From sustainable to regenerative: bold business moves to transform the agriculture system

January 16, 2020 by  
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Regenerative practices could bring huge win-wins for farmers, food companies and the environment, implementing them will involve overcoming wide-ranging barrier.

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From sustainable to regenerative: bold business moves to transform the agriculture system

Cool retro boats restored with electric motors

January 13, 2020 by  
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For those planning a summer day on the waterways of Lake Michigan, there’s a new ecological option that will help you spend the day boating in sustainable style. Located on the lake’s eastern shore, Retro Boat Rentals has unveiled a collection of fiberglass boats from the 50s and 60s that have been restored using state-of-the-art electric motors . The vintage boat rentals have retained their cool retro aesthetic while updating to a more eco-friendly way of boating. When Retro Boat Rentals owner John Sharar decided to start the company, he knew that he wanted to restore a collection of old boats dating back to the 50s and 60s. Realizing that the boats’ original gas motors were incredibly harmful to the environment, he sought out an ecological way to restore the fleet. Related: The elegant NOX SV electric speedboat helps to preserve waterways After exploring various options, he made contact with the team from Torqeedo, a pioneering marine electric propulsion motor manufacturer. Working in collaboration with Torqeedo, John restored the vintage boats to their original glory, with electric motors that don’t distract from the boats’ cool retro vibe. “John came up with the idea of removing the old gas motor from its casing and replacing it with a compact Torqeedo motor coupled to a custom-designed sail drive pod,” Steve Trkla, president of Torqeedo, Inc., said. “He attended Torqeedo training and worked with Torqeedo engineers to modify various motor brands. The electric motor is driven by a Torqeedo lithium-ion battery in the boat.” The boats vary in size and weight, so the Torqeedo electric systems are custom-designed for each boat . All of the electric motors provide between eight to 10 hours of run time between charges — more than enough, considering most customers rent the boats for just two or three hours. Today, families and couples can enjoy renting the unique, classic boats that, thanks to the new electric motors, glide quietly on the water without contaminating the environment. + Torqeedo Via Retro Boat Rentals Images via Torqeedo

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Cool retro boats restored with electric motors

Passive House principles inspire this sustainable home

January 13, 2020 by  
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Australian architecture firm  POLYstudio has recently completed A House for All Seasons, a contemporary family home with an emphasis on energy efficiency. Designed for a young family, the sustainable new dwelling has a flexible layout to accommodate the clients’ evolving needs within a relatively compact footprint. The project’s adherence to the principles of the Passive House standard along with native, drought -tolerant landscaping helps reduce the home’s carbon footprint. Located in an inner-city  Melbourne  neighborhood, A House for All Seasons is defined by a contemporary aesthetic that’s respectful of its heritage streetscape context. Spanning two floors across 230 square meters, the home breaks up its monolithic massing with a dynamic facade constructed with a varied material palette ranging from brick to metal cladding. In contrast to its cool-toned exterior, the inside of the home exudes warmth thanks to timber accents and select pops of color that punctuate the minimalist interior.  “The design and planning of the house continues our exploration of spatial organisation that is legible but flexible and layered, incorporating devices such as partition curtains and permeable screening to create spaces that are intimate but also bleed into adjoining spaces,” Daniel Wolkenberg, founder of POLYstudio, noted. “The use of polished concrete, blackbutt plywood and a mix of feature colours contributes to a warm and engaging interior.” Related: A Melbourne worker’s cottage gets revamped into a solar-powered family home Informed by  passive solar  design principles, the home provides year-round thermal comfort with minimal dependence on mechanical heating and cooling. Carefully selected durable materials, low-flow fixtures, and drought-tolerant vegetation contribute to the sustainability of the home. The home’s compact footprint allows for lawn space and an outdoor patio in the backyard that seamlessly connects with the open-plan living area, kitchen, and dining area indoors. The first floor comprises three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, a playroom, study and an outdoor balcony. + POLYstudio Images by Tatjana Plitt

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Passive House principles inspire this sustainable home

