Ecosystem & Environment

The world's largest Ocean Cleanup of garbage and plastic begins

While governments are distracted with the intangibles of climate change and carbon taxes, private innovation is creating positive results in environmental protection. In 2013, then-18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat founded his start-up called The Ocean Cleanup with the mission to develop “advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.” Last weekend, his floating boom system was deployed from San Francisco Bay for testing and is estimated to clean up half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within its first five years.

Ocean Cleanup’s USD $20 million system aims to remove 90 percent of the 1.8 trillion pieces of trash floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vortex of trash discovered in the mid-1980s that is created from an ocean gyre in the central North Pacific, between Hawaii and California, by 2040. Each boom will trap up to 150,000 pounds of plastic per year as they float along the circulating ocean currents between California and Hawaii. The system takes advantage of natural oceanic forces to catch and concentrate the plastic. In terms of creating a system for cleanup, the gyre is a benefit by prevents the further distribution of the garbage patch.

The beta cleanup system of booms are comprised of 600-meter long floaters that can collect about five tons of ocean plastic per month. Following the present testing, the floating boom system will be towed out 1,400 miles to the garbage patch around mid-October and begin collecting trash. The floating boom drifts along with the local currents, creating a U-shaped formation. As the boom floats, it collects trash in the U shaped system, which has 10 feet of netting below it to collect smaller fragments of plastic. Once the boom is full, a vessel will meet the boom to collect the plastic and transport it to land for sorting and recycling. Its 10 feet of netting is not deep enough that fish are unable to swim below it, therefore the hope is the boom will collect trash and not fish.

There are five garbage patches in the world’s oceans, of which the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest. The Ocean Cleanup is backed by investors including Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce. The company will welcome corporations and philanthropists to sponsor their own cleanup system in coming years.

Chief Operating Officer Lonneke Holierhoek said, "We really see the urgency in starting the cleanup because there's so much harm that could happen with this plastic that's floating out there." According to the World Economic Forum, oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish by 2050. As noted on The Ocean Cleanup website, "Research shows the majority of plastic by mass is currently in the larger debris. By removing the plastic while most of it is still large, we prevent it from breaking down into dangerous microplastics" that can absorb toxic substances and travel up the food chain.

 

Extinction Rebellion climate extremists shut down London public transit

In the latest evolution of the far-left’s extremism, April 15 saw the start of three days of protests that ground London to a halt, affecting more than 500,000 people. Over a thousand Extinction Rebellion (XR) campaigners threatened to bring the British capital city of London to a standstill for up to two weeks.

Extinction Rebellion is the latest in vogue protest movement for climate change activists. It has grown into an international movement backed by left-wing celebrities, academics, and writers by calling for “radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse”. Activists in at least 80 cities in more than 33 countries will hold similar demonstrations on environmental issues, campaigners said.

Extinction Rebellion protestors blocked busy London roads and bridges, spray-painted government buildings, glued themselves to a DLR train at Canary Wharf, and chained and glued themselves to buildings, including the gates of Buckingham Palace. Semi-naked activists had previously glued themselves to windows in the public gallery of the House of Commons during a Brexit debate. The following day, two dozen protesters occupied the International Criminal Court in the Hague, in the Netherlands. “Only a peaceful planet-wide mobilisation of the scale of the Second World War will give us a chance to avoid the worst-case scenarios,” and “the world has “run out of the luxury of time to react incrementally” Extinction Rebellion campaigners said.

Police arrested more than 300 Extinction Rebellion protestors while London Mayor Sadiq Khan attempted to ingratiate himself with them, diverting attention from intense and ongoing criticism of his poor response to London’s knife crime epidemic. The former Labour MP and London mayor said that the “climate change emergency” was a “top priority” for City Hall and reiterated his “passion” for peaceful protest as “the cornerstone of our democracy”. West End businesses complained of a GBP 12 million loss in sales while Mayor Khan professed his “full respect” for the anarchists.

Mayor Khan attended last month’s march for a second Brexit referendum, and likened the climate protesters to suffragettes, declaring, “I was at a protest myself a few weeks ago, protesting, campaigning and lobbying on whether the public should have a final say on staying in the union and given the option of what parliament’s voted for.” The upcoming mayoral election takes place in May next year. Mayor Khan’s mayoral rival, Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey, said, “The Mayor is telling law-abiding Londoners their interests come second to those who shout loudest and disrupt the most.

