A guide to going green for the back-to-school season

August 9, 2019 by  
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As summer comes to a close, our focus shifts to back-to-school. There’s so much to do between registering, shopping, picking up supplies and coordinating all the activities filling the calendar. If you’re looking for ways to act more sustainably this school year, we’ve got you covered in multiple areas. Transportation We all know that using our cars consumes fossil fuels and leaves a carbon tire print. Unless you live in a town that shuttles kids to school via electric trolley, it’s hard to figure out a sustainable way to transport the kiddos back and forth. This is a case of progress over perfection, and remember that every act helps. Related: The Akshar Foundation is creating sustainable schools to teach children important life skills Walking and biking are the most sustainable ways to get to school. Older kids can trek off on their own or with a group of friends. Escort younger kids and get in your exercise, too. If you don’t live close enough for biking or walking, consider the public transit system. The buses and subways are running, so using them instead of your car staves off air pollution . The same goes for the gas-guzzling school bus. It will run the route every day whether kids ride or not, so it’s a more eco-friendly option to take advantage of the bus service instead of driving each day. If driving is your only option, set up a carpool before and after school to minimize the number of cars going to the same place. Be sure to shut off the engine while you wait at the bus stop or school. Clothing One of the only things many kids get excited about when heading back to school is the new school clothes. As you know, though, clothing doesn’t have to be new to be hip, cool or trendy. Head out to the thrift shop to scour the options. When you do buy new, look for organic cotton, bamboo and other natural fabrics . For a fun option, host a clothing swap party. You know your daughter is constantly trading clothes with her friends anyway, and it’s the perfect opportunity to clean out the closet before the school year begins. Have everyone bring their pre-loved clothing, belts, handbags and shoes to the party, where they can reconnect with each other as summer comes to a close and maybe find some new clothes they love at the same time. Lunches Sometimes getting kids to eat healthy food at home is enough of a challenge, but mix that with portability and the fact that you’re not there to supervise, and lunchtime might start to feel like you’re playing the lottery. Let your kids have a say in what they want to take for lunches, but set boundaries. Remember the toddler stage when they got to make their own decisions about which of the two outfits they would like to wear that day? Same concept. Offer healthy meal and snack options, from which your child can choose. Make lunchbox-friendly entrees in advance, freeze items for easy grab-and-go snacks and breakfasts, re-package bulk items ahead of time and make a meal plan to minimize the morning hassle and simplify the grocery shopping. Map out two weeks of lunches, and repeat the schedule so the same lunch only comes around a few times each month. Agree to ban single-use water bottles and individual packaging from the lunch box. Use stainless steel or glass containers instead of plastic resealable bags. Order or make some reusable beeswax wraps for sandwiches. Add a metal or other non-plastic lunch box, and you have the foundation for a nearly waste-free lunch system. School supplies The basic laws of minimization apply here. Start by taking an inventory of what you already have. Check that tote of pushed-aside writing utensils, and resharpen the crayons and colored pencils. Inspect markers, pens and pencils. Grab the compass and protractor your older child no longer needs to give to the younger kids, and reuse the same rulers. Finish filling up the notebooks from last year when applicable, and make a few book covers. Chances are you even have tissues and 3×5 cards around that you can donate to the classroom. Once you’ve compared your inventory to the supply list, streamline your shopping. Make a “must have” list and vow to stick to it, at least for the first round of school supplies. There seems to be a phenomenon that makes kids feel they need the newest, shiniest everything before school starts, yet a few weeks in, any pencil will do. Related: The pros and cons of online versus in-store shopping When you do make school purchases, think long-term. Buying quality items is an earth-friendly decision that benefits everyone. Look for durable backpacks and binders that you won’t have to replace each year. Avoid themed folders and bags that your child will want to replace when the superhero phase passes. Beyond durability, hunt down sustainable options like those that are biodegradable , refillable and recyclable and contain post-consumer content and recycled materials. Reduce paper While you’re gearing up for the new year, look for ways to minimize paper communication by getting your email updated. Add your child’s teachers and administrators to your contacts, and sign-up for electronic classroom updates if possible. With any papers that do come, be sure to reuse or recycle them after they are no longer needed. Sports and activities With the new school year comes uniforms, gear and supplies for the extra-curricular activities, too. Again, look for secondhand gear, or borrow from friends. Hit up the local sporting goods resale shop or online marketplaces. When it comes to fundraising for those uber-expensive requirements, send flyers electronically, watch for wasteful packaging from vendors and seek out services the team can offer instead of products to sell. Also take advantage of carpool options for practices, games and competitions, and put all those activities into your meal planning calendar to avoid the dinner hassle. On activity nights, plan ahead for a slow cooker meal or leftovers instead of relying on fast food or pre-packaged dinners. With just a bit of planning, you can get the school season started with all the right supplies and habits needed for a successful and sustainable year. Images via Element5 Digital , Jaden C. , Prudence Earl , U.S. Department of Agriculture , Dawid Ma?ecki , Freddie Marriage and Picture Back

