Krill fishing poses serious threat to Antarctic ecosystem, report warns

Greenpeace finds industrial fishing taking place in the feeding grounds of whales and penguins, with vessels involved in oil spills and accidents

Industrial fishing for krill in the pristine waters around Antarctica is threatening the future of one of the worlds last great wildernesses, according to a new report.

The study by Greenpeace analysed the movements of krill fishing vessels in the region and found they were increasingly operating in the immediate vicinity of penguin colonies and whale feeding grounds.

It also highlights incidents of fishing boats being involved in groundings, oil spills and accidents, which it said posed a serious threat to the Antarctic ecosystem.

The report, published on Tuesday, comes amid growing concern about the impact of fishing and climate change on the Antarctic. A global campaign has been launched to create a network of ocean sanctuaries to protect the seas in the region and Greenpeace is calling for an immediate halt to fishing in areas being considered for sanctuary status.

Frida Bengtsson, from Greenpeaces Protect the Antarctic campaign, said: If the krill industry wants to show its a responsible player, then it should be voluntarily getting out of any area which is being proposed as an ocean sanctuary, and should instead be backing the protection of these huge swaths of the Antarctic.

Last month a study found a combination of climate change and industrial-scale fishing is hitting the krill population, with a potentially disastrous impact on larger predators.

Krill
Krill fishing in the vicinity of Trinity Island. Photograph: Daniel Beltr/Greenpeace

The study warned that the penguin population could drop by almost one-third by the end of the century due to changes in krill biomass.

Krill are a key part of the delicate Antarctic food chain. They feed on marine algae and are a key source of food for whales, penguins and seals. They are also important in removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by eating carbon-rich food near the surface and excreting it when they sink to lower, colder water.

There is a growing global demand for krill-based health products which are claimed to help with a range of ailments from heart disease to high blood pressure, strokes and depression.

A recent analysis of the global krill industry predicted it was on course to grow 12% a year over the next three years.

Krill populations have declined by 80% since the 1970s. Global warming has been blamed partly because the ice that is home to the algae and plankton on which krill feed is retreating.

However, campaigners say recent developments in fishing technology are exacerbating the problem.

Tuesdays report analysed the krill fleets mandatory automatic identification systems [AIS] which shows the trawlers routes and when they were at fishing speed. In doing so researchers say they were able to get a record of industrial fishing in the feeding grounds of whales and penguins.

A global campaign has been launched to turn a huge tract of Antarctic seas into ocean sanctuaries, protecting wildlife and banning all fishing.

One was created in the Ross Sea in 2016, another 1.8m sq km reserve is being proposed in a vast area of the Weddell Sea, and a third sanctuary is under consideration in the area west of the Antarctic peninsula a key krill fishing area.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), whose members include 24 national governments and the EU, manage the seas around Antarctica. It will decide on the Weddell Sea sanctuary proposal at a conference in Australia in October, although a decision on the peninsula sanctuary is not expected until later.

Humpback
Humpback Whales Feeding in Paradise Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. Photograph: Christian slund/Christian slund / Greenpeace

Keith Reid, a science manager at CCAMLR said the organisation sought a balance between protection, conservation and sustainable fishing in the Southern Ocean.

He said although more fishing was taking place nearer penguin colonies it was often happening later in the season when these colonies were empty.

He added: The creation of the a system of marine protected areas is a key part of ongoing scientific and policy discussions in CCAMLR.

Cilia Holmes, sustainability director at Aker BioMarines, one of the leading krill fishing companies based in Norway, said they were looking forward to working with Greenpeace and other environmental groups to ensure the region was protected.

Our long-term operation in the region depends on a healthy and thriving Antarctic marine ecosystem, which is why we have always had an open dialogue with the environmental NGOs, and especially WWF.

We strongly intend to continue this dialogue, including [with] Greenpeace, to discuss improvements based on the latest scientific data. We are not the ones to decide on establishment of marine protected areas, but we hope to contribute positively with our knowledge and experience.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/13/krill-fishing-poses-serious-threat-to-antarctic-ecosystem-report-warns

Where is the worlds noisiest city?

The ignored pollutant can cause depression, stress, diabetes and heart attacks. What are cities doing to curb excess noise?

The constant roar of traffic, incessant construction noise, piercing sirens, honking horns, shrieking loudspeakers noise in cities is clearly a nuisance.

But its also a danger. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described noise pollution as an underestimated threat that can cause hearing loss, cardiovascular problems, cognitive impairment, stress and depression. Some experts go further: they believe exposure to environmental noise could be slowly killing us.

Noise pollution causes hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attacks, strokes and death, says Dr Daniel Fink, chairman of the Quiet Coalition, a community of health and legal professionals concerned with the adverse impacts of environmental noise.

Noise pollution is often cited as one of the main factors in the reduced quality of life in large, 24-hour cities like New York (where more than 200,000 noise complaints were recorded in 2016). It causes stress, which has its own adverse effects on health.

While the impact of noise on mental health has not been studied extensively, research has shown that strong noise annoyance is associated with a twofold higher prevalence of depression and anxiety in the general population.

A recent study by experts at the American College of Cardiology linked noise pollution to increased cardiovascular problems (high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, coronary heart disease) through the bodys stress mediated response resulting in the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn damages blood vessels.