Despite their claims that they are proponents of non-violent civil disobedience, on Monday, Extinction Rebellion protesters vandalised Shell’s headquarters, gluing themselves to windows and smashing glass revolving doors, causing more than GBP 6,000 of damage and enabling them to have a platform in front of a jury trial in Crown Court. Now, according to Extinct Rebellion’s legal advice, some of the protesters will soon be citing Mayor Khan’s “climate change emergency” rhetoric in their defence.

Extinction Rebellion says direct action is needed to force governments to act urgently on climate change and wildlife declines and halt a “sixth mass extinction”. Their demands include the declaration of an ecological emergency, greenhouse gases to be brought to net zero by 2025, and the creation of a citizens’ assembly to lead action on the environment. Extinction Rebellion says the systems propping up “modern consumer-focused lifestyles” will lead to mass water shortages, crop failures, sea level rises, and the displacement of millions. Extinction Rebellion says it wants “ecocide”, the deliberate destruction of the natural environment, to be listed alongside crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and crimes of aggression.

1,500 people showed up to Extinction Rebellion’s first protest on October 31 last year on Parliament Square in London. The group later claimed that over the next several weeks “Six thousand of us converged on London to peacefully block five major bridges across the Thames.” Extinction Rebellion claims to have chapters in dozens of countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, the Solomon Islands, Australia, Spain, South Africa, and India.

Extinction Rebellion professes to be about climate change but in reality, is the latest rebranding and marketing campaign of Marxism. Their manifesto, published on their website, gives their game away. The tactics, slogans, and the general behaviour of the Marxist protesters exactly echoes that of the anti-globalisation protests of the early 2000s.

Beyond their climate focus, Extinction Rebellion demands the end of interest-bearing loans and to bring down the global economy with it. They want to disrupt and destroy. global capitalism and know the term ‘Marxism’ isn’t going to get the results they want, so they dress their agenda up as ‘environmentalism’ to tempt useful idiots to join their cause. In fact, Extinction Rebellion don’t admit the obvious fact that renewable energy needs capital and therefore investors who issue interest-bearing loans.

Greenpeace Founder says Global Warming is a Hoax and Fossil Fuels Saved Life on Earth

Greenpeace co-founder and former President of Greenpeace Canada Patrick Moore was interviewed on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight this week, where he described the cynical and corrupt machinations fueling the narrative of anthropocentric global warming and “climate change.” He said, “It’s taking over science with superstition and a kind of toxic combination of religion and political ideology. There is no truth to this. It is a complete hoax and scam”, added that the burning of fossil fuels saved life on Earth “from an early demise” by returning carbon dioxide to the atmosphere previously trapped in sediments.

Mr. Moore explained to hosts Rebecca Mansour and Joel Pollak how Greenpeace leverages fear and guilt by its proponents of climate change, saying, “Fear has been used all through history to gain control of people’s minds and wallets and all else, and the climate catastrophe is strictly a fear campaign — well, fear and guilt — you’re afraid you’re killing your children because you’re driving them in your SUV and emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and you feel guilty for doing that. There’s no stronger motivation than those two.

Scientists are co-opted and corrupted by politicians and bureaucracies invested in advancing the narrative of “climate change” in order to further centralize political power and control, explained Mr. Moore, who noted how ‘green’ companies parasitize taxpayers through favorable regulations and subsidies, justified by the claimed threats and enjoying propagandistic protection across news media: 

And so you’ve got the green movement creating stories that instill fear in the public. You’ve got the media echo chamber — fake news — repeating it over and over and over again to everybody that they’re killing their children. And then you’ve got the green politicians who are buying scientists with government money to produce fear for them in the form of scientific-looking materials. And then you’ve got the green businesses, the rent-seekers, and the crony capitalists who are taking advantage of massive subsidies, huge tax write-offs, and government mandates requiring their technologies to make a fortune on this. And then, of course, you’ve got the scientists who are willingly, they’re basically hooked on government grants.

When they talk about the 99 percent consensus [among scientists] on climate change, that’s a completely ridiculous and false number. But most of the scientists — put it in quotes, scientists — who are pushing this catastrophic theory are getting paid by public money, they are not being paid by General Electric or Dupont or 3M to do this research, where private companies expect to get something useful from their research that might produce a better product and make them a profit in the end because people want it — build a better mousetrap type of idea. But most of what these so-called scientists are doing is simply producing more fear so that politicians can use it to control people’s minds and get their votes because some of the people are convinced, ‘Oh, this politician can save my kid from certain doom.

The narrative of anthropogenic global warming or “climate change” is an existential threat to reason, warned Moore:

 

It is the biggest lie since people thought the Earth was at the center of the universe. This is Galileo-type stuff. If you remember, Galileo discovered that the sun was at the center of the solar system and the Earth revolved around it. He was sentenced to death by the Catholic Church, and only because he recanted was he allowed to live in house arrest for the rest of his life. 

