Amazon’s Plastic

Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Getty Images

Commerce is taking place more and more over the internet, and one company is controlling so much of it that choices they make about packaging for shipment have an outsized influence on the planet. We hope they will listen to what these two professors recommend:

Amazon Uses a Lot of Plastic. It Doesn’t Have To.

The world’s biggest online retailer must become a leader in reducing single-use packaging.

The year 2020 may have been heartbreaking for most humans, but it was a good one for Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His company’s worldwide sales grew 38 percent from 2019, and Amazon sold more than 1.5 billion products during the 2020 holiday season alone. Continue reading

Power Plants Signal Intent

A coal-fired power plant in China’s Jiangsu province. XU CONGJUN – IMAGINECHINA

What is the real intent on addressing climate change, we must wonder:

Despite Pledges to Cut Emissions, China Goes on a Coal Spree

China is building large numbers of coal-fired power plants to drive its post-pandemic economy. The government has promised a CO2 emissions peak by 2030, but the new coal binge jeopardizes both China’s decarbonization plans and global efforts to tackle climate change.

China’s National People’s Congress meetings, which ended earlier this month, were shrouded in both a real and figurative haze about how strong its climate ambitions really are and how quickly the country can wean itself from its main source of energy — coal. Continue reading

Bottom Trawling’s Carbon Release

Beam trawlers’ heavy chains are dragged along the seabed, releasing carbon into the seawater. Photograph: aphperspective/Alamy

One of the many things that humans have been doing for a long time that are going to have to change:

Bottom trawling releases as much carbon as air travel, landmark study finds

Dragging heavy nets across seabed disturbs marine sediments, world’s largest carbon sink, scientists report

Fishing boats that trawl the ocean floor release as much carbon dioxide as the entire aviation industry, according to a groundbreaking study.

Bottom trawling, a widespread practice in which heavy nets are dragged along the seabed, pumps out 1 gigaton of carbon every year, says the study written by 26 marine biologists, climate experts and economists and published in Nature on Wednesday. Continue reading

Corn Belt Soil

ENZO PÉRÈS-LABOURDETTE / YALE E360

Thanks to Verlyn Klinkenborg for this essay:

How the Loss of Soil Is Sacrificing America’s Natural Heritage

A new study points to a stunning loss of topsoil in the Corn Belt — the result of farming practices that have depleted this once-fertile ground. Beyond diminished agricultural productivity and more carbon in the atmosphere, it is a catastrophic loss of an irreplaceable resource.

A corn field being planted in Hull, Sioux County, Iowa. MELINA MARA/ THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY IMAGES

Geologically speaking, I grew up in a small farm town on the Des Moines lobe, a huge tongue-shaped remnant of glacial activity that reaches south across central Iowa. All around us were mollisols with a deep A-horizon — a type of rich black topsoil visible in farm fields for miles in every direction. In school we were taught only one thing about that soil: to be proud of it. It was a given, a blessing, a moral fact. In a sense, it seemed to have no history. Continue reading

What To Do About Planet Palm

Production of palm for oil is a problem, to say the least. What can we do? The publisher describes this forthcoming book as being in the tradition of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Bill McKibben interviews the author (scroll to the second section in his weekly newsletter, after the note on energy use in the cannabis industry):

About half of all products on grocery shelves contain palm oil, and production has doubled in the past decade. The James Beard Award-winning food journalist Jocelyn Zuckerman has travelled from Indonesia and Malaysia to Brazil and India looking at the vast plantations where the oil palms are grown. Her forthcoming book, “Planet Palm,” is a compelling look at just how much trouble it’s possible to cause with a single plant. (Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.) Continue reading

Bubble Wrap & Our Future

It is not light reading. Nor short. But before you order anything else on Amazon you might want to at least skim this report:

Executive Summary

Amazon has a plastic problem. Oceana analyzed e-commerce and packaging market data1 as well as a recent scientific report, published in Science about predicted growth in plastic waste, that projects plastic pollution of aquatic ecosystems by country2 and found that Amazon has a large and rapidly growing plastic pollution footprint. Continue reading

Big Wins for Marine Conservation in Belize

Ray Jacobs (left) hands over his gillnet to Janelle Chanona, Oceana’s Vice President in Belize. Also pictured is Fidel Audinett (center), a Belizean fisher who had been petitioning the government to ban gillnets since 1997. Photo Credit: © Oceana/Alex Ellis

Wonderful news out of Belize!

Tackling a triple threat: Belize banned bottom trawling, offshore drilling, and now gillnets

For a country that’s slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts, Belize boasts an inordinate number of ocean wonders. It’s home to the world’s second longest barrier reef, which Charles Darwin once described as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies.” Here, you’ll find more than 500 unique fish species – enough to give every Belizean island its own mascot and still have about 50 left over.

