Activists trying to prevent the vaquita porpoise from extinction

March 18, 2019 by  
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Researchers just confirmed the sad news that only around 10 vaquita porpoises remain in the wild. Unless immediate steps are taken, these sea creatures will undoubtedly become extinct over the next few years. Vaquita porpoises are among the ocean’s smallest cetaceans and they only reside in the northern Gulf of California. The update on population numbers comes after news of the first vaquita death this year. Scientists are expected to release more information on that front later this week. Related: Ghost gear is haunting our oceans The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita is leading the charge in preventing these beloved creatures from becoming extinct. The conservation group challenged the president of Mexico , Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, to put a stop to gillnet fishing in vaquita habitats in hopes to boost population numbers. “One of Earth’s most incredible creatures is about to be wiped off the planet forever,” Sarah Uhlemann, the head of the Center for Biological Diversity, explained. “…Time is running out for President Lopez Obrador to stop all gillnet fishing and save the vaquita.” Gillnet fishing practices are the biggest threat to the vaquita and other marine wildlife, including the totoaba, another endangered species. Mexican has attempted to curb gillnet fishing but has yet to initiate any plans that work. Vaquita population declined a staggering 50 percent last year alone. The highest estimates put the number of vaquitas at 22, while some researchers say that number could be as low as six. Mexico has passed laws that outlaw the use of gillnet fishing. Enforcing those laws, however, has been the challenge. Last year, conservationists uncovered over 400 gillnet rigs in the vaquita’s habitat, and their efforts to remove them were met with violence. Unless Obrador and his administration does something fast, the vaquita will be killed off before his term is up. Although the numbers are alarmingly small, scientists believe there is hope for vaquita porpoises . Fortunately, the remaining vaquitas are still having babies and remain healthy, which are the two main elements for recovering an endangered species that is one the verge of extinction. Via Eco Watch Image via Paula Olson

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Kodasema unveils gorgeous prefab floating tiny house

March 18, 2019 by  
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Already well-known for their gorgeous and sustainable tiny structures, Estonian design firm Kodasema has just unveiled a floating prefabricated tiny home . The 227-square-foot KODA Light Float is an updated version of their KODA design, set on floating pontoons that enable the minimalist home to be installed on virtually any waterfront space. Much like its land-based counterpart, the solar-powered KODA , the floating tiny home is a beautiful example of modern minimalism. Built in collaboration with floating marina installations company Top Marine , the Koda Floating Light was built with a timber frame and platform. Under the platform are a series of floating pontoons that enable the home to be docked at virtually any waterfront property. Related: Sail away from it all in this gorgeous floating tiny home According to the Kodasema team, the floating tiny structure would be just as home at a private yacht club harbor as it would be a secluded lake or canal. Although the structure has all of the amenities for a serene home or weekend retreat, it could also be easily used as a harbor cafe, information center or even an artist’s studio. The floating home ‘s cube-like volume is surrounded by the large platform with a bridge that attaches to the dock. The extended platform acts as a wrap around deck for the home, and can be crafted into added green space or vibrant entertaining area. The exterior of the home can also be customized with a variety of cladding options such as timber or zinc. The interior is also a contemporary space, with all-white plywood walls and high ceilings. The 277-square-foot interior houses an open-space living area, kitchen, full bedroom and small bathroom. The home is also equipped with extra large window panels, that flood the interior with natural light and provide stunning views of the surroundings. + Kodasema Via Designboom Photography by Riku Kylä, Getter Kuusmaa, Tonu Tunnel, and Daniel Mets via Kodesma

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

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

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Adobe brick combines with wood in a low-carbon villa in Chiang Mai

