Carbon-Sucking Technologies: Moving Forward Despite Controversy

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

The 23rd conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was in full swing recently (6–17 November 2017). There, the countries that signed the 2015 Paris agreement discussed steps to keep the threat of climate change under control and—according to the Paris Agreement’s central aim—hold the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by curbing industrial emissions of carbon dioxide. At the same time, scientists involved in the Global Carbon Project reported that total carbon dioxide emissions held stable from 2014 to 2016, at about 36 billion tons per year. They went on to clarify that this was a temporary hiatus that will end in 2017, and that economic projections suggest the likelihood of further emissions growth in 2018.  Continue reading

Remembering Peter Chapman

 

Peter M. Chapman (1951 – 2017)

The editorial staff and Editors at the SETAC journal Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM), with heavy hearts, share with you the loss of our dear friend and colleague Peter M. Chapman. Peter left us much, much too soon on 26 September 2017.

We wish to dedicate this IEAM blog post to his memory. And we invite everyone reading this column to contribute their thoughts and favorite memories from Peter’s stellar career. We invite you to help us build one of many lasting remembrances to our dear friend.

P Chapman

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Market-Based Environmental Policies: Providing Incentives That Minimize Costs

A guest post by Garth Heutel

Many advocates of environmental policy see the Trump administration’s view of the environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a setback that dims the prospects for new and stronger environmental laws. Consequently, some state and local governments are picking up the slack. For example, California recently expanded its cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases, and the mayor of Atlanta vowed to meet his city’s commitments to lower carbon dioxide emissions, despite the President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. In this current complex landscape, economic theory can contribute valuable insight when designing climate and environmental policies at the federal, state, or local level. In particular, economic theory suggests that market-based environmental policies may provide clear advantages when compared to command-and-control policies. Let me explain why.

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Illustration credit: Mike Licht, CC BY 2.0.

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A Twist to the Great Story of Plastic-Eating Caterpillars

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

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Wax worm (Galleria mellonella). Credit: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab, public domain.

“Like diamonds, plastics are forever,” began a recent New York Times editorial. Or are they? No one knows exactly how long it takes for conventional plastics to completely degrade—it could be hundreds or thousands of years. In other words, a very long time. Even when broken down, plastics persist as tiny bits called microplastics.

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Beach plastic, Otter Rock, Oregon, USA. Credit: Jason Karn, CC BY-ND 2.0.

The first global analysis of the production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made was published in July 2017. The study shows that by 2015, humans generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics. Of these, 6.3 billion tons had already become waste. Only 9% of the waste was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. These staggering numbers explain why it is necessary to find strategies to degrade accumulated plastics.

A 2017 study published in Current Biology raised considerable interest in those seeking to limit the impact of plastic pollution. Science journalists jumped on the wagon, and rightly so—the study results promised a possible solution to the accumulation of plastic bags. Worldwide, one trillion plastic bags are used each year, 380 billion of which are used in the United States alone. Most plastic bags are not recycled. Journalists were also captivated by the story leading to the study, which was widely reported in the news.

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Increased Rainfall Resulting from Climate Change Could Exacerbate Toxic Algal Blooms

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

One of the main previsions of climate science is an increase in precipitation and extreme rainfall events, which may easily cause flooding and challenge water management.  The phenomenon finds its basis in the magnified evaporation caused by warming, resulting in the swelling of water vapor in the atmosphere. In this situation, when it rains, it rains a lot, as there is more vapor available to come down as rainwater. Rainwater may fall not only in large amounts but also in short, localized bursts, too quickly for the ground to absorb it. Sadly, these climate science forecasts are coming true. Although the relationship between global warming and increased precipitation is complex, there are no doubts about the marked increase in intense rainfall events, resulting in severe flooding throughout the United States and globally.

South Carolina National Guard aids Southeast Texas after Hurricane Harvey

Flooding in Port Arthur, Texas, USA, after Hurricane Harvey (photo taken 31 Aug 2017). Credit: SC National Guard, public domain.

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Small but Mighty: New Research on the Impacts of Microplastics

A guest post by Erica K. Brockmeier

The following post is one of a series generated from research presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Brussels, Belgium (7-11 May 2017). Each post features the latest research findings from SETAC scientists on emerging topics of interest.

What are microplastics and why should we care about them?

Microplastics are pieces of plastic or polymer debris that are very small in size, ranging from a shard as narrow as the width of a hair to a piece as large as a marble. Microplastics include pieces of plastic that are broken down from larger items, such as single-use water bottles, or ‘microbeads’ that are added to certain soaps and exfoliators.

Even though microplastics are small, there are concerns they can cause serious damage. Animals that confuse microplastics for food can end up with internal lacerations, inflammation, and nutrient deficiency caused by eating too much inedible material. Microplastics are also widely spread across the globe—scientists calculated that up to 90% of marine birds have ingested microplastics.

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Microplastic particles among sand grains. Credit: 5Gyres, courtesy of Oregon State University, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Circular Economy, Life Cycle Analysis, and Environmental Science unite at SETAC Brussels

A guest post by Erica K. Brockmeier

The following post is one of a series generated from research presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Brussels, Belgium (7-11 May 2017). Each post features the latest research findings from SETAC scientists on emerging topics of interest.

Circular economy, LCA, and the environment

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General materials life cycle. Credit: EPA, accessed from: Wikimedia Commons.

As we consumers become more aware of how the products we buy and use impact the health of the environment, companies are also looking for ways to make more sustainable products using materials with a more positive environmental impact. Life cycle analysis (LCA) is a way for environmental scientists to clarify the environmental impacts of a material or product. A circular economy is a system of production and consumption that is powered by renewable energy. A clean circular economy also focuses on eliminating toxic chemicals and closing material loops through better design, maintenance, repair, reuse, refurbishing, and recycling. Continue reading