Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Like a lot of cities seeking to reduce the unrecyclable plastic waste that has burdened their landfills and fouled their waterways, Chicago officials had two basic policy remedies to pick from: a ban or a fee. And like a lot of cities, they made that choice based largely on gut instinct and voter preference. They picked a ban but soon after it went into effect in August 2015, officials discovered it was having some unintended and unwelcome consequences.

“It was only a matter of months,” said Paul Sajovec, chief of staff to Alderman Scott Waguespack, “because people pretty quickly realized that it wasted more plastic.”

The ban applied to only thin, single-use plastic bags, prompting stores to find alternatives like paper bags, which are less likely to wind up in local waterways but cost more energy to manufacture than plastic. One independent grocer gave out 9,500 fewer plastic bags a week after the ban, according to the Illinois Retail Merchant Association, but those bags were twice the thickness—negating the benefit of the ban. In all, it was a real-time confirmation of a 2017 study by the University of Sydney: plastic bag bans tend to increase purchases of both plastic trash bags and paper bag use.

There was some anecdotal evidence consumers were changing their behavior by bringing their own reusable bags but the law was generally earning mixed reviews. Politicians and environmentalists wanted more impact. Retailers were frustrated at the increased cost of bagging supplies.

“The silver lining in that bad policy was it brought retailers to the table,” said Jordan Parker, founder and director of Bring Your Own Bag Chicago, an environmental advocacy group that helped shape the new legislation.

In November 2016, the city repealed the ban, replacing it with a 7-cent fee on paper and plastic bags. In a short period of time, Chicago had effectively become a municipal laboratory to study which of the two basic policy remedies works best. What researchers found when they examined the data was that consumers are less motivated by emotional appeals to save the environment and more by the impact on their pocketbook—even when it’s just a few cents. Over the course of the first year, Chicagoans reduced their disposable bag usage from 2.3 bags per trip to 1.8 bags per trip—a nearly 28 percent difference, according to a 2018 study by the University of Chicago, New York University and the non-profit ideas42.

Tatiana Homonoff, an assistant professor of economics and public policy at New York University, and her research team surveyed shoppers inside Chicago and its neighboring suburbs, which were not subject to a bag fee, before and after the city’s tax went into effect. When she asked why they brought a reusable bag, shoppers would tick off environmentalist talking points such as the pile of garbage twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. But when Homonoff asked customers when they started bringing their own bag they answered, “After the tax was passed.”

“Sometimes these informational campaigns can work,” she said. “Telling people about the environmental ills of plastic isn’t going to work.” At least not on its own.


Washington, D.C. resident Takia Holmes carries a jumble of groceries to her car without using a plastic bag, which would have cost her an extra nickel.

To understand the bag tax’s success, Homonoff points to a phenomenon in behavioral economics known as loss aversion. The painful experience of loss is more effective at changing habits than a positive gain. During her surveys, customers often said they wouldn’t bring a reusable bag if they could save a nickel but would bring a bag if it meant avoiding a 5-cent charge.

“You do see this asymmetry when we’re talking about a bonus versus a tax,” she said.

Interestingly, that small but painful fee proved effective on customers across all demographics and income levels, she added.

“It’s not to say that it only works when it’s a big financial burden, then you would expect the drop in low-income neighborhoods but not high-income neighborhoods,” she said. “This tells me that it’s not just about the financial burden of this, that maybe there’s something behavioral.”

Knowing that the modest fee can work at different income levels could also help policymakers understand how to calculate the most palatable tax for consumers. In Seattle, the plastic bag industry goaded voters to reject a 20-cent plastic bag fee. The city ultimately replaced the fee with a hybrid solution that banned plastic bags and charged 5 cents for larger paper bags. In the four years after the policy went into effect, the city of Seattle reported a 50 percent reduction of plastic bags going to city dumps. However, the same report noted that about half of convenience stores and grocery stores were out of compliance.

The takeaway, Homonoff says, is that while you might get a bigger change if you have a large tax, you can change consumer habits with a small tax as well.

Parker agreed that even a modest tax can force people to think twice about the environment.

“These tiny slaps on the wrist are effective at making people care,” she said. “The data points to money. If they feel like they’re losing money, the loss aversion is so much more powerful when changing human behavior.”

The city had initially projected the fee would garner $9.2 million in revenue. Instead, the tax collected just $5.6 million in the first year. (Unlike some municipalities that dedicate revenue from the bag fee to environmental cleanups, Chicago retailers collect 2 cents while the city retains the other 5 for its general operating budget.)

While revenue climbed to $6.4 million in 2018, the city’s fiscal year 2020 budget overview projects that number will decline to $5.9 million in 2019 and will stabilize the following year. That drop doesn’t bother the city’s budget experts, who argue the tax wasn’t really about the revenue in the first place.

“It really was trying to encourage people to bring reusable bags when shopping,” said Susie Park, the city’s budget director. “The decline in revenue is potentially a good thing, because it shows a change in behavior. So we’re hoping that continues.”

Evidence of the fee’s success is anecdotal in other cities, such as Washington, D.C., that have implemented one. In Washington, the Anacostia River has served as the poster child for the city’s 5-cent fee. The waterway is the intended recipient of the tax’s revenue and despite evidence that some of the funds earmarked for cleaning the river have floated down other revenue streams, local politicians say there is less plastic clogging the river.

Even as Chicago acknowledges its bag tax hasn’t beefed up the city’s coffers, its performance hasn’t dissuaded the state government from eyeing a similar fee as a potential revenue source. In February, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker proposed a 5-cent tax on plastic checkout bags across the state, a fee his administration expects would garner between $19 million and $23 million. State Rep. Ann Williams, a Democrat whose district encompasses parts of northern Chicago neighborhoods, introduced a bag tax bill in the Illinois House of Representatives earlier this year. Williams noticed a dramatic change in behavior in her home district after the tax, but can’t say the same for the state capital, where there’s no disposable bag policy. Her new habits, she said, travel with her.

“I’m throwing stuff in my purse,” she said. “… I absolutely try and there’s that guilt factor.”

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2019/11/21/plastic-bag-environment-policy-067879

Afroz Shah, a lawyer in Mumbai, hasn’t had a weekend off in four years. But he hasn’t spent this time writing briefs or preparing for court.

His mission? Saving the world’s oceans from plastic pollution.

It’s a calling he found in 2015 after moving to a community in Mumbai called Versova Beach. He had played there as a child and was upset to see how much it had changed. The sand was no longer visible because it was covered by a layer of garbage more than five feet thick — most of it plastic waste.

“The whole beach was like a carpet of plastic,” he said. “It repulsed me.”

The unsightly mess Shah had stumbled upon is part of a global environmental crisis. More than 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans each year — the equivalent of a garbage truck dumped every minute. It’s predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

The results are devastating. More than 1 million seabirds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish die from plastic pollution each year.

“The marine species have no choice at all,” Shah said. “We are attacking their habitats, their food. Plastic in (the) ocean is a killer.”

In October 2015, Shah began picking up trash from the beach every Sunday morning. At first, it was just him and a neighbor, and then he began recruiting others to join in. Word spread and with help from social media, more volunteers got involved.

Shah hasn’t stopped since. He’s now spent 209 weekends dedicated to this mission, inspiring more than 200,000 volunteers to join him in what’s been called the world’s biggest beach cleanup. By October 2018, Versova Beach was finally clean and Shah’s cleanups expanded to another beach as well as a stretch of the Mithi River and other regions of India.

All told, the movement has cleared more than 60 million pounds of garbage — mostly plastic waste — from Mumbai’s beaches and waterways.

For Shah, the work has always been a personal journey, but it has earned global attention. After he was honored as a Champion of the Earth by the United Nations in 2016, Bollywood celebrities and politicians embraced his mission and joined in his cleanups.

