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Analysis and Comment (44)

Rubbish strewn on beaches eventually ends up in one of the world’s giant ocean garbage patches. Rubbish strewn on beaches eventually ends up in one of the world’s giant ocean garbage patches. Vberger/Wikimedia Commons

Redrawing the map could reveal ocean garbage patch culprits

Most of us have littered at one time or another, and in the process we probably contributed to the enormous of amounts of plastic that enter the ocean every year, eventually ending up in one of the five…
Ice cores reveal that Antarctica was polluted long before Scott and Amundsen set foot there. Ice cores reveal that Antarctica was polluted long before Scott and Amundsen set foot there. Andrew Mandemaker/Wikimedia Commons

Our pollution reached Antarctica long before the great explorers

Lead pollution from Australia reached Antarctica in 1889 – long before the frozen continent’s golden age of exploration – and has remained there ever since, new research shows. In our study, published…
Is that an volatile organic compound I can smell, or your aftershave? Is that an volatile organic compound I can smell, or your aftershave? Lei Han

City parks are good for people, but not so good for buildings

While city planners have been encouraged to plant trees and gardens to green the city for the health of its inhabitants, recent research has found that the same trees can damage certain buildings. Our…
One of the biggest killers. One of the biggest killers. eileendelhi

Rural networks can help prevent deaths from indoor pollution

The ineffective burning of wood in traditional stoves means that more people die around the world from pollution indoors than outdoors. There are simple, cleaner alternatives for sale, but encouraging…
Pollution on an industrial scale. Pollution on an industrial scale. SARIN KUNTHONG

Cutting emissions now makes business sense for industry

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report tells us that CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise and that, unchecked, climate change will likely…
The South Australian town of Port Pirie – home to a historic smelter – has some of the worst reported toxic air pollution in Australia. The South Australian town of Port Pirie – home to a historic smelter – has some of the worst reported toxic air pollution in Australia. Photo by Imre Hillenbrand www.universalfocus.com.au

Australia’s dirty secret: who’s breathing toxic air?

Australians living in poorer communities, with lower employment and education levels, as well as communities with a high proportion of Indigenous people, are significantly more likely to be exposed to…
The oceans are filled with garbage. Who’s in charge of the cleanup? The oceans are filled with garbage. Who’s in charge of the cleanup? cesar harada/Flickr

Whose job is it to clear up all the rubbish floating in the oceans?

I was in the middle of giving a talk on the marine debris problem at a notable Californian marine research institute, when I drank the last of my water bottle, threw it onto the hall floor from the podium…
Debris or not debris? Floating rubbish could hamper the search for MH370. Debris or not debris? Floating rubbish could hamper the search for MH370. AAP Image/AP Pool, Kim Christian

The difficulty of searching for MH370 in a giant rubbish patch

Frustratingly, the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has turned up many floating objects, but none of them are from the plane. That’s largely because the latest search area is likely to…
Canary where? Canary where? Stefan Rousseau/PA

Smog cloud is the same old pollution with a Saharan twist

It might seem strange to some that dust from the Sahara is falling on their cars in England. Stranger still, that Saharan sand is mixing with general air pollution from both continental Europe and the…
We pay for the product, but not the carbon cost. We pay for the product, but not the carbon cost. Kin Cheung/AP

Carbon as a commodity: a trade in pollution could help clean up dirty economies

Is it fair that China is blamed for the carbon dioxide emissions it generates to manufacture products destined for the West? Would the West do more to reduce greenhouse gases if it had to pay for the emissions…
Thick haze has shrouded Shanghai for the past week, in the latest instance of extreme air pollution. Thick haze has shrouded Shanghai for the past week, in the latest instance of extreme air pollution. Wikimediacommons/Galaxyharrylion

Shanghai’s ‘airpocalypse’: can China fix its deadly pollution?

The current “airpocolypse” emergency in Shanghai - which has seen schoolchildren ordered indoors to protect them from the polluted air, flights grounded and companies ordered to cut production - comes…
The secret killer. The secret killer. United Nations Photo

Thousands die early due to air pollution

A recent MIT study claims that total combustion emissions in the US account for about 200,000 premature deaths per year. This enormous figure is not unique. In the UK, roughly 29,000 premature deaths are…
Plants that breathe nitrogen. Plants that breathe nitrogen. University of Nottingham

Making fertiliser out of thin air will revolutionise agriculture

Each year more than 1 million tonnes of mineral nitrogen fertiliser is applied to arable and grass crops in the UK. This pollutes waterways through nitrate run-off and the atmosphere from the release of…
All heat and light: we need action on climate not rhetoric and finger-pointing. All heat and light: we need action on climate not rhetoric and finger-pointing. Owen Humphreys/PA

China can teach the West about tackling climate change

China has become a popular target of environmental ire, drawing criticism for its soaring carbon emissions and perceived intransigence during climate negotiations. Nonetheless, an easy target isn’t always…
Pollution face masks are not just for China. Pollution face masks are not just for China. Dave Thompson/PA

Air pollution is not yet a thing of the past

It may seem odd for the European Commission to declare 2013 the “Year of the Air” in order to focus on improving air quality standards. Most would feel air pollution is a problem that has been more or…
Burning wood to heat your home is one of the great pleasures of the winter months. Burning wood to heat your home is one of the great pleasures of the winter months. Sam Greenhalgh

Everyone loves a wood-burning heater but is the harm worth it?

