7 biggest threats to the environment – why we still need Earth Day

April 18, 2017 by  
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This Saturday is Earth Day , and while it’s a time to celebrate our planet, it’s also a prime opportunity to take a closer look at the serious environmental issues we’re facing and the solutions that need to be put in place to alleviate them. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore the damage we’ve done to the environment, especially when the effects have been hitting so close to home . If you want to make this Earth Day an opportunity to educate yourself about the problems, read on as we break down the 7 biggest environmental threats facing our society right now and how we might be able to solve them before it’s too late. Climate Change Climate change is first and foremost an issue because people can’t even agree on whether or not it’s an issue in the first place. Before we even get into the solutions, we all (regardless of political party) need to come to the realization that yes, climate change is real and yes, it is affecting us in ways that we can see and feel.  If you still believe that the freakish weather and heat waves we’ve been experiencing have nothing to do with climate change, you might want to ask your neighbor what he or she thinks because the majority of Americans say they believe global warming is causing these incidents . You might have noticed that the weather’s been hotter than usual , or you might have noticed a drought in your area or conversely, unusual storms. Furthermore, even small temperature changes are causing crops to die, decreasing the amount of food available. On top of all that, higher temps are causing the polar icecaps to melt, flooding certain areas and leading to an imbalance for wildlife. So we know the threat is real, but what can we do to prevent climate change from being exacerbated even more? Some small steps you can take in your own life are to use less electricity by turning off your lights when you don’t need them, driving less, switching to LED bulbs and eating less meat . On a more global scale, leaders have come to an agreement on how to curb the harmful greenhouse gases each nation emits into the atmosphere, and steps are being taken to plant more forests (which act as natural carbon sinks). Every bit helps, but in order for us to reverse the current course the Earth is on, the United States needs to commit to the Paris Agreement  and, along with the rest of the world, work towards a greener planet. Deforestation We mentioned planting more forests above, and sadly at a time when we need more forests, trees are being uprooted at an alarming rate.  Deforestation is a rapidly-growing problem in areas like Africa, Central and South America. Not only does this mean less trees, less cleansing oxygen, and the displacement of the wildlife, deforestation means a dangerous decrease in a natural fighter of global warming – the #1 threat to our Earth right now. Removing trees also leads to much drier climates, as trees extract groundwater to release into the air. Our tropical rainforests, which are crucial to stabilizing the climate and to human survival, are being chopped down at a breakneck pace – one and a half acres of rainforest are lost every second . Humans have already chopped down about 50% of the rainforests that once existed on the planet and at the current rate of destruction, we will completely destroy the rainsforests in the next 40 years . If rainforests are so important, why are they being destroyed so carelessly? Short-sighted governments and multi-national logging companies only see the forests as a way to make money by selling timber – they don’t consider the long-term effects . Luckily, deforestation is an issue that we as individuals can combat. By using recycled paper, we can decrease the need to cut down as many trees and by buying goods made with FSC-certified wood, we can show retailers that we don’t want them to support brands that obtain lumber irresponsibly. Last but not least, why not plant a tree or even a hundred trees like this man did . Pollution Pollution comes in many forms and no matter where you live, you’ve probably seen some form of it. From litter on NYC city streets to the smog that lingers over LA to the plastic trash that floats in the  Great Pacific Garbage Patch , the visible signs of pollution are more than evident. The main reason for why pollution has gotten so out of control is that our desire for more “stuff”  has led to our old stuff being thrown away at an alarming and unnecessary rate. For more information on this, watch Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff . This need for manufactured items also leads to the air and water pollution emitted from factories, which in many countries are highly unregulated. Looking at the bigger picture, government oversight