Fires in Australia create dangerous weather conditions

January 8, 2020 by  
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Authorities warn that the unprecedented ferocity of Australia’s wildfires can produce extreme  weather  systems — dangerous and unpredictable conditions known as cumulonimbus flammagenitus, or pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) clouds. These pyroCb are associated with fire clouds, ember attacks, fire-driven tornadoes and lightning storms that could create further wildfires. Australia’s Climate Council advisory says that these occurrences are likely to become more common as  climate change  persists and  greenhouse gas emissions  increase. Even more worrisome, pyroCb can make firefighting efforts more difficult. “A fire-generated thunderstorm has formed over the Currowan fire on the northern edge of the fire near Nowra. This is a very dangerous situation. Monitor the conditions around you and take appropriate action,” the New South Wales Rural Fires Service (NSW RFS) recently shared via social media. Related: Half a billion Australian animals, even 30% of koala population, likely lost to wildfires NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons brought attention to the situation when an RFS firefighter died because of the wildfire-associated bizarre weather phenomena. “That extraordinary event resulted in a cyclonic-type base flipping over a 10-tonne truck. That is the volatility and danger that exists,” Fitzsimmons explained. According to a  Climate and Atmospheric Science journal study, wildfire-triggered thunderstorms, or pyroCb, have been observed before in other regions of our planet and were first discovered in the early 2000s. They were originally thought to have been precipitated by volcanic eruptions until they were reclassified as being wildfire -induced. The study of wildfire-associated pyroCb is still a nascent science, yet to be systematically researched. In recent years, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s  Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) has monitored pyroCb in cooperation with both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). CIMSS classifies pyroCb as a “deep convective cloud…generated by a large/hot fire.” CIMSS has been monitoring the pyroCb formations above Australia as the wildfires continued to grow in quantity and magnitude. Several factors make pyroCb a formidable atmospheric force. The speed at which they form and change, coupled with heat from wildfires, can cause rapid, massive temperature swings. In turn, this fosters unpredictably severe winds that exacerbate wildfire intensity. The dynamics of pyroCb and their destructive power can, therefore, put the lives of both firefighters and the public at risk. “PyroCb storms are feared by firefighters for the violent and unpredictable conditions they create on the ground,”  The Guardian  reported. Not only are pyroCbs capable of creating lightning strikes and hail, but they can also engender embers that are “hot enough to start new fires…at distances of 30km from the main fire.” Dr Andrew Dowdy, a meteorologist at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology,  adds that the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the resultant  climate crisis facing our planet makes conditions favorable for pyroCb. As Simon Heemstra, manager of planning and predictive services at NSW RFS, said, “What’s happening now is that we are noticing an increase in incidence of these sorts of events. With a changing and heating climate, you are going to expect these effects.” Via Reuters , HuffPost , The Guardian Images via Harry Stranger and Rob Russell

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Fires in Australia create dangerous weather conditions

Half a billion Australian animals, even 30% of koala population, likely lost to wildfires

January 6, 2020 by  
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Record-breaking wildfires have ravaged millions of Australian acres for many months now. Ecologists estimate upward of 480 million mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects have died, as well as more than 8,000 koalas from New South Wales, equating to over 30% of the region’s entire koala population. Figures continue to rise as the fires rage on. Heat from the fires has driven many animals, such as kangaroos, to flee. But not all can escape, exemplified by flightless endemic birds unable to venture far from the ground. The plight is worse for koalas, already a vulnerable species experiencing significant habitat loss . Koalas are slow-moving by nature, incapable of escaping highly flammable eucalyptus trees. The flames will need to subside further before their losses can be fully assessed. Related: Koala-sniffing detection dog, Bear, helps save koalas from Australian bushfires Other species have been devastated as well. Insects, vital to pollination and nutrient cycles, have suffered massively. Many rare plants are also feared to be entirely decimated, with no chance of recovery for their species. These staggering losses jeopardize species populations and ecosystems in Australia. Environmental activists are consequently sounding alarms on climate change , demanding halts to logging and coal use due to their exacerbation of wildfire conditions. “The compelling issue here is climate change. Yes, Australia is burning, and national parks and our native animals are being decimated,” said Clover Moore, mayor of Sydney. “As the driest continent on Earth, we’re at the forefront of accelerating global warming . What is happening is a wake-up call for our governments to start making effective contributions to reducing global emissions.” Various animal care facilities are struggling to help the surviving animals. Eventually, once they have healed, these animals still need to return to their natural habitats. The surviving animals may have trouble finding food and shelter in the blazes’ aftermath. “We’re getting a lot of lessons out of this, and it’s just showing how unprepared we are,” said Kellie Leigh, executive director of Science for Wildlife, to the Australian parliament during an urgent December hearing regarding the koala population. “There’s no procedures or protocols in place — even wildlife carers don’t have protocols for when they can go in after the fire.” Typically, wildlife authorities advise against feeding wild animals . But the ravaging wildfires have prompted a message change — people are now encouraged to provide crucial food and water to wildlife in affected areas. Lands affected range from at least 8.9 million acres in New South Wales, 2.9 million acres in Western Australia, 1.8 million acres in Victoria, 618,000 acres in Queensland and 250,000 acres in South Australia. Via HuffPost Image via Simon Rumi