At this time of year there’s nothing better than being warm and cosy in front of a blazing wood fire. But take a moment to walk outside and check your chimney - it could be polluting an entire neigbourhood…
Mining for rare earth elements is taking China down the track to environmental degradation. Mining for rare earth elements is taking China down the track to environmental degradation. Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn)/Flickr

Has the western world exported cancer to China?

Environmental pollution is currently a white-hot topic in China, but what if western consumers are driving the issue? A storm of activity recently occurred on Sina Weibo, triggered by reports that industries…
Great ocean garbage patches should be left alone until plastics are stopped from entering our oceans. Great ocean garbage patches should be left alone until plastics are stopped from entering our oceans. Flickr/CesarHarada

Leave the ocean garbage alone: we need to stop polluting first

Recent plans to clean plastics from the five massive ocean garbage patches could do more damage to the environment than leaving the plastic right where it is. There is no doubt that the focus on cleaning…
Better protection for and public consultation on CSG’s effect on aquifers is good news. Better protection for and public consultation on CSG’s effect on aquifers is good news. Kate Ausburn

Federal government’s control of coal seam gas a welcome relief

The Federal Government has moved to exert greater control over coal seam gas mining projects which are currently largely in the hands of the states. Under the proposed new rules if a coal seam gas project…
Plastic is a major threat to our seabirds and marine life - this bird has filled its stomach with plastic during the 80-90 days it lived. Plastic is a major threat to our seabirds and marine life - this bird has filled its stomach with plastic during the 80-90 days it lived. Ian Hutton

Plastic and politics: how bureaucracy is failing our forgotten wildlife

Seabirds: the poster children for ocean health. Fishers use them to identify fishing hot spots. Environmental and marine scientists use them as indicators of the condition of the ocean environment due…
Heavy smog is descending on Beijing again, a week after record air pollution choked China’s capital and much of northern China. Heavy smog is descending on Beijing again, a week after record air pollution choked China’s capital and much of northern China. AAP/EPA/Adrian Bradshaw

Deadly air: the smog shrouding China’s future

Beijing has been smothered by a dense and dangerous smog this month, which has set new air pollution records over several days. The World Health Organization advises that the acceptable level of fine particles…
If your environment is polluted, you’re probably poor. If your environment is polluted, you’re probably poor. Kaptain Kobold/flickr

A healthy environment shouldn’t just be for the rich

Ever heard of “environmental justice”? No? It links social and environmental discrimination. Still doesn’t sound familiar? Well if you’ve seen the movie Erin Brockovich - which examines how a single mother…
When fewer than 10% of cars in Sydney travel more than 100 km, do we need charging infrastructure? When fewer than 10% of cars in Sydney travel more than 100 km, do we need charging infrastructure? fa f c c/Flickr

Don’t wait for electric vehicle infrastructure, you (probably) don’t need it

Fast charging stations and battery swap stations are often proposed as being necessary infrastructure for electric cars. But do we need to wait for this infrastructure before we swap our petrol and diesel…
The EPA has made great strides in protecting waterways, but its pollution licences still don’t do what they should. The EPA has made great strides in protecting waterways, but its pollution licences still don’t do what they should. Ian Wright

Time for NSW to take chemical leaks seriously

NSW is not doing enough to prevent excessive environmental damage from chemical leaks: it is more common than many people realise for liquid wastes to be discharged into waterways. The NSW Environment…
World of bag people: a million a minute are used globally, with Australians churning through almost one a day on average. World of bag people: a million a minute are used globally, with Australians churning through almost one a day on average. Flickr/Heal the Bay

Plastic, like diamonds, is forever: time to use fewer bags

Between 30 million and 50 million plastic bags enter the environment as litter in Australia each year. These environmentally damaging bags - produced to be used once and then thrown away - are a symbol…
It’s currently difficult to limit your exposure to traffic pollution because you can’t smell it. It’s currently difficult to limit your exposure to traffic pollution because you can’t smell it. Flickr/pəruse

Creating a stink about traffic pollution

The World Health Organization’s recent decision to categorise diesel fumes as carcinogenic is yet another reminder of the negative health effects of traffic pollution. Cancer can now be added to a list…
How bad do things have to get before we want to seriously address environmental issues? How bad do things have to get before we want to seriously address environmental issues? AAP

UN produces another boring global environmental warning; world continues not caring

The fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5) - a global environmental report card by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) - reads like the results for a sedentary, middle-aged…
Australians should be more aware of the health effects of pollution. Australians should be more aware of the health effects of pollution. OZinOH

