China Says It Will Ban Plastics That Pollute Its Land and Water
Though likely to be welcomed by many Chinese who worry about pollution, the measures could be a hard sell for a society used to convenience.
BEIJING — It’s piled up in landfills. It clutters fields and rivers, dangles from trees, and forms flotillas of waste in the seas. China’s use of plastic bags, containers and cutlery has become one of its most stubborn and ugliest environmental blights.
So the Chinese government has introduced measures to drastically cut the amount of disposable plastic items that often become a hazard and an eyesore in the country, even deep in the countryside and in the oceans.
Among the new guidelines are bans on the import of plastic waste and the use of nonbiodegradable plastic bags in major cities by the end of this year. Other sources of plastic garbage will be banned in Beijing, Shanghai and wealthy coastal provinces by the end of 2022, and that rule will extend nationwide by late 2025.
Previous efforts to reduce the use of plastic bags have faltered in China, but the government has indicated that, this time, it will be more serious and systematic in tackling the problem.
Focusing on trees as the big solution to climate change is a dangerous diversion.
One trillion trees.
At the World Economic Forum last month, President Trump drew applause when he announced the United States would join the forum’s initiative to plant one trillion trees to fight climate change. More applause for the decision followed at his State of the Union speech.
The trillion-tree idea won wide attention last summer after a study published in the journal Science concluded that planting so many trees was “the most effective climate change solution to date.”
If only it were true. But it isn’t. Planting trees would slow down the planet’s warming, but the only thing that will save us and future generations from paying a huge price in dollars, lives and damage to nature is rapid and substantial reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuels, to net zero by 2050.
Even a 16-year-old can tell you that.
Focusing on trees as the big solution to climate change is a dangerous diversion. Worse still, it takes attention away from those responsible for the carbon emissions that are pushing us toward disaster. For example, in the Netherlands, you can pay Shell an additional 1 euro cent for each liter of regular gasoline you put in your tank, to plant trees to offset the carbon emissions from your driving. That’s clearly no more than disaster fractionally delayed. The only way to stop this planet from overheating is through political, economic, technological and social solutions that end the use of fossil fuels.
China has banned the trade of wildlife, suspecting that exotic animals infected humans. What will that really do?
“We can’t be indifferent anymore!” President Xi Jinping of China fumed at top officials early last month, referring to the public health risks of eating wildlife. On Feb. 24, the 13th National People’s Congress issued a decision “Comprehensively Prohibiting the Illegal Trade of Wild Animals, Eliminating the Bad Habits of Wild Animal Consumption and Protecting the Health and Safety of the People.” This and an earlier ban on wildlife markets were direct responses to concerns that the new coronavirus, which is thought to have originated in bats, may have been transmitted to humans via a wild animal for sale at a wet market in Wuhan, a city in central China.
Genetic analyses have come up short of pinpointing the culprit so far, but among the prime suspects is the pangolin, a long-snouted, scaly, ant-eating mammal virtually unknown in the West but widely prized in China as a delicacy and for its purported medicinal virtues.
So now, on suspicion that it might have infected humans with Covid-19, the pangolin will finally be spared and protected. Or will it?
China has had wildlife trading bans on the books for three decades, but those haven’t prevented pangolins from becoming the most trafficked mammal in the world.
The country’s first wildlife protection law dates back to the late 1980s, as does an official list of some 330 endangered species. Illegally poaching, smuggling or trading pangolins, for example, can carry lengthy prison terms.
In 2000, China issued detailed regulations for more than 1,700 protected species considered to have biological, scientific or social value. Hunting toads in a pond or catching geckos could count as a violation.
In 2007, the sale of pangolin products outside of specially certified hospitals and clinics was outlawed. In 2018, Hubei Province, where Wuhan is, created some 300 wildlife conservation zones and cracked down on unlicensed hunting and trading.
But none of this has helped pangolins. In January 2019, nine tons of pangolin scales — thought to have come from some 14,000 animals — were seized in a single shipment in Hong Kong. The next month, 33 tons of pangolin meat were discovered in Malaysia, and in April, 14 tons of scales in Singapore.
