U.S. church membership down sharply in past two decades – Percentage of Americans who report belonging to a church, synagogue, or mosque at all-time low, averaging 50 percent in 2018

Church membership among U.S. adults, 1983-2018. Graphic: Gallup
Church membership among U.S. adults, 1983-2018. Graphic: Gallup

By Jeffrey M. Jones
18 April 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Gallup) – As Christian and Jewish Americans prepare to celebrate Easter and Passover, respectively, Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who report belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque at an all-time low, averaging 50% in 2018.

U.S. church membership was 70% or higher from 1937 through 1976, falling modestly to an average of 68% in the 1970s through the 1990s. The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999 and more than half of that change occurring since the start of the current decade.

The decline in church membership is consistent with larger societal trends in declining church attendance and an increasing proportion of Americans with no religious preference.

This article compares church membership data for the 1998-2000 and 2016-2018 periods, using combined data from multiple years to facilitate subgroup analysis. On average, 69% of U.S. adults were members of a church in 1998-2000, compared with 52% in 2016-2018.

The decline in church membership mostly reflects the fact that fewer Americans than in the past now have any religious affiliation. However, even those who do identify with a particular religion are less likely to belong to a church or other place of worship than in the past.

Trend Toward No Religious Preference Key Factor in Declining Membership

Since the turn of the century, the percentage of U.S. adults with no religious affiliation has more than doubled, from 8% to 19%.

Although some of those who do not identify with a religion nevertheless indicate that they belong to a church, the vast majority of nonreligious Americans do not. In 1998 through 2000, one in 10 Americans with no religious preference said they belonged to a church, as did an average of 7% in the past three years.

As such, there is an almost one-to-one correspondence between not being religious and not belonging to a church. Consequently, the 11-point increase in no religious affiliation accounts for the majority of the 17-point decline in church membership over the past two decades.

Fewer Religious Americans Are Church Members

Although there has been a steep increase in the proportion of Americans who do not have a religious attachment, they remain a small minority of the U.S. population. Three-quarters of Americans, 77%, identify with some organized religion, though that is down from 90% in 1998 through 2000.

The still-sizable proportion of religious Americans also contribute to declining church membership, as fewer in this group belong to a church than did so two decades ago. At the turn of the century, 73% of U.S. adults with a religious preference belonged to a church, compared with 64% today.

It is clear then, that the nature of Americans’ orientation to religion is changing, with fewer religious Americans finding membership in a church or other faith institution to be a necessary part of their religious experience.

Percent of U.S. adults with religious preference by generation. Graphic: Gallup
Percent of U.S. adults with religious preference by generation. Graphic: Gallup

Generational Change Helping Push the Decline in Church Membership

Religiosity is strongly related to age, with older Americans far more likely than younger adults to be members of churches. However, church membership has dropped among all generational groups over the past two decades, with declines of roughly 10 percentage points among traditionalists, baby boomers and Generation X.

Most millennials were too young to be polled in 1998-2000. Now that they have reached adulthood, their church membership rates are exceedingly low and appear to be a major factor in the drop in overall U.S. church membership. Just 42% of millennials are members of churches, on average.

By comparison, 20 years ago, 62% of members of Generation X belonged to a church, when they were about the same age as millennials are today.

The low rates of church membership among millennials conform with the generation’s weaker attachment to religion in general. On average, 68% of millennials identify with a religion in the 2016-2018 church membership surveys, while 29% do not. In all other generations, at least 79% have a religious affiliation, with correspondingly lower percentages expressing no faith preference.

Percent of U.S. church membership with religious preference, by generation. Graphic: Gallup
Percent of U.S. church membership with religious preference, by generation. Graphic: Gallup

The percentage of millennials with no religion may be continuing to grow, as an average of 33% in Gallup surveys conducted in 2019 to date say they have no religious affiliation.

Not only are millennials less likely than older Americans to identify with a religion, but millennials who are religious are significantly less likely to belong to a church. Fifty-seven percent of religious millennials belong to a church, compared with 65% or more in older generations. […]

Membership Decline Steeper Among Catholics

Gallup has previously reported that church attendance has dropped more among Catholics than among Protestants. Consistent with this, the decline in church membership has been greater among Catholics. Twenty years ago, 76% of Catholics belonged to a church; now, 63% do.