While he continues to work as a lawyer during the week, Shah now devotes nearly all of his free time to this cause. He said he believes that people must accept responsibility for society’s impact on the environment.

“This problem of pollution is created by us. … If this huge ocean is in a problem, we’ll have to rise up in huge numbers.”

Today, Shah is also working with coastal communities to tackle plastic pollution at one of the sources. In areas lacking sufficient waste management systems, trash often ends up in creeks and rivers that empty into the ocean.

Shah and his volunteers educate and assist villagers in reducing, managing and recycling their plastic waste.

For years, Shah’s work was strictly a grassroots effort that he coordinated on social media. Recently, he started the Afroz Shah Foundation to help spread his mission across India and around the world.

“This world talks too much. I think you must talk less and do action more,” he said. “Every citizen on this planet must be in for a long haul.”

CNN spoke with Shah about his work. Below is an edited version of the conversations.

CNN: You’ve said that beach cleaning is not just about clean beaches. What do you mean by that?

Afroz Shah: Beaches are like nets. They trap the plastic. The ocean is telling us, “Take it — take it away.” So, as the beach gets clean, the ocean is also getting clean. There’s a dual purpose. Volunteers who come to pick up are also getting trained to handle plastic. Anybody who sees plastic here will not buy plastic later. They’ll say, “No, no we don’t want this! We had to clean up so much!’ So, it’s creating awareness.

Cleaning is one part, but it’s not the solution. We are drowning in plastic. The bottles, packets, wrappers, packaging to preserve the food is what travels and lands (in the ocean). You have to reduce garbage in this world and change the way our packaging is made. So, it’s about what you can do as a person and as a system. I tell people, “Please protect yourself and other species. Have you thought about how do you reduce your garbage?” We are a smart species. We’ll adapt. We’ll learn. And with these youngsters rising up, I see hope.

CNN: You’re also taking your message to students.

Shah: Twice a week I go to schools and colleges. I feel the urge to be with these youngsters and train them up on plastic pollution. I’m looking at creating leaders there. I tell the kids, “You exist with other species. Your habits should not hurt the other species.” The energy of these youngsters is infectious. I can see it in the eyes of those kids. They want to be the change. They want to take it up. I can see it, years from now — some will become lawyers, judges, politicians. This will become a huge thing all over India. If those kids get it right, the world will get it right. So, my idea is to put the seed there.

CNN: Having worked on this for four years now, what’s your insight into why this is happening?

Shah: There is a disconnect with Mother Nature. It’s about me, me, me — all the time. “I need a life of convenience.” But we exist with other species. You cannot by your choices attack their lives and habitats. Every wrapper, every plastic straw is a war on another species. So, our choices and lifestyle need to be balanced — all 7 billion of us.

I feel the need to do something for my planet, so this will continue for life. This is a mindset change. But this must reach every human being. What is happening with climate change, plastic pollution, climate injustice is going to hit all of us. We have 7 billion people. If each one could start — this journey could become marvelous. Can we do it together?

To donate to the Afroz Shah Foundation via CrowdRise, click here
https://charity.gofundme.com/donate/project/afroz-shah-afroz-shah-foundation/afrozshah

https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/17/world/cnnheroes-afroz-shah-afroz-shah-foundation/index.html?utm_source=The+Good+Stuff&utm_campaign=2aa589d67e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_11_14_08_33&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4cbecb3309-2aa589d67e-103653961

By SUSANNE RUST

Five thousand miles west of Los Angeles and 500 miles north of the equator, on a far-flung spit of white coral sand in the central Pacific, a massive, aging and weathered concrete dome bobs up and down with the tide.

Here in the Marshall Islands, Runit Dome holds more than 3.1 million cubic feet — or 35 Olympic-sized swimming pools — of U.S.-produced radioactive soil and debris, including lethal amounts of plutonium. Nowhere else has the United States saddled another country with so much of its nuclear waste, a product of its Cold War atomic testing program.

Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated 67 nuclear bombs on, in and above the Marshall Islands — vaporizing whole islands, carving craters into its shallow lagoons and exiling hundreds of people from their homes.

U.S. authorities later cleaned up contaminated soil on Enewetak Atoll, where the United States not only detonated the bulk of its weapons tests but, as The Times has learned, also conducted a dozen biological weapons tests and dumped 130 tons of soil from an irradiated Nevada testing site. It then deposited the atoll’s most lethal debris and soil into the dome.

Now the concrete coffin, which locals call “the Tomb,” is at risk of collapsing from rising seas and other effects of climate change. Tides are creeping up its sides, advancing higher every year as distant glaciers melt and ocean waters rise.

Officials in the Marshall Islands have lobbied the U.S. government for help, but American officials have declined, saying the dome is on Marshallese land and therefore the responsibility of the Marshallese government.

“I’m like, how can it [the dome] be ours?” Hilda Heine, the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, said in an interview in her presidential office in September. “We don’t want it. We didn’t build it. The garbage inside is not ours. It’s theirs.”

To many in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Runit Dome is the most visible manifestation of the United States’ nuclear legacy, a symbol of the sacrifices the Marshallese made for U.S. security, and the broken promises they received in return.

They blame the United States and other industrialized countries for global climate change and sea level rise, which threaten to submerge vast swaths of this island nation’s 29 low-lying atolls.

Over the last 15 months, a reporting team from the Los Angeles Times and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism made five trips to the Marshall Islands, where they documented extensive coral bleaching, fish kills and algae blooms — as well as major disease outbreaks, including the nation’s largest recorded epidemic of dengue fever. They interviewed folk singers who lost their voices to thyroid cancers and spent time in Arkansas, Washington and Oregon, where tens of thousands of Marshallese have migrated to escape poverty and an uncertain future.

Marshallese leaders acknowledge that America doesn’t bear full responsibility for their nation’s distress. But they say the United States has failed to take ownership of the environmental catastrophe it left behind, and they claim U.S. authorities have repeatedly deceived them about the magnitude and extent of that devastation.

A Times review of thousands of documents, and interviews with U.S. and Marshallese officials, found that the American government withheld key pieces of information about the dome’s contents and its weapons testing program before the two countries signed a compact in 1986 releasing the U.S. government from further liability. One example: The United States did not tell the Marshallese that in 1958, it shipped 130 tons of soil from its atomic testing grounds in Nevada to the Marshall Islands.

U.S. authorities also didn’t inform people in Enewetak, where the waste site is located, that they’d conducted a dozen biological weapons tests in the atoll, including experiments with an aerosolized bacteria designed to kill enemy troops.

U.S. Department of Energy experts are encouraging the Marshallese to move back to other parts of Enewetak, where 650 now live, after being relocated during the U.S. nuclear tests during the Cold War. But many Marshallese leaders no longer trust U.S. assurances of safety.

“We didn’t know the Runit Dome waste dump would crack and leak…. We didn’t know about climate change,” said Jack Ading, a Marshallese senator from Enewetak Atoll. “We weren’t nuclear scientists who could independently verify what the U.S. was telling us. We were just island people who desperately wanted to return home.”

Adding to the alarm is a study published this year by a team of Columbia University scientists showing levels of radiation in some spots in Enewetak and other parts of the Marshall Islands that rival those found near Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Such discoveries could give Marshallese leaders fresh ammunition to challenge the 1986 compact, which is up for renegotiation in 2023, and also to press the United States to honor property and health claims ordered by an international tribunal.

The tribunal, established by the two countries in 1988, concluded the United States should pay $2.3 billion in claims, but Congress and U.S courts have refused. Documents show the U.S. paid just $4 million.

The U.S. position is that it has already paid more than $600 million for the resettlement, rehabilitation and radiation-related healthcare costs of communities affected by the nuclear testing, said Karen Stewart, the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. She said inflation brings the number closer to $1 billion.

