Low-income housing in flood zones traps families in harms way

April 25, 2019 by  
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Nearly one out of every 10 low-income housing projects is in a flood zone. In Houston , residents of a government-subsidized complex have sued the landlord, arguing that the subsidy system unfairly traps them in a cycle of devastation with no choice but to continuously return to where their lives are at risk and where they have lost everything — year after year. Half a million Americans live in government subsidized housing that is at direct risk for flooding. This number is modest, because the estimate is based on historical climate data and does not reflect rapidly increasing rainfall patterns. Related: National Weather Service claims 2019 flooding could cause record-breaking damage In 2016, a storm flooded the Arbor Court Apartments in Houston and residents like Sharobin White lost her car and everything in her apartment. Then in 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and again White lost her car and all her possessions. Like thousands of low-income families, Ms. White’s housing voucher is specific to her building and therefore returning to her apartment — despite the trauma and toxic mold — is her only option. Low-income residents take legal action According to an investigative article by the New York Times, the Arbor Court Apartments — like many low-income complexes — is a privately-owned building that has a contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The landlord receives payment from the government in exchange for renting to low-income tenants. Despite the known risks and exorbitant recovery expenses after the flood in 2016, the government renewed its contract with Arbor Court. Given the housing crisis throughout the country, HUD argues that without these complexes, thousands of families would be homeless. In other words, the department believes providing vulnerable housing is more urgent and beneficial than sending half a million Americans out onto the street. Similarly, the landlord’s lawyer argues that this building is just as at risk as others in the area and that despite two back-to-back floods, such catastrophes are not the norm. Climate science, however, indicates that these “ freak storms ” are indeed becoming more frequent and therefore not something that the government can afford to ignore. Low-income communities require massive amounts of assistance and funding after disasters and are least capable of recovery. By taking the risk to continue to fund such inexpensive, but repeatedly vulnerable housing, the government is setting itself up for higher costs in the long run — including losses in infrastructure and lives. Still, the government and landlords are cutting corners on recovery efforts and forcing low-income residents to return home despite glaring health risks. “Arbor Court is not a close question,” Michael M. Daniel, a civil rights lawyer working on the case, told The New York Times. “How in the world it hasn’t flunked the ‘decent, safe and sanitary’ test — it’s beyond belief.” Discontinuing decades of discrimination and danger The connection between low-income housing and unsafe conditions is not new. Land in vulnerable areas is cheaper, and therefore readily available for government and low-income projects , just as low-income and minority residents have historically been segregated to undesirable housing near toxic sites. A major shift in planning, policy and budget priorities will be necessary to begin to reverse decades of discriminatory policies, but HUD could start by discontinuing contracts with buildings in vulnerable and damaged areas. Related: High tide coastal flooding in US has doubled in the past 30 years In Houston, the Arbor Court landlord is currently constructing a new complex located 25 miles away but in a safer zone — at least in terms of flooding . Although the landlord plans to accept the same housing vouchers at that complex, residents argue that this option is still unacceptable. The new complex is located in a high-crime neighborhood, and the residents and their lawyers argue this is further perpetuating segregation. Arbor Court residents are calling for subsidized housing vouchers that could be accepted anywhere, giving the families the ability to choose where they want to live. However, the reality is that without specific state legislation, most landlords can legally refuse these vouchers and discriminate against those who have them. Safer housing solutions Some states, such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, passed legislation prohibiting landlords from refusing Section 8 housing vouchers, which is an important step in housing reform and justice. Other housing experts propose “climate vouchers,” which could give affected families the option to relocate somewhere safer, rather than being required to return to their unsafe homes in order to keep their benefit. Another possible solution would be to use disaster mitigation grant funding toward long-term relocation of housing projects and other infrastructure. Last year, HUD received $16 billion for disaster mitigation, which could be used toward building in safer zones or retrofitting buildings to be more resilient to expected storms. Once residents are relocated, flood zones should be re-converted into wetlands and open spaces, where green infrastructure like underground levees provide critical defenses that protect inland buildings from flooding. Properly designed open spaces can not only protect urban infrastructure, but also provide recreational spaces, beautify neighborhoods and raise property values. This long-term, equitable planning could ultimately save the government millions in recovery dollars after disasters hit. Via The New York Times Images via Revolution Messaging and SC National Guard