Meanwhile, 67% of Protestants, down from 73% in 1998-2000, are members of a church. Much of the decline in Protestant membership is attributable to the increasing percentage of Americans who simply identify their religion as “Christian” rather than as a specific Protestant denomination such as Baptist, Lutheran or Methodist. Gallup classifies “Christian” respondents as Protestants but, as might be expected, nondenominational Christians are less likely to belong to a church (57%) than Americans who identify with a specific Protestant denomination (70%). [more]

U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades

Pope Francis encourages teen climate campaigner Greta Thunberg after she scolds EU leaders: “Continue, continue”

Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg holds up a sign as Pope Francis greets her at the end of his weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, on 17 April 2019. Photo: AP
Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg holds up a sign that reads, “Join the Climate Strike, as Pope Francis greets her at the end of his weekly general audience, in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, on 17 April 2019. Photo: AP

By Emily Dixon
17 April 2019

(CNN) – Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg met Pope Francis after his weekly audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.

The Swedish 16-year-old carried a sign reading “Join the Climate Strike,” which she showed the Pope after he greeted her.

A day earlier, Thunberg urged European Union leaders to “panic” about climate change, as she addressed a committee of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

She went on to condemn politicians for spending their time “arguing about taxes or Brexit” in the face of a building climate crisis.

Thunberg, whose sit-ins outside the Swedish parliament inspired students worldwide to hold school strikes demanding climate action, spoke to a “packed” room of EU politicians, according to the AFP news agency.

“Our house is falling apart, and our leaders need to start acting accordingly,” Thunberg said. “If our house was falling apart, our leaders wouldn’t go on like you do today. You would change almost every part of your behavior, as you do in an emergency.”

“If our house was falling apart, you wouldn’t hold three emergency Brexit summits, and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and environment,” she added, to applause from the committee.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Thunberg began to cry as she talked about what scientists have termed the sixth mass extinction. “Erosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of our great forest, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, the acidification of our oceans,” she said, her voice wavering. “These are all disastrous trends being accelerated by a way of life that we, in our financially fortunate part of the world, see as our right to simply carry on.” [more]

Greta Thunberg meets the Pope after scolding EU leaders on climate change

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (R) speaks during a debate with the EU Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee during a session at the European Parliament on  
16 April 2019 in Strasbourg, eastern France. Sweden's teenage activist Greta Thunberg on April 16 urged Europeans to vote in next month's elections on behalf of young people like her who cannot yet cast ballots but demand decisive action against climate change. During a visit to the European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg, Thunberg, 16, told a press conference that time is running out to stop the ravages of global warming. Photo: Frederick Florin / AFP / Getty Images
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (R) speaks during a debate with the EU Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee during a session at the European Parliament on
16 April 2019 in Strasbourg, eastern France. Sweden’s teenage activist Greta Thunberg on April 16 urged Europeans to vote in next month’s elections on behalf of young people like her who cannot yet cast ballots but demand decisive action against climate change. During a visit to the European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg, Thunberg, 16, told a press conference that time is running out to stop the ravages of global warming. Photo: Frederick Florin / AFP / Getty Images

Pope encourages Swedish campaigner Greta on environment

By Sophie Lewis
17 April 2019

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis encouraged Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg on Wednesday to continue her campaign to fight climate change, during a brief meeting at the end of his weekly general audience.

Thunberg arrived late and took her seat in the VIP section in St. Peter’s Square, ducking down to not cause any commotion as the pope spoke. Francis later approached her and she showed off her sign, “Join the climate strike.”

“Continue, continue,” Francis told her. “Go on, go ahead.”

Thunberg told Francis: “Thank you for standing up for the climate, for speaking the truth. It means a lot.”