So this was around the beginning of what we call the Enlightenment, when science became the way in which we gained knowledge instead of using superstition and instead of using invisible demons and whatever else, we started to understand that you have to have observation of actual events and then you have to repeat those observations over and over again, and that is basically the scientific method.

“But this abomination that is occurring today in the climate issue is the biggest threat to the Enlightenment that has occurred since Galileo,” declared Moore. “Nothing else comes close to it. This is as bad a thing that has happened o science in the history of science.

Mr. Moore also described how the Earth’s atmosphere had experienced a long-term depletion of carbon dioxide: 

Over the millennia, they just ignore deep history, these people, they talk about the last 100 years as if that’s when the world started, but the deep history going back millions of years and even hundreds of millions of years shows us that carbon dioxide has gradually diminished in the atmosphere and in the oceans because it’s been lost to the sediments on land and in the seas.

During the last glaciation, which was only 20,000 years ago, CO2 sank to a level which was close to a level of causing death to plants, so low. Inadvertently, by starting to use fossil fuels, we have actually saved life from an early demise, because CO2 is the food for all of life.

 Mr. Moore also noted the distinction between carbon — an element — and carbon dioxide — a gas. He lamented the conflation of the two by misinformed persons. He analysed how characterizations of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, including legal designation as such by the Obama administration, is “the biggest abomination that’s been made against science in a long time”: 

It’s not pollution. That’s why the finding on CO2 by the EPA under Obama is such an important thing to reverse because when they found that CO2, when they ruled that CO2 was pollution, they made the biggest abomination that’s been made against science in a long time, because CO2 is, in fact, the food for life.

It is what life is based on. Life is carbon-based. The carbon in all life came from CO2 in the atmosphere and the oceans. Nowhere else did it come from. That’s a fact. Nobody disputes that, yet they claim that because we’re putting more CO2 into the atmosphere — where it actually came from in the first place — the carbon in fossil fuels was made from life, made from plants and plankton in the land and sea, that carbon in the fossil fuels used to be in the air and in the ocean, and it got sucked up and lost to the sediments and was therefore no longer in the air.

We’re just putting it back where it was in the first place, when life flourished during the greenhouse eras that went back for hundreds of millions of years when the Earth was far warmer than it is today.

Whale sharks at risk from plastic pollution in the remote British island of St. Helena

The whale shark is the largest fish on the planet and inhabit the island of St. Helena’s waters from November to June as they migrate across the South Atlantic. Wildlife groups and environmentalists are concerned that the amount of plastic collecting there could prove deadly for whale sharks, which are already enlisted as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature because they often become tangled in fishing nets or collide with boats.

The tiny volcanic island of St. Helena, which lies 4,000 miles from England in the South Atlantic, is Britain’s second-oldest overseas territory, and was where Napoleon was imprisoned before he died in 1821. Despite its isolated location, the island is now awash with plastic garbage that washes in from South America and beyond, even though its nearest neighbour is thousands of miles away.

Whale sharks are particularly at risk from garbage pollution in the ocean because their main diet is plankton, which they need to suck up in huge gulps. As well as problems with microplastics, large pieces of garbage can pierce stomach linings, and plastic bags are mistaken for jellyfish that block intestinal tracts digestive systems.

David Barnes, of the British Antarctic Survey, said, “There has been an absolutely dramatic change in St Helena. In 2003, there was one plastic item per every three metres. By 2007, that had changed by three times the amount and now we’re finding hundreds of plastic items per metre in some places so that’s a 1000-fold increase – there are unbelievable levels of change and it’s happened in our lifetime. The animals that eat plankton and smaller algae are not discriminating between microplastics and their food. They can process the natural food but the microplastics stay in their stomach and build up until they have a stomach full of plastic which, in some circumstances, can weigh more than the actual organism and then they will die.”

Research into plastic levels on St Helena were recently published in Current Biology. It is estimated that eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the world’s oceans each year and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation has estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, an 83 percent of the world’s tap water is now contaminated. There is growing evidence that plastic is entering the marine food chain, with fish, turtles, sea birds, and cetaceans from around the world all testing positive for plastic contamination.

The World Wildlife Fund is calling for people to avoid using single-use plastics and straws. Lyndsey Dodds, Head of UK Marine Policy, WWF UK said, “We need to go further and faster - plastic is choking our oceans and leading to the demise of some of our much-loved marine animals. Many of us are doing our bit, but it’s time producers were made to face up to their responsibilities too. We need a ban on all unnecessary single-use plastic items by 2025, and other laws that respect the amazing natural systems upon which we all depend, weaning ourselves away from our throwaway culture.”