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Climate change causing Nebraska’s worst floods on record, damage visible from space

March 20, 2019 by  
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Amid growing concerns about the negative effects of climate change , Following historic levels of rainfall and flooding, the governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, has officially declared certain counties disaster areas as officials deal with the situation. “This really is the most devastating flooding we’ve probably ever had in our state’s history, from the standpoint of how widespread it is,” Ricketts shared. The flooding crisis started last week after a hurricane-like storm ripped through Nebraska, dumping massive amounts of rain on top of heavily packed snow. The warmer temperatures and moisture rapidly melted the snow, leading to widespread flooding throughout the state. Related: Climate change is wreaking havoc on Italy’s olive harvests Temperatures have remained well above freezing since the storm, which has only led to additional runoff issues. The flooding is so bad that satellites are picking it up from space. Nebraska faces springtime flooding on an annual basis, but the current situation is breaking records in all the major waterways running through the state. Climate change is one of the reasons why the flooding has worsened, as warmer temperatures are coming earlier than usual. In one area of the Missouri River, the water line broke a previous high by close to four feet. The flooding also crashed through the Niobrara River’s Spencer Dam, which is located in the north-central part of the state. The failing dam resulted in an 11-foot tall wave of water rushing through the area. The flood waters have destroyed homes, bridges and roadways all across the state. Over the weekend, a few levees on the Platte River broke, surrounding the city of Fremont with water. With access to the town completely cut-off, officials have been airlifting supplies for local residents. Flooding has started to level out this week, though experts predict that water levels will remain high for a few more days. Offutt Air Force base and Omaha’s National Weather Service station have both been overrun with water, a reminder of the devastating effects of climate change. Via Grist Image via Shutterstock

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Flood frequency of the Amazon River has increased fivefold

September 21, 2018 by  
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New data suggest that flooding in the Amazon River has dramatically increased by as much as five times in both intensity and frequency in the last 100 years. Scientists analyzed data points from the past century and believe the increase in flooding is linked to global warming. Scientists have measured the river’s water levels for 113 years at the Port of Manaus in Brazil . Over time, they found that large flooding events and extreme droughts have gone up over the past 20 to 30 years. In the early part of the century, massive floods only happened about once in every 20-year period. That number has increased to one major flood every four years. Related: High tide coastal flooding in US has doubled in the past 30 years The researchers believe the uptick is related to an oceanic system called Walker circulation, which describes air currents created by temperature fluctuations and pressure changes in the ocean , specifically in tropical locations. The Pacific Ocean has been cooling while the Atlantic Ocean has been getting warmer, which creates these circulating air currents. These changes are affecting the surrounding environment, including precipitation in the Amazon basin. Scientists are not sure why the Atlantic Ocean has been warming up. They do, however, believe that global warming is contributing to the temperature changes, but in a more indirect way. They theorize that global warming has shifted wind belts farther south, which pushes warm water from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. This creates an opposite effect of El Niño and results in more rainfall in the Amazon. Flooding along the Amazon River lasts weeks on end. Not only does it spread disease and contaminate water supplies, but it also destroys farms and homes. Right now, there is no indication that the flooding will decrease. This past year, water levels rose above the flood range, and scientists believe the water levels will only get higher as the years progress. Via EurekAlert! Images via Dave Lonsdale and NASA

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Charming home uses local, natural materials to pay homage to a chestnut tree