Thunberg was in Rome to headline Friday’s “school strike,” the growing worldwide youth movement she spearheaded, demanding faster action against climate change. Thunberg will also address the Italian parliament. [more]

Pope Francis encourages teen climate activist Greta Thunberg to continue her fight

After Cyclone Idai, thousands in Mozambique still cut off, many more in need – “They risk becoming utterly forgotten”

Women wait to receive aid at a camp for the people displaced in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in John Segredo near Beira, Mozambique, 31 March 2019. Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
Women wait to receive aid at a camp for the people displaced in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in John Segredo near Beira, Mozambique, 31 March 2019. Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

By Emma Rumney; Editing by Hugh Lawson
15 April 2019

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – One month after Cyclone Idai tore through southern Africa bringing devastating floods, aid agencies say the situation remains critical with some communities in worst-hit Mozambique only just being reached with aid.

The storm made landfall in Mozambique on 14 March 2019, flattening the port city of Beira before moving inland to batter Malawi and Zimbabwe.

It heaped rain on the region’s highlands that then flowed back into Mozambique, leaving an area the size of Luxembourg under water. More than 1,000 people died across the three countries, and the World Bank has estimated more than $2 billion will be needed for them to recover.

Over the weekend, aid agencies said thousands of people were still completely cut off and warned of the potential for a catastrophic hunger crisis to take hold, especially as aid appeals went largely underfunded.

Dorothy Sang, Oxfam’s humanitarian advocacy manager, said an aid drop was being planned for an isolated area where just last week 2,000 people were found for the first time since the storm. They had been surviving on coconuts, dates and small fish they could catch.

Oxfam estimates there are 4,000 people still cut off. Sang added that while often these weren’t the worst-hit by the disaster, they were already living in chronic poverty and now face huge challenges to survive.

“They risk becoming utterly forgotten,” she said.

On Sunday, Care International said the destruction of crops would compound existing food security problems across the region, and called on donors to find additional funds for the response.

Mozambique’s $337 million humanitarian response plan, largely made up of an appeal for $281 million after the cyclone hit, remained only 23 percent funded on Monday. [more]

After Cyclone Idai, thousands still cut off, many more in need: aid agencies

First successful model simulation of the past 3 million years of climate change – “Our results imply a strong sensitivity of the Earth system to relatively small variations in atmospheric CO2”

The climate model of Willeit, et al., 2019 reproduces the natural climate variability of the whole Quaternary by using an Earth system model of intermediate complexity. The model simulations provide a self-consistent reconstruction of CO2, climate and ice sheets constrained by available observations, i.e. oxygen isotopes and reconstructions of sea surface temperature. Graphic: Willeit, et al., 2019 / Science Advances
The climate model of Willeit, et al., 2019 reproduces the natural climate variability of the whole Quaternary by using an Earth system model of intermediate complexity. The model simulations provide a self-consistent reconstruction of CO2 , climate, and ice sheets constrained by available observations, i.e. oxygen isotopes and reconstructions of sea surface temperature. Graphic: Willeit, et al., 2019 / Science Advances

By Matteo Willeit
3 April 2019

(RealClimate) – A new study published in Science Advances shows that the main features of natural climate variability over the last 3 million years can be reproduced with an efficient model of the Earth system.

The Quaternary is the most recent geological Period, covering the past ~2.6 million years. It is defined by the presence of glacial-interglacial cycles associated with the cyclic growth and decay of continental ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere. Climate variations during the Quaternary are best seen in oxygen isotopes measured in deep-sea sediment cores, which represent variations in global ice volume and ocean temperature. These data show clearly that there has been a general trend towards larger ice sheets and cooler temperatures over the last 3 million years, accompanied by an increase in the amplitude of glacial-interglacial variations and a transition from mostly symmetry cycles with a periodicity of 40,000 years to strongly asymmetric 100,000-year cycles at around 1 million years ago.  However, the ultimate causes of these transitions in glacial cycle dynamics remain debated.

Among others, the role of CO2 changes in shaping Quaternary climate dynamics is not yet fully understood, largely because of the poor observational constraints on atmospheric CO2 concentrations for the time before 800,000 years BP, beyond the period covered by high-quality ice core data.

