Deadly tornadoes slam through six states

More powerful, destructive, and deadlier storms will be the "new normal" as the effects of climate change take root, the top U.S. emergency management official said after massive tornadoes ravaged six states.

Meteorologists and other scientists have long warned of the growing intensity of weather events like storms, fires and flooding.

But the crisis hit the U.S. in a terrifying way when more than two dozen twisters raked across large swaths of the American heartland, leaving more than 90 people dead, dozens missing and communities in ruin.

"This is going to be our new normal," Deanne Criswell, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN'S "State of the Union." "The effects that we're seeing from climate change are the crisis of our generation," she added. Criswell warned of the challenge that the United States faces in addressing such severe weather events.

In another programme, she told ABC's "This Week," "We're seeing more intense storms, severe weather, whether it's hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires. The focus I'm going to have is, how do we start to reduce the impacts of these events." The tornado that reduced several towns to rubble was a gargantuan twister. It rumbled along the ground for over 320 km, one of the longest, if not the longest on record.

What causes a tornado?

Tornadoes are whirling, vertical air columns that form from thunderstorms and stretch to the ground. They travel with ferocious speed and lay waste to everything in their path. Thunderstorms occur when denser, drier cold air is pushed over warmer, humid air, conditions scientists call atmospheric instability. As that happens, an updraft is created when the warm air rises. When winds vary in speed or direction at different altitudes- a condition known as wind shear-the updraft will start to spin. These changes in winds produce the spin necessary for a tornado. For especially strong tornadoes, changes are needed in both the wind's speed and direction.

Role of climate change

Scientists say figuring out how climate change is affecting the frequency of tornadoes is complicated. But they do say the atmospheric conditions that give rise to such outbreaks are intensifying in the winter as the planet warms. One paper published recently by scientific association AGU says its analysis "suggests increasing global temperature will affect the occurrence of conditions favourable to severe weather."

Rising global temperatures are driving significant changes for seasons that we traditionally think of as rarely producing severe weather. Stronger increases in warm humid air in fall, winter, and early spring mean there will be more days with favourable severe thunderstorm environments - and when these storms occur, they have the potential for greater intensity. Projections suggest that stronger, tornado-producing storms may be more likely as global temperatures rise, though strengthened less than we might expect from the increase in available energy. Studies have shown that the rate of increase in severe storm environments will be greater in the Northern Hemisphere, and that it increases more at higher latitudes.

Picture Credit : Google

How do plants and animals in region that experience forest fires survive or cope?

Forest fires occur in many regions of the world. In fact, some of you may have witnessed them. They are not just inevitable but even necessary for several reasons.

The benefits of forest fires

Forest fires have been an integral part of the natural forest environment, and play an important role in keeping the ecosystem going. For example, these fires help clear dead plants and allow for new ones to grow in their place. Seeds of certain plants germinate after a fire that breaks open their outer covering. Trunks of trees falling after a fire host several types of insects and reptiles, which in turn become feed for birds and animals. Animals escaping fire move to other places, resulting in the distribution of such species.

Plants and animals cope / survive

Since plants cannot move when fire envelops their surroundings, they have other means for survival. One of them is through the insulation that soil offers. Some plants (re)grow from underground stems and roots protected by the soil. Some trees are protected from damage and death by the thickness of their bark.

Many animal species (and even plants) are said to reproduce during the wet season or when the chances of fires are low. This offers the population a higher chance of survival. Many animals have a strong sense of smell that helps them detect smoke from far so they can move to safer places. Some seem to be able to hear the sounds of fire, which gives them adequate time to leave the spot. Most animals, especially large ones, flee a burning place and move to higher ground, or even to an already burnt place. However, not all animals move. Some find abandoned burrows to seek refuge in. This also has another benefit-protection from raptors that come looking for hapless animals. Animals have found ways to cope even after a fire. Since food resources become scarce after a fire, some species have adapted themselves to suppress energy use, cutting down the need for seeking food.

The situation today is grim

While it is true that forest fires are necessary and beneficial, the current scenario is not very encouraging. Due to climate change and global warming, the intensity and the incidence of forest fires across the globe have been increasing. This I means that neither plants nor animals have enough time or means to recover from a forest fire. In the long run, it could push them to extinction in a world that might no longer resemble the one their ancestors inhabited.

Picture Credit : Google

India launches ‘Plastics Pact’ to limit single-use plastics

In August, India notified a ban on manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of certain single-use plastic items. Now, with the launch of its Plastic Pact, India has strengthened its fight against plastic pollution.

What's the pact all about?

The Plastic Pact, the first of its kind in Asia and jointly developed by the World-Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF India) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), is a platform to promote a circular economy for plastic.

While linear economy businesses take a natural resource and turn it into a product which is ultimately destined to become waste, a circular economy employs reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a closed-loop system, minimising the use of resources, and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions.

It is a collaborative initiative that aims to bring together businesses, governments and NGOS to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastics in their value chain. During the launch, it was announced that 17 businesses including major FMCG brands, manufacturers, retailers and recyclers have committed to the pact as founding members, and nine have joined as supporting organisations.

The U.K.-based not-for-profit company Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), along with UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), will offer operational and technical support to India. Plastic Pacts in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Africa are also supported by WRAP.

What's the target of the pact?

The Pact aims to define a list of unnecessary or problematic plastic packaging and items and take measures to address them through redesign and innovation. By 2030, 100% of the plastic packaging should be reusable or recyclable.

Why is this important?

