Smog-filled Beijing is building a ‘green necklace’ around the city to curb pollution

March 23, 2017 by  
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Beijing’s pollution problem is no secret – earlier this year the city even created an environmental police squad in a bid to stop smog . Now, the nearby province of Hebei  – which contributes to Beijing’s smog with it’s heavy industry economy – is taking some creative new steps to combat the dangerous health risk that kills millions of people each year. The government is turning to nature to create a “green necklace” of trees and green belts as a natural way to fight pollution. People have recently pointed fingers at Hebei’s heavy industry as a source for some of Beijing’s hazardous pollution . The city has suffered from numerous smog outbreaks, often during the winter, according to Reuters. So the Hebei government announced this week both they and Beijing will plant trees and use wetlands and rivers to create a green necklace to protect the major global city. In a website notice, the government said it will increase forest coverage and set up green belts with the help of river systems, farms, mountains, and wetlands near Beijing. Related: China’s crazy smog-sucking vacuum tower might actually be working Transportation rules for Beijing and border areas are also part of the plan, which according to Reuters is part of a government effort to integrate the city, Hebei, and Tianjin, a major port city just southeast of Beijing. What have been described as fortress economies in the area could have prompted a race to the bottom in environmental law enforcement, according to Reuters. The cross-regional plan could also help address overpopulation – around 22 million people currently live in Beijing – by trying to limit urban development on the city’s borders. Beijing also plans to move some industries and “non-capital functions” out to Hebei, hoping such moves will also help cut pollution and congestion. Limited coal consumption is another piece of the strategy to clear the skies over Beijing, and the city just decommissioned the last coal-fired power plant earlier in March. Via Reuters Images via Bert Oostdijk on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Smog-filled Beijing is building a ‘green necklace’ around the city to curb pollution

World’s biggest river island could be India’s first carbon-neutral sector

March 23, 2017 by  
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Pollution has plagued India recently; a 2017 report showed people are more likely to die from air pollution not in China, as might be your first guess, but in India. But one area of the country could receive a breath of fresh air. Majuli, which is the largest river island in the world, could become the country’s first carbon-neutral district. Majuli, which is found in India’s Assam state, is home to plentiful biodiversity and the neo-Vaishnavite culture, which according to The Guardian is a monotheistic branch of Hinduism. But the river island is in trouble: monsoons and the river absorb homes as land is disappearing rapidly. In the middle of the 19th century, the river island was around 463 square miles, but in 2015 it was just around 154 square miles, and some research says Majuli could be gone in two decades. Related: New Delhi has the worst air pollution of any city on earth “Majuli is facing an existential crisis and therefore initiatives like designating [it] a carbon neutral district and biodiversity heritage site are [the] needs of the hour to preserve its rich heritage and legacy,” said Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. The government aims to make the river island the country’s first carbon-neutral sector by 2020 . Sonowal aims to raise awareness among locals as the area works to become free of pollution. He suggested parents could give a sapling to their children for their birthdays, and plant trees around their homes. He also started an electronic registry to scrutinize the climate impact of any projects proposed for Majuli. A project called the Sustainable Action for Climate Resilient Development, started late last year, will ensure the river island’s infrastructure is low carbon . According to Sonowal’s office as quoted by The Times of India, “Further declaration of Majuli as a Biodiversity Heritage Site, the first in the state, enforces the rich biological biodiversity in the wild, cultivated areas of the island and cultural heritage of Majuli.” Via India Times , The Times of India , and The Guardian Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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World’s biggest river island could be India’s first carbon-neutral sector

