Koalas declared "functionally extinct"

May 16, 2019 by  
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The Australian Koala Foundation declared koalas officially “functionally extinct,” a term which means that though there are still about 80,000 koalas, they are either unlikely to reproduce another generation, prone to inbreeding due to low numbers or may no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem. The iconic Australian animal is on a fast track to extinction and has suffered from deforestation , disease, climate change-driven drought and a massive slaughter for fur in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Australian government listed the species as “vulnerable” in 2012 when there was thought to be between 100,000 and 500,000 koalas. Since the declaration, the government has done very little to develop or implement a protection and recovery plan. Related: 1 million species are at risk of extinction, says new UN report With an estimated population that could even be as low as 43,000, koalas are very likely to inbreed and become even more susceptible to disease. At these small population numbers, the marsupial has very little impact on its ecosystem, the eucalyptus forest. Koalas were once critical to the nutrient cycling of the forest, with their feces an important source of fertilizer. Large koalas can consume up to 1 kilogram of eucalyptus leaves per night. Logging and urban development has encroached into what was once an abundant forest ecosystem, leading many to believe that the government needs to declare and expand protected areas of the forests. The Australia Koala Foundation has proposed a Koala Protection Act that focuses on conserving the forest as the primary strategy for protecting koalas. “The koala is one of Australia’s most recognizable symbols, but its survival hangs in the balance,” the  San Diego Zoo said  in a statement. “Formerly thought to be common and widespread, koalas are now vulnerable to extinction across much of its northern range.” According to fossil records, Koalas are native to Australia and have been there for at least 30 million years . Via EcoWatch Image by Mathias Appel

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A Chinese highway becomes a vibrant, community-centered ‘livable street’

May 16, 2019 by  
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London-based design studio WallaceLiu has given the residents of the southwestern Chinese city Chongqing a new “livable street” to enjoy. The firm was recently tasked with converting a half-mile long, 65-foot-wide highway into a  serene linear urban park , now named Yannan Avenue Park. The green space comes complete with an open-air promenade lined with ample lounge areas, playgrounds and a series of vibrantly colored canopies that light up the area with playful pops of color. The city of Chongqing has experienced rapid growth over the last decade, and as such, the city has been developing at a breakneck pace. Unfortunately, the city’s green space has been quietly disappearing to make way for new property developments — until now. Thanks to the WallaceLiu team, local residents now have a new linear park that has something for just about everyone. Related: A disused railway will become a sustainable green corridor in Taiwan According to the architects, the inspiration behind the design was to reclaim some of the city’s urban space for the residents, replacing asphalt with greenery and a welcoming public space to enjoy fresh air. The firm said, “We imagined the entire highway to be transformed into a walkable and playful place, where the elements of a highway-dominated urban landscape — curbstone, road markings, traffic signage, pedestrian fences, hedge boundaries and limited pedestrian crossings — would be replaced by a characterful and vibrant open promenade.” Lined with shade trees, seasonal shrubs and flowers, the serene walkway includes several “nooks” that were designed to encourage neighborhood interaction. Ample benches and seating are located throughout the park, with most configured as sociable places that foster conversation. Additionally, there are more than a few spaces for children in the linear park , including a rock-climbing wall. To add a sense of whimsy to the design, the firm installed six colorful canopies that provide respite from the searing summer heat as well as reflect colorful plays of light onto the landscape. + WallaceLiu Images via WallaceLiu

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A Chinese highway becomes a vibrant, community-centered ‘livable street’

