<![CDATA[The Earth & I]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/libraryRSS for NodeSat, 01 Apr 2023 03:44:42 GMT<![CDATA[Blue Noise: Disquieting News from Our Cacophonous Seas]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/blue-noise-disquieting-news-from-our-cacophonous-seas63f2c04ca3acec6ee4da7080Wed, 22 Feb 2023 05:47:50 GMTJulie PetersonResearch Findings on Marine Noise Made Headlines in 2022


Noise can disturb the feeding patterns of whales.  ©Steve Snodgrass/Flickr/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0) 

Human activity in global marine habitats—from fishing to transport to mining—is under increased scrutiny as scientists work to understand how noise impacts all marine animals, from invertebrates to great whales.

Recent studies are showing that man-made, or anthropogenic, noise travels farther through ocean water and has wider impacts than previously thought. From deep sea floors to coastal harbors, a cacophony of unnatural sounds are disrupting marine feeding patterns and causing general stress to animals.

In 2015, the International Quiet Ocean Experiment Science Plan was launched, with the goal of obtaining a series of sound measurements over defined time intervals at a variety of ocean locations. The research aims to learn how human activities affect the global ocean soundscape, how sound levels are trending, and what the current and future effects on marine animal populations might be. The plan included designating 2022 “the Year of the Quiet Ocean.”

Interestingly, due to COVID-19, the oceans were quieter in April 2020 than they had been—or likely will be—for decades. This circumstance allowed an additional new focus for study: a comparison of observations prior to 2020 with observations made after 2020.

Drowning in Noise Pollution

Hydroacoustic tow fin used to conduct acoustic surveys. ©NOAA/ Public Domain

For decades, studies have been conducted on the anthropogenic impacts on the oceans' soundscapes. Typically, these studies focus on one part of an ocean and one or a few species of marine mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates, or fishes. However, when looked at as a whole, the available data contains overwhelming evidence that anthropogenic noise negatively affects a wide swath of marine animal life.

Dangers of underwater anthropogenic noise pollution may derive from seafaring vessels, seismic surveys, sonar, shoreline construction, military activity, deep-sea mining, extraction of oil or gas, or recreation.

This noise pollution, sometimes described as “sensory smog,” affects marine species because hearing is the primary sense they use to communicate, interact, breed, navigate, detect predators, and find food. Given that sound waves can travel quickly and for thousands of miles through the ocean, this “smog” drowns out the natural soundscape that sea creatures need to hear in order to survive.

  Sonar may disturb marine mammals.   ©NOAA’s NOS/Flickr 

In a study from the Sea Mammals, Sonar and Safety team in Europe, researchers found that if a whale or dolphin is feeding and hears a man-made sound that it interprets as a natural predator, the animal may flee in fear instead of foraging. Looking at beaked northern bottlenose whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, and long-finned pilot whales off the Arctic waters surrounding Norway, all were found to stop foraging when they heard navy sonar. Dr. Saana Isojunno, of the University of St. Andrews’ Sea Mammal Research Unit, said that this is causing these animals to choose “life over dinner.” [Listen to the sonar signature of a whale.]

Beaked northern bottlenose, humpback whales, sperm whales, and long-finned pilot whales were found to stop foraging when they heard navy sonar.

Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution conducted the first study to show that aquatic turtles are vulnerable to hearing loss after exposure to loud noise. Hearing loss after noise exposure has been observed in a range of other marine life, such as squids, fishes, and whales, but now it is known that turtles can also temporarily be incapacitated by noise pollution. This is particularly significant because, according to Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire in the Caribbean Netherlands, six out of the seven species of sea turtles are already classified as threatened or endangered.

Turtles can be temporarily incapacitated by noise. ©Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia (CC BY SA 3.0) 

Familiarity with the efforts to save the whales or protect the sea turtles is common, yet the sea floor remains mysterious. An environmentally healthy sea floor has crustaceans, worms, mussels, and other animals burrowing, feeding, aerating, and fertilizing the sediment. Their life actions are essential to nutrient cycling in the ocean. Without them, fishes would suffer, and the food web could be disrupted.

A research team from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany has shown in a study published in the journal Environmental Pollution that the rise in anthropogenic noise pollution stresses invertebrates. Even though these bottom dwellers do not have ears for hearing, they are sensitive to vibrations created by blasting and resource extraction on the ocean floor, along with sounds from cargo ships and recreational boats at the surface.

Year of the Quiet Ocean

Invertebrates on the ocean floor may be affected by noise pollution.  ©NOAA/Wikimedia/Public Domain

During 2020, much of the world was on lockdown. The reduced traffic on land, air, and sea allowed people to see wildlife respond to less noise and intrusion by machines. Birds and other wildlife were seen and heard more often as they ventured closer to areas that had suddenly become much quieter. Many ocean animals came closer to shore.

As the number of shipping vessels on the ocean dropped significantly, scientists used the opportune quiet to study the soundscape using 200 underwater microphones. Professor Jennifer Miksis-Olds, an ocean acoustics expert from the University of New Hampshire in the US, pointed out that listening to this quieter ocean allowed scientists to gain insight on the proper balance between human activity and the ocean’s natural processes. Prof. Miksis-Olds has a goal to map the global ocean soundscape so that the patterns of sounds, whether of migrating whales or shipping routes, can be seen.

Scientists relay whale locations to ships, asking them to slow and avoid the whales.

Mapping the sounds of the ocean could potentially protect ocean life from excessive noise. It’s already being used off the West Coast of the US to reduce whale deaths due to ship collisions. Whale Safe is a tool that displays both visual and acoustic whale detections using AI software on buoys to monitor whale sounds. Scientists relay whale locations to ships, asking them to slow and avoid the whales. Cooperation is voluntary, but Whale Safe tracks compliance and grades each company.

©Chelsea Bradley 

Turning Down the Volume

In 2021, the World Register of Marine Species released a census stating that the total number of known marine species is about 240,000.

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate that 91% of ocean species have not yet been classified, which could be due to the fact that more than 80% of the oceans are unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored. Even so, human noise pollution is reaching into these vast regions of the largest habitat on Earth and doing undetermined harm.

There is a great deal of work to be done to ensure that the environmental impacts of anthropogenic noise are mitigated before they do irreparable harm to life, known and unknown.

Some solutions have been identified and are beginning to be tested and put forth as suggested guidelines, rules, or laws. The International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency headquartered in London, is developing guidelines to reduce underwater noise from shipping with expected thresholds to be established soon. How these thresholds will be met is unknown, but there are possibilities in the works.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada, are striving to engineer quieter ship propellers. Changes in propeller rotation could also have the added benefit of more efficient propulsion, thereby reducing carbon emissions.

A 10% reduction in speed across the global fleet of shipping vessels would reduce noise emissions by 40%.

The faster and larger ships are, the more noise they make. Simply reducing vessel speed is a no-technology-needed solution to reduce underwater noise. Whale researcher Russell Leaper noted in his 2019 study, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, that a 10% reduction in speed across the global fleet of shipping vessels would reduce noise emissions by 40%.

Reducing vessel speed is a low-cost solution to noise pollution. © Image courtesy of Robert So

OceanCare is an international marine conservation organization based in Switzerland that holds Special Consultative Status on marine issues with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Part of the organization’s mission is to protect marine life by reducing ocean pollution, including noise pollution. The group says, for instance, that the loud blasts produced by airguns used to prospect for oil and gas are a significant threat to marine life.

OceanCare has key demands to prohibit new fossil fuel exploration in the ocean along with reducing shipping speeds by 75% in order to dramatically reduce noise pollution. In addition, the group is calling for the creation of quiet zones. Addressing and adhering to these demands, OceanCare asserts, would not only quiet the seas but contribute to climate protection.

Even with new technologies and awareness of undersea noise pollution, it is complicated to enlist action from every country and company that has a part in creating the clatter. Advocates call for people everywhere to become more aware of the issues and work to implement and support international policies that will diminish marine noise. Human stewardship of ocean soundscapes is integral to ensuring a healthy ocean for future generations.

*Julie Peterson is a freelance journalist based in the Midwest region of the US who has written hundreds of articles on natural approaches to health, environmental issues, and sustainable living.

<![CDATA[The Remarkable Properties of Kiln-Fired Bamboo Salt]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/the-remarkable-properties-of-kiln-fired-bamboo-salt63f2c3cf16f331e18ebcf327Wed, 22 Feb 2023 05:47:32 GMTYuka Sakai and Sang Hyun LeeThe Popular Korean Condiment, Jugyeom, Has Been Shown to Thwart Cancer in Mice


Jugyeom is produced from hand-harvested sea salt from Korea Bay salt ponds.  ©istock

An ancient Korean condiment known as jugyeom may be the world’s most expensive salt. In its most potent and expensive form, jugyeom has a distinct purple color and comes with a price tag of $100 per 8.5 oz.

Recent research suggests that the price might be worth it. While already attracting global attention for its distinct manufacturing process and health claims, jugyeom has now shown efficacy against cancer in mice.

Jugyeom and the Five Elements

The process for creating jugyeom, also known as bamboo salt, is ancient. But it gained a wider audience in 1980 when Il-hoon Kim, a doctor of Traditional Korean Medicine (TKM), published his book "The Universe and the Divine's Medicine."

Interactions of the 5 elements.  ©public domain

TKM recognizes the importance of the five elements—fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. The production process of jugyeom involves high-quality ingredients, including handcrafted sea salt from Korea Bay (water), bamboo stalks and Korean pinewood (wood), and clay from the Korean mountains (earth), all of which are roasted (fire) in a metal tray and kiln (metal).

Korean pine.  ©yeowatzup/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Originally, bamboo salt was roasted two to three times, but the number of roasting times rose to nine, as this number holds great significance in TKM for enhancing health and wellness. This “nine-times roasted” (9X) innovation was brought to life by the visionary Dr. Kim, who dedicated himself to refining and perfecting the process. 

The manufacturing process is a meticulous, multi-step procedure that spans several weeks and requires the utmost care and attention to detail at every stage.

The use of sun-dried sea salt sourced from Korea Bay, carefully packed into hand-selected three-year-old bamboo stalks, is just the beginning. These stalks are then sealed with mountain clay, creating a protective layer that preserves the integrity of the salt. The final step is high-temperature roasting of the salt in a metal kiln, which takes twelve to fourteen hours using the finest Korean pinewood as fuel, bringing out the full potential of the salt.

Bamboo stalks.  ©Pixabay

With each roasting, the bamboo stalks undergo a transformation, infusing the salt with minerals and oils from the clay and bamboo, creating an ever-more-potent product. The salt columns that remain after each roast are ground down and repacked into new bamboo stalks, beginning the cycle anew. This process is repeated eight more times, leading to the last stage, which involves the use of a special kiln and temperatures that reach above 1,000℃ (1,832℉).

This ninth roasting melts the bamboo and salt into a single entity, which is then molded into a black, rock-like structure after a period of cooling.

The final step is the breaking apart of the structure by hand, resulting in the distinctive and highly prized 9X baked purple jugyeom.

Scientific Studies Show Efficacy

Bamboo salt is gaining attention from scientists and enjoying global popularity in the growing health and wellness sector.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Kun-Young Park explored the anti-tumor properties of bamboo salt by testing its effects on highly malignant sarcoma cells in lab mice.

The mice were given a diet that contained 4.7% of various salts, including 1X, 3X, and 9X baked bamboo salt, solar salt (evaporated from sea water), and purified salt. After seven to ten days, the results revealed that bamboo salt had an anti-cancer effect, with the 9X baked bamboo salt being the most effective in inducing apoptosis (cell death) and reducing inflammation. Moreover, the 9X bamboo salt showed the highest increase in immunity or lymphocyte proliferation.

