Plastic-eating bugs? It’s a great story – but there’s a sting in the tail

GR: People have often tried to import species to solve problems or increase productivity. Many times, unintended consequences have proven disastrous as the imported species spread beyond the objective and replaced local plants and animals. [Here’s an example from my research.] The story below gives another example for a current problem.

You’d need an awful lot of Wax Moth caterpillars to make a significant dent on the plastic waste problem. The UK alone discards almost 2m tonnes of the stuff every year.’ Photograph: Federica Bertocchini/Paolo Bombe/PA

“Caterpillars that can munch up plastic bags have just been identified, fuelling excited speculation that this could one day eliminate global pollution from plastic waste. The chance discovery, initially made by a scientist and amateur beekeeper whose plastic bag had been eaten through by the moth caterpillars, was reported this week by researchers at Cambridge University and the Spanish National Research Council.

“How thoughtful of nature to provide bugs that eat our rubbish. Is this the end of landfill, turtles with plastic-congested stomachs, and trees adorned with tattered ribbons of shopping bags?

“Well, it’s never that simple, is it? Attempts to commandeer nature to do our dirty work never seem to turn out as hoped, whether these take the form of planting trees to soak up carbon dioxide, or introducing invasive species for pest control, or using microorganisms to clean up oil spills. Remember the Australian cane toad debacle? The toads were introduced in the 1930s to control crop pests but instead gorged themselves on other local wildlife and spread across the country.

“These creatures, the larvae of the greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella), can devour polyethylene, which along with the closely related polypropylene is the main type of plastic found in waste. But you’d need an awful lot of them to make a significant dent on the plastic waste problem. The UK alone discards almost 2m tonnes of this stuff every year. At the rate of consumption reported by the researchers – one worm gets through about two milligrams of plastic a day – you’d need billions of caterpillars eating constantly all year round to deal with that.

“Quite aside from how and where you’d farm all these bugs, there’s something about them that news reports have failed to mention. Wax moths, which are found throughout the world, are so-called because they eat wax. Specifically, they love to eat the wax from which bees make their honeycombs – and so they can devastate bee colonies. The two common species of wax moth, of which Galleria mellonella is one, are thought to cause more than £4m worth of damage annually in the United States alone.” –Philip Ball (Continue: Plastic-eating bugs? It’s a great story – but there’s a sting in the tail | Philip Ball | Opinion | The Guardian)

With bee populations already under severe stress, we might want to think twice about breeding one of their common airborne enemies in huge numbers. Photograph: Peter Komka/EPA

 

 

 

Experts respond to Trump’s climate blitzkrieg | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

GR: Of course, Trump and his band of nature trolls will ignore the experts. Nevertheless, the thoughts of each one are worth reporting. And remember, global warming is one of the reasons that the doomsday clock is at two and a half minutes to midnight.

“President Donald Trump’s March 28 Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth is but the latest in a series of rollbacks intended to dismantle the Obama administration’s climate change policies. Although Trump never uttered the words “climate change” during the signing ceremony, his order will have profound effects on programs and environmental protections intended to rein in global warming—primarily by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

“Among other things, Trump’s order lifts a moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands, removes restrictions on fracking on federal and tribal lands, directs the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite the Clean Power Plan regulations designed to limit emissions from power plants, and eliminates the requirement that climate change be considered in federal environmental reviews and decision making. The White House claims that these moves will bring back jobs in coal mining and foster energy independence.

“The order does not entirely obliterate Obama’s climate legacy. The Clean Power Plan is not yet in effect, and will have to go through a lengthy rule-making process that will likely include legal challenges. Vehicle fuel-efficiency standards are still standing, although the White House says a rollback is coming soon. State mandates for renewable energy, along with other efforts aimed at reducing emissions, will continue. And the White House is thus far silent on whether the president intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

“Some critics say the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks are even worse than they expected, and that it will be impossible for the United States to achieve its Paris pledges without the programs and protections that are being cut. Others see a silver lining for the Paris Agreement: Maybe the failure of US leadership will clear the way for other nations to work toward a more ambitious shift away from fossil fuels.

