Good News for Winter 2022


Search and Conserve 

Google’s Year in Search proves what we at Bluedot Living already knew: Environmental awareness is growing. In 2021, searches for “how to conserve” reached an all-time high around the world. 

Other climate change-related searches grew in popularity last year as well. Global searches about the impact of climate change and sustainability also reached all-time highs. In September, searches for second hand shops surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the U.S. 

A Half Century of Clean Air

It’s been almost 50 years since Congress passed the Clean Air Act to enforce fuel emissions standards for vehicles — and it looks like the impact has been life-saving. A recent study indicates that the regulations have likely saved thousands of lives. Researchers estimate that between 2008 and 2017 alone, deaths caused by emissions-related illnesses decreased by nearly a third. 

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Cleaning up Bali’s Waterways

The rivers in Bali, Indonesia, central to burial rites and the placement of the island’s most sacred temples, have been overrun with garbage for years. As reported by Hakai Magazine, a new organization, Sungai Watch, is hoping to restore the pristine beauty to Bali’s waterways. 

Gary Bencheghib, founder of Sungai Watch, got his start by collecting trash from the river himself and selling it to a recycler. But when Bencheghib began sourcing sponsorships from organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, he was able to expand the project. For an annual pledge as low as $210, donors can have a section of river named after them.

Sungai Watch removes trash from the rivers through a system of 110 barriers that trap the waste. Then, employees remove and sort the trash, diverting some to be recycled or composted, collecting data on types of plastic and the manufacturing brand, and working with governments and corporations to enforce better waste management. Since its start in October 2020, Sungai Watch has collected more than 800,000 pounds of plastic. Its next goal is to install 1,000 barriers throughout Indonesia and begin expanding its cleanup internationally.

Getting closer to the clean energy of nuclear fusion

According to the BBC, “European scientists say they have made a major breakthrough in their quest to develop practical nuclear fusion — the energy process that powers the stars.

Experiments at the UK-based JET laboratory produced 59 megajoules of energy over five seconds (11 megawatts of power), beating its own previous record by more than double in 1997.

The excitement around this, which produced roughly enough energy to boil water in about 60 kettles, is that it validates current research and shows incredible promise. “We’ve demonstrated that we can create a mini star inside of our machine and hold it there for five seconds and get high performance, which really takes us into a new realm,” the BBC quotes Dr Joe Milnes, the head of operations at the reactor lab as saying. Fusion differs from fission in that the process forces atoms together rather than splitting them, which is how existing nuclear fission reactors work. Though we’re still two decades or more from the commercialization of nuclear fusion, this breakthrough offers great potential for powering our planet with clean energy in the second half of this century. 

California cities clean up trash … and make sure compostables are diverted

Food waste that ends up in landfills is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions — but California is doing something about that. Senate Bill 1383, passed in 2016, went into effect on January 1st. The law will ensure that municipalities divert a whopping 75% of organic waste from landfills by 2025. 

Approximately one third of the waste that ends up in landfills is compostable. In 2019, the EPA estimated that landfill methane emissions from organic waste were nearly equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 21.6 million passenger vehicles driven for one year. 

While many cities in California will be offering an additional curbside bin for organic waste, a few are investing in complex machinery to improve participation. One such city is Santa Barbara. Because it can take time to educate residents on food separation and the race to get food waste out of the landfill is urgent, Santa Barbara city officials have decided to sort organic waste out of the trash for people. In July, the city opened the doors of its ReSource Center, a combination of a materials recovery facility that will sort and remove organic waste and an anaerobic digester that will process the organic waste into compost and biogas that will provide electricity. 

EV Research Offers the Long Road

The transition to electric vehicles is underway, but one major hurdle is the range of these cars has long been eclipsed by that of fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Now, scientists have discovered a biologically-inspired membrane that has the potential to quintuple the range of electric vehicle batteries. 

According to the Independent, the discovery was made by a research team at the University of Michigan that used recycled Kevlar, the material found in bulletproof vests, to create a network of nanofibers that resembles those in cell membranes. The researchers used this finding to fix a major issue with lithium-sulfur batteries, a next-generation battery being eyed as an alternative to lithium ion batteries in electric cars and a number of other technologies. 

As a handful of countries at COP26 this fall committed to sell all-electric vehicles by 2040, it’s innovations like this that make such a sweeping transition more feasible. 

Bugged by Plastic

Plastic-eating bugs are teaching scientists how to recycle. It’s no secret that the plastic problem is tough to tackle — only 9% of plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. If pollution continues at this rate, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

But, the Guardian reports that scientists discovered microbes in soils and oceans across the world that have evolved to eat plastic. The first bug with these natural recycling abilities was discovered in a dump in Japan in 2016. Scientists began studying how the organism evolved and, in the process, accidentally created an enzyme that had even better plastic degradation skills. In 2020, additional experimentation increased the speed of degradation sixfold. 

London’s Thames now Teems with Life

London’s famous River Thames has come back to life. After the river was declared biologically dead about 60 years ago, cleanup crews have worked to reduce levels of chemicals such as phosphorus, and volunteers have conserved salt marshes for various species of birds and fish.

Now, the Washington Post reports, the River Thames teems with biodiversity — including sharks, sea horses, eels, and seals. The report, conducted by the Zoological Society of London, measured the successes of conservation efforts but also points toward what remains to be addressed, including rising water temperatures, a high concentration of microplastics, and elevated nitrate concentrations that threaten water quality.

California Blows Off Leaf Blowers

In California, yard work is about to become greener. A new law passed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2021 bans gas-powered small-motor equipment such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chainsaws. Going forward, this equipment will need to be battery powered or plug-in.

These gas-powered machines are highly inefficient and emit pollutants such as carbon monoxide, carcinogenic hydrocarbons, and smog-forming nitrous oxide. According to a 2011 study, a leaf blower emits almost 300 times the amount of air pollutants as a pickup truck. Assemblyman Marc Berman, who authored the legislation, says the state will direct $30 million to assist professional landscapers and gardeners to transition.

A number of cities across the U.S. are also beginning to institute bans on gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers, including Burlington, Vermont, Montclair, New Jersey, and Washington, DC. In Massachusetts, the city of Brookline has a seasonal ban on gas powered leaf blowers, and Lexington will institute a total ban by 2026. 

For peat’s sake … let’s save the wetlands!

When it comes to storing carbon, few surpass the capacity of peat bogs. Unfortunately, development and agriculture have led to the drainage of these wetlands at large scales. One organization in Scotland, however, is making strides to restore these invaluable ecosystems.

According to World War Zero, Peatland ACTION has worked to recover 25,000 hectares of degraded peatland since 2012. And recently receiving £250 million for recovery efforts means that there’s even more hope for these carbon stores in the coming years.
The organization uses data from satellites to track peats’ carbon-storing capacities. As the water table of these wetlands rises, native plant species are also returning. 

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A Letter from the Editor of Bluedot Living

It's Bluedot's third birthday! We appreciate all your support and ideas and contributions over the last three years. 
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Bluedot Living Magazine is a sustainable living magazine and website with locations throughout North America.
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