For centuries, indigenous groups in north-east India have crafted intricate bridges from living fig trees. Now this ancient skill is making its way to European cities.
When monsoon clouds bring pelting rains to the village of Tyrna, Shailinda Syiemlieh takes the nearest bridge to reach the opposite bank of a gushing stream. The bridge is no ordinary structure made of concrete and metal. Instead, it is composed of a single giant fig tree that sits by the riverbank, and the support that Syiemlieh walks over is a mishmash of aerial roots tightly knotted and woven together. The bridge is not only a part of the landscape, it is helping to support its ecosystem at the same time.
Tyrna lies just above the plains of Bangladesh in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya, which hosts hundreds of these bridges. For centuries, they have helped the indigenous Khasi and Jaintia communities to cross swelling rivers in monsoons. “Our ancestors were so clever,” says Syiemlieh, “When they couldn’t cross rivers, they made Jingkieng Jri – the living root bridges.”
Meghalaya hosts some of the wettest locations on Earth. The village Mawsynram, the world’s rainiest place, receives an annual rainfall of 11,871mm (39ft) – that would be enough to submerge a typical three-storey house if deluged all at once. Nearby Sohra comes second, averaging 11,430mm (37.5ft). From June to September, monsoon winds sweep north from the Bay of Bengal, passing over the humid plains of Bangladesh. When these air currents meet the hilly terrain of Meghalaya, they break open – and torrential rains begin.
When monsoon downpours periodically isolated the remote villages of Syiemlieh’s ancestors from nearby towns, they trained living aerial roots of Indian rubber fig tree (Ficus elastica) to form a bridge across flooding rivers.
The trees are important not just for crossing rivers, but they hold a revered place in Khasi culture (Credit: Alamy)
Building these bridges takes decades of work. It begins with planting a sapling of Ficus elastica – a tree that grows abundantly in the subtropical terrain of Meghalaya – in a good crossing place along the riverbank. First the trees develop large buttressing roots and then, after about a decade, the maturing trees sprout secondary aerial roots from further up. These aerial roots have a degree of elasticity, and tend to join and grow together to form stable structures.
In a method perfected over centuries, the Khasi bridge builders weave aerial roots onto a bamboo or another wooden scaffolding, wheedle them across the river and finally implant them on the opposite bank. Over time, the roots shorten, thicken and produce offshoots called daughter roots, which are also trained over the river. The builders intertwine these roots with one another or with branches and trunks of the same or another fig tree. They merge by a process called anastomosis – where branching systems like leaf vessels, tendrils and aerial roots naturally fuse together – and weave into a dense frame-like structure. Sometimes, the Khasi builders use stones to cover the gaps in root structures. This network of roots matures over time to bear loads; some bridges can hold up to 50 people at once.
The generations that follow the initial bridge builders continue the maintenance of the bridge. While only one single person may maintain small bridges, most require the collective effort of families or the entire village – sometimes several villages. This process of care and development down the generations can last for centuries, with some bridges dating from 600 years ago.
As well as being a regenerative form of architecture, living root bridges grow stronger with time, self-repairing and becoming more robust as they age. “When it rains heavily, small cement bridges wash away and steel bridges tend to rust, but living root bridges withstand the rains,” says Syiemlieh.
“People came to realise that root bridges are much more durable than modern alternatives, and they cost absolutely nothing. So villagers now repair root bridges they had abandoned in the forest valleys.”
This resurgence in interest in root bridges is in part thanks to the efforts of Morningstar Khongthaw, a native from Rangthylliang village, who founded the Living Bridge Foundation. Khongthaw and his team create awareness about root bridges, repair and maintain old bridges while also constructing new ones.
The living root bridges of north-east India have become famous as a tourist attraction – but they could also inspire European urban architecture (Credit: Getty Images)
Unlike conventional bridges, root bridges are also central to their surroundings. Apart from producing their own building material, the trees absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide over their lifetimes. They help stabilise the soil and prevent landslides. Conventional bridges can disrupt the soil layers, but roots can anchor different soil structures which helps protect against soil erosion, says Ferdinand Ludwig, professor for green technologies in landscape architecture at the Technical University of Munich, who has been studying the bridges for 13 years.
This is true of many trees, but Ficus elastica plays a particularly important role in its ecosystem, says Salvador Lyngdoh, a local to Meghalaya and a scientist at the Biodiversity Institute of India, whose work focuses on conservation in the Himalayas. Fig trees are framework species that promote biodiversity around them: moss grows on them, squirrels live in their branches, birds nest within their canopy, and they support insects that help with pollination. The act of turning these trees into bridges can also help animals to thrive in their habitat, says Lyngdoh. Bark deer and clouded leopards are known to use root bridges to move from one part of the forest to another.
Root bridges may not be able to outperform the conventional kind in every sense, Lyngdoh notes. A conventional bridge can bear more weight, for example. “But root bridges are much more useful to a large sphere of natural species than the modern bridges we have,” he says. “The living root bridge is a mosaic that’s embedded within the forest. Species do not differentiate between the bridge and natural forest.”
This form of indigenous architecture has fascinated scientists like the Technical University of Munich’s Ludwig, for the potential to learn from them to make buildings and spaces in other parts of the world greener.
Ludwig sees these bridges as an example of not just sustainable development, which minimises the damage and degradation of natural systems, but of regenerative development. The latter attempts to reverse degradation and improve the health of the ecosystem. But understanding the living root bridges is not an easy process.
“There’s no one way to build these bridges,” says Ludwig. “How these roots are pulled, tied and woven together differ from builder to builder. None of the bridges looks similar.”
The lack of historical written information on the bridges has also been a challenge in researching them. Until the British colonial period in the 19th Century, native Khasi inhabitants in Meghalaya didn’t have a written script, as the Khasi way of life is passed down through oral histories. This has meant that documented information on the bridges is sparse.
The fig tree is uniquely adaptable to making root bridges, but other species can also be used to integrate into architecture, such as the London plane tree (Credit: Alamy)
So Ludwig’s team turned to conversations with Khasi bridge builders and digital tools to understand the bridge-building techniques. They started with mapping the complicated shapes of roots and built digital skeletons of the bridges; next, they used photogrammetry – recording, surveying and interpreting root bridges using photographs – to document the bridges and construct 3D models using them.
“[Conventionally], when we construct a bridge or a building, we have a plan – we know what it’s going to look like,” says Ludwig. “But this isn’t possible with living architecture. Khasi people know this; they are extremely clever in how they constantly analyse and interact with tree growth, and accordingly adapt to the conditions.” Whenever a new root pops up, Khasi builders find a new way to integrate it into the structure.
But in Europe, with its very different climate, using Ficus elastica wasn’t a viable option, so they had to make compromises, choosing instead Platanus hispanica, the London plane tree. “That’s not all. The Khasi have incredible knowledge because they live in nature, and are deeply coupled with the ecosystems. We are not,” says Ludwig. So his team used digital tools to mimic this process and to settle on a geometry that allowed for weaving twigs together into a roof. The team constantly trims and prunes the trees to encourage them to grow to keep the trees thinner.
“We are learning how to react to plant growth in Europe: humans plant trees, trees grow, humans react, trees react again,” Ludwig says. “This way of interacting with nature is essential for a sustainable and regenerative future.”
The Double Decker Root Bridge of Meghalaya is now famous, drawing tourists from around the world (Credit: Alamy)
Ludwig hopes that living architecture can contribute to improving the outer wellbeing of residents in cities. Integrating trees in buildings, bridges, and parks will help bring nature into crowded areas. “The idea is not to copy the bridges, but to borrow the elements of this indigenous engineering and try to understand how we can adapt it in our urban environments,” says Ludwig.
Julia Watson, architect and assistant professor at Columbia University, whose work revolves around nature-based technologies of indigenous knowledge, says part of this is changing the way we see trees.
“Instead of viewing trees in cities as passive elements, we can view them as active infrastructures, to expand the ecosystem services trees provide in the urban context,” she says. For instance, trees can reduce the effect of urban heat islands (where concrete structures absorb heat and keep cities warmer) and lower outdoor ambient temperature, Watson notes.
The Ficus elastica provides potential that goes far beyond bridges, Watson says. These trees needn’t be an add-on to a building, but an integral part of its façade or roof.
In Meghalaya, the Khasi’s practice of bioengineering takes integration of the trees with their surroundings one step further, bringing people together as well as the ecosystem. The bridges, Lyngdoh says, promote community life and create reverence within the society when people come together to build, maintain and repair the bridges.
The young bridges being trained today won’t be traversed by those who are tending to them now, but by generations to come. “The community doesn’t think of today. It’s a selfless act. It’s a conservation philosophy,” says Lyngdoh. He sees this selflessness as a sacred element that pulls the community together and protects the ecosystem.