March 14, 2019 by  
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Architectural practice Chiangmai Life Architects has completed a striking villa that blends elements of traditional Thai architecture together with environmentally savvy construction practices and modern amenities fit for 21st-century living. Located in the mountains of northern Thailand , the project, dubbed the ‘Earth & Wood Villa,’ was built primarily of locally sourced natural materials from the self-made adobe bricks to the exposed timber elements throughout. In addition to mountain vistas, the property is sandwiched between Lamyai tree orchards and rice fields, views of which are maximized throughout the home. Spanning an area of nearly 7,500 square feet, the expansive residence serves as the family home for a couple and their three children. The main house is a U-shaped structure oriented toward the north with four bedrooms lined up in a row in the east-facing private wing. The open-plan living area, dining room, kitchen and pantry are clustered across a hallway in the south of the building; full-height glazed folding doors open the living room and dining area up to an outdoor swimming pool. An entertainment area is in the west wing. A small home office is tucked into a second-floor mezzanine gallery and overlooks views of the surrounding landscape. The guest cottage with a sunset veranda sits adjacent to the main house. To meet modern living comforts, the residence is equipped with air conditioning in the private wing; however, it relies solely on natural ventilation in the living areas. Large openings allow for cross breezes and hot air while the raised roof — inspired by local vernacular architecture — permits hot air to escape and induces air circulation. The thick adobe brick walls that were built of local clay, sand and bamboo shavings provide thermal insulation. The exterior is coated in a water-resistant mixture of lime and fine earth powder. Related: Breathtaking bamboo building withstands earthquakes and boasts a zero-carbon footprint Locally sourced  bamboo  was used to construct the carport, barn and entrance gate; natural stone tiles were used for flooring. “The client was looking for a modern interpretation of using natural materials,” Chiangmai Life Architects explained. “Adobe brick walls combined with wooden roof structures were designed in a way to make this earth and wood residence both functional as a modern family home as well as in harmony with its environment and surroundings. This meant a design and finish fit for the needs and requirements of a 21st century family.” + Chiangmai Life Architects Photogrpahy by  Alberto Cosi , drone shots by Markus Roselieb via Chiangmai Life Architects

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Adobe brick combines with wood in a low-carbon villa in Chiang Mai

This distillery helps you make delicious, carbon-negative cocktails

March 14, 2019 by  
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Do you ever think about how your happy hour is affecting the environment? Manufacturing alcohol in the United States creates harmful carbon dioxide that can wreck the earth’s system of natural resources, and a massive amount of the materials needed to package and distribute alcohol (bottles, plastic caps, etc.) end up in the trash. Los Angeles-based Greenbar Distillery , however, is changing the game entirely with its carbon-negative company model. One of the world’s largest selections of USDA-certified organic spirits can be found at Greenbar Distillery — that means no artificial fertilizers or synthetic pesticides seeping into the earth or your body. Additionally, the company only uses lightweight and eco-friendly packaging. By taking the environment into account with its manufacturing process and its commitment to planting one tree for every bottle of liquor that it sells, buying from Greenbar Distillery actually helps to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. According to the website, a standard cocktail made with 1.5 ounces of Greenbar Distillery spirits will make you carbon negative for the day . “By being efficient and careful in the manufacturing process and planting one tree a bottle sold, 1.5 ounces of any Greenbar Distillery organic spirits — about what’s in a typical cocktail — helps remove 46.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” according to the website. Related: Grow your own cocktails — drink recipes from the garden Because the average American produces 45.2 kilograms of carbon dioxide every day, the 46.6 kilograms that Greenbar Distillery helps to remove daily means the drinks are not just carbon-neutral , but carbon-negative. You can even find a report on the company’s carbon footprint analysis on its website. So go ahead, celebrate Earth Day with a cocktail (or two). Another of the company’s impactful attributes? Its tree-planting program. It solidifies Greenbar Distillery’s enthusiasm and commitment to not only reducing its own carbon footprint with sustainable production techniques but educating the community and building awareness of the world’s environmental issues. Whenever you buy a bottle of Greenbar Distillery liquor, a tree is planted. Since beginning a partnership with Sustainable Harvest International in 2008, Greenbar has planted more than 766,000 trees in the Central American rainforest. These aren’t just any trees, either. They plant indigenous shade trees that can help protect locally-farmed, fair-trade crops like coffee and cacao. Sustainable Harvest International has also provided local training to rural farming communities throughout Central America since 1997, with programs in Belize, Honduras and Panama. Greenbar Distillery founders Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew taught themselves how to make liquor through trial-and-error in 2004, completing each process start to finish themselves in the company’s early years. They started out using traditional methods and materials and didn’t make the switch to fully organic until 2009. Initially launching a spirits line called Modern Spirits Artisan, Khosrovian and Mathew put their focus on using locally-farmed ingredients and exotic flavors. The company thrived while winning awards from Wine Enthusiast and the Wall Street Journal, but when some of their local sources began switching to organic, Khosrovian and Mathew noticed a difference. Once they discovered the superior quality and taste of organic ingredients, the duo was completely inspired. This early discovery led to education on sustainable, eco-friendly farming practices and an overhaul of the entire company to focus on sustainability. Gone were the heavy glass bottles and plastic labels. Instead, Khosrovian and Mathew focused on lightweight bottles and recycled labels with water-soluble ink. Today, Greenbar Distillery uses glass bottles that weight 25 percent less than the average spirits bottle, meaning fewer resources used and less carbon dioxide emissions from production. The shipping boxes are designed to fold together and reduce the need for tape. The labels use 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled paper, and the ink is soy-based, which is more biodegradable than traditional inks. The company also eliminated the use of plastic , tamper-evident capsules on its bottles, a popular and modern practice that adds more non-recyclable plastic to the environment. While synthetic corks are gaining popularity in the alcohol industry, Greenbar Distillery only uses recyclable corks, which are biodegradable and naturally-sourced. The company seems to be constantly coming up with new, innovative techniques while simultaneously honoring the old-school methods. With enough variation to please any bartender or cocktail-enthusiast, Greenbar Distillery offers organic gin, rum, liqueur, amaro, tequila, whiskey, vodka and even bitters. Its Slow Hand whiskey uses organic malted barley and infused flavor from white oak, hickory, maple, mulberry, red oak and grape woods. Greenbar Distillery was the first to use this whiskey-making technique in the Los Angeles area since the Prohibition Period. It is also free from added sugars or artificial colors. Related: 12 delicious and crowd-pleasing vegan brunch ideas The Greenbar gin uses organic and hand-picked juniper berries from Bulgaria, and the Renaissance-era distilling process takes up to two months. When it comes to flavored liquor, Greenbar Distillery flavors its gluten-free, organic vodkas with natural ingredients like California lemons and pomegranate. Its Tru Garden Vodka is a unique blend of celery, dill, coriander, fennel, mint, thyme, pink peppercorn, cumin and vanilla beans (perfect for a morning Bloody Mary). Check out Greenbar Distillery website for more information on distillery tours and practices or to make a purchase. You can also find a whole arsenal of cocktail recipes and concoctions on the  recipes page . + Greenbar Distillery Images via Sustainable Harvest, Maker Walk LA, Marc Royce, Terreanea Resort and Greenbar Distillery

