Renewable energy surpasses coal for the first time in U.S. history

May 6, 2019 by  
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This April, for the first time in U.S. history, the renewable energy sector is expected to have generated more total electricity than coal. According to an initial report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, this achievement is partially because of increased investment and awareness, but might also be due to seasonal changes in electricity consumption. “Five years ago, this never would have been close to happening,” Dennis Wamstead, research analyst at IEEFA, said in the report. “The transition that’s going on in the electric sector in the United States has been phenomenal.” Americans demand more renewable energy According to the IEEFA report, there has been increased investment in the wind and solar field, making the technology less expensive and more widely accessible. Increased awareness about climate change and the role of carbon emissions has also led local governments, businesses and residents to demand renewable energy policies and services. Related: Coal prices continue to rise, becoming more costly than solar and wind alternatives Renewable energy sources include hydro, geothermal , solar, wind and biomass energy, although solar and wind are the two sectors that have seen the most rapid upsurge. In fact, even major power companies are turning to renewable energy. Power giant Xcel Energy shut down 25 percent of its coal plants and plans to deliver zero-carbon electricity by 2050. Coal still reigns in the summertime Although this record-breaking achievement is exciting, energy experts also said that it could be partially explained by seasonal electricity demands. Many companies temporarily shut down coal plants for seasonal maintenance in the springtime, when electricity demands are lowest. There is also an abundance of wind and hydro energy during that time. However, once people start turning on their air conditioners around June, electricity production is expected to be dominated by coal and natural gas again. Despite the current federal government’s attempts to boost the coal industry, coal consumption has been steadily declining. In 2016, natural gas surpassed coal as America’s biggest source of electricity, with coal contributing 27 percent of electricity and natural gas contributing 35 percent. Although it is cleaner than coal, natural gas is still a fossil fuel and therefore contributes to climate change. The report also predicts that renewable energy will outshine coal in May, and going forward will sporadically compete with coal on a monthly basis. However, coal and natural gas are expected to dominate annual consumption patterns for several more years. + IEEFA Via CNN Images via   Zak Zak and Jeff Hitchcock

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Renewable energy surpasses coal for the first time in U.S. history

Australia to cull over two million feral cats by 2020

April 29, 2019 by  
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They may look adorable and fuzzy, but  feral cats  are now at war with  Australia . The country’s government intends to cull over two million untamed cats over the next year, cutting their numbers from upward of six million down to four million. As an invasive species, these cats are eliminating many species in Australia at an alarming rate through hunting. While killing such a large number of feral cats may seem excessively cruel, there are reasons why Australia is culling the population. These free-ranging cats were brought to the continent in the 1600s and now cover over 99 percent of the country. Unlike their domestic counterparts, feral cats survive by hunting in the wild. In fact, feral cats are extremely good at hunting small critters. According to CNN , experts estimate that feral cats have contributed to the wipe out of 20 different mammals over the past 300 years. Given that many of the country’s native species are not found anywhere else on the planet, this is a major problem. Related: Exotic pets most likely to be released in the wild and become invasive species What kind of animals are part of a feral cat’s diet? Conservationists estimate that, given their large population numbers, cats kill around 1.7 million reptiles every day in Australia. They also target birds, killing over a million on a typical day. Other animals hunted by feral cats include the brush-tailed rabbit-rat and the golden bandicoot, both of which are classified as vulnerable by the government. “We are not culling cats for the sake of it, we are not doing so because we hate cats,” Gregory Andrews, who works as the national commissioner of threatened species, explained. “We have got to make choices to save animals that we love, and who define us as a nation.” To prevent these species from going extinct, Australia has set aside five million dollars to pay groups that will help cull feral cat populations. The initiative, however, has faced a lot of criticism from activists and conservationists . Most critics of the plan conceded that feral cats are a problem but argue that large-scale culling is not the answer. Instead, groups are pushing for more accurate assessments on population numbers and want the government to focus on feral cats that live in areas with threatened animals. Via CNN Image via Daniel Ramirez

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London becomes the first city to have an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)