As well as being a part of Khasi culture, the root bridges have always brought economic benefits to the community. In the past, a network of bridges connected villages with nearby cities, providing a pathway for locals to transport and sell betel nut and broom grass. Today, there is also the tourism economy they bring, says Syiemlieh.
About 3,500 steps below Syiemlieh’s home village of Tyrna is the Double Decker Root Bridge that connects the two banks of the Umshiang River. When water levels rose high, Khasi villagers trained additional roots of the same fig tree across the river higher above the water, creating a second bridge over the first.
Today, it’s a major tourist attraction. As tourists began flocking, homestays opened. Locals built campsites and guided visitors through the hilly jungle. Makeshift stalls stacked up everything from crisp packets to bottled drinks. In March, when Syiemlieh visited Laitkynsew, a village just south of Tyrna, she saw locals pull, twist and weave aerial roots of a fig tree on bamboo scaffolding to build a triple bridge – two layers run parallel to each another as in the double-decker bridge, while a third root layer is slanted across the river bank. “Maybe they thought that three layers can attract more tourists,” says Syiemlieh.
Tourism comes with concerns, Syiemlieh says. Aside from the empty crisp packets and bottles, some root bridges see crowds of hundreds at a time as tourists clamber for selfies, potentially overburdening the trees. But locals are already planning different models of sustainable tourism.
Khongthaw, for example, is building a museum and a learning centre to educate tourists about living root bridges and other infrastructure made of Ficus elastica, such as canopies and tunnels in the deep jungles, and ladder-like structures, which farmers would use to climb up and down rock ledges on the way to Meghalaya’s fertile plains for cultivation.
Although still in its infancy outside Meghalaya, Watson hopes that architecture inspired by the living root bridges could come to play a fundamental role in cities – bringing with it benefits for urban air, soil and wildlife. “Living infrastructure can support incredible biodiversity and species, not just humans,” Watson says. “We need that biodiversity to survive.”
Activists are increasingly suing governments and companies to take action against climate change – and winning. Could this be a turning point?(Image credit: Getty Images)
David Schiepek, a student from the southern German state of Bavaria, has been involved in climate activism for around three years. “After all this time fighting, protesting and talking to politicians, I was losing hope a bit,” the 20-year-old says. “I feel like my future is being taken away.”
But in May this year, an unexpected event gave him a fresh sense of optimism. A lawsuit brought by a number of environmental NGOs, on behalf of a group of young activists, resulted in Germany’s constitutional court ruling that the country’s climate protection act must be amended to include more ambitious CO2 emissions reductions. The decision stated that the government’s failure to protect the climate for future generations was unconstitutional.
“I saw that, finally, politicians can be put under pressure and forced to take measures against climate change,” Schiepek says. “It really changed the way I see politics.”
Now he is hoping to build on this ruling, which applies only to the federal government. He has been recruited by an NGO, along with other young people from around Germany, to bring similar cases against their local state governments. Technically, he is suing his state to take action on climate change.
The last few years have seen a snowballing of court rulings in favour of environmentalists around the world. The cumulative number of climate change-related cases has more than doubled since 2015, according to a report authored by Kaya Axelsson of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute and colleagues. Just over 800 cases were filed between 1986 and 2014, while over 1,000 cases have been brought in the last six years, researchers Joana Setzer and Catherine Higham of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment found. Thirty-seven of those cases were “systemic mitigation” cases brought against governments.
One of the most high-profile was a Dutch case in 2015, in which a court ruled that The Netherlands’ government has a duty of care when it comes to protecting its citizens from climate change. The judges decided the government’s plan to cut emissions by 14-17% compared with 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful given the threat of climate change. They ordered the target be increased to 25%. As a result, the Dutch government closed a power plant four years earlier than planned and introduced a new climate plan in 2019. Elsewhere cases have led to similar rulings – including the recent German one that inspired Schiepek, as well as cases in countries such as Australia.
The rising number of cases is paving the way for stricter enforcement of environmental laws around the world and giving activists like Schiepek a new sense of hope.
A number of high-profile rulings have found certain governments’ and corporations’ climate action has been insufficient (Credit: Getty Images)
Roda Verheyen, one of the best-known environmental lawyers in Germany, and one of those who represented citizens in Germany’s constitutional court case this year, says she believes there are three reasons for the increase in successful cases. “One is that courts take a long time to actually come to conclusions,” she says. An increasing number of cases have been filed since 2014, so some are only now being heard after many years of work.
“And then obviously the narrative of what society perceives climate change to be has changed,” she explains. “A lot of law is flexible to some degree, because you always have to interpret existing rules. And when [judges] do that, they take into account societal norms and how belief systems might have changed.”
She compares this development to marijuana-related offences – as attitudes towards the drug have become more liberal in many countries, sentences have become much lighter. In the context of climate change, the public now overwhelmingly accepts the scientific consensus that it is man-made, and polls regularly put it towards the top of peoples’ concerns. This has in turn made courts more willing to rule against those responsible for emissions.
Verheyen explains that this year’s German ruling is significant because many countries do not have a constitutional court that can make this type of decision. Secondly, it is unlimited, so applies from now until forever, and she expects it to have a big impact on other cases around Europe.
Roda Verheyen successfully represented citizen’s in Germany’s constitutional case in 2021 (Credit: Alamy)
“Our 2022 business plan will reflect this new target, which we are committed to delivering regardless of whether we win or lose our appeal against the ruling,” the Shell spokesperson says.
These reductions don’t include the emissions from burning Shell’s fossil fuel products, which come under the category of Scope 3 emissions. The Dutch ruling stated that the company also needed to reduce its Scope 3 emissions, but the Shell spokesperson says that these findings hold Shell accountable for a wider global issue.
Paul Benson, a lawyer at Brussels-based NGO Client Earth, which specialises in environmental litigation, says this case “sought to apply the same reasoning [from the ruling against the Dutch government] to a corporate body. That was very novel, and I think a lot of commentators and people in our fairly enclosed legal circle weren’t entirely sure what way the court would interpret [that].”
“I was thrilled for a court to find that a company’s climate policy is in effect inadequate,” he continues, calling the judgment “ground-breaking”. The case was also the first time that a company was ordered to comply with the Paris climate agreement: “[It] shows the Paris agreement has teeth – not just against governments, but against companies.”
This has paved the way for other lawsuits seeking to force corporations to comply with the treaty – Verheyen is currently working on a lawsuit against German carmakers BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen which, if successful, would force them to phase out combustion engines by 2030 in line with the Paris goals. “As you would expect, actors in this space and lawyers in our community have been studying the [Shell] judgement very carefully, and sought local reasoning to apply [it] in their jurisdiction,” adds Benson.
“The complaint has not yet been served on us,” says a spokesperson for Daimler, which makes Mercedes-Benz vehicles. “We do not see a basis for a cease-and-desist declaration, because we have long since issued a clear declaration for our ‘lane change’ to climate neutrality: As a car manufacturer, it is our ambition to become fully electric by the end of the decade wherever market conditions allow.”
A BMW spokesperson says: “The BMW Group is firmly committed to the Paris climate agreement and already leads the automotive industry in the fight against climate change.” Meanwhile a Volkswagen spokesperson says that Volkswagen was the first car manufacturer to commit to all targets set by the Paris climate agreement “and is committed to become net carbon neutral at the latest by 2050”, aiming to invest €35bn [£30bn/$40bn] in electric mobility before 2025.
Benson and one of his colleagues, Sebastian Bechtel, both stress that the cases taking place now only challenge a fraction of environmental destruction that is happening around the world. Many activists do not have the financial resources to take on big corporations. “A lot of countries do not want to bring these claims,” Bechtel says. “In the UK, those relate primarily to costs. In other countries, it’s simply not possible to go to court to enforce specific laws.”
Increasingly solid science proving anthropogenic climate change and shifting public sentiment are two reasons for the uptick in climate lawsuits (Credit: Getty Images)
Back in Germany, a newly launched NGO, Green Legal Impact, is seeking to address this issue by offering specialised training to young lawyers and connecting civil society groups to those offering legal representation. Managing director Henrike Lindemann says that as a young environmental activist she “always saw that young people had political ideas. And then there were lawyers, often old white men, who told us our ideas were not possible because of the law,” she says. “And I thought, I want to know for myself if this is true. And if it is, I want to know how to change it.”
Lindemann says that one of the aims of the organisation is to encourage activist groups to be strategic in the court cases they pursue, so that any judgments can pave the way for further litigation. She gives the example of a number of current cases challenging the planned 850km (530 miles) of motorway due to be built in Germany, which she argues has not been looked at through the lens of climate. “I think if the court [ruled against one part of motorway], the discussion would change,” she says. “It would not just be about that one section of motorway, it would be the entire plan. And then we would have to change the whole discussion around mobility.”
