Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
Following a historic drop in recent months, global greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly approaching pre-pandemic levels.
The Story: As countries ease COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, global greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly rising, reported Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich for The New York Times. In recent months, emissions plummeted to 17 percent below 2019 levels, largely due to the sharp decrease in air and vehicular travel, according to a recent analysis. Now that countries such as China and Germany are lifting stay-at-home orders and reopening their economies, car traffic is resuming — and average emissions have surged to just 5 percent below 2019 levels.
The Big Picture: “We still have the same cars, the same power plants, the same industries that we had before the pandemic,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist and lead author of the analysis. “Without big structural changes, emissions are likely to come back.” Although global emissions are still projected to drop by 5 percent in 2020, research shows that they must decline even more drastically to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. As countries seek ways to revive their economies, policies and stimulus packages that protect nature could help reduce emissions in the long-term — and help the global economy recover faster. For example, a recent study found that policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency have historically resulted in greater immediate economic benefits and higher long-term savings compared with traditional stimulus packages following recessions.
Microplastics are raining from the sky — and could threaten animal species in iconic U.S. national parks.
The Story: According to a new study, more than 907,185 kg (1,000 tons) of plastic are littering protected areas in the western United States, reported John Metcalfe for The Washington Post. Equivalent to fragments from more than 123 million plastic water bottles, this waste is being dispersed by storms that originate near cities, and the shards are landing in national parks across the West, including Joshua Tree National Park in California and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Although experts are not certain of the potential impacts of this plastic on humans, studies recently found that animals or insects such as worms that ingest the plastic could suffer harmful lung and digestive blockages.
The Big Picture: “We are producing something that doesn’t go away, and just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” said Janice Brahney, the lead author of the study. According to research, plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose — and can be pulverized into microscopic particles known as “microplastics.” A variety of studies have shown that these microplastics are dispersing across all corners of the Earth — from the Arctic to the depths of the ocean — and experts agree that they will continue to spread if humanity does not limit plastic consumption.
Recent research revealed that heat and air pollution could cause birthing problems for pregnant women, especially for Black mothers.
The Story: A new study found that air pollution and hotter temperatures are associated with a higher risk of premature, underweight or stillborn babies, and that these conditions are disproportionately impacting Black mothers, reported Christopher Flavelle for The New York Times. After studying more than 23 million U.S. births since 2007, researchers discovered that heat waves could increase the risk of premature births by up to 21 percent and air pollution could increase the risk of stillbirth by up to 42 percent during the final trimester of pregnancy. The researchers also found that Black communities are more frequently exposed to pollution and heat waves, and are therefore more likely to be impacted by these traumatic birth events.
The Big Picture: “We need to look at policies that provide equitable opportunities for communities of color,” said Adrienne Hollis, senior climate justice and health scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “If you address structural racism, I think you’re going to start getting at some of these issues.” A growing body research shows that people of color, including indigenous peoples, are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, including flooding, forest fires and hurricanes. To address these racial disparities, experts agree that countries must ensure that they are implementing policies that will not only drastically reduce emissions and help mitigate climate impacts, but that they are also inclusive of all races.
Warming water temperatures are disrupting the migration patterns of salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska, threatening the US$ 1.5 billion salmon fishing industry in this region.
Cover image: Traffic in Beirut, Lebanon (© Olivier Langrand)