British Government Confirms UK Ban on Ivory Sales

With the passing of the 2018 Ivory Act, the United Kingdom (UK) has banned ivory sales to help protect elephants for future generations. UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirmed robust measures that will be brought into force through primary legislation and the ban will cover ivory items of all ages – not only those produced after a certain date. The maximum available penalty for breaching the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.

 

Ivory Demand

Elephant poaching is at crisis levels, driven by the ivory trade. The number of elephants has declined by almost a third in the last decade and around 30,000 are slaughtered by poachers each year, with African savanna elephant numbers plummeting 30 percent between 2007 and 2014.

As profits become ever greater, the illegal wildlife trade has become a transnational organised enterprise, estimated to be worth up to £17 billion a year. The further decline of elephants would also deprive some of the poorest countries in the world of their valuable natural capital, affecting economic growth and sustainable development.

While much of the demand for ivory comes from Asia, Europe also has a large market. A ban on the commercial trade in ivory across international borders has been in effect since 1990, but many countries continue to allow the domestic buying and selling of ivory. While it’s unclear how much legal ivory has been bought and sold within European Union borders in recent years, about 7.6 tons of legal ivory have been exported from the European Union (EU) since 2003, according to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The UK exports more legal ivory than any other country in the world, according to an EIA analysis.

In August 2017 when the EIA published this analysis, Executive Director Mary Rice said, “UK ivory exports are stimulating consumer demand globally, especially in Hong Kong and China, two of the world’s largest markets for both legal and illegal ivory. As well as fueling demand for ivory, the UK’s legal trade provides opportunities for the laundering of illegal ivory, both within the country and internationally.” China shut down its legal ivory market on December 31, 2017, and Hong Kong announced an end to its market in 2021.

 

The UK Ban

Conservation organizations have been working for several years to get an ivory ban approved in the UK. When this proposal was put up for consultation by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, it received more than 70,000 responses, with more than 88 percent in favor of the ban.

The UK’s ivory ban, which still needs to be signed into law, applies to all ivory except items produced before 1947 with less than 10 percent ivory by volume, musical instruments made before 1975 with less than 20 percent ivory, rare antiques more than 100 years old (which must be assessed by a specialist first), and certain items traded between accredited museums. These exceptions are stricter than the United States’ (U.S.) ivory ban, which went into place in 2016 after a landmark joint announcement between the U.S. and China. The U.S. allows trade of ivory antiques more than a hundred years old and of items with up to 50 percent ivory, with a few other qualifying factors. By covering ivory items of all ages and adopting these narrow exemptions, the UK’s ban will be one of the toughest in the world. The US federal ban exempts all items older than 100 years as well as items with up to 50 percent ivory content. The Chinese ban exempts ivory “relics”, without setting a date before which these must have been produced.

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said, “Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol, so we will introduce one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations. The ban on ivory sales we will bring into law will reaffirm the UK’s global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past.”

Conservationists are now urging the EU as a whole to address the ivory trade. They argue that a legal trade provides cover for smugglers and traffickers to “launder” poached ivory by giving it paperwork that makes it appear to have been obtained legally. At a recent European Environment Council, the UK called for EU member states to follow the Government’s lead and ban commercial trade in raw ivory – which is already banned in the UK – within the EU as soon as possible.

In October 2018, the UK hosted the fourth international conference on the illegal wildlife trade, bringing global leaders to London to tackle the strategic challenges of the trade. This followed the 2014 London conference on the illegal wildlife trade, and subsequent conferences in Botswana and Vietnam.

A ban on ivory sales in the UK would build on government work both at home and overseas to tackle poaching and the illegal ivory trade. The UK military is training African park rangers in proven poacher interception techniques in key African countries, and Border Force officers share their expertise in identifying smuggled ivory with counterparts worldwide to stop wildlife trafficking.

 

Response from Conservationists

The following statement is from Dr. Susan Lieberman, WCS Vice President for International Policy:

“WCS congratulates the Government of the United Kingdom on passing the 2018 Ivory Act, which is now one of the strongest laws in the world closing a domestic ivory market. We congratulate the UK on showing the world its commitment to stopping the illegal ivory trade – not by telling others what to do, but by taking action at home. The UK now joins the U.S., China, and other countries in heeding the call from the majority of African elephant range countries to putting an end – for good – to the global ivory trade. We call on the EU, Japan, and others that still allow domestic ivory sales, to close their markets as well—any open ivory market provides opportunities to launder illegal ivory. We know from our conservationists working on the front lines throughout Africa, and on anti-trafficking efforts across the globe, that the slaughter of elephants will continue as long as there are open ivory markets.”

