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EarthTalk®

by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss


Dear EarthTalk: Do insecticide-resistant mosquitoes jeopardize the progress we have made at reducing malaria cases around the world? -- Sue Marchetti, New Orleans, LA

Mosquitoes do seem to be evolving defenses against what have been some of humanity’s most effective insecticides. A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Science Advances, found that 78 percent of mosquitoes sampled by researchers in Vietnam and Cambodia carried multiple genetic mutations that made them resistant to at least two different commonly used insecticides there.

According to lead study author Shinji Kasai of Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases, these findings aren’t surprising to those who have witnessed the coronavirus’ rapid-fire evolution to enhance transmissibility and the evasion of antibodies from vaccination and/or prior infection. “I believe our work will help us understand that evolution is a powerful force,” said Kasai in a recent Washington Post article. These new findings are especially worrisome to the World Health Organization, the Gates Foundation and other entities which have worked diligently to help bring down malaria’s case incidence by more than 40 percent and mortality rates by upwards of 60 percent around the world over the last two decades.

Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease that is caused by parasites of the Plasmodium species, which are transmitted to humans through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. The most effective way to control malaria is to prevent people from being bitten by infected mosquitoes; this is typically achieved through a combination of measures such as the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying with insecticides, and the use of insect repellents. For humans who have already contracted the illness, a range of drug-based therapies has helped bring mortality rates down. But if mosquitoes are no longer susceptible to these mitigation techniques, malaria cases are bound to rise, particularly as populations of Anopheles and other mosquito species are growing while expanding their geographical ranges thanks to global warming, increasing urbanization and globalization.

However, the relationship between insecticide resistance in mosquitoes and the overall incidence of malaria is complex and depends on many other factors as well. Besides the availability of effective prevention and treatment measures, malaria rates are also influenced by the level of healthcare infrastructure and access to care and the overall economic and social conditions of affected regions.

One silver lining is that we have lots of other types of insecticides that do seem to still be effective at mosquito control. But it may just be a matter of time until mosquito species develop new resistances in this biological/evolutionary arms race. According to Kasai, it’s not realistic nor desirable to wipe all the little blood suckers off the face of the planet entirely, as mosquito larvae benefit ecosystems by consuming lots of organic matter in wetlands which in turn helps recycle nutrients back into the environment while also providing food for fish and other wildlife.

“All organisms live as cogs on this planet and may be necessary to sustain the planet,” he adds. “I think the most desirable world is one in which mosquitoes can be controlled to the extent that people do not have to feel the risk of mosquito-borne diseases.”

CONTACTS: Discovery of super–insecticide-resistant dengue mosquitoes in
Asia: Threats of concomitant knockdown resistance mutations, science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abq7345; Artemisinin-based combination therapy in the treatment of uncomplicated malaria, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4492341/.

Dear EarthTalk: How are we going to deal with all the waste when the solar panels everyone is putting up now wear out in 20-30 years? -- Paul B., Chevy Chase, MD

When purchasing green alternatives for home power generation, there are many features that the average consumer looks for. Most are hoping to find options that are the most efficient, or the lightest, or the most durable, but what about the most recyclable?

This question is often overlooked when making such purchases. Unfortunately, ignoring a product's life cycle can have disastrous consequences, especially if reducing your environmental footprint is a concern.

Take solar panels, for example. The average solar panel lasts roughly 25 years, and the vast majority of them were purchased and put into use within the last 10 years. This means that within the next 15 years, millions of retired and broken solar panels will be flooding landfills. A 2020 study out of the federally funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that as much as eight million tons of solar modules could arrive in landfills globally by 2030, and by 2050 these solar panels could make up to 10 percent of all e-waste on the planet.

To make matters worse, if the waste isn’t disposed of properly, it could cause problems for the groundwater in its vicinity. Solar panels contain trace amounts of toxic compounds, such as lead, and a carcinogen known as cadmium telluride. If either of these chemicals were to leach into a freshwater source, the water would become unsafe to use in most capacities.

Although solar panels are recyclable, there is little incentive to do so. Made from materials such as aluminum, copper, silicon and glass, approximately 80-85 percent of a solar panel can be recycled; however, the process would actually cost more than the raw materials are worth.

Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office has been hard at work developing a comprehensive system for handling and recycling solar panels. By 2030, they plan on reducing the cost of solar panel recycling to a mere $3 per panel. This reduction would actually make solar panel recycling an economically feasible venture!

