SoilKit wins recognition through Lowe’s small businesses program

February 22, 2021 by  
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Through the “Making It…With Lowe’s” program, entrepreneurs around the U.S. had the opportunity to showcase their products and innovative ideas. Three winners were picked out of many products and various entries into the program. One of these standouts is SoilKit, and the story behind the kit is just as interesting as the product itself. SoilKit is a soil test kit created by fifth-generation farmer Christina Woerner McInnis. This Alabama resident used her grandmother’s knowledge of soil health and modern soil chemistry to create a kit that will help aspiring gardeners keep their soil healthy. McInnis spent her younger years working on her grandmother’s farm, which dates to 1908. She decided to help everyday homeowners and gardeners expand their soil knowledge and make it easier for them to achieve soil health. Enter SoilKit, a comprehensive product that allows anyone to gather and submit a soil sample for expert lab reports and extensive information about the soil. Because she found a way to simplify a process that has been mostly performed by scientists and serious soil enthusiasts in the past, Lowe’s offered her a top supplier marketing development package and a Small Business Grant for $5,000. Consumers can purchase SoilKit right now. Making It…With Lowe’s is a $55 million program designed to support small businesses and provide opportunities. Lowe’s has also released a three-part YouTube series showcasing the three standout small business owners who recently submitted their impressive ideas. “Lowe’s began nearly a century ago as a small-town hardware store, and we know small business is the backbone of our economy ,” said Marvin R. Ellison, Lowe’s president and CEO. “Our Making It…With Lowe’s program attempts to give these diverse small business owners a shot at the American Dream – and inspire others through their stories.” Small businesses that are at least 51% minority-owned, woman-owned, veteran-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned, disability-owned or LGBTQ-owned are encouraged to apply to the  Making It…With Lowe’s program. + Lowe’s Images via Lowe’s

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SoilKit wins recognition through Lowe’s small businesses program

