By James O’Donovan Following the success of Seaspiracy, people around the world are asking how can we protect and restore the precious ocean’s biodiversity and ecosystems. The obvious first step is go vegan, but then we also need to get involved in advocating for some of the following actions. WWF Living Planet Report 2020 We need to stop Bottom Trawling Immediately According to a March, 2021 ground-breaking study published in Nature, bottom trawling fishing boats that drag a weighted net across the ocean floor release as much carbon dioxide as the entire aviation industry by disturbing the organic carbon stored in the seabed. The paper estimates that 4.9 million km2 or 1.3% of the global ocean is trawled each year. About a third of the global land area used for crop production (15.6 million km2 – using the IPCC Land Use SR figure of 12% of Ice free land). This most destructive method of fishing also destroys the seabed ecosystems and most of the organisms living there. It effectively ploughs the ocean floor and extracts the bodies of a few organisms from the debris. If any action that humans inflict on nature can be called ecocide its bottom trawling. End Subsidies for the Fishing Industry A 2019 Report detailed the level of subsidies for industrial fishing (see diagram below). “We estimate global fisheries subsidies at USD 35.4 billion in 2018, of which capacity-enhancing subsidies are USD 22.2 billion. The top five subsidising political entities (China, European Union, USA, Republic of Korea and Japan) contribute 58% (USD 20.5 billion) of the total estimated subsidy.” We need to move subsidies from destructive practices like fishing to ecosystem restoration but persuading the different national governments to do that will be a challenge. Perhaps the World Trade Organisation will declare them illegal due to the unfair advantage they provide to some fishers. 30-71% of the Ocean as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030 According to a March 2021 Study, MPAs—especially highly protected areas in which extractive and destructive activities like fishing and mining are banned—can be effective management tools to safeguard and restore ocean biodiversity and associated services including oxygen production and climate stabilisation. As of March 2021, only around 7% of the ocean has been designated or proposed as MPAs, and only 2.7% is actually implemented as fully or highly protected. A study published last year in the journal Science found that industrial fishing was present in 432 of the 727 MPAs in the European Union. Since 2014 organisations have been calling for 30% of the ocean to be designated MPA’s by 2030. However the above Study comments “If society were to value marine biodiversity benefits as much as food provision benefits, the optimal conservation strategy would protect 45% of the ocean, delivering 71% of the maximum possible biodiversity benefits, 92% of food provisioning benefits and 29% of carbon benefits. Results also suggest that we could protect as much as 71% of the ocean, obtaining 91% of the biodiversity and 48% of the carbon benefits, with no change in the future yields of fisheries.” Declare the High Seas a MPA Coastal countries have authority over 200 nautical miles from shore called their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Everything beyond those areas is called the high seas. No country owns the high seas and they are ineffectively governed by the UN. China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Spain account for almost 80% of the fishing in the high seas. The economics are dependent on huge government subsidies, and for some countries, on human rights violations. EEZs currently provide 96% of global catch and contain most of the world’s overexploited fisheries. This protection would help protect some migrating species like tuna and sharks which are in desperate need of some protection. Enric Sala with National Geographic outlines the benefits of declaring the High Seas an MPA in this TED talk. WWF Living Planet Report 2020 End Human Trafficking in the Fishing Industry Several reports have highlighted that some sectors of the fishing industry continue to use forced labour and physical punishment, and even deliberately kill workers. Fishers can be extremely vulnerable while at sea, far out of sight of law enforcement agencies or help from friends and family. Ownership of fishing boats are hidden by countries like Panama who provide Flags of Convenience. The global epicentre of abuse is the Gulf of Thailand – the main source of prawns for European and US markets. But it has also been documented in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. The same gangs involved in people smuggling are often also involved in other criminal activities. WWF Living Planet Report 2020 Invest in the Emerging Plant Based Fish Sector There is an urgent and sizable need to fill the increasing global demand for seafood with plant based seafood. However, as the alternative protein industry continues to grow, with plant-based retail sales reaching $7 billion in 2020, alternative seafood still needs substantial public and private investment to rapidly expand this industry. You can read about the many emerging plant based seafood companies producing everything from plant based tuna and shrimp to fillet-no-fish in these Vegconomist Articles. Education, Legal Protection and Enforcement Organise a screening of Seaspiracy or End of the Line or Racing Extinction in your community and begin the process to recognise all animals as sentient beings with protection of their lives enshrined in law. You can find a brilliant list of fishing industry research on this Seaspiracy Facts page. What kind of benefits could be expected from these measures – well, it turns out the WWF have produced a detailed report outlining the benefits of 30% MPAs. The more the better. The Benefits of Restoring the Seas The WWF 2021 Report, The Value of Restored UK Seas explores the economic, employment, biodiversity and climate benefits of restoring just 30% of the UK’s waters to strictly protected MPAs. The following are a few extracts from the report. “Today, UK MPAs cover about a quarter of UK seas, but many are little more Read more