That said, there is still the option to rebuild new solar panels from old ones. However, to accomplish this would require a direct reuse of the materials recovered. Silicon, for example, can be directly recycled back into solar panels, or it can even be used in the anodes of lithium-ion batteries—the functional storage unit of power generated through the use of solar panels.

But what about simply making the solar panels greener? Instead of silicon solar panels (what people normally buy), there is another option available known as Sunflare thin-film solar panels. The lightweight modules have a carbon footprint that is 20 percent that of silicon, they do not require toxic chemicals such as lead, cadmium, hydrofluoric acid or hydrochloric acid to produce, they require less water, and are 80 percent less energy-intensive to make. They are also paper-thin, require no silicon purification, no glass, and no mounts, and are even more efficient in low-light conditions!

CONTACTS: Solar Photovoltaic Module Recycling: A Survey of U.S. Policies and Initiatives, www.nrel.gov/docs/fy21osti/74124.pdf; Sunflare Solar, www.sunflaresolar.com

Dear EarthTalk: Google has a huge amount of influence around the world. What are they doing to promote sustainability that drives real change? -- P. Paulson, Alexandria, VA

Google’s stance on sustainability has always been extremely positive, so much so that it has become an integral part of who they are as a company. As is stated on their official site page on sustainability, “We unify our practices, partnerships, and products around a single mission—to foster sustainability at scale.” Thankfully this is not all talk. Google has adopted a number of changes to the way their search engine works, changes that put sustainability at the forefront of the average Google-user’s mind.

Some of these new features include an automatic carbon footprint analyzer that chooses the greenest options for you, be it flights, hotels, driving routes or appliances. Incredibly, the analyzer is so advanced that it gathers information pertaining to a particular flight’s carbon output per seat; a hotel’s green practices (waste reduction, water conservation etc), and whether or not they are Green Key or EarthCheck Certified; the greenest and most cost-effective routes to drive; and even the cost-effectiveness and sustainability ratings of energy intensive appliances like water heaters and furnaces.

Now, all these features and services are great for the user, but what about big-picture sustainability?

At their Google Cloud Sustainability Summit, which occurred near the end of June 2022, Google announced that they would be launching a sustainability platform for their customers to use to boost their own sustainability initiatives. The platform would grant users access to the Google Earth Engine, a tool previously only accessible by scientists and nonprofit organizations. The aim is to give customers the ability to extrapolate how their company’s actions affect not only their immediate marketplace, but the world around them.

Furthermore, Google has been using their research into artificial intelligence to optimize the efficiency of traffic lights. The research, which was piloted in Israel, managed to predict traffic conditions and improve traffic light timing so well that they saw a 10 to 20 per cent reduction in fuel consumption and intersection delay time. In the future, they hope to expand this operation into Rio de Janeiro, and hopefully further, should it continue to see success.

While Google has accomplished a great deal in their quest for a more sustainable future, their use of wording may be slightly misleading for some, in particular, their use of the term “carbon-neutral,” especially as it pertains to one of their greatest achievements: Carbon Neutrality since 2007.

What most people don't realize is that carbon neutrality doesn’t mean that the company in question produces no carbon, or that they remove the carbon they produced from the atmosphere; it means they are offsetting their carbon output by investing in green initiatives, purchasing green energy and taking other actions that purportedly reduce other carbon outputs by as mush asor more than their own. By that definition, according to a report by Dezeen, Google has certainly been carbon neutral, but they have not been carbon net-zero (removing the carbon they produce from the atmosphere). In reality, the carbon that Google has produced since 2007 has accumulated to as much as 20 million tons!

CONTACTS: Accelerating climate action at Google and beyond, sustainability.google/; Google Earth Outreach, google.com/earth/outreach/special-projects/air-quality/.

Dear EarthTalk: What happens to all the rubber waste that wears off tires as cars and trucks roll down the road? Is it bad for the environment? -- Jack C., Marion, OH

Most people have heard of exhaust emissions, but there is another form of emissions released by vehicles known as non-exhaust emissions (NEEs). According to independent testing and data firm Emissions Analytics, they can be as much as 1,000 times worse for the environment. NEEs are defined as “particles released into the air from brake wear, tyre wear, road surface wear and resuspension of road dust during on-road vehicle usage.”

