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Fungi eats plastics and benefits environment

Fungi that eats plastic seems like a plot-twist right out of a sci-fi book or movie; however, this particular species of fungus which was found at a landfill site in Pakistan could be the real life solution to the ever growing plastic waste problem.

The Aspergillus tubingensis, is the species of fungus that researchers have found to feed off of plastic, breaking it down in weeks rather than years.

This is the not the first time finding organisms that feed off of plastic waste, as there were discoveries of bacteria that could break down plastic as well as the wax worm which can naturally degrade plastic due to its similar structure to that of its natural food, beeswax.

One of the reasons plastic had ballooned into the human substance of choice was because it was inert and therefore sterile. This meant that it could be used as ubiquitous as needed around the planet from food packaging to pacemakers to aviation.

However, the problem with plastics was the fact that they did not degrade easily , leading to  billions of tons of plastic still hanging around in landfills, and in the oceans , with more being added massive amounts of plastics in continue to be in production globally.

The fact that there are organisms ‘evolving‘ to exploit this new plastic –filled environment, has caused some researchers both a sense of excitement to study how they are doing so, but also some alarm  as well.

Scientists at London’s Kew Botanical Gardens reported that these organisms are an important advance in a world where momentum is building to reverse the toxic tide of plastic that is killing marine life and polluting the ocean.

Senior Kew Gardens Scientist Ilia Leitch, said that they are exploring these organisms for their potential to degenerate different types of plastic, explaining that “by understanding how the fungi break down these bonds and what the optimal conditions are, you can then increase the speed at which they do it.”

There are also other uses of fungi, including using it to feed on pollutants such as oil spills, toxic chemicals like sarin nerve gas, TNT and even radioactive waste.

The first-ever State of the World’s Fungi report, also spells out that advances in the agricultural applications of the various species of fungi could translate into improved food security, environmental sustainability and increased production revenues.

Climate change however, are affecting the the ranges of species of fungi and biodiversity in ways that the UN Environment (UNEP) revealed were still not fully comprehensible.

The fungi themselves are also under threat in high latitudes areas, especially where average temperatures continue to rise, such as the Arctic. These changes are already affecting fungi reproduction, geographic distributions and activity, with possible knock-on effects for our ecosystems.

“Species react differently to climate change, which disrupts the delicate interaction between them,” says Niklas Hagelberg, a UNEP climate change and ecosystems expert.

“This further complicates conservation; we need to quickly add climate change to our ecosystem management effort.”

 

 

Vegan meat is the future to a greener Earth

There was a time in my life when I tried to go vegan.  I gave up meat and turned to tofu and a lot of soybean based products in the hope to replace the meats with a more plant based and healthier option.

I failed.

The tofu taste was disgusting to my sensitive palate and even now, the thought of its scent makes me very, very sad.

So imagine my amazement when I found out about Beyond Meat, the 2009 founded company that just won the 2018 Champions of the Earth Award, which is the UN’s highest accolade for the environment along with, Impossible Foods. Both are producers of revolutionary plant-based meats which are alternatives to beef.

What is even more interesting is that these plant-based meat alternatives are outperforming grass fed beef in the fast food arena around the world, including the USA and Canada.

This is great news for anyone who understands the need to preserve and nurture the Earth as livestock cultivation is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

This is a distressing fact in and of itself as greenhouse gases are basically responsible for and the hole in the ozone layer and thus climate change.

With the advent of these plant based meat alternatives having proven to be sustainable choices, it means that being ecologically conscious no longer translates into  giving up on taste and enjoyment.

“This proves that positive climate action can taste even better!” Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment said. “Saving the planet requires something of a gastronomical rethink in some parts of the world, and Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods prove that this doesn’t mean our taste buds are making the sacrifice.”

Founder  and Chief Executive Officer of Impossible Foods Dr. Patrick O. Brown, explains that he knows that the big global problems are not the responsibility of someone else and agreed that in order to save the planet, it would be important to pleasantly appeal to the world’s tastebuds.

