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Canada’s expansive coastline beckons surfers with its untamed beauty. As the popularity of surfing continues to rise along these pristine shores, the delicate balance between coastal recreation and conservation efforts comes into focus, raising questions about the impact on the landscape, marine biodiversity, and indigenous cultural heritage. Explore the intriguing challenge of preserving nature’s wonders while riding the perfect wave in Canada. 

Canada’s breathtaking coastline stretches for over 202,000 kilometres, making it the longest coastline in the world. Nestled along Canada’s majestic coastlines, a captivating world of untamed beauty awaits. From the rugged cliffs of Newfoundland and Labrador to the temperate shores of British Columbia, this vast expense of shoreline is a testament to the country’s natural beauty and diversity. 

The country’s pristine coasts have long been a source of wonder and inspiration, attracting adventurers and nature enthusiasts from all over the world. Among the many activities that draw people to Canada’s coasts, surfing has gained popularity in recent years, with thousands of adventures visiting the Canadian coastline to ride the perfect wave. 

However, beneath the surface of this surfing paradise lies a delicate balance to be struck – one that weaves together the allure of coastal recreation with the urgent call for conservation efforts. Are surfers real beach warriors who embrace the beauty of the waves they seek to tame, or do they pose harm to marine biodiversity and indigenous cultural heritage? 

The Allure of Canada’s Shores 

The allure of Canada’s untamed coasts lies in their pristine beauty and unspoiled landscapes. From the remote stretches of British Columbia to the wild shores of Nova Scotia, the country’s coastlines are teeming with diverse ecosystems, wildlife, and unique geological formations. Protecting these fragile environments is paramount to preserving Canada’s natural heritage for future generations. 

Coastal recreation and conservation; West Vancouver is a popular surf spot for adventure enthusiasts from around the world. Credit: James Martin

West Vancouver is a popular surf spot for adventure enthusiasts from around the world. Photo: James Martin.

Canada’s coasts are not just mere surf spots; they are thriving ecosystems teeming with life. The cold waters are home to a rich diversity of marine species, including seals, whales, and countless fish. Coastal habitats are essential for migratory birds, providing rest stops on their long journeys. And let’s not forget the importance of kelp forests and seagrass beds in absorbing carbon dioxide and maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems. These coastal areas are the lifeblood of our planet, and they deserve our utmost respect and protection. 

Surfing, a sport rooted in harmony with nature, presents both an opportunity and a challenge in this conservation effort. As surfers paddle out into the waves and ride them to shore, they become intimately connected with the ocean and its surroundings. However, the rapid growth of the sport and its associated infrastructure, such as surf schools, rental shops, and beachfront developments, can have unintended consequences for the environment. 

Conservation and Coastal Recreation; Canada’s coasts are not just mere surf spots; they are thriving ecosystems teeming with life. Credit: Adrian Dorst/Pinterest

Canada’s coasts are not just mere surf spots; they are thriving ecosystems teeming with life. Photo: Adrian Dorst/Pinterest.

Surfing as an Ecological Conundrum 

Surfing, like any recreational activity, has the potential to impact the environment. However, it is essential to recognise that surfers are not inherently destructive to coastal ecosystems. Instead, the way surfing is practiced, regulated, and the awareness of its ecological footprint determine whether it contributes positively or negatively to the environment. 

One of the most glaring issues is the strain placed on local infrastructures. Many surf destinations lack the necessary facilities and resources to handle a sudden surge in visitors. This often leads to overcrowded lineups, increased waste, and inadequate waste disposal systems, resulting in the pollution of pristine coastal environments. In addition, the commodification of surf spots can drive up living costs for locals, pushing them out of their homes and eroding the authenticity of once-charming communities. As waves become overcrowded and competitive, tensions can flare among surfers and local communities, disrupting the peaceful harmony that the ocean has to offer. 

Speaking to Patagonia, Australian surfer and activist Dave Rastovich and Southern Californian surfer Greg Long highlight that there can be a lot of negative repercussions from an influx of tourism of any kind if the area’s infrastructure is not set up to support it. In their opinion, a lot of places have changed to cater to the materialistic behaviours and desires of the fast-paced Westernised world. Taking Bali as an example, both activists agree that places with an incredible cultural and wave-rich environment are put under a lot of duress and pressure, often resulting in plastic pollution and loss of local culture. 

Surfing, like any recreational activity, has the potential to impact the environment. Credit: Marcus Paladino/North Island College

Surfing, like any recreational activity, has the potential to impact the environment. Photo: Marcus Paladino/North Island College.

Surf Tourism’s Impact on Tofino, British Columbia 

An example that reflects the two surfers’ concerns is Tofino, a coastal town in Canada’s British Columbia. 

Tofino is renowned for its natural beauty, including pristine beaches and world-class surf breaks. Over the years, Tofino has become a popular destination for surfers and tourists from around the world, seeking to experience the rugged charm of Vancouver Island’s west coast. However, the rapid growth of surf tourism in Tofino has brought several challenges. The area’s infrastructure, originally designed to cater to a smaller local population, has struggled to cope with the influx of visitors. This led to issues such as traffic congestion, inadequate waste management, and overcrowding at popular surf breaks. 

In addition, housing availability and affordability has become a critical issue for employers and employees alike. The cost of living is high; Tofitians pay on average 12% more for a bag of groceries than their neighbours in Port Alberni, a winding 90-minute drive east over rugged Sutton Pass on Highway 4. Indeed, the rise in real estate development, driven by the demand for vacation homes and accommodations, has also driven up housing costs, making it increasingly difficult for residents to afford to live in their own community. As a result, Tofino has faced concerns about gentrification and the potential loss of its unique cultural character. 

Coastal recreation and conservation; Credit: Tofino Surf Photography/Keenan Bush

Coastal recreation is a way of life for many Canadians, providing opportunities for relaxation, exercise, and connection with nature. Credit: Tofino Surf Photography/Keenan Bush.

This is further reflected when in 2019 the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust and the District of Tofino joined forces to host the Vital Conversation on Sustainable Tourism. It brought stakeholders together from the business sector, First Nations, non-profit, and government sectors to talk about tourism. It was a testy conversation that revealed an angst about the impact of tourism, particularly regarding the demands for high-cost infrastructure, such as water, waste management, and roads. It reflected the residents’ sense of well-being and an overall concern about continued visitor growth at the expense of environmental integrity. 

Surf Tourism and Indigenous Cultural Heritage 

The surge in popularity of surf tourism has also impacted Indigenous cultural heritage, especially in the region of British Columbia. Many of the coastal areas in the province hold deep spiritual and historical significance for indigenous communities, often serving as sites of traditional ceremonies, storytelling, and connection to ancestral lands. The influx of surfers and tourists can disrupt these sacred spaces, potentially leading to the erosion of Indigenous cultural heritage. The noise, increased foot traffic, and changes in the natural environment can disrupt the tranquility and sanctity of these areas. 

Coastal recreation and conservation; The surge in popularity of surf tourism has also impacted Indigenous cultural heritage, especially in the region of British Columbia. Credit: Off Track Travel

The surge in popularity of surf tourism has also impacted Indigenous cultural heritage, especially in the region of British Columbia. Photo: Off Track Travel.

Moreover, the commercialisation of surf tourism can sometimes overshadow the voices and rights of indigenous peoples, leading to a loss of control over their ancestral territories. An example of surf tourism’s impact on indigenous cultural heritage can be found in Tofino, which apart from its stunning coastal areas, is home to the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, who have inhabited these lands for thousands of years and maintain a profound connection to the ocean and its resources. 

The noise generated by an increasing number of visitors, the bustling crowds descending upon these revered sites, and the relentless march of commercial development have all sounded alarm bells within the Nuu-chah-nulth community. These changes raise significant concerns about the disruption of these sacred places, which are the very heart of their cultural practices. There is a palpable fear that the influx of surfers and tourists may inadvertently erode the sacredness of these places, potentially altering the indigenous cultural practices that have thrived there for centuries. 

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How Can Surfers and Coastal Enthusiasts Strike the Balance Between Pursuing Their Passion and Conserving Invaluable Ecosystems?

The answer lies in mindful, sustainable, and environmentally conscious practices. 

First and foremost, surfers can become stewards of the environment. Every time they paddle out, they have a responsibility to minimise their impact on the coastal ecosystems they cherish. This starts with respecting local regulations, including protected areas and wildlife habitats. It means picking up trash, reducing plastic waste, and participating in beach cleanups. Surfers should also be aware of the fragile balance between human activity and nature and strive to leave no trace in their presence. 

Indeed, surfers in Canada have already started acknowledging their impact and over the recent years, numerous initiatives and organisations have established programs that seek to protect the Canadian coastline. Surfrider Foundation Canada is a great example. The foundation, a branch of the US-based Surfrider Foundation, frequently organises beach cleanups around popular surf spots in British Columbia with much success. Most recently, its beach cleanup, which took place earlier this month, engaged surfers, university students, and children in removing waste from Victoria, British Columbia. This is a great example for other surfers to follow and become advocates for a cleaner, healthier coastal environment. 

Coastal recreation and conservation; Credit: Tofino Surf Photography/Keenan Bush

The answer to striking a balance between coastal recreation and conservation efforts lies in mindful, sustainable, and environmentally conscious practices. Photo: Tofino Surf Photography/Keenan Bush.

But let’s not stop at individual actions. The surfing community has tremendous potential to drive change and inspire others to follow suit. Surfers are uniquely positioned to raise awareness about coastal conservation issues. Through social media, documentaries, and community events, surfers can amplify the voices of scientists, conservationists, and indigenous communities who are advocating for the protection of the Canadian coastlines. 

One inspiring example of this is the collaboration between surfers and several indigenous communities in Canada. By forging partnerships and listening to their wisdom, surfers can learn valuable lessons in conservation and sustainability. 

Introducing the Mułaa Surf Team

Educational institutions, surfers, and organisations have started acknowledging the impact of the influx of surf tourism in spaces where indigenous cultural practices thrive. As a response, the Mułaa surf team, aptly translated to “Riding Tide” in the Tla-o-qui-aht language, was established in 2019 with the mission to employ surfing as a conduit for supporting local youth and reconnecting them with the great outdoors and the vast ocean that lies in their doorstep. The team’s foundation rests on pillars such as culture, language, and surfing. 

In the heart of the unceded Tla-o-qui-aht territory near Tofino, British Columbia, Nuu-chah-nulth youth, instructors, and elders gather on the beach for a language lesson before embarking on surf lessons. These sessions offer an opportunity for these young individuals to acquire new skills while nurturing a profound connection to the island’s land and waters that their ancestors have called home for millennia. 

This initiative aligns beautifully with the rich traditions of the Nuu-chah-nulth and other Indigenous Nations that have thrived along the coasts, islands, and beaches of Vancouver Island. It i a beautiful example of how surfing is not just a mere sport but can be a bridge to accessing traditional knowledge in a contemporary setting. What is more, the Mułaa initiative strives to address the importance of representation, recognising that Indigenous territory encompasses not only the land but also the water.

