Who bears responsibility for COVID-19 spreading? A review on notable 21st Century Research on Emerging Infectious Diseases

Future path of Research Development and correlation with anthropic pollution and ecosystem endangerment

Image is taken from: “Global Trends in Emerging Infectious Diseases”, Kate E. Hudson, 2008

Kate E. Jones published a study on Nature in 2008 identifying 335 Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) that have been detected from 1940 to 2004, demonstrating non-random global patterns. Origins are significantly correlated with socio-economic, environmental and ecological factors. They also reveal a substantial risk of wildlife zoonotic EIDs in Southern Countries were research funding is low. From this analysis, 60% of emerging diseases that have been detected in humans resulted to be zoonotic. The term “Zoonosis” refers to all diseases transmitted from animals to humans. This raises a question on which is the relationship that ties humans to natural ecosystems where such diseases have originated. 

In 2012 David Quammen published Spillover, a book where he highlights the influence of humans on ecosystems and zoonosis diffusion. But what would be the correlation between environmental impact and zoonosis? According to the writer, the spread of viruses is favoured by incorrect behaviour such as the illegal trade in wild species, which can cause numerous cases of disease and even death. This could be one of the possible reasons for the rapid spread of COVID-19. To support this theory, it is suspected that its origin, or intermediate state (after the bat), derives from the consumption of Pangolin meat and scale trading, an endangered mammal and one of the most smuggled animals in the world.

Moving from the cause assessment to an analysis of the current situation: new theories about a causal relation between COVID-19 and pollution are emerging. On one hand, the scientific community agrees on the positive correlation between long-term exposure to pollution and increased mortality rate. However, on the other hand, there is a conflict of thoughts concerning the hypothesis according to which a high rate of particulate matter facilitates the spread of the virus (infectivity rate).  

In 2010, a study published by Sedlmaier from the Bavarian Environmental Agency found a link between the infectivity rate of viral avian influenza and high concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5. The claim was confirmed in 2013 when a group of Chinese researchers asserting that the higher the concentrations of pollutants in the air, the greater the number of pathogenic microorganisms in the air.  The study carried out in China is currently under analysis for Coronavirus cases.

Looking at Italian research: SIMA (Società Italiana di Medicina Ambientale) published a study in collaboration with the Universities of Bologna and Bari. According to the report, the atmospheric particulate matter would act as a carrier: viruses’ membrane would stick to it and remain in the atmosphere for enough time to increase the infection rate. The rate of inactivation of the virus depends on environmental conditions: the higher the humidity, the more likely it is that the virus will spread. To provide practical evidence, the area of Lombardy (the 1st region in Italy for cases of Coronavirus) has been analyzed. For more than two months (Dec 2019 – Feb 2020) the concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide were almost were consistently above the legal limits. Suffice it to say that in mid-February Lombardy had already consumed the 35 days per year of exceeding the limit (50 μg/m3 according to European PM10 standards). A linear relationship between air pollution and cases infected by COVID-19 was therefore recorded. 

On the other hand, while from a statistic point of view a covariance of 0.97 reported in the study might seem meaningful, the Italian Aerosol Society (IAS) published a note asserting that there is not enough data to prove a causal relation between Particulate Matter Concentration and COVID-19 infectivity rate. Particularly, the monitoring period is too short to state such a relation.

Also, the system is too complex to be studied under a linear relation analysis (other variables must be included that might range from climate conditions to cultural aspects). 

Yet, IAS agreed that the path of this study shall continue with profound investigation. IAS also confirm two relevant aspects: 

  1. Mortality rate (also according to the previously mentioned studies) increases if infected people were exposed to high pollution levels for a prolonged time due to the fact of a proven causal relationship with diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. 
  2. Reduction of anthropic emissions in the long term will highly benefit air quality and, therefore, human health (therefore a reduction in health-related costs that might be allocated more efficiently). 

