Colombia vets nurse tiny spider monkey back to health

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Pollution hot spots around the world

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The place spacecraft go to die

The Tiangong I spacecraftImage copyright
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China’s Tiangong I spacecraft is expected to fall to Earth soon

China’s Tiangong-1 space station is currently out of control and expected to fall back to Earth next year. But not in the remote place where many other spacecraft end their days.

Explorers and adventurers often look for new places to conquer now that the highest peaks have been climbed, the poles reached and vast oceans and deserts crossed.

Some of these new places are called the poles of inaccessibility. Two of them are particularly interesting.

One is called the continental pole of inaccessibility – it’s the place on Earth furthest from the ocean. There is some debate as to its exact position but it’s considered by many to be near the so-called Dzungarian Gate – a mountain pass between China and Central Asia.

The equivalent point in the ocean – the place furthest away from land – lies in the South Pacific some 2,700km (1,680 miles) south of the Pitcairn Islands – somewhere in the no-man’s land, or rather no-man’s-sea, between Australia, New Zealand and South America.

This oceanic pole of inaccessibility is not only of interest to explorers, satellite operators are interested in it as well. That’s because most of the satellites placed in orbit around the Earth will eventually come down, but where?

Smaller satellites will burn up but pieces of the larger ones will survive to reach the Earth’s surface. To avoid crashing on a populated area they are brought down near the point of oceanic inaccessibility.

Scattered over an area of approximately 1,500 sq km (580 sq miles) on the ocean floor of this region is a graveyard of satellites. At last count there were more than 260 of them, mostly Russian.

The wreckage of the Mir space station lies there. It was launched in 1986 and was visited by many teams of cosmonauts and international visitors.

With a mass of 120 tonnes it was never going to burn up in the atmosphere, so it was ditched in the region in 2001 and was seen by some fishermen as a fragmenting mass of glowing debris racing across the sky.

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A computer-simulated image of Mir’s descent and break-up as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere in 2001

Many times a year the supply module that goes to the International Space Station burns up in this region incinerating the station’s waste.

No one is in any danger because of this controlled re-entry into our atmosphere. The region is not fished because oceanic currents avoid the area and do not bring nutrients to it, making marine life scarce.

One future visitor to this desolate place will be the International Space Station.

Current plans are for it to be decommissioned in the next decade and it will have to be carefully brought down in the oceanic pole of inaccessibility. With a mass of 450 tonnes – four times that of the Mir space station – it will make a spectacular sight.

Sometimes however, it’s not possible to bring a satellite or space station down in the South Pacific if ground controllers have lost contact with it.

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The Earth is surrounded by thousands of pieces of space junk (dots not to scale)

Such a thing happened with the 36-tonne Salyut 7 space station in 1991 which came down in South America or the American Skylab that struck Australia in 1979. No one on the ground was injured, or indeed as far as we know, ever has been by a piece of falling spacecraft debris.

We will face that problem again next year.

Between January and April the Chinese Tiangong-1 will come back to Earth. It was launched in 2011 as China’s first space station. The following year it was visited by China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang.

Tiangong-1′s orbit is decaying as it heads towards re-entry. But Chinese engineers have lost control of it and cannot fire its thrusters to bring it down in the South Pacific.

Instead it will come down somewhere between 42.8 degrees north and south. That’s between the latitude of northern Spain and southern Australia, and we won’t be able to be more precise than that until just a few hours before it burns up.

Tiangong-1 is one space station that probably won’t join its companions in the remote South Pacific.

Dr David Whitehouse was the BBC’s science correspondent from 1988 until 2006, and is a former science editor at the BBC News website.

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Bali volcano: What is it like waiting for an eruption?

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Experts think Bali’s Mount Agung could erupt for the first time since 1963

The lifespan of a volcano can be measured in millennia, and so waiting a few days for it to erupt may not sound too stressful.

But for the tens of thousands of Balinese people forced from their homes, the “imminent” danger that they have been living with for more than a week feels very real.

Ketut Seri says she has already lost track of time since arriving at one of the emergency shelters.