Solar-powered skin could help prosthetics imbue sense of touch

March 23, 2017 by  
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Engineers from the University of Glasgow have developed a synthetic skin that could help amputees regain their sense of touch. Clad in graphene, a form of graphite just one atom thick yet tougher than steel, the “electronic skin” even uses photovoltaic cells to harvest power from the sun. “This could allow the creation of an entirely energy-autonomous prosthetic limb,” said Ravinder Dahiya , head of the School of Engineering’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies group and the author of a paper on the subject in the current issue of Advanced Functional Materials . Graphene and solar cells are ideal bedfellows because of the former’s unique physical properties, Dahiya said. The material’s optical transparency, for instance, allows 98 percent of the light that hits its surface to pass through. Graphene is also electrically conductive, which means it can channel power to sensors that measure attributes like temperature, pressure, and texture. “Those measurements mean the prosthetic hand is capable of performing challenging tasks like properly gripping soft materials, which other prosthetics can struggle with,” Dahiya said. Related: Thought-controlled robotic arm returns the sense of touch to amputees Because the new skin requires only 20 nanowatts of power per square centimeter, even the lowest-rated photovoltaic cell on the market will suffice. The energy generated by the skin’s cells cannot be stored at present, but the researchers are exploring ways of diverting any unused energy into batteries that can be drawn from at a later time. Beyond prosthetics, the breakthrough could fuel further advances in robotics—a boon for an increasingly automated world. “Skin capable of touch sensitivity also opens the possibility of creating robots capable of making better decisions about human safety,” Dahiya said. “A robot working on a construction line, for example, is much less likely to accidentally injure a human if it can feel that a person has unexpectedly entered their area of movement and stop before an injury can occur.” + University of Glasgow

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Solar-powered skin could help prosthetics imbue sense of touch

India triples solar power capacity in three years

March 14, 2017 by  
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India’s solar power capacity has exploded over the past three years, growing from just 3,000 megawatts in 2014 to an installed capacity of 10,000 MW in 2017. And that’s just the beginning of the country’s solar ambitions, with a renewable energy target of 175 gigawatts as soon as 2022. India’s government is working to further its ambitious goal already, with more than 14,000 MW worth of solar projects in the works, and another 6 GW set to go to auction soon. India expects to add a total of 8.8 GW of further solar capacity in 2017. As Swarahya reports, this investment in solar power is aimed at addressing a growing demand for electricity in India. Projections peg the country’s power consumption at three times its current rate by 2030. The government’s recent national electricity plan says those needs could reach as much as 360 GW of total generation by 2022. The plan says that by developing renewable technologies like solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectricity, the country can meet the growing demand while reducing environmental impacts. Related: New 2D perskovite cell could slash the cost of solar No doubt, reducing air pollution is also high in the minds of the Indian government. A report issued earlier this year showed that China and India are leading the way in deaths due to air pollution . The two countries experienced a combined 2.2 million deaths due to air pollution in 2015 . Via Swarahya Images via Pixabay and Flickr Creative Commons, jepoirrier

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India triples solar power capacity in three years

Why scientists are transporting ice from a mountain in Bolivia to Antarctica

March 14, 2017 by  
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As climate change imperils glaciers , scientists are scrambling to build a library of ice archives. Ice stores climate data from the past, but if it melts, that valuable information could be lost. A project called Protecting Ice Memory aims to extract ice from the Illimani Mountain in Bolivia and preserve it in Antarctica . The Illimani glacier’s ice can help scientists reconstruct 18,000 years of records. Rising temperatures – especially in the wake of the last El Niño – endanger that data, so in May, a team plans to scale the mountain to obtain three cores, two of which will be sent to a cave at the Concordia Research Station in Antarctica, where annual temperatures are currently around negative 65.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Even if temperatures warm a few degrees, the samples should be safe in this natural freezer. Related: 50,000 new seeds deposited in Arctic Circle’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault It won’t be easy. The Illimani glacier is almost four miles above sea level. The summit isn’t accessible by helicopter, so the scientists must go up on foot. The team will camp partway up Illimani for a few weeks to acclimatize. Then local porters will tote their 4,500 pounds of equipment to the summit, and it will take another few weeks to install all that equipment. It will take two to four days to extract each one of the three ice cores. Then they’ll need to walk back down the mountain to ship the samples out – two to Antarctica and one to France to study. Patrick Ginot, a Protecting Ice Memory leader, told Fast Co.Exist, “We’re really close to losing the site. It’s really an emergency to extract the ice cores before another warm event will happen…The logistics are complicated to bring it to South Antarctica, but once it’s there, it’s safe.” Protecting Ice Memory has already gathered ice from the Col du Dôme glacier in the Alps’ Mount Blanc. The researchers will collaborate with an international team to obtain ice cores from other locations around the world and develop a library of ice archives possessing dozens of samples for future researchers. Via Fast Co.Exist Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Why scientists are transporting ice from a mountain in Bolivia to Antarctica