Unfortunately, NEEs account for most of the primary particulate matter released by road vehicles on a daily basis. In total, more than 1.5 million metric tons of tire-wear particles are lost to the environment each year, equivalent to 30 percent of the weight of every tire used in the U.S. NEEs constitute as much as 60 percent of the particles that are less than 2.5 micrometers in size (PM2.5) and 73 percent of those that are less than 10 micrometers in size (PM10), making them one of the greatest vehicular threats to nature.

This is only further exacerbated by the growing electric-vehicle industry, as EV’s weigh significantly more due to their batteries and also have a higher torque output. Putting these two characteristics together, tires used on an EV will inevitably wear out faster. According to Scott Clark, Michelin executive vice president for automotive, motorsport experiences and Americas Regions, the difference in tire life-span can be as much as 20 percent less for an EV compared to an internal combustion engine vehicle.

As for the effects that NEEs have on the environment, the data is unsettling to say the least. In a study on estuary ecosystems led by post-doctoral scholar Samreen Siddiqui, it was found that Inland Silverside and mysid shrimp, when exposed to tire particulates and a resultant pollutant known as leachate (a mix of chemicals that are released by tire particulates) had a number of problems, including significantly altered swimming behaviors and reduced growth.

In a similar study led by graduate student Brittany Cunningham, a freshwater ecosystem was exposed to tire particulates and leachates. The organisms in question—embryonic zebrafish and the crustacean Daphnia magna—experienced mortality and developmental abnormalities as a result of the exposure. Leachate was considered the main driver of toxicity in both organisms, with the particles themselves enhancing the toxicity in comparison to the leachate alone. The researchers recommended some innovative solutions to preventing tire-wear exposure, including rain gardens on the sides of roads to capture tire particulates, as well as more durable tires, incentivizing greener transit alternatives, and something known as particle capture devices.

The Tyre Collective, a research group that produces sustainable devices for tire-particulate removal, invented a device that is capable of capturing the particulates themselves. Since the particulates become positively charged when released due to friction, the device uses electrostatic plates to capture as much as 60 percent of the particles released, preventing them from ever entering the environment!


CONTACTS: Emissions Analytics, emissionsanalytics.com; Tire Dust Is Pollution, greencarreports.com/news/1129809_tire-dust-is-pollution-and-this-invention-will-help-vehicles-clean-up-as-they-go; Why Don’t Tires Last as Long on an EV? cleanfleetreport.com/tech-why-dont-tires-last-as-long-on-an-ev/.

Dear EarthTalk: Since when is the transition to electric vehicles an “environmental justice” issue?

-- P. Balducci, Troy, NY

 

The poorest members of our society are likely to benefit the least from a widespread transition to electric vehicles (EVs) for a few reasons. For starters, those with the least income are unlikely to be able to afford to purchase a new car, let alone a Tesla. As such, gas guzzling, internal combustion cars and trucks will likely persist well into the future—even if they are not the majority of vehicles on the road any longer—and their drivers will be paying a lot more for fuel (gas) than their EV-driving lane mates.

 

And lower income individuals who do pony up for an EV will also suffer disproportionately as even the electricity to recharge will be a much higher portion of their overall income than wealthier EV drivers. A January 2023 study from the University of Michigan found that “more than half of the lowest-income U.S. households (an estimated 8.3 million households) would continue to experience high transportation energy burdens, defined...as spending more than 4 percent of household income on filling the tank or charging up.”

 

"EV ownership in the U.S. has thus far been dominated by households with higher incomes and education levels, leaving the most vulnerable populations behind,” reports Joshua Newell, a co-author on the study and an urban geographer at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems. “Policy interventions are needed to increase EV accessibility so that all Americans can benefit from the EV transition."

 

This problem has not gone unnoticed by some lawmakers and policymakers. One positive development is the federal government’s re-upping of its policy offering up to $7,500 in tax rebates to those who purchase a qualifying new EV. Additionally, many states and localities offer their own financial and other incentives to help low-income individuals afford the transition to an EV. Check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DESIRE), a free online resource from the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State to find what incentives are available in your area. Other ways that some states and cities are trying to bridge the income disparity gap caused by the EV transition include car-sharing programs for low-income residents and education and job training opportunities in the EV industry.

 

Meanwhile, the cost of EVs continues to go down. U.S. car buyers can comparison-shop among more than a dozen EV models with sticker prices under $40k for the 2023 model year. And many governments and private organizations are actively engaged in research and development to make EVs more affordable and accessible to everyone. Since EVs are cheaper to own and operate than their gas guzzling counterparts, it’s a shame that those least able to afford them bear a disproportionate burden, whether they upgrade or not.