Related to this last point it must be said “long term” is a key element. We must always stress out the point that meteorological conditions have no significant relation with climate conditions, that are long term in nature. If the effort to keep pollution down is not undertaken, the reduction of NO2 and Particulate Matter that we faced in this period will be marginalized in a one-year span.  

To conclude we must say that this emergency was foreseeable by giving the deserved attention to the scientific community. Particularly, we qualify ecosystems endangerment as the main cause of this pandemic. A Global response under the “One World, One Health” (and also one database) paradigm might be the answer for future risk assessment and prevention. 

We, therefore, with pondered critique, want to encourage Governments to follow the scientific community’s recommendations not only in times of crisis but as a form of prevention, also by funding research. Notably, as risk probability is higher in Southern Countries, we also encourage founding in that direction.  

Yet, there is no need for prevention at this point, we are already at the edge of Climate Crisis. 

Image taken from: Setti Leonardo et al., “Relation between particular matter pollution and virus diffusion in the Italian population”, 2020

Suggested Book:

Quammen David. Spillover: Animal Infection and the Next Human Pandemic, 2012

Related Researches:

Liu, P.; Chen, W.; Chen, J.-P. Viral Metagenomics Revealed Sendai Virus and Coronavirus Infection of Malayan Pangolins (Manis javanica). Viruses 2019, 11, 979. 

https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4915/11/11/979/htm

Kate E. Jones, Nikkita G. Patel, Peter Daskaz. Global trends in emerging infectious Diseases. Nature 2008

https://www.nature.com/articles/nature06536

N. Sedlmaier, K. Hoppenheidt, H. Krist, S. Lehmann, H. Lang, et al.. Generation of avian influenza virus (AIV) contaminated fecal fine particulate matter (PM): genome and infectivity detection and calculation of immission. Veterinary Microbiology, Elsevier, 2009

https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00520661/document

Useful Links:

Price Kiley, Animal Isolation, Sustainable Funds, COVID-19 and apes: 3 stories you may have missed. Conservation International, 2020

https://www.conservation.org/blog/animal-isolation-sustainable-funds-covid-19-and-apes-3-stories-you-may-have-missed?utm_campaign=General&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&s_src=facebook&s_subsrc=General_2020Apr02

European Public Health Alliance, Air pollution clears in cities globally – new maps. 2020

Vidal John, Tip of the iceberg: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19? The Guardian, 2020

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/18/tip-of-the-iceberg-is-our-destruction-of-nature-responsible-for-covid-19-aoe

UniBo/UniBari Study and IAS response (for Italian readers):

Setti Leonardo et al., Relazione circa l’effetto dell’inquinametno da particolato atmosferico e la diffusione di virus nella popolazione. 2020

http://www.simaonlus.it/wpsima/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/COVID19_Position-Paper_Relazione-circa-l%E2%80%99effetto-dell%E2%80%99inquinamento-da-particolato-atmosferico-e-la-diffusione-di-virus-nella-popolazione.pdf

Italian Aereosol Society, Contributo IAS alla discussion sulla relazione tra inquinamento da particolato atmosferico e diffusione del COVID-19. 2020

http://iasaerosol.it/it/news-ita/96-contributo-ias-alla-discussione-sulla-relazione-tra-inquinamento-da-particolato-atmosferico-e-diffusione-del-covid-19

Introducing an In-depth Analysis of Decreasing Pollution related to Coronavirus Outbreak in Italy

In the following weeks, as an information network devoted to sustainability, we will try to look at current coronavirus outbreak from an economic perspective, to implement and offer an analysis on good practices that shall be implemented as soon as the direct emergency ends. We want to dedicate our effort to all the victims and families deeply damaged by the pandemic, as well as all the people that are constantly working to save lives.  

Bitterly, economists might serve under these situations to read the present for assessing and try to prevent future damages. We intend to serve in this purpose with all due respect.

Since over three months ago, Cina has been affected by a virus that overstepped Asiatic borders and arrived in Europe within a few weeks. 

The “deadlock” of the country provoked a slowing down in transports and economic sectors such as flying, logistics, commercial distribution etc. As a result, environment was affected in a positive way. In fact, experts noticed a decrease in GHGs emission by 25%, something never happened before in China, an overpopulated country that is still highly dependent on coal as primary energy source.  