The CEO of Tusk Trust, Charlie Mayhew MBE said:

We are delighted that the Government has listened to our concerns and given the overwhelming public response to their consultation is now moving decisively to introduce tough legislation to ban the trade in ivory in the UK. The narrowly defined exemptions are pragmatic. The ban will ensure there is no value for modern day ivory and the tusks of recently poached elephants cannot enter the UK market. We welcome the fact that Ministers are sending such a clear message to the world that the illegal wildlife trade will not be tolerated and every effort will be made to halt the shocking decline in Africa’s elephant population in recent years.

Tanya Steele Chief Executive at World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) said:

Around 55 African elephants are killed for their ivory a day, their tusks turned into carvings and trinkets. This ban makes the UK a global leader in tackling this bloody trade and it’s something WWF has been fighting hard for. But if we want to stop the poaching of this majestic animal, we need global action. We hope the UK will continue to press countries where the biggest ivory markets are, most of which are in Asia, to shut down their trade too.”

ZSL Director of Conservation, Matthew Hatchwell, said:

Legal domestic ivory markets are intrinsically linked to the illegal ivory trade that is driving the current poaching crisis. With almost 20,000 elephants poached in the last year, it is vital that countries take significant steps such as those outlined by the UK government today to close their markets and help make the trade in ivory a thing of the past. No one in the UK today would dream of wearing a tiger-skin coat. Thanks to this move, in a few years’ time we believe the same will be true for the trade in ivory.

John Stephenson, CEO Stop Ivory said:

This is a significant day for the future of elephants. The UK government has taken a momentous step. The proposed ban, with its narrow and clear exemptions, places the UK at the forefront of the international determination to halt the extermination of elephant populations by banning trade in ivory. The Secretary of State for DEFRA has shown clear leadership in demanding legislation whilst there is still time to secure a future for elephants in the wild. The end of the ivory trade in the UK removes any hiding place for the trade in illegal ivory, and sends a powerful message to the world that ivory will no longer be valued as a commodity. Ivory belongs on an elephant and when the buying stops the killing will stop.”

Climate scientists retract the results of a major ocean warming study due to false measurements

Scientists with San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Princeton University have withdrawn their findings published in the academic journal Nature that showed oceans have been heating up dramatically faster than previously thought as a result of climate change. According to the paper by Laure Resplandy et al, published October 31, the researchers claimed ocean temperatures had warmed 60 percent more than outlined by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

However, the conclusion came under scrutiny after mathematician Nic Lewis, who has authored several peer-reviewed papers on the question of climate sensitivity and has worked with some of the world’s leading climate scientists, found that the warming trend in the Resplandy paper differs from that calculated from the underlying data included with the paper. “If you calculate the trend correctly, the warming rate is not worse than we thought – it’s very much in line with previous estimates,” says Lewis. He added, “Their claims about the effect of faster ocean warming on estimates of climate sensitivity (and hence future global warming) and carbon budgets are just incorrect anyway, but that’s a moot point now we know that about their calculation error”.

As the Global Warming Policy Forum reported, “Independent climate scientist Nicholas Lewis has uncovered a major error in a recent scientific paper that was given blanket coverage in the English-speaking media. The paper, written by a team led by Princeton oceanographer Laure Resplandy, claimed that the oceans have been warming faster than previously thought. It was announced, in news outlets including the BBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Scientific American that this meant that the Earth may warm even faster than currently estimated.

Co-author and climate scientist Ralph Keeling took full blame and thanked Mr. Lewis for alerting him to the mistake, saying, “When we were confronted with his insight it became immediately clear there was an issue there. We’re grateful to have it be pointed out quickly so that we could correct it quickly.”

Mr. Keeling said they have redone the calculations and submitted the correction to Nature, finding the ocean is still likely warmer than the estimate used by the IPCC. However, that increase in heat has a larger range of probability than initially thought, between 10 percent and 70 percent, as other studies have already found. “We really muffed the error margins … Our error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean,” Mr. Keeling said. The central problem, according to Mr. Keeling, was in how the researchers dealt with the uncertainty in their measurements. As a result, the findings suffer from too much doubt to definitively support the paper’s conclusion about just how much heat the oceans have absorbed over time.

Increasingly, the peer-review system for scientific papers has become an arrangement whereby colleagues approve each other’s work for publication, increasing their chances for ongoing funding, in a climate where the more doomsday the result the more likely it is to get published and reported on by the mainstream media reliant on fear-driven news stories to gain revenue.

