Toxic smog causes school closures in Bangkok

January 31, 2019 by  
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Officials in Bangkok have closed schools for the rest of the week amid growing concerns of toxic smog . The Ministry of Education in Thailand announced the closing of around 450 schools in Bangkok and the surrounding area this week as the government tries to deal with a massive pollution problem. The air quality in the city of Bangkok has dipped to unacceptable levels. The amount of dust particles — also referred to as PM2.5 — deemed dangerous to health has far exceeded acceptable standards. This fine particulate matter is hazardous to health , because it is tiny enough to enter the body and do considerable damage to organs. Related: Scientists find air pollution leads to a significant decline in cognition According to The Guardian , the massive amount of pollution is caused by poor construction standards, car exhaust, factory fumes and crop burning. The pollution is so large in scale that it is unable to escape the city, leaving people trapped in a toxic environment. To combat the situation, residents in Bangkok have been wearing respirator masks to avoid inhaling the fine particles. The government, which has been under considerable criticism for not actively fighting pollution , has attempted to make it rain in the city by seeding clouds. The rain helps fight pollution by trapping the toxic particles. Officials have also sprayed water in strategic locations to help decrease the amount of dangerous particles in the air . Residents have been avoiding burning incense, which is a popular activity over the Chinese New Year. Despite their efforts, authorities were forced to close down 437 schools in Bangkok. They also declared a “control area” around the city that is over 580 square miles in size. Officials hope that closing schools will help alleviate some of the traffic and reduce vehicle emissions. “The situation will be bad until February 3 to 4, so I decided to close schools,” Aswin Kwanmuang, the governor of Bangkok, shared. School authorities plan to look at the situation next week to determine if the closing should be extended. The air quality index in Bangkok was measured at 171 this week, which is the highest it has been in more than a year. Via The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Toxic smog causes school closures in Bangkok

Connecticut could mandate climate change education in schools

January 22, 2019 by  
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Connecticut state Representative Christine Palm, a Democrat from the town of Chester, has proposed a bill in the state legislature that would mandate instruction on climate change in public schools across Connecticut . If Palm’s proposed bill became law, the study of  climate change  in Connecticut would begin in elementary school. It would also be the first bill in the U.S. to make climate change instruction mandatory via statute. Some people don’t believe the legislation is necessary, because the state already adopted Next Generation Science Standards back in 2015. Those standards include teaching about climate change, Phys.org reported. “A lot of schools make the study of climate change an elective, and I don’t believe it should be an elective,” Palm said. “I think it should be mandatory, and I think it should be early, so there’s no excuse for kids to grow up ignorant of what’s at stake.” Related: Climate change is causing spring to come earlier in national parks The Next Generation Science Standards already make climate change studies a core of science education , but it doesn’t start until middle school. Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said that because the curriculum is already addressing climate change and educators are already teaching the standards set forth by the 2015 legislation, this new proposal isn’t needed. So far, 19 states and  Washington D.C.  have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. However, it does leave the specific curriculum up to individual school districts and only gives indications about what the state wants students to learn. During the last legislative session, a similar bill to Palm’s was introduced, but it did not pass. Some states have also proposed legislation to either allow or require teachers to present students with alternative viewpoints about climate change and other topics. Palm believes that climate change is such an urgent and threatening matter that it should be a top priority in a child’s education. “I’d love to see poetry be mandated,” Palm said. “That’s never going to happen. That’s not life or death.” Via Phys.org Image via Wokandapix

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Connecticut could mandate climate change education in schools