Because this little Caribbean country has a lot worth protecting, it has enacted some of the strongest ocean conservation laws in the world – and they just got even stronger. Following hard-fought victories that banned all trawling and offshore oil drilling in Belize’s waters, the country has now outlawed gillnets, a fishing gear that kills turtles, manatees, and many other marine animals.

In addition to implementing a nationwide gillnet ban, the Belizean government signed an agreement with Oceana and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries to help licensed gillnet fishers transition to other jobs. As a result, Belizean resources and livelihoods will be protected well into the future.

As Janelle Chanona, Oceana’s head in Belize, put it: “This is a historic moment for Belize, her people, the Caribbean Sea and, most importantly, for everyone who depends on the country’s marine resources for their livelihoods.” Continue reading

Obsessively Eliminating Protections To The End

A sea bird is reflected in the water during low tide at Cardiff State Beach in Encinitas, California, U.S. October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

No special prognostication talent was required to know this was coming, if you have been paying attention for the last four years. Environmental, among other protections, have been gutted constantly since shortly after this administration’s inauguration in 2017. The only important question is how quickly some of these protections can be restored by the incoming administration:

Trump administration moves forward with gutting bird protections

The Trump administration moved forward Friday on gutting a longstanding federal protection for the nation’s birds, over objections from former federal officials and many scientists that billions more birds will likely perish as a result.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its take on the proposed rollback in the Federal Register. It’s a final step that means the change — greatly limiting federal authority to prosecute industries for practices that kill migratory birds — could be made official within 30 days. Continue reading

Beware Of “This Is Big” & Other Snappy Catchphrases

The Miniature Science series of ads, created last year by the very talented folks at BBDO on behalf of their client ExxonMobil, are snappy.

By now most people who pay attention to climate science are aware of ExxonMobil’s active role in creating doubt about the emerging facts that their own scientists established about mankind’s impact on climate. In addition to actors like that giant petrochemical company, there are also behind-the-scenes, complicit creatives who have provided essential messaging to strengthen the deception. In a new essay, Bill McKibben turns his attention to those folks, and expects accountability:

If money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns, then P.R. campaigns and snappy catchphrases are the kindling. Illustration by Lia Liao

When “Creatives” Turn Destructive: Image-Makers and the Climate Crisis

Past sins are past no more: an overdue historical recalibration is under way, with monuments being pulled down, dorms renamed, restitution offered. People did things, bad things; even across the span of centuries, they’re being held to account, and there’s something noble about that. The Reverend Robert W. Lee IV, for instance, recently backed the removal of his famous ancestor’s statue from Richmond, Virginia. The memorial, he wrote, “is a hollow reminder of a painful ideology and acts of oppression against black people. Taking it down will provide new opportunities for conversations, relationships and policy change.” Such a response raises an uncomfortable question: What are we doing now that our descendants will need to apologize for? Might we be able to get ahead of the sin this time? Continue reading

Brilliant & Ominous

When you genuinely smile and then recoil a moment later, you are responding to what this artist wants you to see and then understand. The animation is brilliant and its short message on how ocean litter/marine plastic is harming marine life is ominous. The  Artist Statement that accompanies it is not required reading, but it is there for the taking:

Two years ago, an experience on a small island inTaiwan changed my life. It was the closest I’d lived to the sea, being only a ten minute drive away. Everyone can enjoy the beach with its white sand and turquoise ocean. At the time, I went snorkeling almost every week. Seeing such alluring tropical fish and coral reefs still lingers in my mind. However, I also cannot forget the scenes of tons of human waste lying around the shore as if it was a part of nature. Continue reading

Puzzling Palm Positivity

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I saw this photo while skimming the headlines in the Environmental News section of the Guardian’s website. I have been skimming that section most mornings since July, 2011. Out of 3,000+ times skimming and always finding at least one news story to click through to read, today was the first time I ever clicked on an image that I could see was part of a paid advertisement. I landed on a screen filled with this:

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I have replicated as best I can what I saw, including the links to the messages embedded behind each of the images. The images of palm plantations are so pretty. The messages are so positive.

I am puzzled.

Palm?

Positive?

Perils In The Great North

In the summer of 2005 I worked in Yakutia (officially known as the Republic of Sakha). My strongest memory is a week on a boat going from Yakutsk up into the Arctic circle. I can still feel the intensity of the August sun through my sunglasses at midnight, while freezing air pierced my fleece. My project assistant, who was also my translator, helped me understand from the boat’s captain and two crew members that our passage on the Yana River toward the Laptev Sea was getting easier and easier each year. They had all been Soviet naval crew on this river long ago and could remember plenty of Augusts when the northern stretch of this passage was not possible.