By Gretta Dattan The global response to Covid-19 has mobilised governments, industry, and civilians in a way never before seen outside of war time. Now researchers are looking to find out what the response to Covid-19 can teach us about preparing for climate change and galvanising public support. In a recent article published in Environmental and Resource Economics titled “Building a Social Mandate for Climate Action: Lessons from Covid-19”, a team of global researchers noted that the two issues of Covid-19 and climate change “share common drivers – including global travel, deforestation, and land-use change – and are mutually reinforcing – climate change is known to affect the survival, reproduction, abundance, and distribution of pathogens, vectors, and hosts”. Both problems also require individuals, governments, and corporations to act with common intention in the interest of the greater good. What makes climate change more difficult to identify, communicate, and work against is the fact that it is more diffuse and gradual than the Covid-19 pandemic. Creating lasting change The slow, and at times ineffectual, global response to Covid-19 has reinforced just how unprepared everyone is for the more significant and long lasting effects of climate change. That being said, the pandemic has also illustrated that change on a mass scale is possible. The same team of researchers argued that one of the best ways to prepare a society for climate change challenges is to encourage the continuation of behaviours developed during the pandemic. The shift to working from home and decline in all forms of travel means that individual emissions have been lower, on average, than most other years. Needless to say, industrial and commercial sources are the biggest polluters, but shifts in consumer behaviour patterns are still important. Encouraging companies to allow for more flexible working arrangements and advocating for more low-emission forms of travel (such as rail over planes) are two ways in which governments can encourage Covid-19 behaviours to stick around after the pandemic has ended. The same team of researchers have also advocated for a minimally disruptive transition to a low carbon future through creating a “carefully planned response” which allows for the “identification of those areas where the structural adjustment costs of decarbonization are real and putting in place safeguards for a just transition”. The rapid spread of Covid-19 meant that governments were forced to scramble in order to prepare for the virus. As a result, mistakes were made, time was wasted, and some demographic groups in society felt abandoned or ignored. The issues surrounding climate change tend to be fraught with uncertainty, fear, disagreement, and misinformation. This means that climate change tends to be a difficult area for everyone, including policymakers, to find common ground and agreement. The fact that the effects of climate change are also less tangible than Covid-19 leads many people to adopt a passive outlook on climate policy and preparedness. This is why it is so important to develop a strong social mandate for climate-related change and to educate and galvanise broad swaths of society. Countering misinformation One of the most pressing – and perhaps most unexpected – challenges in both the Covid-19 and climate change crises has been misinformation. Around the world there are signs that far-right, nationalist movements and populist ideologies are gaining traction and threatening liberal democracies. Misinformation has characterised the rise of authoritarianism in many countries around the world and has fostered a deep mistrust of all media sources and government. During the Covid-19 pandemic, misinformation led to protests, riots, and a lack of adherence to health and safety protocols, all of which increased the spread of the virus and placed more pressure on health systems which were already struggling. Climate activists have also fought against misinformation campaigns for decades and in many countries are still fighting to have the scientific reality of climate change publicly recognised. The public response to Covid-19 has taught us a lot about how to counter misinformation and stop its spread. The social media tags which now accompany every post or tweet that mentions Covid-19 are a great starting point, but already many people are suspicious of Big Tech. Misinformation arguably cannot be approached in a singular way because it takes so many different forms. Rather, governmental PSAs should target specific demographics and age groups which are particularly at risk for misinformation. The Toronto Star #VaccineTalk campaign is a great example of how to target misinformation in specific demographics. #VaccineTalk is a series of videos which feature healthcare professionals speaking about vaccines in different languages, specifically in Spanish, Cantonese, Hindi, Urdu, and Mandarin. These videos are meant to be shared with middle aged and elderly populations of immigrants in Canada who are unsure about the vaccine or distrustful of the health services. In order to effectively educate the public about climate change challenges and measures, a multi-faceted approach which acknowledges the different needs of various sectors of the population is likely to be more effective at combatting misinformation than a one size fits all PSA approach. Deliberative democracy As with Covid-19 measures, the challenges of climate change will require mass societal buy-in. Researchers and academics are arguing that increasing transparency and creating more room for democratic dialogue and debate with constituents could help to build the unity required for such mass buy-in. In a recent study published in Climatic Change, it was argued that Citizens Assemblies like the one in Ireland can be extremely effective and powerful in helping to shape legislation and gauge public opinion. The study found that the “13 climate recommendations agreed upon by the citizens were significantly more radical than expected” and included “proposals for a new climate governance architecture, a heightened carbon tax, a socially just transition, supports for active, electric and public transport, a GHG emissions tax on agriculture, enhanced land use diversification, community-owned renewable energy and an end to subsidies for peat extraction”. While Citizens Assemblies are costly to run and do not have a direct legislative impact, they do help lawmakers better understand Read more