and sloppy industrial practices on the part of big companies has also exacerbated our pollution problem. The first thing we can all do to reduce the amount of pollution in our streets, air and water is to make a mental change. Before buying a new product, ask yourself if you really need it or if you might be able to purchase it secondhand. It could make a big difference in the amount of trash we see in our landfills. Secondly, if you don’t already  recycle , get into the habit. If everyone adopted these easy principles, the world would be in a much better place. Loss of Biodiversity Each species has a role in our planet, and when one dies out, it can have catastrophic effects on the rest of us. We don’t want to get all “Butterfly Effect” on you but even a population dwindling can cause major problems for the human race. For example, with their role of pollination , the decline of the  bee population has a direct effect on both the environment and food production. Currently, many other animals are in danger of becoming extinct, either from being forced out of their habitats by man or by climate change. This particular problem is more difficult for individuals to combat but we can start by educating ourselves with the facts and donating to organizations like the World Wildlife Fund that facilitate the preservation of animals on the brink of extinction. This problem is also closely linked to deforestation and unchecked habitat destruction so by fighting those two issues, we can also slow down loss of biodiversity. Melting Polar Ice-Caps and Rising Sea Levels Climate change (are you seeing a trend here?) also contributes to another dangerous problem – melting polar ice-caps, which in turn causes rising sea levels. According to the NRCD , average temperatures in the Arctic region are rising twice as fast they are elsewhere and the ice is melting and rupturing. NASA satellite images reveal that the area of our permanent ice cover is shrinking at a rate of 9% every decade. At that rate, the Arctic could be totally ice-free in the summer season within decades. And if all of that ice melted, where would it go? You guessed it – our oceans. You might think that rising tides are only a problem for people in a few isolated areas, but major cities like NY and London could be underwater soon if we don’t do something soon. Manhattan alone has already dreamt up ways to deal with the potential rising tides over the next few years, but coming up with solutions after the fact is not enough. In order to reverse the melting of polar icecaps, we have to start at the root of the problem. See our section above on climate change to learn what you can do personally to keep global warming from continuing on its deadly course. Oceanic Dead Zones Along the coasts of heavily populated communities, scientists have found more and more dead zones – areas where depleted oxygen levels cannot support marine life. 146 dead zones were found in the world’s oceans, caused by high levels of chemicals in the waters. North America’s Gulf Coast has a high concentration of dead zones, which causes fish to become unable to reproduce. You might think that if you live on land, you won’t be affected by oceanic dead zones but if you eat seafood, seaweed, or care about air quality, you won’t want to ignore this issue. The good news is that dead zones can be reversed, though it is difficult. The  Black Sea dead zone disappeared in 1991 and 2001 due to the discontinued use of fertilizers. To find out more about how you can help with dead zone cleanups, visit Oceana.org . Explosive Population Growth It’s usually true that the more the merrier, but not when the human population is growing to a point that our society and systems can’t handle. Last year, the world population hit a whopping 7 billion , and while we welcome the newcomers with open arms, we also want to make sure that we don’t continue to put a strain on our water, food, well-being, space and sanity (yes, we’re talking about you, Tokyo subway system ). If everyone were more conscious of the fact that our limited resources need to be shared (how many times have you grabbed a fistful of paper napkins when you only needed one?), we could make living together, even with such a large amount of people) a lot more pleasant. Another example is our world food supply. Statistics show that we have enough food to feed everyone on the planet but we end up wasting so much (according to the  National Resources Defense Council , Americans waste a whopping 30 to 50% of all food produced) that others go without. While we might not be able to stop the population from growing, we can educate the people who currently live here and the new ones that are being born to make smarter choices and consume more responsibly. Images from Wikimedia Commons, Shutterstock, © James Cridland , @ Kevin Crejci , and @ No Minds Vision    

