German court rules mass killing of male chicks legal

June 14, 2019 by  
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This month, the Federal Administrative Court in Germany ruled to uphold the common practice of killing male chicks, which are widely considered inefficient for meat production. The ruling is meant to be temporary, until an alternative and scalable solution is available, despite outcry by animal rights advocates. The hearing is in response to a ban of the practice from 2013 within a state in Germany. Following the ban, two major hatcheries challenged the decision, claiming that the practice was necessary for food production. On Thursday, the courts ruled that the practice was indeed legal– at least temporarily– and does not contradict the country’s Animal Welfare Act. Germany’s Minister for Agriculture, however, stated that the practice is ethically unacceptable. Related:Free at last: Canada passes Act to prohibit dolphin and whale captivity Male chicks are mass slaughtered throughout the world. They do not grow as fast as hens, and therefore are considered inefficient for meat production. The meat industry will be worth worth about US $7 trillion by 2025, and estimates show that about 84 percent of consumers had chicken in the last two weeks. Despite some reports that alternative meat demands are rising, meat industry statistics show growing demand for animal products, especially in wealthy nations. For every hen consumed, an equal number of male chicks has been slaughtered. The most common ways for slaughtering newborn chicks include gassing and high-speed grinders. In Germany alone, 45 million male chicks are slaughtered annually. One German company already has an alternative on the market– an egg they claim can be tested for sex before it hatches. The company can determine the sex of the egg just seven days after fertilization by extracting fluid from the egg and testing it for hormones. The company is selling their eggs in 200 German markets and hopes to take off as a solution to this animal welfare concern. Via The BBC Image via onefox

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Last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia dies

May 29, 2019 by  
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On Monday, Malaysian authorities reported that the last male Sumatran rhino died in a nature reserve on Borneo island. Currently, there is only one female from the same species remaining in Malaysia. The male, Tam, is thought to have died from old age after he was discovered on a palm oil plantation. Efforts to breed Tam with females of the same species were unsuccessful. Related: Koalas declared functionally extinct Sumatran rhinos are one of five rhino species , and only one of three found in Asia. At their peak, Sumatran rhinos could be found in Bhutan, India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos. They are the smallest rhino species in the world. Experts estimate that between 30 and 100 remain, with a few also living in captivity in Indonesia, and the U.S. Like most species on the brink of extinction , rhinos have suffered from deforestation and loss of habitat. Logging, roads, urban development, farms and palm oil plantations have carved up their habitat. According to experts, the fragmentation of natural spaces is the primary threat to their population. Small reserves and wild spaces are simply not enough. Disconnected populations also make it difficult for the solitary creatures to find mates and reproduce. “With logging, with roads for development, the patches of forest available are shrinking. Frankly it’s hard for them to find each other to mate and breed successfully,” said Cathy Dean of Save the Rhinos International. In addition, rhinos are frequently poached for their horns and other medicinal purposes. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists Sumatran rhinos as critically endangered , however Save the Rhino International believes there may still be hope for the species. According to their research, only about 20 rhinos could still provide enough genetic diversity to save them from extinction if they are able to successfully mate. Via BBC Image via Charles W. Harden

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Loophole allows 1M tons of sludge to be dumped on Great Barrier Reef

February 26, 2019 by  
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The world’s largest coral reef is facing a major sludge crisis. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority just approved the dumping of one million tons of sludge on the delicate reef system thanks to a loophole in the country’s law. Marine officials say that port industries have the right to dump waste that is dredged from the ocean floor wherever they want, including over the Great Barrier Reef . Environmentalists are concerned that the sludge will “smother” the reef and are looking to dump the waste elsewhere. Related: University of Queensland wants to drop “bommies” on the Great Barrier Reef “The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently,” Larissa Waters, co-head of the Greens Party, explained. “One million tons of dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip.” According to  BBC , Waters warned that if the sludge is dumped directly over the reef, it could have devastating effects on the ecosystem, which is already coping with global warming and recent flooding in the area. The majority of the sludge is being removed from ocean floors in Hay Point Port — a region that leads the world in coal exports. Although environmentalists are concerned about dumping one million tons of sludge on the Great Barrier Reef, officials with the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation do not believe it is an issue. The company just released a statement online about how the sludge dump will have a low impact on the coral reef and will only affect it in the short-term. The closer the sludge is dumped on the coral reef, the worse it will affect it in the long-term. Experts believe that if the sludge is placed farther out, then it will have less of an impact on the coral reef. That said, the waste still contains trace metals, which can harm the delicate ecosystem. The sludge controversy comes a year after Australia promised to dedicate $500 million AUD to preserve the Great Barrier Reef. Over the past few years, the coral reef has been reduced by 30 percent, mostly due to an invasive species of starfish called the crown-of-thorns and significant coral bleaching. Via BBC Image via Kyle Taylor

