The South Pole is warming 3 times faster than anywhere else

July 2, 2020 by  
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The South Pole is getting warmer — in fact, this remote location is experiencing warming up to three times faster than the rest of the planet. Researchers are nearly certain this disturbing trend is due to human activity. Kyle Clem, a research fellow in climate science, explained the trend in an article for The Guardian . “My colleagues and I argue these warming trends are unlikely the result of natural climate variability alone,” he wrote. “The effects of human-made climate change appear to have worked in tandem with the significant influence natural variability in the tropics has on Antarctica’s climate. Together they make the south pole warming one of the strongest warming trends on Earth.” Related: New study sheds light on Antarctic sea ice mystery Because the icy landmass covers 5.4 million square miles, there is a lot of temperature variability.  Scientists have tracked temperatures since 1957 at the planet’s southernmost weather observatory, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station. On the Antarctic plateau deep in the South Pole, the coldest region on Earth, average temperatures can dip to -60 degrees Celsius in winter and rise to -20 degrees Celsius in summer. Clem and his colleagues have focused on temperatures in the past 30 years. They concluded that between 1989 and 2018, the South Pole has warmed by 1.8 degrees Celsius. Since 2000, it’s been warming more rapidly. Scientists already knew that the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica were getting warmer. In fact, Esperanza, Argentina’s research station on the Antarctic Peninsula’s northern tip, reached a new high of 18.2 degrees Celsius, or 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit, this February. But scientists are especially alarmed to learn of the temperature increase deep in the continent’s remote, mountainous interior. Clem and his colleagues analyzed more than 200 climate model simulations to gauge human influence on climate change. “These climate models show recent increases in greenhouse gases have possibly contributed around 1? of the total 1.8? of warming at the south pole,” he wrote. Stormy weather and low-pressure systems around the Antarctic Peninsula in the Weddell Sea partially account for the increased temperatures. But the combination of weather and greenhouse gases are likely the problem. “The observed warming exceeds 99.9% of all possible trends without human influence — and this means the recent warming is extremely unlikely under natural conditions, albeit not impossible,” Clem wrote. Via The Guardian Image via Jodeng

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The South Pole is warming 3 times faster than anywhere else

Wellesleys Global Flora greenhouse can generate all of its own energy

July 2, 2020 by  
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Boston-based architecture firm Kennedy & Violich Architecture has flipped the script for energy-intensive greenhouses with the net-zero energy Global Flora, a sustainable botanical facility for Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Engineered to exceed the Net Zero Water & Energy requirements of the Living Building Challenge, Global Flora will follow passive solar principles and draw on geothermal energy.  The botanical facility will also be integrated with an open-source Interactive Sensor Platform to allow people to gather and share real-time data about the plants, including their soil, water and air conditions. The Global Flora botanical facility builds on the legacy of Dr. Margaret Ferguson, who, in the 1920s, emphasized plant biology as a central part of science education and encouraged Wellesley College students to “listen to” plants and learn through hands-on interdisciplinary experiences. The new greenhouse will serve as a botany lab and “museum” for the college and will also be available and free to the public. The gathered data from the open-source Interactive Sensor Platform will be accessible to public schools and international research universities as well. Related: Resurrected greenhouse to honor father of modern genetics Located next to the existing visitor center, Global Flora will comprise Dry and Tropical biomes separated by interior ETFE partitions. Unlike most greenhouses, Wellesley College’s botanical facility is almost completely closed off on the north side with a gabion wall filled with local and reclaimed stone to eliminate almost all heat loss through surfaces that don’t receive direct sunlight. Energy recovery units, geothermal-powered radiant heating and cooling and vertical water features help create local microclimates and keep energy use to a minimum. The greenhouse also includes stormwater retention tanks. In addition to the Dry and Tropical biomes that cover a variety of plant habitats from deserts to mangroves, Global Flora includes a seasonal Camellia Pavilion on the northeast side that houses the college’s iconic Durant Camellia tree, which is over 140 years old. + Kennedy & Violich Architecture Images via Kennedy & Violich Architecture

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Wellesleys Global Flora greenhouse can generate all of its own energy

