EPA suspends environmental law enforcement

March 30, 2020 by  
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The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that, in accordance with the wishes of the Trump administration, it will suspend enforcing environmental laws for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses will not face any repercussions for polluting American air, land or water, as long as they can claim their practices are related to COVID-19. “This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment,” said Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the EPA. Related: Air pollution could make COVID-19 more dangerous The memo explains that staff shortages and social distancing restrictions may constrain laboratories’ abilities to analyze samples and companies’ abilities to meet reporting obligations. The new policy applies retroactively, beginning on March 13, with no end in sight. “The EPA will apply this policy to actions or to missions that occur while this policy is in effect even after the policy terminates,” according to the memo. Last week, the American Petroleum Institute, which promotes the interests of gas and oil companies, sent the EPA a letter lobbying for the suspension of rules requiring these companies to fix leaky equipment or monitor pollution . Air pollution is particularly worrisome at the moment, as COVID-19 attacks the human respiratory system. People with preexisting respiratory conditions are especially in danger, as are those who live near industrial facilities emitting large quantities of pollution. Because these facilities are usually located in less affluent neighborhoods, those with low incomes and people of color will unfairly bear the consequences of these relaxed laws. The EPA’s new policy has shocked and outraged public health and environmental advocates. “EPA should never relinquish its right and its obligation to act immediately and decisively when there is threat to public health, no matter what the reason is,” said Cynthia Giles, who headed EPA enforcement during the Obama administration. “I am not aware of any instance when EPA ever relinquished this fundamental authority as it does in this memo. This memo amounts to a nationwide moratorium on enforcing the nation’s environmental laws and is an abdication of EPA’s responsibility to protect the public.” + Environmental Protection Agency Via The Guardian Image via Environmental Protection Agency

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EPA suspends environmental law enforcement

Is almond milk bad for the environment?

March 30, 2020 by  
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Almonds are a nutritious and satisfying food source. Not only are the munchable nuts a popular snack , but they are also used in a variety of other consumable products, such as almond butter and almond flour, and can be used in a milk alternative for people with dairy allergies or vegan preferences. Almond milk, a supermarket staple, is used in everything from coffee to baking. But like many other crops, the spotlight has been on whether almonds and the increased demand for almond milk are damaging the environment. How is almond milk produced? It’s important to first understand that almond production is a regional issue. In the United States, California grows nearly every almond in the country and also provides more than 80% of almonds shipped around the world. Needless to say, that level of production affects a significant part of the state’s land, economy and resources. The result is an industry criticized for extreme water consumption and pesticide use. Related: How to choose the healthiest, most sustainable milk alternative Water use in the almond industry The main headline on almonds echoes fears regarding excessive water use. The truth is that farming uses water and a lot of it; almonds are no exception. In fact, a single almond takes about 1.1 gallons of water to produce. However, to put this in perspective, a single pound of beef requires a whopping 1,800 gallons of water , proving that raising cattle is much more resource-intensive than growing almonds. Collectively, meat and dairy production in California uses more water than that of all homes, businesses and government buildings in the entire state. Those figures make choosing almond milk over dairy milk much easier. Farmers realize water is a precious resource, and it’s been a topic of conversation for decades. As a result, California almond producers have spent two decades reducing the amount of water it takes to grow one pound of almonds by 33%. Additionally, they are dedicated to further cutting water usage by another 20% by 2025. Farmers achieve this by targeting water usage where it is needed rather than spraying large areas. Technology is helping, too, with computer-programmed water probes that measure moisture levels in the soil and respond accordingly. Pesticides for growing almonds Another concern centers around the use of pesticides in almond production, as pesticides then end up in the soil and water supply. The answer to this problem is a basic one; simply buy organic . Although the transition has been gradual, an increasing number of almond farmers in California are converting to organic growing methods.  Is our obsession with almond milk killing bees? Then there are the claims that almond milk is killing bees , but almonds are important to bees. Not only is almond nectar the first feast bees have early in the year, but the almond groves support roughly 2 million hives from across the country, making it the world’s largest managed pollination event. With the good comes the bad — pesticides are indeed credited with contributing to colony collapse, enforcing the need to grow and buy organic almonds along with other nuts, fruits and vegetables. Almonds and the economy While California remains cognitive of the potential negative impacts of almond production, the benefits appear to outpace those concerns. As far as the economy goes, The California Agricultural Issues Center says the California almond community delivers significant economic value to the state, including providing 104,000 jobs in the state and boosting GDP by $11 billion. Almond milk’s overall impact on the environment While the discussion of almond production is important to whether almond milk is bad for the environment or not, it’s also critical to realize that most almond milk uses very few almonds. Most almond milks are high in added ingredients, like sugars, artificial flavors and thickeners. Almond milk packaging and transport both have a negative impact, and all of the added ingredients make the nutrition benefits of almond milk questionable at best. You can curb the environmental impact of prepackaged almond milk by making your own at home. There are recipes all over the internet that explain how to do so and even offer twists on the traditional almond flavor by using spices and natural flavorings. So to address the question, “Is almond milk bad for the environment?” the answer is somewhat, but the benefits of a healthy snack producing a healthy economy and a healthy bee population outweigh the water consumption issues. Also remember that almonds offer the same environmental benefits of any other tree, cleaning the air by removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Plus, the branches offer shade to the soil allowing for better water retention and less evaporation. When the leaves drop, they add nutrients to the soil through natural composting. In all, the carbon footprint is somewhat small, especially compared to conventional dairy, while the economic, nutritional and environmental rewards are high. Images via Pixabay