Sat surrounded by thin plastic bags stuffed with her children’s clothes, she says she can’t help but worry about what she’s left behind.

“I wish I had brought my cooking utensils,” she tells me, a sign that she expects to be here for the long haul.

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More than 140,000 people like Ketut Seri and her family are in temporary shelters

“I’m tired, I’m sad because I cannot work,” she explains, “I cannot find any solution.”

Her children chase a football around the concrete hall they have been living in alongside another 100 evacuees.

But Ketut’s husband is absent after venturing back to their empty village to check on the animals. He is not the only one taking that risk.

The fate of the cattle and chickens many had to leave behind in the hills weighs heavily on people’s minds, and so some are crossing back and forth into the danger area every day to check on their well-being.

Media captionSurivivors of the 1963 eruption on the last time Mount Agung erupted

According to the volcanologists monitoring Mount Agung, this situation could continue for weeks, maybe even months.

An eruption may not even happen, they simply don’t know.

At the government observation base, senior seismologist Devy Kamil remains patient – despite the long queue of journalists who have been knocking on his door all week, hoping for some news.

“There are some examples where you have swarms of activity for as long as six years,” he explains, “and it is not always ended by an eruption.”

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Hundreds of tremors have been detected since August

When lava last flowed from Mount Agung in 1963, the measuring instruments they use today were not in place, and so it is impossible to know the signature behaviour of that shows an eruption is coming.

But while some here scrutinise every little piece of scientific data, others are waiting for spiritual signs.

At the Goa Lawah Hindu temple, daily prayers continue at the site of a cave that many Balinese believe is connected to the volcano’s energy.

When I ask Iputi Juliad, one of the temple officials, what people are praying for, he says most just want good luck.

He sees the wait for news from Mount Agung as part of a much longer process. “There is a circle of life, a circle of sacrifice” he explains.

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The majority of Balinese people practise a distinct type of Hinduism associated with the island

When I ask if the seismic activity is seen as a sign that the gods are angry, he is very careful in his reply.

“It is not a punishment, not a punishment,” Mr Juliad repeats, anxious to move on from a sensitive subject.

Instead his focus is on the need to accept fate.

“Maybe an eruption, maybe not, nobody knows.”

The uncertainty is having an impact on everyone on Bali, even if they haven’t been evacuated.

The village of Rendang sits just outside the exclusion zone, and normally the market place would be bustling with the traders selling fruit, flowers and rice.

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Business at Rendang market has plummeted since the volcano warnings were issued

But according to stallholder Ketut Astiningsih, most people have stopped coming and her income has taken a massive hit.

“No one is shopping. Before I could get 400,000 Rupiah ($30 USD) a day, now I can only earn 50,000 Rupiah ($3.7USD)” she explains.

So far the economic consequences for Bali’s tourism industry have not been so grave.

At the hotels, the busloads of holidaymakers keep on coming, reassured it seems by the government’s message that they will be kept well out of harm’s way.

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Tourism at most resorts has not been affected

Of course every tourist has heard or read about the volcano, and many have been contacted by worried relatives back home.

But for most the only concern is whether an eruption would mean they could be marooned here.

As he sipped a beer on the beach at Sanur, Mathew Hunter from Cairns in Australia seemed pretty relaxed by that prospect.

“I could definitely do with a few more weeks here,” he chuckles, before adding that he is far more concerned about the fate of the tens of thousands of evacuees in emergency shelters.

Like most people on Bali, he says he would like to see this waiting game with Mount Agung come to a swift but peaceful conclusion.

“I just hope it has a few little belly rumbles and then life goes on.”

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A brief history of the Earth’s CO2

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Climate change has been described as one of the biggest problems faced by humankind. Carbon dioxide is is the primary driver of global warming. Prof Joanna Haigh from Imperial College London explains why this gas has played a crucial role in shaping the Earth’s climate.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) has been present in the atmosphere since the Earth condensed from a ball of hot gases following its formation from the explosion of a huge star about five billion years ago.

At that time the atmosphere was mainly composed of nitrogen, CO2 and water vapour, which seeped through cracks in the solid surface. A very similar composition emerges from volcanic eruptions today.