by Gretta Dattan Ali Tabrizi’s Seaspiracy depicts the environmental impact and long term consequences of continued, unfettered industrialised fishing in stark detail. The documentary was released in late March and since then it has remained solidly in the list of most watched films on Netflix – and at the top of media headlines. The huge amount of criticism Seaspiracy has generated is in many ways more interesting than the content of the documentary itself. The amount of backlash which the film has attracted, from the marine biologist community in particular, is baffling (the film was heavily criticised even before it was released). It is difficult to understand why marine biologists would react so strongly against a film because it used a few statistics they disagree with, but which has also generated mass public interest in ocean and marine life conservation. As ecologist Simon Mustoe writes in his review, the backlash by marine biologists against the film is “nothing short of ill-informed and…many may have done their reputations far more harm than the film itself” because the filmmaker makes “no bones of identifying clear conflicts of [interest] between some of the groups representing ocean health and their role in accrediting fisheries as sustainable”. The marine biologists arguing over the accuracy of data points are, to use a colloquialism, telling on themselves. Proving this point is one of the most prominent “takedown” reviews of Seaspiracy which was published by Vox under the title “What Netflix’s Seaspiracy gets wrong about fishing, explained by a marine biologist: giving up seafood isn’t the best way to save the oceans”. The marine biologist in question, Daniel Pauly, is a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and also, importantly, one of the Board of Directors for Oceana. In the film, Ali notes that Oceana is the world’s largest marine conservation group, “but there wasn’t a single mention of reducing or eliminating seafood consumption” on their website; rather, “the organisation recommends one of the best ways to save fish was to eat fish. Oceana were advocating for sustainable fishing, so I decided to meet with the group so they could explain what that meant”. The representative for Oceana, when asked what sustainable fishing means, states, “there is no definition for sustainability as a whole in fisheries”. Clearly for an organisation that actively advocates for sustainable fishing, this less than favourable depiction of Oceana calls into question the NGO’s (and Pauly’s) actual interests. In addition to critique of the way a handful of statistics were discussed in the film, critics have also focused on the film’s vegan message. Critics have argued that the film is trying to prevent subsistence fishing and is, as Pauly writes, focused through a “privileged lens to make Europeans and North Americans who can give up fish feel guilty enough to do so…the fight against illegal fishing and the other shenanigans of the fishing industry will be won by political actions directed at governments, not appeals to vegans in New York, London, or Vancouver”. This is an interesting point which has been voiced in a number of different, critical reviews. Perhaps most notably, it is interesting that Pauly seems to think that political movements and actions occur in a sociocultural vacuum. They do not. Documentaries like Seaspiracy are essential for communicating to wide swathes of the population and inspiring movements for change. Seaspiracy has been watched millions of times around the world, climbing into Netflix’s listing of top 10 film titles, so it is difficult to argue in good faith that the film only speaks to a privileged, urban, and Western demographic. Perhaps the film actually speaks to those who are interested in marine life, conservation, and preserving and restoring the natural world. To claim that the film’s message of marine conservation and audience is solely Western is, in fact, to deny the existence of brave environmental activists around the world. Regarding subsistence fishing, the filmmakers clearly expressed that the film’s objective was not to disparage subsistence fishing. In an interview with Plant Based News, the filmmakers Ali and Lucy discussed these issues; Ali addressed the widespread criticism of the film’s vegan message, stating: “[t]hey’re saying it’s not realistic for a global population to adopt a plant-based diet because there are people that depend on it. I think [they’re] missing the point. There are hundreds of millions if not billions of people that can make the transition towards a more plant-based diet. And, the people that rely on those fish, the best thing we can do to ensure that they can survive – and that there’s enough fish for them to eat is – for us people who have the privilege to avoid eating it”. Lucy added: “I think we’ve got to be really careful not to sort of weaponize poor and vulnerable people who are depending on fish, to justify our own eating habits. [Especially] when we have the privilege to choose not to and to choose something else quite comfortably. I think the people that are watching this film on Netflix and are going to these NGOs websites looking for how to eat sustainably…They’re not the people that are relying on this for sustenance, for survival”. The argument that vegans and environmental activists are unfairly privileging animal life over human dignity and suffering is a tired trope that has no credibility. In reality, overfishing and environmental degradation hurts impoverished populations in the Global South while leaving wealthy, industrialised first world nations virtually untouched. Industrial overfishing puts cheap tuna on the table from Vancouver to London but in doing so it wrecks marine ecological systems and prevents subsistence fishers from feeding their families. Moreover, as the film states, when local fish populations are decimated, subsistence fishers are forced to turn to bushmeat for survival and in doing so put themselves and their families in danger of contracting zoonotic diseases like Ebola. There is arguably nothing worse for local subsistence fishers than industrialised fishing and it cannot be Read more