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7 biggest threats to the environment – why we still need Earth Day

Scientists say we have 10 years to save Earth

April 14, 2017 by  
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Time is running out to protect Earth from the disastrous effects of climate change . An international team of eight researchers said we have just 10 years to save the planet. But their news isn’t all bad: they’ve come up with a model for balancing carbon dioxide emissions with carbon sinks , like forests, to keep temperatures from passing the 1.5 degree Celsius mark widely considered safe for life as we know it. Scientists say if the world actually intends to stick to the Paris agreement , the next decade will be critical. They say there are two ways to reduce carbon emissions: by slashing the emissions we humans produce and by restoring carbon sinks, and it’s time to take action on both. They detailed their plan in a Nature Communications study, published online yesterday. Related: Scientists say Trump’s presidency could lead to a “game over” scenario for the planet World Bank consultant Brian Walsh, who led the study while doing research for the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), said they scrutinized carbon emissions from fossil fuels , agriculture, food production, bioenergy, and land use. They also accounted for natural ecosystems taking in carbon emissions to determine where they originate and where they go. Here’s the recommendation: we must reduce fossil fuel use to the point where it’s under 25 percent of the global energy supply by 2100; it’s at 95 percent right now. And we need to reduce deforestation to attain a 42 percent decrease in emissions by 2100. Renewable energy is also part of the answer. The researchers considered four scenarios for energy development in the future. A high-renewable scenario would see wind, solar, and bioenergy use increase by five percent a year so emissions would peak by 2022. Even that pathway would lead to a 2.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase if we don’t also employ negative emissions technologies. IIASA Energy Program Director and co-author Keywan Riahi said, “Earlier work on mitigation strategies by IIASA has shown the importance of demand-side measures, including efficiency, conservation , and behavioral change. Success in these areas may explain the difference between reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of 2 degrees Celsius.” Via the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and EcoWatch Images via Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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New map reveals the world’s most toxic countries

February 22, 2017 by  
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Just about every country in the world grapples with pollution , no matter how rich or poor they are. But you may not be aware of just how toxic your locale is. The Eco Experts from the United Kingdom recently cross-referenced data to rank the countries of the world by toxicity on a new map , and some of the results may surprise you. To create their map, The Eco Experts scrutinized data for 135 countries on carbon emissions , air pollution levels, and energy consumption, along with how much the countries draw on renewable energy . They also considered how many people have died from poor air quality . Bringing together all the individual rankings, The Eco Experts determined which countries are most damaging the environment and risking public health . Related: New Google Timelapse shows how humans have destroyed Earth over 32 years They ranked Saudi Arabia as the world’s most toxic country, with the highest recorded air pollution levels. Other oil-rich countries like Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates topped the list as well. The United States ranked 66, doing better than countries like Canada, China, or Russia but worse than India and the United Kingdom. One surprise was that Nordic countries like Iceland and Norway guzzle more energy than others. Meanwhile, the top five least toxic countries are all located in Africa . The world’s least toxic country is Kenya , followed by Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Cameroon. In a press release, Jon Whiting of The Eco Experts said, “This research is a way of naming and shaming the worst offenders around the world. Their lack of action against emissions not only puts their populations at risk of deadly pollution-related diseases but also threatens the future of our planet. These threats are not distant concerns for future generations; their effects are being felt now and lives are already being lost. This research highlights the need for every country to act fast and put more investment into renewable energy alternatives.” + The Eco Experts Images courtesy of The Eco Experts

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New map reveals the world’s most toxic countries

Breakthrough technology turns coal plant CO2 into baking powder

January 3, 2017 by  
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When it comes to mitigating the impact of modern civilization on our planet’s environment, many scientists and engineers have been focused on ways to clean up excess carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change. India-based company Carbon Clean Solutions is making headway in that area, with its unique method for turning CO2 into harmless baking powder . The method can be employed by coal-burning industries to reduce CO2 emissions and turn the waste into usable byproducts that do no harm. Carbon Clean is putting its methods through the wringer at a coal-fired thermal power plant at the industrial port of Tuticorin in southern India. There, CO2 is captured from the boiler and used to make soda ash (sodium carbonate) which is the very same stuff housed in any baker’s pantry. Transforming the dangerous atmosphere-heating carbon emissions into harmless baking powder is no simple (or cheap) task, but Carbon Clean is pushing forward even so, and the firm is doing it without government subsidies. Related: Researchers accidentally turn CO2 into ethanol The firm says this process can lock up 66,000 tons of CO2 each year from the Tuticorin plant, which is the equivalent of removing 12,674 cars from the road for the same time period or burning 6,751,435 gallons of gasoline. While many firms are still leaning on carbon capture and storage (CCS), which typically involves attempting to sink carbon underground – a process which is very expensive and has no opportunity for future profit. Carbon Clean’s method is the first large-scale example of carbon capture and utilization (CCU), wherein CO2 is essentially recycled into baking powder that can be sold off to help pay for the capture process. CCU is also slightly cheaper than CCS, costing around $30 per metric ton of CO2 captured, another item in the “pro” column for Carbon Clean. While these efforts won’t be enough to turn coal into a sustainable industry, Carbon Clean’s technique could help fossil fuel industries greatly reduce their carbon footprints. Likewise, CCU methods of trapping CO2 could create new avenues of economic opportunity in places like India, where coal-based industry is widespread. Via The Guardian Images via NLC Tamil Nadu Power Ltd and  Shutterstock