According to the Climate Index Risk, 500,000 victims have been caused by meteorological effects exacerbated by climate change. Moreover, World Health Organization states that deaths will increase, reaching 250,000 per year. The scenario seems apocalyptic, yet the choices of national governments do not reflect serious concerns (for example, only a few countries in the world had a clear transition to renewable energy). Particularly, governments’ measures taken to face climate change cannot be compared to those concerning the virus. This can be explained by the assumption that people’s adversity of risk is higher for Covid-19 than climate change.

Giovanni Carrosio, professor at the University of Trieste, tried to explain the irrationality of risk by comparing travelling by car with travelling by plane. Rationally, the latter transport would be safer, and yet most people prefer the former one. Actually, the probability of dying by car is 1 over 103, while the likelihood of a person to die by plane is 1 over 188,364.

For what concerns COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, Doctor Milena Gabanelli’s Dataroom outlined the short-term situation, having most data explicitly covered. ASPI data outlined an 18% reduction in highway traffic (-20% light car traffic, +2% heavy truck traffic). School and business closure have also caused a reduction in CO2 emissions, as well as airline traffic reduction. Air currents did also play a role in reducing CO2 presence in the atmosphere surrounding Italy. All these events caused, in the short term, a reduction in CO2 by 428,000 tons in the three regions most affected by COVID-19. This numbers only reflect the first week and will exponentially grow as long as these restrictive measures are kept. These measures must be analyzed in the long term to have scientific relevance, and we will do so as soon as AQI, ISPRA and ARPA data will be updated. Only time will mutate collective perception into real consequences.  

2020-02-14 Image taken by Copernicus Sentinel-5P Satelite
2020-03-08 Image taken by Copernicus Sentinel-5P Satelite

On the other side, it must be acknowledged that Human and Economic costs will be monstrous. We state this to clarify that the data on CO2 reduction, and consequent social welfare increase, will be analyzed only as an empiric opportunity to evaluate smart working policies, shorter supply chains. A model that we should aim in reaching as soon as this emergency will end. We say this by remembering that any economic assessment of human health, in particular Value of Statistical Life (VOSL), takes health into account related to human productivity. Restrictive measures that prevent the citizen from working or going to school undermine any evaluation attempt. 

In the next article, to keep following COVID-19 outbreak consequences, we will assess “positive” CO2-health related changes that in the long term might affect workers’ and citizens’ life. The data that we are taking into account comprehend PM10, PM 2.5 and NO2 in the atmosphere.  

Useful Links for insights:

Milena Gabbanelli, Coronavirus ed emission di CO2, l’aria è più pulita ma non è una buona notizia: perchè? https://www.corriere.it/dataroom-milena-gabanelli/coronavirus-ed-emissioni-co2-l-aria-piu-pulita-ma-non-buona-notizia-perche/3f1d4156-62d6-11ea-a693-c7191bf8b498-va.shtml

Jonathan Watts, Coronavirus could cause fall in global CO2 emissions. Responses to utbreak also show how governemtn policy and behavioural changes can have impact https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/10/coronavirus-could-cause-fall-in-global-co2-emissions

Video:

Minute Earth, How Do Greenhouse Gases Actually Work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTvqIijqvTg

Database:

ARPA Lombardia https://www.arpalombardia.it/Pages/Ricerca-Dati-ed-Indicatori.aspx

World Air Quality Index Project https://aqicn.org/city

The Green Growth of China: poverty reduction and sustainable development

Starting from the last decade of the past century, China experienced a dramatic economic growth and poverty reduction. The exponential growth of GDP from around 360 billion current US dollar in 1990 up to more than 11 trillion in 2016 came with a reduction of poverty unprecedented in its speed and scale. The real per capita income increased 16 times between 1978 and 2014, and real output per worker increased by a factor of 12. Inequality has also been steadily declining since 2008, combined with a rapid growth in consumption by poorer households. The extreme poverty rate, based on the international PPP US $1.90 per day poverty line fell from 88.3 percent in 1981 to 1.9 percent in 2013 and was expected to fall below one percent in 2018. Another poverty line (PPP US$3.10 per day) characterizes those in moderate poverty and vulnerable to falling below the poverty line. Defined in this way, the poverty rate remains relatively large (projected to account for 3.9 percent by 2018, equivalent to an amount of 54.6 million of people).