by Paul Appleby A report produced by the United Nations and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition has shown that cutting methane emissions is “the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years”, according to UN environment chief Inger Andersen. Methane has caused about 30% of global heating to date and the gas is 84 times more powerful in trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, but it breaks down in the atmosphere relatively quickly – within about a decade, unlike CO2 which remains in the air for centuries. This means that reducing methane emissions an have a rapid effect in terms of cutting greenhouse gases. The report found that a 45% cut in methane emissions by 2030, equivalent to 180 million tonnes per year (Mt/y), would avoid nearly 0.3C of global heating and keep the world on track to meet the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C, and that this could be achieved using existing technology at reasonable cost. Methane also contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, a “dangerous air pollutant”, and the report estimates that reducing methane emissions by 45% would prevent 255,000 early deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally every year. (Ground-level ozone suppresses plant growth, and the report estimates that every million tonnes reduction in methane production would prevent the annual loss of 145,000 tonnes of wheat, soybeans, maize and rice.) About 60% of total methane emissions are attributable to human activities, mostly from fossil fuels (about 35% of anthropogenic emissions), agriculture (about 40%) and waste (about 20%), the remainder coming from natural sources. Emissions from livestock due to enteric fermentation and manure management are the largest source of agricultural emissions, accounting for 32% (or almost one-third) of global anthropogenic emissions. Ruminant animals alone produce an estimated 115 Mt/y of methane (a single cow burps 600 litres of methane every day), while rice cultivation adds another 30 Mt/y of methane, accounting for 8% of global anthropogenic emissions. The report estimates that the adoption of “healthy diets” with a lower meat and dairy content could reduce methane emissions by 15-30 Mt/y, with additional benefits from reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, the other main greenhouse gases. However, with cattle rearing (whether for meat or milk) responsible for around 100 Mt/y of methane it’s easy to see that the widespread adoption of vegan diets could result in a much greater reduction in methane emissions, helping to apply the brakes to runaway global warming. Paul Appleby is a member of the Oxfordshire Vegans and Vegetarians group and writes for the OxVeg blog.
This article is based on a talk by Stephen Walsh, a long-serving trustee of the Vegan Society and author of Plant Based Nutrition and Health. A recording of the talk can be found on the VeganLondon YouTube channel here Dietary supplements are no substitute for a healthy diet. The dietary recommendations used for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 (see the Table in this paper) included the avoidance of excess salt and processed meat, and the daily consumption of at least 125 g of whole grains, 250 g of fruit (3 portions), 20 g of nuts and seeds, 400 g of vegetables (5 portions, including one of legumes), and 250 mg (milligrams) of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Failure to meet these recommendations is estimated to account for about 90% of diet-related health impacts both globally and in the UK. It can be seen that these recommendations are readily met on a vegan diet, with the possible exception of that relating to an adequate intake long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, of which more below. Nevertheless, there are some nutrients that present a problem for vegans, and we recommend that vegans supplement their diet with the following: Vitamin B12 (10 micrograms daily supplement or 2000 micrograms once per week)Vitamin D (20 micrograms vegan vitamin D3 a day all year round unless confident of adequate sun exposure)Iodine (75 to 150 micrograms a day)Selenium (30 to 60 micrograms a day)Long chain omega-3 fatty acids (250 mg a day of a mixture of EPA and DHA or a good balance of plant omega-3 and omega-6)Calcium (enough to ensure 500 mg a day from supplements and rich bioavailable food sources combined). The first four vitamins and minerals listed above are conveniently and inexpensively provided by a daily tablet of the VEG-1 nutritional supplement available from the Vegan Society. The Vegan Society recommend that vegans either supplement their diet with vitamin B12 or get at least 3 micrograms per day from fortified foods such as some plant milks and breakfast cereals, yeast extracts and nutritional yeast flakes. The main source of vitamin D is the action of sunlight on skin, with marked seasonal variation in blood levels. In the UK the sun is too low in the sky to be an adequate source between October and February, so Public Health England recommend taking 10 micrograms a day in autumn and winter, whilst noting that some people will need more than this. Vegan vitamin D3 may be better absorbed than the fungal-derived vitamin D2. Iodine and selenium are found in some plant foods (especially kelp and Brazil nuts, respectively) but the content is variable, so obtaining these nutrients from a supplement is a good insurance policy. VEG-1 does not contain calcium, but calcium supplements are readily available; for example, a tablet of Holland & Barrett Calcium & Magnesium provides 500 mg of calcium (and 250 mg magnesium). Otherwise, good dietary sources of calcium for vegans include kale or spring greens (150 mg per 100 g), broccoli or cabbage (50 mg per 100 g), oranges (40 mg) and fortified plant milks (usually 120 mg per 100 ml, so half of a litre carton provides 600 mg), and calcium-set tofu. However, it should be noted that the recommended intake for calcium is 700 mg per day in the UK, and higher still in the USA and some other countries, so it might be wise to take calcium supplements as well as ensuring a calcium-rich diet. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids present more of a problem for vegans (and to a lesser extent vegetarians) because the most readily available dietary sources are oily fish. Therefore, vegans must either take a supplement (for example, Vegetology Opti-3) or rely on the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in the body to the long chain forms EPA and DHA. This option can be as simple as replacing oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (such as sunflower and soya oil) with rapeseed or hempseed oils and favouring nuts such as cashews, almonds, walnuts and hazel nuts over seeds such as sunflower and sesame (tahini) in order to achieve an overall ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of around 4:1. Flaxseed oil is 55% ALA, but it requires refrigeration and is not recommended for use in cooking. With thanks to Paul Appleby of OxVeg for permission to reproduce the article.