Smog-fighting music academy proposal uses an air purifier system as effective as 33,000 trees

February 1, 2017 by  
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The Polish city of Krakow has some of the worst air pollution in the world. In hopes of improving the city’s air quality, FAAB Architektura proposed a smog-fighting music academy fitted with a German air purification system that they say works effectively as 33,000 city trees. The music academy was designed as part of a larger “Krakow Music City” masterplan that envisions a largely car-free and environmentally friendly development atop a former military base. Located between Krakow and the Vistula River, the proposed masterplan is designed to blend into the natural landscape with its vernacular wooden lap panel cladding and use of energy-efficient technologies. Around 1,300 square meters of a Green City Solutions -developed air purification product would be embedded in the music academy’s moss-covered rooftops. The special moss culture converts air pollutants into biomass. Related: China’s crazy smog-sucking vacuum tower might actually be working The green-roofed buildings comprise an education wing, concert hall, and small guest building carefully placed around existing trees and designed to immerse students and visitors in nature. Ground heat exchangers would be used to reduce energy use. Rainwater would also be collected in an underground tank and reused wherever possible. FAAB Architektura submitted their proposal to a design competition hosted by Akademia Muzyczna w Krakowie , which will reveal the winning entry on March 31, 2017. + FAAB Architektura Via ArchDaily Images via FAAB Architektura

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Smog-fighting music academy proposal uses an air purifier system as effective as 33,000 trees

EPA upholds clean car standards through 2025

January 16, 2017 by  
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Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency made the official decision to keep in place a set of 2012 fuel efficiency rules requiring car and truck manufacturers to continue improving vehicles through 2025. The ultimate goal of the regulations is to have cars and light-duty trucks on the market that can reach 54.5 miles per gallon. Not only will this help slash carbon emissions and reduce air pollution, it also stands to save Americans an average of $4000 at the pump. The 2012 fuel efficiency standards were initially created with a midterm review in 2017 so regulators could evaluate them for feasibility going forward. Last year we saw the first hints that they might be extended when the EPA and National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration released a technical assessment report that showed automakers could easily meet and exceed the standards in question. In fact, some have already produced vehicles that exceed the requirements. Related: Donald Trump taps fossil fuel-funded climate denier to head EPA This new decision further solidifies President Obama’s commitment to reducing fossil fuel consumption and climate pollution. Over time, these standards are expected to eliminate six million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution, reduce oil use by 12 billion barrels, and save consumers a total $1.7 trillion in fuel costs. Tom Steyer, President of NextGen Climate, praised the decision in a statement on Friday: “By confirming stronger emission standards for cars and trucks, President Obama has taken another historic step to clean our air, protect our health, and keep America moving towards a strong clean energy economy. These standards help address the largest source of harmful greenhouse gas emissions and create a major opportunity for innovation to expand and transform our transportation sector. President Obama’s move will strengthen our economy, create jobs, and save Americans money at the pump. We will work to hard to defend this progress and block the Trump Administration’s attempts to put corporate interests ahead of American interests.” Via Environment New York Images via Wikipedia and Pixabay

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World’s first floating city one step closer to reality in French Polynesia

January 16, 2017 by  
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San Francisco’s Seasteading Institute has signed a memorandum of understanding with the French Polynesian government that brings the world’s first floating city closer to reality. The Seasteading Institute first established in 2008 has long sought to implement their vision of self-sustaining communities that can withstand rising sea levels, partnering with DeltaSync in 2013 to build a pilot project in The Netherlands . The new agreement could see construction on a full-blown city begin in the South Pacific as early as 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDqtOPNLwMs The Seasteading Institute’s executive director Randolph Hencken told Pacific Beat the recent agreement with the French Polynesian government comprises a major turning point for their organization. The memorandum of understanding ensures all due diligence regarding the economic and environmental impact of such a project will be undertaken. Also, over the next two years, a new legal framework will be created to protect the pioneering initiative. “Mr Hencken said the detail of political autonomy needed to be negotiated and considered under the sovereignty of French Polynesia and France, of which French Polynesia is a territory,” Pacific Beat wrote. Mr Hencken said the Pacific islands appealed to the institute because of its sheltered waters. Building in the open ocean would be possible, he said, but not economically feasible. Related: 5 Pacific islands have already disappeared because of climate change “If we can be behind a reef break,” he said, “then we can design floating platforms that are sufficient for those waters at an affordable cost.” If by the end of 2018 the floating island city remains appealing to the French Polynesian government and construction proceeds in 2019, Hencken hopes eventually hundreds of thousands of people will move there. As melting ice makes seas swell, threatening a wave of climate refugees from low-lying areas, Hencken said floating cities can provide sovereignty and resilience. “So much of the world — places like Kiribati and many of the islands of French Polynesia — are threatened by rising sea levels,” Mr Hencken told the paper . “We are planning to spin off a new industry of floating islands that will allow people to stay tethered to their sovereignty as opposed to having to flee to other countries. + The Seasteading Institute Via ABC Images via The Seasteading Institute

