Transforming the Aral Sea’s dead zone into a forest could save lives

June 5, 2018 by  
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Once, the Aral Sea provided fish for the Karakalpak people of Uzbekistan . Today, it has dwindled to a mere 10 percent of its old size . Toxic chemicals in the sea bed, now exposed, have endangered human health . But saxaul trees could prevent wind from carrying contaminated sand into the air. Forestation specialist Orazbay Allanazarov told the BBC, “One fully grown saxaul tree can fix up to 10 tonnes of soil around its roots.” The plan is to cover the whole dried sea bed — millions of hectares — with trees. The Aral Sea began withering away in the 1960s as the Soviets diverted water for cotton fields from two main rivers flowing into the sea. As the volume of water in the sea slumped, the concentration of salt increased and poisoned fish. Almas Tolvashev, a former fisherman, told the BBC, “There were 250 ships here. I used to catch 600 to 700 kilos of fish every day. Now there is no sea.” Related: “It has totally changed how people feel:” new forest transforms former UK coal community And it wasn’t just the loss of fish that caused issues. Pesticides and herbicides from cotton plantations ended up in the sea. When it went dry, sandstorms picked up the toxic chemicals exposed on the sea bed and humans inhaled them — with dire consequences. The BBC pointed to one study that discovered the incidents of liver cancer doubled from 1981 to 1991. Locals experienced reduced fertility, stunted growth, elevated rates of cancer and heart and lung problems. Authorities didn’t acknowledge the Aral Sea’s disappearance until after the Soviet Union’s fall. Saxaul trees, a shrub-like tree native to central Asia’s deserts, are able to survive in salty, dry soil, and they could offer an answer. Workers have covered around half a million hectares of the desert with the trees — but there are more than three million hectares to go. The BBC said it could take 150 years to cultivate a forest at the current pace, but there’s hope the trees could improve quality of life for the Karakalpak people. “We are slow,” Allanazarov said. “We need to speed up the process. But for this we need more money, more foreign investment.” Via the BBC Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Transforming the Aral Sea’s dead zone into a forest could save lives

The United Kingdom might soon create new national parks

May 29, 2018 by  
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In an op-ed for The Telegraph , United Kingdom Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced a new review process which could result in creating new national parks in England. Nearly 70 years after the creation of the first British national parks , Gove wrote that “the time is right” to consider creating new protected areas in the United Kingdom. As the human population grows and natural habitats decline, he wrote that the British people should “look afresh at these landscapes” and determine how best to preserve them for future generations. Aware of concerns amidst an ongoing national policy of austerity , Gove emphasized that the review’s mission was not to cut the conservation of nature but to “strengthen it in the face of present-day challenges.” The first national parks in the U.K., the Peak District, Lake District, Snowdonia and Dartmoor, were founded in 1951. England currently has 10 national parks while Wales and Scotland host three and two, respectively. “The creation of national parks almost 70 years ago changed the way we view our precious landscapes — helping us all access and enjoy our natural world,” Gove wrote. “We want to make sure they are not only conserved, but enhanced for the next generation.” Related: General Electric to debut world’s largest wind turbine in UK Gove has appointed former governor aide and journalist Julian Glover to lead the review process. “I want Julian explicitly to consider how we can extend and improve the protection we give to other precious landscapes,” Gove wrote. “Are we properly supporting all those who live in, work in, or want to visit these magnificent places? Should we indeed be extending our areas of designated land ?” Conservationists have praised Gove’s decision, though they say that more must be done. WWF campaigns director Tony Juniper told the BBC , “ Nature will continue to be at risk unless we have a plan for its recovery enshrined in law — through a new Environment Act that’s backed by a strong watchdog with real power to enforce.” + The Telegraph Via BBC Images via Paul Morris and Klim Levene

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RBS will cease financing new coal stations, Arctic oil, or oil sands projects