Some highlights from the news in recent months by Bronwyn Slater Animals to be recognised as sentient beings in UK As part of a post-Brexit animal welfare plan the UK says it will ban the live export of animals for slaughter and fattening and formally recognise animals as sentient beings. The reforms will be introduced through a series of bills, including an animal sentience bill, and will cover farm animals and pets, a ban on ivory and shark fins and a potential ban on foie gras. Illegal hare coursing will also be the subject of a new crackdown, and the use of glue traps will be ‘restricted’. However, the use of cages for poultry and farrowing crates for pigs will not be subject to an outright ban, as campaigners had called for. Juliet Gellatley – founder and director of Viva! – says the government needs to do more for farmed animals, saying the reforms will do little to stop factory farming. She also stressed it was ‘vital’ to ban the import of livestock. Forests the size of France have regrown in the past 20 years A 2-year study conducted via satellite imaging has shown that an area of forest the size of France has regrown around the world over the past 20 years. Nearly 59 million hectares of forests have regrown since 2000, providing the potential to soak up and store 5.9 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide – more than the annual emissions of the entire US. The study found areas of regrowth in the Atlantic forest in Brazil, parts of central Africa, Canada, and in the boreal forests of Mongolia where 1.2m hectares of forest have regenerated in two decades due to the work of conservationists and the Mongolian government. However, over a similar period 386m hectares of tree cover were lost worldwide, around seven times the area of regenerated forest. UK legal challenge over factory farming The UK government is facing a legal challenge over factory farming due to the threat of pandemics and concerns over climate change. A group of campaigners has created a legal team, spearheaded by human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC. Non-profit Humane Being is behind the Scrap Factory Farming campaign which they say is crucial to stop the spread of zoonotic diseases that can result in a pandemic, as well as to meet environmental targets as set out in the Paris Agreement. “We’re sitting on a pandemic timebomb”, a spokesperson for the group said. “Three out of every four new and emerging diseases in people come from animals. Factory farming is the perfect breeding ground for these diseases: huge numbers of animals in cramped and filthy conditions.” A coalition of MPs is also calling on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to outlaw intensive farming. A poll conducted earlier this year that shows 90% of Britons want the government to ban intensive farming. RSPCA members have also called for a major cut in meat and dairy consumption in what has been hailed a landmark decision after years of debate over how much the charity should speak out on climate issues. Seaspiracy in Netflix top 10 while petition gets over half a million signatures ‘Seaspiracy’, a documentary by Ali and Lucy Tabrizi about the exploitation of our oceans was released on Netflix on March 24th. Within 48 hours it was in Netflix’s top 10 in 32 countries. The film charts the directors’ journey across the world to uncover the ‘horrors’ of industrial fishing. It looks at the environmental and ethical impacts of the fishing industry, as well as the inaction of environmental groups and governments. A petition by the makers of the film urging the UK government to protect 30% of the oceans garnered over 500,000 signatures within two weeks of its release. At the time of writing the petition has almost 680,000 signatures. It is hoped government bodies in the UK, US, Canada, and Germany will set up ‘no-catch zones’ in at least 30% of surrounding waters. Activist and writer George Monbiot called the film a ‘brilliant expose’, urging his Twitter followers to stop eating fish. Meanwhile, global searches for ‘vegan seafood’ have skyrocketed. Irish citizens object to plans for 3 large meat and dairy plants Opposition is growing among concerned Irish citizens to plans for 3 big meat and dairy plants – 2 of them in the Irish Republic and one in the north. Environmental group ‘An Taisce’ have said they will appeal Cork County Council’s granting of planning permission for a 4,300-animal industrial piggery in Ballymacoda, East Cork, which would involve an increase from 1,000 to 4,500 pigs slaughtered each day, resulting in a doubling of pig slurry to 7 million litres a year. A group called Power (Protection of Water, Environment and Residents) has also been formed to appeal the plan, and more than 3,350 people signed an online petition against the development. An Taisce has also opposed the construction of a cheese factory in Kilkenny. The group said the new factory will be a “clear tipping point” for the environment, as it would require 450 million litres of milk to run the plant. Dr Elaine McGoff, a representative of An Taisce, said that all environmental indicators are going in the wrong way and agriculture – predominantly dairy intensification – is the main driver of that. “When people see milk on the table, they do not realise the environmental cost,” she stated. There has also been opposition to plans for a new £75 million pig slaughterhouse in Ballymoney, County Antrim. A petition calling for a halt to the project on ethical and environmental grounds has garnered almost 20,000 signatures. WHO urges food markets to ban sale of live animals More than a year after the outbreak of Covid-19 the World Health Organization has again called for a halt to the sale of live wild mammals in food markets. The call came in fresh guidance drawn up in conjunction with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Animals, Read more