By fostering a supporting and inclusive environment, Mułaa allows these youth to see themselves represented in the waves, building their comfort and confidence in the ocean while honouring their cultural heritage. Amidst the laughter and camaraderie of surfers and bobbing surfboards, the Mułaa programme empowers youth to carve out a space for themselves, nurturing new skills, and forging a deeper connection to the islands’ lands and water that have been an integral part of their heritage for generations. 

Finding a Balance Between Coastal Recreation and Conservation Efforts

The key to successful conservation efforts lies in finding common ground. Surfing, like many outdoor activities, is a source of joy, inspiration, and solace for countless individuals. It provides an opportunity to connect with the ocean on a profound level. By emphasising the connection between surfing and conservation, we can rally surfers to become true environmental champions. 

Imagine a world where surfers are not only riding waves but also advocating for cleaner oceans, supporting marine protected areas, and engaging in scientific research to better understand coastal ecosystems. 

This vision is not far-fetched, as evidenced by the work done by Surfrider Foundation Canada and the Mułaa program. As these examples depict, balancing surfing and conservation is achievable through collective action and a shared commitment to preserving the natural heritage of Canada. 

surfer at sunset. Credit: Surfline Canada

The journey of balancing conservation and coastal recreation is not an easy one, but it’s a noble and necessary endeavour. Photo: Surfline Canada.

Surfers are drawn to the ocean’s beauty and power. It is a magnetic force that pulls them to the shore, where they paddle out with salt in their hair and the horizon stretching endlessly before them. But this pull is not just about the pursuit of their own pleasure; it’s about connecting with something greater than themselves. It’s about recognising the responsibility they hold to protect the ocean and its surrounding ecosystems. 

The journey of balancing conservation and coastal recreation is not an easy one, but it’s a noble and necessary endeavour. It requires surfers and coastal enthusiasts to be advocates, educators, and protectors of the very places that fuel their passion. It demands that they see themselves as custodians of the coast, working together to ensure that future generations can experience the same awe-inspiring moments they cherish today.

Surfing Canada’s untamed coasts can be a symbol of hope and change. It can be a shining example of how humans can coexist with nature. It’s a challenge, an adventure, and a call to action. Together, surfers, local communities and local initiatives can ride the waves of change and inspire a future where conservation and coastal recreation thrive side by side. Surfers have already started working hard to build a harmonious relationship with the coastline they love so dearly, and this is a positive sign that the future of Canada’s wild coastlines can be indeed a positive one.

Featured image: Tofino Surf Photography/Keenan Bush.

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While the climate crisis has many factors that play a role in the exacerbation of the environment, there are some that warrant more attention than others. Here are some of the biggest environmental problems of our lifetime, from deforestation and biodiversity loss to food waste and fast fashion.

1. Global Warming From Fossil Fuels

As of May 2023, CO2 PPM (parts per million) is at 420.00 and the global temperature rise is 1.15C compared to pre-industrial levels. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest environmental problems of our lifetime: as greenhouse gas emissions blanket the Earth, they trap the sun’s heat, leading to global warming.

The last time carbon dioxide levels on our planet were as high as today was more than 4 million years ago. Increased emissions of greenhouse gases have led to a rapid and steady increase in global temperatures, which in turn is causing catastrophic events all over the world – from Australia and the US experiencing some of the most devastating bushfire seasons ever recorded, locusts swarming across parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, decimating crops, and a heatwave in Antarctica that saw temperatures rise above 20C for the first time. Scientists are constantly warning that the planet has crossed a series of tipping points that could have catastrophic consequences, such as advancing permafrost melt in Arctic regions, the Greenland ice sheet melting at an unprecedented rate, accelerating sixth mass extinction, and increasing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, just to name a few.

The climate crisis is causing tropical storms and other weather events such as hurricanes, heatwaves and flooding to be more intense and frequent than seen before. However, even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted immediately, global temperatures would continue to rise in the coming years. That is why it is absolutely imperative that we start now to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy sources, and phase our fossil fuels as fast as possible.

You might also like: The Tipping Points of Climate Change: How Will Our World Change?

2. Poor Governance

According to economists like Nicholas Stern, the climate crisis is a result of multiple market failures.

Economists and environmentalists have urged policymakers for years to increase the price of activities that emit greenhouse gases (one of our biggest environmental problems), the lack of which constitutes the largest market failure, for example through carbon taxes, which will stimulate innovations in low-carbon technologies.

To cut emissions quickly and effectively enough, governments must not only massively increase funding for green innovation to bring down the costs of low-carbon energy sources, but they also need to adopt a range of other policies that address each of the other market failures. 

A national carbon tax is currently implemented in 27 countries around the world, including various countries in the EU, Canada, Singapore, Japan, Ukraine and Argentina. However, according to the 2019 OECD Tax Energy Use report, current tax structures are not adequately aligned with the pollution profile of energy sources. For example, the OECD suggests that carbon taxes are not harsh enough on coal production, although it has proved to be effective for the electricity industry. A carbon tax has been effectively implemented in Sweden; the carbon tax is U$127 per tonne and has reduced emissions by 25% since 1995, while its economy has expanded 75% in the same time period. 

Further, organisations such as the United Nations are not fit to deal with the climate crisis: it was assembled to prevent another world war and is not fit for purpose. Anyway, members of the UN are not mandated to comply with any suggestions or recommendations made by the organisation. For example, the Paris Agreement, a historic deal within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, says that countries need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly so that global temperature rise is below 2C by 2100, and ideally under 1.5C. But signing on to it is voluntary, and there are no real repercussions for non-compliance. Further, the issue of equity remains a contentious issue whereby developing countries are allowed to emit more in order to develop to the point where they can develop technologies to emit less, and it allows some countries, such as China, to exploit this. 

3. Food Waste

A third of the food intended for human consumption – around 1.3 billion tons – is wasted or lost. This is enough to feed 3 billion people. Food waste and loss account for a third of greenhouse gas emissions annually; if it was a country, food waste would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the US. 

Food waste and loss occurs at different stages in developing and developed countries; in developing countries, 40% of food waste occurs at the post-harvest and processing levels, while in developed countries, 40% of food waste occurs at the retail and consumer levels. 

At the retail level, a shocking amount of food is wasted because of aesthetic reasons; in fact, in the US, more than 50% of all produce thrown away in the US is done so because it is deemed to be “too ugly” to be sold to consumers- this amounts to about 60 million tons of fruits and vegetables. This leads to food insecurity, another one of the biggest environmental problems on the list. 

You might also like: 25 Shocking Facts About Food Waste

4. Biodiversity Loss

The past 50 years have seen a rapid growth of human consumption, population, global trade and urbanisation, resulting in humanity using more of the Earth’s resources than it can replenish naturally. 

A recent WWF report found that the population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians have experienced a decline of an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016. The report attributes this biodiversity loss to a variety of factors, but mainly land-use change, particularly the conversion of habitats, like forests, grasslands and mangroves, into agricultural systems. Animals such as pangolins, sharks and seahorses are significantly affected by the illegal wildlife trade, and pangolins are critically endangered because of it. 

More broadly, a recent analysis has found that the sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating. More than 500 species of land animals are on the brink of extinction and are likely to be lost within 20 years; the same number were lost over the whole of the last century. The scientists say that without the human destruction of nature, this rate of loss would have taken thousands of years. 

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5. Plastic Pollution

In 1950, the world produced more than 2 million tons of plastic per year. By 2015, this annual production swelled to 419 million tons and exacerbating plastic waste in the environment. 

plastic pollution

The world generates 300 million tonnes of plastic waste each year.

A report by science journal, Nature, determined that currently, roughly 14 million tons of plastic make their way into the oceans every year, harming wildlife habitats and the animals that live in them. The research found that if no action is taken, the plastic crisis will grow to 29 million metric tons per year by 2040. If we include microplastics into this, the cumulative amount of plastic in the ocean could reach 600 million tons by 2040.

Shockingly, National Geographic found that 91% of all plastic that has ever been made is not recycled, representing not only one of the biggest environmental problems of our lifetime, but another massive market failure. Considering that plastic takes 400 years to decompose, it will be many generations until it ceases to exist. There’s no telling what the irreversible effects of plastic pollution will have on the environment in the long run. 

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6. Deforestation

Every hour, forests the size of 300 football fields are cut down. By the year 2030, the planet might have only 10% of its forests; if deforestation isn’t stopped, they could all be gone in less than 100 years. 

The three countries experiencing the highest levels of deforestation are Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia. The Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest – spanning 6.9 million square kilometres (2.72 million square miles) and covering around 40% of the South American continent – is also one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems and is home to about three million species of plants and animals. Despite efforts to protect forest land, legal deforestation is still rampant, and about a third of global tropical deforestation occurs in Brazil’s Amazon forest, amounting to 1.5 million hectares each year


The world has been chopping down 10 million hectares of trees every year to make space to grow crops and livestock, and to produce materials such as paper.

Agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, another one of the biggest environmental problems appearing on this list. Land is cleared to raise livestock or to plant other crops that are sold, such as sugar cane and palm oil. Besides for carbon sequestration, forests help to prevent soil erosion, because the tree roots bind the soil and prevent it from washing away, which also prevents landslides. 

You might also like: 10 Deforestation Facts You Should Know About

7. Air Pollution 

One of the biggest environmental problems today is outdoor air pollution. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that an estimated 4.2 to 7 million people die from air pollution worldwide every year and that nine out of 10 people breathe air that contains high levels of pollutants. In Africa, 258,000 people died as a result of outdoor air pollution in 2017, up from 164,000 in 1990, according to UNICEF. Causes of air pollution mostly comes from industrial sources and motor vehicles, as well as emissions from burning biomass and poor air quality due to dust storms. 

In Europe, a recent report from the EU’s environment agency showed that air pollution contributed to 400 000 annual deaths in the EU in 2012 (the last year for which data was available). 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, attention has been put on the role that air pollution gases has in transporting the virus molecules. Preliminary studies have identified a positive correlation between COVID-19-related mortalities and air pollution and there is also a plausible association of airborne particles assisting the viral spread. This could have contributed to the high death toll in China, where air quality is notoriously poor, although more definitive studies must be conducted before such a conclusion can be drawn.

8. Melting Ice Caps and Sea Level Rise

The climate crisis is warming the Arctic more than twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet. Today, sea levels are rising more than twice as quickly as they did for most of the 20th century as a result of increasing temperatures on Earth. Seas are now rising an average of 3.2 mm per year globally and they will continue to grow up to about 0.7 metres by the end of this century. In the Arctic, the Greenland Ice Sheet poses the greatest risk for sea levels because melting land ice is the main cause of rising sea levels.