The question of access to justice also brings about the issue of whether those in the Global South, who are disproportionately impacted by climate change, could in future bring cases against corporations or governments in wealthier nations. Green Legal Impact is already working on helping people in other countries who have been impacted by German companies’ actions seek justice, and a recent UK ruling stated that communities can sue parent companies for environmental damage caused by their subsidiaries.
Verheyen says it would be difficult to find courts to support cases against foreign governments, “unless at some point one very severely hit country decides to go state-versus-state, which has been a topic of conversation in academic and political circles for a long time, but hasn’t happened.”
Environmentalists are feeling optimistic after this year’s judgments. But given how slowly courts move, do they feel this may all be too little, too late? “Obviously I don’t think it’s too late, otherwise I would stop what I’m doing,” replies Verheyen. “I think we’re actually seeing a lot of movement.”
Benson agrees. “I think there’s a tendency sometimes for people to think about climate in a fatalist way,” he adds. “But everything we do now to mitigate and adapt is hugely worthwhile.”
In terms of which potentially ground-breaking cases we might see in future, Verheyen suggests that both the finance sector “and anything to do with land use and forests” are areas where she is expecting more action to arise. “If you look closely at the Shell judgement, it says, no further fossil fuel investment, full stop,” she explains. “If I was a financial institution, I would be looking very closely at that one.”
But overall, lawyers working in this field are keen to point out that litigation isn’t a silver bullet for ending the climate crisis. “It’s just one of the levers that can be pulled to trigger necessary change,” says Benson. “The other levers are activism, policy and, of course, science. But [litigation] is an incredibly powerful tool, and I think this year we’ve seen that.”
Joe Biden?s plan to carpet America wall-to-wall with 60,000 wind turbines and millions of solar panels comes with a staggering cost, and it?s America?s poor that will pay the heaviest price for the Democrat?s delusional energy policy.
The only thing guaranteed about subsidising wind and solar is rocketing power prices and unreliable electricity. Ask a German, Dane or South Australian.
In a country still reeling from the economic havoc caused by political responses to the coronavirus, the last thing Americans need is to increase the cost of living and doing business.
But that?s precisely what?s coming, as Brian Leyland and Tom Harris contend below.
Bryan Leyland MSc, DistFEngNZ, FIMechE, FIEE (rtd), MRSNZ, is a Power Systems engineer with more than 60 years? experience in New Zealand and overseas. Tom Harris, M. Eng, is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.
Biden?s Energy Plans Are Expensive?and Dangerous PJ…
Golden Eagles are listed as Endangered in New York, and are among the species at risk from poorly sited wind turbines. Photo Taylor Berge/Shutterstock
New York released draft regulations in September to implement the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act, which was passed into law earlier this year (in April 2020). Twenty-five conservation groups, including ABC, have expressed concern about these draft regulations, which do little to address renewable energy projects’ substantial negative impacts on birds.
The groups propose commonsense solutions that would correct some of the regulations’ major flaws and provide better protection for birds. By incorporating the recommended changes from these bird conservation experts, the State could set a positive precedent for environmentally friendly renewable energy development. But to make this happen, substantial revisions to the current draft regulations would be needed.
The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act is intended to streamline the approval process for wind and solar energy projects as part of the State’s approach to achieving its renewable energy goals. Among other things, the law established a new Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), charged with developing and overseeing the process for renewable energy project development.
In September, the ORES released draft regulations to implement the Act. “Implementation of this major new regulation has proceeded at a breakneck pace,” says Joel Merriman, ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign Director. “Unfortunately, in the draft regulations, very little consideration is given to bird protection. We fully support renewable energy development as part of a broader strategy for combating climate change, but this has to be done in an environmentally responsible manner. That includes taking care of our birds, and so far these regulations fall far short in this area.”
“When the law was being considered, we expressed serious concerns,” says Merriman. “Now that we have seen the draft regulations to implement the law, it’s worse than we feared.”
The draft regulations are paired with uniform standards and conditions for project siting and planning. They lack adequate protections for birds, including appropriate project siting, field studies, and other steps that, if established in the law, would conceivably result in an environmentally balanced approach.
“The draft regulations don’t allow enough time for necessary field studies for wildlife,” says Merriman. “They also dramatically reduce the opportunity for public and expert input in the planning process, and they ignore considerations for the majority of bird species. Worst of all, there is nothing to influence where projects are sited, which is the most important aspect of minimizing impacts to wildlife. This is why we worked with other concerned conservation organizations to clearly articulate the problems with this proposed process, and how some of them might be addressed.”
A total of 25 conservation organizations signed a letter to the State outlining the many deficiencies in the draft regulations. “It’s possible to work around some of the biggest issues in ways that will minimize negative impacts to birds,” says Merriman. “For example, if wildlife field studies are required before a pre-application meeting, there may be enough information to make smart planning decisions in many instances. This is the way things already work in the wind energy industry – it’s no burden to developers and results in better outcomes.”
Merriman continues, “It’s hard to understand: In other arenas, New York has done great things for birds. The State can maintain this commitment by making some improvements to the draft regulations, such as establishing commonsense setbacks from high biodiversity areas and requiring some already-standard field studies to inform project planning. It’s critical that we balance the need for renewable energy development with protecting our vulnerable bird populations.”
ABC thanks the Leon Levy Foundation for its support of ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign.
American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).
A French fishing federation is suing food corporate giant Nestlé after finding thousands of dead fish in a river near a Nestlé factory. “Everything is dead over a length of seven kilometers,” says the fishing federation.
The dead fish were spotted on Sunday night in the river Aisne near the village of Challerange, between Reims and Verdun. According to local authorities, the fish died from a lack of oxygen in the water. The Ardennes fishing federation estimates the damage at several thousand euros and wants this to be paid by Nestlé France, the owner of the factory in Challerange. Where milk powder is made for in coffee cups.
“Fourteen fish species have been affected,” the federation told AFP news agency. “Including the protected eel and the lamprey.” Volunteers from the Fish Federation…
The United States has a total coastline of around 95,471 miles, and 23 states and all five major territories have coasts of their own.
The mainland U.S. has the Atlantic Ocean on the east, the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Arctic Ocean to the north of Alaska, and the Gulf of Mexico towards the southeast.
Coastal areas are some of the most important habitat for migratory birds, nesting sea turtles, kelp forest-loving sea otters, sea ice-dependent seals and polar bears, anadromous fish like salmon, Florida manatees and many other species.
Intertidal zones are areas of the shore that are above the water at low tide and below at high tide, like some estuaries and rocky tide pools. These areas are important habitat for invertebrates like abalone that often form the base of the food web along coasts.
Coasts and intertidal zones are facing a barrage of threats, but climate change-related impacts are decimating coasts around the country. Sea level rise, erosion, strengthening storms, ocean acidification and rising temperatures are just some of the threats facing coastal and intertidal zones.
When storms rip through coastal areas, they destroy important habitat and deposit silt and debris across the coast. Intense pollution is running down river systems from agricultural areas, cities, and mining and coal ash plants, creating dead zones and spreading disease in estuaries and coastal areas.
Massive conversion of coastal wetlands and shoreline has destroyed important estuaries and nearshore habitat that serve as nurseries for fish and wildlife. Millions of tons of plastic pollution are clogging our oceans, drowning and choking marine mammals and breaking down into microplastics so fine that they are showing up in the tissue of fish and in zooplankton.
Offshore drilling threatens cetaceans with seismic testing and the risk of an oil spill is omnipresent. As we saw with Exxon Valdez and BP, it’s not a matter of if, but when, another spill will occur. When oil spills, no wildlife or habitat is spared, and the effects are felt decades later.
In our field offices and in the national and international arenas, we fight every day to ensure the survival of iconic marine species. By protecting these charismatic species, we also protect their marine and coastal habitats, as these species cannot survive and thrive except as interconnected parts of healthy and vibrant ecosystems.
Our experts work with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as other federal, state, tribal and private entities to restore and protect fragile systems to provide marine and coastal species with the habitat they need for their continued survival in the face of climate change.
We also work with local and coastal communities to increase awareness and understanding of wildlife coexistence tools and to oppose offshore drilling. Where necessary, we use our legal tools to ensure that federal, state and local governments comply with their obligations to protect marine wildlife species and their habitats.
People love to live by the water. For centuries, cities like New York, Miami, Honolulu and San Francisco have attracted residents and tourists from around the world. In fact, almost half of the U.S. population lives in counties on the coast, and that percentage is growing in footprint, density, number and population, reshaping and hardening coastlines in the process.
Coasts also provide habitat for great numbers of plants and animals and are typically biodiversity hotspots. But all this coastal development is reducing the amazing biodiversity along our shorelines.