As the planet cooled further some of the water vapour condensed out to form oceans and they dissolved a portion of the CO2 but it was still present in the atmosphere in large amounts.

Tomorrow’s World

What is climate change?

The first life forms to evolve on Earth were microbes which could survive in this primordial atmosphere but about 2.5 billion years ago, plants developed the ability to photosynthesise, creating glucose and oxygen from CO2 and water in the presence of light from the Sun.

This had a transformative impact on the atmosphere: as life developed, CO2 was consumed so that by around 20 million years ago its concentration was down to below 300 molecules in every one million molecules of air (or 300 parts per million – ppm).

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Artwork: As life developed on Earth, carbon dioxide levels plummeted

Life on Earth has evolved under these conditions – note that humans did not appear until about 200,000 years ago – and atmospheric CO2 has not exceed that concentration until the industrial revolution brought with it massive emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels: coal and oil.

CO2 plays an important role in climate because it is one of the atmospheric “greenhouse” gases (GHGs) which keep the Earth’s surface about 33 degrees warmer than the -18C temperature it would be at were they not present.

They do this by being fairly transparent to the Sun’s rays, allowing them through to warm the surface, but then absorbing the radiant heat that the surface emits, so trapping it and enhancing the warming. In the present climate the most effective GHGs are water vapour, which is responsible for about two-thirds of the total warming, and CO2 which accounts for about one quarter.

Other gases, including methane, make up the remainder. The atmospheric concentration of water vapour is less than 1% and, with CO2 making up only a few molecules in every ten thousand of air, it may be surprising that they can have such a significant impact on the surface temperature.

They are able to do this, however, because the structure of their molecules makes them especially effective at absorbing heat radiation while the major atmospheric gases, nitrogen and oxygen, are essentially transparent to it.

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This air sampling station at Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii recorded CO2 levels going past 400ppm

The greenhouse effect means that as the atmospheric loading of GHGs increases the surface temperature of the Earth warms. The overall increase in global temperature of about 1C over the past 150 years is almost entirely due to the human activities that have increasing amounts of atmospheric GHGs.

Most significantly, the concentration of CO2 has been rising exponentially (at a rate of about 0.17% per year) since the industrial revolution, due mainly to the combustion of fossil fuels but also to large-scale tropical deforestation which depletes the climate system’s capacity for photosynthesis.

In 2015, it passed 400ppm, more than 40% higher than its pre-industrial value of 280ppm and a level that has not existed on Earth for several million years.

While the basic science of how GHGs warm the Earth is very well understood, there are complications. The climate system responds in various ways which both enhance and ameliorate the effects of these gases.

For example, a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour (before it condenses out in clouds or rain) and because water vapour is a GHG, this increases the temperature rise. Another example: as the oceans warm they are less able to hold CO2 so release it, again with the result the initial warming is enhanced.

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Volcanoes can eject small particles into the upper part of the atmosphere

The global temperature record over the past century does not show the same smooth increase presented by CO2 measurements because the climate is influenced by other factors than GHGs, arising from both natural and human sources. Some particles released into the atmosphere by industrial activities reflect sunshine back to space, tending to cool the planet.

Similarly, large volcanic eruptions can eject small particles into the higher atmosphere, where they remain for up to about two years reducing the sunlight reaching the surface, and temporary dips in global temperature have indeed been measured following major volcanic events.

Changes in the energy emitted by the Sun also affect surface temperature, though measurements of the solar output show this effect to be small on human timescales.

Another important consideration in interpreting global temperatures is that the climate is inherently complex. Energy moves between the atmosphere and oceans in natural fluctuations – an example being El Niño events. This means that we cannot expect an immediate direct relationship between any influencing factor and surface temperature.

All these factors complicate the picture. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that the global temperature rise over the past century is a result of human-produced GHGs, mainly CO2.

While, until the industrial revolution, the CO2 concentration has not exceeded the 280ppm value that last occurred several million years ago, it has gone through periods when it was considerably lower.

Notably, during the ice ages which have occurred roughly every 100,000 years over at least the past half million, drops in global temperature of perhaps 5C have been accompanied by reductions in CO2 concentration to less than 200ppm.