Phoenix Earthship features a food garden and jungle in off-grid fashion

May 16, 2019 by  
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An earthship is an accommodation with low environmental impact. The design of an earthship incorporates natural and recycled materials in the architecture and decor. It is built with conservation of natural resources in mind so that it produces its own water, electricity and food. Most earthships reuse discarded tires, cans and bottles for wall construction, and mud is common for wall plaster and floors. The energy savings through self-heating and cooling properties are remarkable. Most earthships rely on solar and wind energy as well as rain and snow harvesting for water needs. The Phoenix Earthship is a prime example, located completely off the grid with its own garden. Available as a short-term rental through Airbnb , the Phoenix sleeps up to eight people in the 5,300-square-foot structure near Tres Piedras, New Mexico, so you can try out earthship living. Like most homes, the Phoenix has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large kitchen and a living room, and then there’s a jungle — inside. Related: Couple builds an ‘Earthship’ tiny home for less than $10K The architectural and decorative details are incomparable with the building creating its own microclimate. That means plants and animals thrive in a space that is basically a greenhouse surrounded by the dry, sage-brush covered mesa surrounding it. The greenhouse and jungle areas feature a fish pond, birds, turtles, a food garden, banana trees and even a chicken coop that can provide fresh eggs during your stay. The water process functions as a semi-closed unit, beginning with water runoff collection . After use, gray water feeds into the indoor plants that both drink and filter it, where it is stored and then pumped to the toilets as needed. From the toilet, the water heads to a traditional sewer where overflow is consumed by outdoor plants. The entire structure looks like it was carved out of a hillside, with rounded walls and alcoves making up each space. Natural glass, clay, wood and rock can be found in every nook and cranny. Dubbed a “work of sustainable art,” the Phoenix Earthship provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the actual nature outside the glass with a fire pit and seating, views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and spaces for unparalleled stargazing. In contrast to the remote feel and off-grid design, the Phoenix provides solar-powered modern amenities such as Wi-Fi, television and a cozy indoor fireplace with a water fountain feature. + Phoenix Earthship Images via Earthship Media

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Phoenix Earthship features a food garden and jungle in off-grid fashion

Penalties for protesting pipelines increase in 15 states

May 16, 2019 by  
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At least 15 states have passed or proposed bills that further criminalize trespassing on fossil fuel infrastructure, a trend that environmental and free speech advocates argue unnecessarily targets pipeline protesters and indigenous leaders. In 2018, Louisiana passed a bill that makes trespassing on so-called “critical infrastructure” a more serious offense than existing trespassing laws. While trespassing has long been considered a misdemeanor, the law now specifies that the same act on particular private property is now a felony. Throughout the country, trespassing laws have been edited to define ‘critical infrastructure’ as fossil fuel facilities, including proposed pipeline routes where there is no existing infrastructure yet. Related: For the first time in 86 years, environmental activists in the UK sentenced to jail “These are people saying, ‘let’s make sure we have something left for future generations’ … and for that we were charged with felonies, we were beaten, we were stepped on, I was choked,” Cherri Foytlin, a pipeline protester in Louisiana,  told the press . Similar laws have passed in Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Indiana and Iowa. The backlash is largely due to the massive 2017 protest of a pipeline at Standing Rock , led by the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe. Bi-partisan supporters of the states’ new legislation argue that the intent is to dissuade acts of terrorism; however, many opponents feel the existing trespassing laws were sufficient. For many environmental activists, these new laws are further proof of the government’s allegiance to the fossil fuel industry, and they believe threats of felonies, jail time and high fines will discourage other activists from voicing their opinions against pipeline development. Across 15 states, possible consequences include 10 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines. Those who do not trespass themselves but merely support activists verbally or financially are also liable before the law. This month, the Natural Resources Defense Council published an alarming blog post inquiring if merely “liking” a Facebook post about a pipeline protest could be considered illegal under South Dakota’s newest legislation. In Indiana’s Bill 471 , so-called “conspirators” can also be fined up to $100,000. Via Grist Image via Luke Jones

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Penalties for protesting pipelines increase in 15 states

Bananatex launches a sustainable material revolution at Milan Design Week

April 9, 2019 by  
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A party of three has collaborated to create a multi-purpose material sourced entirely from banana leaves. Swiss bag brand QWSTION, a yarn specialist from Taiwan, and a Taiwanese weaving partner spent four years developing the new material, which is being revealed at the 2019 Milan Design Week. The strong, flexible material, called Banantex, offers a new universal option in the search for sustainable materials . Beginning at the source, the banana leaves come from a natural ecosystem of sustainable forestry in the Philippines. The banana trees grow naturally without the use of pesticides or other chemicals. Plus, they do not require any additional water. The banana plants are a boon to an area previously eroded by palm plantations, bringing back vegetation and a livelihood for local farmers. Related: See how banana trees are recycled into vegan “leather” wallets in Micronesia With a long history of creating materials from sustainable resources, QWSTION saw the strength and durability of the banana leaves that were used in the Philippines for more than a century as boat ropes. Following three years of research and development, the bag company finalized the plant-based material. As a bag company, the first products they put together are backpacks and hip pouches, made completely with the plastic-free material. The larger goal, however, is for other companies to use Banantex in their own production, spreading the application to any number of industries that could eliminate many of the synthetic materials on the market today. United with the common goal of inspiring responsible product development, the team conceived the idea as an open source project with this in mind. The characteristics of the material makes this idea easy to imagine since it is durable, pliable and waterproof. Plus, it is biodegradable at the end of the life cycle, significantly reducing post-consumer waste rampant in the clothing and accessories industries in particular. The display will be open to the public at Milan Design Week on April 9-14, 2019. + QWSTION Images via QWSTION