The surprising economic growth and the related environmental problems

China surprisingly moved from a largely rural state dominated and planned economy to a more open and market based urbanized economy in very few decades. However, China’s rapid growth has been accompanied also by significant challenges with pollution, environmental degradation, and greenhouse gas emission. The per capita emission during the 70s was around 1 metric ton, while it amounted up to 7.5 metric ton in 2014. Considering the dramatic growth of the total population (currently almost 1.5 trillion people, equivalent to 18.54% of the total world population) China is the world’s largest global GHG emitter. China is facing critical challenges in sustainably managing its natural resources, including the preservation of its land, water and biodiversity. Moreover, the country is already one of the most affected by natural hazards, particularly flooding and earthquakes, and the poor and vulnerable are disproportionately affected since they live in high risk areas.

The “Green Growth”

The scale and complexity of China’s environmental problems require a fundamentally new approach to growth policy, based on “green growth”. According to World Bank estimates, China already spends annually approximately 1.2 per cent of GDP on environmental protection each year. By spending 0.5 to 1 percent more of GDP each year China is expected to reduce environmental degradation and resource depletion by 6  percent of gross national income by 2030.

The twin goals defined by Chinese government consist in a more inclusive and sustainable development, in order to further reduce poverty through economic growth but managing the transition in a more sustainable manner, also in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. China is attempting to reach its objective by promoting innovation and market competition: the private sector will be the one guiding the transition.

What to do?

In order to reduce air, soil and water pollution and, generally, the environmental costs and waste generated by the economic development, investments in green innovation are essential. China has to continue the significant gains achieved in energy efficiency during the past decades, by cutting coal consumption and expanding renewables.

How to do that?

By one side, a greater reliance on market mechanisms is necessary in order to mobilize more private financing. By the other side, that cannot happen without proper reforms of the governance and public institutions. Among them:

          Strengthening the management of public resources by subnational governments

          Aligning incentive with sustainable growth

          Greater bottom up accountability, enhancing government transparency and information disclosure

          More market oriented regulatory regime with expanded engagement with public and private stakeholders.

An uncertain future

A lot has been done, and a lot has still to be done. The scale of the environmental problem does not allow China to maintain the same trend of economic growth without ending up in a catastrophic situation. The problem is both local and global. Many disagreements arise when we consider the necessary limits to the growth that the global institutions imposes to developing countries, since – some state – they deserve the right  to develop in the same way developed countries have done so far. However, our planet is one and all the global population has to share it and take care of that. China has experienced an unprecedented growth and still deserve to growth in order to eliminate poverty and enhance shared prosperity. This is the time to set control mechanisms and allow the development to follow a more sustainable path and all the global stakeholders have to contribute to that.

 

Jugaad innovation keeps on opening paths

There is little doubt that lowering plastic consumption has become one of the main environmental targets of the century. Consider that until 1950, the global production of plastic was estimated to be 2 million tons per year; this decade, we have passed the 300 million tons per year mark, and it continues on growing.

So far, most of the environmental policies worldwide have focused on the production of plastic, trying to find sustainable substitutes. Nonetheless, this is a very slow process, and it takes time for both producers and consumers to acclimate to the change. As we know, time is precisely the scarcest resource we have when fighting environmental damage.

That’s what makes so interesting the idea brought by Indian professor Rajagopalan Vasudevan: it doesn’t try to fight the problem, but rather redirect its consequences into a useful direction, and furthermore, can be applied instantly.

