Deforestation in tropical countries linked to European diets in new study

April 16, 2019 by  
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New research shows that European diets are linked to deforestation  in tropical countries. Scientists from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology tracked carbon emissions that are produced from tropical deforestation and found that one-sixth of the harmful emissions are related to European diets. “In effect, you could say that the EU imports large amounts of deforestation every year,” lead researcher Martin Persson shared. Related: Cargill announces plan to reduce deforestation from cocoa Persson noted that the European Union needs to address the issue of deforestation if it wants to meet previously announced climate goals. The study showed that deforestation contributed around 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide over a four-year span, from 2010 to 2014. Most of the cleared land was used for crops and pastures, with cattle and oilseed farming leading the way in production. A good portion of the deforestation was driven by international demand. The researchers estimated that anywhere between 29 to 39 percent of the carbon emissions could be traced to trade, which is directly linked to consumption in several EU nations. Fortunately, some countries in the EU are cracking down on imports tied to deforestation. France, for example, initiated a plan to discourage such imports over the next 10 years. Investors have also issued warnings to companies that produce soy, criticizing them for participating in deforestation for the sake of making money. Although some countries are fighting back, Persson and his team do not believe the efforts will stop companies from clearing land. Part of the issue is that there are few regulations that actually prevent countries from importing products that are linked to deforestation. Persson also believes that nations should provide better support for local farmers who are practicing sustainability . Moving forward, Persson hopes more studies will be done that expand on his work and show stronger links between imported products and deforestation. With more data to support their conclusions, Persson believes that countries can work together to put an end to deforestation before it is too late. The study will be published in the journal Global Environmental Change in May 2019. Via Mongabay Image via Shutterstock

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Deforestation in tropical countries linked to European diets in new study

Vegan shoes from Insecta are a stylish option for eco-friendly footwear

April 8, 2019 by  
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Brazilian company Insecta is defying the stereotype that eco-friendly fashion can’t be stylish with its line of “ecosexy” vegan shoes. In addition to being completely void of animal-derived materials, the company also uses sustainable materials like recycled rubber and recycled plastic to construct its footwear. Insecta has been around since 2014 in Brazil, but the company recently announced it will be making an expansion into the United States. In addition to its flagship stores in Porto Alegre and São Paulo, Brazil, the company is conducting an international launch with a new distribution center in April 2019. The new distribution center, located in North America, will help Insecta distribute shoes to even more customers. Related: VEJA unveils vegan sneakers made from corn waste The shoes are handcrafted from materials like recycled bottles, recycled cotton, recycled rubber, upcycled vintage clothing and reusable fabrics. According to the company, it has recycled more than 6,000 plastic bottles and almost 400 square meters of upcycled fabrics in the past year alone.  Nothing is wasted, even when it comes to already-recycled materials. For example, the “Beetle” shoe design uses recycled plastic for its toe caps, and the cushioned insoles are made from recycled rubber and fabric scraps from the company’s own production. One dress has the ability to produce five pairs of Insecta shoes. All of the vegan shoes are comfortable flats sized from 35 to 47 European — or sizes 4 to 14 in U.S. sizes, meaning almost everyone will be able to find a shoe in their proper size. Don’t worry if you’re unsure about European sizes, because the website offers a handy sizing table to help you pick the perfect fit. There are eight different styles to choose from, ranging from boots to sandals, and they’re all creative and stylish. There are classic, natural colors available, like beige and charcoal, but also bright prints for those looking to make more of a statement. What’s more, all of Insecta’s shoes are unisex. Insecta strives to “pollinate the world with color and mindful awareness,” according to the website . The company believes that no living thing should be sacrificed in the name of fashion or other aesthetic purpose. + Insecta Images via Insecta

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Vegan shoes from Insecta are a stylish option for eco-friendly footwear

Hidden in the Vinhedo rainforests of Brazil, this glass house was built for a scholar