Consumer Reports finds high arsenic level in Whole Foods bottled water

June 26, 2020 by  
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New Consumer Reports tests determined that some bottled water manufactured by Whole Foods contains potentially dangerous arsenic levels. Starkey Spring Water, which Whole Foods has been selling since 2015, contained at least triple the amount of arsenic as every other brand tested. Arsenic levels in the Starkey Spring Water ranged from 9.49 to 9.56 parts per billion. While this is within federal regulations stating that manufacturers must keep arsenic levels at or below 10 PPB, Consumer Reports experts believe that level is too high to keep the public safe. Related: EWG warns ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating US drinking water at levels far worse than expected Consumer Reports and The Guardian worked together on a major project about Americans’ access to safe and affordable water . They found that bottled water is not always safer than tap water and noted irregularities between the ways in which the EPA regulates municipal water and the FDA oversees bottled water. While states can set individual standards for tap water, they have no jurisdiction over bottled water’s contaminants. For example, New Jersey and New Hampshire lowered their acceptable arsenic levels to 5 PPB to protect children. However, that rule only applies to tap water. “I think the average consumer would be stunned to learn that they’re paying a lot of extra money for bottled water, thinking that it’s significantly safer than tap, and unknowingly getting potentially dangerous levels of arsenic,” said Erik Olson, senior strategic director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), according to The Guardian . Arsenic levels of 5 PPB or more were associated with children’s IQs measuring five or six points lower than average, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Environmental Health . Whole Foods has already faced a couple of lawsuits over Starkey Spring Water’s arsenic level, including one from a stage IV cancer survivor who said his condition makes him keenly aware of contaminants, and he wouldn’t have bought the bottled water had he known about the high amount of arsenic. An FDA spokesperson stressed that because arsenic occurs naturally, “it is not possible to remove arsenic entirely from the environment or food supply.” However, you may want to rethink your bottled water brand in favor of one with lower levels. Or, better yet, if you live in a place with good tap water, save some money and skip the ocean-bound plastic bottles. + Consumer Reports Via The Guardian Image via Suzy Hazelwood

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Consumer Reports finds high arsenic level in Whole Foods bottled water

This net-zero home is integrated into the slopes of Carmel Valley

June 26, 2020 by  
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Tehama 2 in Carmel-by-the-Sea by Studio Schicketanz is a net-zero home built using reclaimed wood and local stone. We caught up with Mary Ann Schicketanz to talk about some of the more sustainable features to this project and her studio. In an effort to incorporate the agricultural, architectural tradition of the coastal area, the home was designed in response to the owner’s desire for a traditional environment without artificiality. The main wooden structure is supported by a solid, plaster base, a contrast meant to mirror the ground and the sky. There are PV panels incorporated into the roof of the guest wing, and the generated energy is stored in Tesla Powerwalls. Schicketanz gives us a closer look into all of the sustainable efforts that went into this project. Related: Modern farmhouse targets net-zero energy in Vermont Inhabitat: Your firm designed the first LEED-certified project in Big Sur and the first LEED-certified project in Carmel. Why is sustainability so important to you? Schicketanz: “I believe the future of our planet will depend on everyone, in each industry sector, to work toward a lifecycle economy. We need to stop digging up or pumping up raw materials for production and building. Ultimately, this leads to waste and pollutes the planet after we are done consuming. While we are working toward a healthier world, building LEED-certified is a start.” Inhabitat: What about taking environmental impact into account during construction? Schicketanz: “The biggest issue we face is construction waste , and it is terribly hard to move our industry toward a little-to-no-waste process.” Inhabitat: Can you tell us about some of the more sustainable and eco-friendly features to Tehama 2? Schicketanz: “We used reclaimed wood and materials for the ceiling as well as human-made materials such as concrete floor tiles throughout instead of stone pavers. In this particular job we were striving for, and achieved, a Net Zero rating , which even included charging stations for two electric vehicles.” Inhabitat: Are there any aesthetic features to the house that you are especially proud of? Schicketanz: “Yes, we developed an asymmetrical all-timber structure (inspired by the vernacular architecture of Carmel Valley) allowing for a very deep porch without losing any views toward the Santa Lucia Mountain Range.” Inhabitat: What did you find most rewarding about this particular project? Schicketanz: “I love how the structure is integrated and interlocks into the landscape.” Inhabitat: Why should people invest in a Net Zero home? Schicketanz: “Aside from being extremely good for the environment, another obvious reason is that after a very short time, homeowners no longer have any costs to operate their homes.” + Studio Schicketanz Photography by Tim Griffith Photography via Studio Schicketanz

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This net-zero home is integrated into the slopes of Carmel Valley