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Bananatex launches a sustainable material revolution at Milan Design Week

How to provide a backyard habitat to protect animals in the winter

November 26, 2018 by  
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We live in an ecosystem where plants and animals depend upon one another for survival. During the cold winter months, the animals in your area may struggle to find adequate food, shelter and water; however, you can make a difference in these tough situations. To help animals survive the winter, here are a few simple actions you can take in your own yard in the name of wildlife conservation . Hold off on deadheading Birds eat seeds and make nests from grasses. Critters store nuts and seeds from plants . Although you might find it unsightly, leaving the dried heads of roses, wildflowers, sunflowers, coneflowers and blazing star makes it easier for birds to forage during the winter. So instead of cutting them back in the fall, allow them to overwinter, and trim them back in the spring instead. Rethink your landscaping selections Every gardener knows that some plants appeal to animals more than others. We need flowers for insects to pollinate, attractants for butterflies and plants that produce seeds for small critters to eat. Most of this activity happens during the summer months, which is why animals store up for winter. But when the stores run out or animals seek fresh foods, the right plants in your garden can provide year-round feedings. Related: How to plant fruit in the winter If you are due for a change or some additional shrubbery, consider planting trees that produce nuts such as hazelnut, walnut or oak trees. Plant foliage that produces berries year-round to feed the animals. Some examples include bayberry, viburnum, chokeberry, wintergreen teaberry, dogwood and winterberry holly. Also plant trees that produce pine cones as a food source for birds, and while you’re considering evergreens, note that the juniper tree also provides berries. Some varieties of crabapple trees are an additional option for providing fruit throughout the winter. Create water reservoirs Animals can’t drink snow or ice — keep fresh water available. Build a small pond or maintain bird baths. Keep your water source warm enough to avoid freezing with an easy-to-find heater that you can run in your pond or bath. A layer of ice on the top of your pond will not only trap invertebrates and frogs inside, but it also reduces the amount of oxygen in the water. If you live in a generally mild climate but have a water source ice over during an unseasonal cold snap, place a pot of hot water on the icy surface. Related: Birdbath care during the winter You don’t want rodents falling into the water sources, so make sure that any water available is in the form of a bird bath or other elevated source. Reservoirs, like rain collection barrels, should be completely sealed around any openings to repel critters who could get trapped inside. Build protection out of debris Your yard clippings, especially tree branches, make an appealing refuge for foraging rodents, rabbits, squirrels and reptiles . They also allow birds to have a protected space for building nests in preparation of spring. To create a brush pile for housing, start with a pile of the largest branches and cuttings. Stack smaller debris on top for additional layers of protection and warmth.  Critters and nesting birds will thank you for the protection. You can also encourage animals to take shelter in your woodpile by stacking wood pieces with copious spacing. Criss-crossing split wood chunks provides protection for rabbits, squirrels and other small animals. Craft tiny animal homes Animals that are cold during winter will seek out warmth and shelter wherever they can. That’s why you’ll find rats sneaking into the house, mice burrowing into covered patio furniture or taking over the RV and birds tucked into the rafters. To keep them happy and warm without sharing your living space, build them their own homes. In addition to mounds of protective foliage, put together a row of basic wooden birdhouses resting on posts, hanging from trees or mounted to the fence. Bat houses have visual appeal and functional elements, too. If you have space, choose an area away from the main activity on your property to place a recycled chicken coop, bus stop shed or other small building; lay down straw for added warmth. Put out food Fill your bird feeders and remember to check them often during the winter. Those that keep food dry are the best. Also make and hang some pine cone feeders from your trees. Simply smear some nut butter on the pine cone and roll it in bird food for an easy and animal-friendly craft that the whole family can work on together. Related: Attracting backyard birds in winter Leave the leaves Autumn is dubbed fall because of the obvious characteristic of leaves dropping everywhere. As leaves float away from the trees and onto your property, resist the urge to get out the leaf blower and yard debris cart. Instead, move those leaves over to your flower beds. Not only will they provide mulching benefits to your plants, but they will also offer a habitat for ground birds, such as the thrush, and frogs, which prefer the moist environment that leaves provide. While it’s tempting to strip the yard down to the ground during your fall list of chores, remember to think about the animals. By holding off on debris removal and taking a few calculated steps, you’ll not only improve their winter habitat, but you will also have a more appealing green space with foliage and animals to view. Via Humane Society , Discover Wildlife and HGTV Images via Annie Spratt , Maria Shanina , Peter Trimming , Zailin Liu , Phil Roeder , Erin Wilson , Wes Hicks , DaPuglet and Rachel Kramer