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World’s first floating city one step closer to reality in French Polynesia

Volkswagen to pay $4.3 billion to US following emissions scandal

January 11, 2017 by  
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The long legal saga over Volkswagen ’s attempts to cheat US emissions tests seems to finally be reaching an end. Not only has one of the company’s major executives been arrested , but the company has negotiated a $4.3 billion draft settlement with the US Justice Department as part of a civil and criminal settlement. The company also plans to plead guilty to criminal misconduct. The amount of the settlement still needs the approval of a judge before it’s finalized. While it’s far short of the $15 billion settlement previously reported in October, it appears that President Barack Obama is trying to rush the final settlement through before he leaves office. With incoming President Donald Trump’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge the existence of climate change or the human health impacts of air pollution, it’s probably for the best that the suit is resolved as soon as possible. Related: VW forced to recall nearly 500,000 cars for circumventing smog emission standards The scandal began in 2015, when the company admitted to installing software in diesel vehicles intended to cheat emissions tests. In early 2016, the Justice Department accused the automaker of purposely violating the Clean Air Act and filed suit against the company. Hundreds of thousands of cars in the US were affected, and as many as 11 million worldwide might have similar software installed. Over the next two years, VW will be required to buy back or fix “dirty” US vehicles. There are still a number of unresolved lawsuits from US investors and 20 separate US states, as well. More individual executives may still end up facing charges, a Justice Department source stated to Reuters on Tuesday. The previous CEO of the company, Martin Winterkorn, was forced to resign as a result of the scandal in 2015. Via Reuters Images via Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons

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Volkswagen to pay $4.3 billion to US following emissions scandal

London breaks legal limits on air pollution in just five days in 2017

January 9, 2017 by  
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London isn’t the best place to take a deep breath right now. Lambeth’s Brixton Road broke annual air pollution limits in only five days in 2017, with other areas likely to follow. Campaigners and even a spokesperson for Mayor Sadiq Khan are calling for action to curb dangerous pollution in the city. The law in London is that hourly levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) must not pass 200 micrograms per cubic meter more than 18 times in one year, but Brixton Road already broke those limits. The Lambeth location won’t be the last; Oxford Street, the Strand, and Kings Road in Chelsea are three other pollution hotbeds, and The Guardian said Putney High Street exceeded the hourly levels in 2016 more than a staggering 1,200 times. Related: New Delhi has the worst air pollution of any city on earth Diesel vehicles are the “single biggest source” of London’s air pollution, according to Greenpeace . The activist organization recently flew a masked Mary Poppins over Parliament to call attention to the dire issue that puts children and adults’ health at risk. They noted air pollution isn’t just concentrated in London: “Last year, people in 169 different places in the UK – from Calderdale to Caerphilly – breathed illegal levels of pollution.” ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews, who resides in Brixton, told The Guardian , “This is another shameful reminder of the severity of London’s air pollution and shows why the mayor has rightly made tackling it a top priority. It is absolutely essential that he now delivers on his promises and that the national government back him to the hilt.” It’s time for London to clean up its air, and Mayor Sadiq Khan has said he’ll double funding, spending £875 million – or over $1 billion – over five years to combat the issue. Let’s hope that money’s well spent. Via The Guardian Images via DAVID HOLT on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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London breaks legal limits on air pollution in just five days in 2017

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