Hybrids of the deadly Japanese delicacy pufferfish linked to climate change

Pufferfish, or fugu, are a Japanese delicacy that can kill a person who ingests it within hours if it is not prepared properly. The Japanese have eaten fugu for thousands of years, and after it was outlawed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the samurai general who unified Japan in the 16th century, peasants continued to eat it in secret and died in multitudes. The ban on fugu was lifted after World War II following years of petitioning by fugu fans. Despite its deadly nature, the fish has an almost comical face and, with its puffed cheeks and open mouth, looks as though it’s perpetually surprised to be so sought after for special occasions.

A kilogram fetches as much as 30,000 yen at Japanese fish markets, and in the December holiday season a luxury fishmonger in Tokyo can sell up to USD $88,000 worth of the fugu on any given day. Earlier this year, a supermarket in western Japan accidentally sold five packets of fugu without its poisonous liver removed the town used its missile alert system to warn residents. Now, fishermen are discovering an unprecedented number of hybrid species in their catch as seas surrounding the archipelago, particularly off the northeastern coast, are experiencing some of the fastest rates of ocean warming in the world. With pufferfish heading north to seek cooler waters, sibling species of the fish have begun to inter-breed, triggering a sudden increase in the number of hybrid fish.

Of approximately fifty species of fugu around Japan, twenty-two of them are approved as edible by the government. Chefs and fish butchers handling pufferfish are specially trained and licensed to remove its liver and reproductive organs, which contain tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin. Confusingly, the location of the deadly neurotoxin differs in certain types of pufferfish; it can sometimes be found in its skin or muscle, as well as its reproductive organs. Hybrids are as dangerous than regular fugu and difficult to distinguish from established species. To avoid accidental poisonings, Japan prohibits their sale and distribution, but with the rise of these unclassifiable hybrids, fishermen and fish traders are discarding a sizable share of their catch.

Associate professor at the National Fisheries University Hiroshi Takahashi first noticed the increase in hybrid pufferfish six years ago when he started receiving calls from a scientific facility on the northeastern coast of Japan’s main island that had buckets of fugu it couldn’t identify. In the fall of 2012, nearly 40 percent of fugu caught in the area were unidentifiable, compared to less than 1 percent studied previously. “It wasn’t one out of a thousand as it had been in the past; this was on a completely different scale,” he says. To an untrained eye, hybrids are barely discernible. Even veterans in the industry say it’s nearly impossible to tell apart “quarters,” or second-generation offspring of hybrid fish. At the end of June, more than 20 percent of pufferfish caught in a single day off the Pacific coast of Miyagi prefecture, 460 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, were hybrids.

Scientists identify vast underground ecosystem containing billions of micro-organisms

Researchers at the Deep Carbon Observatory say the diversity of the ecosystem below the Earth’s surface is twice the size of world’s oceans and bears comparison to the Amazon or the Galápagos Islands. Unlike those places, the underground environment is still largely pristine because people have yet to probe most of the subsurface. Despite extreme heat, no light, minuscule nutrition and intense pressure, scientists estimate this subterranean biosphere is teeming with between 15 billion and 23 billion tonnes of micro-organisms, hundreds of times the combined weight of every human on the planet.

The researchers said their discoveries were made possible by two technical advances: drills that can penetrate far deeper below the Earth’s crust, and improvements in microscopes that allow life to be detected at increasingly minute levels. The scientists have been trying to find a lower limit beyond which life cannot exist, but the deeper they dig the more life they find. There is a temperature maximum – currently 122 degrees Celsius – but the researchers believe this record will be broken if they keep exploring and developing more sophisticated instruments.

Associate professor at the University of Tennessee Karen Lloyd said, “It’s like finding a whole new reservoir of life on Earth. We are discovering new types of life all the time. So much of life is within the Earth rather than on top of it.” The team combines 1,200 scientists from 52 countries in disciplines ranging from geology and microbiology to chemistry and physics and a year prior to the conclusion of their ten-year study, they will present an amalgamation of findings to date before the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting opens this week.

Ms. Lloyd added, “The strangest thing for me is that some organisms can exist for millennia. They are metabolically active but in stasis, with less energy than we thought possible of supporting life.” Samples were taken from boreholes more than 5 kilometres deep and undersea drilling sites to construct models of the ecosystem and estimate how much living carbon it might contain. The results suggest 70 percent of Earth’s bacteria and archaea exist in the subsurface. One organism found 2.5 kilometers below the surface has been buried for millions of years and may not rely at all on energy from the sun. Instead, the methanogen has found a way to create methane in this low energy environment, which it may not use to reproduce or divide, but to replace or repair broken parts.