Yakutia

I was aware of climate change as a distant calamity that required urgent action, but did not have a clue what it might eventually mean for this location. The funding for our tourism development strategy came from a natural attraction discovered in the permafrost. Our assumptions about attracting nature tourism to this region were clearly rooted in the permafrost. For the following decade, projects we worked on in the region continued with these assumptions, which seems ignorant now.

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In Siberia in late May, thawing permafrost caused an oil-storage tank to collapse, leading to the largest oil spill ever to occur in the Russian Arctic. Photograph by Irina Yarinskaya / AFP / Getty

We have linked out to some of Carolyn Kormann’s various smile-inducing environmental stories, as well as more serious ones. A Disastrous Summer in the Arctic goes darker than her previous darkest, but is a must-read for keeping current on the impacts of climate change in faraway places.

The remote Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, three thousand miles east of Moscow and six miles north of the Arctic Circle, has long held the record, with another Siberian town, for the coldest inhabited place in the world. The record was set in 1892, when the temperature dropped to ninety below zero Fahrenheit, although these days winter temperatures are noticeably milder, hovering around fifty below. Last Saturday, Verkhoyansk claimed a new record: the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, with an observation of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit—the same temperature was recorded that day in Las Vegas. Miami has only hit a hundred degrees once since 1896. Continue reading

Eliminating Fish From The Diet

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Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) off the coast of Madeira Island, Portugal. PAULO OLIVEIRA / ALAMY

Of all the ways to transition to vegetarianism, which I am on snail’s pace doing, I just realized that the one form of animal protein that I have completely eliminated without thinking about it is fish. I cannot remember planning on doing this, but at this moment I cannot remember the last time I ate fish. It may have been 2016. But I have been conscious of the sensation every time I am grocery shopping that I avoid the fish.

image_miniSushi was my favorite treat of a meal years ago, and while living in India we were as much pescatarian as vegetarian. But that changed with a growing awareness of the challenges related to regulating the world’s seas. So I quit eating things from it. Jennifer E. Telesca, writing in Yale e360, does not make me feel any better about this–as a data point I am exactly of zero relevance compared to the total market size–but I am gratified to see a book on a topic that will help me better quantify the reasons why exiting the market for fish is a priority:

How Global Regulators Are Selling Out the World’s Largest Tuna

The international commission responsible for managing Atlantic bluefin — prized for high-quality sushi — is failing to protect this magnificent fish. The regulators’ focus on fishing industry profits points up the need to change the way we view, and value, the lives of wild creatures.

In 2010, after years of global headlines highlighting the runaway harvest of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic Ocean, the international regulatory agency managing this endangered fish capitulated. It cut the total allowable annual catch to 12,900 metric tons, the lowest level recorded. For the world’s most valuable fish, coveted as the most succulent sushi on the planet, a return to plenty looked promising. Continue reading

Really, California?

The executive order does not affect cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been some months since we added to our “Really?” posts–which is definitely a good things– and California has usually been on the applaud side of our commentary. It’s a sad situation that the plastic industry is able to exert these pressures to take advantage of the current health crisis.

Coronavirus prompts Gov. Gavin Newsom to suspend California’s plastic bag ban

 Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended California’s ban on grocery stores providing single-use plastic bags amid concerns that clerks may be at risk for exposure to the coronavirus if shoppers are required to supply their own reusable bags to carry their purchases home.

 

Newsom announced Thursday that he signed an executive order to suspend the 2016 plastic bag ban for 60 days after hearing concerns from the California Grocers Assn. about shoppers bringing reusable bags from home that are handled by store clerks filling them with groceries.

“We are being cautious to make sure there is no transmission of the virus,” said Dave Heylen, a vice president for the grocers’ group. He said the grocers will go back to abiding by the plastic bag ban when the order expires.

The executive order signed Wednesday does not affect the more than 100 cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.

Continue reading

Another Victory Favoring Earth, We Hope

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Demonstrators protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline on the National Mall in Washington in 2017.Credit…Al Drago/The New York Times

In 2017 two separate stories by Lisa Friedman were featured in the same post we titled Victory Favoring Earth, We Hope. The title fits the article she has published today, which gives a bit more hope:

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Wins a Victory in Dakota Access Pipeline Case

WASHINGTON — In a significant victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a federal judge on Wednesday ordered a sweeping new environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois, has been carrying oil for nearly three years and has been contested by environmental groups and Native American tribes who live near it. President Trump sought to keep the project alive.

The ruling by United States District Judge James E. Boasberg found that the pipeline’s “effects on the quality of the human environment are likely to be highly controversial” and that the federal government had not done an adequate job of studying the risks of a major spill or whether the pipeline’s leak detection system was adequate. Continue reading

Listen To Workers, Especially On This Topic

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Amazon workers lead a walk out to demand that leaders take action on climate change in September. Photograph: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

We hope someone in the upper ranks of Amazon is listening:

Hundreds of workers defy Amazon rules to protest company’s climate failures

Employees ‘needed to stand up for what’s right’ despite policy barring workers from speaking about business

Hundreds of Amazon employees defied corporate policy to publicly criticize the company for failing to meet its “moral responsibility” in the climate crisis.