According to a 2016 report by the wildlife advocacy group WildAid, more than a million pangolins had been poached over the previous decade, accounting, some say, for as much as 20 percent of all illegal wildlife trading.
According to TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network, from 2007 to 2016 some 90,000 pangolins were smuggled into China. In 2017, a ban on the international commercial trade of all eight species of pangolins went into effect under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (China is a party to it). Yet by last year, the Chinese pangolin had become “functionally extinct” in China, according to the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Group, a Chinese organization.
Over the past two decades, the population of Malayan pangolins has dropped by 80 percent and those of Filipino and Indian pangolins by 50 percent.
What is home to you? Anila Bano asks this question as she shares with us her personal story of climate change hitting home. When Anila returned to her hometown, Gilgit, Pakistan, in 2016, she was struck by the many isolated villages devastated by the effects of climate change. Anila reflects on her experiences as she shares with us how a sense of global connectedness has driven her to push for change. With interviews from Gilgit villagers and photos from the flood, Anila takes us on a journey to her own home while encouraging us to take action and claim responsibility for our shared home- planet Earth. Anila Bano grew up in Gilgit, the northern areas of Pakistan. She is currently a student at Luther College studying biology, psychology, and religion. In 2015, Anila won the “Go Make a Difference” grant to work on local issues in Gilgit. Through her work, Anila has discovered a sense of global connectedness that inspires her to immerse herself in a life of community service, engagement with matters of peace and sustainability, and building connections with diverse people. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx
Bought for a Song: An Indonesian Craze Puts Wild Birds at Risk
CURUP, Indonesia — Hiding in the dense Sumatran jungle, the poacher chose a thin branch, coated it with homemade glue and played a snippet of birdsong on an old cellphone. Within moments, three tiny birds alighted on the branch and were trapped.
Known as ashy tailorbirds, they were destined for the Indonesian island of Java, where they were likely to spend their lives in a collector’s cage.
Millions of similar birds are stolen from the wild every year, and prized specimens can ultimately sell for thousands of dollars. These birds are not treasured for their plumage or meat, but for their songs.
An illicit trade that begins in the primeval forests takes many of the birds to Indonesia’s teeming capital, Jakarta, where they are entered into high-stakes singing competitions at which government officials frequently preside.
World Environment Day: Building a sustainable future
The world is made up of different races, nations, languages, and opinions, but we all share one thing in common: the Earth we inhabit. We depend on the planet’s resources to live our lives. The faith of Islam teaches followers to care for Allah’s creation, as part of our values of ethical behaviour and good character.
Mawlana Hazar Imam has often spoken of the importance of caring for the environment. In Ottawa in 2013, he said, “Our faith constantly reminds us to observe and be thankful for the beauty of the world and the universe around us, and our responsibility and obligation, as good stewards of God’s creation, to leave the world in a better condition than we found it.”
Stewardship is the understanding that humans are responsible for nurturing, protecting, and conserving the earth — a tradition that has existed and been practiced for many centuries. In fact, our own lives and wellbeing depend on a thriving environment.
The word environment itself has many layers of meaning. It can be understood as our surroundings, conditions, or the natural world as a whole. It comprises our planet and its atmosphere, humans, animals, plants, and the buildings that societies construct. The environment is all around us, and everyday we live within it.
For Muslims, the principles of responsibility and stewardship apply to both human society and the natural world. The Qur’an encourages us to leave behind a better social and physical environment for our children and grandchildren. This prompts the question: What changes can we make in our lives to be more mindful of our impact on the world, not just on World Environment Day, but every day?
One of the silver linings of the ongoing public health crisis is that humans everywhere are exploring ways to better care for the environment. Whether this involves walking or cycling instead of driving, reducing waste, recycling more, saving water, using less plastic, or making more discerning choices with food and other essentials.
