Brazilian federal judge blocks move to destroy huge swath of Amazon forest

September 4, 2017 by  
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Brazilian president Michel Temer recently attempted to open up a national reserve to mining companies, but a federal judge put a stop to that plan. The National Reserve of Copper and Associates, or Renca, is a 17,760-square-mile area of the Amazon forest that’s been protected since 1984, and Temer’s move was met with outcry from activists. But with the decision of judge Rolando Valcir Spanholo, the president’s bid won’t move forward – at least for now. Campaigners and activists criticized Temer’s recent endeavor to dissolve the national reserve; one opposition lawmaker said it was the “biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years.” Now a federal judge approved an injunction requested by public prosecutors. Spanholo says Temer went beyond his authority when he issued the decree to abolish the protected area. He said only the country’s Congress can dissolve Renca. Related: Colombian town turns down $35B gold mine – prefers a clean environment Renca is thought to possess gold, manganese, copper, nickel, tantalum, and iron ore – and The Guardian said the judge’s decision may only offer a temporary respite for the forest. The attorney general appealed the decision. But the injunction could help put pressure on Temer, who has been criticized more than once for prioritizing economic interests above the environment . Temer withdrew his original decree. He then re-issued it including clarification on safeguards for conservation areas and indigenous territory. But environmental activists said the decree would still open up 30 percent of the region to mining companies, and was simply a marketing ploy. The New York Times described Temer as an unpopular leader who has reduced protections for the environment and cut back on the budgets for agencies that fight illegal deforestation and implement environmental laws. He’s also slashed the budget of the agency that guards indigenous communities’ rights. Via The Guardian Images via Rafael Vianna Croffi on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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1-acre permaculture farm in Australia feeds 50 families

September 4, 2017 by  
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This family in Australia completely shifted the way they source their food – with remarkable success. When wife Nici suffered an illness, the Coopers decided to start growing their own produce at home in Newcastle, and now their one-acre Limestone Permaculture Farm supplies dozens of families with fresh food . They also offer permaculture education and internships, sharing what they’ve learned with the greater community . The Coopers have been farming at Limestone Permaculture Farm for close to a decade. They grow organic produce , and raise sheep, goats, and chickens. They also keep bees and build with recycled materials , and The farm is powered by energy from wood, water, and the sun – pretty much every greenie’s dream come true. TreeHugger said co-owner Brett suggested they can feed 50 families from the one-acre farm . Related: Man leaves rat race to grow dream permaculture farm – and it’s flourishing after 3 years Swales, a chicken tractor, and self-seeding edible ground cover are among the permaculture techniques the Coopers employ at Limestone Permaculture Farm. Brett discovered permaculture over a decade ago. He told the Newcastle Herald , “I was a builder and had done architectural drafting. When I found permaculture, it was less about one form and more about following nature’s design . It blew my mind.” The Coopers offer farm tours, workshops, internships, and a permaculture design certificate at their New South Wales farm. They still have jobs and only work the farm part-time, but are hoping to transition to permaculture farming full-time. “We feel there has been an awakening across our beautiful country, self-reliance is on the rise again; urban and rural homesteading has people taking their food and energy supply back into their own hands,” the Coopers say on their website. “With each passing day we are transitioning to a more wholesome life, creating a more fulfilling and positive future, not just for ourselves but also for our family, friends, and community.” + Limestone Permaculture Farm Via Happen Films and TreeHugger Images via Limestone Permaculture Farm Facebook

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China is fighting desertification with a Great Green Wall of trees

August 31, 2017 by  
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In a major geoengineering effort to fight back against ever-encroaching desert, China is planting trees to create a “Great Green Wall” that may halt erosion, capture carbon, and provide economic benefits to the People’s Republic. By 2050, the nation of nearly 1.5 billion people aims to plant 88 million acres of woodland in an area that stretches 3,000 miles long and up to 900 miles wide. If successful, China’s reforestation project could serve as a guide for the countries of the 250 million people worldwide threatened by desertification . The vast arid land of China, which includes the historic Gobi Desert, encompasses up to 27 percent of the country’s land, and that number is growing. By 2006, nearly 1,000 square miles, an increase of 400 square miles since the 1950s, of usable land was being consumed by the desert . Desertification in China causes dust and sandstorms that contribute to poor health outcomes, the crippling of transportation routes, and economic losses, which are estimated to be in the billions of dollars every year. Related: The Great Green Wall of Africa could fight desertification and poverty The results of the project, which began in 1978, have been mixed. On the one hand, the project has provided financial stability to many previously impoverished communities located in the prospective Great Green Wall region. Government investment in infrastructure surrounding the project has also aided regional development. The Chinese government claims that the project has already yielded a decrease in sandstorms, stabilized acres of desert, and even increased precipitation . Others are more skeptical. “When it’s profitable, people tell lies,” said Cao Shixiong, a professor at Minzu University of China.  “I thought it was a very good way to combat desertification,” said Cao. However, in light of some estimates that up to 86 percent of the trees planted as part of the project have died, Cao changed his mind. “I realized it’s because of policy. We were choosing the wrong place to plant trees.” Researchers are also concerned that importing ill-suited trees into the fragile ecosystem may yield disastrous consequences in the future. “For the past 1,000 years, only shrubs and grass have grown in those areas. Why would they think planting trees would be successful?” said Sun Qingwei, a former Chinese Academy of Sciences desert researcher who now works for the National Geographic Society. “It’s not sustainable. Investing money in trees that are not supposed to be there is kind of crazy.” Time will tell if the Great Green Wall is as enduring as its stone-and-brick namesake. Via Mother Jones Lead image via Deposit photos , others via People’s Daily Online , Vaiz Ha/Flickr , and Christopher Michel/Flickr