Representing arguably the biggest of the environmental problems, this is made all the more concerning considering that last year’s summer triggered the loss of 60 billion tons of ice from Greenland, enough to raise global sea levels by 2.2mm in just two months. According to satellite data, the Greenland ice sheet lost a record amount of ice in 2019: an average of a million tons per minute throughout the year, one of the biggest environmental problems that has cascading effects. If the entire Greenland ice sheet melts, sea level would rise by six metres.

Meanwhile, the Antarctic continent contributes about 1 millimetre per year to sea level rise, which is a third of the annual global increase. Additionally, the last fully intact ice shelf in Canada in the Arctic recently collapsed, having lost about 80 square kilometres – or 40% – of its area over a two-day period in late July, according to the Canadian Ice Service. 

Sea level rise will have a devastating impact on those living in coastal regions: according to research and advocacy group Climate Central, sea level rise this century could flood coastal areas that are now home to 340 million to 480 million people, forcing them to migrate to safer areas and contributing to overpopulation and strain of resources in the areas they migrate to. 

Bangkok (Thailand), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Manila (Philippines), and Dubai (United Arab Emirates) are among the cities most at risk of sea level rise and flooding.

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9. Ocean Acidification

Global temperature rise has not only affected the surface, but it is the main cause of ocean acidification. Our oceans absorb about 30% of carbon dioxide that is released into the Earth’s atmosphere. As higher concentrations of carbon emissions are released thanks to human activities such as burning fossil fuels as well as effects of global climate change such as increased rates of wildfires, so do the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed back into the sea. 

The smallest change in the pH scale can have a significant impact on the acidity of the ocean. Ocean acidification has devastating impacts on marine ecosystems and species, its food webs, and provoke irreversible changes in habitat quality. Once pH levels reach too low, marine organisms such as oysters, their shells and skeleton could even start to dissolve. 

However, one of the biggest environmental problems from ocean acidification is coral bleaching and subsequent coral reef loss. This is a phenomenon that occurs when rising ocean temperatures disrupt the symbiotic relationship between the reefs and algae that lives within it, driving away the algae and causing coral reefs to lose their natural vibrant colours. Some scientists have estimated coral reefs are at risk of being completely wiped by 2050. Higher acidity in the ocean would obstruct coral reef systems’ ability to rebuild their exoskeletons and recover from these coral bleaching events. 

Some studies have also found that ocean acidification can be linked as one of the effects of plastic pollution in the ocean. The accumulating bacteria and microorganisms derived from plastic garbage dumped in the ocean to damage marine ecosystems and contribute towards coral bleaching.

10. Agriculture 

Studies have shown that the global food system is responsible for up to one third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, of which 30% comes from livestock and fisheries. Crop production releases greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide through the use of fertilisers

60% of the world’s agricultural area is dedicated to cattle ranching, although it only makes up 24% of global meat consumption. 

Agriculture not only covers a vast amount of land, but it also consumes a vast amount of freshwater, another one of the biggest environmental problems on this list. While arable lands and grazing pastures cover one-third of Earth’s land surfaces, they consume three-quarters of the world’s limited freshwater resources.

Scientists and environmentalists have continuously warned that we need to rethink our current food system; switching to a more plant-based diet would dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of the conventional agriculture industry. 

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11. Food and Water Insecurity

Rising temperatures and unsustainable farming practices has resulted in the increasing threat of water and food insecurity and taking the mantle as one of the biggest environmental problems today. 

Globally, more than 68 billion tonnes of top-soil is eroded every year at a rate 100 times faster than it can naturally be replenished. Laden with biocides and fertiliser, the soil ends up in waterways where it contaminates drinking water and protected areas downstream. 

Furthermore, exposed and lifeless soil is more vulnerable to wind and water erosion due to lack of root and mycelium systems that hold it together. A key contributor to soil erosion is over-tilling: although it increases productivity in the short-term by mixing in surface nutrients (e.g. fertiliser), tilling is physically destructive to the soil’s structure and in the long-term leads to soil compaction, loss of fertility and surface crust formation that worsens topsoil erosion.

With the global population expected to reach 9 billion people by mid-century, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) projects that global food demand may increase by 70% by 2050. Around the world, more than 820 million people do not get enough to eat. 

The UN secretary-general António Guterres says, “Unless immediate action is taken, it is increasingly clear that there is an impending global food security emergency that could have long term impacts on hundreds of millions of adults and children.” He urged for countries to rethink their food systems and encouraged more sustainable farming practices. 

In terms of water security, only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water, and two-thirds of that is tucked away in frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable for our use. As a result, some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. 

You might also like: Global Food Security: Why It Matters in 2023

12. Fast Fashion and Textile Waste

The global demand for fashion and clothing has risen at an unprecedented rate that the fashion industry now accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, becoming one of the biggest environmental problems of our time. Fashion alone produces more greenhouse gas emissions than both the aviation and shipping sectors combined, and nearly 20% of global wastewater, or around 93 billion cubic metres from textile dyeing, according to the UN Environment Programme.

What’s more, the world at least generated an estimated 92 million tonnes of textiles waste every year and that number is expected to soar up to 134 million tonnes a year by 2030. Discarded clothing and textile waste ends up in landfills, most of which is non-biodegradable, while microplastics from clothing materials such as polyester, nylon, polyamide, acrylic and other synthetic materials, is leeched into soil and nearby water sources. Monumental amounts of clothing textile are also dumped in less developed countries as seen with Chile’s Atacama, the driest desert in the world, where at least 39,000 tonnes of textile waste from other nations are left there to rot.

Of the 100 billion garments produced each year, 92 million tonnes end up in landfills.

This rapidly growing issue is only exacerbated by the ever-expanding fast fashion business model, in which companies relies on cheap and speedy production of low quality clothing to meet the latest and newest trends. While the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action sees signatory fashion and textile companies to commit to achieving net zero emission by 2050, a majority of businesses around the world have yet to address their roles in climate change.

While these are some of the biggest environmental problems plaguing our planet, there are many more that have not been mentioned, including overfishing, urban sprawl, toxic superfund sites and land use changes. While there are many facets that need to be considered in formulating a response to the crisis, they must be coordinated, practical and far-reaching enough to make enough of a difference. 

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13. Overfishing

Over three billion people around the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein. About 12% of the world relies upon fisheries in some form or another, with 90% of these being small-scale fishermen – think a small crew in a boat, not a ship, using small nets or even rods and reels and lures not too different from the kind you probably use. Of the 18.9 million fishermen in the world, 90% of them fall under the latter category.

Most people consume approximately twice as much food as they did 50 years ago and there are four times as many people on earth as there were at the close of the 1960s. This is one driver of the 30% of commercially fished waters being classified as being ‘overfished’. This means that the stock of available fishing waters is being depleted faster than it can be replaced.

Overfishing comes with detrimental effects on the environment, including increased algae in the water, destruction of fishing communities, ocean littering as well as extremely high rates of biodiversity loss.

As part of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 14), the UN and FAO are working towards maintaining the proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels. This, however, requires much stricter regulations of the world’s oceans than the ones already in place. In July 2022, the WTO banned fishing subsidies to reduce global overfishing in a historic deal. Indeed, subsidies for fuel, fishing gear, and building new vessels, only incentivise overfishing and represent thus a huge problem. 

You might also like: 7 Solutions to Overfishing We Need Right Now

14. Cobalt Mining

Cobalt is quickly becoming the defining example of the mineral conundrum at the heart of the renewable energy transition. As a key component of battery materials that power electric vehicles (EVs), cobalt is facing a sustained surge in demand as decarbonisation efforts progress. The world’s largest cobalt supplier is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it is estimated that up to a fifth of the production is produced through artisanal miners.

Cobalt mining, however, is associated with dangerous workers’ exploitation and other serious environmental and social issues. The environmental costs of cobalt mining activities are also substantial. Southern regions of the DRC are not only home to cobalt and copper, but also large amounts of uranium. In mining regions, scientists have made note of high radioactivity levels. In addition, mineral mining, similar to other industrial mining efforts, often produces pollution that leaches into neighbouring rivers and water sources. Dust from pulverised rock is known to cause breathing problems for local communities as well.

You might also like: Cobalt Mining: The Dark Side of the Renewable Energy Transition

15. Soil Degradation

Organic matter is a crucial component of soil as it allows it to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Plants absorb CO2 from the air naturally and effectively through photosynthesis and part of this carbon is stored in the soil as soil organic carbon (SOC). Healthy soil has a minimum of 3-6% organic matter. However, almost everywhere in the world, the content is much lower than that.

According to the United Nations, about 40% of the planet’s soil is degraded. Soil degradation refers to the loss of organic matter, changes in its structural condition and/or decline in soil fertility and it is often the result of human activities, such as traditional farming practices including the use of toxic chemicals and pollutants. If business as usual continued through 2050, experts project additional degradation of an area almost the size of South America. But there is more to it. If we do not change our reckless practices and step up to preserve soil health, food security for billions of people around the world will be irreversibly compromised, with an estimated 40% less food expected to be produced in 20 years’ time despite the world’s population projected to reach 9.3 billion people.

What Can I Do?

1. On A Personal Level

Ways to approach climate action within our personal lives (hint – it evolves personal action but is not focused on small behavioural changes, which whilst worthwhile will not get us there):

2. On A Professional Level

Ways to approach climate action within the workplace:

3. On A Political Level

Ways to approach climate action as a voter or political actor (even if you can’t vote):

Join the EO Movement today!

Featured image by Roy Mangersnes (EO Photographer)

Our current methods of industrial food production are wreaking environmental havoc while failing to provide the agricultural yields necessary to sustain the growing global population. The complexity of the issue demands a variety of responses. This article explores the future of farming by analysing various ways in which we can improve the sustainability of traditional farming and also in what way new, cutting-edge technologies can offer us the solution we desperately need to feed our world without destroying it.

The Future of Farming

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a quarter of the global population “suffer from moderate or severe food insecurity”. If, as projections suggest, the world’s population reaches 10 billion by 2050, the question of how to feed the world will only grow in severity. Coupled with this situation is the fact that industrial farming is taking a huge environmental toll while failing to meet global food demand. 

In his new book ‘Regenesis’, George Monbiot describes farming as the “world’s greatest cause of environmental destruction”, adding that farmland sprawls across 30 times more land than urban areas. The issues posed by the rampant use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, along with the depletion of aquifer water sources, overgrazing and loss of topsoil have been widely analysed and clearly lead to the conclusion that farming practices must change.

The nature and direction of these changes, however, are complex. In ‘The Politics of Green Transformations’, for instance, authors Ian Scoones, Melissa Leach, and Peter Newell caution that there is much at stake in the debate over what drives unsustainability. They emphasise the importance of asking, “who is to blame for what and how can we rebalance our existence in alignment with planetary boundaries?”

With this in mind, we must recognise that the notion of a single, “silver bullet” solution to address the issues created by industrial farming is a pipedream. As Scoones, Leach and Newall explain, a variety of pathways to sustainability, from technology-led and marketized to state-led or citizen-led, are available, and which one is most appropriate is largely contextual.