The ice ages, and associated warmer interglacial periods, are brought about by changes in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun which take place on these long timescales. The cooling in response to a decline in solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface results in a greater uptake of CO2 by the oceans and so further cooling due to a weakened greenhouse effect.

This is an entirely natural phenomenon and it is worth noting that such amplification of temperature fluctuations will occur in response to any initiating factor regardless of its source and including human-produced greenhouse gases.

The effects of increasing CO2 are not limited to an increase in air temperature. As the oceans warm they are expanding so producing a rise in sea level, this being exacerbated by the melting of some of the ice present on land near the poles and in glaciers. The warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour resulting in increased occurrences of heavy rainfall and flooding while changes in weather patterns are intensifying droughts in other regions.

If human emissions of GHGs into the atmosphere continue unabated then the global temperature will continue to rise and the associated weather impacts become ever more severe. The UN climate conference in Paris in December 2015, at which 195 nations unanimously agreed on an aim to restrict the temperature rise to less than 2C, or preferably 1.5C, above the pre-industrial “baseline” was an extraordinary political achievement.

To achieve this, however, will require a complete cessation of global CO2 emissions by the second half of this century and, while the world considers how this might be achieved, the crossing of the 400ppm mark in CO2 concentration has been matched by a global warming of 1C.

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Stonehenge builders ‘ate food from Scotland’

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English Heritage/PA

The “army of builders” of Stonehenge ate animals brought from as far away as the north east of Scotland, according to a new exhibition at the famous Neolithic site in Wiltshire.

Analysis of pig and cattle teeth has revealed some of the animals were from as far as 500 miles away.

The “Feast! Food at Stonehenge” exhibition includes the skull of an aurochs, an extinct species of cattle.

It is aimed at allowing visitors to explore diet from 4,500 years ago.

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English Heritage/PA

English Heritage historian Susan Greany said: “Our exhibition explores the important role feasts and food played at Stonehenge.

“Raising the ancient stones was an incredible feat but so too was feeding the army of builders.

“Our exhibition reveals just how this was done.”

The displays reveal research and stories from a “feeding Stonehenge” project, which has been exploring the lives of the people who lived at the nearby settlement of Durrington Walls.

The researchers say thousands of discarded animal bones and teeth excavated at Durrington Walls suggest it was not a typical village but a site of major feasting and ceremony.

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Blue sky thinking

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You can trace the extent of our reliance on air travel to many inventions. The jet engine, perhaps, or the aeroplane itself.

But sometimes inventions need other inventions to unlock their full potential.

For the aviation industry, that story starts with the invention of the death ray, or at least an attempt to design a death ray, back in 1935.

Officials in the British Air Ministry were worried about falling behind Nazi Germany in the technological arms race.

The death ray idea intrigued them: they had been offering a £1,000 prize for anyone who could zap a sheep at a hundred paces. So far, nobody had claimed it.

But should they fund more active research? Was a death ray even possible?

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Harry Grindell Matthews claimed to have invented a death ray in 1923, but couldn’t persuade the British government to buy it

Unofficially, they sounded out Robert Watson Watt, of the Radio Research Station.

And he posed an abstract maths question to his colleague Skip Wilkins.

“Suppose, just suppose,” said Watson Watt to Wilkins, “that you had eight pints of water, 1km [3,000ft] above the ground.

“And suppose that water was at 98F [37C], and you wanted to heat it to 105F.

“How much radio frequency power would you require, from a distance of 5km?”


Skip Wilkins was no fool.

He knew that eight pints was the amount of blood in an adult human, 98F was normal body temperature and 105F was warm enough to kill you, or at least make you pass out, which – if you’re behind the controls of an aeroplane – amounts to much the same thing.

So Wilkins and Watson Watt understood each other, and they quickly agreed the death ray was hopeless: it would take too much power.

But they also saw an opportunity.

Clearly, the ministry had some cash to spend on research. Perhaps Watson Watt and Wilkins could propose some alternative way for them to spend it?

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Robert Watson Watt played a key role in developing radar technology

Wilkins pondered. It might be possible, he suggested, to transmit radio waves and detect – from the echoes – the location of oncoming aircraft long before they could be seen.