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Breakthrough technology turns coal plant CO2 into baking powder

How to combat climate change? Measure emissions correctly

December 2, 2016 by  
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A new technology that measures moment-to-moment carbon emissions from electricity unlocks a host of opportunities.

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How to combat climate change? Measure emissions correctly

A catastrophic climate feedback loop long feared by scientists is happening

December 1, 2016 by  
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For years environmental scientists have warned of a catastrophic climate “feedback loop” that could pump a massive underground repository of carbon and methane into the atmosphere, significantly worsening climate change. A new study published this week confirms that fear is finally coming to pass. Rising temperatures are causing microorganisms in the soil to breathe more quickly, which releases an increased amount of carbon dioxide or methane into the atmosphere. Global warming has become so serious that greenhouse gasses are simply rising out of the ground beneath our feet worldwide. Most people don’t realize that the planet’s soil is packed with a dense network of trapped carbon, created by plants and roots that have been buried over the eons. These plants pull in carbon from the air to use as fuel, and when they die, the carbon remains within the soil. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem: it serves as a natural carbon sink which helps regulate the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Related: Plants are keeping atmospheric carbon levels stable, but it won’t last forever Unfortunately, rising temperatures affect microorganisms living in the soil, naturally increasing their rate of respiration – and thus the rate at which greenhouse gasses are released. The worst part is that this is not a small, insignificant amount of carbon. It’s expected that by the year 2050, this natural process could release an additional 55 billion tons of carbon into the air. The authors of the new study describe that as the same impact as “having an extra US on the planet.” This means that we now face a much shorter timeline to cut human greenhouse gas emissions – and that, despite our best efforts, we may not actually be able to limit global temperature rise within bounds that would limit the worst effects. If we exceed less than 1,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, global temperatures could blow past 2 degrees Celsius , shattering the widely-held target of most climate scientists and environmental organizations. Related: Study Warns Methane from Melting Arctic Permafrost is ‘Certain to Trigger Additional Warming’ Unless strong action is taken immediately to limit emissions from all human sources, we could very easily exceed our planetary “carbon budget.” This study shows that it’s now more important than ever to put pressure on corporations and politicians to limit their emissions immediately. Via The Washington Post Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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A catastrophic climate feedback loop long feared by scientists is happening

India just fired up the worlds largest solar plant to power 150,000 homes

December 1, 2016 by  
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Things are heating up in India, where one of the world’s top polluting countries has unveiled the world’s largest solar power plant . The 648-megawatt project in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu stole the title from California’s 550MW Topaz Solar Farm, making it the largest solar power plant located on a single site. India’s newest solar plant, which was built on a speedy timeline of just eight months, is largely self-maintaining, with a host of solar-powered robots that clean the solar panels, keeping efficiency rates high and human effort to a minimum.