Waste: an environmental justice issue we should be talking about

January 6, 2021 by  
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Waste: an environmental justice issue we should be talking about Deonna Anderson Wed, 01/06/2021 – 01:30 Remember when Flint, Michigan garnered international attention because water in the city was making people sick ? Well, there are communities like that around the country and the world. And while Flint gained attention because of its failing infrastructure, there are places where water and sewage infrastructure is absent. “Too many Americans live without any affordable means of cleanly disposing of the waste from their toilets, and must live with the resulting filth,” writes Catherine Coleman Flowers, an environmental health advocate, in her book “Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret,” published by The New Press in November. (Read an excerpt here .) “They lack what most Americans take for granted: the right to flush and forget,” Flowers continues. For nearly two decades, Flowers, a recent awardee of the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant ,” has been bringing attention to failing water and waste sanitation infrastructure in rural areas. I spoke with Flowers in mid-December over Skype. Below is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity. Deonna Anderson: You are the woman mentioned in the title of your book, which chronicles your life and also your work as an environmental justice champion. For those who have not read the book, can you give an overview of what the “dirty secret” is in the title? Catherine Coleman Flowers: The dirty secret is that there are many Americans living with waste that comes from their toilets, whether it is through straight piping , in which [waste from] the toilets comes straight out on top of the ground or into a pit, or whether it is through a failing septic system, which means that when it fails, there’s sewage from their homes, usually from their toilets, of course. I just want to be graphic because that’s what it is.  And it ends up either out on top of the ground or comes back into the home, sometimes into their bathtubs. Or they’re part of these community systems that are supposed to be managed but were built in a way in which they were not sustainable. And consequently, people have sewage coming back into their homes or into their yards. Anderson: Throughout “Waste,” you write about the tours that you take people on to see all the waste and the lack of infrastructure in Lowndes County, Alabama. And that’s where you grew up. First, how many people have you taken on these tours over the years? Flowers: That’s a good question… In some cases, it would be one or two people and in other cases, there may be groups. So I would say on the small number, maybe close to 100 people, at least, that I’ve actually taken around to see this firsthand over the years, because I’ve been doing this since 2002. Catherine Coleman Flowers guides Senator Cory Booker through Lowndes County, Alabama, as part of his 2017 environmental justice tour.  Photo courtesy of Catherine Coleman Flowers.   Anderson: What has been the tangible impact of people going to see what happens in Lowndes County? Flowers: Well, first of all, this is not on a lot of people’s radar. When I wanted to talk about this before, I couldn’t get media interest. I was told that this was not sexy, nobody would be interested in it. But since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to speak before Congress, active members of Congress, the Senate, who’ve actually come to Lowndes County to see for themselves and have been working on policies to try to address this issue in rural communities. I had the opportunity to visit Geneva, because the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty came to Lowndes County and made it a major global issue. The first real coverage we get from it from a newspaper actually came from The Guardian . So now there are other people that are interested as well. And the fact that I can even write a book about it. … I’m thankful to The New Press for giving me an opportunity to tell this story. I’m excited that we have seen and have heard from people from around the country that are indeed interested in knowing about this, and also people that are interested in what the potential solutions are. Anderson: That’s actually a really good segue to my next question. Towards the end of the book, you talk about how solutions haven’t really come fast enough. And I’m curious if there’s anything that you hope happens in the next year or so, to address the sanitation issue in rural communities all over the country? Flowers: I think the first thing that should happen within the next year is to find out how many people are impacted, because we’re not going to have any real solutions until we really know how many people are impacted by this. Because I think for some people, a solution is to go to a place like Lowndes County, put in a few septic systems and say, “Problem solved.” The problem is not solved. And whatever systems are put in place have to be monitored — because of climate change, a lot of them simply are not working. And then we’re going to see what we’ve already seen: the failing septic systems, which exist around U.S. It’s not just in in Lowndes County. We could develop a vaccine for the coronavirus in less than a year. Just imagine what we could do if we put that same type of know-how and ingenuity behind coming up with some real wastewater solutions. The first thing is trying to quantify how many people are impacted by this and where they’re located. So when we talk about solutions, we’re talking about getting solutions to all the people that are impacted by it. Then the second thing that I’d like to see within the next year, is to actually to have the work on the type of innovation that’s needed to have long-term solutions to this problem, because obviously, it doesn’t exist. If it existed, everybody would have it, or they could go buy it and it’s not available. So we need to find something that’s sustainable, that takes into account climate change, and also is affordable so that we can that people could maintain it if they have to. What I envision is within the next five years coming up with a system that treats wastewater to drinking water quality that can be done on a household level. Because we’re going to have to talk about how we rebuild differently, and how we build differently. And as people have to move away from the coasts, and they move into these unincorporated areas, or they move into these areas where they don’t have big pipe systems, or have systems that are failing, we have to have something to be able to address that. And I think in terms of being forward thinking, we have to start working on that technology now. And I believe that it’s possible because we could develop a vaccine for the coronavirus in less than a year. Just imagine what we could do if we put that same type of know-how and ingenuity behind coming up with some real wastewater solutions that reuse and reclaim. Anderson: A few weeks ago, you were in conversation with Khaliah Ali Wertheimer . During your conversation, you mentioned how you would love for more rural communities to be included in conversations related to the Green New Deal. And I’m curious if you can share why it’s an important thing to include rural communities in these conversations? Flowers: I think oftentimes what we do — and it’s unintentional — is we frame our solutions or our conversations with an urban perspective that inadvertently is biased against rural communities. It leaves them out, when in fact, people in rural communities probably saw climate change before the people in the cities did, and may also have some type of knowledge about the solutions, and especially if we’re going to talk about agricultural solutions, solutions around soil. People in rural communities, especially [those] living in these agricultural communities that are very close to the soil, have some understanding that a lot of people don’t have because they have to pay attention to