GB Global Briefs Jan 2020

Time’s Up

Renewable Energy Should Speed Progress

The International Energy Agency predicts that renewable energy will surpass coal as the world’s leading source of electricity by 2030. Its 810-page annual World Energy Outlook also notes that even though offshore wind farms, solar installations and battery-powered cars keep getting cheaper, they aren’t progressing fast enough to slash global greenhouse gas emissions and bring global warming under control because the world’s appetite for energy keeps surging.

Bright spots include large, offshore European turbines that can harvest the stronger and steadier winds over the ocean; electric car factories in China; and new building codes and fuel economy standards. Africa currently poses about 40 percent of the world’s potential for solar energy, but has less than 1 percent of the world’s solar panels.

Trays Up

Air Meals May Get an Eco-Makeover

According to researchers, each airline passenger produces about three pounds of trash per flight from disposable headphones and plastic cutlery to food scraps and toilet waste. To increase mindfulness about the trash, British design firm PriestmanGoode has refashioned the economy meal tray, replacing plastic with renewable materials such as coffee grounds, banana leaves and coconut wood. Associate strategy director Jo Rowan says, “Onboard waste is a big issue. Knowing that you have 4 billion passengers per year, it all adds up very quickly.” The redesigned items are featured in an exhibit, “Get Onboard: Reduce.Reuse.Rethink.” at the Design Museum, in London.

The biggest environmental issue with air travel is carbon emissions, which are growing at a faster rate than previously projected. But as air travel becomes increasingly accessible and more people fly, airlines have been making public pledges to curb their environmental footprint, including the plastic forks and leftovers their passengers leave behind.

Money Talks

Climate Change Increases Banks’ Financial Risks

A collection of 18 papers published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco indicates that climate risks may cause home values to fall significantly; banks to stop lending to flood-prone communities; and towns to lose tax money needed to build sea walls and other protections. One recommendation is for regulators to penalize banks that lend money in areas that have been hit by disasters, yet have not taken steps to protect themselves against similar future disasters. Banks could also be rewarded by regulators for financing projects that leave communities less vulnerable to flooding or other hazards.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell wrote that the Fed takes “severe weather events” into account in its role as a financial supervisor. The San Francisco branch of the Federal Reserve, responsible for banking oversight across a major swath of the American West, wrote in March that volatility related to climate change has become “increasingly relevant” as a consideration for the central bank.

Gender Gap

Sea Turtles Skew Female

Scientists warn that as the Earth gets hotter, sea turtle hatchlings worldwide are expected to trend dangerously female. The West African island of Cape Verde is home to a sixth of the planet’s total nesting loggerheads, and 84 percent of youngsters are now female, researchers from Britain’s University of Exeter stated in a July report. “Males here could vanish in two or three decades,” says Adolfo Marco, a Spanish researcher. “There will be no reproduction.”

Sea turtle eggs that incubate in sand below 81.86 degrees Fahrenheit produce males, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, while nests in the mid-80s create a gender mix. Temperatures higher than 87.8 degrees effect 100 percent females. In Cape Verde, the sand temperature has risen about 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1964. Populations in Florida and Australia are also showing dramatic sex imbalances, casting the shadow of extinction over the ancient species. Sea turtles can live for 100 years and lay more than 1,000 eggs. They are polyamorous, and one male can fertilize dozens of females.

Uncowed by a Hurricane

Cattle Survive Churning Sea

Three cows turned up at Cape Lookout National Seashore on the Outer Banks of North Carolina months after being swept out to sea by Hurricane Dorian. Local resident Paula D. O'Mally wrote on social media, "The cows are wild and have survived for decades without human intervention. They’re pretty tough that way." A massive wave swept away nearly all 20 of the cows and 28 wild horses that were on private land on Cedar Island. The cows' caretaker has identified them, and a group is formulating a plan to get the cattle back home. The rest, and all of the horses, are believed to have perished in the storm.

Beach Junk

Microplastics Found in Brand-New Sand

The Hawaiian beach that was formed by lava from the erupting Kilauea volcano in 2018 is already littered with invisible pieces of tiny plastic. The black sand beach named Pohoiki, which stretches for 1,000 feet on Hawaii's Big Island, was created from shards of hot lava coming in contact with seawater, and looks pristine. Nic Vanderzyl, a University of Hawaii at Hilo student, saw the new beach as an opportunity to study sediment that was perhaps untouched by human influence, and discovered 21 bits of microplastics per every 50 grams of sand on average.

The microplastics were smaller than five millimeters and rarely larger than a grain of sand. Most of them, he says, were microfibers, the hair-thin fibers shed from common synthetic textiles like polyester and nylon. This invisible plastic has washed ashore on some of the world’s most remote beaches, uninhabited by humans. It's still unclear how it will affect marine ecosystems, but scientists think it may have dangerous consequences for wildlife and human health.

Rethinking Rice

Farmers Respond to Climate Change

Growing up in Gambia, Nfamara Badjie’s parents taught him it’s much healthier to eat food they grew rather than food bought in a store. Badjie, a well-known drummer who moved to the U.S. in 2005, bought a plot of marshy land in Ulster Park, New York, two hours north of New York City, and is learning how to adapt the rice-growing practices of his West African ethnic group, the Jola, to East Coast climates. Agronomists hope the innovative operation, Ever-Growing Family Farm, can provide a blueprint for other area farmers to introduce new crops due to the threat of climate change. Erika Styger, an agronomist from nearby Cornell University, says, “We can reinvent agriculture even today, and if we have that mindset, there is a lot that can be done. We shouldn’t get stuck in how we have done things, and we need to adapt to climate change.”

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