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Loophole allows 1M tons of sludge to be dumped on Great Barrier Reef

8 sustainable innovations in construction materials

February 26, 2019 by  
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The construction industry is responsible for a large percentage of carbon emissions . From sourcing to design to material manufacturing to building construction, the carbon dioxide output from projects around the world has a significant environmental impact. This has led to sustainable construction innovations that not only reduce the production of carbon dioxide, but also improve a building’s longevity, reduce  energy  bills and increase the use of natural light. Here is a list of some innovative construction materials and ideas that could revolutionize the industry and help us build a more sustainable future. Transparent wood Swedish researchers have turned wood into a material that is 85 percent transparent by compressing strips of wood veneer and replacing lignin with polymer. This product is light but just as strong as natural wood. It can be an eco-friendly alternative to glass and plastic. When used to build homes, transparent wood will reduce the need for artificial lighting, plus it is biodegradable. Related: Potato peels offer a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials Bamboo-reinforced concrete As a natural replacement of steel for reinforcing concrete, bamboo is gentler on the planet without compromising on durability. Bamboo-reinforced concrete also allows for better earthquake resistance. Because bamboo grows so quickly, it can easily be regenerated while simultaneously absorbing CO2. Cigarette butt bricks Smoking cigarettes is still a big part of cultures around the world, despite the negative effects on personal health . The butts also make up a significant percentage of waste. But researchers at RMIT University in Australia have discovered that adding cigarette butts to bricks reduces the amount of time and energy needed to bake them compared to traditional methods, plus the cigarette butt bricks are better insulators. Using cigarette butts in the brick-making process reduces waste and lessens the number of heavy metals that make their way into water and soil. Hydrogel The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona is leading the way in reducing the use of air conditioning by using hydrogel to create walls that can cool themselves. The architects are placing hydrogel bubbles in between ceramic panels that can be installed into existing walls. Inspired by the human body’s ability to cool itself, the hydrogel can absorb water when the air around it gets hot and starts to evaporate. This can reduce the temperature by 5 degrees Celsius, so you don’t have to keep the A/C cranking non-stop during the summer. Super-hydrophobic cement Recently, scientists have found a way to alter cement’s microstructure in a way that makes it absorb and reflect light. This finding has led to the creation of super-hydrophobic cement, or luminescent cement, which could replace traditional street lights and the energy they consume. Related: Green foods could clean up the construction industry Plus, this form of cement is more durable than conventional cement and could last up to 100 years compared to just 30 to 50 years. Synthetic spider silk With spider silk being one of the toughest natural materials on Earth, scientists all over the world have been trying to duplicate it. 3D printing has changed the game in the world of synthetic spider silk, and it could create a product made from water , silica and cellulose that is “stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar” according to Smithsonian Magazine . This could change multiple industries like textiles, construction, automobiles and medical devices. Breathe Bricks A few years ago, architect Carmen Trudell started researching the air quality problems in Cairo, and that resulted in the creation of the Breathe Brick. Inspired by the treatment her brother received for kidney failure, Trudell started wondering if she could produce a building component that filters toxins. Trudell and her team “came up with the idea of putting a cyclone inside of the exterior wall” by developing the Breathe Brick . When using Breathe Bricks to build a wall, the faceted surface of the bricks pulls outside air into ports, then the cyclone filter spins the air and gets rid of particulate matter that causes pollution. LED and OLED lighting Lighting a commercial or residential building takes a lot of energy. So, over the past decade, LED (light emitting diode) and OLED (organic light emitting diode) have entered the marketplace to drastically reduce the amount of energy used to light up structures. Not only do LEDs use just 10 percent of the energy used by incandescent lighting and 50 percent of fluorescent lights, but they also last 40 times longer. The advantages of OLEDs are the slim size and the transparent material, allowing for natural lighting during the day before they light up at night. As technology continues to advance and materials change, the cost of LED and OLED should fall, making them both affordable and energy-efficient. Via Protection Supplies Images via Shutterstock,  Abigail Gina and Michael Laut

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Climate change is killing reindeer in the Arctic