September 21, 2018 by  
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Young Czech architecture firm Valarch Studio has completed a modest yet elegant family house built largely of timber to reference the property’s old chestnut tree in the garden. Named the Chestnut House, the home spans a compact footprint of just 840 square feet and comprises two sections: a larger living area and a smaller, green-roofed technical area united via a multifunctional vestibule. All building materials were locally sourced whenever possible with an emphasis on natural materials. When Valarch Studio was tapped with turning the small site, a former recreation area, into a place for a family home, the team’s attention was captured by the large chestnut tree growing in an overrun field. The architects decided to use that tree as a focal point for the property and allowed it to dictate the orientation and overall atmosphere of the home. “The dark brown house surrounded by the lush green landscape mirrors a chestnut breaking out of its thorny green shell,” the architects said. “It is built of raw, untreated wood with burnt lining to complement the solid chestnut tree.” Timber also lines the minimally detailed interiors, which are fitted with large windows that flood the rooms with natural light and frame views of the lush outdoors. The interior layout is split into two sections joined together with a vestibule that includes wood storage and extends into an outdoor covered terrace with seating. The living areas, located at the heart of the home, are housed in a double-height space with a small loft guestroom above. The master suite and kid’s bedroom are located on the north side of the house. Related: Compact Karst House offers a contemporary twist on classic countryside living in Slovenia Completed for a cost of approximately $160,000 USD, the Chestnut House was built with wood framing and a steel skeleton and elevated on iron and concrete supports. + Valarch Studio Photography by Jakub Skokan and Martin T?ma / BoysPlayNice

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Mars candy company plans to fix the "broken" cocoa supply chain

September 21, 2018 by  
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Some big changes are ahead for Mars Wrigley Confectionery. The company, which produces some of the most popular treats in America, is revamping its cocoa supply to help combat poverty, child labor and deforestation . Mars hopes its new strategy will be fully in place by the year 2025 and fix what it referred to as the “broken” cocoa industry. “The cocoa supply chain as it works today is broken,” said John Ament, the vice president of the company, in an interview with Reuters . Related: Colombia to produce free chocolate — deforestation-free, that is… Critics have targeted the cocoa industry this year, because it negatively affects farmers and has contributed to environmental issues like deforestation. Mars Wrigley hopes to change the industry by investing in a new strategy — one that will ensure that all its cocoa is purchased from responsible growers. Although the plan is great for the environment and sustainability, Mars expects to spend around $1 billion to get it done. This is not the first time Mars has initiated a sustainability plan. In previous years, the company promised to buy only certified cocoa . This goal was supposed to be met by 2020, but Mars now says that certification is not enough. Related: Mars Australia to go to 100% renewable energy in just over one year The new strategy means that the company will be able to trace all the cocoa it purchases back to the original source, and a third party will verify that the growers are not contributing to deforestation. Mars will also pay more for cocoa that meets its new standards. Not only will this help fight poverty and child labor among cocoa producers, but it also gives farmers more incentive to practice sustainability. Under the old certification plan, farmers were not paid more for producing sustainable cocoa, which is why the strategy came under fire in the first place. Mars also plans to educate farmers on better growing practices and give them better access to funding. The company hopes this will lead to greater sustainability and increased production. + Mars Via Reuters Image via Mars

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Unusual Dutch bridge embraces flooding in a thought-provoking way

