Climate change heightens Californias drought and wildfire risks

October 31, 2019 by  
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Global warming and climate change are to blame for creating the strong winds and low humidity that are currently turning California into a tinderbox. Tracts of Golden State land are drying out, making them more prone to insect infestation, forest disease outbreaks and extended wildfire seasons. In response, two of the state’s main electricity companies, PG&E and SDG&E, have implemented brownouts, unplugging entire cities to minimize fire hazard risks. The California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection , or CalFire, recently reported that “while wildfires are a natural part of California’s landscape, the fire season in California and across the west is starting earlier and ending later each year. Climate change is considered a key driver of this trend.” Related: Thousands of animals have been displaced by California wildfires The growing intensity of present day wildfires is a sobering reminder that greenhouse gas emissions and the global carbon footprint must be curbed, lest our planet be faced with irreversible climate consequences. Accelerated warming and the burning of fossil fuels trap more heat on the planet, shifting precipitation patterns and amplifying the risks of wildfires and their prolonged seasons. Temperature rises from climate extremes likewise lead to drier air that quickly desiccates vegetation on the ground. These drought conditions transform the landscape, inviting infestations of ravenous, bark-eating pests to excessively feed on trees, making them more susceptible to woodland diseases. These ailing California forests are thus compromised further, pushing them to the brink of mortality. High temperatures, strong winds, dry conditions and ailing flora are a formula for wildfire risks. But another variable to increased California wildfire occurrences is attributed to the sparks that can ignite the tinderbox; those sparks can be started by electrical utility infrastructure. Shutdowns of California power grids are now the new normal, according to the California Public Utilities Commission , which regulates services throughout the Golden State to “safeguard the environment and assure access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.” To protect California, the regulatory board has implemented a number of climate initiatives that include a utility wildfire mitigation plan calling for electrical power-downs to customers, especially during exceptionally hot and dry conditions. Many customers in the Golden State oppose the electrical shutdown measures. So, what other solutions are there? California has been at the forefront of fighting climate change, even promoting renewable energy and solar power as go-to strategies. Similarly, insurance companies have been shying away from securing housing development in fire-prone locations, leading to a shift in household relocation trends. Plus, researchers — in academia, military and public and private sectors — are now studying fire-resistant or non-flammable materials to harden California buildings and houses in hopes of making them more resilient. Even with these ideas in place, the best practices will rely on curbing climate change, which increases the likelihood and frequency of wildfires in the first place. Via CNN Image via U.S. Department of Agriculture

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Climate change heightens Californias drought and wildfire risks

Taco Bell launches new menu for vegetarians

September 12, 2019 by  
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While in-the-know vegetarians have navigated Taco Bell’s menu for years, the fast food chain is moving plant-based food to the forefront with an official vegetarian section on its menu. The new menu debuts Thursday, Sept. 12 at Taco Bell’s 7,000 U.S. restaurants . Only two of the items in the vegetarian section are new: the Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme and a Black Bean Quesarito. But clearly, marking the items as vegetarian makes ordering a much easier experience for customers who eat a plant-based diet. Related: KFC partners with Beyond Meat for vegan chicken nuggets The Black Bean Quesarito ($2.99) consists of black beans, seasoned rice, chipotle sauce, cheese, nacho cheese sauce and reduced-fat sour cream rolled up in a flour tortilla. Popular upgrades include jalapenos, pico de gallo and guacamole. The Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme ($3.69) adds lettuce and tomato to black beans, nacho cheese sauce and reduced-fat sour cream and serves it in a crispier tortilla. Other vegetarian menu items include three kinds of burritos, a tostada, the veggie power menu bowl, cheesy roll-ups and beans and rice. A green emblem on the new menu signifies that the American Vegetarian Association has certified Taco Bell’s vegetarian food items for people who “are lacto-ovo, allowing consumption of dairy and eggs but not animal byproducts.” But strict vegetarians should beware the fryer. The menu has this disclaimer: “We may use the same frying oil to prepare menu items that could contain meat . Vegetarian and meat ingredients are handled in common, and cross contact may occur, which may not be acceptable to certain types of vegetarian diets.” Taco Bell plans to “further innovate in this growing space,” the restaurant said in a press release. Unlike other fast food restaurants that are embracing imitation meat made by Beyond Meat , Taco Bell is, so far, sticking with less-processed whole foods, like black and pinto beans. Beans are also inexpensive, allowing Taco Bell to sell burritos for as little as one dollar. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has a handy guide on its website for vegans eating at Taco Bell. The magic words “fresco style” mean that instead of cheese and dairy-heavy sauces, you want pico de gallo and guacamole. + Taco Bell Via CNN Image via Taco Bell