March 29, 2019 by  
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The architects at Atelier Branco Arquitetura were asked to build a glass house that could accommodate the owner’s need to think, read and escape from the bustling cities of Brazil . The owner, a famous political scholar, dreamed of a structure that was neither a permanent residence nor a vacation home, but a lush and peaceful retreat. Coming from the main road, you’re first met with a vast wooden deck atop the concrete roof of the building, which gives one the sensation of floating among the dense rainforest plants that surround the property. Instead of using a parapet (a protective barrier or wall along the edge), the architects installed a water bed around the perimeter of the deck. This way, the roof is not only a sitting deck, but it is also somewhat of an island. Related: Minimalist tiny cabin is a secluded retreat in a Brazilian rainforest Continuing down the stairs, you’ll find the entrance to the main structure of the house. This volume was built entirely out of reinforced concrete, and the floors were made from long Garapeira wood boards. Because of the sloping and uneven terrain upon which the home is built, the architects created a descending series of steps that open into different parts of the home. Floor-to-ceiling windows encompass the entire house, allowing for natural light to penetrate the interior and give one the sensation of being inside the jungle foliage on the other side of the glass. The house is designed so that the location of each space takes into account the lighting and level of privacy allotted. Because of this, the sleeping areas are located on the top level with the least amount of natural light, and the owner’s studio is situated in the central part of the home. The studio level has the greatest vantages for enjoying the surrounding landscape, which is why the owner chose this spot in the first place. On the bottom level is the living and dining area, the brightest and most exposed section of the house. Contrarily, the two bathrooms were built with cast concrete and are lit from above only by skylights , providing very limited natural lighting, but ultimate privacy, compared to the rest of the house. + Atelier Branco Arquitetura Via ArchDaily Images via Atelier Branco Arquitectura

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Hidden in the Vinhedo rainforests of Brazil, this glass house was built for a scholar

Earth Day 2019 wants to inspire you to protect endangered species

March 29, 2019 by  
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This year’s Earth Day theme is all about protecting the millions of species that call our planet home. The diversity of life on Earth is being increasingly threatened by human activity, which is causing the biggest extinction event since the dinosaurs died out around 60 million years ago. The global crisis in the animal kingdom is directly connected to causes largely created by human pursuits. This includes activities like deforestation, poaching, trafficking, agriculture, pesticides and pollution — all of which are leading to massive habitat loss. If something is not done quickly, the extinction of species across the globe will be our biggest legacy. Related: 10 awesome eco-activities to do this Earth Day Fortunately, there is a solution to prevent many species from going extinct in the near future. By working together, people around the world can get legislators, scientists, religious leaders, politicians and educators to act quickly to stop habitat loss and start protecting Earth’s many creatures. To that end, Earth Day has several goals in mind for this year’s worldwide campaign to protect the planet’s most endangered species . The Earth Day Network is encouraging educators to heighten awareness of the extinction issues facing our planet. The campaigners also want governments to enact policies that protect both animals and habitats. Related: How Earth Day began and how it helps the planet On a smaller scale, Earth Day hopes to get people around the world to start eating more plants and stop using herbicides and pesticides . If these goals are met on Earth Day, which is officially on April 22, then we can make great strides in protecting endangered species and habitats across the planet. This includes species like bees , elephants, insects, whales, giraffes and coral reefs. If you are interested in making a difference by participating in Earth Day, help spread the word by telling people about this year’s theme and how they can help make the planet a better place for all its inhabitants. + Earth Day Network Image via Sue Ashwill

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Earth Day 2019 wants to inspire you to protect endangered species