April 10, 2019 by  
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London is officially the first city to have an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). The zone, which is active all hours of the day and night, will improve air quality in the city by cutting down on pollution caused by vehicle emissions . Any vehicle traveling inside the ULEZ will have to meet strict emission codes or be subject to fines. Scientists believe that vehicle emissions, specifically nitrogen oxide, account for the majority of air pollution in London and are a serious threat to public health. These harmful chemicals have been known to increase risks of dementia and cancer. Related: Teens exposed to air pollution more likely to experience psychotic episodes, new study says “This is a landmark day for our city. Our toxic air is an invisible killer responsible for one of the biggest national health emergencies of our generation,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan shared. The ULEZ was activated on April 8 and any vehicles traveling inside the zone that do not meet emissions standards will face charges of around $16 per day. Larger vehicles, such as trucks and buses, will have to pay heftier fines upwards of $130. The zone currently covers an area roughly four miles in size and will be expanded to a much larger area by the fall of 2021. The ULEZ is part of a larger plan to discourage high-emission vehicles from travelling around London. The first stage of the plan initiated what was called a T-charge, which went into effect in the winter of 2017. In the two years since, London has witnessed a drop of around 11,000 vehicles every day from the targeted area. The plan has also increased the number of vehicles becoming compliant with emissions standards in the area. The city’s famous fleet of red double-decker buses, for example, is being upgraded to comply with the new ULEZ.  There are approximately two million residents who live inside the ULEZ, and officials hope the new plan will improve the quality of air so that it meets standards enacted by the European Union. London may be the first city to enact an Ultra Low Emission Zone, but other locations, like New York City, are looking into similar plans. Via CNN Image via  Shrinkin’ Violet

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New study claims climate change could be linked to heart defects in newborns

February 5, 2019 by  
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Climate change may be linked to heart defects in newborns. The Journal of the American Heart Association just released new research that shows how higher temperatures are related to congenital heart issues in babies born in warmer months. With climate change worsening, mothers in the U.S. are exposed to more heat than ever before. Scientists have previously shown that women who are exposed to heat during pregnancy have a higher chance of having a baby born with a congenital heart defect. Every year in the U.S., around 40,000 newborns have heart issues at birth. Related: Follow this diet for both personal and planetary health According to CNN , the number of babies born with heart defects is expected to rise between 2025 and 2035 as temperatures continue to heat up across the U.S. The study predicted that around 7,000 additional cases of heart defects will occur during the 10-year stretch, with the Midwest region seeing the biggest rise. “Our results highlight the dramatic ways in which climate change can affect human health and suggest that pediatric heart disease stemming from structural heart malformations may become an important consequence of rising temperatures,” Dr. Wangjian Zhang explained. Heart problems are among the most common issues doctors see in newborns. Babies who are born with heart defects have poor overall health and can experience issues in early development as well. It is unclear why excess heat contributes to heart problems in newborns. Previous studies conducted on animals have shown that heat is detrimental to fetal cells and can disrupt proteins that are important in development. This could be what is going on in human pregnancies, though more research is needed to confirm. With heat being linked to heart problems, doctors are now warning women to avoid excess heat exposure while pregnant. This is similar to what doctors have been telling people with pulmonary and cardiovascular disease for years. Unfortunately, climate change will continue to drive temperatures up all across the U.S. Locations that will be directly impacted include the Midwest, the South and southeastern states, like North Carolina and Georgia. In addition to heart issues, women exposed to heat are also at a greater risk of giving birth early. Via CNN Image via Shutterstock

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New study claims climate change could be linked to heart defects in newborns

The PACT Act hopes to ban animal cruelty at the federal level

February 4, 2019 by  
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Even though it has been a federal crime to create and distribute animal torture videos for nearly a decade, the actual act of animal torture has not been banned at the federal level. Now, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) are trying to change that with the re-introduction of the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT Act). If passed, the PACT Act would prohibit “intentional acts of crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or otherwise subjecting animals to serious bodily harm,” according to a press release . The law would also make it easier for U.S. attorneys to prosecute the horrible acts, and those convicted would face seven years in prison plus fines. Related: New Jersey first state to ban wild animals in circuses Currently, all 50 states have separate laws against animal cruelty . However, according to CNN , the federal statute would allow authorities to go after criminals who cross state lines or torture animals on federal property. Rep. Buchanan said that animal torture is “abhorrent,” and we should be punishing people who commit this act “to the fullest extent of the law.” Buchanan added that protecting animals from cruelty is one of his top priorities. Rep. Deutch said the legislation is “common sense,” and animal welfare is an important issue for many Americans. He explained that Congress should build on current state and local laws to guarantee animals a level of protection throughout the entire country. According to the press release, there are exceptions included in the law, such as “normal veterinary care, hunting and conduct necessary to protect life or property from a serious threat caused by an animal.” Multiple groups have endorsed the legislation, including The National Sheriffs Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Humane Society of the United States. In a petition to garner support for the bill, the Humane Society wrote that even though every state has felony penalties for malicious cruelty, we need a federal law to close the gap for when it occurs on federal property or in interstate commerce. + PACT Act Via EcoWatch Images via Kimdewar0 and Timur85