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Clear doesn’t mean clean for Venice’s canals

March 24, 2020 by  
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Images of dolphins cruising Italian ports and swans floating beneath picturesque bridges in Venice’s famous canals are popping up on social media feeds. But clearer  water  doesn’t necessarily mean cleaner. Unfortunately, two weeks of lockdown isn’t enough to reverse centuries of human impact on Venice’s canals. Boat traffic kicking up natural sediment is the main cause of the canals’ usual murkiness. “The low turbidity of the water does not mean cleanliness,” Pierpaolo Campostrini, the managing director for the Consortium for Managing Scientific Research on Venice Lagoon System, told ABC News. “The transparency is due to the absence of sediment resuspension.” Cold water is probably also contributing to the canals’ clarity, as it’s not warm enough for the synthesis of organic compounds from  carbon dioxide . Related: Coronavirus and its impact on carbon emissions Water pollution can be invisible. “ Pollution  can impact how water appears, but perfectly clear water can contain toxic substances,” Kristen Thyng, assistant research professor at Texas A&M University, told Afar. Italy has been on lockdown since March 9, when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national quarantine. At the time of writing, Italy has more than 59,000 confirmed  coronavirus  cases. This is the second-highest national rate after China. Venice is in northern Italy, where factories usually cause air pollution. Because the nationwide lockdown has prompted the temporary closure of many industries, air quality has improved. The European Space Agency has captured clearer skies from its satellites. However, chemical analysis would be necessary to say exactly how much both air and water quality have improved in Italy during the pandemic. Citizens of Venice were still recovering from record high tides last November, which prompted the Italian government to declare a state of emergency. Many shops and hotels  flooded , and St. Mark’s Square, a tourist favorite, was underwater. Unfortunately, most locals aren’t able to appreciate the canals’ current beauty. Lockdown means they can only leave their homes for necessities, work and  health  circumstances. + ABC News Via Afar Image via Gerhard Gellinger

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Clear doesn’t mean clean for Venice’s canals

