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.
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.
The world’s rivers carry billions of cubic yards of sediment – sand, silt and other material – and transport it to wetlands and coastal areas. Until fairly recently, this was viewed as a negative thing. But that has changed.
Carbon dioxide is not a very popular substance. As a greenhouse gas, it is the chief culprit in climate change and, as such, the world continues to seek solutions for preventing its release in the environment.
There have been many stories in the media about the ongoing environmental crisis at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Over the past two years, the reef has lost almost half of its coral because of bleaching events. Faced with this situation, the Australian government created the Reef 2050 Plan, a strategy to protect and maintain the reef through the year 2050.
Now that the Trump administration announced that the United States would cease implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, various state, local and corporate entities in this country have been stepping up to assume climate leadership.
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.
We are well-aware of the negative effects of air pollution on human health and on the environment, but a recent study at Duke University has revealed that global solar energy production is taking a major hit due to air pollution and dust.
The Paris Climate Agreement seeks to reduce global carbon emissions. The nearly 200 countries who signed it have pledged to reduce their own emissions within their borders. And therein lies the rub: the agreement says nothing about the impact their products have across the world. For some countries, the problem is not so much the emissions they produce; it is those they export.
Global weather patterns are influenced by environmental conditions in places around the world. One of the world’s major weather creators is the Sahara Desert. The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world. The only larger deserts of any sort are in the polar extremes of the planet and are thus not hot deserts at all.
According to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil or RSPO, almost 12 million tons, or 21% of the global supply of palm oil, is now certified as responsible and sustainable. The massive expansion of palm oil plantations has been one of the primary causes of global deforestation. This has been especially the case in Borneo, where 85% of global palm oil production takes place.
Microbeads are little spheres of plastic less than half a millimeter in diameter that are added to a variety of personal care and cleaning products such as cosmetics, sunscreens and fillers. They give these products a desirable smooth texture. However, they are so small that sewage filtration systems can’t remove them and they end up in rivers and oceans where they are ingested by birds, fish and other marine life.
Researchers in Belgium have engineered a device that uses sunlight to purify polluted air and, in the process, produces hydrogen gas that can be stored and used for power. Two teams of researchers separately investigating processes for air purification and hydrogen production combined their efforts to create the new device.
There are an estimated 84,000 dams in the United States which impound 600,000 miles of river, or about 17% of the rivers in the country. Within the next 15 years, more than 90% of the world’s rivers will be fragmented by at least one dam.
The problems caused by plastics in the environment continue to mount. Major companies around the world are endorsing and promoting efforts to combat the problem including the New Plastics Economy Initiative which aims to have 70% of plastic packaging reused and recycled globally, which is five times more than the current percentage.
The end of 2013 marked the first occasional observations of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of 400 parts per million. There is nothing magical about that value, but we do tend to focus on round numbers.
UPS recently announced a demonstration project that will put a prototype electric truck powered by a hydrogen fuel cell through the delivery company’s challenging paces. Fuel cells have been used in some commercial vehicles to power auxiliary systems, but this is the first time that they will be used to propel a vehicle.
The soils that encircle the northern reaches of the Arctic are a vast repository for carbon in the form of undecayed organic matter from dead vegetation. The enormous amount of material trapped in the permafrost contains enough carbon to double the current amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.