At a conference on noise organised by the European commission in April 2017, noise was regarded as the silent killer, with potentially severe consequences for our physical and mental health. And yet its impacts remain unreported and underestimated.

Worst offenders

Dr Eoin King, assistant professor of acoustics and author of the book Environmental Noise Pollution, calls noise the ignored pollutant. Environmental noise still continues to be poorly understood by practitioners, policymakers and the general public, he says.

Most worrying, says King, is the impact on children. Studies considering the effect that noise may have on children have found that tasks such as reading, attention span, problem-solving and memory appear to be most affected by exposure to noise.

The issue is compounded by debate over how much noise it is safe to be exposed to. In its Make Listening Safe guide, WHO states that 85 decibels is considered the highest safe exposure level, up to a maximum of eight hours. However, others Fink among them argue this is still too loud.

A car measures 70 decibels, a jackhammer 100, and a plane taking off 120, according to the WHO. Though there is no set threshold to establish risk, we do know that anything above 60 decibels can increase risk for heart disease, Dr Thomas Mnzel, from the Mainz University Medical Centre, has said.

A recent report by the BBC found that parts of the London Underground were loud enough to damage peoples hearing, with noise levels greater than 105 decibels on many lines. The report stated that some were so loud they would require hearing protection if they were workplaces.

Guangzhou
Guangzhou has been ranked as having the worse levels of noise pollution in the world Photograph: ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Concerned about increased risk of hearing loss in cities, last year Mimi Hearing Technologies created a World Hearing Index to draw attention to the issue. With the results of hearing tests of 200,000 of their users worldwide and data on noise pollution from WHO and Sintef, a Norwegian research organisation, the index plotted levels of noise pollution and hearing loss in 50 cities.

The study found that, on average, a person living in the loudest cities has hearing loss equivalent to that of someone 10-20 years older. Overall the results showed a 64% correlation between hearing loss and noise pollution.

Guangzhou, China, ranked as having the worse levels of noise pollution in the world, followed by Cairo, Paris, Beijing and Delhi. Of the 50 cities, Zurich was found to have the least noise pollution.

Participants in Delhi recorded the highest average hearing loss equivalent to someone 19.34 years older than them. Vienna had the lowest hearing loss but still, on average, that of someone 10.59 years older.

We were able to collect quite a unique hearing data warehouse on hearing abilities across countries and continents, says Henrik Matthies, managing director of Mimi Hearing Technologies. There is an obvious known correlation between being exposed to noise and decreased hearing ability.

However, mapping this correlation to cities helped us to get the message out, sparking a debate about noise pollution and hearing in megacities like Hong Kong and Delhi.

But what can be done about it?

Political will

The EU are probably the world leaders at setting out a process to tackle noise pollution, says King. In 2002, it issued an environmental noise directive that requires member states to map noise exposure in urban areas holding upwards of 100,000 people, to develop noise abatement action plans in these areas and to preserve quiet areas.

Action plans usually incorporate a variety of measures such as traffic management strategies, promoting light rail systems and electric buses, reduced speed limits, introducing noise barriers and improved planning processes.

But good intentions only go so far. The problem is that there is no real enforcement associated with these action plans, says King. Until there is more of a political will to drive planning decision related to noise, I dont think much will change.

With road traffic by far the largest source of noise pollution in Europe, affecting an estimated 100 million Europeans, concepts like Pariss car-free day could have an impact. For one day every month in the French capital, 30% of the city becomes off limits to vehicles. The project has seen sound levels in the city centre drop by half.

The most effective way to control noise is at the source. If we could make planes, trains and cars quieter we would solve a lot of our problems, says King. If all vehicles in a city street were electric, noise would be significantly reduced.

Increasingly citizens can also do their bit to monitor noise pollution in cities by transforming their smartphones into sound level meters.

The NoiseTube app, developed by researchers at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, enables users to record where and at what times decibel levels are highest to produce a detailed noise map of the city. Councils can use the data to target noise pollution more effectively, using sound absorbent materials such as foam and fibreglass precisely where they are needed most.

King says there are many such projects looking to harness the potential of big data in the fight against noise for example, noise complaint data, or social media chatter related to noise, to better assess public sentiments towards soundscapes. There is a lot going on which I suppose gives us some hope.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/08/where-world-noisiest-city

Blue-sky thinking: how China’s crackdown on pollution is paying off

Clear skies above Beijing again but some fear the problem is just being pushed elsewhere

The photographs on display at Wu Dis Beijing studio imagine China and Beijing at their dystopian worst.

Naked, expectant mothers stare out from the walls, their bellies exposed but their faces hidden behind green gas masks.

Worshippers prostrate themselves around the Ming dynasty Temple of Heaven, desperately petitioning the smog-choked skies for a breath of fresh air.

But while the interior of Wus atelier offers a desolate panorama of Chinas pollution crisis, outside, a different, brighter side to the country is, for once, on show.

Beijings skies, so often noxious and smoggy, are a perfect and perplexing cerulean blue.

Its 26 today, said Wu, a visual artist and documentary photographer, checking his smartphones pollution app to confirm the uncommonly low levels of PM2.5, an airborne particulate linked to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.

In the past, we made money first and could only talk about the environment later. But its clear the government has changed its mind, he said. We can see everything is starting to move in the right direction.

