Sustainability Summarised - June edition


The summer solstice is observed annually on the longest day of the year, which fell on Tuesday 21 June this year. A cause for fascination and celebration across cultures, the solstice also brings gatherings to Stonehenge to watch the sunrise every year.

This month’s selection of environmental stories feature climate change stories from habitats across the globe…

Space Bubbles could counter the effects of climate change

Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Space Bubbles is a variation on the common geoengineering idea of a solar shield, which would work by blocking out some of the incoming solar radiation to theoretically reduce the effects of global warming.

However, with a space-based sun shield, there should be no risk of interference with the Earth's biosphere. The spheres would be made from a material such as silicon, transported to space in molten form, or graphene-reinforced ionic liquids.

"Geoengineering might be our final and only option," said Ratti, who is the head of MIT's Senseable City Lab. "Yet, most geoengineering proposals are earth-bound, which poses tremendous risks to our living ecosystem. Space-based solutions would be safer – for instance, if we deflect 1.8 percent of incident solar radiation before it hits our planet, we could fully reverse today's global warming."

milky way in space

Greater one-horned rhino population booms after pandemic

Officials for the Indian state of Assam, which is home to 70 percent of the world's greater one-horned rhino population, recorded an increase of 274 rhinos in its biannual rhino census, which was delayed because of the pandemic. The significant growth is attributed to a "baby boom", caused by the lack of visitors amid the pandemic as most protected areas were closed to the public.

"For a species that was once perilously close to extinction, numbering fewer than 100 individuals, this recovery is truly remarkable," said Nina Fascione, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF).

rhino mother and baby

Australian beaches see plastic pollution fall by 30% in 6 years

Scientists have found that efforts by local governments to cut waste and raise public awareness have contributed to major reduction in plastic pollution in Australia. Researchers at CSIRO, Australia’s national science research body, conducted extensive surveys of coastal litter in 2013, and the findings were compared with 563 new surveys in 2018-2019 across 183 sites in six Australian states.

The study, which is published in the journal One Earth, showed that there was an average decrease of 29% in pollution across the sites. In some places, plastic pollution had cut down by up to 73%. The main driver behind the marked difference was active initiatives by local authorities to reduce litter. This meant installing more bins, anti-littering signs, more recycling guides, setting up hotlines to allow illegal dumping surveillance, hard waste collections, shopping bag bans, adopting a Deposit Refund Scheme that pays consumers back for recycling, as well as community beach clean-ups.

australian beach

UK heatwaves will become more deadly, warn experts

The warm and sunny summer weather has arrived in the UK. But the Met Office has issued heat alerts, with the soaring temperatures leaving the country on the cusp of a dangerous heatwave. Dr. Vikki Thompson, climate scientist at the University of Bristol Cabot Institute for the Environment, said: “Heatwaves are one of the most deadly natural hazards; in the UK 3,000 deaths were linked to heatwaves in 2021.”

“The health issues related to heat include direct effects, such as heat stroke and cardiovascular failure, and indirect effects including poorer mental health and an increase in accidents such as car crashes and drownings.”

Heatwaves can also trigger other hazards such as flash floods due to accelerated glacial melt, as seen in Pakistan during the widespread and persistent heatwave in South Asia earlier this year. In the UK, the average duration of warm spells has more than doubled in the last two decades. 


The village that stood up to big oil - and won

In October 2004, a disaster caused by an old, abandoned pipeline, which was built by Royal Dutch Shell in the 1960s, allowed more than 23,000 litres of oil to leak into a local village and nearly 40 acres of mangrove forest to burn, poisoning the land and fishponds that were once the lifeblood of the local village.

Days later, a team of investigators located the source of the leak: an 18-inch hole in an exposed portion of the pipeline. They temporarily plugged the split pipeline with wood chips and later sealed it with a clamp, but over the course of the three-day leak, it was found that the operators never shut off the flow of oil at its source. 

Two years dragged by before government agencies began clean-up efforts around Goi. “We were eating, drinking, breathing the oil,” local residents said. By 2010, six years after the initial leak, the area was still too polluted to sustain its residents and the Nigerian government ordered them to abandon their homes and permanently evacuate Goi.

Shell would later argue in court that locals brought the disaster upon themselves; the leak was the work of saboteurs, they claimed. Several lawsuits are ongoing while others have culminated in courts ordering Shell to pay plaintiffs billions of dollars in damages. In August 2021, Shell announced it would sell off all remaining onshore oil fields in Nigeria, but locals and lawyers see the move as an attempt to avoid its responsibility to clean up after itself.

“It is incomprehensible to imagine that if these spills and this level of pollution occurred in North America or Europe that it would be allowed to happen,” said Mark Dummett, the director of Amnesty International’s global issues programme.

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