Jugyeom has also been explored as a potential treatment for H. pylori-related gastritis. H. pylori is a bacterium that has been linked to several gastrointestinal issues. The current H. pylori triple therapy treatment regimen of antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor has been declining in effectiveness. A study involving H. pylori-infected mice found that bamboo salt had anti-inflammatory effects and exhibited antibacterial activity against H. pylori. It was also shown to inhibit gastric damage caused by aspirin and ethanol. With a higher alkalinity and mineral content than regular salt, bamboo salt has the potential to be a more effective treatment option for H. pylori-associated gastritis.

Bamboo salt’s higher alkalinity and mineral content gives it higher antioxidant activity.

Bamboo salt’s higher alkalinity and mineral content also gives it higher antioxidant activity. The results suggest that jugyeom has potential as a treatment for H. pylori-related gastritis when used in combination with additional therapy.

A clinical trial compared the effectiveness of bamboo salt herbal toothpaste to conventional non-herbal toothpaste.

The double-blinded, parallel, randomized controlled trial involved sixty dental students, aged eighteen to thirty, who were free of systemic diseases, allergies, smoking, orthodontic appliances, and untreated dental caries (demineralization and remineralization of hard dental tissues). The participants brushed their teeth twice a day for two minutes using the Bass technique and refrained from using fluoride-containing products or mouthwash.

The results showed that bamboo salt herbal toothpaste had a positive impact on oral health, reducing the count of Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacillus and showing potential benefits such as reducing plaque and gum irritations, whitening teeth, decreasing demineralization, decreasing tooth hypersensitivity, and strengthening tooth enamel.

Easy to Buy and Use

For those who appreciate bamboo salt’s premium ingredients, it is becoming increasingly popular not just in Asia, but in the Western world as well. And it is easy to find from top Korean brands at Walmart or Amazon.

Korean bamboo salt for sale in Germany.  ©http://www.niederfinower-senf.de/

It is important to note that jugyeom costs more than regular table salt, but, if one is willing to invest in high-quality ingredients and in health and wellness, switching out regular salt for jugyeom is a delicious way to incorporate this unique ingredient into anyone’s diet.

The purest form, 9X baked bamboo salt, can be enjoyed by letting one to four grams melt gently on the tongue, while five to seven grams of 1X or 2X jugyeom can be added to any recipe for extra flavor. For those who love Korean cuisine, a kimchi jjigae (stew) recipe by Woodland Foods is a great place to start incorporating jugyeom into one’s cooking.

Kimchi jigae.  ©Alan Chan/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

*Yuka Sakai is a fourth-year student at Wongu University of Oriental Medicine in Nevada, where she is studying to become a licensed Oriental Medicine Doctor in Nevada.

Sang Hyun Lee is the President of Wongu University of Oriental Medicine in Nevada and a licensed Oriental Medicine Doctor in Nevada.

<![CDATA[The Tragic—and Persistent—Problem of Illegal Wildlife Trade]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/problem-of-illegal-wildlife-trade63f2bd9a6651337f327bbab3Wed, 22 Feb 2023 05:40:14 GMTGordon CairnsResearcher Urges Public to ‘Cut the Demand’


“Lady Baltimore,” poaching survivor, recovers in an Alaskan raptor center. ©Michaelh2001/Wikimedia/CA-By-SA-3.0

In the popular imagination, poachers and smugglers of rare insects, animals, and flora are characterized as opportunistic and heartless individuals, mindlessly looting humanity’s shared natural heritage for their own lucrative gain.

But a new and nefarious breed of adversary has appeared: This one carefully reads scientific papers to locate newly discovered species in the wild, and takes steps to reduce their numbers so they can be more valuable on the market.

Combatting these sophisticated criminals will require changes in literature and law enforcement, says Prof. Pedro Cardoso, an expert on illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade (IUWT). For instance, he says, “it has reached the point where many researchers have given up describing the precise location of the [rare] species and instead will just give a general location—in the range of 100 kilometers from a city, for instance.”

Law enforcement, which is already working to curb the lucrative market for illegal wildlife trade, will have to step up their efforts, too.

The public also has a role to play. Professor Cardoso and team, in reviewing best practices for mitigating IUWT, concluded that there’s not enough international willpower to end the practice.

One solution is to educate all sectors of the public about this tragic problem. “It is necessary to measure the scope, scale and impact of IUWT for all the branches of the tree of life,” the researchers say.

Journal Articles Unwittingly ‘Advertise’ Poachers’ Prey

Prof. Cardoso—an expert in the conservation of scorpions, insects, and tarantulas and other spiders—explains how journals aimed at fellow scientists can become unwitting advertising brochures for unscrupulous poachers.

Poachers are typically part of organized international crime gangs that serve clients who crave novelty.

“The poachers and traffickers are aware of everything researchers are doing,” says Prof. Cardoso.

“The poachers and traffickers are aware of everything researchers are doing,” says Prof. Cardoso, a researcher and curator at the Finnish Museum of Natural History in the University of Helsinki.

As soon as a species is described in a journal article as obviously rare, the poachers realize that bringing it to the market will make it valuable, as no one will have it yet, he says.

Dr Pedro Cardoso. ©Dr. Pedro Cardoso

The poachers find a way to locate the target species population and then exterminate a large part of the population, the professor says.

Weeks later, remaining specimens can be seen on the market. Valuable ones can go for $300-$500 per specimen, he adds.

For example, the poachers may harvest many hundreds of insects, but decimate the local pollution, making recovery of the targeted species almost impossible. Their yield is put into small plastic bags and either mailed or carried in a suitcase to their destination. Some 80% to 90% of the insects are likely to die in transit, Prof. Cardoso says. “It is quite appalling these things are happening.”

Illegal Wildlife Market is Massive

Prof. Cardoso has co-authored an influential paper on the challenges and perspectives of tackling illegal or unsustainable wildlife trade.

Dr. Cardoso and research team in Ghana in 2022. ©Dr. Pedro Cardoso

Wildlife scholars and ecologists already know that the illicit market is massive. In 2020, estimates of its value ranged from $7 billion to $18 billion.

Since COVID-19 restrictions ended on international travel, the trafficking problem is believed to have expanded. Moreover, the internet has revealed ways for the trade to grow that were unimaginable a couple of decades ago.

Prof. Cardoso explains at least one approach that can take the sting out of smuggling—“flood the market” with sustainably bred, legal animals and plants.

This tactic reduces the profit margin for traders, as the “rare” creatures and goods become commonplace and cheap.

An example of this approach is seen in Mexico.

There used to be a large illegal tarantula trade across Mexico. Now, many families—including ex-poachers—have become “tarantula farmers” and breed the spider as a main source of legal income.

The success of this approach is difficult to predict, however. The illegal spider trafficking has persisted because some clients want a fully developed spider from the wild rather than one that is legally farmed but smaller.

Also, what works in limiting the illegal tarantula trade won’t necessarily work for other species.

“It is really taxon [species, family, class, etc.] and context-dependent because what works for spiders doesn’t work for rhinos or orchids or corals,” says Prof. Cardoso. Moreover, he adds, “what works in Europe, which is generally a receiver of illegally traded species, doesn’t work in different markets, such as South America or Asia, which are generally donors of the species.”

Prof. Cardoso explains that he and his colleagues are discovering new species of spider not in their natural habitat but in the illegal European and North American pet markets.

Ironically, sometimes the traffickers end up helping the scientists.

Prof. Cardoso explains that he and his colleagues are discovering new species of spider not in their natural habitat but in the illegal European and North American pet markets.

These spiders are so rare they don’t even have a scientific name, he says. Again, lack of knowledge works both ways: The smugglers don’t know what they are smuggling, while law enforcement lacks full knowledge about the market for illegally traded species.

The Challenges of Enforcement

At the opposite end of the weight scale from tarantulas is the African elephant, whose population has fallen by almost a third since 2006, mainly due to high rates of illegal killing.

In a recent study, Timothy Kuiper from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, found that increases in the price of ivory is driving the illegal wildlife trade of elephants. Sadly, even enhanced law enforcement has had limited impact on these abhorrent crimes, as criminal syndicates switch to areas where apprehension is less likely.

An African elephant family. ©Ikiwaner/GNU Free Documentation License

In October 2022, Interpol, in cooperation with the World Customs Organization, seized tens of thousands of pieces of illegally sourced wildlife and timber through a mixture of routine inspections and targeted controls. They examined countless parcels, suitcases, vehicles, boats, and cargo transporters, often using sniffer dogs and X-ray scanners.

The shameful list of seizures included 119 big cats and other felines, thirty-four primates, and almost 780 kilograms (1,719 pounds) of elephant ivory.

The shameful list of seizures included 119 big cats and other felines, thirty-four primates, and almost 780 kilograms (1,719 pounds) of elephant ivory.

In India, 1,200 trafficked reptiles were discovered in transit, in cardboard boxes marked as ornamental fish, while in Namibia, authorities intercepted large amounts of timber being smuggled out of the region.

The smuggled creatures and goods are destined for a wide variety of purposes, from becoming “pet” tarantulas to use in folk medicine. Stolen timber turns into furniture and tiger skin into amulets. Every part of a bald eagle is federally protected, as its feathers are valued at hundreds of dollars; there is a $100,000 penalty and jail time for killing an eagle. Interpol has seized clothes made from reptile skins.

Technology employed at border controls can identify species being traded transnationally on a day-to-day basis. Border police can use standard DNA testing kits to identify whether the animal or goods being transported is legal.

This technology is invaluable: “It is not easy to identify from thousands of species of plants or animals which are being traded; after all, they are policemen, not botanists,” says Prof. Cardoso.

Illegal Wildlife Trade Affects Everyone

Some people might question why international agencies and governments are investing so heavily into curbing this illegal and unsustainable trade. But the answer is tied to the diversity of the world’s fauna and flora.

“Many species will be driven to extinction [by illegal poaching], and we might miss the medical importance of a species if we let this happen,” says Prof. Cardoso. “Preserving the species keeps our options open as any extinct species could be critical for our welfare.”

Golden toad. Last recorded in 1989. ©Charles H. Smith

He adds that biodiversity loss and extinction of species can reduce the ecosystems services they provide, such as pollination, control of pests, and formation of soils.

“If we don’t have all the species, this will decrease our quality of life.”

Ultimately, he adds, whether the victims are large or small, animal or botanical, the solution to illegal wildlife trade lies with the consumer:

“This is a demand-and-supply dynamic, and the thing is to cut the demand,” says Prof. Cardoso. “If we make people realize if they buy a tarantula, if they buy an orchid, if they buy ivory or a snail, they are causing harm to the environment and are feeding traffickers, feeding poachers and entire illegal systems which have major repercussions.”

“The easiest solution is to … let people know if what they are buying was legally and sustainably obtained before they purchase.”

Make sure it’s legal before buying. ©Nabokov/Photo by Tom Oates, 2008/ CC BY SA 3.0

*Gordon Cairns is a freelance journalist and teacher of English and Forest Schools based in Scotland.

<![CDATA[Risks and Benefits of ESG Investing ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/risks-and-benefits-of-esg-investing63f3be64b6662fd838954a9fWed, 22 Feb 2023 05:39:31 GMTDhanada K. Mishra*AUTHOR BIO

Thinking ©ismagilov

In recent years, many investors have become increasingly anxious about the dangers of climate change, corporate greed causing environmental damage, and the slow pace of progressive corporate governance practices regarding issues such as flexible work arrangements, gender parity, and whistleblower protection.

Therefore, investors increasingly are aligning their financial portfolios with their values and beliefs by choosing ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing. ESG investing considers a company’s environmental impact, social responsibility practices, and corporate governance policies when deciding whether it is worth investing one’s money. ESG investing does not offer a one-size-fits-all approach, and it is essential to understand the potential rewards, as well as risks.

