Compensation for conservation: water markets are economists’ answer to scarcity

February 15, 2019 by  
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As cites grow and put more pressure on water sources, scarcity is an increasingly important issue. More than two thirds of the world’s population experience a water shortage every year. Just because water continues to reach your tap does not mean your area isn’t experiencing a shortage. Instead, it could mean your town is forced to tap sources, such as rivers, faster than they can renew. Economists have introduced one solution, water markets, which assign a value to usage under the premise that when something has a dollar value, people are more likely to conserve it. What are water markets? When preserving nature for nature’s sake is not enough to get a company’s attention, sometimes the best strategy is through its bottom line. Related: 7 ways to conserve water and reduce your water footprint Water markets function similarly to the stock market or carbon trading markets, where water usage rights and quantities can be traded among voluntary stakeholders within a watershed. There are different types of trades and markets that vary based on local legislation, infrastructure and government regulation. Ultimately, one water user sells a portion of its predetermined water allotment to another user, meaning it reduces the quantity of water it uses (in exchange for compensation), while the buyer utilizes the agreed upon amount of water. Why would the seller engage in a water market? A farmer, for example, might sell a portion of their water access and use the funding to purchase more efficient irrigation or use it as compensation for reducing their yield. Why would the buyer engage in a water market? A metropolitan area, for example, might purchase water from farmers upstream and use it for urban residents. This enables more efficient use of the water available, without forcing the government to tap into reserves or build expensive infrastructure to reach far away sources. Environmental organizations might also purchase water and then not use it, simply to ensure that an optimum amount of water cycles through the watershed to support healthy ecosystems . Why do we need water markets? Most people consider water a human right and a shared resource; however, this means that people do not necessarily have tangible incentive to conserve . Agriculture is the largest water user, with more than 90 percent of all water going to irrigated farms . But nearly 75 percent of all irrigated farms are vulnerable to scarcity, and almost 20 percent of all irrigated crops are produced with nonrenewable groundwater. This means that a fifth of everything we eat taps the earth’s water supply beyond what the water cycle can naturally replenish. This rate is alarmingly unsustainable. As The Nature Conservancy reported , “Nature is the silent and unseen victim of water scarcity.” But with the rise in severe weather, including flooding and drought , those who are paying attention could argue that nature is not so silent. Not to mention the 844 million people living without adequate access to clean water who are also victims in plain sight. Have water markets been successful? Australia’s Murray-Darling river has one of the most widely cited examples of a successful water market. Established in response to a seven-year drought, the market provides farmers with an alternate revenue stream that helps them stay in business even during times of water crises. Currently, 40 percent of all water used within the extensive basin in southeastern Australia is traded water. Another example comes from San Diego, California , where the water authority pays farmers to reduce water and reroute it to urban areas. This traded water covers one third of the city’s water needs. Reducing water use on large farms — without destroying local economies and food supplies — inevitably has to be a major part of the solution. Unlike carbon trading, which many argue promotes “pay to pollute,” water markets offer “compensation for conservation.” According to The Nature Conservancy , water markets “offer a powerful mechanism for alleviating water scarcity, restoring ecosystems and driving sustainable water management.” Markets, however, are intended to be one solution within a more comprehensive conservation strategy. Other components include enforcing meaningful reductions in water usage —  forcing businesses to innovate more efficient operations, appliances and products. The concepts of trading and monetizing water access are complex, abstract and focus on major players. More research is continually needed to ensure that market approaches do not only benefit the loudest and highest bidders, but to ensure the equity of markets for small and nontraditional users. + ‘The Nature Conservancy’ Image via Diego Delso

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Compensation for conservation: water markets are economists’ answer to scarcity

Toxic smog causes school closures in Bangkok

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

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Toxic smog causes school closures in Bangkok

The world is close to annihilation according to the iconic Doomsday Clock

January 31, 2019 by  
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The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board has announced that the iconic Doomsday Clock is remaining at two minutes to midnight because of the dangers of climate change and the lack of progress on nuclear risks. Midnight on Doomsday is a symbolic point of annihilation and has reached the familiar point it was once in at the peak of the Cold War in 1953. The Science and Security Board made the decision to keep the clock in its current standing with the Board of Sponsors — which includes 14 Nobel Laureates — and have dubbed the situation as “the new abnormal.” In addition to climate change and nuclear risks, another factor in the decision was “the increased use of information warfare.” “It is still two minutes to midnight. Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention. These major threats — nuclear weapons and climate change  — were exacerbated this past year by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger,” read the 2019 Doomsday Clock statement. The statement went on to say that this “new abnormal” is unsustainable and extremely dangerous, but nonetheless, the power to improve the severity of the situation remains in the hands of world leaders. The clock can move away from catastrophe if leaders act under pressure from engaged citizens. Related: Is the Green New Deal the all-inclusive climate plan we need? Rachel Bronson, the president and CEO of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists , says that they are describing a frightening reality and the clock is the closest it has ever been to an apocalypse and should be recognized as a stark warning by all leaders and citizens of the world. The 2019 Doomsday Clock statement emphasized #RewindtheDoomsdayClock and recommended multiple action steps be taken. They included U.S. and Russian leaders resolving their differences over the INF treaty, adopting measures to prevent peacetime military incidents on the NATO borders and American citizens demanding climate action from their government . Other recommendations were for countries around the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to reach the temperature goal of the Paris climate agreement and for the Trump administration to revisit their decision to exit the plan for limiting Iran’s nuclear program. Via Bulletin.org Image via Shutterstock