Technocentric pathways, from vertical farming to lab-grown meat, for instance, have been extolled as the “future of farming”. However, such technologies are not yet viable globally.

We must therefore embrace a mixed approach to agriculture, supporting the development of paradigm-shifting technologies while not forgetting the crucial benefits of low-tech, traditional and community-based farming practices.

You might also like: Can Traditional Farming Withstand Another Summer of Record-Breaking Heatwaves?

3 Examples of What the Future of Farming Looks Like

With the advent of ‘soilless’ farming (such as hydroponics and aeroponics) in the late 20th century, the seeds were sown for an agricultural revolution that decoupled production from the soil at scale. As we shall explore, numerous companies, organisations, and technologies have subsequently been developed which seek to boost yields while reducing their environmental impact.

1. Vertical Farming

The broad range of benefits derived from vertical farming has been well-documented, so we shall instead turn first to the specifics of Fischer Farms, a UK-based vertical farming company. Focussing primarily on leafy greens (such as rocket, watercress, chard, basil, dill and parsley), Fischer Farms ensures that the required nutrients are delivered to the plants by use of a water solution (hydroponics). Moreover, the plants are grown in a medium such as rockwool or perlite which takes the use of soil out of the equation. 

By carefully controlling the internal conditions of their facilities Fischer Farms are able to entirely remove pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides from production. Simultaneously, stacking their produce on multiple levels allows them to produce more harvests per year than field-grown crops. This means that one Fischer Farms vertical farm can produce in one acre the same amount of food that requires 250 acres of field-grown crops. Such production is essential for the resilience of our food systems as we look towards a future with increasingly severe weather.

future of farming; vertical farming

You might also like: Top 7 Vertical Farming Companies in 2022

2. Data-Driven Hydroponic Farming

Similarly, AppHarvest, a US-based indoor farming operation, claims to be able to produce 30 times the tomato yield of conventional farms while using 90% less water. This is made possible by the use of 300 strategically placed monitors to measure the internal climate of the greenhouses and deliver precise levels of essential inputs from light to Carbon Dioxide (CO2). In addition, solar panels deliver clean energy to the greenhouses to power the operation. Crucially, by increasing agricultural yields while reducing demands on land, both Fischer Farms and AppHarvest are helping to facilitate a situation where we can continue to return marginal farmland to the wilderness.

future of farming; Data-Driven Hydroponic Farming

You might also like: Pros & Cons of Hydroponic Farming

3. Carbon-Neutral Animal Feed

Taking on a different challenge of the agricultural industry, food chain pioneer Better Origin has developed a system to provide carbon-neutral animal feed as insect protein on-site. This is achieved by turning farm waste into larvae feed which is fed to insect larvae before they in turn become food for hens, pigs, fish, and more. 

The benefits of such a system are myriad. First, farm waste is used to its full extent instead of having to be removed or allowed to rot away. This creates a circular system, dramatically reducing inputs and wastage. Second, it removes the need to import foodstuff from elsewhere, thereby reducing the amount of CO2 that has gone into production – Better Origin calculate that their X1 (their flagship biomass converter) can save over 130 tons of CO2 each year. Moreover, it helps reduce demand for conventional feeds such as grain and soy which are grown on a vast and destructive scale. Estimates suggest that about one-third of all grain produced is used to feed livestock.

New Technologies Are What We Need, But It’s Too Early To Fully Rely on Them

However, as effective and inspirational as these technologies are, we must keep in mind that many are still in their early stages and are thus still costly and unfit for large-scale production. Despite their undeniable importance, we will not be able to rely on such companies to replace conventional farming until they are scaled up, thereby securing the operational efficiencies that will significantly reduce costs. This, however, can only happen if governments and the private sector understand the importance of investing in sustainable farming technologies. If these institutions take the lead, it is reasonable to suggest that private funding will follow. 

However, until these technologies are able to shoulder more of the burden and eventually replace conventional farming, we must consider how traditional farming can improve its industrial practices.

3 Ways To Increase the Sustainability of Traditional Farming

There are many ways to make traditional farming more environmentally friendly, from pasture-fed beef herds to community-organised urban permaculture.

1. Rewilding and Food Production

Our first case study here is the Knepp Estate in the UK. Towards the end of the last millennium, Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree recognised that the intensive farming ethic was failing to produce enough yield from their farm to generate the profit to keep it running. They were thus strongarmed by reality into rewilding their 3,500 acres with astonishing results. 

As part of the project, a herd of longhorn cattle was introduced as a proxy for the now-extinct auroch. Such was the success of their breeding that soon their numbers had to be controlled, providing premium, organic beef with essentially zero feed or infrastructure costs. But the benefits of the project did not stop there. Chemical analysis of the meat produced from pasture-fed cattle showed far higher levels of vitamins A and E, alongside twice the levels of powerful antioxidants like selenium and beta-carotene. In addition, the newly invigorated ecosystem at Knepp, of which the longhorns were an integral part, began to sequester increasing amounts of CO2 as soil health continued to improve. Coupled with the eradication of feed imports, producing beef in this manner demonstrated that cows did not have to be an enemy of the climate.

2. Pasture-Fed Beef and Regenerative Agriculture

Patrick Holden, the co-founder of UK-based The Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) and US Sustainable Food Alliance, concurs with the findings at Knepp. A long-time advocate of sustainable farming practices, his cattle are rotated between pastures to prevent overgrazing and ensure the soil remains healthy. He is also at pains to point out that ruminants (including cattle) are the only animals that can digest the cellulose in grass and clover and are thus essential in transferring that energy up the trophic levels. When farmed at a smaller scale, in a regenerative manner, cattle can be a major benefit to ecosystems. 

This is a theme with which Simon Fairlie, a long-time eco-activist, has identified for decades. Referencing the SFT’s, “Feeding Britain from the Ground Up” report, Fairlie favours halving grain production, encouraging mixed organic farming, growing more pulses, and ensuring waste food and by-products are fed to livestock. Such measures are projected to “increase existing levels of food self-sufficiency, while allowing an extra 2.5 million hectares for tree planting and nature recovery”. Essentially, this is a call for more humane farming practices, major reductions in chemical inputs, and the return to regenerative agriculture.

3. Urban Permaculture

Shifting our focus away from traditional farming, the trend towards community-led urban farming projects has a significant role to play in reducing food miles, engaging people with food production, and tackling the issue of malnutrition in cities where fresh vegetables are few and far between. Taking Detroit as an example, ‘Keep Growing Detroit’, an organisation who promote and support food self-sufficiency in the city, estimate that 1,400 urban gardens and farms have sprung up. Not only do such projects ensure the availability of local fresh produce, but they also provide community ownership of the means of production and thereby transparency to the supply chain which is conspicuously lacking in the production of many industrial farming organisations. What’s more, engaging with the land has proven benefits to mental and physical health. Perhaps most importantly, urban farming and community projects diversify the source of food which is set to become an increasingly important trend as the climate continues to change.

future of farming

Can We Feed theWorld Without Destroying It?

It is undeniable that modern industrial farming practices have brought environmental destruction across the developing world. Despite the obvious depredations in pursuit of higher yields, we are still falling short of feeding the world. If we are to succeed, we must embrace various solutions, from the top-down, technocentric to the community-led.

You might also like: Why We Should Care About Global Food Security

China has emerged as a renewable energy kingmaker across Africa. Billions invested in mammoth hydro, solar, and wind projects are helping turn the continent’s immense clean energy potential into reality. But China’s glittering promises hide shadows. Unsustainable debts, environmental damage, and joblessness plague certain projects, fuelling a backlash. Still, amidst crumbling public finances and energy poverty, African nations have few alternatives to China’s investments. Walking a tightrope between energy security and debt traps, African leaders must leverage China’s equitable and sustainable development proposals. With astute planning and negotiations, these ventures could electrify millions, create jobs, and set new global standards for South-South cooperation.

Over the past decade, China has become a significant investor in renewable energy projects across Africa. With abundant solar, wind, and hydropower resources, Africa has enormous potential for renewable energy development. At the same time, most African countries face acute energy shortages and rely heavily on fossil fuels for electricity generation. This alignment of Africa’s needs and resources makes the continent an attractive destination for China’s renewable energy investments.

Trends in China’s Investments

According to a 2021 report by the African Climate Foundation and Natural Resources Defence Council and The Boston University Global Development Policy (GDP) Centre, China has financed over $13 billion and developed over 10 gigawatts of clean energy capacity across Africa since 2000. Chinese investments in renewable energy in Africa grew at an average annual rate of 26% from 2010 to 2020, with solar, hydropower, and wind being the top three technologies.

Ethiopia exemplifies the trend of growing Chinese investments in African renewables. Chinese companies have funded and developed major hydropower dams and wind farms in the country over the past decade. China invested over $4 billion in Ethiopia’s energy sector between 2011 and 2018, accounting for over 50% of new power generation capacity. Recently, the African nation and China agreed to establish a centre to develop Ethiopia’s renewable energy potential, further cementing this cooperation.

Kenya is another primary recipient of Chinese investments in renewables. China has financed and built large solar and wind farms across Kenya, helping expand renewable energy access, particularly in rural areas. Most notably, the 310 MW Lake Turkana Wind Power project was constructed by a Chinese firm and represents the largest wind farm in Africa today. This project came online in 2017, providing 15% of Kenya’s electricity capacity.

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What Pushes China to Invest in Renewable Energy in Africa?

China’s generous investments in African renewables reflect several motivations.

  1. China’s domestic solar, wind, and hydropower industries needed international opportunities as the domestic market was saturated. Exporting equipment and services to Africa created new growth avenues.
  2. Financing renewables in Africa nicely aligns with China’s broader aid and development efforts, burnishing its image as a partner in African development.
  3. China is investing in Africa with an eye on its energy security. With its economy growing at breakneck speed, China has become increasingly dependent on imported oil and gas. Investing in African renewables helps China diversify its energy sources and reduce reliance on fossil fuel imports. According to Sustainable Energy for All, nearly one-third of China’s oil imports came from Africa in 2019. So, investing in African renewables is “an integral part of China’s energy security strategy,” as one expert noted.
  4. China sees significant commercial opportunities in Africa’s underdeveloped power sector. Sub-Saharan Africa’s electricity access rate is just 43%, and most grids are unreliable. China creates new markets for its construction, equipment, and engineering companies by funding power generation, transmission, and distribution projects. Renewables’ decentralised nature also allows China to build mini-grid and off-grid solutions, reaching rural areas that may not benefit from centralised national grids.

Impact on Africa’s Energy Mix

China’s investments significantly shape Africa’s energy mix and help many countries transition towards renewable electricity. Since 2000, China has helped finance and develop around one-third of new grid-connected renewable capacity in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000.