Two recent events have highlighted the importance of understanding the world of ESG investing. Adani enterprise, a large Indian conglomerate, has lost over $100 billion of investors’ funds due to a history of bad ESG practices exposed by Hindenburg Research. Also, the Crypto Exchange FTX went bust as egregious corruption was exposed.

ESG and the RoR (Rate of Return) on Investment

ESG is a risk-mitigation strategy at its core. It helps the investor evaluate the material risks of a company’s future performance based on its environmental, social, and governance practices. For example, a company that doesn’t address its employees’ grievances may lead to a workers’ strike. Poor waste management practices could get a company fined or subject to strict government regulation, not to mention adverse environmental impacts and possible litigation.

A Gallup Poll of 953 US individual investors found most “prioritized the expected rate of return and risk for potential losses over environmental and other issues.” On the other hand, investor stances shifted in 2022 to one of “acceptance” (34% vs. 32% in 2021) and “compliance” (29% vs. 24% in 2021).

Economists distinguish between institutional investors and individual investors, or so-called “retail investors.” While retail investors tend to prioritize financial rewards, institutional investors take the ESG framework more seriously in their risk-mitigation strategy.

ESG investments can potentially exhibit superior risk-adjusted returns when compared to traditional investments.

A NYU Stern School study found that among investment studies focused on risk-adjusted attributes, 59% concluded that sustainable options performed as well or better than conventional approaches while only 14% saw a negative result. The study comprised of more than 1,000 research papers published between 2015 and 2020.

ESG investing can potentially result in superior returns compared to traditional investments.  ©pcess609

Evidence suggests that implementing ESG principles can have a positive impact on investment returns.

A study by Refinitiv and Probability & Partners found that companies with higher ESG scores had higher returns than those with lower scores. Additionally, a survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) secretariat, “ESG Investing: Practices, Progress and Challenges,” found that companies with higher ESG scores also had higher returns than those with lower scores.

ESG investments can potentially exhibit superior risk-adjusted returns when compared to traditional investments. However, the exact rate of return will depend on the specific ESG criteria used, the type of investments, and the markets in which the investments are being made.

Additionally, the effect of ESG investing on financial returns can vary depending on the type of investor and the time frame of the investment. [For a discussion about ESG criteria and scores see Dhanada K. Mishra’s article, “ESG—The Greening of Capitalism,” in the December/January issue of The Earth & I.]

Does there have to be a contradiction between the rate of return and ESG implementation? According to Svetlana Borovkova, “the investment community is split into two camps: One side believes ESG comes at a cost of financial returns, while the other thinks that good ESG performance promises better returns and lower risk in the future.”

ESG Implementation in a Competitive Environment

Implementing ESG initiatives in a competitive business environment requires a well-defined strategy and a strong commitment to its principles. Companies should start by thoroughly understanding their current ESG performance and their goals for the future. This includes setting specific targets for the reduction of their environmental footprint, increasing social responsibility, and improving corporate governance.

Once a company has identified its ESG goals, it should create a plan to achieve them. This plan needs to include a detailed approach to implementation and monitoring, as well as a timeline for achieving the desired results. Additionally, the company should ensure that its strategies and initiatives are in line with industry best practices and regulations and that they are communicated effectively to all stakeholders.

A company needs to ensure that the ESG initiatives are aligned with the company’s core values, vision, and mission.

The company should also ensure that its ESG initiatives are integrated into its overall corporate strategy. This includes ensuring that the initiatives are aligned with the company’s core values, vision, and mission. And finally, the company should ensure that its ESG initiatives are integrated into its operations, from production processes to customer service.

Regulatory Frameworks and Standards

In developed countries, a variety of ESG regulatory frameworks and standards have been established. These include the Basel III framework, which sets out regulations for international banking, as well as the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), which are used by many countries as the basis for their accounting standards. In the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) takes a principles-based, accounting-focused approach that applies equally to ESG disclosures. In Europe, a more prescriptive disclosure framework is popular, for example, the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

Investment Results—With and Without ESG Considerations

Investments can yield different results depending on market conditions and timing. Investments in general, and ESG investments in particular, tend to provide higher returns over the long term. According to a study conducted by BlackRock, the average ten-year return of ESG-positive funds was 7.4%, compared to the benchmark index return of 6.2%. The study also found that ESG-positive funds in the US outperformed their benchmark index by 0.5%, while in Europe they outperformed by 1.1% because of strong corporate governance. Higher scoring firms in the Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) ESG rating outperformed their peers by 1.5%.

“Investing in positive, solutions-oriented companies focused on sustainability is where the market is going and where investors will excel going forward.”
ESG investing trend ©Galeanu Mihai

“By focusing on sustainability, we are able to potentially outperform the benchmark because the benchmark is comprised of the legacy economy, while sustainability-focused funds are looking forward to a new economy,” Peter Krull, CEO of Earth Equity Advisors, said, adding that “investing in positive, solutions-oriented companies focused on sustainability is where the market is going and where investors will excel going forward.”

‘Greenwashing’ and the Reality of ESG Implementation

Greenwashing is a serious problem that obscures the true extent of companies’ ESG implementation. Greenwashing means making exaggerated or false claims about sustainability performance to appear more socially and environmentally responsible or ethical. An egregious example is fossil fuel company claims about how environmentally benign they are.

Recently, it became known that research conducted as far back as the 1970s by some of the largest oil companies, such as Shell and Exxon, predicted global warming as a likely consequence of their business. They even put contingency plans in place to deal with sea level rise affecting their infrastructure.

Today, many companies are not actively working to reduce their environmental impact or improve their social practices but are instead investing in marketing and advertising campaigns to appear more socially and environmentally responsible. This makes it difficult for stakeholders, investors, and customers to accurately assess the true extent of a company's ESG implementation.

Benefits and Risks

One key benefit associated with incorporating an ESG approach into investment decisions is that it can reduce risk in a portfolio by avoiding companies whose business practices may be seen as unethical or environmentally harmful. For example, by choosing not to invest in fossil fuel stocks due to concerns over climate change impacts, investors would avoid any financial losses should oil prices decline due to market forces or policy changes. Such changes are increasingly likely because governments around the world are setting up carbon emissions reduction targets.

In addition, integrating environmental considerations, such as renewable energy sources, into investment strategies can also protect against future regulatory compliance costs caused by legislation designed to tackle global warming issues.

Universally accepted ESG scoring metrics are still evolving, and for the investor to understand, evaluate, and select the appropriate ESG methodology can also be risky.

On the other hand, some potential risks are associated with implementing an effective long-term strategy based on sustainable development goals (SDGs) principles. Many organizations have publicly committed themselves to achieve SDGs through various initiatives, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions levels. But these commitments often rely upon external factors beyond the control of individual businesses, for example, government subsidies and tax breaks. If these external conditions fail to materialize within the time frame expected, certain investments could become “stranded assets,” losing significant value. In addition, universally accepted ESG scoring metrics are still evolving. For the investor to understand, evaluate, and select the appropriate ESG methodology can also be risky.

Unintended Consequences of the “Invisible Hand”

Portrait of the political economist and philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790) by an unknown artist.  ©Public domain

The Chicago School of Economics popularized the moral philosopher and economist Adam Smith, whose birth tricentenary falls in 2023. One of the school’s eminent faculty members was Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, who said: “In the economic market, people who intend to serve only their own private interests are led by an invisible hand to serve public interests that was no part of their intention to promote.”

However, the “invisible hand” is a much-misinterpreted concept that originated from Smith’s book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It was subsequently only once mentioned in a different context in his more famous book, The Wealth of Nations. This misinterpreted idea of Adam Smith seems to have brought forth a form of capitalism with unintended consequences on environmental, social, and governance fronts that need urgent redress.

The best tribute to the great thinker would be that ESG could become a framework to rein in the worst aspects of free-market economics and save the planet from a climate catastrophe waiting to happen.

*Dhanada K. Mishra has a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan and is currently based in Hong Kong working for an ESG-focused prop-tech startup. He has a strong interest in issues around the environment, sustainability, and climate crisis.

<![CDATA[Antarctic Ice Reveals 11,000 Years of Climate Data ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/antarctic-ice-reveals-11-000-years-of-climate-data63f39f70b25fc3b7b17604e0Wed, 22 Feb 2023 05:30:54 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamBreakthrough Study Examines Ice Cores to Determine Frequent Weather Patterns
The U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL)   ©National Science Foundation/Wikimedia

University of Colorado Boulder researchers and a team of international scientists have collaborated to reveal 11,000 years of Earth’s climatic history by studying Antarctic ice cores, according to a January 2023 report in Science Daily.

Published on January 11, 2023, in Nature, the study is the first of its kind to determine seasonal temperature records dating to the onset of the period known as the Holocene. Though scientists have long studied polar ice cores for atmospheric data over extended periods of time, this was the first study to determine annual summer and winter temperatures—a frequency never before achieved.

How did they do it? The team relied on recent technological developments and a few innovations of their own. Tyler Jones, lead author on the study, and assistant research professor and fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), said that the research team’s goal was to “push the boundaries of what is possible with past climate interpretations.”

“For us,” he said, "that meant trying to understand climate at the shortest timescales—in this case seasonally, from summer to winter, year-by-year, for many thousands of years."

According to Science Daily, the study also validates one aspect of a long-standing theory that has not been previously proven: how seasonal temperatures in polar regions respond to what are known as Milankovitch cycles, hypothetical “collective effects of changes in Earth's position relative to the sun due to slow variations of its orbit and axis.”

"I am particularly excited that our result confirms a fundamental prediction of the theory used to explain Earth's ice-age climate cycles: that the intensity of sunlight controls summertime temperatures in the polar regions, and thus melt of ice, too," said Kurt Cuffey, a co-author on the study and professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

This new access to more highly detailed data on past climate patterns should also help researchers study the impacts of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on Earth’s present and future climate. By understanding naturally occurring planetary cycles, scientists can do a better job of identifying human influences on climate and temperatures.

"This research is something that humans can really relate to because we partly experience the world through the changing seasons—documenting how summer and winter temperature varied through time translates to how we understand climate," said Jones.

Study co-authors Bruce Vaughn, a chief scientist on the project and manager of the Stable Isotope Lab, and Bradley Markle, assistant professor at INSTAAR and the Department of Geology, collected the West Antarctica ice that was shipped for analysis.

Next on the team's agenda is an attempt to analyze ice cores from similar locales, such as the South Pole and northeast Greenland, where ice cores have previously been drilled.


<![CDATA[Gas Stove Emissions in the Hot Seat ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/gas-stove-emissions-in-the-hot-seat63f39a32b25fc3b7b176021eWed, 22 Feb 2023 05:28:04 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamIn a 2022 study by Stanford University (US), researchers reported health risks attributed to the residential use of gas stoves. The popular cooking devices are now under increased scrutiny following a controversial regulatory proposal from the US Department of Energy (DOE) that cited the Stanford research team’s findings.

Gas Stove Emissions
  1. Gas stoves are used in about 40% of US homes.
  2. In its proposal, the DOE cited the Stanford team’s findings that gas stoves contribute methane emissions estimated to be “0.8 to 1.3 percent of gas consumption for active (cooking) mode due to incomplete combustion and post-meter leakage during active, standby, and off modes.”
  3. The DOE proposal stated that Stanford researchers found 48 out of 53 gas ranges studied—including nearby associated piping—leaked methane continuously in standby mode.
  4. The DOE estimated an annual health benefit (in economic terms) of $93.8 million if their suggested regulations are implemented. “The level of health benefits may also depend on the degree to which a household uses or has access to proper ventilation,” DOE said.
  5. The Stanford team’s data suggest that families who do not use range hoods and/or have poor ventilation can surpass the US safety standard (100 parts per billion) for nitrogen oxides (NOx) “within a few minutes of stove usage, particularly in smaller kitchens.”
  6. The Stanford study stated that methane emissions, co-emitted with health-damaging air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, may “trigger respiratory diseases.”