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Half a billion Australian animals, even 30% of koala population, likely lost to wildfires

The Amazon has lost over 10 million football fields of forest in a decade

January 3, 2020 by  
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The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) recently published its International Statistic of the Decade, and the “winner” was the stark statistic that the Amazon lost 24,000 square miles of rainforest. That is a land size equivalent to 10.3 million American gridiron football fields or 8.4 million soccer fields. This sobering deforestation figure highlights the harsh landscape changes caused by intentional human encroachment for commercial development purposes, such as logging, mining and cattle ranching. “The statistic only gives a snapshot of the issue, but it really provides an insight into the dramatic change to the landscape that has occurred over the past decade,” Liberty Vittert, a Harvard University visiting scholar and a statistician on the RSS judging panel, said. Related: Amazon rainforest might reach irreversible tipping point as early as 2021 Deforestation matters. Why? For one, the Amazon rainforest is a biodiversity hotspot, home to thousands of plant and animal species at risk of endangerment and extinction . Secondly, the Amazon Basin supplies a considerable amount of water vapor to the atmosphere; its deforestation leads to drought and attendant wildfires, which further exacerbate the ecosystem equilibrium of the rainforest habitat. Also, the loss of trees and other vegetation causes soil erosion, which increases the risks for  flooding  and a host of other problems such as land loss for indigenous people and  habitat loss for endemic flora and fauna species. When species become endangered , the ecosystem and its biodiversity equilibrium are imbalanced, triggering chain reactions where one loss leads to another. We lose not only those plants and animals we know of, but even undiscovered ones with medicinal potential that could never be recovered. Hence, when ecosystems weaken, all species, even humans, are placed at risk.  The Amazon’s deforestation is considerable because it is the world’s largest rainforest , spanning nine South American countries and measuring about 25 times the size of the United Kingdom. Therefore, it plays a vital role in our planet’s climate regulation. The rainforest’s canopy, for example, regulates temperature, cooling the atmosphere. The canopy similarly controls atmospheric water levels, affecting the water cycle and stabilizing the rainfall of South America. Of utmost significance, too, is the Amazon’s role in carbon sequestration . After all, this rainforest absorbs and stores more than 180 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere. Without the Amazon as a carbon sink, the carbon is released back into the air, adding to greenhouse gases , which is ultimately bad news for Earth’s climate. Indeed, were it not for the Amazon rainforest helping to re-absorb the carbon from the carbon footprint generated by human consumption, land use and fossil fuel burning, climate change will not be buffered.  Professor Jennifer Rogers, chair of the judging panel and RSS vice-president for external affairs, explained further, “Irreplaceable rainforests, like the Amazon, are shrinking at an alarming rate, and this statistic gives a very powerful visual of a hugely important environmental issue. Much has been discussed regarding the environment in the last few years, and the judging panel felt this statistic was highly effective in capturing one of the decade’s worst examples of environmental degradation.” + Royal Statistical Society Via CNN Image via Free-Photos

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The Amazon has lost over 10 million football fields of forest in a decade

