We also have good news and bad news about dams and coal, plus how science and renewable energy can support Ukraine.

Hurricane Ian makes landfall.

The midterm elections are rumbling toward us like a runaway barrel of climate deniers.

Meanwhile our editors have spent the past few weeks wrapped in the warm embrace of toxic wildfire smoke — and a new report confirms that only 5% of the plastic used in the United States is recycled.

Welcome to Links From the Brink.

A Hurricane of Plastics

Let’s start with that damning plastics report, issued Oct. 24 by Greenpeace. The study called the very idea of plastics recycling a “failed concept” and found that the mountains of waste we produce are too voluminous, expensive, toxic, and difficult to dispose of properly or safely.

The news came out the same day as a financial article touting the “11 Best Plastics Stocks to Buy Now.” Sigh…

(And no, we won’t give you a link to that article. Shame on you for asking.)

We could respond with a barrage of depressing news items touting the ever-emerging health and climate risks of plastic. But you probably know the basics, so let’s skip that this time around.

Instead let’s ask “Can we turn this around?” The Greenpeace report puts a lot of hope in the potential United Nations global treaty on plastics, which we’ve written about before. We also have high expectations for true circular economy laws, which would force manufacturers to take financial and legal responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products.

California made a good first step by passing one of these laws this year. It’s a bit controversial, though: Proponents say it will cut plastic packaging by 25% in the next decade, while critics say it still gives manufacturers too much leeway. Either way, state and local laws like this have proven track records, albeit on a smaller scale, and they’re both easily repeatable by other municipalities and scalable to the national level.

Another thing that would work: Tightening factory emissions standards, or enforcing ones that already exist, so that plastic becomes harder to produce.

Until then, let’s use less of the stuff — this Halloween, for example.

Real Hurricanes

Doesn’t it already feel like the destruction of Hurricane Ian took place a lifetime ago? Of course, for the people still recovering from the massive storm, it may as well have been yesterday.

Hurricanes and other disasters are getting more frequent and more destructive due to climate change. With that in mind, we’ve collected some of the best writing about Hurricane Ian and climate, some of which should help set us up for the next storm(s) to come:

Dam Good News

We’ve written a lot about the benefits of dam removal. Well, the evidence keeps pouring in. One of the most recent examples comes from California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, where crews removed a dam on Mill Creek in October 2021. The local ecosystem has already started bouncing back, and that’s brought endangered coho salmon to the creek for the first time ever. And steelhead trout are swimming there for the first time in a century.

If that could happen in just 12 months, imagine how much better things will be by year five.

Dam Bad News (x3)

South African Town Covered in Mining Waste After Dam Collapse

Nigeria Floods: Government’s Mismanagement of Dams Is A Major Cause

“Largest of Its Kind” Dam in Cameroon Faces Backlash From Unimpressed Fishmongers

Science Supporting Ukraine

As the war in Ukraine rages on, five researchers look back at the years before conflict with a moving photo essay illustrating the country’s links between nature and culture. “We hope that such a reservoir can serve as a foundation stone for rebuilding destroyed areas and devastated communities,” they write.

Coal Complexities

The U.S. power sector cut its coal consumption by more than 53% between 2010 and 2021, according to new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That’s the good news.

Worldwide, coal has experienced a resurgence following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and accompanying energy woes. Chinese coal production is up 12.3%, and the country approved several new coal-fired power plants in the first half of this year. South African coal exports to the energy-starved European Union have shot up 582%. Botswana announced a call for partners in a $2.5 billion coal-to-liquid synthetic fuels plant. Germany has even started dismantling an old wind farm to expand a coal mine.

Meanwhile a Polish mining union tried to brick up the prime minister’s office — not to protest working conditions but to demand more domestic coal mining.

Worldwide, a recent report found that half of coal industry players want to invest in new coal mines, transportation, or coal-fired energy plants. And private equity firms have started rushing in to buy old oil and coal assets that public companies increasingly find too bothersome to own.

But let’s get back to the good news: Coal has basically become uninsurable, according to a report from the climate campaign Insure Our Future. Russian coal exports to China have expanded, but further growth has been squashed by infrastructure bottlenecks. Colombia has increased tax levies against oil and coal companies to fund the country’s progressive social agenda. Wind and solar have overtaken coal in Chile, while Greece just ran its electrical grid entirely on renewables for the first time.

It all adds up: The International Renewable Energy Agency reports that renewables get the credit for 81% of new electricity capacity in 2021, while the similarly named International Energy Agency finds that renewables have helped keep global energy emissions relatively stable in 2022, despite this year’s rise in coal and natural gas usage.

As for the future? Ukraine is already looking for investors to rebuild its renewable energy industry — which would also position the country to take over some of Russia’s energy exports to the EU.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the wind farm through the smog. But when you look at everything all at once, you see more progress than regression. That doesn’t make the ongoing destruction any less painful, but it helps give us the energy to keep moving forward.

That’s it for this edition of Links From the Brink. Looking ahead, mark your calendars for National Bison Day and Remembrance Day for Lost Species in November. While you’re at it, don’t forget Election Day on Nov. 8. And regardless of how the midterms go, keep participating in the democratic process through the rest of the year ahead.

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Creative Commons

John R. Platt

is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His “Extinction Countdown” column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.