In a paper published today in Science Advances (Williet, et al., 2019), we were able to reproduce the natural climate variability of the whole Quaternary with an Earth system model of intermediate complexity. Besides ocean and atmosphere, the model includes interactive ice sheets for the Northern Hemisphere and a fully coupled global carbon cycle and was driven only by changes in orbital configuration and different scenarios for slowly varying boundary conditions, namely CO2 outgassing from volcanoes as a geologic source of CO2, and changes in sediment distribution over the continents. […]

Our results imply a strong sensitivity of the Earth system to relatively small variations in atmospheric CO2.  [more]

First successful model simulation of the past 3 million years of climate change


ABSTRACT: Variations in Earth’s orbit pace the glacial-interglacial cycles of the Quaternary, but the mechanisms that transform regional and seasonal variations in solar insolation into glacial-interglacial cycles are still elusive. Here, we present transient simulations of coevolution of climate, ice sheets, and carbon cycle over the past 3 million years. We show that a gradual lowering of atmospheric CO2 and regolith removal are essential to reproduce the evolution of climate variability over the Quaternary. The long-term CO2 decrease leads to the initiation of Northern Hemisphere glaciation and an increase in the amplitude of glacial-interglacial variations, while the combined effect of CO2 decline and regolith removal controls the timing of the transition from a 41,000- to 100,000-year world. Our results suggest that the current CO2 concentration is unprecedented over the past 3 million years and that global temperature never exceeded the preindustrial value by more than 2°C during the Quaternary.

Mid-Pleistocene transition in glacial cycles explained by declining CO2 and regolith removal

Interior Deptartment opens ethics investigation of its new chief, David Bernhardt, after seven complaints from “a wide assortment of complainants alleging various conflicts of interest and other violations”

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt at his confirmation hearing on 28 March 2019 before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Photo: Zach Gibson / Getty Images
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt at his confirmation hearing on 28 March 2019 before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Photo: Zach Gibson / Getty Images

By Coral Davenport
15 April 2019

WASHINGTON (The New York Times) – The Interior Department’s internal watchdog has opened an investigation into ethics complaints against the agency’s newly installed secretary, David Bernhardt.

Mr. Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil and agribusiness industries, was confirmed by the Senate last week to head the agency, which oversees the nation’s 500 million acres of public land and vast coastal waters. He has played a central role in writing policies designed to advance President Trump’s policy of “energy dominance” and expanding fossil fuel exploration. He has been dogged by allegations of ethics violations since joining the Trump administration as the Interior Department’s deputy secretary in 2017.

Eight senators, all Democrats, and four government ethics watchdog groups have requested that the Interior Department’s inspector general open formal investigations into various aspects of Mr. Bernhardt’s conduct. Among the chief complaints have been allegations, revealed by three separate New York Times investigations, that Mr. Bernhardt used his position to advance a policy pushed by his former lobbying client; that he continued working as a lobbyist after filing legal paperwork declaring that he had ceased lobbying; and that he intervened to block the release of a scientific report showing the harmful effects of a chemical pesticide on certain endangered species.

In a letter sent Monday to the senators who filed the ethics complaints, Mary L. Kendall, the deputy inspector general of the Interior Department, wrote that she had received seven complaints from “a wide assortment of complainants alleging various conflicts of interest and other violations” by Mr. Bernhardt, adding that she had “opened an investigation to address them.” [more]

Interior Dept. Opens Ethics Investigation of Its New Chief, David Bernhardt

Washington, New York will fight Trump order boosting coal, oil projects – “We will not allow this or any presidential administration to block us from exercising our authority lawfully and effectively”

Facebook post by Washington Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz, on 10 April 2019, announcing that Washington State will fight Trump’s executive orders that attempt to bypass the Clean Water Act to fast-track fossil-fuel development projects. Photo: Hilary Franz
Facebook post by Washington Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz, on 10 April 2019, announcing that Washington State will fight Trump’s executive orders that attempt to bypass the Clean Water Act to fast-track fossil-fuel development projects. Photo: Hilary Franz

By Joel Connelly
11 April 2019

(SeattlePI) – President Donald Trump has signed an executive order designed to block states from using a provision of the Clean Water Act to delay or prevent big oil and coal projects such as a proposed coal export terminal in Longview on the Columbia River.