Risky geoengineering research deemed safe, blocked by US

March 25, 2019 by  
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New study conducted by Harvard, MIT and Princeton claims that releasing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to cool the climate could be safe, only if gas injections are limited to only cooling temperatures by half of what is needed to stop global warming. About two weeks later, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia blocked a United Nations proposal to commission further research on the emerging technology— called geoengineering — a move that both supporters and opponents of the technology see as blatant protection of the fossil fuel industry at the potential peril of the world. What is geoengineering? Geoengineering is a term used for a collection of technologies to artificially alter the earth’s climate. Other climate engineering technologies include ocean fertilization , carbon dioxide removal , marine cloud brightening , cirrus cloud thinning  and ground-based albedo modification. These strategies are incredibly controversial both because of the unprecedented and unknown risks at a global scale, but also for ethical reasons of how humans should intervene in the earth’s climate. The concept of injecting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere mimics the gases naturally released by volcanoes. The gases block the sun’s rays and cool the earth’s climate. Millions of tons of cooling aerosols would need to be released to limit temperatures to the recommended 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Related: Man-made climate change now at the level scientists call ‘five-sigma’ What are the risks? Most geoengineering technologies have not been deployed in large scale experiments and therefore the risks can only be predicted with computer modeling. Previous studies concluded that injecting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere might alter rain and storm patterns and decrease water availability. There are also concerns that geoengineering would disproportionately impact certain regions, such as increasing cyclones in Asia and drought in Africa. What does the new study reveal? The Harvard-led study used computer simulation to reach a radical new conclusion: that blocking only half of the temperature increase would not have the risks typically associated with sulfur dioxide injection. In fact, their university-funded study – revealed that only 0.4 percent of the earth might experience worsened climate impacts. Alan Robock, a geophysics professor at Rutgers University,  warned The Guardian that Harvard’s study only looked at a few of the potential consequences. Robock’s own study lists 27 reasons against geoengineering, including its annual price tag of billions of dollars, the disruption of stratospheric chemistry, ice formation and increased UV exposure, as well as ethical questions of whether people have the right to see blue sky. US and Saudi Arabia block proposal to continue research In a controversial move at the United Nations, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Brazil rejected a Swiss proposal to commission further research on geoengineering. The proposal called for the assemblage of an expert committee to oversee geoengineering research and governance. Given the technology’s potential benefits and global-scale risks, most countries agreed the U.N. should oversee research as well as establish rules for future deployment. “I think governance is an incredibly vital component of geoengineering,” Shuchi Talati of the Union of Concerned Scientists told E&E News . “Even if you’re opposed to geoengineering, you need a governance mechanism to be able to enforce that.” The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are two of the world’s largest oil producing countries. They rejected the proposal over language stating that geoengineering should not be explored as an alternative to mitigation – in other words, they opposed the idea that reducing carbon emissions should still be the priority. The U.S. also leads the way in geoengineering research and resisted any oversight on its ability to independently implement its discoveries instead of curbing its carbon emissions . Currently, no international law explicitly prohibits countries from deploying large-scale sulfur dioxide injections, despite profound global-scale impacts. Controversy, ethics and impasse Many environmentalists argue geoengineering does not address the causes of global warming – carbon emissions – and that once the injected gases dissipate, they will have to be re-injected every year. Many also argue that even investment in research sends a message that countries may not need to keep to their Paris Agreement commitments of curtailing emissions since a back-up fix may be approved. Current predictions show that even if countries keep their ambition commitments, the earth will reach a disastrous 3 degrees warmer. “It seems to me inconsistent to say, on the one hand, that global warming is the biggest problem that humanity faces, and then go on to say, on the other hand, but we shouldn’t even do research on [solar radiation management] because it may pose risks,” Daniel Bodansky, an expert in international climate agreements from Arizona State University  told E&E News . “Either climate change is the biggest problem we face or it’s not. And if it is, then it’s all hands on deck.” Via The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Risky geoengineering research deemed safe, blocked by US

Biodegradable tableware made from wheat bran debuts at Toronto’s Green Living Show

March 25, 2019 by  
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This week, Toronto citizens learned that wheat bran is good for more than enhancing digestive regularity. An innovative Polish company displayed its disposable, biodegradable tableware made from unprocessed wheat bran at Toronto’s Green Living Show. While an ordinary disposable plastic plate could take 500 years to break down, Biotrem’s tableware biodegrades through composting within a single month. They’re made from compressed wheat bran, a by-product of the cereal milling process. Biotrem can make up to 10,000 biodegradable plates and bowls from one ton of wheat bran. Related: Shellworks upcycles leftover lobster shells into biodegradable bioplastics The wheat bran tableware can handle hot or cold food, liquid or solids and is microwave-safe. From picnic spots to barrooms, the new biodegradable cups and plates could decrease landfill -bound garbage. Wheat farmer and miller Jerzy Wysocki devised the process of turning wheat bran into plates. Every time he milled wheat, Wysocki found himself with excess wheat bran. Through trial and error, he discovered that mixing the bran with water, then heating and pressurizing it resulted in a sturdy material. He started what would grow into Biotrem with a single machine that he built on his farm . Biotrem’s production plant in Zambrow can currently produce about 15 million biodegradable bowls and plates per year. They also make disposable cutlery, which combines wheat bran with fully biodegradable PLA bio-plastic. So far, Biotrem products are available in a dozen European countries, the U.S., Canada, South Korea and Lebanon. Transform Events & Consulting, based in Charlottestown, Prince Edward Island, distributes Biotrem products to the Canadian market. The event company introduced more consumers to wheat bran plates at this month’s Green Living Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. “As event organizers, we see just how much plastic waste is generated at events of all kinds, especially festivals,” said Mark Carr-Rollitt, owner of Transform Events & Consulting. “We are thrilled to partner with Biotrem to offer a well-designed, viable alternative to single use plastics.” Via Biotrem Images Biotrem

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Biodegradable tableware made from wheat bran debuts at Toronto’s Green Living Show

Brazilian Biodiversity Information System is bringing Brazil’s biological diversity to the internet