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A guide to going green for the back-to-school season

Cut plastic from your home and inspire your family to live plastic-free

April 11, 2019 by  
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Reducing plastic usage is a challenging task in today’s everything-plastic society. We all understand the importance of reducing petroleum-based emissions and the post-use waste that never really goes away, but implementing practices in your home can seem overwhelming. It’s even worse when only one member of the family is working towards the goal. The good news is that kids are very open to making a bit of extra effort if they understand that it is good for the environment and the animals in it, including us. The key is to make lessons applicable to their daily life and make goals incremental and therefore, attainable. Here’s a list of ways you can get the entire family involved in reducing your plastic consumption without tears or arguments. Grocery shop together One of the best ways to reduce plastic in your home is to keep it from coming into the home in the first place. The grocery store can be a full-blown battle when it comes to buying products packaged in plastic. From the wrap on produce to the containers your favorite sour cream comes in, you will need all the ideas from your family members to get the job done. Related: Zero-waste kit ensures reusable essentials are always nearby Heading to the store together gives you a chance to challenge and educate each other. Instead of reaching for the apples in the plastic bag , get the ones piled in a paper bag, use a compostable bag, or bring your own produce bag to the store. If you have a few bathrooms, buy shampoo in bulk and divide it up instead of buying separate plastic shampoo bottles. Let the kids choose their own stainless steel or glass shampoo containers they want for bathtime. These are just a few example of the thousands of plastic products at the grocery store you can avoid with a concerted effort. Carefully select gifts It feels good to give gifts to friends and family members, but it doesn’t feel good to contribute to plastic waste , so this is another opportunity to skirt the plastic options. Let your kids help make layered gifts in a jar with ingredients for soup or cookies, with no waste. Choose wooden toys over plastic, buy books and give the gift of experiences. Also pay attention to the types of wrapping you use, staying away from plastic bags and products packaged with plastic. Use homework to your advantage When your child comes to you to brainstorm ideas for a school project, think plastic elimination. For example, if the topic is controversial political differences, have them write about the ban on plastic bags. This gives them the opportunity to better educate themselves, and others, on the topic. Have a good old-fashioned challenge Every family becomes motivated by a sibling-to-sibling or parent versus child challenges. Eliminating plastic from the home is no exception so come up with a great reward (plastic free of course) and set up the boundaries of the challenge. Give every person or team a recycling bin. You could mandate that everyone drop all plastic waste into the tote and the team at the end of the week or month with the least amount of plastic waste wins. Alternately, drop items in when you find a way to replace it with a plastic free option, such as making your own yogurt, which eliminates the need for yogurt containers from the store. The person or team with the most plastic wins! Ban single-use plastic Refusing to buy and use single-use plastic is a personal choice, but as a family you can choose to ban those products from your home. Eliminate single-use straws, plastic water bottles , multi-purpose cleaner spray bottles and a thousand other things. Replace them by making your own products (laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, fabric softener or even bubble bath), using reusable straws and water bottles and bringing your own containers to the bulk section for refills. Get creative When the conversation gets started, you might be surprised at what ideas your crew comes up with. Make it easy to record those ideas by making an idea jar. This can be as simple as a large mason jar with a ribbon around the top or a label on the front. Set aside a specific time to read the suggestions and vow to incorporate one idea each week, or whatever works for your family. Remember the goal is progress, not perfection. Plan a trip When you announce your next family day trip or longer vacation, brainstorm ways to make it plastic free. Obviously you’ll skip the store-bought water bottles in favor of refillable ones, but what about other items you’ll need? For example, source a metal bucket and shovel for a trip to the beach instead of taking plastic varieties. Tour a recycling plant While you’re unlikely to be 100 percent successful at eliminating plastic from your home, recycling is an option for many items that at least keeps it out of the landfill . Figuring out what can be recycled can be very confusing. Every facility is different in the types of plastic they accept. So, get together as a family and take a tour of a recycling plant or attend a local lecture to better understand the process. Having that kind of visual education will resonate as you make purchasing decisions. Plastic-free lunch challenge Lunch time can be a wasteful venture with disposable silverware, sandwich bags, and drink containers. Instead, skip the Gatorade and flavor water in your reusable bottle with powdered crystals instead. Ditch the sandwich bags in favor of glass or stainless steel containers. Bring real silverware or track down a bamboo set that travels with you. Volunteer in community clean up events Being involved in community events is always a great family activity and when the event targets beach or city clean-ups the rewards go well past the single day. Understanding the damage that plastic brings to sea life or the local park gives the entire family motivation to cut it out. Images via Shutterstock

