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Oxygen files: EU plastics ban, farmers, ocean climate impacts, NT fracking, Canada’s carbon tax

Sipping a Campari and soda through a plastic straw will no longer be on the menu in the European Union in a few year’s time with the EU late last month passing a ban on many single-use plastic products. The ban comes into full effect by 2021.

The vote was passed by a landslide, with 571 in favour, and only 53 against and 34 abstentions.

Forbes reports that the ban will apply to all single-use plastic products for which alternatives exist, including straws, plastic-stemmed cotton buds, balloon stems, plastic takeaway plates and cutlery.

For products without an alternative, such as some kinds of food packaging, a firm target has been set for a 25 per cent reduction by 2025. A target has also been set for the collection and recycling of beverage bottles of a 90 per cent recycle rate by 2025, and cigarette butts have to be reduced by 50 per cent by 2025 and 80 per cent by 2030.

In an official EU statement, EU rapporteur Frédérique Ries describes it as “the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics.”

“It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the council, due to start as early as November. Today’s vote paves the way to a forthcoming and ambitious directive. It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion euros by 2030.”

Other products added to the blacklist include products made of oxo-degradable plastics, such as bags or packaging and fast-food containers made of expanded polystyrene.

Some of the globe’s largest food and beverage manufacturers have obviously got the memo, with the UK’s Independent reporting that Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s and Nestle are among 250 major brands pledging to cut all plastic waste from their operations.

The initiative is the result of a partnership between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme.

While a lot of the focus in terms of plastic pollution impacts has revolved around the rising levels of plastic rubbish polluting the ocean, and the presence of plastics in the guts of marine life and sea birds, another piece of research making waves is the finding of plastic in human excrement.

Researchers from Medical University of Vienna in Austria and the Environment Agency Austria have published the results of a study that involved analysing the excrement of individuals in Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Austria over a one-week period. 

Medical News Today reports that the participants also kept a food diary, which gave researchers some hints as the possible origin of the microplastics they found in every participating person’s poop.

The samples contained on average 20 particles of plastic, ranging in size from 50 micrometers to 500 micrometers, around five times the thickness of the average human hair.

Potential sources identified included chewing gum, seafood, water from plastic bottles and food that had been wrapped in plastic.

The article also highlights another recent study that shows microplastics are present in numerous brands of table salt.

In a truly sobering note, the article concludes that “it will be some time before there is definitive proof that microplastics can damage health. 

“One of the major difficulties in studying microplastics’ effects on our body is the lack of a control population. No one, it seems, can avoid ingesting plastic on a regular basis.”

Our farmers are furious

Headlines have seized with glee on the topic of Barnaby Joyce potentially returning as leader of the National Party. But quite aside from the push-back coming from women in the Nationals’ heartland electorates, according to The Land, he’s also increasingly unpopular with farmers.

“Farmers are angry and perplexed by former Nationals federal leader Barnaby Joyce’s obsession with promoting coal-fired power stations and a deep seated reluctance by some politicians to acknowledge Australia’s carbon emissions must be curtailed,” writes Andrew Marshall.

He quotes a range of sources including lobby group Farmers for Climate Action, which has just released a crowd-funded Rural Futures Taskforce Report.

The report’s recommendations include phasing out fossil fuel mining and establishing certainty on energy policy with a focus on renewables.

Oceans feeling the heat

Global news agency Reuters has just released in-depth investigative reporting on the unfolding climate crisis in the earth’s oceans.

It describes an “epic underwater refugee crisis” caused by the warming of oceans and resulting shifts in currents.

“As waters warm, fish and other sea life are migrating poleward, seeking to maintain the even temperatures they need to thrive. The number of creatures involved in this massive diaspora may well dwarf any climate impacts yet seen on land.”

The impacts on sea life are in turn having a negative impact on the people and industries that have depended on specific species and fisheries.

NZ keeps upping the green ante 

The New Zealand government’s ban on offshore gas and oil exploration has received a rave review in The Spinoff from Claudia Palmer, campaigns and mobilisation manager for 350 Aotearoa.

Palmer gives five reasons the ban represents great leadership: 

  • ïIt recognises who and what is responsible for causing climate change
  • ï“It’s not kidding people that the market, and consumer-choice can save the planet”, instead it’s actually making regulations
  • ïThe government is role-modelling the actions it wants others to take
  • ïThe end of fossil fuels is inevitable in any case, so acting sooner rather than later is best
  • ïNew Zealanders are “ready to embrace change”

NT fracking – the outrageous costs revealed

Meanwhile, in Australia, a report released this week shows that if fracking in the NT was to proceed, it would require the equivalent of shutting down every coal-fired power station in Victoria to offset the resulting carbon emissions.

The Australia Institute research estimates the cost of offsetting the NT’s fracking emissions would reach $4.3 billion in costs per year if it reaches full production by 2030.

The research used the emissions projections from the recent NT Fracking Inquiry and Australian government modelling on the international price on greenhouse gases.

Mark Ogge, principal advisor at the AI and lead author of the report, says the NT government has accepted all of the recommendations of the inquiry, including the full offsetting of all emissions generated.

“The Northern Territory Fracking Inquiry suggested that emissions could be offset by the early closure of coal power stations elsewhere in Australia, however, our research shows this would require the equivalent of closing virtually all of Victoria’s coal power stations,” Ogge says.

“Cheap offsets are not an option. The price for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions is an international price, consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 2 degree target. This is the real cost of abatement. Any genuine offset will be this price or more.”

Is Canada confused?

The Fifth Estate has been hearing mixed messages from sources in Canada. On the one hand, Justin Trudeau’s government has done some delightful things recently including passing a carbon tax, legalising marijuana and consistently not being as embarrassing as its nearest neighbour to the south.

On the other hand, it somewhat bizarrely tried to purchase the Kinder Morgan shale oil pipeline and is still endorsing ongoing expansion plans on the part of the shale oil industry.

But maybe the carbon tax means supporting fossil fuels could be a revenue spinner? It’s hard to tell.

What is known is that some of Canada’s provinces already had a carbon pricing mechanism, and what the new legislation will do is make it a national price across all provinces.

Dr James Tansey, associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business explains the basics of the new regime in a Q&A for the University of British Columbia’s Sustain newsletter.

Tansey says that the expected price will be one of the world’s highest carbon prices – a good start to helping the nation meet its Paris commitments.

He also says he expects that in the broader context of the government’s Pan-Canadian Framework for Climate Change and Clean Growth there are opportunities for looking at federal government buildings and procurement and clean technology investment.

Citizen scientists wanted

In the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, ideas for the big research questions for the Earth Challenge 2020 initiative are being sought.

The organisers aim to engage people from around the globe in collecting data points around air quality, water quality, biodiversity, pollution and human health.

First, however, they want submissions of research questions by November 22, 2018. 

The research team will then analyse the questions submitted and choose those that will be pursued during the 18-month Challenge period.

Questions can be submitted via Twitter to @Earth_Challenge using the hashtag #EC2020 or via a web form at the Earth Day website. 

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