Doctor in chemistry Rajagopalan Vasudevan, from Tamil Nadul (India), started investigating back in 2001 the potential use of certain types of plastic. Through the study of its behaviour on different conditions, he found out that during liquid state plastic has outstanding binder properties. And that’s how its first potential use appeared: Vasudevan’s formula could be used to repair road bumps, which generates 10% of India’s traffic accidents. From there, realizing the potential of his finding, he extended the idea to the full paving of Indian roads.

“We are the problem” he said. “Plastic wouldn’t block oceans and dumpsters if we didn’t throw it away. Instead, there is a lot we can do with it”.
And there is a lot to do with it in India. There, the collection and trade of plastic waste has been the way of subsistence for generations for many people, for which the plastic reduction policies has put their earnings on risk. Any idea that gets to conceive a second life for plastic waste helps them as much as helps the environment.

It’s been almost 20 years since Vasudevan started his research. Today, around 16.000 kilometres of road have been constructed in Tamil using this new mix. And central government has authorized the paving of other 13.000 kilometres, from which half has been already constructed.

Professor Vasudevan’s environmental solutions don’t stop there: he has also created a material called plastone, that mixes plastic waste and grit with limestone, ceramics and granite. With this plastone professor creates solid blocks that can easily compete in the market due to its low production price (one square meter of this material costs 1.20 €), and can be used for indoor construction (he affirms he managed to construct a bathroom with only 75€) as well as for paving sidewalks.

In a world that can so clearly define the problems but has so much trouble designing solutions, this kind of alternative approaches manage to open new ways in the environmental research.

Extreme temperatures keep affecting wheat production in Europe

Yet another year, climate change shows its effect more vividly on European summer. Extreme temperatures have devastated corn fields in North Europe, while a combination of droughts and high intensity rains on the Black Sea area have plunged production estimations, with the consequent potential of a price raise.

France, main EU producer, has also been experimenting extreme meteorological situations, which forced analysts to take their production estimations down to 34 million tons, almost 3 million less than last year.

As we follow harvest path to North Germany (second biggest corn producer in the European Union, right behind France), more and more evidence of damage on the crops arise, leading to a reiterative cut on the production forecasts for the EU joint corn output.

“Situation is catastrophic in northern Europe” recently said Andree Defois, president of Strategie Grains, the company of reference regarding grain and oilseed markets in Europe.

The consultancy cut off again few weeks ago its estimation for soft wheat’s harvest in Europe for the year, setting it under the 130 million tons, which is a six year minimum, and Defois confirmed that most likely it will be revised again.

Map of droughts in July 2018, JRC European Drought Observatory

Poland wheat production is also struggling: droughts at the beginning of summer and the effects of the recent heatwave mean that the country’s production may fall over 8%, to a total of 10.7 tons, according to Wojtek Sabarinski, analyst for Sparks Polska.

In the meantime, United Kingdom prays to have it better than its neighbours, has also estimated that this year’s output will be a 5 years low.

The Scandinavian and Baltic regions have not been able to escape this weather craziness either: for instance, Sweden’s production has fallen around a remarkable 40% so far.

European prices have risen over 15% in the last month, reaching its peak price in the last 4 years: 208.5 €/ton, in consonance with an increasing concern worldwide regarding wheat supply.

Thus, the repercussion of European situation it’s going to be noticed all around the globe. Considering that the EU as a collective is the main wheat producer in the world, and that the forecasts for production have fallen for the main four producers (France, Germany, UK and Poland), shortage in supply or a very noticeable increase on prices to readjust equilibrium may be expected.

The implications of this situation are very straight forward: the price rice in such a basic product as wheat will definitely be felt throughout the agro-alimentary sector. While clearly being bad news, both for Europe and for consumers, we can only hope governments take note of the “not-so-gentle” pushes that nature keeps on giving us. Global warming is becoming everyday a more tangible problem, and the longer we take to seriously tackle it the more it will cost us.

WCERE – the 6th World Congress of Environmental and Resource Economics

The 2018 World Congress of Environmental and Resource Economists (WCERE) was held at the School of Business, Economics and Law and the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. It gathered over 1,300 international researchers, professors, professionals and students from June 25 to June 29 to share latest research output, policy perspectives, ideas and experiences.