“The United States recognizes the effects of its testing and has accepted and acted on its responsibility to the people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands,” Stewart said in a statement.

In September, the Marshallese parliament, the Nitijela, approved a national nuclear strategy, which calls for a risk analysis and environmental survey of Runit Dome, an assessment of legal options for its cleanup and a new attempt to secure the $2.3 billion ordered by the tribunal.

Last month, Marshall Islands lawmakers called on the international community to reduce greenhouse gases causing what they declared to be a “national climate crisis.”

China is taking an increasing interest in the Marshall Islands and other Pacific island nations, in part because of their strategic location and Beijing’s interest in reducing U.S. influence in the region. Those inroads by China have alarmed U.S. leaders, forcing them to pay more attention to the grievances of Marshallese leaders such as Heine.

“This heightened interest,” Heine said, “should bode well for us.”

From the U.S. mainland, it takes more than a day to fly to the Marshall Islands, and only one commercial airline makes the trip.

The “Island Hopper,” United Airlines Flight 154, starts at Honolulu, making stops in the Marshall Islands at Majuro and Kwajalein before heading west toward the Micronesian islands of Kosrae, Pohnpei and Chuuk, and finally terminating in Guam.

The next day, it doubles back.

As it approaches Majuro, the blue-scape of the ocean is broken by an oblong necklace of white-coral-beached islands, dotted with coconut, pandanus and breadfruit trees.

The Marshall Islands’ atolls are the remnants of ancient volcanoes that once protruded from these cerulean seas. They were settled 3,000 years ago by the ancestors of present-day Marshallese who crossed the ocean on boats from Asia and Polynesia. For American officials in the mid-1940s, this 750,000-square-mile expanse of ocean, nearly five times larger than the state of California, must have seemed like a near-perfect spot to test their growing atomic arsenal.

“The Marshall Islands were selected as ground zero for nuclear testing precisely because colonial narratives portrayed the islands as small, remote and unimportant,” said Autumn Bordner, a former researcher at Columbia University’s K=1 Project, which has focused on the legacy of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, and now a research fellow in ocean law and policy at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment.

Nerje Joseph, 72, was a witness to the largest thermonuclear bomb tested by the United States: the Castle Bravo detonation. She was 7 years old at the time, living with her family in Rongelap Atoll, 100 miles east of Bikini Atoll — a tropical lagoon commandeered for nuclear testing.

On March 1, 1954, Joseph recalls waking up and seeing two suns rising over Rongelap. First there was the usual sun, topping the horizon in the east and bringing light and warmth to the tropical lagoon near her home. Then there was another sun, rising from the western sky. It lighted up the horizon, shining orange at first, then turning pink, then disappearing as if it had never been there at all.

Joseph and the 63 others on Rongelap had no idea what they had just witnessed. Hours later, the fallout from Castle Bravo rained down like snow on their homes, contaminating their skin, water and food.

According to Joseph and government documents, U.S. authorities came to evacuate the Rongelapese two days later. By that time, some islanders were beginning to suffer from acute radiation poisoning — their hair fell out in clumps, their skin was burned, and they were vomiting.


Nerje Joseph, 72, was 7 years old when the United States detonated its largest nuclear bomb. The Castle Bravo test sent a mushroom cloud into the sky and unexpectedly irradiated parts of the northern Marshall Islands that she and her family called home.

“More than any other place, the Marshall Islands is a victim of the two greatest threats facing humanity — nuclear weapons and climate change,” said Michael Gerrard, a legal scholar at Columbia University’s law school. “The United States is entirely responsible for the nuclear testing there, and its emissions have contributed more to climate change than those from any other country.”

The Castle Bravo test and others in the Marshall Islands helped the U.S. establish the credibility of its nuclear arsenal as it raced against its Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, to develop new atomic weapons. But the testing came at a horrible price; Joseph and other Marshallese ended up becoming human guinea pigs for U.S. radiation research.

Three years after Castle Bravo, U.S. authorities encouraged Joseph, her family and her neighbors to return to Rongelap.

U.S. government documents from the time show that officials weighed the potential hazards of radiation exposure against “the current low morale of the natives” and a “risk of an onset of indolence.” Ultimately they decided to go forward with the resettlement so researchers could study the effects of lingering radiation on human beings.

“Data of this type has never been available,” Merrill Eisenbud, a U.S official with the Atomic Energy Commission, said at a January 1956 meeting of the agency’s Biology and Medicine Committee. “While it is true that these people do not live the way that Westerners do, civilized people, it is nonetheless also true that they are more like us than the mice.”

The resettlement proved catastrophic for the people of Rongelap. Cancer cases, miscarriages and deformities multiplied. Ten years later, in 1967, 17 of the 19 children who were younger than 10 and on the island the day Bravo exploded had developed thyroid disorders and growths. One child died of leukemia.

In 1985, the people of Rongelap asked Greenpeace to evacuate them again after the United States refused to relocate them or to acknowledge their exposure, according to government documents and news reports from the time.

Joseph, who had her thyroid removed because of her radiation exposure, has spent nearly seven decades taking daily thyroid medication, enabling her body to produce hormones it otherwise would not generate.

A quiet, dignified woman with thick, wavy gray hair, Joseph lives in a cinder-block home in Majuro, the capital, a setting far different from the pristine atoll where she grew up.

Composed of three low-lying islands connected by one flood-prone road, Majuro is long and narrow and home to roughly half the population of the Marshall Islands, about 28,000 people. Taxis crawl the length of this lone road, fitting as many riders into their vehicles as they can accommodate. Visitors opting to walk are encouraged to carry long sticks to beat away packs of feral dogs that roam the streets.

Joseph says she misses her home, but she knows she may never go back.

“We had a oneness when we lived on Rongelap,” she said of her childhood. “We worked together, we ate together, we played together. That has been lost.”

The legacy of the testing program is most evident at Enewetak, an atoll that took the brunt of the United States’ late-stage nuclear detonations before an international ban on atmospheric testing in 1963.

A string of 40 islands to the west of Bikini, Enewetak was once a postcard-perfect ring of coral reefs, white-sand beaches and coconut trees, where roughly 450 dri-Enewetak and dri-Enjebi — the two clans that lived in the atoll — gathered breadfruit and pandanus, and harvested fish and clams from the lagoon.

Between 1948 and 1958, the U.S. military detonated 43 atomic bombs here. After agreeing to a 1958 temporary moratorium on nuclear testing with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, the U.S. began using the atoll as a conventional and bioweapons testing ground. For the next 18 years, the U.S. shot ballistic missiles at it from California, tested virulent forms of bacteria on its islands and detonated a series of other large, conventional bombs in the lagoon.

In 1972, after the U.S had nearly exhausted its military interest in the region, it invited the leaders of Enewetak back to see the atoll for the first time since 1946.

According to a Department of Energy report of the event, the Enewetak leaders “were deeply gratified to be able to visit their ancestral homeland, but they were mortified by what they saw.”

The islands were completely denuded. Photos show an apocalyptic scene of windswept, deforested islands, with only the occasional coconut tree jutting up from the ground. Elsewhere, crumbling concrete structures, warped tarmac roads and abandoned construction and military equipment dotted the barren landscape.

The damage they saw on that visit was the result of nearly three decades of U.S. military testing.

The United States had detonated 35 bombs in the Marshall Islands in 112 days in 1958. Nine of these were on Enewetak’s Runit Island. With names such as Butternut, Holly and Magnolia, the bombs were detonated in the sky, underwater and on top of islands.

One test shot, Quince, misfired Aug. 6, 1958, and sprayed plutonium fuel across Runit Island. The Department of Defense and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which was sponsoring the test, ordered soldiers into the contaminated ground zero to prepare the site for the next bomb, 12 days later.

Soldiers swarmed in with bulldozers and earthmoving equipment, pushing the radioactive soil into big debris piles that they shoved into the lagoon, the ocean or possibly left alone; government reports differ on these details.