<![CDATA[FEBRUARY/MARCH 2023]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/february-march-202363f6c0ad23baf522391c47cdWed, 22 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamThe Earth & I December 2921/January 2022 cover


Antarctic Ice Reveals 11,000 Years of Climate Data

The Earth & I Editorial Team

“Take Two Capsules, Twice Daily—Maybe”

The Earth & I Editorial Team

Canada’s Shrinking Polar Bear Population

The Earth & I Editorial Team


Gas Stove Emissions in the Hot Seat

The Earth & I Editorial Team

Study Ties Environmental Factors to Cardiovascular Health Risks

The Earth & I Editorial Team

Causes of Biodiversity Loss

The Earth & I Editorial Team

NASA: 2022 Tied for Fifth Warmest Year on Record

The Earth & I Editorial Team

Year of the Tiger: Nepal Tripled Tiger Population

The Earth & I Editorial Team

US Short-Term Energy Outlook Released— 2023–2024

The Earth & I Editorial Team


Blue Noise: Disquieting News from Our Cacophonous Seas

Julie Peterson

The Tragic—and Persistent—Problem of Illegal Wildlife Trade

Gordon Cairns


The Remarkable Properties of Kiln-Fired Bamboo Salt

Yuka Sakai and Sang Hyun Lee

Seed Saving: Preserving Life for Future Generations

Mal Cole


Go with What You Know, Work with What You Have

Mark Smith

Keeping ‘Home Sweet Home’ as Fresh as Possible—How to Clean Inside Air with Some Simple Changes

Alina Bradford


Extreme Weather—Climate ‘Whiplash’ Causes Havoc Around the World

Richard Kemeny

Building with Hemp Raises Climate Awareness

Kate Tsubata


‘Looking Outside’ and ‘Days of Rest’—How Filipino Youth Used Religious Traditions to Cope with COVID

Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe


Tidal Energy’s ‘Enormous’ Promise

Nnamdi Anyadike

Will Fuel Cells Power the Clean Car Future?

Rick Laezman


India’s Famed ‘Waterman’ Brings Solutions to a Drought-Plagued Region

Yasmin Prabhudas

Austria’s Tyrol Region: A Pioneer in Tracking SARS-CoV-2 in Wastewater

Cassie Journigan


Turning Landfills into “Energy-Fills” Through Anaerobic Digestion of Food Waste

Robin Whitlock


Risks and Benefits of ESG Investing

Dhanada K. Mishra


Mexico’s Amazing Sea of Cortez: How Education is Helping Preserve ‘The World’s Aquarium’

Kate Pugnoli

<![CDATA[Go with What You Know, Work with What You Have]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/herbal-remedies-and-the-fight-against-covid-1963f2c690c258ceb2acb3d547Tue, 21 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTMark SmithHerbal Remedies and the Fight Against COVID-19


Carotenoids in plants are studied for treating COVID-19. ©André Karwath/Wikimedia   CC BY-SA 2.5

Vaccines have proven to be a vital weapon against the COVID-19 pandemic, but lack of access to them in developing nations means other solutions are being sought—with herbal medicines being one line of defense that may show promise.

A study published in the medical journal, The Lancet, estimates vaccination programs may have helped save the lives of almost twenty million from COVID-19 between 2020 and 2021. But getting those vaccines to people remains a challenge in some regions.

In March 2022, the United Nations said its research found that of ten billion COVID-19 vaccine doses administered worldwide, only 1% had been given out in low-income countries.

Among the issues hampering vaccine efforts are the cost of the vaccines themselves, insufficient healthcare infrastructure—such as a lack of staff to physically administer injections—as well as shortages of things such as refrigeration, with most vaccines having to be preserved at low temperatures. Vaccine hesitancy also continues to loom large, due to fears over side effects and misinformation.

With these challenges in mind, the race is on to find alternative defenses to COVID-19—and one of those potential defenses could be something many developing nations have relied on many times before: herbal medicine.

An Ancient Solution to Poor Health

Herbal medicine has existed for millennia and been used by every culture on Earth. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates around 80% of the world’s population uses some form of traditional medicine today.

Early aspirin package. ©Nikolay Komarov/Wikimedia   (CC BY SA 4.0)

Many modern pharmaceuticals have their roots in traditional herbal remedies. In fact, 40% of the products we use today are derived from natural ingredients. Aspirin’s development was based around the bark of the willow tree, while the contraceptive pill was derived from the roots of wild yam plants. Some childhood cancer medicines have been based on rosy periwinkle, while the Nobel Prize-winning research on the malaria drug artemisinin started with a review of ancient Chinese medical texts.

Spurred by growth of the self-help and wellness cultures, herbal remedies have gained popularity in the West in recent years—the global market for herbal medicines reached an estimated US$110.2 billion in 2020. Moreover, sales of herbal remedies are projected to hit US$178.4 billion by 2026.

This surge in popularity has been echoed by increased research and development.

In March 2022, the WHO and the Indian Government set up the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM). The GCTM, using modern scientific technology and methods, aims to harness the potential of traditional medicines and apply them to medical problems on a global scale.

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19—and the lack of modern treatments for it—energized the search for remedies from ancient methods.

Indian ayurvedic preparations. https://500px.com/rickyzden/  CCO 1.0

Last year, as Hong Kong’s COVID-19 outbreak became the deadliest in the world, the Chinese government sent aid that included a million packets of honeysuckle, rhubarb root, sweet wormwood herb and other natural ingredients in accordance with the principles of traditional Chinese medicine.

In India, though, the government’s suggestions that herbal medicine should be used to fight COVID-19 symptoms received some pushback from prominent academics and scientists.

Why Herbal Treatments for COVID-19?

With the creation of vaccines and antiviral treatments that have finally proven effective against COVID-19, why would herbal remedies be needed to fight the virus?

Dr. Pattanathu Rahman.   ©Dr. Rahman

Dr. Pattanathu Rahman, a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Natural Products Discovery at Liverpool John Moores University in England and a visiting Professor at SOA University in India, cites a range of factors.

First is availability. Countries such as India, China, and many African nations have often had little choice but to turn to herbal remedies to treat diseases in the past.

Dr. Rahman has visited most of the top research Institutions in India as part of British Council’s delegations and is collaborating with them on UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) on healthcare and the environment.

He said: “Vaccines are available in most of the Western countries, but in many developing countries, they can't afford it; they don't have infrastructure to manufacture. If they want to import, it's too expensive. So, one of the options they have right now is herbal medicine because in some of the tropical countries they have access to these herbs.”

A traditional medicine market in Madagascar. ©Marco Schmidt/Wikimedia (CC BY SA 3.0)

Dr. Rahman is one of many academics around the world currently studying the use of herbal medicines to fight COVID-19. In collaboration with scientists in India, South Africa, and South Korea, his team has published a study which he said shows biochemicals from herbs used in traditional medicine could prove to be effective COVID-19 antivirals.

In an exclusive interview with The Earth & I, he said early indicators from the study had proven promising, with in-vitro lab tests now underway and full results expected in the coming months.

Using computer modeling, Dr. Rahman and colleagues screened 605 herbal biochemicals against the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of SARS-CoV-2 ‘spike’ proteins.

Using advanced computer modeling of molecular docking and dynamics simulations, Dr. Rahman and his colleagues screened 605 herbal biochemicals known as phytocompounds from thirteen medicinal plants, against the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the now infamous “spike” proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 variants Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron.

The team selected plants with known antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties such as garlic, green chiretta, and celery. They found that five phytocompounds could bind to the COVID-19 spike protein and prevent the virus from entering cells and causing infection, potentially offering new ways to prevent and treat the disease.

A Second Line of Defense?

Efforts to repurpose herbal medicines to fight COVID-19 have led to a surge in related studies around the world, but disagreement remains as to their effectiveness. Some academics have raised concerns that certain herbal treatments could exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms.

A study published in the European Journal of Medical Research looked at recent studies involving traditional herbs, herbal bioactive metabolites, dietary supplements, and functional foods that could help prevent and/or treat COVID-19. Summing up its conclusions, the study stated: “Based on the studies reviewed in this work, it was concluded with no doubt that phytochemical components present in various herbs could have a starring role in the deterrence and cure of coronavirus contagion.”

But a different overview of studies, published by the National Library of Medicine into herbal medicine’s use against COVID-19, found that while there was “considerable evidence” demonstrating the advantages of herbal medicine interventions, the quality of the evidence was “inadequate to provide solid and accurate judgments” about the effectiveness of herbal medicine therapies for COVID-19.

A Viable Long-Term Solution?

One of the issues facing the herbal medicine sector is disinformation.

Some herbal “remedies”—especially those touted mainly on social media—may not have any positive impact on disease or may even be harmful. It is therefore vital to check a herbal medication to see if it has been tested by reputable academic institutions. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) still says there is “no scientific evidence” that any alternative remedies can prevent or cure COVID-19.

Some studies of herbal remedies being carried out around the globe have shown promising results, while others have proven less conclusive. But the prize of having more herbal remedies available that are effective and affordable means scientists around the world will continue their research.

Dr. Rahman believes it won’t just be developing nations that benefit if herbal remedies are proven to be viable. He said they could be particularly valuable while vaccines are being repurposed against new variants.

“Herbal medicine definitely will have a big role to play both in the UK, US and many Western countries, because COVID-19 will not finish tomorrow, or next week, next month, [or]next year,” he said.

*Mark Smith is a journalist and author from the UK. He has written on subjects ranging from business and technology to world affairs, history, and popular culture for the Guardian, BBC, Telegraph, and magazines in the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

<![CDATA[Study Ties Environmental Factors to Cardiovascular Health Risks ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/environmental-factors-to-cardiovascular-health-risks63f39c338a0f3671cf3d5481Tue, 21 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamA recent international study, led by researchers from Mount Sinai Health System and New York University Grossman School of Medicine, quantified the cardiovascular risks of exposure to multiple environmental factors, such as air pollution.

Cardiovascular Health Risks

The study, published on June 24, 2022 in ,PLOS ONE, was carried out in Iran between 2004 and 2008 in a “lower-income, multi-ethnic, and mostly rural area where cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death.” The team analyzed data from more than 50,000 participants, all over the age of 40, and controlled for traditional risk factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, tobacco use, and hypertension.

“By combining many environmental factors in a single model, we could better control for interactions between risk factors, and identify which environmental risk factors matter most for cardiovascular health,” said the study’s first author Michael Hadley, MD, a Fellow in Cardiology and incoming Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

  1. According to the independent Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation based at the University of Washington School of Medicine, environmental hazards played a role in an estimated 11.3 million deaths in 2019.
  2. More than 5 million of those deaths were from cardiovascular disease.  
  3. The Mount Sinai-led study showed that air pollution increases the risk of heart disease mortality by 17%, with all-cause mortality risk from air pollution increasing by 20%.
  4. Exposure to indoor burning of wood, dung, or other biomaterials (without ventilation) led to a 36% higher death rate from heart disease and a 23% higher likelihood of all-cause mortality.
  5. Individuals exposed to indoor kerosene burning (without ventilation) were 19% more likely to die from heart disease, with 9% more likely to die from all-cause mortality.
  6. For every six miles participants lived away from a life-saving catheterization lab (catheterization is an investigative procedure that involves inserting a thin, hollow tube into a large blood vessel that leads to the heart), risk of cardiovascular death rose by 2%, with all-cause mortality increasing by 1%.
  7. Residing within approximately 0.06 miles of a smaller roadway and 0.25 miles from a larger highway was associated with a 13% higher risk of all-cause mortality.