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Green-roofed Hanging Villa is embedded into a lush jungle landscape

February 4, 2019 by  
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Architect Tonny Wirawan Suriajaja of Jakarta-based design firm TWS & Partners has created a spacious family retreat that takes advantage of its verdant and paradise-like valley setting in more ways than one. Tucked into the side of a lush mountain far away from snarling traffic in Bandung, the capital of Indonesia’s West Java province, Hanging Villa is an urban respite that boasts spectacular views of the surrounding valleys and harnesses solar gain and cross breezes for natural heating and cooling. To integrate the building into the landscape, mainly natural materials and an earthy color palette were used to enhance the surrounding view. Commissioned by a client who values large family gatherings as well as personal space, Hanging Villa includes a mix of large communal areas and separate private spaces. The multi-level building consists of a series of stacked volumes rotated on their corner axes to optimize views in multiple directions. The outdoor spaces — such as the accessible green roof , roof deck and outdoor pool — have also been created to accommodate larger groups and various events. To seamlessly connect the interiors with the exterior spaces, the architects used timber and other natural materials to dress the interiors and also installed full-height glazing throughout. The building has also been strategically oriented to optimize views and access to natural light and natural cross ventilation. Meanwhile, insulating glass and other materials help prevent heat loss without creating indoor humidity. Related: This contemporary light-filled home feels like an extension of Bali’s tropics “The design creates a healthy indoor environment quality by adequate ventilation , which leads to the increase of comfort and health benefits for the occupants,” the firm explained. “The shallow pool function as an element that produces a cool refreshing breeze as the wind flows into the building while benefiting the occupant by reducing the operating cost of using air-conditioner.” + TWS & Partners Via ArchDaily Photography by Fernando Gomulya via TWS & Partners

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Is a tiny home right for you?