March 18, 2019 by  
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As one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth, Brazil is taking steps to consolidate all of the nation’s biodiversity data and information into one place to support scientific research , as well as decision-making and creation of eco-friendly public policy. In an effort to achieve those goals, the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC) has created the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System (SiBBr), which is an online platform that gives free access to a collection of the largest amount of data and information on biodiversity in the South American nation. What is Megadiversity? In 1998, Conservation International made a list of 18 megadiverse countries, which meant that those nations harbored the majority of Earth’s species, as well as a large number of endemic species. The term megadiversity defines an area that features a significant amount of biodiversity . According to the UN’s Environment Program, Brazil is at the top of their list of the 18 most megadiverse countries in the world. With more than 120,000 species of invertebrates, 9,000 vertebrates and 4,000 plant species, Brazil hosts nearly 20 percent of Earth’s biological diversity. These natural assets can be a significant factor in Brazil’s future economic growth, but to avoid losing their biodiversity, the country wants to monitor conservation efforts and make sure their natural resources are sustainably used. Related: Biodiversity decline puts food supply at risk On average, “700 new animal species are discovered every year in Brazil,” says UN Environment. Considering how large Brazil is— as well as the numerous institutions researching the country’s biodiversity— putting all of that information in one easily-accessible place is a formidable challenge. “When the information is spread around different institutions, one is less able to find it, judge the quality of the data and understand how it can be used. Besides, the time needed to compile the data can make its use inefficient, as is the case in public policies,” explains Andrea Nunes, general coordinator of biomes of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology , Innovations and Communications, and national director of the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System project. To illustrate her point, Nunes talked about Brazil’s special map that highlights the areas of the country that are a top priority for conservation and sustainable use. The map is a tool for public policy decision-making that takes two years to develop and is updated every four to five years. Nunes says that in terms of “territory dynamics and land use changes,” five years is a long time. However, SiBBr can change all of that. How SiBBr works Currently, the SiBBr gathers information and data from 230 Brazilian institutions, like state agencies, research centers, museums, and zoos. It has more than 15 million records about different species in the country published by those institutions. Researchers can use the database to find information on different species, as well as share their findings. Farmers can use the platform to calculate environmental compensation credits and get information about endangered animals and plants. There is also a way for Brazilian citizens to contribute their own information, like pictures and documentation on biodiversity in their area. There is also a tool called Biodiversity and Nutrition, which is a nutritional database of native Brazilian species. But, they aren’t just keeping all of this information to themselves. The SiBBr is also part of the Global Biodiversity Information Platform, which is “an international network and research infrastructure” that provides free biodiversity data from hundreds of institutions across the globe. Related: Cargill announces plan to reduce deforestation from cocoa This is the largest global initiative aiming to give people virtual access to free biological information, and it currently spans 60 countries and has more than 570 million species records. Conservation and sustainability is a top priority, and knowing Brazil’s biodiversity is key to achieving those goals. With SiBBr, anyone from government organizations to students and educators can access this vital information. According to their website, SiBBr is an accessible platform filled with tools to help with the “organization, publication, and consultation” of: Occurrences of species A catalog of species Ecological data Biodiversity projects The use of biodiversity Registration of the country’s biological collections The database continues to grow, and in the coming months SiBBr will switch to a new platform to make using the data even easier. BaMBa Connected to SiBBr is BaMBa, the Brazilian Marine Biodiversity database, which has the same goal for collecting data about the country’s marine life as SiBBr does for species on land. The information comes from sources like integrated, holistic studies and fish surveys which can be used for governmental policies related to the use and management of marine resources. Via U.N. Environment , SiBBr Images via Shutterstock

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A modern timber house in Indonesia celebrates mummified wood