Watson Watt dashed off a memo to the Air Ministry’s newly formed Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Defence. Would they be interested in pursuing such an idea? They would indeed.

What Skip Wilkins was describing became known as radar.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations that helped create the economic world.

It is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme’s sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

As Robert Buderi describes in his book The Invention That Changed the World, the Germans, the Japanese and the Americans all independently started work on it too.

Spectacular breakthrough

But by 1940, it was the British who had made a spectacular breakthrough: the resonant cavity magnetron, a radar transmitter far more powerful than its predecessors.

Pounded by Nazi bombers, Britain’s factories would struggle to put the device into production. But America’s factories could.

For months, British leaders plotted to use the magnetron as a bargaining chip for American secrets in other fields.

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Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided Britain should share its radar research with the US

Then Winston Churchill took power, and decided that desperate times called for desperate measures.

Nerve-wracking journey

Britain would simply tell the Americans what they had, and ask for help.

So in August 1940, a Welsh physicist named Eddie Bowen endured a nerve-wracking journey with a black metal chest containing a dozen prototype magnetrons.

First, he took a black cab across London: the cabbie refused to let the clunky metal chest inside, so Bowen had to hope it wouldn’t fall off the roof rack.

Then, he took a long train ride to Liverpool, sharing a compartment with a mysterious, sharply dressed, military-looking man who spent the entire journey ignoring the young scientist and silently reading a newspaper.

Then, he took a ship across the Atlantic. What if it were hit by a German U-boat? The Nazis couldn’t be allowed to recover the magnetrons; two holes were drilled in the crate to make sure it would sink if the boat did. But the boat didn’t.

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MIT Museum

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MIT’s Radiation Laboratory went on to spawn 10 Nobel laureates

The magnetron stunned the Americans. Their research was years off the pace.

President Roosevelt approved funds for a new laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – uniquely, for the American War effort, administered not by the military but a civilian agency.

Industry got involved: the very best American academics were headhunted to join Bowen and his British colleagues.

Patchy rollout

By any measure, MIT’s Radiation Laboratory – known as the Rad Lab – was a resounding success. It spawned 10 Nobel laureates. The radar it developed, detecting planes and submarines, helped to win the War.

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Getty Images

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Radar played a crucial role in helping Britain and her allies win World War Two

But urgency in times of war can quickly be lost in times of peace.

It seems obvious that civilian aviation would need radar too, given how quickly it was expanding.

In 1945, at the War’s end, US domestic airlines carried seven million passengers. By 1955, this figure had risen to 38 million.

And the busier the skies, the more useful radar would be at preventing collisions.

But rollout was slow and patchy. Some airports installed it; many didn’t.

In most airspace, planes weren’t tracked at all. Pilots submitted their flight plans in advance, which should in theory ensure that no two planes were in the same place at the same time.

But avoiding collisions ultimately came down to a four-word protocol: “see and be seen”.

Disastrous crash

On 30 June 1956, two passenger flights departed Los Angeles Airport, three minutes apart: one was bound for Kansas City, one for Chicago. Their planned flight paths intersected above the Grand Canyon, but at different heights.

Then thunderclouds developed. One plane’s captain radioed to ask permission to fly above the storm. The air traffic controller cleared him to go to “1,000 on top” – 1,000ft above cloud cover. See and be seen.

Nobody knows for sure what happened: planes then had no “black box” flight recorders, and there were no survivors. At just before 10:31, air traffic control heard a garbled radio transmission: “Pull up! We are going in…”

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The 1956 crash was a watershed moment in the history of airline safety

From the pattern of the wreckage, strewn for miles across the canyon floor, the planes seem to have approached each other at a 25-degree angle, presumably through a cloud.

Investigators speculated that both pilots had been distracted by trying to find gaps in the clouds, so passengers could enjoy the scenery.

Accidents happen. The question is what risks we’re willing to run for economic benefits.

More from Tim Harford:

Why did we use leaded petrol for so long?