February 19, 2018 by  
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Modern bridges are typically built at least a foot higher than the expected 50-year flood, but that’s not so for this unusual bridge built on the floodplains in the flood-prone Dutch city of Nijmegen. NEXT Architects and H+N+S Landscape Architects designed the Zalige Bridge, a footbridge that becomes partly submerged when the water levels rise, forcing people to use the exposed concrete blocks as stepping-stones to traverse the water. The playful, thought-provoking design exemplifies a Dutch relationship with water as one that embraces seasonal flooding rather than seeks to control it. Completed in March 2016, Zalige Bridge recently caused a stir earlier this year on January 10 when water levels in the Waal River rose to its highest in 15 years. Locals eagerly went down to the submerged river to experience the dynamic river firsthand; the benches lining the then-submerged path become temporary stepping-stones. The flooding also eventually rose above the bench height and rendered the bridge temporarily inaccessible. Such flooding typically happens a few days a year. Related: This pop-up rainwater pavilion in Edinburgh is designed to raise awareness about water “As a crest above the river, the bridge emphasizes the dynamic character of water by letting people see and experience the changing river landscape,” wrote NEXT Architects. “Within the river park, the spatial quality of the water is made visible in a poetic way.” Zalige Bridge was commissioned as part of Room for the River , a nationwide, government-sponsored project that sought proposals for flood prevention. The project aims to provoke discussion of how communities can learn to live with water. + NEXT Architects + H+N+S Landscape Architects Via ArchDaily Images via NEXT Architects , © Rutger Hollander

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"We are not prepared" for climate changescientists issue bleak warning

February 16, 2018 by  
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Researchers have determined that countries around the world are failing to fulfill their greenhouse gas reduction commitments under the Paris climate agreement , inevitably subjecting the world to unpredictable extreme weather. In a study published in the  journal  Science   Advances ,  scientists concluded that extreme weather, such as drought, flooding, or heat waves, will increase across 90 percent of North America, Europe and East Asia if countries maintain their current pace of climate action. “We are not prepared for today’s climate, let alone for another degree of global warming ,” study author Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University professor of earth system science, told Time . The Paris Agreement aims to keep global temperature rise below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, with an ideal goal of less than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. That extra 0.9 degrees will make a significant difference in how extreme weather manifests in the coming decades. The study documents the specific differences built into that temperature divergence, including the number of record warm or wet days. Following an extraordinary hurricane season in North America and a year that was once again dubbed the hottest on record, the urgency to address this challenge is clearer than ever. Related: Trump budget proposes huge cut to EPA and climate research Unfortunately, the Paris Agreement has a math problem. Each country in the agreement was encouraged to create their own pledges individually tailored to their political and economic situations. Though the goal remains less than 3.6 degrees of warming, the cumulative impact of all these pledges, if they were all fulfilled, would still result in a global temperature of 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Even the modest pledges made in the agreement are proving difficult to achieve. Some countries, most prominently the United States , have expressed interest in ignoring the consequences of climate change and are actively encouraging the growth of fossil fuels . In the meantime, greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb while the weather gets weirder. Via Time Images via Depositphotos (1)

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300 artificial islands in Dubai, ‘The World,’ may get another chance

February 16, 2018 by  
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The World , an archipelago of 300 islands in Dubai , has sat largely vacant for around 10 years. But construction is underway once again. The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright reported , “After a decade in limbo, The World is back – with more ambitious plans than ever before.” The World was dreamed up in 2003, with Nakheel as the master developer, and 320 million cubic meters of sand and 25 million metric tons of rock were put into place, according to The Guardian. Workers laid the last rock in the breakwater in January 2008. The development sprawls across over 5,000 hectares and stands, in the words of Wainwright, as a “mind-boggling monument to the spectacular hubris of a moment in time when anything seemed possible.” Related: Dubai’s World of Islands is Sinking Into the Sea But construction is beginning again. Josef Kleindienst, of real estate company Kleindienst , talked to The Guardian about his plans for The Heart of Europe , saying he wants to make it snow there throughout the entire year. The Kleindienst website describes The Heart of Europe as “a first of its kind, breathtaking hospitality development, spanning six of the islands on The World in Dubai, with each island taking inspiration from some of Europe’s most captivating locations.” Swiss chalets, Austrian castles, and Russian palaces are among the plans. Kleindienst told The Guardian the development will be finished in time for Expo 2020 in Dubai. Other island owners seem to have been inspired by Kleindienst, according to The Guardian. Emirati developer Seven Tides aims to finish a 100-villa resort on one of the 10 islands they own in the South America portion by the end of this year. And actress Lindsay Lohan said she’s designing an island in The World. It remains to be seen whether or not the projects will ultimately come to life. Via The Guardian Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 ) and The Heart of Europe