Ice rink alternatives and their environmental impact

January 3, 2020 by  
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Ice rinks are an important fixture of winter sports, whether for ice hockey, speed skating, curling, ice dancing or figure skating. But with growing concerns about global warming , water scarcity and our planet’s climate crisis , even the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the National Hockey League (NHL) have been considering the environmental issues related to coordinating ice sports events and ensuring energy consumption and rink-operating costs are feasible. As a result, there is now a movement towards utilizing synthetic ice on ice rinks. The first historical mention of a skating club’s founding was in 1642 in Edinburgh, Scotland. As skating clubs grew, they inspired inventors to create artificial ice surfaces, so the rink would not be at the whim of the weather. By 1843, a Punch magazine article featured the first artificial ice rink, “not of frozen water but of a slush of chemicals including hog’s lard and melted sulphur, which smelled abominably.” That was followed by the growing popularity of ice hockey from the 1880s onward, which increased the demand for more rink construction. When the 1890s rolled around, the rush to patent ice rink surfaces began and has not abated since. Related: 5 sustainable activities to make the most of a winter wonderland Rinks have long required both ice-making technical equipment and ice maintenance measures. Unfortunately, contemporary ice-making and maintenance technologies consume large amounts of energy and produce refrigerant gases that cause pollution , making them environmentally harmful. During the most recent determination of the NHL’s total carbon footprint , it was estimated to emit 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases , an amount rivaling the yearly emissions from 110,000 cars, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Which refrigerant gases are linked to present-day ice rinks? The main refrigerants associated with most ice-making equipment include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), hydrocarbons, ammonia and carbon dioxide. CFCs and HCFCs are synthetic gases attributed to ozone layer destruction. HFCs heighten the greenhouse effect, while carbon dioxide similarly intensifies global warming. Plus, ammonia, when inhaled, aggressively causes irreversible respiratory damage. And hydrocarbons, like propane and isobutane, are highly combustible, often exacerbating smog formation. Hence, each of these gases adversely affects the environment.  Of course, as ice rink technology advances, many refrigerants are under a phase-out schedule, especially in Canada, due to the Montreal Protocol terms. Additionally, Canadian Consulting Engineer magazine reported: “Since 2010, no new HCFCs equipment have been manufactured in Canada or imported,” though extant ones are still in use today. Even with ammonia and carbon dioxide as the main refrigerants of choice for the majority of today’s ice rinks, they still have their attendant issues as well. For example, whereas ammonia may be a primary refrigerant, it is often utilized concurrently with brine to keep the rinks cold. The brine entails that this secondary fluid is high in salinity, having had salt added to boost its cooling properties. This highly saline secondary fluid, if leaked, can pose serious environmental damage. Meanwhile, despite “some rinks add[ing] ordinary salt to the water to keep them from freezing,” Wondergy documents, “most modern rinks now add ethylene glycol.” Ethylene glycol is a type of antifreeze, and it is highly toxic . Again, its leakage would be harmful to the environment, poisoning living organisms, their habitats and ecosystems . Other negative impacts of ice rinks include greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide. For instance, CO2Meter reported that to shift away from coolants like HFCs and other fluorinated gases, some ice rinks have been using carbon dioxide-based refrigeration systems as their primary refrigerant. Carbon dioxide is a better alternative, though its use still contributes to global warming. Likewise, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has cataloged that other noxious emissions, such as high nitrogen dioxide levels and carbon monoxide, are being released by indoor ice rinks due to ice resurfacers, such as Zamboni rink vehicles. The EPA website states, “In enclosed ice arenas, a primary source of indoor air concerns is the release of combustion pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM) into the indoor air from the exhaust of fuel-fired ice resurfacers.” This assertion is supported by an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) study , which shares that “nearly 40% of the rinks surveyed worldwide could be exceeding the World Health Organization’s 1-hour exposure guideline value for nitrogen dioxide in indoor air, with higher percentages of rinks exceeding this value in the US (55%) and Canada (46%). High nitrogen dioxide levels have been associated with respiratory problems such as severe coughs, chest pain and pulmonary edema.” Additionally, the same EDF study addresses carbon monoxide risks from ice rinks, citing that “High carbon monoxide levels can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and impaired performance. At the levels of carbon monoxide typically found in indoor rinks, fast breathing from skating or hockey can produce adverse health effects.” The combination of ice-making, ice-maintenance and ice-resurfacing factors pose harmful health consequences for those who frequent ice arenas and rinks. For these reasons, ice arenas and rinks are turning to synthetic ice as an alternative. Xtraice, a company known for building and distributing synthetic ice for rinks, says that synthetic ice’s significant advantages are that it doesn’t use water and thus doesn’t waste energy on ice-making or ice-maintenance. Rather, it eliminates the cost of water and electricity that traditional ice rinks contend with. Besides, a synthetic ice rink can be used 24/7 without having to be re-surfaced in the same way real ice does. Xtraice explains further that synthetic ice rinks “are cleaner and do not require big noisy generators and best of all, they do not emit CO2 into the atmosphere.” What’s the catch? Synthetic ice is mainly composed of high-density polyethylene panels. Polyethylene is the most common plastic on the market. Critics of plastic ice worry about the environmental implications of the microplastics that could be released as skates erode the synthetic ice surface and create shavings and abrasions, which, when brushed or cleaned off of the rink, would likely be dumped in the refuse bin. From there, they could find their way into waterways and oceans , polluting the environment. Accordingly, ice rinks can be viewed as a sustainability conundrum, at least for the time being. Traditional ice rinks have noise, energy waste and pollution costs. And their alternative, the synthetic ice rink, while resolving those issues, still generate other environmental concerns surrounding microplastic and plastic detriments. Only time will tell how the ice rink will evolve to become more eco-friendly. Via Xtraice and New York Times Images via Jimmy Chan , Suzy Hazelwood , Pixabay , and Lina Kivaka

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The climate case for construction

January 2, 2020 by  
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Buildings have an outsize impact on the environment. But there are solutions to make construction more efficient, resilient and safer.