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The world is close to annihilation according to the iconic Doomsday Clock

Pipeline explosion in Mexico kills 91 and counting

January 23, 2019 by  
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Last week, a gasoline pipeline exploded in central Mexico , killing 91 people, with numbers expected to surpass 100. Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Pemex, did not respond properly to the initial leak, which resulted in backlash from citizens towards the newly appointed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The leak is believed to have been caused by thieves attempting to steal fuel after President Lopez Obrador mandated all pipelines close in an effort to crackdown on criminal activity in late December. According to Reuters, Pemex held a press conference on Monday where an engineer stated the leak began as a “small puddle” in the Tlahuelilpan district of Hidalgo, and later resulted in a “fountain” of fuel. The engineer added that the company was able to “take actions.” What those actions were exactly isn’t clear, and the company didn’t say when they shut off the flow of fuel . Hundreds of local residents rushed to the punctured pipeline to collect fuel and were caught in the explosion. Related: Virgin Atlantic plane takes flight with fuel from recycled waste Pemex Chief Executive Octavio Romero defended the company’s actions and said that they followed protocol, but would not admit to any negligence or corruption. “Everything will be looked at,” said Romero. However, Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero said there is a current  investigation underway into possible negligence and will call in all of the officials involved to answer questions this week. Additionally, a nearby pipeline a few miles southwest of Tlahuelilpan was also breached on Monday by suspected thieves, according to Hidalgo Governor Omar Fayad. Via Reuters Image via Shutterstock

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Pipeline explosion in Mexico kills 91 and counting

Green-roofed home is built of waste bricks and wood in Poland

January 23, 2019 by  
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Environmentally friendly with a beautifully textured facade, this brick house built of recycled materials in Poland has been nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2019. Polish architecture firm Biuro Toprojekt designed the dwelling — fittingly named the Red House — that pays homage to the Cistercian landscape and history of Rudy Wielkie, a region in the Upper Silesia known for its brick architecture, with its walls built from hand-sorted waste bricks sourced from nearby brickworks. Environmentally friendly principles guided the design of the Red House, which was built mainly from locally accessible timber and bricks. The spacious, 364-square-meter building was constructed on a clearing at the edge of the forest. Views of the forest are embraced through full-height glazing that pull the outdoors in. A green roof was also installed and will blend the building into the landscape as the roof grows increasingly lush and the brick walls develop a patina. Unlike traditional brick construction, Red House adopts a more textural approach to its brick walls inspired by chiaroscuro, an art term describing the contrast between light and dark. The architects explained how they achieved this effect: “A variation of cross-linking was used, in which two bricks next to each other with heads on top of each other are pushed out on one side and pressed on the other side in relation to the face of the wall. This simple treatment significantly enriched the work of chiaroscuro on the façade. By completely removing the same pair of bricks , an openwork wall was created, concealing the window openings that could break the clean structure of the façade.” Related: Lego-like kindergarten sparks creativity with a playful brick facade Roughly square in plan, the Red House is accessed through an outdoor brick courtyard that takes up approximately a quarter of the home’s footprint. The entry foyer opens up to a stairway leading up to a small upper floor as well as the L-shaped, open-plan living room, dining area and kitchen. The master bedroom is located to the south of the living areas. A large outdoor patio on the west side of the house connects seamlessly to the living spaces and the master bedroom through sliding glass doors. + Biuro Toprojekt Photography by Juliusz Soko?owski via Biuro Toprojekt

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Green-roofed home is built of waste bricks and wood in Poland

California teen finds golf balls are a major source of plastic waste in our oceans