The states of Washington and New York are vowing to block Trump.

“No amount of politicking will change the facts — states have full authority under the Clean Water Act to protect our waters and ensure the health and safety over our people,” Gov. Jay Inslee and AG Bob Ferguson said in a joint statement.

“We will not allow this or any presidential administration to block us from exercising our authority lawfully and effectively.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York described the Trump order as “a gross overreach of federal authority” and vowed to fight it “tooth and nail.” The Empire State has denied a permit to the Constitution Pipeline, which would carry natural gas from Canada into New England.

Trump signaled that he, too, is ready for a fight. “My action today will cut through destructive permitting delays and denials,” he said in Houston on Thursday. The President singled out New York for allegedly “hurting the country.”

The President has told the Environmental Protection Agency to update “guidance” under the Clean Water Act, in a way that will keep such states as Washington and New York from denying permits to big energy projects. [more]

Washington, New York: We’ll fight Trump order boosting coal, oil projects

Killing migratory birds has been a crime for decades, but not anymore under Trump – “It will unravel a lot of progress over the past several decades”

David Bernhardt, nominee to be Secretary of the Interior, testifies during his Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Building on Thursday,  
28 March 2019. Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call / AP Images
David Bernhardt, nominee to be Secretary of the Interior, testifies during his Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Building on Thursday,
28 March 2019. Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call / AP Images

By Elizabeth Shogren
8 April 2019

(Reveal) – Under Republican and Democratic presidents from Nixon through Obama, killing migratory birds, even inadvertently, was a crime, with fines for violations ranging from $250 to $100 million. The power to prosecute created a deterrent that protected birds and enabled government to hold companies to account for environmental disasters.

But in part due to President Donald Trump’s Interior secretary nominee, David Bernhardt, whose confirmation awaits a Senate vote, the wildlife cop is no longer on the beat. Bernhardt pushed a December 2017 legal opinion that declared the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies only when companies kill birds on purpose.

Internal government emails obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting provide evidence of federal wildlife agents opting out of investigations and enforcement, citing that policy change as the reason.

First enacted to implement a 1916 treaty with Canada, the 1918 law was written to protect migratory birds – as well as their nests, eggs and even feathers – from being captured, sold or killed “at any time, or in any manner.” Similar treaties were signed by the governments of Mexico, Japan and the Soviet Union, now Russia, and included in the law.

The reinterpretation of the bird law by the administration may run afoul of these long-standing treaties. The issue is on the agenda of a trilateral meeting among the U.S., Canada and Mexico this week.

“The Government of Canada continues to interpret the century-old Migratory Bird Convention as to prohibiting the incidental take (killing or harming) of migratory birds, their nests and eggs,” said Gabrielle Lamontagne, a spokeswoman for Environment and Climate Change Canada. She noted that Canada is analyzing how the reinterpretation of the U.S. law will affect conservation of birds that migrate between the U.S.and Canada. Reveal is awaiting responses from the three other nations that have migratory bird treaties with the U.S.

A retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife official who helped negotiate the amendments to the treaties with Canada and Mexico in the 1990s says Trump’s policy is out of step with international obligations.

“I think a good argument could be made that the current Interior policy does not comply with the treaty with Canada,” said Paul Schmidt, a 33-year veteran of the Fish and Wildlife Service who was promoted to assistant director under President George W. Bush.

Emails obtained by Reveal provide evidence of how the revision is affecting law enforcement in the U.S. For example, after a pipeline burst in Idaho last April, spilling diesel into a pond and wetland, two coolers full of dead birds were dropped off at the Fish and Wildlife office in Boise. In an email about what to do with the dead birds, a Fish and Wildlife agent wrote that “we are no longer involved’’ when birds are killed in oil spills.

Agents had a similar reaction when a tugboat spilled oil into Great Harbor in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, killing dozens of birds.

“As this spill involves the incidental take of birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, there is currently no enforcement action planned,” according to an email from a Fish and Wildlife agent.

An email about a timber harvest in Michigan said Fish and Wildlife no longer prohibits loggers from cutting down trees with nests in them, even if it destroys live eggs or chicks. (In this case, however, Michigan’s state agency stepped in, and saved the great blue heron nests and chicks.)

