Global warming warning in the Fifties

“Is Earth warming up?” This is the surprising question that I came across, leafing through a 1956 almanac. The answer is even more startling. After all, back in those days, we were decades away from environmental concerns.

1956_0001Since meteorological facilities are installed on floating ice floes in the Arctic Ocean, Russians and Americans have recorded significant rising temperatures in the North Pole. The same phenomenon was observed in Antarctica. In the 50s, the Arctic ice caps had a retreat of 150 meters per year, while in Siberia, melting ice was revealing mammoth carcasses.

But that is not all. The average temperature of the city of Leningrad increased by 1° Celsius (33.8° F) between 1940 and 1954. And in the northernmost parts of Europe, birches and pine trees were spreading.

global-warming-1494965_640Scientists such as Charles Keeling and Roger Revelle had already studied the greenhouse effect in the late 50’s but their work had little impact and mostly lack of interest back then. The men were ahead of their times because it was not until the 90’s that governments start taking action and consider the need to embed the protection of the planet into sustainable economic development.

At that time though, it was still unclear whether this trend was a slow and steady one since the end of the Ice Age, or a sudden one. For a century, the average annual temperatures across the globe increased depending on the locations, from 1° to 4° C (33.8° to 39.2° F). “One day,” the author says in the almanac, “our temperate regions will be hot and dry. Population and civilization will move northward, causing a change in the global balance of power. Canada, Alaska, Russia, Siberia will be humanity’s new poles of attraction.”

polar-bear-1509103_1280Therefore, Russians and Americans will set new stations in Arctic areas, the journalist concludes. Since 1930, 5 million Russians have been colonizing the area. Northern Lights and the melting of the ice caps are to be studied in the years 1957 and 1958.

“One of the most surprising consequences of the melting of the ice caps will be the sea level rise of several dozen meters, and Paris will perhaps become a real seaport! …” Um .. Not really looking forward to this prediction.

In 1958, Frank Capra produced an educational film titled “The Unchained Goddess”. Amazingly it is clearly stated that global warming may be the next danger humanity will have to face. This statement gives you shivers up and down your spine: “Because with our present knowledge we have no idea what would happen. Even now, man may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of his civilization. Due to our release through factories and automobiles every year of more than six billion tons of carbon dioxide, which helps air absorb heat from the sun, our atmosphere seems to be getting warmer.”


Humanity is part of animality

Humanity is also measured by the way we are treating animals and nature. I am increasingly persuaded. For centuries, we have thought that we were at the center of the universe and therefore deserved all attention. Why does human think he or she is the elite of creation, the chosen one? Because we are on top of the food chain? Because we have a conscience… Do we? Really? Because we think and have consciousness?
Animals are capable of developing a thinking process too. Many researchers are supporting this fact. Like environmental writer Carl Safina in his book, “Beyond Words: Now Animals Think And Feel”. Crows are known to elaborate sophisticated tools to achieve their ends. Chimps are said to have a highly developed political intelligence. Most scientists agree on the fact that animals have intricate mental abilities. Primates, corvids and cetaceans display elements of culture. Some are even able to learn how to communicate with us. A chimpanzee has successfully been taught to use sign language and when she saw a swan for the first time ever, she signed “waterbird”. Some parrots do not just mimic words they hear but put them together to form sentences, indicating that they actually understand (“The Animal Mind” by Jeffrey Kluger).
What is intelligence? Now this is a tricky question because there is no single answer. What is giving us the right to be better than any other species? Actually nothing. A human being is an animal just like any other. Maybe he is the cruelest one of all. Maybe he is also the most dangerous of all. The only one able to shoot himself in the foot and destroy his planet.

Life in plastic, not so fantastic!

Plastic dinosaurs: on the way to extinction? (Ian L)

Plastic dinosaurs: on the way to extinction? (Ian L)

Like all of us, I was born in the plastic era. I was literally bombarded with plastic. All my toys, my records, my Polaroid, my pink straws and my scooby strings were plastic. When I was a little girl, people just did not care about environment and plastic was probably the grooviest invention that we could think of. Let’s admit it: I was wild over cellulose acetate. I simply loved the shiny look, the soft touch and the fresh synthetic smell. The first thing I did as I unwrapped my new doll was sniffing at her chubby cheeks. Little did I know that plastic use was not as innocent as it seems. I was unaware that it would eventually become so destructive for our planet.

Decades after the golden age, our oceans are swamped by gigantic plastic soups. More than 5 trillion plastic bits are actually bobbing along our waters. But that’s not all: marine animals are feeding on our plastic waste and most of them are dying from suffocation, stomachs bulging with plastic pieces, and from alterations caused by the material which ends up entangled out and inside animals’ bodies. Nature takes somehow revenge when humans (remember, those arrogant creatures on the top of the food chain!) start eating fish fed with plastic since birth. What have we done to our ecosystem? We perhaps thought that all our hazardous filth would disappear into thin air.