<![CDATA[“Take Two Capsules, Twice Daily—Maybe” ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/take-two-capsules-twice-daily-maybe63f3a04cd918bc7711cdb242Tue, 21 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamNew Study Shows Doctors Less Likely to Follow Guidelines When Taking Medication
Doctor and kid ©Pixabay

It might be reasonable to expect medical doctors and their family members to follow established guidelines when taking prescription drugs. However, according to a December 2022 report in ,Science Daily, a new study using Swedish data has challenged that assumption.

According to study co-author and MIT economist, Dr. Amy Finkelstein, “You should see the most adherence when you look at patients who are physicians or their close relatives. We were struck to find that the opposite holds, that physicians and their close relatives are less likely to adhere to their own medication guidelines."

Despite doctors having advanced knowledge and easy access to other medical providers, the study shows that the general Swedish population stuck to medication guidelines 54.4% of the time, while doctors and their families did so 50.6% of the time.

The paper, "A Taste of Their Own Medicine: Guideline Adherence and Access to Expertise," was published in the American Economic Review: Insights. Finkelstein’s co-authors included Petra Persson, an assistant professor of economics at Stanford University; Maria Polyakova, PhD, an assistant professor of health policy at the Stanford University School of Medicine; and Jesse M. Shapiro, the George Gund Professor of Economics and Business Administration at Harvard University.

The team examined Swedish data from 2005 through 2016 with research involving 5,887,471 people. Of those, 149,399 were doctors or their close family members.

Armed with their surprising research results, the team tried to identify the cause of the lapse in doctor adherence. Their conclusion was that doctors possess "superior information about guidelines" for prescription drugs and consequently apply that information to themselves.

The largest adherence gap in the study involved antibiotics: According to Science Daily, “doctors and their families are 5.2 percentage points less in compliance [in the case of antibiotics] than everyone else.”


<![CDATA[Mexico’s Amazing Sea of Cortez: How Education is Helping Preserve ‘The World’s Aquarium’]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/mexico-sea-of-cortez-how-education-is-helping-preserve-the-world-aquarium63f2c1749c43a10348d3d7e5Mon, 20 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTKate Pugnoli*AUTHOR BIO

A short jaunt over Arizona’s southern border—a mere 215 miles from Tucson into Mexico—lies the glimmering Sea of Cortez.

Desert map ©Public Domain

Also known as the Gulf of California, this sea is recognized as one of the most biologically diverse on the planet—it is home to approximately 900 species of fish, thousands of species of invertebrates, as well as sea turtles, and marine mammals like sea lions, dolphins, and whales. Famed French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau once called it “the world’s aquarium.”

CEDO’s headquarters is easily recognized by a 16.7-meter Fin whale skeleton that sits on an incline on the property in Puerto Peñasco.   ©Simon W. Herbert

It is also home to CEDO, the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Océanos.) CEDO has emerged as a vital educational hub for environmental management, beach cleanups, and responsible fishing practices.

CEDO’s headquarters is located in the town of Puerto Peñasco in the northern part of the Sea of Cortez. Also known as Rocky Point, population app. 63,000, the town is a popular tourist destination and Mexican fishing port.

Some forty years ago, an alliance of nonprofit organizations in the United States and Mexico created CEDO to research the unique areas of the Northern Gulf of California, the Colorado River Delta Biosphere Reserve and the Puerto-Peñasco-Puerto Lobos Biological Corridor.

CEDO conducted field research in these environments, developed partnerships with researchers from the US and Mexico, and initiated community monitoring projects. As a result, CEDO’s integrated research programs “quickly advanced [the] understanding of the northern Gulf of California and its biophysical, ecological, and socioeconomic features.” CEDO’s investment has paid off—these unique environments are considered one of the best researched habitats in the Gulf of California.

However, challenges emerged as the local tourist industry, fisheries, and population grew. CEDO responded by educating coastal communities on how to continue their traditional livelihoods while supporting healthy, resilient ecosystems.

CEDO’s interior courtyard.  ©Simon W. Herbert

Recently, CEDO Executive Director Nélida Barajas Acosta talked with The Earth & I about CEDO’s successes and challenges. In 2019, Acosta moved with her husband Abelardo (who also works with CEDO) and her children from Mexico City to Puerto Peñasco. Since then, she has worked tirelessly to continue CEDO’s many projects while bringing a fresh and innovative approach to the organization.

Acosta wants to raise interest about environmental issues among Mexican youth. “There is … awareness about the environment [among the young] but not [at] the level … that [it] should be,” she says. “There are many young people who are interested in doing activities to protect and conserve the sea, but they are not in big numbers; there is something we are missing in communicating with them in ways they can engage.”

Caring About Clean Beaches and Seas

Pollution is a perennial issue.

Mexico’s many renowned, beautiful beaches are often also littered with garbage. Cans, bottles, plastic bags, and other debris often end up in the sea, where they can harm sea birds, sea turtles, and other marine animals. Ingesting plastic can even result in an animal’s death.

“Lately there is more social ‘punishment,’” Acosta says. “A person may say, ‘Oh, he’s a cochino, she’s a cochina [loosely translated a dirty person.] I ask people, ‘Why don’t you pick up your waste and throw it in a trashcan?’ Sometimes the response is, ‘Oh, I am giving work to others’ [to those who collect aluminum cans], but this is not how you do it! Is it difficult to put the garbage in a bag and put it in the trash can? The tides come up, and those cans end up in the sea; most of the trash in the sea is coming from the land,” she says.

CEDO has been promoting beach cleanups for twenty years to help both residents and visitors remember that they should always properly dispose of their trash. In 2021, for instance, CEDO organized the International Coastal Cleanup. More than 600 participants from Puerto Peñasco, including governmental, educational, and civil society organizations, along with volunteers, fishers, and families, collected three tons of waste at twenty-three cleanup sites along the Gulf’s coastline.

In 2021, CEDO organized the International Coastal Cleanup.  ©CEDO

Cleanup results were registered with Clean Swell, an app that helps record the types, weight, location, and other details of the debris found.

Responsible, Sustainable Fisheries

A critical socioeconomic issue in coastal fishing communities is creating well-managed fisheries.

The upper Gulf of California region is known for a protected species known as totoaba, a delectable fish that can grow to six feet and weigh as much as 200 pounds. This massive fish, however, is suffering from seriously depleted numbers. Dried totoaba swim bladders are so valued in China they fetch prices of up to $46,000 per kilogram on the black market. Due to the totoaba’s marketability, illegal fishing of the species has become rampant. Moreover, “people who fish illegally also catch the vaquita,” says Acosta, referring to a small marine dolphin that may become extinct because it is often trapped in fishing nets.

CEDO’s work to create sustainable fishing practices has been critical.

Overfishing of totoaba for their swim bladder has resulted in the near extinction of the above pictured vaquita, a porpoise found only in the Gulf of California.  ©Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures

“Probably the most tangible project CEDO has been involved with, that made a huge impact on fisheries and the livelihoods of fishermen, are environmental impact assessments,” says Acosta. “If you want to fish in protected areas, we can show fishermen how they can fish legally, and how they can harvest fish from the sea; but they cannot fish with nets. In the upper Gulf of California, I can say these environmental impact assessments have been a great success.”

She continues, “[E]verything we are doing is … interrelated. When we speak of communities, people may care about the ocean, but what of those geographically isolated small communities? Who cares about them? But they need to go into the sea and fish, and they can overfish—or they can fish in sustainable way. When that fish gets on your table, you can share the story of the fisherman, the woman who is cleaning and bringing the fish to market. Instead of paying one peso for that fish, you are maybe paying two pesos, but you are giving more value to the work they are doing, and now they have a better livelihood.

“Fishers can show they care about the ocean and provide evidence that they are fishing in a sustainable way,” adds Acosta. “We are talking with fishermen and learning from their traditional knowledge of fishing, but we are providing them with new tools on how to do sustainable fishing. You are eating a sustainably caught fish from your area, not a frozen fish from China or Chile.”

CEDO also is “not only working with the fishermen, but with [their] families,” Acosta says. “The children go to school and hear environmental programs. The wife talks to her husband about saving water. Information goes from the fishermen to the mothers, and then to the kids. We need a new approach; we are proposing nature-based solutions. The solutions to all societal challenges that humanity faces, we can find in nature. This means health, and food and livelihood. We can work together to keep nature healthy while gaining everything we need to live well.”

In May of 2021, CEDO instituted the Escuela del Mar (School of the Sea), a program which trains and certifies both men and women to fish responsibly and sustainably in the Gulf.

CEDO’s School of the Sea certification program.  ©CEDO Archive

The local Mexican population seeks to be involved with improving the environment, but they need good information, says Acosta. People don’t want to hear they are “an agent of ocean pollution”; they want to know what they can do to reverse the trend.

“I work now with the sons and daughters of fishermen. When I ask about solutions to environmental problems, they often have the best ideas and many stories about how to protect the environment because they have been living there forever,” says Acosta.

Regarding CEDO’s funding, Acosta says individuals and US sources are the biggest backers.

“Our funding comes from individual donors—from $5 to a $1,000; 30% of our income is from individual donors, 60% of our funds come from the Unitetes. Why isn’t Mexico supporting our work more? In Mexico, philanthropic culture is not taught in schools or in families. So, you have money for Starbucks, but you are not contributing to ocean conservation?” she says.

It sometimes seems like an uphill battle to raise people’s consciousness about their environment through education and vigilance, but Acosta is undeterred.

“There is no single solution to these problems; we must be creative and understand how everything is related. Everyone needs to recognize the role they play in this complex equation. It is related to education, but it is also related to care,” says Acosta.

“The main message we need to share is to bring people to nature: If you don’t spend time in nature, you can’t love it, and you won’t care,” she adds. “Why is [it] important to protect the ocean? You can have all the scientific arguments, but I see the future of conservation is through a more intensive, interaction with everyone. It isn’t just biologists, scientists, and nonprofits; we all play a role in creating the conditions in which we live in.”

Visitors to CEDO can register for programs which include ecotours to San Jorge Island, kayaking, tidepool exploration, and estuary excursions. To learn more about CEDO’s work, visit their website at https://cedo.org/

*Kate Pugnoli is an Arizona-based freelance journalist and former educator who works with nonprofit organizations. Her area of interest is in addressing environmental issues impacting marine biodiversity and conservation.

<![CDATA[Causes of Biodiversity Loss ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/causes-of-biodiversity-loss63f39bbf16f7d6461258b5aeMon, 20 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamA recent review of natural science studies—those published since 2005—has sought to identify the top drivers of biodiversity loss. The systematic review was part of the global assessment report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Most of the studies reviewed did not cover impacts before 1970, with 1983 being the median start year. Here are some of the research team’s key findings:

Biodiversity Loss Causes
  1. The number one cause of global biodiversity loss was “land/sea use change,” also known as converting natural forests and grasslands to intensive agriculture and livestock usage.
  2. Coming in a close second was “direct exploitation” of wildlife via fishing, hunting, trade, and logging.
  3. Loss due to pollution was ranked in third place.
  4. In fourth place and “significantly” below the top three was climate change.
  5. Coming in fifth was biodiversity loss caused by invasive species.


<![CDATA[Canada’s Shrinking Polar Bear Population ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/canada-polar-bear-population-shrinking63f39e995d7003ff2ed1a4c2Mon, 20 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial Team©Arturo de Frias Marques/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Canada’s most southerly polar bear population—that of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear—is easy to count as it passes through the town of Churchill, Manitoba every autumn en route to sea ice.

Canadian government calculations, as reported by Reuters in Arctic News, show a decline in the polar bear population of 27% in a mere five years. Even with the possibility that some of the bears may have moved, “the number of adult male bears has remained more or less the same. What’s driven the decline is a reduced number of juvenile bears and adult females,” said Stephen Atkinson, a wildlife biologist who led the Canadian government’s research.