Eco-friendly Brae restaurant and retreat targets net-zero energy in Australia

January 22, 2019 by  
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Sustainability is woven throughout Brae , a renowned restaurant and retreat nestled on a hillside of a 30-acre organic farm in rural Australia. Designed by Fitzroy-based studio Six Degrees Architects , Brae is best known for its seasonally inspired menu and talented chefs — the restaurant was named among the world’s 50 best restaurants in 2017 — and the idyllic establishment also boasts six eco-friendly guest suites designed to target net-zero energy consumption. Durable and recycled materials are used throughout the handcrafted buildings, which are powered with solar energy and use recycled rainwater. After Six Degree Architects completed Brae in 2013, the firm revisited the site to add a new accommodation building that would emphasize the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability and seasonality. Completed in 2016, the six guest suites are housed in a structure referencing the archetypal utilitarian rural shed and built with simple and robust materials including recycled timber and brickwork, raw steel and brass. Local builders and tradesmen built the project, and the guest suites are carefully fitted out with bespoke, engaging objects to make each room feel homey and welcoming. “The restaurant is renowned for seasonally sourcing raw produce from either the property or local region,” the architects explained. “There was a desire to bring this careful, considered approach into the crafting of the rooms and restaurant. Simple robust materials, contrasting hard and soft, and a level of intricate detailing remind you that hands have made and shaped the buildings. The project purposefully plays off the materiality and self-build nature of old rural buildings, reinterpreting them into contemporary and luxurious interiors, framing views of the working landscape beyond.” Related: Peek inside the BIG-designed garden village for one of the world’s best restaurants The guest suites are oriented for south-facing views of the landscape, while a landscaped berm to the north protects the building from view of the carpark. To achieve net-zero energy use during operation, the project is equipped with 48 solar panels that generate a daily average of nearly 44 kWh. Rainwater is harvested in two 40,000-liter tanks and reused for drinking and washing. Waste is broken down in a large worm farm. Thanks to these systems and passive thermal design, the 500-square-meter Brae guest suites have achieved a NatHERS energy rating of 7 stars. + Six Degrees Architects Photography by Trevor Mein via Six Degrees Architects

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Eco-friendly Brae restaurant and retreat targets net-zero energy in Australia

These are the world’s top vegan cities

January 22, 2019 by  
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If traveling is a top priority for you in 2019 and you follow a vegan diet , there are some cities that are more vegan-friendly than others. Vegan website Happy Cow has compiled a list of the 10 most vegan-friendly cities in the world based on the number of fully-vegan restaurants, the number of vegan-option restaurants and their impression of overall vegan-friendliness. London At the top of the list is London, because the number of vegan restaurants in the city has exploded over the past year. It was the first city on the list to hit 100 completely vegan restaurants. A recent survey showed that more than a half million people are following the vegan diet in Great Britain. Related: Veganism on the rise, record number of sign-ups for Veganuary Berlin Because its vegan scene continues to grow, Berlin comes in at No. 2. There are now 65 vegan restaurants in the German city and 320 additional vegan options at restaurants within a 5-mile radius. New York City Many people consider the Big Apple to be the international food capital of the world, and its vegan scene is flourishing. There are now 64 vegan restaurants in NYC that range from fast food to upscale dining. Portland Veganism is a way of life in Portland , and that means the city has a wide variety of plant-based food options. You can easily find a vegan burger and a variety of vegan artisanal cheeses. There are also a number of vegan food carts and even a vegan bed and breakfast. Tel Aviv With an estimated 5 to 8 percent of the Israeli population being vegan, the country has the highest percentage of vegans in the world. The 31 vegan restaurants in Tel Aviv serve a variety of cuisines from Israel, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Some also have a Western influence. Rounding out the top 10 are Los Angeles, Warsaw, Toronto, Prague and Paris . + Happy Cow Image via 12019

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These are the world’s top vegan cities