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A guide to the best eco-friendly holiday gifts for children

December 14, 2018 by  
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While it’s obvious that we want the children in our lives to have only the most natural, clean, organic clothes and toys , it’s also important to our planet that we introduce sustainable goods from the start. As children grow up with eco-friendly items at their side, they will naturally grow up to respect the Earth, seeking out these types of green products for the rest of their lives. To get them started on the right foot, here are some of our favorite sustainable gifts for kids and babies. Veggie Crayons These crayons , which are made from organic herb and vegetable powders as well as food-grade soy wax, are safe for babies and children to use. While they shouldn’t be eaten, they are safe for hand to mouth transfer, and they do not contain toxic ingredients like petroleum. Plus, the square shape also makes them fun for stacking and playing. “Adopted” animals Support organizations like WWF , Oceana , The Nature Conservancy and more, and in return, your child will have an opportunity to learn more about our planet and the animals that roam it. Many organizations will allow you to symbolically adopt an animal , and for your donation your child will receive a plush animal, coloring books, educational materials and more. Related: 20 sensory table activities that offer creative ways to teach kids through play Plush toys Kids love their “stuffies,” so gift them their new favorite this year. These options from Ouistitine are adorable yet minimalist, so they’ll still look chic lying all over your living room floor. Plus, each toy is handmade from the scraps of natural, eco-textiles like wool, linen and cotton . Sustainable clothing Clothing is a gifting staple in many households, but conventional fashion often relies on unsafe fabrics and unethical production processes. If you’re looking to give the little ones clothing this year, be sure to choose options that are organic , non-toxic and responsibly made. Gardening kits Most kids love to get messy, so add in the benefits of growing their own food and teaching them the importance of gardening, and you have quite a gift! Surprise the kids with a gardening kit (like this one ), which is fun for children of all ages. You can also check out this website for educational resources to go along with the gift. Images via  Wee Can Too , WWF , Christopher Michel , Ouistitine ,  Phichit Wongsunthi and Shutterstock

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A guide to the best eco-friendly holiday gifts for children