the natural elements in order to be successful in those environments. And I think, also, there are some common sense solutions that can come from rural communities. When we talk about green infrastructure, of course, we talk rightfully so about transportation systems that will move large amounts of people from one place to the other. And we talk about the grid and how the grid could connect cities. What I envision is within the next 5 years coming up with a system that treats wastewater to drinking water quality that can be done on a household level. But we need to connect those places in between as well, because even right now, a lot of people don’t have access to broadband and internet services. There are some parts of the country, especially in rural communities, where people’s cell phones might not work, because there aren’t cell towers nearby. So all of these kinds of things that we just assume that everybody has is not true. That’s why I believe that people from rural communities should be part of any discussion that we have about a Green New Deal and green infrastructure. They can also inform that conversation and how we get [resources] to those areas that have been left behind from what we currently have. We don’t need to keep skipping over these communities. Anderson: I’m curious if there has been any legislation over the years that has really helped improve the lives of rural communities that you can think of. And can you paint the picture of what the ideal would be when it comes to making sure that rural communities are thought about in conversations about climate change? Flowers: I haven’t really done a deep dive search but with the legislation that I have seen, I haven’t seen what I think is the model yet. I think in order to have a model, it would involve going into these communities and having people that are experiencing these problems sitting at the table and helping to draft the legislation because oftentimes, people are well intentioned and want to do it, and I applaud them for that, but you can’t do that by just visiting for a day and thinking you have the answer.  It’s unintentional — we frame our solutions or we frame our conversations with an urban perspective that inadvertently is biased against rural communities. Using the principles of environmental justice, that means having the people in the community sitting at the table — not having a top-down approach. The top-down approaches, as we know, have failed. That’s why we have this problem. That’s why we’re having this discussion. The model includes using the principles of environmental justice — and letting the people in the community be part of designing the policy to address these issues — because sometimes even the language in the policies get in the way — for example, language such as “town,” when a lot of these areas are unincorporated. There are no towns. Or putting in a limit or a minimum of 500 or more people. What does that do? Exclude the smaller towns or the smaller communities who may not be part of the town. And I think that’s one of the reasons that we have the problem that we have.  It’s something that I call a rural lexicon and what the rural lexicon is is understanding the language of rural communities, so that when we write policy, it is not always written from an urban perspective. I’m not saying that urban communities should not have access to services. They should, but we should all have access to services, whether rural or urban. Anderson: When I was listening to you talk, it reminded me that when solutions to issues are dreamed up and implemented, the people doing the work need to be deeply embedded with the communities in which they’re working in order to really understand and make sure that everyone is included. With that in mind and because the GreenBiz audience is mostly corporate sustainability people, I’m curious about how companies can help rural communities and support organizations like yours. Flowers: Companies come with expertise that we don’t have and they can also help expand our capacity — and they can contribute to organizations like ours, so that we can do the work. Some of them can serve as board members; some can serve as advisers. They can host seminars to educate their staff about these issues. Some of them could also visit as well, when it’s feasible to visit again. And certainly there are services that they offer that people in rural communities want as well.  In some cases, some of these smaller areas cannot have sustainability offices. Wouldn’t it be great if some of these companies will partner with communities that don’t have that? They can actually go in and help them develop more sustainable practices in those communities. There are lots of things that can be done and I’m sure if you talk to somebody else from a rural community, that they would have other ideas. I used to teach social studies so I remember teaching state and local government and history, and we know that there are three branches of government. We know that there are some other unofficial branches of government like the media, but I think the business community plays a key role as well. And the business community can be very helpful in states and pushing for the state governments to not leave out rural communities and to make sure that there’s infrastructure in place for these rural communities. Companies come with expertise that we don’t have and they can also help expand our capacity — and they can contribute to organizations like ours, so that we can do the work. When I was an economic development coordinator, I couldn’t recruit a lot of businesses to Lowndes County because they require certain things that we did not have in terms of just basic infrastructure. By pushing for those things to happen, and pushing for states to provide the infrastructure, not just in the places that already have it but also in places that need it, that can go a long way. Anderson: Now that your book is out in the world, what is the life you hope the book has? What do you hope the people who read the book take away from it and put to action? Flowers: The first thing I want them to do is to read the book. And then the second thing I want them to do is not just look at Lowndes County. Look in their own communities, look in their own states. Throughout the United States, there’s this problem — United States and U.S. territories. So look at those areas and help us to identify where those areas are and what those problems are so together we can come up with a solution.  That’s what I’m asking people to do because a lot of people want to come to Lowndes County. You’re passing by situations in your own state and that’s not helpful. What we need to do is make sure that everybody gets help, and that people are not left behind. I ultimately hope that what will come of this book, or at least writing and telling the story, is that we’ll be able to look back and say this was the impetus to end this problem in the United States of America, and potentially globally. Pull Quote We could develop a vaccine for the coronavirus in less than a year. Just imagine what we could do if we put that same type of know-how and ingenuity behind coming up with some real wastewater solutions. What I envision is within the next 5 years coming up with a system that treats wastewater to drinking water quality that can be done on a household level. It’s unintentional — we frame our solutions or we frame our conversations with an urban perspective that inadvertently is biased against rural communities. Companies come with expertise that we don’t have and they can also help expand our capacity — and they can contribute to organizations like ours, so that we can do the work. What we need to do is make sure that everybody gets help, and that people are not left behind. Topics Social Justice Environmental Justice Waste Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Catherine Coleman Flowers, author of “Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret,” speaks at a Fire Drill Friday protest in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Catherine Coleman Flowers.