February 4, 2019 by  
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Tiny house living is obviously more affordable compared to living in a traditional home, and it offers mobility and a smaller carbon footprint. The visible drawbacks are lack of storage space and fewer amenities, but there are more pros and cons to tiny house living that you might not have thought of. And what is a good thing today might end up being a negative down the road. Here are some expected — and not so expected — pros and cons to tiny house living that you should know if you are considering joining the tiny house community. Pros Less to clean Of course, less space means fewer things for you to clean in your tiny home . So, you can do everything you need to do in just minutes to make sure your home is clean and organized. Even a deep clean will only take you a couple of hours. Mobility Tiny house living combines the best parts of living in a traditional house with the best of living in a travel trailer or camper. You can have those must-have comforts like a washer and dryer or heat and AC, but you are also able to easily travel at the same time. You can place them on a trailer and go wherever you want, whenever you want — especially when your tiny home is custom built for travel. You can work from home and be on the road at the same time. Money The rate of home ownership in the tiny house community is 78 percent, compared to 65 percent for traditional homeownership. On top of that, 68 percent of tiny homeowners don’t have a mortgage, and that can free up a lot of cash. One out of three tiny house owners have at least $10,000 saved for retirement. Maintenance and utility costs are low, and renting a spot at an RV park or campground is much cheaper than paying rent for an apartment. Another pro is that you can splurge on upgrades in your home since you are building such a small space. Think hardwood or bamboo floors or exotic interior woods. Related: This countertop dishwasher promises to wash your dishes in just 10 minutes Less consumption When you only have about 300 square feet to work with, you are forced to consume less. If you can’t fit things into your cupboards and closets, you will have to buy fewer items when you go to the grocery store — and that means less waste. Also, since you can’t store food, you will buy fresh veggies, fruits, and seafood, which means healthier cooking . Energy efficiency Heating and cooling a small space can be done with a small window unit and propane tanks, or you can opt for solar panels. So, tiny house living automatically means built-in energy efficiency. But depending on where you live, the summer heat might be tough competition for a small window AC unit. No septic system required If you build a tiny home in the city, you can connect to a sewer system to enjoy modern plumbing. Remote tiny houses don’t require a septic system because you can use a composting toilet that will need cleaned about once every six weeks. You could also install a black water tank and plumbing for traditional flushing on a portable home if a composting toilet doesn’t sound like an attractive option. Cons The legal gray areas With tiny house living still being relatively new, you can find yourself in a legal gray area in many parts of the country. Some places might classify you as an RV, so you will need to park your tiny home in an RV park . But some places don’t consider tiny homes RVs, and instead, classify them as a house. And, depending on if you are traveling or looking for a permanent spot, you can end up in a legal black hole or have a lot of red tape to deal with. If you are wanting to build a tiny home in a permanent location, some communities and neighborhoods have building codes that dictate the minimum size of a home, so a tiny home might not be approved. Cleaning more often There might not be a lot to clean, which saves you time. But, the tiniest bit of disorganization can feel like a disaster in 250 square feet. So, you will need to clean your tiny home more often if you want to avoid a constant mess. Related: Potato peels offer a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials Unsustainable packaging Living in a tiny home makes it extremely difficult to buy items in bulk and use sustainable packaging. If you have zero storage space for those items, or if you are parked in a location that doesn’t have easy access to sustainable products, this means you might have to buy more items in unsustainable packaging. Towing challenges If you want to move to a tiny house so you can easily travel, that means that you will need to buy a large truck for towing. This will mean lower gas mileage and the smaller carbon footprint from your tiny house will be offset by the emissions from your big pickup truck. Accessible storage You can design your tiny home to have more storage than most people would expect. The problem is that those areas might not be very easy to reach. You can’t put everything in dressers or on counters. So, if you need to access things that are in those built-in storage spaces, it can be difficult or frustrating. Images via WinnieC , Shutterstock

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Iguanas reintroduced to island after 200 years

January 15, 2019 by  
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In 1835, Charles Darwin was the last person to officially see a land iguana on Santiago Island in the Galapagos. After that encounter, predators like the feral pig wiped the lizard population out of that location. Now — nearly two centuries later —  an initiative by the Galapagos National Park authority has reintroduced more than 1,400 land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) back to Santiago Island. Authorities said in a recent statement that on January 3 and 4, the land iguanas were taken from neighboring North Seymour Island and introduced to the coastal regions Puerto Nuevo and Bucanero, which have similar ecosystems to the iguanas’ former home. The Galapagos Conservation Trust says that the archipelago’s land iguana population suffered when species like cats, rats, dogs and pigs were introduced. Those species prey on baby iguanas and eggs, plus they compete for food. Some cats even target adult iguanas up to four years old. But, the last feral pig on Santiago Island was eradicated in 2000 as part of the Galapagos Conservancy’s Project Isabela, and the island became officially pig-free in 2004. Related: Endangered green and loggerhead turtles make Mediterranean comeback The Santiago Island iguana reintroduction initiative was in due to depleting vegetation on North Seymour Island, which was threatening also a main threat to the food source of more than 5,000 iguanas. However, some lizards did remain to avoid compromising the existing vegetation . “The land iguana is a herbivore that helps ecosystems by dispersing seeds and maintaining open areas free from vegetation,” says Galapagos ecosystems director Danny Rueda. Authorities will continue to monitor the iguanas that have been reintroduced to the Galapagos island in order to determine if the iguanas are properly adapting and creating nests, and also to see if they are finding necessary food. They will also keep a close eye on newer species found on the island, such as rodents and ants, to make sure they are not disturbing the iguanas’ nests. Galapagos National Park Director Jorge Carrión said on Twitter that reintroducing the iguanas to Santiago Island was “great news for #Galapagos, for #Ecuador, and the world.” Via CNN Image by 8moments

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Invasive longhorned tick could spread disease across the U.S.