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An experimental greenhouse pops up at a busy Copenhagen intersection

October 19, 2018 by  
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A surprising and experimental pocket of nature has popped up in the middle of a heavily trafficked intersection in Copenhagen , Denmark. Danish architect Simon Hjermind Jensen of SHJWorks recently unveiled “Biotope,” a sculptural pavilion that houses a microcosm of plants and insects. Sixty different seeds have been sown into the soil, and a beehive has been attached inside the installation to foster a thriving and evolving ecosystem of activity for the enjoyment of passersby. Created in the likeness of a primitive organism or bacteria, Biotope comprises a translucent shell made from a 4-millimeter-thick polycarbonate membrane that is set in a curved concrete bowl with a rim thick enough to double as bench seating. The installation measures 7 meters in length, 4 meters in width and 3 meters in height at its tallest point. The bowl collects rainwater and directs the water through the small holes in the polycarbonate membrane toward the soil within, thus creating what the designers call a “self-watering greenhouse.” Located near a train station, Biotope will be seen by many pedestrians, cyclists and motorists daily who will have the opportunity to observe the evolution of the greenhouse over its three-year installation period. Neither maintenance activity nor other interference will take place inside the shell during this period; the public will also not be allowed to access the interior. The shell’s site-specific form is optimized for views from the three lane road. Related: This hand-built island is the start of Copenhagen’s “parkipelago” of floating public spaces “Our climate will change,” SHJWorks said. “And maybe we will integrate plants and biological microcosms in our future dwellings and cities. Most likely there will be more harsh and exposed environment on our planet. And we ask ourselves if a solution will be to create microclimates where we — like the bees in this project — have our homes connected to and intertwined with?” + SHJWorks Images via SHJWorks

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An experimental greenhouse pops up at a busy Copenhagen intersection

Valuable wetlands are disappearing 3 times faster than forests, new study warns

September 28, 2018 by  
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Wetlands around the world are disappearing at an alarming rate. New research shows that these valuable ecosystems are vanishing at a rate three times that of forests . Unless significant changes are made, the disappearance of wetlands could cause severe damage around the globe. The Global Wetland Outlook , which was completed by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, found that more than a third of the wetlands on Earth have disappeared over a 45-year period. The pace that wetlands are vanishing jumped significantly after the year 2000, and regions all over the planet were impacted equally. Unfortunately, there is a handful of reasons why wetlands are diminishing around the world. This includes climate change , urbanization, human population growth and variable consumption patterns, all of which have contributed to the way land is used. Related: Natural wetland in India filters 198 million gallons of wastewater a day with zero chemicals There are several different types of wetlands found on Earth, including marshes, lakes, peatlands and rivers. Lagoons, coral reefs , mangroves and estuaries also fall into the wetland category. In total, wetlands take up more than 12.1 million square kilometers, an area larger than Greenland. Wetlands are crucial, because they provide almost all of the world’s access to freshwater — something that is key to survival. Humans also use wetlands for hydropower and medicines. From an environmental perspective, wetlands help retain carbon and regulate global warming . They also serve as the ecosystems for 40 percent of living species on Earth, providing food, water, breeding spaces and raw materials for these animals to live. If the wetlands keep vanishing at the current rate, many species will go as well. “The Global Wetland Outlook is a wake-up call — not only on the steep rate of loss of the world’s wetlands but also on the critical services they provide. Without them, the global agenda on sustainable development will not be achieved,” said Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. “We need urgent collective action to reverse trends on wetland loss and degradation and secure both the future of wetlands and our own survival at the same time.” With wetlands in danger of disappearing, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has pledged to make saving these regions a top priority. The parties involved with the group have targeted 2,300 sites for protection and hope to expand that to include more wetlands around the globe. + Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Image via Jeanethe Falvey / EPA