Bronwyn Slater asks if the emerging technology of landfill mining could eventually result in the elimination of all existing landfills – by digging them up and emptying them. Millions of landfills exist all over the world and many have now been covered over and closed as incineration becomes the preferred option for waste disposal in many jurisdictions. Most or all of the rubbish buried in landfill still exists, because very little breaks down in a sealed oxygen-deprived environment. Landfill mining, a relatively new technology which involves digging up old landfills and in many cases completely emptying them, may eventually eradicate landfills from the face of the earth. It’s worth pointing out that humans have always had to deal with garbage, and they have done so in various ways including burning, burying and dumping it in rivers or even in the streets. The first recorded landfill in history is located in Knossos, Crete where large holes were dug into the earth to dump refuse. On the banks of the Tiber, the Monte Testaccio, also known as the third hill of Rome, is an artificial mound built almost entirely of fragments of broken amphorae (clay bottles) dating back to the time of the Roman Empire. Broken clay bottles (amphorae) on an ancient Roman dumping ground In the Middle Ages people dumped waste in streets, ditches and public waterways. In 15th century Paris huge piles of garbage were dumped outside the city’s walls. In many other European cities it was common for residents to dispose of rotting food and other trash by tossing it out the window – it was widely believed that wild dogs would consume the refuse. Prior to the introduction of municipal waste disposal systems individuals burned or buried their waste. Before the Industrial Revolution most of this waste was organic and would have broken down naturally. And today, for anyone lucky enough to stumble upon any surviving relics of the past, they could be worth a fortune. But today the story is very different. For more than 100 years, the world has been discarding its unwanted waste in landfill sites. There are at least half a million of these sites in Europe alone. Most have now closed, in line with the EU’s Landfill Directive, as Europe moves to waste incineration and increased recycling. Landfills are not designed to break down waste, only to store it. In an oxygen-free environment trash does decompose, albeit very slowly. So there are millions of these sealed sarcophagi all around the world containing massive amounts of tightly compacted garbage which will remain unchanged for no-one knows how long. How Landfills Work Waste is dumped into a specific area (called a ‘cell’) of the landfill and is then compacted by a tractor with spiked wheels that goes back and forth over the garbage. The compactor makes three to five passes over the garbage to crush as much into the space as possible. On average, about 1,200 to 1,400 pounds of waste can be compacted into one cubic yard of space. At the end of each day, the working face of the cell is covered with a layer of soil or other cover material to minimize odour, pests and rodents as well as litter. This three-step process is repeated over and over until the cell is filled. Landfill sizes vary. The largest in the world range in size from 200 to 2000 acres in surface area. Modern vs. Older Landfills Modern landfills in most developed countries are classed as ‘sanitary’ landfills. This means they are thoroughly insulated so that toxins do not leach into the groundwater, and methane is collected rather than allowed to escape into the atmosphere. They are sealed with impermeable synthetic bottom liners which include 2 feet of clay, a plastic liner and a protective layer 2 feet thick, usually comprised of sand. A storm water drainage system collects rainwater that falls on the landfill and a leachate collection system collects liquids and any rainwater that comes into contact with the garbage. The average life expectancy of a landfill could be anywhere from 30 to 50 years. When the landfill is completed, it is capped with a layer of clay or a synthetic liner in order to prevent water from entering. Landfills must be monitored for 30 years after closure. However, 90% of European landfills pre-date the 1999 Landfill Directive and are classed as “non-sanitary”. They have little or no protection or liner technologies and many are simply “waste dumps”. They often leak their unprocessed leachate into the groundwater, and so present a danger to public health. They are also a major source of methane emissions. Landfill Mining Landfill mining is the process of excavating waste from landfills in order to reduce their environmental impact. Waste is excavated and then separated into its constituent parts such as glass, metal, plastic, soil and other material that can be then used as fuel to generate electricity. The glass, metal and plastic is recycled. Landfills, especially older landfills which were in use prior to the introduction of recycling, contain large amounts of valuable metals. Aluminium, copper, zinc and steel are high value commodities, and are recoverable from tin cans, scrap metal, electronic devices and other objects. The concentration of aluminium in landfills can often be higher than the concentration of aluminum in bauxite from which the virgin metal is derived. Landfills are now starting to be viewed as an untapped resource for many of these strategic metals. In the UK alone, 2 billion tons of waste sit untouched in landfills. In the US, more than 4.6 million tons of electronic waste were disposed of in landfills in the year 2000 alone. While the cost of landfill mining is extremely high, it can be offset by the revenue generated by recycling and the production of energy from the fuel fraction contained in the landfill. Other important benefits may include avoided liability through site remediation, reductions in closure costs, and reclamation of land for other uses. The Read more