December 14, 2018 by  
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A new Arctic Report Card from the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has revealed that the wild reindeer and caribou populations have plummeted by more than half over the last two decades. According to the report, the impact of climate change in the Arctic has resulted in the reindeer population falling from 5 million to 2.1 million. The report found that the weather patterns and vegetation changes in the Arctic tundra have had a major negative impact on the reindeer, and the wild herds in northern Canada and Alaska have been hit the worst, with some of the herds shrinking by more than 90 percent. Related: Norway rejects wind farm in favor of wild reindeer “We see increased drought in some areas due to climate warming , and the warming itself leads to a change of vegetation,” said professor Howard Epstein, an environmental scientist from the University of Virginia. Epstein was one of the scientists involved with the research for the new report, and he explained that the reindeer eat lichen, which grows at ground level. But the warming temperature has led to taller vegetation, and it is “out-competing” the lichen. The warmer climate has also meant more bugs in the region, and that results in the reindeer having to spend their day getting the insects off of them or hiding from the insects. Increased rain has caused a problem, because it falls on snowy ground and creates hard layers of ice covering the tundra. This makes it difficult for the animals, because they can’t push their noses through the ice to get to their food. As for what can be done about the problem, the BBC reported that reducing carbon emissions and limiting temperature increases needs to be done on a global scale. Not only will this help the reindeer, but it will also decrease extreme weather events around the world. + NOAA Via BBC Image via U.S. Department of State

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Magical rainbow swamp goes viral

November 30, 2018 by  
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Earlier this week, Brent Rossen posted a photo on Reddit that his girlfriend took of a rainbow swamp, and within 24 hours the photo received more than 120,000 upvotes. The couple was enjoying a walk at First Landing State Park in Virginia when they came upon the unusual phenomenon. “Me and my girlfriend were walking in the woods the other week and saw a rainbow pool for the first time,” Rossen wrote in his post. Related: Magical artworks place lamps, books and chairs in the middle of nature So how does this happen? Jeff Ripple, a former Florida swamp walk leader, told the BBC that the rainbow effect occurs because of the natural oils released by decaying vegetation. The decomposing leaves in the water release tannic acid and a thin film forms on top of pooled water in swamps and marshes. When the sunlight hits it at a certain angle, you can see the gorgeous colors. However, if you look at the water in a shadow, it appears to be normal swamp water. But, on a sunny day, you can see the rainbow when you look at it from an angle. The water also needs to be still for a long period of time for the rainbows to appear. Ripple says that any movement from sheet flow, wind disturbances, or current will “destroy the fragile rainbow film.” This phenomenon reportedly happens at various swamps and marshes along the Eastern seaboard. Retired engineer Michael Hussey posted a pic on Facebook of a rainbow pool in Tallahassee, Florida. Swamp walk leader Sandra Friend has also blogged about her experience with rainbow swamps, and Annie from Not Just Abroad has also posted about a rainbow swamp in Caw Caw County Park in Charleston, South Carolina. Hussey says that he sees this happen every three to four years, and it is “beautiful to see.” Thomas Thornton, facility manager at Caw Caw swamp, says that it must be the result of some kind of perfect storm, and it seems like you have to be lucky to see it in person. Via BBC Images via Shutterstock

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SodaStream deploys an ocean-sweeper to clean up plastic waste in the Caribbean Sea

October 25, 2018 by  
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SodaStream has announced the launch of its massive ocean-sweeper, a contraption designed to dismantle booming plastic waste patches in marine waters.  The “Holy Turtle” has already started cleaning up plastic in the Caribbean Sea; the specially designed model is stationed off the shores of Roatán, Honduras for its pilot project. Enlisting the aid of local youth and government, as well as environmental NGOs, experts and artists, SodaStream’s multifaceted mission is a four-day feat with a hopefully long-term impact. SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum heads the ambitious assignment alongside a formation of international executives who have refocused their energies into acquiring the technology and partnerships they need for the bold initiative. Seven local schools in Honduras have also teamed up with the nearly 150 company execs. While the students are charged with providing a helping hand with the clean-up, their longstanding potential is even more significant. The kids will participate in educational courses alongside their clean-up duties, learning about the environment from international experts. Birnbaum and collaborating NGO Plastic Soup Foundation hope that the students’ involvement will influence them to become environmental ambassadors for their communities in the future. Related: Only 13% of Earth’s oceans remain untouched by humans — for now Having spent his life side-by-side with water , Birnbaum is no stranger to how influential interacting with nature can be. Before leading SodaStream, the philanthropist was a naval officer and an experienced skipper. Birnbaum’s project was inspired by a 2017 BBC feature that brought to light the devastating stretch of synthetic trash floating off the Honduran coastline through the lens of videographer Caroline Powers. More than a clean-up job, Birnbaum became determined to dismantle the marine decay, regarding the plastic waste as both a somber byproduct of human consumption as well as an invasive force in its own right. “More than 8 million tons of plastic goes into the ocean every year. This plastic doesn’t disappear. It breaks up into tiny particles, floats in the ocean, endangers marine life and ends up in our food chain,” he explained. “We must all put our hands together to reduce the use of single-use plastic and commit ourselves to changing our habits and go reusable. It’s in our hands.” Related: Point Nemo, the most remote spot in the ocean, is plagued with plastic The company is the first known commercial entity to attempt a marine clean-up project, at least with this rank of potential and — true to its cause — the recovered debris won’t simply be trashed. The waste, gathered by the 1,000-foot-long “Holy Turtle” contraption, will be transformed into an exhibition aimed at raising awareness about single-use plastics and educating people on why adopting reusable cups, straws, bags and bottles is paramount in saving the environment. The one-of-a-kind vessel was developed by Florida-based company ABBCO, specialists in oil spill containment. Two marine vessels tow the extensive gathering unit that is able to cover vast portions of open water. Most remarkably, the “Holy Turtle” features specially engineered vent holes to protect wildlife while still gathering up significant amounts waste. “We can’t clean up all the plastic waste on the planet, but we each need to do whatever we can,” Birnbaum said. “The most important thing is to commit ourselves to stop using single-use plastic.” + Roatan 2018 Via Nasdaq Image via SodaStream