Another email from October 2018 shows that Fish and Wildlife saved $2.5 million by not filling 10 positions primarily related to investigating violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The agency refused to discuss the specific examples or staffing decisions. […]

Scientists caution that weakening the Migratory Bird Treaty Act imperils many types of birds that are endangered or declining in numbers, and it also eliminates an important source of wetlands restoration funding: penalties paid by violators.

“It will unravel a lot of progress over the past several decades,” said Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta who has studied the impact on birds of the oil sands industry in Canada. Restored wetlands help bolster fish and shellfish, clean water and protect people from big storms.

“Those conservation efforts are benefiting birds, sure. But they’re also benefiting many other species that are using coastal habitats, and they’re also benefiting people,” said Amanda Rodewald, an ornithologist and professor at Cornell University. Doing away with the fines “actually could be putting other communities at risk from storm surges and other negative environmental impacts,” she added. [more]

Killing migratory birds, even unintentionally, has been a crime for decades. Not anymore

A lawyer set himself on fire to protest climate change. Did anyone care?

David Buckel at a news conference in Newark, New Jersey, on 25 October 2005. Buckel immolated himself on 14 April 2018 to protest inaction on climate change. Photo: Jeff Zelevansky / Reuters
David Buckel at a news conference in Newark, New Jersey, on 25 October 2005. Buckel immolated himself on 14 April 2018 to protest inaction on climate change. Photo: Jeff Zelevansky / Reuters

By J. Oliver Conroy
15 April 2019

(The Guardian) – On a recent Saturday in Brooklyn, against the unlikely backdrop of a huge blue-and-white Ikea outlet, several dozen volunteers hand-churned compost. Decomposing food scraps emit considerable heat, and the 6ft-tall compost heaps were warm to the touch. As shovels and pitchforks pierced the compost, gusts of steam rolled off like fog.

A three-acre lot-turned-urban farm, the Red Hook Community Farmscontains the largest compost site in America powered entirely by sustainable sources. During an orientation for new volunteers, one of the site managers explained that the operation was the brainchild of a lawyer-turned-environmentalist named David Buckel, who supervised it until his death last year. He designed the site’s processes so it would run like clockwork, even in his absence.

A woman asked, hesitantly: “Is he the one who … self-immolated?”

“Yes,” the manager said.

He didn’t elaborate but said he considered the site Buckel’s legacy, and that he and the other two managers felt honored to carry on its work.

As the manager talked, a small wind turbine whizzed overhead. Energy from the turbine, plus several solar panels, fed into a generator that pumped air into the compost heaps not being churned by hand. On the other side of the lot grew rows of spinach, kale, tomatoes and other crops, which the farm sells or donates to food pantries.

Terry Kaelber, Buckel’s husband and companion of 34 years, often volunteers at the compost site. When I asked him about the site, he thought carefully, then said: “There is something very simple and pure in coming together, in giving up your time, to take people’s food scraps and do the work that will enable those scraps to be turned back, over time, into food.”

The site was a microcosm, he said, of the kind of self-sustaining, harmonious society Buckel wanted to build – the kind “I think in some ways we all subconsciously long for”.

“I only wish,” he said, “that David had stuck it out.” [more]

A lawyer set himself on fire to protest climate change. Did anyone care?

Winds carry microplastics “anywhere and everywhere”, even to remote mountaintops – “It’s astounding and worrying that so many particles were found in the Pyrenees”

An inverse image of a plastic fibre. Microplastics can travel through the atmosphere and end up in regions far from their original emission source. Photo: Allen, et al., 2019 / Nature Geoscience
An inverse image of a plastic fibre. Microplastics can travel through the atmosphere and end up in regions far from their original emission source. Photo: Allen, et al., 2019 / Nature Geoscience

By Damian Carrington Environment editor
15 April 2019

(The Guardian) – Microplastic is raining down on even remote mountaintops, a new study has revealed, with winds having the capacity to carry the pollution “anywhere and everywhere”.