 

CONTACTS: EV transition will benefit most US vehicle owners, but lowest-income Americans could get left behind, sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/01/230111075846.htm; Environmental and Economic Equity in the Electric Vehicle Revolution, vjel.vermontlaw.edu/-4-vol-23; Forth Mobility, forthmobility.org.

Dear EarthTalk: What is the National Football League doing to reduce its environmental impact and carbon footprint? -- Mitch Trevino, Las Vegas, NV

Like any major spectator sport league, the National Football League (NFL) is no darling to environmental advocates. Stadium construction, maintenance and energy use contribute significantly to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and resource depletion. Transportation of fans to games, waste generated during games, and production and disposal of merchandise and equipment can also contribute to environmental harm.

That said, given these points against it, the NFL has made a concerted effort in recent years to reduce its environmental impact, even vowing to become a “net zero” emissions league—meaning it will offset all of its greenhouse gas emissions through a combination of reducing its own emissions and supporting projects that remove or reduce CO2 from the atmosphere—in the near future.

Indeed, the NFL has made a major push to offset CO2 emissions over the past few years, offsetting upwards of 20,000 metric tons of CO2 per year, league-wide. The leading non-profit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is partnering with the NFL on its emissions reduction and offset strategy. The goal of this unusual partnership is to reduce emissions through improved energy efficiency and the increased use of renewable energy sources.

The league also encourages and promotes sustainability practices—recycling, reducing single-use plastics, and using environmentally-friendly transportation—at stadiums across the country. And an NFL tree planting campaign also helps reduce the league’s carbon footprint. The league rounds out its emissions reduction strategy by purchasing renewable energy credits to “offset” emissions from energy usage in NFL facilities and events. The league proudly offsets all energy used at major Super Bowl venues.

Waste reduction is also a source of pride for the NFL. Starting in 2019, upwards of 90 percent of the waste generated at and around the Super Bowl was diverted from landfills through recycling and composting. Likewise, the league has started to take water conservation seriously, implementing low-flow plumbing fixtures and drought-resistant landscaping at various stadiums nationwide, while simultaneously working to educate fans on water conservation through its sustainability outreach program.

Another area where NFL planners have made strides is sustainable building and retrofits, implementing green building practices—such as the implementation of energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems and the use of recycled building materials in several facilities across the country. For example, Levi's Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, is LEED Gold Certified and has a 27,000 square-foot green roof (green roofs provide numerous benefits, including stormwater management, improved air quality, energy efficiency, fire retardation and noise reduction).

The NFL isn’t the only American sports league fixated on sustainability of late. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has its annual “Green Week” celebration, Major League Baseball (MLB) has its “Green Game” initiative that runs the length of the baseball season, and the National Hockey League (NHL) has its “Green Initiative” that promotes sustainability year-round. But the NFL runs the highest profile sporting event on the planet—the Super Bowl—so it has a much larger opportunity to reach fans across the continent and around the world with its messages and examples of sustainability.


CONTACTS: NFL Green,
nfl.com/causes/nfl-green/; Environmental Defense Fund, edf.org.

Dear EarthTalk: Is it unhealthy for you to live near an airport? -- M. Smith, Pittsburgh, PA

Living near an airport can have negative effects on health and quality of life due to noise pollution and air pollution from aircrafts. The noise from airplanes can disrupt sleep, increase stress levels and lead to hearing loss. Air pollution from aircrafts can have negative impacts on respiratory and cardiovascular health. However, the degree to which these negative effects occur can vary depending on factors such as the proximity to the airport, the number of flights, and the type of aircraft.

A study supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in collaboration with the University of California and Columbia University found that people who lived within six miles of 12 of California’s largest airports exhibited higher levels of asthma and heart-related problems. Admissions for respiratory issues like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at nearby hospitals were 17 percent higher than the baseline average. Heart issues also saw an increase—by as much as nine percent.

In another study led by Rima Habre, an associate professor of clinical population and public health sciences, it was found that the culprit may be something known as ultra-fine particulate matter (UFP), a form of pollution emitted by aircraft, especially in the vicinity of airports. In her study, she hoped to observe the effects of acute exposure by asking participants to take walks in a park that was near a Los Angeles airport, as well as a park that was further away. She discovered that the inhalation of UFPs led to an increased inflammatory response in not only the lungs, but the entire circulatory system of the participants with asthma shortly after exposure. As Habre further elaborates, UFPs are not regulated, and many individuals who live in the vicinity of high-traffic airports are assuredly at risk.