For RESD-UNIBO students who attended the Bertinoro seminars on climate change economics, WCERE had a similar dynamic: parallel and plenary sessions. In fact many of the speakers presented at both events, including professors Elettra Agliardi, Anastasios Xepapadeas and Alessandro Tavoni, of the RESD Master’s program.

Parallel sessions where divided into thematic, policy and egg-timers and had at least four speakers each. There were 26 different sessions to choose from during each parallel session, which covered virtually all environmental and resource economics topics, including environmental policy, climate change economics, energy, valuation methods, pollution, econometrics, development and trade, among other.

Each day, participants had to organize their schedule as follows:
– 8.30 – 10.15: parallel session
– 10.15 – 10.45: coffee break
– 10.45 – 11.15: event (e.g. AERE awards)
– 11.15 – 12.15: plenary session
– 12.15 – 13.45: lunch / meetings
– 13.45 – 15.30: parallel session
– 15.30 – 16.00: coffee break
– 16.00 – 17.45: parallel session
– 18.30 – onwards: event (e.g. congress dinner)

An intense schedule, certainly recommended to those considering a career in academics. It was truly inspiring to meet the world’s top experts on one of the fields working hard to leave behind a decent world to future generations.

For those interested, the program can be found here: http://fleximeets.com/wcere2018/?p=programme
And pictures here:  https://wcere2018.pixieset.com

The right of citizens to produce renewable energy

The Renewable Energy Directive establishes an overall policy for the production and promotion of energy from renewable sources in the EU. It was emended in 2009, defining both European and national targets regarding the generation of renewable energy.

The European target was originally 20 per cent of the gross final consumption by the year 2020, while national targets varied among countries, according to the starting point and the overall potential for renewables in each country (from a minimum of 10% in Malta to 72% in Iceland).

New targets…

On June 13th a revision of the Directive was defined. MEP and Council of Ministers negotiators, after the agreement of the European Parliament and EU member states, agreed that the revised Renewable Energy Directive will contain the new objective that renewables will supply at least 32 per cent of the EU’s gross final consumption by 2030.

…and new rights!

The revisions also propose to encourage more local ownership of renewable energy and enshrine in law the right of citizens to produce, consume, sell and store renewable energy.

The potential of renewable energy generated at the small scale has always been significant. The problem is that the way power is bought and sold easily fit with giant coal-plants or huge offshore wind turbines, but not so well with the mass production by millions of households. It’s a system set up for large energy companies who hire teams of traders to buy and sell their power.

“By disrupting this system, and enabling individuals and communities to produce renewable energy, millions of people will be able to more directly contribute to the fight against climate change — while helping to develop the renewable energy industry, cut electricity bills and reduce reliance on the traditional energy producers.” (Sebastian Mang, on Unearthed).

The Directive states the rule that those producing their own energy have to receive at least the market value for the surplus electricity they inject into the grid. That may sound obvious, but it is not what happens everywhere (in Spain for example, it was possible to produce energy and not being paid for the additional benefits provided to the system and the environment).

Another innovation is the introduction of new electricity sharing schemes providing renewable energy to low-income consumers by allowing electricity credits generated in one location to be bought and sold or transferred to the electricity bill of another location. This will enable people living in buildings unsuitable for roof-top solar, such as flats and apartments, to still be active in the electricity market.

Finally, there is also an acknowledgement that empowering local people to participate in renewable energy projects results in higher levels of acceptance and enthusiasm for renewables and that local involvement is key to pushing an energy transition and increasing renewable energy capacity in the future.

The importance of incentivating the small scale production of energy

The revision of the Directive opens wide new paths for the development of renewables in Europe. Member States, but also every single citizen, is called to cooperate in order to enhance the potential of these energy sources and the whole sector in order to deal with the climate change problem and the reduction of GHGs into the atmosphere. If we want citizens to be proactive, first of all, we have to provide them with the means in order to do that and to support them in all their actions (paying them for the benefits they generate is a “good” way of doing that, also considering that the installation of solar panels is generally expensive and not always covered by a proper mechanism of public subsidies).