December 17, 2018 by  
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The Asian longhorned tick used to be a species only found in China, Japan, Korea and southeastern Russia, plus parts of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. But last year, an established population was found in New Jersey, and since then, the ticks have been found in eight other states. Because the tick is parthenogenetic — which means the females can reproduce without needing male DNA — it is possible that it will soon occupy large parts of the Pacific Northwest and the eastern U.S. “There is a good chance for this tick to become widely distributed in North America,” said Ilia Rochlin, a researcher at the Rutgers University Center for Vector Biology. “Mosquito control has been very successful in this country, but we are losing the battle with tick-borne diseases.” Related: Winter ticks are responsible for New England’s moose massacres The Asian longhorned tick’s ability to clone makes it possible for them to cause “massive” infestations of hosts, and Rochlin said that researchers have already seen large numbers on livestock and dogs. He added that the ticks can bite humans, pets, farm animals and wildlife . The Journal of Medical Entomology published new research about the tick last week, and even though the tick can cause infectious disease, there have not been any reported illnesses in animals or humans in the U.S. One of the diseases the Asian longhorned tick can transmit is a hemorrhagic illness called thrombocytopenia syndrome. According to the CDC , the illness recently emerged in China, South Korea and Japan. The syndrome causes severe fever, nausea, diarrhea and muscle pain. Most patients must be hospitalized, and almost a third of infected people have died. The tick can also carry other illnesses like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. Rochlin said that all of these illnesses can lead to severe disabilities. Asian longhorned ticks can spread quickly in favorable habitats. If you add that to their aggressive biting behavior and potential for carrying pathogens, Rochlin said the tick is a significant public health concern. + Journal of Medical Entromology Via CNN Image via James Gathany / CDC

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Environmental campaign floods UK Royal Mail with empty potato chip bags

September 28, 2018 by  
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The U.K. postal service has implored its public to stop mailing empty potato chip bags addressed without an envelope after a surge in chip bag mailings was encountered by its courier offices. The mailings are part of an environmental campaign urging the most popular brand of British crisps, Walkers, to reevaluate its plastic packaging. Walkers, owned by PepsiCo, is being met with a petition signed by more than 310,000 people and an online campaign that is sending unknown numbers of empty bags right to the company’s doorstep. Twitter is buzzing about the environmental activists , who have been posting pictures of themselves mailing the empty packets of chips through the Royal Mail service. The rebels are using the hashtag #PacketInWalkers to comment on the company’s latent efforts to revamp its packaging. An emailed statement from a Walkers spokesperson, released by CNN , stated, “We have received some returned packets and recognize the efforts being made to bring the issue of packaging waste to our attention. The returned packets will be used in our research, as we work towards our commitment of improving the recyclability of our packaging.” The company has announced that it plans to achieve plastic-free packaging by 2025. . @walkers_crisps 2025 is too long to wait for you to use plastic free packaging. It’s just not good enough. You produce 4 billion packs per year. I’m sending these back to you so you can deal with your own waste. #PacketInWalkers pic.twitter.com/S13uiZXpdx — Jarred Livesey (@Jaz_Livesey) September 22, 2018 For many campaign participants, such as Jarred Livesey, the commitments are vague and inadequate. “2025 is too long to wait for you to use plastic free packaging. It’s just not good enough,” he commented on Twitter last week. Despite PepsiCo working on a pilot project in the U.S., India and Chile that features compostable packaging , consumers are adamant about stopping the polluters as soon as possible. Related: UK’s Co-op to ditch single-use plastic bags for biodegradable bags Lisa Ann Pasquale went a step further in her Twitter commentary, suggesting, “What if — instead of buying crisps and posting the packages back to @walkers_crisps — we just save our planet AND cholesterol levels by not buying crisps… .” Pasquale makes a sound argument, considering the 11 million bags of potato chips Walkers produces daily in order to keep up supply for its spud-loving consumers, who consume approximately 6 billion packs of chips a year. The Royal Mail service is caught in the cross-hairs of this environmental argument. Bound by U.K. law to treat the empty potato chip bags as mail as long as they are properly addressed, there is not much else the national communications carrier can do. “If an item is addressed properly and carries the correct postage, then Royal Mail is obliged by law to handle and deliver the item to the stated address,” a Royal Mail spokesperson told CNN. “If they are taking part in this campaign, we would urge them to put crisp packets in an envelope before posting,” because improperly packaged bags could cause delays or be tossed from the sorting sequence. Via CNN Image via Allen Watkin

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