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The Ray integrates plants and pollinators along I-85

September 1, 2020 by  
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Along The Ray, an 18-mile stretch of I-85 that starts at the Georgia and Alabama state line, cars and trucks race by roadside meadows, where pollinators are buzzing along the vibrant wildflowers. A new University of Georgia thesis documents two efforts to better integrate grasses and wildflowers into a transit ecosystem. Matthew Quirey, the thesis’ author, recently earned his Master of Landscape Architecture degree from the University of Georgia College of Environment & Design. His ongoing work focuses on the country’s first attempt to cultivate Kernza, a perennial wheatgrass, on an interstate roadway. He also studied the cultivation of meadows full of tall native grasses and wildflowers that bloom all year. His data is from 2018-2019. Related: This all-weather bicycle highway could fulfill the dreams of bike commuters everywhere “Most people think that the purpose of these wildflowers is just for beauty,” Quirey said. “But we’re seeing that they create some real roadside management benefits, if we can help them establish good root systems and strength. Erosion can be a big problem along Georgia’s interstates and highways, and wildflower meadows could help stabilize the soils in the right-of-way.” Quirey also sees potential for the wildflowers to benefit bees and other pollinators. In recognition of his valuable work, Quirey has been named The Ray’s landscape design and research fellow. Researchers are also studying the potential of wildflower meadows as carbon offsets . The right-of-way meadows are efficient and cost-effective, because perennials don’t require annual replanting. “We always envisioned more wildflowers on the roadsides of The Ray,” said Harriet Langford, founder and president of The Ray. “What we have actually been able to do with Georgia DOT and UGA is so much more. Higher-growing meadows planted on roadsides can work harder for us. They can provide food and habitat for pollinators and meadows can control storm water that rushes off the highway during heavy rain. Our work will help Georgia DOT and all state DOTs cultivate native wildflower and grass meadows across the state.” The Ray has also installed or experimented with many new technologies, including a roll-over tire check station that sends inflation information to drivers, a section of pavement that generates solar power when heavy vehicles drive over it, reusing scrap tires as road material and creating a vehicle-to-vehicle data ecosystem. The highway is named after Ray C. Anderson (1934-2011), a Georgia native and green business pioneer, in 2014. + The Ray Images via The Ray

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Mysterious seeds from China arriving in mail across America