In Ethiopia, mainly, Chinese investments have been transformative. Renewables constitute nearly 90% of the country’s installed power capacity, up from just 33% in 2010. With further renewable projects in the pipeline backed by China, Ethiopia is on track to meet its ambitious goal of increasing generating capacity by 25,000 MW by 2030: 22,000 MW of hydro, 1,000 MW of geothermal, and 2,000 MW of wind by 2030.

While data limitations make continent-wide assessments difficult, China’s investments have meaningfully expanded renewables’ share in Africa’s power mix, suggesting that investments have facilitated a structural transition.

However, this energy transition has been uneven across countries. Those most reliant on hydropower – like Ethiopia, Zambia, and Uganda – have seen a dramatic shift towards renewables, while countries dependent on fossil fuels, like South Africa and Nigeria, have been slower to move despite Chinese renewable investments. Going forward, ensuring fair and inclusive energy transitions across Africa remains a key priority.

Concerns and Challenges

Concerns persist about the nature of China’s energy investments in Africa. There are worries that China mainly exports equipment and construction services rather than building local manufacturing capacities. Additionally, Chinese companies have faced criticisms around labour rights violations and local content requirements. Zambia’s large hydropower projects funded by China, for instance, have faced protests by Zambian workers over poor working conditions. According to the United Nations University, Chinese projects in Africa often seem to go hand in hand with civil protests.

Map of Chinese projects and protests in Africa between 2000 and 2014. (Chinese projects in green; meetups in red) Iacoella, Martorano, Metzger, Sanfilippo (2021) image: https://unu.edu/ 

Map of Chinese projects and protests in Africa between 2000 and 2014. (Chinese projects in green; meetups in red) Iacoella, Martorano, Metzger, Sanfilippo (2021). Image: United Nations University.

The environmental and social impacts of projects like mega-dams also require careful evaluation. And expensive deals structured around energy exports back to China.

Furthermore, the costs of some Chinese-backed renewable energy projects have provoked worries around African countries taking on unsustainable debts. In 2020, Kenya rejected China’s involvement in the Lamu coal project partly due to overpricing concerns and environmental and health effects amongst the locals. Recently, Zambia saw protracted negotiations with China over debt restructuring for its power sector.

However, China has taken some steps to address these criticisms. At the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, President Xi Jinping pledged to support skills training for Africans and increase local content requirements for projects. During the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative in 2020, China cooperated closely with African nations, freezing debt repayments for countries facing liquidity shortfalls.

China must focus more on local job creation, environmental sustainability, and affordable financing to avoid backlash against its African investments. African governments also need better capabilities to evaluate proposals from China and negotiate equitable deals serving their development needs.

What’s Next?

Despite these challenges, China’s renewable energy investments represent a vital lifeline for African countries seeking to grow their economies sustainably and leapfrog fossil fuel-dependent development. Africa still has an estimated renewable energy potential of over 470 gigawatts, of which only a tiny fraction has been realised. With supportive policies and grids upgraded to handle intermittent solar and wind, renewables can eventually far outstrip fossil fuels across the continent.

Joint research between African and Chinese institutions can unlock new technologies and business models tailored to the region. In 2021, China and Africa cooperated to launch a new sustainable energy centre focusing on mini-grids and clean cooking. With proper safeguards around transparency, debt sustainability, and local content, China and Africa can build partnerships that accelerate an inclusive, green energy transition across the continent.

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In an exclusive interview with Earth.Org, Water Business Leaders Shanshan Wang and Wayne Middleton from sustainability development consultancy Arup share their views on sustainable water management systems.

The 2023 Singapore International Water Week, which took place between June 4-6,  showcased an open platform discussion on “Urgent Climate Action for a Sustainable Water Future”, focusing on how the industry can provide access to knowledge, technology, innovation, and capital to support the transformation of water utilities and help cities become climate-resilient, smart, and sustainable. 

This opportunity for global cross-sectoral collaboration and discourse was spearheaded by private stakeholders such as Arup, a sustainability development consultancy. In an exclusive interview with Earth.Org, Wayne Middleton and Shanshan Wang, Arup’s Water Business Leaders, spoke about the implications of this conference, their insight on efficient water management systems, new infrastructure, and the way forward.

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Water and Energy Integration for Sustainable Progress

With more than one-third of the global population affected by water scarcity, it becomes imperative to optimise its disbursement to citizens. One of the main caveats to efficient water management systems is their integration with energy management systems. Water and energy work in a symbiotic manner, wherein the sustenance of both resources is essential to the production of the other. To put it simply, water is integral to producing energy; consequently, energy is required to treat water and its movement in the form of potable, consumable water.

The problem, however, arises due to a lack of interdependence between the two sectors. A lack of cross-sectoral collaboration is to the detriment of not just one but two major natural resource industries. To quantify this impact, the energy sector comprises approximately 10% of total water withdrawals and 3% of aggregate water consumption worldwide.

Speaking about the interdependence of the two industries, Wang said that water as an “undervalued asset” is at the root of the lack of incentive governments and other stakeholders feel in relation to collaborative efforts. Resulting from this is a deterioration in water quality. 

“Decreased water quality has community and environmental impacts, and treating such water could be carbon-intensive,” Wang explained.

To facilitate finding a solution to such an imminent obstacle in the optimal usage of water as well as energy, Middleton went beyond cross-sectoral collaboration and suggested the route of a balancing act amongst stakeholders. During the interview, he clarified the importance of varied stakeholders working in unison; however, this needs to be in line with a restricted extent to which private firms can have a say on potable water distribution. 

“An example that comes to mind is where I am from – Australia. Due to water shortages and droughts becoming more frequent”, Middleton explained, “hydrogen production is emerging as leading solution for storing green energy as part of our overall energy transition journey.” However, he added, without careful and collaborative planning between the water and energy sectors, there is a risk that privately owned energy companies could compromise future water security and resilience in times of drought 

Going Beyond the Cost-Benefit Analysis

In Arup’s recent publication, ”A New Future for Water”, there is an emphasis on identifying essential areas in water management that require urgent attention. More specifically, Wang stated that a part of this paper focuses on explaining how “market mechanisms have failed the environment”. Additionally, it delves into how a simplistic cost-benefit analysis would “never work” in the accurate assessment of water as natural capital.

Middleton and Wang stated that a common solution by governments would be the promotion of collaboration and the exchange of experiences for best practices. An excellent example is represented by the Singaporean government’s organisation of the Singapore International Water Week which brings both developed and developing countries to discuss the common challenges.

 In addition to bringing together governments with “different starting points,” another solution to pivot from a purely economic and profit-based method is to offset prices, according to Middleton. In line with the case study of Australia, he shed light on the “bottom-top approach,” as opposed to all policies being implemented as a trickle-down effect from the government. 

Contrary to the more common approach to subsidising water heavily, Wang spoke about the approach adopted by Singapore to not only recover the full costs of its supply and production but also to incorporate the higher cost of producing water from the more expensive “taps” – namely from desalination and NEWater production. 

A slight increase in prices, as Wang mentioned, will support the market economy while also incentivising households to save water, leading to a larger involvement of civilians as stakeholder groups.  

The Way Ahead

For the successful strengthening of water and energy management systems, a key aspect to consider is the importance of nature-based solutions

As Middleton said when asked about the future of water, there is an increasing need for “regenerative and not reactive” solutions. Advancements in infrastructural planning for the preservation of water and conservation of natural systems in cities are imperative from the perspective of building more resilience and preserving natural biodiversity.

According to Wang, there is a larger focus now on the prospects of water as a promising field. 

“At the conference, I found several delegates who moved from the oil and fossil fuel industry to the water industry,” she added. “This is surprising and indicates the water industry being seen as a more important and lucrative natural capital.” 

Middleton’s focus on constant improvement, innovation, and  “every project as an opportunity to do something better than before” highlights a hopeful future for water, and its importance as a vital asset that the markets will collaboratively work on sustaining.

You might also like: Exploring the Most Efficient Solutions to Water Scarcity

First deity, then monster, now shiny treasure; giant clams, the world’s largest marine bivalve molluscs, have held many amorphous names throughout the centuries. Today, their chapter as the “jade of the sea” highlights both their dual and conflicting roles: their ecological significance in supporting and monitoring coral reefs, and their high value for the food, shell, and aquarium trades. 

Like the whale or the octopus, few creatures have been as highly mythologised in the annals of sea folklore as the giant clam. An article published in a 1924 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine, titled ‘Giant Clams Trap Sea Divers in Grip of Shells’, described the vice-like grip of clams, ensnaring unsuspecting divers unfortunate enough to step into the “open lips of the monsters” as shells closed “with such force that they serve as gigantic traps.” Coined “man-eater” and “killer clams”, this reputation is far from earned.

There are no records of battles where giant clams emerge victorious. Instead, the opposite has been proven, as giant clams share the same endangered fate as almost all ocean species. Directly, as they are handpicked and cracked open with a knife to excise their translucent white meat or dredged by large vessels for their opal shell; and indirectly, impacted by the aftermath of anthropogenic activities driving warming and acidifying waters, the true extent to which scientists have yet to fully determine. 

In her book ‘The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of Our Oceans’, environmental journalist Cynthia Barnett traces the cultural history of giant clams and their tumultuous relationship with people. The giveaway is in the name: one of two genera of giant clams, Tridacna, contains the Greek words “tri” and “dakno”, translating to “three bites.” This was, as aptly put by Barnett, “originally meant to describe not clams biting humans, but humans biting clams.”

Colourful mantles contain light sensitive photoreceptors, known as iridocytes, and support symbiosis with zooxanthellae; giant clams

Colourful mantles contain light sensitive photoreceptors, known as iridocytes, and support symbiosis with zooxanthellae.

Shiny Lives of Giant Clams

As the world’s largest marine bivalve molluscs, giant clams comprise at least 12 extant species. The largest representative and heavyweight champion, Tridacna gigas, is a creature of superlatives, with some individuals growing to over 120cm in shell length and weighing over 250 kilograms. On a scale, these bivalve behemoths rival an African lion or American grizzly bear. 

Along the shallow, sun-dappled coasts across the Indo-Pacific, giant clams lie sessile on coral reefs, seemingly so sedentary that they would impress the idlest of life forms. However, scientists have observed the giant clams’ surprising locomotive functions, from free-swimming larvae when expunged from their parent to juvenile clams using a retractable “foot” to scuttle across sandy seabeds and find suitable settlement. Distinct from their cockle cousins, who face the sky, giant clams have rotated underside; their hinge and foot lie nestled next to each other at the bottom to find anchorage. It is said that this distinctive evolution “indicates long and intimate association with coral reefs.”

Even after reaching maturity, their life cycle is far from over. Dr Neo Mei Lin, a marine biologist at the National University of Singapore, and her collaborators documented the numerous ways in which giant clams act as industrious engineers of their ecosystem, busy at work: they are providers of food and shelter, contributors to productivity, and act as reef architects and builders.