We have become so dependent on plastic that our modern society would not function properly without it. Think of a plastic free world. We would probably be back to the Middle Ages. Everything would be wooden, metallic, organic. There would be no cell phones, no TV, no PC, no fridge, no cars, no clothes, no… As a matter of fact, I really cannot figure what would still be left around me. This thing has not been around for so long though. Bakelite which was the first synthetic plastic was invented in 1907 by Belgian-born Leo Baekeland. Plastic is only a little more than a century old but has truly pervaded every area of our lives. It appeared as a miracle substance, hard-wearing but disposable, convenient but invasive. Plastic is the ultimate symbol of our mass consumption society. We buy and sell it every day.

Do we really want to be buried under heaps of plastic waste? (Steffen Thomä)

Do we really want to be buried under heaps of plastic trash? (Steffen Thomä)

Top 20 fun and not-so-fun facts about plastic

  1. More than 2,515,600,000,000 plastic bags have been produced this year worldwide, up to now and the number is constantly growing.
  2. Less than 5 % plastic bags are actually recycled.
  3. In the North Pacific Ocean, there are 6 times more plastic debris than plankton.
  4. About 500 billion plastic bags are used every year in the world.
  5. Plastic packaging stands for 39% of the total European plastics market and 62% of the plastic waste of the European Union each year.
  6. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch located in the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California, has become the largest ocean garbage site in the world. Twice the size of the State of Texas, this massive trash patch is sadly not the only one. The North Atlantic Garbage Patch is hundreds kilometers long and drawing off 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometer. The Indian Ocean Garbage Patch was discovered in 2010. In fact, there are trash vortices in the five major oceans.
  7. 25,000 plastic bottles are equal to one metric ton.
  8. If we recycle 1 ton of plastic bottles, we are saving 1.5 ton of carbon.
  9. A fleece jacket can be made out of 25 recycled plastic bottles.
  10. One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed each year because of microplastic.
  11. 44 % of all seabird species, 22 % of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing number of fish species have been listed with plastic in or around their bodies.
  12. It takes up to 1000 years for plastic to decompose.
  13. Each year, with all the discarded plastic, we could circle the Earth four times.
  14. Every bit of plastic that has been manufactured one day, is still around, under one form or another (let alone the amounts that have been incinerated).
  15. 160,000 plastic bags are used every second.
  16. Nearly 50 % of plastic waste in the European Union is still landfilled.
  17. In half a century, global plastic production has increased from 1.5 million tons per year in 1950 to 245 million tons in 2008.
  18. A few months ago, the European Commission has approved to cut European plastic bags use. By 2019, all European countries will either adopt mandatory pricing for plastic bags or decide to greatly reduce the number of bags used per person (from 191 now to 90 by 2019 and 40 in 2025).
  19. Since 2011, Plastic Free July raises awareness about our daily use of plastic and urges people to cut down on single-use plastic during the month of July. It all started in Perth, Australia.
  20. Why not join the movement? I just did. All you need to do is say: yes, I’m going plastic free in July!

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If a meatless diet bugs you, try eating insects

big_047-4.png“Flesh eating is unprovoked murder“(Benjamin Franklin). Considering all we know today, I am not sure that eating animal flesh is still unprovoked.

One day, whether we like or not, we all will be vegetarians. It is a simple matter of life and death. From many perspectives, changing our eating habits has become a compelling argument.

Mad cow disease, swine fever or dioxin-contaminated chicken have had massive media coverage those past years. Many heath issues are indeed related to immoderate meat consumption. If cigarette packs have a warning label and if public awareness campaigns are aiming alcohol or drugs use,  there has never been any public advisory on the hazards of meat consumption. How would you feel if you read such a tag on cellophane wrappings: “Caution! Meat eating may be hazardous to your health” ? OK, you have got a point. It probably would not change anything. The whole world is saturated with warning labels anyway. Still. Studies clearly show that vegetarians are about 40% less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters. I suspect that it is also because vegetarians are prone to be health aware and more environmentally friendly.

Moreover, exponential livestock  farming in Amazonia or elsewhere is a major threat to the world ecosystem. Cutting down on our meat intake is an effective way to reduce cattle producing areas and let nature reassert itself. It also means that greenhouse gas emissions will significantly decrease. A meatless choice is hence a step for a better environment in a growing world. We do not have to stop our meat intake but limiting animal flesh eating would make a huge difference.

There is another option. In many countries where meat is too expensive or rare to be a staple, proteins supply is not neglected though. Other protein sources are being taken for granted. It’s been centuries since insects are ingested in Africa or Asia. Grilled caterpillars are very much valued in Kinshasa and grilled insects of all sorts are popular in the streets of Bangkok.  Are we too picky ? Is bug eating bugging us ? It is all about culture and minds. Maybe that grasshopper will be best swallowed as a powder or as a liquid. After all, some food pigments are insect-derived, like cochineal. Yes, it is that E120 that most of us may be more familiar with.

I am no vegetarian… yet but I have cut down my meat consumption. I have never eaten a plateful of bugs and would probably feel a bit reluctant to do so, but I am not wholly averse to the idea. We just cannot go on the way we do. We are more than 7 billions Earthlings. Check on the worldometers website : Quite disturbing, isn’t it ? Isn’t it high time we seriously reassess ? Our consuming habits have a major impact on industry giant. We somehow tend to underestimate the scope of our acts. This Planet has much to offer but if we rip it off and keep our conscience lying dormant, we are doomed.