How the smartphone became so smart

Battery bonanza: From frogs’ legs to mobiles and electric cars

How economics killed the antibiotic dream

That question is becoming pertinent again with respect to crowded skies: many people have high hopes for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

They’re already being used for everything from film-making to crop-spraying.

Companies such as Amazon expect the skies of our cities soon to be buzzing with grocery deliveries.

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Getty Images

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There have been occasions of near misses between drones and other aircraft

Civil aviation authorities are grappling with what to approve. Drones have “sense-and-avoid” technology, and it’s pretty good, but is it good enough?

The crash over the Grand Canyon certainly concentrated minds. If technology existed to prevent things like this, shouldn’t we make more effort to use it?

Within two years, what’s now known as the Federal Aviation Administration was born in the United States.

And American skies today are about 20 times busier still. The world’s biggest airports now see planes taking off and landing at an average of nearly twice a minute.

Collisions are absurdly rare, no matter now cloudy the conditions.

That’s thanks to many things, but it’s largely thanks to radar.

Tim Harford writes the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist column. 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme’s sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

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Clothed in green

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For big labels, Milan’s Fall fashion week is a major event in the calendar

We continue to buy new clothes at an incredible rate. How can manufacturers reduce fashion’s environmental footprint?

According to the Valuing Our Clothes report analysing the contents of British wardrobes by the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), we purchased 1,130,000 tonnes of new clothing last year in the UK.

Meanwhile, an estimated £30bn worth of our clothing hangs about gathering dust because we simply don’t have time to wear it all or don’t really like what we’re buying.

This is the epoch of “fast fashion” – a rapid production system that promises quick turnaround of trends and low prices, with a supply chain that snakes through some of the lowest wage economies on Earth.

Fast fashion brands dominate not just high streets, but our wardrobes and represent the three trillion dollar global fashion industry’s greatest success story. But at what cost?

The environmental footprint of today’s fashion industry is extraordinary, making it one of the top five most polluting industries on earth, alongside the petrochemical industry.

Many fashion industry insiders are seriously worried, not necessarily because they fret over greenhouse gases caused by the supply chain, but because there is now so much over-supply of fashion that it’s becoming difficult to have a successful season – particularly as we now have 50 seasons rather than the traditional two of spring/summer and autumn/winter.

Some commentators refer to today’s relentless cycle as a “supermarket of style”.

Cause for optimism?

But according to fashion theory, there are 101 steps to producing a garment from processes such as dyeing and finishing to pressing the garment ready for retail.

If you’re a pessimist that’s 101 chances to introduce pollution, exploitation and planetary degradation. If however you’re an optimist, that’s 101 opportunities to take the impact out of fashion!

So for a new episode of BBC Radio 4′s Costing the Earth, I travelled to Milan Fashion week to meet some disruptors (and definitely optimists) who believe we are on the cusp of a green revolution that can turn the industry around.

At the Green Carpet Fashion Awards Italia, that took place at the famous La Scala opera theatre during Milan Fashion Week it was difficult not to be blinded by the super star wattage pacing the deliberately “green” carpet (manufactured from old fishing nets and carpets).

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Anne-Marie Bullock

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The Green Carpet Fashion Awards honour disruptors who try to reduce fashion’s environmental footprint

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Eco Age

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The awards were held in the magnificent La Scala opera house

But among the stars – Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, Colin Firth, Giorgio Armani were all in attendance – were a number of eco innovation show stoppers.

One model wore an eye catching dress made from apple leather and creating by emerging designer, Matje Benedetti who explained how waste apple pulp from the apple industry is mixed with polyurethane to develop the fibre.

The inclusion of ecological innovative fibres at this level – awards on the night also went to Orange Fibre, a company spinning yarn from citrus waste – points to serious investment in revolutionary new materials.

Silky skills

Case and point is provided by New York biotech start-up Modern Meadows. Here biologists work alongside creative director, Suzanne Lee and fermentation engineers to bio-fabricate leather in the laboratory.

This research and development promises a future where cows will not be required for a handbag and where fashion design intersects with biology.