The scientists were astounded by the quantities of microplastic falling from the sky in a supposedly pristine place such as the French stretch of the Pyrenees mountains. Researchers are now finding microplastics everywhere they look; in rivers, the deepest oceans and soils around the world.

Other recent studies have found microplastics in farmland soils near Shanghai, China, in the Galápagos Islands, a Unesco world heritage site, and in rivers in the Czech Republic. Humans and other animals are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the potential health effects on people and ecosystems are as yet unknown.

However the ubiquity of the pollution means it needs to be taken very seriously, said Steve Allen, at the EcoLab research institute near Toulouse and who led the new work in the Pyrenees: “If it is going to be a problem, it is going to be a very big problem. I don’t think there is an organism on Earth that is immune to this.”

About 335m tonnes of plastic is produced each year – while it degrades extremely slowly, it can be broken into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastic pollution in rivers and oceans is now well known but just two previous studies have looked at its presence in the air, one in Paris, France, and another in Dongguan, China. Both found a steady fall of particles.

The new study, published in Nature Geoscience, is the first to show microplastic is raining down just as hard in remote environments and that it can travel across significant distances through wind. The team collected samples from high altitudes in the Pyrenees that were far from sources of plastic waste – the nearest village was 6km away, the nearest town 25km, and the nearest city 120km.

They found an average of 365 plastic particles, fibres and films were deposited per square metre every day. “It’s astounding and worrying that so many particles were found,” said Allen.

“It is comparable to what was found in the centre of Paris and Dongguan, and those are megacities where a lot of pollution is expected,” said Deonie Allen, also at EcoLab and part of the team. “Because we were on the top of a remote mountain, and there is no close source, there is the potential for microplastic to be anywhere and everywhere.” [more]

Winds carry microplastics ‘everywhere’ – even on to remote mountaintops


Microplastic (MP) transport trajectories across the Pyrenees, relative to the recorded meteorology, using simplistic MP settling velocity trajectory calculation and HYSPLIT4 back-trajectory modelling. Graphic: Allen, et al., 2019 / Nature Geoscience
Microplastic (MP) transport trajectories across the Pyrenees, relative to the recorded meteorology, using simplistic MP settling velocity trajectory calculation and HYSPLIT4 back-trajectory modelling. Graphic: Allen, et al., 2019 / Nature Geoscience

Microplastics blown by wind found in remote mountainous region

15 April 2019 (University of Strathclyde) – Researchers have found microplastics in a remote region of the Pyrenees mountain range.

A scientific study collected samples over a five-month period from a secluded area of the mountains, which form a natural border between France and Spain.

The research paper: ‘Atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment’ published in the Nature Geoscience research journal, reveals that samples from two separate monitoring devices were analysed to identify whether the tiny plastic pieces, invisible to the naked eye and less than five millimetres long, were present in the largely inaccessible mountain area.

Despite the remote location, researchers recorded average daily counts of 365 deposits per square metre of the pervasive material.

It isn’t yet known the extent of the distance that microplastics can travel, but the research also reveals that the analysis of air trajectory shows fragments are travelling through the atmosphere over distances of at least almost 60 miles.

Astounding and worrying

Joint lead researcher Steve Allen, a researcher at EcoLab, Toulouse and a PhD student from the University of Strathclyde, said: “It’s astounding and worrying that so many particles were found in the Pyrenees field site.

“What we can unequivocally prove is that it’s being transported there by the wind.

“It opens up the possibility that it’s not only in the cities are you breathing this in, but it can travel quite some distance from the sources.

“Plastic litter is an increasing global issue and one of the key environmental challenges we face on global scale.”

Co-author Dr Deonie Allen of EcoLab added: “The drivers in plastic degradation are fairly well known, but the transport drivers and mechanisms – especially atmospheric transport – for microplastic appears to be complex and an area of research that now needs to be unravelled.”

Uncontaminated areas

The team, a collaboration between the University of Strathclyde and the French National Research Centre at the University of Toulouse, collected samples from the field site in south west France from an ‘uncontaminated’ area just over four miles away from the nearest village and around 75 miles from the nearest city of Toulouse.