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Taco Bell launches new menu for vegetarians

EPA promises an end to animal testing

September 12, 2019 by  
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Animal rights activists are rejoicing this week. On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a move to “aggressively reduce animal testing” and to stop funding mammal tests by 2035. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler promised to reduce new mammal tests by 30 percent by 2025 and pledged $4.25 million toward developing non-animal alternatives for testing chemical safety. “Part of why I’m doing this today is because it’s been 30 years and we haven’t made enough progress,” said Wheeler, who wrote an anti- animal testing op-ed for his college paper in 1987. Related: California becomes the first state to ban animal-tested cosmetics However, some people question the federal agency’s motives. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggested the decision had more to do with reducing costs for chemical companies required to do expensive animal tests rather than helping animals. “Phasing out foundational scientific testing methods can make it much harder to identify toxic chemicals — and protect human health ,” said Jennifer Sass, senior scientist for the NRDC’s Healthy People and Thriving Communities program. Some scientists worry that mathematical modeling and other non-animal testing approaches won’t effectively replicate the human physiological system. As People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) pointed out in a tweet, “PETA worked with the EPA for decades to prevent rabbits, mice, rats and dogs from having to ingest or inhale toxic chemicals .” The animal rights group is confident that modern alternative models will effectively protect humans, animals and the environment. “PETA will be helping regulatory agencies and companies switch to efficient and effective, non-animal testing approaches and working toward a day when all animal tests are only found in history books,” Amy Clippinger, director of PETA’s Regulatory Testing Department, said in an EPA press release. Many people are disturbed by the pain and cruelty of animal testing, leading to bipartisan efforts to decrease its use. During Obama’s presidency, the Toxic Substances Control Act was amended, calling for the EPA to reduce animal testing. Via EcoWatch Image via Tiburi

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EPA promises an end to animal testing

Psychedelic installation in NYC spotlights environmental issues with immersive art

September 12, 2019 by  
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The call for environmental awareness and action has been given a new voice in a visually stunning art installation that just opened its doors in New York City. Entitled Arcadia Earth , the temporary art exhibition immerses guests in a multi-sensory journey spotlighting pressing ecological issues — such as overfishing, plastic pollution, food waste, deforestation and climate change — with vivid artworks designed with upcycled and reusable materials. The 18-room exhibition is powered by augmented and virtual reality to create a large-scale interactive environment that encompasses a variety of landscapes, from underwater worlds to fantastical forests. Founded and designed by experiential artist Valentino Vettori, Arcadia Earth is billed as the “first immersive augmented reality journey through Planet Earth.” The art installation was created in collaboration with 12 leading environmental artists , including Samuelle Green, Tamara Kotianovsky, Etty Yaniv, Cindy Pease Roe, Poramit Thantapalit, Jesse Harrod, Justin Bolognino/META, Katie Donahue, Katharina Hoerath, Charlotte Becket and Emmy Mikelson. The project has been presented in association with its educational and charity partner, Oceanic Global , which will receive part of the proceeds from ticket sales. To highlight environmental issues, Arcadia Earth created a series of spectacular naturescapes afflicted by human-caused environmental problems that are accompanied with educational commentary. In the underwater ocean scene, for instance, guests can take in views of shrinking coral beds, plastic-coated jellyfish and life-size fishing nets representative of overfishing. One underwater cave is built from 44,000 recycled plastic bags to represent the number used in New York state per minute. Related: Giant totems in Poland warn against climate change catastrophe Fortunately, the hauntingly beautiful art exhibition doesn’t only project images of a doomed future. Arcadia Earth provides actionable suggestions that visitors can adopt to reduce their environmental impact . The visit also culminates in a “vow room,” where visitors can sign a petition and make personal vows to help the planet. Arcadia Earth is located at 718 Broadway and will be on display until January 2020. A tree will be planted for every ticket sold.  + Arcadia Earth Images by David Mitchell for Arcadia Earth

