to change their own emissions practices.

“Justifying flying by doing good is no good per se, mostly just a simple excuse for not trying alternatives,” he said. “Certainly flying less, if not stop flying, should be part of any research project.”  ​

The scientists behind the no-fly campaigns are not calling for individual change in a vacuum. Kalmus, for example, also points to many ways we can all push for large-scale change, such as voting out those who attack science, and advocating sensible policies such as an annually increasing carbon fee and dividend. However, he also thinks a key tool in the individual toolbox is conspicuous non-consumption: cultural shift through individual change.

“This isn’t a hopeless situation,” he said. “Yes, climate change is here, and it’s a shame we didn’t start dealing with it 10 years ago. I’m not optimistic that we’ll keep global mean surface warming below 2 degrees Celsius. But 3 degrees of warming will be much worse than 2 degrees. And 4 degrees of warming will be much, much worse.”

There are worst-case warming projections that exceed even 4 degrees Celsius, and there are many factors that will continue to drive warming under the current global economic system. However, Kalmus and his colleagues are working to bring their lives in line with Mahatma Ghandi’s code of “being the change” they hope to see in the world. It is a heartfelt and dignified stance in a time of environmental uncertainty, violence and strife.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Would we all be better off living with wolves?

A Spanish man apparently raised by wolves says since leaving the pack he has been disappointed by humans. Have others reportedly reared by animals felt the same?

Iberian wolves.
 Meet the parents … Iberian wolves. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

You would be forgiven for thinking stories of orphans growing up with wolves were the domain of The Jungle Book or the mythic founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.

In reality, such tales might not be so far-fetched. In 1965, people living in Spain’s Morena mountains discovered Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja, who has been dubbed the Mowgli of Spain, who had apparently been living in a cave with a pack of wolves.

Pantoja’s mother died when he was young, and his father sold him to a local farmer who also died soon after. Pantoja, who was the subject of a documentary in 2010, estimates he was six when he retreated into the mountains, to live with the pack that was to become his family for the next 12 years. Now 72, he has revealed that in the years since, human life has been a disappointment. He has even attempted to go back to the mountains, but, as he told El Pais, “it’s not what it used to be” – the wolves have forgotten him. “If I call out they are going to respond, but are not going to approach me,” he says. “I smell like people, I wear cologne.”

How does his experience compare with that of other children apparently raised by wolves?

Shamdeo was four years old when he was discovered in a forest in India in 1972. According to photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten, who recently undertook a project called Feral Children, he was playing with wolf cubs. “He had sharpened teeth, long hooked fingernails, matted hair and calluses on his palms, elbows and knees. He was fond of chicken-hunting, would eat earth and had a craving for blood.” The boy died in 1985 – it’s not clear if he ever fully adjusted to life with humans.

The wolf boy of Hesse
A story dating back to 1304 tells of a boy kidnapped by wolves and raised in the German region of Hesse. According to a translation by Karl Steel, an expert in critical animal studies and posthumanism, the boy’s meals were prepared by the doting wolves, which even, according to reports, made a small pit furnished with leaves to protect him from the cold. Like Pantoja, he apparently preferred living among the wolves.

The Chilean “Dog Boy”
ABC News reported in 2001 that the “Dog boy”, who has not been named, was abandoned by his 16-year-old mother and, after spending a period in care, fled to live among a pack of wild dogs in a cave. The boy would scavenge with the dogs for food and eat out of bins. It is said the boy wanted to remain with his new family so much that he even jumped into the Pacific Ocean to evade capture by the police.

‘Global deforestation hotspot’: 3m hectares of Australian forest to be lost in 15 years

Koala mother and joey on a bulldozed log pile in Queensland
 A koala mother and joey on a bulldozed log pile in Queensland. Photograph: WWF

Australia is in the midst of a full-blown land-clearing crisis. Projections suggest that in the two decades to 2030, 3m hectares of untouched forest will have been bulldozed in eastern Australia.

The crisis is driven primarily by a booming livestock industry but is ushered in by governments that fail to introduce restrictions and refuse to apply existing restrictions.

And more than just trees are at stake.

Australia has a rich biodiversity, with nearly 8% of all Earth’s plant and animal species finding a home on the continent. About 85% of the country’s plants, 84% of its mammals and 45% of its birds are found nowhere else.

But land clearing is putting that at risk. About three-quarters of Australia’s 1,640 plants and animals listed by the government as threatened have habitat loss listed as one of their main threats.

Much of the land clearing in Queensland – which accounts for the majority in Australia – drives pollution into rivers that drain on to the Great Barrier Reef, adding to the pressures on it.

And of course land clearing is exacerbating climate change. In 1990, before short-lived land-clearing controls came into place, a quarter of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions were caused by deforestation. Emissions from land clearing dropped after 2010 but are rising sharply again.

“It has gotten so bad that WWF International put it on the list of global deforestation fronts, the only one in the developed world on that list,” says Martin Taylor, the protected areas and conservation science manager at WWF Australia.

In Queensland, where there is both the most clearing and the best data on clearing, trees are being bulldozed at a phenomenal rate.

About 395,000 hectares of native vegetation were cleared there in 2015-16, 33% more compared with the previous year. And despite the re-elected Labor government promising changes to rein it in, notifications of planned land clearing in Queensland have jumped a further 30%, suggesting woodlands could be bulldozed even faster in coming years.

To visualise what clearing of that magnitude looks like, Guardian Australia has created a tool that will lay an area that size over any location you choose. Mapped over Sydney, for example, 395,000 hectares covers an area stretching from the central coast in the north, to Campbeltown in the south, and the Blue Mountains in the west.

That equates to more than 1,500 football fields worth of native woodland and scrub being cleared each and every day in Queensland.