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Valuable wetlands are disappearing 3 times faster than forests, new study warns

Hanoi’s koi cafe has a thriving ecosystem complete with an aquaponic garden

December 12, 2017 by  
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From the outside, this café in Hanoi, Vietnam looks fairly traditional with a tile façade that resembles fish scales and a heavy wood door. But inside hides a thriving garden centered around a koi pond. Farming Architects designed the space as a small, self-contained ecosystem with an indoor waterfall and an aquaponic vegetable garden. The café is nestled in an existing three-story building in Hanoi to which the architects added a steel frame. Its ground floor houses the fish pond filled with colorful koi carp, known as the Japanese national fish. The seating area next to it provides direct views of the water. Customers can also walk around the pond along a stepping stone walkway. Related: Bangkok Residents Turn Abandoned Mall into a Giant Fish Pond The architects included an indoor waterfall flowing down into the pond as a reference to an old Chinese legend according to which if a carp could leap over a waterfall on the Yellow River, called the Dragon Gate, it would be transformed into a dragon and fly away. It also helps oxygenate the water for the fish. The rooftop garden and the pond function as a single ecosystem. Excrements produced by the koi carp are used to create nutrients for the plants growing in the garden on the third floor. Produce grown here is used in preparing the dishes served in the café and helps purify the water that flows back into the aquarium. + Farming Architects Via Dezeen Photos by Nguyen Thai Thach

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Hanoi’s koi cafe has a thriving ecosystem complete with an aquaponic garden

The threatened Great Barrier Reef is estimated to be worth $42 billion

June 26, 2017 by  
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Our unsustainable habits are propelling climate change , and as a result, the Great Barrier Reef is under immense environmental stress.  Coral bleaching has reached record levels and no one knows if or when the coral will ever recover. This is concerning not just from an environmental perspective, but, as a new report by Deloitte Access Economics shows, that loss of the reef would represent an “economic catastrophe” as it is estimated to be worth $56 billion (AUS), or $42 billion (USD). As water temperatures rise, the coral expels algae living within, causing it to turn ghostly white (a phenomenon known as coral bleaching). Though consumers everywhere are changing their habits to reduce greenhouse emissions and prevent global warming from worsening, no one knows for sure how long it will take — or even if — the bleached portions will bounce back. To determine that the Great Barrier Reef’s economic worth, the report took into consideration a few factors. All in all, it was concluded that $29 Billion (AUS) is generated from the tourism industry — including the creation of 64,000 jobs, $24 billion (AUS) to indirect or non-use value (describing people who have heard of the reef but haven’t yet visited) and $3 billion (AUS) from recreational use, such as boating. Commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the report is the first in the world to calculate the economic value of the reef.   Survey answers from 1,500 Australian and international respondents from 10 countries were taken into account and ended up revealing the extent to which some people have come to depend on the Unesco World Heritage Site. Said U.S. politician and environmentalist Al Gore in the report , “This timely report is a much needed, holistic view of the incredible economic value and opportunities provided by the Great Barrier Reef. Any failure to protect this indispensable natural resource would have profound impacts not only to Australia but around the world.” Related: Rising ocean temperatures are cooking the Great Barrier Reef to death According to Great Barrier Reef Foundation director Steve Sargent, the report “sends a clear message that the Great Barrier Reef—as an ecosystem , as an economic driver, as a global treasure—is too big to fail.” He added that at $42 billion (USD), “the reef is valued at more than 12 Sydney Opera Houses.” Located off the coast of Queensland, Australia, the largest coral reef system in the world isn’t just affected by warming waters. As Gizmodo reports, farming runoff, urban development. cyclic outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and boating accidents are also damaging the reef at an increasing rate. Experts are presently collaborating to find solutions which will preserve the Great Barrier Reef. Ideas so far include the construction of coral nurseries, increasing the efficiency of starfish culls and cutting greenhouse gas emissions to prevent a further increase in sea surface temperatures. + Deloitte Via Gizmodo Images via Pixabay  ( 1 , 2 )

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