What is clear, and which has never been reported before, is that 130 tons of soil transported 5,300 miles from an atomic test site in Nevada was dumped into a 30-foot-wide, 8-foot-deep “conical plug” where the next bomb, Fig, was detonated.

Archived documents suggest the soil was used as part of an experiment, to help scientists understand how soil types contribute to different blast impacts and crater sizes.

Terry Hamilton, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and today the Department of Energy’s point person on the Marshall Islands’ nuclear issues, said the soil was clean and taken from Area 10 at the Nevada Test Site. That area of the Nevada site had been the site of two nuclear blasts in 1951 and 1955, according to government records.

“It is appalling that the Marshallese people, and in particular the people of Enewetak, are just learning about this for the first time,” said Sen. Ading, the Marshallese minister of justice, immigration and labor.

A decade later, in 1968, teams from the Department of Defense set up a new experiment. This time, they were testing biological weapons — bombs and missiles filled with bacteria designed to fell enemy troops.

According to a 2002 military fact sheet and Ed Regis, the author of “The Biology of Doom,” U.S. government scientists came to Enewetak with “their boats and monkeys, space suits and jet fighter planes” and then sprayed clouds of biologically enhanced staphylococcal enterotoxin B, an incapacitating biological agent known to cause toxic shock and food poisoning and considered “one of the most potent bacterial superantigens.”

The bacteria were sprayed over much of the atoll — with ground zero at Lojwa Island, where U.S. troops were stationed 10 years later for the cleanup of the atoll.

According to military documents, the weapons testers concluded a single weapon could cover 926.5 square miles — roughly twice the size of modern-day Los Angeles — and produce a 30% casualty rate.

Records of the test, including a two-volume, 244-page account of operation “Speckled Start,” as it was called, are still classified, according to the Defense Technical Information Center, a branch of the Department of Defense.

Today, 40 years after it was constructed, the Tomb resembles an aged, neglected and slightly diminutive cousin of the Houston Astrodome.

Spiderweb cracks whipsaw across its cap and chunks of missing concrete pock its facade. Pools of brown, brackish water surround its base, and vines and foliage snake up its sides.

The Tomb, which was built atop an unlined crater created by a U.S. nuclear bomb, was designed to encapsulate the most radioactive and toxic land-based waste of the U.S. testing programs in Enewetak Atoll. This included irradiated military and construction equipment, contaminated soil and plutonium-laced chunks of metal pulverized by the 43 bombs detonated in this 2.26-square-mile lagoon, according to U.S. government documents.

It took 4,000 U.S. servicemen three years to scoop up 33 Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of irradiated soil and two Olympic swimming pools’ worth of contaminated debris from islands across the atoll and dump it into the crater on Runit Island.

Much of it was mixed in a slurry of concrete and poured into the pit, which was eventually capped with a concrete dome. Six men died during the cleanup; hundreds of others developed radiation-induced cancers and maladies that the U.S. government has refused to acknowledge, according to news reports.

Rising seas could unseal a toxic tomb

More than 3.1 million cubic feet of radioactive material lie within a bomb crater that was capped with an 18-inch-thick cover on Runit Island.

What is underneath the dome

Contaminated debris and soil left behind by 43 nuclear bombs detonated in Enewetak Atoll were cemented and enclosed in a crater from one of the nuclear tests. The dome, constructed in the late ’70s, is showing signs of decay. If it crumbles, its radioactive contents will be released into the lagoon and ocean.

“It’s like they say in the Army,” said Bob Retmier, a retired Huntington Beach-based electrician who did two six-month tours of duty at the dome in 1977 and 1978. “They treat us like mushrooms: They feed us crap and keep us in the dark.”

Retmier, who was in Enewetak with Company C, 84th Engineer Battalion out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, said he didn’t know he had been working in a radioactive landscape until he read about the dome in The Times this year.

“They had us mixing that soil into cement,” he said. “There were no masks, or respirators, or bug suits, for that matter. My uniform was a pair of combat boots, shorts and a hat. That was it. No shirt. No glasses. It was too hot and humid to wear anything else.”

According to unclassified military documents, the completion of the dome fulfilled “a moral obligation incurred by the United States.”

Marshallese officials say they were never told that U.S. authorities had doubts about the long-term integrity of the dome to safely store waste.

According to a 1981 military document chronicling the construction of the dome, U.S. government officials met Feb. 25, 1975, to discuss various cleanup options — including ocean dumping and transporting the waste back to the U.S. mainland. Many “of those present seemed to realize that radioactive material was leaking out of the crater even then and would continue to do so,” the document reported.

But because the other options were so expensive, they settled on the dome and relied on military personnel to do the cleaning instead of contractors.

At that meeting, a top Pentagon official was asked what would happen if the dome failed and who would be responsible.

“It would be the responsibility of the United States,” said Lt. Gen. Warren D. Johnson of the U.S. Air Force, who was directing the cleanup process through the Defense Nuclear Agency.

Documents show that as construction teams were finishing the dome by capping it with an 18-inch concrete cover, new, highly contaminated debris was discovered.

In the process of adding that material to the waste site, parts of the concrete top were embedded with contaminated metallic debris.

“It was sloppy,” said Paul Griego, who worked as a contract radiochemist for Eberline Instruments in Enewetak while the military built the dome.

The authors of the report noted that because the dome was “designed to contain material and prevent erosion rather than act as a radiation shield,” the radioactive material in the dome cover was no cause for concern.

Today, U.S. officials maintain that the dome has served its “intended purpose” — to hold garbage, not necessarily to be a radiation shield.

That distinction, though, is not well understood in the Marshall Islands, where many assumed the United States built the dome to protect them.

“My understanding from day one is that the dome was to shield the radiation from leaking out,” Ading said.

Soon after the dome was completed, the winter tides washed more than 120 cubic yards of radioactive debris onto Runit’s shores, prompting U.S. authorities to build a small antechamber adjacent to the dome to hold the new “red-level” debris.

When more debris washed up, they built a second, smaller antechamber.

Then they left.

The U.S. scientific expert on Runit Dome is Hamilton, the Energy Department contractor. He began working on radiation issues nearly three decades ago and is widely respected among nuclear scientists and physicists.

In 2012, Hamilton called the waste site a highly radioactive “point source” whose construction was “not consistent” with U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations. He also suggested it could possibly release more plutonium into the surrounding environment.

“Any increases in availability of plutonium will have an impact on food security reserves for the local population,” he wrote with two Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory coauthors, noting a “growing commercial export market” for sea cucumbers in the lagoon.

In more recent years, Hamilton’s message has changed: The islands are safe, U.S. researchers are monitoring the situation, and no one should be concerned.

At a May meeting in Majuro, he told an audience of Marshallese dignitaries, politicians and U.S. officials that the Tomb was bobbing with the tides, sucking in and flushing out radioactive water into the lagoon. Moreover, he said, its physical integrity is “vulnerable to leakage and the sustained impacts of storm surge and sea level rise.”

But Hamilton went on to assure them such a scenario was not cause for alarm. Enewetak lagoon is already so contaminated, he said, that any added radiation introduced by a dome failure would be virtually undetectable — in the lagoon, or in the wider ocean waters.

Hamilton has said that his assessment is based on a sampling of U.S. documents from the 1970s and 1980s suggesting that there is far more contamination in Enewetak lagoon than remains inside the dome. He contends the land is safe for habitation and will remain so, even if the dome crumbles and releases its contents into the contaminated lagoon.

Plutonium is a risk to human health only when it is airborne or introduced via a cut in the skin, Hamilton said. The plutonium in the lagoon, he claims, is not a concern.

“Under existing living conditions, there is no radiological basis why I or anyone else should be concerned about living on Enewetak,” Hamilton said in an email, reflecting a position that other experts find perplexing.