Development has also reduced our coasts’ natural ability to resist and recover from natural disasters and has removed habitat that provides shelter for wildlife and ecosystem services for humans. Traditional coastal defenses like sea walls and levees are widely used to protect communities, but these artificial coastal barriers can lead to significant erosion or unwanted sediment deposition and negatively impact water quality. They are also time-consuming to build and cost billions to construct, maintain and repair.
Increasingly, engineers and planners are starting to pay more attention to the potential of “Nature and Nature-Based Features” (NNBFs) as environmentally friendly solutions—like mangrove forests, beach dunes, coral reefs and wetlands—that fulfill the same roles as an important weapon in the fight against coastal storms and flooding.
D. Rex Miller
NNBFs include natural defenses and human-built features that mimic them. Using NNBFs in coastal development decisions can therefore mean constructing new ones or protecting existing natural ones. NNBFs are often cheaper and require less maintenance and management. They can also make communities more resilient to climate change by adapting to changes in the environment. They are part of the larger concept of “green infrastructure,” or attempting to harness nature’s resilience to solve human problems. And its not all-or-nothing – NNBFs can complement artificial coastal infrastructure.
NNBFs like wetlands are essential to protect coasts from storm surges because they can store and slow the release of floodwaters, reducing erosion and damage to buildings. One study found that salt marshes can reduce wave height by an average of 72%. Coral reefs can serve as a barrier and reduce wave height by an average of 70%. These reefs protect coastal cities near them such as Honolulu and Miami, saving lives and preventing monetary damage.
Megan Joyce/Defenders of Wildlife
When Superstorm Sandy slammed the Northeast in 2012, homes on beaches fairly near to sand dunes were protected by these natural buffers, which can blunt the force of waves and wind. In many cases, homes on beach areas where dunes had been removed (often to improve ocean views) were completely destroyed by Sandy. Removing many of the mangroves that lined Biscayne Bay in South Florida may have helped spur economic development. However, it also removed another natural barrier against storm surge. This increased vulnerability of homes and businesses to the hurricanes that frequently hit Miami. Coastal communities in Indonesia hit by the devastating 2004 tsunami that had removed their mangrove forests suffered more damage and more lost lives than areas where mangroves had been allowed to remain. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently working on a number of projects that look at features like mangroves and their ability to protect coasts.
Damage from Hurricane Sandy at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, homes on the Jersey Shore
Bringing Wildlife Back
People are not the only ones who can benefit from NNBF. Restoring or protecting habitat can bring back habitat for wildlife and provide space for wildlife to live alongside coastal human communities. This includes imperiled species.
For example, coastal dunes restoration can improve habitat for threatened species like the piping plover, red knot and seabeach amaranth. Restoring mangroves can help protect species like the wood stork and American alligator, and the endangered hawksbill turtle. Protecting coral reefs can help threatened elkhorn and boulder star corals, and ensure habitat remains for the hawksbill sea turtle. People and wildlife can both have space.
NNBFs can also improve water quality. Much of the rainwater and flood water that goes on vegetation or sand will sink into the ground where it is cleaned. Healthy coral reefs and healthy mangroves help improve marine waters. And by avoiding artificial coastal defenses, polluted runoff can be avoided. Improving water quality can help marine imperiled species. For example, manatees in Florida have been devastated by red tide in recent years. Similarly, water quality issues can stress or kill threatened corals that need clear water for photosynthesis. Even species far offshore, like orca, can be hurt by contaminated runoff from development. Creating habitat for wildlife can even have additional economic benefits beyond coastal protection. It can offer opportunities for economic activity like kayaking, fishing and birding.
Andrew S. Wright/USFWS
The Future of NNBF
In recent years, the U.S. Congress has become interested in the potential of NNBFs, instructing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to incorporate NNBFs into coastal defense projects where appropriate. The Corps’ research and development center has taken a leading role in researching NNBFs. Through its engineering with nature initiative, it has developed numerous projects exploring NNBFs’ potential. However, the regional offices have made less progress in taking advantage of NNBFs in their coastal defense projects. NNBFs should be a priority for the Corps and coastal communities around the country – and the world.
Advocating for NNBFs is part of Defenders of Wildlife’s mission to protect habitat and we believe they are a strong tool for addressing the overall biodiversity crisis faced by the planet.
Andrew works on wildlife conservation policy at the Center for Conservation Innovation, where he researches and analyzes conservation governance strategies and emerging policy issues, and works with other CCI members to develop innovative approaches to habitat and species protection.
They were expert engineers, way ahead of the curve on underfloor heating, aqueducts and the use of concrete as a building material. Now it turns out that the Romans were also masters at recycling their rubbish.
Professor Allison Emmerson, an American academic who is part of a large team working at Pompeii, said rubbish was piled up along almost the entire external wall on the city’s northern side, among other sites. Some of the mounds were several metres high and included bits of ceramic and plaster, which could be repurposed as construction materials.
These mounds were previously thought to have been formed when an earthquake struck the city about 17 years before the volcano erupted, Emmerson said. Most were cleared in the mid-20th century, but some are still being discovered.
Scientific analysis has now traced some of the refuse from city sites to suburban deposits equivalent to modern landfills, and back to the city, where the material was incorporated into buildings, such as earth floors.
With fellow archaeologists Steven Ellis and Kevin Dicus, who worked on the University of Cincinnati’s excavations, Emmerson has studied how the ancient city was constructed. “We found that part of the city was built out of trash. The piles outside the walls weren’t material that’s been dumped to get rid of it. They’re outside the walls being collected and sorted to be resold inside the walls.
”The Porta Ercolano suburb outside the northern wall of Pompeii. When the area was excavated, ancient rubbish was found piled in and around the tombs, houses and shops. Photograph: Allison Emmerson
Pompeii was a city of elegant villas and handsome public buildings, open squares, artisan shops, taverns, brothels and bathhouses. It included an amphitheatre that hosted gladiatorial games for audiences of up to 20,000.
When volcanic dust from Vesuvius “poured across the land” – as one witness wrote – enveloping the city in darkness, at least 2,000 people died. In 1748, a group of explorers discovered the almost perfectly preserved city under a hardened carpet of ash and pumice. Even a loaf of bread was found preserved by later archaeologists.
Pompeii is now a Unesco world heritage site and – in normal times – attracts 2.5 million visitors each year.
Emmerson and her colleagues used soil samples to trace the movement of rubish across the city. “The soil that we excavate differs based on where the garbage was left originally,” she said. “Garbage dumped in places like latrines or cesspits leaves behind a rich, organic soil. In contrast, waste that accumulated over time on the streets or in mounds outside the city results in a much sandier soil.
“The difference in soil allows us to see whether the garbage had been generated in the place where it was found, or gathered from elsewhere to be reused and recycled.”
Some walls, for example, included reused materials such as pieces of tile and broken amphorae, and lumps of mortar and plaster. “Almost all such walls received a final layer of plaster, hiding the mess of materials within,” she said.
Afresco depicting the distribution of bread from a tablinum at Pompeii. Photograph: DEA/L Pedicini/De Agostini via Getty
“The idea has been that all this garbage resulted from that earthquake – consisting of rubble that had been cleared out of the city and dumped outside the wall to remove it from daily life. As I was working outside Pompeii, I saw that the city extended into developed neighbourhoods outside the walls … So it didn’t make sense to me that these suburbs were also being used as landfills.”
Modern approaches to waste management focus on removing rubbish from our daily lives, she added. “For the most part, we don’t care what happens to our trash, as long as it’s taken away. What I’ve found in Pompeii is an entirely different priority, that waste was being collected and sorted for recycling.
“The Pompeians lived much closer to their garbage than most of us would find acceptable, not because the city lacked infrastructure and they didn’t bother to manage trash but because their systems of urban management were organised around different principles.
“This point has relevance for the modern garbage crisis. The countries that most effectively manage their waste have applied a version of the ancient model, prioritising commodification rather than simple removal.”
Allison Emmerson, who teaches classical studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, is the author of Life and Death in the Roman Suburb to be published next month by Oxford University Press.Topics
Help keep the Earth healthy by ditching single-use plastic items. You can make a paper straw to use instead of a plastic one, which is one of the top items found at beach cleanups and can hurt ocean animals that mistake them for food.
Add a long line of glue on the side without the pattern.
Place a chopstick at an angle on the back of the paper. Then roll the paper around the chopstick until it’s completely covered. (Be careful to roll the paper on top of itself so you don’t get glue on the chopstick!)
Wait 10 minutes for the glue to dry, then wiggle the chopstick out from inside the paper tube.
Cut both ends of the tube to make them even.