Hydropower demand is damaging Indigenous lands

June 23, 2020 by  
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Many U.S. states are setting renewable energy goals, turning to hydropower as a cheap source of cleaner energy. But for Inuit hunters in far eastern Canada , Americans’ demand for cheap, renewable energy, particularly in the form of hydropower, is ruining traditional hunting grounds. The remote community of Rigolet on the northern coast of Labrador is downstream from Muskrat Falls, a dam on the Churchill River and an important drainage point for the province’s biggest watershed. The state-owned company Nalcor built the dam and has another — which would produce thrice the electricity — in the works. Most of the energy is exported to the U.S. Related: Fish-friendly whirlpool turbine makes hydropower green again But the Nunatsiavut government, which represents the area’s 2,700 Inuit people, said the dams disrupt ecosystems and expose residents to increased amounts of naturally occurring mercury. Flooding land unlocks mercury from the ground. Once it gets into the water, bacteria transforms it into methylmercury, a neurotoxin that gets into fish, waterbirds and seals as well as the people who eat these animals. The Inuit community living in Labrador already have higher methylmercury concentrations than non-Indigenous Canadians. “When they poison the water , they poison us,” said David Wolfrey, Rigolet conservation officer. These issues are all too common among First Nations people in Canada. A 2016 survey found that of 22 planned Canadian hydropower projects, all were within 60 miles of one or more Indigenous communities. Many U.S. states have announced ambitious energy goals in the last few years, including Maine, Vermont, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and California. Lacking ways to generate this much energy locally, they’ve turned their gaze toward Canada. The northern neighbor of the U.S. is second only to China in hydropower production. Canada already has 900 large-scale dams which supply about 60% of Canada’s domestic energy needs, and the country has big plans for tripling output and damming the last wild rivers. Nalcor and other dam-building companies have offered Indigenous populations money and support for local community initiatives. But residents are divided, and many will never be won over, such as Alex Saunders, an Inuit citizen who has been treated for methylmercury poisoning. “Think about what you’re buying here,” he said, as reported in The Guardian. “You’re buying the misery from the local people of northern Canada. That’s not a good thing.” Via The Guardian Image via Pixabay

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Hydropower demand is damaging Indigenous lands

Environmental racism in America

June 22, 2020 by  
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The stretch of land along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is riddled with petrochemical plants spewing smoke into the air. Huge pipes pump chemicals above and below the highway to load boats in the river. This former plantation land’s modern nicknames are Cancer Alley and Death Alley because of the pollution-induced illness rife in the riverside communities. People familiar with environmental racism won’t be surprised to learn that Saint James Parish, in the heart of this area, is predominately Black. This is some of America’s most polluted air, with eight major industrial plants in 103 square miles and a new, enormous plastic project on the horizon. The cancer rate here is 700 times the national average. All around the country — and, in fact, the world — toxic plants are placed by the least affluent and most vulnerable populations, most of whom are people of color. These low-income communities tend to have the least political power to keep pollution generators out of their backyards. The term environmental racism Environmental racism is not a new concept. But with the Black Lives Matter movement thrusting all forms of racial inequity into the public eye, it’s time to take a look at what it means and how we can create change. Related: Low-income housing in flood zones traps families in harm’s way Benjamin F. Chavis, Junior, former president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), defined the term in his 1983 work, “ Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States .” The NNPA is an association for Black-owned newspaper publishers. Chavis described environmental racism as deliberately targeting communities of color for siting toxic waste facilities that expose people to life-threatening pollutants and poisons. Chavis acknowledged different types of racism, but noted, “environmental racism is a particularly insidious and intentional form of racism that negatively affects millions of Black, Native Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans, as well as people of color around the world.” Environmental racism means that people of color feel a disproportionate impact from things like toxic waste dumps, pollution and chemical plants that expose them to pollutants, known carcinogens and contaminated water at a much higher rate than more affluent White neighborhoods. The problem is intensified by officials failing to enforce environmental laws, for example, the thousands of Black children exposed to lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan in the last decade while officials assured everybody the water was safe. Types of environmental threats that communities of color face Whether they are threats to the water , air or land, people of color face them all. According to a 2012 NAACP study , communities of color breathe in 40% more polluted air than White neighborhoods. Much of this is from coal plants. While only 13% of the U.S. population is Black, 68% live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. That’s 12% higher than for White people. Associated problems include higher risks of birth defects, heart attacks and asthma. Black communities suffer from unusually high levels of asthma. Black women are 20% likelier to have asthma than non-Hispanic White people, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health website. In 2014, Black people were almost three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than White people. Children are hit especially hard, with a much higher rate of asthma-related hospitalization and death. In addition to coal plants, low-income Black communities are disproportionately located near other types of toxic sites. In rural areas, this could be farm runoff. “Swine CAFOs are disproportionately located in black and brown communities and regions of poverty,” stated a study by researchers at School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations, are an innocuous-sounding euphemism for animals packed tightly together, living sad and squalid lives around enormous manure lagoons. People who live near these air- and water-polluting operations often suffer from eye, nose and throat irritation, depression, stress and decreased quality of life. In North Carolina, CAFOs center on pigs. In California’s San Joaquin Valley, dairy farm waste, including pesticides , has upped the asthma rates in Black and Brown communities. Environmental racism and COVID-19 The novel coronavirus has preyed especially hard on people of color. Patients with underlying conditions are up to 12 times as likely to die of COVID-19 than those that were healthy before contracting the novel coronavirus. A CDC report released June 15 cited heart disease, diabetes and chronic lung disease as the most common underlying conditions contributing to COVID-19 deaths. Black communities have a much higher rate of many conditions that predispose people to dying of COVID-19. These include diabetes, asthma, tobacco exposure, strokes, high blood pressure and cancer. Racism leads to and aggravates all of these conditions, from breathing in more pollution and experiencing more stress in the first place, to having less access to healthcare for early diagnosis and treatment of illness. Via Food is Power and The Guardian Images via Pixabay