The area is considered to be pristine, untouched wilderness due to a lack of development, its inaccessibility and distance from major cities and industrial centres.

Dr Gael Le Roux from EcoLab said: “This mountainous area has been the subject of numerous interdisciplinary studies in ecology and environment over the past decade but we would still never have anticipated that this latest study would reveal such high levels of microplastics deposits.”

Local rain, wind speed and snow fall was also recorded during the winter period of 2017 to 2018.

Steve Allen added: “The meteorological station there has two existing deposition collectors, which supplied us with the samples. We measured it over a five-month period during the winter which was significant as the Pyrenees are generally covered in snow and the ground is damp.

“This is likely to make it harder for plastic dust to be lifted up into the air which raises the question of how far it had come from.”

Microplastics, which are completely invisible to the naked eye, can be harmful to oceans and aquatic life.

They have been found in tap water around the world and in some of the most remote places on earth, with studies showing they have even reached Antarctica.

As well as the physical fragments, toxins added during manufacturing and organic pollutants gathered during air and water travel also accumulate in ecosystems.

Steve Allen added: We don’t know if they are harmful, but there have been studies on mice and fish in lab conditions with virgin laboratory grown plastic which have shown the effects of digesting or breathing in microplastics can lead to changes in behaviour in things like feeding and mating habits.

“We don’t know how much of a difference there is between this lab grown plastic and the microplastics in the environment which can pick up things like pesticides, but we do know we need to stop the plastic going into the environment and we need to stop our use of it.”

The French National Research Agency, the Agence Nationale de la Recherche, funded the research through Ecolab, Campus ENSAT and the Marie Curie Prestige Fellowship.

Microplastics blown by wind found in remote mountainous region


ABSTRACT: Plastic litter is an ever-increasing global issue and one of this generation’s key environmental challenges. Microplastics have reached oceans via river transport on a global scale. With the exception of two megacities, Paris (France) and Dongguan (China), there is a lack of information on atmospheric microplastic deposition or transport. Here we present the observations of atmospheric microplastic deposition in a remote, pristine mountain catchment (French Pyrenees). We analysed samples, taken over five months, that represent atmospheric wet and dry deposition and identified fibres up to ~750 µm long and fragments ≤300 µm as microplastics. We document relative daily counts of 249 fragments, 73 films and 44 fibres per square metre that deposited on the catchment. An air mass trajectory analysis shows microplastic transport through the atmosphere over a distance of up to 95 km. We suggest that microplastics can reach and affect remote, sparsely inhabited areas through atmospheric transport.

Atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment

Thousands join Extinction Rebellion protests across London – “We are facing environmental breakdown and nothing remotely proportionate is being done about it”

Extinction Rebellion demonstrators on the Waterloo Bridge in London, 14 April 2019. Photo: Jonathan Brady / PA
Extinction Rebellion demonstrators on the Waterloo Bridge in London, 14 April 2019. Photo: Jonathan Brady / PA

By Matthew Taylor and Damien Gayle
15 April 2019

(The Guardian) – Thousands of people have joined a “climate rebellion” in London, blocking traffic and disrupting “business as usual” to demand action over the escalating ecological crisis.

By 2pm five London landmarks – Waterloo Bridge, Marble Arch, Parliament Square, Oxford Circus, and Piccadilly Circus – had been blocked by thousands of protesters bringing widespread disruption. The protests are planned to continue for at least a week.

The group is calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a citizens’ assembly to devise an emergency plan of action to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.

Waterloo Bridge was blocked to traffic and turned into an impromptu garden bridge, with people bringing trees, flowers and setting up a miniature skate park.

At Oxford Circus thousands of protesters danced at the normally busy junction and a life size model of boat was parked in the middle of the crossing with the slogan Tell the Truth emblazoned on the side.

At nearby Piccadilly Circus the youth section of Extinction Rebellion held a sit down protest.

Trey Taylor, 19, said he felt compelled to act when he realised the scale of the climate crisis.

“We are facing environmental breakdown and nothing remotely proportionate is being done about it … when you look at the facts this is happening now and the government response is utterly woeful.”
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Thousands join Extinction Rebellion protests across London