Considerable amounts of plastic waste in India are not recycled because of lack of segregation and collection. Only 60% of plastic waste is collected and recycled in India, while the rest remains littered in the environment. The plastic recycling industry is vast and unorganised. Most of the plastic wastes are recycled into low quality materials, which again become single-use items. Environmentalists have been stressing the need for collaboration across the value chain from design and reuse to repair and recycling in order to develop impactful solutions. This Plastic Pact promises to be a step towards that.

Picture Credit : Google

How does waste affect the economy?

Step out of your house and you are welcomed by the sight of overflowing dustbins at every street comer. As populations grow and economies expand, we generate large amounts of waste. This includes liquid or solid household waste, food waste, construction waste, industrial waste, and hazardous waste (radioactive waste, electronic waste, inflammables and pharmaceuticals).

According to an estimate, in urban India, an individual produces an average of 0.8 kg of waste every day. The world generates 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, with at least 33% of that not managed in an environmentally safe manner. Poor waste management can contribute to a range of problems, including health and environmental hazards. Some waste will eventually rot, but not all. Those that rot produce smell, cause infectious diseases, and result in the accumulation of toxic substances in the food chain through the animals that feed on them. Decaying waste also generates methane gas, which contributes to the greenhouse effect. Incineration of waste is a common treatment practice followed in India. Gases from incineration may cause air pollution, while the ash may contain heavy metals and other toxins. Plastic waste often ends up in oceans posing grave threat to marine animals and coastal ecosystems.

What can you do?

Besides demanding better waste management system from your elected leaders, you can also strive to reduce waste at home. Make the 3Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle - your mantra and strive to achieve zero-waste generation.

Reduce: Avoid unnecessary accumulation of materials. Simplify your life as much as possible. Only keep belongings that you use on a regular basis.

Reuse: If you need something, see if you can purchase it second-hand. There are a number of sites that sell used items. You can get a used bicycle or furniture from someone who is relocating. Also avoid one-time-use items such as disposable glasses or bottles.

Recycle: Before discarding something into the bin, see if you can make use of it in some way. A water bottle could become a pen stand and old newspapers could be turned into paper bags. Try to recycle things as much as possible, and this way you can also reduce your consumption.

Picture Credit : Google

How toxic is e-waste?

Today, everyone owns a cellphone - be it smartphone or not. Unlike a few years ago, each member in an urban household today owns a headphone, charger, laptop, and a pendrive. Our lives revolve around televisions, modems, desktop computers, Al assistants, and a whole lot of gadgets and their electronic accessories. Most of these devices have a short lifespan and they have to be replaced within a few years, if not months. Those that have reached their end of life often get dumped in landfills, adding to the toxic pollution and leach into our environment some way or the other.

Electronic waste or e-waste is a global problem. While we focus much of our attention on plastic, e-waste has silently grown to be the fastest growing stream of waste worldwide. According to the latest assessment by the WEEE Forum, an international expert group dedicated to tackling the global problem of e-waste, the mountain of electronic and electrical equipment discarded in 2021 will weigh more than 57 million tonnes - greater than the weight of the Great Wall of China. Earth's heaviest artificial object. Only 17.4% of this electronic waste containing a mixture of harmful substances and precious materials will be recorded as being properly collected, treated and recycled. According to the United Nations, in 2021 each person on the planet will produce on average 7.6 kg of e-waste. The WEEE report acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a perceptible effect on our use of electronics and digital solutions, with both adults and children relying on e-products for job and schooling.

What constitutes e-waste and why is it a matter of concern?

E-waste, short for electronic waste, simply describes any electronic device or their parts that have been thrown away. Some examples of electronic and electrical waste are used and abandoned computers, tablets, televisions, cell phones, stereos, copiers, scanners, mouses, keyboards, air-conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines.

Dangerous emission

  • When not recycled or disposed of properly, e-waste ends up in landfill and is often burned along with other garbage. This can cause emission of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. Toxins from e-waste can also seep into the soil and contaminate groundwater and waterbodies. This in turn will affect plants, animals and humans.
  • Some of the waste may reach unregulated recycling units where the devices are washed in acids for extraction of minute amounts of gold, silver, palladium, copper, or other precious metals and minerals present in them. This can pollute air and water. Workers engaged in this extraction in unregulated units face dangerous conditions, as they work without protective gear such as gloves or masks.
  • Exposure to e-waste can cause headache, irritability, nausea, vomiting, and eye pain. Recyclers may suffer liver, kidney and neurological disorders.
  • The air pollution from burning e-waste a threat for people living near landfills as they are constantly exposed to toxins. It can damage the nervous system, circulatory system, and kidney and brain development. Respiratory disorders and skin problems are the other risks.

Solutions

  • E-waste collection, transportation, processing, and recycling is dominated by the informal sector which is well networked, but unregulated. If both the formal and informal sectors coordinate and work in a harmonious manner, the materials collected by the unorganised sector may be handed over to the organised sector for processing in an environment-friendly way.
  • Governments should collaborate with the industry to draw up standard operating procedures and work towards reducing e-waste.
  • They should encourage new entrepreneurs in the e-waste sector by providing necessary financial support and technological guidance.
  • Incentives can be given to people practising safe disposal of e-waste.

What can you do to reduce e-waste?

1. Think twice: Before you ask your parents for new gadgets, think twice whether you can manage without it. Or try to use an old one.

2. Take good care of your gadgets. Follow instructions given in manuals carefully to ensure longer product life. For instance, do not use mobile while charging as it causes overheating and decreases battery life, besides proving to be life-threatening.

3. Dispose gadgets responsibly: E-waste should not be mixed with general waste or given to unauthorised collectors. Ensure your e-waste reaches regulated recycling units.

Picture Credit : Google