During the creation of the nightmarish airpocalypses portrayed in Wus artwork, pollution levels might have been 20 or even 30 times higher. Beijing was like a giant airport smoking room that day. It was an epic haze, he recalled, pointing to an image staged in October 2013 in which a girl appears to inhale oxygen through a tube connected to two heart-shaped balloons.

Times, though, appear to be changing.

Wu
Wu says he became an artist after he saw foreign athletes wearing facemasks at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Photograph: Tom Phillips for the Guardian

Traditionally, winter is Beijings smoggiest season, as coal burning ramps up to keep millions of residents warm. But the skies over Chinas capital have been almost inconceivably clear of late, thanks partly to a government crackdown on the use of the fossil fuel.

Beijing enjoyed a record 226 days of good air quality last year and endured 23 heavily polluted days, compared with 58 in 2013, state media announced last month. The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, greeted the recovery with the incredulous headline: How did Beijing become one of Chinas top cities for air quality?

Hu Xijin, the editor of the party-controlled Global Times, tweeted alongside a photograph of Beijings azure-framed CCTV headquarters: Isnt it good to have a ruling party that can honour its promise?

Lauri Myllyvirta, a Greenpeace campaigner, said Chinas leaders could rightly claim credit for making Beijing blue again, temporarily at least, even if favourable weather conditions had played a major role in the exceptionally good spell.

Since last year, thousands of environmental inspectors have fanned out across the industrial belt around the capital as part of an aggressive clampdown on coal use. Heavily polluting vehicles, factories and construction sites have also been targeted. There is clear evidence the measures worked, said Myllyvirta, who said overall PM2.5 levels in Beijing had fallen by 40% from their peak in 2012-2013.

But he sounded a note of caution. Average PM2.5 levels in Beijing remained 65% above the national standard and more than five times World Health Organization guidelines last year. A recent bout of severe smog highlighted the fight ahead.

There are also fears that the crackdown around Beijing is forcing polluting industries to migrate south to regions such as the Yangtze river delta around Shanghai, where smog levels are rising. The war on pollution is far from over few people harbour illusions, Myllyvirta said. But there is also no reason for cynicism as theres clear evidence the measures worked.

Wu, 41, abandoned his job as an executive to become an environmentally engaged artist a decade ago, shocked into a career change by images of foreign athletes wearing facemasks at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Ten years on, and with the skies over his adoptive home starting to clear, he said he is glad his artwork and photographs, some of which have featured in Greenpeace anti-pollution campaigns, have played a role in increasing public awareness.

I want to produce work that can push society and the government to make positive changes …. [and] the most effective way to push the government to make changes is through public opinion, he said. It shows my work isnt a waste of time … It shows the power of art.

Wu worries, however, that change may have come too fast. He was among those left shivering when environmental inspectors began destroying coal-fired heaters late last year as part of a push to switch to natural gas or electric heating systems. Its only four degrees in here I can hardly work, he complained, touring his studio in a thick brown coat.

I agree with the government that we need lucid waters and lush mountains but the measures should be more gentle and more human. I can cope with the low temperature, but what about the elderly? What about children?

In one nearby area, primary school students reportedly suffered frostbite and were forced to study outdoors in the sunshine after their radiators stopped working.

Wu is also concerned about the environmental damage still being inflicted on less visible regions, where pollution crises have not received the same level of media attention as Beijings toxic skies. For one installation, he asked 12 volunteer disciples to recreate one of Leonardo da Vincis frescos, The Last Supper, in a derelict factory. The message is that because of pollution, mankinds last supper could come at any time because of pollution.

Overall, however, Wu believes China is on the right track. We should admit the government is trying to do the right thing and we need to recognise that it takes time to deal with environmental issues, he said.

If Chinas war on smog robbed him of his principal inspiration, he is unperturbed. Theres no lack of problems to inspire artists in China, he joked. Some western artists are jealous of that.

Additional reporting by Wang Xueying

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/22/blue-sky-thinking-how-chinas-crackdown-on-pollution-is-paying-off

Decline in krill threatens Antarctic wildlife, from whales to penguins

Climate change and industrial-scale fishing is impacting the krill population with a potentially disastrous impact on larger predators, say scientists

Decline in krill threatens Antarctic wildlife, from whales to penguins

Climate change and industrial-scale fishing is impacting the krill population with a potentially disastrous impact on larger predators, say scientists

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/14/decline-in-krill-threatens-antarctic-wildlife-from-whales-to-penguins

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/11/how-build-healthy-city-copenhagen-reveals-its-secrets-happiness

Vehicles are now America’s biggest CO2 source but EPA is tearing up regulations

Transport overtook power generation for climate-warming emissions in 2017 but the Trump administration is reversing curbs on auto industry pollution

Some of the most common avatars of climate change hulking power stations and billowing smokestacks may need a slight update. For the first time in more than 40 years, the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the US isnt electricity production but transport cars, trucks, planes, trains and shipping.

Emissions data has placed transport as the new king of climate-warming pollution at a time when the Trump administration is reviewing or tearing up regulations that would set tougher emissions standards for car and truck companies. Republicans in Congress are also pushing new fuel economy rules they say will lower costs for American drivers but could also weaken emissions standards.

Opponents of the administration fret this agenda will imperil public health and hinder the effort to address climate change.