“That’s crazy,” said Holly Barker, a University of Washington anthropologist who serves on the Marshall Islands nuclear commission. The whole point of building the Tomb, she said, was to clean up contamination left behind by the U.S. testing programs.

“Does that mean they didn’t clean it up?” she asked.

Asked about his contradictory messages, Hamilton wrote in an email that his earlier assessment was “put forward to help provide a scientific justification” for securing funding and time for a more thorough analysis of the dome.

“People living on Enewetak do not show elevated levels of plutonium in their bodies,” he said, discounting concerns. “This is the ultimate test.”

To many, Hamilton’s most recent position is just another case of the United States moving the goal posts in the Marshall Islands: It promised a thorough cleanup, only to backtrack in the face of new revelations or costs.

Griego, the radiochemist and the New Mexico state commander of the National Assn. of Atomic Veterans, notes that when Hamilton wrote a report for the Department of Energy in 2013 stating that catastrophic failure of the dome would be inconsequential, the report included a mission statement that cast doubt on its scientific integrity.

According to the document, the report’s purpose was to “address the concerns of the Enewetak community” and “help build public confidence in the maintenance of a safe and sustainable resettlement program on Enewetak Atoll.”

Griego worked as a contractor in Enewetak in 1978.

“I saw the water rising and falling as we filled that dome. I know that limestone is porous. And I know how sick people got,” Griego said. “That dome is dangerous. And if it fails, it’s a problem.”

Climate scientists have been nearly unanimous about one thing: The waters around the Marshall Islands are rising — and growing warmer.

On an August day a year ago, tens of thousands of dead fish washed up on the ocean side of Bikini Atoll.

Dick Dieke Jr., one of seven temporary caretakers working for a Department of Energy contractor there, recalls the water being uncomfortable.

“It didn’t feel good to put my feet in it,” he said. “It was too hot.”

Earlier that day, the typically crystalline and azure waters of the Bikini lagoon, near Nam Island, were cloudy and brown. Sea turtles, reef fish and rays swam slowly through the murk, appearing suddenly out of the cloudy bloom only to disappear just as quickly.

Dive computers showed 92-degree temperatures 30 feet below the surface in the lagoon, an area usually no warmer than 86 degrees in August.

It is impossible to say exactly what caused that day’s massive algae bloom and fish kill, but scientists say such marine incidents will occur more frequently as oceans warm from climate change.

“I’ve never seen or heard of a fish kill in Bikini,” Jack Niedenthal, the Marshall Islands’ secretary of health and human services, said in an interview last summer, just a week after the event. “That’s surprising and deeply upsetting.”

Just a few years ago, the northern Marshall Islands were known for their pristine coral reefs, little disturbed by human contact, in part because many of these isles were radiation no-go zones. But during a visit last year, The Times saw vast expanses of bleached and dead coral around Bikini Atoll, a finding that surprised some familiar with the region.

Elora López, a Stanford University doctoral student, accompanied a PBS documentary film team in 2016 to Bikini Atoll to collect coral samples. The reefs — hundreds of miles from the nearest tourist — were healthy.

But when she returned in 2018, using GPS coordinates to find the same location, all of the corals were dead.

Since 1993, sea levels have risen about 0.3 inches a year in the Marshall Islands, far higher than the global average of 0.11 to 0.14 inches. Studies show sea levels are rising twice as fast in the western Pacific than elsewhere.

Based on forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise 4 to 5 feet by the end of the century, submerging most of the Marshall Islands.

Even if seas rose just half that, said Curt Storlazzi, a geoengineer at the United States Geological Survey, the islands would be in trouble — damaging infrastructure and contaminating most groundwater reserves.

“We have a lot of difficult choices to make,” James Matayoshi, the mayor of Rongelap Atoll, said in a September interview. “If the seas don’t stop rising, we’re going to lose some places. Assuming we can save some, we’ll have to decide which islands, which places, for which people. But who gets to do that?”

The thought of abandoning their homeland is unthinkable for many Marshallese, the nation’s president said.

“Many of our people … want to stay here,” Heine said. “For us, for these people, land is a critical part of our existence. Our culture is based on our land. It is part of us. We cannot think about abandoning the land.”

Outbreaks of certain diseases in the Pacific also have been linked to climate change. The Republic of the Marshall Islands is fighting the largest outbreak of dengue fever in its recorded history — more than 1,000 people have been infected, with the outer atolls quarantined to prevent the spread of disease among people with no access to hospital care.

“Most people talk about rising sea levels when it comes to climate change,” said Niedenthal, the health secretary. “Even more immediate and devastating is what has been happening with disease outbreaks. This is the worst outbreak in Pacific history.”

For many Americans, the Marshall Islands are best known for a movie monster and a cartoon icon. Godzilla, the Japanese-inspired monster of the Pacific, was awakened and mutated by the atomic bombs in Bikini Atoll. SpongeBob SquarePants, the Nickelodeon cartoon character, lives with his friends in Bikini Bottom.

A recent review of California-approved high school history textbooks and curricula showed no mention of the Marshall Islands or the U.S. nuclear testing program and human experimentation program there.

Even less widely known are the Marshallese attempts, for the last three decades, to seek compensation from the U.S. for the health and environmental effects of nuclear testing. They’ve been denied standing to sue in U.S. courts, and Congress has declined their requests.

The Nuclear Claims Tribunal — an independent arbiter established by the U.S.-Marshall Islands compact to process and rule on claims — has ruled in their favor, awarding them more than $2 billion in damages. But the U.S. has paid out only $4 million, according to congressional testimony, and no enforcement mechanism exists.

In the last few years, though, the island nation’s claims have begun to get more visibility.

President Heine has achieved near-celebrity status at international events. The Marshall Islands recently secured a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, giving the nation another forum in which to raise its concerns.

A geopolitical shift also has given the islands new leverage. China has increased its reach into the central Pacific, providing aid and loans to dozens of nations, surpassing the United States as the region’s largest trade partner.

“China is trying to erode U.S. influence in the region to weaken the U.S. military presence and create an opening for Chinese military access,” according to a 2018 report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional committee.

In September, two of the United States’ staunchest allies in the Pacific — Kiribati and the Solomon Islands — severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan, embracing China instead.

Washington has greeted those developments with concern.

In August, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo flew to Micronesia to meet with the leaders of several Pacific island nations, including the Marshall Islands.

He announced the United States’ intention to extend the compact with the Marshall Islands — providing aid in exchange for a secure military presence, and working rights for Marshallese in the United States.

The announcement came as a surprise to the Marshallese, who were anticipating the expiration in 2023 of their compact, which includes annual grants from the U.S. that total about $30 million a year.

Marshallese officials read that as a sign that the islands have new negotiating power.

“These are matters of life and death for us,” said Ading, the Enewetak senator. “We can’t afford to rely exclusively on reassurances from one source. We need neutral experts from the international community to weigh in, to confirm or challenge” previous U.S. findings.

Many Marshallese say they don’t want U.S. money or apologies, but just a home in the Marshall Islands that is safe and secure.

Nerje Joseph holds out hope for a day when her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can return to her ancestral home in Rongelap and she can be buried in the sands of her youth, alongside her ancestors, under the coconut trees she remembers so well.

“In Los Angeles, you make movies about the Titanic. About people who lost everything,” she said.

“Why don’t you make movies about us?”

https://www.latimes.com/projects/marshall-islands-nuclear-testing-sea-level-rise/?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=afb6bb4ab4-briefing-dy-20191111&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-afb6bb4ab4-44039353

By Ashley Strickland

Dogs and their sensitive noses are known for finding people during search and rescue efforts, sniffing out drugs and even diseases like cancer. But the powerful canine nose can also act like radar for other things that are hidden from our sight.