March 18, 2019 by  
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When Bandung-based architectural studio Aaksen Responsible Aarchitecture was asked to renovate an old house in the West Java neighborhood of Kiaracondong in Indonesia, they made a surprising discovery. During the demolition process, the architects found that the wooden roof truss structure was in very good condition, despite its age, thanks to a culturally significant type of timber, a kind of Albizzia wood that’s been mummified to improve strength and durability. Described by the architects as a “local treasure,” the timber was not only preserved in the roof truss, but also becomes a defining element in the contemporary home, aptly named the Albizzia House. Completed in 2019, the Albizzia House spans an area of approximately 2,000 square feet across two floors. The existing timber house was partly demolished to allow for a reorganization of the layout and a structural expansion. Organized around a light-filled atrium housing the primarily living spaces, the home now includes three bedrooms, garden and terrace spaces, a reading room and a ground-floor prayer room. Natural light and ventilation is optimized in the renovated dwelling. One of the key changes to the house was the addition of timber cladding as a secondary skin to mitigate unwanted solar heat gain and privacy concerns. The vertical timber slats—and interior wooden furnishings—are a visual continuation of the Albizzia wood used as accents in the ceiling and reading room. The preserved wood in the existing building’s roof truss is also highlighted with the expansion of the truss into the new structure. Related: Green-roofed Hanging Villa is embedded into a lush jungle landscape Although Albizzia, a fast-growing and economical timber, is typically considered low-grade due to its weak and brittle qualities, local farmers in Ciamis, West Java, discovered long ago a method to improve upon the strength of the wood. In this “long-established technology,” the locally procured wood is buried under the paddy fields after the harvest season and the timber is then “mummified” in the compaction process, which, according to the architects, greatly increases the wood grade. + Aaksen Responsible Aarchitecture Via ArchDaily Images by KIE

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UN predicts dire future for planet unless people change their ways NOW

March 18, 2019 by  
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The United Nations’ newest Global Environmental Outlook reinforces the worries of everyone concerned about the environment and our planet’s future. The 708-page report, released last week, examines human-inflicted woes on air, land and water. Scientists urge humans to immediately change their ways before we render Earth inhabitable. To those who have been paying attention to the planet’s decline, this report will not be news. But seeing all this human-wrought destruction in one enormous document makes for a grim, and even, shocking read. A few lowlights: Most land habitats have decreased in productivity for growing food and other vegetation; urban development and agriculture have claimed 40 percent of wetlands since 1970; water quality continues to worsen, due in part to chemical pollution; biodiversity is tanking, with many land, marine and freshwater species at risk for extinction; a third of the world’s people lack safe sanitation. Related: Air pollution is killing Europeans at an alarming rate With human population expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, these problems will only increase. “The science is clear,” Joyce Msuya, acting executive director of U.N. Environment, said in a briefing. “The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our environment .” If we don’t change our ways soon, she said, the problem won’t be reversible. Changes in consumption, energy creation and waste disposal are crucial. Fortunately, the new UN report also contains solutions. For example, changing agricultural practices and redistributing food could help stem land degradation and biodiversity loss. More efficiently using and storing water, and investing in desalination, could improve the water scarcity situation. But it will take more than well-meaning individuals to reverse Earth’s fast track toward destruction. Politicians and policy makers around the world will need to join together to devise and enforce strategies to stabilize and improve water , air and land quality before it’s too late. Via National Geographic Image via 

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This Brazilian beach house is made from locally-sourced natural materials

March 13, 2019 by  
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The architects at MNMA Studio have created a natural beachy oasis made of eco-friendly elements in the region of Pontal do Cupe, Pernambuco of northeastern Brazil. Head architects Andre Pepato and Mariana Schmidt used natural materials such as eucalyptus, certified wood, calcium carbonate rocks and even twigs to complement the concrete structure. The people of the Pontal do Cupe region have limited access to building materials and methods, so the beach house helps to symbolize an innovative and rewarding new period of architecture for the area. The building site is located on an old coconut farm, and construction was completely primarily by workers from the surrounding communities. Not only did the architects use environmentally-friendly materials for building, but they also gave the local area an opportunity to learn about sustainable building since some of the project workers (a portion of which came from families of fishermen) had never used cement or concrete before. Related: Minimalist tiny cabin is a secluded retreat in a Brazilian forest It’s clear that the entire project revolved around choosing eco-friendly materials that would reduce the need for environmental energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. For example, a portion of the structure was designed in certified eucalyptus wood. Perhaps one of the most unique and striking portions of the home is the ceiling, which is made from reused twigs and brings a particular brightness into the interior. The furniture and interior decoration are by Sergio Rodrigues and Cariri Fair. The designers used whitewash to add pigment to the concrete, a natural painting process using a non-toxic solution of calcium carbonate rocks, slaked lime and water . The whitewash on the walls and stairs make an eco-friendly statement and fight humidity while adding a textured bright-white color to the open-aired interior and exterior. As a result, the entire beach house is presented with beautiful natural colors. A dark mustard-colored concrete slab serves as a base for the home and contrasts nicely with the light brown wooden columns that help to hold up the roof terrace. The roof patio was fitted with lovely stone slab flooring of faded natural colors and opens up with an unobstructed ocean view. Via Archdaily Images by Andre Klotz 

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