May 29, 2018 by  
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Several oil and gas projects will no longer receive financing from Britain’s Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Reuters reported . The bank said it won’t offer project-specific finance for Arctic oil and oil sands projects, new coal -fired power stations, new thermal coal mines, or unsustainable peatland or vegetation clearance projects. RBS Director of Sustainable Banking Kirsty Britz said, “The RBS of 2018 is very different to the bank we were a few years ago. If we’re going to support our customers in the long run, then it means addressing the challenge of climate change and the risks and opportunities it presents.” The changes are part of RBS’s tighter restrictions on finance and general lending for what Reuters described as “high-carbon energy projects.” In addition to the projects listed above, RBS said it won’t provide finance for “ mining companies generating more than 40 percent of their revenues from thermal coal” and “ power companies generating more than 40 percent of their electricity from coal.” In the past, the threshold for both types of companies was 65 percent. Related: The World Bank will stop funding oil and gas projects after 2019 RBS quoted Sonia Hierzig of ShareAction , a responsible investment charity, as saying the energy financing policies “make RBS the bank with the strongest energy sector policies out of the top five UK banks…RBS would now rank 8th in our climate ranking of the 15 largest European banks, up from 11th previously.” The bank said they’ve funded “more British renewable energy projects than any other UK bank for the last six years running.” They also said they obtain 90 percent of electricity in the UK and Ireland via renewable energy and, since 2014, have seen a 39 percent drop in their carbon dioxide emissions . + Royal Bank of Scotland Via Reuters Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Japanese train barks and snorts to protect deer from harm

January 18, 2018 by  
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Researchers from the Railway Technical Research Institute in Japan have equipped a train with a speaker that plays the sounds of dogs barking and deer snorting to protect deer from harm. A three-second deer snort is played first to catch the attention of any nearby deer, followed by 20 seconds of dog barking to scare the animals away. So far, the late-night tests of the anti-deer device have proven successful, resulting in a reduction in deer sightings by half. If further evidence supports the practice, it may be adopted more broadly, though the deer-dog combo noise would likely not be blasted in residential areas. Deer fatalities by train have proven to be a challenge because the animals are attracted to train tracks. To meet their iron dietary needs, deer lick the tracks to pick up iron filings that have formed through friction between the train wheels and the tracks. The transport ministry of Japan reports that in 2016, there were 613 cases of trains hitting deer and other wild animals, a record high number, with each collision resulting in delays of 30 minutes or more. Related: Utah plans $5 million wildlife bridge over deadly I-80 highway There have been several attempts to make railroads less attractive spots for deer, including spraying lion feces along the tracks. This plan was abandoned after rain washed away the animal waste products almost immediately. Another more successful plan involved the use of ultrasonic waves, projected when a train is coming to deter animals , then dropped when the coast is clear to regulate the use of the train tracks. Trials of this technology resulted in a notable decrease in deer deaths. For this, railway employee Yuki Hikita was awarded Japan’s Good Design Award in December 2017. Via BBC Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Norway shoots for 100% electric short-haul flights by 2040

January 18, 2018 by  
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More than 50 percent of new car sales in Norway were electric vehicles in December, according to Electrek . Now the country aims to take the electric revolution to the skies. Norwegian airports public operator Avinor wants all their short-haul flights to be electric in just over 20 years. CEO Dag Falk-Petersen told Agence France Presse (AFP) they’re hoping “to be the first in the world” to switch over to electric air transportation . Every short-haul airliner should be electric by 2040 in Norway, Avinor said this week. Falk-Petersen told AFP, “We think that all flights lasting up to 1.5 hours can be flown by aircraft that are entirely electric.” He said that would include all domestic flights and trips to nearby Scandinavian capitals. Related: Eviation Aircraft unveils all-electric plane with 600-mile range 2.4 percent of Norway’s greenhouse gas emissions come from domestic air transportation – and when international routes are taken into account the figure is over double that. Falk-Petersen told the AFP, “When we will have reached our goal, air travel will no longer be a problem for the climate , it will be a solution.” There are other benefits to electric flight besides lowered carbon emissions – such as reduced operating costs. Falk-Petersen also said electric flight would halve noise levels at least. Avinor will explore intermediary technologies, like hybrid fuel-electric options or biofuels , before making the switch to all-electric. The company recently teamed up with the Norwegian Air Sports Federation to purchase the first electric aircraft in Norway from Pipistrel . The Alpha Electro G2 is a two-seater aircraft with a range of 130 kilometers, or just over 80 miles. Falk-Petersen said in Avinor’s press release on the purchase that lower operating costs could have an impact on ticket prices as well. AFP reported Avinor also aims to start a tender offer to trial a commercial route with a 19-seat electric plane beginning in 2025. Via Agence France Presse and Electrek Images via Avinor ( 1 , 2 )