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Green school in Bali shows students how to live sustainably

March 7, 2019 by  
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The goals of the Green School are anything but small, yet they are simple: take care of the local community and teach children to be stewards of our planet and leaders of sustainability in the future. The baby of John and Cynthia Hardy, the Green School was inspired after the retired couple viewed the Al Gore film The Inconvenient Truth . With four children of their own, the couple decided to make a difference and, in 2006, broke ground on a new type of school — an educational campus focused on using a holistic teaching approach and a natural canvas as classrooms. Related: Modscape installs a prefab school building that stays comfortable year-round The Green School is located on 20 acres in south central Bali, where the Hardys lived and ran a jewelry store for decades. Using local architects and materials, mainly bamboo , they spent two years constructing an open-air campus, which now houses several hundred students and teachers. In fact, the local area is becoming a community with families building green homes nearby, so their children can walk to school. Those that don’t walk board a bio-bus, fueled by oils collected at the community level and processed into biofuel locally. In addition to eliminating a reliance on fossil fuels and reducing the carbon footprint, the process of making biofuel produces glycerine as a natural by-product that is then turned into soaps to use on campus. This earth-friendly alternative to traditional palm oil-based soaps reduces the chemicals that would otherwise end up in the water system. Electricity to the school comes from solar panels and a water vortex system, which diverts water from the river that flows through campus and turns it into energy. Waste is an issue at any school, and the designers of the Green School have taken special consideration to create a closed circuit. The composting toilets produce waste that can be amended back into the adjacent soil, feeding the bamboo that grows rampant on the campus. Local Balinese woman use wood-fired stoves instead of gas and traditional cooking techniques to minimize resource usage. Food waste from feeding over 400 people each day is either fed to the school’s pigs or added to the on-site composting pile. Speaking of food, most of the meals provided are grown on campus, giving the students a full understanding of how to plant, nurture, maintain and cook vegetables and rice. The students also help raise the pigs, cows and even the buffalo that roam the campus, enclosed only by organic , natural fencing made from branches and leaves. Mostly tapioca root, the students recognize the fencing is edible for grazing animals as well as themselves. The eco-friendly design continues all the way down to where the footprints go by eliminating any pavement and the petroleum-based chemicals that come with it. Instead, all pathways are paved with hand-laid volcanic rocks. Drinking water comes from a nearby well after traveling through a reverse osmosis system to filter it. Water is used other ways on campus, too, with an aquaponics system that combines aquaculture (raising fish) with hydroponics (raising crops with little to no soil). These systems work in conjunction with each other, so the fish waste feeds the plants while the plants provide much-needed water filtration for the fish. While the goal to be sustainable and local may seem simplistic, the objective of teaching the next generation how to work with students from 25 other countries to solve problems on campus and eventually in the world means the potential for a better future for the entire planet — and that’s no small feat. + Green School Images via Green School Bali