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Find vegan restaurants using Yelp’s updated, personalized app

August 30, 2019 by  
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Feel like feasting on a batch of sweet potato fries and a thick soy milkshake? Maybe a tempeh sandwich from the best vegan cafe in your ‘burb? Yelp’s updated, personalized mobile app makes finding a vegan restaurant near you easy. For example, if you follow a strict vegan diet and need to know the ultimate spot for a meatless sandwich, Yelp’s app can be tailored to meet the specifics for whatever you’re craving as well as your dietary needs, whether you are following a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc. diet. It can also provide recommendations, such as where to take Mom for her birthday, find a fun kid’s activity or grab lunch at a dog-friendly cafe. Related: 14 apps to help you live a more sustainable lifestyle “As Yelp turns 15 this year, we’re embarking on one of our most significant product updates with the introduction of a new, personalized experience,” Vivek Patel, Yelp’s chief product officer, told CNN . “Yelp has always been a helpful discovery platform that surfaces great local businesses based on your search. By making it more personalized, we’re saving people time and giving them an easy way to find the right business for them. Now, Yelp will help you discover businesses and activities based on who you are and what you like to do.” After you set up your preferences, you won’t have to change them each time you launch the app; it’s customized to your own needs and wants. With a vast number of followers already, Yelp has experienced steady growth from 2016 to 2019, according to Statista . Its unique mobile app visitor numbers have reached more than 36.74 million in Q2 2019. As people search for better food choices that address climate change and animal welfare, more sustainable restaurant options continue emerging. Currently, vegan-focused website HappyCow.net lists 33,253 options for vegan, vegetarian and veg-options throughout North America. The updated Yelp app will help consumers navigate this growing field of plant-based restaurants across the nation to find the juiciest veggie burger, the best plant-based pizza for a party and the most impressive vegan brunch for a weekend feast. + Yelp Via CNN and Happy Cow Image via

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Wildfires are decimating the Amazon rainforest at unprecedented rates

August 22, 2019 by  
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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has clashed with environmentalists since taking office in January. But criticisms are climbing to new levels as Amazon wildfires reach an all-time high in Brazil following a significant increase in deforestation . Between January and August of this year, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) recorded almost 73,000 fires. This is nearly twice the number for the whole of 2018 — 39,759 — and marks an 83 percent increase over this same period last year. Since last Thursday alone, satellite images identified more than 9,500 new fires. Most of these are burning the globe’s biggest tropical forest, located in the Amazon basin. Related: Save the environment by pooping less, says Bolsonaro Bolsonaro has promised to promote mining and farming in the Amazon region, ignoring international worries about deforestation. While wildfires are common in the Amazon’s dry season, farmers sometimes deliberately start fires to illegally clear their lands for raising cattle. INPE said this large number of fires can’t be attributed to the dry season alone. “There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average,” said INPE researcher Alberto Setzer, according to Al Jazeera . Bolsonaro remains unconcerned about the rampant Amazon wildfires caused by queimada, the name for farmers clearing land by fire. “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw,” he said . “Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada.” The president also posited another theory: environmentalists who hate him are starting fires to make him look bad. “They are now feeling the pinch from the lack of funding,” Bolsonaro said . “So, maybe the NGO types are conducting these criminal acts in order to generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government. This is the war we are facing.” Meanwhile, the Amazon wildfires continue to burn at the equivalence of more than 1.5 soccer fields per minute. Via CNN , Al Jazeera and Reuters Images via Pixabay and NASA