Plastic remains as one of the biggest hurdles in the path of circular economy in Europe

As European economies have flourished and developed along the last 50 years, the use of plastic has intensified enormously. According to recent estimations, plastic production has become 50 times bigger in this time period, and it is supposed to stay on growing.

While this can make sense to a certain extent since population and consumption has also increased during this period, what remains unbearable is how little is being done to switch to a more circular approach: nowadays, only 7% of the plastic produced is recycled. Furthermore, Europe is exporting part of that recycled plastic to countries like China, because the inner demand is not high enough.

Although the image of used bottles and bags can be the more visual representation of plastic waste, truth is technology has taken this problem to a whole new level. Specifically, the existence of microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic materials of less than 5mms) makes it so that a lot of the plastic we throw away is undetectable also for us: from hygiene products to clothes, many of the products we use on daily basis include almost undetectable traces of plastic, making it really hard for the average user to know the damage he is causing by using those products.

According to studies, the highest damage by plastic waste is done in the oceans. All those microplastics slowly tear apart and go down the sink to end in the waters of all around the world. For instance, rain takes microparticles of the car tires away, which finish in the sea. We have another example in the washing machines: recent evaluation suggests that around 10% of the microplastic present in the oceans comes from its use.

And why is this so important? Well, for a start, it is much easier to tackle the problem while the waste is still on land. Even when the plastic particles are already into the sewer system, it is possible to apply different filters to capture it. In this sense, the company SUEZ has developed new technology to filtrate the microplastics that pass through different plants for water treatment.

Nonetheless, the full circle of the circular economy does not close just with the increasing capability of collection. As Jean-Marc Boursier, one of Suez’s senior executives affirms, “it does not make much sense to ask people to increase their efforts on separating their waste to facilitate the recycling process when, for instance, most of the plastic collected in Europe ends up in China because the internal demand is not high enough”. “It’s a matter of political will” he adds.

European Commission is trying to take some steps in this direction. Recently, a proposal was raised to change the relation with plastic, materialized on the goal of recycling at least 90% of disposable bottles by 2025. While on paper it may seem ambitious enough, reality keeps on pushing us to make bigger efforts: it has been forecasted that by 2025 the oceans will bear a plastic waste/fish ratio will be 1:3. The time to raise awareness is falling behind, and now is the time to take actions.

Pros and cons of Daylight Saving Time: do we still want that?

Daylight Saving Time (DST) has a long and controversial history. After being introduced in an essay by Benjamin Franklin, the idea was adopted in 1916 by Britain and Germany. The goal was to reduce the domestic consumption of coal and to give factories daylight hours to work, in order to aid the war effort.

The functioning of the system is simple: clocks go forward one hour in the summer and back again in the winter. In this way, we can enjoy extra evening daylight in warmer months and extra morning daylight during the winter.

Nowadays, most areas in North America and Europe, and some areas in the Middle East, observe daylight saving time (DST), while most areas of Africa and Asia do not. In South America, most countries in the North of the continent near the equator do not observe DST, while Paraguay and southern parts of Brazil do.

How does DST affect people’s life?

The effects of this switch strongly vary depending on the geographical location of a country: the closer you are to the North Pole, the more noticeable they are. For example in Iceland, from mid-May to mid-August the sun only sets for around three hours a night and there are only around five hours of effective daylight during the winter months.

There are both positive and negative effects due to this practice. However, sometimes it is difficult to understand whether the positive ones prevail over the negative ones, or vice versa.

Thanks to DST during the winter time, people don’t have to go at work or school in the darkness and this strongly reduces the number of traffic accidents and makes streets a safer place. At the same time, people do not adapt so smoothly to changes and this can also raise the risk of health-related issues, mostly due to the disturbed sleep cycle. A 2016 study found that the overall rate for stroke was 8% higher in the two days after the change, while  the risk drops off in the following days because our bodies and circadian clocks gradually adapt. Moreover, the Monday and Tuesday after daylight saving time in the spring have also been associated with a 10% increase in heart attacks, according to a 2012 study at the University of Alabama Birmingham.