Grab a parent and put the wax in a glass jar. Melt the wax by either putting the jar on a candle warmer or in a pot of warm water on the stove.Kids vs. Plastic10 tips to reduce your plastic useMake pom-pom puffsPlastic Pollution
Dip the paper tube into the melted wax one half at a time (this part might get a little messy!) Then gently wipe the tube with a paper towel to get off any extra wax. Let the straws dry about 10 minutes before using. PLANET PROTECTOR TIPThese paper straws will last only about a day. Ask your parents to purchase reusable straws made of bamboo, metal, glass, or silicone that you can use forever!
Jeff Bezos may have pledged $10 billion to fight climate change, but critics are slamming the billionaire for not making changes closer to home first and reducing the amount of packaging used to send out Amazon parcels.
“Could he please start with his ridiculous packaging that he leaves on our doorstep??? Perhaps the amazon delivery could collect the significant waste left behind,” one Amazon shopper wrote on Twitter.
“If #Bezos wants to do something for the world, he can start with his excessive packaging. Amazon shipping is the most wasteful of any retailer out there. Is junking up the world with plastics part of #BezosEarthFund?” another wrote.
Bezos announced his $10 billion pledge in an Instagram post on Monday. The money will be donated via a new initiative called the Bezos Earth Fund.
Related video: More about Bezos’ pledge (provided by CNBC)
Amazon has frequently been called out for its tendency to use large amounts of packaging to send out small items and there are numerous posts documenting this habit on social media with shoppers sharing images of giant boxes used to house one relatively small item:
@AmazonUK You just delivered to me a slim 1m long boom pole in this massive 1.5x1m box! Gobsmacked by this shocking waste of resources on a planet that is already suffocating. As a huge contributor to packaging waste how can you justify this? #amazon #packaging #waste pic.twitter.com/saC5pwBArg
— matt pelly (@mattpelly) December 15, 2017
@amazon you’ve gotta be kidding me with this packaging!!!! What a collosal waste. pic.twitter.com/08hPhOVFbX
— Samantha (@SamCo2889) February 16, 2020
Ordered 3x peelers from @AmazonUK last night (because it was a minimum order quantity)… So why did you have to pack them in 3 separate pieces of packaging?! #excessivepackaging #packingwaste #amazon #waste pic.twitter.com/0U1ThOqMU5
— Rob O’Hagan (@Rob_OHagan) February 16, 2020
@amazon you should probably look into whoever is in charge of packaging. All this box for 1 tiny little pack of lightbulbs the size of a AAA battery. I get boxes like this all the time. Imagine the profits going to waste here. pic.twitter.com/X1NIm3EeN3
— Justin (@flik623) February 11, 2020
In some cases, Amazon customer service agents have responded to customer’s complaints on Twitter, saying that they will look into it:
@amazon you guys must really hate the environment. This is ridiculous. A huge box for a tiny bottle of nail polish? The packaging probably cost more than the nail polish. How do you make money? This should be your corporate initiative this year. Reduce packaging waste. pic.twitter.com/saD3Lz7QD8
— Apextroll (@Apextroll2) July 23, 2019
A spokesperson for Amazon did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on this.
Bezos said that the $10 billion will be used to fund the work done by scientists, activists, and NGOs among others “to help preserve and protect the natural world.”
“Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet,” he wrote on Instagram. “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share.” The grants will be issued from this summer onward.
His announcement comes after mounting pressure from Amazon employees to do more to fight climate change as one of the world’s largest retailers.
In January, more than 350 employees signed a petition that called out the company’s climate change practices and urged Bezos to invest more money into fighting this cause rather than putting it toward his space exploration company, Blue Origin, for example.
“Amazon, the Earth is our only home. Spend more money on fighting Climate Change than on space exploration!” one Amazon employee wrote in the Medium post, which was reported by Business Insider’s Isobel Hamilton.
Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.
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Walmart expects slower online sales growth after tepid quarter
Walmart sees slower online sales growth after tepid holiday quarter
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Employees at an Apple store in Beijing wear face masks to protect themselves from COVID-19
Coronavirus is becoming a dominant theme in company earnings releases
COVID-19, the new coronavirus that was first identified late last year in Wuhan, China, is becoming a dominant theme in the earnings releases and conference calls of S&P 500 companies.
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A sign featuring a HSBC Holdings Plc logo hangs outside a bank branch in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. The U.K. is headed to the polls on Dec. 12, bringing banks, utilities and housebuilders into focus for U.K. equity investors.
HSBC targets revamp with some 35,000 job cuts
HSBC Holdings Plc is set to slash about 15% of its workforce, and is taking $7.3 billion of charges in its latest attempt to revive its fortunes since the global financial crisis.
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Nearly 40 cents out of every retail dollar Americans spend online now go to Amazon—the company commands a full 4% of U.S. retail as a whole. Three-quarters of a million workers earn a living through Amazon, and more than 100 million Prime subscribers consider Amazon their online home base. Although they’ve long enjoyed free two-day shipping, Prime members now also get a massive library of entertainment, e-books, grocery services, cloud storage, and gaming. The early investors who bought into the company when it first went public rode a wave of nearly unprecedented growth—those who made an initial investment of just $1,000 are now millionaires. Amazon is ranked among the five biggest corporations in America, and its founder is the richest human being on Earth. It’s responsible for starting a trend that cracked the foundations of traditional retail and changed the way things are bought and sold. Former giants like Sears and Toys “R” Us have crumbled under the pressure of e-commerce, a revolution that Amazon stoked more than any other single entity—but it wasn’t always that way. When Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in his garage in 1994, the company he launched wouldn’t be profitable for years to come. It was part of an avalanche of new tech startups riding a wave of new and uncertain technology—most of them would quickly go bust. It started with an idea to let people browse and buy books from their computers instead of going into physical bookstores and choosing from the limited selection they found inside. It was a revolutionary idea, and Amazon soon became the world’s biggest bookstore. Then it became the “Everything Store.” Later it became a wealth-generating machine, with tentacles reaching everywhere from electric vehicles and cloud computing to production studios and grocery stores. It’s heavily scrutinized and controversial—plans to open new headquarters recently sparked both ferocious bidding wars and fierce political blowback at the same time. Stacker compiled a list of key moments in Amazon’s history and its current business from a variety of sources. Here’s a look at the events that turned an online bookstore into a global conglomerate and a self-made entrepreneur into the world’s richest man.
From the dawn of e-commerce in 1994 to today, Amazon evolved from an online bookstore to a global corporate powerhouse.
Today New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered an executive order to end “unnecessary single-use plastic bottles.” The order prohibits city agencies from purchasing water or soda or other beverages in single-use plastic bottles and restricts the sale of plastic bottles on city property. This includes food vendors on city sidewalks, parks, and sports facilities.
New York City government previously cut plastic straws and cutlery from every city location, from schools to hospitals.
Communities all over the world are taking action to stop plastic pollution. Americans alone discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year; less than 8 percent of it gets recycled.
To learn more about the actions you can take, visit the Global Plastic Reduction Legislative Toolkit.
Stop oil and gas development from harming Alaska’s wildlife
Spotted Seal (c) Jay Verhoef (NOAA)
Alaska’s wildlife is in jeopardy. A newly proposed development by oil giant ConocoPhilips would build a huge oil field with hundreds of oil wells that would impact critical polar bear habitat and protected lands in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently released their Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the development, but they’re rushing through the process to open up leasing as quickly as possible, with little regard for the harm this development could bring to local wildlife.
Tell the BLM: Don’t turn a blind eye to wildlife!
Dear BLM State Director Chad Padgett,
Personalize your message
I am writing to you with significant concerns about BLM’s Willow Master Development Plan Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) regarding the proposed Willow oil and gas development located in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A). In particular, I am concerned about the Willow development’s proposed size and proximity to some of the most valuable wildlife habitat in America’s Arctic found adjacent in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area and Arctic Ocean, and its impacts to polar bear critical habitat. I am also concerned that the analyses and decision-making around this very significant development is happening virtually in tandem with BLM revising its overall management plan for the NPR-A, the Integrated Activity Plan, where the size and protections of established Special Areas may be changed.
ConocoPhillips has proposed developing a major industrialized zone, including up to five drill sites of up to 50 wells each, a central processing facility, an operations center pad, miles of gravel and ice roads, pipelines (including under the Colville River), a gravel mine just west of the community of Nuiqsut, and a gravel island in Harrison Bay. This human-made, modular island just off-shore and north-east of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area would impact polar bear critical habitat and likely would also impact to threatened ice seals and whales. These species are already experiencing significant effects from climate change and other oil and gas activities in the Alaskan Arctic. The DEIS understates impacts to polar bears and seals, and completely omits impacts to cetaceans including listed bowhead and beluga whales.