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Green school in Bali shows students how to live sustainably

China hopes to bring solar power to space

March 6, 2019 by  
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China is looking to be the first country in the world to install a solar power outlet in space . Scientists at the China Academy of Space Technology are working on new technology to make solar power in space a reality, and they hope to have something in place by the year 2050. The story of China’s ambitious solar power initiative was first published by a newspaper ran by the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology. The scientists working on the project believe that installing solar power in space will provide them with “inexhaustible clean energy,” though details of the plan are still being ironed out. Related: China plans to launch the world’s first ‘artificial moon’ The scientists, led by Pang Zhihao, are targeting space as a potential landing spot for solar power, because the equipment will not be exposed to overcast skies or night conditions. According to Dezeen , Zhihao is optimistic that the solar power will provide as much as six times the energy of solar farms based within the Earth’s atmosphere. Zhihao and his team are currently building prototypes in Chongqing and plan to continue testing different models over the next decade. Once they work out all of the details, they plan to start construction of the solar power space station as early as 2030. Governments around the globe are looking into ways to use clean energy on a larger scale. Businesses are also researching ways to lessen their carbon footprint, and solar power could be a means to that end. For example, Apple recently promised to use 100 percent clean energy in all of its stores and facilities. The company is installing solar panels on rooftops to help reach its renewable energy goals.  NASA has also looked into installing solar power in space over the past 20 years. Japan is looking to put a solar power farm in orbit and has developed technology for it. One of the main issues with solar power in space is getting the energy back to Earth, something China hopes to accomplish via lasers or microwaves. Via Dezeen Image via NASA / GSFC / SDO

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Supreme Court will make historic Clean Water Act ruling

March 4, 2019 by  
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This Fall, the Supreme Court will make a monumental decision on whether the Clean Water Act prohibits groundwater pollution. The upcoming case is in response to a 2018 verdict in Hawaii, which ruled that a wastewater facility needed a Clean Water Act permit to inject treated wastewater into ground wells. The ruling will have national implications about what constitutes direct water pollution with two possible and controversial outcomes: either creating a massive loophole for major polluters or drastically expanding the Clean Water Act to include infinite sources of non-direct pollution. “This is the most significant environmental law case in the last few year,” former Head of the Justice Department’s Environment Division, John Cruden, told E&E News . First, what is groundwater? According to the U.S. Geological Survey , ground water is water that is beneath land surface. It is water that fills pores and fractures in sand, soil and rocks. Groundwater supplies 40 percent of water used by the public and 39 percent of water used in U.S. agriculture. It also feeds into bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers and the ocean. Related: Compensation for conservation: water markets are economists’ answer to scarcity What is the Clean Water Act? Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has been the main federal law governing the health of the country’s waterways. The Clean Water Act explicitly covers all navigable bodies of water. This definition has been up to judicial interpretation, but widely includes ocean, rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands, arguably including bodies of water that fill after heavy rains. The Clean Water Act channels federal funding to state and Tribal governments for water protection and remediation projects. Direct polluters are also required by the Act to obtain permits for any pollution discharged into bodies of water. The pollution case in Hawaii Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility in Maui was in violation of the Clean Water Act and needed a permit for its ongoing practice of injecting 3 to 5 million gallons of treated wastewater into the ground every day. In 2011, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study used tracer dye to prove that treated sewage was seeping out into coastal waters near Kahekili Beach. In 2012, a coalition of environmental advocacy organizations sued the treatment facility in order to protect nearshore coral reef. In 2018, the Court determined that because of its traceability, this case was considered direct pollution and therefore required a Clean Water Act permit. “If the Supreme Court reverses the lower courts’ decisions, chemical plants, concentrated animal feeding operations, oil refineries, and other industrial facilities would effectively have free rein to discharge pollutants indirectly into the nation’s waterways without Clean Water Act permits,” Earth Justice said in a statement reported in USA Today . However, the County of Maui argues that this is their most environmentally friendly option given limited resources and that they would need more time and funding to explore alternate methods of disposing of wastewater, such as offshore facilities.The County believes such issues should be determined at a local level, where judges understand the constraints. “We all want unpolluted waters, healthy coral and fish. But we want workable solutions, not onerous and costly government red tape. This is a home-rule issue that should be addressed here, not by far-off regulators imposing rules that don’t properly address our real world problems,” Maui County spokesperson Brian Perry said to the Lahaina News . Have other courts ruled on groundwater pollution? This is not the first time a local court has had to make a decision on indirect versus direct groundwater pollution and the Clean Water Act. In fact, USA today reports that in 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in South Carolina ruled that an oil spill from a burst pipeline was in violation of the Clean Water Act because the oil seeped through groundwater and entered bodies of water such as the Savannah River. However, in 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Kentucky ruled that pollutants from a coal ash pond that entered groundwater was not in violation of the Clean Water Act because groundwater does not fall under “navigable waters”. The Supreme Court has important decisions to make both about state versus federal jurisdiction and also about the possibilities of discharging pollution into groundwater. If the Supreme Court rules against the local decision, environmentalists believe this would give polluters free reign to contaminate the country’s important water sources. If it upholds the local decision, municipalities worry they will be inundated with costly changes to infrastructure as well as open targets for lawsuits for everything from road runoff to leaky water fountains. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the County of Maui, Hawaii versus Hawaii Wildlife Fund in October or November, 2019. Via The Lahaina News Image via Shutterstock

