2 surpising ways scientists hope to limit human environmental impact

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    2 Surpising Ways Scientists Hope to Limit Human Environmental Impact
    2 Surpising Ways Scientists Hope to Limit Human Environmental Impact
    2 Surpising Ways Scientists Hope to Limit Human Environmental Impact
    2 Surpising Ways Scientists Hope to Limit Human Environmental Impact

  1. Correct

    More than a third of food produced globally never makes it to the table. Some of this wasted food spoils  in transit, while consumers throw some of this food out. During the production, harvesting, transporting, and packaging of the wasted food, more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide is emitted.

    Incorrect

    More than a third of food produced globally never makes it to the table. Some of this wasted food spoils  in transit, while consumers throw some of this food out. During the production, harvesting, transporting, and packaging of the wasted food, more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide is emitted.

  2. Correct

    Greenhouse gases may be a result of natural occurrence or human activity. These gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Fluorinated gases are also considered to be greenhouse gases.

    Incorrect

    Greenhouse gases may be a result of natural occurrence or human activity. These gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Fluorinated gases are also considered to be greenhouse gases.

  3. Correct

    The Earth receives solar radiation from the sun. Passing through the atmosphere, some radiation is absorbed by the Earth, while some is reflected back to space. When the exchange of incoming and outgoing radiation occurs, some of the radiation becomes trapped by gases in the atmosphere. This creates a “greenhouse” effect and warms the planet.

    Incorrect

    The Earth receives solar radiation from the sun. Passing through the atmosphere, some radiation is absorbed by the Earth, while some is reflected back to space. When the exchange of incoming and outgoing radiation occurs, some of the radiation becomes trapped by gases in the atmosphere. This creates a “greenhouse” effect and warms the planet.

  4. Correct

    All of these are problems associated with climate change. The majority of scientists agree that many of these effects are caused by human contribution to the greenhouse effect. Extreme weather events, droughts, heat waves, and rising sea levels  will have devastating effects on the world’s poorest countries and communities.

    Incorrect

    All of these are problems associated with climate change. The majority of scientists agree that many of these effects are caused by human contribution to the greenhouse effect. Extreme weather events, droughts, heat waves, and rising sea levels  will have devastating effects on the world’s poorest countries and communities.

  5. Correct

    Along with these important steps that can be taken to help fight climate change, we also suggest adding your voice to the issues surrounding the climate debate, investing in clean energy companies, holding  yourself accountable for your actions and being aware of your impact on the planet, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in your daily life.

    Incorrect

    Along with these important steps that can be taken to help fight climate change, we also suggest adding your voice to the issues surrounding the climate debate, investing in clean energy companies, holding  yourself accountable for your actions and being aware of your impact on the planet, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in your daily life.

Beyond the headlines: clarifying the connection between healthy diets, resource use, and greenhouse gas emissions | Eyes on Environment

2 Surpising Ways Scientists Hope to Limit Human Environmental Impact

Science communication is a tricky business. The goal sounds simple: translate scientific findings into concise, engaging pieces for the general public. But the devil in the details offers some hazards and temptations. Sifting through complex scientific articles brimming with jargon takes a bit of time, and finding the hook to grab readers buried within methods and results can be frustrating. Even more important than these difficulties, however, is the accurate portrayal of the major scientific findings.

The last point is the most important but also the rule most easily broken. The hope of any aspiring science communicator is to attract an audience.

While we all hope we can do this through the sweet smell of science and hard facts alone, sexy headlines and one-liners are usually more appealing aromas.

But what is the cost of these tactics when trying to foster public trust and support for the sciences?

Vegetables in the headlines

This struggle between selling and reporting scientific findings has appeared anew in media coverage of a study that compares the resource use and global warming potential of different US diets.

The study,1 completed at Carnegie Mellon University, examined how energy production, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) change across three different diets: 1) a reduced-calorie plan with the same mix of food as the average US diet; 2) a USDA-recommended food mix without reducing the total calories of an average diet; and 3) reducing calories AND shifting to a USDA-recommended food mix.