Now, they’re acting like watchdogs for endangered species and assisting with conservation efforts.
Organizations like Working Dogs for Conservation train dogs to identify the scents of endangered animals and their droppings, which helps scientists track species that may be declining.

Tracking animal scat, or fecal matter, can reveal where endangered species live, how many of them are living in an area and what might be threatening them. And it’s a less stressful way of monitoring species than trapping and releasing them.

Previously, conversation dogs have successfully tracked the San Joaquin kit fox, gray wolves, cougars, bobcats, moose, river otters, American minks, black-footed ferrets and even the North Atlantic right whale, according to a new study published Wednesday in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

In the new study, scientists trained conservation dogs to focus on a new kind of animal: reptiles. They wanted to track the elusive and endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard in the San Joaquin Valley. The experienced conservation dogs, including one female German shepherd and two male border collies, were trained to detect the scent of the lizard’s scat.

Then, the scientists could retrieve the samples and determine the gender, population genetics, diet, hormones, parasites, habitat use and health of the lizards. Humans have a difficult time identifying such small samples by sight because they are hard to distinguish from the environment. They can also be very similar to other scat.

The blunt-nosed leopard lizard is a fully protected species in California. It’s endangered because its habitat has been destroyed. Surveying the species and their habitat can help scientists to understand if existing conservation efforts are helping.

Over four years, scientists took the dogs out to the desert to detect and collect samples. The dogs would signal their discovery by laying down next to the scat. Then, they would be rewarded by a toy or play session.

Working between one and two hours a day, the dogs went out with survey teams from the end of April to mid May, when the lizards would emerge from brumation, otherwise known as reptile hibernation, according to the study. The dogs were trained not to approach the lizards if they saw them.

Over four years, they collected 327 samples and 82% of them were confirmed as belonging to blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

The researchers believe this method of tracking has potential and now they want to refine the method to see if it will work on a larger scale.

“So many reptilian species have been hit so hard,” said Mark Statham, lead study author and associate researcher with the Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “A large proportion of them are endangered or threatened. This is a really valuable way for people to be able to survey them.”

https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/30/world/conservation-dogs-endangered-lizard-scn/index.html?utm_source=The+Good+Stuff&utm_campaign=91b09c3d68-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_30_05_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4cbecb3309-91b09c3d68-103653961

By Adam Vaughan

Pumping colossal amounts of ocean water onto the West Antarctic ice sheet could stop it collapsing and causing drastic sea level rise that would threaten cities including Tokyo and New York.

But the German and US researchers who have explored the idea admit the drastic intervention would require an “unprecedented effort for humankind in one of the harshest environments of the planet”. The fix would also be extremely expensive, incredibly hard to do and risk potentially devastating impacts for the region’s unique ecosystem.

Five years ago, studies suggested the West Antarctic ice sheet had already started an unstoppable collapse. While the process will take centuries, it would raise sea levels to a height that would have dire consequences for major coastal cities.

Bold ideas
The threat is so grave, it requires an exploration and discussion of bold ideas to stop the ice sheet’s collapse, says Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute in Germany. “I’m certain the impact is so big it justifies this sort of thinking. It doesn’t mean it justifies the measure,” he says.

Previous far-out ideas to stop the loss of the ice sheet have included building an island to stop the flow off the ice shelf. Levermann and colleagues instead modelled a more direct approach that would involve pumping ocean water onto the sheet, adding it either in liquid form or as snow. They found stabilising the collapse would require at least 7400 gigatonnes of the stuff over 10 years. “It’s a lot of ice. It’s huge,” says Levermann. He says while he is against global scale geoengineering proposals such as giant sunshades, the water pumping idea is different and more surgical.

Even if society agreed on such a scheme, it faces mind-boggling obstacles. Around 145GW of wind farm capacity would be needed for the pumping, 12 times that installed in Europe last year. Temperatures would be too low for existing turbines, so new materials would be needed. The infrastructure would also turn the region into an “industrial compound”, says Levermann. Costs would likely be hundreds of billions of dollars, he adds.

Not going to happen
“This publication gives an indication of quite how challenging it would be to attempt to halt ice sheet collapse through direct human intervention,” says Emily Shuckburgh at the University of Cambridge.

Clive Hamilton at Charles Sturt University in Australia says: “The conditions under which such a scheme could be implemented are beyond anything feasible. It’s not going to happen.”

The priority for limiting sea level rises remains cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Levermann emphasises. Shuckburgh says the paper underlines the best option of managing the risk from Antarctica is to rapidly reduce emissions.

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw4132

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2210043-a-drastic-plan-might-prevent-catastrophic-antarctic-ice-sheet-collapse/

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by IRIS KULBATSKI

Consuming a mixture of sugar syrup and glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, alters honey bees’ microbiomes, and these changes increased mortality among insects exposed to pathogenic bacteria, according to a study published yesterday (September 24) in PNAS.

Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide worldwide. It acts by blocking a key plant enzyme used in the production of amino acids. Researchers are divided on whether the chemical is safe to animals at the levels it is usually used as a herbicide. However, some bacteria are known to produce this enzyme, and the new study demonstrates what some researchers have suspected: glyphosate may harm animals indirectly by killing their resident microbes.

Nancy Moran of the University of Texas at Austin and colleagues found that glyphosate consumption can lower the levels of the common bee symbiont Snodgrassella alvi by up to five times in the guts of honey bees, and high levels of the herbicide thwarted growth of S. alvi in vitro. Moreover, bees were more susceptible to infection by Serratia marcescens, a bacterium commonly present at low levels in beehives, after drinking the glyphosate–sugar water cocktail: only 12 percent of the insects survived, compared with 47 percent of infected bees that had not been fed glyphosate.

Given these findings, more research is warranted to determine whether the proposed mechanism of honey bee morbidity contributes significantly to issues of colony collapse and overall rates of honey bee decline worldwide, University of Illinois bee geneticist Gene Robinson tells Science.

Moreover, the current study raises the possibility that glyphosate may alter the gut microbiome of other animals, including humans, Moran tells Science.

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/herbicide-may-harm-microbiome-of-bees-64860?utm_campaign=TS_DAILY%20NEWSLETTER_2018&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=66214269&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–RVJMklVdDEAWS-ddB7O5kVzSQTWCLWqUOnn8jMfmpot3jBytURnj14l3Nx2fPlFTeNO-ZlmSqqln8Wjtd9SqOUpzqTQ&_hsmi=66214269

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After passing legislation 6 years ago that prohibited North Carolina policymakers from considering climate change data in planning for rising sea levels along their coast, Hurricane Florence now threatens to cause a devastating storm surge that could put thousands of lives in danger and cost North Carolina billions of dollars worth of damage.

The hurricane, which is expected to make landfall on Friday, is shaping up to be one of the worst storms to hit the East Coast. Residents of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and mainland coasts have already been ordered to evacuate. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in both North and South Carolina, and a Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator said that the Category 4 hurricane will likely cause “massive damage to our country.”

And the rise in sea levels, experts say, is making the storm surge worse.

Sea level rise is a direct consequence of global warming; the warming of the ocean has resulted in thermal expansion and melted ice sheets and glaciers that are causing the oceans to rise. Since 1950, the sea level has risen 6.5 inches ― a number that sounds small but has actually had major consequences across the country.

“Sea level rising, simply put, makes every coastal flood deeper and more destructive,” said Ben Strauss, CEO of Climate Central, a climate change research organization that has published dozens of studies about rising sea levels and the risks of ignoring the problem. “Ignoring it is incredibly dangerous.”

“It only takes a few extra inches of water depth to be the difference between a ruined floor and no damage, or a ruined electrical system and just a ruined floor,” Strauss said. “Floods tend to be a great deal more destructive and costly than homeowners anticipate.”