“This problem wasn’t going to be solved by pleading with consumers to eat beans and tofu instead of meat and fish. And it wouldn’t be enough just to find a better way to make meat; to succeed we would need to make the best meat in the world.”

The vegan meats by these companies have already outperformed grass-fed beef burgers by at least 40% at Luna Grill, and were sold out at Taco Bell in the USA, as well as at  A&W locations in Canada and was recently added to a burger chain in Italy, called ‘WellDone’.

So how can a vegan meat switch really make any difference? Is it just because it tastes better?

Well not only has many reported that the vegan burgers actually still taste like burgers, but this seemingly simple food choice equates to a greener world.

Here’s how.

Americans switching from beef to plant-based patties would be the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road for an entire year–or saving enough electricity to power 2.3 million homes.

A study coming out of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, which conducted a ‘cradle- to- distribution’ life cycle assessment of the popular vegan burger, discovered that the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a quarter pound of U.S. beef. That means a 41-square-foot plot of land can produce just one beef burger for every 15 Beyond Burgers.

 

 

 

President Obama’s desperate race to the finish line

United States President Barack Obama is desperately racing to the finish line before President-Elect Donald Trump comes into power, passing last-minute laws and lowering sentences for criminals on non-violent drug related charges. The world waits with bated breath for Trump to take power in one of the most military-heavy countries in the world, and Obama is rushing to try and protect as many important regulations as possible before all is lost.

On Monday, Obama granted clemency to 231 individuals, the most he has ever done in one day. He also granted 153 commutations, with a majority involved in drug-related charges. The Democrats are under a lot of pressure to provide relief to non-violent drug offenders because it is doubtful that Trump and the Republicans will continue to continue to do so. The people serving these crimes are receiving a sentence four times more strenuous than they would receive today.

Obama is also trying to protect as much legislation relating to the environment since Trump has indicated he plans to pull out of the Paris Agreement and scrap Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Trump has softened on his stance concerning the Paris Agreement, but his cabinet election shows otherwise. He has elected Scott Pruitt, a climate skeptic, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and with Rick Perry, another known climate skeptic, as a nominee for Secretary of Energy. It goes without saying that the environment is at great risk in the United States come January 2017. Though there is little that Obama can do about the Republicans scrapping his power plan, he is trying to find ways to do what he can in his limited time left in office.

Earlier this week, Obama announced that the Interior Department will indefinitely block oil and natural gas drilling in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. There is no drilling taking place currently off the East Coast or in the Arctic north of Alaska, but it is a pre-emptive move to block future drilling. Obama invoked the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to stop potential drilling in both regions. This law was passed in 1953 and indicates that the president can withdraw certain un-leased lands from federal offshore waters. There is no legislation written that would allow a new president to undo the ban from a previous president, which means that Trump wouldn’t be able to change Obama’s action.

Other key actions by the EPA have included strong fuel-economy standards that moved much faster than originally planned, tighter restrictions on coal mining near streams and placing an indefinite pause of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. Obama also banned the sale of new oil and gas drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska over the next five years.

Aside from environmental concerns, Obama is trying to create political transparency arising from concerns that the Russian government hacked the U.S. cyberspace in ways that could’ve affected the 2016 presidential election. Last week, the CIA determined that the Russians intervened to help Trump win. The report will contain findings about the level of hacking activity, but it is unclear how much of the information will be made public. Obama vows to retaliate against Russia for the hacks, and people are eagerly awaiting his next move.

It is clear that Obama is doing what he can to protect integral laws in the United States before he hands over leadership to Trump. Banning offshore drilling in the Atlantic and the Arctic is a good example of using an act to protect the environment from future climate skeptics that will be in power in the future. There are a few key items that Obama will not have time to change, most notably international relations with Israel and Palestine.

Though there is only so much that Obama can do before he leaves office, he should keep up the pace and keep making as many changes as possible to make it more difficult for the future administration to undo essential U.S. legislation. As is stands though, Obama will be remembered as a professional and fair president — and compared to Trump, he is on his way to being remembered as a hero.