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Hundreds of dead sharks wash up on the shores of the Persian Gulf

December 20, 2017 by  
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Officials in Iran came across a gruesome sight this week: hundreds of dead sharks washed up on shore . The cause isn’t some natural phenomenon – hunters have been illegally capturing the sharks, sawing off the fins and tossing them back into the water, where they got caught up in currents and eventually wound up on land. Hossein Delshab, an official in the city of Bushehr, told a local news agency that hundreds of dead sharks had recently washed up on the shores of Shif island, raising “an alarm about the extinction of sharks” in the area. Related: 512-year-old Greenland shark may be the oldest living vertebrate on Earth Although shark fishing has been banned in the area since 2014, high demand for their prized fins has made hunting them worth the possible fine if the poachers are caught. Violators can be fined up to $7,000. But because it is believed that shark fin can help with sexual disorders, they are a popular item in local markets. Via BBC Images via Wikipedia and Deposit Photos ( 1 , 2 )

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Hundreds of dead sharks wash up on the shores of the Persian Gulf

World’s fastest bullet train can travel between Beijing and Shanghai in 4.5 hours

September 25, 2017 by  
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Traveling between Shanghai and Beijing can take more than 12 hours by car, or over eight hours on public transportation . But a new bullet train could slash those travel times. China recently launched the fastest bullet train in the world that travels at a speed of 217 miles per hour. This month, China launched the world’s quickest bullet train in Beijing. The service is called Fuxing and will travel the route between the country’s capital and Shanghai – a 777-mile trek – in around four hours and 30 minutes. Related: China takes on the Hyperloop with a supersonic ‘flying train’ This isn’t the first time China has run a 350 kilometer per hour (km/h) bullet train. They first launched a train that travels at that speed in August 2008, but lowered speed limits in 2011 to 186 miles an hour after a two-train crash close to Wenzhou that killed 40 people. A signaling failure caused the crash, according to Al Jazeera. The BBC said Fuxing trains have an improved monitoring system that can slow the trains down and stop them if there’s an emergency. Now the Chinese government is thinking of building more bullet trains, and taking their technology abroad. Experts wonder about the economic benefits of the super fast bullet train – estimates from international think tanks indicate it could cost 90 percent more to construct lines for 217 mph trains than for those that only travel at 155 mph. Economics professor Zhao Jian told Al Jazeera, “The purpose of raising the speed is mainly symbolic. The train is the fastest in the world, which implies the strength of Chinese train technology and science.” According to The Telegraph, the country has laid over 12,400 miles of high-speed rail , and aim to add 6,214 more miles by 2020. Along with looking to take their technology overseas, according to the BBC, China’s rail operator might even be looking into how to upgrade tracks so that trains could travel at speeds close to 250 mph. Via The Telegraph , Al Jazeera , and the BBC Images via screenshot and Pixabay

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Video footage of rare all-white moose in Sweden

August 15, 2017 by  
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The rare appearance of a white moose is being celebrated by animal enthusiasts worldwide, as the majestic animal is estimated to be one of just 100 living in Sweden . Hans Nilsson, who has been tracking the elusive creature for three years, captured the footage on August 11 in the province of Varmland. As soon as it was uploaded, the video went viral. The BBC reports that the white moose is not albino but lacks color due to a genetic mutation. True albino animals are unable to produce melanin and have pink or red eyes. Animals with leucism, on the other hand, have a snowy white coat and dark-colored eyes. Moose are extraordinary animals , standing approximately 6.5 feet high at the shoulder. Some moose can weigh up to 1,800 pounds, and males have massive antlers that can span up to 6 feet end to end. Moose can also run up to 35 miles per hour. Related: Nova Scotia’s Sacred Albino Moose Killed by Visiting Hunters Unicorns sadly remain fictional, but at least white moose are real. Via BBC Images via Hans Nilsson

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Doctor warns falling sperm counts could lead to human extinction