This Environmental Protection Agency doesnt seem to have met an air regulation that it likes, said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board and a former EPA assistant administrator. Ive not seen any evidence that this administration knows anything about the auto industry, they just seem to be against anything the Obama administration did.

Vehicle emissions are going up, so clearly not enough is being done on that front. The Trump administration is halting further progress at a critical point when we really need to get a grip on this problem.

The 1970 Clean Air Act, signed by Richard Nixon, set standards for a cocktail of different pollutants emitted from new vehicles. New cars and trucks, which account for more than 80% of transport emissions, now have to meet fuel efficiency standards and display this information to consumers. This approach has helped cleanse previously smog-laden American cities and tamp down greenhouse gas emissions.

But in 2016, about 1.9bn tons of carbon dioxide emissions were emitted from transportation, up nearly 2% on the previous year, according to the Energy Information Administration. This increase means that transport has overtaken power generation as the most polluting sector in the country, and its likely to stay that way.

Cheap gasoline prices have led to a recent uptick in vehicle emissions, despite the fuel standards, at the same time that coal is being rapidly displaced by an abundance of cheap natural gas and the steady rise of renewable energy, driving a sharp decline in CO2 emissions from the power grid.

While coalminers have lost their jobs to technological advancement and environmental protesters have thrown their bodies in the path of oil pipelines, there has been far less to disrupt the basic emissions-emitting models of cars, trucks and planes.

Americans are buying larger cars and taking more flights domestic aviation emissions grew 10% between 2012 and 2016 and face little opposition in doing so.

The change in power generation has been very impressive over the past 10 to 15 years, said Brett Smith, assistant director of the Center for Automotive Research.

In the automotive sector, there isnt the same push. There are certainly Americans concerned about global warming but people are driving bigger and bigger vehicles each year. Its not a priority for them. The cost of fuel is pretty cheap and at the moment there isnt a better option out there than the internal combustion engine.

Transport accounts for about a quarter of all US planet-warming emissions but also poses a direct health threat to about 45 million Americans who live, work or attend school within 300ft of roads that are shrouded in high air pollution levels.

This pollution can stunt lung growth, trigger asthma attacks, exacerbate heart disease and cause developmental problems. The EPA estimates 17,000 schools across the US are located next to roads with heavy traffic, with children from low-income and minority groups disproportionately put at risk. California is the only state in the US to ban the construction of a school on the cheap land found beside major highways.

US cities havent emulated the likes of London and Stockholm by charging drivers a congestion fee to coax them on to public transport, cycling or walking; nor does the US feature the comparatively high rates of fuel tax seen in Europe. Frances move to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040 would be politically unthinkable in the States.
But the air is much cleaner in American cities than it was in the 1970s, and a world away from the fug that now envelops Beijing and Delhi, in part due to vehicle emissions standards that have progressively been ratcheted up by the EPA.

That trajectory has been cast in doubt by the Trump presidency. In March, the EPA scrapped a deal struck between Barack Obamas administration and automakers that would require new cars to run 54.4 miles per gallon of fuel, up from 27.5 miles per gallon, by 2025.

The White House said the new rules had been shoved down the throats of car makers, with the main industry lobby group pointing out that consumers overwhelmingly prioritize safety, driving performance and value for money over fuel efficiency. There are more than 70 car models on sale that achieve 40 miles per gallon and they account for just 1% of total new vehicle sales.

Then, last month, the EPA cited regulatory overreach by the previous administration for its decision to waive clean truck standards that would have phased out glider vehicles that produce 55 times more diesel soot than new trucks. Scott Pruitt, administrator of the EPA, said his predecessors had attempted to bend the rule of law and expand the reach of the federal government in a way that threatened to put an entire industry of specialized truck manufacturers out of business.

These rollbacks from the executive branch have dovetailed with an effort by Republicans in the Senate and the House to revamp fuel efficiency rules by replacing state and federal requirements with a single standard. Environmental groups and previous administration officials fear this will lead to a further weakening of emissions standards.

Americas clean car standards have dramatically improved the fuel efficiency of vehicles, saving consumers billions of dollars and cutting pollution in the process, said Carol Browner, a former administrator of the EPA.

Instead of rolling back commonsense, successful and popular clean cars standards, we should focus on innovation and technology that will continue the auto industrys growth and the pollution reductions weve achieved since these standards were first established.

In the short term, this new approach risks a flashpoint between the federal government and California, which has a long-held waiver to enact vehicle pollution standards in excess of the national requirements. Twelve other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, follow Californias standards, an alliance that covers more than 130 million residents and about a third of the US vehicle market.

Nichols said she had been disturbed by signals coming from Pruitt and other EPA officials that she said show the federal government is looking to end Californias waiver.

We are very concerned because these standards are the bedrock of our whole climate change platform, she said. Scott Pruitt has made threatening noises about the Californian waiver, saying that we are trying to run the country. It feels like this is going to be the next shoe to drop. If it does, we will litigate and fight for our rights in the political arena with other states and consumer advocates.

With federal regulation set to be pared back, technological advances in electric and gas-powered cars, as well as consumer preferences, are likely to play an increasingly important role in whether vehicle emissions are forced back down.

A flurry of recent optimistic studies have forecast that, by 2040, as much as 90% of all cars in the US will be electric. But the current conundrum is that petroleum-fueled vehicles are cheaper and seen as more reliable than their electric counterparts by most new buyers. Affordable gasoline is competing with electric recharging stations that are considered too sparse by many drivers to risk running out of puff, no matter the benefit to the environment.

