Deadly new bird flu strain could lead to devastating pandemic

April 21, 2017 by  
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You probably haven’t thought about the bird flu in a couple of years, unless you’re a virologist, but a new strain that resurfaced in China has the potential to be pandemic. The H7N9 virus only caused mild illness in poultry until recently, but a genetic change means the new strain is deadly for birds . Now, H7N9 has led to more human deaths this season than any other season since it was detected in people four years ago. Between September and March 1, 162 people perished from H7N9. Human cases have increased since December, with reports from eight different provinces in China. Hong Kong University research lab director Guan Yi told NPR, “We’re trying our best, but we still can’t control this virus. It’s too late for us to eradicate it.” Related: U.S. avian flu outbreak drives up the price of eggs as supplies are threatened The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for increased surveillance. FAO animal health officer Sophie Von Dobschuetz said China has started intensified observation while the FAO Beijing office has been providing recommendations for the country’s ministry of agriculture . As with past avian flu strains, patients said they were exposed to infected birds or went to live bird markets. Guan is concerned with how rapidly the H7N9 strain is evolving. He said ten years ago chickens were barely affected by the strain, but his lab’s research revealed the new strain can kill every chicken in his lab in 24 hours. There isn’t evidence the new strain will be deadlier in people, but when people do catch the virus from birds over one third of them perish. Guan said China’s government is already investigating vaccinating chickens. “Today, science is more advanced, we have vaccines and it’s easy to diagnose. On the other hand, it now takes hours to spread new viruses all over the world,” Guan told NPR. “I think this virus poses the greatest threat to humanity than any other in the past 100 years.” Via SciDev.net and NPR Images via CDC Global on Flickr and M M on Flickr

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Deadly new bird flu strain could lead to devastating pandemic

This man spent 36 years carving through mountains to bring water to his village

April 21, 2017 by  
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In 1959, the small village of Caowangba in China ’s Guizhou Province had a problem – a drought had dried up all the nearby water sources, and residents were forced to rely on a single well for drinking water. Even that single well was faltering, sometimes leaving the people of the town without enough water to go around. Worse yet, the town’s single rice paddy had dried up, making it hard for residents to access enough food. Something had to be done. But rather than give up and move to a new home, one man named Huang Dafa decided to lead an ambitious project to dig a 10-kilometer canal along the face of several sheer cliffs to bring water to his home. It took 36 years and at least one failed attempt, but now enough water flows to the city to provide food and drinking water to everyone. Many have compared Dafa to the legendary figure Yu Gong , an old man whose determination caused the gods to literally move mountains from his path. At only 23 years old, Dafa made the project his life’s work. To build the canal, villagers had to carve along the sheer cliffs of three karst mountains , dangerous work that involved climbing up the side of the mountains, tying themselves to trees, and rappelling hundreds of meters down the cliff to dig. Related: Indian Man Single-Handedly Plants 1,360 Acre Forest Naturally, it took a bit of persuading before anyone else in town was willing to take on this dangerous work. But in the end, the only other option was to do nothing and watch the town continue to struggle. Unfortunately, after a decade of work, the first attempt at a canal was unsuccessful in bringing water to the city. It wasn’t a total waste: the effort did create a tunnel through the mountains that allowed for easy travel through the stone, rather than around, which is still in use today. Dafa realized they needed a better understanding of irrigation to make the project work. So he left to study engineering for several years, and planned his next attempt even more meticulously. In the early 1990s, he persuaded the villagers to try again. The workers often slept in caves along the cliff side, and the remote location made it difficult to reach them in case of emergency – in fact, Dafa was working in the mountains when his daughter and grandson passed away, unable to reach them before they died. Related: Hundreds of beehives hang off a steep cliff in China to save wild honeybees Finally, in 1995, the new channel was finished, and water began to flow to Caowangba. As if the channel weren’t enough, Dafa’s efforts were also responsible for bringing electricity and a new road to the town that same year, allowing the residents to step into the modern era. Now, the community is thriving, and Huang Dafa is celebrated as a local hero at 82 years old. The channel provides running water to three other villages that happen to cross its path as well, providing water to 1,200 people and allowing them to grow 400,000 kilograms of rice every year. Via Oddity Central Images via VGC , China Daily

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This man spent 36 years carving through mountains to bring water to his village