July 26, 2017 by  
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Will our lifestyle lead to our extinction ? New findings from an international team of eight researchers indicate sperm counts in men from North America, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe have halved in under 40 years. Lead author epidemiologist Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told the BBC, “If we will not change the ways that we are living and the environment and the chemicals that we are exposed to, I am very worried about what will happen in the future.” Sperm count studies have been controversial in the past. This recent one, published this week in the Oxford Academic journal Human Reproduction Update , is one of the biggest assessments ever undertaken, according to the BBC. Researchers pored over 185 studies between 1973 and 2011. Levine detected a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and 59.3 percent drop in total sperm count in the men from those regions of the world listed above. The rate of decline continues and may even be increasing, according to the researchers. They didn’t see the same decline in men from Africa, Asia, or South America, but said there have been fewer studies from these regions. Related: Alarming new study suggests Zika virus could cause infertility in men Levine told the BBC, “Eventually we may have a problem, and with reproduction in general, and it may be the extinction of the human species.” Skeptics say a large proportion of past studies that have pointed to sperm count drops have been flawed, such as only including men who have gone to fertility clinics, and would be likely to possess low sperm counts. But the researchers involved in the new study said they accounted for some of the flaws. Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield University told the BBC, “I’ve never been particularly convinced by the many studies published so far claiming that human sperm counts have declined in the recent past. However, the study today by Dr. Levine and his colleagues deals head-on with many of the deficiencies of previous studies.” Other scientists praised the quality of the new study but said it may be too soon to come to the conclusion that humans could be on the path to extinction. Researchers at institutions in Denmark, the United States, and Spain were also part of the research. Via the BBC Images via Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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BatBnB unveils line of stylish (scientifically designed) homes for our flying friends

July 26, 2017 by  
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Airbnb disrupted the human housing world, now BatBnB is doing the same for bat housing. We all pretty much know that boxes are a stellar way to attract bats, but let’s be honest, they aren’t exactly good looking. That’s why we’re loving the elegantly designed BatBnB homes, which are attractive enough to display front and center at your home. They’re also designed based on decades of research, so they’re the perfect space for our flying friends. It’s basically like a piece of art for your yard that also boosts conservation efforts. Created by Harrison Broadhurst, architectural designer at Nomi Design and director of customer success at MakeTime   Christoper Rännefors , BatBnB provides a safe place for bats to nest, sleep and stay. Unlike other bat houses, BatBnB is incredibly stylish, so instead of tucking it in some remote corner, you’ll want to display it proudly. There are three style options available in the standard size, plus a mammoth size, so you can find the right one to suit your home. It’s finally the perfect bat house for design lovers. Of course, BatBnB isn’t just snazzy on the outside. It is also thoughtfully designed to be the ultimate space for bats, with grip chambers, proper ventilation and the ideal sizing. It’s so well-designed that it is endorsed by bat experts like executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation  Rob Mies , who is basically the Beyonce of the bat world. Researchers will also team up with BatBnB owners to collect vital information that will help bats recover from devastating white nose syndrome. Related: 7 Million Bats Killed by White Nose Syndrome: How You Can Help “I’ve studied bats for more than 50 years, led worldwide conservation efforts for bats, and in fact founded the North American Bat House Research Project. With today’s improvements, properly constructed and located bat houses are achieving close to 90% success. I personally helped develop the Bat BnB product line and am delighted to endorse it for its ideal construction and attractive design,” said noted bat expert Merlin Tuttle. Bats are struggling across the US because of habitat loss and  white nose syndrome . It doesn’t help that many people fear bats for being dangerous or diseased, a reputation that is decidedly undeserved. BatBnb is hoping to change that. “We want to help people value bats rather than fear them — those ugly poorly designed models on the market just don’t spark that conversation,” said Rännefors. With climate change making winters shorter, we are seeing more mosquitos all year long, and one of the best ways to naturally control pesky bugs is with predators like bats. Bats are also instrumental in maintaining a healthy environment by helping to fertilize and pollinate plants – in addition to the thousand mosquitoes a single bat can eat every hour . Help BatBnB become a reality, and help change the conversation around bats, by funding the project on Indiegogo . + BatBnB + BatBnB on Indiegogo

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BatBnB unveils line of stylish (scientifically designed) homes for our flying friends

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