For many people, commuting to and from work is a time-consuming, stressful part of their lives. In fact, the average American spends nearly an hour a day facing traffic jams and congested highways. There are direct health hazards in commuting as well. Drivers are exposed to increased amounts of air pollutants that have been linked to a wide range of medical problems including cardiovascular disease, respiratory issues and even lung cancer.
Electric cars represent only a tiny fraction of the overall auto market. The numbers are growing, most certainly, but they are still quite small in most places. The recent start of production of the Tesla Model 3 has attracted quite a bit of attention to electric cars, but in many countries, there is much more to the story than just media buzz about a new car.
The battle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is heavily focused on replacing fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy and replacing internal combustion engine autos with electric cars. But there is another elephant in the room: air conditioners.
Genetic engineering, or equivalently synthetic biology, is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise involved in pharmaceuticals, chemicals, biofuels and, of course, agriculture. In these fields, it is already the source of a great deal of controversy. But there is increasing interest in using synthetic biology (or synbio) technology as a tool for protecting the natural world, which is a prospect some find tantalizing and others find absolutely terrifying.
Clean and abundant water is the most essential need for all human societies and the supply of it is threatened by increasing populations and volatile climate patterns. The quality of water is threatened by a host of contaminants, most of our own making.
Mosquito-borne diseases pose a growing risk to public health in urban areas. Asian tiger mosquitoes are a vector of high concern as they thrive in cities, live in close association with people, and can reproduce in very small pools of water.
We’ve discussed the problem of microplastics polluting our oceans at great lengths on this program before. Much of the small plastic particles result from the breakdown of plastic litter, such as plastic bags, packaging, and other materials. Another source is microbeads, which are often found in health products such as face scrubs and even some toothpastes. But there is a another source of microplastic pollution that is quite troubling: dirty laundry.
A recent study has shown that septic systems in the U.S. routinely discharge pharmaceuticals, consumer product chemicals and other potentially hazardous substances into the environment. The comprehensive study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, raises health concerns since these chemicals can end up in groundwater and drinking water supplies.
We have talked about the monarch butterfly on a number of occasions. The population of these iconic orange and black butterflies in North America has plummeted from 1 billion to 33 million over the past 20 years. People have undertaken a variety of efforts to try to save the species but now a major project to restore the dwindling habitat of the monarch is underway.
A tipping point is a point in time when a small thing can make a big change happen. The term was popularized in sociology in recent decades, but really comes from physics where is refers to adding a small amount of weight to a balanced object causing it to topple over.
A group of more than 200 scientists and medical professionals has issued a consensus statement in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives urging that antimicrobial chemicals like triclosan and triclocarban should not be used in consumer products. The experts say that these substances offer no health benefits and are actually causing health and environmental harm.
It’s estimated that five to thirteen million tons of plastic enters our oceans annually, where much of it can linger for hundreds of years. According to a report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, scientists estimate that there is 165 million tons of plastic swirling about in the oceans right now. And we are on pace to have more plastic than fish (by weight) in the world’s oceans by 2050. That’s some scary stuff.
Trees are nature’s way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Growing plants take up CO2 and store it in the form of their roots, stems and leaves. And in fact, a significant factor in the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been the extensive deforestation that has gone on over the past couple of centuries.
A new carbon capture plant, sitting on top of a waste incineration facility near Zurich, Switzerland, is now sucking CO2 out of the air to sell to its first customer. The plant opened on May 31, and is the first commercial enterprise of its kind.
For the first time in a century, humpback whales have returned to the waters of New York harbor. These are not rare sightings, either. The whales are showing up in enough numbers that a company is taking tourists out into the harbor to see whales with a backdrop of Manhattan skyscrapers.
The Pitcairn Islands are a group of four volcanic islands in the South Pacific, mostly known from the famed mutiny on the British ship Bounty. Pitcairn Island itself is where many of the mutineers settled and where some of their descendants live today. That small island, with a population of 57, is the only one of the group that is inhabited.
Poor air quality is a problem all around the world. Exposure to air pollution is linked to the premature deaths of an estimated 6.5 million people every year, making it the fourth largest threat to human health, trailing only high blood pressure, dietary risks, and smoking.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built into a hillside in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard far above the Arctic Circle, is often described as humanity’s last hope against extinction after some global crisis. While there are more than 1,700 gene banks around the world that keep collections of seeds, all of them are vulnerable to war, natural disasters, equipment malfunctions, and other problems. Except the Svalbard vault – or so we thought. It has been dubbed the “Noah’s Ark” of seeds and a last chance for the world to regenerate if the worst should come to pass. It’s mission is to keep the world’s seeds safe.