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China is fighting desertification with a Great Green Wall of trees

How orange peels helped barren land in Costa Rica spring back to life

August 23, 2017 by  
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There’s more to oranges than juice! Back in the 1990’s, two ecologists suggested orange juice manufacturer Del Oro donate some of their land near a national park in Costa Rica ; in exchange, they’d be able to deposit agricultural waste for free on degraded land inside the park. Del Oro agreed and dumped 1,000 truckloads of orange pulp and peels on the land. Today, that area is a thriving forest . A Princeton University -led team of researchers journeyed to the forest to discover just how much that food trash transformed the forest – and how other businesses might do the same. Del Oro donated land to Área de Conservación Guanacaste at the suggestion of husband and wife ecologist team Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs, who’d worked as advisors at the park. The company unloaded around 12,000 metric tons of orange waste for biodegradation until rival company TicoFruit sued, saying Del Oro had defiled the park. TicoFruit won and the land went largely overlooked for over a decade. Related: 16-year-old South African girl invents drought-fighting super material from orange peels Years later, environmental researchers decided to evaluate the site. They discovered a lush forest that had a 176 percent increase in aboveground biomass – what Princeton described as the trees’ wood – in the seven acres they studied. They also found a difference between areas where orange peels hadn’t been dumped and where they had – according to Princeton, the latter showed richer soil, greater tree-species richness, and more closure in the forest canopy. The researchers think regenerating forests with agricultural waste could help us sequester carbon . Princeton graduate student Timothy Treuer said in a statement, “This is one of the only instances I’ve ever heard of where you can have cost-negative carbon sequestration. It’s not just a win-win between the company and the local park – it’s a win for everyone.” Princeton University ecologist David Wilcove thinks more businesses could help the environment in similar ways. He said while companies do generate environmental problems, “…an awful lot of those problems can be alleviated if the private sector and the environmental community work together. I’m confident we’ll find many more opportunities to use the leftovers from industrial food production to bring back tropical forests. That’s recycling at its best.” University of Pennsylvania , Beloit College , and University of Minnesota scientists joined the Princeton researchers to write a study published by the journal Restoration Ecology this week. Via Princeton Environmental Institute Images via Pixabay and Princeton University

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Climate change has doubled the size of forest fires in Western US

October 12, 2016 by  
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Over the past three decades, man-made climate change has doubled the total area burned by forest fires in the Western US. A new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the difference from 1985 to now is staggering. 30 years ago, just 2.9 million total acres burned, but in 2015 10.1 million acres were destroyed during fire season. The researchers pointed most of the blame on man-made climate change – which is responsible for warmer, drier weather which allows fires to thrive. However, there are also other factors at play – including natural climate shifts and changes in how humans are using the land. The amount of land burned by fires is only expected to increase over the coming years as global temperatures continue to rise. Related: How Climate Change Fuels Wildfires Explained in 90 Seconds In a disturbing statement, Columbia University researcher and study author Park Williams told Time , “No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear. “We should be getting ready for bigger fire years than those familiar to previous generations.” While the exact scope of the issue is startling, the general trend itself should come as no surprise: every year in recent memory has gone down as the hottest on record . In the years to come, we will likely have to adapt and find new ways to prevent and extinguish forest fires if we want to preserve our forests and protect nearby communities. Unfortunately, that could prove difficult given the fact that cataclysmic fires in recent years have drained the Forest Service’s budget in the hardest-hit states. Via Time and Slashdot Images via Ervins Strauhmanis and Coconino National Forest

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Climate change has doubled the size of forest fires in Western US