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Research facility minimizes its carbon footprint to attract international talent

June 16, 2020 by  
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Spain’s coastal city of Badalona has recently welcomed the Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image, a new research facility designed to meet high standards of energy efficiency and sustainability. Pilar Calderon and Marc Folch of Barcelona-based architecture firm Calderon-Folch Studio teamed up with Pol Sarsanedas and landscape designer Lluís Corbella to create a site-specific building that would offer the highest levels of comfort as a means to attract and retain both local and international talent. Embedded into the landscape, the compact facility was constructed with a prefabricated wooden framework and clad in larch to blend in with the nearby forest. Because the Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image is located on sloped terrain, the architects placed the portion of the building containing the research floors partly underground to take advantage of thermal mass for stable climatic conditions year-round. Building into the landscape has also allowed the architects to create two access levels: one used as a general entrance for the administrative area, and the other for logistic purposes for the scientific-technical area. The separation of areas by levels optimizes building operations and adheres to the strict requirements of biological containment. Related: Green-roofed Honey Bee Research Centre targets LEED Gold “The new Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image holds a research center of the first order,” the designers explained in a project statement. “A research facility based on ethical research criteria, technical and functional complexity, and comfort features that have been resolved in an efficient and sustainable way that strongly considers its relationship with the environment.” Natural materials, large glazed openings and naturalized exterior spaces visually tie the research facility to the environment. Eco-friendly considerations were also taken with the use of a modular , lightweight wooden framework with loose-fill cellulose and structural insulated panels that minimize material waste. Moreover, the building follows passive solar principles. The research facility is equipped with high-performance energy and air-flow recycling technologies as well as a 250-square-meter rainwater collection tank for sanitary and irrigation purposes. + Calderon-Folch Studio Photography by José Hevia via Calderon-Folch Studio

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Research facility minimizes its carbon footprint to attract international talent

These modular plywood sanctuaries are completely customizable

June 16, 2020 by  
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As more and more people around the world adjust to remote employment and socially distanced hobbies, Equals Architecture is offering a way to add sustainability to a customizable personal space suitable for work or play. Enter the Equals Sanctuary, a modular, prefabricated space that customers can tailor to their exact work or life requirements. Multifunctional and installed onsite, each Equals Sanctuary is made-to-order. The design calls for multiple core elements called “loops,” each fabricated using five sheets of plywood via a machine that leaves only about 2% waste. The loops can then be fitted into eight different options. To add another element of customization, the sanctuaries can be left without insulation, or insulation can be added between the plywood ribs using sustainable materials such as expanded cork, hemp batts or recycled denim. The exterior finishes are made of rubber, reused waterproof canvas and corrugated steel. Customers can choose between a number of face options as well, depending on the use, site and function. Window options range from standard size to full-height. Related: Prefab eco-pods offer luxury lodging in any environment No matter the type of layout, Equals Architecture will only use FSC-certified, sustainable and recycled materials . Necessary structural plates and ground anchors are used in place of invasive concrete foundations whenever possible. According to the architects, the main goal is to make each structure entirely reconstructable to maintain longevity. Each sanctuary will be easy to move, adapt and reconfigure throughout its lifespan. Equals Sanctuaries can be viewed, customized and purchased on the architects’ website in the form of flat-pack DIY kits delivered straight to the chosen site. If customers don’t want to build it themselves, they can opt for an onsite team to build it for them. There are four presets to start with — Vitae, Officium, Studio and Tabernam — each designed to appeal to a distinct target audience. + Equals Architecture Images via Equals Architecture