Sea level rise can also affect the severity of hurricanes, said William Sweet, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “If you compared storm surge heights from the same storm at the same location over several decades, the surge would be higher ― assuming no change in flood defenses ― because of sea level rise,” Sweet said.

But in North Carolina, lawmakers chose to ignore the threats. A panel of scientists on the state Coastal Resources Commission issued a dire warning in March 2010, estimating that the sea levels along the state’s coast would rise 39 inches over the next century. Conservative lawmakers and business interest groups feared the report would hurt lucrative real estate development on the state’s coast and sought to undermine it. A lobbying group committed to economic development on the coast accused the panel of “pulling data out of their hip pocket.”

Conservative state Rep. Pat McElraft, whose top campaign contributors were the North Carolina Association of Realtors and the North Carolina Home Builders’ Association, drafted a bill in response that rejected the panel’s predictions.

McElraft introduced the bill in April 2011, and it passed the legislature in the summer of 2012.

Part of the bill stipulated that state and local agencies must also refer to historical linear predictions of sea level rise rather than current research, and another alarming section required that research look only at 30-year predictions rather than at a century, as the CRC report had done. Supporters of the bill saw short-term benefits in more affordable insurance, and continued opportunities for real estate development and tourism along the attractive coast. Critics saw the long-term consequences of damaged homes and businesses and vast swaths of the state being swallowed by floods.

Environmental scientists, coastal researchers and a number of lawmakers called the measure a blatant denial of crucial climate science and criticized then-Gov. Bev Perdue (D) for not acting on the bill and therefore allowing it to become law.

“By putting our heads in the sand, literally, we are not helping property owners,” said then-state Sen. Deborah K. Ross. “We are hurting them. We are not giving them information they might need to protect their property. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s dangerous.”

‘It’s a really bad setup’

In North Carolina, the state’s topography and the rising sea levels have made for even more dangerous storms and floods, Strauss said. Unlike coastal communities that have deep, cliff-like dropoffs, North Carolina’s coast is flat, wide and shallow, “like a kiddie pool,” Strauss said. “When you think about storm surge, some places have higher potential than others. The same storm would produce different surges depending on the topography,” said Strauss.

The state also has a wide, shallow continental shelf compared with places like Miami, which “means there is massive potential for a storm surge,” he said.

“Especially a storm like this, that’s moving straight forward,” he said. “It’s a really bad setup.”

At the same time, climate change has “supercharged” recent storms, as HuffPost’s Chris D’Angelo reported on Friday, putting Florence on track to do as much, if not more, damage than last year’s Hurricane Harvey, which devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana.

“It is fair to say that the very same factors are likely at play here, namely very warm ocean temperatures and an anomalous jet stream pattern favoring stalled weather systems,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/north-carolina-sea-level-rise-hurricane-florence_us_5b985a87e4b0162f4731da0e?ncid=APPLENEWS00001

system_001_launch_4-8c0ffa987ec559156057b8fd87e8dbedae09acfe-s800-c85
A nearly 2,000-foot-long tube is towed offshore from San Francisco Bay on Saturday. It’s a giant garbage collector and the brainchild of 24-year-old Boyan Slat, who aims to remove 90 percent of ocean plastic by 2040.

by LAUREL WAMSLEY

We humans have deposited a huge amount of plastic in Earth’s waters. There are now five garbage-filled gyres in the world’s oceans — the largest and most notorious being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, with its estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, spread across an area twice the size of Texas.

One of the people trying to figure out how to clean up the ocean is Boyan Slat, a 24-year-old Dutch social entrepreneur who has been working to invent a solution since he was 17. His idea — for a giant floating system that would corral the plastic so it can be scooped out — is on the verge of reality.

He founded a nonprofit called The Ocean Cleanup and picked up a major environmental award from the United Nations along the way. Tech investors including Peter Thiel and Marc Benioff got behind his go-big ethos; a reported $35 million total has been raised.

On Saturday, a vessel that usually tows oil rigs instead towed Slat’s giant garbage-catcher some 300 miles offshore from San Francisco Bay. For two weeks, engineers will monitor how the system handles the battering waves in the Pacific before towing it 1,100 more miles to the patch.

The system’s centerpiece is a nearly 2,000-foot-long plastic tube with a 10-foot skirt attached beneath, forming a U-shaped barrier designed to be propelled by wind and waves. Its aim is to collect plastic as it floats — and then every few months, a support vessel would come by to retrieve the plastic, like an oceanic garbage truck. The plastic would then be transported back to land for recycling.

If it works, The Ocean Cleanup plans to deploy a fleet of 60 such devices, which the group projects can remove half the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years’ time.

But will it actually work? Slat doesn’t know.

His team has changed its concept over time, switching from a moored system to a drifting one, in order to act more like the plastic it’s trying to catch. They tested a prototype on the North Sea but say the Pacific will be the real challenge.

“We believe that every risk that we can eliminate in advance we have been able to eliminate,” he said in a video prior to Saturday’s launch. “But that doesn’t mean that all risks have been eliminated. Truly, the only way to prove that we can rid the oceans of plastic is to actually go out there and deploy the world’s first ocean-cleaning system.”

The Ocean Cleanup hopes to reduce the amount of plastics in the world’s oceans by at least 90 percent by 2040. But many experts on plastic pollution have expressed concerns about whether the project will be effective.

For one thing, most of the plastic that ends up in the ocean doesn’t end up in these garbage gyres.

“Based on the latest math, we think that about 8 million metric tons of plastic is flowing in to the ocean from land around the world,” says George Leonard, chief scientist at Ocean Conservancy. And he says that only around 3 percent to 5 percent of that total amount of plastic actually winds up in the gyres.

“So if you want to clean up the ocean,” Leonard says, “it may in fact be that the open ocean is not the place to look.”

Part of the issue is that not all plastic is buoyant. A lot of it sinks immediately — and thus won’t be captured by this floating boom, said Eben Schwartz, marine debris program manager for the California Coastal Commission.

“It would be wonderful if we can clean up the surface of the gyre, but since so much more of the trash in the ocean actually doesn’t end up on the surface of the gyre, it’s even more critical that we address where it’s coming from and try to stop it at its source,” Schwartz recently told NPR’s Here and Now.

Then there’s the question of whether the project might cause unintended environmental consequences. Specifically: Can you capture plastics without ensnaring marine life?

“We know from the fishing industry that if you put any kind of structure in the open ocean, it will attract a whole community of animals, both large and small, to that particular piece of structure,” Leonard says.

Fishermen sometimes create fish aggregating devices (FADs) that intentionally create little floating ecosystems to attract fish. “There’s a worry that this could become a very large FAD and attract a whole number of larger fish and marine mammals and seabirds that might be impacted by it,” he says.

Plus, The Ocean Cleanup’s system is made of high-density polyethylene, a kind of plastic. So, what if it becomes part of the problem it’s trying to solve?

“I sort of wonder what kinds of microplastics this thing is going to be generating on its own, assuming that it’s even functioning exactly as designed,” oceanographer Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association told Wired. And if the boom gets busted in a big storm, well: “If it’s shedding nano-size particles and then gets smashed into 200-meter-long pieces, you’re really covering the whole size range there.”

And then there’s the worry that a big, expensive project like The Ocean Cleanup diverts money and attention away from other efforts that are known to be effective — such as waste management policies to keep the garbage from getting into the ocean in the first place.

A 2015 study found that China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Thailand were the leading sources of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.

“The science points to about a half a dozen countries in Southeast Asia which are rapidly developing economies that are heavily reliant on plastic, and lack the kind of waste management infrastructure that I think many of us in the U.S. take for granted,” Leonard says.

He points to one low-tech way to help fight plastics in the ocean: Pick up trash in your own local waterways. His organization’s annual International Coastal Cleanup takes place Sept. 15, when he says nearly a million people are expected to work to remove some 20 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways around the world.

