NASA team creates satellite-run system aimed at slowing deforestation – dpa international

DUBLIN — A NASA-led research team has developed a “unique” satellite-based deforestation tracking system they hope could avert a “tipping point” for the world’s shrinking jungles. The plan is for the new “tropical vulnerability index” to enhance “early warning” about rainforests facing destruction. According to Sassan Saatchi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “frequent droughts, higher temperature and longer dry seasons, along with increasing pressures from deforestation and degradation in the last two decades, have pushed the tropical rainforests to the verge of a tipping point.”

Littering makes smoking a drag on the environment- dpa international

Cigarette butts discarded on a Dublin street (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The world’s 1.3 billion smokers “improperly dispose of” an estimated 4.5 trillion cigarettes each year, making the butts “the most littered item on the planet,” according to STOP, an anti-tobacco organization. But even that deluge is “only a portion of the environmental harm caused by the tobacco industry,” STOP said, as tobacco is not only “grown on deforested lands” but its production “degrades soil and pollutes air, land and water.” Billions of trees are chopped down each year to make cigarettes, accounting for 5 per cent of global deforestation, according to STOP, which said cigarette butts make up around 20 per cent of debris gathered during ocean clean-ups.

Majority in most resource-rich countries set to remain poor – dpa international

DUBLIN — Despite often living in some of the world’s most resource-rich lands, people in many developing countries face continued poverty due to reliance on commodity exports, according to the UN. In a report published on Wednesday, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said many of the world’s poorer nations depend too much on exporting natural resources and are seemingly “locked into this undesirable state.” A “commodity-dependent” economy gets 60 per cent of merchandise export revenues from sales of goods such as coffee, gas, metals and oil, according to UNCTAD – trade which is “strongly associated with low levels of technology” and “low levels of labour productivity, low productivity growth.” In 2019, two-thirds of developing countries were commodity-dependent, compared to 13 per cent of wealthy or developed economies.

Humans were sheltered from ancient Toba eruption, according to scientists – dpa international

DUBLIN — It was the world’s biggest volcanic blast for at least the last 2 million years, but when Mount Toba in Indonesia exploded around 74,000 years ago, humans were not as badly affected as previously thought, according to research published by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the US. While the blast “likely caused severe global climate disruption,” early humans “were sheltered from the worst effects,” according to the NAS study. Overall, the scientists said, “the impacts [of the eruption] on climate and human evolution remain unclear.” Other scientists have in the past blamed Toba for causing a decade-long volcanic winter, leading to a millennium of global cooling and then an ice age.

Scientists say plastic pollution impact could be irreversible – dpa international

vRubbish disposal and recycling facility in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Global plastic pollution is heading for an “irreversible tipping point,” according to a study published on Friday in the journal Science. Despite worldwide alarm triggered by shocking images of rivers and seas deluged with plastic rubbish, the problem may be already beyond repair, the researchers warned, saying that “rates of plastic emissions globally may trigger effects that we will not be able to reverse.” Lead author Matthew MacLeod of Stockholm University said plastic “leaks out into the environment everywhere,” including in countries “with good waste-handling infrastructure.” Even then, recycling has “many limitations,” according to co-author Mine Tekman of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, as wealthy nations ship rubbish “to countries with worse facilities.”

Poorer nations face bigger food bills as prices surge – dpa international

DUBLIN — Less well-off countries are facing bigger food bills, according to the United Nations, which on Thursday said the world’s food imports are set to increase by 12 per cent this year to 1.72 trillion dollars, equivalent to Russia’s gross domestic product. In its biannual report on global food markets, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated consumer prices for proteins and calories to have increased by between 20 and 34 per cent compared to a year ago, risking “deteriorating quantitative and qualitative dietary trends in vulnerable countries” where food can account for up to half of household spending. The FAO last week estimated an overall annual jump in food costs of around 40 per cent, due to “a surge in prices for oils, sugar and cereals.”

Nature conservation disrupted since pandemic started – dpa international

DUBLIN — Nature conservation has been “significantly impacted” by the coronavirus and related restrictions, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Thursday, a year to the day since the outbreak was declared a pandemic. While responses to the pandemic “temporarily slowed down human impacts upon nature,” the IUCN said, restrictions such as stay-home lockdowns and widespread travel curbs later led to “conservation work job losses among protected area rangers, reduced anti-poaching patrols and environmental protection rollbacks.” Over the past year, according to the IUCN, “protected and conserved area operations were scaled down or suspended, visitor facilities closed, workplaces shut, many staff withdrawn from duty stations and supply chains disrupted.” Over half Africa’s protected areas “were forced to halt or reduce field patrols and anti-poaching operations as well as conservation education and outreach,” according to IUCN surveys.

Forest peoples accuse governments of using pandemic to damage jungles – dpa international

DUBLIN — The novel coronavirus pandemic has facilitated government-backed “economic opportunism” in the world’s rainforests, according to a report published on Thursday. Authorities in Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and Peru “have set aside social and environmental safeguards in favour of destructive development projects that are harming indigenous communities,” said the Forest People’s Programme, a British-based organization that works with indigenous people’s representatives in dozens of countries.

Air pollution contributes to a “significant fraction” of coronavirus-related deaths

DUBLIN — Fifteen per cent of all novel coroavirus-related deaths worldwide “could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution,” according to a German-led team of researchers. Published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, the estimate is based on analysis of pollution and pandemic data by organisations including the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Harvard University’s public health school and The Cyprus Institute’s Climate and Atmosphere Research Center. Exposure to air pollution likely aggravates “co-morbidities that could lead to fatal health outcomes of the [novel coronavirus] infection,” the research team said. Deaths linked to a combination of air pollution and Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, represent “potentially avoidable, excess mortality,” they added.

Study suggests Atlantic plastic pollution far worse than thought – dpa international

Looking out on the Atlantic over cliffs next to the Céide Fields, a landmark neolitihic site in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

LIMERICK — Plastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean could be 10 times worse than previously thought, according to estimates by the UK-based National Oceanography Centre (NOC) published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Samples of Atlantic seawater taken at depths of up to 200 metres suggest the “supply of plastic to the ocean [to] have been substantially underestimated,” the NOC reported. The NOC said the volume of invisible or near-invisible microplastics “is comparable in magnitude to estimates of all plastic waste that has entered the Atlantic Ocean over the past 65 years.” The NOC’s Katsiaryna Pabortsava, the report’s lead author, said that earlier studies did not measure “the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface.”