Water pollution may make #Rio2016 the most hazardous yet

Olympic visitors flocking to Rio de Janiero, Brazil for this year’s Olympic games have been warned: “Don’t put your head underwater.”

According to a study contracted by the Associated Press, the waters along the coast of Rio are filled with a toxic sludge of raw sewage, “teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria.” In an amazingly horrible comparison, swimmers need to ingest only three teaspoons of water to be almost certain of contracting a virus, with levels of pollutants “1.7m times what would be considered alarming in the United States and Europe.”

But it’s not just a warning for the visitors — Olympians competing in the bay (sailors, rowers, and open-water swimmers) have had to take extra precautions in the form of antibiotics and anti-pollution microbial suits.

“[The water quality] is a real concern. We’re going to have to be very disciplined about how we’re taking care of ourselves,” said Meghan O’Leary, a member of the U.S. rowing team. “Don’t touch our face if we touch the water. Covering our water bottles with plastic bags. We get splashed a lot. I sit in bow. It’s going to happen. We’re just going to try to control everything we can.”

Unfortunately, the most polluted areas are the points where Olympic rowing and sailing races will take place.

The New York Times writes that a part of Rio’s Olympic bid was to “capture and treat 80 percent of the sewage that flows into Guanabara Bay,” which certainly isn’t happening by the time the Olympics start on Friday.

In the long term, Rio will be added to the list of Olympic host cities with issues — including the lack of snow in Sochi in 2014 and in the upcoming winter games in Beijing in 2022.

Why every day should be World Water Day

Water is life.

Quite simply, we wouldn’t survive without it. More broadly, we use it for energy (directly and indirectly through fracking and natural gas production), farming, and personal hygiene/bathing. Aside from this, there are tons of other ways we use water that we don’t think about — especially in the manufacturing process of goods and clothing.

A quick refresher: 97.5 percent of Earth’s water is salt water, which means 2.5% is left as freshwater. Nearly 70 percent of that freshwater is frozen Antarctica and Greenland. The rest of THAT is trapped in deep underground aquifers.

So that leaves about 1 percent of the world’s fresh water accessible for human. 1 PERCENT. And what we do with it makes all the difference. That’s where World Water Day comes in.

World Water Day (March 22nd every year) is a United Nations holiday that was born to bring public awareness to global water problems and solutions.

This year, the UN is focused on water and jobs — namely the intersection of the two.

Today, almost half of the world’s workers – 1.5 billion people – work in water related sectors and nearly all jobs depend on water and those that ensure its safe delivery. Yet the millions of people who work in water are often not recognized or protected by basic labour rights. The theme in 2016 — water and jobs — is focusing on how enough quantity and quality of water can change workers’ lives and livelihoods – and even transform societies and economies.

In past years, World Water Day has been focused on sustainable development, water and energy, and international water cooperation.

And all of these topics relate back to the most important of them all — conservation. With different energy sources taking over, like natural gas, water use has declined in the U.S. at a time where it’s so necessary to conserve (considering high drought levels in the Western U.S.).

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 7.02.14 PM
More in the climate change trends section on WXshift

Water is life. Water is everything. And every day should be world water day.

Celebrate World Water Day on Twitter with #WorldWaterDay.

What’s at Stake for the World: Infographics

In case you haven’t heard, negotiators in Paris at COP21 have made a historic climate deal that hopes to limit global warming below 2°C.

Why 2°C? You may have heard the world is warming, and that warming has been attributed to manmade emissions. The United Nations has adopted 2°C as the highest threshold for warming with human-caused carbon emissions in order to drive nations to make a climate agreement (like the one in Paris) that would limit the most disastrous effects of climate change.

And thanks to InsideClimate News, we can see what’s at stake in infographic form!

Deforestation is a huge problem globally because forests suck up carbon that could end up in the atmosphere.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 10.16.44 AM
Expand at InsideClimate News

Sea levels are rising, which is bad news for everyone in a coastal city (especially in China).

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 10.16.22 AM
Expand at InsideClimate News

And no, I haven’t forgotten about wildlife! They’re at risk, too.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 10.16.08 AM
Expand at InsideClimate News

Read more about the series over at InsideClimate News.

Earth Week 2015: how are the oceans doing, anyway?

Welcome to my annual Earth Week series! I believe that protecting the Earth deserves more than one day, so I’ve given it a week. Check back every day from April 20-24 to learn about a new environmental issue (or solution!) each day.

Sometimes we forget about the oceans, despite the fact that they take up 70% of the Earth’s surface. Or, more specifically, we forget to think about what ends up there.

A study in the journal Science found that we deposit between 5.3 and 14 million tons of plastic in the oceans every year. I mean sure, that’s a huge range. But to make it more fathomable, OnEarth made analogies for plastic totaling 9 million tons. 9 million tons of plastic is 136 billion plastic jugs, which, if stacked, would “reach more than halfway to Mars.” 9 million tons of plastic is “also the equivalent of piling five grocery bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the world.”

So, in other words, that’s a lot of plastic. And however you quantify it, a lot of it is going into the oceans.

garbagepatch

If you don’t know, there is a huge pile of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The patch is actually a group of trash piles that collect between the west coast of the US and the East Coast of Asia. The trash “vortex” collects in a convergence zone in the ocean – where warm water from the the southern hemisphere meets with cold water from the Arctic. You can see the different trash piles below:

The plastic converges here because a lot of it isn’t biodegradable, considering it’s plastic. That, paired with the fact that we produce 620% more plastic than we did as a society in 1975, is causing problems for marine life as well as the health of the ocean. Mashable reports that when plastic is jostled in the ocean, it is sometimes broken up into tiny shreds, small enough to be ingested my animals and avoid nets of those trying to clean up the sea.

Garbage washed up in Hawaii

So what can you do to help? Here are some ideas:

  • Use less plastic: we only recycle 14% of plastic we use in the US, and that’s pretty bad. If you live in an area where recycling is easily accessible, please just recycle. Just put that plastic bottle in your recycling bin!
  • Stop using products with plastic micro-beads in them: okay, so ICYMI, your facial cleanser probably has tiny pieces of plastic in it. Do you have exfoliating beads? Bingo. Simple solution – don’t use these! Find other products . If you’re inclined to take a stand, find out more here.
  • Reuse the plastic you do use: use extra plastic jars to house snacks instead of using plastic snack/sandwich bags. You can also reuse the tupperware from lunch meat to take your sandwiches to work. There are endless possibilities!
  • Don’t use plastic bottles: if you read my blog, you know plastic bottles are horrible, not just for the environment because of plastic pollution, but because of water extraction too. The bottles are made of fossil fuels, too, which doesn’t help the Earth much.

It’s easy to make change – just pick what works for you and stick to it! A little goes a long way. Thanks for joining me for this Earth Week series!

This post concludes my Earth Week posts for 2015. Click here for more!