Its a challenging position for automotive companies because they are touting electric vehicles but ultimately they have to sell more cars, said Smith. Consumers in the US arent pushing for electric vehicles to the extent they are in Europe and unless we take a very different approach as a country, that doesnt look like it will change soon.

You will need to see a major change in battery technology to make it viable. People are becoming more aware and concerned about global warming, but we arent there yet. And when you look at the vehicles being put out by the major car companies, you could argue its not an issue for them, either.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/01/vehicles-climate-change-emissions-trump-administration

I feel less stuffed after dinners and less guilty: why I stopped eating meat

My journey towards vegetarianism started 30 years ago for practical reasons, but the more I eschew animal products the better I feel about everything

My experience of giving up meat has been a gradual process, starting about 30 years ago, when a vegetarian friend and her two little boys came to live with me and my daughter. For practical reasons, we ate less meat. Why bother to cook two dinners when you need only cook one? Anyway, we all loved macaroni cheese and baked potatoes, and the odd tuna bake, because fish seemed sort of halfway and my friend wasnt a strict enforcer.

Back then, meat still featured heavily when my parents visited. After all, I did love meat. I had been brought up on it and my mother was a superb cook. Her stews and casseroles, oxtail and neck of lamb; her roasts, turkey stuffing and chicken liver pat; her chicken soup and salt beef were delicious beyond words. There was something about meat-eating that my father found admirable, too, especially in boys. He once sat at the table with the children, watching my friends three-year-old son eat a large sausage. Look at that! he said with pride and joy. What a good boy! He failed to comment on my daughters equally impressive sausage-eating.

But my friends vegetarianism started me thinking. The only other serious vegetarian I had known was at school in the 50s and she had bad acne and funny-smelling breath, which put me off. Here was someone with clear skin, odour-free, robust, amusing, charming nothing like the mimsy, pallid, socks-sandals and bobble-hatted vegetarians of my earlier, ill-informed imagination. She didnt like eating meat, but she also had good reasons for not doing so some personal, but most ethical. So, I began to eat less. I knew already about the cruelty of veal and foie gras production, so I never ate them. I knew pink meats salamis and bacon were carcinogenic. Now I found out much more.

Quick guide

Megafarms

What is a megafarm?

There is no legal definition in the UK of a mega farm, but in the US concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are defined as those housing 125,000 broiler chickens, 82,000 laying hens, 2,500 pigs or 700 dairy or 1,000 beef cattle. These are the biggest of the intensive farms, which in the UK need permits if they house more than 40,000 chickens, 2,000 pigs or 750 breeding sows. There are now 789 mega farms in the UK, and the number of intensive farms has risen by more than a quarter in six years, from 1,332 in 2011 to 1,674 last year.

Why are they controversial?

Mega farms and intensive farms are controversial because they require keeping tens of thousands of animals in a small space, which campaigners and independent experts say can hamper their ability to express natural behaviours, such as nesting. The animals are often kept indoors throughout their lives, though on some farms they are allowed access to outdoor areas at least part of the time. There are also concerns that animals on mega farms may be over-medicated, as if one gets sick the whole herd is generally required to be treated.

Why do some people believe we need them?

Mega farms and intensive farms take up much less space than traditional farms, and they allow animals to be kept securely, away from predators and potential carriers of disease, such as badgers. Their conditions are tightly controlled, allowing farmers to monitor the amount of daylight, water and feed for the animals, and if disease develops the livestock can be treated quickly. They are much cheaper to run than traditional farms.

Years later, my mother moved in. By then, red meat was bad for her and her false choppers made it impossible to chew anyway, so we were down to chicken and fish. Then along came the internet, Facebook and Twitter, with an avalanche of horror stories about intensive meat production: vast farms crammed with mutilated pigs, tormented cows, lambs and their mothers, chickens flung about and trampled, cruel and brutal abattoirs, the horse and dog meat trade, overuse of antibiotics, our resulting poor health and the wrecking of the planet. This torrent of grisly information made eating meat seem completely potty. The more you learn about meat-eating and farming, the easier it should be to give up. A teacher of animal husbandry tells me that, every year, by the time her students have seen lambing, the incubating and hatching of eggs and an animals complete life cycle, one-third of them have given up eating meat.

A
A beet and Feta cheese salad with parsley. Photograph: Mizina/Getty Images/iStockphoto

But even with all my nasty new knowledge I still found it difficult. Most of all, despite it potentially causing cancer, I missed lovely, crunchy bacon. I tried soya bacon granules, but they didnt work for me. I missed the texture of meat something to chew. So, we still had turkey for Christmas and occasionally I ate meat when visiting friends, because they had cooked it. I pretended I was being polite, but really it just gave me an excuse to eat it again.

Unsurprisingly, a friend called me hypocritical when I ate her free-range roast chicken while whingeing about being a vegetarian; she pointed out that I fed my dogs meat, particularly chicken. My argument was that you cant have a vegetarian dog. I knew some people who did and the poor thing had non-stop squitters, which didnt seem fair.

