Who owns our trash—and why does it matter? – National Geographic

State Senator Craig Miner tours the Strategic Materials recycling plant in South Windsor, CT, April 4, 2017 (by CT Senate Republicans CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr).

Millions around the world make a living from picking through waste and reselling it—a vital role that keeps trash manageable but is being squeezed by government policies.

Who owns our trash? It’s a heated question being asked by waste pickers around the world who are uniting to fight for their survival. What we throw away, they insist, should be available to all.

Globally, up to 56 million people collect and resell the metal, glass, cardboard, and plastic that the rest of us toss.

The United States Supreme Court in 1988 ruled that household garbage is public property once it’s on the curb. That enables police to search trash for criminal evidence, but that protection hasn’t always been extended to people who collect recyclables.

And in places like New York City, which is testing city-owned locked containers to hide trash from rats, waste pickers are being kept from a sustainable income.

“These containers are made explicitly inaccessible,” says Ryan Castalia, executive director of Sure We Can, a nonprofit recycling and community center in Brooklyn. “There’s value in the waste, and we feel that value should belong to the people, not the city or the corporations…”

New York City Is Sinking under Its Own Weight – Scientific American

Empire: New York City from the Statue to the Brooklyn and beyond (by the Explorographer CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr).

The weight of New York City’s 1.1 million buildings is making the city slowly sink.

Home to 8.8 million people as of 2020, New York City is by far the most populous city in the U.S. And the mass of the buildings needed to support all those residents—and the work they do—really adds up. New research published on May 8 in Earth’s Future suggests that the weight of the city itself is pressing down on the land it occupies and contributing to local sea-level rise that increases flood risks…

If Your House Were Falling Off a Cliff, Would You Leave? – the New York Times

Chalet style cottages perched precariously on the North Sea cliff, south of the old Hornsea Road at Skipsea (© Paul Glazzard CC BY-SA 2.0 via Geograph).

Homeowners along the eastern coast of England are watching the North Sea swallow their communities. Help is on the way — but only for some.

On a stormy day in the spring of 2021, the sea defenses on the beach below Lucy Ansbro’s cliff-top home in Thorpeness, England, washed away. Then, the end of her garden collapsed into the North Sea.

As she watched the plants tumble over the edge, she feared that her house in this coastal village 110 miles northeast of London would be next.

“We lost three and a half meters of land,” said Ms. Ansbro, a 54-year-old television producer, sitting in her kitchen on a recent morning. “Every time I went out, I didn’t know if the house would still be here when I came back.”

Coastal erosion is a natural process as waves pound beaches around the globe, but along this stretch of England’s eastern coastline, stronger storms and bigger waves are striking fear in local residents like never before.

Thousands of homes here are threatened by the sea, and the government agencies tasked with defending them are straining to keep pace. The Committee on Climate Change, an independent body that advises Britain’s Environment Agency, has reported that 8,900 residential properties — 1,200 of which stand on stretches of coastline with no protective structures — are at risk from coastal erosion. Without active shoreline management, around 82,000 homes could be lost by 2105.

To stem the tide, the Environment Agency has pledged 5.2 billion British pounds (around $6.5 billion) to build and realign 2,000 defense structures — including sea walls made from rocks or cement and steel — that could protect communities from erosion and flooding, though not forever.

But in some high-risk coastal communities, homes are being left to the mercy of nature. Distraught homeowners in these areas are facing the prospect of eviction and, worse, of demolishing their own homes.

Ms. Ansbro’s house, which she bought in 2010 for about £590,000, now stands 35 feet from the cliff edge. After she lost her garden, she applied for permission from the local East Suffolk Council and Environment Agency authorities to replace the gabions (metal cages filled with rocks) and the sand-filled geobags that had been lost with riprap. The requests were granted, but that didn’t necessarily mean help was on the way.

In England, the costs of building sea defenses are shared by national and local offices. On the national level, a funding calculator assesses how much of that £5.2 billion budget is potentially available. It depends on whether the “benefits are greater than the costs,” based on a timeline of erosion and four location-specific policy tiers: Advance the Line, where new defenses extend the land area out to sea; Hold the Line, where new defenses maintain the existing shoreline; Managed Realignment, in which the shoreline is allowed to erode but money is spent “to direct it in certain areas”; and No Active Intervention, where no national funds are invested.

On a local level, councils and landowners are left to make up the difference.

“In layperson’s terms, the policies are referred to as defend, retreat or abandon,” said Angela Terry, CEO of One Home, a group advocating on behalf of homeowners at risk…

Bleaching, It’s Not Just for Corals – Hakai Magazine

Giant Clam (by Silke Baron CC BY 2.0 via Flickr)

Giant clams suffer similar struggles with warming water, though the consequences don’t seem quite as dire.

Bleaching occurs when a stressed marine creature, most commonly a coral, expels its symbiotic algae and turns a ghostly white, often in response to a warming sea. But bleaching affects more than just corals. Giant clams—massive mollusks that can grow more than 1.2 meters in diameter and weigh as much as 225 kilograms—can bleach, too. And in recent research, scientists have learned more about how bleaching disrupts these sessile giants, affecting everything from their nutrition to their reproduction.