This futuristic vertical factory feeds off a city’s waste to produce energy

April 13, 2017 by  
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Most factories gobble up natural resources while belching out pollution – but could these mammoth buildings actually benefit the cities of the future? Designers Tianshu Liu and Lingshen Xie just unveiled plans for a cleaner and greener vertical factory that doubles as a self-sustaining ecosystem . The soaring structure consists of alternating layers of industry and nature that support each other to create a sustainable urban environment. The forward-thinking design recently came in second place in the 2017 Evolo Skyscraper Competition . The multi-layered complexes would actively contribute to the environment of megacities, emitting zero CO2 emissions, improving local energy efficiency , and providing a higher quality of life for factory workers. Related: China plans its first “Forest City” to fight air pollution The vertical factory was inspired by the rapidly-growing city of Manila, where urbanization is spawning new industries and more pollution. The Vertical Factory would ensure green growth by transforming the city’s organic waste into water, fertilizer, heat and electricity. Via Evolo

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This futuristic vertical factory feeds off a city’s waste to produce energy

Doughnut Economics: the long-sought alternative to endless growth

April 13, 2017 by  
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Finding a healthy alternative to the prevailing growth model that has strained the planet to bursting is the holy grail of environmental economics. And it looks like maybe we’ve found it. George Monbiot, the most dynamic environmental journalist I know, wrote about Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist , which “redraws the economy” in such a way that the planet and its inhabitants can thrive, with or without growth. It’s so similar to the kind of closed-loop thinking we see frequently on Inhabitat, whether in permaculture design or William McDonough’s new approach to integrating the carbon cycle , it seemed important to share. I’ll point out a few excerpts below, but please do read Monbiot’s longer analysis . It starts with what he says is the most important question: “So what are we going to do about it?” Monbiot writes: Raworth points out that economics in the 20th century “lost the desire to articulate its goals”. It aspired to be a science of human behaviour: a science based on a deeply flawed portrait of humanity. The dominant model – “rational economic man”, self-interested, isolated, calculating – says more about the nature of economists than it does about other humans. The loss of an explicit objective allowed the discipline to be captured by a proxy goal: endless growth. In her book, Raworth emphasizes that economics should provide a model that doesn’t require growth in order to meet “the needs of all within the means of the planet.” And, she offers one. As Monbiot points out, we have a messy situation where power rests in the hands of a few who really don’t seem terribly concerned to acknowledge the planet’s limits, or, therefore, the limits to economic growth, so mustering political might not be so easy. Here’s how our current economic system works, in a nutshell, according to Monbiot: The central image in mainstream economics is the circular flow diagram. It depicts a closed flow of income cycling between households, businesses, banks, government and trade, operating in a social and ecological vacuum. Energy, materials, the natural world, human society, power, the wealth we hold in common … all are missing from the model. The unpaid work of carers – principally women – is ignored, though no economy could function without them. Like rational economic man, this representation of economic activity bears little relationship to reality. Raworth’s model “embeds” economics into existing natural and social systems, “showing how it depends on the flow of materials and energy , and reminding us that we are more than just workers, consumers and owners of capital.” Again from Monbiot, writing for The Guardian : The diagram consists of two rings. The inner ring of the doughnut represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, democracy. Anyone living within that ring, in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, is in a state of deprivation. The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, beyond which we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species and other assaults on the living world. The area between the two rings – the doughnut itself – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there. It’s hard to understate how exciting this revelation is for those of us thinking of a way out of our current predicament. We need an economic system that works with the Earth, instead of against it, to provide for all of us – rather than too much for too few. Images via George Monbiot, Kate Raworth, Pixabay

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Doughnut Economics: the long-sought alternative to endless growth

Groundbreaking new material for longer-lasting batteries inspired by leaf veins

April 11, 2017 by  
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Biology may hold the clues to better batteries . An international team of scientists designed a porous material inspired by the vascular structure of leaves that could make energy transfers more efficient. Similar to the way leaf veins efficiently transport nutrients, this material could help rechargeable batteries perform better and last longer. A team of researchers led by Xianfeng Zheng of China’s Wuhan University of Technology and Australia’s University of Queensland scrutinized the way leaf veins optimize the flow of nutrients, with minimum energy consumption, “by branching out to smaller scales” according to the University of Cambridge , and then applied that to their groundbreaking porous material. The nature-inspired material could help relieve stresses in battery electrodes that currently limit their lifespan. The material could also enhance the charge and discharge process. Related: American fern inspires groundbreaking new solar storage solution The team calls their product Murray material after Murray’s Law. Cambridge said according to the rule the whole network of pores in biological systems is connected in a manner “to facilitate the transfer of liquids and minimize resistance throughout the network.” Scientist Bao-Lian Su of Cambridge, Wuhan University of Technology, and University of Namur in Belgium said they applied that biological law to chemistry , saying, “The introduction of the concept of Murray’s Law to industrial processes could revolutionize the design of reactors with highly enhanced efficiency, minimum energy, time, and raw material consumption for a sustainable future.” The scientists applied Murray material to gas sensing and photocatalysis as well. Su is a co-author on a paper published online by Nature Communications late last week. There are seven other co-authors on the paper from institutions in China, Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Another co-author, Tawfique Hasan of Cambridge University, said it could be possible to manufacture the porous material on a large scale. Via the University of Cambridge Images via Christoph Rupprecht on Flickr and Pixabay