July 30, 2020 by  
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Agricultural officials from several states have expressed alarm over unsolicited packages of seeds delivered to residents. The packages appear to come from China, as they feature China Post labeling. Agricultural officers advise farmers not to plant the seeds, in case they are harmful or invasive. Warnings sent out to farmers and residents follow reports of unsolicited seed packages being delivered in residents’ mail. Several people reported receiving seeds in white pouches that featured Chinese writing and the words “China Post.” Another concerning detail is that the seed packages were not labeled as food or agricultural products. Envelopes included misleading labels, with some listing the contents as jewelry, toys or earbuds. States that have released public notices against planting the unsolicited seeds include Washington, Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Minnesota, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Dakota, Texas, Alabama and Florida. Kentucky , one of the first states to receive reports of unsolicited seeds, issued warnings to residents. As Ryan Quarles, Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner, wrote on Twitter, residents should “put the package and seeds in a zip lock bag and wash your hands immediately.” Residents must also send any seeds they receive to the Department of Agriculture. Following the reports, several other states, including Arkansas, Michigan , Oregon and New Jersey, issued warnings to residents. Such measures may help prevent farmers from planting harmful, contaminated seeds. The Chinese Embassy in Washington claims these China Post packages “to be fake ones with erroneous layouts and entries.” Cecilia Sequeira, spokesperson for the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, says the department is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop illegal importation of prohibited seeds. Should you receive any mysterious seeds in the mail, report it to the nearest Agriculture Office. + NY Times Image via Pexels

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Mysterious seeds from China arriving in mail across America

Rare blue lobster turns up in Red Lobster shipment

July 30, 2020 by  
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The only thing that saved Clawde from the linguini sauce was her blue hue. As Lora Jones unpacked the Cuyahoga Falls,  Ohio  Red Lobster restaurant’s air-lifted live lobster delivery, one crustacean stood out: a rare blue lobster. Scientists estimate that a genetic anomaly makes only about one in two million American lobsters blue. Red Lobster workers immediately isolated the lobster — nicknamed Clawde, after the restaurant mascot — to keep her safe. “We kept [it] in the tank and just made sure that nobody took him in the back for dinner,” server Angie Helbig told NPR. Related: 132-year-old lobster returned to ocean after living in tank for 20 years Staff marveled at the unusual  sea  creature. “At first it looked like it was fake,” culinary manager Anthony Stein told NPR. “It’s definitely something marvelous to look at.” Soon after Clawde’s arrival, the corporate office phoned the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, which promotes sustainably sourced seafood . Seafood Watch connected Red Lobster with the Akron Zoo, which was excited to adopt the azure lobster. Kathleen Balogh, animal care manager at the Akron Zoo, headed for the Red Lobster armed with a big cooler of cold saltwater. After the 15-minute ride to the zoo, Clawde got a tank of her own. “There is a little bit of wear and tear from its journey,” Balogh said. Despite this, she added that the female lobster is in good  health  and adjusting to her new surroundings. Zoo staff will watch over Clawde as she goes through the next molting cycle of shedding and renewing her shell, which can be a delicate time for lobsters. Akron Zoo’s indoor areas, including Clawde’s tank, are currently closed to the public due to coronavirus . Balogh hopes that the blue lobster will eventually be on public display. Though the blue color is rare, it’s not the only unusual lobster color. Rare genetic defects can cause lobsters to create a  protein  that results in yellow, orange or even calico coloration. Albino coloring is the rarest of all, occurring in about one in 100 million lobsters. While exciting for humans who stumble across these colorful crustaceans, stand-out colors make it hard for lobsters to avoid predators. Via NPR Image via Richard Wood

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Interactive maps show top 10 states for off-grid lifestyles