More than 340 tech workers at Amazon used the hashtag #AMZNSpeakOut in public statements that condemn the company for not taking sufficient action on the climate crisis. Continue reading

The Largest Environmental Change You Never Heard Of

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A 3-D model of the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth. Most of what we know about its topography has been gathered by sonar. Only three crewed expeditions have reached the bottom. (Data Design Co)

Our goal of highlighting stories mostly about solutions to environmental issues is being challenged more and more, here being the latest example:

History’s Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin

It’s underwater—and the consequences are unimaginable.

Unless you are given to chronic anxiety or suffer from nihilistic despair, you probably haven’t spent much time contemplating the bottom of the ocean. Many people imagine the seabed to be a vast expanse of sand, but it’s a jagged and dynamic landscape with as much variation as any place onshore. Mountains surge from underwater plains, canyons slice miles deep, hot springs billow through fissures in rock, and streams of heavy brine ooze down hillsides, pooling into undersea lakes.

These peaks and valleys are laced with most of the same minerals found on land. Continue reading

Stop Funding Arctic Drilling

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‘The Arctic refuge is not just a piece of land with oil underneath. It’s the heart of our people; our food security, way of life and very survival depends on its protection.’ Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to the Guardian for this op-ed by Bernadette Demientieff:

Goldman Sachs agreed to stop funding Arctic drilling. Will other banks join them?

If banks destroy our homeland, they’ll have the Gwich’in Nation, and the millions of Americans who stand with us, to answer to

Last fall, I traveled more than 4,000 miles from my home in Alaska to meet with major banks and urge them to help protect the Arctic national wildlife refuge from destructive oil drilling and exploration. In all the years I’ve worked to defend this place, we’ve been focused on trying to make our voices heard by leaders in the White House or in Congress, and I never thought I’d be sitting in a conference room on the 43rd floor of Goldman Sachs’ global headquarters in downtown New York, talking about the Arctic refuge. Continue reading

More Plastic Is The New Plastic

I am holding one such bag, made from recycled newspaper, in a post from 2011

In Kerala, India between 2010 and 2017 we tackled the issue of plastic in the hospitality operations we were responsible for. We started with the elimination of plastic bags, as Michael and our other interns Allegra and Sung reported at the time. With success on that front we moved on to the elimination of plastic water bottles, and the investment that required was much more substantial, not least because tourist guide books always warned travelers to India to only drink from plastic water bottles. We made progress, which was very particular to that place and time, but still this news reported by Beth Gardiner in Yale e360 is particularly frustrating:

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The Plastics Pipeline: A Surge of New Production Is on the Way

A world awash in plastic will soon see even more, as a host of new petrochemical plants — their ethane feedstock supplied by the fracking boom — come online. Major oil companies, facing the prospect of reduced demand for their fuels, are ramping up their plastics output. Continue reading

It Bears Repeating

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A bald eagle in Tongass National Forest, Alaska. MAURO TOCCACELI/ALAMY

These are times that test our patience. Obvious, right? So is the subject of this essay. And yet, it bears saying, and repeating, precisely because of the times we find ourselves in. So thanks to Mr. Heacox for saying so and to Yale e360 for publishing it:

Let It Be: Why We Must Save Alaska’s Pristine Tongass Forest

At 17 million acres, Alaska’s Tongass is the largest U.S. national forest and the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Now, the Trump administration wants to resume large-scale logging in the Tongass, one of several initiatives threatening some of Alaska’s wildest lands.

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Fog rises from forest near Ford’s Terror, a narrow fjord in the Tongass. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

When the railroad tycoon Edward H. Harriman fell ill from stress and too much work, his doctors recommended that he take a sea cruise. Unable to do anything in a small way, Harriman filled a ship with America’s foremost scientists, artists, and writers, and sailed the coast of Alaska for two months in the summer of 1899.

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A forest view in the Tongass, the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

The expedition, which also included the renowned preservationists John Muir and George Bird Grinnell, found two Alaskas wherever they went, one for the taking, one for the saving. Each at odds with the other. Foremost among the places for saving was the great coastal rainforest of the Southeast Alaska panhandle, a wondrous world of mountains, ice fields, tidewater glaciers, rock-ribbed fjords, coastal brown bears, bald eagles, and 11,000 miles of shoreline.

Eight years later, in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt took a bold step in that direction by creating the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States. Today, the Tongass contains two national monuments and 19 designated wilderness areas. It also has countless undammed rivers and streams, and some of the world’s last great runs of wild Pacific salmon. Continue reading