UN releases World Water Development Report 2020

March 23, 2020 by  
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Climate change further challenges the world’s overstretched water resources, ultimately threatening all aspects of human life, according to the latest UN World Water Development Report. Most human needs revolve around water, so energy production, industrial development, food security, human and animal health and housing are also vulnerable to climate change impacts. The report states that the reliability of available water will decrease as the climate becomes more variable, amplifying floods, droughts and other water-related problems. Places already stressed from insufficient water sources will suffer more, while places that have so far been unaffected will feel the pain, too. Related: IPCC landmark report warns about the state of the oceans, polar ice content and the climate crisis Over the last century, global water use has increased by a factor of six. Between population increase, economic development and explosive human consumption, this growth continues at about 1% per year. Groundwater depletion doubled from 1960 to 2000. Some experts predict that 40% of the world will face a water deficit by 2030. “If we are serious about limiting global temperature increases to below 2°C and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we must act immediately,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, chair of UN Water. “There are solutions for managing water and climate in a more coordinated manner and every sector of society has a role to play. We simply cannot afford to wait.” The UN report acknowledges that while most countries recognize water as a crucial issue, few have specific action plans about adapting policies to protect this resource. The report suggests that climate change funds be used more for adaptation and mitigation of water issues. Adaptation includes social and institutional measures, plus natural, technological and technical steps to lessen climate change-related damage. Mitigation refers to the actions humans must take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Wastewater treatment generates a high amount of emissions. Some countries — such as Peru, Mexico , Thailand and Jordan — have already harnessed the methane in untreated wastewater as biogas, which provides enough energy to run the treatment process. The UN report also mentions wetland protection, conservation agriculture techniques, reusing partially treated wastewater for industry and agriculture and fog capture as possible water management interventions. + UN World Water Development Report 2020 Image via Alex Hu

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Tour 5 national parks from home

March 19, 2020 by  
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As people social distance and shelter in place, they may feel the walls closing in on them. Fortunately, the National Park Service has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to offer free virtual tours of five beloved parks. Of course, the online experience isn’t quite like being there, but these tours are pretty cool and may inspire dreams of post-pandemic travels . The five tours feature Kenai Fjords in Alaska , Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Hawaii Volcanoes, Bryce Canyon in Utah and Dry Tortugas in Florida. Each virtual tour is led by a National Park Service ranger. The varied terrains and activities help entertain viewers. Related: How National Parks benefit the environment The tour of Kenai Fjords lets you climb down a slippery, icy crevasse in Exit Glacier — much easier done virtually than in real life. In Carlsbad Caverns, viewers get a bat’s eye view to help them learn about echolocation. Hawaii Volcanoes features a walk through a lava tube and a trip up volcanic cliffs. Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park consists of 1% Fort Jefferson and 99% underwater. Join a ranger for a virtual dive into this diverse ecosystem, including a swim through a coral reef and an exploration of the Windjammer shipwreck. As the Bryce Canyon tour points out, two-thirds of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way from their backyards. This tour highlights Bryce Canyon’s dark skies and allows viewers to tap around to check out constellations while listening to night sounds like owls and crickets. At press time, many National Park Service units are still open with reduced services and closed visitors centers. But this may change as the coronavirus situation progresses. “The NPS is working with federal, state and local authorities, while we as a nation respond to this public health challenge,” NPS deputy director David Vela said in a press release. “Park superintendents are assessing their operations now to determine how best to protect the people and their parks going forward.” So before setting out on that big drive to camp in a park, consider sitting tight on your couch and taking a virtual tour. + National Park Service and Google Arts & Culture Images via Wikimedia Commons

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Solar-powered community hub in Australia emphasizes green design

March 18, 2020 by  
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Residents of the Australian suburb of Bayswater now have a new community center to enjoy. Designed by Melbourne-based firm K20 Architecture , the Bayswater Early Years Hub is a building that was strategically designed to minimize its impact on the environment via green design, which includes solar power, rainwater harvesting systems and more. At 20,000 square feet, the massive building offers residents a range of services including early learning spaces as well as several health centers. To blend in with the existing residential area, the structure was built with fairly humble features, such as red brick cladding and a gabled roof, which is covered in solar panels . Related: Green-roofed community center champions sustainable design in London It was imperative to the designers to include a functional layout with enough space for multiple services without sacrificing convenience to visitors. Accordingly, the resulting design is a dynamic volume comprised of two U-shaped masses “turning toward the sun,” which gives the project its nickname, Sunflower. As one of its primary functions, the center is a space for learning. Therefore, the project includes several learning classrooms that are spacious and well-lit by large windows. Additionally, an expansive courtyard was strategically landscaped to include a variety of greenery as well as adventurous play areas including a sand pit, swings, crawling spaces, slides and bridges. Along the border of these sites, parents and grandparents have several areas to sit down and enjoy the fresh air while the kids run around freely. From the onset of the project, the architects worked with the local government to ensure that the new structure would be incredibly energy-efficient . With the objective of a 100+ year building lifecycle, improved ecology and reduced environmental impact, the designers added several sustainable features to the building. The roof boasts an array of solar panels, which generate a substantial amount of clean energy for the building. The roof is also equipped with a rainwater harvesting system. Baywater uses several passive features to further reduce energy use, such as ample natural light. + K20 Architecture Via ArchDaily Images via K20 Architecture