Leonard says the Ocean Conservancy is skeptical that the giant trash collector will work, “but we’re being enthusiastic, and we hope it does.”

“The ocean really needs all the help it can get.”

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/11/646724291/a-massive-floating-boom-is-supposed-to-clean-up-the-pacific-can-it-work

By Sarah Fecht

You’ve probably heard the news that our nation’s bees are in trouble. Pollinators have been disappearing for decades, and the population crash could threaten the global food supply. Now, a small city in Iowa has decided to do something about it.

This spring, Cedar Rapids (population: 130,000) will seed 188 acres with native prairie grasses and wildflowers. The city’s plan is to eventually create 1,000 acres of bee paradise by planting these pollinator-friendly foodstuffs.

Scientists think the pollinator crisis is caused by a variety of factors, including pesticides, pathogens, and climate change. Meanwhile, with farms, parking lots, mowed lawns, and other human developments replacing wildflower fields, bees have been losing habitat and their food supply. While many of the drivers behind bee population decline remain mysterious, the people of Cedar Rapids hope to at least give pollinators places to perch and plants to feed on.

The 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative (http://www.cedar-rapids.org/residents/parks_and_recreation/pollinator_and_natural_resources_initiatives.php#Acre) grew out of a partnership with the Monarch Research Project(MRP), whose goal is to restore monarch butterfly populations. It was Cedar Rapids Park Superintendent Daniel Gibbins who proposed converting 1,000 acres into pollinator habitat over five years. So far, the project has secured $180,000 in funding from the state and the MRP.

“With the agricultural boom around 100 years ago, about 99.9 percent of all the native habitat of Iowa has been lost,” says Gibbins, who is spearheading the project. “When you convert it back to what was originally native Iowa, you’re going to help a lot more than just native pollinators. You’re helping birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals—everything that’s native here relies on native vegetation.”

Prairie revival

Cedar Rapids has developed a special mix of grasses and wildflowers to help restore that native habitat. The seed mix includes 39 species of wildflowers, and 7 species of native prairie grasses. While bees and butterflies are mostly attracted to the flowers, the hardy prairie grasses will prevent weeds and invasive species from moving in and choking out the flowers.

Gibbins and his team have catalogued all the unused public land where they could potentially plant the flowers and grasses. The list includes not only the rarely frequented corners of parks, golf courses, and the local airport, but also sewage ditches, water retention basins, and roadway right-of-ways, totaling nearly 500 acres. Cedar Rapids is working with other cities within the county to reach its 1,000-acre target.

Before they can seed the land with the special pollinator plant mix, Gibbins’ crew has to “knock back the undesirable vegetation.” That means mowing down, burning off, or in some cases applying herbicide to get rid of grass, weeds, and invasive species. They’ll lay down the special seed mixture in the spring and fall.

“You can’t just seed them and walk away,” says Gibbins. Although the pollinator habitat will be lower maintenance than a green turf that needs to be mown every week, the prairie grasses will require some care, including mowing once a year or burning every few years.

Everyone can help

You don’t need to have 1,000 spare acres to help bees and butterflies. Even devoting a few square feet of your garden—or even a few small planters—to wildflowers native to your area could make a difference, says Gibbins.

“When creating pollinator gardens, the most important thing is to have a big diversity of wildflowers and heirloom crops that bloom in the spring, summer, and fall,” says Stephen Buchmann, a pollination ecologist at the University of Arizona and author of The Reason for Flowers. (Buchmann isn’t involved in the 1,000 Acre Initiative.)

Buchmann recommends against using herbicides or insecticides, or, if necessary, applying them at night when bees aren’t active. Providing nesting sites for certain bee species can help, too.

“People think they’ll just plant the wildflowers and the bees will come,” he says. “And that’s true in some cases, but the smaller the bee is, the less far it can fly. Some can only fly a few hundred meters.”

Some species nest in hard substrates, like the bare ground (bees hate mulch, says Buchmann), or in holes that you can drill in adobe or earthen bricks. Others nestle in sand pits or dead wood that’s been tunneled through by beetles. And it helps to have mud and water on the premises. The Xerces Society has a handy how-to guide on creating homes for bees.

The 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative is still looking into funding for the next four years, and they don’t expect to see huge jumps in the number of pollinators immediately. But Cedar Rapids is confident it will help, and they hope the project will serve as a model for the rest of the country.

And if enough local businesses and private landowners get involved, there’s no reason to stop at 1,000 acres, says Gibbins. “There’s a big push to extend this initiative up to maybe 10,000 acres in Linn County.”

http://www.popsci.com/Cedar-Rapids-Iowa-save-bee-pollinator#page-4

Through vegetables and fruits, the drugs that we flush down the drain are returning to us.

In a randomized, single-blind pilot study, researchers found that anticonvulsive epilepsy drug carbamazepine, which is released in urine, can accumulate in crops irrigated with recycled water—treated sewage—and end up in the urine of produce-eaters not on the drugs. The study, published Tuesday in Environmental Science & Technology, is the first to validate the long-held suspicion that pharmaceuticals may get trapped in infinite pee-to-food-to-pee loops, exposing consumers to drug doses with unknown health effects.

While the amounts of the drug in produce-eater’s pee were four orders of magnitude lower than what is seen in the pee of patients purposefully taking the drugs, researchers speculate that the trace amounts could still have health effects in some people, such as those with a genetic sensitivity to the drugs, pregnant women, children, and those who eat a lot of produce, such as vegetarians. And with the growing practice of reclaiming wastewater for crop irrigation—particularly in places that face water shortages such as California, Israel, and Spain—the produce contamination could become more common and more potent, the authors argue.

“The potential for unwitting exposure of consumers to contaminants via this route is real,” the authors wrote, adding that their study provides real world data that proves exposure occurs.

For the study, researchers recruited 34 healthy adults—excluding vegetarians, vegans, and people who take carbamazepine. The participants were all from Israel, where farmers use reclaimed water for 50 percent of the country’s irrigation needs. California, which grows a large portion of US produce, currently uses reclaimed water for six percent of its irrigation needs, but is looking to increase its usage.

First, the researchers measured what was in each participant’s pee, then randomly assigned them to one of two groups. While each participant got a big basket of produce to eat over one week and another basket for a second week, the contents varied depending on their group. Those in group one unknowingly started off with produce irrigated with reclaimed water and then got a batch irrigated with fresh water for the second week. Group two started with produce irrigated with fresh water, then were switched to crops bought at a local grocery store. (The authors admit that they meant to switch the second group to produce grown with reclaimed water for that second week, but they ran out.) The researchers weren’t sure what type of water was used to grow the grocery store produce, but they assumed it was a mix.

Throughout the two weeks, researchers sampled each participant’s urine, looking for carbamazepine and its metabolites—forms of the drug that have been modified in the human body.

At the start, the participants had mixed levels of carbamazepine in their urine, with ~38 percent having undetectable amounts, ~35 percent having detectable amounts that were too little to quantify, and ~26 having low but quantifiable amounts. After the first week, all of the participants in the first group, which noshed on produce irrigated with reclaimed water, had quantifiable amounts of the drug and its metabolites in their urine—some of the amounts hiked up by more than ten-fold from the start. Those in group two, however, didn’t change from their initial measurements.

In the second week, after the veggie swap, the levels of carbamazepine dropped back down to baseline levels in group one participants. Drug levels in participants in group two stayed about the same in the second week, despite some of the grocery store produce testing positive for carbamazepine.

Both of those findings—that drug levels can quickly drop after exposure and the mixed supermarket food didn’t alter levels—is relatively good news for public health, the authors note. Still, the unintentional drug doses in food are a concern worth more attention by the public health community, the authors conclude. Previous studies have found a variety of drugs in crops, including cholesterol medications, caffeine, and triclosan.

Environmental Science & Technology, 2015. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b06256 (About DOIs).

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.