Why petrol bowsers deserve the same treatment as cigarette packs

Every time smokers pull a cigarette pack out of their pocket, they’re reminded of the harms their habit is likely to cause. In much the same way, Australian petrol stations should display health warnings…
Another wave is coming: the coral-killing crown of thorns starfish. Another wave is coming: the coral-killing crown of thorns starfish. Flickr/<SLIM>

Great Barrier Reef dying beneath its crown of thorns

The Great Barrier Reef is under attack from a range of enemies including climate change effects (coral bleaching, increased severe storms, and ocean acidification), pollutant discharge from the land, coastal…
No matter how friendly your detergent is, it does damage. No matter how friendly your detergent is, it does damage. NPS Photo/Neal Herbert

Environmentally friendly pollutants - what your detergent does to waterways

After the big wet, spare a thought for the health of your waterways and the substances that wash into them. Bacteria are important to the health of the waterways running through our backyards. As decomposers…
Most forms of energy generation are a blight on the landscape: why single out wind? Most forms of energy generation are a blight on the landscape: why single out wind? eidlog42/Flickr

Not a level playing field for wind power

Wind farms make noise. Coal fired power stations pollute the air and atmosphere. Coal-seam gas mines pollute underground water aquifers. All electricity generating sources, to some people, pollute the…
Modern motorists have a pile of engine choices. Modern motorists have a pile of engine choices. Flickr/ Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden

The rise of diesel: but how cheap and clean is it?

Like many countries, Australia is seeing a growth in the number of diesel vehicles on our roads. Since 2006 the number of registered diesel vehicles has increased by a remarkable 40%; diesel passenger…
Much of our e-waste – such as these computer parts – ends up in developing countries. Much of our e-waste – such as these computer parts – ends up in developing countries. Greenpeace India

E-waste: the high cost of high-tech

E-waste from used electrical and electronic gadgets such as desktop computers, laptops and iPhones is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. Rapid uptake of information technology around…
How can we dispose of 20 million tyres a year while minimising our environmental impact? How can we dispose of 20 million tyres a year while minimising our environmental impact? ppip

Recycling helps tyred-out rubber hit the road again

Used tyres pose a major environmental risk around the world, with more than one billion tyres disposed of every year. Most of these tyres end up in landfill. Estimates suggest more than 20 million passenger…
It doesn’t take much for sewage to break out of its pipes and into waterways. It doesn’t take much for sewage to break out of its pipes and into waterways. Claire Evans

Popping the pipe: how sewage gets out into the environment

Australia’s urban waterways are often polluted and sick. They suffer from a condition called the “urban stream syndrome”. A common factor that contributes is contamination from sewage. How and why does…
Coral bleaching is a serious issue, but we’re learning how reefs can best recover. Coral bleaching is a serious issue, but we’re learning how reefs can best recover. AFP/Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Back from the bleach – how isolation helps coral reefs recover

Coral reefs around the world are under pressure from multiple threats. A burgeoning gas industry – such as that near Gladstone – is one of the newest of these. Pollution, sedimentation, declining water…
Every new person is a new consumer of resources. Every new person is a new consumer of resources. World Resources

Population is only part of the environmental impact equation

SEVEN BILLION PEOPLE: In the early 1970s, three leading American scientists were locked in a passionate debate about what had made the greatest contribution to humanity’s impact on the environment. The…
Oil gets into the ocean in all sorts of ways, but oil spills are the most visible. Oil gets into the ocean in all sorts of ways, but oil spills are the most visible. AAP

How can we clean up the Bay of Plenty oil spill?

Responding to oil spills, like that in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, is a very complex, high pressure situation. Decisions must be made based on whatever data are available at the time. One of the difficulties…
Exporting uranium carries a risk not just in Australia, but all over the world. Exporting uranium carries a risk not just in Australia, but all over the world. Mad House Photography

Expanding Olympic Dam: with great power comes great responsibility

The South Australian and Federal governments have approved another expansion at Olympic Dam. This expansion raises some very important questions about Australia’s role in the future of global energy and…
Sure, they’re ugly; but plastic bags might not be so bad. Sure, they’re ugly; but plastic bags might not be so bad. Robin Tennant-Wood

Banning plastic bags: real change, or a cosmetic solution?

From today, plastic bags are banned in the NT. The ACT will follow suit in November: in 2009 the ACT abandoned its 14-year old “No Waste by 2010” strategy and replaced it with a ban on plastic shopping…
Coal seam gas drilling exposes us to chemicals we know nothing about. Coal seam gas drilling exposes us to chemicals we know nothing about. AAP

Coal seam gas could be a fracking disaster for our health

Coal seam gas is indeed a potential disaster if present attitudes and lack of regulatory control prevail. An important part of public health is to enact precautions based on potential impacts. The CSG…

Research and News (2)

Research Briefs (32)

Pollution and genes increase autism risk

Air pollutants may increase the risk of autism in people who have a genetic disposition to the condition. US researchers…

Oil sands create pollution

The pollution created from extracting and processing Canadian tar sands is comparable to a large power plant or a mid-size…