Deforestation, heat waves, rejected recyclables: 3 big stories you might have missed

Brazil rainforest

Amapá State Forest, Brazil. (© Adriano Gambarini)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. Emboldened by President Jair Bolsonaro, armed invaders are encroaching on Brazil’s tribal lands in the Amazon

Invasions of indigenous lands have increased 150 percent since Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October.

The story: During his presidential campaign, Bolsonaro condemned federal protections for indigenous peoples, whose lands make up about 13 percent of Brazil’s territory, Anthony Boadle reported for Reuters last week. In response to Bolsonaro’s antagonistic statements against indigenous rights — and in support of development — during his campaign, attacks on indigenous reservations rose and deforestation rates climbed almost 50 percent.

The big picture: Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is home to 850,000 indigenous peoples. The president’s incendiary remarks have been viewed by many as approval — or even incentive — to invade indigenous spaces and “stake their claims.” Not only does this put people at risk, it threatens generations of traditional knowledge that are key to fighting climate change: “Without indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge, and without indigenous peoples’ involvement in decision-making, we can’t help implement climate solutions,” said Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, senior indigenous fellow at Conservation International.

Read the story here.

  1. Ocean heat waves are threatening marine life

Ocean heat waves, defined as at least five consecutive days of warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures, are more severe and longer-lasting because of greenhouse gas emissions, a new study finds.

The story: Oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat from greenhouse gas emissions since the 1950s. This excess heat translates to an uptick in heat waves — 54 percent more, Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich reported for The New York Times last week.

The big picture: These marine heat waves can kill off fish, coral reefs and vital coastal ecosystems such as seagrass meadows and kelp forests that store “blue” carbon. For the approximately 3 billion  people dependent on oceans for their protein, these heat waves pose a serious threat to their food security.

Read the story here.

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  1. Piling up: How China’s ban on importing waste has stalled global recycling

China no longer accepts most plastic recyclables from other countries. As a result, the waste is  accumulating into giant piles or being burned across the United States and Europe.

The story: For the past 25 years, China processed nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste, until their facilities were overwhelmed by soiled and contaminated recyclables, Cheryl Katz reported for Yale Environment 360 last week. Without China, the United States has two options for dealing with 70 percent of its plastic waste: Store it in the hopes that recycling facilities become better equipped to process it at a later date, or burn it. Many cities in the U.S., including Philadelphia, which burned half of its recyclables last year, are choosing the latter.

The big picture: There’s just too much plastic: New research revealed that only 9 percent of the plastics you throw in the recycling bin are actually recycled. To fight plastic pollution, single-use plastics must be reduced or even eliminated — something a growing number of cities and companies are undertaking, including Seattle, the first major U.S. city to ban plastic drinking straws.

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International. 

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