EarthTalk: Endangered Grizzlies And Strategies For E-Waste
Dear EarthTalk: Is the federal government’s decision to take Yellowstone’s grizzlies off the endangered species list good news or bad news for the iconic bear? —Jeffrey Elder, Los Angeles, CA
It depends who you ask. The majority of environmental and wildlife advocates would prefer to keep endangered species protections in place for Yellowstone’s grizzlies, which they consider to be still at risk. Meanwhile, many ranchers, hunters and libertarians applaud the Trump administration’s decision to take the fearsome predator off the list.
But why now? According to the National Park Service (NPS), some 690 grizzly bears now roam the greater Yellowstone ecosystem — up from only 136 or so bears in 1975. “The number of females producing cubs in the park has remained relatively stable since 1996, suggesting that the park may be at or near ecological carrying capacity for grizzly bears,” reports NPS.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke considers the delisting decision “very good news for many communities and advocates in the Yellowstone region” and “the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of state, tribal, federal and private partners.”
But the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) counters that while grizzly bear numbers in the Greater Yellowstone area may have improved since the animals were first protected in 1975, the bears continue to be isolated from other grizzly populations and are threatened by recent increases in human-caused mortality. Meanwhile, climate change and invasive species have taken a huge toll on two of the bears’ primary food sources, whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout, prompting the bears to prey on livestock outside national park borders, leading to increased conflict with livestock ranchers. CBD maintains that drought and climate change are likely to worsen these problems.
Recent scientific data showing a decline in the bears’ population over the past two years as a result of managed kills due to livestock conflict, car crashes and poaching support CBD’s claims. The group’s senior attorney, Andrea Santarsiere, says that the Trump administration’s real reason for pushing the delisting is more about appeasing trophy hunters “who want to stick grizzly bear heads on their walls” than about concern over the health of iconic American wildlife populations.
“This outrageously irresponsible decision ignores the best available science,” says Santarsiere. “Grizzly conservation has made significant strides, but the work to restore these beautiful bears has a long way to go.” Overall, grizzlies now occupy less than four percent of their historic U.S. range. European settlement led to the decimation of some 50,000 grizzlies that once roamed the western half of the Lower 48.
“It’s incredibly disturbing to see the Trump administration end protections for these beloved Yellowstone bears even as their numbers are falling,” says Santarsiere. “This deeply misguided decision just isn't supported by the science, so the Trump administration may be leaving itself vulnerable to a strong legal challenge.”
While the Trump administration has not made any noise to date about delisting the other major population of grizzlies in the lower 48 in and around Montana’s Glacier National Park, environmentalists worry that it’s only a matter of time given the relative population stability there too.
Dear EarthTalk: What can we do to solve the e-waste problem caused by so many of us tossing our cell phones out and getting new ones every two years? —Sandy Bartram, Beverly Hills, CA
As more and more of the world develops — and smartphones become ubiquitous — electronic waste (aka “e-waste”) is a bigger problem than ever. Around the world, people generate some 50 million tons of e-waste every year, much of which ends up improperly disposed of in landfills where toxins common in electronics like lead, mercury and cadmium can leach out and contaminate surrounding soils and groundwater. Much of the remaining e-waste gets shipped off to developing countries happy to profit from taking others’ trash despite the environmental consequences, or even worse, just dumped illegally into the ocean.
But thanks to consumer pressure to do the right thing, most major electronics manufacturers have started to pay attention to the problem and take action to reduce the flow of e-waste. Apple, for instance, long targeted by Greenpeace and others for lack of concern about the environmental and health impacts of its sourcing and production processes, has made great strides in the last five years in recovering customers’ old products and reusing the constituent parts in new products.
In 2015 alone, the company collected some 90 million pounds of Apple-branded e-waste, recovering upwards of 61 million pounds of material, including steel, plastics, glass, aluminum, copper, cobalt, zinc, lead, nickel, silver, tin and gold, to re-incorporate into new products. Environmental advocates who love their iPhones can sleep easier knowing that lead, mercury, beryllium, arsenic, PVC, phthalates and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are no longer welcome in or will soon be phased out of Apple’s supply chain.
But most of us upgrade our smartphones every two years, so that means that even today’s greener iPhones still contribute to the e-waste problem. That’s where Europe’s Fairphone comes to the rescue. By incorporating long-lasting design and fair-traded materials, ensuring good working conditions and making products that are fully recyclable, easy-to-fix and reusable, Fairphone hopes to revolutionize the smartphone market with its eco-conscious products.
As the electronics industry matures and moves toward more sustainable components, that combined with better design can also help reduce the steady stream of e-waste. For instance, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have come up with a way to extend the life and boost the productivity of lithium ion batteries — the standard power source in today’s electronics — by treating their electrodes with hydrogen. Such a development could be huge for preventing e-waste, given that most of us toss our old phones within two years when the battery inside starts to deteriorate and underperform.
Choosing carefully when it comes to selecting your next smartphone and recycling your old one for free at BestBuy or through its manufacturer are important first steps in becoming part of the solution to the growing problem of e-waste. Becoming an advocate by encouraging others to do the same is another way to greatly expand your positive impact. The non-profit e-Stewards program is dedicated to teaching people how to deal with used electronics, and individuals can pledge to become one of the program’s Envoys to help spread the word about the importance of reducing e-waste.
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