As a living kaleidoscope, the mantles of giant clams are adorned with prismatic colours that catch and shift underwater light, such as blues, purples, greens, and gold. The brightly reflective cells, called iridocytes, act as photo-receptors to detect changes in light intensity, like how the human eye may refract and process light. These colours are not mere ornamentation; rather, the vibrant mantle and tissues, like underwater citadels, harbour a bustling community of microscopic algae, known as zooxanthellae. These tiny tenants photosynthesise and provide nutrients in payment.

Sponges, corals, and invertebrates all find refuge in the nooks and crannies of the clam’s shell, creating a microcosm within the reef ecosystem. At a larger scale, giant clams provide calcium carbonate, incorporated into the foundations of the reef. As filter feeders, giant clams draw in water from their surroundings and, in doing so, accumulate any pollutants present in the water, effectively providing a living record of environmental changes over time.

This living record is what makes them invaluable biomonitors, their health and wellbeing serving as a barometer for the overall health of their surroundings. Changes in their growth rates, shell structure, or coloration can signal shifts in water quality, temperature, or the presence of pollutants, offering an early warning system of environmental stress or degradation. 

“Based on the wide range of ecological functions they perform, giant clams are unique among reef organisms and therefore deserve attention,” states Neo. “Whatever safeguards can be established will not only boost giant clam populations but, by extension, also benefit coral reefs.”

How heavy must be their shells to hold up the marine ecosystems they inhabit and forecast the state of our oceans?

Giant clams are threatened by rising sea temperatures similar to corals, expelling zooxanthellae in a phenomenon known as bleaching.

Giant clams are threatened by rising sea temperatures similar to corals, expelling zooxanthellae in a phenomenon known as bleaching. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A Less-Than-Bright Future 

Before becoming a highly prized global commodity, giant clams were weaved as part of a cultural fabric as communities celebrated their connection to the sea. Giant clams have been found fossilised in ancient tools during archeological excavations, and continue to play a part in ceremonial traditions and festivals. Near stilt houses topped with sago palm thatch in Pacific Island archipelagos, families farm giant clams in a circle off a nearby lagoon as “clam gardens”. Revered spiritually, their scoping shells are used as a cache for valuables or repositories for ancestral skulls. According to Barnett, in the legends of Palau, “the clam signifies power and it signifies persistence.”

At present, nine species of giant clam are labelled “vulnerable” or “lower risk” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. All species are listed under CITES Appendix II, meaning that, while they are not necessarily threatened with extinction, international trade must be legal, sustainable, and traceable to ensure their continued survival. These three prongs are, however, neither easy to confirm nor deny. Disparities in import and export figures reported by state parties already indicate unreliable reporting. As Neo suggests, “the CITES and IUCN data for giant clams are outdated and potentially misleading.”

After more recent reviews of giant clam stocks and their distribution, scientists are now calling for an update to its conservation status with grim news: Tridacna gigas is already locally extirpated in many areas of its native range, and other species are in substantial decline. 

There is growing evidence to support the overestimation of giant clam populations. Giant clams have been sold as curiosities and souvenirs and to decorate aquariums, predominantly in the US and Europe, while their abductor muscles, which hold the two halves of a bivalve together, became a valuable ingredient for gastronomic Asian cuisine, and their shells propping a burgeoning shell-carving industry in China and Japan, to be fashioned into statues and jewelry. 

As documented in a 2021 report by the Wildlife Justice Commission, authorities in the Philippines have made 14 seizures of giant clams since 2016, with some stockpiles weighing in excess of 120,000 tonnes. The report indicated a correlation with China’s national ban on ivory products in 2017, raising concerns that giant clams are the “new” ivory. As an alternative to elephant tusks and rhino horns, the ban may drive consumer demand underground, although no smuggling route has been identified. Even more complicated is the terse geopolitical background in which the illegal trade finds its moorings: disputed territorial waters and rising global tensions in the Pacific Ocean, and a continued race for resources. Marketed as “jade of the sea” and “white gold”, one thing is clear: giant clams, and their iridescent colours, hold both ecological and economic value, and the balance is currently tipped.

Scientists are also sounding the alarm about climate change and its irreversible impacts on the ocean, to which giant clams are not immune. Stressed by rising temperatures, giant clams may evict their algal partners in a phenomenon known as bleaching. Without their main food source, giant clams, like coral, turn from rainbow to a sickly white, leading to stunted growth and, at worst, death. Mass mortalities of giant clams have been reported as part of major bleaching events in 1997-1998 and again in 2015-2017, linked to unusually warm sea surface temperatures triggered by the El Niño Southern Oscillation. Their physiological responses and adaptive capacity remain a mystery.

The culmination of these threats, scientists fear, is a loss of biodiversity. It is not only a count of the number of different species, but the variety of genes within those species and the role they play within their ecosystem. In a study assessing functional traits and extinction risks of marine megafauna, giant clams are considered one of the top five species both functionally vital and most vulnerable, threatening its legacy as a symbol of power and persistence.

Giant clams are the world’s largest marine bivalves, with the largest species reaching over 120cm in shell length and weighing over 250 kilograms.

Giant clams are the world’s largest marine bivalves, with the largest species reaching over 120cm in shell length and weighing over 250 kilograms.

Clamming for Conservation

Coastal communities have long observed and monitored giant clams, adopting customary law and engaging in husbandry techniques for sustainable harvest. The importance of giant clams is nothing new; to them, giant clams have always been the focal point of coral reefs and the main indicator of reef health. Now, together with those communities, conservationists strive to restock coral reefs and advance the science of mariculture – the cultivation of marine organisms in their natural habitats – converging with traditional farming practices and clam gardens. By breeding and raising giant clams in controlled environments, conservationists hope that mariculture may offer an alternative to wild harvesting, replenishing depleted populations while also providing livelihood opportunities. 

The current approach to giant clam conservation appears significant, yet insufficient. Perhaps at this juncture, it is time again for giant clams to morph into something new: to shed its shell as jade and gold-glinted treasure and be recognised, as it always was, as an integral piece of the marine environment. This means not only understanding giant clams and their symbiotic algae partners or how they respond to different stressors but also addressing the interconnected nature of these challenges and committing to protecting the ocean as a whole, before giant clams do, in fact, become a myth.

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In an alarming display of the far-reaching impacts of climate change, NASA satellites have revealed a striking transformation in the ocean colour. More than half of the planet’s vast oceanic expanses have taken on a verdant hue due to disruptions caused by climate change, particularly affecting marine ecosystems near the equator. 

Over the past two decades, a remarkable shift from serene blue to vibrant green has swept across 56% of the world’s oceans, catching the attention of scientists and prompting a flurry of investigations. This subtle yet significant alteration in oceanic coloration serves as an indicator of the profound influence climate change is exerting on underwater life. 

Why Is the Ocean Turning Green?

The transformation has been tracked by NASA’s Modis-Aqua satellite, which captured the gradual transition from predominantly blue to green hues in the oceans. Astonishingly, the area impacted by this colour change surpasses the landmass of the entire planet. Researchers, led by B.B. Cael at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK, have meticulously examined the data and surmise that this green tint is an outward sign of ecosystem adjustments in response to climate change. The scientists published their peer-reviewed results in the journal Nature last month. 

While the precise causes of these shifts remain speculative, Cael and his team believe the likely catalyst is phytoplankton, the foundational organisms in many marine food chains. Phytoplankton are green algae that require sunlight to grow. This type of algae lies at the bottom of the food chain, and serves as a vital source, supporting the existence of larger lifeforms ranging from fish to seabirds. Phytoplankton are also crucial in producing a substantial portion of the Earth’s oxygen and maintaining atmospheric stability. 

In addition, phytoplankton have a significant role in capturing carbon dioxide. Through photosynthesis, they utilise chlorophyll to absorb carbon dioxide from the air while generating energy. Consequently, researchers aim to monitor phytoplankton levels in the ocean to assess the impact of climate change on their populations. Distinguishing between green (phytoplankton-rich areas) and blue (less biologically active regions) aids scientists in gauging the abundance of phytoplankton. 

As the study asserts, ‘’The effects of climate change are already being felt in the surface marine microbial ecosystem.’’

‘’I’ve been running simulations that have been telling me for years that these changes in ocean colour are going to happen,” said Stephanie Dutkiewicz, an author of the study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “To actually see it happening for real is not surprising, but frightening. And these changes are consistent with man-induced changes to our climate.’’

’This gives additional evidence of how human activities are affecting life on Earth over a huge spatial extent. It’s another way that humans are affecting the biosphere,” Cael commented. 

Colour-changing Oceans Could Indicate a Bigger Problem

This dramatic alteration in the ocean colour might be indicative of deeper changes within marine ecosystems. The study’s authors suggest that deeper blue hues typically point to a lower density of life, while the greener tints could signify heightened phytoplankton activity. This nuanced transformation paints a vivid picture of surface-level aquatic dynamics. However, the colour shift is further complicated by natural fluctuations in chlorophyll levels at the ocean’s surface, making it challenging to discern whether climate change is solely responsible for the shift from blue to green. 

‘’The color of the oceans has changed, and we can’t say how. But we can say that changes in colour reflect changes in plankton communities, which will impact everything that feeds on plankton. It will also change how much the ocean will take up carbon, because different types of plankton have different abilities to do that,” Dutkiewicz explained. “So, we hope people take this seriously. We can now see it happening, and the ocean is changing.’’

Phytoplankton off the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, as pictured on June 25, 2006. Image captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Image: Jeff Schmaltz/NASA.

Phytoplankton off the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, as pictured on June 25, 2006. Image captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Image: Jeff Schmaltz/NASA.

Charting the Course Ahead: A New Era of Oceanic Monitoring 

Scientists initially estimated that decades of observations would be needed to identify clear trends in ocean colour changes. Moreover, disparities between satellite measurement techniques have hindered data amalgamation. To delve deeper into this colour metamorphosis, NASA is set to launch the Pace mission in January 2024. This ambitious endeavour will meticulously monitor various facets of the oceanic ecosystem, including plankton, aerosol, and cloud dynamics. 

In an era where climate change’s ramifications continue to unravel, the changing ocean colours serve as a poignant reminder of the interconnectedness between our planet’s delicate systems. As we strive to comprehend and combat the ecological impacts of climate change, these shifting hues stand as a call to action to safeguard the oceanic realms that are integral to Earth’s well-being.

Featured image: NASA/ Joshua Stevens/ Landsat data/U.S. Geological Survey/ MODIS data/ LANCE/ EOSDIS Rapid Response/ MIT.

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The construction of large hydroelectric dams such as Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam is often overshadowed by procedural injustice, with marginalised communities left out of the decision-making process. What are the injustices behind hydropower expansion in Brazil and what policies can help towards more procedurally just energy infrastructure development?

Hydropower is a renewable energy technology that makes up a substantial 66% of the electricity generation in Brazil. Large hydroelectric dams like Brazil’s’ Belo Monte Dam located on the Xingu River are required to produce this energy. However, the development of such dams has a significant socio-economic impact on the local communities, including the displacement of large groups of people. This has been brought about by procedural injustice which is at the heart of Belo Monte’s construction. This type of injustice happens when the decision-making process is not inclusive of the communities and not everyone is treated fairly.