Permaculture feeds and empowers refugees in Uganda

January 18, 2019 by  
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Refugees arrive at Palabek refugee camp in Northern Uganda with the clothes on their back and what little they carried. New arrivals, many from South Sudan, receive a tarp, tent poles, a water can, a cooking pot and a ration card for enough food to make starvation a slower process. While aid agencies swarm Sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than 26 percent of the world’s refugee population, few make their desired impact. But African Women Rising (AWR) is having startling success. The organization educates women and girls in Northern Uganda, schooling them in literacy, micro-finance and agriculture . Within Palabek, the nonprofit’s lessons in permaculture may make the difference between people surviving the camp and eventually thriving in a new home or not. Seeds and tools Permaculture is small-scale agriculture designed to be sustainable and self-sufficient. AWR developed the permagarden program at Palabek “as an antidote to the widespread seeds and tools offerings of most NGOs, especially in refugee settings,” said founders Linda and Tom Cole. “There’s a seldom-challenged maxim within the humanitarian sector that if you provide a refugee with some packets of seeds and a few tools, she might translate that into a regular supply of food for the family.” But the Coles have seen this approach fail, primarily because of poor soil fertility and lack of water. Instead, AWR provides a deeper agricultural education for refugees.  “It focuses on building understanding around the basic principles of water and soil biology, and then uses a design framework to help the farmer understand the best way to capture rainwater and enrich the soil using locally available — and often waste — materials such as manure, wood ash, tree leaves and charcoal dust.” Related: Nonprofit teaches communities how to build homes out of straw, clay and soil When AWR started at Palabek, they trained about 20 people. Now, more than 6,000 South Sudanese refugee families cultivate vegetables here. The permagardeners at Palabek learn to harvest water and capture waste streams to enhance the fertility and productivity of their 30m by 30m plots. They manage existing trees , plant new ones and cultivate living fences and biomass plantings that provide materials for building, pest remedies, dry season nutrition and medicine. “This helps reduce pressures on the environment — such as the collection of fuelwood, gathering of wild foods, burning of charcoal — that will continue to worsen as time goes on, exacerbating tensions between host communities and refugees,” the Coles told Inhabitat. “Strengthening the ecological base of food systems also reduces vulnerability across time by shoring up resilience in the face of climate instability and extreme weather events.” Permagardening is not a magic solution. The refugees don’t learn it in a day. Instead, refugee farmers participate in a series of trainings throughout the growing season. Local field staff called community mobilizers regularly monitor the gardens and troubleshoot problems as necessary. Why women? The Coles founded their nonprofit in 2006 to empower African women rebuilding their lives after war. “AWR’s vision is to build social, economic and political equality for women and girls in Africa,” the Coles said. The small-but-mighty nonprofit’s programs help Northern Ugandan women to improve their lives through increased food production, natural resource management, financial security and education. Women traditionally care for children and keep households going, and therefore carry heavy post-war burdens. As Ugandan women try to feed families, they contend with financial lack and environmental challenges including deforestation , drought, erosion, water shortages and climate change . AWR works with the most vulnerable of vulnerable women: widows, formerly abducted women and girls, ex-combatants, girl mothers, orphans, those who are HIV-positive and grandmothers taking care of orphans, all of whom earn less than a dollar a day. Most have had little or no formal education and are stigmatized for their disadvantages. AWR is adamant about the women themselves being actively involved in decision-making. Before launching programs, AWR partners with community-based groups to find out what the women themselves want and need, then make plans to carry that out. “There was broad consensus that education, savings and agriculture should be the foundation of recovery,” Linda and Tom said. Once programs are up and running, community mobilizers meet weekly with program participants to monitor progress. Money is power, and so is literacy In addition to agricultural projects, AWR is the major player in adult literacy in Northern Uganda. AWR runs 34 literacy centers serving more than 2,000 adults in Northern Uganda. With literacy comes power. Nearly 50 students and staff members at the centers, dismayed by a lack of trustworthy candidates, have run for public office. Two-thirds won. AWR also runs a micro-finance program that teaches financial literacy to women. Participants learn record keeping, basic business skills and strategies for saving money, and they gain access to capital. “AWR groups saved more than $1 million last year,” the founders said. “Groups are on track to save more than $2 million this year, $0.50 to $0.75 at a time.” Related: The farmers growing food across frigid northern latitudes Within the refugee camp at Palabek, the rows of vegetables thriving in the permagardens are a welcome contrast to the bleak expanse of red dirt and a rationed diet of maize, beans, oil, sugar and salt. The permagardens also provide a symbol of hope for the future. “Most refugees arriving in Palabek have lost many of the friends and family structures that were relied upon previously for social support,” the Coles told Inhabitat.  “Apart from providing food for the family and some residual income, the most profound effect of AWR’s programs is to help rebuild those layers of social capital.  Extra food to provide to neighbors. Some small money for school fees or church offerings. Female mentors and role models.” They hope to have the same success in the intense poverty and displacement of the refugee camp as they’ve had throughout post-war Northern Uganda. “AWR began its work in one of the most aid-dependent areas of the world. We have the long-term goal of shifting this paradigm from complete dependency to one of engagement and personal capacity.” If you are interested in supporting AWR in its efforts, donations can be made here . + AWR Photography by Brian Hodges Photography, Thomas Cole and Macduff Everton via AWR