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These modular plywood sanctuaries are completely customizable

Amazon deforestation increased by 34% in 2019

June 12, 2020 by  
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Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has continued to be a thorn in the side of efforts to curb global warming . According to data released by Brazil’s space research agency INPE, 10,129 square kilometers of the rainforest were cleared between August 2018 and July 2019. Initially, INPE had reported that the deforested area in the same period was 9,762 square kilometers. In a recent report by the Brazilian government, adjustments have been made and the actual size of deforested land has now been revealed to be 29% greater than originally reported and 34% more than the same time frame the year prior. These figures pose a serious threat to the rainforest , given that the rate of deforestation has increased by 34% from the previous year. Even though Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro claims to be focused on saving the largest rainforest in the world, the figures show otherwise. In just one year, forest area equal to the size of Lebanon has been cleared. Related: Climate change, deforestation lead to younger, shorter trees Although there have been efforts to control deforestation in the Amazon, the Brazilian government keeps failing to meet its targets. The new figures that were reported on Tuesday, June 8, 2020 now present the highest level of deforestation since 2008. The newly revised data by INPE should serve as a wake-up call to the Brazilian government and all parties that are working to control deforestation. The Amazon covers about 60% of Brazil and is the largest rainforest on Earth; protecting the Amazon is important not only to Brazil but to the entire world. Environmental advocates and activists are now blaming the Brazilian president for allowing loggers and ranchers to grab forested land. Although he claims to have implemented measures to control logging, Bolsonaro has encouraged Brazilians to erect developments on protected areas of the Amazon. According to monthly data released by INPE, deforestation has continued to worsen in 2020 even during COVID-19 . INPE data shows that deforestation has increased by 55% between January and April compared to a similar period in 2019. Via Reuters Image via ESA

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Amazon deforestation increased by 34% in 2019

We are in the sixth mass extinction, and it’s accelerating

June 4, 2020 by  
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The Earth is in the midst of a sixth mass extinction , and it’s picking up speed. New research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences updates the threats first detailed in a 2015 study. Species are disappearing faster than previously thought, the new study says. The cascading effect of collapsing ecosystems is making the planet steadily less habitable for people as well. “When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system,” said Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, co-author of the paper, in a press release from Stanford University. “The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to climate disruption to which it is linked.” Related: Trump administration moves to weaken Endangered Species Act amid global extinction risks The researchers analyzed numbers and distribution of critically endangered species. They determined that 515 species of terrestrial vertebrates have fewer than 1,000 individuals left, meaning they’re very close to extinction . Nearly half of those species have fewer than 250 surviving members, mostly due to human encroachment. The first five mass extinctions in the last 450 million years each destroyed 70% to 95% of animal, plant and microorganism species . Huge changes to the environment, such as asteroids, volcanic eruptions or depletion of oceanic oxygen caused the first five. The sixth, the study finds, is our doing. Almost all loss of species has happened since humans developed agriculture , about 11,000 years ago. Back then, there were only about a million of us. Now we number 7.7 billion, and that number is growing fast . “As our numbers have grown, humanity has come to pose an unprecedented threat to the vast majority of its living companions,” the study says. According to the study, it is a “moral imperative” for scientists to do whatever they can to stop extinction via the following suggestions: the International Union for Conservation of Nature should immediately classify any species with fewer than 5,000 remaining members as critically endangered; governments and institutions should elevate conservation of endangered species to a global emergency; illegal wildlife trade must stop now and the ban must be strictly enforced; and alternative food must be provided to low-income communities, especially in Africa, who depend on bush meat for survival. There’s no time to lose. “There is no doubt, for example, that there will be more pandemics if we continue destroying habitats and trading wildlife for human consumption as food and traditional medicines,” the study warns. “It is something that humanity cannot permit, as it may be a tipping point for the collapse of civilization.” + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Via Stanford News Service Image via Alex Strachan

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We are in the sixth mass extinction, and it’s accelerating

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