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Groundbreaking new material for longer-lasting batteries inspired by leaf veins

Pope opens free laundromat for Rome’s poor

April 11, 2017 by  
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Homeless people in Rome will now have a place to wash their clothes and blankets, thanks to Pope Francis . The pope recently opened a free laundromat, the Lavanderia di Papa Francesco, or Pope Francis Laundry, with the goal of restoring “dignity to many people who are our brothers and sisters.” The Pope Francis Laundry, in a former hospital near the Vatican in Rome’s city center, is stocked with six donated washing machines and dryers from the Whirlpool Corporation . Poor and homeless people have access to detergent, fabric softener, and irons provided there as well. The Community of Sant’Egidio , a Christian organization fighting poverty , will operate the free laundromat. Showers, medical facilities, and a barbershop are also planned for the site. Related: Pope Francis urges Americans to fight climate change in his first address to the country According to the Vatican, the free laundromat is for “the poorest people, particularly the homeless, who will be able to wash, dry, and iron their clothes and blankets.” This isn’t the first time Pope Francis has stepped out to help the poor. Outcasts or those on the edges of society have been a large focus of his papacy so far. He opened a shower and barber facility near St. Peter’s Basilica two years ago. That same year to mark his 78th birthday he passed out hundreds of sleeping bags to Rome’s homeless. Last September at the canonization celebration for Mother Teresa, he invited 1,500 homeless people to travel to Rome and occupy seats of honor, and eat a free pizza lunch. He’s also housed refugee families in the Vatican. Last week three Syrian families moved in, replacing some families who have recently moved out to live on their own. Last year on Maundy Thursday, following Christian tradition, Pope Francis washed people’s feet, and the people whose feet he chose to wash were those of refugees and Muslims. This year for Maundy Thursday this week he will wash the feet of inmates at a prison south of Rome. Via The Guardian Images via Office Of Papal Charities/EPA , Community of Sant’Egidio Facebook , and Wikimedia Commons

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Pope opens free laundromat for Rome’s poor

China calls America selfish amid Trump attempt to revive coal

March 30, 2017 by  
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China is uneasy leading the way on climate action without the help of the United States, according to an editorial in Chinese state media. After President Donald Trump signed his executive order rolling back the Clean Power Plan this week, an article ran in the Global Times critical of Trump’s moves. The editorial said, “…what the US is doing undermines the other countries’ dedication to implement the Paris Agreement .” China relied on coal for development, but in recent years has made strides to build renewable energy plants and shut down coal mines . Even if they have a long way to go to fix pollution woes, one study showed their coal use likely peaked in 2014 . Meanwhile Trump has touted the return of coal against evidence of the growth of renewable energy and even the reality of climate change . Related: 75 American mayors affirm climate goals even after Trump executive order So it’s not too surprising Chinese media lambasted Trump in a March 30 editorial. “Some Western media now pin their hopes on China to fill the vacuum left by Washington in the fight against climate change. But no matter how hard Beijing tries, it won’t be able to take on all the responsibilities that Washington refuses to take…Washington’s political selfishness must be discouraged,” it said. The editorial pointed out China and the United States are the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitters, but said China is still in the process of developing while America is a superpower with the technological edge to slash emissions . They said America’s attitudes will impact how people around the world approach the battle against climate change. Global Times also put the pressure on Western media and the public to pressure Trump, saying “American opinion has enabled the country’s political and legal authorities to freeze the president’s Muslim ban. If it keeps up the same vigor, the Trump administration may not be able to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement.” Via The Guardian and Global Times Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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China calls America selfish amid Trump attempt to revive coal

Smog-filled Beijing is building a ‘green necklace’ around the city to curb pollution