Then, two years ago, I had a breakthrough. I kept eating fish and shellfish, but there was no turkey at Christmas. We had nut roast instead and delicious it was, too with all the trimmings, which are just as, if not more, tasty than turkey and less of a palaver to cook. Heaven knows why I had clung to this pointless tradition for so long. Now I felt that, at last, I was giving up meat properly and not being so feeble. I am sure my digestive system has improved as a result, I am far less bad-tempered and I feel less stuffed up and knackered after dinners and less guilty.

I have found that it is easier for a meat lover to give it up if you dont dwell on what you are missing, but think of all the delicious alternatives. It might also help not to ban meat absolutely from your diet for ever. There is nothing like something being strictly forbidden to make you want it more. You can relapse. Sometimes, in a restaurant, I have been desperate for liver and onions with mashed potatoes and I have eaten it a couple of times over the past few years. I am not proud of myself, but at least I eat much, much less meat than I used to. Hardly a scrap.

It is now a comparative breeze to give up meat. We all know animals are sentient. There is not half as much sneering at vegetarians as there used to be. Famous, admired, personable and muscular vegetarians and sportspeople abound; the availability, variety and quality of vegetarian food has increased enormously. Decades ago, an English salad was lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes with Heinz mayonnaise; we had never seen an avocado. Now we have olive oil and countless varieties of delicious dressings and vegetables from everywhere on earth.

Our current favourite salads are: aubergine roasted in zaatar, olive and sunflower oil, salt, lots of pepper, with raw cherry tomatoes and mozzarella; grated celeriac and carrot, oil and cider vinegar, garlic, mustard and chopped tarragon; oranges with fennel; and mixed green leaves with sprinklings of toasted sunflower and sesame seeds or chopped and roasted almonds. And, since it is winter, there are a squillion soups you can make with vegetables, adding beans for protein (forget Blazing Saddles). Try a soup with haricot beans, celeriac, tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, rosemary and thyme, with some olive oil and lemon juice added at the end.

Before I even start on all the complex mixtures with sprinklings, there are 101 things you can do with my own favourite vegetable, the potato: bake, roast, rosti, latkes, layered and baked with cream, colcannon, bubble and squeak and, of course, chips. I make them from red potatoes; I dont want to brag, but they are exquisite.

I havent found many prepared vegetarian products that I am wild about, but you can make a passable bolognese with Quorn mince and some people can do wonders with tofu. Try it rolled in cornflower, salt and loads of pepper and deep fried. I have found a pleasant, chewy mozzarella veggie burger, plus vegetable pies, quiches and pizzas. A local burger bar serves divine portobello mushroom burgers, which are tastier than the meat burger. Honestly. A friend tested them both.

I miss meat less and less, because I still have fish (often fried with the chips). But once you are on this path, where do you stop? I feel I ought to take the next step, of giving up the fish and shellfish, which I also love. Last year, in the fish shop, I saw a man holding up two live lobsters, asking how soon he should boil them; could he keep them alive in water for a bit? There they were, waving their arms in the air, distressed, I assumed. So, no more lobster for me. I have learned that octopuses, the stars of Blue Planet II, are very intelligent and may be able to see with their skin, so no more of them, either. Veganism is probably the end of this road, but I dont know whether I will make it.

Meanwhile, that three-year-old boy who ate the sausage never ate meat again. Those are his salad recipes above and he is now a strapping fellow. My daughter has given up meat and is considering veganism, along with increasing numbers of people. There were 542,000 vegans in the UK in May 2016, up from 150,000 10 years before (a 360% rise). Almost half of them are young, aged 15 to 34. On top of this, there are about 1.2 million vegetarians (1.8% of the UK population).

So, I am really just going with the flow and hoping that the tide becomes stronger. In the first six months of 2017, 28% of Britons cut down on meat a sensible move, seeing as it increases your risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, food poisoning (particularly from chicken) and premature death. Although the world will never stop eating meat, perhaps more of us could, at least, stop eating such huge amounts of it. Then we could all have longer, healthier, happier lives. I have just got to sort out the dogs dinners.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/jan/01/i-feel-less-stuffed-after-dinners-and-less-guilty-why-i-stopped-eating-meat

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth and making us sick. We must act now | James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron

Film-maker James Cameron and environmentalist Suzy Amis Cameron writes that to preserve Americas majestic national parks, clean air and water for future generations leaders must be pressed to address foods environmental impact

Our collective minds are stuck on this idea that talking about foods environmental impact risks taking something very intimate away from us. In fact its just the opposite. Reconsidering how we eat offers us hope, and empowers us with choice over what our future planet will look like. And we can ask our local leaders from city mayors to school district boards to hospital management to help, by widening our food options.

On Monday and Tuesday, the city of Chicago is hosting a summit for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy to discuss climate solutions cities can undertake. Strategies to address and lower foods impact should be front and center.

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth, and the longer we turn a blind eye, the more we limit our ability to nourish ourselves, protect waterways and habitats, and pursue other uses of our precious natural resources. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. It also uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of theleading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

On top of this, eating too much meat and dairy is making us sick, greatlyincreasing our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several major cancers (including breast, liver and prostate) and obesity. Diets optimal for human health vary, according to David Katz, of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, but all of them are made up mostly of whole, wholesome plant foods.

So what gives? Why cant we see the forest for the bacon? The truth can be hard to swallow: that we simply need less meat and dairy and more plant-based options in our food system if were to reach our climate goals.