by Bronwyn Slater Microplastics are tiny plastic particles less than five millimeters (one fifth of an inch) in diameter. They are now ubiquitous in the environment and are found in large quantities in our oceans, land, food, water and air. They have been found in the organs of fish, human placentas, dust, rice, tea, salt, honey, sugar, vegetables and soft drinks. Health experts have yet to come to a definitive conclusion about the danger of microplastics to human health. Microplastics – particles less than one fifth of an inch in diameter How do microplastics enter the environment? 8 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in our oceans each year – that’s the equivalent of a truckload of plastic being dumped into the sea every minute. It enters the ocean via rivers, storms, winds or floods. A high proportion of ocean plastic consists of fishing gear such as plastic nets which have been tossed overboard from trawlers. Larger pieces of plastic become brittle and gradually break down due to the action of sunlight, oxidation, friction or by animals nibbling on the plastic. A similar process happens on land. This plastic breakdown process goes on forever, although the speed depends on the circumstances – some plastics can take many hundreds or even a thousand years to break down completely. As a result of the ongoing breakdown process, the number of micro- and nanoplastic particles increases exponentially. Due to their low density, most of these microplastics float at the ocean surface. The wear and tear of rubber car tyres is also a significant source of microplastics, which are then carried by winds over land and sea and then breathed in by mammals. In the Netherlands, seventeen million kilograms of car tyre rubber enters the environment every year – around 1 kilogram per inhabitant. Microplastics are also generated when we wash our clothes. A large proportion of our clothing is made from synthetics such as nylon, polyester and acrylic. Five kilograms of synthetic clothing (a typical large wash load) releases an average of 9 million microfibres that are carried down the drain with the rinse water. Microplastics or ‘microbeads’ are also contained in personal care products such as facial scrubs, cosmetics and toothpaste. These are rinsed away with wastewater during use. Many countries have now banned the use of microbeads in products. It ‘rains’ microplastics every day, even in the most remote regions of the world. Microplastics have been found in the deepest places on earth – at depths of 11 kilometers below the surface of the water. Animals and fish Fish, marine mammals and seabirds often mistake floating plastic for prey, and many die as a result of ingesting it. At least 267 different species of fish are known to have been affected by plastic pollution, while up to 90% of seabirds are thought to have pieces of plastic in their stomachs. A study carried out by marine scientists at NUI Galway found that 73% out of 233 deep water fish from the Northwest Atlantic Ocean had ingested plastic particles. To further complicate matters, microplastics in the ocean can bind with other harmful chemicals before being ingested by marine organisms. These are then fragmented by freshwater invertebrate animals as part of their digestive process. The ingestion of microplastics by these animals may cause internal physical damage, inflammation of intestines, reduced feeding and other effects. How do Humans ingest microplastics? More than half of the fish species found to have ingested microplastics are eaten by humans. Microplastics have also been found in fruit and vegetables. Plastic food containers and bottles also provide a route for microplastics to enter the human digestive system. A recent study by researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) discovered that high levels of microplastics are released from infant feeding bottles during the sterilisation and preparation of baby formula. A study also found high levels of microplastics in tap water. A recent study by researchers from the University of Newcastle in Australia found that the average person consumes about 5 grams of plastic every week from water. An analysis of some of the world’s most popular bottled water brands found that more than 90% contained tiny pieces of plastic. The study found an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water being sold. In one bottle of Nestlé Pure Life, concentrations were as high as 10,000 plastic pieces per litre of water. New research suggests 136,000 tons of microplastics are ejected from the ocean each year, ending up in the air we breathe. The oceans were estimated to be the source of about 10% of the airborne plastics in western US. Microplastics can also be inhaled. These plastics, whipped up into the air by road traffic and carried by winds, are likely to include particles from tyres and brake pads on vehicles, and plastics from litter that had been ground down. A team from Macquarie University in Sydney took samples of airborne dust from homes and found about 40% of it was plastic, about a quarter of which was composed of particles small enough to be inhaled. How can microplastics affect human health? While the World Health Organization’s stance is that ingesting microplastics poses no known threat to human health, not everyone agrees. “Nobody really knows the answer,” says environmental contamination expert Professor Mark Taylor of Macquarie University, Sydney. “But the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, he said in a recent article in The Guardian. Dr. Douglas Rader, chief oceans scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, points out that many microplastics contain chemicals linked to reproductive and hormonal disruption and cancer. Some of these particles are toxic to humans — they can carry carcinogenic or mutagenic chemicals. Plastic comes in many forms and contains a wide range of additives such as pigments, ultraviolet stabilizers, water repellents, flame retardants, stiffeners such as bisphenol A (BPA), and softeners called phthalates, all of which can leach into their surroundings. Some of these chemicals are considered Read more