In addition, the government of the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut reported that only 618 bears remained in 2021, a drop of about 50 percent since the 1980s. A separate count of the bears in 2012 found 1,013 individuals, said the Nunatsiaq News, noting that local hunters harvest a few dozen polar bears a year.

The plunging polar bear numbers have been attributed to climate change, particularly to melting sea ice. Sea ice allows the bears to hunt seals by lurking over seal breathing holes. Arctic News reports that Hudson Bay seasonal sea ice is melting out earlier in spring and forming later in autumn, forcing bears to go hungry for longer periods of time.

Mother and cub polar bear.  ©Scott Schliebe/Wikimedia


<![CDATA[India’s Famed ‘Waterman’ Brings Solutions to a Drought-Plagued Region ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/india-waterman-brings-solutions-to-a-drought-plagued-region63f3de72ebed9181d39ba347Mon, 20 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTYasmin PrabhudasRajasthan communities flourish with education, revival of traditional water management tactics


Rajasthan, the largest state in India, is home to 69 million people.

It also overlaps with 77,000 square miles of the Thar Desert, which means it is hot, semi-arid, and very prone to drought.

Water scarcity can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, but thanks to the long-standing work of Dr. Rajendra Singh—through Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), the NGO he helped create—communities are learning to cope.

From Humble Beginnings to “Waterman of India”

Rajendra Singh, the “Waterman of India,” at the National Water Convention 2021 in Gwalior, India.   ©Rajendra Singh/TBS

Singh was born a farmer’s son in Daula, a village in Uttar Pradesh. A trained doctor in Ayurvedic medicine, he worked in government in the 1980s, overseeing adult education. However, Singh longed to offer his knowledge further afield.

“In 1984, I decided to follow my hunches and quit my job. I then boarded a bus in Jaipur and traveled to Kishori, a small village in the Alwar District of Rajasthan. It was there that the true adventure of my life began,” he said in a biographical statement for the People’s World Commission on Drought and Flood, which he heads.

He began to offer Ayurvedic medicine to the local people and to educate their children, but he soon discovered it was water that they needed.

Pooja Bhati, one of Singh’s colleagues at TBS, says: “What is scarcity in itself? It starts with kids not going to school, especially girls because they have to fetch water. If there’s no water, there’s no irrigation. If they don't have water for irrigation and animal grazing, people migrate to cities for jobs. But they don’t have the skills to survive in the cities, so another struggle starts.”

“What is scarcity in itself? It starts with kids not going to school, especially girls because they have to fetch water. If there’s no water, there’s no irrigation.”

Singh and others came together to form TBS to help victims of a campus fire at the University of Jaipur. He became TBS chairman in 1985 and began to expand its mission. Singh would soon become known as the “Waterman of India.”

Gram Swaraj

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of ,gram swaraj (village self-development), Singh set out to harness the efforts of rural communities to create sustainable sources of water.

He began reintroducing traditional rain-harvesting methods, such as ,johads (pond-like water structures), which had been abandoned due to a government scheme to introduce taps in every household. (Singh has said it’s not a tap that people need in every house. It's the water in the tap that is required. What if you turn on the tap and there’s no water?)

River rejuvenation has also been a prominent part of TBS’s work.

A johad in Thathawata, Rajasthan, India.  ©Photo by LRBurdak/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

TBS contributes about 70% toward a project, while the community funds the rest. Locals also volunteer to work on the construction. Volunteering gives villagers a sense of ownership, so they continue to look after the structure.

“Women’s participation in decision-making is also vital,” adds Bhati. “Dr. Singh always asks women what they want. As a result, there are a lot of changes in their lives—the biggest one was the removal of ,parda pratha [a custom in which women must segregate and cover themselves in a veil].” [Watch the video Neer Nari Nadi (Water, Women, River)]

Impact and Accolades

Since its founding, TBS has helped about one million people, including 400,000 women, mainly across Rajasthan, but also in Maharashtra and Karnataka states. It has assisted communities in building 13,800 johads, which has meant 25 billion liters (5.4 billion gallons) of water have been conserved every year, benefiting 1,500 villages.

Women typically transport the water and also work in the fields.  ©Rajendra Singh/TBS

The work has also transformed the local ecology—thirteen rivers have been rejuvenated, forestation has increased by 30%, and 70% of previously barren land can now be cultivated. Water security has also been established for one million families and agricultural productivity has increased by 100%, with income levels doubled. And 75% of girls now attend primary school, compared with 5% previously.

Water security has been established for one million families and agricultural productivity has increased by 100%, with income levels doubled. And 75% of girls now attend primary school, compared with 5% previously.

Singh has received numerous accolades for his work, including being on The Guardian’s list of “50 people who could save the planet,” being awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2001, and winning the Stockholm Water Prize in 2015. He also received a lifetime achievement award in 2022 from the Central University of Rajasthan.

Recent Projects

But how does TBS go about setting up a project? Puneet Bhalla, another TBS representative, explains: “We do a needs assessment of the rural villages where there is water scarcity. Then our field workers start communicating with the ,gram panchayat (village council) and with local communities. After getting permission from the gram panchayat and the community, we start construction.”

“We also have to find out which area is most affected by floods when there is rainfall,” Bhalla adds. “So we construct the rainwater structure in the form of a johad in that area.” Two areas in eastern Rajasthan have benefited.

In Karauli, 393 johads have been constructed (watch a video of TBS’s work in Karauli). Water is scarce because of the rocky terrain, high levels of deforestation, low levels of groundwater, and porous soil that lacks the capacity to retain water.

Unpredictable monsoon rains also lead to frequent droughts. Traditional water management practices are no longer being used, and modern water-management systems have proven inadequate, making irrigation difficult. These have impacted agricultural productivity and livestock rearing, but with TBS’s help, it is expected that the local rural communities’ fortunes will turn around, resulting in better access to water. They will also obtain the know-how to conserve and manage water.

TBS restored the Baindi ki Pokhar (pond) in Karauli, India.  ©Rajendra Singh/TBS

In the thirty villages in Alwar, not only have 1,607 johads been built, benefiting 200,000 people and conserving 8 billion liters (1.75 billion gallons) of water, but irrigation systems have also been improved, further strengthening farmers' resilience to climate change. Anticipated outcomes include a 30% reduction in the loss of water and a 20% increase in income from agricultural produce per acre.

TBS has also helped local people rejuvenate Rajasthan’s Sairni River. It now meets the community’s needs and enables wildlife to thrive.

TBS helped increase biodiversity of the Sairni River through rejuvenation efforts.  ©Rajendra Singh/TBS

Singh’s vision includes encouraging local communities to build their knowledge of water management—some 100,000 people have become “water literate” since TBS began its work. Meanwhile, the Waterman Academy raises water conservation awareness among the next generation through online courses.

Harnessing Local Knowledge

Three ways of making sure any water conservation project is a success are: 1) get the community involved, 2) make sure women participate, and 3) help initiate a change in people’s behavior.

In the words of the Waterman of India: “Let us use the wisdom of local communities and global indigenous knowledge systems to fight the modern global problems of climate change.”

He declared: “The environment has been exploited by humans by taking excessive amounts of resources from it. […] I have devoted my entire life to bridging the gap between people’s hearts and minds and the rivers and environment in which they live.”

*Yasmin Prabhudas is a freelance journalist working mainly for nonprofit organizations, labor unions, the education sector, and government agencies.

<![CDATA[NASA: 2022 Tied for Fifth Warmest Year on Record]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/nasa-2022-tied-for-fifth-warmest-year-on-record63f3980dcd8f7a5553919cc9Sun, 19 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamGlobal temperatures for 2022 ranked fifth warmest on record, NASA says. This continues a warming trend, the agency adds.

Global temperature rise
  1. The average global surface temperature in 2022 tied with 2015 as the fifth warmest on record.
  2. Global temperatures in 2022 were 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.89 degrees Celsius) above NASA’s average for the baseline period of 1951–1980, according to scientists from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).
  3. The last nine consecutive years were the warmest consecutive nine on record.
  4. Earth in 2022 was about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 1.11 degrees Celsius) warmer than the late 19th century average.
  5. Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions saw an uptick in 2022, following a short-lived dip in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  6. NASA scientists, along with international scientists, determined carbon dioxide emissions to be the highest on record in 2022.
  7. Arctic region warming is nearly four times the global average—according to GISS research, as well as a separate study.


<![CDATA[Austria’s Tyrol Region: A Pioneer in Tracking SARS-CoV-2 in Wastewater]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/austria-tyrol-region-tracking-sars-cov-2-in-wastewater63f3e3106d21e4f6b470c0b4Sun, 19 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTCassie Journigan*AUTHOR BIO

The lower part of Ischgl village, Tyrol, around Hotel Nevada.  ©Joho345/Wikimedia

Skiers the world over have visited or heard of Tyrol, Austria. The state, located in the Alps, is home to folk traditions, historic sites, and ski resorts. The advent of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, coupled with high numbers of tourists visiting the resorts, produced what is known as one of the first superspreader events of the pandemic.

Superspreader events happen when a contagious individual infects an unusually high number of other people. And that's what happened in February 2020 in Tyrol: Small numbers of visitors carrying the virus infected many others. When the afflicted tourists returned home, they brought photos, souvenirs, and stories to tell. Many also brought the SARS-CoV-2 virus with them.

The state of Tyrol thrives due to its tourism industry. Scientists from the region were among the first group of experts looking for levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater. Officials eager to lift pandemic restrictions, so their tourism industry could be re-energized, were looking for an early warning as to whether the disease was on the rebound. Their wastewater surveillance program has now been expanded to cover more than half the country's citizens.

Testing Wastewater to Detect the Spread of COVID-19

Tyrolean health authorities began their wastewater surveillance program in May 2020. The program was a success because it triggered early alerts to the presence of the disease and provided an independent confirmation about its prevalence.

Monitoring of 5,270 samples from forty-three sites was reported by the end of July 2021. Daleiden et al., from the Medical University of Innsbruck and State Institute for Integrated Care Tyrol, found that the sample tests detected outcrops of the disease and confirmed when it was absent. This experience showed that using national wastewater monitoring was an effective monitoring approach, in tandem with other forms of diagnostic testing.

Why Do Officials Test Wastewater?

Testing wastewater for COVID-19 by Oregon State University.  ©Oregon State University/FlickR (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Testing wastewater allows scientists to inexpensively look for infections like COVID-19 in large groups of people—up to millions—without resorting to the case-by-case basis of individual nose swabs. Scientists test wastewater samples for traces of disease shed in human feces and urine, which are then flushed into the sewer system. Sample data can be used to determine where cases might surge. Studying the samples for genetic or DNA sequences can also help scientists understand how the disease changes over time.

“Scientists test wastewater samples for traces of diseases shed in human feces and urine, … [and studying] the samples for genetic or DNA sequences can also help scientists understand how the disease changes over time.”

Dozens of Countries Using Wastewater Surveillance

For the first couple of years of the pandemic, two countries—Australia and New Zealand—reported almost no COVID-19 cases. They used wastewater monitoring in their zero-COVID-19 approach, and if a positive sample was discovered, officials increased testing, informed the public of the threat, and imposed restrictions where the virus was found.

Now fifty-eight countries have begun similar projects—known as wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE)—for SARS-CoV-2.

Countries using WBE include Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Spain, and Turkey. Regional monitoring programs exist in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, France, and Switzerland. Brazil and South Africa set up wastewater surveillance panels to show results for weekly regional monitoring.

How Does Wastewater Surveillance Work?

Testing wastewater samples for infectious diseases can be a cost-effective and reliable means of tracking a particular community's incidence of illness.

History provides a lesson as to its effectiveness. For example, it has successfully tracked polio and gastrointestinal disease.