January 23, 2019 by  
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The plastic waste in our oceans is a major environmental problem thanks to humans tossing out single-use items like take-out containers, plastic straws, water bottles and plastic bags. But there is also an unexpected source of plastic waste that a teenage diver recently discovered — golf balls. When 16-year-old Alex Weber was swimming in a small cove near Carmel, California two years ago, she looked down and discovered there were so many white golf balls in the water that she couldn’t see the sand. Weber immediately decided to pick up as many as she could. Over the next few months, she and her father hauled hundreds of pounds of golf balls out of the water and stored them in the garage. But with five coastal golf courses nearby, golfers continued to hit the balls into the ocean. Eventually, Weber discovered Matt Savoca, a Stanford University scientist who studies plastic waste in the oceans . The teen emailed Savoca and invited him to look at her stash, which featured thousands of golf balls. Weber’s haul impressed Savoca, and he told her that she should write a scientific paper, but Weber didn’t know how to do that. So the two ended up working together, and he started diving with her. They also brought kayaks so they could take the golf balls back to land. Related: Study finds microplastics in sea turtles around the world After grabbing the golf balls, Savoca said they would put them on the kayak, and Weber explained that the kayaks were “so filled with plastic ” that they had to tow them by swimming them to shore. The biggest threat to the pair while they were recovering the golf balls wasn’t the sharks in the water. Instead, it was golf balls flying from the nearby courses right into the spot where they were collecting. Golf balls are coated with a thin polyurethane shell, and overtime as the shells degrade, they emit  toxic chemicals . The balls also degrade into microplastic pieces that marine animals eat. Since the first discovery, Weber continues to collect golf balls and manages The Plastic Pick-Up to encourage eliminating ocean pollution. Weber said, “If a person could see what we see underwater, it would not be acceptable.” + The Plastic Pick-Up Via NPR Images via Alex Weber

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National Parks are being trashed during the government shutdown

January 4, 2019 by  
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As the government shutdown continues, many National Parks are suffering from a lack of staff as well as a complete disregard for the rules by visitors. According to multiple reports, some parks — like Yosemite National Park in California — are being overwhelmed by trash, vandalism, human waste and destructive off-roading. “It’s a free-for-all,” said Yosemite worker Dakota Snider, who added that the heartbreaking situation is the worst he has seen in his four years living there. The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that people had seen some visitors at Yosemite dumping bags of trash from their cars, and the park closed two campgrounds and a redwood grove because of issues with human waste and a lack of staffing. Related: Air pollution levels in national parks rival those of major US cities “With restrooms closed, some visitors are opting to deposit their waste in natural areas adjacent to high traffic areas, which creates a health hazard for other visitors,” said National Parks Service spokesman Andrew Munoz. At the beginning of the shutdown, the Trump administration kept most of the National Parks open with skeleton staffs on site to make sure visitors followed the rules, like no littering and no hunting. But because there was no one to collect admission fees, the number of visitors has surged, and the skeleton crews can’t handle the park traffic. Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park has locked its restrooms and trash bins because of human waste issues, wildlife concerns and public health, according to a notice on the park website. In addition to the human waste problem, the weather has also been an issue in some locations. Arches and Canyonlands in Utah have closed because there is no money to plow the snow. The state of Utah was paying to staff all five of its National Parks , but as the new year started, it decided to staff only Zion. At Joshua Tree in Southern California , local residents and businesses are volunteering to help keep the restrooms functioning by cleaning them and hauling out trash, and private park tour companies are doing similar work in Yellowstone. In New York , the state is funding both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to make sure they continue to operate during the shutdown. Via Huffington Post and LA Times Images via Joshua Tree National Park ( 1 , 2 )

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National Parks are being trashed during the government shutdown

Luxembourg will be the first country to offer all public transportation for free

December 10, 2018 by  
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Luxembourg — a small, landlocked European country that borders Belgium, Germany and France — is going to be the first country on Earth to have completely free public transportation . The newly re-elected Xavier Bettel and a coalition government will lift the fares on all of the public trains, trams and buses starting in Summer 2019. The country’s capital, Luxembourg City, is small but has some of the worst traffic congestion in the world. It has a population of about 110,000, but more than 400,000 additional commuters from neighboring countries travel into the city each day for work. Related: Estonia will soon offer free public transportation The traffic jams aren’t just in the capital. The entire country (which is only 999 square miles) is home to approximately 600,000 people, but another 200,000 people cross the Luxembourg border every day to get to work. Free public transportation will begin next summer, and it will continue Luxembourg’s progressive approach to transport. This year, it started offering free transportation to everyone under the age of 20. Secondary school students can also ride free shuttles between school and home. Currently, all other commuters pay a little over two dollars for up to two hours of travel . Since the country is small, that fare covers just about every commute. But by 2020, all tickets will be abolished. There is still some work to do on the policy, because the government has yet to figure out a plan for the first- and second-class train compartments. Still, it is a step in the right direction to reduce the country’s carbon footprint. Via The Guardian Image via Rubentje01