I urge BLM to slow this analysis process down to make sure that the agency is getting sufficient public input; properly analyzing issues raised by a cross-section of stakeholders; and especially sufficiently analyzing impacts to imperiled polar bears, ice seals, whales and other wildlife.
Ian James | Arizona Republic | 1 hour ago
A federal judge blocked construction of a giant copper mine in Arizona’s Coronado National Forest, overturning a decision by the federal government and handing a major victory to environmental groups and tribes that have been fighting plans for the mine.
Federal District Judge James Soto said in his decision Wednesday that the U.S. Forest Service “abdicated its duty to protect the Coronado National Forest” when it failed to consider whether the mining company held valid unpatented mining claims.
Conservation groups sued the government seeking to stop construction of the $1.9 billion Rosemont copper mine by Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc. The company secured federal approvals for the open-pit mine in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson, but opponents argued it would tear up the landscape, destroy streams and ravage habitat for rare animals, including endangered jaguars that roam the wilds of southern Arizona.
“This is a crucial victory for jaguars and other wildlife that call the Santa Ritas home,” said Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that filed cases seeking to stop the mine. “The judge’s ruling protects important springs and streams from being destroyed. We’ll move forward with everything we’ve got to keep protecting this southern Arizona jewel from this toxic mine.”
Other groups that sued to challenge the federal government’s approval of the project included the group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and three Native American tribes: the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Hopi Tribe. The tribes object to plans to excavate remnants of ancestral villages and burial sites, and say the mine would dewater springs and seep they consider sacred.
Soto said in the ruling that he was overturning the Forest Service’s decision and environmental impact statement “such that the Rosemont Mine cannot begin operations at this time.”
The judge said the Forest Service had “no factual basis to determine that Rosemont had valid unpatented mining claims” on 2,447 acres, and that the claims are invalid under the Mining Law of 1872.
“The unauthorized dumping of over 1.2 billion tons of waste rock, as well as about 700 million tons of tailings, and the establishment of an ore processing facility no doubt constitutes a depredation upon Forest Service land,” Soto wrote in the decision. He said the agency implemented the wrong regulations, misinformed the public, and “failed to adequately consider reasonable alternatives.”
The mining company said it will appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Hudbay believes that the Court has misinterpreted federal mining laws and Forest Service regulations as they apply to Rosemont,” the company said in a statement. It said the Forest Service issued its decision in 2017 after a “thorough process of ten years involving 17 co-operating agencies at various levels of government.”
Peter Kukielski, Hudbay’s interim president and CEO, said the appeal will proceed as the company evaluates its next steps on the project.
“We are extremely disappointed with the Court’s decision,” Kukielski said. “We strongly believe that the project conforms to federal laws and regulations that have been in place for decades.”
Representatives of the Forest Service were unavailable to comment on the decision.
The judge said “defects pervaded” the Forest Service’s review and decision, and “led to an inherently flawed analysis from the inception of the proposed Rosemont Mine.”
Stu Gillespie, an attorney with the group Earthjustice who is representing the tribes, said the ruling “affirms the fundamental principle that nobody gets a free pass to destroy our public lands.”
“As the Court explained, the Forest Service provided no basis for assuming Hudbay had a right to destroy thousands of years of the Tribes’ cultural heritage,” Gillespie said in an email. “Because this crucial error tainted the entire process, the Court threw out the Forest Service’s decision and enjoined Rosemont from destroying these sacred public lands.”
The tribes’ leaders praised the judge’s decision. Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, called it a victory for “all of Southern Arizona.”
“The devastation that the Rosemont mine would bring to our land, water, and cultural resources is well-documented and cannot be allowed to happen,” Norris said in a statement. “The Nation will continue to fight to ensure that our sacred lands and the region’s water are protected.”
Hudbay has disputed the concerns raised by opponents, stressing that the project has gone through a thorough vetting process involving multiple government agencies and lasting more than 12 years, with a long list of studies that have examined the potential effects on the environment. Hudbay has argued that various agencies concluded the company will be able to operate the mine in compliance with environmental laws.
The company says Rosemont would be the third-largest copper mine in the United States.
Serraglio called the judge’s decision a “momentous precedent.”
“The judge essentially ruled that the mining company does not have an automatic right to dump their toxic waste on our public lands, and that the Forest Service’s interpretation of the law to that effect undermined the entire EIS (environmental impact statement) process,” Serraglio said in an email.
While the company appeals the decision, the judge made clear that no work on the mine may proceed in the meantime.
Reach reporter Ian James at email@example.com or 602-444-8246. Follow him on Twitter: @ByIanJames
Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at environment.azcentral.com and at OurGrandAZ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
With scientists predicting that if nothing changes in our plastic consumption habits, there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish by 2050, it’s not surprising that this year’s Earth Day theme is End Plastic Pollution. According a recent study from Science Advance, since the invention of plastic in 1907, 8.3 billion metric tons of virgin (non-recycled) plastic have been produced, generating 6.3 billion metric tons of waste, 79% of which has piled up in landfills while just 9% has been recycled. A total of 12 billion metric tons are expected to be in landfills or the environment by 2050 if current production and waste management trends continue.
While we are all, as individuals, accountable for our contribution to the planet’s pollution and waste buildup, large corporations play a critical role in either damaging or protecting the environment. At JUST Capital, we’ve heard from the American people – across all demographics – that environmental impact is one of their top concerns when it comes to just corporate behavior.
As part of our analysis and ranking of corporations in the Russell 1000, we look closely at companies’ environmental practices – including their waste and recycling programs. Of the 875 companies we analyzed, just 136 have disclosed both the total amount of waste produced and recycled within a given year (i.e. the latest year they’ve disclosed), and we’ve found that, of the total waste produced by those companies, about 54% is recycled.
These corporations – the largest in the United States – are producing a tremendous amount of waste, and the way it is managed and disposed is likely to critically impact the future of our planet. Here are five leaders that stand above the rest for their environmental stewardship, particularly when it comes to waste management:
Recycle more than 85 percent of their waste.
Have made a strong commitment to environmental practices by establishing environmental management systems that include objectives, targets, monitoring and measurement, audits, training, performance records, etc.
Have received external certification (including to the ISO 14001 standard) of their environmental management systems across the majority of their facilities.
These companies are also leaders in our overall rankings, with four in the JUST 100 (including Intel and Texas Instruments at #1 and #2, respectively), and Eaton not far behind, suggesting that environmental leadership is an integral part of overall just business behavior.
We’ve dug into what makes these five companies unique in their efforts to minimize impact, finding notable transparency around their waste and environmental management systems. Here’s what sets them each apart:
1st in Environment, 15th Overall in our Rankings
According to Accenture’s 2017 Corporate Citizenship report, the company has made considerable progress toward reducing its environmental footprint and fostering sustainable growth, particularly with regard to carbon emissions – reducing 52% in CO2 emissions per employee. Among Accenture’s top priorities are its reuse and recycling efforts – including the management of e-waste and water.
2nd in Environment, 1st Overall in our Rankings
Intel continually strives to improve its operations and minimize its impact on the environment. Since 2008, Intel has recycled more than 75% of the total waste generated by its operations, and in an effort to reduce waste in 2013, the company linked a portion of employees’ compensation to solid waste recycling metrics. Intel aims to achieve zero hazardous waste to landfill by 2020, and recycling rates of 90% for non-hazardous waste.
3rd in Environment, 84th Overall in our Rankings
Estee Lauder’s Global Environmental and Safety (EAS) team has a strong record of minimizing waste, and continues to identify new ways to improve recovery and diversion rates. Since 2003, the company’s 23 owned manufacturing and distribution facilities have sent zero waste to landfill, and any waste that cannot be recycled is incinerated and converted to energy. At its industrial sites, the company achieved a recycling rate of 88.5% in 2016, and has set a target of 90 percent for 2017.
5th in Environment, 183rd Overall in our Rankings
Eaton’s waste reduction efforts are geared toward supporting its operations as well as the communities where employees live and work. Since 2015, Eaton has reduced the waste sent to landfill by its operations from 33,400 to 25,100 metric tons, a 24.9% reduction. More than 120 of its facilities send zero waste to landfill, and the company seeks to increase this in the near term by another 20 sites.
6th in Environment, 2nd Overall in our Rankings
With a strong history of environmental stewardship, Texas Instruments makes significant investments to efficiently use, reuse, or recycle materials across its operations, and reduces its potential environmental impact by sourcing materials responsibly, as well as appropriately managing waste handling and disposal. Each major production site around the world operates a robust recycling program for industrial and nonindustrial waste – for example, recycling water used in the fabrication process by feeding utility plant cooling towers.
This year, as we reflect on how we can all strive to #BreakFreeofPlastic, the work of these companies is already moving the needle – significantly reducing the amount of waste produced and sent to landfill by their operations. Corporations across America stand to learn by the example of companies like these, and JUST Capital will continue to track how they lead the charge in environmental impact, as well as in their efforts to build and drive more just business practices overall.