So did the study find that particular foods in some diets contribute more to resource use and emissions? Yes, and the results are quite interesting! But, from the headlines of some science communication websites, you would think that the results countered all previous scientific trends that vegetarian diets reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Lettuce produces more greenhouse gas emissions than bacon does” stated a headline for a post on Scientific American's website. IFLScience

Polluting gases fall rapidly as coronavirus spreads

By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

2 Surpising Ways Scientists Hope to Limit Human Environmental Impact Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Traffic has been much-reduced on the streets of New York

  • Levels of air pollutants and warming gases over some cities and regions are showing significant drops as coronavirus impacts work and travel.
  • Researchers in New York told the BBC their early results showed carbon monoxide mainly from cars had been reduced by nearly 50% compared with last year.
  • Emissions of the planet-heating gas CO2 have also fallen sharply.
  • But there are warnings levels could rise rapidly after the pandemic.
  • With global economic activity ramping down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is hardly surprising that emissions of a variety of gases related to energy and transport would be reduced.
  • Scientists say that by May, when CO2 emissions are at their peak thanks to the decomposition of leaves, the levels recorded might be the lowest since the financial crisis over a decade ago.

While it is early days, data collected in New York this week suggests that instructions to curb unnecessary travel are having a significant impact.

Traffic levels in the city were estimated to be down 35% compared with a year ago. Emissions of carbon monoxide, mainly due to cars and trucks, have fallen by around 50% for a couple of days this week according to researchers at Columbia University.

They have also found that there was a 5-10% drop in CO2 over New York and a solid drop in methane as well.

“New York has had exceptionally high carbon monoxide numbers for the last year and a half,” said Prof Róisín Commane, from Columbia University, who carried out the New York air monitoring work.

“And this is the cleanest I have ever seen it. It's is less than half of what we normally see in March.”

Although there are a number of caveats to these findings, they echo the environmental impacts connected to the virus outbreaks in China and in Italy.

2 Surpising Ways Scientists Hope to Limit Human Environmental Impact

We, as humans, have a large and usually disruptive effect on our environment. The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are rising due to human activity resulting in an increase in average global temperatures. We also produce more than 275 million metric tons of plastic in a year, between 10 and 28 billion pounds of which ends up in the ocean, disrupting the ecosystems there. Just to give a few examples.

But the news isn’t always bad.

Sometimes, scientists discover ways to counter balance our influence – even just by a little – either through a better understanding of creatures already found in nature or through genetic engineering.

I’m talking about the recent, accidental, discovery of caterpillars that actually eat plastic waste and the ongoing work to genetically engineer bacteria to absorb carbon dioxide or CO2.

Caterpillars that can eat plastic waste

Caterpillars are known as agricultural pests, producers of silk, and, of course, future butterflies and moths.

One species of caterpillar known as Galleria mellonella, the larvae stage for the greater wax moth, is a known parasite in beehives that feeds on beeswax.

When biochemist and amateur beekeeper, Federica Bertocchini, removed the caterpillars from her honeycomb and tossed them into a plastic bag, she soon discovered that they had chewed right through the plastic in several spots within only a few hours.

Such wax worms have been reported as plastic eaters before but whether they actually metabolized the plastic into something else or simply chewed it down before excreting it in a similar yet micro-sized particle form was not known.

For example, the moths that are known to eat your wool sweaters aren’t too picky.

They will help themselves to clothes made of other materials as well, but any artificial fibers tend to just get excreted as smaller particles while only the wool is actually processed by the moth’s digestion.

Together with her collaborators Paola Bombelli and Chris Howe at the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, Bertocchini decided to test the degradation of plastic by the wax worms in a more controlled environment.

They found that the caterpillars made their way through a supermarket plastic bag in less than an hour and were able to consume 92 milligrams of plastic in 12 hours.

The same amount of plastic could require as long as hundreds of years to decompose, but the caterpillars gobbled it up in less than a day.

Even more importantly for potential solutions to our plastic overproduction problem, the scientists determined that the larvae were actually biodegrading the polyethylene and converting it into ethylene glycol. The authors note in their study that, together with polypropylene, polyethylene represents 92% of the world’s total plastic production and makes up ~40% of plastic packaging.

Rather than mass production of wax worms – think of the bees! – the next step toward utilizing their ability to potentially reduce plastic waste is to determine what exactly causes the polyethylene to degrade.