Lego-like kindergarten sparks creativity with a playful brick facade

May 17, 2018 by  
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Brick may often be seen as boring and traditional, but that’s not the case when the material falls into the hands of KIENTRUC O . The Vietnamese architecture studio creatively used the ancient building block to breathe life into Ho Chi Minh City’s new Chuon Chuon Kim 2 Kindergarten located in the city’s District 2. The building is made entirely from bare brick arranged in patterns to form an eye-catching and playful facade that also promotes natural ventilation. Likened to a “giant Lego building,” the Chuon Chuon Kim 2 Kindergarten features perforated brick walls with sections painted vibrant yellow for a spectacular effect. While a playful atmosphere conducive to exploration was crucial in the design, the architects also wanted to create a space that felt calm and relaxed. To that end, the building is organized around a central active core that branches out to serene  classroom settings. “Instilled within the school is an openness with a spark of curiosity that allows people of all ages to venture and explore the space in a relaxing and calming atmosphere,” the architects wrote. “As we have engaged in numerous educational projects, we recognize that these experiences are equally as important as the responsibility of nurturing the kids. It invokes a sense of pride, and interests within the teacher and the staffs. It inspires and embraces them, for they have chosen to dedicate their life for the education and the well-being of the children on a daily basis.” Related: This stunning brick “cave house” in Vietnam is open to the elements Each floor features alternating patterns that encourages children to become more attuned to their surroundings. The walls are punctuated by large windows for continuous views inside and out. Access to daylight , cross breezes and a natural material palette help promote a healthful environment. A rooftop garden tops the building with panoramic views of the Saigon River. + KIENTRUC O Via ArchDaily Images by Hiroyuki Oki

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Lego-like kindergarten sparks creativity with a playful brick facade

This giant nest for humans lets you curl up and get away from it all

June 21, 2017 by  
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Lounging around in a giant nest might sound like something out of a fairy tale, but thanks to this eclectic design by Italian artist  Gianni Ruffi , it can be reality. Italy-based  Gufram  just released this surreal, human-size nest called  La Cova . Complete with two “egg” pillows, it isn’t just a piece of furniture, but a piece of art that lets you get away from it all. La Cova comes with two eggs, like any good nest should, that act as pillows. The nest is made of polyurethane foam and finished with 100% cotton. It measures 2 meters in diameter and weighs about 80 kg (176 lb). The original piece was created back in 1972 by Gianni Ruffi , who was part of the Radical Design movement in Italy. It was auctioned for the record price of 100,000 Euros. The iconic La Cova design has been re-invented with newer materials that combine craftsmanship know-how and newer industrial processes. The construction has also been updated with stretchable and extremely durable materials, the density of which provide excellent mechanical properties – especially in terms of elastic resilience. Related: Porky Hefer’s Cozy Human Nests Hang From the Treetops! Each version of the organic love nests are unique, thanks to the creation process – each one finished with thousands of pieces of cloth, all sewn by hand. La Cova appeared at the  La Triennale di Milano for  Milan Design Week 2017 . + Gufram Images via Maria Novozhilova for Inhabitat and Gufram

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This giant nest for humans lets you curl up and get away from it all

This 7-year-old from Maryland might be the next Einstein

February 6, 2017 by  
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Romanieo Golphin, Jr. may only be 7, but already there are whispers that he could be the Albert Einstein of his generation. The home-schooled boy from Silver Spring, Maryland, showed signs of precociousness at age 2, when he was able to tackle questions about particle physics between spoonfuls of Cheerios. Although Romanieo digs art and music and loves LEGO and candy, his real passions lie with science, a subject where he gets to articulate “big words” like “cyclohexanecarboxylic acid” that would trip the tongues of most grownups. “They’re not a mouthful for me,” he told the Washington Post . People started to take notice. Steven Goldfarb, an experimental physicist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which runs the Large Hadron Collider, invited the pint-size prodigy and his family to tour the facilities in Switzerland, whereupon he dubbed Romanieo a CERN “ambassador” to the Washington region. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of National Geographic’s Cosmos , is said to be a fan. The elder Golphin, an adviser for the music department at the University of North Carolina , regularly takes Romanieo to to university classes to observe. “When he looked in my classroom, all I saw was his hair, his forehead and his eyeballs,” said Brian Hogan, a professor of chemistry at UNC. “And his eyeballs, they looked like hard-boiled eggs, they were open so wide.” Related: 7-year-old California boy saves 10K for college with his own recycling company Hogan was a skeptic at the beginning, but little Romanieo quickly won him over. “He could be the next Einstein,” he said. “He’s got a mind that is built to solve problems.” Romanieo’s parents hope that their son’s aptitude for science will lead him change people’s lives for the better. But they also acknowledge that his interests could just as easily lead him to a career in the arts. “Let the boy free, and he’s going to create his world,” Golphin said. Via the Washington Post Photos from Facebook