Trees form special bonds with "friends and family"

October 7, 2016 by  
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A new documentary , Intelligent Trees , shows a side of trees that most of us have never seen before. Created by German forester Peter Wohlleben and forest ecologist Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia, the film explores the network of roots and fungal threads beneath the forest floor. This network, they say, allows trees to communicate and bond with one another in groups of family and friends. https://vimeo.com/181082721 While conventional wisdom would have us believe that trees simply passively interact with each other, Wohlleben and Simard claim there is so much more going on beneath the surface. Trees of a given species, they explain, actively support one another . They form friendships, and parent trees nurture their children. We can see this in the way that one trees will grow in ways that avoid blocking other trees’ light, or the way they will send out chemical warnings to other trees when attacked by insects. In this way, Wohlleben claims, trees can be said to have emotions like fear and pain, and a “language” that allows them to communicate with one another. Related: Mother trees recognize kin and send them “messages of wisdom” Some may take issue with the way that this narrative anthropomorphizes plant life. Though it may be true they communicate with one another, it’s obviously very different from how humans (or even animals) interact. Wohlleben brushes these criticisms aside, however – in an interview with Treehugger, he explained , “I use a very human language. Scientific language removes all the emotion, and people don’t understand it anymore. When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.” Intelligent Trees can be streamed at Vimeo On Demand or purchased on DVD. + Intelligent Trees Via Treehugger Images via  Jon Bunting  and  Moyan Brenn

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One place on Earth where climate change is actually beneficial

June 29, 2016 by  
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Canada’s boreal forests may not suffer as much as other areas on Earth from climate change . Armed with climate data from as far back as 1960, scientists from Quebec and the United States scrutinized datasets of tree rings from black spruce trees to gather a sense of how the trees respond to varying weather conditions. Their discovery is incredibly hopeful: some of these forests might actually thrive in the warmer temperatures brought on by climate change. The scientists looked at tree ring datasets from 26,000 black spruce trees, matching rings with growth rates to see how the trees reacted to different weather. Around the 49th parallel, they found something intriguing. South of the parallel, when trees encounter hot, dry weather, they tend to show stress. North of the parallel, the reaction changes: the trees respond much better to warmer weather. These trees could thrive in the longer growing season climate change could afford them. Related: China’s eco-civilization plan calls for 23% forest cover by 2020 Lead author of the study Loïc D’Orangeville told Gizmodo, “Generally, the scientific community agrees that because boreal forests are constrained by low temperatures, they should see some benefits from global warming .” Where the forests grow in Quebec, winters are typically long and harsh. If winter shortens due to climate change, the trees might be able to grow for longer periods of time. Of course, there’s still the caveat of water : in warmer temperatures, trees need greater amounts to grow. At this point, however, the scientists think the warmer weather could outweigh the potential that there could be less water available. Harvard senior ecologist and co-author Neil Pederson said, “It’s hope. It’s a bright spot…this dataset is showing us an area that might be dynamically okay. The trees are telling us that it might not be so bad.” Via Gizmodo Images via Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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Students build a stunning solar-powered multi-use space from salvaged materials

June 29, 2016 by  
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Created for the University of Utah’s annual Design Build Bluff project, Cedar Hall is located next to the historic John Albert Scorup House, a historic 1890s property that, despite twelve years of effort, is unable to accommodate the multifunctional needs of the student body. The objective of the Cedar Hall project was to design a simple yet elegant flexible assembly space that could also attract the Bluff community to campus. The 850-square-foot Cedar Hall building is clad in handsome, high-grade cedar planks coated in a marine-grade finish that wrap around the facade and the roof. “The idea was to create a portal that brings the energy of outsiders into the campus, which is why the north exterior wall is faceted with a natural plaster finish to enhance the funneling effect,” write the students. “The south face on the other end is extruded, into a trellis system. Blending with the landscape the trellis attracts visitors towards the inner workings of the campus.” Around 70% of the framing is constructed from materials reclaimed from a deconstructed house in Park City. Other salvaged materials were also upcycled into windows and furniture. Related: Students design and build a gorgeous LEED Platinum-seeking forum in Kansas The simple open-plan interior was designed for flexibility. Steel barn doors for a storage closet double as a magnetized pin-up space and are flanked by dry-erase marker walls. Opposite the steel bars on the west wall is a built-in shelf space that houses two large moveable partition walls that can also be used as additional writing surfaces. A custom spiral staircase built with salvaged glulam treads leads up to the roof where the PV solar panel array is located. The trellis features a water-catchment system to collect rainwater. + Design Build Bluff Via ArchDaily Images via Design Build Bluff , by Spotlight Home Tours