Are DST really effective for energy saving?

Originally, DST was aimed at reducing the energy consumption. However,  there is surprisingly little evidence that it actually helps to save energy. Matthew J. Kotchen and Laura E. Grant (2008) proved that DST increases residential electricity demand, approximately by 1% (also by 2-4% during the fall). That results in a higher cost both in terms of electricity, but also for the pollution emissions.

Disagreements among European countries

The relevance of the DST related effects gave rise to several doubts about the effectiveness of the system, mostly in the North of Europe. Last year, over 70 000 Finnish citizens signed a petition in order to press EU for end to daylight saving time. The issue has a strong relevance at the European level, since all EU members must follow the same timetable to keep trade and travel running smoothly between the internal market.

The European consultation: we can have a voice!

The European Commission has launched a consultation on the daylight saving time clock changes in order to evaluate whether or not the rules should be changed. Europeans and interested organizations have until August 16th to give their opinion (the consultation and more background information are available here).

The EC is assessing two main policy alternatives: keep the current summertime arrangement or discontinue the changes and ban periodic switches, leaving each state to choose between permanent summer, winter or a different time. Repealing the current directive would not automatically abolish summertime across the EU. It would just end EU-wide harmonization and allow individual states to decide the issue.

Global warming threatens pollination dynamics

While politicians keep on debating the best approach to tackle climate change and the industry slowly moves towards more sustainable practices, the consequences of our footprint on the planet stay on their raising trend. Last April, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (San Diego) claimed that for that month the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 410.31 parts per million (ppm), which represents a 30% increase in CO2 concentration in the global atmosphere since 1958, as well as an all time record.

One of the most straight-forward consequences of climate change is the general increase in temperature, and together with it comes the asynchronism between flora and fauna. And what represents better the symbiosis between those two worlds than the process of pollination?

For instance, the butterfly expert Marion Jaros claims that the warm temperatures have accelerated the hatch of several pollinating species, while the flowers where they get the nectar from are not responding in sync. This means not only fewer nourishment possibilities for the insects, but also a major setback in the collection and dispersion of pollen, a key stage in the reproduction of plants.

Like this, a group of scientists have documented this effect regarding the Osterluzeifalter, a rare species of butterflies settled in Austria. They affirm that with the increase in spring temperatures have led the butterflies to come out of their cocoons weeks earlier before their host plants were ready to offer both nectar and pollen, with the added problem that some of those plants relied on the butterflies for pollination.

 

 

 

This is not a particular phenomena happening in Austria. According to Anthony Davy, an ecologist from University of East Anglia, the climate disruption that’s happening due global warming is plausibly a key factor in the decline of pollinators throughout whole Europe. Again, the consequences of this affect fauna too: for example, Davy has observed how a type of rare orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) from the United Kindgom that highly relies on bees to reproduce has been struggling to do so because the delicate time sequence between flowering and pollination is changing at a different rhythm than bees are used to, which ultimately leads to reproductive failures.

Europe has been trying to catch up on this matter. The threat that global warming represents for pollinators was recognized by the European Comission earlier this year, trying to slow down the descent on pollinator’s population that’s taking place in whole Europe. Some steps are being taken, such as the proposal of banning the pesticide neonicotinoid, or the possibility of creating safe habitats for the preservation and restoring of pollinators.

Still, the proposed measures do not seems to properly meet the dimension of the problem has not been yet fully acknowledged. Considering that about 80% of all wild plants rely on insect pollinators, and that a third of all butterfly and bee species are declining (10% of pollinating insects are on the verge of extinction already), it seems it’s about time that the institutions start giving to this matter the appropriate weight. Balance on nature comes from the little things, and we are slowly but steadily losing them.

 

 

Link to European Proposal: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/species/pollinators/