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Confluence Park’s new solar-powered pavilions collect rainwater and provide shade from the summer sun

July 12, 2018 by  
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San Antonio’s idyllic Confluence Park just became a little greener and more scenic, thanks to a collaboration between firms Lake Flato and Matsys Design with the support of landscape architect Rialto Studio . The riverfront park now boasts sweeping sculptural pavilions that provide shade from the fierce Texas sun as well as an elegant method for collecting rainwater. Confluence Park is located where the San Pedro Creek merges into the San Antonio River. Covering just over three acres, the public park now features a main pavilion , three smaller pavilions and a classroom. Flowing water and confluence served as strong influences these new structures, which imitate the sculptural atmosphere of the surrounding landscape. The team strategically designed these additions for minimal site impact . The focal point of the park is the main pavilion. This structure is constructed from 22 concrete pieces resembling petals, which were made on site and lifted into place. The pieces form giant archways that are illuminated at night with subtle accent lighting that merges seamlessly into the swooping petal formations. The main pavilion as well as the smaller pavilions are both beautiful and functional. The petal shapes help to funnel rainwater that is collected in the park’s catchment system. This system serves as the park’s main water source. In addition to collecting water, the pavilions provide a cool respite from the fierce summer heat that often plagues southern Texas . The Estella Avery Education Center stands near the main pavilion. This structure generates 100 percent of the energy it uses through solar panels while offering a space for the city’s residents to learn more about the San Antonio River watershed and surrounding environment. The green roof that tops the classroom is planted with native grasses and allows for passive heating and cooling through thermal mass. Thanks to the new classroom and pavilions, Confluence Park now offers more opportunities for park-goers to learn and explore the local environment . “Confluence Park is a living laboratory that allows visitors to gain a greater understanding of the ecotypes of the South Texas region and the function of the San Antonio River watershed,” Lake Flato architects said. “Throughout the park, visitors learn through observation, engagement and active participation.” + Lake Flato + Matsys + Rialto Studio Via Dezeen Images via Casey Dunn

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Confluence Park’s new solar-powered pavilions collect rainwater and provide shade from the summer sun