April 9, 2020 by  
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Homesteading was a way of life for generations while the world developed industrialization and created cities of infrastructure. Over time, modern conveniences and the fast pace of business encouraged an increasing number of people to move into urban areas and/or reduce self-reliance in favor of easily accessible supermarkets and mail-order food. But in recent years, a resurgence of homesteading has shown that uncertain times have resulted in people returning to the basics of gardening , farming, food preservation and finding ways to be off-grid.  A recent data collection report by HomeAdvisor consolidated information from across Instagram to find out how many people are subscribing to a simpler way of life. Interestingly, the results show clusters of communities seemingly sharing common values in certain areas across the United States. Related: Do people in tiny houses live more sustainably? The information was gathered based on three commonly used hashtags (#homesteading, #tinyliving , and #offgridliving ), and then geolocation data identified the hot spots. Each of these lifestyles focuses on some level of self-sufficiency and cost savings. Homesteading is mainly about self-sufficiency. You’ll find homesteaders growing their own food, generating their own power and making their own clothes. Tiny living is a lifestyle that leaves a smaller footprint on the world. Tiny houses and tiny living are about simplification, a lower cost of living and using fewer resources. Living off-grid is a broad category that includes tiny living and homesteading. It also means disappearing from staples of society like the electric grid, schooling and the internet.  The reasons for heading towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle are varied, ranging from a fear of pandemics, an increase in surveillance infringing on privacy and concern for the environment. Regardless of the exact reasons, freedom,  lowering one’s carbon footprint  and a sense of independence seem to be at the core of the movement.  While there are abundant hashtags for any of these lifestyles, the study targeted these three as the best sources of information on the topic. The data was then consolidated and prepared for visual consumption by converting it into interactive maps and infographics . The method of collection eliminated Instagram posts without a location and those outside the United States. “To create these visualizations, we collected data by “scraping” it. Scraping is a technique that gathers large amounts of data from websites. In this case, we wrote a custom script in Python to get the data for each hashtag. The script collected information including the number of likes, number of comments, location, etc. for posts with each of the three lifestyle hashtags. The python script also collects data that human users can’t see, like specific location information about where the post was published from,” HomeAdvisor said on its website. When it comes to the United States and off-grid living as a whole, the interactive map gives a snapshot of the trend with the larger circles showing clusters. Moving into more specific information, homesteading may not be as rural as one might expect. In fact, large numbers of homesteaders are balancing backyard beehives , chickens and crops with a daily commute. One might also think homesteading is associated with life on the west coast. While that’s partly true, there are communities up and down the east coast squashing the idea that high populace and running your own farm don’t go hand-in-hand. As seen on the Top 10 States for #Homesteading map, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York all have active homesteading communities. Austin, Texas and Livermore, Colorado are Insta-proud of their homesteads too. On the west coast, the Seattle area in Washington and larger cities such as L.A. and San Diego in California top the list in the number of homesteaders posting their fresh eggs and veggies. For off-grid living, the map looks a little different. Here we find that numbers might be a bit skewed, considering off-grid technically means off social media, but the images are still there as a basis to understand the trends. By the Insta-numbers, Kimberly, Alabama comes in at the top of the off-grid areas, but since many of the posts are from the same Airbnb location, HomeAdvisor calculates that California takes the prize for the most off-gridders. This isn’t too surprising for a state that just mandated all new home constructions must include  solar panels . The four corners of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico are all in the top 10 for off-grid living, in addition to New York, Florida, Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska. The  tiny home movement  might be a bit hard to track for the mobile types, but on the road or not, Instagram is full of #tinyliving examples. The resulting map shows all three west coast states (California, Oregon and Washington) taking part in the trend. Florida, North Carolina and New York are active on the east coast, and Utah, Colorado and Arizona house the tiny movement too. Texas rounds out the #tinyliving top 10 list.  In conclusion, an increasing number of #homesteading Americans are going back to their roots of growing crops and raising cattle. Meanwhile, the #tinyliving community looks for ways to minimize their impact on the land, and #offgridliving continues to be difficult to accurately track, at least through the likes of Instagram. + HomeAdvisor  Images via HomeAdvisor

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Interactive maps show top 10 states for off-grid lifestyles