When I think of all the hours that are spent looking at stupid stuff on screens instead of paying closer attention to the real world, the one we take for granted; trees, nature, water, and air, I wonder, “why is this happening?” All it would take would be a little (okay, a whole lot of!) people with passion and energy to make a difference. Wouldn’t it? It seems as if we humans have been stuck in a passive inertia vortex for too long, one that allows the problems to heap up and mount ever higher. We are drowning in our own discordance with nature.
Ignoring the “real world” is to ignore life’s positive energy, the tremendous gift of will to live, one that flows from the universe bringing us health, happiness, and vitality. To me, that is what Sustainably is. Want to feel better about this? Well, now you can…
In the last few years, Ben & Jerry’s has released many dairy-free ice cream flavors. And they continue making more, just recently adding another flavor to their line of dairy-free ice cream. Given that the dairy industry is harmful to the environment, this was a progressive move in the right direction. Now, they will be doing even more for the environment and setting an example for other companies by removing all single-use plastics from their Scoop Shops.
Ben & Jerry’s has more than 600 stores worldwide. They will phase out single-use plastics from their stores one step at a time. In August 2018, they made plastic straws available by request only with many of the shops having plastic alternatives, but the first step of the new plan is to no longer offer plastic straws or spoons beginning early this year. On April 9, 2019, Scoop Shops will complete the transition to wooden spoons and paper straws will only be available by request. The ultimate goal is to find an alternative to clear plastic cups, plastic-lined cups, and plastic lids by the end of 2020.
“Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops currently hand out 2.5 million plastic straws a year, and 30 million plastic spoons. If all the plastic spoons used by Ben & Jerry’s in the US were placed end to end, they’d stretch from Burlington, Vermont to Jacksonville, Florida,” explained Ben & Jerry’s Global Sustainability Manager, Jenna Evans. She said, “We’re not going to recycle our way out of this problem. We, and the rest of the world, need to get out of single-use plastic.”
Ben & Jerry’s is a very well-known brand and their analysis of their own contribution to plastic pollution and plan to make a change is just the example the world needs right now. As Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group said, “Across the globe, discarded plastics are choking our environment and threatening wildlife. The only solution is to stop using them.”
For more information on plastic pollution and why the elimination of single-use plastic is such an important and necessary change, check out 5 Realities About Plastic Pollution That Won’t Go Away Until We Do Something and These 5 Marine Animals Are Dying Because of Our Plastic Trash… Here’s How We Can Help.
An advocate of Big Coal and chemical companies could soon be in charge of environmental protection in the United States. Andrew Wheeler’s beliefs about climate change and the environment make him unfit to lead the EPA. Sign this petition to ask the Senate to reject this unqualified and utterly inappropriate nominee.
Sandals Resorts is set to eliminate all styrofoam from its 19 Sandals and Beaches-branded resorts across the Caribbean, the company announced this week.
The company said the elimination of styrofoam was particularly important in the Caribbean, with its abundant marine life.
Ocean pollution continues to grow daily and the fact that cooperations are starting to recognize this is extremely important. A recent study found that 100% of all sea turtles tested on seven species of sea turtles across three different oceans all had micro plastics inside of them which also includes styrofoam.
In the first decade of this century, we made more plastic than all the plastic in history up to the year 2000. And every year, billions of pounds of plastic end up in the world’s oceans.
“As we enter the New Year, it’s incredibly important to our Sandals family that environmental sustainability remains a key priority,” said Adam Stewart, Deputy Chairman of SandalsResorts International. “After eliminating plastic straws, stirrers, laundry bags and gift shop bags last year, we’re choosing to eliminate Styrofoam from our resorts. We’re proud that many of the islands in which we operate are also making this shift to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty of the Caribbean.”
The company also said it would explore ways to eliminate other plastic across its resorts this year.
While this is move is a positive step, a much bigger change than having almost 20 resorts ban an item is needed. Most top notch resorts such as Sandals have programs in place that already due handle waste very well but trash and plastic can be found littering the pristine beaches of the Caribbean.
To take the next step, we need to push the countries such as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and others to ban single-use plastics and styrofoam altogether.
Lawmakers in New Hampshire are preparing to make a push against plastic bans and plastic straws in the coming legislative session.
New Hampshire Public Radio reports Democratic Rep. Judith Spang of Durham is introducing bills to ban plastic bags and plastic straws around the state. She says she has seen shoppers at grocery stores whose carts look like they are “about to take flight with all of the plastic bags fluttering in it.”
Spang says she’s also introducing legislation to allow cities and towns to establish their own bylaws that create single-use plastic bag bans. That would be insurance in case the statewide effort doesn’t succeed.
Cities across the United Sates and some countries already similar bans already in place as plastic pollution continues to create an immense crisis.
In the ocean itself, there are an estimated 15-51 trillion pieces of plastic already estimated to be in the ocean today, that number will only grow at a rapid pace in the future. By 2050, plastic pollution is estimated to outweigh all fish in the ocean.
In the first decade of this century, we made more plastic than all the plastic in history up to the year 2000. And every year, billions of pounds of plastic end up in the world’s oceans.
Plastic is so durable that the EPA reports “every bit of plastic ever made still exists.” All five of the Earth’s major ocean gyres are inundated with plastic pollution. The largest one has being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch while countless other disturbing events occur daily across the world due to plastic pollution.
by: Joe Sireno
recipient: Citizens of Vernon Township, NJ, Sussex, NJ
9 SUPPORTERS in Sussex
2,715 SUPPORTERS – 20,000 GOAL
STOP THE WASTE DUMP – SAVE VERNONS WATER SUPPLY!
For years a resident of our town has been profiting by turning his residentially zoned property into a construction waste dump. Every day dump trucks, some without license plates or surface graphics identifying their ownership, show up at 3 Silver Spruce Lane in Vernon, dumping loads of mixed construction waste of seriously questionable content. The only way to confirm if there is or is not a significant danger to the health of the citizens and especially the children of Vernon is to do independent water well, water run-off and deep core soil testing on a scheduled basis underneath the mountains of waste created by this practice.
What’s at stake: Nothing less than the safety of our water supply, the health of our children, the value of our homes and our community’s ability to grow and thrive. Numerous attempts have been made to seek proper redress by various good citizens of our town like Peg and Pat Destasi and many others. Mayor Harry J. Shortway and congressman Josh Gottheimer are fully aligned with our cause and have acted aggressively on our behalf to the extent possible so far. Now it’s time for all of us to stand up, be counted and to join this important effort.
We, the citizens of Vernon, NJ, therefore demand the NJDEP take immediate action to halt any further dumping on Mr. Joseph Wallace’s property or any other tract of land within the boundaries of Vernon, NJ until such time as a thorough and exhaustive testing is done to the earth and water beneath the sites used for the dumping of waste. If pollutants are found that compromise soil and or water, we further demand that the NJDEP permanently stop the dumping, enforce all appropriate laws and require the immediate remediation of the sites in question.
PLEASE SIGN OUR PETITION TODAY! Join us as we demand legal actions be taken by the NJDEP. Please “like” our Facebook Page for news, public meeting dates and updates on our progress.
by: Kevin Mathews
recipient: EPA Director Andrew Wheeler
27,822 SUPPORTERS – 30,000 GOAL
Clean drinking water is critical to all Americans, yet Trump’s EPA has decided to mess with existing regulations to pull thousands of miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands from some commonsense protections.
It’s not only important to safeguard the bodies of water we pull our water from and ensure they are free of pollution, but we also must ensure the bodies of water that pour into those other bodies are also safe and clean.
Nevertheless, this EPA has proposed removing all sources of water that aren’t permanent. In other words, the streams and wetlands that pop up seasonally (usually due to rain) and flow into our main water sources would no longer need to be regulated.
Just because they’re not feeding into water sources year round doesn’t mean they can’t do damage. Roughly one-third of Americans will drink water that can be traced back from these soon-to-be unregulated sources. How is that a good idea?
Before the proposal can go into action, the White House must take comments from the public for two months. Let’s use this petition to make sure the EPA is well aware we want our regulations kept intact so that we can ensure access to clean water to all Americans. Do not tinker with the Clean Water Act! https://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/324/273/166/
Single-use plastic costs little to companies, but the real price is paid by our planet and communities. For far too long, big companies have made big money forcing plastic packaging into our lives, most of the time without giving us the choice to avoid it.
Corporations like Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Mars, Kraft Heinz, Mondelez, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson and Johnson, and Danone are increasing the amount of single-use plastic and, even if they claim to know little about where their plastic ends up, their solutions have only been related to recycling.