March 23, 2017 by  
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Beijing’s pollution problem is no secret – earlier this year the city even created an environmental police squad in a bid to stop smog . Now, the nearby province of Hebei  – which contributes to Beijing’s smog with it’s heavy industry economy – is taking some creative new steps to combat the dangerous health risk that kills millions of people each year. The government is turning to nature to create a “green necklace” of trees and green belts as a natural way to fight pollution. People have recently pointed fingers at Hebei’s heavy industry as a source for some of Beijing’s hazardous pollution . The city has suffered from numerous smog outbreaks, often during the winter, according to Reuters. So the Hebei government announced this week both they and Beijing will plant trees and use wetlands and rivers to create a green necklace to protect the major global city. In a website notice, the government said it will increase forest coverage and set up green belts with the help of river systems, farms, mountains, and wetlands near Beijing. Related: China’s crazy smog-sucking vacuum tower might actually be working Transportation rules for Beijing and border areas are also part of the plan, which according to Reuters is part of a government effort to integrate the city, Hebei, and Tianjin, a major port city just southeast of Beijing. What have been described as fortress economies in the area could have prompted a race to the bottom in environmental law enforcement, according to Reuters. The cross-regional plan could also help address overpopulation – around 22 million people currently live in Beijing – by trying to limit urban development on the city’s borders. Beijing also plans to move some industries and “non-capital functions” out to Hebei, hoping such moves will also help cut pollution and congestion. Limited coal consumption is another piece of the strategy to clear the skies over Beijing, and the city just decommissioned the last coal-fired power plant earlier in March. Via Reuters Images via Bert Oostdijk on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Smog-filled Beijing is building a ‘green necklace’ around the city to curb pollution

World’s biggest river island could be India’s first carbon-neutral sector

March 23, 2017 by  
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Pollution has plagued India recently; a 2017 report showed people are more likely to die from air pollution not in China, as might be your first guess, but in India. But one area of the country could receive a breath of fresh air. Majuli, which is the largest river island in the world, could become the country’s first carbon-neutral district. Majuli, which is found in India’s Assam state, is home to plentiful biodiversity and the neo-Vaishnavite culture, which according to The Guardian is a monotheistic branch of Hinduism. But the river island is in trouble: monsoons and the river absorb homes as land is disappearing rapidly. In the middle of the 19th century, the river island was around 463 square miles, but in 2015 it was just around 154 square miles, and some research says Majuli could be gone in two decades. Related: New Delhi has the worst air pollution of any city on earth “Majuli is facing an existential crisis and therefore initiatives like designating [it] a carbon neutral district and biodiversity heritage site are [the] needs of the hour to preserve its rich heritage and legacy,” said Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. The government aims to make the river island the country’s first carbon-neutral sector by 2020 . Sonowal aims to raise awareness among locals as the area works to become free of pollution. He suggested parents could give a sapling to their children for their birthdays, and plant trees around their homes. He also started an electronic registry to scrutinize the climate impact of any projects proposed for Majuli. A project called the Sustainable Action for Climate Resilient Development, started late last year, will ensure the river island’s infrastructure is low carbon . According to Sonowal’s office as quoted by The Times of India, “Further declaration of Majuli as a Biodiversity Heritage Site, the first in the state, enforces the rich biological biodiversity in the wild, cultivated areas of the island and cultural heritage of Majuli.” Via India Times , The Times of India , and The Guardian Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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World’s biggest river island could be India’s first carbon-neutral sector

Czech zoo to remove horns from rhino herd after poacher attack in France

March 16, 2017 by  
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A zoo in the Czech Republic announced Tuesday that it plans to preemptively remove the horns from its herd of rare rhinos. The decision comes a week after poachers broke into a French zoo, shot dead an endangered white rhino and hacked off its horn. As extreme as it sounds, the surgery could be potentially lifesaving. “It’s for the sake of rhino safety,” Andrea Jirousova, spokeswoman for the zoo in the central Czech town of Dvur Kralove nad Labem, told AFP . “The attack put us on alert, the danger is really intense.” The March 7 death of 4-year-old Vince from Thoiry Zoological Park outside Paris sent shockwaves through the wildlife community. Experts say that the animal’s death likely marks the first time a rhino has been killed in a zoo. The message the tragedy sent was chillingly clear: No living rhino, not even one held in captivity, is safe from poachers. The Dvur Kralove zoo currently houses 21 black and southern white rhinos, including three calves who will be excluded from the surgery. At up to $60,000 per kilogram, rhino horn sells more on the black market than gold or cocaine. Most of the demand for horn comes from China and Vietnam, where it’s prized for its purported medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. Related: Poachers broke into a French zoo to kill a rhino and steal its horn Jirousova said that the rhinos would be kept under anesthesia for the procedure, which involves removing the horns with a chainsaw, then filing down the edges. The move, she added, is entirely unprecedented. “We have never done this because of poachers,” Jirousova added. “We did it for other reasons like transport or health concerns.” Via AFP Photos by Flowcomm and Son of Groucho

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Czech zoo to remove horns from rhino herd after poacher attack in France

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