“We asked leading experts on climate change to weigh in on what the Trump rollbacks mean for climate change, and for the Paris Agreement in particular. Here are their thoughts.Invited

“Expert Commentary” — Dawn Stover (Continue: Experts respond to Trump’s climate blitzkrieg | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Politics, Nature-Conservation, and Pipelines

Abandoning Fossil Fuels for Nature Conservation

GR: Fossil fuels are harmful during their extraction, delivery, refinement, and use. Alternative energy sources are available that are safer and offer tangible benefits for people. More employment opportunity is an example. It is imperative for the survival of nature, wildlife, and humanity that we close the door on the fossil-fuel industry and its disastrous impact. The first step is replacing all the kleptocrats who serve in our governments with progressive politicians able to resist the financial incentives for destroying the Earth. To do this with a balanced integration of human and nature concerns, we must form an alliance of progressive political parties and nature-conservation organizations.

Though the political alliance is the primary strategy, we can have some influence over our kleptocrats by showing them the strength of our numbers. Here’s a petition to Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau that focuses on the delivery part of the fossil-fuel cycle.

Politics and Nature-Conservation Resources

“A ‘simple’ oil spill that released an estimated 550 litres of fuel off the northern coast of Vancouver Island has been deemed impossible to clean up. Neither skimmer vessels or sorbent materials can risk touching the environmentally rich affected area that a local First Nation relies on for food and income.

“The fact that there is no current technology that can recover the remaining oil is unacceptable and goes to show that even relatively small spills can be complicated and do great damage to environments and local economies. In this case, while some of the pollutants will evaporate others will remain in the area for much longer, continuing to degrade the the ecosystem and putting the First Nation’s livelihood and health at risk for years to come.

“We have been told that the government and petroleum companies know what they are doing and that they have the knowhow and technology to quickly and responsibly clean up any spills that may occur. Yet, time and time again when an accident happens we learn that they are utterly unprepared to deal with these disasters.” –Andrew (Continue: petition: Stop the Approval of Canadian Pipelines).

Stockholm’s Mayor is a True Leader for the People

GR:  Reduced air pollution, less noise, increased health, clear skies, and more jobs. All cities could follow Karin. Is there any movement stirring in your city? Read the interview and get ideas for your home town. Oh, for another benefit, there’s saving the planet and all its wonderful plants and animals from the greed of oily politicians and their owners.

“Karin Wanngård, the mayor of Stockholm, rides an electric bike to work each morning — at least when it is not snowing too heavily.

“She also wears second-hand clothing — a trendy move in Stockholm, she says — and eats less meat than she used to. It is all part of her contribution to meeting an ambitious goal she set for her city: eliminating all use of coal, oil and other fossil fuels by 2040.

Karin Wanngård, the mayor of Stockholm, with a bicycle she rides to work most mornings. Credit: Liselotte van der Meijs/REUTERS

“Leadership is really important when you want to make things happen,” said the 41-year-old, who has run Sweden’s capital city since 2014. “You can always have politicians making nice speeches but when it comes to action you need to have leadership.”

“Around the world, cities are increasingly at the forefront of action to curb climate change. Some, like Stockholm, have set ambitious emissions reduction goals, while others have pushed ahead with climate policies despite national policy reversals, such as under President Donald Trump in the United States.

“Increasingly, many of the cities leading on climate change — Paris, Washington, Sydney, Cape Town — are run by women.

Stockholm, Sweden. Credit: vapi photographie/flickr

“In two years, the number of women leading large cities that are at the forefront of climate action has risen from four to 16, according to the C40 Cities network of more than 80 cities committed to addressing climate change, which is organising a conference for women leaders in New York this month.” Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation (Continue reading:  Stockholm’s Mayor is Taking on Climate Change | Climate Central).

Stockholm, Sweden waterfront. Credit: Jordi Escuer/flickr