The truth is that recycling is not the solution: over 90% of the plastic ever made has not been recycled, it sits in landfills, ends up in the environment, or has been incinerated and dispersed toxic pollution back to our environment. We cannot simply recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis.
Our planet can’t take anymore. We need urgently to stop plastic pollution at its source. It’s time for corporations to move away from single-use plastic altogether.
We ask the CEOs of Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Mars, Kraft Heinz, Mondelez, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson and Johnson, Danone:
to be transparent about the plastic they use and produce
to commit to reduction and set annual targets for reducing their plastic footprint
to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastic by the end of 2019
to invest in reuse and new delivery systems
The plastic pollution crisis is massive, and beach cleanups and recycling are simply not enough. We need real solutions now!
Add your name to demand that companies take responsibility for the plastic pollution crisis they helped create!
President Donald Trump is no friend of animals or animal advocates (while his daughter-in-law Lara is), but have we ever had a president that was opposed to animal agriculture, hunting, etc.? Obama’s USDA Secretary was cattle rancher Tom Vilsack, for just one example, while Trump’s USDA Secretary is Sonny Perdue, a veterinarian, businessman and politician (NOT of the Perdue chicken family), although Trump certainly has some animal agriculture people and other abusers in his administration. But, what president hasn’t?
But when the PEOPLE reverse the market demand for animal products, all that will change.
Veganism surely has a great place in my dreamed-of thriving worldwide economy, but especially here in the US which is one of the world’s most influential nations. A thriving economy makes for a happier more secure population, which makes for less animal abuse and other violence…
Get harmful chemicals out of sunscreen
Arabella Hubbauer started this petition to Coppertone and 1 other
Summer means the beach, roofdecks, backyard barbecues and for many, being outside as much as humanly possible. It also means sunscreen! But what if the chemicals in sunscreen products were potentially harmful — not just to humans, but also do precious wildlife and coral reefs in the ocean?
You might not know the name Oxybenzone, but it’s a common chemical in many brand name sunscreens. But in many places around the globe — most recently Hawaii — lawmakers have been working to ban sunscreens with the chemical because of its potentially harmful side effects to human health (including possible effects on the endocrine system), and devastating impact on coral reefs and ocean life.
Coppertone and its parent company, Bayer, have a real moment to be industry leaders and remove Oxybenzone from products. Tell the makers of Coppertone to get potentially harmful chemicals out of sunscreen.
The Environmental Working Group has long considered Oxybenzone toxic, and regularly warns that using sunscreen with this chemical is problematic for health and for the environment. There are also countless sunscreens that don’t use this chemical — some even produced by Bayer! — that allow for people to continue to use sunscreen while also not dousing themselves with a chemical that could cause serious side effects, as well as bleach coral reefs that are already under terrible duress.
As one scientist who co-authored a study on coral reefs and the impact of sunscreen on them stated, “any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers.”
With so many potential Oxybenzone-free sunscreens available, let’s make it the industry standard that the sunscreens we’re putting on our body remove this chemical that could harm human beings, and looks like it’s harming precious coral reefs.
Contact lenses may appear harmlessly soft and small, but a big chunk of American users are improperly disposing their used lenses and adding to the planet’s microplastic problem, Arizona State University researchers found.
In a survey of 409 wearers, about 1 in 5 responded that they flushed their used lenses down the toilet or sink instead of throwing them in the trash, according to a new study presented at the American Chemical Society’s National Meeting and Exposition.
“We found that 15 to 20 percent of contact wearers are flushing the lenses down the sink or toilet,” said Charlie Rolsky, an Arizona State University Ph.D. student who is presenting the work, in a press release.
The flushed lenses, which are mostly plastic, turn up at wastewater treatment plants and become part of sewage sludge that gets spread on farmland.
Contact lenses recovered from treated sewage sludge Charles Rolsky
With 45 million contact users in the U.S., the research team estimated 6-10 metric tons of plastic lenses end up in wastewater in the U.S. alone each year.
Rolf Halden, the director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and one of the authors of the new study, noted at a press conference on Monday that these contacts do not decompose.
“They don’t degrade. They don’t attenuate but they become smaller. So they create what we know as microplastic pollution, which is contaminating the oceans,” he said.
Halden said that fragments have been found in sewage sludge, which can contaminate the soil environment and become ingested by earthworms when it’s spread on land.
“We know that earthworms take up soil and can ingest plastics, and then if birds eat the worms it creates a pathway for plastics to enter the food chain,” he said. Further, after heavy rains, the plastic bits can trickle out into streams and other waterways and make their way into the ocean.
And it’s not just the contact lenses themselves that are an environmental problem. Dailies, weeklies and monthlies are packaged by the billions in polypropylene plastic containers and aluminum lids, and “the unfortunate news is that they do not get recycled very effectively,” Halden said. Only one manufacturer, Bausch + Lomb, has a take-back recycling program.
Soft contacts are usually made of a combination of poly(methylmethacrylate), silicones and fluoropolymers, which makes them feel watery and gel-like. Halden suggested that people flick their contacts down the sink or toilet because they do not feel like solid plastic waste.
The researchers hope their study will teach users to stop flushing their contacts. They are also calling on lens manufacturers, at the very least, to label their products with proper disposal instructions.
“Ultimately, we hope that manufacturers will conduct more research on how the lenses impact aquatic life and how fast the lenses degrade in a marine environment,” Halden said in the press release.
Angela Lashbrook, who reported about the new study for The Atlantic, admitted to flushing lenses down the toilet herself. She also polled a few of her contact-wearing friends and was surprised to find they all flushed their lenses, too.
Thanks to the study, she and her friends vowed to make the simple switch of throwing used contacts in the trash.
“It’s quite possibly the easiest change to my behavior I’ve ever had to make that could avoid hurting the environment. My contacts-wearing friends, without my scolding, all pledged to do the same,” Lashbrook wrote.
Petition · Ask Costco to stop selling styrofoam products · Change.org
David Sergi started this petition to Costco Wholesale
Did you know Americans throw away billions of styrofoam cups each year — cups that create pollution that stays in our environment for generations.
More and more people are dumping styrofoam — finding solutions for cups, plates, containers and other materials that don’t poison the environment.
Costco sells styrofoam cups and serving trays. We are asking Costco to stop selling styrofoam products to encourage paper products that are better for the environment. Will you join us?
More and more corporations are looking for ways to encourage sustainability. Just this year big companies like McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts announced that they would be phasing out styrofoam cups, and companies like IKEA have already said they’d phase out styrofoam packaging.
The companies making styrofoam products also make products that are better for the environment. By Costco selling more of the environmentally-friendly products, it will help lower cost and ensure environmentally-friendly products are accessible to everyone. That’s why we’re urging Costco to set a better standard for retail stores, and stop carrying styrofoam products in their stores.
Please stock paper straws for your customers! · Change.org
John Lyman started this petition to Sysco Corporation
Sysco is one of the largest restaurant product suppliers in the United States, supplying straws to thousands of restaurants around the country. But they only stock plastic straws for their customers.
I have spoken with multiple restaurant owners who want to buy paper straws, but don’t have a viable option to do so. Once Sysco has them, they can easily order them along with their other standard supplies.
In the U.S. alone, 500 million plastic straws are used every single day. Many restaurant customers want to avoid plastic straws, but have no other option when dining out.
Once restaurant suppliers make it easy for restaurants to offer paper straws, many will do so. This will have a huge impact on the generation of plastic waste. That’s why I’m asking Sysco, one of the world’s leading restaurant supply companies, to make it easier for restaurants to purchase paper straws and offer alternatives to single-use plastic straws.
Adopt a Plastic Straw Upon Request Policy · Change.org
Sophia and Amanda started this petition to Dunkin’ Donuts
Our names are Amanda and Sophia. One day in science class, we came upon an article on plastic straws. The article stated that Americans use more than 500 million straws a day- and throw them away. That is equivalent to 125 school buses filled with plastic straws. We also learned that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Those numbers concern us. So when we joined the Earth Club at our school, the leader suggested using change.org, which is how we came upon this website. All 500 million of these plastic straws end up in a landfill or worse, the ocean. When plastic straws get into the ocean, the fish mistake it for food, eat it, and get sick or die. In fact, science shows that when you eat fish, you might as well be eating plastic!
We both think that Dunkin Donuts is a very tasty and an influential company. By choosing this business, we hope to make them take this issue very seriously. These shops have a lot of people coming in every day, almost all of them getting cold beverages containing plastic straws. However, those straws add up to the landfill and get into the ocean. Dunkin’ Donuts is a very successful company, so if they stopped giving out straws (and retained some available for customers with disabilities), won’t others follow their lead?
So please sign this petition and share it with your friends to help the environment, and the world we all live in. Remember, #StrawsSuck! Thank you!
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