The authors of the study suspect either an enzyme produced by the worm or by bacteria in the worm’s gut is the cause.

One piece of evidence for an enzyme: they found that a mashed up pile of worms still ate through the plastic.

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Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments[1] and ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources[2][3] caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming,[1][4] environmental degradation[1] (such as ocean acidification[1][5]), mass extinction and biodiversity loss,[6][7][8][9] ecological crisis, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing severe effects, which become worse as the problem of human overpopulation continues.[10][11] Some human activities that cause damage (either directly or indirectly) to the environment on a global scale include population growth,[12][13] overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation, to name but a few. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss pose an existential risk to the human race,[14][15] and human overpopulation causes those problems.[16][17][18]

The term anthropogenic designates an effect or object resulting from human activity.

The term was first used in the technical sense by Russian geologist Alexey Pavlov, and it was first used in English by British ecologist Arthur Tansley in reference to human influences on climax plant communities.

[19] The atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen introduced the term “Anthropocene” in the mid-1970s.

[20] The term is sometimes used in the context of pollution emissions that are produced from human activity since the start of the Agricultural Revolution but also applies broadly to all major human impacts on the environment.[21] Many of the actions taken by humans that contribute to a heated environment stem from the burning of fossil fuel from a variety of sources, such as: electricity, cars, planes, space heating, manufacturing, or the destruction of forests.[22]

Human overpopulation

Human population from 10000 BCE to 2000 CE, with its exponential rise since the eighteenth century.[23]
Main article: Human overpopulation

David Attenborough described the level of human population on the planet as a multiplier of all other environmental problems.[24] In 2013, he described humanity as “a plague on the Earth” that needs to be controlled by limiting population growth.[25]

Some deep ecologists, such as the radical thinker and polemicist Pentti Linkola, see human overpopulation as a threat to the entire biosphere.[26] In 2017, over 15,000 scientists around the world issued a second warning to humanity which asserted that rapid human population growth is the “primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats.”[27]

Human overconsumption

Main article: Overconsumption
Chart published by NASA depicting CO2 levels from the past 400,000 years.[28]

Overconsumption is a situation where resource use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem. It can be measured by the ecological footprint, a resource accounting approach which compares human demand on ecosystems with the amount of planet matter ecosystems can renew. Estimates indicate that humanity's current demand is 70%[29] higher than the regeneration rate of all of the planet's ecosystems combined. A prolonged pattern of overconsumption leads to environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases.

Humanity's overall impact on the planet is affected by many factors, not just the raw number of people. Their lifestyle (including overall affluence and resource utilization) and the pollution they generate (including carbon footprint) are equally important. In 2008, The New York Times

5 surprising ways computers are greening our planet

Since 1970, the number of natural disasters worldwide has more than quadrupled—caused, at least in part, by a .17 Celsius annual rise in global temperatures. Urban populations are exploding, and worldwide air pollution has risen by eight percent in five years. 32 million acres of forest are cut down each year, increasing CO2 emissions by upwards of 15 percent.

But scientists around the world are striving to reverse the devastation. They’re cleaning up our planet, decreasing fuel costs, saving forests, and tracking flood waters, to name just a few—and they’re using supercomputers to do it. 

1. Cleaning up the 5.25 billion pieces of plastic polluting our oceans

Message in a (plastic) bottle. “In some regions of the North Pacific there's more weight in plastic than there is in life.” Courtesy the University of New South Wales.

It will take up to 500 years for the ten metric tons of plastic that end up in the world’s oceans each year to degrade. In the meantime, all those shampoo bottles and plastic shopping bags slosh against each other and break into tiny floating fragments.

Plastic Adrift, a project by oceanographer Erik van Sebille, tracks the float path of discarded plastics to identify the source. Despite the massive accumulation of plastics in five huge gyres, only 1 percent of plastic is visible on the ocean’s surface.

Van Sebille's next project is to locate the other 99 percent.

We know that there is plastic on the seafloor, plastic on beaches, and plastic inside the stomachs of marine animals, but we don’t know how much, and we don’t know where. ~Erik van Sebille, Utrecht University

Read more:

2. Tracking water quality with robots

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