January 2022

1. How plankton shaped the earth

Robin McKee, “Hot news from two billion years ago: plankton actually moved mountains,” The Guardian (5 Dec 2021). bit.ly/3y0osH5

Our planet’s geology shaped life on Earth. But now scientists reveal it worked the other way around too.  Some of Earth’s greatest ranges got a boost from primitive lifeforms whose remains lubricated movements of rock slabs and allowed them to pile up to form mountains. If it had not been for life on Earth, the surface of our planet would have been flatter

Plankton are microscopic plants that lie at the base of the marine food chain and are vital to the health of ocean life today. Their role in influencing our planet was even greater two billion years ago, however. “They sank quickly when they died and were buried to make a rock with unprecedented amounts of carbon, which was turned into graphite by heat and pressure,” said Parnell.

“Graphite makes a great lubricant. Locks, hinges and zips all move more easily with graphite, and so do rocks,” he added.

“Two billion years ago, it lubricated the piling up of mountain ranges. Tectonic plates caused rocks to push together, and the graphite laid down by plankton let those slabs slide over each other and build higher and higher piles. The end results were mountain ranges.”


2. How power in many shapes is blocking our efforts on global emissions

Isak Stoddard, Kevin Anderson et al., “Three Decades of Climate Mitigation: Why Haven’t We Bent the Global Emisisons Curve?” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 2021 46:1, 653-689.  bit.ly/3oDASSg


Despite three decades of political efforts and a wealth of research on the causes and catastrophic impacts of climate change, global carbon dioxide emissions have continued to rise and are 60% higher today than they were in 1990. Exploring this rise through nine thematic lenses—covering issues of climate governance, the fossil fuel industry, geopolitics, economics, mitigation modeling, energy systems, inequity, lifestyles, and social imaginaries—draws out multifaceted reasons for our collective failure to bend the global emissions curve. However, a common thread that emerges across the reviewed literature is the central role of power, manifest in many forms, from a dogmatic political-economic hegemony and influential vested interests to narrow techno-economic mindsets and ideologies of control. Synthesizing the various impediments to mitigation reveals how delivering on the commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement now requires an urgent and unprecedented transformation away from today’s carbon- and energy-intensive development paradigm.


3. Managing Invasive Alien Species in Ireland

Water Forum, Invasive Alien Species in the Republic of Ireland: Policy Recommendations for their Management  (10 December 2021).  bit.ly/3IxpIqd

The ecological effects of Invasive Alien Species (IAS) are often irreversible and, once established, they can be extremely difficult and costly to control and eradicate. Ecological impacts include predation, introduction of parasites and pathogens, extirpation of native species, competition for resources, alteration of ecosystems and dilution of native gene pools. The impacts to biodiversity are significant, with 65 out of 174 critically endangered EU species on the IUCN red list in danger due to the impacts of IAS (Thomas 2012). Furthermore, IAS are the sole or contributing cause of 25% and 33% of plant and animal extinctions, respectively (Blackburn et al. 2019).

The control and management of IAS is an urgent issue that warrants immediate and sustained attention. Early detection and rapid response, such as eradication, can prevent IAS becoming established and significantly reduce adverse environmental impacts on potentially infested systems. Most priority or high impact IAS can establish and proliferate very rapidly and to defer control and eradication measures can result in a failure to effectively manage a species once it is established.


4.  Microplastics risks for human health

Evangelos Danopoulos, Maureen Twiddy, Robert West and Jeanette M. Rotchell, “A rapid review and meta-regression analyses of the toxicological impacts of microplastic exposure in human cells” Journal of Hazardous materials (24 Nov 2021).  bit.ly/3dOVBfA

Damian Carrington, “Microplastics cause damage to human cells, study shows,” The Guardian (8 Dec 2021).  bit.ly/3m08ubr

Microplastics pollution has contaminated the entire planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. People were already known to consume the tiny particles via food and water as well as breathing them in.

The research analysed 17 previous studies which looked at the toxicological impacts of microplastics on human cell lines. The scientists compared the level of microplastics at which damage was caused to the cells with the levels consumed by people through contaminated drinking water, seafood and table salt.

They found specific types of harm – cell death, allergic response, and damage to cell walls – were caused by the levels of microplastics that people ingest.

5.  On the significant gap between climate policy and action in Ireland
Climate Change Advisory Council (Ireland).  Annual Review 2021.  Submitted to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications on 30 November 2021.  bit.ly/3DOJ0n9

Caroline O’Doherty, “Climate action measures too slow to protect vital services from extreme weather, warns CCAC report,” Irish Independent (8 Dec 2021). bit.ly/31Lol6N
Climate action measures are not being taken fast enough to help slow climate change or protect essential services from the extreme weather it is already causing, the country’s advisory council has warned.

A damning assessment of efforts to date says there is a “significant gap” between climate action policy and implementation.

Many of the measures set out in the 2019 Climate Action Plan have been delayed, it says, and there is no detailed timeline for implementation of the follow-up 2021 plan published last month.

It calls out a lack of leadership in some government departments, with “little evidence” of steps being taken to adapt to the effects of climate change that are now inevitable.

Health services, communications systems, and gas and electricity infrastructure in particular are found to lack protection from the damage and disruption climate change is causing.

Progress on safeguards for transport services and agricultural production is slightly better, being ranked “moderate”.

Protections for the natural environment are ranked as “limited”.