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SodaStream deploys an ocean-sweeper to clean up plastic waste in the Caribbean Sea

‘The Great British Bake Off’ is back this time, with a vegan week

August 27, 2018 by  
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The Great British Bake Off usually features an assortment of bread, dairy and meat products slathered in more butter and cream than imaginable. But this year, the British cooking competition will feature a special vegan week to help promote healthier, more sustainable eating in what producers feel is a move in the right direction. The show, which kicks off its ninth season on August 28, will bring 12 amateurs to the kitchen to see who can bake the best traditional meals and desserts . The contestants this year include a nuclear scientist, a banker, a product demonstrator, a prosthetic technician and a research scientist, just to name a few. Previous seasons have featured a weekly theme, including cake, bread and biscuit weeks. This season, however, will include a vegan week and a Danish week, neither of which has never been done before. “We wanted something different and something to represent what is happening in this country,” Paul Hollywood, one of the judges on the show, explained. A  recent survey suggests upward of 3.5 million people in the U.K. are now vegan. Hollywood and his new co-star Prue Leith added that they think fans will learn a lot about watching vegan week on the  The Great British Bake Off . In fact, both judges admitted they learned many fascinating things during the vegan week that could very well change people’s lives. Although the show is introducing new weeks and challenges, the judging process will remain the same — the judges won’t accept a dish that is “okay for vegan, it’s got to taste good, period,” Hollywood said. The Great British Bake Off was originally on the BBC before being bought by Channel 4, which has produced the show for the past two seasons. The goal of the series, according to Hollywood, is to encourage the audience to learn how to bake and enjoy the process of baking. Now, those at home will have an opportunity to learn how to bake delicious treats within vegan guidelines. To that end, The Great British Bake Off presents a mixture of challenges, so that viewers don’t feel too overwhelmed when they try the recipes out in their own kitchens. + The Great British Bake Off Via The Guardian Images via VeganBaking.net

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Lemurs are now the most endangered species of primate on the planet

August 3, 2018 by  
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Approximately 94% of the 111 species and subspecies of lemur are under threat of extinction in their native country of Madagascar – the only place they exist outside of captivity. Of the remaining lemur groups, only six do not face high risk of extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species . This retrogression was revealed by the Primate Specialist Group , a conservation organization that has been analyzing current threats to the survival of lemur populations and their habitats. Chair of the Primate Specialist Group and Chief Conservation Officer of  Global Wildlife Conservation  Russ Mittermeier indicated that the “very high extinction risk to Madagascar’s unique lemurs” would compound, generating “grave threats to Madagascar’s biodiversity as a whole.” Loss of habitat poses the single greatest threat the lemurs now face in the wild. Developments in illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as mining activities and charcoal production, are ultimately determining the fate of these endangered animals. Related: Conservationists sound the alarm to address ‘America’s wildlife crisis’ Lemurs also face threats from pet trading hobbyists or hunters who wish to turn them into food. Once a delicacy, lemur’s presence on menus has become more and more mainstream in Madagascar, according to Professor Christoph Schweitzer of the Bristol Zoological Society . In an interview with BBC News , Schwitzer commented, “More and more, we are seeing unsustainable levels of lemur poaching. We see commercial hunting as well – probably for local restaurants. And this is a new phenomenon for Madagascar – we didn’t see it at this scale 15 years ago” Although many would bow their heads at the unfortunate fate of the lemurs, Schwitzer is an optimist. People “need to shout about these problems and get the message out there” he remarked. “When we published the lemur action plan and the media picked up on it, suddenly we had people call offering to help – to donate money or other resources. That can really make a difference,” he remarked. The “lemur action plan” has already had an effect, protecting habitats that contain the densest numbers of lemur species while helping Madagascar boost its ecotourism in the hopes of tackling poverty. By helping the local people economically, the groups involved in the plan are deterring hunting and other activities destructive to the tropical forests that provide the lemurs with their natural habitat. + Global Wildlife Conservation + IUCN Via BBC News

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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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