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This 7-year-old from Maryland might be the next Einstein

6 reasons the clean energy revolution doesn’t need Trumps blessing

February 6, 2017 by  
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President Donald Trump ’s anti-environment blitzkrieg is leaving many of us struggling to catch up to and understand the dramatic changes being made to long-standing federal policy. Most recently it is being reported that Trump will “definitely” pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement, and that Republicans are gunning for the Environmental Protection Agency. There is no sugar coating it, these are dark times for those of us who are concerned about ensuring a livable climate and habitable planet for future generations. But, as much as Trump and his oil-soaked administration want to make fossil fuels great again, the global clean energy revolution is gaining speed to the point of being unstoppable. Here are a few reasons the renewables revolution will continue without Trump’s blessing. Congress is unlikely to reverse renewable tax credit extensions Congress gave a big boost to solar and wind at the end of 2015 with the passage of a bill that extended the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar. The 30 percent solar ITC was extended through 2019 before falling to 26 percent in 2020, 22 percent in 2021 and 10 percent in 2022. The 2.3 percent wind PTC was extended through 2016 before dropping 20 percent each year through 2020. Related: U.S. extends solar and wind tax credits to boost clean energy by $73 billion over 5 years As many solar and wind jobs are located in red states, it is unlikely that Republican lawmakers will reverse the renewable tax credit extensions when they work with Trump on his expected tax reform push. Texas leads the nation in total installed wind power capacity with 18,531 megawatts while wind supplied more than 31 percent of Iowa’s in-state electricity generation in 2015, according to the American Wind Energy Association. On the solar front, Arizona (2,303 MW) ranks second for installed capacity and North Carolina (2,087 MW) is right behind in third place, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. A new report from the Department of Energy finds that solar employs more Americans than oil, gas and coal combined — 43 percent of electricity generation sector workforce in solar last year versus only 22 percent in fossil fuels. Global market forces exist Market forces are pushing the United States and the world toward renewable energy and energy efficiency regardless of politics and policy. The reality is that, as former President Barack Obama wrote recently in the journal Science, the momentum of clean energy is “irreversible.” Big companies like Google and Apple are aggressively transitioning operations to sustainable energy — Google says it will run entirely on clean energy at some point this year, Apple has committed to run off 100 percent renewable energy, and various other high-profile corporations have similar targets. A new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) finds that global investment in renewables increased from under $50 billion in 2004 to a record $348 billion in 2015. Related: Bill Gates launches $1 billion clean energy fund to fight climate change Cost of renewables has dropped Even without a carbon pricing mechanism in place in many countries and governments continuing to prop up fossil fuels with massive subsidies, the cost of solar and wind continues to fall — and fast. The costs of utility-scale solar power fell 85 percent and wind power fell 66 percent in the past seven years. A record low solar power project bid recently took place in Abu Dhabi — the government-owned Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority received a bid of 2.42 cents a kilowatt-hour for a 350-megawatt solar plant. The reason solar and wind will continue to beat oil, coal and gas is because of the simple fact that they are technologies, not fuels. Solar and wind technologies will keep improving, becoming more efficient and cost effective, while digging up what’s left of fossil fuels will become increasingly complicated and expensive. The rest of the world still cares about climate change The United States is an extreme outlier when it comes to caring about climate change. The Republican Party is the only major political party in the advanced world that denies climate change and Trump is the only world leader who denies climate change. Thankfully the rest of the world is more in line with the scientific consensus of man-made global warming, as exemplified by the Paris climate agreement that Trump is about to withdraw the US from. A total of 194 nations have signed the landmark deal to curb carbon emissions, with 127 ratifying it so far. The agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016. As the US goes rogue on climate action, don’t expect the rest of the world to follow. Even countries already ruled by right-wing populists such as Russia, Hungary and Poland signed the Paris accord. China is taking a leadership role, investing in renewables As Trump commits to dirty energy, China is moving away from fossil fuels toward renewables as the country’s growing middle class demands cleaner air in some of the most polluted cities in the world. China’s energy agency recently announced that the country will invest 2.5 trillion yuan ($361 billion) into renewable power generation by 2020. “Renewable energy will be the pillar for China’s energy structure transition,” said Li Yangzhe, deputy head of the National Energy Administration, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Last year China invested a record $32 billion in foreign countries, according to research by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. While the US withdraws from the world, China is already taking a leadership role by increasing domestic renewables and spreading clean energy abroad. Related: China set to invest $174 billion in clean energy over next four years U.S. states are going towards renewables with or without federal help As Trump prepares to kill the Clean Power Plan , states such as New York and California are aggressively pursuing their own renewable energy mandates without federal guidance. In Virginia, the governor just announced plans for the state’s largest solar farm — a 100 MW facility that will power Amazon’s cloud computing division. Iowa recently approved the biggest wind farm in US history that when completed in 2019 will include 1,000 turbines generating 2,000 MW of electricity — enough to power 800,000 homes in the state. Republican governors of Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio and Vermont have recently either announced clean energy initiatives or signed legislation to increase renewables. Related: New York approves nation’s largest offshore wind farm Don’t count on the Trump Administration to realize fossil fuels belong to the past, but since the renewables revolution is unstoppable, it doesn’t matter what Trump decides. Images via Shutterstock , Pexels , Wikimedia  ( 1 , 2 ), Flickr