Share of electricity production by source, Brazil Our world in data

Share of electricity production by source in Brazil, 1985-2022. Image: Our World in Data.

Injustices Behind Hydropower Development in Brazil

Belo Monte is located on the Xingu River in the Amazon within the state of Pará. The project was first announced in 1975 and took over 30 years to complete as the plan faced resistance from local communities and NGOs. It was finally completed by Norte Energia in 2015.

Due process, public participation, and representation are all principal elements of making procedurally just decisions.  Therefore, the lack of these elements when making energy development decisions lead to affected communities being unable to influence the final decision. Consequently, three injustices including ‘unfair negotiation, ‘involuntary settlement’ and ‘community marginalisation’ are often observed.

The first injustice is ‘unfair negotiation’. Often, energy projects are unfair, undemocratic or unrepresentative of all affected communities. This is evident in the decision-making process of the Belo Monte. Belo Monte was supposed to adhere to the International Labour Organisation Article 169, which requires developers of dams to hold open consultations with affected indigenous and tribal communities. However, during the construction of the dam, builders and authorities did not conduct fair consultations. Instead, the consultations held were to inform rather than to discuss decisions and impacts with the local communities. Another aspect of this “unfair negotiation” is that the wealthy have more bargaining power where they can use their wealth to influence a negotiation. 

In the case of Belo Monte, before construction began, groups of indigenous communities agreed to the project in exchange for better infrastructure and wealth.  Nevertheless, a follow-up study revealed that the compensated communities experienced high commodity prices and did not see long-term benefits. Perhaps, this is because dam developers and the indigenous communities were not on the same economic starting point when negotiating, thus leading to an unjust outcome.

The second injustice is “involuntary settlement”. This is often unavoidable with large infrastructure such as hydroelectric dams. The construction of Belo Monte displaced approximately 30,000 people from their indigenous communities. This forced resettlement is an injustice as the consultations held were not all-inclusive and fair. The displacement also led to a third injustice of “community marginalisation”. A marginalised community bears the burdens of energy infrastructure, such as hydroelectric dams. In this instance, communities living downstream from the Xingu River were not forced to move but their livelihoods were disrupted by the dam

What Should Justice Look Like?

Energy justice is about how society distributes the cost and benefits of the energy system, with the objective of being fair and just. There are three tenets to energy justice – distribution, recognition, and procedure.

Procedural justice is fundamental in the construction of hydroelectric dams. It means that decision-making processes should engage and recognise all stakeholders without discrimination. It calls for impartiality, full participation, and information disclosure by the government. This should have been the case in Brazil, as Brazil’s constitution of 1988 would require the National Congress to vote on Belo Monte because of its impact on the rights of the indigenous communities along the Xingu River. However, the approval for the dam was pushed through with no resistance in Brazil’s National Congress. This is due to the importance of hydropower in the energy mix of Brazil and shows the major injustice flaw at the very top of the decision-making process.

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What Policies Could Inform More Procedurally Just Decisions?

To make procedurally just decisions, the policies implemented need to address the lack of due process, inclusive participation, equal representation, and availability of information.

1. Better disclosure of high-quality information

Both governments and industries should provide full information disclosure on all future dam constructions affecting communities in the Amazon. When holding public hearings and consultations, attendees should be provided with all necessary information before giving consent to the construction or resettlement. When disclosing information to indigenous communities with incomplete compulsory education, information should contain elements of education and a clear explanation, such as mentioning the element of cultural identity and preservation against the attractive wealth from the compensation, when discussing resettlement compensation packages.

2. Inclusive decision-making process

Inclusive public participation is crucial for public consultations, referendums, and debates. Therefore, indigenous communities that will have to be displaced or have their livelihood disrupted, should all be included in the consultations. Public participation should also focus on delivering more equitable outcomes and policies rather than just overcoming community objections. To further deepen the involvement of the affected communities, it is also important to incorporate local knowledge. This means, that both the Brazilian government and industries should seek local knowledge on the riverine ecosystem, and cultural and social impacts when planning to construct a hydroelectric dam.

3. Free prior informed consent

Free prior informed consent (FPIC) entails that people should use their fundamental rights to negotiate projects and policies that will affect their lives before granting or denying their consent. “Free” implies that there should be no coercion, pressure, or manipulation. “Prior” implies the timing of the consent is required before the start of any project. “Informed” relates back to the policy recommendation of high-quality information. In other words, details of the project must be given which includes the possible social, economic, cultural, and environmental impacts.


The construction of large hydroelectric dams, such as Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam, has highlighted the prevalence of procedural injustice, which often excludes marginalised communities from the decision-making process. To promote more procedurally just energy infrastructure development, certain policies must be implemented.

This article has examined the injustices surrounding hydropower development in Brazil and specifically the construction of Belo Monte, including unfair negotiations, involuntary settlements, and community marginalisation. To rectify these injustices, it is essential to prioritise procedural justice through policies that ensure better disclosure of information, inclusive decision-making processes, and the practice of free prior informed consent. Only by striving for procedural justice, can a more equitable and sustainable energy infrastructure development that respects the rights and well-being of all communities involved, be achieved.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons

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With the ICE ban taking effect in 2030, the sale of any internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will be prohibited on UK soil, leaving many citizens wondering how the current infrastructure surrounding EV usage will change as a result. While the UK government plans to build 300,000 charging stations by the same deadline to speed up the EV transition, some experts believe that such an ambitious target may require more hands on deck. In an exclusive interview with Earth.Org, Nick Woolley, co-founder of ev.energy, a leading provider of EV smart energy, argues that greater collaboration between invested stakeholders in the EV industry is needed to achieve such an ambitious target.

The UK government has pledged to ban the sales of all new gas- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2030, marking a significant leap forward in reducing their country’s contribution to global emissions.

In conjunction with this promise, the government also plans to build 300,000 charging stations

by the same deadline, an amount that is equivalent to five times the number of fuel pumps on UK roads today. Backed by a £1.6 billion (approximately US$2.1bn) investment, the plan includes a £500 million ($655 million) investment towards public charge points in communities across the UK as well as £450 million ($589 million) for the local electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure fund.

As monumental as this shift is, some experts believe that this significant change could spell disaster for a power infrastructure that shows little promise in its ability to accommodate such an increase in EV usage. 

Nick Woolley, co-founder of ev.energy, a leading provider of EV smart charging, echoes this sentiment, arguing that the kind of infrastructure required demands significant collaboration amongst essential stakeholders. 

“With the 2030 ICE ban, … the government has placed electric vehicles at the forefront of its net-zero strategy,” he said. 

 “While this presents an optimistic outlook for the industry, several challenges around grid stability, charging infrastructure, and consumer support still need to be addressed to ensure a successful transition.”

Improving EV Infrastructure in the UK

According to Woolley, the EV infrastructure will likely require improvement in its interoperability and ease of use. If the user experience can be streamlined through the implementation of standardised payment methods, user-friendly interfaces, and hassle-free access to charging points, EV charging will be more easily adopted by the average consumer. 

“This will reduce concerns about range anxiety, which is a key barrier to EV adoption,” said Woolley. 

Accessibility and availability are also an area of concern. Woolley states that the distribution and density of charging infrastructure will require upgrades, especially in rural locations so that EV owners have convenient and reliable access to charging stations. 

“Accommodating charging infrastructure in different housing and building types such as commercial workplace buildings and multi-unit dwellings will help with this too,” explained Woolley.

According to the UK Department for Transport, 80% of charging occurs at home. The remaining 20% of charging that occurs outside the home is normally achieved through rapid chargers such as the Tesla supercharger network. 

“While the Tesla network represents only 2% of the public charging network in the UK – with approximately 836 chargers – a significant amount of battery electric vehicle (BEV) owners, estimated at around 30% – rely on this network for their charging needs,” said Woolley.

“Instead of being fixated on the absolute number of chargers, the focus should be on delivering a charging network that is logical and extensively utilised by drivers, similar to the Tesla network.”

Collaboration Required Between Essential Stakeholders

Before any improvements can be made, Woolley argues that significant collaboration is required between some of the industry’s most invested stakeholders, including automotive manufacturers, energy providers and grid operators, chargepoint manufacturers, governments and policymakers, as well as EV users, each with their own ability to either hinder or facilitate the EV industry’s continued success in the UK. 

Automotive manufactures, for example, are continuously improving upon their designs to make their vehicles drive for longer, charge faster, and cost less. Energy providers ensure that the grids are able to take on the increase in energy demand associated with EV’s, and chargepoint manufacturers and installers help guarantee that the energy is easily accessible across the country.

Meanwhile, government and policymakers are essential in determining the regulatory landscape as well as providing the finances required to support the EV industry. In the case of consumers, they provide feedback and preferences which shape the market and influence future EV developments, making them as essential as the energy grid that fuels their vehicles. 

“Collaboration between industry stakeholders and policymakers is necessary to develop effective policies, incentives, and regulations that encourage EV adoption and address barriers to entry,” said Woolley. 

“By collaborating and sharing expertise, these stakeholders can address challenges collectively, drive innovation, and create an environment conducive to the successful transition to electric mobility.” 

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An alien species is whisked away to a new environment, gradually taking up the entire area and its resources and leaving native species with next to nothing. The alien species continue to thrive while the native ones start to die. In other words, a foreign invasion where the possibility for the invaders to win is high; something happening today. Fortunately, there is a way to combat – or even better – benefit, from these invasive species. Pezzy Pets, a company that turns invasive fish species into pet treats, does just this. In an exclusive interview with Earth.Org, Mike Mitchell, the co-founder of Pezzy Pets, discusses the importance of tackling invasive species and how the company upcycles invasive fish through a sustainable production process.    

As a straightforward explanation, invasive species are species that have relocated due to climate change or have been transported, either accidentally or purposely by humans, outside their native range to a completely different area. These species eventually harm native biodiversity, ecosystems, and habitats in that new area, to the point where the extinction of a native organism, plant, or animal can occur. 

Along with ecological harm, invasive species can have negative economic repercussions, like obstructing necessary infrastructure. The zebra mussel, which is native to southeastern Europe but invasive to Canada and the United States, is an example as it can block off pipes. Invasive species also threaten human health. The Asian tiger mosquito—native to Southeast Asia but is now found in North America—for example, carries vast, human-susceptible diseases with it. 

In particular, aquatic invasive species like certain fish such as the armoured catfish, the lionfish, and the silver carp pose a significant threat to aquatic indigenous species by outcompeting and rendering habitats unliveable for the indigenous ones. This propels a rapid population increase for these invasive fish species, especially since many of them do not have natural predators in their new conditions. 