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Luxembourg will be the first country to offer all public transportation for free

China plans to launch the world’s first ‘artificial moon’

October 29, 2018 by  
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A private aerospace institute in China has announced its ambitious plan to launch an “artificial moon” into stationary orbit above the city of Chengdu. Referred to as an “illumination satellite,” the new moon would serve as a sunlight reflector to provide a nighttime and backup light source for residents in the Sichuan province city. The venture — still obscure due to a lack of information — was first reported by Chinese newspaper People’s Daily in mid October. Since then, there have been many conflicting reports and figures on how the new moon would operate — or if it even could. Wu Chunfeng, chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Co., Ltd. and head of Tianfu New District System Science Research Institute, said the artificial moon has been under development and testing for a few years and “is now nearly ready to launch.” Related: California plans to launch its own satellite to monitor air pollution There have been no accounts of what the stunt-double moon actually looks like or if it has any official support from the government or financial backers. Both experts and the general public have expressed widespread skepticism and even ridicule at the announcement. If the 2020 project does succeed, Wu claimed that two additional moons could be ready for orbit by 2022. “By then, the three huge mirrors will divide the 360-degree orbital plane, realizing illuminating an area for 24 hours continuously,” he said. The project aims to help Chengdu save money and electricity on street lamps and provide a reliable light source during blackouts caused by natural disasters and grid malfunctions. According to the aerospace center’s figures, a whopping $173 million ($1.2 billion yuan) could be saved on streetlights yearly for illuminating even a small portion of 19 square miles (50 sq km). The cost of illuminating the whole city? Well, in the long run, it’s certainly less than putting a moon in space, according to Wu. Dr. Matteo Ceriotti, a professor of space systems engineering, said the project is feasible and not as silly as it sounds. “Think of this as sort of an investment,” he explained to BBC . “ Electricity at night is very expensive, so if you could say, have free illumination for up to 15 years, it might work out better economically in the long term.” Recent social media backlash against the Chengdu moon has centered around the issue of animal protection. While Harbin Institute of Technology Director Kang Weimin insists that the fake moon “should not affect animals’ routines,” because its light would be similar to a “dusk-like glow,” other scientists disagree. Despite his agreeable response to the project, Ceriotti said, “It will disrupt the night cycle of nature [if the light is too strong], and this could possibly affect animals.” Wu insisted that the aerospace company’s technology could dim and brighten the moon. The light, which has the ability to reflect a beam “eight times” brighter than the moon, could also be timed. All in all, the few and contradicting details surrounding the project makes it uncertain whether the new moon will launch successfully in 2020. While experts debate whether or not it should be launched in the first place, those in Chengdu are probably looking upward, wondering whether or not they’ll miss this night sky — one that might never look the same again. Via BBC , China Daily  and  People’s Daily Images via Spencer Arquimedes and Mike Petrucci

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China plans to launch the world’s first ‘artificial moon’

Zambia plans to cull 2,000 hippos over the next 5 years

October 23, 2018 by  
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Two years ago, the Republic of Zambia in south-central Africa suspended its plans for the controlled slaughter of up to 2,000 hippos over five years following protests from animal rights activists . The country has recently revived those plans, claiming that the water levels in the Luangwa River — where most of the hippos are located — can’t support the current hippo population. According to Zambia’s tourism minister  Charles Banda, it would be too costly to move the hippos to another part of the country. Instead, the government has decided to proceed with its plans to cull the hippo population in eastern Zambia. “The South Luangwa National Park has a population of more than 13,000 hippos, but the area is only ideal for 5,000 hippos,” Banda said. Related: Hippos could be threatened with extinction due to demand for their teeth The Zambian government believes that overpopulation could threaten Zambia’s ecosystem , and Banda added that moving the hippos to other bodies of water would be “very expensive,” leaving culling as the only option. The government also insists that controlling the number of hippos in the area will stop the spread of anthrax — a bacterial disease commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa that kills animals — and the low rainfall in the region has just made the situation worse. As Reuters reports, during the summer of 2016, the British wildlife charity Born Free led a campaign against the culling of hippos and described it as trophy hunting . After the recent announcement to continue with the culling, Born Free said on its website that Zambia has not provided any solid, scientific evidence that there is actually a hippo overpopulation problem at the Luangwa River. Born Free also stated that scientific evidence suggests that culling hippos actually stimulates breeding, ultimately increasing the hippo population, which could potentially establish a “cycle of death and destruction.” Back in 2016, Born Free also questioned Zambia’s scientific rationale for killing 2,000 hippos when the population in southern Africa is around 80,000. Via Reuters and Born Free Image via Lars Plougmann and Sarah Depper

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Zambia plans to cull 2,000 hippos over the next 5 years

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