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Wildfires are decimating the Amazon rainforest at unprecedented rates

Coca-Cola to offer Dasani water in aluminum cans and bottles to reduce plastic waste

August 14, 2019 by  
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Could green be the new blue? The Dasani bottled water brand hopes so. Owned by The Coca-Cola Co., Dasani wants to up the ante for more sustainable packaging with a product lineup including aluminum bottles and cans — available as early as this fall. The new changes are part of Coca-Cola’s Global World Without Waste efforts to make 100 percent of its packaging completely recyclable by 2025. It also plans to manufacture its bottles and cans with an average of 50 percent recycled material by 2030. Related: San Francisco airport bans all plastic water bottles “While there is no single solution to the problem of plastic waste , the additional package and package-less options we are rolling out today mark an important next step in our effort to provide even more sustainable solutions at scale,” said Lauren King, brand director of Dasani, in a news release Tuesday. Come fall, the company is releasing aluminum can options to the northeastern U.S. The canned water will expand to other areas in 2020 and will be joined by the addition of new aluminum bottles of water in mid-2020. The new HybridBottle, also released in 2020, will be made with a mixture of up to 50 percent of a renewable, plant-based material and recycled PET. Other innovations in the lineup include “lightweighting” across the Dasani package portfolio to help reduce the amount of virgin PET plastic acquired by the Coca-Cola system. Labels are also changing and will read “ How2Recycle ” on all Dasani packages in an effort to educate and encourage consumers to recycle after use. As mainstream consumers continue to focus on reducing plastic pollution , large companies like Coca-Cola say they want to reduce their waste. Incidentally, Coca-Cola produced 3.3 million tons of plastic in 2017, according to a recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Plenty of environmental activists have pointed the finger at companies such as Coca-Cola, too. For instance, a study published by Greenpeace referred to Coca-Cola as “the most prolific polluter” compared to other top brands. Why? During several beach clean-ups held around the world, Coca-Cola products were among the most collected. + The Coca-Cola Co. Via CNN Image via Coca-Cola Co.

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Kids are hungry for books about eco-activists, in what publishers call ‘the Greta effect’

August 14, 2019 by  
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The soaring popularity of the feisty, outspoken environmental advocate – who is only 16 – has caused a rise in young people seeking stories about saving the planet. Publishers coin the new trend the “Greta Thunberg Effect” and are publishing children’s book about climate change in record time. Publishers have pumped out books across a range of topics related to the environment, from endangered species to climate change, and sales have doubled in the last year, according to Nielsen Book Research. Related: Greta Thunberg will sail across Atlantic to attend the UN climate summit “I absolutely would say there has been a Greta Thunberg effect. She has galvanized the appetite of young people for change, and that has galvanized our appetite, as publishers, for stories that empower our readers to make those changes,” said Rachel Kellehar, who heads nonfiction for Nosy Crow, a publishing company working on a collection of stories about environmental advocates and featuring Greta on the cover. Authors, too, are noticing the change in interest among young people, and seizing the opportunity to write stories that motivate and inspire them. “I want not only to educate but to inspire a new wave of eco-warriors. Kids are the future. Hopefully if they have been educated about environmental issues from a young age they will go on – and go further – than we are right now,” said author James Sellick, who wrote a story about orangutans and deforestation . Because of the popularity, and uncertainty around its longevity, publishers like Nosy Crow are turning topical children’s books around at fast speeds, such as with the new collection of short stories the company will publish that will be cranked out in four months— something unheard of for children’s genres. Part of the rush is also riding Greta’s wave of popularity to October, when she will find out if she wins the Novel Peace Prize. “Whether or not she wins the Nobel peace prize, October will be a key moment to reach out and say Greta’s doing this amazing thing, but also lots of other people you’ve never heard of all around the world are doing amazing things. From young girls in Indonesia who have got plastic bags banned, to an engineer in India who is creating artificial glaciers” said Kellehar. Via The Guardian Image via Flickr