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The Avatar movie set had plant-based menus. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Everett/Rex Features

This can start with individual action. Five years ago, our family felt hopeless about climate change, and helpless to make meaningful change. But when we connected the dots on animal agricultures impact on the environment, coupled with the truth about nutrition, we took heart because it gave us something we could actually do.

To create change at the scale needed, this will take more than individual choice we need to get climate leaders on board about the impact of food. Cities and counties have used their buying power to transition fleets from diesel to electric, and we need to do the same with how we purchase food. We have done this in our own community, moving the lunch program of Muse School, in Calabasas, California, and the Avatar movie set to plant-based menus. Scaling up initiatives like these can make a big difference: if the US reduced meat consumption by 50%, its the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road. We think thats damn hopeful.

Decision-makers on all levels can make it easier for us to eat better, by expanding access to food options that are good for our health, affordable, and climate-friendly. Nationwide, cities and school districts have adopted food purchasing policies that include environment, health and fair labor standards. The city of Chicago is a recent adopter of this Good Food Purchasing Program, and so the solutions-focus of the summit is the perfect place to discuss how food can move us toward climate goals. In the same breath that we discuss fossil fuels, we should be talking animal ag, or were missing a big part of the problem and a big part of the solution.

Yes, food is inherently personal. Its the cornerstone of holidays, it fuels high school athletes and long workdays, and it nourishes nursing mothers and growing children. And yes, Americans love meat and cheese. But more than that, we love our majestic national parks, family beach vacations and clean air and water for our children and grandchildren.

As individuals, we can make choices on how to better nourish our families, and as citizens, we can encourage local leaders to make choices that will allow us to enjoy our land and natural resources now and in the future.

James Cameron is a film-maker and deep-sea explorer. Suzy Amis Cameron is a founder of Muse School and Plant Power Task Force.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron

Trumps pro-coal agenda is a blow for clean air efforts at Texas’ Big Bend park

For decades the national parks stunning vistas have been compromised by poor air quality, and prospects of improvement were derailed by Trump Tuesday

Big Bend national park is Texas at its most cinematic, with soaring, jagged forest peaks looming over vast desert lowlands, at once haughty and humble, prickly and pretty. It is also among the most remote places in the state.

Even from Alpine, the town of 6,000 that is the main gateway to the park, it is more than an hours drive to one of the entrances.

So far from anywhere, it might seem an unlikely location to be scarred by air pollution. Yet for decades its stunning vistas have been compromised by poor air quality that Texas, working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is supposed to address.

But environmental advocates fear that the Trump administrations pro-coal agenda will derail the prospects of improvement, at least in the short term. Tuesdays announcement that the EPA plans to abandon the 2015 Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions came less than two weeks after the agency revealed a revised plan to combat regional haze in Texas and Oklahoma that critics say will do little to cut pollution.

Chrissy Mann, Austin-based senior campaign representative with the Sierra Clubs Beyond Coal campaign, said: Taken in combination with the Clean Power Plan, what were seeing is an attempt from this administration and this EPA to dig in their pockets and find whatever kind of tricks they think are going to stick to provide a lifeline to the coal industry across the country and here in Texas. Its disappointing.

Texas is part of a multi-state coalition that sued to stop the Clean Power Plan, which was placed on hold by the US supreme court last year.

Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, said in a statement: Its gratifying that our lawsuit against Obama-era federal overreach was a catalyst for repeal of the plan. We look forward to working with the administration to craft a new strategy that will protect the environment without hurting jobs and the economy.

The
The Perseid meteor shower at the Texas Bend in Big Bend national park in August 2016. Photograph: Jason Weingart / Barcroft Images

A back-and-forth between the EPA and Texas over regional haze has been in motion since 1999, when the agency launched a concerted effort to deal with the problem, bidding to improve the air quality in Big Bend national park, Guadalupe Mountains national park and in Oklahoma, the home state of the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.

In 2009, the state enforcer, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, issued a plan that would restore natural visibility to Big Bend by the year 2155. That was rejected as inadequate by the EPA in 2014.

The EPA wanted Texas to cut 230,000 tons of sulphur dioxide emissions per year to improve visibility and reduce the risk of worsening respiratory diseases and heart disease and damaging soil, water, fish and wildlife.

Two years later, finding Texas relied on an analysis that obscured the benefits of potentially cost-effective controls, the EPA replaced parts of Texass emissions plan, calling for plant upgrades and a target of natural visibility by 2064.

Texas sued the agency and won a stay of implementation in a federal appeals court. The state argued that it is making reasonable progress and, along with industry representatives, claimed that enacting the structural improvements notably fitting some electricity plants with sulphur dioxide scrubbers would cost $2bn and be a backdoor way of forcing the closure of coal-fired power plants. That, it said, might put the state at risk of power shortages and increased prices for consumers.

Last December, in the sunset days of the Obama administration, the EPA proposed another scheme that would also have required older plants to upgrade their technology.

But in August this year, Pruitts EPA asked a federal court for more time until the end of 2018 to come up with a way forward. When the judge refused, on 29 September the EPA unveiled a path that is much more palatable for Texas and the power companies: one that wouldnt require retrofitting, instead claiming to achieve comparable results with an intrastate cap-and-trade programme. That would give polluters allowances within an overall emissions budget that can be used or traded in a marketplace.