With a recent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and harmful industrial activity, the global pandemic has helped us to pause and envision a cleaner and brighter future. As Mother Teresa once said, “A healthy ecology is the basis for a healthy economy.” Finding a balance between human progress and respecting the planet we live on will be crucial to building a sustainable future for ourselves and the generations to follow.
For a number of years, the Aga Khan Development Network has been working in harmony with the natural world to improve the conditions in which individuals and communities live. Its various agencies, projects, and programmes follow a multi-input approach to development, advancing socio-economic prospects for disadvantaged populations, while simultaneously enhacing the natural and built environments they work within.
From Bamako to Kabul, and Delhi to Toronto, the Network’s urban regeneration projects, including the restoration of monuments, the rehabilitation of parks, and the creation of new green space, has provided millions of urban dwellers with a much-needed oasis and restored hope to communities for a better future.
One such project is the Azhar Park in Cairo. Located in the heart of Egypt’s capital, the open urban space has become a popular destination for both locals and tourists. Landscaping features include walkways, fountains, lawns, and gardens overlooking a lake in the traditional chahar bagh style. The park features over 300 different plant species — many native to Egypt — grown in a special nursery, and an orchard provides shade from the sun.
The Azhar Park project and its positive impact on the natural and built environment in Cairo is the focus of a new film entitled Close to Home: Al-Khimyah.
Written and directed by Prince Aly Muhammad, the film shines a spotlight on the 30-hectare Al-Azhar Park — converted from a mound of rubble — and the stories of local residents of the adjacent Darb al-Ahmar neighbourhood. Since opening in 2005 after 20 years of careful excavation and design, Al-Azhar Park has provided much-needed leisure and recreational space to the inhabitants of the city, and is today often referred to as “Cairo’s green lung.”
The film is an account of a city whose foundations were laid over a thousand years ago, which has seen a 500-year-old rubbish dump rebuilt into a lush green oasis, and a poor inner-city district transformed into a thriving community.
Pandemic’s Cleaner Air Could Reshape What We Know About the Atmosphere
Coronavirus shutdowns have cut pollution, and that’s opened the door to a “giant, global environmental experiment” with potentially far-reaching consequences.
WASHINGTON — In the crystalline air of the pandemic economy, climate change researchers have been flying a small plane over Route I-95, from Boston to Washington, measuring carbon dioxide levels. Scientists have mounted air quality monitors on Salt Lake City’s light rail system to create intersection-by-intersection atmospheric profiles.
And government scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have started a Covid air quality study to gather and analyze samples of an atmosphere in which industrial soot, tailpipe emissions and greenhouse gases have plummeted to levels not seen in decades.
The data, from Manhattan to Milan to Mumbai, will inform scientists’ understanding of atmospheric chemistry, air pollution and public health for decades to come, while giving policymakers information to fine-tune air quality and climate change laws and regulations in hopes of maintaining at least some of the gains seen in the global shutdown as cars return to the roads and factories reopen.
Already, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, has assigned his top environment official to use the pollution data gathered by a University of Maryland scientist in flights over Baltimore to push new policies through the state legislature this fall, expanding telework and promoting electric vehicles.
What do Covid-19, Ebola, Lyme and AIDS have in common? They jumped to humans from animals after we started destroying habitats and ruining ecosystems.
Zoonotic pathogens do not typically seek us out nor do they stumble onto us by pure coincidence. When diseases move from animals to humans, and vice versa, it is usually because we have reconfigured our shared ecosystems in ways that make the transition much more likely. Deforestation, mining, intensive agriculture and urban sprawl destroy natural habitats, forcing wild creatures to venture into human communities. Excessive hunting, trade and consumption of wildlife significantly increase the probability of cross-species infection. Modern transportation can disperse dangerous microbes across the world in a matter of hours. “Human-caused ecological pressures and disruptions are bringing animal pathogens ever more into contact with human populations,” David Quammen wrote in his 2012 book “Spillover,” “while human technology and behavior are spreading those pathogens ever more widely and quickly.”
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