These innocent, aquatic native organisms are inevitably left battling a losing fight; a fight that they did not even begin but, instead, was started by others. Despite the above-stated seeming rather bleak, optimism paves its way to the forefront as there are solutions to help these indigenous species keep their homes and, most importantly, preserve their survival from the invaders. 

And it merely takes “one bite at a time” (literally) to help restore the environment from invasive species, specifically invasive fish species, as Mike Mitchell, co-founder of Pezzy Pets, highlights in an interview with Earth.Org. 

The Threats of Invasive Fish Species

With a background in the seafood industry, Mitchell was working with fishermen when he was faced with the threats that invasive fish species pose. 

“I used to live in Mexico and I was working with small-scale fishermen. That’s when I came across a couple invasive species of fish that were causing a lot of environmental and economic issues,” Mitchell explained. The issues he witnessed prompted him to take action on three highly-invasive and destructive species: The armoured catfish, the lionfish, and the silver carp. 

Front-line invaders, the armoured catfish is a renowned invasive species that does not shy away from wreaking havoc on local, established aquatic ecosystems. Protected by a coat of bony plates, resilient in producing offspring, and able to survive well past 20 hours out of the water due to their large vascularized, or vessel-filled, stomach, these fish can withstand and adapt to various environmental conditions.   

Initially native to the tropical areas of the Amazon, years of accidental and intentional releasing of the armoured catfish has allowed the species to spread to numerous Mexican and American states, where it poses a substantial danger to indigenous ecosystems. 

Instances of such dangers include burrowing into shorelines so that the fish can breed, subsequently creating erosion and altering local conditions which may increase the risk of harmful algae blooms. While the armoured catfish eats algae from an array of surfaces to sustain itself, the species have been witnessed invading the spaces of manatees in Florida, US, by disturbing and eating algae off the backs of these Floridan natives, potentially leading to behavioural changes of the innocent animals.

Mexicans have even given the armoured catfish another name, pez diablo, in other words, the Mexican devil fish, because of the significant economic threat it poses from disrupting fisheries and hindering fishermen from fishing for income to devastating existing properties in aquatic locations. 

A fisherman returns with captured armoured catfish (also known as the Mexican devil fish or pez diablo). Photo: Sara Escobar, Tortugas al Viento.

A fisherman returns with captured armoured catfish (also known as the Mexican devil fish or pez diablo). Photo: Sara Escobar, Tortugas al Viento.

Aside from the armoured catfish, two other invasive species, the lionfish and the silver carp, equally pose massive hazards when found in new environments. 

Known for its showstopping appearance in aquariums and the wild, the lionfish is not so impressive after realising just how detrimental this species can be. Despite their native home being in the Indo-Pacific region, years of speculated, societal dumping has allowed these fish to travel and flourish in the Atlantic regions, particularly US waters, the Caribbean, and Mexico. 

Combined with their nonselective, greedy eating habits and their lack of natural predators, the lionfish can negatively influence the lives of other organisms. For example, a lionfish will eat anything in its line of sight from crustaceans to invertebrates to fish, eventually generating a population reduction of important organisms and dismantling the stability of indigenous ecosystems. From a commercial viewpoint, the lionfish can greatly affect fisheries as this invasive species preys on various commercial fish like the snapper and the grouper. 

Though not as physically striking as the lionfish or armed like the armoured catfish, the silver carp causes just as much damage outside its native range. After a series of imports by the hands of society for the purpose of controlling phytoplankton and algae in aquatic facilities in the last century, the silver carp, once native to Eastern Asia, has taken over the US rivers and lakes, and swiftly made its way north to the Great Lakes in Canada. 

With a silver carp able to grow approximately 100 pounds (45kg), this fish carries a massive load of athleticism and an insatiable appetite for plankton, enabling them to jump over barriers and dams and consume 40% of their body weight in a day, respectively. 

To put things into perspective, a 100-pound silver carp can eat as much as 40 pounds (18kg) of plankton per day. Large consumption of plankton means less food for native mussels and fish such as the gizzard shad, resulting in the invasive silver carp outcompeting local biodiversity. Paired with the silver carp’s ability to reproduce rapidly, laying hundreds of thousands of eggs each time, this invasive fish can promptly overpopulate a new environment, leaving native species with no chance of fighting back.   

Because of all the ecological and economic problems that the armoured catfish, the lionfish, and the silver carp present, Mitchell decided to take action, partnering up with a chef friend. He began conducting workshops on invasive fish species and talking to fishing communities, while his friend used these fish in cooking demonstrations. 

Co-founder and CEO of Pezzy Pets, Mike Mitchell conducts workshops using the armoured catfish in Tabasco, Mexico.

Co-founder and CEO of Pezzy Pets, Mike Mitchell conducts workshops using the armoured catfish in Tabasco, Mexico.

The workshops and demonstrations broadened into selling fillets of these invasive fish at restaurants in collaboration with fishermen. After some time, Mitchell branched out from restaurant sales to create an even bigger impact. 

“I saw an opportunity to really scale our impact […]. We can create a lot of great environmental and social impact in the communities that we work in,” he said. 

These were the humble beginnings that ultimately led to the birth of Mitchell’s company, Pezzy Pets. 

Pezzy Pets Takes on a Unique Spin With Invasives

Pezzy Pets combines several eco-friendly criteria to make the company truly eco-friendly by upcycling invasive fish, utilising sustainable packaging and directing its sales to the pet industry—an industry that has its own negative impacts on the environment. 

The term “upcycling” refers to reusing materials in a way to increase their value, exactly what Mitchell’s company does with the troublesome armoured catfish, lionfish, and silver carp. Pezzy Pets transforms these invasive fish species into healthy consumption for pets, dogs and cats alike, in the form of “single and limited ingredient” treats, as described on the company’s website.

Deciding on what specific species to use comes with a myriad of factors. Mitchell explained that “every fish or invasive species, in general, has its own unique set of challenges.” Not only does the fish have to be invasive, but it also has to be appetising and appealing from a supply and chain standpoint.  

Although not as widely consumed, the armoured catfish hits all the factors Mitchell was looking for, with the species being found in large volumes and able to breathe atmospheric oxygen; therefore, it does not immediately require to be put on ice as the fish remains well alive after capture.  

“It makes it very attractive to […] produce at industrial scale.”

When it pertains to dealing with live fish and successfully upcycling it to pet treats, Mitchell had to consider the “infrastructure limitations” faced during the company’s manufacturing process in Mexico. 

Working with roughly 100 fishermen from different supply chains and teaming with partners allowed Pezzy Pets to avoid the “complicating” factors of economics, supply chain infrastructure, and additional costs of certain materials such as ice. 

A fisherman is in the process of capturing an armoured catfish using nets in Tabasco, Mexico. Photo: Sara Escobar, Tortugas al Viento.

A fisherman is in the process of capturing an armoured catfish using nets in Tabasco, Mexico. Photo: Sara Escobar, Tortugas al Viento.

Following the armoured catfish, Pezzy Pets widened their product selection to the silver carp and the lionfish.

“We decided to branch into the lionfish, and then silver carp again for slightly different reasons, but it was just the stars kind of aligned in terms of the processing infrastructure and supply chain, also the volumes that we can do.”

As for the silver carp, this species of fish does not have the ability to survive out of the water for an extended period of time; however, the company’s partnership that works with fishermen is able to catch the carp in nets and process the fish in their facility. 

The lionfish, on the other hand, is “pretty unique”—as Mitchell put it—because of the venomous spines found on the grooves of its spine, necessitating these fish to be individually caught through scuba diving and spearfishing in Southern Mexico. Even though the lionfish does have venomous spines, the species is still safe to eat and handle when done so properly as the fleshy, edible portion itself is free from toxins.

These invasive fish are then upcycled. They are filleted, broken down, and hydrated into thin strips in the company’s FDA-regulated facilities, and sent to San Francisco, US, to finalise and package the products in 100% compostable packaging. When all is done and ready, the final products, the pet treats, are sold in stores for dogs and cats to snack on.  

Caring About Invasive Species Is Just as Important

What started as workshops and demonstrations steadily turned into a green company producing treats for companion animals—a company that Mitchell was “very adamant” about having “a very strong social and environmental impact.”

The co-founder’s adamancy and all of the hard work have paid off for both the company – which earned itself a Certified B Corporation labeland the environment.

Today, the works of Pezzy Pets have removed around 100 tonnes of armoured catfish in Southern Mexico. An estimated 882 to 1,763 pounds (400 to 500 kg) of lionfish have been removed as well, yielding a positive impact on the environment and assisting with mitigating the invasive species problem.  

“I think that’s the biggest thing is we’ve seen some native species able to rebound after removing so much [of the devil fish],” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell holds a poster about the armoured catfish (pez diablo) for a presentation at a sustainability conference in Mexico.  

Mitchell holds a poster about the armoured catfish (pez diablo) for a presentation at a sustainability conference in Mexico.

With invasive species increasing worldwide, it is critical to address the problem and implement solutions to put an end to destructive, invasive biological spreading; otherwise, native biodiversity will perish. 

And while the problem with invasive species does not seem to be on the frontline of environmental issues, especially when the present world is already dealing with more pressing matters like climate change and pollution, invasive species accelerate the existing damage on the planet.

“I think, oftentimes, the case of invasive species is connected to a lot of the […] environmental problems that we face,” Mitchell explains, adding that problems such as climate change and pollution fuel the spread of invasive organisms. “[…] Climate change is often a main driver of invasives or pollution.”

The combination of climate change and invasive species creates ample opportunities for indigenous ecosystems and organisms to be affected negatively. For instance, climate change causes ice to melt, bringing on easier routes and better access for invasive species to spread. 

On top of climate change, pollution favours invasive species over native ones. A study shows that high levels of aquatic pollution (in this case, the pollution was copper) led to a decline of more than 40% of indigenous species. On the contrary, invasive species populations were unaffected.

Now, there is no denying that invasive species do one thing and one thing only: They invade and destroy. This makes it paramount to take action and preserve native biodiversity, whether it is by taking action as a business like Pezzy Pets or simply as a consumer. 

Whilst it may seem hard to make any positive impact with substantial problems like climate change, consumers, Mitchell believes, can take a “very tangible direct impact” on the invasive species problem. 

“Not necessarily that one is more important [than] the other but […] as compared to something like climate change, which is a lot broader scale, sometimes it’s hard to feel or see your impact,” Mitchell said. “With invasive species, you can eat it right and make an impact. So we like to say you’re helping restore the environment, one bite at a time because every bite, every treat, give[s] a tangible impact.”

In the end, caring about invasive species is just as important as caring about any other environmental problems. Companies like Pezzy Pets demonstrate this. The company is open to expanding its selection of invasive species to upcycle and produce more eco-friendly products for companion animals. 

On an individual level, tackling the invasive species problem really starts with consumers and their choices like choosing to give your dog or cat a treat made from an armoured catfish, a lionfish or a silver carp. 

“[Consumers] can have a real direct impact with their choices,” Mitchell concluded. “And not just with invasive species but with all their consumer choices.”

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