Also, information is available within a week after the effluent enters the waste stream. Here's how it works:

  • People flush their germ-laden feces down their toilets.
  • The feces make its way through the sewer system.
  • Once the wastewater plant is reached, technicians test untreated wastewater samples for the presence and level of a pathogen.
  • Public health officials receive test reports and consider disease trends to decide where to set up mobile testing sites and vaccination clinics.

The Advantages and Limitations of Wastewater Surveillance

There are several additional advantages of wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2. For example, it:

  • Is cost- and time- efficient.
  • Is not dependent on other COVID-19 testing.
  • Samples “all” people, not just those seen in healthcare setting.
  • Is feasible to implement in the US, since nearly 80% of US households are served by sewer systems.

While employing wastewater surveillance is relatively easy, it does have limitations. For example:

  • Wastewater surveillance is not available in areas without sewer systems.
  • It excludes samples from large hospitals, prisons, and universities with their own treatment plants.
  • Rainfall, industrial discharge, and animal waste can dilute or contaminate samples.
  • It cannot easily find low levels of the virus.

Because of these limitations, wastewater surveillance should augment, rather than replace, more time-intensive and costly methods, such as testing individuals through nose swabs.

China and COVID-19

One study noted that China had not created a national WBE system for early-detection of COVID-19, but was considering it. One concern was that China’s sewage system pipeline is “unbalanced” or offers incomplete coverage, the study said.

Along with Australia and New Zealand, China also implemented a “zero covid” policy and adhered to it for three years. However, in light of recent protests over the policy's limitations, China relaxed its restrictions. Officially, the country reported that the spread has peaked, although officials in other countries doubt that assertion. The disease is believed to be spreading there; however, it is hard to know the number of affected citizens.

Officials are also worried about the emergence of a new variant. As a result, European countries, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S., require extra screenings for people arriving from China. Notably, CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund stated in an email to Reuters how the CDC is considering airplane wastewater analysis as an option.

Using Wastewater Surveillance to Detect New Infectious Diseases

A new report published by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommended standardizing a wastewater surveillance system. A standardized system offers the hope of economic viability with the capacity of tracking multiple pathogens simultaneously. The report stresses the importance of various organizations cooperating to have a complete picture of a newly emerging disease. In addition, it recommends going beyond the current volunteer nature of wastewater surveillance toward a plan where roles are standardized and federal investments are feasible.

At least three well-known health organizations, the European Commission, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization (WHO), recognized the potential in worldwide wastewater monitoring for pandemic management. Because of this, wastewater monitoring programs were established around the globe.

As of January 27, 2023, the WHO estimates there have been more than 752 million confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide. There have been nearly seven million deaths attributed to COVID-19. The sense of urgency is imperative due to impacts of this highly contagious disease on public health and the worldwide economy.

Clearly, COVID-19 and its variants aren't going away anytime soon, which is all the more reason to continue refining the wastewater monitoring process, bring it to areas not being tested, and combine it with other public health data. Once standardized wastewater surveillance methods are available globally, perhaps the incidence of pandemics will be reduced.

*Cassie Journigan is a writer who lives in the north-central region of Florida in the United States. She focuses on issues related to sustainability. She is passionate about numerous topics including the Earth’s changing climate, pollution, social justice, and cross-cultural communications.

<![CDATA[Keeping ‘Home Sweet Home’ as Fresh as Possible—How to Clean Inside Air with Some Simple Changes]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/how-to-clean-inside-air-with-some-simple-changes63eff4288092605ed4a62ac2Sun, 19 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTAlina Bradford*AUTHOR BIO

Looking out the window ©K. Riemer/Pixabay

Modern homes are typically built to keep people cozy or cool inside. But these tightly sealed, insulated dwellings can also trap noxious chemicals, allergens and more.

People who live in homes with poor air quality can experience health problems ranging from frequent colds and allergies to life-threatening diseases.

On the bright side, most people can easily upgrade the air at home. Here are some tips on getting started.

Why People Should Care about Air Quality

Poor air quality can lead to many different long and short-term health problems, say groups like the American Lung Association (ALA). These include:

  • Allergies
  • Trouble breathing
  • Migraine headaches
  • Asthma attacks
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dermatitis
  • Neurological problems
  • Cancer
  • Liver and kidney damage

These symptoms and problems are typically caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air. VOCs are gases emitted from thousands of different types of natural and man-made products, many of which are found in homes. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that indoor concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher—up to ten times higher—than outdoors.

Poor Air Quality Culprits

There is a multitude of everyday things that contribute to poor air quality at home. Some of the more obvious contributors include pet dander, smoke from burning a meal in the kitchen, and cigarette smoke. However, there’s a wide range of other things that can make indoor air less than healthy.

A common contributor to indoor pollution is building materials. New homes or renovations, which use pressed wood products like plywood as well as carpeting, paint, and adhesives, can release formaldehyde and other VOCs, according to the ALA. Even older materials, like some drywall and flooring, can release toxic chemicals into the air.

Cross-section of particle board. ©https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki

Air fresheners and cleaning products are supposed to make homes cleaner and more enjoyable, but they, too, can contribute to poor air quality. Studies show that these products can release toxic VOCs, such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes, into the air.

Cooking indoors with wood can increase health risks.   ©Nuzree/Pixabay

The air in kitchens with wood-burning or natural gas stoves can also be toxic. Studies over the past forty years show that natural gas stoves and other gas appliances can release methane and nitrogen oxides (NOx) into the air, even when they aren’t in use. Particles released from wood-burning stoves can cause bronchitis, pneumonia, and asthma.

Cooking indoors with wood can increase health risks. ©Pixabay (both)

Measuring Air Quality

An easy way to test for poor air quality at home is to use an air quality monitor. The cost of these monitors can range from around $30 to $200, depending on the features. Some of the fancier versions will send an alert via phone when air quality reaches unsafe levels.

When shopping, be sure to look for a monitor that measures CO, CO2, VOC, and formaldehyde (HCHO). It’s also important to get one that can detect dust mites and other allergens. Devices that can detect these air quality menaces are labeled as PM 2.5 (for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size).

How to Keep Air Clean at Home

Once people understand what can cause poor air quality and how to track it, they’re ready to make their indoor air safer. Here are some things that can be done right away:

  • Stop using air fresheners or look for products that are “non-toxic.”
  • Use natural cleaning products.
  • Eat more raw foods or steam or bake foods to reduce the smoke caused by frying and searing.
Stainless steel (left) and bamboo food steamers. ©Kowloonese/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • Smoke or vape outside only.
  • Clean with a vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly to rid the home of pet dander and dust.
  • Use HEPA air purifiers throughout the home.
  • Change HVAC, air purifier, and vacuum air filters regularly, and ensure that the filters use HEPA filtration.
  • Open windows on low-pollution days to let out VOCs and let in fresh air.
  • Throw out food before it becomes moldy.
  • Clean home air vents regularly.
  • Modern residential building codes require kitchen ventilation, so use ventilation hoods on stoves whenever cooking.
Spider plants are popular indoor plants. ©Peter-coxhead/Wikimedia

Some long-term solutions to consider include removing carpeting—if air quality levels remain poor after one’s best efforts—or switching to electric appliances over gas water heaters, ovens, and heaters.

There has been a lot of buzz online about the air benefits of houseplants, but don’t get too excited. While houseplants have also been shown to improve indoor air quality, the effects are small, at best. According to the EPA, it would require 680 plants in a house to keep the air clean.

Don’t Forget to Take Outdoor Breaks

While practicing all of these ways to improve the quality of the air indoors, people shouldn’t forget to simply get outdoors for some fresh air. For those who live in an area with low pollution, the air outside can be up to ten times cleaner than indoor air.

Get out and enjoy some fresh air! ©joenomias/Pixabay

Also, when at work, take a stroll outside during breaks or eat lunch outside. During the weekends take up an outdoor hobby, take a swing in a hammock, or go for a picnic with the family. Find any excuse to go outside for a more grateful and healthier respiratory system.

*Alina Bradford is a safety and security expert that has contributed to CBS, MTV, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, and more. She is currently the editorial lead at SafeWise.com.

<![CDATA[Year of the Tiger: Nepal Tripled Tiger Population ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/year-of-the-tiger-nepal-tripled-tiger-population63f39d575d94ab1f73bf748dSat, 18 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamThe nation of Nepal reported in the Year of the Tiger (2022) that it had tripled its wild tiger population through a several-years-long effort led by the Nepalese government, local communities, youth, enforcement agencies, and conservation partners. Here are the numbers:

Nepal Tripled Tiger Population
  1. Nepal's National Tiger and Prey Survey 2022 reported a near-tripling of the nation’s tiger population from a baseline established in 2009—an increase of over 190%.
  2. The survey covered 18,928 square kilometers (1.892 million hectares)—about 12% of the country—and involved 16,811 days of field staff time to complete.
  3. Nepal was faced with a decreasing tiger population estimated at 121 individuals in 2009.
  4. The 2022 survey reported a wild tiger count in Nepal of 355 individuals.
  5. A target to double wild tiger populations, known as Tx2, was established by tiger range governments in 2010 at the St. Petersburg International Summit on Tiger Conservation.
  6. Part of Nepal’s comeback strategy involved “people-centered tiger conservation,” which involved such initiatives as compensating farmers for livestock lost to predatory tigers.

World Wildlife Fund-US’s Ginette Hemley noted that the previous Nepalese survey in 2018 saw a near-doubling of the wild tiger baseline population. “It is remarkable to see what twelve years of high-level political commitment, dedicated conservation action, partnership with local communities, and collaboration between the government and conservation organizations can accomplish,” she said.


<![CDATA[Seed Saving: Preserving Life for Future Generations]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/seed-saving-preserving-life-for-future-generations63f3cfe70579264492a34c73Sat, 18 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTMal Cole*AUTHOR BIO

A boy with his seeds. ©Image by Jonathan McIntosh/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0

The first months of the year can seem bleak, but even if snow still covers the ground, seeing a glossy seed catalog poking out of the mailbox can offer a welcome escape from cabin fever.

While hundreds of thousands of gardeners send away for seeds for future vegetables and flowers, more than a few savvy planters enjoy an ancient tradition: seed saving.

In the early 1800s, Shaker religious communities pioneered seed packets and catalogs. ©Image by Johnccf/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Seed Saving for Future Generations

Seed saving is as old as agriculture, which began around 12,000 years ago. The first plants to be saved for seed included wheat, barley, and peas.

Grain was often found in ancient Egyptian tombs, which led to a popular hoax in 18th century England. It was believed that this ‘Mummy Wheat’ could germinate and grow into full size plants, but modern experiments proved that the temperature inside a tomb would not be consistent enough to keep the grain seed viable.

This is not to say that some ancient seeds have not grown anew. Some date seeds have shown they can weather any variables that might come along in two millennia. In 2005, a 2,000-year-old date sprouted into a small tree that scientists named “Methuselah.” Now several date trees have been grown from seeds at ancient sites and, as of 2020, have grown fruit.

Some seed saving is aimed at preserving the world’s food supply, using modern innovations.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway holds over a million crop seed samples from every country in the world. The vault is situated in a far north location—that is still accessible by air travel—to ensure that the precious contents can be kept at a consistent temperature of –18°C (–0.4°F).

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. ©Image by Miksu/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

But modern seed savers don’t need high-tech solutions to save their own seeds for the garden, year to year. All that is needed is a dark, cool, dry place.

Tips on Saving Seed

A green poppy seed pod. ©Image by KGM007/Wikimedia

Gardeners with plots of any size can benefit from seed saving. But what to save can depend on garden size, the types of crops grown, and how much time gardeners want to spend harvesting and saving seed.