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This Ecuadorian home uses the natural elements of rammed earth as a foundation

March 1, 2019 by  
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Rammed earth is a building technique that uses packed raw materials from the earth like gravel, sand, silt or clay to build walls and foundations. Casa Lasso, designed by Rama Estudio in San Jose, Ecuador utilized the rammed earth approach (or “tapial”) to create five strong walls made of natural elements to both protect the home from strong winds and improve the thermal quality inside the home. The rammed earth provides added support for the wooden-beamed roof every 70 centimeters. Glass windows make up the upper closures of the structure, giving the entire area the potential for  sunlight  to shine through and light up the living areas. Speaking of living areas, there is room for six beds, all built into the rammed earth framework, in the communal area. There is also a master bedroom with pivoting panels to either integrate or close off the spaces. Much of the furniture and shelving in the kitchen and bedroom is built into the structured wall, ensuring that no space is wasted, no matter how small. The designers built the rustic fireplace into the lowest part of the home, with the intention of creating a centralized space that would “embrace” the area. Casa Lasso also uses a waste management system that connects solids and liquids into an internal irrigation and fertilizer network, meaning that there is no sewage system. Using pivoting panels, occupants have the option of closing the doors for added warmth and security or creating an extended and almost unblocked view of the outdoor area beyond the property. The area around the house is surrounded by eucalyptus plantations, making the land arid and soil difficult to grow in. Designers chose to plant native species in small landscaped islands throughout the property in order to combat this dilemma. As a result of the rammed earth building technique, Casa Lasso maintains an organic color. The combination of brown earth tones from the wooden panels, the large beams making up the roof and natural stone work makes this home blend in beautifully with the native landscape. + RAMA Estudio Via ArchDaily Photography by Jag Studio and  Andrés Villota via RAMA Estudio

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This Ecuadorian home uses the natural elements of rammed earth as a foundation

New study predicts mass extinction in 140 years

February 25, 2019 by  
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A new study suggests that the old saying about history repeating itself is absolutely true. In this case, history repeating itself pertains to none other than the topic on everyone’s minds— extinction. Researchers believe it’s taken 56 million years for earth to face another mass extinction that can occur in as little as 140 years.  The research, released last Wednesday and published in Geophysical Research Letters , compares conditions in the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) period with our planet’s present warming condition. Back in PETM days, carbon dioxide shot up, increasing Earth’s temperatures by 9 to 14 degrees. The tropical Atlantic heated up to approximately 97 degrees. Land and marine animals died. It took 150,000 years for the planet to recover. Related: Global warming will melt over 1/3 of the Himalayan ice cap by 2100 Unfortunately for us, carbon dioxide emissions are rising ten times faster now than they did during the PETM. Back then, wildfires, volcanic activity and methane wafting from the seafloor and permafrost were the culprits. Today, it’s down to us. Last year, emissions in countries with advanced economies rose slightly after a five-year decline. At this rate, the study predicts Earth’s atmosphere will be comparable to the beginning of PETM in 140 years, reaching a peak in 259 years. The result? Mass extinction. Philip Gingerich, the study’s author, did a literature review of previous studies on PETM and the rate of carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere. Based on eight studies published between 2009 and 2018, he used models to project future emissions caused by humans. Gingerich is an emeritus professor in the University of Michigan’s earth sciences department. He directed the university’s Museum of Paleontology for nearly 30 years. “[It’s] as if we are deliberately and efficiently manufacturing carbon for emission to the atmosphere at a rate that will soon have consequences comparable to major events long ago in earth history,” Gingerich told Earther. As he states in his study, “A second PETM-scale global greenhouse warming event is on the horizon if we cannot lower anthropogenic carbon emission rates.” Via Earther Image via nikolabelopitv

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