Biggest environmental news stories of the decade

December 31, 2019 by  
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As we begin a new decade, we’re taking a look over the biggest environmental news stories since 2010. There’s a little good news, and a lot of not-so-good news. Still, we can look back and learn from what is happening in the hopes of taking action and restoring a brighter future for our planet. Climate change moves into the mainstream, and more kids get involved While a few climate deniers still fill high-ranking political posts, climate change is much more widely accepted as fact — rather than something to “believe in” — than it was in 2010. According to the TED blog, only four TED Talks specifically on climate change were posted in 2010 and 2011, although speakers mentioned the phenomenon. By 2015, TED said, people had shifted to seeing climate change as happening now, rather than in the far-off future, thanks to debates about whether or not places like the island nation of Kiribati were already sinking. Related: 12 good things that happened for the environment in 2019 By the end of the decade, climate change is on the forefront of many people’s minds, especially young people. Worldwide movements like Extinction Rebellion use massive, nonviolent protests to urge politicians to slow the warming. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg rose to international prominence, taking politicians to task about ignoring climate change and even being named Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2019. Deepwater Horizon The decade started with a tragic oil spill on April 20, 2010, one of the worst in history. The explosion on British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig operating in the Gulf of Mexico, killed 11 people. It leaked oil into the gulf for 87 days, for a total of 3.19 million barrels of crude oil polluting the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Images of people trying to wipe oil off pelican wings filled the news. Cleanup costs reached at least $65 billion . In addition to economic blows, especially to Louisiana’s shrimp and oyster industries, the animal death toll was high. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, about 82,000 birds, 6,165 sea turtles, 25,900 marine mammals and uncountable numbers of fish perished in the spill. Researchers are still gauging the long-term effects. Extreme weather events become more frequent As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned, global warming escalates weather disasters. The last decade saw 111 climate-related natural disasters that each cost more than $1 billion in damage. These include tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, drought, heatwaves and winter storms. In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, killing 2,981 people and costing an estimated $93.6 billion in damages. Notable U.S. disasters included Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the Missouri tornadoes of 2011. Animal extinctions Humans continued to edge out other animals in the struggle for habitat and resources. According to the World Wildlife Fund , species loss currently stands at between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, which is the rate Earth would lose species if humans didn’t exist. In 2012, Lonesome George, the last Pinta tortoise , died at over 100 years old. Formosan clouded leopards no longer slink across Taiwan. The Christmas Island pipistrelle, a microbat, has ceased its ultrasonic squeaking. No more baiji dolphins cavort in the Yangtze River. In this last decade, the planet also lost Caribbean monk seals, West African black rhinos, Madagascar hippopotami and Liverpool pigeons. Rainforest deforestation The decade’s final year witnessed much of the Amazonian rainforest go up in smoke. Brazil and Bolivia were particularly hit hard. Many attributed this tragedy at least in part to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s push for development over preservation. Horrifying photos from the National Institute for Space Research revealed enormous bald swaths where trees once stood. During its peak in August 2019, more than 70,000 individual fires were burning. The rainforest plays a critical role in regulating the entire world’s climate, so concerns stretched far beyond Brazil. Related: Amazon rainforest might reach irreversible tipping point as early as 2021 Increase in ocean plastic During the last decade, plastic continued to fill the oceans. But awareness of ocean plastic also grew. A 2018 United Nations study reported that people dump approximately 13 million tons of plastic into the world’s oceans annually, and the researchers expected this number to grow. At the same time, many concerned citizens in cities around the world worked to decrease plastic waste by banning straws and plastic bags. Some hotel chains vowed to no longer stock beverages packaged in single-use plastic bottles. Many companies started developing products made from recycled plastic. Reusable water bottles became an important fashion accessory. China stopped buying American recycling Americans became more adept at recycling , but they weren’t necessarily aware where their recycled goods went. In 2018, China enacted a policy called National Sword. Suddenly, Americans realized their old plastic had largely been going to China , but China didn’t want it anymore. Now at the end of the decade, American cities are scrambling to save unprofitable recycling programs. Ironically, some cities have canceled these programs just when they’ve convinced people to recycle. Right now, it’s cheaper for American companies to produce new plastic than to recycle old. This is one of the many environmental problems that must be addressed in the coming decade. Images via Shutterstock

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This custom tiny home features a surprisingly spacious interior