By James O’Donovan Globally, agriculture subsidies amount to €500 billion with a recent study showing that only 1% of them deliver ecological benefits. Over a third of the EU Budget goes to farmers who make up just 3% of its population. According to a Greenpeace Report in 2017 “between 69% (€28.5 billion) and 79% (€32.6 billion) of the CAP direct payments is directed to producers of fodder for animals, or goes directly to livestock producers as coupled support.” In this article we use Ireland as a case study to show how these subsidies are working directly against the many measures the Irish Government is implementing to deliver its goal of a 50% reduction in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. In 2019, Ireland’s provisional greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are estimated to be 59.9 million tonnes (Mt) – a 15% reduction since 2005 (70.2 Mt). Share of GHG Emissions by Sector, EPA Website, 2021 82% of Ireland’s emissions come from agriculture, transport, energy and residential. 87% of all energy used in Ireland in 2019 still came from fossil fuels. The overall share of renewables in primary energy stood at 11.2% in 2019. Ireland did not meet any of its EU mandated Renewable Energy Targets for 2020. The Irish Government is claiming that it is reducing its transport emissions by mixing biofuels with diesel and petrol based on the EU’s discredited assumption that biofuels are carbon neutral. Ireland’s 2019 Climate Action Plan The Irish Government has identified a range of actions across different sectors as shown below. This will be updated once the new Climate Bill comes into effect. Irish Government, Dept. of Environment, Climate and Communications, 2019 What is the likelihood of the government achieving the legally mandated 50% reduction by 2030? To assess this we will explore the potential emissions reductions for the main four sectors of electricity, residential, transport, and agriculture, which generate 82% of emissions. Electricity Ireland plans to produce 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 – up from 32% in 2020. The below image shows the current sources of electricity production. To reach the 70% target the government plans to double its onshore wind capacity to 8.2 GW and install 3.5 GW of offshore capacity. According to Wind Energy Ireland, this will cost “€8.6 billion” and €4 to €5 Billion respectively. So lets say a total investment cost of €12 Billion. Residential The government plans to retrofit half a million homes which will cost €30 – €50K per home. This includes the cost of a heat pump. So lets say €40K per home costing €20 billion. A portion of this will be paid for by the state (approx. €4 billion). If achieved, residential emissions would be reduced from 6.5m tonnes to 4m tonnes by 2030. Transport According to the SEAI Energy in Ireland 2020 Report, transport continues to dominate as the largest energy-consuming sector accounting for 41% of energy related emissions. Electric vehicles made up 3% of new private cars in 2019, but just 0.3% of the total stock of private cars, so not much progress so far. The main government climate action for transport is to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 (the expected fleet size in 2030 is 2.3 million vehicles). This “could require up to €10 billion in state subvention – based on the current rate of €13,000 per EV”. New electric vehicles cost over €35,000. So this could cost individuals a further €15 billion assuming a second hand market gets established and prices fall. It’s worth mentioning that when we use an electric car, we can reduce our fuel cost by 80% — that’s €2,000 per year based on a €50/week diesel fill. But this will only deliver a 20% reduction in transport emissions as personal vehicles use just 40% of transport energy as shown below which would be a reduction of just 2.4 Mt. Emissions from aviation and goods vehicles continue to grow. The government also plans to invest in public transport, and working from home could have a significant positive benefit. Agriculture Irish agriculture produced 21.1 Mt of GHG emissions in 2019 compared to 18.7 Mt in 2005. The current government plan for reduction in agricultural emissions is based on the Teagasc publication, An Analysis of Abatement Potential of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Irish Agriculture 2021-2030. The below diagram shows that, if farmers adopt all of the additional measures, there will be a 15% reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 2019, far below the required 50% reduction. Teagasc, An Analysis of Abatement Potential of GHG Emissions in Irish Agriculture 2021-2030 But from 2014 to 2019, dairy cow numbers increased by 24.5% with just a minor decrease in the numbers of other cattle by 0.4%. There has also been an increase in the numbers of sheep (+0.9%), pigs (+5.5%) and poultry (+9.6%). As a result, the EPA expects agricultural emissions to continue to increase. The government is subsidising these huge GHG emissions by €2 billion a year. These subsidies come directly from the EU CAP System and indirectly through government measures including subsidies for agricultural diesel. Potential of a Plant Based Food System In Ireland 95% of the agricultural emissions are due to animal agriculture. The below diagram shows the sources of agricultural emissions in 2019. Sources of Agricultural Emissions 2019, EPA Website 2021 In Transition to an Irish Vegan Agricultural System I outline how moving to a plant based food system would reduce emissions by 17 Mt. Obviously this would be a massive change but its benefits for biodiversity, climate and food security are unquestionable. By converting 62% of our agricultural land (2.8 Mha) to permanent forest and native grasslands and wetlands we could sequester a further 15 Mt of CO2/yr. Ireland’s Total Emissions would drop to 28 Mt per Year – a reduction of 53% just by profoundly changing our agricultural system. If we stopped subsidising animal agriculture but maintain the payments at the same level for ecosystem restoration then we would see Read more