Rick Colwell, a microbial ecologist at Oregon State University, said the timescales of subterranean life were completely different, where some microorganisms have been alive for thousands of years, barely moving except with shifts in the tectonic plates, earthquakes, or eruptions. “We humans orientate towards relatively rapid processes – diurnal cycles based on the sun, or lunar cycles based on the moon – but these organisms are part of slow, persistent cycles on geological timescales,” he said.

Underworld biospheres vary depending on geology and geography. Their combined size is estimated to be more than 2 billion cubic kilometres, but this could be expanded further in the future.

Massive Impact Crater Found Under Greenland’s Ice

Radar scans and sediment samples indicate a large meteorite blasted through the ice sheet in Greenland between 3 million and 12,000 years ago. Meteorite hits are difficult to find on Earth because the atmosphere limits the size of space rocks that actually crash, and erosion and rainfall often erase traces of ancient impacts. However, some depressions survive, and researchers have now found one of the largest ever impacts discovered trapped beneath the ice of Greenland’s Hiawatha glacier.

Signs of the crater were first detected by NASA’s Operation Icebridge, an airborne mission that has spent three years using radar to track changes in ice on Greenland’s ice sheet. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen who examined the publicly available data noticed an anomaly underneath the ice of Hiawatha that appeared to be a 19-mile-wide, 1,000-foot-deep crater. If confirmed, it will be one of the top twenty-five largest craters known on Earth and the first to be found under the ice. The researchers also collected sediment samples from channels washing out of the crater, which included bits of shocked quartz that can only be formed during a high-energy impact. They conclude that there is a crater locked beneath the ice, as they reported in their study published in the journal Science Advances.

In a press release at the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, lead research author Kurt H. Kjær said, “The crater is exceptionally well-preserved, and that is surprising, because glacier ice is an incredibly efficient erosive agent that would have quickly removed traces of the impactBut that means the crater must be rather young from a geological perspective. So far, it has not been possible to date the crater directly, but its condition strongly suggests that it formed after ice began to cover Greenland, so younger than 3 million years old and possibly as recently as 12,000 years ago—toward the end of the last ice age.”

It’s believed to have been a massive global event, that to create the crater, the iron meteor that struck Greenland would have to be half a mile to a mile across and would have had the force of a 700-megaton warhead. Such an impact would have been felt hundreds of miles away, would have warmed up that area of Greenland and may have rained rocky debris down on North America and Europe.

Some researchers believe it could have had an even more significant impact. About 12,800 years ago toward the end of the last ice age, the world was steadily warming up. Then, abruptly, the paleoclimate record shows that temperatures plummeted back to ice age norms for about 1,000 years, a cooling period called the Younger Dryas that has no definite explanation. According to one theory, a comet impact in Greenland would have melted ice and diluted the ocean current that transports warm water through the Atlantic, causing a re-freeze. Some have even suggested such an event could have led to massive forest fires in Europe and North America, leading to the end of megafauna like the mastodon and the human communities that hunted them, which also disappear from the record around this time. “It’s a very speculative idea, but if this does turn out to be [the link], it would have had an outsize impact on human history,” Joseph MacGregor, a glaciologist with NASA, told Brian Clark Howard at National Geographic.

European Union wants member states to be climate neutral by 2050

The European Union’s (E.U.) executive branch has proposed the bloc should cut its emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, a measure some scientists say needs to be adopted worldwide in order to avoid catastrophic global warming. The European Commission is the first major economy to set its sights on achieving climate neutrality in the next three decades. However, its plan, announced days before a global climate summit being held in Poland, is far more ambitious than the national targets set or even closely achieved to date by many of the E.U.’s twenty-eight-member nations.

The Commission cites scientists who say ending the use of fossil fuels, a process known as decarbonization, is one of the most important measures needed to achieve the 2015 Paris climate accord’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. Net zero emissions mean that any greenhouse gases emitted need to be soaked up by forest growth or new technologies that can remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The Commission’s proposal, which was welcomed by environmental groups, isn’t binding, and adds pressure on E.U. nations that have resisted setting tighter goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is expected to miss its goals for 2020 and Chancellor Angela Merkel has objected to raising the nation’s emissions reduction target for 2030 from 40 percent to 45 percent.

Symbolically, the 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24, is being held on the site of a Katowice mine in Poland that was closed in 1999 after 176 years of coal production. World leaders are gathering to agree on the fine print at the climate summit, held between December 2 and 14, three years after the global climate deal in Paris. “Looking from the outside perspective, it’s an impossible task,” said Poland’s deputy Environment Minister, Michal Kurtyka.

