Swim, baby, swim
Offshore oil rigs are ugly symbols of environmental destruction, dredging up climate-altering fossil fuels and occasionally spilling oil everywhere. So each one that is decommissioned is a win for the climate — and, as it turns out, for the marine ecosystems that live right beneath them.
That’s because abandoned offshore oil rigs, properly maintained, often evolve into artificial reefs to become some of the world’s most productive fish habitats. Scientists say their towering pylons make perfect resting, feeding and breeding grounds for fish that are often drifting by looking for just such a place. For some species the rigs are even better than natural reefs. One study found 400,000 critically endangered bocaccio rockfish at six reef platforms off the coast of California. “We didn’t see that at natural reefs,” said one researcher.
From Southeast Asia to West Africa, such structures have helped to stabilize threatened fish populations. But how to ensure these massive artificial reef systems remain healthy? In most cases, oil companies are allowed to leave the rigs in place on the condition that they pay the costs of maintaining them. The companies tend to take this deal, since these maintenance costs are still usually cheaper than dismantling. “We’re trying to help the general public understand that conservation isn’t always just about saving the whales,” said one scientist.
Feed the people
A New York City initiative that many residents have never even heard of may be one of its most promising efforts to support sustainable food systems.
The Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP), implemented citywide in 2019, directs every municipal institution to buy food that aligns with a specific set of values, including animal welfare, nutrition, sustainability and supporting local economies. In New York, this represents some $500 million in annual spending by schools, prisons, hospitals and other institutions. The potential impacts are enormous — for instance, if New York replaced just 15 percent of its meat purchases with plant-based purchases, it would take 100 million pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
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A recent report takes a look at how the GFPP has performed so far. As a newly implemented program, the challenges have been significant. For instance, 77 percent of the city’s total spending on food met nutritional goals, but only 15 percent of it was locally sourced. Civil Eats sees reason for optimism, however. New programs take time to ramp up, and the city’s new mayor is passionate about plant-based foods and has pledged to accelerate the GFPP. “The impact of moving this much food spend toward an equitable, sustainable and healthy food system is huge,” said a director of the program.
A new report from the American Cancer Society finds that the cancer death rate in the U.S. has plummeted by 32 percent since 1991. That translates to 3.5 million fewer cancer deaths during that period. The study credits new treatments, better access to screening and fewer people smoking.
Countries across the world have shown similar declining cancer fatality rates, even as cancer cases themselves have risen. One recent study found an overall drop of one percent in the risk of dying of cancer across both high-income and low-income countries. Cancer remains the second leading cause of death after cardiovascular disease.