UK’s first energy positive classroom produces 1.5x the energy it uses

June 29, 2018 by  
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After one year in operation, the numbers are in: the United Kingdom ‘s first energy-positive classroom is capable of producing 1.5 times the amount of energy it needs to operate. Known as the Active Classroom, the energy-producing classroom stands as a shining example of what is possible as the U.K. and other nations attempt to transform their energy systems in response to climate change. The building was designed by experts at SPECIFIC, a U.K. Innovation and Knowledge Center led by Swansea University, whose “research focuses on developing solar technologies and the processing techniques that take them from the lab to full-scale buildings,” according to its research director Dave Worsley . Currently, 40 percent of British energy is consumed by buildings. The Active Classroom incorporates several different technologies and design features to achieve its net positive energy status. The roof is curved and lined with laminated photovoltaic panels , while a thermal photovoltaic system is installed on the southern facing wall of the building, capable of producing heat and energy from its sun -exposed location. To store this energy, the classroom harnesses lithium ion batteries and a 2,000 liter water tank specifically for storing solar heat. Related: Magical new classroom reconnects children with nature in the UK The Active Classroom stands next to the Active Office, a similar structure built by SPECIFIC. “The Active Office and Classroom will be linked together and able to share energy with each other and electric vehicles , demonstrating how the concept could be applied in an energy-resilient solar-powered community,” Worsley said. These buildings are designed to be simple and quick to assemble, taking only about a week to set up. “It’s difficult to overstate the potential of developing a building that powers itself,” explained Innovate U.K. executive chair Ian Campbell . “The concept could genuinely revolutionize not only the construction sector but completely change how we create and use energy.” + SPECIFIC Via ScienceDaily Images via SPECIFIC

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UK’s first energy positive classroom produces 1.5x the energy it uses

The LEED Gold-seeking Edible Academy teaches urban farming in NYC

June 29, 2018 by  
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New York-based architecture firm Cooper Robertson recently completed the latest addition to the New York Botanical Garden  in the Bronx — the Edible Academy, a new LEED Gold -seeking facility that will teach the greater community about sustainable agriculture, healthy eating and the environment. Created as an expansion of the New York Botanical Garden’s Children’s Gardening Program founded in 1956, the $28 million state-of-the-art development covers three acres on the grounds of the existing Ruth Rea Howell Vegetable Garden. The facilities offer a wide array of programming as well as many sustainable features such as vegetated green roofs, composting toilets and geothermal heating and cooling. Opened earlier this month, the Edible Academy serves as a year-round teaching center that celebrates New York’s native landscapes. The campus comprises a collection of gabled structures that blur the distinction between indoors and out. The structures are positioned to frame views from the city’s largest uncut expanse of old growth forest to the Bronx River and its waterfall. The buildings were placed around the teaching and display gardens with the re-imagined Ruth Rea Howell Vegetable Garden taking up a sizable portion of the campus. New gardens include the Meadow Garden with native perennial shrubs and herbaceous plants experienced through winding paths as well as the Barnsley Beds, a formal vegetable garden with ornament plantings, arranged around the Event Lawn. The 5,300-square-foot green-roofed Classroom Building serves as the heart of the Edible Academy and boasts a child-friendly demonstration kitchen and technology lab. A connecting greenhouse doubles as a teaching space and a potting and propagation area. Outdoor lessons can be held in the shade under the Solar Pavilion, named after its rooftop solar panels, as well as in the 350-seat outdoor amphitheater carved from the site’s natural topography. Related: Solar-powered school will teach children how to grow and cook their own food “With its combination of inventive and flexible spaces for gardening programs, classes and outdoor events, the Edible Academy offers a strong design framework for addressing the 21st-century needs and interests of schools, families and the public,” said Bruce Davis, AIA, LEED AP, a partner with Cooper Robertson. “With this dedicated three-acre facility, the Edible Academy also provides an innovative national model for other institutions and schools expanding their garden -based education programs.” + Cooper Robertson Images by Marlon Co / The New York Botanical Garden and Robert Benson Photography

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The LEED Gold-seeking Edible Academy teaches urban farming in NYC

GreenBiz Emerging Leaders share their sustainable business passions

March 19, 2018 by  
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Here’s what drives 10 up-and-coming sustainability professionals who engaged in our latest GreenBiz event.

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GreenBiz Emerging Leaders share their sustainable business passions

GreenBiz Emerging Leaders share their sustainable business passions

March 19, 2018 by  
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Here’s what drives 10 up-and-coming sustainability professionals who engaged in our latest GreenBiz event.

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GreenBiz Emerging Leaders share their sustainable business passions

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