Such programmes can be effective, but Mann, of the Sierra Club, contends that the cap is too high so will not provide any incentive for meaningful reductions. Its not very aggressive. In other words, the amount of pollution that coal plants in Texas are allowed to produce is actually higher than our emissions from last year from the same coal plants, taken all together, Mann said.

The National Park Service and EPA carried out a study in 1999 to understand what causes haze in Big Bend, which is worse in the warmer months. It found that sulphate particles formed from sulphur dioxide sources such as coal power plants and refineries were a key cause.

Researchers discovered that substantial amounts of sulphate particulates came not only from Texas and Mexico, but the distant eastern US. When air flows from the east, production in Americas coal heartlands has an effect on Big Bends scenery.

Even if Trumps efforts to boost coal collide with economic reality and market forces spur more growth in renewable energy, any delays in transitioning to cleaner energy and reduced emissions prolong the haze problem.

Air quality has not improved and ozone has seen a slight deterioration over the past decade, according to Jeffery Bennett, physical sciences program coordinator at the park. Nitrogen deposition has not changed and remains a significant concern. Desert landscapes are especially sensitive to nitrogen, he wrote in an email in July.

Mercury is an emerging concern, he added, based on levels found in fish; it is unclear whether this is because of atmospheric deposition or the legacy of nearby abandoned mercury mines.

The park faces Mexico and since Donald Trump entered the White House it has attracted attention as a particularly unsuitable place to build a wall.

Still, in a few years, tourists might find that while Trump might have failed to wall off the Big Bend from Mexico, the view is blocked all the same. If youre standing here in Panther Junction and not able to see the Sierra del Carmen thats 20 miles away, because of the sulphates and other pollutions that blew in, youre missing a big part of why this became a park, Jennette Jurado, the parks public information officer, said earlier this year at the main visitor centre.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/11/trumps-pro-coal-agenda-is-a-blow-for-clean-air-efforts-at-texas-big-bend-park

US people of color still more likely to be exposed to pollution than white people

New federal government-funded study finds exposure to a key air pollutant is significantly influenced by race, far more than by income, age or education

People of color are still far more likely to suffer from harmful air pollution than white people across the US and this disparity has barely improved in recent years, despite overall improvements in air quality, a new federal government-funded study has found.

Exposure to nitrogen dioxide, NO2, a key transportation-related pollutant, is significantly influenced by race, far more than by income, age or education, the paper found.

While the racial imbalance in pollution impacts has long been noted by researchers and environmental justice campaigners, the study found that progress in addressing it has been sluggish.

The report comes as the Trump administration has outlined plans to dismantle the EPAs office of environmental justice, which advocates for communities of color.

What surprised us is that race matters more than income when it comes to who is breathing in NO2, said Julian Marshall, UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and senior author of the study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives on Thursday.

I just stared at these findings and thought: What is going on? You would think places near highways would cost less. But its race that is driving this, not income. Urban planners tell us that cities are still really segregated people live close to people who look like them. We are seeing the outcome of that.

In
In columns A and B, red identifies locations where NO2 concentrations were higher for nonwhite people than white people; blue indicates that NO2 concentrations were higher for white than nonwhite people; and white means they were equal. In column C, red indicates that the absolute difference inNO2 concentration between nonwhites and whites increased over time; blue indicates that difference decreased over time; and white indicates no change. Photograph: Handout

The study, funded in part by the Environmental Protection Agency, found that overall exposure to NO2 among all Americans dropped between 2000 and 2010. But black and Hispanic people experienced 37% higher exposures to the pollutant than white people in 2010 only a slight decrease from the 40% gap in 2000.

In some parts of the country, the situation has actually become worse. In 2000, concentrations of NO2 in neighborhoods with the smallest proportions of white people were 2.5 times higher than in areas that are overwhelmingly white. In 2010, this discrepancy increased to 2.7 times higher. The gap between white and nonwhite people is starkest in the midwest and California.

NO2 is a nationally regulated pollutant that is emitted through the burning of fuel by cars, trucks and power plants. The pollution can make the air hazy and trigger a range of health problems, such as coughing, wheezing and infections, particularly in those with respiratory issues such as asthma.

According to the EPA, annual concentrations of NO2 have dropped across the US by 56% since 1990. But this overall improvement hasnt wiped out the disproportionate impact suffered by black and Hispanic people, who have historically been housed nearer to major roads, industrial plants and other sources of pollutants than whites.

The University of Washington study estimated that if people of color breathed in the same level of NO2 as white people, about 5,000 premature deaths from heart disease would have been avoided in 2010.

Everyone benefited from clean air regulations and less pollution; thats the good news, said Lara Clark, lead author and UW civil and environmental engineering doctoral student.

But the fact that there is a pervasive gap in exposure to NO2 by race and that the relative gap was more or less preserved over a decade is the bad news.

Previous research has found that the very worst polluting sites are situated next to neighborhoods with high minority populations. The EPA has typically been reluctant to use the Civil Rights Act to prosecute polluters and help remedy this situation.

We have policies in place to reduce pollution in general but we dont have policies in place on environmental justice, said Marshall. We arent addressing the disparities in health risks. Its important that this is recognized. We cant just ignore it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/14/us-people-of-color-still-more-likely-to-be-exposed-to-pollution-than-white-people