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Air pollution could make COVID-19 more dangerous

March 17, 2020 by  
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Some climate experts are hypothesizing that living in areas with high air pollution could make cases of COVID-19 worse. Smoking tobacco products could also worsen the effects of the virus. “Given what we know now, it is very likely that people who are exposed to more air pollution and who are smoking tobacco products are going to fare worse if infected with COVID than those who are breathing cleaner air , and who don’t smoke,” Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Washington Post. Because no large-scale studies have been done to connect air pollution with the virus, Bernstein’s view is still a hypothesis. Related: Coronavirus and its impact on carbon emissions Some of the world’s more polluted regions have seen the most coronavirus fatalities, such as densely populated urban areas of Iran and China. The air quality is so bad that people living in Tehran or in the Hebei province of China may routinely inhale an equivalent amount of air pollution as someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. Northern Italy is one of Europe’s most polluted areas. South Korean cities have high air pollution levels and a high rate of tobacco use. During the severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS] epidemic in 2003, researchers noticed a correlation between low air quality and regions with more fatalities. However, they didn’t conclude air pollution was necessarily the cause. Other factors, including socioeconomic status, may also have played a role in the disease’s patterns. There may also be a correlation between smoking and the deadliness of COVID-19. Researchers found worse outcomes for smokers who suffered from Middle East respiratory syndrome, both in the Middle East and in South Korea. Pneumonia , to which smokers are often susceptible, is sometimes part of severe coronavirus cases. Via U.S. News & World Report and The Hill Image via Edmond Yu

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A sculptural office crowns the solar-powered Stellar building in India

March 17, 2020 by  
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Following four years of design and construction, Mumbai-based design studio Sanjay Puri Architects recently completed Stellar, a solar-powered commercial building in Ahmedabad, India. The building features a striking sculptural office on its northwest side. Constructed with rust-red colored aluminum sheets, the angular office is a focal point for not only the 110-meter-long building but also for the bustling intersection where the building is located. To mitigate the city’s temperatures, which rise to an excess of 95 degrees Fahrenheit for eight months of the year, Stellar features a series of terraces that deflect solar gain. Spanning an area of 18,580 square meters, the multistory building houses retail on its lower three levels and office spaces on the upper four levels. About one-third of the offices open onto landscaped terraces and are set back from the building perimeter to take advantage of solar shading. The terraces are connected to a rainwater harvesting tank that stores runoff for reuse. Solar panels have also been installed on the terraces to harness renewable energy . Related: Sculptural, energy-saving office boasts the “smartest building advances in Germany” The crowning distinction of Stellar is the 500-square-meter office on the building’s northwest side. Surrounded by a spacious, north-facing outdoor terrace, the eye-catching office is wrapped in angular aluminum sheets strategically placed to protect the windows from the sun. Small triangular perforations along the sides of select panels also allow natural light to pass through into the office during the day and are backlit at night to give the office a beautiful, glowing effect. “This office space is deliberately designed to contrast with the rest of the building, creating an interesting juxtaposition of color, volume and geometry in addition to creating an individual identity based upon the brief,” the architects explained. “The simple rectilinear geometry with muted color tones and the complex angular geometry awash with color contrast to create a unique composition.” + Sanjay Puri Architects Photography by Abhishek Shah via Sanjay Puri Architects

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A sculptural office crowns the solar-powered Stellar building in India

