Confronting the plasticine: promise in a world wrapped in plastic

Margaret A Handley

The Lancet | Open Access | Published: September, 2022 | DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(22)00194-2

As we poured water into a jug to be added to the ashes in the bucket, Maria (not her real name) asked in Spanish, “Why does making soap have anything to do with plastic?” Maria and another 50 or so Indigenous women from her village, in the highlands of southeastern Guatemala, had gathered ashes from their home fires and filled water jugs to bring to their community centre for a workshop with a local craftswoman on soap making; the first step of which is mixing ash with water and letting it sit. “That’s a long answer” I thought, struggling to think of how to express myself in Spanish. “Too much plastic everywhere, in the ground, air, water—chemicals in the plastic—bad for our health and for animals” I said in Spanish.iO, los químicos de plástico! iSi, son malos!” she agreed, as we finished our task. Outside, women were talking together, and you could feel their excitement—they wanted to learn something useful that might also garner additional income. This highland village had selected making soap, among many options, that might rebuff the environmental pollution that surrounds them. This first workshop seemed a success.

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Kiss the Amazon Goodbye?

Robert Hunziker

Countercurrents | September 10, 2022

The ecosystems of the world that support life like Brazil’s Amazon rainforest have an incompatible relationship with far right governments, like the United States under Trump, who took a baseball bat to the EPA.  According to Christine Todd Whitman, who headed EPA under George W. Bush: “I’ve never seen such an orchestrated war on the environment or science.” (How Trump Damaged Science – Why It Could Take Decades To Recover, Nature, Oct. 5, 2020)

As devastating as Trump (4 more years?) was for the environment, President Jair Bolsonaro’s MBGA or Make Brazil Great Again has one-upped Trump. He’s single-handedly destroying the world’s largest rainforest. It may be the single most important ecosystem for the survival of Homo sapiens. As such, with such a big important target to ravage, Bolsonaro’s making Trump look weak.

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Ocean ‘garbage patch’ is filled with fishing gear from just a few places

The bulk of large plastic bits in the North Pacific garbage patch have been lost or discarded by fishing vessels.

Freda Kreier

Nature | September 01, 2022

A crate with Japanese text on it was among the plastic debris collected by researchers studying the North Pacific garbage patch.Credit: The Ocean Cleanup

Fishing gear from just five regions could account for most of the floating plastic debris in the ‘North Pacific garbage patch’, a vast swathe of the North Pacific Ocean that holds tens of thousands of tonnes of plastic.

A study published on 1 September in Scientific Reports1 found that up to 86% of the large pieces of floating plastic in the garbage patch are items that were abandoned, lost or discarded by fishing vessels. The finding is counter-intuitive, given that most marine plastic makes its way into the ocean through rivers.

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Cities embrace their water — and build resilience

Briony Rogers helps cities to connect to their environment to better survive drought and storm surges.

Nature | August 17, 2022

An infiltration basin at the White Gum Valley development in Perth, Australia, manages stormwater runoff and provides shade.Credit: The Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive CIties

“When we think about making decisions on how we shape our cities, that deep connection and stewardship of water is really important,” says Briony Rogers, a civil engineer at the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and director of MSDI Water, the institute’s water research hub in Melbourne, Australia.

Rogers’ work on ‘water-sensitive’ cities brings together her interest in applying civil engineering to shape the environment humans live in, and her love of the beaches and forests that surround her in Melbourne.

That interest began when she worked as a water engineer at a design infrastructure company and realized that, to create truly sustainable infrastructure, principles of sustainability needed to be incorporated from the very start of the design process.

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UN General Assembly declares access to clean and healthy environment a universal human right

Countercurrents | July 29, 2022

With 161 votes in favour, and eight abstentions*, the UN General Assembly adopted a historic resolution on Thursday, declaring access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, a universal human right.