Top of the agenda will be finalizing the so-called Paris rulebook, which determines how countries have to count their greenhouse gas emissions, transparently report them to the rest of the world, and reveal what they are doing to reduce them. Many participants believe the Paris goals can only be met by cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050. However, the Paris agreement let countries set their own emissions targets, and most nations are far off the mark from their targets.

Convincing countries to set new, tougher targets for emissions reduction by 2020 will entail a transformation of all sectors of each nation’s economies, including a complete end to burning fossil fuel. Poor nations want rich countries to pledge the biggest cuts, claiming they are responsible for most of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere, which is factually inaccurate, as developing nations are the greatest polluters without rigorous environmental regulations. Rich countries say they are willing to lead the way, but only if poor nations play their part as well.

The United States (U.S.) under President Donald Trump recently withdrew from the Paris agreement, signed up former President Barack Obama. Brazil and Australia appear to be heading in the same direction.

Start-up Cora Ball aims to reduce plastic pollution from laundry synthetic microfibres

Rachael Miller, who studied marine archaeology and has devoted herself to keeping plastics from reaching the ocean, believes her invention, called the Cora Ball, could reduce a significant amount of microfibre pollution. Miller claims if just 10 percent of American households used Cora Ball it would keep the equivalent of 30 million water bottles from washing into public waterways a year.

Four inches (ten centimeters) in diameter and made from recycled and recyclable plastic, the Cora Ball imitates the structure of coral in the ocean. While it doesn't catch everything, the company says it captures between a quarter and a third of microfibres in every wash. Customers on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter have pre-ordered 15,500 of Miller’s Cora Balls, which capture tiny bits of synthetic microfibres that come off our clothes in the wash. Up to 700,000 microfibres can shed from a typical thirteen pounds (six kilograms) household load, says Imogen Napper, a postdoctoral marine science researcher at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom. Many of these fibres, which can be as small as three microns, a thirteenth the width of a human hair, are too small for water treatment plants to remove. Despite being so small, organic pollutants in the oceans, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT), can stick to them, creating an amalgam.

There can be as many as 100,000 microplastics in a cubic metre of ocean, researchers say, which are then eaten by marine creatures. Ghent University's Lisbeth Van Cauwenberghe says we could be ingesting eleven thousand pieces of plastic a year just through eating shellfish. More than two thirds of fish species in California markets have microfibres in them, says Chelsea Rochman, an aquatic ecology professor at the University of Toronto.

In Denmark, 60 percent of all sewage sludge is "getting used in agriculture," says Lars Monster from the KD Group, a wastewater tech company in the southern Danish town of Vejle. These solid remnants from waste water treatment are distributed on farmland as fertiliser, but microplastics in the sludge then enter the food chain.

Most wastewater treatment plants don't aim to remove microfibres, largely because regulations don't require them to. Mr. Monster's company has developed a new filtration technology that can remove 90 percent of microplastics, he claims, and hopes to get the figure up to 96 percent. The ultimate aim is to recycle all the removed plastics, says Mr. Monster, to "get to the point where microplastics are a resource".

The Millennium Seed Bank hits a snag in preserving the world’s seed banks of endangered plant species

The Millennium Seed Bank was set up by the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew as the world’s largest and most diverse genetic ‘ark’, on track to have collected 25 percent of global species by 2020 as part of a wider scheme with institutions around the world to store the world’s plants in seed banks to prevent them from extinction. According to Kew scientist John Dickie, "Ex-situ conservation of plants is more critical than ever, with many threats to plant populations including climate change, habitat conversion and plant pathogens, we need to make sure we're doing all we can to conserve the most important and threatened species.

However, a new study published in Nature Plants presents research by scientists that found the seeds of over a third of critically endangered species cannot be frozen because they cannot survive the process of drying and deep freezing and produce ‘recalcitrant seeds’, which die in the dying process. 27 percent of endangered species produce these seeds that cannot be banked, along with 35 percent of plants considered to be "vulnerable" to extinction.

The study suggests this is a particular problem for trees, with 33 percent of all the world's species producing seeds that do not survive the drying process. In tropical moist forests, such as rainforests or cloud forests, as many as half the species of trees which create the canopy can be unsuitable for preserving in seed banks. The researchers warn it may be ‘somewhat naive’ to assume it is possible to conserve tropical plants and trees outside of their natural habitats and say protecting entire forests may be the only way of saving certain species. Kew, along with other banks around the world, aim to conserve 75 percent of the threatened species outside of their natural habitat by 2020.