6.  Trends toward a warming Arctic presage dangers elsewhere
Moon, T. A., M. L. Druckenmiller, and R. L. Thoman, Eds., Arctic Report Card 2021: Rapid and pronounced warming continues to drive the evolution of the Arctic environment NOAA (Deceember 2021).  bit.ly/3E56epw





7.  The continuing disproportionate pollution and harm in communities of color in US
Jiawen Liu, et al., “Disparities in Air Pollution Exposure in the United States by Race/Ethnicity and Income, 1990–2010,”  Environmental Health Perspectives (1Dec 2021).  bit.ly/3DZUPak

Erin McCormick, “How much air pollution do you live with? It may depend on your skin color:  No matter which of the main types of air pollutants you look at, people of color are breathing more of it, US study finds,” The Guardian (15 Dec 2021).  bit.ly/3J1cHVW

“The study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that, no matter which of the main types of air pollutants you look at, people of color are breathing more of it.

And while great progress has been made in reducing deadly pollutants in the air in the US over recent decades, the racial disparities have persisted, according to the work by an international team of researchers led by the University of Washington (UW).”

“The research also showed that race mattered more than income in determining who lives with the most air pollution.

The study scientifically confirms what many Black and brown communities, which have endured outsized amounts of industrial smoke and freeway pollutants, have been saying for decades.”

8.  Challenges for Irish farmers to preserve natural areas on farm land and still comply with rules over agriculture subsidies

Part 1.  “Land grab: How agri-subsidies encourage Irish farmers to cut back on nature,” Green Fiscal Policy Network (12 Oct 2021) bit.ly/3einVrf
This investigation was carried out by Niall Sargent of Noteworthy and farming and food journalist Ella McSweeney.  This article was originally shared by The Journal.

Part 2.  “A win for farming, a win for nature: scheming for sustainability:  Farm subsidies to protect biodiversity need to be channelled into results-led projects,” Noteworthy (8 Oct 2021).  bit.ly/3Fbz34Q
This investigation was carried out by Niall Sargent of Noteworthy


9.  Climate change as threat to U.S. economy
Financial Stability Oversight Council, Report on Climate-Related Financial Risk, 2021. bit.ly/3Ebph1j

“Climate change is an emerging threat to the financial stability of the United States. In the United States and across the globe, climate-related impacts in the form of warming temperatures, rising sea levels, droughts, wildfires, intensifying storms, and other climate-related events are already imposing significant costs upon the public and the economy. … Sectors of the economy that are GHG-intensive, which include the energy, transportation, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors, likely need to undergo significant structural changes. These changes will likely require technological innovations and complementary policy actions that incentivize transitions to low-GHG methods of production. These could include regulation of GHG emissions, tax policies, or other measures that would incentivize or require reductions in GHG emissions. The necessary structural changes are likely to broadly affect households, communities, and businesses.”

See, also, Alan Rappeport, “Climate Change Is Called Threat to U.S.Economy,” The New York Times (18 Dec 2021).


10.  How contact with nature in cities reduces loneliness

Hammoud, R., Tognin, S., Bakolis, I. et al. Lonely in a crowd: investigating the association between overcrowding and loneliness using smartphone technologies. Sci Rep 11, 24134 (2021). doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-03398-2

Damian Carrington, “Contact with nature in cities reduces loneliness, study shows,” The Guardian (20 Dec 2021).  bit.ly/3yP1vY4
Contact with nature in cities significantly reduces feelings of loneliness, according to a team of scientists.

Loneliness is a major public health concern, their research shows, and can raise a person’s risk of death by 45% – more than air pollution, obesity or alcohol abuse.

The study is the first to assess how the environment can affect loneliness. It used real-time data, collected via a smartphone app, rather than relying on people’s memory of how they were feeling.

The research found that feelings of overcrowding increased loneliness by an average of 39%. But when people were able to see trees or the sky, or hear birds, feelings of loneliness fell by 28%. Feelings of social inclusion also cut loneliness by 21%, and when these feelings coincided with contact with nature the beneficial effect was boosted by a further 18%.


EDITORS NOTE (August 2021) re revision to Reports section

In August 2021, we revised the Reports section of the magazine.   In the past we used the Reports section to provide digests of generally long, complex and usually technical discussions of environmental issues or developments.  The authors of these reports were typically environmental agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs), or academics.  The intent was to make these reports more accessible to a wide, general audience so readers could get a sense of what the reports covered and what they concluded. Readers then could connect to the link for the reports and delve further into the details and findings.

Over the past dozen years publications of technical reports have included executive summaries, often written in simpler language than the reports themselves.  At the same time there has been a rapid growth in environmental studies across the globe and just finding relevant or interesting reports through the internet is a challenge.

So we have converted the Reports section to a list of ten of the most interesting, long form examples of writing on key environmental issues and developments.  We will include the information necessary to find the writing — authors, title and link to publication — and we will add a short subheading to provide more clues about what is covered in the writing, much like a subheading expands on the headline for a newspaper article.  We interpret the term “reports” liberally to include almost any format that provides us with data, information, and opinion on environmental matters.  For instance, in the first of these new reports, we included a website, The Geography of Future Water Challenges, derived from a written report by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency with the same name and found at bit.ly/3fgSK0n

On one level this list of reports will do for long-form writing what our News section does for newspaper articles.

With the explosion of information across the internet, just finding what’s out there can be difficult.  We hope this new version of the Reports is helpful.

As with the other material in the irish environment magazine, the focus is on environmental matters on the island of Ireland, and that necessarily requires coverage of developments in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.  We will also continue to include material from across the globe as developments everywhere can inform developments anywhere.


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