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India just fired up the worlds largest solar plant to power 150,000 homes

A green heart unifies BREEAM Excellent University of Cambridge Primary School

December 1, 2016 by  
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Marks Barfield Architects has completed the innovative and flexible University of Cambridge Primary School, a BREEAM Excellent -rated campus powered by solar energy. Arranged around a unifying central green, the school is arranged in a circular plan with classrooms and spaces clustered together into three blocks. The school design was informed by the latest research from the University’s Faculty of Education with considerable input by leading educationalists and Head Teachers to create an educational environment where “learning can take place everywhere.” The University of Cambridge Primary School was completed in the first phase of the University’s 150-hectare North West Cambridge Development and is the first University Training School in the United Kingdom . The school’s three non-hierarchal clusters comprise six classes, plus an early years cluster, that open up to a shared “learning street” on one end and a covered outdoor learning space on the other. In addition to providing a learning environment for primary-aged children, the school will also facilitate teacher training and educational research for the University’s Faculty of Education. These diverse objectives were made possible by the collaborative nature of the design process. “University of Cambridge Primary School is the result of team effort,” said Julia Barfield, Director of Marks Barfield Architects. “Each decision was made incrementally, based on a process that assessed the site context and the educational needs of the school, while drawing on the guidance and research of leading academics from the UoC Faculty of Education . The result is a school where the education ethos and the architecture are totally aligned, such that learning can take place everywhere.” Related: Marks Barfield Proposes a Soaring Bamboo Science Center for the Amazon Rainforest The primary school achieved BREEAM Excellence by minimizing energy use and maximizing access to natural light and natural ventilation. The glazed cloister canopy that runs around the internal perimeter of the central courtyard provides shade and is covered with artist Ruth Proctor’s digital screen print “We are under the same sky,” which features 67 unique images of the sky taken from around the world. One-quarter of the building footprint is topped with solar panels. + Marks Barfield Architects Images (c) Morley von Sternberg

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A green heart unifies BREEAM Excellent University of Cambridge Primary School

Finland may be the first country to completely ban coal

November 25, 2016 by  
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Canada and France both recently announced they plan to stop using coal , but Finland may beat them both to become the first country in the world to ban coal. The Ministry of Employment and the Economy released a statement announcing the country aims to stop using coal during the 2020s. The ultimate goal is to go carbon neutral , maybe even as soon as 2050. Right now, Finland receives 10 percent of its energy from coal and 40 percent from fossil fuels . But the country’s hoping to turn those statistics around. They want to increase energy consumption from renewable energy by 50 percent, ultimately hoping to create an energy system strongly based, according to the statement, on renewables. Related: Canada announces plan to kill coal power by 2030 Finland’s commitment could be more firm than either Canada or France. Peter Lund, Chairman of the Energy Steering Panel at the European Academies Science Advisory Council, told New Scientist that France’s plan to close their coal plants has “more degrees of freedom” than the ban Finland is considering. Similarly, Canada’s plan to close their coal plants includes wiggle room to keep using coal as long as carbon capture technology is used too. Finland’s energy system could still have its flaws, such as burning wood for energy. Finland currently obtains 27 percent of its power from burning wood, which still releases carbon dioxide; if trees aren’t planted in their stead, that CO2 won’t be absorbed. Yet a coal ban from Finland potentially could be good for curbing carbon emissions worldwide. Lund told New Scientist, “The more countries join the coal phase-out club, the better for the climate as this would force the others to follow.” Finland’s Parliament will begin discussing the ambitious energy strategy November 30, 2016. Via Quartz and New Scientist Images via Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons

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Finland may be the first country to completely ban coal

Plant-covered bamboo structure in Vietnam offers low-cost sanitation and food

November 25, 2016 by  
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The project is based on the same principle as the firm’s previous project in Son Lap, aiming to provide a low-cost sanitation solution that can be easily and quickly constructed and transported across the country. Toigetation 2 lightly touches the ground with a layer of vegetation on its four sides. This layer of foliage helps regulate indoor temperatures and functions as a food source. Related: Vo Trong Nghia Unveils Lovely Low-Cost Housing Made from Locally Sourced Palm Trees Local craftsmen used locally-sourced materials to construct the building. Solar panels provide energy for the lighting, while rainwater and waste water are used for cleaning and irrigating the adjacent garden. Efficient, low-cost construction methods and the use of local materials make this project replicable in areas experiencing a severe shortage of proper sanitation facilities , including schools in rural Vietnam . + H&P Architects Via Archdaily Photos by Nguyen Tien Thanh

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Plant-covered bamboo structure in Vietnam offers low-cost sanitation and food

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