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6 reasons the clean energy revolution doesn’t need Trumps blessing

Researchers invent paper that can be printed with light and reused 80 times

February 6, 2017 by  
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In an effort to fight the detrimental environmental impact of inkjet printing, researchers have invented a new type of “paper” that can be printed with light and re-written up to 80 times. Their invention employs the color-changing chemistry of nanoparticles, which can be applied via a thin coating to a variety of surfaces – including conventional paper . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnCyTb6bgJA Researchers from Shandong University in China, the University of California, Riverside and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently published a study detailing the invention of light-printable, rewritable paper. “The greatest significance of our work is the development of a new class of solid-state photo-reversible color-switching system to produce an ink-free light-printable rewritable paper that has the same feel and appearance as conventional paper, but can be printed and erased repeatedly without the need for additional ink,” explains Yadong Yin, professor of chemistry at the University of California, Riverside. “Our work is believed to have enormous economic and environmental merits to modern society.” Why not just use recycled paper, you might ask? As Phys.org explains, the chemicals used in paper production are a leading source of industrial pollution, and abandoned paper makes up about 40 percent of the contents of landfills. Recycled paper contributes to the pollution problem through the process of ink removal. Add to that problems around deforestation, and the case for minimizing paper usage is a strong one. Related: Should your family give up paper towels? The new light-printable paper lends itself perfectly to applications where printed information is only needed for a short time, and it could be applied to any medium used for this purpose. “We believe the rewritable paper has many practical applications involving temporary information recording and reading, such as newspapers, magazines, posters, notepads, writing easels, product life indicators, oxygen sensors, and rewritable labels for various applications,” Yin said Via Phys.org Images via UC Riverside and Aidenvironment , Wikimedia Commons

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Researchers invent paper that can be printed with light and reused 80 times

6 Super common food additives that you need to avoid

January 14, 2017 by  
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It’s difficult for even the most dedicated person to make all of the daily meals from scratch and that often means relying on store-bought foods for condiments and other must-have kitchen items. But lurking in those kitchen staples are some food additives that can wreak havoc with the human body. Even worse, some of these pesky additives are hard to avoid because they are used in so many foods. Learn where they are hiding and how to avoid them with this handy guide.

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This award-winning map gives a more accurate view of the world

November 6, 2016 by  
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Most of us never realize it, but it turns out that transforming a three-dimensional globe into a flat, rectangular map results in some serious inaccuracies. Depending on where the map focuses, some countries and continents may appear much larger or smaller relative to other landmasses than they actually are. It’s a problem that’s vexed cartographers for centuries, but a new map featured in Japanese textbooks has made things just a little more accurate.

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This award-winning map gives a more accurate view of the world

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