Over the past few years, evidence has been mounting that synthetic textiles such as polyester and acrylic, which make up much of our clothing, are a major source of pollution in the world’s oceans. That’s because washing those clothes causes tiny plastic fibers to shed and travel through wastewater treatment plants into public waterways. These microfibers are sometimes inadvertently gobbled up by aquatic organisms, including the fish that end up on our plate.
The apparel industry is largely responsible for stopping microfiber pollution, yet it has been slow to respond, according to a report released Tuesday by Mermaids, a three-year, €1.2m project by a consortium of European textile experts and researchers. The report recommended changes in manufacturing synthetic textiles, including using coatings designed to reduce fiber loss.
Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, an Amsterdam-based nonprofit and Mermaids’ public outreach partner, urges the apparel makers and sellers to apply the report’s recommendations.
Everyone working to address climate change, from activists to scientists, knows that success depends in large part on their ability to convert climate change skeptics (or even straight-up deniers) into proponents for action. Most of us have someone in our lives—a family member, co-worker, or friend—whose views on climate change conflict with the latest science, and you’ve likely had some exasperating, polarizing, unconstructive conversations with them.
Philip Kitcher, an MIT professor of philosophy, and Evelyn Fox Keller, an MIT professor emerita of history and philosophy of science, have co-written a book that imagines six of those very conversations. The Seasons Alter: How to Save the Planet in Six Acts (W.W. Norton; $25) reads like six screenplays set in different locations and with two different people in each act. The dialogue—well, it probably won’t pass your sniff test. The authors describe the conversations in the book as “constructive, careful, and amicable,” but they mostly sound stiff.
Even if they don’t ring true to life, many of the book’s exchanges contain useful clues on how to unpack specific issues and work around conversational impasses. Here, culled from The Seasons Alter and other experts, are four guiding principles that could fix the way we talk about climate change.
The world recycles just 14% of the plastic packaging it uses. Even worse: 8m tons of plastic, much of it packaging, ends up in the oceans each year, where sea life and birds die from eating it or getting entangled in it. Some of the plastics will also bind with industrial chemicals that have polluted oceans for decades, raising concerns that toxins can make their way into our food chain.
Recycling the remaining 86% of used plastics could create $80bn-$120bn in revenues, says a recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. But those revenues will never be fully achieved without designing new ways to breakdown and reuse 30% (by weight) of the plastic packaging that isn’t recycled because the material is contaminated or too small for easy collection, has very low economic value or contains multiple materials that cannot be easily separated. Think of candy wrappers, take-out containers, single-serving coffee capsules and foil-lined boxes for soup and soymilk.
Large companies have developed plant-based alternatives to conventional, petroleum-based plastic so that they can break down without contaminating the soil and water. The market opportunity has attracted small, young companies that focus on developing recycling technology to tackle that troublesome 30% of plastic packaging that is headed to landfills at best, and, at worst, to our rivers, lakes and oceans.
For the past three years, Alexander Nolte and Oliver Spies, surfing buddies and co-owners of Langbrett, a German retailer with four stores that sells surf gear and outdoor apparel, have been haunted by news reports connecting many of the products they sell to an emerging but serious environmental threat: microfiber pollution. Synthetic textiles, such as fleece jackets, send tiny plastic fibers into wastewater after washing. These bits eventually make their way into rivers, lakes and our oceans, where they pose health threats to plants and animals. The two men knew they had to act.
“We said, ‘either we have to stop selling fleece [apparel] or we have to think of a solution’,” explains Nolte. “So we went out to our beer garden and said ‘what can we do?’”
The beer-filled brainstorming session eventually led to Guppy Friend, a mesh laundry bag, that goes into the washing machine. The bag captures shedding fibers as clothes are tossed and spun, preventing the fibers from escaping. It’s roomy enough for a couple of fleece jackets or other apparel made of synthetic fabric. In two weeks, Langbrett, in partnership with outdoor clothing company Patagonia, will start shipping the Guppy Friend to the backers of their Kickstarter campaign. Patagonia will then begin selling the bag to customers.
The Guppy Friend is the first device designed and marketed specifically to prevent microfiber pollution. Microfibers are tiny, so they can easily move through sewage treatment plants. Natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, biodegrade over time. But synthetic fibers are problematic because they do not biodegrade, and tend to bind with molecules of harmful chemical pollutants found in wastewater, such as pesticides or flame retardants. Plus, fibers from apparel are often coated with chemicals to achieve performance attributes such as water resistance. Studies have shown health problems among plankton and other small organisms that eat microfibers, which then make their way up the food chain. Researchers have found high numbers of fibers inside fish and shellfish sold at markets.
Utah, a state rich in epic landscapes and national parks, is becoming ground zero for a fight between the $646bn outdoor industry and state lawmakers over public land management.
At a trade show for outdoor clothing and gear makers in Salt Lake City this week, two prominent figures from the industry called on their peers to move the semi-annual event out of the state unless Utah leaders stop supporting efforts by Republicans in Congress to transfer or sell federal land to states. Utah governor Gary Herbert was also called out for challenging a federal law that allowed President Obama to create the new, 1.4m-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah last month.