June 13, 2018 by  
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Creating a comfortable living space is the always first challenge of tiny home design . Although many people decide to forgo a spacious sleeping area for a larger living room, the savvy tiny home builders from Alabama Tiny Homes have created the ultra-sophisticated Journey tiny house, which includes a gorgeous loft space with high ceilings guaranteed to not bump heads. The Journey was specifically crafted for a client who was looking for a micro-dwelling on wheels with a relatively spacious interior. The result is a beautiful tiny home with an interior that rivals any contemporary home twice its size. Related: These solar-powered tiny homes are designed just for millennials Clad in 6-inch cedar planks with aqua blue accents, the exterior of the structure is rustic, but sophisticated. This luxury cabin feel continues into the 324-square-foot interior, which is strategically comfortable, functional and stylish. The kitchen is large, with plenty of counter space. Along with a stainless steel fridge, stove top oven and dishwasher, the kitchen offers a six-bottle wine stand. The living area, designed in a parlor layout, is extremely inviting. Well lit with an abundance of natural light , this space is a homey lounge with various seats configured to encourage conversation. When guests stay, the room can be easily cleared out for a trundle bed, which is stored in the bathroom when not in use. Although the first floor’s design is stunning to say the least, at the very core of the Journey’s design is its ultra-high ceiling. This enabled the designers to go vertical and add a second level. Starting at the kitchen, a stairwell with built-in drawers leads up to the sleeping loft , which is big enough for a queen-sized bed. The tiny home includes several energy-efficient features in order to withstand various climates. A closed cell spray foam insulation and double-pane windows help the residents save money on utilities.  LED lighting throughout the home, along with an electric hot water heater, also reduces energy usage. + Alabama Tiny Homes Via New Atlas Images via Alabama Tiny Homes

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This custom tiny home features a surprisingly spacious interior

Architecture students transform an old Alabama bank into a town library

December 14, 2017 by  
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A historic bank in a tiny Alabama town has been reborn into a surprisingly elegant library with looks rivaling a chic retail store. The project, called Newborn Library, was completed in 2013 as part of Rural Studio , an Auburn University student design-build program with a focus on community design. The adaptive reuse and expansion project preserves much of the historic architectural elements while using modern construction technologies, such as CNC techniques, to create a contemporary interior. Located in the historic downtown of Newbern, a town with fewer than 200 people, the Old Bank Building was donated to the community by a local family who wanted the building turned into a library . Rural Studio, which follows a philosophy of providing good design to both rich and poor, was a fitting choice for the adaptive reuse project. The vision was to transform the bank into a social center that provided “after-school programming, computer access, and the first public Internet point in the community.” Related: Students design beautiful homes for mass-production at just $20,000 each To this end, the architecture students gutted the interior and expanded the footprint of the building while leaving the bank’s white brick exterior and glazed front intact to preserve its historical context. Timber lines the interior, from the CNC-milled birch plywood shelves to the patterned ceiling panels also made of birch. The old pine floor was preserved and elements of the past punctuate the space like the bank vault door and original bricks repurposed as paving and low walls. A 700-square-foot boxy cypress -clad extension was added to the back of the building, while a small outdoor space to the north provides an outdoor reading space. + Rural Studio Via Dezeen Images via Timothy Hursley

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Architecture students transform an old Alabama bank into a town library

Wildfires in the southeast US are so bad they can be seen from space

November 15, 2016 by  
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An outbreak of wildfires across the southern United States is creating plumes of smoke so vast they can be detected by NASA’s orbiting satellites. Spread across seven states, the fires are affecting Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Carolinas. The thickest plumes are rising from the southern Appalachians, but all of the affected regions are visible from orbit. On the ground, the air pollution is so bad that authorities have warned residents in some areas to wear masks when they go outside. Normally, fires in the Southeast are fairly small and don’t produce much smoke, unlike the massive blazes seen in the American West. However, drought conditions have dried out the region’s vegetation, leaving considerably more fuel for the fires. Related: NASA builds more advanced shelters to protect firefighters from wildfires More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff are currently attempting to contain the blazes. In the case of the fires in Georgia, there are concerns the flames are starting to creep “ dangerously close ” to the metro Atlanta area. It’s suspected that the various fires are manmade rather than created by natural causes, although it’s not clear if all of the fires were set intentionally. Kentucky has already made two arson arrests, and Tennessee has followed suit. Unfortunately, drought conditions are expected to continue through January at the very least. We may be seeing more of these fires throughout the fall and winter. Via Discover Images via Nasa Worldview

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Wildfires in the southeast US are so bad they can be seen from space

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