The resolution, based on a similar text adopted last year by the Human Rights Council, calls upon States, international organisations, and business enterprises to scale up efforts to ensure a healthy environment for all.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, welcomed the ‘historic’ decision and said the landmark development demonstrates that Member States can come together in the collective fight against the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

“The resolution will help reduce environmental injustices, close protection gaps and empower people, especially those that are in vulnerable situations, including environmental human rights defenders, children, youth, women and indigenous peoples”, he said in a statement released by his Spokesperson’s Office.

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Stockholm syndrome: What should ‘+50’ be about

The 50th anniversary celebration of the Stockholm conference should be about our common future, not the divisions of the past

Sunita Narain

Down To Earth | June 01, 2022

The Stockholm conference on the human environment marked the initiation of global consciousness on sustainability. It brought the world together to discuss the big issues of growth and environmental management.

This was the time when Rachel Carson, through her seminal book Silent Spring, had told the story of poisoning of nature. It was also the time when the industrialised West was battling against pollution and toxification.

Our colleague Anil Agarwal, who was at the conference in 1972, often recalled how Stockholm’s lakes were so contaminated with chemicals that you could develop a film negative in the water.

This conference was about the fallout of industrialisation and how to cope and mitigate its harmful impacts.

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Environment and war today

Farooque Chowdhury

Countercurrents | June 05, 2022

War environs environment.

War destructs and demolishes life, all forms of environment. It’s war’s powerful approach to contradictions within and with environment surrounding life. Wars including the current Ukraine War bear this signature of destruction of and on environment and ecology. The first victim is life; and, then comes surroundings of life that help sustain life. Activities to secure, nourish and sustain environment are hampered/suspended during war, and in war zones also.

Military activities, preparatory to war including training/drills/exercises, itself is threat to environment and ecology. Military/war expenditure is in direct and hostile contradiction with environment and ecology. The expenditure takes away a lot of resources, which can be allocated for life, steps to nourish and secure environment and ecology. The sphere of destruction of environment and ecology widens as the sphere of war widens. Today’s Ukraine is the witness. Iraq and Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Vietnam are witnesses. Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand as witnesses.

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Stockholm+50: Is science for just solutions

If science-policy interfaces are to deliver just and effective solutions to climate change, they must involve indigenous peoples and local communities

Pia M Kohler

Down To Earth | June 04, 2022

When presenting my research on global institutions established to guide policymaking on environmental challenges, my (mostly North American and European) audiences will often wonder at the need to scrutinise these science-policy interfaces. Isn’t the only thing that matters, someone will inevitably ask, is that we have asked the best scientists on the planet to guide us?

This is typically when I draw from Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain’s seminal 1991 piece, ‘Global warming in an unequal world’. Agarwal and Narain called out the environmental colonialism evident in a 1990 report by the US-based World Resources Institute purporting to measure a country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

I invite my interlocutors to consider the distinction Agarwal and Narain draw between “luxury” and “survival” emissions. We then consider what gets erased when we take up the now commonplace unit: the metric tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) or of CO2 equivalent.

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Stockholm+50: We need decentralisation of ‘power’

Power generation and transmission models that are local and self-sustaining can increase access to energy in the future

Koshy Mathew Cherail

Down To Earth | June 03, 2022

Availability and access to uninterrupted and reliable energy sources is a prerequisite to enable an equitable and just development of communities, nations, and regions at large.

Countries that have clear goals of raising the socio-economic conditions of their population have prioritised access to energy above other development goals.

Construction and operation of power plants, as well as ensuring a steady supply of fuel of consistent quality, is a time-consuming and capital-intensive process.

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50 years since Stockholm conference: The summer lingers

Richard Mahapatra

Down To Earth | May 31, 2022

From June 5 to June 16, 1972, countries across the world shed a bit of their sovereignty. The aim was to create a common governance structure for the planet’s environment and natural resources.

The occasion was the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the first such worldwide convergence on planetary environment, with the theme ‘Only One Earth’.

When the participating 122 countries — 70 of them developing and poor countries — adopted the Stockholm Declaration on June 16, they essentially committed to 26 principles and an action plan that set in a multilateral environmental regime.

One of the overarching principles was that sovereignty should be subject to not causing harm to the environment of other countries as well.

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