Giant clams live on coral reefs and are the largest bivalves on Earth. Like corals, giant clams bleach when they’re stressed, often as a response to excessively warm water. As with a coral, a bleached giant clam expels the algae, called zooxanthellae, that live inside it. These algae dwell in the soft tissue of the clam’s mantle and provide energy for the animal through photosynthesis, leaving a bleached clam with less energy and nutrients. At worst, bleaching can kill giant clams through food deficiency.

Scientists have been studying bleaching in giant clams for decades. In 1997 and 1998, during a brief period that saw extensive coral bleaching worldwide with corals succumbing in at least 32 disparate countries, bleached giant clams were observed from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to French Polynesia after water temperatures in the South Pacific rose significantly. In 2010, similar temperatures in the water off Thailand’s Ko Man Nai Island also led to scores of deaths.

Of the 12 species of giant clams, some are more resistant to heat stress than others. But as scientists are finding, even when a giant clam survives bleaching, other physiological functions can still be severely impaired.

A recent study in the Philippines of wild clams, for example, found that bleaching can hamper their reproduction. Bleaching reduces the number of eggs giant clams produce, and the more severe the bleaching, the fewer eggs they make. Reproducing “takes a lot of energy. So instead of using that energy for reproduction, they just use it for their survival,” says Sherry Lyn Sayco, the lead author of the study and a graduate student at the University of the Ryukyus in Japan…

Sand – Planet Snapshots

Where the Danube Meets the Black Sea (courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center CC BY 2.0 via Flickr).

Sand. It’s coarse, rough, irritating, and it gets everywhere — perhaps more than you think. Sand is the second most used natural resource after water and the most extracted solid material, accounting for 85% of global mineral extraction. Like a messy trip to the beach, it has infiltrated our pockets and all our surroundings. It’s the key ingredient in cement, asphalt, glass, and silicon chips. Our cities are glorified sand castles, and our most advanced tech is built from this unimposing substance…

Nearly 90% of Hanauma Bay’s beach could disappear by 2030, says UH study – Hawaii Public Radio

Hanauma Bay, Oahu (by Keith Roper CC BY 2.0 via Flickr).

A new study from the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is predicting most of Hanauma Bay’s beach will be underwater for a few days in 2030.

Researchers used models to show the impact of sea-level rise at the bay. They combined the lowest predicted rise of six inches with the island’s seasonal King Tides, when waves splash higher on the shore higher than normal.

It forecasts that 88% of the bay’s usable beach, or sandy portions, would be submerged in 2030.

“This is only during peak high tide to king tides that we experienced,” said Andrew Graham, a graduate assistant to the study.

“So it’s not going to be something that people have to worry about all the time. It’s just going to be a couple days a year, where the surf will come up to near the grass — which may increase crowding at the beach,” Graham said.

Kuʻulei Rodgers, the study’s lead researcher, said that six inches of sea-level rise can have a significant impact on the environment.

“This can equate to tens, even hundreds, of feet inland because you’re looking at the slope. So one meter of sea level rise vertically can equate to a lot more on the coastline,” Rodgers said.

The finding is part of a broader study that looks at the nature preserve’s ability to withstand damage from recreational, biological and physical uses — a concept known as carrying capacity. Researchers hope the study will help improve management and conservation efforts within the preserve.

The team has been conducting carrying capacity surveys at Hanauma Bay for the past five years…

Plastic bottles harm human health at every stage of their life cycle – the Grist

The German 2012 Coca-Cola line-up (by Like the Grand Canyon CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr).

A new report says beverage companies like Coca-Cola must be “held accountable for the supply chain impacts of their plastics.”

In 1973, a DuPont engineer named Nathaniel Wyeth patented the PET plastic bottle — an innovative and durable alternative to glass. Since then, production has skyrocketed to more than half a trillion bottles per year, driven by beverage companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé…

Dolly Parton’s new song is a climate anthem (if you want it to be) – the Grist

Screenshot from Dolly Parton - World On Fire (From The 58th ACM Awards via youtube).

In the video for her new song, “World On Fire,” Dolly Parton sits atop a burning world. Blond hair piled and coiffed, her black dress glittering, she looks down into a pit of flames burning the earth. The song rocks a little harder than her usual feathery country oeuvre, and over a driving beat, she lets you know she’s about to get political.

Now I ain’t one for speaking out much

But that don’t mean I don’t stay in touch

Everybody’s trippin’ over this or that

What we gonna do when we all fall flat?

Dolly spends the next four minutes outlining the sorry state of the world, or at least the nation, punctuating it with a rousing chorus:

Liar, liar the world’s on fire

Whatcha gonna do when it all burns down?

Fire, fire burning higher

Still got time to turn it all around.

It’s difficult to say whether Dolly explicitly intended “World on Fire” as a climate song, though people are hearing it as such. But that’s how many of Dolly’s more “political” statements and artistic work come across — they tap into the zeitgeist without making any explicit political statements. Dolly is an expert at this…