Stopping the clearing in Queensland is possible. Indeed, under its Labor premier Peter Beattie it brought its land clearing problem under control. Tough laws passed in 2004 meant that by 2010 land clearing had dropped to an all-time low of about 92,000 hectares.

But when the Liberal National party’s Campbell Newman was elected in 2012 he broke an election promise to keep the laws, gutted them, and introduced several ways for farmers to clear land easily. The bulldozers roared back into action immediately, bringing the state to the point it is at now.

Queensland clears more land each year than the rest of Australia put together, and the rate at which it is destroying its vegetation is comparable with the infamous deforestation that occurs in the Brazilian Amazon. Brazil bulldozes about 0.25% of its part of the Amazon each year; Queensland clears about 0.45% of its remaining wooded areas.

The recently re-elected Queensland Labor government has promised to change the laws. But in the meantime other states have begun to follow Queensland’s lead.

In 2016 the New South Wales Coalition government announced it was going to axe three pieces of legislation that protected native vegetation and wildlife, and replace them with a single act that would make land clearing easier.

A conservation scientist from the University of Queensland, Hugh Possingham, sat on the NSW government’s advisory board for the changes but resigned in protest, warning they could lead to a doubling of clearing rates in NSW.

Possingham says exactly how much the laws will impact clearing rates is unclear, since there are other drivers of clearing, including climate and economics. “But if you look at Queensland, their example is so dramatic,” he says of the effects of law changes there.

A cypress/eucalypt forest being bulldozed under the ‘thinning’ code in western Darling Downs in Queensland in May 2017
 A cypress/eucalypt forest being bulldozed under the ‘thinning’ code in western Darling Downs in Queensland in May 2017. Photograph: WWF Australia

Daisy Barham, from the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, says the final set of laws and regulations released are even worse than those that caused the land clearing crisis in Queensland. “There are some really extreme elements in the NSW laws that don’t even feature in the Queensland laws,” she says.

Barham says the worst is the “equity code” which leaves few controls on clearing of properties under 100 hectares, and where protected vegetation makes up less than 10% of the property.

Analysis by WWF shows that could allow clearing of 8m hectares, or 38% of the remaining trees in the state, under that rule alone.

The changes took effect in August 2017 but so far the government has refused to release data on how much clearing has taken place. In fact, official state data hasn’t been released since 2013-14, when about 30,000 hectares of trees were cleared in NSW.

The area being cleared in there may seem small relative to Queensland, but NSW has a much smaller amount of remaining vegetation, with clearing there starting much earlier after colonisation.

“Only 9% of NSW is in a healthy or near-natural condition,” Barham says. “We simply don’t have much left to lose. That is why every bit of clearing in NSW is so important.”

Meanwhile, further north, vast tracts of land are being earmarked for clearing. In the relatively lawless Northern Territory, approvals for land clearing have jumped more than tenfold in the past two years, compared with the preceding 12 years, according to figures from the NT government analysed by the Wilderness Society.

Some of the clearing approved for single properties in the NT is almost unimaginable in size. A property called Tipperary station has a total of 50,687 hectares approved for clearing through a number of separate applications over the past six years, an area almost 10 times the size of Manhattan on one property.

David Morris, a lawyer who was chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office NT until earlier this year, says the overarching feature of the Northern Territory’s land clearing is the lack of regulation.

“It’s a totally inept regulatory regime,” says Morris, who is now chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office NSW. He says land-clearing projects go through an environmental assessment framework, which the government has admitted is inadequate. “They’ve committed to reform it but in the meantime all approvals go through this very poor assessment regime.”

In addition, major land-clearing proposals that occur on pastoral leases are assessed by a body called the Pastoral Lands Board, which adds further problems.

“It is made up of four pastoralists and one rangelands scientist,” Morris says. “There is a very clear trend of increased approvals of broad-scale land clearing in the Northern Territory. And there is a regulatory regime that is incapable of dealing with the individual and cumulative impacts of that clearing.”

“Having a board full of agricultural business people as the ultimate decision maker is mind-boggling,” says Glenn Walker, a Wilderness Society climate campaign manager. Glenn Walker, adding: “The NT has the worst regulation for deforestation of any jurisdiction in Australia.”

And the spread of the land-clearing crisis doesn’t look set to stop in the NT. Some of Australia’s richest graziers are establishing cattle stations in Western Australia, and making claims for greater access to resources in the pristine Kimberley.

Other states have their own clearing tragedies unfolding: some of Australia’s most majestic and oldest trees are being cut down for timber by a state-owned company in Victoria, which has even less left to lose than NSW. And Tasmania has just signed up to allow more logging in its national parks until at least 2037, a move NSW and Victoria are considering following.

Combined, eastern Australia is considered a global deforestation hotspot, the only one in the developed world. According to analysis by WWF’s Martin Taylor, Australia is likely to lose 3m hectares of trees in the next 15 years.

And all that is putting things Australians care most about under threat.

“If you care about the Great Barrier Reef, then that’s what you care about,” he says. The effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef are multiplied by land clearing in Queensland, since it increases the amount of sediment that flows into rivers, and eventually on to the coral. That can starve them of light, and decrease their resilience to other impacts.

WWF analysis estimated that 45 million animals are killed each year in Queensland, just from the bulldozing of their habitat. “People have very strong feelings about cruelty and mistreatment of animals,” Taylor says. “So what must they think of that then? That we’re bulldozing 45 million animals to death every year?”

Both in Australia and around the world, habitat loss is by far the biggest threat to animals facing extinction.

“If you care about koalas, and if you care about Australian wildlife – if you want your kids to see them – then that’s what you care about,” he says.