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Some in the fashion industry are looking at other options for producing fabrics

Meanwhile, Californian start up Bolt Threads has raised millions of dollars to bring its brewed spider silk to market (Stella McCartney has designed with the material) and fashion entrepreneur Miroslava Duma recently launched a $50 million fund and accelerator dedicated to bringing new sustainable fibres and fabrics to market.

In many ways this fibre revolution is long overdue. The fashion industry, for all its claims of being cutting edge, is remarkably conservative when it comes to fabrics. Humanity is almost exclusive clothed in polyester and cotton fibres, both of which have shocking environmental profiles.

This also means that the last significant innovation in materials was polyester, circa 1943!

3D printing

But what we’re also seeing here are levels of and investment in disruptive technology and innovation that have previously been applied to the technology and transport sector, applied to fashion. This is potentially a game changer.

However, we do still need to address the issue of our own over consumption, an area where we’ve made little headway.

But there’s innovation here too: designer Danit Peleg 3D prints her collections and thinks in the foreseeable future we will be able to effectively design out shopping for fashion by 3D printing to order.

It’s another innovation to get excited by and a disruption that could represent an enormous gift to the biosphere given the impact of our consumption. But I’d have to concede it’s early days for all of this innovation.

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The evening was attended by a host of stars of the fashion industry

So amid such headline-grabbing, tech-fuelled disruption is there a more immediate, human, low-tech answer right in front of us?

Psychologist Professor Carolyn Mair has observed that we’re inclined to keep stuff circulating in our wardrobe to which we’ve attached a strong personal narrative.

Mair told me about her favourite example: “a pair of lucky pants”. Many people secretly own a pair to which they attach talismanic significance and they have huge longevity!

Behaviours like these can turn fashion green. WRAP research shows that extending the life of clothes by an extra nine months of active use, in the UK, reduces the carbon, water and waste impacts of that garment by around 20-30%.

Standby then for a wardrobe future where you’ll be able to access cutting edge bio-fabricated novel material that’s been 3D printed in a pair of very lucky pants. That’s what I call fashion forward.

Costing the Earth is available now and on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 11th Oct at 9pm

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Alarm over decline in flying insects

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Losses of rare insects are well documented, but there is little research on insects as a whole

It’s known as the windscreen phenomenon. When you stop your car after a drive, there seem to be far fewer squashed insects than there used to be.

Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this.

Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years.

And the causes are unknown.

“This confirms what everybody’s been having as a gut feeling – the windscreen phenomenon where you squash fewer bugs as the decades go by,” said Caspar Hallmann of Radboud University in The Netherlands.

“This is the first study that looked into the total biomass of flying insects and it confirms our worries.”

The study is based on measurements of the biomass of all insects trapped at 63 nature protection areas in Germany over 27 years since 1989.

The data includes thousands of different insects, such as bees, butterflies and moths.

Scientists say the dramatic decline was seen regardless of habitat, land use and the weather, leaving them at a loss to explain what was behind it.

They stressed the importance of adopting measures known to be beneficial for insects, including strips of flowers around farmland and minimising the effects of intensive agriculture.

And they said there was an urgent need to uncover the causes and extent of the decline in all airborne insects.

“We don’t know exactly what the causes are,” said Hans de Kroon, also of Radboud University, who supervised the research.

”This study shows how important it is to have good monitoring programmes and we need more research right now to look into those causes – so, that has really high priority.”

The finding was even more worrying given that it was happening in nature reserves, which are meant to protect insects and other living species, the researchers said.

”In the modern agricultural landscape, for insects it’s a hostile environment, it’s a desert, if not worse,” said Dr de Kroon.

”And the decline there has been well documented. The big surprise is that it is also happening in adjacent nature reserves.”

The loss of insects has far-reaching consequences for entire ecosystems.

Insects provide a food source for many birds, amphibians, bats and reptiles, while plants rely on insects for pollination.

The decline is more severe than found in previous studies.

A survey of insects at four sites in the UK between 1973 and 2002 found losses at one of the four sites only.

The research is published in the journal Plos One.

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How this camel ended up in Norway

The Saetereng family are trying to live a sustainable lifestyle in Akkarfjord, northern Norway.

And for this, they needed camels.

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© Warren Fyfe