ICYMI – eco news round up, 26 April 2019

Greta Thunberg condemns UK’s climate stance in speech to MPs

Greta Thunberg, the teenager who sparked the global youth movement against climate change has labelled the UK government’s support for fossil fuels and airport expansion “beyond absurd”.

In a speech to British MPs, Thunberg told them: “This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.”

The 16-year-old Swedish student said today’s generation of worldwide leaders have not acted fast enough to halt climate change, and although she believes there is still time, “the opportunity to do so will not last for long”.

Thunberg was particularly critical of the UK’s active support of new exploitation of fossil fuels, such as the UK shale gas fracking industry and the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, alongside its expansion of airports. She said the UK had a “mind-blowing historical carbon debt”, thus in the future, “every time we make a decision we should ask ourselves; how will this decision affect that [emissions] curve?”.

Thunberg ended her speech on an inspirational and emotional note: “We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back”.

(Editor’s Note: And of course, Greta has her reusable water bottle with her at all times. What a legend! We support you Greta.)

A name plate marks a place for the absent prime minister as Caroline Lucas and Jeremy Corbyn meet Greta Thunberg. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA/The Guardian

Melting permafrost in Arctic will have $70 trillion climate impact

The release of methane and carbon dioxide from thawing permafrost will accelerate global warming by almost 5% and add up to $70 trillion to the world’s climate bill, according to the most advanced study yet of the economic consequences of a melting Arctic. The study shows how destabilised natural systems will worsen the problem caused by man-made emissions, making it more difficult and expensive to solve.

According to its authors, permafrost melt is the main concern. In accordance with the current prediction of at least 3 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century, melting permafrost is expected to discharge up to 280 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide and 3 gigatonnes of methane, which has a climate effect up to 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide. This would increase the global climate-driven impacts by $70 trillion between now and 2300, which is ten times higher than the projected benefits from a melting Arctic, such as easier navigation for ships and access to minerals, says the paper.

This dramatic change would also add to global inequality as most of the economic burden is likely to be borne by countries in warmer, poorer regions such as India and Africa.

“It’s disheartening that we have this in front of us,” said Dmitry Yumashev of Lancaster University. Yumashev, a specialist in Climate Policy and Sustainability, warns against complacency because even at the low end the damages are huge. He said: “we have the technology and policy instruments to limit the warming but we are not moving fast enough.”

Greenhouse gases, which have been frozen below the soil for centuries, have already begun to escape. Photograph: John Mcconnico/AP/The Guardian

Disposable nappy recycling: How soiled nappies can be reused

A total of 187 billion nappies are thrown away each year, but unlike bottles, cans or cardboard, nappies are hard to recycle. However, engineers have recently devised ways of recovering the plastic and other materials inside them. A pilot plant has opened in Treviso, Italy, backed by the world’s largest maker of nappies Procter & Gamble.

To begin with, the nappies are kept in a storage tank where the worst fumes are drawn off and then filtered. A device is then used to break the nappies apart through subjecting them to intense heat, pressure and steam. This draws off the sewage from the nappies and the remaining material is shredded and put into an industrial oven to be dried out.

Next, the different materials within the nappies are separated in order to be reused for something else. The hope is to use these materials to make more plastic products, such as bottle tops, or the absorbent material in the nappy can be used for cat litter. The cellulose can even be turned into paper.

Eventually the plan is to offer parents across the city in Italy individual nappy bins which will then be picked up by trucks in separate waste collections.

Apple announces global recycling programme expansion

Apple has announced it will open a Materials Recovery Lab in Texas and expand its global recycling programmes. The 9,000 square foot recovery lab will aim to improve traditional methods of targeted disassembly, sorting and shredding, and a new recycling robot called Daisy has been designed which can disassemble and recycle 15 different iPhone models. The Daisy robots can recycle 200 iPhones an hour, recovering some of the materials for reuse.

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, said: “Advanced recycling must become an important part of the electronics supply chain and Apple is pioneering a new path to help push our industry forward.”

Over the last few years, Apple has worked to improve its global recycling. For example, its program to recover cobalt from iPhone batteries and turn them into new batteries, and its commitment to used 100% recycled aluminium for its MacBook Air and Mac mini.

Tasmania World Heritage lakes have ‘disturbing’ contamination levels, study shows

Tasmania is known for its unspoiled and beautiful natural landscapes, but a recent study has shown that some lakes in the Wilderness World Heritage Area have among the highest heavy metal contamination ever recorded.

“I find these findings to be quite disturbing and something that I really think the people of Tasmania need to know about,” Simon Haberle, an environmental scientist from the Australian National University (ANU) who helped carry out the research, said. “The study shows the sediment at the bottom of the lakes is contaminated with heavy metals including arsenic, lead, cadmium and copper.

The scientists are confident that historical mining which took place on the west coast is the cause of the pollution, although they have not yet confirmed what effect it is having on animals and people who use the area. It has been previously established that mining activity has contaminated rivers in Tasmania, but this new research shows lakes up to 130 kilometres away from the mines have also been affected.

Public health academic Melissa Haswell-Elkins from the University of Queensland said: “the bigger concern in this case here are people who consumer fish or aquatic life from the lake where there is high amounts of cadmium, because it can transfer through the food chain and concentrate into the organisms that people might consume”.

PHOTO: Rainbow over Dove Lake with Hanson's Peak in the distance (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

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