Lead exposure is another issue that many aren’t aware of. A study published earlier this month in PNAS Nexus discovered elevated blood-lead levels in children who lived near the Reid-Hillview Airport in Santa Clara County, California. The source of the lead pollution was found to be piston-engine aircrafts–small single or two-propeller aircraft commonly used for training or trailing advertisement banners.

Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), older adults, those with heart or lung-related conditions, and children (especially at schools), are also vulnerable to UFP pollution. In fact, researchers from the University of Washington’s Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS) have stated that air quality inside a classroom can be worse than the air quality outside. Thankfully, the researchers are working on a solution that involves portable air purifiers, as well as upgrades to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Their research, known as the Healthy Air, Healthy Schools Project, is in part being conducted at 20 schools near SeaTac Airport, and will involve the use of purifiers with and without filters, along with an analysis of academic performance. Hopes are that the findings will inform future endeavors related to the improvement of air quality not only in schools, but in other buildings used by the public on a daily basis.


CONTACTS: A review of health effects associated with exposure to jet engine emissions in and around airports, ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-020-00690-y; Airport pollution linked to acute health effects among people with asthma in Los Angeles, pphs.usc.edu/airport-pollution-linked-to-acute-health-effects-among-people-with-asthma-in-los-angeles/

Dear EarthTalk: Did the Tiger King documentary of 2020 have any impact on the business of illegal wildlife trafficking? -- Susan W., Raleigh, NC

Netflix’s Tiger King special was as informative as it was sensational, showcasing not only the wild nature of its main star, the Tiger King himself, Joe Exotic (Joseph Maldonado-Passage), but also the harm caused to big cats trapped within the exotic animal industry. On more than one occasion, the outlandish documentary highlights how terribly these animals were treated, all in the name of fame and fortune.

Thankfully, the special brought more to the table than just views, notoriety and cash. Since Tiger King first aired on March 20, 2020, a number of justices have been served.

First and foremost, Joe Exotic’s GW Zoo has been shut down, he has been charged and convicted on 17 counts of animal abuse, including the killing of five healthy tigers (as well as attempted murder for hire). As a result of his crimes, he will be serving 22 years in prison. Not only that, all the tigers that were kept in his captivity were eventually removed, and are now safely kept in a sanctuary in Colorado.

Secondly, President Joe Biden has gotten involved in the fight for big cats, a fight that was arguably championed by none other than Carol Baskin (an early supporter of the bill), the infamous star of the Tiger King special, and a rival of Joe Exotic. On December 20 of last year, Biden signed into law HR.263, otherwise known as the “Big Cat Public Safety Act.” According to the new law, private citizens may no longer breed, purchase or transport big cats; if they already own any, they must have them registered. The bill also restricts public contact with lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, snow leopards and jaguars, effectively ending the private ownership and exploitation of big cats in the US.

Thirdly, as much as the show focused on Joe Exotic, there was another character, Doc Antle, who was arguably guilty of many similar exploitations of big cats. In fact, during June of 2022, Antle, among others, was charged with both wildlife trafficking and money laundering, and will be facing a maximum of five years in prison for the wildlife charges, and 20 years for the money laundering charges.

Another, less obvious positive consequence of the Tiger King special is that the illegal wildlife industry is now under increased public scrutiny. The special itself was viewed by some 64 million households after a month and a half, drawing 5.3 billion minutes of view-time within the first week of its release. With these kinds of numbers, the exploitation of wild animals will be taken more seriously in the future.

If you’re looking to help big cats yourself, there are a number of conservation initiatives that focus on rehabilitating big-cat locales. For example, Save the Tiger Fund and Panthera are collaborating to increase tiger populations in specific locations by 50 percent over a 10-year period. They are looking for donations from those who are interested in helping out.


CONTACTS: Tiger King,
https://www.netflix.com/title/81115994; Tiger King takeaway: It’s time to end big cat breeding and trafficking, blog.humanesociety.org/2022/01/tiger-king-takeaway-its-time-to-end-big-cat-breeding-and-trafficking.html?credit=blog_post_011122_id12684; 10 Key Facts About Tigers and How You Can Help Them Right Now, netflix.com/tudum/articles/tiger-king-facts-and-how-to-save-wild-tigers-from-extinction.

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit https://earthtalk.org . Send questions to: question@earthtalk.org .



 


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