Discarded face masks now threatening wildlife habitats

March 16, 2020 by  
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The worldwide outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) prompted many to purchase face masks for protection. Unfortunately, these protective masks have been harming the environment. Why is that? The masks are made of the plastic polypropylene, which is not easily biodegradable. No surprise then that the accumulation of discarded face masks litters the environment and poses serious risks to the equilibrium of  habitats  and the health of wildlife, especially marine organisms. Environmental groups are now sounding the alarm on how cast-off coronavirus masks are escalating the  litter  and plastic pollution predicaments. Related:  The Ocean Cleanup has first success collecting plastic from Great Pacific Garbage Patch “We only have had masks for the last six to eight weeks, in a massive volume…we are now seeing the effect on the environment,” explained Gary Stokes, founder of Oceans Asia, a marine  conservation  organization. Stokes elaborated with the example of the Soko Islands off Hong Kong. On one 100-meter stretch of beach, Stokes discovered 70 masks, then an additional 30 the following week.  Hong Kong’s dense population means that its citizens have struggled with plastic waste.  Single-use plastic  makes matters more challenging. What’s more, Hong Kong does not effectively  recycle  all its waste. Instead, roughly 70% of its garbage ends up in landfills. That 70% is equivalent to approximately 6 million tons of refuse. Conservationists have been attempting to remove these masks from the environment through beach clean-ups. “Nobody wants to go to the forest and find masks littered everywhere or used masks on the beaches . It is unhygienic and dangerous,” added Laurence McCook, head of Oceans Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong. Jerome Adams, the United States Surgeon General, has also  advised people to stop purchasing medical face masks , as they are ineffective at preventing COVID-19. Scaling back public purchasing of the masks would not only keep more masks available for medical professionals, but could also reduce the amount being discarded and its impact on the environment. Via Reuters Images via Pixabay

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This DIY off-grid home in Hawaii includes a permaculture farm

March 16, 2020 by  
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Living an off-grid lifestyle is a dream for many, but it’s also incredibly tough to achieve. Still, there are a select few who manage to do it with such style that it makes the transition from running the endless rat race to sustainable living look relatively easy. Ambitious couple Arina and Zen Moriya have done just that by creating an off-grid oasis within the jungles of Pahoa, Hawaii . The Root Down Farm is a self-built homestead that enables the couple to embrace a close connection with nature. The sustainable permaculture farm and off-grid home are located in a community called Puna. After visiting in 2008, the couple immediately fell in love with the community’s progressive, laid-back style and history of  sustainable living. The region’s mild weather, along with the lush jungle vegetation, led them to purchase a 3-acre lot to begin a new way of life. Related: Serene off-grid tiny home sits tucked away in a Hawaiian rainforest The resulting Root Down Farm includes three structures: the main house, which is 1,272-square-feet, a 384-square-foot cottage and a sweet, 360-square-foot bungalow that the couple rents out on Airbnb. All of the structures are surrounded by an expansive permaculture farm that provides vegetables and fruits for the couple and their friends. Inside each building, the furnishings were chosen to reflect the couple’s minimalist design style . Nearly everything was handmade by Zen or found secondhand. The couple did most of the construction work themselves over the span of 2.5 years, along with help of a professional contractor and a few very good friends. The climate was an essential element in their building strategy, enabling them to rely on a few passive features. “Because we don’t have harsh winter, we were able to build structures with no windows (only screens to keep bugs out) and build with single wall with no insulation,” Zen told Inhabitat. Perhaps the only downside to building in a remote area on a tropical island is the fact that they weren’t able to find many repurposed materials to use for the structures. Instead, they turned to nature. “Reclaimed building materials are not easy to find on this island. There is only one or two vendors who salvage old building materials on this island but they charge premium,” Zen explained. “We did try to use as much natural material as possible, such as ohia tree for the main post in the house, guava trees for railing and fence.” Root Down Farm operates completely off of the grid thanks to solar power generation . There is no access to electricity, water or sewers in the area, so the couple built their own self-sufficient systems. They use multiple wells for their water needs and all of the structures are equipped with composting toilets. The permaculture gardens that surround the properties were a crucial component of the project. Arina and Zen now enjoy an abundance of organic food year-round, including coconuts, avocados, banana, papayas, root vegetables, tomatoes and more, all of which they also share with friends. + Root Down Farm Via Apartment Therapy Images by Zen Moriya

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This DIY off-grid home in Hawaii includes a permaculture farm

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