“Utah’s political leadership has unleashed an all-out assault against Utah’s protected public lands and Utah’s newest monument,” wrote Peter Metcalf, a long time Utah resident who founded climbing and ski gear maker Black Diamond, in an opinion piece published in the Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday to coincide with the start of the trade show. He noted that the trade show brings more than $40m to the city in direct spending each year, while the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) estimates the figure can reach $80m annually.
The next day, Yvon Chouinard, founder of clothier Patagonia, said in an open letter to Herbert that…
Partnering with local agencies, The Trust for Public Land devised a plan that would return the land to the Kashia while allowing for an addition to the California Coast Trail.
Land+People (The Trust for Public Land’s magazine: Go to Page 30)
“Close your eyes,” instructs Reno Franklin. Chairman of the Kashia band of Pomo Indians, Franklin wears a long black Mohawk pulled into a loose ponytail to reveal a closely shaven skull. He’s addressing a crowd gathered to celebrate the creation of the new Kashia Coastal Reserve.
“Close your eyes,” he repeats. “Close your eyes…” As the audience complies, a smile plays across his face.
“Think back 200 years, when thousands—not hundreds, but thousands—of Kashia people walked on this land. Literally right where you’re standing. That is where we are.
Two hundred years ago, the Russians came. The ‘Undersea People.’ Why did we call them that? Look.” He gestures to the sweeping Pacific, stretching to the horizon behind him. “That view had stayed the same for thousands of years. Until a mast appeared, and then a boat. The Undersea People. From that day forward, everything changed for us.”
Growing up in Oakland, California, Rue Mapp learned to love the outdoors. She was an avid Girl Scout, and she spent her summers roaming the family ranch in nearby Lake County. As an adult, Mapp enthusiastically went on camping, hiking, and backpacking trips, but lamented that she was invariably the sole African American in the group. So in 2009 she founded Outdoor Afro, an organization dedicated to connecting African Americans to nature.
Today, Outdoor Afro has 18,000 members in 28 states and more than 60 leaders who organize trips ranging from group bike rides to multiday treks. Last October, six members “blackpacked” the 40-mile Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail in a tribute to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.
Mapp, 45, has met heads of state and traveled the world spreading her message: It’s time to bust the myth that black people don’t like to camp or rough it in the wilderness.
In her own quest to unpack this myth, she has had to confront some ugly truths.
“When I was young, I asked my dad—who grew up in East Texas—if he had ever known someone who had been lynched, and he said, ‘Yes, lots of people.’ So we’ve had generations of terror in the woods in our collective imagination. Until I asked my dad that question, I didn’t realize the discomfort that the outdoors can have for us.”
Facial recognition software is most commonly known as a tool to help police identify a suspected criminal by using machine learning algorithms to analyze his or her face against a database of thousands or millions of other faces. The larger the database, with a greater variety of facial features, the smarter and more successful the software becomes – effectively learning from its mistakes to improve its accuracy.
Now, this type of artificial intelligence is starting to be used in fighting a specific but pervasive type of crime – illegal fishing. Rather than picking out faces, the software tracks the movement of fishing boats to root out illegal behavior. And soon, using a twist on facial recognition, it may be able to recognize when a boat’s haul includes endangered and protected fish.
It seemed inevitable that the deadly 2010 explosion of the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform, which caused millions of gallons of oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, would eventually get the Hollywood treatment. It’s also unsurprising that a former Department of Justice lawyer would pen an account of the spill that is cast in nearly as dramatic fashion—“the story that neither BP nor the federal government wants heard,” according to its publisher, the Brookings Institute Press. Both were released this fall, within weeks of each other.
Unfortunately, neither the movie, Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon, nor the book, Daniel Jacobs’ BP Blowout: Inside the Gulf Oil Disaster, do justice to one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Where a dramatized account could at least convey the human side of the disaster to a wider audience, Deepwater Horizon feels more like an action movie with a side helping of workplace and familial drama. And where a nonfiction account could bring fresh facts and clarity, BP Blowout fails to deliver many new insights. That well from hell, as those who labored on the rig called it, still elicits more questions than answers.
I hold the burger with both hands and bring it, somewhat trepidatiously, to my mouth. I commit myself to at least one bite. As I close my eyes and chew, some long dormant receptor in my mind comes alive and for a split second it’s 1986 again and I am eating a hamburger at a family cookout in Chicago.
This is the first time I’ve eaten meat in 30 years – except, this is not meat.
I open my eyes and remember that I am standing in a wine bar in San Francisco’s Soma neighborhood, surrounded by other reporters, all of us sampling our first Impossible Foods plant-based burger, which is making its West Coast debut. I’m far from the only person convinced that this mixture of potato and wheat, coconut fat, Japanese yam, vegetable broth, xanthan gum, sugars and amino acids and a key protein called leghemoglobin is a dead ringer for the dead animal version of a hamburger. Three renowned chefs – Chris Cosentino, Traci Des Jardins and Tal Ronnen – are also convinced, and are here to announce that they are bringing the Impossible Burger to some of their respective eateries in California. (Chef David Chang became the first in the country to serve it this summer at New York City’s Momofuku Nishi.)