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300 artificial islands in Dubai, ‘The World,’ may get another chance

Houston Bike Share offers free bicycles to people who lost cars to Harvey

September 14, 2017 by  
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Houston Bike Share is distributing free bicycles to those who lost their vehicles in Hurricane Harvey . When the powerful storm dumped a record amount of rain on the Houston area, damaging at least 100,000 homes and killing more than 70 people, it also destroyed hundreds of thousands of cars. Many of those who lost their vehicles are still paying for them, which makes purchasing a new car difficult. Through its program Keep Houston Rolling , in partnership with  BikeHouston , Freewheels Houston and Rice Bikes , Houston Bike Share aims to provide access to alternative transportation to those who need it. Houston is a car city, as is clear in its infrastructure and its local culture. “I love driving my car, I’m never going to get rid of it,” admitted Carter Stern, executive director of  Houston Bike Share . “But I ride my bike to work three to four days a week, and that’s great. I [view] the mobility in a city less as a binary decision and more as giving people a healthy ecosystem of options.” In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, access to bikes could make a difference for those who currently are immobile without their vehicles. “It’s a way for us to put a dent in some of the issues that are going to be facing Houston in the aftermath of the storm,” said Stern. Related: China’s largest bike share launches air-purifying bicycles for 20 million citizens Although Keep Houston Rolling is serving an immediate need in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, it may have a sustained impact on how the city views and supports biking as a transportation mode going forward.  “When I go to city meetings or talk with the community, there’s a lot of skepticism around using a bike for utilitarian purposes, not just for fun,” said Stern. “But once you start using it to go to the store or go to work, you realize it’s healthy, it’s easy, it’s good, it’s relaxing.” Via Fast Company Lead image via Pixabay , others via Houston Bike Share and Brandon Navarro

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NASA researchers says Harvey flooding pushed Houston down two centimeters

September 11, 2017 by  
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Harvey unloaded around 33 trillion gallons of water in the United States, the weight of which is capable of bending the Earth’s crust . From satellite data , it looks like this is what happened in Houston . Scientist Chris Milliner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted a map with GPS data revealing Houston has been pushed down by around two centimeters (or about 0.8 inches). Milliner’s map included Nevada Geodetic Laboratory data revealing the area around Houston was actually pushed down because of the weight of all the water from the tropical storm . One gallon of water weighs around 8.34 pounds, so if Harvey dumped 33 trillion gallons of water, that’s about 275 trillion pounds. Related: Arctic warming likely turned Harvey into “an extreme killer storm” GPS data show #Harveyflood was so large it flexed Earth's crust, pushing #Houston down by ~2 cm! #EarthScience #HurricaneHarvey #txflood pic.twitter.com/88lNScJBq9 — Chris Milliner (@Geo_GIF) September 4, 2017 It’s not the first time scientists have documented how the weight of water can alter the land. The Altantic cited a 2012 study focusing on the Himalayas that found a seasonal flux in the mountains’ height as water fell and then made its way down the mountains into Asian rivers. They also noted a 2017 study found “vertical surface displacement [with] peak-to-peak amplitudes” of 0.5 to one centimeter in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Atlantic suggested the changes around Houston could be seen as a “fast-action version” of what takes place in mountain ranges during the seasons. The change could be due to soil beneath GPS stations compacting because of the weight of the water, Milliner said. But he thinks crust deformation was the main means of the change, since some of the GPS stations are on bedrock and also saw the depression. The ground has already been sinking in Houston, because we’ve pumped groundwater out of the city’s aquifers, according to The Atlantic. Milliner clarified the phenomenon he saw after Harvey is in addition to subsidence the city has experienced. Via The Atlantic Images via Chris Milliner on Twitter and U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Zachary Wolf

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