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The climate case for construction

6 circular economy trends that will shape 2020

January 2, 2020 by  
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From refill schemes to more practical and viable recycling options, there’s a stronger sense of urgency to find solutions.

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6 circular economy trends that will shape 2020

Biggest environmental news stories of the decade

December 31, 2019 by  
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As we begin a new decade, we’re taking a look over the biggest environmental news stories since 2010. There’s a little good news, and a lot of not-so-good news. Still, we can look back and learn from what is happening in the hopes of taking action and restoring a brighter future for our planet. Climate change moves into the mainstream, and more kids get involved While a few climate deniers still fill high-ranking political posts, climate change is much more widely accepted as fact — rather than something to “believe in” — than it was in 2010. According to the TED blog, only four TED Talks specifically on climate change were posted in 2010 and 2011, although speakers mentioned the phenomenon. By 2015, TED said, people had shifted to seeing climate change as happening now, rather than in the far-off future, thanks to debates about whether or not places like the island nation of Kiribati were already sinking. Related: 12 good things that happened for the environment in 2019 By the end of the decade, climate change is on the forefront of many people’s minds, especially young people. Worldwide movements like Extinction Rebellion use massive, nonviolent protests to urge politicians to slow the warming. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg rose to international prominence, taking politicians to task about ignoring climate change and even being named Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2019. Deepwater Horizon The decade started with a tragic oil spill on April 20, 2010, one of the worst in history. The explosion on British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig operating in the Gulf of Mexico, killed 11 people. It leaked oil into the gulf for 87 days, for a total of 3.19 million barrels of crude oil polluting the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Images of people trying to wipe oil off pelican wings filled the news. Cleanup costs reached at least $65 billion . In addition to economic blows, especially to Louisiana’s shrimp and oyster industries, the animal death toll was high. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, about 82,000 birds, 6,165 sea turtles, 25,900 marine mammals and uncountable numbers of fish perished in the spill. Researchers are still gauging the long-term effects. Extreme weather events become more frequent As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned, global warming escalates weather disasters. The last decade saw 111 climate-related natural disasters that each cost more than $1 billion in damage. These include tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, drought, heatwaves and winter storms. In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, killing 2,981 people and costing an estimated $93.6 billion in damages. Notable U.S. disasters included Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the Missouri tornadoes of 2011. Animal extinctions Humans continued to edge out other animals in the struggle for habitat and resources. According to the World Wildlife Fund , species loss currently stands at between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, which is the rate Earth would lose species if humans didn’t exist. In 2012, Lonesome George, the last Pinta tortoise , died at over 100 years old. Formosan clouded leopards no longer slink across Taiwan. The Christmas Island pipistrelle, a microbat, has ceased its ultrasonic squeaking. No more baiji dolphins cavort in the Yangtze River. In this last decade, the planet also lost Caribbean monk seals, West African black rhinos, Madagascar hippopotami and Liverpool pigeons. Rainforest deforestation The decade’s final year witnessed much of the Amazonian rainforest go up in smoke. Brazil and Bolivia were particularly hit hard. Many attributed this tragedy at least in part to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s push for development over preservation. Horrifying photos from the National Institute for Space Research revealed enormous bald swaths where trees once stood. During its peak in August 2019, more than 70,000 individual fires were burning. The rainforest plays a critical role in regulating the entire world’s climate, so concerns stretched far beyond Brazil. Related: Amazon rainforest might reach irreversible tipping point as early as 2021 Increase in ocean plastic During the last decade, plastic continued to fill the oceans. But awareness of ocean plastic also grew. A 2018 United Nations study reported that people dump approximately 13 million tons of plastic into the world’s oceans annually, and the researchers expected this number to grow. At the same time, many concerned citizens in cities around the world worked to decrease plastic waste by banning straws and plastic bags. Some hotel chains vowed to no longer stock beverages packaged in single-use plastic bottles. Many companies started developing products made from recycled plastic. Reusable water bottles became an important fashion accessory. China stopped buying American recycling Americans became more adept at recycling , but they weren’t necessarily aware where their recycled goods went. In 2018, China enacted a policy called National Sword. Suddenly, Americans realized their old plastic had largely been going to China , but China didn’t want it anymore. Now at the end of the decade, American cities are scrambling to save unprofitable recycling programs. Ironically, some cities have canceled these programs just when they’ve convinced people to recycle. Right now, it’s cheaper for American companies to produce new plastic than to recycle old. This is one of the many environmental problems that must be addressed in the coming decade. Images via Shutterstock

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