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Kids are hungry for books about eco-activists, in what publishers call ‘the Greta effect’

McDonald’s new paper straws: thick, soggy, hard to recycle

August 7, 2019 by  
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Looks like the shakes at some McDonald’s restaurants aren’t the only things that are thick. Word is the fast food chain’s paper straws introduced a year ago to keep in tune with “protecting the environment” are hard to recycle , because they are too thick and become soggy in drinks. The new paper straws were introduced in 2018 after a trial basis to 1,361 McDonald’s franchises located throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. Related: McDonald’s creates McHives to raise awareness of the world’s decreasing bee populations. The problem with these straws was first reported by the U.K.’s The Sun newspaper, which published an internal McDonald’s memorandum stating the fast food chain’s paper straws “are not yet recyclable and should be disposed of in general waste until further notice.” “While the materials are recyclable, their current thickness makes it difficult for them to be processed by our waste solution providers, who also help us recycle our paper cups,” a McDonald’s spokesman told the U.K.’s Press Association news agency. Although the original plastic straws could be recycled more easily, the European Union along with the British government has opted to move to banning plastic straws by 2020 and wants chains like McDonald’s to halt using such products. “The government’s ambitious plans, combined with strong customer opinion, has helped to accelerate the move away from plastic , and I’m proud that we’ve been able to play our part in helping to achieve this societal change,” Paul Pomroy, CEO of McDonald’s U.K. and Ireland, said in a press release at the time. Not surprisingly, the new paper straws haven’t been much of a hit from the get-go, according to other reports. For example, many social media users have been busy commenting that the paper straws get too soggy in drinks. Additionally, a formal petition asking McDonald’s to return to its former plastic straws has garnered more than 50,000 signatures. Via CNN Image via Meghan Rodgers

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Ethiopia plants 350 million trees in one day

July 31, 2019 by  
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Ethiopia broke the world’s tree-planting record by planting more than 350 million trees in just one day. The effort is part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Green Legacy Initiative, which aims to address climate change and deforestation. The goal of the program is to plant more than four billion indigenous trees throughout the country. It has already reportedly planted three billion, and last week’s efforts made significant progress toward meeting the target. Related: Scientists confirm tree planting is our best solution to climate change Some government offices were shut down for the day to allow staff to participate in the planting efforts. Representatives from the United Nations, African Union and foreign embassies also came out to support the event. “We’re halfway to our goal,” the prime minister announced midway through the planting day, and he encouraged Ethiopians to continue the work in the remaining time. He later announced on Twitter they had not only met the “collective #GreenLegacy goal” but exceeded it. The prime minister is hopeful that he can reach his final target if every citizen plants 40 seedlings. The government is running educational videos about planting and maintaining trees to encourage citizens to join in. The biggest concern for young seedlings is grazing by goats and other livestock that would destroy the trees before they have a chance to grow. Ethiopia’s forest cover is alarmingly low and plummeted over the last few decades. At the start of the 20th century, the country had approximately 35 percent forest cover, but that number dropped to just 4 percent in 2000. Over 80 percent of Ethiopians rely on agriculture or forest products for their income. “I think we demonstrated the capacity for people to come together collectively and deliver on a shared vision,” said Billene Seyoum, Ahmed’s press secretary. The previous record for tree planting was held by India, where 66 million trees were planted in one day in 2017. Via CNN and Climate Change News Image via Pixabay

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