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Students build a stunning solar-powered multi-use space from salvaged materials

Stop throwing away banana peels – eat them instead

June 29, 2016 by  
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Pop quiz: What food is packed with vitamins and fiber, but is almost always purchased just to be thrown away? If you said banana peels, you’re right. It might be one of the world’s most recognizable comedy props, but the humble banana peel is nothing to laugh at. These slippery skins contain vitamins B6 and B12, magnesium, potassium and fiber, as well as tryptophan, which has been shown to help balance emotions and mood. While the jury is still out on exactly how much of these nutrients our bodies can absorb from eating banana peels, noshing on them instead of trashing them is still a great idea because of the landfill waste it saves. But if the idea of chomping down on these thick, fibrous membranes doesn’t sound very a-PEEL-ing to you, read on to check out the newest episode of Inhabitat and NYC Media ‘s TV series Urban Green for three delicious and nutritious ways to make them more palatable. Video: Little Darling Productions with Jason Jenkins for NYC Media Before we get into our banana peel recipes, here are two important tips: TIP 1: Remember to wash your banana peel thoroughly just like you would with any other fruit you plan to ingest. TIP 2: We recommend using organic bananas for these recipes since non-organic banana peels may contain harmful pesticides. BANANA PEEL SMOOTHIE Smoothies are a great way to mask the bitter flavor of banana peels while also breaking them down and making them easier to digest. One of my favorite smoothies to use banana peels in is an apple pie smoothie , which, believe it or not, tastes like a healthier version of apple pie. To make it, just blend one Red Delicious apple, one whole banana and the peel (just cut off the hard ends), a dollop of almond butter or a handful of almonds, some almond milk and a dash of cinnamon. If you’re allergic to nuts, feel free to leave out the almonds and use a different kind of milk. PICKLED PEELS Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peels, and so can you, with this couldn’t-be-easier pickled banana peel recipe. Just chop your washed peels up intro strips width-wise (cutting against the grain helps to decrease the fibrous mouthfeel). Then plan to have pickles for lunch so that you can use the leftover pickling liquid for your peels. Submerge the peels in the pickling liquid overnight and you’ll end up with a tart condiment that will have your dinner guests trying to place the unique flavor. CANDIED PEELS Okay, so candying isn’t exactly the healthiest way to eat banana peels, but these sweet morsels are guilt-free enough if eaten in moderation or used as a garnish. To make these crunchy treats, stir together ½ cup of sugar and ½ cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Then add 2 sliced up (again, against the grain) banana peels and reduce to medium/low heat. Simmer while stirring for about 10 minutes. Once you see the sugar begin to caramelize, remove the pot from the heat and transfer your peels to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or other non-stick surface. Let your peels cool and harden, and then snap them into strips to eat as a snack or sprinkle over some yogurt to give it a crunchy kick. We hope you had a “bunch” of fun learning how to eat banana peels. And if you have any cool peel recipes, please share them in the comments below! + Urban Green + NYC Media

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Stop throwing away banana peels – eat them instead

China’s eco-civilization plan calls for 23% forest cover by 2020

May 30, 2016 by  
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Besides the United States, China has done more than any other country to contribute to climate change . But while China’s greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly warming the planet, the Asian nation is quickly shifting its focus to climate change mitigation to ensure a sustainable biosphere for future generations. According to a new United Nations report , China plans to build an “ecological civilization” that could be a model for the rest of the world. The project includes an initiative to cover nearly one quarter of the country with forests by 2020. The report, titled “Green is gold: The strategy and actions of China’s ecological civilization,” was launched at the UN Environmental Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. Zhu Guangyao, executive vice president of the Chinese Ecological Civilization Research and Promotion Association, called ecological civilization a new concept in the development of human civilization that requires respect for nature. “The outdated view that man can conquer nature and ignore the bearing capacity of resources and the environment should be completely abandoned,” said Guangyao. “Conscientious efforts should be made to live in harmony with nature, allowing for a new approach to modernization characterized by such co-existence.” Related: China restores great swaths of denuded forests with exemplary conservation program According to the report, other targets by 2020 include cutting water consumption by 23 percent, energy consumption by 15 percent and carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 18 percent. The eco-civilization blueprint also pledges by 2020 to increase prairie vegetation coverage by 56 percent, reclaiming more than half of reclaimable desert and preserving at least 35 percent of the natural shorelines. Forests are an important part of climate change mitigation because along with other ecosystems they can act as carbon sinks, sequestering billions of tons of atmospheric carbon — helping to cool the biosphere and reverse global warming. + Report: Green is gold: The strategy and actions of China’s ecological civilization Via Climate Action News Images via Wikipedia

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