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On January 15, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai volcano erupted near the island nation of Tonga in the South Pacific, leaving three people dead and about two to four inches of ash that contaminated drinking water and devastated ecosystems. The eruption hampered efforts to deliver humanitarian aid. It took about five days for relief to arrive and almost a week for a New Zealand naval ship to bring a desalination plant. Ships from Australia and Britain with aid were also on the way. And flights from Japan and New Zealand arrived late in the week.
A NASA satellite caught Hunga Tonga–Hunga Ha‘apai’s explosive eruption. | Credit: NASA Worldview/NOAA/NESDIS/STAR
Earth has had a stable environment since the dawn of human civilization, but now a new study warns that we are dumping more chemical and plastic pollution than the planet can support. More than a decade ago, researchers defined nine limits that, if exceeded, threaten humanity. They include climate change, the ozone layer, freshwater, and biodiversity. The new report quantifies how one boundary—manufactured chemicals—has potentially irreversible effects on living safely on Earth.
Estimates of how the different control variables for seven planetary boundaries have changed from 1950 to present. The green shaded polygon represents the safe operating space. | Source: Steffen et al. 2015
When the Winter Olympics begin in China next month, and athletes get ready to compete, one key ingredient will be missing—natural snow. Beijing will be the first Games to rely completely on artificial flakes. Since November, canons have been blasting out fake snow to cover not only racecourses but also surrounding brown hillsides to create an alpine-looking backdrop.
The Shougang Big Air hosted the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events. | Credit: N509FZ/Creative Commons
We’re well into January, and if you made a resolution to eat better for the planet, new research will give you extra incentive to stick with it. A study led by scientists at Leiden University calculated that if high-income countries moved away from animal products, it would produce a double dividend. Less land would be needed to grow food and vast acreage could revert to its natural state, where plants and trees would take up carbon from the atmosphere.
EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet | Credit: The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health