The easiest seeds to save are the ones that mature readily and linger in the garden as the seasons change. Flowers like columbine, agastache, monarda, and even some types of clematis, such as “sweet autumn,” will readily and quickly create seed after pollination. (Sweet autumn can be toxic to humans, cats, horses, and dogs).

Poppies make seed saving an easy task. The distinctive green poppy pods will eventually turn brown and dry. The poppy seeds are ready to harvest when they can be heard rattling around inside the dried pod.

For those who intend to save flower, fruit, or vegetable seed from a garden, it’s worth noting that only heirloom varieties will yield plants similar to the parent. And, if multiple varieties of the same crop are grown, the fruit from seed may turn out to have the genetics of two different varieties. The same is true of seed saved from produce at the farm stand or supermarket. This can be a wonderful surprise—or a bit of a disappointment—depending on one’s gardening goals.

Part of the fun of seed saving is experimentation, but a little bit of research before saving seed will help ensure a good harvest. Seeds saved from apples, for example, will not produce apples that are the same as the parent plant. After a gardener waits years for an apple tree to reach maturity, the fruit may not even be suitable for fresh eating.

In some crops, steps can be taken to ensure that only pollen from the same varieties is used to create fruit, although most home gardeners won’t find it worth the bother. Discouraging cross pollination will also require strictures that will not allow local pollinators to fully enjoy nutrients from flowering crops.

Saving Tomato Seed

Yellow cherry tomato seeds. ©Image by Ivar Leidus/Wikimedia (CCA-SA 4.0)

For many plants, this tendency to hybridize can result in some happy accidents. Tomato seed is very satisfying to save, and any genetic intermingling will still probably have tasty results.

To save seed from a tomato, choose one of the biggest and most beautiful tomatoes from the most vigorous plant. (These desirable characteristics may carry over into the next generation.)

Allow the fruit to grow on the vine until it is slightly overripe to ensure that the seed is fully mature. Cut the fruit in half and notice how each seed is encased by a gelatin-like coating; this coating must be removed via a short fermentation process before the seed can be dried and stored.

Place the fresh tomato seeds in a glass jar and cover the seeds with water. To keep out insects and curious pets, cover the top of the jar with a paper towel or cheese cloth and secure with a rubber band. Check the seeds daily to observe the fermentation process. Unpleasant smells and even molds may occur, but once most of the seeds have sunk to the bottom of the jar, they are ready for drying.

Save only the seeds that sank to the bottom of the jar, and rinse them thoroughly using a tight mesh colander or sieve. Let the seeds dry completely in a cool, dark place on a clean unlined baking sheet or pie plate. Turning the seeds frequently will help them dry evenly.

After saved seeds have dried, they are ready to be stored in an airtight container in a dark place that isn’t too humid. And remember to label tomato and all dried seeds—memories may fade long before spring.

Keeping Track of Saved Seeds

It may be helpful to create a seed inventory in the notes app of a phone or in a notebook kept in a seed saving box. (Low-tech or high-tech, it’s nice to have seed inventory ready to hand.)

Be sure to write down the year that the seeds were saved. When planting seed, note how many germinated successfully. This will be good information to have for successive plantings.

Los Angeles seed library. ©Image by Kathryn Brown/Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)

When it’s time to plant, always plant a few extra seeds to be sure not to end up short. And, if there’s an abundance of plants, fellow gardeners can benefit from the windfall.

For those who end up with extra saved seed, they can consider sharing the bounty by seeking out a local seed library or seed exchange. Community helps the gardener grow as well as the garden.

*Mal Cole is a freelance science and nature writer based in Massachusetts.

<![CDATA[Tidal Energy’s ‘Enormous’ Promise ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/tidal-energy-enormous-promise63f3e5baf71d84163b834aecSat, 18 Feb 2023 05:00:00 GMTNnamdi AnyadikeNew Technologies Capturing Untapped Energy Source



Harnessing the clean energy of the oceans’ constant motion has long been the dream of environmental scientists and engineers. Other clean energy sources, like solar and wind power, have their advantages but lack reliability and predictability. In contrast, the oceans’ tides reoccur twice daily on a constant and predictable schedule.

Ocean tides are caused when the moon, and to a lesser extent, the sun, exert gravitational forces on the Earth. When the highest point in the tidal wave reaches a coast, it experiences a high tide. When the lowest point, or trough, reaches a coast, it experiences a low tide. The two primary methods of generating electricity from tides are (1) “tidal range” devices that utilize the difference in water levels between high and low tides and (2) “tidal stream” devices that capture energy from flowing water in tidal currents.

Industry Started in 1960s

Aerial view of the La Rance tidal power station in France.  ©Fabioroques (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The history of tidal energy goes back decades. The first tidal range energy plant is La Rance, on the estuary of the Rance River in Brittany, France. Built in 1966, it still operates today and produces energy for a city of 250,000.

Four other similar plants exist around the world in South Korea, Russia, China, and Canada.

Today, the industry is focused on developing tidal stream technology. The first multi-device pilot farms were installed in 2016. MeyGen is the world’s largest planned tidal farm, located in the Inner Sound of the Pentland Firth, Scotland, and currently powered by four turbines developed by Andritz Hydro Hammerfest and SIMEC Atlantis Energy. The total capacity of the project is planned to be 398MW through three development phases.

Tidal turbine installation at Meygen.  ©SIMEC Atlantis Energy

The first three turbines of Nova Innovation’s Shetland Tidal Array, Shetland, UK, were deployed in 2016, followed by a fourth one in 2020. In January this year, the array was completed with two more turbines, making it largest in the world.

Children from Cullivoe Primary School, Shetland, named the latest (sixth) Shetland Tidal Array turbine “Hali Hope.” Hali means “of the sea, beautiful ocean” and hope refers to the future of the planet.  ©Nova Innovation

An Untapped Resource

The US Department of Energy (DoE) estimates that developing just 5% of tidal energy’s resource potential from the US’ thousands of miles of coastline would generate 12.5 terawatt-hours of electricity per year.

In New Jersey, for instance, state lawmakers have been considering ways to fund regional tidal power projects. Tidal energy is seen as a way to help this coastal state reach its ambitious goal of providing 100% clean energy by 2050, and at least 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

However, although the oceans offer much from a green energy perspective, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Ocean Tracking Report, ocean power technologies are below the growth rates needed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Power Technology reports, that according to the IEA, “demonstration and small commercial marine projects remain expensive because the economies of scale necessary for significant cost reductions have not yet been realized.”

Marine power’s status remains “not on track” with the projected sustained annual growth of 33% through 2030. Achieving this level of growth generation “would require an average 1GW of capacity additions annually until 2030,” which is far from guaranteed at the current growth rate level, Power Technology says.

Some experts estimate the potential energy from tidal movements to be “enormous,” with about 1 terawatt of power stored in the world’s oceans.

There is strong belief, though, in the power of the tides to provide significant amounts of renewable energy.

To date, solar and wind energy technologies have received the most attention from regulators and industries, according to a report, “Challenges and Promise of Tidal Energy,” by the Parker Hannifin Corporation, a US-headquartered engineering company.

Nevertheless, some experts estimate the potential energy from tidal movements to be “enormous,” with about 1 terawatt of power stored in the world’s oceans. “This would be enough to power 10 billion 100-watt lightbulbs at once,” the report says.

Because tidal energy is still an emerging innovative technology, relying only on the market to deploy new projects is difficult. To reach higher levels of deployment, the tidal energy sector would need the kind of support that wind and solar energy technologies received to reach maturity.

In return, tidal energy would enable a higher penetration of solar and wind energy, because it would enhance flexibility and security of energy supply to a renewables-based grid.

Obstacles to Expansion

Despite tidal energy being an environmentally friendly and a highly predictable energy source, there are disadvantages.

Shetland Deployment 1 ©Nova Innovation.

The biggest barrier to tidal energy is the high cost associated with building tidal power stations.

There are limits to the location of tidal energy plants as they require strong tides. The Parker Hannifin report also cites “aesthetic concerns,” as the plants cannot be too close to urban locations. But most tidal turbines are at the bottom of the ocean, invisible from the surface. Others float on the surface but are often so low that one cannot see them from the shore.

The new tidal energy technologies under development are minimizing the impact of tidal power plants on fish and ocean life, compared with traditional tidal plants now in operation.

Another major concern is potentially negative environmental effects on marine life. “Spinning blades can injure living organisms, as can water fouling resulting from various system components,” warns the Parker Hannifin report. Nevertheless, to date, several fish studies have not observed marine wildlife colliding with turbines or fish being harmed, according to Lotta Pirttimaa, Senior Policy Officer, Ocean Energy Europe.

The new technologies under development are minimizing the impact of tidal power plants on fish and ocean life, compared with traditional tidal plants now in operation.

Nova Scotia’s Floating Tidal Energy Project

One example is the Pempa’q In-stream Tidal Energy Project in the Bay of Fundy—famous for having the highest tides in the world—in Nova Scotia, Canada. The project is expected to deliver up to 9 MWs of electricity to the Nova Scotia grid, powering approximately 3,000 homes, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year.

The Pempa’q Project in Nova Scotia employs a “next generation” floating tidal energy platform.  ©Sustainable Marine Energy Ltd.

Sustainable Marine Energy Ltd, the UK-founded provider of coastal and nearshore renewable energy solutions, is working to deliver a floating tidal energy array to the Pempa’q Project, to be delivered in multiple phases. “The firm’s in-stream technology differs from traditional tidal energy systems, including barrages (artificial structures that affect water flow), with the electrical generators installed directly into the tidal stream. This means there is no blockage to the water passage from large structures, greatly reducing impact to the surrounding environment and marine life,” the company claims.

Last year, as part of the first phase of the Pempa’q Project, Sustainable Marine officially powered up its “next generation” floating tidal energy platform. It is deployed at the site of the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE). The goal is to test the technology and environmental monitoring systems before placing them in the Minas Passage in the Bay of Fundy.

Floating Hybrid Renewable Energy System in Asia

Meanwhile, in Asia, Keppel Infrastructure, the Singapore-based provider of sustainable water solutions and advanced waste-to-energy technologies, the National University of Singapore, and Nanyang Technological University are developing a “first-of-its-kind” floating hybrid renewable energy system for operation in Singapore. The project, launched in October, uses modular offshore floating solar platforms. These can be used with other renewable energy technologies, such as ocean wave energy conversion systems, tidal energy turbines, and paddles and wind turbines.

A “first-of-its-kind” floating hybrid renewable energy system can be used with other renewable energy technologies, such as ocean wave energy conversion systems, tidal energy turbines, and paddles and wind turbines.

The vision is to design and deploy a pilot system with the capacity to generate at least 100 MW of renewable power. Once successful, this can be scaled up and replicated to other regions.

Ms. Cindy Lim, CEO of Keppel Infrastructure, said, “With limited land space in Singapore, moving into waters offshore presents opportunities to unlock the potential for more diversified renewable energy sources, thereby enhancing energy security and supporting Singapore’s transition to a greener energy mix.”

Elsewhere in Asia, UK-based HydroWing has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with state-owned company Indonesia Power to develop and support tidal energy projects in Indonesia.

HydroWing’s tidal solution includes a multi-rotor turbine design to increase energy availability and lower energy cost. It uses a particular (Tocardo) turbine that has been in continuous operation for the past eight years in the Netherlands as part of the Oosterschelde Tidal Power 2 Project.

Scottish tidal energy developer SIMEC Atlantis Energy made headlines by manufacturing and installing a 500-kW tidal turbine in Japan’s Naru Strait.

Clearly, there is much to be done before ocean tidal energy takes its place alongside other renewables in the global energy mix. However, the increase in the number of projects—and the commitment by renewable energy companies to invest in new technology—suggests that harnessing the energy of the ocean’s tides may not be far way.

*Nnamdi Anyadike is an industry journalist specializing in metals, oil, gas, and renewable energy for over thirty-five years.